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'A Sip of Science' connects public to ASU scientists

World-renowned Biodesign Institute researchers, science aficionados converge at Valley restaurants

January 19, 2018

On Feb. 8, Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute launches a new outreach program that invites the general public to mingle with notable scientists and learn about some of the world’s most fascinating and current scientific issues. The “A Sip of Science” talks will take place at six venues Feb. 8 through May 8, where guests will have the opportunity to meet with biologists, neuroscientists, chemists, physicists, engineers and computer scientists at local restaurants.  

From why plastics in the ocean could make seafood extinct by 2050 to whether it’s possible to ignite the brain to higher functioning or better memory abilities, ASU’s Biodesign Institute researchers are breaking out of their labs and coming to nearby restaurants to share their expertise on a number of hot-button topics, including their challenges, new discoveries and aspirations to make the world a better place. In this casual setting, attendees will be able to share their ideas and ask questions. A Sip of Science logo Mingle with notable scientists and researchers at "A Sip of Science." Download Full Image

“Keeping up with the world’s information explosion is like trying to drink from a fire hose,” said Biodesign Executive Director Joshua LaBaer. “As a public university, we relish the opportunity to learn from our fellow Arizonans about their interests and ideas, and to share what we know about all the knowledge produced by today’s research. We want to engage in a discussion with the people of Arizona about advances in the world. ”

Each event in the series will feature accessible, lively and wide-ranging conversations. Cost is $15 per event, and includes light appetizers. Happy Hour pricing on beer and wine will be offered at each venue during the event. Proceeds will be used to fund community science events.

For registration and more information, visit the Biodesign Institute website.

The event schedule includes:

Breaking the Ice: Exploring the Frozen Continent with the Penguin Whisperer

Thursday, Feb. 8, 5:30–7 p.m.
George and Dragon English Pub
4240 N. Central Ave., Phoenix

Led by molecular virologist Arvind Varsani, aka “The Penguin Whisperer,” who works across ecosystems from the tropics to the Antarctic, this lecture covers the role viruses play in ecosystems and how they affect the world’s population.

Mo’ Plastics, Mo’ Problems: The Life of a Microplastic and Your Seafood

Sunday, Feb. 11, 2-3:30 p.m.
Tavern Americana
20469 N. Hayden Road, Scottsdale

Biologist Charlie Rolsky shares his passion for keeping the world’s oceans clean and seafood edible and helps guests understand the real threat of seafood becoming extinct in years to come.

The Brain Explained: Can I Change My Brain? 

Sunday, March 4, 4–5:30 p.m.
Tomaso’s Italian Restaurant
3225 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix

Neuroscientists Paul Coleman and Diego Mastroeni have handled thousands of human brains in their quest to alleviate suffering caused by Alzheimer’s, dementia and other brain-related illnesses as well as unlock other mysteries of the brain such as nature versus nurture, how to help children develop their brainpower and more.

Why is Cybersecurity So Hard and What Can We Do About It?

Tuesday, March 6, 5:30-7 p.m.
The Market by Jennifer’s
3606 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix

Stephanie Forrest is a computer scientist who looks at cybersecurity from a different angle. How can the principles of biology help us attack viruses and build immunity into our systems? Today, we see many cybersecurity problems online, ranging from data breaches to hacked email accounts to cyberespionage. But, we also see viruses, parasites, and bacteria in biology; bullies in social groups; and rogue nations in the international community. Stephanie’s talk will discuss current cybersecurity challenges, show why some common security advice is irrational, and describe how ideas from biology can provide help us design stronger cyber defenses.

Called the ‘Emperor of all Maladies’: Why are We Optimistic About Cancer?

Sunday, May 6, 3–4:30 p.m.
The Brickyard
85 W. Boston St., Chandler

Researcher and cancer physician Joshua LaBaer has invented a blood test for detecting cancer that is available in the U.S. He continues his quest to develop new, earlier and more precise detection of this challenging disease. His talk will cover what cancer is and why it is unique among all human diseases, the amazing advances made over the last decade — and what’s on the horizon.

Zombies are Real: Are Microbes Controlling My Mind?

Tuesday, May 8, 5:30–7 p.m.
MATCH Restaurant & Cocktails
1100 N. Central Ave., Phoenix

Psychologist, biologist and author Athena Aktipis delves into the mysterious topic of microbes and the possibility that microbial manipulation can affect humankind — from determining the foods we eat and crave to ways they could drive behavior. 

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Young people urged to find their cause at MLK celebration

Young people urged to find a cause to help humanity at ASU's MLK Celebration.
January 18, 2018

Annual ASU event marks civil-rights leader's legacy of servant leadership

Cindy McCain told a roomful of young people that even if they haven’t yet found the cause that moves them, they soon will.

“You are next. It’s your time to make the right decisions and live your life in the right way so that you too can help others,” she said.

McCain spoke at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Arizona State University on Thursday morning, where she won the 2018 Community Servant-Leadership Award for her work fighting human trafficking.

“With regard to vulnerable women and children, it’s an area that I’ve worked in for a long time. It is something that moved my heart at a young age,” she said.

She praised ASU for inspiring students to find their causes and to make a difference.

“Make sure you leave this planet a better place than when you stepped on it,” said McCain, who is co-chair of the Arizona Human Trafficking Council and serves on the McCain Institute’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council.

She had hoped to attend the event on ASU’s Tempe campus but instead addressed the crowd via Skype so she could stay at home with her husband, Sen. John McCain, who is recovering from brain surgery.

The breakfast celebration, which has been held for 33 years, had the theme of “Look deeper, speak louder” and included the winners of statewide poster and essay contests for K–12 students, several of whom read their essays. The event was just one of several sponsored by the MLK Committee at ASU, according to Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, vice president of cultural affairs at ASU who served as the emcee of the event.

Last Saturday, more than 300 ASU students spent a day of service on projects including repairing houses for refugees and gardening at a children’s group home. On Wednesday, thousands of young people participated in the “March on West” at ASU’s West campus — a tradition that dates to 1991 — that concluded with a reading of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Those words are very relevant for us today,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “And we see all of those young people look deeper, speak louder and have an understanding that they are part of the thread and the legacy of Dr. King.”

The winner of the 2018 Student Servant-Leadership Award is Evvan Morton (pictured at the top of this story), a graduate student in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and president of the Black Graduate Students Association. She hopes to work in government on science policy issues.

Morton said her research looks at policies that reduce carbon dioxide emissions in order to eliminate the negative effects of climate change.

“Many people see this research as saving the planet, but I am among those who see this as helping to save humanity,” she said. “Regardless if you believe in climate change or not, we collectively need clean water and clean air so that we can sustain the human race.

“In parallel, regardless if you like the color of my skin or not, we collectively need to fight against injustices so that we can sustain our humanity.”

The event also featured a performance by Kristina Wong, a writer, actor and filmmaker who is appearing at ASU Gammage this weekend. She walked through the crowd, flinging pieces of red felt shaped like hashtags as she talked about King’s legacy in the era of Twitter.

“I go on social media and put a hashtag and attach a word to it and I send it out,” she said. “This is how we dialogue with each other. I just tweeted and tweeted and I felt like I was really getting somewhere just lying on my couch creating this revolution.”

Until her account was blocked by several political figures.

“I realized this can’t be the revolution,” she said. “Dr. King did the revolution without Twitter. Maybe we should leave our houses, take to the streets and take action and not just lay on the couch and make demands on our phones.”

For details on the MLK Celebration, including winners, click here. For information on Kristina Wong's performance at ASU Gammage on Saturday, click here.


Top photo: Evvan Morton, a graduate student in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, won the Student Servant-Leadership Award at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at ASU on Thursday. She also is pursuing a certificate in Responsible Innovation in Science, Engineering and Society from ASU's School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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ASU, Helios all-in on improving Arizona's education system

January 18, 2018

Partnership to tackle state’s educational challenges by leveraging technology to find out what’s working, what isn’t

Arizona State University and the Helios Education Foundation announced on Thursday a historic partnership that will serve as a nexus for facilitating education research and practice in the state.

In the drum of Tempe’s Decision Theater, ASU President Michael Crow and Vince Roig, founding chairman of Helios Education Foundation, announced the creation of the Decision Center for Educational Excellence, Powered by Helios Education Foundation.

“ASU is proud to be joining with Helios Education Foundation on a partnership to tackle the serious challenges within Arizona’s education system,” Crow said. “We will pool our energy, our values and our ideas to create a tool that will allow people in school districts, community colleges and universities to make better decisions about how we prepare students for the next economy.”

Together, ASU and Helios will develop a first-of-its-kind computational model of Arizona’s pre-K through post-secondary education system, which will provide real-time feedback on how policies, practices, new innovations and other interventions would affect the state’s complex education system.

“There is no reason Arizona can’t be the highest achieving educational attainment state in the nation,” Crow said. “The only thing that keeps us from that is, do we work hard enough, do we innovate fast enough and do we use every possible tool we have at our disposal.”

The model will allow stakeholders to identify bright spots in the state’s education system that may be scalable system-wide. It will also help to identify interventions that could serve to improve performance in underperforming schools. Arizona currently ranks amongst the lowest in the nation for teacher pay, student-teacher ratio and spending per student.

“I have often said that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but none of us are entitled to our own facts,” Roig said. “It is our sincere hope that this project will bring a new level of data analysis and sophistication to our state’s efforts to improve education outcomes for all students.”

group watching man speak
Vince Roig, founding chairman of the board of Helios Education Foundation, speaks at the announcement of the Decision Center for Educational Excellence, Powered by Helios Education Foundation on Thursday in Tempe. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

The partnership will leverage ASU’s strengths in computational modeling, complex systems and innovation with Helios’ commitment to student success. The model will offer Arizona’s decision-makers, from school leaders to policymakers, the tools needed to make informed, effective, data-driven decisions that support a high-quality education for all Arizona students.

“Our state has set a postsecondary degree attainment goal, and many of us in this room are involved in developing strategies to help us reach that goal,” Roig said. “We have named our collective effort Achieve60AZAchieve60AZ is a coalition of more than 60 community, business, philanthropic and education organizations in Arizona whose goal is to generate greater awareness of the importance of increasing Arizona’s level of educational attainment while building support to improve college entry and completion; boost adult education and training; and fuel a pipeline of competitive talent for Arizona’s employers., and the work that will be done here — at the Decision Theater — will help us realize that goal.”

The Decision Center for Educational Excellence is being funded by a three-year, $2.5 million grant from the Helios Education Foundation and will be showcased out of the Decision Theater in downtown Tempe. The Decision Theater Network actively engages researchers and leaders to visualize solutions to complex problems using the latest computing and display technologies for data visualization, modeling and simulation.


Top photo: ASU President Michael Crow speaks at the announcement of the Decision Center for Educational Excellence, Powered by Helios Education Foundation on Thursday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Katherine Reedy

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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Saddling up for a different kind of school

January 12, 2018

ASU Prep Digital’s slate of online classes gives high schoolers room to move fast, to heal — and even to rope a few calves

The chickens are clucking and the sun has yet to emerge over the cotton fields around Coolidge, Arizona, but Hunter Kelley is already busy.

He has to collect the eggs, feed the horses, cattle and other livestock. He has a rope in his hand — he always has a rope in his hand — and big ideas about the future in his 15-year-old head. Studies have to wait for the tall, lean boy.

A world away in South Phoenix, a big day awaits Nalani Monenerkit at her family’s stucco bungalow. She’s turning 14. A large Spider-Man “Happy Birthday, Nalani” banner hangs over the kitchen table.

After breakfast, she’ll walk down the hall, its walls filled with her artwork and school portraits. The girl with the long dark hair will plant herself in a plain metal swivel chair and dive into her online coursework. She’ll be fixed there, in her T-shirt and jeans with the holes in the knees, at a modest desk in her small bedroom for hours without break.

Nalani’s ideas about the future are less crystalline. She’s still trying to figure out high school.

Three high schoolers walk arm-in-arm
Maya Rodriguez (center, with fellow freshmen Joshua Ramos and Anna Bacarella at ASU Prep Poly charter school in Mesa) is one of the students benefiting from the flexibility of combining online courses with those at her brick-and-mortar school. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU

In nearby Queen Creek, Maya Rodriguez is awake ahead of a tiring day. She readies for the trek from the big suburban house on a cul-de-sac to Phoenix Children’s Hospital. That’s where she attends routine occupational and physical therapy sessions. They are both her burden and her inspiration.

Maya, still just 14, has big ideas for her future, too, but to get there she needs a little help in school.

Enter ASU Prep Digital, a slate of online high school classes, a new initiative of ASU Preparatory Academy, innovative charter schools with an emphasis on providing premium environments for learning. Those are a bridge for Maya. They help her complete her studies when her medical condition wears her down in the classroom.

ASU Prep Digital, introduced in August, offers these young students and hundreds more like them choice. Independence. Flexibility. Futures. The online high school coursework enables students to take as many or as few classes as they want, when they want and where they need.

For some, that’s not always a traditional classroom.

Yet traditional classrooms sparked the idea. Arizona State University looked at its prep schools around the region, saw what worked and wondered why high schoolers couldn’t prepare for college just as well if they took the same courses online.

The prep academies were like a dandelion flower, its seeds drifting into the homes of Hunter, Maya, Nalani and hundreds more in Arizona. Seeds took root around the country and the world. The idea germinated in classrooms within seven Arizona school districts, places like Miami where rural school administrators struggle with threadbare resources.

For students, educators and ASU itself, ASU Prep Digital represents a nascent experiment, an education lab. The people running the program don’t like that word, experiment. It smacks of uncertainty. They prefer “prototype.” There is a strategy.

For them, the goal is to help reinvent learning in Arizona and grant students who may someday enroll in a university a better chance to succeed once they arrive.

For the youngsters enrolled in ASU Prep Digital, the experience resembles a tryout. Hunter, Maya and Nalani all say they hadn’t been certain what to expect.

Meeting different needs

A young man closes a corral gate with a horse inside
For 15-year-old Hunter Kelley (pictured here and at the top of this story) of Coolidge, Arizona, ASU Prep Digital offers flexibility, freeing up time for him to practice rodeo skills for the competitive circuit. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU

Each teenager discovered ASU Prep Digital differently. Each needed something different. But all three wanted something better than they had.

Hunter wanted a more flexible schedule. When his guidance counselor told him about ASU Prep Digital, he saw a perfect fit.

“This relieves all the stress because now I can do all my work ahead,” he explains.

That frees up time to drill at roping calves, riding bulls and other rodeo skills — skills that can earn big prize money.

Nalani needed a better place to learn. In junior high school, she wanted to learn at her own, faster pace. The teachers had to balance fast and slow learners.  Disruptions made matters worse.

“I felt I was being held back and it was moving at too slow a pace,” she says. “This is quieter. It’s more designed to work for an individual student.”

At first, when she and her mother attended a presentation, she had doubts about studying at home exclusively. She changed her mind.

“I was excited to do it. Some of my family was concerned about my social life,” Nalani says, but she has had plenty of time for both studies and friends.

Pace posed a different challenge for Maya. She lives with multiple sclerosis, and with it comes chronic fatigue, nerve pain and medicine that causes drowsiness.

“School was pretty hectic,” she says of her life at ASU Prep Poly High School, a charter school in Mesa. She placed in advanced classes but opted out. “I would have gotten too far behind.”

With online classes, she can pace herself, rest if necessary, and continue learning. When her Poly teachers told her she could mix her classes, it made perfect sense.

ASU, too, saw opportunity. The university could better serve driven students and those at resource-starved rural schools.

“We partner with superintendents to fill those gaps. For instance, it’s hard to find highly qualified physics teachers,” explains Amy McGrath, chief operating officer for ASU Prep Digital. 

The university brought her and CEO Julie Young on board last January, after they introduced a similar concept in Florida.

Janaya Sullivan (left) looks at the large monitor at the front of the class as students log into the ASU Prep Digital lesson in biology class at Miami Junior-Senior High School. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

In Miami, a mining town of around 2,000 people tucked in the mountains 80 miles east of Phoenix, Glen Lineberry discovered ASU’s efforts in meetings about addressing the state’s teacher-shortage crisis.

The principal of the Miami Junior-Senior High School jumped at the idea.

“A lot of the kids here come from pretty difficult situations,” Lineberry says.

One in five residents lives below the poverty line, U.S. Census Bureau data show. One in four never finished high school, and fewer than half went any farther.

Along U.S. 60, the boarded-up storefronts tell much of the story.

The school runs on less money than it had a decade ago, even after inflation, Lineberry says. His teachers explain history and economics with books written before 9/11 or the Great Recession.

ASU Digital Prep offered the chance to plug a gap — qualified teachers in biology and English at the sophomore level. Students take the certified ASU online classes, but with a teacher in the room “leading the class.” This is blended learning.

“The advantage for ASU is to have a friendly lab to work in," a real-life place to try it, Lineberry says.

What a day is like

It’s early afternoon on a recent Thursday and Hunter Kelley is cantering across a dirt field on a brown horse. He’s back at home after roping calves at the Lonestar Equestrian Center for two hours.

Hank, a gray, blue-eyed hound; and Zoe, a small black-and-white Toy Aussie, trot across the drive to greet him. Hunter is wearing a white straw Stetson hat, a blue button-down shirt, boots with spurs and jeans with gloves tucked in the back pocket.

He offers a tour of the 5-acre farm at the end of the gravel road. Here sits a bucking barrel. The Kelleys fashioned it from a 55-gallon drum, galvanized pipe and springs. After dinner, Hunter will mount the contraption and his brother will pump it to resemble the jerking of a bucking bull.

Around the corner lies a disused alfalfa field next to the cow pasture. The family drove recycled oil pipes into the ground to form the perimeter of a practice rodeo arena.

As he walks into the large house with vaulted ceilings and custom timber posts, Hunter is still twirling his practice rope. “I rope anything with a pulse. I’ll rope the chickens,” he says, showing a smile with braces.

After a ham and cheese sandwich, Hunter heads into his bedroom to study. It’s all wood and metal, in hues of brown and tan. Homage to the West.

A half-dozen cowboy hats hang on racks and elk horns. A painted wooden poster of John Wayne sits on the bedside table framing the gleaming rodeo belt buckles.

Hunter lays stomach-down on the bed, unfolds his laptop and begins today’s online lessons. He’s still wearing his hat, but that doesn’t stop him from being the only student in his leadership class to communicate by video. The other dozen students type their answers into a chat board. His instructor's voice over the computer praises him for courage.

The history lesson entails analyzing photos from the Battle of Wounded Knee, differentiating between the objective observation of bodies in a ditch and the subjective interpretation that they had been massacred and dumped.

Hunter runs through his exercises quickly, once calling a teacher on his cellphone to clarify an assignment. Hours later he’s done and planning an evening of rodeo, dinner, more roping on another dummy in the yard and an hour on the bucking barrel.

“At ASU they say: ‘Eat the frogs for breakfast,’ meaning, get the hardest assignments done first,” Hunter says. “You have to be self-disciplined to do online school.”

Nalani Monenerkit is.

It’s her birthday, but she’s not texting friends. Inside her home in South Phoenix, she’s at the small desk in her bedroom, working. Silently. For hours. Without pause.

Nalani Monenerkit writes on a whiteboard in her bedroom
Nalani Monenerkit, 14, updates her schedule on a whiteboard in her South Phoenix bedroom. She's taking six classes through ASU Prep Digital, and the pace suits her. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU

She’s taking biology, history, leadership, algebra, English and Spanish.

Above the tidy desk, a dry-erase board hangs on the wall. She has written the schedule for all her live sessions for the rest of the week.

Today is biology. The teacher plays a short documentary with David Attenborough explaining the sustainability of the planet. It’s the first time Nalani has joined this live lesson, which lasts about an hour.

The teacher directs the lesson from live streaming video, seen in one panel on the screen. The lesson is in the middle. Communication happens in a separate chat box.

After the video, Nalani answers a question about what she took away from the clip. She says Earth could sustain only 1.5 billion people living the lifestyle of the typical U.S. resident.

“Nalani, I like yours,” the teacher says. Nalani writes down all the questions on sticky notes before she answers them online.

In history, she’s asked to copy the PowerPoint text about European explorers. In handwriting that never strays over the lines, she complies, and slips the paper in a color-coded binder. No papers stick out.

And so it goes — math, English and so on, as a row of Cabbage Patch dolls looks down from a shelf overhead. The only sound is the hum of the small desk fan and gentle taps on the keyboard.

Nalani has more stamina than her grandmother, who retires to the bedroom across the hall. After homework, the two will chat, play with the dog or go to the park. No mention of birthday plans. She’ll hang out with friends on the weekend, she says.

“It’s not a damper on my social life,” Nalani says of studying at home full time. “I’m pretty happy with it.”

For Maya Rodriguez, most days are more structured. She takes only algebra and English online; her four other classes are with the other freshmen at Poly.

She’s out the door by 9 a.m. On this day, it's Halloween. Pumpkins line the porch behind spiderwebs and lawn decorations. It’s the kind of neighborhood where 100 kids might show up for trick-or-treat, says Maya’s mother, Grisele Rodriguez.

Today, Maya exchanges the obligatory ASU maroon uniform polo for an ensemble of black sweats and huge round glasses. She’s aiming for Edna Mode from “The Incredibles.” With her shoulder-length brown hair and round face, she pulls it off.

She shoulders her floral backpack and jumps in the blue Honda Fit for the five-minute drive to school.

A group of high schoolers hug
Maya Rodriguez (center) greets friends at ASU Prep Polytechnic in Mesa. The 14-year-old takes most of her classes in person, but ASU Prep Digital's algebra and English courses allow her to complete her studies when multiple sclerosis wears her down. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU

She walks through the glass doors and onto the colorful linoleum floors of Sacaton Hall. A flood of students arrives all at once, breaking the quiet. Some see Maya. A boy says hi. A girl with braids gives her a hug.

Then she’s off to Room 105, where 16 students scattered around square tables will be learning about DNA and mitosis, while Maya — as a “guest student” doing independent study — sits at a table near the corner and practices algebra.

She flips open her silver Chromebook and logs in. She shows another independent-study girl a picture on her iPhone explaining her costume. She has already taken off the bug-eye spectacles, even as other students show off and chatter about their costumes.

The class quiets down. Only the teacher’s voice and the hum of the air conditioner are audible. Maya is wrestling with an algebraic equation full of fractions.

She pulls out a green pen and scribbles formulas on the table, coated with a white dry-erase board. After a few cross-outs, erasures and pauses, the computer program ALEKS tells her she’s ready to move on.

So it goes for most of the 90-minute period. Occasionally Maya gets distracted by the biology lesson, or students discussing the cloning of dogs. Maya smiles quietly and giggles at some of their goofy comments, and then sweats out another equation.

Some mornings, especially after therapy, Maya is too fatigued for independent study. She catches up at home.

“I wasn’t too sure about it at first, because I thought online school would be full time and I didn’t know if I was OK staying home all day and not spending time with my friends,” she says. “Later I learned I could do a hybrid program, and I thought that was pretty cool.”

Maya is one of more than 900 students enrolled in ASU Prep Digital classes. The school launched in August and offers options to take all or some high school courses online.

In Miami, the idea is catching

“It’s going really well. The kids really like it,” Lineberry, the Miami principal, says. “They get that this is a big leap for us.”

He adds that “not every 15- or 16-year-old kid has the self-discipline,” and that leaving them alone with computers and no guidance would have been a mistake.

A group of four sophomores and freshmen all say they prefer the blended online classes.

“I like that you have access to it in and out of class and you have two sources for each class: your teacher and the web. I prefer when the teacher is there because they can answer a question right away,” says freshman Katelin Followill, 15.

Jayden Gross, 16; Riley Guthrey, 14; and Mycala Stapleton, 16; all nod in agreement.

All four say they are learning English and biology faster than they would in a regular class.

Future ambitions

In his bedroom window, Hunter keeps a notecard with a quote from John Wayne.

“Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway,” it reads.

Hunter is saddling up. ASU Prep Digital enables him to pursue his dream of being a champion rodeo competitor and running his own business, just to bring in steady income.

“With this, I can do my work on the road. I have a hotspot and I can do my work anywhere on a laptop,” he says. When he recently traveled to a rodeo contest in Phoenix, he finished his work in the car.

That’s the difference between perfecting his craft and not. He planned to compete in a national rodeo contest in Las Vegas in December.

If Hunter were still full time at Florence High School, “I’d have to miss out,” he says. Instead, he’s getting several hours of rodeo practice in a day and plans to take college-credit courses through ASU Prep Digital toward a business degree after high school.

Nalani hasn’t decided on her future yet. She knows she wants to go to ASU. The playbills on her wall show her love of theater. Her mother, Verna Monenerkit, says Nalani drives herself hard and has talked about a career as a lawyer, a fashion designer or both.

Nalani can’t articulate yet what ASU Prep Digital means to her. But she’s clear on what life would be without it.

“I probably would have been really bored and slacked on academics, and not really done too well,” she says. “I probably wouldn’t have been interested in ASU. Before, I didn’t really know where I wanted to go.”

Maya Rodriguez does physical therapy on an exercise ball in her living room
Online courses are a bridge for Maya Rodriguez of Queen Creek, allowing her to keep up while attending routine occupational and physical therapy sessions. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU

For Maya, it’s all about what’s possible now. “It means the world to me,” Maya says.

“It gives me the flexibility I need to make my education whole,” she adds. “If this works out the way I want it to, I’ll have time to do everything to learn, to heal, to learn how to help myself and to learn how to cope with everything.”

Inspired by her therapists at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Maya wants to be a children’s occupational therapist herself. Her visits are her salvation.

“My break is going to my appointments and doing my stretches and working out and having fun and seeing all the little kids doing the same things as me,” Maya says. “When you walk in there, your heart just melts to see all the babies.”

She can picture how her goal is attainable, even if she might have to take longer to get there.

But ASU Prep Digital is not exclusively focused on the self-disciplined, hard-driving kids like Maya, Nalani and Hunter. Administrators such as McGrath have plans, too.

Her goal is to sign up 15,000 enrollments by August 2018, a tenfold increase over the current target. A year later, she aims for 20,000.

In addition to the part- and full-time online students, ASU also wants to grow the ranks of blended classroom students.

The university is not just offering those “gap” classes to help struggling high schools bring in subject experts. ASU Prep Digital offers 50 high school classes, ranging from freshman to senior level, in courses that include Arabic and psychology.

ASU Prep Digital is supported with state revenues for full-time Arizona students and a reduced tuition rate for part-time Arizona students. Students enrolling outside of Arizona or internationally pay tuition. Private philanthropy has also provided support to assist with early-stage development. In addition, ASU offers 70 college-level courses for a fee.

“It’s kind of unprecedented,” McGrath says. “We want to drive kids to (college) where they can succeed, to advance when ready, instead of being confined by a traditional school.”

Success will be measured by hitting national benchmarks for evaluating subject mastery.

“We are trying to illustrate what the future of education looks like,” McGrath says.

At Miami High School, Lineberry credits the university.

“We are meeting expectations and beginning to work on how to expand our curriculum,” he says, noting that online classes won’t end Arizona’s chronic teacher shortage, but they help.

The four freshmen and sophomores all say they plan to go to college. This is a town where one in 10 do, according to census data. Their parents, many current and former copper mine employees, want better for them.

“I’d like (ASU) to continue with it and keep the program going so people behind us can have a better future. Learning is a big part of your life. Kids will have a better future if they learn,” says Miami sophomore Jayden Goss.  


Hunter Kelley swings a rope
Hunter Kelley twirls his practice rope. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU

Meeting students where they are

ASU Prep Digital is just one of the ways Arizona State University offers different approaches to college attainment.

Degree completion is a critical need in Arizona, where just 28 percent of adults age 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. ASU is working with the state in support of Achieve60AZ, an alliance of 60 community and business groups to make Arizona more competitive by supporting a goal of achieving 60 percent of adults, ages 25–64, with a professional certificate or college degree by 2030.

By 2020, 68 percent of all jobs in Arizona will require some form of postsecondary education, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Recognizing that flexibility is a top priority, ASU offers several pathways to a bachelor's degree.

Global Freshman Academy: Students can choose among 14 freshman-level courses, such as pre-calculus, English 101 and Introduction to Solar System Astronomy, tuition-free. If they pass a course, they can then choose to pay for ASU credit.

Transfer pathways: The Maricopa-ASU Pathways Program, or MAPP, specifies exactly which courses are needed for each major at ASU, so that community college students can avoid wasting time and money on classes that don’t apply to a degree. Students who meet the requirements are guaranteed admission. ASU also has transfer pathways with other Arizona community colleges, including tribal colleges, as well as institutions in California and other states.

Concurrent enrollment programs: ASU partners with the Maricopa Community Colleges in a program to accelerate the path to a bachelor of science in nursing, requiring only one semester beyond an associate degree.

Stay-in-place in rural Arizona: ASU partners with three institutions in rural areas to offer a handful of bachelor’s degrees on a community college campus: Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher, Arizona Western College in Yuma and Central Arizona College in Coolidge.

Fast-track degrees: For students who are looking to finish quickly, there are 18 degree options that can be completed in two and a half or three years.


Written by Sean Holstege. Top photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU. This story appeared in the January 2018 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

ASU events show Martin Luther King Jr.'s contemporary relevance

January 11, 2018

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a civil rights icon, a beacon of light during a dark time in American history, and a defender of the poor, downtrodden and underrepresented. But there was so much more to the man.

As the nation prepares for a national federal holiday on Monday marking King’s birthday, ASU will host a series of events on his life, legacy and examples of his servant leadership.  

For this combined Q&A, ASU Now reached out to a trio of university experts who will participate in some of these events to help contextualize the life of King: Matthew Delmont, a history professor and director of the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies; Keith D. Miller, an English professor and interim director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and Robert Spindler, university archivist at ASU Library.

Man in tie smiling
Matthew Delmont

Question: What would most people be surprised to know about King or his writings?

Delmont: Most people know MLK's most famous speech, "I Have a Dream," but most people don't realize that the speech was over sixteen minutes long and includes some great lines like, “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked, ‘insufficient funds.’”  

Because "I Have a Dream" is so famous, I think most people would be surprised at how many places MLK spoke outside of the South. He lent support to civil rights activists in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, and many other cities. The fact that he spoke at ASU in 1964 and that the speech went undiscovered for five decades is a good indication that we are are still learning new things about this iconic figure.

Finally, MLK is so iconic that it is easier to forget he did regular human things, like go on vacation to Jamaica with his wife in 1967. 

Spindler: Many would be unaware that Dr. King spoke at Arizona State University on June 3, 1964. The event occurred on a hot summer evening at Goodwin stadium, which was the home of ASU football from 1936 until 1958.

About 8,000 individuals attended the event organized and promoted not by ASU but by the local NAACP chapter and Phoenix churches. Event organizers ran a small box advertisement in the Arizona Republic and post-event news coverage was minimal. Most ASU students had already left campus for summer vacation. Today his ASU speech, “Religious Witness for Human Dignity,” can be heard online here.

Miller: Martin Luther King Jr. was a political radical who hated what he termed the “triple evils” of poverty, racism and war. Unlike so many people, including many of his admirers, he did not consider racism to be an evil that could be combatted separately from poverty and violence. That’s because he viewed the triple evils as intertwined. He conducted his final campaign in Memphis on behalf of city garbage workers, who were all African-Americans. The campaign was equally a campaign against racism and a campaign on behalf of a labor union (AFSCME) whose laborers were on strike against the city because they were paid starvation wages. 

The image of King as simply a champion of racial equality is false. His public image was sanitized in order to secure the passage of the King Holiday. It was sanitized again when a huge marble statue of him was erected in 2011 on the edge of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Near the statue, quotations from King are inscribed in marble blocks. These quotations articulate his general comments about love and justice, and he definitely made those comments and many others like them. But the inscribed quotations divorce him from the centuries-old, African-American political struggle against slavery, lynching, disfranchisement, rape, segregation and discrimination. 

He also hated the enormous Pentagon budget and explicitly supported Affirmative Action. Before he died, he told a staff member at his church that he wanted his next sermon to be titled “Why America May Go to Hell.” The national memory of King is, in many respects, way off the mark.

Man in yellow shirt
Keith D. Miller

Q: Which one of his works would be most indicative of who he was or what he thought?

Delmont: Like most people, I had never heard MLK's speech at ASU until the tape was rediscovered in 2014. The speech touches on many of the familiar themes in his work, and what stood out to me was his reference to the “myth of time.” He critiques those who say that with prayer and time racial injustice will work itself. He says, “Time is neutral, it can be used constructively or destructively” and goes on to say, “we may have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people who would bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama, but for the appealing silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say ‘wait on time.’”

He made a similar argument in the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963) and in one of his last speeches, “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” (March 31, 1968).

Spindler: The (ASU) recording is special because it occurred while the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was being filibustered in Congress and the state of Arizona still had separate and unequal public facilities laws on the books. At ASU, King called for an end to the delay on the federal legislation and also for passage or an Arizona public accommodations bill, and he called for an end to housing discrimination, noting that such discrimination also leads to unequal access to education, parks and other public services. If you skip to the end of the recording, you’ll hear King speak at the Tanner Chapel AME Church in downtown Phoenix earlier that day. This part of the recording is often overlooked. Here he greets attendees and especially a number of CORE workers. He said “… no section of this country can boast of clean hands in the area of brotherhood. We face the fact that racial injustice is a national problem. And I am convinced that one of the most urgent issues facing our nation at this time, is to work passionately and unrelentingly to solve this problem. And this problem is at bottom a moral problem.”

Miller: I think the tendency to valorize “I Have a Dream” also sanitizes him. That was not his most important oratory. His most crucial orations were part of a field of speeches, sermons, songs and prayers in Birmingham in April and May 1963. 

As Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Diane McWhorter explains, Birmingham was the climax of the entire civil rights movement. Without Birmingham, hardly anyone would have shown up at the March on Washington in August 1963 to hear “I Have a Dream.” Birmingham was the site of city officials using police dogs and fire hoses against young African-American children engaged in nonviolence and civil disobedience while being arrested and jailed. Capped by speeches given by numerous orators, rallies in Birmingham spurred demonstrators and turned the tide of public opinion. Charles Billups’ miracle march caused the firefighters to inexplicably drop their hoses — a great victory for nonviolence. Birmingham also prompted President Kennedy to finally propose a major civil rights act. As King’s close friend and big fundraiser Harry Belafonte explains, without a triumph in Birmingham, King (who was defeated in his previous campaign in Albany, Georgia) might have been finished as a civil rights leader.  

The most amazing feature of Birmingham occurred before King arrived. Between 1956 and 1963, local churches held civil rights rallies every Monday night, even though between 1956 and 1961, the national news media reported absolutely nothing about Birmingham, despite many (Ku Klux) Klan bombings of African-Americans' homes and churches. Somehow several hundred working-class people kept the faith that, despite the utter viciousness of their Klan-run city, they could, in some way or other, overthrow segregation. Birmingham is absolutely as important as the Battle of Gettysburg or any other turning point in American history since 1789.    

I wrote an entire book about King’s final speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” which is arguably his greatest address. In it, he argues that America still faces a tremendous racial crisis, and he aligns the ongoing strike in Memphis alongside the Exodus, the Protestant Reformation, and the Emancipation Proclamation. The fiftieth anniversary of the speech will occur in April 2018, and it will be interesting to see whether the national news media will notice the anniversary or will dishonor King by reducing him to a single speech — “I Have a Dream” — as though he died in 1963 instead of 1968.

Man with water bottle
Robert Spindler

Q: If MLK were still alive, how do you think he would address the racial challenges in America today?

Delmont: At the end of his life, MLK was organizing the Poor People’s Campaign and speaking against the war in Vietnam. It is important to remember that the majority of white Americans were not really on board with the goals of the civil rights movement or with MLK's views, especially not in the late 1960s. 

If MLK were still alive, I do not expect that he would be widely revered by most Americans. Still, I think he would be in support of Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, and his work to restart the Poor People's Campaign and a Moral Movement. I also expect he would support the Black Lives Matter activists, though there would likely tensions in terms of age and gender, as there were during the 1950s and 1960s. 

Finally, I think he would be deeply saddened that many of the same battles he fought against racism are still going on today, but he would still keep on fighting.

Spindler: I think he would be alarmed by the continuing violence directed at black men and women and the disproportionate incarceration of black men in America. King would have supported the Black Lives Matter movement. I believe he would have continued to call for non-violent but active resistance that precipitates rapid action and changes in public policy.

I also think he would call us out as individuals by asking what we can do to teach our children how to work within the system for constructive change toward a more compassionate and equal American society.

Miller: I would like to pose the question differently. Many of the protestors who generated the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s are still alive. Many of them are still activists campaigning in various ways — through their books, photography, music, art, midwifery, UN diplomacy, and marches — against racial inequity and other social inequities. 

Unlike textbook writers, who define the civil rights era as occurring from Rosa Parks in 1955 until King’s assassination in 1968, they assume that the movement did not end with King’s death. They think it is still going on, albeit with less attention from the national news media. Although no one can exactly summarize their various perspectives, it is safe to say that they generally believe that the civil rights movement has a lot more work to do because, obviously, white supremacist notions have far from disappeared.   

MLK Day events featuring our experts:

Matthew Delmont

The Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. as American Leader and Statesman
4–5 p.m. Jan. 17, Hayden Library, Tempe campus

The inaugural presentation of two signed books by Martin Luther King Jr., both added to the ASU archive in the first week of 2018. Autographed, first edition copies of “Strength to Love,” the 1963 collection of King's sermons, and “Stride Toward Freedom,” King's 1958 memoir of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, will be on view in Tempe’s Hayden Library from 4 to 5 pm on Jan. 17. At 4 p.m., Delmont will discuss the endurance of King's work, his legacy in Arizona, and his 1964 speech at ASU, less than a month before the signing of the Civil Rights Act.

Keith Miller

Miller will appear on AZ Horizon (AZ PBS) Monday as part of its MLK Day coverage. Miller, who is an expert on King’s rhetoric and the author of two books, including “Martin Luther King’s Biblical Epic: His Final Great Speech,” will discuss King’s life, work and writings.

Top photo: G. Homer Durham, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, an unidentified participant, Rev. Louis Eaton and Monsignor Robert Donahoe at Goodwin Stadium, Arizona State University. June 3, 1964. Photo courtesy of ASU Library.

Embracing wellness from A to Z

ASU's College of Nursing and Health Innovation joins Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation’s Wellness AtoZ program as a platinum employer

January 3, 2018

From eating well to working well, Arizona State University's College of Nursing and Health Innovation prides itself on the wellness culture it has cultivated over the years.

In 2017 alone, the college opened a dedicated wellness space for faculty and staff, held a challenge that resulted in more than 8,600 miles logged by participating employees in a two-month period and helped spur healthy holiday habits. Wellness AtoZ Download Full Image

Not one to rest on its laurels, the college is adding to its employee wellbeing repertoire by joining Wellness AtoZ, a program through the Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation, as a platinum employer.

“I see the Wellness AtoZ program as a way to enhance existing ASU Employee Wellness initiatives and an opportunity for CONHI to demonstrate its commitment to promoting healthy lifestyles,” said Amy Fitzgerald, senior director of community engagement for health and the liaison for the program.

She says not only does this program align with the initiatives the college is already encouraging, but it creates a way for the entire nursing and health innovation community to connect with those outside of the college.

“I believe engaging the community includes not only the public and our partner organizations, but also our own faculty, staff and students,” Fitzgerald said.

The aim of the initiative, which is open to employers large and small, is to help make Arizona and the Phoenix region known as a destination for healthy employees and employers.

“Our goal is to build a stronger, healthier community as the Wellness AtoZ initiative gains state and national recognition for Arizona, and we’re thrilled that ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation will be with us along the way” said Nicole Pepper, Wellness AtoZ coordinator.

The program has four main principles:

• EatWell: promote healthy food choices in the workplace

• LiveWell: inspire health and wellness at work

• PlayWell: promote physical activity and highlight the wonders of Arizona

• WorkWell: share best practices in worksite wellness

To be considered a platinum employer you have to adopt and implement all four principles in your workplace. Wellness AtoZ is free and can be used to complement existing workplace programs.

Right now, the College of Nursing and Health Innovation is the only ASU entity involved in Wellness AtoZ but that is something both Pepper and Fitzgerald believe could change in time.

“I’m hopeful evidence of the college’s successful incorporation of the Wellness AtoZ program will make a case for expanding the program university-wide,” Fitzgerald said.

Amanda Goodman

Media relations officer, College of Nursing and Health Innovation


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ASU pioneer’s career is one for the history books

Trailblazing ASU history professor retires after 45 years.
Retha Warnicke the first tenured female history professor at ASU.
December 21, 2017

Retha Warnicke broke ground in 1972 as the first tenured female professor in ASU's history department; she is set to retire Jan. 1

All that remains in Retha Warnicke’s Coor Hall office are empty bookshelves, a whiteboard sprinkled with yellow Post-it notes, a dusty unplugged printer and a few remnants on her desk: a phone, a stack of books, a makeup compact, a Morton’s salt shaker and a box of Kleenex. In the middle of the room sits a piece of luggage — a telltale sign that she is ready to vacate.

“I’m 78 years old, have had a long career and I’ve been a busy woman,” said Warnicke, a professor of history in Arizona State University's School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “I’ll miss it, but I’m ready … it’s time.”

Warnicke is considered the first tenured female history professor at ASU. With her retirement on Jan. 1, there will be no more trails to blaze, at least in the classroom.

Small potatoes

When Warnicke started teaching full time at ASU in 1972, the student body was 27,322, Frank Kush led the football team to a No. 13 national ranking, political activist Gloria Steinem spoke at the Tempe campus Memorial Union and The Carpenters played their distinct soft-rock sound to a packed house at ASU Gammage. 

“ASU was small potatoes then,” Warnicke recalled. “But one thing that hasn’t changed is that students are still thirsty for knowledge.”

The same could be said about Warnicke, who was born in a Kentucky hut with no electricity or running water. Her family later settled in Evansville, Indiana, where she says she received an excellent public education. However, her academic career was sparked by the 1953 biographical film “Young Bess,” starring Jean Simmons as Queen Elizabeth I.

“Jean Simmons was playing a strong, adolescent 14-year-old at a time when I was an adolescent 14-year-old,” Warnicke said. “It led me to read a textbook on English history and other historical novels.”

Warnicke said she hadn’t given college much thought until a librarian asked her which university she was going to attend.

“College? It never occurred to me to go to college," Warnicke said. "Our family had no means to pay, and I just thought it was out of the question.”

She eventually discovered that Indiana University gave several scholarships to high-achieving, low-income students. Warnicke fit the bill to a T, and she entered college in fall 1957.

Retha warnecke
Retha Warnicke with son Robert in 1969, the same year she began to lecture at ASU. Three years later, she was the first tenured female history professor at the university. Photo by Tim Rogers/Phoenix Gazette

Enter the professor

The scholarship was well-deserved; Warnicke turned out to be an exceptional student. So much so that in her senior year, instructor Leo F. Solt told Warnicke that she was going to apply to Harvard to become a history professor.

“I had no inclination to become a professor until he said those words,” Warnicke said. The impact of his certainty about her changed her life.

Warnicke vowed one day to do the same for others after she graduated from Harvard with a master’s degree (1963) and doctorate (1969) in history.

But that opportunity didn’t come until many decades later, and she was forced to take baby steps. Her first call of duty in departmental meetings was to keep the minutes. When she had a few more years under her belt, she made the bold decision to wear slacks to the office.

“That got everybody’s attention,” Warnicke said, laughing. So did the fact that after she gave birth to her daughter, she took off only one week of work and was back in time for finals preparation, returning to a standing ovation from her students.

Taking the lead

Almost 20 years after Warnicke was hired, she blazed another path as the first female to chair what was then ASU's history department. Once settled, Warnicke advocated for diversity on the staff and aimed to see more historians from minority backgrounds included in the department. She says her reasoning was simple: “Because we’re good, too.”

One of her first hires was Andrew Barnes in 1996, a tenured history professor from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. He said Warnicke worked hard at building consensus in a department that had many different players.

“There’s natural competition in any department but rather than argue things out, Retha would try to identify people or groups and what they needed and work it out,” Barnes said. “She had strong Midwestern values and struck me as someone who always took responsibility for her actions.”

Retha warnicke
Retha Warnicke, considered the first tenured female history professor at ASU, also blazed another path as the first female to chair what was then ASU's history department. She retires Jan. 1. This and top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

ASU history Associate Professor Susan Gray said not only did Warnicke promote the underrepresented, she protected them as well.

“I came to ASU from a very small and elite New England liberal arts college in 1991 and, frankly, I was really raw and at sea when I got here,” Gray said. “I really needed Retha’s guidance and support. She mentored me in terms of my tenure and made sure all of my ducks were in a row. She worked hard to make sure everybody got a square deal.”

Gray said Warnicke’s brand of feminism was the exact opposite of what 17th-century English women were taught by men: eyes down, mouth shut.

“That was not Retha’s style at all, and I think she dedicated her career at ASU to ensure that didn’t happen,” Gray said.

Mark Searle, ASU executive vice president and university provost, praised the difference Warnicke made at the university.

“Professor Warnicke led the way for women to become part of the professoriate. Today, nearly half of our faculty are female, and that started with women like Retha who made that possible,” said Searle. “Beyond her trailblazing efforts, Retha has been an outstanding scholar and citizen of the university. Her contributions to our students’ success, to her colleagues and to our community will endure. I wish her the very best in a well-deserved retirement.”

Farewell to an expert

In between her teaching and administrative duties, Warnicke managed to get married, have two children, write seven books on English history and the Tudor monarchy, publish approximately 50 articles and essays, participate in and chair several conferences, and complete nine doctoral candidates and 24 master’s degree candidates. And she never got tired of teaching.

Warnicke said her real joy came when students connected to the material.

“There is still a love for English history because even if we aren’t connected biologically to the people, we are constitutionally connected,” she said. “We have sheriffs, we have counties, part of our Bill of Rights and various forms of local and state government all come from England. We have so much in common.”

With Warnicke's retirement, ASU says goodbye to a world-class historian, Barnes said.

“I don’t think there are more than a handful of people who have a better command of English history between 1485 and 1603 than Retha Warnicke,” Barnes said. “She’s exceptional.”

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Holidays often mean separation from family for military members

How can the public support vets during holidays? "Just get out there and help."
December 19, 2017

'We don't graduate from homesickness,' said Chris Cadeau, veteran and ASU student

The holidays are upon us, and for many that means family gatherings, scrumptious meals, shopping extravaganzas and gift exchanges. The same does not hold true for some members of the military.

Service members on deployments and active duty often are separated from their loved ones, spending their holidays in a different culture with unfamiliar traditions, said Christopher Cadeau, a veteran and senior at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Cadeau authors “Veterans Voice,” a biweekly column for the Arizona Republic and hosts "Veterans Diaries" for KASC-The Blaze, ASU’s AM radio station. His message for the public this holiday season: “Just get out there and help someone. … As long as you’re helping someone, you’re on the right track.”

Man with beard and mustache
Christopher Cadeau

Question: Suicide rates for military/veterans are about much higher than the general population. One imagines the holidays could be tough for some people serving in the military?

Answer: The suicide rate for active-duty military and veterans compared to the general population is quite disturbing: 30 in 100,000 service members compared to 14 in 100,000 civilians, according to one study conducted in 2013. That number is said to have risen. As far as insight goes, I know nothing more than anyone else as to the concrete “why.”

Last year, just after Christmas, I lost a college friend, Gregg, to an overdose. Gregg was a patriot who suffered from the worst of what Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom had to offer. A year prior we worked through severe suicidal ideations. We’re finding that suicide requires a holistic treatment plan. … Because of this, things are going to continue to evolve slowly.

Q: Given that service members are often away on deployments or working on holidays, what’s that like for them and their families?

A: Being away from home during the holidays affects everyone differently. There’s no set prescribed amount of years or times deploying that make it any easier, either. I think that’s because we don’t graduate from homesickness. A death in the family back home while deployed is awful too. Some families are champions, though; they welcome the adversity.

What makes the holidays hard for me is the fact that I know exactly where everyone in my family is on certain days. This is my eleventh holiday away from home. Philosophically, I have thoughts about if I’m providing my daughter a meaningful upbringing because we are so far away from home holiday experiences. But we have a ton of support from friends here in Arizona that we enjoy too.

Q: Have you ever experienced a holiday overseas?

A: I didn’t have to spend a Christmas overseas: I always deployed for the summer holidays. We did have communication on most holidays, when the internet was up. On aircraft carriers, every unit that I was with, they tried to make it fun. They’d mass-produce steak and lobster for everyone. It was much a much-appreciated sentiment on an otherwise normal workday.

Honestly, it was the communication back home that was the most difficult. That’s when it was real. We can assimilate to our troops and coexist for months, but it all becomes vividly clear we’re not home once that communication starts or abruptly stops.

Q: What’s something the public can do for members of the military and veterans this holiday season?

A: Just get out there and help someone. Time has to be one of the largest misperceptions that I had coming into starting work at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center. I was an all-or-nothing guy, and I always thought that I didn’t have enough time to give. I forgot that I could create something that fit my schedule as well.

Twenty minutes a week is almost an hour and a half a month. It adds up. So instead of telling you where exactly you can go, I’ll just tell you that as long as you’re helping someone you’re on the right track. 


Top photo: Soldiers work together to unload Christmas trees at the Northwest Adventures Center at part of the "Trees for Troops" program on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU math lecturer named Volunteer of the Year for prison education

December 15, 2017

Every Thursday morning, Arizona State University mathematics lecturer Naala Brewer makes the one-hour plus drive to Florence prison.

“Sometimes I think — oh, I don’t know if I want to drive all the way out to Florence,” Brewer admitted. “But then I get there and by the end of the day I feel more energized. I feel like they really got something out of it.” Naala Brewer Photo by Rhonda Olson Download Full Image

Brewer volunteers as a mathematics instructor for the inmates in Florence prison. She started with a pre-calculus class of 15 men ranging in age from 20 to 70 — all different ethnicities, some with college degrees, some with GEDs, some with neither.

“Teaching the class is really enjoyable,” Brewer said. ”The students volunteer to be in that class, and they have to be on good behavior to qualify, so they are really motivated and so appreciative. They always thank me for coming.”

The ASU Prison Education Initiative has nearly 40 volunteer instructors who teach a variety of subjects including math, English, biology and theater.

Brewer was recently recognized as the Education Services Volunteer of the Year at the Florence Prison Complex.

“Naala Brewer was chosen for this distinguished award because she has shown dedication and diligence to the Education Unit at Florence Complex, the Department of Corrections, our instructional staff, and our students who have shown struggle and enthusiasm (yes, all in the same statements!) for math,” said Laura Metcalfe, correctional education program supervisor (CEPS) at the Arizona State Prison Complex — Florence.

“Most importantly, she has opened a door for a previously unknown desire for learning math that our students have not communicated before. It was not until we opened a pre-calculus class, with student suggestion, that the desire to learn and apply this level of math existed. The class is full and more students want to enroll. This is unheard of in our present environment,” Metcalfe added.

“Nearly three years ago, the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences joined this volunteer program, started by English, since it promotes educational access to a sector of our society which needs it the most,” said school director Al Boggess.

“Naala has eagerly jumped into this program with a zeal that has impressed me. She is highly deserving of this award and I am very proud of her accomplishments.”

Before she started volunteering at the prison, Brewer wasn’t sure how the students would do.

“I hoped that I could introduce them to math, and I didn’t realize they would actually move forward and have dreams of their own, for when they get out and what they’re going to do,” she said.

Brewer describes her inmate students as hardworking and appreciative: “I’ll give them a lot of homework to do sometimes and they get it all done. It’s almost like they don’t want a chance of not being in the class, so they make sure and do every single problem.”

ASU emeritus professor Floyd Downs recently donated hundreds of books to his alma mater. Brewer helped to funnel many of those books to the Florence prison, where the students have put them to good use.

“Some students will come up to me after class and say, when I get out I want to go and get my engineering degree. Or one of the older men said he wants to go back for his master's degree.”

One of her students has a college degree from ASU, and used to be an adviser for 401K accounts.

“He was curious how much he would need to earn to make a living, pay his rent, buy his food and pay utilities, and then also how much he would need to save so it would go all the way through retirement,” Brewer explained. “So he used some of the donated books and came up with a formula and is writing a book for an 8-week financial management course.”

Another student was building three-sided equilateral dice. He noticed that there was always a constant relationship between the perimeter of the triangle and the distance from one of the vertices to the base.

Brewer at first thought it was any triangle. She said to her student, “Let’s try to prove this.”

The student insisted, “It’s an equilateral triangle.”

They worked it through and did the proof. The student, whose last name was Hollenback, completed the proof in front of the class. They were all excited and said, “You should call it the Hollenback constant!”

She encouraged Hollenback to write up his theorem so she could help him submit it to the Southwest Undergraduate Math Conference this spring.

The students are looking forward to the future, and Brewer tries to give them a lot of encouragement.

“I give them little anecdotes … 'Here’s something that I may have struggled with, but I came out on top because I didn’t give up. I kept working and kept practicing.'”

One thing she learned in training — be careful what you promise or say you are going to do, because you really need to follow through. You may be the only person in that student’s life that they have ever known that is dependable and follows their word.

“I try to make sure that if I promise them that I’m going to do something next week, that come hell or high water, I make sure I do that,” Brewer said. “It has made me a better person even in my everyday life. I try to watch what I say. And if I say something, that’s my word and I follow through with it.”

Brewer feels that teaching at the prison has been extremely rewarding, and would encourage others to consider volunteering.

“I actually get more out of it then I put into it. I feel like I give, and then I always get more back after I’ve done it."

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences


National Academy of Inventors announces pair of ASU researchers as 2017 fellows

December 13, 2017

Stephen Albert Johnston and Deirdre R. Meldrum of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University have been named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI), the organization recently announced.

Election to NAI Fellow status is the highest professional accolade bestowed solely to academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and welfare of society.  Stephen Albert Johnston and Deirdre R. Meldrum of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University have been named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors, the organization announced. Download Full Image

“The election of Drs. Johnston and Meldrum as NAI Fellows is a testament to the quality of far-reaching impact of the groundbreaking research taking place at ASU,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at Arizona State University. “We hope that our work will continue to serve communities and change lives around the world.”

Johnston is director of the Biodesign Center for Innovations in Medicine, a professor in the School of Life Sciences and CEO of Calviri, Inc., an ASU startup.  

Johnston has experience in basic science, notably first cloning the Gal4 gene, showing that proteins have separable functional domains and discovering the AAA proteins and their role in transcription.

His focus now is in translational sciences and technology development.

Stephen Albert Johnston

“I think inventors are the most important drivers of the good things for humanity,” Johnston said. “So, I am honored that the NAI would include me in their ranks.”

In 2012, for example, Johnston, along with fellow ASU professor and co-founder Neal Woodbury, spun out a startup, HealthTell, built around a new liquid-biopsy technology.

In 2017, the Chinese company iCarbonX formed an alliance with HealthTell to make its ImmunoSignature technology available in China, Singapore and Taiwan. The innovation is part of $400 million international Digital Life Alliance aimed at producing a personalized health guide for consumers. 

From just a single drop of blood, this diagnostic powerhouse can detect diseases that involve an immune response (autoimmune, cancer, infectious disease, metabolic and neurologic diseases). 

In his career, Johnston was also co-inventor/innovator of pathogen derived resistance, endosperm balance number, organelle transformation, the gene gun, genetic immunization, TEV protease system, expression library immunization, linear expression elements, synbody therapeutics, immunosignature diagnostics and neoantigen preventative cancer vaccines. 

Johnston is author of over 170 journal articles, has over 25 patents and has garnered approximately $95M in grant support including large programs from DARPA, NIAID and NHLBI. He was named Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year in 2016.

Deirdre R. Meldrum

Meldrum is director of the Biodesign Center for Biosignatures Discovery Automation, distinguished professor of biosignatures discovery, professor of electrical engineering, and previous dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. Meldrum was also director and principal investigator of the NIH Center of Excellence in Genomic Sciences (CEGS): Microscale Life Sciences Center (MLSC). 

She is known for her ability to integrate multiple disciplines, including bioengineering, biomaterials, nanotechnology, electrical, chemical, and computer science engineering with fields such as biology, genomics, proteomics and single cell analyses to create new paths of discovery.

“An important result of invention is the societal impact achieved through commercialization,” Meldrum said. “Our inventions include new technologies and sensors for live single cell analysis that we plan to commercialize to positively impact human health as well as discoveries in the oceans. It is a real honor to join other creative innovators as a fellow of the NAI.”

She was a member for two terms of the National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research, U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and is currently a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Department of Energy (DOE) Joint Genome Institute (JGI) and vice-chair of the Northern Arizona Healthcare Foundation. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

Meldrum is author of 231 peer-reviewed publications including 122 journal articles, has 35 patents including 7 issued and has been awarded over $80M in external grant funding from the NIH, NSF and the Keck Foundation.

Johnston and Meldrum join several other ASU faculty, including Charles Arntzen, Bruce Rittmann, Stuart Lindsay, Michael Kozicki, and Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan who have been equally honored as NAI Fellows in recent years, helping to further raise ASU’s reputation as a leader in innovation. In addition, in another strategic effort to foster ASU innovation throughout its entrepreneurial ecosystem, ASU recently formed a NAI Chapter earlier this year. Launched in March 2017, it recognizes inventors and promotes innovation across all disciplines of the institution. 

Those elected to the rank of NAI Fellow were nominated by their peers for outstanding contributions to innovation in areas such as patents and licensing, innovative discovery and technology, significant impact on society, and support and enhancement of innovation.

On April 5, 2018, the 2017 NAI Fellows will be inducted as part of the Seventh Annual NAI Conference of the National Academy of Inventors at the Mayflower Hotel, Autograph Collection in Washington, D.C. Andrew H. Hirshfeld, U.S. Commissioner for Patents, will provide the keynote address for the induction ceremony.

The 2017 NAI Fellows will also be highlighted with a full-page announcement in The Chronicle of Higher Education Jan. 19, 2018 issue, and in an upcoming issue of Science and Technology and Innovation, journal of the National Academy of Inventors.

The 2017 class of NAI Fellows was evaluated by the 2017 Selection Committee, which included 18 members comprising NAI Fellows, U.S. National Medals recipients, National Inventors Hall of Fame inductees, members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and senior officials from the USPTO, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Association of American Universities, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Association of University Technology Managers, and National Inventors Hall of Fame, among other organizations. 

With the election of the 2017 class there are now 912 NAI Fellows, representing over 250 research universities and governmental and non-profit research institutes. The 2017 fellows are named inventors on nearly 6,000 issued U.S. patents, bringing the collective patents held by all NAI Fellows to more than 32,000 issued U.S. patents.

Included among all NAI Fellows are more than 100 presidents and senior leaders of research universities and non-profit research institutes; 439 members of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; 36 inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame; 52 recipients of the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation and U.S. National Medal of Science; 29 Nobel Laureates; 261 AAAS Fellows; 168 IEEE Fellows; and 142 Fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, among other awards and distinctions.