Strong female role models inspire ASU grad to adapt to change and pursue her dreams

April 29, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

Growing up in the suburbs of Phoenix, Monica Szeto could count on her father to be her main role model. She turned to him for examples of strength, integrity and bravery. But she didn’t have a strong female role model and didn’t find one on television or in other parts of her life. That is, until she came to Arizona State University.  Monica Szeto Monica Szeto is graduating with her undergraduate degree in biology from the ASU School of Life Sciences. Photo by Monica Szeto Download Full Image

As she entered her freshman year, she knew she would choose a career in science. She had always been driven to it as a child. With an appreciation especially for physiology, Szeto decided to pursue a career in biology since it’s challenging and always changing as new research comes to light. 

While her courses were exciting, personal trials presented their own challenges during college. It was especially during those difficult times that Szeto turned to four women for inspiration. 

Szeto, who is graduating in May with a degree in biology from the School of Life Sciences, answered questions about her time at ASU.

Question: Was there a particular person, course or experience at ASU that inspired you in some way?

Answer: Wow! It is too hard to choose one person. Coming out of ASU, the most influential people I will always remember are the following people: Brenda Miller, Shannon Ringenbach, Katey Cooper and Sara Brownell.

It was only when I got to ASU that I was exposed to such strong women. Brenda [Miller], a physical therapist, inspires me because she treats all of her patients with genuine love and makes it a priority to make every person feel like they matter. She would never exclude a patient from clinical conversation, even if the patient were cognitively low-level. 

When I first met Shannon [Ringenbach], she inspired me because she was involved in so many great things at ASU, while also having a family life. She has a go-getter, businesswoman attitude that drives my own spirit. 

Katey was my support pillar throughout [my] undergraduate degree. Initially giving me career and college guidance, Katey [Cooper] has gained my respect and trust with personal issues during hard times. I felt like I could always turn to her and she would listen and try to understand me, instead of immediately judging me and writing me off.

Professor Sara [Brownell] is an example to me of a revolutionary woman who is a trailblazer in her field. She carries herself with strength and was another example of success for me when I needed someone to relate to and feel represented by.   

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

A: This is something I had learned before, but had forgotten somewhere in the middle of undergrad: Things can change. It took some hard times during my college years to learn to remember that. "Re-learning" that things can change has inspired me to keep hoping and has given me the strength to keep going. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: Definitely a smart financial choice and I tended to do everything my sister did when I was in high school, so I followed her right into ASU. I'm glad I stayed because I ended up meetings all kinds of great people and not-so-great people who all nevertheless made me grow. Likewise for the opportunities and challenges I've encountered at ASU.

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

A: Things can change, but change will usually take longer than you expect. But if you are determined and really want it, aren't afraid to go against what people are telling you and rather do what is best for you, and aren't afraid to question yourself, then you will get to where you need to go in life.

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

A: Noble library is the best place for studying. They also have silent areas. I sometimes go to the music school when I get extremely stressed out. They have vines and a fountain, and if you go inside you can sit outside the studio and listen to people practice. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Volunteer for our community, work as a PT tech, review the sciences in prep for PT school, and treat myself very well mentally and physically.

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

A: Corrupt power/control of people who prey on sex-trafficking victims, youth and anyone who is not capable of defending themselves. 

Q: What obstacles did you face during your time here at ASU, and how did you overcome them?

A: For me, the two hardest logistical obstacles were time management and studying. I am an expert time-waster. Over the years, I've found that the solution to wasting time is to load your plate full so that you literally can have no time to waste or all the balls you're juggling will fall and you'll have to catch up.

I learned that the best way to learn is to quiz yourself on the material. It may seem like it takes longer, but it actually saves you time because it won't slip right out of your brain thus requiring many glances at the notes. 

Q: Were you facing any specific challenges before you came to ASU, and did your college experience change those challenges in some way?

A: I had some family issues before ASU that definitely led to internal struggles that I needed to sort out later on. My time during college definitely changed the shape of those issues. I got to spend time away from my family. That time helped me to realize what had been going wrong, what parts of myself I needed to heal from and grow from, what and who I needed to give up, and it ultimately helped me to realize that I am not responsible for keeping other people breathing and happy. 

Everyone has his or her own life to live. Blood doesn't make family, and things you always thought were permanent usually never are. And that's OK. It just makes me appreciate whatever I have going on for me in this moment. It has actually made me live more and take more good risks, because things don't have to be perfect or forever. It made me realize and not feel ashamed that my top priority was myself and how I wanted to live my life, because it is my life. At the end of the day, at the end of relationships, at the end of life, I'm all I've got. 

Q: What are you looking forward to most after graduation?

A: So many things! Going to PT school, gaining financial independence, treating myself, utilizing my skills to raise the community and rise in my field.

Q: What is one really special moment or memory during your time at ASU that you will always remember after graduation?

A: When I was a freshman, I was a couple years into a journey of healing and growth. This journey was one in which I began to dedicate my life to reaching my full potential and uncovering the woman I've always been and wanted to be inside me. I had this very strong feeling that at the end of these four years, I would be an incredible, strong, kind, and powerful woman. At 21, I obviously have so much more greatness that still lies uncovered inside of me. Nevertheless, I can't even describe how wonderful it feels to stand there on the other side of four years, remembering the person I was, remembering what I felt and went through during college, and looking back now at the harvesting stage. I am truly excited for the great things I will continue to do in the future, and the better and stronger of a person I will continue to develop into.

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


ASU military vet answers call of the wild

April 29, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

After serving five years with the U.S. Army in military intelligence at Fort Hood, Texas, and then working with the Army a few more years in California as a civilian contractor, Lauren Nicole Jackson moved back to Arizona to attend Arizona State University. Lauren Nicole Jackson interned doing research at San Pedro River Preserve Applied biological sciences graduating senior Lauren Nicole Jackson had a summer internship experience after her junior year, doing research in the San Pedro River Preserve, that cemented her decision to focus her studies and career on wildlife ecology. Download Full Image

Jackson, who grew up Glendale, Arizona, started out at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus as a pre-med student, living in the residence hall.    

“I decided it would be good to live in the dorms my first year while I adjusted to a different lifestyle and made new friends. But the more classes I took, the more I realized I like working with animals more than people,” explained Jackson, who said she has always had a love for animals.

She changed her major to applied biological sciences in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, and so for the last several years has commuted from Phoenix, where she lives, out to ASU’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa. In May she graduates with a bachelor of science with a concentration in applied ecology and pre-veterinary medicine as well as a certificate in wildlife management.  

Last summer, as a junior, Jackson held a pivotal internship with ASU wildlife ecologist Professor Heather Bateman, conducting an undergraduate research project on lizard species at the San Pedro River Preserve, in Pinal County. This summer she will continue collecting data for the study.

“My focus was pre-vet when I started the internship, and by the end of the summer I had changed to applied ecology and added the certificate in wildlife management,” said Jackson.

“My research project is looking at the mite loads in two different species of Whiptail lizard (Teiidae). I am comparing mite loads between Aspidoscelis sonorae, an all-female species that reproduces parthenogenically with eggs that are clones of the mother, and Aspidoscelis tigris, a species that reproduces sexually,” she said. “I am also comparing mite loads across three different habitats: Tamarix, Prosopis and Populus.” 

Bateman explained the significance of studying these particular lizards. 

“Since there’s no genetic variety in the  A. sonorae populations, we’re looking at whether or not the species is more susceptible to certain diseases,” said Bateman. “One way to look at how well off these parthenogenic species are in terms of health and disease is to evaluate external mites.”

Jackson has found that A. tigris had a smaller mite load compared with that of A. sonorae, but the A. tigris also had a smaller mite load in non-native habitat.

“This supports my hypothesis that native habitat would have a higher mite load because of the lack of coevolution,” observed Jackson. “Since the Tamarix is an invasive species, the mites and whiptails did not coevolve in that habitat.” 

Her future data collection will take in place in the Tamarix habitat to provide more data for comparison, and she’ll be working toward getting the research published.

“I have presented the research poster twice now,” Jackson said, “including at the Wildlife Society Meeting JAM (Joint Annual Meeting of the Arizona/New Mexico American Fisheries Society and the Arizona and New Mexico chapters of The Wildlife Society) in February.”

Jackson shared with ASU Now these additional reflections about her ASU experience.

Q:  What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study what you’re studying?

A:  When I started my internship last summer on the San Pedro River Preserve, although I was extremely excited, I had some reservations about what I would be doing. It was new, and I had never handled a lizard in my life. But slowly, I started to notice how much I would miss work when I wasn’t working, and no matter how tired, sleepy, hungry or dirty I got, there wasn’t anything else I would rather be doing. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I grew up in Phoenix. Of course, I had to come here.   

Q: What’s something you learned while studying at ASU that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I realized that once you find something that you truly love, it becomes all that you ever do, and that’s OK. Embrace it, stay focused and you will succeed.

Q: Did you have any favorite spots to study or spend time on campus?

A: Nothing beats a good study room, and the study rooms on the Downtown Phoenix campus are my favorite. Being on that campus will always feel a little nostalgic to me.      

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be returning to my internship this summer, doing wildlife research at the San Pedro River Reserve. After that, I hope to either get a federal wildlife biologist tech position or a biology tech position in Hawaii. 

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

A: I would use a lot of the money to fund various research grants dealing with wildlife. I would create a research grant or scholarship for undergraduate students, to get more students and the public involved in wildlife research. Getting people educated and involved is key in my field. 

Maureen Roen

Director, Creative Services, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts