Coast Guard veteran combines fitness passion with academic pursuit

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter James in Charleston, South Carolina

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

Student veteran Conner Acri credits the U.S. Coast Guard with instilling in him the drive to tackle any challenge life throws at him, and this semester the Kansas City, Missouri, native has done just that as he completes an educational journey at Arizona State University's Polytechnic campus.

Acri graduates this spring from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College with a Bachelor of Arts in secondary education with an emphasis in physical education — a degree that aligns with his fitness passion and will enable him to teach youth about healthy lifestyles.

During his time in the Coast Guard, Acri saw teammates get kicked out of the service for failing to meet weight standards, something that he laments as preventable. The notion that long distance running — disliked by many — was seen as the only way to shed pounds compounded the predicament.

“That’s part of the reason I chose physical education, because I want to teach these kids that there are more options than running your butt off every day to stay in shape and live a physically active life,” Acri said. “I want to get them while they’re still young and show them, so when they get older they don’t have those issues I was seeing in the military, people losing their jobs over not knowing how to stay healthy.”

Acri spent four years in uniform serving aboard two Coast Guard cutters, including the 418-foot USCGC James, where he served as an operations specialist and a “plankowner” — a naval term referring to individuals who are the original crewmembers of a newly commissioned ship. His travels took him to many places, including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; the Panama Canal; the U.S. Virgin Islands; and other U.S. ports.

Traveling through Arizona on his way to a new duty station piqued Acri’s interest in the Grand Canyon State. After leaving the Coast Guard he applied to schools in California, Colorado and Arizona. Acri chose ASU and started classes online in the summer of 2018 before moving to Tempe. He has no regrets.

“It’s a great school, I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Acri said. “I’ve met a lot of friends, a lot of good people. I loved it so much, I decided to stay in Arizona.”

Acri shared answers to questions about his ASU journey, life and what the future holds for him.

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

Answer: I have always enjoyed playing sports since I was as young as I can remember. I didn’t really think about becoming a physical educator until about a year before I got out of the Coast Guard in 2016. The reason I chose this field is because when my kids start to go to school, I like the schedule because it would give me a lot of time to spend with them, and also the benefits that I could give to high school aged students. I saw a lot of shipmates getting written up or even kicked out of the Coast Guard for not knowing how to maintain their weight and live a healthy lifestyle. So, this is a big part of why I chose this field so I would have the opportunity to teach my students all of the different ways that there are to stay physically active. I want to show students that sports and running miles and miles a day is not the only way to be physically active, especially here in Arizona.

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

A: People help other people. Sometimes people get really caught up in the news and that can very quickly make you lose hope in other humans. My experience here at ASU is that people helping other people is still very alive and well.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was stationed in California for a while serving and absolutely loved the scenery there. I drove through Phoenix as I was driving to my next duty station and really enjoyed the people and scenery here as well. As I researched colleges that offered my degree, I ended back up in the Phoenix area. I ended up going on tours to different schools in Colorado, California and Arizona. By the end of all of the tours Arizona State won hands down. Everyone I ran into seemed to be nice and it also seemed like a lot of people had the same hobbies as me which made it my first choice.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU or left the most positive impression on you?

A: Janet Barrone. She was one of my professors my first semester here at ASU. The way she taught the class and connected with her students really made an impression on me. It made me very excited to become a physical education teacher. No matter the class she always had a positive attitude, and she was the teacher you would feel comfortable talking to if you had any issues inside or outside of school.

Q: What was your favorite spot-on campus to study, relax or contemplate life?

A: My first semester here at ASU I lived at University Towers. Just south of University Towers there is a restaurant called Pitchforks & Corks. I think the fact that is was so convenient to where I lived and they also had good music playing most of the time made it the ideal place to study and get my work done.

Q: What are your plans after graduation and beyond?

A: I am going straight into the Master of Physical Education starting summer 2021. My dad decided to move here in February to be closer to me and his new grandson and wants us to go into business together and open a replacement windows company. We have officially decided on the name of the company and we are working to get it up and running this summer.

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

A: I would say the water crisis, but I think that would cost more than $40 million. If not that then I would want to do something for shelter/homeless dogs. I have always been a dog lover and am really passionate about adopting dogs and giving them good homes. So, I would find a way to make a difference with the shelter dogs.

 Top photo: U.S. Coast Guard Cutter James in Charleston, South Carolina (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of CGC James)

More Health and medicine


Three people talk on a bunch under a tree outside

Pilot program to address HIV care, intimate partner violence in Uganda

Editor's note: This is the second in a five-part series about ASU faculty conducting summer research abroad. Read about carbon collection in the Namib Desert.Uganda has one of the highest rates of…

Palo Verde Blooms

Hot and bothered: ASU event to discuss heat and health

Arizona State University's upcoming Health Talks event on July 18 will address how vulnerable populations are being impacted by heat across the world and how state governments are planning to deal…

A man stands with a microphone speaking to students in the foreground.

ASU students redesign 'Workstation on Wheels' for HonorHealth nurses

Going into this summer, Sheetal Jha, a biomedical engineering student, had specific expectations for the internship she would be participating in. “I was looking to gain hands-on experience in…