A proud Sun Devil ready to launch into a scientific career

By

Karin Valentine

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

As an Arizona native, Alexa Drew had always planned on attending Arizona State University, but it wasn’t until her time at Mesa Community College that she realized that her interests were specifically geared towards both astronomy and biology; and that ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration had the bachelor’s degree she was looking for. This spring, she will be graduating with a degree in earth and space exploration with a concentration in astrobiology, in addition to minors in political science and biology.

When asked about her time at ASU and the School of Earth and Space Exploration, she says that these have been some of the best experiences of her life.

“There is always so much going on at ASU, especially regarding research, that I think there is a niche for just about everyone, no matter their interests,” she said.

Drew also appreciates the diversity on campus and how that creates an empowering atmosphere where different ideas and backgrounds can come together to create something great.

“Innovation and creativity are always front and center at ASU, and almost every instructor or mentor I’ve had there has worked to foster those talents,” she said.

In addition to her coursework, Drew was selected as an ASU NASA Space Grant intern, where she worked alongside a faculty mentor on NASA-related research.

“The skills I have learned through this experience will be with me for the rest of my scientific career,” she said. “This has helped prepare me for graduate school, as have the many useful networking opportunities the grant sets up for students.”

Recently, Drew was hired to assist with office duties for the NASA Space Grant Program. She plans to start graduate school in about a year, with her current NASA Space Grant mentor, professor and astrobiologist, Sara Walker.

“I’m very excited about this, but I need to make sure I get all my affairs in order before I start,” Drew said. “After I obtain my PhD, I’ll start my career as a researcher in earnest and eventually transition to politics later in life to tackle science policy. We simply need more scientists in politics, and that is evident now more than ever.”

Drew says she is both excited and intimidated by her upcoming graduation, but she feels ready for the next step and has made the most of her undergraduate experience. “ASU is always there to help you succeed,” she said, “and so I can safely say that I am proud to be a Sun Devil!”

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

Answer: I like the quiet basement in the Bateman Physical Sciences H Wing and the conference room of the Engineering Center. I also like the Bateman Physical Sciences F Wing tutor center where I could always find classmates or an instructor to ask for help. To collect my thoughts, I like walking around campus and looking at the meteorite displays in the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV. 

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

A: I don’t think I could give just one piece of advice, because unfortunately, real life tends to be a bit messier than that, so here are my top three.

First, get to know your professors because they are people too, and they typically want to help you succeed. Developing a rapport with your teachers will go a long way, and it will help them remember you if you want to do research, get a job, etc.

Next, be a team player. It might be tempting to slack off and let someone else do all the work, or even run everyone over with your ideas, but that is not a personality you want to develop for your professional life. Remember that your peers are going to be working in the same field as you, and you don’t want a bad reputation to precede you.

Finally, and most importantly, take care of yourself. There is no shame in having to take some time off or drop to half time to get yourself back to being better regardless of what others tell you. Life isn’t a straight shot to some finish line in which the first one there wins. It’s a journey, and usually a difficult and painful one with lots of twists, turns and pitfalls. Your journey isn’t going to be the same as your neighbors either, so be kind to yourself and avoid playing the comparison game. Of course, also be kind to others, too, because you never know what someone else is going through!

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

A: My first instinct would be to tackle the inequality and inequity of the world as it pertains to gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. It’s beyond infuriating and heartbreaking that this sort of imbalance continues to exist, but it’s even worse when some either refuse to acknowledge the problem or try to intentionally benefit from it. However, I also realize from a practical perspective that without a planet for us to live on due to climate change, everything else is a moot point. In fact, climate change is likely to make the disparities I previously mentioned even worse. Therefore, I would likely focus on tackling human-induced climate change by getting involved in legislation targeted at this topic. Forty million dollars isn’t a lot, but you can bet I would invest wisely so I could eventually hit the corporations that are contributing the most to this issue.