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Outstanding ASU grads ready to take world by storm

graduation cap
May 02, 2016

Approximately 13,000 undergraduate and graduate students will have degrees conferred during Arizona State University's spring commencement on May 9. Some of them have escaped war-torn countries, some are using their research to change the world, and others have waited 40 years to finally pursue their dreams. Here's a look at just a few of the outstanding students coming out of the class of 2016.

Soon-to-be ASU graduate twins Robert and Alexi Choueiri

Finding their own path

At the age of 12, twins Robert and Alexi Choueiri came to the U.S. with their family, fleeing Lebanon after it had erupted into civil war. The brothers struggled at first but eventually learned to thrive. Now, with graduation approaching, the two will take separate paths after an extraordinary journey together. 

ASU anthropology grad Nathan Shelley

Peering into the past

Nathan Shelley likes to imagine the first people who came to the Americas looking at the Grand Canyon and other pristine places — an experience he admits he envies. He graduates with the Cynthia Lakin Award for anthropology majors who have made sustained contributions to the field while at ASU.

Soon-to-be ASU graduate Andy Meza

Helping the health of his hometown

Andres “Andy” Meza’s goal in life is lofty but achievable: to leave a mark on the Hispanic community. If the 22-year-old Yuma native continues to follow his educational path, that goal will be attainable in just a few short years. 

Mother-daughter graduates Christine and Courtney Besaw

College success is all in the family

Nine years ago, Christine Besaw found herself the sole provider for her two young children, working for minimum wage and scraping by with help from state assistance. So she began taking courses at ASU while her daughter Courtney looked on. Now, both are graduating from ASU.

ASU aviation grad David Hutchens

Cleared for takeoff

David Hutchens is out of here on a wing and a degree. Graduating with honors from the ASU's Aviation Programs with a degree in aviation management technology/professional flight, he has his sights set on big jets and faraway places.

ASU education major Ulises Aragon

Finding a connection

Ulises Aragon feels a kinship with the students he has been student-teaching at Central High School in Phoenix for the past year. Aragon, a native Spanish speaker, learned to speak English while he was in elementary school, and now he’s teaching refugee students who are learning English in his environmental science class.

Olympic swimmer and ASU Online student Jessica Hardy in a pool

Gold medalist's final college lap

After leaving college in 2007 to dedicate more time to her sport, Team USA swimmer and 2012 Olympic medalist Jessica Hardy always had in the back of her mind the desire to earn a degree. It was not a lack of motivation that delayed her, but trying to fit class into an already busy schedule. Then she discovered ASU Online.

ASU graduate James Feddern

Launching on a nuclear path

It’s rare for an entry-level job in a large organization to require a personal interview with the top boss. But when Arizona State University student and Navy ROTC Midshipman James Feddern applied for a position as a Naval Reactors engineer, that’s exactly what he had to do.   

New College graduate Bandak Lul

An advocate for the displaced

Bandak Lul came to Arizona at the age of 15, having lived 14 years of his live in an Ethiopian refugee camp after his family fled South Sudan. All but his older sister are still in that camp today. Rather than dwell on that fact, Lul focused on his education with the hope of one day returning to help his family as refugee advocate.

Miguel Otarola

Making a difference in journalism

Miguel Otárola, who is graduating this spring with a master’s in mass communication and a bachelor’s in journalism, said his freshman experiences interning at The Arizona Republic and reporting for the student-run Downtown Devil helped launch his passion for journalism.

ASU astronomy grad Miranda Herman

ASU grad pursues passion for astronomy

Miranda Herman, a graduating senior from ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Physics, will be receiving the Dean’s Medal and Moeur Award at commencement ceremonies this spring. 

portrait of ASU grad Carl Fields

Determination is the key

Carl Fields, who will graduate this spring with dual bachelor’s degrees in physics and astrophysics, has recently been awarded both a Ford Foundation pre-doctoral fellowship and a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research fellowship.

Erica Lang, Cronkite School

The final word

Erica Lang, who recently received the ASU Faculty Women’s Association Distinguished Graduate Student award, plans to channel her experiences at the Cronkite School as a professional borderlands journalist.

Michael Longfellow

The joke's on him

Michael Longfellow, who is graduating from ASU this spring with a bachelor of arts in English literature, is banking on a career in stand-up comedy. The Scottsdale native trades in the vaudevillian quip, much like Chico, Harpo, Groucho, Gummo and Zeppo, with a Millennial twist.

Beth Bockes and family and her son's 2014 college graduation. / Photo courtesy Beth Bockes.

Oh, the places you'll go!

Online English major Beth Bockes will graduate from ASU this spring after a 40-year hiatus from higher education. “When I think back on all that I pushed through on my way to this day, I realize that I'm stronger than I ever knew,” she said.

New College Outstanding Graduate Sarah Malik

Psyched up

Sarah Malik, the 2016 New College Outstanding Graduate, initially chose her field of psychology on a whim. But upon being introduced to social psychology she found her passion, and she is still researching it to this day. 

New College Outstanding Graduate Michael Montpetit

'Hiding' in plain sight

Michael Montpetit has an autism spectrum disorder. Though much research has been done about children with autism, he says there is a dearth of information about adults on the autism spectrum. He has focused his research on correcting that imbalance.  

Heather Ross with DNP students at 2015 commencement.

A deeper understanding of health care

With rapid changes in the field of health care presenting a challenge for nurses in particular, Heather Ross seeks ways to integrate clinical, social and psychological perspectives into health care. 

portrait of ASU grad Sarah Moser

With justice — and basic human needs — for all

Sarah Moser is an ASU honors student who is graduating with bachelor of science degrees in justice studies and sociology. She was selected as a Bidstrup Undergraduate Fellow for the 2015-2016 academic year in recognition of her commitment to academic excellence. 

portrait of ASU grad Kristen Brown

Saving the world with engineering

Kristen Brown is among ASU’s 2016 spring graduates to receive the Distinguished Service Award from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering for her contributions to the university community.

Michael Busch

ASU astronomy grad to see the world — and stars

Michael Busch, who will be graduating with a dual bachelor’s degree in astrophysics and physics, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation graduate fellowship. Busch is also a recipient of the inaugural Origins Project Undergraduate Research Scholarship.

portrait of ASU grad Truman Peyote

A teacher under the skin

Truman Peyote was thoroughly convinced that he did not want to be a teacher. But life intervened; now Peyote is graduating from ASU with an master's in English literature and is planning to teach at the college level.

portrait of ASU grad Nathan Beever

A helping hand

Nursing may seem like a 180-degree career change from the nuclear industry — but after pursuing a career as a quality-control specialist, ASU graduate Nate Beever reached a point where he wanted to retool. His aptitude tests showed STEM areas were a good fit, so Beever entered nursing school in his 40s.

Cass Murphy

On wheels and wings

In addition to finishing up her collegiate roller-derby career, Cass Murphy will graduate this May with her bachelor’s degree in English (creative writing); minors in applied biological sciences, sustainability, and parks and protected area management; and a certificate in environmental humanities.

portrait of ASU grad Kerri Linden

Healing the narrative

Kerri Linden Slatus is earning a doctorate in English literature this spring. Her work is situated at the crossroads of what is termed “medical humanities,” an interdisciplinary research area combining the study of medicine with such disparate fields as the arts, ethics, history, geography and culture. 

portrait of ASU grad Kimberley Coley

The power of inspiration

For Kimberly Coley, there’s one ASU experience that will stand out: the Young Women in Business event sponsored by Intel. There the business law major learned about ways women could apply their passion for business to a variety of settings, how a supply chain works and received advice from Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg.

portrait of ASU grad Zachariah Tolliver

Helping others overcome obstacles

Zachariah Tolliver knows firsthand the challenges of being a non-traditional minority student. He has conquered those obstacles — he graduates with a bachelor’s in political science this May — and has worked during his time at Arizona State University to help others do the same. 

portrait of ASU grad Bobette Makelele

Finding transfer students a home

Bobette Makelele counts as one of her greatest college accomplishments becoming an ASU Transfer Student Ambassador. “... we have become the face of ASU and have been a driving force behind giving back to the community,” said Makelele, who will be graduating with a degree in business.

portrait of ASU grad Bethany Brown

So many new sounds to explore

Graduating as a double major in music composition and filmmaking practices, ASU honors student Bethany Brown plans to study musicology or ethnomusicology — after taking some well-deserved time to travel and rest.

portrait of ASU grad Rivka Roccio

Using theater to create change

Rivka Rocchio will receive her MFA in Theatre for Youth this spring. It's a degree she realized she wanted when she was teaching in Samoa with the Peace Corps.

portrait of ASU grad Priya Nair

Bettering lives through research

Doctoral student Priya Nair discovered a passion for biomedical engineering early on in her academic career, and found a love for research in areas that will help better people's lives through the research opportunities available at ASU. 

Kent Linthicum reads on "A" Mountain

From history, the future

ASU student Kent Linthicum, who is earning his doctorate in English literature this spring, recently defended his dissertation, which used literary and scientific texts about volcanoes to examine both the popular and intellectual understanding of these geological phenomena.


portrait of ASU grad Thomas Fyffe

A leader in construction

A little soul-searching and the help of a best friend led Phoenix native Thomas Fyffe II to a future in construction management, where he excelled in leadership positions in student organizations.

portrait of ASU grad Jorge Cardenas

A successful journey

Jorge Cardenas’ undergraduate years as an electrical engineering student at ASU have been a mixture of helping others to succeed and achieving great success himself.

ASU International Service Devils in Vietnam 2016

Finding her place

For College of Letters and Sciences outstanding graduate Kali Richmond, a spur-of-the-moment job application was her entree to a rich journey of self-discovery and growth.

portrait of ASU grad Erin Kube

Holistic care

ASU counseling psychology doctoral graduate Erin Kube discovers a passion for helping geriatric patients who are managing terminal, chronic medical diagnoses.


Portrait of ASU grad Racheal White Hawk

An advocate for tribes

Racheal White Hawk is on her way to fulfilling her dream of using her law degree to work on behalf of tribal communities.  

Cari Martin portrait

Advancing STEM in developing countries

What Cari Martin likes most about her ASU Global Technology and Development program is that it allows students to pursue many different paths.

Chad Ostrander

Focusing on the future of Earth

Chad Ostrander, who will be graduating this spring with a bachelor’s degree in geological sciences from the School of Earth and Space Exploration, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship.

Andrew Rogge

Perspectives on cities

Andrew Rogge chose ASU because he knew he wanted to be an urban planner. Four years later, he has contributed to bike transit planning in the City of Phoenix, worked closely with planning students in Germany, analyzed Berlin’s re-unification and is poised to help build communities.  

portrait of ASU grad Aaron Bia

A healer on the rise

Aaron Bia is a global health major in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and a Navajo from Canyon De Chelly, Arizona. His family influenced Bia to pursue a career as a translational physician, a role that he feels will allow him to best serve the American Indian community.

A bigger world

It’s common to hear people say the world is getting smaller all the time. But to Steven Flanagan, the world is getting bigger. Education, particularly the study of language, opened him to world that’s bigger than he ever imagined. 

portrait of ASU grad Bridget Harding

Language skills launch sustainability career

When Bridget Harding began looking for jobs in her field of sustainability, she noticed something interesting about every interview she had — the first thing employers asked her about was her ability to speak Korean.

portrait of ASU grad Peter Whitehead

Brains and bassoons

What do brains and bassoons have in common? Perhaps only a psychology and music double major like Peter Whitehead could answer that question. 

Army ROTC Cadet Gerald Prater

From the Army to politics and back again

For political science major and Army ROTC Cadet Gerald Prater, attending college was not in his plans. After graduating high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2010 and served as an intelligence analyst. 

Nathan Williams

Seeing the forest through the trees

Nathan Williams, who will be earning his doctorate in geological sciences this spring from ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, grew up in rural Massachusetts, which helped him gain a profound respect and appreciation for natural processes.

Finding her way through challenges

Francesca de Martini was halfway through her graduate program when she decided she wanted to start a family with her husband. She had it all planned out so the birth of her daughter wouldn’t interfere with her comprehensive exam, but then life threw her a few curveballs.

Aditya Dhumuntarao

Cambridge bound

Aditya Dhumuntarao will be graduating in May with dual bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics and has earned top honors in both majors. He also earned the top award for an undergraduate in each mathematics and physics — the Charles Wexler Mathematics Prize, and the Outstanding Physics Undergraduate Award. 

Tin Phan

Meant for math

Tin Phan, who will be graduating with dual bachelor's degrees in mathematics and physics, will be awarded the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medal in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

Finding his dream job

The U.S. Air Force gave Arizona State University graduating student Michael Sprague the opportunity to restart his life after family commitments placed it on hold temporarily and now, after his ASU journey, he’s heading toward an exciting new venture. 

Graduate student Palden Choying and ASU professor Andrew Smith

Finding a kindred spirit half a world away

Palden Choying grew up as a shepherd in Tibet but found his way to university, where studying the pika led him to Andrew Smith's research, and to ASU.

ASU graduate Isaac Hernandez

Excelling outside his comfort zone

Following in his brothers’ footsteps, Isaac Hernandez knew from a young age he wanted to join the U.S. Army and major in criminal justice. The Washington native sought new opportunities and experiences outside of his small hometown. 

ASU School of Music 2016 graduate Samuel Peña

Making social connections through music

Samuel Peña grew up loving and making hip-hop music, but he didn't think music school was for him — until he got to ASU. On May 11, he graduates from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts with a master's in music education. 

portrait of ASU grad Mitzi Vilchis

A positive force

Mitzi Vilchis, a secondary education major, was recently named a Fulbright grantee and will be teaching English to school children in Mexico this fall.

Student Breanne McCarthy portrait on a stairwell Biodesign

Out of this world

During her first year at ASU, future doctor Breanne McCarthy worked in Cheryl Nickerson’s lab at ASU's Biodesign Institute, studying how the spaceflight environment will change bacterial resistance or susceptibility to antibiotics. The honors student also spent time during college volunteering in a homeless clinic and tutoring foster children.

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