Graduates fueled by ASU Biodesign research experiences credit opportunity, mentor trust
Typically, scientific laboratories at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University hum with the energy that students bring. In fact, the institute regularly engages hundreds of undergraduate and graduate researchers to perform hands-on work with mentors. Now, after spring 2021 commencement, many of these students are ready to embark on the next phase of their lives, and they credit their collaborative experiences and their mentors for shaping their career trajectories.
Use-inspired research around diagnostic innovation was an important part of Swarup Dey’s ASU journey. A graduate research assistant in the Biodesign Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics, Dey developed a system that mimics a protein in the body and can be developed and used for diagnostic purposes.
“My future goal is to be a professor and run my own biomimicry lab,” said Dey, who was recently offered a position as a postdoctoral candidate at Harvard Medical School. “I want to solve real-world problems, and I see this field as a very apt way to make a difference in human life.” He will be graduating in May with a doctorate from the ASU School of Molecular Sciences.
Transdisciplinary collaboration was central to much of Dey’s work at ASU. Portions of his research were brought to fruition when colleagues in other parts of the university were able to take his research and apply it to their own efforts. Dey’s research group, led by Hao Yan, has already filed two patents related to its novel concept, is in the process of starting a company called exoDigm Biosciences, and has received seed funding to support its efforts.
“Both Hao Yan and Rizal Hariadi encouraged me to be creative and do things on my own,” Dey said. “They care deeply about working together to solve real-world problems.”
Charles Marquardt has been involved in a wide range of research projects, including working for Karen Anderson in the Biodesign Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, studying immunology — specifically how T-cell therapies can be used to fight cancer. Marquardt is completing his Barrett Honors thesis on the techniques he used in the lab related to cell culture, PCR, cloning, transformations and transfections, and plasmid maxi-preps.
“The Biodesign Institute influenced my career path by making me realize I need to find a place where the entire team is dedicated to the project, whatever it may be,” said Marquardt. “It made me realize that if I put in 110%, I can inspire others to do the same thing.” His next move is to get a medical scribe job, take the MCAT and start applying to medical schools.
For Tal Sneh, who is earning his bachelor’s degrees in physics and biochemistry at ASU, mentoring and experiential learning have been key elements of his academic success. His interests are at the intersection of bioengineering and electrical engineering, and the research he conducted at ASU helped pave the way to his MIT graduate program acceptance.
“I would say my research interests align with the mission of Biodesign,” Sneh said. “A lot of synthetic biology work looks at how we can take beautiful things nature has designed for us and apply them toward medical use.”
Sneh also said Hariadi was an incredible mentor.
“The most important foundational element is that he really cared,” Sneh said. “He put no limits on what an undergrad could do. If you’re willing to take on the work, design experiments and operate at a higher level, he’s willing to believe in you and help you. ASU is the kind of place where you can be a self-starter and make whatever you want of yourself.”
Added Sneh, “Bo Ning was another fantastic mentor. The faculty members — they’re willing to go that extra mile and be invested in all of their students.”
Not all success stories emerge from the research labs at Biodesign. Hannah Balamut is graduating from the W. P. Carey School of Business and Barrett, The Honors College, with a degree in marketing. She supported the Biodesign Institute as a student worker in strategic marketing and communications.
“Being a student worker on the marketing team has been a central part of my undergraduate experience at ASU,” Balamut said. “At Biodesign, I've been able to develop great organizational, communication and technical skills.”
As someone charged with helping tell the story of the impactful work being done at Biodesign and ensuring internal communication structures operate at optimum levels, Balamut was involved with the Biodesign Commons employee intranet, and in developing an analytics dashboard for internal and external newsletters.
Nicole Enriquez is another soon-to-be graduate of the W. P. Carey School of Business with a bachelor’s degree in business law and business global politics, along with a certificate in socio-legal studies. She also worked in marketing and enjoyed experiential learning opportunities related to sharing scientific achievements.
“I’ve learned a lot about what it means to work with a team in a fast-paced environment, and I especially enjoyed learning about ASU researchers and their scientific endeavors, as well as promoting their work,” Enriquez said. “I saw firsthand how science is a collaborative effort, and how everyone involved plays a significant role.”
Enriquez worked on materials for Biodesign’s team events, recognition, the award-winning A Sip of Science series and organized photo shoots and other projects.
“Even as I pursue a career in law, I’ll be able to take what I learned here and apply it anywhere I go. It has been really great to work toward positive change,” Enriquez said.
Several other exceptional Biodesign students are on the path to success, buoyed by their learning experiences and the mentoring they received at ASU.
Kimberly Martin worked both in the Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology and in the ASU Center for Biomediated and Bioinspired Geotechnics. She facilitated development of a partnership between ASU and an Israeli NGO to provide higher education to refugees in Israel through ASU's Education for Humanity program.
Graduating with her doctorate, Martin is embarking on her career as a senior engineer of innovation and sustainability at geotechnical contractor Keller.
Caitlyn Hall, earning a doctorate in environmental engineering, has carried out an innovative research project that spanned from advanced biogeochemical modeling to a field pilot study.
Her work is providing a strong science foundation for the new technology of microbially induced desaturation and precipitation, which offer promise for strengthening soils to resist earthquake-caused liquefaction.
While their roles greatly varied, spring graduates who worked in the Biodesign Institute are strengthened by the collaborative research experiences and their mentors, who extended trust in their abilities.
Written by Lisa McQuerrey