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Husband-and-wife academics among first to receive Master’s Distinction Medallions

Jodi and Shawn Banzhaf reflect on the importance of this honor


Jodi and Shawn Banzhaf pose for selfie wearing their Master’s Distinction Medallions.

Jodi and Shawn Banzhaf, Master's Distinction Medallion recipients. Photo courtesy Jodi and Shawn Banzhaf

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January 05, 2023

Incepted in fall 2022, Master's Distinguished Medallions at Arizona State University honor students graduating with a cumulative 4.0 GPA. In addition to a ceremonial medallion, the university also recognizes recipients of the honor for graduating with distinction with a notation on their diploma.

The Graduate College at ASU recently sat down with Shawn and Jodi Banzhaf, who are students and employees of the university and were the first to receive the honor. During a conversation with the husband-and-wife duo, they discussed the impact of this achievement and their plans for the future.

Shawn Banzhaf, executive director for ASU's Pat Tillman Veterans Center

Question: Introduce yourself; where are you from? 

A: I'm Shawn Banzhaf. I grew up in Nebraska and moved to Arizona in 2014. I’m a husband, dad to two and a grandpa to almost six children! I’m a retired combat veteran who served 21 years in the Army National Guard, and I’m a former police sergeant and former pastor.

Q: Please tell us about your professional and academic background.

A: I received my undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies at Chadron State College.

Q: What’s something you learned during your professional or academic journey that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: One thing that surprised me during my professional and academic career is that people are hurting on several levels, and everyone wants to belong and feel loved. If you take the smallest amount of time, you can make a world of difference in a person's life.

Q: What types of problems do you work on? Why do you think they are important?

A: The problems I work on surround human success, which means finding ways to help people see the best in themselves and forge a path to prosperity. At times, this might look like career aspirations, educational aspirations or learning resilience in the face of hardship. I am  passionate about fighting against "the negativity bias" we all face.

Q: How did you become involved in this type of work? What inspired you?

A: The negativity bias is something we are born with, and society bolsters it with many things: bad news, division, systemic racism, sexism and the like. It can become difficult to simply exist in a world like that, and someone has to do something about it; I have chosen this as my life's work.

Q: What are some of the approaches and methods you use in your work?

A: Some methods I use in my work can be found in my book, “The 5 Ls.” It is about practical, trauma-informed care; if people choose to live this way, we could help one another through life.

Q: What organizations or individuals outside of ASU do you interact or network with?

A: I work with several organizations outside ASU; the most recent is the Tempe Police Department. For the past several months, I have been training all of their officers on my "5 Ls" framework. I am excited to see how this training positively affects their lives and work.

Q: What special skills, if any, do you need in this work?

A: Skills needed for this type of work are remembering the fragility and beauty of human life sprinkled with a good dose of empathy and compassion. Learn to listen with all of your senses and consciously choose to love.

Q: How have you interacted with the Graduate College? Is there an event, initiative or funding opportunity you’re excited about?

A: Most of my interaction with Graduate College has been through my professors and advisors. I know they are there for me when I need them and are willing to help people achieve their dreams, which means a great deal to me.

Q: What advice do you have for those who are interested in graduate school or pursuing a PhD?

A: My advice would be to think about your masters or PhD, and that you should do it, because you are worth it! The people around you are worth it as well.

Q: What are some of your long-term professional goals?

A: I am looking forward to doing the best I can in my new role. I started my dream job two weeks ago and can't wait for what the future holds!

Q: Congratulations on receiving your Master's with Distinction Medallion! Please tell us what this honor means to you.

A: I wish I could explain what this means to me. It is difficult to put it into words. I am a first-generation graduate who didn't do well in high school or even my early undergrad work. I always felt like it was in me to do well academically but couldn't find the right combination of time and passion for a subject matter — until I found the master's of sociology degree path. It was a wonderful match with what I do professionally, and I was lucky to go through the program with my wife. We got to experience it all together. For both of us to receive the medallions and for our kids and grandkids to see us walk the stage is a dream come true.

Read more: New Pat Tillman Veterans Center executive director named

Jodi Banzhaf, senior academic success advising coordinator, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Question: Introduce yourself; where are you from? 

Answer: Hello, my name is Jodi Banzhaf. I was raised in the beautiful foothills of the Black Hills in southwestern South Dakota. I moved to northwestern Nebraska for college, where I met my now-husband, Shawn. We stayed in that small town of Chadron, Nebraska, and raised two amazing children.

Q: Please tell us about your professional and academic background.

A: I attended Chadron State College (CSC) and received a BA in literature and a minor in journalism. I also worked at CSC in the online academic advising space.

Q: What’s something you learned during your professional or academic journey that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: The writing skills I gained in my literature and journalism programs have provided me the skill of communication with the online student population, which carried over to my continued work in this space at ASU. I was surprised how easily adaptable my liberal arts education and training in certain writing areas turned out to be. The intersection of literature in my sociology program has been fascinating as well. As I read the writing of sociologists, I can see works of literature weaving through the theories. That has been a fun surprise!

Q: How did you become involved in this type of work? What inspired you?

A: I work in the area of student success and finding solutions to help graduate students overcome barriers from completing their education. The human-centered approach of our academic unit (Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College) to find innovative solutions allows me to ask questions about how to best support our students. That is important because every person’s situation is unique. Although experiences are often driven by collective, systematic and societal issues, how an issue impacts a person is their story that deserves an individual response.

I became involved in this work through a part-time position in online student services as an undergraduate student at Chadron State College. I continued the work, because it was familiar, when we moved to Arizona in 2014. I have stayed because of the culture of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College (MLFTC) and the impact we are able to have for people through our work. The students’ stories and perseverance in life and school inspire me almost daily.

Q: What organizations or individuals outside of ASU do you interact or network with?

A: The quantitative approach to research has allowed me to see stories within the systems we operate in. This approach has helped develop my professional work with graduate students in MLFTC. I am also working on a project with Dr. Renee Bhatti-Klug and Culturally Intelligent Training & Consulting (CITC) to find published research on the interaction of societal constructs (race, gender, ability, class) and how those things impact our personality development. Since there is a small amount of published work intersecting these two topics, yet there is evidence available through practice in these spaces, the next step involves gathering evidence from the completed work. Additionally, we can look at possible surveys or case studies completed through CITC to build out the published research.

Q: What special skills, if any, do you need in this work?

A: A people-centered approach in problem-solving and a desire to help remove barriers that keep people from pursuing an education; also, communication that is open, welcoming and caring.

Q: How have you interacted with the Graduate College? Is there an event, initiative or funding opportunity you’re excited about?

A: I work with Graduate College regularly in my position with MLFTC and appreciate their team greatly!

Q: What advice do you have for those who are interested in grad school or pursuing a PhD or postdoc?

A: I took three years to complete this program because that schedule fit my life. The program was flexible enough to allow that. My advice would be to talk to your academic advisor to formulate the best plan they can create for you that works for your life within the parameters of what Graduate College and your unit is able to do for you. If you know the program is the right fit for you but perhaps need to pace it differently or even take a break, you may not need to quit but instead find a solution to altering your program of study. The teams at ASU are so willing to work to find a solution.

Q: What are some of your long-term professional goals?

A: I started a position leading a team, and I love that. I will continue in positions where I can help build and lead people and work in collaboration with those who strive to help and support others.

Q: Congratulations on receiving your Master's with Distinction Medallion! Please tell us what this honor means to you.

A: There has not been a semester in the past eight years that I have worked with master’s degree students in MLFTC where the question about honors has not come up. I am thrilled from that perspective to be able to now respond about graduation with distinction. From a personal achievement, it means a great deal. The last few years have been hard, as we all know. As my program was culminating this summer, I was away from home, caring for my dad, who lost his five-year battle with cancer in October. The support of the faculty during that time was exceptional and appreciated, and I am so grateful to have earned this medallion. 

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