HSD PhD candidate, Elizabeth Garbee, honored with prestigious university award

The Faculty Women’s Association’s Distinguished Graduate Student Achievement Award acknowledges exceptional scholarship, research, creativity, and performance in leadership and service. This year, Elizabeth Garbee, an HSD PhD candidate studying science education policy, became one of its honored recipients.

“She was the strongest all-around applicant, especially in regards to leadership qualities and academic achievement,” said Erik Fisher, HSD chair, about his nomination of Garbee.

Garbee’s initial response to the award was disbelief, yet her list of accomplishments speaks for itself.  She is a co-founder of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society’s Graduate Student Organization and serves as one of its PhD co-chairs. This spring she stepped up to teach a graduate seminar, Nanoscience and Society, at a moment’s notice. She also plays principal second violin in the ASU Philharmonia.

“This award means a lot to me,” she said, with a glance toward the clear glass statuette now on display on her desk. “My committee worked to get me this, and their opinion means a great deal because I respect and look up to them so much.”

It’s clear that the acknowledgment of those who work closely with her has struck a chord. Yet, she has always been dogged by a creeping suspicion that she was underachieving in some way.

“I’ve always had plenty of curiosity, but I’ve never had a passion to totally consume me,” she said. Perhaps she could have gone even further in one area by sacrificing the others, but to do so would have gone against her nature and her upbringing.

Garbee’s mother is an artist and her father is an engineer. She traveled often with her father, a now-retired Hewlett Packard Fellow, especially after she graduated from high school in three years, taking a year off before college. She sought out new skills, and she devoured a book a day.

When she was young, Garbee wanted to be an Egyptologist, but her dreams of archaeology were derailed when she learned that she harbors a bona fide phobia of sand. But as her curiosity pulled her toward science, she never lost that love for the ancient world. She ended up double majoring in astrophysics and classics as an undergrad at Oberlin College.

Despite Garbee’s own suspicion that her diversity of interests has prevented her from truly excelling in any one area, she’s reached impressive heights in all of them. 

She was a researcher for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) initiative and modeled the collision of two inspiraling supermassive black holes as an undergrad. She has trained with the Juilliard String Quartet and taken master classes with the internationally celebrated violinist Rachel Barton Pine. And she speaks four languages.

The HSD program is often lauded for its interdisciplinary focus, and its diversity of skills, knowledge, and experience represented in its faculty, staff, and student body. Perhaps this award demonstrates that Garbee simply needed to find a program as multifaceted as herself in order to reach her full potential. Or maybe it’s proof that she’s been passionate all along — not about any one subject, but about learning in general.