Health solutions grad will leverage the speech challenges she overcame to help others

May 6, 2022

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

Kaley Matthews remembers how self-conscious she felt when reading aloud in class during elementary school. It is those memories, along with a shared understanding and a great deal of compassion, that Matthews will bring to the people she’ll be helping now that she is graduating with a degree in speech and hearing science from ASU’s College of Health Solutions. Kaley Matthews Download Full Image

“I received speech therapy from a speech-language pathologist (SLP) for three years,” Matthews said. “My SLP had a profound impact on my life and when I was deciding on my career path, I chose speech-language pathology because I wanted to help others with communication difficulties similar to mine.”

“Kaley is a wonderful example of a student who had a speech and language disorder as a child and navigated her way to becoming an outstanding student in every way,” said Juliet Weinhold, a clinical associate professor and degree director at the College of Health Solutions who nominated Matthews as an outstanding graduate. Weinhold should know. She saw Matthews rise to the top of all three classes that she taught her in, and said that the stellar student earned an A+ grade in at least 20 courses overall.

Weinhold also worked with Matthews on her research examining test instruments used for the diagnosis of orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD), a condition of abnormal facial movements that can impact talking, swallowing and breathing. Matthews conducted research that demonstrated the validity of an ASU-designed test and identified an existing OMD diagnostic test that is optimal for speech and hearing science. She presented her findings at the 2021 Arizona Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) conference, as well as at the College of Health Solutions Student Research Symposium.

Matthews also has been investigating the correlation between OMD and speech errors in college students. Along with advancing the science of OMD, this research will help clarify whether speech sound disorders are related to functional motor disorders. Weinhold said she expects results from these studies to be presented at the ASHA meeting next fall. ASHA is the national credentialing association for the profession and holds the annual event at which the latest research to advance the field is shared. 

Beyond the classroom and lab, Matthews’ academic prowess earned her the Sid P. Bacon Memorial Scholarship twice as well as a place in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU. She also completed a second bachelor's degree in family and human development from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU at the same time she was earning her speech and hearing science degree. 

Despite the heavy academic load, Matthews was also involved in many extra curricular activities and leadership opportunities. She served as an undergraduate teaching assistant, taught first-year college students as a peer facilitator in the CHS 101 course and, for two summers, worked as a counselor for incoming students at Camp Barrett. She also supported Barrett as an Honor Devil tour guide, worked as a student ambassador and was recognized as Honor Devil Member of the Year in 2021. 

Matthews was also co-president for the ASU chapter of the National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association and remains active on the board. To support her fellow speech and hearing students, she organized online study sessions for core undergraduate classes so that online students could also benefit and participate.

As she prepared to graduate, Matthews reflected on her time at ASU and shared advice for fellow Sun Devils.

Q. What’s something you learned while at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A. Someone once told me that, "Your profession is only a part of who you are and does not encompass all of who you are." This quote changed my perspective and made me realize that I can have a variety of interests and passions outside of my major or profession. I have met so many high-achieving students who have an array of talents, interests and knowledge outside of their major. These well-rounded individuals inspire me every day.

Q. Why did you choose ASU?

A. I chose ASU because of the immense support I received from ASU and Barrett, The Honors College, from day one. They were so welcoming and helpful through the college admissions process. I was looking for a school with fantastic opportunities and resources, but also was looking for a university that cared for their students. I found my home in Barrett and at ASU.

Q. Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A. Weinhold has been an influential professor and mentor to me throughout my college experience. She has taught me so much about speech and hearing science, but also guided me through two research projects. She has taught me so many valuable lessons that I will carry with me not only in my profession, but throughout my life.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A. One piece of advice that I would give undergraduate students is to be open to challenging yourself and following your dreams. I feel that in school, many can become comfortable with their schedules and routines. My advice is to join organizations, start a research project, take an elective that you are interested in and explore all the opportunities ASU provides. I believe being involved is the key to growing during one’s college experience.

Q. What was your favorite on-campus spot for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A. My favorite spot for studying was Hayden Library on the ASU Tempe campus. My friends and I would reserve a room for studying, and I have so many fond memories of studying with my friends in the library. My favorite spot to meet friends was at the Memorial Union Starbucks that is right in the middle of Tempe campus and is always a staple for coffee and socializing!

Drive and curiosity inspire graduating student’s high-impact research

May 6, 2022

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

Rohit Nandakumar, a 2022 biomedical informatics graduate of the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University, couldn’t wait to get into a lab and start conducting his own research. In fact, he started pursuing research opportunities with Associate Professor Valentin Dinu while only a junior in high school. What fuels this passion for discovery? Nandakumar says it started with Legos. Portrait of ASU grad Rohit Nandakumar. Download Full Image

Like many boys, he loved working with his hands and building things with those famous little bricks, but he soon found a drawback.

“At a certain point, you run out of tools. You have to go to the store and buy new stuff,” Nandakumar said. “The beauty of programming, which is what my research entails, is that you never run out of tools. You just keep writing code. Programming gave me an outlet to build things and be creative without having to worry about running out of pieces.”

Paired with a strong interest in medicine, Nandakumar began conducting research in high school and brought his first big project with him to ASU. Ultimately, he developed an artificial intelligence algorithm that could identify protein complexes that pharmaceuticals can bind to, which revealed ways to repurpose medications to treat cancer. For instance, Nandakumar found nadolol, a cardiac beta-blocker normally used to treat high blood pressure, could also potentially be used to treat some gastrointestinal cancers.

This work earned Nandakumar a spot among the finalists at the 2018 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. In addition, he was named 2018 Arizona Future Innovator of the Year by the Arizona Technology Council and published this work as first author.

Other projects of Nandakumar’s include developing an algorithm to differentiate duplicates on DNA sequencing machines 4.5 times faster than the current leading algorithm developed by the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. This achievement was chalked up during his time as a Helios Scholar at TGen, and it scored the Best Poster Award at the TGen 2019 Symposium.

Beyond the lab, classroom excellence gained Nandakumar a place in Barrett, The Honors College, where he was one of only two students to earn this year’s Barrett Outstanding Leadership and Service Award. Nandakumar’s honors thesis, which identified biomarkers associated with dyslexia, has also been submitted for peer review and publication.

Along with his research and scholastic achievements, Nandakumar is committed to service, and he has been since high school. In his pre-college years, he worked with city government to allocate $500,000 worth of funding for youth organizations. At ASU, Nandakumar also helped create health programming to combat narcotics addiction in Native communities and has served as president of the Students of Biomedical Informatics (SoBMI), an organization that includes both undergraduates and graduates. 

Nandakumar’s ASU studies were funded in part by a National Merit Scholarship and a corporate-sponsored scholarship from CVS Caremark.

Nandakumar shared more about his ASU experience.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: My aha moment was in high school, when I first learned how to code artificial intelligence algorithms. I wanted to use my newly learned skills to make the biggest impact in my community, and I realized a combination of biology and computer science/artificial intelligence was the best way for me to do that. Since then, I’ve worked as a bioinformatician, and after I came to ASU, I wanted to continue working in bioinformatics. This led me to naturally choose biomedical informatics as my major.

Q: What is an interesting moment, story or accomplishment in your ASU career?

A: My story with research started with me learning programming independently in middle school. I had been interested in medical technology since then and independently conducted research, but it wasn't until junior year of high school that I really honed in on developing medical technology with the help of Dr. Valentin Dinu and my high school research teacher, Dr. Michael McKelvy. I had still largely completed my high school research autonomously, but after I came to ASU, I worked in Dr. Dinu's lab as a data analyst and published my high school research with him.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I think something that enriched my perspective at ASU is the diversity in experiences that my classmates all have. I've had classmates that worked in industry before coming to college or represent an underrepresented group in college. In an academic environment, having that diversity substantially improved the quality of my education, as everybody has something valuable to contribute in group discussions or projects. I think this ultimately goes back to ASU's charter regarding the school’s quality of education being "measured not by whom we exclude, but rather by whom we include and how they succeed.” This part of the mission statement really resonates with me, as I've been able to learn from my peers’ backgrounds as well.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I knew I could get a great education at a very reasonable cost, as I am an in-state student.

Q: What is some of the best advice you learned from a professor?

A: One of the best pieces of advice that I've heard from a professor is to slow down and to truly take it all in. College goes by so fast, and there are times when things get overwhelming, but remembering to step back and put things into perspective is key to enjoying college.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: My piece of advice is to try everything you've been interested in with your career while you're in college. The wealth of resources available at ASU make it a great place to experiment with your passions and interests and see if any of them (or maybe even a combination of them) is something you want to do in the future.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I've got a couple good spots! The Secret Garden is a good place to ponder in if you've got the time. When it comes to studying, I usually study in Armstrong Hall or the Barrett Library as it's pretty quiet in both of these places.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on taking a gap year and applying to medical school.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would create low-cost and scalable medical technology to improve health care in low-income countries.

Story written with contributions from Barrett Honors College student Lily Barrera.