Earth and space exploration major recognized as spring 2022 Dean’s Medalist

May 3, 2022

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

This spring, Erin Alexander will be graduating from Arizona State University with a bachelor of science degree in earth and space exploration — geological sciences, a minor in biochemistry and a certificate in field geology. She is also the School of Earth and Space Exploration Dean’s Medalist for 2022, a prestigious award that recognizes outstanding academic achievement by the The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, as well as a student in Barrett, The Honors College. Portrait of ASU grad Erin Alexander. School of Earth and Space Exploration spring 2022 Dean's Medalist, Erin Alexander. Download Full Image

The Austin, Texas, native was looking for a college program with lots of planetary geology and space exploration. She chose ASU for the opportunities it offered her to explore any of the topics she found herself interested in. 

Alexander has excelled during her time at ASU by participating in the NASA Space Grant Internship Program, and the research she performed for that project she continued to expand into her senior thesis and graduate plans.  

She received the Ravi DeFilippo Geology Field Camp Scholarship, which allowed her to attend Field Geology II last summer to learn about field geology, geomorphology tools and techniques that she could apply to her summer research project in Yellowstone National Park. This launched her current trajectory toward a fieldwork-heavy geological sciences master’s program at ASU. 

“Receiving this scholarship allowed me to attend field camp without worrying about my job or rent, which was a major burden off my shoulders,” said Alexander. “It allowed me to do incredibly well in a rigorous class.”  

She credits Professor Kelin Whipple with teaching her that the natural world operates under rules she never even thought to imagine; geologic history isn’t just set in stone, it’s carved into all the spaces in between. 

"Erin is an excellent student. She is highly motivated and self-directed and known for asking insightful, penetrating questions," said Whipple, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. "Erin’s honors thesis research at the intersection of hot springs, geochemistry and geomorphology is a transdisciplinary blending of ideas and approaches that was developed entirely on Erin’s initiative." 

Alexander said that working in Professor Everett Shock’s lab taught her that she is "a real scientist with valid opinions."

"He’s taught me that I’m capable of doing important work, and he has always encouraged me to pursue research that I care about,” she said. The confidence that the members of her research group have given Alexander has been an enormous factor in her growth as a scientist and helped her weather hard situations and questions.

"In her research, Erin has worked to evaluate spatial and temporal variability in hot spring chemistry by synthesizing 20 years of data collected by my group and integrating them for the first time in a GIS analysis," said Shock, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. "Erin has made invaluable contributions to the group, including hoisting an injured graduate student onto her back and carrying her out of the field, averting potential disaster."

One of her biggest accomplishments during her time at ASU was completing a Geological Society of America poster and Space Grant research project during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I was thankful to have my mentors, family, friends and pets on my side during that time,” said Alexander. “I am proud of what I could achieve in a time where many opportunities were closed.”  

This fall, Alexander will continue at ASU to pursue her master's degree. 

She answered questions about her time at ASU.

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

Answer: Socializing and networking are the first steps to getting into fields. Asking experienced people in your field for help and guidance once you get to know them through casual conversations will take you light years further than sending off a million emails into the abyss.

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

A: One of my favorite places on campus is the "secret garden." I haven’t been there often, but one of my favorite memories at ASU was buying a discount picnic basket on accident at Goodwill, deciding I had to use it to have a picnic, and inviting my best friends to eat tuna-salad croissants and drink lemonade from a marching band gallon jug in the middle of the secret garden. It makes me so happy to remember how lucky I am to have made friends with some of the most supportive people I’ve ever met in my life.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to attend ASU as a master’s student after graduating. I’m in love with my current research and want to pursue it for a little while longer at ASU before hopefully starting a PhD program. 

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

A: I think I’d invest in providing resources for LGBTQ-plus youth around the world. Nobody should be afraid to live in their gender identity or sexual orientation, nobody should be afraid of not being able to pursue their career because of loss of support, and nobody should have to bury a friend born to an unsupportive family.

Q: Any influences from past teachers, friends or family? 

A: My parents have had a huge influence on my life and helped me pursue my interests. They encouraged me to be a complete person above all else. My dad learned how to coach whatever sport I wanted to play, answered my many, many questions as best as he could, and encouraged me to spend my free time being as creative as I liked. My mum went out of her way to take me to museums I liked, made sure I always took classes I was interested in rather than forcing me to take something “prestigious,” and let me know that finding something that made me happy was far more important than garnering meaningless success.

Q: Did you face any challenges to finish your degree during a pandemic? 

A: I faced a lot of academic and personal challenges over the pandemic, but being able to spend time with my family back in Texas, having a wonderful group of friends who virtually studied together every night, and growing my fun little research tangent into a full-on poster at a national conference was one of the highlights I was able to make during a dim part of world history.

Media Relations and Marketing Manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


Graduating student fosters community and equality through musical theater

May 3, 2022

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

Jonice Bernard fell in love with music theater when theyBernard uses they./them pronouns. were asked to be part of the chorus in their high school production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Portrait of ASU grad Jonice Bernard. Jonice Bernard Download Full Image

“I had about 15 minutes of stage time and my biggest moment was getting to hold Toto in the finale, but that show made me want to pursue theater,” Bernard said. “I loved the community it fostered and that it gave us all a chance to spread joy.”

Bernard will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Music in performance (music theater).

“Since the first day I met them, their performances have demonstrated a unique sense of truth, honesty and strength, in addition to hard work and talent,” said Brian DeMaris, associate professor and artistic director of Music Theatre and Opera. “Jonice is a very giving and caring artist and always sees those around them and those who need help and support. They are caring and respectful when they speak up to offer suggestions and encouragement, and they are always eager and interested in learning and understanding others' needs and perspectives.”

Bernard said the highlight of their time at ASU was directing and producing the student-led Color Cabaret in 2021 and 2022.

“It was such an amazing experience to create a space for other students of color to feel safe to perform whatever they wanted,” Bernard said. “Spaces like this are very rare, so I'm glad I could help provide that for them. It was also very fulfilling to be in a leadership position and truly feel like I was being respected and valued for what I brought to the table.”

Bernard was also involved with the creation of the BIPOCThe term BIPOC refers to Black, Indigenous and people of color. student scholarship that was created as part of the Color Cabaret. The cabaret raises funds for the scholarship, which supports current and future musical theater students of color.

Some of their music theater production credits include lead performer in “Spelling Bee,” cast member Miriam in “Fly By Night,” Savannah in “Freaky Friday” and Charlotte in the new ASU musical “Leading Ladies.” They have also directed several student productions for the program.

“Jonice has excelled as a student and performer and takes a leadership role in the BIPOC community and student body as a whole,” DeMaris said. “Jonice exemplifies the finest qualities the Music Theatre and Opera area has to offer. Their continued example of leadership and excellence in music and theater lights the way for other students to follow.” 

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

Answer: One thing that surprised me is that everyone is here to learn. That sounds kind of self-explanatory, but I would get in the habit of comparing myself to others who had more experience or more lines on their resume. The moment I realized that we are all in the same place, just trying to improve, it made me less anxious about school.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I honestly chose ASU because it was affordable and close to home. I chose this program specifically because it’s different from a lot of musical theater programs around the country. It’s a Bachelor of Music, so it focuses more on the music aspect of musical theater, and that’s something I really wanted.

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

A: Gordon Hawkins has taught me so many important lessons while at ASU. He has been my voice teacher since I got here, but he has taught me so much more than just how to sing. He constantly pushes me to do the things that make me uncomfortable, because growth lies in the discomfort. He has shown so much patience while still expecting a lot from me, which has helped me increase my own internal motivation. It has truly been the best experience getting to learn about life from him. Of course, he has helped me gain control of my instrument as well. Four years was not nearly enough time.

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

A: Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. You are only here for a few years, and you are paying way too much money to feel like you didn’t get everything you want out of this experience. If there’s an internship you want that doesn’t exist, create it. If there’s a workshop you want to do, ask how to get funding. Do what you need to get to what you need.

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

A: There’s a spot right outside the east Music Building that we all call “the cove.” It’s where all the music theater students meet between classes. We sing too loudly, eat meals very quickly and catch up on what everyone has been doing.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: As a music theater major, we travel to New York to perform a showcase for agents, casting directors and managers. That’s right after graduation, so I plan on going to showcase and seeing what comes of it. This industry is very finicky, so I’m leaving lots of space to take whatever opportunities come my way.

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

A: I think I would donate the funds to a bunch of low-income-community-serving schools. I have a passion for teaching and working with kids, and there are so many kids who are not getting access to very basic educational tools. Not only that, but the National School Lunch program and other programs like it are very selective, and many students who need them don’t have access.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music, Dance and Theatre