ASU grad bridges gap between science, practice

May 10, 2023

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

Prior to coming to Arizona State University, Florian Schneider thought he was done with academia. He had already received an undergraduate and graduate degree in meteorology from Leipzig University in Germany and believed his school days were behind him. However, an experience he had with some other solo travelers while on vacation was just the push he needed to dive back into the world of academic research. Florian smiling at the camera wearing an ASU hat, a pink shirt and a green neck gaiter with an ocean in the background Florian Schneider is graduating with a PhD in sustainability from the School of Sustainability housed within the ASU College of Global Futures. Download Full Image

“When you are with strangers that you meet for a very brief time, you can be so open and transparent with them,” Schneider said. “It’s one of the most fascinating dynamics between human beings.”

Their conversations spanned a variety of topics, including some of Schneider’s past research and work. His new acquaintances picked up on his passion and remarked on his tendency to share information in an educational yet conversational way. One went so far as to directly ask why he wasn’t in academia.

“They were in medical school, and I thought it was so different — one path is service-oriented, one is education-oriented,” Schneider said. 

After that, he did some reflecting and eventually reached out to some different programs that aligned with his interests in exploring the human aspect of sustainability in urban spaces. This is what led him to his PhD supervisor and eventually to ASU.

Schneider is graduating with a PhD in sustainability from the School of Sustainability housed within the ASU College of Global Futures. Read on to learn more about his experiences at ASU in his own words.

Question: Why did you choose to attend ASU?

Answer: I didn't; ASU chose me. Or let's say, ASU chose my advisor. I was in contact with the chair of my PhD committee, applying to a PhD at Temple University in Philadelphia where she was located at the time. What I didn’t know was that she had applied for tenure-track positions here at ASU because this is where she was originally from. Then in June 2018, she told me, “Hey, I resigned from my position at Temple. But you know what, you can come with me to ASU if you want.” There were two great programs: sustainability or ... urban planning. I decided that sustainability fit better with my ideals. 

Q: Tell me a little bit more about your background and what drew you to sustainability.

A: I'm originally from Germany, born and raised in the area of Bonn. Just south of it. I grew up in a rural environment — I recognize this even more now that I'm living here and talking to all of you. When I was young I was a scout, and so I was out and about all the time, affected by weather and storms and climate. It always fascinated me. I did my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in meteorology, climate science and atmospheric science. 

Throughout that time, climate change was a big factor, and I recognize that climate change is a big chunk of sustainability. Both are complex issues that are highly intertwined with one another and have multiple interdependencies with other fields — nutrition, survivability, social injustices, etc. I decided to come here, and this program better aligned with my sustainability and climate change perspectives. Before this, I studied climate change in the Arctic. I went from a very cold place to a very warm place. My hope was to focus on the people, to take a step back from the computer and focus on how these things impact us and other living beings around us in a social, environmental and economic manner. 

Here at the school, I find myself working not only with quantitative science but including mixed methods and qualitative science, interviewing people instead of just collecting environmental heat data. Working with the city and community instead of just sitting in front of my computer. Actually interacting with the people out there and not just staying in my little bubble of the university is valuable. We’re not just looking at the data and finding statistical significance, but we’re actually valuing every individual voice and those perspectives. It’s something that (the School of) Sustainability and Arizona State University really do a great job on.  

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

A: There's not a single one. Almost every professor, faculty or staff member that I've interacted with in this space had some kind of positive influence on me, whether it was emotional or mental support in certain situations or even just administrative help. 

There were unique experiences that some people gave me. I was extremely thankful for the opportunity to go in 2019 with Professor (Rob) Melnick to Hong Kong as my study abroad in the summer. It was the last time that this study was offered because afterward, Hong Kong was shut down by China. This made this opportunity even more unique — to experience this very different culture and extremely urban space. Another unique experience was the interplay of different committee members for my PhD and the way they valued positive experiences and provided feedback, but in a different way. The professors, Professor (Ariane) Middel, my chair, and Professor (Jennifer) Vanos, my sustainability committee member, were definitely guiding forces throughout my academic career at ASU from the first moment I met both of them in fall of 2018. 

What I’m really glad about with all of this, whether it’s faculty members that I’ve worked with, or staff members, I think I can call all of them my friends. In Germany, saying friend is a different thing than in the U.S., and I can really say I can call them friends. I got to make these personal connections with all of them while being in a professional environment, and that’s so unique. I’m really glad about how much positivity has existed in this space over the years. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm deeply interested in being a mediator between science and practice — the best use of my skill set and the research that I've done, whether it's purely quantitative or qualitative, or working with communities, working with cities, across departments. … This skill set and experience come in handy when communicating between those entities. My hope is to further educate myself in the direction of policy so we can have change happening at local, federal and state governmental levels. I would like to see funding going to communities and going towards research that focuses on people. Another factor is being able to translate this research into action or, even better, to create research that is readily actionable. That can only be done with people, and that’s where I want to be, in a space where I can work with people from all these different entities and help them create actionable research.

Q: Did you have a favorite spot on campus for studying, for socializing or just for pondering life around ASU?

A: Here at Tempe campus, I favored the Secret Garden at times, for calm moments. At Polytechnic I just loved the general campus and how wherever I was sitting, usually outside if it wasn’t high summer, I could be close to nature. I miss the trees, and at Polytechnic, I could really reconnect to nature because the campus is designed with nature, especially native nature, in mind. It’s a beautiful campus. Poly and Tempe have these two spots that really energize me. I’ve also had the chance to visit West campus and collect data there myself. It’s a beautiful campus, too — I think West and Poly are both beautiful in their own ways. I’ve been to the Washington, D.C., campus building. It has a unique vibe — being close to the (National) Mall allows you to go for a quick stroll. ASU becomes a world entity in that space. 

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

A: I think the best use of $40 million is investing in education that allows equitable access. I know that $40 million is not much when you think about construction or something like that. The building we’re sitting in right now has to be almost $200 million itself. That’s not really the point, but when we think about $40 million, it’s a lot of money for an individual. Having access, getting a degree in whatever field you like; these things help you to prosper — not just yourself, but also your family and your community. We could use $40 million in different places for different programs, but we need education in spaces for everyone to create these pathways. $40 million? Give it to the people. Invest in people.

Dana Peters

Communications specialist , College of Global Futures

Honors students celebrated in ceremony at ASU's Polytechnic campus

May 11, 2023

It was a time for recognition, inspiration and gratitude at the Gold Standard Awards event that capped off the spring semester at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus.

The Polytechnic honors community came together recently to recognize students for their achievements in and out of the classroom, their contributions as leaders of student organizations and their service to the honors college and ASU throughout 2022–23. Photo of Barrett Poly Gold Standard Award winners holding awards and standing in a line together smiling at the camera in front of an ASU Barrett backdrop. Lailah Smith (fourth from left) and Melisa Molina (fifth from left) received the Barrett, The Honors College Polytechnic campus Gold Standard Award for demonstrating consistent dedication to academic achievement, service and leadership within Barrett. Download Full Image

“You’ve worked hard to achieve your goals in academics and in research, to be involved and serve at many levels. Now it’s your turn to go on to teach, mentor and encourage others to do great things,” said Thomas Sugar, associate dean of Barrett, The Honors College at the Polytechnic campus, to students in the Cooley Ballrooms, with faculty and staff looking on.

“At Poly we are a community that does things. That requires persistence, a drive to push through and finish what you started. It takes patience and resilience. I couldn’t be prouder of all you have achieved, and as I look out in the room I’m hopeful for the future because of all of you,” he added.

The Gold Standard Award, in recognition of being the “gold standard” among honors students and demonstrating consistent dedication to academic achievement, service and leadership within Barrett, was given to Lailah Smith and Melisa Molina. 

Smith served as a Poly Honors Devil, chief of staff in the Undergraduate Student Government, director of communication for the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts Ambassadors and student worker at the Sun Devil Fitness Complex. She was named the Barrett Polytechnic Outstanding First-Year Student last year, and landed a Fulbright scholarship to study in Canada this summer.

She participated in the college's Emerging Professionals and the Cooperation Scholars programs on ASU's Tempe campus, two social and behavioral research labs focusing on football coaches on the Polytechnic campus and the Davis Research lab at the Downtown Phoenix campus. She maintained a 3.9 GPA while taking 23 credit hours in the spring 2023 semester in addition to extracurriculars. 

She attended the National Collegiate Honors Council conference in Dallas last November to learn and network with students, staff, faculty and deans from other honors colleges and programs around the country.

Molina served as a student recruitment assistant, vice president of the Barrett Leadership and Service Team and director of internal affairs for the Poly Honors Devils, a student organization that assists with recruitment. In addition to taking 20 credit hours in the spring semester, participating in three internships and volunteering on weekends, she worked overnight at a veterinary clinic on Sundays and Mondays throughout the semester.

Barrett Poly Outstanding First-Year Student Award: Owen Greathouse

Recognizes demonstrated excellence in The Human Event seminar, honors courses and leadership in the honors and ASU community. Greathouse served as a member of the Poly Honors Devils, the director of marketing for the Barrett Leadership and Service Team and a student engagement assistant.

The Community of Scholars Award: Knight Wolff and Maclovio Foy.

Presented for significant contributions to building the honors community on the Polytechnic campus. Wolff was a member of the Poly Honors Devils, the Barrett Poly Mentors and a head tutor for the Barrett Writing Colloquium. He helped first-year students with their written work for The Human Event, led the writing tutors, mentored first-year students and shared his Barrett Poly experience with prospective students and their families. Foy served as a Poly Honors Devil and lead hall host, creating events like video game tournaments, archery tag, rock climbing and pizza grilling to foster connections within the Barrett Polytechnic residential community. He helped his fellow hall hosts with other events, including an open mic night, a visit to a trampoline park and a private screening of Marvel’s "Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania."  

The Outstanding Senior Award: Brianna Miller and Chloe Fox

Presented to outstanding graduating seniors that demonstrated exceptional leadership, academic excellence and service in and out of the classroom. Miller served as a front desk assistant in the Barrett Poly Suite, a head writing tutor and a Barrett retreat coordinator in 2020 and 2021. She was a student volunteer at the McCain Institute Sedona Forum in 2022, where she collaborated with institute staff, attended forum panels and gained hands-on experience with high-level event execution, communications and foreign policy while meeting and networking with the institute’s leadership, senior staff and partners. Fox served as a student engagement assistant, a Barrett Poly Mentor, a retreat coordinator and the president of the Barrett Leadership and Service Team. As the retreat coordinator, she helped plan a three-day camp in Prescott, Arizona, for more than 100 students and staff and welcomed incoming students to the Barrett Polytechnic community.

Excellence in signature honors course

Barrett faculty recognized students for their excellence and contributions to elevating the level of discussion in the honors college’s signature courses. The students recognized for their excellence in The Human Event were Varun Bose, Gentry Boylan, Elsie Davis, Kai-Ra De La Fuente, Reid Graham, Ben Morman, Marc Palma, Khushi Patel, Emily Sanders, Malcolm Pearce, Vijay Menon, Zayn Mowzoon-Mogharrabi, Sophia Page, Lily Russell and Wenjie Xu. The students recognized for excellence in The History of Ideas were Danielle Ostrop and Andrea Salazar Calderon.

Emerging Leader Award: Benjamin Morman and Michelle Gonzalez

Presented in recognition of a student’s exemplary leadership within ASU, the Barrett community and beyond. Morman served in several student leadership positions, including as a student engagement assistant and hall host. He assisted with honors community events, including Poly Picnics, Dinner Down the Orchard and Pride Prom. He also planned events in the residential community focusing on wellness and connections. He was also a student worker for ASU Health Services. Gonzalez served the Barrett Polytechnic community as a hall host, where she planned many events in the student residential community. She also served as a Barrett senator in the Undergraduate Student Government and as the Appropriations Committee co-chair.

Outstanding Service Award: Carlos Chacon and Caitlin Burke

Recognizes service to the Barrett and ASU community through student employment and leadership. Chacon served as a student engagement assistant, executive director and director of business administration for the Poly Honors Devils and the director of finance for the Barrett Poly Mentors, a group of students who serve as peer mentors. He planned all of the Poly Picnics in 2022–23. Burke served as a student engagement assistant and vice president of internal affairs for the Barrett Poly Mentors. As the student lead for the 2023 Pride Prom, she helped with all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into planning a large and successful event: communicating with vendors, campus partners and student organizations; helping with graphic design and marketing; and creating a safe, welcoming and fun environment. More than 300 students attended Pride Prom, making it Barrett Polytechnic’s largest event to date. She also helped plan events for the Barrett Poly Mentors.

Honors Devils Most Engaging Award: Mateo Ramirez and Lauren Marvuglio

Presented in recognition of their work on behalf of the organization, particularly connecting with prospective students and their families. 

Honors Devils Most Approachable Award: Megan Carlton

Recognizes a student who assists at tabling events and provides useful information about the Barrett experience to prospective students and their families.

Honors Devils Best Communicator Award: Lailah Smith

Recognizing a student’s ability to reach out and connect with prospective students through phone calls, provide useful information and help with applications.

Honors Devils Lunch Time Legend Award: Knight Wolff

Presented in recognition of their work hosting lunches with prospective students and their families in an effort to connect and encourage applications to Barrett.

Honors Devils Outstanding Tour Guide Award: Maclovio Foy

Recognizes the Honors Devil who gave the most tours of the Barrett Poly suite and Lantana Hall, and who engaged with prospective students and their families.

Honors Devils Outstanding Newcomer Award: James Miller

Recognizing the Honors Devil who showed the most initiative in their first semester.

Outstanding Honors Devil Award: Melisa Molina

Honors Devils vote to give this award to a member who has significantly gone above and beyond in their efforts on behalf of the organization.

Outstanding Mentor Award: Chase Gable and Elliott Ruble

The recipient of the Outstanding Mentor Award is chosen by their fellow mentors on the basis of their commitment, engagement and leadership within the organization and with their mentees. 

Out of this World BLAST Members: Lailah Smith, Claire Rogers and Sophie Wallace.

The Barrett Leadership and Service Team, a student organization that serves the honors community by hosting events and student-centered initiatives, gives this award for work on behalf of the group.

Best BLAST Senior: Chloe Fox

Recognizing her commitment and leadership throughout her senior year.

The evening ended with the Barrett Poly Senior Celebration, recognizing students graduating with honors this semester as they walked across the stage to receive a gift from Dean Sugar.