Sun Devil makes waves in tech way before graduation


May 10, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Hari Meyyappan describes himself as a learning machine. But he also helps build machines that learn. Portrait of Hari Meyyappan ASU grad Hari Meyyappan's advice to current students: "Figure out a feedback mechanism to improve your skills. For me it was hackathons. Aim higher than you think possible, and keep looking for opportunities where you can add value." Download Full Image

Meyyappan is a tech enthusiast and a proud Sun Devil graduating this semester with a master’s degree in computer science with a focus on machine learning and human-computer interaction. The international student from India is currently working with the Luminosity Lab as part of the Big Idea Challenge team awarded funding by NASA. 

“I read widely and describe myself as a learning machine. I love exploring exponential technologies and creating useful tools. I blog on Medium and link my projects on my website,” Meyyappan said.

The ASU grad’s enthusiasm for learning and technology has led him to many academic and professional accomplishments in his time as a student. He served as the vice president of the Artificial Intelligence Club and worked hard to build up the club and teach students more about AI. He also built up a lot of practical professional experiences. 

“I've built products for companies like Pizza Hut, Ultraworking, 24Crafts. In my internship over the summer, I built a chatbot for a large education nonprofit that is being used by thousands of teachers and students all over the country,” he said.

As a hackathon enthusiast, he has consistently won some of the top spots in over 10 hackathons he has participated in as a student at ASU, including Sunhacks and Hacks for Humanity. He is also writing a guide to share his experience and giving some key insights on how to win a hackathon. 

Meyyappan said that hackathons are the perfect environment for innovation and learning that can change the world.

“I have been a UX designer, product manager and machine learning engineer. I've done front-end, back-end and everything in between. It is an incredible learning experience,” he said. “You can create useful products. Facebook organizes internal hackathons to spur innovation. Several startups were born at hackathons, like the automation behemoth Zapier.”

As Meyyappan prepared to graduate, he reflected with ASU Now about his time as a Sun Devil.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: If there was a single “aha” moment, it could have been when I realized that machine learning allows you to automate the creation of code. There’s just so much value that can be created by applying it to different business problems.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: ASU is located in one of the fastest-growing states in the United States, and I was positive about professional opportunities. Also, I liked the profiles of the professors.

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

A: I would like to thank Professor Hemanth Venkateswara, whose statistical learning class I took in my first semester really provided a solid foundation for my future classes. Also Professor James Collofello, who taught me that the real answer to most questions starts with “it depends.”

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

A: Figure out a feedback mechanism to improve your skills. For me it was hackathons. Aim higher than you think possible, and keep looking for opportunities where you can add value.

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

A: Wakanda room at Armstrong Hall (lower level of the Literature Building). Also the Design School library. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am starting my career as a software development engineer at Amazon in Seattle.

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

A: I’d probably create a fund with which kids in developing countries can buy whatever books they want. 

Written by Venu Gopinath Nukavarapu, Sun Devil Storyteller

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services

480-965-4255

Spring 2020 grad continues family tradition of loyal Sun Devils


May 10, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Jacob West is graduating this spring with a bachelor’s degree in geological sciences from Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. West, who is a triplet, will join 16 other family members who have earned their degrees at ASU over the years, including one of his sisters who earned her degree last year. His other sister will graduate this December. Jacob West, spring 2020 grad from ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, will join 16 other family members who have earned their degrees at ASU over the years, including one of his sisters who earned her degree last year. His other sister will graduate this December. Download Full Image

West made the most of his time at ASU, earning a field geology certificate, working at the School of Earth and Space Exploration's Mars Space Flight Facility as a spectrometer lab technician, and participating in a study abroad program in Sicily, where he studied how geologic environments interact with people and could create hazards.

“I got to observe several volcanoes during my stay including Mount Etna and Stromboli,” says West. “I also was able to experience Sicilian culture and learn about their history, language and food.”

It was this trip to Italy that got West particularly interested in studying volcanoes, which led to his honors thesis under the guidance of School of Earth and Space Exploration Associate Professor Amanda Clarke.

“My honors thesis was centered on studying the habits and compositions of volcanic bombs produced by the El Tecolote cinder cone in the Pinacate Volcanic field,” says West. “My goal was to try and map the bomb distributions, create archetype or species classifications and determine areas on species die-off or concentrations.”

As part of our series of features celebrating students graduating this spring, we reached out to West to learn more about his experiences at ASU and his goals for the future.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer:.I think my "aha" moment was when I was out hunting with my grandpa and he started to explain why there was a hill here and not over there, what the rock we were standing on was, where it came from, so on and so forth. It was at the point I realized that I wanted to know so much more about the rocks, and I knew that I would enjoy figuring it out. Thus, I decided to major in geological sciences. 

It surprised me to see how interconnected everything is, how volcanoes affect tectonics, how tectonics affect sedimentation, etc. It was mind-boggling how one event could trigger possibly a dozen others; on the massive tectonic scale down to the small grains of sand, everything has a reason for doing what it is doing.

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

A: Stephen Reynolds gave me the best piece of advice that carried me through many of my courses. He told me that you can't just look at the big picture, because you'll miss the details that the small picture is trying to tell you. With those small details, you can often see that the big picture isn't enough and sometimes you need a bigger picture to understand everything. Long story short, don't gloss over the little details, no matter how insignificant they seem.

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

A: For those of you still in school, my advice is two-fold. Get to know your professors, because they can open doors you never even knew existed and put the effort in to know the material, because odds are that's what you'll use for the rest of your life to build yourself up and establish a good position in the industry. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation I plan on working in the industry for a year or two, working as a consultant or geotechnician, building skills that will help me choose what direction I want to go for a master's degree.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration

480-965-9345