Ashley Thompson, ASU Department of Psychology

ASU student shows refugee children science research, opportunities of higher education


Robert Ewing

Arizona State University Department of Psychology undergraduate Ashley Thompson's to-do list probably looks different than her peers'. In addition to her course load at ASU, Thompson volunteers in a Phoenix elementary school, working with refugee children.

Thompson recently organized a field trip so that the refugee students at David Crockett Elementary School could experience psychology research first hand. The students spent the day in the Dynamics of Perception, Action and Cognition Lab (DPAC).

“I wanted to show the kids that higher education is possible even if they had not thought about it before,” Thompson said.

Thompson was invited by a friend to join the ASU Community Outreach and Advocacy for Refugees (COAR), a student-run organization that provides assistance to the large refugee population in the Phoenix metro area. She started working with Crockett Elementary School through COAR.

COAR volunteers work as tutors at local elementary schools with large refugee populations. Thompson decided to reach out to the Balsz Elementary School District to see what she could make happen. After numerous attempts, she connected with the principal of Crockett Elementary, who happily facilitated an introduction to Patricia Skains’ class. Instead of just tutoring the students in the class, Thompson suggested and organized the “science day” field trip at the DPAC lab.

“Ashley is really special. She was a star student in my learning and motivation class, and to learn about all that she does for these kids is really exciting,” said Nia Amazeen, associate professor of psychology and co-director of the DPAC lab. “She is the one who really connected us for this event and was integral in getting the day together.”

Thompson also rallied her friends to help with the field trip. Even though it was the end of the semester, she convinced five of her friends to come to the DPAC and help introduce the children to psychology.

Thompson grew up in Scottsdale and decided to come to ASU to pursue her dream of becoming an advocate for children in foster care. She studied psychology because she wanted to understand how the brain processes information and how it affects the decisions we make.

Question: What is one piece of advice you have for students coming to ASU?

Answer: The one piece of advice I would give students would be to find something you are incredibly passionate about, and if you don't find a club already on campus, start one! ASU makes it incredibly easy to take a passion and run with it and without the support from the university, it would have been almost impossible for me to do what I did.

Q: What do you do for fun when you are not working in a research lab or volunteering?

A: I really enjoy working with kids; to me that is fun! When I'm not working with kids, I really enjoy baking and traveling.

Q: What was rewarding about volunteering at Crockett Elementary?

A: The most rewarding part of volunteering at Crockett Elementary was seeing how the kids improved in school. Knowing that our efforts are actually making a difference in their education and are at the same time keeping them interested in continuing education is so heartwarming.

Q: If you were given $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would that be?

I would improve education funding in the U.S., especially for arts classes. Children are our future. If we want to continue to improve and tackle some of the biggest issues we are currently facing as a nation, it's important to educate our future generations to the best of our abilities.