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Two-time Sun Devil finds fulfillment in community, family

Anthony and Suzie Willyerd

Suzie Willyerd with husband Anthony. Courtesy photo

May 08, 2024

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

Suzie Willyerd loves being a mom. She loves teaching, nurturing and playing with her four boys. 

“I wanted to be the mom who was always available with a listening ear, a hug and a kiss,” she said. “Being a stay-at-home mom was a dream come true for me.”

But she also dreamed of earning her degree, even while balancing the rigors and responsibilities of motherhood.

Suzie Willyerd
Suzie Willyerd. Courtesy photo

This May, Willyerd’s dream comes true for the second time as she celebrates earning her Master of Science in medical nutrition from Arizona State University. 

Willyerd’s desire to contribute to her community grew as her children got older and she realized she had more to give. 

Looking to fulfill that yearning, she enrolled and attended classes part time through ASU Online, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in nutrition. The online format allowed her to balance life and parenting with the demands of earning a degree.

After graduation, she stepped into a fulfilling role at Home Instead Senior Care, where she created recipe books tailored to the unique needs of the elderly population. 

“Working there came about from my internship,” she said. “This role allowed me to continue working from home, ensuring I remained present for my growing boys while contributing positively to my community.”

When the education bug bit Willyerd again, she began researching graduate programs, and once again, ASU Online was her top choice. 

Even though the coursework and working as a graduate student assistant were challenging, Willyerd credits the professors for helping her develop her professionalism, compassion and patience, all skills that transfer to her career and personal life. 

“I remember a time during my graduate studies when my boys’ activities converged one Saturday when I had a final project due,” she said. “Talk about a perfect storm. I was at a swim meet preliminary and final session, a soccer game and a cross-country invitational meet, all while having an assignment and impending deadline in my thoughts. I remember controlling my breathing as I drove from one event to another repeating aloud, ‘I can do this.’”

Willyerd successfully coordinated every sports event that day and still managed to turn in her assignment that evening.

This spring, when Willyerd graduates with her master’s degree, she plans to continue serving her community while also serving as a role model to her family. 

“Education has always been a cornerstone of our family culture,” she said. “Our older boys witnessed my husband's rigorous medical training, from medical school through residency and fellowship. Recently, the conversation surrounding education has shifted towards motivation. I've urged my sons not to delay their pursuit of a good education. It is about taking opportunities, even when it seems impossible, rather than waiting — a lesson I've learned and hope to pass on.”

The journey, while not easy, has been made infinitely more manageable with the support of Willyerd’s husband of 24 years, Anthony.

“He has been my rock through every twist and turn,” she said. 

We spoke to her about her ASU journey and what comes next post graduation.

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

Answer: I’m not sure there was a specific “aha” moment; it was more like small moments built upon each other over time. It wasn't until the arrival of my second child that I realized the need for change in my own life and began a journey toward holistic health. Regular exercise became a daily staple, and I learned to prepare nutritious meals. This was probably the beginning catalyst for my desire to know more about nutrition. From there, I became increasingly interested in health and nutrition, which ultimately fueled my desire to study nutrition. 

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

A: I was pleasantly surprised by the sincere support from my professors. Despite the online format, I felt a genuine investment in my success and education. Outside of school, I encountered misconceptions about online education when discussing my life with friends and acquaintances. Some view online learning as less prestigious or important than traditional classroom settings. I firmly believe and learned that online students require outstanding time management and motivation as they study their chosen fields and that an online degree is equal to an “on-the-ground” degree.

Q: Why did you choose ASU Online?

A: I chose ASU Online because of its flexibility, reputation, and my previous undergraduate experience. The ability to learn at any time, from anywhere in the world, continued to appeal to me. In fact, during one fall session, my husband and I celebrated our anniversary on a cruise, where I continued my studies while sailing. ASU’s reputation for being the most innovative school in the country speaks for itself. My undergraduate degree was a positive experience and set an expectation I knew I could meet for graduate school.

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

A: I am deeply grateful for the vitally important lessons imparted by Dr. Robin DeWeese. Through her guidance, I learned the importance of perseverance, resilience, and embracing life's challenges with patience and grace. I was privileged to know Dr. DeWeese as her student and as her graduate student assistant. Dr. DeWeese shows genuine care and dedication to her students, going above and beyond to ensure their success. Her support and encouragement helped me refine my research focus into a manageable project. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from such a compassionate and inspiring mentor.

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

A: Prioritize your schoolwork. Set up a schedule and stick to it each session. Don’t forget to laugh and have fun, too.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: My favorite spot for power studying is my backyard patio. I'm snuggled in a soft blanket, surrounded by the tranquility of a crisp spring or fall morning, with birds chirping and the smells of fresh dew and flowers. Beside me rests my laptop, a notebook or textbook, and a pencil. Perfection!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m looking for a part-time teaching position or adjunct faculty position.

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

A: Hunger. Half a billion people in the world go hungry every day. Solving the problem is vast and difficult, but $40 million would go a long way in alleviating suffering.

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