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From ASU to Air Force

Meet Mayumi Webb: Dean's Medalist for aerospace studies

Graduating student poses for photo

Mayumi Webb graduated in fall 2022 from Arizona State University.

December 21, 2022

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

Mayumi Webb grew up in a military family and spent a lot of her time outside of the United States. In fact, she calls Okinawa, Japan, her hometown.

However, when it came time for her parents to retire from the United States Air Force, they chose to settle in Arizona. When Webb was on the college search, looking at Arizona State University became a strategic decision. It was close to family, but she could still have independence and she wanted as little debt as possible. But the price or location wasn't what made up her mind. 

“I started looking into ASU and my initial interactions were with the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, since my mother was going to transfer some of her education benefits from the military to me,” Webb said. “These interactions were all pleasant, inviting and extremely helpful, and that’s what ultimately sealed the deal for me.” 

Four years later, Webb graduated this fall with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medal for aerospace studies, an award given to its highest-achieving students. As a student, Webb was part of the Air Force ROTC Detachment 025 and majored in computer science. 

Webb says that she found something at ASU that she didn't know she was looking for in a college — the comfort found in being surrounded by a strong veteran community.

“The greatest thing about (ASU) is its veteran community,” she said.

As an ASU and Air Force ROTC graduate, Webb will commission into the United States Air Force as a second lieutenant in the cyberspace operations field. She hopes to see more of the world and visit Italy, New Zealand, Greece and South Africa.

Here are her closing thoughts about the ROTC experience, lessons learned and hopes she has for the future.

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

Answer: In high school, I participated in the Air and Space Force Association’s organization called Cyberpatriot, an education program that encourages middle and high school students to pursue careers in STEM fields. They also host national cyber defense competitions for students whose objectives focus around securing virtual networks. That’s where my interest in cybersecurity grew, and in my senior year, I decided I wanted to pursue that interest in the United States Air Force. I applied for, and was ultimately awarded, an Air Force ROTC scholarship, which is how I ended up in the Air Force ROTC program.

Q: Looking back at your experience at ASU, who would you like to thank?

A: First and foremost my parents. They really have been the biggest supporters in my journey. Particularly them coming from an Air Force background on the enlisted perspective and me in the officer training program, having their perspective on leadership has really helped me grow into my own. Then I would like to thank my friends and family who have supported me throughout this journey as well.

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

A: It’s standard procedure for each grade-level instructor in the Air Force ROTC detachment to meet with their cadets once a semester for a midterm feedback session. In my spring semester of my freshman year, I was struggling to stay motivated, but I didn’t think anyone really noticed until my instructor had pointed it out in the midterm session. But he didn’t just send me on my way with a “you got this champ” platitude. He asked me questions to understand where my head was at and proceeded to provide me with guidance that would go on to help me improve in my performance and interactions with my peers in the program.

What I gained from that meeting was that a part of leadership is meeting people where they are so that you can help them get to where they want to go. If they don’t know what that is yet, that’s okay too. The important thing is to balance the discipline with empathy. If they know that they’re genuinely valued, they’ll express that appreciation into the mission.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: School, whether in the traditional sense or otherwise, will never really end, as long as I want to continue advancing in my career. I’m part of two professional development and service organizations as a national advisory consultant called Arnold Air Society and Silver Wings. Recently, I traveled to a conference hosted by one of organizations’ chapters at the University of Las Vegas. During the conference, there was a guest speaker panel and one of the guest speakers said something along the lines of, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you probably need to find a different room.” He was speaking to the idea that we are all lifelong learners, and it doesn’t stop at any level — to be proud of the accomplishments you make and the strides in your development but be humble enough to know that there is always room for more learning.

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

A: I believe when people’s basic needs — food, water, shelter, clothing, safety — are met, they’ll be more likely and able to develop into their own interests and skill sets that would be beneficial to their communities. In short, I would use the $40 million to build quality shelter hubs that would provide this assistance to anyone who finds themselves falling on hard times and needs some support to get back on their feet. In addition to the basic needs, these hubs would offer connections to various organizations and professionals for education and career opportunities and counseling and legal services. For the most part, when people feel invested in, they’ll feel empowered to pursue their ambitions, and those ambitions could ultimately lead to contributions to the various world problems facing us today and in the future.

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

A: Approach school with a growth mindset. It’s okay to not understand concepts immediately or to fail a quiz or struggle with an assignment where it may appear others are getting it easily. As long as you look at where you need to improve and strive to correct those shortcomings, that’s what learning is really all about. And you don’t have to be alone in your school journey — take advantage of the help being offered by other peers, TAs, tutors and professors. It’s probably cliché to say what got you to this next level in your education won’t get you to where you want to go, but it’s true. Be willing to adjust your learning habits and explore what will work best for you.

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