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Twins match each other with outstanding grad awards

April 29, 2018

Austin and Daniel Cotter are tops in their fields at ASU's School of Life Sciences

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

Meet Austin and Daniel Cotter, possibly better known as the Wonder Twins. The graduates from Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences each received Outstanding Student of the Year awards in their respective concentrations.

Austin won the award in neurobiology, physiology, and behavior while Daniel won in genetic cell development.

The 22-year-old Phoenix natives both are headed for careers in medicine.

After graduation, Austin will be spending a year abroad in Spain on a Fulbright scholarship teaching English, then returning for medical school at the University of Arizona’s Phoenix campus. Daniel plans to pursue a PhD in genetics at Stanford.

They credit Barrett, The Honors College, as the draw to attend ASU.

“We toured Barrett and really enjoyed it,” Daniel said. “And in-state (tuition) is nice because the cost is lower. I still really liked the program, so it worked out for me.”

“Barrett was the clear draw here,” Austin said. “But ASU also has a lot of research opportunities. I was able to join a lab freshman year and have that research opportunity there.”

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

Daniel: I joined a lab freshman year, just to get some experience. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it, but I knew I wanted some research experience because I was in biology. … About two years in I was working on publishing a paper with another undergrad and my (principal investigator). I did this — I created something novel for the field. That’s when I switched my major from just biology to biology with an emphasis on genetics. That’s when I decided to pursue that path of genetics.

Austin: Coming into ASU I chose biology because I like science but I wouldn’t say it was an aha moment. … I had the opportunity to donate bone marrow my sophomore year. After that, I changed my stance from "I like science and researching" to "I can use science and knowledge of medicine to actually help people." I got to see the doctors interacting when they did my bone marrow surgery. That was really meaningful to me, how easy they made my surgery. I also want to have meaningful relationships with people in my career, and that was my aha moment when I realized I want to study medicine.

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

Austin: Living in Barrett with a variety of different people and different majors, I got to learn about the really diverse group of people here at ASU. The diversity of people, why they are here, whether they’re pursuing business, whether they’re pursuing engineering, and why … it was eye-opening to me the variety of reasons people are here at college in the first place.

Daniel: There have been little moments but one that immediately comes to mind is I’m in a positive psychology class right now. It’s not necessarily exactly for my major but I grabbed it to do my psychology minor. This whole class is about being the best you can be in life. I’m trying to take away being competitive getting into grad school and getting the best job isn’t going to be as important to me. What I’ve really understood is that being happy in the moment and having meaningful relationships with people and trying to optimize myself in whatever situation I’m in is more important that getting accepted to Harvard or getting a 4.0 GPA.

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

Austin: Look for research opportunities, any opportunity outside of the classroom. That’s one of the best things you can find at ASU. There are professors you can do research with, there are internships. I think I learned a lot outside the classroom: I learned a lot through mentorship and the activities I did hands-on in a lab. Obviously you can learn, but take what you learn and apply it something, because that’s when you’re going to learn the most.

Daniel: What I found was you shouldn’t do what you think your future career wants you to do. You should do what you find enjoyment in. I work in Gammage, for instance. It’s just a job to make money, but I enjoy theater, and I don’t really have an outlet for that as a biology major. … That’s brought me more enjoyment than joining a club tailored to pre-med students because I think that would help my application to med school. Tailoring yourself to what you enjoy rather than an application has made me a thousand times happier than joining every club I think I should join.

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

Daniel: I really liked the bottom floor of Hayden (Library). I know it’s not pretty, but that’s where I could go to study and it was open and available. I had a lot of friends on campus and we’d just meet there to study. I could go and focus and still have friendships.

Austin: I really do like Gammage, the lawn outside — I’ve sat there just reading. When there’s not a bunch of buses going by it’s really quiet and nice to sit there.

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

Daniel: At TGen, the lab downtown, they study childhood diseases and stuff like that. They rely mostly on private donations. I feel research like that is the way to realistically solve problems in the future. That’s one of the reasons I chose science in the first place. I’d probably throw that money at various diseases that could feasibly be solved by $40 million.

Austin: It’s a similar answer for me. Throw money at research. Not to say that there isn’t a benefit in throwing money at organizations that raise money for research — we’ve done crowdfunding in my lab to raise money for research for projects we didn’t have grants for.

Above photo: Twin brothers Daniel (left) and Austin Cotter pose for a portrait on the Tempe campus on April 17, 2018. Both brothers are biological sciences majors with Daniel specializing in genetics, cell and developmental biology and Austin in neurobiology, physiology and behavior. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASUNow 

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU student paints portraits of young immigrants living between 2 worlds

ASU student paints portraits of young emigres living between 2 worlds.
April 29, 2018

Outstanding Herberger undergraduate discovered art while living in a refugee camp

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

Papay Solomon knows what it’s like to live in between.

The Arizona State University student, who is graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting, has lived between two worlds for almost his whole life. Solomon was born in Africa and has lived in Phoenix since high school.

“At this point, I’m not African enough and I’m not American enough,” said Solomon, whose paintings focus on young African emigres.

“I paint young Africans from the diaspora. So we’re in the new spectrum where only we can relate. I’m trying to tell those stories of the in-betweeness that we all carry.”

Solomon’s paintings are telling the immigrants’ stories in an authentic way.

“Through my years in the states, I don’t feel like the representations of me are accurate. Either on TV or social media, you see people like me referred to as criminals or gangsters and I don’t relate to that,” he said.

“Although a painting can tell more than a thousand words, I wanted to tell more stories. I wanted to push the boundaries. I wanted there to be more than just a painting to learn about these people.”

Solomon, who has been named the outstanding undergraduate in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, was displaced by conflict as a child.

 “When my mother was pregnant with me, there was a civil war in Liberia and she had to flee. She gave birth to me in Guinea but I feel Liberian,” he said.

The family moved to the Kouankan refugee camp during civil unrest in Guinea when he was five years old. When the family relocated to Phoenix, Solomon began attending Central High School, where a helpful school counselor found art supplies for him to use. Thanks to a scholarship, he took classes at Phoenix College after graduating from high school. But not in art. He spent an unhappy two years majoring in computer programming

“I was thinking about the financial aspect of things and I wasn’t too sure about art,” he said. “But then I changed my route to painting.”

After earning two associate degrees, he transferred to ASU in 2015, and his art evolved.

“The most important way I grew was that I didn’t want to paint pretty pictures anymore. I wanted my paintings to be about something. That is when I discovered what I was passionate about,” he said.

Solomon is active in the Phoenix refugee community, where he meets other young people from Africa. He interviews them before painting them.

“I want people to know that we, as a people, are brilliant and hardworking. We are willing to do what it takes to contribute to society and make life better for future generations,” he said.

His style, created in oil paint, combines hyperrealism and "non finito," a classical style in which part of the finished work is left unfinished.

“The hyperrealism symbolizes my hyperawareness in the situation I’m in. Being in the middle makes me notice everything.

“'Non finito' is the other end — not fitting in any part. I’m trying to question what it means to be complete.”

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

Answer:  I’ve known since age 5 that I would be an artist. I was the kid who was doodling on the lined paper notebooks that were handed out by the U.N. instead of taking notes.

During those times I needed a way to figure things out because I didn’t understand what was going on. I discovered art and that was my way of breaking down things and making them more understandable and making it something I could carry, because it was a heavy burden as a 5-year-old.

Q: What advice would you give to a young refugee who wants to go to college?

A: They should follow their heart and never question themselves. Who you are is already established. You need to find who you are and if you start questioning yourself, it’s more likely you’ll follow the wrong path.

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

A: The Art Building. I come to the Art Building and I stay there until midnight or early mornings. It’s where I’ve created a lot of memories. Anywhere else, I need a map.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m thinking about grad school but I’m going to take a year off and just figure things out and work on my body of work.

I’m also working on a documentary series and I’ll spend some time with my video team.

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

A: I would definitely help with education. Because when I was in high school, I didn’t know I would make it to college and I needed help from people to be here today. So I would do the same thing. I would create a surrounding where it would be easy to educate people, where people could focus and be themselves without having to worry about daily struggles.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now