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Outstanding grad overcame personal, academic challenges to complete online program

December 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

For Wendi Malmgren, it took a community of friends, fellow students, teachers, tech support staff and field instructors to facilitate her success as a graduate in the Master of Social Work online program at Arizona State University Wendi Malmgren, Watts College School of Social Work outstanding graduate fall 2019. Wendi Malmgren, fall 2019 outstanding graduate, School of Social Work, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Download Full Image

Several difficulties presented themselves to the School of Social Work’s fall 2019 Outstanding Graduate. The biggest: During her course of study, Malmgren had to deal with the deaths of two immediate family members.

As a returning student, she found the online program technology to be daunting, and considered transferring to the traditional classroom model. But through it all, Malmgren said she found ways to succeed. Her first ASU experience two decades ago, after all, was a rewarding one.

“My history with the university goes back 20 years, not as a student, but working with faculty in the theater department to develop and sustain an arts-against-violence program and provide an alternative field education experience for theater majors,” she said.

Malmgren had been in the social work field for those two decades before realizing she was ready for a new challenge.

“I wanted to add depth and breadth to my academic experiences, and ultimately want to obtain a clinical license in social work,” she said.

“As a single mother who raised two daughters, I understand many of the challenges facing women in today’s world,” she said. “I believe that women’s rights are human rights, which must be honored and protected."
— Wendi Malmgren

Malmgren, from Phoenix, is a member of the second cohort of the online MSW program. She said that changing from the classroom to online was frustrating at first. But within the first few weeks she was able to reach out to other students, instructors and tech staff, and with their support, began to embrace the new learning opportunity.

That support enabled her to reach her goal and pursue her dream of practicing in the rural community where she has lived, completed an internship and plans to return: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

“Without that support and encouragement, I was ready to terminate my program and revert to the classroom model,” she said. “Ultimately the online program provided the flexibility to participate in my first internship in Coeur d’Alene and a second in Phoenix with ASU.” 

She said she is grateful for School of Social Work faculty members Associate Professor Joanne Cacciatore and Lecturer Jamie Valderrama for support and compassion while dealing with the deaths of her father and daughter during her program.

Both faculty members provided sensitivity and understanding at a time when Malmgren was seriously deciding whether to postpone her program or even go into another professional direction.

Once she returns to Idaho after graduation, Malmgren plans to take the Licensed MSW exam in January, then ultimately obtain a clinical license, which requires 3,000 hours of supervised practice.

If she were to be granted $40 million to solve one of the world’s problems, Malmgren said she’d use the money to advance women’s rights.

“As a single mother who raised two daughters, I understand many of the challenges facing women in today’s world,” she said. “I believe that women’s rights are human rights, which must be honored and protected."

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Outstanding grad credits ASU program for becoming a fire captain at 24

December 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

For a firefighter to attain the rank of captain usually takes several years, often a decade or two, of dedicated service. Oliver Silva, Watts College School of Public Affairs outstanding graduate fall 2019. Oliver Silva, fall 2019 outstanding graduate, School of Public Affairs, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Download Full Image

At age 24, Utah Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Oliver Silva — make that Fire Captain Oliver Silva — credits his graduate studies at Arizona State University as what set him apart from his colleagues.

Silva is captain in the fire department at the 801,505-acre U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground in the northwestern Utah desert, about 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. He is receiving his master’s degree in emergency management and homeland security from the School of Public Affairs at ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, and is SPA’s fall 2019 Outstanding Graduate.

“I heard from fire chiefs and had a lot of mentors who made it clear that the way the fire world is going, they want educated people.It was one of those things they highly recommend to set you apart from other individuals, and that is what I wanted to do.” 
— Oliver Silva

“I consider it one of my greatest achievements,” he said of his becoming captain. “Most career firefighters take at least 20 years to get to that level.”

Silva, from Mount Pleasant, Utah, said he realized he wanted to study emergency management after people he respected in the field informed him that employers were increasingly seeking applicants with college credits.

“I heard from fire chiefs and had a lot of mentors who made it clear that the way the fire world is going, they want educated people,” Silva said. “It was one of those things they highly recommend to set you apart from other individuals, and that is what I wanted to do.”

He said he was pleasantly surprised to find many of his ASU courses were directly related to his career, from learning how to write policies to directing programs.

Today at Dugway, he’s in charge of all department preparedness and response to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosives, or CBNRE for short.

Silva said he chose ASU because of its renowned program for emergency management and homeland security, ranked No. 1 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. “It’s also one of the best military-friendly schools — also a plus,” he said.

The online program he undertook was easy to fit into even Silva’s complicated firefighter schedule: 72 hours on, 96 hours off. He also has time to volunteer at his community's local fire department and ambulance service.

He said one of the best aspects of online study was interacting with other students with different preparations.

“Everyone had different knowledge and experience from different organizations and different parts of the world,” he said. “Someone would be focused on earthquakes and hurricanes, others on snow, depending on the different parts of the nation they were from.”

Silva said his post-graduation plans are much the same as they are now.

“I’m going to stay where I am, and keep working on improving myself as a captain and leader,” he said.

If offered $40 million to solve one problem in the world, Silva’s answer was clear and straightforward, the kind you might expect from a dedicated fire captain: “I’d help improve my community emergency response services to keep our community safe.”

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Enabled by scholarship support, future lawyer finds opportunities at ASU Law

December 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

Steven Laxton grew up in Cedar Hill, Texas and then spent his high school years in Henrico, Virginia, eventually making his way to Arizona State University's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law to pursue a juris doctorate degree. photo of Steven Laxton presenting to students Steven Laxton (at left) presents to ASU Law students interested in the Federalist Society. Download Full Image

“I knew I was going to pursue patent law and ASU Law had a fantastic combination of high rankings, a well-developed patent program with a clinic and several relevant courses,” Laxton said. “The law school’s proximity to California for potential summer externships was also very intriguing.”

While a student at ASU Law, Laxton took advantage of multiple opportunities to gain leadership experience and network with fellow legal sector professionals. Laxton was also the recipient of two scholarships, including the Benjamin Herbert scholarship, that provided him additional time to participate in student organizations and on his academics, rather than having to focus on a job.

“My three years here at ASU Law have been fantastic. The law school’s culture is very friendly and academically helpful,” Laxton recalled. “There are also a wealth of great student organizations. I enjoyed my experiences and connections with Delta Theta Phi, the Christian Legal Society, the Federalist Society, and Jurimetrics, which together fulfilled my interests and needs.”

ASU Law sat down with him to learn more about his ASU Law journey.

photo of Steven Laxton

Steven Laxton, Fall 2019 JD Candidate, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

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

Answer: Always read a case brief and a summary of black letter law before reading a case. You can save a lot of time knowing where the opinion is going, time that you can reinvest elsewhere.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am going to Houston, Texas, to study for the February bar, and begin working as a law clerk for Judge Roy S. Payne at the Eastern District of Texas in Marshall. After that, I will look for a legal job in Texas.

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

A: I would develop and endow an institute for artificial intelligence and ethics akin to the K&L Gates Endowment for Ethics and Computational Technologies, but with a smaller and more refined scope. The institute would hone in on two goals. First, it would conduct legal and social research regarding political concerns with artificial intelligence technology in democratic societies. Secondly, it would provide representation of concerns such as the use of AI for speech suppression, improper statistics application, and large scale social influence.

Q: What motivates/inspires you?

A: A combination of curiosity, concern and desire to create an environment for my future children to thrive in.

Q: For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

A: Friends and family that have influenced me over the years.

Q: If you could speak directly to the philanthropists that donated for your scholarships, what would you like to tell them?

A: I’d like to tell them thank you, let them know my plans after graduation and extend an open invitation for lunch.

Nicole Almond Anderson

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law


Book that outstanding grad read as a teen led her to seek a criminology career

December 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

College students often have doubts, and Brittny Dwyer is no different. In fact, she recalls struggling during her junior year with feelings of inadequacy, belying the passion and drive that eventually would earn her the title of 2019 Outstanding Graduate for the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. Brittny Dwyer, Watts College School of Criminology and Criminal Justice outstanding graduate fall 2019. Brittny Dwyer, fall 2019 outstanding graduate of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Download Full Image

Dwyer, also a student at Barrett, The Honors College who will receive her bachelor of science degree in criminology and criminal justice, was sitting in a physio-psychology class surrounded by cerebral fortitude.

“I needed the psych credit,” recalled the Gilbert, Arizona, resident. “It was intimidating, sitting in class with biology and neurology majors. I felt so out of place.”

But the instructor, psychology Lecturer Eevin Jennings, taught Dwyer how much she could push herself in her studies.

“She has become such a mentor to me,” Dwyer said. “She was so encouraging and passionate about the material. I remember being in class saying, ‘Yeah, I want to be a professor like her one day.’ Now, I’m a teaching assistant for her.”

By the way, Dwyer said she ended up acing Jennings’ class.

“She helped me realize I want to be a professor. I want to help future generations.”

Dwyer discovered she wanted to study criminal justice when she first read a book, "The Lucifer Effect" by Phillip Zimbardo, which deals with the psychology of what pushes seemingly normal people to do bad things, things that seem outside of their character.

“At the time I was 14 or 15, and in early college enrollment at Chandler-Gilbert Community College,” she said. “I took a criminology and a psychology class on a whim and I fell in love with it. I wanted to do something with my future to help people. I didn’t know what that looked like until I found criminology and criminal justice and completely immersed myself in it.”

“I had to have the drive to discipline myself and work very hard, even at times when I didn’t want to work at all. That was one thing I was not really expecting.”
— Brittny Dwyer

Her experiences at ASU helped her realize something she hadn’t before, she said: That merely being inspired or motivated only takes a person so far.

“In my degree, I had to rely on self-discipline and passion for the subject, especially during my (honors) thesis,” Dwyer said. “I had to have the drive to discipline myself and work very hard, even at times when I didn’t want to work at all. That was one thing I was not really expecting.”

After CGCC, she said she heard ASU had an “amazing” criminal justice program, with criminology and criminal justice doctoral and online graduate programs ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

She advised social science students how important it is to never stop asking questions and to be unafraid to ask them.

“Sometimes people hold back. I did sometimes in my career at the risk of sounding ignorant or dumb. But the CCJ profs are so encouraging of analytical thinking,” Dwyer said. “Through asking questions, that’s how you make progress in your field. Otherwise we’ll never find any answers to the problems, so you should not be afraid to ask questions.”

Even though the CCJ program is based at the Downtown Phoenix campus, her favorite campus location is the Noble Library on the Tempe campus used by mostly engineering students, whom she said are among the quietest at study.

“It’s a great place to focus. Less noisy than Hayden,” she said with a laugh.

After graduation, she said she plans to finish work on publishing her thesis in a scholarly journal and applying to PhD programs in forensic psychology or clinical psychology.

If she were granted $40 million to solve one of the world’s problems Dwyer said she would use the money to battle sex trafficking, with a big chunk of the funds devoted to shining light on the damage trafficking has done to its victims and to society.

“Better education of the public and stronger intervention policies, internationally (are needed),” Dwyer said. “There are a lot of issues in other countries where certain laws work against themselves, especially in cases of child pornography. It’s worth investing in rehabilitation, not only for victims, but offenders, too.”

“It’s worth trying — compared to doing nothing,” she said.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


‘I owe ASU my life’: The impact of second chances

December 6, 2019

A student’s mental health can make or break an academic career. But believing in that student’s capacity to succeed is sometimes all it takes to save a life.

For Rob Reyes, an Arizona State University alumnus, getting a second chance to improve his mental health and earn his degree has set him on the path toward a bright future as an engineer. Family of five standing dressed in formal clothing Arizona State University alumnus Rob Reyes graduated in 1998 after overcoming a series of struggles in his first few semesters and being given a second chance by faculty members to complete studies for a degree. He and his family now live in California. Photograph courtesy of Rob Reyes Download Full Image

A transfer student from the University of Arizona, Reyes came to ASU in 1996 to study mechanical engineering in the college that would several years later become the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. But his first two semesters on the Tempe campus brought more challenges than he expected.

“My junior year was really when a lot of things started falling apart,” Reyes said. “I wasn't doing very well in school, I wasn't attending classes, I was sleeping a lot, I wasn't very motivated. It was a lot of things. Looking back, I was suffering from depression.”

The spring semester passed by too quickly. Despite his efforts and the vested interest he had in passing his classes, Reyes was unable to make a comeback with his grades.

“I started panicking because I wanted this degree more than anything,” Reyes said. “It was a really dark time when I realized I wasn't going to get my grades up. That's when I started becoming suicidal — I almost attempted suicide that spring semester.”

Feeling like he was running out of time and options, Reyes forged a doctor’s note and handed it to his professor, Daniel Jankowski. The note made its way to Associate Dean Manny Aros, who didn’t accept the note and suggested that if Reyes was actually sick, he should obtain a real doctor’s note and then they could talk.

“I was furious because I knew I was caught, but I wasn't sure how to go about handling it,” Reyes said. “A few days later I went back into his office, and I just broke down. I was emotionally devastated and worried I wouldn’t be able to continue my education.”

Although Reyes was facing expulsion, Aros offered to put him on academic probation so he could try to raise his GPA to a 2.0. As part of the probation, Reyes had to see a psychologist. That’s when his depression was officially diagnosed. But by the end of the fall semester, Reyes still did not have the grades he needed and was unable to continue studies in his degree program.

This would have marked the definitive end of Reyes’s pursuit of an engineering degree — that is, until the deans from both the Tempe campus and ASU East (now known as the Polytechnic campus) offered him a second chance to earn his degree at another campus.

Reyes learned about an engineering and applied sciences program starting up at ASU East, which is now home to The Polytechnic School, one of the six Fulton Schools. There, Reyes found opportunities to explore engineering in ways he hadn’t been able to in his mechanical engineering program on ASU's Tempe campus.

“I believe what (ASU) East was able to give me is that I was able to do a lot more hands-on and practical things with (engineering), whether it be 3D modeling or graphic design or programming or whatever else it was,” Reyes said. “That's what really ignited a passion in me. I was able to learn new things and immediately apply them and create something.”

In this new degree program, Reyes found joy despite the long hours he spent in the computer labs working on projects. He began to consistently earn a place on the dean’s list and was able to graduate in summer 1998 as part of the first graduating class from what is now The Polytechnic School.

Reyes views his college years as a transformative time, and although he experienced difficulties he is grateful to have been able to overcome them.

“It was quite the journey, and I was lucky enough to be a part of it,” Reyes said. “I don't mind sharing it or talking about those dark times because that's what defined me as who I am right now. That's what helped me get to where I am today.”

Six days after graduation, Reyes and his wife moved to California, where they have been since.

“I like to say we came (to California) looking for gold,” Reyes said. “We've been blessed enough to be here for over 20 years now. I am eternally grateful to ASU for the foundation it provided.”

Today, Reyes works as a software consultant for Bay Dynamics, a company he has been with since 2003. He travels often but also works a lot from home, which he is thankful for because he gets to do what he loves while also spending time with his family.

Reyes says that a big turning point for him in college was being given the opportunity to find a degree program he was passionate about when a program he was in previously didn't work out.

This experience led to the advice he now gives to others.

“When I mentor someone, I always say, ‘Make sure you're passionate about the subject, because if you're not, you're going to be struggling with it,’” Reyes said. “‘If you're passionate about it, you won't mind going through the struggle.’”

He credits the career success he has attained to having been in a place where he was surrounded by people who believed in him.

“There was a lot of darkness that the people at ASU were able to see past, and they give me that second chance of going to ASU East and being successful,” Reyes said.

“I owe ASU my life, literally," he said, "because if my professors hadn't pointed me in the direction to get help, if they hadn't given me the second chance, if I didn't get the opportunity to fulfill that dream of getting my degree, I don't know where I would be or what state I would be in. I'm blessed more than I deserve.”

Karishma Albal

Student Science/Technology Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


For this ASU grad, the real joy is the journey, not the destination

December 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

International student Murtada al Mohsin found his way to Arizona State University through the ASU Global Launch Intensive English Program in 2015. Mohsin received the King Abdullah Scholarship to study abroad at ASU and pursue a degree in chemistry.  Murtada al Mohsin Download Full Image

“I’m really grateful for King Abdullah Scholarship Program,” said Mohsin. “The scholarship helped me financially — taking care of the college tuition and motivating me for receiving good grades and being recognized on the Dean’s Lists of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.”

Finding that passion in chemistry didn’t come right away. After high school graduation, Mohsin was uncertain about what major to choose in college. Initially, he thought about chemical engineering since it was one of the most popular majors back in his home country of Saudi Arabia. With limited schools and majors to choose from, it was Mohsin’s father who persuaded him to major in chemistry since it was closely related to chemical engineering. It also helped that chemistry is the least selected major in Saudi Arabia and sparked Mohsin’s interest.

Freshman year was a challenge for Mohsin as a new student. He struggled a bit in his first chemistry course, but this inspired him to not give up and rise to the challenge, eventually earning an A. This would be a defining moment: He realized how much he liked chemistry.

During his sophomore year with Professor Smitha Pallai, Mohsin found his passion in organic chemistry. Mohsin shared how he would visit her before class started and asked questions about the material and she would help explain the topics.

“I was delighted to learn about Murtada’s graduation announcement. Sylvia Earle once said that the best scientists and explorers have the attributes of kids,” said Pallai. “They ask questions and have a sense of wonder. I hope Murtada remains inquisitive and all his questions get answered!”

Mohsin transitioned into ASU by getting involved with campus activities and events. He joined the Sponsored Student Advisory Committee, which is a team of student volunteers who advise and assist the International Students and Scholars Center (ISSC) at ASU in regard to sponsored students' cultures, academic success, and professional development initiatives. In addition, when time allowed, Mohsin was involved with the Programming and Activities Board that plans activities and events in various areas of interest for ASU students. 

Murtada Mohsin and Sparky

This December Mohsin will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the School of Molecular Sciences and looks forward to seeing where the next chapter takes him on this journey. 

QUESTION: You received a scholarship: How did this impact your education at ASU? Q:

ANSWER: I received a scholarship through the King Abdullah Scholarship Program. It provided me a valuable opportunity to study abroad at ASU and pursue a degree in chemistry. It also opened the doors for me to join some honor societies in the U.S., such as the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.

Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majoring in?

A: The beginning of freshman year was tough for me as a new student. I struggled with the first test in the chemistry class I enrolled in. During this first chemistry course, I remembered several things that I studied in high school. My professor told me that based on your result you will do great in your second chemistry course. That was the "aha" moment when I realized I really like chemistry and want to continue studying it. My passion about it also increased when I took organic chemistry courses, some of my favorite courses, my sophomore year.

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

A: One of the things that surprised me in the classroom was the huge number of students in the class. Over 400 students were in my sociology class in my freshman year. It was something new to be in a university with a large population of students. It was also amazing to meet many students from around the U.S. and across the world and learn about different cultures and diversities. Another thing was the big number of organizations and clubs available at ASU. The skills of scientific writing and how to write a research paper are some of the many things that I learned while at ASU.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was not sure at the beginning about which state I would choose to study in when I applied for the scholarship. Some schools I was interested in attending were not available at that time. Arizona was on my list of schools and was available, so I ended up choosing ASU. I am grateful for the decision of choosing it and do not regret that. I found myself in a friendly community that welcomed and (was) ready to help international students. 

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

A: It can be hard to choose only one professor since I learned many lessons from many professors while at ASU. I would choose Steven Peterson, who taught the whole person health course. I learned a lot from his course. I enjoyed listening to his lectures and life advice that still resonate with me. He taught us, and repeated that several times, about the importance of taking care of ourselves as humans and not forgetting to have time of enjoyment for ourselves because we need that.

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

A: Enjoy your time as much as possible while at ASU. I learned that the real joy is in the journey, not the destination. Try to get involved on campus and make the most of your college experience. Many different events and meetings are offered by ASU on a weekly basis. Prioritize your tasks. School work and studying in advance for exams is still important. I suggest that the day before the exam should be for review and making sure you are ready for it. Do not forget to rest and get enough sleep. Make sure to manage your time wisely. Time management is essential in college.

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

A: The Tempe campus is beautiful! On long breaks, I usually go to the Noble Library to study, review for exams, or do homework. My favorite place to study was the silent study room. I also like the view of the area outside the Student Pavilion building at night with the string lights that connect the palm trees. I also like the view of the Old Main building and the fountain in front of it. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I would like to gain work experience from chemistry-related jobs before thinking about pursuing a master's degree.

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

A: If someone gave me $40 million to solve one problem, I would tackle life-threatening illnesses or the pollution of air, water and land that affect the human health and environment, or I would financially support students who cannot afford college tuition and have financial problems.

Communication specialist, School of Molecular Sciences

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Cancer fighter boosts edge with ASU degree

December 6, 2019

Grant Crim inspired to earn master's degree to fulfill life goals

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

Obstacles don’t do well in front of Grant Crim.

A brain tumor left him partially blind when he was only 2 years old. He’s been locked in a lifelong battle with the tumor and residual effects.

He has barreled through that barrier and many others. Now he graduates summa cum laude with a degree in organizational leadership from Arizona State University’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.

His goal in life has always been to open and run a nonprofit that helps children facing battles similar to his. In two years at ASU, his mentors and teachers have helped him refine his plans and hone his education to make those plans reality.

Crim has been accepted into the master's in communication program in the Hugh Downs School. 

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

Answer: When I first decided to attend Arizona State University, I decided on organizational leadership because I had plans of opening my own non-profit to help childhood cancer patients and their families. I felt that the program (along with my minor in sociology) would be a great program to properly prepare me for that.

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

A: “As I learned more and grew in the academic, personal and volunteer leadership areas of my life, it became apparent to me that I needed to separate out my professional and volunteer goals. Through my volunteer leadership with the American Cancer Society, I met a man who became a good friend. His name is Jeff Ross and he gave me some of the best advice I have ever gotten when we were talking about my life goals. He told me that I could always pursue my childhood cancer passion through volunteer work, but that it was also important to focus on a fulfilling professional career that would be able to support me, and eventually a family too. It changed my perspective in that it made me realize that I didn't really need to put all of my eggs in one basket but that I could, in fact, pursue both a fulfilling career, a stable financial future and my volunteer passion. Through my studies and personal growth, I realized that I had natural strengths in things like conflict resolution, communication, and public relations which gave me a strong basis to pursue a career in Organizational Leadership. The more I have learned at ASU and the more I have learned about myself, the more I realized that I absolutely love the public relations side of things. Because of that, I applied for graduate school.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: This question is easy! I chose ASU because of my friend Anna Wales who I met through my American Cancer Society & Relay For Life volunteer work. She is just about the most die-hard Sun Devil in existence and has devoted her life to ASU and its students. Her enthusiasm convinced me that it didn't matter that I was a coastal Oregon boy, because ASU was absolutely the place to be, and I have zero regrets about choosing it. I can't thank her enough for guiding and supporting me through my ASU experience, and I hope that ASU realizes how lucky they are to have such a dedicated employee and fan!

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

A: As I have worked to earn my undergrad, the staff and students have taught me a lot about life. That being said, Professor (Kathryn) Terzano instilled in me that there is more to life than academics, work or volunteering. Life is meant to be experienced and lived to its fullest during the short time we have here on earth, which is why finding your fit within an organization and having a work life balance, allows us to find fulfillment as we set the foundation for a bright future. Arizona State University has helped me to grow professionally and personally, because you never know how far you can go until you’ve tried.

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

A: I think the best piece of advice I could give to those in school, would be the same advice that Jeff gave me. To think about what you love, but also what will give you a stable financial future in regards to your career, and to continue to pursue all of your outside passions in whatever way will give you your most fulfilling life.

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

A: This one is easy, although it isn't necessarily my favorite "spot," but more of my favorite event. I attended ASU Poly's Relay For Life event and was honored to be able to speak at their luminaria ceremony. A luminaria ceremony is a moment when we reflect on those who have battled cancer and remember the ones we have lost to cancer. Because of my own personal battle as a three-time battle with a brain tumor, and the loss of my best friend Natalie to osteosarcoma at 17, it is a very emotional thing for me. After I spoke, some of the students came up to me and were inspired to keep the event going in the future which warmed my heart more than you can imagine. Cancer is a disease that knows no age, no gender, no religion, no sexual orientation and no politics. At Relay For Life, cancer brings us together in a way we never may have wanted, but leaves us feeling supported and able to do something to fight back against a disease that can literally strike any one of us, at any time.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plan after graduation is to find a great organization that will lead to a fulfilling career in public relations — preferably where I can also focus on social good. Then I hope to do all of the things most people want. To pay off my student loans, buy a home, start a family and have a beautiful life. I also plan to continue with my volunteer work and to pursue my dreams of supporting childhood cancer patients.

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

A: My immediate thought was to accomplish my dream of opening Ohana's Hope — my childhood cancer organization — but recently I have really been thinking about something that impacts everyone. I don't think $40 million would come close to tackling the issue, but maybe it could start things headed in the right direction. The issue is health care, and I will use myself as an example. I am a childhood cancer survivor. As a result of that, I am also visually impaired, and will require extremely expensive lifelong medications. In addition to being an insurance company's worst nightmare, it means that I may be limited in the freedom to choose a fulfilling career because nothing will be as important as having quality health insurance in my future. As of this moment, I am still eligible to be on my parent's health insurance plan, but I live in fear of ever being without it. The truth of the matter is, if I was ever to be without insurance, it could literally force me to give up any dreams of a fulfilling career in order to qualify to be placed on a government medical insurance program because no one could afford the medications I am reliant on, on their own. In a country such as ours, no citizen should have to be forced into not being a productive member of society, just to survive. I don't claim to have any of the answers to this problem and I know it is likely larger than all of us, but it's something that weighs heavily on my mind and will definitely impact any employment choices I make, and in turn, makes me feel a little like some of my freedom to pursue my dreams has been taken away.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


Commitment to public service led outstanding graduate to study nonprofit leadership and management

December 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

As a career choice, the nonprofit sector hadn’t initially occurred to Atlas Pillar, who originally enrolled in ASU as a double major in musical theater and journalism. But, reflecting on his life and the many champions who helped him along the way, Pillar eventually decided he wanted to devote his life to serving others. Atlas Pillar, Watts College School of Community Resources and Development outstanding graduate Fall 2019 Atlas Pillar, fall 2019 Outstanding Graduate, School of Community Resources and Development, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Download Full Image

“I’ve always had a passion for caring for others, as well as an aptitude for research and writing, but I didn’t know how applying my skills in the nonprofit sector might look,” said Pillar, the School of Community Resources and Development’s (CRD) fall 2019 Outstanding Graduate.

“Ultimately, I chose ASU because of the Nonprofit Leadership and Management program, which I believed to be my first step in becoming someone who could impact meaningful change,” said Pillar, of Gilbert, Arizona. Pillar is receiving a bachelor’s degree this fall from ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

The CRD Nonprofit Leadership and Management program checked all the right boxes, plus provided something he hadn’t expected: a sense of empowerment.

“This program changed my perspective on what I can accomplish, and gave me the power of applied learning and proactive problem solving,” he said. Additionally, the leadership experiences and opportunities to have an impact on his peers during his academic career helped fuel his confidence. “ASU served as a training ground for me to be a mover and shaker, even prior to receiving my degree.”

“I want to be at the forefront of professionalizing and streamlining the endeavors of the nonprofit sector."
— Atlas Pillar

Pillar is grateful for the influence of Sandra Price, a CRD lecturer, for whom he said he has worked as a research assistant for all four years of his program. He said she taught him much about utilizing creative and nontraditional processes to manifest important change at ASU and beyond.

“When it comes to creating solutions, Dr. Price taught me that with passion and patience, anything can be done, regardless of how others approached it in the past, and if anyone is going to do it, it can and will be me.”

He’s also thankful for the financial assistance he received through the Yoshioka/Hossbach Family Maroon and Gold Leaders Scholarship, Dean's Undergraduate Research Scholarship, Barack Obama Scholarship, the New American University Scholar — Provost's Award and a scholarship from the Homa and Irene Wood Foundation.

Now his plans for graduate school include even further study and research in the nonprofit sector, including a master’s degree in program evaluation and data analytics.

“I want to be at the forefront of professionalizing and streamlining the endeavors of the nonprofit sector,” he said.

If he were given a $40 million grant to change one of the world’s problems, Pillar answered immediately.

“Assuming this is an arbitrary number supposed to fit the bill of solving any world problem, I would use this money to redistribute food and the means for food production,” he said. “Fulfilling basic nutritional needs has been shown to have drastic impacts on health, education and employment rates. We have the food and the mechanisms. We’re just not doing it.”

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Engaging citizens through gameplay

December 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

When a local concerned citizens; group reached out to an ASU professor and his research team of students on ways to better educate others on the issues surrounding helium extractions, Master of Science and Technology Policy graduate Katherine Ball knew she could help. Fall 2019 SFIS Outstanding Graduate student Katherine Ball Download Full Image

From that collaboration, an educational game developed. Helium Futures is a game centered around a fictional community facing helium extraction. The game, co-developed with No Fracking Arizona features the work of Ball, Assistant Professor Kirk Jalbert and his research group, the Civic Science for Environmental Futures Collaborative. 

Ball found the project compelling and it became the basis of her thesis. The experience also changed how she viewed working with and running community engagement workshops.

"How do you run a workshop that's not about you telling them what they need to do or what they need to say? How do you get them down into what the actual major concerns are that are really behind this big public statement? That's how I'd like to do any work I'm doing long term."

The final product of the game was awarded honorable mention at the 2019 4S Making and Doing Festival in New Orleans. The festival is an exhibit of practitioners doing experimental works that engage approaches to the study of science and technology, with the intent of expanding modes of inquiry and creative collaboration in science and technology studies. From presenting at that festival, there is interest in using the game in environmental justice undergraduate courses.

In the sixth grade, Ball’s grandmother gave her a book on a famous oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer and from that moment on, Ball knew she wanted to be on a boat studying plastics. That single goal led to the pursuit of an undergraduate degree in physical oceanography. But after completing her time at the University of Washington, Ball began to feel that policy is where she could make the most impact, not just out studying in the field. 

"What I care about is working with communities on environmental policies that actually work for them," Ball said. "I think the federal government's where I'm going to make the biggest impact on how stuff is actually implemented at the local level."

Ball became interested in citizen science as a way to better engage with community groups on the issues facing them. She heard about the Citizen Science Maker Summit held at ASU In 2016. Its exploration of the cross-section of citizen science and the maker space was a large part of her undergrad thesis. While here, she learned about the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and its graduate programs. The MSTP program combined her three areas of interest with a faculty and culture that spoke to her. 

“I love playing games and I've been like vaguely interested in like how do people learn from these," she said.

Her first semester, she took a class on educational game creation. "In that class, there came a moment where we were talking about what game we were going to make is our product and we had this moment. Wait like you don't have to tell someone a story for them to learn. They can tell you a story and still learn from it and that kind of became the theme of that game, another one I made and my master's thesis."

The process changed how Ball approaches community-engagement. "It's not necessarily what story can I tell you, but what is your story in this larger one? Which is just a new way of thinking about the work I'm interested in. Being more community-driven and community-engaged."

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

Answer: ASU is so big, it is intimidating, but also you can literally make whatever you want out of it and the program will support that and help you guide or frame wherever you end up in the end when you have to develop an applied project. Whatever you've done up that point can become a thing, even if it doesn't feel like anything at the start. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am pursuing my PhD in Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology at SFIS (School for the Future of Innovation in Society). After that, I want to work in a federal agency. My shortlist right now is Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or Fish and Wildlife Service — all the ones that can do ocean environmental regulation. 

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

A: I would use it to start a nonprofit idea that I've had since undergrad. STEM and STEAM education focuses on so much like K–12. I've talked to a lot of adults who are like, “I see my kids getting this. I wish I had this.” I didn't get this, so I've had this idea of a program that focuses on adults to get the chance to get that type of education.

Senior Manager, Communications and Marketing Strategy, School for the Future of Innovation in Society


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ASU grad enjoys the esprit de corps of her profession

December 6, 2019

Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College master’s degree student focused on impacting students in Title I schools

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

Erika Martinez enjoys several things about teaching – sparking the imagination, passing on her knowledge to others and potentially changing the lives of students.

But what she enjoys most about the job is the professional camaraderie among teachers.

“It’s like a family,” said Martinez, a bilingual master’s degree student in Arizona State University's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “The camaraderie is also a good way to also build continuity with the kids. If teachers work together, it’s much better for everybody, including the teachers themselves.”

Martinez said she got a taste of it last year when she interned for a Title I school in the Osborn School District in Phoenix.

“The teachers there were so dedicated to each other, which was refreshing to witness and experience, ” Martinez said. “This master’s program has prepared me more than I ever expected.”

Martinez, who will receive her master’s degree in elementary education on Dec. 16, spoke to ASU Now about her past experiences as a Sun Devil and what the future holds as she embarks on a teaching career.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study teaching?

Answer: Throughout my educational life, I was exposed to several great educators who genuinely enjoyed teaching and more so the impact they had on their kids’ lives, including mine. I noticed how the teachers supported each other and had built a tight-knit community. As a senior, I decided I wanted to join that community so I applied to attend ASU and earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. I knew teaching was something I wanted to do in that moment, but after my first few semesters, I no longer thought I had what it took to be a great teacher so I changed my major. After graduation, my focus began to shift to my service in the Air National Guard as a financial technician. I loved helping my fellow airmen but part of me wanted to return to the path I first set out on four years prior. ASU had just offered a one-year master’s program and I knew it was time to pursue my dream once more. I knew how education has impacted my life, and how it provided the community I want to be a part of.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU?   

A: I learned a lot of things this past year. However, the most important thing is that I now have the confidence and knowledge to be an educator. All of this was made possible due to the coursework, practicums, students, mentors, peers and professors.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: My journey at Arizona State University started in 2012 and I graduated with my bachelor’s in 2016. I chose ASU again for my master's because of the location and the program itself. Besides learning that the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College was nationally ranked, the length of the program and the description of the program met my needs. The master’s in elementary education with teacher certification at the Osborn School District was exactly a year, and the type of district that I would be doing my practicum in is the type of district that I would like to teach in after graduation.

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

A: I would advise three things: Make self-care a priority, build lifelong relationships with peers and other professionals and learn as much as you can.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus?

A: Hayden Lawn at the Tempe campus. Besides being a great place to people watch, it is also close to study areas, food, and coffee!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I plan on vacationing with my family to reward this year’s hard work, and prepare for the next mission, which is teaching full time. I hope to teach in a Title I school district with a Spanish dual-language program. The plan is to teach a couple of years and then get into administration or (becoming) a master teacher where I can help more students.

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

A: The cost to earn a higher education has become increasingly expensive over the last two decades. The day I gained the opportunity to attend ASU was the day that I learned I would not have to worry about finances. A few months prior, I began the process of applying for college. I was hopeful about being admitted, yet doubtful on whether I was going to be able to afford tuition. I rode the bus to the public library every week and checked off the items on the priority tasks list on My ASU. One weekend, I was at a college workshop presented by College Depot at the Burton Barr Library in Phoenix. During the workshop, the facilitator asked us to click on the Finances tab on My ASU. After clicking and scrolling down, I was in disbelief. I had received enough financial aid and scholarships to pay for all of my college expenses. I could not hold in the joy of being able to pursue my dreams. I excused myself out of the room, danced, cried and immediately called my parents. I could not wait to tell the world! Finances gave me access to higher education. If I had 40 million dollars or 10 dollars, I would fund educational expenses for as many people as possible; I would hope to fulfill someone’s dream. 

Top photo: Erika Martinez poses in front of the fountain outside of Old Main on the Tempe campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now