Saving the sea: ASU grad aims to turn the toxic tide

April 27, 2022

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

Sailing the shimmering blue-green waters between Oahu and Hawaii islands is all in a day’s work for Daniel Kinzer. ASU graduate student Daniel Kinzer, wearing a shirt with palm trees. Daniel Kinzer is an ASU graduate with a master's degree in biomimicry whose ultimate goal is a resilient, regenerative and inclusive future in his native Hawaii and across our planet. Download Full Image

The Honolulu native whose passions are marine ecology, innovation solutions to climate change and ocean-related challenges, and reimagining education discovered the perfect — yet least expected — place to advance his education and career: Arizona State University, in the heart of the Sonoran Desert. 

ASU’s College of Global Futures, where he is earning a Master of Science in biomimicry through ASU Online this spring, is his latest stop in more than a decade of living, working and learning in international schools, nonprofits and social enterprises across more than 70 countries and all seven continents, including an expedition to Antarctica in December 2018 as part of his fellowship with National Geographic.

“ASU was the only university offering the focused biomimicry graduate degree, and I was stoked to see the university's collaboration with Biomimicry 3.8,” he says. Biomimicry 3.8 is a bio-inspired consultancy that offers clients insights on how to incorporate nature’s time-tested strategies into products, organizations and services, as well professional training and inspirational speaking.

“ASU's reputation for innovation, focus and commitment on sustainability, and ability to access the learning experience from anywhere in the world also convinced me that it was the best learning community for me,” he says.

A master seaman navigating professional success, he has led sustainability, service and entrepreneurial learning programs at Punahou School and Mid-Pacific Institute in Honolulu; served as a teacher fellow for National Geographic and Ecology Project International; and co-created place-based innovation platforms with Purple Mai'a Foundation, Mālama Maunalua and Polynesian Voyaging Society. 

Embarking in unchartered waters, he launched Pacific Blue Studios: a Pacific network of community and place-based, youth-powered, design and impact studios leveraging biomimicry, Indigenous perspective and cutting-edge technologies as vehicles to grow, connect and amplify a new intergenerational learning ecosystem. The ultimate goal is a resilient, regenerative and inclusive future in Hawaii, around the Pacific, and across our Blue Planet.

Question: Looking back, what are highlights of your ASU career?

Answer: My time at ASU, and especially through the "in between" spaces and relationships built during the program, led to me developing and launching my own education, conservation and innovation studio, Pacific Blue Studios. It also inspired me to connect with Polynesian Voyaging Society and traditional voyaging and navigation practices in Hawaii and see the ways that ASU was supporting and connecting to PVS' efforts and voyaging plans as well, including in the development of a virtual educational "canoe" that will share voyaging knowledge globally. 

I even got to sail with some of the ASU team on a voyage to Maui. For my final project in the Virtual Design Lab, Pacific Blue Studios created a story mapping community called Future Navigators that is setting out to collectively map the Genius of Hawaii and the Pacific with Native Hawaiian and Indigenous youth, and co-create place-based and Indigenous innovations that serve a regenerative future for our blue planet.

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

A: In 2014, I saw Janine Benyus, author of "Biomimicry" and co-founder of Biomimicry 3.8, share a talk at an Esri Conference about cities functioning like forests. For me, she helped me weave together my passions and interests in nature, conservation, sustainability and innovation.

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

A: One of the greatest lessons I learned while at ASU was the importance of investing in others and in relationships, and placing relationships before tasks. When I started the MS biomimicry program, I thought I was embarking on a solo endeavor, tuning in online from Hawaii and mostly working on my own. Throughout my ASU career, and my studies and practice of biomimicry, it became clear to me how much learning — and especially learning to solve challenging problems — was a team effort and that caring for teammates was a central part of solving the problem. 

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

A: Dayna Baumeister (professor of practice and co-director of the Biomimicry Center in the School of Life Sciences) taught me a great deal about navigating complexity, and the importance of creating and tuning in to signals and feedback loops that can inform my own leadership practices and decision-making.

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

A: Seek balance.

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

A: Creating a new, networked action-learning ecosystem in service of growing a regenerative future to replace our stagnating, dysfunctional and industrial education system.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm looking forward to supporting Polynesian Voyaging Society and Hōkūle'a in their five-year Moananuiākea voyage around the Pacific and their efforts to nurture and grow a network of “navigators” — individuals working to regenerate ocean health and their own local communities — while continuing to develop Pacific Blue Studios into a network of action-learning studios focused on exploration, conservation and place-based innovation.

Lori Baker

Communications Specialist, Knowledge Enterprise

Starbucks partner pursues passion for business leadership

April 27, 2022

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

Starbucks has shaped nearly every aspect of Darton Nguyen’s college journey. Download Full Image

Like all students in the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, Nguyen received 100% tuition coverage to earn his bachelor’s degree online at Arizona State University. But even beyond that, it was in his job as a shift supervisor that he uncovered the natural leadership skills that would later shape his degree choice.

“I was leading my team at the age of 18 as the youngest at the time and realized I had an innate sense of leadership,” Nguyen said. 

This passion for leadership soon led to an interest in business and a strong desire to grow as a manager.

“It made me want to explore other facets and avenues of business administration,” Nguyen said. “What other methods of management could I learn and implement in my workplace or to better improve my skill sets?”

So when Nguyen, a Houston native, transferred to ASU Online in August 2019, it was a clear choice to pursue a degree in business with a concentration in business administration from the W. P. Carey School of Business. 

“Not only does ASU rank as No. 1 in most innovative schools but also in the online undergraduate business programs in U.S. News & World Report,” Nguyen said. “While Starbucks is partnered with ASU via the Starbucks College Achievement Plan and I am able to attend because of it, ASU’s reputation has far preceded itself.”

Nguyen is graduating from ASU this spring and shared more about his college experience below. 

Question: What accomplishment are you most proud of as an ASU Online student?

Answer: The proudest thing I’ve accomplished as an ASU Online student is challenging myself to greater heights. Between working full time, listening to hours of lectures, balancing a social life with tons of assignments, and of course, graduating summa cum laude, nothing makes my smile beam as hard as seeing my efforts in my personal and academic life come to fruition.

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

A: As someone who was accustomed to in-person lectures, it was certainly difficult to wrap my head around the aspect of online learning. It has certainly taught me time management and that there were a multitude of students who were taking on this rigorous but ultimately rewarding process with me.

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

A: I might be slightly partial to Lecturer Konstandinos Voutsas because I had the privilege of taking two of his courses — Negotiations and Leading Organizations — but his lessons have resonated with me the most and proved the most applicable in my everyday workplace. Whether it was effectively compromising with a customer or supporting my team, these moments were all enhanced due to the knowledge I picked up on being enrolled in his courses. 

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

A: The best piece of advice I can offer someone still in school is to never stop believing in yourself. I never thought I would find myself in the predicament of spending a couple of extra years to earn my degree, but I look back and realize that the path I took was just simply different from everyone else. I paved my own unique road to reach the same destination. No matter the time and circumstances it took, I just kept believing in myself. 

Don’t be discouraged from dreaming big and finding what it is you’re passionate about. Your journey is meant for you to trek, despite any odds or opposition. The struggles you face today will be your strengths tomorrow.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m thrilled to announce that I have actually accepted a position in benefits and compensation at Toshiba Corporation and will begin work after graduation. Furthermore, I hope to gain an extensive knowledge of the human resources world and will look to pursue certification from the Human Resource Certification Institute or the Society for Human Resources Management.

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

A: Personally, I would love to tackle the issue of food waste and hunger, specifically in America. Learning that food takes up more space in landfills than anything else while millions go hungry is extremely unsettling. While $40 million is a lot of money, 40 million tons of food is also what’s being discarded annually. This money would have to be invested in supporting those without food, controlling waste and essentially preventing a food famine from occurring. 

By Stephanie Morse, marketing content specialist, EdPlus at Arizona State University