ASU Uber Scholar, graduate shares journey from working in Disney park to political science

April 24, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Julien Goodman, after years of pursuing a variety of different degrees and careers, has finally found what he is passionate about and in doing so, has discovered the importance of passion in academia.  Julien Goodman Download Full Image

Goodman is an Uber Scholar who will graduate Arizona State University this May with a degree in political science from the School of Politics and Global Studies. 

Growing up in Winter Park, Florida, Goodman received his GED in 2008. He went directly into a communications and public relations degree at Indiana Institute of Technology in Fort Wayne, but after a year he had to leave due to the cost of tuition. 

He then went to Seminole State Community College in Lake Mary, Florida, where he interned at Walt Disney World for 10 months before transferring to the University of Montana - Missoula to pursue a degree in linguistic anthropology. Again, Goodman had to leave due to the cost of tuition. 

He then decided to take a break from school and worked for Disney for nearly a decade before getting laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

By the end of 2020, he was a delivery driver for Uber Eats, and after completing 1,000 deliveries, Uber covered his tuition to attend ASU Online. 

Goodman is a member of the Online Undergraduate Research Scholars program, which he referred to as an “eye-opening” experience due to his appreciation for the methodologies and procedures in advanced academic research. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study political science?

Answer: When I was working at Disney World, I was introduced to the television series "The West Wing," and that's when I had my "aha!" moment. The president's former press secretary and current chief of staff was a character named C.J. Cregg. I was impressed by her keen intellect and sharp reasoning, as well as her inherent capacity to make others laugh. She was articulate, witty, good-natured and competitive, but she also asserted her opinion and occupied space when it wasn't advantageous to do so. To a large extent, my political beliefs and worldview are based on the ideals of that fictional character.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I learned that academia is fun when you study something that ignites your passions. If it doesn’t set your soul ablaze, then you have the wrong major!  

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to students?

A: Instead of giving the impression of being something, just become it. If you want to be the greatest, you must earn that distinction. If you want intelligence, you must put forth effort and study. Sure, it's easier to fake it, learn big words and memorize buzz phrases that make you seem knowledgeable; however, if you ever have to demonstrate what you're made of, you'll wish you took the time.  

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: As an online student, my favorite place to study was in my apartment early in the morning before dawn broke. Getting up before the sun made me feel like I had a leg up on the day and gave me the edge I needed to do my schoolwork even when I was tired.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm applying to Princeton University this fall. If they will have me, I hope to enroll in a master's of public administration or master's of public policy/juris doctor program. If I have a choice, I'd like to get that JD from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

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

A: Every year, many foster children reach the age of adulthood and are thrown into society without a feeling of belonging or protection. One of two things will happen: They sink, or they swim. I would want to create a program that provides these 18-year-olds with the structure, direction and support they need to grow and thrive into well-adjusted citizens but also gives them the tools they need to compete with others who have had less traumatic pasts. A traumatic history need not result in despair and poverty.

Grace Peserik

Communications Assistant, School of Politics and Global Studies

ASU graduate aims to demystify AI through children's book

April 24, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

How do we understand the story of artificial intelligence? Student Kacy Hatfield Kacy Hatfield Download Full Image

Kacy Hatfield is a student in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts who aims to make the story of AI accessible to all – and is doing so by writing a children’s book. Kacy is graduating this May with a degree in digital culture, and is an undergraduate researcher for the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics.

After graduation, she will pursue a master's degree and has been invited to participate in the Machine Intelligence Group at Draper Labs

She shared more about her college journey below. 

Question: Tell us a bit about your experience at ASU and how you came to study digital culture.

Answer: I actually came to ASU as a biochemistry major; I love chemistry and math, but the career path wasn't exactly what I wanted. I then explored career and creative job opportunities where I found digital culture and in just three days I was hooked and made the switch. And there is still so much of what I love in studying AI, and I get to integrate my love for chemistry and math into that. 

I actually hadn't even heard of machine learning until spring 2021, and after my professor introduced it to us, I asked her for book recommendations. From then on, I was obsessed with AI.

Q: What inspired you to pursue undergraduate research? 

A: Well, I actually did my honors thesis shortly after I learned about AI and machine learning. I decided that I wanted to pursue it, even though I really didn’t know much about the subject, and I pitched it to several professors I wanted to work with, who all were very supportive. I defended my thesis almost exactly a year after I had first learned about machine learning, and I just had such an amazing time working on my thesis that I wanted to continue doing research. 

I then found the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, which had an undergraduate research opportunity on responsible AI. I met with Research Program Manager Erica O’Neil over Zoom, and I thought it would be the perfect continuation of my work. It’s amazing to keep doing research on this, not just to learn but to ultimately come away with more questions. 

Q: You're working on a really fascinating project, in which you’re developing a children’s book on AI. Can you share more on this project? 

A: The premise is an illustrated children’s book that tells the story of an algorithm named Pip — like the command in Python Programming Language — and Pip has to classify seashells on the beach. How Pip classifies them starts out in very simple terms, and as waves wash up on the shore, more advanced terminology is revealed. There’s also a character named Epoch — another term in Python — as well as a character that represents the human in the loop. All of them are placed very strategically to represent what would take place if a machine learning algorithm were to be integrated in this area. 

Image of a book cover for Your Pal, PipThe goal is to help people feel less scared about machine learning. I often see AI described as a black box; something that that people can't see into, and can't understand. But I think the test of a good machine learning algorithm – and a good programmer — is to translate that black box into something that is easily understood.

Part of the reason I love machine learning is because even if I dedicate my entire life to studying AI, I will never have a fully comprehensive grasp of it, because it's just always expanding and advancing so fast. I think that's key in why people feel uncertainty about machine learning, especially when the Hollywood narrative of AI is the humanoid robot that is going to take over. The thing is, these technologies are amoral, not immoral. 

My goal as a researcher is to start mitigating skepticism around the subject of machine learning through this book. And this starts with younger people, but the book is also meant to be used by people of all ages. 

Q: How has your time in the responsible AI research group related back to your work? 

A: I love being in this research group. It's actually my second semester; last semester I did a project on the risks and mitigations of AI-powered autonomous spacecraft, which is another one of my interests. It’s so awesome to be part of a group of people that have such different backgrounds and different approaches to AI. There are so many interdisciplinary perspectives and topics brought up in discussion. 

I think that in terms of responsible AI – and a lot of people may disagree with me on this – it is integral for a programmer to also be able to see the ethical implications of whatever they're employing into the world. There’s often the argument that we should wait five years before evaluating those possible impacts; when I am working on programming, I'm immediately thinking about how it may affect the real world and be used. 

Machine learning is like a mirror - it's going to reflect whatever we give it, and humans are not perfect. This is why I think the conversations on ethics have to go hand in hand with the research itself, and it's really interesting to see how it comes about on all different fronts.

Q: What comes next for you in your career and future?

A: That’s the age-old question, isn’t it? I always have a list of problems that I can research! This may be a nerdy confession, but I love doing research even in my free time. I hope to direct that energy into the pursuit of a master's degree and possibly even a PhD. I have also been invited to join the Machine Intelligence Group at Draper Labs in summer 2023 as an undergraduate engineer, which is a very exciting opportunity. 

The amazing thing about this field is it's always changing, and in some regard, I will always feel like a student. And because the study of AI is so new, I feel like taking the ethical and programming approach at the same time would be a lot easier to integrate than something that's already established. I hope to keep these skills as best practices in the future. 

There is a lot of skepticism around AI and machine learning, and often I hear people say that it’s too complicated or complex. Everybody has the capability to understand AI, and it's not as scary as it seems. Even though it's been tremendously skewed for entertainment, which makes it easier to vilify, there are so many benefits to using machine learning, and we can employ it in the right ways to augment our human experience and not hinder it.

Karina Fitzgerald

Communications program coordinator , Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics