ASU student leaves her mark in history and graduates early

December 5, 2017

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

Sarah Harris grew up in Ahwatukee, Arizona, in the shadow of beautiful South Mountain and has always had a passion for history and an interest in religion. So her decision to study both seemed to be the perfect solution. Sarah Harris will graduate this fall with a degree in history. Bachelor of Arts in history graduate Sarah Harris. Download Full Image

“As a child, I excelled in math and science. I came to ASU in middle school for a math decathlon competition but always loved history,” Harris said. “I was raised Jewish, and I went to Temple Emanuel in Tempe, which sparked my curiosity in religion.”

Harris will be graduating with her Bachelor of Arts in history from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies with a minor in religious studies. She will be graduating with honors (and a semester early).

Her involvement within the school has allowed her to experience many of the opportunities SHPRS has to offer. During her last semester she particpated in an Undergraduate Research Experience led by Matthew Delmont, professor of history and director of SHPRS. She worked as a research assistant on Delmont’s book project, "To Live Half American: African Americans at Home and Abroad During World War II" and also completed an internship before joining the project.

As a historian, it will be my job to truthfully explain and extrapolate on historical moments and themes, and if I misrepresent the history or falsify conclusions, I can misrepresent history and cause harm to our world,” said Harris.

Harris answered a few questions about her ASU education.

Q: Why did you chose to study religion and history?

A: I chose to study history because I felt it was an overlooked subject that ties everything in our world together. When you study history you can understand the past, present, and the future. I wanted to understand why our world was the way it was, and study the causes of the problems that our world faces today. Oftentimes people overlook the differences and the histories of different places, which causes conflict, and I wanted to understand this so I could make a change in our world.

I chose to also study religion because it goes hand in hand with history. Major historical moments are often tied to religion, and studying the differences of religion helped me to understand the differences between cultures and societies and why they interacted with one another in certain ways. Religion is the base of most cultures, whether or not they admit to it, and I felt this was a crucial part of my understanding of history.

Q: What's the most valuable thing you've learned at ASU?

A: I would argue that the most valuable thing I have learned at ASU is how to successfully communicate and research. I am not arguing that I will write something that will one day change how we understand history, but I believe that every historically researched text does change the way we view history. My professors have taught me how to successfully evaluate sources, formulate thoughts and opinions, and research concepts and ideas that can help make me a successful writer and historian.

Q: What's been your biggest accomplishment at ASU?

A: So far, my biggest physical accomplishment has been my capstone paper. I had an outstanding professor that allowed me to write my research essay on a topic that I felt passionate about, and the outcome was outstanding. I have written numerous essays at ASU that I have felt proud of, but this one in particular allowed me the freedom to write entirely about what interested me, and challenged me to write a research paper on my own.

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

A: I would say that the most important concept to understand is that you need to find something that you are passionate about. There are many subjects that I am passionate about, but it took me many years, courses, and meetings with professors to figure out what that is. History is a field where you can specialize in very specific history or historical moments, so find your "thing" and stick with it. Also, history is a subject where connections are very important, so attend conferences or talk to your professors about what you are interested in, because they know the field better than you do, so listen to their advice and what they have to say. Finding a friend is also helpful. I met my best friend at freshman orientation, we realized we had the same historical interests, and we took some of our history courses together. Having someone to talk through history texts and concepts wiith is immeasurably helpful.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Since I'm graduating early, I will spend the spring semester traveling. In fall of 2018, I plan to go to graduate school to study peace, justice, and conflict resolution, so I can study equality in America. After this, I hope to gain a position where I can do research to impact the lives of Americans, especially African Americans, and create change. Depending on where I am in two years, I might apply for a PhD program.

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

ASU Online religious studies student wins the Dean’s Medal

December 5, 2017

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

Tiffany Spicer spent most of her childhood exploring the woods with her friends in a rural area of Maryland, unaware of the impact she would make in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies (SHPRS) from over 2,000 miles away. Tiffany Spicer will be the Dean's Medalist for SHPRS. Bachelor of Arts in religious studies Tiffany Spicer. Download Full Image

Spicer will be graduating with her Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from SHPRS this fall and has been chosen as the recipient of the Dean’s Medal from the school. She has been called “an extraordinarily motivated student” by her professors and has been exceedingly well-prepared, able to capture analytical, comparative and applied perspectives and is always ready to articulate her knowledge in clear writing and expression.

Her journey to graduation has had obstacles. As a young adult, Spicer pursued studies that were supposed to guarantee her a job after graduation but she never felt that these studies were right for her.

“I was studying nursing and realized it wasn’t for me and decided to join the Air Force as a linguist,” Spicer said. “This was not the life for me either though. I left the Air Force after a year and moved to Pennsylvania, where I searched for a job that would offer decent benefits.”

After leaving the Air Force, Spicer worked through a temp agency where she was hired at a factory for a snack food company.

“The work was brutal and my body hurt constantly,” said Spicer. “The work weeks were 60 hours long, and since I was a temp I only made $9.25 an hour. In order to be hired there, a person needs to work through a temp agency. However, some people worked there trying to get hired for as long as four years before they were hired on through the company. I realized at this job that I needed to go back to school.”

She went back to school full force and has been met with success in her efforts. She joined ASU as an online student and she worked on her classes while living in her home state of Maryland. Although she was juggling a full-time job while she was obtaining her degree, she worked hard to graduate with honors.

“My biggest accomplishment at ASU besides this award is simply making it to graduation,” Spicer said. “I have honestly lost a lot of sleep and relaxation. I need to thank my boyfriend who has helped me through many mental breakdowns while I was in school. I always strive for perfection which can be both rewarding and mentally harmful. However, the reward is absolutely worth the work.”

Spicer answered a few questions about her ASU online education.

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

A: I have always had a strong interest in religious studies. My parents were never religious but my older brother, who is eleven years older than me, always educated me and piqued my interest in an array of different subjects. He introduced me to different cultures and philosophy. I feel that without his influence, I would have turned out a lot differently. I also always had an affinity for mysticism and the paranormal. I always knew I wanted to go to school to learn about different religions but never really realized it was an option. I had looked at different majors at many different local schools, but nothing seemed perfect. I had spent that past year in my free time learning about voodoo and the different pantheon of Yoruba gods. Not really knowing it was an option, on break one night I looked up “the study of religion.” I had to search through pages of specific theology degrees but when I stumbled upon ASU, the major and its classes stood out like a beacon. I knew I was supposed to go here for religious studies.

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

A: I have learned so many things which have interested me and changed my perspective, it would take too long or me to list them. However, one which has stood out to me is a book I read for one of my history classes. It’s called "Winner Take all Politics" by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. It specifically talks about the growing inequality between distribution of wealth. It has been some time since I have read it and I don’t want to misquote anything, but I highly recommend reading it. I also have to say that all my work at ASU has helped me become a more concise writer and develop my organizational skills.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because when I had decided to be a religious studies major, ASU had offered the largest number of diverse courses. When looking through the list of courses, I remember thinking that I wanted to take all of them.

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

A: I used to work with high school-aged kids and my advice to them was always go to college as soon as you can and stay in. I took a long, roundabout way to getting a degree which put me behind where I wanted to be at my age. At any age though, school is beneficial. It is just a lot harder when you have a full-time job. Furthermore, I have been tired and wanted to quit multiple times, but I kept thinking about how horrible working in the factory was. Also, I feel like everyone knows deep down what interests them most. I would recommend going to school for something you love and worrying about your career later. When I had went to Towson University, Carroll Community and the Defense Language Institute, I knew the subjects I studied almost guaranteed jobs at the end. However, I was never doing what I love and I am in a lot happier place now that I have studied what I was meant to study.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I do not have an exact plan yet. For now, I plan on staying at my job in a bank and doing a two-year program studying shamanism. I want to continue my schooling and am interested in an acupuncture school which is about an hour from my house. I have also thought about getting my master’s at ASU as well. Additionally, I plan on becoming more active in my community and volunteering more often at a local animal rights group called the Animal Advocates of South Central PA.

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

A: This is my favorite question as I knew my answer as soon as I read it. I would tackle the issue of mass farming and the corruption of the agriculture business. I recommend everyone read a book called "Soil not Oil" by Vandana Shiva. It would be a dream come true for me to work alongside her and help solve world problems caused by mass farming. Though I do not know exactly how I would resolve these issues with this budget I know that mass farming harms the environment, animals, and people. I first want to start by saying the cattle industry accounts for 80 percent of the deforested area of the rainforest. It is cheaper for industries to clear out rain forest to both pasture cattle and grow soy for the cattle to eat but it is not worth the toll it takes on the environment. The beef industry wastes water as well. One hamburger takes approximately 600 gallons of water to produce. Alongside the waste of water, the overproduction of grains and soy depletes the soil of nutrients and the use of pesticides not only put toxins in our water sources and air but kills bugs which are complementary to farming, such as earthworms and spiders. Earthworms help aerate the soil and through doing this allow water to more easily penetrate. This helps prevent flooding. Furthermore, companies use genetically modified seeds which can not reproduce. This leaves poor farmers in India having to repurchase new seeds every year. The food industry makes the rich richer while harming and exploiting some of the poorest people on earth.

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies