The story behind the cap and gown
In 2015, I graduated with my PhD in Organizational Communication from Arizona State University. While the journey to graduating was a lifetime in the making, I want to share the behind the scenes look at what goes into making it across the stage.
I bleed maroon and gold. Yes, partially because of my pride in our athletics department, but more so because of my pride in what ASU stands for, because of my deeply held belief in the ASU Charter and vision of what the future could be.
If you haven’t read it before, let me take a second to share the ASU Charter.
ASU is a comprehensive public research university, measured not by whom we exclude, but rather by whom we include and how they succeed; advancing research and discovery of public value; and assuming fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves.
In a world where exclusion brings status and leaders in name only fail to assume responsibility, ASU has firmly planted a flag in the ground and decided to do things differently.
The values and charter of ASU remain with me today in my business as a public speaking consultant for entrepreneurs and change agents. Without the academic foundation and education I received from ASU, I would not be the person I am today. ASU taught me to embrace uncertainty and meet it with innovation and inspiration. To know that my voice is important and has a place in our local and global community and that we are all here to make a difference with our unique gifts.
In the slideshow below, I take you back through my most memorable experiences from a debate tournament at Havard, to becoming the student government president, to advocating to fulfill the promise laid out in the Arizona State Constitution that education remain as nearly free as possible in the State Legislature to Washington DC, to all the little moments in between that made up my student experience at Arizona State University.
Images of the memorable moments
In the parking lot before new student orientation in 2007 when I transferred to ASU.
Sliding into home plate during a kick ball game of Speech vs Debate. (2007)
My favorite suit from my Speech and Debate days.
The annual Speech and Debate showcase at the Empty Space Theatre. Thomas and I were the bouncers.
Getting ready to go out on Mill Ave!
May 2009- Working my first job at ASU as a student worker at the Beyond Center.
Paul Davies is the Director of the Beyond Center. He's a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, astrobiologist and best-selling science author. I spent 100s of hours with him and his wife Pauline and they have had a profound influence on my life to this day.
My was also a writing tutor. (2008)
Debating a point at a speech and debate conference. I think I'm winning?!
In 2010, I graduated with two Bachelors degrees. One in Communication and one in Political Science.
My mom, me, my aunt Jodie, and my aunt Cassie.
First day as graduate students!!
My cat Ravenclaw and I spent lots of hours together studying my first two years.
First year of Graduate School! Four Peaks has the best nachos and ciders after a 3-hour long class. 2011
Really, Ravenclaw and I spent lots of evenings like this.
One of my classes after their final simulation. I taught National Security and Counterterrorism. The final project was to participate as the White House during a terrorist attack and decide what strategic communication should be shared with the public.
I taught lots of classes while I was a graduate student, but my favorite has always been Public Speaking.
Entering my second year of graduate school! 2012.
Student Government 2011. I was the PR and outreach director.
Student government 2013. I was the Vice President of Professional Development.
Getting ready for Homecoming 2013!
At Northern Arizona University for the Western States Student Government meeting.
With ASU student government leaders after a debate for some statewide political office that I don't remember. Brene (tan suit) and I helped organize it as VPs of student government in 2012-ish.
Doing a service project with my department.
With now US Senator Kyrsten Sinema. I organized a chat with her and student leaders in 2013-ish.
Devils in Disguise! An annual service event organized by Changemaker Central. 2012
Campaign picture- Vote Fisk 2012!
The fearless student government president with her trusted advisors.
We had a lot of plans for the year!
With the undergraduate student government presidents and ASU's University President Michael Crow, 2012.
I gave speeches to rooms like this every week.
With my vice president of professional development at the first event we organized during my presidency in 2013.
Working with the state-wide student organizations on a lobbying strategy.
At a National Student Government Meeting .
We won a Pitchfork award!
Walk through of the new student recreation center in 2013.
Trying to work with the Arizona Legislature
Lobbying for affordable education in DC. 2013.
Things weren't always sunshine and rainbows. One of my fellow student government leaders drew this caricature of me during a particularly intense meeting.
Taking to the streets when a deal couldn't be reached.
Presenting awards at the end of my presidency. Kim is an amazing social worker in Arizona now. 2014
With the four undergraduate student government presidents.
Celebrating finishing my year as president with friends and starting the last year of my PhD!
In the midst of student government, I was still a student and doing research in my field.
My mom made a quilt out of all my t-shirts for Christmas for me.
2014-2015 Academic Year. I have few pictures, but most of it was spent with my best friend Tara and I writing research.
And going out with friends 2014.
And skydiving on New Years Day 2015.
Back to work researching!
Lots of late nights were spent at Club Hayden (aka the library) in 2015.
Finally the day came to defend my dissertation research.
With my friends after passing my defense.
With my Dissertation committee after passing my defense.
I was chosen to carry in the college flag for graduation.
GRADUATION DAY! 2015
The day my actual diploma came in the mail, I sat in my office and cried for 30 minutes. It was the piece of paper in the mail that made it finally seem completed.
Stories of the graduate
In 2007, I transferred to ASU from Glendale Community College. The first in my family to go to college, with little understanding of what higher education even meant other than the promise of a better life not confined to living paycheck to paycheck.
After high school graduation, I thought I wanted to be an emergency doctor. I said it because it was the hardest thing I could think of and people didn’t ask follow up questions like they did if I said I wanted to be an author or a teacher. After 3 semesters and too many chemistry classes, I was drawn to the political science and communication departments. I loved discussing how to make government work better for the people it is entrusted to serve.
At the new student orientation, I met the Associated Students of ASU (what we call student government at ASU) for the first time and signed up to get involved. I had no friends at ASU and they seemed like a great group. I also signed up for Speech and Debate club that day.
I learned about ASU's eight design aspirations and the mission of the university at new student orientation. One of the design aspirations is that ASU is committed to the success of each student. The unversity works day in and day out to enable student sucess.
Founded in 1885, ASU Forensics has a proud tradition of excellence and competitive success in speech and debate. We are one of the last full-service speech and debate programs in the country.
I spent hours and hours in the squad room working with the coaches and my teammates on my debate style. The fundamentals that I learned in my early days at ASU set the foundation for my future as a leader and business owner.
Through ASU Foresncis, I got to travel the United States and participate in debates from Havard to Long Beach.
ASU's second design aspiration is to transform society. We are taught how to catalyze social change by being connected to social needs. My time on the Foresncis' team exposed me to diverse perspectives and transformed how I communicated my beliefs and advocated for change in my community.
I finished my undergraduate degrees in 2010 and jumped straight into my PhD work in organizational communication at Arizona State University.
My first two years were spent studying everything from complex adaptative systems to the history rhetoric.
One of the best things about ASU is it's design aspiration of creating knowledge by transcending academic disciplines. Being able to take classes in disciplines beyond your own and connect two seemingling dissilimar ideas has been critical to my professional success as a public speaking consulant.
I was the Graduate Student Government President for the 2013-2014 academic year.
Prior to being president, I had been an active student leader holding every position from parlimentarian to various club president roles.
As president, I represented the 14,000 graduate and professional students at Arizona State University by advocating at the univeristy, state and federal level on issues pertaining to graduate and professional students, as well as providing services and events to improve students' experience at ASU.
Here's some of the highlights:
o Acted as chief liaison for 14,000 graduate students to ASU Administration, Arizona Board of Regents, Arizona State Legislature, and Arizona Congressional Members.
o Managed a yearly budget of over $700,000.00 and a staff of fifteen.
o Successfully increased the GPSA budget to over $950,000 for following fiscal year.
o Increased graduate and research assistant wages to reflect the livable wage.
o Initiated the creation of an athletic fee to generate 10 million dollars annually.
o Established graduate writing centers and expanded career development.
o Passed the first 10-year Strategic Plan outlining future programs and growth strategies.
o Representative on the Provost Search Committee, Tempe City/ ASU Safety Task force, Pac-12 mandated athletic board, and various other boards and committees throughout the university.
This role at the university exposed me to how ASU is able to leverage it's place not only in Arizona, but also globally. ASU embraces its culture, socioeconomic and physical setting.
Beyond being a university student leader, I was a national student leader and regularly spoke with elected officals on the issues of university students.
I'm hold the radical belief that education should be free and accessible for all students at all levels of education. Education is not a commidity that should be bought and sold. Our democracy is dependent on an educated populous. It's a debate I continue to have and will continue to fight for.
And while ASU does not hold this same belief as I do in it's entirety, it does provide a platform for student to engage in global issue such as this.
The pivotal moment of my student government presidency was negoiating a deal with these four, the Undergraduate Student Government Presidents, and the University Administration. It was clear that a new $75 Athletic Fee was going to have the support from the undergraduates to move forward and I wanted to get the best deal I could for graduate students who I knew were unlikely to attend athletic events.
The student newspaper, The State Press, a year after the fee was passed did a retrospective on it's impact here: https://www.statepress.com/article/2014/09/athletic-fee-money-raises-teaching-assistants-pay
I was able to use everything ASU had taught me about innovation and entrepreneurship to not only secure a pay raise for graduate students through the creation of the fee but also to dedicate funding to graduate student research.
Here's more from the article:
ASU student governments worked diligently last year to pass the Athletic Fee Bill in order to provide better services to students at ASU. Students will now be seeing some of the benefits of the fee with teaching assistants receiving raises in their next pay period.
The goal of the athletic fee is to not only allow students to receive free tickets to all sporting events but to reinvest the $10 million previously taken from tuition into programs and services for students.
Communications graduate student and former GPSA President Megan Fisk said ASU teaching assistants will be making at least the livable wage for Phoenix as calculated by MIT’s index, which is roughly $19,000.
"Since teaching assistant appointments are typically only nine months and the $19,000 is based on 12 months, the minimum amount a teaching assistant should be paid is about $14,250 for the academic year," she said.
The average salary for teaching assistants last year was $15,745, but some academic divisions, such as the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, were paying between $10,000 and $12,600 per academic year, Fisk said.
Senior Vice President of Education Outreach James Rund said he thinks the raises are important for the compensation of the top level graduate students at ASU.
"This is an implementation of the first step for adequate compensation for teaching assistants," he said. "Our goal is to provide quality compensation for our teaching assistants."
The raise in pay is being seen as a victory for what the athletic fee was intended when first discussed during the 2013 fall semester.
"I see this as a great victory for GPSA and a demonstration of the shared governance ASASU has with the administration and academic departments as well as reflective of the nature of ASU’s shared governance system," Fisk said.
The shared governance system exercises in collarborative and inclusive ways, Fisk said.
"Our shared governance model is not one that would lead students to have a sit-in in the provost office like they did at University of Houston, for instance," she said. "I think sometimes ASASU’s lack of public protest and dissent is taken as inaction, and I hope that the reinvestment of tuition money demonstrates the power students really do have at ASU."
Current GPSA President German Cadenas said the raises are a very positive first step in the right direction for compensating teaching assistants correctly.
"This will mean that teaching assistants who were below the living wage in Phoenix will now have a better standard of life," he said.
The raises will also be better for teaching assistants in the humanities and arts fields, which do not compensate as well as the science fields, Cadenas said.
The collaboration was also praised by Cadenas, who said the raises show the type of positive impact that can be made by students.
"This is a very positive change for graduate students, but it didn't happen in a vacuum," Cadenas said. "It was a great collaboration between the student governments, administrators and Dr. Crow."
More work is yet to be done to further benefit graduate students, Fisk said.
"There is still more to be resolved with teaching assistant appointments, and $14,250 isn’t a lot of money, but it’s definitely progress," she said. "In the future, GPSA will need to work with the Provost and Vice Provost of Graduate Education to enforce 20-hour work weeks and increase the funding available for the summer months."
Cadenas said the benefits of the athletic fee are now taking place and the pay raises for teaching assistants would have never happened without the diligence of Fisk.
"This is really Megan's legacy as president of GPSA," Cadenas said.
ASU connects with communities through mutually beneficial partnerships. Many of these partnerships leverage students abilities to give back to the community in which we live.
A twenty-year tradition, Devils in Disguise is the largest student-led day of service at ASU and one I was always proud to participate in.
Occurring each year in Spring, student organizations participate in this project by hosting volunteer sites for their fellow Sun Devils. Food, transportation, t-shirts and a great time is provided.
This commitment to service is one that I have continued beyond my graduation as a Peace Corps Volunteer and global citizen. I'm consistently looking for how I can serve my community and that value comes from my time at Arizona State University.
ASU research has purpose and impact.
During my time at ASU, I contributed to research on counterterrorism and other "dark side" of communication situations. Below is my dissertation.
Communicating Religious Disaffiliation: A Study of the Context, Family Conversations, and Face Negotiation among Young Adults
This study investigated how young adults communicate their decision to religiously disaffiliate to their parents. Both the context in which the religious disaffiliation conversation took place and the communicative behaviors used during the religious disaffiliation conversation were studied. Research questions and hypotheses were guided by Family Communication Patterns Theory and Face Negotiation Theory. A partially mixed sequential quantitative dominate status design was employed to answer the research questions and hypotheses. Interviews were conducted with 10 young adults who had either disaffiliated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the Watch Tower Society. During the interviews, the survey instrument was refined; ultimately, it was completed by 298 religiously disaffiliated young adults. For the religious disaffiliation conversation’s context, results indicate that disaffiliated Jehovah’s Witnesses had higher conformity orientations than disaffiliated Latter-day Saints. Additionally, disaffiliated Jehovah’s Witnesses experienced more stress than disaffiliated Latter-day Saints. Planning the conversation in advance did lead to the disaffiliation conversation being less stressful for young adults. Furthermore, the analysis found that having three to five conversations reduced stress significantly more than having one or two conversations. For the communicative behaviors during the religious disaffiliation conversation, few differences were found in regard to prevalence of the facework behaviors between the two groups. Of the 14 facework behaviors, four were used more often by disaffiliated JW than disaffiliated LDS—abuse, passive aggressive, pretend, and defend self. In terms of effectiveness, the top five facework behaviors were talk about the problem, consider the other, have a private discussion, remain calm, and defend self. Overall, this study begins the conversation on how religious disaffiliation occurs between young adults and their parents and extends Family Communication Patterns Theory and Face Negotiation Theory to a new context.
Since my time at ASU, I've moved into researching and practicing the "bright side" of communication. My guiding research question is "How can we create a more equitable and just society?"
Some activities and adventures