Skip to main content

Geography, museum studies student earns exclusive academic honor

Olivia Friend in front of Tahrir Square
September 25, 2013

Each year, ASU faculty and staff who are members of the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa review the records of top students in liberal arts fields and invite a small number to join the organization. Typically less than five percent of eligible students – those enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences or studying art history in the Herberger College of Design – are invited to join. This year, Olivia Friend, a junior with a double major in geography and museum studies, is one of that select group.

Friend developed broad interests as a high school student, taking a leadership role in her school’s Model United Nations program and also cultivating a passion for the ancient civilizations and art of the Mediterranean. At ASU, she joined AIESEC, a student-run organization with a global focus – it boasts over 86,000 members in 124 countries – that builds leadership training and internship opportunities around the world.

Academically, she explored a number of programs that would allow her to pursue her international focus and special interests in art and the Middle East, until she found a fit with her two current majors. “Geography offers so many relevant methodologies to explore place and culture,” says Friend.  

Meanwhile, her work in museum studies through the Herberger College of Design is providing Friend with a rigorous introduction to both art history and the field of museum management.

“There are so many ways to utilize geography in the art world,” says Friend. “There isn’t an obvious link between geography and art, but when I talk to classmates and art professionals about geographic techniques such as place analysis, many of them understand and become enthusiastic about the opportunities.”

As a student in professor Kevin McHugh’s social geography class last year, Friend wrote a paper on street art as an element of Phoenix First Fridays and found a new interest.

Through AIESEC, Friend had arranged to do an internship in Cairo, Egypt this past summer. When midway through her stay, mass protests erupted and Mohamed Morsi was unseated as president, Olivia found herself in the midst of front-page news – and a lively scene of street art as part and parcel of unfolding revolutionary events. Turning once again to the perspectives of geography, Friend is currently exploring various geographic frameworks that give insights to the affective power of revolutionary art in Cairo and envisions developing this inquiry into her honors thesis, under the direction of Kevin McHugh. “This promises to be a signature contribution at the intersection of geography and the politics of art,” says McHugh.

Rounding out her schedule this semester, Friend is learning more about the profession of arts management through an internship at the Sky Harbor Art Museum. She also works at ASU’s Changemaker Central, where she welcomes students to the Changemaker space, educates them about its purpose and helps connect them with resources that can empower them to become involved in social change.

One of Phi Beta Kappa’s criteria for membership is “breadth and depth of study in the liberal arts and sciences.” Friend clearly meets this standard and presents a model for integrating her intellectual pursuits with real-world experiences.