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Barretts donate $2M to shape global citizens at ASU’s honors college

Announcement made during remarks at Barrett, The Honors College convocation; gift bolsters Campaign ASU 2020

May 9, 2017

Arizona State University announced Tuesday a $2 million gift from Ambassador Barbara Barrett and her husband, Craig Barrett, to support global citizenship programming at the eponymous Barrett, The Honors College at ASU.

Vice Provost and Dean of Barrett, The Honors College Mark Jacobs made public the family’s most recent commitment to the university while introducing Barbara as a distinguished guest at the Honors Convocation at Wells Fargo Arena. Ambassador Barbara Barrett Barbara Barrett is a former United States Ambassador to Finland, a trained astronaut, advisor to four American presidents on trade and defense policy and chair of the Aerospace Corporation. She and her husband, Craig Barrett, have announced a $2 million gift to ASU to support global citizenship programming. Download Full Image

Jacobs explained that the Barretts’ endowment of The Honors College in 2000, the largest donation made to ASU at its time, set the college on its path to national renown. Their second major gift, he said, “will allow the college to support its students as they become responsible, global citizens while educating them about the issues and challenges that the international community and planet face.”

“Today, no one will be able to be successful without having some familiarity with the world around them. That is an important element of an education, whether it’s in aerospace engineering or real estate or anthropology,” Barbara said. “In presenting the gold standard of education, it is all the more important for ASU’s Honors College to have a global component.”

The New York Times’ Frank Bruni called Barrett, The Honors College, “the gold standard” in honors education. It is home to 6,800 high-achieving scholars.

The college urges students to enhance their educational experience by travelling. Advising services and several scholarship programs are available for those hoping to study abroad in one of Barrett, The Honors College’s off-site locations, including Peru, Greece, Italy, Australia and the United Kingdom. The Honors College also offers research and service-learning opportunities overseas.

The Barretts’ gift will boost those programs and will grow the Barrett Global Fellow program established this year to bring international leaders to ASU to engage with students.

Ghanaian engineer and senior researcher George Yaw Obeng, the inaugural Barrett Global Faculty Fellow, taught at Barrett, The Honors College during the 2016-2017 academic year and said, “The creation of facilities and provision of opportunities and resources that support exposure of students to different cultures, language and environments will help them to appreciate diversity in life and nature.”

“It is a gift that allows us to take a step we could not take before, allowing each honors student access to international leaders visiting the campus, international study trips and an honors curriculum exposing them to most pressing global issues,” Jacobs said.

ASU is a top-rated institution for domestic students who study transnationally and is ranked as the top public university chosen by international students, according to the Institute of International Education’s 2015 report.

Findings by the Association of International Educators suggest that studying abroad enhances one’s personal growth, career prospects, leadership skills, academic performance and empathy.

Along with Harvard, Stanford and Chicago, ASU is one of only four institutions to produce Rhodes, Marshall and Churchill scholarship winners in 2017. ASU’s three elite scholarship winners graduated Tuesday from Barrett, The Honors College and will pursue degrees in the United Kingdom next fall.

“I’m just so thrilled that I’ve had the opportunity to study with Barrett students and learn from Barrett faculty. It’s been absolutely the best experience of my life, and I’ve gotten so much more out of it than I ever imagined I could in a college experience,” said Erin Schulte, who was presented the Outstanding Graduate Award at today’s ceremonies.

Erin Schulte and Barbara Barrett

From left: Barrett, The Honors College Dean Mark Jacobs, Claire Williams, Erin Schulte and Barbara Barrett pose for a picture at the Barrett, The Honors College Convocation on Tuesday. Williams is an alumna and head of alumni and parent programs. Schulte is the college's Outstanding Graduate. Around 800 graduate scholars watched as Jacobs announced a $2 million gift from Craig and Barbara Barrett to support global citizenship programming at Barrett, The Honors College. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


Schulte, winner of the Marshall Scholarship, majored in global studies and worked on international humanitarian issues while at ASU. She co-founded the All Walks Project, a student-led non-profit that brings awareness of human trafficking to at-risk populations, and facilitated the organization’s expansion into Thailand.

“Being a Barrett student opened doors for me I did not even know existed,” said Ngoni Mugwisi, an electrical engineering major and winner of the Rhodes Scholarship. “I am particularly grateful for the opportunity I received to take the Human Event classes, which challenged me to think critically about the human condition while engaging in conversations with diverse students whose diverse ideas about difficult topics were phenomenal.”

“We are tremendously grateful for Barbara and Craig Barrett and the opportunities they create for students to encounter new ideas and succeed in an ever-changing world,” said R.F. “Rick” Shangraw, CEO of ASU Foundation. “They are mentors for our entire community. Their generosity comes in multiple forms, and we are lucky to learn from them.”

The Barretts are among ASU’s most generous donors.

Together, they have made nearly 250 gifts to the university totaling in excess of $22 million, including a $3 million commitment in February to endow the O’Connor Justice Prize administered by the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in tribute to the Honorable Sandra Day O’Connor, former U.S. Supreme Court justice and Ms. Barrett’s mentor.

Among their numerous accomplishments, Barbara is a former United States ambassador to Finland, a trained astronaut, adviser to four American presidents on trade and defense policy and chair of the Aerospace Corporation. Craig is former CEO of Intel and strong supporter of educational reform. He chairs BASIS Schools, whose Phoenix location ranked as the most challenging high school in America this week by The Washington Post. The well-known business leaders and philanthropists own Triple Creek Ranch, a Montana hideaway voted the best hotel in the world by readers of Travel + Leisure.

Their gifts contribute to Campaign ASU 2020, a comprehensive, campus-wide effort to generate at least $1.5 billion in support for the university’s programs and services, for which supporting Global Citizenship at Barrett, The Honors College is a priority. Barbara is an honorary principal of the campaign and spoke at its launch in January.

To learn more about the Barrett, The Honors College story and supporting its Global Citizenship programs, visit

Beth Giudicessi

Senior director of communications, ASU Enterprise Partners


Mother of 3 completes academic marathon — and some others along the way to ASU degree

May 10, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

When Sophie Olson started working toward her engineering degree in 2013, she didn’t think she would graduate until 2020. Sophie Olson stands atop Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa at the completion of the first marathon in her seven-continent marathon tour. From 2013-2016, Olson ran seven marathons, one on each continent, while working full time and pursuing her bachelor's degree in materials science and engineering. Photo courtesy of Sophie Olson Download Full Image

If it seems like seven years is a long time to finish a bachelor’s degree, try doing so while working full-time and raising three children — and running a marathon on all seven continents. Needless to say, Sophie Olsen knows a thing or two about perseverance: She will be walking in this spring’s convocation ceremony.

A new start

Though she had always been interested in engineering, Olson took a what she describes as a “standard route” in education, earning her bachelor’s degree in English literature from Aoyama Gakuin University in her native Japan. In 1992, she completed a master’s degree in political science from Florida State University.

She returned to Japan to work for Amkor Technology, a semiconductor product packaging and test services provider, and hoped to someday return to the United States. In 2005, she got her chance, and relocated to Chandler to work in Amkor’s business operations department.

Olson recalls that it was tough starting over in a new place, but fortunately her children — ages six and eight at the time — were well-positioned, having attended an international school in Japan.

While working for Amkor in Arizona, she became interested in product development, but such positions required an engineering degree. So in 2011, she started taking community college classes, slowly working toward attending a four-year university.

“I took a few credits at a time, but eventually I ran out of classes to take, so I transferred to ASU,” she said.

Though she says she “had a clear goal to become an engineer,” Olson was unsure what degree program to pursue, but eventually settled on materials science and engineering, enrolling in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. 

“I didn’t know much about materials science — but looking through the programs, to be in any kind of product development, you need to understand the fundamental, atomic-level ways things work and change,” Olson said.

At ASU, Olson continued taking a few classes at a time, decided she wanted to graduate at the same time as some of her fellow classmates.

“I missed seeing the same people, and I was motivated to try and graduate with the friends I’d made,” she said.

While still working full time, she committed to 18 credit hours in fall 2016, advancing her projected graduation considerably. She’s kept up the high-intensity workload, but she says it wasn’t easy.

“Lately, I haven’t been sleeping more than three hours a night,” Olson said. “Power naps have become pretty routine.”

A global marathon tour

Olson, however, is no stranger to pushing her limits. From 2013 to 2016, she ran a marathon on each continent. What started as a challenge to get back in shape after giving birth to her third child grew dramatically in scope.

“While I was running [the Phoenix Women's Half Marathon in 2013]a woman I spoke with mentioned she was running a marathon on each continent,” Olson said. “I thought, ‘that sounds fun.’ So I decided to do it too.”

And she did, running races in between semesters. Her first took her to Africa, where she ran up Mount Kilimanjaro, followed by marathons in Chile, Antarctica and New Zealand, which she counted as close enough to the Australian continent. Her final three marathons brought her back home for the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon, then to Belgium and finally finishing her quest at Cambodia’s Angkor Wat Marathon.

While Olson’s determination is also reflected in her academic career, she credits the support systems at ASU as a driving force in helping her graduate.

“If I hadn’t gone to school here, I don’t think I could have graduated,” Olson said. “The support system is so good and thorough and my advisor kept me on track. Whenever I needed help, it was always easy to find it.”

Making great strides in materials engineering

Olson has used her marathon running to inform her approach to education, displaying a similar tenacity in her studies.

“Everybody knows how to run, but you need to train for four months before the race if you want to pass the finish line,” she said. “Same with school work, you learn at lectures, but if you don't practice — do homework or study for a test — you will not be able to answer in the exam.”

President’s Professor James Adams, the program chair for materials science and engineering, saw Olson’s dedication first hand while overseeing her Senior Capstone Design course, which spans two semesters.

Olson’s capstone team was tasked with developing an innovative method to deposit thin metal films onto a ceramic substrate using 3-D printing, but they were unable to find a commercial printers capable of doing so, according to Adams.

“So, her team designed and built their own 3-D printer, and demonstrated that it could work.  Overall, she demonstrated hard work and good perseverance with a difficult and sometimes frustrating project,” Adams said. “To put this in perspective, typical metal printers cost $100,000 to $1 million, and they built their pilot for under $1,000.”

Engineering runs in the family

Seeing the value in engineering, Olson encouraged her two oldest children to look into it as well. Now two of her three children — Kai and Mio Ozawa — are fellow students in the Fulton Schools, pursuing their undergraduate degrees in aerospace and chemical engineering, respectively.

Both are students in Barrett, The Honors College, and work as community assistants on campus. Kai is in ROTC and plans to join the U.S. Armed Forces when he completes studies for his degree. Olson says Mio, a freshman, is enjoying chemical engineering so far.

As Olson prepares for graduation, she offers the following advice to her children:

“I want them to keep going. There is no end for your academic endeavors — graduation is one of the points,” she said. “Regardless of what they do, I want them to not quit once they started.”

After all, life is a marathon, not a sprint.

Pete Zrioka

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering