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Accomplished veteran graduate changes 'flight path' to help others

May 5, 2022

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

To say graduating student veteran Maria Adney is unique and talented would be an understatement.

Few Americans have served in the U.S. military. Adney served in two service branches — she spent just under 10 years in the Air Force as an enlisted member, followed by a lengthier stint as a commissioned officer in the Coast Guard for over a decade.

Even within the military, few have the aptitude and determination to fly. Adney earned her wings to become a helicopter pilot — a risky endeavor to say the least.

“In flight school, I remember them saying ‘see this nut on top of the rotors, this is called a Jesus nut, because that’s who you pray to, because this shouldn’t work,’” Adney said. “Helicopters and bumble bees shouldn’t fly. Aerodynamically, you look at them and it works, but it doesn’t look like it should.”

Flying the Coast Guard’s MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, Adney led a vast array of missions including search and rescue; law enforcement and drug interdiction; and armed air intercept alert duty to protect the National Capital Region, national leaders traveling and significant events in other parts of the country. Air intercept missions in the homeland stood up after 9/11.

Adney is proud of her service but was happy to hang up her uniform and not be in any more “life and death” situations, she said.

“There are many more issues and possibilities of problems in a helicopter,” said Adney, who earned her airplane pilot’s license before learning to fly helicopters. “I had quite a few emergency landings and malfunctions in the helicopter, where if it was an airplane it wouldn’t matter as much.”

Losing hydraulics and even an engine in an airplane is serious but not as grave as in a helicopter, Adney said.

“It’s never simple with a helicopter,” she said. “We do emergency procedure training all the time, especially in the Coast Guard.”

Adney was an Air Force bioenvironmental engineer prior to joining the Coast Guard. Her dedication and performance in the Air Force led her to capture several awards throughout her career and paved the way to becoming a Coast Guard officer.

Recognizing her stellar background and leadership in the classroom throughout her time at ASU, the Pat Tillman Veterans Center selected Adney to be the student keynote speaker for the spring 2022 Veterans Honor Stole Ceremony on May 7.

Adney offers thoughts about her time at ASU, advice for others and why she decided to pursue a master’s degree in communication disorders with the College of Health Solutions.   

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

Answer: My child had some speech issues that caused both communication and early literacy struggles, and I became very frustrated over a two-year period trying to get speech therapy services. I was so frustrated that I decided to learn to do it myself online through research and a lot of YouTube videos. After seeing progress, that is when I had my "aha" moment and decided to go back to school and become a speech language pathologist so I could help others in this situation. 

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

A: I learned how resilient people are overall while going through constant and rapid life and school changes that occurred when the COVID-19 pandemic first began in spring 2020. I also realized how much I missed interactions with friends and family when it was all taken away at the start of the pandemic. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU is a well-ranked school and has a great master’s in communication disorders program. Another bonus was that ASU is located in one of the areas where I wanted to live. 

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

A: Joshua Breger taught me — during my internship — that you really have to look at who the client is as a person, their likes, dislikes, wants and get to know the person to better help them, versus looking at it from how we can treat them through speech therapy. Also, Julie Liss showed me a very important lesson through how she tried to share her knowledge and passion for learning with us. She provided extra tutoring and studying sessions to any student who struggled learning neuroscience to help us understand the concepts, while showing me what it means to be a professor who truly wants to help students learn and succeed. 

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

A: Find your person or group of fellow students that you can go through school with as a support system. It makes going to school much easier. 

Q: Did you have a favorite spot on or near campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot to meet friends to decompress from school is Postino on the Tempe campus. It has great food and is a fun place to hang out and relax that is close to classes. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be working as a speech therapist for Higley School District.

Top photo: Maria Adney flies a Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopter over rough seas in 2016. Photo courtesy Maria Adney.

Jerry Gonzalez

Assistant Director , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

ASU Charter encourages young scholar to fight for more inclusion

May 5, 2022

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

Zuzana Skvarkova’s path to graduation has been all but linear. As a transfer to Arizona State University, Skvarkova’s educational journey has been full of many twists and turns, but somewhere amidst the detours, she found herself and exactly how she intended to make her impact on society.  Zuzana Skvarkova, College of Global Futures Spring 2022 Outstanding Graduate. Zuzana Skvarkova, College of Global Futures Spring 2022 Outstanding Graduate. Download Full Image

Originally from Bratislava, Slovakia, she came to the United States with her family when she was four years old. She was raised in a suburb outside of Boston. After high school she headed for a nearby liberal arts college before she transferred to Arizona State University. It was during this time that her experiences made her question how equitable and accessible higher education was to historically excluded demographics.   

However, it wasn’t until her early 20s when she had the biggest breakthrough of her life – Skvarkova was diagnosed as autistic. Her experiences gave her a new purpose: to become a physician and a disability rights activist. 

“It reinforced that I want to go and be a physician to work in that inequity space for disability justice and disabled individuals,” Skvarkova says. ”So often, we don't even understand the inequity and health disparity gaps that we give to disabled individuals.”

Passionate about the intersection of disability justice and health policy in the field of both clinical and academic medicine, she hopes to pursue a career as a physician. Her goal is to help broaden the current medical health model to more equitably provide care for all disabled individuals, with their needs and wants at the forefront of their care. 

Finding the bachelor’s degree in innovation and society, in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society within the College of Global Futures, fits her goals well. ASU, its charter for inclusion and the program provided her with the platform that she needed to excel academically and professionally. She has been acknowledged for her service work through various awards, such as the school’s Charter Award for Excellence and the Committee for Campus Inclusion’s Catalyst Award. 

During her time at ASU, she served as  the president of ASU’s Women in STEM organization, as an instructional aide for a general biology course at the Downtown Phoenix campus and started the Pre-Medical Disabled Student Association, the nation’s first student organization dedicated to creating a community for disabled individuals applying for medical school. 

“I was able to accomplish all of these things partly because I knew how to properly advocate for myself in an educational setting, but also because I finally found a place that supported the dreams and goals I had. I fully believe that absolutely everybody can excel in education," she said. "Oftentimes, its barriers that are rooted in matters of inaccessibility that lead to students falling through the cracks, not how “intelligent” they are. That said, when an educational institution empowers a charter like ASU’s that values inclusion and emphasizes accessibility across all domains, you create an ecosystem of diverse thinkers that excel beyond what can be learned just from textbooks.” 

Here she answers some questions about her time at ASU.

Question: What are your plans after graduation?

Answer: I plan to work as a full-time research assistant for Dr. Robert Cook-Deegan for the next year and then apply to medical school. Additionally, in the year before applying to medical school, I hope to continue working on establishing my nonprofit geared toward increasing disability justice and tackling accessibility issues across education, workforce and health care that the disability community faces. Hopefully, I can also continue to engage in my advocacy work by continuing to participate in speaking engagements and finishing my first book. 

Q: Do you have a favorite spot on campus? Whether for studying, meeting friends, or just thinking about life?

A: I really like the Social Sciences Building with all the trees and the plants that they have there. It feels very serene and peaceful. 

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

A: While society often advertises a very linear path to achievement and success, very often the journey to accomplishing your goals is everything but that. My path toward graduating college was full of twists and turns, but ultimately I found myself and who I want to become in this world amongst those detours. That said, the best piece of advice I could give to anyone in school is to embrace the experiences you come across along your journey that exist outside the box; there is no “correct” way to obtain a degree. 

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

A: Well, there’s a lot of problems on the planet that need to be tackled, but if I could only choose one then I would most likely use it to continue on in my efforts to tackle disability rights issues. I would tackle disability justice and the inequities that disabled individuals face that are currently embedded in many societal structures by focusing on accessibility and reworking the way that our systems are built. That said, $40 million most likely would not be close to enough to tackle how intricate and expansive the problem of ableism is in our society. However, it would be a great starting point to build off of to enact positive and equitable solutions.

Executive Director, Marketing and Communications, ASU Law