Professional dancer turned electrical engineer graduates from ASU Online


May 5, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Jessica Columbus realized her interest in engineering at a young age but put her degree on hold to pursue another passion — ballet. ASU Online student Jessica Columbus Ballet dancer and engineer Jessica Columbus will start her career as an electrical engineer in the tanker division at Boeing just one week after graduation. Download Full Image

Growing up in Kentucky, Columbus spent her free time with her dad, who was an industrial engineer, putting together model cars, planes and computers, which fueled her passion for the engineering industry.  

Always planning to follow in her dad’s footsteps, when it was time to go to college, Columbus studied mechanical engineering. However, her goal of being an engineer took a backseat when she was offered an opportunity to dance professionally as part of the Louisville Ballet.

Years later, Columbus discovered Arizona State University and decided it was time to complete her degree in engineering — but this time as an online student. ASU was the clear choice for Columbus because it included ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accreditation and a good reputation, two things Columbus noted were crucial for landing a job. One surprise Columbus found during her experience at ASU was a supportive network and her ability to develop real connections with fellow students.

“There are so many learning moments being online — I learned that I liked working in groups better online than I did on campus,” said Columbus. “The other students also have lives, jobs and kids, so when you get into a group everyone really wants to be there, learn and do well. They’re all working toward the goal of changing their career.”

Columbus encourages those completing degrees online to connect with classmates sooner rather than later for support in classes.

“Reach out to peers and form connections. Talk to your professors, TAs and success coach. Ask for help when you need it and ask questions. It is easy to feel lonely doing an online program so form those connections,” says Columbus.

The long hours of studying have paid off as Columbus starts her career as an electrical engineer in the tanker division at Boeing just one week after graduation.

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

Answer: My “aha” moment was a combination of the little moments I had working on projects with my dad. Even as a kid I had always loved problem solving, especially when it had practical applications.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I found there were classes that I liked a lot more than I thought I would — solid state design, for example. After taking the first course, I took as many as I could. In general, I enjoyed studying and learning much more this second time around.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: The ABET accreditation and reputation. That was important to me when looking at online programs — getting a degree that will get you a job.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Linda Chattin in the industrial department. She taught statistics in a fun and engaging way, and I have used it in every semester since including for my senior design project. For the project I took on the data analyst role and felt really comfortable taking more than 20,000 data points and running hypothesis tests.

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

A: Reach out to your peers and form connections. Talk to your professors, the TAs and the success coaches. Ask for help when you need it and ask questions. It is easy to feel lonely doing an online program so form those connections.

Getting involved in your field within your community can help you make connections, too. I am personally involved with the Society of Women Engineers and attended the national conference where I was able to meet important people in the industry and interview for jobs. A lot of resources were available to me as a student and I used them all. From medical emergencies to natural disasters, I have had to use all those resources along the way.

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot to study or just think about life?

A: My favorite spot to study is in a quiet place at home, but I studied everywhere I could. I studied backstage before and after my ballet productions and in hallways and coffee shops between jobs. My favorite spot to simply think is when I’m hiking.

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

A: I would fund topsoil erosion research because in about 60 years, our topsoil will be gone and we won’t be able to grow anymore crops so it’s a very important cause that we don’t hear much about.

Carrie Peterson

Media Relations Manager, EdPlus at Arizona State University

4808841541

Starbucks partner earns degree after developing passion in leadership and management


May 5, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

A resident of Lockport, Illinois, online student Jen Schmidt found her way to Arizona State University through an educational benefits program between Starbucks and Arizona State University. Schmidt enrolled at ASU through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan in summer 2017, deciding to major in organizational leadership through the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. ASU Online student and Starbucks partner Jen Schmidt Jen Schmidt realized her passion was for leading people and making decisions after a promotion to shift supervisor at Starbucks. Download Full Image

“I actually decided to go back to school after working as a barista at Starbucks. I had been in that role for eight months when my manager saw potential in me. It was following that promotion that I decided to return to school and major in organizational leadership after realizing that is where my passion lies.”

Finding that passion in leadership and management didn’t come right away. Following her high school graduation, Schmidt enrolled at a local junior college to pursue a degree in child development.

“I had been a nanny and child care teacher for a couple of years, so I thought that was what I was supposed to do at 18 years old,” she said.

While Schmidt found a lack of fulfillment in that original path, she did go on to obtain her associate degree and certification to teach English as a second language (ESL). This led to an opportunity at 21 years of age to live in Ukraine for a year teaching ESL. According to Schmidt, “I matured during that year and gained a new perspective on cultures outside of the American culture. It changed me for the better. I continue to have the desire to learn more about other cultures and welcome them into my life.”

Her journey to ASU came a couple of years later, when two years into her marriage Schmidt and her husband moved to California and she took a job at Starbucks. While the road to graduation was not an easy one, Schmidt always had a feeling in the back of her mind that she would not give up.

“Going to school was a bit bumpy as we moved four times, experienced job changes, bought our first home and experienced infertility. But I knew that I would make it to graduation. That is why I decided to celebrate with all I have and fly out to Arizona to walk across that stage. The support I have received from my friends, family, professors and success coach has been overwhelming. The only way I know how to thank them is by acknowledging my success proudly.”

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

Answer: My “aha” moment came shortly after a promotion at Starbucks. Once I became a shift supervisor, I finally realized what my passion was: leading people and making decisions.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I’ve learned a tremendous amount thanks to all the professors and their thoughtful assignments and feedback. Something that opened my eyes was the topic of conflict management. Anywhere you go to work will have an opportunity to diffuse conflict. Knowing how to approach the situation and gain the best perspective helps leaders manage conflicts.

William Ury gave a TED Talk which I was assigned to watch in one of my OGL classes. I learned about the balcony perspective, which allows the problem to be seen without surrounding distractions. I think about this, as well as “suspending assumptions,” when I begin to let my emotions get in the way. It has truly helped me with resolving issues both at work and at home.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: With what I know now, I would choose ASU again. The Starbucks College Achievement Plan allowed me to take courses at ASU to complete my bachelor’s degree.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. (Jennifer) Chandler with OGL 321: Foundations Project Management taught me about project management, which is essential in all areas of life! Also, Dr. (Janice) Lawhorn with OGL 220: Behavioral Dynamics in Organizations, OGL 481: Organizational Leadership Pro-Seminar I and OGL 482: Organizational Leadership Pro-Seminar II. Dr. Lawhorn took time to review and discuss every detail of my work. Having that kind of attention during online classes showed me she cared about my success.

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

A: It is important to schedule each assignment on a calendar. Each semester I printed out the syllabus and wrote in each assignment on a desk calendar. Also, your teachers are your great resource. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot to think or study as an online student was in my home. The ideal setting was in the middle of the day, sun shining through my windows, quiet, or instrumental music, and an organized desk.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Post-graduation I would like to find a career in project management, or training and developing.

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

A: I would tackle recycling. I would promote awareness in a way that people think about the way they reuse, reduce, repurpose and recycle. Living in California helped me form a habit, and moving back to my hometown of Illinois allowed me to introduce my habits to family.

Carrie Peterson

Media Relations Manager, EdPlus at Arizona State University

4808841541