5 years later, ASU's class of 2009 reflects on professional success

May 2, 2014

In May 2009, President Barack Obama addressed more than 9,000 ASU graduates and their families with a mixture of excitement and uncertainty in the air. The students were excited about the moment, but aware of the challenges of entering the workforce in the midst of the country’s economic downturn.

“Many of our current challenges are unprecedented,” Obama said to the crowd of what is still considered one of the nation’s largest-ever commencement ceremonies. “There are no standard remedies or go-to fixes this time around. That is why we are going to need your help.” Graduation cap that says "Look out world here I come" Download Full Image

He told the graduating class that starting their careers in troubled times is a challenge, but also a privilege, because they are forced to dig deeper and discover gifts they never knew they had. 

“With a degree from this outstanding institution, you have everything you need to get started. You have no excuses not to change the world,” he said. “You can help our struggling non-profits ... teach in a high-need school ... help us lead a green revolution, developing new sources of clean energy that will power our economy and preserve our planet.”

In the five years since, and on the other side of the recession, the class of 2009 has grown in many ways and blazed trails in industries not even considered at the time.

To kick off our annual celebration of commencement, we have compiled stories of many of these outstanding graduates from a wide variety of ASU programs and colleges. The stories acknowledge the tenacity of our graduates, the paths they have taken and the impact they are making now.

Laura Kennedy

“We graduated at a terrible time during the recession and hopes of finding employment were low,” said Laura Kennedy, who received a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, with honors from Barrett, the Honors College.

“Despite the bad economy, I found a job in the field from which I graduated and have continued to succeed and grow in that career,” said Kennedy, who is currently a reporter and anchor for KOLR-TV in Springfield, Mo. She is also pursuing a master’s in business administration online through ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business.

“I know having a master’s degree and more than five years of work experience will make me a very marketable job candidate in the coming years,” she said.

Read more Barrett success stories.

Samuel BurkeSamuel Burke has made a name for himself in the burgeoning field of Spanish language broadcast journalism. He is a technology correspondent at CNN and also anchors technology news programs at CNN en Español. He reports on how technology and social media affect the business world and consumers.

Burke has constantly had to adapt in the news world, moving nearly a dozen times, living in London, New York and Atlanta, acquiring different technology skill sets to succeed in his career. He said the Cronkite School and ASU gave him the training and technical skills needed to make sound, ethical decisions in the 24-hour news environment.

“Nothing could have prepared me more for my work at CNN than the Cronkite School,” Burke said. “Cronkite truly prepared me for the many lenses a journalist must look through when working on international news stories.”

Read more Cronkite success stories.

Scott BatesScott Bates graduated with a master's and doctorate in plant biology from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Bates is now an assistant professor and curator with the Bell Museum of Natural History with the University of Minnesota.

While at ASU, Bates managed the Lichen Herbarium exchange program and served as a specialist for the USDA’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Program. He pursues studies in fungal diversity and soil-borne fungal pathogens, and is part of National Science Foundation’s Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program.

Read more College of Liberal Arts and Sciences success stories.

Kelee Pacion earned her master’s in curriculum and instruction, secondary education, from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. After four years working in public and charter high schools, she enrolled at the University of Arizona to pursue a second master’s in information resources and library science.

“As a result of both degrees, I was able to obtain a librarian job just as I was finishing my last year teaching high school,” said Pacion, who is now the instruction coordinator and undergraduate life sciences librarian for the Albert R. Mann Library at Cornell University. “Not only did I get a job, I got a job at a prestigious library at an Ivy League university.”

Read more Teachers College success stories.

Christine Leon SwisherChristine Leon Swisher’s grandmother died of cancer when Swisher was a young girl. It was diagnosed late, which made the treatment less effective. That bitter loss inspired her to pursue research and engineering to develop better detection and treatment options. Through the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering’s 4+1 program, she finished her master’s degree, for which she had done research on better ways to deliver drugs to cancer tumors.

In May, she will finish her doctorate in bioengineering through a joint program between the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco. She is also a National Science Foundation fellow, a graduate student instructor at Berkeley and is also very involved in science and education outreach. Her doctoral research focuses on the early diagnosis of cancer with the development of safe, non-invasive Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques.

This summer, she will move to Boston to be a post-doctoral research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. She will be working on smaller, less-expensive, hand-held devices that can screen for cancer at a patient’s bedside.

Read more Fulton Schools of Engineering success stories.

Brianna RaymondFor small-business owners who need help with getting organized, marketing tactics and growing sales, Infusionsoft is more than just software – it can be a vital lifeline in living out their dreams. “I joined the Infusionsoft team because we’re championing entrepreneurs and fighting for small business success,” says Brianna Raymond, School of Letters and Sciences graduate, who joined the company after working with Education Management Corporation. “We understand the joys and pains of entrepreneurship, as more than half of our employees have operated a business venture at one time.”

Between finishing her undergraduate degree and earning an MBA, Raymond lived and worked with a hill community in northern Thailand, which was working with the United Nations to manufacture and sell local coffee beans in order to send tribal members to college. She continues to be active in her Phoenix community, serving in a leadership role with Toastmasters at ASU and as a member of Arizona Philanthropists.  

Read more School of Letters and Sciences success stories.

Patricia TrublPatricia Trubl, bachelor’s degree in life science and instructional specialist at New College, remembers President Obama saying, “Your body of work is yet to come,” and there is “always more to do, always more to learn and always more to achieve.” In the last five years, Trubl has completed her master’s degree with a focus in urban ecology, had her undergraduate research and one chapter in her master’s thesis published, and found a passion for teaching: “I love being challenged. I request that I teach something new every semester.”

President Obama challenged graduates in his speech to “take risks and new opportunities,” and Trubl has done just that. She has recently accepted a position with the University of Houston – Clear Lake (UHCL), where she will help the institution transition into a four-year university. Trubl will develop all of the teaching biology labs at UHCL and continue her education as a doctoral candidate. She hopes to “serve as an inspiration for [her] students, the same as ASU New College faculty have done [for her].”

Read more New College success stories.

Jeremy PomeroyMoments away from earning his doctoral degree in physical activity, nutrition and wellness from ASU in 2009, Jeremy Pomeroy sat in the audience at commencement reflecting on the people who helped make his achievements a reality and the work it took to get there.

Today, Pomeroy is a postdoctoral fellow at the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), working on health interventions in native communities in Phoenix and rural Alaska, as well as communities in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Sweden. Pomeroy also serves as a mentor for students in the NIDDK Office of Minority Health Research Coordination summer internship program.

“Mentoring students allows me to continue the tradition Dr. Swan set forth for me,” Pomeroy said. “If I can keep that ripple effect going by inspiring and mentoring students, I’ll feel satisfied in taking on the president’s challenge of leaving the world a better place.”

Read more Nursing and Health Solutions success stories.

Pete Buckley got an internship at Apple through the career center at the W. P. Carey School of Business before he even graduated. When he finished the school's full-time MBA program in May 2009, he walked into a full-time job in new products logistics at Apple, where he was responsible for freight optimization and logistics launch readiness. Translation: he was responsible for making sure nobody stole an announced iPhone before it launched, while also making sure 15 million iPhones weren’t delivered too early, but were ready on shelves around the world at launch time.

Today, after spending five years at Apple, utilizing his W. P. Carey School emphasis in supply chain management, Buckley is a new-product-introduction manager at Google. He is working on an initiative called Project Loon, which is launching balloons into the stratosphere to beam down Internet access to those who are poor and/or living in remote areas, including emerging markets like Brazil, Indonesia, India and Africa. Buckley’s passion is leveraging technology to help the poor and disadvantaged, and he often travels to developing countries. He is proud that his projects at Google are working to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.

Read more W. P. Carey success stories.

Amaroney ThachAmaroney Thach listened intently as President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at his graduation, which warned students they would have to adapt as they launched their careers.

“I shifted careers drastically,” says Thach, who earned a bachelor of science in tourism development and management and was named an “Outstanding Graduate” from the College of Public Programs. 

After graduation, he pursued a career in the nonprofit sector, but changed jobs six times until deciding to develop his creative talents and pursue a master of communication in digital media from the University of Washington. 

“It’s important to me to find a career that I look forward to doing every day,” Thach says. “If that doesn't work out, start your own business. That's where I am today. I want to work for myself and have full creative reign.”    

Read more College of Public Programs success stories. 

Lisa Robbins

editor/publisher, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Class of 2009: College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

May 2, 2014

On the cusp of graduation, more than 2,500 of ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences students are poised as adaptable critical thinkers, entrepreneurs and leaders destined to shift the course of communities and nations.

The evidence that their passion can and will transform our world? It is before us in the footsteps of our 2009 graduates: portrait of Michael McDowell Download Full Image

Michael McDowell, an ASU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the School of Life Sciences, is very active in undergraduate research projects, and accepted the President’s challenge. McDowell, currently in his final year of medical school at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, has already been published 13 times and co-authored 5 textbook chapters.

In addition, he has received $600,000 in grants toward his research on pediatric cerebrovascular surgery – research he became passionate about as an undergraduate participating in the School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Research program. Once his final year is finished, McDowell will begin his residency at the University of Pittsburgh.

While McDowell was already well on his way to success before the President’s speech, he did have an experience few others did – he shook President Obama’s hand during commencement and exchanged a few words.

“It was a great experience, and I felt that I was really able to have a personal moment with him,” McDowell said. “I got to tell him that I was going to his alma mater, Columbia, and say ‘Roar, lions, roar,’ to him. He was already smiling at the time, but I think his grin got a bit bigger.”

McDowell is not the only 2009 ASU graduate to see success. Others, including biological sciences graduate Rachel Lusk, are making a difference throughout the world. Her undergraduate degree at ASU focused on biology and society.

Lusk has already graduated from medical school and is currently in the middle of her residency at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Also impressive is the outreach work she has completed in rural locations, including the Navajo Nation and Malawi, Africa. Lusk said she always wanted to work in rural communities, and she hopes to continue doing so wherever possible after her residency is finished. In addition to hearing the President’s inspiring words, Lusk said she is grateful for all the exciting opportunities she had at ASU.

“I was so fortunate to have wonderful mentors at ASU, like Jane Maienschein, who taught me to think critically about what it means to be a good doctor,” Lusk said. “I’m not only using the basic science that I learned during my undergraduate studies, but also the skills that I learned about thinking critically and looking at the big picture when taking care of patients.”

Shaan Akhtar is also a 2009 graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences with a concentration in biology and society from the School of Life Sciences. For Akhtar, the most important thing about his post-graduate career has been integrating his commitment to service with his interest in science. Since age 15, he spent his summers volunteering with the Ocean Discovery Institute, an organization that uses marine science to engage urban youth in conservation activities. Experiences like those have guided his decision to attend medical school at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix.

Now in his third year, Akhtar has started his clinical rotations and said he finds it very exciting, but humbling.

“It’s incredible to see certain types of pathology of disease in front of me that I had previously only learned about in textbooks or lectures,” Akhtar said. “It is also very rewarding to have the chance to offer some relief and support to people who are acutely ill and in need.”

In addition to the typical duties of a medical student, Akhtar participates in research studies with the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute. Akhtar said he appreciates the education and experiences that the School of Life Sciences and ASU offered that prepared him to apply what he learned in class to a changing society.

William "Billy" Cioffi (BA, English) returned to school for his bachelor’s degree after some 30 years away. A career musician and songwriter, he says his two great loves in life “other than my wife” are music and literature. “I was thinking about going back into journalism, as I had been writing for various music mags. I just got hung up on English lit and theory. I know I'm weird.”

His 32-year music career included working as a studio musician, record producer and tour manager for such noted names as Chuck Berry – with whom he went to Japan, Russia and Europe – Bo Diddley, Ben E. King, Lesly Gore and The Turtles. “I had a great time. I loved doing it,” he said.

Since graduation in 2009, Cioffi has collaborated with ASU Department of English professor T. R. Hummer, a poet and musician, on the AmeriCamera project. The two co-wrote an album in 2010 that they describe as a blend of music, poetry, photography and video (High Minded. The AmeriCamera Project. Electric Lotus Music, 2010). AmeriCamera was also featured on the Emmy-nominated Songwriters’ Showcase series, produced by the City of Tempe and aired on KAET PBS 8. Cioffi is musical director for the series.

A teacher of guitar and songwriting at Kirks Studio for the Performing Arts in Scottsdale, Cioffi is constantly looking for ways to link his two great loves. “I always ask my students ‘what are you reading?’ You cannot write anything well – songs, novels, journalism – unless you read.” At present, Cioffi is in the studio recording songs for volume 2 of the AmeriCamera project, and is also nearly finished with his master’s degree in English at ASU. He has contributed to ASU outreach blockbuster, Night of the Open Door, and ultimately hopes to get his Ph.D. – “If I live long enough!”

On having President Obama as commencement speaker, Cioffi said: “It was an incredibly moving experience. I felt intensely proud and lucky at the same time. Obama shows us all that no dream is too big or out of reach if you try. It’s never too late to go for it.”

Below are more success stories from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences:

Erica Wrublik – BA, history

Wrublik is vice president of membership at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, responsible for membership development and affinity programs. Her history degree opened the door to government, global awareness, community development and to the firm belief that education is “the bulwark of a good society.”

Darren Ruddell – MS, technology (ASU Polytechnic campus); PhD, geography

Ruddell is an assistant professor and director of undergraduate studies at the Spatial Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California. Ruddell teaches and develops curricula in GeoDesign and advanced online programs in Geographic Information Science and Technology. GeoDesign is a forward-thinking, interdisciplinary framework that pairs planning, design and environmental systems with geospatial technologies to explore ways to build a better world.

Chris Samila – BA, global studies (certificate: sustainability and urban systems); BA, political science (certificate: international studies).

Samila is now partnerships manager with Optimizely, a San Francisco-based global market leader in digital content optimization. This group empowers marketing professionals to rapidly test and personalize digital content (images, text, designs) to improve conversions. At ASU, Samila founded the School of Global Studies Student Association and the company GreenSummit, Inc. In 2008, the summit attracted 4,000 attendees to the Phoenix Convention Center, where President Crow gave the opening address.

Scott Bates – MA, PhD, plant biology.

Bates is now an assistant professor and curator with the Bell Museum of Natural History with the University of Minnesota. While at ASU, Bates managed the Lichen Herbarium exchange program and served as a specialist for the USDA’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Program. He pursues studies in fungal diversity and soil-borne fungal pathogens, and is part of National Science Foundation’s Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program.

Andrew Gamalski – BS, physics; BS, math.

Gamalski’s research studies began at the age of 15. He developed an algorithm using linear programming to minimize factory inefficiency as part of the high school research program of ASU’s Southwest Center for Education and the Natural Environment. By the time he entered ASU as a freshman, he’d completed enough college coursework to be designated a junior. Called a “force of nature” by faculty, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offered the perfect proving ground for his skills in mathematics, chemistry and physics. He received a Marshall Award, which took him to England to study for two years. He completed his PhD in Electrical Engineering at the University of Cambridge and now conducts research in nanowires with Intel Corporation.

Lisa Robbins

editor/publisher, Media Relations and Strategic Communications