Teenage ASU grad comes full circle

May 2, 2022

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

Samantha “Sammie” Harker does some things really, really well — like, for instance, memorize numbers. Courtesy image of graduating ASU student Sammie Harker in her graduation regalia. Graduating ASU English major Samantha "Sammie" Harker is finishing her degree at age 18 and has been admitted to a doctoral program in neuroscience. Download Full Image

The Anaheim, California, resident memorized 1,294 digits of pi when she was 15. And then she gave a TEDx talk about it. Harker outlined what led to this feat in a blog post for the Organization for Autism Research titled “Autism Is My Not So Secret Superpower.”

Describing herself as on the autism spectrum, Harker revealed in the blog post that being “different” caused her to experience abuse and bullying. Finishing high school early and being admitted to college at the age of 14 was a relief. “Instead of being labeled as a nerd or genius like I was in high school,” she said, “I’m seen as more of an equal/prodigy and there isn’t as much focus on my quirks, but a larger sense of inclusion.”

Harker, a Starbucks partner, is graduating from Arizona State University this spring at the age of 18, earning an online Bachelor of Arts in English through the Starbucks College Achievement Program and ASU Online.

But that’s not all. She’s also completing a Bachelor of Arts in medical humanities from the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis. She recently took first place in UHSP’s 13th annual Student Research Symposium poster session for her presentation highlighting pharmacological characterizations of opioid compounds. The research goal is to create safer, nonopioid analgesics for pain relief.

Accomplishments like these are possible because of neurodiversity, Harker believes. She is an advocate of the “growth mindset” and of making room in society for many different views. A lovely way to illustrate the complexity of human belonging, and nonbelonging, is found in the mathematical constant of pi. Harker is a huge fan of it. “A pi enthusiast,” she calls herself.

“Pi isn’t just a representation of mathematics and physics,” she said in her TEDx talk. “It is a representation of our society.”

Pi is a so-called “irrational number” because it can’t be expressed exactly as a ratio or even completely in a million numbers. But since pi governs the properties of circles, without it “we would live in something along the lines of a real-life Minecraft.” How can it be “irrational” then? How can pi not “belong”?

Harker likened acceptance of other views, where there are infinite numbers of unique and incongruent variations, to her appreciation for pi: “We envision our world as parts making up a whole, when in reality, the gaps between pieces are significant.”

On the strength of her undergraduate work, Harker has already been accepted into ASU’s neuroscience program, where she’ll begin work on a doctorate this fall. We asked her to share with us how she sees her degree in the humanities fitting in with her future as a scientist.

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

Answer: My "aha" moment where I realized I wanted to study English was after my first semester at the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy. I absolutely love STEM, but I wanted to continue writing as well! ASU provided me with the education and resources to continue both courses of study simultaneously and combine my passion for both writing and STEM!

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

A: Something I learned while at ASU that changed my perspective was through online discussion board interactions. I remember reading about some of my peers and thinking about how some of us are so similar and so different. Some students I met online are from across the world! Reading other students’ introductions helped me learn how to appreciate everyone's journey in education and how everyone's path is different and unique. I think this helped me find a lot of great friends at ASU and learn to enjoy my learning experience even more.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose to attend ASU because of the SCAP (Starbucks College Achievement Program), the inclusive online community, the resources available to students, the emphasis on research, the size and location of the campus, the supportive professors and students, as well as the integrative programs!

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

A: The professor that taught me the most important lesson while at ASU was (Instructor in English) Laura Cruser. I had taken her course in Popular Literature — Stephen King last fall. She was incredibly supportive, and helped me learn how to curate my own creative story. She is one of my inspirations for writing, and she has inspired me to work towards publishing a book. I met with Professor Cruser after my course had ended, and she gave me important tips on novel writing and encouraged me to write a little every day and hold myself accountable to reach my goals. Thank you, Professor Cruser!

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

A: The best advice I can give to students still in school is to plan out your week and get your assignments done as early as possible. If you can do a little every day, you can balance your load of classes and reduce stress that may occur at the end of the week.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: My favorite spot for power studying is definitely Starbucks! I love Strawberry Acai Refreshers, and the atmosphere of Starbucks is perfect for studying and grabbing a quick snack.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I plan to continue working at Starbucks, participate in the Sharon Disney Lund Medical Intelligence and Innovation Institute (MI3) summer internship at CHOC Hospital, as well as start my PhD in neuroscience at ASU in the fall!

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

A: I would tackle climate change. There are so many problems that climate change creates, and $40 million would help create more sustainable practices that can reduce some of the problems our planet has been facing.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English


MBA Outstanding Grad combines law and business for maximum impact

May 2, 2022

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

Chikezie “Chike” Anachu was midway through his law degree when he realized more school was in his future. W. P. Carey's Outstanding Graduate Student, Chike Anachu, on the Tempe campus. W. P. Carey School of Business Outstanding Graduate Student Chikezie “Chike” Anachu was also named one of Poets & Quants' "Best & Brightest MBA" students this year. Download Full Image

“In law school, I often found myself wondering about the real impact of legal concepts and principles on business performance, especially how business-friendly regulations and policies could be used to incentivize the growth of small and medium enterprises,” explained Anachu. “Naturally, this curiosity led me to consider attending business school.”

Several years down the road, and the Lagos, Nigeria, native and W. P. Carey School of Business Outstanding Graduate Student is graduating with his MBA and has a job lined up in Dallas as an associate at McKinsey & Co. He was also named one of Poets & Quants' "Best & Brightest MBA" students this year.

Anachu shared more about his MBA experience, his most valuable graduate school lessons, and what he would tackle with $40 million.

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

Answer: One of the most profound things I learned was that leadership isn’t linear. Through involvement in student clubs and organizations, I came to realize that there will be many ups and downs in leading teams and organizations, and that’s OK. Typically, when we think of leadership, we hear strong stories of success, of getting the job done no matter what. But the down moments are often relegated to footnotes. During my time here, I have learned that moments of strength and weakness are equally important in a leader’s journey, because what matters is consistency, staying the course. Things will not always go right, and you should be prepared to adapt to those contingencies to achieve your set goals or pivot in a new direction.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Initially, ASU wasn’t on my radar, but in the early spring of 2020 a friend of mine recommended I check out the W. P. Carey MBA program. After comparing it to other schools within my consideration set, I chose ASU for its incomparable combination of value for money, quality education and optimal outcomes. As a graduate student, I wanted a program that offered the best combination of all these things so that I could justify the cost of taking two years away from work to return to school. ASU has exceeded my expectations on all three fronts, especially once considering scholarship opportunities. Looking back now, I realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have listened to my friend who advised that I apply to ASU.

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

A: I would say to make the most of it. Every minute spent on campus is very special. You’re surrounded by so much intelligence, so many cool and bright people. And you should get to know them, learn from them and share with them. Someday when you’re graduating, you will realize the magic of an academic environment is not just the classroom learning you gained, but the ways in which you grew personally, the connections you made and the challenges you overcame. If you play it safe and never embrace the full potential of a campus environment, especially one as vibrant as ASU, you not only shortchange yourself, but you will have deprived others of the opportunity to get to know you and help shape your story.

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

A: McCord Hall was my favorite spot on campus. It’s such a modern building with many resources for graduate students. I loved to use the team rooms for personal study time and team meetings. In addition, something I especially loved about McCord was the opportunity to bump into classmates from time to time and catch up on what’s going on in their lives. You never know who you are going to meet at McCord when you go there — classmates, friends, faculty, strangers that become friends, etc., and I found that quite exciting.

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

A: I would tackle global hunger and malnutrition. I think this is a fundamental problem we have to address for the future of our planet. As climate change accelerates, entire populations are at risk of losing access to not only food sources, but their livelihoods too. Already, too many kids grow up in homes where there is no guarantee of a single meal a day, not to talk of three. Those kids are often forced to fend for themselves or become targets of abuse. Moreover, without proper nutrition, kids are mostly unable to unlock their full potential, physically, academically and otherwise. In today’s world, where we have the capacity to grow enough food to feed the entire planet, hunger and malnutrition really should be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, it is not. Without hesitation, I would invest the $40 million into sustainable agriculture and food storage systems that have the potential to strongly advance food security for vulnerable populations globally.

Emily Beach

Director of Communications, W. P. Carey School of Business

(602) 543-3296