Computer science allows ASU grad to bridge creativity and logic

April 28, 2023

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

Michelle Houchins was inspired to pursue a degree in computer science because of her dad, who has worked with computers all of his life. Michelle Houchins Michelle Houchins is a 2023 Outstanding Graduate in computer science. Download Full Image

“One thing I love about coding is that for any problem, there are an infinite number of solutions,” she says. “It’s the perfect balance of creativity and logic: No one program looks alike, yet code will either work or it will not.”

Houchins pursued her degree in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University and says that being around other women in engineering also inspired her.

“My first year, I attended the Grace Hopper Celebration, the largest conference for women in computing,” Houchins says. “Being among so many brilliant, like-minded women with a passion for computer science and bettering the world helped me know I was on the right path.”

During her time at ASU, Houchins was heavily involved in extracurricular activities. She served as the project lead and K–12 outreach coordinator for Next Level Devils, an aerospace project-based club that participates in NASA design challenges; a member and former director of internal programming for Phi Sigma Rho, a social sorority for women in engineering; a member of Science Detectives, an education science program for elementary school students; and a C2 counselor at E2, where she led and mentored first-year students.

One of her proudest achievements was traveling to Houston with Next Level Devils to participate in NASA’s Micro-g NExT challenge, in which undergraduate students design, build and test a tool to address space exploration challenges.

“NASA requested to display our device, a lunar sample marker for astronauts to deploy during extravehicular activities on the upcoming Artemis missions, in the Artemis exhibit at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center,” she says proudly.

Houchins also served as the project lead on a 10-person team competing in the NASA SUITS Challenge, a Russian tutor for the School of International Letters and Cultures and an Engineering Futures mentor, which she deems her most rewarding experience.

After graduation, Houchins will join Iridium as an engineer in its Orbital Program. In the future, she hopes to become a leader of an organization working to make STEM and technology accessible to girls of all backgrounds.

“Everyone deserves to find and pursue their passion,” she says. “Girls who dream of building rockets, designing airplanes or curing cancer deserve to make those dreams a reality.”

Annelise Krafft

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


First-generation grad catapults from struggling student to ASU Dean’s Medalist

April 28, 2023

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

College can be extremely challenging, even for students in families steeped in higher education. For a family who has never experienced college, even getting their arms around the nomenclature can be a struggle. Portrait of ASU graduate in a maroon blazer ASU School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning Dean's Medalist Marcus Stafford. Download Full Image

“My folks didn’t know what ‘undergrad’ meant,” said Marcus Stafford, “let alone ‘bachelor’s’ or ‘associate’ degrees. It was a learning process for all of us.”

The California native initially went to community college for one year before applying at ASU. Upon acceptance, he continued to knock out his general education requirements before selecting his first of four majors (geographic information science, geography, history and anthropology).

This May, he graduates as the Dean’s Medalist for Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

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

Answer: I grew up in a family that, for many of us, had little means of transportation. Public infrastructure, such as government services, public buses or community centers were lacking. Both with members of my family, and where I grew up.

I grew up in a rural area when I moved to Arizona, and with no car, this severely limited my opportunities for education, work or a social life. My family had difficulties in affording cars and reliable transportation.

In entering SGSUP, I realized that I could turn my attention towards urban planning and GIS-related work that could impact people. I realize the lack of access to public infrastructure can do, and how much it matters in people's lives, as I lived it on my own.

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

A: How many different aspects of thought can be brought into problem-solving. There can be perspectives from people who study business, engineering, statistics, law and history, who all can contribute to a project or idea in unique ways.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of the opportunity that they gave me. My grades in high school were never great, so I was always going to be limited in the colleges who would accept me and give me that opportunity. However, ASU did.

They welcomed me and gave me every opportunity to succeed. All that I had to do was put in the effort, get help when I needed it, and believe in myself. Every bit of help that I gained from ASU went into my success, because there's no way that I could have done it on my own.

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

A: Dr. (Wen-Ching) Chuang from SGSUP made me understand that the process of problem-solving is going to be complicated, messy and difficult. However, the key is persevering through the issues. In my major in GIS, I tackled many projects that were, plainly, frustrating. Data that was difficult to work with or results that were not what I expected. She gave me encouragement, and the advice, and the context of what I was doing, to give me the fortitude to keep moving through any issue that I had.

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

A: Take time for yourself. Eat something, hydrate, go to the gym, have a hobby that is completely outside of school. You need to take care of yourself first before you can take care of and complete your coursework.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: While I was an online student, I was on ASU's campus here and there. My favorite spot is the Nobel Library. It had good vibes. Outside, I would choose the ASU Herb Garden, between the Moeur Building and the Interdisciplinary A building. It's usually quiet over there, and there's lots of tree cover.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be attending graduate school at UCLA in the fall of this year.

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

A: While $40 million couldn't solve a single problem, I do believe that it could be used to help a portion of the planet. I think public infrastructure would be a wise investment, as that is an investment into a community which has long-term impacts long after the project would be completed. One could do a project on water or sewage systems in developing countries.

Stafford and all the Dean’s Medal winners will be formally recognized during The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences convocation. 

Jason D. Farrell

Marketing and communications manager, School of Geographical Sciences & Urban Planning

(602) 799-5759