6 Barrett students win Mensch Prize for honors thesis work


Six students in Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona University have been awarded the Mensch Prize for their honors thesis work that embodies the theory of embedded intelligence and creates value in the world around them.

2021 is the first year for the prize, given by the Bill and Dianne Mensch Foundation, Inc., which provides $1,000 each to six Barrett students who complete their thesis on a topic in one of these areas:

  • Engineering and Applied Science.
  • Social Sciences.
  • Humanities.
  • Physical Sciences.
  • Biological Sciences.
  • Fine and Performing Arts. 

According to the Mensch Foundation, embedded intelligence (EI) is fundamental for understanding the world around us. EI empowers people to use knowledge and to connect their learnings to new ideas and innovations. EI is characterized as the ability to sense, process what has been sensed, communicate internally and externally, and actuate that which is beneficial for survival. 

Honors theses are the products of the students’ and the university’s embedded intelligence because they produce new knowledge, business ideas, and creative designs that ultimately enhance the world through hundreds of different disciplines, said Bill Mensch, whose foundation provided the awards. 

In a recent virtual meeting with the Mensch Prize winners, Mensch said, “You six recipients are choosing how to create more value with your time here on earth by using your embedded intelligence.” 

Here are the 2021 Mensch Prize recipients: 

Ethan Duncan

Ethan Duncan
Mensch Prize for Physical Science

Thesis: "Isotopic Analysis of Nova Stardust Grains"

Duncan is a senior double-majoring in earth and space exploration (astrophysics) and physics.

His thesis developed a novel method using a tool called the Focused Ion Beam to isolate stardust grains in meteorites for further isotope analysis. 

Duncan said he met Bill and Dianne Mensch and learned about embedded intelligence before applying for the award. He thought his thesis fits nicely with the theory of EI and decided to apply. 

“Financial assistance was definitely a significant bright side of this award, but the more significant impact in my life is using and framing my research in this embedded intelligence framework which will ultimately help bring my research to the next level,” said Duncan, whose post-baccalaureate goal is to get a Ph.D. in astronomy or astrophysics and pursue research of small planetary bodies within the solar system. 

Samantha Castro

Samantha Castro
Mensch Prize for Biological Sciences

Thesis: "The Individual Contribution to Cooperative Transport in the ant Novomessor albisetosus"

Castro is a senior studying biological sciences. 

“I feel so honored to have received the Mensch Prize because it addresses the importance of my research in relation to embedded intelligence. When I read about the Mensch Prize and on the theory of embedded intelligence, I learned that embedded intelligence exists in all things from the smallest molecule to a slice of pizza,” she said. 

“Therefore, I knew that my research in animal behavior played a large role in this theory because it involves how animals think and assemble themselves into high performing systems that are robust to individual failure.”

Castro’s goal is to get accepted into a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner program. 

Katy Anderson

Katy Anderson
Mensch Prize for Fine and Performing Arts

Thesis (novel title): "An Ocean of Stars," a 300-page fantasy fiction novel, exploring the basic needs of humankind, and what it means to belong somewhere. 

Anderson is a senior majoring in journalism and mass communication with a minor in digital audiences and a creative writing certificate. 

“Receiving the Mensch Prize is such an honor. Not only was it amazing to receive funds to go toward my academics, it was amazing to be recognized for the work I completed for my creative project. I opened the email notifying me that I had been chosen as a recipient and danced around my kitchen,” she said.

Anderson said she would love to have her novel published and see it on the shelves of popular book stores like Barnes and Noble. 

“This prize helped me in two ways: it freed me up financially to be able to invest into my future, and it gave me the confidence I needed to believe in the work I had completed. Others saw value in my novel, which boosted the value I see in it, too,” she said.

Jake Dean

Jake Dean
Mensch Prize for Humanities

Thesis: "Close Encounters of the First Kind: On Cultural Representations of Extraterrestrials, First Contact, & the Mythology of the Alien Other"

Dean is a senior majoring in anthropology and Earth and space exploration (astrobiology and biogeosciences). 

“I am very humbled to win the Mensch Prize and to have my thesis recognized after all the hard work I put into my project. It is always a proud accomplishment to have your efforts recognized by such distinguished members of the ASU community,” he said.

Dean’s goal is to become a professor of political ecology and sociocultural anthropology. 

Keegan Smith

“In this role, I hope to conduct research into resource management and the politico-cultural influences on environmental stewardship of the US-Mexico borderlands; through this work I hope to empower community input and local ecological knowledge in political and sustainable decision-making,” he said.

“Winning the Mensch Prize gives me confidence that I can succeed in this academic space at a high-level moving forward, and I appreciate the opportunity to publish a thesis provided to Barrett students for the very same reason.”

Keegan Smith
Mensch Prize for Social Sciences

Thesis: "How Title I Schools Encourage Graduation: Graduation Rates in Title I Schools and Programs Offered"

Smith is a senior majoring in mechanical engineering with a minor in sociology. 

His research focused on educational programs and other variables at Title I schools that may affect graduation rates. 

Julia Zimmerman

Julia Zimmerman
Mensch Prize for Engineering and Applied Science

Thesis: "Non-Mechanical Solar Water Heater for Existing Swimming Pool"

Zimmerman researched the efficacy of solar energy as a power source for thermal applications and motivators for widespread solar energy harnessing and use.  

March 18 is Sun Devil Giving Day, a 24-hour fundraising event at ASU. Learn how you can help support Barrett, The Honors College students on Sun Devil Giving Day.

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