ASU grad finds a way to do a little bit of everything while making the world a better place

April 24, 2023

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

According to Lizzie Quigley, sustainability is the perfect field for people who want to do everything. headshot of elizabeth quigley smiling with foliage behind her “If you had asked me as a high school senior what I thought I’d be doing now, I would probably have said something with design, and definitely not anything related to policy or international issues,” Lizzie Quigley said. “A few months ago I was at the U.N. headquarters in New York meeting with world leaders, which just goes to show that a lot of change can happen during your college experience.” Download Full Image

Before starting at Arizona State University, she was interested in exploring a variety of fields — from architecture, design and film to computer science and engineering. She tried a few different majors on for size and eventually settled on business. Its versatility and relevance to a variety of career pathways were appealing, but she still felt something was missing.

A volunteer position with ASU's Changemaker Central as the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals coordinator gave her the opportunity to build friendships with other students who shared her passion for changing the world. The experience led her to realize that sustainability was the field she was looking for, one that gave her the freedom to explore a little bit of everything while actively working to make the world a better place.

“If you had asked me as a high school senior what I thought I’d be doing now, I would probably have said something with design, and definitely not anything related to policy or international issues,” Quigley said. “A few months ago I was at the U.N. headquarters in New York meeting with world leaders, which just goes to show that a lot of change can happen during your college experience.”

Quigley is a student in Barrett, The Honors College graduating in May with dual majors — supply chain management from the W. P. Carey School of Business and sustainability with an emphasis on international development from the School of Sustainability housed within the College of Global Futures. After graduation, she plans to take a year off for reflection and professional development before returning to school to pursue a graduate degree in urban planning and design.

“I am hoping this year will help me determine what I still need to learn and improve upon to ensure that I am dedicating myself to making the greatest impact possible.”

Read on to learn more about Quigley’s experiences at ASU in her own words.

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

Answer: My “aha” moment didn’t occur until halfway through my freshman year, when I held a volunteer student leadership position as the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) coordinator with Changemaker Central. I was tasked with creating programs and campaigns to educate the greater student body about the goals. Through that experience, something clicked for me.

The SDGs are a great framework for understanding that sustainability is much more than recycling and planting trees — rather, it is the complex web of sustaining our ecological, social and economic systems in an equitable and just manner. Ultimately, it meant that sustainability applies to everything, which is exactly what I was looking for. I realized that both my passion for doing good and for doing a little bit of everything could be met through this field, leading me to add sustainability and the international development track as a second major. 

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

A: Something I learned while at ASU is how important learning outside of the classroom is. While classes and grades are important, I would estimate that 80% of what I learned while at ASU was outside of the classroom through leadership opportunities, volunteering, travel and work. Essentially, I felt I was self-directing my education based on the skills and knowledge I needed at the time. Classes are important for being introduced to the basics of new topics, but through my other experiences I gained the actual knowledge and opportunities that have made me who I am today. 

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

A: Professor Iveta Silova, one of my mentors, taught me how important it is to support others and share success. Dr. Silova has always shared the story of how her mentor would share opportunities and support the growth of their students, which inspired Dr. Silova to do the same. As someone who has greatly benefited from this generosity, I now try to do the same for those I work with. Sustainability and change-making are meant to be collaborative and supportive fields, not competitive. From my experience with Professor Silova, I learned so much about the importance of lifting others up whenever possible.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school? 

A: Go beyond your education. Grades are important and don’t miss class, but if you have goals or something you want to accomplish, or if you want to end up doing work you are truly passionate about, you need to pursue opportunities outside of the classroom. Take on leadership roles. Join clubs. Go to events and conferences outside of school with the sole purpose of meeting new people. Learn about what they are doing, and determine how you can do it too. Classes are a great place to get started, but most of the opportunities, relationships and experiences that will benefit you most in life will come from the efforts you take to go off the beaten path and pursue them. 

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

A: This is a really hard question. If I had to choose one thing, it would probably be improving access to quality education that exposes people to new ideas, encourages compassion and empowers people to have the skills, knowledge and resources they need to pursue creating change around the issues they are passionate about. I think if people had access to the resources, skills and information they need to solve the challenges that they face, as well as compassion for others and the environments they live in, many of our planet’s issues would be solved. 

Dana Peters

Communications specialist , College of Global Futures

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