ASU graduate explores friendship breakups


May 1, 2023

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

What happens when you’re not best friends forever? Why does losing friends hurt so bad? Those are the questions that Brianna Avalos wanted answers to. Photo of Brianna Avalos Brianna Avalos Download Full Image

While pursuing her PhD at Arizona State University, she focused her dissertation research on the way humans initiate, manage and terminate friendships, and discovered multiple reasons why friendship breakups are so stressful.

In part, friendship dynamics have to do with why two people became friends in the first place. But it also depends on how flexible or fragile a certain friendship may be. 

“Think of friends that you don’t see for a while and once you’re together, it’s like no time has passed. That's because it's flexible,” she said. “But if you stop investing at all in that friendship, it will soon deteriorate.”

Before attending ASU, Avalos graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in communication. This spring, Avalos will earn her PhD from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

Avalos has a passion for teaching others about interpersonal communication. This past semester, she taught at Mesa Community College as well as four classes on happiness at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. After graduating, Avalos hopes to continue teaching students interested in interpersonal communication.

As a community college baby, I know the importance of support and understanding in those early years of undergraduate education,” she said. “I’m excited to continue my journey there from the other side of the classroom.”

Question: What do you hope to accomplish in 10 years?

Answer: In the next 10 years, I hope to have an administrative position at a community college. I want to be the department chair but still teach interpersonal courses. I also hope to accomplish writing a book directed towards emerging adults and how we manage our relationships in life. I believe that interpersonal communication skills are not just set for the classroom and should be shared on platforms available to all. 

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

A: I was so surprised to learn that we could study relationships in school. This was my big “aha” moment because I felt a calling to study something so personal in our lives, yet we all experience it differently.

Q: What's something that you've learned during your time at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective? 

A: While at ASU I was surprised with how much freedom I was given by my instructors to focus on what I have a passion for. Their endless support and constant encouragement really pushed me to look at what I’m really passionate about. I’ve heard in graduate school that you’re often pushed into a certain direction of research, but here at ASU, I was able to explore in ways that I thought were enlightening.

Q: Did you encounter any challenges? If so, how have you overcome them?

A: A major challenge was the pandemic. It was difficult to envision my time at ASU while not physically being at ASU. But through these uncertain times, I realized that we all felt this way. So, by finding support from my instructors, I was able to have an open dialogue with my students at ASU and try to figure out how we can overcome this time together. This was a moment where I truly felt supported by my department, and it was even more empowering to share that support with my students.

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

A: I believe that education is the best investment that we can make for ourselves. I know that school can feel redundant, difficult and stressful but these challenges make us stronger. We are able to push ourselves, and truly witness our potential. Believe in yourself and find like-minded individuals that share the same goals about themselves.

Meghan Finnerty

Multimedia Developer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Accomplishments in academics, research, community service earn ASU graduate Impact Award


May 1, 2023

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

A fascination with satellites and space exploration technology lured Leslie Miller into engineering — specifically, she said, “the vast opportunities electrical engineering has to offer.” Fulton Schools of Engineering Impact Award winner Leslie MIller Spring 2023 Leslie Miller. Photo courtesy Leslie Miller Download Full Image

Climate and the campus atmosphere drew her to Arizona State University to study in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“I loved the warm weather,” Miller said, adding that Palm Walk on the Tempe campus “was also a major selling point.”

But she began her college studies with some trepidation.

“In high school I struggled academically in some courses,” Miller said. “At times, I felt uncertain about my ability to succeed in a rigorous engineering program. But since coming to ASU, I have had a transformative experience in the Fulton Schools, which has helped me overcome significant challenges and develop a passion for engineering that I never thought possible.”

That transformation came largely by getting involved in a variety of ventures beyond her coursework.

Miller received an undergraduare Impact Award from the Fulton Schools. 

She has also served as an undergraduate teaching assistant, coauthored research papers and completed a National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates program in the Fulton Schools’ Sensor Signal and Information Processing , or SenSIP, Center, in which she coauthored a patent pre-disclosure.

In addition to her academic performance in Barrett, The Honors College, Miller had leading roles in student organizations. She served on committees of the ASU chapter of the Society of Women Engineers and joined in a Fulton Schools Engineering Projects in Community Service effort to design housing for low-income families.

She was also president of the ASU student chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers honor society, Eta Kappa Nu, and helped to establish an outreach event to benefit the nonprofit Feed My Starving Children. Outside of ASU activities, she was a volunteer for the Foundation for Blind Children.

She was also awarded several scholarships, including the U.S. Department of Defense SMART Scholarship for Service, the Society of Women Engineers Phoenix Section Scholarship and the GE Award scholarship.

Miller said these experiences prepared her for summer internships she completed with the U.S. Space Force. She worked with the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch team and the L3Harris vision technology project to develop a hosted payload interface unit.

After graduation, Miller will remain at ASU to expand her education through the Fulton Schools accelerated master’s degree in electrical engineering program. After completing those studies, she plans to move to Los Angeles to work as an engineer for the Space Force.

Miller attributed much of her future success to what she learned from Andreas Spanias, a Fulton Schools professor of electrical engineering and the director of SenSIP.

“Professor Spanias played a vital role in developing my research and presentation skills and my self-confidence,” she said. “He has been an incredible role model. I would not have earned this Impact Award without him.”

She is also grateful for the guidance provided by Fulton Schools electrical engineering doctoral student Glen Uehara, her SenSIP mentor.

“Glen helped me grow as an engineer and an individual,” Miller said. “He helped me develop into a leader.”

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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