Home Page Display: 

Receiving help led applied biological sciences graduate to help others

May 5, 2019

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

It was an early exposure to medical issues in William Harper’s family that sparked Harper’s interest in majoring in applied biological sciences and pursuing a career in medicine: “It made me extremely curious to know how the human body works, why it fails to work, and how to fix it,” he said. ASU applied biological sciences graduate William Harper William Harper, an outstanding graduate in applied biological sciences at ASU's Polytechnic campus, said he found Professor Marianne Moore's dedication to her students and her research on bat immunology especially inspiring. Download Full Image

He completed his degree in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at Arizona State University's Polytechnic campus and will be among the thousands of students graduating on May 6 looking to make the world a better place.

Harper, who is from Modesto, California, chose to attend ASU because of the resources available to propel his career.

“ASU was a good choice for financial reasons,” he noted. “I was also offered a position in Barrett [The Honors College], which seemed like a good opportunity to work with professors and become better prepared for medical school.”

While at ASU, Harper also took advantage of community opportunities in the East Valley to support his career. He interned in internal medicine and with the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center and Banner Gateway Medical Center's Emergency Department.

Along his ASU journey, Harper learned a simple but unexpected lesson that has changed his perspective about education. It’s one that bodes well for the kind of integrative medical practitioner he will become.

“It seems simple, but a professor my freshman year made me realize that taking classes is not just about passing the class,” he reflected. “I have come to believe education is about personally integrating the information presented in order to enhance your understanding of the world, to be a more competent individual in your career and your life.”

Harper recently shared more with ASU Now about the opportunities he has taken advantage of at ASU and his plans for the future.

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

Answer: I think I learned the most important lessons from Dr. Marianne Moore by observing her immense dedication to her research and her students. The patient but unfailingly enthusiastic attitude she displays in her study of bat immunology, and in her assistance to students, has shown me that picking a career you love makes all the work worth it.

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

A: The library was probably the spot I would most consider my home base on campus. I actually worked there for over a year and still go in there when I need a minute to put life together or hours to dedicate to an assignment.

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

A: Make the most out of your education for you! Treat new concepts as potentially vital tools for your pursuit of the fields that interest you most.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be participating in research and applying to medical school.

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

A: I would give funding to labs working to understand and engineer novel treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.

Written by Imani Stephens, class of 2019, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication; student marketing assistant, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.

Dream to become a physician coming true for microbiology graduate

May 5, 2019

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

When Zach LeBaron was a young child, he would sit on his mother’s lap and scour her textbooks while she was studying to become a medical assistant. He especially liked to look at the diagrams of human anatomy and pretend to explain to her what was going on. Zach LeBaron Zach LeBaron is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in microbiology and has been accepted to the Creighton School of Medicine. Download Full Image

The seed to study medicine was planted. But so was another desire — learning.

LeBaron was born and raised in Colorado, but once he started his college search, found himself drawn to the culture at Arizona State University. After his entire family moved to Arizona, he decided that ASU had everything he wanted.

In addition to a diverse and inclusive culture, LeBaron felt ASU offered him a community where he could constantly evolve and grow.

As it turns out, ASU was a perfect fit. LeBaron is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in microbiology and has been accepted to Creighton's School of Medicine.

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

Answer: I think an overall lesson that I learned while at ASU was the sheer magnitude of things that I didn’t know, and how important the pursuit of knowledge would become for me. Each of my classes expanded my understanding of life in such a huge way and provided a new glimpse into something that was completely foreign to me prior. I have always been amazed at the intellect of and knowledge of each of my professors, and it has helped me to see the importance of continually expanding one’s own understanding.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to pursue a career in your field?

A: Besides going through the phase of wanting to be an astronaut, I have always had a desire to go into medicine. When I worked in an orthopedic center as a clinical assistant, I saw how much joy and fulfillment there was in the treatment of other people.

I guess my “aha” moment came when an elderly woman who had previously been debilitated by her knee pain returned after a joint-replacement surgery with a smile on her face and expressed gratitude to the doctor with whom I worked. It touched me to see how much good someone could do for an individual person, by helping to get them their health back. 

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

A: I feel fortunate to have had some wonderful professors, but one of the most valuable lessons for me came from my advanced English professor [Kent Linthicum]. As someone who loathed English growing up, I was blindsided with how much a good professor can change one’s outlook on a subject. He taught me that being a well-rounded student was crucial to becoming a good doctor. He discussed often how his course could benefit me personally in my career, and it helped me to engage more fully with the course material.  

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

A: I would say to stop and smell the roses! As I’m preparing for the next step in life, I can’t help but feel that my time at ASU was like turning the pages in a book. I enjoyed every day that I was given, but there were times where I just wanted to be done with college. However, just like when you finish the last page of the book and it closes, I feel that is how the college experience goes and you can’t go back to read it again. Therefore, it’s important to enjoy the moments that we have in college!

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

A: As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I spent a lot of my time in the Institute building on campus. It was a great place to meet new friends as well as add some religious learning for a well-balanced college experience. Next would have to be Chick-fil-A.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I will be heading to Creighton medical school in the fall to pursue my dream of becoming a physician.

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

A: Besides making some of the best lifelong friends that someone could ask for, I am proud of who I have become following my time at ASU. This experience has helped me to see the importance of expanding my own viewpoint and seeing life through the eyes of those around me. I have also felt an increase in empathy for those who come from different backgrounds, and an appreciation for them as human beings.

Q: What did ASU provide to you that you think you could not have found anywhere else?

A: I am sure that everyone is biased to their university, but without a doubt ASU was the best choice for me. The drive that the college possesses to include as many viewpoints, people and ideas as possible while pushing for the next innovative idea has really come to be a part of how I evaluate the world.

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

A: One issue that I feel passionate about is helping to fight childhood obesity and diabetes. I feel that solving this problem would better the lives of so many individuals around the world.

Q: Describe some challenges or hurdles you faced while earning your degree, and what you did or what took place to overcome them.

A: I remember one of the greatest hurdles during my time at ASU was finding balance between school, work, family, friends and simply enjoying life. It also seemed that during the times where I was trying to do everything in my life at once, it seemed like I wasn’t doing exceptionally at any of them. I remember realizing that I couldn’t do multiple things at once, but I could do one thing at a time, and do it very well. I decided that when I was in school, I would dedicate myself wholly to learning and performing well in class.

Whenever I was with family or friends, I would only focus on interacting with them. Dedicating myself to each individual task rather than doing everything intermingled at once helped me to create a healthy balance in my life.

Q: Are there any particular people who really supported you on your journey — and what did they do to help?

A: I wouldn’t have been able to dedicate myself so fully to ASU without the love and support of my family and my wife. They have been my rock and continually motivated me to go the extra mile in my classes, while also providing an outlet to destress after a long day.

Q: Looking back, is there anything you would go back and change?

A: If I could go back and start over at ASU, I would take advantage of all the different clubs at ASU and join as many as my time would allow. I enjoyed my time working in hospitals, as well as the other activities in which I participated; however, I would love to have seen another side of ASU!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I am grateful to ASU, my professors, advisers and all of those at the school who have supported and guided me throughout my undergraduate. Even though I am moving on to medical school, I will always be a Sun Devil at heart!

Sandra Leander

Manager, Media Relations and Marketing, School of Life Sciences


Communication graduate set her sights on the entertainment industry

May 5, 2019

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

Imagine maintaining a perfect GPA throughout your college career and still finding time to work and perform in a band.   Alexa Graves Download Full Image

That has been the experience of senior Alexa Graves, who is graduating summa cum laude this spring with a degree in communication from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication and a minor in film and media studies. At the May 6 commencement ceremony, Graves will receive one of ASU's top academic honors, the Moeur Award, for her efforts. 

Since 1901, the ASU Alumni Association has presented the Moeur Award to graduating seniors who have maintained the highest academic standing over the course of eight consecutive fall and spring semesters. The award was named for Dr. B. B. Moeur, who was a physician and businessman in Tempe in the early 1900s.

Graves also received the Louis and Louise Menk Endowed Scholarship in 2017 from the Hugh Downs School. 

Graves has been a standout student since she arrived at ASU four years ago. In her first semester, she impressed her professor in her COM 100 class, Pauline Davies, who later invited her to be a classroom assistant to provide support and advice to more inexperienced students. 

“Alexa is very capable, conscientious and empathetic, and she's also very modest about her achievements. Though we've stayed in close touch, I just learned she would be receiving the Moeur Award when I was invited to the ceremony,” said Davies. “Only then did I realize that she has been an outstanding student in all her courses.”

Graves also worked as an office assistant at ASU’s Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science for three years, where her diverse talents were put to good use.

“From planning events to building websites, I’ve had a chance to work on many different types of projects,” said Graves. “Overall, I was able to learn many different interpersonal skills such as professionalism, dependability and time management.”

In addition to her work and studies, Graves is also the lead singer of the band, Lo Standard, formed in the summer of 2017, whose members are either ASU students or alumni. During that time, the band has performed all around Arizona including several times in front of the Memorial Union, and also at ASU’s Homecoming Block Party. They have also released their first music video, “No Fight Left” filmed by ASU Film Student Xavier Sanchez with the hope to raise awareness about emotional and physical abuse and to let victims know that they are not alone.

Alexa Graves, lead singer in the band Lo Standard, performing in front of the Memorial Union.

ASU Now sat down with Graves to learn more about her college experience: 

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

Answer: I have always loved being social and working in teams. One day when I was looking at the different majors offered at ASU on their website, communication stood out to me as something I would enjoy and also had the flexibility to apply to many different career paths. That was the moment that I realized it was the perfect degree for me.

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

A: ASU is a really unique school, and part of that is because of how diverse the campus is. I have gotten to work with so many different types of people that I have never had the opportunity of meeting anywhere else. It is a really inclusive university when it comes to celebrating different cultures, and everyone is very respectful. I learned that hand gestures have different meanings in different cultures, so it is important to do your research before going to a new place!

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: I chose ASU because the campus is beautiful and I felt that there would be an abundance of opportunity here. Which I have to say was a good choice because I have been blessed with so many amazing opportunities like being a student worker at the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science. I have worked there for three years as an office assistant for Paul Davies and I have been able to help plan events and meet really fascinating people like Lucy Hawking and Jennifer Doudna. As a singer, I have also had the opportunity of being one of ASU’s Got Talent’s top 10 finalists, and I performed at the Memorial Union multiple times as a part of the ASU Culture Express Yourself Series.

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

A: During my time at ASU, I had the opportunity to teach a student success class for incoming freshmen, and the advice I always gave them was to get involved. The best part of ASU is how easy it is to make connections and participate in the many clubs and organizations. This type of experience is invaluable, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

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

A: My favorite spot was definitely the Secret Garden. I went there many times to study or hang out with friends! If you’ve never heard of it before you’ll have to ask around and see if you can find it.

Alexa Graves with her guitar.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I would love to work in the entertainment industry, so I am actively pursuing that right now with the help of people I have met at ASU. Besides that, I’m going on a graduation trip to Hawaii to celebrate!

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

A: I would love to donate to the Ocean Cleanup Project to help rid our oceans of plastic. As humans, I believe we have the responsibility of protecting our environment. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now estimated to be three times the size of France. If you would like to donate you can go to theoceancleanup.com/support.

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication


image title

Coordinating the pomp and circumstance

May 3, 2019

Events director Melissa Werner has made sure ASU's graduation ceremonies go off without a hitch for 20 years

Melissa Werner has been shepherding students through commencement ceremonies for 20 years. 

And no, it never gets old.

Werner, director of University Events and Protocol at Arizona State University, revels in the high-energy atmosphere, the excitement, the proud families in the stands and the accomplishments of every student donning the maroon cap and gown. 

It takes a lot of commitment, time and energy to pull off a ceremony with many moving parts and make it a memorable event for each graduate.

Werner may not be the most noticeable person at graduation, but you'd definitely notice her absence.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

At 6 a.m. on graduation day, you will find Werner and her assistant Melissa Chavez working the floor, getting it ready for the biggest event of the semester, the universitywide commencement.

They make sure the seats are ready, the plants are in position, the microphones are placed correctly, the correct videos are loaded, the flags are posted, the band is ready, the scripts are reviewed and security is set. 

Graduate commencement begins at 9 a.m. Monday and undergraduate commencement follows at 7:30 p.m., so the two Melissas won’t be done till way after midnight. 

“Graduation is a special time, and each student should be celebrated," said Werner. "That is my goal, my team’s goal, to make graduation a special moment for each graduate and their families.” 

More: The voice of ASU graduation: Mike Wong • How to prepare for the ceremonies • Outstanding graduates

Top photo: Melissa Werner organizes the start of the fall 2018 undergraduate commencement at Wells Fargo Arena on Dec. 10, 2018.

Mexico Fulbright Scholar recounts ASU journey

PhD grad passionate about human well-being when nation's implement new systems

May 3, 2019

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

When PhD student and Mexico City native Carlo Altamirano Allende earned his Fulbright Scholarship to study in the U.S., he had a tough choice to make — where to go to school. man's portrait Mexico Fulbright Scholar Carlo Altamirano Allende graduates May 5, 2019, with a PhD in social dimensions of science and technology. Courtesy photo

Arizona State University was one of his options, but the image of Arizona in Mexico at the time remained unflattering in the wake of an Arizona senate bill passed years earlier that was perceived by many as anti-immigrant.

“I knew nothing about Arizona,” Altamirano said. “In Mexico City, Arizona was very famous in the newspapers because of Sheriff (Joe) Arpaio and SB1070.”

Not deterred, Altamirano started reading more about Phoenix while also researching the types of work going on at different universities, including ASU.

“Yes, the city of Phoenix looked like a totally different world than Mexico City,” he said. “But then I figured, sure there are political issues but that also means that there are very interesting people there doing cool things.”

An avid traveler, Altamirano was looking for a temporary change in scenery and a more permanent change academically.

Altamirano had studied thermodynamics theory of complex systems, i.e. physics. He decided to shift gears after becoming interested in the inequality in distribution of resources among scientists that can exist in a society. That led him to ASU Professor Clark Miller’s work on the social dimensions of science and technology. Altamirano reached out and interviewed with Miller remotely. He earned entry into the program and arrived in Tempe in 2012.

This semester Altamirano earns a PhD in social dimensions of science and technology. His research has taken him back to Mexico to learn about the impact of the nation’s constitutionally mandated energy reforms on indigenous communities.

Here Altamirano shares insight into his ASU journey and where he hopes to go next.

Question: What has your experience been like at ASU?

Answer: It has been a wonderful and challenging experience. I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to be amongst amazing scholars within a great nurturing environment. It has been challenging. A PhD program like mine demands a huge commitment. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of it and of the entire university, within a world built on disciplinary grounds, I had to learn and unlearn a lot practices, methods and theories. This will help me be ready to go into the real world and contribute to solving some of the most pressing problems of our times from a perspective that I could have only learned at ASU.

Q: What has been your favorite part of studying in the U.S.?

A: My favorite part of studying in the U.S. is twofold: on the one hand, the multicultural aspect of the communities that make up this country and that is present in the university. On the other, all the contradictions that exist here as a very powerful and dynamic democracy. It is great to have a firsthand perspective of things that happen here and have a ripple effect in the entire world.

Q: Can you describe one of the most interesting aspects of the research you have conducted while at ASU?

A:  A very interesting aspect or lesson derived from my research is that technology by itself will not solve any problems related to achieving sustainable development goals. We need to look at the entire ecosystem of innovation and define metrics that take into account human wellbeing, human rights and inclusion. In the case of renewable energy technologies, I have found that some of the deployment of those technologies have failed to reduced inequalities, poverty level and increase energy access. On the contrary, technologies have enhanced some of these problems because of a failure to account for the metrics within the design of those systems. I focused on Mexico, which is experiencing one of the most aggressive energy transitions in the world.

Q:  What type of work do you hope to do after graduation?

A:  I hope I can find a job in Mexico City that allows me to apply everything that I learned during this PhD program … at a think tank or an academic position where I can be involved in the science-policy interphase.

Q:  What advice would you give to students from Mexico studying in the U.S.?

A:  To work hard and to always look for a community within the university or outside where they feel supported and where they can thrive.

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

Most fulfilling part of ASU graduate’s college experience was helping others join the university

May 3, 2019

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

Ethan Barlow’s parents encouraged him to venture away from the familiar surroundings of the state where he’d grown up and experience a new environment during his college years. Spring 2019 Fulton Schools of Engineering raduate Ethan Barlow Ethan Barlow. Download Full Image

Barlow recalls being appreciative of that advice as soon as he arrived at Arizona State University.

“I fell in love with this school the moment I stepped on campus,” he said. “The people were amazing and I knew I’d found my new home.”

Much of what Barlow contributed to campus life as an undergraduate student helped other students have a positive experience at the university as well. Among the most fulfilling accomplishments of his college career was as a student worker with ASU Admissions Services.

As a freshman, Barlow joined the Student Admissions Relations Team and became the team development coordinator during his sophomore year. As a senior, he was elected as the organization’s student director. During his time in that position, he helped the organization nearly double its membership.

“Being able to help prospective students and their families is beyond rewarding,” Barlow said. “Choosing a college can be a very difficult process, so I am glad I was able to help many families through the initial stages.”

Barlow, who is getting a bachelor's degree in engineering management, found it challenging to keep up with schoolwork while taking on such leadership responsibilities, but says the experience “truly helped me grow a lot as a person” and give him “a family away from home.”

He also attributes much of his personal growth to support from Cheryl Jennings, an industrial engineering lecturer in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, one of the six Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

Barlow served as a teaching assistant for Jennings for three semesters. She also provided valuable mentorship during his junior and senior years.

“She really helped set me on the right path," he said. "She gave me the confidence that I could excel as an engineer.”

Barlow, who will be one of the student speakers at the Fulton Schools spring semester convocation ceremonies, will carry that confidence into his future as he starts his career in a leadership development program at Schneider Electric, a Fortune Global 500 company headquartered in France.

“I have always had a knack for working with people and I have been in a number of leadership positions throughout my college career,” he said. “So being able to continue developing as a young leader at such a great company is a dream come true.”

Barlow has straightforward advice for how fellow students can ensure their own success: Take care of yourself.

“Make sure you spend plenty of time focusing on your own physical and mental health,” he said. “School is hard, so you have to be stable and ready to go so you can give 100% in your schoolwork.”

Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska

Barlow's favorites:

Performer: Luke Bryan.
TV show: "Criminal Minds."
Activity: Golfing.
Sports team: New England Patriots.

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

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Driving toward a profusion of literary voices

May 3, 2019

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

Representation matters. It certainly did for Arizona State University online student Daniel Murillo. When he saw parts of his experience represented on the page, when he encountered writers who were like him, who he really was became … possible. Graduating ASU student Daniel Murillo / Courtesy photo After a conversation with an ASU faculty member, graduating online student Daniel Murillo realized he was too often emulating others in his writing — instead of being himself. "While I still look to my favorite writers for direction," he said, "I am sure to write with my voice, the contemporary voice." Download Full Image

Murillo is earning a BA in English this spring, and has secured a competitive ConversaSpain teaching assistantship postgraduation.

Before his epiphany, Murillo — who identifies as queer and Mexican American — believed that a “writer” was someone like Sylvia Plath or Arthur Rimbaud, maybe Charles Bukowski. In short: white and Eurocentric.

Murillo said he is grateful for the diversity of literature courses he’s taken at ASU. Each area and genre opened up new ways of thinking and being. And it gave him confidence to find his own voice.

Murillo lives in the Los Angeles suburb of Lakewood, California, where he’s participating in ASU’s Starbucks College Achievement Plan. Online education has allowed him to continue working while adding meaningful opportunities like travel experiences — all while keeping up with his studies.

Closer to his home, Murillo added to his resume by interning at the Los Angeles Review of Books, a well-regarded literary supplement covering the national and international book scenes. Murillo wrote, edited and created weekly content for their social media platforms, being instrumental at increasing the review’s levels of engagement.

“This is no surprise,” confirmed Ruby Macksoud, an instructional professional who directs the Department of English’s internship program. “Daniel has an eye for choosing engaging authors, musicians, interviews and images to draw people in. During our many conversations, one thing was clear — he cares deeply about connecting with people. The best part of those conversations? Hearing his excitement about the social impact of his internship work and how much he learned about himself through the process.”

We caught up with Murillo to ask a few more questions about his ASU career and his plans for increasing literary diversity.

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

Answer: I would say my “aha” moment happened when I came across Allen Ginsberg and David Wojnarowicz my freshman year. These queer men really solidified my desire to study literature and ignited my passion to write. I took a few creative writing workshop courses here at ASU. Being in the company of other writers and being in conversation about literature reinforced my desire and ability to write.

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

A: I am very thankful for the indigenous poetry, American ethnic literature and sexuality in literature courses that promoted diversity in the literary world. These courses exposed me to a diverse array of writers who aren’t in the mainstream, writers I wouldn’t have come across on my own. As a Mexican-American queer writer, I was really encouraged by these diverse voices. I believe we as a culture have made tremendous progress in the past few years. I do believe, however, we still have a far way to go. I intend to write poetry, essays, even venture into screenwriting about my experience and my communities’ experience.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: The Starbucks partnership with ASU played a big role in my decision to attend the university. I am very thankful to the company for their generosity and their flexibility. Starbucks was very accommodating with my work schedule, which allowed me to focus on my studies. Online schooling also allowed me to take my studies with me as I traveled. Over the course of my studies, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to France, the Netherlands and Montreal (Canada).

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

A: I would have to say (former English teaching assistant) Cheyenne Black. I was taking her intermediate poetry workshop course. I attribute her advice as one of the defining moments of finding my artistic voice. I always looked to my favorite writers and thought what would they be writing about in this current climate? What would Rimbaud write about the internet? What would Bukowski write about dating apps? What would Plath write about social media? These topics are altogether trivial and yet so deeply imbedded into our day-to-day life. I was writing with them in mind and not considering my own voice. I had a Google Hangout with professor Black to discuss my poetry. She was very straightforward in her approach and told me to stop using archaic language. While I still look to my favorite writers for direction, I am sure to write with my voice, the contemporary voice.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m moving to Spain! I applied to be a language assistant for a school year and got the position. I missed creative writing MFA program application deadlines so I decided to use my time well during this gap year and apply what I’ve learned in the field, in a different country! The ultimate goal postgraduation is to write, write, write and get it published.

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

A: I would tackle the AIDS epidemic. I think it is a big misconception that the AIDS epidemic is over. Sure, we’ve increased awareness. Yes, we have developed effective treatment. But we still have ways to go. I would like to put this money toward further educating people and finding a cure.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

senior marking & communications specialist, Department of English


Drawn to the outdoors since her childhood, ASU grad seeks career protecting the environment

May 3, 2019

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

Linzy Jane Voytoski had no hesitation about studying engineering at Arizona State University. She wanted to carry on the legacy of her “family of engineers” ­— especially a grandfather who graduated from ASU with a degree in electrical engineering more than 50 years ago. Linzy Voytoski Spring 2019 graduate environmental and resource managment Linzy Jane Voytoski. Download Full Image

Her initial selection of a focus area within the field wasn’t made with absolute certainty, and after three semesters as a software engineering major she decided it wasn’t a good fit.

Fortunately, in exploring alternatives, Voytoski said, “I realized I could turn my favorite hobby into a career.”

But the way she describes that hobby makes it clear it’s much more to her than a simple pastime.

“I have been drawn to the outdoors since I was a kid. Greenery makes me feel at peace inside,” she said. “So, it made sense for me to pursue a career that seeks to preserve and protect the environment.”

Voytoski excelled in environmental and resource management studies at The Polytechnic School, one of the six Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

Her grades earned her a place on the Fulton Schools dean’s list throughout her undergraduate years, while she used what she was learning to contribute to the Environmental and Resource Management student club at ASU.

Voytoski got valuable experience outside the classroom as a student lab assistant with ASU’s Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation, which uses algae technology to produce renewable energy, food and other sustainable systems and products.

She also worked as an assistant industrial hygienist for ASU Environmental Health and Safety operations and as an assistant at the Student Union on ASU’s Polytechnic campus.

Even after finding a major that aligned with her passion for preserving the environment, Voytoski was challenged by some tough classes and rough semesters.

“There were a few times when I was struggling in classes and really wondered if I had it in me to be an engineer,” she said. “I’m glad that I stuck it out in those moments because I have never been more confident in my ability to be a successful female environmental engineer.”

She says Fulton Schools Associate Professor Kiril Hristovski was the most influential of the teachers who helped her achieve that self-assurance.

“He changed my entire perspective on my education,” Voytoski said. “He cares about his students individually and measures success based on how much we have learned and improved, rather than focusing on low points of the learning curve.”

Now, Voytoski has her sights set on “taking the knowledge I have of the environment and what I know about making effective and lasting changes in the world and applying it to my community here in Arizona.”

Her foremost career aspiration is “to preserve the Arizona desert and highland landscape for many generations to come,” she said. “I want my nieces and nephews and their children and their children’s children to be able to cherish the outdoors in the same way I did when I was a kid.”

Hometown: Mesa, Arizona

Voytoski's favorites

Performer: Bishop Briggs.
Movie: "
Across the Universe."
TV show: "
Book: "
House of Leaves" by Mark Z. Danielewski.

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

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Geography student discovers passion and community at ASU

May 3, 2019

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

Often students arrive at college with set plans on what path they want to take over the next four years. Abigail Johnson was one of those students, but as she prepares to graduate from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences this spring, she advises others to not be afraid to change up their plans. Abigail Johnson Abigail Johnson will graduate with her bachelor's degree in geography from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Download Full Image

“Follow what you think is right. There was a time that I really thought one major (journalism) was right for me and since I wanted it so bad and did an internship in it, I thought I would disappoint my family if I switched,” explained Johnson, who is graduating with her bachelor’s degree in geography from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “But when something doesn’t feel right, I think you should change your mind and really think within yourself and reflect.”

As a first-generation student, Johnson said she benefited from a number of resources in high school and while at ASU. One of those resources was AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination).

“(AVID) helps students who don’t have the tools for college, many are first-generation students. I didn’t know about the SAT, ACT and they tell you about those things and advise you to get involved,” she said.

During Johnson’s junior year at ASU, she was invited to speak to high schoolers at an AVID event.

I was so proud to be asked to speak at the conference. I loved it, just because I know what it’s like, I’ve been there in that exact same chair. It was really cool to be able to be the one to help them.”

Helping others was a consistent theme during Johnson’s time at ASU. She worked with elementary school students through America Reads during her freshman and sophomore years, frequently volunteered for events through American Indian Student Support Services and got involved with community gardening at the Polytechnic campus, which then led to work at the nonprofit organization Native Health. As an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, Johnson said this work, in particular, was meaningful.

“To be around my people and to teach them about what I’ve learned at ASU about plants, it’s very fun.”

Johnson answered some questions about her time at ASU and shared what she has planned next.

Question: What’s your Sun Devil story?

Answer: I’m from El Mirage, Arizona, and grew up going back and forth to the Navajo Nation. I’m a first-generation student so my whole life I’ve been excited to go to university. I worked hard every single day in high school; I did community service and became really passionate about those kinds of things. Eventually, I made it here and really enjoyed it.

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

A: I took GPH 111 with Erin Saffell. I walked into class and saw how passionate she was about the subject and I loved being in her class. I was taking journalism classes and realized I was looking more forward to going to that class than the journalism classes. I had office hours with her and told her I really loved physical geography and she told me to think about majoring in it and that’s when I decided to switch over.

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

A: When I moved here I realized how being a first-generation student, I was always the one to lead my family. When I came here I met a lot of people and didn’t feel like I had so much weight on my shoulders. I think something surprising that I learned was that you really need people, and when you have the right people you can create better results than you could by yourself.

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

A: Professor Saffell. She taught me how to study and how each class is different. It can be hard as a freshman to build up the confidence to walk into office hours. I got over that barrier with her, she was very calm and I felt very comfortable in her environment. I’d ask her questions and from then on I wasn’t afraid to ask questions to other professors or TAs.

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

A: Students come here for their major but this is an opportunity for you to know yourself. Do something out of your major, like a club. For me, I love geography and maps but I had an interest in plants so I started doing those classes and I met my best friends there. Do something out of your element and nourish that. Create a hobby for yourself.

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 American Indian Students Services room, it’s a very safe space for me. It’s in Discovery Hall and on the walk there, there are beautiful trees leading the way.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My husband is in medical school and starting his rotations so we’ll be traveling around the United States. I’m planning to intern at some urban planning firms or work as a GIS analyst.

Q: What would you say to someone considering ASU?

A: Do it, it’s a very great school. There are so many opportunities here, including employment opportunities. It’s very good for someone getting out of high school, especially when they don’t know anything because there’s a good community once you’re here.

Kirsten Kraklio

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


Husband, father of two and ASU Online student proves you can earn your degree at any age

May 3, 2019

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

Kevin Keenan began his college career in 1997 pursuing his passion for music and sports radio. As it often does, life stepped in between Keenan and his college degree, and he put his plans on hold to focus on working full time. Download Full Image

A few years after Keenan began working full time, his sister, who was also in college, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Keenan recalls that it was her fierce determination to graduate, despite her diagnosis, that later motivated him to go back to school and complete his degree.

After many setbacks, Keenan knew he wanted to give his family of four a better life. He and his wife discussed Keenan’s desire to go back to school and agreed that Arizona State University would be the best choice to pursue a degree, the online Bachelor of Science in communication. As a dedicated father and husband, Keenan is grateful for the flexibility ASU Online provided so he didn’t have to miss out on some of his favorite dad activities, including his son’s sporting events.

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

Answer: My “aha” moment came a long time ago. I started attending college back in 1997, and I wanted to be on-air talent for a radio station. I’ve always loved music and sports radio. In 2000, I dropped out of college while working full time.

A few years passed and my younger sister was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She ended up beating it, finished college and got her degree which has, and always will be, a huge motivating factor for me to finish my degree. I work for a family owned industrial supply company and they provide 100% college tuition. Put those two together and I have the makings of me finally getting my degree.

I started to do my research about what schools to apply to. Having two young, active boys puts a damper on things and missing home time, so I started looking at universities that offered the flexibility of obtaining a degree online. After all the research, I ultimately chose ASU.

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

A: I learned at ASU that no matter where you are in life, you can always go back to school! It has not been easy by any means. Being a 41-year-old husband and dad with a full-time job has enough stressful moments. But the way the classes are structured at ASU is fantastic because you still have the flexibility to work on assignments and study, but there is also the structure of the classes and keeping you on track. The best of both worlds!

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

A: The professors that taught me the most important lessons were Dr. Lauren Fletcher and Professor Brandon Ferderer. Both professors were nothing short of fantastic.

I took COM 207 a couple of years ago and didn’t understand any of the assignments and ended up having to drop the class. It was the lowest point of college for me. Last fall, I was about to embark on taking COM 207 again, so I emailed Professor Ferderer a few weeks before class started and kept in constant contact with him the entire seven and a half weeks which made me feel confident and prepared from beginning to end.

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

A: My best piece of advice is to never quit. I’m 41 and I’ll be walking the stage a day after my 42nd birthday. It just goes to show you’re never too old or too young to finish. Having a college degree is so important nowadays.  

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

A: My favorite spot to study was the kitchen table because living in the Midwest and having the weather that we have doesn’t offer me the flexibility to sit outside all the time!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I put a lot of pressure on myself to excel in my classes and now that my sons are both in sports, I can finally enjoy watching them play sports and not worry about homework I must finish. I will continue working at my current company where I have been for the past 13 years. It’s always nice to have that degree from Arizona State University in my back pocket though!

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

A: I would put that money toward helping our men and women that have served in the military. These people serve our country and deserve more than what they are getting as far as help and services when they make it home. To volunteer yourself to serve your country is one of the bravest things you could do.

Carrie Peterson

Media Relations Manager, EdPlus at Arizona State University