ASU grad learns lessons on her path to being a pastor

Claire holding up a laptop on a screen related to her field of study

Claire Mulholand celebrates her work on the relationship between the enneagram personality types and empathic development.


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

Claire Mulholand has always known that she wanted to work with people, and her experiences inside and outside the classroom at Arizona State University paved the way for her to do just that as a pastor.

Originally from Slinger, Wisconsin, Mulholand moved to Chandler, Arizona, 15 years ago. She is graduating from ASU this semester with a degree in psychology and a minor in sociology.  

As a student, Mulholand worked for University Housing. She started as a community assistant and was ultimately promoted to a lead community assistant position serving residential students on ASU’s Tempe campus. Mulholand was able to work with her residents and help them navigate their first-year experience.  

“I absolutely love connecting with [students] one-on-one and helping them accomplish their goals in the first year of college — it has been the most rewarding experience of my college career by far,” she said.

Throughout college Mulholand also learned that no two people have the same life experiences and that it is important to be compassionate toward others. Her time working with students from all different backgrounds and traveling to another country showed her the value in being kind to everyone she meets. 

“I’ve loved that this job has given me a new and added perspective to the college experience and allows me to be so much more in tune with all that ASU has to offer,” she said.

After graduation, Mulholand will begin working for Desert Springs Church while she also works to become a licensed pastor. As she prepared to graduate, she reflected on her time at ASU.

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

Answer: I originally chose the psychology field wanting to be a genetic counselor — I’ve always loved genetics and loved the idea of counseling people through that field. I switched interests in high school following a research project on occupational art therapy. I wanted to stick to psychology and felt that the counseling aspect would still apply with a focus in therapy. Immediately following high school, I began working at my church as an administrative assistant. That experience opened my eyes to the back end of ministry, which often means leveling with people and meeting them right where they’re at.

My “aha” moment really came from this as I realized having a background in psychology in the ministry really gives me a strong backing to work with people. I truly believe in the business of investing in the lives of those around us and that every interaction should have a “leave it better than we found it” spirit. 

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

A: One important lesson that I learned while at ASU is that everyone is so different and lives a life completely different than your own. It’s a lesson that seems too simple but it’s truly a reminder that there is so much power in just listening to others and being kind, knowing there are so many perspectives beyond your own. Through all of my classes and my job in housing, I have seen this lived over time and time again. 

Last year I had the chance to study abroad for 10 days in Morocco as part of a Global Intensive Experience through Barrett. I will always recommend that people travel internationally if they have not done so before as it’s a great way to expand our perspective of the human lives around us. It’s amazing how much you can learn from just sitting with someone and asking them how they’re doing or what they’re working on. It puts you in a place to have a greater understanding and appreciation for the work that others are doing. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Realistically, it was close to home and still allowed me some independence and space to grow. I always thought I would go out of state, but when it came down to deciding where I wanted to go, I felt that the programs in psychology, and especially the individualized experience that Barrett had to offer, were a great fit for me. 

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

A: This is such a hard question. I’ve been extremely blessed to learn so much from so many amazing professors in my three years at ASU. The absolute best class I’ve ever taken at ASU was AFR 365 Unruly Voices, taught by Ersula Ore

The course was taken as an elective that covered women’s and gender studies in the context of racism and injustice. Dr. Ore taught me so much about the importance of not ignoring the issues that impact others. It’s crucial, now more than ever, to listen and believe the voices around us who bring to light the injustices that undercut specific people groups of our community. We all have a voice, and we need to use it to advocate for others and call out the injustice that disproportionately disadvantages those around us. 

I also have learned so much from Dr. Marcella Gemelli, who was my undergraduate thesis director. Her constant support and willingness to invest in my project taught me so much about empathy and being open to new projects. 

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

A: Don’t be afraid to try new things. Talk to your professors, advisers and faculty! They are here to curate your experience, and you’d be surprised how much insight they can provide when you just come in to talk about their or your interests. Not only are they a wealth of knowledge, but they can open your eyes to so many more opportunities with the connections they have. 

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

A: I could most often be found at Noble Library. I loved studying at the large study tables on the second floor, meeting classmates in the group study rooms or grabbing a drink at the Starbucks more times than I care to admit. I loved the nostalgic feeling of the rows of books and the pretty orange trees outside.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to begin working full time with my church, Desert Springs. We recently launched a new campus in Gilbert, and I will be signing on as the administrative assistant to our campus pastors in addition to my current role as the admin for our missions department. Through this, I will be pursuing further education to become a licensed pastor. 

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

A: I travel pretty frequently for my work and through my church. On one of my trips to the United Kingdom, I had the opportunity to serve on a building project that provided homes to incoming refugees who would otherwise experience housing displacement in the country they sought asylum in. 

I would love to tackle the issue of the disproportionate disadvantages that refugees face. I want to address the issue of the political unrest that is often the cause of this issue and adjustment to life in a completely new environment and how that may impact work, education and mental health for refugees.

Written by Claire Muranaka, EOSS Marketing 

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