Exploring psychology and finding community: Graduate reflects on experiences at ASU

May 6, 2020

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

Nneoma Njoku’s interest in human nature was born when she was young after watching the movie, “A Beautiful Mind.” Nneoma Njoku Nneoma Njoku graduates with her degree in psychology this May from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Download Full Image

An avid reader, she said she began researching the human mind and why humans act the way that they do. It wasn’t until years later when she discussed her interest with her mom that she decided to pursue it as a degree.

“‘Why do we do what we do?’ That question was probably in my search bar for like three years straight,” Njoku said. “I told my mom that I'm always looking that up and she said, ‘That sounds like psychology, you might want to study that in college.’”

Njoku’s family moved to Arizona from Georgia while she was in high school. She said she chose Arizona State University to stay close to her parents and because of the quality education available at the Department of Psychology in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Njoku said she experienced culture shock coming from a predominantly black community to ASU.

“At first I wasn't comfortable not seeing black people wherever I was,” she said.

But after talking with classmates, Njoku said she built a support system of connections and took classes with the same students time and again.

“What it taught me was to put myself out there and get out of my comfort zone — and outside of your comfort zone, it's still fun,” she said.

Question: Did your experience match your expectations of psychology as a major?

Answer: Oh, for sure. I learned everything that I could possibly learn. I've taken any psych class that I was interested in. My favorite course was abnormal psych with Dr. C (Carolyn Cavanaugh Toft). It was everything that you wanted to know about disorders and things like that, and she was a really great teacher to have for that class.

Q: Did you encounter any challenges coming to or while attending ASU? If so, how have you overcome them?

A: I'm almost 100% independent. A lot of my challenges were juggling school and work and time management. At first it was really hard for me to make enough money and have enough hours where I could still do my homework and have money in my account. But I got it down by the second semester of my sophomore year; I worked Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays and then I would spend the rest of my Monday, Wednesday, Friday in the library and Tuesdays and Thursdays I would use to rest after class. The library is my favorite place, so this COVID-19 thing is kind of messing with my vibe.

Q: What has been your best memory at ASU?

A: My best memory was my freshman year, the Black African Coalition threw a pool party and that was the most fun I've had at ASU since so many of us didn't know each other. We all knew enough about each other because it was the end of freshman year, but we'd never really had a conversation. We were all in the same place, partying at the same time and it was just so fun to know that there's so many people from so many different places all here at once. It felt like a real college experience.

Q: Which clubs and organizations were you involved in and how did they shape your experience?

A: I am a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, and I’m the chaplain of my chapter. At meetings I read the Bible, reflect and do the meditation. I'm also the president of the National Panhellenic Council, which is the council that all of the organizations and the Divine Nine are under. The Divine Nine is the nine historically African American sororities and fraternities that we have in the U.S. These experiences taught me to delegate, delegate, delegate. You can't do everything by yourself, it becomes overwhelming.

Q: Were there any other opportunities you took part in while at the college, like research or internships and if so, how did that impact your experience?

A: When I went to the psychology internship fair, I met this lovely lady, her name was Andrea and she was the representative for Future for KIDS, a program where you volunteer to mentor children at schools and Boys and Girls Clubs of America. But I considered the experience a psychology internship because I spent the whole year there with the kids, and at the same time I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my psychology degree.

I'm a big foster care advocate and really want reform for foster homes. I was like, “OK, well maybe I'll start by opening my own and leading by example and mine won't have half as many as those problems and all these foster homes have.” I thought that was a really good idea. But then I did Future for KIDS for a year and was with troubled youth — those kids loved me and I loved them — but I was so happy to get in my car and go home after an hour. And I thought “If I own a foster home, I'm there from sunup to sundown, then I can go home. I don't know if that's for me.” Doing those kinds of things lets you explore what you think you're going to do with your life before you go too far into it.

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

A: Dr. Carolyn Cavanaugh taught me compassion. From the moment we started the Early Start program she was just such a loving professor. I could walk into her office today and she would still greet me with open arms and love. You know how some will have a connection with their high school teachers? That's how it feels. It feels like she's a friend.

Q: You came to The College early your freshman year through Early Start, what was that experience like?

A: Every friend I had at ASU, I met at Early Start. I met other people along the way, but I'm closest to the people I met early. I walked straight up to my best friend after all the parents went home and introduced myself. We walked together to the first activity and we've been together ever since. We were all so ready to start school and ready to meet people that we were so nice to each other during early start and we've all been friends since.

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

A: Do the extra credit, the points add up. Also, go to class please. You paid for it. Go to it.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm going to Georgia State University to become a physician assistant. I feel like I've learned everything that I need to learn about psychology; my thirst has been quenched. I want to be in a career that I know right off the bat I'll come out at least making $80,000, can donate to foster homes, be a volunteer and have that passion and have money behind it.

Kirsten Kraklio

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


Dean’s Medalist plans to use political degrees for career in comedy

May 6, 2020

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

Cormac Doebbeling always knew he was going to study political science.  Cormac Doebbeling Cormac will be graduating with his bachelor’s degrees in civic and economic thought and leadership and political science and is The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medalist for the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. Download Full Image

“When I was in the fifth grade I basically turned into the elementary version of Leslie Knope. I not only ran for class president but I took that job way too seriously. And that really kicked off a lifetime interest in the political process,” Doebbeling said. 

When his mom moved from their home in Indianapolis to take a job in Phoenix, Doebbeling had a choice to make: attend a university with the friends he grew up with or challenge himself by attending a university on the other side of the country. In the end, he was drawn to Arizona State University because of Barrett, The Honors College.  

As a first year student, Doebbeling met with Professor Paul Carrese who was in the process of establishing a new school; the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. After his first civic and economic thought and leadership course with Carrese, Cormac said, “I was hooked.” 

“There were maybe six students in my class and I was sitting right next to the professor on the first day of class. I did not anticipate that,” Doebbeling said. “But that course on American Grand Strategy was just so transformative for me. Dr. Carrese was able to challenge my worldview. He was able to get me to support my beliefs with evidence and to really apply an analytical perspective and sort of reflection towards my political thoughts that I never really had before. 

Global Intensive Experience in Israel and the West Bank with the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership.

Later Doebbeling participated in the school’s Global Intensive Experiences in both India, and Israel and the West Bank. He also studied in Spain, Cuba and Trinidad throughout his college career.

“It's incredibly ironic but the most enriching academic experiences I’ve had as a college student have almost always been outside the classroom,” Doebbeling said. “Most of these have been study abroad (programs) where I had the unique opportunity to talk to someone. That conversation and what they say was able to radically change my outlook on life.” 

Doebbeling will be graduating with his bachelor’s degrees in civic and economic thought and leadership and political science and is The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medalist for the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. The school caught up with him to ask about his time at Arizona State University.

Question: What are your plans after graduation?

Answer: When I tell most people that I am a political science major who is also getting a degree in civic and economic thought and leadership, they almost always assume that I'm going to go to law school, going to do a master's of public affairs or going to Capitol Hill as soon as I graduate. And I’m actually not doing any of these options. My plan is to attend DePaul University for a master’s in comedic screenwriting — a program in conjunction with Second City, an improv organization that is a farm-league for Saturday Night Live. It intersects perfectly with my undergraduate experiences. I'm very passionate about having a career in political satire. I think that some of the most insightful voices that human history has ever had were people who have been able to satirize problems in society and while their audience are laughing, they’re also realizing how messed up certain problems are. And they realize that they need to change what's wrong with society. This could be someone like Socrates or William Shakespeare but it could also be someone like Tina Fey or Seth Meyers. 

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

A: My advice to any ASU student is to get out of the country and to do study abroad as soon as you can. And once you get back from that study abroad, start planning how to get out of the country again, so you keep growing, learning and challenging yourself.

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

A: My favorite study spot would be my office at the School Politics and Global Studies. These past three years I had the immense privilege of working as a marketing assistant for (the school). The great thing is that it’s located on the sixth floor of COOR Hall, which not only gives me access to my political science professors but also allows me to go over to the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership and talk to the faculty members there. Almost as soon as I was done with my work I’d be able to talk to my professors at SPGS and in SCETL. I cannot tell you how many times I just popped into the office of Dr. Zachary German to talk to him about politics or even my thesis.

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

A: Unfortunately, even $40 billion dollars probably wouldn’t put a dent in debt problems. But I'm really concerned about world hunger and how it affects children. I really encourage policymakers, both federal and at the state level, to put the interests of children above their own political interests. Even if it adds to the budget, even if you have to raise taxes a little bit, making sure that a kid is able to go to school and be full. To be focused on their education instead of focusing on their empty stomachs is really something in the best interest. With permanent free or reduced lunch, students are able to have a level playing field who get to see their full potential and are able to go out and achieve everything that they can achieve because they don't worry about something as crucial as what they’re going to eat that day.

Jacey West

Communications program coordinator, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership