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Impact Award + Convocation Speakers, Spring 2020

Ava Karanjia

Ava Karanjia had a different approach to choosing her major.

“I looked up people on LinkedIn with the title of ‘Chief Scientist,’” she says. “The majority of these people started with a degree in chemical engineering and branched into a lot of other research fields, including biologically relevant areas.”

Chemical engineers have a unique ability to bridge disciplines from pure sciences to applied engineering — a quality Karanjia wanted for her future. She decided to add a second major, microbiology, to round out her skills.

Though the honors student was highly involved in research and other activities outside of class related to her majors, Karanjia says, “None of the work I was doing ever felt like a chore, and I truly believe that work/life balance is extremely important.”

She has had leadership roles including as outreach director and president of the ASU chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, where she led “an amazing group of chemical engineering students.”

One of Karanjia’s requirements for choosing a university was the ability to pursue research from day one, and ASU and ASU School of Life Sciences Assistant Professor Heather Bean helped her to make the most of her student research career.

“In Dr. Bean’s group, I have acquired all these new skills and really pushed myself toward something new,” she says. “Dr. Bean really emphasized the importance of telling a story with our science, and that in itself is what has led me to be so successful in research.”

Through this research opportunity, Karanjia has participated in multiple programs as a School of Life Sciences Research Fellow and a NASA/ASU Space Grant Scholar.

Karanjia’s research has taken her to a lot of interesting places. This last summer, Karanjia worked at the NASA Ames Research Center on a carbon dioxide biomanufacturing system, which can be used to resupply astronauts with resources like nutrients and pharmaceuticals. She screened nontraditional yeast species for implementation in a bioreactor component of an electrochemical cell system. She also has enjoyed the diversity of projects and opportunities to work across disciplines provided by the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Karanjia participated in the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, where her focus was on solving interdisciplinary health challenges. In addition, the Fulton Schools has helped in supporting Karanjia to attend 17 conferences to present her research. Ava received three first-place awards from conferences: the 2018 and 2019 Annual AIChE Student Conference and the 2018 Society of Women Engineers We’18 Conference.

Other activities have helped instill the importance of giving back to the community through education. She has helped other students find their path as a peer mentor in the Tooker House Residential Community on campus, and guided prospective students to see their future at ASU as the outreach director and special events director for Fulton Ambassadors. Karanjia has been eager to be a role model for girls and minorities in STEM.

After earning her doctorate in chemical engineering at the University of Washington as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, Karanjia hopes to apply her interdisciplinary skills to develop biological alternatives to nonrenewable resources.

“I am really excited to receive the Graduate Research Fellow award, as it taps me into a network of scholars and additional resources provided by a couple of major government agencies,” she says.

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes outstanding graduate students who are pursuing doctoral degrees. The program provides funding for their education and the freedom to conduct research at any accredited institution of their choice. These fellows often go on to achieve high levels of success in academic and industry careers, and become leading contributors to their fields.

“I hope to increase knowledge within the biochemical engineering field and lead a group of researchers focused on understanding microbial intricacies in either the governmental realm (either the U.S. Department of Energy or NASA) or as a professor at a leading university,” Karanjia says.

Read about other exceptional graduates of the Fulton Schools’ spring 2020 class here.

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