Graduating chemistry student’s health resulted in passion for science, remarkable accomplishments

April 22, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Ellen Streitwieser’s interest in chemistry started out very personally, the result of an autoimmune disorder and metabolic failure. Ellen Streitwieser Ellen Streitwieser. Download Full Image

“After experiencing a profound dysfunction in my own body’s biochemical function, I found a driving curiosity to understand the ‘why’ of how my body works," Streitwieser said.

She transferred into ASU’s online biochemistry program, which allowed her to continue her education while on the road to recovery. Even after her health struggles resolved and faded, her passion for chemistry did not. In fact, through one class, computational chemistry and biochemistry, taught by Professor Abhishek Singharoy, Streitwieser discovered a love for computational research.

“I realized that there was research occurring at ASU that elegantly combined my varied interests in biochemistry, neuroscience, physics and computer science,” Streitwieser said. “Working with Dr. Singharoy has shown me a model for scientific inquiry that values a collaborative, team approach and has encouraged me to see my own potential as a scientist. His mentorship has fundamentally shaped the scientist I am today.”

Streitwieser also credits Ara Austin, director of the School of Molecular Science's online programs, for her mentorship and guidance.

“Dr. Austin was one of my organic chemistry professors and saw my potential at a time I hadn’t recognized it within myself. Over the past two years she has encouraged me to go after my goals and has been instrumental in my applying for internships, scholarships, tutoring positions, research opportunities and PhD programs.”

Streitwieser has developed into a young scientist whose talent is being recognized. She was the 2019–2020 recipient of the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry Undergraduate Award, the 2020 recipient of the School of Molecular Sciences Women in Science Scholarship, and also received a 2021 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program Honorable Mention.

This year, Streitwieser was honored as the recipient of the prestigious 2021 School of Molecular Sciences Dean’s Medal, recognizing her scholastic achievements.

“I am honored to have been selected for this award, especially as an online student and really feel it is the capstone achievement to my time at ASU,” said Streitwieser.

Helping others is important to Streitwieser. While at ASU she worked as a teaching assistant for organic chemistry and tutored in the online learning resource center. Being an online student and helping online students allowed her to see a need that she developed into a valuable resource. Together with other students, Streitwieser founded the IDEAS Student Society, a club for ASU Online science students to meet and connect with one another. Founded in 2019, the club now has over 700 members.

“Our weekly virtual events have kept me sane while completing my degree and applying to PhD programs,” Streitwieser said. “The friends I have found there will be with me for life.”

Pursuing a PhD in neuroscience is Streitwieser’s next step. With support and encouragement from professor Singharoy and others, Streitwieser was accepted into nine PhD programs, including Uuniversity of California, San Diego; Berkeley; Johns Hopkins; ASU; and the University of Washington, among others.

“In 2018, as an online student just starting at ASU, I never imagined I would one day be viewed as a competitive candidate at this level,” Streitwieser said. “I’m proud to say that after graduating from ASU with my bachelor’s in biochemistry, this fall I will be starting my PhD in neuroscience at the University of Washington.”

James Klemaszewski

Science writer, School of Molecular Sciences


Sociology grad receives award for her thesis on police funding

April 22, 2021

Ayesha Ahsan, a sociology student in Arizona State University's T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, was awarded the Barrett Honors Thesis SSFD 2020–21 Award for her outstanding work.

Her initial thesis topic was about the impact of immigration on the economic development and growth in Phoenix, but due to COVID-19, it was extremely difficult for her to collect the data she needed. Being inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and by her fascination of the calls to defund police departments across the country, she wanted to determine the impact of government funding toward policing on community safety. Illustration Artwork by Adam Maida Download Full Image

“With guidance from my thesis director, Dr. Kelvin Wong from the economics department, and my second reader, Jennifer Harrison from SSFD, I decided to structure my thesis as almost an 'Abolition 101' guide, in which I provided an in-depth discussion on abolitionist thought and theory, the history behind the movement to abolish police and prisons, and then the analysis that I conducted on police spending," Ahsan said. 

"I did this because I realize that many average citizens do not necessarily know what abolition means and tend to picture complete anarchy when activists call for defunding and eventually abolishing the police. This is not the goal of the Black Lives Matter and the abolition movement, so I felt it was essential to meet people where they are at and provide them all of the information they need in an accessible manner so that they can form their own opinions without the pressures of political parties and media outlets. I myself was not very familiar with abolition theory before starting this project and worked closely with Dr. Christine Holman from the justice studies department to learn more about the ideology.

Ayesha Ahsan

"For my economic analysis, I conducted a regression analysis to understand the relationship between expenditures on policing and crime rates in Phoenix, Tucson, Mesa and Chandler. The data collection for this portion was incredibly time-consuming and tedious. It required me to dig through hundreds of budget reports to find the exact numbers related to spending in precinct and patrol, community relations, professional standards and training for the police departments of each of the cities mentioned. With the data that I found and crime statistics for each of the cities that I pulled from an FBI database, I set up and ran a regression. Through this, I found no statistical significance to suggest that police spending reduces crime rates, which aligns with the argument that abolitionists make. Additionally, I found that public expenditures towards workforce training, housing and human services have much more impact in reducing crime rates than policing.”

 Harrison, a Barrett Honors faculty member, has had Ahsan in several of her sociology courses. She also served on her thesis committee, where Ahsan successfully and clearly articulated issues of institutional racism within policing and the prison-industrial complex while explaining how to potentially create positive change.

“I am beyond proud of the work and service that she has accomplished in her four years here at ASU," Harrison said. "Ayesha has consistently fought for herself and for others, and I have never had so much confidence in a student that she will continue to be a successful leader in the future.”

Ahsan found the thesis process to be incredibly transformative. Not only did she learn a great deal, but she feels her final product is capable of creating meaningful change.

“I feel incredibly honored to have received the Barrett Honors Thesis SSFD 2020–21 Award, especially considering the incredibly impressive theses that my peers worked on and submitted this year," Ahsan said. "This recognition gives me a sense of optimism as it indicates that many individuals are open to discussing this controversial issue. The selection committee undoubtedly held a wide range of views, but their ability to keep an open mind when reviewing my thesis shows me that dialogue and subsequent change are entirely possible. Ultimately, through this process, my commitment to the pursuit of racial justice is stronger than ever.”

Ahsan is graduating with dual degrees in sociology and economics this spring.

Shelley Linford

Marketing and Communications Manager, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics