Double major a powerhouse of undergrad research, accolades

Madeleine Zheng graduating from ASU with degrees in biochemistry and Chinese

April 29, 2023

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

Madeleine Zheng is multilingual and multitalented, has worked on multiple research projects and won much recognition in her undergraduate career at Arizona State University. Photo of Madeleine Zheng Madeleine Zheng is graduating from ASU with two bachelor's degrees and Outstanding Graduate for Research accolades from Barrett, The Honors College. Download Full Image

Zheng, who speaks Spanish and Chinese in addition to English, will graduate ASU with two bachelor’s degrees in May, one in biochemistry and the other in Asian languages (Chinese). Barrett, The Honors College at ASU has named her a 2023 Outstanding Graduate for Research.

From Tucson, Arizona, she came to ASU as a National Merit Scholar in 2019 and followed that up with the ASU School of Molecular Sciences Women in Science Scholarship in 2020. That same year, she was named a Lincoln Undergraduate Scholar with the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, a United Nations Millennium Fellow and a U.S. Department of Education Foreign Language Area Studies Fellow.

For three years, she worked with Amber Wutich, ASU President’s Professor and director of the Center for Global Health and NSF Action for Water Equity, on a National Science Foundation-funded effort to end water insecurity in low-income colonias in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and California. She also worked with John Carlson at ASU's Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict in 2022.

In a letter nominating Zheng for Barrett Outstanding Graduate accolades, Wutich said, “Ms. Zheng quickly became a student leader, taking a justice-oriented and community-based approach to our research as we address water insecurity in low-income colonias on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I rank her among the best undergraduate researchers I have ever worked with, in comparison with 2,000+ that I have taught, hundreds of students I have trained in my lab, and 100 or so who have gone on to graduate or medical school,” Wutich added.

In 2022-23, Zheng completed a National Security Education Program (NSEP) Boren Fellowship and NSEP Chinese Flagship Capstone program in Taiwan to achieve professional proficiency in Mandarin.

In 2021, she participated in a NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates program at the University of South Florida focused on urban water sustainability and co-authored four publications on water insecurity.

In addition to her academic and research work, Zheng founded a statewide nonprofit organization called CiviTutors offering remote tutoring for underprivileged students during the pandemic.

Zheng took time out from the excitement of finishing up the semester and preparing for graduation to reflect on her undergraduate experience at ASU. Here’s what she had to say.

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

Answer: I decided to attend ASU as a biochemistry major because I had taken AP biology and chemistry in high school and really enjoyed learning how living things worked on the biological, chemical and even molecular level. I also served as captain of our high school's Science Olympiad club and took our team to nationals three years in a row. Entering college, I found that there were many ways to apply my interests in biochemistry, but slowly found myself looking to social science and anthropology as a way of informing why people behaved and thought the way they did in the context of health.

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

A: I learned that you shouldn't be afraid to try new things, even if you don't have any relevant experience. People will be willing to take a chance on you as long as you're willing to try hard. As a biochemistry major, I made quite a few unconventional choices — double majoring in Chinese, working in an anthropology lab and even joining the ASU women's Frisbee team — but I don't regret any of them! 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: My sister had attended ASU as a Barrett student previously, so I knew about the wealth of knowledge, faculty expertise and opportunity at ASU. Combined with the financial package ASU provided me with as an in-state National Merit Scholar, it was an offer I couldn't refuse.

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

A: My anthropology lab director and thesis director, Dr. Amber Wutich, has been such an inspiration and amazing mentor. She's taught me so much, not only about research, but also about collaborating, leading and taking every opportunity to work towards my goals. I also want to thank my wonderful professors at the School of Molecular Sciences and the incredible Chinese Flagship Program faculty who have supported me every step of the way. 

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school?

A: If there are any classes or electives you've always wanted to take, you should definitely explore those interests! I loved all the interdisciplinary classes and programs that I was part of at ASU.

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

A: The second floor of Hayden Library has beautiful open windows overlooking Hayden Lawn and West Hall. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm currently applying to medical school and MD-PhD programs in anthropology. In a future medical and research career, I'm interested in studying how environmental inequities turn into health inequities. 

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

A: A lot of my research has focused on water research and sanitation, and given $40 million I would love to tackle water and food insecurity issues associated with the climate crisis. During my time working with Dr. Wutich in the Culture, Health, and Environment Lab, I learned about the water contamination and water scarcity issues that people in underserved communities face on the U.S.-Mexico border. Even growing up in Arizona, I had always taken access to clean and safe water for granted.

I also had the chance to work on urban poverty and sanitation challenges through the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates, where I developed a community-based rapid assessment tool to identify high-priority water needs. All of these experiences have shaped my perspective that access to clean and safe water and sanitation services is a human right, and have contributed towards my passion for increasing water and resource equity in a future career!

Barrett Honors College student Rebecca Smalley contributed to this story.

Nicole Greason

Director of Marketing and Public Relations , Barrett, The Honors College


Applied Math PhD selected as 2023 Outstanding Graduate Student for The College

April 29, 2023

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

Chelsea Krantsevich is the spring 2023 Outstanding Graduate Student for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences – Natural Sciences, graduating with a PhD degree in applied mathematics. She will be honored at Arizona State University’s Graduate Commencement ceremony on May 8 at Desert Financial Arena. After graduation, Chelsea Krantsevich plans to continue working at Aural Analytics, a speech analytics startup company based in Scottsdale, Arizona, founded by two ASU professors. Download Full Image

Her other accolades include the 2021 GPSA Outstanding Research Award, 2021 NSF INTERN Fellowship, 2019 Student Leadership Award and 2019 Research Training Group Fellowship.

“Over my five years at ASU, I have seen time and again how smart, creative, kind and resilient ASU’s graduate students are, especially at the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences,” said Krantsevich. “They are a pretty impressive group of people, and I’ve learned so much from my fellow graduate students. So I feel incredibly honored to have been named one of the Outstanding Graduate Students for the spring 2023 graduating class.”

Krantsevich grew up in La Crescenta, California, near Los Angeles. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees of science from Brigham Young University. She was originally recruited to ASU by a professor who was planning to start a faculty position in the school. In a turn of events, just before her first semester he instead chose to work for a startup company and ended up not coming to ASU after all.

“During that first semester, I made the decision to continue at ASU after experiencing the vibrant programs that SoMSS offered (seminars, research fellowships, faculty and peer mentoring, and professional development programs), along with the supportive and friendly atmosphere created by the other graduate students,” she said.

The Research Training Group (RTG) in Data-Oriented Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at the school provided a research fellowship to Krantsevich and hosted a weekly seminar on related topics, which positively impacted her career trajectory.

“The RTG program helped to support my application for the NSF INTERN award, which funded my initial internship at Aural Analytics (later turning into a full-time role) as a collaboration between the university and the company,” said Krantsevich. “Dr. Rodrigo Platte and Dr. Doug Cochran were instrumental in facilitating both RTG and the NSF INTERN award.”

Krantsevich’s research focuses on using machine learning for designing screening tests. Applications of her research include adaptive screenings tests for assessing risk of youth delinquency, and speech-based tests to screen for cognitive impairment and other types of neurodegenerative diseases.

Associate Professor of statistics P. Richard Hahn is her research advisor.

“The best thing about working with Chelsea is how sharp she is — she always spots the key assumptions or issues that go right to the heart of the matter,” Hahn said. “She has an exceptional talent for attention to detail and is a very quick learner and worker. Having her in the room always benefits the discussion because she sees straight to the important stuff, even when everyone else (including me) is distracted by this or that. I've been very impressed that she can produce high-quality scholarly work while holding down a full-time research job — not many folks can do that.

“What's more, her work has tremendous potential for practical applications. Chelsea's dissertation concerns the mathematical and statistical properties that make a screening test (for risk assessment or diagnosis) effective. Specifically, she has laid the groundwork for developing screening tests that are more convenient and/or more informative. Her work has applications in areas as diverse as demographic polling, educational assessment and medical diagnosis.”

Professor Rosemary Renaut runs the Professional Development Seminar at the school, which invites speakers to share their experiences of working in different areas of academia, national research labs and industry – from startups to large companies. At the end of each talk, students are encouraged to ask questions to learn more about the speaker and to build their networks.

“I was able to get an internship my first summer through contact with one of the visiting speakers, which launched my exploration into different career paths” said Krantsevich. “The professional development program was instrumental in my decision to pursue a career in industry after graduation.”

We caught up with Krantsevich to find out more about her experiences at ASU.

Question: What are your plans after graduation?

Answer: I am planning to continue working at Aural Analytics, a speech analytics startup company based in Scottsdale, Arizona, that was founded by two ASU professors, Dr. Julie Liss and Dr. Visar Berisha. The mission of Aural Analytics is to provide objective measures of brain health using speech, and I have been working as a machine learning scientist at Aural Analytics for the past two years while finishing my dissertation. I plan to continue working on some of the challenging problems we are trying to tackle, including early detection, prognosis and longitudinal monitoring of various neurodegenerative diseases.

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

A: Having a solid group of peers that support each other is the most critical aspect of surviving graduate school. It can be a really tough experience at times, and the people who are going through it with you, or who have recently gone through it, are often the best source of help and advice.

Q: What do you like most about mathematics?

A: My favorite part of mathematics is that we can use mathematical algorithms to learn about the world from data and come up with solutions to challenging problems. Through mathematics, statistics and data science, we have the opportunity to have a real impact on people’s lives.

Q: What do you think is most misunderstood about math by the general public?

A: People sometimes think that math and data can be used to solve any problem, as long as you try hard enough and get smart enough people working on it. But I think there are limitations to what math and data can do; you might just have a problem that’s not possible to solve with the data you are able to feasibly collect. In that case it would be better to put resources towards solving a problem that’s actually achievable and still impactful.

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school?

A: Having been in hiring committees in my current role at Aural Analytics, I learned that if you want to go into industry, it’s better to spend time on your research, publications and especially technical skills rather than on extracurricular activities or teaching. Prospective employers care a lot more about your technical skills, in particular challenging projects you’ve worked on using real data sets, than about other parts of your resume.

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

A: The tables in front of the Crepe Club (adjacent to Charles Wexler Hall).

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time for fun?

A: Watch Formula 1 races, go for long walks, listen to podcasts for learning and practicing the Russian language.

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

A: I would use the money to try to tackle the epidemic of gun violence in the United States. The most impactful approach would probably be through lobbying efforts and private campaign donations, to try to influence our political leaders to 1) pass laws that have been shown to reduce gun violence in other nations and 2) allocate significantly more funding for the design and implementation of a multi-faceted solution.

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences