Triple major shares importance of an education grounded in language, culture

May 4, 2020

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

Micah McCreary transferred to Arizona State University after his freshman year looking for a personal and academic reset. Graduate Micah McCreary Micah McCreary is graduating this spring with bachelor's degrees in English (literature), French and political science. Download Full Image

At his previous institution, he played baseball, studied political science and in his words, was just kind of skating by. When he arrived at ASU, he changed his focus and decided to pursue English as a major.

McCreary found the reset as well as the motivating environment he sought, and this spring will graduate with not one, but three degrees, in English (literature), French and political science; one minor in Asian languages (Chinese); and one certificate in international studies from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. And for his degree in English, he will graduate with the honor of Dean’s Medalist as well as the University Undergraduate Outstanding Student for Humanities.

With plans to attend Harvard Law this fall, McCreary reflected on his time at ASU and shared about his experiences in The College.

Question: How did you end up a triple major after first planning to just pursue an English degree?

Answer: I had to take a French class, which I was really bummed about because I just wanted to fly through my English major as fast as I could and get my degree. My adviser told me to take intensive French so that I could do it faster and get my four semesters done in two. I did that and unwittingly found out that French is amazing and that I wanted to do it more rather than less. And so over the span of a semester I added it as a minor and then the next semester I decided a minor wasn't enough and added it as a concurrent major. At some point I got really good in French and decided to add Chinese as a minor. Well, actually add Chinese as a class and just see if I could get a third language. And, I also unwittingly started to really like Chinese. So I added it as a minor because I wasn't insane … I'm just kidding, I'm completely insane. But instead of a major, I added the flagship program as well so that I could do it a little bit more intensively.

After a while I came across POS 452, a class about Chinese politics. I took that and started crunching the numbers and found out I could do an international study certificate without a whole lot of undue stress. Over time that turned into, “well, I mean it would only take 12 more classes, why not just do an extra major?” I really enjoy political science as well. It was kind of a long road, but each step was something I was really excited about.

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

A: People will tell you all the time that being bilingual is a really big step up in society. I guess I didn't realize until I was bilingual and then trilingual that it's actually even more of an advantage than you think. It doesn't just open up job opportunities or those sort of utilitarian things. It also opens up your mindset and your ability to embrace other people in other cultures. I think I learned that primarily from the teachers I got to work with at ASU, particularly Mariana Bahtchevanova and Frederic Canovas. I had no idea there was such depth of course offerings and in languages that would change my perspective on everything that I do.

Q: What has been your best memory at ASU?

A: I went on my first date with my wife at ASU, we had a picnic in the secret garden at like 9 p.m. and watched movies on my laptop. That was a pretty amazing one. We met in that intensive French class I was talking about. My very first semester at ASU, Dr. Bahtchevanova put us together as partners in a group project and essentially set us up, which was awesome.

Q: People often wonder what a career path looks like for those who pursue a humanities degree, what advice would you give to students considering one?

A: Your humanities major or your desire to pursue humanities does not preclude you from any sort of job opportunities or at least income opportunities that you want to pursue in your life. Maybe you won't be able to work in some biotech lab or a computer chip factory in Silicon Valley but you will be able to put your degree toward basically whatever you decide that you want to do — whether that's making a change or pursuing income or whatever you're passionate about, your opportunities remain close to endless.

Apply yourself and create a narrative for your life. If you can craft a coherent and impactful narrative about your life and where you want to go and the trajectory that you're on, you're going to convince people that you're going to pursue what you want to pursue regardless of the major on your resume. I think that stereotypes are unfair to humanities students. Don't let that get in your way — pursue it with zest and vigor.

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

A: I think one of the defining things about my studies, particularly in the last two years, is that I've worked as a teaching assistant for Dr. Stephanie Deluse in the human event class. I took the abbreviated human event class for transfer students called history of ideas and that class not only changed the way that I think, it also changed the way that I write in such a way that my writing sense has been honestly a world apart from what it was before.

I've been a TA for that class, which is a very interactive role. Ever since, I've not only been writing this way but teaching others to write this way and to think this way and to reason through arguments. Dr. Deluse definitely made the biggest impact on my life as a teacher at ASU and she also wrote one of my best letters of recommendation for my law school application.

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

A: Particularly to people who are majoring in writing intensive majors, learn to write as best as you possibly can. Being a good writer will make it so that all the other things in your classes that you're worried about like grades or your applications for jobs and grad school, come together much easier. If you can write effectively, you can write powerfully.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm going to Harvard Law School next year and that will be the next three years of my life. After, my plan is to go into a law firm and work for a while to pay off law school debt and then I want to pursue a federal clerkship with a U.S. federal judge both in a district and in appellate court if possible. From there I want to make a pivot into public interest law where I'd like to work in either international human rights so that I can make use of my languages, or potentially work in death penalty litigation — abolition, not furthering the cause of the death penalty or anything like that. That's something that's really near and dear to my heart from a lot of the reading that I've done. I think it would be really wonderful in the long term to become a federal judge.

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


For ASU outstanding graduate, storytelling matters

1st ASU, US graduate to earn master’s degree in narrative studies

May 4, 2020

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

Most everything about Heather Rae Monk’s experience in ASU’s master’s degree program in narrative studies has been distinctive. ASU College of Integrative Sciences and Arts Outstanding Graduate spring 2020 H. Rae Monk Heather Rae Monk has earned the first Master of Arts in narrative studies at ASU — and in the nation. Download Full Image

Let’s begin with the end.

Monk graduates in May with the distinction of being the first person at ASU and in the United States to have earned a Master of Arts in narrative studies. She is also being recognized at ASU virtual commencement ceremonies as ASU’s outstanding graduate among master’s degree and doctoral students in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.

Monk vividly recalls the information session she attended in 2018 to learn more about this new graduate degree being launched at ASU’s Polytechnic campus. As the only prospective student who attended that initial meeting, she had the opportunity for an in-depth dialogue.

“Faculty members Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez and Patricia Colleen Murphy talked with me about the new program. I knew Trish well from my undergraduate work with Superstition Review as her fiction editor, and Vanessa and I really hit it off,” explained Monk. “She had worked and lived in my home state of Wyoming  — it's so rare to meet anyone who’s lived in Wyoming. She was also invested in oral traditions and helping to maintain oral histories, which I was fascinated by. I saw this program as a way to further my study of narrative after my undergraduate degree.” 

Monk, who earned her undergraduate degree in English (creative writing) at ASU, hails from Cowley, Wyoming, and earned an Associate of Arts in French language from Northwest College, in Powell, Wyoming, before coming to ASU. 

She applied for the MA program and was accepted into the first cohort in fall 2018. 

Throughout the two years of the program she impressed faculty with her leadership, resilience, academic excellence and generous mentoring of peers. Several faculty mentioned those qualities in their nominations of Monk for the outstanding graduate honor.

“Rae has been a shining example of what we envisioned for our students in the program,” reflected Fonseca-Chávez. “She is always willing to help promote the program and inspires other students to explore new areas of inquiry and to push the boundaries of storytelling."  

In spring 2019, Monk and Fonseca-Chávez co-wrote and were awarded an ASU Public History Collaborative Grant for the project “Community Storytelling and Place,” to document and study oral histories in Hispanic communities in eastern Arizona.

In preparation for story gathering, Monk spent last summer doing archival research for historical information on Concho and St. Johns, Arizona; researched oral history methodologies and best practices; and familiarized herself with the recording equipment. 

Fonseca-Chávez noted that her careful preparation contributed to success in the field: “Rae is an excellent interviewer and her meticulous preparation shined through in her seamless conversations. She was able to build upon her lived experiences in rural Wyoming to make meaningful connections to community in rural Arizona.”    

“The first oral history interview we conducted was life-altering for me,” Monk said. “I've been so blessed to meet and speak with such incredible people in St. Johns and Concho, Arizona, and to be a part of their oral history documentation. Working with Vanessa has made my experience in the program,” she added. “She challenges me, but without breaking my confidence. She is genuinely interested in the welfare of her students in and outside of the classroom.” 

Monk had conference proposals about the work accepted at both the Arizona History Convention and the National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies Conference (but COVID-19 precautions canceled those assemblies). She turned the grant into the focus of a rigorous master’s degree capstone project and is working with Murphy and Fonseca-Chávez to explore outlets to publish the project, which combines oral history with creative nonfiction.

“I’m confident that the work Rae is doing now will take her far in life,” said Fonseca-Chávez. “She came to the program with a sense of determination and such a good heart, committed to doing well in her classes and contributing to projects, while working two or more jobs to pay for her education,” she added with admiration. “I’ve no doubt she’ll continue to excel in everything that she does.” 

Question: Why did you choose ASU for your master’s degree?

Answer: ASU has become home. I've accomplished so much here and met friends and mentors who've made me a better person. It's hard to think about not coming back next semester.

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

A: Both Trish Murphy and Dr. Fonseca-Chávez have put so much faith in me; they have been exceptional mentors and teachers. I'm humbled by their support. Trish taught me organization and time management. Dr. Fonseca taught me how to do research, how to stay grounded and focused and how to have faith in the work and my ability when I gave something proper attention. 

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

A: Stay humble, take advantage of office hours, and try to find a balance so you can more fully enjoy your time in academia. It's over before you know it.

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

A: Dr. Fonseca's office for lunch is my favorite spot on campus.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: With the pandemic, all of my plans are on hold. I plan to stay healthy and get work where I can.

Maureen Roen

Director, Creative Services, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts