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Biology students get to see eye to eye with nature

March 20, 2019

Turtles and dolphins and sharks — ASU class travels to Gulf of California to get up close and personal with what they study

In the Sea of Cortez, whales come up for kisses.

The place is teeming with life, and a biology class from Arizona State University came to life there earlier this month.

Octopi hugged them. Whale sharks glided past them. Sea lions played with them. Tiny lizards and crabs skittered across their palms.

“I touched a whale and started sobbing,” said Alexandrine Labban, a senior majoring in conservation biology. “I couldn’t have dreamed of the stuff we did.”

The class was “Sea Turtles, Sharks and Fisheries of Baja California: Emerging Topics in Marine Conservation,” taught by Assistant Research Professor Jesse Senko and Clinical Associate Professor Ira Bennett, both of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and both senior sustainability scientists in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.

“It was amazing to see firsthand things we learned in class,” said Lindsey Homa, a senior majoring in biological sciences.

Twenty students went on the study abroad program. They participated in a sea turtle monitoring and research project, snorkeled with whale sharks while learning about ecology and management efforts for tourism and took part in a fisheries conservation technology workshop.

And they cried every day.

“Usually it was joy,” Senko deadpanned.

“This field is all about wearing your heart on your sleeve,” he said. “If I’m swimming with a 30-foot fish and I’m not screaming like a little boy, I’m in the wrong field. … There were tears every day.”

Whale shark sea of cortez

A whale shark swims in the Sea of Cortez.

Taylor Martinez, a senior majoring in biological science, said it was astounding being “in little boats with giant animals and they’re just … there,” she said. “A lot of people would be scared of the things we did.”

Corrine Johnson, a sophomore conservation biology and ecology major, was anxious going on the trip. She had doubts about her choice of major, and she was terrified of snorkeling.

“How am I going to be a marine biologist if I can’t snorkel?” she recalls thinking. On her first try, she came out of the water screaming. But Senko talked her out of her tree — and back into the water.

“Facing my fear and overcoming it the first day was life-changing for me,” she said. “Thank you, Jesse.”

They snorkeled with sea lions, saw pods of bottlenose dolphins, and got up close and personal with curious gray whale calves. They camped under the stars atop an island dune.

ASU study abroad beach camp Baja California

The study abroad group set up camp on a dune adjacent to the water.

“These are things I’ve wanted to do my whole life,” said Kyli Denton, a junior majoring in conservation biology and ecology.

After swimming with sea lions, they are now Christa Burgess’ favorite animal. “One of the big things for me was the power of personal connection, without just seeing it on a screen,” said Burgess, a junior majoring in sustainability.

They saw a humpback whale tangled in a gill net. “You can read a book all you want, but you don’t realize how big they are until you’re in the water with them,” said Adrian Fichter, a senior majoring in conservation biology.

(The whale was rescued, with no ill effects, according to Senko.)

For Christopher Lue Sang, a senior majoring in engineering, his highlight was pulling a 300-pound turtle on board a boat. The turtle had been previously captured and tagged.

“It is rare that we catch recaptures, and even rarer to catch males,” Senko said. “This was the largest male ever captured since we started monitoring (catching and tagging) sea turtles 20 years ago in northwestern Mexico!”

ASU professor Jesse Senko measures sea turtle in Mexico

Professor Jesse Senko measures a captured sea turtle as his students look on.

Casey Sullivan, a sophomore majoring in genetics, was enthralled. “Being in the field and seeing the things these scientists do, I realized I’m in the right field,” she said.

The trip inspired Sara Perales, a senior studying conservation biology, to consider studying mangrove restoration in the area. Thirty percent of all economically viable fish live in mangrove swamps, and the trees prevent coastal erosion.

“It seemed to get better, every day for every person,” Sullivan said.

ASU professor Jesse Senko with bio class in Mexico

The group heads out for more firsthand experience in Mexico.

A successful trip prognosticated the shape of future classes for Senko.

“That’s why I like being in (the School for the Future of Innovation in Society),” he said. “I don’t live being boxed in. I think all conservation biology classes will be like this in the future.”

Top photo: The group has a close encounter with a whale along the side of their boat. All photos courtesy of Jesse Senko and his “Sea Turtles, Sharks and Fisheries of Baja California: Emerging Topics in Marine Conservation" students.

ASU students learn to analyze data through new computational biology certificate

March 19, 2019

Any scientist who has struggled to analyze their data is familiar with the situation: sitting in front of the computer, searching the internet or previous literature, hoping to find someone else with a similar problem. It can be a frustrating — and lonely — experience.

Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences is working to change that through a new computational life sciences certificate program for both undergraduate and graduate students, the brainchild of Assistant Professor Melissa Wilson and Professor Kenneth Buetow. New Computational Biology Certificate available at ASU ASU School of Life Sciences assistant professor Melissa Wilson teaches students how to work with their data during a computational biology work group. Any student who would like to learn to analyze their data is welcome to attend whether enrolled in the class or not. Photo by Samantha Lloyd/ASU VisLab Download Full Image

“Computational skills are no longer an option for our students. They are a requirement,” Wilson said. “And to this point, we haven’t had a structured program for students to gain those skills. To me, one of the huge benefits of the computational biology program as a whole is that we’ll train students in computational and quantitative life sciences, and, they’ll have a community they can work with.”

Rather than introducing a new major, Wilson and Buetow developed a certificate that complements any major or graduate degree program. Undergraduates will take two required courses and have a choice between courses for an additional nine credits. Graduate students will have one required course called “Responsible Conduct of Research” and choose an additional 15 credits.

“As we’re transitioning in the life sciences, computational skills are as important as any other investigative tool you might use. Students who are not adept in this space are going to find themselves already behind as they move forward,” Buetow said. “This is one of those things we can lead in at ASU. The certificates are not standalones; they’re integrated into all life sciences programs.”

The certificates include classes in molecular genetics and genomics, phylogenetic biology and analysis, principles of different coding programs for biologists, ecological modeling, current topics in systematics and many more. There are also classes centered on new statistical programs or web-based tools.

Who needs computational biology? Well, basically everyone. Computational biology is defined as the science of using biological data to understand biological systems and relationships. That means any scientist or student who analyzes data to answer their questions needs computational biology.

New Computational Life Sciences Certificate available at ASU

ASU students Karen Funderburk (second from left) and Mary Pardhe (right) discuss their data with SOLS professors Kenneth Buetow and Melissa Wilson at a computational biology working group. The class is offered through Bio 598 Practical Applications in Computational Life Sciences and will be one of the seminar courses available in the computational life sciences certificate program this fall. Photo by Samantha Lloyd/ASU VisLab

The certificate will launch in the fall semester of 2019. While they hope to recruit at least 10 students, they also want to build a community where students and faculty can learn from and help one another. Currently, Wilson leads a weekly computational work group where anyone can show up to get help analyzing their data. And, Assistant Professor Reed Cartwright leads a reading group where students can learn about new statistical methods.

As the program grows, they envision more community-building activities, such as an annual symposium where scientists of all disciplines come together to talk about their data.

However, for now, they are focused on creating a place where all students can improve their computational skills.

“There are so many people working in isolation, so many struggling, and so many reinventing the wheel. Each person wanting to do computational life sciences right now has to figure out how to do it on their own,” Buetow said. “Once people become aware of this, people will realize that they don’t have to figure out on their own. There’s a whole community of people who can assist them.”

Melinda Weaver

Communications specialist, School of Life Sciences


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Sun Devil Giving Day encourages gifts to impactful ASU initiatives

March 19, 2019

Annual event aims to reach record number of givers; pledges will fund scholarships, emerging programs and student success

Over the years, Arizona State University has encouraged its students and alumni to adopt a philosophy of philanthropy in support of higher education.

And the message has been catching on. In fact, it’s what Sun Devil Giving Day is all about.

On Thursday, thousands of Sun Devil alumni, families, faculty, staff and students will celebrate the seventh annual event by supporting the university’s education initiatives and research ventures with a goal of solving some of the most pressing issues facing society today.

“Sun Devil Giving Day is a universitywide celebration of giving at ASU,” said Andrew Carey, executive director of donor outreach for ASU Foundation. “It acknowledges the generosity of our community. It invites people to give to programs they care about. It’s also about understanding what private support does to advance ASU.”

More than 4,300 people made a difference last year when they pledged their support, ranging from $5 gifts to a six-figure amount. All told, they tallied over $600,000. Carey said the goal this year is to reach 10,000 gifts — more than double last year’s total gift count.

Philanthropy helps the university innovate, educate and pay it forward, said Carey. ASU programs include a clean-water initiative in developing countries, the reinvention of athletic facilities, the establishment of new professorships, a staff emergency fund for personnel in crisis, and almost 11,000 private-support scholarships awarded to students in 2019.

Woman holding frame

ASU student Miranda Yousif benefited from Sun Devil Giving Day last year. She is planning a career in the medical field.

Someone who directly benefitted from Sun Devil Giving Day is Miranda Yousif, who as a freshman took a part-time job doing basic lab work in ASU’s Biodesign Institute. She enjoyed it so much she ended up majoring in biological science.

