Alaska to Arizona: ASU grad finds his intellectual home

April 23, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement

What college is right for you? What will you major in? These are difficult questions and choices for any 18-year-old. But when Brian Sweeney graduated from high school in Anchorage, Alaska, he had a feeling the answers to both were 3,600 miles away from home, at ASU. ASU applied mathematics grad Brian Sweeney Brian Sweeney is among the first students to complete the applied mathematics degree program in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at ASU Polytechnic campus. Download Full Image

Sweeney, who is graduating in May 2019 with two bachelor’s degrees — one in applied mathematics in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts and one in economics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — said he knew he wanted to study mathematics since high school, taking interest in the various ways math can be used in the world.

So he chose to major in applied mathematics, one of the newer degree programs at ASU Polytechnic campus, and here Sweeney found his second home.

The smaller college environment at the Polytechnic campus allowed him to focus and have close connections with professors and colleagues. Sweeney also competed on the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts Academic Bowl team this spring.

Coming in, he knew that even though he was based at ASU’s Polytechnic campus he’d have all the benefits of a large research university.

“I chose ASU because it has ample research opportunities for undergraduates and lots of resources” Sweeney said. “The large number of faculty also helped make it easier to find professors with similar research interests as me.”

In that environment, Sweeney discovered his second passion — economics.

“When I took my first college-level economics course I realized this needed to be a part of my studies,” he observed. “Learning more about the models of the economy and connecting that directly to the applications of mathematics has been a perfect combination for me.”

ASU Now asked Sweeney about his experiences at the university and his plans for the future.

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

Answer: I learned that the human experience has a diverse history of different ways of thinking and that the true development of modern science and technology has come about only very recently. Many of the advancements in thinking and science were originally considered impossible and people were punished for their ideas. This surprised me and made me realize how important it is to encourage people to express their perspectives and share their findings without fear of ridicule. New ideas need to be heard and considered before being dismissed, otherwise we may miss out on critical scientific advancements.

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

A: As an introvert, in-class discussions were challenging for me, but Dr. Thomas Martin taught me that discussions are less about the amount you speak and more about the quality of your insights. He taught me to focus on key insights that would contribute to the discussion and to not be afraid to express my ideas, despite fear of criticism.

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

A: For those still in school, don't give up, and don't be too hard on yourself. Everyone has missteps and makes mistakes at some points, but what is important is to learn from these setbacks and work to do better next time. Learn from mistakes but do not let them impede your progress.

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 probably the Sun Devil Fitness Complex, where I could lose myself in my runs, think about life and leave feeling refreshed. Long-distance running helps me relax and feel happier and the Sun Devil Fitness Complex gave me a convenient place to achieve that on-campus.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I plan to attend graduate school and obtain a PhD in mathematics. Afterward, I want to work in mathematical modeling or in an economics-related position where I can apply my mathematical background.

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

A: I would put it toward helping the environment and keeping it clean. My efforts would focus on a few specific issues to help protect our ecosystems, such as improving access to recycling services and preventing air and water pollution.

Written by Sophia Molinar, class of 2019, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication; student marketing assistant, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts

Awards ceremony recognizes students, instructors and faculty for excellence in academics and research

The 2019 Annual Awards Ceremony honors individuals in ASU's School of Molecular Sciences

April 24, 2019

The 2019 Annual Awards Ceremony hosted by Arizona State University’s School of Molecular Sciences was held on Monday, April 22, at Old Main on the Tempe campus to recognize faculty, teaching assistants, research and distinguished students.

Awards were presented to recognize undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrated excellence in academics and research. Each recipient was presented their award by a selected faculty member who shared their academic achievements. The 2019 SMS award and scholarship recipients. The School of Molecular Sciences 2019 award and scholarship recipients. Download Full Image

The School of Molecular Sciences awarded five scholarships funded by generous gifts from donors throughout the year and on Sun Devil Giving Day, along with several endowed memorial scholarships, including the inaugural recipients of the Theodore M. Brown Memorial Scholarship and the School of Molecular Sciences Innovation Award.

“Every year we recognize students in the School of Molecular Sciences who have demonstrated academic and research excellence at the Annual Awards Ceremony,” said Neal Woodbury, director of the School of Molecular Sciences. “This year’s group of recipients exemplifies all of what SMS and ASU has to offer. ASU will be well represented in the chemistry and biochemistry fields in the future.”

To mark the occasion and celebrate, donors and families of the named endowed scholarships were invited to attend the luncheon ceremony. In attendance were Professor Emeritus Bill Glaunsinger, assistant dean for sciences and the professions in the Emeritus College, who presented the new School of Molecular Sciences Innovation Award; David Rasely, who presented the Theodore M. Brown Memorial Scholarship for his brother Brian; Kay Krause, daughter of Therald Moeller; Randy Hughes from the Arizona Society for Coatings Technology; and Linda Riash, director of development for the natural sciences, and Brendan Cunningham, assistant director of development for the natural sciences, who have been instrumental in supporting School of Molecular Sciences scholarships.

“My future academic plans are to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy at the University of Arizona and return to my hometown of Tuba City to fill a pharmacist position at Tuba City Regional Health Care,” said Stacee Tallman, recipient of the Theodore M. Brown Scholarship. “This scholarship will be a big help to getting my degree.”

This year the School of Molecular Sciences presented 13 of the most talented and deserving students with scholarships to support their academic goals. Eighteen undergraduates and graduate students were also recognized for the excellent work they have done at the School of Molecular Sciences. Alexis Ramirez, a biochemistry major, was selected as the fall 2018 Dean’s Medalist and Zoe Lieberman-Martin, a chemistry major, was selected as the spring 2018 Dean’s Medalist.

“I am incredibly honored to be receiving the Dean's Medal. As I prepare to graduate, I realize how lucky I am to have studied at a university with a faculty that is so dedicated to the success of its students. After attending school for a career in the arts, I hesitantly decided to return to Arizona to pursue scientific studies,” Lieberman-Martin said. “Earning this award assures me that I made the right decision and it contributes to a greater confidence in my abilities. I know that my passion for learning and persistence will enable me to conquer any challenges as I continue in the field of chemistry.”

The ceremony also included a presentation of accomplished graduate awards including the John Kacoyannakis Award, the LeRoy Eyring Memorial Fellowship in Chemistry, the George Yuen Memorial Award, the John Holloway Memorial Graduate Scholarship, Outstanding Graduate Research Assistant, the SMS Innovation Award and Distinguished Teaching Assistant awards.

The Distinguished Instructor award was presented to Professor Agota Debreczeni, and Professor Marcia Levitus was selected by Student Affiliates of the American Chemical Society (SAACS) for the 2019 Distinction of Merit and Scholastic Occupation (DMSO) Faculty Teaching Award.

“SAACS believes that Dr. Levitus is deserving of the DMSO Award because of her devotion to her students,” said Carolyn Clark, SAACS co-president. “She shows genuine concern for her students, asks for feedback on her teaching, and makes every effort to learn her students' names. She is motivating and engaging, and serves as a true inspiration to everyone she teaches.”

The School of Molecular Sciences and its generous supporters recognize the impact scholarships and awards make in contributing to the success of their students. Recognizing and supporting the brightest and the best students financially benefits not only ASU, but our whole community.

Learn more about School of Molecular Sciences scholarships.

View photos of awardees, presenting faculty and donors and families. 

Full list of award and scholarship recipients:

George M. Bateman Memorial Scholarship: Tanaya Haws

Therald Moeller Scholarship: Elinor Sauer

Wayne W. Luchsinger Chemistry Scholarship: Tommy Saunders

John Holloway Memorial Scholarship (Undergraduate): William Knight

Edward B. Skibo Memorial Scholarship: Carolyn Clark

Theodore M. Brown Memorial Scholarship: Stacee Tallman

Arizona Society for Coatings Technology Scholarship: Krisztina Tope

School of Molecular Sciences Scholarship: David Flesher

School of Molecular Sciences Scholarship: Christopher Ramirez

School of Molecular Sciences Women in Science Scholarship: Annmarie Barton

School of Molecular Sciences Women in Science Scholarship: Missy Tran

School of Molecular Sciences First Generation Scholarship: Jasmine Nguyen

School of Molecular Sciences Scholarship for Veterans: Joseph Miller

School of Molecular Sciences Peer Mentor Leadership Award: Charles Amador

SAACS Organic Achievement Award: Julia Torline

ACS Division of Analytical Chemistry Undergraduate Award: Bridger Johnston

ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry Undergraduate Award: Madeline Howell

ACS Division of Organic Chemistry Undergraduate Award: Michael Ruta

ACS Division of Physical Chemistry Undergraduate Award: Blake Hance

Royal Society of Chemistry Certificate of Excellence: Samantha Sokal

Distinguished Chemistry Merit Award: Vanessa Davis

Distinguished Chemistry Merit Award: Sierra Murphy

Distinguished Biochemistry Merit Award: Kimberly Kevershan

Distinguished Biochemistry Merit Award: Anne Schmidt

Dean’s Medal, fall 2018: Alexis Ramirez

Dean’s Medal, spring 2019: Zoe Lieberman-Martin

John Kacoyannakis Award: Claire Crowther

John Kacoyannakis Award: Mohammed Towshif Rabbani

LeRoy Eyring Memorial Fellowship in Chemistry: Miyuki Thirumuthy

George Yuen Memorial Award: Brian Wadsworth

John Holloway Memorial Scholarship (Graduate): Joshua Nye

Outstanding Graduate Research Assistant Award: Fan Hong and Renjie Liao

SMS Innovation Award: David Ciota

Distinguished Teaching Assistant Award: Rafael Alcala-Torano, Samantha Donovan, Michael Furey, Shannon Hilton, William Johnson, Nikita Kumari, Aerial Pratt, Edgar A. Reyes Cruz, Garrett Shaver, Spencer Smith, Stephanie Thibert

Distinguished Instructor Award: Agota Debreczeni

Distinction of Merit and Scholastic Occupation (DMSO) Teaching Award: Marcia Levitus

Media Relations and Marketing Manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration