Lincoln Scholar spotlight: Combining the teachings of the humanities with the disciplines of science

November 17, 2022

Sciences and the humanities are often portrayed as at odds with one another, but for Arizona State University freshman Sophia Page, they are necessarily intertwined.

Page is one of the latest students to join the Lincoln Scholars program, which brings together a diverse group of students with varying beliefs, cultures and values who share a commitment to understanding and improving the communities to which they belong. Portrait of ASU student Sophia Page. "The worst science exists in (a) vacuum," says Sophia Page, an ASU freshman majoring in applied biological sciences and a Lincoln Scholar. Photo courtesy Sophia Page Download Full Image

Here, she answers some questions about why she applied to the program, what she's looking forward to as a student at ASU and why the sciences and humanities need each other.

Question: You describe your life in terms of three words: Spanish, math and horticulture. Why did you pick those?

Answer: They are three interconnected and very big components of my life. I think Spanish is actually probably the biggest one, and it has been for the longest time. My parents put me in a dual language program from the time I was 4, and I would not be the same person today without that experience. I definitely wouldn't have as much compassion and empathy. I've had people tell me that I have a lot of empathy. It's a strange combination, because I'm a very straightforward person, but also very empathetic.

Math, the second noun, is also a very big component of my life. I have always been advanced in my math classes; the first time a teacher gave me an extra math worksheet was when I was in sixth grade. I was a student at Osborn Middle School. It was a Title 1 school, but they had an incredible math program. However, in high school, there was a very specific track for everybody, and that worked great for every other subject except for math, because a lot of people came in with different abilities. I was one of those students ahead in math, but I ended up stuck in an algebra class. I just kept pressing forward, and eventually I helped my school create a math track for the advanced students.

By the time the pandemic began in 2020, I was taking AP Calculus AB and had to finish the class online, and that experience showed me that math wasn't as important to me as I thought. I had spent so long thinking math was what I wanted to do with my life, but the pandemic turned it upside down and changed my entire career and education trajectory. After that, I didn't know what I wanted to do for a solid year and a half. 

I eventually found horticulture as a way to help myself help others. I wanted to be more self-sufficient, and over the pandemic, I realized how fragile and exploitative the food supply chain is. I found along that way that horticulture is also a great stress reliever, and it's something that truly makes me happy. Although I lost my passion for math during the pandemic, it definitely changed my life for the better.

Q: You also talked a bit in your application about developing a passion for immigration rights. Can you explain that? 

A: Yes, I’ve had a huge passion for immigration rights for a long time. It began when I was learning Spanish, and I grew up in schools that had a predominant Hispanic population. So I grew up around a lot of people who, if they weren't immigrants themselves, had family members who were. So many of them had relatives who had been deported and parents who were scared of being deported.

That was part of the reason why I wanted to join an immigration rights organization. It let me connect to a group that felt like home because I was surrounded by the Latino and Hispanic immigrant communities for my entire childhood.

Q: Can you share a bit about how you came to find the Lincoln Scholars program and why you wanted to join? 

A: I found it on the ASU scholarship portal. I applied to so many scholarships in my senior year of high school because I wanted to graduate without student debt. When I heard back from the Lincoln Scholars program, I remembered applying to it very distinctly, unlike some of the other scholarships I applied to. One of the things that really got me to apply to it, and to take an interest in it, was the course about applied ethics. I felt that was something that I would genuinely be interested in.

Q: How have the first few weeks of the semester been, now that you've been in the class?

A: I've loved it. I’m majoring in applied biological sciences, but most of my classes this semester are humanities. I'm taking a lot of discussion-based classes, and it's getting me to think more about how I treat technology and how I consider my place within a very technological world.

Q: Do you think that as a student of science your studies benefit from some aspects of the humanities as well?

A: Absolutely. I think that the worst science exists in (a) vacuum. When it does, you get science that just seeks to find out what we can do, and not what we should do. That is how we got a lot of the dangerous technologies that we have today. I’d like to say that I'm a well-rounded student, and learning from the humanities is going to make me a better scientist.

Q: As a freshman, what are you looking forward to most, or what do you hope to achieve in the coming years at ASU?

A: As much as I love plants, I’m not entirely sure as to what I want to do with my career, and my hope is that through ASU and a variety of classes and extracurricular experiences, I'll be able to narrow my focus down and find out what I like and what makes me happiest about the field that I chose.

A lot of people waste time in their lives doing things that they don't really want to do. I really liked math, but it wasn't for me. I am very lucky to have figured out something that makes me so happy. The world would be better if everybody felt like they were able to find their passion.

Karina Fitzgerald

Communications program coordinator , Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics


Veteran local government administrator to mentor ASU students as Harrell-Hutchinson Visiting Urban Management Professional

Robert O’Neill Jr. is former executive director of association of managers; was longtime city, county executive in Virginia

November 17, 2022

Arizona State University students planning for careers running cities, towns or counties will be able to spend a year learning how it’s done from a veteran local government executive starting in January.

Robert J. O’Neill Jr., former executive director of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), will share his many years of experience in those roles with public affairs students in 2023 as the first Harrell-Hutchinson Visiting Urban Management Professional. Portrait of 2023 Harrell-Hutchinson Visiting Professional of Urban Management, Robert O'Neill. Robert J. O'Neill Jr., former executive director of the International City/County Management Association, will share his many years of experience in those roles with ASU public affairs students in 2023 as the first Harrell-Hutchinson Visiting Urban Management Professional. Photo courtesy Robert J. O'Neill Jr. Download Full Image

O’Neill’s position is named for two former Arizona city managers, Lloyd Harrell of Chandler and Mike Hutchinson of Mesa. O’Neill begins his time mentoring ASU students Jan. 1 in a position that will involve in-person visits, Zoom lectures, speeches, discussions and consultations, said Shannon Portillo, professor and director of the School of Public Affairs. The school is based in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Portillo said she is particularly happy that O’Neill will be mentoring ASU students, as she has known him since she was in graduate school at the University of Kansas, when they co-wrote one of her first publications.

“In addition to his long list of career accomplishments, Bob has a long history of serving as a mentor to new professionals in local government,” said Portillo, herself a former county commissioner in Kansas who began her position at ASU in October. “We are excited for our students and community to connect with him over the next year.”

O’Neill was ICMA executive director from 2002 to 2016. More recently, he served as executive-in-residence and fellow for the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Center for Livable Communities at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. He also served as president of the National Academy of Public Administration and held city and county manager positions in Virginia in the 1980s and 1990s before taking a four-month temporary assignment as counselor to the director of the federal Office of Management and Budget in 2001.

'Local government is where policy meets the people'

O’Neill mentioned three things he plans to do when working with ASU students in the coming year.

First, he wants to encourage students to fortify their commitment to public service, because that commitment will be important in managing local government in the near future more than at any time in the nation’s history.

“The reality of it is that local government is where policy meets the people. So that’s what makes it so important. You can have big, broad philosophical conversations about national policy, but at the end of the day, it’s what happens in your own local community that impacts you the most.”

At the federal and state levels, “it’s the policy or the legislation that is the product,” O’Neill said, but in local government, it’s how policy affects each person, family, neighborhood and community.

Second, O’Neill said he wants to encourage students “to be the kind of change agents in their communities to make them better places to live for everyone.” And last, he said, “I want to help them as they make their career choices going forward. Sometimes it’s hard to navigate those choices.”

O’Neill’s year as a visiting professional is supported by a gift from Harrell, who served six years as Chandler city manager after holding similar positions in Texas and Missouri communities, his wife, Nancy, and Hutchinson, who served five years as Mesa city manager, concluding a 28-year career with the city. Harrell served as a School of Public Affairs faculty associate for more than a decade; Hutchinson is executive vice president of East Valley Partnership.

Role model, mentor, 'a great year of learning'

Harrell said he is excited and proud that O’Neill agreed to be the first visiting professional.

“He has had an extraordinary public management career, capped off by leading the premier city-county management professional organization in the country,” Harrell said. “He undoubtedly will be a distinguished role model and mentor for the ASU students.”

Hutchinson agreed, saying O’Neill’s presence will mean a great year of learning for students.

“We are indeed fortunate to have someone of Bob O’Neill’s stature as our initial visiting professional,” Hutchinson said. “Bob has had a stellar career as a practitioner and teacher and will bring a wealth of practical experience and advice to his lectures.”

O’Neill’s Master of Public Administration degree is from Syracuse University in New York. His Bachelor of Arts degree in political science is from Old Dominion University in Virginia. Old Dominion also conferred upon him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Lastly, he is a graduate of the Executive Program from the University of Virginia’s Colgate Darden Graduate School of Business.

O’Neill said he intends to share two thoughts with students that he wished were shared with him at the start of his career:

  • Don’t ever think you can’t make a difference. When O’Neill was starting out in local government, the expectation was that you “kept your head down, your mouth shut and you learned something.” Today, students going into the field are much better prepared to get more involved, he said.
  • Don’t think of your career linearly; a straight line from department head to assistant city manager to city manager, for example. “There are lots of ways to serve the public, and you have to think more broadly where those contributions can be. Housing, social services, financial management — there are different directions that can lead someone to the top position," he said.
Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions