On 20th anniversary of naming of Barrett, The Honors College, graduates reflect on opportunities and success rooted in their honors college experience

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October 15, 2020

The experiences students have at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University are as varied as the students themselves.

But, a common theme runs throughout their years spent in the honors college: A commitment to intellectual engagement, academic rigor, and community involvement in a highly respected honors college that is supported by the resources of a large Research I university consistently ranked among the top in the nation for innovation. 

Students like to call this combination of an honors college within a large public university “the best of both worlds.” And, it motivates them to do their best. 

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the $10 million endowment made by Craig and Barbara Barrett and the naming of Barrett, The Honors College. To mark this occasion, we caught up with some alumni to find out how their honors experience influenced them and where they are now. 

 

Jamie Forseth

Jamie Forseth holds five degrees from ASU.

During her four undergraduate years, she earned four bachelor’s degrees: Bachelor of Music in violin performance; Bachelor of Arts in political science; Bachelor of Arts in English literature; and Bachelor of Arts in integrated studies with a concentration in Polish. 

“Only with the support of Barrett could I incorporate such a range of degrees into a single college experience,” said Forseth, who completed her undergraduate studies in 2007.

She remained at ASU an additional year to take advantage of the joint BA/MA program in political science, earning a Master of Arts in political theory in 2008. 

How did your experience in Barrett, The Honors College enhance your undergraduate education? 

The Barrett campus is an incubator, preparing students for the dynamism of the 21st century workplace.  

Students brainstorm about physics and literature in the hallways and common study areas. Guest lecturers present on topics ranging from exploration of the deepest ocean channels to the furthest stellar galaxies. This stimulates thinking and awareness about the pace of discovery. It fosters students’ curiosity and encourages students to explore how innovation in one field might be transposed and applied to their own field of expertise. In today’s world of data and innovation, developing the ability to connect the dots and think outside a single sector prepares Barrett graduates for professional success. 

Additionally, while students deepen critical thinking and communication skills in Barrett coursework like The Human Event, students also have a nearly unlimited menu of subjects to major in at a premier research university like ASU. Barrett and ASU, together, offer the best of a small college community with the resources of a large university. 

What opportunities did Barrett present that you wouldn’t have had if you weren’t an honors student? 

Without Barrett, I likely would have had significantly less exposure to students pursuing other disciplines. As a student, for example, this meant I would not have had an upperclassman Honors College mentor suggest I take an introductory political science class – a course that ultimately led to my pursuit of a political science degree. Professionally today, I would have a less robust network of colleagues with specializations ranging from education to molecular biology and from psychology to supply chain management. I regularly pick up the phone and ask for their insights or a few moments to brainstorm how they might approach problem solving based on their Barrett education and subsequent career experiences. 

How did you come to work for Barbara Barrett? In what capacity did you work for her while a student and now? How has this experience helped you develop personally and professionally? 

The Honors College listserv was a regular source of information about events, internships, and job opportunities. Replying to a notice in that, I found myself accepting an opportunity to work with Barbara Barrett after graduating from the honors college. It was an adventure from start to finish – and one that continues to this day! 

Initially, I managed Barbara Barrett’s nomination and confirmation to be U.S. Ambassador to Finland. She invited me to continue working with her at the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki as her personal chief of staff. Each day spanned varying topics from defense and diplomacy, education and economics, tech, innovation, and more. Following her ambassadorial tenure, I continued working with Barbara Barrett as she transitioned her focus to corporate defense, aerospace, and technology.  

To deepen my own portfolio of business knowledge, I subsequently pursued an MBA at Yale School of Management and then moved to New York City. While focused on capital markets, I maintained a toe in government and public policy by specializing in U.S. municipal bond credit research and strategy. I spent several years on the dynamic Goldman Sachs trading floor followed by an occasion to be entrepreneurial and join a newly-established hedge fund. Along the way, I utilized skills instilled by the honors college, from succinct writing and articular communication to deep-dive research and thoughtful analysis.  

Building on our past work together and my subsequent professional journey, Barbara Barrett invited me to work with her again in her current role as secretary of the Air Force. Now as the director of Global Strategy and senior advisor to the secretary of the Air Force, I have observed there are natural parallels between ASU’s mission and the U.S. Air Force mission. President Michael Crow focuses ASU on access, excellence, and impact. In a similar vein, the U.S. Air Force core values are integrity, service, and excellence.  

Whether celebrating the educational innovation of ASU or tackling issues spanning air, space, and cyber, I am profoundly grateful for the professional foundation Barrett, The Honors College provided. 

What is your fondest memory of the honors college? 

I have many treasured memories from my time as a Barrett student, but one highlight was helping to establish ASU’s first interdisciplinary creative publication, Lux Undergraduate Creative Review. Under the leadership of a Barrett professor, Lenore Brady, I had the opportunity to collaborate with other students on establishing a vision for the publication, building an efficient organization, crafting the workflow, selecting creative content, and publishing the final product. As we accepted written, visual, and musical entries from across the ASU student body, it was an incredibly rewarding endeavor highlighting the creativity of all undergraduates. I learned a lot about working – and delegating – from the entrepreneurial project. I remain in touch with many of my Lux teammates and, perhaps most gratifyingly, Lux continues to be published! Volume 16 was released in 2019.  

If you were speaking to a prospective Barrett student, what would you say? 

Barrett students generally self-select. To enroll, there is an extra application. To graduate, there are extra coursework requirements. Thus, the Barrett community is comprised of enterprising students who are naturally inquisitive, eager to tackle the hardest challenges, and willing to deliver above and beyond expectations. Embrace the opportunity to push your limits and maximize occasions to learn from the studies and ideas of other students. 

Barrett students also are afforded unique opportunities to expand their worldview through study abroad. I participated in a summer Honors course traveling through Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Italy, and Greece. Most uniquely, because of mentorship and guidance I received through the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarship Advisement, I successfully applied for a National Security Education Program scholarship to study in Poznan and Krakow. Not only was I able to build Polish fluency, but I also furthered my studies in violin performance, literature, and political science at Jagiellonian University and Adam Mickiewicz University. Ultimately, I incorporated much of this experience into my final honors thesis. 

From your perspective as a Barrett alumna, what are the best aspects of the honors college and what impact has it made on students and the ASU community? 

Barrett instills excellence, curiosity, and awareness in students. A high bar of performance, constant drive to continue learning, and thoughtfulness about others’ perspectives and the needs of global communities make Barrett graduates impactful in and beyond ASU classrooms. 

 

Ranjani Venkatakrishnan

Ranjani Venkatakrishnan graduated ASU in May 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in psychology and Japanese and honors from Barrett, The Honors College. 

Venkatakrishnan was in her native Chennai, India when she learned she had been admitted to Barrett. 

She was sleeping in after finishing board exams at the end of high school and was awoken by a phone call from her father in Arizona. 

“My dad, giddy with excitement, told me I got into Barrett. I had just woken up, so I didn’t quite appreciate it,” she said. 

“When my dad asked me what I wanted as a reward for getting into Barrett, I whined that I just wanted to go back to sleep.”

Venkatakrishnan now says she found many rewards at Barrett, including opportunities for challenging coursework and study abroad, as well as “an honors degree that means prestige.” 

She received a scholarship to participate in the Barrett study abroad program in Australia last year, and funding from the honors college to support her honors thesis, which was a study of mental health care among young people in India.  

She won second place in category A of the 28th Annual Arizona Japanese Speech Competition on April 9th, 2017.

She interned at The Arizona Republic and worked at student-run Blaze Radio, where she developed and hosted a radio show focusing on Indian culture and music. She also was a writer for State Press Magazine, a contributor to Normal Noise Magazine and poetry reviewer for Lux Undergraduate Creative Review. In addition, she interned at the ASU Center for Asian Research. 

What opportunities did you gain by being a Barrett student that you believe you would not have had otherwise? What impact did these opportunities have on you? 

I found mentors through Barrett. I had people to guide me when I needed help. This was especially important because I came to ASU all the way from India and there was a lot I didn't know. It was really easy to just walk into the Barrett suite in downtown Phoenix and talk to one of the sophomore peer mentors who worked there.  

I also found my first ever part-time job through Barrett. That job, writing for the Barrett website, has allowed me to meet so many incredible people, students and alumni of Barrett. Meeting such successful students and talking to them has driven me to really push my limits and, I'd like to think, reach some success since I received the ASU Alumni Association's Outstanding Graduate Award from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication this year.  

What are you doing now and how did Barrett help you get there? 

Right now, I am working on my master's degree on the 4+1 program at Cronkite. It's not the Barrett classes that I found most beneficial, but the people I met through Barrett. I'm someone who strives to achieve things and am always looking to already successful people for inspiration, tips, and advice. I'm sure the connections I've made at Barrett will be very beneficial in the future.  

Do you have any advice for Barrett students or students who may be interested in the honors college?

Barrett, The Honors College is worth it. Don’t miss out! Get involved and use all the advantages that Barrett has to offer.

 

Adam Silow

When he was applying to colleges, Adam Silow was torn between small, private liberal arts colleges or large public universities. 

“Fortunately, I didn’t have to choose because I found ASU and Barrett, which offered both of those options together. Turns out there are some moments in life when you can have your cake and eat it too,” he said. 

Silow attended ASU with scholarships that allowed him to graduate almost debt free. He double majored in global studies and economics and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2016. 

What opportunities did you have by being a Barrett student that you believe you would not have had otherwise? What impact have these had on you? 

Barrett provided me with three unique opportunities related to the honors thesis, Project Excellence, and the community itself. 

First, my honors thesis allowed me to work closely with faculty members whose classes I loved. 

I wrote my thesis on conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Later I was able to leverage this knowledge to gain a job working in the eastern DRC for a small non-governmental organization assisting Congolese women in politics. 

Second, through Project Excellence, I took a class at ASU's law school on public international law. This was a great way to dip my toe into the legal world, and it solidified my interest in eventually going to law school. 

Third, while at Barrett, I made powerful personal connections. For example, I was an Honor's Devil and during one of my prospective student tours, I met the chief of staff of a U.S. Senator and stayed in touch with him over time to eventually intern in his office in Washington, D.C. 

Most importantly, though, I met many smart, driven, and passionate Barrett students, who have since become my lifelong friends.  

What are you doing now and how did Barrett help you get there? 

I am now a joint degree student at Georgetown University, where I am earning a JD and a Master of Science in Foreign Service. I plan on using these degrees to create a global career blending criminal law, cross-border litigation, and national security.  

Barrett played an important role in helping me get here because I was able to explore many of these topic areas even as an undergraduate. For example, I was an undergraduate research assistant for ASU's Center on the Future of War and received great mentorship from my wonderful honors thesis advisor Prof. Daniel Rothenberg, who helped me build connections to Washington, D.C. and explore the field of national security.  

Since coming to Georgetown I have interned at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Each of these environments are filled with students from elite universities from around the country; however, my Barrett courses, research, and work fully prepared me for these challenges.  

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

Although I mentioned this before, I really want to emphasize the amazing Barrett community. Yes, Barrett and ASU afford students access to more internship, research, study abroad, and coursework opportunities than any one student could possibly need. But the biggest influence on any undergraduate student are their peers. Barrett attracts and cultivates thinkers and doers who are driven to make change. I count myself lucky to have spent four years at Barrett where I met some of my best friends. And having almost 300 days of sunshine annually with the Grand Canyon not far is a pretty great way to spend four years. 

 

Sara Quiñones

My name is Sara Quiñones, and I was born in Arlington, Texas, and raised in Flower Mound, Texas.

I graduated from Barrett, The Honors College in May 2019 with concurrent degrees in psychology and Spanish, and a minor in business. 

My mom is from the west valley in Arizona, so I had always heard about ASU growing up, but I didn’t hear much about Barrett until my senior year of high school, when I received a letter inviting me to visit the campus. 

Since I was young, I had known that I wanted to attend a larger university that had resources and an array of organizations and opportunities to take advantage of, but it wasn’t until I saw everything Barrett had to offer in person that I fell in love. 

Not only was the campus beautiful, but every person I encountered was friendly and helpful. I learned about all of the opportunities available, from smaller class sizes and priority registration, to study abroad programs and exclusive clubs – many of which I ended up utilizing! 

I was also grateful to be given a New American University scholarship since I was a National Hispanic Scholar in high school, which made my dream of going to college out of state a reality.  

Being a Barrett student was incredible because I was living with many like-minded individuals, which encouraged me to be an active member of the Barrett community. 

Classes like The Human Event taught me to hone my analytical and verbal skills, which carried into my other major courses. I was also lucky enough to go on a Barrett study abroad trip to Paris, Brussels, and Berlin, where I traveled to amazing places and made lifelong friends! This trip was once again made possible by a Barrett scholarship. 

Another part of the Barrett experience that was fundamental in my academic career was completing my honors thesis. 

I performed an experiment on language learning in the psychology department, which taught me the value of research, perseverance, and building a close relationship with my professor, Viridiana Benitez. This experience honestly reinforced my four years at Barrett, proving to myself that I was worthy of every opportunity, and that I was capable of many more great things. 

Outside of academics, being a student worker in the Barrett recruiting office was very influential. By developing close relationships with the staff and students, I was more aware of just how many more opportunities Barrett had to offer. 

Through this office, I felt encouraged to become president of the Barrett Honors College Council, where I worked with staff and students in Barrett and the larger ASU community to put on events for students. 

Additionally, I learned more about the Office of National Scholarship Advisement (ONSA). As a student, I had walked past this office often, but it wasn’t until I kept seeing it on my tours that I decided to look more into it. 

This, and hearing about other Barrett students receiving these national scholarships, is what motivated me to apply for (and be selected!) a Fulbright grant in Spain. After graduation, I spent an amazing six months in Spain teaching English as a Fulbright scholar, all thanks to the support of ONSA and Barrett. 

Now that I am back home in Texas, it is the memories of my time in Barrett that have given me the confidence to switch fields to nursing and apply to the master’s of nursing program at ASU, as I know I have a great foundation as a Barrett alumna.  

 

Casey Weinstein

As a National Merit Scholar, Casey Weinstein received a full scholarship to attend ASU.

“It was an easy decision to attend ASU and Barrett. It was the perfect combination of large university resources with the community feel of a small college. The idea of living with higher achieving students was enticing as well. Ultimately, a full scholarship also made the decision easier, too,” he said. 

Weinstein graduated ASU with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering in 2017. He is currently in his third year of medical school at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. 

He is a 2nd lieutenant in the Air Force and is pursuing a specialty in emergency medicine in preparation to serve as a military physician. 

Weinstein also is passionate about ultra-endurance events and has completed an Ironman race and many marathons. 

“I’m very interested in health and wellness and will incorporate it into my future practice,” he said. 

What opportunities did you find at Barrett, The Honors College? 

Study abroad trip to Spain, excellent community feel, access to mentors, recognition from other teachers regarding Barrett’s “prestige” when pursuing projects/collaboration, opportunity to pursue funding for thesis, additional connections on campus. These opportunities made it much more feasible to pursue a wide variety of opportunities and to graduate with a stacked resume. 

What impact did your experience at ASU and Barrett have on you? 

My engineering degree taught me to think critically and to work hard. The workload I took while at Barrett was higher than my current work load. I was encouraged to be very involved at Barrett, and community involvement is still important to me. 

 

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