Robotics graduate made waves for women in engineering

April 28, 2022

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

Jessica Dirks’ interests in art, mathematics, physics and psychology fueled her decision to double major in robotics and autonomous systems and human systems engineering at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. Jessica Dirks Download Full Image

During her time as an undergraduate, Dirks, a student in Barrett, The Honors College, fulfilled her academic and extracurricular goals through various leadership roles.

Some of Dirks’ most significant achievements were her efforts with the all-women’s underwater autonomous vehicle engineering team, Desert WAVE. As a founding member, she taught herself Solidworks software, became the lead in computer-aided design and drafting, or CAD, designing, took on the scrum master role and competed — winning first place nationally and third place internationally — as part of a rookie team.

“Women of all ages contacted us in the months that followed, saying they felt like they had a reachable dream now, and that made the biggest impact on me,” Dirks says.

She was particularly influenced by Fredi Lajvardi, vice president of STEM initiatives for the Si Se Puede Foundation and one of Desert WAVE’s biggest supporters.

She says, “He is a man who believes in the creation, excitement and value of engineering and his drive and belief in simply ‘making things happen’ opened our eyes to the idea that anything is possible if you set your mind to it.”

Dirks admires Lajvardi’s ability to bring engineering to both underprivileged and uniquely privileged populations, and says she “aspires to have half the gumption he does for turning visions into reality.”

Among her many Desert WAVE accomplishments, she is most proud of being awarded the Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition by then-U.S. Senator Martha McSally for her work with the Si Se Puede Foundation.

In addition to her Desert WAVE endeavors, Dirks, whose academic performance regularly earned her a place on the dean’s list, was a Fulton Ambassador and Barrett Honors Devil. She was also a member of the General Human Operation of Systems as Teams Lab, or GHOST Lab, where she handled the development of five robotic assets for studies in human and robotic teaming on Earth and in space.

Aside from her ASU ventures, Dirks is a soccer referee, frequently traveling to represent Arizona in regional and national youth competitions. She says she enjoys the juxtaposition of taking on challenges in both athletic and academic pursuits.

Following graduation, Dirks looks forward to reading a good book, watching a play and “jumping head first into an unknown future,” she says.

One thing that’s certain is she will continue inspiring women to follow their dreams.

Sona Patel Srinarayana

Sr communications specialist, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


From a law degree to the (basketball) court

April 28, 2022

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

Born and raised in Casper, Wyoming, Rahnee Jackson is passionate about sports. As her college volleyball career was coming to an end, she knew she wanted to be on a path where she would continue to be involved in sports in some way. Portrait of Rahnee Jackson, ASU Law Master of Sports Law and Business (MSLB) graduate. Rahnee Jackson, ASU Law Master of Sports Law and Business (MSLB) graduate. Download Full Image

Wanting to experience life outside of Wyoming, Jackson made the move to Arizona to pursue her undergraduate degree, and two years after graduating, she joined ASU as a program coordinator for Intramural Sports & Sport Clubs at the Sun Devil Fitness Complex.

As part of the Sun Devil community, Jackson couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pursue a graduate degree, so she enrolled in the Allan “Bud” Selig Sports Law and Business program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law to pursue her Master of Sports Law and Business (MSLB), helping her grow as a young professional and connecting her to a large network of people in the sports industry.

During her time at ASU Law, she interned for Sun Devil Athletics, where she assisted with eligibility, Academic Progress Rate and other areas of athlete academia.

“It was also a cool experience to be a full-time employee and student of the university, and experience life from both lenses. I felt like I was able to do more on-campus activities and engagement than I may have done if I wasn’t an employee,” Jackson said.

We spoke to Jackson to learn more about her ASU Law experience and what the future holds for her.

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

Answer: I followed the Selig SLB social media and liked what I saw. I dove deeper into the program information, and my “aha” was the intimacy of this program and the people who were part of it. To be around others who are just as passionate about sports as I am was exciting. I knew it would be an experience that would allow me to elevate, learn from smart people and form a connection with influential young adults.

Q: Why did you choose ASU Law?

A: I chose the Selig Sports Law and Business Program for the curriculum – I saw the courses and was intrigued by the mix of the two areas of focus. To have a bit of law education to tie into sports business is genius.

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

A: This is tough because every single one of them has sprinkled great lessons on me along the way. There was a mentor session that I had with Glenn Wong where he spoke powerful words to me that flipped a switch in me to get after it. That man is incredible, and to feel like I had him in my corner was quite empowering.

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

A: Remember your “why” and keep pushing. There will be times that you feel defeated, unmotivated, stressed and tired, but you have to keep going. Work hard through the finish line and know that every feeling, good and bad, will be worth it in the end. Stay proud of yourself.

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

A: I may be biased – but I loved the Sun Devil Fitness Complex for myself. A place where I could relieve stress with a good workout. I also enjoyed the law building, whether it be the main courtyard area outside or the private courtyard area on the fifth floor. Perfect places to study, socialize and enjoy the weather.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Thankfully, I landed what I would call my dream job in January, months before graduation. I handle off-court player development and engagement for the Phoenix Suns and Mercury. My plans are to continue to excel in my role, continue to advance within the organization and make a difference in people’s lives. After graduating, I will have a tiny amount of free time added back to my schedule, so I hope to find time for a vacation or two – as basketball season allows, that is.

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

A: I would put money toward homelessness and toward pollution. Teaching lessons to the younger generation to make a difference in the future. If they’re knowledgeable in the two topics between K–8th grade, they can apply change during high school and beyond.

Meenah Rincon

Public Relations Manager, ASU Online