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ASU philosophy graduate awarded Dean’s Medal: 'It’s never too late to start learning'

Anna Gutmann is photographer wearing a mutli-colored knitted hat next to her big golden-colored dog.

Anna Gutmann

April 24, 2023

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

Anna Gutmann moved around a lot as a child, but now calls Chardon, Ohio, home. While earning her bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Akron, she took three introductory philosophy courses as electives and knew that she would return to school one day to get a degree in philosophy.

“As a person who loves solving puzzles, I knew the thought experiments and debates that philosophy opened my mind to was right up my alley,” Gutmann said.

She enrolled as an online student at Arizona State University and is graduating this spring with her bachelor’s degree in philosophy with a concentration in morality, politics and law from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

Not only is she graduating with the degree she said she would come back for, but the school’s award committee unanimously awarded her the Dean’s Medal. 

“One faculty member reports that the quality of (her) assignments this semester (have) been ‘unparalleled’; and that they consistently rise to the level of graduate-level scholarship,” said Ben Phillips, assistant professor of philosophy and the awards committee chair. “Multiple faculty members also expressed the view that (she) is very conscientious, and that she strives to make a positive difference in the world. This is reflected in her resume, which details her work at a youth shelter and her work as an emergency foster parent.”

Aside from her studies, Gutmann holds a certification in trauma-informed caregiving and is trained in Trust Based Relational Intervention.

“Receiving the Dean’s Medal is a huge honor that I did not anticipate,” Gutmann said. “I feel very humbled and am so grateful for the support of my professors. More than anything, receiving the Dean’s Medal solidifies that it’s never too late to start learning and that the pursuit of knowledge is never a waste of time.”

We caught up with Gutmann to ask her about her time at ASU, her future plans and her advice to current students. 

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

Answer: In my first semester, I took Jacob Affolter’s PHI 336 course on Social and Political Philosophy. Despite my love of ethics and prior experience in sociology, I have never been a fan of political theories. However, Professor Affolter opened my mind to the intricacies of each political theory from the ground up. To this day, what I learned in that class forever altered the way I approach debates on politics and how I consider and understand the argument from all angles.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: While I applied to many online colleges, I felt ASU stood out because of the care the university took to stay in contact with me and help answer my questions. The variety of major-specific courses offered in this format were much greater than any other program I applied to. In fact, I wish my time at ASU hadn’t ended so quickly, because there are still about five more courses I would’ve taken just for the sake of knowledge.

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

A: This is such a hard question. All my professors taught me such great things that I feel it’s almost a disservice not to mention them all. But if I’m forced I’d pick, I would select assistant teaching Professor Thad Botham, who taught PHI 300: Philosophical Argument and Exposition. While the original intro to logic course I took at University of Akron taught me basic argumentative structure in equation format, Botham took that knowledge to a whole new level and applied it to actual philosophical writing techniques. Without his teachings on logic and argumentative structure, I don’t think I’d have been successful in any class that followed. My takeaway from him was that formal logic is essential to any philosophical pursuit. Additionally, I learned patience and dedication is key when doing philosophy or teaching others to do philosophy.

Post-graduation, Botham also gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever heard for applying to PhD programs in pursuit of a career in academia, but you’d have to ask him for his secret, because I don’t want to give it away without his permission.

I also have to give a special thank you to associate teaching Professor Sandra Woien, who taught me to have more faith in my writing skills. She also gave me the encouragement and advice I needed to start applying for graduate programs.

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

A: For those still in school in general: Don’t give up, and don’t stop. For those still in school studying philosophy: Don’t give up, and don’t stop writing.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: My favorite spot for power studying is on the couch next to my bookcase full of textbooks, so I have easy access to learning material on one side and a dog or cat curled up with me on the other.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am currently working on compiling materials to apply to graduate programs for philosophy, where I hope to focus on logic and ethics.

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

A: This is also a very hard question. I might need a couple days — or centuries — to sit on this one before giving you a response because there are so many problems, and so many different opinions on what the solution for each might be — ranging from, “where do all the lost socks from the laundry machine go” all the way to “how do I incite world peace?”

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