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


Double Devil finds 'ikigai' in MBA program

May 1, 2020

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

Denise Napolitano had a lot of strengths coming into Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business full-time MBA program. She already had a PhD in chemistry from ASU and had even testified as an expert witness in court while working for the New York Police Department laboratory. Yet Denise shared, “I was in a field where I knew I could make an impact, but I always felt like something was missing, and no paths I turned to could fill that gap.” W. P. Carey Outstanding Graduating Senior Denise Napolitano Denise Napolitano Download Full Image

Then, when deciding whether to attend the W. P. Carey School of Business for her MBA, she was introduced to the concept of ikigai, “a reason for being.” John Wisneski, the faculty director of the MBA program, tied the idea to doing work that you are passionate about, doing work that you love. Napolitano knew W. P. Carey would be a great next step for finding her ikigai.

Napolitano jumped fully into the experience. She was first-year representative to both the Women’s Leadership Association and the Volunteer Council, organized volunteer activities for her classmates at Feed My Starving Children, the Arizona Humane Society and Ronald McDonald House. She became president of the Women’s Leadership Association for her second year, organized quarterly discussions on diversity and inclusion, was an MBA Ambassador, and organized W. P. Carey’s first ever Mental Health Awareness Week. She was named Outstanding Graduate Student of her class.

Of all these successes, Napolitano said the most meaningful has been the chance to work closely with her MBA classmates.

“Even as we moved online this past quarter, we held each other up with virtual happy hours, group meditation, game nights, health and wellness tips, and all those creative — and sometimes pretty weird — Zoom virtual backgrounds,” she said.

Napolitano realizes her ikigai is found in creating community with others, which she will continue as she starts a new career in finance and start her own small business focused on women’s empowerment.

Here she shares a little more about her W. P. Carey journey with us.

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

Answer: One surprising thing that I learned when I started the MBA program was how little I knew and understood about personal finances and investments. I realized that if someone with a PhD did not know how to pick a 401(k) plan or put together an investment portfolio, there was something inherently wrong with how we are taught. Fundamental knowledge that we need to thrive in our economy is not emphasized in schools. I have made it a personal mission to work toward changing this, both by volunteering in classrooms for Junior Achievement and starting a business that will empower women to take charge of their lives with knowledge and community support.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose to attend ASU eight years ago for my PhD because of the interdisciplinary nature of the research performed at the university. I recognized that better and more actionable outcomes could be achieved when researchers from different backgrounds worked together and shared perspectives. I decided to stay for my MBA because of our nationally recognized, innovative program. We have small, intimate cohorts compared to most other top MBA programs, while having the vast resources of the country's largest university at our fingertips. Students are encouraged to embrace the school's entrepreneurial spirit and to take the opportunity to craft our futures with a flexible and multidisciplinary curriculum.

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

A: The path you are currently taking does not need to be, and may not be, your final outcome in your career. I have taken many turns since I finished my bachelor's degree over a decade ago, and in some ways I am still working on finding myself and my purpose. Also, do not get caught up in comparing yourself to others — you have your own strengths to leverage into a meaningful career. This is captured perfectly in a quote by author Bob Goff, "We won’t be distracted by comparison if we are captivated by purpose."

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

A: Whenever I walked down Palm Walk to the Sun Devil Fitness Center during my PhD program, I admired the style and beauty of McCord Hall. Obviously, I was delighted when I was able to call it home for the past two years! From the bright and sun-filled team rooms, to the views of campus from the breezeways, to the courtyard where we would gather during class breaks, McCord has been a great spot to learn, study and network.

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

A: One of our planet's greatest problems is growing inequality, which manifests itself in myriad ways. Especially now that we are in lockdown and schools are closed, we can see in our own communities that many families do not have and cannot get access to the technology necessary for kids to stay up to date with their schoolwork. I would want to ensure that all families have access to the internet and the increased connectivity that drives global economies.

Emily Beach

Director of Communications, W. P. Carey School of Business

(602) 543-3296