ASU honors graduate Brielle Ruscitti focused on being a well-rounded problem solver

Ruscitti will graduate summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in biological sciences

December 8, 2021

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

Brielle Ruscitti, who is graduating from Arizona State University with honors from Barrett The Honors College next week, made an impact in academics, leadership and service as an undergraduate. Photo of Brielle Ruscitti Brielle Ruscitti is graduating with a bachelor's degree in biological sciences (biology and society), a global health minor, and a certificate in evolutionary medicine from the School of Life Sciences, with honors from Barrett, The Honors College at ASU. Download Full Image

She served as president of the Barrett Leadership and Service Team (BLAST) and as a change agent at Changemaker Central@ASU, two organizations focused on leadership, service and community solutions. 

She founded SOLUR Bridge, a student-led organization dedicated to helping its members build the skills and knowledge to get involved in research, gain lab experience and build a community of researchers.

She was an undergraduate research assistant in the Neisewander Addiction Research Laboratory, studying the effects of receptors’ roles in substance use addiction, specifically cocaine addiction, and based her honors thesis on this research.

She was involved with the Barrett Honors College Women’s League and was a teaching assistant for the honors college’s signature first-year seminar, The Human Event. She was a Tillman Scholar.

These experiences, along with the classes she took, helped her develop new skills and different ways of thinking.

“One of the most important lessons I learned at ASU is the importance of interdisciplinary education and building a well-rounded skill set. Both in and outside of the classroom, I learned that being an effective problem-solver and using different methods of thinking allow you to develop a deeper understanding of the problem and create a better solution,” she said.

Ruscitti, originally from Scottsdale, Arizona, was reluctant to come to ASU, worried that she would be overwhelmed at such a big university. Fortunately, after her first year, she realized that she made the right decision and found smaller communities within the university that helped her feel more connected and involved.

“There are endless opportunities at ASU, not only in terms of coursework and majors to select, but also clubs and organizations to join, and work and volunteer positions to partake in. I jumped right in, got involved on campus, and found that Barrett, The Honors College, offered a tight-knit community within ASU.”

She earned the Moeur Award and the New American University Provost Award. She is graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in biological sciences (biology and society), a global health minor, and a certificate in evolutionary medicine from the School of Life Sciences.

She will be the student speaker at the Barrett Honors College convocation, set for noon, Monday, Dec. 13, at ASU Gammage on the ASU Tempe campus.

Here’s what she had to say about her experience at ASU.

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

Answer: I don’t think I had a single “aha” moment. I had a series of moments and actions that led me to the biology and society program. When I started at ASU, I was in a different life science concentration; however, after starting classes and exploring my interests further, I was interested in learning how biology interacts and impacts our society and built world. After some guidance from my peers and more research, I switched into the biology and society track and never looked back. I was able to partake in interdisciplinary research projects and complete my own research project as part of my course requirements.

Q: What was a highlight or interesting moment or accomplishment in your ASU career?

A: Along with so many other impactful moments and experiences, I think one of my highlights was completing my honors thesis. I had been working on the research project since my freshman year and was able to piece together the different aspects and see my own development.

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

A: It’s hard to pick just one; I think that all of my professors have contributed to the person I am today and influenced my undergraduate journey. One professor that stands out is Dr. Laura Popova, honors faculty fellow in Barrett Honors College. Dr. Popova was my Human Event professor during my first year, and I also had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for her during my senior year. Dr. Popova has a lively personality and presence that pushed me to grow as a student, not only in the classroom, but also as an active community member. She has been a key mentor for me and a major part of my journey at ASU.

I’d also like to mention Dr. Janet Neisewander, a professor in the School of Life Sciences, who I worked with as a research assistant and she was also my thesis director. When I joined Dr. Neisewander’s lab, I really had no idea what I was getting into, but under her mentorship, I was able to develop a strong understanding of the research process and scientific writing and communication.

I have so much gratitude to all my professors, and I would not be where I am today without all of them. I have learned so many important lessons that I will carry far beyond college.

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

A: My advice to current students is that you don’t have to be just one thing. You can be a business major who loves research or an engineer who loves creative writing. Your time at ASU is precious, and your academics are only part of your experience. ASU has boundless opportunities for you to be curious and explore your passions, so take advantage of them!

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

A: One of my favorite places to study was Armstrong Hall. It was quiet on the lower levels, and I used to meet my friends in the study rooms to prepare for our organic chemistry exams. The building is circular so navigating around was always fun!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I am taking a gap semester to work, likely in the education sector. In the fall, I plan to pursue graduate education.

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

A: If I had $40 million, I would allocate the money to tackling climate change. I would allocate funds to research, green infrastructure and building a stronger framework for a sustainable future. Climate change affects every aspect of human life, exacerbates numerous societal issues and disproportionately impacts rural and low-income communities. By empowering our communities, we can eradicate a number of issues plaguing our society.

Story by Lillian Barrera, a Barrett Honors College student majoring in marketing.

Global studies major recognized as fall 2021 Dean’s Medalist

December 8, 2021

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

Alma Atassi has been named The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences fall 2021 Dean’s Medalist for the School of Politics and Global Studies and will graduate this December with a degree in global studies and a certificate in cross-sector leadership. For Alma Atassi, participating in the Arizona Legislative and Government Internship Program was the highlight of her college experience. Download Full Image

She was 11 when the Syrian revolution kicked off. From her home across the globe in Scottsdale, Arizona, Atassi watched the country her family was originally from change.

The events sparked her interest in the world of politics and international relations.

“So when I found out about a major called ‘global studies’ from friends who were attending ASU at the time, I immediately researched it and realized it was the perfect fit for me to continue learning about world cultures and international issues more deeply,” she said.

Beyond her interest in global studies, Atassi ultimately choose Arizona State University because she was also accepted into the Next Generation Service Corps, a cross-sector leadership scholarship program.

Through a global experience or an internationally focused internship, global studies majors put their learning to work to address real-world challenges. To fulfill her global experience, Atassi wanted to embed herself in a new culture so she went to Spain for a summer semester.

Having never been to Europe, let alone Spain, she now says that she could envision herself living there.

“I learned a lot about myself and increased my cultural competency skills, and even felt more confident and independent by the end of the trip,” she said. “Figuring out how to live and maneuver on my own in a new country has allowed me to feel like I can go anywhere without fearing the unknown.”

Atassi also took advantage of the political science offerings that the School of Politics and Global Studies had to offer and participated in the Arizona Legislative and Government Internship Program.

“I was inspired to apply to the internship because I wanted to learn more about the inner workings of policy, but also wanted to challenge myself to do something that seemed a little scary to me at the time,” Atassi said.

She went on to intern for the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives and was assigned to the education committee. She was able to brief representatives on bills, present bills in caucus and sit through various meetings all while gaining 12 credits.

According to Atassi, the program was the highlight of her college experience.

“The internship also confirmed my decision to go into a future career as a policy analyst, specifically focusing on education-related issues,” she said.

Through internships and research experiences, ASU encouraged Atassi to think critically, to look at things from different perspectives and become a confident leader — and taught her valuable tools to solve complex issues through collaboration. She also wrote policy memos through the ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence.

“All of these experiences, as well as the classes that I took, gave me the necessary skills, confidence and credibility to solve complex issues in the future through the avenue of public policy!” she said.

Atassi hopes to one day be a legislative policy analyst or adviser where she can make an impact and improve the state of education locally and nationally.

She shared that she was grateful for the support provided by ASU and the School of Politics and Global Studies (SPGS) during her time in college.

“SPGS has truly created an amazing school that supports its students and helps them become their most successful selves,” she said.

We caught up with her to ask more about her time at Arizona State University.

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

Answer: I could write an endless list about things that surprised me! I would say something big that really changed my perspective is learning about how much of an effect politics and policy has on all aspects of life. From education, to economics, to justice — at the end of the day, we are at the hands of policymakers. Almost every class I took mentioned something about policy and its ramifications on each topic, and it definitely stuck with me and motivated me to get into the field of policy so that I can make positive change.

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

A: All my professors were impactful to me during my time at ASU, but I would say both Dr. (Victor) Peskin and Dr. (Henry) Sivak were the most impactful. I took three classes with Dr. Sivak, and he really changed my perspective on the world as a whole, taught me how to think critically and introduced me to a lot of opportunities (like the Fulbright that I ended up applying to!). Dr. Peskin also taught me a lot about international justice and the politics revolving around it. As a Syrian who has always been interested in how the international world reacted to the Syrian Revolution, the Arab Spring and other similar topics, it was really interesting to learn about the process of international justice and why some people end up being held accountable and others do not. Both professors taught me the lesson to not take anything at face value and to always think deeper and do my research on a topic.

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

A: To enjoy the short amount of time they have as an undergraduate student and to take advantage of the many opportunities that ASU offers to students. Join clubs, make connections with your professors and especially apply for internships. The advisers at ASU were key when I applied to both the legislative internship and to the Fulbright, and their support is what really improved my applications and application process. There are so many opportunities out there for students in all fields, and participating in them makes a huge difference.

Matt Oxford

Assistant Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications, College of Global Futures