Geological sciences major recognized as fall 2020 Dean’s Medalist


December 7, 2020

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

Undergraduate Sarah Braunisch is The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences fall 2020 Dean’s Medalist for the School of Earth and Space Exploration and will graduate with a degree in geological sciences.  School of Earth and Space Exploration Dean’s Medalist Sarah Braunisch. Download Full Image

“We congratulate Sarah on this well-deserved honor,” said School of Earth and Space Exploration director Meenakshi Wadhwa. “We are incredibly proud of her achievements, especially given the challenging circumstances that we are in at the present time and look forward to all that she will achieve beyond ASU.”

As a child growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, Braunisch would hike the Phoenix Mountain Preserve and spend hours collecting quartz samples. “I loved the hunt, where there was always the possibility to find something new,” she said.  

After high school, Braunisch attended ASU for a year before she accepted a job in Tokyo as an au pair and personal assistant for an engineer in the oilfield services industry. During her three years in Japan, Braunisch was surrounded by career professionals and that led her, ultimately, to decide that she wanted to return to school to complete a degree. 

With this new realization, Braunisch returned to ASU and enrolled in the School of Earth and Space Exploration as a geological sciences major, and she has not looked back since.

Braunisch found her passion for planetary science when she joined the Christensen Research Group, led by Regents Professor Philip Christensen. There she worked in his lab comparing mineral samples to observations from asteroid and Mars missions. 

“Sarah began working in my research group several years ago. We immediately recognized that she was an outstanding student with a great deal of curiosity, interest, and ability,” said Christensen. “I encouraged her to apply to graduate school at ASU and I’m extremely happy to hear that she has accepted our offer. I am really looking forward to continuing to work with her.”

After graduation, Braunisch will start graduate school in the spring here at ASU to work toward her PhD in geological sciences. 

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

A: It is easy to pigeonhole yourself into a place where you will miss opportunities because you identify with a particular field or science. When I first attended ASU as an undergraduate student, I was so adamant that I wanted to be a geologist that I ignored the planetary sciences. After getting a job as a spectrometer technician in the Mars Space Flight Facility, I took a related class on remote sensing and infrared spectroscopy. This class changed the course of my undergraduate career and awoke in me a desire to continue in this field.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, ASU with its strength in the geological sciences was the most logical choice for me.

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

A: While I believe that I learned a lot from every professor I had the opportunity to interact with at ASU, Regents Professor Phil Christensen showed me that while you can be a giant in your field, you can also be humble and kind and listen. It is my goal to continue my education as a graduate student and eventually become an expert in my field, and I hope that in doing so, I will be humble and kind and listen. 

Q: Did you face any challenges to finish your degree in a year with a pandemic? 

A: The pandemic made it hard for me to navigate the loss of opportunity. I planned to spend the summer of 2020 doing geologic mapping in the Himalayas, followed by two months in the Namib desert studying drylands. I was genuinely excited about these opportunities and losing them resulted in a motivational impact on me. To combat this, it has been important for me to focus on what I can do in the meantime and continue to set goals for myself, such as graduating on time and completing my last few classes with excellence.

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

A: Do not overthink yourself into self-rejection. There are so many opportunities, especially within the School of Earth and Space Exploration. I recommend getting to know your fellow classmates (graduate, undergraduate, and postdocs) and talking to your professors. I think you will be surprised how far you can get. As people, we are all on equal footing. If I can do it, so can you.

Alumni and Special Events Coordinator, School of Earth & Space Exploration

480-727-4662

Active-duty military student and religious studies grad named a fall 2020 Dean’s Medalist


December 7, 2020

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

Aaron E. Garcia knew he wanted to obtain a higher education from a young age. After he and his family immigrated to the United States, his father would take him to work to help install tile.  Aaron Garcia Undergraduate Aaron Garcia is the recipient of the Dean's Medal from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. Download Full Image

“He would always tell me the same thing when I was exhausted and drained, ‘If you don’t want to do this for the rest of your life, go to school,’” said Garcia. “Fast forward to 2017, I joined the U.S. Air Force and was introduced to a chaplain during my first week of basic military training.”

He decided he wanted to work toward becoming a chaplain himself and researched what he needed to do to make that dream a reality. A master’s degree in divinity is a requirement for the position, so he chose to pursue a degree in religious studies with a concentration in religion, culture and public life from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and a degree in political science from the School of Politics and Global Studies

As an active-duty military member and full-time student, Garcia often felt he should put his education on hold. This felt especially true for him while he was deployed in Afghanistan. But he didn’t let these obstacles stop him.

“I have a goal and there is nothing that will slow me down to achieve it,” said Garcia.

Garcia earned the Arizona State University Military Active Duty and Reservist Scholarship and is the recipient of the Dean’s Medal from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. We caught up with him to ask him about his time at ASU.

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

Answer: My family has always been religious, and it is something that has stayed with me from a young age. I have served a two-year mission for my church and have always felt a desire to help others in any way I can. This is why serving in the U.S. military was such an easy step for me. The purpose of a chaplain is to serve others and it is something that spoke to me since day one. Once I knew that I wanted to pursue that specific career, I knew what I needed to do. This is when I realized I wanted to study the field I am majoring in.

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

A: Something I understood at a greater depth while at ASU was the ability for someone to have their own opinion, even if it goes against popular belief. Being able to be so wrong, yet so right at the same time.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of the diverse set of ideas I would encounter during my time at the university. Many would feel comfortable surrounded by people that think as they do. At ASU, I wanted the challenge and the experience of a diverse perspective from people with different backgrounds.

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

A: The professor that taught me a valuable lesson while at ASU was Charles Barfoot. He taught me that I should be an agent of my education.

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

A: The best advice I can give to those still in school is to aim high and be willing to do what most think is impossible.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: As an online student, my favorite spot to power study was near my family.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plan after graduation is to apply to the Master of Divinity program at Grand Canyon University. After that, I would like to commission and become an officer in the U.S. Air Force.

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

A: With $40 million, I would travel to my hometown in Mexico and build proper facilities for all children to have a quality education. With that money, I would also set up meal programs that will enable students of all ages to focus on school and less on their empty stomachs. This money will also be used for infrastructure, as there are many paths in the city that are currently dirt roads.

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies