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ASU Online students' startup organization grows to become one of largest university clubs

IDEAS Student Society provides community, connections for online students


Group of IDEAS Student Society members posing for a photo in a hallway.

IDEAS students celebrating their 2022 Outstanding Undergraduate Student Organization (Online) Pitchfork Award during the summer in-person laboratory courses held at ASU's Tempe campus.

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July 27, 2022

Great ideas often come directly from students.

In 2018, three online School of Molecular Sciences biochemistry students, Ellen Streitwieser, Nicola Osgood and Sam Bakotich, recognized the need for a platform to allow ASU Online students majoring in STEM degrees to connect with one another in a safe, inclusive community environment. At the time, there were almost no official student organizations at Arizona State University in which online students could actively engage.

So the trio took their idea to Clinical Assistant Professor Ara Austin, then-managing director of online programs at the School of Molecular Sciences, proposing to establish a student organization for science majors or people interested in science who were in online degree programs. They called it the IDEAS (Inclusion Diversity Education and Advocacy in Science) Student Society at ASU.

MORE: ASU provides hands-on laboratory experiences for online students at scale

“I don’t think many people realize how committed the online students are to ASU and how much these students want to be a part of the Sun Devil community,” said Austin, who serves as the IDEAS Student Society’s faculty adviser. “The founding officers and student members really wanted to create a platform where ASU Online STEM students could meaningfully share their student experiences and for their voices to be heard.”

The organization, which began primarily with ASU Online students pursuing degree programs offered by the School of Molecular Sciences and the School of Life Sciences, has now grown to include students from a wide range of disciplines, such as anthropology, astronomical and planetary sciences, physics and neuroscience.

The organization promotes collaboration among group members by meeting regularly online, providing online tutoring and support, and having a strong online presence on a variety of platforms, including Sun Devil Sync, Facebook and Twitter. This allows ASU Online students, who are mostly nontraditional, to help each other, make friends and build community as they achieve their educational goals.

“Signing up for IDEAS was something I did in the whirlwind of starting school again after a quarter century hiatus,” said Vice President of Operations Robert McCollum, who is majoring in biological sciences. “IDEAS completely changed the foundations of college for me. I found people willing to challenge me as they supported me. You can get honest opinions in IDEAS, as well as the pick-me-up of friends sharing burdens themselves. I found a community of people who came from a much broader cross-section of life than I had previously expected.”

The organization has been recognized for its positive impact. It won the 2022 Outstanding Undergraduate Student Organization (Online) Pitchfork Award. Additionally, IDEAS already has outstanding alumni who have been accepted to medical, dental and pharmacy schools, as well as competitive graduate programs.

Notable IDEAS alumni include:

Current IDEAS members include students like Alena Wicker, who has been accepted into medical school at the age of 13, and Kris Ganzel, who received the inaugural Online Undergraduate Research Scholarship from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For its online student members, the IDEAS Student Society is more than just a student organization. It provides ASU Online students from all around the world who share a common interest in science the opportunity to connect with each other, and also serves as proof that creating a meaningful community is not just limited to in-person interactions.

The IDEAS Student Society is currently one of ASU’s largest student organizations, with hundreds of active members, and the online students credit one another for their success in and out of the classroom.

“IDEAS is more than just an online community of peers," said student officer Kristen Krip, who is majoring in biochemistry and serves as the organization’s vice president of communication. "As nontraditional students, we've formed unique bonds in sharing our journeys together. It's more like a big family who celebrate with you on your wins, console you on your losses, and connect you with opportunities where they would see you shine.

"IDEAS embodies 'collaboration, not competition,' and I think that's why it's become home to so many online students.”

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