Planning graduate is driven to tackle queer and transgender housing issues

May 1, 2020

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

It’s important to Beth Freelander that the future of planning is inclusive, and she plans to use her voice and education to ensure that it happens.   Beth Freelander, a master's degree in urban and environmental planning May 2020 graduate. Photo courtesy of Beth Freelander Download Full Image

“I always think it's important to include the voices of the people who would be impacted by a project and I would want to make sure that my idea actually suited the needs of low-income queer and transgender minorities,” Freelander said. “The best way to ensure it meets their needs is to include them in decision-making.” 

Freelander, a master's degree in urban and environmental planning May 2020 graduate, says she wants to make sure that those who have historically been left out of planning are heard, especially in affordable housing and homelessness issues. 

“As a queer person, I know that other people in my community deal with homelessness at a higher rate than most other populations, and I care deeply about my queer and trans siblings,” Freelander said. “I want to see them have the same things that I have, which is a stable house — something that I’ve always been very privileged to have all my life. It’s something that’s been close to my heart when I consider these issues.” 

Faculty members recognized her compassion, leadership and dedication to the field. 

“Beth is a great student, who is attentive in class and consistently produces really strong work. However, that’s not what stands out most about her: She’s extraordinarily thoughtful,” Meagan Ehlenz, assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning said. “She thinks critically about whatever issue we’re discussing and considers how that maps on to her own experiences with planning.

“Beth has an ability to find the balance between leadership and support roles and I think that’s something that will serve her well in the field of planning.”

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

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: One thing I was looking for was faculty that aligned with what I was interested in. At ASU a lot of the professors have an equity lens or are looking at grassroots-type planning, and that’s something that’s really important to me. It didn’t hurt that ASU offered me a generous funding package that also made it a good financial choice. Also, my wife really didn’t want to go anywhere with snow, so this fit the bill for that too. 

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

A: This idea in planning called “wicked problems.” I know that nothing is perfect and I’m not overly idealistic, but I was hopeful coming into this program that there would be things that were clear cut, like, "This is the right thing to do, this is the right fix for this problem." But this idea of wicked problems, problems that are just unsolvable, really changed my perspective from, "How do I fix this" to "What are the tradeoffs that I need to consider and what is really important to do even if it means sacrificing in some other idea?"

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

A: Dr. Meagan Ehlenz has really taught me to know my worth and recognize my potential. She’s done this because her teaching style is just so rooted in her belief that her students are capable and can accomplish whatever is set in front of them if they are given the right tools and guidance. She really invites us to join in the assumption that we are all capable and we’re valuable to the team. That’s helped me stretch myself and to see myself in a new light. 

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

A: I have a couple of pieces of advice. First off, it’s — you get out what you put in. I think of this (graduate school) as an investment I’m making in myself. Like any investment, what you get out of it is dependent on how much you put in. So, choose the things you want to do and work hard at them. 

I also would say don’t be afraid to ask for help because the professors I have had have always been very willing to help me, and always have genuinely wanted to see me succeed. I would imagine that they feel that way about any of their students. 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus? 

A: The Coor computing lab and the tables outside of Coor.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m hoping to get hired on at the Maricopa Association of Governments where I’m interning presently, but I don’t know yet, so hopefully that pans out. 

Q: What is your dream job? 

A: I think I’m still figuring out what my dream job is. Initially, I really felt like it was in a city local government working on the issues I’ve talked about, like working on affordable housing, homelessness and bringing the public into planning, especially those that have historically been left out of planning. But at this point, I am remaining open to figuring that out as I go.  

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

A: I would want to invest that into some sort of affordable housing, like long-term affordable housing options for queer and trans people, specifically those of color or immigrants who face some really heavy discrimination and barriers to jobs and housing. I think that is especially pertinent to me in the midst of COVID-19. One, I know that there are many people who are struggling with housing to begin with, and two, I know that there are many queer and trans people that are staying in homes that are not a healthy or affirming space for them, so just being able to use that money to provide some other options for those folks would be great. 

David Rozul

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Combining software development, creative arts helped ASU grad find groove

May 1, 2020

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

Cece Nguyen found something about pursuing a technology degree that excites her. Nguyen, a Surprise, Arizona, native was discouraged, due to her lack of coding skills and dislike for math, when she began studying her now completed degree in computer science in Arizona State University's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Ngyuen found her groove when she made the decision to become proactive about her passion in finding the middle ground between software development and the creative arts.  ASU grad Cece Nguyen. Download Full Image

She found the middle ground while working on projects that incorporated both web development and graphic design at ASU Enterprise Partners as a web design and content specialist. Nguyen also worked on a Normal Noise, a student magazine as a design editor for three years. 

Nguyen was involved in the student organization Women in Computer Science that gave her an opportunity that she calls a “life-changing experience.” Nguyen had the opportunity to explore the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, a conference hosting the largest gathering of women technologists, two years in a row. Nguyen was energized by the buzzing atmosphere and the excitement that the 20,000 women and allies had for innovative technology. 

Nguyen also received support from the Nickless Family Charitable Foundation and the State Farm Scholars Program.The scholarships helped Nguyen attend college, without it she would've taken a completely different career path. Without the scholarships, Nguyen says she wouldn’t have had the same experience and opportunities while attending ASU. 

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

Answer: I was really discouraged when I first began studying computer science. I had no idea how to code, I barely even knew what an operating system was and I hated math. But there was something about working in technology that kept me motivated, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could make a career out of computer science if I worked hard enough. So I made a far-fetched goal to get a software development job after graduation. I finally reached that "aha" moment when I got an offer for my first summer internship during my sophomore year of college. I felt like working hard in school and doing my part-time job in a research lab was finally paying off and I had officially started the ball-rolling towards my goal. 

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

A: The most important lesson I learned at ASU was that "college is just a stepping stone." The transition from high school to college was a little rough on me. When I started out as a freshman at ASU, I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed on every exam, homework assignment or project. I thought that it was the "end of the world" if I failed an exam or lost points on an assignment. Over time, I realized that although it was encouraged for students to do well in class, there was more to it than just taking courses. I learned that I could also pave my way to my career by getting involved with student organizations and working on side projects. This helped me learn to accept mistakes and lessened the pressure that I put on myself.  

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because it was affordable and ASU offered various majors that I was interested in. 

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

A: Really focus on what you enjoy doing. Try to find what you're passionate about and become proactive with your passions.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? (For online students: What was your favorite spot for power studying?)

A: I really like the College Avenue Commons, on the third or fifth floor there's this marble slab desk near big windows that face University Drive that has the best sunlight. I always need direct sunlight when studying.  

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation I plan on working to fund my design work or travel. I really want to go out of the country (maybe the U.K. or Japan). I also want to figure out how to start my own company and build websites for other companies. 

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

A: Oh boy this is such a hard one. With $40 million dollars, at the moment, I would give the $40 million dollars to small businesses being impacted by COVID-19. Our current government is not doing much to help small businesses out and continues to favor big corporations. I would also use the money to increase the housing trust fund to allow rental assistance to those who need it during this time.

Written by Shayla Cunico

Shayla Angeline Cunico

Student digital content specialist, ASU Enterprise Partners