Degree brings ASU graduate 'a greater sense of possibilities'

May 7, 2015

ASU Spring 2015 Commencement banner

Throughout childhood, ASU senior Wayne Stephenson struggled with school – particularly reading and writing. ASU graduate Wayne Stephenson and family Download Full Image

“I was slow with my speech and was placed in special programs to give me the personal attention I needed for improvement,” Stephenson said.

But he worked hard to keep up with his classmates and graduated from Thatcher High School among the middle of his class.

Now he will be honored as the spring 2015 Outstanding Bachelor’s Graduate in the College of Letters and Sciences at Arizona State University.

The first in his family to attend college, Stephenson never thought growing up that a university degree was an attainable aspiration. But while working on an associate degree at Eastern Arizona College, he learned about a new partnership between that college and ASU.

“When I found out I could complete ASU’s interdisciplinary studies degree right in Thatcher, I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Stephenson said.

He joined ASU as a transfer student in 2013 with a 3.46 GPA, and set a goal to be among the top of his class. Now he’s graduating with a 4.0 GPA and with something even more valuable: “A greater sense of possibilities for my life," Stephenson said.

“My ASU experience has transformed me into a student with ambition, from an individual who lacked purpose. Graduating with a [Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies] degree from ASU means I can do more in life,” he said. “What once was an obstacle I thought I would never overcome is now a pathway to greater opportunities.”   

Stephenson has his sights set on a career in audiology. He has enjoyed volunteering at campus hearing screenings for community members, and this next year he plans to take the leveling classes that will prepare him to apply to an audiology graduate program.  

He attributes part of his success in the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program to the teamwork and camaraderie within his cohort and appreciates that he will have lasting friendships with each of his classmates.

But he said it’s his wife and young daughter who have been the driving forces behind his shift in mind-set.

“I knew I wanted to give them the best possible life, and I realized it would take a great deal of effort and success on my part — being average was not going to cut it,” he said. “This program was the perfect opportunity for us. It’s a major stepping-stone to giving my family the life they deserve.”

His wife, Laurissa, is graduating from ASU this week as well, completing the bachelor of arts in liberal studies. She took a mix of on-the-ground courses at EAC and online classes. The couple has juggled work and family responsibilities while completing their degrees: “I worked half the day and took care of my baby girl the other half while my wife worked at her part-time job,” said Wayne.

He has become a strong ambassador for the ASU-Eastern Arizona College programs, encouraging others who might have felt they couldn’t continue on in higher education because of economic circumstances or distance. (Thatcher is 140 miles from ASU’s Polytechnic campus in the East Valley and from Western New Mexico University in Deming, for example.)

“In my current job in appliance sales I have countless people ask me about school and what I’m studying,” he said. “I’ve used these conversations to promote the program and encourage people to take advantage of this opportunity, which isn’t yet well-known among locals.”

Duane Roen, dean of ASU’s College of Letters and Sciences, is an active participant in expanding ASU linkages with Arizona's community colleges.

“Wayne’s story and achievements capture well the life-changing benefits of making ASU degrees accessible beyond metro Phoenix,” Roen said.

“The real-estate adage ‘location, location, location’ translates into ‘access, access, access’ in higher education,” he added. “Wayne’s a terrific inspiration for all of us working to knock down barriers to baccalaureate degrees across Arizona.”    

Maureen Roen

Manager, Creative Services, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


Graduate program coordinator wins outstanding staff award

May 7, 2015

The Arizona State University Graduate and Professional Student Association has awarded Wendi Simonson, a School of Life Sciences graduate program coordinator, with the Annette Jecker Outstanding Staff award.

Named after a former association administrative staff member, the award recognizes ASU staff members who go above and beyond their typical duties to help graduate students. All candidates are nominated by the very students they assist. Simonson received 12 individual nominations in which students described the impact she has had on their professional and personal development Wendi Simonson holding her award Download Full Image

“I have a wonderful group of graduate students and they make the challenges of this job enjoyable,” Simonson said. “For them to take the time to nominate me with their hectic lives — I’m beyond words. I couldn’t feel any more excited or grateful than I do now.”

Within the School of Life Sciences’ graduate program, Simonson assists students with almost every aspect of their careers, from start to finish. She monitors incoming applications and each student’s progress through 17 degree programs. She enters grades, schedules graduate defenses, aids in curriculum development, answers program emails, acts a counselor and even mentors other program coordinators across ASU.

The award was presented during the Graduate and Professional Student Association award ceremony on April 25. Shannon Stewart, a student support specialist from the School of Criminology & Criminal Justice, also received the award alongside Simonson. More than 30 staff members were nominated for the award.

Jason Krell

Communication and events coordinator, Center for Evolution and Medicine