Doctoral grad discovers importance of community

April 26, 2019

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

Arizona State University doctoral student Katie Alford was used to going it alone. She depended mostly on herself and worked hard at maintaining a high level of excellence. Graduating ASU student Katie Alford / Courtesy photo Graduating English education doctoral student Katie Alford learned the importance of community at ASU. "My colleagues have taught me so much,” Alford said, “especially how learning does not happen in isolation.” Download Full Image

Before defending her dissertation toward a PhD in English education on April 8, she served as a teaching assistant for ASU’s Writing Programs for several semesters. She earned a teaching award for her skill from ASU’s Graduate and Professional Student Association.

She researched and shared her work, presenting her findings and best practices locally and across the U.S. She published that work too, winning a national award: the 2018 CEL English Leadership Quarterly Best Article Award for the article, “Take Time to Write!: A Teacher’s Story of Writing Within a Community of Teacher Writers,” co-written with ASU English education Associate Professor Jessica Early.

And — the goal of most graduating students — she got a job. Alford will begin a tenure-track faculty position in fall 2019 at McKendree University in Lebanon, Illinois.

But Alford admitted that her most important lesson wasn’t about her subject matter. Instead, it was in learning to lean on others.

“My colleagues have taught me so much,” Alford said, “especially how learning does not happen in isolation; it happens in community.”

We spoke more with Alford about her ASU experiences and connections.

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

Answer: I taught high school English here in the Valley for nine years before pursuing my PhD at Arizona State University. I came from Colorado after getting married and fell in love with the sunshine and warm weather. While teaching I realized I wanted to learn even more. I enjoyed preparing professional development curriculum for my school and having student teachers in my classroom, so I decided that teaching preservice teachers would be my next life adventure. After taking a few courses to check out the program I knew this was the place for me, and I officially applied.

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

A: I’ve learned so many things while here at ASU. Perhaps the most helpful was the importance of building a strong surrounding community. My peers have played such a vital role in my success: They’ve pushed me to be better, encouraged me when I was down and celebrated with me in my triumphs. I typically stay to myself, but I’ve learned that to grow you must talk and share your learning with others to make it more concrete and lasting. Discussion with other doctoral students has been a great source of learning for me.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU clearly has a stellar reputation in its preparation of graduate students. The work accomplished here is top-notch and the researchers are celebrated for their excellent contributions to the world. ASU offers robust programs because of its size and has the means to support a variety of research that has the capacity to change our world. This excites me and makes me proud to be a part of this community.

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

A: Pursuing a degree is like preparing for a marathon. It takes hard work for many weeks, months and years. It seems like an impossible task at the start, but incrementally you get closer and closer until you find yourself at the end. I remember feeling overwhelmed especially in the beginning and thinking I was never going to see the finish line, but here I am. Also, imposter syndrome is a real thing, so read about it!

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

A: I love meeting my friends for lunch at Engrained in the MU, or at ChopShop off campus. I often sat with colleagues to discuss the hard work and deep thinking from our classes, but more often we would just vent about the challenges of graduate school. Engrained has great food and lots of space to meet and catch up during lunch, and ChopShop is an oasis away from the rush of ASU.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be moving to Illinois for a tenure track job at McKendree University, a small private college. I will teach education courses and continue my research agenda focusing on the preparation of preservice English Language Arts teachers especially in regard to their confidence and competence in teaching writing.

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

A: The United States education system. I believe a complete overhaul is needed. Corruption and bureaucratic gaming has shifted the educational landscape for too long. Real reform that is student-centered and focused on celebrating differences and not on creating test takers would and could improve the critical thinking skills of 21st-century learners, which is what I believe our focus should be. Complex problem-solving is what makes us different from computers, so we MUST ensure students have those skills in order to become not obsolete. Certainly $40 million would not be enough, but hopefully enough to shift the current focus.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English


Biological sciences undergraduate first ASU Online student admitted to veterinary school

April 26, 2019

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

As a child, Cody Sorce remembers seeing images of turtles with their shells stuck in soda can rings, frogs eating pieces of metal and crabs making their shells out of garbage. ASU online student Cody Sorce ASU online biological sciences major Cody Sorce wasn't sure how he would balance his career and school, but he completed his degree this spring and will attend veterinary school in Minnesota in the fall. Photo by Cody Sorce Download Full Image

Sorce, who is graduating this spring from Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences with a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from the university’s online program, knew then that he wanted to pursue a career helping animals that were often overlooked.

However, attending a four-year university was difficult for him because of his hectic schedule working 45 hours per week as a veterinary technician.

Some days, he has a regular 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule. But he never knows which days he’ll have to work late when an animal is brought into critical care. He wasn’t sure how he could fit classes into that kind of work schedule.

One day, while searching for online degree programs, he found ASU’s biology degree program, which completely met pre-veterinary school requirements. He realized then he could keep the job he loved and continue his education at the same time.

“I couldn't have stumbled into a more perfect scenario,” Sorce said.

This spring, Sorce became the first ASU Online student to be accepted into veterinary school. He’ll start courses in the fall at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine.     

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

Answer: I knew I wanted to study biology since I was very young. I have been fascinated with animals since I was a young child. Growing up, I idolized Steve Irwin and other wildlife conservationists and wanted to become just like them when I grew up. Because of this passion for animals and wildlife, I fell in love with biology and wanted to dedicate my academic and professional career to biology — in particular animal biology.

I planned on pursuing a career initially in wildlife biology and conservation. That was my career choice for nearly my entire life. A few years ago, I got into veterinary medicine to broaden my experience with animals in order to help pursue my goal. I thought the more experience I had the better it would make my chances of getting into the field I wanted. However, I loved veterinary medicine the minute I got into it. I love making a direct impact and helping on a daily basis. As a result, I decided to pursue a career in veterinary medicine with an emphasis in exotic and wildlife medicine. That way, I can help directly and still pursue my childhood dream. It's really the best of both worlds. 

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

A: I learned that you can receive a quality degree online from an amazing university. There is the idea out there that a quality education cannot be received through an online program. How can you ever receive the same education as an on-campus program? ASU has found a way. I won’t lie — I was one of the people who did not believe in online programs and believed the fallacy that they were “less than” or “easier” than the traditional way of learning. I was beyond wrong. ASU has provided me with one of the best educations I could ever ask for and prepared me for the next steps in my academic and professional careers.

Q: Why did you choose ASU Online? Did you find any unique challenges to pursuing an online degree?

A: I chose ASU Online because it allowed me to pursue a degree from one of the nation’s top universities. I worked — and continue to work — a tedious schedule that has not allowed me to pursue a degree as a full-time student. The elasticity of ASU’s online program allowed me to enroll full time while also being able to continue my professional career. I also wanted to be a part of something that I found innovating.

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

A: Dr. Ara Austin taught me the lesson of persistence. Dr. Austin was one of the few professors I was able to meet in person during my time in this online program. I spent a week in her in-person organic chemistry summer lab on the ASU campus. At the end of the session, I asked Dr. Austin if she would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me when I applied to veterinary schools. She agreed to write that letter. That letter showed me that she had enough faith in me that I would be able to pursue my career in veterinary medicine. That boost in my morale kept me persistent in following through with my career goals, despite (them) being extremely challenging.

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

A: Have faith in yourself and follow through with what you want to accomplish. School is not easy, by any means. It can be extremely difficult and it’s easy to get down on yourself and give up. However, giving up doesn’t get you to your goals; it only creates regret. So, I would always recommend to keep one foot in front of the other, take baby steps if need be and you will eventually get to where you want to be in life.

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

A: With $40 million dollars, there are a lot of problems I could solve. If I had to choose one, I would donate that money to wildlife conservation, as that has been a topic close to my heart since I was young. Every year we see more and more species either become endangered or get close to the brink of extinction. Most of the time, it is due to human interactions with the environment. $40 million dollars to set up a game reserve to protect large game in Africa or $40 million dollars to help protect coral reef systems could be a small step into protecting our planet’s biodiversity.

Q: Describe some challenges or hurdles you faced while earning your degree, and what you did or what took place to overcome them.

A: One of the largest hurdles for me has been the balance between my academic career and my professional career. Unfortunately, not working has never been an option for me. As a result, I find it difficult sometimes to dedicate the appropriate time to academics. ASU allowed a lot more freedom in my studies. However, it’s not easy. Taking 21 units on average for the last year and working a full-time job as a veterinary technician can be very tough and sometimes I fell behind on one or the other. This school and work balance is by far the largest hurdle I had to overcome while earning my degree.

Q: What’s something you are most proud of during your time at ASU?

A: I am most proud of the friendships I have made while at ASU. Many of the people I have met over the years through in-person labs I still regularly talk to, despite all of us living thousands of miles from one another. I believe that is something unique. I’m proud that I can call these people my friends.

Melinda Weaver

Communications specialist, School of Life Sciences