Emergency Management and Homeland Security graduate embodies 'service before self'

December 6, 2018

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

From weatherman to man in black, Russell Pablo has a passion for service. Now, he’s taking that passion from the United States Air Force to the United States Secret Service. Russell Pablo at the Bataan Memorial Death March Download Full Image

Pablo is the outstanding graduate for college-level programs in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University. He is graduating with a Master of Arts in Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Originally from Graham, Washington, Pablo is stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. As a noncommissioned officer, the ASU Online student has served into numerous leadership positions. In his present role, Pablo works in weather forecasting operations. He is a synoptic weather forecaster interpreting complex meteorological data used in mission planning by United States Northern and Southern Commanders and staff.

Service runs deep in Pablo’s family — he is a third-generation member of the armed forces. Among his relatives who have served across all branches, they total 450 years of military service.

As he put it, “I come from a family that literally bleeds red, white and blue and it's something that is an embodiment for me. Service before self.”

However, Pablo has also dreamed of wearing a different uniform. It was his interest in a federal law enforcement career that has shaped much of his path in and out of the Air Force.

“I entered the United States Air Force with a bachelor's degree in international relations with the goal of entering into federal law enforcement at some point,” Pablo said. “But with the competitive nature of those positions, I decided a master's degree in homeland security and emergency management would really set me apart. I found that ASU was the best fit for what I needed.”

Competitive is right. Now, after eight years of military service and 24 months’ worth of graduate school condensed into one grueling year, Pablo will be moving on to a new career as a special agent with the United States Secret Service. Pablo was one of 48 people hired from an applicant pool of 70,000.

“I really like the overall mission of the Secret Service,” Pablo said. “A lot of people don't know that they have actually a dual-fold mission: protection and investigation.”

Pablo will be part of an investigative unit, though he acknowledges most people think of the protective side, i.e. black suits and ties and walking next to the president.

It’s an exciting new opportunity, but leaving the Air Force will be bittersweet.

I've gotten to experience quite a bit. I've done things in places I never thought I would have gone. I've seen shooting stars in Texas, had moonshine in Alabama, served in Panama City, marched across the white sands of New Mexico, and ridden in rodeos in Arizona.”

Pablo is no stranger to hard work, but tackling graduate-level coursework in a condensed time frame on top of active duty and caring for his family including six months as a single father of a toddler while his wife was deployed in the Middle East was a bit more than he anticipated.

But Pablo likes a challenge, and he’s been able to leverage a lot of the skills that he learned from the military to get him across the finish line.

“Being resilient and being determined, working hard and sacrificing and doing all those things came in handy because I knew it was worth it,” Pablo noted.

If he were to do it all over again or advise others following in his footsteps, he would suggest going a bit slower recognizing it’s good to push yourself, but it’s also good to keep a manageable pace.

The online student experience can be drastically different from taking classes in person, but being stationed in Tucson has allowed Pablo to take advantage of online flexibility while still traveling to attend some in-person events.

The college has been really good about putting on symposium events and hiring events,” Pablo observed. “Getting to meet people face-to-face as opposed to just talking through a keyboard has been really, really good in expanding my network.”

“Even though I've been in an online environment, I've still made connections with people that will be lasting.”

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Military veteran, ASU Online student, graduates with honors after 20-year journey

December 6, 2018

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

Johnathon Orrell took his first college class in 1998. After 20 years of juggling military service, working full-time and being a single father, he is now completing his degree and graduating from Arizona State University with honors. This month, he will earn a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication and Media Studies. Download Full Image

After a chance encounter with ASU President Michael M. Crow at a military event in Washington, D.C., Orrell reconsidered the idea of higher education. While completing his degree wasn’t on Orrell’s mind at the time, the memory of the conversation resurfaced a few years later when he came across a small gift President Crow had given him. At that point, he finally took the plunge and applied to ASU.

“I wear my ASU colors with pride all the time. I am a Sun Devil. And it was all because of a happenstance conversation in an auditorium in Washington, D.C., when President Crow asked about my plans for the future,” he said.

Orrell’s ultimate inspiration is his family.

“I wanted to quit so many times — and I almost did, twice — but a little voice in the back of my head wouldn't let me quit. That voice belonged to my now wife, Ashton, whom I met halfway through my degree. She wouldn't let me quit and she was my rock through it all.”

In addition, he wants to be a role model for his five-year-old daughter, Emilia.

“I wanted to show her it is important to finish something you begin. And I couldn't quit on her. Between her inspiration and my wife's everlasting support, I was able to do what was once thought to be unobtainable — and I did it with honors.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)

Answer: I began my career in the Air Force as a firefighter. Due to some medical issues, I was reclassified into an administrative career field. I remember I had a commander call me into his office and tell me, "John — a big deal because an officer never called me by my first name since I was a young Airman — you are a great guy, you work hard, and everyone likes you, but you might be the worst admin the Air Force has ever had. We need to find you something more fitting to your skillsets." The Air Force then put me in public affairs. This career field includes journalism, social media, media relations, community outreach and strategic communication planning.

Fast forward 12 years and I decided to go finish my degree that I started in 1998. When thinking about the logical build to an already flourishing career in communications, a degree in mass communication and media studies just made sense. The genesis of wanting to finish my degree was my daughter Emilia. I wanted to show her it is important to finish what you start. I don't necessarily need a degree to be successful in the government, but it was important to me. 

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

A: Opinions matter, but tolerance to other people's opinions is more important. Working in groups can be demanding and stressful. Thoughts conflict and work styles differ. We all have our own stories of what has shaped us over the years, and when you are unable to accept what other people think and feel, you are unable to be a successful member of society, in my opinion.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: It came down to an interaction I had with President Crow in 2012. He was in Washington, D.C. to unveil a certificate program for National Guard members and ASU. I was photographing the event and he and I had a brief conversation. The crux of the conversation was if I had a degree and what my future looked like. I told him no, and that I had no plans of finishing my degree — since I had started in 1998 with no success and I was never the best student. He looked at me for a good ten seconds and told me that it is never too late — I need to find what works for me, and I should check out ASU. Then he gave me a challenge coin and went about his business.

I didn't think much of it at the time, but in 2014 I was unpacking and found that coin. It made me remember the conversation and how passionately a president of a college spoke with someone he had never met about not giving up and finishing what you start. I went online and researched the school, liked what I saw, and applied. I was thrilled when I got the acceptance letter in the mail. I even went out to the bookstore and bought an ASU hoodie and hat. I wear my ASU colors with pride all the time. I am a Sun Devil. And it was all because of a happenstance conversation in an auditorium in Washington, D.C. I keep that coin on my desk to remind myself that there is a reason for everything.

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

A: Dr. Jean-Marie Stevens. She is a history professor that I had several times during my tenure at ASU. She is passionate about history and that passion is conveyed through her teaching. I remember e-mailing her one time about being overwhelmed with school, work, parenthood and life, and I was thinking about quitting. She didn't try to talk me out of quitting, but instead made me open my eyes to whether quitting the right thing or the easy thing. That's an important lesson for life. Things won't be easy. Life gets hard. But do you have the intestinal fortitude to keep moving forward, through walls and over obstacles, or will you just quit the race? There’s a good lesson there. 

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

A: Don't give up. It is easy to quit. Trust me, I quit so many times on this 20-year journey, and I have paid the price for it. If I would have stayed true to course and worked a little bit harder, who knows where my life and career would be right now. Four years of hard work will be worth it for the rest of your life. 

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot to study or to just think about life?

A: It's a tie between my garage and my couch. Sometimes an Adirondack chair in front of my house was the best place to read.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am a government employee. I will graduate one day and head back to work the next, but I’ll have a better sense of pride in my accomplishments. In 2020 I will attend Eastern Illinois University to start my online master's of mass communication studies. That's the plan at least!

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

A: I’d start a non-profit working towards providing clean drinking water to everyone on the planet. One in nine people lack access to clean drinking water, and one in three lack access to a toilet with proper sewage removal. This is a pandemic, and no one is really doing anything about it.

Carrie Peterson

Sr. Manager, Media Relations, EdPlus at Arizona State University