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ASU Online student graduates while in the military

ASU graduate Kristofer Gonzalez.

November 30, 2020

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

This December, Kristofer Gonzalez will be graduating with a BS in biochemistry from the School of Molecular Sciences at ASU. His journey to ASU has been quite unique compared to traditional students. Not only is he a proud Mexican American child of an immigrant, but he is on active duty in the military, which became tough to juggle while maintaining a full-time schedule in school.

I currently supervise operations in a military clinic and manage a team of junior personnel in carrying out the necessary duties in day-to-day clinic operations. This includes seeing patients and maintaining a basic medical laboratory,” he said. Gonzalez stumbled across the ASU biochemistry online program that was rigorous and flexible enough to fit his needs and busy schedule.

With success come challenges. Gonzalez was unfamiliar with online classes, but he did not want that to deter him from earning his degree. He struggled a bit in the beginning, and it took some time for him to become accustomed to pacing himself through a course and keeping up with deadlines without ever meeting in person. However, once he got into the groove of things, he was amazed at how much he enjoyed pursuing an online education and appreciated that he could receive a quality education and the same attention that in-person students received from his professors while still working his full-time job.

The motivation for furthering his education came from seeing his father succeed as an immigrant and the support of his wife. Gonzalez's father immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico and worked his way to earning his PhD in higher education. It inspired Gonzalez to earn his degree, make his family proud and apply the knowledge he gained from school to real-world settings.

School of Molecular Sciences clinical assistant professor and managing director of online programs, Ara Austin, had this to say: “Kristofer is a wonderful representative of our hardworking military and veteran students who make up a significant portion of our (School of Molecular Sciences) online programs. He is a student who brought so much joy and enthusiasm to my courses, and I'm excited to see what the future has in store for him. I know that his positivity will make a difference in patient care.”

Gonzalez chose the School of Molecular Sciences because they offered a degree that was as challenging yet rewarding as the in-person programs. It allowed him to learn on the go, which is something that students like Gonzalez are searching for.

“One thing about ASU and (the School of Molecular Sciences) is that I love how diverse the STEM program is; it feels nice to be represented belonging to a minority,” he said. He enjoyed that the students and faculty all seem very engaged with each other and wanted to see those around them succeed. In the summer of 2019, Gonzalez attended the special in-person lab offered to online students. The in-person labs were a great opportunity to meet people from around the country and he was able to form friendships he says will continue through his life. The care and structure of the ASU online programs allowed Gonzalez to feel connected to the university on a personal level and earn his degree while never having to leave his job. 

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

Answer: I would solve community health issues. I’d like to try to invest in the city's community health outreach funds. People who live in bad areas and assisted housing do not get the medical attention they need, since it is too expensive. 

Q: Can you describe your experience in one word and tell us why? 

A: Surprising. I was hesitant to do online school. I knew that it was going to be a rigorous program and working full time would be a challenge. However, I was treated like a normal in-person student. This is a hard science that was treated seriously and less intimidating. My professors treated every student equally, which is something I really appreciated. My questions were always answered in a timely and descriptive way. 

Q: Which the School of Molecular Sciences faculty member most influenced you as teacher, adviser or mentor?

A: This would be a tie between professors Ara Austin and Ian Gould. They were my first encounter with (the school's) faculty and their passion and commitment to the program really motivated me to succeed.

Q: What goals have you set for yourself after graduation?

A: I’m currently applying for medical schools right now, so my biggest goal is to get accepted somewhere and begin the journey to become a physician.

Q: Advice for future online students?

A: It’s OK if it seems hard. If you keep at it you will get more comfortable with where you’re going and how you’re getting there. Take a minute every now and then to breathe and you’ll be just fine.

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