Skip to main content

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences counts down top 2021 stories

Graduates in caps and gowns seated in folding chairs on a football field as maroon and gold streamers fly overhead.

December 22, 2021

Throughout 2021, problem-solvers, storytellers and dog lovers made headlines at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University. 

From solutions for dog anxiety and new research rankings to a 2021 Pulitzer Prize winner — students, faculty and Sun Devils in the community showed determination, innovation and hope.

MORE: 2021 top stories from around the university

As we enter 2022, The College community will continue to thrive as the core of success and discovery and the academic heart of ASU.

Count down The College’s top 10 stories to ring in the New Year:

Dog looking up at its owner.

No. 10: Easing your pup into post-pandemic life

With many businesses asking employees to return to the office in 2021, some dog owners were concerned about the impact that change would have on their furry friends.

Clive Wynne, Lisa Gunter and Rachel Gilchrist of the Department of Psychology’s Canine Science Collaboratory shared insights and pointers for easing pups into the transition, including identifying signs of anxiety and gradually introducing changes.

Woman sitting on the couch with her laptop.

No. 9: From ASU Online to medical school

Desiree’ Brionne Dillard and David Reed were the first ASU Online graduates to get into medical school.

Dillard earned a degree in biological sciences from the School of Life Sciences and was accepted into the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Reed, who majored in biochemistry from the School of Molecular Sciences, was accepted into the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University in West Virginia.

Golfer hits a ball into the air.

No. 8: Forks up for Tokyo Olympic games

Twenty Sun Devil athletes competed in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which were delayed until 2021 due to the pandemic. These athletes included several alumni of The College: 

  • Promise Amukamara, bachelor’s degree in communication, 2015.

  • Dallas Escobedo, bachelor’s degrees in family and human development and special education, 2015; master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, 2017.

  • Chelsea Gonzales, bachelor’s degree in family and human development, 2017. 

  • Lena Mihailovic, bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, 2018.

  • Azahara Munoz, bachelor’s degree in psychology, 2009.

  • Sashel Palacios, bachelor’s degree in family and human development, 2017; master’s degree in higher and postsecondary education, 2019.

  • Jon Rahm, bachelor’s degree in communication, 2016.

  • Fanny Teijonsalo, bachelor’s degree in psychology, 2019.

Man squats down to pet his dog.

No. 7: The myth of the alpha dog

The Canine Science Collaboratory made headlines again in August 2021.

This time, Wynne, the collaboratory’s director, busted a common myth about dominance in dogs. 

Wynne’s research, published in Frontiers in Psychology, found that dogs do experience dominance, but how it plays out among themselves is very different from how it plays out when they live with humans.

He concluded that humans occupy a position of “super dominance” over dogs.

Five portraits of scholars of color.

No. 6: 5 new faculty join ASU's Department of English, Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies 

The Department of English expanded this year, welcoming five new faculty members. 

This hiring initiative was led by Ayanna Thompson, director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, in an effort to elevate scholars of color working on issues of race in premodern studies.

These new members of The College and ASU community are Brandi Adams, Lisa Barksdale-Shaw, Ruben Espinosa, Mariam Galarrita and Madeline Sayet.

A deep crack in the ground.

No. 5: That sinking feeling

In May 2021, news came out that Mexico City was sinking as much as a foot and a half annually, making it the fastest sinking city in the world.

Grace Carlson, an ASU postgraduate researcher who earned her master’s degree in geoscience at the School of Earth and Space Exploration, explained this sinking phenomenon, called subsidence, caused by groundwater pumping.

There are three subsidence areas in metro Phoenix, one called the West Valley Feature around Luke Air Force Base, one in the northeast Phoenix-Scottsdale area and one in the East Valley near the east Mesa and Apache Junction border with U.S. 60.

Three students pose for a picture.

No. 4: Student startup AirGarage receives $12.5M from venture capitalists

In 2017 three ASU alumni, including physics graduate Jonathon Barkl, founded AirGarage, an online marketplace for people to list, find and book parking spaces. 

In 2021 they received $12.5 million from Silicon Valley investors. Their plans with the funding? Keep building the best possible parking operator in the world.

A close-up of the head of Mars 2020's remote sensing mast.

No. 3: ASU climbs to sixth in national research rankings

ASU moved up to sixth out of 759 universities in the nation for total research expenditures among universities without a medical school in the National Science Foundation’s Higher Education Research and Development report.

In the report, ASU was ranked No. 1 for geological and Earth sciences, No. 1 for anthropology, No. 4 for social sciences and No. 11 for psychology.

The School of Earth and Space Exploration, the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, The College’s division of social sciences and the Department of Psychology fueled these rankings with innovative and socially embedded research.

Portrait of Natalie Diaz.

No. 2: Poet Natalie Diaz wins Pulitzer Prize

Natalie Diaz , associate professor in the Department of English and director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands, was awarded the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her collection “Postcolonial Love Poem,” which has been described as “an anthem of desire against erasure.”

Diaz joined seven other Pulitzer Prize winners among ASU’s faculty. She is the second to receive the award while being a faculty member at ASU; the first was former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove, who won in 1987, also for poetry.

A concept illustration of the ‘Oumuamua object as a pancake-shaped disk.

No. 1: ASU scientists determine origin of strange interstellar object

​​In 2017, the first interstellar object from beyond our solar system was discovered via the Pan-STARRS astronomical observatory in Hawaii. It was named ‘Oumuamua, meaning "scout" or "messenger" in Hawaiian. The object was like a comet, but with features that were just odd enough to defy classification.

In 2021, ASU astrophysicists Steven Desch and Alan Jackson of the School of Earth and Space Exploration published papers on the odd features of ‘Oumuamua and their conclusion that it is likely a piece of a Pluto-like planet from another solar system.

“Until now, we've had no way to know if other solar systems have Pluto-like planets, but now we have seen a chunk of one pass by Earth,” Desch said.

Top photo: The College celebrates its newest graduates at the Fall 2021 convocation ceremony. Photo courtesy of ASU

More Sun Devil community


Old Main building

9 winners of prestigious Flinn Scholarship choose to be Sun Devils

Nine Flinn Scholars, winners of the state’s most prestigious scholarship, have chosen to become Arizona State University Sun Devils for fall 2024. The nine first-year students, among 20 Flinn…

Shannon Zellner celebrates her graduation, dressed in a cap and gown in a snowy Japan

ASU Online alumna overcomes adversity, becomes advocate for military families

Editor's note: Arizona State University alumni are making a difference in every corner and community of the world, positively changing the lives of those they encounter. For National Military…

Hands typing on a laptop.

ASU's Earned Admission program paves the way for second chances

Over the past few weeks, students across the nation celebrated significant milestones — National College Decision Day and commencement, for example. But not everyone gets to make a decision to go to…