High-achieving ASU grad says compassion was key to degree completion

April 27, 2022

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

A familiar adage says that if you want something done, ask a busy person. Graduating ASU student Shelly Smith-Phillips poses with her mother at the Kachina Fountain on ASU's Tempe campus. / Courtesy photo Graduating ASU student Shelly Smith-Phillips poses with her mother in front of Old Main's iconic Kachina Fountain. Download Full Image

That truism is evident in the life of one of Arizona State University’s newest graduates: Shelly Smith-Phillips, a mom, wife, health care worker and first-generation college student. The Tolleson, Arizona, resident and Barrett, The Honors College member is graduating this spring with two undergraduate degrees — a Bachelor of Arts in English (linguistics) and a Bachelor of Arts in Education, secondary education — as well as a minor in Spanish and a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

Smith-Phillips is already admitted to the ASU master’s program in linguistics and applied linguistics, where she’ll begin classes in the fall.

While everything is coming up roses now, Smith-Phillips has encountered her share of difficulties along this journey. Hailing from the Maryvale borough of west Phoenix, Smith-Phillips began her education at community colleges within the Maricopa County system. She transferred to ASU in 2017.

First: the challenge of trying to have it all. How does one balance work, home life and school?

“I don't know that I have ever really had true balance between them,” Smith-Phillips admitted.

In 2020, the pandemic arrived with its particularly devastating brand of challenges. Smith-Phillips lost two people close to her — her father and her brother — in a short span of time.

“Losing my brother was extremely difficult for me as we were very close,” she said. “I had to take a semester off and seek out professional counseling. I still struggle with this grief every day.”

She said that while she doesn’t feel that she has fully recovered, she has been able to push through to degree completion with help from the counseling and through support from family, friends and “caring and compassionate professors.”

Marshalling this grief into helping others is Smith-Phillips’ next task; being of service as a teacher is truly her passion.

“I love the look of excitement in a person's eyes when they realize ‘I've got it!’” she said, “or when a student reads a paragraph on their own with little assistance.”

Smith-Phillips nods to the assistance — some of it financial — that she herself has received in achieving her educational goals. She has accumulated a veritable treasure trove of awards, grants and scholarships in her time at ASU, including the Jose Franco & Francisca Ocampo Quesada Research Award, an ASU Passport Scholarship (Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust), a Dougherty Foundation Scholarship, a Desert Financial Credit Union-Adult Learners Scholarship, The College Alumni First Generation Scholarship, a Leland and Nancy Stanley Scholarship and an ASU Follett Book Scholarship.

Before graduation ceremonies kick into high gear, we caught up with Smith-Phillips to find out a little more about what her experience at ASU has been like.

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

Answer: My "aha" moment came when I was volunteering for my son's marching band team. I used to volunteer with his Boy Scout Troop 669, but the troop had been retired for a year or so. One night during band practice, I realized how much I missed volunteering and helping youth and young adults. It always made me feel good knowing that I was making a difference by assisting in any way I could, whether it be selling candy bars for a fundraiser, passing out band T-shirts or organizing paperwork. I knew I wanted to get back into helping young men and women (students or children) grow and flourish into becoming our future leaders.

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

A: My first semester at ASU I met a classmate that is blind. After sharing a few courses together, I received an opportunity to become a part-time tutor for this student. I accepted the position and really enjoyed my time as a tutor and getting to know and better understand the community of blind and visually impaired students. Through this experience, I started to look at the world around me differently; I started to notice things that would not be issues for a sighted person, but could be for those who are visually impaired. For example, a chair in the hall or walkway or a trash receptacle moved from one side of the room to another could become barriers. Being able to see these things is no big deal, but when something is changed along the path for a visually impaired person, interruptions can occur. I have learned to become more aware of my surroundings and to think more critically when in the company of those without sight.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: There are a few reasons why I chose ASU to complete my educational journey: (1) I am a wife and mother and did not want to uproot my family to attend a school far from our home, (2) I received several scholarships with the biggest one only applying toward an education through ASU, (3) ASU holds a special place for several of my family members, and I wanted to make them proud of the school I was going to graduate from, and (4) ASU is No. 1 in innovation and is home to the Kids at Hope program. With these things in mind, I knew ASU would be a great fit for me.

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

A: This is a tough question to answer. There are several professors that I gleaned wonderful information from, and I would hate to say that one lesson is more important than another. I will say that [Instructional Professional and Director of Internships] Ruby Macksoud taught me to have faith in myself, what I know and in my accomplishments. She also taught me to keep moving forward, to not "reinvent the wheel" unless I have to and to see the good in the simple things and activities.

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

A: Never give up! There is always a way. Whether it be finances, hard-to-learn material or being overwhelmed with school and life, there is always something or someone out there willing to help you. Also, don't be afraid or ashamed to ask for help! There is a great chance that whatever you are going through, someone before you went through something very similar and they are willing to share their experience and technique to overcome it with you.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: The ASU Nina Scholars Lounge. It is a quiet and comfortable spot in Discovery Hall especially made for scholars within the Nina Mason Pulliam Scholars Program.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I will take the exam for my Arizona state teaching license and will continue my studies at ASU to complete a master's degree in linguistics and applied linguistics. I will also continue to work in the health care field until I have graduated with my MA.

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

A: Another tough question. My first thoughts go to child hunger and homelessness; also clean-water solutions. However, I asked this question to someone close to me, and I believe they made some valid points and here is my takeaway from that conversation: If I had $40 million, I would start a program to combat gun violence. I believe there is a great need for gun-safety education. Guns will always be a factor in society. Even if laws were to change to ban guns, I believe that there are people out there that would still have them illegally. I would propose the completion of educational training and gun-safety programs for everyone who wishes to own a gun. This training would also be open for anyone who wants to learn about firearms. I would work toward stricter background checks, longer wait times for purchasing firearms, and promote responsible gun ownership. I believe education is key to decreasing accidental shootings and increasing awareness of the effects of gun use.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English


ASU Women and Philanthropy celebrates 20 years of making an impact

April 27, 2022

In 2002, a small group of women leaders who were passionate about Arizona State University, and the community it serves, set out to make a difference.

Julie Ann Wrigley, Sybil Francis and Angela Cesal were founding leaders of ASU Women and Philanthropy, an organization established to increase university engagement and give women what has become a powerful outlet for collaboration and community impact.  Pie chart showing the breakdown of grants by category ASU Women and Philanthropy has awarded 95 grants totaling $4 million to Arizona State University programs since its inception in 2002. Download Full Image

The organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary this spring. It has raised $4 million among its members, issued 95 grants to ASU programs and awarded 17 scholarships to ASU students.

ASU Women and Philanthropy offers a unique model of philanthropy in which the members pool their membership dollars and decide collectively through a voting process on how those funds are invested. Their contributions have supported the arts, sustainability, health, journalism, education, science, technology, engineering and more.

“ASU Women and Philanthropy offers members a front row seat to the university, and the opportunity to learn about cutting-edge medical research, innovation in the arts, social justice issues and more,” Francis said. “ASU Women and Philanthropy members get the opportunity to experience all of that along with really enjoyable social gatherings and the opportunity to connect their passions with programs worthy of support at ASU.”

Francis moved to Arizona in July 2002 when her husband, Michael Crow, became the 16th president of ASU.

“It’s incredible for each of us as members of ASU Women and Philanthropy to experience the power of our collective impact. Every member is part of the decision-making process and feels part of something bigger than ourselves,” said Francis, standing co-chair of ASU Women and Philanthropy. “For me, ASU Women and Philanthropy provided me an instant community of like-minded women when I moved to Arizona with Michael. These are smart, passionate, engaged women who understand the transformative power of ASU and the impact the university can have in our communities and on lives.”

Portrait of .

Sybil Francis

ASU Women and Philanthropy has made a direct impact on nearly 400 faculty, staff and students through the grants awarded to explore their ideas and research, said Lindsy Manning, senior director of engagement for the ASU Foundation for A New American University. Through the grant process, members have also provided mentorships and guidance to the ASU community.

While the organization is focused on investments that help ASU solve global problems and increase access to education, it also offers its members unique opportunities to engage with other accomplished women.

“Women and Philanthropy was an early investor in women’s futures,” said Julie Ann Wrigley, a businesswoman and philanthropist. “It was very young in this movement, and it set an example.”

Wrigley, who served as founding co-chair of the organization and honorary co-chair from 2012–15, said the three founding principles continue to guide the organization into its 20th year anniversary: the value of collaboratively investing together, networking and member access to educational opportunities.

“Women and Philanthropy taught me the principles of how much more effective we can be when we do things together,” Wrigley said. “It introduced me to ASU and to President Michael Crow and Sybil Francis. From the discussions with Michael Crow, I made a substantial investment to work in sustainability and the Earth. It’s my life’s legacy.”

Wrigley isn’t the only member who increased her commitment to and investment in ASU after an introduction to the university and the many causes donors can support. In total, it’s estimated that donors have invested more than $490 million to ASU beyond Women and Philanthropy grants.

Today, there are about 250 members, 80% of which are actively engaged, Manning said. Since inception, there have been nearly 1,600 unique donors who have supported ASU Women and Philanthropy, she added.

Participants describe peer members as intellectual, intelligent, visionary, engaging, committed and passionate. They represent a variety of professional and personal backgrounds including law, philanthropy, business and health care. About 10% of the members are ASU faculty and staff or ASU Foundation staff. 

Moving forward, the organization hopes to increase the number of members who are ASU faculty, staff and administrators, said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, co-chair for 2021–23, vice president of cultural affairs at ASU and executive director of ASU Gammage. She is the first faculty co-chair of the organization and is a founding member.

“I found it was important to help lead the way for more faculty, administrators and staff to join Women and Philanthropy,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “I’m hoping to lead by example.”

“We never come to ASU wearing one hat,” she said. “We are mothers. We are swim officials. We work at animal shelters. We do a number of things, and I think for ASU’s faculty and staff and administrative women to wear the hat of philanthropy is important and will enhance the other hats that they wear.”

Jennings-Roggensack hopes to further diversify the membership across generations, ethnic and racial backgrounds, and professional and personal experiences.

“It’s our 20th anniversary,” she said. “This is a landmark moment, and it’s also a landmark moment in this country after we’ve gone through COVID and we’re dealing with the pandemic of systemic racism. It seems like this is a really important time to lend my skill set to Women and Philanthropy to address those issues.”

ASU Women and Philanthropy leaders hope to grow the organization and continue their impact to ASU.

“They will never regret it and always be appreciative,” Wrigley said of joining the organization. 

Michelle Stermole

Senior Director, Public Relations and Strategic Communications, ASU Enterprise Partners