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Sticking the landing: Gym Devil standout finishes five-year ASU career with Outstanding Graduate honors

Hannah Scharf is graduating with master’s degree in organizational leadership

Media portrait of ASU gymnast and outstanding CISA graduate student Hannah Scharf

ASU gymnastics standout Hannah Scharf, who completed the Master of Science in organizational leadership in the School of Applied Professional Studies during her final year of NCAA eligibility, is being recognized as the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts' Outstanding Graduate for spring 2024.

April 30, 2024

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

Arizona State University gymnast Hannah Scharf, who is graduating with a Master of Science in organizational leadership from the School of Applied Professional Studies, will be recognized during spring 2024 commencement ceremonies as the Outstanding Graduate among the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts' doctoral and master’s graduates.

Scharf has been a standout member of ASU’s women’s gymnastics team for five years and distinguished herself as one of the nation’s leading “all-around” gymnasts, representing ASU at NCAA Championships in all-around competition her sophomore and senior years as well as at NCAA Regional Finals this spring and NCAA Regionals her junior year.

She’s also a three-time All-American and four-time All-PAC-12 First Team member. Scharf competed on every event in the all-around in every meet her sophomore, junior and senior seasons, and as a senior scored 9.9-plus 19 times and won 11 event titles.

With her fifth and final year of academic eligibility in 2023-2024 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Scharf set a goal to earn her master’s degree — a remarkable accomplishment for anyone, but especially given the intense training and travel demands on a student athlete.

Scharf, who is from Barrie, Ontario, has been involved in gymnastics since she was 4 years old.

“I’ve heard different versions of the story of how I got started, so I’m not 100% sure,” Scharf said with a laugh, “but I always had a lot of energy, and I think my mom’s friend suggested she put me in it. I progressed extremely quickly, and I fell in love with it!”

She reached out to the ASU gymnastic coaches during her junior year in high school.

“And I stayed in contact with them until they offered me a full athletic scholarship,” she said. “The full athletic scholarship was critical. It gave me the opportunity to come to the U.S. to study and continue my athletic career. If it weren’t for this scholarship, I would not have been able to experience the last five years.”

Scharf’s Sun Devil story is one of incredibly hard work, determination and growth as a leader.

“I have always been a very competitive person who held myself to high standards and, frankly, I wanted to be the best — in the most humble way possible,” she said. “Coming into college, I was strong on every apparatus, and my coaches had high expectations for me to be a strong all-around competitor. My freshman year, I lacked the confidence I needed to excel at the collegiate level and I felt as though I had underperformed. I came back in my sophomore year more motivated and driven than ever.”  

That attitude became the cornerstone of her ASU career.

“I was hungry to become the best version of myself, not necessarily for me, but so I could support my team to the best of my ability,” Scharf said. “I used my teammates as big motivators and wanted to be a lead-by-example role model.

“I have always been extremely passionate about gymnastics and intentional with my training. I always took practices and competitions very seriously and knew that I had a job to do; that is what I associated with satisfaction and enjoyment in the sport.”

She believes this attitude played a major role in her success within the all-around: “Never settling and always striving to become a better version of myself, I believe, is what helped me evolve into excelling within my all-around position.”

Top 'all-around' honors extend to academics

Scharf’s faculty nominator for the Outstanding Graduate honor, Wade C. Lueck — assistant teaching professor in the School of Applied Professional Studies — saw her exhibit the same disciplined work ethic and leadership capabilities in the classroom.

“She has flourished by working hard to earn top grades in college in addition to her athletic and work efforts,” he said. “Hannah’s completion of the master’s degree in one year is extremely rare. During the summer she worked a full-time job and trained to stay sharp in her gymnastics while maintaining a full course load in her master’s program. Hard work doesn’t seem to deter her from her goals.

“She easily earned A-plusses in my courses and differentiated herself as a top student. She is inquisitive, participative and always insightful,” Lueck added. “She actively participated in my classes and assisted other students when she could explain a principle.”

Scharf was awarded a School of Applied Professional Studies grant for her master’s capstone research on the effects of body image on eating disorders among female college gymnasts.

“What’s been gratifying about this work is the opportunity to make a meaningful difference on an issue that has been ingrained within this sport for decades,” Scharf said. “Being able to provide support and start a conversation about this topic brings me great pride.”

Lueck said he fully expects that Scharf’s potential will continue to grow and flourish.  

“Hannah is a multitalented person who is at the beginning of a long journey of education, work and service,” he wrote. “Her conscientiousness, athletic success, academic ability, industry and leadership will carry her far. She is truly one of the finest up-and-coming leaders in our community!”

Below, Scharf answers questions about her time at ASU.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you pursued in graduate school?

Answer: My "aha" moment was speaking with my graduate school advisor and hearing the positive and impactful benefits of the program in organizational leadership.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom, lab or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I was surprised by how beneficial I found smaller classes to be. The small class sizes for this master’s program allowed me to develop strong relationships with my peers and professors.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of the academic and athletic possibilities. I had a goal of completing my master’s within my last year of athletic eligibility, and I was fully supported in doing so. The campus is like no other institution, and it felt like home.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson during your graduate program and what was it?

A: Having Dr. (Paula) Veach as a professor for OGL 568: Women in Leadership taught me not necessarily a singular lesson, but she was a fantastic role model to have. She is a very strong and intelligent individual, and I found she provided insightful advice on navigating being a woman in a leadership position.

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

A: Cultivate resilience. There will be challenges, setbacks and failures. However, how you respond to these obstacles is what truly matters. Embrace resilience by viewing setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning. Seek help, use your resources and continue to persevere through adversity.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?  

A: My favorite spot on campus is Palm Walk.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am going to stay in Arizona for another year, hopefully working in the medical device sales industry.

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

A: I would focus on addressing the global education gap, particularly in underserved communities. Access to quality education is crucial for individual empowerment, economic development and social progress.

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