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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates.
Graduating Arizona State University student Matthew Contursi began his college career as an electrical engineering major. “I loved computers and seeing how you could push them,” the Scottsdale native said. “Especially with regards to AI.”
But within the first few days, Contursi felt out of place. “I realized it was not the environment for me.” In contrast, Contursi’s coursework in biodesign had intrigued him. “The questions they were trying to answer and how they were trying to answer them gripped my focus.” He switched his major to the BS in Molecular Biosciences and Biotechnology program and all was well.
“For the first semester, it was brilliant!” Contursi said. “Into my second semester of it, I realized something felt like it was missing.”
Contursi eventually discovered that "something" — a humanities core, a way to articulate both questions and answers. In true interdisciplinary fashion, the Barrett, The Honors College student’s interest in the consequences of science — not just the application of it — led him to complete dual bachelor’s degrees. He even picked up a graduate level course on science policy taught by President Michael Crow on the way.
Our interview begins here just as Contursi learned of ASU’s BA in English (Writing, Rhetorics and Literacies) from his composition instructor.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?
Answer: As I talked more and more about the major with my ENG 105 professor and the director of the major, I felt it was a better idea to add it on as an additional major! I felt it covered as many topics in the humanities as I wanted to explore. It had elements from history, philosophy and more entailed in its subject depth. With these two majors (biotechnology and English), I felt like I had finally found my niche in academia. At times, the workload was overwhelmingly difficult, if anything due to the variety of projects I would need to finish in a semester, but on reflection, I would not have wanted to experience my undergraduate career in any other way.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: I think the most poignant thing I've learned at ASU in regard to my own growth has been that if you are trying to solve any problem in only one way, odds are you are attacking the question incorrectly. You have to approach all questions from many different perspectives. That view has helped me grow personally and allowed me to view myself through different lenses to realize what I need to do to grow. This view probably comes from working towards a degree in rhetorics, where the basis of the thought is that different viewpoints exist and none of them are inherently incorrect; it's about how they are applied.
Above: Matthew Contursi offers his perspective in this explanatory video about ASU's degree in writing, rhetorics and literacies.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I chose ASU because it offered me an amazing combination of financial support and professional opportunity. There is so much that is happening on the campus on any given day of the week, either in terms of the research that is hosted here or the clubs on campus. Just the campus's sheer size is both daunting and exciting.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: I think the professor that has taught me the most important lesson was Professor (Alice) Daer. Although she no longer teaches here, she taught me that the choices I make should always lead to more opportunity for myself. Just having that choice is better than not having it at all.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: My best piece of advice would be to remember to breathe and learn what you want to do day-to-day and be intentional in those pursuits. So often I think we got lost in planning for future events that we forget about the days we have to live to get there; and so often we get distracted that there needs to be a reminder to refocus.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: My favorite spot on campus for just being has to be the seventh floor of LSE (Life Sciences E-wing) during sunsets.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: My plans right now are to continue onto graduate school here at ASU for a Master of Science and Technology Policy. I hope one day to conduct policy analysis and science communication for firms in D.C. before moving back to the West Coast.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I think the problem I would try tackling would be creating avenues (to make information) not only credible but understandable to an incredibly large audience. We have so much information online now, but so much of it is false or misunderstood. Creating a system that is both respected and widely known for deriving the truth from all this information would be an amazing accomplishment.