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Journalism led ASU grad across the continent

December 18, 2019

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

Arizona State University journalism and business major Bryan Pietsch doesn’t stay in one place for long. His career has already taken him from his hometown in Andover, Minnesota, to Washington, D.C., to intern for Reuters, to Mexico City to work on his Barrett, The Honors College thesis about freedom of the press and back to Tempe, where he graduated this week. Next, he’ll head to New York to start a fellowship with Business Insider ASU grad Bryan Pietsch ASU grad Bryan Pietsch. Download Full Image

In his already impressive journalism career, Pietsch spent two semesters at the Cronkite News D.C. bureau, was involved with the Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity, interned at Audacious Studios marketing agency, worked as a coordinator for Global Launch and was a reporter for the State Press and ASU Student Life

He loved covering campus life, from basketball games to International Night to intramural sports, for ASU Student Life, which features storytelling by students, for students.

“Working as a Sun Devil storyteller was the best student job I could have asked for!” he said. 

“The job brought me to places on campus that I didn't even know existed, and I got to speak with so many ASU students who I never would have met from other majors, clubs and campuses. Also, it was really cool to get credentials to take photos sitting on the court at basketball games.” 

As Pietsch spent his last few days in Tempe, he reflected on his time as a Sun Devil and what he’s learned along the way. 

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

Answer: In the summer after my sophomore year, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do but was still pursuing a degree in journalism. I moved to Washington, D.C., for the summer to work in the Cronkite News Washington bureau as part of the professional program required by the Cronkite School — you can work in Phoenix, Los Angeles or D.C.

After a whirlwind summer of interviewing senators, members of Congress, reporting from the NBA draft in Brooklyn, New York, and other exciting events, I knew that journalism was the career for me. It is so rewarding to get to tell important stories like how tariffs will impact business or how immigration policy impacts real people. Also, it's a really unique career in that politicians get to know you very quickly — it's really unique to be in college and have a member of Congress or a senator know who you are. 

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

A: Working in Washington definitely changed my perspective on American politics and really the country as a whole. I've worked here with the Cronkite News bureau twice and for a few months with Reuters, and being so involved in politics and being more aware of what goes on in the legislature is really eye-opening. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: I spent my whole life through my senior year of high school in the same house in Minnesota, so I knew I wanted a change when I went to college. ASU offered me a scholarship that made the cost equivalent to the in-state tuition in Minnesota, so I thought I would take a chance on something new. When it came to decision day, I was actually juggling between a few options but spontaneously chose to go to ASU. I took a chance and it ended up being one of the best decisions of my life! 

My best friends are from my freshman year dorm building, including my roommate, I’ve had amazing student jobs and internships, and I’ve gotten to travel and study abroad through connections I’ve made at ASU

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

A: One of my journalism professors, Maureen West, taught me something that I’ll take with me for the rest of my career. She always encouraged us to find at least three “voices” for a story, i.e. different people involved in the story. 

She also encouraged us to talk to the “big guy” and the “little guy,” i.e. the person effecting the change and the person who will be affected by the change — how things impact real people. I think that can get lost in some news today and it’s always important to remember how policy or business decisions will impact “real people.” 

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

A: Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I’ve found that I grow the most and am the most successful when I’ve had to go through a situation, class or job that was uncomfortable — even if it was only for a little while. 

When you take a chance and put yourself out of your comfort zone, you challenge yourself to find new ways to do things. Coming to ASU itself was a little uncomfortable, but I was able to adapt and ultimately thrive here. I studied abroad in a country where I didn’t know a single word of the language. 

I got on a one-way flight to Mexico to meet friends from there who I met through one of my on-campus jobs, and it ended up being one of the most eye-opening travel experiences of my life. I went to the Cronkite D.C. bureau without even knowing if I wanted to be a journalist and adjusting to the work and life there was incredibly difficult at first, but I was able to adapt and ultimately succeed. Push yourself out of your comfort zone! 

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

A: Honestly, it was the student workroom at the Educational Outreach and Student Services building in Irish hall (where the ASU Student Life newsroom was). 

It was a space for me to see my coworkers, who became my friends, to get work done, to meet and chat with my editors — the best editors ever! — and feel included and welcomed. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation? 

A: I’ll be moving to New York, New York, to work as a business news fellow at Business Insider

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

A: I would try to tackle the plastic obsession that our world has, especially with single-use plastics. Only a small percentage of plastic gets recycled, yet think about how many plastics the average person uses in a day. I would use the money to fund affordable, sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics, and I would also use the funds to lobby for policies at the federal, state and local levels that ban single-use plastics. 

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


ASU mechanical engineering graduate encourages students to get involved

December 18, 2019

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

Jun Sasaki is always on the go, whether he is building off-road vehicles or planning events for charity. Originally from Wailuku, Hawaii, Sasaki values giving back to his community and helping other students get involved with organizations that they are passionate about, including through the Programming and Activities Board. ASU grad Jun Sasaki at the ASU Polytechnic campus ASU grad Jun Sasaki. Download Full Image

“One of the best parts about coming to ASU is the experiences and memories you make and being part of PAB allowed me to give that to other students while being able to enjoy it myself,” he said. 

In addition to being a member of PAB, Sasaki was also involved with Changemaker Central, Fulton Ambassadors, Undergraduate Student Government, Inferno Insiders and Sun Devil Racing.  Each of these organizations provided him with opportunities to work with other students who shared his academic and personal interests.  

“I got involved in Sun Devil Racing because it was a good way to apply what I learned in class in a hands on-team competition.”

Sasaki was the manager for the Sun Devil Racing team, which designs and builds an off-road vehicle for the annual Baja SAE Collegiate Design Series competition. 

Sasaki is a member of the fall graduating class of 2019, completing a degree in mechanical engineering systems and a minor in business administration. As he closes this chapter of his Sun Devil life, he spoke to ASU Now about what he learned and his plans for the future. 

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

Answer: It was during high school when I was part of my FIRST and VEX robotics teams. Working with professionals from companies like Boeing and Maui Electric made me realize that I wanted to become an engineer. I was also always into building things and using my hands so I thought engineering or trade school would be perfect for me.

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

A: In addition to everything I learned in the classroom, there were other things ASU taught me. From various soft skills to time management, everything I’ve learned at ASU will be valuable for my personal development. Being open to all ideas and perspectives was probably the biggest thing I learned. We are all individuals with our own stories, but I think the world would be a better place if we were just a little more open-minded. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: To be completely honest, I chose to come to ASU because of the Western Undergraduate Exchange scholarship, which made ASU an affordable option for me. My tuition here is only a little more than what I would have paid if I went to my home institution, and ASU gave me more options and opportunities.

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

A: My thermodynamics and fluid mechanics professor, Dr. Pavlos Mikellides, was probably the toughest professor I’ve had while I was at ASU but he taught me the most in the amount of time I’ve had in his class.

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

A: Get involved and make friends. This is one of the last times you’ll be forced to interact and meet new people. Make connections and lifelong friends because these are the people that you will keep around in your life forever.

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

A: My favorite spot on campus would have to be either the union or the SIM building (on ASU’s Polytechnic campus). These are the buildings where I spent the most amount of time and made the most memories at ASU. I also really enjoyed Sun Devil Stadium and being a Sun Devil football fan.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I have several offers for jobs and opportunities. I will be taking the winter break to make a decision on where I would like to be. I would also like to pursue an MBA within the next 5 to 10 years.

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

A: If I got $40 million to solve any one problem in the world, it would be to make education more accessible. It doesn’t matter whether it’s trade school, university or community college. I think if we can make education something anyone can access, it will solve all other problems naturally.

Written by Claire Muranaka, EOSS Marketing

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


Longtime CBS News executive encourages Cronkite graduates to seize every opportunity

More than 300 honored at Cronkite convocation

December 18, 2019

Andrew Heyward, a longtime CBS News executive, encouraged the Cronkite School’s newest class of graduates to shape their own destinies and seize every opportunity that comes their way as they leave Arizona State University to embark on their journalism careers.

Heyward, who served as president of CBS News for nearly a decade after guiding a number of high-profile news programs including “60 Minutes” and “Face the Nation,” delivered his remarks as the keynote convocation speaker Tuesday night for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.  a graduate celebrates at the fall 2019 convocation for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication A graduate celebrates Tuesday night at the fall 2019 convocation for the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Download Full Image

The ceremony, where about 320 graduates were recognized, was at Gammage Auditorium in Tempe. About 1,400 guests were in attendance.

As a broadcast veteran who oversaw coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and three presidential elections, Heyward reminded graduates that they are starting journalism careers at an extraordinary time.

“Accurate journalism and ethical communication are vital to our democracy and our place in the world, but today, the free press is under siege on multiple fronts,” he said. "And it’s not just the overt attacks that demonize legitimate news as fake, as alarming as those are. Too much of the news we get is shallow, exploitative, formulaic and even misleading.”

Heyward, a senior researcher at ASU leading a project to promote local TV news innovation, cited the success of recent Cronkite graduates who have found ways to exercise creativity and unconventional reporting methods to bring stories to life. Today’s media outlets require authentic yet disruptive storytelling in order to remain relevant with readers and viewers, he said.

“The digital age has brought with it an amazing array of choices for people with your talent and training,” he said. “More than any generation that came before you, you have multiple ways to navigate your own professional path. Call it control, or power or agency — you get to chart your way forward with unprecedented freedom.”

Of the school’s more than 300 graduates, 270 received bachelor’s degrees, with 89 earning a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communication and 38 earning a Bachelor of Arts in sports journalism. Ten students earned a Bachelor of Science in digital audiences degree, and 133 received a Bachelor of Arts in mass communication and media studies.

The Cronkite School also graduated 56 master’s degree students. Of those, 16 earned a Master of Journalism and Mass Communication, 19 received a Master of Arts in sports journalism, seven a Master of Science in business journalism and 14 a Master of Science in digital audience strategy.

Student speaker Megan Marples assured her fellow graduates that they were more than prepared for the pressures and stresses that await them as they transition from students to professionals.

“In this career, there will be plenty of times where you don’t get the job you want or someone tells you ‘no,’” she said. “You will be successful in spite of all of that because, if Cronkite has taught me anything, it’s to not give up on a story. And the most important story you’ll ever work on is your own.”

She encouraged her peers to use rejections and failures as motivation, to continue to ask questions, to push boundaries and to remember all they have achieved as Cronkite graduates.

“When you’re terrified walking into that big job interview, know that you are not alone,” she said. “You have the support of every single person that helped you along the way.”

About 27% of the graduating class earned high academic honors. More than three dozen students graduated summa cum laude with grade point averages of at least 3.8; another 27 graduated magna cum laude with GPAs of 3.6 to 3.79; and 24 graduated cum laude with GPAs of 3.4 to 3.59.

In addition, 15 students were inducted into Kappa Tau Alpha, a national college honors society that recognizes academic excellence and promotes scholarship in journalism.

Six students were recognized for receiving the ASU Alumni Association’s Moeur Award, which is presented to graduates with the highest academic standing who have completed their degrees.  

Student award winners

Outstanding Graduate Student
Mikala Morris

Outstanding Online Graduate Student
Dakota Hermes

Outstanding Undergraduate Students
Ricky Cornish
Anya Magnuson
Sophia Molinar
Bryan Pietsch
Emily Taylor

Outstanding Online Undergraduate Student
Miguel Romero Hernandez

Highest Grade Point Average (Digital Audiences or Mass Communication and Media Studies)
Lisa Hicinbothem

Highest Grade Point Average (Journalism and Mass Communication or Sports Journalism)
Megan Marples

Top Innovator Award
Hannah Franklin

Kappa Tau Alpha National Honor Society 
Nisa Ayral
Kyle Dowd
Sarah Farrell
BrieAnna Frank
Taylor Freds
Madeleine Goff
Israel Gonzalez
Jonathan LaFlamme
Anya Magnuson
Megan Marples
Sophia Molinar
Mikala Morris
Jaime Muldrew
Harper Speagle-Price
Emily Taylor

Moeur Award 
Nisa Ayral
Kyle Dowd
Madeleine Goff
Megan Marples
Jaime Muldrew
Harper Speagle-Price

Student Speaker
Megan Marples

Director of communications, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Arizona PBS

IMPACT Award winner and grad sees water management as a major issue

December 17, 2019

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

Olga Hart’s journey to a doctoral degree started as an undergraduate civil engineering major in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Olga Hart Download Full Image

In her time as an undergraduate at ASU, Hart was a Research Experiences for Undergraduates student researcher with the Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) project, interned at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and worked for ASU’s Sustainability Solutions Extension Service.

“That initial experience with CAP LTER put me on the path to hydrology, research, graduate school and numerical modeling,” Hart said. “I can’t say enough good things about undergraduate research opportunities, or about my first research mentors, Drs. Laura Turnbull, Steven Earl and Dan Childers. They set me up to succeed in graduate school and be able to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by my research advisor and mentor, Dr. Rolf Halden.”

Hart views water management as a major issue that needs to be addressed to help secure a sustainable future and this has guided her doctoral research.

“If I were to dream up a big reach goal for water resources engineers in my lifetime, it would be to balance the water cycle,” Hart said, “so we can avoid ‘wasting’ water on floods at the same time as other parts of the world are suffering from drought, and vice versa.”

Hart, who has a professional engineer license in civil engineering, currently works for the Arizona Department of Water Resources in the groundwater modeling section and plans to continue after graduation.

“I plan to continue modeling environmental resource problems, helping us understand and better allocate these finite resources,” Hart said. “Modeling has played such a large role in my academic and professional work. I would love to be part of a push at ASU to the introduction of numerical modeling into the undergraduate curriculum.” 

Outside of her plans to continue working with the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Hart would love to provide a safe place for animals.

“I would like to run a sanctuary for short and round animals with my husband, a fellow ASU engineering PhD and soon-to-be alum,” Hart said about her plans to help donkeys with her husband, Steven.

She encourages those still in school to not lose sight of their future after graduation.

“For better or for worse, school ends and the rest of your life begins,” she said, “so try to see the school portion accordingly.”

Hometown: St. Petersburg, Russia, and Phoenix, Arizona

Olga's favorites:

Hobbies: Being outside, hiking/backpacking, drawing
Movie: City of Lost Children
Performer: Leonard Cohen
Book: The Monkey Wrench Gang
Geeky possession: A drawing of Albert Einstein from 1983

Read about other exceptional graduates of the Fulton Schools’ fall 2019 class here.

Erik Wirtanen

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


Jolene Johnson reaches graduation due to Starbucks College Achievement Plan

December 17, 2019

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

With a degree in organizational leadership and a minor in film and media studies, Jolene Johnson plans to climb the corporate ladder at Starbucks. Right now, she enjoys working in their human resources department as a recruiter.  ASU Online student Jolene Johnson Jolene Johnson Download Full Image

When it comes to college classes, Johnson says slow and steady wins the race.

“It is not a race to get it done, but it is about the journey along the way," Johnson said. "Allow yourself the bandwidth to absorb what you are learning.”

Throughout her degree program, and especially leading up to her December 2019 graduation from Arizona State University, Johnson kept herself level-headed by jumping into a yoga class several times a week and loves to teach her family about the sustainability practices she has learned from class. She credits ASU and Starbucks with her ability to become a college graduate while also working full time in a career she loves.   

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

Answer: My "aha" moment was when I started in my first major classes for organizational leadership. When I learned about all the different styles in leadership theory, it really helped me connect to my current career and how to better interact with different leaders. I am a mature student that started a career in retail management, so this class helped me to solidify what I already knew with my experience, but also expanded my understanding of different leadership styles.

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

A: My minor was film studies and it changed my perspective of gender and race representations in the media. While we were studying over the course of this minor, I learned how film and television has provided social instruction and construction of race and gender. It has helped me understand how this has evolved overtime. I have historical context of why these representations are still an issue in the media today. This minor is more of a history lesson of how film has represented the social and historical context over the decades.  

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: To be honest, being a Starbucks partner, it was an amazing opportunity to fulfill a dream of becoming a college graduate. The online platform was also attractive with working full time in my current career. Being able to do my homework anytime and anywhere was a plus.

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

A: Dr. Susannah Sandrin taught me a valuable lesson in my own impact on the environment. Her lectures were engaging and really enjoyable to watch. I felt compelled to be a better steward of the Earth after this class — it was literally life changing. It was small things like to stop running water when you are brushing your teeth, ensuring recycled containers are clean, bringing your own bag and containers to the store, and limiting your power use. I even involved my family in the small changes and we no longer buy bottled water to reduce the amount of plastic being used. This class opened my eyes to all the little things we can do to impact the bigger picture one person at a time.

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

A: I would say it is okay to only take one to two classes at a time online because of the accelerated pace. Give yourself permission to adjust your course load to balance with your current life situation. It is not a race to get it done, but it is about the journey along the way. Allow yourself the bandwidth to absorb what you are learning. It is okay to do one class at a time, just keep going.

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot to study or to just think about life?

A: My favorite spot to study was on my couch, curled up with my favorite blanket, reading my handouts or books for class. I also spent a lot of time thinking and clearing my mind at yoga a few times a week to recharge and refresh myself.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plan is to continue working in human resources as a recruiter at Starbucks. I continue to grow with the company and work towards a leadership role within the next five years.

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

A: After taking my environmental science class, I was enlightened by the damage we are doing to our planet by taxing our energy sources and pollution. I would invest in ways to find sustainable energy and ways to enforce recycling and rewarding companies to come up with ways to have sustainable products to limit waste. There is only one planet Earth and we must do everything we can to be good stewards.

Mother, student, designer — now graduate

December 17, 2019

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

Rebecca Sjorup will be graduating this December with a bachelor’s degree in graphic information technology, but the technical skills didn’t always come second nature to her. Once Photoshop finally clicked, Sjorup knew she was on the right track for a fulfilling and creative career. ASU Online student Rebecca Sjorup Rebecca Sjorup Download Full Image

Born and raised in Düsseldorf, Germany, Sjorup has called Richmond, Virginia, home since the age of 25 and believes that earning her degree with ASU has provided her and her twin girls the opportunity to live out their own American Dream.

Sjorup was initially drawn to Arizona State University after making the tough decision to switch careers entirely. She realized that being a social worker, while rewarding, was not the long-term path she wanted to pursue. After four years of working, mothering and being a student, after graduation, Sjorup has plans to open her own business. Read more about Rebecca’s experience as an online student and her unique journey to graduation below.

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

Answer: My "aha" moment occurred when Photoshop finally made sense to me. I have always loved photography, but editing photos was never enjoyable because I couldn’t wrap my head around most editing software and would get frustrated. Then one day in class it all made sense and all of a sudden, Photoshop felt like second nature.

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

A: I learned that quitting isn’t for me. For the longest time, I used to give up whenever things got hard, uncomfortable or inconvenient. ASU taught me that persistence and discipline can take you far and even with the countless all-nighters it is so worth it. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Being able to earn my degree online has been an absolute blessing for me and my family.

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

A: Although it is really hard to name just one, Zachary Shaffer taught me that kindness goes a long way. When my group (from an unrelated class) and I were in desperate need of a professor to interview last minute, Shaffer came to the rescue and answered all our questions.

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

A: Fight for that extra point every single time because they add up. Make sure you reach out to professors, ask for an extra credit opportunity. It took me way too long to understand that your professors aren’t the enemy, they truly want to see you succeed.

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot to study or to just think about life?

A: My backyard — I can’t think of a place that is more peaceful and inspiring than the bright blue picnic bench under a big tree in the yard.

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

A: I would ban all plastic because having kids has made me more aware of the bad and potentially dangerous things that we consume and come in contact with every day. Microplastics are high up on my list of things I want to live without.

Carrie Peterson

Media Relations Manager, EdPlus at Arizona State University


Math Dean's Medalist to pursue career as an actuary

December 16, 2019

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

Emma Terry grew up in Eagleville, Pennsylvania, a small suburb of Philadelphia. In high school her statistics teacher recommended that she look into actuarial science as a major. Emma Terry is graduating from the ASU School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences with a Bachelor of Science in actuarial science. Download Full Image

She chose to attend Arizona State University after a visit to Tempe during the month of February.

“The weather was 80 degrees and I fell in love with the campus,” said Terry. “Upon researching the new actuarial science program and the success it was having, I could not refuse!”

The School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences graduated its first student with a Bachelor of Science degree in actuarial science in August 2015. There are currently over 100 students enrolled in the undergraduate program, and the school recently launched a new master’s degree in actuarial science.

Terry serves as a senior adviser of Gamma Iota Sigma Kappa Chapter at ASU, an international professional society that encourages student interest in insurance, actuarial science and risk management professions. Last year as treasurer, she was invited to travel to the annual GIS International Conference in Chicago, and to participate in the chartering of a new GIS Chapter at University of Texas at Austin.

Terry was recently honored as a Dean’s Medalist for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Winning the Dean's Medal is an honor, and it humbles me to know that my hard work over the past four years is recognized and appreciated. I only hope to pass it forward in the industry, and help other students realize their goals and aspirations similar to how I found mine in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences through pursuing actuarial science.”

Becoming a credentialed actuary requires students to pass a series of professional exams. While at ASU, Terry passed her probability and financial mathematics actuarial exams. She also gained insurance industry experience as an actuarial intern for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, Nationwide E&S/Specialty Insurance and Allstate.

After graduation, Terry will be working as an actuarial analyst at Allstate in Chandler, where she will be pricing on the consumer household team. She plans to continue passing exams with the support of her company.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study actuarial science?

Answer: My "aha" moment was achieved after passing the introductory ACT 201 class and realizing that actuarial science is the exact type of math which I enjoy. Once I passed ACT 201, I gained momentum and passion towards my degree. 

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

A: At ASU, I learned how to manage my time in the most effective way due to taking multiple classes and working simultaneously. It made me realize how valuable time is, and how important it is to plan ahead!
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Jelena Milovanovic taught me the most while I was attending ASU. She teaches all of her students to be headstrong towards their goals and motivates them to be the best version of themselves.

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

A: I would advise them to get as involved as possible, and take as many chances as you can. There are so many excellent clubs and programs to help connect with fellow students (and make) lifelong friendships. 

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

A: My favorite spot on campus was Freshii where my good friend Ainsley and I often met to grab food and cram for exams! 

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

A: Math is often perceived as being hard, but it's amazing to study something that engages your brain each and every day. Learning is a privilege, and math has a lot to offer us! 

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

A: If I had $40 million for one problem, I would donate this towards hunger and malnutrition in developing countries and work to ensure stability of food and water for the inhabitants of those countries.

Rhonda Olson

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


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Flight path toward perspective

December 16, 2019

W. P. Carey School grad takes Sun Devil spirit to Afghanistan

He was a community college student when a trip with his grandfather to an air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 2007 sealed his fate. Chase Johnson saw that sleek U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter parked on the tarmac, and he knew right then what he wanted to do. Fly it.

Fast forward to this year, where the now Army Chief Warrant Officer Johnson regularly finds himself at the controls of a UH-60 Black Hawk ferrying soldiers in a war zone, skimming mountaintops and zipping through valleys in Afghanistan.  

Meanwhile, the Arizona State University alum's wife, Korttney, is 8,000 miles away at the Army’s Fort Bliss military installation in El Paso, Texas. The registered nurse from Gilbert, Arizona, holds down the home front with their son, Jackson, counting down the days until they can all be together again.

“I get to go mess around in a helicopter while she has to care for our 3-year old and do all the parenting,” Johnson said. “If anybody sacrifices, it’s her.”

The sacrifice didn’t start with Afghanistan. The Johnsons have already endured many separations: Nine-plus weeks of Army boot camp. Seven weeks of Warrant Officer Candidate School. Eleven months of flight school. Two deployments — Hurricane Harvey humanitarian relief in Houston and nine months in Germany mentoring NATO helicopter pilots.

Then there was the 21 days of Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape training, better known as SERE school. All military aviators must graduate from SERE. It’s like a three-week camping trip, except with little to no food, few supplies and no shelter. Trainees fend for themselves to survive — build fires, make fishhooks, catch their own food and so forth. 

“Before going there you hear stories of people eating grass and tree bark, and you think, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Johnson said. “By day 18, I had grass in my mouth.”

Prior to his Army education, Johnson expanded his mind at ASU. After high school, the Chandler, Arizona, native enrolled in Chandler-Gilbert Community College to knock out his “generals” before transferring to ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business. In high school he became very interested in business and found what he was looking for at ASU.

“I loved it,” Johnson said about ASU. “All my teachers were awesome.”

Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in finance in 2013. He remembers fondly those who helped him get there — including professors Christopher Neck and Brian Sandusky.

“(Neck) was just a reflection of Arizona State as a whole,” said Johnson. “He has thousands and thousands of students, but took the time to get to know me too.”

Sandusky was just as invested in his students, Johnson said.

“It was really cool to learn from professors at a prestigious business program at Arizona State,” he said. “I always felt they cared about me and cared about what I was doing.

“It was just a great school to go to, and the campus is awesome. I loved my time at Arizona State, whether it be with academics, sports, social life, all that.”

After Johnson’s ASU graduation he transitioned from "maroon and gold" to "green and gold." He joined the Army in 2014, and it has been a roller coaster ride ever since. 

Within three months of arriving at his first duty station, Fort Bliss, he was off to Europe, sharing helicopter air assault best practices with Romanians, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Austrians, Jordanians and Germans. He returned just in time to head to Houston after Hurricane Harvey struck there in August 2017. Johnson transported aid workers and helped deliver water and supplies to Harvey victims. Once that mission ended, he learned of his next adventure: Afghanistan.  

He spent most of 2018 training for his biggest challenge to date and arrived in country in January.  

Johnson’s home for the next nine months was Forward Operating Base Dahlke in Afghanistan’s Logar Province. The “FOB” was named after Staff Sgt. Jason Sean Dahlke, an Army Ranger squad leader from Florida who died in battle in a nearby province in August 2009.  

Logar is a beautiful, mountainous place that sits at an elevation of 7,000 feet. It is just south of the country’s capital, Kabul. But it is deadly. The military categorizes it a "high threat area."

“It was IDF galore,” Johnson said.

IDF is military parlance for “indirect fire.” That is when the enemy lobs rockets, mortars or other explosive rounds from usually a long distance. Thus, not “directly.” Over 200 insurgent rockets rained down on FOB Dahlke from April to September, Johnson said.

“Almost every single time an IDF comes in, it’s landing somewhere of concern,” Johnson added.

Indirect fire also often arrives at the most inconvenient times — during bedtime, while soldiers are eating, or while they are inside a porta-potty or latrine.

“I used to tell my guys, if I’m killed while in the bathroom, please just pull my pants up and put a pistol in my hand so it looks like I died fighting,” Johnson joked.

When Johnson and fellow soldiers weren’t dodging indirect fire, they were flying troops around eastern Afghanistan.

“I am just the guy who takes the soldiers wherever they want to go … drop off and pickup, same day, same night,” Johnson said. “I was like an Uber driver.”

Sounds simple. It's not. Significant teamwork goes on behind the scenes. Before any helicopter can get airborne, soldiers have to carefully plan each mission and coordinate with multiple parties. Johnson and team were part of Task Force Apocalypse under the Army’s 1st Armored Division, Combat Aviation Brigade, originally from Fort Bliss.

While at Dahlke, Johnson got to know and appreciate the Afghans. A weekly bazaar on the base allowed locals to come in and sell their goods to the Americans.  

“They were awesome,” he said. “Super cool.”

Johnson became friends with a rug maker and merchant named Nawid. He asked Nawid, who spoke fluent English, to make him an ASU Sun Devils rug. When Nawid delivered the finished product, it was great. But it had one minor blemish. The rug said “Son Devils.” When Johnson first saw the rug Nawid sensed there was a problem.

“He said ‘Did I spell something wrong Mr. Johnson’?” Johnson said. “I was like ‘No, you’re fine, this is perfect. Seriously, it looks amazing, I love it.”

After Afghanistan is in the rear view mirror for Johnson, he will earn awards for his actions and bravery: air medals, Army Commendation medals with special devices noting distinction. But they will pale in comparison to what Nawid's work meant to him.

“I want my ASU Son Devils rug,” Johnson said. “It is my most prized possession.”

Johnson's ASU pride has gone to his head. Literally. A pitchfork sticker adorns the back of his flight helmet, and sometimes the front.

"When I put my helmet on, that’s the last thing I see before it’s on," he said. "It makes me proud to be a Sun Devil.”  

In late September, Johnson made it back safely from the war zone. He reunited with Korttney and Jackson back in El Paso, just in time for them to pack all their belongings and move on to their next adventure. The Army picked Johnson for a highly sought-after assignment at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, flying military leaders in Washington, D.C.

“Going to be doing the Pentagon ‘Uber,’” he said. “Flying the brass.”

When he thinks about Afghanistan, Johnson reflects. The experience left a permanent imprint on his mind. It changed him. Now more than ever he realizes how much Americans take for granted. The nation has so many luxuries and conveniences.

“I saw people (in Afghanistan) farming for their own potatoes,” Johnson said. “They sometimes share one light bulb per village … Not everything that we have on a day-to-day basis here is something that is enjoyed by everybody in the world. It is a good perspective to see that side of the world.

“I feel like a day in Afghanistan would do everybody good.”

Top photo: Chase Johnson (right) poses with another soldier at Forward Operating Base Dahlke in Logar Province, Afghanistan. Johnson graduated from ASU in 2013. He is also a cousin of ASU Sun Devils football player K.J. Jarrell. 

