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Hundreds of students receive prestigious fellowships through Graduate College initiatives

Event celebrates the excellence of ASU's graduate community


Sethuraman "Panch" Panchanathan addresses attendees at the Graduate College's Celebrating Excellence event on March 21. Photo by Anikka Abbott

March 29, 2019

“The engine of research. That’s what actually drives this institution to excellence,” said Sethuraman "Panch" Panchanathan, executive vice president of ASU Knowledge Enterprise, while commending Arizona State University graduate, doctoral and postdoctoral students for their work at Celebrating Excellence on March 21.

Celebrating Excellence is a luncheon hosted by the Graduate College recognizing graduate student recipients of fellowships and scholarships. In a room packed with 100 people, more than half received funding associated with both internal and external awards programs in the Graduate College, including Ford Foundation, Fulbright, National Science Foundation and Graduate College sponsored awards.

In total, almost 500 students received these scholarships, fellowships and awards for the 2018–2019 school year.

Graduate College funding recipient Tari Wager expressed gratitude for the Graduate College’s help in getting her award.

“On top of working and being newly married, and other things going on, it was just peace of mind,” she said.

Wager is finishing her master’s degree in the sustainability solutions program. With an undergraduate degree in interior design, she plans to bring sustainability into architecture and design.

Other recipients also shared how the Graduate College’s awards programs help them to focus on their studies exclusively, instead of dividing their lives between a day job and their research, allowing them to maximize their innovation and creativity.

Stephen Schaefer, an Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) recipient, is a third-year electrical engineering PhD student, researching semiconductor materials operating the mid- and long-wave infrared.

Schafer’s goals are to “grow, characterize and understand the physics of the materials that form the core of technology,” like biomedical imaging devices, vehicle and missile guidance, and greenhouse gas spectroscopy.

Students like Wager and Schaefer help foster ASU’s reputation as the No. 1 school in the U.S. for innovation.

Panchanathan considers ASU’s success in research and innovation to be its highest responsibility.

“We are causing significant impact, positive impact in terms of what we do regionally, nationally and globally,” he said.

If researchers at ASU don’t anticipate a societal problem like water shortage or energy use before it begins, Panchanathan said, “the blame squarely should fall on Arizona State University.”

The university has quintupled its research performance in the past 10 years, reaching over $600 million in total research expenditures in 2018.

Panchanathan credited the Graduate College’s dean, Alfredo Artiles, with much success in carrying out a new vision for the future of graduate education through universitywide initiatives administered by the Graduate College.

One example is the new Office of Distinguished Graduate Fellowships. The office supports all units throughout the university to increase the number of impressive awards, fellowships and positions held by ASU researchers and professionals, including graduate students, postdocs and even faculty.

The office aims to increase ASU’s representation within well-established fellowships and awards, like the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships Program or the Ford Foundation Fellowships. New Ford Fellows and NSF Graduate Research Fellows were present at the celebratory event.

The office also partners with external entities to create a new distinguished fellowship program for ASU graduate students where a gap exists, such as the partnership with the U.S. Department of Military Science to create the ASU/Army Master's Degree Fellowship Program. This new fellowship program is specific to ASU master's students in any field of study, and it provides a fully funded master's degree, including a stipend to live on. 

Additionally, the Office of Distinguished Graduate Fellowships works with an external sponsor to place ASU researchers in positions of influence in Washington, D.C. An example is the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships Initiative. Many of the students, postdocs and faculty who benefitted from Artiles’ new Distinguished Graduate Fellowships initiative were present at the event.

At Celebrating Excellence, students were asked to share "impact" words describing their research, funding or time at ASU. Words included "life-changing," "progress," "empowering," "interdisciplinary" and — mirroring Panchanathan's speech — "responsibility."

This year’s event punctuated a special moment for the Graduate College, which just reached its 80th year of operation.

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