Pandemic shows relevance of data analytics for Watts College outstanding graduate student


May 5, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Sunayna Goel’s decision to pursue a master’s degree in program evaluation and data analytics gained new relevance for her after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. ASU grad Sunayna Goel "One thing I have realized in life is that it is never too late to go to school," said Watts College outstanding graduate in interdisciplinary programs Sunayna Goel, who returned to college after an 18-year gap. "It is never too late to follow your passion, and it is certainly not too late to rediscover yourself. Education is one tool that allows us to do that; it lets us spread our wings and fill new colors in our life." Download Full Image

“(Pursuing) my Master of Science in program evaluation and data analytics (PEDA) was a very natural choice for me because I was always interested in mathematics and data. The various projects in the program where we made inferences from different datasets, e.g. data from IRS, census and traffic, was quite eye-opening,” said Goel, the spring 2020 outstanding graduate in interdisciplinary programs.

“My true ‘aha’ moment is from the COVID-19 outbreak, where data is being generated at a global level and there is a real need to make decisions in almost real time,” she said. “This is where the data science, as a skill, is essential to tackle such complex problems.”

The pandemic gave Goel the chance to reflect on the most important things in life, she said.

“There is no doubt that work, travel, entertainment and social life are important, but so are family, health, kindness, giving and community. It surprised me to find out how little we need to stay happy and healthy,” said Goel, who is from Chandler, Arizona.

“When I saw the community coming together in various ways to help each other in this difficult time, it changed my perspective about life in general,” she said. “Most things around us are temporary, but the relationships we build and acts of kindness towards each other are permanent.”

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I chose ASU due to its focus on innovation. My husband is also an ASU alum, along with many of my friends, so we are a Sun Devil family. This being an online degree program also helped with my decision. 

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

A: My experience with all the professors and staff members has been extremely positive; everyone has gone above and beyond to drive student success. So, thank you, ASU.

If I have to pick one professor, then I would pick Jesse Lecy, the academic director for my program. Being an online student can sometimes (make you) feel isolated, but Dr. Lecy was always there to assist at any time of the day. It was like being in a classroom setting. For someone like me, who came to college after 18 years of gap, it was not an easy adjustment, but he always made me feel at ease. Thank you, Dr. Lecy, for everything!  

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

A: Education is the best gift you can give to yourself. Being in school at any stage of life is not easy. Things can get hard; it might feel pointless at times, but don’t give up, and stick with it. 

One thing I have realized in life is that it is never too late to go to school. It is never too late to follow your passion, and it is certainly not too late to rediscover yourself. Education is one tool that allows us to do that; it lets us spread our wings and fill new colors in our life. 

In current times where everything is so temporary and fast-changing, I believe education is something that stays with a person and gives us the capability to soar again and again. So, don’t give up, you got this!

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

A: Sometimes, it gets hard to find a perfect balance between life and studies. Like most human beings, I have also struggled to find my Zen where I can focus and work on my schoolwork. 

I am the type of person who likes the change of scenery. I find myself spending much of my time in my study doing my homework and reflecting upon life. I also find myself in public libraries and coffee shops. Weather permitting, I like to do a lot of my studies outside in fresh air in city parks, my backyard and even in my driveway. 

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

A: I would like to focus on what we are going through currently with COVID-19.  I would like to create a system where the general population from every country can report any type of unusual medical- or health-related issues. This type of system will allow global collaboration at a grassroots level, looking for patterns in health care issues that may be connected. The system will act as an early global warning system for any kind of health-related pandemic to allow for timely action and coordinated response across countries.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

602-496-0001

School of Social Work outstanding grad says serving underprivileged populations 'is my calling'


May 5, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Cassandra Peña’s search for a career didn’t end with her finding social work. “Social work found me,” she said. ASU grad Cassandra Pena When it came time to choose a university, there was no question for Cassandra Peña, who grew up in Tempe. "My home was about 10 minutes from the main campus. During Sun Devil football games, I would hear the fireworks ignite, and the fans’ excitement was ecstatic. Also, my grandfather was a huge inspiration that imprinted the ASU culture and higher education in me. I'm a proud Sun Devil, and this has passed down to my children as they have embraced the maroon and gold spirit." Download Full Image

She had started college seeking to work in medicine, taking a few classes along those lines. But, the School of Social Work’s spring 2020 outstanding graduate (graduate student) said she learned it just was not for her.

“I knew I wanted to be in a helping profession; I just wasn't sure what that was,” said Peña, who grew up in Tempe but today lives in Phoenix. “I decided to consult with a career counselor; at that moment, I knew social work was the right career path for me. Once I enrolled in my first social work class, I immediately knew serving underprivileged populations is my calling.”

Her internship at the Phoenix Area Indian Health Service’s Integrated Behavioral Health office has solidified her passion, she said.

“I want to continue to serve the indigenous people,” Peña said. “As a citizen of the Gila River Indian Community, my long-term goal is to be an asset and leader for my community.”

Peña’s advice for new and returning students is simple: Network.

“The advice I would give someone still in school would be to connect with your instructors, program staff, and designate some mentors. By forming these connections, the likelihood is you’ll find internships, jobs and opportunities within the school,” she said. “Also, join a student organization! As a non-traditional student, I’ve learned leadership skills will take you far.”

Peña served as vice president of the American Indian Social Work Student Organization.

She said she’s proud to be a social worker.

“I've established a desire to lead systemic change,” she said, “and because of my education and experience at ASU, I’m prepared to tackle issues impacting vulnerable populations.”

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

Answer: My classroom experience at ASU has transformed my general perspective. I bring a unique viewpoint to the classroom. However, I'm amazed by my peers, who have so much to offer in class and the social work profession. I think ASU has unwrapped the willingness to listen to all perspectives, regardless if I don’t always agree. I learned an abundance by being open to understanding the views of others, and by attending ASU, I've flourished my perception.       

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: When I knew I was going to transfer to a university, there was no question I would choose ASU. It is a piece of my adolescence, as I lived in Tempe. My home was about 10 minutes from the main campus. During Sun Devil football games, I would hear the fireworks ignite, and the fans’ excitement was ecstatic. Also, my grandfather was a huge inspiration that imprinted the ASU culture and higher education in me. I'm a proud Sun Devil, and this has passed down to my children as they have embraced the maroon and gold spirit.

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

A: I’ve been fortunate to have numerous influential professors and mentors at ASU. The School of Social Work has some fantastic professors! Going back to my undergraduate education, Cynthia Peters and Brett Petersen demonstrated the ethical standards of social work. They helped shape my understanding of the significant role social workers can bring to the table. During my graduate program, Judy Krysik and Kristin Ferguson-Colvin have demonstrated exceptional master-level education with the incorporation of social work values. Equally important, additional instructors­­ and faculty who have mentored my professional development are Christopher Sharp, director of the Office of American Indian Projects, and Miguel Vieyra, associate director for Community Engagement and Strategic Initiatives for the School of Social Work. Their guidance has also been instrumental to my success.

Q: As an on-campus student, what was your favorite spot to study or to think about life?

A: My favorite spot to study and reflect was the patio area in front of the post office at the Downtown Phoenix campus. When I had time to do this, I would grab some lunch and find a shaded area (you need shade in Arizona) to sit, people-watch and enjoy the view of the grassy area with a great view of the enormous art sculpture, called “Her Secret Is Patience.” A massive amount of my upbringing was in the Downtown Phoenix area. My grandparents lived in a home a couple of blocks from campus and most of our family gatherings took place in this home, and I'm always fascinated with the growth of the downtown area. Most of my reflection is how I’ve come full circle. This specific area is a part of me and engraved in my past. I remember exploring the downtown area when there was no ASU. It’s a surreal feeling!

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

A: Homelessness. During my undergraduate practicum, I was exposed to youth homelessness while working at Native American Connections’ HomeBase youth shelter. I have a connection to helping individuals experiencing homelessness. In my work with this population, I learned extensively about the needs associated with being displaced. I attended meetings with community partners and agencies who are dedicated to this work, trying to provide services related to housing, mental health, substance abuse, domestic violence, sex trafficking and more. It’s evident (that) homelessness continues to impact many lives. I believe the current system needs adjustment. It’s a bipartisan issue! We have to work together to advocate on behalf of this population and call on our legislators to maintain commitment to ending homelessness.   

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

602-496-0001