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ASU sculptor envisions a human community living and working on Mars

ASU sculptor envisions a human community on Mar for thesis project.
December 6, 2019

Herberger outstanding graduate student creates project with Interplanetary Initiative

Roy Wasson Valle has had a flourishing art practice in the Valley for several years, but decided he wanted to expand his horizons, so he returned to Arizona State University to pursue a master’s of fine arts degree.

“I needed access to a new circle,” said Wasson Valle, who is graduating this month and has been named the Outstanding Graduate Student in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Wasson Valle earned his bachelor’s degree in sculpture at ASU in 2003, and his professor from that time, Jim White, persuaded him to seek the master’s.

“He said, ‘It may open up doors you didn’t know were closed.’ And that’s absolutely true, and even further, it also revealed doors I didn’t know existed,” Wasson Valle said.

The sculptor works frequently with his wife, artist Koryn Woodward Wasson, in creating large-scale installations. Much of their work is meant for a general audience, which often means kids.

“It’s my job to make connections and present something they don’t normally see, so having it accessible to the public is important, and that it’s not necessarily in a museum space,” he said.

“It’s what I think of as a third space — not quite a store and not quite a museum. The best way for that is pubic art and then you have a real responsibility to the people who paid for it and experience it.”

One path the degree program opened for Wasson Valle led him to the Interplanetary Initiative at ASU, an interdisciplinary project to create practical methods for humans to live and work in space. He sat in on some meetings and eventually took on the project that became his master’s thesis — a vision of what a human work site on Mars would look like in the 23rd century.

His speculative “Mars Made: Retroforms” exhibit was an immersive environment that envisioned a new world. The display, at ASU’s Grant Street Studios in Phoenix, included a living and working “pod,” housed in a trailer inside the studio. Wasson Valle designed details inside the pod like scientific equipment, storage space and even stickers with a “corporate logo” on them.

The other part of the exhibit imagines the surface of Mars. Wasson Valle created a huge mural in the space from a NASA photo of Mars, which he made into a three-dimensional image (when viewed through the provided 3D glasses).

The Interplanetary Initiative had some requirements for what the project should include, but Wasson Valle had freedom to speculate.

“I took the idea further into the future, where there was artist’s residency on Mars, which had a well-established community. This is the work that’s a reaction to that experience,” he said.

“I’m not making the claim that this is supposed to be Mars. This is supposed to be for people on Earth who haven’t been to Mars.”

The exhibit included tall, colorful installations that are meant to represent saguaros.

“I saw in this idea that there would be a lot of southwest desert type of plants that could maybe survive well underground on Mars in lava tubes,” he said.

“I was very interested in transforming flat work into 3D work, so I spent a lot of time designing these columns.”

The design was printed onto lightweight, corrugated plastic, which was folded around dowels and hung from the ceiling so they spin around.

The elaborate lights hanging from the ceiling were made on a laser cutter and the pieces fitted together.

Almost everything in the show can be disassembled and stored flat.

“The more that I work on shows, the more I consider how it’s going to be stored afterward. You run out of space,” he said.

Wasson Valle answered some questions from ASU Now:

Question: You did a lot of research on Mars for this art work. What are some of the most interesting facts you discovered?

Answer: I know a lot more than I ever did but there’s so much that I don’t know. Even for me, this is inspiration to learn more. It’s supposed to inspire people to think about living and working on Mars. It’s the inspiration for new generation. The more I’ve been working on it and thinking about it, sending people to other planets is a monumental task and there’s a lot of argument about, ‘Why should we spend these resources?’ Whenever we think about how thin the atmosphere is, we start to appreciate what we have. This is to create an effort to preserve what we have.

But I do know a few facts about Mars. One of the most interesting is that there is snow on Mars and it looks like fog because the snowflakes are the size of red blood cells.

Q: What was your ‘aha’ moment when you knew you wanted to be a sculptor?

A: My father was a sculptor, so it’s in my upbringing. I was always making toys and things. He did a lot of work in a church, which is an installation where you’re thinking about how the space is being used and where all the elements will be. I was used to thinking of sculpture in a full environment, not just in a white gallery.

I’ve always done three-dimensional work. I did a lot of work on cardboard and I would cut out the pieces, paint them and assemble them. When I came to ASU I was an intermedia major because I thought I could use digital media and have more freedom. Then I took a sculpture class with Jim White and he said, ‘You should switch to sculpture because you can do whatever you want.’ For me, it really resonated and made sense.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a master’s in fine arts?

A: It’s important to take a break between the two things (undergraduate and graduate degrees). It’s important to have some time to process everything you’ve been doing, and to work out in the world for a few years. It doesn’t have to be 13 years like I did. But it’s important to have some space to put all the parts together.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus?

A: I spent a lot of time at the Nelson Fine Arts Center, which I also did before (as an undergrad), because it’s a beautiful spot. It’s peaceful and I really like the pink walls. I’m attracted to human-made spaces that are empty.

Top image: Roy Wasson Valle, the Outstanding Graduate Student in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, created the “Mars Made: Retroforms” exhibit at the Grant Street Studios in Phoenix. On the wall of the studio is a mural-sized photo of the surface of Mars, and to the left is his interpretation of a saguaro on Mars, made of lightweight corrugated plastic. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Family and human development grad aims to help children in need

December 6, 2019

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

Two weeks before the start of the fall 2016 semester, Ayeleth Aragon came to Arizona State University as part of the very first Early Start cohort in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. Three and half years later, Aragon is graduating a semester early with her BS in family and human development and hopes to enter a career helping children in need. Profile picture of Ayeleth Aragon Ayeleth Aragon. Download Full Image

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

Answer: When I was scrolling through the list of majors I was not sure exactly what area I wanted to go into. I read a couple of descriptions and when I got to family and human development, it caught my attention. I am the oldest of seven children and the first thought that ran through my head was that with this major I would be able to help my siblings out a lot better than I already was. Once I started taking major-related courses I noticed that I really enjoy this major and it is perfect because I have always wanted to work helping out others.

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

A: One of the first things I learned when I came into college was about the two different mindsets, growth and fixed mindset. I always thought that if you were good at something then you were good and there was nothing you could do about it. My professors and this major let me see things differently and helped me shift my mindset and now I work hard at the things I did not think I could do before.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: When it came to choosing a college after high school, my main focus was choosing a school I could afford … I applied to many schools and was accepted to all of them, but in the end, I had my mind set to a community college that I could pay on my own with hard work. One day my counselor called me in and an ASU representative was there. We talked about finances and they helped me make it possible to go to a university close to home that wanted to help me to go to school and keep succeeding.

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

A: I have two professors that helped me a lot while I have been here; Dr. Stacie Foster and Dr. Amy Reesing. These two professors let me see the more positive side of life and they truly cared about my future. When I needed help or just someone to talk to, I could walk into their office hours and ask for help. They both had a lot of faith in me even when I thought I was not doing as well as I wanted to. 

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

A: A piece of advice I would give to those who are still in school is to manage your time wisely. I struggled with that quite a bit. Also, do not give up on something that looks difficult. With hard work and dedication, you can achieve what you want. 

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

A: I really liked sitting outside and enjoying the view while I sat and read my books. One of my favorite spots was the benches outside the Cowden building.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Right now, I am working as an assistant teacher for a preschool and after college I would like to continue working with children. I plan on going back to school but I will take a short break to work first.

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

A: I would like to spend that money helping children who do not have the resources we have here in the U.S. I took a course named Gender, Culture and Development and we read a book about how women and children live in Africa. They were very descriptive about the food they ate and how many children are not nourished the way a child should be.

John Keeney

Media Relations Coordinator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics


Digital culture graduate discovers how to make ‘wild ideas’ come to life

December 6, 2019

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

When graduate student Andrew Robinson first started classes in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, he didn’t know what responsive media was – or that it even existed.  Photo of Andrew Robinson Andrew Robinson. Download Full Image

“Learning all about it as a new art form that is cross-disciplinary with other art forms, as well as scientific research, was a huge perspective change because it opened my eyes up to a way in which I could fulfill all the wild ideas I think,” he said.

Robinson explored this new art as an undergraduate student; he received his bachelor’s degree in digital culture with a concentration in music. He decided to continue to hone his skills in responsive media, music and interactive animations, and he graduates this December with a master’s degree in digital culture. 

After graduation, Robinson hopes to use his newfound passion to create stage designs for live music and responsive concert animations. He also plans on continuing to create immersive responsive media projects on his own and in partnership with Tempe’s Sunroom, where he is actively working as the stage projectionist for local bands.

Explore his artwork on Instagram

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

Answer: There was a moment about a year and a half into the program when I was starting to get the hang of how computer programming in Max MSP worked. I had an idea to make a motion controlled Instagram-esque camera filter. It wasn’t for a homework assignment or anything, it was just a random idea that came to me based on different bits of information I had learned from different classes. I built it though, and it actually worked, and the act of realizing my idea felt amazing! It was incredible to have this feeling of being able to create an idea I had into reality. After that, I tried to learn as much as I could about programming in Max MSP both inside and out of the classroom.

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

A: It was in Intro to Interactive Environments with Professor Tinapple that I had learned the basic interactive techniques to make the application I talked about in the first question.

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

A: Find the thing you’re really passionate about, the one thing that makes school not feel like school or work not feel like work, and pursue that with your full force.

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

A: The Digital Culture Lounge is the best place on campus because it’s extremely peaceful to sit in there with all the awesome ambient lighting to just do work or chill before class.

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

Climate change and the lack of renewable energy resources in America.

ASU graduate raises the bar for academic and athletic excellence

Division I athlete was able to make his dream of pursuing a nursing degree a reality thanks to ASU’s willingness to think differently

December 6, 2019

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

Wherever Matt Eckles goes, he stands out. Literally. Download Full Image

At 6 foot, 5 inches tall, he towers over his peers. But perhaps even more impressive than his height is the reach of his undergraduate career.

This December, he’ll graduate with two degrees from the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, a Bachelor of Science in nursing and a Bachelor of Science in integrative health.

In addition to his academic pursuits, Eckles is also a Division I athlete, having accomplished outstanding feats for ASU’s track and field team. 

To say his plate has been full would be an understatement. 

Ask anyone about the rigors of nursing school and you’ll get an earful about clinicals, lab hours and exams — it’s a 24/7 program.

Add to that the hours of dedicated training on the field and in the weight room to perform at the highest collegiate level and now you’ve raised the bar to a near-insurmountable height.

“Almost all of the schools I applied to wouldn’t accommodate my goals of being both a Division I athlete and a nurse. They told me it was impossible,” he said.

But you don’t become the 2017 Pac-12 pole vaulting champion by giving up in the face of adversity.

“The more you say no to me, the more I want to do it.” 

His persistence paid off when he found the right program at the right university.

“Everyone here — my advisers, my coaching staff and my professors — supported me to make things work, to think differently, knowing that it would require a lot of mentoring, flexibility and personal sacrifice. But they still said yes.”

And with a grin laced with defiance, Matt proudly declared, “And that’s why I came to ASU.”

Now, as he prepares to make the leap from college to a career in nursing he shares some of what motivated him along the way and offers advice to his fellow Sun Devils.

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

Answer: It was in high school. I really liked biological sciences, but having explored the field a bit more, I found out that I was really wanting more of that human interaction. Quite simply, I wanted to combine biological sciences and people, so nursing made absolute sense to me.

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

A: The entire nursing faculty here at ASU is incredible. You’re dealing with a lot of men and women in nursing who have been in the profession for over 30 years, so they are the most empathetic, caring people you can imagine. They’re always super outgoing and willing to help. Beth Walker, who is a psychiatric nurse at Edson College, always cracked students up during class by offering them to borrow her kayaks or to go on mountain bike rides. She’s amazing and even comes to my track meets — you don’t get that kind of support from your average professor. The glimpse I’ve had of hearing her talk about her career and her life, as she was working in the profession, is just so pure. It really taught me about having a good career balance in nursing: to make time for your passions, even during those odd hours that we as nurses have to endure. She’s someone I aspire to be.

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

A: Know the why behind what you do. When I got into nursing school, the mentality wasn’t, "I need to pass this test so I can get the grade," it was, "I need to learn about diabetes so that I can help someone." So knowing the why behind what you do allows you to chase that goal. You can’t just do something just because. If you understand what you’re doing and why you want to achieve it, then the only limiting factor after that is how much heart you have. It becomes pure, and you can begin to build a solid ground for what you’re about to do in your professional life with reason.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I really want to throw myself into the water and just sink or swim by working in an emergency room or intensive care unit, just because I want to learn as much as I can. But I’ve noticed that I really love kids from all of the clinicals that I’ve done here. Once I’ve had my fill of all the action of being in the ER, I’m pretty sure I’ll end up in pediatrics hanging out with all the kiddos.

Jamie Ell

Media Specialist, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation


Philosophy, honors student graduates despite life obstacles

December 6, 2019

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

John Dreyfus always wanted to attend college but when it came time to graduate high school, his plans changed. He graduated high school at 17 and wouldn’t turn 18 until a few months into his first semester at college. Without either of his parents signing the paperwork, he was unable to enroll. John Dreyfus with Kyrsten Sinema John Dreyfus with Kyrsten Sinema at her new office on Camelback Road. Photo courtesy of John Dreyfus Download Full Image

Life kept going until one fall day in 1981 when he was riding his motorcycle in Tempe. Dreyfus was looking for a sandwich shop and turned on to University Drive to find himself face to face with Arizona State University. He said he wanted to sign up right at that moment. But he had no idea how to afford the costs of living and attending school and had to put the idea of school on the back burner once again.

Then a few years ago, Dreyfus became disabled and was offered vocational rehabilitation which he was able to turn into an opportunity to finally attend ASU.

Dreyfus is graduating this semester with a bachelor's degree in philosophy and a concentration in morality, politics and law. We caught up with him to ask a few questions about his time at ASU.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)

Answer: I took a class called “Introduction to Philosophy” at Phoenix College and Dr. Eddie Genna taught about the ship of Theseus and I was hooked on philosophy. I received a scholarship for 60 credits deferred at any Arizona state university through Phi Theta Kappa and ASU offers a degree in philosophy, morality, politics and law. My four favorite subjects rolled into one. 

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

A: Asking which professor taught me the most is like asking which child is my favorite. I have learned so much from all of them. The professor I have had the most involvement with is Dr. Cheshire Calhoun. I took two classes with her in my first semester and she was my Barrett honors thesis chair. Dr. Jennet Kirkpatrick was a committee member and I took a class with her. She was also supportive of my efforts and mentored me to a point. Dr. Joan McGregor introduced me to the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, which presents speakers and debates. I attended several of those and thoroughly enjoyed them. Dr. Thad Botham taught me that I could survive an onslaught of information at the beginning of a semester and still succeed in classes. Dr. Steven Reynolds allowed me to adapt his lessons in metaphysics to my life experiences. 

Recently, Susan Corey’s death penalty class has given me added impetus to defend people in civil rights settings, especially people with few assets or mental disabilities.

Through Barrett I was able to take classes at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Several of the instructors there have helped me immensely and one (instructor) is writing a letter of recommendation to ASU Law, which has always been my goal. 

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

A: The advice I give to all the friends I have made at ASU in their last semesters is: Make the world a better place.   

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

A: In the spring of 2019, I had classes on Monday and Wednesday that put me at Cady Mall for several hours in the afternoon. I would read or study and eat lunch. I enjoyed watching events that took place there and the people who would make speeches and the audience members who would argue back. It was enjoyable.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am applying to ASU Law with hopes of joining the Maricopa County public defender’s office and work in the Rule 11 setting, or possibly the death penalty team in the advocate office. 

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

A: If someone gave me $40 million I would try to build a housing project to give homeless people a place to live. I would also attract psychologists, attorneys, counselors and medical professionals to donate time and services to help people succeed in living in structured situations.

Rachel Bunning

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

History graduate desires to pursue a career in museums

December 6, 2019

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

As someone who grew up in Arizona, for Mary Zoll-Montoya, making the choice to go to Arizona State University was a no-brainer. Not only was her father a professor at ASU, but her mother was a school teacher as well, which made a path to education inevitable for her.  Mary Zoll-Montoya Photo courtesy of Mary Zoll-Montoya Download Full Image

She has always had a love for art, but one thing she wasn’t expecting to take over while she was at ASU was her love for history as well. She chose to major in history and minor in art history to combine her two passions to create a career path for herself. 

We caught up with Zoll-Montoya to ask her about her time at ASU.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)

Answer: I have a thirst for knowledge and had a hard time initially settling on one subject. It wasn’t until my junior year at ASU that I really knew history would take precedence over art history. Majoring in history allowed for a wider range of study and a better understanding of the world and the works of art created in it. 

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

A: I was surprised at how much I enjoyed mathematics. I was very intimidated to start, but it turns out that I love to solve equations. That was a real surprise and I wish I had known it sooner.

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: I chose ASU because I have always had such respect for the school. My father had been a professor at ASU and I knew from a young age of the high quality of education available at ASU. ASU has many brilliant professors on staff as well as numerous and innovative learning opportunities. It was an easy choice.   

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

A: While I had many wonderful professors, I have to say that Dr. Karin Enloe had the biggest impact for me. I was lucky enough to have several classes with Dr. Enloe, including my capstone history class. She taught me a very important aspect of historical writing, and that is to cite, cite, cite. Alongside giving brilliant lectures, Dr. Enloe taught me how to produce a well-researched and properly cited paper worthy of academic consideration. I will always be grateful.

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

A: Don’t just take classes that look good on a resumé. Sprinkle courses into your schedule when possible that may not necessarily be part of your career path, but you simply are interested in and want to learn more about. It can really help get you through a tough semester.

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

A: My favorite spot is always the library. So many books, so little time.

Q: What are your plans after graduation? 

A: I am hoping to go on for my master’s degree in museum studies next year. One of my favorite places to haunt in my free time is a museum. I enjoy museums with grand halls of art and antiquities as well as small neighborhood museums with local objects of interest. I would very much like to work in the conservation and archival field of museum collections.

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

A: I would absolutely work to clean the world’s oceans of garbage, especially plastics. This is a global crisis we are only beginning to understand the full consequences of.  

Rachel Bunning

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

California native reflects on experiences, personal growth gained at ASU

December 6, 2019

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

Just weeks from graduation, human and family development major Holly Latorre is still enamored by all things Arizona State University. Holly Latorre Holly Latorre will graduate with her bachelor's degree from the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics this month. Download Full Image

“Every day I pinch myself because I can't believe I’m at this school,” said Latorre, who will graduate from the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in December. 

As a California native, Latorre grew up near the University of California, Berkeley and Stanford University without much exposure to out-of-state schools. But as high school came to a close, she said she began exploring what options existed outside the Bay Area and decided to pay a visit to ASU.

“I toured ASU during spring break of my senior year and I instantly fell in love with the campus. I felt in that moment that this was the school I needed to go to,” she said.

That feeling has held true for the last four years. From bonding with friends at football games to learning communication skills that helped her overcome her shyness, Latorre said she gained experiences from The College and ASU that will benefit her for life. 

“I feel like I wouldn’t have become the person I am now if I didn't come to ASU,” she said. “If I had stayed in California, I wouldn't have had the experiences I had or grown as a person.”

Latorre shared more about her experience at ASU and her plans for the future. 

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

Answer: Originally, I was a biological sciences major and I wanted to pursue nursing. Then after my sophomore year, I just lost the drive for it and I met with my advisor and she said, “Well, I know you still want to work with children, have you considered family, family, and human development?” I looked more into it and I talked to my roommate who is actually that major and I fell in love with the classes that they offered, so I decided to switch. Within my first semester, I knew it was the right fit for me. 

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

A: I learned that the university is there for you, no matter what. There are tons of resources to help you no matter what — it could be tutoring, it could be if you need counseling services, it could be helping you find a job. I was surprised at how many resources there were for students, and that really stood out for me. Instead of just being one student of thousands at the university, they really make it a point to go one-on-one and help you as a person. 

Q: What has been your best memory at ASU?

A: Probably going to the football games with some of my best friends. We saw times of upsets and losses, but the football games were probably some of my favorite memories that I made at ASU. 

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

A: My family ethnic and cultural diversity professor, Professor Jose Causadias. He kind of took the class direction a different route than what it was intended and each class period he related cultural diversity to current events that were happening in the world, so we had a more modern approach to it. He showed that the world is what it is and taught us to love everybody, and how to be accepting of all cultures no matter the differences. 

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

A: Meet new people, sit next to new people, try new things, really put yourself out there because the four years are going to go by before you know it and you don't want to have any regrets about what you should have done. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am going to start looking for jobs; I want to take a gap year from school. I'm looking into a child life specialist or a preschool teacher position, or other jobs where I can use my child development degree and not lose experience. And then in a year or so, I want to apply back to ASU for my master's in speech therapy. 

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

A: Climate change. So many people assume it's not real, but I took a class from ASU called Global Change and it showed all the evidence about how it's real, why it’s real and what we can do to fix it. I just want to bring awareness to the fact that there are small things we can do individually to help it. And not just by refusing straws, there other ways you can do it.

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


From black holes to row boats: Astrophysics major shares experience as a student-athlete

December 5, 2019

Some students throw themselves headfirst into their studies. Others focus their energies on extracurriculars and sports. 

Katie Cranmer does both.  The rowing team in action Katie Cranmer and her crew. Photo by Tobias Rein Download Full Image

To say she’s busy is an understatement –– Cranmer juggles life as a sophomore astrophysics major in The College of Liberal Arts and SciencesSchool of Earth and Space Exploration with being a coxswainA coxswain is a rowing term for the person in charge of the boat during rowing. on both Arizona State University's men's and women’s rowing teams. 

“It's hard when you're balancing a sport, a bunch of difficult classes and everything to stay on top of it,” she said. “But it definitely helps that you have a lot of resources here. I've had some really good professors who I've talked to in their office hours and who have helped me out a lot.”

When she’s not hitting the books, Cranmer is hitting the lake — Tempe Town Lake, to be precise. 

The rowing team practices on the lake six days a week for two hours a day, and five of those practices are at 5:15 a.m. 

Cranmer’s role as a coxswain on the team involves steering the boat and shouting technical directions, often acting as the motivational center for the team.

Cranmer said her interest in rowing developed while she was a high school student in Connecticut. 

“I started rowing as a freshman in high school,” she said. “I was lucky enough to go to a public high school that had a rowing team.”

Now, even with a demanding practice schedule, Cranmer says she’s found her double life as a student-athlete to be very rewarding. 

“It keeps you focused more because you always have something going on, and physically and mentally you're engaged in different ways than you would be as just a student or just an athlete,” she said. “The relationships you form with your teammates, especially in a sport like rowing where everyone has to be on board in order to do well, is really an important part of your life. I don't know where I would be without rowing.”

Despite her course load, Cranmer said she’s not the only one on her team with a full academic schedule. 

“I have a teammate who brings flashcards in the boat sometimes,” she said. “So when we're doing a drill and he's sitting out, he's reading the flashcards. We have lots of people in very difficult majors, so there are a lot of high-achieving people (on the team) who are always studying and rowing.”

In addition to her love for athletics, Cranmer’s other passion is astrophysics.

Cranmer said her parents, who are both doctors, initially wanted her to become a doctor, too.

But it was her father’s hobby for astrophysics and cosmology that helped guide Cranmer to her current major.

Last summer, she worked as an engineering student assistant for the Kitt Peak National Observatory. 

Her work at the observatory began with studying what other people were doing and helping wherever she could.

"And then I started debugging, which doesn’t mean I went through lines of code to find typos. It meant I was literally sweeping the lady bugs out of the garage while they were doing some delicate testing. And by the end of the summer I was doing some of that delicate testing myself.”

Cranmer said her work at the observatory was primarily on the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument, or DESI project.

“It's a device attached to the male telescope at Kitt Peak in Tucson, which collects the light that is either absorbed or emitted from a galaxy and it will compare it to what that light should be,” she said.

The DESI project will gather the light for about 35 million galaxies over a period of five years, according to Cranmer, in order to measure the expansion of the universe. 

While completing the prerequisites for her major, Cranmer said she has had the opportunity to branch out and explore other subject matter, like her Roman literature class in the School of International Letters and Cultures.

In part because of her interest in Roman literature, Cranmer is considering adding a second major in classics.

“I've definitely been exposed to a lot of different subjects, even in a specific major like astrophysics, through the general education requirements,” she said. “And I've met a lot of people in a lot of different disciplines and learned a lot from them, too.”

Christopher Clements

Marketing Assistant, The College Of Liberal Arts and Sciences

ASU alumni recognized for their vision, gifts to transform stadium

Student-athlete facility named for donors Steve Butterfield, Bill Kent and Jack Furst

December 3, 2019

The vision and gifts of three Arizona State University alumni is coming to fruition after five years.

Steve Butterfield, Bill Kent and Jack Furst spearheaded the reinvention of and fundraising for Sun Devil Stadium, transforming it into a year-round, multiuse complex called ASU 365 Community Union. Family members of the Butterfield, Kent and Furst family are recognized at Sun Devil Stadium Bill Kent and Jack Furst and their families, along with the family of the late Steve Butterfield, were recognized during a home football game for their contributions to Sun Devil Athletics and the ASU 365 Community Union. Download Full Image

During Saturday’s ASU football game the three men and their families were honored with the renaming of the student-athlete facility. The Butterfield, Kent, Furst Student-Athlete Facility, located on the north side of the stadium, houses the team locker room, medical facilities, coaches' offices, meeting space and a training table.

Kent, along with his wife, Julie, and their son, Buck, and Furst and his wife, Debra, attended the game and naming ceremony. Butterfield, who passed away in 2017, was represented by his sons, Brooks and Steve Jr., Steve’s wife, Mary, and their children, Joey, George and Stevie.  

“The efforts and dedication by the Butterfield, Furst and Kent families to Sun Devil Athletics and our football program is insurmountable,” said Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson. “We graciously thank them for their leading contributions to the stadium reinvention and student-athlete facility, and are honored to be able to pay homage to their families for generations to come.”

When Butterfield, Kent and Furst collectively donated $40 million to make 365 Community Union a reality, they were not looking for naming rights on buildings. They all agreed to leave naming rights open to other donors while the ASU Foundation fundraised for the project. 

“The three of us never really cared about the recognition of it,” Kent said. “We believed in the cause and certainly felt like we could have a much more competitive facility for the football program. We were all behind it from that perspective.”

After five years of fundraising, the ASU Foundation raised about $80 million for the capital project, and no other major donors came forward looking for naming rights. The ASU Foundation chose to recognize the Butterfield, Furst and Kent families as a result of their dedication and contributions to the campaign.

A vision beyond a stadium

Discussions to develop ASU 365 Community Union started in 2014 when Furst became more involved with ASU’s athletics through Sun Devil Athletics supporter Butterfield. At that time, there was talk of renovating the football stadium and ideas surfaced about what else could be done.

“I wanted to see if we could turn an athletic facility into a community union where you would have yield and utilization,” said Furst, the 2017 Founder’s Day Philanthropist of the Year. “Why couldn’t we, No. 1 in innovation, turn this into a community union and have something going on at the union 365 days a year? No one else is doing it. Why would you spend money just on a football field used seven times a year?”

The plan for ASU 365 Community Union is to create a place for fitness classes, concerts, festivals, farmers markets, restaurants, coffee bars, movie screenings, meetings and study areas. It will also house the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, Public Service Academy, the Global Sports Institute and a new studio for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Butterfield and Furst had several meetings with ASU President Michael M. Crow, ASU Enterprise Partners CEO Rick Shangraw Jr. and members of the athletics department to determine how to make their vision a reality without asking for tax dollars to fund the project.

Furst called his Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity friend Kent to see if he would like to be involved and contribute to the fundraising. Kent agreed to participate, and Furst said he would match what Kent donated.

“Jack and I had lots of conversations about how we could make this a bigger project than just a stadium,” Kent said. “I’m proud of being a part of that vision.”

The Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts had a three-year student project to design the 365 Community Union and stadium reinvention.

The first phase of the union opened in September.

“The tireless effort and commitment provided by Jack Furst, Bill Kent, our late friend Steve Butterfield, and their families to fulfill their vision is impressive,” Shangraw said. “We appreciate their dedication to creating something bigger and better that will serve ASU and surrounding communities for years to come.”

Kent and Furst both say they are excited about the progress of ASU 365 Community Union and look forward to continued progress. Both said this project fits in well with ASU’s overall vision regarding innovation.

“One of the real challenges when you’re a big university — you have to create a heartfelt connection,” Furst said. “The 365 Community Union is that. The football stadium is like ASU’s Central Park.”

Michelle Stermole

Director of communications, Enterprise Partners


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360 Life Services offers ASU Online students a full circle of support

ASU offers counseling, additional support services to online students.
December 3, 2019

Options range from clinical counseling to legal assistance to advice on elder care, all with the goal of helping students succeed

ASU Online students face many of the same stressors as those who attend classes at any of the Arizona locations, such as financial worries and anxiety. But because many are based far away, they also face problems that students on campus don’t, like having their education disrupted by wildfire evacuations or hurricane power outages.

Online Sun Devils now have access to a support system that helps them deal with issues that could derail their progress toward graduation. 360 Life Services offers clinical care, personal care and legal and financial assistance in the first such university program to be announced, according to Nancy Cervasio, executive director of student success at EdPlus, the unit that houses ASU Online. The program is in addition to the success coaches who work with students to meet academic goals. 

“We wanted more of a comprehensive support system for the online students,” she said. 

The program includes online webinars and other resources, and it offers referrals to in-person clinical counseling in the student’s home area. Services are accessed through students’ My ASU portal.

“It provides access to licensed professionals around the country for clinical counseling, and it’s a program they can access online or on the phone or face to face if they want to,” Cervasio said.

She said that in the past six months, 35,000 students engaged in the online supports, with the most popular topics being emotional health, life balance, working, thriving, parenting, aging and international study.

Clinical counseling was accessed by 125 students, a third of whom had face-to-face appointments in their communities, with the rest using telephone or video sessions.

“We’re starting to promote this more right now because there are stresses and triggers over the holidays in addition to finals and everything else,” Cervasio said.

“Campus students can go to the counseling center, but online students don’t have that luxury.”

The average age of ASU Online students is 29, Cervasio said.

“They have full-time jobs and many have families and many are single parents, and they present a little bit differently to the staff that helps them,” she said.

360 Life Services offers additional services, such as college fund planning, budgeting and buying a home, as well as webinars on topics including child care and elder care.

The support system is promoted when ASU Online contacts students who might be impacted by disasters. 

“We do encourage it when we reach out to students who might be potentially evacuating their homes or losing power,” Cervasio said. “We’ve seen wildfires, hurricanes, snowstorms, you name it.”

In those cases, faculty is notified that students might need to delay assignments.

“Very often, the power goes out and since they’re online, they don’t have internet,” she said. “We work with faculty so students can worry about their families and their situation rather than homework at that moment. And students are very appreciative that ASU thinks of them during those times.”

Students can access 360 Life Services themselves, or be referred by their success coach or professor. ASU Online has offered webinars to inform faculty about the program and has seen referrals increase since then, Cervasio said.

“When advisers or faculty see students with an issue, they can now feel confident that they have a resource to send the student to,” she said.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now