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ASU and Capital Scholars program spark career change for alumna

September 27, 2019

Jessica Salow was 27 when she started her undergraduate degree at Arizona State University, and she already had a number of years of experience as a paralegal prior to her first year in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

After taking history in a general elective course, Salow chose it as her major; she thought it would be the most beneficial to her paralegal work. It didn’t hurt that she had a passion for deep dives into historical topics. Jessica Salow ASU Capital Scholars Jessica Salow, an archives specialist at ASU Libraries in the Distinctive Collections department. Download Full Image

Adding political science as a minor was an accident, according to Salow. Her time at ASU (2007–2011) coincided with Barack Obama’s term as president of the United States. Salow said she became fascinated by him and his campaign and took courses to understand the theory behind it.

That's how Salow was introduced to the School of Politics and Global Studies and its Capital Scholars program. Still trying to figure out the next step in her career, Salow participated in the program that provides students with the chance to live and intern in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

“It changed my life on a level that is hard for me to explain,” Salow said. “Not only professionally but personally as well.”

It was Salow’s first time away from her family and husband for an extended period of time, as participants spend their entire summer in the nation’s capital. The transition wasn't easy, but luckily Salow had the support of new friends, like her roommate Mychael Clark.

“If it wasn’t for this program I would have never met Mychael and to think that she would not be in my life today if it wasn’t for this program makes it all the more special to me,” Salow said.

During her time in the program, Salow and the rest of the group got personalized tours of the State Department, the Treasury Department, the CIA and the Federal Reserve. According to Salow, these tours were special as they provided a chance to get an inside look into these historic institutions.

What she gained most from the program though was self-confidence, self-determination and everlasting friendships.

“I learned so much about myself and about the things in life that matter the most to me,” Salow said. “Every time I think about my experience and what it meant to me I begin to tear up because it was that profound.”

As a history major, Salow spent many days in the library doing research on projects. One of those projects was to study the Library of Congress collection of "Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936–1938."

“To say this collection had a profound impact on me is an understatement," she said.

After going over every possible narrative of the collection, Salow turned her research attention to collections available at ASU regarding the antebellum South and slavery in general.

“To hear the actual words from a slave who endured the plight of slavery living during the time these interviews happened fascinated me,” Salow said.

Looking back, Salow said this was the spark that got her interested in librarianship and archives in general. The idea of a career change was intimidating, but Salow had a newfound passion.

Salow is currently an archives specialist at ASU Libraries in the Distinctive Collections department where she assists with the implementation of an Andrew W. Mellon grant-funded project titled “Engaging, Educating, and Empowering: Developing Community-Driven Archival Collections”.

This three-year project was designed to build and expand community-driven collections, in an effort to preserve and improve Arizona’s archives and give voice to historically marginalized communities.

Outreach and the ability to share the stories of marginalized groups are Salow’s two favorite components to her position. She said it is important to show people in these communities that archival work and librarianship as a whole is a worthwhile profession for people of color.

Currently, Salow is in the process of relaunching the community-driven archives blog and working toward getting collections such as the Bj Bud Memorial Archives into classroom instruction here at ASU.

“This institution and particularly Tempe campus feel like home to me and will always have a huge place in my heart.”

Matt Oxford

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Politics and Global Studies


Scholarship funds student paleontology fieldwork

September 27, 2019

Kinesiology junior Cassaundra Gomez was sitting in BIO 102 last spring at Arizona State University’s Downtown Phoenix campus when she first learned about a unique opportunity.

Her anatomy and physiology lecturer Tonya Penkrot was telling students about a fieldwork trip over the summer in Bighorn Basin, Wyoming, that would give them hands-on experience in paleontology. Gomez poses next to a field work truck in Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. Gomez poses next to a fieldwork truck in Bighorn Basin, Wyoming. Download Full Image

“She mentioned it in class, and I was like, ‘I’m down. That sounds exciting,’” Gomez said.

When she signed up, Gomez said she didn’t really know what to expect from the trip, but that she ended up learning a lot and enjoyed the adventure.

“It’s really interesting to learn from (fossil mammals) because we’re mammals. You find lots of teeth and from that you can learn what their diet needs were like.”

Gomez doesn’t plan to go into paleontology, but she said the fieldwork was still insightful to her kinesiology studies.

“It further reinforces anatomical knowledge and gave me a better idea about bone structure,” Gomez said.

Gomez received financial support to go on the fieldwork trip by using the Scholarship Honoring Anatomy and Physiology Education and Research (SHAPER), which is funded from the royalties of the BIO 201 and 202 course lab manual fees.

Penkrot and fellow anatomy and physiology faculty members Jeff Kingsbury, senior lecturer, and J. P. Hyatt, associate professor, collaborated with then-lab manager Jennifer Legere to create a lab manual to better serve student learning and to build funds for a scholarship students can use for research, application fees, conference fees or other special educational opportunities in the realm of anatomy and physiology.

Penkrot wants to create opportunities like the ones she experienced when she was in school, because she knows what a big impact they can have on students.

“When I was an undergrad, my adviser knew I was interested and helped put me in contact with a person who knew another person who did fieldwork in Wyoming,” Penkrot said. “That simple act, it changed the course of my life.”

That person ended up becoming Penkrot’s thesis adviser, Kenneth D. Rose, emeritus faculty at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, who still organizes that same fieldwork trip annually. Once participants arrive in Wyoming, his group sets up a campsite from which they go out each day to various localities to look for fossil mammals.

“I thought there would be a lot of digging, but really you just walk around and look on the ground," Gomez recounted of their daily activities. “Everyone usually thinks paleontology is dinosaurs, but we’re actually looking at mammals.”

At the end of the day, participants return to camp and compare what they found with each other, then carefully package up the fossils to be transported to Rose’s lab, or to the Denver Museum of Natural History for permanent cataloguing and housing.

Penkrot said studying fossils is important to better understand how things have evolved, and she hopes that experiences like this help students see the value in natural resources.

“I hope that students will get an appreciation and a sense for why it is so important to preserve and protect all natural resources, not just those that have a dollar value attached to them. Places like the Bighorn Basin represent irreplaceable records of a part of the history of life on Earth, and deserve to be studied, protected and managed responsibly,” Penkrot said.

Gomez is appreciative of the opportunity and highly recommends the trip to her fellow classmates. 

“It was definitely a great experience,” Gomez said. “I would do it again if I could.”

Kelley Karnes

Marketing Content Specialist, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


ASU alumna’s interdisciplinary path leads to military career

September 26, 2019

During her senior year of high school, with an appointment to West Point, Katie Richardson thought her plans were set. However, a severe concussion that year quickly changed those plans. With her family’s history in the military, Richardson knew that when she made a last minute decision to enroll at Arizona State University and its Army ROTC program, she was making a decision she would not regret.

“My grandfather was a two-star general, my dad was a Marine and undercover narcotics detective, and my brother was a Marine rescue swimmer and now is a deputy U.S. marshal. Service is in my blood,” Richardson said. ASU alumna Katie Richardson Katie Richardson. Download Full Image

Starting out with as a psychology major in Barrett, The Honors College, Richardson decided to register for Political Ideology taught by Tara Lennon, a senior lecturer in the School of Politics and Global Studies (SPGS).

“Understanding the foundations of how people think politically really interested me, especially since I was already majoring in psychology. Plus, Dr. Lennon rocks,” Richardson said.

It was in this class where Richardson decided to add another major onto her plate: political science.

“ASU is a major institution but it is filled with opportunities for students to follow their unique passion. SPGS was the cornerstone of those opportunities for me,” Richardson said.

It was through the school, which is an academic unit of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, where Richardson found professors, leaders and mentors who truly cared about her education and future.

“Working on my honors theses with Professor Daniel Rothenberg as my adviser really challenged me to deep dive into an area that interested me and was a cross-section of my dual major,” Richardson said.

As a junior, Richardson was selected for the Policy Design Studio and Internship Program, which is supported by the McCain Institute for International Leadership in Washington, D.C. The internship placements span a variety of interests, including the White House, Congress, courts government agencies, lobbying and consulting firms, advocacy groups, media outlets, museums, think tanks and nonprofit organizations.

“We spent one day a week at the McCain Institute learning about different entities of the government, policy research and working on a final policy recommendation presentation. The rest of the week we all completed separate internships across Washington, D.C.,” Richardson said.

Richardson interned with New America, a D.C.-based think tank with a unique partnership with the Center on the Future of War at ASU. She worked with Peter Bergen, co-director for the Center on the Future of War and senior fellow at New America, and the New America International Security Program team on research projects about national defense and international conflicts. Richardson also supported many panels and events, including the first Annual Future of War Conference, now the Future Security Forum.

“Being able to intern for the McCain Institute and New America really opened my eyes to all the opportunities available for someone studying within SPGS,” Richardson explained.

Richardson graduated summa cum laude from Barrett, The Honors College with a BA in political science and a BS in psychology, a degree combination she says aptly prepared her to thrive in her roles in the military.

“My political science studies made me more aware of the complex and ever-changing world that could require military interventions. My psychology studies prepared me to be responsible for soldiers, their well-being and their family’s well-being, which made me a more aware person and leader,” Richardson said.

After graduation, Richardson moved to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where she has been stationed on active duty. She was deployed to Afghanistan in 2019, where she supported special operations units in combat operations.

Reflecting on her future in the military, Richardson said, “I want to continue my service to the nation, whether that is in the U.S. military full-time or in another capacity. Leading those who chose to serve as well will always be a defining career goal for me.”

She credits ASU for her preparedness for life after college.

“I feel proud to tell people I am an Arizona State alumna because ASU produces graduates who uphold the university’s reputation of excellence, innovation and success.”

Center Coordinator, School of Politics and Global Studies


Five trailblazing Sun Devils recognized for National Hispanic Heritage Month

September 24, 2019

This month, five former ASU faculty and staff and Valley leaders are being recognized for their outstanding contributions to the Hispanic and Latino community in Arizona. The honorees were featured in a video that debuted during the Sept. 21 ASU football game before thousands of fans at Sun Devil Stadium. 

“This year’s honorees for Hispanic and LatinxLatinx is a gender-neutral term for Latino and Latina. Heritage Month embody the long and proud history of their community at ASU," said Edmundo Hidalgo, vice president of outreach with Educational Outreach and Student Services at ASU. "They embody everything Sun Devils are dedicated to: scholarship, excellence and dedication to improving our local community. We’re thrilled to shine a light on their amazing work during this heritage celebration.”

Edward Delci holds a portrait of his late wife, Virginia Pesqueira, in front of Old Main at ASU's Tempe campus Edward Delci holds a portrait of his late wife, Virginia Pesqueira, in front of Old Main at ASU's Tempe campus. They were two of the honorees for National Hispanic Heritage Month at ASU. Download Full Image

National Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

The 2019 honorees:

Cordelia Chávez Candelaria earned her undergraduate degree from Fort Lewis College and her master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Notre Dame. During her academic career, she earned many grants and awards for scholarship on transborder issues and women’s history, and ultimately was named a Regents Professor, the highest faculty honor awarded at ASU. Additionally, Candelaria’s leadership experience included service as associate dean and vice provost at ASU and an appointment to the board of directors for the National Council of La Raza. She is the recipient of many honors in recognition of her exemplary scholarship, including the Outstanding Latina Cultural Award in Literary Arts and publications from the American Association for Higher Education Hispanic Caucus.

Edward Delci was born in Mesa and was the first in his family to attend college, graduating with a degree in Spanish and a minor in Latin American studies from Arizona State University. He served in the Peace Corps in Ecuador and Peru before earning his master’s degree in social work at ASU and working as a director of minority recruitment at the university. He and his late wife, Virginia Pesqueira, have been involved in civic engagement and advocacy for migrant and immigrant communities in the state. Delci served as the faculty adviser to ASU’s MEChA club and as a registrar of voters and has been recognized for his leadership with the CLFSA Cesar E. Chavez Community Service Award, the Los Abogados Community Leadership Award and many more. 

Virginia Pesqueira was a well-known and respected educator, professor and teacher, with expertise in bilingual education, reading and multicultural studies. Born in Tucson, she had big dreams of attending college and earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Arizona before earning her master’s degree and doctorate at Arizona State University. Through her dedication to education, she helped launch and further programs such as the Chicano Studies Department at ASU (now called the School of Transborder Studies), the Hispanic Mother Daughter Program, Los Diablos, MEChA and more. Pesqueria passed away after a battle with ovarian cancer in 2016.

Christine Marin earned her doctorate from ASU and is the founder of the prestigious Chicano/a Research Collection and Archives at Hayden Library. She is an expert in Southwest and 20th century Mexican American history. Among many other scholarly and community distinctions, Marin was awarded the Outstanding Faculty Award during her time at ASU for her teaching on transborder studies and women’s studies. Marin is a proud native of the copper mining community of Globe, Arizona. She is presently researching the history and stories of African American women in Globe and Miami, Arizona. 

Miguel Montiel, a native of Nogales, Arizona, retired in 2008 as the recipient of the Motorola Presidential Professorship on Community Revitalization at the Arizona State University Department of Chicana/o Studies (now known as the School of Transborder Studies). He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona, his master’s degree from Arizona State University and his doctorate in social welfare from the University of California, Berkeley. His career in academia and the community has included service and scholarship related to youth programming, dropout prevention, labor, human services, chronic disease and collaborative scholarship on diversity, community globalization and much more. He is currently collaborating on an oral history project on Mexican immigration with his wife, Yvonne Montiel.

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


The curious case of Vanessa Kubota: Spiritual journey leads to ‘magical place’ at ASU Law

September 20, 2019

In his 1985 Sports Illustrated article “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch,” author George Plimpton revealed the stunning story of a New York Mets prospect who was a Harvard dropout, spoke 10 languages, was a maestro on the French horn, and had studied with a Tibetan lama to learn how to throw an unfathomable 168 mph fastball.

It seemed too incredible to be true. And, in fact, it was. The article was merely an elaborate April Fools Day hoax, timed to an April 1 publication date. There’s no such thing as a Sidd Finch, as any reader should have realized. photo of Vanessa Kubota In partnership with the Zen Law Students Association, a Tibetan lama teaches a meditation exercise with Vanessa Kubota, a second-year law student at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Download Full Image

Or is there?

Meet Vanessa Kubota, a second-year law student at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. She doesn’t play baseball or the French horn. But languages? Yes, she speaks a few. And she’s learned a thing or two from Tibetan monks.

“I had hippie parents, total hippie parents,” the Southern California native said. “They were all into yoga and meditation, so I grew up exposed to Tibetan monks and surrounded by them since I was a baby.”

Her parents attended yoga and meditation classes with the monks and would bring Kubota with them. It developed into an extended family, and when Kubota’s father passed away when she was just 11 years old, a Tibetan lama took her under his wing.

“He treated me like a daughter, and he would teach me meditation and about his culture,” she said.

Kubota had already been exposed to the Tibetan language enough to speak it, so the lama began speaking to her only in Tibetan.

“That really inspired me when I learned about his struggles and the escape from Tibet, and just how hard it was for them to lose their country,” she said. “And that got me really interested in the language. It’s a very beautiful language. There’s a lot of culture and a lot of poetry, and it’s unlike any other language I’ve learned.”

photo of Vanessa Kubota

Vanessa Kubota, JD candidate, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. 

Kubota attended UC-Santa Barbara as an undergrad, majoring in religious studies with a specialization in south Asian religion and languages. After graduating, she got a Fulbright scholarship to attend the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies — an accredited university in north India. All the courses were taught in Tibetan or Hindi, but having spent numerous summers studying at monasteries in India and Nepal, Kubota was fluent enough to be the first American enrolled as a full-time student.

It was there that she further honed her Tibetan — with lessons she learned outside the classroom.

“My best language teachers were the Tibetan girls in the dormitory,” she said. “They would talk super fast in this sing-songy cadence — I call it Tibetan valley-girl speak. And compared to them, I sounded too stuffy. So living with them, I learned to speak in a more relaxed and informal way, how the girls really talk. And now when Tibetan speakers hear me, they tell me that if they didn’t see my face, they would have assumed I was a Tibetan girl.”

Kubota will be the first to admit that she doesn’t look like the typical Tibetan speaker.

“It’s funny because I’m a pale-skinned, half-Russian redhead, so it’s funny to see people’s reaction,” she said.

In fact, one time when she was on a group trip in Tibet and China, she played coy and utilized the deception that her looks provide.

“At first I pretended I didn’t speak any Tibetan, and the tour guides were saying some crude things about American tourists. Then in the middle of the trip, I just started bursting into fluent Tibetan and the tour guides nearly fainted,” she said with a laugh. “And then they thought I was some type of spy, so I had to tell them, ‘No, I was just messing with you.’”

She had been planning to pursue a PhD, but she began working as a translator with a nonprofit organization founded by the former deputy secretary of the Dalai Lama.

“Because there are so few people who speak Tibetan, I stayed in that position after my Fulbright,” she said. “And that’s basically what I did until I went to law school.”

In addition to English and Tibetan, she also speaks some Hindi and Mandarin, and can read Sanskrit.

“I’m kind of a nerd — I love languages,” she said.

Inspired to attend law school

With the nonprofit, she did a lot of translation work for Tibetan refugees seeking asylum, green cards or citizenship in the United States. And that gave her a fresh perspective and newfound appreciation of her own freedoms.

“Working with these lamas who come from a completely different world, and seeing how much they appreciate the U.S. Constitution and what it stands for, how they revere the freedoms we take for granted, it’s like you start looking at it again with fresh, unjaded eyes,” she said. “They want to come to America because they know it represents freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and seeing the joy and gratefulness they have for the fundamental principles underlying our Constitution — it really brought me back to the Declaration of Independence and what our country really stands for.”

In fact, it served as motivation to do more.

“I specifically remember translating for a Tibetan man in court one time, and I felt like the whole case was based on a cultural misunderstanding, but he was pro se and didn’t know that he could articulate this. And I thought, if only I wasn't just his translator — if only I could actually speak on his behalf and offer another perspective to the court. And that was kind of a turning point where I realized the limitations of just being a translator. That’s when I knew I wanted to be more of an advocate than just a translator.”

But that was not the only reason she came to law school.

“I came to the study of law because the law saved my life.”

While working as a translator for the nonprofit, she got married and had two daughters. It was what followed that really awakened in her a deep appreciation for the law.

“Without going into detail, basically, I found myself the victim of domestic violence,” she said. “I tried to save the marriage, but it got to a point where I knew I had to protect my daughters and myself, so I literally fled with one suitcase and my two girls, and we had to start over from scratch. It was a terrifying and sobering time.”  

"I remember how scary it was to be at the mercy of the legal system and not know how to present my case in the language of the law, and it really is like learning another language,” she said. “And I remember how grateful I was when this woman, this attorney, took me under her wing and helped me obtain a restraining order. I was granted sole and full custody of my girls. And I feel like the law saved our lives. And every day I sit in class and I feel so grateful to be here. I feel like the law is continuing to save my life, because it has given my life meaning. And my girls are safe now, and happy. They are proud to see their mom in law school. I hope it teaches them that a woman can do anything, that she’s not weak, that she can stand up for her children and do what is right.”

Finding a home at ASU Law

“When I visited ASU, the first thing I noticed was how kind everyone seemed and how warm and humble and just, I don't know, there was a presence at ASU that you don't feel in other university settings,” she said. “It feels like you are among true scholars. There's no pretentiousness. There are all these brilliant people and they're really just there because they share this love of the law and of jurisprudence. And they are kind to one another. And I was really touched by how welcomed I felt.”

Having been introduced to mediation through Tibetan monks, she approached Professor Art Hinshaw, founding director of ASU Law’s Lodestar Dispute Resolution Center. The monks had conducted human issues mediation — for people seeking help with divorces, marital issues, business deals and the like — as opposed to legal mediation, but she thought they had valuable advice they could share with the law school’s ADR community.

photo of mediation clinic

Vanessa Kubota (at right) speaks at the Mediation Clinic's Justice Court with Art Hinshaw (at left), professor and founding director of ASU Law’s Lodestar Dispute Resolution Center.

“She had the relationships and she came to me, asking if we could bring the lamas to the law school,” Hinshaw said. “And I thought, ‘When is something like this going to present itself again? Let’s do it!’ So we made it happen in about six weeks, and it was pretty hectic with all the planning, but it was totally worth it.”

The monks came for a series of events, speaking to Hinshaw’s mediation clinic, at a faculty event, a student event and even for a guided meditation. And Kubota served as the interpreter.

“It was amazing,” Hinshaw said. “To see Tibetan monks and their traditional clothing walking around a law school. It was definitely one of the highlights of my career. The juxtaposition of spirituality and the importance of individuals working together with the stereotypes of the legal world, where only the law counts and human issues don’t matter struck me as the quintessential learning moment.”

In just a little over a year, Kubota has left an indelible mark at ASU Law, founding a pair of student groups: The Dispute Resolution Student Association (co-founded with Oumou Keita and Erliana Thio), and the Zen Law Students Association (co-founded with Alexa Weber), the latter of which gathers law students and lawyers to practice mindfulness together. It’s not your everyday law school group. In fact, it sounds like something out of Sidd Finch lore. But sometimes there is real magic in the world. Just ask Kubota.

“ASU Law is just … it's a special place,” she said. “It's a magical place.”

Nicole Almond Anderson

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


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Summer as an intern in Los Angeles

September 18, 2019

How one ASU student and one recent graduate advanced their career goals

Alisa Murphy savored her taste of working in the entertainment industry during an internship this summer with Terence Patrick, photographer for James Corden’s “The Late Late Show” in Los Angeles.

Murphy, a graduate student in Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, earned the internship after reaching out to Patrick on Instagram. She experienced her biggest “aha!” moment while visiting Patrick’s workspace at CBS with the “Late Late Show” on summer hiatus. During her visit to the studio, she met staff members and saw the green room and main stage.

“I watch the ‘Late Late Show’ almost every night, so being there backstage and seeing where Terence works and where the ‘Late Late Show’ is filmed was really incredible!” she said. “That will definitely be a day I won’t forget!”

The rest of her days were spent assisting Patrick by registering his photographs to be copyrighted, attending client meetings and learning about his career and various photography projects.

“I am trying to take baby steps in various ways in order to gain more experience in the entertainment industry, and this internship is one of those steps,” she said. “These conversations have led to him telling me valuable tips and advice about photography and entertainment. He may be my boss, but I also see him as a great mentor as well.”

Reporting on national stories

ASU alum Ethan Miller works in the LA office of the Wall Street Journal

Ethan Millman works with Wall Street Journal Los Angeles Bureau Chief Ethan Smith to edit a story during Millman’s internship with the Wall Street Journal. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU

Working with The Wall Street Journal gave Ethan Millman a firsthand glimpse at how one of the nation's top newspapers operates.

“It’s allowed me to see up close how some of the greatest journalists in the country do their jobs,” he said.

As a business reporting intern in Los Angeles, Millman’s days were filled with learning the ins and outs of The Wall Street Journal, including the newspaper’s reporting and writing styles. 

“It’s pushed me to think far more analytically than I ever have for finding stories,” he said. “There have been lots of aha moments toward even basic reporting skills I’ve been refining for the past few years.”

Millman, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Cronkite School, previously interned at the Los Angeles Times and the Denver Post covering various business issues. This summer he wrote about a variety of topics, including the California earthquakes.

“What’s so great about the day of a reporter is that it’s never certain what the next day has in store,” he said.

The WSJ mentors have not only provided guidance but have been “invaluable to my development as a young journalist” and have encouraged Millman in both his reporting and writing abilities.

“I have so many mentors here who supply endless advice and insight into my work, which has pushed me every day to find new ways to produce the best work I can,” he said. 

Millman plans to utilize his skills to continue to “tell unique, moving stories that make change, properly inform readers and show them something about the world they hadn’t seen before.”

Written by Ellen Chang, who has been a contributing writer for U.S. News & World Report since 2018. This story originally appeared in the fall 2019 issue of ASU Thrive magazine. 

Top photo: Alisa Murphy spent her summer as an intern for Terence Patrick, photographer for James Corden’s “The Late Late Show” in Los Angeles. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU

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Survival, resilience and rediscovery

September 18, 2019

Naruro Hassan’s extraordinary journey led her from war-torn Somalia to ASU

Naruro Hassan took a seat among 10 other undergraduate research fellows in John Carlson’s “Inquiry into Religion and Conflict” course one sweltering morning in August 2017, a student like all others who qualified for the program, but also a student unlike any other in class. Carlson, interim director of Arizona State University’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, recalls Hassan’s colorful hijab, bright red lipstick and Converse sneakers peeking out from the rim of her floor-length skirt. Maria Dooling, one of the fellows, remembers her booming voice, commanding attention.

“When she speaks, everyone really listens,” said Dooling, who is graduating in December with degrees in biochemistry and political science. “It’s like she was born to lead.”

Hassan (pictured above, left) is a refugee with an extraordinary story of survival, resilience and rediscovery that began in war-torn Somalia and, after long, trying chapters in a remote refugee camp in Kenya, is unfolding at ASU, where her academic pursuits are as ambitious as the goal she has set for herself. She is majoring in history, minoring in philosophy and African studies, and has pursued certificates in religion and conflict and in political thought and leadership, with eyes on becoming a human rights lawyer. As a student researcher, she assisted Carlson with his justice book project and is working with ASU Professor Keon McGuire on his research project, “The Lived Experiences of Black Muslim Students Attending Predominantly White Institutions.” 

Drawing from her refugee experiences, Hassan also works with the Humanitarian African Relief Organization, one of the largest groups aiding refugees and displaced people in Africa.

“You dream about who you want to be, what you want to do, but you don’t know if any of it is possible,” she said about life at the refugee camp in Kenya. “You wonder, ‘Is this opportunity ever going to be available to me? Am I ever going to leave this place?’

“There were a lot of other kids at camp who were smarter than me, who wanted to change the world for the better, but who didn’t have this opportunity. I have this opportunity. Now I have to honor my blessings. I want to be the voice for people who are marginalized, for the people who are left behind.”

Students work at tables in a classroom

Naruro Hassan (right) and Maria Dooling take notes during their religion and conflict class at ASU. “When she speaks, everyone really listens,” Dooling says of Hassan. “It’s like she was born to lead.” Photo by Houseblend

Hassan was 16 when she arrived in Phoenix on June 11, 2014, 11 years after she was separated from her parents and older sister and brother during their desperate escape from the Somali capital of Mogadishu. She had no idea where they were or even if they were alive. “I just kept hoping that I would see them someday,” she said.

The Somali Civil War erupted when Mohammed Siad Barre, a dictator who had ruled the Somali Democratic Republic for 22 years, was forced to flee in 1991 after rival militia groups took control of Mogadishu and unleashed a deadly and destructive struggle for power. A 2017 report by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees indicates that more than 2 million people have been displaced by the bloody conflict, including about 800,000 living as refugees in Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 47,000 Somalis came to the U.S. as refugees between 2010 and 2016. Hassan, now 21, is one of them. Her family witnessed the horrors befalling their neighbors and sensed the violence creeping closer to them. That, Hassan says, is why they escaped. In the chaos, she became disconnected from her family. She was 5 and ended up accompanying friends on the arduous journey to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in the impoverished northwest corner of Kenya, near the country’s borders with Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia. She spent the next 10 years there.

Kakuma was established in 1992 to house the young refugees known as the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” By the time Hassan arrived, it was home to more than 100,000 refugees and asylum seekers from Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. She says the camp represented “immense human suffering ... always dusty, always hot.” There were no paved roads, no hospitals and no buildings other than houses made of mud, and hours-long waits for food that often wasn’t enough for everyone.

What Hassan had was a sense of gratitude for being alive. She cobbled together a family of sorts from the friends she had accompanied to Kakuma and the children she met there, savoring little things like playing soccer with friends and eating together. At school, she learned English and Swahili, Kenya’s lingua franca, and also math and science, even though there were no books. She discovered her passion and skill for debate at Kakuma, while discussing with other young refugees the messy politics of their home countries.

She longed for a bigger platform to learn and share her experiences as a refugee, even though she knew that the odds of leaving the camp were stacked against her. But the experience galvanized her.

“I was somebody who didn’t have a country,” Hassan said, “and I thought, ‘I’m not going to be dehumanized again. I have to fight back.’”

Then she caught the luckiest of breaks.

A mother and daughter hold hands and smile at each other

Naruro Hassan (right), greets her mother, Zahara Omar. They were reunited in 2014, 11 years after violence in Somalia separated the family. Photos by Houseblend

Her mother, Zahara Omar, who had by then been resettled in Phoenix and become a U.S. citizen, never stopped searching for Naruro. She finally found her youngest child after traveling to Kenya and sponsored her to come to Arizona. Naruro joined her sister, Nafiso, a nurse, and her brother, Mohamed, who is studying computer engineering at ASU, in the apartment the family shares in northeast Phoenix.

Hassan enrolled at Camelback High School as a junior and found herself educating classmates who seemed to know little about where she had come from — “Is Africa a country?” one of them asked — while learning new things from new people she met, including one of her best friends, who was born in Mexico. She also became aware that her skin color and religion not only set her apart, but also made her a target.

“In the U.S., I have so many identities in me that are marginalized,” Hassan said. “Being black is marginalized here. Being Muslim is marginalized. Being a woman, a refugee. I’m someone that shouldn’t be here, who doesn’t belong.”

RELATED: Education for Humanity takes leadership role in refugee education

Hassan credits her opportunities at ASU with broadening her perspectives and shaping her activism. 

“She’s someone who has lived a very unique set of experiences and can articulate in very concrete terms that these are not an abstraction, that this is what it means to live in a war-ravaged country, this is what it means to be separated from your family because whole populations have been forced out of your country and into refugee camps,” Carlson said.

Hassan is a co-founder and vice president of the Somali Student Association at ASU and the outreach director for Voices of Empathy, a student-led group that she helped start to advocate for the rights of immigrants, women and workers. Through a series of speaking engagements and internships — she has taught English and computer classes to refugees, organized voter registration drives and spoken at Ignite, a TED-style event on campus — Hassan has crystalized her role as an agent of change.

“I’m going to fight for refugees and I’m also going to fight for black people, for Native Americans, for Mexicans, Latinos,” she said. “Because we’re all interconnected. Our freedom, our justice, it’s all interconnected. I can’t be selfish. We have to look out for each other.”

Written by Fernanda Santos, who joined ASU’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication after 12 years at The New York Times. This story originally appeared in the fall 2019 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

Top photo: Naruro Hassan (left) with her sister, Nafiso (right), and their friend, Hafsa Omar, at Papago Park in Tempe. Photo by Houseblend

TRIO programs set high schoolers and Sun Devils up for success

September 13, 2019

As the fall semester clicks along, some Arizona State University students are reflecting on everything it took to get to college and what it will take to make it to graduation day.

Chacoby Catarino Willis is a first-year student at ASU’s Polytechnic campus studying applied biological sciences. After experiencing some setbacks in high school, the first-generation student said they are thrilled to start at ASU studying something they enjoy (Willis uses the pronoun “they”). TRIO Upward Bound students pose in their graduation gowns in a spring 2019 celebration at ASU in Tempe TRIO Upward Bound students at a spring 2019 graduation ceremony at ASU's Tempe campus. Download Full Image

“I have changed tremendously with the help of my friends, teachers, family and Upward Bound,” Willis said.

Willis, who attended Maryvale High School in the Phoenix Union High School District, is an alum of Upward Bound Tempe, part of the federally funded TRIO programs that help motivate and support first-generation students, low-income students, students with disabilities and veterans to prepare for and achieve earning a college degree.

Going to college wasn’t always a given for Willis, who thought about joining the military to escape difficulty at home and struggled with mental health. They worried about affording college and living on campus. Now they have moved into a residence hall and are looking forward to the independence and new experiences that come along with it. Willis said Upward Bound helped to carve a path to college and prepare for what’s ahead. 

“The summer program that they offer that I did for three summers helped me get a grasp on how to time manage and manage my money and also grasp how hard college will be,” Willis said. “I will say now that I’m prepared to deal and go to college now because of those summer programs.” 

Upward Bound Tempe, which works with 147 high school students and is one of the oldest continually funded Upward Bound programs in the country (it’s been at ASU’s Tempe campus since 1966), is just one of the 10 TRIO and GEAR UP programs at ASU; five serve pre-college students and five serve current ASU students. 

Talent Search, GEAR UP, Upward Bound Tempe and Upward Bound West serve high school students, while Student Support Services serves current ASU students and Veterans Upward Bound serves veterans, who are pre-college and current students. The programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Participants receive academic support and preparation, financial literacy education, assistance with the FAFSA, tutoring, professional development, education on financial aid and scholarships and much more. 

The impact that the programs are having is a ripple effect in access to higher education in Arizona at a time when the first-generation student population is growing and when incoming classes are becoming more diverse each year. According to a recent report on TRIO and GEAR UP’s impact, in the 2018–19 academic year alone, the pre-college programs at ASU reached 2,092 students. College programs reached more than 820 Sun Devils with mentoring and skill building. And 140 veterans were served in Maricopa and northern Pinal counties. 

Of the pre-college students served, 100% of Talent Search and Upward Bound West students and 99% of Upward Bound Tempe students went on to earn their high school diplomas. The rates of persistence and good academic standing were above 90% for each Student Support Services program.

Sylvia Symonds, associate vice president of outreach for ASU’s Educational Outreach and Student Services, said the impact of these programs on access to higher education is significant.

“By supporting high school and college students, as well as veterans, TRIO and GEAR UP programs are helping Arizona move closer toward our Achieve60AZ goal of increasing postsecondary attainment. Our statewide goal is that by 2030, 60% of Arizona adults will hold a postsecondary credential or degree. These programs and others like them will help ensure our state has a thriving workforce and economy.” 

Sun Devils such as Travis Luck, a U.S. Navy veteran now studying technological entrepreneurship and management, know firsthand how much TRIO affects whether students have the tools and support they need to overcome barriers and get to graduation.

Luck, who is originally from New Knoxville, Ohio, said Veterans Upward Bound not only solidified his math skills ahead of attending ASU but provided a sense of community.  

“The program has given me confidence by showing that there are many resources that I can use and people that I can count on if I ever find myself struggling in a particular class. It has also introduced me to many like-minded individuals who are in the same sort of position as myself. It brings me solace to know that I’m not the only one who is catching up.”

For Jennifer Dueñas, who is majoring in pharmacology and toxicology, the TRIO Student Support Services STEM program at ASU’s West campus meant help with books, supplies and what she considers a campus family. The STEM program offers support specifically to students who are pursuing science, technology, engineering and math.

“TRIO STEM has been a tremendous help in not only providing me resources that I need and would have difficulties acquiring on my own such as books and supplies, but this program has also given me a family on campus formed of … students coming from backgrounds just as diverse and unique as mine. I receive mentorship from my own peers as well as the staff in the program who do all they can to support all their students; their work is truly remarkable,” she said.

The program has also helped Dueñas get a head start on her professional career because of connections with leaders in her industry and guidance on postgraduate work and other opportunities.

“Without my involvement in this program, I dare to say I would be nowhere near as invested in my future as I am now because through this program I gained clarity over what it is that I want to do and how exactly I plan to achieve that,” she said.

Sharon Smith, dean of students at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, said that she takes great pride in the effects these programs have on students’ lives.

“The TRIO and GEAR UP programs’ impact on Arizona students is tremendous,” said Smith.

“By providing necessary academic, personal development and career preparation tools to enroll and complete postsecondary education, these programs not only change the trajectory of a student’s life but also the family’s legacy.” 

 Sun Devil Storyteller Austin Davis contributed to this article. 

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


ASU's wind bands 2019-20 season celebrates community

September 13, 2019

The ASU School of Music wind bands 2019-20 concert season features band classics, chamber works, new compositions and collaborations that celebrate and cultivate community through music.

“I am excited about our upcoming season that aims to build community through wind band music,” said Jason Caslor, associate professor in the ASU School of Music and director of wind ensembles. “We will offer over 10 concerts throughout the Valley and share the stage with, among other groups, the ASU Gospel Choir, the Tempe Winds and the ASU Sun Devil Marching Band. We will also collaborate with guest artists Joe Burgstaller, J. Smith, Christopher Creviston, Joshua Gardner, James Hudson and more.” wind bands ASU wind bands students Download Full Image

Season highlights include the opening concert on Sept. 19, “Sousapalooza,” inspired by the Golden Age of Bands and the likes of John Philip Sousa, Patrick Gilmore and Edwin Franko Goldman. “It’s Just Band!” on Oct. 10 celebrates all things band with a trailblazing concert that includes all three concert bands and a special appearance by the ASU Sun Devil Marching Band.

“It is really exciting for our program that the Sun Devil Marching Band has been invited back to perform with the ASU concert bands by Dr. Caslor,” said James Hudson, director of ASU’s athletic bands and professor of practice. “We are thrilled to perform highlights from our pregame show as well as our longstanding game day hits.”

Other highlights of the season include David Maslanka’s seminal work “A Child’s Garden of Dreams,” which focuses on how youth interact with the world and how the world impacts them. ASU Gammage comes alive when the ASU Wind Symphony, under the guidance of Elliott Tackitt, share a concert with the Tempe Winds and solo performances from ASU doctoral student Katrina Clements (clarinet) and undergraduate student Nathan Salazar (soprano saxophone), co-winners of the 2019 ASU School of Music Concerto Competition. The season closes on April 15 with “Pop Fiction,” an evening of music inspired by “Seinfeld,” “American Pie” and “Saturday Night Live.”

The ASU School of Music wind band program includes the Chamber Winds, Wind Ensemble, Wind Symphony and the Concert Band.

The ASU wind bands are under new leadership this fall with Caslor at the helm. Tackitt joins the school as instructor of wind band conducting and conducts the ASU Wind Symphony.

Tickets are available through the ASU Gammage box office, with free admission to some concerts as noted. General admission tickets are $12.50 at the box office; additional fees apply for online advance purchase. Free ASU student, Herberger Institute faculty and Arizona band director tickets are available.

ASU Wind Bands 2019-20 Season

ASU Wind Ensemble and ASU Wind Symphony
Jason Caslor and Elliott Tackitt, conductors
7:30 p.m. Sept. 19, ASU Gammage, Free 

A night of marches and virtuosic solos featuring ASU faculty members Joe Burgstaller, trumpet, J. Smith, percussion, and James Hudson.

“It's Just Band!”
ASU's Wind Ensemble, Wind Symphony, Concert Band and Sun Devil Marching Band
Jason Caslor, Elliott Tackitt, Bruce Mansfield, Dylan Suehiro and James Hudson, conductors
7:30 p.m. Oct. 10, ASU Gammage, Ticketed                

“A Child’s Garden of Dreams”
ASU Wind Ensemble
Jason Caslor, conductor
7:30 p.m. Nov. 4, ASU Gammage, Ticketed                                   

Graduate Conducting Concert
ASU Wind Ensemble
Malcolm Jones and Justin Hubbard, conductors
7:30 p.m. Nov. 25, ASU Gammage, Free

“Community Connections”
ASU Wind Symphony and Tempe Winds
Elliott Tackitt, Malcolm Jones and Michael Willson, conductors
7:30 p.m. Nov. 26, ASU Gammage, Ticketed      

Katrina Clements, winner of the 2019 ASU School of Music Concerto Competition, joins the ASU Wind Symphony to perform Oscar Navarro's "Clarinet Concerto No. 2."

Tuesday Morning Music and Tea Series
ASU Chamber Winds
10:30 a.m. Dec. 3, ASU Kerr Cultural Center
Free admission, reservations

ASU Concert Band and Philharmonia
7:30 p.m. Dec. 5
ASU Gammage, Free

ASU Wind Ensemble and ASU Wind Symphony
Jason Caslor, Elliott Tackitt and Justin Hubbard, conductors
7:30 p.m. Feb. 5, ASU Gammage, Ticketed

Nathan Salazar, co-winner of the 2019 ASU School of Music Concerto Competition, joins the ASU Wind Ensemble to perform John Mackey’s “Soprano Saxophone Concerto.”

ASU Wind Symphony and ASU Concert Band
Elliott Tackitt, conductor
7:30 p.m. Feb. 27, ASU Gammage, Free

North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial National Conference
Wind Ensemble and Chamber Orchestra
Jason Caslor and Jeffery Meyer, conductors
7:30 p.m. March 6, Mesa Arts Center, Ticketed

The ASU Wind Ensemble welcomes saxophonists from around the world to perform at this prestigious gathering at the Mesa Arts Center.

“Pop Fiction”
ASU Wind Ensemble and ASU Wind Symphony
Jason Caslor and Elliott Tackitt, conductors
7:30 p.m. April 15, ASU Gammage, Ticketed

ASU Concert Band and Philharmonia
7:30 p.m. April 28, ASU Gammage, Free

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music


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Ranked No. 10 for 'undergraduate teaching,' ASU offers new ways to learn

ASU innovations lead to high ranking for 'undergraduate learning'
September 12, 2019

Adaptive learning, research opportunities enhance education experience

In the spring semester, a group of undergraduate students at Arizona State University worked on a way to convert internet text to braille for visually impaired children in Africa.

Another group researched flu virus mutations on the Tempe campus.

One student studied the effects of gentrification in a Phoenix neighborhood.

And an engineering team invented a new kind of hospital bed that reduces the risk of pressure ulcers for patients.

Undergraduate students at ASU have a vast array of opportunities to work on real-world research and project-based learning that not only helps the community but also prepares them for careers.

A commitment to providing undergraduate research opportunities is just one example of the ASU faculty’s focus on undergraduate education. This year, that commitment is reflected in ASU’s ranking as 10th in the nation for “undergraduate teaching” for 2020 by U.S. News and World Report.

The “undergraduate teaching” category is based on surveys of college presidents, provosts and admissions deans by the magazine, whose rankings were released Monday. The top 10 on the list are: Princeton University, Elon University, Brown University, Georgia State University, College of William and Mary, Dartmouth College, Boston College, Miami University - Oxford, Rice University and ASU. Among public schools, ASU ranked fourth.

U.S. News and World Report has also named ASU as the most innovative university all five years the category has existed, as well as No. 9 in the nation for “first-year experience.’ The widely publicized annual rankings compare more than 1,500 institutions on a variety of metrics.

ASU has worked to enhance the undergraduate learning experience in many ways, including making study abroad easier and incorporating service learning into degree programs. While by no means a comprehensive list, here are some ways that ASU excels at undergraduate teaching:

Undergraduate research

ASU uses the “Handshake” platform to connect undergraduates to research opportunities, some of which are offered for credit and some of which are paid. Students can develop relationships with professors as they collaborate on projects in nearly every school at the university.

Project-based learning

A hands-on, collaborative project makes course content relevant, and ASU has several opportunities for students to team up and learn this way. ProMod combines two or three courses into one project, such as creating evidence-based treatment for low back pain or “Make a Difference,” in which students learn about social issues and come up with a solution. Engineering Projects in Community Service, or EPICS, is a program in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering in which students work with industry mentors on a real-world problem to help a school or nonprofit organization.

Adaptive learning and BioSpine

Academic performance is key to persistence. Students who earn a GPA of 2.5 or lower in their first year are at increased risk of not returning. So ASU has embraced adaptive learning in “gateway” courses such as algebra, psychology and history. In this personalized model of education, students learn small chunks of content at a time and are then tested for mastery before moving onto the next lesson. If a student gets a problem wrong, the adaptive learning software can assess what concept was missed and seamlessly take the student back to the part of the lesson that needs reinforcement.  

In addition, students attend class to do hands-on work solving problems together. ASU has seen increased mastery of course content by students who use adaptive learning.

This semester, ASU introduced the world’s first adaptive-learning biology degree, in a platform called BioSpine, which personalizes the entire four years of learning. Creation of the new degree meant that faculty had to collaborate on a unified curriculum — a radical concept, but one that greatly benefits students.

Center for Education Through eXploration

Imagine a university-level course in which playing a game teaches you physics, chemistry and math. The Center for Education Through eXploration uses digital learning products and platforms to teach science through exploration of the unknown. Among the projects are a game-like, personalized course called Habitable Worlds, created in partnership with NASA, and online immersive virtual field trips.

The director of the center is Ariel Anbar, President’s Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Molecular Sciences. In 2017, he was recognized as a “teaching innovator” by the Chronicle of Higher Education for his work in ensuring that inquisitive students drive their own education.

“College represents an extraordinary opportunity for exploration and insight, fueled by curiosity and the enthusiasm and creativity of talented professors,” ASU President Michael Crow said of Anbar’s recognition.

“Dr. Anbar’s work not only may inspire students to expand their reach in his class and through his new 'education through exploration' learning platforms, but also increase their capacity to tackle complex topics, ask critical questions, solve problems and, ultimately, pursue lifelong learning.”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now