Translating her skills into a career in sustainability

Korean language helps launch ASU grad Bridget Harding's sustainability path

May 6, 2016

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

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 Bridget Harding Download Full Image

Harding, a senior majoring in sustainability, first encountered Korean in high school. She enjoyed the language so much that she chose it for her language requirement when she started at ASU, the only college in Arizona that offers the language. She continued to enjoy it and went beyond the required two years, taking upper-level courses in the School of International Letters and Cultures into her junior and senior years.  

Harding went on to study abroad in South Korea in 2013, where she noticed the overlap between her studies in ecosystems and her ability to speak Korean. She became interested in the East vs. West perspectives on nature and ecology. In Eastern cultures, people often see themselves as part of nature, while in Western culture nature is often viewed as a place of resources, she said.  

“I think it’s important to study abroad no matter what your major is,” Harding said. “You can learn a lot about yourself and the world, and apply that to what you want to do.”

The summer of 2015, during her sophomore year, Harding applied for a research position with the National Science Foundation, hoping to study insect and riparian environments. During the interview, the first thing they noticed was her language skills. 

“I hadn’t taken entomology, but I was able to pick up the Latin terms based on being a language student,” Harding said. “They pointed out that my ability to learn a difficult language like Korean meant I could learn difficult computer programs as well.” 

In the fall of that year, Harding then applied for an internship with the Nature Conservancy, When she received an interview, the interviewers were again curious about the Korean on her resume. This time, she said, she knew exactly what to say. 

“I’d be able to learn their programs quickly,” Harding explained. She would need to learn GIS, or geographic information systems, a key part of the Nature Conservancy’s work. Harding realized that knowing how to piece together a difficult language like Korean would give her the skills she needed to grasp the new program easily.

During her time at the Nature Conservancy, Harding began thinking about how she wanted to spend her time after graduation. With the encouragement and support from professors in SILC (Dr. Ebru Turker) and sustainability, she applied for the Fulbright Scholarship Program in South Korea. 

“You don’t have to know the language to be accepted, but since I do, I thought I would have an edge,” Harding said.

Harding will leave for South Korea this July, and will live with a South Korean family during her stay. She will be placed in a classroom as a full-time English teaching assistant, creating lesson plans and practicing conversational skills with the students. Although the program will last one year, Harding has the opportunity to extend it up to three years.

“I feel very welcomed there,” Harding said. “South Korea and the U.S. have a good relationship when it comes to Americans, and the culture is starting to come over here too.”

As an Arizona native, Harding wanted to take advantage of every opportunity at ASU.

“I tried to get as much out of college as possible,” she said. “It’s really rewarding in the end when you go to the country and people can really understand you, and it improves your confidence.”

After her time abroad, Harding will attend graduate school at the University of Washington Marine Affairs program. Ironically, one of the only other institutions that offers a master's degree in this field is located in South Korea. She hopes to one day work for NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or continue with nonprofits like TNC.

Written by Sarah Edwards

Murphy Raine McGary

Communications specialist, School of International Letters and Cultures


Brains and bassoons

ASU psychology grad combines love of music, psychology to study music therapy

May 6, 2016

Editor's note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

What do brains and bassoons have in common? Perhaps only a psychology and music double major like Peter Whitehead could answer that question. Similar to many bassoon players, Whitehead started his mastery of the woodwinds as a clarinet player who moved to the bassoon in the seventh grade at his Mesa, Arizona, school. Going to ASU seemed a clear choice and as a new freshman, Whitehead had decided to study music therapy where the overlapping interests between psychology and music becomes a little more clear.  portrait of ASU grad Peter Whitehead ASU psychology graduate Peter Whitehead Download Full Image

By his sophomore year, Whitehead had started working in two of the Department of Psychology’s cognitive science research labs where he became interested in how the human brain processes information and how unique or novel stimuli affect attention. But, Whitehead's interests didn’t stop with earning bachelor's degrees this spring in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts — during his undergraduate career at ASU he also worked in Dr. Corianne Rogalsky’s Speech and Hearing Sciences research lab in the College of Health Solutions where he gained functional magnetic resonance imaging experience at the Barrow Neurological Institute.

According to Dr. Gene Brewer, Whitehead's psychology mentor, “Peter's academic interests revolve around the manner in which the cognitive system overtly and covertly coordinates behavior to achieve goals. He’s not only a talented musician but an incredible scholar who also has three first author manuscripts under review which represents a major achievement for any undergraduate student.”

“What’s exciting about cognitive science are the translational applications and the treatment implications for many disorders where cognitive control or attention focus may be impaired like schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, Alzheimers, and Parkinson’s Disease,” Whitehead said. 

Just recently, Whitehead was recognized by the National Science Foundation with an honorable mention for the Graduate Fellowship Research Program and has also earned the James B. Duke Scholarship for his upcoming doctoral studies in cognitive neuroscience at Duke University. 

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

Answer: I don’t think there was really an “aha” moment. I had been working in a lot of cognitive control projects in Dr. (Christopher) Blais’ EEG Lab and in Dr. Brewer’s Memory and Attention Control Lab for a couple of years and became really interested in what they were studying. So, I started asking questions and reading more about the topic. There are a lot of questions left to be answered and I find the topic interesting.

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

A: Plans change as you go along and it’s important to be flexible with them.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU for a few reasons, some more practical than others. ASU has a great psychology department as well as a great music school. For what I was interested in, ASU was the best choice. It allowed me to be able to pursue my academic endeavors while still being able to develop my skills as a musician.

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

A: Talk to your professors and get involved in research. One of the best decisions I ever made at ASU was to join Dr. Brewer’s lab. Dr. Brewer and Dr. Blais are fantastic mentors, and I learned a lot from them.

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

A: If I wasn’t in lab, I was in a practice room, and more often than not, I was in lab. I’m not sure if that qualifies as a favorite spot on campus.

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

A:  I’m not sure I’m qualified to handle or manage $40 million dollars, so probably give it to a charity like Oxfam or Doctors Without Borders.