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ASU graduate Asha Ramakumar plans career in law and public health policy


May 11, 2020

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

Asha Ramakumar is not afraid to talk about a topic a lot of people think is taboo. As a matter of fact, she believes talking about menstruation is necessary to promote health equity and destigmatize a natural occurrence. Asha Ramakumar Asha Ramakumar will be attending the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., to pursue a joint Juris Doctorate and Master of Public Health. Download Full Image

Ramakumar felt so strongly about it that she spoke on her own very personal experience in March 2019 at Ignite, Arizona State University’s semiannual storytelling event.

“I wanted to talk about global women’s health in some capacity. My student organization, Global Women’s Health Initiative, was focused on menstrual equity that semester, so I settled on that as my topic,” said Ramakumar, who is receiving a bachelor’s degree in global politics with a minor in women and gender studies and a certificate in health care policy and delivery, with honors from Barrett, The Honors College.

She opened her monologue with a story about her first period, including a pantomime of what happened when she forgot her menstrual hygiene products.

“I explained that when I was in middle school, I desperately wanted my period because it made me feel connected to something larger than myself. Almost like a secret community,” Ramakumar said.

“Speaking about this was an act of resistance, especially since my grandfather believes that women are impure during menstruation. This experience was so empowering for me that it made me realize how important it is to let people share their stories so others can listen. I think it’s the best way to foster empathy,” she added.

Ramakumar, who was a New American University Presidential Scholar, on the W. P. Carey School of Business Dean's List, a United Nations Millennium Fellow in fall 2018 and a Lincoln-Chautauqua Fellow in 2019, plans to work in the fields of law and public health policy. 

She will be attending the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., to pursue a joint Juris Doctorate and Master of Public Health.

We asked her to reflect on her undergraduate experience at ASU. Here’s what she had to say.

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

Answer: I think I have had several different “aha” moments. The first was in high school when I took Law and Policy, a second-semester complement to my school’s AP Government curriculum. My teacher assigned each of us a docket of Supreme Court cases, and she gave me cases centered around women’s and LGBTQ+ rights such as Griswold v. Connecticut, Lawrence v. Texas, and of course, Roe v. Wade. After reading these cases, I began to see how the largest sources of inequity seem to happen around regulating people’s bodies, especially gender-specific inequity. I was simultaneously shadowing an OB-GYN for my senior internship, and I think these two experiences shaped my specific interest in women’s health. I realized that working on an individual-patient provider level was not where my skills were best served.

This was narrowed further throughout my coursework at ASU both through my minor in gender studies and my certificate in health care policy. After taking classes centered around gender, religion, health disparities, violence and colonialism, I began to see how all of these areas of study are interrelated. From this, I realized that to address health care access or lack thereof, I need to have an understanding of the many systems in place that impact health. In other words, people are not independent of their environment, circumstances, or identity, therefore, neither is their health. 

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

A: This semester, I was enrolled in the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program through Barrett. The class, titled “Men and Feminism”, piqued my interest as a gender studies minor.

Looking back, I am not quite sure what I had expected from this class. I knew we were going to be reading things by bell hooks (the pen name for author, feminist and social activist Gloria Jean Watkins) and other works on masculinity and violence, but I did not know how much the other students in the class would challenge me.

Unlike other honors classes, this class took place at the Maricopa Men’s Reentry Center. Every Monday and Wednesday from 6 to 9 p.m., we met in a classroom in the facility with a group of “inside” students. This course was only Session A, but I wish it were longer, especially since saying goodbye was gut-wrenching. 

In each class, we used the texts to guide our discussion, but the topics were so deeply personal that it often changed to becoming a time to talk about our lived experiences. One moment, in particular, stands out to me.

We were reading bell hooks’ "Feminism is For Everybody," and one inside student looked particularly frustrated. He proceeded to explain that bell hooks asks that parents explain feminism to their children and teach them how to challenge patriarchy, particularly through nonviolence, however, this is not practical for him. The inside student proceeded to ask the class if he should teach his son not to fight back against bullies and explained that violence is a necessary means of survival in his community. Several other inside students also explained that challenging patriarchy is great in theory but almost impossible in their communities. 

This experience forced me to take a step back from my preconceived ideas of feminism and patriarchy and understand that it is a luxury to adopt feminist ideology and to challenge norms. It made me think critically about how the intent of a given policy or theory may be great, but the impact is what is important. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: For me, ASU was kind of a no-brainer. I have always known that I wanted to go to graduate school, so when I was looking for undergraduate programs, I wanted one that would give me the widest breadth of opportunities and the most supportive living situation. I felt like Barrett gave me the living situation and the close-knit community that I wanted while the greater ASU has unlimited opportunities. I have been able to travel, take graduate classes and attend some cool events because of that!

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

A: Professor Swapna Reddy in the College of Health Solutions has been an incredible mentor to me in so many ways. I think the most important lesson she taught me is to be courageous and to trust my abilities. There were quite a few times where people told me I was going to be unable to achieve and/or do something, but Professor Reddy always stood by me and made me feel like those barriers were invisible. My relationship with her taught me how important it is to have at least one faculty member who can advocate for you or give you the tools to advocate for yourself. 

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

A: Be curious. The best things I did in college were honestly because I was just curious and went to check it out. It’s sometimes daunting to attend an event or enroll in a class that is outside your comfort zone, but sometimes that’s how you find what clicks with you. That being said, you shouldn’t force yourself to like or do something that feels wrong. However, the more you explore, the more you’ll know when something feels right. 

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

A: I am a very antsy person, so I always needed to find a new place to work to avoid feeling bored. That being said, I love the Design Library. I lived on the north side of campus, so that location felt well-connected to a lot of other resources. I love libraries, and the Design Library reading room is the closest thing we have to that old-style library. Plus, you get to see some pretty cool work from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts students, which is a plus. 

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

A: Oh goodness ... I think addressing social determinants of health would be where that money should go. I know, that’s a pretty broad place to start, but I think investing in environmental policies that provide clean air, water and living conditions is critical. In addition to this, it would also mean addressing education and creating robust social policies that ultimately create a healthier population. I think if this moment in time has taught us anything, it is how fragile the entire system is, and I think a lot of that is predicated on the lack of strong public health infrastructure. 

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College

480-965-8415

ASU Law transfer student success story leads to dream job


May 10, 2020

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

Arizona native Emily Fann, who graduated this week with a JD degree from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, wanted to help advance the role of women in the legal profession, so she served on the board of the Women Law Students' Association, one of the largest student organizations on campus. Fann also was a member of the Corporate and Business Law Society, completed an independent study in mergers and acquisitions and still found time to volunteer each week at Phoenix Children's Hospital. photo of Emily Fann Emily Fann, JD Candidate ’20, in the Ross-Blakley Law Library at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Download Full Image

Fann considers herself a transfer student success story. However, her path getting there was somewhat untraditional.

“Prior to attending law school, I didn't understand the concept of studying where you want to practice. I just thought law school was law school,” Fann recalled. “With that in mind I accepted a placement at a school where I received a scholarship that covered 100% of my tuition. However, I quickly learned that I wanted more out of school.”

That's when Fann transferred to ASU Law and restarted her law school education. However, she transferred after on-campus interviews – or OCIs as they are referred to among law schools – when law firms and other legal employers have an opportunity to interview students on-campus.

“I missed every opportunity for the covetable summer internships at the big law firms. Rather than accept defeat, I fought my way into the firm of my dreams, Tiffany and Bosco,” she said. “I started as a freelance researcher for an equity shareholder of the firm. With his recommendation, I moved to the spot of a law clerk for a young attorney looking for additional help and became a part-time employee of the firm. Her recommendation moved me to the commercial transaction department, and working for my now boss.”

She is honored to report that after she graduates she will begin full-time employment as an associate in commercial transactions with Tiffany & Bosco, P.A.

Question: Why did you choose ASU Law?

Answer: I went to a networking lunch with five attorneys from a law firm in town. As I sat there, I kept thinking to myself, “How do I secure my seat at this lunch table?” It dawned on me that every attorney at the table was a graduate of ASU Law. There was no question in my mind from that point on that I had to attend ASU. I am thrilled to now report that I will be working at the firm with those same attorneys after law school.

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

photo of Emily Fann

Emily Fann, JD Candidate ’20, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

A: While sitting in my last advanced water class, Professor Larson gave the greatest speech. It went something like this, "Be water my friends. Water is strong, resilient, fierce and powerful. She keeps moving and never stops. Give her time and she can build a monument."

Another great tip came from Larry Cohen, an adjunct professor at ASU Law, during his medical malpractice class. He said, "It never hurts to pretend to be the dumbest person in the room. People will tell you everything they think they know. As a lawyer that is the best place to be in. Let people speak to you first before you respond."

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

A: Be persistent with your goals and don’t be afraid of taking an unusual route to reach them. Figure out what works best for you and own it.

Q: What motivates you?

A: It is important to me that at the end of each day I am proud of myself. That motivates me to do more, to be better and to be authentic in the midst of it all. I truly believe that motivation is like a helium balloon, though. It is going to deflate and you need to check in on it to make it full again. Your law school career will ebb and flow. To finish strong, check in on your motivation and restore it when necessary.

Nicole Almond Anderson

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

480-727-6990

 
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Watts graduate exemplifies public service

May 10, 2020

Graduating veteran begins emergency management career with agency managing local response to COVID-19 pandemic

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

Marisa Von Holten’s Arizona State University journey took some unexpected twists, turns and setbacks, but her “can do” attitude, spirit of service and perseverance enabled her to not only finish her college degree but also transition to a new public service career.

The former Air Force medic switched majors “a couple of times” at ASU, eventually finding the degree she would march with across the graduation finish line — the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions bachelor of science in public service and public policy, with a focus on emergency management and homeland security, managed by the college’s School of Public Affairs.

As part of the degree program, Von Holten entered into an internship with the Maricopa County Department of Emergency Management. That led to a job offer as an emergency management services planner, as the agency activated its emergency operations center to organize the county response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I really like it; I’ve gotten a ton of experience,” said Von Holten, who served in Afghanistan with an Army transportation unit. “We’ve been activated since March 16 in response to coronavirus … March 23 they hired me as a fulltime employee.”

Among the ASU veteran community, the Huntsville, Texas, native is known for being deeply involved with the Pat Tillman Veterans Center outreach team, helping veterans transition to campus life and helping the center execute multiple events throughout the year, including the Veterans Honor Stole ceremonies.

“The stole event has always been my absolute favorite, to see all the veterans graduate each semester,” Von Holten said. “The outreach team has been amazing.”

Von Holten’s involvement with the veterans center spans many initiatives. She served as a spokesperson for a new student orientation video for veterans and helped establish the Women Veterans Club on campus.

During her time at ASU, and before while in military uniform, Von Holten has exemplified work ethic and service. Below she provides more insight into her ASU journey.   

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

Answer: As a prior medic, I missed helping people during times of crisis. I explored a few different career fields outside of medicine including firefighting, but obtaining my degree before returning to work was still a priority. Through that, I found emergency management and realized I could help my community as a whole be prepared for all types of emergencies and disasters. 

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

A: During my time at ASU, I learned that while being a veteran might help open doors and opportunities, that alone is not enough. Meeting other vets, I think sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking we can put our military experience on a resume and be a shoo-in; but it's important and vital to recognize that you still have to be able to translate your experiences and put in the work to be successful. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I wanted to be sure that I was using my benefits at a college who cares about me as both a successful student and veteran. Using the internet, I searched for "military-friendly schools" and came across ASU several times. After doing an online tour and speaking with staff at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, I knew I found what I was looking for. 

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

A: Through his teaching style, Professor Kevin Robinson showed me it is possible to have our guards up but still approach life with an open mind. For that, and the respect he gave us as adults in his courses, I'm grateful to have been instructed by him. 

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

A: I would recommend that students look for job opportunities well before they graduate. That might mean internships, volunteering or simply networking and making job-site visits in your career field aspirations. For me, graduation came quick; and although I now have a job lined up through my last internship, I wish I had done more!

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

A: I loved being at the Tempe campus and having the traditional "college student" experience. I'm going to miss studying in the basement at Hayden Library and walking to classes by the MU or Palm Walk. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: As an expectant mother, I lined graduation up so that it would be within a few weeks of delivering our first child. I was recently employed by Maricopa County's Department of Emergency Management, and after some maternity leave, I'm hopeful to continue my employment serving the Valley!

Top photo: Air Force veteran Marisa Von Holten (second from the right) poses with members of her Army unit in 2014 during a deployment to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Von Holten served as a medic attached to an Army transportation company supplying U.S. troops at forward operating bases throughout eastern Afghanistan. Courtesy photo

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

Sustainability grad found community through resources for undocumented students


May 10, 2020

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

A student’s discovery of a major that suits all of their interests is rare.  Karina Dominguez stands in front of a butterfly projection Karina Dominguez at a USEE fundraiser dinner. Download Full Image

Karina Dominguez, 21, was able to find all her passions in the sustainability major and urban planning minor of the School of Sustainability.   

Even so, the Michoacan, Mexico, native found it difficult at first to find people who understood her struggle. Dominguez, a transfer student from Glendale Community College, had to “navigate the education system as an undocumented student.” 

Fortunately, DREAMzone and Undocumented Students for Educational Equity at ASU helped her access the resources she needed to succeed and immersed her in a community that welcomed her. 

“USEE and DREAMzone gave me the community I needed to keep on fighting and to ensure that I was able to graduate,” Dominguez said. 

Dominguez was a part of USEE at GCC, but when she transferred to ASU in 2018, she became the communications director. The student organization is run by undocumented students and advocates for equitable access to education. DREAMzone is a program at ASU that provides resources for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students, undocumented students and families with mixed immigration status through support circles, peer-to-peer support and more. 

As she prepared to graduate, Dominguez reflected on her time at ASU and what she plans for the future. 

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

Answer: I realized I wanted to study sustainability when I couldn’t find any other major that included all of my interests. I was interested in politics, the environment, social justice, among other things. Sustainability includes all of these topics and even more, which allow me to not be stuck doing one thing forever. I have the ability to explore and see what I enjoy doing best within the career. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of their sustainability program, and it was the most affordable in-state university. 

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

A: Find a community of individuals who have the same interests, struggles or goals. 

When things get hard in school or in your personal life, it is much easier to get through it when you have people by your side who are feeling the same way and are supporting one another. It is good to also have those people to just have fun with and take a break from stress. Those people will become the best college memories. 

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

A: My favorite spot on campus to meet with friends was the MECHA room because it was a safe space for us where we could be ourselves. My favorite spot to study was the new Hayden Library. It was very peaceful, and there were amazing views. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans after graduation are to stay involved with issues concerning environmental justice and immigrant rights. I want to continue to fight with my community for a better present and future. 

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

A: I believe it would be extremely difficult to solve one problem on the planet with $40 million, but what I would like to do is give out that money to communities who lack certain resources or have been negatively affected by environmental justice issues. By providing them with this money, hopefully they are able to receive opportunities that will improve their quality of life. 

For example, the money could be used to create community gardens where community members can constantly interact with one another and build trust. The money could be used for whatever the community decides is their greatest need. 

Written by Carmen De Alba Cardenas, Sun Devil Storyteller

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services

480-965-4255

ASU grad’s service in student government helped hone her passion for policy


May 10, 2020

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

Tempe Undergraduate Student Government President Hanna Salem’s biggest takeaway from Arizona State University was learning to think holistically about inclusion in her path to leadership.  Hanna Salem in front of Old Main at ASU's Tempe campus ASU grad and Tempe Undergraduate Student Government President Hanna Salem. Download Full Image

One of the first things she got involved with at ASU was the Tempe Undergraduate Student Government. Salem started her college career as an intern for USG and ended up as the student body president of the Tempe campus. She's currently finishing up her term.

“I’m very proud of winning my campaign to be student body president, but within that I’m really proud that me and my team have been able to accomplish all of our campaign promises,” she said.

Salem was especially proud of her team's work on providing free menstrual hygiene products in ASU restrooms and increasing financial aid to students.

Her involvement in USG is one of the factors that led to her choosing her major, public service and public policy with a concentration in law and policy and a minor in women’s and gender studies. 

After changing her major several times, Salem realized her passion for political science and policy from the work and from the people she surrounded herself with.

“It's made me realize that I'm going into the right career path, and I’m still passionate. This really secured that public policy and public service is something I want to do in the future,” she said.

During Salem's ASU career, she earned the Spirit of Service Scholarship and Dean’s Scholarship. Overall, Salem said her experience at ASU was invaluable.

“Even though I didn’t expect to come to ASU, I had the best time here and I am so appreciative to every single person who has made my experience what it has, so thank you to ASU,” Salem said.

As she prepared to graduate, Salem reflected on her time at ASU and her advice for students.

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

Answer: I had changed my major like three or four times before becoming a public policy major. I just wasn't really happy with the prior majors I had chosen, and I knew that there was a thing in me that wanted to help people. I just didn't really know how I wanted to do that. 

I think the “aha” moment for me was when I was just surrounding myself with a lot of public service and public policy people and I realized that these were the conversations I wanted to have too.

I am incredibly happy with the decision [to change majors] and a lot more passionate about my academic work than I was at the beginning of my ASU career.

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

A: I think my biggest takeaway from ASU has been how to live my life with the charter in mind. It's changed my way of thinking and how I think about actions and avenues within my life. 

I’ve never really been in a place where diversity is so celebrated. So now that I have that foundation, I feel like my actions and the way I make decisions is totally altered thanks to the ASU charter. I just have a better way of approaching problems now that I am looking at things more holistically than I was before.

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

A: Something that I challenged myself with at the beginning of my fourth year was to say yes to everything. I really made it a point to go to events that I would never really typically go to. That’s helped me a lot in terms of making friendships and new relationships but has also made me appreciate ASU in a completely new way. My biggest advice is to just start early and take advantage of all the opportunities and events.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I really liked the location; I really liked that it felt like a mini city within a bigger city. I really don’t know what came over me, but I was like, "I think that this is where I need to be." It was a very last-minute decision, but it was a great decision nonetheless.

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

A: Definitely education. I think education is the root of all of our problems, but I also think it’s the solution to all of our problems. So if we invest more time and money into youth essentially we are going to have a better and stronger society, economy and world in general.

Written by Madeleine Williamson, Sun Devil Storyteller

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services

480-965-4255

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

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