ASU Founders Lab offers Barrett, The Honors College students entrepreneurial honors thesis ideas and opportunities

June 18, 2021

Barrett, The Honors College students looking for ideas, technical support and opportunities to develop honors thesis projects and entrepreneurial ventures are finding them in the Founders Lab at Arizona State University.

More than 35 Barrett students participated in the Founders Lab in 2019. Last year, that number grew to 98. In 2021, more than 100 students are expected to participate. Photo of Water Works team members Barrett, The Honors College students (from left) Gage Reitzel, Aira Sadiasa and Marina Filipek teamed up on a project called Water Works in the ASU Founders Lab. Download Full Image

Founders Lab is a “thesis incubator” in which students are given thesis ideas they can develop into innovative and interesting projects, said Jared Byrne, Founders Lab project director.

“Students get a dynamic, interactive, applied experience that they can add their own creativity to,” Byrne said.

How does Founders Lab work?

Founders Lab is a team-based, experiential Barrett honors thesis/creative project designed to empower honors students to "find their inner entrepreneur" and launch a new business. Participants design and apply unique marketing and sales strategies, as well as business and financial models. Students work in teams of at least three. Students with any major may participate.

Founders Lab provides participants with a thesis committee, entrepreneurial resources, connections to industry networks, mentors and access to resources to help them succeed, Byrne said.

Gage Reitzel, a rising fourth-year Barrett student double-majoring in global health and psychology with a certificate in social science research methods, participated in the Founders Lab last year.

He worked on a team with Marina Filipek, who graduated in May with bachelor’s degrees in finance and business law, and Aira Sadiasa, a rising fourth-year student majoring in computer information systems, on a project called Water Works, which aims to address water insecurity and its risks, including compromised health and psychosocial well-being.

Reitzel said water insecurity due to natural and human-made disasters is an increasing problem worldwide.

According to a project description from Reitzel, Water Works focuses on a new device for the delivery of water, nutrition and medicine that will mitigate the distress and uncertainty between the period of a water supply’s disruption and its restoration.

The device, called the Personal Water Reclamation System, or PWRS, is a water purification device originally developed by NASA engineer Michael Flynn for use in space missions. PWRS is a filter bag that produces distilled, quality water through forward osmosis. This process does not require electricity to operate and relies on the evaporation and condensation of water molecules passing through a membrane.

The portable and lightweight PWRS can provide clean and safe water during long-term water and power outages and allows for the addition of Enfamil baby formula, Pedialyte electrolyte drink and medicines.

“I achieved what was a lifelong dream of mine to work with NASA in an operational capacity. Those engineers were some of my biggest heroes,” Reitzel said.

Reitzel, Filipek and Sadiasa participated with their project in the ASU Venture Devils funding competition and were named Social Impact Scholars.

Reitzel said this year the team began collaborating with Medline Industries, the largest privately held manufacturer and distributor of health care supplies in the United States. They also connected with Suresh Shenoy, former chairman of the American Red Cross National Capital Region and president of the Wheels Global Foundation, an organization that seeks to educate the public and incubate new technologies designed to purify water and find new sources of water, to discuss ways Water Works may be used to alleviate water scarcity in India.

The Water Works team also made a presentation about their project to the W. P. Carey School of Business Deans Council.

Reitzel said among the key lessons he learned in the Founders Lab are:

  • The notion that failing fast and not dwelling on it is a hallmark of innovation from Dan Purtell, director of innovation at the British Standards Institute.
  • The right people make or break ideas and experiences, and you need a team who gives it to you straight and with whom you can really sit down and collaborate.
  • Especially during the coronavirus pandemic and in other situations when there are many things that require your attention, it is important to keep momentum and traction by making consistent effort.
  • There is often a perceived separation of academia and the real world, but it is important to remember that a project does not have to remain as a pedagogical exercise if you believe in its mission.

Learn more about honors thesis pathways and the Founders Lab.

Nicole Greason

Director of Marketing and Public Relations , Barrett, The Honors College


2 ASU mathematicians win Bellman Prize for malaria transmission article

June 18, 2021

ASU graduate Kamaldeen Okuneye and Foundation Professor Abba B. Gumel have won the 16th Bellman Prize for their article "Analysis of a temperature- and rainfall-dependent model for malaria transmission dynamics," published in the journal Mathematical Biosciences.

This work presents a mathematical model to investigate the effect of temperature and rainfall on malaria transmission. The model predicts ranges for temperature and precipitation that yield maximum abundance of malaria mosquitoes and disease in the malaria-endemic area. It also leads to the development of an effective public health policy for combating the spread of — and potentially eradicating — malaria. The work of Foundation Professor Abba Gumel (left) and ASU graduate Kamaldeen Okuneye presents a mathematical model to investigate the effect of temperature and rainfall on malaria transmission. The model predicts ranges for temperature and precipitation that yield maximum abundance of malaria mosquitoes and disease in the malaria-endemic area. It also leads to the development of an effective public health policy for combating the spread of — and potentially eradicating — malaria. Download Full Image

Gumel, of the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, uses mathematical modeling approaches and analysis to gain insight into the transmission dynamics and control of emerging and reemerging infectious diseases.

Okuneye earned his PhD in applied mathematics from ASU in 2018, under the supervision of Gumel. His dissertation research focused on developing and analyzing compartmental models to assess the impact of temperature variability on malaria, a disease for which nearly half the human population is at risk. Okuneye is currently a senior scientist at Applied BioMath in Boston.

“It is always a great honor for an academic to be so recognized by his/her peers,” said Gumel. “It is exceptionally gratifying that it is a collaborative work with a former student — who did most of the heavy lifting — that is recognized by the global mathematical biology community. 

“I am so proud of Dr. Okuneye's accomplishment. For me, personally, nothing is more rewarding that seeing the people we helped to train and mentor doing exceptionally well and being duly recognized for their excellence.”

The Bellman Prize is a biennial award to a research team or single investigator whose Mathematical Biosciences article has made an outstanding contribution to their research field over the last five years. The prize is awarded by the publishing house Elsevier at the annual meeting of the Society for Mathematical Biology to the corresponding authors of the selected Mathematical Biosciences publication.

The Bellman Prize was established in 1985 in honor of Richard Bellman (1920–1984), founder and editor-in-chief of Mathematical Biosciences. Between 1985 to 2015, the Bellman Prize was awarded every two years for the best paper published in Mathematical Biosciences over the preceding two years; after 2015 it changed to honoring the best paper over the preceding five years. 

This marks the second time the Bellman Prize has been awarded to faculty in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. In 1999, Professor Hal Smith and postdoctoral researcher Mary Ballyk were honored for their work, "A model of microbial growth in a plug flow reactor with wall attachment." Smith retired from ASU last summer, and Ballyk is currently an associate professor of mathematics at New Mexico State University.

“It is clearly an honor to be chosen for the Bellman Prize, but even more impressive that our faculty were honored a second time, given how many talented researchers publish their work in Mathematical Biosciences,” said Donatella Danielli, professor and school director. “We congratulate Abba Gumel and Kamaldeen Okuneye on this recognition of their excellent work, and again thank Hal Smith for blazing the trail two decades ago in highlighting the significant role mathematical biology plays in helping to solve the world’s most challenging problems.”

Sara I. Abdelsalam and Kambiz Vafai (both from University of California, Riverside) earned an honorable mention for their work, "Particulate suspension effect on peristaltically induced unsteady pulsatile flow in a narrow artery: Blood flow model."

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences