2021 Barrett chemical engineering graduate Alexis Hocken off to MIT to pursue PhD

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May 13, 2021

From an early age, Alexis Hocken was inspired by the work of engineers – especially her father, an electrical engineer. 

That inspiration led her to Arizona State University, where she recently received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering with a minor in biochemistry with honors from Barrett, The Honors College, where she was recognized with the honors college’s Outstanding Research Award.

“Growing up, I was able to see a glimpse of what engineering is like from my dad who is an electrical engineer. In high school, I was drawn to chemistry, which is why I chose to pursue chemical engineering. Flash forward to my freshman year (at ASU), I joined Prof. Matthew Green’s chemical engineering research lab. During my first lab session, I learned to fabricate a nanocomposite from a few simple ingredients. I was taking what I had learned in class and applying those concepts directly to the research that I was passionate about. Being able to do that so quickly as a freshman reaffirmed my desire to pursue chemical engineering,” said Hocken, who is from Scottsdale, Ariz.

She has five research publications: two first-author manuscripts, and three co-authored manuscripts.  She won two prestigious national scholarships, a Goldwater and a DAAD RISE.  

Hocken twice won a NASA Space Grant Scholarship. She also won a Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative award and was named the Outstanding Graduate in Chemical Engineering at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering this year. 

She had nine conference presentations and was a polymer chemistry intern at the Hughes Research Laboratory in California. She also was a community assistant at Barrett and worked for three years each as a member of the Society of Women Engineers and Engineers Without Borders. The professor who nominated her for the Barrett Outstanding Research Award said “she is the best researcher I have worked with in my career.”

This fall, Hocken will begin working on a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

“I hope to continue conducting research about polymers and further dive into their intersection with biological systems,” she said.

We asked Hocken about her years at ASU. Here she reflects on her undergraduate career:

How do you feel about being chosen as The Outstanding Graduate in Research from Barrett, The Honors College?

I am incredibly honored to represent Barrett, The Honors College as the Outstanding Graduate in Research. The honors college, as well as the engineering school, have provided me with so many resources and opportunities to allow me to thrive here at ASU. I am forever grateful to have spent my undergraduate years at ASU, and this recognition is just the cherry on top!

What is an interesting moment, story or accomplishment in your ASU career?

I worked on a project that investigated the properties of photocurable nanocomposites in Prof. Matthew Green’s research lab. These composites can be used for a variety of applications ranging from synthetic cartilage replacements to advanced manufacturing. I led the compilation and interpretation of data regarding mechanical performance and thermal properties. This project ultimately led to a first-authored publication and numerous conference presentations.

What was the focus of your honors thesis?

My thesis project investigated the properties of photocurable nanocomposites. The goal was to build a database of properties to be able to create a customizable material for synthetic cartilage replacements. I specifically looked at how three different types of nanoparticles at varying loadings influenced the material properties such as mechanical performance, thermal stability, and flexibility.

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

I learned that many of the successful people at ASU are remarkably normal people that you can talk to. Often, it can be intimidating to approach people who you deem to be incredibly successful. But it’s important to realize that they were in your shoes at some point and are always looking to offer advice and serve as mentors. I quickly realized that many of these people are very approachable, and it is important to reach out as you could miss out on a fantastic learning opportunity.

Why did you choose ASU?

I come from a whole family of Sun Devils. Seeing their successes after they graduated made ASU seem like the perfect place to begin my career in engineering.

Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? What was that lesson?

The best advice I have received was from my research advisor, Prof. Matthew Green. He has always encouraged me to utilize every project as an opportunity to grow as a researcher and build my network. Many times it can be tempting to just complete the bare minimum requirements, but if you look for ways to take any project to the next level, it has the potential to lead to a pivotal step in your career.

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

I would tell current students to never limit their potential. In the beginning of my undergrad, I found myself holding back because I didn’t think I was good enough for certain opportunities. But I soon joined a research lab and found my circle of friends and mentors who pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of.

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

I loved studying with friends outside on the second floor balcony of Honors Hall in the Barrett Tempe complex.

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

I would like to create a synthetic cartilage/tissue replacement technology that can be injected and cured in situ allowing patients to forgo the invasive surgeries that usually accompany the cartilage replacement processes.

Read more about Hocken in this story from the ASU Fulton Schools of Engineering.

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