Three accomplished individuals are being recognized for bringing honor to their alma mater, Arizona State University. They’ve pushed for their passions, made a positive difference in their communities and thrived in their respective fields of academia and industry.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has invited these three distinguished alumni back for the CLAS Leaders "Perspectives in Leadership" program during the university’s homecoming festivities, Nov. 2-4. Charles “Spike” Lawrence, Nikki Halle and Melanie Katzman reflect the breadth of the arts and sciences and demonstrate an ever-growing network of alumni in prominent positions.
Since its inception in 1997, only 64 individuals have earned the CLAS Leaders distinction from a pool of more than 115,000 alumni across divisions. Student leaders are also recognized in each unit, representing only 160 students from the college’s total student body of 22,000.
For Lawrence, the focus on impact hits close to home. Co-founder of Lawrence & Geyser Development, a real estate development firm, and founder of Spike Lawrence Ventures, he believes in investing in communities that he loves, like Tempe and Chandler.
Lawrence graduated from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1993 and had a sense for entrepreneurship beginning at a young age.
“I knew I was going to be in business but wanted to study something I thoroughly enjoyed so I would look forward to going to class every day,” he said.
“Studying Western civilization and the westward movement in America from the East to the West is an interest of mine. What I’m doing ties directly into that because we’re shaping neighborhoods, we’re shaping communities, we’re creating life experiences for people with buildings, offices, retail space, restaurants and the golf course. We’re part of the fabric of our local community,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence is an advocate for supporting efforts at his alma mater; he has stayed involved with the university through support of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Investment Fund, the President’s Club, the Sun Devil Club board, ASU’s Masters of Real Estate Development program and the Center for Political Thought and Leadership.
“I’ve always believed in getting involved; it’s in my DNA, it’s not even a question,” he said.
Alumna Nikki Halle feels the same way about getting involved and giving back to her community.
“Philanthropy was never something that was a decision; my parents taught me to always give back,” Halle said.
Halle, who graduated from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication with a bachelor’s degree in communication in 1988, volunteered while in school through Greek Life events and at the Friendship Village, and post-graduation at the American Heart Association.
Throughout her career, Halle has created and seized on many opportunities — from founding a screen printing company called Big Man On Campus to being named one of the top real estate agents in Tucson to now working with Russ Lyon Sotheby’s as a realtor and as a Federal Political Coordinator with the National Association of Realtors.
She credits classes at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with teaching her skills she still uses today in her profession such as interpersonal communication, public speaking, how to be empathetic and the ability to relate to people.
She advises students to follow their passion, even if they don’t quite know what their passion is yet.
“Just look at every door as an opportunity. Some of the opportunities I had were failures, but every failure teaches you a lesson,” she said.
For alumna Melanie Katzman, following her passion is what led her to the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, where she graduated with her master’s and doctoral degree in 1982 and 1985.
Katzman was interested in the study of bulimia, a disorder that had yet to be researched in-depth.
“I decided I wanted to study bulimia and I needed to have somebody that was interested and excited by my ideas,” she said. Katzman became connected to ASU Professor Sharlene Wolchik and decided to attend the university for her research.
“I had this great support from my faculty. The reason I went to ASU came true. They really backed me. It was a small program, and they really believed in what I was doing,” she said.
Today, she is the founder and president of Katzman Consulting, which employs a team of psychologists who consult in the workplace. Throughout her different career roles, she has always sought ways to positively impact people’s lives and hopes to leave a legacy of bettering humanity.
“I want to help people realize that it’s not so hard to be a human at work or just be a good human. I think we get tied up in overly complicated ways of interacting and people don’t connect just at the human level. If I can do anything, it’s helping people see that doing the right thing isn’t so hard.”