Film student steps outside comfort zone to find success

May 3, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

Everyone thought Marylyn Aguilar would pursue a career in singing, but it took an essay and some tears for her to find her own path. Photo of Marylyn Aguilar Marylyn Aguilar. Photo by Reeb Menjivar Download Full Image

“Growing up, I focused my attention on academics and music classes, specifically singing,” said Aguilar, a film and media production major graduating from Arizona State University. “The people in my life assumed I would go on to college to study teaching or vocal performance. It was expected of me. But I knew better and understood I wanted to do something different with my life.”

Her junior year at Maryvale High School, she received an assignment to write an essay on her future and her career goals.

“Attempting to write the essay, I began to cry,” she said. “At that moment, I was anxious. I had no desire to pursue my other interests as careers, but was clueless as to what path to follow.”

Francis Ford Coppola’s film “The Outsiders” played in the background. It wasn’t a film Aguilar particularly liked, but it changed her life.

“It made me realize I wanted to develop stories in that medium,” she said. “With film, I was able to not only conjoin all my interests, but also explore a creative outlet that was outside of my comfort zone.”

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

Answer: During my time at ASU, I realized that I'm more of a kinesthetic learner than a visual one. In film school, most of my learning came from hands-on practice. I didn't feel comfortable directing, editing, writing a script or even touching a camera until I did it. I am grateful I learned this about myself sooner than later, it's made me into a better filmmaker in the long run. Many of the stories I write are experiences I witnessed or experienced myself. I always tell myself, "Try it and then execute it."

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose to attend ASU because it was close to home, but it also has a well-established film program.  

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

A: Don't be afraid to try new things and keep your mind open. Seize every opportunity and run with it. College can be beautiful, so talk to everyone and make connections. 

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

A: My favorite spot on campus was, surprisingly, Hayden Library. I would pack snacks, buy coffee and persuade a bunch of friends to reserve a room to study in for hours. I've had the greatest conversations and wrote my best papers there. I have a special place in my heart for Hayden Library – it’s gotten me through some rough nights. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After I graduate from ASU, I will be attending the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles. I begin school in the fall with my younger sister. I will continue studying film in the school's Digital Cinema program. I am genuinely excited to begin the next chapter in my life. More than ever, I feel I am in a position to confidently embark on my career without hesitation. 

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

A: It takes so much more than $40 million to solve any problem on Earth, however, if I had the money, I would invest in education in Guatemala and Honduras. It would be a dream to aid my family's homelands in that way. The youth (specifically females) are the primary victims in these struggling countries. They die every day. Young people should not have to give up their chance to learn, let alone lose their lives because of the actions of corrupt governments. I wish to one day actually make an impact with my career.  

Sarah A. McCarty

Marketing and communications coordinator, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


ASU faculty member pairs science, communication

Karla Moeller's passion for science, writing resulted in a new children's book, 'Joryn Looked Up'

May 3, 2018

Arizona State University is a school of master learners — those capable of learning and thriving in anything they set out to accomplish. Karla Moeller, alumna and faculty member, is a prime example of a master learner, utilizing her diverse skill sets to succeed in each new venture she pursues.

Moeller graduated with a doctorate in biology from the School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2016, where she focused her research on Gila monsters and how dehydration affects the physiological function in reptiles. Karla Moeller graduated with a PhD in biology from the School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2016. Download Full Image

In addition to her research, Moeller explored other areas of interest during her time at ASU and found she also has a love for communication. However, biology is one thing she keeps coming back to.

“I've always had very broad interests, but biology is the one thing that kept me hooked,” Moeller said. “Even now, I find myself straddling science research and science communication, so I'd say my interests are still broad, but overall I am fascinated by how things work — how bodies work, how people think, how animals survive — and when I learn something, I like passing that information along to others.”

Moeller now focuses her research on ecophysiology and how survival strategies change throughout an individual's lifetime, and has found a way to utilize her knowledge and passion for biology by translating it into her work as an editor and content creator for Ask A Biologist, a learning website created to engage people of all ages with biology.

“We work to highlight the diversity of biology — both in terms of the subject matter we cover, and in the type of information we offer, whether it be answers to questions, creative stories about different organisms or ideas, interviews with scientists, summaries of new research, or career information,” Moeller said. “Ask A Biologist is a unique learning resource because it represents the voices of hundreds of scientists.”

Content for the website is generated from a collective of minds from the School of Life Sciences, including graduate students, teaching assistants, website creator Chuck Kazilek and Moeller herself. Together, the team works to create a website that educates and provides an entertaining learning experience for students of all backgrounds.

“We really try to focus on accessibility, not just of different ages, but of different cultures,” Moeller said. “We try to write for a global audience and we continue to expand the number of stories offered in other languages. Right now we have material in 12 languages besides English.”

In addition to her research and work in website development, Moeller recently published her first children’s book, “Joryn Looked Up”. Moeller said she wrote the first draft of the book when she was experiencing a lot of change in her life.

“Before I came to ASU, my life was full of change: changing cities, changing jobs, the new friends that come with that, and doing this every few months, as is common in the life of a field biologist who works temporary jobs,” Moeller said.

“I wanted to write a story that communicated how scary change can feel, especially separation from someone you love, but that also showed how a lot of things can survive through change. I tried to think of where in the animal kingdom we see an abrupt — but totally relatable — change during a period of growing up. I thought of a kangaroo when it finally has to leave its mother’s pouch, and so Joryn’s story was born.”

Moeller's story centers around a young kangaroo, Joryn, who doesn’t want to accept the fact that he no longer fits in his mother’s pouch. He still tries to fit in the pouch every night, but one day his mother shows him the wonder of the world outside of the pouch, and he learns to love something besides his mother.

The book also has an animal and plant glossary where readers can learn more about all the different organisms pictured throughout the book — a biologist’s touch.

Moeller said her time spent at the School of Life Sciences allowed her to gain skills in biology and communication, which benefited her other career opportunities.

“I think the School of Life Sciences was the perfect place for me,” Moeller said. “It gave me a strong background in science, but also offered a huge number of opportunities to learn in these other ways. The structure of ASU and the school is setup to encourage people to be well-rounded and interdisciplinary, and I found my niche by pursuing both science and communication. That diversity of experience is a powerful tool for me moving forward in my career.”

Although it can seem difficult to juggle multiple interests, Moeller proves that it is possible to combine skills and make an impact on various platforms. Her advice to students is to get a well-rounded education. She emphasizes that writing, even as a biologist, plays an important role in success after college.

“[My position] impacts me and helps me grow every day,” Moeller said. “[Everyone] I work with teaches me how to be a better communicator, or editor, or teacher, or designer. Writing well, whether for a grant app, a resume, or an email, will help you get farther than you think.”

Olivia Knecht

Student writer-reporter, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences