From ASU to AWS, 3 students share their journey from college to career

May 5, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.

Arizona State University values partnerships that fuel innovation – and it’s this strong tradition of collaboration that brings business leaders into the higher education space, providing learners with future workforce experience while creating new value across industry.  ASU students and Cloud Innovation Center interns working on a project at the CIC with ASU General Manager Ryan Hendrix. ASU students and Cloud Innovation Center interns working on a project at the CIC with ASU General Manager Ryan Hendrix. Photo by Mike Sanchez. Download Full Image

The university’s students benefit greatly from these corporate engagements. Whether learners are able to explore potential career pathways, gain real-world experience or upskill to complement their coursework, these partnerships provide unique opportunities for ASU learners. 

There is no better example of this than Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering master’s degree students Risabh Raj, Pradeep Kumar Chenchala, and Krishna Teja Kalaparty, all of whom are interns at the ASU Smart City Innovation Center (CIC), powered by AWS. The CIC is ASU's long-standing partnership with AWS. This team partners with cities and nonprofits to employ Amazon’s innovation processes, cloud expertise, and global solution platforms to solve pressing community and regional challenges.

But Raj, Chenchala and Kalaparty have even more in common than their internship at the CIC — upon graduation next week from ASU, all three will begin working as Software Development Engineers for AWS full-time.

We caught up with Raj, Chenchala and Kalaparty to learn more about their journey to and through ASU, where their shared interest in cloud computing comes from, and some of their favorite and most rewarding projects so far.

Question: How did your interests lead you to choosing your major at ASU?

Chenchala: At the start of the pandemic, I realized that I needed to step up my skills. A friend suggested earning my master’s degree. I wanted to deep dive into a few topics, like cloud computing and distributed systems — that’s why I chose information technology. I made the right choice studying at ASU. 

Kalaparty: My undergraduate degree was in electronics and instrumentation, and I wanted to do something related to computer science. 

I graduated (with a bachelors) in 2017, and I had been working as a software developer for a little over three years. I looked at the top universities in the U.S., and ASU was one of the top 50 colleges, known especially for computer science. I’ve been able to learn a lot; I’m currently learning about blockchain and distributed database systems.

Raj: I also earned my undergraduate degree in electronics. In my first job, I was hired with the system engineer group as a tester. There, I learned to code and about different databases by myself, and I loved it. After working for a few years, I decided to upskill, and that’s when I decided to get a masters in computer science. 

Q: What interested you in getting an internship at the CIC?

Chenchala: I took CSE 546 Cloud Computing and that motivated me to deep dive into the cloud technologies and how to leverage and apply them for all sorts of businesses and ideas.The Cloud Computing course is the prime foundation for many engineering students; it gets people interested in the cloud and cloud computing. I think that’s why many people focus on software development engineering.

I applied because I saw what the CIC was doing, what challenges they were figuring out and the type of work they were advancing.

Raj shared that he also completed the CSE 546 Cloud Computing course at ASU, which sparked his interest in interning with the CIC and AWS – which is the largest cloud provider, owning almost half the world's public cloud infrastructure market. 

Kalaparty: I had pretty good knowledge of AWS, which is why when I saw a job posted, I decided to go ahead and apply. I was able to learn a lot of new things about AWS during my internship. Back in India, I didn’t have the overview of AWS; after coming here, there are the proper resources available to me to learn about AWS.

Q: What excites you about the future of cloud computing?

Raj: Cloud computing is the next big thing, along with machine learning. Before, websites used to be deployed on servers; but nowadays, cloud has changed the entire scenario. All the functionalities and the software service, platform and infrastructures – everything is available on the cloud. I think it’s one of the best things that happened with the software industry.

Chenchala: Cloud is available all the time, anywhere in the world. It diminishes the overhead of a company making its own infrastructure and maintaining it because the cloud comes up with various services – including infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service. 

Cloud is a big thing – it gives us solutions in terms of what you want to plan, where you want to focus more and where you can get rid of the overhead.

Kalaparty: I am drawn to the cloud because of its convenience. It makes so many things up to two clicks away. (A company) doesn't need to buy separate hardware; you just need people to know that it’s available.

Q: What are the projects you’ve worked on at the CIC? What skills did you develop or put into practice?

Kalaparty: One of my projects with the CIC was the pedestrian project, which is figuring out where pedestrians are on the sidewalks around Phoenix, and whether these sidewalks are safe or not. To do so, we gathered data through Google satellite imagery, looked at different types of imagery and ran it through machine learning models. 

We interacted a lot with the municipality of Phoenix, talking with the partner and getting requirements. As we went through the process, we knew that if something didn’t work or wasn’t possible in the timeline, the requirements would need to be updated. 

I learned a lot of new skills on the job. Most of the things I was working on, I had the conceptual overview – but at the CIC, I was able to go into the nitty gritty and learn the application-based knowledge.

Raj: I have worked on two projects: one is called Smart Beats and the other is Phoenix Gunshot Detection Project.

In the Smart Beat Project, our objective was to automate the process of creating police patrol areas for the Glendale Police Department. Until now, this process was done manually by the police department, so our work was to turn the historical crime data, as well as the geographical data of the city, into a heat map. To do so, we took two input files and created a map of the possible police spectrum areas that the department can use to look at and research. We utilized many cloud services for our project, such as SQS S3 and Amazon. It is one of the coolest products I’ve done.

Most recently, I’ve also been working on a project with Krishna on the Phoenix Gunshot Detection Project, where our job is to utilize a gunshot detection algorithm developed by an ASU professor. It is used on internet of things (IoT) devices to create a mechanism that can detect gunshots, as well as the general location where it happened, to notify the police department of what happened. 

The best thing about the CIC is the freedom to choose the technology, and the freedom to use trial and error. 

Chenchala: Before working at the CIC, I was learning new things on my own about AWS because I wanted to know and leverage various cloud computing concepts. I’m currently working on creating one account for the entire CIC, where we will place all the projects and showcase our demos all in one place. I get to know the entire scope of projects taking place at the CIC and help create a single endpoint for users to login and work together. 

Following ASU’s graduation next week, Raj, Chenchala and Kalaparty will work across three departments at AWS – Amazon Robotics, Amazon-Go and Amazon Lex respectively.

Stephanie King

Content Strategist, University Technology Office

Grad student blends career, education into all-encompassing life experience

Jonathon Hofer shares his takeaways from studying classical education in the 21st century

May 5, 2022

Beyond a degree, college education can play an important role in many students’ lives.

That becomes evident after talking to Jonathon Hofer, Mary College at ASU’s program coordinator and master’s degree candidate in the Master of Arts in Classical Liberal Education and Leadership program. Portrait of Jonathon Hofer. Jonathon Hofer, program coordinator at Mary College at ASU. Download Full Image

In his role, he coordinates a key partnership between Arizona State University and the University of Mary, allowing ASU students to take Catholic studies courses that fulfill ASU general studies degree requirements. And in spite of his busy schedule, Hofer found in the master’s program offered by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership to be the missing piece to living a full life. 

“This program awakens a depth of meaning and breathes new life,” he said. “It helps me to be a good husband, father and professor. It has a unifying thrust — it challenges me to question whether the whole of my life is a unified reality. The classical liberal education I’ve earned at ASU has given me a wider aperture through which to understand humanity.”

Hofer applied for the program after learning about the kind of experience students have, engaging with each other in Socratic seminars and thus creating a community of learners. In its foundation, the Master of Arts in classical liberal education and leadership program at ASU is three-pronged: It combines the study of the Great Books; civic education in American principles and institutions; and statesmanship for the 21st century. 

Classical education today

Classical education invites students to seek truth and guidance through the study of the great philosophers and authors in Western civilization, in order to become virtuous in all areas of their lives. In this master's program, students reflect on the past, with its rich heritage of liberal education. Informed by that heritage and inspired by its exemplars, they are prepared to take on the challenges of education, citizenship and statesmanship.

Courses include "Classic Texts in Political Philosophy and Justice," "Literary Leaders and Ethics" and "Character and Leadership."

But why study classical education today?

Classical education transforms the way one sees life,” Hofer said. “It adds depth of meaning to life. It helps you to see things connected and it encapsulates what education ought to do. It’s not just graduating with a degree so you can get a job. That is certainly important, and it’s a piece of it. But to stop there is a disservice. What liberal education at ASU does is it frees the mind to see yourself truly, to bring all aspects of life together in a meaningful way, and to transform who you are, what you do and how you see the world.” 

This program at ASU gives a seat at the table for faith and the Catholic academic tradition. This is truly profound. Many degree programs shy away from faith, but I have been simultaneously welcomed and challenged.

– Jonathon Hofer 

In this program, Hofer and his colleagues reflect upon texts ranging from Cicero and Plutarch to Shakespeare and Lincoln, from Aristotle and Montesquieu to Jane Austen and James Madison, and from Locke to Churchill, all in pursuit of a liberal and civic education in America's constitutional democracy.

“The ideas we are engaging in are worthwhile not because someone said they are, but because they speak to our human experience,” Hofer said.

After defending his dissertation in the fall of 2022, Hofer plans to continue the work he is doing at Mary College at ASU.

“The partnership between an innovation-driven university and a private, Catholic university is unique and provides incredible opportunities for students. I am excited to blend what I’m doing at the Mary College and what I’m studying at SCETL and to offer that back to students,” he said.

Giving faith a seat at the table

Jonathon Hofer (center) during a trip to Rome with his students

Hofer (center) in Rome with his students.

While the program focuses on classical liberal education, Hofer reiterates that his colleagues and professors welcomed his interest in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and Thomistic studies.

“This program at ASU gives a seat at the table for faith and the Catholic academic tradition. This is truly profound. Many degree programs shy away from faith, but I have been simultaneously welcomed and challenged,” Hofer said. 

“I have been welcomed to bring in my Thomistic background. To me, the integration of faith and reason is possible, important and it communicates a fundamental truth about what it means to be human and how we engage with the world. At the same time, by reading authors like Nietzsche and Rousseau, I am challenged to think in ways that I haven’t before. At a university, we don’t need to be scared of ideas,” he said.

One way the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership makes it possible for professionals and scholars to complete the master’s program is by providing them with financial aid opportunities to help reduce out-of-pocket costs. These include the Lyceum Fellowships, the Cook Family Graduate Fellowships available to classical teachers working at GreatHearts, as well as Student Success Awards for students achieving high standards of academic excellence.

The MA has also been approved by the James Madison Memorial Foundation for the recipients of its prestigious award for excellence in K–12 civics education, as the degree offers the requisite courses in constitutionalism, American political thought and civics that interest awardees.

The program offers research assistantships that include stipends, tuition awards and possible benefits. Prospective students are encouraged to check the program’s website for updates about additional funding opportunities.

Marcia Paterman Brookey

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership