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3 outstanding ASU graduates to receive Barrett Alumni Awards


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March 29, 2018

One is a social entrepreneur, one is a researcher and author, and the other works in the public affairs arena. They graduated college in different years and followed various paths to success in their respective fields.

One thing they had in common is that they got their start at Arizona State University and Barrett, The Honors College. Now, they have another: these three outstanding honors graduates will be given Barrett Alumni Awards in recognition of their achievements at a ceremony on April 12.

Pulitzer winner's future shaped at ASU

Matthew Desmond, recipient of the Barrett Distinguished Alumni Award, graduated in 2002 with two bachelor of science degrees in justice studies and communication. He earned master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“It’s a big honor,” Desmond said of the award, which recognizes alumni for exceptional career achievements, contributions to the campus and community, and for setting high standards of excellence in their personal and professional lives.

“My time at ASU was formative for me. It’s when I interacted with some of the biggest questions of the day about race, inequality, economic justice and how we should be as a society. These conversations often took place in the Barrett Honors College,” he said.

Matthew Desmond

“I wrote an honors thesis about homelessness, which set me on a path to study homelessness and poverty in America today. It is what I do today with my career,” said Desmond, who is a professor in the Department of Sociology at Princeton University.

In 2010 Desmond joined the Harvard Society of Fellows as a junior fellow. He is the author of four books, including "Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City" (2016), which won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, Carnegie Medal and PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction. As the principle investigator of The Eviction Lab, Desmond’s research focuses on poverty in America, city life, housing insecurity, public policy, racial inequality and ethnography. He is the recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award and the William Julius Wilson Early Career Award. He is a contributing writer for the New York Times. In 2016 he was listed among the Politico 50 as one of “fifty people across the country who are most influencing the national political debate.”

Honors travel creates globally minded achiever

Mark Huerta, who graduated with a bachelor of science degree in engineering in 2013 and a master’s degree in biomedical engineering in 2015, is the recipient of the Barrett Early Career Achievement Award.

The Early Career Achievement Award is given to outstanding young alumni who have graduated within the past 10 years and who have demonstrated innovative and responsible professional leadership and the potential for future distinction.  

Mark Huerta

Huerta is a co-founder and director of project development for 33 Buckets, an organization that provides safe water for people in underdeveloped countries through the use of a multi-layer, gravity-fed filtration system to remove arsenic and disinfect water.

33 Buckets began in 2010 as an engineering student project at ASU, and is now a limited liability corporation serving thousands of people in three countries: Bangladesh, the Dominican Republic and Peru. The organization recently established the non-profit 33 Buckets Foundation and plans to expand its reach into more countries.

33 Buckets, a finalist for the Pritzker Prize Emerging Environmental Genius Award, was featured in an Arizona State University commercial that aired during Super Bowl LI in Arizona.

“It is really humbling, especially thinking about how many other deserving students there are and all the support I have had to achieve the successes I have had so far. I think the recognition I have received for my work is very significant. It really shows that Barrett values social entrepreneurship and the impact 33 Buckets makes by making clean water more accessible in the developing world,” Huerta said.

Huerta said that his honors experience had a direct effect on his academic achievement and career trajectory.

“I think connecting with other motivated individuals in Barrett while living in the dorms my freshman year was critical to my early development as a college student," said Huerta, who still maintains connections with friends he met in his first year at Barrett. "Having social support is essential in being able to get through a tough major like engineering and I definitely had that with some of the brightest students in my inner circle.” 

Huerta participated in honors study abroad programs, which opened his eyes to world cultures and issues.

“It was one of the most incredible, exhilarating experiences I have ever been a part of. It really had a major influence on me in terms of my desire to travel and learn about new cultures and it has really helped my ability to immerse myself in my travel experiences with 33 Buckets,” he said.

“I also think the Human Event course and honors thesis were valuable experiences in shaping my perspective and forced me to practice a lot of skills. I would absolutely look back at my experiences as a Barrett student and would definitely say it was valuable,” he added.

Alumna hopes to foster thinkers of tomorrow

Sophie O'Keefe Zelman

Sophie O’Keefe-Zelman, this year’s recipient of the Barrett Service Award, graduated summa cum laude in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She served as ASU Undergraduate Student Body President. She received a master’s degree in international development and social policy from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.

The Barrett Service Award recognizes an alum who has enhanced the college through dedicated service, promotion, financial support and other efforts. O’Keefe-Zelman has been a dedicated member of the Barrett Alumni Council since its inception in 2014, and has been a strong advocate and helped shape the trajectory of the college.

Currently, she is a director at OH Strategic Communications, a firm specializing in communications, public affairs, strategic planning and campaign management.

“I am honored to be chosen for the Barrett Service Award, but I truly don’t feel worthy. I enjoy giving back to Barrett and Barrett students because I want current and future students to have access to the same quality opportunities I had,” she said.

“I believe in Barrett's mission, and I think it plays a vital community role in producing the change makers, innovators, and thinkers of tomorrow. Barrett provided me with a platform to access immeasurable opportunity as a student and still does to this day. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give back to Barrett what it gave to me.”

O’Keefe-Zelman said she acquired skills and resources to enter the workforce while a Barrett student and the college continues to influence her in positive ways.

“Barrett’s stellar reputation provides me with an instant validator when talking to employers and networks about my background," she said. "Being a Barrett graduate has significance, not just in the Arizona market, but the national market as well. Additionally, the post-graduate resources and network provided by Barrett has been tremendously helpful at all stages of my career.”

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