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Dean's Medalist excels in math — and physics

May 19, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning to ASU was difficult.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rhonda Olson

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


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Summer enrollment sets ASU record

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU opera singer rebuilds her voice and discovers new artistic path

May 18, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Why did you choose ASU? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. What are your plans after graduation?

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

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

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

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music


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

May 18, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erik Wirtanen

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


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

May 18, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

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

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

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

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College


Embedded in the community: Outstanding physics student is a third-generation ASU student

May 18, 2020

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

Weighing the pros and cons, considering multiple variables, and a little bit of faith all roll into deciding where to pursue higher education. Fortunately for Department of Physics graduate Tanner Wolfram, the choice was simple. Wolfram enjoyed many travel opportunities during his undergraduate years. Photo courtesy of Tanner Wolfram. Download Full Image

An award-winning and published student, Wolfram is part of the third generation in his family to graduate from Arizona State University.

“My family came to ASU forever,” Wolfram said. “My grandmother came here when I think it was still called Arizona State College. … My mom went here, all of her sisters, my dad, and I think one of his siblings.”

A lasting impression

With such a rich history in his own family, Wolfram has had a front-row seat on ASU's evolution through decades of family stories.

“My grandmother talks about how the original Palm Walk used to be different; she called it a ‘small’ school,” he said.

Patricia Reagan, Wolfram’s maternal grandmother, attended Arizona State College in 1953, before the 1958 vote to change the school name to the one we are used to today. And, in the past 60 years, that “small school” has sky-rocketed to a sprawling, innovative New American University – with nearly 120,000 students spread across four campuses and several locations.

“That’s one of the coolest things for me to see, maybe, being here just a little longer than a lot of students,” said Wolfram. “I got to see so many new buildings and so many new research areas develop here at ASU. To hear about them through emails, and things from the campus, and just to hear about all the progressions ASU is making, that’s pretty cool."

Through family involvement in campus activities over the years, Wolfram saw the Tempe campus shift and evolve through his parents' eyes, listening to their stories and commentary on changes and new elements. Both his parents graduated from ASU in 1984.

When asked which changes seemed most remarkable, Wolfram’s father, Scott Wolfram, said, “The addition of the whole science complex with Biodesign, the School of Earth and Space Exploration and then the addition of Barrett.”

“I think the new architectural designs are really beautiful. I also love the plant life that accents the campus,” said Wolfram’s mother, Deborah Estrada. “I’m also really pleased that there are many places for the students to eat and hang out.”

Wolfram’s earliest memory of ASU is of walking around the Tempe campus with his mother, who brought him to see the sights and also to participate in various campus activities for children, from bowling to violin lessons.

“My mom says that the first thing I did at ASU was be part of the psychology child study lab. Obviously, I don’t remember this, since I was something like 3 or 4,” he said.

Wolfram remembers spending plenty of time in the Bateman Physical Sciences Center during events like ASU’s Open Door, and Earth and Space Exploration Day. Fitting, then, that this is the building where he would spend so much time as a physics student.

Falling into physics

Wolfram enjoys a broad range of interests and passions and loves to learn. In addition to school and community activities, both at ASU and otherwise, he grew up watching the Science Channel. As time went on and people started asking him what he wanted to do after graduation, he noticed a definite pattern in his favorite shows — programs like Neil deGrasse Tyson's "Star Talk" and "How the Universe Works" heavily featured expert guests to explore varying topics.

“I kept seeing their titles: astrophysicist, astrophysicist,” Wolfram said. 

He started as an astrophysics major, but soon switched to physics, not wanting to specialize too early.

“I think that is the key, I really wanted a big foundation in physics,” he said.

This foundation would help keep his options open and give him the freedom to explore his varied interests without the pressure of locking into a lifelong career path.

Wolfram likes options and has many interests besides his love of physics. In addition to his physics coursework, he enjoyed a wide range of extracurricular activities and completed two foreign language minors, Spanish and Chinese, and participated in a study abroad program in China.

He is very interested in politics, language, learning about new cultures and international relations. His many travel opportunities during his undergraduate years gave him insight, perspective and new experiences that he can’t wait to take with him into whatever life holds in store next.

Friendships and abstract thinking

Building his solid foundation in physics, Wolfram also found new interests in his major. One of his favorite subjects, and perhaps his proudest accomplishment, was completing the full undergraduate quantum coursework — including acing the notoriously difficult Quantum Physics III.

“That one I worked really hard for,” he said. “It was a hard class. It was a really hard class. The tests are very challenging; it’s very demanding. I’m glad in the end that I had done enough to get the A.”

Despite the level of difficulty, or perhaps because of it, Wolfram found he quite enjoyed abstract and theoretical topics.

“I’ve always liked things that are a little abstract, a little not-so-here, not so physical,” he said. Problems and questions often stayed on his mind for weeks afterward.

“I think I like the thinking side of it,” he said. “Just kind of sit with myself and ponder. You know, probably those were my favorite classes.”

He also appreciated the close friendships formed with his classmates, as they all took on such challenging courses together.

“I have to say, I really like the department here, that’s a really big thing,” said Wolfram.

“It was a lot of fun because we would all be in the same classes. You know, we worked together, we generally studied together, so that was always fun, and kept things very interesting — learning things with them and from them. That was one of the things I really liked about ASU.”

Wolfram is currently considering graduate programs. Is there a chance he will end up moving into astrophysics, the topic that launched his undergraduate journey? Perhaps. He certainly hasn’t lost his curiosity about the universe.

When asked what project he would tackle if suddenly gifted $40 million, he said he would devote it to furthering space exploration.

“My personal viewpoint is that we have a lot of time (hopefully) here on Earth, but I think we should also spend part of that time trying to explore farther out, try to make new worlds, and new things,” he said.

“That’s probably way far in the distant future,” he said. “But if that’s something I could have helped work on, getting people to different worlds — even if I only contributed a little, minor thing — that would be interesting.”

Dominique Perkins

Events and Communications Coordinator, Department of Physics


Applied mathematics PhD honored with Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award

May 15, 2020

Lauren Dickman was recently honored with the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award, and graduated in May with her PhD in applied mathematics from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

“Lauren has been an exceptional teaching assistant during the past five years,” said Principal Lecturer Katie Kolossa, who serves as the graduate teaching assistant coordinator, helping with training, scheduling and evaluating the teaching assistants. Lauren Dickman is honored with the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award Lauren Dickman is honored with the 2020 Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences Download Full Image

“Already in her first year she was running Calculus III recitations and soon after taught her own Calculus I and II courses. She was also one of the first TAs to teach an online course,” Kolossa said. “She can and was always willing to teach any level class and her student and faculty evaluations have been outstanding.”

Dickman has been a leader in teaching assistant training, mentoring the past three cohorts of first-year TAs. She has directed workshop presentations and follow up discussions, helped to record and critique TA presentations, and led mock recitation sessions to present good teaching practices.

She has seen many incoming TAs who have never taught classes before, and are understandably nervous.

“It was both exciting and rewarding to see those who were initially anxious, start to come out of their shells and grow in confidence,” Dickman said. “Participating in the good/bad teacher demos and watching the mathematical charades certainly have to be counted as highlights, too.”

Each year she has tried to focus on making the week of training less intimidating for the incoming TAs. She wanted them to feel more comfortable turning to the experienced TAs for answers to questions throughout future semesters.

“I wanted everyone to feel that they had a more senior student who could be their resource at any time,” Dickman said. “I like to think that I helped make an impact in that regard.”

Dickman has always had an affinity for puzzles, and to her, mathematics represents the ultimate puzzle. Her love of mathematics propelled her to pursue mathematics as she began her college journey at ASU. But during her undergraduate studies, her world changed as her mom battled brain cancer and her younger brother was diagnosed with bone cancer.

Back when Dickman was 10 years old, her family was getting ready to leave for a family vacation to Disneyland. That trip was cut short when her mother had her first seizure. The cause was a brain tumor, which required major surgery. Several years later, an MRI revealed her tumor had changed to a malignant grade 3 tumor known as an anaplastic oligodendroglioma, which required radiation and chemotherapy. Another surgery occurred in 2017, followed by regular MRI checkups. 

In 2014, while Dickman was an undergraduate, her younger brother was 16 years old and played as a setter on his high school volleyball team. After complaining about severe leg pain, their parents took him to several doctors to determine what was wrong. An MRI revealed he had a grade 3 osteosarcoma the size of a football around his femur. This resulted in many rounds of chemotherapy and a limb salvage surgery, where doctors replaced his femur with a titanium rod.

After many months of intense chemotherapy, he had to learn to walk again and power through extensive rehabilitation. With five years of clean scans, doctors have ruled him "cancer-free." He has recovered in a near-miraculous fashion, and now plays for ASU’s men's volleyball team.

Seeing her family turned upside-down made Dickman personally determined to make a difference in the world of cancer. Initially she thought medical school was the answer. It was not until her junior year at ASU, when she was invited to an undergraduate research program called CSUMS, that her eyes were opened to the possibility of mathematical oncology.

“I was instantly enthralled by this marriage of my continued passion, mathematics, and my new passion, cancer research, and my plans changed from that point on,” Dickman said. “I decided to continue my mathematics education at ASU, with the goal of making a difference in mathematical oncology.”

Dickman began teaching in high school, tutoring her peers in math and science. Once she started college at ASU, she became a teaching assistant at a private elementary school, leading groups in math, Latin and literature.

As she entered graduate school, she became a teaching assistant in a different capacity, where her students changed from elementary students to college undergraduates.

“In every instance of teaching, I have felt the excitement of watching people have that ‘click’ moment, where something they previously felt frustrated with suddenly becomes enjoyable because they understand,” Dickman said. “Watching students make connections between different topics and develop confidence in their abilities is why I love teaching the way I do.”

“As I have experienced the beauty of mathematics in my own life, I have wished to share that love with those around me through both teaching and mentoring.”

As someone freshly entering grad school, Victoria Uribe thought having Dickman as a mentor really changed her perspective on being a graduate student.

“Lauren helped place my first-year struggles into the greater context of getting a PhD in mathematics. She reminded me that the beginning is always the hardest and that graduate school takes some getting used to. Lauren was there for me through my first-year ups and downs and made me feel like I was truly a part of the mathematics community at ASU,” Uribe said.

“Lauren is one of the nicest people I have ever met. She is also extremely humble about her publications and research.”

Professor Yang Kuang, Dickman’s PhD adviser, sees qualities in her that make both an effective teacher in the classroom and a great leader. She can explain difficult concepts while teaching a high-level mathematics class and also inspire students outside of the classroom and during community outreach events.

“Her friendly and charming personality makes her a magnet to fellow graduate students,” Kuang said. “Her hard-working nature and rich teaching experience enable her to function as a wonderful leader of TA training for our new TAs.”

“Her research training may also have added a lot to her effectiveness in terms of attention to detail and confidence,” Kuang added. “Her mathematical biology research talks are always extremely well received inside and outside of ASU.”

“Mathematics is more than just numbers. I have seen how it can help people grow in confidence and critical thinking,” Dickman said. “Through my research, I have found that math can even make sense of cancer, something that I never thought would make sense to me.”

Dickman says she has seen a change in herself over these past five years of graduate school, where her passion for mathematics has further developed into a passion to empower those she teaches and mentors.

“In TA training, when providing feedback and helping these incoming TAs prepare for instructing undergraduates, I tried to empower them to recognize their own strengths. In mentoring, I have tried to empower the women I was paired with to trust in their abilities to excel. In the classroom, I try to empower my students to believe that math is something they can be great at and that it is a worthwhile pursuit.”

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

Question: What do you like most about mathematics, and your area of mathematical oncology?

Answer: I love the wide applications of mathematics. I love how mathematics can be used to make a difference in the world! Any phenomenon we take for granted, mathematics can be used to describe and better understand. In my area of mathematical oncology, mathematics can help understand what mechanisms cause treatments to fail, which allows for designing treatments that can better succeed.

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

A: I learned the truth of Einstein’s famous words: “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” Even in my specialization of mathematical oncology, there are a vast number of areas to explore. At first it seemed daunting how much there remains to learn, but I now view it as an exciting quest to be a lifelong student.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: To enter industry, continuing a goal of using mathematics to improve health care. I will join HSAG (Health Services Advisory Group) as a senior data analyst, but my role will involve analyzing data to make informed decisions on how to improve quality of care. In doing this, I will use a mixture of mathematical skills, including statistics and logic-based reasoning, to make a measurable difference in helping patients get the treatment needed. I mainly wanted to find a job that would allow me to help lessen the painful experiences people undergo as a result of health problems while using some form of mathematics, and this job will allow me to do that.

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

A: My adviser Dr. Yang Kuang taught me the most important lesson, that there is something to be learned even when things do not work out. Often much of the growth comes in the early stages of a project, when you have to try and fail multiple times.

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

A: To take advantage of all the opportunities afforded you. Attend the seminars, conferences and luncheons. Talk to different professors and students. You are constantly surrounded by unbelievably bright minds, and you can learn something through each interaction. Also, do not forget the importance of taking a break every now and then. Sometimes the most productive move is to step away from your work and get outside for a while.

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

A: My favorite spot on campus is the courtyard of the Social Sciences building. It is unique, peaceful and gives you the feel of being in nature while in the middle of a college campus. When walking around the school, I often go out of my way to pass through the courtyard.

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

A: I love to be active. I love to hike, rock climb and play sports — sand volleyball, ultimate frisbee, basketball, pickleball, you name it. When I’m not outside, I also enjoy solving any form of puzzle — jigsaw, sudoku, crossword, etc. — and reading.

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

A: Math is often misunderstood to be boring and lacking in creativity. From determining what types of questions to ask and what tools to use in tackling those questions, mathematics is entirely an exercise in creativity. Mathematics is far more than rote learning. It is a beautiful, creative language to describe the world.

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

A: I am a believer in the power of education, as it can open doors and instill confidence. While it would take more than $40 million, I would therefore tackle illiteracy. It is a problem that is at the root of countless global issues.

Rhonda Olson

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


3 mothers and classmates wrap up work on their online master’s degrees

The day before commencement, each one celebrated Mother’s Day as the mother of five children

May 15, 2020

To make the grade and get the degree, every college student has some hills to climb that aren’t detailed in a syllabus. They’re the nonacademic challenges that can be just as imposing as any stack of papers, projects or exams.

At least the stars aligned this spring so that Jessica Cooper, Sara Ebert and Jacquelynn Sokol could meet and share their unique circumstances when they enrolled in the same online capstone class at Arizona State University. Jacquelynn Sokol, mother, five children, master's degree, School of Community Resources and Development, Watts College, Arizona State University Jacquelynn Sokol (left) with her husband, Jeff, and their five children. Sokol and two other mothers of five were in the same online capstone class in nonprofit leadership and management this spring, earning their master's degrees from ASU. Download Full Image

They were all near the end of their journeys toward a Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management degree from the School of Community Resources and Development. Two received their degrees May 11, with Sokol having one last class to go.

Above the pressures most any graduate student must face, they share a rare common experience. The day before commencement, each one celebrated Mother’s Day as the mother of five children.

Five children, all with requests, many at inopportune times — as in, when assignments were due.

Each mom, a professional seeking to augment her career, was completing all that classwork while still having most or all of her kids living at home with her. Two of them had all five.

And although all three live in the same metropolitan area around Salt Lake City, they had not met before enrolling in their master’s degree program.

Throw in the unique hurdles this spring of each being sheltered at home with their families during the COVID-19 pandemic (fortunately, none of the three moms has had anyone sick with the virus) and dealing with a 5.7 magnitude earthquake that struck near Salt Lake City two months ago. All these things, and graduate studies, too.

“They’re just warriors the way they navigated all of the disruption,” said Professor Robert Ashcraft. “The earthquake posed even more obstacles such as lost electric power, which is obviously a problem when pursuing online education. They demonstrated remarkable resilience, getting their assignments in and performing well throughout the semester.”

Robert Ashcraft, nonprofit leadership and management, Arizona State University, three moms, five children each

Professor Robert Ashcraft taught a graduate capstone class in nonprofit leadership and management in spring 2020 that was attended and completed by three mothers, each of whom has five children.

Ashcraft calls them inspirational. But each woman describes herself as someone ready to further her career who just happens to be the mother of five, and maybe might serve to inspire those children, particularly the girls.

One reason to succeed: Inspire my children

Ebert said she wanted to inspire her daughters.

“My youngest was in kindergarten so I decided to get my feet wet,” said Ebert, an administrative director with a nonprofit foundation. “Four of (my children) are girls, they’re getting to the age of deciding what to do. There’s a lot rhetoric about women’s roles out there. They saw Mom at home all the time. I wanted to show them that it was important to me to be their mom, but it was important also to keep learning and growing. It’s not one or the other.”

Sokol said her story is similar.

“My first three (children) are girls,” said Sokol, whose children, ages 2, 5, 8, 10 and 13, are the youngest group of the three. “My youngest is in diapers. I was nursing a newborn when I started. I wanted my daughters to see me walk (at commencement). My sons are going to have no memory of me going to school. But my daughters have seen Mom with the laptop, going to the library. They’ve seen me do the work.”

Cooper, who is formerly from Scottsdale, Arizona, with an undergraduate degree from ASU, is an event coordinator for a nonprofit and a board member of two others.

“I wanted the flexibility of an online program,” she said. “Being able to have the flexibility and not having to go someplace (for graduate school).” Despite taking courses from home, Cooper, a member of the executive team of a nonprofit organization, said that there were still plenty of sleepless nights.

“It is still a very large commitment of time. You want a lot out of the program, you have to put a lot into it,” said Cooper, whose children are ages 7, 9, 16, 21 and 26.

Cooper said her children often tried to get her attention, asking her to watch something they’re enjoying on TV, for example. But she said she had to tell them she couldn’t because she had schoolwork to do.

“We’re fighting over technology,” Cooper said. “It was easier when they were at school. Now we all see what it’s like to be online and all need Wi-Fi.”

Sokol said after her husband completed a three-year night-school Master of Public Administration program at nearby Brigham Young University, she wanted to be able to go to a campus herself, as she liked social interaction.

“But I loved this program,” Sokol said. “ASU was the right fit. It was really doable and affordable. It was just the right program and has been a really good program. I’m impressed with the course topics and what I’ve learned.”

Midnight master’s degree

So, what was this spring semester like?

“This time period has been crazy between being stuck at home (due to) COVID-19 and the earthquakes,” said Ebert, whose kids’ ages are 7, 10, 13, 17 and 20. “Every time the ground shakes I’m buying more water.”

The capstone class has been challenging, both inside and outside the virtual classroom, she said.

“Everything seems to have hit. It’s been a work-life-home balance, an interesting time to slow down and focus on a capstone. I would say it is so different than my undergraduate study course was,” Ebert said. “But I could not have done this program any other way. I never could have done it (in person).”

Ebert calls the program her “midnight master’s,” because much of her best work was accomplished between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“Where else but online can you do that? Everyone’s winding up. Everyone’s had something happen in their lives and now are wrapping it up,” she said.

Sokol also remembered some midnights.

“There are so many nights. For me, school doesn’t start until 8 or 8:30 at night, once the kids were in bed. I’d go to the library and at 8:55 the (library) ladies would give me the stink eye,” Sokol said. “They were closing it down and looked worried that I wouldn’t leave.”

Public places to study ceased to be an option when shelter-in-place rules went into effect in March, and Salt Lake City’s climate meant it was too cold in March to work outside, Sokol said.

Priorities and commiserating

Cooper said she frequently worked on school assignments inside her car while doing typical parent things such as waiting for her daughter to get out of ballet.

Cooper also moved during the semester, but school priorities came first, and many boxes are still unopened.

“The boxes can wait until the second week of May,” she said.

There wasn’t much time or opportunity to share advice on parenting, although the three remember commiserating about classwork, just like many students.

“There’d be a late-night email: ‘Did you read that assignment? Are you ready to drop out?’” Ebert said with a laugh.

Last year school was canceled for a snow day.

“We thought it was worst thing ever. One day was a real pain then,” Cooper said. “Now, it’s three months.”

Sokol said she is still amazed of the “random and crazy” situation that put three women, all from the Salt Lake City area, and all three mothers of five, in the same small class of a total of 15 students.

“There is something really great about having people who are just like you working toward the same goal,” Sokol said. “Our lives are similar, there is that unity and understanding.”

Beyond that, she said, was the opportunity to get to know others in their graduate degree program who were from much farther away, whose midnights came earlier or later.

“There were other moms in my classes with newborns; we have kind of connected. People living in different countries. One guy was doing some sort of military operation with an undisclosed location,” Sokol said. “They’ve all had different life stories. One thing I’ve loved, is the diversity in my classes, but a lot of people with commonalities.”

Doubts, sorrows, but ultimately, perseverance

Ebert said that she and her fellow mothers proved that they could get those degrees, but that didn’t mean that at times there weren’t doubts.

“As time goes on, you say, 'I can’t do it. This is the one thing that has to give,'” Ebert said. “But your family says, 'You can do it, keep doing it.' My dad died in October. I had a paper due the night of his viewing. The funeral was the next day.”

Ebert would sit up many nights with her mother, who was dying herself, until her mother fell asleep. She typed papers while her mother was sleeping, until her mother passed away a few weeks later.

The advice for others from these mothers with 15 children between them could be summed up in a few words: "Do it. It’ll be tough, but worth it."

“I love being a later-adult-learner. I care about the material. I went back to school to learn, not just to get a degree,” Ebert said. “Dive in. Enjoy the material. It’s a different experience.”

Sokol agreed, “You have to make it a priority to invest in yourself, because when you do something for yourself, all other things on your plate will just work themselves out,” she said. “You’ll be a more whole person to show up in those other areas. A lot of times I haven’t been the best mom. But I am showing my kids a better mom for investing in in myself.”

Cooper says one of her children is a college senior.

“She’s ready to be done. For her to think of going back to school is absurd to her. I said I wanted to, I wanted to do something for myself,” Cooper said. “I wanted to be a lifelong learner. You get out of it what you put into it. Pick things out and apply them.”  

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Business students put grad specialization to work and take top honors

A team from ASU's Master of Science in global logistics program make top 2 in Rutgers supply chain challenge

May 15, 2020

There were a few firsts in this year's Rutgers TEN Plus Supply Chain Innovation Challenge. First off, a team of four new graduates from Arizona State University's Master of Science in global logistics program is one of the top two winners who will share a $5,000 cash prize.

Another first is that the members of the team all hail from Ghana through the Mastercard Foundation Scholars program, including Samuel Gyan, Lois AndohSamuel Togodui and Asie Wadee. Samuel Gyan, Lois Andoh, Samuel Togodui, and Asie Wadee From left are graduating students from ASU's Master of Science in Global Logistics program Samuel Atta Gyan, Asie Wadee, Samuel Togodui and Lois Andoh. Download Full Image

The competition is an extension of the Rutgers TEN Plus Supply Chain Case Challenge, which was held annually from 2015 through 2018 and hosted by the Rutgers Business School supply chain management department.

This new competition featured two parallel tracks, one for undergraduate teams and one for graduate teams, including a virtual preliminary round — and it should have had a final round onsite in Newark, New Jersey, in April.

The last new twist was the final onsite round was canceled because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. However, the Rutgers leadership team decided to award participants based on their performance in the virtual first round of presentations.

In the virtual first round, teams presented ideas for electronic device manufacturer BetaWare, who sponsored the event, to innovate and add value to their customers.

“Being at the top in this case competition is another confirmation of the successes that I can attain in the supply chain field," Andoh said. "This is just a tip of the iceberg and I can’t wait to embrace what is out there.”

The W. P. Carey School of Business foursome believes their specialized master's program equipped them with tools and skills to address the issues in the case. Through courses such as Decision Modeling and Operations Management, they were able to develop strategies to target the core requirement for the case. For instance, they used the cash conversion cycle, a financial metric learned in their Supply Chain Cost Decision Issues course, to measure the firm’s financial stability. Plus, access to library resources such as Mergent Online enabled them to analyze the viability of their proposal against other companies.

“This case competition was broad and wide open to innovative solutions,” said Patricia Swafford, clinical associate professor of supply chain management, who is also the faculty director and worked with the students. “Winning is a testament to both the forward-thinking ability of the team and ASU’s commitment to promoting ‘out of the box’ thinking and innovation.”

All team virtual preliminary round presentations were blind judged by a panel of top-level executives from Estée Lauder, Panasonic, UPS and Pfizer. 

“Congratulations to the team for presenting an innovative solution and sharing in the winning of this competition,” Swafford said. “And thanks to Rutgers for sponsoring this event and rewarding the best teams despite the final round cancellation due to COVID-19.” 

Sweet endings to new beginnings

Recently, the Master of Science in global logistics program was designated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security as a STEM-eligible degree program. The designation gives greater opportunities for international students to find employment in the U.S. for up to 36 months beyond graduation, as compared to 12 months for non-STEM degrees.

Togodui plans to take advantage of the benefit. "In the process of pursuing this, I not only look forward to developing new skills and gaining experiential knowledge in supply chain but see it as a prolonged opportunity in giving back to the U.S. community a perspective I bring from a different culture."

Wadee seconds Togodui's plan. “The approval of the STEM employment benefit provides me with a rare opportunity to continue learning and improving upon my skills and abilities to make a lasting impact in the world at large, and it is worth taking advantage of."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for STEM jobs will grow by 13% by 2027, with higher wages than non-STEM jobs: The national average for STEM salaries is $87,570, while non-STEM jobs earn roughly half as much, with an annual average of $45,700.

“I look forward to applying the knowledge and skills I’ve acquired to solving challenges that we face in our daily lives,” said Gyan, who accepted a job offer to work with a logistics company in Ghana. “I’m excited to work with them. I know the opportunity will provide a conducive environment for me to apply the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired over the years.”

Shay Moser

Managing Editor, W. P. Carey School of Business


Paying tribute to resilience

Augmented reality art sculpture honors Class of 2020

May 15, 2020

Arizona State University's Class of 2020 knows what it means to be resilient.

They’ve had to adapt to unique circumstances, and they’ve risen to the challenge. They moved to fully remote learning in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve navigated fears and anxiety from the global health crisis while socially distant, and their graduation ceremonies were virtual. An original, augmented reality art sculpture was created to pay tribute to the resilience of the Class of 2020. Download Full Image

An original, augmented reality art sculpture is now paying tribute to those experiences.

“We are in this together," said Diana Ayton-Shenker, ASU-Leonardo Initiative executive director. "We wanted to honor the experiences and sacrifices everyone has gone through, and the incredible adaptability and resourcefulness to create something new.”

ASU Resilience Rising is a collaboration between the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, ASU-Leonardo, Meteor Studio and Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts visiting artist William T. Ayton

“I've done many images depicting the world in many different ways,” Ayton said. “I did a drawing back in 1991 in response to the AIDS epidemic, which showed a ruined world held up by two hands as it fell apart. This (Resilience Rising) artwork is intended to be the opposite of that, with humanity coming together to create a new and better world.”

Resilience Rising App

Rising Resilience app.

The project features figures rising out of a broken globe and creating a new one together. It is then placed virtually in your physical environment through a free app. You can change the size of the piece and the lighting, and even set off fireworks. 

Robert LiKamWa, director of Meteor Studio and assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, helped bring the project to life. He and his students used the software program Unity to create the AR piece.

“I thought it was a very beautiful idea,” LiKamWa said. “It was a way to share stories of resilience and inspiration, and show how we're able to connect with each other in these strange times that we're in.”

The goal is to create a long-term AR piece on the Tempe campus featuring a digital “COVID Quilt.” Students can contribute their stories of resilience to the quilt, which would surround viewers in the immersive experience. 

“I hope that people will use it for cathartic healing,” Ayton-Shenker said. “It would be a place you could go and feel the pain and the recovery of this experience.”

computer-generated sculputre

Mockup of statue with "COVID Quilt."

The digital art piece is a way to show how people come together during a crisis and respond with resilience. 

“It’s a love letter to our students, each other and ourselves,” Ayton-Shenker said. “With commitment, collaboration and imagination, we can use art, science and technology to carry us through something that really humanizes us. We can make ourselves more human and more humane when we share a story of resilience.” 

The ASU Resilience Rising tribute is now available from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

Ashley Richards

Communications Specialist , School for the Future of Innovation in Society