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Triple major graduates with plans to return to Vietnam after grad school


A student in a graduation cap and gown poses next to an ASU sign

Samuel Watson triple majored in chemical engineering, economics and Asia studies, and he said he hopes to pursue graduate school in chemical engineering at ASU, with the goal of bringing chemical engineering technologies into use in Southeast Asia.

December 01, 2023

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

Samuel Watson knew he wanted to double-major in chemical engineering and economics at Arizona State University, but he couldn’t shake that feeling that something was missing — so he added a third degree, a Bachler of Arts in Asia studies. 

“Directly after high school, I deferred for two years to serve a religious mission in Vietnam,” Watson said “While I was there, I came to appreciate the culture, people and language.” 

Watson, who received the New American University President’s Award, the Beus Family Scholarship and the Elks Club Past Exalted Rulers Scholarship, is also a student in Barrett, The Honors College. His thesis project is titled “Stabilizing Relations in Vietnam: How a Nation Recovers from War,” and one of Watson’s most impactful mentors sat on his committee: An Sakach, assistant teaching professor of Vietnamese in the School of International Letters and Cultures. 

“I have taken multiple courses in Vietnamese with her, and she has been instrumental in helping me not only develop my language skills and cultural knowledge but also in helping me expand the opportunities available to me,” Watson said. 

Importantly, Sakach introduced Watson to the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Summer Fellowship, which enabled Watson to study Vietnamese for two summers, one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the other at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi, Vietnam. 

When asked what he hopes to accomplish with his three degrees, Watson said he hopes to pursue graduate school in chemical engineering at ASU. 

“I intend to take full advantage of my concurrent degrees by taking a business approach to engineering, combining my STEM skills and economic interests and talents into one cohesive career,” Watson said. “I am interested in bringing chemical engineering techniques and technologies into use within developing countries, especially in Southeast Asia.” 

Though Watson grew up in Tucson, it’s clear he’s a Sun Devil for life. 

“I have really enjoyed my time at ASU,” he said. “The fact alone that I was able to pursue three concurrent degrees and that my advisors were supportive of me in the process is impressive, but additionally all my professors have taught me a great deal. ASU ensures that all students get a well-rounded education with the way degree programs are laid out, but they are also very conducive to helping students learn what they are most interested in.” 

Here are some additional highlights from our Q&A with him:  

Question: What's the best piece of advice you'd give to other students?  

Answer: Seek out and apply to all opportunities possible. Also, the advice I would give to other students is to stay ahead on their assignments and do the readings prior to class. Your understanding and retention will vastly improve. Further, if you have multiple interests, consider getting a minor, certificate or a second major, especially if you are looking into more diverse career options. It takes less additional courses than you might expect and is well worth the extra effort. I have honestly been very impressed with how open counselors and staff are to inquiries about these options. 

Q: What is your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends, or otherwise? 

A: I feel like there are a lot of good spots on campus, but my personal favorite has to be the Barrett complex. I do eat at the dining hall daily, which is really convenient, but in addition to the dining hall the Barrett complex has a lot of nice amenities. I often find myself studying in one of the sitting spaces, or even occasionally outside when the weather is nice. Further, Barrett provides easy access to counselors and even holds a few clubs that I enjoy attending in addition to regular activities. If you keep yourself in the loop, you can find a lot of fun things to do there. 

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

A: Something surprising I learned at ASU was how much I enjoyed studying a diversity of subjects, and how open ASU is to helping students pursue multiple degrees if they so choose. I had initially considered doing a double major in chemical engineering and economics, but I also wanted to work in Asia studies somehow. I started lighter with Asia studies as a certificate and economics as a minor, but when I wanted to increase both to majors ASU had really helpful tools like the DARS system and my advisors were very open to talk to me about my options. Of course, it takes a lot of work to study multiple fields, but I feel I have come out of ASU very well-rounded and with a lot more knowledge not only on specialty fields but even general issues in the world thanks to several of my general studies courses. 

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

A: If I were to receive $40 billion to solve a problem in our world, I would choose to help develop water treatment and sewage systems in developing countries at the community level. The intent would be to provide access to safe water and sanitation for people in need. Having access to clean water is necessary for a healthy and thriving community. Funds would be focused on providing the necessary infrastructure, maintenance and training of community employees or local personnel to stabilize the safe water supply.

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