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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.
A pivotal moment in Erin Schulte’s undergraduate experience came while she was interning in Washington, D.C. She didn’t get to meet the president of the United States or run into an influential member of Congress out on the town. She had a one-on-one talk with Silicon Valley titan Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and founder of LeanIn.org.
Here’s how Schulte — the Spring 2017 Barrett Honors College Outstanding Graduate — recounts that unforgettable meeting:
“I was in D.C. as an ASU Capital Scholar during the summer after my sophomore year and was interning with the McCain Institute for International Leadership. My roommate — also an ASU Capital Scholar — worked on Capitol Hill, and about halfway through the summer, she informed me that Sheryl Sandberg was coming to speak to the Hill interns. For context, Sheryl Sandberg is my hero. She inspired me to co-found an anti-trafficking nonprofit during my freshman year and to stick with it, even when I doubted my own abilities.
“My roommate was able to get me into the event, and I got to have a conversation with her (Sandberg) before the event started. That conversation altered the trajectory of my life. Her advice, along with my best friend’s heavy-handed encouragement, inspired me to apply to a few national scholarships during my junior and senior years. I suspect I may hold the ASU record for most national-scholarship mock interviews. I have sat through nine in one calendar year. It took a lot of work, but thanks to my mentors, the Office of National Scholarship Advisement at Barrett Honors College, and my recommenders, I was able to win a Marshall Scholarship.
“I recently emailed Sheryl to let her know that her advice had completely changed my life, and to my surprise, she responded to me almost immediately. Sheryl is just one of the many people that I have met thanks to ASU, and so many of these people have played instrumental parts in my personal and professional development. I am incredibly grateful to ASU for providing so much support and so many resources to its students. Even the near-mythical Dr. Crow has played a pivotal part in my life: He took time out of his insanely busy schedule to meet with me right before my national scholarship finalist interviews to help me prepare. ASU staff and faculty’s incredible support for students extends all the way to the very top.”
Schulte is graduating with a degree in global studies from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and honors from Barrett, The Honors College, with minors in economics and political science and a certificate in applied business data analytics. Here, Schulte, who is from Scottsdale, talks about her time at ASU and her plans in September to move to the United Kingdom for studies as a Marshall Scholar at King’s College London and the University of Oxford.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: I realized that I wanted to go into economic development research during the first semester of my senior year. I had just returned from a business trip to Thailand with my anti-trafficking nonprofit where I worked with hill tribe populations and I knew I was interested in the development field, but I wasn't sure that it was the right fit for me. I completely fell in love with economics during that economic development class, and that is what convinced me to study political economy in graduate school.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: I was a very quiet student in junior high and high school. I never spoke up in class, and the idea of giving a speech made me sick. But I took the Human Event class during my first year in Barrett Honors College at ASU, and in that class, participation is mandatory. I forced myself to speak up because I wanted those participation points, and in the process I learned that I actually like public speaking. I now give tours of Barrett each week and routinely speak at events and seminars in front of dozens or hundreds of people. I never knew I had that in me before I got to ASU.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I chose ASU for the same reason that so many other students chose this university — I wanted a college experience that gave me access to all the resources of a world-class research institution, while also providing the tight-knit community of a small liberal arts college. By choosing ASU and Barrett, I did not have to compromise. I have had the chance to work with multiple talented professors at ASU and other universities around the country on many research projects related to topics like Israeli online public diplomacy and coalition drone strikes in Iraq and Syria. I also have had the chance to complete multiple internships thanks to ASU's strong connections to employers around the world. I am very glad that I chose ASU for my undergraduate studies!
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: I often give this piece of advice to prospective students when they come to tour Barrett: Talk to your professors. Even if you don't have a specific question about the class in mind, ask them about their research. Or ask them about current events related to the course material. I have learned so much from my discussions with my professors in their office hours, and several times those conversations led to a research assistant position offer.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: I’ve spent a lot of time studying in the Barrett Student Center at Vista del Sol. I love studying with whiteboards, and there are a lot of them in the Student Center.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: After graduation I will move to the UK to pursue a Master of Science in Political Economy of Emerging Markets at King's College London, followed by Master of Science in Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation from the University of Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I would use the $40 million to help ensure that economic development projects are effective with minimal negative side effects. I would invest that money into greater research into this area, and I would specifically focus on using big data in the effort to restore and revitalize post-conflict zones.
Top photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU