ASU professor helps students learn, lead and innovate

July 13, 2017

Mike Tueller has many talents. He completed an academic conference paper in high school, served in the U.S. Navy and studied at Harvard University. He also landed his childhood dream job: professor.

“Of course, there’s no way I could have known as a preschooler what a university professor really did,” said Tueller, associate professor of ancient Greek in the School of International Letters and Cultures at Arizona State University. “So, I have to consider it the sheerest luck that I’ve actually found this job suits me.” Mike Tueller, associate professor of ancient Greek Mike Tueller is an associate professor of ancient Greek in the School of International Letters and Cultures, an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University. Download Full Image

Tueller started programming computers for a research project at a local university while in high school. The project’s aim was to develop high-powered space-based lasers as part of former President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, more commonly known as the “Star Wars Defense” plan. 

“I’ll admit this may sound more impressive than it is, but you should remember it was the '80s. A university research project couldn’t have a grad student do the work because the only people who knew how to program computers were high-schoolers,” he said. “But this means I delivered my first academic conference paper when I was 17, and in a completely different field from the one I find myself in now.”

As an undergraduate at Harvard University, Tueller first majored in astrophysics for his love of science. He said he hadn’t heard of the Classics as an academic field until he met one of his roommates. He switched his major to Classics and received his bachelor’s degree in 1992.

“I still love science, but I really wanted to try something different,” Tueller said. “And, like a lot of people who make similar switches, I was hooked.”

Tueller took a Navy Reserve Officers' Training Corps scholarship at Harvard. He served as an officer in the U.S. Navy for four years in between his undergraduate and graduate years, most of which was spent in Puerto Rico. In 2003, he completed his doctoral program in classical philology at Harvard. He taught for five years at Brigham Young University before joining the faculty at ASU in 2008.

Tueller teaches courses in ancient Greek language and literature. His research focuses on Greek epigrams, which began as inscriptions on objects but soon turned into very short, ancient poems that often feature witty turns of phrase or thought. He is currently re-editing the Loeb Classical Library’s standard English edition of “The Greek Anthology,” an ancient collection of about 4,500 short poems.

“These poems are tricky: they’re so short that they omit all context. In fact, they make a game out of forcing the reader to guess what their original context would have been,” Tueller said. “In my research, I have attempted to determine how ancient readers would have processed these poems – from discovering the reader’s starting point to how the nuance of individual words would play out across the poem, and where the surprises lie.”

Tueller said many people criticize forms of speech that are known for being short, such as the “tweet” or “sound bite,” because they believe it’s a diminution of public discourse. Tueller disagrees with this opinion, saying brevity is suitable for some kinds of expression.

“I think the Greek epigram can give us an example of how a rich literary tradition adapted to circumstances that favored brevity,” Tueller said. “Every new thing I discover in my research, no matter how small, feels like a jolt of electricity. And in my teaching, I get to see students have that same experience — a sudden flash of insight can redirect a life.”

While many students come to professors with very specific job-related worries, Tueller said it’s our responsibility as a university to raise their sights beyond the workforce.

“An undergraduate education should give its graduates the skills not just to do what they’re told but to forge their own paths, to innovate and to lead,” Tueller said. “This requires a much broader education in the world and its ways, and the cultivation of some very hard-to-pin-down skills in incisive observation and critical analysis without boundaries.”

Tueller teaches in a field with a long tradition of paying very close attention to words. He said a student who has acquired a precise ability to question the meaning behind words is less likely to be deceived and more likely able to address any need. Further, rigorous habits of reading, writing and speaking make clearer thinkers and more effective leaders.   

“Learning involves a leap into the unknown,” Tueller said. “You have to take the risk of being wrong and looking foolish if you’re ever going to make any progress.”

Amanda Stoneman

Senior Marketing Content Specialist, EdPlus


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ASU Foundation sets fundraising record, generates more than $220M for university’s programs, services

Support from private donors funds ASU scholarships, public services and more.
July 13, 2017

Record amount of private support follows public launch of Campaign ASU 2020

In the months following the launch of Campaign ASU 2020, a comprehensive resource-raising effort to sustain and grow Arizona State University’s educational activities, the ASU Foundation has announced the completion of a record year in fundraising for academic programs, research and services at the university.

At the close of the 2017 fiscal year, early estimates show private donors from across Arizona and the world contributed more than $220 million for ASU to enable access and excellence within higher education. The previous record of $215 million was set in fiscal year 2016.

“We’re trying to build something that the university needs going forward, which is a culture of philanthropy,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “All great universities in the United States are built around philanthropy.”

“This strong momentum indicates that our model is working and that our community is growing in its understanding of the value of private support to the university — and of the value of the university in society,” said R.F. “Rick” Shangraw Jr., chief executive officer of ASU Enterprise Partners, the parent organization to the ASU Foundation.

Campaign ASU 2020 focuses on six priorities — student access and excellence, student success, the academic enterprise, discovery, creativity and innovation, our communities and Sun Devil competitiveness — but donors are able to choose from 5,000 specific areas to make an impact. Those areas range from support for faculty developing space instruments for NASA to travel grants for undergraduates at Barrett, The Honors College to bringing Broadway shows to campus at ASU Gammage.

“I believe ASU is a major life force in our community, and I want to do my part to help it thrive,” said Jeremy Meek, Class of ’09, a donor and President’s Club Young Leader. He is one of more than 100,000 individual, corporate and foundation supporters to give to ASU this year.

Though private support is not a replacement for public funding, it provides the margin of excellence that allows scholars’ experiences to transform from good to great.

Around 8,000 students each year receive scholarships — perhaps the best-known category of support — provided by private donors.

Other beneficiaries include the reinvented Sun Devil Stadium; mid-career professionals hoping to transition to teaching; and the student-run, free health-care clinic for the homeless in downtown Phoenix.

One gift made international headlines when it was announced that Charlie and Lois O’Brien, two of the world’s foremost entomologists, would donate their collection of insect specimens and an endowed professorship to maintain them. The gift is valued at $12 million.

“We are so genuinely grateful for our donors,” said ASU Foundation CEO Gretchen Buhlig. “Because of them, ASU is able to start closing the gap between jobs in Arizona that require a college degree and the number of Arizonans that have one. What’s more, they are genuinely doing good in the world through the research they enable and the programs that help our students who might not otherwise attend or graduate from college.”

The ASU Foundation is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the mission of ASU as the New American University. It has consistently received the highest ranking for efficiency and transparency from Charity Navigator, the largest independent nonprofit evaluator, and was named a “Top Company to Work For in Arizona” by

To learn more about supporting ASU, visit

Top photo: Sun Devil Giving Day, an annual event each spring, raised more than $3 million in donations large and small from more than 1,000 supporters across the country. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Beth Giudicessi