ASU recognizes graduating veterans with honor stoles

May 10, 2015

Overcoming tough challenges is nothing new to military veterans. On May 9, student vets at ASU received special stoles to recognize their service and celebrate their conquering the challenge of earning a college degree.

Nearly half of this spring’s 328 graduating veterans attended a reception at Old Main on Tempe campus to receive honor stoles, adorned with the seal of the veteran’s branch of service, the Arizona State University seal, and the word “veteran.” The stoles are worn over academic regalia at commencement and college convocation ceremonies. Veterans Graduation Reception stoles Download Full Image

The ASU Alumni Association organized the Veterans Graduation Reception in coordination with the Pat Tillman Veterans Center.

“I love ASU and think they have one of the best support systems for veterans,” said Hillary LaFever-Ceja, an Army veteran and student graduating with a degree in nutrition. “The Pat Tillman Veterans Center is fantastic at what they do as far as processing claims and providing guidance, but that’s the minimum I believe any school should provide, and they go beyond that.”

LaFever-Ceja, who served in Iraq, loves the stole ceremony concept and believes it is important to recognize that many groups of non-traditional students face unique challenges that others don’t.

Her fellow student veteran Luis Cardenas Camacho is also a fan of the ceremony and credits the university.

“I think the veteran stoles are representative of ASU’s commitment to the veteran community,” said Camacho, a Marine combat veteran and president of ASU’s Student Veterans of America downtown chapter. “ASU is one of the top schools for military in the U.S. They take this title to heart and do their best to provide veterans all the tools they need to accomplish their academic goals.”

Ceremony attendees were treated to inspirational remarks from guest speaker and City of Tempe Councilmember Robin Arredondo-Savage. Her message was simple: Pay it forward.

“I know each and every one of you believe in service,” she said. “I too believe in service, and I hope it doesn’t stop here.”

Arredondo-Savage encouraged the vets to stay involved, whether that's by staying connected with ASU, mentoring students, helping other veterans or serving their communities in other capacities.

“There are so many great things, so many valuable things that you guys bring to the table that so many others don’t,” said Arredondo-Savage. “Your dedication, your teamwork, your leadership, your skills, those are truly gifts.”

Arredondo-Savage told the audience that it can be as simple as making a difference in one person’s life, just as someone may have done in their lives by caring and making time for them.   

“I hope if nothing else that you inspire another person, because if you are ready to inspire another person, that makes change,” she said. “That makes change not only in that person’s life but in the community, in the city, in the state and in this country. And to me that is exactly why we’re here, to make this the very best place it can be.”

The councilmember, also an Army veteran, expressed confidence in the vets as they pursue careers and find their path in life.

“I know you’re all going to be successful,” she said.

One of those on the path to success is graduate student Evan Benson, a Marine combat vet and civil engineering major. Despite being severely wounded in Afghanistan, he persevered to achieve his educational goals.  

“I feel accomplished now that it’s sinking in that I’m actually getting my masters,” said Benson. “It was a long road to get here and I went through a lot … from suffering a traumatic brain injury and not knowing if I would be capable of absorbing difficult undergraduate engineering curriculum, let alone a graduate curriculum.”

Benson credits others for his success, from the medical staff who treated him in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to the Department of Veterans Affairs. He is also grateful to the American taxpayers who make it possible for veterans to complete their education by funding the GI Bill. And he praises ASU staff.

“The Pat Tillman Veterans Center was an integral part of my success, and it’s a first-of-its-kind center created specifically to help students achieve their academic goals,” he said. “In addition to the Tillman center, the Fulton School of Engineering has great faculty that have helped me every step of the way. They happily make themselves available outside classroom hours to ensure student success.”

Benson hsa accepted a full-time position with a Boston-based engineering company where he interned. He starts the new job in June.  

The student veterans also have words of wisdom and advice for those leaving the military.

“The fact is that even though our mission overseas might be over, our service at home is not,” said Camacho, a public service and public policy major and political activist. “It is our duty to educate ourselves and be the leaders our country needs us to be.”

Camacho, who was born in Mexico and served three combat tours in Iraq, helped produce a documentary about deported veterans and lobbied for immigration reform in Washington D.C. alongside Arizona political leaders.

LaFever-Ceja offers more practical advice to school-bound veterans: She recommends finding a support system, whether family, veteran organizations or other groups.

“It’s going to be vital that there are people who can guide you back to civilian life,” she said. “The military has become better at assisting with transition, but there’s little that can truly prepare you for leaving the military behind.”

She also recommends veterans pace themselves academically.  Oftentimes new vets will take 18 credits or more per semester when starting out.

“Veterans have this tendency to think that they can take on the world,” she said. “You are perfectly capable of that course load, but later, not your first semester.”

Benson offers words of wisdom for Americans at large who may have misperceptions about combat veterans. Sometimes there are negative connotations about veteran psychological issues.

“Although we’ve had difficult circumstances during wartime, we’ve come back stronger and are ready to become the nation’s leaders in engineering, teaching, business, etc.,” he said. “We aren’t crippled or entitled, but we’ve been through hell and we’ll take those lessons learned to better ourselves and our communities.”

ASU’s veteran population stands at around 3,700 students and is expected to grow.

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

ASU professor named 'most creative person' by Fast Company for Ebola drug research

May 11, 2015

Arizona State University Biodesign Institute researcher Charles Arntzen has been chosen as the No. 1 honoree among Fast Company’s annual “100 Most Creative People in Business” for his leadership role in developing ZMapp, a therapeutic produced in tobacco to fight Ebola.

“I never anticipated we would get ZMapp into human testing for another three or four years, and suddenly, the urgency of the situation in West Africa was upon us,” said Arntzen, who attended a star-studded Fast Company gala in Hollywood that feted the 2015 honorees, including scientists, actors, musicians, artists and entrepreneurs. ASU Regents' Professor Charles Arntzen Download Full Image

With no known vaccine or cure available, more than 10,000 have now perished throughout West Africa, a humanitarian crisis created by the worst Ebola epidemic in history.

During the height of the outbreak, two American missionaries became infected. Physician Kent Brantly and health care worker Nancy Writebol, both near death and desperate for help, became the first people to receive ZMapp, knowing full well that it had never been tested in humans before.

Within 24 hours, Brantly was walking again, and both have fully recovered. “It was astonishing how effective this new therapeutic was, and this is snowballing now,” said Arntzen, who is convinced ZMapp works. “It’s now in human trials in West Africa and has captured all sorts of attention.”

Little was known of ZMapp at the time, or how it originally sprung from the minds of creative scientists like Artnzen and his collaborators more than a decade ago at ASU’s Biodesign Institute.

ZMapp is a serum made in a plant with a notorious reputation as a killer, tobacco. The pathway from discovery to treatment began with an idea Arntzen had to produce low-cost vaccines in plants to fight devastating infectious diseases in the developing world.

Fighting Ebola with Tobacco Charles Arntzen from Biodesign Institute at ASU on Vimeo.

Then, after 9/11 and the anthrax attack on the U.S. Senate, the government invested heavily in biodefense, including $3.7 million to Arntzen and a small San Diego-based startup led by Larry Zeitlin and Kevin Whaley, Mapp Biopharmaceutical. The goal was to develop plant-based defenses against pathogens, including Ebola, that could be used as potential biological threats.

With a dream team of collaborators, they modified the tobacco plants to produce a protective cocktail made of three monoclonal antibodies. This therapeutic cocktail proved to be 100 percent effective in protecting animals against Ebola, even five days after exposure.

“We’ve been teaming together manufacturing innovation, tobacco engineering innovation, our virus work and antibody discoveries,” said Arntzen. “I’m guessing, just in the development of ZMapp, there were about 100 different people with a 100 different skills who came together.”

ZMapp is the leading candidate for a drug treatment to fight Ebola, but because it was experimental, there were only enough doses to save a few. In response, the government has awarded a $25 million contract to Mapp for the massive scale-up desperately needed to stockpile enough of the drug and safeguard against another possible outbreak.

Now, commercial partner Kentucky BioProcessing has produced enough ZMapp for the necessary clinical trials in Liberia to begin.

“For the last decade, a huge part of my role has just been a cheerleader. We’ve just found we’ve been able to lower the level of inertia to get over barriers to work together,” said Arntzen. “It’s been a creative wonderland within the Biodesign Institute that has allowed us to chase ideas that maybe initially, sounded a little crazy, but bring together the parts to make them a reality.”

Creativity and Biodesign Charles Arntzen from Biodesign Institute at ASU on Vimeo.

Artntzen’s Biodesign colleagues who were a core part of the team, including Qiang “Shawn” Chen, Hugh Mason and Tsafrir Mor, continue to pursue plant-based vaccines and therapeutics to combat West Nile virus, dengue fever, nerve agents and even cancer.

Their pursuits are emblematic of the more than 400 creative scientists and students at the Biodesign Institute who have made groundbreaking discoveries including: linking gut microbial composition to autism, identifying diseases like cancer at its earliest stages, generating renewable energy and making polluted water and soil clean, all with the goal of advancing global health, energy and the environment.

A full feature of Arntzen and the development of ZMapp appears in the new issue of Fast Company, available online and on newsstands May 19.

Charles Arntzen is the ASU Florence Ely Nelson Presidential Endowed Chair and a Regents’ Professor in the School of Life Sciences within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He served as the Founding Director of The Biodesign Institute until May, 2003, and as Co-Director of Biodesign’s Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology of that Institute until 2007. 

Tsarir Mor, Hugh Mason and Qiang “Shawn” Chen are associate professors in the School of Life Sciences within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and researchers in the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology. 

Joe Caspermeyer

Manager (natural sciences), Media Relations & Strategic Communications