ASU grad researches health communication, advocacy


April 30, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

Originally from Hartford, Connecticut, Arizona State University doctoral student Katherine Morelli left her perch near the sea for the wide-open spaces of the West. She has successfully navigated the culture shock (she says it wasn’t so bad) and the uncertainty of beginning a doctoral program (she had an “aha” moment that convinced her that she was on the right trajectory). Graduating ASU student Katherine Morelli / Courtesy photo Graduating Arizona State University doctoral student Katherine Morelli said she chose to attend ASU because of its interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial culture: "I knew that ASU had a reputation for innovative research and teaching and was impressed by the kind of scholarship, projects and programmatic initiatives that the university has fostered." Download Full Image

This spring, Morelli is earning her PhD in English with a concentration in writing, rhetorics and literacies. Her dissertation shares findings from a yearlong investigation of the practices and beliefs of five health navigators working in a local pediatrics clinic.

According to the American Medical Association, a health navigator or patient advocate is “someone whose primary responsibility is to provide personalized guidance to patients as they move through the health care system.” Studies show that such advocates are of great benefit in improving patient care, especially for members of typically marginalized groups.  

The clinic where Morelli did her observations serves large numbers of refugee families experiencing a range of health care challenges — a setting certainly appropriate for a navigator to work.

Morelli’s research demonstrates that collaboration, creativity and cultural sensitivity can go far in enhancing and improving navigator effectiveness. Her findings also show the value of interdisciplinary and cross-institutional research and in combining the different methodologies employed in the social sciences and the critical humanities.

Morelli’s academic advisers laud her rigorous and unique approach to exploring health advocacy in a fraught political climate.

“[Her] research agenda,” said Doris Warriner, an associate professor of English and Morelli’s dissertation chair, “serves as a timely and impactful contribution to scholarship that investigates and responds to locally relevant priorities in spite of the constraints of the historical moment.”

Morelli has been invited to speak on her innovative approaches to inquiry in graduate seminars at ASU and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She is also a talented and devoted instructor of first-year composition (including to multilingual writers), professional/business writing, and a core course for the undergraduate concentration in writing, rhetorics and literacies.

The spring 2018 graduate sat down with us to discuss her journey to ASU and what changes she will navigate next.

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

Answer: I’m not really sure when the “aha” moment was. I know that I never would have pursued this degree or my master’s if I did not encounter faculty in my fields that encouraged me to do so and made me feel like I could. But I know there was an “aha” moment when I realized or started to consider myself as a potential researcher and scholar.

It was my first year in the doctoral program at ASU, and I was still a bit uncertain about my decision to pursue this degree. I started thinking I should have kept teaching writing at my prior university. But then I was offered a position as a research assistant on a very exciting project that ended up shaping my research agenda and dissertation project. It was this experience, which involved working closely with faculty in my fields of study and the local community, that encouraged me to get excited about research and the possibility of being a teacher and scholar.

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

A: When I moved here I really didn’t know what to expect, but coming from the Northeast I was curious. I wondered how I would navigate the politics of this state and university. I wondered what it would be like to live close to the U.S.-Mexico border and what kinds of lives people were living here. To my surprise, it was not as difficult or jarring as I had thought it would be. Moving out here alone certainly wasn’t easy and it took time to get used to being here, but I don’t regret the decision. Five years later, I can say that living in the desert, living in Phoenix and near the border has been a valuable learning experience on so many levels and one that has helped me to grow as an individual, educator and scholar.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: There are a number of reasons I decided to go with ASU to pursue my doctoral degree. First, I wanted a change in environment. I spent most of my life living in various states in the northeast U.S. and I really wanted to step outside of my comfort zone personally, educationally and professionally. As a doctoral student in particular, I knew that ASU had a reputation for innovative research and teaching and was impressed by the kind of scholarship, projects and programmatic initiatives that the university has fostered as well as the potential for funding opportunities. As a teacher I was drawn to ASU because of the diverse student populations, majors and course offerings. There are so many directions students can take their education at ASU, and that was exciting to me.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans are to explore opportunities within and outside of academia. This will include applying for tenure-track assistant professor positions this coming fall as well as seeking out research and writing opportunities within the field of health care and education. In general, I hope to continue to teach and pursue a research agenda that will yield community-based advocacy and publishable findings.

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

A: There are so many problems on our planet right now that it is difficult to respond to this question. And considering how complex these problems are it is also difficult to know how to even approach tackling them. One thing I would like to see is major policy reform within our health care system, particularly when it comes to health insurance and access to care. In an ideal world, everyone would have access to quality health care and I would like to figure out ways to work towards this ideal.

Doris Warriner contributed to this profile.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611

English literature graduate transforms obstacles into understanding


April 30, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

Nobel Prize laureate Thomas Mann once said, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Aslihan Kilic has certainly found this to be true in her life, though perhaps not in the way that Mann meant. Graduating ASU student Aslihan Kilic / Courtesy photo "All of the professors I had inspired me to look deeper at the world we live in," said graduating Arizona State University student Aslihan Kilic. She is earning her bachelor's degree in English (literature) this spring. Download Full Image

Kilic grew up in the San Francisco Bay area as a speaker of Turkish. She remembers well her difficulty in learning to speak and read English. Through her struggles, the Arizona State University student developed a keen empathy for others in the same position.

Kilic is graduating this spring with a degree in English (literature) and a certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL). Her facility with the language isn’t just adequate now; this former English language learner devours canonical English texts: Plath, Dickens, the Brontës, Hemingway. She then reads the authors’ biographies.

Beyond this semester, Kilic will employ her adept language skills and hard-won empathy in her chosen career of counseling; she is on track to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in psychology at ASU this fall.

We caught up with Kilic between finals to ask a few more questions about her ASU experience.

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

Answer: My first language was not English, but I remembered the struggle of learning it when I was young. The tenacity I had to learn English stayed with me for as long as I could remember! I decided to choose English as my major, and I learned that you could gain a certificate to teach speakers of a different language, alongside gaining a bachelor’s degree.

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

A: All of the professors I had inspired me to look deeper at the world we live in, whether it be through an environmental, historical or cultural [lens]. I was introduced to a lot of different types of literature, which helped illustrate life in different time periods. I learned a lot from them and their unique perspectives.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I decided to go in 2016. I had a lot of difficulty in my personal life from 2013 onward, so I finally thought that my mindset in 2016 allowed me to make a leap to a university. ASU was the closest to me, and I heard a lot of good things about the school.

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

A: Never give up on what you want to do; the struggle you go through with each class and semester is worth it in the end.

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

A: I loved Hayden Library; I always did a lot of my studying there! I loved the little cafe inside of the library too!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I want to continue working where I am, but I will be researching different job opportunities and reaching out to professionals to see if they have any ideas. In the fall I will be starting a new degree.

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

A: My mother passed away from cancer (many different areas of her body were infected). I would use [the money] to find and fund researchers who truly want to succeed in finding the real causes and cures to this horrifying disease.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611