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7 Barrett Honors College students win Mensch Prize for work focused on theory of embedded intelligence


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April 26, 2022

Seven students in Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University were awarded the Mensch Prize for their honors thesis work that embodies the theory of embedded intelligence and creates value in the world around them.

2022 marks the second year for the prize, given by the Bill and Dianne Mensch Foundation, Inc., which provides monetary support to Barrett students who complete their thesis on a topic in one of these areas:

  • Biological Sciences.
  • Engineering and Applied Science.
  • Fine and Performing Arts.
  • Humanities.
  • Physical Sciences.
  • Social Sciences.

According to the Mensch Foundation, embedded intelligence (EI) is fundamental for understanding the world around us. EI empowers people to use knowledge and to connect their learnings to new ideas and innovations. EI is characterized as the ability to sense, process what has been sensed, communicate internally and externally, and actuate that which is beneficial for survival. 

Bill Mensch said honors theses are valuable examples of EI because they produce new knowledge, business ideas, and creative designs that ultimately enhance the world.

Nicole Kaiser

Nicole Kaiser
Mensch Prize for Biological Sciences

Nicole Kaiser is a junior majoring in biological sciences with an emphasis on ecology and conservation.

Her thesis is titled "Bat Crazy: An Urban Enhancement and Biodiversity Case Study. "

For her thesis, she designed, implemented and installed bat houses in and around Tempe Town Lake as a form of integrated pest management, to boost Tempe Town Lake ecosystem biodiversity, and to promote community engagement and education.

She is working with the CEO of Hoverlay, an augmented reality platform, to install augmented learning experiences around the bat houses. She also founded an Urban Wildlife Club, which will enable students to get involved with Bat Crazy and learn about the value of diversity and inclusion in urban wildlife conservation and engagement.

“My goal is that Bat Crazy will have a beneficial impact on humanity and enact positive social change around preserving historically uncharismatic animals like bats. Those in the community will feel like they are making a difference to support biodiversity and will realize that the coupling of human and wildlife values at urban cores has significant value to the future of environmental protection,” she said. 

In the future, Kaiser hopes to pursue a PhD in biology and work at a nongovernmental organization “to directly enhance and protect biodiversity in urban areas by promoting community engagement, collaboration, and inclusion in the sphere of wildlife conservation,” she said.

“My experience at ASU and Barrett Honors College will allow me to fulfill these goals by providing me opportunities to develop collaborative and innovative skill sets for solving global issues. The integrity of the planet and wildlife depends on creative ideas and the ability to transform those ideas into actionable solutions.”

Alicia Van Stone

Alicia Van Stone
Mensch Prize for Biological Sciences

Alicia Van Stone is a senior majoring in biological sciences (genetics) with a minor in project management and certificates in computational life sciences and evolutionary medicine.

Her thesis is titled "Efficient Methods of Human Leukocyte Antigen Capture in Point of Care Testing."

Van Stone said the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) is extremely important when it comes to matching donors in transplants, vaccine design and efficacy, and in predisposition toward disease.

“Currently, HLA typing is an expensive process that can take weeks to achieve results. I have designed a process for HLA typing at under $3 per patient with a one- to three-day turnaround time. My goal was to make HLA typing affordable and accessible enough that one day people may know their HLA type as well as they know their blood type,” she said.

Van Stone said that with support from the Mensch Prize she was able to spend more time on research instead of taking on another job.

“Because of this, I have been able to create designs for a genotype sensor at a much lower price than what is currently on the market. The time that the Mensch Prize offered me allowed me to continue pursuing my goals and develop my thesis project into what it has become today,” she said.

Van Stone will graduate ASU in May and start work as a clinical research coordinator with breast and gynecological cancer patients at the Mayo Clinic.

“Barrett's thesis project and leadership opportunities have allowed me to grow as a leader and have prepared me for this position through connections, experiences, and internships. I have been involved in Barrett organizations as well as the Barrett thesis project since freshman year and the connections that I have made along the way have helped lead me toward my position at Mayo,” she said.

Katie Sue Pascavis

Katie Sue Pascavis
Mensch Prize in Engineering and Applied Science

Katie Sue Pascavis is a junior majoring in mechanical engineering and global health.

Her thesis, titled "Decreasing Water Usage and Increasing Income for Small Farmers: Modeling Plant Stress with Handheld Infrared Thermometers," is part of the ASU EPICS (Engineering Projects in Community Service) program.

She is on a team that is creating a smart agricultural device to help small farmers reduce their water consumption and save money.

“In order to better understand plant stress, my thesis is studying the indicators of plant health. Plants themselves have an embedded intelligence and tell us when they are stressed. By better understanding this, we can farm more sustainably,” she said.

Pascavis said she plans to pursue graduate studies in environmental engineering. “ASU and Barrett gave me the opportunities to pursue projects such as a thesis in smart agriculture and water conservation. These experiences made me realize that I loved working with water and agriculture, and that I want my career to focus on the intersection between improving environmental and human health.”

Jacqueline Johnson

Jacqueline Johnson and Trinity Strecker
Mensch Prize in Fine and Performing Arts

Johnson is a senior double majoring in biological sciences (neurobiology, physiology and behavior) and psychology with a minor in dance.

Strecker is a senior double majoring in psychology and Family and Human Development, with an emphasis on child development.

Johnson and Strecker worked together on a thesis titled "The Influence of Partnership Dance for Adult Romantic Couples on Intimacy and Trust," with Attachment Style as a Moderator.

Their thesis investigated how partnership dance impacts romantic couples in terms of intimacy, trust, and attachment style.

Johnson said current research into the intersection of dance/movement therapy and intimate relationships is very limited so she and Strecker saw an opportunity to shed light on how these disciplines can be connected.

“Our statistically significant result of increased intimacy for participants who took partnership dance classes with us supports the idea that these disciplines can be combined to improve the lives of romantic couples,” she said.

Trinity Strecker

Strecker said they focused on salsa dance and how it can improve romantic couples' intimacy and trust.

“The idea of attachment style as a moderator means that we predicted that an individual's attachment style could affect the change made in their intimacy and trust with their partner. We found significant results for our participants' intimacy, which means that partnership dance can in fact improve couples intimacy,” she said.  

Johnson is graduating in May and pursuing career opportunities in police dispatching and crime scene evidence collection.

“My time at ASU has allowed me to grow both academically and personally and I can't wait to apply the lessons I've learned about perseverance and cooperation to my future career endeavors. I appreciate all of the opportunities Barrett has provided to me throughout my undergraduate journey,” she said.

Strecker said her goal is to attend graduate school to become a clinical psychologist.

“Both ASU in general and Barrett have prepared me to face the challenges of graduate school and feel prepared, as well as confidently go into the workforce in my desired field. I have been a Registered Behavior Technician for children with autism for over a year now, and I would not be half as skilled in my job now as I am because of my education,” she said.  

Jordan Haagen

Jordan Haagen
Mensch Prize in Humanities

Jordan Haagen is a senior majoring in digital culture and anthropology. He is in a 4+1 program pursuing a master’s degree in creative enterprise and cultural leadership.

His thesis, titled "Re-Experiencing Self: An Immersive Installation and Study via Interactive Media," explores the uncertainties, emotions, and general adventure of life through an experimental installation that uses visual and audio-reactive technology to immerse the user.

“My goals are to finish my MA and look toward the working world to see how I can use my interdisciplinary skills to improve general livelihood through art, gathering perceptive, and relationships. ASU and Barrett have helped connect me with like-minded professors, staff, and students that have encouraged me to make the most out of my time here and set myself with relationships, accolades, and skills for the future,” he said.

Danielle Pais

Danielle Pais
Mensch Prize for Social Science

Danielle Pais is a senior majoring in biological sciences (neurobiology, physiology, and behavior) and French.

Her thesis, titled "Impact of Campus Climate and Undergraduate Research on STEM Students with Disabilities," examines to what extent undergraduate students with disabilities in STEM majors participate in high-impact practices, including internships, undergraduate research and capstone projects, and what challenges they face in engaging with these additional educational opportunities. High-impact practices provide students with additional resources that encourage deep learning and promote student engagement on campus.

“It felt like a real honor to receive the Mensch Prize because it helped me reflect on how much work I put into my thesis and how much I hoped my research would make a difference in the larger community. It was also nice because the funds went toward my academics, so I can purely focus on developing my thesis and finishing off my undergraduate degree,” she said.

Pais hopes to obtain a master’s degree and then apply to medical schools.

“I want to work in medicine and, ultimately, work with a nonprofit on healthcare equity. My experience at ASU and with Barrett has helped me immensely because I got the opportunities to explore and find what I love to do and what I want to do in the future,” Pais said.

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