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Introducing the Outstanding Undergraduates, IMPACT and Dean’s Dissertation Award recipients of Fall 2016

At the end of each spring and fall semester, the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering takes time to recognize some of the graduating class for their outstanding commitments to both academics and the Fulton Schools at large. 

Students selected as Outstanding Undergraduates are honored for their exemplary academic performance. To qualify, they must graduate with a minimum 3.40 grade point average and have participated in major-specific or Fulton Schools activities. Those receiving an IMPACT Award have been singled out for their contributions to the Fulton Schools community in leadership, volunteer and service roles. Recipients must graduate with a minimum 3.25 GPA, and display evidence of their positive impact on our community. The Dean’s Dissertation Award recipients are recognized for their exceptional work that encourages the highest levels of scholarship, research and writing.

These exceptional students have excelled in research, community service, entrepreneurship and outreach, leaving a lasting and beneficial impact on the Fulton Schools community, Arizona and elsewhere. Many of these graduates have served as extraordinary representatives of ASU through industry internships, volunteer efforts or as ambassadors to communicate the mission of the Fulton Schools and the university as a whole.

Read below about some of our exceptionally bright individuals graduating from the Fulton Schools in Fall 2016:


Outstanding Graduates

Graphic Information Technology

A sudden revelatory moment in her first graphic information technology web class confirmed for Kassidy Arias that she had chosen the right major.

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arias-kassidy-7094a_w B.S. in Graphic Information Technology
Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico
Graduated from Tarpon Springs High Schools near Tampa, Florida

A sudden revelatory moment in her first graphic information technology web class confirmed for Kassidy Arias that she had chosen the right major.

“We did this little activity where we opened up a text editor and typed the words, “hello world.” At the time, I had no idea what code or web design was,” she recalls. “I just remember previewing that bit of code in the browser and suddenly understanding the link between coding and web design. I fell in love with it, and I wanted to learn more.”

She was “drawn to the creative yet structured nature of the craft,” and chose to focus on web design and development because “I love being able to see my ideas come to life through code.”

In particular, she says, “I admire well-done asymmetrical and geometric designs in web. I also love to see people create amazing website mockups with ease. If I had an engineering superpower, it would be to code a website perfectly in one try, without refreshing the browser once.”

Such fascinations have driven Arias to a perfect 4.0 grade point average and to other impressive accomplishments in her field of study.

In 2016 spring semester, she was selected Most Outstanding Web Design and Development Student by the Graphic Information Technology program’s faculty.

During the fall semester, she and her competition project partner, software engineering student Landon Breaux, won the People’s Choice award for Best User Experience Design in the Creative Jam hosted by Adobe, a major digital technology marketing and solutions company.

For the competition, she and Breaux had just three hours to complete a prototype of a smart phone app. The success was one of the most rewarding experiences of her undergraduate years.

“Being recognized like that by a company as big as Adobe gave me confidence that I can be successful in this industry,” Arias says.

“The great thing about this industry is that I have a lot of career options. I want to become a front-end web designer and developer at a creative agency, but my long-term goal is to become a leader, as a creative director or project manager of some sort,” she says.

She sees the opportunity in her field to “create new and innovative things every single day. Web design and development is how we see and interact with technology. These interactions help us to complete our everyday tasks like shopping online, checking our bank statements, navigating while driving our cars. Graphics and technology are changing how we live, and they will continue to do so.”

Graphics information technology faculty members “provided me with an open door when I needed one,” Arias says. “They all gave me opportunities and helped to grow my confidence in not only design and development, but also in myself.”

That confidence aided the decision for her next step: Pursuing a master’s degree in the program at ASU to advance her education in web development and project management.

“The great thing about this industry is that I have a lot of career options. I want to become a front-end web designer and developer at a creative agency, but my long-term goal is to become a leader, as a creative director or project manager of some sort,” she says.

After getting some industry experience, Arias hopes to someday be “sharing my passion for the craft” by teaching.

“I want to help shape the next generation of designers and developers,” she says.

Her enthusiasm aside, Arias says getting through college has been challenging. She has worked multiple jobs while going to school full time and getting involved in a number of extracurricular opportunities.

That has left almost no time for other activities or interests. But the busy lifestyle has led her to develop one useful skill.

“When I have a moment to myself, I usually try to catch up on my sleep,” she says. “I am excellent at napping.”

Industrial Engineering

A lot of graduates’ career aspirations are sky-high, but James Boulton’s will literally put him there as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

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B.S.E. in Industrial Engineering
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio
Graduated from Boulder Creek High School in Anthem, Arizona

James Boulton’s after-graduation aspirations are sky high — as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

A member of ASU’s Air Force ROTC, Boulton has a minor in military leadership and will be receiving his commission following graduation. And as one of 41 American pilots chosen from the ROTC, the Air Force Academy and Officer Training School, he will join students from 12 other countries for Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training, a 55-week program that trains combat pilots for NATO.

Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Boulton grew up in the North Valley, and chose ASU because of its social and academic atmosphere and chose industrial engineering “because it tied my passions of math and business together.”

Boulton initially planned to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy but says that looking back, attending ASU was the “best thing that has ever happened in my life. Not only did I get a great education here at Arizona State, I also learned so much about myself and others, as well.”

As might be expected, Boulton’s most memorable ASU moment has to do with flight. “I was at a physical training class on a cold morning in February and while we were doing our debrief, the commander called me up and told me I was going to be a pilot in the United States Air Force,” Boulton explained. “At that point, I realized I made a huge jump toward achieving my dream.”

Another proud moment for Boulton was being selected as wing commander of the Air Force Unit, leading more than 120 cadets.

“In the last seven years, I was the only engineering major selected to be wing commander,” he said. “I knew I was doing something right.”

Already a tutor in math, science and coding, he began mentoring cadets while serving as wing commander.

Boulton’s flight path also landed him an array of scholarships, including full tuition from Air Force ROTC and a Provost scholarship from ASU. He also has the distinction of receiving a National Football Foundation scholarship for being the first senior team scholar athlete in Arizona. “I’m pretty good at intramural football – two-time runner up,” he said when asked about a hidden talent. He captained five intramural teams while at ASU.

Boulton doesn’t report to flight school until April, so until then, he will be watching and making smaller objects fly — while working at a golf course. “I love golf and on top of being paid, I get to play for free and use all of the amenities that come along with a stellar course.”

As for the future, beyond flying fighter jets and deploying overseas as much as possible, Boulton aspires to become a pilot with the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force’s demonstration squadron.

Civil, Environmental and Sustainable Engineering

Parham Dehghani didn’t find his true calling right away, but his journey has built a foundation for him to succeed. A native of Shiraz, Iran, Dehghani decided to start a new life and continue his education in the United States.

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Portrait of Parham Dehghani

B.S.E. in Civil, Environmental and Sustainable Engineering
Originally from Shiraz, Iran
Graduated from Sherafatian High School in Shiraz, Iran

Parham Dehghani didn’t find his true calling right away, but his journey has built a foundation for him to succeed. A native of Shiraz, Iran, Dehghani decided to start a new life and continue his education in the United States at the age of 19 and become a U.S. citizen.

Dehghani received an associate degree in science from Scottsdale Community College in 2014 before coming to ASU. A member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, he will continue on in the Fulton Schools next semester in pursuit of a master’s degree in structural engineering.

Outside of the classroom, Dehghani has been busy building work experience and has completed a pair of internships during his time at ASU. He interned with the Central Arizona Project in the summer of 2016 and also worked as a lab and field technician with Alpha Geotechnical and Materials, Inc.

“It was not until the last semester, when I found my passion,” Dehghani says. “I took a steel design course and immediately fell in love with it. I decided to pursue my master’s degree in the structure analysis field.”  

He says that Professor Barzin Mobasher, went out of his way to assist him and played a role in his choosing to study structural analysis. “I had a talk with him, Professor Subramaniam Rajan and Professor Keith Hjelmstad regarding my decision about graduate school and they were all encouraging.”

Dehghani says that his first goal after graduation is to get his Engineer-in-Training certificate and to find a part-time job related to his field so that he can work part-time and stay in graduate school full-time.

“I hope I will be involved in structural design and be a member of a design team for bridges, skyscrapers, and all kinds of other magnificent engineering structures,” he says. 





Engineering (Robotics)

Matthew Dickens has always enjoyed creating things with his hands, so the hands-on Engineering program was a natural fit when he came to ASU. It hasn’t always been easy, but the outcome has been satisfying.

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dickens_matthew-2648w400x600aB.S.E. in Engineering (Robotics)
Originally from Tempe, Arizona
Graduated from Tempe Preparatory Academy in Tempe, Arizona

Matthew Dickens has always enjoyed creating things with his hands, so the hands-on Engineering program was a natural fit when he came to ASU.

The program hasn’t always been an easy road for the Regents’ High Honors Scholarship recipient, but the outcome has been satisfying.

“The most rewarding experiences have come in my junior and senior years as I began to create projects that finally work like they are supposed to,” Dickens says. “I felt like I was worth something as an engineer after I finished my first working prototype the first semester of my junior year.”

Getting to that point is still a time-consuming challenge, though, and if he had one engineering superpower it would be to write code that does exactly what he wants it to do on the first try.

Still, he appreciates the challenge and thanks his mentor, engineering Assistant Professor Shawn Jordan, whom Dickens met his senior year of high school at an engineering summer camp, for helping him grow throughout his engineering journey.

“Dr. Shawn Jordan has been my main mentor from the beginning in his ability to challenge me and his ability to find unique opportunities that have helped me to blend art and engineering,” says Dickens, who is also an honors student in Barrett, The Honors College.

Dickens participated in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, where he led research on how to improve museums by observing the roles parents take in the maker community.

Engineering accomplishments are only part of Dickens’ ASU experience.

One of his favorite moments came during his junior year when the ASU football team shut down Notre Dame’s Heisman-contender quarterback during the game.

“Afterwards, my friends and I started one of the chants at the end of the game, which helped me feel like I contributed to the win!” Dickens says.

He’s also a great country dancer and loves going dancing Wednesday and Thursday nights at  Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row bar and grill on Mill Ave.

After graduating, he plans to travel to Australia and New Zealand for two months before beginning work with Microchip Technologies.

Dickens is currently working on a project with Barrow Neurological Institute that he hopes will help a lot people who currently use canes and walkers, but in the future he also hopes to help others outside of engineering.

“My goal is to become financially independent by the time I am 35 so that I can quit working full time and begin pursuing interests such as becoming a missionary or a youth pastor,” Dickens says.

He also hopes to have a life full of adventure through traveling, meeting new people, sharing the joy of his faith, and deepening the close friendships he has made in high school and college.

Manufacturing Engineering

A seven-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Parker Feldmann knew he was drawn to engineering. However, he wasn’t sold on pursuing a degree until he saw the hands-on, experiential learning approach of the Polytechnic School. 

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Professional portrait of Parker FeldmannB.S. Manufacturing Engineering
Originally from Litchfield, Illinois
Graduated from Litchfield High School

After serving in the U.S. Air Force for seven years, Parker Feldmann knew deep down he needed to be an engineer.

However, I did not always agree with the traditional engineering educational system,” says Feldmann. “Until I visited the Polytechnic campus, I wasn’t sure I was going to even work towards an engineering degree.”

He was impressed by the Polytechnic School’s approach to engineering education, which combines both theoretical understanding with hands-on projects, which he felt bridged the gap between theory and application. He felt floored by their educational method and says that attending the Polytechnic school is the “best decision I’ve made thus far.”

Feldmann started out majoring in mechanical engineering, but shortly after his sophomore year the Polytechnic School opened a new degree plan in manufacturing engineering. He switched his major, drawn in particular to the classes that emphasized automation and hands on projects.

During his time at ASU, Feldmann experienced personal growth and realized that he can do almost anything he put his mind to. While time management is a commonly acquired skill in college, Feldmann had more than his share to handle.

“Managing classes is one thing, but managing a startup, classes, a job and house hunting gets to be challenging,” he says.

His most exciting moment at ASU was placing in the top three in an ASU entrepreneurship contest, which provided him with the opportunity to travel to the Netherlands and benchmark his business idea.

Sustainable energy is where Feldmann hopes to focus his career. Inspired by Nikola Tesla’s strides in energy, he felt drawn to helping solve global warming by finding alternatives to fossil fuels.

He’ll actually be working for the company that bears his engineering idol’s name after graduation. He says he knew he was on the right track when he got an email from Tesla Motors, inviting him to interview for an internship at their factory in Fremont, California.  

“I hadn’t even officially gotten the job yet, but just the fact that I was invited in for the interview was enough to let me know that I did something right,” he recalls.

Feldmann will be relocating to Reno, Nevada, to begin working at Tesla’s new Gigafactory as an full-time Associate Equipment Engineer following graduation.

“I’m truly excited to say that I will play a major role in building and starting the manufacturing line for Tesla’s new Model 3,” he says. “I will continuously strive to learn all that I can to help move the world towards a sustainable future and eventually work my way into an engineering management position.”

He plans to pursue a master’s degree in engineering management in the future, but for now, he says as long as he walks into work, excited to get things done and make a difference, he’ll be happy.

Aeronautical Management Technology (Professional Flight)

Joshua Grzywa’s experience with flight changed from jumping out of military planes to sitting in the pilot’s seat. It all started when he talked to an ASU Professional Flight program student at an aviation fair.

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grzywa-joshua-7060w400x600aB.S. in Aeronautical Management Technology (Professional Flight)
Originally from Aurora, Illinois
Graduated from Marmion Academy in Aurora, Illinois

Joshua Grzywa’s experience with flight changed from jumping out of military planes to sitting in the pilot’s seat.

It all started when he talked to an ASU Professional Flight program student at an aviation fair.

He was excited to learn to fly from that first exposure to the program, and the transition to ASU was easy for the former Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor with ASU’s Army ROTC program.

“Once I was notified that I was going to be medically retired from the U.S. Army, my boss insisted that I start taking classes,” Grzywa says. “Overnight I became both an instructor and a student.”

Grzywa, who will be graduating summa cum laude, attended school under the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program.

He credits aviation Senior Lecturer and Chief Ground Instructor Marc O’Brien for getting him off the ground as a flight student.

“Aviation is not always intuitive, and without a true understanding it can be difficult to progress,” Grzywa says. “He always found ways to ensure the students understood so much ‘foreign’ material.”

Grzywa’s experience in the Professional Flight program has been challenging, but ultimately rewarding.

“Balancing heavy course loads with flight training on a regular basis is taxing to every student within the program,” Grzywa says. “Committing upwards of 12 to 15 hours per week to flight training in addition to normal class loads is not out of the norm — however, I can’t imagine anyone would trade the hours spent flying around the southwestern United States for labs or lectures.”

It was this experience with flight training that told Grzywa he was on the right path.

“I was flying my first solo cross-country flight and I was just getting to cruise altitude between Marana Airport and Gila Bend. There isn’t much between those two airports other than a mine and a lot of open desert. I remember thinking that I was doing this on my own — I felt like an actual pilot and was filled with more excitement than I could remember,” Grzywa says.

While he’s not in the air, he’s helping fellow veterans on the ground — and in the water.

After a slew of suicides by members of his former unit, Grzywa was compelled to find a way to assist the veteran community face the varied challenges of returning home.

“With the help of my wife and a couple friends, I founded a veterans’ non-profit called Deep Sea Valkyries,” Grzywa says. “Our mission is to enhance the lives of veterans through the treatment of PTSD while introducing them to healthy, recreational marine-based activities.”

In July 2016, Deep Sea Valkyries launched their week-long maiden voyage to the Bahamas with 20 veterans from across the country. They went scuba diving and snorkeling, explored the islands and participated in group healing sessions.

“This is perhaps my biggest hidden talent — seeing a social problem and being able to find a solution that, while out of the norm, is effective and long lasting,” Grzywa says.

After graduation he plans to continue his work with Deep Sea Valkyries with additional retreats as well as further his aviation training through flight instruction and a master’s in safety and human factors at ASU. Long term he plans to pursue a career in the airline industry.

“This is an exciting time to enter into the aviation industry,” Grzywa says. “The demand for pilots has never been higher, and as someone who would never do well in an office, I am excited that my career will take me around the country and the world.”

Construction Management

Motivated by his curiosity and a need to question everything, Michael Halas hopes to “engineer and build something better, faster, stronger and more sustainable.”

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Professional portrait of Michael HalasB.S. Construction Management
Originally from Tempe, Arizona
Graduated from Brophy College Preparatory

As someone born and raised in Sun Devil territory, one might think ASU would’ve been the natural choice for Michael Halas. However, he had to go far before realizing he’d been in the right place all along.

After two years studying civil engineering at the University of Portland in Oregon, Halas decided to return home to Tempe and finish his degree, initially in architecture, then concrete industry management, before finally settling on construction management.

“Tempe offers everything I ever wanted,” says Halas. “Close to home, family and friends — plus, amazing engineering and construction management schools.”

Just as he returned home to finish his education, engineering itself is familiar ground to Halas. His mother is an engineer, and he’s enjoyed building and designing things from an early age. Tinkering with LEGO eventually evolved into a passion for construction management, which combines his passion for design, engineering and building.

Halas considers his curiosity and willingness to challenge the status quo one of his greatest strengths.

I want to figure out ways to design, engineer and build something better, faster, stronger and more sustainable,” Halas says, believing it’s vital to question everything in engineering and try to figure out ways to engineer things differently than we do today.

Halas says the most rewarding thing about his journey at ASU has been the people.

“This includes fellow students as well as professors, who I have learned so much from,” he says. “Without them, this experience at ASU wouldn’t have meant so much to me.”

In particular, he singles out Assistant Professor of construction engineering Mounir El Asmar as an inspiration.

“I thoroughly enjoy his teaching style and the way he can connect with students,” says Halas. “I have on several occasions pursued his help with topics relating to classes or career choices. He is a professor who is very open, which is why I was comfortable talking to him with just about anything.”

As far as memorable moments at ASU, Halas points to earning a spot on the Dean’s List in fall 2013.

“I may have not been the best student, but I have always tried my best and it was a great surprise to be named a Dean’s List recipient after all the hard work I have put in along with all the ups and downs that college life offers,” he says.

Since then, he’s been on the Dean’s List for the past two semesters and hopes for a fourth for the fall 2016 semester.

Halas’ academic efforts were recognized with a Sundt Construction Management Scholarship 2014 and 2015, in addition to being named the Outstanding Undergraduate for the construction management program.

After graduation, Halas is considering graduate school. In the long-term, he hopes to be in the construction engineering field and looks forward to being part of groundbreaking engineering projects in the future.

I hope to be living in Arizona with my own design and construction firm that does work all throughout the country and the world, designing and building the world’s most advanced, sustainable and beautiful buildings,” he says.

Computer Science, Computer Systems Engineering

Ryan Hermens describes the inside of the computer as “a beautiful city of silicon” and works as a cybersecurity analyst and big-data engineer at Charles Schwab Corporation.

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hermens-ryan-8071_wB.S. in Computer Science
B.S.E in Computer Systems Engineering
Originally from Arcadia, Arizona

Ryan Hermens’ interest in computers was sparked at an early age when his father gave him the opportunity to dissect old computers alongside his twin brother.

He described what he found inside the computer as “a beautiful city of silicon.”

He went on to study the computers components and even build his own computer before developing his passion in software development.

A student in Barrett, the Honors College, Hermens is a New American National Merit Scholar and a recipient of the Science, Math and Engineering Competition Award — known as SMECA.

Participation in student organizations is a hallmark of Hermens’ undergraduate years. He is a founding member of Sun Devil Robotics, and served as treasurer of the ASU Radio Club and president of the ASU Linux Users Group.

Hermens is proud to have worked in the computer industry during the entirety of his academic years — including full-time employment during his last three semesters. Currently, he works as a cybersecurity analyst and big-data engineer at Charles Schwab Corporation, which he plans to continue after graduation.

His work paired with scholarships enabled Hermens to graduate debt-free, and he cites the affordability of a world-class education as a selling point in his decision to attend Arizona State University.

“As I look to move forward with my career and life goals, having financial independence means I have more open doors,” he says.

Hermens plans to continue working in the big-data realm of computing, but he is also fascinated with issues surrounding computer security. This interest is buoyed by his participation in ASU’s Cybersecurity Competition, in which he and his partner earned first place for the last two years.

As he continues to advance our “silicon cities” and as a result, the tools and technology available to all of us, Hermens would one day like to experience working for a primarily software-driven company such as Amazon or Google.

Human Systems Engineering

After a nearly 30 year break from higher education, Lisa Lacouette returned to ASU to find a degree that combined her interest in human psychology and design. 

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B.S. in Human Systems Engineering
Originally from Northport, New York
Graduated from Northport High School in Northport, New York

It’s safe to say Lisa Lacouette’s first foray into higher education began a bit earlier than most of the Class of 2016. She first attended Arizona State University in 1985, intent on becoming an elementary school teacher. However, she found college didn’t suit her and she left for other pursuits.

Thirty-one years later, she’s graduating with a bachelor’s degree in human systems engineering. Though she thoroughly enjoyed the program, it’s one of the last places she thought she would end up.

“I never imagined I would or could be an engineer,” says Lacouette. “My understanding of engineering was far more mechanical and I did not believe I had the ability to achieve success in engineering.”

In fact, when she initially returned to ASU in 2014, it was to pursue a master’s degree in counseling psychology to complement her associate degree and associate of applied science in dietetics technology she earned with highest honors from Paradise Valley Community College.

“I have always enjoyed psychology and the study of how the brain works,” says Lacouette. “I heard about industrial/organizational psych and thought it sounded interesting and promising for future employment. I took my first human systems engineering class and everything suddenly made sense.”

She went on to excel in the program, distinguishing herself by making the Dean’s List and being awarded the Bernard Osher Scholarship the past two years.

“I felt like I had found my calling,” she says of human systems engineering, which caters to her knack for identifying design flaws and interest in human cognition. “I love the challenge of trying to determine new ways to design products and tools to be more user-friendly.”

While balancing her home life as a mother of two with academic demands and commuting 50 miles to the Polytechnic campus from the northwest Valley has been a challenge, Lacouette says the relationships with her peers and professors have been the most rewarding part of her college experience.

“I have found inspiration with every one of my professors, and have had a hard time not wanting to focus on research with each one individually,” she says of her instructors.

Currently, Lacouette interns with an engineering and scientific consulting firm as a research assistant. She was accepted into the human systems engineering 4+1 accelerated program and aims to complete studies for a Master of Science degree in December 2017.

Beyond graduate school, Lacouette looks forward to finding an occupation where she can immerse herself in research, development, design and documentation design.

Aerospace Engineering

A builder and tinkerer from the start, Ian McFate plans to use mechanical and aerospace engineering to improve and advance renewable energy technologies. 

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B.S.E. in Aerospace Engineering
Originally from Phoenix, Arizona
Graduated from Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee, Arizona

Growing up, Ian McFate always gravitated toward math and science, with a keen interest in building things. Add in the fact that he grew up around airplanes with a pilot for a father, when he enrolled in Arizona State University, he chose to study aerospace engineering.

Though his interest in aircraft and spacecraft initially led him to that field of study, it was the myriad ways it can be applied that really piqued his interest.

“Over the course of all my internships, I was able to see how diverse the fields of aerospace and mechanical engineering were,” says McFate. “I loved the fact that I could apply my degree to a wide variety of careers.”

Throughout his undergraduate years, McFate focused on gaining real-world, hands on experience in a variety of internships. He worked for a year as a manufacturing engineering intern at UTC Aerospace Systems, followed by a summer at Orbital ATK, an aerospace and defense company, working on “designing test fixtures, conducting mechanical analyses and supporting environmental testing.”

He then left ASU for a semester to intern with the U.S. federal government, learning more about design and gaining hands-on manufacturing skills.

McFate has returned to Orbital ATK as an aerospace engineering intern to work in the Aerodynamics Group, where he runs and processes computational fluid dynamics, and performs other aerodynamic analyses.

Despite his commitment to internships, McFate remained invested in his studies and made the Dean’s List every semester.

“The most rewarding part of my undergraduate years at ASU was probably being able to apply the specific knowledge I learned in my coursework to real-world problems that I faced in my internships,” he says. “For example, I am able to use my knowledge of stability and control that I learned in an Aircraft Dynamics & Control course on a regular basis at my current internship in the Aerodynamics Group at Orbital ATK.”

McFate plans to continue working at Orbital ATK while he pursues his master’s degree in the Fulton Schools’ 4+1 program, and has yet to decide where engineering will take him.

“I want to either continue working in the space-launch industry as an aerospace or mechanical engineer, or to branch out into the renewable energy industry and try to apply my knowledge and experience towards greener forms of energy,” he says.

Mechanical Engineering

Perez initially aimed to play college football at ASU. “I never did end up playing college football, but I was able to maintain a 4.00 GPA in engineering … [which] calls for a touchdown celebration, right?” he says.

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perez_andrew_6404b_wB.S.E. in Mechanical Engineering
Originally from San Bernardino, California
Graduated from Willow Canyon High School in Surprise, Arizona

Andrew Perez’s education has been impacted by a lot of twist and turns. For starters, he attended four different high schools in four years.

Furthermore, while he was in high school he didn’t have a desire to even attend college.

But the idea of playing college football changed Perez’ route and he enrolled at Glendale Community College. Before too long, another twist and turn was in the works and he transferred to Arizona State University.

As a transfer student, Perez received numerous scholarships to support his transition, including the Motivated Engineering Transfer Scholarship and ASU’s Transfer Achievement Award. In addition he earned a Materials Science Engineering Scholarship, Dr. Lee P. Thompson Memorial Scholarship, W.L. Gore Undergraduate Scholarship, Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship and a Nickless Foundation Scholarship.

As an undergraduate researcher in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, Perez studied the manufacturing efficiency of Excimer Based White Organic Light Emitting Diodes.

“This research gave me a first look at the forefront of developing technology,” says Perez.

In addition to enjoying internships at The Boeing Company and UTC Aerospace Systems, Perez says the highlight of his academic experience was “studying with my fellow students and best friends.”

As a senior, Perez again experienced an unexpected twist in his educational journey.

Originally planning to pursue an Accelerated 4+1 Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in mechanical engineering, he has now decided to pursue a career in personal finance. He even made the hard decision to turn down a position in a prestigious rotational aerospace program to pursue his newly discovered passion.

Within personal finance, he plans to work as an independent contractor to build his own consulting practice and brokerage. “I’d like to guide and educate families and individuals about the opportunities they can create for themselves,” he says. This is something Perez describes as not only life changing, but also generation changing.

Perez admits it still surprises him that he earned a college degree, landed two top internships and has now been selected as an outstanding graduate.

“I never did end up playing college football, but I was able to maintain a 4.00 GPA in an engineering program and I think that calls for some sort of touchdown celebration, right?,” says Perez.

Construction Engineering

Robert Richards has distinguished himself in his undergraduate career with a consistently high grade point average as well as participation in extracurricular activities like the Fulton Ambassador program.

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B.S.E. in Construction Engineering

Robert Richards has been a consistently standout performer in the Fulton Schools, both academically and extracurricularly. His efforts have earned him the recognition of Outstanding Undergraduate for his program.

Each semester, one Outstanding Undergraduate is chosen to represent each of the Fulton Schools’ 24 undergraduate programs. These students are selected based on their academic achievements and 3.40 or higher grade point average as well as evidence of participation in one or more Fulton Schools, major-specific student engagement and community activities.

At convocation, one student for each of the six Fulton Schools has the honor of carrying their school’s gonfalon, a banner proclaiming the school name behind which the school’s faculty march in to the ceremony.

Computer Science

An early introduction to information technology led JJ Robertson to study computer science, earning such accolades as Outstanding Undergraduate, IMPACT award winner and convocation speaker. 

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B.S. in Computer Science
B.S.E. in Electrical Engineering

Originally from Prescott, Arizona
Graduated from Prescott High School in Prescott, Arizona

An introduction in high school to the wonders of information technology was all the motivation JJ Robertson needed to major in computer science at Arizona State University.

But he was driven to go further by a desire to explore the entire landscape of the computing world. So he added an electrical engineering major to give him the math and physics courses that his quest required.

That ambitiousness is reflected in the plethora of achievements that highlight his undergraduate track record.

He was accepted into Barrett, The Honors College, and involved for two semesters in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative program, doing work that resulted in becoming the lead author on a research paper for the Innovative Applications of Artificial Intelligence conference that was published in the Cyber Defense Review journal.

As a research presenter at the IAAI conference, he had one of the most memorable moments of his college career: having lunch with Peter Norvig, the director of research for Google. For Robertson, the meeting “was pretty surreal.”

In all, his work resulted in three research journal publications and awarding of a provisional patent.

His research also earned a grant from the Army Research Office Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program and a nomination for the Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher award from the Computing Research Association.

Robertson put his skills to the test in student competitions, winning top prizes in hackathons — team computer programming challenge events — at Georgia Tech and in Hack Arizona, a nationwide event hosted by the University of Arizona. He earned an honorable mention at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology hackathon.

He also won an ASU coding competition hosted by the Zappos online clothing company and another hosted by the Goldman Sachs finance company, and took second place in the ASU Women in Computer Science annual coding competition.

He was a member of teams that earned first place in the Intel Shanghai Cup robotics competition and the Allstate Virtual Assistant Challenge, a competition between teams at ASU and Ireland’s University of Belfast involving use of artificial intelligence technology and machine-learning techniques.

Robertson has served as president and industry outreach chair of the ASU student Software Developer’s Association, as a Microsoft ASU Intern Ambassador and as a peer mentor for the Fulton Schools E2 freshman engineering student experience.

For several semester’s he has also been a teaching assistant and instructor’s aide for computer science courses.

Those and similar accomplishments led to his selection as an IMPACT Award winner for his contributions to fellow students and leadership in efforts that support the Fulton Schools educational mission.

His performance as a software engineering summer intern with Microsoft in 2015 earned him a second internship with the company this year.

Robertson was also able to work on solutions to real-world problems in the Fulton Schools Cyber-Socio Intelligent Systems Lab under the guidance of Assistant Professor Paulo Shakarian.

“I’m really grateful that he put so much trust in me from the beginning,” Robertson says of Shakarian.

The experience helped to shape one of his career aspirations. He wants to “build computing systems that are able to better understand their surroundings and that will change how we are able to interact with technology. For example, self-driving cars.”

He is particularly interested in the emerging field of computer vision, which is essential to building such systems. Gaining advanced expertise in that area, he says, would help put him “in a role where I am able to make a lot of the technical decisions that go into building a product that impacts many people.”

He foresees considering pursuit of a doctoral degree in computer vision and maybe using what he learns in the endeavor to someday starting a business.

First he wants to get a good number of years of industry experience. That will begin right after graduation, when he moves to Venice, California to focus on computer vision technology work as a software engineer for Snapchat.

Robertson is hoping the journey eventually enables him to follow in the footsteps of his “engineering icon” Elon Musk, as “a tremendous entrepreneur who is having a large impact in many industries.”

Electrical Engineering

Most people might’ve buckled under the pressure of the numerous pursuits that defined Cassandra Steeno’s undergraduate years. But Cassandra Steeno isn’t most people.

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B.S.E. in Electrical Engineering
Originally from Gilbert, Arizona
Graduated from Highland High School in Gilbert, Arizona

An individual’s hobbies can say a lot about them. An adventurous soul might take up rock climbing or mountain biking, while someone with a quiet, introspective nature might find themselves drawn to the solitude of reading or painting.

For Cassandra Steeno, her chosen hobby of swing dancing reveals her kinetic, active, everywhere-at-once nature, which is also evidenced in her academic career. In her undergraduate years, Steeno has participated in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, as well Engineering Projects in Community Service, worked as an undergraduate teaching assistant and served as the president for ASU’s chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ honors society, Eta Kappa Nu.

Despite throwing herself into each pursuit with gusto, she’s managed to graduate with her bachelor of science early while earning a spot on the Dean’s List each semester and maintaining a 4.0 grade point average.

While participating in FURI, Steeno worked with electrical engineering Professor Trevor Thornton, helping take measurements on his metal–semiconductor field-effect transistor model.

In support of Steeno’s nomination for Outstanding Undergraduate, Thornton noted that she “is the most accomplished [undergraduate] student I have worked with at ASU for as long as I can remember.”

Prior to working in Thornton’s lab, Steeno took the professor’s circuits classes, which she attributes to cementing her love for electrical engineering and confirming she was on the right path.

“We finally learn the fundamental building blocks of electronics, transistors, and you begin to look at technology so differently,” she says. “You begin to realize how technology is made and that you yourself can build things. Afterwards, I soon began to realize that I can innovate and make things with a meaningful impact on society.”

In EPICS, Steeno worked with visually impaired students at the Scottsdale Training And Rehabilitation Services Center.

“As team leader I led our team to create an electronic navigation device to aid the visually impaired individuals to navigate independent of human assistance,” she says.

The navigation device uses speakers placed around the STARS campus and a hand-held remote. Students can use trigger the speakers using the remote to indicate where they are on campus and more easily find their way.

She was recognized for her leadership with the Outstanding Team Leader Award and her team won the Innovation Award at the EPICS Generator Awards in Spring 2013 and 2014, respectively.

“I think knowing that I was able to make something that helped someone was such a rewarding experience and I don’t think it would have been as easy to have that opportunity at other schools,” she says.

Steeno’s experience in the Fulton Schools — both in and out of the classroom — has cultivated a desire in her to use her knowledge and skills for the betterment of others.

“Whether it is something in the medical field, like creating devices that save people or improve their living conditions, or something in the field of space, like engineering space exploration vehicles and expanding that frontier,” she says. “And, honestly, I’d love to be on a spaceship like in Star Trek as an engineer like Scotty.”

She may have to put her plans to join Starfleet on hold, as she’s determined to complete her master’s degree following graduation. She plans on either pursuing a doctoral degree or attending medical school and is currently interning with Intel, a position she’s held for more than a year.

Technological Entrepreneurship and Management

Fernando Topete participated in May’s convocation ceremony, but finished up his technology entrepreneurship and management degree in the fall. His efforts have earned him the recognition of Outstanding Undergraduate.

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topete_fernando_4389w400x600aB.S. in Technology Entrepreneurship and Management

Fernando Topete participated in May’s convocation ceremony, but finished up his technology entrepreneurship and management degree in the fall. His efforts have earned him the recognition of Outstanding Undergraduate for his program.

Each semester, one Outstanding Undergraduate is chosen to represent each of the Fulton Schools’ 24 undergraduate programs. These students are selected based on their academic achievements and 3.40 or higher grade point average as well as evidence of participation in one or more Fulton Schools, major-specific student engagement and community activities.

At convocation, one student for each of the six Fulton Schools has the honor of carrying their school’s gonfalon, a banner proclaiming the school name behind which the school’s faculty march in to the ceremony.

Technological Entrepreneurship and Management

Brandon Zell earned his degree online. He lives in Lakewood, California, but works as a flight attendant for a commercial airline so he was able to complete his degree wherever his work took him.

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Brandon ZellB.S. in Technological Entrepreneurship and Management
Originally from Lakewood, California
Graduated from Lakewood High School in Lakewood, California

Brandon Zell will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Technological Entrepreneurship and Management that he earned online. Zell lives in Lakewood, California, but works as a flight attendant for a commercial airline so he was able to complete his degree wherever his work took him.

The online aspect of the program did occasionally come with its own unique challenges. “We had a group project that included four students, three of which were located in different time zones,” he says. “There was one in New Zealand, one in New York, and two of us in California. Communication at times was very difficult.”  

“I chose ASU, because I wanted a school that was completely online and worked with my extremely sporadic, unpredictable schedule,” says Zell.

Zell is thankful for all of the real-life lessons that he learned as part of the Fulton Schools. “It is not the typical online mundane school, you are actually given real-life examples from your professors which they have experienced,” he says.

“Technological Entrepreneurship and Management was a very interesting and unique major that covered a wide variety of topics that I was extremely interested in learning more about,” he says. “I found out that I was in the right program as my classes were continuing to get more and more interesting. There were not too many classes that I wondered why I was taking, besides math.”

Zell has a hobby that he loves and hopes to have one day evolve into a career working in the amusement park industry.

“I love to design and build pneumatically-operated and computer controlled Halloween props every year,” says Zell. “It has always been my dream to become a Disney Imagineer or to do something with special effects at amusement parks, Halloween attractions, et cetera.”  

Zell plans to continue on as a flight attendant until he has traveled to every country on his list, he is currently up to 23 so far. “Hopefully my future will be full of fun, health, adventure and happiness,” says Zell. “Whether that be owning my own business or working for another amazing company.”

There will probably also be plenty of mechanical ghosts, monsters and skeletons.


Engineering Management

Alan Zygutis transferred from the University of Arizona to ASU and it wasn’t easy.  The lure of being closer to his home and being a part of the Sun Devil culture made it worthwhile.

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B.S.E. in Engineering Management
Originally from Cave Creek, Arizona
Graduated from Cactus Shadows High School in Cave Creek, Arizona

Alan Zygutis transferred from the University of Arizona to ASU and it wasn’t easy. He had a full academic scholarship during his time down south that didn’t transfer to ASU. The lure of being closer to his home in Cave Creek and being a part of the Sun Devil culture made it worthwhile.

“The campus and environment at ASU were great and felt inviting, and being closer to home was a nice change for me,” he says. “It was a big decision to move back here from U of A, but I’m very glad that I did.”

Zygutis always loved science and math, and the idea of using various principles in practical application appealed to him more than theory.

“Engineering management offers an entrance into a variety of fields and more of a big-picture mentality than other specialties,” he says. “That initially seemed like a good change from the chemical engineering major I had been looking toward.”

Zygutis says that the most rewarding aspect of his time in the Fulton Schools has been meeting and learning from Fulton Schools faculty. “The faculty members are who have shown great support and appreciation for students’ hard work have been incredible,” he says.

In particular, Professor of Practice Dan McCarville really stands out to Zygutis.

“He helped immensely by being an outstanding professor and helping to guide me when I have questions about anything outside of class. He has believed in me as a student since I transferred to ASU, and he has made me feel very welcome within the department. Few professors have been as kind and helpful as he has.”

While he hasn’t decided what his future will hold just yet, he has a few ideas of possibilities, including graduate school to pursue a master’s degree in industrial engineering.

“I haven’t really predicted much through this far in life, and I don’t think I can now,” he says. “I want to be happy with what I do, and I hope that I can make others happy as well. I want to find a good career path that allows me to control my own work and my own destiny while still being a part of something larger than myself, something that really helps people. I want to be part of a company or business that solves large problems.”



IMPACT Award Recipients

Manufacturing Engineering

What Stephanie Bryan did to support fellow students during her undergraduate years was matched only by what she gained in return. “The people here are what I will remember most,” she says.

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B.S. in Manufacturing Engineering
Originally from Linden, Virginia
Graduated from Wakefield High School in The Plains, Virginia

She is drawn to “building things, working with my hands, and finding solutions to problems.”

So Stephanie Bryan switched to a major in manufacturing engineering during her undergraduate years at Arizona State University.

“In my first engineering project design course we were actually building prototypes. I felt right at home,” she says.

Bryan also found herself attracted to the business side of engineering, specifically the marketing and monetizing of the things you design and make.

That interest led her to a year as president of the ASU Women’s Entrepreneurship Club and a management intern position at the university’s office of Entrepreneurship + Innovation.

As club president, she led efforts to support female students in entrepreneurial ventures and helped organize and present the Creative Convergence conference that focused on teaching participants about the entrepreneurial mindset.

As an intern, she worked on more projects to encourage women to become entrepreneurs, as well as educating K-12 students about entrepreneurship.

The office of Entrepreneurship + Innovation honored her with its Student Leadership Award.

She also helped fellow engineering students by working as a teaching assistant.

In addition, Bryan became a University Innovation Fellow through the National Center for Engineering Pathways to Innovation, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Stanford University and the VentureWell organization.

The national network of Fellows collaborates in examining their current “entrepreneurial ecosystems,” formulates action plans and taking the first steps to implement ideas.

All of those endeavors factored into Bryan’s selection as one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Fall 2016 graduates to receive an IMPACT Award.

The awards recognize students for contributions that help advance the educational and service mission of the Fulton Schools.

She hopes to eventually put her entrepreneurship training to use in starting her own business. And she plans to continue her service activities by supporting efforts to bring more diversity to the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — by mentoring young students.

After graduation, she will begin her industry career as an assistant project manager for a systems integrator company in Arizona.

Bryan says her biggest challenge in college was returning to school after a break of eight years to enter the workforce. As a student, she had to balance a 25-hour-a-week job, family responsibilities and a demanding load of engineering courses.

She credits Fulton Schools Professor of Practice John Parsey for helping her overcome some of the hurdles in school.

“He was always ready to help with new perspectives when I ran into a roadblock on a project,” she says. “He always expected a lot from his students, but gave a lot back in return. It was inspirational to see his dedication to students.”

Bryan says that what she did to support fellow students during her undergraduate years was matched by what she gained in return from many of those and other students, as well as faculty members.

“The people here are what I will remember most,” she says. “I have met so many talented and thoughtful people, and have made some lifelong friends.”

Computer Science

Nichole Emmons has made outstanding contributions to the Women in Computer Science student organization and will be working with GoDaddy after graduation.

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nichole-emmons_wB.S. in Computer Science
Originally from Gilbert, Arizona
Graduated from Booker T. Washington Magnet High School in Montgomery, Alabama

After venturing away from Arizona for middle school and high school, Nichole Emmons returned to what she jokingly calls “the surface of the sun” for her college education.

Supported with a President’s Scholarship upon admission, Emmons found her way to computer science after exploring several areas of interest, including neuroscience, mathematics and teaching.

In the end, it was the casual web scripting she did in her childhood years that led her toward her major.

Emmons’ IMPACT Award primarily recognizes her outstanding contributions to the Women in Computer Science student organization. As a conference coordinator, she annually helped to arrange attendance for 50-60 ASU students at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

She was nominated for the award by Faye Tadayon-Navabi, a senior lecturer, who says, “[Emmons] spent many hours organizing and executing all elements of the event, from collecting scholarship applications, informing students [about the conference], making a Facebook page, creating hotel assignments, staffing the ASU booth, and helping … students to be prepared for the interviews.”

As a student organization leader, she also regularly participated in social events for club members and at outreach activities at local high schools.

Emmons enjoys computer science because of its limitless applications.

“It is being used in everything from your game consoles to your refrigerators to the mirrors you find in dressing rooms,” says Emmons. Adding, “Yeah, it’s a thing — look it up!”

After overcoming a difficult start to her computer science major, which was compounded by the realization that there were very few women in her classes, Emmons developed a passion for “showing other girls and women that computer science can be for them.”

“I want them to know with a little bit of hard work, that they can have the ability to create the technology that is changing the world so quickly,” says Emmons.

Tadayon-Navabi praises Emmon’s passion saying, “She has exhibited dedication to recruiting women to the field of computing and is skilled at providing guidance and support.”

Committed to her career in computing, Emmons has a web development job lined up with GoDaddy after graduation.

Truly committed to the software side of things, Emmons says if she had one engineering super power it would be to “whip up hardware components with solely an idea of what I want it to do.”

She says she enjoys “making the software that tells the hardware to do what I want!”

When she’s not spitting out code, you might find her exploring the realms of Azeroth in World of Warcraft. She says it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, but she’s “a phenomenal Resto Druid and nearly defeated Heroic Lich King!”

We’ll leave it up to her fellow members of the Alliance to explain what all that means.

Mechanical Engineering

Peter Harper’s undergraduate career was characterized by his outstanding academic performance. Now graduating with his master’s degree, he once again has distinguished himself with an IMPACT Award.

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M.S., Mechanical Engineering         
B.S.E. ’15 in Industrial Engineering
Originally from Mesa, Arizona
Graduated from Heritage Academy in Mesa, Arizona

For Peter Harper, being an outstanding student is a career-long characteristic. Honored as a Distinguished Graduate last December, Harper is completing his master’s degree as part of the 4+1 program in mechanical engineering as an Impact Award recipient.

Choosing a career in engineering was a natural for Harper — his father is an engineer in the aerospace industry.

“I chose to major in mechanical engineering because it gives me a broad skillset and a lot of employment opportunities,” Harper explained.

A former chair and president of the ASU chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Harper says the position gave him leadership experience and networking opportunities that led to multiple internships, which helped him decide what he wants to do as an engineer.

As a graduate student, Harper says the opportunity to meet and work with other graduate students has been very rewarding. “The camaraderie and willingness to share strengths and knowledge has helped me become a better student and engineer.”

Harper’s favorite engineering icon is none other than Ira A. Fulton himself.

“Mr. Fulton is someone who not only seeks to improve himself each day, but he also seeks to improve those around him,” says Harper. “In addition, he gives back and invests in the future now by creating opportunities for students. This is the type of person that I want to be as a student, as a parent and as an engineer.”

Like many engineering students, some of Harper’s most prominent memories at ASU consist of doing homework. Though no study session was as memorable as the one when he got a phone call from Orbital ATK, an aerospace manufacturer and defense industry company.

“Graduation will be that much more exciting knowing that I will not only get my degree, but I will also get to work at a great company,” he said.

Following graduation, Harper is looking forward to a unique graduation celebration. “I’ve never flown in a helicopter, so my wife chartered a ride as my graduation present,” he said. After that, the family will travel to Knotts Berry Farm theme park in California.

It’s unlikely that graduation will end Harper’s connection to ASU. “As I work in industry, I want to help current and future engineering students by sharing my experience and volunteering at student events,” he said.


Mechnical Engineering

Long motivated by his desire to help people and improve lives, Alexander Kim hopes to leverage his engineering education to become a doctor and study spinal cord injuries. 

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Professional portrait of Alexander KimB.S.E. Mechanical Engineering
Originally from Honolulu, Hawaii
Graduated from Catalina Foothills High School in Tucson, Arizona

Alexander Kim is a man with an underlying drive to help others and improve the world around him. This desire drew him to mechanical engineering, because he felt its applications to do so were diverse and flexible.

“I chose to become an engineer because I wanted to leave my mark on planet earth,“ says Kim. “I wanted to make the lives of many people better, and I wanted to help further advance society. I specifically decided on mechanical engineering because I can literally do anything with it — from engineering economics, to building bridges, to building space ships that will make man the first interplanetary species.”

Attending ASU as a New American University Scholar, Kim participated in the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative during his undergraduate years. He worked under Owen Hildreth, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, helping to develop new 3D nanofabrication printing protocols. He considers this work his biggest achievement in FURI, as this novel protocol allows the user to consistently print continuous lines at the nanoscale.

Kim also remembers his undergraduate reseach as his most rewarding experience during his time at ASU.

“Dr. Hildreth saw potential in me, and was willing to trust me with his lab and his irreplaceable equipment,” he says. “This was an experience I wouldn’t have gotten at any other university, so I’m thankful came to ASU.”

Kim has also served as an E2 camp counselor for several years, an undergraduate teaching assistant to Hildreth and an ASU 101 section leader. His dedication to giving back to the Fulton Schools community earned him an IMPACT Award.

In addition to balancing his coursework with his undergraduate research and mentorship responsibilities, Kim has found an interest in an entirely different kind of balancing act: unicycling. His passion for the pastime led him to become a founding member of the ASUnicycle club, even serving as the tongue-in-cheek “Minister of Propaganda.” Ironically, he was also the only member in the club who did not know how to ride a unicycle.

Kim decided to attend ASU because of its large and diverse student body. In addition, he appreciated ASU’s countless resources that are available to students and are designed to help students succeed. Kim cited these student resources and opportunities as aspects of ASU that made him feel as though he wasn’t just another number.

“After my first visit to ASU, I felt like I was at home,” he recalls. “Something about ASU made me feel comfortable, and made college less intimidating.”

Kim finds inspiration in Sir Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a 19th century mechanical engineer who revolutionized the world with the steam-powered railways and ocean liners. Just as Brunel used engineering to transform the way humans traverse the planet, Kim hopes engineering will be used to save it.

“I believe that engineering will change the world by developing technologies that will allow us to finally address climate change in a meaningful way,” says Kim. “Even to this day, technology has prevented us from truly harnessing renewable energy. In my Electrical Power Plants 463 class, we discussed all the new ways we can harness thermal energy from the sun and kinetic energy from waves to generate power.”

Kim notes that these new energy sources are not efficient enough to replace our current energy infrastructure, but he is hopeful that engineers from all over the world will find ways to address these issues and allow us to move forward to a sustainable energy future.

However, Kim won’t be putting his engineering education to work on these technical issues. Rather, his drive to help others has prompted him to apply to medical school. As a future doctor, he hopes to use his engineering knowledge in conjunction with a medical degree to conduct research on spinal cord injuries.

Following graduation, Kim plans to go on a backpacking trip through Europe and apply to medical school in the summer.

Computer Science

From his first time he played with a Game Boy Color, Nizar Kury knew he wanted to make video games. Now he’s well on his way to creating virtual worlds like those he loved as a child. 

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B.S. in Computer Science
Originally from Hayward, California
Graduated from University High School in Tolleson, Arizona

Growing up in the suburbs of San Leandro, California, Nizar Kury turned to video games to escape the harsh realities of life.

From the first time he picked up a Game Boy Color, Kury knew he had found his calling. He wanted to create similar outlets for other children like him and become a video game developer.

“The ability to transport others into a similar mindset is what motivates me in the computer science field — I get to create virtual worlds that help children escape their hardships in life,” says Kury.

After graduating from high school, Kury decided to enroll at ASU, a mere thirty minutes from home to pursue his passion for game design. An honors student in Barrett, the Honors College, Kury knew he was on the right track the day he started his first game development class.

“The instructor said, ‘If you’re here to make games that you grew up on, then you’re in the right place,’” he recalls.

A longtime admirer of legendary game developers like Valve CEO Gabe Newell and Satoru Iwata of Nintendo, Kury didn’t wait until he completed his degree to start creating the digital worlds he’d dreamed of for so long.

Much of his free time throughout his undergraduate years has been devoted to ASU’s Video Game Development Club. He served as technical director and the club’s treasurer, leading a team of more than 20 programmers, designers and artists through an ambitious video game project called Twisted Sails, a death-match style game set on the high seas.

His dedication to his craft, VGDC and the club’s outreach efforts earned him recognition in the form of an IMPACT Award, as well personal fulfillment.

“My most memorable moment at ASU was watching a line of students playtest a game that was the result of a team of passionate programmers I co-led in the Video Game Development Club,” Kury says.

Though he’s spent a lot of time with the VGDC, it has not had adverse effects on his academic work. In fact, Kury has been awarded the New American University Scholar President’s Award all three and a half years of his undergraduate career while earning a place on the Dean’s List each semester and securing the Ed Denison Memorial Scholarship for the fall 2016 semester, which recognizes engineering students who excel academically.

As he approaches graduation, Kury highlights Mina Suk, a lecturer in Barrett, as a positive influence on his growth as a student.

“Not only did she push me to become a more confident speaker and writer throughout my one and a half years of being her teaching assistant, but she also helped me find myself in the sea of social pressures and rhetoric to be someone I am not,” says Kury. “I can firmly say that without her, I would not be the person I am today.”

Kury is currently enrolled in the 4+1 program and plans to attain his master’s degree in computer science next year. He also works as a software developer for General Motors.

Following that, he plans to move back to California and begin working in game development.

“I would like to be a keystone developer in the video game industry that one day makes a game millions of people are passionate about for years to come,” he says. “That would be my most sought-after engineering achievement and lifelong dream.”

Mechanical Engineering

Sara Mantlik chose mechanical engineering because she knew it would help her make a difference in society, and that’s exactly what she has done with her time so far at ASU.

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mantlik_sara_6981w400x600aB.S.E. in Mechanical Engineering
Originally from Idaho Falls, Idaho
Graduated from Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix, Arizona

Sara Mantlik chose mechanical engineering because she knew it would help her make a difference in society, and that’s exactly what she has done with her time so far at ASU.

Not only is she an excellent student working on her master’s with the Fulton Schools’ 4+1 accelerated degree program, she’s also an award-winning humanitarian.

During her three years in the Engineering Projects in Community Service program as an undergrad, she served as project manager for the Engineering Smiles team.

“We designed and are building a mobile dental clinic to be utilized by our nonprofit partner, IMAHelps,” Mantlik says. “The clinic will bring much-needed dental care to impoverished communities throughout Central America, and also act as a teaching aid for the local university in Nicaragua, UNICA.”

In spring 2015 Mantlik received the Experimental Learning Grant to travel with IMAHelps to El Salvador to volunteer during their summer mission and see how the mobile clinic meets the needs of the volunteers.

Seeing the growth and impact of Engineering Smiles has been a highlight of Mantlik’s time at ASU.

“The most rewarding part about my undergraduate years was seeing our Engineering Smiles project progress even with all odds against us,” Mantlik says.

Mantlik and her team’s work on Engineering Smiles earned them the EPICS Catalyst Award, Knowledge Based Decision Making Award and Outstanding EPICS Team Award. They’ve also been featured in 15 different press releases from local to international media.

Her work to finish the mobile clinic has continued as she works to complete her master’s — and the accolades also didn’t end when she earned her bachelor’s degree. This semester, Engineering Smiles became the first student group to be recognized by Tempe Sister Cities during the Making a World of Difference event.

The Engineering Smiles team is now working on building the trailer, and has raised $62,000 — 75 percent of their goal — to purchase a custom trailer frame and almost a full dental operatory worth of equipment.

In addition to her awards for Engineering Smiles, Mantlik also earned the ASU Provost Scholarship as well as two other scholarships, and Dean’s List recognition in all four of her undergraduate years.

All of her hard work has also paid off in three competitive internships at Timken Aerospace, GE Healthcare and Coorstek Medical where she worked as either a design or manufacturing engineer in her various roles.

After she graduates with her master’s in mechanical engineering in May 2017, she will pursue a job at GE Healthcare in their Operations Management Leadership program and continue to help the world.

“In my future, I see myself being able to travel and continue to volunteer for different humanitarian initiatives while continuing to grow in my career in the healthcare industry,” Mantlik says.

Construction Engineering

Aly Rosenfeld was no stranger to extracurricular activities while at the Fulton Schools, as she participated in EPICS, the Fulton Ambassadors and worked as a peer career coach at the Engineering Career Center.

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portrait of Alyssa RosenfeldB.S.E. in Construction Engineering
Originally from Tucson, Arizona
Graduated from Ironwood Ridge High School in Oro Valley, Arizona

Aly Rosenfeld was no stranger to extracurricular activities while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering at the Fulton Schools.

A student in ASU’s Barrett, the Honors College, she was a team leader for three different Engineering Projects in Community Service efforts including one named Sustainable Gardens designed to protect the crops in Chocola, Guatemala.

“That was my most rewarding project,” Rosenfeld says. “We were able to create a solution for a village in Guatemala to protect their crop gardens and provide a water-harvesting system. Our challenge was to create a canopy that covered the gardens, using bamboo, tarp and rope with no electric tools and to incorporate a water-harvesting system.”

Rosenfeld also has been a member of the Fulton Ambassadors since August of 2015. She has been the organization’s recruitment and outreach director. She volunteered her time to promote the Fulton Schools and share her ASU experience with visitors to ASU and has spoken at various events.

The most rewarding thing Rosenfeld says she was a part of was working as a peer career coach in the Engineering Career Center.

“It allowed me to help peers with their job searches, and being able to hear back that they got a position they were hoping for,” she says. “I loved attending career fairs and seeing peers who I helped get a position come back as a recruiter for their companies.” 

When it came to the classroom, Rosenfeld didn’t allow the rest of her activities slow her down in the pursuit of a degree in the industry she has a long history with. “I grew up in construction, so I knew I wanted to stay in the industry,” says Rosenfeld. “I decided engineering was for me because of the constant problem solving it required and daily challenges that would be presented.” 

The Tucson native says that she chose to attend ASU after she was impressed by the stature of the Construction Engineering program in the Del E. Webb School of Construction in the Fulton Schools.

Rosenfeld has accepted an offer to work as a project engineer with McCarthy Building Companies and hopes to have a successful career balanced with a great family life.

Engineering (Robotics)

Carly Thalman chose to concentrate on assistive robotic devices with the goal of helping people living with physical impairments to become more independent.

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B.S.E. in Engineering (Robotics)
Originally from Apache Junction
Homeschooled high school graduate

Love led Carly Thalman to engineering.

“I love problem solving and I love a good challenge, and I enjoy being creative and bringing my ideas to life,” she says. “Engineering is the perfect combination of all those things.”

She found robotics engineering to be the most fulfilling outlet for those passions.

“As a robotics engineer you get to wear many hats. You get to learn different aspects of mechanical, electrical and software engineering all at once, and I enjoy getting a solid understanding of how the overall system works and functions,” she says.

Thalman came to Arizona State University after earning an associate degree in science from Central Arizona College, where she won an Outstanding Physical Science Student of the Year award, was accepted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, graduated with honors and earned an All-Academic Scholarship to fund her studies for a bachelor’s degree.

At ASU, she was accepted into Barrett, the Honors College, and the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, combining her research project with the focus of her honors thesis.

Thalman worked on a design for a soft-robotic grasper for an assistive third-arm prosthetic device, and in the process, she says, “I realized my passion for research, found a field that I enjoyed and a mentor that I wanted to work more closely with.”

It was then that she decided she would pursue a doctoral degree and carry on her robotics research for her doctoral dissertation.

She chose to concentrate on assistive robotic devices with the goal of helping people living with physical impairments to become more independent.

“I hope to work in the defense industry, helping to aid our soldiers either in the field or after they return home,” she says.

After graduation, while continuing to study at ASU to earn a doctoral degree in systems engineering, she will work as a summer intern in Raytheon’s Defensive Missiles Systems Division.  She plans to step into a full-time position at Raytheon after getting the advanced degree.

With expertise in robotics and systems engineering, Thalman says she hopes to eventually “be able to make a real difference for our troops.”
For the mentorship, inspiration and encouragement that has helped get her through the challenges of her studies and research, she credits Assistant Professor Panos Polygerinos and Professor of Practice John Parsey.

“They got me pointed in the right direction,” she says.

Thalman took the opportunity to do the same for fellow students.

She has served as an undergraduate teaching assistant, helping students in junior-year and senior-year engineering design and project courses.

“I’ve had to act as a mentor throughout the duration of their development as engineers,” she says. “I helped students with their design ideas, conceptual theories, advanced testing methods and overall professionalism in dealing with industry partners.”

It has been one of most rewarding experiences of her college years.

“Nothing gives me more joy than encouraging people to push themselves to be the best they can be,” she says, “and knowing that I helped other students succeed.”

Those contributions to fellow students are among accomplishments that have earned Thalman the IMPACT Award for efforts that support the educational and service mission of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Other joyful experiences of her undergraduate years have included defending her honors thesis, which gave her the opportunity to proudly showcase her mastery of her research project, and meeting a fellow Fulton Schools engineering student who is now her fiancé.

Outside of school she has found time to advance other skills.

“I am a self-taught chef. I enjoy cooking new and exciting foods, and experimenting with my own recipes,” Thalman says. “I am also an accomplished artist. My original career path was to be a graphic designer.”

She also writes fiction, especially involving fantasy themes, mostly reflecting her favorite genre: horror stories.

Those literary preferences extend to her recreational pursuits.

“The best way for me to relax after a long day,” she says, “is to sit down and play video games, either role-playing games or horror games.”

Electrical Engineering

Originally headed for medical school, Kevin Virgin found his calling in electrical engineering. Now he looks forward to using his degree to learn, create and inspire young immigrants like himself.

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B.S.E. in Electrical Engineering
Originally from Puebla, Mexico
Graduated from North Canyon High School

Like many young people, Kevin Virgen wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he started college. After graduating with honors from Paradise Community College with his associate degree in science, he enrolled in the Fulton Schools’ biomedical engineering program.

He entered the program with the intention of eventually going to medical school, figuring medicine was a good route to pursue. But as he began his coursework, he soon discovered he was much more interested in the engineering aspects of the degree.

Born in Mexico and moving to Phoenix at the age of 10, Virgen says he’s always been a “gadgets guy,” but never really understood what went into making cell phones, laptops and gaming consoles.

“Biomedical engineering gave me a good enough look into electrical engineering that I decided to change my major,” he says.

After making the switch, Virgen was required to take the freshman-level digital design class, which confirmed he’d made the right decision.

“The class gave us an insight into digital circuits, and what goes into making all those gadgets I love work,” says Virgen. “I knew I was on the right path when they gave a brief history of the processor during the first lecture. To this day it’s still my favorite class.”

Though the focus of his studies shifted to electrical engineering, the underlying desire to improve lives and help others that defines medical science remained an integral part of Virgen’s undergraduate experience.

In Engineering Projects in Community Service, Virgen joined a team that worked with the Scottsdale Training and Rehabilitation Services Center. The team designed and developed technology in order to help students with disabilities at STARS live more independently. Virgen’s biggest achievement was delivering prototypes and seeing the impact they made on STARS students’ lives.

For his work, Virgen received the “Unsung Hero Award” at the Spring 2015 EPICS Generator Awards. His EPICS team also won the Edson Entrepreneurship Award and the Community Impact Award.

“In addition, due to the team’s success, we were awarded funding and entrance into the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, which allowed us to start our own company, Adaptive Designs,” says Virgen. “This gave us the opportunity to experience the highs and lows of starting a company in addition to learning intrapersonal, marketing and engineering skills.”

Virgen’s commitment to helping others wasn’t limited to EPICS, however. His work as a lead tutor for three semesters in the Fulton Schools Tutoring Center has earned him not only praise, but a coveted IMPACT award. His nomination, which lauded him for his “excellent work ethic, personal integrity and content expertise” singled Virgen out as one of the smartest, most exceptional tutors.

“I am glad that I helped hundreds of students succeed during my time there and helped them get a step closer to their goals,” says Virgen, who noted that his time at the Tutoring Center was not only personally fulfilling, but also helped him solidify key concepts in engineering for himself. “Working there was incredibly rewarding yet challenging, perfect for a future engineer,” he adds.

After graduation, Virgen will be relocating to Colorado to work at Intel’s Fort Collins Design Center. There he hopes to keep Moore’s law alive — or the doubling of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits since their invention, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore.

Upon moving to Colorado, he’ll also transition to an online student to complete his master’s degree in the 4+1 program.

“I hope to have success at Intel and hope that I play a crucial role in empowering future technologies including autonomous driving, cloud computing and the internet of things,” says Virgen. “My dream is to keep learning, keep playing with incredible gadgets, support my family and inspire young immigrants like myself to follow their dreams.”

Dean’s Dissertation Award Recipients

Biomedical Engineering

Sai Grandhi spent his doctoral studies finding ways to eliminate dormant cancer cells to completely remove the disease and prevent relapse. When he joined ASU in 2010, he was deeply interested in nanoparticle-based drug delivery to cancer cells, and during his studies he happened upon the field of tumor dormancy-relapse.

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taraka-sai-pavan-saiw400x600aPh.D. in Biomedical Engineering
B.S. in Biotechnology

Originally from Hyderabad, India
Graduated from SRM University, Chennai, India

Patients with cancer are considered in remission when cancer cells are no longer detectable in radiological and diagnostic tests after treatment. But just because cells aren’t detected doesn’t mean they’re gone for good.

Cancer cells can lie dormant and not respond to treatment that targets active cells, and can then reactivate years later.

“When a patient relapses with the same disease either in the original location or in distant organs (called metastases), it is almost always fatal and the reason behind almost 90 percent of cancer-associated deaths,” says Sai Grandhi, biomedical engineering doctoral candidate, citing research from the Nature Reviews Cancer journal.

Grandhi’s doctoral studies focused on finding ways to eliminate dormant cancer cells to completely remove the disease and prevent relapse.

He developed a gel-like substance that induces tumor dormancy in high throughput, which allows for parallelizing drug screens and rapid discovery. Then he identified the adaptations that the cancer cells utilize to survive the dormant state. Utilizing this information, he targeted these adaptations to eradicate the resistant dormant cancer cell population.

Grandhi also developed conditions that can trigger reactivation and relapse of dormant cancer cells to identify drugs so that he could fight the cells. Furthermore, he developed chemical and mechanical bio-material-based approaches to separate heterogeneous entities within individual cancer population.

His work fighting cancer dormancy and relapse has earned him a Dean’s Dissertation Award, one of four awarded to Fulton Schools students this semester.

This semester, Grandhi completed work for his doctorate by conducting research on druggable applications behind tumor dormancy and reactivation in the Molecular and Nanoscale Bioengineering Lab under Professor Kaushal Rege.

Grandhi chose ASU for its research infrastructure, emphasis on interdisciplinary research and programs, its world-renowned faculty conducting top-notch scientific work and their focus on solving global challenges.

When he joined ASU in 2010, he was deeply interested in nanoparticle-based drug delivery to cancer cells.

“I worked on drug delivery systems exclusively for approximately two years, and in the meantime stumbled upon the tumor dormancy-relapse area,” Grandhi says. “The tools and techniques I learned while exploring nanoparticle drug delivery were very helpful in developing a unique approach to accelerate dormant cancer cell death.”

Grandhi says he has been deeply enriched by all his experiences in six years at ASU, including hours spent experimenting, academic discussions with peers and principal investigators, and help from colleagues, academic staff and faculty members. The interdisciplinary work he’s done with chemists, physicists, engineers and biologists at the university has been particularly rewarding, he says.

He also completed a graduate certificate in statistics, which he says allowed him to “gain a novel perspective toward approaching problems and solving them better.”

Grandhi has already begun a postdoctoral fellowship at the Genomic Institute of Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) in the La Jolla area of San Diego, California.

“I want to continue working in biomedical research that will allow me to solve the next set of challenges and unmet medical needs,” Grandhi says.

Hydrosystems Engineering

Jiachuan Yang’s academic career has been defined by his desire to improve the built environment for the people who inhabit it. Though he came to ASU to study one urban problem, he ended up finding an entirely different one to tackle.

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Ph.D. in Hydrosystems Engineering 
M.S. in Hydrosystems Engineering
B.S. in Civil and Coastal Engineering from Tongji University in Shanghai, China
Originally from Zhuhai, China

Growing up in Zhuhai, China, Jianchuan Yang watched his coastal hometown suffer from the ravages of typhoons. This inspired him to study methods to mitigate their effects, aiming to develop a strategic system of pipes and outlets to ease flood inundation when a typhoon strikes.

Upon arriving at Arizona State University, he discovered the desert Southwest faces its own environmental challenges — namely the urban heat island effect, in which metropolitan areas are much warmer than surrounding, undeveloped areas due to human activity.

“I found out that the urban heat island problems are more severe and harmful to the sustainability of cities, and the extreme summer heat in Phoenix gives me a first-hand experience,” says Yang.

In recent decades, cities have begun to face challenges associated with rapid urbanization and global climate change. As a result, temperatures in cities tend to increase continually and it is important to develop adaptation and mitigation strategies for heat-related urban environmental problems, explains Yang.

When Yang noticed cities in the U.S. beginning to incorporate green infrastructure in their master plans, he decided to devote his doctoral studies to these practices. His dissertation, titled “Urban Green Infrastructure: Modeling and Implications to Environmental Sustainability,” developed a model to investigate how green infrastructure policies can lesson urban stresses and secured Yang a Dean’s Dissertation Award. The award recognizes exceptional work by doctoral students that encourages the highest levels of scholarship, research and writing.

“The dissertation seeks to find novel and feasible solutions related to green infrastructure for the sustainable development of Phoenix,” says Yang. “Its results can provide useful guidance for metropolitan areas to advance sustainable urban land use, planning and water resource management.”

Yang’s dissertation brought him into close collaboration with researchers in the National Center for Atmospheric Research to develop his cutting-edge modeling technology. His model has subsequently been integrated into the NCAR’s Weather Research and Forecasting platform, which serves as the foundation of day-to-day weather services across the U.S.

Yang’s advisor, civil engineering Assistant Professor Zhihua Wang, nominated him for the award, calling him “the best kind of student that every professor wants.”

“He is an extraordinary young researcher with a stellar academic record and a bright future career path in academia,” Wang continues. “He’s full of innovative ideas, always seeking the best solutions to research questions and an excellent leader and contributor to team efforts.”

Though Yang initially came to ASU to improve the built environment of his hometown, he unexpectedly ending up studying a different type of urban infrastructure. It turned out that wasn’t the only unexpected change Yang encountered during his time at ASU; he ended up meeting his wife here in 2011.

The pair were married in October 2016 and are both graduating this semester. Following graduation, they plan to move to New Jersey for Yang to continue his research career at Princeton University.

“At ASU, I discovered my passion in the academic field, finished my Ph.D., and found the most important person in my life,” Yang says. “The joyful time at ASU is rooted deeply in my memory.”


Mechanical Engineering

Yue Yang describes his research goal as “finding an efficient, low-cost, easy-to-fabricate way to control light emission for various everyday applications.” This could include applications in harvesting and saving energy, and climate change.

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yang_yue_5552_wPh.D. in Mechanical Engineering
B.S. in Thermal Science and Energy Engineering from University of Science and Technology of China
Originally from Anhui, China

Yue Yang, a fall 2016 graduate with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, has earned a Dean’s Dissertation Award recognizing his excellent contributions in the field of radiative heat transfer.

Currently a postdoctoral scholar, Yang is originally from the Anhui province of China and received an undergraduate degree in thermal science and energy engineering from the University of Science and Technology of China.

Since he began his program in 2012, Yang has been a student of and research assistant for Liping Wang, an assistant professor and expert in radiative heat transfer in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Yang came to Arizona State University because he says it is “a dream university” for his interest in engineering and solar radiation.

Yang’s research focuses on controlling the light emitted from objects for use in different applications.

He describes his research goal as “finding an efficient, low-cost, easy-to-fabricate way to control light emission for various everyday applications.” This could include applications in harvesting and saving energy, and climate change.

In order to control light emission, Yang is looking at improving radiation-based heat transfer in his dissertation entitled “Dynamic Control of Radiative Heat Transfer with Tunable Materials for Thermal Management in Both Far and Near Fields.”

Having a dynamic control of radiative heat transfer is beneficial for the environment including managing climate change.

Providing an example of the benefits of his research, Yang says, “In summer, you want buildings to reflect the solar radiation to keep them as cool as possible, while in winter, you want just the opposite.”

In his efforts, Yang works with tunable materials, which he describes as “materials that can change their optical properties through thermal heating, chemical doping or applied voltage.”

Yang’s research could advance the creation of a device that employs tunable materials to dynamically change the reflectance of solar radiation to account for heat transfer during different times of the year and in different climates.

“This device could provide a better radiation-based thermal management and save much more energy,” says Yang.

In addition to working in the lab, Yang enjoys playing sports on campus. He says meeting other students through his participation in soccer, volleyball and basketball has been a memorable part of attending ASU.

He also volunteered for the Arizona Animal Welfare League during his time as a doctoral student.

After graduation, Yang plans to return to China to pursue a faculty position and continue his research in renewable energy and heat transfer.

Electrical Engineering

Weina Wang’s goal is to provide research to help devise solutions that address the conflict between the capabilities of big data technology and the problem it presents to protecting privacy.

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A professional portrait of Weina Wang, one of the Fall 2016 Dean's Dissertation Award WinnersPh.D. in Electrical Engineering
B.S. in Electrical Engineering

Originally from Changchun, China
Graduated from Tsinghua University in Beijing

Weina Wang, a 2016 graduate who will receive a doctoral degree in electrical engineering at the fall semester convocation, is a winner of an Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Dean’s Dissertation Award.

The award recognizes exceptional work by doctoral students that exemplifies an outstanding level of scholarship, research and writing.

Wang, who grew up in the city of Changchun in northeastern China, earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Tsinghua University in Beijing.

She started pursuit of a doctoral degree at Iowa State University, but later her faculty advisor, Lei Ying, joined Arizona State University’s faculty.

She enrolled in the doctoral program at ASU so she could continue to work with Ying, who co-advised her with Junshan Zhang. Both are professors of electrical and computer engineering in the Fulton Schools.

Wang’s doctoral research focused on data privacy, one of the major concerns in the area of big data analytics. Her dissertation is titled “Fundamental Limits in Data Privacy: From Privacy Measures to Economic Foundations.”

“Big data analytics is a double-edged sword,” she explains. “The emerging big data technology has proven its exceptional value in diverse areas, including scientific research, finance and much of what we do in our everyday lives. But the ever-improving capability of data analysis makes it possible to extract personal information that people want to remain private.”

Her goal is to provide research to help devise solutions that address the conflict between the capabilities of big data technology and the problem it presents to protecting privacy.

“We characterized the relationship between different notions of privacy and revealed their fundamental connections. We envisioned a novel market model for private data analytics and laid the economic foundations for it,” Wang says.

That market model has the potential to enable a paradigm shift from the traditional practice of informed consent for private data collection to a market-based approach in which data collectors have access only to a limited and imprecise version of data that would not reveal detailed personal information.

This reduces the potential damage from data breaches and gives people greater control over use of their private data, she says.

Wang got the idea for her research after hearing about the cancellation of the Netflix Prize competition, which sought to find ways to improve the accuracy of predictions about how much people are going to enjoy particular movies based on their past movie preferences.

The Netflix Prize competition was cancelled when it led to large amounts of personal data being exposed.

She found that some researchers were able to identify individual users by matching the anonymous data released by Netflix with movie ratings on the Internet Movie Database.

“This privacy breach accident made me realize that in the big data era privacy is something much more complicated than we used to think. Even releasing anonymous data can greatly harm an individual’s privacy,” she says.

Wang sees an urgent need to resolve the conflict between the reach of big data analytics and the need for privacy, “because I don’t think we should stop doing studies based on personal data. It would cause a huge loss for the sciences and for society.”

Wang now has a joint postdoctoral research position with ASU and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is continuing her work on data privacy and also focusing on scheduling and resource allocation in large-scale computing systems for big data analytics.

She likes both teaching and research, so she will pursue a career in academia.

Her fondest memory associated with her experience at ASU involves her wedding in China.

She and her fiancé had taken many scenic photos of the ASU campus, and the couple had the pictures projected onto a large screen to show to their wedding guests.

“ASU’s campus is very beautiful,” she says. “The pictures helped to make it a lovely day.”


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Fulton Schools

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