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Mom and daughter duo graduate through ASU Online

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

When the Pappas family — mom Maria of San Jose, California, and daughter Katianna of Scottsdale, Arizona – began their educational journeys at Arizona State University, it wasn’t their grand plan to earn their diplomas at the same time. But the timing worked out just so and they both received their ASU diploma this spring.

“I love that Katianna and I are sharing this experience together,” Maria said. “We didn’t initially set out to finish at the same time, but we’re so excited to be celebrating with our family and friends. Throughout the journey, we were there to support each other, which was wonderful! It was a bonding experience.”

Maria earned her Master in Nonprofit Leadership and Management and Katianna earned a Bachelor of Applied Science in health entrepreneurship and innovation, both through ASU Online. We talked with both about their learning experience and journey together.

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

Maria: I’ve been in nonprofit work for more than 30 years and am currently the vice president of development at The Tech Interactive, a science center in downtown San Jose. So I’m not sure I really had an “aha” moment. But I learned something new in every class I took, from finance to leadership ethics to program evaluation. And that learning was thanks to both my professors and classmates.

Katianna: Originally my major was science focused, and I really enjoyed all of my STEM classes since I always had a passion for health and the sciences. When I started working, I realized I also had a huge passion and love for business, entrepreneurship and the strategy involved. I didn’t realize a health entrepreneurship and innovation program was an option for me. But when I discovered it, it sounded like the perfect mix of both my interests.

Q: What accomplishment are you most proud of as an ASU Online student?

Maria: I’m proud of getting through a master’s program while working full time. Throughout the program, I was also able to contribute numerous real-world scenarios to each area we were learning. As a 30-year veteran of the industry, I had much to add to the discussions about how theories can be applied to a real nonprofit. 

Katianna: I’m most proud of my ability to balance work and school while still maintaining my social life. I started college in an on-campus program, but switched to ASU Online so I could continue to work full time as an IT recruiter. Getting an education and completing my degree were my main priorities, but it was important for me to have balance in my life while in school. That’s the main reason I decided to transition to an online program rather than be in person.

Q: How does it feel to be graduating at the same time as your mom/daughter? What was it like to go through the college experience at the same time?

Katianna: It was so much fun being able to share this moment with my mom. I wouldn’t want it any other way! She helped me so much throughout my academic career and I have always looked up to her dedication in both work and school. 

Maria: While in school, Katianna was a huge help when I had technology questions, or general questions. I had never been on Canvas and didn’t even know how to post a discussion when I started. We would bounce ideas off each other and sometimes vent about how hard it was to work full time and manage school – during a pandemic! It was wonderful we were there to support each other.

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

Maria: I appreciated learning about taking an asset-based perspective when approaching nonprofit work. It’s easy to start with deficits, but starting with assets is a much more respectful way to talk about our work.

Katianna: In one of my health innovation classes, we were looking at implementing tangible ways to measure health innovation in the field. I learned the importance of measurement and data collection in driving innovation.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

Maria: I knew ASU had a nonprofit leadership master’s program, but I hadn’t looked into it too seriously until I applied. I needed something 100% online as I work full time in a senior role at my institution. I was interested in the classes offered in the program and decided to apply. I also felt a connection to ASU with Katianna being there.

Katianna: My brother started at ASU, which led me to follow him from San Jose to the sunny state of Arizona. Working while going to school was really important to me, and ASU Online allowed me to transition to online learning. I knew ASU‘s program was really strong and would set me up in the right direction.

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

Katianna: Don’t be afraid to ask for help! This is your own journey and it’s not going to be easy; there will be challenges along the way. Advocating for yourself and your academic career will set you up for success in the future.

Maria: Finish! Graduating is a great accomplishment. So even when it gets hard, keep on keeping on. I’d also encourage anyone out there, no matter their age, who thinks maybe they could get a master’s degree one day, to do it. I hadn’t been in a classroom in over 30 years! It was fun learning again.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

Maria: Relax, celebrate, enjoy! I’ll catch up on all the Netflix shows people have been talking about for the past two years. Other than that, I hope to take some time to digest all I learned from the program and determine how to bring those learnings back to my own institution. I’d also like to explore how to help develop the next generation of nonprofit leaders. 

Katianna: Now that I’ve graduated, I’m going to take what I’ve learned and plan what’s next in both my career and further education. Also, some bottomless mimosas and catching up on much needed sleep.

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

Maria: I’m in development and will be trying to raise $80 million in the coming years. So if someone gave me $40 million, that would be a huge start to The Tech Interactive’s upcoming campaign. We train the next generation of problem solvers, so my $40 million would go to our efforts to bring up an entire generation of young people prepared to tackle our world’s greatest challenges. 

Katianna: I’m not sure exactly what I would do with $40 million, but I’d like to see progress made in cross collaborations between different countries with regards to solving world problems and analyzing areas of improvement. So many organizations are working independently on the same issues; if there was more sharing of research findings and collaboration, global problems could be solved.

Written by Chad Hays, senior marketing content specialist, EdPlus at Arizona State University