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Love for travel makes graduating ASU student want to make the world a better place

portrait of student
December 08, 2016

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2016 commencement. See more graduates here.

Arizona State University student Anna Laird has always loved traveling, which is part of the reason she joined the Peace Corps after she completed her undergraduate degree.

“During the Peace Corps, I became passionate about development work and figuring out ways to make the world a better place. Living in Kyrgyzstan for two years taught me about development on a grassroots level, but I needed to find a way to expand my knowledge. The Global Technology and Development (GTD) program in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society was the solution to my knowledge gap,” she said.

Laird says the GTD program taught her to always question, continuously seek more information, and to analyze a problem from an innovative perspective.

“A few months into the program, I remember watching a news segment on the BBC where a journalist was interviewing a Syrian refugee. The refugee was showing the journalist his smartphone and explaining how he used Google Maps to plot the safest routes. In hindsight, it seems so obvious, but at the time it was a light-bulb moment.”

She felt that this was a new phenomenon and the potential uses of mobile phone technology for refugees were endless. She sought to learn more and ended up using this topic for her capstone project. She also hopes to put the information she gleaned to use in the future. “Had I not been enrolled in the GTD program, I doubt I would have given that news segment a second thought. Instead, it stuck with me for months, and I simply had to learn more.”

Now with the development experience she gained in the Peace Corps and a solid foundation of knowledge thanks to the GTD program, Laird says she feels prepared to pursue a career in international development work and seek innovative solutions to problems. 

Name: Anna Laird

Major, school/college: Global Technology & Development, School for the Future of Innovation in Society

Hometown: St. Petersburg, Florida

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)

Answer: I became interested in development work while serving in the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia. I started thinking about the various uses for technology in a development context. Through my work in the Peace Corps, it became clear to me that the development field would need to become more innovative as we entered the digital age.

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

A: It is hard to pinpoint one particular thing, as I feel like my entire experience at ASU changed my perspective! The entire Global Technology & Development (GTD) is partially designed to challenge any existing perspectives you might have and expose you to new ones. Overall I would say that the biggest thing I have taken away from my time at ASU is to question everything and never take things at face value — there is always more to learn and understand!

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU appealed to me for so many reasons! I was initially drawn to ASU because of the GTD program. The GTD program combined so many aspects that I was looking for in a graduate degree program. I was also very impressed with how much support ASU offered online students, which was very important to me.

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

A: Keep at it! Also, caring about little details can go a long way. If you don’t have a copy of the APA manual — go buy it immediately (or whichever style your particular school uses).

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

A: Does Blackboard count? As an online student, I’ve actually never been to the ASU campus! Attending graduation in December will be my first time on campus and I can’t wait!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m actually not sure yet! I hope to return to development work and would love to focus on human rights related issues. I will be looking for opportunities both at home and abroad. In the short-term, I plan to read a few books that are NOT school related and enjoy taking a break from writing papers!

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

A: While there are many problems to choose from (unfortunately), I would probably choose to tackle access to quality education for women and girls. Millions of girls are denied education around the world, which prevents them from accessing opportunities and reaching their full potential. 

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