Graduate Stephanie Gerhart embraced leadership, service and community at ASU
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.
Leadership, service and community-building were the hallmarks of Stephanie Gerhart’s undergraduate career at Arizona State University.
Gerhart, whose hometown is San Tan Valley, Arizona, recently graduated from ASU with a bachelor’s degree in management and public service/public policy with a legal studies specialization with honors from Barrett, The Honors College. She was chosen by the honors college as a spring 2022 Outstanding Graduate for Leadership and Service.
She was an ASU Tillman Scholar and active in the Tillman Leadership Through Action (T-LTA) program, which focuses on transformative leadership, human and community conflict and development, social entrepreneurship, social justice and policy formation. She was a teaching assistant in the program.
She received the Spirit of Service Scholarship (through ASU's Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service), the Greg and Dorothy McMillan Scholarship, the Gary K. Herberger Business Scholarship and the New American University Scholar President’s Award.
Her on-campus activities included ASU Student Government, Barrett Honors College Peer Mentoring, the Barrett Honors College Council, the W. P. Carey College of Business Fleisher Scholars Program, ASU Changemaker and the ASU Sprit of Service Scholars program.
Off campus, she served as a page for the Arizona Senate and an intern for the Arizona Secretary of State. She also was as a policy analyst in the ASU President’s Office and a policy intern for the Arizona House of Representatives.
Gerhart took time out to reflect on her years as an undergraduate at ASU. Here are her thoughts.
Question: What is an interesting moment, story or accomplishment in your ASU career?
Answer: One of the best parts of my ASU experience was being a part of the ASU Tillman Scholars Program, a program within the W. P.Carey School of Business that was created to honor (former ASU football player) Pat Tillman’s legacy as a leader and student. During your time as a scholar in the program, you attend an overnight retreat where you bond with your cohort and begin your personal development journey. I made 15 amazing friends that night, and became part of a community for life. While I’ll always remember that retreat, it was so special to help plan that for this year’s cohort as one of their teaching assistants. Watching them go through an experience that meant so much to me was meaningful in ways that I can’t even properly explain, and really highlighted the importance of mentorship and community. I am extremely grateful for the mentors I’ve found during my time at ASU and for the amazing lessons I’ve learned from those I had the privilege of acting as a mentor for.
Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
A: As a freshman, I joined Undergraduate Student Government and began to learn more about policy and the role of government in our society. I always knew that I wanted to help people and that I was interested in going to law school, so when I went to see my adviser and was talking to her about all of this, she recommended public policy as a degree program to pursue. At that point, the pieces just all fell into place, and I’ve been pursuing a public service career ever since.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: It’s easy to look at all that is going on in the world and think that it is impossible to change something or make an impact. The people and the work at ASU taught me that isn’t true. Every interaction we have with each other, with a community or an entity creates an impact, and it is up to us to ensure it is a positive one. Every student I know at ASU is passionate about something, and as we all create changes around the issue we care about, we are slowly changing the world around us. As someone in policy — a career path where you always seem to be fighting an uphill battle — this is extremely encouraging and something I remind myself of when the challenges just seem too big to keep going.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I was excited about the small feel Barrett Honors College offered at a huge university with lots of opportunities and resources. This ended up being very true, and I’m more than happy with my choice.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Dr. Michael Mokwa, the Pat Tillman Foundation Distinguished Professor, is the director of the ASU Tillman Scholars Program and has had a big impact on the way I view leadership and service to others. The most impactful lesson I learned from him during my time in the program was the importance of community. While I found an amazing community in the ASU Tillman Scholars that helped me to grow as a person, I also came to understand the significance of building community and dedicating yourself to the ones you are a part of. Dr. Mokwa is the person who sparked this understanding, and I’ll always be extremely grateful to him.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Focus on the things that will always be important: friendships, family, personal growth and serving others are a few. While getting good grades and being involved are important during your time in college, make sure to invest yourself in the aspects of your life that have long-term importance. A year from now, I won’t remember what my GPA is, but I will remember the internship where I got to help work on legislation that would serve my state, and I will always hold close the friendships I developed during my time at ASU.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: The Barrett Student Center was a favorite spot of mine to study and hang out with friends. During my sophomore year, it was home, really. I could always find a friend or classmate I knew there and would go there almost every night!
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I will be attending law school in the fall and plan to start volunteering with some local policy organizations for issues I am passionate about.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: This is a super hard question, because there is no “right” answer and I am still struggling to understand what I can do to make the world a better place. One idea that came to mind though, is to use the funds to focus on children’s literacy. It is so important that every child receive an amazing education, and unfortunately, too many are falling behind and become at risk of never catching up. Numerous studies have found a very strong correlation between reading proficiency at third grade (the last grade you are learning to read rather than reading to learn) and high school graduation. Students who fail to reach reading proficiency by the end of third grade are four times as likely as a peer who can read to not graduate from high school. Education is important for an individual’s health, career opportunities and more. One of the biggest issues I see for our generation is figuring out how we can help ensure a high quality and accessible primary, secondary and postsecondary education for all.