ASU Online student perseveres through difficult pregnancy to earn degree

December 1, 2017

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

Arizona native Caite Buntin did not intend to study online. But in 2015, the mother of two found out she was pregnant with her third child during her second semester at Arizona State University's Tempe campus. Graduating ASU student Caite Buntin / Courtesy photo ASU graduate Caite Buntin. Download Full Image

“I was attending on-campus classes at that time,” Buntin said. “I’d spend six to seven hours vomiting and then walk to campus. I [sometimes] had to leave class for a few minutes and go into the restroom. My professors were gracious about it, thank goodness, but I knew I couldn’t continue on-campus classes in that condition.”

Buntin switched to ASU Online classes to continue her English major with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in hopes of easing her physical stresses. This helped, but just barely. She experienced pregnancy complications and was hospitalized during a summer school term: “I ended up taking my French 201 midterm in the hospital,” she said. “I was sick the entire pregnancy.”

Buntin’s baby, whom she named Laurel Lance (comic nerds: take note), was born via Caesarean section at 37 weeks, weighing just 4 pounds.

“She was and is a fighter," Buntin said.

Buntin persevered — through a move to Salt Lake City (where she now resides with her family), through recovery from surgery and complications, and through the myriad adjustments that come with having a new baby and young children.

She graduates this December with her bachelor's degree in English.

“Here I am. My daughters are ages 7, 6 and 1. I am graduating from ASU summa cum laude, and I am starting to receive opportunities to gain experience in the fields that I am most interested in pursuing," Buntin said.

Was it easy?

"Absolutely not," she said. "My doctors told my husband (who by the way, has been my biggest supporter and part of the reason I have been able to keep going forward) that I was close to dying if they had not done the C-section, and that really puts things into perspective. If anyone reads this story and takes anything away from it, I want it to be that hard work really pays off.”

Buntin answered a few more questions about her journey to her ASU degree.

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

Answer: I was 5 years old. I was being homeschooled at the time, and I was learning how to spell my name. Once I understood how the alphabet gave me the tools to write things, I started scribbling things down. When I was 6 years old I wrote my first story, which was “Cops and Their Donuts.” It was about two cops going into a coffee shop and dunking their donuts. I don’t remember what they spoke about, but I do remember it was only a page long with 6-year-old terrible scrawl. Still, I was proud of it, and from that moment on I was a writing machine. My bachelor’s in English is only going to propel me down that path. It may take more hard work, but I’ve already put in so much effort that I know I will get there eventually.

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

A: Attending university is a double-edged sword. Not only do you have to have an open mind to learning things that aren’t comfortable, you also have to be open to hearing the [perspectives] of other people. This can come from in the classroom or just dealing with the personnel you have to deal with when setting up your student status. When handling responsibility becomes frustrating, you have to remember to keep calm, lean on others you have around you, put on your determination hat and get things done. The most valuable experience that has come from ASU, for me, has been through my poetry and fiction workshops. I’ll give a shoutout to Rebecca Byrkit, who was my professor for both intermediate workshops I completed. She gave me so many valuable skills, skills that I already had when I started, but that grew and developed from careful attention to detail and exploration with other students. If I can give any advice to anyone, it’s to take a deep breath, understand that it won’t be easy, and then keep putting your best foot forward.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: When I was a teenager, my dad was getting his master’s degree at ASU. Although I had spouted off other college ideas at the time, when it finally came time for me to go into university, I decided to create a family tradition. I became a mother at a young age, and for quite some time I put my education on hold. When I decided to come back into it, not only was ASU feasible location-wise, but I already had experienced parts of ASU life growing up with my dad.

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

A: Don’t give up. Work hard. I’m not one to say that it’s all going to be work that you like doing or subjects you want to learn about it. There have been a handful of classes that I haven’t done well in because my lack of motivation drove me into a corner. Sometimes, though, regardless of how frustrating or time-consuming the work is, you have to keep telling yourself that the choice you made to do this is for the bigger picture.

Later on, when you leave ASU, where will you go? What’s all of the hard work for? Why try to maintain the best grades you can have? Do grades matter in the real world? I’m going to tell you that yes, they do matter. Not only in furthering your education, but great grades and great GPAs speak to employers about your quality of work and work ethic. Just remember that when you don’t want to put in the time and you want to BS on a paper (which I have done, don’t get me wrong), the effort you put into your work shows up later when you apply for the jobs you want after graduation.

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

A: Gammage Auditorium. There is a little nook of trees in a grassy area next to the bus stop. I used to sit there and wait for the Orbit bus and read.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I have already sent a resume to a few companies for internships in editing and publishing. I have no work experience, but my GPA and work ethic here at ASU has helped give me a set of skills that I think are valuable to companies offering these types of positions unpaid. I am currently an assistant with Waldorf Publishing, and I may have some other opportunities pop up as well.

Right now it’s all about getting that experience. Even though money is great, the experience is valuable because I can take it later on and show someone else that I have what it takes to be paid to do a job that I want to do. While the end goal is to be a writer — and write for myself and be a published author — I’m willing to work my way up to that point by being humble and starting at the bottom.

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

A: Money won’t fix the biggest issue our planet has, which is hate and ignorance. If we want to help the planet, we need to help ourselves, and if we’re going to help ourselves, we need to stop placing hate and blame on people with opposing opinions. It’s important for people to have opinions, to speak up, and to argue for what they feel is right; but it’s also important to listen and to compromise. Now, if I did indeed have $40 million, I’d probably sink that into the ocean, because our Earth is primarily made up of the oceans, and we really need to get proactive about helping detox our poison and trash out of it.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English


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ASU freshmen showcase original solutions to real-world health problems

Sex ed app wins ASU freshman Health Innovation Exhibition.
December 1, 2017

Hundreds of Arizona State University students crowded the courtyard between the Health North and South buildings Friday afternoon in downtown Phoenix. On display were posters they’d worked on all semester, with titles like “One Nation under Opioids,” “Abuse at Geriatric Homes” and “HIV Accessibility in Nigeria.”

Tough issues for any undergrad to tackle but especially for a freshman, which all of them were. The posters were the culmination of a semester-long endeavor for their ASU 101 course called the Health Innovation Project.

Friday’s event, the Health Innovation Exhibition, was the College of Nursing and Health Innovation students' chance to showcase an original solution to a real-world problem within the health care industry.

Nancy Kiernan, senior director of academic services and ASU 101 instructor for the college, said the exhibition began three years ago as a way to “start infusing the innovation process as early as freshman year.”

“It’s really about getting them to think of themselves as problem solvers and critical thinkers,” she said.

ASU 101 instructors at CONHI start early in the semester introducing students to the step-by-step process by which innovative solutions are arrived at. First, students identify a health care problem to address, which can be a challenging process in itself.

Nursing freshman Rebecca Farias, whose team settled on “Prevention of Depression Through the Classroom,” said it took them a while to narrow down their topic. They started with the idea to address depression in general, then whittled it down to a particular stressor — in this case, depression caused by the transition from high school to college — then began to think of ways to prevent it.

“Some students struggle with the big picture,” Kiernan said. “This gets them to think about how to take a large-scale problem and work collaboratively with a team and meet deadlines to make an impact.”

Farias’ team’s solution was to send ASU students to talk to high school students about their own experiences and what to expect — a college-prep talk focused more on the social and emotional aspects rather than the brass tacks of financials and grades.

“We really had to think about all aspects of the problem to make the solution a reality,” Farias said.

In addition to encouraging students to think differently about how to address problems in their field, the project also teaches them basic research skills that no doubt come in handy later in their academic careers and beyond.

Community health freshman Nikkalaus Cheever said learning how to use the ASU Library’s online catalogue of scholarly articles was invaluable when researching statistics on homelessness for his team’s project, since sources of information need to be credible.

This was the first year in the exhibition’s three-year history in which a winner was named: “Lack of Comprehensive Sexual Education in Schools,” created by nursing freshmen Alena Britt and Ashley Pinkerton and community health freshmen Grace Lillibridge and Grace Smith.

Britt said the inspiration for the project came from the team’s realization that she was the only one among them who had received any sort of thorough sex education before college. Pointing to a map on their poster that featured a map of the United States showing which states require sex ed — a gross minority — Britt said, “It’s easy to see why the U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate.”

Her team’s solution was to implement a sex ed game via a smartphone app in schools across the country. The game would be similar to The Sims, where players have an avatar and make choices about what actions to take, like whether or not to use birth control when you decide to engage in sexual activity. Based on their choice, the app will display facts such as types of birth control, where you can get it and whether your insurance will cover it.

In second place was “Stopping STI’s One Sun Devil at a Time,” and in third was “Preventing Childhood Drowning.” All three teams were invited to utilize the resources of the newly opened HEALab, a health- and wellness-centric entrepreneurship lab on the Downtown Phoenix campus.

Director of HEALab Rick HallRick Hall also serves as the Healthcare Innovation program director and a clinical professor in CONHI. congratulated the winners and encouraged them to use the lab to help take their product or service to market.

Britt said her team will definitely be doing that.

“Hopefully [with the help of HEALab], we’ll be able to actually get this out there and eventually every state will require sex ed,” she said.

Top photo: Community health freshman Naphia Morris presents her group's work on the prevention of depression through the classroom during the Health Innovation Exhibition on Friday on the Downtown Phoenix campus. The College of Nursing and Health Innovation's ASU 101 freshmen created research projects with solutions to real-world projects. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Emma Greguska

Editor , ASU News

(480) 965-9657