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Outgoing ASU West dean leaves legacy of interdisciplinary collaboration

ASU dean helps students think more critically about social expectations.
May 3, 2017

Tromp, forensic scientist Kimberly Kobojek and students in 'Murder Most Foul' crack baffling murder case from 1862 using combination of scientific and social aspects

Outgoing ASU West campus Dean Marlene Tromp is handing over a strong legacy. Under her guidance, the campus has added an interdisciplinary forensics major, launched a cybersecurity initiative and created mentoring programs to serve first-generation college students.

Her successor, Todd Sandrin, is looking forward to building on Tromp’s accomplishments, even as there’s one role he probably won’t be able to fill: international, Victorian-era sleuth.

Tromp, forensic scientist Kimberly KobojekKimberly Kobojek is a clinical associate professor in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences’ School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. and students in a class called “Murder Most Foul” cracked a murder case three years ago that had baffled investigators for decades in the late 1800s after a maid was accused of hacking her friend to death with a hatchet.

“Basically,” Tromp said, “they threw up their arms like, ‘We don’t know who did this crime. We just don’t know.’”

The case, Tromp says, shows how social bias can muddle criminal justice, making it practical even today, and it features prominently in her latest book, “Intimate Murderer,” which is under review.

Tromp, currently vice provost and head of ASU’s Glendale-based New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, will step into her role as campus provost and executive vice chancellor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, on June 1. She’ll take her expertise in Victorian England and belief in interdisciplinary studies along with her.

“A big part of the idea” behind the “Murder Most Foul” course, which involved English history, forensic science and cultural studies, “was how do we help people be better critical thinkers?” she said.

“And that’s actually what an interdisciplinary college does so beautifully, because what we’re saying is you really can’t understand the science unless you understand social sciences, and humanities, and arts. You have to understand all these things together … because that’s what people are failing to do in a lot of these cases.”

Tromp referenced the trials involving Jodi Arias, Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson as similar to the 150-year-old Sandyford case in which Jessie McLachlan was accused, in that the public had a hard time processing cultural expectations together with evidence.   

Without discussing the verdicts in those modern cases, Tromp said that justice wasn’t served in the 1862 hatchet attack.

Throughout the semester, Tromp and Kobojek examined with their students both the scientific and social aspects involved in the slaying of Scottish maidservant Jessie McPherson.

From the beginning, McLachlan was a suspect, Tromp said. Society’s inability, however, to conceive of a woman committing a brutal hatchet murder led to public outcry. McLachlan’s death sentence was reduced to 20 years in prison. And McPherson’s employer, James Fleming, who was nearly 90 years old at the time of his maid’s death, was rumored to have been the real killer — even though, as Tromp and Kobojek concluded, all forensic evidence pointed to McLachlan.

“Kim was able to use her forensic experience and knowledge, and I was able to use my cultural experience and knowledge, and we were able to say there’s this social component that made it hard for people to imagine [the female suspect] as a murderer,” Tromp said.

Fleming’s last words were reported to have been, “I may have been a sinner, but I didn’t kill the woman.”

McLachlan, meanwhile, went back and forth throughout her 20 years in prison between confessing and denying the crime.

“That was how the case was left,” Tromp said.

In “Intimate Murder,” Tromp examined eight separate but similar cases, both contemporary and from the 19th century.

“What I really wanted to do with this book is challenge people to think in more complex ways about cases that they think they already know and understand,” she said, “because I think that we actually have the power to become better critical readers of our culture and to be better at creating justice in the world. We can create justice more effectively if we can understand where we have our own stumbling blocks.”

Arias was convicted in the death of her boyfriend, who was found in the shower of his Mesa home. She has said it was an act of self-defense. Anthony was accused and acquitted of killing her 2-year-old daughter. Simpson was accused and acquitted in the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend.

Tromp has been with ASU since 2011 and has served as the dean of New College since 2013. She is the author of “Altered States: Sex, Nation, Drugs, and Self-Transformation in Victorian Spiritualism” (SUNY 2006); “The Private Rod: Sexual Violence, Marriage, and the Law in Victorian England” (UP Virginia 2000); and more than 20 essays and chapters on 19th-century culture.

