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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement.
ASU interdisciplinary studies graduate Thomas Quiroz said his decision to enter the military right after graduating from high school in Honolulu was influenced heavily by financial considerations.
“College tuition was something my mother — a single parent — could never afford, so I joined the military thinking it might offer a career,” he said.
The first year of his Marine Corps duty he worked as a helicopter mechanic at the air station near Jacksonville, North Carolina, and as soon as he was able to, he began taking classes at a nearby community college.
When the chance to apply for an international diplomatic security post arose before the end of his first year, he pursued it but was pessimistic about his prospects.
“It’s an opportunity that many Marines reach for but don’t qualify for, because there are specific and selective physical and psychological requirements,” explained Quiroz. “I applied and screened for the program with the mindset that I'd rather regret failing than not trying at all. But slowly, through each phase of the training, exams and background checks, I incrementally managed to pass. I found myself graduating with a class of 30 Marines, whittled down from an original 200.
“Perhaps one of the best lessons learned from this was that I would've never known my potential if I had never tested and challenged it.”
Quiroz applied this same spirit to finishing out his military career over the next three years while also pursuing higher education.
He was first sent for 10 months to the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, Liberia. That assignment was followed by seven months in Tokyo and then 10 months in Moscow.
“In order to keep up with a new and unpredictable life schedule, I sought out colleges that could support my education needs,” Quiroz said. “ASU Online, according to a search I did, was one of the best and most supportive options. I was able to continue my education despite the many special assignments and duties I performed while overseas."
He gained experience in operations training, planning, supervision, financial management and leadership in the Marines while completing a bachelor of arts in interdisciplinary studies, with concentrations in real estate and Chinese.
“I’ve really developed a passion for finance and real estate, and after graduation I’ll be going straight into the Master of Real Estate Development degree program in the W. P. Carey School of Business,” Quiroz said.
The nine-month program is offered in partnership with ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, and Del E. Webb School of Construction.
He reflected: “The field meshes well with my work in the military and years spent earning the U.S. government's highest levels of trust.”
Quiroz answered some additional questions about his ASU experience.
Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
Answer: I've learned that success is truly relative and that everyone has the right to be proud and empowered by what they've accomplished. The same principle applies with the individual struggles we each have. My proudest accomplishments in life aren't the accolades achieved in my service but in being able to successfully help my mother and father out of their poverty.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I chose ASU because the online degree programs allowed me to study while living in different countries. I've come to learn that ASU Online is among the best of its kind, and I was glad that it accommodated the life of this Marine.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Transitioning from the online program to Tempe campus has shown me unique challenges. The freedom that came to me after military service was hard to get used to. I ended up getting distracted and sometimes too focused on little things to see the bigger picture. In the end I realized — and focused on — the underlying reason why I was here and what I wanted to accomplish. I think being able to take a step back, see the big picture and reassure yourself that you’re heading down the path you designed is important, too.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: My favorite spot on campus is Small Gym E in the Tempe campus Sun Devil Fitness Complex. It’s there that I train in mixed martial arts with the MMA Club that I founded at ASU last year. Since then, I've come to meet a lot more friends who share the same passion as I do.
Q: Did you do an internship related to your major?
A: Yes, I did. I kept myself busy. During my time at ASU Tempe campus I've done non-paid internships with a commercial real estate brokerage firm and a real estate finance company. And to keep up with the bills, I also worked part-time jobs at night and on weekends.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would invest that money in a computer manufacturing company and parts recycling company. I would then make it a nonprofit organization that will provide computers for low-funded schools around the globe. Computers and even iPhones can be made very cheaply but are sold at high prices. Hopefully this business model can show that the cost of providing everyone a better education isn't as expensive as it’s made out to be.