Mother of three completes academic marathon — and some others along the way

When Sophie Olson started working toward her engineering degree in 2013, she didn’t think she would graduate until 2020.

If it seems like seven years is a long time to finish a bachelor’s degree, try doing so while working full-time and raising three children — and running a marathon on all seven continents. Needless to say, Sophie Olson knows a thing or two about perseverance: She will be walking in this spring’s convocation ceremony.

A new start

Though she had always been interested in engineering, Olson took a what she describes as a “standard route” in education, earning her bachelor’s degree in English literature from Aoyama Gakuin University in her native Japan. In 1992, she completed a master’s degree in political science from Florida State University.

She returned to Japan to work for Amkor Technology, a semiconductor product packaging and test services provider, and hoped to someday return to the United States. In 2005, she got her chance, and relocated to Chandler to work in Amkor’s business operations department.

Olson recalls that it was tough starting over in a new place, but fortunately her children — ages six and eight at the time — were well-positioned, having attended an international school in Japan.

While working for Amkor in Arizona, she became interested in product development, but such positions required an engineering degree. So in 2011, she started taking community college classes, slowly working toward attending a four-year university.

“I took a few credits at a time, but eventually I ran out of classes to take, so I transferred to ASU,” she says.

Though she says she “had a clear goal to become an engineer,” Olson was unsure what degree program to pursue, but eventually settled on materials science and engineering, enrolling in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. 

“I didn’t know much about materials science — but looking through the programs, to be in any kind of product development, you need to understand the fundamental, atomic-level ways things work and change,” Olson says.

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