5 students awarded 1st Online Undergraduate Research Scholars program scholarships

ASU Online recipients' fields of study range from history to planetary sciences

January 12, 2022

In the fall, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences launched the Online Undergraduate Research Scholars (OURS) program — a program that offers hands-on, experiential learning for students enrolled through ASU Online. The OURS program also has several other components, including seed funding for faculty to develop group-based research experiences and scholarships to support student research.

Five online students were recently selected as the first recipients of scholarships through the program. They will each receive $1,000 in funding to support their education and research efforts. Exterior of Armstrong Hall, home to The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, on ASU's Tempe campus.. Armstrong Hall on the Tempe campus is home to The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Download Full Image

“We have an abundance of exceptional online students in our degree programs, and we are happy to support them in their research endeavors and professional development through this scholarship,” said Ara Austin, director of online engagement and strategic initiatives and a clinical assistant professor in the School of Molecular Sciences, who has spearheaded the OURS program. “The College and EdPlus look forward to serving many more online students through the OURS program.”

The program, led by The College and supported by EdPlus at Arizona State University, is now being piloted in The College’s natural sciences division and will expand to the social sciences and humanities divisions in the upcoming fall 2022 semester. Since its launch, 63 online students have participated in research opportunities through OURS initiatives.

Meet the five students who were selected as the first scholarship recipients:

Louisa Brill
Major: Biological sciences (genetics, cell and developmental biology)
Brill is a senior with a passion for human health and understanding the immune system. She was drawn to ASU because she was able to obtain an undergraduate degree while remaining in a rural setting.

She serves as a teacher’s assistant and tutor for the School of Molecular Science’s online organic chemistry courses. Outside school, she works as an emergency medical technician for a private ambulance company that serves a large portion of northern Arizona.

After graduation, Brill hopes to either pursue a master’s degree at ASU to study genetics and virology or prepare for medical school. She aspires to find a career in the medical field with clinical, research and teaching components.

“Because of this scholarship, I will be able to do fewer overtime shifts and focus more on my classes, research and medical school applications. I am forever grateful for the experiences and support I have received during my time at ASU,” Brill said.

Paris Drake
Major: History
Drake, who is passionate about medieval history, first became interested in conducting research after reading Eric Jager’s nonfiction book “The Last Duel,” which details the last officially recognized judicial duel fought in France.

With the help of the scholarship, she hopes to examine when and why judicial trial by combat ceased to be common practice. In addition to her studies, she enjoys playing the piano, listening to history podcasts and traveling internationally.

After completing research at ASU, Drake plans to apply for the medieval studies master’s program at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She also aspires to pursue a PhD and eventually become a professor of history.

“This scholarship will enable me to attend ASU and complete my bachelor’s degree in history. Additionally, it will provide support as I complete my proposed research paper to be submitted with my graduate school application,” Drake said.

Kris Ganzel
Majors: Physics, astronomical and planetary sciences
Ganzel is a first-generation student with an interest in astrophysics. He is part of the first cohort of the School of Earth and Space Exploration’s new online astronomical and planetary sciences degree program.

He currently works as a supplemental instruction leader for several astronomy courses in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and as a software quality assurance engineer. In addition, he is on the executive board of multiple clubs, including the Sun Devil Stargazers, a club that he founded.

After graduation, Ganzel hopes to continue his higher education journey at ASU by pursuing a PhD in astrophysics. In the future, he aspires to create an online series showing young students how the concepts they learn in school can be used in real-world science to help enforce the connection between their education and their hobbies.

“This last year and a half has probably been one of the most challenging periods of my life. That said, it has also easily been the most rewarding as I have managed to achieve far more than I had ever thought possible, and there are so many people at ASU that I have to thank for supporting me along the way,” Ganzel said. “This scholarship will help me complete my goal of not only being the first in my family to graduate high school, but the first to obtain a baccalaureate and a doctorate.”

Carrie Holmes
Major: Biochemistry (BA)
Holmes is interested in organic chemistry, specifically in investigating neurological pathways and searching to connect seemingly unrelated systems back to the brain. She discovered her passion for this topic later on while at ASU, having previously thought she didn’t enjoy it after an adverse experience in a chemistry class in high school.

She is working with a neuroscience doctoral student, exploring the relationship between transcranial direct stimulation to both physical activity and motivation to exercise. When she is not immersed in organic chemistry, she takes on the role of mother, mind-body instructor and crossword fiend.

After graduation, Holmes hopes to communicate the knowledge she has gained in creative ways that are understandable and interesting to the general public.

“The support I feel from this gift is an unexpected and crucial marker in my career journey. It is both an affirmation of my unconventional route to science and a vanguard of my ability to succeed as a scientist,” Holmes said.

​​Preston Toehe
Major: Geographic information science
Toehe is passionate about geographic information science, technology and making the world a more sustainable place.

His career as an engineering technician in the coal mining industry was the catalyst for him to attend ASU and obtain a formal education in geographic information science.

Using his education, he hopes to pilot cutting-edge drone technology to gather surface modules through photogrammetry. Upon graduation, his goal is to become a senior analyst in GPS data collections with drone technology.

“This scholarship will enable me to attend ASU to pursue my GIS degree. With this support I will not only advance my career and education but also help my community by providing reliable energy that can help power homes by simply helping my company provide potential energy,” Toehe said. 

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Make your memory a priority in 2022

January 12, 2022

New Year’s is often a reset for people. It’s a chance to make resolutions or set intentions and goals for the days, weeks and months ahead. For many Americans, those goals typically include focusing on physical health and well-being.

Whether you fall into this category or not, Arizona State University's Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation Professor Fang Yu says there’s one health-related item we should all be prioritizing: our brain health.  A young girl and her grandma smile at the camera As we age, our cognition goes through natural decline, but it's important to know what is normal and what is not. Image from Canva Download Full Image

“I think memory and cognition are a unique gift as human beings — that’s who we are; that’s how we identify ourselves,” said Yu.

And she says the beginning of the year serves as a great marker to measure your memory to see if there has been any change or decline over the previous 365 days. 

Below she offers a couple of simple but effective things anyone can do to see if there’s a need to be concerned and seek out professional help.

First, Yu, who is also the Edson Chair in Dementia Translational Nursing Science, says you can try a recall test.

“Think about something you did last week, ideally with another person who can corroborate what you did. Then recall what happened, where you were, who you were with, what topics you discussed, and then compare your memory with theirs,” she said.

Another common cognitive test is to write down a list of a few items and then try to recite them over extended periods of time, starting with five minutes and then giving it another 20–30 minutes to see how many you get right.

Yu says if you’re not easily getting most of them right, there may be something worth exploring. However, she cautions against self-diagnosing or overreacting.

“Everyone is getting older as every new year comes, and our cognition goes through natural decline. We all have memory slips; the key difference is whether or not you’re able to remember what happens later, even if you can’t recall it now. Sometimes at the moment I needed it, I couldn’t access that memory, but an hour later I remembered everything,” said Yu.

While these quick tests are a good idea for all adults, it’s especially important for those 65 and older because age is the single biggest risk factor for cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. 

As our global population ages, it’s expected that the number of people living with Alzheimer’s will continue to increase. Just look at the most recent statistics from the Alzheimer’s Association. According to its data, in 2021, an estimated 6.2 million Americans age 65 and older were living with Alzheimer's disease. 

That number may more than double by 2050 to a projected 12.7 million without medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow or cure the disease.

Yu has dedicated her research career to finding a breakthrough.

“People who have Alzheimer’s dementia hate this condition. Many people around the world report it as the worst disease you can have because it robs people of their identity; it robs who you are. So anything we can do to prevent that from happening is the goal,” she said.

For the last 15 years, she has focused her studies around exercise, investigating whether it can be used as a successful intervention to delay cognitive decline and/or prevent Alzheimer’s dementia.

Early in 2021, she published promising findings from a recent study.

“Our primary finding indicates that six-month exercise significantly reduced cognitive decline in comparison to the natural course of changes for Alzheimer’s dementia,” Yu said at the time.

Now she’s actively recruiting for a new study that builds off the previous one.

The ACT Trial will explore how exercise and brain training affects memory and brain function in people who have mild cognitive impairment, or MCI. Yu says MCI puts people at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s down the road.

In order to apply any findings widely, Yu and her team are dedicated to finding a diverse group of people all over the age of 65 in the greater Phoenix area to join the study.

“We hope we can recruit participants representative of Arizona’s demographics so we can say, 'OK, this is likely applied to all Arizonans.' But if we have a very limited sample that only certain groups are included in, then we will never know if it applies to the different groups. So we want people from all backgrounds to participate,” said Yu.

To learn more about the ACT Trial and see whether you’re eligible to join, visit the study's website: www.theacttrial.com.

Amanda Goodman

Senior communications specialist, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation