Sun Devil student-athletes achieve highest GPA in history

January 28, 2013

It's easy for an athlete to focus solely on their sport. But at Arizona State University, the athletes focus on their futures as well. Since 2000, ASU has produced 62 Academic All-Americans, which ranks seventh highest in Division I sports and second in the Pac-12.

Sun Devil student-athletes have surpassed a monumental milestone by recording a 3.01 GPA for the Fall 2012 semester, the highest ever in history. They've also increased their cumulative GPA to a 3.01. Download Full Image

"Academics is an integral part of the Sun Devil Way," said Steve Patterson, vice president of Sun Devil Athletics. "While success on the field is important, every staff member and coach in Sun Devil Athletics understands that excelling in the classroom is the most valuable part of being a student-athlete."

Four student-athletes with a 4.0 GPA or above during their competitive season helped the volleyball team finish the Fall 2012 semester with a 3.43 GPA, resulting in the highest number of Pac-12 All-Academic accolades, surpassing academic powerhouse Stanford.

"Academics are our first priority and graduation is the single most important day in the careers of our student-athletes," said Jason Watson, head volleyball coach. "Sun Devils are a lot of things, but to me they will always be college graduates."

Football also showed significant improvement in their GPA due in larger part to more rigorous academic standards set in place by head coach Todd Graham. Stricter daily classroom checks, which helped decrease classroom absences from 141 in 2011 to 19 in fall 2012, and providing more resources to assist student-athletes in managing their busy schedules were two points of emphasis.

"When Coach Graham came on board, he wanted to increase the accountability of the academic requirements that these players have," said Luke Powell, quality control of Football Operations. "Some of these guys may not have had the upbringing that school was important. Now they have a head coach who's telling them it's important, and I think guys are starting to see that the decisions they make now are going to give them more options after their football careers end."

Powell has been with Football Operations for more than six years and says there is a noticeable difference in players' attitudes when it comes to academics this year, as he travels from class to class daily in addition to his other responsibilities.

"One of the old excuses was 'Oh, I was in the bathroom when you came to check' so I even check the bathroom," laughed Powell. 

While most of the football student-athletes have experienced success on the field during their careers, Powell has noticed excelling in the classroom has brought many a renewed sense of pride. That feeling of self-worth has motivated student-athletes to positively represent their respective sports on campus.

"That culture starts with Dr. Crow and the President's Office, and trickles down through our senior administration into all departments at SDA," offered Patterson. "Everyone believes that student-athletes should be held to the same standards as all ASU students, and this expectation is important in building their self-confidence in the classroom and for their futures."

The Devils also get extra incentive through the Scholar Baller program (or in the case of wrestling, Scholar Brawler). The initiative encourages students to reach a GPA of 3.0 or higher by using incentives such as gear and insignia that the student-athlete can proudly display on their uniforms.

On top of the Scholar Baller recognition there is a plethora of resources to help the student-athletes succeed. ASU's Office of Student-Athlete Development (OSAD) is fully dedicated to all the university's sanctioned athletes.

Patrice Feulner, assistant athletic director for Student Athlete Development, who also was a former Sun Devil soccer player, brings her own experience into her work at OSAD. Whether it is facilitating study halls, assisting with class scheduling or answering academic concerns the athletes may have, Feulner remembers the struggle of balancing a full sports schedule with a stressful academic one.

"One of my biggest challenges was managing my time effectively, especially in-season," said Feulner, who played forward for the Devils in the early 2000s. "Finding time to study and do work was crucial to my success."

Through their tireless work, the Office of Student-Athlete Development has created a culture where it is an expectation to do well and be a Sun Devil Scholar Athlete. Their mantra "CPC" (Compete with Passion and Character) is not only dominant on the wall of their office but the in the classroom, field of play and in life.

"Athletics should be a means to an education and it is our goal for all 550-plus student-athletes to graduate from ASU," said Patterson. "This aspiration is something everyone at SDA takes great pride in and works tirelessly to accomplish."

Juno Schaser

Event coordinator, Biodesign Institute


Chemical engineering student earns recognition for energy research

January 28, 2013

Arizona State University senior chemical engineering major Zachariah Berkson is beginning to make a mark for himself in energy research.

A technical paper Berkson authored on his part in research aimed at recycling carbon dioxide to produce clean, renewable fuels recently won him a scholarship award from the Arizona chapter of the national Air and Waste Management Association (AWMA). Zachariah Berkson energy research Download Full Image

It’s an especially impressive accomplishment because graduate students also competed for the award, notes his mentor Jean Andino, a chemical engineering faculty member in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

The award brought Berkson $1,000 and enables him to participate in the national Energy Utility and Environment Conference in Phoenix Jan. 28-30. He’ll follow that up with a trip to Boston in February to display a poster exhibit of his research at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The technical paper for which he won the recent scholarship award from the AWMA-Grand Canyon Section was based on the research he presented last year at the international AWMA conference. It won him the conference’s best undergraduate student research poster award.

Berkson is seeking to “turn carbon dioxide, a waste product, into a fuel such as methane." The next goal would be to adapt the process of generating fuel from carbon dioxide to an industrial scale to create a viable source of sustainable energy.

"To enhance the efficiency of the process, we are using light-activated photo catalysts, in particular titanium dioxide," he explains. Employing the combination of modified titanium dioxide and light, Andino’s research group is exploring methods of improving the efficiency of converting carbon dioxide into energy.

Berkson, from Indiana, began his project under Andino’s direction in 2011 through the Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative (FURI), which enables ASU engineering undergraduates to participate in advanced research training.

His project idea and the funding for his work in the lab came primarily through a National Science Foundation grant awarded to Andino.

Once Berkson delved into the project, what was at first merely an interest in renewable energy became an intense focus of his engineering education.

His research has shown that a simple pretreatment process – heating the catalyst before the reaction occurs – can increase the potential of the photocatalyst to produce a reaction by three to four times.

“I’ve shown that when you do this treatment you generate a lot more electrons ready for reaction,” Berkson says. “What I am trying to show now is that this translates to increased chemical activity for the reaction that we are interested in” for converting carbon dioxide into fuel.

His desire to continue the work has driven Berkson’s decision to pursue a doctoral degree in chemical engineering.

Students whose work is accepted for presentation at professional conferences are eligible to apply for a grant from the Engineering Schools’ office of Academic and Student Affairs to help fund travel to conferences.  Berkson was one of 13 engineering students funded to travel to national conferences in 2012 to present research findings.

Written by Natalie Pierce and Joe Kullman

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering