Alumni Stories

Teresa Brandt
Class of 2000

A research project, personal experience or academic course often drives students into a particular field of study. For Arizona State University alumna Teresa Brandt, it was her inherent curiosity that led her to study molecular and cellular biology. “I’m very curious and this field has allowed me to explore my curiosity in science,” Brandt said. “Exploring science and being a role model for my family and my kids in doing a job that’s meaningful and rewarding drives me to stay in science and to mentor young scientists as well.”

Justin Wolter
Class of 2016

Justin Wolter started his doctoral program with one child at home. Even though it was challenging to split his attention between home and school, he welcomed two more children into his family during the following four years. “Initially it was hard to strike a balance, and each half of my focus often made maintaining the other more difficult,” Wolter said. “But over the years, I think raising a family while trying to do research gave me an amazing ability to take my mind off the stresses of the lab.”

Mary Drago
Class of 2016

When Mary Drago participated in her undergraduate commencement ceremony, the Ebola virus had not been discovered and the term global warming was used in its modern sense for the first time. A lot can change in 41 years, including Drago herself.

Darrin Ellison
Class of 2016

Some students may expect to coast through college with ease, just like they did in high school. At least, that’s what Darin Ellison said he thought during the summer before his freshman year. “At first, I didn’t take my classes serious and thought my study habits from high school would get me the excellent grades I got back then,” Ellison, a soon-to-be graduate from the School of Life Sciences Microbiology undergraduate program, said. “I could not have been more wrong.”

Todd Katzner
Class of 2003

With large, hooked beaks, sharp talons, and a wingspan of up to 7.5 feet, golden eagles are powerful and formidable birds of prey. For biologists who study birds of prey, trapping and tagging them are often the most time-consuming and dangerous part of studying these incredible animals. In addition, golden eagles often make their nests in tall trees or on cliffs along waterways.

Evan Carson
Class of 2005

When Evan Carson first started researching freshwater fish in the desert springs of northern Mexico, he realized many species were in danger of extinction. Local communities use a tremendous amount of water from the springs at Cuatro Ciénegas — threatening the native wildlife.

Justin Congdon
Class of 1977

When evolutionary biologist Justin Congdon arrived at Arizona State University in 1972, the timing could not have been better. As a graduate student with the Department of Zoology, his studies coincided with the temporary stay of professor Donald Tinkle — the university’s Maytag Professor and expert in evolutionary biology. Since Tinkle’s appointment was for only one year, if Congdon had waited to enroll, he never would have taken the class that changed his life.

Libby Larson
Class of 2010

When Libby Larson was a child growing up in Connecticut, she had little interest in nature. Her mother tells her that she didn’t even like to go outdoors. Surprising for someone who has spent much her adult life outside — as an ecologist! It wasn’t until Larson, a School of Life Sciences alumna, volunteered for a wetlands cleanup in Boston — where she lived after earning an undergraduate degree in history — that the idea of pursuing ecology occurred to her. During the cleanup, she said she discovered an entire world she never knew could exist within a city.

Andrea Hazelton
Class of 2011

Andrea Hazelton never imagined becoming the endangered species botanist for the Navajo Natural Heritage Program as an undergraduate in plant biology at Arizona State University.

Robyn Barfoot
Class of 2000

Around the world, the tiger is in critical danger. According to the World Wildlife Fund, fewer than 3,200 tigers are alive in the wild today. But one former Sun Devil’s love for the big cat has spurred her to take action to change that.

Gene Roberts
Class of 1983

When Gene Robertson was a student at Arizona State University, people used to ask him what he was going to do to help people. At the time, Robertson didn’t know what he wanted to do. The alumnus started his undergraduate studies as a chemistry major before changing his mind and switching to microbiology.

Michael Peddecord
Class of 1970

Coming from a family of modest means, alumnus Michael Peddecord understands that a college education is expensive. The 1970 graduate of the microbiology program in Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences worked several jobs to pay for tuition and started at Mesa Community College to save money.

Christian Lawrence
Class of 2002

Many people have fish tanks in their homes and some of them hold zebrafish, which are attractive and easy to care for. However, for Christian Lawrence, a 2002 Arizona State University graduate and freshwater fish enthusiast, tending the half-million zebrafish that reside at Children’s Hospital in Boston requires a much higher order of devotion.

Susannnah French
Class of 2006

Many animal lovers dream of becoming veterinarians, but some realize during college that there are other ways to interact with animals. Susannah French, a 2006 alumna of Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, chose one such path and is now an assistant professor at Utah State University studying reptiles and their environment.

Christina Akins
Class of 2008

A chance encounter with a gopher snake at the age of 12 was all it took to turn Christina Akins on to “herps.”  Now, the 2008 School of Life Sciences grad spends her days searching out frogs, snakes and other reptiles in the “remote and rugged mountain ranges of Arizona” as a wildlife specialist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Akins was recently featured in an Arizona Highways story called “Getting Her Hands Dirty,” something she’s not afraid to do, frequently digging in hillside ponds or wading through vegetation all in the name of wildlife preservation.

Paul Larson
Class of 1990

For School of Life Sciences alumnus Paul Larson, the path to his future was always present in his life. From a young age, he wanted to be a surgeon. He always enjoyed academics and he had two older siblings who attended Arizona State University before him. On the surface, his story seems like the makings of a successful ASU pre-med student — but what Larson did with his education goes beyond typical.