ASU grad tackles global challenges through applied math

Headshot of Isabel Haas

Isabel Haas has been named the spring 2024 outstanding undergraduate for the School of Complex Adaptive Systems, an academic unit of the College of Global Futures. Courtesy photo


Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Isabel Haas embraces the “master of all trades'' approach when it comes to her education at Arizona State University, pursuing double majors while also minoring in Spanish. 

“These disciplines have profoundly shaped my perspective, enabling me to appreciate varied viewpoints beyond mere empathy,” she said.

Haas has been named the spring 2024 outstanding undergraduate for the School of Complex Adaptive Systems, an academic unit of the College of Global Futures. She will graduate this May with concurrent bachelor's degrees — a Bachelor of Arts in global studies from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and a Bachelor of Science in applied mathematics for the life and social sciences from the College of Global Futures. 

She is also a student from Barrett, The Honors College. Her Barrett thesis, titled “The Double Standards of Protection: An Analysis of the European Union’s Differential Response to Syrian Refugees in 2015 and Refugees Fleeing Ukraine in 2022,” examines the European Union’s early policy responses to the two refugee groups. 

Growing up, Haas aspired to serve in the Foreign Service. Her passion for developing practical solutions for the world's challenges led her to pursue global studies at ASU. Also passionate about math and science since high school, she decided to add the applied mathematics degree based on her academic advisor’s suggestion. 

“It enables me to explore my varied interests without limiting myself to a single career path, ultimately making me more qualified and adaptable in today's dynamic and interconnected world,” Haas said. 

In addition to the skills and knowledge from her global studies degree, she credits her applied mathematics major for her problem-solving capability and analytical skill set, which are critical for navigating complex international issues.

“My proficiency in this area not only enhances my understanding of global trends and dynamics but also positions me to contribute effectively in environments where data-driven insights are crucial.” 

This interdisciplinary combination has made her a versatile, well-rounded student and opened doors to many opportunities for her. 

At ASU, Haas was an intern for The Cohen Group and a research assistant for the School of Life Sciences. She also participated in the ASU World Innovators Study Abroad Program, through which she had an opportunity to intern in Montenegro and research about the influence of Ukrainian refugees and Russian exiles on Montenegrin society and economy.

“While the research was insightful and inspired my thesis project, what truly enriched my experience was engaging with the locals and Russian/Ukrainian-speaking communities,” she said. 

Haas is the recipient of the Fulbright English Teaching Award to South Korea and will teach abroad for the assistantship after graduation in 2025. Following this experience, she plans to pursue a graduate program in international relations. 

We spoke with the graduate to learn about her journey at ASU. 

Question: How would you define your major — applied mathematics — for people who haven’t heard of it? 

Answer: The applied mathematics for the life and social sciences major uniquely combines math and real-world applications. It's not just about numbers; it's about using math to solve pressing issues like mass violence, contagion and wildlife-human interactions. In this program, I’ve learned to combine mathematical theory with insights from anthropology, global health and environmental social science. It has given me the tools to tackle complex problems and come up with practical solutions. Basically, it's math with a purpose — to make a difference in understanding and addressing today's challenges. 

Q: How would you describe global citizenship? What impact do you want to make in the world? 

A: Global citizenship goes beyond borders. It’s about recognizing our connection to a worldwide community and making positive contributions that can impact local, national and global levels. You don't need a special passport or to speak multiple languages to be a global citizen. It's about having a mindset that values diversity, understands global issues and collaborates with others to address challenges that no single nation can tackle alone. 

I want to embody the concept of a global citizen — one who values the insights of all and works with others from diverse backgrounds to create a more peaceful and equitable world. 

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

A: While there are many professors I could name to answer this question, one that stands out is Dr. Abby Wheatley. From serving as my (HOS 171: Human Event) professor to guiding me as my thesis director, she has been a consistent mentor throughout my four years.

One invaluable lesson I've learned from Dr. Wheatley is the importance of critical thinking. She has taught me to question my assumptions, challenge conventional wisdom and scrutinize information rather than accept it at face value. In her classes, I've learned that while one peer-reviewed article may present a perspective, another could offer a contrasting view. This has instilled in me the need to conduct thorough research, remain open to new insights and never take anything as absolute. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school? 

A: The best piece of advice I'd give to those still in school is to make the most of your college experience. Embrace the opportunities that come your way — attend events, explore diverse classes outside your major and take advantage of student discounts while you still can. College offers a unique blend of academic, social and personal growth opportunities you won't find elsewhere. Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, try new things and discover what truly interests you.

Lastly, remember that college is not just about preparing for the future; it's also about enjoying the present moment. Looking back, one of my regrets is not fully maximizing my time in college. So, cherish these years, create lasting memories, and seize every opportunity to learn and grow. 

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