ASU psychology dean's medalist named Fulbright Scholar

April 30, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

When she graduates in a few weeks, Catie Carson will have accomplished more in her four years at Arizona State University than many students across the nation. She will graduate with a double major in psychology and justice studies, and with a human rights certificate and minor in Mandarin Chinese. Carson was named the spring 2018 Dean’s Medalist for the ASU Department of Psychology. Catie Carson, Dean's Medalist ASU Psychology Catie Carson was named the spring 2018 Dean’s Medalist for the ASU Department of Psychology, as well as a Fulbright English Teaching Scholar. Photo by Robert Ewing Download Full Image

Carson is also a Fulbright English Teaching recipient and will teach English next year in Taiwan. While working in the Behavioral Neuroscience of Memory and Aging Lab with psychology Professor Heather Bimonte-Nelson, Carson was an author on two peer-reviewed publications, published in volume 64 of the Neurobiology of Aging and in volume 87 of Hormones and Behavior.

She also completed an honors thesis with Delia Saenz, associate professor in psychology and the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, on the impact of numerical distinctiveness on social and academic outcomes of Native American Honors' students. Additionally, she studied discrimination and societal issues in the Evolutionary Social Psychology Lab with Steven Neuberg, Foundation Professor and chair of the Department of Psychology.

"From the time that Catie started working in our laboratory as a high school student, it was clear she had far-reaching potential. Catie is a naturally deep and methodical critical thinker, and she has an uncanny ability to assimilate material across difficult theoretical concepts. She thinks with breadth and depth,” Bimonte-Nelson said. “These are rare skill sets and gifts for such a young scholar. No matter what her path, I have no doubt that Catie will accomplish anything she decides to do.”

"It has been such a pleasure to serve as Catie's thesis advisor and mentor. Throughout, she has demonstrated the highest levels of intellectual curiosity, motivation, leadership, and concern for justice.  Her thesis is but one example of Catie's approach to blending these attributes," Saenz said. "Even at this early stage of her career, Catie is at once a scientist, a practitioner, a humanist, and a bridge-builder. The recognition she has received is much deserved."

Carson is also the Barrett Honors College Outstanding Graduate, an award given annually to the highest-achieving undergraduate in Barrett, The Honors College. This award is given to only one bachelor-degree graduate from each college. Award recipients have demonstrated exceptional academic achievement, with special attention to extracurricular activities and service to their college.

“There are so many deserving students in the Barrett Honors College, and I’m sure any of them could have won,” Carson said. “I am grateful that my interests were recognized.”

Carson had an international upbringing: She lived in Arizona until her father’s job moved her family to China for three years. Carson credits living in China with giving her a broad perspective about how people live and inspiring her to want to make a difference everywhere she goes.

“Catie is the kind of student who makes your heart leap with enthusiasm. She is very smart, intellectually thoughtful, curious, eager to learn and willing to challenge conventional ideas, all the while being authentically kind, caring and driven in a calmly intense way to make the world a better place,” Neuberg said.

Carson chose to attend ASU because it afforded her the opportunity to earn a liberal arts education at a nationally recognized university and to conduct research with faculty that supported her passion of serving others.

One of her primary interests outside of class is the Gammage Scholars group. The group consists of 16 Grady and Kathryn Gammage scholarship recipients who work on a variety of service projects such as renovating an elder-care facility, mentoring kids at local elementary schools and hosting a prom for veterans. The scholars group honors the legacy of the former president of Arizona State University who pledged intellectual vision and a commitment to the well-being of the broader community.

In addition, Carson is a community assistant at Vista del Sol, a residential housing complex on campus for students of Barrett, the Honors College; works as a tutor off campus; and leads a campus ministry group. She also interned with AmeriCorps at ASU's School of Social Work, where she worked specifically on domestic violence. Additionally, she was awarded a scholarship from the Friends of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict that enabled her to intern over the summer with a nonprofit that focuses on autism in Tajikistan.

“It’s been an incredible pleasure to have her working in my lab and as a student in my class,” Neuberg said. “I can’t wait to see what she does in the next phase of her life … and beyond!” 

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


Finding passion in research that makes an impact

PhD grad Adam Gushgari didn't set out to work in research but became inspired to find solutions for the drug crisis

April 30, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

The opioid epidemic is affecting millions across the country. But for Adam Gushgari, who is graduating with his PhD in civil, environmental and sustainable engineering, that impact hit closer to home. After two close friends died from overdoses, Gushgari was inspired to pursue a course of study that would help stem such tragedies and have a positive impact on the world. Adam Gushgari PhD graduate Adam Gushgari plans to pursue a STEM-field startup company on environmental monitoring after finding his passion working on wastewater research at the Biodesign Institute. Photo by Jean Clare Sarmiento/ASU Download Full Image

Today, he is testing wastewater in an effort to understand the level and types of drug use among specific populations. The information they collect can help public health officials identify areas of concern and implement and test strategies that address threats to the population.

“Before we can make a marked change, we need to understand the scope of the situation,” Gushgari said.

A native Arizonan from Scottsdale, Gushgari didn’t initially set out to work in scientific research. His background was civil engineering, which he did for five years after undergrad. Although the money was good, he found the work a bit tedious. He returned to academia looking for a way to feed his intellect and passions.

“I got into research by chance,” Gushgari said, after meeting Rolf Halden, director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering at the Biodesign Institute. One of Halden’s major projects is analyzing wastewater to learn more about public health.

Currently, Halden’s team of about eight scientists have collected samples from more than 200 wastewater-treatment plants around the world as part of his Human Health Observatory. Gushgari found it refreshing that Halden’s research could be used in a real-world application.

Gushgari’s passion for finding solutions for the drug crisis has fueled his long-term plans. After graduation, he plans to pursue his dream of a STEM-field startup company on environmental monitoring. He credits Halden with helping him lay the groundwork for that startup and for being “an adviser who actually cares passionately about his students and their work.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I didn't have an "aha" moment until after I started my PhD at ASU. My career choices prior to pursing my PhD were made entirely just for monetary gain when I was working as a civil engineer. It wasn't until I began my PhD work that I realized my passion for wastewater-epidemiological monitoring — and since this, I have entirely changed my career trajectory.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: So much — too much to list actually. I think the most pertinent thing that I learned was my mass-spec and wastewater-based epidemiology training, as I will be taking these skills to private industry for a startup company.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I'm a born-and-raised Arizonan; you couldn't pay me to live anywhere else. I went to ASU for my undergraduate degree where I first met Dr. Rolf Halden, and his lab seemed like a good fit for me.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Don't make career decisions based entirely on money; find something you're passionate about and follow that.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: ISTB4 — Room 240: This is where I successfully defended my PhD thesis! Honestly though, I rarely venture outside of the office/laboratory. Grad student life is certainly much different than undergrad.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Pursuing my dream of a STEM-field startup company.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Addressing the opioid epidemic and continuing the project that I pursued during my PhD. This is actually what I plan on doing, but having $40 million in seed money would certainly take some of the personal risk out of the situation for me.

Jean Clare Sarmiento

Communications Specialist , Biodesign Institute