Advising on the rise
The Department of English welcomes new student-centered staff
As my fingers hover over the keyboard while I decide how to begin this article, I can’t help but reflect on my journey in ASU’s Department of English so far. When I completed my BA in English (literature) in spring 2014, I had no idea what my career future held—but I was ready for a new adventure. Shortly after graduating, I began working as the graduate program and internship specialist for the same department that had guided me through my undergraduate journey. I was excited to learn with some of the best staff at ASU on how to advise graduate students, go beyond academia with career exploration strategies, and help the department grow with 4+1 accelerated programs and online graduate programs.
I went on to receive my Master of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (MTESOL) in 2018 while continuing to venture into new avenues of my position in the department. Now seven years later, I am happy to report I am still working in this fantastic department! I have a new title: program manager of online programs. Starting this new career chapter, I am taking with me all that I have learned from my previous roles and am ready to tackle new responsibilities. My new position correlated with the exponential growth of the department, especially in our online programs. I’m delighted to still be able to do what I love and advise graduate students in the MTESOL and MAS in film and media studies online programs, but now I get to do even more by focusing on initiatives to reach milestones and university goals.
With the fast-paced and unprecedented growth in the department as a whole over the last few years, we have had to match that growth with staff hiring to keep things running smoothly. Just this year, English hired four new advising staff. Let’s meet these new (and returning) department members:
Mary Fergus: Academic Success Advisor, Internships and Career Exploration
Born and raised in the 48th state, Mary Fergus is a true Arizonian who enjoys the sun-filled days. She’s also an alum of our department, having completed her bachelor’s in English (writing, rhetorics and literacies) at ASU in 2021. “It is my goal to further my studies into the linguistic realm of English,” Fergus said, “but I might also throw a zinger into my plans and try something different, like legal studies or data analytics.” Working with Ruby Macksoud, the director of internships and career exploration, Fergus is a new advisor for internships and careers. “We want to professionalize students’ academic experiences,” she said.
When not at work, Fergus’s hobbies include trying to trim the ever-growing pile of books surrounding her, making a mess with her oil and acrylic paints, and having stimulating conversations with her 3-year-old border collie Junebug.
Fergus also enjoys spending time with her family. One family tradition in which she participates is celebrating holidays late due to the majority of her family working in essential fields who don’t always get holidays off. “Now that I’m older, I actually love our belated celebrations; it takes away a lot of the pressure surrounding the holidays.” Fergus smiled. “We typically pick a day where it seems the rest of the world has gone back to its regular, methodic schedule; our belated holiday is plopped wherever we can.” It is wonderful to hear about unique family traditions such as these. When asked if Fergus had anything else we should know about her, she laughed and said, “I’m left-handed in a right-handed world and it is indeed a curse.”
Samantha Franze: Academic Success Advisor, Graduate Programs
Samantha Franze completed her BS in biology and her MA in education at the University of Colorado-Denver. She got married at the beginning of her final years of graduate studies, and although originally from Denver, she and her husband made plans to come to Arizona. Before working at ASU, Franze worked in the Cancer Center at University of Colorado-Anschutz Medical Campus. After moving to Arizona, she began working as an enrollment advisor for the University of Phoenix. “I wanted a change of scenery from the beautiful Colorado mountains,” she said. “We decided to sell our townhome, pack up all of our belongings, and haul our home and dogs to my husband’s childhood neighborhood in Queen Creek, AZ.”
Franze is the main academic advisor for the five immersion master’s programs in the Department of English and coordinates the five accelerated 4+1 programs as well. “I love being able to work with students and help them get through their program to graduation,” reflected Franze. “From personal experience, [I know that] college can be daunting and overwhelming at times. Being able to help students overcome obstacles I once faced as a student is what drives me every day.” Outside of work, Franze enjoys hiking and camping, sitting poolside with her husband during the hot summers, and reading a nice book or working on jigsaw puzzles. She also enjoys spending time with her family. “My family and I have developed a tradition of going camping at least once together every summer.” Franze said. “This is our time to disconnect from our phones, enjoy the outdoors and spend quality time with one another.” Franze and her husband are dog parents to two rambunctious puppies Jax and Rocko, and they are expecting their first human bundle of joy this summer.
Elizabeth “Lilly” Downs: Academic Success Advisor, Graduate Programs
Lilly Downs is a native of Arizona and alumna of ASU, holding a BS in justice studies with an emphasis in psychology. Before coming to work in the ASU Department of English, Downs worked at the University of Phoenix and began a graduate program in family and marriage counseling. She now advises over 300 students in the MA English (English studies) online program, the largest graduate program in the department. She also leads the admissions for all three graduate online programs who admit on a rolling basis with six available start dates.
Outside of work, Downs enjoys participating in a game of softball, or whenever she gets a chance to visit the colder areas of Arizona, snowboarding. She is also close with her family and enjoys attending family events. “We make gingerbread cookies to hang on the family Christmas tree,” began Downs as she explained some of her favorite family traditions. She laughed before continuing: “We also have Adult Easter Egg hunts where we use mini wine bottles and other adult beverages instead of eggs.” (Now THAT is a fun family tradition I could get behind).
Christopher Walls: Academic Success Advisor, Undergraduate Programs
Yet another Arizona native, Christopher Walls received his Bachelor of Arts in English (literature) at ASU in fall 2008. Returning to his once undergraduate department, Walls is one of our newest undergraduate advisors. “I really enjoy working with students on a non-transactional level,” he said. “I enjoy being asked for advice on everything from classes to concentrations.”
Prior to this position, Walls worked for four years in ASU’s Financial Aid and Scholarships Services department. When not on the ASU campus, Walls enjoys spending time with his 13-year-old son who plays competitive baseball: “We travel around the valley on the weekends playing tournaments and practice during the week.” Walls and his family also believe in the importance of paying it forward and have made it a tradition to do so: “We are active in charities to assist those who need help.” Walls reflected. “For example, my son and I have worked with Feed My Starving Children many times since he was about eight years old.” Walls is also a Navy veteran who served after his first year at ASU. The department thanks him for his service.
Image 1: Courtesy photo of Kira Assad.
Image 2: Courtesy photo of Mary Fergus in her graduation regalia, holding her dog Junebug.
Image 3: Courtesy photo of Samantha France hiking on the 4th of July Trailhead in Nederland, Colorado.
Image 4: Courtesy photo of Lilly Downs.