Arizona State University engineering undergraduate Morgan Kelley (right) is doing research under the guidance of chemical engineering professor Lenore Dai (left). Kelley’s research experience has helped her win a Goldwater Scholarship to support her in completing work for bachelor’s degree. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU
Chemical engineering student Morgan Kelley is among the academic high-achievers throughout the country to recently be awarded a Goldwater Scholarship — considered the premier undergraduate scholarship for mathematics, science and engineering majors. From more than 1,200 nominees she is one of 260 students — and one of 68 engineering majors — selected to receive the award that provides up to $7,500 per year to support completion of undergraduate studies.
The Goldwater Scholarship Program, honoring the late U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, is intended to encourage outstanding students to pursue graduate studies and careers in engineering, science and mathematics fields.
Kelley, who grew up in Glendale, said she more or less decided in the sixth grade to become a chemical engineer, when her mother “just told me that is what I should be, though I don’t think she had much of an idea of what chemical engineers do.”
She graduated from Xavier College Preparatory high school in Phoenix three years ago and was accepted into ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College, enrolling in the chemical engineering program in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “But when I came here, I didn’t want to go to graduate school,” she recalled. “I just wanted to get through school and get a job right away. But then I fell in love with research.”
The opportunity to work in the lab with graduate students and be mentored by professors about how to do research has broadened her perspective on what she might be capable of achieving.
“With a four-year degree I could get a good job, but with a graduate degree and research experience I feel I could get to do something that gives me a more meaningful purpose, that I might be a part of a some really important discovery or breakthrough someday,” she said.
Taking on challenges
Now finishing her junior year, she is set on earning a doctoral degree. Getting a Goldwater Scholarship should help open doors to that pursuit. The award has traditionally served as a stepping-stone into top fellowship programs that support graduate students.
Kelley is in the Grand Challenge Scholars program, which maps out courses of study that train students to take on what the National Academy of Engineering deems the biggest challenges for engineering in the 21st century.
She’s preparing for that role by performing well in more than class assignments and tests.
Through the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative (FURI) she is delving deep into research aimed at engineering more effective ways to keep oceans and other water environments cleaner and healthier.
Her FURI research project was the basis for the research proposal that helped Kelley win the Goldwater Scholarship.
Through the Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program in the Fulton Schools of Engineering, she has led or been co-leader on student projects to develop and deliver portable technologies to provide nighttime lighting to students in Fiji and Uganda, places where electrical power is limited and unreliable. She is also is serving as a teaching assistant to help fellow students develop their EPICS projects.
She has won awards in student science and engineering competitions, including a semi-finalist award in the national Dell Social Innovation Challenge.
In 2014 Kelley completed an internship in research and development job for the Henkel Corporation, a major consumer goods manufacturing company.
She has been serving as a Fulton Ambassador, giving campus tours to prospective ASU engineering students and visiting local high schools to tell young students about college engineering studies and careers.
She’s been a peer mentor to fellow students and a counselor at E2, the Fulton Schools of Engineering freshman experience.
Opportunities to grow
“Morgan is an outstanding student in all aspects of her studies and efforts outside the classroom,” said professor Lenore Dai, chair of the chemical engineering program and Kelley’s research mentor. “She is especially talented in research. She is a co-author of a paper published in prominent research journal. As a junior she presented her research at an annual meeting of the American Chemical Society. These are unusual accomplishments for an undergraduate.”
Winning a Goldwater Scholarship “is recognition of Morgan’s exemplary accomplishments in the classroom, in the lab and in community service,” said Kyle Squires, director of the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy. “It’s really gratifying to see students like Morgan capitalize on all the opportunities we are working to provide our students to help them grow as scholars, researchers and leaders in the community.”
Kelley plans to graduate with her bachelor’s degree next spring, and begin graduate school soon after.
That will mark a new stage of higher education for her that only a few years ago she wasn’t expecting to reach.
“When I began college I didn’t think I was one of the really smart people and wasn’t sure how I would do,” Kelley said. “But I found myself at ASU. I came to understand the style of learning that works for me, and I’ve gained confidence.”
Scott Shrake, director of the EPICS program, foresees Kelley continuing to expand on her achievements.
“Morgan is without a doubt academically gifted, but her strengths go well beyond that,” Shrake said. “She’s incredibly well rounded, with an affable personality, a big heart, and the desire, drive and skill set to have a huge impact. She’s going to be one of those people who makes a dent in the world, and I can’t wait to see it.”