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Dean’s Medalist explores legal field through psychology studies

Meghna Chowdury smiles at the camera.

Meghna Chowdhury, courtesy photo

November 17, 2023

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

Named the Arizona State University Department of Psychology’s fall 2023 Dean’s Medalist awardee, Meghna Chowdhury has emerged as a star student. She’s passionate about shaping public policy for juvenile justice, and has her sights set on law school. 

Chowdhury’s academic journey has been punctuated by pivotal moments of self-discovery.

“I decided that I wanted to pursue a degree in psychology during my second semester at ASU. I was taking PSY 101, the first psychology course I’d ever taken. Before then, I really didn't know what psychology was about. I was so captivated by that class, and I wanted to learn more about human behavior, so I changed my major from biomedical science to psychology,” Chowdhury said.

Originally from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, Chowdhury is graduating this December with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a certificate in law and human behavior. She received the Deborah Oldfield Reich and John Reich Maroon and Gold Leaders Scholarship, along with her merit-based ASU scholarship. 

During her time at ASU, Chowdhury participated in Project Excellence — a partnership between Barrett, The Honors College and ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law that exposed students to law courses and faculty members. She took a public interest litigation course and pursued a research position studying electronic incarceration (e-carceration) technologies in the Anti-Racist Digital Health Futures Lab. Her various experiences culminated in an honors thesis project under faculty advisor Professor Adam Cohen that examined jury instructions and its effect on Christian and Jewish jurors' beliefs on sentencing verdicts of inchoate crimes.

We caught up with Chowdhury to learn more about her ASU experience and future plans.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: It was always my dream to attend somewhere warm, especially coming from Colorado. I loved how ASU offered me the duality of a smaller department for my major while still being able to take advantage of the large university atmosphere. It was also a draw that I got to explore Phoenix, experiencing a brand-new city and meeting new friends along the way.

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

A: During the summer between my sophomore and junior year, I participated in a study-abroad internship program in London, U.K. While there, I worked for the Exit Foundation, a grassroots organization dedicated to helping youth involved in the criminal justice system. I was able to see the importance of mentorship and how the community in London came together to achieve their collective goal of ending youth violence. It completely opened my mind to a whole world I felt passionate about and ultimately inspired me to attend law school.

Q: Could you share an instance or story that illustrates the impact of a specific professor or mentor during your time at ASU?

A: I have been a part of Dr. Rick Cruz’s CACTUS Lab for two years now, where I learned the importance of advocating for improved prevention and intervention efforts for diverse youth and their families. I always love going into his lab because of the warm atmosphere it fosters. Dr. Cruz has played a huge role in my academic career, and I know that I can go to him with anything I need, regardless of whether it is school-related. He truly promotes mental health and deeply cares for every one of his students. 

Q: What were the results of your honors thesis sequence?

A: I hypothesized that Christians and Jewish people will view jury instructions the same when given jury instructions, and that Christians will judge inchoate crimes more harshly than Jewish people when not given jury instructions. My results indicated that Christians judge inchoate crimes more harshly than Jewish people, but there was no effect of jury instructions on judgment. Christians who were presented with jury instructions gave the defendant a longer prison sentence in years compared to Jewish participants who received jury instructions. On the other hand, Christian and Jewish participants who did not receive jury instructions gave a similar length of prison sentence in years.  

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

A: I would tell every incoming first-year student to take a chance and try one new thing. Some of my favorite memories were created by simply saying “yes.” For example, I tried intramural beach volleyball during my first year, even though I hadn’t played before. From that experience, I learned a new skill and even met one of my best friends!

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

A: For the last three years, I have loved the outdoor patio behind Hayden Library. It stays shady all day and is a great, quiet place to escape from the constant bustle of campus. An added bonus is its close proximity to Starbucks, perfect for a mid-study-session pick-me-up.

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

A: If I were given $40 million, I would reform the prison system in the United States. More specifically, I would invest that money in giving employees better pay, building more space that is safer and healthier for inmates, and providing more programs to inmates that assist them in the transition back to society, such as therapy, rehabilitation, education and other necessary life skills.

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