TRIO Talent Search prepares high school students for college

ASU's newest college prep program assists students' transition through the academic pipeline


October 25, 2017

Every student deserves a chance to understand and pursue higher education. That is why TRIO Talent Search focuses on recognizing the potential in students while ensuring that they achieve their goal of higher education.

As the newest Arizona State University college preparation program, the purpose of TRIO Talent Search is to assist students’ transition and success through the academic pipeline from high school to post-secondary education, no matter their level of knowledge in higher education. Students participate in ASU's TRIO program. Download Full Image

High school and middle school students are encouraged to pursue higher education and take the first step toward achieving this dream by joining the extensive TRIO family at ASU. Here students become part of a community dedicated to ensuring that they know where they are going, and have a better understanding of the college process.

TRIO Talent Search is a federal pre-college program developed to provide academic and support services for first-generation and/or low-income students interested in seeking higher education with the goal of earning a college degree.

ASU and the Tolleson Union High School District have partnered to offer the ASU TRIO Talent Search program to Tolleson students and families. The program provides academic support, university exposure and the necessary tools and resources to empower students to graduate high school ready to enroll and succeed in college.

TRIO Talent Search participant Savanna Ghaleb, a current senior at La Joya Community High School, is hoping to gain knowledge on the college process.

"As a first generation student, I struggle to know what to do on my own," Ghaleb said. "But having that guidance from someone experienced will help me be better prepared and know what to do.”

To meet the unique needs of each participant, Talent Search coaches create an individualized college preparation plan, recommend program activities and provide resources and support for every Talent Search student. Most Talent Search activities are offered during the school day, at the participant’s high school.

During the summer, TRIO Talent Search and Upward Bound partnered to offer their students a Summer Bridge Experience on June 23, at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus. Talent Search director Carolina Luque Rodriguez said the Summer Bridge experience was important because it showed the program is part of a larger TRIO family at ASU.

“Coming together with our Upward Bound program, the Talent Search students got the chance to meet other TRIO students and understand that they’re not alone in this college readiness journey,” Luque said.

Approximately 150 Talent Search and 120 Upward Bound students participated in the Summer Bridge Experience, one of the enriching academic, social, cultural and college preparation activities offered to Talent Search and Upward Bound participants.

“A lot of the students we work with don’t know what’s after high school. They don’t know what the process is or what to expect; so, when they see the applications and the FAFSA, they get stressed out,” program coordinator Eduardo Alonso said. "We’re here to help them out, let them know they can do it and mentor them through the whole process.”

During the Summer Bridge Experience, students were given presentations on time management and how fixed-and-growth mindset play into making changes before the new school year.

Talent Search mentor Francisca Morales said the Summer Bridge Experience and the work she does with the program overall is her opportunity to give back to the community that supported her.

“I know when I was in high school, I had a lot of help preparing for college. I want these students to know that they have someone here to help them and motivate them,” Morales said.

After the classroom presentations, the Talent Search cohort walked to Chase Field to hear from Arizona Diamondbacks representatives about careers in sports beyond being an athlete before attending the June 23 baseball game.

Now that the new school year is underway, TRIO Talent Search director Carolina Luque Rodriguez is “excited to be in the schools starting this fall, getting to know our students and building a stronger partnership with the Tolleson Union High School District.”

TRIO Talent Search is a free program available to Tolleson Union High School District students interested in pursuing a college education. It is offered through a partnership between the U.S. Department of Education and Arizona State University. Program applications are accepted year-round.

For more information, visit the TRIO Talent Search website, email TRIOTalentSearch@asu.edu, or call 602-496-0972.

Associate Director, Marketing & Communication, Educational Outreach & Student Services

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Cancer through the lens of evolution

Group of cancer experts, led by ASU Biodesign Institute's Carlo Maley, issues a call to arms


October 25, 2017

“What does not kill me, makes me stronger.”

The oft-repeated maxim (from Nietzsche’s "Twilight of the Idols") offers a model of human fortitude. It could also serve as the motto of a cancer cell, emphasizing — with brutal precision — how treatment-resistant cancers outwit our best medical interventions.  Carlo Maley is an associate professor in The Biodesign Institute's Virginia G. Peper Center for Personalized Diagnostics and Center for Immunology, Vaccines and Virotherapy. He is also associate professor at ASU's School of Life Sciences. Download Full Image

Cancer owes its ability to colonize and devastate the body to the same Darwinian forces that have shaped all life on Earth: chance mutation and natural selection. The disease’s notorious shape-shifting nature enables it to indeed “grow stronger” from clinicians’ very attempts to exterminate it, and it does so based on fundamental evolutionary tactics.

Now, a prominent group of international cancer experts, led by Carlo Maley, a researcher at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, has issued a call to arms, designed to guide physicians and researchers in their effort to classify cancerous tumors or neoplasms, based on a standardized set of evolutionary and ecological criteria.

Their consensus statement — the first of its kind ever issued by the prestigious journal Nature Reviews Cancer — provides an initial framework for classifying neoplasms, based on four relevant components.

“Until now, we have had no language we can use to describe differences in how different tumors evolve. We developed the grammar for such a language. It is a first step, but a necessary one for the community to share the same language in order to make progress,” the study says.

Neoplasms evolve, flourishing or dying away in response to selective pressures. Although this fact has long been appreciated in biology, no formalized system for classifying the evolutionary and ecological characteristics of neoplasms in a clinically relevant manner has been proposed, until now.

The researchers attempt to carve a path through the thicket of clinical trajectories for such neoplasms (ranging from easily curable to lethal) by paring down the variables acting on them to four essentials: diversity, change over time, hazards and resources. The system comprehensively defines the critical variables in cancer progression, while maintaining a simple, agreed-upon framework that can be applied in the clinic on a case-by-case basis.

Evolution

Diversity and change over time form what is known as the evolutionary or Evo-index. A neoplasm’s diversity is defined by the homogeneity or heterogeneity of the cells within it. This cellular diversity may be observed by comparing the genes of different cells within the neoplasm, but epigenetic changes, caused by environmental factors, may also play a role. Diversity can also be assessed based on the evolutionary histories of cells (their phylogeny) or by diversity of cell function.

Researchers are still uncertain what specific forms of diversity are most clinically relevant. To further complicate matters, reliable measures of cell diversity within a neoplasm can be vexing to accurately quantify. What appears clear however is the central importance of a neoplasm’s diversity for how it will develop, how it will likely respond to a given treatment and how dire the patient’s prognosis will be.

Broadly speaking, a more diverse neoplasm has a larger assortment of mutants within it, any one of which may be therapy-resistant, allowing cancer to live another day and eventually kill the patient. (However, as the authors note, there appears to be an upper limit to this phenomenon, as a neoplasm with extremely high mutation rates may be so genetically unstable that it produces very high numbers of non-viable daughter cells and cell lineages simply die out as a result.)

High vs. low diversity is the first element in the Evo-index. Cell diversity within (or between) neoplasms however is not a stable entity, but rather, changes over time. The second part of the Evo-index is a measure of how diversity varies at different points in time.  Again, further clarification is required, as changes in diversity may occur gradually or suddenly (in a punctuated manner) and may be natural responses to the prevailing environment surrounding the neoplasm or induced by a cancer therapy. Mechanisms of change include mutation, natural selection and genetic drift.

Ecology

In addition to diversity and change over time, cancer cells may be characterized by their response to the microenvironment they are embedded in. Here, there are hazards to be faced and resources to be exploited. Hazards to cancer cells may include recognition and attack by the immune system, while resources are such things as oxygen and other nutrients, degree of vasculature and blood flow. A measure of high vs low hazards and resources forms the Eco-index.

Examining the four elements making up the Evo- and Eco-indices and characterizing each as either high or low in a particular cancer yields a total of 16 possible types of neoplasm. A table in the new statement outlines the characteristics of each of these 16 classes and their predicted trajectories.

For example, a neoplasm could have low diversity (D1), low change over time (∆1), a high level of hazard (H2) and a low level of resources, (R1). In theory, such a tumor should have low evolvability, limited by immune response and restricted resources and therefore, a good prognosis.

By contrast, a D2∆2 H1R2 tumor, with high diversity and change over time, low hazard levels and high resource availability is predicted to be highly lethal, evolving rapidly and effectively due to resource abundance and little ecological adversity.

Thus, the Evo-index may be thought of as the inherent evolveability of a neoplasm due to its diversity and rate of change, while the Eco-index describes the selective pressures exerted on the neoplasm by its microenvironment. Evo- and Eco-indices are both essential to a thorough understanding of cancer behavior and the possible avenues it may follow. 

Learning from evolution

While the scheme provides a valuable tool for assessing the aggressiveness and likelihood of resistance in a given neoplasm, its greatest strength lies in its potential to guide cancer treatment. A neoplasm belonging to a highly evolevable group may “grow stronger” following conventional chemotherapy but may be coerced through alternative measures into a less evolveable class and rendered stable over time.

Thus, the new classification framework offers a first step toward the clinical application of evolutionary and ecological principles to the management of cancer. Clinical trials will have to be conducted to validate the predictions of patient outcome suggested by the Evo- and Eco-indices. The most clinically predictive measures of diversity and change must be discovered and better tools for ferreting them out from a given neoplasm must be explored in detail.

The classification is not designed to replace, but rather, to augment existing diagnostic tools, including the conventional staging of tumor type. Nevertheless, by evaluating and quantifying evolveability — cancer’s principle weapon of mass destruction — the framework marks an important step forward in the war on this implacable disease. 

Richard Harth

Science writer, Biodesign Institute at ASU

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