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

Civil engineering grad builds a bright future

December 16, 2019

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

Aidan Bjelland always enjoyed building with LEGO bricks and dreamed of a career in architecture. Aidan Bjelland Aidan Bjelland Download Full Image

When he got to Central Arizona College, Bjelland saw more opportunities in civil engineering. He transferred to Arizona State University due to its well-regarded engineering program.

Bjelland conducted undergraduate research through the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative with President’s Professor Keith Hjelmstad and Lecturer Kristen Ward, studying how to induce structural stability in systems affected by earthquakes. He built digital and physical models of buildings in earthquake conditions to observe the effects.

Bjelland says Hjelmstad was also his most impactful professor.

“He has always been someone who I could talk to during my undergraduate experience and bounce ideas off of,” Bjelland said. “Ultimately, he’s given me more mentorship than I could have ever hoped to receive by someone of his caliber and for that, I am deeply grateful.”

The Barrett, The Honors College student was highly involved outside of the classroom, serving as treasurer for civil engineering honors society Chi Epsilon and vice president of the Barrett transfer student organization, BHCANS. He also earned several scholarships including the Carl L. and Jean Wolcott Meng Memorial Scholarship, ASAP-METS Scholarship and CVS Caremark Scholarship.

Bjelland encourages students to always seek out opportunities when they present themselves. He was grateful for friends and professors who pushed, and sometimes shoved, him into opportunities to get him out of his comfort zone.

“At the end of the day, I learned that the worst thing someone can say to you is no,” he said, “whereas in the best-case scenario you could gain the experience of a lifetime.”

Bjelland also discovered a passion for education during his undergraduate years.

“Being able to be an undergraduate teaching assistant has been one of the best experiences of my life, and as showed me how passionate I am about education,” Bjelland said. “I hope in the future I’ll be able to continue to assist other civil engineering students in achieving their dreams like I’ve been assisted in achieving mine.”

He is currently pursuing the 4+1 accelerated master’s degree program at ASU in structural engineering and plans to pursue a doctorate in structural engineering.

Aidan's favorites:

Band: X Ambassadors
Movie: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse
TV show: Dark, The Haunting of Hill House
Book: Ender’s Game

Read about other exceptional graduates of the Fulton Schools’ fall 2019 class here.

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Hannah Pebler named Outstanding Graduate in aviation

December 16, 2019

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

Having balanced the demands of being both a mother and a full-time college student, Hannah Pebler says simply making it to graduation day is a great reward in itself. Hannah Pebler Hanna Pebler is the Outstanding Graduate in the aviation program in ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering for the 2019 fall semester. Download Full Image

But Pebler has also earned the proverbial icing on the cake in completing her studies by being named the Outstanding Graduate in the Fulton Schools aviation programs.

Reading the email announcing the award, Pebler said, brought on an emotional moment of fulfillment that made her journey worth all the sacrifices and hard work.

The accomplishment was just one of the “amazing moments” she experienced during her undergraduate studies as an aviation major with a concentration in air transportation management.

Pebler is the most recent president of the ASU chapter of the international Women in Aviation organization, and while she was vice president during the 2018–2019 academic year the chapter was named student club of the year in The Polytechnic School at ASU.

Serving as a supplemental instructor, Pebler helped to teach physics to undergraduates and found it especially gratifying to watch her young students begin to master the basics of physics.

She credits much of her success to lecturer Marc O’Brien, chair of the aviation programs, and faculty associate Carol Hannah, who helped her prepare applications for scholarships and jobs.

With that support, Pebler was awarded a Boeing Career Enhancement Scholarship through Women in Aviation, two Women in Transportation scholarships and several Fulton Schools scholarships.

She has accepted a job as a revenue management analyst with American Airlines in Dallas.

Pebler says she’s thrilled to be in a field she has had a passion for since she was a little girl. She “loves the variety that aviation has to offer.”

Beyond aviation interests, Pebler is an ardent rock climber and loves sewing. She is particularly enthusiastic about making costumes for her daughter — not only for Halloween but for every major holiday.

Hometown: Anchorage, Alaska

Hannah's favorites: 
Activity: Rock climbing
Movie: A Star is Born
TV show: Heartland
Performer: Miley Cyrus
Hobby: Flying
Sports team: Chicago Cubs

Read about other exceptional graduates of the Fulton Schools’ fall 2019 class here.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering