Biochemistry senior shines with research

April 30, 2018

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

Alexandria Layton, from Ahwatukee, Arizona, is a graduating biochemistry major with an emphasis in medicinal chemistry, in the School of Molecular Sciences (SMS). She describes herself as quiet and just keeping her head down and blissfully enjoying her classes, and it wasn’t until her junior year in her first biochemistry class with Professor Kevin Redding that things really turned around for her. Alexandria Layton Graduating School of Molecular Sciences senior Alexandria Layton will work toward her master's next year in ASU's 4+1 program. Download Full Image

Layton was learning more about how many complex biochemical processes work, and how one can manipulate them, and it inspired her to learn more and do more.

“It took a while, but it finally clicked that this is what I really enjoy and want to pursue further,” she said.

Layton, a student in Barrett, The Honors College, was totally surprised when she learned she had won both the Moeur award and the Distinguished Biochemistry Merit award at the recent SMS Awards Ceremony. Here she answers some questions about her time at Arizona State University.

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

Answer: I learned what it actually was like to work in a lab. Initially, I wanted to go to pharmacy school and I didn't think I would enjoy lab work very much, but working in a lab changed my perspective. I realized that I really enjoyed working in a lab setting, and I wanted to have a career that was involved in research and testing.

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

A: Try to not get stuck comparing yourself to people who appear more successful, and don't stress about doing things other people are doing if you don't have a desire to do it. Find things that you want to do and do what makes you happy.

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

A: There are a row of chairs on the second floor of Noble Library that face the window overlooking Tyler Mall. Any time I have a break between classes, I'm sitting in one of those chairs. It's a great place to relax, read and people-watch.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I've been accepted into ASU's 4+1 program, so I'll be spending next year working towards earning my master's. After that I hope to work in a research or clinical lab.

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

A: I would give the money to support music and art programs in schools. I was involved in music since elementary school, and I found it such an essential part of my ability to learn and grow. It always bothered me how music and art are some of the first programs to get cut in schools due to money when they're so important to encourage children to be creative. I would want to help these programs wherever I could, and allow schools to continue to offer the creativity and freedom that art and music provide.

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences


ASU grad researches health communication, advocacy

April 30, 2018

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

Originally from Hartford, Connecticut, Arizona State University doctoral student Katherine Morelli left her perch near the sea for the wide-open spaces of the West. She has successfully navigated the culture shock (she says it wasn’t so bad) and the uncertainty of beginning a doctoral program (she had an “aha” moment that convinced her that she was on the right trajectory). Graduating ASU student Katherine Morelli / Courtesy photo Graduating Arizona State University doctoral student Katherine Morelli said she chose to attend ASU because of its interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial culture: "I knew that ASU had a reputation for innovative research and teaching and was impressed by the kind of scholarship, projects and programmatic initiatives that the university has fostered." Download Full Image

This spring, Morelli is earning her PhD in English with a concentration in writing, rhetorics and literacies. Her dissertation shares findings from a yearlong investigation of the practices and beliefs of five health navigators working in a local pediatrics clinic.

According to the American Medical Association, a health navigator or patient advocate is “someone whose primary responsibility is to provide personalized guidance to patients as they move through the health care system.” Studies show that such advocates are of great benefit in improving patient care, especially for members of typically marginalized groups.  

The clinic where Morelli did her observations serves large numbers of refugee families experiencing a range of health care challenges — a setting certainly appropriate for a navigator to work.

Morelli’s research demonstrates that collaboration, creativity and cultural sensitivity can go far in enhancing and improving navigator effectiveness. Her findings also show the value of interdisciplinary and cross-institutional research and in combining the different methodologies employed in the social sciences and the critical humanities.

Morelli’s academic advisers laud her rigorous and unique approach to exploring health advocacy in a fraught political climate.

“[Her] research agenda,” said Doris Warriner, an associate professor of English and Morelli’s dissertation chair, “serves as a timely and impactful contribution to scholarship that investigates and responds to locally relevant priorities in spite of the constraints of the historical moment.”

Morelli has been invited to speak on her innovative approaches to inquiry in graduate seminars at ASU and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She is also a talented and devoted instructor of first-year composition (including to multilingual writers), professional/business writing, and a core course for the undergraduate concentration in writing, rhetorics and literacies.

The spring 2018 graduate sat down with us to discuss her journey to ASU and what changes she will navigate next.

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

Answer: I’m not really sure when the “aha” moment was. I know that I never would have pursued this degree or my master’s if I did not encounter faculty in my fields that encouraged me to do so and made me feel like I could. But I know there was an “aha” moment when I realized or started to consider myself as a potential researcher and scholar.

It was my first year in the doctoral program at ASU, and I was still a bit uncertain about my decision to pursue this degree. I started thinking I should have kept teaching writing at my prior university. But then I was offered a position as a research assistant on a very exciting project that ended up shaping my research agenda and dissertation project. It was this experience, which involved working closely with faculty in my fields of study and the local community, that encouraged me to get excited about research and the possibility of being a teacher and scholar.

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

A: When I moved here I really didn’t know what to expect, but coming from the Northeast I was curious. I wondered how I would navigate the politics of this state and university. I wondered what it would be like to live close to the U.S.-Mexico border and what kinds of lives people were living here. To my surprise, it was not as difficult or jarring as I had thought it would be. Moving out here alone certainly wasn’t easy and it took time to get used to being here, but I don’t regret the decision. Five years later, I can say that living in the desert, living in Phoenix and near the border has been a valuable learning experience on so many levels and one that has helped me to grow as an individual, educator and scholar.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: There are a number of reasons I decided to go with ASU to pursue my doctoral degree. First, I wanted a change in environment. I spent most of my life living in various states in the northeast U.S. and I really wanted to step outside of my comfort zone personally, educationally and professionally. As a doctoral student in particular, I knew that ASU had a reputation for innovative research and teaching and was impressed by the kind of scholarship, projects and programmatic initiatives that the university has fostered as well as the potential for funding opportunities. As a teacher I was drawn to ASU because of the diverse student populations, majors and course offerings. There are so many directions students can take their education at ASU, and that was exciting to me.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans are to explore opportunities within and outside of academia. This will include applying for tenure-track assistant professor positions this coming fall as well as seeking out research and writing opportunities within the field of health care and education. In general, I hope to continue to teach and pursue a research agenda that will yield community-based advocacy and publishable findings.

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

A: There are so many problems on our planet right now that it is difficult to respond to this question. And considering how complex these problems are it is also difficult to know how to even approach tackling them. One thing I would like to see is major policy reform within our health care system, particularly when it comes to health insurance and access to care. In an ideal world, everyone would have access to quality health care and I would like to figure out ways to work towards this ideal.

Doris Warriner contributed to this profile.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

senior marking & communications specialist, Department of English