The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences recognizes academic excellence with spring 2019 Dean’s Medalists

One of The College's 2019 Dean's Medal displayed.

On Tuesday, May 7, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University will recognize its highest achieving students from the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities at its 2019 convocation ceremony.

Each department and school within The College has selected a phenomenal student who has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to academic excellence during their time at ASU.

These students will be awarded a prestigious Dean’s Medal in honor of their achievements, to be worn with their graduation regalia as they lead their fellow graduates during the processional.

Meet this year’s Dean’s Medalists in The College:

Portrait of School of Politics and Global Studies spring 2019 Dean's Medalist, Alexandria Paterson

Alexandria Paterson
Dean’s Medal: School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies
Major: Asia studies
Minor: Political science
Certificate: Korean studies

Paterson became interested in pan-Asian studies and culture early on.

She traveled to China through a National Security Language Initiative youth scholarship in high school, and spent her senior year in South Korea as an exchange student.

The experience allowed her to go directly into advanced Korean language courses upon arriving at ASU.

“Allie is a highly articulate and knowledgeable young person,” said Tracy Fessenden, the interim director of the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. “Her achievement exemplifies the mission of the Asia studies major.” 

American Indian Studies program spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Alexander Soto.

Alexander Soto
Dean’s Medal: American Indian Studies
Major: American Indian Studies
Certificate: American Indian Nation Governance

When he first came to ASU as an undergraduate back in 2010, Soto made a mark on American Indian Studies faculty members right away.

“When I met Alex, his rap group, Shining Soul, was gaining traction and his growing awareness and commitment to social justice issues were evident in his lyrics and creative process,” said Michelle Hale, an assistant professor in the program.

With powerful messages about indigenous pride, culture, history and identity, Soto’s group has garnered national fame producing music Hale said resonates with Native American youth in the Phoenix area and beyond.

Soto returned to finish his undergraduate studies after briefly leaving ASU to pursue other ventures in Arizona. Under Hale’s direction as the program’s internship coordinator, he is currently working with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community to bolster infrastructure and community access to information in both the nation’s tribal and elementary school library.

He also inspires others inside the classroom, said David Martinez, an associate professor in Soto’s program.

“Alex’s written assignments and comments during class discussions make clear that what students are learning in their AISAmerican Indian Studies program has real-world application to the American Indian community, on and off the reservation, from academia to politics and social science.”

 Department of English spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Chandler Fritz.

Chandler Fritz
Dean’s Medal: Department of English
Majors: English, philosophy

In addition to completing concurrent degrees from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, dual English and philosophy major Chandler Fritz is also a student at Barrett, The Honors College at ASU.

During his time on campus, he completed a short story collection entitled, “Paraprosdokian” for his honors thesis project, assisted on several research projects through his philosophy focus and received funding through the President’s Scholarship for academic excellence.

Fritz was also active outside the classroom. A study abroad program sent him to Haiti, where he planned and taught English courses to local children displaced or orphaned by the country’s devastating earthquake in 2010. In Arizona, he worked as a teaching assistant in a juvenile prison through ASU’s prison education program, which aims to give youth inmates bolstered access to educational opportunities upon their release.

Department of English chair and Professor Krista Ratcliffe said it is that blend of academic and practical aspirations that earned Fritz the Dean’s Medal.

“While he aspires to a PhD, Chandler Fritz remains committed to taking his academic knowledge and making it work in the real world,” she said. 

School of International Letters and Cultures spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Rachel Hill.

Rachel Hill
Dean’s Medal:  School of International Letters and Cultures
Major: Spanish literature

Faculty members in the School of International Letters and Cultures describe Hill as being a natural leader capable of breaking down complex discussions with classmates and navigating controversial topics with ease.

Melding literature studies with a passion for social justice, she aims to create nuanced solutions to pressing social issues in Latin America by viewing classic texts through a modern lens.  

Hill is currently enrolled in The College’s 4+1 program, an initiative allowing students to accelerate certain master’s programs by taking on graduate courses as undergraduates. Emil Volek, a Spanish professor at the School of International Letters and Cultures, said Hill’s ability to juggle the heavy course load and family commitments is another aspect that sets her apart.

“Rachel did an outstanding job in my class in 2016, but her classmates and I were truly amazed when she returned to present the summary of her final paper with her 4-day-old baby,” she said. “Indeed, as the mother of three young children, her undergraduate GPA is amazing and she has done extremely well so far in her 4+1 graduate courses.”

Hugh Downs School of Human Communication spring 3019 Dean's Medalist Robert Tovar.

Robert Tovar
Dean’s Medal: Hugh Downs School of Human Communication
Majors: Communication, family and human development

Faculty members describe Tovar as being highly proficient in both academic pursuits and professional development endeavors.

In addition to coursework involved in his dual majors, he completed a communication internship with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, where he tracked news coverage of the group, researched funding opportunities and produced communication materials showcasing the California professional group’s efforts.

He worked as a research assistant in ASU’s Between Two Worlds lab, a facility exploring how people from mixed backgrounds navigate cultural identities in the U.S.

As a teaching assistant, he assisted younger students in the development of their own research projects, and helped new students get settled on campus as a customer service representative for University Housing.

Barbara DeDecker, an academic success coordinator with the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, said Tovar’s mix of community engagement and personal growth is what earned him the Dean’s Medal for the school.

“Robert is an exceptional student and has maintained a strong focus on academics during his time at ASU,” he said. “Because of that, and all the ways he has given back to ASU, we’re proud for him to receive the Dean’s Medal.” 

T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Shanna Passey.

Shanna Passey
Dean’s Medal: T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics
Major: Family and human development

For as long as Passey can remember, she’s wanted to find ways to help families and young people.

After transferring to ASU from Chandler-Gilbert Community College, she put her passion to use by immersing herself in coursework and working directly with communities.

As a behavioral health technician with Arizona Youth and Family Services, Passey spent two years counseling at-risk youth and helping to support families working to build resilient homes and relationships.

Bolstered by the tools she gathered in the field and in her classes, Passey hopes to continue within a similar role after graduation.

“Shanna truly exemplifies the type of student we are proud to call our Dean’s Medalist and alumna,” said Stacie Foster, the undergraduate director of programs for the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamic. “We are certain she will make a difference in the lives of children and families who are in need.”

School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Elana Quint.

Elana Quint
Dean’s Medal: School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership
Majors: Civic and economic thought and leadership, philosophy

As the first Dean’s Medalist chosen by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, faculty members say Quint is an exemplary student who has excelled under the demands of concurrent majors and as a student in Barrett, The Honors College.

“Elana has never stopped challenging herself to seek new opportunities in both traditional academic coursework and exceptional learning experiences,” said Paul Carrese, a professor and the founding director of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership.

In addition to her coursework, Quint held research assistantships spanning several ASU units, including the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, the School for the Future of Innovation in Society’s Global Security Initiative and the Biodesign Institute, among others. She is also a recipient of ASU’s President’s Scholarship and Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law’s Project Excellence Scholarship.

School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Rosemary Huck.

Rosemary Huck
Dean’s Medal: School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning
Major: Geography
Minors: History, sustainability
Certificates: Geographical information science

From analyzing desert plants to managing a full course load as a student-athlete, Huck is praised by faculty members for being a multifaceted student who transcends traditional boundaries.

Outside the classroom, she assists with environmental data and engages with fellow students as an intern for the climate-focused initiative, Defend our Future.

Originally from the United Kingdom, Huck came to ASU as an athlete playing for the ASU women’s water polo team and has been an active member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee throughout her time in Arizona.

Ronald Dorn, a professor in the School of Geographic Sciences and Urban Planning, said Huck’s ability to grasp difficult geographic concepts quickly while managing a packed schedule as both an athlete and a student played a key role in her nomination.

“We all know the amount of time and dedication it takes to perform as an athlete at the highest levels,” said Dorn, who is also the associate director of the school’s undergraduate programs. “Thus (all of her contributions) speak mountains about her character.” 

School of Human Evolution and Social Change spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Dean Blumenfeld.

Dean Blumenfeld
Dean’s Medal: School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Majors: Anthropology, geography

Pursuing concurrent degrees in anthropology and geography, Blumenfeld’s accomplishments at The College have been far-reaching and diverse.

As an investigator with the Northern Basin of Mexico Historic Ecological Project, he led excavations and cataloged artifacts at the Los Mogotes archaeological site in central Mexico. In Arizona, he studied ancient plant samples from Mesoamerica and the Carribean, and compiled geographical data as a research consultant for NASA DEVELOP.

In spring 2017, Blumenfeld bolstered his Spanish language skills and cultural knowledge during a study abroad program in Spain. He is also the current president of the Undergraduate Anthropology Association and is completing an honors thesis focused on archeology as a student in Barrett, The Honors College.

“Dean is an excellent student who has developed critical skills as an independent researcher,” said Carita Harrell, assistant director of academic services for the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. “He is an anthropology rock star and has really made the most of his time here at ASU.” 

School of Social Transformation spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Emily Morris.

Emily Morris
Dean’s Medal: School of Social Transformation
Majors: Justice studies, women and gender studies
Minor: Media analysis
Certificate: Socio-legal studies

Morris became interested in social justice early in her career at ASU, and used the next few years of study to drive her passion forward and empower others.

At the School of Social Transformation, she assisted faculty members in creating a two-week justice-studies course for The College’s Early Start program, which helps new students transition to college life with short-term classes ahead of their first semester. She also helped organize the Clothesline Project, an annual showcase bringing awareness to sexual violence and completed a sexual violence prevention training to become a peer educator.

Outside ASU, she helped prepare incarcerated people for reintegrating into society as an intern for Reinventing Reentry, and served as a Planned Parenthood intern with the Latino-focused Raíz program.

“Emily has been an extremely active member of the Sun Devil community,” said Bryan Brayboy, the interim director of the School of Social Transformation. “She plans to continue to make a difference through her activism with Planned Parenthood and would like to assist students as an academic adviser in the future.”

School of Transborder Studies spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Erika Galindo.

Erika Galindo
Dean’s Medal: School of Transborder Studies
Majors: Transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o studies, justice studies
Certificate: Socio-legal studies

Galindo is a passionate student whose activities on and off campus are in preparation for a future career in law. 

A former CLAS Student Leader, Galindo traveled to Washington, D.C., to represent the School of Transborder Studies in a national conference through the nonprofit organization UnidosUS.

Galindo’s most recent venture is a research associateship for a project examining migrant asylum processes with Angela Arzubiaga, an associate professor in the School of Social Transformation.

A dedicated student inside and outside the classroom, faculty members across the school praised Galindo’s commitment to her studies and far-reaching potential.

“Erika excelled in class,” said Maria Cruz-Torres, an associate professor in the School of Transborder Studies. “She is smart, thoughtful and hard-working, and deserves the high recognition (of the Dean’s Medal).” 

Department of Economics spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Brian Sweeney.

Brian Sweeney
Dean’s Medal: Department of Economics
Majors: Economics, applied mathematics

Serving as a research assistant in faculty-led projects and as a mentor to fellow undergraduate students, Sweeney is recognized by faculty for his ability to navigate a complex course load as a student in Barrett, The Honors College.

His research has earned him a wide range of accolades, including the Mathematics Undergraduate Research Award from ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. His work within that realm included a mathematical modeling project exploring how nutritional changes among honeybees impact colony survival and the division of tasks and a similar project looking at how the insects are affected by the use of pesticides.

Faculty members praised his handling of the rigorous combination of high-level math and economic courses throughout his time on campus.

“Brian’s academic record is outstanding and all the more noteworthy since he has taken some of the university’s most challenging courses,” said Jose Mendez, the chair of the awards committee in the Department of Economics. 

School of Life Sciences spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Sierra Murphy.

Sierra Murphy
Dean’s Medal: School of Life Sciences
Majors: Mathematics, chemistry, biological sciences

Murphy is described by her instructors as being an outstanding, insightful student whose passion for science landed her in a triple major — by accident.

“Sierra is one of the most exceptional students I’ve ever known,” said Benjamin Hurlbut, an associate professor in the School of Life Sciences. “Loading up semester after semester with things she loves, she found she had something very close to a triple major, so she went ahead and finished out the last few remaining requirements (for a triple major in math, chemistry and biology).”

As an undergraduate research assistant, she worked in the lab of professor Stephen Johnson, where she played a large role in the facility’s tests to to find a cancer vaccine. Two forthcoming research papers will have her name attached.

Murphy has also made contributions outside the classroom. She is currently giving back to ASU by mentoring her fellow students as a residential assistant at Barrett, The Honors College, and as a peer mentor for the ASU Disability Resource Center.

Upon graduation, Murphy is eyeing medical school. 

School of Molecular Sciences spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Zoe Liberman-Martin

Zoe Liberman-Martin
Dean’ Medal: School of Molecular Sciences
Major: Chemistry
Minor: Mathematics

Liberman-Martin exited high school planning to become a professional musician. But after earning her associate degree in music and working as an EMT, she landed at ASU.

With graduation around the corner, faculty members praise Liberman-Martin’s natural curiosity, analytical ability and enthusiasm.

“Zoe has demonstrated uncommon initiative for a student at her level by pursuing a range of internal and extracurricular research activities,” said Anne Jones, an associate professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and the school’s associate director of academic affairs.

In 2018, she spent the summer as a research fellow at the University of Georgia’s Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry. Working toward an honors thesis as a student at Barrett, The Honors College, she also worked in the Levitus Lab under School of Molecular Sciences associate professor Andrew Chizmeshya.

Upon graduation, she plans to use her varied research, music and medical background to pursue a career in materials manufacturing. 

 School of Earth and Space Exploration spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Gabriela Huckabee.

Gabriela Huckabee
Dean’s Medal: School of Earth and Space Exploration
Major: Astrophysics

Huckabee is a National Merit Scholar, Sundial Physics Scholar and the recipient of a joint ASU-NASA space grant fellowship supporting undergraduate students working with research faculty mentors.

She has also helped usher younger students into science disciplines as a learning assistant with The College’s physics department, and as a high school tutor with Akari Tutoring.

She is currently a research assistant in ASU’s Cosmology Initiative, which aims to bring the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Department of Physics together to produce groundbreaking planetary and space research.

“Compounding the impressive nature of Gabby’s academic performance is the fact that she completed her degree in only three years, took more classes than required and always sought out opportunities to expand her knowledge,” said Jennifer Patience, an associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. “She is highly motivated to apply her keen intellect to a range of research projects.”

Department of Physics spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Weiqing Xu.

Weiqing Xu
Dean’s Medal: Department of Physics
Majors: Physics, mathematics

Xu is described by faculty as an engaged student with an exceptional aptitude for physics theory.

“Weiqing is among the top three undergraduate students I can remember between the time I myself was a physics undergraduate at UC Berkeley,” said Richard Kirian, an assistant professor in the Department of Physics.

Kirian said Xu would frequently come to his office with new ideas about the topics discussed in his lectures.

“He would write out an alternative mathematical derivation of a lecture topic that may be compared to that of PhD students,” he said. “Only in cases of extreme talent does a student develop such thoughts during the course of an hour-long undergraduate-level lecture.”

A fluent Chinese and English speaker, Xu was also an enthusiastic teaching assistant who was happy to break down complex topics for other students.

School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences spring 2019 Dean's Medalist David Ackerman.

David Ackerman
Dean’s Medal: School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences
Major: Computational mathematical sciences
Minor: Astronomy

Ackerman participated in a range of research projects spanning biochemistry, astronomy and scientific modeling during his time at ASU.

School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences President’s Professor Matthias Kawski, who also serves as the chair of the school’s awards committee, said Ackerman’s combination of research, contributions to the program and impressive academic record are what earned him the Dean’s Medal honor.

“David’s cumulative, math and minor GPA are astronomical,” he said. “In addition to his outstanding classwork, he has participated in research projects … and community service projects.”

During an internship with aerospace technology firm Orbital ATK/Northrop Grumman, Ackerman collected data for the firm and helped develop community projects including elementary school robotics competitions and playground renovations. He plans to accept a full-time position with the company after graduation.

Department of Psychology spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Edit "Libby" Villalobos.

Edit “Libby” Villalobos
Dean’s Medal: Department of Psychology
Major: Psychology

While at ASU, Villalobos engaged in projects addressing mental health issues among homeless populations, helping local youth find healthy outlets for trauma and assisting refugee populations in the Phoenix area.

She is the recipient of the department’s Smith Marshall Scholar award and ASU’s Polly Harsh Stone Memorial Scholarship, among others.

After transferring to ASU from a community college, Villalobos spent two years working on research teams including the Arizona Twin Project, Refugee Women’s Health Clinic and resiliency lab of Suniya Luthar, a Foundation Professor in the Department of Psychology.

Mary Davis, the associate chair of the Department of Psychology and a professor in the school, said Villalobos has made major contributions to a project examining how culture impacts parenting styles and child development.

Faculty members across the department praised Villalobos, a first-generation college student, for her commitment to developing research with the ability to help children and adolescents overcome trauma.

With a passion for law and psychology, she hopes to go into a clinical position in which her research has a real-world impact by informing court proceedings.

School of Politics and Global Studies spring 2019 Dean's Medalist Mia Armstrong.

Mia Armstrong
Dean's Medal: School of Politics and Global Studies
Majors: Global studies, journalism and mass communication

Armstrong is a Flinn Foundation Scholar and a student in Barrett, The Honors College who is known for her drive and willingness to explore new arenas.

“Demonstrating initiative is one of Mia’s trademarks, particularly in the areas of leadership and public service,” said Richard Herrera, an associate professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies and the associate director of undergraduate.

Amstrong made headlines at ASU even before becoming a student, when she and her father embarked on a 235-mile bike ride from their Flagstaff home to the Tempe campus the summer before her freshman year.

The momentum continued into the spring semester of that year, when she was nominated for the School of Politics and Global Studies Junior Fellows research program. Within that role, she worked with Professor Carolyn Warner, also the school’s associate director of graduate, on a study that examined the handling of sexual assault allegations in the military and Catholic church.

Armstrong has spent the last four years creating her own headlines as a student journalist. Most recently, she won a journalism competition to cover global poverty and social justice issues alongside New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff.

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