Math and stats grad beats the odds by overcoming serious health issues

Adam Kurth sits on a desk in the Biodesign lab

Adam Kurth is graduating with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics and statistics.


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

Adam Kurth realized he wanted to study math while recovering in a Phoenix hospital bed in late 2020.

With few social outlets, he became intensely focused on his major, mathematics and statistics, as a means of coping; solving proofs and diving into applications through Python coding projects as he recovered. He soon realized he could also apply math to something health related, so he stuck with it, eventually finding himself working on a first-of-its-kind instrument called CXFEL at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute and as an intern for NASA’s Glenn Research Center.

Though Kurth has thrived at ASU, graduating this August from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics and statistics and a minor in philosophy, he did not have an easy start to his college career.

He was a senior in high school in 2018, when his skin and the whites of his eyes turned yellow — a clear sign of liver failure. After “a ton” of doctor visits he was told he needed a liver transplant and put on a waitlist. In April 2020, Kurth underwent the procedure.

During the surgery, doctors found lymphoma, which prompted four rounds of chemo. Then doctors discovered that the liver disease and lymphoma were linked by an extremely rare disease called common variable immunodeficiency, or CVID. That necessitated a bone marrow transplant and more chemotherapy, which he completed in December 2022.

Kurth currently works as a research aid for ASU CXFEL Labs at the Biodesign Institute. He deals with image processing, analysis, building deep learning and machine learning models and other software.

He is also a human reliability analyst intern for NASA and just got a formal offer from the organization to work on an ongoing project at Glenn Research Center, developing tools for a project that analyzes astronaut health over prolonged space travel.

Kurth always knew he would attend ASU because his mom has worked at Biodesign Institute since 2006.

“She's been praising it ever since I was a kid, subtly influencing me through the many awesome things going on at Biodesign. Plus, I live so close and I am so lucky to have a reduced cost of college.”

Kurth has received numerous scholarships, including the ASU Alumni Legacy Scholarship, the Coats & Todd Overcoming Disability Scholarship, the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation Survivor Scholarship and the HPFY Beyond Disability Scholarship among others.

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

Answer: I guess one perspective I didn't realize before was that there are many, many people who also struggle with health issues, particularly people that have ADHD or any sort of disability. And mine was just because I couldn't be in the classroom all the time. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Oh man, I hold a lot of respect for my linear regression teacher. Her name is Yi Zheng. Her course in regression analysis was extremely helpful and served as a baseline in graduate level statistics courses that I already look back on with fond memories. Also, I had MAT 300 and MAT 371 with Andrzej Czygrinow, and he was by far the hardest professor I have had at ASU. But I do not regret taking him one bit. He was understanding of my situation and made the class accessible to me. Also, the gravity of what I had learned in his courses were fundamental to my development as a statistician. If you’re by chance reading this, I very much thank you for all that you do and teach at ASU.

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

A: Get good grades and show up to class, because if you care about your grades, you show up to class and you show that you're trying. You can go places through connections with the professors too. I got an offer from NASA and that was through a network with my Professor Malena Español. I just attended only one lecture in her seminar course, and asked many questions to the presenter, and the rest is history.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I'm graduating technically in August due to summer courses. I want to take more so I can complete my minor in philosophy, and get into biostatistics. I want to pivot my research interests towards biostatistics so I thought this was a great choice. Also I'm doing a plus-one year at ASU in statistics to gain my master’s, and will be shooting for the moon when the time comes to apply for a PhD.

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

A: I want to say funding for cancer because I do hope to go into that field. However, I think the more immediate problem is misinformation. The multitude of perspectives that people think are valid are not. These fringe perspectives provide skewed, and sometimes dangerous, ideas — ideas that spread like wildfire. We are often wrongfully open-minded to these views that we see on the internet and many of them perpetuate hurtful ideas onto people.

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