Yousif received a Biodesign Student Travel Grant in February 2018 that was funded through Sun Devil Giving Day. The gift enabled her to travel to a conference in Las Vegas to present to the American Society for Microbiology, where she won an award for best undergraduate presentation. She went on to receive a Fulbright summer grant to study in England.

Now a junior, Yousif is set to graduate next spring and will take the Medical College Admission Test in May.

“All of my experiences at ASU have cemented for me that I want to go to medical school to become a physician,” Yousif said. “Sun Devil Giving Day gave me the opportunity to demonstrate that I am developing my footprint as a scientist."

There are several ways to participate in Sun Devil Giving Day:

• Join the discussion on social media by following the ASU Foundation on Facebook and Twitter.

• Share a story using the hashtag #SunDevilGiving and encourage family and friends to do the same.

• Make an online gift on March 21 to any area of ASU including a school, unit, program or scholarship account.

To raise awareness with the campus community, the ASU Foundation will set up tables from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Palm Walk and Tyler Mall and in front of Wrigley Hall and Hayden Library on the Tempe campus, between the University Center and the Cronkite School on the Downtown Phoenix campus, near the Memorial Union on the Polytechnic campus and outside Fletcher Library on the West campus. The tables will invite students to vote on one of five causes they care about: first-generation students, clean-water projects, the environment, arts and culture accessibility, and cancer research. These are the types of causes that benefit from giving to ASU programs.

This year the ASU Foundation has partnered with Aramark at all four ASU campuses to help raise resources for the Student Crisis Fund. Faculty, staff and students can make a $1 donation, or more, at point of sale at campus restaurants and stores through Thursday.


Sun Devil Giving Day runs from midnight to 11:59 p.m. March 21, and donations are made on the website or secured through the Sun Devil Giving outreach center (Tell-a-Devil Network). The site will display a real-time dashboard showing the total amount of donors and program fundraising totals for the effort.

Gifts will be deposited with the ASU Foundation and may be considered a charitable contribution.

Top photo: ASU student Shannon Ganzer and Cheryl Shumate, vice president of human resources at ASU Enterprise Partners, promote Sun Devil Giving Day in March 2018. Photo courtesy of the ASU Foundation

Reporter , ASU Now


Philanthropic gift helps ASU psychology launch new center that supports student successes in data analysis and writing

March 18, 2019

The combination of “data” and “statistics” might not sound exciting, but careers relying on data and statistics are projected to grow by 30 percent through 2024. Moreover, the National Association of Colleges and Employers identifies oral and written skills as core competencies for college graduates and as pivotal for future employment.

To equip students with the skills they will need to handle data and communicate effectively, the Arizona State University Department of Psychology launched the new Student Success Center (SSC). The center provides students enrolled in the foundational courses (PSY 101, 230, 290) and upper-division psychology courses with individualized coaching to improve both their data analysis/interpretation skills and their writing. To equip students with the skills they will need to handle data and communicate effectively, the Arizona State University Department of Psychology launched the new Student Success Center (SSC). To equip students with the skills they will need to handle data and communicate effectively, the Arizona State University Department of Psychology launched the new Student Success Center. Pictured here are Student Success Center coaches Xochitl Smola, Thato Seerane, Lauren Ott and Isabel Strouse. Download Full Image

“Being able to collect and analyze data and being able to communicate ideas effectively are critical not only for success in psychological science, but also for success in most careers. If we are to be invested in our students — which we are — we need to invest in helping them develop these skills,” said Steven Neuberg, Foundation Professor of Psychology and chair of the department.

The SSC is supported by the Robert B. Cialdini Leap Forward Fund. The fund allows the psychology department to take innovative risks, like the SSC, that would not otherwise be possible.

The goal of the center is to prepare undergraduate psychology students for success in academics and well beyond. Student success coaches, who have excelled in the courses they are helping with, will staff the center. The center will also offer workshops led by faculty, graduate students and other undergraduate students on topics like mindfulness, building a resume and coping with stress.

"The Student Success Center is unlike other options at ASU because our coaches are advanced psychology students. They have taken the classes, have mastered the content and understand how statistical and writing techniques should be applied in psychology courses," said Whitney Hansen, senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology and supervisor of the SSC.

Appointments are available 40 hours per week, in the psychology advising office or in virtual classrooms during the evenings and weekends.

“We aim to provide the resources that students need in this changing educational environment, outside of the classroom and discussion sections,” said Dawn Phelps, assistant director of academic services for the psychology department. 

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


Meet this year's ASU Founders' Day honorees

March 15, 2019

The ASU Alumni Association Founders’ Day awards program honors the pioneering spirit of the institution’s founders and celebrates the innovations of alumni, faculty members and supporters of one of the nation’s fastest-growing knowledge enterprises.

This year’s event will take place March 20 at the Frank Lloyd Wright Ballroom in Phoenix. New this year, the event will be available to watch as it happens through ASU’s livestream services. This year’s Founders' Day event will take place March 20 at the Frank Lloyd Wright Ballroom in Phoenix. Download Full Image

Covering a wide range of areas, the awards acknowledge excellence in teaching, research, leadership, philanthropy and service. These honors include the Faculty Research Achievement Award, the Faculty Service Achievement Award, the Faculty Teaching Achievement Award, the Philanthropist of the Year Award, the Young Alumni Achievement Award and the Alumni Achievement Award.

The 2019 awards program will honor two Arizona State University alums who have changed the world, two faculty members who created the nation’s first online biochemistry degree, a nationally acclaimed poet and author, a professor dedicated to fostering diversity in the STEM field and a Valley-based charitable trust.

Here are the honorees of the 2019 Founders’ Day event.

Faculty achievement awards

Faculty Research and Creativity Achievement Award

This year’s Faculty Research and Creativity Achievement Award honors poet Natalie Diaz.

Diaz is a 2018 MacArthur “genius” grantee, the current Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry, and an associate professor of creative writing in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' Department of English.

Drawing on her experiences growing up on the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, and navigating indigenous, Latinx and queer identities, her poetic works challenge the belief systems of contemporary American culture and have garnered far-reaching acclaim over the last decade.

“Professor Diaz has in fact been succeeding for a long time, composing intricate and radiant poetry with challenge and verve,” said Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities at The College. “I knew of her work long before I contemplated coming to ASU myself, and have often turned to her poems for provocation and inspiration.” 

Faculty Service Achievement Award

Erika Camacho’s passionate commitment to fostering diversity has had positive and lasting impacts on the STEM field, its researchers, academia and young students. Camacho, an associate professor in the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, works to ensure that the next generation of students have access to a STEM education.

Camacho has received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Mentor Award; and she is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow, Ford Foundation Fellow and Mellon Mays Social Science Research Council Fellow.

Faculty Teaching Achievement Award

Anne Jones and Ian Gould of The College’s School of Molecular Sciences will be jointly awarded the Faculty Teaching Achievement Award, for an innovative new approach to pre-med education.

Jones, an associate professor in the school and its associate director of academic affairs, and Gould, a President’s Professor who also serves as the school’s associate director of outreach, online and communications, played a key role in creating a new biochemistry program for ASU Online.

Conducted remotely with the exception of a two-week, in-person lab at the Tempe campus, the program is the only online biochemistry track in the country after which graduates can apply directly to medical, dental or pharmacy school, or pursue further science degrees.

“The new online biochemistry degree has opened the door of opportunity for students seeking advancement in science who are otherwise excluded from the current education model,” said Neal Woodbury, director of the School of Molecular Sciences. “Dr. Jones and Dr. Gould didn't just pull the pieces together and create the innovative components that make the degree work, they are also in the trenches teaching, bringing dedication and innovation to our most deserving new biochemistry students.”

Alumni achievement awards

Young Alumni Achievement Award

Sky Kurtz, founder and CEO of Pure Harvest Smart Farms in Abu Dhabi and a 2004 graduate in finance, is the "farmer" of one of the first hydroponic-growing enterprises in the Middle East. The technology he and his team use has been demonstrated around the world in extreme climates, including Arizona, Texas, Northern Mexico and Australia, and in freezing climates like Russia, Finland and Norway.

Alumni Achievement Award

Denise Resnik, a 1982 graduate in general business administration, is the founder and CEO of DRA Collective, an award-winning public relations, marketing and communications agency she launched in 1986. While leading DRA, she also launched and built sister nonprofits centered on autism research, education, evidence-based treatment and community and real estate development, with the goal of opening doors to more options for living, learning and leading.

In 1997, Resnik co-founded the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center as a support group for mothers of children with autism. Today, the center is an internationally recognized nonprofit serving children, adults and families in partnership with physicians, educators, professionals and paraprofessionals. She founded First Place AZ in 2012, a residential community developer for special populations, as well as a site for education, training and creative inspiration. She serves as president and CEO of First Place, which offers supportive housing and a residential transition program for adults with autism and other neurodiversities. The first new residential property, First Place – Phoenix, opened in the summer of 2018.

Philanthropists of the Year Award

Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust was established in 1995 by the wife of Motorola founder Paul V. Galvin, Virginia Galvin Piper, who spent nearly 30 years working with local nonprofits across the Valley before her death in 1999.

The foundation continues her philanthropic legacy through a grant program that has invested nearly $430 million into local programs and initiatives spanning community welfare, health care, arts and culture since its inception in 2000, including many at ASU.

In 2018, the trust awarded $15 million to the Knowledge Exchange for Resilience initiative, a multi-pronged project led by The College’s Social Sciences Dean Elizabeth Wentz to identify vulnerabilities and strengthen communities in Maricopa County.

Since 2002, Piper Trust has funded 19 ASU projects for a total of more than $56 million. It was also the funding force behind the creation of the Virginia G. Piper Creative Writing Center

Housed in a historic building on the Tempe campus, the center is the previous home of two ASU presidents and the Alumni Executive Office. Today, it’s a literary hub serving the Phoenix community with events including talks, readings, classes and workshops open to all students and the public.

As a unit of The College, the center works closely with the Department of English’s creative writing program to help literary talents thrive on campus.

“Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust has had an immense impact on new generations of writers at ASU,” said Angie Dell, the center’s associate director. “The trust supports and adds meaning to the Piper Center’s work, and emerging writers carry these values forward into the world knowing that their voices are vitally important.”

Find additional information about Founders’ Day or register for the event

Alisa Reznick and Tracy Scott contributed to this report.

ASU chemistry graduate teaches middle school students to think at the molecular level

March 13, 2019

Editor's note: This profile is part of a series showcasing alumni of the School of Molecular Sciences.

Kaitlyn Mandigo graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 2016. While at ASU, Mandigo won the School of Molecular Sciences' Distinguished Teaching Assistant Award in spring 2016. She now is an active Cub Scout and choir mom to her two boys and teaches sixth- and seventh-grade chemistry at BASIS Scottsdale. Kaitlyn Mandigo Kaitlyn Mandigo graduated from ASU with a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 2016. She currently teaches sixth- and seventh-grade chemistry at BASIS Scottsdale. Download Full Image

We asked Mandigo about her life and career in science education after graduation, and she revealed how studying chemistry at ASU helped create a solid foundation for her to become the dedicated chemistry teacher she is today.

Question: Why or how did you choose your current career path?

Answer: I chose to go into teaching because I really love chemistry, and I enjoy the challenge of inspiring that same love in others. I also had practical reasons to choose teaching, as it lends me the ability to have the same schedule as my children and is a career that fits well with my life.

Q: How did your undergraduate experience in the School of Molecular Sciences at ASU prepare you for your current career path?

A: As a student at ASU, I received a solid foundation in chemistry. This gave me the confidence I needed to get in front of class every day and relay that same information to my students. I was also a chemistry TA while I was at ASU, which gave me some insight into the world of teaching even while I was still a student myself.

Q: What is it like applying your degree in a new area?

A: I really enjoy teaching. The specific topic of chemistry is brand new to the kids I teach, and I love seeing their faces light up with knowledge about the world they live in. When you understand why things happen in the world, it's easier to figure out a better way to do something, and my students really like the idea of being able to change and improve things in their world.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories of ASU — academic, research or otherwise?

A: Being a TA was really instrumental to my life at ASU. Working with the professors and seeing a little bit of how teaching is done behind the scenes made my transition to teaching much easier. My college life was a little different from that of most of my classmates, in that I was a single mom of two. My college experience was all about working hard and finishing my coursework, and some of my professors were so amazing in helping me reach that goal. I will forever be grateful for the support and advice I received at ASU.

Q: What is your advice for current students in the School of Molecular Sciences who are thinking of pursuing a career path similar to yours?

A: First of all, no matter what your major is, get to know your professors! Professors are amazing people, and if you put in the effort, so will they. Specifically for science majors, get into a lab as soon as you can. Even if you don't plan on working in industry, taking the time for practical application of what you're learning in class is so helpful, both as a student and a prospective employee. If you want to be a teacher someday, definitely try to gain some experience as a TA. Being a TA won't give you the whole picture, but it definitely gives you enough to let you know if you're really interested in teaching, or will be any good at it.

Q: What would you tell a prospective ASU student that they need to know about studying in the School of Molecular Sciences at ASU?

A: Give yourself a break every now and then; it is not an easy path you've chosen, but it is a very rewarding one. Get to know your fellow classmates, and work together. School is so much easier with a support system that is right there with you.

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences


Hugh Downs School alumna sharpened her communication skills with the NBA

March 13, 2019

After a 20-plus-year career with the NBA, including serving as NBA Entertainment’s director of live programming and entertainment and helping start the WNBA, Felisa Israel started her own live event production company, 10 Fold Entertainment.

Israel is an Arizona State University alumna who graduated from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in 1994. Felisa Israel. Download Full Image

Guided by a passion for creating memorable live moments and a philosophy of doing everything tenfold, Israel and her team have partnered with some of the biggest names in sports, media and entertainment to produce a variety of successful events, using their unique blend of expertise to excite audiences and exceed expectations at every stop. 

In addition, Israel has taught a sports and entertainment class at UCLA's Anderson School of Management for the past few years. This summer, she is launching IMPACT, an internship placement program hosted at UCLA's Anderson Business School for young professionals worldwide that will teach them about being an intern and help them to secure paid internships at high-growth sports and entertainment companies. 

We talked to Israel about her time at ASU and how she applies it in her current position.

Question: What do you love about your current job?

Answer: I enjoy being creative. I am also proud to have created a company that reflects my values, including respect and teamwork. I really enjoy creating and producing events and then watching them come to life, along with the fans. 

Q: What was your "aha" moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

A: I started as a business major before switching to communication. In business school, they expected us to read a lot of chapters and apply that information to multiple-question tests. My brain couldn’t retain that much information. I spoke with my adviser in the business school who told me I should try the school of communication. They thought it would be a good fit for me since I exceeded in certain areas, including interpersonal communication and public speaking. Both came very naturally to me. 

Felisa with an intern

Felisa Israel with an intern at her company, 10 Fold Entertainment.

Q: What made you choose ASU? 

A: I’m the first-born, I come from a Jewish family and my mother wouldn't let me leave home. I started at ASU, tried UofA for a semester, but my heart belonged at ASU so I quickly went back after a semester and (I'm) proud to say I graduated from ASU!  

Q: Is there a particular faculty member at ASU who was influential?  

A: Kay Faris at the W. P. Carey (School of Business) Dean’s Office. She was my mentor as a freshman and recognized my strengths and areas of improvement. She helped to encourage me to switch to the department of communication, noticing that I excelled in that area.

Q: What were the most useful classes you took?

A: I took a class on interpersonal communication and learned about being a “participant observer.” I’ve found myself using this technique over the years and it has helped me quite a bit. For instance, if I am sitting at a conference table and the conversation is at such a high level where I’m not necessarily one of the contributors, I can still participate by observing. I am able to do research just being at the table, learning how the group speaks to one another and listening to the different terms used. It made me realize I might not be the one giving the direction or making the decisions, but I am still actively involved in the conversation and able to apply what I know to strengthen my daily work. 

Q: How did the school of communication help you prepare you for your current career?

A: Communication is the most important ingredient for success. What I learned is that without proper communication, the opportunity for failure is really high. I am an advocate of overcommunicating even though I sometimes drive people crazy! But I know what I am saying will stick in people's heads when they are making decisions. 

Q: When you were interviewing for your first job out of college, what experiences at this school did you talk about? Internships? Group projects? Study abroad?

A: What stands out for me is knowing that I wanted to be in the entertainment business. I remember a teaching assistant in the then department of communication at ASU was talking to me about an opportunity at Channel 12, the NBC affiliate in Phoenix. I remember saying that I didn’t want to be in television. The TA pressed further, reminding me that television is part of the entertainment industry, and asked me why I wouldn’t want to be a part of all aspects of the industry. I did end up taking the internship and am still close to the woman for whom I worked. She is still a great supporter of mine. 

Q: What advice do you have for students who may be following your path? 

A: I am a huge advocate of internships. Go out and get your foot in the door. I tell students if they can earn trust, respect and credibility through respectful communication, it will get them further faster.

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

A: That school is tough, and what you’re ultimately passionate about might not come in the path that you think it should. 

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

A: A restaurant next to University Towers where I lived. They had great tuna melts and iced tea. I went there daily to relax and to study because I felt secure and peaceful there.  

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

A: I would change the infrastructure of health care. I would turn hospitals, assisted living centers and doctors’ offices into spa-like environments to make people feel safe, cared for and relaxed when they are in a fearful state of mind. Although I don’t think $40 million would be enough. 

Hospitals and doctors’ offices are typically sterile and depressing. When you walk into a spa environment, your senses immediately become calm. That’s why nature is so healthy. It’s about mind over matter. Your environment can influence your state of mind, and high-stress levels can worsen issues or circumstances. 

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication


School of Molecular Sciences graduate excels at UC Berkeley

March 12, 2019

Editor's note: This profile is part of a series showcasing alumni of the School of Molecular Sciences.

Ryan Muller graduated from ASU in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science degree in medicinal biochemistry with a focus on molecular biosciences and biotechnology. A graduate of Barrett, The Honors College, he won a Goldwater Scholarship — the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering in the country. Muller is currently a fourth-year doctoral student in the University of California, Berkeley's molecular and cell biology program. Ryan Muller Ryan Muller in his lab at UC Berkeley. He graduated from ASU with a B.S. degree in medicinal biochemistry in 2015. Download Full Image

We asked Muller some questions about his student experience at ASU and how his undergraduate career here helped prepare him for his current work in academia and research. Muller is broadly interested in RNA biology and specifically studies mRNA translation regulation and ribosome quality control. He uses a combination of classic biochemistry and computational methods in his research.

Question: Why or how did you choose your current career path?

Answer: I chose to pursue a PhD as part of a larger goal toward professorship because I am interested in understanding how the world works on a deeper level. My career trajectory gives me the freedom to answer interesting questions, to use cutting-edge techniques and to interact and discuss ideas with fellow scientists.

Q: How did your undergraduate experience in the School of Molecular Sciences at ASU prepare you for your current career path?

A: ASU was quite supportive of my interests in science and research. I took the opportunity to explore classes outside of my comfort zone and engage in research early in my undergraduate career. With an early start in research and a wealth of support from faculty and peers alike, I was able to build a strong foundation that set me up to excel in academic research.

Q: What is it like applying your degree in a new area?

A: It is at once both exciting and daunting. In research, the answers often cannot be found in a textbook, because they simply don't exist yet. I strive to use what I have learned in my degree to piece together what has yet to be discovered.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories of ASU — academic, research or otherwise?

A: During my freshman and sophomore years at ASU, I had the opportunity to participate in iGEM, a synthetic biology research competition. iGEM was my first taste of independent research and I cherished the freedom to design and implement a synthetic biology strategy with real-world impact. My favorite memories of the iGEM experience were the conferences, where I had the chance to present my work and interact with synthetic biology researchers. Our team even won a gold medal at the competition!

Q: What is your advice for current students in the School of Molecular Sciences who are thinking of pursuing a career path similar to yours?

A: Research develops a new way of thinking about problems in your field that goes beyond the standard coursework and naturally sets you up well for a career in academia. My advice is 1) Get involved in research — the earlier the better. 2) Don't get discouraged if a professor turns you down; there are a plethora of labs at ASU with exciting research and an interest in training undergraduates. 3) Explore and utilize all the resources ASU has to offer: For example, pursuing funds available for traveling and presenting research; listening to invited speakers and seminar series for nearly all the science subdisciplines; asking for advice from the ASU staff members who are hired specifically to investigate competitive research scholarships and provide advice and application edits; taking advantage of a number of programs at ASU that will provide research stipends; and many others.

Q: What would you tell a prospective ASU student that they need to know about studying in the School of Molecular Sciences at ASU?

A: Like most things worth doing in life, working toward a degree from the School of Molecular Sciences is hard work. That being said, if you're proactive and not shy about asking for help, there are abundant resources and people more than willing to offer their assistance to help you reach your goals. Success in the School of Molecular Sciences is about becoming an independent learner while also understanding how to network for resources and opportunities along the way. If you are interested in understanding how nature works at the molecular scale and are willing to put in the necessary work, the School of Molecular Sciences will be a good fit for you.

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences


Chemistry degree and research experience prepares alumnus for PhD program

March 12, 2019

Editor's note: This profile is part of a series showcasing alumni of the School of Molecular Sciences.

Regaled with tales of science during many walks with his dad in Chico, California, Nick Herringer has known since he was a little kid that he wanted to be a scientist. Nick Herringer Nick Herringer Download Full Image

In 2018, Herringer graduated from the School of Molecular Sciences at Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry; he is currently doing research at the Biodesign Institute with Matthias Heyden, assistant professor at the School of Molecular Sciences. His project focuses on modelling liquid-liquid phase separation in intrinsically disordered proteins.

“Since joining my lab at ASU, Nick has quickly mastered the art of computer programming and molecular simulation,” said Heyden. “Using this skill set, Nick develops novel multiscale simulation techniques to predict the phase behavior of intrinsically disordered proteins.”

Herringer was attracted to ASU and the School of Molecular Sciences because he always wanted to study chemistry.  

“I liked that ASU has so many opportunities to offer because it allowed me to design my undergraduate experience to include the things that were most important to me.”

When asked what it was like getting his undergraduate degree at ASU, Herringer said his experience was great but very busy. Coming from out of state, he spent a lot of time building new connections with friends and trying new clubs. Herringer worked as a server and a tutor during his undergraduate years, but grades were always very important to him.

Getting a chemistry degree helped him prepare for his current position, Herringer said.

“The theory that I learned in my chemistry and physics classes has been indispensable in my research,” said Herringer. “I have also had to learn a variety of different software and computational techniques so I think it would be great if SMS offered introductory classes on computational research techniques.”

Herringer said he had great experiences with many of his professors and found the curriculum to be challenging yet engaging. He described a defining moment in his academic career as when he defended his honors thesis. That moment represented his first successful completion of a research project and gave him a taste of what the next five years of his life will likely look like, as he will be pursuing a PhD in computational chemistry in the fall.

He said that the most useful thing he learned is how to manage his time. During his undergrad, he was constantly pulled between classes, working, having a social life and extracurricular activities, so learning how to balance his schedule and prioritize his responsibilities was crucial: It's one that still applies to his everyday life.

Herringer offered some advice to incoming School of Molecular Sciences students: "If you have an interest, get involved in research early." He regrets not getting involved sooner and would also encourage students to try both experimental and computational research.

Communication specialist, School of Molecular Sciences

Communication graduate stays in the ASU family with first job

Marleigh Hurlburt is pursuing a master's degree in addition to her job with ASU Foundation

March 12, 2019

Marleigh Hurlburt graduated from Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Arts in communication and a minor in philosophy in 2018. She now works at the ASU Foundation as an event coordinator. ASU Now asked her a few questions about her time as a student and what life is like as an alumna.

Question: What do you like about your job? Marleigh Hurlburt graduated from ASU with a Bachelor of Arts in communication and a minor in philosophy in 2018. Photo by Philamer Batangan Download Full Image

Answer: I like this job because it carries on the ASU mission of inclusion and teamwork. Continuing to be a part of ASU also comes with amazing perks, including the ability and flexibility to go back to school! I am now pursuing a master's degree in social and cultural pedagogy through the School of Social Transformation.

Q: What was your "aha" moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

A: My Hugh Downs School communication degree showed me the importance of communication between cultures, genders, backgrounds and experiences. It was my diving board into the world of pedagogical education. One of the greatest experiences in my field has been the power that communication can have — both good and bad. We can use communication to uplift or tear down the people around us. I have seen firsthand when mentoring ASU students how intuitive conversations can have lasting effects. It opens up our own world into a more comfortable place to be.

Q: What made you choose ASU? 

A: I chose ASU because of the campus location, the cultures within it, and of course, the beautiful desert landscape.

Q: Is there a particular faculty member at ASU who was influential?  

A: Dr. Kate Vawter was my mentor all throughout my undergrad. She led me and fellow students toward graduation even when we did not know if we were going to make it there.

Hugh Downs School graduate Marleigh Hurlburt.

Q: What were the most useful classes you took?

A: COM 494 Communication, Terrorism, and the Media (Gimbal), COM 310 Relational Communication (Stermetz), ABS 370 Ethics of Eating (Stotts) and DCE 294: Yoga II (Aminsobhani).

Q: How did this school help prepare you for your current career?

A: The Hugh Downs School helped me learn effective situational communication. There is not one communication method that fits across the spectrum. Learning about how to navigate through these spaces has immensely helped prepare me for my current career.

Q: When you were interviewing for your first job out of college, what experiences at this school did you talk about?  Internships? Group projects? Study abroad?

A: I talked about mentoring ASU freshman and sophomore students through the LEAD program, planning and executing events, volunteering, and my time working in a nonprofit.

Q: Were you involved in any student organizations or clubs? Or athletics?

A: I was and am still involved with the ASU Provost LEAD program.

Q: What advice do you have for students who may be following your path? 

A: Do what makes you fulfilled mentally and emotionally. Our lives are short and precious, but making moral and ethical decisions to navigate our everyday moments makes life last a little longer and taste a little sweeter. Also, focus on YOU and your growth first and foremost; you will see that the people around you will gradually follow suit. You will all be strong enough to lean on each other.

Putting off your homework brings way more stress and anxiety than pushing through it right then and there. Just push through!  

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

A: Every single person possesses unique knowledge: There is something to learn from every voice. Listen.

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

A: My favorite spot on campus is probably Old Main lawn by the fountain — enjoying the sunshine and listening to the water trickle.  

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

A: The world is a big place. To make $40 million go to a problem on our planet, I would have to put it toward ocean cleanup efforts. The ocean is a lifeline for each of us, so I feel like cleaning up the ocean would have a lasting effect for all. I would want to do something with the sewage lines that lead into the ocean and catching the trash/contaminations from entering the water.

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication