Mother of 3, Spanish lit grad named Dean’s Medal recipient

April 17, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Spanish Professor Cynthia Tompkins knew there was something special about Rachel Hill when Hill brought her newborn son, just 4 days old, to class so that she could present the summary of her final paper. Rachel Hill, wearing a gray sweater and vivid pink lipstick, sits next to the right of her husband. They are each holding one of their children on their laps, and a third sits on the floor in front of them. They are posing for a family portrait. Rachel Hill, shown here with her family, was recently named a Dean's Medalist for the School of International Letters and Cultures. Photo courtesy of Rachel Hill Download Full Image

Hill earned an A+ in that class, Latin American Film, and has gone on to receive several other honors, such as receiving the Quino Martinez Scholarship and being named a CLAS Leader. Most recently, she was named a Dean’s Medalist for Arizona State University's School of International Letters and Cultures, an award Tompkins nominated her for.

“Rachel is a born leader who is adamant about social justice,” Tompkins wrote in her nomination. “She has the stamina and the talent to do well in the academic career of her choice.”

After that class, Hill consistently brought her infant son with her to campus, something she regards as her best memory of her time at ASU and something she said she was lucky to be able to do. Hill is a nontraditional student and mother of three children: a 7-year-old, a 4-year-old, and that baby Sun Devil who accompanied her to class, who is now 2.

Hill said receiving the Dean’s Medal “felt pretty surreal.”

“I have my school life, but I’m also a mom and a wife,” Hill said. “My kids are not impressed by my academic achievements yet, so it was validating to know that the support system I have and everyone who has helped me along the way saw my success, and that was represented in getting the medal.”

Hill is enrolled in the 4+1 program for Spanish, focusing on literature and culture. She will graduate in May with her bachelor’s degree and complete her master’s degree next spring. After that she hopes to do local or international outreach with underserved populations. A dream would be to move to Argentina and raise her children there to give them a unique experience, but big plans like that will depend on her husband, who is currently attending community college and plans to transfer to ASU.

Hill’s sister recently graduated from ASU, and her mother and grandfather taught here, so the foundation is in place for a Sun Devil family. She said it’s “highly possible” her own kids could attend ASU someday, though that’s many years in the future still.

“I’m looking forward to finishing my master’s degree and I’m so grateful to have been a student at ASU,” Hill said. “ASU has been in my life even before I was born, so it was just really special to finish my education there.”

Kimberly Koerth

Content Writer, School of International Letters and Cultures

Analyzing data brings opportunity for mechanical engineering student

April 17, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Clive Matsika, a mechanical engineering major in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, was one of five students globally to be awarded a Facebook National Society of Black Engineers Analytics Scholarship to attend NSBE’s 45th annual convention in Detroit. Mechanical engineering major Clive Matsika (right) had the opportunity to work with Dan Zigmond, director of analytics for Instagram, at the 2019 National Society of Black Engineers convention in Detroit thanks to a scholarship awarded by Facebook. Photo courtesy of Clive Matsika Download Full Image

Matsika didn’t just attend the convention while in Detroit, he received an invitation to a private event with Facebook’s data analytics team. Dan Zigmond, the director of analytics for Instagram — which is owned by Facebook — served as Matsika’s mentor during the event.

“My hope was to maximize my time with Dan and his team,” Matsika said. “Through working with him, I learned more about a day in the life of a data engineer/scientist and about analytics opportunities at Facebook and beyond, especially for those who are coming from a non-computer science background.”

Matsika says that he is very thankful for the opportunity to attend the conference and work directly with analytics professionals.

“I could not believe it because they were only looking for five individuals from the entire world,” he said. “With my mechanical engineering degree, which in the eyes of many is perceived to have nothing to do with data analytics, I was really surprised and excited at the same time.”

Matsika received congratulatory messages from around the world, which helped him to realize how significant it was to receive the scholarship. Now Matsika has his sights set on something even bigger.

“It’s the first step toward getting that Nobel Prize. I know the prize has my name on it and it is just a matter of time before I collect it.”

Growing up in Zimbabwe

Matsika’s big dreams began when he was growing up in Zimbabwe, where he says every parent wants their child to become a lawyer, engineer, medical doctor or accountant. However, Matsika had difficulty choosing just one profession. 

In eighth grade, he told his parents that he wanted to become an engineer and a part-time accountant after getting his first exposure to the art of systematic financial recordkeeping from his mother’s old accounting textbooks. Together with his mom, who he called an “accounting guru,” Matsika studied an entire textbook in less than three months.

“I loved how this knowledge tallied with what I learned from my math classes,” Matsika said. “I began to love both science and business, and after some time, I realized that science and business complement each other. I found what is common to both is data analytics, which in turn made me love both fields.”

man's portrait

Data analytics as a mechanical engineer at ASU

Finding commonality between two areas he enjoyed helped Matsika decide on a major: mechanical engineering.  

“A lot of people think that mechanical engineering is all about building, creating, designing and testing mechanical devices, but it is definitely more than that,” Matsika said. “If it was not for mechanical engineering, I would not have been exposed to the numerous lab sessions and relevant classes I’ve had here at ASU.”

Matsika believes his mechanical engineering skills helped to set him apart from those who studied more analytical majors and may even have played a role in why he was selected for the Facebook NSBE Analytics Scholarship.

“In my endeavors, I am not trying to compete with mathematicians, statisticians and data scientists who may have been taught advanced analytics through their majors,” he said. “I simply use what I already know from mechanical engineering as my competitive advantage in analytics.”

Analytics at ASU

Matsika found ways to share his passion for data analytics through several jobs and activities on campus, including working as a section leader for ASU 101 and a teaching assistant for FSE 100, both introductory courses for new students. He also worked as a tutor at the Office of Student-Athlete Development, helping ASU student athletes boost their academic performances in engineering and statistics.

These roles required him to work with large data sets and solve complex problems, but by his junior year, Matsika wanted more of a challenge.

He joined the lab of Professor Hanqing Jiang, a mechanical and aerospace engineering faculty member in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy.

“Mentored by Dr. Jiang and working alongside other students, I created an organogel that serves as a lithium ion battery separator,” Matsika said. “The project itself involved measuring a lot of data and analyzing it — for instance, how to come up with ion conductivity from a battery cell that I would have made from scratch.”

The result, a battery separator with high ion conductivity, became Matsika’s Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative project. The project also became the basis of his thesis for Barrett, The Honors College.

“I loved this research opportunity as it simultaneously fed my innate interests in both engineering and data analytics,” Matsika said. 

two people talking at poster session

Clive Matsika presented his organogel research project at the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative Fall 2018 Symposium. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU

Not content to work on just one research project, Matsika joined the research group of Patrick Phelan, assistant dean of graduate programs in the Fulton Schools and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering. From there, he was hired to work in the Industrial Assessment Center (IAC) at ASU.

Through the IAC, Matsika conducted site visits to engineering firms and provided evaluations of manufacturing and industrial facilities to reduce costs by increasing energy efficiency, improving productivity and decreasing waste using industrial data. He was “able to see the importance of data analytics to every firm that we interact with.”

Matsika’s time as an undergrad at ASU will be coming to an end in May, but he will continue to find ways to use data to make a difference.

“My graduation is a few weeks away,” Matsika said. “I hope to seize more opportunities and really think of the long-term plans of how I can use analytics to make this world a better place.”

Erik Wirtanen

Web content comm administrator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering