Microbiology graduate to pursue advanced degree in bioterrorism and biodefense

December 6, 2019

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

When Megan Davis of Phoenix transferred to Arizona State University, she knew she wanted to change her major. But what she didn’t expect was to find a degree she’s certain will support any professional direction she pursues. Megan Davis is graduating from ASU with a BS in microbiology Megan Davis is graduating from the ASU School of Life Sciences with a Bachelor of Science in microbiology. She will pursue an advanced degree in biotechnology with a specialization in bioterrorism and biodefense. Photo courtesy Megan Davis Download Full Image

Davis discovered her passion for microbiology after taking her first course. Her professor’s enthusiasm for the field was contagious, and it was then she realized she had found the right field. She was determined to pursue her specific research interests and accomplished her goal by networking and creating her own internship opportunity with a local crime lab.

Davis said ASU has provided her with exactly the learning opportunities she hoped for.

“I chose ASU because I wanted to attend a college known for its research and innovation in science,” said Davis. “The vastness of degrees in the School of Life Sciences alone was extremely appealing to me. ASU provides so many outlets for making this dream come true, that I wouldn’t have thought of going anywhere else.”

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

Answer: After doing research and making the switch I soon discovered this degree can have incredibly vast world applications; everything from food and water regulation services to working with NASA, to the developing field of bioterrorism defense. The freedom of it all seemed incredible. My spark of interest was brought to life during the first microbiology course where I saw how passionate my professor, Cheryl Nickerson, was while she taught. She is one of the scientists whose research regularly gets launched on NASA’s spaceflights, which is fascinating to me. It showed me a wide range of what is possible, and this was the moment I realized I wanted to run with this degree. 

Q: What is your greatest accomplishment during your college career?

A: My greatest accomplishment during my college career was getting to work in the Arizona Department of Public Safety scientific analysis bureau crime lab for my internship, performing research in controlled substances and getting to present my research to the head member of each department. This research involved testing drug detection limits with spectroscopy instruments for officers in the field and forensic scientists in the laboratory. This was something I never realized I could do until I pursued the idea. I became proactive in my own search for an internship, networked with people, and made connections that allowed me to get the position even when the applications were publicly closed.

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

A: One of the most surprising things I learned while at ASU was in my MIC 494 Host-Microbe Interaction course. I realized that just because something is published in a scientific journal, even one that’s well known, doesn’t always mean the information is correct. This might seem like an odd revelation, but it meant many things for me. First, it took away a layer of reliability placed on others. As young undergraduate students, I think many of us believe, “If it’s in the literature it’s fact,” but scientific findings don’t typically end in fact. This is why theories are developed. Learning this helped me understand that to come to my own conclusions I must critically study the way research is done even if it means meticulously analyzing methods. Once I realized this it allowed me to feel empowered to do research of my own and helped me understand the world of scientific literature much better.

Q: What is one of your favorite memories while attending ASU?

A: Some of my favorite memories while attending ASU were getting to work in the Biodesign Institute, touring the Vivarium and finding friends in my major. These facilities were fascinating to see research in action and opened my eyes to the intricacies of what can be done in master’s programs. As for making friends, I feel like there aren’t many students majoring in microbiology so finding friends in my major provides such a great support system. Also, we get to make nerdy bacteria jokes to each other. 

Q: What were one or two of your challenges while attending college, and how did you overcome them?

A: Two of my biggest challenges in college were trying to motivate myself and to eat on a normal time schedule. In order to overcome this, I found inspiration in others by reading about people with jobs that sounded like something I would be passionate about. This gave me something to work towards if I needed to realign myself with my goals. Sometimes I get so caught up in work that I eat late in the day so to combat this I set timers on my phone for lunch and dinner and make sure to eat even if I don’t feel hungry at the moment. I definitely thanked myself later for it!

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

A: I think one of the most important lessons I learned while at ASU was during an elective course called Outdoor Survival. My professor, Scott Kozakiewicz, always said, “Life is full of assets and liabilities. It is up to you how you deal with them, and how you turn those liabilities into assets.” It makes sense for outdoor survival, but I find that it’s also applicable to so many other life aspects. Things that might seem like failures can develop your character and provide you with wisdom for your next approach in future endeavors. 

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

A: The best advice I can give to those still in school who don’t know exactly what they want to do is to get into their fields of interest! For me, I was interested in many and in order to determine what I wanted to do before graduating, I tested the waters in each area of interest. This can be done by getting a job, interning and/or volunteering in those fields. It’s a bonus if you can get those experiences to count for credit, too. For example, I was interested in the veterinary medicine field for a while and decided to work at an animal hospital for a few months as a result. I was also interested in forensics and so I interned in a crime lab. The real-world experiences are so incredibly valuable, even if the fields you explore aren’t where you end up, they still look great on a resume and help you personally learn so much.

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

A: In Tempe, I like to sit under the trees in the grassy area next to Hayden Library during good weather, but for studying, getting work done, and meeting friends I prefer the space downstairs below the food court in the MU building. It has tables with outlets and lounge areas where you can play pool or ping-pong. It’s also conveniently right below all the restaurants, and the lunchtime bustle helps me focus when I study, as crazy as it sounds! At the West campus, the library is hands-down the best place to go.

Q: What are your plans after graduation? 

A: After graduation, I plan to work on my master's in biotechnology with a specialization in bioterrorism and biodefense, while working at the Department of Public Safety, where I interned.

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

A: If I was awarded $40 million to solve a single problem, I think I would try to tackle sustainability issues to perform research on potential microbes that can combat the effects of microplastics on ecosystems. There has been a lot of new research on these topics and I would definitely love to get the opportunity to be a part of it.

Sandra Leander

Assistant Director of Media Relations, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


Far from home to realize freedom of speech and the American dream

Vietnamese student demonstrates that the right tools and opportunities lead to doing good while doing well

December 6, 2019

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

Arizona Western College in Yuma, Arizona, accepted a student from Saigon, Vietnam, in January 2015. Tuan Nguyen traveled alone to the small town. He didn't know anyone. Despite this, Nguyen chose the public community college for its affordability. Tuan Nguyen Download Full Image

Even though he'd studied abroad in Germany through a summer scholarship that he earned in high school, "the idea of living in a foreign country with no friends and family was then unrealistic," Nguyen said. "My mother thought differently; she was determined that I should study abroad."

Like many Asian countries, Vietnam's education system is rigorous. Even so, Nguyen always ranked first in his class.

Passing the high school entrance national exam with top scores, he got admitted to a prestigious Vietnam high school for the gifted. It's no wonder Nguyen transferred to Barrett, The Honors College in 2017 to major in supply chain management, thanks to winning an All-Arizona full-ride scholarship.

"I'm not one of the high school kids who can't wait to take their first supply chain management course. I had never heard of the term before attending college," Nguyen said.

He was hooked after entering his first Case competition during his first semester.

"My true 'aha' moment came when I learned about a principle in supply chain management that there are no bad people. There are only bad processes, and the role of supply chain professionals is to improve the processes for people to succeed," Nguyen explained.

Nguyen's English was cultivated by his love of reading and trips to the bookstore with his dad.

"I mended the gap by reading books," he said.

At ASU, Nguyen has volunteered in the Sunhacks student organization, International Night cultural festival, and the Vietnamese Student Union. He's stayed active in the Barrett Transfer Student Committee and InnovationSpace program.

He's entered four Case competitions, winning three and becoming a finalist in one, including Dell EMC, JDA Software, ON Semiconductor, and Cicso, respectively. The competition for ON Semiconductor led to a summer logistics internship.

Nguyen is graduating this semester with a degree in supply chain management and a certificate in business data analytics from the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“Neither getting good grades nor landing a high-paying job was my goal," Nguyen said. ”My goal was to realize my belief that everyone, given the right tools and the right opportunities, can thrive in their ways. Over the past four years, I strived to do just that and will continue doing so in my career.

Nguyen answered some questions from ASU Now:

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I was fortunate to be named in the All-Arizona Academic Team and receive a tuition waiver to any of the state universities in Arizona. I chose ASU because of its leading business program at W. P. Carey (School of Business) and the unique Barrett experience.

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

A: I've learned many lessons from many professors during my time at ASU that I will carry with me into my career. But Professor (Eddie) Davila taught me the most important lesson — his Cow Path Theory, which is about why we are content with the status quo. Without giving too much away, the key takeaway is don't be afraid to change.

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

A: First of all, you shouldn't listen to my advice; I am well-known for making bad choices, except for the time I chose ASU. Jokes aside, I strongly believe that college may very well be the best time of one's life, so I would encourage others to explore their passions, pursue them and not settle for anything less. Your life is a story, choose audacity over certainty.

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

A: Leaders Academy lounge! It's where I did my homework, worked on group projects with friends, and applied for jobs, got rejected, and got accepted; all sorts of things happened there. Free coffee during finals week is the icing on the cake.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be joining Microsoft as an operations program manager, overseeing end-to-end launches of Microsoft products and services.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem in the world, what would you tackle?

A: There are many problems we are facing that need to be resolved. But if I had to pick one in a heartbeat, I would choose education. In the U.S., not everyone has access to higher education. In other parts of the world, kids can't even go to school. If we truly believe that everyone has the right to the pursuit of happiness, then everyone has the right to education. With knowledge comes power — the power to change one's life and the lives of others.

Shay Moser

Managing Editor, W. P. Carey School of Business