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ASU School of Molecular Sciences graduate passionate about biochemistry, awarded Dean's Medal

Eva Chen

Eva Chen. Photo courtesy of Eva Chen

April 24, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Arizona State University honors student Eva Chen is graduating in May with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry and prestigious Dean’s Medal in honor of her scholastic achievements.

"Eva is one of the brightest and most hard-working undergrads I've ever had the pleasure of mentoring,” said Nicholas Stephanopoulos, associate professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and the Biodesign Centers for Molecular Design and Biomimetics and Sustainable Macromolecular Materials and Manufacturing. “She worked under one of my graduate students, but quickly earned her trust with her excellent lab skills and got her own project. Her work involved making peptides that can coat DNA nanostructures, and impart biological functionality to them (like cell delivery).”

According to Stephanopoulos, Chen's project was very challenging, but she took it on cheerfully and worked for many months on the synthesis of difficult peptides.

“She was unfailingly cheerful and upbeat despite many setbacks, and ultimately was able to make some of the most advanced peptides my lab has produced, which we are currently testing for biological activity,” Stephanopoulos said. “She also learned skills like DNA nanostructure assembly and analysis, and it was clear from our interactions that she understood the research deeply, and would independently read papers to find solutions to the project bottlenecks.”

“Professor Stephanopoulos was great a professor to work for because he was easy and open to talk to,” Chen said. “As an undergraduate researcher, it is a little intimidating to talk to professors about science when they have much more experience. Professor Stephanopoulos would make sure that he would lightly explain certain topics that I hadn’t quite known about yet, making sure that I understood.”

Stephanopoulos added: “Eva is also incredibly hard working; she was in the lab and the office as much as the graduate students. Her hard work paid off, and she was accepted to a number of prestigious graduate programs. Ultimately, she will be attending her top choice, Columbia University in New York City, and I am confident she will do great things in her future research career."

Read more about Chen's experience at ASU below.

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

Answer: During high school, I took honors chemistry, and I fell in love with learning about chemical structure and orbitals. However, I also loved biology, even though I was not as good at it; I loved learning about the fascinating events that take place within our body. In order to combine both of my love for these subjects, I knew I had to study biochemistry. However, through the first two years of college, I wasn't quite sure what biochemistry entailed until I took General Biochemistry I, and I knew that I had chosen the right major.

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

A: Coming to ASU, I've been exposed to people who are traditional/nontraditional students, international students or just new people in general, and this has allowed me to interact with people from different backgrounds allowing me to develop awareness of differences much more. This was surprising because I had always been in a small, academically challenging environment throughout elementary, middle school and high school. This led to students doing a lot of the same extracurriculars and classes, so much so that there were no immediate differences between one another. The experiences have taught me to be sympathetic and open to others as well as learning how to navigate new people, which are all important skills to have as I will most likely interact with many more people.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because it was affordable. However, another benefit was that it is a bigger state school; therefore, I knew I would be able to engage in various opportunities for growth as well as experiencing different people, cultures and environments.

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

A: When I took organic chemistry with Professor Ian Gould, he taught us that to learn we must do. That has stuck with me because the class was very challenging and the only way to excel was to do all of the practice problems that he provided us with. This is very applicable outside of school because being successful will take a lot of work that involves time and effort, but in the end, you will gain skills, knowledge or habits.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to students?

A: My advice would be to take every opportunity as a chance to learn new things no matter what it is that you are doing, whether that be research, volunteering, teaching, etc. Be grateful for the opportunities that you have and make the most out of it. For the last two years of my college career, I worked as a front office student assistant, and although that didn't directly correspond to research or lab skills, I was able to learn soft skills that are important for being in a cooperative environment and interacting with people.  Most would see this as an unrelated career experience, yet I was able to get a lot out of it. Not to mention the amazing people that I got to work with.

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

A: I love studying outside! My favorite spots on campus were anywhere with outside seating. Arizona's patio weather is the best season of the year, and I made sure I took advantage whenever I could. Nothing like a little sunshine to brighten up your day!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Currently, I am planning on pursuing a PhD degree in biomedical sciences at Columbia University. From my experiences in Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos' lab, I fell in love with research with the help from my amazing graduate mentor, Skylar Henry. I loved the logical and systematic approach to designing experiments as well as the ability to ask questions and have the results be available to you for analysis. I want to take these skills to graduate school and develop them even further so that I can be a better scientist in order to tackle biomedical problems. 

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

A: I would put it into a scholarship fund. Education in the U.S. is costly, and there are a lot of people who can't afford to go to college. From my experience, having a scholarship during my college education removed a lot of stress off of me and my parents so that I could focus on my studies and extracurriculars. It would open the doors to a lot of talented people who need this support so that they can achieve their goals. 

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