Professor Sharon Hall earns teaching award in natural sciences

May 6, 2021

As an Asian American interested in conservation and environmental science, still largely white-dominated disciplines in the U.S., Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences Professor Sharon Hall always felt like a bit of an outsider.

Over the years, Hall has drawn on her experience and perspective to use her platform as a researcher and instructor to help change who is represented in biology, more specifically ecology and conservation biology, and inspire the next generation of conservationists. Sharon Hall teaches ecology and careers in environmental science, and she has helped to develop the online conservation biology and ecology major. In addition to teaching and mentoring, she has been serving a special adviser for diversity and inclusion to the director of the School of Life Sciences, and chair of the school’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. Photo courtesy of Sharon Hall. Download Full Image

Her commitment to teaching and inclusion has been recognized with the 2021 Zebulon Pearce Award for Outstanding Teaching in the Natural Sciences from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

“I am grateful to receive this award and humbled especially after such a challenging year for undergraduates and our community,” she said. “I’m excited to continue my work with students to fuel their passion for nature and help them build skills for their future careers.”

“Sharon is inspirational,” said Jennifer Fewell, associate director of faculty in the School of Life Sciences. “Her dedication to her students and to their success shines through in all of her interactions, from the classroom, to her mentoring, to her advocacy for students and for inclusivity at ASU. SOLS is becoming a stronger and more academically diverse community because of her energy and actions.” 

Hall teaches ecology and careers in environmental science, and she has helped to develop the online conservation biology and ecology major. She creates student-centered classrooms and tries to connect the material to real life as much as possible. Students report that she has a unique balance between rigor and empathy, providing them with the support needed to reach her high expectations. Her students notice how much she cares about them as people and how inspirational her own journey has been, with some even calling her an “icon in conservation biology.” She started Nature@ASU, a student-led organization to create community and broaden participation in environmental biology.

“I have been incredibly impressed by Professor Hall’s energy and innovation to create opportunities for student success in the School of Life Sciences,” said Kenro Kusumi, current director of the School of Life Sciences and newly appointed dean of natural sciences for The College. “She is a superb instructor and important leader in our undergraduate programs, and we are all proud to see her receive this recognition.”

In addition to teaching and mentoring, Hall has been serving a special adviser for diversity and inclusion to the director of the School of Life Sciences, and chair of the school’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. She has mobilized the unit to consider how to become more inclusive by coordinating myriad efforts with students, staff and faculty that focus on everything from inclusive teaching and curriculum reform to postdoc-to-faculty hires for candidates that will help the unit faculty become more representative of students. The work of the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee was just recently showcased in a unitwide retreat that Hall and her team organized. 

“Sharon’s passion and commitment to diversity and inclusion is contagious,” said Sara Brownell, associate professor in the School of Life Sciences and director of the Research for Inclusive STEM Education Center. “Her energy, her thoughtful approaches to problems, her support of others, her organizational skills and her willingness to listen and to act on what she hears make her such an impactful leader. Her work in SOLS focused on inclusion has fundamentally altered the instruction of thousands of students and makes her so deserving of this teaching award.” 

“I’m committed to helping ASU live up to its inclusive charter, for undergrads, grad students, staff and faculty,” Hall said. “We’ll be better able to develop solutions to the planet’s most pressing challenges if we tap into the best ideas from across our diverse communities. To be recognized for efforts is surreal and makes me proud to be part of this institution.”

Dominique Perkins

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Life Sciences


ASU planning grad seeks to impact local communities and amplify voices of Black planners

May 6, 2021

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

As a Phoenix-area native, Kendra Ellner has seen the Valley’s urbanization change before her eyes. Now, as a spring 2021 graduate from Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning Master's in Urban and Environmental Planning program, she seeks to use her education to influence it further and be an advocate for more inclusivity within the planning profession.  Kendra Ellner, spring 2021 graduate from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning's Master's in Urban and Environmental Planning program. Download Full Image

“I was born and raised here, and just seeing how things changed dramatically over time was very fascinating to me,” said Ellner, who also earned her Bachelor of Science degree in urban planning from ASU in the spring 2020 as part of the school’s accelerated (4+1) degree program. “I just love my surroundings. I want to be a facilitator and have the community and I work together on aspects to invigorate spaces and make them better.” 

As part of this work, Ellner says it's especially important to have a just and equitable environment. One of the existing critiques of the urban planning field is the overt imbalance between the demographics of American urban planners with the demographics of the communities they serve. Ellner is a vocal advocate for getting more diverse voices, especially Black planners, involved in the field. 

“We're very underrepresented in a lot of spaces and a lot of professions,” Ellner said. “The Black community has been oppressed and systemically segregated from other communities from redlining to Euclidean zoning and many other factors that have prevented us from getting the same opportunities as our white counterparts. I feel like as Black planners we can change that, and we want to feel heard and represented and supported in our roles as well.”

In the fall of 2020, as part of an internship, Ellner wrote and published a standards and procedures report outlining ways in which Black planners can be supported in their profession and in the communities they serve. 

“The findings came down to: We need to be in positions of power, we need to lift up the younger generation of planners, and we really need to be there for each other and listen,” Ellner said, who interviewed senior practicing Black planning professionals across the country as part of the development of her report. “I hope it's utilized for motivating and influencing Black planners and other people of color to realize they have the potential to be who they want to be, change their environment and change the situations that have systematically oppressed us.

“These are huge things; I just hope this report has been the foundation for a step in the right direction.” 

During her time at ASU, Ellner has committed herself to her community and has been a driving force within ASU’s Student Planning Association, serving on the organization's leadership team in charge of its digital presence. The organization was recently recognized as one of the top student planning organizations in the nation

“It’s been a pleasure to watch Kendra grow her skills as a planner while aligning her passions with her career aspirations,” said Meagan Ehlenz, assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “I also really appreciate Kendra’s ability to build up her community, whether that’s her classmates in a group project or our planning students through her work in the Student Planning Association. Her passion, collegiality and creativity are true strengths, and I’m excited to see how that translates into her planning career.”

After graduation Ellner will be completing a planning internship with the city of Apache Junction and says she looks forward to building her urban planning career in Arizona or out of state. 

“I’m very grateful for the opportunities I have received while being at ASU,” Ellner said. “To all the wonderful people I have met and learned from along this journey, I want to say thank you.” 

We asked Ellner a few questions about her time at ASU:

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

Answer: This might seem like an obvious trait but in all honesty, I learned that networking is imperative to be successful. At first, I was going through the motions of only focusing on academics, but once I began putting myself out there so many opportunities were knocking at my door.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I started my college career at Scottsdale Community College. It was offered to me an effortless university transfer path to my preferred degree program, and I knew right away I made the right choice because I began to feel as though I was getting the true college experience. 

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

A: There are so many great professors I have had at ASU. Overall though, I think the professors that taught me the most important lessons were Deirdre Pfeiffer and Meagan Ehlenz. 

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school?

A: My advice for those still in school is to make the most of it and be adaptable. Especially if this next fall semester will be back to in-person, I would highly recommend getting involved, taking advantage of as many opportunities as you can, put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to try new things!

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

A: My favorite spot on campus is Coor Hall.

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

A: This was a hard decision, but if I received 40 million dollars to solve one problem on our planet it would be to end child hunger. 

David Rozul

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications