'They’re constant inspirations': ASU graduate credits friendships for creative success

May 3, 2023

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

Fiction writer Colin Bonini’s characters plumb the depths of human experience. With stories that feature complex emotional situations, such as those between a father and son, as well as complex creative situations, such as an encounter with a minotaur in a cave, Bonini employs a gregarious writing sensibility that was honed with close mentorship at Arizona State University. Graduating ASU student Colin Bonini works on his fiction while surrounded by ever-present writing partners. Graduating ASU student Colin Bonini writes with his furry friends, Cody and Mellow. Download Full Image

Bonini is graduating from ASU this spring with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. Faculty praise him as a dream student.

“Colin is among the most dedicated, hard-working, productive and generous student writers I have had the pleasure of working with in my 10 years at ASU,” said Assistant Professor Jenny Irish, who teaches in ASU’s creative writing program.  

“I first encountered his stellar fiction while reading applications for admission into our MFA program. It was obvious that Colin was a writer of unquestionable talent, who could work deftly in different styles while exploring related subject matter: strained familial bonds, lapsed faith and the weight of public and private history.”

Originally from San Jose, California, Bonini did not come to his creative prowess by “writing in his room,” but instead by engaging with others. Life gave him plenty of inspiration for his fiction. In addition to an undergraduate degree in English from Gonzaga University, he earned a minor in criminal justice. Later, he added a certification in Teaching English as a Foreign Language, which enabled him to teach multilingual first-year composition courses at ASU.

“As a teacher, Colin builds the confidence of students through a sincere engagement with their ideas and curiosities,” said Irish.

For his work, Bonini received a 2021 Teaching Excellence Award from the Graduate and Professional Student Association.

Bonini also completed an internship for the New York City-based publisher, Four Way Books. ASU Professor of English Sally Ball, who is associate director of the press, said that Bonini was a “stellar” intern, leaning into his “keen awareness of multilingual sensibility, working with intelligence, grace and incredible degree of detail” on the editing projects to which he was assigned.

Bonini is now well-prepared for many facets of the typical writing career. As he put the finishing touches on his own novel, “The Redlands House,” he answered a few questions about the writer’s life.

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

Answer: I don’t think there was one moment; I think it was a series of small encouragements from friends, teachers, family and my communities that showed me I even could study creative writing and potentially make it a part of my life after college. I knew I loved writing in high school — I had these two fantastic English teachers, Samuel Bliss and Jeremy Lum, who were the first mentors to show me what writing and reading could be beyond the five-paragraph essay — but then, in college at Gonzaga, I got it in my head somewhere that writing was fun, but not something I could really pursue after graduating. 

A few of my professors basically told me that wasn’t true, and my mom was actually the one who convinced me to go for grad school, in the end. So … I don’t know if I had an “aha” moment. I don’t even know if I’d be studying at ASU if it weren’t my friends and family and mentors. It was actually a friend of mine who sent me the app to ASU! He’s not even a writer. Just one of the people who supported me through the years.

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

A: I’ve learned so much from my graduate cohort — Christie Louie, Winslow Schmelling, Christina D’Antoni — and the other writers in ASU’s MFA program. It’s kind of insane. When I look back on the writing I was doing before ASU, even the writing I was doing in my first year here, it’s totally different than what I’m doing now. I think, before ASU, I knew I wanted to write. And that was it. Now, I feel more confident in what I want to write, why I want to write it and how I’m going to do it. My friends here have given me a kind of direction as a writer that I never had before, and they’re constant inspirations to me and my work. They blow my mind every day.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU was the most generous program to offer me a spot. I didn’t know much about MFA programs before applying — I was kind of an idiot about it, in retrospect — and it felt a little bit like I was just tossing my name in the hat, seeing if it had a shot at getting picked. I didn’t know how my writing stood up to other people applying to MFAs, didn’t know what it was like to go to grad school for creative writing, nothing. I just knew I wanted to write, but that I needed help getting my writing to where I wanted it to be.

Like I said, a friend of mine actually sent me the application to ASU in a bid to get me down to Tempe, so when (Professor) Matt Bell called me up to let me know I’d made it off the waitlist, I was pretty much floored. I talked to some other faculty and some students before making my decision — (Assistant Professor) Jenny Irish, Rachel Reeher, Hayden Casey — and they pretty much sealed the deal. It came down to ASU and one other school, and I just didn’t feel like anywhere else would support me the same way ASU could.

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

A: At some point, Matt Bell told me the most important thing he learned while he was in grad school wasn’t how to write a story or do a close reading or anything like that, but to make writing a non-negotiable part of his routine. I think I’d echo that. All the writing I’ve gotten done while I’ve been here is because I tried to prioritize writing instead of only writing when I “felt like it.” Once it becomes a job, the work starts getting done. I have good weeks and bad weeks, but I try to remember that advice.

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

A: Take care of yourself. It’s so easy to get overburdened by the student life, no matter what level of education you’re going through. Get enough sleep, drink water, eat enough food, go to the doctor if you’re able, know when you’re pushing yourself too hard and let yourself take a break. Sometimes rest is scarier than work. But you gotta do it.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: My desk!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’ll be in Phoenix! This summer I’m planning to finish my book, and I’m hoping to find a teaching position nearby in the fall. I’d love to stay in the classroom. Fingers crossed.

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

A: The climate crisis. I’m not a climate scientist, and my own work (right now, at least) doesn’t call for much research in that area, but that’s where I’d put the money. More specifically, I’d invest in infrastructure and solutions to help people displaced by climate catastrophe and global climate change.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English


ASU graduate lands dream job at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab

May 3, 2023

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

Aditya Khuller has always been captivated by the world of science. Inspired by his late grandfather, Khuller demonstrated his dedication from an early age, sneaking into his friend’s physics classes and reading books gifted to him by his family.  This spring, Aditya Khuller is graduating from ASU with a PhD in planetary science and geology. He also earned a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering in 2019 and a Master of Science in 2021 here. Download Full Image

This spring, Khuller is graduating from ASU with a PhD in planetary science and geology. He also earned a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering in 2019 and a Master of Science in 2021 here.

Raised in a tiny apartment in Gurgaon, India, Khuller always knew he wanted to do something space-related, with hopes to one day work for NASA.  

Khuller began to explore his passion for science more deeply and realized that ASU could offer him the resources and support he needed to pursue his bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. 

Every week after Professor Phil Christensen’s “Introduction to Exploration” class, Khuller would come up with questions to ask Christensen. Sometimes he would already know the answer, but didn’t care — he just wanted to talk to Christensen and learn from him. 

When Khuller asked what it would take to work for Christensen, he replied, “Keep bugging me, and get good grades.” Khuller persisted and started working at ASU’s Mars Space Flight Facility in 2016, and they have been working together since. 

“Adi is without question one of the best students I’ve ever worked with. I pointed him in the direction of some interesting problems, and he figured out what he needed to learn and learned it and who he needed to work with and began collaborating with them,” said Christensen, in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. “It was great fun to just stand back and watch. I have no doubt that Adi will go on to do amazing things in his career, and I plan to just keep watching and enjoying.” 

In addition to his degrees, Khuller was awarded 15 scholarships throughout his time at ASU, including the R. Greeley Planetary Geology Scholarship and ASU Outstanding Graduate Research Award. He also benefited from the ASU Graduate Research Support Program.

Following graduation, Khuller has accepted a postdoctoral research position at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he is studying the radiative heating effects of dust within the water-vapor-dominated coma around the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Khuller shared more about his experience at ASU with ASU News. 

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: It’s funny because when I was applying to ASU in 2015, I never knew how deep our connection with NASA was, even though it had always been my dream to work at NASA. I’d never heard of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, or that we were one of a handful of schools in the world that builds instruments that fly on NASA missions! I’d heard that Barrett, The Honors College was incredible (and it really is), and that’s probably what swung it for me. I loved my experience at Barrett, it gave me so many opportunities — ranging from extra research opportunities and scholarships to friends and my incredibly transformative job as a community assistant in the dorms.

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

A: Phil Christensen has taught me so much about imbuing the key tenets of being a scientist — to be open, humble and understanding of all ideas and people. I have learned a tremendous amount from him, and I will forever be grateful for his generosity and kindness.

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

A: One of the main things I’ve learned at ASU (and really, life in general) is that if you want something, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it. Asking for help can seem scary at first, but more often than not, people are happy to help and give you advice.

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

A: My favorite building on campus is the rather quaint-looking Virginia G. Piper Center, which has a really peaceful fountain and benches that are shrouded from view. Sitting there you can be at the heart of the busy ASU campus (right next to Palm Walk), yet worlds apart.

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

A: There are so many problems on our planet, and I would love to help kids and dogs all around the world live a happier, healthier life. If I had to pick one problem, it would be the problem of trying to cheaply and efficiently desalinate the water in the oceans for consumption. It seems almost ludicrous to think that 70% of our planet is covered with water, and yet we still haven’t figured out how to use that water to tackle droughts and provide people with clean water to drink.

Q: Any influences from past teachers, friends or family?

A: My love for science and physics began a long time ago, with my late grandfather, Amrit, and the wonderful books that my parents bought for me when I was a kid. I also have a circle of very close friends — Alejandro Martinez, Deolu Ogunmefun, Sarah Rogers, Arnav Banerji, Heather Lethcoe, Leann Bowen and Sarah Braunisch. They have always been there for me when I needed their help; when I was sad, feeling alone or planning petty larceny. My mother has sacrificed a lot to help me, and her indefatigable love and sacrifices help fuel my determination, and I am forever indebted to her.

Taylor Hess

Marketing and communications digital aide , School of Earth and Space Exploration