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A heart for misunderstood kids

ASU psych grad wants to help misunderstood kids.
ASU grad is "weird" & "quirky," which is why she's perfect to help kids in need.
December 17, 2015

ASU psychology grad says her quirkiness helps her relate to developmentally challenged children

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

Brianna Wang has a real heart for kids.

While at ASU, she has tested grade-school children for academic achievement, emotional stability and auditory bias, coded their behaviors for a national study and worked alongside a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist. 

As the 22-year-old psychology major receives her undergraduate degree from Arizona State University this month, she wants to act as an advocate for children and others with developmental disabilities who are too young to help themselves.

“As a psychology major, I feel it’s my duty to stand up for people who are in need of developmental health,” Wang said. “Often they are misunderstood by society and need a little extra attention, which I’m willing to give.”

Wang is used to giving her all. After graduating from Horizon High School in northeast Phoenix in 2012, she received an offer to attend ASU on an AIMS scholarshipThe Arizona Board of Regent’s High Honors Tuition Scholarship, or AIMS, is a university academic merit scholarship administered by the Arizona Department of Education on behalf of the Arizona Board of Regents. Qualified students who graduate from high school will receive a 25 percent in-state university base tuition scholarship.. She quickly excelled in her studies, which got noticed by Michael McBeath, a professor with the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who made her a teaching and research assistant.

“I’ve known Brianna now for several years, and she is intelligent, hard-working, very quick and reliable,” McBeath said. “She has excelled in her classes, as a teacher, a researcher, a service volunteer and is a thoughtful, likeable peer.”

Wang was also selected to be the special assistant for Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek, who worked on a project examining color blindness while visiting ASU on his sabbatical.

“That was pretty nuts,” Wang said with a laugh. “I was told very casually, ‘You’ll be working with Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek.’ I said, ‘What? Why is he here in the first place?’ Mr. Wilczek is so smart that it’s intimidating, but that was a cool experience.”

“I’m definitely a little weird, quirky and a little offbeat, which I think helps in working with children.”
— Brianna Wang, ASU psychology graduate

In addition to maintaining a 3.89 GPA and finishing her degree in three and a half years, Wang was generous with her time when it came to service activities. She helped out in a variety of departmental events, including ASU Homecoming, Night of the Open Door and the Science of Baseball Festival, held annually in Scottsdale. And in her free time, Wang likes to jam to heavy metal on her electric guitar.

“I’m definitely a little weird, quirky and a little offbeat, which I think helps in working with children,” Wang said. “With adults you have to tone it down, but when you’re with kids you can be as weird as you want and they love it.”

The only regret Wang has is that her whirlwind academic pace means she’ll be graduating from ASU a semester earlier than she had planned.

“I’m feeling very nostalgic right now because leaving ASU is the big thing,” said Wang, who will eventually pursue a graduate degree. “A lot of my friends are excited to graduate and be done with school and all the testing. I know it sounds kind of nerdy, but I like research and learning.”

And, of course, helping people along the way, including adults.

“Psychology majors will be the ones who eventually become therapists, counselors and social workers,” Wang said. “We’re the ones who will be taking care of people, doing great work and helping them in whatever way we can. I think what I will do is very important to society.”

Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


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Appreciating her parents' sacrifices

Sara Santos recalls her parents' sacrifices so she could graduate from ASU.
ASU grad has already given back to her community.
December 15, 2015

First-generation ASU grad Sara Santos reflects on how her family helped her succeed

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

It’s the eve of fall commencement and Sara Santos is quietly shedding tears.

It’s not an expression of joy or sorrow; she’s crying for the people who have made big sacrifices on her behalf so she could attend college.

“Graduation makes me emotional because my parents are from Guatemala and they came to the United States in their early 20s,” said Santos, a first-generation college student who will receive her degree from ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. Santos will also receive the Jose Ronstadt Outstanding Undergraduate award at ASU’s Hispanic Convocation, for her service to others in the Latino community.

“Neither one had a formal education, and both were forced to quit school when they were young to help out their families. Growing up, my dad had to work in the fields with his brothers and father, and I remember as a kid he only had two shirts and two pairs of pants for the whole week. I may not have had as much as other kids in the neighborhood, but I knew I was privileged because I was never hungry, always had a roof over my head and was somehow able to get a formal education. I never had to worry about the things my parents worried about. They always led me to believe I was going to have it better than them and made many sacrifices to ensure I did.”

These days Santos is not only expressing gratitude towards her parents — Marta and Marcony — but is reflecting back on the teachers, counselors and mentors who provided encouragement when she was a student in the Phoenix Union High School District, where she graduated third in her class. They’re the reason she wanted to attend college, and the combination of the Doran Community Scholars program and the Provost’s Scholarship enabled Santos to attend ASU the past four years.

Some might say Santos has already paid it forward. She was recently named the National Undergraduate Philanthropist of the Year by Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, which she serves as president, for her 1,000 hours of community service — from raising money for Relay for Life to helping build a playground in downtown Phoenix — while attending ASU. Santos also served as vice president of the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations.

“I teach Sunday School class with a gentleman who was my teacher when I was growing up. He pointed at me and said to the class, ‘Years ago she was seated right where you are, and now she’s teaching you,’ ” Santos said. “I feel like a role model to these kids, and I like the responsibility of being a role model for them. That was something I was always looking for, and now I can be that person for someone else.”

Santos also wants to be a go-to person for Hispanic patients and had the opportunity while completing her coursework at Banner Medical University Center in downtown Phoenix.

“One of the patients I was working with on my community health rotation had just been diagnosed with diabetes, and he didn’t really understand the need for insulin or why he needed to check his blood level,” Santos said. “I was able to explain everything in Spanish and developed a rapport with him. When I did follow-up visits and he fully understood the treatment and the actual benefits, we saw a vast improvement in him.”

Santos said she has to take her board-certified tests in order to become an official registered nurse and eventually plans on pursuing her Doctor of Nursing Practice. For now she wants to take in the twin celebrations with her parents and siblings in tow, and collect the Ronstadt award, which she says was a complete surprise.

“They were proud before, but this takes it to another level of proud,” Santos said.

Her tears have evaporated by the end of the interview, replaced with a smile.

Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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'Hooked' earns prestigious duPont award

"Hooked" earns ASU Cronkite School prestigious honor.
ASU's Cronkite School documentary on heroin adds to its awards.
December 15, 2015

Documentary produced by ASU's Cronkite School examines heroin's hold on Arizona

Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Tuesday won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award, which has recognized the very best in broadcast journalism for more than 70 years.

Cronkite News, the school's student-produced news division of Arizona PBS, received the honor for “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona,” a 30-minute documentary produced in association with the Arizona Broadcasters Association (ABA), which reached more than 1 million Arizonans. The report, the final product of more than 70 dedicated student journalists, which aired on all 33 broadcast television stations and 93 radio stations in Arizona in January, examined the rise of heroin use and its impact on the state.

Other duPont Award winners this year included ABC News, “Frontline” on PBS, “60 Minutes” on CBS, as well as WBEZ and “This American Life” for the “Serial” podcast.

The win marks just the third time in the history of the duPont Awards that a Phoenix-based news operation has received the honor. Cronkite News joins 12 News KPNX-TV, which won the award last year, and KOOL-TV, which won the award in 1979 when it was the region’s CBS affiliate.

“This is a tremendous honor for our amazing students and faculty,” said Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan. “More than 70 students and eight faculty members worked on this project, traveling across Arizona to shine a light on this terrible epidemic. To be recognized with a duPont Award says a lot about how the work of our students is impacting the state.”

Work on the documentary started in August 2014 under the direction of Cronkite professor Jacquee Petchel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist. Teams of advanced student journalists interviewed numerous sources across Arizona, telling stories of addicts struggling with sobriety, families grappling for solace, and law enforcement officials battling on the frontlines.  

The documentary included an interactive website with more than a dozen in-depth reports and an unprecedented data analysis of more than 10 million Arizona hospital emergency room cases, led by another Pulitzer Prize winner, Knight Chair Steve Doig. The Cronkite Public Insight Network Bureau, led by veteran public radio journalist Rebecca Blatt, located sources not previously tapped by journalists.

Students also produced a tablet app on the history of heroin under the guidance of Cronkite New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab Director Retha Hill. Additionally, public relations students produced strategic communication plans for the TV special under the direction of Cronkite PR Lab Director Fran Matera.

“They exceeded every expectation, no matter how uncomfortable, no matter how daunting, without so much as a flinch of doubt,” Petchel said. “It's not only a testament to the Cronkite School's innovative journalism program, but to Arizona State University's commitment that we be relevant to our community.”

On Jan. 13, the commercial-free documentary premiered on all Arizona television stations in English and Spanish, drawing nearly half of the Phoenix viewing audience of the 2014 Super Bowl. During and after the simulcast in Arizona, recovery counselors answered 438 calls through an ABA-sponsored call center at Arizona PBS for assistance on heroin and opioid addiction.

Tubes in a hand.

A hand holds tubes of naloxone hydrochloride, a chemical used to remedy opiod overdoses. Photo courtesy Cronkite News. Top photo by Dominick DiFurio.

The duPont Award is the latest honor for the “Hooked” documentary, which has made history in several journalism contests winning awards typically reserved for professional news operations.

In October, the documentary received two of the region’s top professional honors at the Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards, an Emmy in the category of “Societal Concerns – Program/Special,” as well as the Governors’ Award. In May, students who worked on “Hooked” took first place in video storytelling at the Arizona Press Club Awards.

“I think it’s a testament to what we do here,” Petchel said. “Students can do what others cannot do, and you can do it because you’re at the Cronkite School.”

Since the documentary’s airing, ASU students have continued to produce broadcast and digital reports on the heroin epidemic through Cronkite News.

“Producing ‘Hooked’ was the first time I experienced the influence of strong, community journalism,” said Cronkite graduate Erin Patrick O’Connor, who served as the documentary’s director and is now a news video editor for The Washington Post. “This project served as a voice for local Arizonans that were feeling the pressures of heroin addiction. I am truly thankful to have had the opportunity to work with ASU and Jacquee Petchel and bring this story to life.”

Joining O’Connor in the award are Petchel and Assistant Dean Mark Lodato, who served as executive producers; producer/assistant editor Elizabeth Blackburn; reporters Sandy Balazic, Lauren Loftus and Hunter Marrow; reporters/photographers Sean Logan, Jessica Boehm, Dominick DiFurio, Emilie Eaton, Danielle Grobmeier, Lauren Handley, Vivian Padilla, Hannah Lawrence and Liliana Salgado; and Cronkite lecturer Jim Jacoby, production manager.

They will receive the award during a ceremony hosted by Tom Brokaw, special correspondent for NBC News, and ABC News “Nightline” anchor Juju Chang on Jan. 19 at Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library. It will be livestreamed at bit.ly/cjslive.

The Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards honor excellence in broadcast, digital and documentary journalism. The awards, established in 1942 by Jessie Ball duPont in memory of her husband Alfred I. duPont, are generously supported by the Jessie Ball duPont Fund.

"Hooked" can be seen online at hookedaz.cronkitenewsonline.com.

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ASU Police grant holiday wishes to kids in need

Shop with a cop has more holiday cheer than you might think.
ASU Police grant holiday wishes to kids in need.
December 14, 2015

Arizona State University and Tempe police departments partnered with Greek Life and local businesses this month to host a holiday breakfast and shopping event for children and families in need this holiday season.

On Saturday, 30 children —15 from the ASU community and 15 from the Tempe community — were invited to have breakfast and then ride in police cars to go shopping for holiday presents with the officers. This is the first year that ASU Police hosted the “Kids + Cops Holiday Shop!” event.

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Scientist's passion rooted in Arizona's ecology

Samuel Teegarden's ASU career started slowly, then became unstoppable.
ASU student's passion for Arizona's "sky islands" guides his research.
December 7, 2015

Research at Desert Botanical Garden part of life sciences grad's fruitful time at ASU

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

Samuel Teegarden never got much out of high school until he took an Advanced Placement course on environmental science.

It was one of the few classes that actually caught his attention and engaged him.

Now the Tucson native is about to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in conservation biology and ecology from the School of Life SciencesThe School of Life Sciences is a unit of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. at Arizona State University.

“When it came to choosing careers, knowing that I’m going to be putting a lot of effort into whatever I do, I want that effort to result in the greatest amount of impact, not only for my life, but other people’s lives and the well-being of ecosystems we live in,” Teegarden said.

Samuel Teegarden

One of Samuel Teegarden's
interests are Arizona's "sky
islands," isolated mountaintop
areas of great biodiversity. He
calls them critical to ecosystem
functioning and a sense of place.

Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Teegarden’s journey from middling student to passionate scientist could have been by train; slow at first, then becoming unstoppable.

He started at the University of Arizona, where a lack of focus caused him to drop out after a year. He enrolled at Phoenix College, where he earned his associate’s degree. As part of the Maricopa Community College–ASU transfer program, he moved into ASU, where he earned his bachelor’s in one and a half years.

“Since I’m from Tucson, you might imagine I have some certain biases from sports conflicts, but honestly those biases that were there went away pretty quickly,” the 24-year-old said.

As a proud Arizona native, Teegarden said the Grand Canyon State’s basins and ranges call to him.

“One of my interests is the Arizona ‘sky islands,’ the mountains here in the basin and range province,” he said. “If you can imagine the desert being a vast sea, with no water, the mountains are the islands. They’re hosts to enormous amounts of biodiversity. They’re critical to ecosystem functioning and a sense of place and identity here in Arizona. I like all the stuff that’s going on here where I’m from; it’s very unique.”

Teegarden’s time at ASU has been brief but meaningful.

“The time that I have had, I had the maximum exposure I needed,” he said. “I’ve been able to work on projects here at the Desert Botanical Garden.”

He joined the School of Life Sciences undergraduate research program, rising to paid researcher. “It’s kept me very busy,” he said.

Samuel Teegarden

Samuel Teegarden takes samples from creosote bushes at the Desert Botanical Garden on Dec. 4. He is studying the ability of plants to respond to drought and temperature stress. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

At the Desert Botanical Garden, he studied concentrations of sugar and starch in creosote and how that affects their ability to respond to drought and temperature stress.

He also studied the same issue in five types of trees growing in four forest types in the Four Corners areas.

“That was a much bigger macrosystem project that I did all the chemistry and analysis in,” he said. “It’s applying these techniques to get the big-picture understanding of how the increasing threats of drought and exposure to high temperatures affect the plant’s ability to respond to those changes.”

He had 175 tree core samples, and only two could be ground at the same time.

“I spent most of the summer just grinding samples,” he said. “It’s really interesting; after a year of working primarily on chemistry, you get to see the results of your hard labor in the form of pretty graphs and stuff.”

Teegarden eventually wants to own his own environmental consultancy. Right now he’s hunting for an entry-level job as a technician or environmental scientist with private-sector companies advising developers and contractors in permitting.

He and his girlfriend just bought their first house in the Encanto neighborhood in central Phoenix. “We got a 30-year mortgage, so we’ll be here for a while,” he said.

He will be remembered at the School of Life Sciences for a while, too.

“At ASU he has done extremely well and been a fantastic addition to the research community,” said Katelyn Cooper, academic success coordinator in the School of Life Sciences. “He is a member of the Ogle lab and is doing really important work.  He is very passionate about his future career. … He is definitely someone who represents our ASU students, and I think he will go on to do great things.”

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High-flying holiday fun

Fantasy Flight keeps holiday spirit flying high.
Fantasy Flight transports Phoenix kids to the "North Pole."
December 4, 2015

Santa, ASU student-athletes and a whole merry crew fly underprivileged kids to the 'North Pole' at Phoenix airport

“Final boarding call — Santa One, to the North Pole!” the gate attendant called into the intercom, then rang sleigh bells in the mic.

That was the first indication this wasn’t your average trip on an airplane.

Flight attendants wore elf ears and Santa hats. No one stared at screens or pecked on laptops. Even though it was dawn, everyone smiled and was happy to be there. And every passenger was under age 10.

That was the scene Friday morning during the annual United Fantasy Flight Phoenix, an airborne excursion where more than 100 underprivileged children are flown for 20 minutes and then landed at the North Pole (it’s a different gate) to meet Santa, Sparky and Arizona State University student-athletes; eat breakfast; get their faces painted; and receive a big bag of gifts.

Phebe Mahoney, 6, and Arianthra Luchno, 7, both from Mesa Arts Academy, shared a row in the middle of the plane.

Friends hold hands during
the United Fantasy Flight
Phoenix to the North Pole
(that is, Phoenix Sky Harbor
International Airport) on Dec. 4.
For many, it was their first

Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Phebe took the airsickness bag out of the seatback, borrowed a pen, and wrote her name and a heart on the bag.

“Quiet down,” a stewardess said in vain before beginning the pre-flight safety speech, which included this:

“Santa doesn’t like smoking,
And neither do we.
If you light up,
We’ll give you a trip to jail for free.”

“We’re not moving,” Phebe said. Santa One taxied to the west. She held hands with Arianthra, both unsure what to expect next.

The captain came on the intercom. “Are you ready to go to the North Pole? I can’t hear you!”

The plane lifted off, and 110 shrill voices shrieked in unison, drowning the GE turbines and piercing the terrorist-proof cockpit door, the captain attested later.

Sue Douglas, principal of the Mesa Arts Academy, brought 50 children to the event. Ninety percent of the kids in her district live in poverty.

“The majority of our kids have never been near a plane,” Douglas said.

Every month the school holds a college-themed rally to encourage higher education. “Right now they’re going to be with college kids,” she said. “They’re excited about that.”

The sun rose over the mountains, framed in bands of pink and orange. “Jingle Bells” was sung.

Phebe stared out the window, then sank in her seat. “I want my mommy,” she said.

A flight attendant singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” stole the show from the windows momentarily; then a wing dipped, the jet turned, and all attention reverted to the windows again.

“I want to go faster,” Arianthra said.

A little girl wears a glowing headband.The novelty of air travel waning, Phebe wanted to wear a glowing red and green headband making the rounds. (And she eventually got to, pictured left.)

“Are we almost there?” Arianthra asked 15 minutes into the 20-minute flight.

Passengers became unruly. “That boy threw hair on me,” Phebe said.

Douglas’ school had been on Fantasy Flights before, but it was her first time escorting students. They had gathered in the school parking lot at 4:15 a.m.

“It’s great for these kids,” she said. “It’s absolutely fabulous. It’s a life-changing experience for them.”

The plane landed and taxied toward the gate. “We have to stop!” Phebe correctly noted. She held up her airsickness bag. “Can I keep this?”

When the plane stopped, Douglas stood in the aisle.

“Turn around. Eyes on me. Eyes on me. Mr. Vega, I need you to use your ears. Are we ready? Eyes on me. Look at all those beautiful eyes.”

When the plane did stop, it was greeted by Santa and Mrs. Claus, Elsa from “Frozen,” Sparky, the ASU Spirit Squad, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 65 ASU student-athletes and other assorted dignitaries.

Flight attendant Cathy Findorff compared the morning’s passengers with her typical load. “A lot louder, a lot more fun,” she said.

“It reminds me what Christmas is all about,” flight attendant Sherri Schmidt said. “They’re so excited over so little.”

It was the 19th United Fantasy Flight Phoenix. “We basically steal a plane,” said Rich Vehring, retired Phoenix city manager and one of the event’s founders. “It’s so rewarding, and it’s so much fun.”

United Airlines Capt. Bob Miller, another event founder and member of the ASU Class of 1987, flew the very first Fantasy Flight out of London in 1991. He flew 100 children from an orphanage to a reindeer farm in Lapland, Finland.

“It was such a magical day I came back to Phoenix and said, ‘Why don’t we do it here?’ ” Miller said. “ASU makes such a difference here with these kids.”

Scott Seckel

Reporter, ASU Now


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ASU, Special Olympics Arizona bowl over stereotypes

ASU, Special Olympics Arizona athletes combine to form unified bowling team.
ASU-Special Olympics team competed in tournament of 22 teams across the state.
Partnership between ASU, Special Olympics Arizona to expand in coming semesters.
November 20, 2015

The two groups have formed a bowling team that shows athletes come in all shapes and sizes

What does an athlete look like?

It’s a tricky question, because there isn’t a definite answer. Sports stars come in all shapes and sizes — from a 5-foot-8, 141-pound soccer player to a 6-foot-4, 265-pound NFL tight end.

Just look at the athletes who come together every Tuesday night in ASU’s Memorial Union bowling lanes. They’re a mix of body types, ages and abilities. But they’re all athletes if you measure by a different metric: the desire to compete and better themselves through sport.

The team was formed last month when ASU’s Student Athletic Association (SAA) paired up with the Gilbert Roadrunners of Special Olympics Arizona to create a unified bowling squad made up of some of Arizona’s best Special Olympic athletes and some of the Pac-12’s finest competitors.

The partnership began when junior women’s soccer defender Annie Warren was elected president of the SAA this year. Warren, who has a brother with autism and is an active Special Olympics volunteer, began looking for ways to merge Special Olympians with ASU collegiate athletics.

Special Olympian Sofija Obradovic, of Chandler, instructs one of the ASU student athletes on proper technique at Sparky's Den

Special Olympian Sofija Obradovic of Chandler
instructs one of the ASU student athletes
on proper technique at Sparky's Den.

Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

“It kind of just gets rid of these negative connotations that people tend to have about people with special needs: that they can’t do anything, that they’re just kind of a — just basically a problem with society, that they just inhibit people from living their lives,” Warren said. “I think you see these athletes who are going out, who are playing sports just like we are, who are living these normal lives, who are competing, and it kind of closes the gap between the special-needs community and between the regular community of people who live without handicaps.”

In fact, the Gilbert Roadrunners play many of the same sports Arizona State athletes do, including baseball, swimming and track and field. But a joint bowling team was a new undertaking for both groups, one that presented a unique set of challenges — like knowing how to bowl.

It was quickly apparent that the ASU athletes were the ones who needed the most help.

Madison Berridge, a junior on the university’s beach volleyball team, was going through a rough stretch of frames when Sofija Obradovic, a Special Olympian from Chandler, came over to offer some help.

“Her ball, it bounces,” Obradovic says of Berridge’s style. “I’m going to teach her not to make the ball bounce.”

Obradovic says she has been bowling all her life. It showed. By the end of the practice she had the high score of 119. She attributed her success to the adjustments made on the day. “When I bowl, the ball moves to the side. I bowled straight today,” Obradovic said.

She’s a player you can build a team around. And her skills helped some of the ASU student-athletes readjust their perceptions of people with limitations.

“Even though they have a disability, that doesn’t define their ability to do other things,” said Elisha Davis, a senior guard on the ASU women’s basketball team. “As you can see, some have hit strikes — I haven’t hit a strike yet.”

Some of the Special Olympians were also learning the finer points of bowling, like 16-year-old Jorge Marquez of Mesa.

“I’m learning how to bowl. I appreciate learning and people telling me how,” he said in sign language interpreted by his mother, Dominique Colunga. “I enjoy coming to ASU, it’s my favorite. I love supporting ASU; it’s wonderful. I want to come here for college.”

The team traveled to Mesa for a bowling tournament featuring 22 unified teams at the Brunswick Zone on Friday. One athlete, 16-year-old Daerick Dalton of Gilbert, bowled a career-best 108 in an entertaining back-and-forth between him and Marquez, in their own personal “rivalry.”

The best bowlers of the team received medals that day, which marked the end of the bowling team’s season. The squad will look to begin a new season after the winter break with more athletes from both ASU and Special Olympics Arizona forming a track and field team.

“With these athletes, a lot of them aren’t the only children, they come from houses with siblings, and these children and these athletes grow up in houses where they go to their siblings’ soccer games, their basketball games. They’re always the person cheering someone else on,” Warren said. “And the amazing thing about Special Olympics is it allows these athletes to be the ones getting cheered on, to be the ones in the sports, not for once being the kid carpooled everywhere to go and watch their siblings complete — and you just realize that they’re just like the rest of us.”

Reporter, ASU Now

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A passion for history is her guide

ASU alumna shares her passion for history as a teacher.
This history teacher wants her students to learn from the past.
November 17, 2015

ASU alumna, veteran aims to excite students about history

Editor's note: This is part of a series on ASU alumni. Find more stories here.

She graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, but it would seem Zsuzsa Szabo just can’t stay away from ASU.

Even though she currently teaches 11th-grade American history and 9th-grade world history at Dobson High School in Mesa, Szabo has returned to the university — where she was selected to receive the William C. Jenkins-Helios Teaching Fellowship — to obtain her master’s in history.

Szabo also finds time to coach the freshman cheer team at Dobson High, serve as the school’s coordinator for the Future Sun Devils Families program and is a member of the ASU Veterans Club group.

Letting her passion for history be her guide, the U.S. Air Force vet looks forward to building relationships with her students that allow her to impart some of that deep-seated affection for all things past.

Question: At what point in your life did you know you wanted to pursue a career in education?

Answer: I have always possessed a passion for learning history. It was when I was tutoring my nephews in history and seeing how excited and interested they were in American history that I realized that I may be able to get more kids excited about history through my teaching.

Q: How has your experience at ASU helped to put you in the position you are in today?

A: I had so many great experiences in the teachers program at ASU. The collaboration I experienced with my colleagues and professors was invaluable. After graduating from the program, I felt secure in knowing that I would be prepared to enter the workforce as a teacher.

Q: What excites you about teaching?

A: What most excites me about teaching is getting to directly interact and build relationships with students, while also getting them interested in learning about history. I feel that even if I can get them interested or excited to learn about just one person, place or subject about history, where they can then dig a little deeper about it, I have won a little bit.

Q: How do you think your experience in the Air Force helped prepare you for teaching?

A: The skills I acquired through my experience in the Air Force have been invaluable to me. The Air Force prepared me for teaching in many ways, such as accountability, ability to work under stress and keep deadlines, working with diverse groups of people, and planning and organization. However, I think the most important skill it taught me was adaptability. Like any teacher will tell you, you can plan your lesson down to the most minute detail, but I can guarantee there will be something that throws it off course. Being able to adapt and adjust is a must in education, and my experiences in the Air Force fully prepared me for that.

Q: What advice would you give to someone looking to have a career in education?

A: My advice to anyone looking into having a career in education is to first volunteer in a classroom. You really have to get in there and see if it’s the right fit for you. Although teaching can at times be very stressful, it is also highly rewarding.

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

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ASU alumna helps people keep their footing on troublesome paths

ASU alumna helps people stay steady after hearing some tough news.
Patricia DeBruhl has a simple message of hope: Keep the Shoes.
November 12, 2015

Patricia DeBruhl counsels cancer-stricken patients to stay strong, their journey has just started

Patricia DeBruhl wants all of her cancer patients to keep their shoes.

It may sound cryptic, but after DeBruhl’s friend was diagnosed with colon cancer several years ago her first inclination was to return a brand-new pair of walking shoes.

After all, the friend didn’t think she was going to need them.

That’s where DeBruhl comes in.

Part of her job is to reaffirm with her patients that their lives aren’t over once they receive a diagnosis of cancer. It’s why “Keep the Shoes” is the logo she chose for the back of her business card; she feels the message underscores that a diagnosis is just the start of a journey, not a death sentence.

“The first thing I tell patients is, ‘You’ve just been told that you’re going on a trip that you didn’t know you were going on,’ ” said DeBruhl, who is an integrative health counselor and oncology support liaison for Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale.

Woman with a scrapbook

Patricia DeBruhl is an integrative
health counselor and oncology
support liaison for Banner
Thunderbird Medical Center in

Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

“So before we all get caught up in the fact that our hair’s going to fall out or that we’re going to die, or how am I going to tell my kids, I try to bring them back to what do we know, what do we still need to learn and let’s figure out how to bring in the strength of your resources to shore up the work that's going to help you pack your suitcase for the journey.”

DeBruhl’s own journey with cancer started almost four decades ago at age 21. That’s when her father received the news he had Stage 4 lung cancer and had six months to live.

“It was an era when no one even said the word ‘cancer.’ Everybody called it ‘The Big C.’ Hospitals gave the same chemo treatment for multiple types of cancer,” DeBruhl said. “Doctors and hospitals did their best, but it wasn’t very involved. If there were support groups, we certainly didn’t know about it. I think ‘numb’ was the best word to describe us at that time.”

DeBruhl’s father died at 56 years old, a month after her college graduation and wedding. She soldiered on with her life, teaching elementary education in the Washington School District in Phoenix and then starting a family of her own. DeBruhl ran a non-profit for 12 years and then decided to get her masters and doctorate at ASU.

“I knew that counseling was the way to go, but I didn’t really know what counseling was at the time,” DeBruhl said. “I thought it was about giving advice, but counseling is about helping the other person figure out what it is they need to do. It’s kind of reflecting a mirror back on them.”

DeBruhl took that look into the mirror almost a decade ago when she started studying for her Master of Counseling Degree, which she obtained in 2006. That same year she started working for Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa as an intern, which ASU arranged.

“I was told very quickly it was an internship and there was no job attached. I loved it because they gave me a badge and I felt a part of a family,” DeBruhl said. “As the months passed by, I loved it so much that I wanted to stay. I wanted to keep that badge. I wanted to stay so bad that they’d have to peel my fingers from the door and rip that badge away from me because I didn’t want to leave. I was so committed to working there that it showed. Everybody there believed in my passion.”

Banner Desert believed in her passion so much that they hired her as an oncology counselor. It was there where DeBruhl set up several innovative cancer support groups and programs in the Valley, and she was eventually recognized last August as a “Health Care Hero” by the Phoenix Business Journal.

Hand holding a business card

Patricia DeBruhl shares her business card, stamped with her inspirational motto "Keep the Shoes."

During her 9½-year tenure at Banner Desert, DeBruhl set up the Day of Art program where people facing cancer paint pictures to gain a better understanding of their journey. DeBruhl believes exposure to creative arts therapy helps reduce depression, anxiety and pain as well as improves their quality of life. She also developed a ballroom dance program for patients, and even arranged for professionals to dress in scrubs and dance in the hallways to cheer up patients.

“I felt like if we can do art, why can’t we sing? Why can’t we dance? Why can’t we engage the entire person?” DeBruhl said. “We don’t want the hospital to be a depressing place. This is a community health center. Let’s talk about good health and embracing life.”

While DeBruhl got her patients to embrace life, she embraced ASU once again to obtain her Doctor of Behavioral Health in the College of Health Solutions, which she earned in 2011. And she still remains a dance partner with the university, coordinating interns for her department. She moved to Banner Thunderbird in June.

“The teaching piece in my life has come full circle,” DeBruhl said. “I love supervising interns because it allows my relationship with ASU to continue.”

Her journey is still going strong. Good thing DeBruhl has some comfortable shoes.

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Engineering success for women in science

ASU alumna part of latest medical tech advancements.
Engineering a path for women to succeed in the sciences.
November 12, 2015

Editor's note: Leading up to Homecoming, we'll be running several stories a week on ASU alumni. Find more alumni stories here.

As a program manager for medical device company Medtronic Inc., Virginia Counts sees firsthand some of the latest and most exciting advancements in medical technology — like new ways to monitor cardiac health.

But as her career in the field has progressed, she has also seen more women involved in the sciences, an issue that has always been important to Counts: She has been involved with the Society of Women Engineers since her days as an undergrad at Arizona State University.

Counts has recently returned to her alma mater as a doctoral student in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. She also holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from ASU; Counts started out in civil engineering but switched to mechanical engineering because she was more intrigued by the fact that it allows one to actually see how things work.

Read on to find out more about some of the cool medical gadgets coming out today, and to get some advice from Counts on finding success as an engineer.

Question: What does your position as a program manager entail?

Answer: Medtronic Inc. is a medical device company. I work in the cardiac-rhythm and heart-failure unit with sourcing, so I work with suppliers transitioning medical device components from supplier to supplier. In the medical device industry, because we are heavily regulated and because we’re dealing with people’s lives, we’re very cautious anytime we make any kind of change. There’s engineering in all kinds of medical device testing, in assessing the changes and figuring out what kind of testing we have to do.

Q: Why did you choose to pursue a career in engineering?

A: In high school I was always very good at math and science. I graduated from high school in three and a half years, and in that time, I took five years of math. It just came really easy to me. As I was picking a career, some family friends who were engineers influenced me to pursue that field. I started out in civil engineering because that was the field our family friends were in. But I decided to switch to mechanical engineering because you can see it; you can see mechanical things working, which, to me, made it easier to understand and I felt it was more practical and applicable to many different problems.

Q: What do you love about your job?

A: One of the things I love the most about my job is that I get to work with teams of people and, as a group, we figure out the best way to solve a problem. One of the ways I think I contribute the most is helping people make the connections between what seems like very different pieces of information and helping them see those connections.

Q: You were recently recognized as one of “Arizona’s 48 Most Intriguing Women.” How does it feel to be included in that group?

A: I was just astonished that I was chosen to be among this wonderful group of women. If you look at the website, you’ll see the names of the other women honored, and they are some amazing women. It was really a huge honor to be included in this group of diverse, successful women.

Q: It is sometimes the case that women opt not to pursue careers in fields like engineering because of gender discrimination or stereotypes. Is that something that you ever struggled with?

A: When I look back on my career as a student, which began as an undergrad in 1983, things were different then. I’ve made it a priority in my life to help influence change regarding stereotypes around women and technology and, as such, I’ve been very involved in the Society of Women Engineers throughout my whole career. I first became involved with the group as a student at ASU, in a local chapter on campus, and I served as president of the organization from 2008-2009.

Q: How do you see technology affecting the health-care sector in the future?

A: I see wonderful things happening. For example, Medtronic has two recent devices that look like they should be on “Star Trek.” One is called Reveal LINQ, a cardiac monitoring device that is teeny-tiny but is able to help patients who are having infrequent issues that are difficult to figure out. It’s amazing how small the device is (about the size of a pack of gum) and how easy it is to implant. I think a day will come soon where many of us will have a device like this connected with our iPhones, almost like you do with Fitbit. We also launched another pacemaker device called Micra, which is a tiny pacemaker that gets implanted very similarly to how a stent gets implanted. I think there are some very cool things out there when it comes to technological advancements in health. In the medical industry, we have the opportunity to shift from helping patients with their symptoms to preventing those symptoms in the first place.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?

A: I think it’s really important to reach out to student organizations, like the Society of Women Engineers. They can give you a network of professional contacts, and probably even friends over time. In line with that, my other advice is make sure you get some work experience before you leave school. Whether through a lab position, or as an intern, or something else, to figure out what you like and what you don’t like. Engineering is a wonderful baseline knowledge for anything you want to do in your career. Even branching out to something as different as law or medicine. I think with technology advancing so quickly these days, having the technical background to be able to launch off of is really helpful for anybody just starting out.

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657