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Impact Award, Spring 2022

Nikki Van Handel

Impact Awardee Nikki Van Handel chose mechanical systems engineering at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University because of its broad and exciting opportunities on campus and beyond.

“Engineering is ordered chaos. The best parts are the crazy what-ifs?, fueled by excitement and determination,” says Van Handel, who is also a student in ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College.

Her curiosity was welcomed in engineering Associate Professor Dhruv Bhate’s 3DX research lab when she became a lab assistant there during her third year.

“Dr. Bhate infused my studies with meaning,” Van Handel says. “When I started in his lab, every week my stomach would twist into knots as I reported my work to graduate students, and every week, no matter how wrong I was or what mistakes I made, I was overwhelmed with support and encouragement.”

She says that working in Bhate’s lab has given her a “tangible sense of purpose in engineering” — something she plans to take with her into her future endeavors.

Along with her academic pursuits, Van Handel has been heavily involved around campus and met many friends along the way. She volunteered for the Fulton Ambassadors, Pitchfork Pantry and Devils Pitching In, among other activities.

She also held nine campus jobs at ASU, including her roles as a Gold Guide, summer engineering teacher and counselor for programs such as the Grand Challenges Scholars Program Summer Institute and CompuPower, which is part of the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology.

As a tutor for nearly three years in the University Academic Success Programs, Van Handel was promoted to program aide and manager. She eventually worked to develop the tutoring center’s first 24/7 support team — an experience she says “was so rewarding.” She won a Poly Award in 2020 for her dedication to student success.

Van Handel will carry this momentum forward and continue at ASU to earn her master’s degree with the goal to eventually push space technology forward.

Van Handel acknowledges that being a woman in a male-led industry was intimidating for her at first. However, she realized that she didn’t need to prove herself, but instead focus on “learning, exploring and being curious,” she says.

Along her journey, Van Handel will continue to lift up other women in her field just as she was.

“When I succeed, it becomes easier for other women after me to do so as well.”

Read about other exceptional graduates of the Fulton Schools’ Spring 2022 class here.

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