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Which words matter most?

A new ASU communications professor works to stop drug use in Nicaragua.
Which words matter? An ASU professor makes an anti-drug program relevant.
January 12, 2016

New ASU professor spearheads anti-drug strategies in Nicaragua

Editor's note: This is part of a series highlighting new faculty members at Arizona State University. Find a complete listing of new 2015-2016 faculty here.

Words can save lives, and a communications professor at Arizona State University is finding out just how successful a crosscultural program is at keeping kids safe.

Jonathan Pettigrew, an assistant professor in the Hugh Downs SchoolThe Hugh Downs School of Human Communication is a unit of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. of Human Communication, came to ASU in the fall semester. His project was already under way.

Pettigrew won a grant in 2014 to develop a version of the “keepin’ it REAL” substance-abuse curriculum — which originated at ASU — for youths in Nicaragua.

Keepin’ it REAL teaches young people practical ways to avoid drugs and alcohol. The REAL stands for “refuse, explain, avoid and leave.” Students learn communication and decision-making skills that they then practice through role playing. Keepin’ it REAL has been replacing the lecture-style DARE drug-avoidance program at many schools across the nationKeepin’ it REAL was named a “model program” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with research proving that it’s effective..

Keepin’ it REAL originated in the 1990s and was further developed at Penn State University, where Pettigrew earned his doctorate. He then was a project coordinator for a year.

Pettigrew was teaching at the University of Tennessee when he decided to incorporate a trip to Nicaragua as part of an ethnography course he was teaching. A friend of his was running a non-governmental organization in Nicaragua.

After touring the country and meeting with law-enforcement officials, they pitched a culturally adapted anti-drug program. The U.S. Department of State asked him to add a violence-prevention aspect and awarded him $400,000. Starting in March, seventh-graders in Nicaragua learned a version of the keepin’ it REAL program and eighth-graders were taught a version of the “Fourth R” relationship-building curriculum.

“We interviewed the students to hear about their experiences and in which situations they encounter drugs and violence,” Pettigrew said. “And we created scripts and prototypical situations.”

The researchers found similarities between American and Nicaraguan adolescents.

“From the first wave of data (from Nicaragua), we see that about 20 percent of eighth-graders have used alcohol in the last 30 days, which is about on par with U.S. students at that age,” Pettigrew said.

One difference, Pettigrew said, is that saying “no” is typically sufficient for the Nicaraguan youths to avoid a tricky situation.

“In the States, ‘just say no’ usually isn't skilled enough for resistance,” he said.

An important part of keepin’ it REAL is cultural relevance. So Pettigrew and the team had older Nicaraguan students create the videos that went with each lesson, helping to write the scripts and then acting and filming each segment.

“It’s not North Americans telling kids ‘don't do drugs’ but Nicaraguan peers who are demonstrating how to resist drug offers,” he said.

“For example, one of the offers (in the video) occurs at a quinceañera, with mixed ages and drinking open to youth and adults, which matched the reality in the Nicaraguan culture.”

The program reached 1,500 students in 25 schools, with about 600 participating in the interviews. Pettigrew and his partner will now begin sorting through the data to see whether the program had an impact.

The project was quasi-experimental because there was no control group of students who did not get the lessons.

“We were trying to reach as many kids as possible, which is the mission of the program,” he said.

At ASU, Pettigrew teaches a class on family communication, a topic he finds fascinating. He said he has always been drawn to studying communication

“I like to see how people interact. The sperm and the egg combine and the first thing that zygote does is send a signal and communicate with the mother to start to prepare for implantation.

“So communication begins at the very beginning.”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Overcoming financial hurdles on the path to a diploma

ASU student has advice for students seeking financial aid.
January 12, 2016

After a major hiccup his freshman year, one ASU student becomes a financial aid expert

Editor's note: With the 2016-2017 FAFSA now available, many students will be beginning their financial aid journey. Here is one student's experience; for a how-to on financial aid, click here.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

There’s a world of answers to that question, but hardly anyone answers with “in debt.”

For Nick Haney, an Arizona State University pre-law and political science major, his answer was always clear: someone who helps others. He was the only kid at Disneyland bypassing Mickey Mouse and doing photo ops with the nearest police officer.

Whether it was being an elected official or a firefighter, Haney was determined to serve the greater community.

Not part of his plan: having a financial snag nearly derail his college journey.

ASU student Nick Haney

ASU was an easy choice for Haney. It allowed him to stay near his close-knit family, and it was a family tradition. His mom — whom he describes as “annoyingly smart” — is both an alumna and a current ASU graduate student with a 4.0 grade-point average.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Haney ended his freshman year with a 4.0 GPA. That was the easy part.

Paying for his freshman year in college? That was a challenging learning experience.

Haney had been heavily involved in high school, but when it came time to apply for scholarships, he brushed it off; he would worry about it later.

Facing reality

It wasn’t until the second semester of his freshman year that reality hit. He had an outstanding balance and could not enroll in classes.

Haney, who didn’t like to ask for help, felt guilty, realizing it was something he could have prevented if he’d taken it more seriously.

“It was really tough; it was something that I regret. I wasn’t proactive, so I really didn’t know and luckily my family made a lot of sacrifices so I was able to finish out my freshman year,” Haney said.

His aunt helped him fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), something he was unaware existed.

“In high school they pushed going to college, but they didn’t necessarily push applying for scholarships or even the FAFSA. It was all unknown to me,” he said.

He also landed a job at ASU’s scholarship office that fall, opening his eyes to the range of available scholarships and the ease of applying. He said it gave him the motivation to finish out his freshman year.

Moving forward

Now a senior at ASU, Haney is on the path to fulfilling his career aspirations. As Senate president of the Undergraduate Student Government on the Tempe campus, he has had the opportunity to be involved on campus.

Haney’s advice to other students? College can be affordable. You don’t have to be the smartest kid in class; you just have to take advantage of the help available. There are scholarship opportunities that address different interests and groups of people.

He recommends students apply to as many scholarships as possible, regardless of amount. Every little bit is one step closer to finishing a degree. When applying for scholarships, he advises:

• Be yourself.
• Tell your story.
• Don’t count yourself out.

Donors want to help students pursue their goals, Haney said. Really look at the pool of scholarships and “cast your net,” he said.

After the hard-learned lesson of having to accept a loan his freshman year and working as many as three jobs, Haney completed the FAFSA and applied for scholarships. After his junior year, he was attending ASU on scholarships and grants. No loans. He was going to college nearly for free.

“It’s really allowed me to run for student government and be more involved, and it’s opened up a lot of doors just through the scholarship program itself,” he said. “It’s definitely that missing piece of college that I didn’t have and it’s really something I love because it’s changed the way I think about ASU and everything I’ve been able to accomplish thus far.”

As for the household GPA battle, Nick just laughs, before saying his mom is in the lead.