Uber driver on path to creating community impact

Darrell Hill earns BA in organizational leadership through ASU Online

April 24, 2023

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

Twenty years after he last attended school, Darrell Hill can now say he has his degree. This spring, the new graduate earned his Bachelor of Arts in organizational leadership through ASU Online ASU Online student Darrell Hill Darrell Hill found his way back to school after a 20-year absence thanks to the Uber Education Partnership, a tuition-coverage program for qualifying Uber drivers and eligible family members to earn an undergraduate degree through ASU Online. As for his plans after graduation, he has applied to Teach for America because he'd like to help youth in inner cities, and he's also considering a master's degree in organizational leadership. Download Full Image

Hill’s high school years were filled with sports — track, football and wrestling. He accepted a full-ride scholarship to play football at a state university, but circumstances forced him to relocate to Los Angeles before he could complete his degree. For a while, it was enough. Hill worked as a legal records coordinator in Hollywood, then as a manager in the home improvement industry. In 2021, he was employed as a security officer at the Getty Museum while driving part-time for Uber. 

That’s when he discovered Uber Education Partnership, a tuition-coverage program for qualifying Uber drivers and eligible family members to earn an undergraduate degree through ASU Online. 

“I took a leap of faith and resigned from the security position and started driving full-time for Uber,” Hill said. “Soon after I applied and got accepted into the organizational leadership program. I chose this program because I wanted to learn about diversity in the workplace and how I could become a transformational leader.”

Now Hill would like to pay it forward and use his new degree to make a difference in his community while also setting his sights on a master’s degree. 

“I’d really like to help the youth in inner cities, so I applied to Teach for America,” he said. “It’s a great program because they provide funding for teachers who want to pursue their master’s degree. No word yet, but the career counselors at ASU have given me plenty of information on the organizational leadership master’s program. I’m optimistic that it will happen.” 

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

Answer: My aha moment came in 2020 when the looting and rioting in Los Angeles was happening everywhere because of the George Floyd incident. I wanted to find a way to build bridges among people because I was disappointed with the way the country was going.  

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

A: I was surprised by how transparent and authentic my classmates and professors were. I was not expecting them to be as helpful and supportive when I experienced difficulty with an assignment. 

For instance, my classmates would help out with questions, like which format style would work best for writing essays. Another time I mistakenly submitted an assignment late because I forgot that we were in a different time zone. My professor understood that it was an honest mistake. 

Where I gained the most support from the professors is when the instructions for an assignment didn’t resonate with me — especially since all their styles were different — and they would make it easier for me to comprehend. They understood that I had been out of school for over 20 years and I was in the process of trying to adapt to the system all over again.

Q: Why did you choose ASU Online?

A: I chose ASU because of its reputation for helping the underprivileged in the community. They have a proven track record of providing a welcoming environment for domestic and international students and faculty.

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

A: In OGL 340: The Aikido Way, the most important lesson that I learned was how to manage conflict professionally. Professor Bill Erwin introduced me to “the way of harmonizing energy,” which is a technique that utilizes four principles: centering, welcome, blending and directing.  

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

A: Always read your course syllabuses thoroughly, check your Canvas calendars daily and always stay connected with your classmates and professors.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I would like to take a trip to Hawaii for a few days to relax and relish this major accomplishment. My fiancee and I went to Maui five years ago for a vacation and really enjoyed the culture, food and tranquility. This is when we were still dating, and I had not popped the question just yet! This time around I would like to explore the island more and its history. I think it's important to get to know the locals so that visitors like us can get a feel of what life is really like for the people who call Hawaii home.  

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

A: I have always dreamed of having a nonprofit organization that provided shoes and socks for children all over the world. There is no greater feeling than to experience happy feet!

Written by Margot LaNoue for ASU Online.

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