14-year Marine veteran chooses ASU to launch 2nd act in project management

May 5, 2023

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

After serving 14 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Antwon Eason decided to go back to school. ASU graduate and veteran Antwon Eason, who served 14 years in the U.S. Marines Corps, will be pursuing his second career in project management. Antwon Eason Download Full Image

“I decided to finish what I’d started years ago,” said Eason, who is graduating this spring from Arizona State University’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts with a bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership, with a concentration in project management.

He credits a mentor — his supervisor from the Marines Corps — for the encouragement to explore academic fields beyond his comfort zone.    

“He asked me one day, with some puzzlement in his voice, 'Why did you choose to go back to school for weather forecasting?' — That was my job in the Marine Corps. — I told him, because that’s where all my experience is and it makes sense to me,” Eason said. “He then said to me, 'You have a golden opportunity to choose anything in the world to be — why not choose something new?' That’s when it clicked for me, that I should not be afraid to step out of my comfort zone to try something new.”

Eason, who is from Cleveland, said he chose to come to ASU, “because living in Phoenix was a major positive change coming from the Midwest. In addition, ASU had many interesting degree plans that appealed to my goals.

“Project management resonates the most with me out of all the degrees I viewed."

“I’ve had some great experiences along the way,” added Eason, “including meeting new friends and being taught by some amazing teachers.”

He said he especially enjoyed the class debates in the course Diversity in Organizations.

“It was so eye-opening to learn the perspectives of people of a variety of races, nationalities and age groups,” Eason said. “There were biases addressed that I was never aware of previously. I now have a greater appreciation for listening to others and their perspective.” 

After graduation, he plans to stay in Phoenix for a few years as he starts his second career, and then may eventually move — “but to where is yet unknown! I plan to get a job in the project management field to gain enough experience to earn my Project Management Professional certificate,” Eason said, “then start working toward starting my own consulting business.” 

Eason reflected about his ASU journey. 

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

Answer: I learned to be cognizant of how I word everyday statements such as “you guys,” because everyone may not want to be identified as a guy. Instead I should use statements such as “you all.” I also learned that the use of pronouns is a way to identify and respect how others want to identify as. Previously, I had no idea why everyone started using them on their email signatures.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU and what was it?

A: Dr. Marie Wallace taught me that we all have biases, whether we know it or not, and it is important to recognize and be aware of them when interacting with others. That stuck with me because I am very culturally diverse and I see the potential for not being aware of bias to be a problem when engaging with others. She also taught me that there is no such thing as a “bad child” instead it is a child with bad behavior. ... That just stuck with me and I correct myself every time I call a child bad. 

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

A: Take school seriously, because you may not understand the value of what you are learning now, but it will come full circle as you gain life experience. Additionally, make time for self-care. You can’t be focused and work to your best potential when you fail to properly care for yourself. 

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

A: My favorite place on Tempe campus was the science building where there is a fountain in the center of the building. I enjoyed having class there because it had an indoor-outdoor rainforest type of vibe going on. The sound of the fountain going was relaxing and reminded me of an oasis in the desert. I used to sit there to just relax before class and it was so peaceful. 

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

A: With $40 million, the first issue I would tackle is preserving our coral reefs in the ocean. I am a huge advocate of ocean life. and I understand the impact that global warming has on the reef habitat. Our reefs serve multiple purposes such as housing various species of aquatic animals, and they provide climatological data that helps track global climate change. With reefs diminishing, they will cause a chain reaction that will adversely affect normal human lifestyles. 

Maureen Roen

Director of Communications, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


John Zicarelli honored with ASU Charles Wexler Teaching Award

May 5, 2023

John Zicarelli is the recipient of the 2023 Charles Wexler Teaching Award, presented each year to an outstanding teacher of undergraduate mathematics at Arizona State University.

He was selected by the awards committee based on nominations made by undergraduate students with majors in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. ASU Professor John Zicarelli (left) received the 2023 Charles Wexler Teaching Award. Download Full Image

“Receiving this award is an incredible honor,” Zicarelli said. “I’m blessed to work with so many wonderful students and my colleagues in the actuarial science program. This is beyond anything I expected could happen!”

Zicarelli joined ASU as a professor of practice in 2017 and has been an adjunct faculty member off and on since 1996. He has taught courses in actuarial science, data science and mathematics, but his favorite course to teach is ACT 420: Ratemaking and Reserving.

“It was one of the first courses I created from scratch here, and it covers the two most important work assignments for actuaries,” he said.

Zicarelli was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and spent most of his early childhood in Evanston, Illinois. His family moved to a suburb of Minneapolis where he lived until his mid-30s. He then took a job in the San Francisco Bay area and eventually moved to Scottsdale, Arizona. He also lived in western North Dakota between 1982 and 1985, on a potato farm.

Zicarelli was an actuary for over 30 years, but his career could have turned out much differently had the U.S. economy not suffered a major recession in the 1970s, including record post-war unemployment.

“I was always interested in math, but I was inspired to major in it and study it at the graduate level because of three amazing professors at St. Olaf College. I got another boost when I met Richard McGehee at the University of Minnesota, who became my dissertation advisor. I attempted to get a teaching position when I finished my PhD in 1975, but due to economic conditions at the time, nobody was hiring,” Zicarelli said. “So, I found a job as an actuary trainee that led to an interesting and successful career.”

In 2009, he retired from Scottsdale Insurance Company as vice president of strategy and risk management. Prior to that position, he led much of the company's strategy work as vice president of actuarial and chief actuary. He also served as chairman of CAME, LLC., a family-owned and operated private equity investment company. Zicarelli completed a fellowship in the Casualty Actuarial Society, is a chartered financial analyst and is also a member of Scottsdale Leadership.

“When I reached retirement age, I decided it was time for a new career, and here I am,” he said.

Zicarelli created the Actuarial Science Scholarship, which encourages students to pursue careers in the actuarial field. He also regularly supports the school’s fund for actuarial exam reimbursements.

Zicarelli teaches actuarial science courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels, but his enthusiasm for the undergraduate courses stands out, as evidenced by the positive comments from students about his undergraduate courses.

  • "I liked how the course encouraged thought behind meaningful data analysis rather than coding for the sake of coding. Understanding behind the data especially in projects helped me make valuable visualizations."
  • "Very engaging with the class and promotes class discussion on the material. Explained difficult concepts in different ways to make it clear."
  • "Dr. Zicarelli is the nicest guy ever, always so friendly and so helpful."
  • "I liked how the professor became interested in what the students were asking him about the course material. He was helpful in understanding the new topics and explaining new things."
  • "Dr. Zicarelli is very approachable and has been more than happy to work through any problems I might have. He has also given good, specific feedback to assignments where I feel like I'm learning from my mistakes. He also very obviously knows a lot about the subject."

Several students who nominated Zicarelli for the teaching award also saw him as a role model.

“Dr. Zicarelli is extremely passionate about teaching and helping students prepare for their careers," one student said. "The projects he comes up with for his classes are always creative and applicable to real work we might do in our careers. Dr. Zicarelli was also one of my committee members for both my undergraduate honors thesis and for my master’s applied project, and he serves on thesis committees and as the thesis director for many other students. He really cares about his students and always attends our end-of-semester actuarial science graduation celebration, where he helps with presenting the accomplishments of the graduates, almost all of whom he’s had in his classes over the years.”

“Dr. Zicarelli has always been a professor that I am excited to learn from when I am lucky enough to have him as a professor," another student said. "He is dedicated to making sure that we can see how the information we are learning in class is actually applicable to what we will be doing in real life. ... I have also had the opportunity to work with him on an outside project through the ACT Lab and he was a fantastic mentor throughout the process. He made sure to highlight the work his students did by allowing us to present on the project when the time came, as well as making time to help us through tough spots.’”

The Charles Wexler Teaching Award was established in 1977, in memory of Professor Charles Wexler, with a gift from his wife, Helen, to honor his accomplishments in the field of mathematics and his contributions to the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. Wexler was the founding chairman of the Department of Mathematics at ASU. At the time of his retirement, he had accumulated 47 years of service, the longest period of faculty service in the university’s history. In 1977, the A-Wing of the Physical Sciences Center was named after Wexler in appreciation of his outstanding service to the university from 1930 until 1977. The 46th annual Charles Wexler Awards ceremony was held in March in Charles Wexler Hall.

“John brings wisdom and real-world experience to the classroom, which excites the students. His friendly demeanor and enthusiasm make him approachable. He truly embodies the values of the Charles Wexler Teaching Award,” said Donatella Danielli, professor and director of the school. “We are lucky to have him in our school.”

We asked Zicarelli to share more about his experiences at ASU.

Question: What do you like most about teaching actuarial science and mathematics?

Answer: I am doing this because I want to share my experience as an actuary and business leader with students nearing the beginning of their careers. The time I spend interacting with them inside and outside the classroom is a gift every day.

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

A: I was surprised, and gratified, by the support the actuarial program has received from both the local industry and the national actuarial societies. I knew we had something special going on here, but it always nice to get recognition.

Q: What advice would you give to incoming college students thinking of possibly majoring in mathematics (or actuarial science)?

A: For students with math skills, there are an incredible variety of opportunities available both at ASU and after graduation. Be open to trying something new.

Q: What do you think is most misunderstood about mathematics by the general public?

A: That math is fun and exciting.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time for fun?

A: Play piano. I am equally into Bach fugues and piano jazz.

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

A: I would probably give it to my colleagues who are young enough to be able to do something meaningful for the planet.

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences