ASU graduating student combines music, science as a 21st-century musician

December 6, 2019

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

Felix Herbst refuses to settle on one path. The 21st-century musician is a violinist, vocalist and arranger-composer as well as a scientist. He will graduate in December as a dual major honors student with a Bachelor of Music in violin performance and a Bachelor of Science in molecular bioscience and biotechnology, and he plans to pursue both careers after graduation. Felix Herbst Felix Herbst Download Full Image

“The idea of majoring in music had been on my mind for a while, but I felt really committed to it near the start of my senior year of high school,” he said. “It was more of a slow and steady progression rather than a single moment. I made up my mind to add the double major in biotechnology halfway through my first semester at ASU when I realized that I missed science a lot.”

Following graduation, Herbst plans to spend some time in Arizona with friends exploring the state a little more before he begins a research project and a career as a musician. He says then he plans to move to Boston in the short term “for a potential part-time cancer research position, followed by a more definitive move to Los Angeles, New York City or Berlin to pursue my career as an arranger, composer, writer and performer.”

Herbst began playing the violin in first grade after emigrating from Germany to Northern California with his family. His passions extend beyond the classical realm and include jazz, pop, rock, fiddle and hip-hop styles. After attending ASU for three years on a National Merit Scholarship and adding a science degree to his music studies, Herbst spent one year at Berklee College of Music in Boston to explore contemporary performance.

Herbst has performed with the ASU Symphony Orchestra, ASU Gospel Choir, Urban Sol and ASU Choral Union on violin and vocals. He participated in a wide variety of musical groups as founder, producer or participant, including Side Note (a semi-professional a cappella group) and Priority Male (an all-male a cappella group that he directed). Herbst has performed with or opened for the band Moonchild, Justin Timberlake, Missy Elliott, Alex Lacamoire and Old Crow Medicine Show, has written and recorded string arrangements for bands in Arizona and Massachusetts, and arranged and co-produced Priority Male’s EP recording.

While artist-in-residence at the Phoenix Art Museum, he performed at the museum and also created a sound installation. Herbst co-founded Third Thursday at ASU, a set of music/arts festivals on the ASU campus, and performed for the Boys and Girls Club of Tempe, senior clinics, hospice and transitional care facilities.

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

Answer: Early on in my college microbiology class, I met someone in their late twenties who was raising a child by themselves and simultaneously getting their bachelor's degree. Hearing her story reshaped my idea of how college can and should function. I tackled underlying assumptions I had about what a typical classmate could be.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: My decision to attend ASU was very last minute. I was incredibly conflicted among the 20 schools where I applied. My mom informed me that with a National Merit Scholarship I could attend ASU fully funded. I visited ASU, toured the campus, took a trial lesson with Dr. Katherine McLin and visited Barrett Honors College, all of which confirmed for me that this was the place I wanted to study.

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

A: Dr. McLin, my violin teacher, taught me more about playing and performing than I could ever share here. The most important lesson she taught me is how to learn and progress from things that I considered failure. I appreciate her more than she could know.

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

A: Utilize the resources ASU can offer. As I near the end of my college career, I am starting to realize the incredible number of things that the school system can offer while in school and the things I'll have to say goodbye to once I'm out. ASU has gig referral programs, funding applications and a myriad of incredible people who care about their work and are more than willing to share it with you if you only ask. This community is one of a kind — take what it can give you.

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

A: James Turrell’s architectural art installation Skyspace: Air Apparent, near the Biodesign Institute, is beautiful at night. It has been a place of solace for me, as well as sharing moments of silence with other strangers enjoying the same space.

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

A: Clean drinking water access. Forty million dollars cannot develop water infrastructure every place that needs it, but it can go a long way in improving hundreds of thousands of lives affected by drought and lack of sanitation.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music


ASU grad shares her gift for linguistics with the world

December 6, 2019

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

Melody Taylor has made the Disability Resource Center her “home away from home” during her time at Arizona State University. She has also dedicated herself to education, working for the DRC to help students with disabilities be successful and also teaching English to international students and refugees. ASU grad Melody Taylor poses at ASU's Tempe campus Fall 2019 ASU graduate Melody Taylor. Download Full Image

Taylor, who is blind, is graduating in December with her degree in linguistics, and she also works as an editor for the DRC’s Alternative Format Services, making sure materials are accurate for students with visual impairment. 

“Being able to give back by proofreading the documents for the visually impaired students has been rewarding,” Taylor said. 

Taylor was the vice president of Daredevils of ASU, an organization that provides a safe space for students with visual impairment. It is a place for students to share stories, bring awareness and help each other overcome challenges.

“We also met to get stress relief while watching audio-described movies, playing Braille card games and eating good food,” Taylor said.

Taylor appreciates the diversity of language and all the forms that it comes in and said she’s open to what doors will open up for her after graduation. She answered a few questions for ASU Now as she prepares to graduate in December.

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

Answer: My “aha” moment to study linguistics and become a teacher of refugees and international students came when I was attending SAAVI School for the Blind in Phoenix. 

They were helping prepare me to get employment when we realized that everything that inspired me needed an education. So, two of the teachers said that they could see clearly that I was built to teach and I loved people of all cultures, so they suggested that I study language at ASU. This was a perfect fit for me.

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

A: While I’ve been at ASU, I’ve attended many meetings focusing on inclusion and diversity. I have been surprised to learn that individuals from other countries who are learning English don’t desire to be praised for how well they speak our language. Our language isn’t any better than theirs. They love when we are interested in their native language and culture. 

I didn’t realize that as I was trying to encourage and praise them, they were actually being turned off or even offended. Now, I know to actively inquire about their language and culture, which I’m fascinated by naturally.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I had known several visually impaired students who attended here and had a good experience.

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

A: It is difficult to choose only one professor who taught me the most important lesson at ASU. I would have to say Ruby Macksoud, who has been my professor in several classes during my time in the 4+1 MTESOL program (Master of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). She has taught me how to come out of my comfort zone and see the benefits of pursuing several different facets of teaching English to international students. 

During my internships, she’s encouraged me to integrate my blindness into the lessons and curriculum as well as being extremely aware of each student's strengths and weaknesses.

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

A: I would advise students to never go it alone. Always take professors up on their office hours; always interact with other students to learn from their successes and failures; and absolutely, if they have any form of disability, make the DRC their home away from home.

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

A: My favorite spot on campus, besides the DRC, was the center of the Social Sciences building across from the Matthews Center. They have fountains flowing most of the time; the sound of the water is stress relieving, and it is shady, which keeps the heat down while enjoying the outdoors.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans after graduation remain to be seen. God may open doors for me to teach English in Japan or Jordan. I may help refugees adjust to our language and culture as they enter our country. I may teach English to international students who are overseas through the internet. The sky is the limit.

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

A: If someone gave me $40 million to tackle one problem, I would most definitely develop groups across America who would spread the word about how God created people to love and enjoy each other’s differences. These groups would teach about inclusion and diversity of all kinds: ethnicity, physical, mental and emotional disability, and cultural varieties including celebrations and foods, etc.

Written by Carmen De Alba Cardenas, Sun Devil Storyteller

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services