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Outstanding grad passionately contributes to global development

ASU College of Letters and Sciences outstanding graduate student Sarah Muench
May 08, 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.

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.”