November 28, 2018
Meet some of the top-notch students who are about to don cap and gown and become Sun Devil alumni
Thousands of students are set to graduate from Arizona State University at commencement on Dec. 10. Here's a look at some of those outstanding grads.
For Angelica Berner, a negative experience is only one that you cannot learn from, and she has learned plenty. A first-generation student, Berner graduates this December as the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medalist for the Department of Physics.
Service to others is an important part of who Kourtney Conn is. It’s how she was raised. Conn is the fall 2018 outstanding graduate of the School of Social Work in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
Philip Wellwerts beat the odds and then some. His father was incarcerated just a few months before he was born, and growing up, he watched his birth mother battle her inner demons with drug addiction. But now he's graduating from ASU's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice as the fall 2018 outstanding graduate.
For many people, fitting travel into a busy schedule of work and school may be just a pipe dream. But Nicole Rock made it her reality by attending an online degree program and she is using invaluable experience gained abroad as a foundation for her career.
Joshua Albin, from San Jose, California, graduated on Dec. 10 from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in software engineering and honors from Barrett, The Honors College at ASU. Throughout his four years at ASU, Albin was the epitome of an involved student.
Tyrine Pangan’s family moved to the United States from the Philippines when she was a child. She recalls hearing stories as she grew up about how education brought people out of poverty. Now, Pangan is graduating this fall from Arizona State University's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
Almost as far back as he can remember, ASU engineering grad Nicholas Akkerman was drawn to mathematics and liked discovering how things are designed and built, especially homes. That combination of interests made Akkerman’s choice of a college major and university an easy one.
Eric Mannix’s desire to help others has been clear throughout his time at Arizona State University. From selecting his major to his extracurricular activities, Mannix’s proclivity for leadership and problem-solving led him to not only excel in mechanical engineering, but to support others along the way.
Learning to thrive at ASU means more than doing well in your major. It can mean finding a whole other passion that infuses energy into everything you do. Sam Stephens found that spirit during her time at ASU. Named the Outstanding Graduate Student by the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, her path to her master’s degree took a few turns.
Growing up, Sylvia Faszczewski had an affinity for math and hands-on projects. These skill sets drew her to the field of engineering. After receiving valuable advice from Kristen Parrish, an associate professor of construction engineering, Faszczewski discovered the perfect fit.
Inspired by the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises, Jayden Booth often envisioned himself building robots like R2-D2 or creating a spaceship like the USS Enterprise. He is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.
Karthik Subramaniam set out to solve a problem that had never been attempted before. He just didn’t know what that problem was. Luckily for him, his graduate advisor, Professor Kaushal Rege, had one ready for him to tackle: to affordably and easily verify the dosage of radiation delivered to cancer patients.
Philip Thomas has always enjoyed solving problems, and engineering allows him to have a hands-on problem-solving experience. “Engineering provides many unique challenges that can be approached in a variety of fascinating ways,” Thomas said.
Richard Mortensen is proud to be accomplishing his goal of earning a degree in engineering, but returning to college and managing his time with a family of four children was challenging.
Aim high, set lofty goals and work hard to reach them is the advice Marine veteran and ASU PhD student Nicholas Sisco would like pass on to others, especially military veterans.
ASU graduate Netanya Quino likes to get into the details of research methods, but she knows what it’s like to put those methods into practice.
With only seven months left in the U.S. Navy, Arizona State University undergraduate Adam Villanova is elated and grateful as he comes to the successful end of a winding journey to earn his bachelor’s degree this semester.
Ileen Younan carries the weight of history on her shoulders. Originally from Midland, Texas, she is inspired by her Assyrian roots to serve her community. The Assyrian genocide during World War I devastated and scattered the remaining community away from their homeland of Iraq.
Megan Hodges grew up on her family’s small-town ranch in the mountains outside of San Diego. She thrived in her rural lifestyle. But Hodges had her sights set on bigger places and different things.
Religious studies graduate Nathaniel Harris always knew he wanted to be a Sun Devil, and once at ASU, he decided to major in religious studies during an introduction to religion course taught by Professor John Cunningham.
Yvonne Cabrera is graduating this month with a master’s degree in higher and postsecondary education from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. As a first-generation student, her passion for promoting education and access is the driving force in her studies.
For as long as she can remember, Micah Gumaru wanted a profession that could help her, help others. Now, she’s graduating this December from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change with an undergraduate degree in global health and a minor in anthropology.
Adwa Alhatlan loves biology and chemistry and made plans to major in medicine with hopes of possibly becoming a surgeon one day. She's graduating from ASU this fall with a degree in biochemistry.
Johnathon Orrell took his first college class in 1998. After 20 years of juggling military service, working full time and being a single father, he is now completing his degree and graduating from Arizona State University with honors. This month, he will earn a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication and Media Studies.
ASU Online student Eric Anzalone replaced Glenn Hughes as the Biker/Leatherman in the campy disco Village People band, and his stint touring the world with the group from 1995 until 2017 defined several decades of his life. Now he’s ready for a chance to define himself as a scholar and a teacher. Anzalone is graduating from ASU with a Master of Advanced Study in American media and popular culture this fall.
From weatherman to man in black, Russell Pablo has a passion for service. Now, he’s taking that passion from the United States Air Force to the United States Secret Service.
Katie Surma had accomplished a great deal before she got to ASU Law. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, where she also played on the soccer team, then went on to the Duquesne University School of Law, where she got her Juris Doctor.
Nikka Brooks-Cullum is the fall 2018 outstanding graduate for the School of Community Resources and Development in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University.
From a young age, Edgard Francis Espiritu knew he wanted to be a lawyer. “It’s always been kind of engrained in my head, ever since I was a kid,” said Espiritu, who grew up in the Bay Area, in Fremont, California.
Growing up in Puerto Rico, where sports are embedded in the culture, Chanel Zapata developed a passion for baseball early in life. The San Juan native left Puerto Rico to attend the University of Tampa, but her sights remained firmly set on a career in baseball. So when she heard about ASU's master of sports law and business program, she knew it would be the perfect fit.
When Hurricane Irma slammed the state of Florida in September 2017, School of Public Affairs outstanding graduate Max Goshert left the comforts of Phoenix to help those in need. “I think that my experiences there were more helpful to my degree,” said Goshert, who is earning a master’s degree in public policy, “because I got to see what public policy in an emergency situation looks like.”
By the time Elizabeth Feathers started her journey at Arizona State University, she had been working in a professional setting for about a year. After noticing a difference in various leadership styles, Feathers was inspired to pursue her Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership in hopes of someday becoming an effective leader herself.
Darian Takase always knew she wanted to pursue a career in medicine, but where she would go to school to earn her undergraduate degree was another story. Takase had lots of options and decided to take an unconventional approach to selecting her college — drawing a name out of a bowl. A simple leap of faith brought Takase from Hilo, Hawaii to Arizona State University.
Diana Francis always knew she wanted to study science, but it wasn’t until she took a biology and chemistry class at Maricopa Community College that she realized a biochemistry degree from Arizona State University would be perfect for her.
Leo Thompson did not come to ASU Law to become a lawyer. He already had a successful consulting business — Nuclear Solutions, LLC — in the highly specialized area of radioactive-waste cleanup. But he has always been interested in challenging himself and continuing to learn.
There were times Kara Barron wanted to quit. And there were times the mother of two felt like she was straddling an impossible fence between school and home all by herself. But by learning how to persevere, she made it. Barron is graduating this fall with her Master of Science in plant biology and conservation from ASU — something she’s been interested in since middle school.
When Danielle Martin decided she wanted to return to college to finish her degree, her first step was picking a program she liked, one that she could make her own. Her adviser from the College of Nursing and Health Innovation helped her identify the Health Entrepreneurship and Innovation, BS as the right fit.
Reed Bjorklund has spent the majority of his adult life working as the successful owner and operator of a precision aerospace manufacturing business. As an innovator, he wanted to pursue new ideas in machining and fabrication. So, he decided to sell his business, go back to school and earn a formal degree.
Soleil Wallen-Balmir says her experience at the university was great but admits it was a hard, long journey. She was a single mother raising her daughter, Selena, while working to balance a full-time course load and a full-time job.
After earning a degree in chemical engineering and publishing three books and other works in China, Ruihao Zhang said she felt a calling to help people through music therapy.
Kelly Vaggalis says networking with peers and colleagues, plus a personal desire to expand her career path, led her to pursue a degree from ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. It also helped that the program she was interested in, the MS in clinical research management, was online.
Losing a close friend to opioid addiction led ASU College of Integrative Sciences and Arts outstanding graduate Marlee Seymour to her education path in mental health counseling.
When it came time to choose a college, Haiming Zhang did much research and found that ASU received high reviews among Chinese graduates. Zhang has thrived at ASU, and will be graduating with his bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a concentration in statistics as the Dean’s Medalist from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.
Maria Medina has a 4-year-old son and a husband, is president of a student organization, volunteers with her church and just finished her bachelor’s degree in human resources at Arizona State University. How does she do it all? “The first thing is wanting it badly because then it’s a feeling that propels you to achieve and get to the end goal,” she said.
Patrick Murphy was able to pursue his master’s degree at ASU while also helping his hometown to be more sustainable. Murphy is the first person to earn the ASU Online Master of Science in Engineering degree in sustainability engineering, a program that started in January 2016.
Michelle “Mickee" Engl took advantage of ASU Study Abroad programs to round out her experience and find like-minded souls. Now Engl is on track to complete her BA in Film and Media Studies at ASU this fall and is proud of what she's accomplished.
When Aidan Schneider moved from Flagstaff to Tempe to attend ASU, he knew he wanted to study both science and business. What he didn’t know is how quickly he would discover a deep passion for research and also find an entrepreneurial spirit in the lab.
“Being a mom and working while earning two degrees has been challenging, but there is no better motivation for success than to have a child,” Stephanie Brians said. “I am lucky to have a lot of support from family and they have made the balancing act between student-, work- and mom-life manageable.”
Jonathan Liechty decided to come back to school after taking 20 years off. He returned through the Starbucks College Achievement Program and will be graduating with his bachelor’s degree in philosophy as the Dean’s Medalist from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.
Hailing from the tiny town of Mineola in east Texas, Casie Moreland is a first-generation college graduate. But she didn’t stop with “just” a four-year degree. Moreland also completed a master’s program in her home state and now, this fall, she is earning a PhD in English (writing, rhetorics and literacies) from Arizona State University.
Graduating doctoral student Matt Henry believes in the power of story. And he’s banking on that power to make the difference in the fight against climate catastrophe. Henry is earning a PhD in English literature, but with a twist. He focuses on a burgeoning area of research called environmental humanities.
Geology. Dance. Math. Michelle Migliaccio has a lot of interests. When the White Plains, New York, native started college she double majored in geology and dance and minored in math, but only found her true passion when she transferred to ASU as a digital culture student in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering.
This month, Quinn Mihalovic graduates with a BFA in dance, and he says he owes his success to the School of Film, Dance and Theatre dance faculty, especially Karen Schupp, associate professor and assistant director of dance.
Persistence and hard work has led former musician Hye Young Yun to ASU and to a second career in the arts. She graduates from Arizona State University this month with BFAs in drawing and in painting.
Cera Lange will be graduating in December with a bachelor’s degree in geological sciences. Lange has loved geology since she was a child and her choice of major was "meant to be” — her name (as pointed out by one of her professors, Rick Hervig) is completely made of elemental symbols: Ce Ra La N Ge!
School of Earth and Space Exploration graduate student Xinming Chen will be receiving his PhD in geological sciences this December. He credits ASU and his adviser, Professor Ariel Anbar, for teaching him to think critically and independently, skills that will serve him well as he pursues a career in academia.
With a hometown known for a booming urban center, it is not much of a surprise that Hanan Alhashmi decided to pursue an education that could benefit its development. Originally from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Alhashmi will be graduating this December with a Master of Urban and Environmental Planning degree.
While training her dog, Muggsy, Melinda Weaver became fascinated by animal behavior and the ways animals change their behavior in response to humans. And, after reading a National Geographic article on how scientists were using animal behavior for conservation projects, she thought, “I could do that.” So she did.
Graduating ASU student Matthew Contursi loved studying molecular biology but felt something was missing. His desire to be able to articulate questions and answers led him to add a second major, English (writing, rhetorics and literacies). "You have to approach all questions from many different perspectives," he said.
In a sterling example to her students, educator Mary Kate Cragg is earning a graduate degree from Arizona State University while teaching full time. Cragg graduates with her Master of Arts in English this fall — on record pace, completing all degree requirements in just one year — and she’s doing it with straight “A”s.
Chemistry major Jin Wook Chung's interest in science has a personal motivation: his mother and grandmother. When he was a young child, Chung’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and his grandmother developed Alzheimer’s, two major influences in his desire to become a physician someday.
As a senior in high school, Fabiola Cervantes ran across a website of career choices. She clicked a link that listed careers focused on “working with people” and, from there, she applied to ASU as a family and human development major in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, knowing that major would gain her the knowledge and experience necessary to work with people in need.
Kat Nicolopoulos originally chose to come to ASU because she comes from a big Sun Devil family, with several siblings and other family members who are ASU graduates. She was also drawn to the research opportunities and the variety of student resources on campus. She is now graduating with a double major in family and human development and psychology.
Sociology graduate Laura Rocha knew by the time she was in high school that she wanted to make a difference in the lives of the elderly. She has always loved the wisdom with which older generations speak and the stories they have to tell, making a career as a caregiver/rehabilitative specialist a perfect fit for her.
Cronkite School senior Charlene Santiago had her eye on a film career when she entered college, but that all changed once she got a taste of journalism. She took every job opportunity thrown her way. It was while serving as a borderlands news reporter at Cronkite News her sophomore year that everything clicked for her.
Nonprofit work does have its rewards, but it also has its frustrations. Greg Pereira, a doctoral student in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, learned this after running a homeless shelter for several years. “I could find people shelter or a bed, get them medical attention and help them land a minimum-wage job, but I didn’t have the power to really change their lives,” said Pereira, who will earn his doctoral degree in education in leadership and innovation in December.
A passion for working with different cultures and languages that began on a summer trip to Russia as a nursing undergraduate came full circle when Jenifer Fedun recently found herself back in the country, this time as an ASU online graduate student working toward her ESL master’s degree at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Zoila Bardales Harris found inspiration while she was a student at ASU, and the new graduate is ready to head back to her home country of Peru with a big idea. She took a business writing class and read the book “Start Something That Matters,” by Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS Shoes. She had the idea of creating a community center in Peru to house a library, clothing exchange and food bank.
Maddie Niichel was excited to discover a field that combined her passions of engineering and psychology: human factors. The application of psychological and physiological principles to the engineering and design of products, processes and systems is a relatively new field. The goal is to reduce human error and increase productivity.
When ASU student Siddhu Immadisetty woke up every morning last summer in the Masai Mara preserve in southwestern Kenya, it was to the sound of hyenas whooping. Now, he is graduating from ASU with a professional science master’s degree in solar energy engineering and commercialization. He plans to devote himself to bringing light to the developing world.
Philip Robertson has come a long way from Rocky Valley, Iowa, and has tackled many challenges while pursuing his master’s degree in history from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. As a father and a full-time teacher at ASU Preparatory Academy, finding the time to study was challenging at times. Luckily, Robertson had the support and drive to succeed.
Communication major Jaime Faulkner transferred to Arizona State University from Mesa Community College and wasted no time getting involved in student life and leadership at ASU, all while making the Dean’s List each semester.
From Prescott, Arizona, to the United Kingdom, K’Tera Bartels has taken history with her everywhere. She has always been fascinated with the stories of people, places and events. It is no wonder she finds herself graduating with a master’s degree in history from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies this semester.
If it weren’t for the computer game SimCity, Sean McElroy might never have discovered his passion for sustainable cities. This December, McElroy is graduating from Arizona State University with a bachelor's in sustainability from the School of Sustainability and a minor in urban planning from the School of Geographical Science and Urban Planning.
One way to describe Matthew Dietz is busy. He is graduating with a dual major in biochemistry and kinesiology with a minor in general business and is an active member of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity. Dietz, a Phoenix native, intended to play football and was dedicated to sports, but he decided to focus on academics once he started at ASU.
After observing the alarming number of cars that sped around her corner lot, online health education and promotion graduate Jennifer Moreau decided to take action and presented a policy brief she wrote for her health advocacy course to her city council, which approved the measure. But she isn't stopping at speed bumps.
Allyson Shaw was the director of Nature at ASU, worked as a research assistant and, more recently, conducted her own research on the disease ecology of house finches. “Just a few years ago, I never thought I’d be doing research, I never thought I’d be in a club. ... It’s crazy how a few years can take you so far if you really take advantage of everything that’s offered,” said Shaw, a biological sciences major.