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2019 honors graduate's passion is in the stars

May 2, 2019

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

A high school class schedule snafu led Gabriela Huckabee to a scientific discipline that would become her passion.  School of Earth and Space Exploration spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Gabriela Huckabee. Gabriela Huckabee. Download Full Image

Huckabee will graduate from Arizona State University on May 7 with a Bachelor of Science degree in astrophysics with honors from Barrett, The Honors College, and the Dean’s Medal from the School of Earth and Space Exploration. She completed her degree in three years.

“When I was in high school, I was placed into an astronomy class by accident. My adviser, who was supposed to make my schedule based on my preferences, gave me classes that I didn't request and refused to change my schedule because I wasn't a senior,” Huckabee said.

“I had always been interested in astronomy, because space is cool. I never thought of it as a career path because I had been led to believe that only engineers made money in today's economy. In that class, my teacher fanned the flames of my passion for astrophysics and physical sciences,” she said.

Huckabee came to ASU from Fairfax, Virginia, as a National Merit Scholar. She was a Sundial Physics Scholar and a mentor and facilitator for the program. She also was the recipient of a joint ASU-NASA Space Grant fellowship supporting undergraduate students working on research with faculty members. The ASU-NASA Space Grant funded Huckabee’s research on galaxy outflows and galactic magnetic fields.

She was a research assistant in ASU’s Cosmology Initiative, a partnership between the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Physics focusing on producing groundbreaking planetary and space research. In 2018, with the support of a National Science Foundation grant, she conducted research in Germany using a Low Frequency Array (LOFAR) to collect data. Her Barrett Honors College thesis, directed by Dr. Rolf Jansen, was based on LOFAR data to study magnetic fields. 

“The biggest opportunity I had was the chance to be a part of Sundial, an inclusive community of physics and SESE students that starts out as an early start program and continues into the school year as a fall and spring semester class. The friends that I made there, with people in my academic year, upperclassmen, freshmen, grad students and faculty helped me feel like I belonged in my major and that I could succeed. I have a strong network that expanded to other universities through the Access Network that Sundial is a part of, and I have relied on that network for help and advice regarding research, grad school and personal support,” she said.

A thesis she did for SESE, titled “The Effect of Nonequilibrium Chemistry and Nonuniform Metallicity on Ion Abundances in Galaxy Outflow Hydrodynamic Simulations,” looked at simulations of galaxy outflows in the circumgalactic medium, a source for a galaxy's star-forming fuel.

"Gabby's work is an important contribution to understanding the dynamics of the circumgalactic medium, which is so critical to our understanding of how galaxies behave," said Joe Foy, honors faculty fellow who served as Huckabee’s thesis director. "She has done great work, and I look forward to seeing what exciting contributions she will make to the field in the future." 

Gabriela Huckabee

Gabriela Huckabee at the site of Low Frequency Array equipment in Effelsberg, Germany. Photo courtesy of Gabriela Huckabee

Huckabee’s future includes beginning a PhD in physics at the University of California, Santa Cruz this fall.

“I'm excited to do cosmology research!” she said.

We caught up with Huckabee to get her thoughts about her undergraduate experience at ASU.

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

Answer: My high school astronomy teacher convinced me to go to an assembly where an astronaut would be speaking. Mike Massimino spoke to us about what his high school and college experience was like, and what it was like to work for NASA and fly aboard the International Space Station. After the presentation, I talked to him and my teacher, Mrs. Hennig, about potential future careers in astronomy. They both encouraged me to pursue astronomy if that was really something that I was interested in, and I have pursued astrophysics ever since.

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

A: Math is a more powerful tool than people give it credit for. In high school I really didn't like math and I thought I was pretty bad at it. Through my physics classes, I developed a better appreciation for it.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU is very generous with its financial aid, and of all of the schools I had applied to, it was the most affordable for me. My reasons for choosing ASU weren't that exciting — I just needed to be able to afford tuition and the cost of living, and I wanted to see somewhere new. Ultimately, however, after I accepted admission, then visited the campus and saw the SESE program and spoke to some of the professors, I knew that I had made the right choice.

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

A: Dr. Anna Zaniewski taught me that it is OK to fail. When encountering obstacles and setbacks, you learn and you improve, and in the end, things will work out if you keep trying. Teaching people to be resilient and to persevere in difficult times will allow them to grow.

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

A: Work in a group, start your homework two days before it's due instead of one and just go to class. Even if you feel like you're learning nothing, you pick up more when you're physically listening to a lesson than if you're still in bed watching Netflix.

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

A: I really like the fifth floor of the Barry M. Goldwater Center for Science and Engineering, especially the office of the Cosmology Initiative group. My friends and I would do homework and research there, and I'd get to hang out with the grad students and researchers. They're a great community to be a part of! I also liked the third floor and above of the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 4. The crater carpet is great for group projects and naps. Also, sometimes people in suits show up and get good food catered. They typically don't mind if undergrads snatch appetizers and brownies.

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

A: I don't know if $40 million would be enough to do this, but I'd try to improve universal access to a quality education. Everyone should have equal access to the same standard of education, regardless of income, gender, location, ethnicity (or) any other factor. By educating people, you create more problem-solvers with the intellectual resources they need to enact change.

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College


First-gen college student grateful for diverse perspectives

May 2, 2019

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

Dulce Parra-Barrera, a multilingual first-generation Arizona State University student, will be putting her ease with languages to good use soon. Graduating ASU student Dulce Parra-Barrera / Courtesy photo What graduating English linguistics major Dulce Parra-Barrera learned at ASU forever broadened her horizons. "When I came to ASU I was surprised at how international the campus was," she said. "Being exposed to various cultures, and my friends being from different backgrounds than me, really opened my eyes to varying perspectives." Download Full Image

Parra-Barrera is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English (linguistics) this spring and has secured a position with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, a teaching exchange managed by the government of Japan.

It’s a dream come true for this native of Goodyear, Arizona, who had always hoped to teach English abroad. She has prepared herself well; in addition to her linguistics degree, she’s also completing a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

Academic credentials in hand, Parra-Barrera will be also employing a surfeit of practical experience in her teaching. She studied abroad in Seoul, South Korea, during her sophomore year, even learning Korean before leaving the U.S. That won’t be true for her Japanese immersion, however: “Japanese is quite intimidating to me,” she admitted.

Parra-Barrera completed several internships through the Department of English, including a stint teaching English to Major League Baseball players. She described how her language chops came in handy working with the San Diego Padres. “There was a student here and there who wasn't from Latin America, but since most were — and I am a native Spanish speaker — communication was not an issue,” she explained. “It was my first teaching experience after having taken TESOL courses, so it was interesting to put what we spoke of in class into action.

“I loved seeing when the players would tell us stories of them effectively using their English. It made me realize that I really do enjoy what I'm studying and that it can make a difference. It was a really rewarding experience, because the players are such big sweethearts. Honestly, I had never cared for baseball, but now I just follow the team's social media to see them progress.”

English’s director of internships Ruby Macksoud praised Parra-Barrera’s initiative and eagerness for adventure. “Dulce is the ultimate 'yes' student — always open to new experiences, always up for academic and professional challenges, and never one to close a door to an opportunity.”

We spoke with Parra-Barrera to find out more about her journey.

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

Answer: I remember growing up not knowing what linguistics was, but I knew I wanted to be able to live in another country. I had discussed the idea of teaching English abroad since sixth grade, and one of my friends enlightened me on how linguistics correlated to that dream job in high school. When I finally took my “Intro to Linguistics” course at ASU, I realized it was definitely the route for me. It wasn't necessarily an "aha" moment of realizing I wanted to study in the field; it felt more like a relief that I had picked something I found interesting.

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

A: I came from a high school that was largely filled with minorities; like, we only had two Caucasians in our graduating class. As a Hispanic that grew up around other Hispanics, I was under an impression that most folks had gone through the same milestones and struggles that I had. Of course, that's never the case even between Hispanics, but there was that solidarity and I no longer had that. So, when I came to ASU I was surprised at how international the campus was. I think being exposed to various cultures, and my friends being from different backgrounds than me, really opened my eyes to varying perspectives.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Honestly, as a first-generation college student I had no guidance in college applications or the like. I had applied to other places, but as I had decided before even applying that I would be traveling after college, I felt that being close to my family was important to me. The second I decided I wanted to stay near my family as long as I'm attending school, ASU was the only choice.

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

A: Ruby Macksoud is definitely the professor that taught me the most academically and in regards to skills outside the classroom as well. I think the most important lesson she's taught me though is that no teacher is perfect. As someone who wants to teach in the future and as a student I think it’s something that everyone should be aware of. We're all human and there's always room for improvement. If you mess up one day, tomorrow is another day and you can tackle that problem in another way if needed.

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

A: You don't have to follow one path to succeed, and it's OK to change your mind because there are endless possibilities to achieve what you deem success.

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

A: I found my friends and I meeting up at the dining halls constantly as well as our dorm rooms. The fact that we all lived on campus made it easy to meet up on campus as well. During finals I'd end up at Hayden Library all the time, as well as in between classes.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I was accepted to the JET Program, so if everything goes well, I will be an English teaching assistant in Japan.

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

A: If I had $40 million, I know that it would not necessarily fix the problem I'd like to tackle, but I'd want to give it to the Arizona public school system. I really do believe teachers should be paid more and if I could at least make a dent in assisting some schools with that, I would gladly hand over my $40 million.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

senior marking & communications specialist, Department of English


Future doctor pursues dream via the ASU Online biochemistry program

May 2, 2019

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

In the online biochemistry degree program of Arizona State University’s School of Molecular Sciences (SMS), Leo Alaniz found two things: a program that would fit his needs and unconditional professor support.   Anne Jones, Leo Alaniz, Ara Austin and Ian Gould. Download Full Image

Alaniz was part of the first cohort to take online classes in the fall of 2017 and attend the accelerated organic chemistry labs held last summer on the Tempe campus. With the compressed format of the online courses Alaniz managed to complete his prerequisite courses quickly, including taking the MCAT, in time for the 2018-2019 application cycle.

Recently, Alaniz was accepted with full academic scholarships to the University of Arizona, the University of Southern California, the University of California, Irvine and with a partial academic scholarship to the University of California, San Francisco. He was also waitlisted at Stanford University. He plans to attend his first choice institution, the University of California, Irvine, where he will also be part of the Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community (PRIME-LC). PRIME-LC is a five-year, dual-degree MD/Master’s program at the UC Irvine School of Medicine dedicated to training physicians to meet the needs of underserved Latino communities through advocacy and leadership. 

The Program in Medical Education for the Latino Community will have a cohort of only 12 students and starts in June. As part of the program, Alaniz will explore health disparities from multiple perspectives, including visits to the border, learning about research and policy with the California legislature in Sacramento and completing a clinical rotation with Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Lima, Peru, during his third year.

Alaniz credits the School of Molecular Sciences faculty as having been instrumental in helping on his journey to medical school.

“They informed me of an MCAT prep program offered to all ASU students, which I had no idea I was eligible for. They also made sure to write letters of recommendation for me despite time constraints, not only for medical school but also for a major scholarship," said Alaniz. “Lastly, they guided me through the primary application and provided me with stellar resources so that I could draft strong essays, including my personal statement.”

While taking online classes, Alaniz reached out to School of Molecular Sciences faculty Anne Jones, associate director of academic affairs at SMS; Ara Austin, assistant clinical professor who oversees the online biochemistry program; and Ian Gould, associate director of online programs, to discuss his goals.

“Helping students like Leo is what I love the most about my job," said Austin. "Leo was an outstanding student academically, and he put in an incredible amount of effort to succeed in order to support his family, and ultimately, his immigrant-community in Phoenix. I'm glad that the online biochemistry program could help students like Leo achieve success.”

The road to medical school has been a rocky one for Alaniz. Growing up, he and his family went through some very hard times. They lost their home and were homeless for a while. Even leaving for college with a scholarship to Notre Dame was a financial hardship for his family. These experiences had a big impact on Alaniz and motivated him to find a job as soon as possible to support his family.

Majoring in finance, Alaniz found work after graduating from Notre Dame at General Motors in Detroit as a district manager. However, he soon realized that he was unfulfilled and that working in the corporate world was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. With this realization, Alaniz decided to go back and do what he truly loved — science and medicine. The decision to return to school and become a physician to help within his community (in similar ways that physicians helped his family when they were on Medicaid and uninsured) would be challenging while supporting his parents and cousins. Alaniz knew he needed to find a program that could cater to his needs: being self-paced and having the ability to work remotely.

Raised in South Phoenix and having friends who attended ASU, it seemed like the obvious place to start when Alaniz was looking for a program. He worked with advisers over the course of a few weeks to ensure that the ASU program would fit his needs. Alaniz maintained his job in Detroit during the first six months of the program while taking online courses.

While the online postgraduate path Leo took wasn’t traditional, his course load was. However, with the flexibility offered by the online program at ASU, along with discipline and determination, Alaniz was able to manage a demanding course load.

“On a personal level, I’ve never worked harder than I have at this point. I gained a lot of self-discipline and insights about myself that I didn’t know before,” said Leo. “I think that’s going to come into play when I’m in stressful situations, be that in medical school or once I’m a surgeon.”

It was his personal experiences not only as a patient, but witnessing the care his own father received from their family physician that inspired Alaniz to become a doctor in the first place. His shadowing experience exposed him to an underserved community in dire need of physicians. Enduring hardships while growing up has given him perspective on empathy, compassion and a desire to provide care for all patients.

When asked what his goals are after medical school, Alaniz replied, “In 10 years I want to be in the medical field, at the top of the medical game, hopefully, and give back to the community.”

Online degree programs represent a route to professional advancement that nontraditional and returning students are increasingly taking advantage of. Online degree programs need to provide evidence that they can be just as rigorous and can provide the same level of training as traditional on-ground programs. The faculty of the School of Molecular Sciences has worked hard to build such an online biochemistry program by, for example, offering students real hands-on laboratory experiences that are missing on other online degrees. Alaniz's success shows that an online degree program can be constructed that provides talented and hard-working students a route into competitive professional postgraduate degree programs, and a means to advance their careers.

Communication specialist, School of Molecular Sciences

Outstanding graduate gains respect for construction industry

May 2, 2019

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

Nearly 15 years ago, Jonathan Thomas Lyle dropped out of high school and didn’t know what the future had in store for him. He never thought he would spend 10 years in the Army and later be graduating with honors from Arizona State University. His future, though, turned out better than he could have expected. Portrait of Jonathan Thomas Lyle Jonathan Lyle. Download Full Image

“My entire time at the university has been extremely memorable and rewarding,” said Lyle, who is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in construction management from ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “I’ve been grabbing hold of every opportunity that comes my way and doing everything to the utmost of my abilities.”

Lyle was drawn to the quality of the construction management program as well as the Del E. Webb School of Construction, which is housed within the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the six Fulton Schools. He also believed the mandatory internship component in the curriculum was important for his career development.

During the first year of his program, Lyle helped renovate the Sun Devil Stadium as an intern with Suntec Concrete, a commercial concrete contractor in Phoenix, Arizona.

“Nothing matches the knowledge gained by physically doing the work you plan to do. It has been awesome to go to games and see parts of structural concrete I helped build,” he said, adding that is when he knew he’d chosen the right field to pursue.

Lyle joined several student organizations to make sure he didn’t miss a single opportunity. He served as president of the student chapter of the American Concrete Institute, captained five teams for international competitions hosted by the national chapter of the American Concrete Institute and was founding treasurer of the Fulton Student Veteran Organization, among others.

His notable contributions include founding Operation Ramp-Up, a charity event that provides ADA mobility ramps to disabled veterans across the Valley, and winning a third-place trophy in concrete solutions at the 2018 Associated Schools of Construction Regions 6 & 7 competition.

After graduation, Lyle will be working as a project engineer in the self-perform concrete division of McCarthy Building Companies, a national construction company.

“I learned and gained a higher respect for the entire construction industry,” said Lyle. “I came out of ASU with a true passion for my future career.” 

Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Lyle's favorites:

Movie: "Anchorman"
TV show: Any nature documentary
Hobbies: His dogs, snowboarding, camping/hunting
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Band/performer: Notorious BIG, The Used, almost anything country

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

Amanda Stoneman

Science Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU graduate wants to raise the standard of health care

May 2, 2019

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

Improving the lives of others has been a lifelong goal for Levi Louis Riley. He aspires to practice medicine and raise the standard of care in his hometown. To accomplish his goal, he knew he needed the best affordable education available to him and decided to attend Arizona State University. portrait of Levi Louis Riley Levi Louis Riley. Download Full Image

Since medical school was on the horizon, Riley pursued a pre-medicine biomedical engineering degree in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. His studies required diligence, but he set a goal, chose a path and stuck with it — pushing past difficulties and discouragements along the way.

“Engineering teaches one how to think and how to learn. It teaches the art and process of problem-solving,” said Riley. “I believe the skills engineering education teaches are indispensable. They have allowed me to take my knowledge of abstract subjects and apply it to solve real-world problems.”

Riley’s education was supported by the Dr. Richard O. Flynn Pre-Medical Scholarship, the Blowers Engineering Scholarship and a New American University President’s Award, among others.

Riley had the opportunity to participate in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative. He worked under the mentorship of Fulton Schools Associate Professor Brent Vernon to fabricate polymer microparticles for use in drug delivery for potential metabolic stimulation and weight loss applications.

“In many ways, I am where I am scholastically and professionally, not only because of the strong influences from my father, but also the influences and mentorship from Dr. Vernon,” said Riley, an honors student in Barrett, The Honors College.

Lecturer Michael VanAuker and Professor Michael Caplan in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of the six Fulton Schools, also had an impact on Riley’s education. Through the instruction and guidance of these three professors and his father, Riley learned how to harness his inner entrepreneur and creative ability to propel forward scholastically, professionally and personally.

Last year, Riley partnered with fellow biomedical engineering students to create a startup company. The team competed and won funding at the Venture Devils Demo Day to aid in the development of a polymer microsphere fabrication platform to improve the way drugs are delivered to patients.

After graduation, Riley will pursue his medical degree at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix. He plans to complete a residency and any additional training in Arizona before returning to his hometown to serve his community as an orthopedic specialist.

Hometown: Yuma, Arizona

Riley's favorites

TV show: "House, M.D."
Movie: "Braveheart"
Hobbies: Spending time with family and friends, wrestling and coaching
Performer: George Strait
Geeky possession: Mace Windu lightsaber

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

Amanda Stoneman

Science Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU graduate helps fellow students find success

May 2, 2019

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

Brianna Chavez has demonstrated the defining qualities of a great leader by seizing every opportunity for personal and professional growth in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. portrait of Brianna Chavez Brianna Chavez. Download Full Image

“I’m eternally grateful to the university for providing me with infinite opportunities to get involved,” said Chavez, an industrial engineering major with a minor in global health. “I’ve been impacted equally by the people and experiences brought to me by the Fulton Schools.”

As an out-of-state student who knew no one on campus, Chavez appreciated the Fulton Schools’ commitment to building a sense of camaraderie among students through E2, peer mentors and student organizations. She found a group of friends and learned from peer mentors who guided her toward leadership positions, internships and eventually an offer for her dream job.

“I felt — and still feel — an urgent call to pay forward the time and effort my mentors have poured into me,” said Chavez, who is graduating with honors from Barrett, The Honors College.

During her first year at ASU, Chavez became a member of Engineers Without Borders, Latinos in Science and Engineering (MAES) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

She served as an international project lead in Engineers Without Borders, which led to her election as student chapter president. She coordinated two trips to Pune, India, where students assessed problems with water shortages and contamination and developed solutions for those needs. As president, she applied her industrial engineering mindset to improve internal chapter processes.

Chavez has also served as a peer mentor, a camp counselor at E2, an undergraduate research assistant and an undergraduate teaching assistant. More recently, she became a mentor for Young Engineers Shape the World and served as a panelist for Intel’s Hermanas: Diseña Tu Futuro. These initiatives inspire young girls to pursue careers in science and engineering through engagement and mentorship. 

“The most rewarding part of my ASU experience has been to watch students I have mentored succeed in their own goals,” said Chavez.

In addition to her extracurricular activities, Chavez found the time to intern at Goldman Sachs, AXON and W. L. Gore and Associates, and to study abroad in London and Brisbane, Australia.

After graduation, Chavez will enter the Operations Leadership Development Program at Lockheed Martin, an aerospace and defense company. She’d also like to earn a master’s degree.

“My passions lie in the public sector,” said Chavez. “I hope to apply my engineering skills to initiatives and organizations that improve public health and welfare.”

Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Chavez's favorites

TV show: "Bob’s Burgers"
Hobbies: Reading true crime fiction, cooking new dishes, making ceramic pottery.
Sport: "I’ve always loved soccer. I cannot be near a soccer ball without spending a few minutes juggling."
Book: “Sacred Rice: An Ethnography of Identity, Environment, and Development in Rural West Africa” by Joanna Davidson
Geeky possession: "I own several graphic prints ranging in theme from Star Wars to the Kill Bill movies."

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

Amanda Stoneman

Science Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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A record 8 Sun Devil sports programs earn top 10% NCAA APR scores

May 1, 2019

For the fifth consecutive year, the Arizona State University athletics department is second in the Pac-12 Conference, behind only Stanford, for most teams recognized by the NCAA for their high 2017-18 Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores.
Eight ASU teams earned APR scores in the top 10%, as announced by the NCAA Wednesday. This is the most teams recognized in the top 10% for APR in ASU history.

Read the full story on thesundevils.com.

ASU student named Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor of the year

May 1, 2019

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

In a ceremony held on April 17 by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona, Hsiao-Ya (Sofia) Chen, a graduating senior from the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, was awarded the Big Thanks Award for her role as volunteer mentor. Sofia holding her award certificate in front of Big Brothers Big Sisters sign Hsiao-Ya (Sofia) Chen at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona award reception Download Full Image

Chen, who will earn a bachelor’s degree in family and human development with a minor in sociology, was selected from over 1,100 volunteers by her program specialist to receive this special award.

Big Brothers Big Sisters helps children realize their potential and build their futures by nurturing children and strengthening communities. They accomplish this by providing children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships (mentors) that change their lives for the better, forever.

According to Big Brothers Big Sisters' promotional resources, children who have a mentor are:

• Less likely to skip school.

• More likely to volunteer in their community.

• Less likely to use drugs and alcohol.

• More likely to participate in extracurricular activities and sports.

• More likely to graduate high school.

It was outcomes like these that drove Chen to apply with Big Brothers Big Sisters as a volunteer mentor. Having a somewhat troubled childhood of her own, Chen has overcome much adversity in her life, which has given her a passion for giving back to others by serving in a variety of volunteer capacities.

She joined Big Brothers Big Sisters in 2016 and waited nearly two years before her mentee match was made. But waiting two years for the perfect match didn’t stop her from giving back, volunteering with both Arizonian’s for Children and Southwest Human Development until her match was made.

In January 2018, Chen received news of her Big Brothers Big Sisters mentee match. She was delighted to learn she had been matched with a 12-year-old girl, whom she would mentor over the next year and a half. While they shared similar childhood experiences, Chen had a unique opportunity to see her family and human development studies play out right in front of her.

“It was very interesting and rewarding to see this little girl go through life transitions that I’ve been studying, like puberty and becoming a teenager,” Chen said. 

Sofia committed to spending time with her mentee to make the most out of the mentoring process. Beyond the outings organized by Big Brothers Big Sisters, Chen committed to spending time with her mentee every Saturday for at least two to four hours. And she recalls some of the little things that made her realize that her mentee really cared about the bond they had built.

“Occasionally I would prepare a picnic for my mentee, exposing her to some food from my home country, like Taiwanese pancakes. I told her the Mandarin name for the food only once or twice, and weeks later she would ask me when we could have more of the pancakes, referring to them in the native language,” Chen said. “Those are the little things that made me happy.”

Her desire to serve others, like that of her mentee, has also translated to great success for Chen within ASU’s Sanford School.

“Sofia Chen is passionate about helping children and families — she shows this through her work with the Child Development Lab, her involvement in BBBS, and her work in the PEACPositive Environments for Adolescents and Children lab designing interventions to support parenting for children exposed to trauma,” PEAC lab Assistant Professor Sarah Lindstrom Johnson said.

Upon graduating from ASU this May, Chen will continue her studies after being accepted to the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work. She has also decided to defer her graduate school start until 2020 so she may move to Denver and spend a year working in the community. She hopes to continue her service to youth and families with locally based Shiloh House. She also intends to stay in contact with her Big Brothers Big Sisters mentee for years to come.

John Keeney

Media Relations Coordinator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics


Communication major makes global connections, from Argentina to Spain

April 30, 2019

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

Connecting with people around the world and finding international internships might seem daunting for an undergraduate, but ASU communication major Abby Perez found it surprisingly simple to take her passions global. ASU graduate Abby Perez Abby Perez, who majored in communication and minored in real estate at ASU, held two international internships. Download Full Image

“ASU is one of the largest public universities in the world, and I know that wherever my career takes me employers will know my university and what it stands for,” said Perez, a Phoenix resident, about her decision to attend her hometown university. “I am very proud to belong to a network of Sun Devils — that is another reason I know that ASU was a great choice.”

She has experienced first-hand how the expansive Sun Devil network helps connect students with people and opportunities around the world.

“I never imagined I would be selected from a national program to be an intern in Buenos Aires, Argentina, yet I was,” Perez observed, “and it was one of the best experiences!”

She not only held an internship with Argentina Cibersegura in Buenos Aires, but also another with Piel de Mariposa, in Seville, Spain.

Working for these nonprofit companies, Perez said, helped her delve deeper into her major, and to see how communication and culture combine in real work outside of the classroom experience.

Her advice to others looking for opportunities to expand their own network? “Don't hold yourself back from a job-internship, rigorous class or any opportunity. Ask questions, seek help,” she emphasized. “Try, and don't give up.”

Perez, who combined her communication major with a real estate minor in the W.P. Carey School of Business, recently shared some reflections with ASU Now about her ASU experience and her dreams for the future.

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

Answer: When my professor mentioned, "No matter what career you go into, you will need to communicate efficiently because communication is a foundation. You can train anyone, you can teach anyone how to sell a product, but if they do not possess good communication skills then they will not deliver good results," that really inspired me to continue in my field.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to get my master’s in real estate development at ASU.

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

A: My Real Estate Fundamentals professor would give us humorous examples in class. Everyone would laugh at these scenarios and they were really helpful to remember the different concepts. The professors who can engage their students using humor and real-life examples, those are the professors who really love what they teach.

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

A: Professor Mathew Avrhami has taught me so much about my financial rights, being smart when investing and about opportunities. 

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

A: I love the courtyard between the BA (Business Administration) and the BAC (Business Administration-C Wing) buildings. Something about seeing and hearing students talk about business really makes me happy. 

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

A: I would use it to implement an education and career work program to help those who are incarcerated based on racial injustice. I would want to one day aid the poverty gap cycle that many people face due to factors that were out of their control. My goal is to provide affordable housing for all. 

Written by Sophia Molinar, ASU Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication senior; student marketing assistant, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts

Maureen Roen

Manager, Creative Services, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


Master's graduate focuses on improving support for refugees and host countries

April 30, 2019

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

After completing a bachelor’s and not one … not two … but now three master’s degrees, Nathalie Mokbel is showing no sign of slowing down. She has set her sights on her next adventure: becoming Dr. Nathalie Mokbel so she can support and educate the next generation of changemakers. Portrait of Nathalie Mokbel Nathalie Mokbel. Download Full Image

Her driving force? Her dedication to her home country of Lebanon and her desire to make a difference in the lives of refugees and the host countries who support them.

When she began diving into her research on refugee crises, she was shocked by how little literature she found on the subject of refugees and host countries. As she probed further, she realized a significant issue was that in many host countries, those who would benefit most from this research, frequently did not have the necessary technology, funding and other resources to gather and publish this crucial data. She felt this predicament spoke to a broader global issue of the disconnect between the developed world and many countries that struggle to provide access to basic needs like food, water and shelter for refugees.

Through her research in support of her goal of becoming an educator, Mokbel hopes to find and share creative solutions to improve the ability of countries to support refugees without crumbling under the weight of responsibility to displaced people.

Mokbel’s mentor and the degree program chair of the Global Technology and Development (GTD) program, Clinical Associate Professor Mary Jane Parmentier, said, “Nathalie has bridged several educational systems, from Lebanon to France, to the U.S., as well as academic disciplines, to excel in the interdisciplinary global development master's at ASU. Her research efforts have real potential to open new pathways of support for refugees and host countries.” 

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

Answer: I have a bachelor’s in computer science and two master’s, one in international management and another one in entrepreneurship, which I completed in Lebanon and France. So when I came to the U.S., I was looking for a master’s program to further my studies and give me something fun to do. I found the Global Technology and Development program through the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. It interested me because I had never heard of anything like it before. It’s a good fit for me because it complements the degrees and experience I already have. I’m interested in refugees, and I’ve seen firsthand how Lebanon is affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. With my managerial background, I knew that having some knowledge about technology and development — about refugees more specifically — I thought it would be a nice combination to help me examine how Lebanon can strategically address the Syrian refugee crisis. In this way, I am able to combine the management spirit with my desire to improve the situation for refugees and my close ties with Lebanon. It was as if I had found the missing puzzle piece I was looking for.

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

A: There is a lot of literature out there, but shockingly very little of it deals with refugees, specifically regarding their impact on the host countries. You would think that, given the impact and scale of the Syrian refugee crisis, or really any refugee crisis, people would be interested in writing papers about this subject. But host countries in which these crises are occurring are typically poor and vulnerable as well, so they don’t have the ability to do this critical research. Even though they would be the entity with the most stake in gathering data and exploring this subject further, they do not have the resources or funding for it. Seeing this, I was kind of thinking, “Wow, what did I get myself into?” but at the same time, it’s the best kind of motivation knowing that there is a desperate need for this research, and I’m excited to be able to bring something new to the table.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I moved to Arizona because I got married and my husband lived here. And I chose ASU because it is by far the top university in the area. Being number one in innovation is really the main reason why I picked this over an online program or any other school. It is number one in innovation, it has the GTD program, and I wanted something that was interdisciplinary in nature. ASU and SFIS checked all of those boxes. The messages in ASU’s charter about catalyzing social change by being connected to social needs and connecting and giving back to communities through mutually beneficial partnerships really stood out to me. When I read the mission statement in the charter, I felt aligned with it. I believe in it, and therefore this was my first and only choice. A big part of what I am doing with my thesis is focusing on improving conditions in my home country of Lebanon. To me, this is a way I can give back to my community, even though I live abroad now.

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

A: Dr. Gary Grossman. He studies the Middle East, so we had a lot in common, and I was able to develop my interests further through his mentorship. In addition, when I first started the program, Mary Jane Parmentier gave me a very clear idea about what the GTD program is all about and what other students have achieved after graduating. She helped me understand the importance of the impact of the GTD program, how I fit in and how it would work for me. She also gave me the idea of studying the refugee crisis. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what the link was between global technology and development and refugees, but as Dr. Parmentier and I discussed the topic further, I developed a good idea of how the two work together. She was the reason why I started the program with this much motivation.

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

A: They have to really believe in what they do, they have to have a goal, and most importantly, they have to apply meaning to their studies. What matters is what we do with the degree when we leave here. If you truly believe in the work you are doing and the topic you are studying — if it really means something to you — then you are going to truly enjoy your time here. You can have fun and grow in an environment where it’s about self-satisfaction more than it is about just getting a grade. It’s the personal achievement that makes it worthwhile. I’m not going to completely eliminate the refugee crisis, but even being able to make a 0.01% improvement to the lives of refugees and the host countries is enough for me.

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

A: Hayden Library. The universities I went to in the past didn’t really have big libraries, so for me, that was my first experience in a “real” library. I spent a lot of time there, but it was a fun experience. You feel very connected to the community on campus by being surrounded by other students, but in a way, you also get to be in your own world. Plus you have access to all of the resources the library has to offer.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I know that I want to continue my studies and pursue a PhD. I still want to focus on my research with refugees but take it a step further. I also used to teach business courses in Lebanon, and I still love teaching, so I’m probably going to go the academic route.

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

A: I think I would use it to invest in host countries. Many only focus on the issues of the refugees themselves and often neglect to consider the impact on the countries in which displaced people are taking refuge. These are typically neighboring countries that unfortunately are often also weak in infrastructure. So what happens is that instead of solving problems, the problems just get moved around to different countries that cannot handle the sudden population increase.

Written by Madelyn Nelson