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Undergraduate research program gives sustainability student the edge to succeed

Arizona State University sustainability major Kim Nguyen

Arizona State University sustainability major Kim Nguyen. Courtesy photo

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.

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.”

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