ASU Alumni Association honors health care heroes at Founders' Day event

February 3, 2014

The Arizona State University Alumni Association will honor alumni, faculty and alumni supporters who are actively engaged in transforming health at its annual Founders’ Day Awards Dinner, slated for 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 20 at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa, 2400 E. Missouri Ave., Phoenix.

The award ceremony has been a signature event for the university for decades, and honors individuals who exemplify the spirit of the founders of the Territorial Normal School of Arizona, ASU’s predecessor institution, which received its charter from the Thirteenth Territorial Legislature on March 7, 1885. From educating health care practitioners to developing new vaccines, ASU is taking a transdisciplinary approach to health solutions. Founders’ Day award recipients serve as exemplars of how the ASU community actively addresses the most pressing challenges facing society today. As part of the celebration, ASU President Michael M. Crow will provide a university update.
 Javier Cardenas Download Full Image

The following individuals will be honored by the Alumni Association at the Founders’ Day event:

Alumni Achievement Awards

Young Alumni Achievement Award – Dr. Javier Cárdenas ’99 B.A.E.

Cárdenas majored in special education at ASU, and his experiences in the field with his pupils provided the motivation to attend medical school and specialize in pediatric neurology. As a pediatric neurologist the Barrow Institute, Cárdenas has become Arizona’s foremost expert in the diagnosis and treatment of concussion. He founded the Barrow Concussion Network, which provides mandatory concussion education for student athletes at all Arizona Interscholastic Association schools, and played a key role in helping to write concussion legislation in Arizona.

Cárdenas trains other physicians in the treatment of concussions through the Department of Child Neurology at the Barrow Neurological Institute. He also participates in advocacy training through the Palatucci Advocacy Leadership Forum of the American Academy of Neurology.

Alumni Achievement Award – Dr. Paul Larson ’90 B.S.

Paul Larson, M.D., is being honored for his work in developing novel surgical methods for deep-brain stimulator implantation. After graduating with a degree in zoology from ASU in 1990, Larson received his medical degree from the University of Arizona in 1995, and completed both a surgical internship (in 1996) and a neurosurgical residency (2001) at the University of Louisville.

Larson is currently an associate clinical professor, the vice chair of neurological surgery and the chief of neurosurgery service at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center associated with the University of California, San Francisco. He has published extensively in various scientific journals, and his research interests include neurostimulation and other neurorestorative therapies for a variety of diseases, including movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease and psychiatric conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Larson has received several teaching awards from the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco and was honored in 2005 by being recognized in the reference publication Who’s Who in Medical Science Education.

Faculty Achievement Awards

Faculty Research Achievement Award
Dr. Roy Curtiss III, professor of life sciences, School of Life Sciences, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences; director of the Center for Microbial Genetic Engineering and the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology, Biodesign Institute

Roy Curtiss III is being honored for his contributions to genetic engineering and his development of new vaccines that use neutralized modified salmonella no longer able to cause disease as a vector to deliver protective antigens. Such vaccines have proven to be safe and effective, and have the potential to greatly reduce the impact of diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis and influenza, especially in developing nations.

Curtiss earned his bachelor's degree in agriculture from Cornell University and received his doctorate in microbiology from the University of Chicago. He has started guided bioscience departments to greater prominence at two schools – the University of Alabama-Birmingham and Washington University in St. Louis. He also started two biotech companies: MEGAN Health, Inc. and Molecular Engineering Associates, Inc.

Curtiss’ laboratory was among the first to introduce bacterial genetics and recombinant DNA techniques into the study of bacterial pathogenesis. He is considered one of the founders of the field of modern microbial pathophysiology and genetics and has more than 360 journal articles to his credit.

As a teacher and mentor, Dr. Curtiss has nurtured a large cadre of scientists over the past several generations, who have gone on to pursue successful careers in research, academia and government.

Faculty Teaching Achievement Award
Dr. Bertha Alvarez Manninen, associate professor of philosophy, School of Humanities, Arts & Cultural Studies, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

Bertha Alvarez Manninen is being honored for her work as a scholar and teacher in the field of philosophy, with a specialty in applied ethics and biomedical ethics.

She received bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and English literature from Florida International University in 1999 and a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee in 2001. Shortly after receiving her doctorate in philosophy from Purdue University in 2006, she joined the faculty at ASU. She has become an extremely active scholar, with 25 articles, book chapters and invited refereed articles to her credit.

Some of the topics she has covered in her scholarly work include cloning and individuality, the ethics of euthanasia and a philosophical analysis of the over-prescription of psychoactive drugs. Her current projects include explorations of the intersection of bioethics and metaphysics in defining death and the importance of closing the divide between supporters of abortion rights and anti-abortion advocates in the American cultural political landscape.

Manninen won the New College Teaching Award in 2012. She currently serves as a peer referee for the Journal of Social Philosophy and the American Journal of Bioethics.

Faculty Service Achievement Award
Dr. Michael S. Shafer, professor, School of Social Work, College of Public Programs; director, Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy.

Michael Shafer is being honored for his service work related to behavioral health policy and practice. He is well known throughout the state and nationwide for his expertise in systems design and delivery of community mental health care, substance abuse treatment, child welfare and criminal justice programs for people with behavioral health disabilities, such mental illness and substance abuse.

His commitment to service was launched during his undergraduate studies at California Lutheran University. He earned a master’s degree from the University of Maryland and a doctorate from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Since joining ASU in 2006, he has served as an associate dean for academic affairs, and provided senior leadership in the development of the Doctor of Behavioral Health degree program while directing the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy – a research and training unit that has generated in excess of $15 million in external funding. Under his leadership, the center has partnered with multiple Arizona state and local agencies and organizations to serve as a stimulus for evaluation and capacity building of our state’s behavioral health, child welfare and criminal justice systems.

Shafer’s work was previously recognized by Arizona Gov. Jane Hull as a member of the Arizona Integrated Treatment Consensus Panel, which received the Governor’s Spirit of Excellence Award.

Faculty Service Achievement Award
Dr. Michael Dorman, professor, Department of Speech and Hearing Science, College of Health Solutions

Michael Dorman is being honored for his service related to his role as one of the country's leading experts in cochlear implants, which are surgically implanted electronic devices that provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing.

He received his bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Washington and his master's degree in psychology from Hollins College. He received his doctoral degree from the University of Connecticut. He arrived at ASU in 1976.

As a researcher, Dorman's most significant finding has been the existence of a “window of opportunity” in children who receive a cochlear implant to experience rapid development of neurological pathways in response to sound, occurring before the age of three and a half. This research had a profound effect on the field, demonstrating the risks of delaying implantation on the brain's ability to process speech.  

At ASU, he has served on doctoral admission committees and promotion and tenure committees several times, as well as the Institutional Review Board and the new faculty hiring committee. He has served as an ad hoc reviewer for numerous publications, including Cochlear Implants International, Ear and Hearing, International Audiology and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The Philanthropists of the Year Award, presented by the ASU Foundation For A New American University

Diane and Bruce Halle

Diane and Bruce Halle are being honored for their philanthropic endeavors, which focus on making a difference in the everyday lives of Arizonans. Bruce is the founder and chairman of Discount Tire and Diane serves as chairman and president of the Diane & Bruce Halle Foundation, which was founded in 2002 to champion educational initiatives, access to the underserved, women’s and children’s issues, medical research and the arts. Diane also serves as president of the Herbert K. Cummings Charitable Trust.

The Halles’ 15 years of engagement with Arizona State University includes funding for a five-year study to better understand and address Arizona’s high school dropout crisis, as well as support for the ASU Art Museum and Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Most recently, the Halles have invested in the Mayo Medical School –Arizona Campus, a collaboration between the Mayo Clinic and ASU. Students will complete a specialized master’s degree in the Science of Health Care Delivery, granted by ASU, concurrently with their medical degree from Mayo Medical School. The Halles’ visionary investment in this endeavor will have a transformational impact on the future of health care.

Tickets to the Founders’ Day event are $130 for Alumni Association members and $180 for nonmembers. Table and corporate sponsorship opportunities are available. For additional information about Founders’ Day, or to RSVP, visit

National experts to speak on human-dog bond

February 3, 2014

Have you ever felt like your pet dog was reading your mind? If you have, you certainly aren’t alone. Stories abound from people whose dogs give them extra attention when they are feeling down. Other dogs grow anxious when their owners are preparing for a trip, and some dogs show hostility to people their owners dislike.

Dogs’ ability to perceive human feelings and intentions is remarkable. Dogs can even follow a person’s pointing finger, which is no small mental feat. Scientists have been unable to train even chimps to do that. Download Full Image

It’s no surprise, then, that dogs are considered “man’s best friend.” And it’s no surprise that many people consider their behavior unique among animals. Clive Wynne, a psychology professor at Arizona State University, disagrees.

“I don’t deny that dogs have a remarkable ability to know what people are up to. But I do deny that they have new, special skills,” says Wynne, who is also director of ASU’s new Canine Science Collaboratory and the proud adoptive “parent” of a shelter mutt named Xephos.

Wynne recently came to ASU from the University of Florida, where he studied dog behavior and human-dog relationships for more than a decade. He is the co-author, with Monique Udell, of “Animal Cognition: Evolution, Behavior and Cognition” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). He is also director of research for Wolf Park in Indiana. Wynne’s work with wolves led him to challenge conventional wisdom about differences between dogs and their lupine ancestors.

“I study wolves that have been hand-reared by people. They’re really responsive to humans. Wolves are every bit as good as dogs at following what people are up to,” he explains. “You don’t see it in a typical wolf because they don’t grow up around people.”

He adds that truly feral dogs that reach adulthood without meeting humans will be just as skittish around people as any wolf. But if wolves are as trainable as dogs, why are they rarely kept as pets, while dogs are toted to dog parks and hiking trails, garbed in Halloween costumes and photographed peeping from celebrity purses? Wynne says it’s partly due to differences between how dogs and wolves develop.

“Wolves grow up quickly. There is only a short period in which there is a willingness to learn who you can be friends with,” he says. “Dog development is slowed down, so it’s easy to tame them. Any dog that is around people is easy to tame – we don’t even think of it as ‘taming.’”

Wynne will discuss these differences and the origins of the human-dog bond in a public talk on Feb. 25. He will be joined by two other noted canine researchers: Gregory Berns and Matthew Breen.

Do dogs love?

Berns is a neuroeconomist at Emory University who has spent decades using MRI technology to study how the human brain works. But a different question also nagged at him: What is my dog thinking? To answer that, he and his colleagues figured out how to teach dogs to lie still in an MRI scanner, using only positive training methods. The dogs even wear earmuffs to protect their ears from the machine’s noise.

“He has cracked the holy grail in dog science,” Wynne says of Berns’ accomplishment.

Whether dogs love their human guardians the same way we love them is a subject of lively debate. Berns’ research, which explores what happens in a dog’s brain at the smell or sight of its owner, offers interesting new information to the discussion.

Berns will talk about the findings he has presented in his book, “How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain” (New Harvest, 2013), and a widely shared New York Times article, “Dogs are people, too.”

Berns argues that new evidence about canines’ capacity for emotion forces us to reconsider how we treat them. He questions whether we should continue to view dogs as possessions if they have emotions similar to our own.

Canines contribute to cancer research

Matthew Breen is a professor of genomics at North Carolina State University. He studies a different aspect of the human-dog relationship – our mutual vulnerability to certain diseases.

For hundreds of years, people have bred dogs to display specific traits. These could be physical attributes like size and coloring, or behaviors like retrieving and herding. Unfortunately, such breeding unintentionally selected for less desirable traits, as well. Certain breeds of dogs have a higher risk of developing health problems like hip dysplasia, seizures and some types of cancer.

Genomic studies have revealed a silver lining, however. Research on dogs can accelerate our understanding of cancers that also affect humans. Because dogs have gone through such tightly controlled breeding, scientists can study their genetics with less “background noise” than they find in the human genome. Identifying the genes involved in disease is likely to be simpler as a result.

Breen’s work shows that to be true. In studying a particular form of brain cancer, he and his colleagues narrowed the number of genes that are potentially involved from 500 to fewer than 10. They have also identified genetic signatures that predict how well a dog with lymphoma will respond to two of the leading types of chemotherapy. Breen will discuss these and other results, which could lead to better treatments for both humans and their canine companions.

Happily ever after

Wynne notes that not only are certain dog breeds more susceptible to diseases, but they can be more likely to develop behavioral problems such as separation anxiety. He says that psychologists have developed numerous behavioral techniques for handling problem behaviors in humans, largely using rewards to get people to behave better.

“Why do people misbehave? Often it’s because they experience some positive consequence for doing so, even if it’s only the attention of their caregivers. We are applying these behavior modification techniques to dogs for behaviors like extreme thunderstorm phobia, or excessive tail-chasing,” he says.

One area where such training might reap enormous benefits is in animal shelters. Studies show that certain characteristics of dogs can help or hinder their chances of being adopted. For instance, puppies are more popular than adult dogs, and certain breeds – such as pit bulls – are considered less desirable. Behavior is important, too.

“If you’re a cute dog, you can get away with anything,” Wynne explains. “For ugly dogs, lots of behaviors matter. Keep your kennel clean. Don’t lick yourself or your cage.”

Wynne has been working with animal shelters to improve the odds that dogs will be adopted. He and his colleagues have trained dogs in certain behaviors to assess whether those behaviors increase their adoptability. Now he is focusing his efforts on ensuring that the adoption will stick. Return rates of shelter dogs can be high – sometimes more than 30 percent.

“It’s one thing to get adopted, but many dogs that are adopted get returned. We are looking at what to do to help form a bond between people and the dog so they can live happily ever after,” Wynne says.

He is collaborating with faculty in ASU’s Exercise and Wellness Program, along with the Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA, to find out if exercising with a newly adopted dog increases retention.

"There is a health benefit to owning a dog – people who have dogs exercise more,” he explains. “We invite people to exercise with their newly adopted dogs. We want to know, do they have lower return rates?”

Cross-bred research

Wynne is enthusiastic about working with researchers in a different field and hopes to continue such interdisciplinary efforts in the future. For example, learning what influences people’s adoption decisions would benefit from expertise in marketing. He notes that ASU offers excellent opportunities for these types of collaborations.

“A lot of institutions talk an interdisciplinary talk, but the standard university structure in the U.S. is not suited to interdisciplinarity,” he says. “The resources flow through departments, and people naturally don’t want to share. But it’s clear that something is happening at ASU that is allowing that crossover to happen.”

In creating his new research group, the Canine Science Collaboratory, Wynne deliberately avoided using terminology from his own discipline (psychology) in the name. He welcomes collaboration with anyone interested in studying dogs, whether they are faculty from other departments within ASU or outside organizations.

“Going to the Dogs – an Evening of Canine Science” will take place from 5-7 p.m., Feb. 25, at the Tempe Center for the Arts. The event will feature presentations from Wynne, Berns and Breen about their research and discoveries. Afterward, the speakers will be available to meet the audience and sign copies of their books. Admission and parking are free.

Check out these ten things you probably didn’t know about dogs.

The Department of Psychology is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Wynne’s research is funded by the Canine Health Foundation, part of the American Kennel Club. 

Written by Diane Boudreau, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development

Allie Nicodemo

Communications specialist, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development