ASU grad inspires on and off the court with her 'mamba mentality'


April 19, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Martiana Byrd has a passion for basketball and writing. When she was accepted to ASU, she first chose to major in creative writing. She was also offered a basketball coaching position with the city of Tempe. That coaching position sparked another passion: working with youth. Right then, she decided to change her major to family and human development, but committed to never stop writing. Martiana Byrd Martiana Byrd. Download Full Image

“I strongly enjoy working with youth,” she said. “And I absolutely love helping others. I don't know if I would have gotten the idea to change my major when I did if it wasn't for my first opportunity to work for the city of Tempe. Thank you, Keyon Cornejo, for offering me my first job ever and for giving me my ‘alley oop’. That ‘aha’ moment has turned into something magical.”

Byrd has channeled her talent in creative writing to start her own writing business. She also started a Phoenix-based nonprofit for youth called H^2O, which stands for Humility and Hustle Creates Opportunities. Through H^2O, she continues to coach youth sports and facilitate change in the lives of the young people she works with.

Basketball has had a huge influence in Byrd's life. She has looked up to many professional players on and off the court, including Kobe Bryant, whose mantra of the “mamba mentality” has stuck with her. It’s a mentality that demands you live your life without fear and with purpose no matter what happens – the good and the bad. To never quit and to keep going has inspired Byrd in her own life and she uses this mentality to influence those she works with.

A first-generation graduate, she is graduating this spring with a degree in family and human development. Learn more about Byrd as she answers a few questions about her experience at ASU.

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

Answer: I've learned a lot while at ASU but my entire perspective on life is what changed the most. I've changed how I think, how I go about things, and my care for others has increased. In 2012, I moved to Arizona to attend ASU and began creating a new life for myself at the age of 17. If you think about it, that's crazy! I had to figure out this thing called life in an entirely new state, away from all of my family and friends. To be honest, I still don't completely have it all figured out, but ASU has some amazing staff members and students who have helped me along the way. I've learned that there's much more life outside of your hometown. In a way, my perspective on family has changed while at ASU also. I've met some amazing individuals while in Arizona. I've gained several friends and they've turned into my Arizona family. I've invested a lot of my time, energy and love into my Arizona family. Without a doubt, they've always given it right back to me. Now, my perspective on family is that family doesn't always have to share the same blood as you. For me, family is those that care for you, honor you, support you and love you, by choice. Needless to say, I don't know how I would have gotten through this long journey without all of my family and friends. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Where I'm from, there's diversity everywhere you go in the Bay Area. I simply wanted to pick a new home that would replicate the Bay Area in that way. If you didn't know, ASU is the home of diversity. 

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

A: I've never had someone outside of my family and friends that believes in me and supports me as much as Denise Bodman, PhD. It was different for me, but she taught me a lesson, "allow others to do for you as you do for others.” She's been there for me schoolwise, personally and with my businesses. Call me lucky but I'm thrilled because I feel like I finally found a "me" in someone else. Denise's passion and genuine soul is what makes it easy for me to respect, appreciate and have so much love for her. I think ASU made one of the best decisions when they made this delightful woman a part of their team. I didn't know who she was or what I was in for when I first chose her class, but who knew it would be one of the best decisions I've ever made? Denise, may God continue to bless you and your golden heart as you continue to smile bright and be the good in this world. Thank you for being another mentor of mine, by choice. Family!

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

A: The best piece of advice I'd give to those that are still in school and genuinely want to get to the end of their educational journey is to never give up on yourself, even when you feel as if you have nothing else to give. It took me years, along with several difficulties and an abundance of no’s to get here, but I made it. I would also recommend that you build a trustworthy team, because your team that's full of family and friends should and will be the boost of energy that you will need to keep going. Obstacles in life will become harder and your appreciation for things will change. What most don't tell you is there's going to be a burst of changes within yourself. Allow those things to change you, but for the better. Remember, school is a part of your life story, but don't make it your entire life story. What I mean by that is we all need balance in life. I find it helpful to create a schedule and boundaries for school, work and the things you want to do and to stick at it, day by day. My last piece of advice is to never be afraid to use your story along the way. A friend of mine named Kosiba once told me to use my story when it came to building H^2O, its mission and my brands. She told me that I have an exceptional story and that I should use it to help others along the way. I think my story is valuable because I've mastered growth and balance. We all have our own stories and that's just it, it's ours. So, while you're creating your story, have fun. The long and hard days will come while you're still in school and even afterwards but find your balance and boundaries and be willing to grow through it all. Take care of yourself mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally. When you have a good balance, growth becomes easier. 

Q: What was your favorite spot-on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: I had two favorite spots on campus. One was the Memorial Union — and "A" mountain. When I lived on campus, I went up to "A" mountain about twice a week to either work out, read a book, write poetry, think about life or to simply enjoy the view. Occasionally, I will still make my way up to "A" mountain for those same reasons. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Grad school is definitely a part of my plans after graduation. However, I am taking some time off to find a financially stable job where I'm still able to help the youth and to focus more on my businesses before I go back. I have goals for my nonprofit, H^2O. I want to get my own building for H^2O and create basketball/volleyball courts and a soccer field inside. My vision for H^2O is now bigger than I first imagined. I want to find investors that are willing to invest in and support our mission. I want to find grants for my businesses, and I want to provide scholarships for student athletes that want to further their education and have dreams to attend college in their future. My plan is to provide student-athletes with the opportunities I didn't have and the ones they are looking for. I want to do everything in my power to make their transitions to and through college a lot easier than mine. So one day they'll be able to share their story, too. 

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

A: I always say, "If I could help everyone in the world, I would.” I mean that, and I've been on this journey to help as many people as I can for years. If I was given this opportunity, I would help the homeless. Sadly, I don't think $40 million would be enough to completely solve this heartbreaking problem on Earth but it would be a great start.

Shelley Linford

Web Content Communications Administrator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics

ASU grad inspired by fatherhood to research child development


April 19, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

When Cullin Howard decided to major in family and human development, it came at a time in his life when he was looking for a more meaningful career than the path he was on. Growing up in a home that provided foster care for infants and toddlers, he’d gained a lot of experience with children from adverse backgrounds. Then as a young father, he became fascinated with different child outcomes and how home environments and family influences impact their development. He knew then that he wanted to pursue a career that would contribute to the research in this area. Cullin Howard Photo courtesy of Cullin Howard Download Full Image

Howard received the Anna and Don Kirkman Family Scholarship and the Fitch-Craig Scholarship. During his time at ASU he has participated in several projects including the SIBS program with Kimberly Updegraff and the Arizona Twin Project in the psychology department with Kathryn Lemery-Chalfant.

He was also awarded the Children’s Equity Project Undergraduate Scholar Award and summer internship, where he worked with research professionals in children’s education on various projects, including early child care disciplinary regulations.

He is graduating this spring with a degree in family and human development. We asked him a few questions about his experience here at ASU.

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

Answer: The most influential information I learned at ASU would come from learning statistical methods and applying it to research. I found that the more I came to understand various analyses, I started to look at research questions and even social issues differently. The world is incredibly complicated and I have found it valuable to be able to carry a more nuanced view of any given issue rather than an overly simplistic one. I largely attribute this outlook to my statistical training at ASU.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU mainly out of convenience. I am born and raised in Arizona so I was happy to find a school that was local and was excellent in the field I was looking to go into. 

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

A: Dr. Spinrad is certainly one of the most influential professors I worked with. Her entire course on child development was remarkable, but especially her insights on caregivers teaching young children were very enlightening. I feel like I grew a lot as a father, but it also shaped what I wanted to focus on in my research.

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

A: “Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient.” – Dr.  Jordan Peterson, "12 Rules for Life" 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: My favorite spot would have to be the little pathway behind the Piper Writers house. It has some benches that are nice and can feel a little secluded from the busy walkways. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: In this upcoming year I will be starting a graduate program at the University of Georgia, pursuing a PhD in human development and family science. I will be engaging in research that looks at the social and emotional development of children who have experienced early life adversity. 

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

A: With $40 million I would not be able to solve the entirety of one problem but I would want to contribute to alleviating infant/child malnutrition in developing countries.

Shelley Linford

Web Content Communications Administrator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics