History student who researches slavery in the medieval Islamic world earns Dean’s Medal

April 19, 2021

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

Joshua Robinaugh grew up in Lone Tree, Colorado, but moved to Mesa, Arizona, in 2010 where he has lived ever since. And since enrolling at Arizona State University to obtain his bachelor’s in history, he has been an active member of the community.  Joshua Robinaugh Joshua Robinaugh is the Dean's Medalist for the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. Download Full Image

He was the undergraduate representative for Phi Alpha Theta, an American honor society for undergraduate and graduate students and professors of history, the vice president of Eta Sigma Phi, a collegiate honor society for the study of classics, and he completed an undergraduate research experience during his junior year. 

He was a research assistant for assistant professor of history Hannah Barker to help create a pedagogical resource for pre-mordern slavery. Barker was a great mentor to him during his studies and is on Robinaugh’s committee for his thesis, “Race, Color, and Enslaveability: An Analysis of Slave Buying Manuals in the Medieval Islamic World.”

In addition to his scholastic involvement in the university, Robinaugh also served as a community assistant for university housing and worked as a course grader for Global Launch on campus.  

He is the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies’ Dean’s Medalist this semester, and we caught up with him to ask him about his time at ASU.

Question: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Answer: I absolutely love to rock climb, I work at a climbing gym in the area and am in love with both the sport and the community. I also love to run and had the privilege to run the Phoenix Marathon in the February of 2020 before the pandemic hit. I have not done much running recently because of an injury, but I am hoping to get out there again soon. Also, I really love coffee, worked at Starbucks as a supervisor and barista for a couple years.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)

A: During my sophomore year of college, I took a class from Dr. Hannah Barker called HST 349: Early Middle Ages. I could not cite any particular moment when I knew that I wanted to study history. However, over the course of this class I realized how much I loved history and the study of history and wanted to pursue this as a degree and potentially a career.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: During my senior year of high school, I had actually decided early that year to go to Northern Arizona University and had not even applied to ASU. However, as the year went on I had a couple opportunities to visit a friend who was living on campus. During these visits, I was exposed to the campus and became aware of the wealth of resources and opportunities available on campus, if you knew where to find them.

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

A: Dr. Hannah Barker taught me probably the most important lesson I learned at ASU. This was during my junior year when I wanted to drop GER 101: Elementary German I in favor of taking GER 550: German for Reading Knowledge. However, I was rather nervous about incurring another ‘W’ on my transcript. So, I went to speak to her about it. The thing she said is that if going to GER 101 was making me miserable or making my life substantially worse, then I ought to drop the course and prioritize myself in that way.

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

A: I struggle to decide on just one piece of advice, so I suppose I will supply two. The first one is to actually attend and make use of office hours. This may sound cliché as almost everyone gives this advice. However, I would emphasize this as it has provided me a wealth of opportunities, assistance and contributed incredibly positively to my experience as an undergraduate. Second, I would emphasize prioritizing yourself and your self-care. Since halfway through sophomore year, I have either worked full-time or multiple part-time jobs while attending school full-time. This became incredibly draining and difficult more than once throughout undergrad. But, the only thing that got me through junior year was taking this time for myself, prioritizing my self-care and trying to be conscious of when I was not doing so in an effective manner. It can be incredibly difficult to do so in college, but I think it is important to acknowledge that there is more to life than your career and academic success and yourself is certainly important. Additionally, if you do not successfully take care of yourself, it can be very difficult to properly succeed in your career and academics.

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

A: My favorite spot used to be a desk behind the stacks in the old version of the Hayden Library. However, they have since taken that away and rebuilt that portion of Hayden. And unfortunately, I do not love the new renovations. But, before the pandemic, I found a couple new locations I really have enjoyed. First, the outside table on the fourth floor of Lattie F. Coor was great when it was nice outside. Second, there were some nice tables within Coor Hall if you knew or know where to find them. COVID-19 has obviously changed all of that and since then I have had to make my own desk work.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: For me, that is kind of a difficult question. I am currently trying to decide between working as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) for the next year while I work some things out, attending a master’s degree at ASU this fall, or both! That being said, I am strongly leaning towards just working as a CNA for the year and taking some time to breathe. Ultimately though, my plan is to attend an MD program, PhD program or one of the programs that is both combined with the PhD being in the history of medicine and science.

