From an online biochemistry degree to chasing a PhD

April 20, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Paul Turack is graduating with a degree in biochemistry from the School of Molecular Sciences. This year he was awarded the Distinguished Biochemistry Merit Award, which is presented to a graduating senior in recognition of an outstanding academic record in a biochemistry degree. As an online student living in St. Kitts Island, Turack has done an amazing job keeping up with his studies and work.  Paul Turack Paul Turack is graduating with a degree in biochemistry from the School of Molecular Sciences. Download Full Image

School of Molecular Sciences clinical assistant professor Ara Austin had this to say: “Paul is a dedicated student who overcame many obstacles to complete his degree in biochemistry at ASU. I am always impressed by Paul's ability to find a solution when all hope seems lost. For example, while living on St. Kitts Island, he managed to find one biochemist living there to gain the necessary research experience to pursue graduate school in the future. Students like Paul who have the persistence are the ones who later succeed in research, and I am excited to see what the future holds for him.”

Turack is a part of the School of Molecular Sciences online biochemistry program, the nation’s first online biochemistry program. Like many students who are pursuing their degree online, he has put in a tremendous amount of time and dedication to his studies. Although learning in a nontraditional classroom setting may come with difficulties and surprises, Turack has learned how to be a successful online student.

One challenge he faced as a rural online student was limited access to the internet. When the public libraries back home were shut down in response to COVID-19, it made it difficult for him to find adequate access to the internet to complete coursework. He ended up having to rent out a hotel room in the nearest city to be able to take his online exams. Though it was not the ideal situation for him, he figured out how to tackle the issue head on and went out of his way to make sure his work was complete. There is no doubt that this hardworking graduate will continue to thrive in his future endeavors with his great resilience and skills.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I chose ASU because ASU offers a fully online biochemistry program. I was able to conveniently complete my degree while living overseas.

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

A: Be organized. Making lists of what I needed to do and when helped me immensely to get through school.

Q: Please share unique aspects of your college experience:

A: I am a nontraditional student. I taught philosophy and ethics courses for several years at the college level, and then I decided to radically switch fields and study biochemistry at ASU. The switch was instigated by recognition of a dearth of academic positions in the humanities, and few to no opportunities in the private sector for philosophers. Going back to college after a lengthy interim can be a challenge due to the concepts and methods one may have forgotten, but it certainly is doable!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on studying biochemistry at the graduate level and am ultimately aiming at earning a PhD in biochemistry. I have an MA in history of philosophy and have already taught at the college level, but I feel like there are more opportunities for biochemists than philosophers in today's job market.

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

A: Dr. Austin is a polymath. She was one of my organic chemistry instructors, she coached me on graduate school options, helped me to find research opportunities in ASU's labs, and lately helped me to resolve some internet access issues as a rural student previously reliant on public libraries for schoolwork. At her insistence I looked more into mobile hot spots and I honestly don't know that I'd be finishing my degree right now if it wasn't for her insight.

Written by Mariela Lozano Porras, School of Molecular Sciences communications assistant. Jenny Green contributed to the story.

Geography Dean’s Medalist mapped her own path at ASU

April 20, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Amy Berry is an avid learner. Entering Arizona State University as a freshman with 50-plus college credits, Berry utilized her academic flexibility to explore different courses and majors until she found the right fit for her: geography.  Amy Berry, a geography major in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, is a May 2020 graduate. Download Full Image

“I had a lot of college credits and I had a lot of room to explore,” said Berry, who is graduating this May from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning with a Bachelor of Arts in geography and a double minor in sustainability and urban planning. “Geography really fit the bill for everything I wanted to do. It had a lot of environmental aspects, it had a lot of social aspects, I also have done a lot of coursework in geographical information systems and I found a real passion for that.” 

Berry’s passion has shown through her dedication to her studies. She is this semester’s selection by the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning for the Dean’s Medalist Award from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a recognition reserved for the highest achieving students from the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities. 

“Amy is one of the top-performing graduating seniors in our school, making the Dean's List every semester,” said Ron Dorn, a professor of geography in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “Faculty in our school speak glowingly about her as an elite student who performs at an exemplary level in her courses. We will all miss her and wish her the very best as she moves forward as an alumna of (our school)” 

Beyond academics, Berry credits ASU for instilling a new sense of confidence in herself. 

“ASU taught me to not be afraid of making mistakes, to go ahead and put myself out there,” Berry said. “I'm very naturally shy, but because of ASU — doing group projects, class presentations and working my job on campus — I've become more outgoing. I've learned how to speak to people, and I’ve really come out of my shell.”

Her advice to other students: Don’t be afraid to venture outside of the box. 

“Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and take a class or something that might not be directly within your degree program,” Berry said. “Take something that's a little outside the box and explore. Maybe you'll find something that you like.” 

Ahead of commencement, we asked her a few questions about her time at ASU:

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: ASU is where my sister went. I love Arizona. I want my career to be here. ASU had in-state tuition and I was able to live at home and I had my support team here. I got to go to an absolutely great university. It was really my only choice even in high school.

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

A: Professor Elizabeth Larson taught me the most important lesson: Do not be afraid to speak up and express a different point of view or point out bias. She would always say that we should never be disrespectful or rude, but that it's OK to ask questions if you do not understand or have a different opinion. She would also say that she did not know everything and we should not take what she, or anyone else, said as the absolute and unbiased truth.

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

A: There’s this grassy area over by the Student Services building and the Discovery Hall building. There are rose gardens and grass and shade. It's this really pretty area. I would take a blanket and go out and stretch there. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: If you were to ask me a week ago I would say I would be trying to look for a job in urban planning, but now I'm thinking about going to graduate school at ASU and starting an application in either the Master in Urban and Environmental Planning or the Master of Advanced Study in GIS and wait a little while to start my career. 

Q: What is your dream job? 

A: The dream job would absolutely be something in sustainability where I could use all of the skills I have gotten. Something where I could help people to be more sustainable, hopefully in a city or municipality like Phoenix. 

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

A: I would probably try to find some way to make solar more affordable for Arizonans and for people in general. 

Q: What’s the biggest take away for you from your time here at ASU? 

A: I think it's: Don’t be afraid to venture outside the box. Take on a couple of risks and take on a couple of challenges. Maybe you don't think you'll succeed in it, but you’re going to try anyways.  

David Rozul

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications