ASU Online student graduates while in the military

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. ASU graduate Kristofer Gonzalez. Download Full Image

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.

Mariela Lozano

Communication assistant, School of Molecular Sciences

Double major is ready to continue traveling the world

November 30, 2020

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

Fall 2020 graduate Monica Orillo has developed an awareness of ASU as “a truly global community” through her language classes in the School of International Letters and Cultures and her studies abroad in Germany and the Philippines.  Fall 2020 graduate Monica Orillo poses in her maroon and gold graduation regalia, including a gown, stole, and mortarboard. A tree and grassy lawn are in the background. Fall 2020 graduate Monica Orillo will be putting her degrees in political science and German to good work after graduation as she participates in an internship with Phoenix Sister Cities before spending a year in Germany as part of the prestigious Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program. Download Full Image

Orillo first studied abroad in 2015–2016 after graduating high school. She participated in the U.S. State Department’s Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Program in Germany, which led her to add a minor in German when she came to ASU to major in political science. 

Midway through her studies, she returned to Germany to intern with the State Department’s Foreign Service at the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt in 2018. Later that year, she traveled to the Philippines – where both her parents are from – to study abroad for a year in Manila on a Boren Scholarship, which is funded by the National Security Education Program and overseen by the U.S. Department of Defense.  

“I am grateful to have had so many study abroad experiences as a student, and I’m very passionate about the value of cultural exchange in encouraging people to be more globally minded,” she said. 

While at ASU, Orillo participated in a number of extracurricular activities on and off campus. She was the secretary for the Make Your Impact club, a student organization dedicated to promoting service through the Peace Corps and other national service organizations. She later became an official Peace Corps campus ambassador through an internship assisting the Peace Corps campus recruiter. She also worked as a change agent at Changemaker Central on the Tempe campus. 

For the last three semesters, Orillo has served as a junior research fellow at the Center on the Future of War, which is part of the School of Politics and Global Studies. In that fellowship, she conducted research with an investigative journalist in Manila who is affiliated with the New America think tank in Washington, D.C.   

Orillo also applied her language learning knowledge in several tutoring positions. Early in her academic career, she taught English to adult language learners at a Phoenix refugee resettlement center through Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest. While in the Philippines, she tutored young children in English, and for the last year, she has worked with an organization called Paper Airplanes to help adult Syrian refugees learn English. 

Every semester, departments and schools within The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences honor an outstanding graduating student as their Dean’s Medalist. Orillo was recently named the recipient of the Dean’s Medal for the School of International Letters and Cultures after previously being honored by the German Department as its Outstanding Student of the Year in 2017–2018, before she’d even declared a major in German. 

“This award was truly unexpected,” Orillo said. “Looking back, I recognize my classes in (the school) as some of the most enriching, fun and intellectually stimulating courses of my ASU education. I feel honored to have my accomplishments recognized and to be representing (the school) in this way, and I am beyond grateful to have been in such an awesome learning environment.” 

Associate Professor of German Daniel Gilfillan nominated Orillo for the award after teaching her in several classes and working with her on an independent study research project this semester about German-language literature and film made by and about migrants of various backgrounds. 

“Orillo has produced outstanding work that speaks to a desire to understand complex sociopolitical issues from the fuller perspective that study of a second language and its cultural knowledge affords,” Gilfillan wrote in his nomination letter. “She is a deep thinker, intuiting complex connections that others may have trouble seeing, and is then able to articulate these ideas to a more novice audience, such that learning occurs on many levels.” 

Orillo will be graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in political science, a Bachelor of Arts in German, and a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, commonly known as TESOL. She was originally planning to graduate in May 2020, but chose to stay at ASU for an extra semester to complete enough classes to turn her minor in German into a second major. 

In 2021, Orillo will be completing an internship at Phoenix Sister Cities as the assistant to the vice president. In September, she will travel to Germany once again, this time as part of the prestigious Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Program.  

After that, she hopes to stay in Germany to pursue a graduate degree in peace and conflict studies, with the goal of someday working in the field of international education or public diplomacy. Her studies at ASU have prepared her well for the next chapter of her life and provided her with many opportunities to see the world and meet people from a variety of backgrounds. 

“I love how diverse the SILC community is!” Orillo said. “It seems obvious that the school with foreign languages would be diverse linguistically and culturally, but I also had the opportunity to meet so many interesting students and professors from many different walks of life.”

Kimberly Koerth

Content Writer, School of International Letters and Cultures