ASU's class of 2015 rises to the top

May 8, 2015

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Editor's Note: This is an ongoing feature that is part of our coverage of ASU's spring commencement. Check back for updates, as more student profiles will be added throughout the week of graduation. graduation cap that says: Nothing happens unless first a dream Download Full Image

This spring, approximately 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students are set to earn their degrees. 

They come from diverse backgrounds and a wide range of disciplines. They are looking to transform their communities, embrace innovation and tackle new challenges. Some of them are outstanding graduate award winners.

Here's a look at the class of 2015.


Arturo Social work student refuses to yield to adversity

Arturo Virgen-Sandoval is proud to be among the undergraduates who will have degrees conferred May 11 at ASU. But his path was not always easy. Four weeks ago he received a cancer diagnosis and doctors urged him to put everything on hold – including his studies.

Corrine Sanchez with her motherPueblo Indian doctoral project produces first cohort

Empowering the students to become leaders in their communities’ policymaking and effecting positive change is the goal of the ASU Pueblo Indian Doctoral Program, which is about to see its inaugural class graduate on May 11.

Joe and Brett MontgomeryFather, son to graduate on same day

Joe and Brett Montgomery have experienced many of the same rituals as other fathers and sons – hiking, fishing, Little League baseball – but this pair will soon get to do something others rarely do: graduate on the same day.


Abbey PellinoTransfer student's success leads to Barrett Outstanding Graduate award

Kathleen Stefanik always dreamed of earning a university degree, but she put her educational aspirations on hold to work and raise a family. Now, she has fulfilled her dream in ways she never thought possible.


Sai TummalaBasketball helps ASU student score in STEM

Performing on the basketball court helped Sai Tummala relate to the physiology classes he was taking and motivated him to excel. The honors student carried a 4.0 grade-point average and made the dean's list every semester. He graduates this May with a degree in biology.


Jaylee ConlinGeography graduate pursues challenges in school, career

While pursuing studies in both meteorology/climatology and computer science, Jaylee Conlin held two campus jobs; and after participating in a NASA-sponsored student research program, earned a prestigious award in competition against master’s and doctoral students.


Brett LarsenSTEM student is engineering a bright future

Brett Larsen found invaluable help in his school's emphasis on treating students as engineers from day one. During his time at ASU, Larsen worked at ASU’s Flexible Electronics and Display Center, at the particle collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, and at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque.


Chareka DanielPassion for dance, teaching energizes ASU grad

Raised in a low-income family, Chareka Daniel had no money for dance lessons so she taught herself to dance by watching the movie "Save the Last Dance." Now she's earned a master's in fine arts from ASU.


Taylor LoutsisASU design student improves conditions for refugees

An Associated Press article about the millions of displaced refugees around the globe sparked the most notable project in ASU design student Taylor Loutsis' eight-year undergraduate career: reimagining housing in the Kiziba refugee camp in Rwanda.


Amanda Molindo and motherASU grad's project takes a closer look at teen motherhood

The daughter of a teen mother from Yuma, Arizona, Amanda Mollindo produced a thesis exhibition that examines the topic of teen motherhood through a series of portraits of – and interviews with – women who had children at a young age.


Matthew RaganASU grad creates new system for interactive media design

As the only student graduating from ASU's interdisciplinary digital media and performance program this year, Matthew Ragan has explored uncharted territory at the intersection of live performance and interactive design.


Hana AlkahloutGlobal health student connects local Ethiopian women with health care

By the time Hana Alkahlout graduates from ASU with her bachelor’s in global health, she will have already positively impacted the health of her community. Alkahlout has been working with local Ethiopian immigrant women to determine their perspectives in obtaining primary health care.


Wayne StephensonDegree brings student 'a greater sense of possibilities'

A transfer student graduating with a 4.0 GPA, Wayne Stephenson will speak on behalf of his classmates at a May 9 reception in Thatcher, Arizona, honoring the second cohort of graduates from the ASU-Eastern Arizona College partnership.


Sarah MuenchOutstanding grad passionately contributes to global development

Sarah Muench hopes to make an impact on a global scale in development, through research, media or sports diplomacy. This spring she celebrates the completion of her second ASU degree and is being honored by the College of Letters and Sciences as its Outstanding Graduate Student.


Brian BurrowsLife sciences grad pursues neuroscience research, medical school

After moving from Utah to Phoenix to sell alarms door-to-door, Brian Burrows decided he was ready to make a change. At age 27, he applied to ASU to study animal physiology and behavior, as well as biochemistry.


Ashleigh GonzalesBlind STEM student helps others learn in 3-D

When Ashleigh Gonzales decided to study molecular bioscience and biotechnology, a highly visual major, some wondered if the blind woman had bitten off more than she could chew. Graduating with a master's degree, she has proved her doubters wrong.


Ryan MullerResearch opportunities shaped student's award-winning career at ASU

After four years of winning research and academic awards, Ryan Muller is graduating with his dream in sight – pursuing synthetic biology as a graduate student. Muller is finishing his time at ASU with a double major in molecular bioscience and biotechnology, and medicinal biochemistry.


Anika LarsonLife sciences graduate brings biology to an Arizona state prison

Anika Larson never knew she would spend time inside a state prison during her stellar career at Arizona State University. But teaching biology to maximum-security inmates in a prison classroom was something she just couldn’t pass up.


Abbey PellinoLiberal Arts and Sciences students honored with Dean's medals

ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences honors its 2015 Dean's medalists for going above and beyond when it comes to taking opportunities to further their education. These students take advanced courses, study abroad, participate in research – and do it exceptionally.


Stephanie WatneyASU grad's career in planning off to a running start

While working on her master's degree in urban and environmental planning program, Stephanie Watney carried out projects in both tribal and city planning, and began a position as a planner while finishing her last semester's coursework.


Cori HarttASU New College grad finds strength in 'ordinary magic'

Graduating with a 3.9 GPA and earning her bachelor’s in communication, Cori Hartt – also a student in Barrett, The Honors College – has battled through several health hardships in her life to become the graduate she is today.


Courtney CarterPublic service grads embrace a commitment to help others

Five students exemplify a commitment to public service and innovative thinking, finding solutions for the challenges in our community. They join more than 850 students graduating from the College of Public Service and Community Solutions this spring.


Omaya AhmadDoctoral grad fosters the sustainability movement

Omaya Ahmad, who is completing her doctorate in the School of Sustainability, has spent the past decade thriving in her academic career. Her dissertation research focuses on accessibility and movement as a medium of population well-being, specifically in the West Bank, Palestine.


Rachel ManakStudent proves devotion to teaching with research, engagement

Teachers College graduate Rachel Manak has proven her devotion to the teaching profession, specifically the area of teaching STEM subjects to English language learners, with an impressive portfolio of research projects and community engagement.

Lisa Robbins

Editor/publisher, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Outstanding grad passionately contributes to global development

May 8, 2015

ASU Spring 2015 Commencement banner

ASU master’s candidate Sarah Muench lives her life with a spirit of adventure – and a mind-set that the world is really a very small place. ASU College of Letters and Sciences outstanding graduate student Sarah Muench Download Full Image

Muench, who grew up in the Mississippi River town of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, bravely struck out 1,500 miles from home to the Sonoran Desert in 2001 to begin an undergraduate degree in journalism at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The summer after her freshman year, she ventured even farther, traveling abroad for the first time on a three-month backpacking trip through Europe with friends and, the following summer, to Guadalajara, Mexico, for Spanish immersion.

“I fell in love with the culture and the people,” Muench said. “I’d never experienced whole-hearted kindness like I did from people in Mexico, and I discovered how amazing it was to open up a whole new world after gaining fluency in a new language.”

These experiences turned the young journalist into a lifelong traveler, so much so that as soon as she began her career – working first with The Arizona Republic and then as a communications director at the state Legislature and for the mayor of Phoenix – she spent her vacations traveling to developing countries: in Central America, Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe.   

“I try to experience everything about a country, especially culture and history, and get a feel for what it’s really like to live there,” Muench said. “Seeing the poverty, political corruption and environmental deterioration in some nations, I knew I didn’t want to just sit by and be an idle observer.”

Turning passion into a degree

At ASU she found a master’s program that suited her interests perfectly – the Master of Science in Global Technology and Development – as well as a job with her alma mater. She juggled graduate school while working full-time as the manager of interactive marketing and communications in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Next week she celebrates the completion of her second ASU degree and is being honored by the College of Letters and Sciences as its Outstanding Graduate Student for spring 2015.

Cuba research

Muench focused her master’s research on the communication and policy strategies of political institutions in developing countries, which she hopes will contribute to civil societies in those nations.

In September she traveled to Cuba for research for her capstone project, interviewing journalists from state-run and independent media about how Cubans’ access to the Internet and Cuban media might change as relations with the United States continue to improve. 

Afghan women cyclists

Muench also interned with the Colorado-based non-profit Mountain2Mountain, which works to support women on the Afghan women’s national cycling team in a country where riding bikes is illegal for women.

The organization provides bikes for the women riders, helps get funding for them to compete, and aids in providing protection for them on their rides, when men often throw rocks at them and attempt to run them off the road.

As part of her internship, she researched other conflict nations to assess possibilities for expanding and wrote and delivered to M2M an organizational expansion plan as well as messaging and communication materials. She also hosted a group bike ride in Phoenix to benefit the organization.

Clipping in

A competitive cycler herself, Muench has ridden for three seasons with ASU’s cycling team while working on her graduate degree. The team won the 2015 overall conference championship, with Muench taking the individual title home for the women. Over the weekend she competed in her third USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships.

“I’m really proud of our team,” Muench said. “We had an incredibly successful season, and it’s awesome to grow this team and the sport in the process.”

In her efforts to expand the sport of cycling in the Southwest, Muench developed the website, a cycling news and event resource for the region.

“Sarah Muench is one of the most creative, multitalented people we have ever had in our program,” said professor Gary Grossman, director of ASU’s global technology and development master’s program, who nominated her for the award. “Besides being an outstanding student, athlete, writer and Emmy Award-winning video producer, she is also an innovator and an entrepreneur. She is a terrific example of what a student can become at ASU and will greatly impact the world around her in the future.”

‘Game changer’

Grossman said Muench went above and beyond to support the online master’s program; she noticed it was difficult for students to connect in-person with professionals in the development field, so she worked with fellow students to set up an online, face-to-face networking event using video conferencing.

She hopes to work with ASU’s Graduate Professional Student Association, ASU Online, and Graduate Education to make that kind of interaction even more prevalent for ASU graduate students.

Her aspirations for the future?

Not surprisingly, Muench intends to be a game changer: “I hope to make an impact on a global scale in development, through either research, media or sports diplomacy.” 

Maureen Roen

Director, Creative Services, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts