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Quadruple major graduates with plans of helping people with disabilities

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

Nathaniel Ross is graduating this semester with four degrees and one minor.

As a fourth-generation Arizonan, Nathaniel Ross always knew he wanted to stay in the state for the long run. So in 2019, when he was one of 20 high school seniors from Arizona selected for the Flinn Scholarship, which is a full ride to any in-state university, it was the perfect opportunity to stay. 

“When considering which university to pick, ASU offered the greatest variety of opportunities, and I fell in love with the campus and its people when I visited,” Ross said. “I believe this was the right choice, as ASU has supported me in ventures that few universities would.”

Those ventures include participating in five clubs and organizations, including Embryo Project Encyclopedia, Luminosity Lab, Devils Dancesport, Undergraduate Student Government and GreenLight Solutions, as well as majoring in four disciplines and one minor. 

When Ross started out at Arizona State University, he never thought he would have four degrees by the time he graduated, but he took advantage of all the classes offered.

“I quickly found that if I kept up my pace of courses, I could do enough to complete multiple majors,” Ross said. “For me, following through with the plan helped me ensure that I was well rounded and equipped to work at the intersection of science and policy.”

Ross has been named The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences fall 2022 Dean’s Medalist for the School of Life Sciences and the School of Politics and Global Studies. He is graduating this semester with concurrent degrees in biological sciences with a concentration in biology and society, political science, history and applied quantitative science and a minor in dance

“Most semesters, I took at least 30 credits in order to graduate within four years, which required sacrifices in other areas of life, since I still wanted to sleep,” said Ross. “Doing so was worthwhile in my case, but it all comes down to your goals and whether doing a quadruple major will help you achieve those goals.”

During his time at ASU, Ross was awarded many scholarships, including the coveted Rhodes Scholarship, the Udall Scholarship, the Critical Language Scholarship Spark in Russian and the Flinn Scholarship. He was also a finalist for the Marshall Scholarship and a Harry S. Truman Scholarship.

When reflecting on his time at ASU, Ross had the following to say:

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

Answer: I came to ASU as a pre-med biology major. Growing up with several health issues and disabilities, I wanted to be a physician that truly understood what it was like to be a patient. However, I soon realized that many of the most significant obstacles facing people with disabilities are not medical but rather structural. Policies made by organizations like governments, businesses and schools cause the vast majority of inequality in the disability community. Luckily, policies can be changed, and I want to help make that change possible. This is why I focus on disability policy, with an emphasis on emerging technologies, since I believe that is where I can make the biggest impact for disabled people in my community and globally. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? 

A: I have had many professors who helped shape me into who I am today. If I had to pick a single most important lesson, I would say that Dr. Jane Maienschein helped propel me most on the path of studying science and society. In her class, I became a better researcher, and her mentorship is one of the biggest reasons I found the academic and career path I did.

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

A: It is never too early to start networking and building relationships with those around you. I came to ASU fairly reticent of talking to classmates, professors and others based on the sheer size of ASU being so daunting. Don't let the size of ASU intimidate you. Instead, see it as an opportunity to meet many people with unique backgrounds. Most people have heard about the value of going to office hours, but I will also emphasize this since so many people never go. Your professors are a wealth of knowledge, not to mention cool people in their own right, and you will never have a better time to talk to them than while you're still in school.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: I have a lot of top places on campus, but the top-floor balcony of Life Science E is my favorite. You can see a great view of campus, Tempe and the mountains. It's a great place to think and reflect, and the sunsets are also amazing from up there.

Q: What are your plans after graduation? 

A: I will be attending University of Oxford for the next two years on the Rhodes Scholarship. There I will be pursuing master's degrees in comparative social policy and history of science, medicine and technology.

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

A: If I had $40 million, I would try to partner with a large technology company such as Microsoft or Apple on a long-term project involving making technologies more accessible for people with disabilities. Microsoft has many ongoing projects at the intersection of AI and other emerging technologies, so it would be an excellent opportunity to work with their teams on my own project. 

rebunnin@asu.edu