Sandrin, meanwhile, came to ASU in 2008 and three years later founded New College Undergraduate Inquiry and Research Experiences. His research resides at the intersection of microbiology and chemistry, and he has optimized technology to identify microbes.

“We will miss her terribly,” Sandrin said of Tromp. “She has been a truly tireless advocate for our students and built partnerships and pathways that are going to allow us to do great things in the future, have more engagement with the community, and certainly grow ASU at West campus and far beyond.”

Awards ceremony celebrates outstanding achievements of students in ASU School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences

May 3, 2017

The School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences recently hosted its annual Scholarship and Awards Ceremony celebrating outstanding students, faculty and staff at the Sun Devil Welcome Center auditorium on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. Eight graduate students received awards, and 19 undergraduates earned scholarships or awards in recognition of their outstanding achievements.

This year’s event welcomed one new award for graduate students. The Dennis Young Graduate and Early Scholar Statistics Award is endowed by statistics Professor Emeritus Dennis Young, faculty, alumni, and friends, and was awarded to graduate student Abigael Nachtsheim. Scholarship and Awards Ceremony auditorium The School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences hosted their annual Scholarship and Awards Ceremony in the Sun Devil Welcome Center auditorium. Download Full Image

This scholarship was created to support the legacy of Dennis Young, who was dedicated to graduate education, advising more than 30 master's and PhD students in statistics during his 35 years at ASU. He was a pioneer in the development of the MS and PhD degrees in statistics and served on numerous graduate student research committees from many disciplines. He is a long-standing active member of the American Statistical Association – Arizona Chapter and a fellow of the ASA.

Two new scholarships for undergraduates were also awarded for the first time. The Optumas Actuarial Science Scholarship is endowed by founder and managing director Steve Schramm. Senior actuary Tim Doyle and actuarial consultant Joe Costa were in attendance to see Bo Swoverland receive the inaugural award.

Optumas is a consulting firm that brings about health care reform from not only the perspective of who receives health care but also how people receive care. Through this scholarship, Optumas will help nurture the best and brightest ASU actuarial science scholars to positively impact this growing and necessary field.

The second new undergradute scholarship is the W.R. Berkley/Nautilus Insurance Analytics Scholarship, endowed by the W.R. Berkley Corporation Charitable Foundation. Nautilus is a member company of W.R. Berkley Corporation, a Fortune 500 company recognized as one of the most respected names in the property and casualty insurance industry. 

With this scholarship Nautilus seeks to recognize a scholar that exhibits strong analytical thinking skills, and will continue to utilize these skills in their academic and professional work. President and CEO Tom Kuzma and vice president of actuarial and data analysis Brent Carr were in the audience to applaud actuarial science student Brendan Sturm for receiving this first-time award.

The top two undergraduates from the school’s 850 mathematics majors were also recognized. Alexandra Porter received the Charles Wexler Mathematics Prize, presented each year to the outstanding undergraduate senior mathematics major. The student is selected by an awards committee based on faculty nominations. Ryan Theisen was chosen as the spring 2017 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medalist for both mathematics and economics.

Several faculty members received teaching honors. Carl Gardner received the Charles Wexler Teaching Award, presented each year to an outstanding teacher of undergraduate mathematics. The winner is selected from nominations made by undergraduate students with majors in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. Katie Kolossa and Scott Surgent were recognized with Outstanding Instruction and Service Awards.

The school’s outstanding staff member award was renamed in memory of Michelle Howe, who worked for the school for 16 years, most recently in student engagement and advising. Howe’s father and uncle, James Rodgers and David Rodgers, were in attendance to see Margaret Cole receive the Michelle Howe Staff Award for Outstanding Service.

These scholarships and awards not only recognize the hard work and dedication of the recipients, but also provide much needed financial support.

“Furthering my education has always been important to me and my family, but it is not without its struggles. The financial hurdle that college poses is a tough one to jump,” said Desirae Crespo, recipient of the André Levard Mackey Scholarship. “This scholarship will make it easier for me to focus on my studies by not having to stress and worry as much about tuition.”

The awards also provide a boost of confidence as students move on in their academic careers.

“Next year I will start my PhD in computer science at Stanford, and this is encouragement that I can be successful doing mathematics as part of my research in graduate school and into my career,” said Alexandra Porter, recipient of the Charles Wexler Mathematics Prize. “I also want to thank the faculty and staff in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences here at ASU for the impact the program has had on me.”

Full list of awards and scholarships:


Abigael Nachtsheim
Dennis Young Graduate and Early Scholar Statistics Award
Endowed by Dennis Young, family, friends and colleagues

Krysten Pampel
Floyd L. Downs Teaching of Mathematics Fellowship Award
Endowed by Floyd Downs and Elizabeth Lenci-Downs

Paloma Gutierrez Castillo
Graduate Student Research Award
Supported by the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences

Neil Hatfield
Robert G. Maule Excellence in Teaching Mathematics Award 
Endowed by Elaine Maule

Robert Buscaglia
Erika David
Ashley Duncan
Kristin Frank
Neil Hatfield
GPSA Teaching Excellence Awards



Bo Swoverland
Optumas Actuarial Science Scholarship
Endowed by Optumas

Brendan Sturm
W.R. Berkley/Nautilus Insurance Analytics Scholarship
Endowed by W.R. Berkley Corporation Charitable Foundation

Ricky Pham
Actuarial Faculty Pioneers Scholarship
Endowed by Al & May Boggess, Matt Hassett, Jelena Milovanovic

Alex Kirvan
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona Actuarial Science Scholarship
Endowed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona

Zhihan Jennifer Zhang
Nationwide E&S/Specialty Actuarial Science Scholarship
Endowed by Nationwide

James Altman
Robert G. Maule Actuarial Excellence Scholarship
Endowed by Elaine Maule

Garrett Deimund
Actuarial Science Scholarship
Endowed by John Zicarelli

Maja Stefanovic
Hailey Walters
Tom and Zona Lorig Scholarship 
Endowed by Tom and Zona Lorig

Sebastian Scouras
J.D. House
Christian Boden
William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition — ASU Scorers

Huifeng Sun
Ioana Elise Hociota!!! Memorial Mathematics Scholarship
Endowed by Andrew Holycross, family and friends

Jessica Campos
Joaquin Bustoz Memorial Mathematics Scholarship
Endowed by the Bustoz family, friends and colleagues

Auliya Gurzenda
John Olson Scholarship
Endowed by June Olson

Desirae Crespo
André Levard Mackey Scholarship
Endowed by Harold and Dorothy Mackey, Jr. and friends

Scott Mahan
Jack H. Hawes Memorial Mathematics Research Scholarship
Endowed by Sandra Baldwin

Ryan Theisen
Spring 2017 Dean’s Medal
Supported by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Alexandra Porter
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship 
Charles Wexler Mathematics Prize
Endowed by Helen and Jonathan D. Wexler 



Carl Gardner
Charles Wexler Teaching Award
Endowed by Helen and Jonathan D. Wexler 

Katie Kolossa
Scott Surgent
Outstanding Instruction and Service Award
Supported by the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences 

Margaret Cole
Michelle Howe Staff Award for Outstanding Service
Supported by the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences 



45 years
Hank Kuiper

35 years
John Quigg

30 years
Rosemary Renaut

25 years
Nancy Childress

20 years
Don Jones

15 years
Dongrin Kim
Firoz Firozzaman 
Leslie Loy
Diane Richardson

10 years
Susanna Fishel

5 years
Rehn Kovacic 
Brett Kotschwar
Julien Paupert
Erin Stephens



Matthias Kawski — chair 
Steve Baer 
Don Jones
Jelena Milovanovic

Rhonda Olson

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