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

A: Oh boy, that’s an incredibly difficult thing to even consider. I struggle to even begin on that. I think as of today, I would donate it to continue to try and return our world to some sense of normalcy from the COVID-19 pandemic. Primarily, I think this money would be well-utilized in parts of the globe that have not yet had the same access to vaccines and large public health programs like we have here in the U.S. In a non-pandemic world though, I think I would donate the money to programs that are helping to solve terrible racial inequalities that exist within the borders of our own country. These issues were incredibly highlighted and punctuated by the events following George Floyd’s death over the course of the summer of 2020. These are issues that we need to tackle as citizens of the country and if I was given this money in a world without a pandemic, I feel like this would be at least one great use of the money. 

Rachel Bunning

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

Sociology grad finds calling in academia, aims to teach those who will help underserved communities

April 19, 2021

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

Jolivette Williams started her sociology graduate program through ASU Online with the goal of becoming a certified clinician to help underserved communities. But soon she found a calling for a career in academia. Jolivette Williams Jolivette Williams is graduating this spring with her master's degree in sociology from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Download Full Image

“I went from being confident that I would be a certified clinician with a private practice helping underserved communities to being sure that I would do a disservice if I did not contribute to the education process that creates many qualified people to assist those communities,” said Williams. “My new focus became academia. Instead of becoming one, I could influence many who could effectively fill the void of successful mental health care for this population.”

This spring, Williams will graduate from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with her master’s degree in sociology, becoming the first in her generation to do so.

“To be a first-gen master’s graduate is such a great responsibility,” she said. “My goals seemed lofty at the onset and still seem so larger-than-life, but I know that my accomplishment will motivate and challenge the lives of so many after me. My success is truly a testament to how perseverance pays off.”

Williams shared more about her ASU journey.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: ASU was my first choice of graduate schools because of the sociological program. The school's online presence and intuitive application process made starting the graduate program less stressful than I had anticipated.

Q: How was your experience navigating your program through ASU Online? 

A: The challenges of not having the same access as in-seat or hybrid students may be great, however, ASU has managed to integrate the online experience in a meaningful way that made me feel a part of the ASU family.

Q: Did you have an “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study your major, or what drew you to the degree program?

A: I left my undergraduate institution wanting to become a psychologist. Knowing that sociology would bring much-needed depth to my field because of my sociology minor, I decided to enter training at the graduate level. It wasn't until my second year of graduate school that I knew that my previous goals' trajectory had changed significantly. Sociology would become my new focus.

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

A: Learning how the grand expression of life's experiences can often transcend the individual and have social implications explaining a myriad of psychological phenomena shifted my perspective to more significant sociological concerns.

Q: Did you experience any obstacles along your way? If yes, how did you overcome them?

A: The major obstacle I experienced throughout grad school was time management. I overcame this issue with the single purchase of an old-fashioned day planner. Writing out every appointment, meeting, class, lunch break, study time, journaling time and everything relevant in the day makes time management a breeze. Organization of time is vital.

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

A: This is a tricky question because there is a list of people: professors like Dr. Denise Bodman, and Khaerannisa Cortes, for whom I was a teacher assistant, and Diana Gal-Szabo, who gave me my first research assistant opportunity. These people positively impacted my life and gave me the guidance to excel through my graduate school matriculation.

Q: What advice would you offer to students considering or about to pursue a graduate degree?

A: Starting graduate school can be so intimidating — you’re no longer an undergraduate and feel that you are once again the tiny fish in a large pond. That's OK. Swim freely and grow. If you apply yourself, you will succeed. Know that you earned a spot at this institution, and you can excel.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to further my graduate school education at the University of Memphis. The University of Memphis has a program where I can achieve a Doctor of Liberal Arts degree with a self-regulated interdisciplinary degree that allows me to create a personalized program across disciplines. I am excited at the autonomy and freedom to train in the disciplines of psychology and sociology.

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences