In praise of happenstance

December 6, 2019

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

Leah Soto is passionate about sports. She also likes to read and write. So, the Chandler, Arizona, native put two and two together and got … a major in sports journalism at Arizona State University. But: “I pretty quickly realized that I preferred being a fan of sports rather than an unbiased observer,” she confessed. Graduating ASU student Leah Soto / Courtesy photo Graduating ASU student Leah Soto started out as a journalist and ended up as an editor but one thread was constant: her love for the written word. Download Full Image

Soto stayed in the journalism program but switched her focus to straight reporting. That wasn’t quite right either. “It wasn’t something I was passionate about.” On a whim, she sauntered metaphorically over to the humanities and voila! It was a match.

Soto is graduating this December from ASU with a BA in English (linguistics) and a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). She doesn’t regret a single thing: “Pretty much everything I learned during both my majors has somehow changed my perspective.”

While switching majors midstream might have unnerved some less intrepid students, Soto has a knack for taking life as it comes. Her ability to see value in happenstance is what led her to degree completion.

Some of Soto’s best “teachers” have been the firsthand experiences she gained, both in her work as an editor at Downtown Devil and in three separate internships: at Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine, at Dunham Media, and as a tutor for English 108 courses at ASU. The magazine internship taught her to “write prettily,” she said, and her time at Dunham Media was a goldmine of one-on-one mentoring and plum assignments —“most of the stories I wrote were about food so I got to go to a food truck festival and do a hot sauce taste test.”

The tutoring internship really whetted her appetite for teaching, where she said she sees her long-term future most clearly and plans to make full use of her new academic credentials. “All of my students are wonderful and I love being able to give them some guidance,” she said. "I really want to travel and write and a TESOL certificate seems like a great way to do that. … Plus, people always say teaching is the best way to learn and I love learning!”

We sat down with Soto to ask her a few questions about her time at ASU and what’s next.  

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

Answer: I realized I wanted to study linguistics as I was studying it. I didn’t really know too much about it before I decided to make it my major. I chose linguistics because I was changing my major after two years in the journalism program and all I knew was that I wanted to study English. Literature didn’t seem like the right path for me, and creative writing required a lot of the same classes as the lit major plus it would’ve resulted in me graduating a semester late — something my four-year scholarship wasn’t going to cover. I did some research on linguistics and it seemed interesting and new, so I decided to go that route and I have no regrets! I’ve enjoyed every single lesson, so it was definitely the right choice.

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

A: The entire process of reporting was completely new to me until journalism school and it gave me a whole new perspective on the importance of a free press. As far as linguistics goes, every day blows my mind. The entire premise seems to be just tearing down all of our preconceived notions of language and replacing them with smaller building blocks. I love it.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I originally wanted to study sports journalism and ASU’s Cronkite School has one of the best sports journalism programs in the country. Plus, my entire family is in this area and I received an excellent scholarship to attend the university.

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

A: I’ve had so many fantastic professors, I can’t pick just one. Terry Greene Sterling from the Cronkite School taught me how to have confidence in my writing and empower myself through it. And Ruby Macksoud and Dr. George Justice in the English department taught me the value of making meaningful connections with your professors through their incredible kindness and support.

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

A: I’d tell everyone to go to class, pay attention and engage with your professors. Even just doing things as simple as making eye contact or asking questions can go a long way.

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

A: My favorite spot on campus is Engineering Center G. It has the perfect balance of quiet and background noise, it has plenty of natural light, and it has different types of chairs to sit in.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m going to do some freelance writing and editing here in Tempe, move to Colorado when my lease is up in May, and hopefully find a full-time editing position up there. 

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

A: I’d donate it to find a sustainable solution to clearing garbage out of the ocean.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English


Scholarship enables master’s student's dream of a law degree, inspires him to give back

December 6, 2019

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

Vince Nicholes is a busy father and working professional who is about ready to graduate with a master’s degree in legal studies and business administration, as part of a concurrent degree program between Arizona State University's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the W. P. Carey School of Business. When reflecting back on his law school and business school journey, Nicholes considered himself lucky for this opportunity. photo of Vince Nicholes and family Vince Nicholes (center), who graduates this fall with a master’s degree in legal studies and business administration, as part of a concurrent degree program between the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the W. P. Carey School of Business, poses with his family. Download Full Image

“I have a top-ranked business school and law school in my town. It allowed me to minimize disruption to my career and family life while pursuing a world-class education,” Nicholes said.

Recently, Nicholes was promoted to the western region development manager for T-Mobile, and credits his participation in this degree program for that recent success. However, like many students, Nicholes had a few challenges balancing school and his professional life.

“There were times when I felt over my head,” Nicholes said. “To face these challenges, I looked to others who had gone before me for advice and I broke the challenge down into manageable pieces.”

Nicholes was also the recipient of a scholarship that helped to lessen the loan debt that some students face while in graduate school. He recognizes the opportunity that came to him from receiving financial support.

“I likely would not have pursued the dual degrees had I not gotten the help and encouragement that came with the scholarship assistance,” Nicholes recalled. “Associate Dean Menkhus was also a great help in encouraging me to stay on track. The scholarship allowed me to finish my degrees with considerably less student loan debt.”

ASU Law sat down with him to learn more about his ASU Law and W. P. Carey School of Business journey.

photo of Vince Nicholes

Vincent Nicholes, Fall 2019 Graduate. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study both law and business?

Answer: I had always been interested in studying law but due to career and family obligations, did not have the flexibility to pursue a JD. While researching the evening MBA program, I learned about the concurrent MBA/MLS program and saw it as my chance to finally do it.

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

A: The subjectivity that exists, and has always existed, in our laws is a double-edged sword. It can be a source of liberation or oppression, depending on the skills — or lack thereof — of the person wielding it.

Q: What has your experience at ASU Law been like?

A: Invigorating. Learning about the intersection of the law and business has been enlightening and invigorating.

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

A: To current and future MLS students: you get out of it what you put into it. Dig into the materials and take advantage of the opportunity to learn from the professors.

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

A: Easy. Discipline in education. I would engage with the 'school-to-prison pipeline' that exists in many parts of the country where disruptive behavior — particularly of students of color — is treated as criminal instead of an opportunity to teach and develop.

Q: If you could speak directly to the philanthropists that donated for your scholarship, what would you like to tell them?

A: I believe that, next to a relationship with your creator, an education is the most redemptive goal a person can pursue. I sincerely thank you for enabling me to pursue mine. Please continue to do this work and help others. Because of you, I will too.

Nicole Almond Anderson

Director of Communications, Thunderbird School of Global Management