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School of Life Sciences graduate advocates seizing opportunities in life, on campus


Allyson Shaw holds two house finches

During her undergrad, Shaw studied the disease ecology of urban house finches.

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November 30, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates.

As Allyson Shaw reflects on her past several years at Arizona State University, she said she feels proud of her accomplishments. Shaw serves as the director of Nature at ASU, a university environmental professional development organization. She worked as a research assistant her freshman year and, more recently, conducted her own research, studying the disease ecology of urban house finches.

“Just a few years ago, I never thought I’d be doing research, I never thought I’d be in a club, I never thought I’d be doing anything I’m doing now. It’s crazy how a few years can take you so far if you really take advantage of everything that’s offered,” Shaw said.

Shaw, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from the School of Life Sciences this December, said she recommends students become a ‘yes’ person when it comes to university experiences. But, she adds, make sure you follow through with the activities you agree to.

“We (Nature at ASU) have issues with students who want to be involved but a lot of people don’t show up. People say, ‘Yes, I’m so interested, this is really great for my resume’ — you get a stellar recommendation from the faculty adviser — but then no one actually comes for the meeting. I learned early on if I just show up for things, it’ll get me far. Just showing up and committing.”

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

Answer: My field is in conservation and ecology; I realized this was something that I wanted to study further when I went on an environmental field trip in middle school to learn about swamp and ocean habitats. Ever since then, learning about ecosystems and conserving them has been something that I have been extremely passionate about.

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

A: I took a class called Conservation of Biodiversity with Sharon Hall a while back that focused on how we can combat conservation issues in a human-dominated world, and that class had several interesting discussion points on issues that I had never even thought of. The biggest theme I took away from this class was that if we want to conserve our natural world or work to combat climate change or save a species, it all starts with humans. We cannot go into a random area and start to do conservation projects on a species if the people in the area do not want us there or us to conserve that species. I think that really shows how there is a slight disconnect between the scientific world and everyone else. There should be a larger bridge of connection, but I think that we are doing better now than we ever were.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I knew this was a good school if you want to change your major or want to explore different areas of study. I never ended up changing my major, but it was nice to know I had options.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: My mentor, Dr. Kevin McGraw, has taught me several important lessons here at ASU. Probably the most important lesson he has taught me is that when you succeed at something — and you are really proud of it — try even harder. A lot of people want to slack off after they have accomplished something, but the most important thing to do once you are successful is to use that positive energy to keep going up.

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

A: Take advantage of every opportunity given to you. If someone mentions an internship or a cool job, go for it, even if you think you can't get it. You'll never know how much opportunity is out there until you start going for it.

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

A: My favorite spot on campus is definitely the sitting area behind the Virginia G. Piper Writers House on Tempe campus. It's a great spot for studying and thinking about life while connecting with nature a little bit. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I would definitely like to travel. But I am also looking into PhD programs in parasite ecology in avian species, too, for next fall.

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

A: I would invest a lot of that money into clean energy to help us deviate from our dependence on fossil fuels. I would also love to put money into ecosystem restoration services, where I could fund various areas to be regrown while also hiring people from around those areas to work on those projects to put the money back into their economy.

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