Undergraduate research program gives sustainability student the edge to succeed

September 26, 2023

For many, the first year of college is demanding enough without even bringing academics into the equation — from meeting new people to getting lost on campus, getting acclimated to the new environment is a challenge in and of itself.

That’s why Arizona State University makes it easy for students to engage in experiential learning opportunities early in their academic journey — such as working with faculty on research. Portrait of Arizona State University sustainability major Kim Nguyen. Arizona State University sustainability major Kim Nguyen. Courtesy photo Download Full Image

And that’s exactly what Kim Nguyen was able to do within the School of Sustainability through the Sustainability Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program. The program provides students with research opportunities to help build career skills and enhance competitiveness for jobs and graduate school.

“Going into college, research was something that I didn’t think I would do until I was doing my thesis, but having the opportunity to start early on has prepared me for my thesis this year,” Nguyen said.

The SURE program is now accepting applications for more than 20 research projects addressing topics like urban planning, environmental governance, energy sustainability, and ecosystems and biodiversity conservation. Both immersion and online students can participate. The application deadline is Oct. 15.

Hands-on experience

Nguyen is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in sustainability with a certificate in sustainable food systems within the College of Global Futures and Barrett, The Honors College. A Scottsdale native, she chose ASU not only due to its proximity to her home, but also thanks to its sustainability degree — the transdisciplinary program offered her the opportunity to tackle big issues while also gaining technical skills.

While participating in the SURE program, Nguyen had the opportunity to work with Datu Buyung Agusdinata, an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability, on a project titled “FEWS for Change: A Resource Conservation Role-Playing Game for Youth.”

The idea of utilizing a game to collect data was an intriguing concept for Nguyen, so she signed on to help through the SURE program.

“We sought to address a gap in sustainability education in younger students and take a gamified approach to understand how students interacted with food, energy and water (FEW) resources within their own homes,” she said.

The process of conducting the study and analyzing the results was an impactful experience for Nguyen.

“With this research, I got hands-on experience working with younger students who were also passionate about sustainability topics, and I saw that my work could impact their learning experiences,” she said.

Broader horizons

During her SURE program experience, Nguyen had the opportunity to broaden her horizons significantly.

She attended a National Science Foundation research meeting at Penn State University, where she gained valuable insights and connections.

She was an integral part of a pilot study involving a role-playing game experiment conducted at Casteel High School in Queen Creek, Arizona.

And she traveled to Melbourne, Australia, where she led an ASU research project involving over 200 local high school students in collaboration with the Climate Change Communication Research Hub at Monash University, Australia.

While Nguyen was excited to share about her work in the end-of-the-year presentations, she was surprised to find out she was one of the recipients of the program’s Student of the Year Awards.

“In working with Kim, I have found her to have a strong desire to learn, be open to new ideas, and passionate about addressing sustainability issues,” Agusdinata said. “She is diligent, reliable and hardworking, making her a valuable member of my research team.”

A bright future

Now, for her Barrett honors thesis, Nguyen will study the potential of future deep-sea mining and its social and environmental impacts. Her research will focus on Norway as a case study.

“While she initially had some doubts, Kim has grown to become a confident researcher with strong communication skills,” said Agusdinata. “With these qualities, I am confident that she holds great future potential.”

Thanks to the SURE program, Nguyen decided she’d like to pursue a master’s degree once she graduates, citing the confidence she’s gained in her research and technical skills.

Beyond the opportunity to grow academically and professionally, Nguyen suggests students have much to gain from pursuing research in an area that excites them.

“Even if learning new skills isn’t a priority,” she said, “it can be fun to explore different topics and perspectives.”

Matt Oxford

Assistant Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications, College of Global Futures


Gap between science, humanities focus of ASU Polytechnic seminar

Guest speaker discusses the ongoing toll of the Manhattan Project on Nuevomexicano communities

September 26, 2023

The $900 million box office hit “Oppenheimer” offers a glimpse into the development of the world’s first atomic bomb, but the film leaves a lot about the story of the Manhattan Project — and its ongoing legacy — untold.

The role Nuevomexicano communities played in the Manhattan Project is a topic Myrriah Gómez, an associate professor in the Honors College at the University of New Mexico, dedicates her research to. Gómez shared her work at the Science and Mathematics Colloquium series presented by the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at Arizona State University's Polytechnic campus on Wednesday, Sept. 20. Woman standing at the front of a classroom speaking to students. Myrriah Gómez, an associate professor in the Honors College at the University of New Mexico, was invited to speak at the Science and Mathematics Colloquium series presented by the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts at Arizona State University's Polytechnic campus on Sept. 20. Photo by Sona Srinarayana/ASU Download Full Image

The series, part of a weekly seminar course, often features invited speakers from across ASU or from other institutions, who share their research or other pursuits that intersect with biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics.

During her seminar, Gómez, a native of New Mexico and author of "Nuclear Nuevo México: Colonialism and the Effects of the Nuclear Industrial Complex on Nuevomexicanos," examined colonialityThe policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically., especially nuclear colonialityLong-standing patterns of power that emerge as a result of colonialism, defined by culture, labor, intersubjective relations and knowledge production well beyond the strict limits of colonial administrations..

In her book and through her public outreach, she is bringing to light the long-term impacts of the nuclear industrial complex, emphasizing what she sees as the five tenets of nuclear colonialismThe state-sponsored occupation of Indigenous homelands that results in the displacement and/or elimination of Indigenous people and other ethnic minority groups in poor economic situations, in favor of preserving a nuclear economy.: intergenerational trauma; disease and death; contamination; secrecy and obscurity; and environmental racism. Gómez argued that a combination of these injustices continue to plague Nuevomexicano communities.

“We bring discussions like these to our students because as STEM practitioners and researchers, it’s important for them to remember that they operate within cultural environments and societies, not in a vacuum of science or math,” said Igor Shovkovy, a professor of physics and faculty head in CISA’s School of Applied Sciences and Arts. “As educators, our goal is to offer our students a well-rounded education, and this includes a view into the effects of science and technology on humanity.”

Elaborating on the project’s impact on humanity, Gómez said that during the establishment of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico, prior to 1942, the site unlawfully displaced many Nuevomexicano families from their ranches. She also uncovered through her research that the site did not meet any of the stipulations required of a bomb-building facility, except one — the reasonable availability of labor.

“The project drew a blue-collar workforce from Nuevomexicano communities in the area — the people that we don’t see or hear about in the movie,” Gómez said. “This workforce became the disposable workforce and collateral damage, and endured disease and death from high levels of plutonium and uranium exposures. The project had a catastrophic effect on communities, cultures and the environment that continue even to this day.”

Eighty years later, Gómez noted, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico, is developing a minimum of 50 new weapons per year, and that number is expected to grow, while Nuevomexicano communities are still reeling from the effects of major cancer clusters stemming from the Manhattan Project. She says the U.S. rationalizes this effort to keep up with the global “nuclear arms race.”

“Chemicals were mishandled during the Manhattan Project,” Shovkovy said. “This has happened countless times in history and continues to happen today with coal mining, fracking and various other activities that pollute our environment. We need to do better.”

Professor Elizabeth J. Donaldson, director of CISA’s School of Applied Sciences and Arts, said, “This is the untold story of the nuclear arms race, and it was a fascinating discussion led by Myrriah Gómez as part of our Hispanic Heritage Month programming. It's seminars like these that really embrace what it means to be polytechnic learners and that enable CISA to bridge science and humanities.”

Gómez’s book is available for purchase for those interested in learning more.

CISA’s Science and Mathematics Colloquium series events are free, open to the public and offered in person at ASU's Polytechnic campus and via Zoom. The public events are posted on the CISA homepage, CISA social media platforms and ASU Events as they are announced.

Sona Patel Srinarayana

Sr communications specialist, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts