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After a break to play pro golf, graduate returns to earn degree

May 26, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Skyler Hong first attended Arizona State University in 2008, but after a semester, decided to leave and pursue a career in professional golf.  ASU grad in laboratory Photo courtesy of Skyler Hong Download Full Image

Hong played golf for the next several years, competing in small tours across Asia and the PGA tour in China in 2014. But he said uncertainties of a career in professional golf and a desire to pursue a career in dentistry led him to return to The College Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU in 2016.

“During my time playing golf, I felt really nervous for not having a backup plan in case I never made it as a successful player,” said Hong, a recent graduate of The College’s School of Life Sciences with a degree in biological sciences (neurobiology, physiology and behavior).

Hong came back to ASU and met with an adviser who helped him get enrolled again for the next semester.

“Coming back after taking a break from school was definitely challenging,” he said. “However, I think the challenge was really in my head.”

Being an older-than-usual undergraduate student made Hong worry he’d feel out of place at ASU.

But that’s not what ended up happening.

“I feel extremely fortunate because my first semester back actually gave me a lot of confidence throughout the next four years,” Hong said. “I knew I could succeed because ASU supplies students with amazing tutoring centers, supplemental instruction sessions and thoughtful professors to help us do well in class.”

Hong answered some questions about his time at Arizona State University.

Question: How has The College prepared you for success? 

Answer: ASU and The College prepared me for success by supplying me with the best professors and tools to feel ready for dental school, which is where I want to go after graduation. I have had multiple professors who love to give examples of how their class is useful in our future line of work. Sometimes, it was the most unexpected classes where I learned the most! In addition, there were times when I felt exams were quite challenging, but later on, I realized how important it was to have that knowledge for future classes. 

Q: What’s been your motivation to succeed?

A: I was a regular volunteer at a homeless shelter called André House of Arizona as well as Brighter Way, a nonprofit dental clinic I spent two years at. During these years, I realized how little care is put into oral health for those who are struggling financially. I would like to one day give back to the community by helping those who need dental services.

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

A: I feel my “aha” moment was when I took BIO 201: Anatomy and Physiology I, and I learned an introductory level of how parts of the brain work and how they function. I wanted a major which focuses on just that, and when I shared that with my adviser she suggested neurobiology, physiology and behavior.

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

A: Something that I learned time and time again is how everyone struggles. There are times when you feel everyone is smarter than you, but I realized everyone struggles and that whoever studied the most efficiently does well in class. 

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

A: It's really difficult to single out one professor because I feel each of my professors has taught me something very important. If I had to choose one professor, it would be Dr. Rizal Hariadi. He was my research professor and he taught me not to get lost in the little things and to enjoy what I'm passionate about.

Q: What inspired you to pursue a graduate degree?

A: I’ll be attending the University of New England’s dental school in Portland, Maine, as part of a four year program. The reason I picked University of New England was because of more clinical experience I would receive and also because we’ll get to work with drills and hand pieces on our first week of school. UNE was definitely my first choice and I am grateful ASU helped me reach my goal! 

Christopher Clements

Marketing Assistant, The College Of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Sparky’s Virtual Experience helps high schoolers learn more about ASU degrees

May 20, 2020

Access ASU is offering a number of virtual sessions for eighth- to 10th-grade students across the United States through a new college readiness program called Sparky’s Virtual Experience.

These sessions provide high school students the opportunity to learn more about the hundreds of degree programs offered at ASU, connect with student success resources and services, and engage with their peers from the comfort of home.  A high schooler's hands working on a laptop Download Full Image

The sessions are presented in three categories: STEM, business and technology, and interdisciplinary studies. Each session will be offered twice and will be hosted over the course of two weeks, with students participating in workshops for three hours each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

ASU Assistant Vice President of Outreach Partnerships Lorenzo Chavez said the events are an opportunity for students and families to gain invaluable insight into what college programs exist here at the university. 

“While we will not be hosting in-person summer programs, ASU is still making sure that families have access to the information they need to make decisions about higher education opportunities and ensure the safety of our students and families,” he said. “And this year people don’t have to travel to or within Arizona to get that preview of both ASU and different majors.”

The virtual workshops are being presented using Zoom and feature activities to engage students, promote discovery and provide Q&A opportunities with current college students and professors. Students will have the chance to learn about student organizations and life on campus, as well as the requirements and career opportunities for each degree program.

The program launched in early May with the presentation of the first STEM session, facilitated by the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. In this session, students participate in a number of engineering challenges and activities.

“One of our overarching goals is to broaden participation in STEM by developing a sense of engineering identity in young people. Sparky’s Virtual Experience aligns well with that,” said Jennifer Velez, the senior program coordinator with the Fulton Schools’ outreach and recruitment.

According to Velez, some of these activities include engineering design challenges, which will incorporate easily accessible materials students can find around their homes. One of the biggest projects students will have the chance to work on will be virtual and serve as an introduction to coding.

Using the program Scratch, students will create animated projects that, according to Velez, will represent “something fun that they learned during Sparky’s Virtual Experience.” 

In addition to participating in hands-on activities, students also get a chance to interact with a number of college students not only from the engineering program but from other educational backgrounds as well. 

Each session has undergraduate ASU students known as Gold Guides helping to lead the events. These Gold Guides are on hand to help welcome the middle and high school students, answer any questions they might have and ensure that the workshops run smoothly.

“I think it’s important for young people to hear from someone who is a college student,” Velez said. “That’s probably a really critical piece to all of this is the fact that they get to engage not only with our engineering students but with students who are working with (Educational Outreach and Student Services) as well.”

These guides are typically at new-student orientations and around campus the first week of school helping new students get adjusted. They play the same role at the virtual events.

“My job as a Gold Guide is to be a welcoming face at Sparky’s Virtual Experience,” sophomore Emilia Banuelos said. 

Banuelos is studying family and human development and speech and hearing sciences. With this event, she is finishing up her first school year as a Gold Guide. Banuelos said she believes the virtual format has many benefits for the participants and their families. 

“It’s a good first step to finding out what ASU has to provide for students. It's really informational,” she said. 

The initial session focused on STEM ended May 15, and the next STEM session will be offered June 15–26. A business and technology session will be offered July 6–17. The first interdisciplinary session will be presented June 1–12 and again July 20–31. 

More information about the event schedule and instructions on how to register can be found on the Sparky’s Virtual Experience page.

Written by Marisol Ortega, Sun Devil Storyteller

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


ASU journalism students receive encouragement from prominent journalists during virtual ceremony

Cronkite School graduates heard messages from former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour and more

May 19, 2020

Arizona State University's 2020 Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication convocation was an event unlike any other in school history.

Instead of a single convocation speaker, 27 of the nation’s prominent journalists and communication professionals addressed the graduates through video messages, reminding them that their skills are needed more than ever during this unprecedented time. They included former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, ESPN host and commentator Michael Wilbon, PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff, former “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer, and CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour. Karenna Guzman Karenna Guzman (center) celebrates her graduation from the Cronkite School at home with her mother and father, Kristen and John Guzman. Download Full Image

Dozens of Cronkite faculty and staff also shared encouraging messages, well-wishes and career advice through recorded videos. And Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan stood in an empty First Amendment Forum to deliver his final commencement speech after 15 years at the school. The ceremony also featured more than 200 photos of students taken during their years at the Cronkite School.

Afterward, the students gathered in virtual Zoom rooms to spend time with some of their favorite professors as they reflected on their experiences at the Cronkite School.

The ceremony, held on May 12, marked the school's first virtual convocation, celebrating the accomplishments of more than 400 graduates. They, their families and friends joined the ceremony in real time on YouTube and Facebook Live. Views totaled more than 5,000 on Facebook and more than 2,000 on YouTube.

“Feeling super thankful for the special #CronkiteConvocation I was able to share with friends and family everywhere,” graduate Pauline Verbera posted on Twitter shortly after the ceremony.

“I celebrated my college graduation at home surrounded (at a safe distance) by the people I love. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my journey, from California to Phoenix to Miami. I am beyond blessed. Congratulations to the Class of 2020!” wrote graduate Danielle Malkin in a Twitter post.

Kristen Guzman, whose daughter Karenna was one of the Cronkite graduates, wrote, “You and your grad crew exceeded our expectations with the online graduation! Thank you for turning such a sad situation into a memorable event for my daughter. She was thrilled with it, which warmed our hearts!”

In their recorded messages to students, journalism professionals noted the unusual circumstances in which graduates find themselves and the challenges ahead.

“What a time to dive into the industry!” said ABC15 News anchor and Cronkite School alumna Katie Raml of Phoenix. “We need your fresh eyes right now and your creative spirit, and your excellent commitment to fabulous storytelling. We need that now more than ever.”

Woodruff reminded graduates that they are more uniquely prepared to enter journalism and communication careers than any other class in recent history.

“You are the rarest of all student journalists. The very fact that you’re graduating is part of the news story of a lifetime,” she said. “We as a nation and you, as the bright future of this nation, will not just get through, but you will flourish.”

Callahan lauded the graduates for persevering and exceeding expectations as the school transitioned to online learning in the midst of the pandemic.

“You faced the single biggest danger to our country since World War II, a threat that seemed to come up and hit us with no warning, and you took on the challenge in remarkable ways. You showed enormous adaptability, seemingly transitioning to remote learning in a matter of days,” said Callahan, who is leaving the Cronkite School this summer to assume the presidency of the University of the Pacific.

Of the more than 400 graduates, 354 received bachelor’s degrees, with 129 earning a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communication and 72 earning a Bachelor of Arts in sports journalism. Thirty-seven students earned a Bachelor of Science in digital audiences degree, and 116 received a Bachelor of Arts in mass communication and media studies.

The Cronkite School also graduated 53 master’s degree students. Of those, 11 earned a Master of Journalism and Mass Communication, two received a Master of Arts in sports journalism, five a Master of Science in business journalism and 35 a Master of Science in digital audience strategy.

Student speaker Kara Harris reminded her classmates during the online ceremony about the importance of adaptability as they move into their careers.

“Just our very participating in this virtual ceremony really demonstrates the exact concept that I had to learn in every newsroom I’ve had the privilege of working in,” she said. “Be ready to adjust to changes — whether that’s covering breaking news or finding ourselves in the midst of a pandemic. We have to continuously show that we are ready for whatever life throws our way.”

Six students were named Outstanding Undergraduate Students, including Harris, and seven students received the ASU Alumni Association’s Moeur Award, which is presented to graduates with the highest academic standing who have completed their degrees.

In addition, 20 students were inducted into Kappa Tau Alpha, a national college honors society that recognizes academic excellence and promotes scholarship in journalism.

Here is the complete list of Cronkite student award winners:

ASU Alumni Association Outstanding Graduate
Ranjani Venkatakrishnan

Outstanding Undergraduate Students
Jennifer Alvarez
Marcus Xavier Chormicle
Derek Hall
Jack Harris
Kara Harris
Grace Oldham
Karisma Sandoval

Outstanding Graduate Student
Molly Duerig

Outstanding Journalism Dual-Degree Student
Marcella Baietto

Outstanding Undergraduate Online Student
Quinlyn Shaughnessy

Outstanding Graduate Online Student
Miranda Gaona

Highest Undergraduate Grade-Point Average
Katie Baker

Top Innovator Award
Jordan Evans

Highest Undergraduate Grade-Point Averages
Derek Hall
Grace Oldham

Cronkite Spirit Award
Scotty Gange
Mythili Gubbi
Leterance Thatch

ASU Alumni Association Moeur Award
Mythili Gubbi
Derek Hall
Caitlynn McDaniel
May Phan
Karisma Sandoval
Quinlyn Shaughnessy

Kappa Tau Alpha National Honor Society
Jennifer Alvarez
Marcella Baietto
Julia Bashaw
Loza Brook
Mythili Gubbi
Derek Hall
Kara Harris
Jonathan Hrkal
Nicole Ludden
Ellyson Lundberg
Caitlynn McDaniel
Alisa Murphy
Grace Oldham
Jenna Ortiz
Jessica Pauley
May Phan
Karisma Sandoval
Tara Schultz
Thomas Triolo
Jessica Zorker

Jamar Younger

Associate Editor, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Fulbright scholar used her narrative to be an ally to the undocumented community

May 19, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Berenice Pelayo has always been passionate about immigration policies and the undocumented community.  Berenice Pelayo in front of the WP Carey Business School in her cap and gown Berenice Pelayo Download Full Image

Growing up in a household with mixed immigration status allowed her to understand the hardship that immigrant families can experience. The 23-year-old Arizona native graduated last week with a degree in business law from the W. P. Carey School of Business and Barrett, The Honors College

During her time at Arizona State University, Pelayo was a student specialist for DREAMzone, an on-campus resource for the ASU community in support of undocumented, DACA students and students with families of mixed immigration status. Here she was able to help students with scholarships, DACA renewal forms and any questions regarding the transition to ASU. 

“I just want to be an ally, knowing that I am privileged to have been born here and that not all people have that same advantage. Undocumented students face many challenges related to their immigration status inside and outside of the classroom, which makes attaining a higher education increasingly difficult. That’s why I wanted to work with DREAMzone. I have met so many resilient and inspiring fellow students through my job. ,” Pelayo said. 

Being a transfer student from Central Arizona College did not stop her from getting the full Sun Devil experience. Pelayo was a Devils’ Advocate, giving school tours. She was also the president of the Global Council of Diplomats, which focused on bridging the gap between domestic and international students. 

Her final achievement as a Sun Devil was earning a Fulbright scholarship to Mexico City, where she is set to depart in January. 

“Walking through the Barrett hallways, you see all the photos of the students who have gone to different places through different scholarships. I thought that it would be so cool to be on that wall. So it’s kind of full circle now. I’m definitely so excited and so grateful that I got it,” Pelayo said. 

Pelayo will spend nine months abroad through the Fulbright Garcia-Robles Binational Business Internship. 

“I will be working for a Mexican or multinational company. The purpose is to gain business skills with a goal of creating mutual understanding between the private sectors of Mexico and the United States,” she said. 

She will also take business courses at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México and will facilitate financial literacy classes for teens in public libraries or community centers. 

After graduation, Pelayo will start her new endeavor in the finance industry. As she graduated, she reflected on her time as a Sun Devil. 

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

Answer: My “aha” moment happened the semester going into my senior year. 

I changed my major so many times because I have so many interests. It was hard to choose! However, I have always been interested in the intersection between the law and business, therefore business law was a perfect fit.

I’m part of Program Excellence. Program Excellence is a Barrett program for students who are interested in pursuing a career in law or they’re just interested in learning more about the law, and it’s in conjunction with Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in Downtown Phoenix. 

So I’ve been able to take a law class with law students there. That’s been a really cool opportunity, one of my favorites through Barrett. The whole point of that was to let students see what it would be like to be in a law school. Although I am not planning on attending law school in the near future it has been an amazing opportunity to gain exposure to the environment and teaching practices of the Law College.

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

A: There are so many different types of students at ASU from around the world and different parts of the United States, and we’re all so diverse. We bring so many different qualities to ASU. But what’s interesting is that we’re all brought together in this huge community because we’re all pursuing an education and trying to better ourselves in some way. 

It is great to see how the ASU community comes together. Overall, the giving spirit of the ASU community is inspiring and has shown me that true success is when you do good and use it to help others to do even better.  

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I’ve always wanted to go to ASU. It’s never even been a doubt that I wanted to go anywhere else. My mom went to ASU, and I’ve always thought ASU is the greatest university. I just always wanted to go.

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

A: Anita Verdugo Tarango has taught me the importance of mentoring younger people. Just gaining experience that you can use to help other people. She's been a mentor, which is awesome because you know, she's successful in her career. She’s had a lot of life experience and then she also uses her position to help others. So that's inspiring to see. That’s something I would like to do once I have more of an established career to be able to help others find their way as well. 

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

A: Try new things. Just apply for things. With the Fulbright program, even though it’s something that really got my attention, I wasn’t sure if I should even apply. And there’s always that little bit of self-doubt. 

Like, should I even bother applying? Should I put that effort in or will I even get it if I do apply? But I think what is most important is just if it’s calling your name, just apply for it. Don’t tell yourself no. Just do it. And then if it happens, it happens and you never know where that will take you. 

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

A: My favorite spot has to be the Leadership Academy for business students. It’s great because they have free printing and computers, but free printing is a huge plus and it’s just a great space to get stuff done and also meet up with other students there. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: In June I am going to be starting my first full-time position working for a retail banking company. I’ll be starting in the finance industry, which I’m really excited to learn more about. 

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

A: To fund worldwide education so that every kid has an education. If a child is given the opportunity to learn and that environment to thrive, then subsequently the other problems that we face in the world would also be solved or diminished. Because that generation of educated kids around the world will then solve other problems like poverty and hunger. It’d be a trickle effect.

Written by Carmen De Alba Cardenas, Sun Devil Storyteller

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


ASU grad looks forward to a career in criminal justice

May 19, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

For Anahi Parra, education is a path to a job that doesn’t feel like a job. Anahi Parra ASU grad Anahi Parra Download Full Image

Parra graduated last week with a degree in criminal justice and a minor in social welfare from the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Parra aspires to one day work as an FBI agent, Border Patrol officer or a probation officer. 

She got a headstart on her career experience working as an intern for the Maricopa County Adult Probation department in the Presentence Investigation Unit.

“I was taking DNA samples. Anyone who’s convicted of a felony, they have to submit to a DNA test. So that’s what I was doing. It was pretty fun,” Parra said.

Parra made the most of her ASU experience. She enjoyed attending career fairs, worked in the Education at Work program at ASU and even studied abroad in Costa Rica for a summer semester. 

A Phoenix native, Parra has always wanted to give back to her community and be out in the field making an impact. 

With her undergraduate years at ASU now complete, Parra reflected on how her journey began and where she plans to go next.

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

Answer: I feel like ever since I was in high school I knew I wanted to help out my community and give back, because in high school I would volunteer a lot with St. Mary’s Food Bank or St. Vincent de Paul. I also knew deep down that I didn’t want to become a social worker because that's not what I was interested in. 

So throughout high school, that’s what really motivated me to figure out that I wanted to be a criminal justice major and also because I want to be out in the field doing something. I don’t want to be in an office doing case management or anything like that. I want something exciting and fun and basically feel and know that I’m working but it doesn't feel like I'm working because I love my job so much.

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 from a personal standpoint, ASU has taught me how to save money. My freshman year I was buying lunch on campus every single day and you know, keep in mind, I didn’t live on campus, so I didn’t have a meal plan. I didn’t have a car, so I was spending money on transportation. Then toward my sophomore year I started to meal prep.

I also studied abroad last summer in Costa Rica. When that happened I had to save money because (even though) I had scholarships for the trip to be paid for, I still needed to save for spending money or emergency money. So, ASU really taught me that I should not only rely on financial aid to pay for everything; it was my responsibility to save money.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Well, initially when I graduated high school, I didn’t even think about going to ASU. I just thought about going to community college and then transferring to ASU. I mainly thought that I wasn’t even going to get financial aid from ASU because my grades were OK, but not straight A’s. 

Also, I was scared to start off at a big university. But my mentor, she's the one who encouraged me to apply. She was like, "just do it, you never know if you'll get a scholarship.” So, I did, and I got a grant and here I am.

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

A: One professor right off the bat is Professor Eric Johnson. He's my internship coordinator, and I had him in some of my previous CRJ classes. He is always pushing us to do our best no matter what. 

Also (academic success coordinator) Shonda Hertle. I keep in close contact with her. I’m always asking her just random questions and she’s never denying me or telling me to go to someone else. She’s always there for me and she’s always providing a lot of resources.

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

A: I would say work hard and go to any ASU event, even if you go by yourself because more than likely someone else will be there by themselves, too. 

Work hard. Especially if you’re first-generation, you need to bust your butt to do everything you can to make your parents proud or to make yourself proud. That’s mainly why I did it.

And especially because no one wants to be up at one o’clock in the morning doing projects. That’s one thing that I’m glad I don’t do. I don’t do all-nighters to finish my homework. I am mainly on top of everything. So, I feel like if the students start off with that their freshman year, it’ll continue on as a habit so they’re not all stressed out, adding more stress on top of what they’re already feeling.

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

A: Well throughout my four years I traveled back and forth to the Tempe campus and the Downtown Phoenix location. I would say for the Tempe campus, I really enjoy just staying in the library and just chillin’. Even if it wasn’t for homework, I can go in there and take a nap and no one will tell me anything or I can go in there and eat food. 

Then in the Downtown Phoenix campus, I really enjoyed staying in the Student Center. I liked all the nice furniture that they have and they always have events there. I can always just hang out with my friends and not even do homework, just chill until the next class.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Well, I had a trip planned but it was canceled because of the coronavirus. I had a service learning trip to Spain, but like I said, it was canceled. I think as of right now, I do want to try to get a higher position, where I am currently working, in the meantime while I apply to other jobs and wait to hear back from them. So I’m really striving to get to a higher position so I can work full-time with them and then just apply everywhere else. 

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

A: Extreme poverty in Third World countries and education. I really like and am fascinated with the service agencies that go out to rural countries and build houses and build schools and then teach all those kids. I feel like more funding should be provided to them just across the United States and across the world, anywhere in general. I feel like that’s super, super important. Also, a little more funding with providing more supplies to young girls like, giving them more feminine hygiene products.

Written by Carmen De Alba Cardenas, Sun Devil Storyteller

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


Dean's Medalist excels in math — and physics

May 19, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Alyssa Burgueno is the Spring 2020 Dean’s Medalist for the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. Alyssa Burgueno Alyssa Burgueno is the Spring 2020 Dean's Medalist for the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at Arizona State University. Download Full Image

She graduated from Arizona State University in May with concurrent bachelor of science degrees in mathematics and physics, and a certificate of cryptology.

Burgueno has an outstanding cumulative GPA of 4.03, with many of her highest grades earned in very challenging graduate level courses. She was the only undergraduate student enrolled in MAT 541, a graduate level course on p-adic numbers. The course is entirely theoretical, taught at the level of comprehensive exams for the doctoral program. Burgueno received another grade of “A.”

In addition to her outstanding classwork, Burgueno has performed impressive undergraduate research projects. In the summer of 2017, she participated in the NSF sponsored program MCTP (Mentoring Through Critical Transition Points). She conducted research on a new model for the MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) signal that incorporates time dependence, under the direction of associate professor Rodrigo Platte. She presented her results at the 2018 Joint Mathematics Meeting (JMM) in San Diego, the largest gathering of mathematicians in the world.

“Alyssa has been one of the best undergraduate students I have mentored at ASU,” Platte said.

Burgueno did not originally plan to attend college. Growing up, she enjoyed math and physics, but her parents did not push her either way in terms of going to college.

With successful careers in the real estate and mortgage industry, Burgueno's parents proved as powerful examples when she was considering future choices. They expressed that a college degree is not necessary to make money or be successful, and encouraged her to have an open mind about schooling as well. She was also concerned that student loans might bury her in debt.

“I decided to just try college out for a semester, and from then on I was hooked,” Burgueno said. “Every day I learn a bit more about this deep, vast, untouchable place of math and every day I realize how much I enjoy it.”

To pay for school, Burgueno worked as a server or host at various restaurants around the valley. Her senior year she worked as a grader and instructional assistant for the school.

Burgueno tutored other students in math, physics, French, writing and history, and recorded teaching videos for a high school level online physics course. Among her many honors, she was a Golden Key International Scholar, Goldwater Scholarship nominee, and selected as a top 20 junior to attend the inaugural Jonathan D. and Helen Wexler Mathematical Sciences Junior Dinner.

She was active in building a strong community in the school of math. As a club leader, she helped to relaunch the student chapter of the Association of Women in Mathematics. She believes women are a vastly underrepresented group in mathematics, and STEM in general. and would like to build awareness and begin to reverse that trend.

"Before working with the AWM chapter, I was not aware of the struggles a lot of female students and faculty in STEM go through regularly," Burgueno said. "I think it is very important to build awareness of these struggles so we can collectively work to eradicate them."

One day in February 2018, during her MAT 442 Cryptography II class, she had an unprovoked grand-mal seizure. She had shown no previous symptoms, and had no forewarning. She woke up with a group of firefighters in the room and could not remember anything.

“The whole event was a bit traumatic, to be honest," Burgueno said. "I lost my memory for a few hours — my name, family members, where I was, what I did."

She regained memory of her identity and recent memories within a few hours, and older memories and ideas within a few days.

About six weeks later, tests came back from her neurologist. Burgueno was diagnosed with epilepsy. She manages her condition with medication, and has had only one other seizure.

After discussing with numerous doctors, Burgueno made the difficult decision to take a year off from school.

The medication prescribed for her is a mental suppressant, which essentially makes it harder for signals to pass between neural connections ensuring signals only pass if they are meant to.

Due to the suppressing nature of the drug, Burgueno found it difficult to think for months after she started the medication. She spent many months simply sleeping and just trying to get used to the medication as she recovered.

“It’s amazing how long the brain takes to recover from any changes,” Burgueno said.

She got a job in Sedona, Arizona, as a barista, and found a place to live near her work and her family.

“I really enjoyed being close to them and having a peaceful job and stress-free life.”

Returning to ASU was difficult.

She wasn’t sure if it was the medication or the year away from math, but she found the subject to be quite daunting to pick up again.

She wasn’t understanding the material well and struggled to grasp everything that was presented. This was reflected in her grades. She had to rebuild her studying stamina — and other little things, like getting used to reading often, and writing notes for a few consecutive hours.

“I would like to say math was my comfort, but I was honestly really discouraged that something I had enjoyed so much had become so difficult,” Burgueno said. “When I first came back to ASU, the homework and tests and material felt like an uphill battle rather than a fun puzzle.”

During her second semester, she was finally able to settle back into a much better routine. She was able to really enjoy the learning process — the note taking, exams, homework and all.

Previous to her diagnosis, Burgueno had been awarded the Jack H. Hawes Memorial Mathematics Research Scholarship. She was able to defer the scholarship for a year. When she returned to ASU, she again started working on her honors thesis, under the direction of Nancy Childress, associate professor of mathematics and Barrett, The Honors College faculty honors adviser.

Her research project examines p-adic numbers with an emphasis on developing theory useful for quantum mechanics.

“I am particularly interested in this research project because it uses abstract algebra extensively, but it is also incredibly enjoyable to work in such a strange world of numbers,” Burgueno said. “Many principles that seem like instinct to us are shattered or altered in this different p-adic field which leads to fascinating proofs, unintuitive results, and real promise to revolutionize areas of mathematics and physics alike.”

"Alyssa is self-motivated, curious, and quick to absorb new ideas. Her enthusiasm for learning mathematics led her to choose very difficult subject matter for her honors thesis and complete it successfully,” Childress said. “It has been a pleasure working with her. I look forward to seeing her research career develop further as she enters graduate school.”

Burgueno plans to pursue a PhD in mathematics with an emphasis on algebraic number theory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also won a study scholarship through the German Academic Exchange Service, which may send her to Germany for a couple of years to work on a master's degree before returning for her PhD.

“Alyssa Burgueno is an outstanding student with a near perfect GPA in two majors, math and physics. In addition, she's completed two research projects, (one being her honors thesis, and presented both at professional conferences,” school Director and Professor Al Boggess said. “With this unusual level of achievement, it is little wonder she was selected as this year's Dean's medal in SoMSS.”

We asked Burgueno to share a bit more about her journey as a Sun Devil.

Question: What does receiving Dean's Medal mean to you?

Answer: My journey at ASU, and by extension my introduction to adulthood, has been filled with hard work and a deep appreciation for Mathematics, academia and research. While I believe I have grown greatly through my studies, there were certainly times of uncertainty and confusion. In addition, I have struggled from a number of unexpected health issues. To receive the Dean's Medal for the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences as a conclusion to my studies at ASU is truly a great honor. I am grateful to the many wonderful faculty who have guided me toward this achievement.

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

A: I originally enrolled in ASU with the intent to receive a major in physics. I knew physics required a deep understanding of mathematics; thus, I enrolled in a double major with math. However, I had an “aha” moment in MAT 300 when I learned the proof that the square root of 2 was not a rational number. I found it so simple, elegant, clever and honestly beautiful. Once I got a taste of logical beauty, I was hooked and have since shifted my focus to number theory. Though I am still pursuing a degree in physics, I am mainly interested in number theory and ways to apply number theory to modern physics.

Q: What do you like most about mathematics (and your area of concentration)?

A: My favorite thing about mathematics is the certainty of logic. In many other disciplines, there is disconnect between exactly what we observe and exactly what is occurring. For example, we cannot observe quantum mechanics or the RNA process of the cell and, thus, we must rely on certain simplifications and assumptions. However, mathematics uses pure logic to prove results with absolute certainty — though, I suppose, most of modern mathematics rely on the axiom of choice.

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

A: In my linear algebra course a number of years ago, Professor (Bruno) Welfert held up a pen and held it so only the back was visible from the audience. “From this perspective, you would think the pen is simply a point,” he illustrated as he emphasized linear algebra was all about the point of view. In a very literal sense, this has changed my perspective on a larger life scale. It can often be both fun and rewarding to analyze situations from different perspectives, to turn the picture. In fact, you often miss something if you stick to looking at an issue with the same point of view.

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

A: Dr. (Nancy) Childress has been one of the most influential people throughout my academic career. She has shown me the beauty of mathematics and the thrill of math research. The most valuable lessons she taught me are to persevere in the face of challenges, to always give the your best effort, and failure is a part of learning.

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

A: Talk to faculty about their research interests early in your degree and find something that you would be interested in studying in depth.

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

A: There are many things misunderstood about math by the general public, predominantly resulting from inadequate math education. I think the most unfortunate misunderstanding is that many think math is a system of memorizing formulas and plugging in numbers to find an answer. However, mathematics requires extreme creativity and cleverness to create proofs and solve complicated problems — it is a series of fun and challenging puzzles where answers can actually help people. It is rarely a game of “plug-n-chug” and far more often a game of “make this canvas beautiful using only and exactly 73 colors”.

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

A: I enjoy many things, especially outdoor activities. I do yoga in the mornings and practice the piano most evenings. I enjoy jogging and hiking with my dog. I am a novice mountain biker and enjoy the Sedona Mountain Bike Fest every year. I like to bake, but I am quite an awful cook. I also like to draw/paint outside, though I can’t say I am all that good. I suppose a day of fun would comprise a long bike ride or adventurous hike with a sketch book followed by snacks and rafting down the creek.

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

A: Though $40 million is a lot of money, it is not enough to solve any problem currently facing mankind. Thus, this comes down to a maximization of the funds given type of problem. Therefore, I would concentrate my efforts on supplying clean drinking water to all as I believe this can be accomplished within the budget and would create a substantial increase of average living conditions on our planet. The thought that many people sharing our same Earth do not have access to clean drinking water, one of the basic needs of survival, is quite disheartening. With some time developing more efficient water cleaning systems, such as osmosis and distilling methods, and budget to develop and implement such systems, I believe this problem could be nearly eradicated within the budget.

Rhonda Olson

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


image title

Summer enrollment sets ASU record

Summer enrollment at ASU is up 16.5% over last summer, with 56K taking classes.
Number of first-year students taking summer classes is up 74% from 2019.
More than 5,200 courses are offered during ASU's summer sessions.
May 19, 2020

Students near and far getting ahead with flexible, relevant remote courses

Venkata Masagoni is pursuing two degrees at Arizona State University, so while he’s spending the summer back home in India, he decided to get ahead by taking 12 credits.

Masagoni is among a huge surge of students who are taking advantage of ASU’s broad course offerings this summer: Enrollment is up 16.5% from last summer with more than 56,000 students taking summer classes, a university record. More than 1,300 of them are newly admitted fall 2020 first-year students, an increase of 74% from last summer.

“I have been trying to pursue two degrees and graduate in time, which meant extra credits that I had to take,” said Masagoni, who lives in Hyderabad and is majoring in finance and data analytics. He’s taking a marketing course, a business analytics course and two computer information system classes.

“I also have a lot of time to focus on my studies this summer since I'm mostly home due to the circumstances we're in. This is a perfect opportunity for me to stay home and focus on my studies and hobbies.”

With daily life upended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ASU stepped up to expand summer offerings, knowing that students needed more options.

“Our faculty have shown remarkable adaptability and an unyielding commitment to student success by making classes available through remote options and offering multiple start dates this summer,” said Executive Vice President and University Provost Mark S. Searle. “I am equally impressed by the students who have enrolled in summer classes — they are choosing to approach our present reality as an opportunity to make progress on their academic goals.”

More than 5,200 courses are offered, including relevant topics such as Pandemics and Public Management, Navigating Complicated Grief during COVID-19, and The Moviegoer’s Guide to the Future: Infectious Diseases.

In addition, 24 of ASU’s most popular courses are offered with multiple start dates throughout the summer for students who need flexibility. Among those are introductory classes in biology, chemistry, economics and psychology, as well as a course in popular music.

ASU also added incentives for summer students. Newly admitted first-year and transfer Sun Devils receive a $500 tuition award for every three credit hours enrolled, and “visiting scholars” from other universities can take advantage of a streamlined application process.

One of the first-year students who’s getting ahead is Logan Mizuba, who is taking two courses this summer: calculus for engineers and English 102.

“I’m striving to study abroad sometime in the next four years, so I'm taking some classes to free up some time and space for future semesters,” said Mizuba, who is majoring in aerospace engineering with a focus in astronautics — while he completes his senior year of high school in Hilo, Hawaii.

“Additionally, now that I've been in quarantine for almost two months now, I've grown bored of the same monotonous routines I've established for myself. With summer classes, I'm able to keep my mind busy and invigorated, while simultaneously getting ahead,” he said.

Starting ASU classes in the summer means more than just six credits for Mizuba.

“I'm most excited about the fact that I'm finally starting my career as an aerospace engineer, which has been my dream for so long now. And to finally get to learn about the field and pursue my passion feels fantastic,” he said.

The for-credit courses are just part of ASU’s schedule this summer. ASU for You, the university’s vast collection of online resources curated onto a single platform, also is available throughout the summer. That content, much of it free, is for all learners, from elementary school students to adults. It includes free online course materials for high school students from ASU Prep Digital; free self-paced modules in areas such as entrepreneurship, caregiving and sustainability; professional development courses created by ASU experts in topics including human resources and marketing; and many of ASU’s summer youth programs, such as hip-hop theater and veterinary science, which have switched to online.

One of the visiting scholars is Kennedy Kaminsky, who will be a junior at the University of the Pacific this fall. The Chandler resident plays volleyball at the Stockton, California, college. She is taking Biology 100 at ASU this summer to fulfill one of her general education requirements.

“I wanted to do something during the summer, especially because of the coronavirus, and this was the last general-ed course I needed,” said Kaminsky, who is majoring in communication.

“So, I picked ASU and then they told me about the program where I can take class and have it transfer to my university,” she said, noting that the process was easy.

ASU’s Session B starts July 1. Learn more at summer2020.asu.edu.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU opera singer rebuilds her voice and discovers new artistic path

May 18, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

ASU graduate student Stephanie Sadownik, DMA in voice performance, started suffering from undiagnosed vocal health issues soon after she auditioned for the voice program at the School of Music in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. So, she created new opportunities and carved out new artistic pathways for herself — all while refusing to give up on her dream of performing. Stephanie Sadownik Stephanie Sadownik Download Full Image

“Even though my first instruments were clarinet and percussion, I always sang, especially musical theater,” she said. “I was involved in all the school plays and musicals and loved performing.”

After nearly a decade of performing as a professional singer and teaching in community music schools in Las Vegas, Sadownik came to ASU to earn her doctoral degree in music and study with mezzo-soprano Stephanie Weiss, assistant professor of voice in the ASU School of Music.

Sadownik entered the voice program at ASU with significant unidentified vocal health issues that began after her audition. During her first year and despite her vocal difficulties, she performed her DMA recital with unique chamber orchestra programming of Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder” and Respighi’s “Il tramonto,” was a soloist with the Chamber Singers Bach concert at Tempe Center for the Arts and performed in the Music Theatre and Opera’s New Works readings of “The Halloween Tree” and “Marie Begins.”

In her second year, Sadownik was diagnosed with a disorder that caused the muscles in her neck to function incorrectly, which led to her vocal health issues. Since there was no damage to her vocal chords, she studied speech pathology exercises and with the assistance of Weiss began to rebuild her voice.

Because singing and performing were still a struggle, Sadownik focused on her other main interests: directing and entrepreneurship.  

She directed the ASU Music Theatre and Opera’s student lab productions of “Trouble in Tahiti,” an original adaptation of Purcell’s “The Fairy Queen” and double-bill “Nora at the Alter-Rail” and “Hand of Bridge.”

“Stephanie is a charismatic and versatile performer, stage director and producer, and one of the most creative, innovative and energetic people I have ever met,” said Weiss. “She possesses a world-class, colorful mezzo-soprano voice, which she uses in combination with her love for acting and storytelling to become a complete artist.”

Sadownik was the assistant director to David Lefkowitch for “Les Mamelles de Tirésias” for Music Theatre and Opera. She was selected to attend the competitive Yale Summer Directing Intensive for summer 2019. And, in fall 2019, she staged Dominick Argento’s “From the Diaries of Virginia Woolf” with Duo au Courant.

“Working with Stephanie as both a singer and director was exciting as she was able to use what she has learned from me as a singer and, in turn, teach me about the character I was singing from a director’s point of view,” said Weiss. “This was an extremely special moment for me as a mentor.”

Vocally progressing in her third year, she performed the role of Zita in Music Theatre and Opera’s “Gianni Schicchi.” She designed her final voice recital, based on the works of Chausson and Elgar, as an innovative, socially-active artistic experience for the audience. In addition to singing, she was the assistant director for Arizona Opera’s “La bohème” and the director for the ASU Music Theatre and Opera New Works reading of guest artist Laura Kaminsky’s “Hometown to the World.”

Sadownik was selected as a national semifinalist for the Fulbright Award to Germany. Though she did not win, she conducted research on Emilie Mayer, an unknown but prolific German female composer, at the Berlin Library and retrieved Mayer’s manuscripts as part of her doctoral document project.

She was a graduate teaching assistant for the voice program, Weiss’ assistant in undergraduate studio classes and co-instructor for the Undergraduate Opera Scenes class. In addition to teaching at ASU, Sadownik also teaches private voice lessons at Linton-Milano Music School in Mesa. She is the artistic director and co-founder of the Arizona Women's Collaborative, an all-female-identifying new works initiative composed of singers, composers and poets, which has commissioned and premiered 10 new works to date with music and lyrics by female-identifying artists.

Before coming to ASU, Sadownik was an apprentice artist with Sarasota Opera, PORTopera and a three-time Opera Fellow at Aspen Opera Center. She received her BM in vocal performance and a minor in Italian from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music (2006) and her MM in opera performance from the University of Maryland (2009). 

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

Answer: My "aha" moment and introduction into classical singing occurred when I saw my first live opera, “La bohéme,” by Puccini, and was utterly spellbound and deeply moved by the singing. I had no idea one could train to sing like that, and I was very fortunate to encounter a teacher in high school who encouraged me to do so.

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

A. Opening night of my first opera I ever directed certainly changed my creative abilities and perspective. I had never directed anything before, and this was an original adaptation of Henry Purcell’s opera “The Fairy Queen” and William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that I wrote with my musical director, Kamna Gupta. We had undergraduates and graduate students involved, a live band, choreography and it was outside. It was the most difficult project I had even taken on and I was terrified, but I threw everything I had into this production. Through the difficulty, I found immense resilience in myself, faith in my own creative sensibilities, expansion in my capabilities in team building and vast enjoyment being a director. I was so pleased and proud with how the production turned out and how well the singers performed. It built my self-confidence immeasurably, knowing what I am capable of, that my voice and ideas are valid, and sparked a passion in directing I didn’t know I had. I realized, along with being a voice teacher, I really love working with young singers in helping them discover stagecraft for themselves.

Q. Why did you choose ASU? 

A. I chose ASU because of the other graduate programs offered; it seemed the most diverse as far as what classes you are able to take, performance opportunities as well as having a wonderful faculty who I greatly admired.

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

A. My amazing voice teacher Stephanie Weiss taught me the most valuable lesson: Never give up. Singing opera is difficult at the best of times, and there are moments of vocal transition and changes that everyone goes through. It can leave one feeling a bit hopeless and frustrated. Stephanie Weiss instilled in me that even when you are having a bad singing day, month or year, just keep going one foot in front of the other and you will eventually get the other side of the mountain. This has been monumental for me in so many ways.

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

A. Go outside of your box. ASU is one of those schools that gives its students a bit of free reign when it comes to their schedules and what they can take. I would encourage all students to get out of their comfort zones, be a part of a club that interests them that may have nothing to do with their major. Meet new people and learn how to collaborate with others. You never know whom you will strike up a conversation with or who will be your next partner in some project. The more you expand your skill set, ASU will be there to help seed your ideas and projects and see them through to fruition.

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

A. For a school that is technically in the middle of the desert, I was surprised and pleased with the amount of greenery and fountains on the Tempe campus. Waiting between classes, I would sit at the fountain in the School of Music courtyard or a take a nice walk through campus and visit the Biodesign Garden.

Q. What are your plans after graduation?

A. My hopes are to continue building my creative life as a teacher of voice, a stage director and a producer of new works. In all the uncertainty of these times, it is difficult to know how my goals will pan out. Nevertheless, the good thing about being a musician is that one gets used to uncertainty, and at least I have more time to practice.

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

A. As an opera singer in the United States and for many musicians, the option of a steady job with one company is not a reality. Even as a teacher, you are working as an independent contractor, not usually a company employee. This makes obtaining and keeping affordable and quality health care especially difficult. I know so many artists, including myself, who are concerned about falling ill and having no recourse. If I had to choose just one problem, I would use the $40 million to work toward a functional, affordable and reliable health care system here in the United States.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music


Fulton Schools outstanding grad plugs into engineering and helping others in a big way

May 18, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Brielle Januszewski says that she never understood what an engineer was or what an engineer could do, so she never considered engineering as a possibility for her. When she applied to colleges, she decided to major in sustainability. Brielle Januszewski Brielle Januszewski is a triple major and Barrett, The Honors College, student graduating with degrees in environmental engineering, biological sciences (conservation biology and ecology) and political science along with a minor in French and a certificate in international studies. Download Full Image

“After some research, I realized that the type of work I want to do is better suited to an engineering degree, so I switched my major,” says Januszewski, whose hometown is Phoenix. “Now that I am in an engineering program, I know that it is the perfect major for me and I do not want to do anything else.”

She was a member of Fulton Ambassadors for three and a half years, during which she volunteered to teach high school students about ASU engineering through campus tours, special events and shadow days.

“As a Fulton ambassador, I could reach out to younger students and inform them of the opportunities and benefits of engineering that I was never aware of,” says Januszewski. “I wanted to impact the lives of all the students who came to ambassador events and let them know that the Fulton Schools can help them on their path towards a successful and meaningful degree.”

In terms of work with peers, Januszewski managed an ASU team of more than 20 civil engineering students to design and construct a lightweight concrete canoe to compete against 17 regional schools in the Regional Pacific Southwest Conference of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

“The concrete canoe was the most memorable project I worked on,” she says. “It was a yearlong effort on which I worked for 20-40 hours a week with my best friends. It was great because it was challenging, but once we were able to compete it was so rewarding to see all of my hard work — something that was fun, competitive and truly impressive.”

Januszewski is a triple major and Barrett, The Honors College, student graduating with degrees in environmental engineering, biological sciences (conservation biology and ecology) and political science along with a minor in French and a certificate in international studies.

In addition to her roles with Fulton Ambassadors and ASCE, she was the external affairs officer of Tau Beta Pi, she led an Engineering Projects in Community Service program project, she participated in two semesters of the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, was in the Grand Challenges Scholar Program and served as an undergraduate teaching assistant for five semesters. She also is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Chi Epsilon and SSEBE Ambassadors, and she received NASA Space Grant research funding.

She was selected as the Outstanding Graduate in the civil engineering program and was named ASU's Outstanding Graduate from the Fulton Schools. Januszewski also is a recipient of the IMPACT Award from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering for her leadership, volunteer and service roles that have positively impacted the community. 

Januszewski, who is also a recipient of a 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program award, encourages women to have the confidence in their own abilities to chase the opportunities represented by an engineering degree.

“Women generate ideas that are just as innovative and valuable as anyone’s,” says Januszewski. “So, being a woman in engineering is important because it benefits everyone when we can apply our skills and pursue our interests.”

Erik Wirtanen

Web content comm administrator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Leadership, community involvement and global action were the hallmarks of honors graduate’s experience

May 18, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Primrose Dzenga knows that combatting food insecurity and poverty is key to building resilient communities, and she spent much of her time as an undergraduate at Arizona State University working on a project aimed at this endeavor. Primrose Dzenga Primrose Dzenga graduated ASU this week with bachelor’s degrees in global studies and creative writing with honors from Barrett, the Honors College and a master’s degree in political science. She will remain at ASU to pursue a PhD in the Innovation in Global Development program. Download Full Image

Dzenga graduated ASU this week with bachelor’s degrees in global studies and creative writing with honors from Barrett, the Honors College and a master’s degree in political science. She came to ASU after receiving an associate degree with honors from Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona.

She founded and has directed for the last four years the Machikichori Citrus Reforestation Project in her birthplace of rural Wedza, Zimbabwe. The project is a 12,000-tree community orange orchard run by women.

The aim of the project is to create an income source for people in the community and help alleviate malnutrition and extreme poverty. In addition to producing a marketable crop, the project focuses on dropping the mortality rate of children younger than 5 years old and counteracting global warming through reforestation and environmental rejuvenation.

Last year, Dzenga won a $10,000 Barrett Global Explorers Grant, which she used to travel to three continents to research citrus farming techniques. Her worldwide research was part of the work she did for her honors thesis.

For her academic achievement and community service, Dzenga received several scholarships and awards throughout her undergraduate career, including the ASU President’s Club Award, the School of Politics and Global Studies Director’s Achievement Award, the ASU Foundation Award, the ASU Sun Devil Family Association Scholarship, the Garcia Family Foundation Scholarship, the Lincoln Foundation Scholarship and the Live Your Dream Award. She also participated in the Clinton Global Initiative University Commitment to Action in 2020.

In 2019, she won the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Conference Writing Award. She was named the 2020 Barrett Honors College Outstanding Graduate for Leadership for her work with the Machikichori Citrus Reforestation Project.

Dzenga is a talented author and poet, whose work has been published in Ireland by Salmon Poetry in the anthology "Poetry: Reading It, Writing It, Publishing It," edited by Jessie Lindernie. Dzenga’s nonfiction novel "The Unsung Heroine — Auxillia Chimusoro," about an African AIDs activist, was published by the Zimbabwe Women Writers in 2009 with a grant from the Culture Fund of Zimbabwe.

She also is a performance poet who has read and performed her work at international festivals. Her poem, "The Unsung Heroine — A Tribute to Auxillia Chimusoro," appeared on the U.S. Embassy—Harare website. "Destiny in My Hands," her first full poetry collection, deals with issues of identity and rights and human relationships. She is a recipient of the Zimbabwe National Arts Literary Award for her poetry and nonfiction writing. 

We asked Dzenga to reflect on her time as an undergraduate at ASU. 

Question: What was an interesting moment, story or accomplishment in your ASU career?

Answer: Being awarded the Barrett Global Explorers Grant to research best practices in citrus farming and conservation across five countries and three continents was humbling for me. Not least because I was a transfer student, but with this grant, I would be able to work on a project which is a model framework for agroforestry in southern Africa to reduce multidimensional poverty, hunger and under-5 mortality (among children) in sub-Saharan Africa. With this grant I could marry education and purpose in a way that served more women than just me.

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

A: As an award-winning author and poet, I wanted to study creative writing to tell the stories of ordinary women who are phenomenal heroines, like Auxillia Chimusoro, and write poetry to heal my soul. When I started working on this community service project with rural women in Zimbabwe, which had the potential to bring in over $500,000 a year in revenue, I was inspired by the women’s drive, resolve and initiative. I was, however, immensely underqualified to implement, complete and replicate a project of that scope and magnitude. I realized I needed an education that would equip me with the competencies necessary to respond to a multidimensional problem like poverty and the aspects of life it impacts, like mortality in children under 5 years old.

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

A: When I worked on the Barrett@30 project to preserve the history of Barrett Honors College for posterity, I had the honor to interview ASU President Michael Crow. During this interview he said that one does not find time, they make time for the things they love. I have found this to be true as I have balanced coursework and working on a project which is located halfway across the world and with a time difference of nine hours ahead.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: During my site visit when I was still a Pima Community College student, I told Barrett Honors College Dean Mark Jacobs that I was looking for a four-year institution that would help and equip me with competencies necessary to work effectively with underserved women. One that I would use to create a platform from which they would be an integral part of the sustainable development dialogue, and he said to me, “We can do that.” And he was right.

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

A: I have been so fortunate and privileged at ASU. Dr. Nilanjana Bhattacharjya, my History of Ideas instructor at Barrett Honors College, taught me the importance diverse civil discourse. Dr. Glenn Sheriff in the School of Politics and Global Studies taught me the importance of conscientiousness, and Dr. Jide James-Eluyode taught me the that empathy is the cornerstone of meaningful development work, while Professor T.M. McNally taught me the importance of kindness. I am a work that has been molded by several generous and kind hands at ASU, and I am grateful.

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

A: Ask for help. Especially in Barrett, where (Senior Associate Dean for Student Services) Dean Kristen Hermann’s and Vice Dean Nicola Foote’s doors — as well as everyone else’s, for that matter — are always open and they are willing to listen and help, because you can’t do it on your own.

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

A: I love the Hayden Library. Books give me a sense of calm.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am so grateful and humbled to have been accepted into the ASU Innovation in Global Development PhD program. I am excited and looking forward to furthering my work with women in rural communities and researching the impact of agronomic interventions on income and health outcomes.

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

A: World hunger. I would use that money to further my research in rural agroforestry, which is a model framework for impactful and sustainable ways to grow food with low-income rural communities. Food is magic, food impacts every aspect of the human condition and sometimes food is all the medicine that people need. I do not believe we can eradicate poverty without eradicating hunger.

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College