Outstanding grad combines art with research for social change

December 6, 2021

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

For Ella Burrus, being an artist has never been just a hobby. Photo of Ella Burrus Ella Burrus is the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Outstanding Graduate student for fall 2021. Download Full Image

As the fall 2021 New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences Outstanding Graduate Student prepares to walk the stage this December with a Master of Arts in social justice and human rights from Arizona State University’s School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, she looks forward to continuing to seamlessly incorporate art into her advocacy and activism.    

I am so grateful for the ability and the opportunity to combine art with research, and explore that in the ways that I feel can make a difference,” Burrus said.

She said she is proud to obtain a graduate degree from ASU and revels in the freedom that the degree program gave her to explore her interests and use them to further her understanding of social justice and human rights.  

Studying social justice is important because it gives us the knowledge about what types of issues and problems need to be addressed, and it serves as that catalyst for those who do want to be change-makers in society,” Burrus said.

As she reflected on her time in the graduate program, Burrus said that she is grateful for the opportunity to learn in the classroom with her peers, despite the uncertainty of the pandemic.

“(It) has shown me how much I value the in-person learning experience,” she said.

Burrus uses her collegiate experiences to implore other graduate students to be open to everything that may come their way — both good and bad.

It is important to know that you will experience ups and downs, but that as long as you have your 'why,' essentially the reason why you entered grad school, the things that drive you, along with not being afraid to reach out for support and mentorship, you will make it,” she said.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?                                    

Answer: During my senior year of high school, I applied to Arizona State University, specifically to Barrett, the Honors College. I could not afford living on campus and knew I would be commuting to whichever school I went to, and ASU was the closest school to my home. I was accepted into Barrett at all four campuses and was even offered the Dorrance Scholarship for a full ride, including housing, to attend Barrett at the Tempe campus. However, for a number of reasons, I ended up enrolling at the ASU West campus using the Provost Merit Scholarship.

Q: What's something you learned in the social justice and human rights program that changed your perspective?

A: During my time in the social justice and human rights (SJHR) MA ground program, my perspective on my own trajectory changed. I feel that the majority of students, undergrad and grad, start programs assuming they know what they want and what they will get by the completion of the program. However, undergoing graduate school, especially between semesters in 2020–2021, I learned that anything can happen, and that what we think will happen, most of the time actually turns out differently. My perspective going into the SJHR program is certainly not the same perspective I have now as I exit the program.                                                                                                                                              

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

A: Although money has the power to improve things, I think that the most meaningful change comes as a result of change in perspective. So many of the worlds problems would be resolved if people were open to different ways of thought. I feel like universities (at their best) have the power to introduce others to new ways of thinking. However, the reality is that the majority of individuals do not have access to the university environment. That said, I would use $40 million in an attempt to spread this type of awareness to places outside the university, reaching a larger audience. This type of initiative can come about by funding programming in places such as low-income or rural neighborhoods. Also, the programming should be delivered in ways that match the community and that community members would enjoy learning from.

Amber Orquiz

Digital Media Specialist, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences


Tho Tran found his future at ASU

December 6, 2021

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

Tho Tran was born in a refugee camp in Malaysia after his parents got on a boat to leave Vietnam. Tran's family returned to Vietnam for two years when he was 7 years old before immigrating to the United States. Tho Tran Information technology student Tho Tran. Download Full Image

Growing up, Tran was first introduced to computers via one that ran nothing more than a command prompt.

“I didn’t get a working computer with internet until I was in high school where I got hooked completely,” Tran says, “mostly because of the colossal amount of information available online that I never had access to before.”

While in high school, Tran learned a lot about computers such as how to fix them, break them, build them and play games on them.

When it came time for college, though, Tran chose a different path, studying microbiology at Cal Poly Pomona, where he earned his first bachelor’s degree. After graduating, he joined the U.S. Navy as a surface warfare officer.

“I wanted to give back for what America had given me, and it gave me a backup plan of using the GI Bill to go back to school,” Tran says.

“I was put in charge of electricity on the ship and then transitioned to admin officer with zero experience in leadership. Joining the Navy and being put in that position taught me a lot. However, the Navy lifestyle was not for me.”

After leaving the Navy and moving to Arizona with his best friend, Tran enrolled in the information technology program in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University to explore his early fascination of working with computers.

At ASU, Tran joined many clubs, including information technology organizations like as the Nerd Herd IT Club and the Department of Information Systems Club. He also participated in fun groups like the science fiction, fantasy and anime club THEM and the freestyle hip-hop community as part of the Sun Devil Breaking Club.  

Tran says his best memories during his time at ASU were related to volunteering, especially his time at the Tempe Public Library, where he helped people who are not good with technology.

“Those who struggle tend to be elderly, and it was encouraging to see the happy faces of those I helped,” he says.

Now embarking on a software development career at General Motors, Tran gets to puts to work his favorite part of what he learned at ASU — programming.

“They taught me the fundamentals of various coding languages and created the foundation for my coding skills,” he says. “As someone who just learned how to code when I first enrolled at ASU, it was a fun journey.”


Hiking and video games

TV show
“Legend of the Galactic Heroes”

Basketball and chess

Sports team
Los Angeles Lakers

“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams

Erik Wirtanen

Web content comm administrator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering