Planets align for ASU Polytechnic grad passionate about physics, data science

April 30, 2018

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

Finding ways to integrate and apply new knowledge is something ASU Polytechnic campus senior Paul Horton has always found exciting. ASU applied physics major Paul Horton at elephant orphanage in Nairobi Paul Horton taught in the village of Talek, Kenya, in summer 2017. Above, Horton visited the elephant orphanage in Nairobi. Download Full Image

Horton, who is graduating in May 2018 with an applied physics major from the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts and a software engineering major from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, was first drawn to the fields of computer science and physics his senior year at Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson, Arizona.

“The teacher who taught physics also taught the engineering class where I learned to program,” said Horton. “When I began using my programming skills to set up scripts to calculate my physics homework, my teacher was both annoyed and amused with my approach to assignments, but encouraged me to keep practicing both fields.”

He has done just that at ASU’s Polytechnic campus, where Horton has also been a student in Barrett, the Honors College.

“I initially started out thinking I’d do physics as a minor to my software engineering major. But having quickly finished my minor, I realized I wanted more science in my education and applied for dual degrees shortly after the new applied physics option was added at Poly,” explained Horton, who is the first student to graduate with the applied physics degree in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.

That decision and the additional coursework he took have set the course for his career.

“Once I began combining my two passions, I realized that data science in physics is where I belong,” said Horton, who will be working this summer as an intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California.

“At JPL I’ll be creating a machine-learning, image-recognition system to classify changes on the surface of Mars,” he said. “This system will run on satellites around Mars and optimize which images we choose to send from the red planet.” 

In the fall he’ll return to ASU’s Polytechnic campus to complete a master’s degree in software engineering.

“During my master’s year, I’ll work in ASU’s astronomical instrumentation lab to optimize algorithms used in conducting all sky surveys,” he said. “After finishing my master’s, I hope to pursue a doctorate in astrophysics with a focus in data science.”

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

Answer: Through my software engineering major and my involvement in Barrett, the Honors College, I got to travel around the world to work on education projects. In particular, I visited Tonga and Samoa to implement Solar Powered Educational Learning Libraries (SolarSPELLs) in local schools with the help of Peace Corps volunteers. Last summer, I also taught at a primary school in a small village in Kenya.

Visiting classrooms in the South Pacific and Kenya made me aware of the lack of information access in the developing world. Being able to look up an answer in a textbook or on the internet is a luxury that not all students have. On these trips, students bombarded me with questions about science and astronomy, hungry for answers. It was humbling to experience this disparity in information access, and it changed my perspective.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU and the Polytechnic campus because of the hands-on education that Poly’s degrees offer. Software engineering at ASU is very different than computer science anywhere else, due to the project-based learning courses. This aspect of the degree allowed me to guide my own education and incorporate physics into my software classes.

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

A: ASU has incredible opportunities for students to work on projects both on campus and around the world. I’ve noticed that many students don’t take advantage of these opportunities, perhaps due to worries about funding or not having enough knowledge. Professors at ASU love to help students get involved on the projects they’re working on. They will work with you to ensure that you have the funding and the knowledge you need to succeed on your project. I would highly recommend finding projects at ASU that interest you and seeking out the professors in charge, to learn more about how to get involved.

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

A: My favorite spot on campus is the couch on the third floor of Santan Hall. It’s not the best couch in the world, but it’s the location that counts! I would often go up there in the middle of the night to work on assignments or just relax and look at the stars — which are more visible in the night skies at Poly, being on the edge of metro Phoenix. It’s also an incredible spot to watch the monsoons in the fall semester. 

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

A: While I doubt $40 million would completely fix the problem, I would tackle the information-access gap in the world. Having knowledge readily available around the world would give global educators the resources they desperately need to teach and give learners a reliable means to answer their own questions.  

Maureen Roen

Manager, Creative Services, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


ASU Online student graduates after nine-year hiatus

April 30, 2018

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

By the time Kristina Cates decided to go back to school, nine years had passed since she first set out for her degree. The first in her family to go to college, Cates was accepted into a number of top universities directly out of high school. Unfamiliar with the financial aid process, however, Cates selected her local community college. Kristina Cates said ASU Online's Organizational Leadership degree program had everything she needed. “It was fully online and allowed me to build on the knowledge I had already learned,” she said. Download Full Image

Over the next two years, Cates met her husband, moved from Florida to Atlanta and — just one semester shy of earning her associate degree — began losing her eyesight due to multiple sclerosis. While her eyesight eventually returned, Cates was already working in a career in the nonprofit sector and didn’t foresee returning to school.

“I withdrew from school in January 2005 and didn’t return until 2014. I figured I didn’t need to go back,” said Cates. “I had two years of school, two years serving in AmeriCorps and was well into my career. It wasn’t until my husband became ill in 2013 that I decided it was time.”

By this time however, Cates also had two small children, a daughter (now 10) and a son (now 5) with autism. With a young son at home who was not yet ready to be away from her, Cates knew an online program was the only option.

After learning about ASU Online through her own research, which consisted of comparing the number of different programs, Cates realized ASU was the perfect choice.

“The Organizational Leadership degree program had everything I needed,” she said. “It was fully online and allowed me to build on the knowledge I had already learned.”

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

Answer: At 36, I am an older student. After having to withdraw from school due to my eyesight, I never thought I would go back. After leaving school, I did two years of service with AmeriCorps and started my career in the nonprofit sector. I figured I didn’t need to go back to school. But when my husband became ill in 2013, I realized I needed to be the alpha income and decided to go back to school. When deciding on a major, it was my experience in nonprofit management, research allocation, relationship building, etc. that lead me to organizational leadership. It matched with that I had done in the past and where I wanted to go in the future.

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

A: So much of what I learned had been practical, more of the nuts and bolts, to organizational leadership. It was not until this last semester that I was able to get a wide view of the work I had been doing, and find real-life themes relating to what I learned while at ASU. I saw the skills that I had and how I could go forward in a totally new way. My background is in nonprofit management, and I thought I would move forward in that field following graduation. But through this experience, I learned my strengths include communication, writing developing storylines. It changed my direction. I am now looking at more copywriting and content writing opportunities in ways that I have never done before.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I needed a program that was entirely online. My son has autism and is still very young. When I started to think about going back to school, he was not ready to be away from me. So I needed something that fit to my schedule. I learned about ASU Online through my own research. I spent a lot of time looking at different programs, and ASU’s Organizational Leadership program had everything I needed and really spoke to me. With this major, I didn’t have to start over completely, but felt that I could also deepen my knowledge. It really was the perfect program.

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

A: I would tell them to ask for help when you need it. The only real hiccup I had once I went back to school was with my health; my MS relapsed twice when I was at ASU. There are resources out there, but I didn’t know about them or ask for help. Throughout this, the Success Coaches were awesome and knew everything. They were great about helping out when I needed it.

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

A: Much of my studying took place at home, as getting outside the house does not happen very often. But when I can, I loved going to my local bookstore down the street from my house. They have a coffee shop inside where I could be alone with caffeine and Wi-Fi.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am looking at a couple different options. I am applying for jobs, including one in the nonprofit sector. The job is remote, which would be perfect as I transition my son to school. I am also looking at a graduate program with Creative Circus, which is a creative portfolio school here in Atlanta. They offer a Copywriting Portfolio Program, which takes about a year and a half, and I think would be a great opportunity that I am really excited about.

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

A: I would say access to food. There are approximately 3.1 million children that die each year from starvation. We have plenty of food to go around, but there are issues with distribution, equality and access that could be addressed with $40 million.

Carrie Peterson

Sr. Manager, Media Relations, EdPlus at Arizona State University