First Star ASU evens the odds for Arizona foster youth

May 30, 2019

For many youth in foster care, the odds of achieving a college education have historically been low, with some sources indicating less than 3% will earn a bachelor’s degree.

As a part of Access ASU, the First Star Academy at Arizona State University works to increase those odds through their free, comprehensive four-year college access program that provides high school-age foster youth with the academic support, enrichment and resources needed to enroll and succeed in college. In partnership with the national nonprofit First Star, the academy at ASU has worked with diverse cohorts of students since the program launched at ASU in 2017. The incoming class for 2019 is made up of 46 students from 40 schools within 20 different school districts across Maricopa and Pima counties. First Star ASU Academy student cohort The 2017-18 cohort of First Star ASU Academy. Photo courtesy of Gabriela Jimenez/First Star ASU Academy Download Full Image

May is National Foster Care Month, which acknowledges the families, volunteers, mentors and professionals who help those in foster care find connections and permanent homes. First Star Academy at ASU is using this occasion to recognize the university and community collaborators who make their comprehensive program possible and to encourage others to become involved in supporting Arizona’s foster youth.

First Star Academy at ASU Program Director Gaby Jimenez said that collaborating with these organizations is vital to their work. Their partners include Bridging Success, Early Start, Nina Scholars, ASU Prep Digital, Arizona Department of Child Safety, Arizona Department of Education, Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation, CASA of Maricopa and school districts throughout the state. 

“Because of these partnerships, we are invited to many events focused on foster youth, our reach has expanded to serve more young adults in and outside of Maricopa County and we are able to leverage resources in the community for students participating in the program,” Jimenez said.

Bridging Success, which began in fall 2015, is an ASU program that helps youth in the foster care system learn about opportunities in higher education and how to access them. It also supports students attending ASU who have the lived experience of being in the foster care system. 

Justine Cheung, coordinator for Bridging Success, said that working with First Star at ASU makes their reach that much broader in the community, resulting in more youth and their supportive adults taking steps to plan for college.

“Bridging Success recognizes the value of supporting any program that is promoting higher education for youth in foster care so collaborating with First Star was a natural fit,” Cheung said. “The idea that ASU has brought a program that supports the college-going aspirations of youth in care while still in high school is transformational for so many reasons — namely that so many of these youth have never been told 'Yes, you can go to college!'"

Another university partner is ASU Prep Digital, which works with First Star to provide academic support to their participants. 

“ASU Prep Digital proudly supports First Star students throughout Arizona with access to high-quality education, both high school and concurrent college courses, in a flexible learning environment,” said Mary O’Malley, Arizona partnerships director for ASU Prep Digital. “Our teachers and learning success coaches guide students as they work to complete H.S. graduation requirements and explore early college pathways, in collaboration with their school of origin.”  

Another critical element of First Star’s work is their collaboration with organizations outside the university including nonprofits and government agencies. 

One of these key community partners is Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation (AFFCF), which began working with First Star in fall 2018. While the state of Arizona provides children in foster care with necessities like food, clothing and basic medical care, AFFCF supplements with things that help bring them enriching activities and opportunities, like academic tutoring, music lessons and sports equipment.

“Youth who participate in the First Star program can take advantage of AFFCF’s Keys to Success program while they are in foster care and AFFCF’s postsecondary programs, if they reach age 18 in foster care,” said Erika Klotz, postsecondary program coordinator for AFFCF.

First Star has participated in two postsecondary resource fairs that AFFCF has organized to raise awareness about the First Star program. AFFCF has also attended First Star open houses to make youth who are or were in foster care aware of the available resources.

“The partnership between First Star at ASU and AFFCF is valuable because it represents the ability to connect youth and families to resources that can have a significant impact on their future, both in terms of economic stability and emotional well-being,” Klotz said.

Jimenez said she would like to close out Foster Care Awareness Month by inviting others to get involved, become a court appointed special advocate, a member of foster care review board, a mentor or a volunteer with one of the many organizations supporting youth in foster care. She also encourages the public to refer foster youth to the First Star Academy at ASU.

“There is a great need to support these young adults as they transition to adulthood and I strongly believe that collaboration is the key to making a greater impact in our state,” Jimenez said. “You don’t have to be a foster parent to make an impact.”

Learn more about First Star ASU Academy.

Copy writer and editor, Educational Outreach and Student Services


ASU researcher finds first fossilized evidence of collective behavior

May 30, 2019

Wherever animals live together as groups, behavior patterns emerge.

In a flight across the world, this is apparent in the square patches of land that mark property boundaries. Flights across all countries — from America to Japan — reveal similar land use patterns. Fossilized fish species published in Proceedings of Royal Society B In this 50 million-year-old slab of limestone shale, 259 fish from the extinct species Erismatopterus levatus show social behavior similar to behavior performed in many live fish species. Photo by Nobuaki Mizumoto/ASU Download Full Image

Nobuaki Mizumoto has always been fascinated by the evolution of these patterns. However, studying behavior requires live specimens.

Or so he thought until he discovered an interesting photo of a fossil in a small museum in his Japanese hometown, the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum, in Katsuyama, Japan.

Mizumoto, a postdoctoral researcher with Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, recently analyzed that photo to discover the first fossilized evidence of collective behavior, which was published this week in the scientific journal “Proceedings of the Royal Society B.”

By analyzing the photo of an extinct fish species (Erismatopterus levatus) in slab of limestone shale, Mizumoto and co-author Stephen Pratt, an associate professor in the school, discovered social behavior similar to that seen in live fish species. The fish are preserved in a stone, originally from an area near Wyoming, thought to be at least 50 million years old.

The 259 fish were grouped in a circle similar to what is seen in fish that travel in groups, and they seemed to adhere to two general rules seen in many fish species: attraction and repulsion. When traveling in groups, individuals don’t want to be isolated from the group but they also want to avoid collisions with one another.

Therefore, individuals who are very close to others should want to move slightly away from the group while individuals who are farther away should want to move toward it.

But how can Mizumoto tell from a photo if the fish were actually doing this? He has never studied fish. His expertise is live termites. And because he was attempting to do something that had never been done before, he had to develop his own methodology.

“This has never been done in a fossil. First of all, behavior is rarely preserved in fossils,” Mizumoto said. “In behavior studies, we use videos. I watch hours of videos, but this is only one snapshot, which is very difficult. I looked at where the fish were in relation to one another. It looked like these individuals that were farther away were pointing toward the group while those that were closer were pointing away to make distance. I had to figure out how to describe this, and finally, I thought ‘I can move them’ and see where they would end up if they kept moving.”

Mizumoto created a computer simulation where he moved each fish slightly in the direction it was pointed to see where it would go if it continued moving. He found that these fish did seem to be following both the rules of attraction and repulsion based on their proximity to the other fish.

Fossilized fish species published in Proceedings of Royal Society B

Based on Mizumoto's simulation, fossilized fish appear to be following two key rules of social behavior: repulsion to avoid collison to nearby individuals and attraction to those farther away to avoid isolation. Photo by Nobuaki Mizumoto/ASU

However, the complication with this study is that this fish species and all related species are extinct, so the results cannot be compared to live fish. In addition, since these fossils have been preserved for 50 million years, Mizumoto and his colleagues have no idea how they died and could not be certain they were performing this behavior in death.

To account for this, Mizumoto included wind and water currents into his analysis to see whether this could explain the results. Neither could explain the connection between direction pointed and proximity to neighbors, which opens the door for using fossils to study the evolution of behavior.

“There is very little precedent for this, and of course there are many caveats, having to do with our uncertainty about how a given fossil was preserved and whether we can distinguish the signs of behavior from processes external to the animals,” Pratt said. “A paleontological perspective has been largely absent from the study of collective behavior. I hope that this study inspires other people to seek fossil evidence whose value may not have been appreciated before.”

Initially, Mizumoto started this project because it combined his hobby of visiting fossil museums with his research interests in social behavior. However, he hopes that by sharing this picture, he will learn of other photos of fossilized behavior that can be analyzed for more information.

“I think it is a very good fossil, but it is in a corner of a very small museum in Japan, and I thought, 'I want to share this photo all over the world,'” Mizumoto said. “I don’t know if these photos are rare or not, but if there are other photos like this out there, I might get the chance to analyze more. If we can find other examples and some of them are similar, that will give us more information.”

Melinda Weaver

Communications specialist, School of Life Sciences