Research, initiative, volunteerism define ASU grad's pre-med preparations

May 9, 2022

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

Knowing early in life that becoming a physician was her calling, Nandini Mishra began volunteering in hospitals as a sophomore in high school to immerse herself in medicine — a field that she said fulfills her desire to give back to the community. ASU College of Integrative Sciences and Arts applied biological sciences graduate Nandini Mishra outdoors with palm trees in backdrop Applied biological sciences graduate Nandini Mishra, from Gilbert, Arizona, will complete an accelerated master's in public health next year before starting medical school in fall 2023. Download Full Image

“My heart always feels full when I connect with patients or witness the selflessness of health care workers,” Mishra said, about the rewards of her volunteerism over the last seven years. “Many health care workers have emphasized to me the importance of empathetically and kindly communicating with patients. I’ve seen nurses go out of their way to make patients comfortable in their rooms. I’ve seen physicians give as much of their limited time as is needed to ensure that patients feel heard and understood. Paying attention to humanistic factors has helped me to understand the value of empathy in medicine.”

When she finished high school, Mishra, who is from Gilbert, Arizona, chose to major in applied biological sciences in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at ASU's Polytechnic campus, sticking close to home.

“For me, long-lasting relationships are very important to foster,” she said. “Attending ASU allowed me to remain close to family, while also maintaining my independence. ASU and Barrett have a reputable name, and I knew attending this college would help in my medical school journey and building professional connections. ASU also provided a sense of unity and a welcoming feeling, which helped in making my decision.” 

She said she feels very fortunate to have had many special career-connected experiences during her time at ASU.

Mishra conducted research and worked on a literature review with a Mayo Clinic medical student and professor, on the topic “Labor and Organ Trafficking Resources for Healthcare Professionals,” which is now a published study in the Journal of Human Trafficking and which she expanded on in her honors thesis.

“We evaluated publicly available, or published educational resources for healthcare professionals on labor and organ trafficking,” she said, “and a poster presentation was submitted to the Arizona Health Equity Conference.”  

She said she was inspired to research the subject after realizing there was a dearth of information on the topic.

“I could not understand why such a horrific crime had so little research on identifying victims during healthcare checkups,” Mishra said. “The potential to help the victims and better educate healthcare workers sparked my interest in the subject."

“Through my research, I was able to identify and highlight the lack of proper training for healthcare professionals in identifying and assisting victims. Signs of trafficking are often subtle, and the situations can be dangerous for the victim or healthcare worker,” she said. “There’s a need to create a more robust training program to include a plan of action after identifying markers of trafficking.”

Mishra’s literature review identified that children of Hispanic or Southeast Asian descent are at the highest risk of labor and organ trafficking.

“This fits into the sad theme of exploitation of underprivileged groups of people,” she said. “As a minority myself, this only deepened my passion for creating positive changes that will help the victims.

“I also had the opportunity to be part of the Bidstrup Research Internship, conducting research on the role that human intuition plays for surgeons making risky decisions about their patients’ welfare.”

This plucky pre-med student also pursued hands-on, in-depth laboratory research in the School of Life Sciences’ Cadillo Lab.

“Here, I sampled and analyzed data on the host-phage ecology of Northern Peatlands. The research looked into the DNA of the microbes, using stable isotope probing of Northern Peatland soil. I analyzed patterns of methanogenic communities from peatlands across a vast geographical range,” she said. “Research techniques such as gas chromatography and high-performance liquid chromatography were explained to me, introducing me to a field of science I never knew I held a genuine passion for.”

Natalie Welcome, mathematics instructor in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, worked with Mishra on a research project that involved thinking about every phase of the scientific research process, which included considering academic source materials and trustworthy statistical processes.

“Nandini was involved in this self-initiated activity because of her personal interest in gaining new experiences,” Welcome said. “Having demonstrated a strong work ethic and finishing with one of the highest class-averages in my course Calculus for Life Sciences, I was willing to support her request to conduct research.  

“With impressive progress made on our completed research project, she proved an ability to simultaneously meet the challenges of coursework and extracurricular activities."

Mishra has been generous in giving back to fellow students. She worked as a peer ambassador in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts and as a peer mentor in Barrett, The Honors College.  

