ASU graduating student portrait Morgan Kempf

Anthropology graduate took her education across the Pacific

By

Taylor Woods

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Though Morgan Kempf’s favorite place to study is on a tropical beach near her home in Guam, her journey to graduation was not always a breeze.

An academic adventure that began for Kempf in 2005 is about to be completed, 16 years and three cross-ocean family moves later. She will be graduating from Arizona State University this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology and a minor in global health from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

Kempf, from San Antonio, Texas, is now a military spouse and a mother to five children. She started college after high school but wanted to focus on raising her first child with her husband after finishing freshman year.

In 2016, she decided it was time to return to school. She began by taking earned admission classes through ASU Online while caring for her family during their military assignment in Japan.

Kempf orchestrated an international move with her family to Guam for her husband’s next assignment, which is where she completed the bulk of her ASU coursework. Guam is a 17-hour time difference from Tempe, Arizona.

Kempf has been a stellar student – maintaining a 4.12 GPA. Her dedication to multiple research projects, undergraduate clubs and volunteering shows her love for learning and advocacy.

Kempf worked with Associate Professor Abigail York on the Arctic Robust Communities Navigating Adaptation to Variability project, and with Associate Professor Megan Jehn on the Student Outbreak Response Team. She served as treasurer for the Undergraduate Anthropology Association Online.

Kempf is a founding member of Be You ASU, LGBTQIA Sun Devils and Allies, inspired largely by her son, who is transgender. She received The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Student Leader award in 2020 in recognition of her leadership.

She also is a volunteer community outreach specialist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and has executed 75 community events over four years.

After graduation, Kempf plans to attend an online master’s degree program and will be preparing her family for another international move.

She shared more about her academic research and experience at ASU.

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I chose ASU out of several online programs I was accepted into because of their frequent partnerships with NASA. I’m a volunteer public outreach educator for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Solar System Ambassador program and I put together events for military communities. All of my favorite NASA mission projects usually had the ASU logo on them, too. Even though, at the time, there was not an astronomical degree offered online, I knew ASU would have to have caliber camaraderie if they were partnering with NASA. And, ASU is known for being a military-friendly school. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Donald Johanson teaches at ASU, and the famous Institute of Human Origins is at ASU.

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

A: Abigail York. She was my statistics teacher during our international move to Guam and then became my mentor during my research apprenticeship with her project. But the most impactful lesson she taught me didn’t have anything to do with either of those experiences. She made me realize I didn’t have to compromise being a mom for my education. She’s a mom and a published scientist and a professor. Her representation matters to me.

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

A: My “aha” moment came to me early, while I was in high school. My history teacher hosted an after-school “culture club.” He was an anthropology major before his years in the Navy and once I knew that you could go to another country and feel out of place in the culture, I wanted that experience. I wanted to know that and understand it. I loved this feeling during my years in Japan.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: It would definitely have to be on my beach, by the nursery sharks. No one goes over there, and I can read without disruption.

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

A: Don’t be afraid to ask another school at ASU if you can take one of their classes if it’s something that interests you. I saw an opportunity to expand on an area of interest that related to my environmental anthropology research in a special topics sustainability course, so I just asked if I could take that class. Do something different that challenges your school of thought!