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Lerman Montoya is someone who truly captures the essence of being a Barrett student. The senior majoring in journalism with a certificate in human rights is set to graduate this May with heaps of experiences and memories from his undergraduate years to last a lifetime.
Montoya has consistently been doing three things at once across his four years at Barrett: he has kept on top of his game academically, been highly involved in the community, and has pursued study abroad opportunities, fellowships and scholarships. He also has worked several jobs simultaneously to supplement scholarships, stay on track financially, and help his family.
“I have always been motivated by activism work and have always been grounded in my community,” he said. “Immigrant rights and refugee integration are some of the issues that I have tackled since being at ASU and Barrett.”
In the summer of his freshman year, Montoya interned at the International Rescue Committee, a leading humanitarian and refugee resettlement organization, where he was involved in programs helping survivors of torture and human trafficking.
The following fall semester he taught English to a group of recently resettled refugees and immigrants at Refugee Focus, another refugee resettlement organization.
In addition to his work in refugee integration, Montoya also has been involved with immigration rights and advocacy for LGBT and HIV+ people.
He also helped distribute water in the Sonoran Desert with Humane Borders, whose mission is to decrease the number of migrant deaths in the desert.
Montoya is constantly travelling and learning.
“I was able to travel on a plane for the first time through Barrett’s Great American Cities Program,” Montoya said. “I went to New York City and that experience changed my life. Now I can’t stop traveling!”
Montoya was one of 50 students nationwide selected to attend the Public Policy and Leadership Conference at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in April 2017. He said this experience motivated him to pursue a master’s degree in international affairs.
In the summer of 2017, Montoya attended the American Institute on Political and Economic Systems at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. There, as part of a cohort of 140 students from throughout the world that included 12 from the United States, he took peace and conflict courses. He was chosen as the “student of distinction” and gave a speech at the closing ceremony.
“This study abroad program allowed me to meet people from all parts of the world, from Chile to Iraq. I left with an amazing network of friends who I love deeply and still communicate with,” he said.
Montoya also traveled to Puerto Rico six months after Hurricane Maria, as part of a documentary production team. He completed a 30-image photo story on the hurricane’s impact on rural mountain communities in Puerto Rico.
Last summer, Montoya went to Europe and studied architectural photography in Paris. The whole city was his classroom.
“Upon returning to the United States, I was already packing my bags for my next big trip,” he said.
As a recipient of the Gilman Scholarship, Montoya spent the 2018 fall semester in Morocco studying Arabic and taking human rights courses. He also worked on his honors thesis by interacting with migrants and researching the issues they face when trying to make the perilous journey to Europe.
“This project was really hard for me because I had to report in only French and Arabic,” he said. “The experience was life changing and I am very eager to defend my thesis later this spring.”
Montoya now is participating in Barrett’s Project Excellence, which allows undergraduates to take graduate-level law classes with the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. He is taking a course on foreign relations law.
He also is interning at Ybarra Maldonado Law Group, a Phoenix-based law firm specializing in immigration, criminal, and civil rights cases.
Montoya said the firm is unique because it is rooted in activism work for the Latinx community. Montoya is doing legal research on cases, visiting detention centers with attorneys, and assisting in asylum applications.
How was Montoya able to pack so much into his undergraduate years?
“It was not easy trying to balance all of these things while being a full-time student, and working two, three and even four jobs at a time to help my family in Mexico,” Montoya said. “There were many hard nights and many moments of doubt and feelings of just giving up. I had an amazing support team of friends, family, Barrett faculty and staff, mentors, and colleagues that helped me every day to continue working for my dreams. I also took a lot of baths to de-stress.”
Montoya said that Barrett has given him countless opportunities for travel and research as an undergrad, and helped mold him into a global citizen. He challenged himself with an honors curriculum, met some of the most hard-working and inspiring individuals, and traveled the world.
Looking back, Montoya said his most memorable experience, if he had to choose only one, was a Barrett study trip to New York City in the summer of 2017. He studied performance studies and worked on performance studies research with Barrett Honors Faculty Fellow Dr. Mathew Sandoval.
“Not only were we in an off-Broadway play about political scandals, but we also rehearsed in the same space where ‘RENT!’ was first rehearsed in,” Montoya said. “This such an amazing opportunity. Overall, the best part was having my best friend with me the entire time. We rarely slept, went all over the city and discovered so many new things.”
What's next for Montoya?
“I do not have a dream job, but I want to travel and help people around the world,” he said.
Montoya is currently applying for programs in Washington D.C, Boston, New York, Paris and Geneva, Switzerland. He also is currently a semi-finalist for an English Teaching Assistantship with the Fulbright U.S. Student Program. If chosen for the position, he will teach English in the Palestinian Territories.
Montoya plans to work abroad and gain professional experience before he returns to the U.S. to pursue a master’s degree in international affairs with an emphasis on human rights.
How can others follow in his footsteps?
Whenever someone asks him how he was able take advantage of so many opportunities, he always tells them to “just apply.” Montoya said that he always applies for anything that interests him and for which he feels qualified and hopes for the best. He also strongly recommends that students meet with staff at the Office of National Scholarship Advisement to find out about nationally-competed scholarship and fellowship opportunities, and to get assistance with applications.
“Stay grounded in your passions,” Montoya said. “Don’t do anything just because it would look good on your resume. Do something that motivates you and don’t try to be the perfect student, because we are all unique and have different interests.”
Story by Ranjani Venkatakrishnan, a Barrett Honors College student majoring in journalism.