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Graduating student goes from battlefields of Afghanistan to Indonesia's jungles

May 02, 2011

As an 18 year old, Daniel Sadoway walked away from a National Merit Scholarship to join the U.S. Army. That decision shocked many who knew Sadoway as a straight-A student who loved learning. But Sadoway had felt adrift in his first semester of college and needed to take a different path than that expected of him.

Two years later, he was in Afghanistan working with the Human Terrain Team project, an experimental program that used social science researchers to illuminate aspects of conflict that are frequently hidden – like tribal relationships – but that are critical in unconventional operations.

The experience made Sadoway realize anthropology epitomized the things he treasured: traveling the world, searching for explanations through participant observation and exploring human diversity.

After Afghanistan, Sadoway resumed formal studies and enrolled in Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. This month he will graduate summa cum laude with a bachelor’s in anthropology and a certificate in Southeast Asian studies, a subject he encountered by happenstance.

When his initial foreign language class choices fell through, Sadoway opted for Indonesian. He quickly came to appreciate the language and the faculty and has spent the last year in one-on-one instruction. As he developed a passion for the region, he signed up for more Southeast Asian classes, eventually earning enough credits for a certificate in the area.

Sadoway strongly believes in a well-rounded education, and calls real-world experience a “necessary complement to classroom instruction.” He also strongly believes in service.

As a sergeant in the Army National Guard he trains and supervises soldiers. “A big part of that is teaching them how to survive in combat and how to think critically, but it also involves a lot of mentoring and advocacy,” he explained. “When one of my soldiers has a problem at home or work, I’m there to counsel them, and when they run into difficulties dealing with bureaucracy within the Army, I fight for them.”

As part of the University Service Learning program, he tutored two local elementary students in reading, writing and math. The program, which he thoroughly enjoyed, was an intense one that included a classroom component with extensive writing assignments, in addition to the eight hours of weekly tutoring.

To Sadoway, the benefit of education is the accumulation of extra perspectives so a person can see the same problem in different lights. He enthused, “I love how ASU has fostered an environment of intellectual curiosity and given me new ways to see the world. Even if half the items I’ve memorized become obsolete in a few years, those new perspectives will remain with me for life.”

This summer, Sadoway will travel with the U.S. Army to Indonesia and stay behind for some time to walk the rivers and caves of central Java and Sumatra. “Once again, I’m forgoing the usual path – grad school – to set out on a new adventure of discovery,” he said. “At the very least, it’ll be a nice walk in the jungle.”