Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.
When Alexander Graf’s sister earned two bachelor’s degrees through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (SCAP), he sought to follow in her footsteps. This fall, he will graduate with four bachelor’s degrees in history, philosophy, political science and religious studies through the Starbucks and ASU partnership program.
“I have had an excellent experience in this program,” he said. “My younger brother and sister also work at Starbucks and hope to graduate from ASU as well.”
Graf, who lives in Washington, said he would not have been able to afford college without SCAP, saying, “It’s a life-changing benefit for me.”
Graf was chosen as a Dean’s Medalist for the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He received multiple nominations from faculty, which is an indication of how his presence in class has left a positive and memorable impact on both his peers and professors.
Evan Berry, associate professor of religious studies, wrote, “In REL 388: Religion, Ethics and International Affairs, Alexander consistently submitted excellent written work. He earned a perfect score on his final paper, an essay on religion and climate change that drew on, but moved substantively beyond, the unit on this same topic."
Sandra Woien, associate teaching professor of philosophy, said, “While Graf possesses many qualities that make him worthy of this award, the quality that impressed me the most was his work ethic. In every single written assignment, he went beyond the minimum needed to secure a ‘good’ grade. For example, his term paper was over double the recommended word count. It was exemplary, and it not only met but exceeded most of the grading criteria. To me, this demonstrates conscientiousness along with a desire to truly master the material. That is, he values learning for learning's sake.
"Moreover, from his leadership in the group project to his weekly posts in the discussion forums, I could tell he takes a sophisticated approach to dealing with philosophical issues. This allowed him to consider issues beyond the ability of most of his peers, and worked to elevate the overall quality of the weekly interactions."
When asked if he will continue in his studies, Graf said his most immediate plans are to attend Liberty University for a master’s degree in biblical languages.
Question: What's something you learned while at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective?
Answer: I took POS 379: The Resource Curse with Teaching Assistant Professor Christina Schatzman, which suggested that the reason some countries struggle to develop is because they have many natural resources. The major thing that surprised me was the disagreement on many topics in academia. There is a lot of opportunity for competing theories and innovative approaches.
Q: If you could give some advice to students who are working during college what would you say?
A: I think it’s important to pace yourself and prioritize the things that are essential. … If you need to take only one class per session, you are at least making some progress. … Going slowly relieves much stress, allows you to learn more and improves the quality of your work. It is much more satisfying to graduate in six years and feel that you have produced excellence than to graduate in three and barely remember your assignments.
Q: What topics did you find most captivating to dig into while doing research or choosing courses to take?
A: I am most interested in topics that apply to my personal life and conversations as well as my classes. … Lately, I have been interested in church history and understanding the divisions and development of the Christian church over time. This has been personally relevant to me because of interactions I have had with people of other faith groups or denominations.
Q: Could you speak more about how you came to choose a master’s degree in biblical languages as your next pursuit? Do you have plans or ideas of your future once you receive this degree?
A: I decided to study biblical languages because many of the discussions I have about controversial topics and the Bible come down to the meaning of words and phrases. Gaining skills in this area will help me better understand my faith and sort through competing perspectives on each issue. I have also had a strong interest in languages for almost a decade now. … In the very long term, I hope to be a teacher.
Q: Which professor taught you one of the most important lessons you've learned at ASU? What was the lesson?
A: Associate Teaching Professor Jeffrey Watson from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies taught me that the words we use in academia should be precise, even if it makes the writing more tedious to read. This has been helpful to me outside of school when I have discussions with people about controversial topics.
Q: Was there a class during your time at ASU that really stands out to you now?
A: There were so many great classes at ASU that it is hard to choose only one. I took a class on the history of energy, which was fascinating and changed my perspectives on renewable energy strategies going forward. That class was taught by Robert Fuller and I enjoyed his teaching style so much that I took history of baseball from him as well, even though I care very little about baseball.
I took two classes with Professor Sandra Woien, which showed me the applicability of philosophy to our daily lives. It has been much easier to convince my friends and coworkers that majoring in philosophy is not a waste of time. His classes are quite challenging, but very worth it. Other professors that were very impactful on me were: Charles Barfoot, Evan Berry, Benjamin Sullivan, Victoria Thompson, Andrew Khoury and Gina Pietrantoni.
Q: If someone gave you $40 billion to solve one problem on our planet, what would you do?
A: I would try to solve the problem of money in politics. Many of the issues today, such as climate change or poverty, have solutions, but they will not be implemented because of the outsized influence of economic elites and interest groups on the American government. If this influence were somehow mitigated, many of these problems would be much easier to fix.
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