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As seniors reflect on their undergraduate education, they recollect a whole host of tremendous experiences. They may fondly recall their first moments on campus, time spent with some of Arizona State University’s student clubs, their first internship and events like Homecoming.
Kayla Green, a political science major graduating in May, has plenty of these memories. She will remember coming to campus with The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Early Start Program, her time competing with ASU’s policy debate team, her summer internship in Washington, D.C., and an unforgettable study abroad trip to Ghana.
Green was ready for all the challenges a first-year and a first-generation college student could endure. She attributes this preparedness, in large part, due to the Early Start Program.
“The Early Start Program granted me the opportunity to experience life as a college student in a more personal setting before getting thrown into college life as an incoming freshman,” Green said. “It was a great transitional period from high school to college where you are accountable for your own actions and in control of the life and career that you want to pursue.”
As a student, Green’s interest in politics and international relations spurred an active interest in public speaking. She joined ASU’s policy debate team, which taught her how to use the knowledge she had learned as a political science major and hone her rhetorical skills. On top of this, Green travelled to competitions on college campuses across the country.
“(The policy debate team was) the most rewarding intellectual challenge I’ve had while pursuing my undergraduate degree,” she said.
Soon enough, Green began using the knowledge she had learned in her political science courses and the skills she had developed in debate. She went to Washington, D.C., over one summer to participate in the School of Politics and Global Studies’ Capital Scholars program. While in Washington, Green became the Center for International Policy’s (CIP) very first Africa Program intern. At the nonpartisan think tank, Green primarily focused on researching American foreign policy toward Africa, particularly its role in security and economic development throughout the continent.
Outside of the office, Green immersed herself into Washington, D.C., by participating with local activist groups. One of her favorite memories came during the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition’s Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. At this event, Green lobbied Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas), and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) in support of a bill that called on Cameroon’s government and armed rebels to resolve their issues and respect all human rights in their country.
“Being able to use my voice and advocate for international issues that I sincerely care about helped me realize how much of a difference I can make in this world being proactive about injustices, not just reading about them and leaving them in the books,” Green said.
Above all, Green’s travels abroad may have been the most important influence on her studies and career plans. One program took her to Rome, where she worked for NGOs such as Caritas Internationalis and the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center in order to provide assistance for refugees coming to Europe from Africa and the Middle East. But for Green, it was her time in Ghana that truly changed her worldview.
“My experience in Ghana granted me a part of my education that had been missing all my life,” Green said. “Coming to Ghana not only allowed me to connect to my identity as an African diaspora individual, but allowed me to see another way of life that was not constructed by a Western, Eurocentric view of the world.”
Green participated in the study abroad program led by School of Politics and Global Studies Professor Okechukwu Iheduru, earning six political science credits over the course of seven weeks in Ghana. While Green and her cohort spent time at the University of Ghana, Legon, most of their learning experiences occurred outside of the classroom. In addition to completing a four-week internship, Green went to a variety of fascinating places, visiting the W.E.B. Du Bois Museum, shopping in Africa’s largest open air market and hiking in the rainforests of Kakum National Forest Park.
However, Green’s most poignant experience came when the group visited Elmina Castle, a focal point of the insidious trans-Atlantic slave trade. Though it was a heart-wrenching experience, Green was grateful for the wisdom imparted to her by one of the program leaders, Sakena Young-Scaggs.
“As I was weeping from the overwhelming waves of emotion I was feeling, she told me that my people before me made it from this place so that I could be where I am today,” Green shared. “I am standing where I am because of the strength and sacrifices they made a long time ago, and that is a privilege I will never take for granted.”
Green’s keen awareness for her heritage fuels a desire to learn as much as she can about the African continent and its role in the global community. This awareness compelled her to take on an African and African American studies minor. It was also what motivated her to apply for the Capital Scholars Program and intern with the CIP. This awareness will continue to shape the professional path that Green is already paving, as she will look to pursue a master’s degree in international relations with a focus on African studies once she graduates in May.
As she prepares to embark on the next step in an eventful and successful academic journey, Green offered this piece of advice for students who are looking for unique experiences that will enrich their undergraduate education:
“You cannot grow where you are comfortable. You need to stretch yourself beyond what you are used to. Do yourself a favor, and take what you need during your undergraduate experience to yield the results you want with the career path you set for yourselves.”