ASU Law announces Advance Scholars Program for fall 2021

New program builds on ASU Law’s community of inclusion, fosters next generation of leaders


December 15, 2020

Broadening efforts to bring together students with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University is launching a new program to foster the next generation of leaders in law.

ASU Law’s Advance Scholars Program, in furtherance of ASU’s Charter, hopes to attract and connect first-generation students, students of color and students who have overcome adversity in sharing their unique perspectives on societal issues. Photo of ASU Law students work worth doing ASU Law students participate in the “Work Worth Doing” initiative by representing the next generation of leaders in law. The Advance Scholars Program will continue to build upon and foster an inclusive community. Download Full Image

Launching in fall 2021, this yearlong program will bring together a select group of 20 first-year law students for leadership skills training and networking opportunities. Students accepted to the program will have a dedicated attorney mentor and an upper-class student mentor, plus access to exclusive programming that offers them coaching and guidance to help them grow into future leaders in law.

Admitted students selected for the program will participate in a three-day, pre-orientation workshop focused on law school success strategies, networking and leadership skills. The workshop also will provide Advance Scholars early opportunities to interact with ASU Law faculty and staff, current students, ASU Law alumni and members of the Arizona legal community, all of whom will work with the scholars to grow as lawyers and future leaders. The program continues throughout the students’ first year of law school, offering events and programming open only to the Advance Scholars cohort. In their second or third year of law school, the Advance Scholars will be offered a trip to ASU’s Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., campus.

“The lack of diversity in the legal profession is a problem for many reasons,” ASU Law Dean Douglas Sylvester said. “And while ASU Law welcomed its most diverse class for fall 2020 with one-third of the class identifying as students of color, we know we can do much more. The Advance Scholars Program strives to ensure ASU Law students, particularly those students from historically underrepresented communities, are provided with the support necessary to be successful in their law school journey and are equipped with the competencies that will be needed as they enter the legal profession and become leaders in the law.”

To be considered for the Advance Scholars Program, an applicant must be admitted to ASU Law’s fall 2021 JD program.

The mentors and networking opportunities within and beyond the law school community will be firmly committed to helping the Advance Scholars realize their professional goals. In addition, the program will provide participants with the following:

  • Travel reimbursement (up to $500) and meals for the pre-orientation workshop.
  • Books for first-year courses (valued at up to $1,500).
  • Regular events that provide leadership skills training and additional networking opportunities.
  • An immersive experience at either ASU’s Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., campus after the first year of law school.

Visit the Advance Scholars Program website to find more information or to apply. If you would like to donate to the program, contact Kelli Rael at 480-965-7794 or kelli.rael@asu.edu.

Julie Tenney

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

2020 Barrett Honors College grad Sisko J. Stargazer’s name and honors thesis inspired by 'Star Trek'


December 14, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

Sisko J. Stargazer may be the ultimate “Star Trek” fan. Sisko Stargazer Sisko J. Stargazer graduated ASU this month with a Bachelor of Arts in film and media studies, as well as two certificates – one in LGBT studies and another in international cinema – with honors from Barrett, The Honors College. Download Full Image

Stargazer is named after his favorite character, Capt. Benjamin Sisko from "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," and “Star Trek” also was the inspiration for his honors thesis.

Stargazer is graduating Arizona State University this month with a Bachelor of Arts in film and media studies, as well as two certificates – one in LGBT studies and another in international cinema – with honors from Barrett, The Honors College. He also is a Dean’s Medalist in The College at ASU, a designation that recognizes the highest achieving students from the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities. 

Stargazer, who grew up in Yuma, Arizona, came to ASU in 2018 as a transfer student from Arizona Western College and an All-Arizona Academic Team member with a full-tuition scholarship. 

Stargazer’s thesis is titled "Ex Queer Scientia — From the Queer, Knowledge: Gender & Sexuality in the Star Trek Universe."

“'Ex astris, scientia' (From the stars, knowledge) is a motto from Trek's Starfleet Academy, so it felt fitting to adapt it to my title. My thesis explores the evolution of Trek's portrayal of queer identities, focusing primarily on 'Deep Space Nine,' 'Voyager,' and 'Star Trek Discovery,'” Stargazer explained.

Stargazer, whose dad was a Trekkie, came across DVDs of the original “Star Trek” series in high school and started watching them for fun.

“I loved it instantly. I learned to question and think about so many things I'm not sure I would have thought about before,” he said.

“Many people are inspired by the vision of a future where humanity has progressed beyond its prejudices to just learn and explore for the sake of it. And even though Trek has its flaws, I really adored that vision of the future. I've seen every episode from every series to date and I'm still very in love with it. There's so much to immerse yourself in when it comes to Star Trek,” he added.

In addition to immersing himself in the adventures of “Star Trek” and his academic studies, Stargazer volunteered with the Barrett Honors College Recruiting Department, helping promote the honors college to prospective students. 

He participated in panel discussions with students at Western Arizona College about his experience as an honors student and the process for completing an honors thesis.

We asked Stargazer to reflect on his time at ASU. Here’s what he had to say.

Question: What is an interesting moment or accomplishment in your ASU career?

Answer: Truthfully, getting the chance to become a grader in my own department was a big moment of validation for me. ...The pandemic was difficult and at times I felt like maybe what I was doing didn't matter much, but then I began to hear back from students about how my feedback and reaching out to them helped so much. I value inclusivity and accessibility above all else, so I do everything I can to be helpful and let students know that they can trust their professors and graders. Maybe it may seem minor, but I really treasure those moments where I helped a student because I know what it's like to struggle too, and I want to pay it forward by helping. 

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

A: I was first interested in journalism, but I had the chance to work with my (community college) mentor for a capstone project. I had been growing in confidence so much at my community college and I decided that, for once, I was going to do something I really wanted to do. I decided to write an expansive paper on the evolution of LGBTQ+ representation in cinema. I was an amateur and was mostly left to my own devices. I had to be careful with what I brought home, too, because I lived with homophobic parents. One professor would even have stuff shipped to her home to bring to me for my project. And I eventually wrote 50 pages and received a special award for my work. It meant so much to finally do something I loved and one day, I realized I wanted to specialize in this — film analysis — instead of just news writing. I quickly switched my journalism major at ASU to film and media studies and I've stayed the course since. 

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

A: It was actually in ASU Counseling where a conversation led to a new realization: progress doesn't always have to be completely positive. You can struggle and still succeed. You can be terribly sad and happily hopeful. These dichotomies can exist and I don't need to invalidate all of the good because of the bad. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was first interested in journalism and knew that the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications had a great reputation. I was easily accepted but once I decided I wanted to shift my focus to film, I had to reassess my choices. Even then, it was an easy choice as the FMS program had everything I really wanted. 

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

A: Definitely Dr. Daniel Gilfillan, a Film and Media Studies faculty member. I've taken multiple classes with him now, but there's one moment that really stands out to me the most. I was having a really tough day because the most supportive ally in my life had expressed frustration and I had lost nearly all hope. I was hurt because if even the most supportive person in my life was like this, what did that say about the rest of the world? 

I talked to Dr. Gilfillan about what was going on. I got to talk about being trans and how difficult it can be to have people use the right pronouns and not resent you for it. That it's hard to not lose hope sometimes. 

Not only did he validate my feelings, but he said that it's OK to be weary sometimes. It's normal to have periods where you can't be as strong as you're often told you need to be. I felt silly, but he recognized that I was dealing with deeper stuff.

I learned that there's still hope out there. I learned that I can find support if I'm open. And I learned to better recognize when staying away for mental health is a good idea and when it isn't. 

Dr. Gilfillan restored my hope at a time when I felt so low. 

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

A: Don't be afraid to reach out for help. There are so many people who do want to help you and see you succeed. As a grader, I've been allowed to be more lenient with students who reach out or respond because, a lot of the time, students have really valid reasons for missing assignments or being late. 

We're all human and we all struggle, but we should also help each other when we can. At ASU specifically, there are many ways to find help. From your professors to ASU Counseling to the Council of Coalitions to SAILS (formerly the Disability Resource Center). 

It's OK to struggle, but you don't have to struggle alone. 

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

A: I love The Design School building. It has a library and so many random spots for you to relax or quietly work. It's also just across the street from a cozy Starbucks. I've alternated studying at these two spots so many times. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'll likely wait a year or two, but I do hope to engage in graduate studies soon and see where the future takes me. 

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

A: I feel unqualified to answer this as there are so many issues that call for reform and justice. But I think one area I'd love to invest in is creating safe spaces for trans people across the globe and enabling better access to health care for them, especially in regards to HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and gender-affirming surgeries as well as legal things like name changes.

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College

480-965-8415

Women in Computing program to encourage greater representation


December 10, 2020

In the early days of computer technology, during the 1940s through the 1960s, women were a critical part of the computing workforce. In the 1970s, women earned fewer than a quarter of computer science degrees, with that number rising to 37% in the mid-1980s during the rise of the personal computer. However, despite the astronomical growth in computing applications, according to ComputerScience.org, women are now earning fewer than 20% of all computing degrees.

Tarek El Dokor, founder and CEO at EDGE3 Technologies, has decided to do his part to help increase that number by making it easier for women to succeed in this field. EDGE3 is a company that specializes in artificial intelligence-based, in-cabin monitoring solutions, with deep learning expertise spanning over a decade. The EDGE3 Women in Computing scholars program is a multi-university program dedicated to the financial and educational empowerment of women in computing majors at different universities in Arizona and across the world. Graphic courtesy of EDGE3 Technologies Download Full Image

El Dokor and EDGE3 Technologies have awarded six $2,000 Women in Computing scholarships to students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. They have committed to funding annual scholarships for female undergraduates from Arizona working to earn degrees in computing.

El Dokor finds it especially important to launch the scholarships during a time when women are disproportionately leaving the workforce.

“More than at any other time, the COVID-19 pandemic puts populations that are more vulnerable at greater disservice and at greater risk,” El Dokor said. “If you want to talk about an endangered species in the workforce in this country, that’s women in computing. It’s interesting that in the 1980s we had more women going into computer science per capita than we do today.”

El Dokor, a former ASU electrical engineering doctoral student, recognizes the inequalities that exist in STEM education and that women face an uphill battle in finding computing jobs. He has worked hard to ensure that EDGE3 Technologies, headquartered in Tempe, is an exception to that reality. The company’s staff is equally male and female.

EDGE3 Technologies is a global leader in in-cabin, AI-based analytics for monitoring driver and occupant well-being. EDGE3’s products and solutions are distributed across the world and have made a positive and lasting impact on overall driver and passenger safety via EDGE3’s Vision AI product offerings.

“Our goal is to leave the world a better place than when we started,” El Dokor said. “As a tech company, we need to be able to hold ourselves to a high standard and espouse goals that save lives versus invading privacy and other things that tech is doing today, in some cases. I think we’re capable of so much good in this world and that’s our focus; that’s our drive.”

Investing in the future

The current EDGE3 scholars were honored in a virtual ceremony in late November. Students had an opportunity to meet and talk with El Dokor and other members of the EDGE3 Technologies leadership team, including Jordan Cluster, a senior member of the technical staff and one of the first employees at EDGE3 Technologies.

“I encourage all the students to work toward bettering humanity with technology,” Cluster said. “That is our vision for the EDGE3 scholars. Believe in yourselves, because the work you pursue can and will make a difference and have a big impact.”

Cluster offered a real-world example of the need for diversity and inclusion in artificial intelligence.

“We often work with data sets that are biased,” Cluster said. “If you aren’t careful then that bias gets introduced into your AI.”

In an example of data bias, Cluster recounts an instance of a company developing AI to automate resume screenings during the hiring process. The company unfortunately trained the AI on historical data with whom the company had hired and considered in the past. Being a male-dominated field, the model ended up penalizing resumes belonging to women.

“Fortunately, they discovered that and were able to shut it down, but it illustrates just how important it is to bring in different viewpoints to detect bias and make sure we aren’t accidentally building it into our systems as we create them,” Cluster said. “We need to make sure we don’t propagate that. We know that your viewpoint really matters and you can make a difference.”

Computing and other STEM fields benefit from having more female representation in the field by including the rich talent pool that is often overlooked, and the scholarship recipients are grateful for the opportunities provided by EDGE3.

“Inclusion is critical for us to be successful in any endeavor that humankind takes on,” said Tina Sindwani, one of the six students receiving the EDGE3 scholarships and a first-year computer systems engineering major. “I have always loved science, and engineering especially. I could apply my programming and engineering skills to any field in the entire world. In the future, I see myself designing automated systems that explore our solar system and deep space.”

“Having diversity in any discipline is vital to an industry’s success,” said EDGE3 scholar Gloriana Pavey, a first-year computer science major. “Women need to have a voice when it comes to the advancement of society. There is so much to accomplish when it comes to technology. No matter who wants to be a part of that should have an equal opportunity to do so.”

EDGE3 Technologies is determined to leave a positive impact on the world. El Dokor wants to champion these young women and others, see them succeed and let them know that there are organizations that genuinely believe the world would be better by having more women in computing.

“The women who have received the first round of EDGE3 scholarships are all incredibly gifted,” El Dokor said. “We are giving these young women financial and reputational means and we are saying that we see them as industry scholars. We would like to see them get internships somewhere challenging and interesting, and then one day be giants in any organization that is fortunate enough to have them. We’d like them to know they are supported. We will also be supporting other female scholars at ASU and other Arizona universities.”

All six students chosen for the EDGE3 Women in Computing scholarships are from Arizona.

“It’s about being strategic about what we give,” El Dokor said. “The state of Arizona has given us everything we have as a company. So, we are giving back to the community around us and to a society that personally has embraced me and EDGE3 and that has championed us.”

By establishing the scholarships, El Dokor hopes other companies will step forward and do what they can to empower the next champions of computing.

“These women are going to step into careers that are going to change the world,” said El Dokor. “I would encourage other companies to realize how much opportunity is being lost, especially by women in computing, and try to enable more female engineering graduates in computing who are going to really transform the workplace.”

Erik Wirtanen

Web content comm administrator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-727-1957

ASU alumna excels as a champion for diversity, inclusion


December 10, 2020

Even as a child, Malissia Clinton knew that she wanted to be a lawyer.

“I’ve never not wanted to be a lawyer,” said Clinton. “From my first memory it was something that I wanted to do.” ASU alumna Malissia Clinton. Download Full Image

The Arizona State University political science alumna was inspired by the work of her grandparents, Roy and Malissia Cooksey, who founded the Arizona chapter of the NAACP.  Her grandfather would serve as its president for years and would also lead the civil rights division at the U.S. attorney’s office in Tucson, Arizona.

Upon graduating from Sunnyside High School in Tucson, Clinton applied to universities all over the country. Even though she was the valedictorian of her class, the cost of those schools proved to be too much. Through Arizona State University, Clinton was able to fully fund her education with academic scholarships.

“I knew, even at that age of 17, it was really important to me that I had economic independence and that I was self-sufficient,” Clinton said.

When she visited Tempe, she fell for the beauty of the campus.

“On the spot I decided that was where I was meant to go to school.”

Thinking that it was the best path to becoming a lawyer, Clinton decided to major in political science and would go on to get her JD from Stanford University.

Clinton has remained involved with ASU over the years through serving on boards such as the ASU Foundation Board, where she helps shepherd the process of raising funds for the university.

“Everything I am is because of the start that ASU gave me,” Clinton said. “I get choked up just thinking about it.”

In her high school senior year book, Clinton wrote that she wanted to be a corporate attorney. Now as senior vice president, general counsel and secretary for the Aerospace Corporation, Clinton knows this was the job she was meant to do.

“I love what happens with business — how they make a product and how they sell it. I enjoy being an enabler for that.”

With the company since 2009, Clinton’s work with the Aerospace Corporation has not gone unnoticed. She was recently named the Los Angeles Business Journal’s 2020 Leaders in Law – Nonprofit Leader in Law of the Year winner.

“I was honored and humbled,” said Clinton, who gave thanks to the Aerospace corporate communications department. “But I am also pleased that the story they were able to tell about the work we do and the law the department’s influence merited such a high recognition.”

Beyond her position with the Aerospace Corporation, Clinton is on a number of boards, including most recently being appointed to the board of directors at Progyny, Inc. — a fertility benefits management company. She was drawn to Progyny because, according to Clinton, they have a business model where everybody wins. She added that she is looking forward to helping Progyny with their environmental, social and corporate governance initiatives.

“That is a sweet spot for me. I’m very much into diversity and inclusion,” Clinton said. “I feel like I have a duty on these boards to bring those issues forward and to help the company be a better corporate citizen.”

Four years ago, Clinton gave a Tedx talk telling the story of when someone lit a tire on fire and threw it through the front door of her home in Manhattan Beach. Initially deeming the firebombing as neither arson or a hate crime, the authorities followed up by calling in Clinton’s husband for a polygraph test. Concerned, frustrated and humiliated, Clinton and her family decided they would move.

“Sure we knew that we were giving in to hate,” said Clinton in her talk, “but keeping our kids safe came first so if we were being asked to go – we’d go.”

When she notified her book club that she was planning to move, the community swiftly rallied around Clinton and her family. Within 48 hours of the fire, the community had reached out via phone and email, organized a crowdfunding site, and the police chief and fire captain arrived at their house asking for a do-over. Seventy-two hours after the incident, a vigil was held in the town square, where the community pleaded the family to stay.

“I thought the firebombing was bad, but it’s easy for us to convince ourselves it was isolated … and then you have a year like this,” said Clinton, reflecting on 2020. “It exposes the racial wound that still beset our country but I think that exposure is important to meaningful progress.”

Clinton shared that the past year has taught her that having hope and staying positive is key during difficult times. The exposure to challenges like race relations is only the first step. Clinton says we continue to struggle with these issues because we have not put in the work.

“I think that what one does for the blended ‘underrepresented minorities’ will not solve the issues that African Americans deal with,” Clinton said. “That’s why they exist still. I think they are unique and entrenched.”

Being on ASU’s Foundation Board has given Clinton the opportunity to hear what the university is doing on their diversity measures. She shared that she is interested in seeing what ASU does for their African American students, faculty and employees.

“I’ve had these discussions with President Crow and I am anticipating that he will take his amazing gift at being a change agent and revolutionize what is being done at the university level to deal with these issues.”

Matt Oxford

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Politics and Global Studies

480-727-9901

Computer science grad finds success and a new academic family in cybersecurity


December 10, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

Once Zion Leonahenahe Basque applied his computer science knowledge from the classroom to applied cybersecurity research, he knew he was on the right path. Zion Leonahenahe  Basque Zion Leonahenahe Basque. Download Full Image

“Working on novel and impactful research made me realize that I wanted to stay in this field for the rest of my life,” Basque said.

Basque has spent most of his time at Arizona State University working in the Laboratory of Security Engineering for Future Computing, also known as SEFCOM. His first project there was to apply machine learning to the automated hacking process.

“It was really motivating to see how impressed my professors were when I completely explored a new domain in my field,” Basque said.

Since then he has worked on large government-funded grants and contributed to two papers submitted to top cybersecurity conferences.

He considers the SEFCOM lab team — assistant professors Yan Shoshitaishvili, Ruoyu “Fish” Wang and Youzhi “Tiffany” Bao, Associate Professor Adam Doupé and computer science doctoral student Erik Trickle — his “academic family.” Through their mentorship, Basque learned he could be a hacker who uses his skills for good, and even took a graduate course as a first-year student.

“They have changed who I am as a person. I am on a different path than before I met them, and I think it is one for the better,” Basque said. “Now, as a Native Hawaiian, I have prospects to get my doctorate in computer science. I can only thank them as my source of both inspiration and power.”

Basque is even co-captain of the “oldest hacking team in the United States” known as Shellphish — the same team Shoshitaisvhili and Wang competed on as graduate students at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Just like the SEFCOM team helped him succeed, Basque hasn’t kept his skills and passion for cybersecurity all to himself. 

He led the ASU hacking team called pwndevils as the club’s president. In that role, Basque led the team in international competitions and improved their rank from 50th to 10th in the world.

Basque also taught numerous undergraduate students through pwndevils lectures that covered topics usually only available to students in 400-level courses. He also created homework and other challenges for pwn.college, a cybersecurity education platform.

Long term, Basque wants to continue to improve cybersecurity as a researcher or continue teaching as a professor of computer science, and maybe even win a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award one day, like Doupé.

“Using the skills I’ve learned from my engineering experience,” he said, “I will help make the world a safer-cyber place.”

Read about other exceptional graduates of the Fulton Schools’ fall 2020 class.

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-727-1958

 
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ASU American Indian Convocation hits major milestone

December 8, 2020

The ceremony will celebrate its 30th anniversary with virtual ceremony

When hundreds of Indigenous students collect their diplomas next week, they’ll be participating in a historic event — a first-time virtual ceremony to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Arizona State University’s American Indian Convocation.

The milestone ceremony will take place at 9 a.m. Arizona time on Dec. 14. Hosted by ASU’s American Indian Student Support Services, this year’s event is recognized as the Pearl Anniversary celebration. This fall, approximately 270 ASU students who identify as America Indian/Alaska Native applied for graduation; the graduates represent 70 tribes across the country, including Arizona’s 22 tribal nations.

WATCH: View the ceremony

“In one of the most challenging years in recent memory, it fills me with pride that we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the American Indian Convocation,” said Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center for Indian Education and ASU’s senior adviser to the president on American Indian affairs. "It has always been a moment for students, their families, and ASU to reflect on our students’ accomplishments and where they will be going next. Although virtual, this year will allow us to reflect, to appreciate the moment, and to imagine the future that our students will make. Every year is special; this one — as the 30th — is special for so many reasons.”

COVID-19 has forced this year's convocation to go to a virtual format. It will be prerecorded and include messages from Brayboy and ASU President Michael Crow. ASU senior Daangoiina Haven, who will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in exercise and wellness and pursue her master’s degree at another university, has been selected to deliver the graduate address.

The first American Indian Convocation took place in 1990 at L.S. Neeb Hall, a 438-seat lecture hall on the ASU Tempe campus. It was an intimate affair, according to one ASU staffer.

“The first graduation ceremony was just a handful of students and their families,” said Laura Gonzales-Macias, executive director of American Indian Student Support Services. “It has grown exponentially over the years and in 2010 we had to move to ASU Gammage to accommodate the crowds. We’ve held it there ever since.”

It also has held a special place in the hearts of those who serve American Indian students on all four of ASU's campuses.

“The American Indian Convocation is not only a highlight event for our students, but it is significant in validating the work all our ASU Indigenous faculty, staff, and administration, as well as tribal communities and collaborating partners do to see students through this milestone in life,” said Vickie Baldwin, American Indian Student Support Services student success and retention coordinator.

The ceremony will start by recognizing Indigenous land and people through music from flutist Randy Kemp (Class of 1986) and speeches from Nazhoona Betsuie, facilitator of the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples, and Brayboy. Graduate stories will then be shared by brothers Jayvion and Teverrik Chee (Navajo Nation), Rocio Marquez (Salt-River Pima Maricopa Indian Community) and Reba Manuel (Gila River Indian Community). Haven (Navajo Nation) will provide the graduate address to ceremony participants who in turn share their photos, tribal affiliation(s) and personal messages on the virtual page.

The Heard Museum CEO David Roche will also present the Eagle Spirit Award to two exceptional Native graduate students: Alexis Ustariz of the San Carlos Apache Tribe and Charlene Poola of the Navajo Nation and Hopi-Tewa. The $500 award recognizes these students’ dedication to American Indian communities through service and volunteering as well as their academic achievement in their fields of study. Award recipients will share what being an Eagle Spirit scholar means to them.

The ceremony will end with traditional drum music featuring singer Chris Dinehdeal (Class of 2013) and ASU alma mater songs to honor fellow graduates. 

In recognition of their individual academic achievements, graduates participating in the virtual ceremony received their Pendleton-made stoles prior to the recording of the event. The stoles signify courage, strength, determination and bravery, according to Baldwin. Navajo Nation member Evelyn Begay has created hundreds of stoles over the years for the ASU American Indian spring and fall convocations. Making stoles for the graduates has special meaning to Begay, whose four children are ASU graduates.

The ceremony also has special meaning to Baldwin, who has participated in several American Indian Convocations over the years.

“When Native American students graduate, they aren’t just doing it for themselves but for their families and their communities,” said Baldwin, who is Diné. “The American Indian Convocation is a celebration in acknowledgment and recognition of who they are, where they come from and how they’re going to give back to their communities.”

Top photo: Scholars applauding at the American Indian Convocation inside ASU Gammage on May 11, 2016. COVID-19 has forced the 30-year-old convocation to go to an all-virtual format this year. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Toward healing divides, doctoral graduate focuses on education and language


December 8, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

Arizona State University student Young Wha Lee has been a champion of friendly Korean-American relations for much of her adult life. Graduating ASU student Young Wha Lee poses in her Taekwondo practice / Courtesy photo Graduating doctoral student Young Wha Lee — a practitioner of taekwondo — aspires to strengthen the U.S.-South Korean relationship. Download Full Image

Born and raised in Jeonju in Jeonbuk Province, Republic of Korea (South Korea), Lee completed her undergraduate study in English language and literature at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul. She supplemented her language study with exposure to American culture and politics through a visit to the U.S. sponsored by the Korean American Sharing Movement’s Washington Leadership Program. She was nominated for the opportunity by the Leadership Development Institute of her university.

The KASM’s Washington Leadership Program – which is distinct from an identically named one focused on the South Asian diaspora – brings “motivated North Korean defector and South Korean students to Washington, D.C., to develop leadership skills, experience government and history, and learn how to effect change on the Korean Peninsula,” according to its website.

Something about this joining of cultures and healing of divides spoke to Lee, who embraced deep learning about politics, economics, media, public health, history and culture on the trip. “I was able to visit U.S. institutions such as the Capitol, Pentagon, Supreme Court, World Bank, National Press Club, National Institutes of Health, and Library of Congress,” she said. “I felt the presence of the Founding Fathers in this heart of American democracy.”

Lee’s keen interest in American culture and history motivated her to become an exchange student in the U.S. at the University of Montana. There, she became vice president of the Korean Student Association – one of her first forays into helping each culture appreciate the other. After completing her bachelor’s degree, she enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, where she served as president of the Korean Students Association in that university's Graduate School of Education (GSE), this time while completing her master’s degree. She also assisted with administrative work as an intern at the Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Washington, D.C.

“As I have experienced life in the U.S. in these recent years,” she said, “I have learned that my country and the U.S. share many important values, e.g., freedom, liberty, as free countries. I cherish the traditions based on these values in both countries, and I hope the friendship between my country and the U.S., particularly strengthened since the Korean War, thrives.”

Lee’s desire to encourage functional and open communication between cultures led her to study language and identity. This fall, Lee completed her PhD in linguistics and applied linguistics at ASU, where she focused on the benefit of teachers incorporating aspects of their own identities into the second-language writing classroom. Lee successfully defended her dissertation on Nov. 6.

As she studied, she also taught, weaving theory into her own pedagogical practice. For her outstanding teaching and scholarship, Lee was recognized this past spring with the Graduate and Professional Student Association’s Outstanding Research Award, and this fall with its Teaching Excellence Award. She has also received honors from ASU’s Department of English throughout her ASU career, including the Marvin Fisher Book Award (2014), the English International Graduate Student Book Scholarship (2015), the Outstanding Paper on Second Language Writing Award (2019), and several research and travel grants.

Lee has done all this while maintaining her taekwondo practice, which she said, “has helped me strengthen my body and mind during my doctoral study.” She finds the discipline also gives her an opportunity to practice more cultural appreciation. “When we salute the national flags of the Republic of Korea and the U.S. after each day’s taekwondo training,” she said, “I feel blessed to live in these two countries.”

We spoke more to Lee about her research, teaching and service at ASU and beyond.

Graduating ASU student  / Courtesy photo

Young Wha Lee

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

Answer: There was no dramatic “aha” moment, but there was gradual progression for choosing my doctoral program. I majored in English language and literature with a minor in education for my undergraduate study. I also studied Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages for my master’s program. So, I have been in the area of English language teaching. When I decided to pursue my doctorate, my undergraduate adviser suggested studying second language writing – a subfield of applied linguistics – as a promising field. The field has provided me with the context where I delved into the issue of “identity,” and I explored the identities of second language writing teachers for my dissertation.

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

A: During my time at ASU, I have learned that there are a variety of perspectives not only in people’s scholarly work, but also in their real lives. Based on various factors such as disciplinary backgrounds, personal history, life philosophy, or previous experiences, people make arguments and decisions, so I have learned to understand the existence of this diversity. I can see and respect others as unique individuals.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: When I searched the suitable doctoral program for my research interests in second language writing, I learned that ASU has a large Writing Programs (selection) in the English department and prominent faculty members in the field of applied linguistics. When I heard that I was accepted for the doctoral program with a teaching associateship from the school, I was overjoyed. I felt grateful for the opportunity to study and teach at ASU.

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

A: I learned the most from my adviser, (Associate Professor) Mark A. James during my study at ASU. Discussing my research with him has been the most enjoyable, insightful and productive time of my doctoral days. Particularly, I have not only learned all about research methods, but I also paid extra attention to research ethics and practical issues of the research process. Dr. James is known for his generosity and kindness among my peer groups, and I felt grateful to work with him as my adviser. In mentoring students, he focuses on the critical role of language in aiding the creation of knowledge as well as in the transmission of that knowledge. I want to do that for my students as well.

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

A: Academia can be an exciting and rewarding place for personal development, but at the same time, it can be challenging and difficult, as there is a lot of pressure to produce and succeed. I took one year of leave during my doctoral study, and I reexamined my life goals. I think having a clear academic goal is important, so I’d like to encourage current students to consider goal-setting as a way to inspire and motivate their academic journey.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: During the pandemic, I have stayed at home every day. This became my favorite place for intensive studying. I used to like to study in Ross Blakley Hall, the home of the English department. I liked our building, which provided wide spaces and several options for studying — quiet hallways, reading rooms. Looking outside at the nice view of the ASU campus was soothing. I also felt great when I walked around the intramural fields next to our building for light exercise after studying.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will continue to teach and conduct research at the university.

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

A: If “social divisions” can be considered a single problem, then this would be the issue I would choose to resolve. In light of recent social issues, based on divisive ideologies in the world, I believe this would be an important area on which to focus in order to actualize certain values of truth, freedom, and justice. I would seek ways to minimize the chaos in our society.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

senior marking & communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611

Graduating Jewish studies student hopes to build human connection


December 7, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

Growing up in Winslow, Arizona, Norma Jean Owens loved being around the diverse cultural experiences of pow wows, rodeos and meteor crater tours. But it was her mother’s dedication to helping her and her siblings have a better life in Phoenix that led Owens to pursue her academic studies in different fields. Norma Owens Norma Owens is graduating with a bachelor's degree in Jewish studies, a certificate in Hebrew and a teaching certificate. Download Full Image

“I am motivated by my late mother who did not have a higher-learning experience, but sought refuge in securing residence for her five children in the Phoenix inner-city housing project,” said Owens. “Eventually, she was able to accomplish her goal of purchasing our first home by her strong work ethic and determination.”

Owens started at Arizona State University in the 1980s and met her husband during her sophomore year. After getting married, they home-schooled their five children through the eighth grade. When their last daughter was in high school, she decided to return to complete her degree.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, focusing on business and English, 30 years after she began, but she didn’t stop there. Owens returned to ASU to earn a bachelor’s degree in Jewish studies from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, a certificate in Hebrew from the School of International Letters and Cultures and a teaching certificate from Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

“Learning the culture and literature provided a global perspective of inclusivity, as the Jewish story can be found in all nations,” said Owens. “The sustainability of global resources such as water, agriculture and ecology, technology and medicine are at the forefront of Jewish research.”

Owens earned a scholarship to the Critical Languages Institute as well as the Jess Schwartz scholarship, Benjamin Goldberg Memorial scholarship and Jenny Norton and Bob Ramsey Religious Study in Israel scholarship.

Along with the scholarships she received as a student, Owens also created Histo-News Club, an academic service club to high school students at ASU in 2017. 

“For the past three years, we guided students in learning historical research by utilizing primary sources and various digitized tools,” said Owens. “The project is in partnership with the Holocaust Memorial Museum History Unfolded program in Washington, D.C.”

As an outstanding graduating student this semester, she answered a few questions about her time at ASU.      

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

Answer: I registered for Judaism 101 with Dr. Norbert Samuelson, one of the first courses in my program. He sparked an "aha" lightbulb by his heart and passion of culture and religion coupled with his desire to see each student succeed. He had a back injury that was extremely painful for him to sit and move. He did not let this discomfort hinder the execution of the course, nor the transfer of knowledge to hungry students. He provided amazing feedback that made me grow in confidence to ask engaging questions on specific subjects. He retired the next semester, but his words, voice and passion have remained with me.

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

A: Success is more than an individual process. It requires a tribe of associates giving and receiving to accomplish it.  

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: ASU chose me. In my senior year at Tempe High School, our class was invited to meet several college students. They inspired our class and our counselors helped to register students who found value in the modeling of an ASU college student. I identified with the student in criminal justice studies, as social justice was a strength in this course of study.

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

A: Dr. Hava Samuelson, the director of the Center for Jewish Studies, has been a mentor, a model and an academic inspiration. She taught me to love learning, value education, engage in a lifestyle of activism in interconnectivity and inclusivity and integrate sustainable and ecological opportunities. She would say, "As you acquire your degree, acquire skills, attitudes and values necessary to become a responsible citizen.”

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

A: “Education is not received, it is achieved.” — Anonymous. Each day is an opportunity to grow forward and stretch into success!

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

A: My hangout and place of study was the basement of the Language and Literature Building. It hosts several computer rooms, a podcast room and a critical think tank room with amazing technology. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will teach secondary English virtually as an online teacher.  

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

A: I would tackle "otherism," by investing money in educational programs that build connectivity through projects, community service, camps and peer groups that place students of mixed backgrounds, ethnicities and economic statuses together to build or create a sustainable project that benefits all people.

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

 
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Nancy Gonzales named ASU's next university provost, executive VP

New university provost and ASU alum was 1st in her family to get college degree.
December 1, 2020

Dean of natural sciences' career dedicated to psychology research with culturally diverse populations, expanding access to education

Editor’s note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now’s year in review. Read more top stories from 2020.

When Nancy Gonzales graduated high school in Miami, Arizona, she was awarded an Arizona Board of Regents scholarship, which at the time was given to the top 1% of students in the state to attend any of the three state universities. There was never really any question that she would choose Arizona State University.

“My father was a huge Sun Devil supporter and football season ticket holder for as long as I can remember. This created a strong connection to the university that influenced my decision to attend ASU and become the first in my family to earn a college degree,” she said.

That decision launched a 25-year award-winning career in psychology with a focus on research and outreach to communities often underrepresented in higher education in the United States. Today, Gonzales is being named ASU’s next executive vice president and university provost.  

“As an undergraduate student at ASU I became engaged with outstanding, forward-thinking faculty members and research teams pursuing big ideas in the psychology department that were early exemplars of ASU’s community-embedded, use-inspired research,” said Gonzales. “Since I returned to ASU, it has been exciting to participate in the bold transformation of ASU as the New American University and to see our mission expand beyond anything we had imagined before.”  

Her appointment is subject to approval by the Arizona Board of Regents. She will serve as provost pro tem and work with current Executive Vice President and University Provost Mark Searle until June 30, 2021, when he steps down and moves into the role of University Professor. Gonzales will start her official term as executive vice president and university provost on July 1.

Gonzales will be responsible for the Academic Enterprise of ASU and will lead a complex organization that provides a multitude of opportunities and challenges to ensure the university continues progress toward its charter and goals. She will engage in all aspects of the day-to-day operations of the university as well as developing and supporting long-term strategic initiatives to drive student and faculty success. Her duties also will include advancing academic excellence through the faculty recruitment, retention and renewal processes, and growing the quality, scope and scale of both campus immersion and online programs.

“Nancy is a highly credentialed, well-respected leader among her peers who is a natural fit to be our next executive vice president and university provost,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “As a first-generation college graduate, she is representative of so many of the students we currently serve and strive to serve more of. Her background and expertise will undoubtedly help the university advance its mission to be of the greatest public service to the citizens of Arizona that we can be.”

Gonzales said she considers herself the product of the right combination of opportunities, stemming from a strong family and a community with a focus on maintaining cultural strengths and being afforded a quality education despite limited financial resources.

“Part of what I hope to do is provide those conditions for success to more students ,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a big mystery as to what individuals need to thrive in life. But we need to find flexible ways to provide those opportunities for more of our students, and at times in life when they can benefit most. I am inspired by ASU’s charter that prioritizes access and inclusion, and our commitment to universal learning as a means to achieving these goals.”

Gonzales received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from ASU, then left Arizona to pursue her master’s degree and PhD in psychology from the University of Washington. She also completed an internship in clinical psychology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. She came back to ASU in 1992 as an assistant professor in psychology and moved up through both the academic and administrative ranks, most recently serving as dean of natural sciences in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She is also a Foundation Professor of psychology and co-director of the REACH Institute at ASU.

While at the University of Washington, she found a mentor in Ana Mari Cauce, then a professor of psychology and now president of the university. Cauce also served as provost and executive vice president.

Cauce’s focus on diverse populations — she is trained in community psychology focused on community change — was what Gonzales wanted to pursue in her career.

“I gravitated to Ana Mari because of her approach to research and her focus on underrepresented populations,” Gonzales said. “Thirty years ago, our knowledge of psychology was derived almost entirely from white middle-class populations.  In fact, too much of our research in psychology has been based on WEIRD populations — Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic — that ultimately limits our understanding of the human condition and ultimately leads to damaging assumptions and social policies.” 

Cauce said she can’t think of anyone better suited for this position at ASU — an excellent public research university that is so dedicated to, and successful at, increasing access to higher education for all.

“Her own journey is proof positive of the transformative power of higher education,” said Cauce. “The depth of her intelligence, curiosity, creativity and compassion, as well as sheer grit and determination, was evident from the moment we met. Serious, but with a wonderful sense of humor, she very quickly became a leader in the lab, dedicated to bringing out the best in others. She has an uncanny ability to read people and situations and adapt her leadership style accordingly. ASU and all of higher education will be better off with her in this position. I have no doubt that her impact will be broad and lasting.”

Gonzales has been active in developmental and clinical research with culturally diverse populations for more than 25 years, with continuous National Institutes of Health funding as a principal investigator on grants since 2001. Gonzales has published her research in top journals in her field.  

Her research on mental health and substance use problems has focused on culturally informed etiological pathways for Latino and other minority adolescents and young adults, including identification of health-compromising and health-promoting influences in the lives of the youths. Her work has particularly focused on the role of family and cultural strengths within immigrant and other minoritized populations that facilitate positive adaptation and educational success. Her research also includes development, implementation and dissemination of culturally informed interventions to prevent mental health and substance abuse problems and to promote college degree attainment in low-income communities.

Gonzales’ research is housed with the REACH Institute at ASU, a center of excellence that is dedicated to the dissemination of evidence-based prevention programs and practices. Funded by several federal agencies and foundations, the center has generated more than $88 million in the past 20 years to support research and implementation of programs nationally and internationally.

As dean of natural sciences, Gonzales oversees six interdisciplinary schools and departments at ASU: the School of Earth and Space Exploration, School of Life Sciences, School of Molecular Sciences, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, the Department of Psychology, and the Department of Physics. In this role she has been particularly dedicated to the pursuit of inclusive excellence in the sciences.  

In addition to her leadership at ASU, Gonzales has consulted with several organizations on issues of equity and inclusion, including the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Developing Indicators of Educational Equity; the National Institute of Mental Health; the National Association of Latino Elected Officials; and as a member of the board of trustees for the William T. Grant Foundation. She also serves on numerous professional boards, review panels and mentoring programs to advance the careers of students and early career faculty in the sciences. Gonzales has received numerous honors and awards including Fellow status in the American Psychological Association, the Advances in Culture and Diversity in Prevention Science Award from the Society for Prevention Research, the Eugene Garcia Award for Outstanding Latino/a Faculty Research in Higher Education from the Victoria Foundation, and the ASU Alumni Association Founders Day Faculty Research Achievement Award (watch her story below). 

Video by ASU

Top photo: Nancy Gonzales, pictured at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU

PhD linguist, athlete goes from undocumented to unstoppable


November 25, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2020 graduates.

Cristian Lopez Villegas has achieved rare success in martial arts and in academia. But his journey was far from easy. Graduating ASU doctoral student Cristian Lopez Villegas stands outside a martial arts studio. / Photo by Josh Morris. Cristian Lopez Villegas, ASU doctoral graduate and martial arts enthusiast. Photo by Josh Morris. Download Full Image

A Brazilian jiujitsu enthusiast, Lopez Villegas went from feeling lost and failing most of his high school classes to winning on the mat and in the classroom. Through it all, Lopez Villegas focused on finding the good – in himself and others.

This fall, Lopez Villegas graduates with a PhD in linguistics and applied linguistics from Arizona State University. The doctoral journey can be arduous, pushing students to their mental capacities. In these times, Lopez Villegas turned to the disciplines learned through martial arts. One of the biggest helps was “that mental toughness of getting used to feeling overwhelmed,” Lopez Villegas told an interviewer for the Department of English’s newsletter in 2016. “You learn to keep your mind calm and your thoughts positive.”

So, did he ever think he would get here? Absolutely.

“I calibrated my compass toward the peak of Mount Linguistics – the doctorate – and never looked back,” he said. “As of a few days ago, I now stand upon this peak, up which I have been slowly trekking over half of my life. I am incredibly grateful to life for allowing me to reach this point.”

That perspective – one of gratitude – defines Lopez Villegas’s outlook. He has worked hard for what he has earned and in no way feels entitled. In fact, he is continually looking for a way to give back. As an athlete, he patiently mentored others in sport. As a language teacher, he applies lessons from martial arts to language arts. And he has found another cause to champion: animal well-being.

“Over the past 15 years, my life partner and I have devoted our lives and resources to helping abandoned and vulnerable animals,” he said. “Through volunteering with the Humane Society and various other organizations, we were able to take in dozens upon dozens of furry four-legged friends, provide them with love, restore them to health, and place them into loving homes.”

And, he added, “Many of the ‘unadoptable’ ones became permanent members of our family.”

Lopez Villegas won’t be hitting the job market after graduation; he’s already gainfully employed. He currently teaches English composition and ESL full-time at South Mountain Community College. We can expect that to be his “day job,” as Lopez Villegas is already preparing to reenter the world of athletics. “With a great vantage point, and invaluable tools and techniques acquired at Arizona State University, I will be planning and strategizing for my next journey,” he said.

Read on for more about how Lopez Villegas overcame adversity and reached his goals, one take-down at a time.

Cristian Lopez Villegas / South Mountain Community College profile photo

Cristian Lopez Villegas, South Mountain Community College profile photo

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

Answer: My “aha” moment was more like a series of micromoments of realization that occurred during a period of a few years. These brief moments of realization were profoundly impactful to me because they represented such a stark contrast to my overall life experience.

I am now slightly embarrassed to admit this, but growing up I was definitely not one of the “smart kids.” I was not even one of the “mediocre kids.” I was on the opposite end of the spectrum. Things had started off well in kindergarten and elementary school but as I entered junior high, my ability to succeed in the classroom was becoming more dismal by the semester. Upon reaching my junior year of high school, I was officially removed from the normal high school experience and placed in a program called “Opportunities.”

I wanted to be a good student. I only pretended that I didn’t care as a coping mechanism. I struggled with being able to concentrate on academic things. I had failed basically every single class, every semester. However, there were two classes in which I had straight As: P.E. and French. Somehow, while the smartest kids in the grade (a couple of which were in my French class) were yanking out the hairs of their heads trying to understand French grammar, I was like, “Excuse moi, puis je vous aider?” This unexplainable success in French was such a contrast to everything else, that I made a mental note of it.

A short period after that, I was slowly catching back up on credits, working independently and going to my high school once a week to check in, turn in projects, and pick up new books. During that time, I had been attending a youth organization and a mentor named Tim Benbow took me under his wing and exposed me to classic world literature, theology, philosophy, history, etc. He was, at the time, studying Greek and when I expressed some interest, he began making copies of his materials and giving them to me. Once again, as with French, somehow Greek kind of made sense to me and I soon found myself helping him understanding some of the Greek conjugations. To me, they seemed just like the Spanish my family and I spoke at home. That was my second mini “aha” moment where I made a mental note that I really liked studying language.

A couple of years later, I had managed to finish high school after doing an extra year. I was doing my general education at the local community college, when I stumbled onto a Spanish grammar class for Spanish speakers. Once again, spending a lot of hours thinking about words was greatly enjoyable. At this moment, those very difficult questions that haunt many young college students, “What will I be? What will I major in?” were answered: I would pursue a major in Spanish.

Upon transferring to the university to pursue my upper division curriculum, serendipity placed me in the classroom of Dr. Ronald Harmon, professor of Spanish and Portuguese linguistics. From the first day of my first semester, with linguistics courses – in this case, Spanish phonetics and phonology and Spanish syntax and morphology – I knew what I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing: studying human language from a scientific perspective.

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

A: I truly believe that Arizona State University is a beacon of light to all universities around the world for one simple reason. As stated by our university president, “ASU prides itself not on whom it excludes, but on whom it includes.” This perspective is so contrary to what most universities pursue. I am humbled and honored to have been part of such a revolutionary and daring university. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was in my junior year of college. The previous summer, I had participated in a study abroad program in the beautiful country of Brazil. While living there, I had met a special girl with whom I had established a strong friendship and connection. Over the course of the subsequent academic year, we remained in touch and I had been able to return to Brazil between semesters. After a year of a long-distance relationship, we decided to find a way to be close to each other.

Her brothers had been, prior to us meeting each other, living in Mesa, Arizona, through a high school foreign exchange program. They were now college students in the state and so the possibility of me transferring to an Arizona university came up. A few weeks later, my brother, a couple of friends, and I were driving through the California-Arizona desert. We visited Arizona State University and I immediately felt that this would be my new home. I remember seeing Hayden Library and being so impacted by its uniqueness. Then one hot summer day a few months later, I packed my car, and made the official move to the place I now call my home.

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

A: I am one among the many students who have been greatly and positively impacted by (Regents Professor) Elly van Gelderen in the linguistics program. Professor van Gelderen is a world-recognized scholar in the fields of syntax and historical linguistics. She has published books and articles in the most prestigious publications and journals. And yet, it is her simplicity, humility, openness, positivity and kindness that attracts people to her the most. Observing her taught me that the secret to academic, professional and personal growth is to harbor and maintain childlike curiosity and excitement towards life and to the pursuit of understanding.

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

A: The advice that I now give my own students is the following:

1. For the bachelor’s, pursue a double major. One of the majors should be your passion regardless of whether it will lead you to a direct job. The other major should be something that you can enjoy and that leads to a direct, well-paying, stable and nonvulnerable career immediately upon graduation. My experience living through two recessions taught me the importance of having options, and of the importance of balancing one’s true passions with that which will provide you security.

2. View the academic experience as something that you will continue to develop throughout your entire life. Be an eternal student. Commit to continuously enhancing your education through additional degrees, certificates, licenses, etc. Always be willing to move on from where you are or have been, to change majors, change careers, change paths.

3. Don’t be in a rush. The time will come when you will finish your degree. Don’t be so focused on the end result that you are not fully present in your current stage. Be at peace with and enjoy whatever life stage you are in.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: At this moment in my life, I have been a full-time student at Arizona State University for 12 years. Naturally inclined towards adventure and exploration, I can assert pretty confidently that I have perhaps taken academic refuge in every tiny nook and cranny that the ASU Tempe campus offers. From the libraries, to random unused classrooms in various buildings, to the recreation center, to little hidden corners of the ASU Art Museum, the music halls… you name it. However, the spot that ultimately became most special to me, because it represented much of my final years here, is the little-known Graduate Student Computer Lab, a slightly hidden, password protected, dusty room on the third floor of the Durham Language and Literature building.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Over the last almost two decades, my goal and dream had been to finish the PhD. Now that this dream has become a reality, I am entering a new stage in life where I will need to re-imagine and recalculate my interests, goals and life purposes. There are a few areas of my life that had been put on the backburner. Now that the universe has blessed me with this PhD dream, I would like to place these other goals at the forefront. One of them is my life as an athlete and competitor in the sports of Brazilian jiujitsu and judo.

In the years prior to returning to ASU for the PhD, I spent five years as a full-time athlete, competitor and coach. My claim to fame was in 2008 when I won the bronze medal at the Brazilian Jiujitsu World Championship, the minor-professional league of that sport. After that achievement, I entered the major-professional league and had the opportunity to compete against many of the top world champions. However, life circumstances and my greater dream to finish the PhD led me to step away from full-time dedication to the sport. I now plan on returning and attempting to reach the dreams that I still have in this sport.

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

A: As a former undocumented immigrant, I grew up very aware of the financial, psychological and societal struggles that immigrants, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups experience throughout their lives. This unique experience made me highly aware and highly sensitive to the suffering and the injustices in the world. I have long fantasized about what I would do if came upon financial resources. Two main projects have been on my mind.

The first is the creation of a chain of “Centers for the Arts” established in low-income communities across the U.S. and the world. This Center for the Arts would be a place that provided professional level training in music, sports, languages, academics and trades. They would be free of charge and highly integrated with the public schools and local organizations. Children and teens from disadvantaged backgrounds would be taken in as apprentices to professionals and acquire ways of thinking and skills to open opportunities for upward mobility and self-realization.

Another cause that has been heavy on my heart is the plight of animals across the many facets of human civilization — food industry, labor, entertainment industry, clothing industry, science experimentation, animal testing, etc. I believe that one day in the future, humans will look back at our current and past societies and cringe in horror at the treatment we imposed on our most vulnerable fellow Earthlings. 

My desire is to contribute to the reconceptualization of our relationship and interaction with these fellow beings in order to help liberate them from human enslavement and abuse.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

senior marking & communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611

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