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A heart for misunderstood kids

ASU psych grad wants to help misunderstood kids.
ASU grad is "weird" & "quirky," which is why she's perfect to help kids in need.
December 17, 2015

ASU psychology grad says her quirkiness helps her relate to developmentally challenged children

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

Brianna Wang has a real heart for kids.

While at ASU, she has tested grade-school children for academic achievement, emotional stability and auditory bias, coded their behaviors for a national study and worked alongside a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist. 

As the 22-year-old psychology major receives her undergraduate degree from Arizona State University this month, she wants to act as an advocate for children and others with developmental disabilities who are too young to help themselves.

“As a psychology major, I feel it’s my duty to stand up for people who are in need of developmental health,” Wang said. “Often they are misunderstood by society and need a little extra attention, which I’m willing to give.”

Wang is used to giving her all. After graduating from Horizon High School in northeast Phoenix in 2012, she received an offer to attend ASU on an AIMS scholarshipThe Arizona Board of Regent’s High Honors Tuition Scholarship, or AIMS, is a university academic merit scholarship administered by the Arizona Department of Education on behalf of the Arizona Board of Regents. Qualified students who graduate from high school will receive a 25 percent in-state university base tuition scholarship.. She quickly excelled in her studies, which got noticed by Michael McBeath, a professor with the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who made her a teaching and research assistant.

“I’ve known Brianna now for several years, and she is intelligent, hard-working, very quick and reliable,” McBeath said. “She has excelled in her classes, as a teacher, a researcher, a service volunteer and is a thoughtful, likeable peer.”

Wang was also selected to be the special assistant for Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek, who worked on a project examining color blindness while visiting ASU on his sabbatical.

“That was pretty nuts,” Wang said with a laugh. “I was told very casually, ‘You’ll be working with Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek.’ I said, ‘What? Why is he here in the first place?’ Mr. Wilczek is so smart that it’s intimidating, but that was a cool experience.”

“I’m definitely a little weird, quirky and a little offbeat, which I think helps in working with children.”
— Brianna Wang, ASU psychology graduate

In addition to maintaining a 3.89 GPA and finishing her degree in three and a half years, Wang was generous with her time when it came to service activities. She helped out in a variety of departmental events, including ASU Homecoming, Night of the Open Door and the Science of Baseball Festival, held annually in Scottsdale. And in her free time, Wang likes to jam to heavy metal on her electric guitar.

“I’m definitely a little weird, quirky and a little offbeat, which I think helps in working with children,” Wang said. “With adults you have to tone it down, but when you’re with kids you can be as weird as you want and they love it.”

The only regret Wang has is that her whirlwind academic pace means she’ll be graduating from ASU a semester earlier than she had planned.

“I’m feeling very nostalgic right now because leaving ASU is the big thing,” said Wang, who will eventually pursue a graduate degree. “A lot of my friends are excited to graduate and be done with school and all the testing. I know it sounds kind of nerdy, but I like research and learning.”

And, of course, helping people along the way, including adults.

“Psychology majors will be the ones who eventually become therapists, counselors and social workers,” Wang said. “We’re the ones who will be taking care of people, doing great work and helping them in whatever way we can. I think what I will do is very important to society.”

Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


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Cyber tips to keep the humbugs out of the holiday season

Online shopping is easy, but be sure you keep online predators at bay.
Are your holiday gifts spying on your children? We can help.
December 17, 2015

ASU global security strategist offers insight to keep online intruders at bay, and away from your children

People buying holiday gifts enjoy the convenience of online shopping, which is projected to reach $83 billion in 2015, an 11 percent increase over last year. But even though online shopping can reduce the stress of going to crowded shops and malls, buying gifts through the Internet does create its own set of concerns — chiefly, the risk of fraud or third-party trackers that monitor our online habits. And with the rise of Wi-Fi-enabled devices it's worth being aware which gifts could transmit your children's personal data or whereabouts. 

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With that in mind, Jamie Winterton (pictured at left), director of strategic research initiatives with Arizona State University’s Global Security Initiative, offers some timely cyber security tips and strategies for the holiday shopping season and the new year.

Question: What are some easy ways to stay cyber safe while purchasing holiday gifts online?

Answer: There are lots of places to shop online, and every one of them wants you to set up an account. As burdensome as it is, creating a new password for each of those accounts will keep you safer. You can keep them safely organized with secure password management, like LastPass. I also recommend using a credit card instead of debit card for online purchases; this puts one extra safeguard between the online world and your personal bank account.

Q: How can we minimize spreading too much of our personal data online?

A: First, decide what “too much” means to you, and then assume that anything you put online could be publically accessible. Once you know what you do and don’t want to share, you can tailor your online behavior accordingly. It’s easier to think of it from a personal-comfort standpoint than an abstract list of rules that you have to follow. For example, if you like personalized advertising but don’t want people to know your home address, you can focus more on turning off location services when you don’t need them, and less on third-party tracking blockers.

Q: New toys, such as “Hello Barbie,” increasingly connect to the Internet, creating security issues that could expose children’s personal data, or even let hackers eavesdrop on communications between the toy and the cloud server. What can parents do to protect their children’s privacy after buying Internet-connected toys this holiday season?

A: First, consider whether or not the toy really needs to be connected to the Internet. Many toys have an online option, but what does that feature really contribute to your child’s experience? Think about just connecting the device once in a while for software updates, instead of having it hooked up 24/7. 

My other suggestion is to lie! These toys usually ask for a fairly detailed profile of the child. If you decide to connect toys or other ed-tech, consider: Does this item (and the company who produces it) truly need my child’s real name and age? Does it need the names of my child’s friends or pets, or details about my child’s hobbies? Kids' tech encourages so much personal data sharing, but we can’t be confident that this data will be kept secure. At my house, we talk about this as having a “secret identity” online, like a spy. The kids think it’s great.

Q: What are some easy tools shoppers can employ to block malvertisingMalvertising, from the term "malicious advertising," is the use of online advertising to spread malware that could infect your computer. and third-party trackers?

A: The amount of malware found on advertising networks (“malvertising”) has increased sharply over the past year. I use AdBlock Plus to stay safe from ads containing malicious scripts that can either hijack your computer or snoop around your machine. I also use the Ghostery browser extension, because I don’t like third-party trackers profiling my behavior. Those two options are easy to install and provide good protection without affecting my online experience.