After years as an aesthetician, ASU grad finds right fit in global health

November 30, 2020

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

Nicole Waldmann laughs now about her initial views of college, and the thought that higher education just wasn’t for her. Nicole Waldmann stands along Palm Walk Nicole Waldmann is graduating this fall with her bachelor's degree in global health from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Download Full Image

“Straight out of high school, I point-blank said college was not for me,” said Waldmann. Instead, she pursued her dual license in cosmetology and aesthetics and worked as an aesthetician for seven years.

“It was probably around that fourth year when my boyfriend at the time, now my husband, was graduating from ASU and I just felt something was really missing. I wasn't in love with my career choice and just felt I needed a change,” she said. “Seeing him graduate really inspired me to want to go back to school and say, ‘Hey, I can do this, I want to graduate.’”

Waldmann said her journey to finding the right program to pursue was a long one that started in community college before she transferred to ASU to study global health at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

“I jumped majors, from journalism to considering nursing, and took a lot of random elective classes,” she said. “Taking POS 160 Global Politics with Dr. Ripley here at ASU really sealed the deal that global health was for me. It took a long time, but I'm happy I finally figured it out.”

Waldmann shared more about her time at ASU and what she has planned next.

Question: What about global health inspired you to choose it as a degree path?

Answer: There were a lot of different things that were going on in the world that really led me to global health. I wanted to help people and was really interested in helping refugees, asylum-seekers and immigrants. A lot of my classes had focused on things that were going on in Myanmar, and stuff that I was not aware of that was going on on the other side of the world. It really just opened my eyes and made me realize I want to work in nonprofit and humanitarian sectors.

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

A: I could not believe how many different clubs there were to join; there was literally something for everybody. I stumbled upon a Harry Potter club (Dumbledore’s Army) and wound up joining that. I got to meet a bunch of students that have similar interests to me, and it was really cool because I feel like the students really work to not only bring us together with our mutual interests, but also want us to also really connect with each other. I feel like it was also a great way for incoming freshmen, especially those that live on campus and are far from home, to just get out there and not feel lonely.

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

A: Dr. Ripley — he has just been such an amazing teacher and I feel so fortunate to have been able to take two classes from him. He is such a fun person that you literally enjoy his lectures; they're not boring, they're not just very prim and proper.

Q: What would you say to prospective students in similar situations that you were in, and are considering if pursuing a degree is the right choice for them?

A: I was dead set on going to school because I was honestly at a point in life where I was just not happy. Even though I couldn't figure out what major I wanted at the time, I knew going to school and taking electives would be helpful. If somebody is feeling like their current situation doesn’t feel right: Change it. You have the power to change it and be where you want to be.

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

A: Breathe! It’s OK. Definitely take a step back and breathe, if your head is in the books from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., take an hour break, step away and refresh.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: So right after graduation, I will be taking a well-deserved long month off because it has been five and a half years of constant studies. And especially the past two years, I have not had a summer off, so it's been semester after semester after semester. Then after that time off, hopefully I will be working at a nonprofit organization. If something here opens up, I would love to continue working at my current internship or any kind of nonprofit organization locally. Once I get my master's degree, I am definitely applying for the United Nations, the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

Kirsten Kraklio

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


Improving international development through higher education

November 30, 2020

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

Graduate school was always on the agenda for Michele Piercey. As a senior adviser for peace, stability and transition at Chemonics International, she wanted to earn a degree that could help her with her work in international development and postconflict stabilization. Michele Piercey Michele Piercey Download Full Image

“I felt like I needed that academic or empirical framework to put around the work I've been doing, to understand it on a deeper, better-informed level,” said Piercey. “Technology was becoming a bigger part of my work and was a force in the countries and communities I was working in. For example, I worked in Tunisia after the “Facebook revolution.” It was called that because activists were connecting in different ways using new technologies. Social media turned out to be a key tool for people to come together to peacefully overthrow their government.”

Piercey wanted to learn more about globalization and development through the lens of technology. When her company was working on a collaboration with ASU, she discovered a degree program relevant to her work, the Master of Science in global technology and development at the School for the Future of Innovation in the College of Global Futures

“The program was something I wanted to be a part of. It made me think about the real-world impacts of what I was learning and how development is implemented in conflict-affected countries and regions.” 

What she’s learned in her master’s degree program is already paying off.

“I recently researched the role of social capital in a postconflict context. How do people accrue social capital? How can they use it to stabilize conflict and collaborate on shared goals and progress toward peace? I was able to offer concrete suggestions in a real-life project I am supporting because I had a better understanding of the thinking and research behind it. I'm better at thinking through all the possible sides of a development or stabilization challenge as a result of my studies.” 

Balancing graduate school online and working a full-time job that required traveling around the world wasn’t easy, but Piercey learned to adapt and get creative. Planes became classrooms. Dining room tables became libraries. She even finished up a paper while evacuated from Iraq in January 2020. Time management was a skill she had to develop quickly.

“I really hustled to fit it all in. I don't believe in multitasking; I don't think that's a real thing. You learn to settle down in short periods, a few minutes here or there, and use those short periods to get your work done.”

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: President Crow's vision for the New American University was one of the most inspirational things I've ever heard; the idea that education can be transformative not just to an individual student but to a community. A university that evaluates its success not on how exclusive it is, but how inclusive it is and how many new opportunities it gives to people. It resonated with me because I'm also a first-generation college graduate. I'd never heard anything like that before, and I knew I wanted to be part of it. 

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

A: As an online student, I didn't know what a rich experience it would be. I assumed that I would just be sitting, reading and writing, but I got a ton of interaction and a lot of feedback. It helped me engage with the material.

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

A: I had Mary Jane Parmentier for a couple of my subjects. I had met her before attending ASU, and it was meeting her that made up my mind that I was going to apply. She was influential in making me think that graduate studies were feasible and that I had experience and a perspective to offer. She was always willing to talk through things and explore different perspectives on my work.

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

A: Persist. You will get there; don't give up. I nearly did once or twice because it seemed unmanageable with my work. It just was too much. But ultimately, I got through the hard moments. Also, back yourself. I, like most people, had times where I thought I couldn't do it. In those moments, I had to make a deal with myself to go a bit further, do a little more and just keep going. 

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

A: I would offer civics, citizenship and critical thinking training to youth and adults in the United States and abroad to better equip people to advocate for their rights, cooperate with their neighbors, resist disinformation and take part in civil, productive discourse with people they disagree with. I would make it scalable and adaptable to the local context. I've seen firsthand the transformative power of education on conflict-affected communities. Teaching people about how government and institutions can work for them and how their communities can function better and more harmoniously can be a powerful influence on local peace and development. You could do a lot of good with $40 million.  

Ashley Richards

Communications Specialist , School for the Future of Innovation in Society