ASU Online students transform their passions into professional careers

August 04, 2021 · 8 min read · By ASU Online
Explore ways to make your passion your profession with Sun Devils who have made the leap.

Despite having a plan for professional success, your path can sometimes branch off into an entirely new direction. New opportunities can present themselves, hobbies can develop into a full-time pursuit and side hustles can bloom into a career. People often start a side hustle to earn additional income or as a creative outlet, then uncover ways to turn that passion into a profession. Many experienced this over the past year.

As the economy shifted due to the 2020 pandemic, industries like hospitality, arts and travel were impacted nearly overnight. A multitude of people subsequently found themselves rethinking their future plans, as they had to quickly navigate economic changes in a time of uncertainty. Workers across the country dared to reimagine the possibility of living their dreams and pursuing their passions.

Since then, the concept of side hustles has gained extra attention and shows no signs of slowing down. One in three Americans have a side job and 61.1 million Americans plan to start one by the end of 2021, according to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll.

ASU Online students are no exception, and have found that the act of doing something fulfilling outside the parameters of a 9-5 can spark new self-esteem, creativity and avenues to success.

Samantha Harker, an English major from Anaheim, California, creates and sells calligraphy and circuit light-up cards as her side hustle. This personal passion, coupled with the ability to pursue her passions in writing and art at ASU Online, has instilled faith in her ability to achieve her goals.

“My side hustle has taught me how to have confidence in my abilities,” she said. “I practiced calligraphy and art for several years and I am mostly self-taught. My side hustle helped me learn that if I can teach myself these skills I can succeed in almost anything.”

As you plan your next endeavor, consider exploring the possibilities of a passion project. The key is to start small and manage your expectations for where it may lead you next.

An ASU Online students paints her design project.

Transforming a part-time project into a full-time focus

Reflecting on more than a year of pandemic-related disruptions, S&P Global reported that the top industry most impacted by COVID-19 from March 2020 to February 2021 were airlines and the aviation industry. Former flight attendant Sydney Steele, a student from Miami, Florida, reflected on her true passion for politics and enrolled in the global studies and political science program at ASU Online to make the transition.

She had always avidly followed domestic and foreign politics, and volunteering on various political campaigns became her passion project.

“Before the campaigns, I worked as an international flight attendant for British Airways based in London,” Steele said. “However, after getting involved in such an active way, I realized that politics, specifically policy, was something that I wanted to turn into a career.”

She was determined to transfer her skills after she attended an election night event for a congressional candidate whose campaign she worked on. Steele enjoyed the presence of politicians, campaign staff and policymakers, and was inspired to turn her passion project into a future career. 

“Even though aviation and politics couldn't be more different, I was able to transfer many skills, such as effective communication, teamwork and conflict resolution, all of which were very beneficial to me in the campaign,” she said.

Steele built relationships with her professors and they eventually served as professional resources to prepare her to thrive in her new career. 

For students and professionals looking to navigate the next step, keep in mind that every experience can be a stepping stone to what’s next. Skills like effective leadership, entrepreneurship, management, digital strategy, communication, education and countless others are widely applicable across industries and job settings.

As you navigate opportunities, though, it’s important to find educational programs that offer the technical knowledge you may need to enter new fields. ASU Online is continually expanding offerings — including nearly 50 undergraduate and graduate programs launched in fall 2021 — staying current with industry trends and up-and-coming fields.


Making your passion your career

Your side hustle can inspire a new path in unimaginable ways. Whether you’re building your skillset, adding new income, exploring a creative outlet or simply getting your passion project out in the public, a side hustle can enable you to have the best of both worlds.

For Ashley Smith, a student from Boston pursuing a degree in World War II studies, her side hustle changed everything. Smith holds degrees in both sports management and biology and was immersed in the field of biotech when she started a travel blog. She soon realized that travel writing was her true calling.

“Five years after starting my first blog I started a second one, dedicated to a deeper niche within my passion — World War II travel,” she said. “In pursuing this aspect of my career, I discovered ASU Online's World War II studies master’s program and decided to expand my expertise on the subject. Now, I get to combine my love of travel, creating, educating and encouraging travelers to visit World War II sites around the world. My ultimate career goals absolutely live in the ‘World War II and travel’ sphere.”

Though some can shift careers quickly, for others it may be a slower process. Fortunately, online programs allow you to focus on building new knowledge in an accessible format while you continue working and living without disruption.

“I chose to earn my master's degree from ASU Online because the program I was considering -- a master’s in World War II Studies -- was exactly what I wanted out of grad school,” Smith said. “The classes are exactly what I dreamed of -- highly specific to my exact passion without any classes that I didn't really want to take. Because it is online, I can pursue my degree without having to sacrifice a lot in terms of time away from home and my work. Because travel is my business, I can work on my degree from anywhere with a decent Wi-Fi signal.”

Side hustles can also serve as a way to reinvent yourself. It’s rare today for someone to stay in the same job for more than 30 years according to an employee tenure survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. People change, develop new interests and embrace the journey of discovering new passions and possibilities. When you factor in the constantly changing economy and expanding technology, it empowers the side hustle to become a career or something to fall back on.

“I started my blog as a simple hobby because I desperately needed a creative outlet,” Smith said. “This way I could channel my passions of writing and photography into a project that was all mine. “But the real inspiration behind deciding to pursue it as a full-time career was the fact that it was possible to turn a passion project into a living. The idea of being my own boss, working on my own schedule and getting to create on a daily basis were the main motivating factors. I haven't regretted it once.”

Advice for students looking to pursue their side hustle

If you’re determined to expand your side hustle, here are  tips — and a little inspiration — from our students who are making the bold leap. The effort you put into fueling something new can be rewarding and lead to long-term success.

  • "Believe in your abilities! It will take time to learn how to manage multiple projects, but we are learners for a reason. You got this!" — Samantha Harker
  • "Don't give up. It might sound like a motivational cliche, but hardships, doubts and rejection will only make you stronger and more clear about the direction you want your path to go. Most importantly, don't hesitate to make use of ASU Online's support system. ASU Online has so many incredible resources that I encourage everyone to take advantage of. If it's your success coach, faculty member or career advisor, everyone is invested in your success. You simply need to ask for help." — Sydney Steele
  • "My biggest piece of advice for others who want to turn their side hustle into a career is there is a market for everything, you just have to find it. A lot of times people may feel their passions are unusual or individual and that no one else will be into it ―but that is so false. If I have learned anything from this it's that you are never alone and there is a market out there for just about anything." — Ashley Smith


The ASU Online experience

At ASU Online we're committed to helping students build on their interests or explore new ones. We elevate the learning experience and encourage opportunities for discovery and reflection.

Whether you want to give back to the community through a career in health and science or you’re interested in driving innovation to support new technology, we are here to support your goals. Learn more about the ASU Online student experience and more than 200 degree and certificate programs.

I chose to earn my master's degree from ASU Online because the program I was considering...was exactly what I wanted out of grad school. The classes are exactly what I dreamed of — highly specific to my exact passion without any classes that I didn't really want to take.

Ashley Smith

ASU Online student


About ASU Online

Earn your degree completely online from the nation's most innovative university. ASU Online offers more than 300 degree programs and certificates in high-demand areas such as nursing, engineering, business, education and more. Explore all of our areas of study.

Our offerings include:

  • Elite expertise and research.
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