ASU becomes academic home for graduating transfer student

Biological sciences major follows professor’s advice and enters PhD program

May 6, 2019

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

When Brianne Jones was a college junior, she was searching for a new academic home. In her first two years pursuing a college degree, she attended two other schools — a small liberal arts college in Texas and a community college in the Phoenix metro area. Brianne Jones Brianne Jones is graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences (cell, genetics and developmental biology). She made ASU her home after starting her college experience at two other schools. Photo by Brianne Jones/Facebook Download Full Image

Tired of moving from school to school and losing course credits along the way because they didn’t transfer, she decided to apply to an in-state university.

She originally wanted to go to the University of Arizona to be with her best friend but had a job she didn’t want to leave and applied to Arizona State University instead.

“Personally, I think it was very difficult for me at some points to maintain the drive to continue my degree program. I feel that in undergraduate programs, STEM degrees especially, the courses can be timed pretty strictly so it can be difficult if there’s any deviation,” said Jones. “However, I am excited to announce I am still managing to graduate in four years. I am unsure how it worked out, but I am glad that I saw my interests through and stuck with it.”

Jones is graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences (cell, genetics and developmental biology).

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

Answer: I’m not sure exactly what class it was, but a few semesters ago I remember asking a professor a question about course content and receiving an unsatisfactory response — that it was still actively being researched. Before that moment, I never really thought about how much we don’t know about living organisms and the world we inhabit.

I wasn’t sure which research area I wanted to pursue, but I thought that I wanted to help leave one less question for the students after me. I don’t think that I have to make some famous discovery and I am not under the grand illusion that I can answer every question I ask, but it doesn’t hurt to try!

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

A: I don’t think it was necessarily something I learned at ASU, but my experience at ASU definitely helped reinforce what an amazing opportunity it is that I’ve been given to be able to go to college and further my education. Not everyone has this opportunity, so I think it is important to take a second to just be grateful and make the most out of your education.

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

A: In the fall of 2018, I took developmental biology. It was a co-taught class, and one of the professors was Dr. Jason Newbern. I remember thinking about pursuing graduate school and I scheduled office hours to go in and seek his guidance.

I only met with him once and with a class as large as BIO 351, I am unsure if he would even remember me, but he gave me some advice I have since told to others and that I tell myself frequently: When faced with two options, you should weigh them and make a choice. Your choice is made off of the information that you had at the time and you did the most with what you had. Once the choice is made, you keep propelling yourself forwards and don’t look back. The worst thing you can do is to regret something and become stuck. You have to trust that you did what you thought was the most beneficial to you at the position you were in at the time and focus on how that will affect you moving forward.

This advice was very beneficial in helping me decide my plans after graduation, applying for graduate school, and eventually choosing a graduate school after I received multiple acceptances.

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

A: It’s OK not to know exactly what you want to do. I feel like this has recently become popular advice, but it’s 100% true. People think that everyone has their career path outlined the minute they step on campus, and that simply isn’t true for everyone. I think as long as you’re actively seeking guidance from peers, professors and advisers you are bound to come across a program or career that will spark your interest and propel you to success.

Q: What did ASU provide to you that you think you could not have found anywhere else?

A: Opportunity. I think that ASU came to me at such an odd time. As I mentioned, I am a transfer student, but I had originally planned on going to University of Arizona because my best friend was there. I ended up applying to ASU in a split decision moment because I had a job in Phoenix I did not want to leave. Looking back, I am so glad that I applied and attended ASU. I think that the mentorship I have received from faculty and administration was the push I needed to stay motivated and finish my degree program.

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

A: I really enjoy Armstrong Hall. It was a recent discovery for me, but I find that it has everything I’m looking for. There is a place for collaboration or solitude, and I don’t feel as cramped as I do at Noble or Hayden. It’s a really nice open space that doesn’t make me feel boxed in, which is really nice when trying to be productive.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I have been accepted to Washington State University in the fall to pursue a doctoral degree in molecular biosciences. I realized in my junior year that my passion for learning and the life sciences has not waned, and I thought that I owed it to myself to pursue whatever trajectory that satisfied my curiosity.

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

A: I’m honestly proud that I figured out some next steps for after I receive my degree in a few weeks. I read so many articles about recent grads not having jobs or cannot figure out what they want to do after graduation, and I am extremely grateful to have found my passion and that I will actively be pursuing it in the near future.

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

A: I would have to invest in wastewater remediation treatment. I am currently doing undergraduate research at the Polytechnic campus with Dr. Pete Lammers at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI), which serves as a national test bed for algae for the purpose of investigating its potential. While biofuel is a heavily researched topic with algae, wastewater remediation is also a viable option because the algae could help remove the harsh compounds in water (such as runoff from agricultural fertilizers) and release clean oxygen into the environment. While my scientific passion does not lie in sustainability, I think that everyone should care about our environment and taking actions to preserve it for our next generations.

Q: Are there any particular people who really supported you on your journey?

A: My SOLS adviser Serena Christianson is amazing. She was the first adviser I met when I transferred and has really been with me throughout my entire ASU experience. I feel that she has tried her best to assist in my success throughout my time on campus and has been there when I needed her!

Additionally, microbiology TA Julie Bethany Rakes was such a kind and supportive human being. She is a current graduate student and was great to talk to about graduate school as a whole and what her perspective was like. I really appreciated her honesty and later assistance. I think that being able to talk to someone in a position you hope to enter into holds a lot of weight, and I just want to thank her for always finding time to answer my frantic emails, even when she had her own studies taking place.

Furthermore, I would say one of the most supportive people on campus I have met is Dr. Pete Lammers, who is a research professor at the Polytechnic campus. I have been doing undergraduate research with him for the last year and a half, and I feel that he has really nurtured my love of science and passion for research that led me to consider graduate school in the first place. He has been a wonderful mentor, and I felt that he cared about my success on an academic as well as a personal level, which I think is rare in such a large university environment. I am very sad to leave after this semester, but I know that he will be a great contact to have long after I graduate.

Q: Looking back, is there anything you would go back and change?

A: Despite my transferring situation, I really think that I have had an overall positive experience throughout college. I was involved on campus, academically successful, I am graduating in an amount of time that I wanted, and I have been lucky enough to meet some great people that I will keep in touch with long after graduation. I think that the experiences we have are our own and they shape who we become in the future!

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: ASU has been a one-of-a-kind experience, and I’m grateful I had it. It is bittersweet to graduate, but I am stoked for my next chapter! #forkem

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


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David Brooks to ASU graduates: 'Keep showing up'

May 6, 2019

New York Times op-ed columnist urges newest Sun Devil alumni to build relationships to help heal society

The Arizona State University undergraduate commencement ceremony made its triumphant return to Sun Devil Stadium on Monday evening, where political analyst and New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks told the crowd of more than 30,000 graduates and guests that being there to deliver the commencement speech was “one of the greatest honors” of his life.

“This is a university of the people,” he said. “This is the university America needs most.”

Brooks, whom ASU President Michael Crow introduced as one of the leading public intellectuals in the U.S., was conferred with an honorary doctorate of humane letters for significant contributions to his field and society at large. His current work focuses on social fragmentation and what people can do to create a community of relationship and purpose.

He took students through what he called a journey of their future emotional life, saying that their spiritual and emotional health in the decades ahead would be directly proportional to how much love they pour into the people around them, and that the greatest gift they can give their country is emotional courage.

“I ask you, keep showing up all the way; fight hatred with vulnerability,” Brooks said. “Vulnerability is the only way we have in this country and world to build relationships, and relationships are the only way we have to experience joy — it is the only way we have to heal our broken society.”

Crow reminded the graduates and their families of the mission of ASU, to be an institution that measures itself by those it includes, rather than those it excludes.

“One of things going forward in our society is that we have to find ways to reach more people, engage more people to drive our democracy forward … to make the fruits of our democracy — the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness — available to everyone,” he said.

Photos from undergraduate commencement:

Matthew Bogue, who was receiving his bachelor’s in communication and media studies from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said he was there Monday evening because the Starbucks College Achievement Plan allowed him to pursue his dream of a college degree when he otherwise might not have been able to.

“It takes everybody the amount of time it takes them,” Bogue said. “I turn 30 in a few months. It’s never too late.”

More: The best photos from spring 2019 convocations

Political science graduate Jennifer Dardas, 33, echoed that sentiment. A mother of three, she has already secured a job with the U.S. Department of State.

“You can do anything you set your mind to,” she said. 

Nearly 11,000 bachelor’s degrees were conferred at the ceremony, more than 500 of whom were Starbucks College Achievement Plan graduates, more than 2,000 of whom were online students and roughly 54% of whom are Arizona residents.

Earlier in the day, approximately 4,800 graduate students received their master’s degrees at a ceremony at Wells Fargo Arena.

Photos from Graduate Commencement:

Scenes from Graduate Commencement:

Video by Jordan Currier/ASU

This commencement season, ASU graduates represent scores of countries countries and all 50 states, completing degrees in more than 300 programs.

It also marks the graduation of the first cohort of Public Service Academy students. Approximately 130 students graduated from the academy, which was launched in 2015 to develop the leaders of tomorrow who are prepared to find solutions for society’s biggest challenges and create a culture of service by leveraging and combining military and civilian experiences.

ASU is the only public university in the nation with such an academy, and its mission reflects Brooks' message to students that our success in life should be measures by “the way our souls sing when we succeed at helping people in need.”

Crow implored graduates to take the theme of the evening’s ceremony to heart, and to go forth with the skills they have acquired through their education and make a difference in the world.

“Do not sit back and watch,” he said. “Do not sit back and complain. Do not whine. Take responsibility. Take action. Congratulations, graduates.”

Top photo: A graduate throws up a pitchfork as fireworks launch to celebrate the undergraduate student commencement on May 6 at Sun Devil Stadium. Photo by Nicole Neri/ASU

Emma Greguska

Editor , ASU News

(480) 965-9657