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Headshot of Rachel Einecker

Passion for the environment drives School of Molecular Sciences Dean’s Medalist

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.Arizona State University honors student Rachel Einecker is graduating in December with a Bachelor of Science in environmental chemistry and the prestigious School of Molecular Sciences Dean’s Medal in honor of her scholastic achievements.Einecker switched majors multiple times before landing on environmental chemistry. She was drawn toward understanding the natural world at a young age. She adored science and math and wanted lots of room to explore. Consequently, at ASU, Einecker chose environmental chemistry, which is a mix of biology, geology, chemistry, physics and math.“Rachel has worked with me on her honor’s project investigating methane and iron geochemistry in wetlands since 2022,” explained Professor Hilairy Hartnett, who holds joint appointments in the School of Molecular Sciences and the School of Earth and Space Exploration. “She started the work as a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution summer research intern in Megan Eagle’s lab at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and continued it with us in the Carbon and Nitrogen Dynamics Lab (CaNDy LaB) at ASU.““Through her work, Rachel has not only developed a deep understanding of wetland redox chemistry, she has also considered how humans influence these fragile coastal ecosystems. Rachel is a regular contributor to our group meetings, she is always happy to help other students in the group, and she is an extremely well-rounded student. I’ve enjoyed hearing her talk about her music performances and her community service work!”In 2022, Einecker published a paper in the open source journal "Sustainability" entitled "Climate Change: A Bibliometric Study of Adaptation, Mitigation and Resilience."During the summer of 2023, Einecker participated in DAAD-RISE, a highly selective research fellowship program sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service. The program supports summer research internships in Germany for undergraduate students from North America, Great Britain and Ireland. In their internships, students are carefully matched with doctoral students and researchers who serve as their mentors while they pursue research projects relevant to their interests. Einecker traveled to Gottingen, Germany, to work on a project that studies how drought affects plant physiology.In her spare time, Einecker was involved in many volunteer activities at ASU, including recycling COVID plastics, tutoring for ASU America reads, and performing as a violist for the ASU Philharmonia Orchestra.In the below Q&A, Einecker goes on to discuss more about her time at ASU and plans for the future.Note: Answers may have been edited lightly for length or clarity.Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?Answer: I switched majors multiple times before I landed on environmental chemistry. I realized I wanted this track because I always loved the environment. With my family I would go hiking, and constantly be outside, and I was drawn towards understanding the natural world at a young age. I also adored science and math. ... I’m an extremely curious person.Therefore, at ASU I landed in environmental chemistry, which to me had the most flexibility and mix of all the sciences ... along with the higher-level math and statistics I needed. I LOVE math.Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?A: I realized that it’s best to act when you feel stuck. Before ASU, I would often plan or think deeply about the future before I took any sort of action for a goal. What I realize now, is that when you have a goal, simply take small actions before trying to think about what or how to do it.So, for example, regarding schoolwork, I would dread certain big projects at the end of the semester. I’d be burnt out and not want to do anything but know I needed to accomplish it. Instead of trying to think about how to be productive, I would get up and take a walk, or just sit and do two minutes of work. By taking a small, easy action, I’d get my motivation going and I would get somewhere, rather than being stuck thinking about how to solve my problem. Another example is when I wanted to try something new, like solo travel during my internship in Germany. At first, I was googling everything to try and figure out where to go, how to make it affordable, what to do when I got to each town, if I should do big cities or small towns, etc. This whole process was pretty draining and I felt more and more like I couldn’t do it. So then I simplified everything. I just figured out how I’d get there, and where I would sleep, and that was it. And once I did that my travel was fantastic! So from this I learned that it can be much better to have a general goal, take at least one small action — like buying one train ticket — and then let the plan fall into place, rather than trying to think hard about a plan before taking any action.Q: Why did you choose ASU?A: It was the path of least resistance. Closest to my parents ... good scholarship, and a large school with many opportunities outside of class.Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?A: The most important part of college is the connections you make. These are influenced by your experiences both outside and in class, for both professional and social circles. Doing well in your classes and going to class is simply a foundation to get internships and make friends with your peers and to network and connect with your professors. Take advantage of the many opportunities available to you during your college career. Always try something new and get out of your comfort zone. College is a great opportunity to explore. If you like to give everything 110% effort like me, letting go of giving everything your full effort and realizing that it’s okay to give 80% or even 50% when you are overworked is a huge life lesson. Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?A: There is a small garden tucked away near Old Main, on the side of the writer’s house. It has a small water feature, benches in the shade, colorful yellow birds, and butterflies. No one is ever there and it’s incredibly peaceful. I’d often take a nap or study there!The meditation space in the basement of the MU is amazing; I met my friends there every Wednesday for the SKY meditation club meetings.The roses along Gammage are really nice and great to walk through before orchestra rehearsal.The silent study room in Noble was my favorite spot to study.Tempe Town Lake is also amazing, and if you have a bike, you can get anywhere on the canal trails. I’d often bike from Tempe to Mesa, to Old Town Scottsdale, or to Phoenix — and the canal trails are peaceful and gorgeous. In general, the canal trails and my bike gave me the freedom to get around the Valley since I didn’t have a car on campus.Q: What are your plans after graduation?A: I plan to work for the United States Geological Survey in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. I have a few projects I can participate in, all of which involve coastal wetland research. The job isn’t finalized, but I was given an offer.I’ll have a break before the job starts, so in the meantime I will relax, join a CrossFit, join the Mesa Community College Orchestra as a community member, get my scuba diving license, travel to my friends, travel alone, and hike a TON. From the internship in Germany and also my internship at Woods Hole, I made friends from all over the world and the U.S. I want to visit them. I also traveled Europe alone and gained a ton of confidence in terms of solo travel. Solo travel is something I’m itching to do more of, and I could see myself going back to Europe, somewhere new, or in places around or near the U.S.]]>
Portrait of Adrian Lerma, senior director of development for Tribal Nations at the ASU Foundation

Shaping the future of Indigenous excellence

When Adrian Lerma’s grandmother passed away in 2011, she reflected on her life and legacy as she grieved. Lerma, senior director of development for tribal nations at the ASU Foundation, was suddenly struck with a sense of responsibility. Who would guide and shape her to become the leader her community needed?Lerma, born and raised in the Navajo Nation, knew she wanted to positively influence and impact Indigenous women the way her grandmother had. An undergraduate at Northern Arizona University studying women and gender studies, she applied for an internship with the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals in renewable energy solutions.She interviewed for the role with Beth Osnes, a theater and environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado. During the interview, Lerma and Osnes formed an instant connection and began brainstorming projects and solutions that would serve the Navajo Nation. Lerma got the internship, and together with Osnes, co-founded the Navajo Women's Energy Project in 2012, incorporating interactive aspects of theater, improv and poetry to envision a clean energy future. The project brought together women of all backgrounds from ages 5 to 90.Lerma's path and passion led her to work with Eagle Energy, which provides small-scale solar technology to off-grid communities in the Navajo Nation.Later, she co-founded the Native American Business Incubator Network, which focuses on diversifying local economies and reducing dependence on resource extraction.In 2019, she took on a role with Diné College and continued her community development and empowerment journey.Throughout her career, she has combined her deep roots within her community with a passion for education, environmental sustainability and economic development.ASU News spoke with Lerma during Native American Heritage Month to learn more about her commitment to shaping the future of Indigenous excellence.Editor's note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.Question: You said your initial goal when you began college was empowering Indigenous women. What sparked that goal?Answer: I am Diné, born and raised on the Navajo Nation in the small community of Tuba City, Arizona. My clans are Naakai Dine’é — Naash't'éezhí Tábaahá — Tł'izhíłání — Táchiinii. This identity is my guide in everything I do. The tribe I’m from is matrilineal, meaning that women carry the bloodline. This uniquely positions women as pillars of their clan, their home and their community. When I was an undergrad, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I understood that I had a responsibility as a young lady to do something meaningful. A professor of mine, Tom Holm, once said, “Every breath you take is a political statement!” He expressed that the system is not set up for Native American people to thrive, so we have a responsibility to use our breath and the life we’ve been given to change the system so it benefits us. I remember feeling the enormity of the responsibility he was setting on our shoulders to think, strategize and act intentionally. But his words inspired me. So I set a simple goal: Do work that was going to empower Indigenous women. And that is what led me to do the work I’ve done over the past 11 years. And it’s expanded beyond just women to include all Indigenous people from all nations. Q: What brought you to the ASU Foundation?A: This role at the ASU Foundation is new. Nobody has ever been seated in this position before. I was attracted to it because it was an opportunity to advocate for and bring much-needed support to Native American-serving and Native American-led initiatives. Arizona State University has a long history of collaborations with Native American people. For example, the Center of Indian Education is celebrating their 65th anniversary in 2024. The Indian Legal Program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law has been generating scholarship in the area of Indian law and has undertaken public service to tribal governments since 1988. They are celebrating their 35th anniversary this month.There are other initiatives that I am aware of that are making a great impact in Native communities, such as American Indian Policy Institute’s Indigenous Leadership Academy and the Labriola National American Indian Data Center. These are just a handful of incredible programs that ASU has committed to. I made the choice to join the ASU Foundation because I want to see these programs flourish. I believe in their collective mission to strengthen Indigenous communities through higher education and research.Q: What have you been up to in this role?A: When I joined, I was tasked with four goals:Develop a comprehensive strategy to increase engagement with tribal communities nationwide.Build a case for support to identify funding priorities.Identify and engage with tribes that have a history of philanthropic giving.Build out a portfolio.I began by evaluating the value systems of tribes. If you're looking at wealth through an Indigenous lens, the value system is distinct. It comes down to the health of the people, the family, the community and the nation. The gauge of wealth is not how much you can acquire, but how much you can distribute back to your people. By linking philanthropy back to the cultural ideology of generosity and resource distribution, it can then be discussed not only as a privilege but also as a responsibility.Being cognizant that Indigenous value systems are historic and sacred in nature while acknowledging that philanthropy is not anything new to tribal nations is the approach I am encouraging at the foundation. Over the summer and into the autumn season, I’ve engaged in hundreds of conversations about this with my colleagues. And I’ve worked with various teams to craft messaging for Native American Heritage Month that will help guide internal and external communication about how tribal nations are contributing to the strength of ASU. To meet the goals that have been set out for me, I plan to expand the visibility of Indigenous excellence at ASU; increase program stability by securing multiyear programmatic and operational funding for Native American serving programs and initiatives; and build out a support network that will strengthen relationships and expand partnerships with Native American tribes, leaders and enterprises. It’s a big task, but it’s a task that I’m excited to take on. I am assured knowing that I am not alone because I have the support of the foundation behind me, as well as the backing of the Native American staff and faculty on the university side who’ve been amazing to work with over the past few months. Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?A: If anything I said resonates with the readers of this interview, I’d like to encourage them to reach out to me. I am here at the Tempe main campus. I am motivated to make a meaningful impact here at Arizona State University and I am committed to bringing in philanthropic support for the Native community here at the university. There are many ways to give, to donate, to collaborate, to partner. So let’s talk over coffee about how we can fund the important work being done at ASU!]]>
Portrait of ASU grad Kevin Sinwelski.

ASU Online grad sets sights on career in computational biochemical research

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.It was during high school that Kevin Sinwelski became interested in medicine. But he wanted to know more than just what it does — he wanted to know how it works.This December, the Clearwater, Florida, resident will graduate with a BS in biochemistry from the School of Molecular Sciences (SMS) as part of Arizona State University’s world-class online degree program.Part of Sinwelski's scholarly success is due to the Online Undergraduate Research Scholars (OURS) program, developed by The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and EdPlus at ASU to address the pressing challenge of offering quality research opportunities to ASU Online students. Through the program, he has been working with Assistant Professor Matthias Heyden, and by all accounts is doing a fantastic job.“For our computational research project, Kevin has quickly automated all processes required to run and analyze simulations of protein complexes,” Heyden said. “In fact, he completed all of his assignments so quickly that it was clear I needed to define more advanced problems for him to work on.”Sinwelski is currently developing a software tool that simplifies the interpretation of the data generated by the entire group of participating students. What he has done so far has exceeded all of Heyden’s expectations, and he is very curious to see what Sinwelski will do next. Sinwelski in turn said, “I am very grateful for the OURS program; I have had some amazing experiences that I thought would not be possible as an online student. I am glad to be part of professor Heyden's group.”Question:  What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?Answer: I became incredibly interested in how medicines work while I was in high school. I wanted to know, for example, what insulin does beyond the very general description of lowering blood glucose. I wanted to know what makes a particular string of atoms do what they do and how they do it. My “aha” moment came when I saw that there is a pattern with some medicines and their effect — the structure-activity relationship — and that we can target specific proteins to elicit a desired response. Ever since, I’ve wanted to be on the cutting edge of knowledge in biochemistry; I want to find out more and push the boundaries in terms of how we approach medicine.Q:  What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?A: I was a writing mentor in 2022 (sort of a TA for first-year composition courses) and had some experiences that changed how I approach working with others. Being in that position exposed me to a lot of unique perspectives in terms of identifying problems in a community and proposing solutions (part of the coursework), which changed my perspective on what successful projects consist of. The experience showed me how to help students convey their point of view without altering it in any way; allowing them to retain agency over their own work is the most important thing in being a writing mentor. Prior to this experience, I may have been more likely to assert my own approach to a project.Q:  Why did you choose ASU?A: I initially planned to continue working in the trades full time while earning my BS in biochemistry, so I took advantage of the online program. I then wanted to transfer as an on-campus student for the semester I started, but that was spring 2020 and was not an option at the time. I stayed with the online biochemistry program because it affords me the flexibility to work anywhere. I can visit with family across the country without missing any coursework, and I think that is a very attractive benefit to the online program. Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?A: For the single most important lesson I learned at ASU, I have to give that credit to Dr. McElhoes, who teaches philosophy courses. I took PHI 334 – Philosophy of Mind in fall 2022 as an elective. It was a course that I thought would be an easy and interesting upper division humanities elective. I was wrong about the “easy” part — it was a definite challenge — but it was very interesting and full of considerations that stuck with me. The main lesson I picked up from Dr. McElhoes and the course was how to challenge assumptions and approach contention or debate in a more logically rigorous way. This is a course I would recommend to anyone, regardless of their major.Q:  What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?A: Make a study schedule. Don’t make one so restrictive that it’s difficult to maintain. A schedule is supposed to make everything easier, not to put you in a position where you have no room for anything else. Dedicate a few hours to studying outside of class and leave the rest of the day open. If you have to move those study hours around, do it, but make sure you’re consistent with the amount of time you study every day.Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?A: There is usually no place better than at my own desk. I have my space set up in a way that I have everything I need to make studying as efficient as possible. If I’m having trouble concentrating at home, my local library has study rooms available that minimize distractions. They’re also great places to take proctored exams if you can get a private room.Q:  What are your plans after graduation?A: I hope to get into grad school and start a biochemistry PhD. My long-term goal is to get into research, particularly computational research in biochemistry. I would like to use simulations to develop synthetic enzymes and discover ideal ligands for protein targets. Anything I could do to advance our understanding of biomolecular machinery is work I am looking to get involved in.Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?A: With $40 million, I would hope to address the problem of plastic waste. I would research methods by which plastic waste can be broken down enzymatically and develop methods for the mass production of these enzymes. Modifications to an enzyme called PETase can already do this for some plastics, but I would aim to find methods by which its action can work at lower temperatures and perform degradation faster.]]>
Portrait of ASU grad Staçia Meconiates.

Herberger Institute grad reimagines how to play instruments following rare diagnosis

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.When Staçia Meconiates was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, a genetic collagen disorder that affects their ligaments, tendons and heart valves, it impacted their previous experience in music performance. “It has prevented me from being able to play traditional acoustic instruments, so my thesis work has focused on creating interactive multimedia that is accessible to those with disabilities,” Meconiates said. “I hope to encourage creativity and joy in interactive multimedia experiences as the field is rapidly evolving and coming into its own. Accessibility isn’t always at the forefront of multimedia design, and this is something that I’m hoping to change.”Meconiates will graduate this fall from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts with a degree in interdisciplinary digital media (IDM) composition from the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the School of Music, Dance and Theatre.  They discovered the interdisciplinary digital media composition program at ASU after learning the potentials that exist in interdisciplinary studies based on previous experiences. Their passion for music and coding began in high school through leading a robotics club and being the music arranger for both marching band and pit orchestra. These experiences led them to pursue opportunities to combine these fields.“When I was searching for graduate programs at ASU, I saw the IDM program and realized I could create virtual and interactive instruments, which drove me to apply,” they said. “Since being accepted, my work has primarily focused on designing for folks who use a wheelchair. After my mom had a stroke, she was paralyzed on her right side, and a lot of her house just wasn’t accessible. I wanted to make the world accessible to all.”Meconiates said when their mom passed, they were working on building instruments via 3D printing and metalworking. “Eventually, my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome led me to look further at accessibility in developing instruments that use a gyroscope or accelerometer sensor technology,” they said. “This technology is available to almost everyone at this point, as smart watches and phones come pre-installed with it.”Meconiates will continue to develop interactive experiences that are accessible to all and wants to bring awareness to designers to consider the perspective of someone in a wheelchair or with less mobility. “Right now, I'm doing some freelancing audiovisual design and operation work that I'm in the process of expanding,” they said. “I've also been in talks with a few people at Ability 360 and throughout the state about accessible interactive multimedia for some new builds. Interactive experiences are a pretty new field, and I've noticed that not a lot of people are thinking about accessibility within it right now. That's something that I'm focused on changing. I'm hoping longer term to get into theme park interactivity design, especially for making pre-ride attractions more accessible.”During their time at ASU, Meconiates received several scholarships, including the Music, Dance and Theatre Special Talent Scholarship, the Eirene Peggy Lamb Music Award, the Knowledge Mobilization Award an­­d the ASU Graduate College Scholarship.­­ Video of Saguaro Sounds Contemporary Concert: Mugic&Motion Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?Answer: I've been designing and building things my entire life. In high school, it was incredibly difficult to choose if I was going to major in music composition or electric engineering. I chose music composition, but throughout my undergrad was that annoying comp student who detunes all the pianos and starts sticking bits of metal into them. When I found out ASU had the IDM program, it was a perfect fit for me to combine my love of sound and my love of engineering. Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?A: It's not exactly academic, but learning how to ask for help and realizing that usually people are happy to provide it has really changed my perspective on a lot. I wouldn't be graduating this semester if I hadn't sat down with my professors and admin and made a plan of how I was going to do this. I've had a lot of personal struggles, and it was positively surprising to see how many people were willing to help me at my pace. It wasn't something I was really good at when I first got here, and it led to me having to explain some situations to professors that had really snowballed by the time I let them know something was wrong. There were a couple times when the first time I let someone know that I needed help was after I had injured myself trying to do it myself without assistance. It also taught me how to respectfully handle people who weren't willing to accommodate. Learning how to close out a relationship without burning bridges was a very important lesson to learn. Q: Why did you choose ASU?A: It was a combination of the weather, the size of the school, the facilities and the faculty. I was looking for a larger school with more resources, and when I met the music faculty here, I knew this was the place for me. Plus, I never have to shovel snow! Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?A: I've learnt a lot from every professor I've worked with here, even some who I didn't really personally jive with. There's actually been two professors I'd like to highlight. My thesis chair, Alex Temple, was the one who really taught me the ability to admit when I'm not going to be able to do something, and how to ask for help. She's been entirely amazing about dealing with me needing to do a lot of meetings remotely due to health flare-ups. She's also got a wicked sense of humor and real knack for satire. And Laura Cechanowicz taught me how to be open about being disabled. Before meeting her, I had never actually had a professor who was open about needing mobility aids and environmental adaptations. Having a mentor be open about how she's able to handle her disabilities in a way that allows her to still create and run projects has been deeply inspiring. Both those lessons were pretty intertwined for me, and they were both lessons I needed.Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school?A: Remember to balance learning and doing as much as you can with burnout, and learn how to politely say no. If you take every single opportunity, you run the risk of doing none of them very well. Focus on what opportunities you can take on without impacting your other work, whether it be academic or personal. And make time for the people you love.Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?A: There's a bathroom in the third sublevel of the music building that looks like a janitorial closet and where no one can hear you cry. It was very handy at times. Engrained Cafe in the Memorial Union is also a great spot; I've set up there for hours to get work done.Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?A: I'd put it towards tackling the crisis with our mental health system. There's a lot of people who need longer-term, in-patient care that our system fails by endlessly looping them through 72-hour holds that do very little for them. A large percentage of our housing-insecure, unhoused and incarcerated are victims of the short-term 5150 hold cycle. There's very little we can currently do to help people with complex mental health issues that would very likely benefit from longer-term, in-patient care and stabilization, as many of them refuse any sort of assistance or treatment. My father is one of these people, and he refuses to accept any of the help my brother and I have been able to safely offer in the past. These are people who may be unable to function within our structured society, but they still deserve compassionate care and a safe and secure space. It's a really complex issue that impacts our incarceration and homelessness statistics that very few people talk about.]]>
Man in a U.S. Air Force uniform seated next to a young child.

Native vet to focus on tribal health with global health master’s degree

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.Charles Yellow Horse served in the United States Air Force for eight years and then turned to ASU Online for his higher education. Yellow Horse obtained his Bachelor of Science in 2021, and this semester he is graduating with a Master of Science in global health from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. “The decision to study global health with a focus on tribal health was a culmination of life experiences that go back to my upbringing on the Navajo Reservation to my time in the United States Air Force and now as a graduate student,” Yellow Horse said. “Each time in my life, health was significantly present. I experienced traditional and spiritual remedies for a number of ailments on the Navajo Reservation; in the Air Force, consistent physical readiness was a priority in order to meet the demanding work environment; and as a student, my overall health was important, as well as the health of my family.”Yellow Horse is the recipient of the Fall 2023 University Outstanding Graduate Award for Social Sciences. He was also awarded the Northwest Native American Research Center for Health (NW NARCH) Support Fellowship for his research work with Native Health of Phoenix's Helping Hands program.ASU News talked with Yellow Horse about his experiences as a student. Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity. Question: Why did you choose ASU for your degree?Answer: As a non-traditional student, there were many reasons I chose to study at Arizona State University. ... As a husband and father and United States Air Force veteran, I took into account my commitments. ASU offered dedicated support for all aspects of my life, which I was overly excited to discover. The online platform made it much easier to be present to support my family, the American Indian Student Support Services supported me academically as well as culturally, and the Pat Tillman Veterans Center has been a supportive organization for my efforts as a military member through offering community building and recognition of service at events.Q: Did you participate in any internships or labs?A: I am currently completing my internship for my global health MS degree with Native Health's Helping Hands program. I am currently serving as a community resources navigator, aiding community members and their families to find resources that address their social needs, like employment, food, financial assistance, education and housing. This program looks to reduce the health inequity gap by providing referrals to address social determinants of health. I also conducted a program evaluation for the Helping Hands program with the goal of discovering ways to improve the program to help facilitate getting community members in contact with the resources they need.Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?A: While at ASU, I was impressed by how much support I received when I had not thought to ask or thought I needed it. The consistent support from faculty and staff really enabled me to succeed in my academic journey at ASU.Q: Which professor/course taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?A: I feel as though I have learned meaningful and perspective-altering lessons in each of my courses. Although the course that I value a lot is ASB 526: Survey Topics in Global Nutrition, taught by Assistant Research Scientist Roseanne Schuster. This course allowed me to research in depth about food sovereignty, which is an especially important topic for Native Americans, including myself and Indigenous people around the world. Schuster’s teaching method of hosting initiative-taking discussions via an online platform called Perusall really allowed for me to grow my perspective and complete concrete research work on traditional food systems as a means to reducing food insecurity among Indigenous peoples.Q: What are your plans after graduation?A: I am currently navigating many pathways going forward as I search for a position, but one goal I will pursue is giving back to the Native American, veteran and student communities that have supported me in my academic journey.]]>
Portrait of ASU grad Piper Heiligenstein.

International travel, research highlights of December grad’s ASU experience

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.Piper Heiligenstein’s undergraduate experience at Arizona State University was a combination of academics, adventure, prestigious research opportunities and personal autonomy.Heiligenstein will graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a certificate in biomedical research from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and honors from Barrett, The Honors College at ASU.She took her first-ever international trip to Germany as the recipient of the DAAD RISE scholarship in the summer of 2022, where she was an intern at Kiel University working as a laboratory research assistant all week and traveling to neighboring countries on weekends.“The most interesting moment in my ASU career was in the summer of 2022 when I traveled and lived across the ocean by myself for a summer for the DAAD RISE scholarship,” said Heiligenstein, who is from Trenton, Illinois.“It was so interesting for me since it was my first time traveling and living alone out of the country. The experience really challenged me in terms of independence, but I was able to meet some really cool people who I still keep in touch with today,” she said.Heiligenstein followed up her experience in Germany with the Fulbright-MITACS Globalink Research Internship program over the summer of 2023 at McGill University, an English-language public research university located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where she spent 12 weeks studying genomics and DNA replication.As a Barrett student, she completed an honors thesis titled “Deciphering the Essentiality of the Mycobacterium smegmatis PrrAB Two Component System.”“I believe completing an honors thesis is a huge advantage on graduate school applications. The undergraduate honors thesis process gave me insight into how my future thesis defense process might look like and I also think showing you have tangible experience presenting and defending your own independent work is a key thing graduate admission offices look for,” said Heiligenstein, who plans to pursue a PhD in biomedical sciences with a focus on infectious diseases.As Heiligenstein, who was an ASU President’s Scholar, wraps up her last undergraduate semester, we asked her to reflect on her time 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: There was really no exact moment when I decided to study biological sciences, but I always enjoyed my biology classes in high school the most out of all my classes.Q: Why did you choose ASU?A: I chose Arizona State since I wanted to escape the Midwest cold weather and my father graduated from ASU with a bachelor’s degree in English back in 1988.Q: Why did you choose to be in Barrett Honors College?A: After I got accepted into Arizona State, I took a tour of the campus and met with then-Barrett Honors College Dean Mark Jacobs. I was really impressed by the college and the guidance and resources the school provided students.Being a Barrett student enhanced my undergraduate experience by making a massive university feel a lot more like home. I'm from a pretty small town, and Barrett had a community atmosphere I would have missed if I did not join the college. I met almost all of my friends through Barrett.Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? What was that lesson?A: The professor at ASU that taught me the most important lesson is Dr. Susan Holechek, assistant teaching professor in the School of Life Sciences. She taught me that genetics is more than just studying pea plants and inheritance, which led me to working in a microbiology/genetics lab.Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?A: The best piece of advice I can give to those still in school is don’t be too hard on yourself because everyone around you is just figuring it out as they go as well.Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?A: The Sun Devil Fitness Complex is my favorite spot on campus because I used to work at Shake Smart and I played intramural volleyball for three years.Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?A: If someone gave me $40 million to solve one problem, I would create a nonprofit organization with the purpose of tackling antibiotic resistance, specifically through funding projects related to phage therapy and antibiotic residue in water supplies.]]>
Woman smiling.

From French literature to the lab: Biochem grad finds true passion in synthetic biology

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.Bethany Kolbaba Kartchner is by all accounts a true Renaissance woman. She has a master's degree in French literature and is about to graduate from ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences with a PhD in biochemistry.But before her journey started at ASU, when she decided she wanted a science degree, it had been more than 10 years since she had completed the basic science classes necessary to enroll in a graduate program. In addition, she had a family who needed her. Kartchner spent a month researching ASU's biochemistry programs, strategizing how she could take classes and still be the primary caretaker of her children.“It was very important to me that their lives would not be affected by my new pursuit,” stated Kartchner. “I enrolled in one online class at Rio Salado every four months until I had taken all the necessary classes they offered. Then, I took higher-level, in-person classes and labs at Mesa Community College because they had an excellent preschool program for my youngest child. Once I had taken all of the classes I could at the community college level, I applied to ASU to complete my second bachelor’s degree, in biochemistry.”When Kartchner came to ASU, she was incredibly nervous. The school seemed so big, and she wasn't sure she’d be accepted as a nontraditional student, as most of her classmates were decades younger than her.“I needn't have worried,” explained Kartchner. “Everyone was very welcoming, and the professors were incredibly accessible. I quickly found study partners and settled into a nice routine.”One of her professors, Marcia Levitus, took a special interest in Kartchner and helped her to hone her interests and identify a lab where she could gain experience to apply to the doctoral program. She found a position in Professor Jeremy Mills’ lab working with proteins. She was especially attracted to professor Mills' work due to the range in research — from designing proteins on a computer to putting the gene that encodes that protein into E. coli, characterizing the protein and solving its structure using X-ray crystallography.“His lab really does everything and I've been fortunate to gain experience in all aspects of the protein design workflow,” said Kartchner.“In the laboratory, Beth was far more than simply an excellent researcher,” said Mills. “Rather, Beth served as a manager, mentor and confidant to her colleagues — and at times her advisor — and was always incredibly generous with her time.“Beth was often the first person I would introduce new students to because I was certain that she would make them feel welcome in the laboratory regardless of their experience or background,” Mills continued. “As much as I’d like to have Beth in the laboratory still, I am so excited that she has moved on to bigger and better things. I can say without hesitation that having Beth in our laboratory for the last few years has shaped how we do things in ways that will continue for years to come. I am so grateful to Beth that she gave me the privilege of being able to work with and learn from her.”During 2021, Kartchner worked remotely for Moderna in the Computational Sciences and Molecular Engineering Division, where she implemented the Rosetta RNA tertiary structure prediction platform.Editor's note: Answers may have been edited for length or clarity.Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?Answer: I was driving my children to their activities and listening to Science Friday on NPR. Ira Flatow, the host, was interviewing J. Craig Venter about his book "Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life." In the interview, they discussed a field that was completely new to me — synthetic biology, which is basically reengineering biology for human purposes. I was immediately intrigued and I knew that I wanted to become proficient in this field.Preparing to come to ASU took me about four years. I studied every weekday from 4–6 a.m. while the children slept, and on Sunday afternoons, I would go to the public library from 1–5 p.m. When we went on family vacations, I kept up my regime, often studying in closets because they were the only place where turning on a light wouldn't wake the family. I have a very special memory of studying biology in a closet in an Airbnb in Nevada. I was learning about ribosomes and how they translate mRNA into proteins, and this feeling of complete joy swept over me. I absolutely loved what I was doing. It was so exciting to learn about the world.Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?A: I expected my graduate work to challenge me academically, so when I struggled with an abstract concept, that didn't surprise me. What I didn't expect was that graduate work would challenge me personally. I didn't know that the struggles that I would go through would change the way I see myself and my world. I've become a much stronger person and a much more critical thinker because of my studies at ASU.Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?A: School is hard and can be overwhelming at times. Break down big projects into smaller steps and work on them methodically. All the small daily steps move you closer to your goals.Q: What advice would you give anyone who is contemplating taking on a big project or working toward a long-term goal?A: Don't be afraid of really long-term goals. When I was 36 and contemplating whether I should pursue my doctorate degree in biochemistry, I knew that the path would be long and that I would be 47 years old when I finished. Initially, that thought was very daunting. However, I knew that eventually, I would be 47 and I'd either be 47 with a doctorate or 47 without one. I decided that I wanted to be 47 with a doctorate so I got started.Q: What are your plans after graduation?A: I'm working as a scientist of computational biology for a biotech startup (FL83) in the Flagship Pioneering ecosystem based in Boston. I work remotely and travel to Boston every few months to work on site. I love what I'm doing.]]>
Jeri Sasser smiles at the camera

Psychology trailblazer leaves legacy of mentorship, research excellence

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.Jeri Sasser’s journey into psychology was fueled by a genuine desire to help others. As she nears the completion of her PhD in psychology at ASU, specializing in developmental psychology, Sasser remains committed to both her passion for research and supporting others in their academic pursuits. Hailing from Austin, Texas, where she was born, and having grown up in Edmond, Oklahoma, Sasser ventured to Athens, Georgia, for her undergraduate degree. She made Tempe, Arizona, her home in 2019 when she began her doctoral program at ASU and quickly involved herself in the psychology community, collecting accolades for her service and scholarly achievements. Awards include the Department of Psychology’s Samuel Leifheit Memorial Citizenship Award and the Graduate Professional Student Association’s (GPSA) Teaching Excellence Award in 2021. Sasser has also been recognized with the GPSA’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion award, the Department of Psychology’s Doctoral Scholar Award, the department’s Outstanding Writing in Psychology award and the Student Leader for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Award in 2022, among several other prestigious awards. Notably, she is also the recipient of the 2023 Harry Lowell Swift Advancing Health Scholarship and the National Institute of Drug Abuse T32 Predoctoral Fellowship.A defining moment for Sasser was her involvement in the Department of Psychology’s ENERGIZE Research Initiative. Sasser launched the ENERGIZE Mentorship Initiative, a sub-program designed to guide underrepresented undergraduate students in STEM in navigating research assistantships. Her proposal uniquely paired every ENERGIZE applicant with current graduate students, creating personalized mentorship experiences.Speaking on the initiative, Sasser notes that many students lack prior knowledge about entering research or the resources to prepare for the competitive process of becoming a research assistant. “The ENERGIZE Mentorship Initiative aimed to promote students’ engagement, competence and confidence in a research setting.”Sasser’s impactful program has mentored over 250 students, complemented by a research methods course she co-established at ASU. Her contributions extend to uncovering vital findings supporting the transition of Latino students to college life. As a lead graduate student researcher in the Adolescent Stress and Emotion Lab, Sasser played a crucial role in the Transciones project, a longitudinal study funded by the William T. Grant Foundation examining the daily stress experiences and health behaviors of ASU Latino students and how it impacted their academic achievement and integration into college. Sasser is graduating ASU having published 10 first-author research papers, contributing to seven more as a co-author. She reflects on her doctoral journey and shares more about her calling to create a positive impact within her community below.Professor and Associate Chair of ASU’s Department of Psychology Leah Doane (left) served as Sasser’s faculty advisor during her pursuit of a PhD in psychology with a specialization in developmental psychology. Courtesy photoQuestion: Why did you choose ASU?Answer: I knew ASU had one of the strongest quantitative psychology programs and there were multiple faculty members with expertise in areas that were central to my current and future research interests, but I ultimately chose ASU because of its culture. The program felt very close-knit and cooperative, rather than competitive. Graduate students got along with one another and seemed to form genuine friendships, and faculty members often collaborated on research projects. It was really important that I chose an interdisciplinary and supportive environment to complete my PhD, given that I would be dedicating the next five to six years in this community. Choosing ASU was the best decision I could have made, and I truly believe that this is where I was supposed to be.Q: Can you share more about your doctoral dissertation?A: My dissertation is a combination of three published papers that explored the influence of family members such as parents and siblings, as well as broader aspects of the family context, like dynamics and values, on adolescent sleep. The central findings emphasized that adolescent sleep is significantly influenced by the family environment and cannot be fully understood without considering this context. The aim of this research collection is to shed light on how families can support better sleep during adolescence, addressing the notable sleep-related challenges this age group encounters. My hope is that this work guides future research directions and informs intervention and prevention strategies to enhance sleep health and overall well-being during adolescence. These papers were published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, the Journal of Research on Adolescence and Sleep Medicine.Q: You’re leaving ASU with 17 publications under your belt — what does this accomplishment mean to you?A: (Laughs) As cliché as it sounds, that is just a number and doesn’t do justice to the time and effort invested in these papers by folks other than myself. To me, this really goes to show the power of collaboration and relationship-building. These publications are the result of collaborations with teams both within and outside of ASU, including the Arizona Twin Project, the Youth Development Institute, the ASU Biodesign Institute and ASU Counseling Services. These diverse collaborations not only helped me learn more about the topics that we were studying, but also made the journey more fulfilling, working alongside others with a shared interest and similar goals. So I guess the short answer is that this perceived productivity is really just a testament to the collaborative spirit that drives impactful research.Q: Could you share an instance or story that illustrates the impact of a specific professor or mentor during your time at ASU?A: My doctoral advisor, Dr. Leah Doane, has significantly influenced my experience at ASU. When my original mentor unexpectedly retired in the first semester of my PhD, Dr. Doane readily agreed to take me on as a student. This is a big deal! Many professors spend years preparing to take a new student and don’t do so lightly (after all, it is a five-to-six-year relationship they are committing to). This is just one example of how Dr. Doane has always had my best interest at heart. She cared about me as a person and helped me in achieving my goals, even when they did not align with the traditional outcomes of the program. Based on my experiences, as well as others in the lab, several graduate students and I nominated her for an Outstanding Faculty Mentor award.Q: Could you elaborate on any specific experiential learning opportunities that significantly influenced your academic and personal growth?A: This past summer, I completed an internship at Google as a user experience researcher, where I gained insights into the role’s demands and expectations, drawing from my background in psychology. Working with the Pixel hardware team, I learned how to lead end-to-end concept testing, usability studies and foundational research, conduct product synthesis and market literature reviews, and collaborate effectively with cross-functional stakeholders such as those working on Android and Fitbit. Leveraging my psychology background, I contributed to initiatives broadly related to user health and well-being. For example, I supported the launch of the Pixel 8 Pro temperature sensor, a feature with the potential to significantly impact health and wellness. I’m really proud of the contributions I made during my time at Google, and I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow within such a collaborative, inclusive and forward-thinking community.ASU doctoral psychology student Jeri Sasser completed an internship as a user experience researcher at Google, where she supported the launch of the Pixel 8 Pro temperature sensor. Courtesy photoQ: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?A: The biggest advice I have is to continuously listen to yourself and what makes you excited, and not be afraid to pivot or explore new options. I think as students it’s easy to get stuck in overthinking what the “correct” pathway is or feel the need to take the traditional route because that is what most of those before us have done. But in reality, the “best” path looks different for everyone, because we all have different strengths, values, goals and personal situations. The moment that I started noticing what I had the most fun doing, and tapping into what some of my natural strengths were, the future became a lot more exciting to me (as opposed to stressful or scary). And we all deserve to be excited about the future!Q: Can you share more about your plans after graduation?A: I will be starting a full-time job as a user experience researcher at EdPlus at ASU. I’m excited about contributing to the innovative work at EdPlus, expanding access to high quality education and enhancing students’ learning experiences. I’ll primarily be working on ASU Online, which hosts the nation’s fourth-best online psychology program and is one of the most popular ASU Online majors. I’m optimistic that my work will contribute to the field by reducing barriers to higher education and improving learning outcomes for current and prospective students.]]>
Olivia Maras smiles at the camera.

Graduating psychology student examines developmental pathways to healthy love

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.Olivia Maras studies romantic relationships; she aims to understand how to promote healthy relationships through adolescence to adulthood. This December, she’ll earn a master’s degree in passing as she continues her pursuit of a PhD in psychology with a specialization in developmental psychology at Arizona State University.Originally from the small town of Blair, Nebraska, Maras’ interest in relationship dynamics began during her undergraduate days at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she served in a psychology lab that explored the marital dyad through structured interviews with family members.“Conducting these interviews really sparked my interest in studying romantic relationships, as I saw firsthand how integral they were to so many other aspects of their well-being and parenting. I also saw how impactful and important quality research is to answering important questions,” Maras said. “I knew I wanted to continue my research journey, and a PhD in psychology was the next natural step!”In addition to her doctoral research in Associate Professor Thao Ha’s Healthy Experiences Across Relationships and Transitions (@Heart) Lab, Maras is an advocate for inclusivity, actively contributing to ASU’s Department of Psychology through teaching, mentoring and spearheading the graduate student-led initiative Amplified Voices.We caught up with Maras to learn more about her research, her decision to attend ASU and her plans for the future. Question: Why did you choose ASU?Answer: I chose ASU for many reasons, but my primary reason was the wonderful, supportive community in the Department of Psychology. I could tell, even from my interviews, that the graduate students and faculty were there to support and uplift each other. This has held true, three years in! I also chose ASU for the robust research program and research opportunities. Learning from the amazing and accomplished faculty at ASU has deepened my learning experiences and pushed my research to new heights.Q: Can you share more about your master’s thesis?A: My thesis utilized a longitudinal research sample to investigate whether experiencing harmful, negative parenting dynamics in adolescence is associated with increased risk for involvement in intimate partner violence in adulthood. I also wanted to understand whether having a healthy, positive and prosocial friendship in adolescence could lower the risk of being involved in intimate partner violence in adulthood, particularly for those who experienced harmful parenting in adolescence. I found that, indeed, having positive, prosocial peer friendships in adolescence were important in lowering the risk of future intimate partner violence. I hope that this research inspires intervention and prevention programs to invest in the promotion of healthy, positive peer friendships in adolescence as it may protect against future harmful romantic relationship behaviors.Q: Could you share an instance or story that illustrates the impact of a specific professor or mentor during your time at ASU?A: My advisor, Dr. Thao Ha, has been instrumental in my success as a graduate student. She is endlessly encouraging and believes in me and my abilities to make an impact as a researcher. One example that comes to mind is when I first started graduate school. In my first month in the program, Thao encouraged me to submit an abstract to the Society for Research on Adolescence (SRA) conference, even though I had just started and had no idea what I wanted to study. She pushed me to step out of my comfort zone and trust myself as a new researcher. I was accepted to the conference and had an amazing time presenting my research at SRA in New Orleans!Q: Are there any experiential learning opportunities that have significantly influenced your academic and personal growth during your time at ASU?A: My involvement in Amplified Voices: A Conversation and Action Series has been incredibly rewarding. Amplified Voices is a graduate student-led project in the Department of Psychology, aiming to provide a platform that honors and celebrates racial and ethnic minority scholars and underrepresented voices. The project also challenges current ideas and practices within psychology research. So far, we have held seven successful events, bringing in speakers to discuss a range of crucial topics. These include equity in the classroom, historical silences that shape current social stratification, experiences of being Black in academia’s “ivory tower,” racism in health care, approaches to Indigenous quantitative methods and behavioral genetic approaches to study race-related dynamics. I currently hold the role of project manager, leading a team of four graduate students to execute these events and ensure the success of the project. I love having the opportunity to inspire our community to engage with these critical ideas and calls to action.Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?A: My advice is to be kind to yourself and give yourself more credit than you think you deserve. Just getting into graduate school is a huge accomplishment and means that you are exactly where you need to be. Remember that you deserve to be there. As I’m still in school as a PhD student, I am still trying to take my own advice! Also, finding your community is critical to your personal success as an academic and researcher. Building a strong community to support you and uplift you in difficult times is one of the most important tasks of graduate school.Q: What was your favorite space on campus, whether studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?A: My favorite space on campus is the secret garden, in the southwest corner of Dixie Gammage Hall. I love the greenery, beautiful landscaping and quiet surroundings. Another runner-up is the Life Sciences A Wing, where you can find many live reptiles, including snakes and turtles, along the hallway! Q: How do you envision your future work contributing to the field of psychology?A: After I get my PhD, I am unsure of where I will land. I know that I want to pursue a career in research and help improve people’s lives in some way. Stay tuned for what this looks like, whether it is a career in industry in user experience research, nonprofit work, government policymaking or academia!Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle? A: As a psychology student, I must note that this is an impossible question to answer, as there are so many aspects of our lives that are interconnected. So solving one problem just means there are still many more to solve. However, I am passionate about preventing intimate partner violence and dating abuse, so I would tackle this issue. To do so, however, we need to target parenting, peer dynamics, socio-economic status, sex and relationship education in schools, and so much more! Additionally, I would bring more awareness towards the issue of digital dating violence, which is a new frontier in dating abuse research. With technological advancements and social media, harmful relationship behaviors aren’t just happening in person anymore. Understanding relationship dynamics and how they intersect with technology is a crucial next step in research. Overall, I would spend this money on promoting healthy, positive and constructive relationship skills and dynamics, starting as early as childhood and continuing into adulthood.]]>
Meghna Chowdury smiles at the camera.

Dean’s Medalist explores legal field through psychology studies

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.Named the Arizona State University Department of Psychology’s fall 2023 Dean’s Medalist awardee, Meghna Chowdhury has emerged as a star student. She’s passionate about shaping public policy for juvenile justice, and has her sights set on law school. Chowdhury’s academic journey has been punctuated by pivotal moments of self-discovery.“I decided that I wanted to pursue a degree in psychology during my second semester at ASU. I was taking PSY 101, the first psychology course I’d ever taken. Before then, I really didn't know what psychology was about. I was so captivated by that class, and I wanted to learn more about human behavior, so I changed my major from biomedical science to psychology,” Chowdhury said.Originally from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, Chowdhury is graduating this December with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a certificate in law and human behavior. She received the Deborah Oldfield Reich and John Reich Maroon and Gold Leaders Scholarship, along with her merit-based ASU scholarship. During her time at ASU, Chowdhury participated in Project Excellence — a partnership between Barrett, The Honors College and ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law that exposed students to law courses and faculty members. She took a public interest litigation course and pursued a research position studying electronic incarceration (e-carceration) technologies in the Anti-Racist Digital Health Futures Lab. Her various experiences culminated in an honors thesis project that examined jury instructions and its effect on Christian and Jewish jurors' beliefs on sentencing verdicts of inchoate crimes.We caught up with Chowdhury to learn more about her ASU experience and future plans.Question: Why did you choose ASU?Answer: It was always my dream to attend somewhere warm, especially coming from Colorado. I loved how ASU offered me the duality of a smaller department for my major while still being able to take advantage of the large university atmosphere. It was also a draw that I got to explore Phoenix, experiencing a brand-new city and meeting new friends along the way.Q: What is something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?A: During the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I participated in a study-abroad internship program in London, U.K. While there, I worked for the Exit Foundation, a grassroots organization dedicated to helping youth involved in the criminal justice system. I was able to see the importance of mentorship and how the community in London came together to achieve their collective goal of ending youth violence. It completely opened my mind to a whole world I felt passionate about and ultimately inspired me to attend law school.Q: Could you share an instance or story that illustrates the impact of a specific professor or mentor during your time at ASU?A: I have been a part of Dr. Rick Cruz’s CACTUS Lab for two years now, where I learned the importance of advocating for improved prevention and intervention efforts for diverse youth and their families. I always love going into his lab because of the warm atmosphere it fosters. Dr. Cruz has played a huge role in my academic career, and I know that I can go to him with anything I need, regardless of whether it is school-related. He truly promotes mental health and deeply cares for every one of his students. Q: What were the results of your honors thesis sequence?A: I hypothesized that Christians and Jewish people will view jury instructions the same when given jury instructions, and that Christians will judge inchoate crimes more harshly than Jewish people when not given jury instructions. My results indicated that Christians judge inchoate crimes more harshly than Jewish people, but there was no effect of jury instructions on judgment. Christians who were presented with jury instructions gave the defendant a longer prison sentence in years compared to Jewish participants who received jury instructions. On the other hand, Christian and Jewish participants who did not receive jury instructions gave a similar length of prison sentence in years.  Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?A: I would tell every incoming first-year student to take a chance and try one new thing. Some of my favorite memories were created by simply saying “yes.” For example, I tried intramural beach volleyball during my first year, even though I hadn’t played before. From that experience, I learned a new skill and even met one of my best friends!Q: What was your favorite space on campus, whether studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?A: For the last three years, I have loved the outdoor patio behind Hayden Library. It stays shady all day and is a great, quiet place to escape from the constant bustle of campus. An added bonus is its close proximity to Starbucks, perfect for a mid-study-session pick-me-up.Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle? A: If I were given $40 million, I would reform the prison system in the United States. More specifically, I would invest that money in giving employees better pay, building more space that is safer and healthier for inmates, and providing more programs to inmates that assist them in the transition back to society, such as therapy, rehabilitation, education and other necessary life skills.]]>
Reya Adoni smiling with an outdoor setting behind her.

ASU community thanks donors during a dedicated week of gratitude

This week, Arizona State University is celebrating the donors who give their time, talent and treasure to support our community.The ASU Foundation organizes Sun Devil Gratitude Week for students, faculty and staff to thank donors for their generosity. The celebration started as a single-day event on National Philanthropy Day six years ago.Jessielyn Hirschl, associate director of donor relations at the ASU Foundation, said it’s essential to thank donors for their contributions. “ASU is doing so much amazing work, and none of it would be possible without the support of our donors and the passion of our students, faculty and staff,” she said. “It’s so important to show gratitude to all the people who make this community so special and encourage a continued commitment to building a better world.”Last year, ASU received contributions from over 107,000 donors. The ASU Foundation will use phone calls, text messages, emails and social media posts to connect with as many donors as possible during its Gratitude Week.Throughout the week, all ASU students and faculty are encouraged to celebrate donors, especially those who have benefited from their generosity.Tirupalavanam Ganesh is associate dean for outreach and student success and Tooker Professor for engineering education at ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. In his roles, Ganesh sees the impact of scholarship support on students firsthand.“I thank ASU donors for their continued support over these many years, which has allowed us to support engineering students as they earn a degree,” he said.Nicole Ponsart is an MFA student at the School of Art, where she works in ceramics. Support from donors has allowed Ponsart to secure the materials she needs to make larger pieces.“You’ve made it possible for me to continue my education and create a body of work that is meaningful and long-lasting,” Ponsart said of the donors who helped fund her education.Reya Adoni is an undergraduate studying economics at the W. P. Carey School of Business. Donor support helps her focus on school and devote time to campus involvement.“This has enabled me to focus on getting my degree while also giving me the time to really take part in my role as vice president for Women’s Club Soccer,” she said. “I’m really, really grateful.”These stories and countless others show the impact that donors have across ASU.“By having a special week that highlights gratitude, we can demonstrate its importance and foster a ‘gratitude mindset’ to inform our work and personal lives all year long,” Hirschl said.]]>
ASU professor and students pose for a group photo.

Empowering Indigenous communities on economic self-development

Every Indigenous community has its unique characteristics.Some communities embrace developing their land for enterprise or tourism to foster cultural exchange, while others adopt a more conservative stance regarding development.In either case, Hale works to empower Indigenous communities with the necessary tools and knowledge to achieve their objectives and align their development with their vision.Since joining ASU’s American Indian Studies program in 2005, Michelle Hale, who is Laguna, Chippewa, Odawa and a citizen of the Navajo Nation from Oak Springs, Arizona, has focused her teaching and research on Indigenous communities' economic and community development and governance.For Hale, development is essential in every community, but even more so for Indigenous communities looking to enhance the quality of life, preserve and maintain their culture, improve infrastructure, expand opportunity and assert more control over their land and resources.“Most of what I teach is in Indigenous planning and reservation economic development,” she said. “Our core course is Indian policy, which I enjoy because it is sort of an introductory class to a lot of the concepts I’ve been working on the last couple of years.”Hale’s coursework is grounded in lived experience, traditional knowledge and perspectives of American Indian people and organizations who do the work of community development on the ground.It connects to the unit's larger mission to educate students and the broader community about the history, experiences and issues facing Indigenous people and to create opportunities for community-based research.Hale and David Pijawka, professor emeritus in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, have worked together over the years to create a course in tribal community planning, which has bridged the gap between historical, cultural insights and practice from the two disciplines.“What I appreciate most is that the work is interdisciplinary across the university. It allows us to draw from the knowledge of different topics, tools and technology to brainstorm solutions to fit a common goal and to modify those approaches to be relevant to Indigenous communities,” Hale said.In Arizona, the combined efforts of American Indian Studies and the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning have helped support communities in the Navajo Nation in developing land use plans, updating older land use plans and supporting discussion and community education for economic development efforts and planning for new infrastructure projects.“Our approach, leveraged by the strengths of the two units, ensured that the planning process aligned with Indigenous community values,” said Jonathan Davis, an instructor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning said. “These efforts support tribal self-sufficiency by building planning capacity through bottom-up approaches.”“It’s about providing Navajo community leaders, members and support staff with the planning tools they need so they can tailor them to what is most important to them and the projects at hand,” Hale said. “These tools empower them to have greater control in terms of planning, land use and having a say in areas they don’t want to develop.”Kim Kanuho, a member of the Navajo Nation and president of Fourth World Design Group, recently came to Hale’s tribal community planning class to speak to students about the importance of tribal planning and how they can get involved.“As a tribal planner, our work is important because it includes Indigenizing the planning process and incorporating our tribal voices and cultural values into our tribal communities," Kanuho said. “I love working and co-creating the planning process with our tribal people who know their culture, land and communities best.Student engagement and community-based workMichelle HaleHale said that in past years, teaching Indigenous planning meant breaking through the stigma of development, since the word “development” did not always sit well.“For many Indigenous students, development is associated with extraction, capitalism or growth that is managed by those other than the Indigenous people themselves,” she said. “The early thoughts from students when the tribal community planning class was first introduced at ASU in 2015 were that Indigenous planning was something that is simply going to trick us into developing all our lands.”But that has changed over the years. Hale said she has seen shifts in the students' mindsets. “There is a lot of excitement, especially from undergraduate Indigenous students, because they see how Indigenized planning tools can help to address real-world, here-and-now challenges in their home areas and place the community at the heart of the decision-making,” Hale said.One of Hale’s upcoming research projects, in collaboration with the the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, focuses on the Navajo Nation's food stands and flea markets. It will use geographic mapping technology that captures data for various purposes, such as mapping and spatial analysis.The project, funded by the National Science Foundation and part of a grant with the Earth Systems Science for the Anthropocene, will monitor the activity at Navajo reservation flea markets in communities like Window Rock, Kayenta, Tuba City and Shiprock.Hale and Davis will be joined by Assistant Professor Jose-Benito Rosales Chavez and a team of student researchers who will use geographic information systems to map flea market locations. They’ll also study the exchange of traditional food items and arts and crafts and talk to customers about why they visit these flea markets. They hope the information collected will be helpful for decision-makers with Navajo Nation Economic Development, local chapters and others who wish to support Navajo entrepreneurs and the flea markets essential to the Navajo economy and people who rely on them for income or access to food and necessities.“Navajo students on the project know what it’s like to be at a market; they show a real interest in engaging with this work,” Hale said. “This project helps us to support and encourage students interested in community-based work and offer guidance on how to engage with people in the community respectfully and ethically.“But this research can also help the Navajo Nation learn with tools and information to help support the market sellers or entrepreneurs and advance their community.”Hale will also be collaborating with professors across the university on a water sustainability mixed-reality game launching in 2025 that helps address water issues in Arizona.A co-principal investigator on the WaterSIMmersive project, Hale will work with Indigenous students to start a dialogue with tribal and rural community members all over the state to better understand and voice their water concerns.Outside of her community-based research, Hale has long engaged with students on different grant-funded projects or helping students with their research. Currently, Hale is helping ASU student Elisha Charley conduct her dissertation research.Charley, a doctoral student studying urban planning, is researching tribal community development in her hometown of Dennehotso, Arizona, in the northeastern Navajo Nation. She is researching self-help housing advocacy for tribal members living in the Navajo Nation and the Nihok’aa Diyin Dine’é (Navajo) value system.“Housing or dwelling disparities in the Navajo Nation is an ongoing issue that requires collective efforts,” Charley said. “The housing footprint is one aspect of the complex layers of the built environment in the Navajo Nation. It is also significant data to study and maintain for future infrastructure development.“Dr. Hale is a fellow Navajo tribal member and representation is invaluable. Her academic support has been significant in how I can intersect (American Indian studies) framework into my planning research topics.” Video of Community led development | Native American Heritage Month ]]>
A man gestures with his hands while talking to a group of students.

Patent law scholarship awarded to more ASU Law students than ever

A unique annual patent law scholarship has been awarded to an extraordinary number of ASU Law students.The 2023–24 Lisa Foundation Advanced Patent Scholarship at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University was initially designed six years ago for one awardee. This year, the $2,500 scholarship and hands-on patent law experience with the award's namesake and donor, famed patent attorney Steve Lisa, went to four students. Lisa graduated from ASU Law with his Juris Doctor in 1984. The four recipients are third-year law students Bailey Hopkins, Sierra Murphy, Leah Dosal and Alex Egber.Lisa said the scholarship came about to reward the school's top patent and intellectual property law scholars and allow them to further their education in the field. Over a dozen students have benefitted since its inception. "The purpose is to reward the very best students at the law school who are committed to a career in patent law but have exhausted the normal intellectual property law (IP) curriculum," he said. "A patent appeals course taught by experienced practitioners puts our graduates a few steps ahead of other graduates who have taken the normal IP courses. We hope it helps ASU's graduating IP students stand out as young associates at their new firms."Alex Egber. Courtesy photoIn addition to the financial reward, Lisa Foundation scholars work closely with select faculty members, including Lisa, in an advanced course to learn how to appeal to the U.S. Patent and Trade Office (USPTO). It's training that most attorneys in the IP field don't get until after graduation.Lisa said four students were chosen this year due to the many outstanding applicants. They have all participated in the Lisa Foundation Patent Clinic and taken the intellectual property courses that ASU Law offers. "It's great to be in school with so many outstanding classmates interested in patent law," said Hopkins. "Having the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from each other enables all of us to excel."Jon Kappes, associate teaching professor and director of the Lisa Foundation Patent Law Clinic, closely mentors many law students hoping to enter the field, including these scholarship awardees."I am thankful to Mr. Lisa’s consistent support of our students and programs, including through the patent clinic which he endowed, this advanced scholars program and through his mentorship, training and encouragement of our students more broadly,” he said. “I am equally proud of our students who are achieving exceedingly high levels of excellence both as patent students and as professionals entering the field."Third-year law student Leah Dosal (right) moderates a discussion with U.S. Patent and Trade Office Director Kathi Vidal. Vidal visited ASU Law this spring, thanks to its thriving patent law program. Photo by Tabbs Mosier/ASUDosal had the honor of moderating a discussion with USPTO Director Kathi Vidal when she visited ASU this spring. Now, she's an Advanced Patent Scholar. "A legal career in patents is demanding and can be difficult to break into as a student, so this program sets ASU Law students apart from students at other schools," she said. "We have so many incredible intellectual property professors at our school who are top experts in their field and who make learning about patents fun and engaging. Our professors serve as a guiding light to students who are unsure of where they want to be after law school."Sierra Murphy. Courtesy photoPatent and IP law combine legal issues with the study of science and emerging technologies. The unique and growing field offers those the chance to work creatively and solve problems for their clients, whether they're engineers, inventors or anyone with a great idea. "Patent law offers the opportunity to synthesize several of my favorite intellectual pursuits," said Egber. "I'll get to continue learning about state-of-the-art technologies, and at the same time, I'll get to flex my creative side by strategizing and litigating in a way that most effectively advocates for my clients."With four students taking part in the advanced scholarship this year, the students will learn with and from each other. "The fact that multiple scholars were chosen is a testament to the strength of the IP program at ASU Law," said Murphy. "Even more so, knowing who the other three scholars are, it is a privilege to share this designation with them. Alex, Bailey and Leah are students I looked up to as a 1L, and I am happy to get to know them even better throughout this year."Lisa said the opportunity to work directly with the next generation of skilled patent attorneys has also benefited him, calling their work together "fulfilling.""Inventors today face a staggering uphill battle to protect their inventions," he said. "I am hopeful that our future IP and patent lawyers don't leave those inventors behind."]]>
Exterior of a building with the words "Watts College of Public Service and Commnity Solutions."

Former school director creates new ASU scholarship

As his academic career progressed both as a teacher and an administrator, Scott Decker learned he liked building things more than managing them.This realization is a big part of why he and his wife decided to fund a scholarship for Arizona State University criminology and criminal justice students. It also explains why 18 years ago he left the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) — where he chaired the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice for many years — for ASU in the first place.“I learned from my time in St. Louis that I was a builder, not a manager,” Decker said. “It encouraged me to come to ASU to build a top-flight School of Criminology and Criminal Justice program. The program would include high-quality instruction at the undergraduate, master’s and PhD level.”Today an ASU Foundation Professor emeritus, Decker served as the school’s first director from 2006 to 2014. In 2008, Decker oversaw the creation of ASU’s criminology and criminal justice PhD program, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year.Decker said his experiences as an undergraduate student and later as department chair at UMSL guided him toward creating the Decker Family Scholarship. It is open to juniors or seniors who intend to become a practitioner in criminal justice, law enforcement, probation and parole, corrections, juvenile justice or other public service roles.ASU Foundation Professor Emeritus Scott Decker. ASU photoWhile an undergrad at DePauw University in Indiana, Decker asked his criminology professor one fall semester about conducting interviews inside prisons. His professor said interviews were held on Thursday afternoons, and he invited Decker to interview incarcerated persons with him.“I listened and observed early on. Then (the professor) said if you want to talk to some of these people on your own, that’s good,” said Decker, who recalled joining the men experiencing incarceration in softball games against the corrections officers. “We won all the time.”In January, Decker’s professor sent him to observe inside the Indiana Boys School, a correctional institution for adolescent boys.“I learned more as an observer than I did with interviews and data. That meant a lot for me in terms of understanding the link between the academic part of punishment and the prison and rehabilitation that I observed in the institution,” he said.Throughout his career, Decker visited 27 different prisons in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe.“It was part of my continuing education and enhanced what I did as a researcher,” he said.His experiences as a department chair at UMSL provided a foundation for the dramatic changes in the criminology and criminal justice school at ASU. The ASU doctoral program began two years after he arrived, bolstered by the addition of a large cadre of new faculty.Decker said both he and his wife, JoAnn, are products of public universities (he received his master’s and doctoral degrees from Florida State University, where they met), and they wanted to help students involved in internships and opportunities for service learning. This, as well as a strong ongoing effort in inclusion, remains a priority for the school under its current director, Watts Endowed Professor for Public Safety Beth Huebner.“We want to provide an opportunity for a junior or senior, with at least a 3.0 grade-point average, to enhance their undergraduate experience,” Decker said. “Funds may be used to support engagement with the community, support for participation in a conference or support for programming a student is engaged in. It is our hope that the scholarship will grow over time and support multiple students.”In addition to the requirements above, student applicants must submit a short essay on the impact they hope to achieve by pursuing a criminal justice career, and demonstrate financial need as defined by ASU Financial Aid and Scholarship Services. The school will select the first scholarship recipient in spring 2024.Huebner said she is grateful to the Decker family for their support of the school.“Scholarships like these make such a difference in the lives of our students, many of whom are the first in their family to go to college,” Huebner said. “The health and safety of the community is bolstered for all when we send educated ASU students into the public safety workforce, and this scholarship will help make that a reality for the recipient.”Decker said he and his wife deeply appreciate all that Arizona and ASU have done for them.“We want to give something back to a state and a university that has given a lot to us and whose mission we support,” Decker said.The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice is part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Information on supporting the scholarship is available here. ]]>
Mike and Cindy Watts post in front of a building with the words "Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions."

Watts College celebrates 5 years of gift’s impact

The word “transformative” is often used these days, but five years ago, it perfectly described the dynamic change for the then-College of Public Service and Community Solutions.In October 2018, Mike and Cindy Watts made a bold decision, to provide a substantial investment in ASU’s public service college to continue their commitment to a prosperous Arizona through the wide-ranging reach and capacity of Arizona State University.Their $30 million investment into the renamed Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions is one of the largest gifts in ASU history. The initial intent of the impressive outlay — ensuring a bright future for the public service profession — remains in 2023 the heartfelt wish of the Wattses, who grew up in the west Phoenix community of Maryvale.Mike and Cindy Watts performed a major transformation themselves. The small lawnmower-rental business they took over in 1977 became the multistate Sunstate Equipment Co.Mike Watts expressed surprise about how much time has passed.“Wow, has it really been five years?” he said. “We couldn’t be more thrilled with what the Watts College has achieved in that time, including the ‘boots on the ground’ work occurring in Maryvale, attracting elite faculty and giving unique learning opportunities to deserving students who want to make a difference in their communities.”Watts pointed out that these achievements occurred despite several of the five years involving navigating the global COVID-19 pandemic.Cindy Watts said she and her husband are pleased with the many things the college is doing to fulfill its mission.“We are proud to be associated with a college that does so much to lift up our community, and even prouder of the students, leadership, faculty and staff who carry out the Watts College mission every day,” she said.Watts College Dean Cynthia Lietz said the Wattses’ contribution made a wide array of fruitful investments in people and communities.Since 2018, Lietz said, the gift has endowed three of five planned professorships bearing the Watts name. It has augmented efforts by ASU faculty, staff and students to collaborate with Maryvale residents to solve community concerns and tackle local issues, she said, and it enabled the college to spread a commitment to public service through its Spirit of Service Scholars program that serves undergraduate and graduate students studying any discipline across ASU.Lietz, too, said she couldn’t believe it has been five years.“I can hardly believe we are already celebrating five years as the Watts College. To say this gift has been transformational for our college is an understatement,” Lietz said. “Not only has this investment increased the size of our faculty and enhanced our community-embedded work, it also attracted additional philanthropic investment, allowing us to further grow our impact. Thank you to Mike and Cindy for believing in us and for all of the ways your support and encouragement helps us to accomplish our mission.”Photo by Mark J. Scarp/ASUHere are some highlights from their investment over the past five years. Many involve Watts College students working with faculty, staff and community members:Three of five planned Watts Endowed Professorships were filled with support from the Watts gift. They are held by faculty members Renee Cunningham-Williams of the School of Social Work, Maryann Feldman of the School of Public Affairs and Beth Huebner of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Lietz said the remaining two professorships are expected to be filled within the next two years.In Maryvale, through the college’s Design Studio for Community Solutions, the One Square Mile Initiative (OSM) — since expanded to serve several square miles of the community — collaborates with residents on many projects. These include hosting community conversations in English and Spanish that help develop and refine the OSM initiative’s priorities and aspirations; collaborating with ASU’s Global Launch to offer a remote Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate program; and with a third-party partner, arranging more than 70 ethnographic interviews with key community stakeholders that are synthesized into a Community Roadmap.The Watts College Co-op connects ASU students, faculty and staff with community partners to find collaborative solutions to community challenges. Since 2018 it has funded scholarships to undergraduates conducting research, provided seed funding to faculty to conduct community-embedded projects, and supported ServeCon, the college’s Fall Welcome event that helps build connections between new students and educates them about the co-op.The Dean’s Student Access for Success Fund provides flexible support for tuition and transformative experiences, such as studying abroad and internships, for first-generation students and those with high financial need. In 2021–22, 37 students participated in the program.The Spirit of Service Scholars program helps develop leaders with the talent, compassion and skills to become the next generation of public-interest advocacy and community engagement professionals. The scholars learn skills in areas including public engagement; advocacy in public, private and nonprofit sectors; effective communications; and resource development. Scholars also plan and present public-interest seminars on topics they select, designed to inform the community and provide participants with skills and opportunities to act in many areas, including advocacy, volunteering and raising awareness.Top photo: Cindy and Mike Watts, for whom the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions is named, stand in front of the college's home at the University Center on the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus. Photo by Mark J. Scarp/ASU]]>
Exterior of the Psychology Building on ASU's Tempe campus.

Research opportunities, scholarships help ASU psychology students excel

Through access to research opportunities, scholarships and mentored, interdisciplinary training, students in Arizona State University's Department of Psychology are pioneering breakthroughs in infant cognition, aging and Alzheimer’s disease, diverse parenting programs and more.Thanks to the funding and support they are receiving, some students say they can "dedicate more time to (their) passions and research.”Others say the "limitless" learning opportunities have allowed them to explore and narrow their focus.And faculty in the department, a unit within The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, say they are continually impressed with the dedication of the students and that they predict bright futures and impactful careers for them.Meet some of these learners who are customizing their educational experience and forging paths to success.Undergraduate studentsMario Alvarez Mario AlvarezAlvarez, who is double majoring in psychology and family and human development, was awarded the American Psychological Association's Summer Undergraduate Psychology Experience in Research (SUPER) Fellowship.As a SUPER Fellow, Alvarez had the unique opportunity to collaborate closely with Assistant Professor Kelsey Lucca in the Emerging Minds Lab. Under Lucca’s mentorship, he gained valuable insight working on the ManyBabies research project.Research findings from Mario Alvarez and others in the Emerging Minds Lab will provide critical new insights into the foundations of human social cognition. Photo courtesy Emerging Minds Lab“This project brings researchers together from all around the world to tackle difficult questions about infant cognition and development,” Lucca said. “Mario was involved in all aspects of the research this summer and juggled many different kinds of tasks. He met with our international collaborators to refine coding protocols, facilitated our weekly lab meetings and brought families with young infants (five to 10 months) into the lab to run the ongoing experiment working to identify how babies form social evaluations and an understanding of right and wrong.” The SUPER Fellowship program provided a platform for growth and enrichment, with multiple meetings and discussions from guest speakers associated with the American Psychological Association (APA). Alvarez reflects on his experience, saying, “The speakers showed me the many different trajectories that psychology can take you (on), and hearing the career and life path that the APA staff took only made my excitement for psychology grow even bigger.“I chose to study psychology because the learning opportunities are limitless in this field, and as someone who is interested in many different aspects of psychology, I’ve been able to explore them all at ASU."Bella AndradeBella AndradeAndrade, completing dual degrees in psychology and family and human development with a certificate in disability studies, earned top honors for her research at the Arizona Psychological Association. Her work aimed to summarize the evidence of parenting prevention programs in the United States available in a language other than English.Andrade, the first undergraduate research assistant in Assistant Professor Joanna Kim’s Engaging Families Lab at ASU, discovered a significant gap in support for non-English-speaking parents. Undergraduate student Bella Andrade won first place for her poster on linguistically diverse parents. Photo courtesy Bella AndradeHer award-winning poster distilled the results of a systematic review, revealing that out of the hundreds of parenting prevention programs available in the United States, only 27 catered to non-English speakers.“The main goal of this project was to get a sense of how effective non-English parenting prevention programs are, so we needed to narrow our search to studies that had a comparison group. Going in, we suspected that there wouldn’t be very many studies, but the actual number is humbling. Bella’s poster is proof that we need more funding and policies that support programs for our non-English-speaking families,” Kim said.Andrade’s dedication to addressing the underrepresentation of diverse groups in psychology research stems from her personal experiences. As someone with a physical disability, she recognizes the need to ensure the field encompasses the entire spectrum of the human experience."Unfortunately, psychology research doesn't always focus on minority and diverse groups. I'm physically disabled and I'm rolling into a realm where there is barely any disability represented in the field. It's really important for those people to be heard because they're also part of the human experience. How can we study humans and the brain and behaviors if we are not looking at the whole, diverse picture?" Andrade said.Megan NelsonMegan NelsonNelson is double-majoring in psychology and biological sciences with a concentration in neurobiology physiology and behavior, as well as pursuing a minor in mathematics and a certificate in computational life sciences. She was honored with a 2023–24 Psychology Scholar Award from the Department of Psychology. Since starting in fall 2020, she’s actively participated in the psychology community. Initially serving as an undergraduate research assistant, her involvement grew as she engaged in research labs like Assistant Professor Jessica Verpeut’s SOCIAL Neurobiology Lab and President's Professor Heather Bimonte-Nelson’s Behavioral Neuroscience of Memory and Aging Lab. Nelson also serves as the current president for Psi Chi at ASU, where she organizes events and fosters a community of belonging."Megan has a scientific heart and intellect. She is naturally curious and inquisitive, intelligent and a very hard worker,” said Bimonte-Nelson, Nelson’s faculty mentor. “Megan’s dedication and work ethic shine in everything she does, and she shows eagerness to deeply learn all aspects of science, from theory to experimental design to hands-on skill sets, all while balancing her schoolwork, other leadership activities, including being president of Psi Chi, and running research in Dr. Jessica Verpeut’s lab. Time and again, Megan is consistently prepared, engaged and attentive with a positive attitude, demonstrating her interest and intellectual curiosity in science. Her future is bright, we support her all the way and I can not wait to see what she does next!"Nelson advocates for combining experiential learning opportunities, like research lab participation, with club involvement and says it is a great way to network with her peers. “I joined Psi Chi because I was looking for a club where I could not only meet other students who were interested in psychology and neuroscience, but also where I could share my passion for these subjects with the ASU community,” Nelson said. “I love how personable and friendly the students and professors are! Even though psychology is a popular major at ASU, I can always recognize a familiar face when walking through the department building.” Vincent TruongVincent TruongTruong, pursuing dual degrees in psychology and biochemistry with a minor in disability studies, is set to make a notable appearance at the upcoming Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C. He’ll be presenting as both the first and second author on two separate posters.Truong’s journey to the conference is backed by the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience committee, which awarded him a travel grant recognizing his significant contributions. He also secured a Travel and Professional Development Grant from ASU’s Undergraduate Student Government.As the first author, Truong will showcase research from a collaboration between Verpeut’s SOCIAL Neurobiology Lab and Bimonte-Nelson’s Behavioral Neuroscience of Memory and Aging Lab. With support from the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium, their work focuses on assessing learning ability and cognitive flexibility to unveil early sex differences in aging and Alzheimer’s disease. Truong emphasized the need to address the gender gap in Alzheimer’s research, given the minimal focus on females in current studies. “We are doing a huge health disservice to half of the population. Resolving this disparity in neuroscience involves careful behavioral research paired with biological data, which I will present at the conference,” Truong said.On his second author poster, Truong collaborated with the lab of Ulises Ricoy at the University of Arizona on an outreach initiative to create accessible materials for teaching young scientists about neuroscience research and machine learning, ultimately promoting inclusivity in the field.“Vincent is extremely motivated and is dedicated to understanding the molecular mechanisms behind health-related diseases. Since joining my lab as a freshman, his positive energy and tenacity for learning has driven our research in new directions. For his honor’s thesis, he will explore aging in autism spectrum disorder preclinical models and is working on his first manuscript for publication,” Verpeut said.Truong chose ASU’s Department of Psychology due to its robust outreach programs and support for the community. He was also impressed with the career support resources and avenues available to advance one’s interests. He encourages fellow undergraduates to pursue their genuine passions, stressing that passion is the driving force behind effort, persistence and work ethic. “Putting (in) the effort to reflect and build on your interests will make it much easier to draft applications for opportunities and grants to attend conferences. Your personality, dedication and excitement for your specific passion will inevitably shine through,” Truong said.As part of his collaboration with the lab of Ulises Ricoy at the University of Arizona, Vincent Truong helped create accessible materials to teach young scientists about conducting neuroscience research. Photo courtesy Vincent TruongHenrique VieiraHenrique VieiraHailing from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Vieira is double-majoring in neuroscience and psychology. He’s the recipient of the 2023–24 Jenessa Shapiro Undergraduate Research Scholarship, a $5,000 award from the ENERGIZE Psychology Research Initiative aimed at supporting students from underrepresented backgrounds with potential in psychology research. “The Jenessa Shapiro Scholarship is facilitating my long-term goal to get a PhD in neuroscience by enabling me to dedicate more time to my passions and research,” Vieira said. This support is crucial for his work with the SOCIAL Neurobiology Lab, where they explore the role of the cerebellum in social behavior. With his graduate mentor, Tristan Lyle, Vieira is quantifying neural activation using the immediate early-gene, c-Fos, resulting from a cerebellar perturbation during adolescent life in preclinical models. Verpeut, his supervisor and mentor, acknowledges Vieira’s significant impact on the lab, noting his unique perspectives as a Jesnessa Shapiro Scholarship recipient.“Henrique has incredible determination, despite facing unique hardships as an underrepresented student. Thanks to the support of the Department of Psychology and the Jenessa Shapiro Scholarship, Henrique can complete his educational and research pursuits in neuroscience at ASU. He plans to apply to a neuroscience PhD program next fall and will be attending the Society for Neuroscience conference in November to expand his knowledge in neuroscience and research graduate programs. It is the best part of my job to mentor students like Henrique and help them reach their goals,” Verpeut said.Vieira aspires to continue to serve as a role model within the ASU psychology community, promoting values of strength, resilience and determination — characteristics shared by both the Jenessa Shapiro Scholarship recipients and the department. Vieira emphasized the importance of hard work and determination in achieving one's goals, stating, “You have to work hard toward every single goal. Despite the difficulties life throws at me, I’ll  never give up.”Graduate studentsXavier CelayaXavier CelayaCelaya, a doctoral psychology student specializing in cognitive science, was honored with the prestigious J. Frank Yates Student Conference Award from the Psychonomic Society, an annual recognition for exceptional graduate students from underrepresented populations in psychology. This accolade comes with a $1,000 stipend to support his participation in the society’s annual meeting in November.In collaboration with Professor Gene Brewer’s Memory and Attention Control Laboratory, Celaya’s work is supported by an ASU Foundation grant from Steve Neumann to study trauma and mentalizing. His research focused on the impact of task sequencing in latent variable modeling, a key method in psychological research. Findings revealed that task sequencing does not significantly impact the recovery of estimates of latent cognitive abilities. Brewer, Celaya’s faculty mentor, explained, “Xavier's research in this area is methodologically rigorous and an important advancement for researchers and applied scientists who aim to quantify individual differences in human mental ability. His research has implications for assessing cognition that has tremendous value in many domains, including personnel selection, team building and professional development. Xavier's excellent program of research and incredible work ethic make him deserving of this award and I am personally thrilled to see him receive it.”As he prepares to accept this award and present his research, Celaya sees this milestone shaping his future career by reinforcing his commitment to diversity and inclusion in psychological research. He credits ASU’s Department of Psychology for its robust support throughout his academic journey, fostering growth, innovation and inclusivity. Celaya’s advice to aspiring psychology scholars? “Seek to cultivate a supportive and diverse learning environment that enriches both your field and your own individual learning experience.”Xavier Celaya’s research on the impact of task sequencing in latent variable modeling helped earn him the J. Frank Yates Student Conference Award from the Psychonomic Society. Photo courtesy Xavier CelayaMatthew LangleyMatthew LangleySpecializing in the cognitive science area of psychology, doctoral student Langley won editor’s choice for best article in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Experimental Psychology.Collaborating with Professor Michael McBeath in the PEARL: Perception, Ecological Action, Robotics and Learning Lab, his research revealed how people view the world around them — a phenomenon known as vertical attention bias (VAB) — where people have a tendency to place our attention on elements in the top portions of objects while we place our attention on elements in the bottom portions of scenes. “I am elated to have this work selected for the APA Editor's Choice Award. My advisor, Dr. Mike McBeath, and I had a ton of fun working on this project together. We put in a lot of effort and it's exciting that there is an opportunity to have our project read by a wider audience,” Langley said.Taking his research to the next level, Langley joined forces with undergraduate researcher Kaitlin Van Houghton in Lucca’s Emerging Minds Lab. The team researched VAB in children between 4 and 7 years old, testing their perception of the world compared to adults. This cross-area collaboration is a hallmark of ASU’s Department of Psychology.“Understanding attentional biases helps people to better plan and design environments,” McBeath said. “It has been especially rewarding that Matt has been able to extend his initial VAB findings to the Emerging Minds Lab, which resulted in the replication of VAB with children, and is next being tested in infants.”Olivia LawOlivia LawLaw received the 2023–24 Graduate College University Grant (GCUC) to support her research on her path to a PhD. She’s also the recipient of the ASU Graduate College Travel Award, which she’ll use to attend the Society for Neuroscience conference this November.Originally from Pocatello, Idaho, she earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Idaho State University, where her passion for research ignited. “I was in two different research labs during my undergraduate career, and my experience in these labs helped me realize I wanted to continue my education as a graduate researcher,” Law said.In 2022, Law enrolled in ASU’s doctoral psychology program, specializing in behavioral neuroscience and comparative psychology. Under the mentorship of Verpeut in the SOCIAL Neurobiology Lab, she studies the impact of opioid withdrawal on behavior, neuroplasticity and gene expression.Verpeut praised Law’s academic excellence, affirming her deservingness of the GCUC award.“Olivia has maintained academic excellence at ASU, as well as in her research pursuits studying the implications of drug addiction and withdrawal in preclinical models. This November, she will be presenting the first results of her project at the Society for Neuroscience conference. Her motivation and interest in addiction research will lead to a broader understanding of genes, neural circuits and behavior.”Looking ahead, Law remains committed to understanding the effects of drug misuse on behavior and cellular levels. Her goal is to contribute to the knowledge base that may inform future treatment targets. “While I’m uncertain where my graduate research will lead, I'm eager to continue learning and contribute to the evolving field of psychology,” Law said.  Tristan LyleTristan LyleLyle, who received the best poster award at the Cerebellum Gordon Research Conference, is a promising figure in behavioral neuroscience and comparative psychology. Under the mentorship of Verpeut in the SOCIAL Neurobiology Lab, his research centers on the cerebellum — a brain region traditionally associated with motor functions but now recognized for its role in non-motor aspects, such as cognition.In his preclinical studies, Lyle employs chemogenetics — tools that alter the signaling properties of neurons — to investigate the development of juvenile cerebellar nuclei in shaping cognitive and social behavior later in life. “The cerebellum is very important in early-life development, and damage to this brain region is known to impact cognitive, social, motor and various complex behaviors,” Verpeut said. “Despite these findings, the cerebellum is an understudied brain structure with even less known about the cerebellar nuclei. Tristan’s research is critical to the autism field in order to discover new pathways and possible therapeutic targets.”Lyle’s passion for studying neuroscience methodologies and the cerebellum’s role in cognition grew from his pursuit of a master’s degree in applied behavior analysis at ASU. The program led him to inquire about the relationship between behavior and the brain in clinical populations. His current PhD program provides a fresh perspective on this relationship.Regarding ASU’s research environment, Lyle says it is highly collaborative and interdisciplinary in nature, and students often find themselves drawn to new areas of interest. He encourages fellow students to not hesitate in reaching out to faculty members, sharing that “they love teaching students and taking on mentees to join their lab and research.”Tristan Lyle won best poster award at the Cerebellum Gordon Research Conference. Photo courtesy Tristan Lyle]]>
Man standing behind a lectern speaking into a microphone.

Historian, author Jon Meacham discusses importance of coming together in our country

Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, joined students, faculty, staff and community members at Arizona State University on Oct. 12 for an event, hosted by The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, titled “An evening with Jon Meacham: And There Was Light.”Meacham shared stories from his expansive career — from working on the biography of the 41st President of the United States George H. W. Bush to getting mistaken for author John Grisham. He also spoke about the challenging times this country has faced and how we have come together to move forward.In attendance was The College’s Dean and Executive Vice Provost at ASU Patrick Kenney, who introduced Meacham.“The College is happy to host Jon Meacham, presidential historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and welcome one of America’s most prominent public intellectuals to ASU,” Kenney said.During his remarks, the Tennessee native brought to the audience's attention how our country’s current events are not unlike any other challenges the nation has faced throughout its history.“What if we had been here 100 years ago, 1923 — what would have been going on? Well, we would’ve just finished the First World War. The Bolshevik Revolution would have unfolded in 1917 and what would become the Soviet Union caused enormous anxiety that was a socialist immigrant threat to the United States,” Meacham said.In addition, the Ku Klux Klan was refounded in 1915, the 1920s census showed more Americans lived in cities than on farms, The Great Depression took hold in the 1930s and society endured both the Spanish flu and polio pandemics.“Think about what we just ran through. We just ran through fears of immigration, shifting demographics, isolationism after a global cataclysm, changing media environment, antisemitism, anti-Catholicism, legislative reaction and more,” Meacham said.He then shared what he felt are two important characteristics to keep in mind when the country is faced with adversity.The first is curiosity.“We have to understand the stuff we’re talking about. We have to follow the shape, the forces. The demographic changes, economic changes, the implications of globalization, everything that’s creating the populist reaction in the country,” Meacham said.“Curiosity is absolutely vital and tender. The best of us can save us from the worst of us.”Jon Meacham spoke to a crowd of 400 people on ASU's Tempe campus Oct. 12. Photo by Allison ConnellThe second characteristic is empathy, but not the “because Jesus told me to” kind of empathy, Meacham said. The self-interested empathy, or, as he calls it, democratic empathy.Meacham shared that George H. W. Bush was the most empathetic man he knew. During his work with him writing his biography, he heard a memorable story from Bush’s childhood. It was a story of empathy, in which the future president saw a classmate in need and helped him because he would’ve wanted someone else to do that if that was him.“I asked him one day why he helped the boy, and he looked at me as if I were crazy,” Meacham said. “Bush told me that if he were the one that needed help, he’d want someone to help him.“These characteristics and many more have enabled us in our history to come out of the darkest of hours. And if we actualize them and act according to those characteristics, we can get ourselves out of tough times we face.”]]>
Woman wearing graduation regalia, standing behind a lectern.

ASU criminology, criminal justice PhD program marks 15 years

Raven Simonds had earned two degrees at Arizona State University — so when the time came for her to choose where to study for her doctorate, she chose not to turn in her Sun Card.Last year, Simonds earned her PhD in criminology and criminal justice from the highly respected and honored doctoral program at ASU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, which in 2023 is celebrating 15 years of excellence, inclusion and service preparing future educators, researchers and leaders in the public and private sectors.“I did both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees (in criminology and criminal justice) at ASU, so I had some pre-existing experience with the program overall. But I would say both the depth and breadth of faculty expertise at ASU made the doctoral program attractive,” said Simonds, who today is a senior research analyst at New York City’s Criminal Justice Agency.“The faculty at ASU lead the field in their respective research interests, and it was so exciting to be a part of that as a doctoral student,” Simonds said. “This also led to a type of thought diversity between students, as many of us in the same cohort, for example, had different interests.”The school marks this 15th anniversary from ASU’s No. 2 position in U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 ranking of criminology graduate schools, ahead of the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Florida and Michigan State University. School leaders, past and present, are proud of the program’s growth and its commitment to inclusion.Melinda Tasca is a first-generation college graduate who said the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice faculty’s caliber and the high-impact work they were engaged in attracted her to the program.“Training and mentorship went beyond the basics and exposed students to unique opportunities,” said Tasca, a 2014 graduate of the program who today is an associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Texas at El Paso.“For example, I was able to work on externally funded projects led by my mentor and in collaboration with criminal justice agencies that allowed me to develop a broad range of skills early on,” Tasca said. Her training included posing and framing broad research questions, engaging in grant writing, executing projects and developing surveys. She also conducted research in challenging environments and worked with agency partners.D’Andre Walker, a first-generation college student, received his PhD from ASU in 2018. He earned his master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice at ASU after receiving the Reach for the Stars Fellowship in 2012. Walker now is an assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies at the University of Mississippi.“Despite being accepted into other PhD programs across the country, I decided to stay at ASU, because of the great mentorship and solid network that I worked hard to build, ... the diverse courses offered, willingness of faculty to work with students — even if they were not officially assigned to them as a graduate or research assistant — and the presence of faculty around the office,” Walker said.Today, the program continues to help students develop many cutting-edge skills, said Stacia Stolzenberg, a School of Criminology and Criminal Justice associate professor who directs the doctoral and in-person master’s degree programs in the school.Criminal justice is an exciting place to be, she said. While the field is community-based in nature, “one thing our faculty is great at is being embedded in the communities they care about.”In addition, ASU’s program excels at developing and maintaining strong relationships with community partners, Stolzenberg said.School of Criminology and Criminal Justice Director Beth Huebner, Watts Endowed Professor of Public Safety, said ASU’s PhD program is respected throughout the country for numerous reasons and she continues to be excited about welcoming new scholars.“The PhD is the highest degree that a student can earn in the field. All of our PhD students have dedicated more than four years to conducting original research that impacts policy and practice in criminology and criminal justice,” Huebner said. “The PhD program in criminology and criminal justice at ASU has quickly emerged as one of the leading institutions in our field, and it is one of the largest and most diverse groups. Our graduates have gone on to lead other top programs and to work for research firms and local governments that are transforming the system.”Scott Decker, Foundation Professor emeritus of criminology and criminal justice, served as the school's director from 2006 to 2014 and was instrumental in creating the PhD program, which debuted in 2008 and has graduated 64 doctoral students since its inception.“These students hold faculty jobs at some of the most prestigious universities in the field; others work directly with criminal justice agencies to promote public safety. Other graduates conduct research that improves the quality of justice and community safety,” Decker said.Decker credits Regents Professor Cassia Spohn, a faculty member who followed him as school director, for getting the program off the ground. Spohn was director of graduate programs as the PhD program formed.The school, a recognized global leader, has a highly awarded and respected faculty that “has developed a culture of excellence in its teaching, research and service” within a dynamic environment, Decker said.“The school works to improve the quality of justice in Arizona, the nation and on an international basis,” he said.Simonds, Tasca and Walker talked about what the program has meant to their careers.Editor's note: Answers may have been edited for length and clarity.Question: What did you learn during your time at ASU that changed your perspective?Walker: As a first-generation African American college student, I did not know what to expect of my graduate career at ASU. Prior to coming to ASU, I did not see the true value in research. However, as a graduate student, I was around some of the best professors and students in the country. ... Being in the classroom with these individuals and listening to their stories has influenced my perspective on research. More specifically, I realized the importance of not only researching topics that I am interested in, but also the impact that my research findings have on society through policy and practice.Q: How has your career benefited from having earned your PhD at ASU?Tasca: My doctoral training at ASU provided both breadth and depth in terms of substantive and methodological training, which established a solid foundation to launch my career. In addition, my time at ASU prepared me for the competing demands of a tenure-track career and introduced me to the ins and outs of the research enterprise. I am also grateful for having been exposed to a variety of professional networking opportunities and for the well-rounded mentorship I received. As a first-generation college student, this level of investment in my professional development benefited me greatly.Q: Describe an important aspect of your current research and questions you seek to answer.Simonds: One exciting part of my current research is exploring the role of court date notifications on court appearances. Failing to appear in court can result in a variety of negative outcomes, one of which includes having a warrant issued for arrest. To this end, it is important to better understand what types of court date notifications work best. The New York City Criminal Justice Agency is such an exciting place to work because our outreach team notifies people of their upcoming court date, and we have the capacity to explore different types of notifications, as well as the content of such notifications, in real time.Q: How has the criminology and criminal justice field changed most significantly since your time as a doctoral student? What might this year’s PhD graduates deal with that is different from what you encountered in your first few years?Simonds: I think the use of artificial intelligence has significantly increased over the last few years. AI wasn’t even a part of my vocabulary, really, while I was in graduate school. ... I think we’ve already seen it begin to impact education and how we teach topics related to criminal justice, and we are learning to navigate that, as well as for the field more broadly.Tasca: One change I have noticed in recent years is a greater openness to and interest in research careers outside of academia among criminologists. This seems to have coincided with an expansion of “industry” opportunities, such as working in a research division in a criminal justice agency or within a research organization. This shift offers PhD graduates a wide range of career options to consider.Walker: Criminology and criminal justice is a very attractive discipline. I believe that the trajectory of the field is being influenced by current events (e.g., Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tyre Nichols, among others) as these stories have highlighted the need for and importance of research to identify and address challenges within criminal justice organizations. That said, I believe students will have more opportunities to work alongside practitioners to craft policies to address injustices across the criminal justice systems.  ]]>
Hands holding a small box filled with insect specimens.

NSF, ASU continue partnership to house national biorepository

Arizona State University and the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) announce the continuation of their partnership to house a national biorepository over a 30-year period that began in 2019.After receiving funding from the National Science Foundation, NEON selected ASU’s Biodiversity Knowledge Integration Center (BioKIC) and Natural History Collections in Tempe to house millions of biological samples collected over the next three decades from 81 field sites across the U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.NSF announced on Sept. 22 that Battelle will continue to manage the operations and maintenance of the continental-scale observatory for the next five years, beginning in November and running through October 2028.“This is a wonderful validation of the buildup and first five years of the NEON Biorepository and our services at ASU. We feel honored and thrilled to continue this project with Battelle, an outstanding lead working with and partnering with us. I look forward to continuing that partnership,” said Nico Franz, Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Ecology, biocollections director in the School of Life Sciences and founding director of ASU’s BioKIC.NEON is the first-ever continental ecological observation facility with assets across the country, designed to collect long-term open-access ecological data.The facility receives around 100,000 samples every year, and has received, processed and stored over 421,000 samples five years into the partnership.Looking ahead to the next five years, NEON plans for 5,000 square feet of capacity enhancements to the NEON Biorepository at ASU for diverse, liquid- and dry-preserved NEON environmental, vertebrate and invertebrate samples. This is in addition to the 3,500-square-foot NEON Biorepository cryo collections facility completed in 2020.The NEON Biorepository facility at ASU will continue to house samples collected from 81 field sites across the U.S. for the next five years. Photo courtesy the NEON Biorepository teamASU faculty Greg Asner, Erin Carr Jordan and Peter Schlosser will also join the ASU/NEON collaboration, adding new components in the areas of online education and remote sensing to the project, thereby increasing its technical capacity and societal impact.Asner, the director of the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, will lead a Global Airborne Observatory component. The observatory is an airborne laboratory with the most advanced Earth imaging and mapping technology in the civil sector today.Jordan, the executive director of digital equity and social impact with Enterprise Technology, will help lead an educational component to help grow with learners as they progress into their careers.“We want to leverage the available NEON data and samples because it’s a great space,” Jordan said. “It is designed to help learners grow their skills in a way that helps their careers but also advances the science and research being done.” Video of A Tour of NEON's Biorepository Video courtesy The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences]]>
Portrait of ASU alum Martine Garcia Jr.

Chicano alumnus reflects on the impact of education, heritage

As a child, Martine Garcia Jr. remembers sitting in the back of the Oaxaca Restaurant in Phoenix where his mother worked. He would often see U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor come in for a meal and hear his mom speak with pride about Arizona’s first Hispanic member of Congress.Garcia could not imagine that one day Pastor would sit in the audience at Arizona State University's Hispanic Convocation and listen to him speak as the recipient of the 2017 Ed Pastor Outstanding Graduate Student Award. “It was amazing,” he said. “I got to speak on our Chicano culture. I got to speak on our heritage. I got to tell stories about my parents, about the things … essential to my success.” Garcia graduated that day with two master’s degrees, in management and legal studies. Just one year earlier he had earned a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.Graduating three times with distinction is something that Garcia never could have envisioned for himself. “It’s a feeling that can never be matched,” he said. “It’s pride. It’s not just pride in yourself, but pride in your family. It’s happiness. It’s a celebration. It’s also sadness that one chapter of your life is closing. It’s a myriad of emotions.”Garcia had no family history of higher education. He was the first in his family to graduate from high school. Yet, his parents always emphasized the importance of higher education.Growing up, he didn’t always take their advice to heart. He was an average student in high school, and he never aimed to earn a college degree. But after working an unfulfilling summer job after his senior year of high school, he reached a turning point. Garcia enrolled at Chandler Gilbert Community College (CGCC), where he discovered ASU’s transfer pathway program.At ASU, Garcia found his calling in higher education and passion for giving back to his community. Today, Garcia works as the assistant director of strategic initiatives for ASU Career Services, helping students from both similar and different backgrounds to his own by organizing clubs, coalitions and career-readiness modules for underrepresented groups on campus and in the community. As the university celebrates this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, Garcia reflects on his journey up to this point, and the impact education and his Chicano identity have had on his life.Embracing heritageEver since Garcia was young enough to understand, he remembers his grandparents saying to him, “You are a Chicano.” For his grandparents, it was an important term of empowerment, advocacy and social awareness, representative of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century. It’s a title that Garcia still strongly identifies with, he said. Martine Garcia Jr. with family at Arizona State University's Hispanic Convocation in 2017. Courtesy photo“We celebrate our heritage every day in every circle,” Garcia said, not just during one month. Hispanic Heritage Month is an annual celebration from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 that pays tribute to the enduring contributions and significance of Hispanic individuals in the United States. The monthlong celebration acknowledges the diverse heritages and cultures of individuals with ancestral roots in Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain and Central and South America.While Hispanic Americans celebrate their heritage year-round, this month provides an opportunity to celebrate with the wider community and explore the diversity of Hispanic identities, history and heritage. “I really love this month because more than ever, everyone else is celebrating the culture. It’s not just my culture. Now we can all have fun together and we can learn and talk,” Garcia said.  Giving back When Garcia began attending CGCC after graduating high school, his goal was to become an actor. He met with his first career advisor and said, “I’m just here so I can get to Hollywood, dude. Show me how to do it.”Instead, the career advisor asked Garcia what his interests were. ASU alum Martine Garcia Jr. with family. Courtesy photo“From what I’m hearing,” Garcia recounted the advisor telling him, “you want to inspire people. You love to talk to people and share your story. You like to bring out the best in yourself and in others.”The career advisor encouraged him to explore communications as a course of study, get involved on campus and find an on-campus job. Garcia said the gesture of support was unfamiliar to him and felt like a handout.“It’s not a handout. It’s a hand up,” he said the advisor told him. “And it’s not for free. You need to help somebody with this information when you get a chance.”Garcia took the lesson from his advisor to heart. Ever since, he has always incorporated a culture of service into the work he does. “It's what helps our community grow,” he said.  Creating community In community college, Garcia became the founding president of the Male Empowerment Network (MEN) CGCC Chapter, a Maricopa County Community College District program focused on increasing the graduation and retention rates of minority men. To be in a room full of students like himself, who didn’t see themselves in education, building self-efficacy and self-advocacy was empowering, he said. When he first got to ASU, he thought he had lost that community. “I have a strong need for community. I need to be able to see myself in spaces that I’m in, and I need students to be able to do that,” Garcia said.ASU alum Martine Garcia Jr. is the assistant director of strategic initiatives for ASU Career Services. Courtesy photoOnce he transferred to ASU, he said the university rallied behind him and a few other transfer students who were members of MEN and helped them found a chapter at ASU. Once again, he was the founding president. “I just think that’s a unique experience to ASU, that any person can come in and say, ‘Hey, this is the community I need,’ and folks rally around and say, ‘Let’s give you the resources you need,’” Garcia said. In 2019, while working as a coordinator for ASU TRIO Student Support Services, Garcia encountered a similar situation on the Polytechnic campus. “I would see a lot of Chicano students here and the Chicano staff and faculty, but I didn't really feel the community coming together. So we built our own community,” he said.Garcia, along with four other staff members, created Poly Sol, a faculty and staff collective and branch of the Chicano/Latino Faculty and Staff Association at ASU, or CLFSA.In spring 2021, CLFSA added a representative from Poly Sol to its executive board to strengthen commitment and outreach at the ASU Polytechnic campus and the East Valley. Garcia served as the first representative in the new role.Now, Garcia is president-elect of CLFSA. He will serve in the upcoming year and continue fostering community and giving back.Navigating the futureAs students look to their futures and navigate the world, it can be daunting, but Garcia wants students to know that they are not alone. “I think it's really hard when you're 18 years old and you're being asked to make a decision that feels like it's gonna be the rest of your life,” Garcia said. “I think some advice I'd give is knowing that nothing, especially in today's world, is as definite as we feel it is.” Even Garcia said his journey has only just begun.“Other students should see themself in me because I see myself in them. This is part of everyone's journey. We don't know what we're doing exactly all of the time. We have an idea. But as long as you move toward that idea, that's important,” he said.To support ASU’s Hispanic students, staff and faculty, visit the ASU Foundation’s featured funds page and explore giving opportunities. ]]>
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