First-generation ASU grad discovers passion for political science, public service and policy

April 28, 2021

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

Keala Busse is a first-generation Arizona State University student who entered college unsure of what major or career path she wanted to pursue. She first declared a global studies major, but later changed her major several times to psychology, biological sciences, economics and neuroscience. Eventually, she found her true passion in political science, public service and public policy. This spring, first-generation Arizona State University student Keala Busse will graduate from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with two bachelor’s degrees. Download Full Image

“I always knew I would get the most joy out of a career that was spent working with people and seeking to understand human behavior and decision-making, but I didn’t know if that was going to be explored through a more quantitative degree or a more qualitative one,” Busse said. 

This spring, she will graduate from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with two bachelor’s degrees — one in political science, and one in public service and public policy — with a concentration in law.

Although the path to discover her passions wasn’t always clear, now Busse feels ready to put her degrees to work and pursue a career serving the community.

"When I arrived at ASU I didn't know what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing,” she said. “Now I am leaving ASU with passions and goals to carry me into a career in the public sector. I was able to grow in ways I couldn't have at any other university thanks to the flexibility of the curriculum at ASU and the push to be involved on campus from those employed by the university.”

Busse said some of the best and most transformative experiences she had at ASU took place outside of the classroom. During her first two years at ASU she became involved with the Women’s Coalition as an intern and as secretary. She also served as senior editor for HerCampus at ASU, an online magazine dedicated to, written by and focused on empowering college women.

“I think that being involved in organizations in which there were primarily women allowed me to embrace my feminine identity and helped instill a certain level of empowerment to fight for myself that I didn’t have when I came to college,” she said.

She also participated in an internship with the Office of Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, and served as a senator for student government on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus. She shared more about her experiences at ASU and what’s next for her.

Question: Did you have an “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study your major(s) or what drew you to the degree program?

Answer: I ultimately ended up declaring my major as political science after becoming involved in the Women’s Coalition and learning about all the ways in which our lives are impacted by our intersectional identities and our institutions and never looked back. Once I became further interested in politics in general and interned for the office of Mayor Kate Gallego, I found the policymaking to be the most impactful part of politics and knew I wanted to have a say in policies that impact those in my community and went on to declare public service and public policy as my second major.

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

A: I would say I learned more from my peers in the classroom than I did from the course content. Listening to my peers, especially those in my political science classes, I realized that we all experience life differently. I know that might be a simple thing to realize that most people realize in high school, but I think you come to understand different lifestyle choices and the significance of someone’s past in college in a way you don’t at any other time of your life. My peers have allowed me to be more open-minded and develop empathy in a way I couldn’t in high school and it has made me a better person. 

Q: Did you receive any scholarships or financial support while at ASU? If yes, how did those impact your experience?

A: I received the Presidential Scholarship, which essentially covered tuition in full for four years. I also received a variety of grants like the Pell Grant and the University Grant as well. Without the scholarships and grants, I definitely would have had to take out a tremendous number of loans. I am beyond grateful for the funding I received from ASU. 

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

A: Don’t tie your identity to your titles. There were so many occasions over the last four years when I questioned who I was when I lost certain titles or failed to be the person those roles expected. Sure you may be someone’s sister, someone’s best friend, an intern, a student, an athlete, a fraternity member — but who are you when those things are gone? Are you happy with the person you are when you're no longer the friend, student, girlfriend or intern you once were? I wish someone would have asked me that because I wasn’t happy and it took a lot of work to get myself to look deep down and find happiness within myself. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I applied to two graduate programs  — one at the University of Chicago at the Harris School of Public Policy and the other at the University of Washington at the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance. I was accepted into both and received an amazing scholarship from the University of Chicago. I accepted my offer of admission from the University of Chicago to pursue a master’s of public policy. I am waiting to hear back on my request for deferral, as I want to take some time and gain hands-on policy experience before attending. I plan on working at a nonprofit that focuses on education initiatives or working with low-income and high-risk youth in the community. Eventually, I want to run for office, but that is years down the road still.

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Small study partners inspire ASU doctoral grad to complete degree

April 28, 2021

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

A brilliant linguist hailing from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is one of the newest graduates from Arizona State University. The children of Rayya Aljarallah pose on her couch. ASU doctoral student Rayya Aljarallah completed her degree during the pandemic, which meant she was isolated from much of her family except her two daughters, "who were my only partners during my studies." Download Full Image

Bonus: Like most moms, she’s great at multi-tasking. Not only did Rayya Aljarallah finish her PhD in linguistics and applied linguistics with a groundbreaking project, she did it during a pandemic, in a foreign country, mostly alone with two children.

Aljarallah’s dissertation looked at social media around the Saudi royal decree on women driving, a 2017 proclamation by King Salman that, for the first time in the nation's history, made it legal for Saudi women to be issued driver’s licenses. Using a linguistic research method known as corpus-assisted discourse studies that analyzes word and word-cluster frequency, Aljarallah collected about 6,000 tweets from both supporters and opponents of the decree. She found that Twitter users’ statements about the decree and its consequences varied according to their support for or opposition to the decree and that the anticipated negative and positive outcomes were used to justify these differing positions.

Her work has implications in the realm of national discourse, providing information about how it may be possible to structure public discussions around potentially controversial topics. She defended her dissertation on April 2.

Aljarallah’s doctoral adviser, Professor of English Karen Adams, offered high praise: “Rayya Aljarallah is not only a gifted PhD student, she has also completed her dissertation while traversing the many complexities of being an international student with travel limitations followed by the spread of COVID-19. Even in the most difficult of times, she has shown remarkable commitment to and focus on her research.”

Adams continued: “She was among a group of students who helped organized local linguistics and applied linguistics conferences, and she was a presenter at the Annual Symposium on Arabic Linguistics which was held at ASU in 2018. She served also as a willing, unofficial mentor to some of the new Saudi women scholars in the master’s program. And she did it all in a context where she was caring for her young daughters, negotiating international issues outside of her control and most recently dealing with the difficult COVID 19 context where so many like her were distant from family members who were affected by these issues.”

We spoke to Aljarallah a bit more about the path to her doctorate and the plan for what’s next.

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

Answer: I registered for an elective course, “Advanced Studies of Sociolinguistics,” with Karen Adams, one of my first courses at ASU. In that class, I learned about corpus linguistics and critical discourse analysis and how they can be used to uncover hidden ideologies and perspectives. I knew right then that this is what I wanted to do for my research. Uncovering the ideologies and the social issues reflected through discourse became a passion of mine.

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

A: I learned that diversity and being exposed to a lot of different perspectives can be powerful. Interaction with students that come from all walks of life with their different backgrounds has led to more creativity in the classroom environment.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was married to a Sun Devil, and moved after our marriage to Arizona. I accompanied him during one of his visits to the campus. Aside from the beautiful weather, I fell in love with the friendly environment that made me feel safe and included. I then took a look at their linguistics program to see the subject matters offered and I was pleasantly surprised to find out about their extremely knowledgeable and very approachable faculty. The sense of community I felt at this school the moment I walked on their campus made me so excited and anxious to apply.

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

A: I have honestly been so touched and grateful for all the professors I had the honor of meeting during my studies. The professor that has made a great impact on me was Karen Adams. Professor Adams was a gem of information and knowledge and the same time very down to earth and approachable. While pregnant and working on my dissertation, the world was hit with the pandemic of COVID-19. At the time, my husband was overseas, and the subsequent lockdown meant that I had to continue this journey alone with a 3-year-old child and carrying the other. It was a very challenging time for all of us. Although I was faced with all these challenges, the support I received from my professor, the university and my friends made me never feel alone or unsafe. I kept focusing on my end-goal and presenting my drafts to my chair, Professor Adams, who would always provide me with great feedback and moral support. Her care for her students showed me how to truly be an impactful mentor in the future to my students in Saudi Arabia.

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

A: While the PhD is a long-term goal, one must break it down into short-term goals. This helps in becoming more focused and having a sense of accomplishment that will give you the push to power through ‘til the end. Focus on what’s immediately in front of you. Finally, a PhD can be stressful, so remember always to find time to do things you enjoy.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: Pre-pandemic: Chandler public libraries (Sunset and Downtown), and the patio of a Starbucks near my daughter’s day care.

During pandemic: my patio with a Starbucks drink.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to go back to Saudi Arabia and be a professor, bringing with me all the wonderful things I have learned and seen.

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

A: Find a cure to debilitating diseases.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English