ASU Barrett Downtown under new leadership

Olga Davis has been appointed associate dean of Barrett, The Honors College at the Downtown Phoenix campus

August 12, 2019

Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University’s Downtown Phoenix campus has a new leader and will move into a more spacious home in the coming weeks.

Olga Davis, a professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication and a research affiliate of Mayo Clinic, has been appointed the new associate dean of Barrett Downtown.  Olga Davis Olga Davis, associate dean of Barrett, The Honors College at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus. Download Full Image

Davis holds a Bachelor of Science summa cum laude from the University of Redlands, and master's and doctoral degrees in communication studies from the University of Nebraska. She came to ASU in 1998 as an associate professor in the Hugh Downs School. 

At the Hugh Downs School, Davis has served as the leader of the Health Communication Initiative (HCI), a research collaborative that brings faculty and graduate students together in an inclusive and collaborative environment.  HCI is one of six research collaboratives at the Hugh Downs School that allows scholars with expert knowledge in different areas to collaborate on projects of overlapping interest.

Her research examines the performative nature of communication, with a focus on the social determinants of health and health equity among underrepresented communities. Davis has been an affiliate faculty member in the Science of Health Care Delivery program at the College of Health Solutions on the Downtown Phoenix campus and has worked as a faculty research affiliate with the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center in the School of Social Work in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

"Dr. Davis brings a rich experience with the ASU downtown community," said Mark Jacobs, dean of Barrett, The Honors College and ASU vice provost. "Her teaching and mentoring has included many honors courses and honors theses, as well as courses on the subjects of gender and communication, health narratives, identity performance and human communication, and public speaking. She is a great fit for associate dean of Barrett at ASU downtown." 

Davis takes the helm of Barrett Downtown just in time for the move of operations from the University Center (UCENT) on Central Avenue to Suite B in the Mercado complex at 502 E. Monroe St.

“Olga Davis will bring her leadership skills to the Barrett team,” said Linda C. Lederman, professor and director of the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication.  “Her interdisciplinary research, as well as her compassion, thoughtfulness and organizational skills, will be a true asset for the Honors College as they are for the Hugh Downs School.” 

Barrett Mercado building

Barrett, The Honors College at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus will be housed in this building at the Mercado complex. Photo courtesy Barrett, The Honors College  

For several years, Barrett Downtown has been housed in approximately 4,000 square feet on the first floor of the UCENT, with several staff offices on another floor of the building. Now, Barrett will be in an approximately 12,000-square-foot contiguous space in the Mercado with offices for faculty and staff, classrooms, meeting space and other amenities.

“Barrett at the Downtown Phoenix campus of ASU is the second largest group of honors students at the university. Although their current space is centrally located in many ways, they are bursting at the seams for study space, for lounge space, for meeting and workshop spaces and for classrooms. The latter has been a particular problem, with tensions every day trying to find classrooms set up in a seminar format and available at the right times,” Jacobs said.

"The new Mercado space is at least three times larger. It is a vast improvement for the students, faculty and staff of Barrett Downtown and a very large investment of Barrett funds to make it happen,” he added.

In addition to faculty and staff offices, classrooms and meeting and study areas, Barrett Downtown’s new suite will have space for the Barrett Writing Center, a computer lab with printers, a conference room for thesis defense sessions, and multipurpose event space. There also will be areas to display artwork made by Barrett students, a place for commuter students and others to store and heat up meals, a Nintendo Switch operable gaming space and a room with video equipment students can use to record presentations and practice interviews.

One classroom will have the equipment needed for the Barrett Global Classroom, which allows Barrett students to connect online with students from universities in other countries for interactive classes.

There also will be a “thesis gong” that students can ring when they submit their completed theses, and a 5-foot punching bag that can be used for stress-reducing workouts.

The new Barrett Downtown suite will be open and fully staffed during regular, weekday business hours and will be accessible to students on evenings and weekends.

The new space will open in several phases. In phase one, faculty and staff offices will open on Aug. 20. Meeting rooms, collaborative spaces, a student lounge, computer lab and writing center will open as the spaces are built out and furnished this fall. In phase two, four classrooms will open in mid-October. Due to scheduling constraints, in the fall 2019 semester Barrett classes will be held in the UCENT and other ASU downtown buildings. Honors classes will be scheduled into the new classrooms for the spring 2020 semester.

“The move provides an answer to the student call for more space downtown," said Kira Gatewood, Barrett Downtown project manager. "Students indicated that the current suite did not project the magnitude and vigor of the Barrett Downtown community. Now that the footprint will quadruple in size, we can have more and better programs for students and dedicated classrooms for our signature courses, The Human Event and The History of Ideas.” 

Barrett Honors Faculty Fellow Alex Young said he is looking forward to having offices, meeting and event spaces and classrooms all in the same place.

“We are happy to move into a place that will not only have more room, but better integrate our academic spaces with spaces for student programming, bringing staff, faculty and students together in a way that we hope creates a true home for Barrett Downtown. I'm quite excited about having classrooms tailored specifically to Barrett's student-centric model of seminar-style learning,” Young said.

Kacey Lorraine Cavanaugh, a senior Barrett student majoring in nursing said she welcomes the move.

“As a nursing student I am very excited that Barrett is moving to Mercado. I know a lot of nursing students aren't as involved in Barrett as other majors so this will be such a great opportunity for us to more easily take advantage of the resources that the office offers. I know a lot of people don't like walking to Mercado but it’s truly a beautiful building and Arizona Center, which is on the way to Mercado, is such a fun spot to sit down or grab some food,” she said.

Ranjani Venkatakrishnan, a Barrett student majoring in journalism, contributed to this article.

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College


ASU and USF investigators collaborate to explain where DNA repairs occur most frequently

August 13, 2019

From hair and eye color to how our biological system is regulated, the blueprint of life is held in the genome.

The gene also is what provides the instructions to the DNA as to what proteins to make and when, but our DNA is under constant attack from our environment — sun exposure, the air we breathe, the foods we eat and the body’s own metabolic processes to sustain life. If the enzymes that repair DNA are not signaled, damaged DNA may affect cell division and may result in the formation of tumors that can lead to cancer. woman and man standing next to each other smiling at the camera ASU researchers Marcia Levitus, associate professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and the Biodesign Institute, and Wade Van Horn, assistant professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and investigator with the Biodesign Institute's Center for Personalized Diagnostics and the Magnetic Resonance Research Center. Download Full Image

For a genome to survive, repairs to the DNA base pair is crucial. But at what rate and where do these repairs occur most frequently?  

Marcia Levitus, associate professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University, received a National Science Foundation grant to lead a study on the dynamics of DNA sequence and deformability on lesion recognition and excision in the base excision repair pathway, which will help us understand key aspects of DNA repair, DNA mutation rates and molecular evolution.

“Thousands of spontaneous lesions occur to a cell’s DNA on a daily basis, and to maintain the integrity of their genomes, cells have evolved mechanisms to repair damaged DNA," said Levitus. "The mechanism responsible for removing small lesions from the genome is the base excision repair pathway. This pathway is responsible for removing most oxidized, alkylated and deaminated nucleobases from the genome, and is initiated by specialized DNA glycosylases that catalyze the excision of the damaged base.”

Each of us has approximately 3 billion base pairs of DNA, and the instructions for building, repairing or maintaining itself is determined from the base sequence. The average person’s cells are estimated to have 70,000 DNA lesions. It would seem impossible for a cell to maintain the integrity of the DNA or survive if it didn’t evolve or adapt to the surrounding conditions it is continually subjected to.

During a cell cycle, a series of steps or events lead up to DNA replication known as a cell checkpoint, where cells are evaluated for ideal criteria before they can begin the replication process. The mechanisms for a biological system have a critical role in order to assure the genetic material being passed on is correct. Our DNA is constantly undergoing replication and division, and as in any system, errors can happen in the process. The majority of errors in our DNA are able to be detected in the cell cycle through very efficient repair systems, and the human body remains healthy.

The code of instructions in the DNA consists of four chemical bases: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T). Nucleic acids are formed from nucleotides. In DNA, there are three parts to a nucleotide: a deoxyribose (a five carbon sugar molecule), a phosphate group and a nitrogenous base. DNA base pairs to form units are made up in the sequence A with T and C with G. 

Role of DNA sequence and deformability on lesion recognition and excision in the base excision repair pathway

Levitus stated recent studies have shown that a number of DNA repair enzymes are more active on particular sequences of DNA than others.

“This sequence specificity results in nonrandom patterns of repair that can lead to nucleotide positions with lower repair efficiencies and exceptionally high mutation frequency,” said Levitus. “Identifying and characterizing factors that determine the rates and spectra of spontaneous mutations is a critical step toward understanding molecular aspects of the evolutionary process.”

Collaborating with Levitus on this research are Wade Van Horn, co-principal investigator and associate professor at ASU's School of Molecular Sciences, investigator at the Biodesign Institute, the Center for Personalized Diagnostics and the Magnetic Resonance Research Center, and Arjan van der Vaart, an associate professor and associate chair at the University of South Florida's Department of Chemistry.

“DNA carries the instructions that govern biology, and there are a variety of ways in which these DNA instructions can be changed (mutated). Consequently, biology has several diverse ways to identify and fix these DNA alterations,” said Van Horn. “Our collaborative studies seek to understand how biology recognizes these changes (lesions), particularly by investigating the relationship between the DNA sequence, its dynamics (i.e., movement) and the efficacy in identifying DNA lesions. Our team will use a mix of cutting edge computational and experimental approaches to investigate how biology protects the genetic instructions carried by DNA.”  

The main goal of this project is to elucidate the molecular basis for sequence effects in lesion repair by DNA glycosylases. Levitus, Van Horn and van der Vaart will test the hypothesis that damage that occurs within a rigid region of DNA is repaired more slowly than damage that occurs within a flexible region. Elucidating the molecular basis for sequence effects in DNA repair requires a multipronged approach that takes advantage of the strengths of a variety of experimental and computational approaches. This collaborative research will capitalize on the expertise in DNA biophysics (Levitus and van der Vaart), fluorescence spectroscopy (Levitus), NMR spectroscopy (Van Horn) and molecular dynamics (MD) simulations (van der Vaart).

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