Analyzing the future

Doctoral student combines experience as investigator with love of rhetorical analysis

April 29, 2017

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

A former government contractor, Sarah Jackson Young is earning a Ph.D. in English (Writing, Rhetorics and Literacies) from Arizona State University this spring. The Kansas City native combines her experience as an investigator with a love of rhetorical analysis to inform her academic interests in surveillance studies, background investigations and the use of the internet for surveillance. Sarah Jackson Young / Courtesy photo Graduating doctoral student Sarah Jackson Young studies surveillance and background investigations using rhetorical analysis. She argues that when a person feels "surveilled," their behavior changes — sometimes negatively. "That is one way I think surveillance works against us," Young said. "It’s harder to take chances when we know others are watching. Realizing the consequences of surveillance, and then overcoming them, takes you to a better creative space." Download Full Image

Young recently defended her dissertation, “The Rhetoric of Surveillance in Post-Snowden Background Investigation Policy Reform" in which she argued that congressional changes to background-check procedures have consequences for both national security and social justice.

She has also published articles on the topic in prominent journals: “Slipping through the cracks: Background investigations after Snowden” in Surveillance & Society (2017) and “Literacies for Surveillance: Social Network Sites and Background Investigations” in Media and Communication (2015).

We sat down with Young to get her “read” on what’s next.

Question: What was your "aha" moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field? 

Answer: I was working as an investigator for about 10 years, and in June 2013, Edward Snowden relayed a large amount of classified information to journalists. Congress was quick to attribute one cause of these disclosures to a faulty background investigation. I knew then that rhetorical analysis could help break down security policies dealing with classified information and interrogate the belief that we can assign identities to others to predict the future, but I wasn't sure exactly how to do it. After I met my committee member [Professor in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences] Greg Wise who studies surveillance, though, I knew that was the direction I wanted to go.

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

A: When you're teaching, it takes practice to be human. No, seriously. When I first started teaching and researching, I thought I needed to be who others thought I should be, or some version of a flawless Hollywood leading lady. I was scared to take creative chances and felt comforted by a PowerPoint. My husband told me though, to just "be human" (his version of "just be yourself") with all the flaws and mess that comes with that. And as silly as it sounds, it wasn't until I started to be myself — and understand my likes and dislikes — that I really started to understand the real excitement that comes from researching and from helping students write and see their everyday lives in new ways. That is one way I think surveillance works against us. It’s harder to take chances when we know others are watching. Realizing the consequences of surveillance, and then overcoming them, takes you to a better creative space.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU for my PhD because I wanted to work with [Associate Professor of English] Peter Goggin and research issues of surveillance. I felt I had the freedom and mentorship here to explore the areas I wanted to see. It's been awesome. My committee members [Professor of English] Shirley Rose and Greg Wise were great, too. Do I have to leave?

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

A: Be the student and learn what your area of specialty wants you to know, but make the leap to be the scholar that tells the field what you want it to know. Also, you'll finish comps/prospectus/dissertation/conference paper/publication/everything you think you should do/etc. in the right time that works for you. Don't compare yourself to others. When have you ever let yourself down?

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

A: I liked my TA office. I could get work accomplished in a supportive atmosphere amongst friends. And I liked the Starbucks in Palo Verde East on the way into campus from Lot 59. Coffee. Lots of coffee.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm going to break the rules I set for myself and challenge myself to take risks. Like, I might eat cereal and stay up past 10:30 p.m. on a school night. But also, I'm going to keep researching surveillance and teaching.

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

A: I'd probably try to start some type of sustainable program for free child care in Arizona, especially for students. I keep thinking of a class 10 years ago when the professor asked how the economy would change if child care was free, and I think about all my students who have struggled to find child care. It is a real issue when people can't work or go to school because they can't find someone to watch their children. I think that would really change people's lives.

The Department of English is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English


Communication grad thrives in downtown Phoenix vibe

May 1, 2017

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

ASU graduating senior Stephanie Carmen Krebs, a communication major in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, said she recently had an experience that left her feeling extremely close to her education. ASU communication graduate Stephanie Carmen Krebs enjoyed the vibrant Downtown Phoenix campus Internships in the fashion industry in New York City helped communication major Stephanie Carmen Krebs realize that the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus is where she wanted to be. Download Full Image

“I was in the middle seat on an airplane with two strangers next to me during a flight home to Phoenix from Los Angeles,” explained Krebs. “The captain alerted the flight attendants to prepare for takeoff, and the airplane began to accelerate. Suddenly, as we were near flight, I felt a tight grip on my hand. 

“It was the hand of the elderly Indian woman sitting in the window seat, and I quickly made eye contact with her, partially in shock,” Krebs continued. “As I learned in communication, specifically in semiotics, when people cross our personal boundaries, confusion ensues. However, when I made eye contact, she immediately communicated exactly how she was feeling. 

“She was terrified and unable to speak English, I realized,” said Krebs, a seasoned flyer whose father was a pilot. “Without telling me or asking me, I knew we would hold hands for a while. I was more than content to hold her hand, until the all-too-familiar ding, indicating that we had reached 10,000 feet, and she released me.” 

Krebs and her new friend were silent the rest of the flight, but Carmen helped the woman communicate and get water from the flight attendant.

“Then, with no confusion, she took my hand again as we began our descent,” said Krebs. “We landed safely and when the cabin lights turned on and we were exiting the plane, she took me by the shoulders and gave me the biggest embrace, smile, and a kiss on the cheek. 

“This made my degree feel so important and real,” she reflected. “Outside the confines of a classroom or a textbook, all we can hope for is a way to communicate well, especially with those who don't speak our language.”

Krebs, who also has earned a minor in media analysis in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, answered some questions about her ASU experience.

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

Answer: When I started at ASU I was in W. P. Carey as a business communication major on Tempe campus. However, after my first two years I realized I was missing something: I had spent two summers taking internships in New York City in the fashion industry and found I loved being in a vibrant downtown community. When I returned from the second internship, I decided to tailor my ASU experience to what I had enjoyed about the city. I switched to the Downtown Phoenix campus and a communication major in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. My first day of class with 20 students, studying under Professor Jackie Martinez, I realized I was finally excited about my education and in an environment that suited me!

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

A:  I took a class with Dr. Heather Curry on Language, Culture and Communication that really shifted my prospective on homelessness. In light of the current political climate, Dr. Curry made the focus of our class borders. We examined personal and public borders that are in place regarding homelessness. All opinions and experiences were considered and students spoke openly. Together we were able to unpack the idea of homelessness and, for some, reorient ourselves to it.

Q:  Did you have any favorite campus or other spots where you liked to study or spend time?

A:  The Downtown Phoenix campus is my favorite place to study and spend time with friends. I have been fortunate to cultivate a community of students and friends downtown that keep me busy with concerts, lectures, and coffee. We love to work on homework at the bevy of local coffee shops. It really is an excellent campus for nightlife and activities!

Q:  What are your plans after graduation?

A:  I am traveling right out of college. I’ll be spending time in my mother’s homeland of Peru and then will be onto various other countries in South America. I will be looking for a job in the arts.

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

A: I would tackle the fashion industry. Not many people realize that fast fashion is the second- dirtiest industry in the world, next to big oil. It not only seriously cripples third-world countries with mountains of unwanted clothes being shipped to them from larger, more developed nations, but the sweatshops have horrible safety regulations and low wages. We need to critically evaluate the rate at which we consume clothing and the prices we want to pay for it. It is not the companies that are being undercut on price and taking the hit, it is people working for nothing to make the clothing people would rather pay $10 for than $30.

Maureen Roen

Director of Communications, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts