On her own, but not alone, single mom earns degree with university support

November 23, 2020

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

Dec. 14, 2020, is a day Audrey Magee-Davey has been looking forward to for a long time. That is when she’ll accomplish a major milestone, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Arizona State University’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. Headshot of Audrey Magee-Davey Audrey Magee-Davey is graduating Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Download Full Image

The 39-year-old single mother of two has technically been working toward this goal since earning an associate degree to become a registered nurse in 2011. 

“I’m so excited! Over the years there were a lot of things that impeded my ability to go back to school so it just never worked out,” Magee-Davey said, “But I knew if I didn’t just start, I was never going to do it so when I moved back to Arizona in 2018 I said okay this is it, I’ve got to get this done.”

In a way, it was like coming home, because she’s already a Sun Devil. In 2003 Magee-Davey graduated from ASU with a Bachelor of Arts in French.  

The second time around though was different. As anticipated, going to school, working a full-time job as a nurse, plus picking up a part-time job all while managing a household and taking care of her children was stressful. And that was before the global pandemic.

COVID-19 brought on new levels of responsibility and exhaustion. 

Like so many parents, Magee-Davey had to manage her kids’ school at home. And at work, she was dealing with a crisis, unlike anything she’d ever seen before in the health care field.

“I’ve been a nurse for 9 years and I’ve never had so many patients die, I’ve never experienced that in my entire career so it’s been a really hard year,” she said.

If there were ever a time to justify taking a pause from her program, 2020 was it. Magee-Davey seriously considered it.

“I thought, ya know I’m almost done and I’ve been doing this degree the whole time under a lot of stress, I just have to finish.”

One of the key factors in her decision to carry on was that Edson College's RN-BSN program is fully online, giving her the flexibility she needed to continue. That coupled with the support from her ASU Online success coach and the program’s faculty helped her not only survive but thrive. 

She has a 3.91 GPA and will graduate Summa Cum Laude but perhaps her favorite part of this achievement is the example it sets for her kids. 

“It was important for them to see that it’s good to apply yourself even when the external circumstances are not ideal. I think getting a degree is really important especially when you know what you want to do. So it’s a big deal for me to have my children see me succeed.”

On the cusp of her second bachelor’s degree from ASU, we talked about what she’s learned throughout her Sun Devil experiences and solicited her advice for current students. 

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

Answer: During the time I have spent at ASU — over 6 years now! — I have learned a lot. When I was at ASU for my first degree in the early 2000s, I found a community that accepted me for who I am. This university has widened my perspective on the world and opened my eyes to different cultures and new people. This gave me the opportunity to grow as a person, to be more accepting of new experiences, and brave enough to try new things and take risks. ASU gave me the opportunity to study abroad, to meet new people, and experience new things I may not have been able to if I choose a different path.  

Now that I have been able to return to ASU, I brought additional life experiences that I could share with others and use to continue to develop my profession in a way that can return to the community once I graduate. ASU has helped me to be proud of my accomplishments and who I am as a person.

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

A: Professor Natalie Heywood showed me the potential nurses have to work in many different facets and to continue to be lifelong learners. She helped me to see that I have the potential to continue to pursue further education and achieve my goals.  

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

A: What you learn in school is yours to keep forever. It is okay to change majors, to take a class just because it looks interesting, or to follow a different path. The important part is that you stay curious, stay focused and be open to trying new things. 

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

A: If someone gave me $40 million dollars, I would want to use it to help underserved populations have better access to health care, mental health resources and continuing education.

Amanda Goodman

Media relations officer, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation


Working mom earns master's degree in communication online to advance her career

November 23, 2020

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

As a single parent of two young boys, Briana Seward would wake up hours before her children to complete her coursework for the Online Master of Arts in Communication program in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at ASU. Briana Seward with her children. Download Full Image

“When you are driven by your passion, it is the reason you jump out of bed in the early hours of the morning,” said Seward, who is also executive director of the Autism Society of Southern Arizona (ASSA).

Seward is typical of many students in the popular online program who juggle their education, their jobs, and their family responsibilities.

“The Online MA in Communication program is geared towards the working professionals who seek to become more competent communicators and more valuable members of their organization,” said Raena Quinlivan, director of the program. “The rigorous graduate coursework we offer applies to the day-to-day functions of the contemporary workplace, much like Briana’s organization.”   

Seward’s capstone project helped parents find solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic.   

“Briana was clear in her vision, and used the opportunity working with me to help this vision become reality,” said Lori Bednarchik, an instructor at the Hugh Downs School and Seward’s mentor. “Working with her was fun and inspiring.  I was continuously impressed with how she was able to take small suggestions and turn them into epic changes that resulted in a program that can and will be immediately implemented. I'm so excited to witness the amazing things she will do, and I'm happy that she is part of our Hugh Downs School family.  She will represent our program and the caliber of students we graduate fantastically!”

In August, the Autism Society of Southern Arizona, where Seward is executive director, was
the recipient of an Eegee's Restaurant Coupon Card fundraiser. In addition, ASSA also received
a $20,000 COVID-19 relief grant from the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona.
Seward says these funds have helped her organization weather this storm and continue to
provide support and virtual program options for families in need.

We asked Seward, who will be graduating from ASU in December 2020, to answer a few questions about her experience in the program:

Question: What do you like about your job, executive director of the Autism Society of Southern Arizona?

Answer: Connecting with the autism community and providing relevant resources is my purpose, and I know it can be a life-changing act. There is no better feeling than helping a parent breathe a sigh of relief once you have provided the next step for them after their child has received an autism diagnosis.

Q: What was your "aha" moment, when you realized you wanted to study Communication?

A: In 2018, I was a trainee at the University of Arizona’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (ArizonaLEND) leadership training program. Members of my cohort and my mentor developmental pediatrician, Dr. Sydney Rice, inspired me to continue my education and obtain my master’s degree in an area that would support my role in the nonprofit sector.

Q: What made you choose ASU? 

A: I graduated from ASU with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2001 and that year moved to New York City to pursue a career in the magazine industry. As an ASU alumna, I have an allegiance to the university and while researching programs, I found ASU’s online degree program to be one of the nation’s most innovative and rewarding.

Q: Is there an ASU faculty member who was particularly influential?  

A: At the beginning of my program, Dr. Ashley Gimbal was incredibly encouraging and accessible. She helped guide and shape my experience at the beginning of my journey. During my capstone project, Dr. Lori Bednarchik championed my work and challenged me to make my project “epic.” These professors played an influential role in my success and made this a gratifying experience.

Q: What were the most useful classes you took?

A: I believe every human should take Communication and Conflict Transformation. It opened my eyes to not view conflict as an uncomfortable situation but to attempt to make it a transformative experience by seeing the issue from the other’s perspective. I was in awe during the Communication and Gender course, which revealed the existing gender disparities in the workplace. I learned how to lean in through reading Sheryl Sandberg’s work and find my seat at the table.

Q: How did this program help prepare you for your current career?

A: My capstone project was a needs assessment for families affected by autism during the pandemic. The data revealed that parents were struggling and overwhelmed with the demands of caretaking and working from home in this “new normal”. What I learned through the research helped position our organization to meet the direct needs of families and positioned us for the future. As a result of the research, ASSA offered virtual programming options to families in need to improve outcomes in trying times. Our organization knew exactly what families needed based on the results of the needs assessment. As a result of my capstone, I was able to evaluate the needs of ASSA and offer an immediate solution.

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

A: I learned more about perspective-taking, investigating how the world operates, and how to think critically. I surprised myself in terms of what I was capable of and through the completion of each course felt more confident in my abilities. Having the opportunity to participate in weekly discussions was one of the most enriching experiences. Dialogue through the course discussion groups provided fresh viewpoints from people around the world and challenged me to find my voice.

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

A: There is no shortage of opportunities that one can attempt to solve if given $40 million. In my role as the executive director of ASSA, I would designate those funds to the autism population as I am aware of the needs. I would provide funding to low-income and underserved autism families that are financially stressed with the cost of therapies. I would help schools increase their resources for their special education departments. I would be ecstatic to hand over a check to Intermountain Academy so they can complete an autism-friendly sensory park in downtown Tucson so families can join one another to build community.

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication