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Spring 2020 grad continues family tradition of loyal Sun Devils


May 10, 2020

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

Jacob West is graduating this spring with a bachelor’s degree in geological sciences from Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. West, who is a triplet, will join 16 other family members who have earned their degrees at ASU over the years, including one of his sisters who earned her degree last year. His other sister will graduate this December. Jacob West, spring 2020 grad from ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, will join 16 other family members who have earned their degrees at ASU over the years, including one of his sisters who earned her degree last year. His other sister will graduate this December. Download Full Image

West made the most of his time at ASU, earning a field geology certificate, working at the School of Earth and Space Exploration's Mars Space Flight Facility as a spectrometer lab technician, and participating in a study abroad program in Sicily, where he studied how geologic environments interact with people and could create hazards.

“I got to observe several volcanoes during my stay including Mount Etna and Stromboli,” says West. “I also was able to experience Sicilian culture and learn about their history, language and food.”

It was this trip to Italy that got West particularly interested in studying volcanoes, which led to his honors thesis under the guidance of School of Earth and Space Exploration Associate Professor Amanda Clarke.

“My honors thesis was centered on studying the habits and compositions of volcanic bombs produced by the El Tecolote cinder cone in the Pinacate Volcanic field,” says West. “My goal was to try and map the bomb distributions, create archetype or species classifications and determine areas on species die-off or concentrations.”

As part of our series of features celebrating students graduating this spring, we reached out to West to learn more about his experiences at ASU and his goals for the future.

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

Answer:.I think my "aha" moment was when I was out hunting with my grandpa and he started to explain why there was a hill here and not over there, what the rock we were standing on was, where it came from, so on and so forth. It was at the point I realized that I wanted to know so much more about the rocks, and I knew that I would enjoy figuring it out. Thus, I decided to major in geological sciences. 

It surprised me to see how interconnected everything is, how volcanoes affect tectonics, how tectonics affect sedimentation, etc. It was mind-boggling how one event could trigger possibly a dozen others; on the massive tectonic scale down to the small grains of sand, everything has a reason for doing what it is doing.

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

A: Stephen Reynolds gave me the best piece of advice that carried me through many of my courses. He told me that you can't just look at the big picture, because you'll miss the details that the small picture is trying to tell you. With those small details, you can often see that the big picture isn't enough and sometimes you need a bigger picture to understand everything. Long story short, don't gloss over the little details, no matter how insignificant they seem.

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

A: For those of you still in school, my advice is two-fold. Get to know your professors, because they can open doors you never even knew existed and put the effort in to know the material, because odds are that's what you'll use for the rest of your life to build yourself up and establish a good position in the industry. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation I plan on working in the industry for a year or two, working as a consultant or geotechnician, building skills that will help me choose what direction I want to go for a master's degree.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration

480-965-9345

Sun Devil makes waves in tech way before graduation


May 10, 2020

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

Hari Meyyappan describes himself as a learning machine. But he also helps build machines that learn. Portrait of Hari Meyyappan ASU grad Hari Meyyappan's advice to current students: "Figure out a feedback mechanism to improve your skills. For me it was hackathons. Aim higher than you think possible, and keep looking for opportunities where you can add value." Download Full Image

Meyyappan is a tech enthusiast and a proud Sun Devil graduating this semester with a master’s degree in computer science with a focus on machine learning and human-computer interaction. The international student from India is currently working with the Luminosity Lab as part of the Big Idea Challenge team awarded funding by NASA. 

“I read widely and describe myself as a learning machine. I love exploring exponential technologies and creating useful tools. I blog on Medium and link my projects on my website,” Meyyappan said.

The ASU grad’s enthusiasm for learning and technology has led him to many academic and professional accomplishments in his time as a student. He served as the vice president of the Artificial Intelligence Club and worked hard to build up the club and teach students more about AI. He also built up a lot of practical professional experiences. 

“I've built products for companies like Pizza Hut, Ultraworking, 24Crafts. In my internship over the summer, I built a chatbot for a large education nonprofit that is being used by thousands of teachers and students all over the country,” he said.

As a hackathon enthusiast, he has consistently won some of the top spots in over 10 hackathons he has participated in as a student at ASU, including Sunhacks and Hacks for Humanity. He is also writing a guide to share his experience and giving some key insights on how to win a hackathon. 

Meyyappan said that hackathons are the perfect environment for innovation and learning that can change the world.

“I have been a UX designer, product manager and machine learning engineer. I've done front-end, back-end and everything in between. It is an incredible learning experience,” he said. “You can create useful products. Facebook organizes internal hackathons to spur innovation. Several startups were born at hackathons, like the automation behemoth Zapier.”

As Meyyappan prepared to graduate, he reflected with ASU Now about his time as a Sun Devil.

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

Answer: If there was a single “aha” moment, it could have been when I realized that machine learning allows you to automate the creation of code. There’s just so much value that can be created by applying it to different business problems.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU is located in one of the fastest-growing states in the United States, and I was positive about professional opportunities. Also, I liked the profiles of the professors.

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

A: I would like to thank Professor Hemanth Venkateswara, whose statistical learning class I took in my first semester really provided a solid foundation for my future classes. Also Professor James Collofello, who taught me that the real answer to most questions starts with “it depends.”

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

A: Figure out a feedback mechanism to improve your skills. For me it was hackathons. Aim higher than you think possible, and keep looking for opportunities where you can add value.

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

A: Wakanda room at Armstrong Hall (lower level of the Literature Building). Also the Design School library. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am starting my career as a software development engineer at Amazon in Seattle.

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

A: I’d probably create a fund with which kids in developing countries can buy whatever books they want. 

Written by Venu Gopinath Nukavarapu, Sun Devil Storyteller

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services

480-965-4255

Outstanding physics graduate aims to make a difference in STEM inclusivity


May 10, 2020

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

Arizona State University’s Lily Whitler is the winner of the Spring 2020 Department of Physics Outstanding Undergraduate Award. Lily Whitler participated in multiple National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates around the world. Photo courtesy of Lily Whitler Download Full Image

This distinction honors an undergraduate student whose hard work and accomplishments have contributed both to the field of physics and improved the department. Physics faculty, students and staff submit nominations and anecdotal support, and the winner is announced at the Spring Physics Awards Ceremony. This year’s event was held virtually on May 6.

Whitler is a Goldwater Scholar, and she has also received the NASA Space Grant for several years, presented her research at many conferences and participated in National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) around the world.

In addition to her many accomplishments, Whitler also founded the Society for Women in the Physical Sciences (SWiPS), a student- and faculty-led organization that aims to increase diversity and inclusion within higher education in the sciences.

And she is just getting started.

No end in sight 

Whitler said that one of the most surprising lessons she learned during her undergraduate experience was just how much there was to learn.

“The more I learned, the more I’m learning that there’s more out there now,” she said.

“I’ve always liked to learn, and I’ve always been curious,” she said. “But I think that I sort of thought that eventually, I would find an end — and that hasn’t happened.”

Instead of an end, if you get far enough, you find an area that no one has explored before. “So you get to do it,” she said.

Whitler’s curiosity and passion for science and math have always been a part of her makeup, and a host of experiences throughout her early education helped her decide to pursue a career in physics.

In particular, she remembers a middle school science project on the periodic table that captured her attention.

“Something about that made me think, ‘I want to do science forever,’” she said.

During her high school years, the field of physics saw significant breakthroughs that continued to pique her curiosity. Most notably, perhaps, was the discovery and confirmation of the previously theoretical Higgs boson — an elementary particle that helps explain why particles have mass. 

These exciting discoveries solidified her interest in physics, and she began applying to different physics programs. She knew she wanted as many opportunities to participate in research as possible, and ASU turned out to be the perfect fit.

Through the National Science Foundation and the ASU NASA Space Grant, Whitler has participated in undergraduate research experiences around the world, in addition to her work at ASU, including Germany and Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

“I really enjoyed them,” she said of the experiences. “I think they’ve been really important to me developing what I'm interested in, and my approach to science and research and collaboration.”

Her most recent summer research experience yielded her first co-authored paper, published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, on May 6.

Whitler spent several weeks at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian examining the early history of the universe — its organization and evolution within the first billion years of existence.

Her paper summarizes the results of her research in re-examining components of existing theories to improve visibility and clarity in galaxy studies.

“That is my first authored publication; I'm excited,” she said.

A wider scope

Her sense that life would never run out of things for her to learn and experience extends well beyond the view through a telescope. International travel, research collaborations and conferences, and day-to-day life in ASU’s dynamic and innovative environment exposed her to a wide range of cultures, viewpoints and scope.

Ongoing involvement with multiple extracurricular activities has been a core piece of Whitler’s undergraduate experience.

ASU’s Sundial Project is a part of the Early Start Program and is dedicated to building an inclusive and supportive community within the physical sciences. Faculty, undergraduate and graduate students participate in leadership and mentorship programs, career and networking workshops and practical training in the practice of professional, scientific research.

ASU also has a thriving chapter of the Society of Physics Students, a professional association designed to support students and faculty across the country who are passionate about the physical sciences. ASU members hold regular events, help to mentor incoming students and participate in outreach activities within the community.

“I’ve been involved with Sundial, and with the Society of Physics Students, for almost my entire time here,” she said. “And so that’s exposed me to things like outreach, and science education, and the mentoring community of Sundial that I don’t think I would have gotten otherwise. And I think those things have been very influential, and really important to my development not only as a scientist but as a well-rounded human being.”

Building on this experience, Whitler saw an opportunity to meet an additional need and started a new organization: the Society for Women in the Physical Sciences.

“We didn't have a group specifically for women in physical science, and I think there are shared experiences for us,” she said.

Her personal experiences lined up with conversations she had with faculty mentors in the Department of Physics, such as Anna Zaniewski, associate instructional professional, Kelli Gamez Warble, senior instructional professional, and Associate Professor Cynthia Keeler.

“That made me think that even though there are already these amazing extracurricular groups, we would still benefit from having a space dedicated to this,” she said.

The organization is open to anyone who would like to join and held its opening event, a liquid nitrogen ice cream social, on February 21.

So, what’s next?

Her community involvement experiences while at ASU have helped shape Whitler’s vision of her future.

“In grad school, I really want to stay involved in outreach and education, and particularly underrepresented minorities in STEM,” she said.

In the fall, Whitler will begin her graduate studies at the University of Arizona, where she is eager to continue her work, unraveling the transformation of the early universe.

She is particularly excited about the chance to work with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2021.

“Fingers crossed, I don't want to jinx it,” she said.

After graduate school, Whitler plans to continue a career in academia, where she hopes she can pay forward some of the valuable mentoring she has received during her undergraduate journey.

“I like the idea of mentoring others, mentoring younger people who are earlier on in their career path because I've had really, really good mentors, and I know how influential they have been,” she said. “So, I would like to be that person for someone else.”

Her advice to new students is to make use of every possible opportunity available.

“There are a lot of chances to figure out what you enjoy, and what you like, and what you're interested in,” she said. “Do that as best you can, and it will set you up for your future, and also you’ll just have fun.

Dominique Perkins

Events and Communications Coordinator, Department of Physics

480-965-6794

Dual grad seeks to provide education to girls, women in conflict zones


May 8, 2020

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

Rachel Fletcher believes that, if you have privilege, you have an obligation to use it to help others.  ASU student after defending thesis Rachel Fletcher said that she has always known she wanted to help children and that in high school she was naturally drawn to social sciences. “For a long time, though, I was unsure of how to combine my interests,” she said. “I started to realize my passion for international education when I began working at ASU International Development.” Photo courtesy of Rachel Fletcher Download Full Image

“Everyone deserves to have the educational opportunities that I have had, yet not everyone does,” said Fletcher, a soon-to-be dual graduate studying political science and anthropology in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University. “This is especially true in the world’s most vulnerable settings, where educational disparities are most stark. Because of this, I am incredibly passionate about building access to international education for girls and women in conflict zones.”

Fletcher said that she has always known she wanted to help children and that in high school she was naturally drawn to social sciences.

“For a long time, though, I was unsure of how to combine my interests,” she said. “I started to realize my passion for international education when I began working at ASU International Development.”

ASU International Development is the university’s platform for providing private-sector businesses and nonprofits around the world with ASU’s academic resources.

“I was placed on a project where I accompanied officials from five Malawian universities to Washington, D.C., and had the chance to discuss education challenges in Malawi and potential solutions,” Fletcher said. “I became so enthralled — it just clicked: This is what I want my career to be.”

Fletcher answered some questions about her time at Arizona State University.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: As an in-state student, ASU was incredibly accessible due to the vast number of scholarships offered. ASU also has strong political science and anthropology departments, so I knew I would receive a strong education at ASU. I also knew that the ASU urban environment would allow me to engage firsthand with the issues that I am passionate about, including refugee rights, international policy and religious studies. For example, did you know that Arizona is one of the top 10 U.S. states resettling refugees?

Q: How has The College prepared you for success?

A: I am incredibly lucky because both of my majors, political science and anthropology, are in The College. Because of this, I have had access to so many opportunities outside of the traditional classroom. I have been able to conduct research at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, the Center on the Future of War, and I completed a research project as a junior fellow at the School of Politics and Global Studies. Through The College, I have also had access to incredible internships at the United States Congress, on a congressional campaign, and at a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating child trafficking in Winneba, Ghana, to name a few.

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

A: I can’t pick just one! I owe a great deal of gratitude to Dr. Souad Ali, Dr. Henry Thomson, Dr. Jeffrey Kubiak and Dr. Daniel Rothenberg for always supporting me and providing me with opportunities. I will say that I think Dr. Ali, as my research mentor for so much of my time at ASU and thesis adviser, has been my biggest champion throughout my studies. She always tells me two things: “Cite your sources and don’t get a boyfriend until after graduating.” Take that for what you will.

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

A: I used to think that I wanted to run for office due to my interest in policy. Then, I worked in a congressional office and on the campaign trail and realized running for office is not my calling and not the most effective way for me, personally, to positively influence and create policy change. Instead, I realized I am drawn to grassroots advocacy and direct engagement with the people I seek to serve. For me, learning what I didn’t want to do was just as significant as learning what I did want to do.

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

A: Surround yourself with individuals who motivate you. There have been countless times where I’ve felt defeated or stressed and my friends have helped me snap out of it. That’s because they are incredibly supportive, but also because they are doing incredible things that inspire me daily.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am going to take a year off to continue working at ASU International Development. I want to spend the time learning more about the subtleties of international education and the different challenges in the field. After my year off, I hope to go to graduate school for a joint JD/ master’s degree in international education.

Christopher Clements

Marketing Assistant, The College Of Liberal Arts and Sciences

 
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‘Home was ASU’: Graduate returns to school after raising four Sun Devils

May 8, 2020

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

Chantal VanKlompenberg has lived a life supporting and caring for Sun Devils. Her five siblings are Sun Devil alumni, as are her four children. And now, decades after graduating from McClintock High School, VanKlompenberg is joining the Sun Devil club herself.

“I was done raising kids and I said, ‘It's time for Mama to return home, and home was ASU,’” VanKlompenberg said.

VanKlompenberg immigrated with her family to the United States from Vietnam when she was 7 years old. Her father had completed school through the third grade, while her mother had no formal education. As the eldest of her siblings, she helped to raise her younger brothers and sisters a couple of miles from Arizona State University’s Tempe campus and said it was always her parents' dream for their children to attend the university.

However, soon after graduating from high school, she had to place that dream on hold after meeting her husband and starting a family.

“The focus of my life was my children,” said VanKlompenberg. “I sacrificed and raised my four beautiful children.”

As her children grew older and began graduating from ASU themselves, VanKlompenberg said she was inspired to return to campus.

“My last one, she's 21 and her passion for school and everything made me want to go back too,” she said.

VanKlompenberg had some community college credits and was working at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in the career services department when she decided to complete her core courses and transfer to ASU.

This May, VanKlompenberg will graduate with her bachelor’s degree from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as well as with a certificate in leadership and ethics. Her motivation to pursue her degree in communication stemmed from her work at Chandler-Gilbert.

“I love to communicate; I’m a people person. I love to be out there and in front of people and just communicate and connect, and so it was just the perfect major for me,” she said.

For the last two years, VanKlompenberg advertised her academic journey as “it’s my turn, it’s my time, on my terms” to her team of supporters.

And now, as she reviews the straight A’s on her transcript, she said she’s proud that she was able to finish so strong.

“I'm gonna be honest, I never realized that I could be that smart or that I can be that educated, that I can study, that I can learn,” she said. “Who would have thought that? I’m very happy with myself.”

VanKlompenberg answered some questions about her time at ASU and her family’s connection to the university.

Question: What did it mean to your parents for all of your siblings to graduate from ASU?

Answer: Mom and Dad brought us here for freedom because they both never finished school. Coming here, all they wanted us to do was go to work and just go to school and get a life out of it. I'm the last and the oldest finishing college. They're so proud that all six of their kids have families and work hard and have their degrees. Their dream was ASU, and we all accomplished that mission, that lifetime goal for them.

Q: What has been your best memory at ASU?

A: I did a storytelling event through Ignite@ASU. Even though I love talking to people, it was still scary telling 200, 300 people your personal story for the first time, from the time you left the country to the time you're an older mom, going back to school. It was an accomplishment. Ignite is one of the best programs; the experience makes you a whole different person.

Q: Were you involved in any clubs/organizations? Which ones? How did they shape your experience? 

A: I volunteered with Dr. Neal Lester’s Project Humanities homeless outreach for the last two years. I kind of knew him toward the end of my year at Chandler-Gilbert. I get involved with that every other Saturday, and on Fridays I help sort donations at the warehouse. I'm very involved in my city, Chandler, with nonprofits that I volunteer at and help run, and pouring myself into school.

Q: What skills and/or what experiences have you gained from your time in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that will help you achieve your future goals in life?

A: I took some stress management classes, and that helped me to meditate, to be grateful and have gratitude and patience. I also think I've become a better writer; I used to be so afraid to write.

As of April 30, I have been in this country for 45 years. Last year was my first year going back to Vietnam and visiting my homeland. While I was at ASU, I took two semesters of Vietnamese language. I speak it fluently, but could only kind of read it. The courses helped me so much when I went back to Vietnam last year because I was able to relearn reading and writing the language. It's funny when you speak it fluently, people would say, “Why can't you read and write?” I never had the time to learn that; I just had to speak Vietnamese to my mom and dad.

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

A: I love Emilee Shearer, because of my gender class. I'm such an open person and I accept everything, but I'm still a gullible, naive mom too because there's so much to learn out there about gender and the definition and the terms that I've never known. She was so patient with me and just so kind and had empathy for an adult returning back to school and not understanding. She took the time and would get back with me promptly, and I'm very thankful for that. To be a professor like that — passionate about what she's teaching and then still have time to reach back out to her student within minutes — that's like, wow, she's not there just for the paycheck.

Q: What advice would you give to others considering returning to school?

A: So many people from young to old are afraid to take that first step. I've known so many young kids who are working full time just to make a living, pay rent and everything, but they want to go back to school and I said, it doesn't hurt to ask. Pick up that phone or see that adviser; they will be able to map it out for you. That's what I did –– I talked to an adviser, I said, “I have this many credits. Where can I be? Where do I start? What do I need to finish it?” When they laid all that information out, I knew I could do it. So that's what I would recommend: Take that first step; go see an adviser, go see somebody that works at the university or college so they can advise you and help.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I was thinking about furthering my education and getting a master's in higher education. I've also always wanted to be an ESL teacher. I want to be around students; I want to help people. That's what I want to do right now. I'm going to take a break after the last two weeks of studying and just relax. I'm thinking about cleaning the house, and after this week hopefully we can just take off on a road trip and be free before my next mission.

Top photo: Chantal VanKlompenberg, her parents and siblings — all Sun Devil alumni — pose on Palm Walk. Photo by Milton Yang Photography

Kirsten Kraklio

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

480-965-8986

Physics Dean’s Medalist shares importance of building a supportive community


May 8, 2020

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

Arizona State University physics graduate Holly Johnson is the Spring 2020 Dean’s Medalist for the Department of Physics in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Arizona State University physics graduate Holly Johnson is the Spring 2020 dean’s medalist for the Department of Physics. Image courtesy of Holly Johnson Download Full Image

An award-winning student and researcher, she has received the NASA Space Grant for multiple years, presented at numerous conferences and co-authored three published papers. She looks forward to continuing her research, applying the principles of nanoscience and materials physics to renewable energy and sustainability.

Johnson grew up on childhood science shows like Bill Nye's and developed a natural interest in learning more about the world around her. She knew she wanted to pursue a degree in science, but was initially indecisive about exactly which branch, and she considered a variety of options including math and marine biology. Finally, figuring she could always change later if she wanted to, Johnson decided to start with physics and see where that would lead.

“There's a lot you can do with physics,” she said. “It's incredibly interesting and very challenging, which is something I appreciate.”

Shared vision

For Johnson, an Arizona-native, applying to ASU was a natural choice.

She was accepted into the Sundial Project, a part of ASU’s Early Start Program for incoming students, and she quickly realized she had found what she needed. Beginning with a two-week workshop before the start of Fall classes, the Sundial project is dedicated to building an inclusive and supportive community within the physical sciences. Faculty, undergraduate and graduate students participate in leadership and mentorship programs, career and networking workshops, and practical training in the practice of professional, scientific research — culminating with their first undergraduate research experience.

Being immediately surrounded by a community of peers who shared both her ambitious drive and her excitement and passion for physics made all the difference for Johnson, and it helped her feel right at home.

“If I didn’t experience that, I might not have chosen the way that I had,” she said. “I think a lot of people have this perspective of physics that it's a very solo mission, and that you have to be top of the top, crazy intelligent.”

This perception certainly didn’t line up with Johnson’s personal experience. She worked hard to understand new principles and concepts and continually sought out additional help and perspectives from teachers, mentors and friends.

“This isn't some lofty career that you just choose on a whim, and you're born to do it — you can actually work really hard to be good at it,” she said.

Falling for research

Johnson continued to participate in the Sundial mentorship program, as both a mentee and mentor, as well as the ASU chapter of the Society of Physics Students throughout her undergraduate journey.

In addition to her involvement in organizations such as these, Johnson said she enjoyed spectacular faculty mentors through her undergraduate research experiences.

“That was definitely like the most important part of my undergraduate career was being able to do research and get that sort of hands-on experience doing lab work, and analyzing data presenting at conferences and talking and working with other people,” she said.

Johnson is a member of Department of Physics Regents Professor Robert Nemanich’s research group, which also gave her the opportunity to work closely with Department of Physics’ Anna Zaniewski, associate instructional professional, and Ricardo Alarcon, President’s Professor.

“They are amazing; it was like the holy grail of research experiences,” Johnson said.

She did extensive work in fabricating diamond-based diode detectors.

These fascinating and durable semiconducting devices can detect alpha particles, even when under enormous heat and pressure. Potential applications for this technology range from precision medical radiation to gathering data on the surface of Venus.

“Holly Johnson has made great strides in research on two important projects in our group. She is clearly skilled in experimental science, and she deeply understands the research from the scientific problem to experimental study and to application,” said Nemanich.

“Holly’s research has focused on radiation detectors based on single crystal diamond, where her role in the project was to understand how to make electrical contact to diamond using the microfabrication capabilities at the ASU Nanofab clean room. The detectors, which were tested at the Mayo Clinic proton therapy facility, were able to accurately map the proton beam shape, position and flux, which could be important for determining radiation dose during proton radiation therapy,” he said.

“Holly demonstrates an ability to learn quickly, think independently and collaborate well,” said Zaniewski. “Her technical skills are impressive: she is certified to use a shared clean room facility normally not used by undergraduates. ... She learns each new technique quickly and carefully. She takes detailed notes and is trusted with our most essential samples and research projects.”

Johnson also completed a summer National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University, where she worked with organic materials with potential application in solar panels and other sustainability projects.

Throughout her multiple research projects and experiences, Johnson said she truly fell in love with experimental research and enjoys the opportunity to apply physics principles to new challenges and real-world applications. After graduation, she will continue her research journey as a graduate student at Princeton University.

“This is everything that I want to do for the rest of my career,” she said. “I could do research till the end of time, and I would be satisfied because it is so cool.”

Passing on some wisdom

To those beginning their college experience — especially in a demanding field like physics — Johnson recommends finding and building a network of support as quickly as possible.

“These are the things that really make or break your experience,” she said. “I definitely would not have stuck with physics and I definitely would not have finished physics had I not had a network. … There are a lot of hurdles you have to overcome to get to the finish line and graduate.”

Johnson made it a point to form study groups, especially for her most challenging classes. When looking to develop your own network of support, she recommends keeping an eye on your department emails and participating in events and social organizations. And, outside the structure of formal groups, a little initiative is all that’s needed. Johnson recommends talking to your classmates, asking when they are available, and then setting a date and making it happen; having peers and mentors can make all the difference in figuring something out, she said.

“If I had to sit through like every assignment on my own and have like no one to bounce ideas off of or no one to like ask questions with, it would have been impossible,” she said.

Additionally, studying and learning with a group of friends will make the entire experience more fun, she said. One of Johnson’s favorite study tactics was to get together with her classmates and project a movie from her laptop while they worked. Star Wars movies made an appearance more than once.

“Oh, and get some sleep!” Johnson said.

Dominique Perkins

Events and Communications Coordinator, Department of Physics

480-965-6794

ASU graduate, Starbucks partner works toward life goal of serving as street outreach nurse


May 8, 2020

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

Jason Irlanda, a self-proclaimed military brat, spent much of his childhood in Connecticut and now resides in Omaha, Nebraska, where he works as a store manager at his local Starbucks. It was there that Irlanda found out about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. ASU Online student and Starbucks partner Jason Irlanda (back left) with his family ASU Online student and Starbucks partner Jason Irlanda (back left) with his family. Download Full Image

“I can’t honestly say that I chose ASU as much as it chose me,” states Irlanda, and upon learning about the coffee company’s partnership with Arizona State University, “I thought to myself: I get to go to a top-notch school and graduate debt free — this is a no-brainer.” 

After enrolling through ASU Online, Irlanda, who previously served as a foster parent, decided to major in family and human development with a minor in sociology in order to achieve his ultimate goal of working with the opportunity youthOpportunity youth are people 16 to 24 years old who are neither in school nor working. population. 

“Following graduation, I have decided to continue my education here in Nebraska. I am headed back to school at a local college for an accelerated BSN program and then on to get my doctorate in nursing practice. I want to get a job as a street outreach nurse practitioner for our local Youth Emergency Services nonprofit organization.”

As he approaches graduation and reflects upon his time at ASU, Irlanda says his best advice for future students is to plan ahead, starting at the beginning of the semester: “Take that syllabus and course calendar at the beginning of each session and calendar out your work, school, and life events so you can have a defined balance.” 

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

Answer: I realized when I was taking my sociology classes that I was fascinated by how so many aspects of our lives are influenced and shaped from the society we grew up in and currently partake in.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was working at Starbucks when they announced the Starbucks College Achievement Plan and partnership with ASU. 

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

A: I have to say there were three professors that I admire so very much: Dr. Krista Puruhito and Dr. Khaerannisa Cortes were amazing mentors when I was a TA for them both, and Dr. Casey Sechler took the time to connect with me on my future plans and talk me through her journey. Those relationships were invaluable to me on my ASU journey.

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

A: I would tell current students to give it your all, even when things seem like they are impossible to keep going. Sometimes the only way to get to the other side of a problem is through it, and that is how I made it through some of the classes I thought were going to overtake me. Take that syllabus and course calendar at the beginning of each session and calendar out your work, school, and life events so you can have a defined balance.

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

A: Believe it or not, my favorite spot to power study was in my home gym. I would make flash cards and power through them as I was on the Bowflex Max or the elliptical machine. Workout for my body and mind all at the same time.

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

A: Without a doubt, I would tackle health care among the homeless population. Through health care interventions we can help those that are in need reach potential. A healthy body and healthy mind help to heal the soul and give people the confidence they need to pursue new opportunities to better their situations.

Written by Tuesday Mahrle, earned media specialist for EdPlus at Arizona State University

Communication graduate helps first responders through her internship


May 8, 2020

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

Like all ASU students, senior Allison Bretzman had to make the switch to digital learning in her final weeks on campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Download Full Image

Yet despite any challenges, Bretzman remained optimistic.   

"The switch to digital learning during my senior year has proven to be one of the most inspiring experiences for me," said Bretzman. "Prior to conducting daily classes, work, meetings and even personal gatherings online, I had yet to understand how life-giving face-to-face contact is."

Bretzman is graduating in the spring of 2020 with a BS in communication from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. She is currently at her "dream internship" working with the Local and Global Outreach Department of Scottsdale Bible Church.

She admits the internship turned out much differently than she originally had imagined. 

Due to the shift in all events to online platforms, Bretzman says she has been challenged to learn systems, modes of communication and strategies to connect with others.

“Due to this change, I now collaborate with the director of outreach to design social media and website content for outreach projects. Most recently, I manage and train volunteers for daily shifts to assemble 10,000-plus masks and face shields for first responders at hospitals in Phoenix, and for the Army Corps of Engineers and local churches. This opportunity to help others in need is one remarkable result that's come out of this otherwise difficult time." 

Bretzman says this internship has also provided her valuable experience in her goal to work as an event planner.

“My understanding of event planning and how to work with various personalities and partners grows conducive to the level of responsibility I am given," said Bretzman. "I accepted this internship having no set agenda but merely hoping to learn valuable lessons, so I could have never have imagined that this opportunity would show me how I can best serve the world."

We asked Bretzman to tell us more about her time at ASU.

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

Answer: I realized communication was the field for me while collaborating with a team to plan and lead a retreat for 120 high school students. Prior to that opportunity, I was always finding myself contributing to the process of making the wildest dreams for events a reality. Initially, I believed my draw to such opportunities derived from my passion for dance, performing, and community-building, but, when I was given the freedom to bring my vision for that weekend to life, it hit me that what drew me to each event was the process of creating them. Ever since then, I have sought to study the art of coordinating outlets for people to share their unique talents, knowledge and experience with the world. People become empowered to create a better future when their passions are supported; therefore, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than promoting unity through events. I am forever grateful for every person who designed and executed the countless events that have benefited me, so I would be honored to serve in the same way.

Bretzman at the Royal Arch in Chautauqua Park in Colorado.

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

A: The most life-altering moment for me while at ASU was meeting my friend Angelina. With every coffee date, Sunday brunch and Bible study, I became increasingly aware that my lens through which I viewed the world was narrower than I could have imagined. This wonderful woman shared her life as a missionary building schools, churches and refuges for people inhabiting one of the most remote, third-world islands in the world. Prior to meeting Angelina, I had yet to understand how selfless another human being could be. Her childhood consisted of helping raise her siblings, manage a farm, evangelize to foreigners and even surviving poisonous food sources, vicious animals, and a merciless wilderness daily. Meanwhile, I reflected on how fortunate I had been since the day I was born: fast food on every corner, air conditioning, insect repellent and a safe community. I am forever grateful for the 180-degree shift of my worldview Angelina has inspired since our paths crossed at ASU.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: The diversity at ASU was my No. 1 reason for pursuing a degree here. I grew up attending schools populated by students of near-identical demographics. While I was very appreciative to be surrounded by familiarity, my growing awareness of how much life existed outside my bubble set me on a mission to discover the uniqueness of other cultures, lifestyles, and values. 

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

A: The best piece of advice I would give to those on their educational journey is to only compare yourself to who you were yesterday. This season will bring ample challenges and rewards designed just for you — ones entirely immeasurable to anyone else’s. 

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

Bretzman at the Grand Canyon

A: My favorite spot on campus is the Danforth chapel. It’s a serene sanctuary perfectly placed in the hub of campus. I love maneuvering my way through rushing crowds only to reach that building of total silence and stillness. Its presence gives me such peace and inspiration to take on my daily tasks.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My post-graduation plan is to move to southern California to reunite with my big family and my boyfriend serving in the Marine Corps, gain experience in the field of event coordinating, and obtain a master's in event planning/management.

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

A: With $40 million dollars, I would work to create and distribute a program worldwide to inform parents of the resources and services available in their immediate areas to assist them with child-raising. Specifically, I would partner with hospitals to design and offer a program that provides every new parent with an extensive packet consisting of how to connect with practical, emotional and spiritual services right in their own communities. As I have learned in many ASU courses, the stage of human development which is most likely to determine the well-being of an individual is early childhood. I began noticing that the common theme among most deeply troubled, harmful and resentful criminals is an early childhood experience void of fruitful guidance. There is intrinsic value in nurturing a child and tending to their most basic needs for stability and love; therefore, I would dedicate every penny of $40 million to educating and improving the lives of young families in this way.

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

480-965-5676

ASU graduate has turned life’s biggest challenges into unique learning opportunities


May 8, 2020

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

ASU Online student Christie Moore proves that every turn in life can still lead us to our goals. Her perseverance and determination to overcome any challenges motivated her to push the limits of her own accomplishments to create a better future for herself and her family. ASU Online student Christie Moore Download Full Image

She started at a community college in her late 30s, balancing school, family and other responsibilities. Through tremendous focus, Moore will now be counted as an Arizona State University alumna and teach her children that anything can be accomplished through hard work and determination.

“I learned dedication, critical thinking and self-confidence,” Moore recalls. “But most importantly, I discovered the power of knowledge as a motivator toward accomplishing my dreams.”

Through the focused and flexible curriculum that ASU offers, Moore quickly embraced the high standards, values and commitment to education that embodies the Sun Devil Nation, earning a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies with concentrations in sustainability and organizational leadership.

Throughout her ASU journey, Moore has shown the dedication and fortitude that have helped her overcome many of life’s challenges. And while earning her degree has certainly helped her discover the potential within herself, it has also set her up well for a prosperous and rewarding future where she can aim for higher achievements.

Since enrolling at ASU, I have been promoted four times at my job,” Moore said. “ASU helped me realize that I can accomplish anything as long as I am determined and have a great support system around me. This experience has really transformed my life.”

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

Answer: I have always been pulled into leadership roles so most of my professional life led me to that concentration. I have also always had a passion for treating the world better. I found out that the name for that is sustainability, and I heard a radio ad that offered an online sustainability degree at ASU. I knew immediately that was my new path.

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

A: The most surprising, and I believe the most important, skill I take away from school is the ability to think critically. I did not realize my entire thought patterns would change by learning how to critically analyze problems for school, but now I use that skill multiple times a day in my life. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I have always been interested in sustainability, and when I learned that ASU offered an interdisciplinary studies path so I could study a passion along with a topic that would immediately elevate my present working position, there really was no other choice I considered.

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

A: I learned something valuable from almost every professor so I couldn’t choose one who taught me the most. However, one of the most valuable life lessons I learned came from BIS 340: The Aikido Way to Conflict Transformation. This should be a required course! Professor Bill Erwin’s approach was fun and memorable. The lessons are life-altering. 

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

A: Use Grammarly for all your writing. Ask for help when you feel like you don’t understand something. And most importantly, remember you can do this! 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: My home office.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am currently a lead project manager for a large corporation. I would love to find a position in project management for an environmentally sustainable company where I could use both aspects of my degree. Eventually, I would like to own my own company, something that gives back more than it takes from the world. 

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

A: This would be a very hard decision. Forty million dollars would be just a drop in the ocean for most of our most pressing problems. I believe I would use it to set up a standard lesson program on sustainability to be integrated into all public schools K-5. If we teach the young ones from the beginning that our world and our society are fragile — that we can’t continue to treat it like a disposable item — then future generations may have a chance to repair our past mistakes. I remember being a kid and having Smokey Bear come into school and teach us about preventing forest fires. We all ran home and taught our families what we had learned. That lesson stuck with you — almost every person in my age group remembers that clearly. I would like to help develop a program that can have the same effect on the young generation about recycling, reusing and reducing all consumables.

Carrie Peterson

Sr. Manager, Media Relations, EdPlus at Arizona State University

4808841541

Capstone projects confirm ASU students ready for industry


May 8, 2020

Undergraduate students in Arizona State University's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering devote a large part of their final year to completing a capstone project, which demonstrates the insights and skills they have developed at ASU. Working in teams of two to seven people to solve a practical industrial problem, the experience is both a significant challenge and a source of substantive growth.

“It’s an opportunity to practice engineering design in a low-risk environment,” said Ryan Meuth, a capstone project coordinator and a senior lecturer in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, one of the six Fulton Schools. “Students can learn from their mistakes without any real career impact. So, the capstone course offers a meaningful transition from the academic world to the professional one.” Engineering students and faculty gather for a capstone projects showcase event Capstone projects culminate with a showcase assembling students, faculty and other stakeholders to review and celebrate the results of each team's work, such as during this December 2019 event for the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

For many students, capstone work involves direct contact with industry professionals who sponsor a project and liaise with student teams as they tackle the challenges of solving their assigned problem.

Sidney Davis and four fellow computer systems engineering majors have applied their efforts this year to a project sponsored by General Dynamics. Davis appreciates that this experience has been broader than tackling a single technical problem.

“We essentially went through an entire development process, and we shaped the direction of our work,” she said. “We explored an open-source cloud technology in order to demonstrate the advantages and disadvantages of its use at the company. And our exposure to the technology involved was really valuable. The platform we used is being adopted by all of the big tech companies, so this experience could open doors to jobs.”

Brett Goldsmith, an electrical systems engineering major, worked with his capstone team on a design opportunity posed by NMG Aerospace, an Ohio-based engineering and manufacturing business with a significant presence in Arizona. Goldsmith and his peers have been supporting NMG in exploring improvements to a flight-critical airliner safety system.

“This project has shown me how a lot of the things I have learned in my program are directly applicable to potential career opportunities,” he said.

Other capstone projects include a Mayo Clinic initiative to enable a mobile diagnostic tool to scan patient retinas and a Maricopa County Department of Transportation effort to design a robotic traffic cone placement system to improve safety during emergency incident responses.

Work on these projects involves regular interaction among student team members, university faculty and industry sponsors. Consequently, social distancing measures applied in response to COVID-19 this spring have made already challenging endeavors even more difficult. At the same time, the reality of distance learning and remote working has presented opportunities for some capstone teams.

“Many tools and test facilities at ASU have been unavailable, so we had to figure out how to get hardware to students, since they make progress on their work at all times — days, evenings and weekends,” Meuth said. “To that end, one team was tasked with building a ‘vending machine’ device that permits students to check out needed replacement parts without an instructor or teaching assistant present.”

Adaptation to current events extends beyond actual project completion. It also demands innovation in the recognition of these yearlong efforts. 

At The Polytechnic School, for example, the capstone project process culminates with the Innovation Showcase, a large and impressive gathering of students, faculty and other stakeholders who review the results of each team’s work. But rather than cancel the event this spring, an alternative model was created.

“Our new plan is based on running five videoconference meetings in parallel,” said Darryl Morrell, associate professor of engineering at The Polytechnic School and a capstone project coordinator. “This accommodates our 52 student teams, giving each a 20-minute segment to present their work and answer questions. We have been inviting our industry partners as well as others interested in the capstones, and we have a schedule highlighting all of the showcase presentations.”

Even with this virtual approach, the buoyant spirit of the showcase remains the same.

“We celebrate our students’ abilities to bring together all the components of their education to produce something innovative,” Morrell said. “We also build bridges to our industry partners, which benefits our students with increased job opportunities, as well as our programs through added expertise and resources.”

Indeed, commercial connections are a significant and multifaceted benefit of engineering capstone projects at ASU.

“As our students demonstrate their technical, project management and budgeting skills, our industry partners receive a nine-month interview with the best and brightest new talent,” said Tim Beatty, associate director of the Business Engagement Catalyst for the Fulton Schools.

Gary Werner

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-727-5622

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