ASU academic advisers excel during pandemic

February 22, 2021

In an age when colleges are struggling to meet enrollment goals and the public continues to question the value of higher education, Arizona State University's School of Molecular Sciences academic advisers are excelling and helping a record number of students.

Today, perhaps more than ever before, academic advisers are doing everything in their power to assist students. SMS Advising team Top: Orenda Griffin (left), assistant director of academic services, Mary Ann Bucciarelli (right), student support specialist senior. Bottom: Academic success specialists Jesús Villa (left) and Sarah Johnson (right). Download Full Image

In the past year, School of Molecular Science advisers have handled 3,217 appointments, both in person and virtual, plus an additional 289 walk-in students. They have also had 8,000 SalesforceSalesforce is a software that provides customer relationship management service. cases; Mary Ann Bucciarelli, School of Molecular Science student support specialist senior, is a power user and processed 75% of them.

“I’m a firm believer that retention is based on student connections,” said Orenda Griffin, assistant director of academic services in the school. “When advisers build rapport with students and they feel supported they will come to you with challenges they face throughout their academic journey. This allows us to give meaningful advice and make the appropriate referrals. As the saying goes, 'It takes a village.' In this instance it takes a collective effort across the university. Many times this starts with advisers who truly care.”

Jesús Villa and Sarah Johnson, both academic success specialists, and Griffin and Bucciarelli all feel that during these unprecedented times students need support, encouragement and clarification more than ever. The school's advising team provides all of that to students in multiple ways.

Johnson had the inauspicious task of beginning her position in the school in March 2020 when learning was mostly remote.

“I have seen lots of student success even in my short time at ASU," Johnson said. "It is hard to pick one, but I do see many students working through their programs while working at their current jobs and being a parent. Each semester is a success story as they move forward towards their degree.”

“I feel like the main thing that makes students feel at home at ASU and wanting to stay, is building a friendly, personable relationship with the student so that they feel like an individual instead of a number in a huge university,” Villa said. “My ASU undergraduate adviser excelled at making me and his other students feel seen and heard, and it definitely made me want to stay in the program and keep coming back, so I try to emulate his example as much as possible.”

Video by Mary Zhu and Mariela Lozano

Griffin earned a Bachelor of Science in business administration from California State University Los Angeles, and later earned a master's degree in business administration. As the assistant director of academic services in the School of Molecular Sciences, she is able to help students persist academically, discover their potential and achieve their goals. She is committed to student success and improving retention while not compromising the student experience. She consistently collaborates with faculty and staff to accomplish this.

Johnson, an Arizonan native, has had a passion for supporting students since her undergraduate career. While earning a Bachelor of Science in psychology, and during her studies for a Master of Arts in school counseling, Johnson continually sought opportunities to help students achieve their academic goals. Now she is excited to be supporting the students of the School of Molecular Sciences to achieve these goals too.

Originally from New Mexico, Villa began his undergraduate career at Arizona State University in 2007. He graduated in 2011 with a bachelor's degree in anthropology and a minor in religious studies. He worked for two years as a forensic death investigator and forensic anthropology lab assistant for the Maricopa County Office of the Medial Examiner before returning to ASU in 2013 to pursue his master’s degree. He graduated in 2016 with an Master of Arts in anthropology of religion; his thesis, "African Healing in Mexican Curanderismo," focuses on the West African ritual and ethnomedical contributions to curanderismo, the traditional healing art of Mexico and the Southwestern United States.

During graduate school, Villa worked as a success coach with the ASU First-Year Success Center, and rejoined the First-Year Success team as a coordinator after graduating; he was promoted to coordinator senior and head of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences coaching team in 2018. 

Bucciarelli began working for the School of Molecular Sciences in July 2012 as an office specialist senior and in August 2014 was promoted to an office supervisor. She moved to the student support specialist senior position in March 2016. She has a history of working in a secondary educational setting in many different capacities for the last 20 years. She enjoys working with students, faculty and staff, organizing events, and learning new information and challenges.

School of Molecular Sciences bachelor's degree programs train students to be successful in a wide variety of careers including scientific research; health professions such as doctors, dentists and pharmacists; teaching; forensics; regulation; and policy. Students also develop life skills such as communication in speech, writing and teamwork. The school has a history of mentoring award-winning undergraduate students.

The School of Molecular Sciences also offers opportunities for students to get involved in transdisciplinary research and learn how molecular science can address contemporary societally relevant problems. 

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences


International geochemistry fellowship awarded to ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration Director Wadhwa

February 22, 2021

The Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry have announced that School of Earth and Space Exploration Director Meenakshi Wadhwa has been honored with the title of geochemistry fellow for her major contribution to the field of geochemistry.

In 1996, the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry established the honorary title of geochemistry fellow, to be bestowed upon outstanding scientists who have, over some years, made a major contribution to the field. School of Earth and Space Exploration Director Meenakshi Wadhwa, shown here at ASU's Center for Meteorite Studies. Photo by ASU Download Full Image

“Scientific excellence is a core value of both the Geochemical Society and European Association of Geochemistry, and it is our privilege, by rewarding it, to take a leading role in its definition. In awarding geochemistry fellows, our societies believe it is important to recognize the broad spectrum of scientific achievements that advance geochemistry,” the societies stated in their joint announcement.

Among Wadhwa’s many groundbreaking accomplishments in geochemistry is her use of long-lived and short-lived radioisotopes to refine the age of the solar system and determine the timing of the earliest processes in the solar nebula and on planetary bodies. Her studies of the trace elements and stable isotopes (especially hydrogen) in meteoritic minerals have also allowed her to develop new ways to interpret that data and reveal planetary secrets, particularly those of Mars.

“We are proud of the global reputation that Professor Wadhwa has developed throughout her career, with this award being the most recent validation of her groundbreaking research and leadership in the field of geochemistry,” said ASU Provost Pro Tempore Nancy Gonzales. “Her scholarship is creating new knowledge that informs space exploration missions — including NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, which successfully landed on Mars just last week.” 

In addition to serving as director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, Wadhwa is on the NASA Advisory Council and chairs its science committee. She also is serving on the joint NASA-ESA Mars Sample Planning Group. She was president of the Meteoritical Society for the past two years, recently served on the Mars Sample Return Independent Review Board and the National Academies Space Studies Board and is the recent recipient of the 2021 National Academy of Sciences J. Lawrence Smith Medal for her extraordinary scientific achievements.

“Getting to do what I love to do, and mentoring students and early career researchers along the way, is a reward in itself,” said Wadhwa. “But I am incredibly honored to be recognized in this way by my colleagues in the geochemistry and cosmochemistry communities.”

Wadhwa joins 15 other geochemists receiving the 2021 honorary Geochemistry Fellowship, representing Washington University, the University of Delaware, the University of Utah, Stanford University, the University of California Los Angeles and Oregon State University, as well as international universities and research institutions in Australia, South Africa, France, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and Sweden. The awards will be presented at the society’s Goldschmidt Conference this summer.

About the Geochemical Society and the European Association of Geochemistry

The Geochemical Society is a nonprofit scientific society founded in 1955 to encourage the application of geochemistry to improving our understanding of the Earth and solar system. Membership is international and diverse in background, encompassing such fields as organic geochemistry, high- and low-temperature geochemistry, petrology, meteoritics, fluid-rock interaction and isotope geochemistry.

The European Association of Geochemistry was officially established in 1985 with the goal of promoting geochemistry internationally and in particular providing a forum for the presentation of geochemistry, exchange of ideas, publications and recognition of scientific excellence.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration