ASU Online religious studies student wins the Dean’s Medal


December 5, 2017

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

Tiffany Spicer spent most of her childhood exploring the woods with her friends in a rural area of Maryland, unaware of the impact she would make in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies (SHPRS) from over 2,000 miles away. Tiffany Spicer will be the Dean's Medalist for SHPRS. Bachelor of Arts in religious studies Tiffany Spicer. Download Full Image

Spicer will be graduating with her Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from SHPRS this fall and has been chosen as the recipient of the Dean’s Medal from the school. She has been called “an extraordinarily motivated student” by her professors and has been exceedingly well-prepared, able to capture analytical, comparative and applied perspectives and is always ready to articulate her knowledge in clear writing and expression.

Her journey to graduation has had obstacles. As a young adult, Spicer pursued studies that were supposed to guarantee her a job after graduation but she never felt that these studies were right for her.

“I was studying nursing and realized it wasn’t for me and decided to join the Air Force as a linguist,” Spicer said. “This was not the life for me either though. I left the Air Force after a year and moved to Pennsylvania, where I searched for a job that would offer decent benefits.”

After leaving the Air Force, Spicer worked through a temp agency where she was hired at a factory for a snack food company.

“The work was brutal and my body hurt constantly,” said Spicer. “The work weeks were 60 hours long, and since I was a temp I only made $9.25 an hour. In order to be hired there, a person needs to work through a temp agency. However, some people worked there trying to get hired for as long as four years before they were hired on through the company. I realized at this job that I needed to go back to school.”

She went back to school full force and has been met with success in her efforts. She joined ASU as an online student and she worked on her classes while living in her home state of Maryland. Although she was juggling a full-time job while she was obtaining her degree, she worked hard to graduate with honors.

“My biggest accomplishment at ASU besides this award is simply making it to graduation,” Spicer said. “I have honestly lost a lot of sleep and relaxation. I need to thank my boyfriend who has helped me through many mental breakdowns while I was in school. I always strive for perfection which can be both rewarding and mentally harmful. However, the reward is absolutely worth the work.”

Spicer answered a few questions about her ASU online education.

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

A: I have always had a strong interest in religious studies. My parents were never religious but my older brother, who is eleven years older than me, always educated me and piqued my interest in an array of different subjects. He introduced me to different cultures and philosophy. I feel that without his influence, I would have turned out a lot differently. I also always had an affinity for mysticism and the paranormal. I always knew I wanted to go to school to learn about different religions but never really realized it was an option. I had looked at different majors at many different local schools, but nothing seemed perfect. I had spent that past year in my free time learning about voodoo and the different pantheon of Yoruba gods. Not really knowing it was an option, on break one night I looked up “the study of religion.” I had to search through pages of specific theology degrees but when I stumbled upon ASU, the major and its classes stood out like a beacon. I knew I was supposed to go here for religious studies.

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

A: I have learned so many things which have interested me and changed my perspective, it would take too long or me to list them. However, one which has stood out to me is a book I read for one of my history classes. It’s called "Winner Take all Politics" by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. It specifically talks about the growing inequality between distribution of wealth. It has been some time since I have read it and I don’t want to misquote anything, but I highly recommend reading it. I also have to say that all my work at ASU has helped me become a more concise writer and develop my organizational skills.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because when I had decided to be a religious studies major, ASU had offered the largest number of diverse courses. When looking through the list of courses, I remember thinking that I wanted to take all of them.

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

A: I used to work with high school-aged kids and my advice to them was always go to college as soon as you can and stay in. I took a long, roundabout way to getting a degree which put me behind where I wanted to be at my age. At any age though, school is beneficial. It is just a lot harder when you have a full-time job. Furthermore, I have been tired and wanted to quit multiple times, but I kept thinking about how horrible working in the factory was. Also, I feel like everyone knows deep down what interests them most. I would recommend going to school for something you love and worrying about your career later. When I had went to Towson University, Carroll Community and the Defense Language Institute, I knew the subjects I studied almost guaranteed jobs at the end. However, I was never doing what I love and I am in a lot happier place now that I have studied what I was meant to study.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I do not have an exact plan yet. For now, I plan on staying at my job in a bank and doing a two-year program studying shamanism. I want to continue my schooling and am interested in an acupuncture school which is about an hour from my house. I have also thought about getting my master’s at ASU as well. Additionally, I plan on becoming more active in my community and volunteering more often at a local animal rights group called the Animal Advocates of South Central PA.

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

A: This is my favorite question as I knew my answer as soon as I read it. I would tackle the issue of mass farming and the corruption of the agriculture business. I recommend everyone read a book called "Soil not Oil" by Vandana Shiva. It would be a dream come true for me to work alongside her and help solve world problems caused by mass farming. Though I do not know exactly how I would resolve these issues with this budget I know that mass farming harms the environment, animals, and people. I first want to start by saying the cattle industry accounts for 80 percent of the deforested area of the rainforest. It is cheaper for industries to clear out rain forest to both pasture cattle and grow soy for the cattle to eat but it is not worth the toll it takes on the environment. The beef industry wastes water as well. One hamburger takes approximately 600 gallons of water to produce. Alongside the waste of water, the overproduction of grains and soy depletes the soil of nutrients and the use of pesticides not only put toxins in our water sources and air but kills bugs which are complementary to farming, such as earthworms and spiders. Earthworms help aerate the soil and through doing this allow water to more easily penetrate. This helps prevent flooding. Furthermore, companies use genetically modified seeds which can not reproduce. This leaves poor farmers in India having to repurchase new seeds every year. The food industry makes the rich richer while harming and exploiting some of the poorest people on earth.

Rachel Bunning

Student reporter and writer, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

ASU student powers through working as a firefighter to graduate with honors


December 5, 2017

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

Aside from the time he spent in the military, Marc Sepulveda, who grew up in Chandler, Arizona, has created a cozy home not far from Arizona State University. Marc Sepulveda stands outside his new restaurant. Marc Sepulveda stands outside his new restaurant. Download Full Image

Sepulveda will be graduating with his Bachelor of Arts in history from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies with a minor in political science from the School of Politics and Global Studies this fall. His hard work and determination have paid off as he will be graduating summa cum laude.

His journey to graduation has been a long one, filled with challenges and accomplishments. Sepulveda worked as a corpsman for the Navy in both Iraq and Afghanistan and currently works as a firefighter for the city of Chandler, which he has been doing for more than ten years. On top of being a firefighter, Sepulveda owns a few small businesses in Chandler, including a real estate brokerage called MT Real Estate, a gun store called AZ Guns and a restaurant named Ghett'Yo' Taco.

“I enjoy the challenges of growing and managing small businesses,” Sepulveda said. “Most of my companies' jobs are entry level and employing people and watching them develop and go on to bigger and better has been rewarding for me personally. Very few things feel better than an employee coming back and saying thank you or seeking advice long after they've left your organization.”

He is happy to have completed his degree, and is looking forward to having more free time to spend with his family.

“I have one son, Thomas Jefferson and am excited to finally be done with school to spend more time with him,” Sepulveda said

Sepulveda answered a few questions about his ASU education.

Q: Why did you chose to study political science and history?

A: I began my studies at ASU in the spring of 2006, but school just wasn't for me. When I returned to finish my education in 2015 I picked up where I left off in pursuing a degree in urban planning. As part of that program I took a history class with Professor Peter Van Cleave and thoroughly enjoyed it. I ended up taking three classes with him because he is an excellent instructor. His passion for history struck me. It made me question why I was returning to school. I am very fortunate to not 'need' a degree for vertical growth in my jobs, so I decided if I was going to invest the time and money, I would do something I enjoyed. At that point I changed my course of study to history with a focus on American history. Throughout the journey, I maintained that thought process and only took classes that piqued my interest and I eventually accumulated a lot of political science to the point where I only needed a couple lower level courses from a community college to get the minor.

Q: What’s the most valuable thing you learned while at ASU?

A: The most valuable thing I have learned at ASU was the value of time management. For two back-to-back semesters I took 22 and 21 credits and I still pulled straight A's. Believe me, this is not because I am smart. I am a single dad with several other commitments. It took many long nights, early mornings and sometimes some frustration. I abstained from many invites to go party or go on trips, to prioritize my schooling. There are only so many hours in a day, but if properly utilized, they can amount to massive levels of production.

Q: What has been your biggest accomplishment at ASU?

A: I guess my greatest accomplishments at ASU would be my GPA and honestly, just graduating. I maintained and will graduate with a GPA that exceeds 4.0. Again, this is not me being arrogant or pretending I am smart. When I returned to school, I wanted to do my best. I have fallen short many times in my short life, but I was determined to hit the mark with this endeavor. Going back to school on my own accord made a big difference because I was in this for Marc and no one else.  

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

A: If I had to give advice that would be worthwhile to listen to, I would say don't give up. There were times I did not want to keep going. Putting a kid to bed after an exhausting day of working at the office, coming home after being up for 48 hours at the fire station can be trying. It is easy to make excuses but excuses don't get us anywhere. Nearly a fifteen-year hiatus, two wars, a career in the fire service, a child, several startup businesses and many other challenges that I have long since forgotten. If after all of that I can get through school, anyone can. You just have to want to finish more than you want to make excuses.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am not sure what my plans are after graduation. I say that it would be great to hit cruise control and relax a bit, but I fear that's just not my style!

Rachel Bunning

Student reporter and writer, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences