ASU grad seeks to be a future change maker

School of Molecular Sciences undergraduate Katja Klosterman.


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

When New Mexico native and Barrett, The Honors College undergraduate Katja Klosterman enrolled at Arizona State University three years ago she wasn’t so sure she had made the right choice.

In high school, Klosterman took AP chemistry during her sophomore year and remembered absolutely hating it because she just could not understand it. She remembers wanting to understand everything about chemistry, and specifically the chemistry of human life, but being so frustrated that she just could not get it. Out of spite she chose biochemistry as her major when she enrolled at ASU, trying to prove to herself that she could understand it if she really applied herself.

Klosterman was accepted into the Next Generation Service Corps (NGSC) program, a first of its kind, four-year leadership development program that trains students from all majors to address these challenges. Students develop interdisciplinary networks and experience firsthand how collaboration among the public, private, nonprofit and military sectors can create meaningful change locally and globally. Through the Next Generation Service Corps program Klosterman received a scholarship towards her tuition.

While this is not a degree program, the NGSC provides a critical and marketable skillset that allows students to become transformational leaders in their fields and beyond.

“Through ASU, I was able to immerse myself in many different experiences that I don’t think I could have gotten any place else,” Klosterman said. “Participating in this leadership development program, I learned the skills needed to face complex challenges that affect the world through a cross-sector, collaborative viewpoint, which I think will translate well into my future career in medicine.”

Prior to taking chemistry with Professor Ian Gould, Klosterman said she always found herself questioning her abilities in chemistry, and often thought that she wasn’t good enough to succeed. In Gould’s class he taught her that with enough hard work, and some guidance, anything is possible.

“Katja was a wonderful student in my class, full of energy and full of questions,” said Gould, President's Professor in the School of Molecular Sciences. “She is going to make ASU look good!”

During her time here, Klosterman took advantage of the opportunities ASU offered and immersed herself in student life. A few of the activities she became a part of include clinical research at the Mayo Clinic Translational Neuroscience and Aging Laboratory, publishing a research paper in Scientific Reports, and was part of several student leadership organizations including co-founding Devils Spark Change at ASU, training students to become catalysts for change through interactive and inclusive alternative break trips during fall breaks and spring breaks through volunteering across different communities.

“ASU made me realize that it is not about the grades you had or things you did during your time there, but it’s about the memories you made and the lives you touched while you were there,” said Klosterman, who will be earning a Bachelor’s of Science in biochemistry and a certificate in cross-sector leadership in December 2019.

Question: How has your scholarship impacted your education at ASU?

Answer: The Next Generation Service Corps Scholarship allowed me to get the education that I got at ASU. Without this scholarship, I would have never been able to afford to come to a school with as many opportunities at ASU. I can honestly say that the NGSC changed the entire course of my life by taking a chance on me and allowing me to pursue an education here at ASU. There are so many complex health disparities around the world, and I hope that one day I am a future change maker in them.

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

A: I learned my love for chemistry during organic chemistry, and that love grew as I entered into biochemistry and physical chemistry my junior year.  These classes, in combination with other research experiences, really made me realize that I chose correctly as I was constantly wanting to know more. I think that’s a good sign you’re in the right field.

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

A: During my time at ASU, I learned how to be compassionate. I think it’s really easy for us to become so bogged down by every exam and assignment due, especially when we’ve got high expectations for ourselves. It’s easy to become so absorbed into this idea that your grades depict your worth. I used to believe this for so long, until one day I was walking back from a physical chemistry exam that I was sure ruined my grade, until I just looked up and realized how many people were around me — and how many people also could have felt like this. ASU has so many passionate people, that it always calmed me to be surrounded by all these other students with different life experiences. It really reestablished to me that you never know what someone is going through, or where they are coming from. ASU made me realize that it is not about the grades you had or things you did during your time there, but it’s about the memories you made and the lives you touched while you were there. Just be kind to others.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Growing up in the same place my entire life, I really needed a change of pace and scenery to challenge myself to grow throughout college. I had the opportunity to come to ASU through the Next Generation Service Corps, and I am so grateful for this opportunity. I never quite understood the opportunities that ASU could generate, but after spending three years here, I am confident I made the right decision. ASU is full of passionate individuals that will inspire you to keep challenging yourself.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. Gould. His class honestly changed my life. It made me gain confidence in my abilities that allowed me to do the things that I’ve always wanted to do. His passion for teaching was inspirational, and for a while it made me consider if I wanted to become a professor so that I could become a professor as passionate as him.

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

A: Try to go out of your comfort zone at least once a day. I know it can get scary to do things that make you uncomfortable, but that’s the only way for growth, and eventually the things that used to make you uncomfortable will no longer make you uncomfortable. Whether it be raising your hand to ask a question in front of the entire class, or applying for a job that you think is out of your league, you’d be surprised how much you grow by just doing things.

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

A: When it’s colder outside, I loved sitting outside on the balcony of the Student Pavilion, but I also love the open space design of Armstrong Hall.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on working at Los Alamos National Laboratory researching a rapid and affordable diagnostic tool for bacterial infections that can be utilized in countries around the world. In June, I will be applying to medical schools to pursue an MD.

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

A: That’s difficult. I’d say access to clean water. Clean water is a necessity and is fundamental to life and escaping the cycle of poverty. I wish $40 million was enough for that, but I think we could find a way to use that money as a catalyst to inspire others to give towards clean water, creating an endless cycle of giving.

More Science and technology


Graphic illustration of daphnia, a form of zooplankton.

Study challenges traditional views of evolution

In new research, Arizona State University scientists and their colleagues investigated genetic changes occurring in a naturally…

A silver and maroon hard hat on a flat ASU maroon background

Democratizing AI in higher education

Editor's note: This expert Q&A is part of our “AI is everywhere ... now what?” special project exploring the potential (and…

Portrait of Hannah Kerner

Work with AI leads to advances in food security

Editor's note: This expert Q&A is part of our “AI is everywhere ... now what?” special project exploring the potential (and…