‘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

Senior marketing and communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611

ASU grad pursues dream by combining passion of art and communication studies


December 8, 2021

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

For as long as she can remember, Melanie Utter has loved to create art. Photo of Melanie Utter This fall, Melanie Utter will receive her bachelor’s degree in communication studies, with a minor in studio art from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. Afterward, she will continue as a graduate student in the interdisciplinary studies master’s program at the ASU West campus. Download Full Image

“I’ve always been incredibly passionate about animation and children’s literature, and I wanted to be the person who could create artwork for other people to be inspired by,” she said.

As she ventured into various artistic mediums — colored pencils, animation, watercolors and sketching — Utter found that creating artwork for friends and family members left a strong emotional impact on both the recipients and herself.

“I knew I wanted to be able to continue doing that in my future as well,” Utter said.

This fall, she will receive her bachelor’s degree in communication studies, with a minor in studio art from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. Afterward, she will continue as a graduate student in the interdisciplinary studies master’s program at the ASU West campus.

“I wanted to pursue a degree in communication because honestly, it was a great way for me to get out of my comfort zone and to learn a skill that I felt was so essential in today’s world. But I also wanted to be able to represent myself and my artwork because I’m very passionate about all the things I can create, and my creativity, so I wanted to find a comfortable way to pursue that and be able to intertwine both of my passions,” she said.

Throughout her time at ASU, Utter was not only able to combine her passion for art and communication studies, but also come one step closer to her dream of becoming an illustrator and author of children’s novels.

Question: What are some unique skills you gained as a communication major?

Answer: From communication studies, I learned a lot about leadership and also representing myself. I gained skills like public speaking, intercultural communication, and I also learned a lot about theory and rhetoric, which helped me inspire a lot of my artwork.

Q: What made you interested in pursuing a master’s degree?

A: I wanted to pursue a master’s degree because of the 4+1 program and because it was an opportunity for me to further my skills and take everything I learned to the next level. I am really hoping to accumulate all of my experiences and passions into a strong final project in my master’s program. By the end of my program, I’m hoping to illustrate and write my own children’s book, based on all of the research I’ve accumulated over the years at ASU.

Q: What do you love most about the ASU West campus?

A: During my time at ASU, I was able to receive wonderful feedback and support from both students and faculty. My professors saw my work and always encouraged me to go even further with it. ASU West is an amazing community, and you’re able to work with professors one-on-one and gain a lot of feedback from them. In my case, I was able to work with professors who gave me the confidence to go beyond my undergraduate degree. This was enough for me to realize I had the potential to not only pursue a graduate program, but to do well.

Q: Reflecting on your time at ASU, how do you feel you’ve grown as a person?

A: The experiences and opportunities I’ve had here at ASU have helped me hone my skills, become the person I truly want to be, and of course prepare me for the future. I cannot wait to continue my education here, and I’m proud to be a Sun Devil.

Amber Orquiz

Digital Media Specialist, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

602-543-6450