Dean’s Medalist and global health graduate has a passion for health equity

April 20, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Ellianna Lederman, a Colorado native, thrived at Arizona State University by becoming involved and staying focused on her goals.  Ellianna Lederman Photo courtesy: Ellianna Lederman Download Full Image

Lederman was selected as this semester’s Dean’s Medalist by The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, a prestigious award that recognizes outstanding academic achievement, and is graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Arts degree in global health from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. 

“I couldn’t believe it when I first heard, it’s been something I’ve wanted for a very long time,” Lederman said about being selected for the award. 

She came to ASU because she was impressed with what Barrett, The Honors College offered. Lederman spent her second year online, instead of in-person, due to COVID-19, but became involved in several campus organizations and is graduating with her undergraduate degree in three years. 

An internship with the non-profit organization Esperanca also helped Lederman with her Barrett honors thesis. Esperanca is focused on providing health equity to individuals across the world. 

“My thesis project worked with Esperanca's Diabetes Empowerment Education Program to explore patient's experiences within the program,” Lederman said. “I created pre and post surveys and conducted interviews with class participants to learn about how the class influenced participant's diabetes knowledge and management. 

Along with her focus on global health, Lederman is involved in the Hillel and Chabad clubs on campus and she helps lead the Global Health Student Association. She was also a case investigator for the ASU COVID-19 student-outbreak response team. Her passion for health started in high school and grew during college. 

“I’ve always been interested in infectious diseases, but I didn’t know I could make a career out of it,” Lederman said. 

Lederman received numerous awards during her time at ASU, including: the Presidential Volunteer Service Award in 2020 for volunteering with Tri County Health Department (in Colorado); the Maricopa County Department of Public Health (for case investigation); and Energize Colorado (a pandemic startup).

Lederman will attend the Colorado School of Public Health to pursue her master’s degree in public health policy. Leading up to commencement, we asked Lederman a few questions about her time at ASU. 

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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

Answer: I think that’s when I was a freshman and the very first classes I took were global health. I knew I wanted to study global health, but what really confirmed it was looking at the syllabus and seeing all the materials and topics we were going to cover.   

Q: Were you involved in any labs during your time at ASU? 

A: I was a Barrett College Fellow, where I participated in the Children in the Law Lab at the ASU Downtown (Phoenix) campus. But I did this remotely because of COVID-19. Research is very important, and it was one of the draws when I came to ASU. I knew that getting research experience in college was important for graduate school and professional work, and I knew that ASU offered a lot of those opportunities to students. I’m very glad I was able to get involved in those opportunities. I think it’s different from classroom work, I like practice work the best. There is a whole side of research that is very complicated. I have a lot of respect for people who do research as a full-time job.

I was also in another research position on campus helping map COVID-19 testing sites across Arizona and tracking vaccine data by ethnicity to better understand racial health disparities in Arizona. The professor overseeing that project, Dr. Hyunsung Oh, ended up directing my honors thesis. 

Q: Were you involved in internships during your time at ASU?  

A: The first was through Esperanca, a nonprofit in Phoenix, where I was a global health intern. I was also an operations intern at Project CURE in Centennial, Colorado, last summer. I worked in the warehouse where they store, process and ship donated medical supplies to countries overseas, helping lead volunteer groups through the warehouse and helping pack for shipments. They are the largest supplier of donated medical supplies to countries internationally — the perfect definition of global health.

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

A: Say "yes" to every opportunity and experience you get. You only have a limited time in college and you really have to make the most of it. 

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

A: I really like Noble Library. I had a math class there freshman year and I had a global health group that first semester and we were in a cohort because we all had the same classes. So we spent a lot of time together, some days starting in the morning and working together until 6 p.m. Noble was the place we would go between classes for our breaks. After that, I always liked going back because it always reminded me of my friends.    

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

A: I know $40 million would not solve the problem, however the problem that I want to solve and what I want to focus my career on is health equity. I want to make sure that everybody has equal opportunities to health care. There is this scientific concept called the “social determinants of health,” that explains your health is not just related to what you’re doing, everything is based on the environment around you and influences your health. This includes housing, having clean water and even your education. Although $40 million wouldn’t be enough, that is the big problem I would like to solve and focus my attention on.  

Nicole Pomerantz

Communications specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


Navy veteran, State Department employee earns Dean's Medal in religious studies

April 20, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Joshua Herald grew up in a rural town in Ohio called Jamestown and went into the U.S. Navy, where he served for 13 years. Three years after getting out of the Navy, Herald joined the U.S. State Department as a foreign service specialist. Photo of Joshua Herald Joshua Herald is graduating this semester with his bachelor’s in religious studies and was chosen as the Dean’s Medalist for the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. Download Full Image

He had taken a few college courses while he was still in the military and decided to finish his bachelor’s degree while he was serving with the State Department in Pakistan. Looking at schools to attend, Arizona State University caught his eye because of their online program and breadth of courses to choose from.

“Initially I could not decide what to major in, so I took the liberal arts major. I took some humanities courses, philosophy and English, and they really had an effect on me,” Herald said. “They opened my eyes to the idea that I might be missing out on something in life. Almost like I had not been reading or thinking as deeply as life deserved.”

He took a religious studies course as an elective and decided to change his major to it. Religious studies was a way to combine all the subjects he loved. 

“Religion can be viewed through historical sources, accessed through anthropology or sociology, analyzed as literature. I could make a study of the philosophy of religion, or study the psychological phenomenon of religious belief,” Herald said. "I also saw the study of religion as an opportunity to understand other people better.”

Herald is graduating this semester with his bachelor’s in religious studies and was chosen as the Dean’s Medalist for the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies for his work ethic and excellent academic record.

“He is a first-generation student who dropped out of high school, later getting a GED,” said Clinical Professor of religious studies Agnes Kefeli Clay, who nominated Herald for the medal. “He is particularly interested in the intersection of religion and public life, in particular the ways that religion affects post-colonial politics.”

He was asked about his time at ASU and in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

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

Answer: I took an English course, ENG 200, and one of the modules was about using feminist critical theory to analyze literature. This changed my view about what feminism was, as I was used to the colloquial definition used on cable news and in culture wars. That one module had such an effect on me that I would say it has shaped how I approach religious studies. It also led to me taking Dr. Doe Daughtrey’s “Women, Gender and Religion” course, which caused me to further evaluate my understanding of feminism. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of the course selection. As an online student, I looked at several different schools and ASU seemed to offer the biggest selection of courses. This was important as I was unsure what I wanted to study. It gave me the ability to take courses and see what subjects interested me the most. 

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

A: Wow, I do not know if I can answer that. Earlier when I said I took a religious studies elective and that made me change my major, that was half the answer. The full answer is the faculty in the religious studies department made me change my major. I was so impressed with them that I felt like I wanted to be a scholar like them. Since I’m in my last semester I will give you an example from there, but I could give you examples from every semester I have had at ASU. 

First, I am taking REL 407, which is the religious studies capstone course. Dr. Joel Gereboff is patient and very giving of his time. He is a mentor who understands how to guide you, while allowing you to find the answer, and is always giving feedback or helping to solve a problem. This is a lesson that I find myself applying not only in an academic setting but in my professional life as a mentor to junior personnel. Again though, the entire faculty at ASU and (the school) have been amazing. 

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

A: Find something you enjoy and pursue it. I have been a technician for 20 years and early on it would have never occurred to me to get a humanities degree. I always thought I would end up getting an IT or business degree. But I was interested in the humanities and that is why I was successful academically. Life is short, do what interests you. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: My favorite spot to study was at my dining room table. It is much larger than my office desk and allowed me to spread out a little more when I had a lot of reference materials. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am going to take some time off to work on developing my foreign language skills better to allow me to access primary data. I am planning to apply to graduate schools next year.  

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

A: Childhood food insecurity is something that concerns me. I think that the problem though is not just feeding children but creating economic conditions in which families can afford food or improving social programs that combat childhood hunger in America. 

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies