Political science grad aspires to pursue entrepreneurial interests

December 10, 2021

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

While living in the New York City borough of Manhattan, Benjamin Leonard decided transfer to Arizona State University thanks to the advice of a friend. Arizona State University Political Science December graduate Benjamin Leonard Benjamin Leonard Download Full Image

“I was waking up every morning at 4 a.m. in the New York winter for Army training most days, so my friend didn’t have to say much to sell me on Arizona State,” Leonard said. “He told me about his experiences away from home and so it was a no-brainer for me.”

Leonard, who grew up in the New York City neighborhood of Riverdale, applied the day after their conversation and was accepted shortly thereafter.

ASU was a perfect fit with Leonard’s interests as well. Pursuing a Bachelor of Science in political science with a business minor allowed him the ability to connect with people across a wide political spectrum and gain insights into different points of views.

“I wasn’t forced to interpret certain situations through a specific lens which meant a lot to me.”

Leonard shared that the courses he took at ASU, specifically those within his major, taught by faculty within the School of Politics and Global Studies, provided him with knowledge that will assist his aspirations of future ventures.

“I’m sure my career goals don’t align with other students in this school, but I think that one of the big reasons I made those goals was due to the unique impact (the school) and ASU had on me!”

Currently working at a recruiting agency, Leonard’s role has nuances that make it challenging at times, but he finds the work rewarding.

“I like the work we do,” said Leonard. “If done right, we are making a real impact on their careers by showing them what is possible out there for them.”

Beyond his work at the agency and studying political science in the classroom, Leonard has also worked as a freelancer, assisting small businesses with developing their e-commerce sites. The experience inspired Leonard to devote time to consider opportunities that are available to him upon graduation this December.

After speaking with a fellow student, he realized that he wanted to create a more passive and high-growth model business versus one that is service oriented. That is when Leonard had the idea of creating his own third party seller on a site like Amazon or Walmart.

“So this past summer I got everything started, knowing that the process would take me about a year,” said Leonard who hopes to get his business going by mid-late 2022.

His e-commerce store isn’t the only entrepreneurial venture that Leonard has in mind. Over the past two years, he has also studied commercial real estate with the hopes of starting his own business in that field as well. To prepare for this, Leonard shares he is considering an MS in real estate from NYU.

Long term, his goal is to be in a position to provide venture capital to up-and-coming tech startups.

“This will allow me to eventually circle it all back and become involved in politics,” shared Leonard. “I’m not sure in which capacity as of now, but I would definitely like to use my business success to have a meaningful impact on the community whether that is through the government or private sector.”

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

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

Answer: This was not an easy choice to make but I’ll have to go with Professor Margaret Hanson. I had a six-week class with her that was very intense, with a lot of information packed into it. She was able to get me to understand how major developments move at the macro level of developing countries, as well as variables to consider when entering these markets. I consider this the most valuable lesson that I learned because those lessons can be applied when making an analysis on just about any country regardless of the research goal. I thought this was important because, with social movements in the modern-day, this knowledge should be useful for classmates of mine who pursue change in some of these nations.

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

A: While at ASU I learned that many professors are still in the process of achieving their own career goals. This made certain classes more interesting to me and certainly shifted my perspective on the material when learning from a professor who is very actively bettering themselves at the same time. It brought more credibility to the room as far as I perceived it because it gave us more of a real-life element to supplement the theoretical teachings.

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

A: I would encourage those who are still in school to take a really deep look into what their lives will be like upon graduation. It’s important to really envision it as if that day will be tomorrow. If you aren’t happy with what you see; take the time to network with the right people, learn in-demand skills, and stay curious. Just because you major in one area doesn’t mean that you need to have a career in that field. Most importantly I want everyone to understand that generally speaking, the only thing that will hold you back from your aspirations is yourself.

Matt Oxford

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Politics and Global Studies


Doctoral music graduate's generosity of spirit benefits future musicians

December 10, 2021

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

International student Ramon “Chino” Alfonso Soberano, who graduates this fall with a Doctor of Musical Arts in violin performance, wants all musicians to be able to achieve their goals. Ramon "Chino" Alfonso Soberano Download Full Image

Last summer in his home country of the Philippines, Soberano taught free virtual masterclasses and lectures to future generations of violinists. The virtual classes were co-taught at three institutions that were instrumental to his development as a musician — the Philippine Research for Developing Individual Soloists (PREDIS), School of Music at St. Scholastica’s College and the University of the Philippines College of Music.

At ASU, Soberano served as co-president for the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Student Committee in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre from fall 2018 through spring 2021.

“As a founding member of IDEA, the thoughtful conversations with student members and faculty, cross-disciplinary collaborations and advocacy work have taught me to serve as a compassionate and effective leader,” Soberano said. 

Soberano said his involvement with IDEA made him realize that the field of music, as other fields, has issues of equity, inclusion and diversity that disproportionately affect some people more than others.

“We should continue to strive in addressing these issues through continuous conversations with open ears, minds and hearts so that everyone has the equal opportunity to achieve their goals as a musician,” Soberano said.

Soberano was a member of the Herberger String Quartet and the ASU Symphony Orchestra. He has performed as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestral musician in Arizona and Illinois, and with the University of the Philippines College Orchestra, the Manila Symphony Orchestra and the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.

He has taught for ASU’s String Project and community outreach music programs at the Manchester Music Festival and Taconic Music, Inc. in Vermont.

In his most recent lecture recital associated with his doctoral research, “The Contemporary Filipino Violin: An In-Depth Study and Performance Guide of Ramon Santos’ ‘Tanaw II’ (1984) and Conrado del Rosario’s ‘Darangun’ for Solo Violin (1985),” Soberano received high praises from both composers.

Santos said, “Thank you for playing my piece so superbly and so intelligently. I would say that this is the best interpretation of the piece.” And del Rosario said Soberano gave an “excellent performance of my composition ‘Darangun’ for solo violin.”

“Chino was a wonderful teaching assistant for my studio from 2017–19,” said Danwen Jiang, professor of violin in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “He is a wonderful colleague, an excellent role model to his peers and a valuable asset to our school and community at large.”

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

Answer: It was during a visit to my relatives in Jacksonville, Florida, when I was around 7 years old. My grandaunts knew how to play piano and taught simple tunes to me on the piano. I had so much fun that I asked my parents if I could learn piano when we got back home in the Philippines. Our house did not have much space for even an upright piano, so my mom suggested the violin since it is smaller.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: The most important aspect was the teacher. I chose ASU because of how excellent Professor Danwen Jiang, my violin professor, was as a mentor and pedagogue. Her expertise and guidance have helped me further discover my potential as a professional musician. In addition, ASU values creativity and interdisciplinary collaborations, and I value these concepts as well. I firmly believe that to be a 21st century musician one has to be versatile and open to new discoveries.

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

A: Professor Danwen Jiang, my violin teacher, taught me an important music and non-music related lesson. The most memorable piece of advice she gave me was that being great at performing your instrument is not the only ingredient in becoming a professional musician. One has to be well-rounded and also learn other non-music performance skills such as effective teaching, networking and marketing. Being a kind, fair and respectful musician are desirable qualities that open more doors of opportunity. 

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

A: Do not lose sight of what is happening inside and outside of yourself. Inside, be mindful of your health and wellness. Health is more important than squeezing one more hour of practice time at the expense of eating a healthy meal and/or getting a good night's sleep. Abusing your body can have consequences later on in life. Outside, do not be out of touch with issues happening in our world today such as climate change, racial/gender discrimination, poverty, etc. that are affecting us all. In these difficult times, we should be more compassionate to each other and advocate for people who are directly affected by these issues.

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

A: The “secret garden” in the courtyard at the Herberger Institute office. When school gets busy and crowded, this is a little oasis of quiet and serenity. I would sometimes eat my lunch in that courtyard just to unwind from the busyness of school.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Aside from searching for jobs, I am excited about taking on personal projects, including discovering and performing new and/or underperformed repertoire, finishing my website and continuing to give masterclasses and lectures at various music institutions, including the Philippines. 

Q: Did you receive any scholarships while at ASU, and if so, which ones? What did it mean to you to be able to receive this funding?

A: I received the Special Talent Award Scholarship, the Katherine K. Herberger Scholarship and (was) a teaching assistant. It was such an honor to receive these awards, and I am forever grateful to the donors, faculty and administration for helping me financially during my doctoral studies. Receiving these awards from such a distinguished institution helped me realize that I have potential in growing to be a better musician.

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

A: I would like to address global food insecurity and hunger. So much of our waking lives is dependent on what and how much food we eat, even impacting our mental health and decision-making. I believe if the general population has easier access to healthy and natural food resources, the world can be a little bit better.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music