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Frea Mehta spent the past five years as an engineering and science student in ASU’s Barrett, the Honors College — including a semester studying abroad in Singapore and two summer research internships in Germany.
Recent Fulton Schools graduate Frea Mehta came oh-so-close to being the winning contestant on a popular National Public Radio program.
She did more research for her honors thesis project during almost two years exploring aspects of stem cell biology under the mentorship of David Brafman, a Fulton Schools assistant professor of biomedical engineering.
Mehta graduated this spring with degrees in chemical engineering and molecular biology — just a few weeks after receiving a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to spend most of the next year in a research program at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
Then she plans to head to the Boston area, where she has been accepted into the biomedical engineering doctoral degree program at Tufts University.
Along with those impressive accomplishments, Mehta also got the opportunity to bring all the education she has attained in her successful undergraduate years to tests of her knowledge of words that start with the prefix “re,” “Things With Wings,” and names and phrases containing letters and words that describe modes of transportation.
That challenge came by way of her appearance a few weeks before graduation on the popular National Public Radio program “Ask Me Another,” a quiz show of puzzles, word games and trivia, mixed with humor and music.
A fan of the program and its “house musician,” singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton, Mehta said she just happened to tune into local NPR affiliate station KJZZ during an announcement that the Brooklyn, New York-based production was coming to Arizona to record a show at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix.
Mehta posed for this photograph on a hill overlooking a castle in Bavaria, Germany during one of her summer research internships. Alas, her knowledge of science and engineering was of little help on the “Ask Me Another” quiz show.
She later went onto the program’s website to buy tickets and noticed the link to apply for a chance to appear on the show that’s taped before a live audience.
The application consisted of “questions about popular culture and games similar to the kinds of things they have on the show,” Mehta recalls. “If I didn’t know something, I just made a silly joke. I guess they liked my funny answers.”
She was contacted within a few days and invited to be a contestant.
“Things were very casual,” she says of the production. “They told us to come an hour before the show to run over the rules. They reminded us that we were going to be on public radio, so no swearing or saying anything crazy.”
Still, she says, “being on stage in front of a lot of people was nerve-racking.”
Nevertheless, Mehta made it through two quiz rounds to become one of the two contestants in the final round.
She came in second when she couldn’t answer a question about the name of a long-running television music show whose name contained a mode of transportation. (It was “Soul Train.”)
In banter with the show’s hosts, however, she did get to tell the story of the time she accidently stumbled and did a “face plant” into an exhibit of the Declaration of Independence during a high school trip to the nation’s capital city.
And she got a chance to explain a bit about the biological engineering work she will be doing in her Fulbright Scholarship project with one of the world’s leading researchers involved in developing artificial meat in the laboratory.
You can listen to Mehta’s national radio debut on the recording of the April 28 broadcast of “Ask Me Another” on the NPR website.