New graduate marries the majors of chemistry and keyboard performance

May 2, 2022

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

Although chemistry and playing the organ may not immediately seem to have significant overlap, they come together for graduating senior Paul Oftedahl as two of his passions in life and the two majors he has successfully pursued during his four years at Arizona State University. Paul Oftedahl, chemistry major and spring 2022 Distinguished Chemistry Award recipient. Photo by Mariela Lozano/ASU Download Full Image

Oftedahl embarked on this double-degree track to challenge what is conventionally considered possible to accomplish in an undergraduate education and because he was keen to make the most of his one college undergraduate experience. Though he comes from Tucson, Arizona, he chose ASU because of the opportunities available at a large institution and on account of the world-class faculty it attracts. Oftedahl is also a National Merit Scholarship awardee and was recently named the 2022 Distinguished Chemistry Award recipient.

Oftedahl’s passion for music manifested itself at an early age; he began piano lessons at age 5 and gradually added cello, organ, harpsichord and harp to his repertoire. His homeschool background has caused him to be a driven self-learner and allowed him to take advantage of diverse opportunities that would otherwise have been unavailable. His gifts in chemistry became apparent after developing a fascination for the periodic table around age 10 and subsequently excelling in numerous high school chemistry classes, including honors organic chemistry. In addition to his passions for music and chemistry, Oftedahl enjoys cooking, hiking, plane spotting and learning languages.

Oftedahl has found that the chemistry program at ASU is the perfect balance between small class sizes, allowing him to make connections with other students and the unparalleled opportunities that come from being part of a world-class research institution. Although many people assume that music is predominantly a right-brained discipline while chemistry is more left-brained, he says he finds that using a combination of right- and left-brain approaches to both chemistry and music allows him to excel in both sides of his college career. 

Oftedahl says he is grateful for the incredible opportunities he has had at ASU, including being able to travel to France to play historical organs, and is indebted to his family and many friends for their encouragement and support.

Question: What is your passion and how do you plan to live it up after graduation? 

Answer: Just as my initial attraction to chemistry came through the periodic table and the mesmerizing array of elements, so my passion for chemistry continues to be driven by my desire to understand how atoms interact at the molecular level. The idea that the quantum behavior of atomic particles is foundational to the familiar aspects of chemistry is a never-ending source of inspiration to me as I constantly seek to understand the way the world works at the most fundamental levels! On the music side, I enjoy performing and doing research on early music and plan to seek opportunities to perform even if my career is centered on chemistry. In the fall, I will be entering the chemistry PhD program at Iowa State to gain experience teaching and doing research in physical chemistry.

Paul Oftedahl and Professor Chad Borges at the 2022 SMS Award Reception.

Paul Oftedahl and Professor Chad Borges at the 2022 School of Molecular Sciences Award Reception.

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

A: I was not expecting to enjoy physical chemistry because it has a reputation for being very difficult. In the first physical chemistry class I took, I found I did not understand everything immediately as I had in previous classes and that I had to take risks going into exams, knowing I could still succeed even if I felt my grasp of the material wasn’t up to my personal standards.

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

A: I wish to credit two of my physical chemistry professors with opening my eyes to the wonder of physical chemistry and showing me how rewarding working in a lab can be. Dr. Andrew Chizmeshya is an incredible teacher whose passion for chemical thermodynamics and enthusiasm for teaching are indescribable and contagious. He and Dr. Anh Le (now at Georgia Tech) are the two key people that influenced my desire to pursue further study in physical chemistry.

Dr. Kimberly Marshall, my organ teacher for my four years at ASU, has helped me develop both as a musician and as a person. Her commitment to each of her students, positive outlook on life and vast expertise in music performance and literature have been instrumental (no pun intended) in shaping who I am today. The emphasis she places on separating a subjective evaluation from an objective analysis has helped form the paradigm for how I approach academic study. She also helped me realize how important it is to engage in activities separate from school in order to refresh and come back to school with new perspectives and ideas.

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

A: One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received came in the context of learning languages — “prends un risque” (take a risk!), though I believe it applies to all areas of life. You will learn so much by doing things that are outside your comfort zone and will find that they become easier over time. If you’re considering (or already committed to) a double-degree track, especially in disparate fields, I would encourage you to formulate a plan, listing out all required classes and when they are offered, to ensure that you will be able to complete both degrees in your desired timeframe.

Written by Mariela Lozano, communications assistant, School of Molecular Sciences. Jenny Green contributed to this story.

Mariela Lozano

Communication assistant, School of Molecular Sciences

Graduating music educator wants to help students discover their own musical journeys

May 2, 2022

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

As a music educator, graduate Shawn Schive said he wants to support students the same way his teachers supported him. Shawn Schive, drum major with the ASU Sun Devil Marching Band. Photo courtesy of Mark Quiñones Download Full Image

“I come from a family of teachers and grew up with a supportive community of educators around me, so it was a very natural decision to pursue teaching,” said Schive. “When I came to ASU, I knew that I wanted to leave here with my degree and get a job teaching band in a public school.”

Schive, a Barrett, The Honors College student, will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Music degree in music learning and teaching.

“The music learning and teaching faculty at ASU really opened my eyes to the variety of ways that we as educators can reach students and help them discover and cultivate their own musical journeys, and I have become a much more flexible teacher because of it,” said Schive. “I want to be the best musical supporter I can be, regardless of whether my students choose to follow a similar path that I did or forge their own path outside of a musical genre that I am comfortable in. If I can't support diverse student needs and perspectives, I would not be serving my school community in a way that the students deserve. I am committed to developing and facilitating an equitable and inclusive music program.”

Evan Tobias, associate professor of music learning and teaching in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, said, “Whether applying learner-centered principles or supporting students' contemporary musicianship, Sean is an innovative practitioner. He is able to think beyond himself to better understand students' needs and interests and support the students who he teaches.”

Schive received a four-year President's Award for his high school academics, which he said allowed him to attend ASU. In addition, he received Special Talent Awards for his participation and leadership in the ASU Sun Devil Marching Band and an Arizona Teachers Academy grant for two years, which covered full tuition and fees in exchange for work in Arizona public schools after graduation.

He currently studies in the trumpet studio of Joe Burgstaller, associate professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, and performs with the ASU Wind Ensemble, the ASU Philharmonia and several brass chamber groups. He is also a drum major for the 400-member ASU Sun Devil Marching Band and a staff member at the George N. Parks Drum Major Academy during the summer, where he teaches leadership, conducting and teaching techniques to high school students from across the United States.

"Shawn embodies our core principles of being an inquisitive thinker and community leader,” said Tobias. “While deepening his own understanding and interests, he's always willing to venture out in new directions and stretch beyond his comfort zone to explore new possibilities for music learning and teaching in thoughtful ways. I'm excited for the students who will have the opportunity to learn with him as he moves these principles into practice in his future music program."

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

Answer: As far as focusing on music specifically, I knew this was right for me because of the fabulous music educators I had growing up. Experiences with teachers in band and other musical disciplines throughout my K–12 experience was what kept me motivated in school, and I want to create the same home for my students in my own classroom.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of the environment that the School of Music, Dance and Theatre offers to students: a personal connection with students with the resources of one of the largest universities in the country. When I was applying, the ASU faculty made me feel like they wanted me to have a great experience in their program, and I felt like they knew me for the person that I was rather than the information that I wrote on my application. It was the right call.

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

A: I think that the most important lesson at ASU was taught to me by my trumpet professor, Joe Burgstaller. He is a fantastic and incredibly effective educator and has a special eye for seeing students as individuals that bring unique values and experiences to a class. He encouraged us as studio members to value each other for our individual strengths and perspectives, and this helped us work as a team rather than seeing each other as competition or making negative comparisons. This was a remarkable lesson that I will take with me on my teaching journey forever.

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

A: My best advice to current students would be to continue to find things about ASU that keep them wanting to come back. When you graduate, your diploma represents the classes that you succeeded in, but you will remember so much more about your college experience. Keep going to your club meetings, performing in the Sun Devil Marching Band and playing your intramural sports. Remember to make the most out of the short time that you spend here.

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

A: The Music Building courtyard, of course! Every music student at ASU knows that the courtyard between the East and West buildings is the best place to go for anything you can imagine. It was great to have this common space to run into friends and colleagues, and we even continued the tradition on Facebook through the pandemic.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Immediately after graduation, I am marching my ageout seasonThe Drum Corps International's ageout rule states that corps member who turn 22 on or after June 1 are eligible to march during that year. with the Blue Stars Drum and Bugle Corps. Next fall I will be starting teaching in the Valley while continuing to work with some local high school marching band programs. I have been applying for teaching jobs for the last few months and am so looking forward to beginning my public school teaching career.

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

A: If I had the budget to tackle the problem, I would go for taking steps to solve worldwide educational inequality. A common theme in countries with extreme poverty is the lack of education in differing marginalized groups of people, and I would want to move toward a world where everyone (regardless of income, race, gender or any other determining factor) can have access to an education of quality. I may teach music specifically, but I know that the world of education in general is a door to a brighter future. I envision a world where every big dreamer can open this door and look toward the future that they want to create for themselves.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music, Dance and Theatre