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ASU Prep graduate balanced competitive swimming with earning 4.0 GPA

ASU Prep grad to become a Sun Devil, but first is Olympic training.
May 31, 2019

After training for 2020 Olympics, elite athlete will become a Sun Devil

In addition to economics and precalculus, Jarod Arroyo has spent the last year learning a lot about balance.

Arroyo, an elite swimmer, was in the first graduating class of ASU Prep Tempe charter high school in May, finishing with a 4.0 grade point average. With high school behind him, he’ll spend the next year focusing on training for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. After that, he’ll swim for Arizona State University.

“The key is staying on top of it and not getting behind,” Arroyo said of his life balancing school and swimming. His days started at 5 a.m., when he would swim for two hours on the ASU Tempe campus, then drive to school and go to classes, and then return to the pool for another three to four hours of swimming and conditioning. Then it was dinner, homework and mental conditioning before bed.

Arroyo, who is a member of the Puerto Rican national team, traveled frequently for competitions.

Jarod Arroyo

Jarod Arroyo (left) and Andre Arnold were the only two members of the first graduating class of ASU Prep Tempe. They were among 230 graduates of all the ASU Prep schools at the ceremony on May 24. Photo contributed by ASU Prep

“I have to be proactive,” he said.

“I went to Argentina for three weeks for the youth Olympics last fall and I got ahead on all my work and turned it in before I left and when I came back I was perfectly fine because I was proactive.

“I just have to make sure that I tell my teachers.”

In addition to working with his teachers, he was able to keep up because some of his work was done online. ASU Prep TempeThe other ASU Prep locations are in Casa Grande, south Phoenix, downtown Phoenix and on the ASU Polytechnic campus in Mesa. There are more than 3,000 students total in the ASU Prep system, not including the ASU Prep Digital online school. is a blended learning campus that infuses technology in the classroom. Arroyo, who had to take both Algebra 2 and precalculus this year, learned on the ALEKS adaptive learning platform, according to Joshua Roth, principal of ASU Prep Tempe.

“So as he gets problems right or wrong, it’s adapting to where he’s at, reinforcing things or letting him get ahead on things he does know,” Roth said. “Without that platform he wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

ASU Tempe Prep’s first graduating class included Arroyo and Andre Arnold, who became good friends.

With only 48 students, the underclassmen looked up to the two seniors, Roth said.

“Jarod’s a really good role model for all of our students,” he said. “Being a small school and trying to find an identity, we were really happy to have Jarod with that senior leadership, and his presence and his demeanor.”

Arroyo’s competitive swimming career has meant sacrifices for his family. He moved to the Valley from Utah in 2016 with his mother and sister to train with the Pitchforks Aquatics swim club and its head coach, Fernando Canales. But Arroyo’s father, a professor of physiology at Brigham Young University, stayed behind. His father is from Puerto Rico, which allowed Arroyo to join the national team at age 15.

“Someday, I think by achieving my goals, that will repay them because they’ll know it was worth it,” he said.

He credits his parents with encouraging him to take swimming lessons at age 4 — even though he was afraid of the water. By age 10, he knew swimming was for him.

“My parents made sure I played lots of different sports. I played basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis,” he said. “And when I was 10, they said, ‘You have to pick one’ so I chose swimming.”

This summer, Arroyo will compete in the Pan American games in Peru, where he could qualify for the 2020 Olympics, and possibly in the world championships in Korea. His specialty events are the 400- and 200-meter individual medley and the 200-meter butterfly.

“When I was 12, watching the Olympics would inspire me,” he said. “And when I watched them in 2016 was when I realized how close I was to qualifying."

Arroyo has idolized Michael Phelps, the swimming legend and most decorated Olympian of all time, with 28 medals, and was thrilled when he got to meet him.

“He’s really chill and laid back. I thought he would be so intense but he’s the nicest guy,” he said.

Phelps’ coach was Bob Bowman, who is now head coach of Sun Devil swimming and diving, which Arroyo will join in fall 2020.

“I’m so excited to come to ASU because not only do they have amazing facilities, but the men’s team has a really good culture of excellence and that’s thanks to Bob Bowman,” said Arroyo, who plans to double major in business and kinesiology because he wants to be a chiropractor.

But for the next several months, all his energy will be on getting to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics.

“I like to visualize myself there,” he said. “That helps me to push through the hard practices toward the end goal.”

Stefanie Contreras, marketing and communications manager for ASU Prep, contributed to this story.

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


Engineering grad’s hard work secures a promising future

May 31, 2019

Five years ago, Amanda Thart had no idea she’d be embarking on her career as an engineer in the defense industry.

The recent electrical engineering master’s degree graduate from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University will begin a job as an electrical engineer at Raytheon Missile Systems in June. Amanda Thart Amanda Thart Download Full Image

When she began studies at ASU, Thart said, “I wanted to make an impact, but I had absolutely no idea how to go about it,” and the security field wasn’t even on her radar.

Her skills in math and science, and a special engineering program in high school called Project Lead the Way, led her to choose electrical engineering as a major. She found in ASU a college destination not too far away from her family but also a school that would give her the most opportunities, and she took full advantage of them.

“I was specifically drawn to ASU because there were a lot of extracurricular opportunities I wanted to get involved with, a lot of big companies were coming here looking for students and there are a lot of opportunities for undergraduate research,” she said. “I liked that."

Getting started in research early and jumping straight into to the ASU Grand Challenge Scholars Program opened door after door, especially in the security field, her chosen Grand Challenge theme.

Thart's first research project as a freshman was in Fulton Schools Assistant Professor Paulo Shakarian’s Cyber-Socio Intelligent Systems Lab. Her project involved looking at military events happening in Iraq and Syria and then identifying the causal relationship between them to predict what might happen next by using historical patterns and machine learning. The cross-disciplinary experience in Shakarian’s lab also gave her the first opportunity to be a co-author on peer-reviewed research journal articles.

“It was important for me to get involved in research that early, and Dr. Shakarian was willing to take me on even though I didn’t have any computer science experience,” Thart said. “My involvement (in Shakarian’s lab) opened the doors to so many things. I was not only able to get an introduction into computer science but I was also able to get an internship early.”

In addition to internships with Raytheon and Moog Broad Reach, Thart participated in the Engineering Projects in Community Service program, known as EPICS, at ASU and was a NASA Space Grant recipient. These experiences enabled her to apply her knowledge to hands-on engineering projects.

“Actually doing engineering and being in an engineering environment is different than learning things in class,” she said. “You’re never going to know what engineering is truly like until you take the knowledge you learn in class and apply it in a real-world setting.”

She also conducted research during her undergraduate years through the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative and for her thesis as an honors student in Barrett, The Honors College.

Thart joined the ASU chapter of the Society of Women Engineers and was a member of the STEM sorority Phi Sigma Rho and the electrical engineering and computer science honor society Eta Kappa Nu.

Her most memorable moment at ASU was presenting at the NASA Space Grant Symposium during her junior year. Though she had been involved in undergraduate research since her freshman year, this experience was the first time she had presented her research to a crowd instead of at a poster session.

“It was specifically that moment that was significant because it felt important that I was standing there, presenting research that was backed by an organization like NASA,” she said. “It was something I never expected to do when I came to college.”

Thart’s undergraduate experience culminated with a Moeur Award, the prestigious honor given to students who earn a 4.0 GPA for all classes taken at ASU. She was especially proud of this achievement because of how challenging her classes were and it meant she had successfully pushed through the ups and downs of her engineering degree.

But her educational journey wasn’t over yet. She immediately moved into the 4+1 accelerated master’s degree program in electrical engineering. Pursuing an advanced degree was an easy decision for Thart as she always knew she wanted one — to follow in the footsteps of her mom. This spring, Thart joined more than 930 Fulton Schools graduates who earned master’s degrees.

During both her undergraduate and graduate studies, mentors such as Robin Hammond, director of the Fulton Schools Career Center, and coworkers at her internships helped her figure out what she wanted to do in her career and how to get there.

Finding a role model in Laura McGill, vice president of engineering at Raytheon, helped Thart see how she could use her engineering skills and be a leader.

“I wanted to not only focus on a technical aspect of a problem, but the problem as a whole and have a higher-level view of engineering,” Thart said. “(McGill) showed me this role was possible.”

She also started to return the favor by getting involved during her junior year as an EPICS High mentor for high school students involved in community service engineering projects, and as an Engineering Futures mentor for first-generation college freshmen. The opportunities reminded her of her own experience in the Project Lead the Way program and motivated her to help aspiring engineers discover their love for the field.

“I realized I had all this knowledge I’d gained in college that I wanted to pass on to people because I wanted to make sure they had the best chance of success,” Thart said. “I can inform freshmen how to get to their goals and how to use the tools available to them.”

Thart’s idea of success in her engineering career is to one day have a position as an engineering leader like McGill and to keep learning more about different fields of engineering and business.

She also wants to continue mentoring at ASU, especially to encourage more diversity in the field and close the gender gap she noticed as an engineer herself.

“I want to make sure I continue working with students to not only show them what engineering is, but show everyone that it could be a viable option for them,” Thart said. “I want to open the doors to engineering for more people.”

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Six grads illustrate why math is a great major for women

May 24, 2019

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

ASU Now caught up with six recent graduates from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, who talked about being Sun Devils, their experiences as women in STEM and what their plans are after graduation. Charly McCown Charly McCown Download Full Image

Charly McCown

Bachelor of Science in computational mathematical sciences
Gilbert, Arizona

Question: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I am excited to take a little bit of vacation time and then start my career. I will work as a junior quantitative marketing analyst at Carvana on the quantitative marketing team. I am looking forward to this position because it requires the critical thinking and tech skills I learned while pursuing my degree and will allow me to follow my passion for data analysis. I am drawn to Carvana for many reasons, one being that they value mathematical backgrounds. This is important to me because I know they appreciate my education and understand its power. I am also excited to learn about marketing and how analytical skills can be applied for improved performance and results. Aside from my job, I hope to continue my part in encouraging women to pursue STEM careers.

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

A: After my first coding class (C++) as a freshman at a different university, I thought I would never code again and that it just was not for me. After my transfer to ASU, I had to take Java instead. I was upset about it, but I heard Java was a little easier, so I figured I would give it a shot. The professor was very clear that it was an introductory course, and she put forth such great effort to help first-time coders be successful and not be intimidated. I learned that I could code, and in fact, I was good at it! This completely changed my perspective and even the course of my education and career as I switched from math to computational math.

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

A: Dr. Sharon Crook has taught me many important lessons, but the one that resonates with me the most is one that I learned through her example rather than her teaching. As a part of her lab (ICON Lab), I have had the opportunity to get a closer look at what she does. She has been a role model to me as a woman and mother in STEM, and I am inspired when I hear of the things she is involved in like committees, grants, papers, traveling to conferences and more. I also see that through these busy times, she continues to make time to mentor and involve undergraduates such as myself in her research. She strives to provide me and other undergraduates with the opportunities we need to gain experience and be successful. She has taught me not only that it is possible to be a successful woman and mother in STEM, but also the importance of helping others find that success as well.

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

A: My best advice is to be proactive in your education and gaining experience, as well as forming genuine relationships with people. Actively search out opportunities to get involved with clubs, research, internships, jobs, events and groups that will give you the experience you need. Make friends and connections in your major and other majors, form study groups, meet as many people as you can, and form authentic connections with those people. Support your peers and help them find success. Remember the people who have influenced your path and helped you along the way, then give back by taking opportunities to be that person for someone else.

Q: What is most misunderstood about mathematics by the general public? 

A: Mathematics is not just arithmetic. Mathematics majors are not human calculators, and it does not discredit their mathematical ability if they do not calculate your arithmetic problem on the spot.

Q: Why is mathematics a great major for women to pursue in college?

A: Mathematics is a great major for women because it is empowering. Options give you power, and if any degree is going to give you options, it is a math degree. It is also a great major for those unsure of what they want to do, since the skills learned are very transferrable over different fields and can be applied in many different ways. Additionally, the skills learned in a math degree are sought after by employers, which allows for a wide array of options for the future — whether it be in academia or industry.

Q: What advice would you share with undergraduate women thinking of pursuing a math major?

A: If you are considering pursuing a math major, then do it! It is not an easy path by any means, but it is very possible to be successful! It was a quite fulfilling major for me, and there were a few things about it that I would like to point out. When pursuing a degree in math, try to be proactive about finding what you are passionate about. That does not mean you have to figure it out any time soon, but get exposure to what's out there, because there is A LOT out there. The variety of ways you can apply your math degree means you are likely to find something you are excited about. Another would be to get support from many different places. You are not doing this alone. Support and advice from peers, clubs, professors, mentors, bosses, family, friends, and even successful people you have never met but would like to, can be invaluable, and many times you need to be the one to reach out and ask for it. Finally, don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it. You own your future, and whatever you choose should be what will lead you to what you want in life. In many of my classes, as a woman, I was the minority. Don't let this intimidate you — let it motivate and empower you.

Sierra Murphy

Sierra Murphy

Bachelor of Science in mathematics, Bachelor of Science in biological sciences (biomedical sciences), Bachelor of Arts in chemistry
Marin County, California 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will continue researching cancer vaccines at the ASU Biodesign Institute. I plan to start medical school in Fall 2020.

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

A: I learned that I love research. I never imagined this for myself. I though research would be too difficult or frustrating or boring. It isn’t. It’s the root of science: experiment. I love research especially because all of my majors factor into it. Biology is the main subject (cancer vaccines) but the data analysis/interpretation/designing the experiment is mathematics, and chemistry is all the tests we use to identify information about the tissues etc.

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

A: Dr. Don Jones taught me that there is a difference between learning to learn and learning to pass a class. This has really helped me prioritize knowledge over scores.

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

A: Be good to you and be proud of yourself, first and foremost. Empower rather than compete. Be authentic to who you are. One of the best decisions I made in college was to not share my grades/test scores. Coming from a pre-med background, I saw so many people lose themselves to stress and competition and what looks best on their resume. I realized that comparing grades only succeeds in making someone feel bad. So now when people ask, I politely decline. After I made this decision, I started to become less of a perfectionist and truly accepted myself. I became proud of my efforts rather than my scores.

Q: What is most misunderstood about mathematics by the general public?

A: I think everyone has some form of math anxiety because they think they’re not good at it. Yes, there are people who start out with a natural mathematics ability, but mathematics can be learned if you keep an open mind. Anyone is capable of improving in math. I also think you don’t necessarily need to be extremely good at math to gain from it. Math teaches you so much, not just content wise, but it teaches you how to problem solve. So I think the most misunderstood thing is that mathematicians never fail, I believe we fail the most, but we also get back up one time more than we fail.