“Being a peer ambassador was extremely rewarding, especially welcoming new students to our campus and community,” she said.

Mishra also took the initiative to share her passion for art, teaming up with her Human Event teacher, Elizabeth Meloy, to found the Barrett Polytechnic Art Club during her freshman year.  

The club now has more than 50 members.

“We encourage the exploration of and experimentation with art, regardless of the skill or experience level of members, and provide a space for students to channel their creative minds,” she said. “This club has also served as a social anchor for me and many other members. Every month I would look forward to seeing old faces and making new friends. Art not only helps me unwind, but also has taught me the importance of paying attention to detail, having patience, staying focused and persevering.”

Mishra shared these additional reflections about her ASU journey.

Question: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

Answer: Dr. Natalie Welcome taught me the most important lesson of being true to your morals and ethics. Instead of explaining her philosophy, she embodied it. She was always willing to guide me in my scholarship applications, interviews, essays and was truly invested in my success. She taught me to give back and assist others who are in the position you once were in. Due to her guidance, I will make sure to help younger peers in their academic journey. 

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

A: When I took the Human Event class taught by Dr. Elizabeth Meloy through Barrett, The Honors College, I saw that several perspectives can be taken to truly understand culture and history. I experienced paradigm shifts while reading major stories like "Gilgamesh," "The Bhagavad Gita" and "The Nun." Not only had my professor enabled me to open my eyes to a new point of view, but also the class itself allowed me to expand my schema.  

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

A: Pursue a higher-level education. Education is the most powerful tool in today's society and will always support you in life. Education helps in fostering your independent thoughts and shaping yourself. I will also advise you to read as many books as possible, as they teach you many important life lessons. I truly believe books are your best friends. 

Q: Did you have a favorite spot at ASU for studying? 

A: My favorite spot at ASU for studying was the academic lounge, Barrett lounge or anywhere outdoors at the Polytechnic campus. At the Tempe campus, I enjoyed studying at the Memorial Union, in one of the rooms or Starbucks. These were my favorite spots because of their welcoming atmosphere, and I enjoyed being surrounded by other dedicated and hardworking students who encouraged me to do the same. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation? 

A: My post-graduation plans are to complete my master's in public health at the University of Southern California, as I am interested in public policy and health care administration. This will be an accelerated course for a year, after which I will be attending medical school in fall 2023. 

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

A: I would try to solve the educational barriers present in society. College is expensive and a huge decision for some students based on their financial status. With this money, I would create programs that aid other students in easing the economic burden brought through the hefty price of college. Every student deserves an equal and fair opportunity of receiving a higher-level education; and a financial decision should not be the main reason stopping them from attending. 

Maureen Roen

Director of Communications, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


Contributions to chemical engineering earn high honors for ASU professor

May 9, 2022

Throughout his career, Daniel E. Rivera has been dedicated to using his chemical engineering expertise to make an impact.

From his work in industry at Shell Development Company to earning a Mentored Quantitative Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health to help fight drug abuse, Rivera has developed a keen understanding of the importance of chemical engineering in today’s society. Portriat of ASU Professor Daniel E. Rivera surrounded by a helix pattern. Chemical engineering, process control and education achievements earn ASU Professor Daniel E. Rivera Fellow recognition status in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Photo courtesy ASU Download Full Image

Rivera, a professor of chemical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, was recently named a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, or AIChE, for his continuing standout work in the field. The institute is the world’s leading organization of chemical engineering professionals, with more than 60,000 members from over 110 countries.

Fellow is the instiute's highest grade of membership. Only 5% of the total membership receive this classification. The designation, based on nomination by peers, honors and recognizes AIChE members for their accomplishments and service.

The institute defines professional accomplishments as “success in process, product or theoretical developments, project leadership, managerial achievement, the educating of engineers or other activities related to chemical engineering.” Rivera has made prolific contributions in all of these categories, as described by his colleagues: ASU Regents Professor Jerry Lin, who provided a letter of support for Rivera’s fellow nomination, and Professor George Stephanopoulos, who submitted the nomination. Both are fellows of the institute and faculty members in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of the seven Fulton Schools.

