The College's Salute to Service event honors the many forms of giving back

Hailing from military and political backgrounds, the Abbott and Fernandez families demonstrate how the spirit of service spans generations


November 12, 2019

Whether it’s in the military or the community, public service comes in many forms. During an event on Nov. 8, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University celebrated two families whose legacies demonstrate the breadth of what it means to give back.

Arizona House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez spoke alongside her daughter, Lisa Fernandez, who serves as chief of staff for Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. Fourth Class Midshipmen Rhea Abbott, First Class Midshipman Ryan Abbott and their father, Senior Chief E8 Michael Abbott, were the other family honored at the event. Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Steve Borden, who serves as director of ASU's Pat Tillman Veterans Center, was also recognized. Rhea Abbott speaks to an audience at Armstrong Hall Nov. 8. Rhea Abbott speaks with brother Ryan and father Michael to an audience at Armstrong Hall on Nov. 8. Download Full Image

Created in 2011, Salute to Service is a university-wide initiative honoring the lives and achievements of active-duty military members, veterans and their families. This year’s events centered on a “Salute to Service through service” theme, showcasing the myriad efforts made by military service members and veterans, along with those made by members of the community.

“I never saw myself being in the position I’m in now,” said Rep. Fernandez. “This is the result of being drawn to service and finding a passion for it — and today I am proud to serve, proud to give back to my community and very proud to stand here with my daughter.” 

Lisa Fernandez graduated with a degree in political science from The College in 2009. She said putting her degree toward a career in local politics was a chance to impact her community firsthand.  

“Service to me extends to those who pick up trash on the sidewalk, and to the city managers who are working every day to make the city a better place to live," she said. "One thing that is really special to me about local politics is getting to see that impact every day. Everything my mom and I do today is about serving constituents, either on the state or city level, and I feel so honored to be in that role.”

Speaking to audience members, Patrick Kenney, dean of The College, highlighted the diversity of service the two families reflected.

“We are here to celebrate military service, but also public service more broadly — here at The College we wanted to do it through these two families,” Kenney said. “The university has been working very hard to make sure this is a veteran-friendly institution. And when we ask our veterans to stand during graduation, I am always blown away by how many are among our thousands of graduates, and from every academic unit.”

The connection between academic drive, military service and tradition was a message Michael Abbott drove home, speaking about his family’s roles both at ASU and in the U.S. Navy. 

“There’s this stereotype that since I was in the Navy, my kids will be too, but that’s not the way it went for our family,” said Abbott, who retired from the U.S. Navy and returned to Arizona in 2012 after 21 years of service. “My wife and I relied on the traditions of education and determination to encourage our children to take advantage of every possible opportunity. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree from ASU when I was 43 years old, and I could not have predicted that three out of our four children would go on to go to ASU and into ROTC. But sometimes traditions aren’t made on purpose, they are born out of love.”

For Ryan Abbott, currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in engineering at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, following in his father’s military footsteps was a way to recognize a family tradition and begin to build his own. 

“When my dad retired and we moved back to Arizona, I was searching for the Navy in the desert, and I found ROTC at ASU,” he said. “Joining the military was a personal choice for both me and my sister — we joined to carry on our dad’s legacy and to continue building the life we grew up with.” 

An appreciation for family and service is also what drove Rhea Abbott to pursue a military career. But growing up on military bases, she said the support she received from those around her taught her an important lesson about another kind of service. 

“When my dad was away and I missed him, the support of student groups helped me. When military families whose kids I made friends with moved away, the support of teachers helped me feel a sense of belonging,” said Rhea, who is also studying engineering at ASU. “Neighbors opened their arms and welcomed us, and through that community support I learned to follow their example. They taught me that service is about giving back to our communities and to our country.”

A 2018-19 survey named ASU as a Military Friendly School for the ninth consecutive year. Paul LePore, associate dean for student and academic programs at The College, said The College plays an integral role in that designation by ensuring the needs of military service people and their families are met. 

“Not only does The College include students who have completed their military service and are looking to pursue the next part of their lives, we also have faculty and staff who served,” LePore said. “We have degree programs, courses and faculty research focusing on veterans, their families and the overall role the military plays in society today and historically — those are a lot of different dimensions in which The College is helping the university earn that military friendly status.”

LePore said recognizing the Fernandez and Abbott families was a timely reminder of how the spirit of service can span generations, and the event itself was an important reminder that often, true understanding begins by simply listening. 

“Listening to the stories of what people have learned in the military and the impact they made through that service helps us better understand the students coming to us as veterans,” he said. “This event also coincides with Family Weekend at ASU, so for us, choosing the speakers we did served to celebrate the connection between family and service even more.”

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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Hummingbirds know — if you've got it, flaunt it

November 12, 2019

Males work their plumage, dance moves to impress potential mates

For human males (usually in their 20s), appealing to a potential mate often involves body spray, long stints at the gym and conspicuous bottle service at the club. 

And hummingbird males work at least as hard at the same game. A recent study from Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences examined how male hummers use colorful plumage and display dances during courtship.

People sometimes refer to hummingbirds as jewels of the air. Like an Instagram model finding her light, male hummingbirds with iridescent plumage know how to sit at a precise angle relative to the sun so those feathers look their best.

Researchers studied relationships between the shimmering plumage, courtship displays, solar environment and male color appearance during courtship displays among six species of North American bee hummingbirds.

What they found was simple.

“Whatever it takes to show off — different strategies for different folks,” said  Kevin McGraw, a behavioral ecologist at ASU who primarily studies the colors of animals.

When you look at the different species, some have really big patches of color and some have small patches. Some do really wide, kind of clunky display dances and others are really short and precise sprinters.

“We asked: Do those two relate to one another across species?” McGraw said. “Do the ones that are really big and colorful, are they extravagant in their dances, or vice versa? We found species that had bigger, bolder patches of color had shorter, quicker displays, and species that had tiny patches of color tended to have wide ranges of displays. There was that negative relationship across species at one level.”

Rick Simpson, principal investigator of the study, and McGraw called that negative relationship the House/Car Paradox. If you’re trying to attract a mate, do you put all your money into a fancy house and have a cheap car? Or do you have a basic house but a really luxurious car?

“Certainly some can afford both, and those would be the best, but in nature, for animals, resources are limited, so selection might favor them to pick: one to exaggerate and the other one, relatively speaking, suffers in its degree of exaggeration,” McGraw said. “That’s been shown in human examples but also in some other crazy creatures out there.”

In this video, the first hummer is dancing like he’s out at a night at the Roxbury. But he has a rather small plumage patch. The last bird is almost nothing but plumage, and he’s not moving a muscle.

Sitting at the right angle and orientation to the sun to max out display varied among species as well. Some males faced the sun and some didn’t. The ones who faced the sun had flashy, exaggerated displays. Birds who didn’t face the sun had a consistent color and had bigger plumage patches.

“It almost seemed there were two strategies there,” said Simpson, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Windsor. “Are you trying to show off your behavior, or are you trying to show off your plumage?”

Simpson has observed there are multiple strategies both across species and within species.

Within species, males with larger plumage patches tended to not face the sun. When they displayed, they weren’t flashy — they were consistently colored.

“We hypothesized that maybe that’s the better way to show off how big your plumage is, whereas males that had bigger movements when they did their dance, those tended to face the sun and were a lot flashier; they had a lot of color change when they did their display,” Simpson said. “Maybe those males were trying to show off their dance moves instead of their plumage.”

For Simpson, the most interesting fact he found was that all these traits are interrelated to each other.

“It seems like there are these two evolutionary-divergent strategies: one that emphasizes exaggerated plumage and showing that off as best as possible,” he said. “The other is exaggerated behaviors and showing that off. It seems like there might be a tradeoff between the two. Of the species I studied, the ones with the biggest plumage patches had the simpler displays, and the ones with the smallest plumage patches had the more extreme displays. They key component I was interested in was how are these signals interacting and what does that interaction look like?”

How he did it

To put it mildly, the hummingbird is not an easy animal to study.

“They’re very fast, and if we let them all loose in the wild, they go all over the place and they’re really hard to track,” McGraw said. “Rick had to use this confined environment for the females to make sure he could set up his camera and get it all in at amazingly precise angles and direct dimensions for all the measurements he took.”

“It was definitely a big project,” Simpson said. “There was definitely a lot of trial and error, you could say.”

He met a hummingbird communication expert who had studied acoustic signals in similar species. He suggested capture methods and ways of getting females to spark male displays.

Then Simpson had to 1) do it on his own and 2) find field sites for study. He needed places with a lot of hummingbird territories and places where he could set up feeders to trap females.

Then he had to catch them. Mist nets — the traditional way to trap birds for study — aren’t the best thing to use with hummingbirds. Drop traps that fit over feeders are the way to go. The birds come inside the cylinder to feed and then you drop the walls of the trap around them. It sounds easy enough.

But, like most wildlife, hummingbirds do not enjoy being trapped. “The problem is, hummingbirds are really fast,” Simpson said. “They can even escape before the walls come fully down. I think I built three or four versions of the trap before I got one that worked — most of the time... A lot of my dissertation involved building things from nothing. That was one of the first things I had to figure out to build.

Rick Simpson's hummingbird trap

Rick Simpson's hummingbird trap. Photo courtesy Rick Simpson.

“Once you fail at trapping one, they become scared of the trap and they won’t come back to the feeder,” he said. “You have to be pretty good. It definitely took a lot of trial and error in that regard.”

Once Simpson heard hummingbirds in an area, he searched for their territories. For some species, like the Anna’s hummingbirds you see around the ASU Tempe campus, that’s easy. You hear them singing and they’ll be perched on the top of a nearby tree.

“When you see males like that perched at the top of a tree or some kind of tall structure, that usually indicates it’s that male’s territory,” Simpson said. “He’s defending that territory and waiting for females to show up so he can court them.”

For the two desert species in the study, that meant they were easy to find. It was more challenging up in Flagstaff in the pinon pine habitat, looking up in the trees for what Simpson described as a “tiny leaf-shaped object.”

After he found a territory, he would come back a few times during the day and for a few days afterward to make sure the same male was holding court over that spot. Then Simpson hung a caged female there. After that, it was a matter of waiting and hoping.

For some species, a male would show up almost immediately, perform his display, Simpson would film it, and everybody was done. For others, the male didn’t notice the female in the cage, or they decided they didn’t want to display.

“Maybe they thought it was too artificial of a setup and they were turned off by it, or they were scared of it, so it varied a lot. There was a lot of sitting and waiting.”

Some of the hummers in remote areas were timid, possibly because they weren’t used to dining from feeders. If Simpson moved and they noticed him, they either took off or wouldn’t come near the caged female.

How to film was another problem Simpson had to crack. Initially he put the camera underneath the cage pointing up, so he could see how the male was moving horizontally. (There isn’t a lot of vertical movement in the display.) But some species couldn’t get a good grasp on how to display. Eventually he put the camera below and behind the female.

“You could really see the differences in those displays," he said.

 Top photo: Calliope hummingbird in hand. Photo courtesy of Rick Simpson.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now

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