5 years later, ASU's class of 2009 reflects on professional success
In May 2009, President Barack Obama addressed more than 9,000 ASU graduates and their families with a mixture of excitement and uncertainty in the air. The students were excited about the moment, but aware of the challenges of entering the workforce in the midst of the country’s economic downturn.
“Many of our current challenges are unprecedented,” Obama said to the crowd of what is still considered one of the nation’s largest-ever commencement ceremonies. “There are no standard remedies or go-to fixes this time around. That is why we are going to need your help.”
He told the graduating class that starting their careers in troubled times is a challenge, but also a privilege, because they are forced to dig deeper and discover gifts they never knew they had.
“With a degree from this outstanding institution, you have everything you need to get started. You have no excuses not to change the world,” he said. “You can help our struggling non-profits ... teach in a high-need school ... help us lead a green revolution, developing new sources of clean energy that will power our economy and preserve our planet.”
In the five years since, and on the other side of the recession, the class of 2009 has grown in many ways and blazed trails in industries not even considered at the time.
To kick off our annual celebration of commencement, we have compiled stories of many of these outstanding graduates from a wide variety of ASU programs and colleges. The stories acknowledge the tenacity of our graduates, the paths they have taken and the impact they are making now.
“We graduated at a terrible time during the recession and hopes of finding employment were low,” said Laura Kennedy, who received a degree in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, with honors from Barrett, the Honors College.
“Despite the bad economy, I found a job in the field from which I graduated and have continued to succeed and grow in that career,” said Kennedy, who is currently a reporter and anchor for KOLR-TV in Springfield, Mo. She is also pursuing a master’s in business administration online through ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business.
“I know having a master’s degree and more than five years of work experience will make me a very marketable job candidate in the coming years,” she said.
Samuel Burke has made a name for himself in the burgeoning field of Spanish language broadcast journalism. He is a technology correspondent at CNN and also anchors technology news programs at CNN en Español. He reports on how technology and social media affect the business world and consumers.
Burke has constantly had to adapt in the news world, moving nearly a dozen times, living in London, New York and Atlanta, acquiring different technology skill sets to succeed in his career. He said the Cronkite School and ASU gave him the training and technical skills needed to make sound, ethical decisions in the 24-hour news environment.
“Nothing could have prepared me more for my work at CNN than the Cronkite School,” Burke said. “Cronkite truly prepared me for the many lenses a journalist must look through when working on international news stories.”
Scott Bates graduated with a master's and doctorate in plant biology from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Bates is now an assistant professor and curator with the Bell Museum of Natural History with the University of Minnesota.
While at ASU, Bates managed the Lichen Herbarium exchange program and served as a specialist for the USDA’s Forest Inventory and Analysis Program. He pursues studies in fungal diversity and soil-borne fungal pathogens, and is part of National Science Foundation’s Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program.
Kelee Pacion earned her master’s in curriculum and instruction, secondary education, from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. After four years working in public and charter high schools, she enrolled at the University of Arizona to pursue a second master’s in information resources and library science.
“As a result of both degrees, I was able to obtain a librarian job just as I was finishing my last year teaching high school,” said Pacion, who is now the instruction coordinator and undergraduate life sciences librarian for the Albert R. Mann Library at Cornell University. “Not only did I get a job, I got a job at a prestigious library at an Ivy League university.”
Christine Leon Swisher’s grandmother died of cancer when Swisher was a young girl. It was diagnosed late, which made the treatment less effective. That bitter loss inspired her to pursue research and engineering to develop better detection and treatment options. Through the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering’s 4+1 program, she finished her master’s degree, for which she had done research on better ways to deliver drugs to cancer tumors.
In May, she will finish her doctorate in bioengineering through a joint program between the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, San Francisco. She is also a National Science Foundation fellow, a graduate student instructor at Berkeley and is also very involved in science and education outreach. Her doctoral research focuses on the early diagnosis of cancer with the development of safe, non-invasive Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) techniques.
This summer, she will move to Boston to be a post-doctoral research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. She will be working on smaller, less-expensive, hand-held devices that can screen for cancer at a patient’s bedside.
For small-business owners who need help with getting organized, marketing tactics and growing sales, Infusionsoft is more than just software – it can be a vital lifeline in living out their dreams. “I joined the Infusionsoft team because we’re championing entrepreneurs and fighting for small business success,” says Brianna Raymond, School of Letters and Sciences graduate, who joined the company after working with Education Management Corporation. “We understand the joys and pains of entrepreneurship, as more than half of our employees have operated a business venture at one time.”
Between finishing her undergraduate degree and earning an MBA, Raymond lived and worked with a hill community in northern Thailand, which was working with the United Nations to manufacture and sell local coffee beans in order to send tribal members to college. She continues to be active in her Phoenix community, serving in a leadership role with Toastmasters at ASU and as a member of Arizona Philanthropists.
Patricia Trubl, bachelor’s degree in life science and instructional specialist at New College, remembers President Obama saying, “Your body of work is yet to come,” and there is “always more to do, always more to learn and always more to achieve.” In the last five years, Trubl has completed her master’s degree with a focus in urban ecology, had her undergraduate research and one chapter in her master’s thesis published, and found a passion for teaching: “I love being challenged. I request that I teach something new every semester.”
President Obama challenged graduates in his speech to “take risks and new opportunities,” and Trubl has done just that. She has recently accepted a position with the University of Houston – Clear Lake (UHCL), where she will help the institution transition into a four-year university. Trubl will develop all of the teaching biology labs at UHCL and continue her education as a doctoral candidate. She hopes to “serve as an inspiration for [her] students, the same as ASU New College faculty have done [for her].”
Moments away from earning his doctoral degree in physical activity, nutrition and wellness from ASU in 2009, Jeremy Pomeroy sat in the audience at commencement reflecting on the people who helped make his achievements a reality and the work it took to get there.
Today, Pomeroy is a postdoctoral fellow at the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), working on health interventions in native communities in Phoenix and rural Alaska, as well as communities in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Sweden. Pomeroy also serves as a mentor for students in the NIDDK Office of Minority Health Research Coordination summer internship program.
“Mentoring students allows me to continue the tradition Dr. Swan set forth for me,” Pomeroy said. “If I can keep that ripple effect going by inspiring and mentoring students, I’ll feel satisfied in taking on the president’s challenge of leaving the world a better place.”
Pete Buckley got an internship at Apple through the career center at the W. P. Carey School of Business before he even graduated. When he finished the school's full-time MBA program in May 2009, he walked into a full-time job in new products logistics at Apple, where he was responsible for freight optimization and logistics launch readiness. Translation: he was responsible for making sure nobody stole an announced iPhone before it launched, while also making sure 15 million iPhones weren’t delivered too early, but were ready on shelves around the world at launch time.
Today, after spending five years at Apple, utilizing his W. P. Carey School emphasis in supply chain management, Buckley is a new-product-introduction manager at Google. He is working on an initiative called Project Loon, which is launching balloons into the stratosphere to beam down Internet access to those who are poor and/or living in remote areas, including emerging markets like Brazil, Indonesia, India and Africa. Buckley’s passion is leveraging technology to help the poor and disadvantaged, and he often travels to developing countries. He is proud that his projects at Google are working to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.
Amaroney Thach listened intently as President Barack Obama delivered the commencement address at his graduation, which warned students they would have to adapt as they launched their careers.
“I shifted careers drastically,” says Thach, who earned a bachelor of science in tourism development and management and was named an “Outstanding Graduate” from the College of Public Programs.
After graduation, he pursued a career in the nonprofit sector, but changed jobs six times until deciding to develop his creative talents and pursue a master of communication in digital media from the University of Washington.
“It’s important to me to find a career that I look forward to doing every day,” Thach says. “If that doesn't work out, start your own business. That's where I am today. I want to work for myself and have full creative reign.”