Helping others overcome obstacles on the path to success

By

Penny Walker

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here .

Zachariah Tolliver knows firsthand the challenges of being a non-traditional minority student. He has conquered those obstacles — he graduates with a bachelor’s in political science this May — and has worked during his time at Arizona State University to help others do the same.

“Minority males are the lowest graduating demographic,” said Tolliver, who will be the first person in his family to graduate.

To combat that disparity, Maricopa Community College founded the Male Empowerment Network, “which caters to minority males and focuses on providing them the resources and tools necessary not only to graduate but to be successful beyond graduation,” Tolliver said. He was part of the ASU branch launched in December 2015, serving as vice president.

“We started with six members back in December; however, this April we successfully held our first induction and graduation ceremony, which we honored three graduates and also inducted more the 20 members,” said Tolliver, who transferred to ASU from Phoenix College. “This has been more than I could’ve asked for at ASU; to be asked to lead such an initiative and watch everything we wanted come to fruition has been humbling and gratifying.

“Many of our guys come from less than ideal conditions and circumstances; however, they defied the odds and made it to the big stage to complete their bachelor’s degree. Not only have we made this thrive thus far at ASU, we have partnered with Maricopa Community Colleges, who founded this initiative, to create a pipeline for upcoming minority males to attend ASU and not only have a home but a support group to aid them in their success.”

Tolliver, who was recently accepted into the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, is proud to continue this philanthropy work at ASU. He took some time to answer questions about his time at ASU:

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I’ve always had high interest in law and aspirations of becoming a lawyer. So when choosing an undergraduate degree, I wanted to choose something that correlated with law school and would give me a foundation. Political science not only provided me the foundation to prepare for law school, it also gave me many new perspectives on life and offered great conversation in the classroom.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: Something I learned at ASU that changed my perspective was how policies came to light and all the working that lead up to policies being implemented. I believe policies sometimes are manipulated to fit persons’ or industries’ agenda, and learning about lobbyists and other persons who influence these type of policies was very interesting.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because not only was it close to home, but I remember going to Tempe Town Lake when I was younger and just staring at the stadium. I wanted to play there so bad and I wanted to be a Sun Devil even more, though I would not get the opportunity to play on that field. I was given the same stage on a different level and not only am I a Sun Devil for life, I’ve paved the way for other people from my background to become Sun Devils as well.

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 “Club Hayden,” also known as Hayden Library. In being a successful transfer student, it was important to develop a great work ethic, and in achieving this work ethic I spent a lot of time at Hayden Library. Also it’s just a really cool place and atmosphere to be in; however, I will say there is no bad spot on campus. Anywhere you go on campus you can find a great spot to do homework, take a break, or just think for a while and enjoy the day.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: If I were given $40 million to solve a problem, it would be within the minority community and promoting higher education. I believe a lot of the problems we face in the minority community are a result of lack of opportunity. I would want to provide these young men the opportunity and hope. I would continue to do my philanthropy work at ASU with the initiative and would use the funds for programs for high school and community college students. Also I would go into the community and get young men off the streets and lead them back to school by having community meetings where we talk about education and various other topics that apply to life such as resumes, finances, etc.