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Learn, earn and return: School of Molecular Sciences supports military students


Side-by-side portraits of Cory Smith, ASU School of Molecular Sciences biochemistry student. In the left photo, Smith wears military fatigues. In the right photo, Smith wears a lab coat, safety goggles and a face covering.

Cory Smith, an online biochemistry major, currently serves as an Air Force as a U-28A mission pilot and attended the compressed organic chemistry labs in summer 2021.

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February 25, 2022

Since launching the first online degree in 2017, the number of chemistry and biochemistry undergraduate majors in the School of Molecular Sciences at Arizona State University has more than doubled. Additionally, the new online student group is significantly more diverse than the on-ground student population, at 65% female and with four times as many Black students and six times as many military and veteran students compared with on-ground students.

One of these military students is Cory Smith, an online biochemistry major currently serving in the Air Force as a U-28A mission pilot, who recently completed his seventh deployment in the Middle East. Smith has his sights set on earning entry into medical school, and then returning to active duty as a military physician.

Despite multiple deployments and a variety of temporary-duty assignments, Smith has managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA.

“I have taken courses while in several different states, as well as multiple countries across Europe, the Middle East and Asia,” Smith said. “I even had to ship myself several weeks’ worth of chemistry lab materials so I could complete labs while on the road. Without programs like this one at ASU, it would have been much more difficult to continue serving while making progress on my journey to become a doctor.”

In the summer of 2021, Smith travelled to Arizona and the Tempe campus, where he met with students and faculty he otherwise only knew from online interactions, to complete his organic chemistry laboratory courses and to feel like a genuine Sun Devil.

“Cory is an enthusiastic and dedicated student, and despite his busy flight schedule, he regularly attends office hours and remains active in the class. I'm glad that SMS is able to support military students like Cory, who is serving our country, through the online program,” said Ara Austin, faculty member in the School of Molecular Sciences and director of online engagement and strategic initiatives in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Last year, Smith was the recipient of the SMS Veterans Scholarship. This scholarship supports undergraduate students, whether military veterans or children of veterans, who are pursuing a degree and career in the molecular sciences.

“Earning this scholarship means a great deal to me,” Smith said. “To have my hard work recognized by my professors and the (school) community provides meaningful validation and motivation for me to continue performing well.”

Many ASU students are able to reach their goals because of the generosity of alumni, school community members and employees of ASU, among others. Smith is grateful to those who have contributed to ASU to make this and other scholarships available to him and for other students.

“I am sincerely grateful to have been chosen as a recipient of the SMS Veterans Scholarship," he said. "Scholarships are especially important for online students because the recognition helps strengthen their connection to the school.”

“One unexpected benefit from providing online programs is the extent to which they have opened access to college education for students from more diverse backgrounds," said Ian Gould, associate dean of online innovation in The College. "Going online has had a larger impact in this regard than any other program we have tried over the last few years. Cory is a perfect example of this. I am always astonished that students like Cory can carry heavy life responsibilities while at the same time maintaining a perfect GPA in challenging science courses. We are very proud of Cory.”

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