How political divisiveness threatens US foreign policy

Former national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster to speak at ASU’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership event Oct. 7

September 29, 2021

President Donald Trump’s disagreements with then-national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster were extensively reported during McMaster's 13 months in the role until he was famously dismissed via Twitter. Two years later, McMaster discusses how political divisiveness is poisoning U.S. foreign policy. He will speak at ASU on Thursday, Oct. 7, as part of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership’s Civic Discourse Project. The event is free and open to the public.

“Our country is politically divided, and individuals are targeted with misinformation, bias and distrust for democratic institutions,” said McMaster. “This has a negative impact on our ability to lead international efforts to bring stabilization and peace to the world, and threatens the confidence necessary to implement an effective foreign policy.” portrait of Lt. Gen. and ASU Distinguished University Fellow H.R. McMaster Lt. Gen. and ASU Distinguished University Fellow H.R. McMaster to speak at ASU as part of The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership’s Civic Discourse Project Thursday, Oct. 7, at 5 p.m. Download Full Image

In his lecture, McMaster will highlight the importance of history and civic education to rebuild trust in the country’s democratic institutions and effectively implement U.S. foreign policy. The lecture starts at 5 p.m. in the Memorial Union's Arizona Ballroom on the Tempe campus. The Civic Discourse Project offers a thoughtful and broad assessment of what the challenges are to American civic life and its institutions — including the university. This year’s program focuses on “Renewing America’s Civic Compact.”

“Sectors of the American public show a low understanding of and trust in our democratic institutions,” said Paul Carrese, director of the school. “Our goal at the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership is to foster an interdisciplinary and balanced environment for debating ideas that are critical to our democracy, and we strive to do this by hosting discussions with the country’s most prominent public service leaders, authors and scholars.”  

The Civic Discourse Project is co-sponsored by ASU’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership and the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, and supported by the Jack Miller Center. For more information and to register, visit

ASU Distinguished University Fellow McMaster is the Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and Stanford University. A native of Philadelphia, McMaster graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1984. He served as an Army officer for 34 years and retired as a lieutenant general in 2018. He remained on active duty while serving as the 26th assistant to the president for national security affairs. He taught history at West Point and holds a PhD in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Marcia Paterman Brookey

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership


ASU professor begins term as president of History of Economics Society

Ross Emmett will serve for two years as president of the society, having already served two years as the elected vice president

September 1, 2021

Ross Emmett, director of Arizona State University’s Center for the Study of Economic Liberty and professor at the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, recently began his term as president of the History of Economics Society, an organization dedicated to “encouraging interest, fostering scholarship and promoting discussion among scholars and professionals in the field of history of economics and related disciplines.”

Following the organization’s constitutional guidelines, Emmett will serve for two years as president of the society, having already served two years as the elected vice president. According to Emmett, this allows the society’s elected officials a reasonable time in office for accomplishment of their most important duty: planning and hosting conferences that provide a forum for established and young scholars to advance new ideas and research. Young scholars can apply for funding for the conference through the Warren and Sylvia Samuels Fund, a resource dedicated to the promotion of young academics.  portrait of ASU Professor Ross Emmett Ross Emmett, director of ASU’s Center for the Study of Economic Liberty and professor at the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. Download Full Image

Emmett sees the History of Economics Society conferences as a great opportunity to “provide mentorship to young scholars … and have senior scholars comment on their scholarship.” As a young scholar, Emmett won best dissertation in 1992 for his work, “The Economist as Philosopher: Frank H. Knight and American Social Science During the Twenties and Thirties.”

More than 300 international members of the History of Economics Society will be invited to meet in Vancouver, British Columbia, in January 2023 to discuss research materials and papers in the conference curated by Emmett and his team. Conference sessions and themes are organized around papers and research proposals submitted well in advance of the meeting; this approach allows for submissions from a broad range of thoughts and ideas, rather than responses to a prescriptive call. 

Per Emmett: “We want everyone to attend. We get Marxists and libertarians, conservatives and liberals, historians and philosophers.” Emmett, a self-described member of "the dismal science," corrected the author’s admiration for this egalitarian approach, insisting that pragmatism is the driving factor. He is an economist, after all.

Since joining ASU in 2018, Emmett has taught three different history of economics-related courses and is regularizing a cross-listed history of economic thought course with the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership and the W. P. Carey Department of Economics. As director of the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty, Emmett organized and held the Winter Institute for the History of Economic Thought in 2019 and 2020, and he is planning for the 2022 offering. Additionally, center researchers publish an annual report titled “Doing Business North America," a project that “annually provides objective measures of the scale and scope of business regulations in 130 cities across 92 states, provinces and federal districts of the U.S., Canada and Mexico. It uses these measures to score and rank cities in regard to how easy or difficult it is to set up, operate and shut down a business.”

A fuller description of Emmett’s research and teaching can be found in his ASU profile

Most recently, Emmett has started a new research program, Economists on the Indigenous Peoples of North America, with the first foray into the subject being a paper titled “Frank Amasa Walker and the Indigenous Peoples of North America.” This will be presented at the January 2022 Allied Social Science Association meeting, which is the largest gathering of economists globally, with more than 13,000 attendees.

Project Coordinator, Center for the Study of Economic Liberty

Neurobiology student re-creates famous mural during pandemic

May 13, 2021

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in August 2020, when Arizona State University's Tempe campus was at a standstill and students and faculty were preparing for another semester of virtual learning, Ariana Afshari started to paint.

A neurobiology major pursuing a minor in civic and economic thought and leadership, Afshari was looking for an opportunity to show that she was well-versed in more than STEM, philosophy, politics and economics — she is also an artist. Plato and Aristotle surrounded by philosophers, detail from School of Athens, fresco by Raphael, 1508–11; in the Stanza della Segnatura in the Vatican. Image: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, New York. Source:

“It makes sense to explore different avenues like art in the same way we would study ancient works,” Afshari said. “In a lot of ways, I don’t think students think they work in tandem but they do. This project has really made it possible for me to demonstrate to other students that art can also work in the same way to analyze history, politics and philosophy.”

When the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership developed their Coor Texts Reading Room, Afshari approached the school’s director, Paul Carrese, to ask if she could paint something for it. That something is a 60-by-40-inch canvas mural inspired by "The School of Athens" by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael.

“Arianna's work is a great example of SCETL students integrating their learning with their everyday lives, and integrating different disciplines," Carrese said. "The Coor Texts Reading Room is a space for our students and faculty to study, read and talk about their classes, as well as the wider world. Arianna is a scientist inspired by her SCETL studies to think philosophically across the span of human inquiry. We're so thankful she has contributed this splendid statement about SCETL and higher learning."

“With history, you have the benefit of knowing so much about the context, so many details, facts and figures, but you cannot really imagine what it might look like when you were there. Art has this profound way of making it more multidimensional and that’s the beauty of it,” Afshari said.

Over the past 10 months, Afshari has re-created Raphael’s masterpiece but with a SCETL twist: In addition to Plato and Aristotle, Afshari added Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Cesar Chavez, Frederick Douglass, Frida Kahlo and other prominent historical figures.

The mural now hangs in the Coor Texts Reading Room, which is open to all Arizona State University students and faculty. Many items in the Reading Room are available through generous long-term loans made by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership faculty members. You can view the catalog here.

In addition to working on the mural throughout the year, Afshari also worked part time as a pharmacy technician, served on the Undergraduate Student Government as the director of health and wellness, was an Eichler Scholar through the Dartmouth Health Care Foundations, an IGNITE Fellow for Teach For America and a WINURE Neuroscience Research Scholar for the School of Life Sciences.

“This has served as a break for me,” Afshari said. “It was a nice opportunity to explore my passions and find something good in something really bad … I am proud of myself and I’m really excited for everyone to see it and admire it, and hopefully derive something cool out of it that I didn’t even intend.”

Jacey West

Communications program coordinator, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership


ASU graduate aims to use his difficult journey to inspire others

April 27, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Christian Kainoa Spenser is set to graduate from Arizona State University on May 3. When he receives his diploma, it will be the end of a four-year journey with nearly insurmountable obstacles in his way. Portrait of graduating ASU student Christian Kainoa Spenser At the end of Christian Kainoa Spenser's sophomore year at Seton Hall University, he began feeling ill. After returning home, he was put in a medically induced coma for three weeks and awoke to find necrotizing fasciitis had claimed his legs and soon parts of his hands. He began the process of healing — a journey that would take him to an internship in the governor’s office and a degree in civic and economic thought and leadership from ASU. Photo by Joe Martin/ASU Download Full Image

“My education journey has been defined by adapting to different and hard situations,” he said.

In May 2017, Spenser was finishing his sophomore year at Seton Hall University in New Jersey when he started to feel ill. He passed out during a final but was able to get home to Scottsdale, Arizona. He was quickly taken to a nearby hospital where he was in a medically induced coma for over three weeks.

“The last thing I really remember was being in the intake room doing the vitals with my grandma and looking down at her hand,” said Spenser.

When he woke up, the doctors told him that he didn’t have his legs anymore and that they needed to amputate his hands. Spenser was diagnosed with a rare disorder called necrotizing fasciitis, commonly referred to as “flesh-eating bacteria.” After three months Spenser was released from the hospital.

“Ever since then, it’s been a continual journey of healing and growing in lots of different ways,” said Spenser.

The summer before Spenser got sick, he’d applied for an internship with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey. When Ducey heard of his story, he visited Spenser in the hospital with an acceptance letter to the internship.

When Spenser was ready and dedicated to restarting his education, he worked as an intern in the governor’s office. Whether it was meeting with Rep. Jennifer Longdon to talk about planning a more accessible city for people with disabilities or helping legislative policy advisers, he had the opportunity to experience firsthand what it takes to run a state government.

When Ducey learned that Spenser wanted to continue to pursue his education, he recommended the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL), which at the time was new to ASU. Intrigued by civil governance, innovation, philosophy and learning what it takes to be an entrepreneur, Spenser thought the new academic program was a natural fit.

“It fell right along my alley of wanting to be able to help people, give back to the community and learn how we can do that at an institutional level,” said Spenser, who is graduating with a major in civic and economic thought and leadership.

“Education has always been this thing for me — no matter where you come from, no matter who you are, no matter the ability people say you have, it’s something all people can have to really move up and grow,” said Spenser.

The governor created a video address for SCETL's Class of 2021 in which he gave a special shoutout to Spenser: “Kainoa has faced considerable challenges to get here, but he has persevered every step of the way. I’m proud of Kainoa and our other SCETL graduates.” 

Spenser works with the K2 Adventures Foundation, which raises money for people living with limb loss and limb difference. Before the pandemic, he frequently traveled around the state sharing his story and the lessons he has learned. Those experiences, combined with his education, have made Spenser passionate about using his education to help others.

“Academia and education have always played a big role in my life … it’s not getting the degree but going through the process of graduating and what you learn through that is the best part,” he said.

After graduation, Spenser plans to continue to speak about his story and start a nonprofit organization to aid those living with seen and unseen disabilities. He is also interested in pursuing graduate studies and traveling to Japan to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

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

Answer: First, I would do tangible things, like making Tempe and Scottsdale accessible. … So that whether you are a student, a worker, or someone who wants to get out and exercise around town can do so with dignity and ease.

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

A: It was looking at the website and seeing the pursuit of discussion-oriented courses that drew me in. Hearing lectures from professors is incredible, but getting the student-on-student discussion is really what drives people to learn and really taking on the lessons that the authors have to teach us.

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

A: I’ve gotten this lesson a lot in my life — you’re always a student and can never know what someone is going to say … you can find knowledge anywhere. I came from a smaller campus so when I found myself sitting in the middle of a ginormous campus and random people come up to you and have great conversations, you think “Wow, this is the cool experience of a bigger university.” It was the little lessons that the university taught me through the people.

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

A: Dr. Peter McNamara was one of my first professors. I really liked his teaching style, the books we read and the discussions we had in his course.

Jacey West

Communications program coordinator, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership


How the 2016 presidential election led this ASU grad to Columbia Law

April 26, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

When Nicole Morote was 6, she and her family moved from Lima, Peru, to the United States. After moving around the country, her family settled in Georgia, which is where she lived before she visited Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. Photo of Nicole Morote working as an intern in Sen. Martha McSally's office in summer 2019. Download Full Image

“I got a tour by the Devil’s Advocates and their excitement is really contagious, and being in such a large research institution where you see undergraduates doing research, pursuing all these internships, getting these crazy jobs that as a 16-year-old, I didn’t think were open to me,” Morote said. “I thought I could be like them, and this would be a good place to try it out. It was a place where I could maximize my potential the most.”

As of this spring, Morote is a Barrett, The Honors College graduate with double majors in marketing and civic and economic thought and leadership. She discovered the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership during her first year after visiting a booth at Passport to ASU. From there, she took her first civic and economic thought and leadership class with Professor Karen Taliaferro.

“I was told that when I was coming into a state university that you should expect big lecturers not to care about you. Neither of those things was true; or at least not in SCETL,” said Morote. “Even in my wildest dreams, I had not expected a professor that was so supportive, so genuinely caring about other students. That was one of the biggest reasons why I was able to stay in SCETL; because the professors and academics were really knowledgeable, but they also really care about the people they’re teaching.”

For Morote, civic and economic thought and leadership courses challenge her to learn in a different way. Accustomed to classes like English and history that focus their lectures on facts and rules, SCETL classes have challenged her to learn in a different way.

“I was being taught ways in which to understand the world, and that’s harder to conceptualize, but I think that served me a lot better, both as a person and aspiring academic, Morote said. “In the sense, you're not just being taught what to think, you’re taught how to think.”

Morote credits Taliaferro for helping her discover her interests, which led to an internship that shaped her experience in understanding why she wants to have a career at the intersection of policy and communication.

The summer after her first year at ASU, Morote moved to Washington, D.C., for the summer to intern at a congressional office.

“It was beyond anything that I could’ve imagined doing as an 18-year-old … It helped me realize that a lot more is in reach than I thought,” she said.

While in Washington, Morote had the opportunity to interview Bernie Sanders, meet Jeff Flake and experience the day-to-day business of working on Capitol Hill.

“I was able to be writing briefs on specific topics, going to meetings with members of Congress with real staffers and writing policy proposals. I like to think that I was having a real impact, and that’s not really something I associated with most internships.”

In addition to her academic pursuits and internships, Morote was involved with Devil’s Advocates, wrote for the student newspaper and was involved with student government, where she received the Initiative of the Year award for her advocacy work on college affordability.

After graduation, Morote plans to attend Columbia Law School in New York City.

“I’m really interested in criminal law. I’ve also done work in civil litigation, as well as immigration law, so those are fields I know I would be interested in. I’m also really interested in learning more about election law,” she said. “I’m keeping my options open and am very excited about them.”

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

Answer: It was the 2016 presidential election. I’d been interested in politics and paying attention a little bit while growing up but as an immigrant, and someone who English wasn’t their first language … it wasn’t something that was talked about around the dinner table. The 2016 presidential election was the first one where I felt conscious and informed enough to pay attention in a way that approaches the level to the way I pay attention now. Everything felt so consequential and especially personal. I moved from a very partisan area in the California Bay Area to a very partisan area in a different sense, in a very small town in Georgia. It was fascinating to see the disconnect with which people believed such different things so strongly, but it’s not like one of them is right and one of them is wrong — they are coming from legitimate places. I think it’s important to understand those things instead of writing off everyone that disagrees. Being surrounded by very polarized people in different directions really shaped that for me.

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

A: This was my first SCETL class! I was taking Great Ideas in Politics and Ethics (CEL 100) the fall semester of my first year. The two professors teaching the class were Professor Taliferro and Professor (Kent) Wright — both were excellent. That class really set the foundation for why I would eventually become a CEL major. I had such a positive experience that I switched my major to become a CEL major. The reason that I loved the class so much is because they made stuff that had felt very inaccessible to me, all the knowledge about the classics — Plato and Socrates — they made it understandable. It helped me realize that I was more capable than I thought I was.

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

A: Apply for things! It can be so easy not to apply to things, to see job opportunities get passed up because you’re not reading the right newsletters, you’re not connecting with the right professors. If you approach these things where you know you’re only going to be limited by what you didn’t do, it can be really easy to put yourself out there.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I love the art museum! When I had breaks between classes, I would go to the art museum or the student pavilion.

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

A: If I could fix anything, there’s a lot of problems I would like to solve, but to me it feels so important to make sure that people are provided with the basic needs to continue living. I’m extra invested because we have so much food waste that gets thrown out and such a huge disparity in the areas that have plenty of food and enough to spare.

Jacey West

Communications program coordinator, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership


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The College honors outstanding academic achievement with 2021 Dean's Medals

April 26, 2021

On Monday, May 3, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University will recognize its highest achieving students from the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities divisions at the spring 2021 virtual convocation ceremony.

Each department and school within The College has selected an outstanding student who demonstrated a steadfast commitment to academic excellence during their time at ASU. These students will be awarded a prestigious Dean’s Medal in honor of their scholastic achievements.

Meet the outstanding spring 2021 Dean’s Medalist awardees from around The College.

Erin Crust 

portrait of student

Dean’s Medal: Department of Economics
Majors: Economics, mathematics 
Minor: Civic and economic thought and leadership

Crust is a Barrett, The Honors College student, studying economics, mathematics and civic and economic thought and leadership. Crust's academic accomplishments include serving as an undergraduate research assistant and co-authoring an economic letter with the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Despite her busy schedule, Crust found time to be involved with ASU’s women’s rugby team and participated in a variety of volunteer events where she helped teach a clinic for local youth teams. In addition, Crust worked as an intern with the Arizona Advocacy Network, a nonpartisan organization that works to promote democracy and voting rights.

After graduation, she plans to work as a research associate with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. With a passion for conducting research and mentoring students, she hopes to pursue a PhD and become a professor of economics.

Anabel Figueroa Velasco

 student's portrait

Dean’s Medal: School of Social and Family Dynamics
Major: Family and human development
Minor: Communication

Figueroa Velasco is a first-generation college student studying family and human development and human communication with an interest in advocating for mental health in Hispanic populations.

During her time at ASU, Figueroa Velasco was involved in several extracurricular activities, groups and clubs. She served in multiple leadership roles for Gamma Alpha Omega, a multicultural sorority, and was an active member of the School of Social and Family Dynamics’ Student Leaders Club. She was also an instructional aide and earned a summer research program fellowship along with multiple scholarships from the School of Social and Family Dynamics.

In addition to her extracurricular activities, throughout her time as an undergraduate she worked two jobs to help pay for her education and bills. After graduation, she plans to continue working in order to save money for graduate school and hopes to pursue a career in therapy or counseling.

Kara Gardner

student's portrait 

Dean’s Medal: School of Life Sciences
Major: Biological sciences (biology and society)
Minor: Justice studies

Gardner is a first-generation college student studying biology and society as well as justice studies. With a passion for serving vulnerable communities, Gardner is a volunteer leader with Gathering Humanity, a local nonprofit that provides essential goods to local refugees experiencing resettlement and to other community members in need.

During her time at ASU, she was also selected to participate in ASU’s Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, where she worked closely with residents at the Maricopa Reentry Center addressing feminism and issues of toxic masculinity in the community.

After graduation, Gardner is eager to pursue a master’s degree in bioscience ethics, policy and law at ASU. In her master’s degree program, she will research the intersection of bioethics law and regulations and birth control technology, specifically focusing on long-acting reversible contraception and the lack of male birth control on the market. Her research will be supported by a scholarship from The Next Edison Foundation.

Aseel Ibrahim


Dean’s Medal: School of Transborder Studies
Majors: Biological sciences (biomedical sciences), transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o studies (transborder community development and health)
Minor: Arabic studies

Ibrahim studies biomedical sciences, transborder community development and health, and Arabic. With a passion for the medical field and merging both her degrees in the natural and social sciences, Ibrahim’s honor’s thesis explores the possible gaps in the cycle of medical education regarding cultural competence to reach a more interdisciplinary and inclusive approach to medicine.

In addition to her thesis, she has experience with other research projects, has vast volunteer experience in and outside ASU and was recently recognized as a student leader in The College.

Ibrahim was also selected for a highly competitive mentoring program, where she has been mentored by the geriatric medicine physician and associate dean of the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine for the past two years. After graduation she plans on attending medical school.

Elisa Jennings

 student's portrait

Dean’s Medal: School of International Letters and Cultures
Majors: English (linguistics), classics (ancient Greek language)
Certificate: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)

Jennings has a passion for learning and teaching languages. Through her studies of ancient Greek language, she made many contributions to ASU’s classics community.

At ASU, Jennings served as the head grader and tutor in the classics program. School of International Letters and Cultures faculty and instructors said Jennings not only helped the courses run smoothly but also helped students feel more confident, empowered and ready to tackle the subjects on their own.

As an intern at Global Launch at ASU, Jennings assists in activities and provides conversational practice to students who speak English as a second language. She also leads the student organization Solis Diaboli and revitalized it by holding game and trivia nights that appeal to students outside the classics program.

After graduation, Jennings will pursue a master’s degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She aspires to teach Latin and Greek at the high school level.

Junehyoung Jeon

student's portrait 

Dean’s Medal: School of Earth and Space Exploration
Major: Earth and space exploration (astrophysics)

Jeon is a Barrett student who is from Seongnam, South Korea. He serves as a research assistant in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Jeon is an active participant in Regents Professor Rogier Windhorst’s cosmology research group where he uses the CIGALE program to model the SED of high redshift galaxies to determine their properties. His work done in Windhorst’s lab has been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal.

He has served in several extracurricular roles including as a student ambassador for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In addition, Jeon is the secretary of the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space club, where he participates in outreach events to communicate the importance of science education.

After graduation, Jeon will pursue a master’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin where he will work with faculty to use the James Webb Space Telescope.

Benjamin Jones

student's portrait 

Dean’s Medal: School of Mathematics and Statistical Sciences
Major: Mathematics

Jones is a National Merit Commended Scholar who has won numerous awards including the U.S. Marine Corps Scholastic Excellence Award, the Arizona Congressional Scholastic Achievement Award and the Rotary Youth Leadership Award.

He enjoys studying mathematics and working on projects that involve a combination of math and computer science. Jones serves as an academic success tutor, as well as a grader in mathematics. During his time at ASU, he completed two internships, one in data science, and one in information technology security. His teachers and adviser commend him as exceptional and enthusiastic.

Outside the classroom, he was on ASU’s roller derby team and was a member of the chess club. After graduation Jones plans to continue his studies toward a PhD in mathematics.

Emily Luffey

student's portrait 

Dean’s Medal: Department of Physics
Major: Biophysics

Luffey is a transfer student who is from a rural area with few science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education opportunities. She is recognized by faculty and her peers as an outstanding member of ASU’s physics community.

During her time at ASU, Luffey participated in research in the Single Molecule Biophysics Lab, where she characterized properties of both cancerous and noncancerous chromatin. In addition, she serves as a Sundial project mentor and the treasurer of ASU’s Society of Physics Students. She is also a member of the Department of Physics’ American Physical Society Inclusion, Diversity, Equality Alliance team, where she helped to teach first-year students about various concepts in physics and biophysics.

She has been recognized with several awards including The College Student Leader Award, the John C. Wheatley Undergraduate Research Award, Arizona/NASA Space Grant and ASU’s Women in Physics Prize.

Nora Martinez

 student's portrait

Dean’s Medal: School of Human Evolution and Social Change
Majors: Anthropology, English literature

Martinez is an honors student with a passion for literature, literacy and publishing studies.

She is the president of ASU’s Undergraduate Anthropology Association where she actively organizes events that unite faculty with students and provides helpful information to undergraduates.

Martinez participated in undergraduate research in Chris Morehart's Los Mogotes Archaeological Laboratory and with Ian Gilby in the Gombe Chimpanzee Research Group. She served as a publishing intern for the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and a student assistant for Red Ink: International Journal of Indigenous Literature, Arts, and Humanities. In spring 2019, Martinez studied abroad for a semester at the University of Edinburgh. After graduation, she will pursue a master’s degree in publishing from the University of Exeter. Her goal is to launch a career in publishing dedicated to implementing multiculturalism, decolonization and anti-racism into the industry.

Colin Marvin

student's portrait 

Dean’s Medal: School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning
Major: Geography
Minor: Mathematics
Certificate: Geographic information science

Marvin is passionate about research and developing his skills in mathematics and geographic theory and methods. During his time at ASU, he participated in many research opportunities in the Earth Surface Processes and Geomorphology Lab.

In the lab, he served as a research assistant and geography peer mentor. He was awarded a Barrett Global Explorers Grant that enabled him to research a new method of recognizing human-caused pollution and disturbances to coastal dune systems. In addition, Marvin worked as an intern for NASA DEVELOP where he provided the city of San Diego with data to address the impacts of the urban heat island. 

He is a member of Gamma Theta Upsilon, the international honor society in geography. Marvin aspires to become a professor at a research institution.

Sarah Mogytych

student's portrait

Dean’s Medal: Hugh Downs School of Human Communication
Major: Communication
Certificate: Sports, culture and ethics

Mogytych is interested in communication and sports, culture and ethics. Her honors thesis, “Sports Film and the Female Athlete: An examination of the gendered framing of female protagonists,” aims to identify central gendered themes in the female protagonist sport film genre and highlight how these themes perpetuate heteronormative stereotypes.

During her time at ASU she served as an academic tutor for the Office of Student Athlete Development as well as a teaching assistant in The College. She was a member of the 942 Crew executive board, a student-run booster organization in Sun Devil Athletics aimed at enhancing the student experience at all ASU athletic events. 

With a passion for helping students make the best of their college experience and achieve their fullest potential, Mogytych plans on continuing her education journey at ASU by pursuing a master’s degree in higher and postsecondary education.

Sofia Murillo

student's portrait

Dean’s Medal: School of Social Transformation
Majors: Women and gender studies, political science
Minor: French

Murillo is a second-generation Sun Devil who is motivated to tackle issues of women’s health and reproductive justice. During her time as an undergraduate, she worked as a campaign organizer for the ASU chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action, an editor of the website Her Campus at ASU, a features editor for Normal Noise magazine and an intern with QUAD Productions working on social justice documentary projects.

In addition, Murillo is an accomplished musician and has been active in ensembles on campus and in the community. She performed violin with the West Valley Youth Orchestra and Phoenix Youth Symphony and has been involved with the ASU Philharmonia and La Raza Chamber Players, a collection of Latino musicians performing works by Latino composers. She shared her passion for music by teaching grade school students with the ASU String Project and by mentoring students with special needs with United Sound.

After graduation, Murillo plans on applying for internships in the fields of government, advocacy, nonprofit or gender studies as she searches for the career path that interests her most.

Bianca Navia

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Dean’s Medal: School of Politics and Global Studies
Majors: Global studies, political science
Minors: Italian, German

Navia is an honors student who is the first of her four sisters to attend college. She has a deep interest in foreign affairs, particularly issues of international migration and refugees, terrorism and counterterrorism, and the politics of the Middle East.

During her time at ASU, she participated in undergraduate research at the Center on the Future of War, Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, and the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies. Outside the classroom, she interned with the Anti-Defamation League and wrote twice-weekly blog posts to promote U.S.-Ukrainian cross-cultural exchange through America House Kyiv. In addition, she tutors Sudanese and Syrian refugees in English, and helps to mentor U.S.-inbound Fulbright Scholars from the Middle East and North Africa.

Navia was awarded various prestigious scholarships and fellowships including the Boren Scholarship and the Killam Fellowship. This summer, she will complete a virtual internship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. She aspires to live, work or study abroad in the Middle East and pursue graduate studies.

Angel Nosie

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Dean’s Medal: American Indian Studies
Majors: Justice studies, American Indian studies

Nosie is a Moeur Award recipient who is passionate about helping Indigenous communities throughout Arizona. She is a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe of the Hagosteele Clan. 

She received a full-ride Geronimo scholarship from her tribe, as well as the Fort McDowell Wassaja Scholarship. Outside the classroom she participates in ASU’s Pre-Law Society and serves as the vice president of Alpha Pi Omega, the first Native American sorority at ASU. In addition, she served as a student panel speaker for the Tribal Nations Tour, where she shared her personal experiences in higher education with Native American high school students across the country to encourage them on a path to college.

After graduation, Nosie plans on participating in the Pipeline to Law Initiative, where she will be equipped with the tools to apply to law school. She aspires to attend Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law and practice Indian law in the future.

Jasmin Ray

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Dean’s Medal: Department of Psychology
Major: Psychology
Minor: Biological sciences

Ray is a first-generation college student and the firstborn child of Cambodian refugees. She is a Barrett student who studies psychology and biological sciences and is passionate about a future career in pediatrics.

She has worked at Phoenix Children's Hospital since 2018 as a volunteer and a patient care technician. In addition, she interned as a neurorehabilitation technician at Neurohealth Solution, a care facility for patients who suffer from traumatic brain injuries. Ray also served as a teaching assistant with the Department of Psychology, where she helped fellow undergraduate students learn about various mental illnesses in adults.

She worked closely with Associate Professor Leah Doane to complete her honors thesis on objective stress measures of child diurnal cortisol rhythms. After graduation, Ray hopes to work in the health care industry and integrate her knowledge of people and biology.

Alexandra Rios

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Dean’s Medal: Department of English
Major: English literature
Minors: Italian, Spanish

Rios started her journey at ASU as a biology minor, but eventually found her passion studying English literature, Italian and Spanish. As a first-generation American who grew up in a bilingual home, she quickly gravitated toward studying languages and literature.

For three years, she has worked at Hayden Library in Collections Care Preservation, helping visiting researchers navigate the special collections. In addition, she co-hosted, co-wrote, co-produced and co-broadcast an ASU radio show called Buongiorno Italian, a program focused on Italian news, culture and music. She was a research assistant for Professor George Justice, researching the use of the word “heroine” in 18th-century online collections. She also worked as a communications intern on a political campaign.

After graduation, Rios plans to pursue an advanced degree in comparative literature, where she can further immerse herself in language, literature and research. 

Joshua Robinaugh

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Dean’s Medal: School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies
Major: History

Robinaugh is the vice president of Eta Sigma Phi and an undergraduate representative for Phi Alpha Theta. He studies history and is especially interested in medieval history.

In his undergraduate honor’s thesis, “Race, Color and Enslaveability: An Analysis of Slave Buying Manuals in the Medieval Islamic World,” he examined ideas of race and enslaveability in the Islamic world, shedding new light on the relationship between colorism and racism in medieval Islamic frameworks of enslaveability. 

He served as a research assistant in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies where he helped compile a wide range of both primary and secondary sources from across the globe and from a wide range of time in the premodern period, translating previously untranslated content from Latin into English. He is a member of the National Honor Society and ASU’s chess club. He also served as a university housing assistant and a course grader for ASU’s Global Launch program.

After graduation, Robinaugh will decide between pursuing work as a certified nursing assistant or continuing his education at ASU this fall. 

Ellen Streitwieser

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Dean’s Medal: School of Molecular Sciences
Major: Biochemistry
Minor: Psychology

Streitwieser is an ASU Online student interested in the field of neuroscience and advocating for women in science. She is the founder and president of the Inclusion, Diversity, Education, Advocacy in Science (IDEAS) Student Society, one of the largest student organizations at ASU with over 600 active members.

She also founded and is the vice president of BeYouASU (LGBTQIA Sun Devils and Allies), a group that offers peer support and advocates for LGBTQ students in the ASU community. Streitwieser serves as a lead teacher’s assistant in the School of Molecular Sciences Online Chemistry Learning Resource Center, providing tutoring and peer support for general and organic chemistry courses.

After graduation, Streitwieser plans to pursue a PhD in computational biophysical chemistry and has been accepted into several prestigious graduate programs including at Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University and University of California, Berkeley.

Cameron Vega

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Dean’s Medal: School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership
Majors: Civic and economic thought and leadership, political science
Minor: History
Certificates: Human rights, political economy, religion and conflict, Russian and East European studies

Vega is double majoring in civic and economic thought and leadership and political science with a minor in history and certificates in human rights, political economy, religion and conflict, and Russian and East European studies.

During his time at ASU, Vega served as president of the Alexander Hamilton Society and a participant in Model United Nations. He participated in undergraduate research at the Center on the Future of War and the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict.

He was selected for a competitive State Department internship and received a George Washington Scholarship, the school’s most prestigious academic merit scholarship. Earlier this year he was also awarded a Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship.

After graduation Vega will attend Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies to pursue a master’s degree in international relations with a focus on security, strategy and statecraft. Afterwards he will join the U.S. foreign service through his Pickering Fellowship.

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications , New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

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Destined for the district

April 23, 2021

School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership Dean’s Medalist to follow up an impressive academic career with one in foreign service

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Even over Zoom, Arizona State University graduate Cameron Vega’s poise and professionalism is notable. Like many students this year, he has had some practice using the virtual platform. Just as his semester interning for the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., was getting underway in the spring of 2020, the pandemic hit.

Vega ended up returning to his home state of Arizona to finish out the internship online, but it took some convincing. Ever since his first visit to Washington as an adult, in the summer of 2018 when he flew out to represent the Alexander Hamilton Society as incoming president at a conference, he was hooked.

“I kind of knew I found where I wanted my home to be on the flight in, where the plane does a little turnaround at the Washington Monument,” Vega said. “I was stunned by that. I knew that these were the sites I wanted to see for the rest of my life.”

But the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership Dean’s Medalist didn’t always know he was destined for a career in the district. He started his freshman year at ASU as a physics major. It was a last-minute decision to take part in the Model United Nations Conference that changed his trajectory forever.

Today, Vega is looking back on an academic career that includes three fellowships (one each with ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, Center on the Future of War and Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies), a National Merit Scholarship, a National Hispanic Scholarship and a George Washington Scholarship.

And the accolades don’t appear to be stopping any time soon. This March, Vega received word that he had been accepted to Johns Hopkins University for graduate studies with a full ride, thanks to a well-earned Pickering Fellowship. He plans to pursue a master of arts in international relations, after which he will join the U.S. foreign service for five years.

ASU Now spoke with Vega about how he got to where he is today, and how others can get there, too.

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Cameron Vega

Question: You double majored in political science as well as civic and economic thought and leadership. What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study those fields?

Answer: I actually started out as a physics major, but before the start of the fall semester freshman year, I participated in the Model United Nations Conference for the very first time. I participated in the conference because I had enjoyed playing computer games like “Civilization” and had developed an interest in the role of foreign policy and how it relates to interpersonal communication and understandings. So after the conference, I was drawn to political science as a broad field. Then, while I was taking a political ideologies class, we read a couple excerpts from texts such as Machiavelli's “The Prince” and Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan.” And for me, reading those excerpts really didn't capture the full picture. But I noticed that in my SCETL classes, which I took on the recommendation of a few peers, that they really did approach the whole texts and look for not just the individual context, but the context of the text as a whole and the historical context which was developed. And I found that it really complimented my political science degree and ended up becoming more of my focus than political science was.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: For me it was a matter of cost effectiveness knowing that I’d be pursuing a graduate degree later. I wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to be in debt beforehand. And the offer from Barrett as a National Hispanic Scholar was too good to pass up. I was also very attracted to the general environment of the honors college, which is like a sort of competitive community on campus that I knew would allow me to engage with students in my own majors but also across disciplines. I thought it was really important to be able to talk with everyone from engineering students to aspiring mathematicians to theater kids who all just have this drive and passion to succeed. Plus, my family is a bunch of Sun Devils, so they were happy to support me going to ASU.

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

A: Just about how many opportunities are out there. Being from Arizona and wanting to be in D.C. means that I took every opportunity I could to try and get over there to the East Coast and level the playing field between me and some of my East Coast peers and colleagues that I'd be competing with for careers and graduate school positions. And for me, that meant going online, parsing through jobs and internship listings, parsing through conference listings and seeing what I could apply to and what was realistic for me. And ASU was a big help with that; receiving institutional support from the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership as well as from the School of Politics and Global Studies was critical for me getting my foot in the door. Same thing with student organizations at ASU. There were some fairly well-renowned foreign policy organizations that I was able to become a part of and rise through the ranks of, officer-wise. Being able to utilize those positions to get myself over to D.C., despite being all the way from Arizona, really allowed me to succeed in my undergraduate career.

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

A: It's really hard to pick a specific professor because different professors have guided me in very different ways. The professor who kicked things off for me was Dr. Paul Carrese, the current director of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. He was the former adviser for the Alexander Hamilton Society. I took his course on statesmanship and American grand strategy, and he had a lot of faith in me and nominated me for a couple of summer opportunities. And although I didn’t receive them that year, the next year I received just about every opportunity I applied for with institutional backing from the Alexander Hamilton Society and SCETL. So that really kicked me off and gave me the vote of confidence that I needed. Other people that I would like to mention are Dr. Karen Taliaferro, who has been very kind and helpful with professional advice, as well as allowing me to just sort of dive into texts that I really want to. As well as Drs. Carol and Peter McNamara.

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

A: Look for opportunities to pursue leadership positions in student organizations, but make sure you can handle them; make sure you can commit to them. I've seen some students before, including myself, who get burned out by overcommitting. But look for opportunities, especially for leadership, because they allow you to stand out among a huge undergraduate class when you’re applying for scholarships, fellowships, graduate schools and careers. And don’t be afraid to take some chances and maybe sit in on a class and see if it sparks an interest, especially early on as a freshman or sophomore. If I hadn't attended the Model UN Conference, I would probably still be doing physics right now, and there’s no way I’d be the dean’s medalist for physics. Finally, utilize the Office of National Scholarship Advisement. It’s a really great resource on campus that is underutilized. Quite often, students who would easily qualify for a scholarship or fellowship just don't know about them, and they can let you know what you’re qualified for or offer suggestions on how to improve.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: If you're unfamiliar with your roommates, your common areas are really important. I also met a lot of my friends through classes, and although I didn't have specific favorite spots, events on campus were also a really good way to branch out and get to know people. Subscribe to newsletters and keep an eye on SunDevilSync to keep up with what’s happening.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'll be attending Johns Hopkins University for graduate studies. I just got my acceptance in the mail, and I've received a full ride, thanks to my Pickering Fellowship. I’ll be there to pursue a master of arts in international relations. The fellowship program provides support for graduate school for two years, and in exchange, I join the foreign service for five years after graduation.

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

A: I think that that money should be put toward equitable structures in America. Whether that be police reform or testing out a universal, basic income or offering greater educational opportunities for those in lower income brackets.

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay

New speaker series to tackle critical questions around Arizona's future

April 8, 2021

A new speaker series from the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership tackles critical questions facing the state of Arizona.

The Future of Arizona Democracy series kicks off April 12 with a discussion centered around the state’s citizen initiative process, which allows for Arizonans to place important issues on public ballots for passage. The inaugural discussion will include insight from John Leshy, professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law, Arizona Republic editorial columnist Robert Robb and Hon. Maria Baier of Great Hearts USA. The panel will be moderated by former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl. A new speaker series from the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership tackles critical questions facing the state of Arizona. The Future of Arizona Democracy series kicks off April 12 with a discussion centered around the state’s citizen initiative process, which allows for Arizonans to place important issues on public ballots for passage. Download Full Image

“SCETL offers programs for the non-ASU public, as well as students, to learn more about our governments,” Kyl said. “The better we understand how our governments work, the more citizens can help direct policy.

“The Future of Arizona Democracy program will provide interesting and informational perspectives from experts on how we can direct our efforts to improve our society."

The new series, co-sponsored by the Arizona Chamber Foundation’s Junior Fellows program, will include at least one event per semester. While the first event will be held virtually, the school and the Arizona Chamber hope to bring members of the community together, and plan to host future events in person.

“We are excited to partner with the Arizona Chambers Junior Fellows to deliver these important conversations around Arizona’s democracy and the state’s future,” said school Director Paul Carrese. “Arizona is a rapidly growing state with a diverse economy and some unique political features. And the Chamber of Commerce is a pillar of civil society across America, with a demonstrated interest in civic education for Americans of all ages. These conversations represent an opportunity for new and old members of our community to learn more effective ways to participate in self-government the Arizona way.”

The Arizona Junior Fellows are university students working with the Arizona Chamber Foundation on research, analysis and communications issues. The Junior Fellows program was founded by Eileen Klein, president emeritus for the Arizona Board of Regents, who currently serves as the group’s adviser.

“With a new generation of leaders in charge and many new people moving to our state, it’s the perfect time to consider how we will continue to evolve our democracy to promote freedom and opportunity for all,” Klein said. “We hope to inspire an ongoing series that will consider our state’s political and civic framework. Ideally, it will remain a student-led production, so students can become more immersed in the rich history of our state and more engaged as residents and voters.”

Klein also pointed out that Arizona State University represents a perfect place to host this inaugural discussion on the ballot initiative procedure, as Arizona citizens voted to transform ASU from a college to a university utilizing the procedure in 1958.

Future discussion topics could include election process integrity, executive authority and emergency powers, judicial power and mandatory sentencing, term limits and limitations, the Independent Redistricting Commission and competitive elections, rethinking the state government’s organizational chart, constitutional conservation and stewardship of natural resources, and the Voter Protection Act and Proposition 105, among other topics.

Learn more about the event on April 12 and to register to attend.

“It’s not enough to complain about the government if we’re not willing to be involved,” Kyl said. “Programs like our discussion on April 12 will help show how we can all be a part of our governance.”

Director, Communications, Phoenix Bioscience Core

ASU In the News

Kansas set to significantly expand, speed up out-of-state occupational licensing recognition

Kansas is on the verge of putting into law major changes speeding up and expanding the process of granting occupational licenses to those already holding licenses from out of state ― not just for military folks, but also everybody else.

A few people were concerned about situations where other states' standards may not hold up to Kansas' standards, and that having a "similar scope of practice" was not enough to ensure the best therapists, doctors or whoever else coming into Kansas were indeed qualified.

But a few other professions, notably architects, opposed the bill and were clamoring for the ability to still license applicants by the "equivalent" standard, too. They feared anything less could hurt the consumer.

"There have not been any public safety issues, and certainly not the type or the scale that opponents had feared. This isn’t surprising to me, though," said senior research fellow Stephen Slivinski, of Arizona State University's Center for the Study of Economic Liberty. "We’re seeing what we’ve seen for a long time: the presence of an occupational license isn’t a significant indicator of quality or public safety variance between states."

Article Source: The Topeka Capital-Journal

Project Coordinator, Center for the Study of Economic Liberty

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Melinda Gates on women's empowerment

TomorrowTalks put thought leaders of today in convo w/ changemakers of tomorrow
ASU prof Ayanna Thompson's book "Blackface" subject of 4/15 Tomorrow Talks event
March 19, 2021

The global philanthropist paid a virtual visit to the ASU community as part of the student engagement initiative 'TomorrowTalks'

If we want to change the world for the better, we’ve got to start by empowering women and girls.

That was the take-home message of a March 18 ASU virtual discussion with Melinda Gates – fittingly during Women’s History Month. The event, hosted by The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University, was part of a new student engagement initiative called TomorrowTalks, which aims to place some of the world’s foremost thought leaders in conversation with young changemakers, drawing on books they have written as a catalyst for meaningful dialogue.

The initiative launched in February with a discussion of Michael Eric Dyson’s “Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America,” and will continue April 15 with ASU’s own Ayanna Thompson, Regents Professor of English and director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, who will be discussing her book “Blackface (Object Lessons).”

The book up for discussion Thursday night was Gates’ “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.” Reviewers of the book range from former President Barack Obama, who called it “powerful,” to human rights activist Malala Yousafzai, who called it “an urgent manifesto for an equal society where women are valued and recognized in all spheres of life.”

Moment of Lift

A select group of students from The College’s Early Start program were given free copies of the book and prepared questions to ask Gates directly in advance of the event.

“It’s an incredible way for students to engage with real-world writers, thinkers, activists, politicians and public figures, and see that they’re not these inaccessible, faraway people, and that that they are interested in their ideas as up-and-coming leaders,” said Jessica Early, professor of English and director of the Early Start program. “It really demonstrates ASU’s commitment to equity and access, not just to an education at ASU, but also to these amazing people who have so much to share.”

At Thursday’s event, ASU President Michael Crow introduced Gates and thanked her and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation “for all you’ve done to help push ASU up the hill.”

“If we don’t think about gender and race in different ways ... if we don’t defeat the notion of inequality, we’ll never realize the full potential of our species,” Crow said in recognition of the main theme of Gates’ book.

Gates relayed how she came to write the book and why eradicating inequality is at the heart of her foundation’s work, explaining that it was through her travels around the world and listening to various women’s personal stories of struggle and hardship that “moved (her)” and “animated (her) life.”

ASU film and media studies Assistant Professor Aviva Dove-Viebahn, who recently landed a screenplay development deal with Women of Color Unite (WOCUnite), served as moderator. Dove-Viebahn asked Gates about her “doctrine of love.”

“I believe in connection between human beings,” Gates said. “When we have connections with others, we can have more empathy for others’ positions and situations. That really is the basis for love and, for me — and hopefully for others — action on behalf of others.”

And paramount to making those kinds of connections is listening. It’s a lesson Gates shared has been reinforced several times through her work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, particularly in respect to women’s need for contraception.

“The more I listened … it opened my eyes to what women were telling me around the world,” Gates said. “If a woman can’t space the births of her children and decide how many she’ll have, we are locking her in a cycle of poverty.”

Something often taken for granted in the U.S., Gates pointed out, is that the widespread availability of contraceptives has enabled a great many women to pursue higher education and careers of their own.

“(Contraception) is not the only thing, but it’s one of the first things that unlocks empowerment for girls,” she said.

Motherhood affected Gates’ own career when she left Microsoft after the birth of her first daughter so that she could spend time with her child during those crucial early years of life. She still craved a professional life, though, and shortly thereafter, went back to work, this time with the foundation.

But even though Gates was the wife of one of the world’s most powerful men, she was still a woman first, she said; several times during meetings, she told attendees Thursday, leaders would ask a question and look immediately to her husband for the answer.

“I had to learn to speak up early and often,” Gates said.

Turning to the topic of the pandemic, Dovie-Viebahn asked Gates how it has impacted her foundation’s endeavors.

“COVID-19 has stopped a lot of progress dead in its tracks,” Gates said, noting that where poverty had been in decline around the world, it is now on the rise, particularly among women, even in the U.S.

To help to quell the spread of the virus, the Gates Foundation announced in December that it would commit an additional $250 million in support of the research and development of COVID-19 tests, vaccines and treatments, bringing its total commitment to the pandemic response to $1.75 billion. The foundation is also involved in global surveillance measures to prepare for what may come next.

“The world has to prepare for another pandemic,” Gates said. “It’s not a matter of if, but when.”

Her foundation is also invested in educational initiatives and is currently researching better tools and methods for keeping kids on the pathway from K–12 to college. Something Gates finds promising is digital learning, which she gave ASU kudos for spearheading in its own right.

“ASU has been on the forefront … of this digital learning and how you bring people to a campus, no matter their zip code, and get them all the way through college,” she said, adding that “a degree makes an enormous difference” in one’s ability to get a job and contribute to the economy.

When it came time for student questions, applied math undergraduate Phoenix Nelson took the big picture approach and asked Gates how she decides which battles to fight.

“That’s a great question,” Gates said. “One I wrestle with, and one our foundation wrestles with all the time.” She explained that she tries to take a systematic approach, asking questions like, “What are a couple of the biggest barriers that hold women back?” and going from there.

And as far as what advice she would give to her college-age self, Gates had the following to say: “You know more than you think you do. … If you remember who you are and where you want to be in the world, and you don’t forget that, you’re going to be a pretty great adult,” and “Keep learning. Learning does not end at the end of college; learning never ends.”

A recording of Gates’ talk is forthcoming and can be accessed on the Department of English’s YouTube channel.

Top photo: ASU film and media studies Assistant Professor Aviva Dove-Viebahn (left) moderates a talk with philanthropist Melinda Gates on Thursday evening on Zoom. Screenshot by Charlie Leight/© Arizona Board of Regents 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from ASU is strictly prohibited.