From EMT to ASU Outstanding Undergraduate


Kalyn Denton smiling at the camera in ASU Graduation regalia on the Tempe campus.

Kalyn Denton. Courtesy photo

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

Kalyn Denton, an Arizona State University sustainability major and the Outstanding Undergraduate from the College of Global Futures, took the scenic route on her path to college. She moved to California from Kansas after finishing high school to serve in AmeriCorps, an experience that gave her a sense of resilience in the face of change. 

“Since doing this, I have never stopped when I hit a roadblock,” Denton said. “I keep going because I know I can figure it out; I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again.”

Near the end of her AmeriCorps term, Denton decided her next goal was to become an emergency medical technician. She returned to Kansas and spent a year working toward her EMT certification.

“My favorite part of working on the ambulance was the children’s psychiatric transports to mental health facilities,” Denton said. “I could talk to and relate to these kids. I felt that was the most meaningful work I did, and I knew I wanted to keep helping people through my life.”

Denton reflected on the many lessons she learned while working as an EMT. The doctor who managed the first field hospital she worked in told her cohort to ‘have zero expectations, or you will be frustrated and disappointed.’

“That changed my life, because when you think that way you can let life happen as it happens,” Denton said. “You find the joy in all situations, instead of trying to control them.”

She found a similar sentiment while caring for people in hospice during their last weeks. Many of her patients told her that the most important part of life is to seek out happiness. 

Through her search for happiness, Denton has traveled extensively. She fondly recalls the clean streets of Sydney and Melbourne from a visit to Australia, and credits the visible commitment to sustainability she witnessed there as inspiration to incorporate sustainability into her next adventure - pursuing an undergraduate degree.

“Between traveling the world and that experience, I was ready to go to college,” Denton said. “I came home and found out that sustainability was a major of its own, which I was not previously aware of.” 

After some research online, Denton found ASU. She was impressed by ASU’s reputation for advancing sustainability and the options for financial aid. She started working for Starbucks and received a tuition benefit through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, but her experience as an emergency medical technician became necessary once the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“When COVID hit, I was deployed out with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to work in field hospitals, hospitals, vaccine clinics and hurricane evacuations all over the United States for two years,” Denton said. “I paid my way through those two years and did all of my education online. I studied for school on the floors of field hospitals, in the back of ambulances, in hotels and airports and from countries like Mexico, Costa Rica and Belize.”

The flexibility offered by degrees through ASU Online allowed her to keep up with her courses remotely. Denton returned to the Starbucks program for the last year and a half of her studies and achieved her goal of finishing her program debt-free. 

Denton is graduating from the School of Sustainability with a Bachelor of Science in sustainability and a minor in justice. After wrapping up her time at ASU, she is open to new experiences and opportunities that may come her way.

“I’ve had a pretty eventful life,” she said, “but I’m so thankful for it, as it has made me who I am today.

Learn more about Denton’s educational journey in her own words.

Question: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school?

Answer: My best piece of advice for those still in school is to just think about one semester at a time. College is so difficult as it is, especially if you are a student paying your own way or if you have to work multiple jobs on top of being a full-time student. I met with my advisor once per semester to make sure I was on track. However, it wasn’t until my final semester that I looked beyond that. I think that kept me sane, for the most part. 

I would also highly recommend finding your learning style and putting the money into that as you would for textbooks or laptops. Speechify really saved me once I discovered it at the end of my junior year. I found myself re-reading chapters over and over until I finally looked up better ways to take in information. Through Speechify, Snoop Dogg has been reading my textbooks to me for the last year. Having the visual and audio together, I found I can soak in more information.

Q: What was your favorite spot for studying?

A: My favorite spot to study was on beaches in all my travels. The sound of the waves, the sound of people laughing and talking in the background, the breeze and the sunrises were a blissful way to study, and I could focus the most. My absolute favorite spot was on a roof in Sayulita, Mexico at sunrise. Watching the surfers go out, the sun slowly coming up and the warmth on my skin was one of my favorite moments. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans after graduation are to go where this universe takes me. I am seeking happiness, growth, passion and purpose. I am 26, and I think even most 56-year-olds still don’t know what that looks like for them. I want to follow what makes me happy and what I feel makes a difference in this world. I would like to find a job in sustainability, within the social justice sector, and I would like to be able to be creative, artistic and connect with individuals.

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

A: If I had 40 million dollars to solve one problem, it would probably relate to food in some way. As an 18-year-old kid living 1,800 miles from home in California with barely anything to my name, I lived on food stamps during my time in AmeriCorps. This is given when living on a stipend through national service, and it was a saving grace. As a broke 20-year-old just starting on the ambulance, I lived off of food available in the Emergency Medical Services room at hospitals. I know what it feels like to be hungry.

I currently work with a mobile food pantry truck in Kansas City, bringing hot meals to the homeless population. To see hungry faces light up at one hot meal available is one of the most amazing things. I have worked in the food industry and seen immense amounts of food just thrown away. There is zero reason why anyone should be hungry, especially while we have a food waste problem in America. Forty million dollars could feed so many, but then what? The money runs out, and the problem is still there. I would use that money to solve food waste issues in cities through more permanent change. 

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