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Triple threat: When one major just isn't enough

January 22, 2019

Trio of roommates are among the 39 ASU students tackling triple majors — for many, passion and career prospects are their why

Earning a college degree can be a crucial step toward life success. But some Arizona State University students want more — they are earning three degrees at one time.

Pursuing a triple major takes a lot of hard work and intricate planning, and not many students take on the challenge. There are 39 of them right now.

For three ASU students who are roommates, it was competition that prompted them to take on three degrees, but it’s friendship that is sustaining them on this demanding path. Tristan Gaynor, George Heiler and Kevin Murphy are all pursuing bachelor of science degrees in finance and supply-chain management. Their third majors are computer information systems for Heiler, business data analytics for Murphy and management for Gaynor. Heiler and Murphy also have minors in real estate.

The seniors, who have known each since eighth grade, all went to Veritas Prep in Phoenix and enrolled in the finance major at ASU, where they are in Barrett, The Honors College. When they realized they could add a second major in their sophomore year, they jumped aboard.

They admit to some rivalry.

“There was a little bit of one-upmanship,” Heiler said.

Gaynor agreed. “One hundred percent.”

But living together has helped with the load.

“At least once a semester, you forget a huge assignment but when you’re living with two guys who have the same degree, that happens less often,” Murphy said.

“We would meet together in the living room and figure out our plan for the week and help each other with our homework.”

The why behind tripling up

The number of students who pursue three concurrent degrees — the official university description of a triple major — has been fairly steady at around 40 per year for the past few years. That’s about one-tenth of 1 percent of ASU students. About 1,800 students are enrolled in two degree programs this year.

Students do it for many reasons. Value is one motive.

“It feels like we’re getting our money’s worth because there’s zero additional cost, and we figured we may as well have a pretty full schedule if we can handle it,” Heiler said.

But the value of earning multiple degrees goes beyond cost.

“We are unable to predict what the workplace of the future will look like, and today’s students need to be prepared for an ever-changing professional environment,” said Frederick Corey, vice provost for undergraduate education. “When students pursue multiple majors, minors and certificates, they’re diversifying their competencies and the base of their knowledge.”

three students posing together in front of apartment for portrait
W. P. Carey School of Business seniors and triple majors (from left) Tristan Gaynor, Kevin Murphy and George Heiler. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Another reason students do it is passion.

Allie Coritz, who graduated from ASU with three degrees in 2011, knew in high school that she wanted to join the Peace Corps.

“I didn’t intend to triple major,” she said. “I entered as a global studies major, which was wonderful, and then my adviser said the Peace Corps loved geography majors, so I added that one in my third semester.”

In her junior year, she added a major in religious studies.

“That was much more intentional,” she said. “I wanted to study the intersection of gender and religion, and it was far easier to do that in religious studies than in gender studies, which was something else I was considering.”

Coritz did go into the Peace Corps, teaching English in Benin, and she’s now in a PhD program in sociology at the University of Southern California.

“I’ve had time to reflect on what it all meant to be a triple major, and they were all related but each gave me a different perspective.”

Jessica Antonio came to ASU to major in business administration and minor in American Indian studies. One of her business classes did a case study of a diamond-mining company that was causing health problems in an indigenous community in Africa. The students had to find the best solution for the company. The scenario struck a chord with Antonio, who is Navajo.

“It conflicted with my morals,” she said. “I would quit the company.”

She decided to make American Indian studies her second major.

“It was all about activism and human rights, the American Indian movement, politics, land and water and grazing rights,” she said. “It fueled my passion.”

She had nearly completed the requirements for her business administration degree when she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which again changed her perspective. She decided to add a degree in nutrition.

“I’m glad to learn about the health side of how food can be medicine and how proper nutrition can help people,” she said. “So my goal right now is to be a registered dietitian and work in a clinic in my community.

“I want to help people heal as fast as they can so they’re not in the hospital for long.”

Making it work

Sometimes serendipity plays a role in triple majors. Murphy had intended to graduate in three years and then spend his fourth year pursing a master’s degree, but that plan was derailed when he was unable to schedule a series of sequential classes. So instead he added the third major.

Jake Rapp graduated from Northern Arizona University with three majors in in 2013. In his fourth year at NAU, he was ready to graduate with degrees in philosophy and anthropology.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after college, but I was thinking about grad school or law school and they had just added the Philosophy, Politics and Law degree,” he said. “Since a big chunk of the PPL degree is philosophy credits and some social science, I thought I’d stay an extra year to do that degree in case I went to law school.”

Which he did. He’s now a second-year student at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU.

His third major included courses in economics, decision theory, political science and law.

“That fifth year was my favorite because I was learning a million different things and not just a single subject area,” said Rapp, who was the second student to graduate with the new degree. “It was nice to have all my classes be something I was interested in and not some elective I didn’t want.”

In the end, it wasn’t the degrees that persuaded him to go to law school.

“I took some time off and I was a bailiff at Superior Court, to get a feel of what real lawyer life was life. That was the most useful thing, but the PPL degree had the best courses to get my mind ready for legal problems in general,” he said.

Many students who go for multiple degrees come into ASU with credits earned in high school, whether through Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge exams, or through dual-enrollment classes with the community colleges. Coritz had earned 15 degrees before coming to ASU. Other students, including Heiler and Murphy, earned a few credits through the College Level Examination Program.

Still, multiple degrees require a heavy credit load. Murphy, Gaynor and Heiler have had semesters where they’ve taken 24 credits.

“I found the groove,” Heiler said. “A lot of kids get to college and want to binge-watch five TV shows. I still have free time. I make sure I’m getting to class and getting things done. You have to use your time wisely.”

“I found that when I have more to do, my productivity skyrockets,” said Gaynor, who was a Tillman Scholar and a McCord Scholar.

All three of the roommates have had multiple internships, participated in W. P. Carey School of Business activities and held jobs.

Sometimes students take extra time to finish. Rapp took five years to earn three degrees.

For Antonio, earning three degrees is part of a 14-year journey. She started at ASU in 2005. Several years ago, she was badly injured in a car accident and had to take medical leave for a few years to recover from surgery and do physical therapy. When she returned, she resumed a part-time schedule to complete three degrees on two campuses. She still has mobility problems.

“That’s all my body can handle right now,” she said. “But I’m still passionate about what I’m doing.”

All of the students have something in common: They love the academics.

“I wanted to go to class because it was interesting,” Rapp said. “It was the most exciting part of the day.”

Antonio said: “I’m a big nerd. I love learning.”

Coritz said she has considered whether three majors was enough.

“All three majors helped to shape me as the person and the scholar I am today,” she said.

“My only regret is that I couldn’t do five.”

So you want to triple major

Here is some advice for taking on three concurrent degree courses from students who have done it:

• Be intentional. “If you have a compelling reason as to how all three majors make sense and complement each other, it’s a really beneficial experience,” Coritz said.

• Don’t expect to take intriguing electives outside of your major. “Because there are so many requirements to balance, you can't explore very much and take that dance or that English class that seems interesting,” Coritz said.

• Plan your courses carefully. “ASU gives you everything you need to make your own schedule perfectly, with the DARS report and major maps,” Heiler said of the Degree Audit Reporting System dashboard. “We try to get into the same classes together, but we check with the advisers to make sure we’re on track.”

• Advocate for yourself. Advisers help, but the students say it’s up to them to make sure it all works. Antonio took a statistics class for her business degree, and when her nutrition major required a different statistics class, she worked with the advisers to prove she knew the material and didn’t need another course. “You really have to make it work for yourself,” she said.

• Get to know professors and classmates. “We had a professor, Chris Neck, who was a huge influence on us,” Gaynor said. “He’s written recommendation letters, gotten us jobs. We helped him write a chapter for his textbook. It makes a huge difference.”

• Don’t overdo it. “We prioritize sleep, even with triple majors,” Murphy said. “None of us has had to pull an all-nighter.”

Top photo: W. P. Carey School of Business seniors (from left) George Heiler, Tristan Gaynor and Kevin Murphy relax at their Tempe home. The three will be graduating in May, each with triple majors. All three will have degrees in supply chain management and finance, with Heiler adding computer information systems, Gaynor adding management and Murphy adding business data analytics. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


Community mourns the loss of Bob Bailey, who turned a tragedy into a legacy

January 17, 2019

On a February morning in 1998, tragedy struck the Bailey family and Arizona State University. A van carrying members of the Geography Club and the Friends of Geography group, who were on their way to visit a copper mine in Bagdad, Arizona, experienced a terrible accident resulting in the injury of several students and the death of Matthew Bailey.

Matthew was a senior geography student and active member of the Geography Club through the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, then known as the Department of Geography. Matthew, who lived in Japan for several years, was also minoring in Japanese. Through his travels, he gained a geographer’s insight into Japanese society. Bob Bailey presents the Matthew G. Bailey Scholarship to Yining Tan during the 2018 awards ceremony for the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. Download Full Image

Matthew may have found himself following in the footsteps of his father, Bob, who held a PhD in geography and whose research is foundational for other geographers. In the 1980s, Bob identified and described ecoregions in the United States. Ecoregions are large areas that have relatively homogenous ecological and geographic conditions. His work continues to inform geographical research nationally and globally.

“Throughout my research career I have used ecoregions in my own analysis,” said Trisalyn Nelson, director of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “I was delighted when I first met Bob and realized that I had been using his work all these years.”

Matthew and Bob both enjoyed the fieldwork aspect of geography and would often work alongside each other. They had plans for research they would conduct following Matthew’s graduation. Sadly, they never had the opportunity to fulfill those plans.

Late ASU student Matthew Bailey
Matthew Bailey was a senior, majoring in geography, at the time of his death.

Following Matthew’s passing, Bob Bailey was instrumental in the creation of the Matthew G. Bailey Scholarship through the ASU Foundation. This scholarship fund helps to support the work of students to help them accomplish the fieldwork that is integral to their work — the fieldwork that was also important to both Matthew and Bob.

On Jan. 14, 2019, Bob Bailey passed away. He was just two months away from celebrating his 80th birthday.

Through Bob’s love of his son Matthew and generous support of the Matthew G. Bailey Scholarship, 50 young geographers have been awarded scholarships to help support their research through fieldwork. Each year, Bob would travel to Tempe from his home in Colorado to attend the school’s annual awards reception to announce the winners of the award created in honor of his son.

“I first met Bob under the worst of circumstances in February of 1998,” said Breandan O hUallachain, professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, who was serving as chair of the Department of Geography at the time of Matthew’s passing.  

Bob Bailey (center) presents the Matthew G. Bailey Scholarship to two recipients, Gabriel Leon and Asif Ishtiaque, during the 2017 School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning awards ceremony.

“I don't have words to describe Bob's inspiring response to that tragedy. His immediate and lasting concern for others showed his deep love for his son and respect for so many people who knew Matt and the students who later benefited from the legacy Bob established at ASU.”

Our school’s community of geographers and urban planners, students and faculty, alumni and friends extend our deepest sympathies to the Bailey family on the loss of Bob. We continue to thank and will always remember Bob Bailey for his longstanding, generous support of our students and for his scholarly contributions to the field of geography.

In honor of Bob’s unending support of the Matthew G. Bailey Scholarship, donations to the scholarship account can be made here.

Manager, Marketing and Communication, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


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What spots did we miss? Tweet your photo @asunews.
January 16, 2019

Iconic locations on all four campuses that are perfect for taking your latest profile pic

You dreamed of going to Arizona State University. You applied, were accepted, and now you’ve arrived. You’re a Sun Devil!

You’re also a member of the digital generation, which means you’re going to want to post a picture of yourself somewhere on campus.

ASU Now has put together a list of places that provide a perfect backdrop to proclaim you now bleed maroon and gold. Forks up, Devils!

Tempe campus

The mothership of the ASU empire has a scenic spot for every taste: vintage, contemporary, natural or Southwestern.

Old Main Steps

ASU Old Main Tempe campus

On a campus packed with state-of-the-art buildings, students flock to have their picture taken in front of the oldest building in the entire university.

Old Main was constructed before Arizona became a state. It was the first building built at ASU (then called the Tempe Normal School). It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. President Teddy Roosevelt dedicated the Roosevelt Dam from the front stairway in 1911.

Anywhere on the steps will work, but some people like to pose beside the “Normal School 1894” engraving at the top of the steps.

University Monument Sign at University Drive and Cady Mall  


At the other end of the spectrum from a Victorian building built from sandstone is the monument sign at the north end of Cady Mall. Sleek, contemporary and built from granite, marble and steel, it has the full university name and logo as well. During graduation week there’s practically a line there.

The Pitchfork


The 6-foot, 3-inch-tall bronze pitchfork sits at the southeast entrance of the newly renovated Sun Devil Stadium. A symbol of school spirit and the perfect place for fan photos, the statue was installed just last August.

Palm Walk

ASU Palm Walk

Connecting the north and south ends of the Tempe campus, Palm Walk is the most beloved corridor on campus. It is lined on both sides with date palms, which provide shade and an annual date harvest.



Nothing says, “I’m in Arizona,” like standing next to a saguaro. (No — literally. They don’t grow anywhere else.) The Arizona state flower can be found on the west end of Orange Mall or in the Desert Arboretum Park, a 2.5-acre botanical park located north of Wells Fargo Arena.


West campus

ASU’s arm in the West Valley, this Oxford-inspired campus is quieter than Tempe, but no less lovely and with traditions of its own.

Paley Gates

paley gates

Touching the Paley Gates links the beginning and end of a Sun Devil’s experience at the West campus. The gates, designed by modernist sculptor Albert Paley, are touched by incoming freshmen and by graduates each year before their commencement ceremonies. Anticipating the impact of the university on incoming students and looking back on life lessons learned by graduating students, the tradition pays respect to how ASU has touched the hearts and minds of tomorrow’s leaders. 

The Bool Bell

bool bell

Sandwiched between the University Center Building and Faculty/Administration Building sits the Bool Bell. Named after donors Herb and Betty Bool, the bell’s silver and copper clapper is sounded to mark the beginning of convocation twice annually. It also calls high school student marchers to gather each year for the Jan. 15 Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration. Seniors traditionally ring the bell after completing their last final exam.

Statue of a Woman Looking Into the Future

ASU West statue

This spectral statue in front of Fletcher Library may not spark recognition outside the ASU community, but posing beside her indelibly stamps you as a Westy.


Polytechnic campus

The “Maker Campus" with an airport right outside its classroom doors, a bee lab, an algae farm and wildlife aplenty definitely marches to the beat of a different drummer. So do its students and faculty. Show your Poly pride at these spots.

The Water Tower

ASU Poly campus water tower

The water tower is to Poly what Old Main is to Tempe. Head out to the flagpole or the parade grounds to catch the tower over your shoulder in the back of the shots.

The Iron ASU on Backus Mall

asu logo

This icon seems to resonate with everyone.


Downtown Phoenix campus

ASU’s pitchfork point in the heart of Phoenix, the downtown campus produces lawyers, journalists, nurses, businesspeople and public servants — many of whom will spend the rest of their lives in cities. If this is your campus, you’re going to want something that says “big city” as well as ASU.

'Her Secret Is Patience'

Her secret is patience

Actually her "secret" is this large-scale art piece's proper name, which almost no one knows. The floating sculpture across the street from the Cronkite School building was called “Sky Bloom” during construction. Names aside, "Her Secret is Patience" makes for a great backdrop. Head over to Civic Space Park, get the Cronkite building with its ASU logo and recognizable floating nets behind you, and strike a pose. You’re a Downtown Devil now.

Photos by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now; top video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


From the newsroom to Broadway: ASU Cronkite alumnus to perform in 'Hello, Dolly!' at ASU Gammage

January 7, 2019

Arizona State University alumnus Connor Wince will return home to perform in the ensemble of Broadway’s “Hello, Dolly!” touring production at ASU Gammage on Jan. 8-13.  

“It’s very exciting to come back and do the show here,” Wince said. “I haven’t done a show in Arizona in probably four or five years. … It’s super exciting to be able to come back home and share the show with all my friends.” ASU alumnus Connor Wince will perform in "Hello, Dolly!" at ASU Gammage on Jan. 8-13. Download Full Image

Wince said he recalls memories from middle and high school where his parents took him to see Broadway shows at ASU Gammage.

“It honestly feels pretty wild to be switching sides, and now I’m going to be the one onstage.”

However, Wince did not initially pursue theater as an ASU undergraduate. In fact, he studied journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and graduated with his bachelor’s degree in December 2014.

Wince was involved with acting during high school, but it was not until after his first two years in college that he realized he wanted to pursue a career involved in theater. In summer 2014, Wince took on the leading role in “Footloose” at Hale Theatre in Gilbert, Arizona, and it reminded him of where his passion truly lies. 

“It was the turning point for me, as much as I loved journalism and what I was studying in school ... it was a big realization that my heart really just loved theater and that it was really what I saw myself doing every day for my life,” Wince said.

Upon graduation, Wince moved to New York City and attended Pace University, where he received his bachelor of fine arts in musical theater.

“Hello, Dolly!” is not Wince’s first time traveling with a show; he also performed in the national tour of “The Little Mermaid” in 2017.

As for life on the road, Wince said there are some struggles associated with constant traveling. Nevertheless, when he has time to explore new destinations, he cherishes the opportunity to go on spontaneous and random adventures.

“It gets very tiring, but we have a really great group of people doing a show,” Wince said. “One of the best things about it is we get to see things that never in my life I would have been able to see.”  

Overall, Wince said “Hello, Dolly!” is a “wonderful little piece of history.”

“I think everybody’s going to really enjoy the show,” Wince said. “It’s a very beautiful piece of theater that honors old-school, traditional musical theater.”

"Hello, Dolly!" will be at ASU Gammage on Jan. 8-13. For tickets, go to asugammage.com.

Psychology Dean’s Medalist fights community health disparities with language research

January 3, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

Marianna Kaneris, an Arizona State University senior and a double major in psychology and biochemistry, was recognized on Dec. 11 as the Dean’s Medalist for the Department of Psychology. The Dean’s Medalist is the highest achieving student in the psychology department for the fall 2018 graduating class. Marianna Kaneris, an Arizona State University senior and a double major in psychology Marianna Kaneris, an ASU senior and a double major in psychology and biochemistry, was recognized as the fall 2018 Dean’s Medalist for the Department of Psychology. Download Full Image

“I have plenty of peers who were equally deserving, so it is a great honor to be recognized as the Dean’s Medalist,” Kaneris said.

Her contributions to psychology go far beyond academics. Kaneris served her fellow students as a student assistant in the academic advising office and was a member of Psi Chi, the National Honors Society of Psychology. She also worked with Viridiana Benitez, assistant professor of psychology, in the Learning and Development Lab.

The Learning and Development Lab investigates how young children learn language using techniques like tracking where children look, observation and having the children play games on a computer or tablet. The goal of research in the Learning and Development Lab is to understand how young children learn in general and especially how they learn about the world surrounding them.

“Marianna is an exceptional student,” Benitez said. “She's a fast learner, fully committed to her responsibilities in and out of the lab, and she really enjoys thinking about the research questions and exploring new areas to learn. She did so well in the first semester in my lab that I asked her to stay on through the summer.”

Kaneris said the Learning and Development lab was a perfect fit because of her experience with language learning: She grew up speaking Greek at home and studied French at ASU. She also loves working with children.

“Marianna takes initiative. When something needs to be done in the lab, she doesn't wait to be told to do it. She also gives feedback and ideas for how to make our research better,” Benitez added.

In the future, Kaneris plans to pursue graduate studies in public health, focusing on health promotion in communities.

“There are a lot of health disparities in communities, and I would like to go into health promotion to help people to live happier and healthier lives,” Kaneris said.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: I had been interested in health since my science classes in high school, and this interest led me to study biochemistry at ASU. I liked chemistry and was interested in learning about health on a molecular level. But then I took Psychology 101 my sophomore year of college and loved it. I decided to double major in psychology and biochemistry. Psychology plays an integral part in health as well, so it was a natural fit for me and my interests. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU that changed your perspective?

A: I learned to enjoy the journey, one day at a time. Life holds a lot of twists and turns, so learning to be grateful for the present is very important. Like a lot of students, I thought I had to know exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life on my first day of college. That’s wonderful for those people who do know what they want to do, but for the others like me, I now know that it’s OK to explore your options and figure things out along the way.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Having grown up in Phoenix, I had the opportunity to visit ASU when I was younger, and I loved the ASU environment and community. There was no question that this was the school I wanted to attend. Also, I have family members who are ASU alumni, so I knew that ASU provided the resources and opportunities for its students to succeed.

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

A: I have been really fortunate to have had so many wonderful professors here at ASU; all have influenced me with their enthusiasm, approachability and encouragement. It is hard to choose just one! The most important lesson I have learned is to be positive and always have enthusiasm in whatever I do.

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

A: I would give two pieces of advice. First, believe in your abilities, and never give up on achieving your goals.

The second piece of advice is to use your time in college to step out of your comfort zone a bit and try new things. That could mean joining a club, getting involved in research or simply just introducing yourself and starting a conversation with one of your classmates sitting next you.

The best experiences and strongest friendships I have made throughout college have been from when I stepped out my comfort zone.

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

A: My favorite spot for studying was the second floor of Noble at the tables by the windows. My absolute favorite part of campus is by the fountain in front of old main, especially in the mornings when the light hits the water; I find it so calming.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on pursuing graduate studies next fall in public health with a focus on health promotion.

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

A: I would address some of the health disparities across the world. I would try to ensure that everyone has access to clean water, nutritious food and basic medical resources. 

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


Math education PhD grad strives to improve student learning

January 3, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

As a student at North Canyon High School in Phoenix, Alan O’Bryan worked part time as a math tutor as soon as he was old enough to drive. That experience, along with the realization of how impactful some of his teachers had been in his life, led him to want to be an educator. His plan when he initially entered Arizona State University was to get a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and get certified to become a high school teacher. But things did not go exactly according to plan. Alan O'Bryan Alan O’Bryan. Download Full Image

Although he was always "good" at math, by his second year of college O’Bryan became increasingly uninterested in the focus and content of the math classes he was taking.

“I couldn’t see the big picture. I didn’t really understand what they were supposed to be building towards and I was finding less satisfaction in the time I spent studying,” O’Bryan explained.

“At the same time, I was taking a variety of upper division history classes for my own personal interest, and these experiences were very different. In these advanced history courses, everything was about the ‘big picture’. Facts, dates, names — they were only important with respect to the larger course of human events.”

O’Bryan made the decision that if he was going to be an educator, he wanted to teach a subject he was passionate about. During his sophomore year, he changed his major to secondary education with an emphasis on history.

While attending college, he worked as a math tutor at the Learning Resource Center and as part of the Freshman Year Experience, so he never totally left math.

After his student teaching, O’Bryan ended up getting certified to teach both history and mathematics. But math teaching jobs were far more plentiful than history teaching jobs, so his first job teaching was in secondary mathematics.

He enjoyed teaching, but the real “aha” moment came during his third year in the classroom. ASU professors Marilyn Carlson and Pat Thompson had a grant to support changes in teaching secondary mathematics, and O’Bryan was part of a cohort of teachers they recruited to work with them. He began by taking a graduate mathematics education course with them.

That opportunity changed his life.

“For the first time I was part of a math class that felt like everything I loved about studying history. The focus was always on a bigger picture — important ideas that transcended specific topics and that served as the lens for reasoning about particular problems. I learned more in that one class than I could possibly describe,” said O’Bryan.

“It changed my entire perspective on what it meant to be a teacher in general — to think about my teaching from the perspective of a student in my class, what it meant to teach mathematics, and the power and importance of focusing on coherency within a course.”

In his own classroom, O’Bryan began feeling empowered and excited to throw out his textbook lessons and redesign his courses with a persistent focus on big ideas and how each lesson could be framed as a reflection of those big ideas and not just as a string of isolated topics. The more he worked with Carlson and Thompson, the more he wanted to learn, and eventually he started taking one upper level or graduate math or math education class per semester at ASU while working.

“What was interesting is that my perspective on math had changed so drastically that the courses that once left me unengaged and uninterested now felt different because I was different,” said O’Bryan.

He eventually completed everything needed as prerequisites to be accepted in the Mathematics Education PhD program, and joined Carlson’s Pathways and Pathways TUME grant projects full time while taking one class per semester toward his PhD.

“This was a fantastic opportunity for me since, in addition to my coursework, I was able to use my past experiences and continue to push my own learning in ‘real’ settings — writing and studying curricular interventions, planning, delivering, and reflecting on professional development training programs for in-service middle and high school teachers, graduate TAs and university instructors, and presenting our findings and our work at conferences across the country,” explained O’Bryan.

Carlson mentored O’Bryan during graduate school.

“Alan has been more like a colleague than a PhD student,” she said. “He is an independent thinker and has the highest integrity in the quality of his work and written products. He successfully synthesized some of the most challenging and useful research related to learning and understanding the idea of exponential growth. His expertise in leveraging learning theory of specific mathematics topics when designing instructional materials surpasses that of most scholars in our field.

“Alan is perhaps the most persistent and hard working student I’ve had the pleasure to mentor, always holding himself to the highest standards in his teaching and professional development, in addition to his research. Central to everything Alan does is his desire to learn more so that he can be more and more effective in supporting students’ mathematical learning and development, and teachers' ability to provide more meaningful and engaging mathematics instruction to students.”

In December, O’Bryan received his doctoral degree in mathematics education from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. He currently works as a senior research analyst in the school, working on the Pathways TUME grant project. This week he took some time to answer a few questions and share more about his experience at ASU.

Question: Why did you choose ASU for your graduate degree?

Answer: I chose ASU primarily because I was already working at the university and with faculty in the department on different grant projects, so it was convenient for me. However, ASU would have been a prime destination for me if I wasn’t already here since the mathematics education faculty and graduate program have a lot to offer prospective graduate students. Studying mathematics education at ASU means getting to work with some of the top researchers in the field and receiving excellent mentoring. There are opportunities for even first-year graduate students to travel to conferences, present research findings, and become involved in large research projects.

Q: What was your dissertation topic?

A: I examined the meanings students have for exponential growth, percentage comparisons and percent change upon entering a university precalculus course, how those meanings changed, or did not change, as a result of completing the online lessons I designed to support particular conceptual understandings, and how students interacted with features of the lessons that either supported or failed to support their learning.

Q: Why did you choose this topic to research?

A: There are two aspects to my research in this area. The first is the particular content focus I chose and the other is student learning within the online environment.

For the content, I noticed that many students had very vacuous meanings for exponential functions, percentage comparisons and percent change entering university college algebra and precalculus courses and that this interfered with students productively using and interpreting exponential models. In addition, I saw a different approach than the typical “repeated multiplication” idea as potentially useful for teaching these ideas in ways that connect their meanings to other ideas throughout a precalculus course to improve coherency in the class from the students’ perspective.

With respect to the setting, most current work relative to online learning treats the mathematical content and presentation methods as unproblematic. Researchers vary the setting alone, but not the approach to the content or the teaching methods. Their work reveals important insights about impacts of shifting instruction out of the traditional classroom environment. But we are currently missing a cognitive perspective to studying student learning in the online environment that includes a systematic and in-depth examination of the meanings students construct as a result of online instruction.

As of 2016, almost 30 percent of students enrolled in postsecondary coursework took at least one distance learning course — most commonly in the form of an online course — and nearly half of those students were enrolled exclusively in distance learning courses. Since many university leaders see increasing online enrollment as key to their growth plans, and since many students targeted for expansion of online learning opportunities include populations of students that are currently excluded from higher education for a variety of reasons such as family, work, location, etc., it is absolutely critical that we understand how to design and deliver the highest quality online instruction to support these students in learning mathematical ideas that will best serve them in their lives, careers and future STEM courses.

Q: Why is math education a great major to pursue?

A: While people have been teaching math for thousands of years, mathematics education as a formal discipline is still relatively young, only several decades old. There are many, many open questions and various theoretical perspectives for conducting research on student learning. It’s an exciting, emerging field with opportunities to contribute to theory and practice that directly impacts students. Knowing that the work I do contributes to improving educational opportunities and the quality of students’ learning is very rewarding.

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

A: The best advice is to try to maintain as much balance in your life as you can. Graduate school will keep you busy for sure, and there will be times that your coursework must absorb your entire attention and energy. But burnout is a very real and damaging thing and can sneak up on you. Make sure to carve out time to recharge and rest, to pursue a hobby, or spend time with friends and family. Graduate school is a marathon and you need to take care of yourself along the way.

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

A: I have always loved the art museum and the music buildings on campus. I always found it really neat to be able to take a few minutes out of a busy day to visit the museum for some quiet reflection. I also liked to study in the music building and music library. The building itself is beautiful, and as an undergraduate I would often study in the music library while listening to random albums I would pull off the shelf or do homework while listening to talented musicians practice their compositions throughout the building.

Q: What do you think is misunderstood about math by the general public?

A: Through no fault of their own, many people dislike mathematics or, even if they like it, tend to think that math is all black and white — that it’s a discipline focused on finding correct answers to given problem sets. Unfortunately, most people have never experienced mathematics as a creative endeavor involving exploration, conjecture, argument and reflection. Mathematicians don’t spend their time solving problems with obvious solution methods and answers that can be found in the back of a textbook and no industries with careers that leverage mathematics hire people with only that skill. In general, I think that most people’s experiences in grade school mathematics courses have left them with the wrong impression of what it means to really study the subject, and we often miss opportunities to support students in developing more general reasoning skills that will serve them well regardless of what career or discipline they pursue.

Q: When not studying, what do you like to do for fun in your spare time?

A: I love to read — mostly history or books about psychology, science, astronomy or similar topics written in a more conversational tone rather than scholarly journal articles. I also enjoy indoor rock climbing to get the blood pumping and get away from my desk. It’s both physically and mentally challenging, which helps keep me motivated to exercise. However, my real hobby passion is painting model miniatures, which is something I’ve been doing for about 20 years now and for which I’ve received many awards.

There are many aspects of the hobby I really enjoy. It’s challenging and rewarding while providing an artistic outlet, and there are always new techniques to learn to keep it fresh and exciting. But I also find painting extremely relaxing. Painting is basically like meditation for me. I’m able to shut out distractions and just lose myself in what I’m doing. It’s the best activity I’ve found for recharging my mental energy.

I am known within the hobby community as “Gorilla with a Brush”, a name I chose to evoke images of Koko the gorilla and because I try to use my hobby time and my status in the community to raise money to support animal charities. People can find me and examples of my work by searching for that name on the web and various social media platforms.

I was always interested in science fiction and fantasy games, books and art growing up, and while I dabbled a bit in model kits, painting and drawing as an adolescent, in 1998 I started in on the hobby more seriously as something to do to fill my free time that was more rewarding than playing video games or other distractions. Within a few years I was traveling and entering my work in national competitions. These days I don’t really participate in the competitive side of the hobby and spend more time just painting for myself, working on commission pieces, supporting others in the hobby looking to improve their skills and raising money for charity.

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

A: I think I would continue trying to tackle the problems I am now. One thing that is very clear from reading math education literature, from personal experience and from discussions with researchers across the country, is that mathematics is a gatekeeper for many high-paying careers and too often prevents students from achieving their dreams. We have a system where the groups of students passing college calculus at high rates are those students who already took calculus in high school, where students are testing into remedial math courses at institutions that might not offer credit-bearing math courses until Calc I (while all courses in their majors require it as a prerequisite), etc., and students from several demographic groups are disproportionately impacted in negative ways. We need to find ways to improve the quality of mathematics instruction at all levels and for all students, to find creative solutions to promoting success and addressing gaps in background learning, and facilitating connections between mathematics and other disciplines so that mathematics is the vehicle for helping break cycles of poverty and empowering students instead of being a barrier to their progress.

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences


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The Barrett standard

January 1, 2019

In 30 years, ASU’s honors college has established a model for excellence to rival Stanford, MIT and the Ivy League

Growing up in Pennsylvania, Barbara McConnell Barrett dreamed about Arizona since her father traveled West during the Depression as a cowboy.

When she was ready for college, she had a plan — come to Arizona for a semester and then return East to finish her education. She requested catalogs from all three state universities and says “Arizona State’s was the prettiest.”

Today, ASU is also one of the nation’s best, partly because Barrett’s plan happily evaporated after coming to Tempe. “I never left,” she says, “and that was 50 years ago.”

She earned bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees at ASU, becoming the first woman to run for governor in Arizona and the first civilian woman to land an F/A-18 Hornet on an aircraft carrier during a distinguished career that included a stint as U.S. ambassador to Finland.

Fast-forward to 2000. She and husband Craig Barrett, the former CEO of Intel, endowed $10 million to ASU’s honors college, impressed by its success.

The school bearing their name is now renowned as the gold standard of public honors colleges, one to rival Ivy League universities and a model emulated around the world.

Barrett, The Honors College also has been transformed by the vision of ASU President Michael M. Crow and Mark Jacobs, who both left prestigious East Coast schools to create new models at ASU.

“It’s become the crown jewel of the university,” ASU benefactor Tom Lewis says of the honors college.

Culture change

Horseback riders
Barrett welcomes incoming students to the community with a weekend at Camp B in Payson or Camp B-Town in Prescott to connect with new advisers, faculty, peer mentors and one another over glow sticks and s’mores. Photo by Tony Long

ASU’s honors college, established in 1988, had existed for 15 years when Crow first contacted Jacobs about leading it. But, Jacobs admits, “I didn’t know what an honors college was.”

He also didn’t know that would actually help him land the job as dean and serve him well as he remade the school during the last 15 years.

Crow became ASU’s president in 2002, a year before Jacobs arrived, with the idea to create a New American University. Crow had been Columbia University’s executive vice provost and knew that ideas could take root more quickly at ASU without pushing against 350 years of history and tradition.

“He had a vision no one else had,” Jacobs says, which was modeling Barrett as an innovative, interdisciplinary four-year residential college within an 80,000-student public research university.

Jacobs was an associate provost at Swarthmore, a private liberal arts college outside Philadelphia standing on tradition, and resistant to risk and change. Meanwhile, Crow wanted Jacobs to use his own ideas about what worked.

“It’s been exciting for that reason,” Jacobs says.

At first, ASU tried to play up the honors college’s prestige by targeting out-of-state students, but the goal was always to become the top choice for the state’s smartest students. Attracting in-state learners, who pay about one-third the cost of a small private college, makes it more likely they stay in Arizona after graduation.

“We were attempting to alter a culture,” Crow says about the entire university. “I hope the faculty here feel like they can advance any idea.”

Today, two-thirds of Barrett students come from Arizona. ASU and Barrett also produce as many Fulbright scholars as the Ivy League schools, and nearly four of every 10 Barrett alums attend graduate school immediately. About one-third of graduates enter the workforce, grabbing jobs at widely diverse companies such as General Motors, Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks and Google.

“Nobody’s flipping burgers,” Jacobs says.

Students in a lab
Barrett is home to big aspirations. Rachel Geiser (left, laughing with Prathima Harve during their advanced biochemistry class on the Tempe campus) is a senior double majoring in biochemistry and political science with the goal of becoming a surgeon and public health researcher. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU

Student focus

Barrett graduates from earlier years almost seem like they don’t recognize the school when they visit today.

“The growth of the organization, the number of students benefitting, the influence on the broader education [at ASU], it’s astounding,” says Christopher Jaap, a 1995 graduate who launched Ridgeline Law Office in San Francisco in 2017 and established a scholarship for ASU honors students with a passion for sustainability. Barrett, he remembers, “opened my mind in a classic liberal arts way.”

Barrett also prides itself on providing a life experience, not just an educational experience. In 2009, the school opened a seven-building, $140 million complex spread over nine acres. Instead of occupying two floors in an existing residence hall, the honors college now owns the southeast corner of the Tempe campus.

This allowed Barrett to not only create its own dorm, where most students spend their first two years, but also honors classrooms, a separate dining hall and a refectory right out of Harry Potter and Hogwarts.

The new campus “took it to a whole other level of interaction for students,” says Kristen Joy Hermann, a senior associate dean for student services at Barrett.

Barrett students now constitute 18 percent of ASU’s freshman class, and they typically take two-thirds of their classes outside the honors college.

It’s all part of the “extra” that students say is one of their favorite aspects of Barrett — an oasis that allows them to find their passion. The whirlwind experience includes participation in everything from conducting original research to meeting personally with international leaders. There’s even a monthly breakfast with Jacobs.

Prospective students have taken note. Over the past 10 years, applications have more than tripled to 4,300 and enrollment jumped from 2,800 to more than 7,200 spread across four metro Phoenix campuses. In just 30 years, Barrett now has more students than Harvard.

The enrollment surge has not lowered academic requirements. Students still need to complete a thesis before they graduate, an unusual undertaking for an undergraduate. But it allows students to compete for various awards they also tend to win.

In 2017, Barrett was one of only four U.S. institutions to graduate Churchill, Marshall and Rhodes scholars in the same academic year. Indeed, over the past 10 years, Barrett has been among the top 10 universities producing Fulbright scholars.

“In the honors world, Barrett really is the gold standard; it’s not just a marketing slogan,” says Nicola Foote, vice dean and the newest member of Barrett’s administration.

ASU swimmers
Barrett is not just about classrooms. Grant House, a sophomore majoring in exercise and wellness, is also an elite-level ASU swimmer. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU

Be like Barrett

Prior to this year, Foote had been an associate dean at Florida Gulf Coast University, where she was responsible for building the school’s honors college. She admits to using Barrett’s model to craft her school’s program.

Since stepping onto the ASU Tempe campus in the fall, Foote has seen behind the curtain, experiencing the innovation at Barrett up close and diving into attempts to improve the college.

She has quickly gone from copying Barrett’s methods to hosting tours for teams of officials from around the country who are anxious to emulate Barrett’s gold standard.

That slogan came from an unexpected source — New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, who wrote a book in 2015 about the mania surrounding college admissions. In “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be,” Bruni devoted most of a chapter to ASU and the experiences of two Barrett graduates.

After the book came out, Jacobs contacted Bruni and provided more details about the school. Bruni was so impressed he praised the school in a column: “Barrett combines the intimacy and academically distinguished student body of a Swarthmore with the scale, eclecticism and sprawling resources of a huge university. It’s two experiences in one.”

Bruni also updated his book to include Barrett’s top ranking in John Willingham’s “A Review of Fifty Public University Honors Programs,” adding Barrett “is widely considered the gold standard.”  

Today, one of Barrett’s biggest fans is Tom Lewis, an Arizona resident and ASU benefactor who graduated from the University of Kentucky.

In 2001, Lewis started a foundation to help fund top students in Arizona. While the recipients could go to any college — and they went as far away as Stanford, Duke and the Ivy League universities — Lewis started noticing more and more ended up at Barrett. “The best students want to go to the best schools,” he says.

So Lewis changed the scholarship, requiring students to attend Barrett. Then in 2015 he donated $23.5 million to create Lewis Honors College at Kentucky.

“It will be very much patterned after Barrett,” Lewis says, admiring not only the quality of Barrett but also how the college helps Arizona retain the state’s best and brightest. “They contribute back to the growth and prosperity of the entire state.”

Students work on a computer
Barrett also provides extensive mentoring. Dwayne Martin-Gomez reviews work with Allison Williams, his Barrett thesis mentor and program manager of research at the ASU Center for Health Promotion. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU

Future view

Barrett continues setting the trend for honors colleges at U.S. public universities.

“The tough work of the beginning has been established, but inertia doesn’t help quality,” says Barbara Barrett, currently the chair of Aerospace Corporation.

“Academics aren’t known for being nimble,” she adds. “At the honors college, innovation is the byword.” U.S. News & World Report agrees, ranking ASU as the nation’s most innovative university, ahead of MIT, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon, among others.

Barrett and her husband committed another $2 million to the honors college in 2017, expanding the school’s international program to bring the world to Tempe. In 2018, for example, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the former president of Latvia, was a scholar-in-residence at Barrett, staying on campus for weeks to guest lecture in honors courses and meet with students in small groups.

“We want to get young people familiar with the global environment,” Barbara Barrett says. “This is the world they will be working with in the future.”

Next up: construction of an Honors Student Success Center. As part of the university’s Campaign ASU 2020, Barrett is seeking to build a one-of-a-kind facility among honors colleges, a single building that will house all the services students need under one roof. Plans include advisers, writing center, national scholarship office and more.

Barrett is raising its standard.

Timeline of Barrett events

Written by Wayne D’Orio. D’Orio is an award-winning former editor-in-chief of Scholastic Administrator properties has written about education for The Atlantic, Wired, Pacific Standard and The Hechinger Report.

This story originally appeared in the winter issue of ASU Thrive magazine. Top photo collage by Sarah Horvath, Ellen O’Brien and Jarod Opperman/ASU

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December 28, 2018

For ASU Now videographer, finding both the drama and the heart is the key to a good story

Thinking visually, communicating that way, is an opportunity for me to show you how I view the world. I really care about the stories I tell and how I present them, and I hope you get something out of the telling.

This past year I started collaborating with University Archivist Rob Spindler on a new series that takes a place or object on our campuses and tells you the history behind it. Every so often you will see a “Hidden in Plain Sight” video that will hopefully clarify something you have always wondered about on your campus (such as the Philomathian seat or how a gym hosted a very famous Jimi).

Our features look at both the past and the future of ASU. Here are some of the top stories this year compressed into two minutes:

And here's a closer look at some of my favorite stories of 2018. 

Delving into a piece of Arizona history: Pleasant Valley War

In the late 1880s and early 1890s in Pleasant Valley (now Young, Arizona), residents were on constant alert over cattle rustling and attacks, leading to a high level of stress and wariness that boiled over into violence and massacre. Eduardo Obregón Pagán, Bob Stump Endowed Professor of History at ASU, released a book, "Valley of the Guns," analyzing the trauma of the Pleasant Valley War. We explored both his book and the history behind it.

This video production included: many different sound effects, discovery of old photographs in the ASU archives, the use of a replica Colt 45 peacemaker pistol, on-location video production in Pleasant Valley, a visit to the gravesites of some of the victims and a whole lot of imagination. Pagán is a great historian, who has written an insider’s view of how situations can be blown out of proportion and end badly, very quickly.


A man and his Thunderbird

After Chris Ames’ 1956 Ford Thunderbird continued to overheat at slow speeds (as did every other '55,'56 or '57 T-bird), he decided to do something about it. He returned to ASU to take a thermal dynamics course to try to correct the problem. He succeeded through research and redesign of a specific part attached to the water pump. His new part, A432, will be available for purchase in the near future. Ames is a go-getter who didn’t let age or retirement get in the way of going back to school and taking an engineering course at ASU to solve a problem that had been plaguing a classic car for over 60 years. He is a very nice person who persisted till he succeeded, something we all should aspire to.


Recycled banners and a very cool jobs program

The ASU bookstore began selling bags created from recycled banners used on all of ASU’s campuses. The bags are produced here in Tempe at the fashion incubator FABRIC. Not only is it an example of the university assessing the use of materials through their entire lifecycle, but also a way to extend the life of discarded materials to provide useful products to the public. More importantly, this project provided jobs through a FABRIC program that teaches young adults with disabilities how to sew, work as a team and produce a product for the market. The young adults creating these works of art are amazing. Along with their mentor, they are exceptional people.


A Fulbright Scholar and his passion for the desert

Eli Rafael Perez Ruiz, a Fulbright Scholar at ASU from Mexico, talks about his research on ecological and hydrological processes within deserts. Other than an amazing opportunity to join him at work in the beautiful desert south of Tucson, Arizona, it was also an opportunity to get to know an ingenious scholar who cares deeply about his research, his family and the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts.


Tell me your story

This job is a continual learning experience, nonstop. I haven’t even touched on all the possible stories out there and the different ways I can present them. With the help of our incredible teams at ASU Now and Media Relations and Strategic Communications, I look forward to trying new techniques and telling new stories. I want to hear about what makes your corner of ASU interesting, so send stories my way at kenneth.fagan@asu.edu. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Top photo: ASU Now videographer Ken Fagan captures footage for his Pleasant Valley War video. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Ken Fagan

Videographer , ASU Now


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December 27, 2018

ASU Now photographer and videographer shares the lessons learned — and photos taken — this year

I'm fortunate that I'm assigned a review of my work for ASU Now each year. It gives me a perspective on what I've accomplished and probably more importantly the takeaways of what I've learned.

I shoot both photo and video; the line is drawn somewhere down the middle, though it varies from month to month. For those who are into the technical details, I have two Canon 5D Mark III bodies with great lenses, and I use these to shoot both my photo and video.


Some of the things I've learned:

  • Always ask for an early portrait time, a unique location or silly questions since most times they'll agree, they'll go and they'll answer.
  • Hard drives, hard drives, hard drives — I have two LaCie Rugged drives for traveling with me and two on my desktop for backup.
  • Sometimes the phone will work just fine — I use an iPhone X, but I think the newest Pixel is pretty amazing.
  • If you teach your dog to sit, you can also test out portrait locations on him and he's easier to wrangle than a person or a cat.
  • I don't understand how to use it, but the em dash seems to be useful in all sorts of ways.

I've rounded up some of my favorite photos from the year below, and I hope you have a wonderful 2019!

Mentoring program inspires, provides hope for LGBTQ+ students at ASU

December 27, 2018

For Jay (a pseudonym), a fifth-year doctoral student originally from China, the road to academic and interpersonal success has been a long one. Originally starting on his doctoral journey in 2010, first at smaller Midwest and East Coast research institutions and finally at Arizona State University, Jay faced numerous challenges. 

Atop the strenuous research and academic expectations, Jay faced the additional challenges familiar to any stranger in a new country and culture. HUES Award ceremony with ASU Mentors and mentees from the HUES LGBTQ+ mentor program receive the Catalyst award. Download Full Image

And on top of that, Jay had a small secret: He’s gay.

An unmet need

Perceiving an unmet need within an underrepresented graduate student population, the Graduate College launched the HUES LGBTQ+ Mentoring Program in August 2017. Partnering members of the LGBTQ+ faculty, staff and graduate student communities with self-identified LGBTQ+ undergraduate and graduate students, HUES offers one-on-one mentoring, community engagement, and programming to foster support in identity navigation and community building.

With national statistics estimating between 6 and 10 percent of current college-going students identify as LGBTQ+, a potential 6,000 to 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students at ASU identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. 

“It is important that the navigation of multiple identities be a part of any larger conversation around the academic support and retention of our graduate students,” said Alfredo J. Artiles, dean of the Graduate College. “At ASU and through the Graduate College, we are fostering the development not only of world-class scholars and future knowledge leaders but are having conversations institutionally around resilience, culture and community membership as key to the successful navigation of these identities.”

HUES is part of the mentoring suite that is one of the cornerstones of the Graduate College’s community-engagement portfolio. HUES serves both undergraduate and graduate student populations, though graduate students currently constitute the majority of mentee applicants. 

“At the undergraduate level,” said Zachary Reeves-Blurton, HUES creator and program manager within the Graduate College, “our LGBTQ+ students have so many opportunities for connection, support, advocacy and leadership. A perennial issue faced by many graduate students here is something of a disconnect from our university-wide student engagement initiatives. As a university, we are very adept at engaging our undergraduates in community-building initiatives and programming. As a graduate student, you are often slightly more isolated.”

Finding a new continent — Jay's story

For many graduate students in HUES, this is their only university engagement outside their own department. 

“Everybody I hang out with is in my academic program,” Jay said. "Beyond that, I have some friends I have met at academic conferences or when I did my internship, as well as people I met at other universities I have been to.”

Like many graduate students from underrepresented communities, ASU wasn’t Jay’s first graduate institution. Previous to his arrival in 2012, he was admitted to and started doctorate work at two other institutions. But Jay didn't have anyone within his limited, mostly academic circle with whom he could share and confide in. As a gay man struggling to reconcile his sexual orientation with the cultural expectations of both his home country and his adoptive one, Jay transferred to another institution within a year.  

“I had a great [research] adviser who came to ASU,” Jay said. “So I came here.”

Despite his close academic working relationship with his adviser and finding support after coming out to peers in his program, Jay, a computer science student, still struggled to find others in his primarily heterosexual, male-dominated field with whom he could discuss matters of identity. 

“I always felt alone,” he explained. “It’s really hard, right? You have nobody to share (identity-related fears or challenges) with. You sometimes really feel desperate.”

When he learned about HUES in fall 2017, Jay signed up, eager to begin making meaningful connections within the ASU LGBTQ+ community.

Finding that community and commonality was groundbreaking for Jay. 

“It’s like you find a new continent,” he said. “Like you find a new area … something you’ve never known about before.”

Over the course of their mentoring relationship, Jay and his mentor met twice a month — or more, occasionally — to discuss everything from Jay’s hesitation to come out to colleagues once in the workplace to the best ways to meet friends and explore non-academic interests. When community events came along that Jay might be interested in — like Phoenix’s Rainbows Festival or community performances — his mentor often went out of his way to include Jay. Jay’s mentor was at his doctoral defense in October and invited Jay along for a flight-seeing tour of the Phoenix area guided by his partner, a licensed pilot.

Now, after three semesters working together, Jay and his mentor are parting ways: Jay is completing his degree and taking a position in California, and his mentor is pursuing a career opportunity on the East Coast.

Asked if he and his mentor had plans to keep in touch, Jay was enthusiastic. 

“Yeah, yeah!” he said. “We will visit each other.”

Finding a family here — Bea's story

At her previous institution in a fairly liberal state, Bea (also a pseudonym), a doctoral student, found a supportive and visible community of allies and advocates in her academic department, including fellow LGBTQ+ students and faculty. This was instrumental in her decision to begin the process of coming out.

Taken under the wing of a fellow LGBTQ+ student, Bea remembers that “something just hit me … like hope.” She said, "You need to be confident in yourself because I really wasn’t confident in myself at the time. She sort of believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, she made me realize (I was) OK.”

The encouragement and support she received in navigating both her identity and her academic pathway eventually led Bea, who was struggling in both areas at the time, to continue on to doctoral work. 

At ASU, Bea immediately found a supportive and inclusive environment in her academic department and research group, though none were members of the LGBTQ+ community. Bea was drawn to HUES by the opportunity to expand her own limited LGBTQ+ network.

“I don’t know a lot of (LGBTQ+) people,” said Bea. “(Strong interpersonal relationships) are something I haven’t quite had since I moved here. Because my family’s out of state, my mentor is like a mother figure. I feel like that would be exaggerating, but I feel like I have a family here now.”

Like Jay, Bea’s mentor has introduced her to a wider network within the ASU LGBTQ+ community, and this, in turn, has provided her with inspiration and a renewed confidence that impacts her academic focus. “It’s great seeing who the LGBTQ+ faculty and community members are and that they can be really confident being gays and lesbians. And they’re so accomplished — it’s quite amazing.”

As it did for Jay, seeing other LGBTQ+ academics helped normalize an experience that has been a somewhat isolating one, up to this point. 

“She’s been just a great example,” Bea said of her mentor. “It helped me visualize a life, you know?” 

Catalyzing change

The ASU Catalyst Awards, an annual recognition ceremony by the Committee for Campus Inclusion (CCI) and the Office of Inclusion and Community Engagement, recognizes the impact HUES mentors have had for students like Jay and Bea.

“The work of inclusivity is woven into so much of what we do at ASU as a part of its charter,” said Stanlie James, vice provost for inclusion and community engagement. “The mandate of CCI is to educate around issues of inclusion and raise the visibility of efforts university-wide to create a sustained ecosystem of inclusivity and equality.”

Zachary Reeves-Blurton of the Graduate College receiving the catalyst award
Zachary Reeves-Blurton shows off the Catalyst award bestowed to the HUES LGBTQ+ mentor program by the Committee for Campus Inclusion and the Office of Inclusion and Community Engagement.

That’s where the Catalyst Awards come in. With inclusivity embedded within so much of what the institution does, the Catalyst Awards are CCI’s way of acknowledging and recognizing efforts to inspire and ignite social transformation and inclusion beyond the scope of expectation.

“It’s about acknowledging a job well done,” James said. “It’s about, at the end of the day, saying, ‘Hey, this team isn’t giving 100 percent; they’re giving 110 percent!’”

“It’s such an honor to be nominated,” said Shannon Lank, a HUES mentor and frequent panelist at HUES community programming. “And it was an even bigger surprise to receive the award.”

For Reeves-Blurton a defining moment was watching the mentors walk to the podium to shake hands with James and receive the award while their mentees cheered in the audience. “This is an exceptional group of mentors,” said Reeves-Blurton. “I’ve talked to the mentees in the hallways after panel discussions and it's clear the impact the mentors are having on their students is tangible.”

Jay and Bea's stories, as well as numerous other HUES participants, are Reeves-Blurton’s motivation as he pushes to expand HUES. 

“Some of the stories I hear are just incredible,” he said. “I’m so proud of what these mentorships are accomplishing. These mentors, in sharing their experiences, incorporating these students into their larger networks, giving them a shoulder to lean on here at ASU — it’s fantastic.”

For now, the bulk of HUES programming and mentoring partnerships are based on the Tempe campus. 

“We’re just starting to connect mentors and mentees downtown,” said Reeves-Blurton, “and I’m excited to start seeing interest picking up at West and Poly, too.” 

By next year, he hopes to see HUES programming taking place across all four campuses.

“Inclusion is more than just talking about creating opportunities for our students,” he said. “It’s about actually doing the work. That’s a long process, and sometimes it’s a rough road, but receiving this award tells us that we’re at least on the right track.”

The HUES program is one of two mentoring programs operated out of the Graduate College. For more information or to apply to be a mentor or mentee, visit graduate.asu.edu/professional-development/mentoring.