Graduating history student reflects on times as an intern, research assistant

April 20, 2022

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

Leah Arambula Terry was born and raised in central Phoenix, Arizona, to a dad who worked two jobs and a mom who took care of her sister, cousins and herself. She attended a prestigious high school and found the transition into a four-year university natural. photo of Leah Terry Leah Arambula Terry will graduate with a bachelor’s in history and a minor in transborder studies. Download Full Image

“I was the only person in my family to go straight to a four-year college institution after high school,” Terry said. “My parents have always been very supportive of me and my education.”

She enrolled at Arizona State University to pursue a bachelor’s in history from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and felt like it was the “right decision” from the first day of orientation. Along with her degree, she decided to minor in transborder studies.

She went beyond her classes and decided to apply for an opportunity called the Maricopa County Leadership and Education Advancing Public Service (MCLEAPS) internship program just two years into her time at ASU. The program is a special partnership between ASU and Maricopa County that offers top students hands-on experience in county departments or divisions.

Terry applied to join the environmental services department and was accepted into the program

“When I was accepted into a full-time internship with Maricopa County, my adviser Amy Kaiman and Professor Catherine O’Donnell helped me register it for course hours and it was a wonderful experience thanks to their help,” Terry said.

After completing her MCLEAPS internship, Terry decided to participate in two undergraduate research experiences. She completed one with Professor Julian Lim, summarizing archival documents for her book, and the other with O’Donnell and program coordinator senior Erin Craft, conducting a public history project with the local Emerson School.

“I felt extremely lucky to be working closely with such amazing professors and have access to historical records of border and immigration in the early 1910s and be able to work with middle school students on creating their own historical records,” Terry said.

Terry is also the winner of many scholarships including the History Scholarship Award from the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Arizona, the Wells Fargo Transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies Research Scholarship, the Local-to-Global Scholarship and Wallace Adams Memorial Scholarship.

She is graduating this semester and was asked about her time at ASU. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)

Answer: I knew I wanted to study history in a Mexican American history class. I felt that the history was so relevant and prior to that class, I didn’t know that degree path was possible. But even history classes about topics outside my interest were great to take, like the capstone course where I was able to perfect my writing skills.

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

A: Professor Alexander Aviña’s course on Latin American revolutions completely changed my perspective on history and the world itself. My outlook on life has been shaped by my U.S., Catholic school education and learning about the international struggle against capitalism, imperialism and colonialism feels deeply valuable and crucial as I graduate from ASU into the working world.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of its affordability compared to out-of-state institutions and its proximity to my family. It also probably had something to do with my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Donaher, who was a hardcore ASU fan. 

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

A: I honestly cannot choose. Every single history professor who I have encountered has taught me a valuable lesson.

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

A: I understand that it’s hard to enjoy your experience at ASU when you have to work a job on the side and don’t get enough sleep most of the time because of it, or when you live with your family and don’t have a quiet place to study because of it. But it’s still possible to have good moments in school. Reach out to your classmates and professors and advisers and try to build a network of support to help when you need it. It’s never too late to make memories.

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

A: For a quiet area, I love the Hayden Library, especially in the new reading room on the first floor. But most of the time I like to sit right outside of the Memorial Union to stay in the center of everything.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to continue working at Andre House, a non-profit organization downtown, with the hopes of finding a job related to my degree. I aim to pursue a graduate degree in the near future. In the meantime, I’ll be on vacation celebrating four years of hard work.

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

A: I would donate half to local organizations like Black Lives Matter, Mass Liberation, Chispa AZ, etc. and the remaining half to local rental assistance. I think the world will heal when the systems designed to keep people in poverty are dismantled.

Rachel Bunning

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

Bringing industry experience into the engineering classroom

April 20, 2022

Seeing the future isn’t normally possible. However, Arizona State University students taking the Embedded Systems Design Project II course, EGR 314, have the unique opportunity to see what their engineering future holds through mentorship from industry professionals who took the same course as ASU students.

The alumni mentors agree that EGR 314 was one of the most impactful courses they took as undergraduates in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering — it was where they got their first glimpse into industry practices and gained critical experience that prepared them for real-world engineering. EGR 314 Students of the Fur-ever Safe project presented their concept to an industry mentor at the mid-semester design reviews. The premise of their project is to design and create a plant system to provide red, green or blue light to a plant, detect water levels, display the plant’s information for the user via an LCD screen and to protect the plant from animals or pets by using a spray bottle. Photo by Sona Srinarayana/ASU Download Full Image

Taking the initiative to engineer better robotics education

Course developer Shawn Jordan, an associate professor of engineering, was tasked with redesigning the course in 2011 when he first joined The Polytechnic School, one of the seven Fulton Schools at ASU. He saw the impact industry mentorships were making across ASU’s Polytechnic campus at the senior capstone level and decided to implement similar opportunities within his junior-level courses. He now teaches the course with his colleague Daniel Aukes, an assistant professor of engineering.

Each semester, Jordan and Aukes give technical minimum requirements, define a class-wide context — in this case, wearable robotics, selected in part because of Aukes’ heavy research focus in wearable assistive devices — and allow students to take control of defining their own projects as long as they fit loosely within the constraints of wearable robotics. This was “an intentional course decision,” Jordan says, “because it supports students to differentiate themselves on their resumes based on their own interests.”

Jordan and Aukes infuse various research-based educational techniques from the world of gifted education, which focus on offering curriculum for students at different abilities and knowledge levels so all students can grow through an engaging learning environment.

One of these techniques that Jordan and Aukes call an “in-class checkoff” helps students overcome technical hurdles such as connecting to a microcontroller, using an oscilloscope or debugging code for the first time.

“This helps make individual learning experiences, like homework, more focused on learning than technical frustrations,” Aukes says.

They implement these techniques at all stages of the course, whether students are programming their embedded systems, designing their devices or learning how to work together on teams.

“One of the most important aspects of the course is challenging students to communicate and work in teams using modern collaboration technology,” Jordan says. “This helps make everyone successful and ensures they are contributing to their team’s design.”

A cornerstone of the course is the mid-semester design reviews that allow students to present their designs — such as wearable robots in the spring 2022 semester — to various mentors who are industry members from Intel, Microchip, Texas Instruments, Fender and other major companies with operations in Arizona. Mentors provide students with encouragement, design and structural suggestions and ideas for improving efficiency in a format similar to how they would receive feedback in industry settings.

Exposing students to industry feedback at the junior level offers students a more seamless transition between the junior and senior year “so they are more able to succeed in the capstone setting,” says Jordan, noting a student’s senior year is when they typically encounter industry-sponsored projects.

Design review — a project-based midterm

One of the benefits of the mid-semester design review is that it allows students to integrate efficiency into their designs — something they may not have considered initially.

One of this semester’s mentors is Travis Marshall, an alumnus from ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 2014. Now working as a mixed signal electrical engineer at Fender, Marshall challenges students to lean into design constraints and helps them understand the importance of efficiency within their designs.

“I ask questions like, ‘Can you make this smaller?’ ‘Can you make it more efficient?’ ‘Can you make it cost less?’ and offer ideas to support these questions,” Marshall says. “These are questions we ask ourselves as industry professionals.”

After the design reviews, third-year electrical systems major Mike Femiani altered the hardware and coding in his wearable infrared distance sensor to enable better efficiency. His team’s device allows users to automatically survey distances and angles at construction sites.

“This is the closest thing we’ll have to a real-world industry environment,” Femiani says. “It was nice to have access to them and their expertise and reaffirm that this is what it’s like in a professional environment.”


Fourth-year robotics and autonomous systems 4+1A 4+1 degree is an accelerated degree that allows a student to earn both bachelor's and master's degrees in five years. student Sage Furman and her teammates (pictured left) are working on a device that uses sensors to deploy a hood to protect the user based on weather conditions. She is grateful for their mentor’s advice because without it she says they would’ve burnt their entire circuit and would have had to start over.

“We were faced with a major setback after the design review, but because prior engineering courses have given us practice in overcoming obstacles, we were able to adjust faster this time and make the necessary changes quickly,” Furman says. “We can leave this class and go into industry with those skills.”

Industry mentor Wade Adams, an analog validation engineer, began interning at Microchip as an undergraduate student at ASU and has been working there ever since. As a student, he says he was exposed to all of the processes that he uses in the field now, from designing circuit boards to making schematics and working with test equipment like oscilloscopes and other measurement equipment.

“This class specifically was probably the biggest advantage I had when I was a student,” he says.

Gil Ruiz’s project benefited from the schematics experiences of Adams and other mentors. Ruiz, a third-year robotics and autonomous systems major, says along with valuable schematics feedback, he was given sound reasoning as to why those changes were necessary. He and his team were able to adjust the schematic for their device, which allows users who are visually impaired to have awareness of an object approaching them and of the distance and speed at which it is approaching.

Ruiz, Furman and Femiani agree that having their designs verified by professionals gave them the encouragement that they were on the right track.

Continued focus on experience-based learning

At the ASU Polytechnic campus, evidence continues to support that project-based and experience-oriented learning is optimal for students as they enter industry endeavors.

ASU electrical engineering alumnus Jared Morton is a research and development engineer for Intel and has hired a number of new graduates. He believes that along with the collaboration between students and industry, it’s “the hands-on experience from classes like these that makes them unique and applies directly to the industry.”

Another mentor, engineering master’s degree alumnus Gerardo Rivera, an analog validation engineer at Texas Instruments, agrees that the skills he learned as a student in this course are frequently used in his day-to-day work.

James Larson, a communications engineer at drone startup Toofon, also continues to use skills he learned in the course. While pursuing his engineering degree at ASU, he worked as Jordan’s research assistant in studying project-based learning. Larson has since been supporting EGR 314 as a mentor.

“The project requirements that the students are designing to are actually the minimum requirements for accreditation as engineers, so many of these students are actually exceeding expectations for what is expected from engineers at this stage,” Larson says. “And by the time they end up in their engineering capstone course a year from now, they’re going to be ahead of everyone who hasn’t taken this class because they have this experience.”

The EGR 314 course will continue to support industry mentorships with goals to expand in the future. Jordan and Aukes plan to include more software and coding curriculum into their embedded systems design course, allowing students to have even more creative control of their projects and, ultimately, equipping them with more skills and experiences they can use to hit the ground running after graduation.

If you would like to be a design review mentor, contact Shawn Jordan.

Sona Patel Srinarayana

Sr communications specialist, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts