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School of Molecular Sciences Dean’s Medalist shares inspiration


Two women smiling and holding a certificate.

School of Molecular Sciences Assistant Professor Christina Birkel (left) presented Rylee James with the school's Dean's Medal. Courtesy photo

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April 22, 2024

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Each semester, departments and schools within The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences select outstanding students who have demonstrated a steadfast commitment to academic excellence while at ASU. These students are awarded the prestigious Dean’s Medal for their academic achievements. This semester, the School of Molecular Sciences is proud to recognize Rylee James as a Dean’s Medal recipient.

"Rylee has quickly become an extremely valuable member of our team," said School of Molecular Sciences Assistant Professor Christina Birkel. "She supports two graduate students on two different projects synthesizing layered oxides and carbides. In addition, she is a valued teaching assistant and has won fellowships and opportunities to gain research experience abroad and to present her results at national meetings. I am proud to call Rylee a Birkel group member!"

James' journey into the world of chemistry was sparked by an inspiring high school teacher, a chemistry teacher whom James credits for making the subject both engaging and enjoyable.

"I was basically like, 'Oh, this is so interesting; I'll just study this in college' and it worked out really well," she said.

James chose Arizona State University because of its proximity to home, scholarships, and the university's reputation for excellence and innovation. Her journey of inspiration continued with her teachers at ASU, notably professors Birkel, Scott Sayres and Ryan Trovitch, who instilled in her the importance of asking questions and seeking answers independently.

Reflecting on their influence, James remarked, "They never simply gave me the answer. ... Instead, they gave me the knowledge and tools that I needed to be able to figure out the answers for myself."

In addition to her academic pursuits, James advocates for maintaining a balance between studies and leisure.

"Remember to take time to have some fun," she advised her peers, emphasizing the importance of self-care to prevent burnout.

Among the bustling campus of ASU, James has found solace and community at the LDS Institute of Religion, where she often spends time with friends or engages in focused study sessions.

Looking ahead, James' future holds a blend of adventure and ambition. Following graduation, she plans to embark on a mission for her church before venturing into industry. Expressing her desire to continue research and potentially pursue a PhD, James hopes to be an inspiration to others throughout her life's journey.

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