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ASU professors tackle large-scale public health challenges in partnership with Dignity Health

October 19, 2018

Dignity Health and Arizona State University have announced the 2018 awardees of the Collaborative Strategic Initiatives Program, which offers grants to ASU faculty and Dignity Health investigators for collaborative research projects that accelerate the health and well-being of the community.

Grant recipients will embark on projects that address an array of public health challenges — from diabetes to brain tumors to Lou Gehrig's disease — and will result in the dissemination and implementation of evidence-based practices into public health, clinical practice and community settings.

“ASU’s partnership with Dignity Health reflects the spirit of collaboration, discovery and community impact that is central to the university’s mission,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU. “The work being done through these grants advances scientific inquiry and knowledge and also offers hope for solutions to some of our most pressing health challenges.”

Dignity Health and ASU launched the program in 2017 to advance joint research in key programmatic areas like population health, educating a prepared health care workforce and building a healthy clinical workforce.

“It’s exciting to see ASU faculty partnering with Dignity Health investigators as they work together on new ideas and concepts,” said Dr. Keith Frey, chief physician executive at Dignity Health and clinical professor in the College of Health Solutions at ASU. “The anticipated outcomes from this second funding cycle will add real benefit for our patients and the health of our community.”

Originating in 2015, the Dignity Health and ASU partnership is a vibrant, innovative collaboration, formed on the foundation of clinical and academic excellence.

The next funding cycle for the Dignity Health/ASU Collaborative Strategic Initiatives Program is expected in spring 2019.

Program award recipients:

Shannon Dirksen and Liz Harrell

College of Nursing and Health Innovation

Dignity Health Investigator: Nicole Piemonte, PhD

Project: Expanding impacts of student-run free clinics; the Student Health Outreach for Wellness (SHOW) sustainability plan

Rodger Kessler and Siddhartha Angadi

College of Health Solutions

Dignity Health Investigator: Edward Paul, MD

Project: The ASU-Dignity Health Type 2 diabetes medical and behavioral lifestyle management program  

Vikram Kodibagkar

School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Dignity Health/BNI Investigator: C. Chad Quarles, PhD

Project: One-shot morphologic, hemodynamic and metabolic MR imaging of brain tumors

Julie Liss and Visar Berisha

College of Health Solutions

Dignity Health/BNI Investigators: Jeremy M. Shefner, MD and Shafeeq Ladha, MD

Project: Speech analysis in ALS patients with and without cognitive abnormalities: Evaluation of sensitivity and disease progression

Kristin Mickelson

School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Dignity Health Investigator: Claudia Chambers, MD

Project: Racial disparities in low birth weight: Discrimination, resilience and biomedical pathways in a sample of black, Hispanic and white pregnant women

Brent Vernon

School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Dignity Health/BNI Investigators: Mark C. Preul, MD and Andrew Ducruet, MD

Project: Multi-institutional program to translate liquid embolics to the clinic

Wendy Wolfersteig

Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center, School of Social Work, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

Dignity Health Investigator: Anna Alonzo

Project: Assessing the effectiveness of the 2MATCH Project on social determinants of health and healthcare utilization

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Katherine Reedy

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications

480-965-3779

 
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How would Arizona respond to a natural disaster?

How prepared is Arizona to respond to a disaster? ASU event examines all angles.
October 18, 2018

A complex network lies in wait for the inevitable event of a major disaster; ASU event examines state's role

A major earthquake that displaces a mass population of people. Widespread power outages that cascade through a metro area. Catastrophic droughts or devastating floods that strand people in their homes.  

Natural disasters are an increasingly common reality for hundreds of thousands of Americans, and as climate change and urbanization amplify the frequency and intensity of these events, the response by communities, governments and private citizens is more important than ever before, according to Brian Gerber, co-director of Arizona State University's Center for Emergency Management and Homeland SecurityThe center is a research unit of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions..

But academics, government agencies and volunteers are rising to the challenge — developing critical disaster responses, participating in full-scale exercises and harboring cross-sector partnerships for the inevitable day a disaster strikes.

Those partners came together Thursday at a Sustainability Series event titled "How Will Arizona Respond to a Major Regional Disaster?" The event was presented by the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainabilitythe Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security, the Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation and the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center.

Ramona Denby-Brinson, associate dean of research at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, spoke about how ASU's emergency management center is already making waves in the disaster response field, even though it was recently created.

“When I think about the Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security, even in its infancy … it is already making inroads and really living out the true testament of what our vision is,” Denby-Brinson said.

The meeting, which featured a slate of speakers and a panel of experts in different facets of disaster response, came after the participation of the center and other state and community partners in a statewide “National Mass Care Exercise,” aimed at developing a better understanding of the role and capabilities of voluntary, private and governmental organizations in responding to a regional disaster in Arizona.

The exercise, which took place in May, focused on a mock scenario where a major earthquake in California causes an ingress of displaced citizens to flood into Arizona, straining law enforcement and emergency response, clogging traffic and putting strain on day-to-day private facilities.

It brought together a huge coalition of state, federal and local agencies — with private partners and nonprofit volunteers to emulate the scenario.

Speakers gave a brief overview of the tenets of the program, followed by a panel that discussed different facets of what a mass care response would look like in such a scenario.

A man in an electric wheelchair sits by two women in front of an ASU logo

(From left) Lori Cunningham, deputy administrator, Arizona Department of Economic Security; April Bradham, director of field operations, Association of Arizona Food Banks; and Peter Fischer, Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator for Phoenix. Photo by Isaac Windes/ASU Now

Peter Fischer, who works for the city of Phoenix as an Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, discussed the steps required in preparing and executing accommodations for individuals with disabilities who were displaced in the scenario — as well as additional exercises to test and develop the city's disability integration capabilities.

“What I do ... is specifically for disability integration in the mass care exercise,” Fischer said. “The city did a bunch of different exercises outside of the national care exercise. … We opened a few shelters and tested that; we even had a drill at the airport for passengers who were stranded.”

In addition to the ordinary logistical problems associated with displacement, Fischer and other panelists stressed the importance and difficulty of communication between agencies, and with the public at large, during a disaster.

“The other issues we are really worried about is when we are having press conferences and we are having events … and these activities that are public knowledge — how are people with other disabilities being given that same information?”

April Bradham, director of field operations for the Association of Arizona Food Banks, talked about the importance of Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, or VOADs, in the larger statewide effort that would mobilize in the event of a disaster.

“Our VOAD in Arizona … is a range of organizations that are disaster-relief specific organizations like Red Cross, Salvation Army … and all these organizations that are actively involved in a task force,” Bradham said. "But then you also have this very large group of organizations that maybe disaster response isn’t even a piece of what they do, but they do support if a disaster was to occur. So, for example, our faith-based organizations that might provide spiritual care or volunteers, the emergency radio — so just a large mix of people.”

Arizona faces a particular challenge in preparing for a mass event like the one in the scenario because it does not often have to respond to natural disasters, unlike Texas and Florida that face a much higher frequency of mass care events. 

“We aren’t necessarily activated at a state level very often,” Bradham said. “Our county and our local VOADs are the most critical piece of that because they are the ones that know the immediate needs, they’re the ones that know the immediate resources in the area.”

Bradham said that the biggest takeaway from the exercise was that Arizona could benefit from planning. 

“I know it is easy to get a little bit apathetic because … we’re not faced with it every single day," she said. 

Lori Cunningham, a deputy administrator at the Arizona Department of Economic Security, spoke about the issues that would arise and need to be prepared for.

"The Department of Economic Security was very fortunate particularly with this exercise because we served in multiple capacities, so from a response perspective we were able to work with the Red Cross and actually be in the shelters identifying folks with special needs,” Cunningham said. “Understanding reunification, I was able to lead the reunification task force … when families are separated, and when caregivers are separated from the folks who need them the most, how do we get those back together.”

Robert Rowley, director of the Maricopa County Department of Emergency Management and an ASU alumnus, spoke from the audience, pointing out that in the event of a mass care event, city and county officials don’t have reserve employees on hand to deal with such an influx.

“The biggest thing that we were thinking about during this process was, with the sheer number of people coming in, what realistically would we as local governments … be able to handle ourselves? And the answer is … not much,” Rowley said. “City and county governments operate with staff and materials sufficient to do their daily jobs. And we don’t maintain a reserve force of people that we can activate during a disaster to bring in and handle all this extra activity.”

The only government response that could do such a thing, Rowley said, is the military. But, “it’s about three days before federal resources, even the military, can be mobilized and in your area and starting to perform an operation.

“So what we have started looking at is what can we do for a period of three days, to take care of this massive influx of people.”

Rowley closed out some of his remarks with a statement that was echoed by many who participated in the program.

“That wasn’t answered by the end of the exercise,” Rowley said. “But the purpose of the exercise was to bring up those questions.”

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay

Isaac Windes

Reporter , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

 
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Mindfulness curriculum abounds across disciplines at ASU

Mindfulness is a lifelong skill that transcends disciplines and lifestyles.
October 11, 2018

From social work to business to communications, students of any major can benefit from the practice

It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and on the third floor of the Arizona Center in downtown Phoenix, a group of second-year Mayo Clinic students are learning to walk — or perhaps more accurately, re-learning to walk. This time, they're doing it mindfully.

Arranged in a circle in the large communal room at the offices of Arizona State University’s Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience, they move clockwise, each step slow and thoughtful, taking their direction from Angie Haskovec, alumni coordinator for the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, who stands just outside the circle, gently guiding them.

“Think about all the muscles that go into taking each step,” Haskovec says. “Notice all the sensations in your feet. The temperature, the texture of the carpet.”

The students listen, eyes trained on the floor beneath them as they continue in their silent march.

This is day two of a four-day selective course developed by the center specifically to introduce Mayo Clinic medical students to the concept of mindfulness and related practices so they can incorporate them into their schooling and later, their careers.

Haskovec is the instructor for today’s Koru Mindfulness lesson. Developed in the mid-'90s by two psychiatrists at Duke University, the Koru Mindfulness curriculum is geared toward students and young adults, applying such practices as breathing techniques, visualization exercises and guided meditations to the specific context and challenges of the college environment.

After the exercise, the students head back to the more intimate conference room, where the rest of the day’s lessons will take place, to reflect.

“I can see why it’s so hard to program a robot to walk,” said Ryan Smith. All joking aside, Smith reported that it forced him to quiet his mind and focus just on the present moment and what was happening in it. “All the little things involved in just taking a step is something you’re not typically conscious of in day-to-day life.”

Teri Pipe, ASU’s chief well-being officer and founding director of the Center for Mindfulness, said she particularly likes the mindful walking practice because it’s “sneaky” in that you can do it without anyone noticing, unlike other practices that might require you to sit down and close your eyes for several minutes or repeat a mantra aloud.

Pipe, who also serves as a research professor at CONHI, designed the four-day selective along with the center’s executive director for university engagement, Nika Gueci.

“Mindfulness practices,” Pipe said, can help those in the medical field to better deal with stressful situations, such as a patient dying, “by strengthening their disaster-preparedness beforehand, ensuring they have the skills to cope while the stress is occurring and afterwards, to regroup and rejuvenate so they’re ready to go back to work the next day and be a full person, and not get burnout or suffer from chronic fatigue of compassion.”

But as several ASU faculty can attest, the benefits of mindfulness extend to more than just medical students.

Barbara Crisp, an adjunct faculty member with The Design School, began teaching a mindfulness fundamentals course there a few semesters ago in which students hear from guest speakers and learn skills that range from breathing techniques to meditation to body scanning.

“I’m trying to give them a well-rounded approach to what mindfulness is and how it’s really important as a lifelong skill,” Crisp said.

During the second semester teaching the course, an error was made in the catalog that allowed students from any discipline to sign up.

But, Crisp said, “It was a lovely accident because when we get out of school, we work across all disciplines.”

Now, in addition to the mindfulness course she teaches for design students, Crisp teaches Koru Mindfulness classes to full-time graduate students at the W. P. Carey School of Business. She said students have reported benefits that include communicating better with their partner and performing better on tests and assignments.

“There is so much talk about excellence in academia, but without stillness (and) silence, we cannot build resilience nor can we access our innate wisdom,” Crisp said. “Resilience arises from silence — meaning you can bounce back from challenges and cultivate the ability to cope with whatever comes your way. And that silence also gives rise to our innate wisdom and the potential to achieve another level of excellence.”

School of Social Work faculty associate Jeffrey Woolley agrees that mindfulness is one of the best ways to work on yourself and achieve personal growth. A psychotherapist, Woolley became interested in the practice during his college years in the 1980s and has been formally practicing meditation for 31 years.

At ASU, Woolley teaches his social work students three mindfulness courses that make up part of the Integrative Health Certificate: “mindfulness and quality of life,” “treating the whole person” and “holistic therapies for modern living.”

“In our classes, we apply mindfulness directly to clinical rapport,” Woolley said. “It helps greatly in that regard by being present and open and receptive.”

All things that translate to exemplary communication, regardless of the nature of the relationship.

When Douglas Kelley, a professor of communication studies in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, participated in couple's counseling, he realized that such mindful concepts as being present and aware of one’s feelings can better facilitate reconciliation and forgiveness.

Now Kelley regularly incorporates mindfulness into his classes and often asks students to try various techniques out at home. Once, he asked his students to engage in mindful listening during a conversation over the weekend, focusing on being present and nonjudgmental of what the other person was saying.

The following week, a previously skeptical student reported having used the technique while listening to his mom complain about his dad — something he’d usually just tune out — and came away with a deeper appreciation for her feelings and situation.

“I just wanted to grab him and hug him and say, ‘That’s it!’” Kelley recalled. But, he tempered, “the object isn’t to come away with a new insight, it’s simply to be. And that theme carries through my courses: the idea of transformation through presence. I believe that we’re transformed through being present with ourselves and each other in a nonjudgmental way.”

The existing recognition of mindfulness as a powerful life tool at ASU underscores the value of having a place like the Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience that can act as a hub for the emerging phenomenon.

Since its launch over a year ago, there have been several promising developments at the center, including a series of online health and wellness courses created in collaboration with Mayo Clinic and EdPlus.

And registration is now open for the center’s second annual conference, “Water and Stone: The Power of Mindfulness for Social Change,” which will take place Feb. 28 through March 1 as part of its Equitable Mindfulness Initiative, with Rhonda Magee of the University of San Francisco and Kamilah Majied of Howard University as keynote speakers.

Top photo: Second-year Mayo Clinic medical student Ryan Smith takes part in a meditation exercise as part of a four-day selective course offered by ASU's Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

 
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Gift establishes Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

October 1, 2018

Couple’s philanthropy will support student success and launch an initiative to revitalize Maryvale community

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2018 here.

Mike and Cindy Watts took over a tiny lawnmower-rental company in 1977 and worked day and night for 40 years to grow it into the thriving enterprise that Sunstate Equipment Co. is now. Though their business was about backhoes and forklifts, they knew that their company’s real assets were the people.

“We focused on the culture of the company, and it’s all about people,” said Mike Watts, who, as CEO of Sunstate, learned to invest in his employees. “We would provide opportunities and encourage their growth and development.”

Today, the Watts family is continuing to invest in people with a gift that will further Arizona State University’s mission to increase access to higher education and to partner with the community. And on Monday, ASU announced the historic renaming of its public service college to the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

In announcing the gift, ASU President Michael M.Crow said that while the university is dedicated to helping the community, the gift from the Watts is an example of how the citizens can step up to improve the university.

“How do you make a democracy more successful? How can you design a university that can be of the community and committed to the community’s success?” he said. “For all that we bring, we cannot do that by ourselves. The community and its leaders, its citizens, must also engage and help advance the institution.”

The $30 million investment is one of the largest gifts in ASU history and demonstrates a continuation of the Watts’ commitment to advancing the prosperity of Arizona by harnessing the power of the university and its broad array of programs to transform neighborhoods, cities and the state.

Crow said through their legacy of giving and partnering with ASU, the Watts are role models.

“They have stepped up in a way that through their investment, this college can expand its intellectual footprint and its impact in the community itself,” he said.

Mike Watts said on Monday that seeing the family name on the college is meaningful if it encourages other donors to support the university.

“It’s more meaningful if, as the students see the name up there, they know that we’re supporting them,” he said.

Jonathan Koppell, dean of the college, noted at the beginning of the ceremony that the Downtown Phoenix campus is built on lands that were long populated by indigenous people, whose innovative canals still exist today.

“They offer a lesson applicable to today’s gathering: Through their commitment to collective action, they took a hostile environment and built a place where we can live,” he said. “That's what public service and community solutions means.”

Cindy Watts said that collaboration is key.

“Ignorance is a great source of suffering, and our intention is to alleviate that suffering through all of these programs,” she said. “From our hearts, we are so honored to do this.”

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

The announcement was part of the Community Solutions Festival, with dozens of tables showcasing the many academic units and student projects in the public service college.

The Watts' gift will fund scholarships and professorships — including one devoted to Native American issues — support student programs and launch a unique initiative to revitalize the community where the Watts grew up, called the “Maryvale Revitalization Project and One Square Mile Initiative.”

“These are two individuals who care deeply about their community, and they decided that the best way to make a difference was through ASU,” Koppell said.

“That’s really powerful because it speaks to the role that we have assigned ourselves — to be an active agent for change by working in partnership with organizations in the community.”

Finding their start in Maryvale

Mike and Cindy Watts have warm memories of Maryvale, a thriving, working-class community where they lived in the 1960s.

They met at a Maryvale High School graduation party and then went for a drive with friends, stopping to jump out of the car and dance along to the radio on Central Avenue.

They’ve been partners ever since.

“If everybody who entered business could have a spouse that would support them like she did for me, there would be a lot more people going into business,” said Mike Watts.

He described those early years, when they couldn’t get a bank loan so they sold the family car and lived off the money while negotiating to take over a shop that rented lawnmowers.

“I had several job offers and we would talk about it — ‘Are you still in the belief we can buy this business and do it?’ And she never once said, ‘I think you should take this job.’ That made me feel supported,” he said.

“It was a good bet on my part,” said Cindy Watts, who was the bookkeeper for the business when they finally were able to buy it. “I was in full support. It was exciting.”

In the 1980s, the Phoenix area began sprawling and their business, dependent on construction, started thriving.

“I knew what it took to build a business and find value in other people,” said Mike Watts, who retired as CEO a year and half ago. “It wasn’t motivation for money. It was motivation for growth. I found that through the proper channeling of people, it would build the business.”

Cindy Watts agreed.

“To me, it’s important to offer the opportunity to every human being to meet their potential,” she said. “We’re all human, we all want the same thing, we want to be happy and be free of suffering. We need one another.”

Over the past several decades, Maryvale has struggled with crime and poverty, and its residents have lower levels of education than other areas of Phoenix and in Maricopa County. Compared with all Maricopa County residents, Maryvale has triple the number of residents without a high school diploma, 39 percent vs. 13 percent for the county.    

Koppell said the One Square Mile initiative will concentrate ASU programs in one area and help connect existing initiatives.

“Let’s try doing it all in concert so that the same families that are getting the benefit of a nutrition program are also getting the benefit of a tutoring program and are also getting help starting their small business and are also shown how to be better financial managers,” he said.

“We’ve already discovered lots of cool things going on that are disconnected, so one of the roles we can play is to be a facilitator, a coordinator.”

Carina Ledesma is grateful that the Watts family sees hope in Maryvale, where she grew up.

“There are no words to explain how much this means to me, how much this means to the students who will be receiving this financial assistance, and how much it means to the community,” said Ledesma, who has found her passion in social work, helping domestic violence survivors and children in the foster-care system.

“Just like there’s some bad, there’s so much good there. There are so many teens who want to go to school.”

Ledesma, who earned a bachelor’s of social work and is now pursuing a master’s of social work at ASU, said she faced low expectations when she was in high school, and that young people there need people like Mike and Cindy Watts to believe in them.

“They need someone who says, ‘You live in Maryvale, but you’re going to make it. Here is all this help, and there are all these resources. One day you’re going to graduate, and you’re going to do what you love to do.’ ”

Opening up opportunities

Graduates of public-service colleges become social workers, law-enforcement officers and government workers. So gifts like this are unusual, Koppell said.

“When you think about multimillion-dollar gifts, you think of a business school or a law school, partially because the alumni of a school of social work or a school of public affairs aren’t generally in a position to give those kinds of gifts to their alma mater,” he said.

The Watts’ investment will help fund the college’s hands-on learning programs for students, like the Community Solutions Co-op, a service-learning initiative in which students work to resolve local issues, and the Spirit of Service Scholars, the flagship program that provides in-depth policy and leadership training to students from all majors. Scholars will provide mentorship at Maryvale schools.

It will also help fund the Student Social Entrepreneurship Fund, which offers seed money to students with promising entrepreneurial solutions to social challenges, and the Undergraduate Research Program, where students team up with professors on research that examines societal challenges, gaining valuable research, presentation and publication experience.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

One important objective of the gift is to provide experiences to students who otherwise may not be able to afford them. A pool of money will be available to help fund internships, study-abroad trips and undergraduate research.

Koppell said the timing of the gift is significant.

“It couldn’t happen at a more important time in our history, when the belief in public service and the confidence in public institutions is at a low point,” he said.

Mike Watts said that he and Cindy are confident in ASU’s ability to make an impact.

“We’ve seen proof that things can be taken across to the finish line,” he said.

The couple hopes their gift provides hope.

“I have always felt that giving people a reason to be optimistic, to believe in dreams is important,” Mike Watts said about helping the Maryvale community.

“Part of the initiative that we hope to work with the college on is the development of that, a belief system, not just in themselves but in the opportunities that exist in the U.S. and in Maryvale.”

A point of pride for the college is that it is home to ASU’s most diverse student body, with the highest percentages of minority, college transfer, employed students, veterans and first-generation students. The college also boasts the Public Service Academy, the nation’s first leadership program where students receive leadership training and experience to work across the public, private, nonprofit and military sectors.  

“Mike and Cindy Watts embody the guiding principles of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions,” said ASU Foundation CEO Gretchen Buhlig. “They are deeply engaged in the community and dedicated to addressing social problems, serving as agents of change for the solutions we want to see in the world. Their transformational investment and leadership will shape the future of public service education.”

Video by Jordan Currier/ASU

Top photo of Cindy and Mike Watts by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503

 
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As parks fund is set to expire, ASU professor describes a legacy of benefits

As parks fund is set to expire, ASU professor describes its legacy of benefits.
September 27, 2018

Land and Water Conservation Fund lauded for benefiting recreation, criticized for land acquisition

The patio of the clubhouse at Encanto Park in Phoenix was an oasis of shade on a hot, sunny day earlier this week. There, Arizona State University Professor Dale Larsen described how a federal funding program has given millions of dollars to the city to create hiking trails, playgrounds, picnic areas — and shady spots.

That 54-year-old program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, is set to expire Sept. 30. Over five decades, Arizona has received more than $230 million from the fund, which it has passed on to municipalities for projects including South Mountain Park and Goodyear Community Park, to state parks including Lost Dutchman and Slide Rock, and even to the Arizona Board of Regents for a park at the ASU West Campus.

The fund gave a total of $100 million to all 50 states this year, including $2.1 million to Arizona.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The money does not come from taxpayers, but from fees paid by energy companies that extract oil and natural gas along the Gulf Coast, according to Larsen, a professor of practice in the School of Community and Development. He was assistant director and then director of Phoenix's Parks and Recreation Department for 27 years, retiring in 2010.

“That bipartisan legislation was an innovative way to share those funds all over the country in parks, conservation areas and wildlife areas as sort of an environment tradeoff,” he said.

The fund divides the revenue into federal and state portions according to a formula that changes frequently, but for many years it was 60 percent federal and 40 percent state.

“Phoenix and other municipalities benefit from the state side,” he said.

“The rest would go to federal agencies for purposes primarily of acquiring and expanding their federal property footprint, primarily in Western states. So the rub, over the years, has been from Western state legislators who think the LWCFLand and Water Conservation Fund has been used as a land grab for federal properties to be expanded, which would then preclude the opportunity for mining, for grazing or for hunting and fishing.”

The National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management use the fund to acquire more land.

The conservative Heritage Foundation supports allowing the fund to expire, not only because the organization opposes expansion of federal lands but also because federal money is going to support local projects that should be funded in other ways.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, blocked reauthorization of the LWCF in 2015 because he believed too much of the money went to buy land in the West. However, this year, Bishop co-sponsored the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, with Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., to permanently restore the fund and also allocate money toward the $12 billion maintenance backlog at the National Parks Service.

Larsen said that the program has been frozen and temporarily extended a few times, but never been allowed to expire.

The city of Phoenix has received more than $10 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund since it began.

Larsen teaches a class at ASU called “creating community,” and he tells his students that parks not only provide recreational and environmental benefits but they also have an economic impact.

“Parks, if they’re managed properly, tend to increase the property values of the neighborhood they’re located in,” he said.

But a poorly maintained park, with trash and graffiti, can lower property values.

“In Phoenix, what is the most treasured commodity? Shade,” he said.

“The LWCF provides shade development opportunities so people can enjoy those parks.”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503

 
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Conference at ASU puts gender-based violence in the spotlight

September 12, 2018

3 new initiatives — including domestic-violence certificate, the 1st on West Coast — expand university's reach into community

Social workers need to be on the front lines of imagining a world without oppression — the key to ending gender-based violence, according to experts at an Arizona State University conference on Wednesday.

“We need to envision a world without violence, a world centered around fierce, radical love and courage,” said Allie Bones, CEO of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. That organization partnered with the ASU School of Social Work on the daylong conference at the West campus, titled “Promoting Just and Effective Solutions to Ending Gender-Based Violence.”

“It was said that social work is about being anti-oppression, and as social workers we need to understand our role is to have that perspective,” she said, “whether it’s meeting the immediate needs of people who have experienced domestic violence and trauma or working in systems that need to be changed.”

ASU is expanding its reach into the community to help domestic-violence survivors. Jill Theresa Messing, an associate professor in the School of Social Work and part of the faculty of the Office of Gender Based Violence, announced three new initiatives at the event.

In the biggest change, more social work students will get paid while they intern with community agencies. For the past three years, the School of Social Work has had a grant from the federal AmeriCorps program to pay stipends to social work undergraduates and graduate students, who are required to have internships with social service agencies. Typically, those internships are unpaid, but under the AmeriCorps program, the students get stipends as well as additional training.

Under the expansion, not only will more students be in the program but they’ll be working at agencies that don’t necessarily focus on domestic violence explicitly but who serve survivors of domestic violence, such as organizations that work with the homeless. This will allow all types of agencies to use evidence-based interventions to help domestic-violence survivors.

The expanded program will be called Survivor Link.

“The logo has three intertwined links, which we’re thinking of as research, practice and education coming together in this idea of Survivor Link,” Messing said.

In 2015, ASU had 42 student AmeriCorps members who volunteered 17,000 hours and received $100,000 in scholarship money. This year, the office expects to have 93 AmeriCorps members work 56,000 hours and receive $310,000 in scholarships, she said.

In addition, this year, for the first time, ASU has eight AmeriCorps Vista workers, who are full-time employees deployed to help agencies work on projects. Five are working with domestic-violence community organizations, and three are working in the Office of Gender Based Violence.

Also new this year, ASU is offering a domestic-violence certificate program, both undergraduate and graduate, for anyone who has an interest in working in this area, not just social workers. The potential students, who might be in law enforcement or public administration, will take a course that was created with the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence and have internships working with survivors.

The certificates will make ASU the only school on the West Coast to have a specialized curriculum in domestic violence, Messing said.

At the conference, the attendees broke into groups and discussed “real solutions” to gender-based violence, such as teaching healthy dating behavior in schools, as well as “false solutions,” such as the criminalization of domestic violence, which many say has ended up harming more people than helping.

Georgie Hinojosa, a first-year master’s of social work student at ASU, said his group discussed culture and community engagement.

“We focused especially on not just teaching women how to be safe but also, how do we get men to talk about not being abusers, to let out frustrations in safe ways and deal with emotions they’re not allowed to talk about?” he said.

“We talked about how we think one of the most important things is having all interventions be culturally informed so we can give people the help they need that best speaks to their situation.”

Cultural competency — understanding the nuances of domestic violence within specific cultures — was the topic of the afternoon keynote address.

Tricia Bent-Goodley, a professor at Howard University and a social worker, researches domestic-violence homicides in the black community. She described the many variables that play into the higher rates of deaths for black women. For example, they are less likely to ask for help from law enforcement or social service providers, mainly because of the fear that they will be arrested or their children will be removed — both of which are more likely to happen to black women than white women.

They’re also less likely to seek help because they face stereotypes such as the “angry black woman” or “strong black woman,” and many of the women have been socialized to protect black men, she said.

Bent-Goodley suggested that more domestic-violence interventions come from outside the criminal justice system because the threat of arrest deters many survivors who are in danger.

“This idea of me turning my husband or partner or father of my children over to a system that could hurt them, I’m not going to do that even if it hurts me,” she said.

“That’s where our cultural competence is very important because if we understand those dynamics, we can work through that as part of their care.”

Top photo: Members discuss their approaches to violence prevention through the discussion of false, feasible and real solutions to ending gender based violence, at a conference Sept. 12 hosted by the School of Social Work at the ASU West campus. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

 
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Turning to Yelp for child care help

September 12, 2018

ASU researchers dive deep into reviews to gain parental insight, offer key takeaways for consumers and policymakers

Many people use Yelp to find a good place to eat or a trusted mechanic, but in a new study researchers delved deep into the popular online review site to better understand American child care from those who know best: parents.

In the study “What Do Parents Value in a Child Care Provider? Evidence from Yelp Consumer Reviews,” Arizona State University Associate Professor Chris Herbst and others analyzed 48,675 unique reviews of 9,761 child care businesses in 40 U.S. cities to gauge parental satisfaction and capture new insight. 

One key aspect of the project focused on assessing how reviews varied between parents in wealthier and poorer regions. Differences did emerge. Consumers in wealthier markets were more likely to comment on a child’s learning environment, whereas those in lower-income areas were more concerned about “practical features,” such as pricing and accessibility.

Policy implications can derive from these type of studies. Here, Herbst — who teaches in the School of Public Affairs and is a faculty associate in the School of Social Work within the College of Public Service and Community Solutions — answers study-related questions and provides other important takeaways for parents and policymakers.    

man teaching in classroom

Chris Herbst

Question: Why is the topic of child care in the U.S. an important one?

Answer:  Child care is an important public-policy issue because so many parents rely on it as a work support. Currently 13 million preschoolers — or 60 percent of children ages zero to 5 — regularly attend some form of child care. In addition, the average child spends 32 hours per week in these settings. With so many children enrolled in child care programs, questions around cost and quality necessarily become important, particularly for low-income families and children.

Indeed, the evidence suggests that child care costs consume up to 30 percent of poor families' monthly income. Furthermore, many disadvantaged children attend child care programs that are low-quality at best, and outright dangerous in some cases. These cost and quality challenges translate directly into fewer parents being employed and fewer children entering the K-12 education system ready to learn.     

Q: From your perspective, what was the most surprising or unexpected finding of this research?

A: What struck me is just how differently low- and high-income families experience various aspects of child care. These differences extend beyond things like access, affordability and quality, which have been documented by other researchers. What we find is more nuanced, but equally important we argue, and only comes to light because of the extremely rich nature of the information in Yelp's consumer reviews.

For example, we show that when low-income families are searching for child care, they are less likely to have their phone calls returned by program directors, and they report worse experiences during visits to child care centers. In addition, low-income families are more critical of the "customer service" aspects of the child care experience. That is, it is common for these parents to feel disrespected when communicating with program staff, and to have less constructive interactions with teachers about the well-being of their children. On top of all this, many low-income parents describe their child care provider as being chaotic environments in which children hurt one another, teachers fail to bring order to the classroom — and were sometimes rough with children — and children are not provided with enriching activities.

Q: Comments posted on sites like Yelp or social media platforms often represent the most polarized opinions on a topic — by either the biggest fans or harshest critics. How was this addressed in the research to ensure the data gathered from the comments is useful?  

A: Before we started this project, I was worried that most Yelp reviews of child care programs were going to be negative diatribes about how expensive child care is, and so forth. But in reality, parents are quite balanced and measured in their reviews and, if anything, they provide a more optimistic view of their provider than I expected. For example, 76 percent of the consumer reviews contained a five-star rating of the child care program.

But what's striking is how variable the ratings are across the 40 cities we studied. About 80 percent of the reviews in Los Angeles contain five-star ratings, while only 44 percent of those in Oklahoma City are five-star ratings. Clearly, geography, demographics and economics play major roles in how parents think about and respond to child care.      

Q: How can we use the findings of this research to help people?

A: Selecting a child care provider is a difficult task for parents, primarily because child care is what's called an "experience good" — or one whose key quality features are not easily observed by consumers prior to purchasing it. Yelp has the potential to be an important source of information about child care. Indeed, by offering a peer-to-peer, crowdsource-generated “database” of reviews, Yelp can significantly reduce the costs — time and monetary — of searching for an appropriate child care provider.

However, Yelp will be useful to parents only insofar as there is high-quality, accurate information contained in the reviews. As I mentioned above, I was initially concerned that parents were going to use Yelp to vent about their child care provider. Instead, what our research shows is that parents are quite savvy evaluators of many dimensions of child care quality, including the way in which teachers interact with their child, the educational activities undertaken throughout the day, the kind of curriculum adopted by the provider, and the type and quality of food served. In the absence of Yelp, obtaining this information would be costly at best, but with Yelp available parents can be much better-informed consumers.            

Q: Based on this research, is there any advice you would give parents regarding child care?

A: It is not an exaggeration to say that decisions around child care will be among the most consequential that a parent will ever make on behalf of their child. Children develop rapidly, both cognitively and emotionally, during the preschool-age years, and there is solid evidence to suggest that children who attend high-quality child care fare better in school, have better health and even have better labor-market outcomes throughout adulthood. Therefore, parents should strive to select a child care program that is warm and emotionally supportive, that provides cognitive stimulation and educational activities, and that feeds children nutritious meals.

Most states now maintain something called a Quality Rating and Improvement System that evaluates and rates child care program quality and relays this information to the public. Parents can easily find this information online by searching for their state QRIS. In addition, at a minimum, parents should visit several child care providers — and ask a lot of questions during the visit. Inquire about the education requirements of the program staff, what the program's QRIS rating is and whether it is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The team of researchers for this project also included Kevin C. Desouza, Queensland University of Technology; Saud Alashri, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology; Srinivasa Srivatsav Kandala, ASU Decision Theater Network; Mayank Khullar, Microsoft Corporation; and Vikash Bajaj, ASU Decision Theater Network.

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

Disaster preparedness at ASU extends far beyond local response


September 12, 2018

Whether caused by nature or instigated by people, disaster can strike anywhere, anytime, and communities must be ready to respond.

September is National Preparedness Month — a time for families, communities and organizations to plan for the unexpected — and Arizona State University occupies a unique place in this realm. Representatives from ASU, local, state, county and federal agencies work out of the university's Emergency Operations Center on Tempe Campus during Pat's Run, April 21. EOCs provide command and coordination structure during a crisis and support first responders at the scene of the incident. ASU stands up the EOC as a precaution during some high visibility events. Photo by Jerry Gonzalez/ASU Download Full Image

“From the emergency preparedness standpoint, we have people involved at different levels — local, county, state, federal,” said Allen Clark, executive director of ASU Preparedness and Security Initiatives. “We are doing some amazing things.”

ASU’s role in preparedness begins with readying the campus to respond during crises and extends to degree and certificate programs, with many initiatives in between that support government at all levels.

“For example, ASU has the state climatologist, Dr. Nancy Selover,” Clark said. “She helps the state of Arizona and the federal government predict weather trends and much more, which then helps us prepare as an institution as well.”

It all begins with campus readiness. ASU fields a dedicated expert and office that focus on planning emergency drills throughout the year, training campus emergency response teams and working with university leaders and units to spread the word about ASU’s response plans.

“Sheri Gibbons is the director of ASU Emergency Preparedness,” Clark said. “The emergency preparedness office is charged with making sure that the university and all the campuses are postured and ready for a wide range of emergencies.”

Extending just beyond campus, ASU faculty and students are engaged helping the city of Phoenix Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management prepare for crises. 

“We are leveraging visualization and online mapping tools such as operations dashboards to provide mapping capabilities and situational awareness,” said Melanie Gall, co-director of ASU’s Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security. ”As part of her capstone project, a grad student in the ASU Online Emergency Management and Homeland Security program, Nichole Fuller, is designing a technical operations dashboard for the city.”

A full-scale, multiday exercise in May held throughout Arizona tested and evaluated the state’s ability to support mass migration from Southern California in the event of a catastrophic earthquake there. Different parties from ASU participated in the drill, including Gall, who worked in the Phoenix Emergency Operations Center with the city’s geographic information system coordinator, Jim Jarvis, to help visualize the earthquake scenario.

“I created on demand web-based maps and kept the EOC informed with regard to traffic flows, shelter capacities, and more,” said Gall, who holds a PhD in geography.

Gall and other ASU colleagues also jumped into action when Hurricane Irma struck Florida in September 2017. Gall provided similar mapping support to the Florida Voluntary Agencies in Disasters organization after Irma. Her work helped map out welcome and distribution sites, as well as areas of “high social vulnerability” and high demands for assistance. The work has led to discussions with state of Florida emergency management leaders on how best to integrate voluntary agencies into governmental processes and procedures for resource requests.

“It is important to note that we are not reinventing the wheel or creating these tools from scratch,” Gall said. “There is a wonderful online community that shares their visualization tools which allows us to quickly stand up and tailor online maps to the city’s need. We follow the trail blazed by Eric Shreve who is developing phenomenal tools for the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs and allows us to utlize his tools, adapt them and spread the utilities and benefits of online mapping for greater situational awareness during blue sky and grey sky times.”

One of the largest disaster response collaborations currently involves ASU’s Help Center. Day-to-day the 24/7 Help Center serves as the one-stop shop for the ASU community to connect to school resources and customer service support. But since the 2013 reinvention of the Help Center, which was previously outsourced to local vendors, it has taken an active role in disaster response.

During a major on-campus crisis the Help Center becomes a pivotal source of information for the ASU community and the general public. The center has the technical capabilities and staffing to not only provide updates during crises but to guide people to resources and reunite them with their loved ones through a “reunification” process.  

With the exceptions of states prone to natural disasters, such as Florida and Texas, the type of capability the ASU Help Center provides is lacking in Arizona and across the country, said Clark. This makes the Help Center a key resource and a great example of a local, county and state partnership. 

State entities have taken notice of the Help Center’s capabilities and ASU is working with partners to leverage university resources.

“We are pleased to partner with Arizona State University as they have incredible capabilities and resources,” said Wendy Smith-Reeve, deputy director of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. “Their centralized call center staffed by knowledgeable, well-trained operators is an extraordinary benefit and will help ensure we are ready to assist the community when an emergency does occur.”

Leveraging the Help Center’s 24/7 capabilities and “robust technology solutions” to support state entities makes sense and was born out of ASU’s charter and design principles, which among other mandates calls for the university to socially embed and serve the community, said Eric Dover, executive director with ASU’s University Technology Office who oversees the Help Center.

“It is a great honor to be able to use our services at the Help Center for the greater good of our Arizona family,” Dover said. “We are thrilled to be partnered with the city of Phoenix, Maricopa County and the state of Arizona.”

Beyond ASU’s preparedness for on-campus emergencies, support for local government agencies and faculty’s involvement in state drills and past real emergencies out-of-state, the university is also molding the next generation of emergency managers, Clark said. The College of Public Service and Community Solutions offers undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs in emergency management. 

“We are unique at ASU in that we’re engaged in emergency management at all levels,” Clark said. “It all ties together.”

Read more about ASU preparedness and planning.

Learn more about National Preparedness Month and the ASU LiveSafe app.

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

ASU senior wins coveted scholarship from media giant


September 5, 2018

Leading media conglomerate Meredith Corporation — owner of brands such as Fortune, Better Homes and Gardens, InStyle, and Travel + Leisure — selects one top tourism undergraduate each year for its Meredith Travel Marketing Scholarship. This year, that student was Arizona State University senior Brady Schmitt.

Schmitt is a tourism development and management major with a concentration in sustainable tourism in the School of Community Resources and Development. A well-traveled out-of-state student, Schmitt said he came to ASU specifically for its tourism degree. ASU senior Brady Schmitt and Community Resources and Development faculty member Rebekka Goodman hold Schmitt's scholarship check from Meredith Corporation ASU senior Brady Schmitt and community resources and development faculty member Rebekka Goodman hold Schmitt's scholarship check from Meredith Corporation. Download Full Image

The travel arm of Meredith Corporation invites tourism undergraduate programs around the U.S. to submit up to three of their top students for the Meredith Travel Marketing Scholarship. They look for students who may have extraordinary experiences or unique needs, like being a first-generation college student.

ASU began participating in the scholarship program when Professor Christine Vogt, director of the Center for Sustainable Tourism, joined the university in 2015. The school has already established a good track record: Two of the three awardees in the past three years have been from ASU. The first was Virginia Miller, who won in 2016. Miller is now a graduate student in the School of Community Resources and Development.

Melissa Luebbe, national travel director for Meredith Corporation and publisher of Midwest Living, a popular travel and lifestyle magazine, saw Schmitt as a stellar tourism student.

“I saw fresh perspectives in the essay that he wrote for the application and signs of a young leader in the tourism field as evident in his impressive grades and work experiences,” said Luebbe. “His essay touched on the role that destination-marketing organizations, such as state tourism offices or convention and visitor bureaus, play in promoting attractive destinations.”

Rebekka Goodman, lecturer in the School of Community Resources and Development, wrote one of Schmitt’s recommendation letters.

“He demonstrates a rare dedication to the principles of sustainable tourism that so many academics hope to instill in their students,” said Goodman, who has had Schmitt in class. Schmitt was also a participant on a spring break study abroad program to Guatemala that Goodman led in March.

Besides receiving a $5,000 scholarship, Schmitt was invited to attend the 2018 Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations (ESTO) organized by the U.S. Travel Association, which was held this August in Phoenix. Learning from and networking with over 1,000 industry professionals for five days at the seminar was an invaluable experience that goes far beyond the scholarship prize.

“Attending the 2018 ESTO is an experience that very few students have, and I am honored that I was chosen out of the many other deserving applicants,” said Schmitt. “I could not have done it without my amazing professors and ASU's wonderful Sustainable Tourism Development and Management Program.”

Schmitt plans to use his award money to participate in an upcoming Fiji/Australia study abroad program.

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

602-496-0130

Demystifying distinguished graduate fellowships

NSF Graduate Research Fellow features in first of 'A Culture of Pursuit' series


September 3, 2018

Editor's note: To demystify the process of attaining distinguished graduate fellowships, ASU Now will feature a multipart series of interviews with distinguished graduate award recipients from across the ASU community. The series will showcase the achievements of ASU’s distinguished graduate award recipients and highlight the strategies that led to those achievements. 

Distinguished award winners within the Arizona State University graduate community are not uncommon — as demonstrated by its 50 current NSF Graduate Research Fellows.   Photo of Joshua Brooks, Program Manager of Distinguished Graduate Fellowships at ASU Joshua Brooks, program manager of distinguished graduate fellowships will author a new series highlighting strategies to win prestigious scholarships from current awardees. Download Full Image

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program “recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines.” NSF Fellows typically become globally engaged knowledge experts and leaders who contribute significantly to research, education, and innovations in science and engineering. Fellows are selected by a national competition from a pool of 12,000-16,000 applicants from across the United States and its territories. Success rates for NSF-GRFP applicants range from about 12.5-16.5 percent over the last five years. 

The NSF-GRFP is a highly-sought-after and competitive award because of both the practical benefit and associated prestige of the award. Fellows receive three-years of funding within a five-year fellowship period in the form of an annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees. GRFP alums include 40 Nobel laureates, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, and many other notable leaders in STEM fields.

In addition to the benefits noted above, the Graduate College administers the NSF-GRFP for ASU awardees and provides additional tuition and fees support, health insurance, and a $750 allowance per on-tenure year to further support research.

Fellows also have opportunities for additional funding and support from the NSF by applying to the GRIP and GROW programs. 

  • The Graduate Research Internship Program (GRIP) provides professional development and funding to fellows through internships developed in partnerships with federal agencies and national laboratories. 
  • The Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) program provides fellows with opportunities to engage in international collaborations with investigators in partner countries around the world. Through GROW, fellows engage in international research with partners developed by the NSF, including counterpart funding organizations in other countries. These counterpart funding organizations may provide additional funding (e.g., $1,500–$2,200 monthly) on top of the $5,000 award that the NSF provides. GROW offers funding for international stays of two months to one year, with the duration varying by country and partner organization. The NSF is prepared to fund up to 400 GROW awards each year. Applicants must be current NSF Graduate Research Fellows. 

The first interviewee for "A Culture of Pursuit" is NSF Graduate Research Fellow (2015) and GROW recipient (2018) Andrew Burchill. 

Photo of NSF-GRFP Fellow Andrew Burchill in the field

Andrew Burchill in the field (photo by Kelly O'Meara)

Burchill attended the University of Chicago as an undergrad (BS, 2014) and was admitted to the ASU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, School of Life Sciences PhD program in animal behavior in 2015. Burchill is also a 2015 Congressional Award winner (the highest civilian honor awarded by the U.S. Congress for public service), as well as the recipient of many other distinguished awards.  Burchill spoke with ASU Now from Australia — his GROW research location. 

Question: If you had one piece of advice for your fellow graduate students regarding their current and future careers, what would it be?

According to Burchill, the biggest issue he’d like to address among the graduate community at ASU is imposter syndrome. “A lot of graduate students are self-effacing. They don’t want to think about what they do in a positive light — they can’t see themselves in a positive light.”

What helped him in this regard when it came to distinguished awards applications was this: “Thinking of the CV as a video game. Thinking of yourself as a character in a video game where you can collect items or bonuses that increase your value or stats. A lot of people say, ‘I’ve never done anything that should go on a CV.’ But, many things are CV material if you think it through.” For example, Burchill participated in the largest scavenger hunt in the world while he was an undergraduate at UChicago. For his part in organizing the scavenger hunt, he organized the meals. On his CV, he noted that he managed finances and logistics for hundreds of people for a large, well-known public event. 

“Pretending that you’re a video game character allows you to find fun and interesting ways to explain yourself in a way that’s good for the CV. When you look back at ALL the activities you've done, don't ignore the ones you initially feel are insignificant. Try imagining all the bonuses or power-ups each could give your character. Worked as a summer manager at Arby's? +1 to Organizational Skills and +2 to Leadership!”

Q: What motivates you to seek distinguished fellowships and awards?

Burchill's pursuit of distinguished awards is the natural evolution of him pursuing his interests. He wants to research. Researchers need funding. So, he applied to the NSF-GRFP. 

When considering how to develop his PhD program into something significant, he happened to hear about the Global Development Research Program here at ASU (sponsored by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and USAID) and applied to be a fellow, which he became in 2016.  As a matter of pragmatism, occasionally the opportunities and awards that are available will mold the direction and substance of future research — a little bit, anyway. On the other hand, Burchill's first order of business when it comes to distinguished awards is finding the opportunities that are available that will allow him to pursue things he’s already interested in. Essentially, he said, “Money doesn’t usually change the topics I focus on, but it does allow me to do different things.”

Q: Do you strategically build your resume, or have your accomplishments happened in a more ad-hoc fashion?

Burchill said that he built his resume simply by pursuing things he wanted to do. He doesn’t worry about strategic accomplishments. Rather, he simply goes out and does things that are challenging and fun (or at least interesting). He also notes that where his strategy comes into play is in how he explains his accomplishments on his resume. To his mind, this type of strategy is vital to the pursuit of distinguished awards.  

Q: How do you choose which awards to spend precious time applying for?

Essentially, if people in the know tell Burchill that he’s a good candidate, he applies. Knowing how many awards to apply to and how often to apply is a tough balance, he said. On the one hand, students need to keep up with their research work. On the other hand, the opportunities afforded by distinguished awards are significant. Burchill isn’t sure he keeps the best balance. He said sometimes he’ll spend most of his time pursuing distinguished awards — finding awards, researching awards, writing for awards, etc. Other times, his workload and timeline will be such that all he can do is conduct his program research. As he said, it’s difficult to manage, but a successful researcher will need to do both.

Q: How did you get into your field of research?

Burchill said the evolutionary history of his career trajectory started out somewhat at random. As an undergrad at UChicago, he managed to find a job in a lab that studied ants. He discovered that ants were interesting and that he’d probably enjoy a career centered around the study. So, he pursued that PhD program.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

Simple — Burchill wanted to study ant behavior. He said ASU is one of the best places in the world to study ants and all sorts of other insect topics. At ASU, there are many different experts on every social insect topic you can imagine under one roof.

Q: What motivated you to apply to the NSF-GRFP, specifically?

“It’s a crazy opportunity,” said Burchill. Once he started thinking about what he could do with the funding and support provided by the NSF-GRFP, he got excited about applying. He had a year off between undergrad and grad school — during which he signed up with AmeriCorp and, incidentally, also earned his Congressional Award. He also spent that year polishing his application for the NSF-GRFP.

Q: Is there any advice that you’d like to give potential NSF-GRFP applicants — something that helped you, perhaps?

Two things, according to Burchill: First, applying to the NSF-GRFP is not applying to do a project, as much as it seems like it is. Rather, it’s demonstrating your ability to conceive of and potentially carry out a research project. The application is a demonstration of oneself. It demonstrates that the applicant is uniquely situated to carry out a type of research — namely the type of research indicated in the research proposal. The NSF is really evaluating the applicant as a future scientist more than the actual project within the application itself.

Second, after you’ve written your first draft of the application, the applicant should just “sit with it for a long time,” and then pick it up, again, later, to review and edit. The NSF-GRFP isn’t something that should be done last minute. An early draft is important. Turning that early draft in to several subsequent drafts over a period of time — especially after having others review it and critique it — is very helpful. 

Q: You’re also a recipient of the GROW award. Why did you apply, and where did you go with it to research?

Only Graduate Research Fellows can apply to GROW. Most significant to Burchill was the fact that this meant the applicant pool would be small and, therefore, the chances of receiving the award would be statistically quite high. The other thing that motivated him was that, as a biologist, he wanted to research in Australia. GROW provided him an opportunity to go there, establish connections, publish, and generally become familiar with the research community within his field in Australia. Burchill is quick to note, also, that while the GROW award provides travel allowances, he still needed his host country  to provide funding for his extended stay.  For him, this came through the Endeavour Research Fellowship provided by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.

Q: How do you deal with career-related stress and anxiety?

Counterintuitively, Burchill takes quite a few breaks — probably more than most people, according to him. “Not in a bad way,” he said. He engages in healthy self-care. Most work and career related issues aren’t emergency situations that need to be done right now, “except for when they are.”

Q: Do you have an idea of what you’d like to do once you receive your doctorate?

“If I can continue doing research, that would be amazing. Getting positions in academia is becoming more difficult. That in itself can be a source of stress.”  

Q: What are your hobbies?

“Brewing alcohol. I work in a social insect lab. That means bees and honey — that means mead.” 

13. What type of fiction do you read?

Burchill calls science fiction his escapism. An example is “Perdido Street Station” by China Miéville. He also said he'd read anything by Miéville.

14. What’s your favorite TV/streaming show?

“True Detective — the first season, obviously.”

15. Favorite movie?

“Memento — especially recently because I’ve been forgetting … things.”

16. Favorite nonfiction book outside of your field?

“'Big Bang' by Singh. It’s about the Big Bang theory. It’s oddly exciting. It’s about the history of a theory.” 

Learn more about the NSF-GRFP

Joshua Brooks, formerly the e-Government Fellow of Cornell Law School and an ASU alum, is the current program manager of distinguished graduate fellowships — a new office jointly administered by ASU’s Graduate College and the Office of National Scholarship Advisement at Barrett, The Honors College. Brooks will host an information session on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018 at 10:15 a.m. in the Memorial Union (MU 202). This information session will feature current NSF Graduate Research Fellows who will take questions from attendees after a presentation. 

Graduate Fellowships Advisor, Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement

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