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Highly ranked for 'first-year experience,' ASU provides personalized support

Peer coaching, supports lead to ASU's high ranking for "first-year experience."
September 10, 2019

Peer coaching, chatbot help students new to ASU connect with resources

When Audrey Ruiz first came to Arizona State University, she was terrified.

“I was so intimidated by this huge public university,” she said.

“I had heard horror stories about how stressful and time-consuming college would be. But I wanted to make friends and go to football games and I wanted the whole experience.

“I was really nervous I wouldn’t be able to handle it all.”

Ruiz was assigned a peer coach at ASU’s First Year Success Center, and the one-on-one support made a huge difference. Her coach helped her break down her goals into manageable steps. Her main goal was to achieve a 4.0 grade point average.

“As the semester continued, I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this.’ And I did get a 4.0 and I still have a 4.0,” Ruiz said.

“And that motivation my coach gave me stuck with me and that’s why I wanted to be a success coach.”

Ruiz, now a senior political science major, is herself a peer coach in the First Year Success Center, helping first-year students find their footing. Students who are the first in their family to go to college, like Ruiz, are offered workshops and other supports. That coaching is just one way that ASU helps students who are new to campus — a philosophy reflected in the university’s ranking as No. 9 in the nation for “first-year experience” by U.S. News and World Report.

The “first-year experience” category is new this year and is based on peer surveys by the magazine, whose rankings were released Monday. The top 10 on the list are: Agnes Scott College, Elon University, University of South Carolina, Berea College, Georgia State University, Appalachian State University, Amherst College, Baylor University, and Arizona State University, which tied with Abilene Christian University for ninth place. 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. The widely publicized annual rankings compare more than 1,500 institutions on a variety of metrics.

That innovation translates directly to the first-year experience of ASU students.

Before they even arrive on campus, incoming students meet Sunny, the ASU chat bot. Sunny was created to answer questions from newly admitted Sun Devils via text messaging, and then was expanded to interact with first-year students too. It is one of many examples of the supportive community students encounter, one designed to make sure they are able to balance academics with what Ruiz describes as “the whole experience.” 

Sunny’s text messages “nudge” students, particularly in the early weeks of a semester. For example, a student who has missed classes might get a text from Sunny that says: “I’m checking in to see how it’s going because your professor let me know you haven’t been attending class. … I know the first few weeks can be overwhelming but I also know that you can do this.” Then students are prompted to respond whether they plan to attend the next class, and if not, they receive a prompt to contact their adviser.

Sunny also connects students to other resources, such as Sun Devil Fitness and ASU Counseling Services.

In their first days on campus, the students’ experience kicks off with ASU’s welcome week, a universitywide celebration that immerses students in the spirit, pride and tradition unique to ASU. An integral component of that week is Sun Devil Welcome, the only time the entire class will be together before graduation. The pep rally-style event allows incoming students to hear directly from Michael Crow, ASU’s president, and begin to experience all that student groups have to offer. 

First-year Sun Devils also are enrolled in a seminar course called ASU 101. Students learn time-management and academic integrity, but are also introduced to the values of the university, including its focus on sustainability and entrepreneurship. ASU 101 teaches all entering freshmen best practices to be academically successful in college.

The university has created residential communities in which students in individual schools live together. Administrators say this allows college staff, some of whom live in the halls themselves, to know where their students are and help keep them on target if their grades start to slip. 

The residential communities have communal study areas, creating an atmosphere of academic support close to home. Some also have exercise facilities and digitally enhanced classrooms. 

“Our goal is to have every student become part of a smaller community,” said Frederick Corey, vice provost for undergraduate education. “We provide ample opportunities for them to do so.” 

The first-year peer coaching program that was so beneficial to Ruiz is available to freshmen, sophomores and transfer students. It is done face to face, but also is offered by phone or on a Zoom video chat; allowing students the option to use their devices is critical to providing support.

"Today’s college students are growing up in a digitally connected world, which interestingly creates increased feelings of isolation,” said Lisa McIntyre, executive director for Student Success Innovation in the Office of the University Provost.

“In response to this growing trend, ASU is looking for new ways to create digital experiences that encourage engagement and foster feelings of belonging to the ASU community. Early evaluation suggests that our efforts are having a positive impact on students’ first year experience,” she said.

ASU builds connections through technology in other ways as well. The ASU Mobile App provides relevant, personalized content, such as reminders of important deadlines and tips on how to thrive in the first year.

ASU Adulting 101 is a blog and Instagram handle (@ASUAdulting101) where first-year students glean advice from peers and campus experts. The blog offers real-world tips on topics like how to use a credit card, how to make friends and what, exactly, “adulting” is.

ASU also supports first-year students in the classroom. Project LEAD is a curriculum that uses project-based learning to build skills such as teamwork, self-care and communication that students will need to succeed in college. Cohorts of 20 to 40 selected students study together as a community and get advice from peer mentors.

Some first-year students make connections even before classes start. Summer programs ease adjustment to campus life and build relationships with friends and mentors. The university offers bridge programs for American Indian students as well as for young people who have experienced foster care.

Djuan Porter, a junior majoring in theater in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, also is a peer coach, and said that his own first-year coach taught him to give himself a break.

“I was terrified because I set so many expectations for myself,” he said.

“But he helped me get to the root problem of how I was being a lot harder on myself than I needed to be.”

Porter said that the coaches are taught that it’s natural for overwhelmed students to jump to the worst-case scenario.

“But you have to challenge that, and we help you leverage what you are truly afraid of,” he said. “What are the things you can do and what are the things you don’t have control over?”

Both Ruiz and Porter said that joining organizations were helpful in making them feel at home during their first year. Porter was able to represent his housing community in the Residential Housing Association and helped to organize a successful end-of-semester event.

“It was a great moment for me because for so long I was worried about not fitting in or not being accepted because with being an open LGBT individual, there was always that fear,” he said. “It sparked a wave where the people around me made a support system and I wanted to do that for other people.”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU graduate students explore careers through The College Ambassadors program

September 9, 2019

From nonprofit and industry work to professorships and research, forging a career after graduate school isn’t always straightforward. 

A mentorship and networking initiative in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is helping students clarify their path — by connecting them with Arizona State University alumni who’ve already been through the process. Zain Bukhari, a doctoral student at The College's School of Life Sciences, speaks to Linda Raish during a meeting for The College Ambassadors this summer. Zain Bukhari, a doctoral student at The College's School of Life Sciences, speaks to Linda Raish during a meeting for The College Ambassadors this summer. Download Full Image

Launched in 2016 in The College’s School of Life Sciences, The College Ambassadors program includes graduate students from across the natural science, social science and humanities divisions.

Students selected for the program spend the summer serving as representatives for their schools and departments, reaching out to alumni to discuss research and future opportunities. 

Susanne Neuer is a professor in the School of Life Sciences who spearheaded the initial program there. It expanded to other units with the help of the Graduate and Professional Student Association at ASU and The College’s development team.

She said ambassadors are matched with alumni whose research and career trajectories match their interests. Students get firsthand insight into how their degrees apply to the real world, while industry leaders get an in depth look at the The College’s graduate programs and the talent being fostered within them. 

“By speaking with alumni who are focused on similar research or are in a career that the student is interested in pursuing after graduation, the range of opportunities for their own careers become clearer,” Neuer said. "Graduate students are also often busy during the school year — having this paid opportunity during the summer months allows them to stay engaged with The College, while also being supported financially.”

Meaningful networking

Advanced degrees sometimes pave the way for careers in academia. But the research students produce in their programs also has applications beyond the classroom. 

Madeline Kelley is a doctoral candidate in geography at The College’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. She participated in the program this summer while completing research at NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. She worked in the naval research lab exploring how turbulent water impacts the movement of minerals and other sediments in oceans. The position was one of several state and federal research initiatives she’s taken part in while a student.

School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning doctoral student Madeline Kelley

 She said the ambassador program was also a chance to navigate the challenges of careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields. 

“I've done other mentorship programs in the past, but The College Ambassadors program was unique because it focused on other people from Arizona State University who had different experiences and also very different career tracks,” she said. “The program also connected me with other female researchers who could talk about the hurdles they’ve encountered being a woman in STEM — that helped me feel more prepared for my own.” 

Real-world solutions

In the past, graduate students from arts and science disciplines might have expected to go into professorships or continue in academia. But Linda Raish, director of development for the natural science division of The College, said that’s changing.

“Only about 16% of our graduate students at the School of Life Sciences know they would like to go into academia, 84% are considering going into something else — that statistic is similar across the natural sciences,” she said. “We found that ASU’s research capacity and faculty caliber was giving our graduate students great preparation and insight into academia, but they also needed the insight of people working in industry research and development positions in private and public sectors.” 

That was the case for Zain Bukhari, a student pursuing a PhD in molecular and cellular biology in the School of Life Sciences. His research focuses on the analysis of an energy-storing enzyme called the ATP synthase and its potential use as a treatment aid in a number of diseases. 

As part of the The College Ambassadors summer program, Bukhari spoke with alumni he said helped clarify what could come next for his own work.

“I asked to be connected to some industry professionals because I already have a lot of very good academic connections here at The College and I'm not entirely sure whether I’ll take an industry or academic path after graduation,” he said. “I think especially in our field, there’s a big push to put scientific concepts and research toward finding real-world solutions — I talked to alumni doing both academia and industry work who had a lot of insight into how to do that.”

Evolving career paths and opportunities 

Raish said industry leaders are also engaging with the university in other ways as the ambassador program continues to gain ground. Twenty graduate students from eight different units of The College took part this summer and reached out to over 300 alumni, up by over 20% from 2018.

Daniel Kolk, an ASU alumnus who earned his doctoral degree in molecular genetics from The College in 1992, has advised graduate students with The College Ambassadors program in the past. From pharmaceuticals to plant-based protein, he said today’s graduates have expanding career options as technology and science become increasingly present in our everyday lives.

“At least four major branches of biotechnology are fields available to any science major,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize that things like the Impossible Burger are the products of scientific research — that plant-based product in particular was created by a microbiologist.” 

Kolk, who now works as the vice president of clinical development at Utah-based diagnostic device firm XCR Diagnostics, said despite the growing industry demand for biotechnology experts, many major research universities still expect graduates to continue into professorships or institutional research. He said he sees The College Ambassadors program as one way ASU is helping to change that.

The program expanded further when he, Raish and faculty leaders at The College formed the ASU Biotechnology Advisory Board last September. Now a year old, the board includes Kolk and 25 other industry professionals who monitor the evolution of bioscience research at ASU and connect with current graduate students. Raish said the concept could one day expand to other divisions at The College.

For Kolk, participating in the board is another way to help students understand how fields are evolving and how they can continue to innovate within them.

“There's literally dozens of different types of jobs in diagnostic, pharmaceutical, agriculture and food science companies that students aren't always being made aware of,” he said. “I try to educate faculty and students on this whole other realm of opportunity that didn’t exist in the same way a few decades ago, but can lead to a rewarding industry career today.”

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


ASU cybersecurity students invited to apply for preeminent conference

September 5, 2019

Each year more than 50,000 cybersecurity professionals from around the globe come together to attend the world’s preeminent cybersecurity gathering, RSA Conference. During the weeklong event, attendees share their cybersecurity knowledge with other cyber professionals.

In conjunction with the annual conference, organizers offer outstanding students an invitation to attend RSA Conference through the RSAC Security Scholars program. Arizona State University was one of the first of a small number of universities to offer the RSAC Scholars program to its students. ASU’s RSAC Scholarship program is managed by the Cybersecurity Education Consortium and the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. 2 students at the RSA Conference Raida Khan and Muhammed Kilig, RSAC Security Scholars, attend the world-renowned cybersecurity conference. Download Full Image

Students across ASU have the opportunity to apply for the RSAC Security Scholars program. Two ASU students will be selected to attend the weeklong conference in San Francisco completely free of charge, with all travel and registration expenses paid. Additionally, they are invited back in subsequent years, and their conference registration is waived, allowing them to meet the next cohort of scholars and continue networking with conference attendees.

The goal of this program is to raise awareness of cybersecurity degrees offered by ASU and select outstanding ASU cybersecurity students to attend the conference. It offers an extraordinary networking opportunity among hundreds of companies and a chance to learn firsthand from top cybersecurity experts from around the world.

Last spring, Muhammed Kilig and Raida Khan, both computer science majors in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, were ASU’s student representatives at the conference.

“It’s like every corner you turn in this whole conference is an opportunity,” Khan said. “We connected with the first female chief information security officer for the White House, and she said ‘Come meet me, we’ll talk,’ and we did!” Conference speakers ranged from the FBI director to actress Helen Mirren. 

“The final keynote was by Tina Fey. We’re like speechless … (because of) all the stuff we’ve gotten to do,” Kilig said.

Students who have attended in the past view the experience as a gateway to future opportunities.

“Attending the Conference was truly defining for me, as it opened up so many doors of opportunity and allowed me to meet some of the most inspiring leaders of the industry,” said Khan. “In the span of three days, I walked away with two internship opportunities.” Khan ultimately accepted an internship with Lockheed Martin this past summer.

Applications for the 2020 RSAC Security Scholars program are open now. Students interested should visit the CEC website for more information. Applications will be accepted until Sept. 15.

Program Coordinator, Cybersecurity Education Consortium, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences


DREAMzone provides DACA, undocumented students with support network

September 5, 2019

College can be a challenging time for any student. Balancing classes, extracurriculars, work and other activities is a difficult task. But for students who are undocumented or recipients of DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program), that balancing act can be even more challenging.

That’s why Arizona State University has a program called DREAMzone. DREAMzone provides biweekly support circles for DACA recipients, undocumented students and students from mixed immigration status families. Additionally, DREAMzone staff is available to talk with students or staff members who have questions regarding resources for students. DREAMzone also educates ASU staff, faculty and community members about DACA and undocumented students and how to support them.  DACA recipient an recent Arizona State University graduate Maria Sanchez Salcido Maria Sanchez Salcido is a recent Arizona State University graduate and a DACA recipient from Tucson. Download Full Image

For students with uncertain immigration status, the support circles are a necessary and valued safe space to share their experiences and connect with other students who are in similar situations. 

“Once I found DREAMzone, I feel like I was really able to open up and feel confident in that part of myself,” said Maria Sanchez Salcido, a recent graduate in biochemistry and psychology. 

Sanchez Salcido, a DACA recipient who grew up in Tucson, said she feels lucky to have been at ASU thanks to the Dream.US scholarship, but she still had her guard up on campus because she never knew how much information she should share about her immigration status. 

She struggled to find scholarships and a school that would work with her after she graduated from high school in 2015. Despite the struggle, she said that having to scramble to make college a reality taught her to persevere. 

“I’ve met a lot of great people in the DACA community who really inspire me to be better. It’s just taught me hard work,” she said.

Once she found out about DREAMzone, Sanchez Salcido said she felt like she could finally open up and know that she is “enough.”

“They helped me believe that being a DACA student can be a good thing and I should just own it,” she said. 

Sanchez Salcido started attending DREAMzone support circles in January 2019. She said that the circles provide a space to “share your stories” and build a network of support. 

“I’ve made such genuine friendships that I didn’t know were possible to make, given the context of my situation,” Sanchez Salcido said.  

DACA and undocumented students can face financial barriers and a lot of stress, said Carlos Yanez Navarro, a support specialist at DREAMzone and a DACA student himself. 

He said that being a DACA or undocumented student can be “very isolating” and that because people don’t reveal their immigration statuses often, DACA and undocumented students can “sometimes feel alone because we don’t know a lot of other students (in similar situations).” 

Yanez Navarro, also a Dream.US scholarship recipient, arrived in Arizona from Chihuahua, Mexico, at age 6 and is studying transborder studies at ASU. 

For Yanez Navarro, DREAMzone has helped him personally and provided an opportunity for him to help other students in his position. 

“I really do not feel so alone anymore,” Yanez Navarro said. “I am so grateful to DREAMzone for helping me feel comfortable at the university and to feel like I am part of the community here.” 

Are you a DACA recipient or undocumented student at ASU or want to learn more about DREAMzone? Check out the DREAMzone open house on Sept. 25 at 3:30 p.m. in the Student Services Amphitheater on ASU’s Tempe campus to find out about DREAMzone support circles, office hours and other resources to support you.  

Faculty and staff interested in hosting a DREAMzone training to raise awareness about resources available to ASU students should contact DREAMzone@asu.edu.

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


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Life lessons from the nation's capital

September 3, 2019

ASU's stable of ambassadors impart pearls of wisdom to new students

Arizona State University students have access to some of the greatest minds working in academia today.

They include Pulitzer Prize winners, Nobel laureates, MacArthur Fellows and Regents Professors, among other talented scholars.

And at the ASU Barrett and O'Connor Washington Center, they have the opportunity to learn from and be mentored by five current and former U.S. ambassadors. 

ASU Now asked those five ambassadors, John F. Maisto, Edward B. O’Donnell, Michael C. Polt, Kurt Volker and Clint Williamson, to impart their wisdom to students.

Man in red tie and dark jacket

John F. Maisto

John F. Maisto is a consultant on global affairs at Arizona State University and is an advisory board member of ASU’s Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety. He served as the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela from 1997 to 2000.

Q: What is the advice you give students upon entering your program?

A: ASU, now prominently in Washington, offers so many opportunities for incoming students, particularly those who spend some time in the nation's capital. Here’s some pointers:

  • Listen a lot, and engage with whomever you meet in the ASU world, and in the ASU-connected world.
  • Ask questions and do not fear making mistakes. You are students, and should.
  • Become acquainted with the fascinating world of national government. Visit the government buildings as part of your engagement efforts, with ASU personnel when possible.
  • Go to the Capitol, and attend Senate or House committee meetings. Visit your congressperson's office, meet staff people.
  • Visit the departments in the executive branch. Take advantage of the public tours and then go from there. Look for opportunities to accompany ASU people.
  • Sign up for and go to think-tank events. These events always have student attendees.
  • Schedule time with mentors. They are busy but will make time.
  • Soak in the many historic and cultural opportunities Washington offers, many of which are free.

Q: What advice do you give to students as they collect their diplomas and leave ASU to embark on their careers?

A: For students as they depart ASU, particularly those who will remain in touch with ASU in Washington, I say:

  • Stay close to ASU in D.C. as it is a unique resource for you due to its personnel there, those who come and go, and the widely connected ASU world.
  • Get cards printed up and get into card-exchange as you develop contacts.
  • Of course, keep an open mind as you put together your plans for the near/medium term.
  • Make sure your CV is in the best shape, and look for an ASU mentor to review it.
  • Look for recent ASU grads who have experience in areas of interest to you.
  • Take advantage of all Washington, D.C., has to offer.
Man in blue sweater with arms crossed

Edward B. O'Donnell

Edward B. O’Donnell leads the ASU course “Diplomacy in Action, the Embassy Country Team” at the McCain Institute and is developing additional educational programs. He retired from the U.S. Foreign Service in 2007, after 33 years in Latin America, German-speaking Europe and other positions in Washington, D.C.

Q: What is the advice you give students upon entering your program?

A: Prepare yourselves for your eventual career and consider “serving a cause greater than yourself” in the tradition of Sen. McCain, and prepare to be a “character-driven leader.” That includes having a vision of what you want to do in your life to make a difference, and also to have the skills that will make you valuable to your future supervisors and colleagues, such as critical thinking, the ability to express your views through succinct and persuasive writing and oral presentations. Also prepare yourself to be proactive in contributing to your team, expressing clearly how you can help achieve the overall mission.

Q: What advice do you give to students as they collect their diplomas and leave ASU to embark on their careers?

A: Broaden your horizons to include all possible interests in a future career and activities, and be open to opportunities you did not anticipate. Decide what issues you are passionate about and pursue those areas where you can make a difference in the lives of others. Start with the small steps toward your eventual goal and be patient, knowing that building your education, experience and skills will lead to a place in the future when you will have fulfillment that you have made a difference in the lives of others and contributed to a cause greater than yourself.

Man in glasses and blue blazer

Michael C. Polt

Michael C. Polt serves as senior director at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, after a 35-year diplomatic career including an assignment as ambassador to the Republic of Estonia.

Q: What is the advice you give students upon entering ASU?

A: The first advice I give students when they come to the Washington, D.C., (center) is that I want to introduce them to the world of foreign affairs, foreign development policy and implementation. I try to encourage them to have a career in international service, be it in the diplomatic service, be it in the national security sphere or other areas of U.S. government, or any other international endeavor. It could be in the private or nonprofit sector. I tell them as students they have a stake in international leadership in whatever area they find within the scope of their interests. We will show you and teach you and we will develop and engage you on issues of international politics, issues and leadership in order for you to get a close-up practitioner's picture as to how foreign policy and international affairs are developed, led, managed and implemented in the field. Despite all of the cynicism in our country today in regard to domestic and international politics, this is an important time for young people to enter this profession because they can make a difference.

Q: What advice do you give to students as they collect their diplomas and leave ASU to embark on their careers?

A: The first thing is I have to comment on the quality of the ASU student. Most come to us with very little international experience. Some of them with no experience outside the state of Arizona. We’re so impressed by how much they grow in that semester between the time they come to us and engage with us in those 15 weeks, and then come out the other end making most impressive presentations on pretty complex international diplomatic and foreign affairs issues.

Our advice to them is now go forth, engage and actually do these things. Don’t just talk the talk but walk the walk. Join the foreign service. Join an international organization. Join the intelligence community. Join the Defense Department. Join the military. Join whatever you find to be of the most interest to you, but do it with the intent of leading the international sphere. We’ve already chalked up some pretty successful people getting placed in impressive scholarships, impressive fellowships, moving forward in their careers in the international affairs arena. We urge them to stay in contact with us to make sure to give them the right recommendations, to give them the right connections, to help them build their professional networks in the international arena so they can be successful in whatever endeavor they choose.

Man in blue tie with smile

Kurt Volker

Kurt Volker serves as executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership at ASU. His expertise is in U.S. foreign and national security policy with some 30 years of experience in a variety of government, academic and private sector capacities. In July 2017, Volker was appointed U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations.

Q: What is the advice you give students upon entering your program?

A: I recommend taking a page out of the late, great Sen. John McCain’s playbook. Have courage, recognize that character truly is destiny. Be willing to work across divides, and extend human dignity to all. Do that and you’ll worry less about being liked and the perceived parameters of conventional success. Instead you’ll thrive across whole new domains with the confidence, determination and savvy that grows from associating with causes larger than self. 

Q: What advice do you give to students as they collect their diplomas and leave ASU to embark on their careers?

Volker: Start doing it, whatever “it” looks like for your career aspirations. You are not going to get an invitation, a tap on the shoulder or a hand-delivered career path. The professional work environment is welcoming, wherever you find yourself people genuinely want to help you advance professionally, but they aren’t going to look for you or make the first move. Knock on doors, make yourself known, offer up your services, expertise and interest, however tangential. No one is against you, but you have to go for it. The way to end up in the desirable positions you see others in is to recognize they likely got there by jumping in at any available capacity, with opportunities and relationships propelling them from there.

Man in glasses with blue shirt

Clint Williamson

Clint Williamson is the senior director for law and national security at the McCain Institute and a Professor of Practice at ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. He served as U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues from 2006 to 2009.

Q: What is the advice you give students upon entering your program?

A: The big thing I always try to get across to students is just to follow their interests. Law school in particular tends to have a herd mentality, which I think is worse than in most other academic settings. Law students tell each other, “You’ve got to take this course,” or “You’ve got to work as a clerk at this law firm.” The reality is that the field of law is so diverse that you don’t have to follow one well-trodden path. You can actually go out and pursue the things that are your passion. A lot of times that means not going to work for a large law firm or perhaps working for a government agency, or working for an NGO or the United Nations, or doing work overseas in post-conflict settings. I tell students not to try and map out what their career will be while they’re in law school or create this step-by-step process to get where they think they should go because there’s no guarantee that’s going to work out. That said, they should pursue the things they’re interested in because they have an equal chance that that’s going to be something that will turn out well at the end of the road. They should love what they’re doing. They should be open to opportunities that are out there, again, even if it does not sound like a conventional path for a lawyer. It should be something they’re interested where they believe they can make a positive difference, and do it!

Q: What advice do you give to students as they collect their diplomas and leave ASU to embark on their careers?

A: I tell them to be patient. A lot of the jobs that they are interested in and what we’re trying to prepare them for are incredibly competitive. A lot of people are fighting to get into these fields because the topics are sexy and interesting, like counterterrorism or war crimes. It’s interesting to a lot of people and it attracts a lot of applicants. The best thing they can do is to look at how they can get some practical experience. Don’t try to aim for the top right away. Go out and get your hands dirty. Go out and volunteer for a U.S. peacekeeping mission with an NGO that might not be the best-paying job but can offer lots of field experience. I think they have a much better chance of having doors open to them if they do something like that. They should get real world experience and use that as an entrée to bigger and better things. In the long run, this strategy pays off.

Top photo: Ambassador Edward B. O'Donnell leads students in politics and law through a practice of German-American relations concerning the Boeing 737 MAX scandal during 'Policy Design Studio 484 - Diplomacy in Action, the Embassy Country Team' in the ASU in D.C. Decision Theater on March 13, 2019. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


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10 ways Sun Devils can go green

September 3, 2019

You can help save the planet — here are some simple ways to get started

Welcome to Arizona State University, where we harvest dates from our palm trees and LEED certify our new buildings, and where zero waste is the goal. Even if you’re not a sustainability major, you’re probably trying to reduce your carbon footprint and help the planet we live on.

ASU was just named to the top 10 of Sierra magazine's Coolest Schools — an annual list of the greenest colleges by the national magazine of the Sierra Club — for its wide-ranging efforts, from a fair trade pledge to climate-neutral construction to coral reef research.

And there are plenty of opportunities around the university for students to help. Here are 10 easy ways to go green; many of them are cheap or even free!

1. Move it

Bicycle, skateboard, walk, ride the light rail and Orbit shuttles or call a Lyft. Last year the ride service company created a carbon offset program to ensure all its rides are carbon-neutral. Don’t have a bike? You can buy one cheaply from ASU Surplus. They have hundreds to choose from. After you get your gently-used bike, you’ll need a helmet and bike lock. Parking and Transit has you covered. Buy them at any of their offices for 50% off full price.

2. Join the crowd

ASU has a number of organizations devoted to going green. Among them are the Sun Devils 4 Fair Trade. This club supports trade between companies in developed countries and producers in developing countries in which fair prices are paid to the producers. 

3. Fill your plate

Eat at Engrained Café to show your support of organic, local food. (There are two locations, in Tempe and downtown Phoenix.)  Enjoy plant based meal stations at all the dining halls. Living off campus and cooking for yourself? Stretch that student budget by grocery shopping at Borderlands Food Bank, an Arizona-based nonprofit that rescues food before it goes to the landfill. Borderlands is one of a growing number of groups working to fight food waste in America, where more than 25 million people are unsure where their next meal will come from. You can buy 70 pounds of produce for $12

4. Spend it like you mean it

Support ASU’s Fair Trade designation by buying fair trade products, such as coffee, chocolate, nuts and granola bars, at ASU Pod Stores. Buy used clothing and appliances. Look for less packaging. Use reuseable bags. Refuse to use single-use plastics. And this semester, Zero Waste is planning an on-campus trading post with clothing that has been donated by students and staff. 

5. Talk trash

Bring your own utensils, reusable straw, and refillable water bottle. Recycle correctly, including using the Blue Bags. During 2014, ASU achieved a 26.5% waste diversion rate. Sun Devils diverted more than 1,200 pounds of polystyrene, which could fill an average-size one-bedroom apartment. And Ditch the Dumpster: Every year ASU students moving on or off campus realize they have accumulated more stuff than they need or have space for. Many of those items do not belong in the landfill. Ditch the Dumpster allows for reuse, repurpose or recycling of those items. Students who moved out of residence halls in spring 2019 donated 66,740 pounds of material to community organizations to be repurposed, 7,425 pounds more than 2018. 

6. Plant a seed

The ASU Seed Library is a free campus seed project committed to increasing the capacity of our community to grow wholesome food from the basic building blocks of life — seeds. To start your garden, just ask to see the seed boxes at the front desk at Noble Science Library. There are community gardens on ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus on the west side of Health South and at the Polytechnic campus. Have no idea how to garden? Susan Norton teaches PAC 240 – Physical Activity in the Garden on the Poly campus. Harvest oranges in February. The ASU Arboretum and Sun Devil Dining harvest five tons of Seville sour oranges, which are juiced, bottled and stored at the Sun Orchard facility. Oranges are used in delicious recipes at Sun Devil Dining kitchens across ASU campuses. You can also harvest and sell dates at the three-acre date farm at Poly.

7. Pitch in

Spend the day serving the community with fellow Sun Devils! A 16-year tradition, Devils in Disguise is the largest day of student-led service at ASU. Last year, more than 1,500 Sun Devils participated, providing more than 6,000 hours of service to 45 community service agencies. Make a significant impact in the local and global community with Sparky’s Day of Service. Volunteer with the Zero Waste department to help with Blue Bag sorts or stadium clean up after sporting events. 

8. Play ball

Green football games highlight ASU's standing as a national leader in sustainability. This fall it’s the Sept. 21 game against Colorado. All food, containers, flyers and other materials provided to fans at the game are either recyclable or compostable. Zero Waste ambassadors will wear blue vests at the game and speak with fans to educate them on composting and recycling. They carry cards with specific examples of ballpark foods and materials. After the game, the ambassadors sort through all of the compost and recycle bins to ensure that each piece of waste makes it to the right spot.

9. Get smart

Enroll in or take classes with the School of Sustainability. In study abroad programs you can witness and learn sustainability principles and solutions in international community, urban and political settings.

10. Get with the program

Report water leaks or buildings that are too hot or cold to Facilities Maintenance. Be aware of “vampire" energy and unplug cords that are not in use. Participate in Carbon Free Day on April 17. The full-day event extends to all ASU campuses and helps reach its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2025. Sun Devils can pledge to ride a bike instead of driving, eat plant based meals on campus or other carbon reduction methods such as taking the stairs instead of an elevator. 

Top photo: Undergraduate Brianna Smith pulls seeded lettuce out during the PPE 240 Gardening class that focuses on gardening in desert climates on the Tempe campus on April 23, 2019. The course, fulfilling physical activity requirements, is a partnership between Mary Lou Fulton, the School of Sustainability and Barrett, The Honors College and is open to all university students. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU alum utilizes his humanities degrees to join political conversations, past and present

August 30, 2019

For L. Benjamin Rolsky, a 2006 undergraduate alumnus in history and religious studies, his passion for research is practically a genetic trait. His grandmother subscribed to multiple academic journals in her pursuit of big questions and deep interest in the Hebrew Bible. While he was always fascinated with the topics, he says his grandma influenced him greatly.

“Growing up, I was always drawn to history in general and American history in particular,” Rolsky said. “In many ways, my interest in history and religion is a direct outgrowth of my grandmother’s interest in biblical studies as an academic field.” Photo of Benjamin Rolsky Benjamin Rolsky graduated in 2006 with his bachelor's degree in history and religious studies. Download Full Image

Rolsky attended high school in Cave Creek, Arizona, where one of his teachers suggested he apply to Arizona State University to join the history department and Barrett, The Honors College. He began as a history major, and after taking a world religions course “began to truly pursue religion as a subject of study and research.”

He lived in the Barrett dorms where he made lifelong friends and overall enjoyed his time as a student. Then his senior year came. He was looking forward to classes and drafting his honors thesis when he experienced the defining moment in his academic career.

“During the drafting process, my thesis adviser, the late religious studies Professor Ken Morrison, suggested to me that I rethink my plans to apply to graduate school due to my performance,” said Rolsky. “This observation challenged me to think hard about my life after college. I redoubled my efforts and by the end of the year, Professor Morrison had awarded me the best double major award in the department of religious studies. Ken played an indispensable role in my development as a scholar, and I am thankful for the time that I had with him.”

After graduating from ASU, Rolsky went on to attend Claremont School of Theology where he received his Master of Arts in American religion, race and politics, his Master of Arts in religion in the history of Christianity from Yale Divinity School, and his PhD in American religious history from Drew University.

The cover of Benji's book. The title is framed with red and orange stripes and blue stars.

The cover of Rolsky's forthcoming book, "The Rise and Fall of the Religious Left: Politics, Television, and Popular Culture in the 1970s and beyond." The book is set to release in November 2019. 

He currently holds a position as an adjunct instructor at Monmouth University in New Jersey teaching history and anthropology and is a part-time lecturer in religious studies at Rutgers University. This upcoming fall, he will be taking on a new role in conjunction with his current positions.

“This coming fall, I will be serving as an expert commentator for the 2020 presidential election from my home department,” Rolsky said. “I will be made available for those journalists, writers and analysts looking to learn more about the role of religion in politics and American public life writ large.”

Rolsky is also in the midst of promoting his debut book, “The Rise and Fall of the Religious Left: Politics, Television, and Popular Culture in the 1970s and Beyond,” which is set to release on Nov. 12.

“In addition to this, I am preparing remarks for a presentation that I’ll be making at the American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting in San Diego titled, ‘Establishments and their Fall: Direct Mail, the New Right, and the Transformation of American Politics.’”

What’s next for Rolsky? After he finishes his current project, he is planning to complete a book proposal for a second book project on the history of American conservatism from World War II to present day.

“I’ve known Benji since 2007, when I joined the faculty of the Claremont School of Theology, where he was an MA student,” said Richard Amesbury, the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies' new director. “He immediately impressed me as a thoughtful observer of American religious history and public life. (He) is a shining example of the sort of students (the school) produces. A summa cum laude graduate in religious studies and history, he has gone on to become a scholar and critic of postwar American culture, focusing on the fertile nexus of religion, American politics and popular culture.”

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

Hugh Downs School doctoral student wins debate coaching award

August 29, 2019

Michael Tristano Jr., a doctoral student and a recipient of the Graduate College Completion Fellowship at Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, received the Assistant Coach of the Year Award by the National Speech & Debate Association (NDSA) at their national tournament held in June in Dallas.  

Tristano, who has been involved with speech and debate for more than 15 years, moved to Arizona in August 2015 to pursue a doctorate in communication. He was nominated by Nick Klemp, director of forensics at Phoenix Country Day School. Michael Tristano Jr. receiving the Assistant Coach of the Year Award by the National Speech & Debate Association at their national tournament in Dallas. Download Full Image

In his letter to the association nominating Tristano, Klemp says he jumped to hire Tristano as an assistant coach even though they had never met, at the recommendation of multiple colleagues.

“I have learned so much working alongside Mike, and I would not be the coach I am without him as a colleague,” Klemp wrote. “His ability to connect with our students, foster their talent and humanity and motivate them to reach as high as possible leaves him without a peer in our community.” 

Tristano says that the students at Phoenix Country Day School understand that their words matter and that communication has material consequences. 

“As a coach, it’s part of my job to have really important, and sometimes really difficult conversations about what messages they want to craft,” Tristano said. “My role as a coach is never focused on trophies. I teach students that the greatest accolade they can receive in this activity is having someone listen to their story and their truth.”

Tristano added that all of the skills students need to become change-makers — including argumentation development, political awareness, style, confidence, hope, determination, advocacy and a hard work ethic — are learned through speech and debate.

“Michael received multiple teaching awards here at the Hugh Downs School, so it comes as no surprise that he is being honored for his excellent work coaching speech and debate,” said Linda Lederman, director and professor of the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication.

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


Early Start Program gives first-year student a jump-start on education

August 28, 2019

Elizabeth Rapacz began her college career at Arizona State University two weeks earlier than her first-year student peers by enrolling in the Early Start Program. The first-generation student was inspired by her own personal health challenges to earn a biochemistry degree, with the goal of becoming a neurosurgeon, but she felt a little lost as to how to navigate college. 

“My parents have expectations and I have expectations for myself, but I don’t really know how this is going to go,” said Rapacz. “But I know that as a freshman, I’m going to make mistakes, and I have to be OK with that since college is just one big learning experience.” Biochemistry student Elizabeth Rapacz took part in ASU's Early Start Program. Download Full Image

Rapacz is a first-generation American whose parents immigrated to the United States from Poland and met in Phoenix. She grew up in Pinetop, Arizona, and at the age of 5 was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. This life-altering diagnosis and the close bond she formed with her endocrinologist would be the biggest influences in her choice of a college major and career goals. 

“I want to keep the legacy my endo taught me of actually caring for people and helping them through their struggles,” said Rapacz. 

Rapacz is pursuing her dream of attending a university and one day having a medical practice to help serve low-income families in the community. She entered ASU through the Early Start program, developed personal relationships with her peers and mentors and found a support system and resources through the School of Molecular Sciences

The Early Start program gave Rapacz a chance to do a test run of what college was going to be like and let her explore her interests and get involved with campus activities. She has joined eight clubs and is looking forward to networking with her peers and professors and finding an internship for hands-on experience in her major. And although she is majoring in biochemistry, she intends to study abroad and take advantage of every opportunity her college experience presents.

“My experience in the Early Start School of Molecular Sciences program was absolutely amazing. I met awesome peers and mentors who really gave me an idea of how college is going to be,” said Rapacz. “It also gave me a best friend and a close-knit group of friends I could go to before classes even started.”

Communication specialist, School of Molecular Sciences

ASU 365 Community Union presents the Live Well Stadium Yoga Series

August 27, 2019

Just in time for the start of the school year, ASU 365 Community Union is officially open and ready to bring a variety of events to the ASU campus and surrounding community. Starting in September, the Community Union will be offering free yoga classes on the Coca-Cola Sun Deck at Sun Devil Stadium as a part of the Live Well Stadium Yoga Series.  

“The 365 Community Union strives to bring communities together, and what better way than with free yoga?” said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, ASU vice president of cultural affairs. silhouette of someone doing a yoga pose Download Full Image

Get the mind-body benefits by learning the basic principles of yoga and practice with an amazing group of people right on the ASU Coca-Cola Sun Deck. Each one-hour introductory-level class is an opportunity for yogis and new practitioners to learn the basic principles of yoga and to share positive vibes with Sun Devils, community members and stadium views.   

“Yoga is a centuries-old wellness discipline, the practical benefits of which to cognitive function, physical adaptability and spiritual strength are only beginning to be fully realized by medical science today," said Troy Sterner, program manager for ASU 365 Community Union. "It is a profound honor to be working with local studios in the community to offer this kind of engagement as we kick off wellness programming at the ASU 365 Community Union.”

Each session is taught by instructors from local studios across the Valley, including Yoga to the People, Hot Yoga University, The Madison, Laughing Buddha Yoga and Sweatshop on Central, as well as teachers from ASU’s very own Sun Devil Fitness Complex. The 11-week series will feature 16 classes. 

Whether you are a hardcore yogi or brand new to the practice, all levels are welcome. 

As collaborating Tempe studio Laughing Buddha Yoga puts it, “If you can breathe, you can do yoga.” Classes are complimentary for both students and community members.Take one hour for yourself to relax, bend and breathe. Please be sure to RSVP and bring a mat, towel, water and a positive attitude.

All classes begin at 7 a.m.

Class schedule: 

  • Sept. 9-14, 16, 26, 30 
  • Oct. 7, 17, 21, 28
  • Nov. 4, 18
  • Dec. 2

Claim your free spot exclusively through the ASU Mobile App.

More information on all the upcoming events at ASU 365 Community Union at asu365communityunion.com.

Marketing Coordinator, ASU Cultural Affairs