May 2, 2022

The W.A. Franke Honors College celebrates Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month alongside the University of Arizona in April. However, across the nation it is annually celebrated in May.

Emily Tran in CATalyst Studios

Emily Tran in CATalyst Studios

”The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7th, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10th, 1869. The majority of workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.” -

This year, we are highlighting a Franke Honors student who exemplifies the college’s values of curiosity and innovation.

Emily Tran is a first-generation Vietnamese American pursuing a major in environmental engineering. She is an undergraduate intern for CATalyst studios, a collaborative space in the Main Library where students can explore new technology and create projects.

What does a normal day at your internship look like? 

The idea behind the internship is that you carry out some kind of independent project using one or more of the technologies available at CATalyst. I'm currently working on an educational poster about fractals in nature, with illustrations created on the embroidery machine and text engraved using the laser cutter. At the beginning of the internship, you spend most of your time learning how to use the various technologies. For example, even though I'm not using the 3D resin printer for my project, I learned the basics of how it works and practiced printing things on it. Then, after you've learned the ropes, you divide your time between helping/teaching other people and working on your project or projects. In a day, I might teach a workshop about laser cutting, help someone prepare a file for 3D printing, or just sit at my laptop doing research.

Emily explains her individual project caption

Emily explains her individual project

Emily explains the group project

Emily explains the group project

How does the Catalyst internship influence your pursuit of a major in environmental engineering? 

The CATalyst internship was actually a major factor in my decision to switch from environmental science to environmental engineering. Right now, the other interns and I are working on building a hydroponics system - a structure to grow plants without soil, which is more water-efficient than a traditional growing setup using soil. For our materials, we're reusing plastic water bottles and designing 3D printed components to hold the system together. That project really got me excited about engineering solutions to environmental problems. More abstractly, the internship is teaching me a lot about design thinking, which is central in any type of engineering.

How do your cultural identity and background impact your educational experiences, if at all?

I think that my family really values higher education because their experience as immigrants has been that higher education correlates to a better quality of life. My parents supported me when I sought out educational opportunities in areas I was curious about, like taking GIS (geographical information systems) classes over the summer in high school or learning about conservation through volunteer work. People don’t usually think of Asian Americans as an underrepresented group in higher education, but statistically that is the case for Southeast Asians, a group that includes Vietnamese people. I am very proud of my parents, knowing the barriers they faced while pursuing a college education, and my parents always express how proud they are of me and my educational pursuit. I also get a rush from seeing Asian-American representation in higher education in places where we historically have not been as represented: in the arts, in the humanities, and in queer spaces, to take a few examples.

Emily uses a 3D printer

Emily uses a 3D printer, one of the many tools located at CATalyst Studios

What is your favorite thing to make in the studio? 

I love using the laser cutter to make earrings. I helped someone cut out these super sick battle-axe-shaped earrings that they had designed themselves, and that's probably my favorite thing I've seen someone do with the laser cutter.

CATalyst studios features many tools

CATalyst studios features many tools including laser cutters, 3D printers, sewing machines, virtual reality gear, a media studio and data visualization wall

What opportunities are available to students at CATalyst studios? How can they become involved? 

CATalyst is always hosting events for people who want to learn to do specific things, no prior experience required! I would recommend going to the website at and checking out the "Workshops and Events" section. Also, whenever the space is open, you can just walk in and the staff will help you however they can or answer any questions you have. If you have an idea, CATalyst can help you see it through!

Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Heritage Month Resources 

Visit the Asian Pacific American Student Affairs website 

Watch APIDA student-athlete interviews by Arizona Athletics 

Register for a webinar put on by the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion office

Learn about Bias Reporting