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For ASU senior, it all started with a rock that was nearly 2 billion years old

Nearly 2 billion-year-old rock inspired career path for graduating ASU student.
December 8, 2016

Ryan Burke has been awarded the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medal

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2016 commencement. See more graduates here.

For Ryan Burke, it all began with a rock he found while walking around Camp Tontozona.

He touched it, picked it up and examined it. It was about 1.7 billion years old.

“I thought that was amazing,” said the graduate of the School of Earth and Space ExplorationThe School of Earth and Space Exploration is in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. at Arizona State University. 

The San Diego native was awarded the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medal this semester. He majored in geological sciences with a minor in sustainability.

Burke has one of the two highest GPAs of School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) graduating students.

He was nominated for the recognition by professor Arjun Heimsath.

“I got to know Ryan as an exceptionally talented and hard working student who showed a special gift for working with other students,” Heimsath said. “He is a natural leader, and he leads in an unassuming and quiet (compared to the cliché that we have of an Army drill sergeant) way that is impressive to watch. ... His piercing questions in class, attentive attitude and diligence with assignments and exams all help explain his excellent GPA. His “can do” attitude is well known by all who have taught him and is a delightful testament to how well life experience can serve our students.”

Read on to find out how a middling high student came out of the Navy after six years to earn his degree and the Dean’s Medal.

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

Answer: Honestly, I wasn’t really sure. When I got out of the military in 2007, I initially wanted to be a business major, but I wasn’t accepted into the business school, but I was accepted into SESE. After taking one course, I was glad I didn’t get into the business school. It was SESE 121 (Earth, Solar System & Universe I) that won me over. I was ignorant about the universe and the science behind it.

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

A: It’s probably more of a personal evolution. In high school, I wasn’t a terribly good student, but the military gave me the motivation to be in a managerial position rather than a grunt. I had never been good at math or science, and now I’m pretty good at them. I turned a weakness into a strength.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: My dad majored in physics (at ASU). I have an uncle who majored in aeronautical engineering (here). A lot of family ties.

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

A: Probably just to persevere. Before I started this whole adventure, I thought some things would be too difficult. It’s just a matter of how hard you’re willing to work.

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

A: The mineralogy specimens room. It’s really quiet. The libraries are packed and seating is limited. In the mineralogy room, it’s restricted to geology students.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I have a job prospect with the city of Scottsdale, working in the water department as a hydrologist or hydrologist’s apprentice, and some grad school opportunities. Hopefully, I’ll find an employer who will pay for grad school.

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

A: I don’t think that would be enough. My thing is sustainability. Obviously, it’s something that’s widely regarded as a problem, but it poses more of a risk than the media covers. I’d get a policy passed about a carbon tax, something of that nature. It’d have to start at the policy level.

*An earlier version of this story misstated the age of the rock.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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Check out the reach of ASU's library system

Sun Devils access ASU Library website from 155 of the world’s 195 nations.
December 8, 2016

New stats show Sun Devils have logged in from 155 of 195 nations around the world; University Librarian Jim O’Donnell says international Sun Devils stay connected

ASU students, faculty and staff accessed the school’s library website last year from 155 of the world’s 195 nations, according to newly released numbers that prompted University Librarian Jim O’Donnell to repeat his mantra, “The sun never sets on the ASU Library.”

“It isn’t just that we’re open 24/7,” O’DonnellHe also is a professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. said. “But those numbers also remind us that we’re open in 24 time zones.”

Library administrators learned of the school’s reach by tracking ASU-authenticated usersAuthenticated users must posses an ASURITE ID and a password. in the last academic year through an IPInternet Protocol is an numerical label given to each computer device. address search.

O’Donnell said he thinks most users are international Sun Devils who visit their home countries during breaks, but want to stay connected.

Maya Meng, a Thunderbird School of Global Management graduate student from Zhengzhou, China, said she has used the site from her home country to read finance textbooks and classics such as “The Intelligent Investor.”

“I find many of these books helpful in my studies,” she said.

Mirna Lattouf, a religious studies professor in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, said the site helps keep her in touch with ASU while visiting including Europe, South America and the Middle East.

“When I am teaching for a Study Abroad class in another country, I do connect with ASU to stay up on events, issues and future plans,” Lattouf said. “When traveling for personal pleasure, I do the same as well.”

The site offers ASU news and events, a database of scholarly papers and articles, approximately 70,500 videos, 100,000 maps, and more than 1 million e-books.

“One of the functions of a university library is to be the oxygen you breathe for the four years you’re with us,” O’Donnell said. “We make these riches available because creativity and imagination are not to be bounded.”

Another contributing factor is likely ASU Online, which has hundreds of international students among its nearly 24,000 enrollees from nations including Canada, Great Britain, Mexico, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Vietnam. 

Materja Klaric, an ASU Online student from Slovenia, graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She said she used the site at least once a week.

“I mainly used ASU Library, mostly for research and papers and with almost every course, and to look for topics of personal interest,” Klaric said. “And yes, it was helpful.”

In harder to reach countries like Tonga, Vanuatu and Micronesia, ASU Libraries has partnered with ASU assistant professor Laura Hosman in curating content for her portable, solar-powered, Wi-Fi digital library devices called SolarSPELL, which stands for Solar Powered Educational Learning Library.

The device, which is small enough to fit into a backpack, is helping to expand access to education and technology in remote places around the world with limited electricity and internet.

While the digital revolution has transformed the way students learn, study and consume information — the library is expected to see 6.3 million page visitors this year — traditional pedestrian traffic remains high.

The ASU physical library system greeted more than 3 million visitors across its campuses in 2016.