Dual grad seeks to provide education to girls, women in conflict zones

May 8, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Rachel Fletcher believes that, if you have privilege, you have an obligation to use it to help others.  ASU student after defending thesis Rachel Fletcher said that she has always known she wanted to help children and that in high school she was naturally drawn to social sciences. “For a long time, though, I was unsure of how to combine my interests,” she said. “I started to realize my passion for international education when I began working at ASU International Development.” Photo courtesy of Rachel Fletcher Download Full Image

“Everyone deserves to have the educational opportunities that I have had, yet not everyone does,” said Fletcher, a soon-to-be dual graduate studying political science and anthropology in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University. “This is especially true in the world’s most vulnerable settings, where educational disparities are most stark. Because of this, I am incredibly passionate about building access to international education for girls and women in conflict zones.”

Fletcher said that she has always known she wanted to help children and that in high school she was naturally drawn to social sciences.

“For a long time, though, I was unsure of how to combine my interests,” she said. “I started to realize my passion for international education when I began working at ASU International Development.”

ASU International Development is the university’s platform for providing private-sector businesses and nonprofits around the world with ASU’s academic resources.

“I was placed on a project where I accompanied officials from five Malawian universities to Washington, D.C., and had the chance to discuss education challenges in Malawi and potential solutions,” Fletcher said. “I became so enthralled — it just clicked: This is what I want my career to be.”

Fletcher answered some questions about her time at Arizona State University.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: As an in-state student, ASU was incredibly accessible due to the vast number of scholarships offered. ASU also has strong political science and anthropology departments, so I knew I would receive a strong education at ASU. I also knew that the ASU urban environment would allow me to engage firsthand with the issues that I am passionate about, including refugee rights, international policy and religious studies. For example, did you know that Arizona is one of the top 10 U.S. states resettling refugees?

Q: How has The College prepared you for success?

A: I am incredibly lucky because both of my majors, political science and anthropology, are in The College. Because of this, I have had access to so many opportunities outside of the traditional classroom. I have been able to conduct research at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, the Center on the Future of War, and I completed a research project as a junior fellow at the School of Politics and Global Studies. Through The College, I have also had access to incredible internships at the United States Congress, on a congressional campaign, and at a nonprofit dedicated to eradicating child trafficking in Winneba, Ghana, to name a few.

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

A: I can’t pick just one! I owe a great deal of gratitude to Dr. Souad Ali, Dr. Henry Thomson, Dr. Jeffrey Kubiak and Dr. Daniel Rothenberg for always supporting me and providing me with opportunities. I will say that I think Dr. Ali, as my research mentor for so much of my time at ASU and thesis adviser, has been my biggest champion throughout my studies. She always tells me two things: “Cite your sources and don’t get a boyfriend until after graduating.” Take that for what you will.

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

A: I used to think that I wanted to run for office due to my interest in policy. Then, I worked in a congressional office and on the campaign trail and realized running for office is not my calling and not the most effective way for me, personally, to positively influence and create policy change. Instead, I realized I am drawn to grassroots advocacy and direct engagement with the people I seek to serve. For me, learning what I didn’t want to do was just as significant as learning what I did want to do.

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

A: Surround yourself with individuals who motivate you. There have been countless times where I’ve felt defeated or stressed and my friends have helped me snap out of it. That’s because they are incredibly supportive, but also because they are doing incredible things that inspire me daily.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am going to take a year off to continue working at ASU International Development. I want to spend the time learning more about the subtleties of international education and the different challenges in the field. After my year off, I hope to go to graduate school for a joint JD/ master’s degree in international education.

Christopher Clements

Marketing Assistant, The College Of Liberal Arts and Sciences

ASU grad student earns fellowship from National Science Foundation

May 10, 2020

John Vant, a graduate student at Arizona State University’s School of Molecular Sciences and the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Applied Structural Discovery, was recently awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the LeRoy Eyring Memorial Fellowship.

That's even more impressive considering Vant said that attending graduate school was, for him, “a low probability phenomenon” and “not for kids like me.” John Vant Doctoral student John Vant from the School of Molecular Sciences and the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Applied Structural Discovery. Download Full Image

Growing up, Vant always had a passion for investigation, which was often simply interpreted by teachers as “disruptive” behavior, leading to separation from the rest of the class. Ultimately John says he owes a great deal of gratitude to his family and mentors for helping him realize his potential.

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. NSF fellows typically become globally engaged knowledge experts and leaders who contribute significantly to research, education and innovations in science and engineering. Fellows are selected by a national competition from a pool of 12,000-16,000 applicants from across the United States and its territories. Success rates for NSF-GRFP applicants range from about 12.5%-16.5% over the last five years. 

As the oldest graduate fellowship of its kind, the GRFP has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success in their future academic and professional careers. The reputation of the GRFP follows recipients and often helps them become lifelong leaders who contribute significantly to both scientific innovation and teaching. Past fellows include numerous Nobel Prize winners, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google founder Sergey Brin and "Freakonomics" co-author Steven Levitt.

The LeRoy Eyring Memorial Fellowship is named after LeRoy Eyring, an ASU Regents Professor of chemistry and department chair whose instructional and research accomplishments and professional leadership at ASU helped to bring the department of chemistry and biochemistry into international prominence.

“John is an excellent student and a great colleague," said Assistant Professor Abhishek Singharoy, Vant’s doctoral adviser. "His work integrates novel method developments in protein biophysics with state-of-the-art applications in bioenergy. His growth reflects very strongly on the intellectual credibility that (the School of Molecular Sciences) and ASU have achieved!”

Vant’s research focuses on discovering the molecular underpinnings of biological behavior. He does this by utilizing molecular dynamics simulations as a computational microscope, which helps him probe the nature of protein dynamics.

"I am tremendously honored to receive these awards and I believe this is a reflection of the strong academic environment cultivated by the School of Molecular Sciences," said Vant.

On top of his awards Vant also recently published online a first author paper (his first) in the Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling titled "Flexible Fitting of Small Molecules into Electron Microscopy Maps using Molecular Dynamics Simulations with Neural Network Potentials."

This work seeks to complement cryo-electron microscopy (EM) efforts for use as a drug-discovery tool. Vant, Singharoy and their colleagues have built a computational pipeline which combines high-level quantum chemistry calculations and flexible fitting protocols to resolve protein-ligand coordinations. The pipeline was found to improve quality metrics of published protein-ligand structures for three unique examples. 

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences