Online biochemistry undergraduate finds academic home at ASU

December 6, 2019

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

Arizona State University online biochemistry student and full-time mom Kassandra Herndon is reaching her goal of earning a Bachelor’s of Science in biochemistry. Kassandra Herndon SMS undergraduate Kassandra Herndon Download Full Image

The wife and mother of a young daughter had earned two associate degrees in her home state of California, but wanted more for herself and wanted to be a good role model for her daughter. Majoring in biology, Herndon wanted an online program that allowed her some flexibility. When she discovered ASU had what she was looking for, she could hardly believe what she was seeing on her computer screen.

Herndon thought, “This can’t be true. There is no way there is a biology degree online.” She requested information and spoke to an adviser and was told she would be a good fit for the program. And in a leap of faith Herndon enrolled for the spring 2018 semester at ASU.

Herndon originally started as a biology major but switched to biochemistry when she became infatuated with the chemical structures and how each structure acted a specific way. It made her want to increase her knowledge on how chemical properties worked within the human body.

“Kassandra was a delight to teach, she was serious and enthusiastic to learn while at the same time working to support herself and her family. Kassandra took full advantage of the online degree program and is a fantastic example of why the online program is so important,” said Ian Gould, President's Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences. “I am proud of Kassandra, she will do good things with her degree!”

Being an online student, a wife and mom can be demanding and you have many things to juggle like household chores, caring for your child and class work, but Herndon says the key is time management and a good support system.

“It’s definitely doable, and it takes time and patience and a lot of scheduling,” she said.

Herndon will be graduating in December and is traveling to the Tempe campus to take part in the graduation ceremonies. She is excited as well for the graduation experience of being in a big stadium and walking across the stage to receive her degree in front of her daughter, husband and family. Herndon shared that while it was challenging at times to balance everything, this big milestone in her life — completing her degree makes all the sacrifices to get here worth it.

“Having my support team there (at graduation) to see everything that I have done — all of the late nights and early mornings, the hour at Thanksgiving with them, has paid off,” Herndon said. “And seeing my professors will be a highlight.”

Herndon answered some questions about her time and experience at ASU.

Question: What was your favorite class and why?

Answer: Organic chemistry was my favorite. The class is great itself — to learn about different chemicals in the whole wide world and how those chemicals play a role in your body when you get into higher level classes. That’s something I learned in O chem and here it is again, it's great to see that. O chem is the center of really everything in life.

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

A: One thing I learned was to believe in myself. My past struggles are not who I am. ASU has made me feel like I can accomplish anything.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Allowing a mother to go back to school and finish her degree is one of the best innovations ASU could have ever made possible. ASU is renowned for setting the bar and I am thankful I chose ASU.

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

A: Dr. Ara Austin by far. She truly believes in your ability to succeed not only in the classroom but in your future endeavors. Dr. Austin's guidance through the program is truly unimaginable.

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

A: Continue to jump those hurdles until you win your race. It may be a triathlon but receiving your medal at the end will bring you great joy.

Q: What advice would you give to those who do not want to dive right in to an online degree or course because they are simply afraid of the time commitment or they are afraid they might not be able to do it?

A: To be able to make something for yourself that will help your family is the biggest leap of faith you can honestly do. So either going to school or going back to school with a family would really be one of the best assets you can provide for your family. Just for the brighter future, for the outcome that will occur — it will outweigh all your fears, all your negativity, all your worries. You can do it, just have faith you can complete it. Definitely talk to your advisers and your professors. They are always there to help you. To do something for yourself — going back to school is a great option. Not only does it help your family but it really helps you as a person be who you were meant to be in life. It helps you push further and past all those hurdles you may have. Go and do it! You make something better for yourself and your family.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus while you were here in the summer, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: Outside of the lab, it had to be the University Club. The history and view of this building amazes me.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to start a career in protein synthesis, while working on a master's in genetics counseling.

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

A: If I were given $40 million dollars, I would tackle cancer. I would implement new ideas and ways to reduce cancer within the body. To create a world without cancer would touch more than my life. It would touch millions of lives. 

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


ASU graduating student combines music, science as a 21st-century musician

December 6, 2019

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

Felix Herbst refuses to settle on one path. The 21st-century musician is a violinist, vocalist and arranger-composer as well as a scientist. He will graduate in December as a dual major honors student with a Bachelor of Music in violin performance and a Bachelor of Science in molecular bioscience and biotechnology, and he plans to pursue both careers after graduation. Felix Herbst Felix Herbst Download Full Image

“The idea of majoring in music had been on my mind for a while, but I felt really committed to it near the start of my senior year of high school,” he said. “It was more of a slow and steady progression rather than a single moment. I made up my mind to add the double major in biotechnology halfway through my first semester at ASU when I realized that I missed science a lot.”

Following graduation, Herbst plans to spend some time in Arizona with friends exploring the state a little more before he begins a research project and a career as a musician. He says then he plans to move to Boston in the short term “for a potential part-time cancer research position, followed by a more definitive move to Los Angeles, New York City or Berlin to pursue my career as an arranger, composer, writer and performer.”

Herbst began playing the violin in first grade after emigrating from Germany to Northern California with his family. His passions extend beyond the classical realm and include jazz, pop, rock, fiddle and hip-hop styles. After attending ASU for three years on a National Merit Scholarship and adding a science degree to his music studies, Herbst spent one year at Berklee College of Music in Boston to explore contemporary performance.

Herbst has performed with the ASU Symphony Orchestra, ASU Gospel Choir, Urban Sol and ASU Choral Union on violin and vocals. He participated in a wide variety of musical groups as founder, producer or participant, including Side Note (a semi-professional a cappella group) and Priority Male (an all-male a cappella group that he directed). Herbst has performed with or opened for the band Moonchild, Justin Timberlake, Missy Elliott, Alex Lacamoire and Old Crow Medicine Show, has written and recorded string arrangements for bands in Arizona and Massachusetts, and arranged and co-produced Priority Male’s EP recording.

While artist-in-residence at the Phoenix Art Museum, he performed at the museum and also created a sound installation. Herbst co-founded Third Thursday at ASU, a set of music/arts festivals on the ASU campus, and performed for the Boys and Girls Club of Tempe, senior clinics, hospice and transitional care facilities.

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

Answer: Early on in my college microbiology class, I met someone in their late twenties who was raising a child by themselves and simultaneously getting their bachelor's degree. Hearing her story reshaped my idea of how college can and should function. I tackled underlying assumptions I had about what a typical classmate could be.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: My decision to attend ASU was very last minute. I was incredibly conflicted among the 20 schools where I applied. My mom informed me that with a National Merit Scholarship I could attend ASU fully funded. I visited ASU, toured the campus, took a trial lesson with Dr. Katherine McLin and visited Barrett Honors College, all of which confirmed for me that this was the place I wanted to study.

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

A: Dr. McLin, my violin teacher, taught me more about playing and performing than I could ever share here. The most important lesson she taught me is how to learn and progress from things that I considered failure. I appreciate her more than she could know.

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

A: Utilize the resources ASU can offer. As I near the end of my college career, I am starting to realize the incredible number of things that the school system can offer while in school and the things I'll have to say goodbye to once I'm out. ASU has gig referral programs, funding applications and a myriad of incredible people who care about their work and are more than willing to share it with you if you only ask. This community is one of a kind — take what it can give you.

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

A: James Turrell’s architectural art installation Skyspace: Air Apparent, near the Biodesign Institute, is beautiful at night. It has been a place of solace for me, as well as sharing moments of silence with other strangers enjoying the same space.

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

A: Clean drinking water access. Forty million dollars cannot develop water infrastructure every place that needs it, but it can go a long way in improving hundreds of thousands of lives affected by drought and lack of sanitation.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music, Dance and Theatre