ASU Space welcomes 2nd cohort of student ambassadors

17 outstanding ASU undergraduates are forging a path as next-generation space sector leaders

September 28, 2023

ASU Space is introducing its second cohort of ASU Space Student Ambassadors, welcoming 17 Arizona State University undergraduate students from a variety of disciplines. The program continues to bring together outstanding current students with a passion for space to serve as representatives of ASU Space and develop their leadership skills.

The ASU Space Student Ambassador program is a competitive ASU undergraduate leadership and professional development program open to current ASU undergraduate students in their third year or beyond. As ambassadors, selected students represent ASU Space to fellow students, faculty and staff, as well as external organizations and industry partners. It is a joint effort among several ASU groups, including the Interplanetary Initiative, NewSpace, the School of Earth and Space Exploration, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the Thunderbird School of Global Management A group of 2023 ASU Space Ambassadors Standing on Palm Walk for a group photo 2023–24 ASU Space Student Ambassadors Download Full Image

The 2023–24 cohort of ASU Space Student Ambassadors represent a variety of schools and 11 different majors from across the university, including political science, engineering, technological leadership, business, astrophysics, robotics, and Earth and space exploration. This assortment of disciplines is reflected in the ambassadors' academic interests, which range from developing new space technologies to investigating the ethical implications of space exploration.

As part of the program, ambassadors will also have the opportunity to build professional relationships, attend conferences, volunteer at community events, sharpen their communication skills and network with space industry professionals. While doing so, they will also learn from each other and explore how their different academic focus areas can contribute to the growing space industry.

Meet the 2023–24 ASU Space Student Ambassadors

In the gallery below, the student ambassadors share about their academic lives, career aspirations and unexpected hobbies. Click through to learn more about them.

At Arizona State University, we believe a deeply transdisciplinary approach is needed to create the social and systems-level solutions that will pave our way as an interplanetary species. We bring together top researchers and scholars from across the university to work with our students and commercial partners, across sectors and disciplines, to help us better understand and expand our reach into the universe. Learn more about how to get involved at

Shireen Dooling

Marketing Manager, Interplanetary Initiative

‘Tears and cheers’: Alumni Association recognizes 50th anniversary of Sun Devil Volleyball

September 27, 2023

Before Mary Littlewood could speak, clutching a microphone as she stood in Carson Ballroom at Old Main, she first had to wait for the applause to subside.

A standing ovation had interrupted her message to the crowd. Or maybe it bought her time. Group photo of past members of Sun Devil Volleyball. ASU Volleyball players from the past 50 years came together at Old Main to celebrate the program's success. Photo courtesy the ASU Alumni Association Download Full Image

“I’m not even sure what to say,” the 89-year-old said with a chuckle before a crowd north of 100 attendees, all of whom stood to pay their respects to the first head coach in Sun Devil Volleyball history.

On an afternoon like this, in which past players, coaches and staffers gathered to celebrate the team’s 50th anniversary, it was necessary to pay extra respect to Littlewood, the woman who laid the foundation for volleyball at Arizona State University in the fall of 1973.

An emotional Littlewood encapsulated the magic of this year’s Affinity Reunion, an annual event held by the ASU Alumni Association to invite alumni of a particular school, academic affiliation, organization, club or group back to campus to reconnect and celebrate the legacy they shared at ASU.

It was a weekend, as some former players referred to it, that served as a perfect balance between “tears and cheers.” Old teammates gathered once more, trading stories and reminiscing on what it meant to be Sun Devils.

They convened for a two-hour luncheon on Saturday, plus an on-field recognition that evening at the Sun Devil football game.

But no event summarized the ascension of the volleyball program — and women’s sports at-large — more than the invitation to watch the Sun Devils beat Pac-12 rival Washington at Mullett Arena on Sunday.

To some, it was a sight they never thought imaginable.

Former players whose careers began in the 1970s remembered a different game-day scene. When they repped the maroon and gold, they played in PE East (now known as Bulldog Hall), a condensed, stuffy gymnasium with collapsed bleachers.

But today, Sun Devil Volleyball plays in the 5,000-person-seat Mullett Arena. Fans across the Valley nearly filled the stadium to see the red-hot Sun Devils, just days after recording a sell-out for a mid-week match against in-state rival Arizona.

How times have changed.

This was more evident than ever when, during the luncheon, five players from different decades took part in a panel led by emcee Paola Boivin. Nancy Corea (1977–80), Mindy (Gowell) Rich (198791), Sydney (Donahue) Sicoli (200407), Nora Tuioti Mariner (201114) and Shannon Shields (2020present) took to the stage to share their experiences of being a student-athlete, ranging from game-day traditions to class and practice schedules, traveling logistics, away matches and more.

Their experiences were drastic, and their responses drew laughter from the crowd. But sitting shoulder to shoulder onstage, their stories represented one common bond: These were all Sun Devils.

No matter the decade they played, they are Sun Devils for life, forever linked because of the contributions and efforts they made to make the volleyball program what it is today.

A weekend of celebration and reflection was felt among all participants, but especially for first-year Head Coach JJ Van Niel.

"The whole event was special, really humbling,” he said. “The turnout was unreal. I've been involved in some alumni stuff in the past, and it was far and away the best turnout I've ever seen. I was geeked out because you look, and it was like, every table there'd be like six or seven players from the same team, and this is from 20 years ago, from a long time ago. Decades have passed, and they're telling stories, and they're having fun, and they're still friends with each other. That's really special.

“You're going to have the rest of your life with this whole group, and as we know, at ASU, we've got a huge alumni network. That's really powerful for later in life because you need to lean on someone. You've got a support group, and it doesn't have to be just from your team. It's also from your alumni.”

Griffin Fabits

Marketing Copywriter, Alumni Association

3 Interplanetary Initiative students awarded ASU/NASA Space Grant internships

The technological leadership majors will gain valuable experience participating in research projects, educational outreach activities

September 27, 2023

Three outstanding Arizona State University students with a passion for advancing our understanding of space will soon have the opportunity to extend their academic pursuits beyond the classroom by conducting cutting-edge research and contributing to groundbreaking initiatives that hold the promise of shaping our future in space.

Lindsey Tober, Elizabeth Garayzar and Matthew Marquez have each been selected as recipients of prestigious internship grants from the ASU/NASA Space Grant office, a member of the Arizona Space Grant Consortium. Three ASU students pose for a group photo. From left: Lindsey Tober, Matthew Marquez and Elizabeth Garayzar. Courtesy photo Download Full Image

NASA Space Grant is a nationwide program funded by NASA and designed to develop the young minds of STEM graduate and undergraduate students into thinking beyond the classroom by actively performing NASA-related research alongside a faculty mentor.

"These three students are richly deserving of such recognition, and they are understandably excited for the opportunity that comes with such a grant to conduct their own research. Lindsey, Elizabeth and Matthew will each have the chance to develop ideas that will ultimately realize real-world applications,” said Eric Stribling, a faculty member in the Interplanetary Initiative who will serve as a mentor to both Tober and Garayzar.

Lance Gharavi, a professor in the ASU School of Music, Dance, and Theatre and associate director of the Interplanetary Initiative, will provide mentorship to Marquez.

The ASU/NASA Space Grant office is led by Thomas Sharp, professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. The ASU program is designed to support educational, research and public engagement projects that contribute to the advancement of the nation's science enterprise. Additionally, it plays a pivotal role in promoting greater diversity and representation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.

"ASU/NASA Space Grant has been a wonderful partner in helping us involve more undergraduate students in Interplanetary’s research into how space technologies might impact a more inclusive and sustainable future for our global community," Stribling said. "This is really a next-level opportunity for the students to make an impact by using the many innovative lessons learned in our degree program. Also, it’s a unique chance to enhance their skills in practical and interdisciplinary research in a hands-on, problem-solving environment."

Hailing from diverse backgrounds, each of the selected students is pursuing a degree in the Interplanetary Initiative’s technological leadership program, a unique degree that prepares students to answer tomorrow’s questions in the fields of science and technology.

Tober, a junior in the program, is working on a project called "Space for Humans," which aims to foster insightful discussions about the evolving space industry through weekly short-format videos showcasing key findings and developments from ASU Interplanetary Initiative research.

Tober expressed her gratitude for the unique opportunities that her technological leadership degree has provided.

"I’ve really struggled finding my own path around space, because I have so many different interests," she said. "This degree program has given me the confidence to pursue a career in space technologies and film, which no other degree offers."

Garayzar, also a junior, is working on the SpaceHACK project. This unique hackathon project focuses on leveraging satellite data to address pressing real-world issues spanning social, economic and environmental dimensions on Earth.

Garayzar expressed her enthusiasm for the interdisciplinary nature of the Interplanetary Initiative and the tech leadership program.

"The Interplanetary Initiative provides a dynamic and interdisciplinary environment that isn't usually found in a lot of space or engineering organizations," she said. "Tech leadership ensures that its students are being taught to think outside the box when it comes to the design of space technologies. And we're highly encouraged to think about how these technologies can also be used to benefit Earth and its inhabitants."

Garayzar’s project merges her passion for space and her desire to make a positive impact on people's lives. By utilizing space technologies and satellite data, she aims to map and monitor natural disasters in communities facing challenges. These maps can identify high-risk areas and enable the creation of early warning systems, ensuring the safety of residents.

Marquez, a senior in the program, is embarking on a self-directed research project titled "Exploration Of ChatGPT as a Research Tool for Exoplanet Detection and Analysis." This project harnesses the power of widely available AI tools, including ChatGPT, to inform research on identifying new extrasolar planets orbiting stars outside our solar system.

"Tech leadership and Interplanetary at ASU is a crucible for interdisciplinary research, seamlessly blending engineering, data science and even astrobiology," he said. "As a student, I've been able to work on real-world projects that challenge the status quo. This interdepartmental synergy is crucial for addressing the multifaceted challenges of space exploration and planetary sustainability."

Beyond advancing the field of AI in astrophysics, Marquez's project seeks to democratize access to complex data analytics.

“The excitement in this project stems from its interdisciplinary nature," Marquez said. "By tailoring ChatGPT to act as a research tool for nonexperts, we're not only advancing the field, but also empowering individuals to contribute to the larger scientific narrative."

Undergraduate research program gives sustainability student the edge to succeed

September 26, 2023

For many, the first year of college is demanding enough without even bringing academics into the equation — from meeting new people to getting lost on campus, getting acclimated to the new environment is a challenge in and of itself.

That’s why Arizona State University makes it easy for students to engage in experiential learning opportunities early in their academic journey — such as working with faculty on research. Portrait of Arizona State University sustainability major Kim Nguyen. Arizona State University sustainability major Kim Nguyen. Courtesy photo Download Full Image

And that’s exactly what Kim Nguyen was able to do within the School of Sustainability through the Sustainability Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program. The program provides students with research opportunities to help build career skills and enhance competitiveness for jobs and graduate school.

“Going into college, research was something that I didn’t think I would do until I was doing my thesis, but having the opportunity to start early on has prepared me for my thesis this year,” Nguyen said.

The SURE program is now accepting applications for more than 20 research projects addressing topics like urban planning, environmental governance, energy sustainability, and ecosystems and biodiversity conservation. Both immersion and online students can participate. The application deadline is Oct. 15.

Hands-on experience

Nguyen is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in sustainability with a certificate in sustainable food systems within the College of Global Futures and Barrett, The Honors College. A Scottsdale native, she chose ASU not only due to its proximity to her home, but also thanks to its sustainability degree — the transdisciplinary program offered her the opportunity to tackle big issues while also gaining technical skills.

While participating in the SURE program, Nguyen had the opportunity to work with Datu Buyung Agusdinata, an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability, on a project titled “FEWS for Change: A Resource Conservation Role-Playing Game for Youth.”

The idea of utilizing a game to collect data was an intriguing concept for Nguyen, so she signed on to help through the SURE program.

“We sought to address a gap in sustainability education in younger students and take a gamified approach to understand how students interacted with food, energy and water (FEW) resources within their own homes,” she said.

The process of conducting the study and analyzing the results was an impactful experience for Nguyen.

“With this research, I got hands-on experience working with younger students who were also passionate about sustainability topics, and I saw that my work could impact their learning experiences,” she said.

Broader horizons

During her SURE program experience, Nguyen had the opportunity to broaden her horizons significantly.

She attended a National Science Foundation research meeting at Penn State University, where she gained valuable insights and connections.

She was an integral part of a pilot study involving a role-playing game experiment conducted at Casteel High School in Queen Creek, Arizona.

And she traveled to Melbourne, Australia, where she led an ASU research project involving over 200 local high school students in collaboration with the Climate Change Communication Research Hub at Monash University, Australia.

While Nguyen was excited to share about her work in the end-of-the-year presentations, she was surprised to find out she was one of the recipients of the program’s Student of the Year Awards.

“In working with Kim, I have found her to have a strong desire to learn, be open to new ideas, and passionate about addressing sustainability issues,” Agusdinata said. “She is diligent, reliable and hardworking, making her a valuable member of my research team.”

A bright future

Now, for her Barrett honors thesis, Nguyen will study the potential of future deep-sea mining and its social and environmental impacts. Her research will focus on Norway as a case study.

“While she initially had some doubts, Kim has grown to become a confident researcher with strong communication skills,” said Agusdinata. “With these qualities, I am confident that she holds great future potential.”

Thanks to the SURE program, Nguyen decided she’d like to pursue a master’s degree once she graduates, citing the confidence she’s gained in her research and technical skills.

Beyond the opportunity to grow academically and professionally, Nguyen suggests students have much to gain from pursuing research in an area that excites them.

“Even if learning new skills isn’t a priority,” she said, “it can be fun to explore different topics and perspectives.”

Matt Oxford

Assistant Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications, College of Global Futures


ASU honors education helped alum gain position with US Department of State

September 26, 2023

John Harkness says writing, communications and foreign language skills he acquired as an Arizona State University honors student helped him get to the position he now holds with the United States Department of State.

Harkness, who graduated from ASU in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in history with honors from Barrett, The Honors College, is a newly minted foreign service officer who will soon take up his first post at the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Portrait of ASU alum John Harkness. 2016 ASU graduate John Harkness has joined the U.S. Department of State as a foreign service officer at the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Courtesy photo Download Full Image

In addition to his undergraduate degree, Harkness earned a master’s degree in international economics from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 2020.

As an economic officer, he’ll work on issues that are important to U.S. economic and policy interests; assist in building and maintaining positive economic and trade relations; develop relationships with economic figures in government, business, nongovernmental organizations, academia and multilateral organizations; and report and analyze economic conditions and trends. 

“My experience at Barrett gave me a great base of preparation. Writing and communication skills are essential for almost any career path, and I started developing them both through (honors) classes and extracurricular activities,” said Harkness, who lists among his best experiences the time he served as an Honors Devil, giving informational tours to prospective ASU honors students and their families.

“Another thing that was so valuable for me in college was the opportunity to learn German. Learning a foreign language really helped lead to more opportunities that prepared me for where I am today,” he added.

Harkness capitalized on several opportunities to build his skills and prepare him for foreign service.

In 2017, he received a yearlong Fulbright English Teaching Assistant (ETA) Award to teach English in Graz, Austria. While there, he was a part-time student at Karl-Franzens-Universität, where he did research on refugee policy, national identity and foreign policy in Austria from 1945 to 1955.

In the summer of 2019, Harkness served as an international relations trainee at the Banque Centrale du Luxembourg in Luxembourg City, the capital of the western European country.

He was an international economics intern for the Group of Thirty, an international body of financiers and academics based in Washington, D.C., from September 2019 to May 2020.  

In November 2020, he joined the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C., as an international trade specialist and held the post for nearly three years before taking his current position with the U.S. Department of State.

Harkness took time out from his busy schedule to share his thoughts about ASU and where he is now, as well as share a bit of advice for students interested in foreign service. Here is what he had to say:

Question: How did you decide to attend ASU and Barrett Honors College?

Answer: I am from Flagstaff, so I was already familiar with ASU. To be honest, at the start of my college search, I didn't want to stay in Arizona at all. But I got to know Barrett much better through my sister, who is a year older than me and decided to attend Barrett. It really was the "best of both worlds" pitch that sold me, that I could stay in state at a large public university with so many possibilities but still have a more personal experience in an honors college. I would not change my decision at all if I had to choose again.

Q: How did you develop an interest in foreign service? Why did you choose this line of work?

A: My interest in the foreign service began at ASU. I was a history major focusing on modern and contemporary history — that is, history to the present day — so I became much more interested in current events and international affairs due to that. That interest led to an internship in the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, during my junior year and I've been intrigued with that life ever since.

Q: What are some of the challenges you face in your work and how do you overcome them?

A: In general, from my experience working in government, the most challenges have been the result of trying to reconcile different opinions within an organization. Communication, empathy and learning to compromise are very important.

Q: What advice would you give to students who are contemplating a foreign service career? For example, how to prepare academically, professionally and personally.

A: Study a foreign language! There is a lot of talk about how AI will make studying languages obsolete or whatever, but studying languages introduces you to a new way of thinking and enables you to really immerse yourself in another culture. Knowing another language isn't required to join the foreign service, but you have to learn one once you're in, and knowledge of another language makes it much easier to learn a new one. You can learn many of the "soft skills" required to be a diplomat through many different courses of study, but a facility in languages is an important asset to have.

Professionally, be patient. Many foreign service officers come in with years of experience, and very few come in directly out of college. Look at opportunities to volunteer or teach English abroad, for example. I also got a master's degree, which is by no means necessary, but it opened the door to new opportunities and experiences.

And personally, be interested in the world around you. Read the news, read books about different subjects, watch shows from somewhere else, try food from somewhere else. You don't have to travel to engage with the world.

Barrett Honors College student Rebecca Smalley contributed to this story.

Nicole Greason

Director of Marketing and Public Relations , Barrett, The Honors College


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Psyche mission internships prove a stellar opportunity for ASU students

September 25, 2023

Roles range from social media to software programming

An e-mail pops up in your inbox. It’s a job posting, and NASA is mentioned.

Or you heard about this mission called Psyche from a friend or in one of your classes.

Or you were in the middle of the woods camping and couldn’t fill out the internship application when it first caught your eye, but a year later you got the job.

The routes four Arizona State University students took to land internships on the Psyche mission vary greatly, but they have all wound up at the same place: thrilled to be doing their part for ASU’s first deep-space NASA mission, a journey to a metal-rich asteroid that’s scheduled to launch Oct. 5 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“There’s been so many moments working for Psyche that I hear about the mission and get chills,” said Kacy Hatfield, a graduate student studying media arts and sciences in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “It’s by far the coolest experience I’ve had in college.”

RELATED: Read more Psyche mission news

Cassie Bowman, an associate research professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration who leads the student collaboration opportunities as a Psyche co-investigator, said the interns have brought “so much creativity, enthusiasm and a fresh perspective to Psyche Student Collaborations. They are responsible for much of the work we do and are trusted by the entire Psyche team.”

ASU News talked with the interns about their experience working for the mission.

Kacy Hatfield

Student in a graduation gown

Kacy Hatfield

Hatfield’s love of space began as she was growing up in Boise, Idaho.

Her parents would take her to the Bruneau Dunes Observatory, where she’d stare up at space.

“It has this huge telescope that cost millions of dollars, and I remember seeing the ISS (International Space Station) go across the sky for the first time and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.’”

Hatfield is the Psyche Student Collaborations student manager as well as the student lead for content and writing. She also manages the Psyche capstone program – Psyche-focused projects undertaken by students in their senior year of college — with fellow intern Niketan Chandarana.

“Really, everyone on the Psyche team kind of does whatever task they’re given,” Hatfield said. “I think it’s awesome that our (number) of interns is relatively small, because we get to be so involved in the mission.

“Sitting in on meetings and hearing about the communication going on, how each person may not have started as an expert in what they’re doing, but they learned and they’re willing to share. There’s not really any gatekeeping of any sort, which maybe I anticipated for such an exciting mission. It’s all about exploration and curiosity. We all come from different academic backgrounds, so it’s really fun to get to collaborate.”

Niketan Chandarana

Portrait of a student in front of red rocks

Niketan Chandarana

Chandarana, a graduate student studying computer science in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, heard from a friend in the School of Earth and Space Exploration that there could be job openings at the school.

Intrigued, Chandarana saw an opening for a programmer on the Psyche mission, applied and received the internship. As the programming and outreach intern, Chandarana is the lead for all of Psyche Student Collaborations’ computer programming efforts, including creating web applications, debugging Psyche capstone projects, mentoring capstone teams and creating content for the website.

Some of that content includes Psyche-inspired web-based or virtual reality games — Psyche Scanner and Return From Psyche are two examples — created by different capstone project teams. (Explore the student-created games on the capstone website.)

“It’s a fun way for kids to learn about Psyche, and the games can be educational as well,” Chandarana said.

Chandarana said his work is “super exciting and fascinating,” and he can’t wait to get to Florida in early October for the scheduled launch.

“I’ve never seen a space launch before, of course,” he said. “And I’m really looking forward to meeting other people from NASA, JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) and Psyche. It should be a great experience.”

Samantha Beauchaine

Portrait of a student

Samantha Beauchaine

You never know what you’ll hear in a classroom — and how it can lead you down a path you never envisioned.

Beauchaine, a third-year student majoring in geological sciences, was sitting in one of her classes in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and a conversation ensued about Psyche and Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the mission’s principal investigator and a Regents Professor.

“So I went up to this guy after class and I was like, ‘Who is this Lindy person?’” Beauchaine recalled with a laugh. “How can I reach out to her?”

Around the same time, Beauchaine was looking for a job. She filled out the internship application form, was hired and later met with Elkins-Tanton.

“I was like, ‘I actually work for you now,’” Beauchaine said.

Beauchaine leads the @MissionToPsyche social media accounts on X (formerly Twitter), Instagram and Facebook. She creates content, engages with followers and develops social media campaigns to get people excited about the mission. She also works with Psyche Inspired art interns to post their work on social media.

“It’s mainly about getting content out there that would interest people,” Beauchaine said. “Like, people who might not be interested in space — what can we do to catch their eye and pull them in? So I try to create content that’s eye-catching and also informative.”

Like the other interns, Beauchaine will be in Florida to witness the launch this October.

“I’m just looking forward to being with so many people who have worked on this,” she said. “Being in that environment with that many people who are just as excited as I am, probably a hundred times more excited … and then just to see it go up in space and be like, ‘All right, this is the start of it.’”

Tristan Tierce

A portrait of a student

Tristan Tierce

Tierce, a fourth-year student with a double major in art studies and business entrepreneurship, was about to start his second year when he saw an item in a Barrett, The Honors College's email newsletter about an open multimedia position.

He was about to go camping, though, so he didn’t apply for the position. But he followed up after he got back into Tempe, applied and is now the multimedia and web intern, and the lead for all the multimedia graphics for Psyche Student Collaborations.

Tierce also manages the website and creates the annual coffee table book for Psyche Inspired as well as the virtual gallery.

“I kind of do whatever they ask me to do relating to website graphic design,” Tierce said.

A large part of Tierce’s job is co-managing the Psyche Inspired program with Beauchaine. He has categorized the artwork that students from across the country send in, and this year he’s designing the cover and editing the pages of the coffee table book the artwork will be featured in.

“I’ve been working on Psyche for about two years now, and there’s been sometimes where I kind of forget the opportunity that I have or … the people I’ve been around,” Tierce said. “But I’m definitely very thankful for everything.

“I remember at the end of last semester there was a big Psyche meeting, and I got to talk to Lindy, and I just fully realized for the first time the scope of what I’m a part of.”

Tierce said the internship has been ideal in that it incorporates his educational pursuits for art studies from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and business entrepreneurship from the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“Whether or not I continue to work for Psyche or NASA to some extent after graduating, I feel like this position has prepared me for a lot of different pathways that I want to take — whether it’s in tech, starting my own business or wherever I end up,” he said.

“It’s constantly made me get better at both of my majors as well as giving me a lot of experience of what it’s like to work with a team on this kind of scale.”

Top image: An artist's concept of the Psyche asteroid. Image by Peter Rubin/ASU/JPL/NASA

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

Online global health program empowers FEMA employee

September 21, 2023

Looking for a flexible, reputable degree program with a subject matter that applied to her career was important for ASU Online student Autumn Coalwell. 

Coalwell works full time as a program analyst and contracting officer representative for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). She is also enrolled in the global health 4+1 program through the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and is minoring in political science.   Portrait of ASU student Autumn Coalwell. Autumn Coalwell during a volunteer event removing invasive species in Maine with a view from the top of the trail. Courtesy photo Download Full Image

The accelerated 4+1 program offers students both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in just five years. 

“I didn’t do my degree right out of high school,” Coalwell said. “I went and did the AmeriCorps national service program.” 

“When I went to finish my degree while I was working with FEMA, I needed something that would work well with my full-time work schedule because it just wasn’t feasible for me to take time off to do my degree. Especially when I would also have to be paying for the degree.”

ASU News spoke with Coalwell about her experience in the global health program and her work with FEMA. 

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

Question: Tell us about your career with FEMA.

Answer: I’ve worked with FEMA for about six years. I started with the AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps program, and then I worked as a FEMA reservist, which is when you’re employed part time throughout the year, but you deploy into the field in direct support of disasters. 

After that, I obtained a job with headquarters as a program analyst and contracting officer representative. 

A program analyst is someone who administratively and strategically supports FEMA’s programs. I work on a wide range of tasks, such as the development of new training and mentorship programs for the workforce, the evaluation of existing programs and the development of program guidance documents. A contracting officer representative (COR) is a member of the agency who manages contracts for services or goods. So I help plan, write and manage contracts. 

Q: When you worked in the field for FEMA, was there a location that made a significant impact on you?  

A: Most of my time deployed to the field was spent in Puerto Rico working with the FEMA Individual Assistance Program, which helps individuals through the recovery process. 

Something that really stood out to me and has stayed with me was the situation of homeownership in Puerto Rico. Several generations ago, many people in Puerto Rico built homes on land that, at the time, had no ownership. The government of Puerto Rico allowed these homes and settlements to be built. 

Over the years, these homes were passed down through families. When Hurricane Maria hit and many of these homes were destroyed, the families were unable to prove ownership of their homes to seek response or recovery assistance. 

Even though they had grown up in these homes, their grandparents had built the homes and the building of these homes was not considered immoral or illegal at the time they were built, these families were left homeless. They could not prove that they were owners or renters. They had no avenues to seek repair or temporary housing assistance. This shocked me, and since then, I have learned of other similar situations around the world. 

Q: How do you hope your degrees in global health will help you in your career at FEMA? 

A: It already is helping with my career at FEMA, mostly because of the understanding of social and cultural differences. Even here in the United States, we have such a wide range of cultures and social differences around the country. 

When you are operating in disaster response and recovery situations, you’re encountering a lot of the social determinants of health that are discussed in the global health program. 

Understanding how to really help communities with recovery and resilience is important. A lot of those factors and considerations are recurrent in the global health major, so I really think that it’s applicable. I also hope to get into some international affairs work in the future. 

Q: Has there been a professor or course that has made a big impact on you? 

A: The class ASB 327: Disaster!, taught by President’s Professor Amber Wutich, was great. It was so much more than I expected. I’ve taken a lot of emergency management classes in the past and they really just revolved around policies within disaster response within the U.S. This course really dove into a lot of the ethics surrounding humanitarian relief and disaster response — and how those efforts and how humanitarian aid can be used to promote resiliency instead of just the immediate needs of the community and the importance of long-term development and recovery. 

Several other professors have made a profound impact on my degree through their engaging teaching methods. They include Gabriela Clarke, graduate teaching associate of Spanish at the School of International Letters and Cultures, and Charles Ripley, instructor at the School of Politics and Global Studies.

Nicole Pomerantz

Communications specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


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Sanford School professor, culture expert shares insights for Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15, 2023

Associate Professor José Causadias on the importance of culture and trends in his academic research

Throughout history, culture has been one of the underlying forces driving human behavior. Like an invisible hand, it shapes actions, systems and identities, determining whether someone “belongs” as part of one community or is an outlier.

Associate Professor Jose Causadias

Associate Professor José Causadias of the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University is a culture expert with over a decade of research intersecting cultural influence with human well-being. Studying topics like cultural rituals, youth development and the interplay of culture and biology, Causadias has investigated how culture and cultural rituals shape mental health by helping groups resiliently withstand challenges.

Causadias has a specific interest in Hispanic groups, having studied how cultural values such as familism, or the importance of family, lead to greater well-being. Growing up with strong cultural influences from his own community, he saw how traditions and group values affected his own daily life and the lives of those around him. 

Throughout his research, Causadias has questioned why culture has such an impact on communities, and how we define it. He says that culture is a fuzzy topic, with some defining it by group differences and others by values and practices. Causadias, however, has suggested a more concrete definition of culture based on what he calls the “p-model,” or people, places, practices, power and purpose.  

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked Causadias about his definition of culture, the importance of culture and trends in his academic research. 

Editor's note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: How would you define culture?

Answer: I define culture as a system of people, places, practices, power and purpose. These five components create and are created by each other, and we cannot understand culture without them. 

Our culture is about who we are as individuals and groups (people), the history of where we live and we come from (places), how we behave and celebrate our beliefs (practices), why those in charge create hierarchies (power) and how we fight for change and find joy (purpose).

When I think of the culture of Puerto Ricans in New York, Mexican Americans in Phoenix and Cuban Americans in Miami, for example, I think of proud communities who have transformed and enriched their cities (people), have a complex history here and in Latin America (places), who share and create different languages (practices), are affected by inequalities within and outside our communities (power), and find meaning in celebrating and challenging our traditions (purpose).

Q: Why is culture an important concept?

A: Although it means different things for different people, the concept of culture is valuable. When we think about Latinxsgender-neutral term for a person from, or whose ancestors were from, a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America, for example, we often hear the idea that we are a mosaic and not a monolith, meaning that there are a lot of differences among us. For example, we use different names to call ourselves, such as Hispanic, Latine, Latinx and many others. I use Latinx because it is not binary and includes LGBTQ+ people. 

With all these differences, what do Latinx people have in common? Why put us under the same umbrella? One rationale we often hear is that we share the same culture, which is partially true. But thinking that all Latinxs are the same can be a problem because we have different experiences. That is why we also need to think and measure culture, ethnicity, race and national origin separately.

Q: How does culture play a role in the well-being of Hispanic or Latino people, and how has this evolved over time?

A: There is a large body of theory, research and interventions that show that Latinx cultures play an important role in the well-being of Latinx people, especially in the lives of children and adolescents. ASU graduate student Karina Cahill has done outstanding research showing how familism, the values that emphasize respect and dedication to the family, are associated with positive mental health and doing well in school. 

Additionally, Latinx culture continues to change over time, as it is challenged and revised by each generation. For example, we see new ways Latinx youth celebrate quinceañera, updating this rite of passage to include boys and transgender girls. We are also trying to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic affected our communities and changed our cultures. 

Q: What are some common misconceptions or stereotypes about this culture that you encounter in your research?

A: There is an idea that there is a lack of knowledge about our culture when in fact, there is a rich body of knowledge about many Latinx cultures. Sometimes people cannot access that knowledge because they are not investing enough time to search, or they are only looking into one scientific discipline. Other times it is because the research was published in other languages. Maybe the knowledge has not been published at all, but it is part of the oral traditions of a community. You may not know about it if you are not familiar with or part of that community.

Q: Previously, you’ve called for a review of cultural research methods due to implicit assumptions. What are these assumptions and why is it important to be careful about the way we study culture?

A: There’s a notion that you can use any method to study Latinx cultures and that the results will be valid, but validity is the degree to which evidence and theory support the interpretation of results. If the theories and the measures we use in research are not centered on Latinxs, then the interpretation of the findings of the study are not valid.  

Another assumption is that we can study culture well just by using questionnaires and self-reports, but in reality, we also need methods such as interviews, photovoicePhotovoice is a visual research methodology that puts cameras into the participants’ hands to help them to document, reflect upon, and communicate issues of concern, while stimulating social change. and ethnography.  

Q: You’ve previously researched the need for innovation in diversity and inclusion in social sciences. What do you think needs to happen next in cultural studies — especially surrounding Latino groups?

A: I wish I knew! I find the best and most innovative ideas about Latinx cultures when I read the work of our Latina scholars who often are also activists fighting for our communities. I am teaching a class this fall on Latinx children, youth and families, and I look forward to learning with my students from the work of Nilda Flores-González, Cristina Mora, Tanya Katerí Hernández, Rachel Valentina González and many others.

Top photo courtesy Adobe Stock

Jennifer Moore

Communications Specialist Associate , T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics

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ASU class schedulers are 'hidden heroes'

September 15, 2023

From fire extinguishers to a professor's preference, scheduling is delicate task

To the 144,000 or so Arizona State University students who will start planning their spring semester when the schedule of classes becomes available on Sept. 19, they are invisible.

Nameless. Faceless. The picture of anonymity, working in a cubicle, a computer staring back at them.

Kim Marrone Beckert knows better.

Beckert is an assistant vice provost on the Undergraduate Education Team in the Office of the University Provost. Ask Beckert about the people who work tirelessly to put together the schedules for ASU’s 17 colleges and she says, “They’re hidden heroes.”

“That is 100% true,” said Julia Himberg, associate chair of curriculum in the Department of English. “The work of scheduling is complicated, and a lot of people are involved. It’s a true group effort.”

How are class schedules put together at ASU?

Let’s start here: It’s a complicated process that takes at least a year. Beckert said class schedules for the 2024–25 school year will be due in November, just three months after the kickoff of the 2023–24 school year.

Himberg said the Department of English works on its schedules two years in advance in order to try to best serve its more than 6,600 students.

“Schedules are an enormous part of the student experience,” Himberg said. “It’s not just about having the chance to take a variety of classes. I think it also affects their day-to-day quality of life.”

Here’s how the process works: As the schedulers for each college begin to map out the schedule for the following school year, they have to consider several factors.

How many students will take a respective class? How many rooms are available? When are those rooms available? Does the proper technology exist in those classrooms? Is faculty available to teach? Is there faculty on sabbatical? Does a certain professor prefer on teaching only in the morning? Or on Thursdays? How does course modality fit into the schedule?

Then there’s the unexpected.

“I was just talking to someone who told me a story. They said a fire extinguisher blew up in a room,” Beckert said. “So some shuffling and rescheduling had to take place.

“It’s a big puzzle. I find the best schedulers are people who love puzzles because that’s ultimately what it is.”

Jennifer Malerich, the assistant vice provost for academic and global engagement in the Office of the University Provost, said school schedulers also have to be mindful of all the construction on campus.

“I was driving to work the other day and noticed a building had been taken down in the few days I was away from campus," Malerich said. “There is a lot of advance planning and coordination that goes on in conjunction with the Office of Enterprise Planning, Enterprise Technology and Facilities Management. Classroom scheduling needs to know what’s going to happen to these buildings ahead of time, whether it’s a new building, renovations or technology improvements.

"It’s very important for us to look ahead and understand how we can maximize our footprint in a way that makes the most sense for our students.”

Kim Sjostrom, the coordinator in the School of Molecular Sciences, said schedulers have to be great negotiators. As they begin the process of composing a schedule, they’re trying to appease the requests that might come from the various parties involved.

For example, is the Chemistry 101 professor or the Chemistry 453 professor going to get the classroom they both request on a Tuesday afternoon?

“The scheduler really is the liaison between the faculty, the leadership of that academic unit and the provost office in terms of policies and things that they need to be paying attention to,” Beckert said. “The faculty has its own set of needs. The unit has its own set of needs. They have to manage all these relationships.”

Once schedulers have the necessary information, they input the schedule into the PeopleSoft scheduling software that’s used throughout the university. After the schedule is designed by PeopleSoft, it’s fed to another software called Ad Astra, which considers logistical hurdles.

“So students don’t have to go from one end of campus to the other with back-to-back classes,” Sjostrom said.

Then schedules are submitted to central class scheduling in the provost’s office where they are tweaked as needed before being released.

“I remember the days when I first started doing this,” Sjostrom said. “We got printouts on computer paper, and we went in with a red pen and Wite-Out and made all of our changes. “Then they all went to central scheduling and somebody sat down with a pen and was like, ‘OK, this is what needs to be changed.’

“What we do now saves a lot of time.”

In the end, Beckert said, everything schedulers do has one purpose.

“How we deliver classes in a way that is most beneficial to student success,” she said.

Top photo of a classroom in Hayden Library by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

Honors students at ASU thrive with scholarships

September 15, 2023

For Emra Muslim, a first-year student in Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University, a donor-supported scholarship is the boost she needed to start off right at the university. For Mary Murphy, a senior honors student, a scholarship has helped her keep going in the face of despair.

Both students say they’re grateful for the scholarships they received through the honors college, but for vastly different reasons. ASU student Emra Muslim holding a sign that reads "Thank you so much!" Emra Muslim, a first-year student in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU and recipient of the Austin James Service Scholarship, aspires to be a lawyer. Photo courtesy Barrett, The Honors College at ASU Download Full Image

Muslim, a political science major, feels that the Austin James Service Scholarship will help pave her way as a freshman and first-generation student whose parents immigrated from Bosnia to the United States in 2001. Murphy, a senior majoring in Russian and political science, said the Barrett Emergency Student Fund is the lifeline and support she needed to remain at the university after escaping with her young child from an abusive marriage.

There are many merit- and need-based Barrett Honors College student scholarships available to students in need, and applications for the 2024–25 academic year open on Nov. 1 and close on Feb. 1, 2024. Need-based aid requires that a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) be on file. Oct. 1 is the FAFSA form submission deadline.

Paola Gale, associate director of development for Barrett Honors College with the ASU Foundation, said the impact of scholarships is significant in the lives of students.

“Scholarships provide the essential funds needed to obtain a top-tier education, and in some cases, keep students in the university. But the positive effects of the scholarships extend beyond the student recipients. The impact that will happen as a result of their future professional endeavors is incalculable. Many lives will be changed for good, as a result of one donor, one student, one scholarship philosophy,” she said.

Recalling the challenges her parents faced leaving their beloved, but politically unstable and war-torn homeland in eastern Europe, Muslim is equally as grateful for their sacrifices as she is for the opportunities the four-year Austin James Scholarship affords her.

“As a daughter of immigrant parents, I know that I’m having this experience because of the sacrifices they made for me to be here today,” said Muslim, who aspires to be a lawyer serving the Bosnian community. “Being chosen to receive a scholarship means someone believes in me and what I want to accomplish."

Three weeks into the fall 2020 semester, physical threats and stalking forced Murphy and her child to flee their home — leaving everything behind, including a job, car, apartment and personal belongings — and enter a high security shelter.

“With a lot of help, I stayed in classes that semester. By the end of the semester, though, I made the decision to drop out of Barrett in order to provide stability for my child and myself, as I could not see a way to continue to provide stable housing and continue studying in Barrett,” Murphy said.

She notified her Barrett thesis director and honors academic advisor of her situation and they encouraged her to apply for the Barrett Emergency Student Fund, which provides support for students to continue their education while experiencing life challenges.

“The support and help offered enabled me to not only stay in Barrett and continue toward completion of my degrees, but also to thrive here,” said Murphy, who used funds for housing expenses.

“The benefit extended far beyond the financial help I received. Support from the Barrett leadership, faculty, staff and donors in the form of this tangible financial help made me feel valued and seen, and helped me remember I was not alone. Knowing that they are all in my corner and want me to succeed in my education encouraged me and helped me to keep moving forward,” she added.

Muslim and Murphy are two of many honors students who have received scholarships specifically designated for Barrett students.

In the 2022–23 academic year, 662 honors students were awarded scholarships with a total value of over $1.3 million. In the same time period, 23 students received a total of $13,522 in assistance from the Barrett Emergency Student Fund.

According to Gale, there are many opportunities to support Barrett students and initiatives. Donors can make gifts of cash and stock, put Barrett Honors College in estate plans or take advantage of company matching gift programs. To inquire about these options, contact Gale at

Nicole Greason

Director of Marketing and Public Relations , Barrett, The Honors College