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Triple major first-in-family to graduate from college

Grad advises planning ahead, knowing your options, making friends and finding a good adviser

May 6, 2019

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

Erika Flores is the oldest of four children, born into a close-knit Mexican American family. While they did not attend college, her parents encouraged all of their children to do so. And Flores said she always knew she would pursue higher education. Erika Flores Erika Flores is graduating from the School of Life Sciences with a BS in biological sciences; from the College of Health Solutions with a BS in health science; and from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with a BS in psychology. Photo courtesy of Erika Flores Download Full Image

But what she didn’t know was how much she would love it.

“I never planned to have three majors, it's just something that organically happened as I took some classes,” said Flores. “I had changed my major a few times during my freshman year before picking health science since it had all of the prerequisites for medical school. I added the biological sciences major after I took genetics because I wanted to learn more about biology. And when I took virology with Dr. (Brenda) Hogue, I enjoyed it so much, that I knew that I made the right choice. I later added psychology after being involved in two research labs in the psychology departments!”

This spring, she becomes the first in her family to graduate from college. And she has set the bar quite high for her younger siblings — one is attending ASU, another is graduating high school and the youngest will be a high school sophomore next fall. 

In addition to taking on the course load of three majors, Flores worked up to 30 hours each week in two ASU psychology research labs and also volunteered at Phoenix Children’s Hospital in the oncology and psychiatry departments. As a commuter student, she spent lots of time traveling between three ASU campuses, and her work took her off-campus. 

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

Answer: I had enjoyed science in high school, and I knew that I wanted to go into the health field. That is when I decided on my health science major. When I took genetics at ASU, I became interested in learning more about biology, and that’s when I decided to add the biological sciences major. When I took virology with Dr. Hogue, I enjoyed it so much that I knew that I made the right choice.

When I was volunteering at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, in the inpatient Psychology and Psychiatry department, I enjoyed it so much I decided to minor in psychology. However, after I was offered positions as a research assistant in two psychology labs, I decided to major in psychology as well. 

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

A: I have learned that there are many different paths that people can take to get to their end goal. Not everyone takes the same journey to get to the same destination — and that's OK. It’s always really interesting to learn about the different twists and turns that people have taken.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Proximity. I’ve lived in Arizona pretty much my entire life. As a Latina, the importance of family has always been ingrained and emphasized. After high school, I knew that I wanted to stay near my family. And options. ASU is such a big school and I like to dabble in many different things, so I knew that they would have a major that I wanted. I like having my options!

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

A: I respect all of my professors at ASU, as they all had something they contributed. However, I especially respect my female professors — especially those who are contributing to science; they’re a real inspiration! I think that Dr. (Phuong Thao) Ha and Dr. (Sandra) Losoya from the Psychology Department really impacted me and gave me a lot of great opportunities!

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

A: Know your options. Like I’ve said earlier, there are many different paths that people can take, so it’s important to try new things — you never know what opportunities are waiting!

Find an adviser that you like, and make sure that you keep going to the same one! They are a lot of help. Ryan from College of Health Solutions, Tara from Psychology and Ivy from School of Life Sciences were the advisers I usually went to.

Try to plan ahead as much as you can! I had become a triple major pretty late in my academic career (during my final year), but because I was very particular in the way that I picked my classes, I was able to finish up my last two majors during my final year. 

Don’t rush to graduate. Take advantage of all of the resources and opportunities. Do research, internships, volunteer, join clubs, study abroad!  

Make friends, especially within your field. I think it’s a lot more fun to go through things with people who understand what you’re going through. And, you can always help each other out. If you feel like you don’t know how to make friends, you can always just start a study group in a class — I’ve made many long-term friends this way!  

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on applying to and eventually hope to go to medical school. I also plan on doing more research but within the biology or microbiology fields. I also want to do more volunteer working with those who are underprivileged and underrepresented — especially among women and children.

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

A: I think that I would invest that money towards education. I think that by investing in education, we allow more people to become productive members of society and they could hopefully contribute towards solving other world problems. 

Q: What are some challenges you faced while earning your degree?

A: During my first few semesters at ASU, I felt like I was stumbling through my classes. Then, for a few semesters, I felt like I was sprinting too hard when higher education is actually a marathon. In other words, it took me a while to get the hang of college; there was a while where I wasn’t performing as well as I wanted or where I felt like I was taking too many classes — all while having a job. This became easier as I became more focused on my goal, learned better study habits and better time management. Having a flexible job helped too.

There was also the “hurdle” of trying to navigate the whole college thing, while not know anyone who had recently done it. I always had a list of questions that I would ask my academic advisers, but I made sure to have a general idea of the answers by looking it up online and double-checking with the adviser. 

The triple-major thing was a huge hurdle as well. There was a lot of paperwork. I had to have credit overloads. I had to fill out petitions with three different colleges for the concurrent degrees, which had to be filled out by three different advisers. There are many rules about credit overlapping that we had to be careful about. I was told that there was a chance that not all of the majors would be approved. This was really scary since I had already taken a bulk of the classes by the time I started the petition process. Again, I’m very grateful for the three advisers that I mentioned above.

Q: What’s something you are most proud of during your time at ASU? 

A: Graduating! I’m excited to make my family and myself proud. And the fact I was able to bounce back after a rough start. 

Q: Anything else?

A: Humility and humbleness go a long way. You can learn something from anyone. Don’t feel like you have to know everything. It’s OK to ask questions and ask for help. Don’t compare yourself to anyone, but yourself. Just keep moving forward and you might be surprised where you’ll end up — I was!

Sandra Leander

Manager, Media Relations and Marketing, School of Life Sciences


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The best photos from spring 2019 convocations

May 6, 2019

In addition to the universitywide ceremonies on May 6, this spring's graduates were honored at a series of college-specific events

Editor's note: ASU Now will be updating this story all week with additional photos from the university's various convocations.

College of Health Solutions

College of Integrative Sciences and Arts

Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

School of Sustainability

Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

School for the Future of Innovation in Society

Thunderbird School of Global Management

W. P. Carey School of Business

Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation

Barrett, The Honors College

Great mortarboards

A magical experience guided graduate to seek a new path

May 6, 2019

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

As a child, Emily Rose Nugent was always interested in how things worked. When she rode the rides at Disneyland, her dad would explain their mechanics and what made certain effects possible. Emily Rose Nugent completed a yearlong internship with the Walt Disney Company in the Disney College Program in Florida. Her experience in the program influenced her decision to change her focus in graduate school to materials science and engineering. Download Full Image

“My dad and grandfather are both mechanical engineers,” she says. “So I grew up in an environment where they both were trying to make something or figure out how something worked.”

Nugent, a Barrett, The Honors College student, decided to become a chemical engineering major in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. She also has a minor in business.

“I knew I wanted to be an engineer, but wanted to do something different than my dad and grandpa had done,” says Nugent. “So I just came up with it on the spot — ‘chemical engineering’. I loved chemistry, physics and math, so to me that’s what chemical engineering must be.”

Nugent’s childhood memories of learning the machinations behind Disneyland rides came full circle when she completed a yearlong internship with the Walt Disney Company in the Disney College Program in Florida. Her experience in the program influenced her decision to change her focus in graduate school to materials science and engineering.

“It was important for me to have an internship before graduating because I felt it would allow me to better understand what I want to do after I graduate,” says Nugent. “As a result of my experience, I made the decision to switch my master’s degree. I can’t stress enough how important it was for me to do the Disney College Program.”

Not only did attending the program help Nugent clarify her graduate work, but it also taught her a valuable life lesson. 

“It really did change my outlook on people and life and I learned so much I could have never learned in a classroom,” says Nugent. “If there is something you are scared to pursue, face it head on and do it!”

When she wasn’t creating splendor at the most magical place on earth, Nugent was busy making engineering magic happen at ASU. She is a member of the Society of Women Engineers, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and Tau Beta Pi. She helped start ASU’s chapter of Phi Sigma Rho. She also served as a Barrett Peer Mentor, an E2 student lead and a Fulton ambassador. Off campus she was involved with Page Turners and as a Girl Scout camp counselor.

As an E2 student lead, Nugent worked on a team alongside two other students to co-plan the event sessions of four sessions of E2.

“This position was important because it set the stage and the tone for the next four years for hundreds of freshman engineering students,” she says. “This is the image they will have of the school and their understanding of the opportunities available to them.”

Nugent, who also participated in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative this semester, will intern this summer at Cummins Inc. in Indiana. Then she’ll return to ASU in the fall to complete a master’s degree in materials science and engineering as part of the 4+1 accelerated program. In the long run, she’d love to return to Disney.

“I would love to maintain rides and facilities, or design new rides,” says Nugent. “I would love to have a hand in the design of the next Tower of Terror or Galaxy’s Edge.”

Hometown: Gilbert, Arizona
Previous school: Highland High School

A list of favorites

Hobbies: Disney and painting
TV show: "The Big Bang Theory" or "The Office"
Movies: "Clueless," "Moana" and "Up."
Activity: Traveling, especially visiting theme parks
Sport: Does speed walking through Disney parks count?
Geeky possession: Painting made and signed by Joe Rohde, a famous Imagineer

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

Erik Wirtanen

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


Golden grad reflects on dynamic career, journey back to ASU and what has changed in 50 years

May 6, 2019

Anniversaries are ways to mark milestones and reflect on the years and accomplishments that occur between them. A 50th anniversary is a particularly momentous occasion, one that has been long affiliated with the precious metal gold. This year, a faculty member in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions is celebrating his golden anniversary as an alumnus of Arizona State University.

From an eager undergrad to an adviser to some of the highest offices in local government, Geoffrey Gonsher, a professor of practice in ASU’s School of Public Affairs, has built an impressive resume over the last five decades. In 2010, he added his role as faculty to the list — a position he never pictured himself holding but now one he holds dear. Geoffrey Gonsher graduation photo from 50 yrs ago, wearing black cap and gown and thick, black rimmed glasses Geoffrey Gonsher's graduation photo from 1969.

We asked him to share a bit about his journey, his memories of ASU and his insights for today’s grads.

Question: When you left ASU 50 years ago, did you ever imagine you’d be back in this capacity?

Answer: No. Although I was confident of my knowledge about government and politics when I received my undergraduate and my graduate degrees in political science, I never viewed teaching as my career path. I saw myself as a public policy person working for elected officials and government agencies. It was after my friend Professor Martin Vanacour asked me to step in to replace a professor who dropped out of a course in 2010 that I gained the confidence and ability to plan and present academic and professional information on a regular basis to students. I am thankful for that opportunity and wish I had done it sooner.

Q: Where has your degree taken you since graduation day?

A: My degrees have taken me to the heights of public policy success and to the depths of political conflict. I have worked as a public policy adviser, cabinet member, agency executive and speechwriter for over 30 elected officials — 15 republicans and 15 democrats. I held executive management positions in the administrations of Arizona Governors Rose Mofford, Fife Symington, Jane Hull and Janet Napolitano and served on the staff of Phoenix Mayors Margaret Hance and Timothy Barrow. In addition, I was the head of several state agencies, including the Arizona Lottery, Department of Racing and Boxing, Corporation Commission, Governor’s Division of Workforce Development and the Department of Weights and Measures.

Geoffrey Gonsher wearing dark blue suit, with bluch graphic tie and glasses)

Geoffrey Gonsher 

Q: From your perspective, how has ASU changed over the last 50 years? 

A: It has both changed and remained the same. What is consistent is the passionate activism of students. During my undergraduate days, it was the civil rights movement, the anti-war period, the generation gap, the marijuana counterculture, the space race, the sexual revolution and the beginnings of the women’s movement. Today, students are actively involved in immigration issues, minority interests, LGBTQ rights, climate control, poverty, women’s equality and many other societal problems. The issues have changed, but the commitment and fervor are just as strong.   

What has changed is for the good. When I look at 58 pages of graduates in the 1969 annual, there are only about two dozen students of color, which was about .048% of the graduating class. Today, our multicultural university is a leader across the country in accepting, supporting and graduating students who represent every community and demographic in America. Good for ASU and Arizona!

Q:  What is one of your most memorable ASU experiences — from now or when you attended?

A: Graduation night when I saw my father cry. He had come from a difficult home environment on the streets of New York, through World War II, as an undereducated worker in the fields outside Phoenix, to a factory worker who raised his sons to be good men with a strong work ethic to do more and better than he had accomplished in his life. It always reminds me to do what I can for my students as my father did for me.

Q: What advice would you give to students graduating in 2019?

A: My advice is not to focus on your salary, your title or your job in your career. Just do your work. People will notice and respect that. Do not spend time plotting your next promotion, raise or job. If you are conscientious, dedicated, thorough and fair in all your professional dealings, people will recognize your talent and your value. The promotions and raises will happen when you least expect them and more often than if you were to plan them out. Before you know it, you will be the person in charge and making these decisions for others.

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Industry and academia link up to prepare future engineers

May 6, 2019

The future of our built environment — the human-made physical spaces where we live, work and play — lies in the hands of current civil and environmental engineering students.

From the structural integrity of buildings to the functionality of the transportation system, these structures and the environmental issues they face will require an experienced and skilled workforce capable of developing and sustaining modern communities. student talking to an employer at a career fair Arizona State University alumna Olivia Brancati, a civil engineer at Black & Veatch, conducts a brief interview with Himanshu Dave, a mechanical engineering student, at the spring 2019 Fulton Schools Career Fair. Black & Veatch is a member of the Friends of Civil and Environmental Engineering initiative. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

Since the early 2000s, Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering has been working with industry leaders to educate tomorrow’s civil engineers — and more recently environmental engineers — through the Friends of Civil and Environmental Engineering, or FOCE2, initiative.

Membership donation and participation in FOCE2 enables the school to retain and motivate talented students to achieve success and advance the profession. FOCE2 helps students offset expenses for professional meetings, poster sessions and the Fundamentals of Engineering exam. Students also have the opportunity to interact with industry professionals during career development experiences.

Bruce Larson, the Arizona regional manager and vice president of Bowman Consulting, joined FOCE2 nearly 20 years ago to support and prepare the next generation of civil engineering leaders from the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the six Fulton Schools.

“Every civil engineering and environmental firm in the Valley should join FOCE2,” said Larson, who was recently elected as chair of the FOCE2 group. “We owe it to ASU to support the civil, environmental and sustainable engineering program both financially and by providing direction from the industry.”

Educating tomorrow’s civil and environmental engineers

FOCE2 members make it possible for civil and environmental engineering students to find internships and permanent employment upon graduation. They improve the curriculum, host guest lectures, teach skill-building workshops, attend career fairs and plan social mixers with industry. These opportunities enable students to develop soft skills for the workforce that aren’t always taught in the classroom.

Additionally, FOCE2 offers students funding for worthwhile purposes such as attending the American Society of Civil Engineers Pacific Southwest Conference and participating in ASU’s Engineers Without Borders chapter.

In 2018, ASU partnered with Northern Arizona University to co-host the American Society of Civil Engineers Pacific Southwest Conference in Tempe, Arizona. The three-day conference brought more than 1,800 attendees from 18 universities to compete in 30 competitions.

Emily Ford, ASU’s co-chair for the 2018 Pacific Southwest Conference, wanted to utilize the local Tempe Town Lake for the concrete canoe races — one of the biggest and most famous of the ASCE competitions. However, the student planning committee didn’t have the funds to reserve the lake for a day.

“FOCE2 funding was essential for reserving our venue and putting on one of the most highly anticipated competitions of the conference,” said Ford, a civil, environmental and sustainable engineering doctoral student in the Fulton Schools. “Without their support, we may not have been able to reserve Tempe Town Lake for the concrete canoe races.”

Ford relied on a New University President’s Scholarship to fund her undergraduate education and a Dean’s Fellowship to fund her graduate education. She says the philanthropy students receive is helpful to be able to afford life-changing academic and extracurricular experiences at ASU.

“I had never heard of FOCE2,” said Ford. “Once I learned there was a panel of local industry professionals who met and placed input into our studies, I was impressed. It makes sense to confer with our future employers about what they want from their future workers, and it gives our degrees greater value because we should be learning the skills most needed in industry.”

FOCE2 also provided funding for ASU’s Engineers Without Borders chapter. The chapter partners with developing communities to help improve their quality of life by implementing economically and environmentally sustainable engineering projects.

Under the mentorship of Regents' Professor and Ira A. Fulton Professor of geotechnical engineering Edward Kavazanjian, a team of six students traveled to Pune, India, to assess water shortages and water contamination in surrounding rural villages.

The purpose of the trip was to collect data and create ties with the community so the team of students could spend the next academic year designing and developing a water system to improve the village's access to clean water.

“The financial aid FOCE2 provided was extremely helpful. Without funds, it’s impossible to get any project out of the planning phase,” said Allen Crowder, a former engineering student who switched his major to European history and graduated in 2018. “This kind of philanthropy also gives aid to communities in need.”

Crowder says FOCE2 and Engineers Without Borders share common values and goals. Each one gives students the opportunity to put classroom learning into practice and gain experience with project planning, documentation, fundraising and implementation.

“Ninety percent of what we do isn’t taught in classes — engineering or otherwise — which is why it’s so important for students to do extracurriculars like these,” said Crowder. “Collaboration and support between humanitarian and philanthropic organizations can do good for all parties. I hope this tradition continues, and I strongly encourage students of any major to take advantage of these opportunities.”

a canoe made of concrete

A concrete canoe on display at the 2018 American Society of Civil Engineers Pacific Southwest Conference, which was co-hosted by Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University in Tempe, Arizona. FOCE2 funding helped students in the planning committee reserve Tempe Town Lake for the concrete canoe races — one of the biggest and most famous ASCE competitions. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Braving the storm to improve our built environment

Thomas G. Schmitt, president of the local construction management company T & S Diversified Inc., started the initiative as the Friends of Civil Engineering with the help of Fulton Schools Professor Sandra Houston, who served as chair of civil and environmental engineering between 1996 and 2006. Schmitt served as the chair of Friends of Civil Engineering for over 10 years and was recently inducted into the school’s hall of fame.

The Great Recession of the late 2000s and early 2010s devastated the civil engineering profession and nearly pushed FOCE2 to extinction. When President's Professor Keith Hjelmstad took over as chair of the civil engineering program, he pushed FOCE2 to take on a broader role in its interaction with the university, and he led the transition to a new vision and structure of the organization.

“It is vital for our program to have a strong connection with the professional community,” said Hjelmstad. “FOCE2 is our primary connection to the industry. I really think of this group as the ‘brain trust’ we need to ensure our students are the top candidates for the civil and environmental engineering workforce.”

In April 2015, Ron Hilgart took over as chair of the FOCE2 steering committee. Hilgart is the founder and managing principal of HILGARTWILSON, an Arizona-based civil engineering consulting firm. Under his leadership, the new vision of FOCE2 became a reality. He led the efforts to engage younger engineers from member firms through committee activities, creating a route for FOCE2 to develop new leaders.

With Hilgart’s guidance, FOCE2 has been able to give students more opportunity to interact with industry professionals through resume workshops, internship opportunities, career fairs and social mixers.

“Ron was instrumental in forwarding and expanding the role of FOCE2,” said Larson. “When he took over as chair, we were mainly operating as a committee to bring in memberships and provide money to the civil and environmental engineering programs. He successfully brought in additional committees for education, internships, employment and more to help partner civil engineering industry professionals with ASU.”

Hilgart and Larson, the membership subcommittee chair at the time, utilized their combined experience in civil engineering and leadership to reach out to other professionals in the community and encourage them to join FOCE2. Their efforts helped double membership over the past couple of years.

“It’s our responsibility to give back to our local university,” said Larson. “The partnering between ASU and the civil and environmental engineering industry allows us to provide input and direction from practice to aid the university in providing the best and most applicable education for its students.”

Learning from the past to improve the present

FOCE2 chair Larson and Frederick Tack, the recently elected vice chair, are ready to continue building on the initiative’s long-standing success and invaluable impact on civil and environmental engineering students in the Fulton Schools.

Larson, a fourth-generation Arizona native, started working for his father’s engineering firm when he was a teenager. After completing a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Brigham Young University, he progressed to senior and executive-level roles at RBF Consulting, Michael Baker International and Westland Resources. More recently, he became the Arizona region manager and vice president at Bowman Consulting, a civil engineering company with five offices in Arizona and northern Mexico.

Larson brings a unique perspective to FOCE2 since he comes from the private industry and has served on other nonprofit boards.

Tack currently serves as an associate and service group manager at GHD, a leading engineering, architecture and environmental consulting company. He leads a multidisciplinary team of engineers, operators and technicians in delivering and operating water and wastewater treatment infrastructure.

Tack brings more than 18 years of industry experience to FOCE2. Additionally, he’s an alumnus of ASU's civil engineering program who practiced and applied concepts learned at the university to develop character and leadership skills that were critical to his success in the industry.

“Participation in FOCE2 provides me a conduit to give back to the next generation of civil and environmental engineers and have a voice in recommendations to the departments to understand industry needs and direction,” said Tack. “There is no better opportunity to have a direct impact on today’s education of engineers and gain access to the best and brightest graduates for my hiring needs.”

For the future of FOCE2, Larson and Tack want to find better ways to engage busy professionals. Larson says many firms become members to financially support students but never become fully engaged. The lack of engagement results in low retention rates and hinders the collection of meaningful input and direction.

The new chair and vice chair plan to continue expanding membership to increase funding for the civil, environmental and sustainable engineering program, but also find ways for new members to enhance students’ knowledge of the industry. Larson also sees the industry and academia partnership as an essential component in the advancement of future civil engineers and the profession as a whole.

“It’s an honor to be chosen as the new chair of FOCE2,” said Larson. “I’m excited to work with the vice chair, the steering committee, ASU and member firms to better support and improve the civil and environmental engineering program at ASU.”

Amanda Stoneman

Science Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU graduate completes degree with hopes of creating more accessible mental health resources

May 6, 2019

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

ASU Online student Shauna Hughes has been hard at work achieving her lifelong dream of earning a Bachelor of Arts in psychology. ASU Online student Shauna Hughes ASU Online student Shauna Hughes plans to continue with graduate school and become a licensed mental health counselor. Download Full Image

Hughes was originally an English major, but as she neared the completion of her degree, she decided to follow her passion for making therapy more accessible to all by switching to psychology. After discovering EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Hughes was inspired to reignite her college journey and complete her degree.  

As a mother to two teenagers — one, a college freshman studying psychology in their home state of Florida — Hughes wanted a degree program that was completely online but still matched ground school programs in quality. This factor played into her decision to attend Arizona State University.

“The professors online are the professors on campus — that’s significant,” said Hughes. “I recently had a professor who is a researcher and is teaching the class in tandem, which makes me feel like I’m getting a high-quality education.”

Hughes plans to continue with graduate school and become a licensed mental health counselor.

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

Answer: As an English major as I got closer to finishing my degree, I knew I might be limited in career choices as an older adult. I was interested in making therapy accessible to more people using EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). It’s a form of therapy that is used to deal with PTSD and is a very effective. When I learned about it, the idea of providing it to more people was exciting.

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

A: One of the biggest things I learned while at ASU was in my psychology courses about the differences between genders and the foundations in human sexual behavior.

I learned a lot about the variations in these classes because many people don’t feel comfortable talking openly about these subjects. I know that what I learned is something I can use with clients someday and I will have more of an understanding on these important topics when they come into my office.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: There were many reasons ASU was the right school for me, but two of the biggest were that the faculty teaching online courses are the same professors who teach students on campus. I also knew I wanted to select an accredited university.

ASU has a very well-structured platform which is super easy to navigate through the courses, scheduling and any student need. I found that the library search engine was helpful by providing a place where I could find tons of access to peer-reviewed journal research to utilize in my papers.

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

A: There were so many professors I adored. However, I can say Dr. Lee Spencer was very influential with her in-depth lectures in her special-topics course on foundations of human sexual behavior. I also enjoyed Dr. T.M. Barrett, who provided extensive lectures about abnormal psychology which helped spark many interests.

Dr. Laura Clemons taught a course focused on why critical thinking is so important. I didn’t know at the time that the class would change the way I think and write because I found myself considering the other side’s arguments and what a valid argument looks like, which I feel greatly improved my writing style.

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

A: Stay on top of things, keep yourself organized and set aside time to study. Online there is a lot of reading so it’s important to make sure you take breaks and try not to cram, or it will not sink in.

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

A: I have a little corner on my back porch by the pool with a fountain. I also like to study in the kitchen — which I call the heart of my home. Being in the kitchen allows me to still interact with my family and check in with everyone.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am going to grad school and will work toward my master’s degree as a licensed mental health counselor.

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

A: I would start centers that train and specialize in EMDR to help with trauma and PTSD. I would want to make it possible that more mental health care providers have access to free training in EMDR.

Carrie Peterson

Media Relations Manager, EdPlus at Arizona State University


Starbucks partner earns degree after developing passion in leadership and management

May 5, 2019

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

A resident of Lockport, Illinois, online student Jen Schmidt found her way to Arizona State University through an educational benefits program between Starbucks and Arizona State University. Schmidt enrolled at ASU through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan in summer 2017, deciding to major in organizational leadership through the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. ASU Online student and Starbucks partner Jen Schmidt Jen Schmidt realized her passion was for leading people and making decisions after a promotion to shift supervisor at Starbucks. Download Full Image

“I actually decided to go back to school after working as a barista at Starbucks. I had been in that role for eight months when my manager saw potential in me. It was following that promotion that I decided to return to school and major in organizational leadership after realizing that is where my passion lies.”

Finding that passion in leadership and management didn’t come right away. Following her high school graduation, Schmidt enrolled at a local junior college to pursue a degree in child development.

“I had been a nanny and child care teacher for a couple of years, so I thought that was what I was supposed to do at 18 years old,” she said.

While Schmidt found a lack of fulfillment in that original path, she did go on to obtain her associate degree and certification to teach English as a second language (ESL). This led to an opportunity at 21 years of age to live in Ukraine for a year teaching ESL. According to Schmidt, “I matured during that year and gained a new perspective on cultures outside of the American culture. It changed me for the better. I continue to have the desire to learn more about other cultures and welcome them into my life.”

Her journey to ASU came a couple of years later, when two years into her marriage Schmidt and her husband moved to California and she took a job at Starbucks. While the road to graduation was not an easy one, Schmidt always had a feeling in the back of her mind that she would not give up.

“Going to school was a bit bumpy as we moved four times, experienced job changes, bought our first home and experienced infertility. But I knew that I would make it to graduation. That is why I decided to celebrate with all I have and fly out to Arizona to walk across that stage. The support I have received from my friends, family, professors and success coach has been overwhelming. The only way I know how to thank them is by acknowledging my success proudly.”

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

Answer: My “aha” moment came shortly after a promotion at Starbucks. Once I became a shift supervisor, I finally realized what my passion was: leading people and making decisions.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I’ve learned a tremendous amount thanks to all the professors and their thoughtful assignments and feedback. Something that opened my eyes was the topic of conflict management. Anywhere you go to work will have an opportunity to diffuse conflict. Knowing how to approach the situation and gain the best perspective helps leaders manage conflicts.

William Ury gave a TED Talk which I was assigned to watch in one of my OGL classes. I learned about the balcony perspective, which allows the problem to be seen without surrounding distractions. I think about this, as well as “suspending assumptions,” when I begin to let my emotions get in the way. It has truly helped me with resolving issues both at work and at home.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: With what I know now, I would choose ASU again. The Starbucks College Achievement Plan allowed me to take courses at ASU to complete my bachelor’s degree.

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

A: Dr. (Jennifer) Chandler with OGL 321: Foundations Project Management taught me about project management, which is essential in all areas of life! Also, Dr. (Janice) Lawhorn with OGL 220: Behavioral Dynamics in Organizations, OGL 481: Organizational Leadership Pro-Seminar I and OGL 482: Organizational Leadership Pro-Seminar II. Dr. Lawhorn took time to review and discuss every detail of my work. Having that kind of attention during online classes showed me she cared about my success.

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

A: It is important to schedule each assignment on a calendar. Each semester I printed out the syllabus and wrote in each assignment on a desk calendar. Also, your teachers are your great resource. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot to think or study as an online student was in my home. The ideal setting was in the middle of the day, sun shining through my windows, quiet, or instrumental music, and an organized desk.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Post-graduation I would like to find a career in project management, or training and developing.

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

A: I would tackle recycling. I would promote awareness in a way that people think about the way they reuse, reduce, repurpose and recycle. Living in California helped me form a habit, and moving back to my hometown of Illinois allowed me to introduce my habits to family.

Carrie Peterson

Media Relations Manager, EdPlus at Arizona State University


Professional dancer turned electrical engineer graduates from ASU Online

May 5, 2019

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

Jessica Columbus realized her interest in engineering at a young age but put her degree on hold to pursue another passion — ballet. ASU Online student Jessica Columbus Ballet dancer and engineer Jessica Columbus will start her career as an electrical engineer in the tanker division at Boeing just one week after graduation. Download Full Image

Growing up in Kentucky, Columbus spent her free time with her dad, who was an industrial engineer, putting together model cars, planes and computers, which fueled her passion for the engineering industry.  

Always planning to follow in her dad’s footsteps, when it was time to go to college, Columbus studied mechanical engineering. However, her goal of being an engineer took a backseat when she was offered an opportunity to dance professionally as part of the Louisville Ballet.

Years later, Columbus discovered Arizona State University and decided it was time to complete her degree in engineering — but this time as an online student. ASU was the clear choice for Columbus because it included ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accreditation and a good reputation, two things Columbus noted were crucial for landing a job. One surprise Columbus found during her experience at ASU was a supportive network and her ability to develop real connections with fellow students.

“There are so many learning moments being online — I learned that I liked working in groups better online than I did on campus,” said Columbus. “The other students also have lives, jobs and kids, so when you get into a group everyone really wants to be there, learn and do well. They’re all working toward the goal of changing their career.”

Columbus encourages those completing degrees online to connect with classmates sooner rather than later for support in classes.

“Reach out to peers and form connections. Talk to your professors, TAs and success coach. Ask for help when you need it and ask questions. It is easy to feel lonely doing an online program so form those connections,” says Columbus.

The long hours of studying have paid off as Columbus starts her career as an electrical engineer in the tanker division at Boeing just one week after graduation.

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

Answer: My “aha” moment was a combination of the little moments I had working on projects with my dad. Even as a kid I had always loved problem solving, especially when it had practical applications.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I found there were classes that I liked a lot more than I thought I would — solid state design, for example. After taking the first course, I took as many as I could. In general, I enjoyed studying and learning much more this second time around.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: The ABET accreditation and reputation. That was important to me when looking at online programs — getting a degree that will get you a job.

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

A: Dr. Linda Chattin in the industrial department. She taught statistics in a fun and engaging way, and I have used it in every semester since including for my senior design project. For the project I took on the data analyst role and felt really comfortable taking more than 20,000 data points and running hypothesis tests.

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

A: Reach out to your peers and form connections. Talk to your professors, the TAs and the success coaches. Ask for help when you need it and ask questions. It is easy to feel lonely doing an online program so form those connections.

Getting involved in your field within your community can help you make connections, too. I am personally involved with the Society of Women Engineers and attended the national conference where I was able to meet important people in the industry and interview for jobs. A lot of resources were available to me as a student and I used them all. From medical emergencies to natural disasters, I have had to use all those resources along the way.

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

A: My favorite spot to study is in a quiet place at home, but I studied everywhere I could. I studied backstage before and after my ballet productions and in hallways and coffee shops between jobs. My favorite spot to simply think is when I’m hiking.

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

A: I would fund topsoil erosion research because in about 60 years, our topsoil will be gone and we won’t be able to grow anymore crops so it’s a very important cause that we don’t hear much about.

Carrie Peterson

Media Relations Manager, EdPlus at Arizona State University


On the border, grad hopes to make a difference in immigration policy

May 5, 2019

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

Joanna Williams didn’t travel lightly on her purposeful journey to earning a master’s degree in public policy, and she’s leaving Arizona State University with more than a diploma. The director of education and advocacy at the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) said she now has greater means to promote policies that respect the rights and dignity of migrants. Joanna Williams (light complexion, dark brown hair, wearing teal embroidered blouse and teal dangle earrings) smiles in front of Downtown Phoenix campus Joanna Williams, who is building a national reputation for her scholarship and fieldwork on migration, is the spring 2019 outstanding graduate for the School of Public Affairs in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Photo by Alexis Bojorquez Download Full Image

“I’ve seen through my master’s all the tools and best practices and other dimensions I think we can apply to our advocacy,” Williams said. “I’m really excited to implement that at KBI.”

Williams, who is building a national reputation for her scholarship and fieldwork on migration, is the spring 2019 outstanding graduate for the School of Public Affairs in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

KBI is a binational organization on the U.S.-Mexico border that serves deported migrants and asylum seekers through humanitarian aid, education, research and advocacy. Williams, who has practiced empathy for migrants since her childhood days in Denver, joined the staff in 2015. She has gotten to know people at different stages in their journey both in the United States as well as at the border.

“I care really deeply about them as friends and neighbors and brothers and sisters,” she said.

Williams first arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border by way of Georgetown University, where she first learned about the Kino Border Initiative as an undergraduate student in 2010. Georgetown sponsored her on a weeklong KBI immersion program.

She went to Georgetown with thoughts of becoming an immigration lawyer. But a career at the border held more appeal than a career in a Washington, D.C., office. She said a mentor told her there was nothing wrong with going to the border and loving people there. Her career focus shifted from becoming a lawyer who upholds laws to a position with an opportunity to influence the making of policy and laws.

For Williams, to spend time doing something other than concentrate on her work at KBI, ASU had to offer something special, and it did. She said she leaves the program with a better understanding of policy analysis and the political calculations in developing policy alternatives. That’s especially helpful on a subject as intense as immigration, she said.

Williams brought to the master’s program her life experiences of growing up in Denver attending school with children of immigrants from Mexico, coming of age as a high school volunteer teaching English to refugees and several years of scholarly work on immigration issues in Mexico and Central America, including stints as a Truman and Fulbright scholar. At ASU, she was a Barrett Endowed Scholarship recipient.

Completing course credits for her master’s degree involved at least 150 hours commuting to Phoenix from her home in Tucson and her work in Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. There was also the challenge of balancing a demanding job with the commitments of graduate study. The past two years have been exhausting, but she said appreciates the dialectic between the intensity of her work and school, where she had time to “reflect and think more deeply.”

In graduate school, she continued her history of producing results from solid research. She was part of an independent study that developed orientation materials in a train-the-trainer model, which helps information about asylum reach people while they are still in Central America. The initiative provides the information before potential migrants invest significant financial resources and puts their lives in danger to reach the border.

Williams said she also enjoyed global development courses that informed her thinking about bigger-picture issues surrounding the movement of people.

“I believe that global development, especially from the perspective of business and sustainable industries, is critical to addressing the root causes of migration,” Williams said. “In a similar vein, scientific research in areas of sustainability and climate change is an important piece of addressing these challenges.”

Earning her master’s degree may conclude Williams’ robust research career. Her focus now is on carrying out the vision of KBI. While that, no doubt, will require additional research, Williams says she now sees herself in different roles.

“Maybe I’m not a researcher who’s carrying out the whole project, but I can set some of those visions and manage a bit of the research,” Williams said. “I think there’s a lot that we don’t know, and that information can help us better understand the implications of policy, better understand the options for support.”

Earning her master’s degree to advance her life’s work also is in keeping with Williams’ personal quest to be “grounded by the commitment to be humbly growing in love.”

“People throw out the word 'love' a lot, in a casual sense,” Williams said. “What I’ve really come to understand is the commitment and responsibility that comes with love. Love is much more than an emotion. It’s a dedication to somebody’s well-being. I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like.”

Story by Jennifer Dokes

Criminal justice grad's research on trouble spots in policing gives her hope

May 5, 2019

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

Katharine Leigh Brown loves and values the criminal justice system. She even entertained thoughts of becoming a police officer. Katharine (with brown hair and white floral blouse) stands in front of ASU Downtown campus “I have a really big passion for policing and helping the policing system,” Katharine Brown said. “As much as I love and value the system, [there are] injustices with marginalized communities, particularly the poor and the homeless. I just want to contribute and help make it better if I can.” Photo by Alexis Bojorquez Download Full Image

But Brown’s love is not blind and unquestioning. She is acutely aware of policing issues, particularly with regards to marginalized people, that need attention for the sake of police officers and the communities they serve.

“There are practices in policing I see that could use changes, and as of now we don’t have clear answers to what the best changes are,” said Brown of Palmdale, California.

Brown is on the case. She wants her research on fairness and police-citizen interaction to unlock mysteries of how and why the criminal justice system does what it does and how to make that system better for everyone.

“I have a really big passion for policing and helping the policing system,” Brown said. “As much as I love and value the system, [there are] injustices with marginalized communities, particularly the poor and the homeless. I just want to contribute and help make it better if I can.”

Brown is the spring 2019 outstanding graduate for the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

While an undergraduate student studying sociology at the University of California-San Diego, Brown worked as a first responder, a civilian position, in the university police department. She thought she was on a path to become a police officer but decided to add another possible alternative by applying for a spot in the criminal justice master’s program at Arizona State University.

At ASU, she learned she loves research, and her professional interests switched from the academy to academia. Her plans now are to be a career researcher instead of a career police officer.

“What threw me into the research side is realizing there are so many questions that I want answered, and there are so many ways I want to help police departments and officers,” Brown said. “I really think I can have a lot of opportunities to do so as a researcher.”

Brown, a first-generation college graduate, is a scholar of procedural justice. As a graduate research assistant, she worked with Assistant Professor Cody Telep in evaluating efforts by a police department in California to better approach the homeless.

Her master’s thesis research on the influence of officer gender grew from her push for valuing women and their role in the criminal justice system. She will present her research at the American Society of Criminology's annual meeting this November.

“Women are awesome,” Brown said. “They are undervalued. We need to do more research on them because they are amazing.”

While pursuing her doctoral degree at ASU, Brown will continue looking at criminology and the criminal justice system with an emphasis on fairness and process with marginalized communities. Her research will focus on evidence-based policing and procedural justice in a quest to create effective and fair policies that improve relationships between police and communities and implement tactics that make officers safer.

She expects her future research could go in many directions. For example, her interests in gender and crime could lead to an investigation of how things like access to health care for marginalized and poor women may contribute to disparate outcomes in the criminal justice system.

Brown’s research to date on trouble spots in policing gives her hope.

“When you study marginalized populations, when you hear about frequently or see frequently how marginalized populations have had bad interactions with the criminal justice system, it’s disheartening,” Brown said.

“Seeing my fellow students and the professors doing such important work, I think it made me more positive in that I feel like we can help as a population. There’s more we can do and that people are already doing. It’s going to take work and it’s going to take time, but there are things being done.”

Story by Jennifer Dokes