“Daniel has made important contributions to chemical engineering education at ASU. In the past 31 years, Daniel has taught courses at all levels, from freshman engineering through graduate-level topics,” Lin says. “He has distinguished himself in particular in teaching computationally-oriented courses in the chemical engineering curriculum to over 1,250 undergraduates at ASU.”

Stephanopoulos is Rivera’s “academic grandfather” — meaning Stephanopolous advised Rivera’s doctoral adviser — and has known Rivera since he was a grad student at Caltech. He is excited to see his academic-descendant-turned-colleague earn this esteemed elevation in AIChE.

“Daniel’s body of work in control systems has been highly transdisciplinary, addressing topics such as semiconductor manufacturing, supply chain management and behavioral medicine,” Stephanopoulos says. “These are all themes that are of significant importance to the economic activities in the Phoenix metropolitan area and to ASU.”

Stephanopoulos also notes Rivera’s development of innovative computer-aided instructional tools for process control education, and the popularity of his engaging courses taught at ASU and around the world.

Lenore Dai, director of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, points out Rivera’s wide-reaching contributions to his field.

“Dr. Rivera’s recognition is well-deserved; his research on robust process control, system identification and their various applications have had tremendous impact, both from fundamental and practical standpoints,” Dai says.

Receiving this distinguished honor from the institute is especially meaningful for Rivera, as he has been involved with the institute for nearly 40 years.

“The recognition from AIChE is greatly appreciated,” Rivera says. “We face all types of challenges and obstacles in our pursuit of the vision of ASU as the New American University, so it is rewarding and humbling to have such an important professional organization like AIChE recognize those efforts and believe in us.”

Rivera joined ASU in 1990 after spending nearly four years in the control systems section of Shell Development Company, and has built an incredible career at ASU since that time. Currently, Rivera is the longest-serving Hispanic member of the Fulton Schools faculty.

Throughout his academic career, Rivera’s research interests have been quite diverse, from studying obesity solutions to managing production inventory systems with a control systems engineering approach. He has also stood out for his contributions to computer-based education.

Rivera’s research benefits society in several ways. For example, Rivera has explored the extension of control systems engineering techniques as it relates to behavioral medicine. Additionally, Rivera has developed techniques that can be applied to both optimize operations and ensure safety across various work settings, including petrochemical refineries.

Most recently, Rivera is applying his expertise in control systems engineering and dynamic modeling techniques to improve the effectiveness of alerts from mobile health apps. He’s working with collaborators to develop data-driven models that will inform decision algorithms when users will be the most receptive to nudges from their devices to stand up or go for a walk.

Overall, he strives to conduct research that can have a broad spectrum of applications to solve key issues facing society, from supply chain management to improving health.

For his standout work, Rivera has earned multiple accolades throughout his career. Last year, he was named a fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine for his outstanding contributions to advances in the science and practice of behavioral medicine and its interdisciplinary approaches. In 2020, he received the David Himmelblau Award for Innovations in Computer-Based Chemical Engineering Education from the AIChE Computing and Systems Technology, or CAST, division. He also received a Distinguished Member Award from the IEEE Control Systems Society in 2019. In addition to other honors, he has been invited to numerous events over the past three decades to speak about his work.

In his career, Rivera has also been a prolific publisher, with 82 peer-reviewed research journal articles and 121 refereed conference proceedings papers.

Rivera has one patent based on his work, and is co-developer of the Internal Model Control Proportional-Integral-Derivative, or PID, controller tuning rules that are widely used in industrial control systems. These tuning rules have been included in every major process control textbook written in the past three decades.

Receiving AIChE Fellow status is the culmination of Rivera’s dedication and multidisciplinary approach to the field of chemical engineering. Ultimately, for Rivera, chemical engineering is about helping others by leveraging his expertise and experience to create innovative solutions — which have been a hallmark of his career.

“Chemical engineering as a field is very accepting and inclusive of principles from physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics, and using these in diverse settings,” Rivera says. “Chemical engineering is such a broadly applicable discipline that addressing the pressing needs of society will always demand the skills of well-trained chemical engineers.”

Hayley Hilborn

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering