Outstanding grad passionately contributes to global development

May 8, 2015

ASU Spring 2015 Commencement banner

ASU master’s candidate Sarah Muench lives her life with a spirit of adventure – and a mind-set that the world is really a very small place. ASU College of Letters and Sciences outstanding graduate student Sarah Muench Download Full Image

Muench, who grew up in the Mississippi River town of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, bravely struck out 1,500 miles from home to the Sonoran Desert in 2001 to begin an undergraduate degree in journalism at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The summer after her freshman year, she ventured even farther, traveling abroad for the first time on a three-month backpacking trip through Europe with friends and, the following summer, to Guadalajara, Mexico, for Spanish immersion.

“I fell in love with the culture and the people,” Muench said. “I’d never experienced whole-hearted kindness like I did from people in Mexico, and I discovered how amazing it was to open up a whole new world after gaining fluency in a new language.”

These experiences turned the young journalist into a lifelong traveler, so much so that as soon as she began her career – working first with The Arizona Republic and then as a communications director at the state Legislature and for the mayor of Phoenix – she spent her vacations traveling to developing countries: in Central America, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.   

“I try to experience everything about a country, especially culture and history, and get a feel for what it’s really like to live there,” Muench said. “Seeing the poverty, political corruption and environmental deterioration in some nations, I knew I didn’t want to just sit by and be an idle observer.”

Turning passion into a degree

At ASU she found a master’s program that suited her interests perfectly – the Master of Science in Global Technology and Development – as well as a job with her alma mater. She juggled graduate school while working full-time as the manager of interactive marketing and communications in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Next week she celebrates the completion of her second ASU degree and is being honored by the College of Letters and Sciences as its Outstanding Graduate Student for spring 2015.

Cuba research

Muench focused her master’s research on the communication and policy strategies of political institutions in developing countries, which she hopes will contribute to civil societies in those nations.

In September she traveled to Cuba for research for her capstone project, interviewing journalists from state-run and independent media about how Cubans’ access to the Internet and Cuban media might change as relations with the United States continue to improve. 

Afghan women cyclists

Muench also interned with the Colorado-based non-profit Mountain2Mountain, which works to support women on the Afghan women’s national cycling team in a country where riding bikes is illegal for women.

The organization provides bikes for the women riders, helps get funding for them to compete, and aids in providing protection for them on their rides, when men often throw rocks at them and attempt to run them off the road.

As part of her internship, she researched other conflict nations to assess possibilities for expanding and wrote and delivered to M2M an organizational expansion plan as well as messaging and communication materials. She also hosted a group bike ride in Phoenix to benefit the organization.

Clipping in

A competitive cycler herself, Muench has ridden for three seasons with ASU’s cycling team while working on her graduate degree. The team won the 2015 overall conference championship, with Muench taking the individual title home for the women. Over the weekend she competed in her third USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Muench said. “We had an incredibly successful season, and it’s awesome to grow this team and the sport in the process.”

In her efforts to expand the sport of cycling in the Southwest, Muench developed the website clippedin.bike, a cycling news and event resource for the region.

“Sarah Muench is one of the most creative, multitalented people we have ever had in our program,” said professor Gary Grossman, director of ASU’s global technology and development master’s program, who nominated her for the award. “Besides being an outstanding student, athlete, writer and Emmy Award-winning video producer, she is also an innovator and an entrepreneur. She is a terrific example of what a student can become at ASU and will greatly impact the world around her in the future.”

‘Game changer’

Grossman said Muench went above and beyond to support the online master’s program; she noticed it was difficult for students to connect in-person with professionals in the development field, so she worked with fellow students to set up an online, face-to-face networking event using video conferencing.

She hopes to work with ASU’s Graduate Professional Student Association, ASU Online, and Graduate Education to make that kind of interaction even more prevalent for ASU graduate students.

Her aspirations for the future?

Not surprisingly, Muench intends to be a game changer: “I hope to make an impact on a global scale in development, through either research, media or sports diplomacy.” 

Maureen Roen

Manager, Creative Services, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


ASU recognizes graduating veterans with honor stoles

May 10, 2015

Overcoming tough challenges is nothing new to military veterans. On May 9, student vets at ASU received special stoles to recognize their service and celebrate their conquering the challenge of earning a college degree.

Nearly half of this spring’s 328 graduating veterans attended a reception at Old Main on Tempe campus to receive honor stoles, adorned with the seal of the veteran’s branch of service, the Arizona State University seal, and the word “veteran.” The stoles are worn over academic regalia at commencement and college convocation ceremonies. Veterans Graduation Reception stoles Download Full Image

The ASU Alumni Association organized the Veterans Graduation Reception in coordination with the Pat Tillman Veterans Center.

“I love ASU and think they have one of the best support systems for veterans,” said Hillary LaFever-Ceja, an Army veteran and student graduating with a degree in nutrition. “The Pat Tillman Veterans Center is fantastic at what they do as far as processing claims and providing guidance, but that’s the minimum I believe any school should provide, and they go beyond that.”

LaFever-Ceja, who served in Iraq, loves the stole ceremony concept and believes it is important to recognize that many groups of non-traditional students face unique challenges that others don’t.

Her fellow student veteran Luis Cardenas Camacho is also a fan of the ceremony and credits the university.

“I think the veteran stoles are representative of ASU’s commitment to the veteran community,” said Camacho, a Marine combat veteran and president of ASU’s Student Veterans of America downtown chapter. “ASU is one of the top schools for military in the U.S. They take this title to heart and do their best to provide veterans all the tools they need to accomplish their academic goals.”

Ceremony attendees were treated to inspirational remarks from guest speaker and City of Tempe Councilmember Robin Arredondo-Savage. Her message was simple: Pay it forward.

“I know each and every one of you believe in service,” she said. “I too believe in service, and I hope it doesn’t stop here.”

Arredondo-Savage encouraged the vets to stay involved, whether that's by staying connected with ASU, mentoring students, helping other veterans or serving their communities in other capacities.

“There are so many great things, so many valuable things that you guys bring to the table that so many others don’t,” said Arredondo-Savage. “Your dedication, your teamwork, your leadership, your skills, those are truly gifts.”

Arredondo-Savage told the audience that it can be as simple as making a difference in one person’s life, just as someone may have done in their lives by caring and making time for them.   

“I hope if nothing else that you inspire another person, because if you are ready to inspire another person, that makes change,” she said. “That makes change not only in that person’s life but in the community, in the city, in the state and in this country. And to me that is exactly why we’re here, to make this the very best place it can be.”

The councilmember, also an Army veteran, expressed confidence in the vets as they pursue careers and find their path in life.

“I know you’re all going to be successful,” she said.

One of those on the path to success is graduate student Evan Benson, a Marine combat vet and civil engineering major. Despite being severely wounded in Afghanistan, he persevered to achieve his educational goals.  

“I feel accomplished now that it’s sinking in that I’m actually getting my masters,” said Benson. “It was a long road to get here and I went through a lot … from suffering a traumatic brain injury and not knowing if I would be capable of absorbing difficult undergraduate engineering curriculum, let alone a graduate curriculum.”

Benson credits others for his success, from the medical staff who treated him in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to the Department of Veterans Affairs. He is also grateful to the American taxpayers who make it possible for veterans to complete their education by funding the GI Bill. And he praises ASU staff.

“The Pat Tillman Veterans Center was an integral part of my success, and it’s a first-of-its-kind center created specifically to help students achieve their academic goals,” he said. “In addition to the Tillman center, the Fulton School of Engineering has great faculty that have helped me every step of the way. They happily make themselves available outside classroom hours to ensure student success.”

Benson hsa accepted a full-time position with a Boston-based engineering company where he interned. He starts the new job in June.  

The student veterans also have words of wisdom and advice for those leaving the military.

“The fact is that even though our mission overseas might be over, our service at home is not,” said Camacho, a public service and public policy major and political activist. “It is our duty to educate ourselves and be the leaders our country needs us to be.”

Camacho, who was born in Mexico and served three combat tours in Iraq, helped produce a documentary about deported veterans and lobbied for immigration reform in Washington D.C. alongside Arizona political leaders.

LaFever-Ceja offers more practical advice to school-bound veterans: She recommends finding a support system, whether family, veteran organizations or other groups.

“It’s going to be vital that there are people who can guide you back to civilian life,” she said. “The military has become better at assisting with transition, but there’s little that can truly prepare you for leaving the military behind.”

She also recommends veterans pace themselves academically.  Oftentimes new vets will take 18 credits or more per semester when starting out.

“Veterans have this tendency to think that they can take on the world,” she said. “You are perfectly capable of that course load, but later, not your first semester.”

Benson offers words of wisdom for Americans at large who may have misperceptions about combat veterans. Sometimes there are negative connotations about veteran psychological issues.

“Although we’ve had difficult circumstances during wartime, we’ve come back stronger and are ready to become the nation’s leaders in engineering, teaching, business, etc.,” he said. “We aren’t crippled or entitled, but we’ve been through hell and we’ll take those lessons learned to better ourselves and our communities.”

ASU’s veteran population stands at around 3,700 students and is expected to grow.

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications