Focusing on the future of Earth

Chad Ostrander, graduating senior at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, awarded National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship

May 5, 2016

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

Chad Ostrander, who will be graduating this spring with a bachelor’s degree in geological sciences from the School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE), was recently awarded a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship. Chad Ostrander Chad Ostrander, at the 2015 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. Download Full Image

Ostrander will be staying at Arizona State University to pursue a doctorate in geological sciences and will be working with the Anbar Lab, which focuses on the future of Earth as an inhabited world, and the prospects for life beyond.   

Ostrander said the toughest part of his ASU experience was getting back into math and physics after taking six “gap years” before beginning studies at ASU. The most helpful experience, however, was the research opportunity SESE’s Ariel Anbar extended his way during his freshman year.

“I am forever in debt to Ariel Anbar, Gwyn Gordon and Steve Romaniello for everything they have done,” said Ostrander. “Every ounce of science success, both in the lab and the classroom, is the direct result of their guidance.”

Ostrander answered some questions about his experience at ASU:

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

Answer: I started reading books by Carl Sagan as part of a New Year's resolution in 2011 and fell in love with science. My high school geology and astronomy teacher, Mr. Ward, would play VHS clips from the 1980s Cosmos series, effectively planting this seed.

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

A: There are a lot of meaningful research opportunities out there, especially in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. I didn't expect to be involved in research so quickly, especially as a freshman six years removed from high school, but I gladly tried to keep up. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: My wife was offered a promotion by her employer, pending relocation to Phoenix, and I was finishing an enlistment in the Marines. I wanted to give college a shot, regardless of where we ended up.

Chad Ostrander

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

A: Take risks and learn from your mistakes. Revel in opportunities to correct those mistakes. 

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

A: I enjoy walking around campus as a break from the grind of studies and research. There is something relaxing about being alone and on the move.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: To pursue a PhD at ASU under the guidance of Dr. Ariel Anbar. Our group is interested in Earth's oxygen history. Specifically, when did oxygen first begin to accumulate in the atmosphere, even in small amounts? There is a great collection of nearly 3 billion-year-old sedimentary rocks at ASU suitable for addressing this question.

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

A: Random people send me similar email offers all the time: "All we need is your bank information, Mr. Ostrander," they say. I haven't decided what to do with the money once it comes, though. I feel a lot of the world's headaches could be solved with an educated public, so I'll likely try and tackle that.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


A positive force

Teachers College grad Mitzi Vilchis chosen as Fulbright grantee to teach English in Mexico

May 5, 2016

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

Mitzi Vilchis, a secondary education major, was recently named a Fulbright grantee and will be teaching English to school children in Mexico this fall. Mitzi Vilchis named Fulbright grantee Mitzi Vilchis was named a Fulbright grantee and will teach English in Mexico this fall. Download Full Image

“I am still waiting for my official assignment to a state and city, but I am very excited about my side project that I will do while there,” said Vilchis, who is graduating from Arizona State University's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College this spring.

Her “side project,” a requirement of the Fulbright application, will involve working with her students in Mexico and helping them create digital stories (video documentaries on social justice issues) as inspired by her participation in CompuGirls, an ASU entity within the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology.

She is also the winner of the Roberto L. Pastor Student Award for academic achievement. Vilchis was born in Phoenix and grew up in Tempe.

“I knew I wanted to be close to home and close to my family, so ASU was a natural choice for me for college. And, teaching, well, I chose teaching because I want to be the positive force in kids’ lives. I want to be the one person, and for some kids it might really be just one person, in a kid’s life, who encourages them to be more than they think they can be,” she said.

In five years she envisions being midway through a doctoral program, but she will always teach in some way.

Vilchis took some time to answer a few questions.

Question: What three things are always in your fridge?

Answer: Tortillas, serrano peppers and eggs.

Q: Coffee or Tea?

A: Coffee.

Q: Last movie you watched that made you cry?

A: “I Learn America.”

Q: Last book you read?

A: “Things Fall Apart.”

Q: Teaching is the most important profession because ... 

A: As teachers, we are able to be our students’ cheerleader day in and day out. We can be the voice that tells them they can achieve anything they want and help them along the way.

Q: The real-life teacher who most inspired you was ...

A: Ruben Montalbo, my second-grade teacher at Holdeman Elementary School, because he pushed me to do my best even when I doubted myself.

Q: Favorite fictional teacher?

A: Snape.

Q: What are you most grateful for?

A: My family.

Q: Why did you choose education as a major?

A: I knew of too many young people who had been given up on by teachers and told, “You’ll never amount to anything.” As a result, I wanted to be the one who told my students that they can do whatever they set their minds to, even if there are challenges in the way.

Q: Who inspired you when you were young, and why?

A: My sister because she was always hard-working and super creative.

Q: Who inspires you now?

A: Maria Chacon at Central High School in Phoenix, because she’s the teacher I want to be. She’s also so proud of being Hispanic and is a great leader. She talks to everyone and always has amazing words for me when I’m having a hard day at school. She is also very knowledgeable on how to help our kids, especially if they are undocumented. I want to know as much as she does so I can help my future students in any way I can.

Q: What was the biggest risk you ever took, and what did you learn from it?

A: Working and studying at the same time. Both things required me to take work home, but hey, I can’t complain. It’s been great, and I’m proud of a lot of things.

Q: Three historical or fictional people you would have over for dinner?

A: Monet, Frida Kahlo and President Obama and his family.

Q: What’s your favorite mode of transportation, and why?

A: Car. It’s very convenient.

Q: What’s your go-to food?

A: Mom’s food, or anything that’s easy to make.

Q: ASU moment to remember?

A: Staying at Hayden Library till 6 a.m. (when I had a 9 a.m. class) with my friend Courtney Besaw (also graduating this spring, and my friend since middle school).

We were working on our chapter. We had a lot of adventures. Mainly they included finding great spots to do homework.

Q: Biggest change in classrooms from when you were a child to today?

A: There are no overhead projectors!

Q: If you could only listen to three songs for the rest of your life, what would they be?

A: “Corazon Atomico” by Zoe; “Days” by The Drums; and “Running Up That Hill” by Placebo.

Q: Biggest mistake?

A: Quitting ballet folklorico when I was younger.

Q: Biggest accomplishment?

A: Chapter I co-authored with Dr. Kimberly Scott (associate professor at ASU and founder/executive director of ASU's Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology and CompuGirls) and my friend Courtney.

Q: Most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

A: Applied to Fulbright and everything that awaits!

Q: What advice would give your 18-year-old self?

A: Minor in something! Transborder Chicano Lit, Women and Gender Studies or any other ethnic studies.

Q: Favorite movie quote?

A: I don’t think it’s from a movie, but: “Nothing is impossible. The world itself says, I’m possible.” — Audrey Hepburn

Q: Pet peeve?

A: Giving up easily on something. Come on, people. Problem-solve!

Q: App you can’t live without?

A: Facebook — all the groups help so you can talk to everyone and ask any questions you have.

Copy writer, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College