ASU School of Politics and Global Studies Dean’s Medalist passionate about research

April 19, 2023

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

Amassing well over 200 credit hours in four years, completing a Barrett, The Honors College thesis, and graduating summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA, three degrees, a minor and three certificates is a spectacular accomplishment for any student. But what distinguishes Isabelle Kinney’s undergraduate career at Arizona State University is her range of experiences, particularly in original research. Isabelle Kinney stands in front of a bush laden with magenta flowers Isabelle Kinney will participate in the Critical Languages Institute’s second-year Uzbek program in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, over the summer after graduation and then start a master’s degree in Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies at the University of Michigan. Photo by Meghan Finnerty Download Full Image

“Isabelle was a sophomore student when she started working with me on her first research project,” said Yasmin Saikia, Hardt-Nickachos chair in peace studies. Reflecting on their collaboration, Saikia said Kinney “was excited and enthusiastic, but also scared and uncertain about how to move forward initially. However, in the course of the semester, she learned excellent research skills and proved her mettle. Since then, I have depended on her. … Her maturity, confidence and timely delivery of work are some things I treasure.”

Margaret Hanson, assistant professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies, guided Kinney’s political science research and lauds her as “a bright, exceptionally hard-working and talented student who has overcome significant challenges to complete her studies.”

To gain hands-on research experience, Kinney capitalized on fellowship opportunities through that school, the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict (CSRC), the Melikian Center: Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies, and the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. She conducted multiple independent research projects, served as a research assistant for three faculty members, and participated in intensive critical languages training – all while working to financially ensure her own education.

In recognition of her many accomplishments, Kinney was named The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences spring 2023 Dean’s Medalist for the School of Politics and Global Studies.

Ironically, becoming a researcher was not Kinney’s original goal.

“I was planning on going to law school, and a language combined with political science seemed like the best foundation for an international law focus,” she explained.

But, as her aptitude for research increased, Kinney’s focus shifted from the practice of law to academic inquiry.

“I started adding certificates like the Russia and East European studies and international studies certificates. As I kept working with the Melikian Center and the CSRC, I added the things that made sense to me. When I got hired as a research aide at the CSRC, I added the religious studies degree with a focus on religion, politics and global affairs. … I needed to know what I was doing and have a frame of reference.”

Her transdisciplinary studies have given Kinney a unique approach to research, and Hanson described her as “a promising future scholar of Central Asian politics.” Kinney’s honors thesis – "Indigeneity, Cultural Genocide and Advocacy: Political Identity in the Uyghur Diaspora" – incorporates her interests in politics, religion, and international law. The project seeks to understand whether or not it is possible to learn about the opinions of the Uyghur people remaining in the Xinjiang region of China through diasporic communities in other Turkic countries, or if a cultural gap has developed between the two groups. Kinney was competitively selected to give a presentation about the project at the Eldersveld Emerging Scholars Conference at the University of Michigan.

She gratefully acknowledges that this opportunity, and others like it, were made possible by financial aid she received as an ASU student, including the Kenneth C. Behringer Undergraduate Research Scholarship, the Steve and Margaret Forster Memorial Scholarship in Religious Studies, and three awards from the Critical Languages Institute to fund intensive summer language study of first-year Russian and first- and second-year Uzbek.

Thanks to this financial support, the academic support of ASU faculty and her own determination, Kinney is graduating with concurrent degrees in political science, religion, politics and global affairs and French, a minor in Russian, certificates in international studies, religion, conflict and peace, and Russia and East European studies, and she has been accepted into three national honor societies, including the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa.

“Her intellectual curiosity is matched by an impressive ability to present complex and nuanced information to non-specialist audiences. I am excited to see where her formidable talents take her," said Irina Levin, assistant teaching professor and honors faculty fellow at Barrett, The Honors College.

Kinney shares more about her experiences at ASU below.

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

Answer: One thing I learned at ASU that surprised me was how kind and empathetic the professors can be. When I got into research I was expecting a lot of hard deadlines and admonishment if I did something wrong. That has been very far from my experience. I have made plenty of mistakes, but the professors I have worked for have been very kind and understanding. This was also true of the internships I have had as a student.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Honestly, the main reason I chose ASU was the scholarship and support that I was getting at ASU. I had applied to other places, but a lot of time college is what you’re able to put into it, so I based my decision on the financial aid. I stayed because I got to do everything I wanted to do: I got to do research much earlier than I likely would have somewhere else; I was less worried about debt than I would have been somewhere else; and I probably would not have been able to add all these academic credentials elsewhere.

Q: Which instructor taught you the most valuable lesson while at ASU?

A: I think the most valuable life lesson I was taught by an instructor was Patricia Murphy from Superstition Review. She told me that sometimes the achievements we think are going to make our lives so much better do not always deliver on what we thought they would. At the time I was working a lot, even by the standards I have now, and it’s a lesson I have had to learn over and over again.

Q: What was the most interesting or valuable experience you had as a university student beyond the classroom?

A: The most interesting experience I had as a student outside the classroom was a crisis simulation I attended at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law in the fall 2019. I’m a pretty academic person and do not get super far outside of academic spaces. I worked with a bunch of students in the law school and at different stages in undergrad to solve a simulated crisis in Sri Lanka involving religious conflict, natural disasters and even a coup. The mentors for the group were former diplomats and lawyers who taught at the law school. I put a bunch of M&Ms on the map we were given so we knew what crisis was going on and where. Another student and I wrote the whole presentation we gave on our solution in French (we were representing France and the EU). It was a really fun experience and I got to meet a lot of interesting people. Especially since it was my first semester, it showed me a lot of the different things I could do at ASU beyond taking classes.

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

A: The best advice I could give someone still in school is to know what their limits are and to listen to them. Burnout, getting sick, obstacles in life, etc., are things that need to be taken seriously. As proud as I am of my accomplishments, there was a price in the form of burnout and I would want anyone who wants to emulate that to seriously consider the price.

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

A: My favorite spot on campus when I started at ASU was the computer lab in G. Homer Durham Hall, before the renovations. There was a really comfortable couch there where I did a lot of homework. Now my favorite spot on campus is the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict student office in the West Hall. It’s easy to study there, I have a nice view of the library, and an escape from the heat when that rolls in.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My current plan after graduation is to participate in the Critical Languages Institute’s second-year Uzbek program in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, over the summer and then start a master’s degree in Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian studies at the University of Michigan. I’ll be working over the summer as well.

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

A: I would probably try to tackle some of the problems that public libraries face with underfunding or a lack of resources. I owe a lot to being close to a good library when I was younger, and I would want others to have the same types of opportunities (or better) I got from developing a love of reading and having access to so much information about the world. $40 million definitely is not enough to solve that problem in the U.S. or the world, but with the right organizations and coordination it could make some progress.

Dawn R. Beeson

Manager, Marketing and Communication, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Meet student researchers making real-world impact

See projects from 3 ASU programs at April 21 symposium

April 19, 2023

Exploring brain-inspired computing, investigating the impact of teaching techniques on mental well-being, making data centers more efficient, and studying the effects of microplastics and pesticides on soil are just some of the ways Arizona State University students are solving real-world problems through hands-on research.

Students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering can apply their classroom knowledge in a range of research pursuits. Their work delivers innovation that matters for challenges in data science, education, energy, health, security, semiconductor manufacturing and sustainability. Chemical engineering student Kelly Nguyen working in the lab. Arizona State University chemical engineering major Kelly Nguyen studies how microplastics in combination with pesticides affect soil contamination as part of a research project with the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative. Nguyen is one of many student researchers in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering helping to solve real-world problems through hands-on research. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

The Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative, or FURI, and the Master’s Opportunity for Research in Engineering, or MORE, programs give students valuable experiences in which they spend a semester conceptualizing an idea, developing a plan and investigating their research question with a faculty mentor.

Students in the Grand Challenges Scholars Program, or GCSP, have the option to conduct research as part of the program’s rigorous competency requirements that prepare them to solve complex global societal challenges.

These three programs enhance students’ ability to innovate, think independently and solve problems in their communities. They also benefit from the technical and soft skills they gain, which prepare them for their careers and pursuit of advanced degrees.

Twice per year, students who participate in FURI, MORE and GCSP are invited to present their research findings at the FURI Symposium. Learn about four Fulton Schools students and more than 100 other student investigators participating in the spring 2023 FURI Symposium, which is open to the public on Friday, April 21, 1–3 p.m. at the Sun Devil Fitness Complex on the Tempe campus.

A look at some of the projects

Hailey Warner and Priyanka Ravindran

Electrical engineering majors Hailey Warner and Priyanka Ravindran are working on individual research projects in the FURI program that explore memristors, an electrical component of future microelectronics that has both memory and the ability to process data. These projects, mentored by Ivan Sanchez Esqueda, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, are among the first in a new semiconductor manufacturing research theme represented at the FURI Symposium. They are also sponsored by semiconductor foundry company TSMC. This new opportunity provides a way for the global leader in the semiconductor foundry business to support ASU students conducting exceptional research on semiconductors. 

Warner’s research explores the physics of 2D hexagonal boride nitride memristors, which are computing components made of a conductive ceramic material. These devices could be used in future neuromorphic, or “brain-inspired,” computing and improve machine learning hardware and neural networks. 

Ravindran seeks to improve machine learning through hardware in her FURI project by investigating the stacked layers of 2D materials present in neuromorphic computing devices. She hopes to further the effort of increasing computational efficiency in modern-day technology.

Electrical engineering students Hailey Warner and Priyanka Ravindran conduct research in Ivan Sanchez Esqueda's lab.

Hailey Warner (left), an electrical engineering junior, and Priyanka Ravindran (right), an electrical engineering senior, work on semiconductor-related research projects in the FURI program under the mentorship of Ivan Sanchez Esqueda (middle), an assistant professor of electrical engineering. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

 Question: What made you want to get involved in FURI and this particular research subject?

Warner: I first discovered Professor Ivan Sanchez Esqueda’s research in memristors via the FURI webpage nearly two years ago. I became fascinated with this burgeoning field of neuromorphic computing and knew I wanted to one day to participate in FURI for a chance to deepen my knowledge in a field beyond what classes could teach me. 

After completing an electronic materials course and an internship at Intel, I reconnected with Sanchez Esqueda, and he was very welcoming and excited to bring me into his lab.

Ravindran: As a third-year electrical engineering student, I took interest in circuit design and hardware development, which inspired me to find a project that contained these interests. I came across Professor Ivan Sanchez Esqueda’s page on the FURI website and became interested in his lab’s vision and work in neuromorphic computing. 

I chose this project for the chance to explore the hardware side of neural networks, a field that I had been doing surface-level readings about in scholarly journals and online articles. 

This project is based on integrating two powerful devices into one circuit, which involves applying the fundamentals that I have acquired in my courses to analyze the overall behavior of the devices in circuits. 

Q: How will your research project impact the world?

Warner: Neuromorphic computing revolutionizes how we view computer architecture by embedding memory within the processing unit, just like the human brain. The devices that make this possible? Memristors!

Think of memristors like a neuron. Not only can they store information, but when arranged together in certain ways, they can perform impressive computations with extreme haste and efficiency.

Memristors are an incredibly promising technology but they need to become more reliable. Through carefully testing and modeling these devices’ behavior, we can refine the manufacturing process and embed them in increasingly complex systems. 

Ravindran: Neuromorphic computing involves larger quantities of data that are being parallelly processed and placed into memory locations. There is no single processing unit or memory location in the brain. If a computer could mimic the brain’s computational ability, it would be able to perform complex computations with much-improved efficiency.

Q: How do you see this experience helping with your career or advanced degree goals?

Warner: Whether in industry research and development or academia, my goals have been set on research and scientific pursuit for quite a while. FURI exposes students to what this world is like. I hope to take both the technical, specific knowledge along with the soft skills I’ve acquired through FURI into graduate school and beyond.

Ravindran: Hardware design and development is a field that I have always been able to see myself in. Pursuing research has really inspired me to gravitate toward a graduate degree in electrical engineering and establish a career in the ever-growing semiconductor manufacturing industry. Contributing to the advancement of new semiconductor devices and discovering their capabilities is something I would take great pride in being a part of. Research in particular comes with plenty of freedom as there is space to make mistakes and learn. My aptitude to learn quickly has developed while pursuing research and will continue to improve in graduate studies and industry. I am thankful for getting the opportunity to assist in this particular research within academia as it has inspired me to take my education to new heights and acquire significant skills I can apply in the future.

Daniella Pautz

Biomedical engineering graduate student Daniella Pautz is exploring how engineering professors can use persuasion methods to help students succeed in class and improve their mental well-being. Her MORE research with faculty mentor Claire Honeycutt, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, seeks to address the high rates of depression and anxiety among engineering students and help them succeed in this difficult field of study. 

ASU biomedical engineering graduate student Daniella Pautz (center) with undergraduate students Maxwell Johnson and Ruhi Dharan.

Daniella Pautz (center), a biomedical engineering graduate student, works with FURI students Maxwell Johnson (left) and Ruhi Dharan. Pautz’s research explores how methods of persuasion used by engineering professors can affect students’ performance and well-being. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Q: What made you want to get involved in MORE, and why did you choose the project you’re working on?

Pautz: I have always had a passion for engineering, but I've also always had a passion for teaching and learning. I was talking with my faculty mentor about what I wanted to do for my thesis and mentioned that one day I wanted to teach. She suggested studying teaching methods in engineering education in order to combine my interests. So, we brainstormed and came up with the idea of studying persuasion techniques and how they are used in the classroom. 

Q: How will your research project impact the world?

Pautz: I believe my research can change the way teachers and professors interact with their students across all disciplines. Having a positive relationship with students can enhance their learning and help improve their mental health. With the mental health crisis growing across the world, interventions are necessary, and this can start in the classroom.

Q: Have there been any surprises in your research?

Pautz: I was surprised to see that teachers who are strict and use rules and punishments in their classes actually have a negative impact on student academic outcomes as well as student mental health. Many strict professors believe that it is their job to teach students how to be obedient, especially at younger ages, and that if they don't force students to participate, they won't. It turns out this belief harms students’ outcomes, decreases their engagement and increases their stress. 

Learn more about Daniella Pautz’s Spring 2023 MORE project.

Humberto Delgado

Humberto Delgado is an electrical engineering junior conducting research in the FURI program. With his mentor, Mike Ranjram, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, he is working on a solution to address the size and power requirements of power supplies that provide the energy for data centers. As our online presence continues to grow, miniaturizing power electronics and making them more efficient can better meet the energy needs of data centers more sustainably.

ASU electrical engineering junior Humberto Delgado (foreground) works with Mike Ranjram (background), an assistant professor of electrical engineering, on a FURI project.

Electrical engineering junior Humberto Delgado (foreground) works with Mike Ranjram (background), an assistant professor of electrical engineering, on a FURI project to miniaturize power electronics to make data centers more energy efficient. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Q: What made you want to get involved in FURI? Why did you choose the project you’re working on?

Delgado: I wanted to get more hands-on experience while being able to complete a project I am passionate about. I chose my project because this is a big step in the overall miniaturization of power electronics, which can mean more energy-dense power supplies.

Q: How will your research project impact the world?

Delgado: I hope this project can impact the world by showing how small power converters can get using Professor Ranjram’s new transformer layout. Hopefully this will open the doors to research in optimizing power electronics, especially as we face a new era with large amounts of renewable energy.

Q: Have there been any surprises in your research?

Delgado: I am a first-time researcher, and I have had to redo things to try to perfect a task, but this has helped me learn and develop problem-solving and design skills.

Learn more about Humberto Delgado’s spring 2023 FURI project.

Kelly Nguyen

Kelly Nguyen is a chemical engineering junior researching how microplastics in combination with pesticides affect soil contamination. This FURI project under the mentorship of Shuguang Deng, a professor of chemical engineering, provides new information about the environmental impact of microplastics and how humanity can more sustainably interact with the environment in the future. 

ASU chemical engineering student Kelly Nguyen works in the lab as part of a FURI research project.

Chemical engineering junior Kelly Nguyen investigates how microplastics and pesticides affect soil contamination as part of a FURI research project with Shuguang Deng, a professor of chemical engineering. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Q: Why did you choose the project you’re working on?

Nguyen: I chose to do my project on the interaction of microplastic and pesticides in soil because of my interest in sustainable polymers, also known as plastics. Microplastics are a big issue in the world of sustainability, and understanding the effects that they have in interacting with the environment will only further innovation in developing polymers that are better in the long run.

Q: How will your research project impact the world?

Nguyen: With the increasing concern about microplastics in soil, there is a need for more in-depth research to fully understand the relationship between pollutants and microplastics in a terrestrial environment. The results that come from this research will only further our understanding of the interactions between microplastics and soil contamination.

Q: Have there been any surprises in your research?

Nguyen: The biggest surprise in my research was the shift from my original experimental plan to my current one. I shifted to doing hydrothermal liquefaction of soil, pesticide and microplastics instead of measuring the amount of pesticide that the soil adsorbed over a period of time.

Q: How do you see this experience helping with your career or advanced degree goals?

Nguyen: One of my career goals is to run a lab researching more sustainable, highly accessible polymers. The experience of working in a lab setting allows me to learn the intricacies of being in a lab and how it can run so smoothly with many different working parts. 

Learn more about Kelly Nguyen’s Spring 2023 FURI project.

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering