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


‘Sun Devil for life’: ASU student finds reinvention online

December 8, 2021

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

If there was one thing for which Arizona State University student Sean Duffey was not prepared, it was feeling that he was not prepared. Courtesy image of graduating ASU student Sean Duffey. Sean Duffey is graduating this fall with an online Master of Arts in English and credits the support he received from ASU faculty and staff for his success in the program. Download Full Image

“When I was a young undergraduate student,” he said, “I had a level of confidence that was neither rational nor supported by my work.”

Duffey, a high school English and creative writing teacher in Denver, had sailed through his undergraduate curriculum, gotten a job, and considered his own education complete.

Then: an awakening. Fifteen years after earning a bachelor’s degree, Duffey began a graduate program through ASU Online.

This time, something was different.

“[When] I found myself finally prepared to take on the challenge of returning to school, whatever confidence I had exuded in youth was no longer present,” he said. “I second-guessed most of my assignments and often stressed about the very difficulties I assure my own students are normal. ’Learning is difficult,’ I tell them, and if it is not difficult, they are in the wrong place. However, I found it difficult to take my own advice.”

Floundering, Duffey reached out to his advisers and professors in the Department of English and found the support he needed.

“All my stresses were assuaged when each and every professor made it clear that my effort would be rewarded,” he said. “It may have seemed like a small thing to them, but assuring me that my work had value and that imperfection was not an indicator of failure helped ease my anxiety.”

Duffey is graduating this fall with an online Master of Arts in English. His ASU support system — staff and faculty alike — are thrilled for him. Elizabeth “Lilly” Downs, an academic success adviser for ASU English’s online programs, called Duffey “outstanding” and “kindhearted.”

“He was one of my brightest students, yet the humblest of them all,” she said.

We caught up with Duffey just before graduation day to ask him a few more questions about his online experience.

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

Answer: I expected to learn a lot about English, but what I will take away most from this program is how to adapt to different and ever-changing circumstances — not only through my own personal evolution, but through the kindness and acceptance of all of ASU’s staff that works with students to be successful. My educational journey has been as enlightening as the lessons on critical theory and Shakespeare. I am a better teacher, not simply from what I learned in my education courses taken during my time at ASU but mainly because of my experience with educators who showed me how to be humble and understanding.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I have dedicated my life to education, but it was not until I came across ASU’s graduate program in English that I saw an opportunity to reinvent myself as a student for the first time in 15 years. I was impressed by the program’s ability to marry rigor with the understanding that, as working adults, freedom and clarity are necessary elements to their students’ success.

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

A: If I had the opportunity to speak with incoming graduate students, I would impress upon them the importance of hard work and reaching out for help when needed. An online program has an inherent expectation that not only the work but also the struggles will be handled by the student. ASU’s English program (and its professors) made it easy for me to talk through my struggles. Professors were not annoyed or put out by my asking to meet through Zoom. Online learning can make any student feel as though they are on an island, but in reality, the program is structured to support each and every one of us in ways that may not even be afforded to in-person students.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I have learned never to presume the future, but I can say that I am better off for having been a student at ASU, and whatever the future may hold, I am more prepared than ever to handle and succeed in my future endeavors. ASU will always be a home away from home, and though the campus may be foreign to me, I will be a Sun Devil for life.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English