Q: Why is mathematics a great major for women to pursue in college?

A: Mathematics is a great major because it develops skills that directly translate to life. It challenges you to keep working until you find solutions to complex problems and teaches you to pursue your goals with tenacity. This is especially important for young women because there will always be people telling them that they’re not capable. To that, I say, the ceilings wouldn’t be made of glass if we weren’t meant to see beyond them.

Q: What advice would you share with undergraduate women thinking of pursuing a math major?

A: My advice to undergraduate women thinking of pursuing a major in mathematics is to never compare yourself to your peers and instead look at how far you’ve come. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and definitely lend help whenever you can. Build connections: I met two of my best friends through mathematics at ASU. These women are ambitious, intelligent, kind, inspiring, strong and unstoppable.

Emily Rumney

Emily Rumney

Bachelor of Arts in mathematics and a Bachelor of Music in violin performance
Tucson, Arizona 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: In the fall, I will begin a two-year Master of Music degree program in violin performance at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, where I will be studying under the guidance of Almita Vamos and MingHuan Xu.

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

A: One thing that has surprised me was how I was able to find such a tight community in what at first seemed like an impossibly large school.

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

A: The most important lesson I learned while at ASU was to believe I was capable of tackling difficult problems, whether in mathematics or in playing the violin, and to persist in my efforts to solve those problems. My violin professor, Dr. Katherine McLin, has held me to a very high standard of performance while giving me support and encouragement along the way, and has helped me to transform my playing. Dr. Matthias Kawski’s Introduction to Topology course pushed me to think about more abstract concepts than I ever had before, but by working hard to understand the details of the theory I was able to grasp some truly beautiful mathematical results.

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

A: Focus on your studies and persevere in your own work; try to allow yourself to be inspired by the strengths of the students around you, and try to learn from them.

Q: What is most misunderstood about mathematics by the general public?

A: I think it’s that mathematical thinking requires practice, just like any skill, and that most people who write themselves off as lacking mathematical talent have just not had the opportunity to develop that skill.

Q: Why is mathematics a great major for women to pursue in college?

A: Mathematics can be so empowering and satisfying. There have been countless moments during my mathematics degree that I have figured out a problem after being stuck on it for a while. Getting to the mathematical truth behind an answer simultaneously gives me great satisfaction and leaves me wanting to tackle another problem in order to know more. You’ll also find that mathematics is a very versatile major, and the kind of thinking and problem-solving it teaches you is invaluable. It might seem like you need to have your career planned out already, or know what kind of research you want to do, but that’s really not the case. At the beginning of my undergraduate degree, I didn’t know whether I would be going to grad school for music or for mathematics. Over the past two years, I had to make the choice, and I opted to apply for master’s programs in music. However, even if I could do my undergrad all over again with this knowledge, I would still have double majored. The time I invested in my math degree was well-spent because of the ways my math studies challenged me to take new approaches to problems and to persevere in my efforts to solve them.

Q: What advice would you share with undergraduate women thinking of pursuing a math major?

A: If you enjoy math enough to be considering a math major, I would encourage you to go for it! It can be intimidating to enter a field where women continue to be underrepresented, and you may feel you have to prove yourself or to have clear goals in mind for your future career. However, the most important thing is really to challenge yourself and work hard, because the reward of learning is so great. Try to focus on your studies and on improving your own mathematical abilities rather than comparing yourself to others, as difficult as that can be sometimes. Pursuing math for its own sake is so rewarding if you love it. You may already have career plans, but even if you don’t, and just know that you like math, that’s completely fine too. Mathematics is such a broad discipline, and you can take a range of math classes in order to find out what excites you the most. Additionally, our undergraduate math degree programs here at ASU will leave you quite a bit of latitude to explore your own mathematical interests and to receive credit for doing so, so there is a wealth of opportunity for you to define and pursue your own path.

Jessica Campos

Jessica Campos

Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics with a secondary education teaching certification
Springerville, Arizona

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation I will attend Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as a 2019 Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow to pursue my master's.

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

A: During the second semester of my freshman year at ASU, I enrolled in Dr. Marilyn Carlson’s MAT 207 course. Before beginning my college career, I thought that teaching math was going to be easy and that I would simply be able to show students how I learned it and they would follow along and instantly understand! I now know that in order for students to truly learn and grow, I cannot confine them to my own acquisition of knowledge and understanding. The Pathways to Calculus Curriculum co-developed by Dr. Carlson challenges teachers and students alike to reimagine mathematics in a new and more productive way. When I first encountered the Pathways Curriculum in Dr. Carlson’s course, I was very apprehensive to step outside of my own mathematical and pedagogical comfort zone. However, after witnessing classmates transform and discover their mathematical ability through innovative curriculum and discussions, I could not see myself approaching mathematics or teaching mathematics in any other way. I am very glad to have studied under Dr. Carlson and hope to cultivate the same mathematical mindset in my future classroom.

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

A: During my time at ASU the most important lesson I learned was to embrace my personality. Dr. Jay Abramson was the very first professor I encountered at ASU during my summer as a student of the Joaquin Bustoz Math-Science Honors Program. Every day Jay (as he would insist we call him) would walk into the classroom and immediate take off his sandals at the front of the room. He would always stumble in one to two minutes before lecture began, somehow balancing a coffee thermos, a Rockstar energy drink, a huge messenger bag overflowing with papers, and a plethora of colored pens, highlighters and Dry Erase Markers in his hands. I had never encountered a more quirky teacher in my life. He was easily one of the best professors I have had the pleasure of taking at ASU, he was comfortable with his personality and that showed through his love for teaching and interacting with students.

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

A: The best piece of advice I can give to students is “Find purpose in your passion. If the path you choose makes you equally nervous and excited you will never get bored or become complacent with your life.”

Q: What is most misunderstood about mathematics by the general public?

A: Mathematics is generally misunderstood by the general public as a series of steps to be followed in a particular order to produce a solution. However, I believe that the beauty of mathematics lies in the mindset. All the equations and algorithms that are often associated with mathematics are all the result of centuries of meticulous arguments and theories developed by men and women who dedicated their lives to problem solving and exploration.

Q: Why is mathematics a great major for women to pursue in college?

A: The reason why math is a great major for women to pursue is because math is beautiful and loving to learn more about it doesn’t make you “nerdy,” it makes you fierce! Being a math major has empowered me both as a young woman and a Mexican American to have the confidence to challenge myself and try new things. Math is viewed by many as a difficult subject to study, so being one of the few people who have the opportunity to call themselves a “math major” I am honored to belong to such a unique, strong and intellectual community of scholars worldwide!

Q: What advice would you share with undergraduate women thinking of pursuing a math major?

A: Find value in failure. The most important lesson you can learn is to let yourself fail at something you really care about. Your academic abilities are not static or unchangeable, YOU have the power to develop new and stronger skills but only if you are willing to step outside your comfort zone and be faced with the possibility of failure. 

Hailey Walters

Hailey Walters

Bachelor of Science in actuarial science
Gilbert, Arizona

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I will be working an internship with Allstate Insurance in Chandler, Arizona. In the fall, I will be returning to ASU to pursue a master's degree in actuarial science. I'm excited to see what opportunities are in store for me beyond that!

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

A: I was surprised that my professors would be so willing to become invested in my education, career and growth. Once I discovered that each professor was so prepared to spend time answering my questions and helping me, it really solidified my decision to work towards a master’s degree for a chance to teach students in the future and help them in the same way.

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

A: Dr. Jelena Milovanovic taught me many lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my academic and professional life. I was able to participate in many of my college experiences that prepared me for real work thanks to her, and being around her has helped me develop my work ethic and leadership skills immensely.

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

A: I would highly recommend frequently taking a step back to enjoy being on campus. Take advantage of the events held for students, meet new people and go to sports events. Don’t be too focused on graduating too quickly just to look impressive.

Q: What is most misunderstood about mathematics by the general public?

A: The general public believes that mathematics is a concept that one either understands and is amazing at, or does not understand at all. The reality is that there are so many places in between where people can learn about the specific math that they are interested in and that applies to their lives, without having to get a degree in it.

Q: Why is mathematics a great major for women to pursue in college?

A: Mathematics is a great major for anyone to pursue because it can really prepare you for any role. The problem-solving and analytical skills that you learn in such a major will really benefit you anywhere you choose to work.

Q: What advice would you share with undergraduate women thinking of pursuing a math major?

A: I would tell others to never shy away from a challenge. You're capable of more than you know, and as long as you're confident and willing to put in the work, you will succeed beyond your expectations. Make friends with students in your math classes, because getting together to discuss things from multiple perspectives is always helpful. Don't forget to befriend your professors as well! They're here to help you and they're always willing to answer your questions; you just have to ask them! They want to see you succeed, too. So overall, my advice is to really make the best of your time in college, because it will be over before you know it.

Samantha Brozak

Samantha Brozak

Bachelor of Science in mathematics and a certificate in secondary education
Gilbert, Arizona

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’ll be teaching eighth grade math at Greenfield Junior High School. I’m very excited to show students how useful and fun math can be! This is a critical stage for students in their math education as well as their social, emotional and psychological development.

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

A: I learned that failure is a part of the process. There are going to be times where everything breaks and that is just science. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure, it just means you have to find a new perspective or another paper or different process.

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

A: Dr. Abba Gumel, hands down. As a mentor, he always had high expectations and provided great advice. Dr. Gumel taught me to be confident in my abilities and rigorous in my work. He also knows all of the good coffee shops.

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

A: Branch out of your area of study and see where you can apply your knowledge in other fields, or just see what else you like! The most interesting work is collaborative, interdisciplinary work.

Q: What is most misunderstood about mathematics by the general public? 

A: “Math people” are a pervasive myth. No one is born a “math person.” It takes practice, patience, and curiosity, just like any other skill or hobby. Math isn’t finished yet, either! I told my seventh graders I did mathematical research and they just couldn’t comprehend that we don’t know everything about math yet.

Q: Why is mathematics a great major for women to pursue in college?

A: Math is more than just crunching numbers. The tools and skills I gained from my math major are invaluable. I’ve learned mathematical concepts that are relevant in tons of fields. However, I’ve also learned how to be resourceful, persistent, precise and methodical. Most importantly, I now know that I can handle whatever is thrown at me, whether that’s a math problem I’ve been working at for hours or an unruly student who refuses to learn.

Q: What advice would you share with undergraduate women thinking of pursuing a math major?

A: You don’t have to be a “math person,” those don’t exist. Math takes practice just like anything else. Ask questions. Be disciplined, but don’t forget to sleep. It will catch up with you. Be persistent. Learn to code, even if it’s just to check your work. It’ll open up tons of doors when paired with a math major.

Sometimes, you may be one of five of women in a 40-person lecture hall. You are just as capable as anyone in that room. If you don’t see anyone who looks like you, pave the way and be the person you needed, whoever that is.

Rhonda Olson

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


Reimagined hospital bed minimizes risk of pressure ulcers

Online team’s invention wins the Palais Senior Design Prize

May 24, 2019

Electrical engineering students in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering completed their final capstone course with a bang. And for one team, it also ended with an award and the reward of carrying out a project that makes a difference for patients staying in hospitals.

Seniors worked on a two-semester design project to fulfill all of the academic requirements for a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering while gaining experience to prepare for the workplace. The course culminated at Demo Day with students presenting projects to the public in trade-show fashion. someone holding a smartphone with a doll laying on a bed in background Hadassah Fromowitz, a senior in the electrical engineering program in Arizona State University's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, operates the mobile interface of the Personal Care E-ssistant, a reimagined hospital bed designed to minimize the risk of pressure ulcers. Photo courtesy of Hadassah Fromowitz Download Full Image

“This is very much ‘finishing school’ for electrical engineers,” said Michael Kozicki, the senior design program coordinator and a professor of electrical engineering in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, one of the six Fulton Schools.

“The goal is to make our students extremely valuable in the job market. Yes, we produce highly technical individuals — four years of a rigorous curriculum will do this — but our differentiator is the soft skills we instill through the capstone.” 

Fifty-six senior design teams competed in the spring semester electrical engineering Demo Day. The projects ran the gamut from solar-powered battery chargers and smart photovoltaics converters to an automated pool chemical system and an evacuation indicator system. Each project integrated multiple facets of electrical engineering and other disciplines to solve a societal challenge.

For the first time in Demo Day history, a team of online students claimed the Palais Senior Design Prize with a design for a reimagined hospital bed.

The Palais Senior Design Prize was established in 1998 to recognize the best senior design project in electrical engineering. The award is presented each semester to a student team whose capstone design project demonstrates technical prowess and clear value for society. Students also must communicate their research, design efforts and outcomes in ways that can be understood by people other than scientists and engineers.

Winners of the competition receive a small cash prize funded by Professor Emeritus Joseph Palais.

“The majority of our online teams are superbly well organized. The online students know how to plan and execute,” said Kozicki. “However, performing a team project, and particularly a hardware project when the team members are spread around the planet, is a huge challenge that involves an extra level of determination and an additional modicum of ingenuity.”

photo of a patient's room

An overview of the subsystems and features of the Personal Care E-ssistant, an updated design of a hospital bed to relieve and prevent pressure ulcers. The bed was created by a team of electrical engineering students as part of their capstone senior design project. Photo courtesy of Hadassah Fromowitz

Personal Care E-ssistant, a project worthy of the Palais Prize

Under the mentorship of Associate Professor Pavan Turaga, electrical engineering seniors Makayla Donaldson, Hadassah Fromowitz, Robert Graves, Olivia Ruthven and Timothy Sparks designed and built a hospital bed called the Personal Care E-ssistant that minimizes the risk of pressure ulcers.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and a recent study, more than 2.5 million individuals in the U.S. develop pressure ulcers annually and an estimated 60,000 Americans die each year as a direct result of pressure ulcers. The team worked together on a solution to address this large-scale issue.

The inspiration for the project came from one of Fromowitz’s relatives whose spouse was bedridden due to medical complications. Distraught about the damage to his skin, infections and wounds that required multiple dressing changes, she asked if Fromowitz could do something to prevent the bed sores.

Other team members had similar memories of relatives in hospital settings. They jumped at the chance to help create a solution that would not only improve the standard of care and quality of life for bedridden patients but also reduce the risk of caregiver injury.

“There are many factors that contribute to the formation of pressure ulcers,” said Fromowitz. “Our bed works by targeting three of the main concerns: prolonged pressure, poor blood circulation and shear and friction.”

Prolonged pressure occurs when a patient lays in the same position for an extended period of time. Caregivers can alleviate pressure by rotating the patient 30 degrees to their side periodically. However, it’s not always easy for caregivers to rotate patients on a consistent schedule.

The Personal Care E-ssistant makes rotating the patient easy. The caregiver simply presses a button on a remote control or a wireless interface, and the patient is tilted 30 degrees. Caregivers can also set a timer to have the E-ssistant automatically rotate a patient at scheduled intervals.

Graves designed the bed rotation subsystem with two linear actuators (a component of a machine that provides controlled movements) programmed to raise and lower the left and right sides of the bed. The bed can be adjusted from a handheld remote, mobile device or computer terminal.

Poor blood circulation is a result of patient immobility, which leads to cell death and eventually skin and muscle breakdown. Caregivers can move the patient’s extremities to increase blood flow and lessen the likelihood of skin breakdown.

Ruthven designed, coded and built the bed’s passive motion that allows caretakers to increase patients’ blood circulation without manually moving them. Caregivers can set up an automated cycle whereby the patient’s upper body and legs are slowly raised and lowered according to a schedule.

“This feature decreases the risks of caretakers hurting themselves during the process of moving the patient and the patient hurting themselves during the process of being moved,” said Ruthven. “If any problem occurs during the passive movement, the stop button can be used to cease all movement.”

Shear ensues when a patient slips down in bed and gravity pushes downward on the patient’s body. Friction is the force created by the patient’s body rubbing against the bed sheets. A combination of both can result in pressure ulcers.

Donaldson worked on a safety sensor subsystem to detect when patients are positioned too high or too low in bed and notify a caregiver. If patients need to be lifted, the conveyor belt feature in the mattress can be activated to reposition patients without further damaging their skin.

“The conveyor belt rolls in the direction specified so the patient is moved back into place without being dragged across the sheet,” said Fromowitz, who developed the plans for the conveyor belt and wrote the code to run this subsystem. “This also helps keep caregivers from injuring themselves while pulling heavy patients into place.”

Fromowitz also designed and built the bed frame in collaboration with a carpenter to ensure all features could work in unison. She then integrated all the subsystems into a final prototype with the help of the original subsystem designer.

Sparks confirmed each of the subsystems worked with Wi-Fi and the bed’s control interface system. He also integrated a number of different microcontrollers so they could be controlled remotely.

“The team was extremely organized and had superlative project management skills,” said faculty mentor Turaga. “Everyone was motivated and eager to contribute.”

Completing the project completely online

The winning senior design team had members in California, New York, Ohio and Tennessee. As students in the Fulton Schools’ online electrical engineering program, they understood the challenges of working remotely, so they honed the communication and planning skills necessary to make the project successful.

“Working online means there has to be a serious effort in communicating specs and details very clearly so everything can come together and fit in the end,” said Fromowitz. “It also required splitting up the work and then setting clear goals and deadlines so everyone’s schedule could be accommodated and still get our project done and our work submitted on time.”

Team members communicated via Slack for daily conversations, Google Hangouts for group conference calls and Google Team Drive for document sharing. Their tasks were tracked in an online project management tool called Asana.

“In most traditional capstone projects, the defining experience is one of teamwork and collaboration intended to prepare students to enter the workforce with sufficient soft skills in addition to discipline-specific skills,” said Turaga. “The notion that such skills can be developed online has been met with skepticism. That’s why I feel this online team's output is so impressive, and the fact that they won the Palais Prize is even more remarkable.”

Team members were stunned when they found out they had won the Palais Prize, especially because of the range of innovative senior projects presented at Demo Day.

“Our team is very happily surprised we were the first online team to win this honored prize,” said Fromowitz.

“Working remotely, sometimes it’s hard to tell if our work is being given the same attention as the work of those students on campus. We miss out on the nod or smile from the instructor that shows us we’re doing OK,” she said. “Winning this prize was an affirmation that online students are being equally considered and was a very satisfying ‘nod and smile’ from the team of judges.”

Amanda Stoneman

Science Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Students in ASU Law sports program get hands-on experience helping run LPGA event

May 22, 2019

The Phoenix metro area provides a home field advantage to the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and its innovative Master of Sports Law and Business program. Home to everything from Super Bowls and Final Fours to spring training and NASCAR races, the region is a veritable sports mecca — a learning environment like no other for those aspiring to work in the sports industry.

Among the numerous marquee events is the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, the LPGA Tour’s annual tournament in Phoenix since 2011. The most recent Founders Cup, held in March, brought in more than 65,000 spectators — and also doubled as a training lab for 25 students in the Sports Big Events class who helped plan, promote and operate the tournament. photo of ASU Law sports program volunteers Students in the ASU Law sports program at LPGA event. Photo by Scott Wood Download Full Image

Professor Stephanie Jarvis, who teaches the class, says she and MSLB Director Glenn Wong were looking for an event that could provide real-world experience for the students.

“We thought a tour event would be good so that students could make connections that could help with their career, in addition to gaining major event experience,” Jarvis said. “The timing of the LPGA event worked well with the class.”

The class teaches all elements of running a major event. In addition to their work with the tournament, students hear from guest speakers and have assignments related to bidding, setting up a 501(c)(3), creating an organizational chart, marketing, ticketing and other essential tasks.

Scott Wood, director of The Founders Cup, said it takes an army to run a golf tournament, so the students were a welcome addition.

“I had tried this model with other schools in the past and didn’t have much success with it, so I was little bit hesitant at first,” he said. “But one of the things I learned early on was this was going to be a unique set of students. They were ready to get out and conquer the world, coming out of a master’s program. It was an unbelievable experience, and all our expectations were met.”

One of the students, Margaret Stahm, said meetings began as far back as November, so that once the semester began in January, they were able to hit the ground running.

Stahm, a softball standout who played for ASU as an undergrad, said she had always steered clear of golf to protect the mechanics of her swing.

photo of ASU Law sports program volunteer

Margaret Stahm during the rush of the tour event that the students worked on for a semester. Photo by Scott Wood

“So I knew absolutely nothing about golf,” she said. “But I got bit by the bug the second I showed up. I just loved the people, the experience, being on the golf course. And the staff were incredible. They truly trusted us and gave us important things to do. Every day you showed up, there was something new to do.”

Fellow student Reed Goodhue said his responsibilities evolved throughout the project, from inventory work and organizing gifts to setting up ropes and railings on the course and meeting with sponsors and LPGA executives.

“I would call my role sort of a utility role,” he said. “If they needed something picked up, something set up, somebody escorted somewhere — whatever was necessary at the time, I was willing to do it.”

Likewise for Stahm. She got the one assignment she was not quite prepared for while she was working in the tournament’s office on the pro-am day.

“They said, ‘You need to go caddy,’” she recalls laughingly. “I said ‘I can’t caddy — I don’t know the first thing about golf!’ They said, ‘We’ll give you a crash course, but you’ve got to get in this cart and get to the first tee box, because we’re short a caddy.’ So I said, ‘I guess I’m doing this,’ and I got to caddy for 18 holes. And it turned out to be an amazing experience.”

Wood said that’s simply the predictably unpredictable nature of operating a major sporting event.

“You might wake up and have a list of five to 10 things you think you’re going to get done, and your day might be blown up by 7:15 in the morning and you have to put out fires and do a hundred other things,” he said. “That’s one of the things we told the students: When you run an event, you don’t have a singular job. You wear many hats.”

Goodhue welcomed the variety of assignments and said he and the other students were treated as equal members of the staff.

“What made it such a great experience was the willingness of Scott and the LPGA team to allow us to fully participate and take on some important tasks,” he said. “I didn’t feel like an intern. I felt like an employee who was part of the team and contributing in a meaningful way.”

The tournament’s attendance climbed 5% from the previous year, and Wood said the students were instrumental in that success, bringing innovative marketing and promotional ideas to the table.

“They just started putting together fun activities and new ideas that we hadn’t thought about or didn’t have time to think about,” Wood said. “They took it and ran with it and executed it flawlessly. We had some late nights, and we were trying to get the students to go home, but they were really invested in this. It was very impressive.”

Jarvis said it’s a win-win partnership, providing the LPGA with high-level support staff, while students gain invaluable experience and build connections within the industry.

photo of ASU Law sports program volunteers

Students from the MSLB program. Photo by Scott Wood.

“They now have practical, real-world experience to put on their resumes, and they also made valuable relationships with both the local and national LPGA staff,” she said. “This will help them as they begin their career searches. They would be able to take this experience and look for jobs at any LPGA Tour stop, or, really, any other event.”

Stahm, in fact, will be interning at LPGA headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida, this summer. She said she never would have imagined working in the golf industry, which shows the value of the opportunities provided by the MSLB program.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do after graduation, and now I have a path and a plan, and it’s all because I took this class and said yes to working this tournament.”

Wood said he and Stahm will be speaking to a group of tournament operators this summer about the partnership between ASU Law and the Founders Cup.

“Many within the LPGA saw how successful it was, so we’ll be making a presentation to help drive this in other markets,” Wood said. “We think this is going to be the gold standard for these types of programs going forward.”

Nicole Almond Anderson

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


Psychology student wins Smith Marshall Scholarship, will study racial and ethnic health disparities

May 21, 2019

Xochitl Arlene Smola, a first-generation college student in Arizona State University’s Department of Psychology, was recently awarded the Smith Marshall Scholarship.

The Smith Marshall Scholarship is an endowed scholarship awarded each year to psychology students who have graduated from a high school in the state of Arizona and have excelled in their academic pursuits. Xochitl Smola, ASU Psychology Student Xochitl Arlene Smola is a first-generation college student in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology, and she just won the Smith Marshall Scholarship. Download Full Image

Smola’s early desire to understand the brain and behavior led her to explore the field of psychology, resulting in a passion for learning and research.

“The first time I heard the term psychology, it was as if I had cracked open a large book with light beaming out of it,” Smola said.

Because she is particularly interested in adolescent development, Smola has spent her time at ASU working with leading researchers including Nancy Gonzales, Foundation Professor of psychology and dean of natural sciences, and Leah Doane, associate professor of psychology and developmental area head. With Gonzales and Doane, Smola is working on ways to mitigate the racial and ethnic disparities that affect many Arizonan students. She credits Gonzales and Doane as two of the most influential mentors she has had at ASU.

As a first semester freshman, Smola became a research assistant at Bridges within the Culture and Prevention Research Lab, led by Gonzales. Bridges is a family-oriented intervention for middle school students and their families. The program works to reduce alcohol, behavioral and emotional problems in the long term by increasing engagement and support among families and within the school community. Smola has since presented research at a national conference and is currently working on her honors thesis with the lab.

Smola is also a research assistant at Transiciones within the Adolescent Stress and Emotion Lab, which is led by Doane. The Transiciones Project studies how the transition to college at ASU affects the physical and mental health of Latino high school students and their families. The lab uses physiological measures, such as hormone levels and sleep quality, to understand the impact of day-to-day experiences on physical and mental health.

Related: Mike Sladek Wins APA Dissertation Award on Transiciones Project

Smola’s work as part of the Bridges and Transiciones programs led to her “aha” moment: She realized she was captivated by the questions, experimental design and analytical aspects of psychology. She wanted to pursue a PhD.

“Working on these projects gave me the confidence to be where I am,” she said. “They have dynamically changed my career interests.”  

She hopes to one day become a researcher in the field of developmental psychology and to educate others on the challenges that ethnic students face in and out of the classroom.

“A lot of other ethnically diverse or first-generation students don’t have the opportunities I have had at ASU, so I think a lot of initiatives should go to answering these kinds of disparities, as well as health disparities,” Smola said. “Being awarded the Smith Marshall Scholarship is another great opportunity that will help me continue my academic studies.”

Smola said that as a first-generation college student and Hispanic woman, the Smith Marshall Scholarship has given her the confidence to ask questions and pursue a prominent career in research and developmental psychology. She encourages others to ask questions when they need it most.

“A big revelation I had while at ASU is that professors, faculty and peers want to help you succeed — the first step is to just be inquisitive and ask,” Smola said.

Smola has taken her love of learning one step further to the psychology department’s new Student Success Center, where she and others coach and tutor underclassmen.

“The really interesting and unique thing about the success center is that it’s specifically geared toward psychology. It is different from other tutoring centers because we’ve taken these courses, we’ve been in their shoes,” Smola said.

The goal of the center is to prepare undergraduate psychology students for success in academics and well beyond.

“As part of the inaugural SSC coaching team, Arlene has been instrumental in setting up the center and its initial success. Her enthusiasm is infectious to both the students and the other coaches,” said Whitney Hansen, senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology and supervisor of the Student Success Center. “She has used her advanced knowledge of statistics to help coaches review and students master the material. She is smart, passionate and supportive, which is why students who come to see her in the SCC keep coming back to receive coaching!”

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


First-generation ASU grad follows a path of sustainability

May 20, 2019

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

Sonia Lopez, who graduated with a biological sciences degree from ASU this month, has always been inspired to follow her interest in life on this planet in all its diversity. But she has also been inspired to share that knowledge with others. ASU grad Sonia Lopez Sonia Lopez Download Full Image

Lopez, a first-generation college student, was recruited to TRIO at ASU’s West campus during her freshman orientation. TRIO is a set of federally funded college opportunity programs designed to support first-generation students, low-income students, students with disabilities and veterans.

“TRIO was a second home. I would study and hang out in their office. If I was not in class, research lab or work, you would see me in the TRIO office,” she said.

Not only did Lopez find an amazing organization to be a part of in TRIO, but she also met a wonderful group of people who encouraged her to be more active at ASU. In her time at ASU Lopez was also an active member of the University Hearing Board, the International Food and Culture Club and the Hispanic Honors Society.

Lopez made her mark by helping other first-generation students have a better time at college by giving them the tools they could use to succeed.

“As a first-generation student, I understand how overwhelming university can be and how difficult the sciences are for my peers who share similar backgrounds with me. I hope that by connecting students to research and a great mentor, their experience at ASU is better,” she said.

Lopez shared with ASU Now about her time at ASU, what advice she has for current students and what the future holds for her.

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

Answer: I kept switching between majors! My transcript is a record of that.

I knew I wanted to study the sciences, but it took me a while to realize that all along biology was for me, [which I realized] during the end of my sophomore year. I have always had a deep curiosity in learning about life on our planet Earth.

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

A: I took a marine conservation biology course, and it has completely changed the way I see myself as a consumer. Our planet cannot sustain our current rates of consumption.

Plastic in our oceans and landfills provide physical evidence on how much we consume, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges my generation will face.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I knew I wanted to get a great education, and [I liked] their commitment to making university attainable to first-generation students.

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

A: Dr. Beth Polidoro and her lab manager, Cassie (Clement), both challenged me to think critically. Sometimes, I had to create tools to help me process several samples instead of doing two at a time.

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

A: This is the time to explore your interests and build your skills. The education and resources here at ASU are great. You should schedule some time to research what is offered at this university because you’ll discover a project or program you’ll be interested in being involved in.

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

A: Whenever I felt overwhelmed or needed inspiration, I went to the ASU Art Museum. It always put me in a better mood.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My immediate plans are to get plenty of rest before starting my post-graduate job. My educational journey has not yet ended. I plan to go to graduate school to study environmental science or sustainability.

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

A: I would create an organization that would teach and take elementary and high schoolers to nongovernmental organizations across the world so they can learn about conservation efforts. I think seeing how their actions impact local communities would make them more conscious.

Written by Sun Devil Storyteller Austin Davis, EOSS Marketing

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


ASU grad broadened his perspective at the Polytechnic campus

May 20, 2019

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

Throughout his time at Arizona State University, software engineering major Leirbag Fajardo combined his passion for technology with social concerns. ASU students Leirbag Fajardo and Aki Olambiwonnu share a laugh while volunteering at the Borderlands Produce On Wheels With Out Waste event at the ASU Polytechnic campus From left: Leirbag Fajardo and Aki Olambiwonnu share a laugh while volunteering at a Borderlands Produce On Wheels With Out Waste event at the ASU Polytechnic campus. Photo by Allie Barton. Download Full Image

Outside of his coursework, Fajardo was involved with Barrett, The Honors College's GlobalResolve, a social entrepreneurship program that connects students with real-world projects that directly improve the lives of underprivileged people locally and globally, as well as Changemaker Central, helping run donation drives and organize events on ASU’s Polytechnic campus. He was also a program participant and a student worker for TRIO at the Polytechnic campus. TRIO is a set of federally funded programs to support low-income students, first-generation students, students with disabilities and veterans.

“My time at Changemaker Central at Poly has been one of the best experiences at ASU. I worked with a group of passionate students who love to help local communities,” he said. “We got to plan some of the best events at ASU. Of course, I’m biased, but I don’t care!”

Before graduating earlier this month, Fajardo spoke to ASU Now about his time as a Sun Devil and where he wants to go from here.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: ASU had the resources for me to be successful in my field of study, while also applying challenges that make me feel like I will deserve my degree.

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

A: That cultural diversity is really important to me.

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

A: Dr. Kevin Gary taught me valuable lessons and gave me broader perspectives in my field of study.

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

A: I would encourage them to be outgoing and make as many friends as possible. Life’s too short to only focus on academics.

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

A: My favorite spot on campus was The Hub in the Polytechnic Student Union.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduating, I plan on pursuing personal projects that have been stalled due to other responsibilities.

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

A: With $40 million I would provide more resources and programs to students in K–12 that guide them into what degree or career they want to pursue in life.

Written by Sun Devil Storyteller Logan Maro, EOSS Marketing

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


PhD grad uses math to research asteroids and opioids

May 20, 2019

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

Wendy Caldwell grew up in Hendersonville, Tennessee, home to numerous musicians, such as Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Taylor Swift. Surrounded by music, she loved dance, choreography — and mathematics. Wendy Caldwell Download Full Image

Although a strong mathematics student, she was forced to drop out of college due to a sudden-onset health condition that left her bedridden and financially strained. Fourteen months later, her medical bills forced her to file for bankruptcy. Graduate school was not even on her radar.

Slowly, things began to change. Caldwell began seeing an acupuncturist to treat her musculoskeletal condition. She moved into her dad’s basement to save money, and she sought help for her depression and anxiety. Even though she had been told that she would never walk again, she persevered to not only walk but also return to dance performance, which she loved.

She transferred her college credits to the University of Tennessee and worked four jobs to pay for her undergraduate degree. Several professors encouraged her to get involved in research. She then started thinking about graduate school in applied mathematics.

In the summer before completing her bachelor's degree, she came to Arizona State University to participate in the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute (MTBI), and to see if she could survive the hot desert summer. She was impressed with the vast research areas of the faculty on campus, and especially ASU’s strong research in mathematical biology.

During MTBI, she met and worked with Stephen Wirkus and Erika Camacho, and she knew she wanted to continue working with them. ASU quickly became her top choice for grad school.

She also met an effective acupuncturist who treated her weekly. Although she received fully funded offers from several other schools, she ultimately chose Arizona State because it was the total package: full funding, a strong reputation for research, outstanding mentorship, availability of treatment for her condition, and excellent year-round weather. In the fall of 2014, Caldwell began her PhD journey at the age of 31.

In the summer of 2015, she traveled to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for the first time. She participated in a Computational Physics Summer Workshop and worked on shock wave propagation through porous solid materials. This sparked her interest in planetary science applications of mathematics.

The following summer she returned to LANL as a student in the Data Science at Scale Summer School. She worked on using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention internet traffic data to create near real-time predictions of the influenza season. Her work was recognized as one of the top three at the LANL Student Symposium representing work under the Associate Directorate for Threat Identification and Response. Later that fall, Caldwell suffered a traumatic brain injury and was unable to work on research for five months because of a severe concussion.

Caldwell saw how mathematical models can address a wide range of subjects, and she was particularly interested in problems that could not be addressed properly through experimentation. The first part of her doctoral dissertation focuses on the Vicodin epidemic in the U.S. Her mathematical modeling shows that prevention is more cost-effective than treatment or intervention at the addiction stage. Her research earned her Best Graduate Poster honors at the American Mathematical Society Poster Conference.

In fall of 2017, Caldwell returned to LANL as a full-time graduate research assistant to finish the planetary science applications of her dissertation, specifically asteroid impacts. Her project focused on modifying existing LANL-developed hydrodynamics code to model impact cratering events. She used LANL’s fast supercomputers for complex simulations that showed results in hours rather than weeks.

As a result of this work, Caldwell was awarded a $50,000 Emerging Ideas Research and Development grant from the Center for Space and Earth Sciences (CSES) Program to pursue simulations of asteroid 16 Psyche. The primary goal of the project is to determine the likely composition, porousness and material of 16 Psyche through comparison of simulated and measured values of the two craters on the asteroid’s surface. Her manuscript about this work has been accepted in the Journal of Verification, Validation and Uncertainty Quantifications, one of several journals by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

In addition to the CSES grant, Caldwell won the ASU Graduate College Completion Fellowship for the spring 2019 semester, which included one semester stipend, tuition and health insurance. She also won the Graduate Research Award from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences and the Outstanding Research Award from the Graduate and Professional Student Association.

“Since starting grad school, she has done research in computational physics, data science, epidemiology, computer science, planetary science and materials science. She has one manuscript accepted, one under revision, another under review and six others in progress,” said Wirkus, Caldwell’s adviser.

“Her work will have tremendous impact in two vastly different areas. Specifically, NASA has a planned mission to Psyche that will collect data, so it would benefit the planetary science community to know her simulation results before that mission launches,” he explained. “And her results on the Vicodin model will have a dramatic impact on the increasingly alarming opioid problem in the U.S.”

Caldwell received her PhD in applied mathematics from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences this May. We asked her a few questions about her ASU journey.

Question: What do you like most about mathematics?

Answer: I love that mathematics can address problems in a variety of fields and applications. I have always been someone with interests in a variety of areas, and math allows me to apply my skills to many different kinds of problems. Over the past five years, using my background in math, I’ve been able to do research on prescription drug abuse, nowcasting influenza with internet data, algorithmic development for reconstructing large data sets, hydrocode verification and validation, and impact cratering and solid mechanics on asteroid 16 Psyche. Being able to apply my skills to such a diverse range of problems is by far my favorite thing about math.

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

A: Without a doubt, that would be my adviser, Stephen Wirkus. He talked me off the “math ledge” every semester, and that gave me the strength and courage to keep going. He taught me that graduate school is not just about being smart and doing well in courses. Perseverance is one of the biggest keys to success in graduate study.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in graduate school?

A: I would tell graduate students that everything they are feeling is normal. It is normal to feel stupid and to feel like an imposter sometimes. It is also normal to feel confident and able sometimes. It is normal to feel all of these things multiple times per day. Those in charge of admission to the program know what it takes to succeed, and they saw that potential in the applications of the students they chose to admit. It is important to focus on the end goal — the degree — when the current situation seems impossible or hopeless. Also, build your network. It will serve you well as you start and build a career.

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

A: This is a toss-up between the patio outside Noble Library, where I would often get coffee and catch up with friends, and PEBW 240, the dance studio where I took contemporary ballet and postmodern contemporary to maintain a healthy work/life balance.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time for fun?

A: I haven’t had a lot of spare time in graduate school, but when I do find myself with extra time (and I don’t need a nap), I like trivia, karaoke, cooking, dancing, choreographing, reading, going to movies and self-care activities like pedicures, massages and facials.

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

A: I think this is two-fold: 1) that mathematics is not useful in everyday life, and 2) that mathematicians are little more than human calculators. I often hear people say they never use math since leaving school, but that is simply not true. Not all math is arithmetic, and this is a common misconception. Along these lines, it’s also common for people to ask how many digits of π I know, or something along those lines. I think this stems from the idea that mathematics = arithmetic.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to continue my work at Los Alamos National Laboratory by staying on as a postdoctoral researcher in computational planetary science, as well as other applications.

Q: Why were you originally interested in Los Alamos National Laboratory?

A: Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is a place of cutting-edge research. The work done at LANL has quite literally changed the world, and we have not seen war on a global scale since World War II. World-class scientists devote their careers to protecting not only our nation's citizens but people all over the world, and this often comes at a professional cost that hinders their publication rates and job prospects outside of the laboratory. I find that to be incredibly noble.

Q: Why do you want to work at Los Alamos National Laboratory?

A: I want to work at LANL because it has the interdisciplinary collaborative atmosphere of a university coupled with the overarching mission of national security. This gives the work we do at the laboratory a higher purpose, and it feels good to be a part of that. We have tools and resources here that I would not have access to elsewhere. Our computational resources alone are some of the best on the planet, and having access to those resources really broadens the scope of the work I can do. Since I first came to LANL as a student fellowship guest in 2015, I have worked on projects in computational physics, planetary science, materials science, data science, mathematical biology and computer science. I have been able to make meaningful contributions in a variety of research areas, and LANL provides me with the right environment to explore my many research interests.

Rhonda Olson

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


Language grad sets sights on international diplomacy, military career

May 16, 2019

Joseph Conant has planned on joining the U.S. Navy since he was a child.

Coming to Arizona State University, he zeroed in on the usual steps to get there. Conant joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program on campus and declared a physics major, part of the science, technology and math fields typically favored by military scholarships. Joseph Conant graduated this spring with a bachelor's degree French, minors in Arabic and military leadership, and a certificate in Arabic studies. Joseph Conant graduated this spring with a bachelor's degree in French, minors in Arabic and military leadership, and a certificate in Arabic studies. Download Full Image

But three semesters in and hit by a waning interest in the track, he looked to a more familiar path.

“I knew I wasn’t really feeling my physics major,” he said. “So I turned to French because I had taken a lot of it in high school, and Arabic came next.”

Conant graduated this spring with a bachelor’s degree in French, minors in Arabic and military leadership, and a certificate in Arabic studies, all from The College of Liberal Arts and SciencesSchool of International Letters and Cultures.

While he still eyes a future in the U.S. Navy, he’s forged a unique path to accomplish the goal. A turning point came after his junior year, when he took a chance on an opportunity abroad.

“I decided to take two semesters off of ASU and place a hold on my scholarship money to study Arabic at Qatar University,” he said.

Using funds from the Boren Scholarship, a national security-focused program funding long-term study abroad trips for undergraduate students in the U.S., Conant spent a year in Qatar’s capital Doha. Returning to ASU after a full-time language immersion and a truly global classroom made it all seem worth it.

“I added Arabic to my studies not to look better on paper, but because I actually wanted to have those skills and international experience moving forward,” he said. “My language skills before and after Qatar were worlds apart, so it was really impactful.”

Conant talked about his time at ASU and what’s next after graduation.


Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to pursue a career in your field?

A: Changing my major didn't necessarily dictate a change in my career plans, but coming back from Qatar really made me focus on this more diplomatically-minded track. Naval attache, ambassador and everything else — those are goals I have to work toward after making a conscious decision. And I feel like a big part of that had to do with my change in perspective.

I could have just stuck with physics, but in the end I realized I have more of a passion for the kind of thing I’m doing now. Studying diplomacy and conflict resolution helps you into jobs with the very specific goal of using diplomatic means to solve problems, and trying to do so as a first, second and even third step before military action.

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

A: I feel like this kind of applies to whatever you studied, but especially being a humanities major, you get the chance to be around so many different perspectives that you can then apply to facets of your own life. I think the biggest thing about going to university is the diversity — of gender, ethnic background, thought, opinion and beliefs. I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles that didn’t have a lot of that. Coming to ASU, one of the largest universities in the country, gave me the opportunity.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I was supposed to initially commission literally the next day after graduation, but I actually got accepted to a master’s program in diplomacy and conflict resolution in Israel. I’ll do that for a year and I'll commission when I return and head to flight school.

Midshipman usually major in science, technology, engineering or math. So as someone focused on foreign languages, I'm atypical. Eventually I want to use my language, culture and international experiences to be a foreign area officer, which is basically the U.S. Navy’s version of a diplomatic officer.

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

A: Professor Neimeh Mousa has been ever-present in my Arabic language learning process. I began my first semester with her and have interacted with her during every semester I've had in Arabic since.

I really appreciate her as a person and how she approaches teaching. She has written my letters of recommendation for both Qatar and Israel. So she has been immensely impactful.

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

A: There's so many things I wish I knew, some of which I'm not even sure I know now. But I guess my advice would be to make sure you form meaningful relationships with your professors because they're directly responsible for how good you look on paper and your letters of recommendation. They were there when you came in as a student and they’ll usually be there when you leave, so forming lasting ties with them can be really helpful to your future.


Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences