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Passion for the environment drives School of Molecular Sciences Dean’s Medalist

Headshot of Rachel Einecker

Rachel Einecker

December 06, 2023

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

Arizona State University honors student Rachel Einecker is graduating in December with a Bachelor of Science in environmental chemistry and the prestigious School of Molecular Sciences Dean’s Medal in honor of her scholastic achievements.

Einecker switched majors multiple times before landing on environmental chemistry. She was drawn toward understanding the natural world at a young age. She adored science and math and wanted lots of room to explore. Consequently, at ASU, Einecker chose environmental chemistry, which is a mix of biology, geology, chemistry, physics and math.

“Rachel has worked with me on her honor’s project investigating methane and iron geochemistry in wetlands since 2022,” explained Professor Hilairy Hartnett, who holds joint appointments in the School of Molecular Sciences and the School of Earth and Space Exploration. “She started the work as a Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution summer research intern in Megan Eagle’s lab at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and continued it with us in the Carbon and Nitrogen Dynamics Lab (CaNDy LaB) at ASU.“

“Through her work, Rachel has not only developed a deep understanding of wetland redox chemistry, she has also considered how humans influence these fragile coastal ecosystems. Rachel is a regular contributor to our group meetings, she is always happy to help other students in the group, and she is an extremely well-rounded student. I’ve enjoyed hearing her talk about her music performances and her community service work!”

In 2022, Einecker published a paper in the open source journal "Sustainability" entitled "Climate Change: A Bibliometric Study of Adaptation, Mitigation and Resilience."

During the summer of 2023, Einecker participated in DAAD-RISE, a highly selective research fellowship program sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service. The program supports summer research internships in Germany for undergraduate students from North America, Great Britain and Ireland. In their internships, students are carefully matched with doctoral students and researchers who serve as their mentors while they pursue research projects relevant to their interests. Einecker traveled to Gottingen, Germany, to work on a project that studies how drought affects plant physiology.

In her spare time, Einecker was involved in many volunteer activities at ASU, including recycling COVID plastics, tutoring for ASU America reads, and performing as a violist for the ASU Philharmonia Orchestra.

In the below Q&A, Einecker goes on to discuss more about her time at ASU and plans for the future.

Note: Answers may have been edited lightly for length or clarity.

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

Answer: I switched majors multiple times before I landed on environmental chemistry. I realized I wanted this track because I always loved the environment. With my family I would go hiking, and constantly be outside, and I was drawn towards understanding the natural world at a young age. I also adored science and math. ... I’m an extremely curious person.

Therefore, at ASU I landed in environmental chemistry, which to me had the most flexibility and mix of all the sciences ... along with the higher-level math and statistics I needed. I LOVE math.

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

A: I realized that it’s best to act when you feel stuck. Before ASU, I would often plan or think deeply about the future before I took any sort of action for a goal. What I realize now, is that when you have a goal, simply take small actions before trying to think about what or how to do it.

So, for example, regarding schoolwork, I would dread certain big projects at the end of the semester. I’d be burnt out and not want to do anything but know I needed to accomplish it. Instead of trying to think about how to be productive, I would get up and take a walk, or just sit and do two minutes of work. By taking a small, easy action, I’d get my motivation going and I would get somewhere, rather than being stuck thinking about how to solve my problem. 

Another example is when I wanted to try something new, like solo travel during my internship in Germany. At first, I was googling everything to try and figure out where to go, how to make it affordable, what to do when I got to each town, if I should do big cities or small towns, etc. This whole process was pretty draining and I felt more and more like I couldn’t do it. So then I simplified everything. I just figured out how I’d get there, and where I would sleep, and that was it. And once I did that my travel was fantastic! So from this I learned that it can be much better to have a general goal, take at least one small action — like buying one train ticket — and then let the plan fall into place, rather than trying to think hard about a plan before taking any action.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: It was the path of least resistance. Closest to my parents ... good scholarship, and a large school with many opportunities outside of class.

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

A: The most important part of college is the connections you make. These are influenced by your experiences both outside and in class, for both professional and social circles. Doing well in your classes and going to class is simply a foundation to get internships and make friends with your peers and to network and connect with your professors. Take advantage of the many opportunities available to you during your college career. Always try something new and get out of your comfort zone. College is a great opportunity to explore. If you like to give everything 110% effort like me, letting go of giving everything your full effort and realizing that it’s okay to give 80% or even 50% when you are overworked is a huge life lesson. 

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

A: There is a small garden tucked away near Old Main, on the side of the writer’s house. It has a small water feature, benches in the shade, colorful yellow birds, and butterflies. No one is ever there and it’s incredibly peaceful. I’d often take a nap or study there!

The meditation space in the basement of the MU is amazing; I met my friends there every Wednesday for the SKY meditation club meetings.

The roses along Gammage are really nice and great to walk through before orchestra rehearsal.

The silent study room in Noble was my favorite spot to study.

Tempe Town Lake is also amazing, and if you have a bike, you can get anywhere on the canal trails. I’d often bike from Tempe to Mesa, to Old Town Scottsdale, or to Phoenix — and the canal trails are peaceful and gorgeous. In general, the canal trails and my bike gave me the freedom to get around the Valley since I didn’t have a car on campus.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to work for the United States Geological Survey in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. I have a few projects I can participate in, all of which involve coastal wetland research. The job isn’t finalized, but I was given an offer.

I’ll have a break before the job starts, so in the meantime I will relax, join a CrossFit, join the Mesa Community College Orchestra as a community member, get my scuba diving license, travel to my friends, travel alone, and hike a TON. From the internship in Germany and also my internship at Woods Hole, I made friends from all over the world and the U.S. I want to visit them. I also traveled Europe alone and gained a ton of confidence in terms of solo travel. Solo travel is something I’m itching to do more of, and I could see myself going back to Europe, somewhere new, or in places around or near the U.S.

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