'Beautiful Boy' brings his story to ASU behavioral health conference

July 5, 2019

When Nic Sheff was 11 years old, he began drinking vodka. A year later he was using marijuana, soon joined by acid, ecstasy, mushrooms and cocaine. By the time he was 18, crystal meth was his drug of choice as everything spiraled out of control.

“When I was using, I had this philosophy that, well, if I wanted to kill myself with drugs, that was my business,” said Sheff, now 37. “I felt like I lived in a vacuum. Like I was the one in all this pain, so I should be able to decide whether to blot it all out with drugs or not. I had no idea whatsoever the extent of pain I was causing my family and the people that loved me.” Author Nic Sheff smiles atop a mountain in a black baseball cap reading "Dockweiler Surf Club" and blue open jacket New York Times best-selling author Nic Sheff will share his experience with recovery from a substance use disorder during ASU’s 20th annual Summer Institute. Download Full Image

His compelling story of addiction, relapse and recovery inspired both his father's memoir, "Beautiful Boy," and the 2018 Felix van Groeningen film of the same name. And in July, Sheff will recount his painful addiction experiences as keynote speaker at the Summer Institute, hosted by the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy at Arizona State University.

Nearly 400 national and local leaders, educators, researchers, counselors and behavioral health professionals will take part in the 20th annual conference held July 16-19 in Flagstaff, Arizona. The four-day event provides networking opportunities and education, part of the center's commitment to building more resilient and healthier communities.

Sheff will speak the morning of July 16, sharing his insights into recovery, including how it affects the addict and others. His personal account about dealing with addiction, combined with his bipolar disorder, builds to his inspiring breakthrough to sobriety and its maintenance. He offers a compassionate and contemporary viewpoint, with a understanding of chemical dependency, risk factors, the isolation people who use drugs experience and the resulting trauma, pain and survival. 

He says he believes that helping people with recovery is like “putting together the puzzle” concerning the issues surrounding addiction. “We all have this one moment: NOW!” Sheff wrote in "Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines" (2007). “Now is now. There is nothing but now … this, right here, is all there is. So, my challenge is to be authentic. And I believe I am, today. I believe I am.” 

"Tweak" utilized the extensive journals Sheff kept as a teenager and, along with his father's 2008 book "Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction," inspired van Groeningen's film starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet.

Sheff collaborated with his father, David, for the book, "High: Everything You Want to Know about Drugs, Alcohol, and Addiction," published in January 2019. This handbook serves as a resource for middle school readers to learn about the realities of drugs and alcohol. It addresses what drugs look like, how they are used, what they are called and their side effects. It also draws on the experiences of the New York Times best-selling father/son team to teach how to recognize drug behavior, how to understand it and what can be done to overcome it. The book features candid testimonials from those who have experienced substance abuse and from families who have lived through the addiction of a loved one.

Sheff’s poignant perspective is a timely addition to the center's Summer Institute, given the increasing pressures facing behavioral health professionals amidst the current opioid epidemic. For more about the conference, visit ASUSummerInstitute.org. The center is a unit of ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

Written by Deon Brown, ASU Class of ’85

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ASU professor's research finds teens' confidence in law enforcement plummets

ASU professor finds that teens' confidence in law enforcement has plummeted.
July 5, 2019

Data from nationwide survey shows drop in perception of police but not other authority

An Arizona State University professor’s new research has discovered that teenagers’ positive perceptions of law enforcement have decreased dramatically in the past few years, even as their confidence in other institutions has remained stable.

Adam Fine, an assistant professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU, discovered the shift in attitudes by analyzing data from the nationwide Monitoring the Future survey of young people. His article was published in Developmental Psychology.

“I typically study kids in the juvenile justice system, but for this paper, I wanted to look at kids in the community. What do these kids actually think about law enforcement and the justice system?” he said.

“With the national conversations surrounding policing and law enforcement these days, this is huge.”

The research was based on the stereotype that teenagers are negative about all authority.

“My argument is maybe, but we should establish if kids are differentiating between law enforcement and the justice system on the one hand and other types of authority on the other,” he said.

It turns out they are.

The Monitoring the Future study surveys about 50,000 students every year in the 48 contiguous United States. Fine and his co-authorsFine's co-authors are Emily Kan and Elizabeth Cauffman, both of the University of California, Irvine. used data from more than 10,000 teens from 2006 to 2017. The survey questions mostly measure drug use and attitudes toward drugs, but also include a question about authority. The teens were asked to rate how good or bad a job was being done for the country by police and law enforcement agencies, the justice system, public schools and religious organizations on a scale of one (very poor) to five (very good).

Until 2015, the results showed that teens tended to have the most confidence in religious institutions, followed by public schools and then law enforcement, while they viewed the justice system least favorably. But from 2015 to 2017, teens’ perception of law enforcement dropped to be equally as negative as the justice system, he said.

The team also found differences by race.

“What I thought I’d find, knowing that black youths are disproportionately criminalized in schools, including being expelled and suspended, was that they would view schools more like police and the justice system — a controlling, law enforcement authority,” he said.

But what he found was that across the last decade, black youths in the United States perceive social authorities, like religious institutions and schools, much more positively than do white youths. However, they also reported the worst perceptions of legal authority compared with other racial groups.

“That’s a really important story to tell,” he said.

Fine said he believes the change in perception is driven by teens’ use of social media, where in recent years they have seen a surge of content about policing.

“A variety of studies have looked at exposure to social media and linked that to poor perceptions of police,” he said.

Fine said that in another paper published a few years ago, his team found that black youths, with the same arrest history as white and Latino youth, reported worse perceptions of law enforcement and the justice system.

“On the one hand you could say they’re reporting worse perceptions. On the other hand, you could say their perceptions are more realistic.”

In a paper published a few months ago, Fine looked at perceptions of law enforcement by teens according to their political party preference.

“Similarly, because it’s the same data set, we found that perceptions have declined pretty dramatically in recent years,” he said.

“But kids who identify as Democrats or liberals report substantially worse perceptions of law enforcement than kids who identify more as Republican or conservative,” he said.

However, that effect was limited exclusively to white youths.

“We don’t see the same effect with Hispanic/Latinx kids or black/African American kids. The reality of being a person of color is more impactful than your political preference,” Fine said.

Fine is also researching the effectiveness of a California-based nonprofit program called Team Kids that brings police officers into elementary schools to work on community service projects with students. That article should be published soon.

“This organization is one of the few that’s trying to repair these relationships and rebuild them and create positive change,” he said.

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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ASU professor among top experts chosen to define firearm injury research agenda

ASU professor among top experts to set research agenda on pediatric gun deaths.
June 18, 2019

As funding resumes, scientists look for answers on pediatric gun violence

Firearms are the second leading cause of death behind vehicle crashes for young people in the U.S., and gun deaths among people age 19 and younger have skyrocketed 44% since 2013, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But research into factors around firearm deaths and injuries has lagged, including how they could be prevented and who is most at risk.

Now, a group of 25 nationwide experts — including an Arizona State University professor — has collaborated to create a list of 26 topics that are most important for researchers to answer. They spent a year on the project, and their report was released last week and published in JAMA Pediatrics.

“As a criminologist and social scientist, you always want to do something that will matter and save lives,” said Jesenia Pizarro-Terrill, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice who studies urban violence. “This is a public health crisis, and it makes no sense in a country like ours that children are dying because of this.”

Pizarro-Terrill is a member of the Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens Consortium, known as FACTS, a team of 25 scientists from 12 universities that is funded by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development.

The priority research topics they selected vary from the most basic question, such how children get access to firearms, to policy issues, such as how to better use data analysis. Other questions include:

  • What explains racial disparities in firearm injuries and deaths?
  • How effective are school-based programs for reducing firearm suicide risk?
  • How do media and social media affect firearm outcomes?
  • Does “smart” firearm technology decreases firearm injury and death?
  • How can police best partner with community groups on anti-violence programs?

Jesenia Pizarro-Terrill

The journal articles notes, “Currently, there is a substantial deficit of data for pediatric firearm injuries.” That’s because in 1996, Congress passed the Dickey Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds to advocate or promote gun control, and that deterred money targeted for research. Inquiry into firearm-injury prevention waned. But in 2018, the federal budget bill clarified that the amendment does not prohibit federal funding of research on the causes of gun violence. The new list of priorities is meant to be a road map as research funding begins to flow again.

The process of creating the list of questions was intense, Pizarro-Terrill said.

“At first it was a little intimidating because these are the leading experts in the field of injury prevention and firearms, and you’re seeing people whose work you read in grad school,” she said.

Every scientist was asked to consider the most pressing research issues they could think of in their own area of expertise. Then the team divided into groups and did a massive review of thousands of existing studies.

“There’s good stuff out there, but a lot of it is 20 or 30 years old,” she said. “We wondered, ‘Does it still hold up in this context?’”

After the literature review, there were more discussions and several rounds of voting. The final research agenda included questions that 70% of the experts agreed on.

Pizarro-Terrill is interested in finding out about protective factors.

“We talk a lot about risk, but not everybody who has a firearm becomes a victim or a perpetrator,” she said. “What serves to protect that individual, even one who is exposed on a daily basis?”

One important part of the process was input by community stakeholders representing schools, police, churches, veterans, gun owners and health care providers. One of them was Geraldine Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety.

“As someone who’s been doing grassroots work for almost 24 years now, they wanted to know our experience with survivors and what areas we thought needed research in order to develop policy going forward,” she said.

“We were that bridge between practice and academia,” said Hills, who founded Arizonans for Gun Safety after her brother, a police officer, was shot to death in 1994. She is president of the group, which she said approaches gun policy from a public-health framework.

“We talk about safe storage, and we hand out trigger locks. We talk about being responsible gun owners, and not leaving guns in your car or unlocked where criminals can get them. We do a lot of public safety campaigns.”

Her group was instrumental in getting Shannon’s Law passed, the statute that makes it a felony to shoot guns randomly into the air, named for Shannon Smith, a 14-year-old Phoenix girl killed by a stray bullet in 1999. The law passed in 2000 after failing twice in 1999.

“Getting (firearms) bills passed is so difficult that we want to be able to make sure the policies we’re putting forward are research-based solutions to reduce gun deaths and injuries,” said Hills, who earned a master’s degree of nonprofit administration from ASU in 2015.

“There have been bills passed that aren’t as effective as we had hoped because we were guessing that they would have an impact. Now that research is finally being done again, we can say, ‘Here are the places we can change policy to have the greatest impact.’”

One foundation of the FACTS team’s mission was the acknowledgement that Americans have a right to own guns.

“That viewpoint was very important,” Pizarro-Terrill said. “We wanted to come up with realistic strategies that can save lives and not infringe on people’s rights.”

So the group looked to decades of research on auto fatalities.

“Research has informed ways for us to be safe in our automobiles. We’ve had a decrease of almost 90% in auto fatalities in the past 40 or 50 years,” she said.

“It was done by recognizing that automobiles are not going anywhere. They’re part of our fabric. So what can we do to create an environment that’s safe while we have cars?”

The list of research priorities is just one project that the FACTS team is doing. Other goals are: create a data archive on pediatric firearm injury, train the next generation of firearm researchers and create conferences, webinars and other resources to educate researchers and policy makers about firearm injury science.

The project has funded 10 pilot studies, and Pizarro-Terrill is an investigator on one — a nationwide online survey of high schoolers and their parents about firearm beliefs and perceptions. Hills is a stakeholder participant in two studies, one that examines extreme-risk protection orders and one that will evaluate whether state gun laws have an effect on the number of school shootings.

Pizarro-Terrill’s own research looks at how firearm violence occurs in the moment.

“We know economic inequity and family instability are good at predicting violence, but there’s not much you can do with those big macro problems. My approach is more situational in nature — what are the dynamics at the immediate situation level that cause violence to occur?

“I have looked at weapon selection, like what are the factors that affect whether you’ll use a firearm or a knife or a bat to commit the act? A lot of it has to do with opportunity.”

Much of Pizarro-Terrill’s research has been in northern New Jersey, where she grew up.

“Northern New Jersey has one of the most violent crime rates in the country,” she said. “What sparked my interest is my background.

“I wanted to do something to help my community.”

Top image by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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ASU to offer Thunderbird global affairs master's degree at DC location

ASU to offer global affairs master's degree at Washington, D.C., location
June 7, 2019

Yearlong executive program is aimed at midcareer professionals in nation's capital

Arizona State University will soon begin accepting students into its first degree program based entirely at its 1-year-old Washington, D.C., location.

The executive master’s of arts in global affairs and management degree will be offered starting in January 2020 by the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and is intended for professionals in the Washington area.

The program is offered in partnership with the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“We’ve developed a transdisciplinary, solution-oriented degree focused on global innovation,” said Sanjeev Khagram, dean and director general of the Thunderbird School of Global Management. Thunderbird, which has been offering degrees in international business for more than 75 years, became part of ASU in 2014 and is based at the Downtown Phoenix campus.

The yearlong master’s degree program will be held at the Ambassador Barbara Barrett and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Washington Center at Arizona State University, a few blocks from the White House. ASU already offers several academic programs at its Washington, D.C., location, including the International Rule of Law and Security Program for law students, the Cronkite News Washington Bureau for journalism students, and the Capital Scholars Program for students in the School of Politics and Global Studies. The site also is home to the McCain Institute for International Leadership.

But this will be the first time that residents in the Washington area can earn an ASU degree at the location. Khagram said that Thunderbird alumni encouraged the idea.

“We have regularly had dozens and dozens of folks from the D.C. area join us for our full-time, immersive, core management graduate degree,” he said. “We have more than 2,000 alums in the area and when we talk with them, we heard, ‘It would be great if there was a degree program in D.C. so people didn’t have to fly back and forth.’”

Khagram said the degree is intended for people who are looking beyond their own career.

“It’s a truly global degree for midcareer professionals in the public, private or nonprofit sector who want to understand other sectors, engage other sectors or move to another sector,” he said.

“A lot of folks in government want to move to the private sector, or vice versa. They want a global degree that’s critical for that next phase and they want to continue to work.”

The 30-credit degree will be completed in one calendar year, from January to December, with weeklong immersive courses the first and last week, and class meetings on Fridays and Saturdays every other week the rest of the year.

Students can choose three pathways: global business, taught by Thunderbird faculty; global law, taught by faculty from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, and global policy, with Watts College faculty. Students will take three courses in their pathway.

The partnership with Thunderbird on the new degree was a natural fit for the law school, which already has several experts in international law and the existing rule of law externship in Washington, D.C., according to Diana Bowman, a professor of law and associate dean for international engagement in the law school.

“We recognize that we’re not training lawyers to be trade experts. We’re arming these students with the knowledge that everything they do in business has a legal dimension to it and you can’t just guess,” said Bowman, who is also associate dean in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at ASU.

“We’re giving students the tools to know when they need to talk to a legal professional.”

The three courses in the law pathway are international law, human rights law and international trade law, according to Adam Chodorow, the Jack E. Brown Professor of Law and associate dean of academic affairs at the law school.

“Those courses are fundamental to anybody who is engaged with a global mindset and who wants to interact on the global stage,” he said.

“You have to know something about international law. Is it binding on nations? Is it binding on companies? How is it enforced?

“Human rights are a critically important part of everything we should be doing and there are issues involved in hiring and building,” he said.

“Trade is at the heart of much of the interaction between countries and you have to understand the World Trade Organization and other organizations that set rules for global commerce."

Chodorow said the hope is that law school students who are in Washington, D.C., could take some of the courses that will be offered.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity that builds on ASU’s culture of working across disciplines and across schools,” he said.

Top image: The new executive master's in global affairs and management degree will be offered starting in January 2020 by the Thunderbird School of Global Management. The yearlong program will be held at the Ambassador Barbara Barrett and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Washington Center at Arizona State University, a few blocks from the White House. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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Young people find profound personal growth in Public Allies Arizona

Young people find transformation in Public Allies Arizona service program.
May 30, 2019

Participants hone skills, increase nonprofits' impact in ASU Lodestar program

Brandon Vickers served his country for five years while he was a welder in the Navy. When he resumed civilian life in 2016, he knew he wanted to continue serving his community, but he didn’t know how.

And then he found Public Allies Arizona, an intense, full-time apprenticeship program that pairs young people with nonprofit organizations. And he knew it would be perfect.

“It turned out to be the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” said Vickers, 25, who has spent the past 10 months working at the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Phoenix as part of the program.

“The Navy was awesome and gave me skills, but this has given meaning to the work I’m doing.”

Vickers is among 30 young people in Public Allies Arizona, a program of the Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, in the School of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University.

This is the 13th cohort of Public Allies Arizona, which pays the allies a stipend of about $14,000 to work at nonprofit organizations in the Valley. After completing the program, which is part of the federal AmeriCorps program, the participants receive a $5,800 award to pay for tuition or professional development or to apply toward student-loan debt. More than 400 young adults have participated since Public Allies Arizona was launched in 2006.

The nonprofit groups get motivated staffers and the participants not only learn valuable job skills, but also undergo profound personal growth. Several of the current allies described their experiences at “Presentations of Impact” Wednesday night at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

“My childhood wasn’t the easiest. We moved a lot and I attended a lot of different schools,” Vickers told the crowd.

“The Navy gave me an idea of what it meant to serve a cause greater than myself,” he said.

He was ecstatic when he found Public Allies Arizona listed on a job-search engine, although — like all the allies — he was nervous and unsure if he could do the work.

“But that feeling quickly went away,” he said, as he described how he helped the Boys and Girls Club renew its service enterprise certification, reached out to alumni and helped to recruit millennials and people with disabilities to be volunteers.

Besides working with nonprofits, the allies work on projects together, get personal coaching and attend leadership training.

“The biggest thing it’s helped me do is to learn the value of networking and forming relationships — and forcing me to do it,” said Vickers, who transferred from Glendale Community College and now is majoring in nonprofit management at ASU.

“I was always a shy person. Now I’m a better communicator, even just talking with family and friends,” he said.

The allies come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some are college students, some have degrees and a few joined right out of high school.

Channtal Polanco spent her Public Allies term with Opportunities for Youth, an ASU initiative to help young people who are neither working nor in school. At the presentation Wednesday night, she described her own experience. She was attending college in California when she unexpectedly became pregnant. She left college and returned to Phoenix, where she had her daughter.

“I was not working or enrolled in college. I became an opportunity youth,” she said.

“I knew I needed a change in my life not only for myself but also my daughter. But I was faced with relentless obstacles and barriers.”

Finally she was able to enroll her daughter in a full-time preschool program run by Chicanas Por La Causa, allowing her to enroll in school and get a job.

“But I still yearned for a new challenge,” she said. “And that led me here.”

At Opportunities for Youth, she recruited teens for a manufacturing job-readiness program.

“I thought, ‘How can I make this program appealing? Why should they listen to me?’” she said. “I learned an important lesson — to meet the youths where they’re at.”

The allies described their victories. Polanco was able to get a very motivated young man enrolled into the job program within 24 hours. Vickers learned the stories of people who attended the Boys and Girls Club in the 1940s as part of his work to reenergize the alumni group. Yaylah Trujillo, a student at Estrella Mountain Community College, recruited 10 people to become LGBTQ-friendly foster families through her work with Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.

And Anne Mbugua is launching a new youth-employment program, Arizona Youth Forces, through her work at the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Phoenix.

“I’m helping teens ages 16 to 18 get paid internships, which introduces them to the work force,” she said. The teens attend workshops to learn soft skills, like how to communicate in the workplace, before they’re placed.

Mbugua, who is from Kenya, came to Public Allies Arizona after several years of living abroad in Europe and Canada.

“This program has really helped me enhance my skills. I’m very passionate about working with young people and I was excited that I would get to pilot a program, which I’ve never done before,” she said. “I thrive in the chaos of it. I just run with it.”

Public Allies is the just the latest service stint that Mbugua has taken on.

“Every country I’ve gone to, I’ve always volunteered,” she said. She worked with homeless people in train stations in Poland, at an international youth hostel in London and with a mental-health youth program in Canada.

“I love the joy of traveling and living in a different culture whether it’s six months or five years,” she said. “I’ve gone through five passports.”

Mbugua will end her term with Public Allies Arizona in November, and is working on keeping the new internship program sustainable and measuring its success.

“One way to measure success is who finished the internship? Were they retained somewhere? Did they attend all 10 workshops?”

Mbugua plans to move to New York and pursue a career in cross-cultural coaching.

Public Allies Arizona has been invaluable in charting her course.

“You’ll figure out what you want to do and what you absolutely don’t want to do,” she said.

“You learn teamwork, management, and you learn to be a good leader.”

Top photo: ASU student Brandon Vickers works a volunteer fair at Grand Canyon University. A Navy veteran, Vickers has been working at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix as part of his participation in Public Allies Arizona. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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ASU researchers receive MURI award to track criminals, their weapons of destruction via pollen

May 28, 2019

One of the surest signs that spring has sprung is the abundance of fresh blooms sprouting from greenery everywhere. For that, we have the work of honeybees to thank, unwittingly pollinating plant after plant as they go about collecting the fine, dusty gold for their queen.

But those industrious little black and yellow fuzzballs aren’t the only things transporting pollen — it’s literally everywhere and sticks to everything, making it an invaluable tool to use for tracking movement.

Forensic palynology is the study of pollen, spores and other acid-resistant microscopic plant bodies to prove or disprove a relationship among objects, people and places. Now, with the support of a multimillion-dollar grant from the Department of Defense, a team of interdisciplinary researchers at Arizona State University plan to use it to improve the U.S. government’s ability to identify where and when criminals and their weapons of destruction are moving.

headshot of a man wearing sunglasses and a dark blue shirt with nature in the background

Anthony Grubesic

“For me, the most exciting aspect of this project is the collaborative work (and team) that spans the social, spatial, ecological and biological sciences,” said Anthony Grubesic, director of the Center for Spatial Reasoning and Policy Analytics at ASU, who will lead the team.

“All the project investigators are experts in their own fields, but the cross-pollination (no pun intended) of our ideas and methods hold real promise for improving models of pollen diffusion and improving the accuracy of geoforensic efforts in tracking objects of interest for law enforcement and the military.”

The team includes Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions College Research Professor Elisa Bienenstock and School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning Associate Professor Daoqin Tong, in collaboration with geographers and biologists from the University of Texas and Emory University.

During the five-year project that is part of the DOD Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), the team will work to find methods for using the distinctive genetic signatures of pollen to track the origins of improvised explosive devices and other activities. 

The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory through its Army Research Office will provide ASU $6.25 million in funding to complete the project.

MURI is a highly competitive DOD program that has made immense contributions to both defense and society at large. For fiscal year 2019, the Army Research Office, the Office of Naval Research and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research conducted a merit-based review of nearly 300 proposals.

Grubesic and his team submitted the winning project proposal, titled “Networked Palynology Models of Pollen and Human Systems (NYMPHS),” to DOD, making ASU one of only 24 universities selected to lead projects that span multiple scientific disciplines.

Along with ASU, some of the award-winning institutions include MIT, Boston University, University of Chicago, Penn State and the California Institute of Technology.

“The project underscores an important dimension of the Watts College commitment to public service,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of the Watts College. “We are committed to advancing national security, in this case, by pulling together multiple disciplines using advanced analytic frameworks under the leadership of Dr. Grubesic.” 

Pollen’s constant presence in the environment makes it a useful biomarker. It is durable and has predictable distributions across terrains. Investigators have used palynology in the past to link movements of bodies in mass graves in Bosnia, and researchers are confident traces of pollen can help determine the origin of items such as computers, undetonated explosives and papers.

The team aims to develop a NYMPHS geocomputational toolbox; extend the use of DNA metabarcoding for identifying pollen samples; develop a rapid-deployment sampling framework for capturing airborne pollen; develop validation methods for determining accuracy, precision and uncertainty of species distribution models; and enhance use of social network methods and mathematical optimization to generate accurate geographic localization for objects that have moved among locations.

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay

School of Criminology and Criminal Justice recognizes community-engaged alumni

May 22, 2019

The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University has announced its 2019 alumni awards, which this year included three categories.

Alumni Scholar Award

Presented to Associate Professor Scott Wolfe, Michigan State Alumni award winners stand beside CCJ director Cassia Spohn Left to right: Cassia Spohn, Scott Wolfe, Allyson Roy and Randall Snyder. Download Full Image

For outstanding scholarly contributions to the discipline of criminology and criminal justice by a person who has received the MA, MS, or PhD from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU.

Scott Wolfe, associate professor at Michigan State University, is a 2012 PhD graduate who is heavily engaged in research with state and federal agencies associated with police reform. Honing his research chops at ASU, Wolfe has been cited over 2,000 times with six of his articles cited 100 or more times. Scott moved quickly to produce useful research evidence around the “Ferguson Effect.” This work figured prominently in public policy debates relating to policing and crime. As noted by his nominator Ed Maguire, “To help inform policy is the mark of a genuine public scholar. Wolfe is a public scholar who is engaged with the community at multiple levels. I see in him a bright, industrious and very promising young scholar.”

Alumni Award for Early Career Excellence

Presented to Officer Allyson J. Roy, Tempe Police Department

For demonstrating notable early-career accomplishments that indicate future success for contributions to the fields of criminology and criminal justice through research, practice or policy.

Allyson Roy is steeped in Sun Devil pride, having received both her undergraduate ('12) and graduate degree (MS '14) from ASU. Immediately hired as a crime analyst with the Tempe Police Department, Roy used her knowledge of ASU and Tempe to make connections that helped lead to the school receiving grant funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation for work on the Tempe Police Department’s body-worn camera program. Fast forward to 2016, and Roy became a sworn officer of the Tempe PD. Her nominator, Mike White, said, “Allyson epitomizes what it means to be a 21st-century cop: educated, mature, empathetic, data savvy, a strong communicator and an excellent problem solver”. You can look for Roy on the television show "Live PD presents: Women on Patrol."

Dr. Marie Griffin Distinguished Alumni Award

Presented to Detective Randall W. Snyder, Pinal County Sheriff's Office

For having made significant contributions to the advancement of criminology and criminal justice through distinguished leadership achievements as a practitioner in one of the justice professions.

This award is in memory of beloved School of Criminology and Criminal Justice professor Marie Griffin. This year’s recipient, Detective Randall Snyder (MA '14) of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office criminal investigations bureau, internet crimes against children unit, was recognized for his significant contributions to the advancement of criminology and criminal justice through distinguished leadership achievements. Among other awards, Snyder has received a special commendation from the U.S. attorney general’s office. He has been directly responsible for the capture of domestic and international child exploitation offenders, rescuing many children from the hands of abusers. As noted by one of his former supervisors, “but for Snyder’s efforts these children would still be in the hands of their abusers.”

School Director Cassia Spohn noted, “As our program continues to mature, selecting from our pool of alumni nominations for these awards has become increasingly difficult. This is further testament to the fact that the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice continues to develop and train the most highly qualified graduates in the industry.”

Written by Nancy Johnson, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

'Connections are everything': 11th class graduates from ASU Lodestar Center's American Express Leadership Academy

May 22, 2019

Smiles on every face. Congratulations passed around left and right. Speakers saying they don’t want to speak for too long. Just another scene of another graduation in May.

Not quite. These students aren’t graduating from a school or a university. Class 11 stands in front of Heard Museum Class 11 graduated on May 10, 2019, at the Heard Museum. Download Full Image

On Friday, May 10, at the Heard Museum, 32 participants graduated from the American Express Leadership Academy at the ASU Lodestar Center. They are the program’s 11th class of emerging nonprofit leaders in the Phoenix metro area.

The participants spent almost 10 months together, meeting for monthly program days on leading and managing nonprofit organizations, working closely on their respective group projects outside of class, learning about themselves with the help of their classmates and executive coaches and bonding so closely that they say they’re nearly a family.

“This is a program for emerging leaders to be able to develop themselves as leaders, and I was looking for something like that,” said Claire Louge, one of the graduates of Class 11 and the training director for Prevent Child Abuse Arizona. “Not just about the logistics of managing a team or an organization, but the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills I wanted to develop.”

Jennifer Jenkin, another Class 11 graduate and the education manager for McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, said the academy helped her to realize many things about herself, such as her core values, how those are being implemented in her professional growth and her own leadership potential.

“Attending the academy made me realize how resilient I already was as a leader,” Jenkin said. “And that I wasn't necessarily leveraging my leadership skills to their full potential. (The academy has) helped me reflect a lot on who I am and what I bring to the table at an organization. It has helped me be able to recognize strengths and weaknesses in others in order to build highly effective teams.”

Launched in 2008 and originally called the Generation Next Nonprofit Leadership Academy, the Lodestar Center’s American Express Leadership Academy was expanded and renamed in 2014 thanks to additional funding from the American Express Foundation. The new grant allowed the academy to grow its class size to about 30 leaders, while adding programmatic offerings like 360-degree evaluations and one-on-one executive coaching. It’s a unique melding of professional and personal development in preparation for high-level leadership roles.

“This year’s class of academy graduates is exemplary as they have built their individual leadership skills while simultaneously unleashing the power of the network they have built throughout the year with their peers and with alumni from our prior classes,” said Robert Ashcraft, executive director of the ASU Lodestar Center and Saguaro Professor of Civic Enterprise in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions and its School of Community Resources and Development. "We are grateful for our more than decade-long partnership with the American Express Foundation, whose leaders realize the value of nurturing nonprofit leadership as a powerful community development strategy and who values the relationship to our center given our ability to deliver on mutually beneficial goals.”

What is leadership?

Sadhna Bokhiria, chief operating officer of Kapoor Foundations, was chosen by her classmates as the graduation speaker for Class 11. She said she learned what leadership is from the academy.

“True leadership is understanding that you're more similar than you are different. Leadership is understanding that everyone is human, and everybody has the same core needs,” Bokhiria said the day before the ceremony, sentiments she shared during her graduation speech. “True leadership is helping people grow."

More than a class

Louge said that, when she applied, she was also hoping to make connections with other emerging leaders through the academy, which is a key part of the collaborative cohort model it uses.

“In Arizona, connections are everything, connections are key to our success as nonprofits,” Louge said. “So the more connections that we can make, the better.”

But those networking connections were just the start, she said.

“There's a lot of love in our class,” Louge said. “We support each other, we will learn things and reflect together, we go to each other's events, whether they’re work events or personal events. The connections I've made are both professional and personal. We developed a sense of a work family within this team. I'm going to miss it so much.”

Bokhiria said that this program was the first time she didn’t feel like an outsider in all her years of education, from grade school through her doctorate.

“This is the first educational experience I've had, where it's like, every single person in the room wants you to do well, and they cheer for you and they support you,” Bokhiria said.

Kenneth Mims, the superintendent for Science Prep Academy, said the academy and this class will always mean a lot to him.

“It's a network of friends who are leaders doing good work. This is a cohort that I feel that I will stay in contact with for the rest of my life,” Mims said. “Also I feel that it will (lead to) opportunities to partner with other organizations and to help more people in the community and do great things for a lifetime.”

Jenkin said that her favorite part of the academy was the people she spent so much time with.

“The people in this program have been amazing and wonderful,” Jenkin said, adding that many of them spend their free time together and even started a book club. “We've really become almost — I know it's cliche to say a family, I don't want to say family — but we've become really close. A lot of us have made friendships that are going to last well beyond the program.”

Many impacts from one class

For Jenkin, the academy’s impact didn’t stop at her or her classmates. After each monthly program day, she immediately started sharing what she had learned with her colleagues at work.

Mims said the curriculum they learned was very helpful and practical for his organization, too.

“A lot of the curriculum, lot of the lessons, a lot of the strategies that we were learning in the class, I can apply immediately within the next week," he said. "I felt more confident because I had ... tools or strategies that I could use to deal with situations. It was just very empowering.”

Program days are led by a variety of speakers and practitioners, from established nonprofit leaders to professors to community leaders, with plenty of interaction as the group hones leadership skills and delves into critical issues facing the nonprofit sector.

“I think everybody has walked out feeling they better understand themselves,” Jenkin said. ”And that they better understand the role that they play in organizations, and how to successfully take their team to the next step and implement change.”

And that, she said, ultimately has a significant impact on the nonprofit sector in Arizona.

“Now you've got this cohort of capable, skilled, qualified, competent leaders who can take these organizations into the next step — to become more professional, to continue to move that needle and to continue to have a bigger impact on the clients that they serve,” Jenkin said.

Louge said she doesn’t know what the impact of Class 11 will be yet, but she feels they’ve already found the key to success as they continue their work in the sector.

“This program forges real and meaningful relationships between people of different nonprofits, so that in the future, we can call upon each other if we need something,” Louge said. “Relationships are everything.”

Written by Troy Hill, ASU Lodestar Center

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ASU grads make billion-dollar impact on Arizona economy

May 17, 2019

Sarah Phillips, a student at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, knew Arizona State University was home from the minute she stepped on campus. The criminal justice major graduated this May with a job offer already on the table, and she will continue to call Arizona home.

There were more than 238,000 ASU graduates working in Arizona in 2017, earning approximately $15 billion annually. Phillips is one of the thousands of ASU students graduating this May and contributing to the Arizona economy — spending, purchasing and paying taxes.

“I chose Arizona as home after graduation because I was able to get a great job after the internship with State Farm last summer,” she said. “I have also called Arizona home for the past four years, and I could not imagine a better place to begin my post-grad life.”

Educational attainment is strongly related to upward social mobility and a boost in earnings. Median weekly earnings were more than 60% higher for people with a bachelor's degree than those with a high school diploma. Additionally, the higher the level of education, the lower the unemployment rate.

ASU graduates employed in Arizona earned approximately $15 billion in 2017. Based on those earnings, individuals contributed between $1.065 billion and $1.217 billion in state and local government taxes, including between $613 million and $753 million in state government taxes.

Research suggests that having college graduates in the workforce increases productivity among all workers due to the sharing of knowledge and skills and from the shift to knowledge-based activities. These productivity gains translate into higher incomes and standards of living.

“When we graduate students and they work here, everyone’s wages go up as a result of these productive workers being here,” said Dennis Hoffman, ASU Office of the University Economist and L. William Seidman Research Institute director. “State revenue increases too.”

As an employer, ASU created an economic impact of $3.8 billion. All businesses generate jobs. ASU is unique in that creates jobs (at the university itself) and human capital — the university produces graduates, who then contribute to the state's economy.

According to a report from the L. William Seidman Research Institute at ASU, educational attainment is important to produce highly skilled, competitive individuals, key components of regional competitiveness. Regions competitive in the 21st-century economy are composed of competitive companies, which consist of competitive individuals. The more highly skilled the worker, the higher the worker’s productivity.

ASU has a diverse student body with different abilities, talents and skill sets that span across more than 800 degree programs, offering a large talent pool for Amazon, Intel Corporation, Make-A-Wish Arizona and State Farm Insurance, a few of ASU’s top employers.

Rich Ortiz, a State Farm college recruiter, said ASU’s innovative culture develops a rich talent pool that will help move State Farm forward. 

“ASU offers a diverse student population with regard to academic backgrounds and experiences,” he said. “This aligns with State Farm’s diverse workforce.”

Ortiz says he looks for students who have developed transferable skills through academics, internships and general work experience and who are in search of a career, not just a job. He looks for students who are willing to learn and those who enjoy helping people.

“State Farm is excited to find employees that match our internal culture. Giving back to the community is a major value of State Farm,” he said. “We’re known for doing good by our customers and our communities. It’s important for our employees to understand this type of culture and represent it with every interaction.”

He is in search of students like Phillips.

Phillips accepted a job offer at State Farm. She had an offer of employment before she even walked across the stage with her diploma in hand. Her goal? Get promoted to the special investigations unit, sharing that the company invests in its employees by providing opportunities to succeed and achieve their career goals.

“I am entering the workforce with a different mindset and a different set of goals than when I first came to ASU, thanks to my degree,” she said. “My degree gave me a new understanding of how the world works. My professors and my classes taught me to work hard to help others. I intend to work hard to help others throughout my career, wherever it may take me.”

ASU’s culture of social embeddedness and philanthropy also attracts nonprofit organizations.

Sawyer Kilen, volunteer manager at Make-A-Wish Arizona, says the organization provides children living with critical illnesses the opportunity to seize a dream, passion or goal in life — something they most desire, adding that a wish can be the turning point for a child, allowing them to see all the possibilities that life has to offer.

“One of the things I enjoy most about ASU students is the passion they have for success and making a difference in the world,” he said. “They come in with a passion to support our mission, a desire to learn and the work ethic to succeed in their role.”

Kilen says one of the reasons he looks to ASU for future interns is because of the diverse population at the university and the importance it places on bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds, knowing that diversity and inclusion provide a rich foundation for innovation, success and togetherness. 

When students are at ASU, they work alongside students from different counties and backgrounds. Students engage with others, learn from different perspectives and leave prepared to engage with individuals from all walks of life, wherever their career takes them. 

Native Arizonan Nicole Barrett graduated in 2015 from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She pursued a career with Make-A-Wish Arizona and landed a full-time position after graduation. Barrett loves everything about it — a career where she gets to engage with different families, children and life stories. 

“It means a lot to be part of an organization where everyone is so dedicated to our mission and we all play a part in fulfilling the wishes of children with critical illnesses,” she said. “The people I work with are some of the most dedicated and compassionate people I have ever met.”

Barrett, a digital marketing manager, writes content for the organization’s website and for its social media channels. Meeting wish kids and families, talking to them and having the opportunity to share their stories are her favorite parts of the job. Nearly four years later, she now oversees two marketing interns of her own. 

“The most valuable thing I learned in my years at Arizona State University was how to develop strong writing skills and work on deadline,” Barrett said. “I use these skills every day in my current job, and I think being a strong writer is an important skill for any job.”

When students graduate, they are prepared with the skills employers are looking for, making students not only marketable locally but also beyond the state. A vast majority, nearly 70%, of ASU graduates work in Arizona.

For others, they leave Arizona but are eager for the day when they can return to the community that they now call home. Robert Chandler, a recent computer science graduate from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, is one of those students.

Originally from Georgia, Chandler visited the Tempe campus and immediately fell in love with the environment and the atmosphere. Most attractive was the vast engineering opportunities available to him. It made ASU the obvious choice.

“From undergraduate research to student organizations and internship opportunities, I knew that I would be able to find my own path through my degree and beyond,” he said.

Chandler’s biggest takeaway was the interdisciplinary collaboration — working on teams with diverse backgrounds helped him understand the impact that a variety of perspectives brings to the table, adding that no problem exists in a vacuum from a larger system. It’s important to keep all aspects of that system in mind when developing a solution.

That wise insight was not missed by the Honeywell team, who Chandler said reached out to him through the online career portal Handshake, offered by ASU’s Career and Professional Development Services.

He is briefly departing the state and heading to Honeywell’s Atlanta software center as part of a rotational program.

”I still love the desert,” he exclaimed. “More importantly, Phoenix is really booming in terms of the tech industry. More and more companies are getting in on the great city and taking advantage of the talent coming from the nearby massive research university that also happens to be No. 1 in innovation. Though I will be in Atlanta immediately after graduation, I’ll be coming back to the Valley and I hope to stay here when the two-year program is finished.”

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Passion with a purpose

May 9, 2019

Forged by his foster childhood, Oxford scholar Frank Smith III wants to pave a better path for others through public service career

Frank Smith III arrived at Arizona State University knowing what he planned to be when he grew up.

“I joke with my friends that I wanted to be the next Ryan Seacrest,” says Smith, a Mesa, Arizona, native who was initially drawn to ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

That changed several months later, and so did the trajectory of Smith’s academic career.

A discussion with fellow students during Smith’s freshman year led to him testifying on behalf of an Arizona state bill to abolish tuition fees for former foster children. The bill passed, and the experience flipped a switch.

“When I had the opportunity to go down to the state Legislature, I saw that I enjoyed being in the policy discussions and really being a part of the change, as opposed to being on the outside,” Smith says. “I really wanted to be on the inside, where the action was.”

Now, public service is his passion, and it has taken the 2018 ASU graduate to the University of Oxford in England, where he is a Marshall Scholar studying for a Master of Philosophy degree in comparative social policy.

“It’s about doing everything I can to make my community better,” Smith says. “What’s going to improve the outcomes of the most disadvantaged members of society, and what can I do to help them out? It’s about putting the needs of the community above my own. How can I be a tool of change?”

Frank Smith III

Frank Smith III credits friends and mentors for helping him succeed and "start giving back to the community that has given so much to me." Photo by Aaron Kotowski 

The answer to those questions could be by making something factual of the fiction that was Frank Capra’s classic 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” starring Jimmy Stewart as a newly appointed U.S. senator who works tirelessly against corruption.

“A few professors from undergrad mentioned that before my internship in D.C.,” Smith says. “And even more people started saying that to me when I said I wanted to have a career on the Hill.”

Leaving behind ambitions of becoming a TV star, the real Mr. Smith went to Washington in 2016 as an intern on Capitol Hill in the education office of Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and worked with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

He also traveled to Mexico and Ghana for research and volunteer trips. He then paused for a semester to work on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign team in Michigan. When that finished, he returned to Arizona to work on David Garcia’s 2018 race for governor.

Smith has a plan for going back to Washington.

“I’d like to take what I learn back to Capitol Hill,” he says, “try to work my way up to be a senior policy adviser or a chief of staff in some way that I can utilize the knowledge that I’m gaining and to be an advocate of foster care reform.”

A foster child himself, Smith didn’t lack for motivation to take up his cause. By the age of 17 he had lived in 27 foster homes.

“Stability was definitely not part of my childhood,” Smith says. “Honestly, life was hard growing up. I spent most of my adolescence in extreme poverty, which typically results in untapped potential, a lifetime of closed doors and often insurmountable obstacles. Through the support of social services, scholarships, mentors and a considerable amount of determination, I have been able to start giving back to the community that has given so much to me.”

But far from a handicap, he sees his experience as the fuel for his fire in beating incredible odds — only 10% of former foster children reach university, and just 3% graduate. “Because of my upbringing, there’s one more advocate for foster care reform,” he says. “It’s really unlocked some of my potential.”

ASU provided scholarship support to help Smith unlock that potential. He entered the university as an Armstrong Scholar, an Obama Scholar, a Spirit of Service Scholar and a Nina Mason Pulliam Scholar. His help in passing Arizona’s Foster Care Tuition Waiver earned him the Truman and Marshall scholarships, the capstone of an accomplished academic career.

In his sophomore year, Smith was elected the youngest student body president ever at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus, and he was reelected for a second term. After focusing on public service in his studies, he graduated in 2018 with two bachelor’s degrees — in political science and public service/public policy with a concentration in business.

Now, Smith is expanding his worldview at Oxford, having learned that public policy shouldn’t be confined to border lines drawn on maps.

“What’s really interesting about the (philosophy) program is that it takes an international perspective to issues that are traditionally seen as domestic policies — health care, education, pensions, labor market policies,” Smith says. “It tries to look beyond the borders of one nation.”

Smith also wants people to look beyond negative stereotypes associated with the foster care system.

“When people hear about foster care, they think, ‘Oh, this child was a delinquent. They got involved with the criminal justice system,’” he says. “My past has not only instilled a sense of compassion and empathy within me at an early age, but has given me a firsthand view of the inequalities in America, which I would like to spend the rest of my life improving through a career in public service.”

Written by Telford Vice, a London-based journalist who has written for ESPN websites, Reuters News Agency and the Guardian newspaper, and also has broadcast for the BBC. Top photo by Darren Rees. This article originally appeared in the summer 2019 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.