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Watts graduate exemplifies public service

May 10, 2020

Graduating veteran begins emergency management career with agency managing local response to COVID-19 pandemic

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

Marisa Von Holten’s Arizona State University journey took some unexpected twists, turns and setbacks, but her “can do” attitude, spirit of service and perseverance enabled her to not only finish her college degree but also transition to a new public service career.

The former Air Force medic switched majors “a couple of times” at ASU, eventually finding the degree she would march with across the graduation finish line — the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions bachelor of science in public service and public policy, with a focus on emergency management and homeland security, managed by the college’s School of Public Affairs.

As part of the degree program, Von Holten entered into an internship with the Maricopa County Department of Emergency Management. That led to a job offer as an emergency management services planner, as the agency activated its emergency operations center to organize the county response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I really like it; I’ve gotten a ton of experience,” said Von Holten, who served in Afghanistan with an Army transportation unit. “We’ve been activated since March 16 in response to coronavirus … March 23 they hired me as a fulltime employee.”

Among the ASU veteran community, the Huntsville, Texas, native is known for being deeply involved with the Pat Tillman Veterans Center outreach team, helping veterans transition to campus life and helping the center execute multiple events throughout the year, including the Veterans Honor Stole ceremonies.

“The stole event has always been my absolute favorite, to see all the veterans graduate each semester,” Von Holten said. “The outreach team has been amazing.”

Von Holten’s involvement with the veterans center spans many initiatives. She served as a spokesperson for a new student orientation video for veterans and helped establish the Women Veterans Club on campus.

During her time at ASU, and before while in military uniform, Von Holten has exemplified work ethic and service. Below she provides more insight into her ASU journey.   

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

Answer: As a prior medic, I missed helping people during times of crisis. I explored a few different career fields outside of medicine including firefighting, but obtaining my degree before returning to work was still a priority. Through that, I found emergency management and realized I could help my community as a whole be prepared for all types of emergencies and disasters. 

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

A: During my time at ASU, I learned that while being a veteran might help open doors and opportunities, that alone is not enough. Meeting other vets, I think sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking we can put our military experience on a resume and be a shoo-in; but it's important and vital to recognize that you still have to be able to translate your experiences and put in the work to be successful. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I wanted to be sure that I was using my benefits at a college who cares about me as both a successful student and veteran. Using the internet, I searched for "military-friendly schools" and came across ASU several times. After doing an online tour and speaking with staff at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, I knew I found what I was looking for. 

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

A: Through his teaching style, Professor Kevin Robinson showed me it is possible to have our guards up but still approach life with an open mind. For that, and the respect he gave us as adults in his courses, I'm grateful to have been instructed by him. 

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

A: I would recommend that students look for job opportunities well before they graduate. That might mean internships, volunteering or simply networking and making job-site visits in your career field aspirations. For me, graduation came quick; and although I now have a job lined up through my last internship, I wish I had done more!

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

A: I loved being at the Tempe campus and having the traditional "college student" experience. I'm going to miss studying in the basement at Hayden Library and walking to classes by the MU or Palm Walk. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: As an expectant mother, I lined graduation up so that it would be within a few weeks of delivering our first child. I was recently employed by Maricopa County's Department of Emergency Management, and after some maternity leave, I'm hopeful to continue my employment serving the Valley!

Top photo: Air Force veteran Marisa Von Holten (second from the right) poses with members of her Army unit in 2014 during a deployment to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Von Holten served as a medic attached to an Army transportation company supplying U.S. troops at forward operating bases throughout eastern Afghanistan. Courtesy photo

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

ASU Law transfer student success story leads to dream job

May 10, 2020

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

Arizona native Emily Fann, who graduated this week with a JD degree from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, wanted to help advance the role of women in the legal profession, so she served on the board of the Women Law Students' Association, one of the largest student organizations on campus. Fann also was a member of the Corporate and Business Law Society, completed an independent study in mergers and acquisitions and still found time to volunteer each week at Phoenix Children's Hospital. photo of Emily Fann Emily Fann, JD Candidate ’20, in the Ross-Blakley Law Library at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Download Full Image

Fann considers herself a transfer student success story. However, her path getting there was somewhat untraditional.

“Prior to attending law school, I didn't understand the concept of studying where you want to practice. I just thought law school was law school,” Fann recalled. “With that in mind I accepted a placement at a school where I received a scholarship that covered 100% of my tuition. However, I quickly learned that I wanted more out of school.”

That's when Fann transferred to ASU Law and restarted her law school education. However, she transferred after on-campus interviews – or OCIs as they are referred to among law schools – when law firms and other legal employers have an opportunity to interview students on-campus.

“I missed every opportunity for the covetable summer internships at the big law firms. Rather than accept defeat, I fought my way into the firm of my dreams, Tiffany and Bosco,” she said. “I started as a freelance researcher for an equity shareholder of the firm. With his recommendation, I moved to the spot of a law clerk for a young attorney looking for additional help and became a part-time employee of the firm. Her recommendation moved me to the commercial transaction department, and working for my now boss.”

She is honored to report that after she graduates she will begin full-time employment as an associate in commercial transactions with Tiffany & Bosco, P.A.

Question: Why did you choose ASU Law?

Answer: I went to a networking lunch with five attorneys from a law firm in town. As I sat there, I kept thinking to myself, “How do I secure my seat at this lunch table?” It dawned on me that every attorney at the table was a graduate of ASU Law. There was no question in my mind from that point on that I had to attend ASU. I am thrilled to now report that I will be working at the firm with those same attorneys after law school.

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

photo of Emily Fann

Emily Fann, JD Candidate ’20, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

A: While sitting in my last advanced water class, Professor Larson gave the greatest speech. It went something like this, "Be water my friends. Water is strong, resilient, fierce and powerful. She keeps moving and never stops. Give her time and she can build a monument."

Another great tip came from Larry Cohen, an adjunct professor at ASU Law, during his medical malpractice class. He said, "It never hurts to pretend to be the dumbest person in the room. People will tell you everything they think they know. As a lawyer that is the best place to be in. Let people speak to you first before you respond."

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

A: Be persistent with your goals and don’t be afraid of taking an unusual route to reach them. Figure out what works best for you and own it.

Q: What motivates you?

A: It is important to me that at the end of each day I am proud of myself. That motivates me to do more, to be better and to be authentic in the midst of it all. I truly believe that motivation is like a helium balloon, though. It is going to deflate and you need to check in on it to make it full again. Your law school career will ebb and flow. To finish strong, check in on your motivation and restore it when necessary.

Nicole Almond Anderson

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law