Veteran journalists to lead enhanced regional health news at Cronkite School

July 25, 2019

An award-winning national editor for the Associated Press and a five-time Emmy Award-winning journalist are joining a Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication effort to provide quality health news for underserved residents across the Southwest and to create a new cadre of health care journalists.

A national search landed Pauline Arrillaga and Julio Cisneros, who will join the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded Southwest Health Reporting Initiative at Arizona State University. They will lead a team of students at Cronkite News who cover health care issues with a particular focus on Latino and Native American communities.  Cronkite School Download Full Image

Arrillaga, who will direct the initiative, is a 27-year AP veteran who since 2014 has overseen enterprise journalism in the United States. Cisneros, who will be a professor in health news, brings 23 years of experience as a reporter, director and editor at Spanish-language television, radio and digital outlets, including Telemundo and Univision.

“Pauline and Julio bring elite journalism skills, impressive backgrounds, and deep connections in the community to the Cronkite School,” said Dean Christopher Callahan. “Through the generous support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, they will help our students tackle health care issues across the Southwest head-on. The students who complete the program will be prepared to cover these complex issues with depth, nuance and accuracy as they enter the profession.”

As the AP’s U.S. enterprise editor, Arrillaga helped shape and edit coverage examining the effects of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies on children and families — work named a finalist this year for the Pulitzer Prize in national reporting and winner of an RFK Journalism Award and also the John Seigenthaler Prize for Courage in Reporting. She also oversaw the AP’s series last year on missing and murdered Native American women, winner of the Dori J. Maynard Award for Justice in Journalism, the Les Payne Award for Coverage on Communities of Color, and other honors. 

Pauline Arrillaga

“I can think of no higher calling than working to help mentor and guide the next generation of journalists, and this particular initiative is critical,” Arrillaga said. “Thanks to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the vision of those at the Cronkite School, we have the opportunity to report on a vital topic in communities too often overlooked by policymakers and the public. We hope not only to bring attention to health concerns in these communities but to make a real difference by engaging leaders who can bring about change.”

Arrillaga joined the AP as an intern in 1992 in Dallas. She later covered state politics in Austin, the space program and prison system in Houston, served as a desk supervisor in Dallas, and was the company’s correspondent on the Texas-Mexico border, writing about immigration and the growing influence of Hispanics in America. 

She later was named Southwest regional writer in Phoenix, and she was promoted to the coveted role of national writer in 2002, specializing in long-form narratives and covering major news events from presidential elections to the attack on Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Her stories have captured numerous accolades, including a 2005 Livingston Award for “Doors to Death,” an investigative series examining human smuggling across the border. As both a writer and editor, Arrillaga has long focused on issues affecting Latinos and Native Americans and has reported from Native American communities across the West.

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Julio Cisneros

Cisneros, the five-time Emmy Award winner, spent eight years with Telemundo Arizona in various roles, including news director, web editor and reporter. He has served as a coach and trainer at Telemundo, working with staff members on the development and production of multimedia stories.

“I am very happy and excited to be part of the Cronkite News team,” Cisneros said. “Having the opportunity to leave a legacy to journalism students, particularly in the area of health reporting, has always been one of my goals in life. Cronkite is a unique place to work because it offers the best of journalism and shows students the real world, the one they will encounter when they begin working in their profession.”

Cisneros previously was director of digital production for Entravision Communications in Phoenix, where he developed and managed video content and produced news stories for on-air and digital platforms. He also spent 13 years at KUVR (later KREN) Univision in Reno, Nevada, where he helped launch Noticias Univision Reno, Reno’s first Spanish-language newscast. While there, he anchored the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news and reported regional stories for a national news magazine program. He was named Journalist of the Year in Nevada by the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2003.

Early in his career, he earned a certification as an elementary school teacher in Jalapa, Guatemala, and earned a bachelor’s degree in communications science from the Universidad de San Carlos in Guatemala. He is the author of a memoir and a novel, both in Spanish.

The Cronkite School received a $500,000 grant to establish the Southwest Health Reporting Initiative to provide timely and accurate health news and information. Cronkite News, the student-produced, faculty-led news division of Arizona PBS, serves as the hub for the initiative. With news bureaus in Phoenix, Los Angeles and Washington, a Spanish-language news operation and partnerships with leading media organizations, Cronkite News students will produce multimedia content on health-related topics and issues with a wide reach. 

Arrillaga and Cisneros will provide editorial leadership and guidance to the students and engage with policymakers and health care professionals to generate awareness of the content produced. The Southwest Health Reporting Initiative will target Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Southern California and Texas, with a particular emphasis on Latino, Native American and Spanish-speaking border communities. 

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a strong supporter of ASU health-related initiatives. The Foundation sponsored research at ASU’s College of Health Solutions examining the spending of tax dollars on public health systems. ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law received funding to support its Center for Public Health Law and Policy, and the foundation has awarded numerous grants to faculty across the university to conduct health-related research.

Assistant vice president, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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ASU professor's solar-powered library is transforming global education

ASU professor's solar-powered library brings education to unconnected areas.
July 25, 2019

SolarSPELL device is providing lessons, health information to remote communities

In just five years, an Arizona State University student engineering project has grown into a global humanitarian mission that is now poised to transform the way health care is delivered.

SolarSPELL began when Laura Hosman, an associate professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, challenged her engineering students to create a solar-powered library that would fit into a backpack. Now the initiative has distributed hundreds of digital libraries filled with educational resources to communities in nine countries that have limited or no internet connectivity.

“Over half the world’s population has never connected to the internet and has no internet access,” said Hosman, the co-founder and director of SolarSPELL, which stands for solar powered educational learning library.

And when there is internet, it’s not like in Western countries.

“They don’t have unlimited access. It’s slow, it’s on their phone and they pay for it by the byte.”

In those places, people don’t waste their few precious moments of connectivity on surfing the web.

“They use it for communication with loved ones,” said Hosman, who also is an associate professor in The Polytechnic School in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.

So they don’t even realize all of the educational opportunity that’s available online.

Laura Hosman giving a demo of the SolarSPELL library to Mayen M. Achiek, associate professor of surgery at the University of Juba. Photo by Hakim Monykuer Awuok

The genius of SolarSPELL is the incredibly simple and inexpensive design — the parts cost less than $200. It works this way: Each weatherproof, portable case, which fits into a backpack, includes a small solar panel and a voltage regulator that plugs into a battery that powers a Raspberry Pi microcomputer. A micro digital memory card plugs into the microcomputer. The card contains all of the digital library content and some code that allows it to be accessed by any type of browser. The device creates a Wi-Fi hot spot, so no electricity or internet connection is needed. Students then connect any Wi-Fi capable device, such as smartphones, tablets or laptops, to access and download the content. Some of the SolarSPELL devices include the tablets too.

The true value of SolarSPELL is the carefully curated content. Each memory card holds reading and math tutorials, science projects, health information or English lessons that are chosen specifically for each location. The content can be provided by the local community, drawn from open-source text and videos that are available for free on the internet or taken from textbooks that are used with permission.

When it started, the SolarSPELL devices distributed mostly primary and secondary school lessons, but then the program expanded to include other kinds of education.

• In the spring, Education for Humanity, an ASU initiative that provides higher education to refugee communities, started using SolarSPELL to deliver an agribusiness course to people in Uganda.

• In June, Tonto Creek Camp near Payson became SolarSPELL’s first Arizona implementation site with the official pilot launch of the AZ Natural Resources library. The young campers used their smartphones to access educational modules and outdoor STEM-related activities at the camp, which has limited internet access. Plans are underway for more SolarSPELL projects in remote areas of Arizona.

• Earlier this month, the SolarSPELL team traveled to South Sudan to open a new teacher-training center in Juba, the largest city, and also to discuss how to distribute health care information via the devices.

Heather Ross, a clinical assistant professor in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, was on the team that went to South Sudan, a country that was created in 2011 and has struggled with poverty and violence. Because the country has so few resources, there is no culture of practicing evidence-based medical care, she said. While medical guidelines exist, there is no way to distribute them to practitioners in the field, said Ross, who also is affiliated with the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

“But South Sudan is the newest country in the world, so there is not a longstanding culture of ‘this is the way we always do things.’ There’s willingness to change,” she said.

“And they saw that SolarSPELL is a solution to getting the guidelines out to the field and getting the people in the field trained. So our project in the next 12 months is building that medical library.”

Making the content relevant to the local community is crucial. For example, medical guidelines say that for a slow heartbeat, a pacemaker should be implanted.

“But there is no way to get a pacemaker in South Sudan,” Ross said, so the content must reflect that.

ASU undergraduates and doctor of nursing practice students will be researching the best way to compile a medical library, finding the actual medical content and creating modules instructing people how to find and use the content.

Last year, teams of ASU nursing students visited the small Pacific island nation of Vanuatu to deliver specially curated health content to remote villages. One student realized that people there don’t have access to high blood pressure medicine, Ross said. So the student created a video describing why it’s important to watch salt intake and to exercise and quit smoking. She measured the community members’ blood pressure and found that it decreased four weeks after watching her video.

That’s why working directly in the field is a key component to SolarSPELL. Because the security situation in South Sudan is fragile, students did not accompany the SolarSPELL team earlier this month, but students have gone to other sites, including Tonga and Rwanda.

The SolarSPELL model is “train the trainers.” At each location, the SolarSPELL team trains teachers to teach with the libraries. Feedback and revision are important parts of the process, and during the recent trip to South Sudan, where the first devices were delivered a year ago in a pilot program, the teachers asked for updated textbooks and modules to help them navigate the content, according to Bruce Baikie, the co-founder and technical lead of SolarSPELL and adjunct faculty in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

The initiative is finding support.

“There was a surprise announcement during the Juba ceremony that the U.S. Embassy in South Sudan will pay for SolarSPELL to go into four schools,” Baikie said. That funding will cover the cost of the devices, teacher training, follow-up support and evaluation.

SolarSPELL also works closely with Peace Corps volunteers, who are already embedded into local communities. In August, the SolarSPELL team will take ASU students to Fiji, where they’ll roll out lessons on climate change to Peace Corps volunteers who work in remote areas, he said.The Fiji project came at the request of the Peace Corps director there, Hosman said.

“He told me that all the volunteers are teaching about nutrition and healthy living, but what they really need is information about climate change because half the people are living in villages that are already affected and the volunteers don’t know what to tell them,” she said.

“They needed content that was actionable and local to Fiji, and that’s exactly what we’re all about.”

As SolarSPELL expands, it needs more students. This summer, six interns are working full time on creating and curating content. This fall, engineering students will work on revising the portable case because the size of the tablets has changed. The program also is a good fit for students who are looking for applied projects or capstones, Hosman said. Every semester, there's a one-day session at the Polytechnic campus for volunteers to build the devices. And, of course, working in the field is invaluable.

“Going into the field, they not only see their classroom work come to fruition, but it also changes their lives in what they thought they could accomplish,” Hosman said.

“If they can already make a positive change in the world while they’re students, imagine what they can do with the rest of their lives.”

Top image: A student at Gabat Primary School in Juba, South Sudan, connects to the SolarSPELL library. Photo by Laura Hosman

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now