ASU Law welcomes first recipients of scholarship program for Marines

October 12, 2018

It was just a small detail: a logo on a shirt. 

But the butterfly effect of that logo led to the creation of a scholarship program for veterans at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.  Christopher Senn (Left) and Conner Pursell (Right) Christopher Senn (left) and Conner Pursell, first recipients of the Richard Romley and R.J. Mitchell scholarships. Download Full Image

A year later, two first-year ASU Law students are the initial beneficiaries of the program. And to both, news of the scholarship seemed too good to be true. 

“Oh my goodness,” said Christopher Senn, recalling the moment he first found out. “It was quite the surprise, to say the least.”

Likewise for fellow recipient Conner Pursell. 

“I was surprised and amazed,” he said. “But very, very happy.”

How it all started

In a video shown last October during the annual ASU Law Scholarship Luncheon, a student was discussing his volunteer work at the Arizona Legal Center. The U.S. Marine Corps logo on his shirt caught the eye of audience member Deborah Carstens, whose late husband, Bill, was a lawyer who had served in the Marines. 

Curious to know more, Carstens approached ASU Law administrators. She learned that veterans were a priority for the law school, but that tuition was a barrier for some. The GI Bill helps veterans and active-duty military personnel pay for college, but there are caps on the benefits, which are typically used for an undergraduate degree. To pursue a law degree, most would need to pay out of pocket or receive scholarships. 

So Carstens, who said she was inspired by ASU’s commitment to veterans, made the decision to fund a scholarship program for Marines and veterans of military special operations forces. 

“We share Deb’s passion for supporting those who have so graciously served our country, and we thank her for this special and generous donation,” said ASU Law Dean Douglas Sylvester. “We are honored to welcome these students and help prepare them for success in the next chapter of their lives.” 

Band of law-school brothers

Pursell, 31, is a longtime Marine. 

“Ten years active duty, and I’ve been in the Reserves for four,” he said. “A month after I graduated high school, I went into boot camp for the Marine Corps.”

In 2015, he enrolled at the University of Texas with a plan to attend law school afterward. And when his two brothers, who are both lawyers, moved to Arizona, that drew his attention to ASU Law. He applied and was excited when he found out he had been accepted. 

“I was at the admitted-students day in December, and I was talking to Dean Sylvester at the reception,” he said. “I was telling him that I was in the Marine Corps and had just gotten out. He told me about the scholarship program and said they had just announced it a few days prior, and he was really excited about it.”

Sylvester encouraged Pursell to apply and explained the process to him. He also talked about Carstens. 

“He told me she was a wonderful woman and her husband was a Marine, and that she wanted to help Marines specifically,” Pursell said. 

In April, right before he graduated from Texas, an email delivered the good news: He had been awarded the scholarship.

As he begins his journey toward a juris doctor degree, the initial coursework has been as demanding as he expected. But he has gotten plenty of advice from his brothers. And his experience in the Marines has helped prepare him for the challenge.

“The military caused you to be in high-stress environments, where you actually had to be able to calm yourself and think about what needs to happen and prioritize, and I think law school is kind of teaching the same thing,” he said. “You’re in stressful environments, and you need to prioritize and determine how much effort to put into things. It is a different discipline, but I think it crosses over in how it trains you to think about things.” 

And law school may help him cross back over to the military, as a judge advocate general. After attending a JAG panel during one of his first weeks at ASU Law, he decided it’s a career he’d like to pursue. 

“I’m going to start applying for the JAG program in almost all the branches and see what happens,” he said.

‘One of the best decisions I have made’

Senn, 24, enlisted in the Marines in 2011, where he served as a drone pilot. He then attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, worked for Raytheon and taught for two years at Kansas State University before applying and being accepted to ASU Law.

Although friends had advised him to take the summer off to prepare his mind for the academic rigors of law school, he decided to keep working to prepare for the financial rigors of law school. 

“I was working out in Colorado for a summer job as a Department of Defense contractor,” he said. “And while I was on the road heading into the office with a few of my colleagues, I received an email from the university, stating that I was the recipient of this wonderful scholarship.” 

It literally seemed too good to be true. 

“I didn’t believe it at first,” he said with a laugh. “I had to contact the law school just to make sure it was legitimate. I thought it was possibly spam, but it turned out to be true.”

True, and to some degree, life-altering. The scholarship, Senn says, will relieve him of the financial pressures that might otherwise have shaped his career path.

“It was quite a relief to know that I did not have to worry about my financial obligations going through law school as much as I previously would have,” he said. “This gives me a higher level of freedom on my employment decisions within the legal field, now that I won’t have to focus as much on how much I’m getting paid.” 

He says the scholarship is just one of many ways ASU has shown its appreciation for veterans.

“I’ve attended four higher-education institutions, and ASU, by far, has the most amenities and resources for veterans, based off of my experience,” he said. “I’ve been a faculty member at a four-year university, as well as a student at three, and the resources and the effort put in … here at ASU are the best I’ve seen.” 

He added, “I would definitely recommend ASU to other veterans. It’s been one of the best decisions I have made.” 

About the scholarships

The program offers up to four full-ride scholarships through the duration of law school. Two of the scholarships are reserved for individuals who have served in the Marine Corps, and two are reserved for veterans of the special operations forces, such as Army Rangers or Green Berets, Navy SEALs or Marine MARSOC or RECON. 

Senn has been awarded the Richard Romley Scholarship. Romley, who served as the Maricopa County attorney from 1989 to 2004, is a former Marine and decorated Vietnam veteran who received several commendations for his service, including the Purple Heart. He is a graduate of both ASU and ASU Law. 

Pursell has been awarded the R.J. Mitchell Scholarship. Mitchell, an ASU graduate, is a Marine veteran who completed two combat tours in Iraq. He was awarded the Navy Cross for a distinguished act of combat valor in which he was wounded while saving the lives of several trapped Marines.

"I wish Conner and Christopher the best,” Carstens said. “They carry the names of two high-performing Marines." 

For more information on applying for one of the scholarships, contact Eric Border at

Lauren Dickerson

Marketing and communications coordinator, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law


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CLAS trip gives academics an inside look at premier fighter base, military life

October 12, 2018

When Paul LePore traveled to Virginia in April to participate in the Department of Defense’s oldest and most prestigious public outreach program, he walked away truly inspired by what he saw.

LePore, an associate dean with Arizona State University's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was so moved after spending four days with military members during the Joint Civilian Orientation Course that he organized an Oct. 9 trip to Luke Air Force Base in Glendale so a group of ASU faculty, staff, administrators and students from across campus could have a similar experience.   

“ASU is wonderful at serving our veteran and active-duty members through our courses and our programs,” said LePore. “We aim to do it better than anyone. However, what I think is missing, and something I had the opportunity to witness during the JCOC last spring, is to actually see what the military does on a day-to-day basis. I didn’t appreciate the depth of learning that is involved.”

LePore said it is important for the university to not only acknowledge veterans but to actually get to know them to understand their experience.

“We’re not only serving them, but they are actually bringing a richness to our classroom and to our departments,” he said. “I’m hopeful that the 45 folks that we brought with us are able to see a different part of their students' experiences through looking at what the airmen here at Luke are doing. Maybe gain a different level of appreciation or understanding of what the military really means in the lives of the thousands of students we are serving.”

During the tour, the ASU group received a mission briefing from the ASU alum base commander, toured the air traffic control tower, observed a military working dog demonstration, learned about Luke’s explosive ordnance disposal team and got a close-up look at the Air Force’s newest jet fighter, the F-35A Lightning II.

Luke is home to the 56th Fighter Wing, the largest fighter wing in the Air Force. The base is the primary location for training F-35 and F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots. The wing also oversees F-15C Eagle training in association with the Oregon Air National Guard, which means Luke trains pilots in every Air Force jet fighter platform except the F-22 Raptor. To date, more than 68,000 aviators have trained at Luke.

“Luke Air Force Base has been training fighter pilots since 1941,” said Brig. Gen. Todd Canterbury, 56th FW commander and a member of the ASU Class of 1992. “We train 95 percent of fighter pilots in the U.S. Air Force.”

With a workforce of nearly 7,000 active-duty military members, reservists and civilians, Luke has more than $10 billion in resources and contributes more than $2.4 billion annually to the Phoenix metropolitan area and the West Valley, Canterbury said.

The most significant change at Luke in recent years has been the fielding of the newest jet fighter in the Department of Defense arsenal, the F-35. Also known as the “Joint Strike Fighter” because it is designed to be flown by the different U.S. service branches and partner nations, the F-35 is a single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth aircraft designed for air-to-air combat and ground attack.

“The F-35 program is the biggest, most complex acquisition program DoD has ever undertaken,” Canterbury said.

By the end of the decade Luke is expected to host more than 100 F-35s and seven partner countries. Training international partners is not new to Luke: NATO nations and others have trained with the 56th FW throughout the years, and the base is a longtime host of two international fighter squadrons, including one from Singapore.

“Some folks wonder why we have such an international presence,” Canterbury said. “We have learned that we are not going to go to war alone. We are going to have to fight as a coalition. So why not start in training … so that when war kicks off we’re operating from the same playbook, we’re running from the same plays, and we know how each other is going to operate.”

Currently the wing is hosting F-35 pilots and maintenance crews from Australia, Turkey, Italy, Korea, Norway and Denmark. Japan and Israel completed their training recently, Canterbury said. Early next year the Netherlands will arrive and possibly Canada.

“Not only are we affecting the local community, we are affecting the world,” Canterbury said. “We work very closely with the local community and the Legislature to raise understanding on the importance of what we do here and why this is so critical to us.” 

Regardless of the machinery and training programs, none of it is possible without outstanding community support and the work of the airmen who make it happen, Canterbury said.

“You will be amazed at the responsibility that we give to them,” Canterbury said. “I have airmen right out of high school that launch me out on my jet. I do a courtesy walk-around, but I trust that airman has got that jet cocked and ready to go. I don’t even think twice about it.”

The incredible amount of responsibility given to military members grabbed LePore’s interest during his time with JCOC, and it was reinforced during the Luke visit.

“We should put more responsibility on the young people we have at ASU, knowing that 18- to 22-year-olds here are fixing F-35 aircraft, are making sure that bombs are disposed properly, are working to make sure the flightline and air traffic control is safe not only for the military but for the civilians,” LePore said. “I don’t think we vest into our young people that sense of trust that we might, because it’s certainly working here.”

LePore hopes to continue the collaboration with Luke and would like to start the tradition of taking people to the base during this time of the year, a month or so prior to ASU’s yearly Salute to Service celebration. Opportunities exist for a curricular connection and taking the transition from military to civilian life to the next level. If nothing else, it is an opportunity to learn and appreciate the young men and women in uniform.

“If the percent of folks who are participating actively as a military officer or enlisted person is going down, then we need to do a better job of communicating that,” LePore said. “My dad was in the Navy, but I certainly was too young at the time to appreciate his service. I came around later to appreciate it, but the understanding was not there.

“More people need to see this.” 

Jerry Gonzalez

Assistant Director , Media Relations and Strategic Communications