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Attorney and Impact Award winner gains electrical engineering skills


Portrait of Jonathan Ko sitting in a chair and wearing a tie, smiling.

Attorney Jonathan Ko hopes to make the world better with his new bachelor's degree in electrical engineering either by pursuing a career in the field or sharpening his patent law skills. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ko

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April 28, 2023

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

Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Impact Award winner Jonathan Ko faced a unique challenge as an electrical engineering student — he lives with a disability. He is paralyzed from the neck down and unable to use his hands or feet. He uses a dictation program for typing and operates his computer with a joystick using his mouth.

While working as an attorney, Ko decided to pursue electrical engineering to advance his career in the patent field or pursue engineering outright. He was inspired by both the advances in the field that have made it possible for those with disabilities to live fulfilling lives and a fascination with learning more about computers and how they work.

When figuring out how to follow this dream, Ko discovered ASU Online's electrical engineering program, the only ABET-accredited Bachelor of Science in engineering offered online.

“I remember being excited as I read about ASU’s program online, thinking to myself, ‘Maybe this is an area where I can contribute,’” he says.

After enrolling, Ko got involved in not just his courses, but also the Online Undergraduate Research Scholars (OURS) program and the ASU chapter of the Eta Kappa Nu electrical engineering honor society. He connected with ASU’s Student Accessibility and Inclusive Learning Services and continued practicing law while in school.

During his electrical engineering studies, Ko was surprised by how much humanity understands electricity, from the simplistic to the highly detailed quantum level. He even worked on the Agave supercomputer to learn how quantum modeling worked at a molecular level. 

He names electrical engineering Associate Professor James Aberle as one of his biggest inspirations in the program and academic advisor Allison Walls as one of his most important supporters.

“Dr. Aberle taught me the basics of how computers work and made me believe that I could actually finish this program, and Allison offered encouragement and direction when I was getting lost,” Ko says. 

Associate Professor Jennifer Blain Christen, Assistant Teaching Professor Ahmed Ewaisha and Professor of Practice Olin Hartin, all electrical engineering faculty members, were also instrumental in his growth.

“Professor Ewaisha would host marathon help sessions that would not end until everyone had their questions answered,” Ko recalls. 

After graduation, he hopes to use his new electrical engineering knowledge to fulfill the imperative often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived — that is to have succeeded.”

More practically, he hopes to gain a job that allows him to support the caregivers who assist with his day-to-day needs.

Ko praises ASU’s accommodations for students with disabilities. He says that ASU provided him with the best online learning platform he has used, and he recommends the university to others “without hesitation” — noting a particular experience of meeting another electrical engineering student who also has a disability and wanted to complete their studies. 

He says, “In some ways, I feel my story demonstrates that if I can do it, anyone else can.”

Read about other exceptional graduates of the Fulton Schools’ spring 2023 class here.

Favorites

Podcast: Hidden Brain or Freakonomics.

Book: "The Disappearing Spoon" by Sam Kean or "The Language Instinct" by Steven Pinker.

Movie: "Shawshank Redemption" or "The Martian."

Activity: Daydreaming or designing.

Hobby: Trying to make gaming accessible or trying to cook.

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