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


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ASU to celebrate graduation with both virtual, in-person events

April 28, 2021

If there is one word to describe this spring’s graduating class, it’s resilient.  

The pandemic has brought about major changes in the way we live life, but through it all Arizona State University students have shown us what it means to overcome and push forward, committed to their success and future. 

On May 3, ASU will confer degrees to nearly 18,000 students — an 8% increase from spring 2020 — including more than 5,200 ASU Online students, a 24% increase over last May; more than 700 of those online students earned their degree through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan partnership. 

MORE: Meet notable grads from across ASU

Of the overall student total, nearly 12,200 are undergraduates and more than 5,500 are graduate students. The totals for resident, nonresident and international students who are graduating are all up over last year: 5%, 13% and 10%, respectively. Nearly 6,900 students are graduating with honors, the most ever for an individual class and a 5% increase over last spring.

Sun Devils are finishing strong, and the university is ready to celebrate them.

The livestreamed commencement/convocations videos, which premiere at 9 a.m. (Arizona time) Monday and can be viewed at anytime after that, allow friends and families to celebrate their graduate regardless of where they are across the globe. Find the links to those ceremonies at ceremonies will include a land acknowledgement, recognition of the original inhabitants of the land and the fact that the university campuses are situated in Indian Country, remarks by President Michael Crow and honor and award recipient recognitions.

And unlike last spring, when everything shifted remote, this time colleges will host a variety of in-person celebrationsAttendance is limited to graduating students only, for health protocol reasons. in addition to their virtual convocations. While not the traditional graduation celebration, their achievements will be celebrated in special ways with their college faculty and peers at a smaller scale as the nation continues its COVID-19 vaccination and mitigation efforts.

“We are incredibly proud of what our Sun Devils have accomplished during the past year of all-compassing changes and challenges wrought by the pandemic,” said Melissa Werner, executive director of the Office of University Events and Protocol and the Office of University Ceremonies. “Commencement is a such an important life milestone, and planners across the university have worked hard within health protocols to help students mark this special moment. Congratulations to all our new graduates!”

Celebrations by academic unit 

Barrett, The Honors College
  • Convocation: Virtual.
  • Celebration: Barrett will host in-person graduation appreciation events across the four metro Phoenix campus locations, including photo opportunities, medallion pickup and tokens of appreciation. Find dates and locations at the link below.
  • More information:
College of Global Futures
  • Convocation: Virtual.
  • Celebration: On May 3, Global Futures will host a "Gather Town" watch party, followed by a meet-and-greet photo opportunity with its dean and directors.
  • More information:
College of Health Solutions
  • Convocation: Virtual.
  • Celebration: CHS will host in-person events for doctoral hooding, a white coat ceremony for Doctor of Audiology students, a physically distanced walk-through celebration where graduates’ names will be read as they cross the stage, with the event livestreamed for friends and families. Professional photos will be taken.  
  • More information:
College of Integrative Sciences and Arts
  • Convocation: Virtual.
  • Celebration: CISA will host in-person photo opportunities at the Polytechnic, Tempe and Downtown Phoenix campuses for undergraduate and graduate students, in-person hooding ceremonies for graduate students and in-person and virtual receptions.
  • More information:
Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation
  • Convocation: Virtual.
  • Celebration: In-person celebrations will take place throughout the day Monday and Tuesday, May 3 and 4. Each attending grad will have their name called, walk across the stage, receive their diploma cover and have their photo taken in their academic regalia. The celebrations will also include collection of rose or nursing pins and hooding of graduates. 
  • More information:
Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts
  • Convocation: Virtual.
  • Celebration: Multiple in-person outdoor celebrations, grouped by school, will be held in the mornings and evenings of May 4 and 5 on the Tempe campus; these will be livestreamed for loved ones to watch. In addition, the Herberger Institute will host a virtual viewing party of the convocation ceremony with a live chat on May 3 and hosted a hooding opportunity for candidates receiving a terminal degree the last week of April.
  • More information:
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering
  • Convocation: Virtual.
  • Celebration: The engineering schools will host multiple hybrid celebration events, including a “virtual pre-party” at 8:30 a.m. May 3 in which graduates and their guests will be able to celebrate with faculty, advisers and staff in two custom 3D virtual ASU environments — Old Main and Sun Devil Stadium. After virtually socializing with friends and family at Old Main, participants will automatically be “transported” to the virtual Sun Devil Stadium to watch the one-hour convocation ceremony “on the big screen.”
  • More information:
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College
New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences
  • Convocation: Virtual.
  • Celebration: Graduating students are invited to attend an on-campus convocation watch party the morning of May 3 in small locations around the West campus, as well as a virtual reception after the video premiere. In addition, on April 28 graduating students were invited to walk through the Paley Gates, ring the bell and visit other historic campus locations in a celebration of West campus traditions, with professional photographers at each stop.
  • More information:
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
  • Convocation: Virtual.
  • Celebration: In addition to completed in-person hooding video and photo opportunities, ASU Law will be hosting an in-person graduation viewing celebration on May 12. Rooms will be hosted by faculty members, and students will have the ability to select the room they would like to join, with physical distancing requirements and group limits to be followed. 
  • More information:
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Convocation: Virtual.
  • Celebration: During the week of May 3, The College will host a series of small outdoor “meet and greet”-style gatherings for students that include photo opportunities and collection of their diploma case. 
  • More information:
Thunderbird School of Global Management
  • Convocation: Virtual.
  • Celebration: Thunderbird will host receptions for their graduates, which will include a photo opportunity with classmates and the dean and the distribution of diploma cases. Friends and family watching remotely will be displayed on a jumbo video screen while graduates celebrate in person with classmates.
  • More information:
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Convocation: Virtual.
  • Celebration: The journalism school will host a graduation walk April 30, in which graduating students will have their name called and walk across the stage in the First Amendment Forum, receive their diploma cover and congratulations of the deans, and have their photo taken in academic regalia. This will be livestreamed for family and friends to watch. There will also be a virtual watch party on May 3.
  • More information:
Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions
W. P. Carey School of Business
  • Convocation: Virtual.
  • Celebration: The school will host in-person celebrations for undergraduates in which they pick up their diploma cover, get snapshots of the business campus and more; and for graduate and doctoral students at program-specific events. In addition to the in-person activities, W. P. Carey will host Club Carey, a virtual dance party streamed live from Sun Devil Stadium with a DJ, fireworks and more on the evening of May 3. 
  • More information: and
Lake Havasu @ ASU
  • Convocation: Virtual. To personalize the experience further, at the end of the recessional, Lake Havasu will play music and switch the view to each student celebrating with friends and family. 
  • Celebration: The Lake Havasu locaiton will host an informal, in-person, drive-thru car parade. During the parade, students can stop in front of the administration building (Santiago Hall), receive a celebratory welcome from faculty and staff, receive their diploma cover from a faculty member, and pose for a picture. Friends and family members in the car will remain in the car at all times and face coverings will be required. 

More resources

Top photo: Seth Nwosu flashes the pitchfork for his graduation portrait with GradImages outside Old Main on the Tempe campus on April 6. Nwosu, who is a student veteran, is earning his master's degree in legal studies and intellectual property. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Meenah Rincon

Public Relations Manager , ASU Online