Helping others overcome obstacles on the path to success

Political science graduate Zachariah Tolliver works to empower minority men at ASU


May 3, 2016

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. ASU graduate Zachariah Tolliver Download Full Image

“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.

The power of inspiration

Young Women in Business event sparks W. P. Carey graduate Kimberley Coley to persevere


May 3, 2016

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

The May 9 Undergraduate Commencement will be a special memory for Arizona State University’s new graduates, but for Kimberly Coley, there’s another experience that will stand out: the Young Women in Business (YWiB) event sponsored by Intel. ASU graduate Kimberly Coley Download Full Image

There the business law major in the W. P. Carey School of Business learned about ways women could apply their passion for business to a variety of settings, how a supply chain works and professional advice from guest speaker Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook.

“As a woman, it can be hard to break into certain business sectors,” Coley said. “According to Forbes, over 50 percent of the U.S. population consists of women; however, only 14.6 percent are executive officers. I learned at the YWiB event that it could change especially if more women knew about the different opportunities that require a variation of skills that are available to them. For instance, a woman that has experience in the financial sector may not realize that it could be applied to a general executive officer position.”

Coley, who transferred to ASU from Estrella Mountain Community College, said Sandberg’s speech on the importance of pursuing professional ambitions and creating a foundation to pass the movement on was inspiring.

“Providing a foundation for what we want to pursue is crucial for our future because it could create a sense of resilience and perseverance,” Coley said. “… The incorporation of resilience and perseverance can continue to reignite even the smallest flicker of hope in us and could drive us to our goals.”

No matter what hardships she might face, Coley said she will always look back on that event and remember that anything is possible.

Before she graduates this month, she answered some questions about her college experience.

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

Answer: My "aha" moment came when I was in grade school and was thinking about what I would do with my life if money/wage was not a deciding factor. I had known I wanted to be an attorney at very young age, but became more and more interested in business. So when I begin attending Estrella Mountain Community College, I took advantage of gaining a legal (administration of justice) and business background. I enjoyed being able to learn about business and the legal field.

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

A: Networking is a crucial part of beginning a career. As a natural introvert, I used to shy away from networking events because I did not realize how important they could be to my field of study and my overall career. Now, I know that networking does not have to be awkward or something to be afraid of. There a lot of people that would jump at the chance to speak to (in general) students that are looking to further their career. The first step in finding them is to not be afraid to reach out to them, secondly, ask questions and finally be ready to listen.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: When it was time for me to decide what university I wanted to attend, the mere fact that ASU offered a business law degree and had a pathways program [a transfer-simplification process] made me even more determined to attend ASU and not another university. Plus, the tuition seemed to be the most affordable.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: My advice for those that are still in school is to never give up and do not be afraid to ask for help. As students, we tend to take on the stress from school, work and our personal lives. There are a team of people that are out there waiting for students to ask them for help. From the people at the tutoring centers to career advisers to potential mentors, there are people out there rooting for your success — just ask.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus was the Earth and Space Exploration building.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation I plan on focusing on my career and traveling more.

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

A: I would tackle the lack of food/water resources for poverty-stricken people. I would donate $40 million to a company by the name of Skipping Rocks Lab, the creators of Ooho! an alternative to plastic water bottles that can also be eaten. I would donate $40 million to them because they are trying to tackle more than just the ability to deliver clean, drinkable water to people, but also an alternative to using plastic bottles that hurt the environment. Plus, the water container being edible could expand to providing, flavorful and refreshing (essential) nutrients to anyone that eats the container.

Ooho! being something that is cheap to make could be given to poverty-stricken individuals for little to no money. With $40 million, I believe this project could expand to being bigger and better than its current state and fix some, if not all of the shortcomings they currently have with the product.