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Testing evidence kits sends positive message to rape victims, ASU expert says

ASU expert says state effort to clear rape kit backlog sends positive message.
January 11, 2017

Gov. Doug Ducey vows to allocate money to ease backlog of unexamined evidence

Gov. Doug Ducey promised that when he releases his budget Friday, he'll allocate enough money to clear the backlog of untested rape kits in Arizona.

An Arizona State University expert on sexual assault believes that will send a positive message to rape victims.

portrait of ASU professor Cassia Spohn

Cassia Spohn (left), director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University, recently wrote an article about untested sexual-assault kits for the Journal of Criminology and Public Policy.

“It’s a complicated issue, and the reasons vary from one jurisdiction to another,” said Spohn, who also is a Foundation Professor and author of “Policing and Prosecuting Sexual Assault: Inside the Criminal Justice System,” which was published in 2014.

Evidence kitsWhen a sexual assault is reported to police, the victim undergoes an exhaustive examination of the entire body, with swabs and photographs, for DNA evidence left behind by the attacker—a process that takes four to six hours to complete. That evidence is preserved in a sexual assault evidence kit. are sitting untested across the country. The nonprofit Joyful Heart Foundation tracks the issue and estimates that there are hundreds of thousands untested rape kits nationwide.

Last year, Ducey created a task force to study the issue, which he admitted was so bad that no one knew how many kits were untested. In September, the Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit Task Force released a report, revealing that there were more than 6,400 unsubmitted sex crimes evidence kits across Arizona. During the year, several police departments received grants to clear the backlog, and the group estimated that by the time the grant money ran out, there would be 2,000 untested kits remaining.

During his State of State speech Monday, Ducey said that the testing resulted in two indictments and that he would ask the Legislature to fund the testing of the remaining backlog, as well as future evidence kits.

Spohn discussed why that’s important:

Question: Why do so many jurisdictions have large backlogs of untested rape kits?

Answer: One reason is a lack of laboratories to do the testing, and a lack of resources.

Also, some jurisdictions have adopted policies where they triage the testing of kits, so those in which the victims and suspects are strangers are prioritized. But those are not the cases that occur with the most frequency in the U.S. The typical sexual assault that is reported to the police involve a victim and a suspect who are acquainted in some way. So if those are not the priority, a lot of kits won’t be tested.

Q: Are there good reasons for testing kits involving victims and suspects who are not strangers?

A: I think there are. For example, testing can confirm that there was sexual contact. The suspect might claim there was no contact.

It can confirm the identity of the suspect, and it could possibly reveal that the suspect has committed crimes like this in the past.

Q: And what about the victims?

A: The victims who report the crime to police undergo what is by all accounts a degrading forensic medical exam only to be told that their kit sat on the shelf in a police evidence room and was never sent for testing. That says “we don’t think this case is important and we’re not going to do all we can to ensure that the suspect is brought to justice.”

Testing the kit sends a message that “We realize this exam was difficult, and we appreciate that face and we’re going to take it seriously.”

Q: Is there more awareness about this issue?

A: There’s clearly a recognition in the Department of Justice that this is a problem. The department has established a grant program that allows jurisdictions to apply for federal funding to reduce their backlog. 

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Tempe names ASU’s Lester as MLK award recipient

City of Tempe announces ASU's Neal Lester as MLK award winner.
Award honors Lester's commitment to inclusion, diversity.
January 10, 2017

ASU professor Neal A. Lester has won several awards and recognitions throughout his academic career, and on Martin Luther King Jr. Day he’ll receive one that ranks right near the top.

The city of Tempe has announced that Lester will be given an MLK Diversity Award by the municipality’s Human Relations Commission for his commitment to diversity.

“Dr. Lester’s work in race relations, empathy and workplace training creates a more welcoming and inclusive environment, not only at ASU but throughout our Tempe community,” said Ginny Belousek, city of Tempe diversity manager. “His belief that culture and difference should be acknowledged, valued and celebrated is a shared vision with our city.”

The annual award is given to individuals, groups or organizations that best exemplify the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Lester, who is an ASU Foundation Professor of English and the founding director of the Project Humanities initiative, is one of nine recipients who will be honored at a Jan. 16 breakfast at the Tempe Marriott at the Buttes Resort.

Lester founded Project Humanities in 2010 at a time when humanities programs were being cut from school curricula. Since then he has demonstrated the rapidly growing success and impact of the ASU initiative with cultural workshops, community outreach and bias training in the workplace.

Lester spoke to ASU Now about his views on diversity and race, and how there’s still much work to be done in Arizona.

Question: Your most recent award is named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Do you have a strong memory of King, or is there a speech or action he took that resonates with you?

Answer: I was a young child during the height of Dr. King’s activism work. I do, however, remember people around me being very sad when he was shot and killed. I have taught his speeches over the years, and his messages of equality, equity still resonate today in this country, particularly when we try and figure out the best way to resist oppressions non-violently.

There’s an urgency that people don’t always read when talking about Rev. King’s life work and the legacy he left behind.

Many have a tendency to think, “Change comes slowly.” Then I ask them to look at his “I Have a Dream” speech, and we then talk about the urgency and quiet impatience in his words about waiting too long and being tired of being treated like second-class citizens.

Yes, I am most taken by the urgency that we don’t often read when we look at his work.

Q: The MLK holiday evokes particularly strong feelings in Arizona given its history: The holiday was rescinded in 1987, but reinstituted in 1992. How far have we come as a state in terms of race and diversity since then?

A: I grew up in the Southeast and did most of my studies in the South, including graduate school in Nashville.

This whole notion of coming to the Southwest was interesting to me because when I made the decision to leave the Deep South to come to Arizona in 1997, people kept asking, “Why do you want to go to Arizona? They don’t even want to honor the MLK holiday.”

I know that’s one of those images and heritages that’s hard to shake off like Alabama and the firehoses and dogs attacking protesters and George Wallace standing in the door at the University of Alabama to prevent racial integration of the very school at which I was first tenured.

In my first KJZZ radio interview upon arriving in Arizona and being asked to talk about being black in this state, I described my experience as “bringing moisture to the desert” because it was a very different place than Birmingham, Alabama, where there was and is a greater black presence and also a greater African-American presence in terms of those in government and other policymaking positions.

I was pleasantly surprised to find here, however, a vibrant and growing Black Theatre Troupe, something I hadn’t seen in Birmingham.

In my classroom, I had a bizarre set of questions coming to me from white students at ASU who would say the things that most people would never dare to say in Alabama. For example, a white student commented with grave concern that she “didn’t know how she would do in my African-American literature survey course because she hadn’t been around a lot of black people.”

That was very strange to me on a couple of levels, and so there’s still this narrative today, which is, “Why are you still in Arizona since there are so few black people there? There are brown people, but not black people.”

As to how much progress blacks in Arizona have made, I’m not one to oversimplify or to uncomplicate: I think we can’t look at one group without looking at another group in terms of social justice issues related to black and brown folks in Arizona. We have to talk about racial profiling, and we have to talk about immigration.

When I first came here, I distinctly recall an Arizona Republic headline reading something to the effect of, “If you have brown skin and speak Spanish, your civil rights can be violated.”

So while there have been no dogs biting and firehoses put on people, brown and black and LGBTQ people are still being treated inhumanely and discriminated against.

This, sadly, is not just a local or regional problem. The whole sense of divisiveness and raw and unadorned incivility and unkindness underscores a national concern, especially now as we move into a new presidential term. 

Q: What is your definition of the word “diversity,” and how should it be applied?

A: Rather than define it, I’d rather approach the notion of “diversity” in a different way.

Diversity is such as loaded word that often translates to people in different ways. Then it translates first to race and then gender.

To me, what is more meaningful than cultural potlucks, heritage months and diversity weeks is to talk about inclusion — the ways in which we all have unconscious biases and how those biases and systems of privilege play out every day and everywhere.

If we could find our shared humanity and start looking through the lens of what our award-winning Project Humanities university initiative calls Humanity 101 — compassion, empathy, forgiveness, integrity, kindness, respect and self-reflection — then there’d be no need to have a focus on “diversity” per se because people would be respecting each other whether you are able-bodied, able-minded, atheist, trans* or cis*, or overweight.

To me, the notion of diversity is not just one or two things, it’s about looking at our identities from an intersectional perspective.

We can’t talk about race without talking about gender, class and religion, for instance.

That’s what to me has been missing from the more traditional conversations about diversity.

When we talk about diversity, it’s not ever just about race or just about one part of our intersecting identities. When we talk about diversity, we have to recognize that we’re all members of multiple communities simultaneously, and it depends which community needs our attention at the time.

It means we don’t exist as a single thing.

I think this line of thinking opens up the conversation to where non-people of color don’t feel dumped on and then people of color don’t feel like we have to continually educate.

There is a thing I have come to call “racial fatigue.” Over the past couple of years with police shootings and other racially charged happenings in this country, I teach about race in my classes, I write and publish about race, I live in a society where race is brought up, but every single moment of my life is not focused on race.

When I sit down to dinner, I don’t focus on race. Anything that’s on the television, anything on a magazine or the radio can, however, signal race, so there’s no reason to avoid conversations about race, sexuality or gender, or think our social problems around these various systems of privilege go away if we stop talking about them and thinking about them.

Finally, I’ll say I get discouraged when I hear people say we talk too much about race; as though somehow not talking about race, it would make the problem go away.

That’s like saying if we stop talking about our cancer, somehow it will go away. I don’t measure progress in terms of how many heritage months we have, but how people are treated, even when you’re sitting at the proverbial table of opportunity.

Q: The world has definitely become a more diverse place, but it seems as if there’s a push and pull, one step forward, two steps back feel to things. Do you see it that way? 

A: We have come to understand diversity in more complex ways, so we don’t necessarily think of diversity in one way.

If we were to say, “There’s been no progress,” which by the way, I would never say, I would say, “That’s not true.” We don’t have the same Jim Crow laws, but we still have the segregation economically and racially in Arizona and across the country.

We don’t have bodies hanging from trees as in Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” but we certainly have a disproportionate number of black males in prison and being shot in the streets unarmed than we do other folks.

Yeah, we’ve come a long way, but we can’t pat ourselves on the backs and say there’s still not a lot of hard work to be done. That’s what people still need to recognize. We’ve still got to work ahead of us, and that’s where my emotional and political fatigue comes in.

Q: You have this gift for getting all the parties to listen without pulling any punches in your message. What is it that you want people to come away with whenever you are asked to speak on diversity?

A: I actually do try to pull punches, but not in a way that’s shocking. I try to get people to think in ways they haven’t thought before.

For example, if we’re talking about the N-word, I want to get people to recognize that if you change the ending of the word, you do not actually change the meaning of that word. So my punch comes in pointing out that the “a” version of the N-word was used in Minstrel songs, in children’s books, in selling commercial ads.

That’s the punch, but it comes from having done the research. I don’t come in and try and punch people by lecturing or sermonizing to them. I try instead to engage them to help move them toward the same kind of discovery I experience when digging beneath the surface of these complex topic and ideas.

I say, “Here’s what I’ve been doing, let me show you what I’ve found. Is there anything you’ve learned now that you’ve heard what I have to offer?”

So, I’m always looking for ways to start a critical conversation with people from the point of what they already know, then go into what they want to know, then ask if they’ve learned anything … just one thing from their experience with me in these formal settings in the process.

I always try to come away asking, “Well, what did I learn from the same experience about myself, about other people, and about the subject I am presenting?”

That’s why teaching is so exciting to me, because even though I have a general script or text to teach, I never know how the audience is going to react. In the end, this diversity work reminds me daily that “we actually are more alike than we are unalike,” as poet Maya Angelou has pronounced.  

ASU students collaborate on solutions for successful inmate re-entry

January 10, 2017

For juveniles who have been serving a life sentence, release from prison is a welcome but daunting day.

“Often they are let go with a packet of information, much out of date or not easily understood,” said Shira Zias, a graduate student in the Arizona State University School of Social Work. “Lawyers are focused on client defense and wouldn’t necessarily have the in-depth knowledge or time to help research resources for clients.” Justice project student team A group of students hopes to help further efforts of the Arizona Justice Project by putting plans and support in place for people who are being released from prison. Photo by Andres Guerra Luz/ASU Download Full Image

Zias is part of a collaborative initiative to better prepare people upon release from prison. The goal is to stop what can be a revolving door.

“Going through their files, we can see from a social work perspective what wasn’t there that was needed, and see what could have been done to prevent the situation,” said Husain Lateef, a doctoral student in the School of Social Work, who is also serving as the field instructor for the project. “Our role is, in the event the individual is granted parole, to develop a re-entry plan so that the pitfalls that created the situation don’t happen again.”

Building on an existing partnership between the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Arizona Justice Project, this year social work students joined a team of post-conviction lawyers to bridge the gap between release and re-entry.

The project was initiated by Jose Ashford, professor in the School of Social Work and director of the Office of Offender Diversion and Sentencing Solutions which employs research-practice collaborations to promote reform in the treatment of offenders in the justice system.

“These are people who have spent years being told what to do and when. They don’t even have control over when to turn on and off the lights,” said Rachel Williams, who is pursuing a degree in public service and public policy with a concentration in social services delivery.

The team has several clients who are incarcerated, plus others who have been released.

“One of the biggest challenges is formulating a realistic plan,” said Graham Reilly, also a social work student. “We help them put together a plan that fits their individual challenges and needs.”

Without plans that realistically address potential risk factors, it is unlikely that the Arizona Board of Clemency would consider the inmates suitable candidates for release.

Students learn to use holistic principles of defense and develop evidence-based support plans, along with a strategy for longer term community support.

“Holistic defense is relatively new in social work,” Ashford said. “This project promotes interprofessional education in post-conviction areas of law, which is new to the field of indigent-legal defense.”

Lateef noted that every discipline has its own culture, “but those conversations help to make a better situation for the client involved. We are learning from each other.”

The team evaluates each client’s situation, including goals such as employment and housing. They are also the ‘eyes and ears’ for clients in prison, helping to research housing options, social services and provide a support system for those who may not have family support in place.

“They are intelligent people but they have lost their confidence,” Reilly added, noting one client who was having trouble with employment.

It was a simple matter of transportation.

“You don’t think about the fact that someone in prison for more than 40 years might not know how to ride the bus,” Reilly said. “I offered to come with her and that made all the difference.”

The team recently had the chance to put their plan to the test at a client’s clemency hearings. He had been in prison for 43 years, convicted of a murder that was committed by someone else.

His case was representative of those that Arizona Justice Project seeks out with a mission of “exonerating the innocent and correcting cases of manifest injustice in the criminal justice system.”

“We met with the client and using a bio-psycho-social approach, worked to figure out not only more about his social history but also identifying the things he would need if he were granted parole,” Lateef added.

“This was the first time the board had seen a re-entry team, so there were a lot of questions,” Lateef said. “Overall, the feedback was very exciting—and they seemed to be excited that we would be helping with something that people need.”

“Their expertise, and professor Ashford’s guidance, is invaluable and has been the missing piece of our work for a long time,” said Katie Puzauskas, supervising legal clinic attorney for the Post-Conviction Clinic in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

The group said that in this case their client was fortunate to have a lot of support. He was granted house arrest. The re-entry team will continue to work with him.

“This outcome probably would not have been achieved without the hard work of our students on designing a plan for release that assuaged the Board’s concerns about the offender’s future risk to the community,” Ashford said.

To ensure continuity of services and reduce the learning gap that can happen, students starting their internship next semester will meet with interns this semester so that they can get familiar with the process. Current interns will also stay on for the next semester in a rolling format.  

“I would like to see this expand beyond prisons,” Reilly said. “For example, re-entry resources in jails are minimal, but rather than just sending people back to the same neighborhood with the same challenges, we can put the tools in place to make them more successful.”

Lateef added, “You see the things on paper. Then you meet the person and spend hours together and realize that this person is in many ways just like you, but has had been dealt some bad cards. It is a possibility for anybody. You realize that we share a common humanity.”

Heather Beshears

director marketing and communications, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Changemakers to be honored at ASU MLK Jr. Celebration

January 9, 2017

One ASU student and two influential Arizonans were selected as the 2017 Community Servant-Leadership awardees as a part of Arizona State University's 32nd annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration for their influential work in the community.

Amber Poleviyuma and Lattie and Elva Coor will be honored at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration on Jan. 19 at the ASU Polytechnic campus. Lattie and Elva Coor Community Servant-Leadership Awardees Elva and Lattie Coor will be honored at the ASU Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Celebration on Jan. 19 for their contributions to the community. Download Full Image

The awardees were selected by the ASU MLK Jr. Committee for their servant leadership, for their philosophy of serving first, then leading as a way of expanding service.

The breakfast will also honor 24 students in grades K-12 who were selected from more than 1,300 entries, as winners of the committee’s s annual statewide children’s essay and drawing contest

Contest participants were required to either create a poster illustrating their definition of leadership through service, or write an essay or poem about an individual who personifies that definition. This year’s theme is "Be the face of change."

Poleviyuma, the Student Servant-Leadership awardee, is a community health student at ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

“The teachings of my grandpa and my mom instilled the values that I have that make me want to give back and contribute to the community,” she said.

Inspired by her family, members of the Hopi tribe in northern Arizona’s Moenkopi village, Poleviyuma said she aims to use her research to affect policy. In accordance with the Native American values of community and selflessness, she hopes to make a difference in the community and expand communication and understanding across racial and ethnic barriers.

“Even though we don’t have a lot of money and we’re from a place that doesn’t have a lot of resources, we still find ways to give back to each other,” Poleviyuma said.

Although she is interested in addressing a wide variety of issues including environmental, government and health issues, she said she is especially focused on reducing the number of youth suicides on Native American reservations through culturally relevant preventative programming. In 2014, Poleviyuma worked with the Center for American Indian Resilience to conduct research for the Native American Cancer Prevention project, which explored the experiences of Native American cancer patients with health-care providers. She helped found Native Americans for Academics, Success and Unity, an ASU club meant to help Native American students reach their academic goals while engaging with the community.

“That was a way to help with representation and give Native students here on campus a place to be and ways to give back,” she said.

Poleviyuma also worked with the ASU Tribal Nations Tour to reach out to Native American students throughout the state and inspire these students to pursue a college degree upon completing high school. She said Martin Luther King Jr. stood up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves, and she hopes to do the same.

Poleviyuma says she leads by example to create greater understanding among different peoples, and in this way, hopes to show that these issues aren’t just Native American issues — they’re shared issues.

Native Arizonans Lattie and Elva Coor, the Community Servant-Leadership awardees, have a rich tradition of giving back to the community in a variety of leadership roles. Lattie F. Coor is President-Emeritus and Ernest W. McFarland Arizona Heritage Chair in Leadership and Public Policy at ASU, and chairman and CEO of the Center for the Future of Arizona.

“All of us have an opportunity to bring attention to these issues and then speak out on them,” he said.

Growing up, Coor lived in a diverse area in Avondale, which inspired him to become a champion for equal access to education, regardless of socioeconomic or racial background. 

“The world as I knew it had this rich array of people. ... A significant number were low-income,” Coor said. “I had the privilege of seeing there, what education could do for their lives.”

Throughout his adult life, Coor worked to make the equal opportunity he envisioned into a reality and has received many awards for his work thus far. For the past 26 years, he has served as a university president, first at the University of Vermont from 1976 to 1989, then at Arizona State University from 1990 to 2002. During his time at ASU, he hoped to make the university’s population reflect the diversity within the community.

“There were major ways to change and shape it for the future, and it was that, above all, being in a university and being able to help it as it grew and developed, is what caused me to devote my whole career to that,” Coor said.

In 2002, he founded the Center for the Future of Arizona, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization designed to research and act upon issues relating to the state’s economy, quality of life and civic health. One of the organization’s main focuses is education, and includes a program called SpeakOut AZ that was designed to increase civic participation throughout Arizona and include civics curriculum in schools. 

SpeakOut AZ was created by Coor’s wife and co-awardee, Elva Coor, who has held roles in government and political activities at the local, state and national level, as she seeks to increase community participation in government. Elva Coor also founded a business, which she managed for 20 years, and the Arizona chapter of the National Association of Business Women.

In addition to founding the President’s Community Enrichment Programs at ASU, which aims to unite the university with its surrounding community, Elva Coor has also served on boards and volunteered with many organizations. She also co-founded Building Great Communities, and founded an organization meant to increase the graduation rate of African-American students at ASU.

She said her years of working in the political arena, business, academia and nonprofits led her to value a well-informed and engaged electorate. 

“The success of our great country depends upon providing every child with a good start and great education that prepares them for college, careers and their lives,” Coor said. “Our political system is dependent upon that kind of success, and is dependent upon each of us being involved to help millions of people emerge from poverty.”

For more information about the 2017 MLK Jr. Committee and events celebrating Dr. King’s legacy, go to asu.edu/mlk.

Marketing and Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage


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Ducey calls on universities to help ease teacher shortage

Gov. Doug Ducey calls on ASU, other universities to create a teachers academy.
Ducey also wants to find ways to ease student debt for educators in state.
January 9, 2017

Proposal would create teachers academy, help with student-loan debt, governor says in his State of the State address

Gov. Doug Ducey has called on ASU and the state's other institutions of higher learning to help address a shortage of classroom educators by easing their student debt and developing an “Arizona Teachers Academy.” 

Ducey, in his State of the State address Monday, said he wants to show "teachers theirs is a profession we respect and are willing to elevate.”

“I’m looking for the best and brightest to commit to teaching in Arizona’s schools. If you make that commitment, we will make this commitment: Your education will be paid for, a job will be waiting and you will be free of debt,” he said at the Arizona Capitol.

Carole Basile, dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at ASU, said it's good when a governor focuses on education. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

“It’s always good to hear a governor pay serious attention to education,” said Carole Basile, dean of ASU’s May Lou Fulton Teachers College. “And we’re eager to develop solutions that would reduce the debt burden on anyone considering a career as an educator.”

ASU President Michael Crow supported the call. 

“We appreciate the governor’s commitment to enhancing education opportunities and outcomes in Arizona and endorse the concept of an Arizona Teachers Academy to help address the teacher supply and retention crisis in our state,” he said. “ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is the largest producer of teachers in Arizona and the fastest-rising top-tier college of education in the U.S. recognized for innovative, immersive programs that lead to more effective teachers and teaching outcomes.”

The proposals were among a wide range of education promises in Ducey’s speech, including increasing teacher pay and offering a $1,000 signing bonus to draw teachers to low-income schools.

Gov. Doug Ducey has called on the state's universities to address a shortage of teachers in Arizona.

“This is an investment by the state of Arizona to recognize and reward the work of our teachers in a way that is fair, permanent and fiscally responsible,” he said.

Thousands of teaching jobs are open in the state, according to a survey released in November 2016 by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association. That group found that 159 school districts and charter schools reported that more than 1,000 teachers left their jobs within the first four weeks of the school year. The districts and charters also reported that they had nearly 2,200 open teacher jobs four weeks into the school year, and an additional 2,200 teacher positions that were being filled by people who did not meet the job criteria.

In November, Diane Douglas, the superintendent of public instruction, released a wide-ranging report called “Kids Can’t Wait 2017,” showing that 46 percent of new teachers leave within four years of starting teaching, typically for careers with higher compensation, more respect and better support.

In 2016, the average estimated starting salary for beginning educators in Arizona was $31,874, according to the report, which also stated that the average classroom teacher’s salary nationwide was estimated a $58,064, while in Arizona it was $45,477.

Ducey gave no further details on the teacher-academy proposal, nor on an array of other plans his speech mentioned to boost education: creating principal academies to train current and future school leaders, a loan-forgiveness program for STEM teachers, new investments for school construction, targeted investments to address the achievement gap, a per-pupil funding boost for high-achieving schools, a larger per-pupil funding boost for low-income public schools that are high-achieving, investments in career and technical education, college knowing-and-going programs for high school students, and Achieve 60 AZ: a statewide effort to boost post-secondary attainment.

The governor will release his state budget proposal Friday.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Innovative ASU nursing center doubles in size

Innovative ASU nursing center doubles in size.
Students get hands-on clinical experience with minimal risk.
January 6, 2017

At facility, students get hands-on clinical experience with minimal risk because patients are either actors or mannequins

In learning, practice makes perfect. In learning health care, it’s best if that practice doesn’t put patients at risk.

That’s the idea behind ASU’s 15-year-old Simulation and Learning Resources Center, where College of Nursing and Health Innovation students get hands-on clinical experience with minimal risk because the patients are either actors or uncannily lifelike mannequins.

The center’s method has been so successful that it recently expanded by 40,000 square feet — doubling its previous space. “And we’re not done yet,” said center co-founder Beatrice Kastenbaum.

Kastenbaum, clinical associate professor, said the simulation learning method is invaluable for students and community members, who later benefit from more experienced nurses and doctors. Without it, she said, students must rely solely on live experience in settings where they’re only allowed to observe.

Using actors and mannequins, said Bertie Estrada, clinical assistant professor and simulation nurse specialist at the center, allows students “to make mistakes without repercussions.”

On Friday, Estrada joined fellow CONHI faculty and colleagues at the Downtown Phoenix campus for an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Simulation and Learning Resources Center representatives celebrate with ASU College of Nursing and Health Innovation Dean Teri Pipe (center) at the grand opening Friday that marked a 40,000-square-foot expansion on the Downtown Phoenix campus. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The facility now accommodates four simulation suites with nine patient rooms and six clinic rooms, four skills labs, a health assessment lab and a computer library.

At the ceremony, CONHI Dean Teri Pipe thanked former director Ruth Brooks and Kastenbaum, who together founded the center.

It was their advocacy, Pipe said, that led to the creation of “this amazing place [that exists] with the health and well-being of our community in mind” and helps students “emerge with excellence in their career.”

Pipe also thanked the many benefactors present, “without whose philanthropic donations this would not be possible.”

The expansion began in June, but center director Margaret Calacci — who took over in July — said it had been almost 10 years coming.

Calacci said that it is her goal “to continue to prepare students for a career in health care with this state-of-the-art facility, which provides an environment where they can develop clinical thinking and reasoning through safe practice.”

Among the added features are a range of different types of care environments: traditional doctor and hospital rooms as well as an apartment-like setting, where students can get a feel for what it’s like to give in-home care.

Within those environments, students can hone their skills by providing care for medical mannequins that exhibit “pretty much everything you’d want to monitor on a patient,” according to Shannon Brock, a simulation nurse specialist at the center.

Students can take the mannequins’ blood pressure and temperature, and measure their heart rate and oxygen saturation levels, among other things.

The mannequins — which can blink, breathe and talk — are controlled via computers by clinicians.

In other settings, such as a generic doctor’s office, students can interact with live patients in the form of actors, who are either community volunteers or ASU acting students.

Nursing grad student Lillian Chang said the opportunity to get “immediate feedback from an actual, live patient” in a safe, controlled environment is both unique and extremely helpful for students.

CONHI alum Kurt Brownsburger, who now works at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, had attended a few different schools before coming to ASU, where he spent several hours training at the Simulation and Learning Resources Center.

He noticed a huge difference from what was “almost purely lecture-based” learning to the center’s “much more integrative model.”

“It’s very realistic,” he said, “and you really get to see what works and what doesn’t, while being free to make mistakes. You can reset a mannequin; you can’t reset a human.”

Top photo: ASU alumni Norine Heinrich (center) and Marissa Starks-Banh (right) get a demonstration of mannequin "Victoria" by ASU clinical faculty Leann Dykstra during the grand opening of the Simulation and Learning Resources Center on Friday. The center has undergone a 40,000-square-foot expansion, doubling its previous size. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

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ASU team looking at how urban farms could cool the climate, feed citizens.
Many factors to be considered, including: Will people actually buy the food?
January 5, 2017

Interdisciplinary ASU project creates model to predict land use, climate effects and even potential profit of farming in cities

As Phoenix continues to sprawl toward Tucson, urban planners are working to prevent the entire 100-mile corridor between Arizona’s largest metro areas from becoming nothing but concrete and asphalt.

Unfettered development, experts say, can strain resources and increase temperatures and pollution, setting off a chain reaction of problems for the region and its residents.  

Seeking sustainable solutions, a team of Arizona State University researchers has been working to create an innovative, physics-based model that can predict how gardens and farms can most efficiently be integrated into cities to produce food in the face of a changing climate, cool the urban heat island and make people happier.

It’s a collaborative five-year national project, funded with $4 million from two federalThe grants are from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation. agencies, that aims to evaluate huge sets of data to create a planning model that can be used by any growing metropolitan area. The model will account for variables that include air pollution, land cover, water use and energy sources.

The work crosses several disciplines, with Alex Mahalov, a mathematician, as the lead principal investigator, and other researchers who are experts in agribusiness, geography and sustainability.

“This is an integrated project; it’s not just about agriculture. It’s about food, energy and water,” said Mahalov, who is the Wilhoit Foundation Dean’s Distinguished Professor in ASU’s School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

The model will look at what would happen if vacant land in a city were turned into urban farms, which could produce food for the neighbors and help mitigate the urban heat-island effect, in which concrete and asphalt stay warmer overnight, raising temperatures. Conversely, plants and trees allow desert land to cool at night.

There’s a social aspect, too.

“In community gardens, people get together and enjoy growing food, maybe make some extra income,” Mahalov said. “And it makes them happy.”

Big data

One part of the project, now in its second year, is taking high-resolution data from the National Agriculture Imagery Program and writing an algorithm that can evaluate land use in detail as precise as “the backyard of so-and-so’s house, next to the pool on the side of the two-story house,” Mahalov said.

Billie Turner II, distinguished sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, is a co-principal investigator and part of the team that is analyzing the land-use data from several metro areas in the U.S., showing the need for improved analysis.

For example, “one of the things we found out for Maricopa County is that there are a lot of errors in the national data. It will say there’s vacant land, but actually there’s a building on it. Or it says it’s not vacant, but we don’t see anything on it but bare soil,” said Turner, who is the Gilbert F. White Professor of Environment and Society in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.


It’s up to Carola Grebitus to look at the project from an economic perspective.

“If you use the land for farming, you need consumer demand because without demand you can’t be successful as a business,” said Grebitus, a co-principal investigator on the project, senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and assistant professor of food industry management at the Morrison School of Agribusiness in the W. P. Carey School of Business.

While the big-data modeling will determine whether land that could potentially become gardens is near low-income neighborhoods, Grebitus will investigate whether those neighbors actually want vegetables. She and her team have already done three preliminary surveys on preferences, and those results will help them create a survey they’ll give to 2,000 consumers in Phoenix and other cities.

“There’s a model called motivation, ability, opportunity. Right now, we are differentiating between ‘are you willing to buy the food?’ Or ‘would you be willing to grow your own food?’ You need to be motivated to do either one.

“Ability means, you have to know how to grow the food. Many people don’t even know how to prepare fresh produce,” she said.

“For opportunity, I like to use the example of the single mother who is motivated to provide nutritious food for her children and has the ability to cook it, but she might simply not have the time.”

Grebitus has already surveyed 500 ASU students, asking how much they would be willing to pay for a pound of tomatoes from the grocery store, a farmers market or an urban farm.

“We found that compared to the grocery store, they’re only willing to pay less, not more or the same, if it’s from the urban farm,” she said.

That data is scheduled to be presented in two upcoming journal articles, said Grebitus, who added that even though the survey respondents were all students, “they’re the consumers of tomorrow.”

Grebitus said that while urban gardens could cool the air and produce beautiful vegetables, they might not be viable. "It needs to be competitive.”

Innovation and trade-offs

Innovation is another factor, Mahalov said. The model will consider the feasibility of vertical farming, a system in which crops are grown vertically in self-contained structures that take up less land. Only a few such systems are in place around the country.

The final scenarios produced by the model will be all about trade-offs, he said.

“What is most important? Do we want to minimize water consumption? Or is there another variable that’s more important?”

Mahalov said the project was made possible by the atmosphere of collaborationThe other co-principal investigators are Mohamed Moustaoui, associate professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, and Matei Georgescu, associate professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. Both also are senior sustainability scientists in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. Besides the ASU professors and graduate and undergraduate students who are on the team, there are researchers from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. fostered at ASU.

“I’m still doing my mathematics, and I can say, ‘Leave me alone and don’t talk to me.’ But I would never have come up with this idea if I was just by myself in my office,” he said.

“The reason is because we’re constantly encouraged to interact with each other and break through the interface of fields.”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU radio show gives voice to veterans

Cronkite student hosts radio show to change narrative about military vets.
'Veterans Diaries' airs each Wednesday on ASU AM radio station The Blaze.
January 3, 2017

Cronkite junior Chris Cadeau uses experience, platform to break stereotypes that surround returning soldiers

Arizona State University junior Christopher Cadeau wants to help change the narrative that veterans are either homeless or heroes, and he has created a radio show dedicated solely to telling more diverse stories of the people who’ve served.

Veterans Diaries” wrapped its first season last month on KASC-The Blaze, ASU’s AM radio station.

A 30-year-old sports journalism major at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Cadeau said was pleased with the results of his first semester behind the microphone. He is also pushing to get better. 

“Honestly, I’m never satisfied, and it’s hard for me to accept praise,” said Cadeau, whose background includes eight years in the Marines. He also has five years of recovery.

“I once asked my sponsor, ‘When does this chip on my shoulder go away? When am I going to be OK with where I am in my life?’”

That chip developed as a young child growing up in Canton, Michigan, Cadeau said. He cites his parents’ divorce at age 4 and the rape of a sibling as the first of several emotional blows. As a teen, Cadeau got into trouble with the law and embraced drugs and alcohol. He knew the Marines could turn his life around.

“I was very street smart and good at evaluating pros and cons,” Cadeau said. “The pros were: You’re going to leave this situation; you’re going to get three meals a day; you’re going to have a career.”

He said the cons were just as clear. “If you stay here, you will go to jail.”

Cadeau said he joined the Marines in 2006 and ended up as a fighter jet mechanic, working on F-18s in Miramar, California, near San Diego. He transitioned back into civilian life and took advantage of his GI Bill benefits, eventually being accepted into ASU in December 2015.

He wanted to pursue sports journalism after a heartfelt discussion with a sponsor in his recovery program.

“My sponsor asked, ‘What do you love to do?’ I told him I love sports journalism and have always been infatuated with it,” Cadeau said. “If you add up all the hours I’ve spent in sports from the moment I come home to the time I’m on my smartphone looking up results, I need to find a way to get paid for this.”

He also called ASU’s Pat Tillman Center for Veterans and spoke to Joanna Sweatt, a former military advocate at the center. Cadeau said her first words were, “Everything’s going to be OK.”

Sweatt recruited Cadeau for the center’s work-study program. He currently works for the center’s outreach team, led by Matt Schmidt.

“We’re always trying to find new ways to engage student vets, and because Chris is a journalism major, the idea of a radio show came naturally,” said Schmidt, a recruitment specialist. “Chris is a natural leader and saw this not only as a challenge, but as way to impact lives and change the narrative about veterans.”

Schmidt said Cadeau shows how veterans are returning to college and civilian life and making a difference in their communities. He said stereotypes pigeonhole and marginalize returning soldiers; Cadeau's show helps change that perception.

People talking in front of microphone

Cronkite junior Christopher Cadeau (right) interviews blind Ironman participant and Army vet Michael Somsan (left) and his guide Dominic Bernardo for Cadeau's radio podcast "Veterans Diaries."

The broadcast runs from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. each Wednesday during the semester. Cadeau said the premise of “Veterans Diaries” is about empowerment and overcoming obstacles.

“There are already a lot of sports shows on The Blaze, and I wanted to do something that had impact on the community," Cadeau said. "Stories one hears on the show can help other veterans, and civilians can see they aren’t broken and everyone has hiccups in their lives."

Cadeau said it took him a while to catch on before he hit his stride, and stopped a practice he employed in the beginning of the show.

“I’d conduct these pre-interviews with my guests, and they’d sit with me and tell me all these great things. And when we’d get on the air, it was crickets,” Cadeau said. “I discovered by knowing all the answers beforehand, I’d be leading them into questions I already knew the answer to, and it took my curiosity away. I don’t do that any longer.”

Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Ian Parkinson, who was the first guest on the show and has been interviewed by international media, said Cadeau was an excellent host.

“The dialogue didn’t feel set up, and it was organic,” said Parkinson, a ASU graphic information technology major. “Chris isn’t afraid to ask questions because he can relate to me because of his military background. He has a passion for this show, and he made me feel I could be open about a lot of things.”

Around the sixth episode, Cadeau says he realized he wasn’t serving his entire audience. He had been ignoring angry vets who needed to vent.

“If I’m not highlighting the entire military demographic, then I’m not doing my job as a journalist,” Cadeau said. “Then I started bringing them on the air, and noticed some of the shows started taking off.”

By taking off, Cadeau means some of his most popular shows would receive 850 clicks and more than two dozen shares.

Cadeau has interviewed amputees, Vietnam vets, researchers, advocates, politicians and film directors. Their discussions range from head injuries to sexual harassment to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Cadeau said he tries “to keep people in their ‘whys.’”

“I don’t want to know what people do; I can do an Internet search and figure that out,” he said. “But when you talk about why they do what they do, everything starts to resonate.”

Sweatt was on “Veterans Diaries” for a two-part episode and called the show cathartic.

“His show serves to tell stories about the military experience, the transition road and individuals’ victories in the face of adversity,” said Sweatt, COO for the Veterans Directory.

For the upcoming semester, Cadeau is preparing for at least a dozen shows, including a Pat Tillman tribute with friends, teammates and other associates.

“The show is good now, but I’m really looking forward to where it will be in a year,” Schmidt said.  

“Veterans Diaries” will air again Jan. 11 on Blaze Radio, which can be heard on 1330 AM or on the website. Previous episodes are available on the "Veterans Diaries" SoundCloud page.

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Sex-trafficking survivor network aims to 'make a difference to this one'

ASU professor to join Phoenix in program to heal sex-trafficking survivors.
December 20, 2016

ASU expert helps Phoenix design therapies at new Starfish community, which offers housing, services to help rebuild lives

An Arizona State University professor is part of an innovative new program by the city of Phoenix to help survivors of sex trafficking find new lives.

The Phoenix City Council approved a plan Dec. 14 to provide housing and support services so victims can become self-sufficient and leave their abusive pasts.

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, director of ASU’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research, will help city staff design the therapies for the 15 clients who are accepted into the program, called Phoenix Starfish Place. She works with many survivors and has run several focus groups, asking participants what they need most.

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz

Dominique Roe-Sepowitz will help the city of Phoenix design therapeutic services for sex-trafficking survivors in a new housing program.

“What we’ve learned is that getting into sex trafficking is complicated, and getting out is equally as complicated,” said Roe-Sepowitz, who also is an associate professor in ASU’s School of Social Work.

“The constant drumbeat is that they need a place to live,” she said. Survivors frequently have criminal records because their traffickers also force them into robbery, shoplifting and other crimes.

“So our clients have a difficult time finding a safe place to live and a stable community where the neighbor isn’t a drug dealer or a pimp.”

The name comes from a popular motivational story in which a man sees tens of thousands of starfish stranded on a beach. When the man sees a small boy throwing individual starfish back into the sea, he tells the boy it won’t make much of a difference. The boy picks up a starfish and says, “It will make a difference to this one.”  

Services at Phoenix Starfish Place will include support groups and skills training for the survivors and their children, as well as prevention groups. Clients are expected to move in later this year.

“One of the big things that came out of the focus groups is that we know this is an intergenerational problem. Children of trafficking victims are significantly more likely to be trafficking victims themselves,” she said.

The community, which Roe-Sepowitz believes will be the first in the country, will be based on a “sanctuary model.”

“We know most of our clients who are trafficked come into that situation with lots of childhood trauma, maybe incarcerated parents. A sexual-abuse history is very prevalent, and emotional abuse,” she said. “The abusive relationship with the trafficker is very traumatic.

“The sanctuary model creates an environment and a community in which everyone understands the trauma related to this, and responds with that in mind,” said Roe-Sepowitz, who has already started training employees in the city’s housing department.

“Everyone involved will have an understanding of what trafficking is so they can serve these clients with dignity and respect.”

Gathering data

The average age of entry into sex trafficking is 14, according to ASU’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research. Many of the young people have a history of running away or drug abuse and may be lured by older “boyfriends,” who begin by offering affection and support before forcing victims into prostitution.

In Arizona, the law-enforcement and justice systems began changing their response to trafficking over the past decade, viewing young prostitutes as victims of traffickers rather than criminals. In 2013, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton created the Human Trafficking Task Force, charged with increasing both prevention and services. In 2014, the state beefed up penalties for traffickers and johns and helped to protect minors from criminalization.

The Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research was launched in ASU’s School of Social Work in 2013. Since then, the center has produced several research projects, including a paper released this month revealing the results of a three-year survey of 199 homeless young adults in Arizona that found that a third reporting being sex trafficked.

The office also explored the before- and after-effects of the 2015 Super Bowl in Glendale on sex trafficking in Phoenix. Their study found that the event itself does not necessarily increase sex trafficking, but that “traffickers will bring their victims wherever there is demand and money.”

In 2014, Roe-Sepowitz was part of a teamRoe-Sepowitz was awarded the funding, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children, Youth and Families, along with Judy Krysik, an associate professor and the director of the Center for Child Well-being in the School of Social Work. The project is a collaboration among the Office for Sex Trafficking Research Intervention, the ASU Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy and the Arizona Department of Child Safety. that won a $1.24 million grant to help identify young trafficking victims in Arizona and to train child-welfare professionals to improve outcomes.

Cathy Bauer, the diversion program manager at Catholic Charities Community Services, said she has seen attitudes in the city “change 180 degrees” over the past decade. She runs the Dignity program, which allows clients to have misdemeanor prostitution charges dismissed upon completion. But she said that housing for women with children has been the missing link.

“A lot of times people can take a step up to that program that will take them to the next level in life, but if they can’t take their children, they can’t go,” said Bauer, who will be able to refer clients to the Starfish program. “To get a place like Starfish with safe, adequate housing with services is phenomenal.”

Roe-Sepowitz said her work on Phoenix Starfish Place will involve ASU students, including the 10 undergraduate and graduate students currently working in the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research.

“We’ll be evaluating the housing program and getting feedback on their quality of life, quality of safety, quality of community,” she said.

“It’s a really unique opportunity to collect data for students, and I hope it will support honors theses and graduate theses and maybe some dissertations.”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Altitude chamber elevates pilots in training at Polytechnic campus

Altitude chambers at ASU's Poly campus provide life-saving training to pilots.
ASU Aviation Program celebrates 20th anniversary.
December 20, 2016

ASU's Aviation Program has 1 of the only 3 heavy-duty altitude chambers in the nation that are available to civilians

In a nondescript building on a corner of Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus sits a pair of gray metal boxes that look like souped-up shipping containers.

They’re actually elaborate pieces of equipment belonging to the Aviation Program, but there’s more to it than that: These things go back to the days when men in silver suits skidded across space in cans.

Used by two Mercury Seven astronauts, U-2 spy pilots, the world-record parachutist who jumped from the edge of space and recently the SpaceX program, the heavy-duty altitude chambers simulate extreme conditions and help save lives.

This year is the Aviation Program’s 20th anniversary. It lucked out the day ASU acquired the former Williams Air Force Base, since it came with the chambers that students now have access to each semester. ASU has two altitude chambers: one for training and another for research. The research chamber is one of only threeThe others are at the Civil Aerospace Medical Institute in Oklahoma City and the University of North Dakota. chambers in the country available to civilians. 

“No other aeronautical university — whether it’s the University of North Dakota or Embry-Riddle — can compete with the capabilities that we have here at Arizona State University,” said Ronald Diedrichs, aerospace physiologist and lecturer. Diedrichs operates the training chamber during sessions that could save a pilot’s life. 

Hypoxia is a condition that affects pilots when they fly at high altitudes above 10,000 feet. “Insidious” is the word aviators often use to describe it. Typical symptoms are lightheadedness, euphoria, tingling in the extremities and unconsciousness. Losing cognitive control while flying an airplane ends in crashes.

“It’s amazing how many people lose consciousness ... and don’t live through it,” Diedrichs said. “It’s not advertised very much.”

Over the past 25 years, there have been 46 crashes involving or possibly involving hypoxia, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. Some were clearly caused by hypoxia. In others, there was no evidence beyond a pilot speaking with slurred speech and not obeying air traffic controllers’ commands before crashing.

In traditional aviation education, students learn about hypoxia, but not in a controlled environment where they can learn to recognize their personal symptoms.

“It’s that recognition of those subjective symptoms that can give early warning to a pilot that they need to lower their altitude or get supplemental oxygen,” said Marc O’Brien, aviation program director. “The training that they get here is better than they would get at an airline. The airlines don’t have these kinds of facilities.”

Diedrichs has flown 49 years safely. One memorable day flying over southern Colorado en route from Phoenix to a small city on the Kansas state line, the hypoxia training he received in the military kicked in.

“I’ve used the knowledge myself,” he said. “I looked down at my pulse oximeter that I always wear when I’m flying in an unpressurized airplane, and I saw I was really low on oxygen saturation. I immediately dialed my autopilot down to 11,500 feet — 1,000 feet per minute — hoping I would stay conscious. I did not expect that I would stay conscious. Everything worked, and I got down safely.”

Diedrichs is a professional pilot who is board-certified in aerospace physiology.

“My job No. 1 is to make sure it’s safe,” he said.

The first thing Diedrichs does during a training session is denitrogenate the chamber. About 80 percent of Earth’s atmosphere is nitrogen.

“If I take you to half an atmosphere, which is 18,000 feet, you would fizz, just like a soda would fizz,” he said. “It’s called decompression sickness.”

Subjects breath pure oxygen for at least 30 minutes before going to altitude. Instructors go into detail about how the oxygen equipment in the chamber works.

Once they’re at 25,000 feet, they take half the students off oxygen. The other half watches them while they undergo hypoxia.

“The objective is those that don’t have their masks on nail down in their minds what their symptoms are, because everyone gets different symptoms,” Diedrichs said. “They might not even go through the same symptoms, and that’s why the military has them go through the training every five years.”

They do an explosive decompression at 5,000 feet, like what you’d experience on an airliner if a window or door blew off. It’s an FAA-certified course.

The program charges per seat (at 16 seats) to use the main chamber, plus oxygen, per day. One session with a full crew, including an aerospace physiologist, two crew chiefs, an inside observer, driver and participants, can cost as much as $20,000.

“I’m trying to give them enough knowledge to fly for 50 years uneventfully and enjoy all of it,” Diedrichs said. “I call it life assurance training.”

The chamber has other applications besides flight, O’Brien pointed out. It’s a great research facility and resource for the private sector.

“We’ve had different clients come in; most recently, SpaceX has been in testing their space suits,” O’Brien said.

“We’ve had military come in for different things. We’ve had pharmaceutical companies to test things like insulin-delivery devices in a controlled environment. We can replicate the cabin-pressure altitudes of airliners, and also in situations with rapid or explosive decompression, so that these companies can test their devices and make sure they’re functional in all kinds of circumstances.”

Top photo: Kasey Stevenson, air transportation management student, and Nash Roney, professional flight student, get ready inside the Del E. Webb Foundation Altitude Chamber on the ASU Polytechnic campus. Photo by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now