‘Making the impossible commonplace’: Expat in Libya earns 2nd ASU degree

Obstacles didn't deter Master of Science in organizational leadership graduate

May 9, 2022

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

Like many students who choose to complete Arizona State University degrees online, Asmaa Khalifa had life responsibilities to juggle while completing her master’s degree that many of her classmates could identify with: Parent, homeschooler of her three children, caregiver to an elder. Portrait of ASU Master of Science in Organizational Leadership 2022 graduate Asmaa Khalifa. Asmaa Khalifa, who earned a bachelor's degree in liberal studies in ASU's College of Integrative Sciences and Arts in 2017, has now completed the Master of Science in organizational leadership. Khalifa hopes to eventually complete a doctorate: "I would like to teach undergraduates as well as continue to develop my theory on everyday leadership," said Khalifa. Download Full Image

But some of the other challenges this College of Integrative Sciences and Arts student faced down were almost unfathomable to peers.

“Because of my unique geographic location, there was always the time difference (I am GMT+2, so nine hours ahead of Arizona now),” noted Khalifa, whose hometown is Lancaster, California, but who has lived in Tripoli, Libya, where her husband’s family is from, for two decades. “But having been through a revolution, being an expatriate in Libya, calling on my experiences as a displaced person, and honoring my culture and traditions — which never coincided with coursework — was quite beyond what I was hearing from my peers in and out of the classroom.

“I quickly came to realize that the Libyan adage ‘The fingers on your hand are not the same length’ is more descriptive of my experience than I wanted to admit at the time,” she said, looking back on the last two years.

Recognizing the extraordinary context within which Khalifa was working, the faculty in the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership program rallied around her.

Khalifa, who graduated in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, was one of the first students to enroll in the organizational leadership master’s program.

Leadership and integrative studies Senior Lecturer L. Marie Walllace met her early in the program and worked closely with Khalifa on a project for the elective course OGL 554: Learning and Development in Organizations.

“This was one of the first courses she took in the graduate program, and when it became apparent that the research she was interested in pursuing might be roadblocked because Libya was one of the three countries ASU’s Institutional Review Board did not have approved IRB protocols for, rather than being dissuaded, Asmaa developed a training  protocol for the Ministry of Education in Libya to create the protocols,” said Wallace, “and has them ready to implement on a large scale when the time is appropriate.”

Wallace recommended that Khalifa ask Robert Kirsch, director of the master’s program, to serve as her thesis adviser because, she said, “he has a level of expertise in political science and critical leadership studies, a relatively new and burgeoning field that intersects well with Asmaa’s academic interests.

“I also knew he had the empathy to be sensitive to the cultural milieu in which she functions, related to the expectations of motherhood and being a daughter-in-law in Libya. Asmaa faces obstacles that many students do not encounter. She has to worry about her family's safety and well-being in a way that is quite unfamiliar to most of our students (I heard the bomb sirens when meeting with her once). She often has to deal with unstable internet and inconsistent infrastructure. Robert worked with her every Wednesday for three consecutive terms via Zoom. It became a part of his routine.

“Her thesis is incredible. She focused on informal and everyday leadership related to improving secondary education in Libya. Her ideas were so well developed and her data told an amazing story of people coming together to exhibit everyday leadership to enhance their children's experience and enhance their community in general.”

Khalifa plans to pursue a doctoral degree eventually, “though it is further down the line in my career,” she said. “I would like to teach undergraduates as well as continue to develop my theory on everyday leadership. The possibilities are a bit daunting right now, but I am looking at ways to expand the discipline here in North Africa,” Khalifa said.

She wants people to recognize that leadership is not exclusive to formal organizations: “I think too often heroism can be conflated with everyday leadership, because people typically do not associate leadership with everyday people contributing to their communities on a regular basis.”

Friends in the states often ask her why she doesn’t just return home to the U.S., given the political instability and infrastructure challenges that continue in Libya.

“… I believe that working hard and doing everything that is in my power to survive and thrive is the only way to go through life,” she tells them, in addition to emphasizing not wanting to live as a family divided. “I do not believe in quitting. I believe in making the impossible commonplace.”

Khalifa shared these additional reflections about her ASU journey.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study organizational leadership?

Answer: The process was more trial and error than anything. As an undergrad, I meandered around the social sciences and tried out different disciplines while completing my degree requirements. I had taken an organizational leadership course; I liked it. I enrolled in another and liked that as well. The term after that, I pursued a minor in organizational leadership. The discipline manifested itself over time through getting to know more about what it entailed and how it is applied, more than a sudden realization.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU was a good fit for me because the program I chose was completely online. I had received my undergrad degree from ASU and was happily surprised at the invitation from CISA when the master’s program in organizational leadership began. It was an easy choice.

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

A: I’ve learned so much more than just the coursework that I couldn’t narrow that experience down to one person or lesson. The top three for me would be:

  1. Robert Kirsch for teaching me to take a deeper look and have enough courage to apply my own lens rather than just relying on those scholars that came before me. He taught me that my perspective is just as valid and critical to the discipline as any other. This really translates to so much more.
  2. L. Marie Wallace for teaching me that there is always another option and that there is no shame in asking. This went against so much of how I saw myself as a student and as a person in general. It was an eye-opening revelation.
  3. Mai P. Trinh for teaching me that it is OK to admit weakness and offer my strengths in collaboration. She taught me that teamwork and lifting one another through open communication helps us all take a step towards our shared goals.

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

A: Document as much as you can. You are learning for a reason. You will need these lessons in your future endeavors and will need to call on your past knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences. It is much easier to tap into that wealth of information when you leave breadcrumbs. If it seems important in the moment, write it down; you can always edit later. Just get it out of your mind and in a form other than your memory. Never be afraid to ask a reasonable question. Professors were students, and they care a lot more than students think; just don’t wait until the eleventh hour.

Q: Did you have a favorite spot for studying?

A: I have studied just about everywhere you can imagine, but I don’t have a favorite spot. I have a favorite device, stationary, cup of coffee. It’s more about ambience for me than location. In general, I have a designated spot that I study in my home. This is to demarcate my time and focus so my children and spouse can pretend I am not in the same place as them for some time.

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

A: I believe that solutions are proximal and that as humans we lead and are led because we are passionate about the person or the cause or both. Whatever be the case, we need to provide people with tools to muster the courage to act and share with them the knowledge of how to do so safely and sustainably. Tools without the knowledge to use them and knowledge without tools may mutually exclude themselves for lack of action. For me, the $40 million would translate to investing in Libya and North Africa in general. I would begin with increasing the economic opportunities for women in business in the MENAMENA, an acronym in the English language, refers to a grouping of countries situated in and around the Middle East and North Africa. region. This would be accomplished through grass roots advocacy campaigns that inform and invest in small businesses owned by women, while at the same time tapping into the power of professional successful women in business to provide mentorships and help change local and regional policies and perceptions of women’s roles in business. The program, with the help of nonprofit NGOs, could grow from there, but the program must provide for the next level of women in business and not be a single event or period of time.

Maureen Roen

Director of Communications, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


Music graduate explores the importance of music and the arts

May 9, 2022

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

Anna Galura is an experienced and accomplished performer and an educator who is not only concerned with how to train musicians but also how to serve a community through the arts. Anna Galura Download Full Image

Galura graduates in May with a Master of Music in violin performance and pedagogy and a graduate certificate in music entrepreneurship.

“Anna is an ardent champion of art and culture, a passionate antiracist pedagogue and a leading 21st-century innovator and activist in the arts,” said Katherine McLin, professor of violin in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and Galura’s teacher.

In addition to her violin, Galura uses her voice and pen as instruments to advance art and culture through the use of technology and social media platforms to advocate for, advance and encourage entrepreneurship in the arts, in order to address community social and economic needs.

In 2021, when much of the work at ASU was still taking place at home and online, Galura began cultivating an internationally accessible podcast, “Music | Why?,” dedicated to exploring the value of music and its role in peoples’ lives through interviews with music industry professionals around the globe. Her podcast features world renowned guests, including Afa Dworkin, Chi-chi Nwanoku, Titus Underwood, Michael Ballam and more, and it expands on the usage of music as a powerful tool for building communities.

“I was craving the kinds of conversations and relationships that a university normally offers in person, and I wanted to feature current projects and solutions to the challenges artists were facing around the world,” Galura said. “Brilliant people accepted my invitation and were abundantly generous with their time and wisdom. The experience has been rewarding beyond measure.”

“Music | Why?” has spawned a number of future publications and projects. In May, the International Horn Society “Horn Call” magazine will publish Galura’s article, “The 21st Century Artist & The Art of Collaboration,” featuring her work and findings through the podcast and an interview with professional horn player Larry Williams. 

In addition to her podcasting, Galura serves as a teaching assistant for Professor McLin and teaches violin lessons in her local community. She also maintains a vibrant career as a performer, playing throughout the country and internationally as a soloist, chamber musician and concertmaster. As a musician, entrepreneur, presenter and arts manager, she pushes the boundaries and draws upon multiple artistic mediums for inspiration, and she positions herself at the center of public life.

“Anna has that rare combination of academic drive and excellence;  compassion and empathy for her peers; and a clear-eyed vision for her creative practice, career and life,” said Daniel Roumain, Institute Professor and professor of practice in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “I learned as much from Anna as I hope she gained from our class. In this, Anna has always been a learner, leader and teacher. She embodies the best of us and offers anyone she meets hope.” 

This summer Galura has been invited to present a workshop on “The 21st Century Artist” at the Kennedy Center’s Co-Lab Festival, sponsored by the DMV Music Academy and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Her future plans include aiming for a director of arts and culture position and someday serving on the National Cabinet for Arts and Culture.

“Anna is a tireless advocate for the power of the arts to transform the individual as well as build and enrich a community,” McLin said. “She demonstrates this in numerous ways both small and large, from her stellar work teaching music majors at ASU to her thought-provoking podcast on the role and relevance of music in today’s society. I have no doubt that Anna will be a major figure in arts advocacy, and I can’t imagine the future of the arts in better hands.”

Galura received a teaching assistantship, the Katherine Herberger Music Scholarship and a Special Talent Award while attending ASU.

“Without this funding, I would not have had the past two life changing years at ASU,” Galura said. “It was the difference between getting a master’s degree or not, and I am  extremely thankful.”

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

Answer: The "aha" moment came to me when a loving violin teacher said to me during a lesson in high school one day, "Anna, do you want to heal bodies or do you want to heal souls?" The question came because I was very seriously contemplating a career in the medical field, but I was torn by my love of music. At that moment, I just knew.

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

A: I had a professor, Dr. Katherine McLin, who very compassionately offered the advice, "Don't let 'perfect' rob you of 'good'." Then, another professor, Dr. Christi Jay Wells, extended the phrase by saying, "Don't let 'good' rob you of 'done.'" Both pieces of advice came at critical points in my education, and I am grateful for the enlarged perspective on what it means to "accomplish" something. I've found myself hesitating in the past to take chances or try something new for fear of doing a poor job. I think it's part of growing up to realize that you can't offer your best work 100% of the time. When I find myself in the trap of thinking otherwise, I am my own worst enemy.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I specifically chose ASU for four reasons:

1. To study with a world class teacher, Dr. Katherine McLin.
2. To be her graduate teaching assistant.
3. To take advantage of the entrepreneurship program and "innovation bug" here.
4. To be in the West, closer to mine and my husband's family. Since being here, my eyes have been opened to the myriad of opportunities and relationships to be had in the community of Phoenix. I love it!

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

A: During my second semester at ASU, I suffered from an injury that prevented me from playing violin for almost six months. It was a devastating time. Dr. McLin listened patiently as I expressed to her some of my concerns about my future. She gave me two very powerful pieces of advice: "Never let fear be the deciding factor for a decision. You can do anything you want to do." And, "There is always another side to these times. When you come out the other end, it will be beautiful, and you will be all the stronger for it." I can say a year later that both of those pieces of advice are manifest in my life today.

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

A: Be curious. Get to know everyone and all of your professors as well as you can. These relationships are the foundation to a rich life of learning and community. You'll soon find that everything is connected.

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

A: Like many violinists, I spent much of my time hunkered down in the practice room. My practice room was the TA office, which is also where I taught, had amazing conversations with students and friends, did a lot of homework, ate my lunch, rested. It was quiet and cozy. It's amazing what one can accomplish in such a small space.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Apart from playing and teaching the violin, I intend to spend time working in the nonprofit sector for arts and cultural organizations. This June I will be a guest presenter and podcaster at the “Co-Lab Music Festival” hosted at “The Reach” at the Kennedy Center, where I will advocate the importance of an entrepreneurial mindset and present interactive programming that provides opportunities for students to develop collaborative skills.

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

A: I'm not so sure if I could actually solve any single problem with only $40 million but I would attempt to wage a war on human trafficking. I grieve each day by the fact that people of all ages are enslaved around the globe, including the United States. It is a shameful part of our history, something I believe must be a collective responsibility in order to eradicate forever. Free agency is a precious gift, one that should be protected at all costs.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music, Dance and Theatre