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ASU Peace Corps Prep program primes Sun Devils for volunteer service abroad

November 29, 2018

Thousands of Americans every year contribute their time and abilities to communities around the world through service in the Peace Corps. This spring, Arizona State University senior and Barrett, The Honors College student Meghan Hiryak will become one of them, helping to fulfill the Peace Corps’ mission of promoting world peace, friendship and understanding between Americans and people from other countries.

Hiryak will graduate this December with her degree in women and gender studies from ASU’s School of Social Transformation and in March will depart for her assignment in Guatemala, a move she began preparing for with ASU’s Peace Corps Prep Program. Meghan Hiryak Meghan Hiryak will graduate from ASU in December and serve with the Peace Corps beginning in spring 2019. Photo by August Tang Download Full Image

The ASU Peace Corps Prep program helps students acquire the knowledge, skills and experience needed to serve in the U.S. Peace Corps. It is open to all majors and is flexible with options that allow students to join through their senior year.

“ASU’s program is designed for students to explore opportunities in Peace Corps, determine which ones align with their career goals and prepare for their desired position through targeted coursework and experiential learning,” said Claire Michael, Peace Corps Prep coordinator at ASU.

Michael said the Peace Corps created the prep program for students to obtain sector-specific skills, foreign language proficiency, intercultural competence and professional savvy and leadership. As volunteers, they have the option to focus their service in a range of areas including education, health, community economic development, environment, youth in development and agriculture.

ASU offers two program options including a for-credit option recognized by both ASU and Peace Corps, as well as a non-credit option that is recognized by Peace Corps alone. Both options increase participants’ competitiveness for Peace Corps service (and the global workforce) by pairing coursework with sector-related service and professional development opportunities. 

ASU’s program also offers a range of support for students in an effort to make their experience as relevant and useful as possible. Some of these developments include a dedicated ASU Mentor Network Group for Peace Corps Prep Students and Coverdell Fellows; a canvas organization providing resources for students’ academic, career and Peace Corps goals; and a monthly newsletter focused on opportunities, events and articles meant to broaden students’ understanding of the prep program’s goals.

Hiryak took a Peace Corps Prep class during her sophomore year and applied for the program this year as a senior. Growing up in a military family, she lived in many different places, including Skopje, Macedonia, which is where she first encountered the Peace Corps. Her upbringing, as well as her passion for travel, especially in developing countries, inspired her to pursue the program.

“I actually kind of lost sight of my goal to apply to the Peace Corps through the rest of my years in school, but after living in Peru this summer I was reminded of my love for this kind of work and decided to apply,” Hiryak said. 

Hiryak will complete three months of pre-service training and will then be assigned to a specific community in Guatemala as a maternal and child health volunteer. She will work with women and children in either a clinic or a community setting, will survey the population to determine specific public health needs and help develop a plan of action. 

Her volunteer assignment will help her develop new abilities as well as provide an opportunity to use her language skills and apply knowledge acquired through her college major.

“I am very excited to practice and continue my Spanish language skills because that will be so useful not only in country but when I return,” she said. “My gender studies degree has also really increased my knowledge of working with communities and empowering them to amplify their own voice, so I am excited to put sustainable change in a community into practice.” 

The experience Hiryak has received through the Peace Corps Prep program and that she will receive during her time as a Peace Corps volunteer will also help her pursue her professional goals of working in public health and increasing diversity and access in health care.

“I hope to continue my education when I return in the medical field and work on creating a diverse and culturally competent education system for health care professionals that is inclusive of marginalized communities such as LGBT folks and people of color,” she said. 

Copy writer and editor, Educational Outreach and Student Services


Mexico’s secretary of the economy discusses nation's globalized future at Convergence Lab panel

November 29, 2018

Mexico’s Secretary of the Economy and Arizona State University alumnus Ildefonso Guajardo reflected on the future of a globalized Mexico at the latest Convergence Lab ASU event in Mexico City on Nov. 19, an event that brought together ASU and Thunderbird School of Global Management alumni, as well as a number of academics and media outlets who follow ASU activities in Mexico. 

Guajardo was interviewed by TV anchorwoman Ana Paula Ordorica, and their conversation was followed by a panel that included Robert Grosse, Thunderbird School professor and director for Latin America; Amy Glover, CEO of Speyside Mexico; and John Santa Maria, the director general of Coca-Cola Femsa. Convergence Lab ASU event in Mexico City Mexico’s Secretary of the Economy and ASU alumnus Ildefonso Guajardo discusses global trends with journalist and political analyst Ana Paula Ordorica at a Nov. 19 Convergence Lab ASU event in Mexico. Photo by Speyside Group Download Full Image

The event took place ahead of a packed week for the secretary, which would include attending the G-20 meeting of heads of state in Buenos Aires, where President Donald Trump will join the leaders of Canada and Mexico in signing the updated revision to the North American Free Trade Agreement, now known as the USCMA; and attending the Dec. 1 swearing-in of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as next president of Mexico, signaling the end of Guajardo's six-year cabinet tenure.

At the ASU event, Guajardo told the Convergence Lab audience that Mexico is far more connected to the outside world than it was a generation ago, and that the process of opening up the country’s economy hadn’t merely been a question of signing free-trade agreements with willing partners, but of also building internal capacity to be more globally competitive. He said Mexico had been playing catch-up in so many areas, citing anti-trust policy and laws as an example, an area in which the United States with its Sherman Antitrust Act had a century’s head start over Mexico. Likewise, while Mexico’s economy has demonstrated that trade can create decent jobs, the country still lags behind when it comes to entrepreneurship.

The secretary of the economy also acknowledged that the exuberance around globalization of a few years back has given way to wary reassessments in many quarters of the world about the costs and benefits of great economic interdependence across borders. He said people were too quick to forget that the postwar global economic architecture was designed in part to give preferential treatment to emerging and underdeveloped nations, “but someone seems to have forgotten that foreign policy requires consensus in a democracy,” and that any consensus for the status quo would be difficult to sustain once emerging markets emerged, seemingly at the expense (at least in terms of the political narratives) of the less educated workers in developed world.  Hence the current blowback against globalization in many countries, where domestic economic “losers” are taking political control.

Guajardo remains optimistic about the long-term role of “a globalized Mexico” in the world, but cautions against considering any trade deal between Mexico and the U.S. as a cure-all panacea, noting that these treaties “aren’t the antidote to all commercial tensions, but they do provide a mechanism for resolving them.”

In the second segment of the event, the panel moderated by Ordorica explored what the future of a globalized Mexico means for its growing number of multinational corporations. Grosse and Glover cautioned against an overreliance on the American market. Living in the shadows of the world’s largest single market and being so tied to it culturally and economically, it’s hard for Mexican business to engage the rest of the world as much as it should. Grosse also said that despite its largely positive strategic position, Mexico and its companies need to invest more in research and development, an area in which they lag behind Brazil. Grosse also said that Mexican companies should do more to insert themselves in valuable global supply chains and think about doing a better job of marketing its own brands overseas. Glover concurred, and added that one thing she’d still like to see is for Mexico’s growing number of homegrown multinationals “bet on inclusivity and diversity in their workforce, not as a matter of social justice, but for their own competitiveness and growth.”

Santa Maria, whose company does business in more than a dozen countries, acknowledged that when FEMSA started doing business in South American countries, “we assumed we already knew how to sell Coca-Cola there, or operate a convenience store, that it was the same as back in Mexico,” but that such an attitude was a mistake.  “We really need to understand our consumers in each market, discover their preferences, and cater to them.  Every market is different, and even within one country you can have several different and distinct markets.”

As for learning about other markets, Guajardo, whose parents didn’t attend school past the sixth grade, also mentioned at the event that one of his big breaks in life came in college when he persuaded the person at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo Leon who oversaw scholarships to ASU under an exchange program at the time to let him come to Tempe for graduate studies.  “I didn’t speak a word of English when I was 20, but I talked my way into the program by saying I would be studying economics, and it’s all numbers anyway.”

You can’t plan your life too far ahead these days, Guajardo said, noting that the planning periods of our careers keep getting shorter. “Life is like a game of connecting dots, with each dot serving as an inflection point that when added to all the others in a sequence, as time unfolds, create the story of who you become.”

On a far more prosaic note, Guajardo was presented at the event with a pitchfork T-shirt and something especially meaningful to him: a gift certificate to his favorite ASU hangout: The Chuckbox burger joint on University Avenue. 

“I might have some free time to stop by soon,” he said with a chuckle, considering the dots yet to be connected down the road.

Written by Andrés Martínez

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Shocking announcement of world’s 1st gene-edited babies ushers in brave new world

November 29, 2018

At international summit, ASU bioethicist offers long-view societal perspective to address the safety, risks and ethics of Chinese researcher's unregulated actions

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2018 here.

A new era for humanity has unexpectedly arrived in the form of gene-edited twins.

On the eve of the second International Summit on Human Gene Editing in Hong Kong, a bombshell was dropped with a startling series of YouTube videos published on Nov. 25 by a scientist who had clearly gone rogue.

In the videos, Chinese researcher He Jiankui announced the births of the world’s first gene-edited babies — twin girls named Lulu and Nana — who had their genomes permanently altered in the hopes of giving them lifetime protection against HIV infection.

Any such gene-editing work on human embryos has been expressly forbidden by a consensus reached by leaders in the field after the first gene-editing summit, held in 2015, and subsequent guidelines issued by the National Academy of Sciences in 2017.

But the guidelines, despite the efforts of well-meaning scientists, are just guidelines and can be ignored since there are no formal international laws in place to prevent such work.

It was known that He had been working on gene editing, but the pregnancies were a complete secret. Apparently, He used part of his own money to make gene-edited babies, without knowledge from the scientific community or even his own institution, the Southern University of Science and Technology in the fast-growing high-tech corridor of Shenzhen, China. 

The scientific community quickly condemned the researcher's actions. The chair of the organizing committee, Nobel laureate David Baltimore, called He’s actions “irresponsible" and “a failure of self-regulation by the scientific community.”

Many scientists questioned whether the gene editing was medically necessary.

Speakers at the International Summit on Human Gene Editing have been mobbed all week by the press, asking for commentary as they learned of He’s actions.

Among the attendees was Arizona State University School of Life Sciences science historian and bioethicist J. Benjamin Hurlbut. Back in March, Hurlbut helped spearhead an effort to try to spark a new kind of international, “bigger” conversation on gene editing. 

Hurlbut presciently wrote in Nature, along with Harvard collaborator Sheila Jasanoff: “Unless these [genome] editorial aspirations are more inclusively debated, well-intentioned research could move humanity closer to a future it has not assented to and might not want.”

After learning firsthand of the details of the CRISPR babies, Hurlbut told Chemical & Engineering News in an interview at the summit that He’s purported achievement “simply leapfrogs completely over anything that would count as treatment into something that is much more unequivocally in the territory of enhancement.”

The timing of the designer baby news — first reported by MIT Technology Review and later, by the Associated Press (which was allowed advance access to film in He’s lab as part of its exclusive) — was also highly unusual because it had not been presented at a scientific conference or published in a peer-reviewed journal.  

READ: Hurlbut and colleagues' editorial piece on who is to blame

So, when He appeared during his prior-scheduled summit presentation spot on Wednesday, there were crowds lined up hours ahead of time, with reporters and photographers flanking the aisles to hear the first details of his clinical trial.

The room was “packed with reporters, the racket of cameras clicking away like mad, a huge crowd,” said Hurlbut. “He’s presentation was thorough and calm. He was questioned by Mathew Porteus and Robin Lovell Badge, two leading scientists, who did an extraordinary job of managing the crowd and conducting a calm, thoughtful and thorough discussion. He was remarkably collected under the pressure of it, particularly given that he is, in my experience, a somewhat soft-spoken and rather shy person. Many questions focused on his motivations, which he answered thoughtfully. Other questions focused on the ethical review process. He answered vaguely or incompletely.” 

According to Baltimore, there were upwards of 1.8 million people watching the summit livestream of (He's talk begins about the 1-hour, 18-minute mark), which played out late at night back in the U.S.

“It was a very unusual scene for a scientific meeting, and yet there was no disorderliness from the crowd,” said Hurlbut. “All in all, it was quite calm, professional and appropriate to an august scientific meeting.”

During his presentation, He defended his actions, saying that he wanted to rid the world of HIV infection, “where HIV remains a top-10 cause of death in several countries, in particular developing countries.” He added, “for unaffected children, born to HIV-positive mothers, make up a large percentage of births in South Africa.” 

He induced a targeted deletion of a short section of DNA to inactivate the CCR5 gene, which is involved in HIV infection, by using a gene-editing tool called CRISPR-Cas9. CRISPR introduced a new mutant version of the CCR5 gene, one that, according to He, is “a natural protection against HIV carried by as much as 10 percent of the population in several European countries. It prevents HIV infection.”

It is thought that by inducing the mutation in CCR5, HIV cannot enter a cell, thwarting the infection.

Chinese scientist He Jiankui provides the first details of his study at the International Summit on Human Gene Editing in Hong Kong on Wednesday. During his presentation, He defended his actions, saying that he wanted to rid the world of HIV infection, “where HIV remains a top-10 cause of death in several countries, in particular developing countries." Image courtesy of summit livestream from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

In all, eight couples enrolled for the study and one dropped out, He said.

The babies were made by standard in vitro fertilization methods — with one crucial addition. At the same time a single sperm was introduced to fertilize the egg, the CRISPR gene-editing system with the replacement version of the CCR5 gene was injected at the same time.

In each case, the father was HIV-positive and the mother was not. A total of 31 embryos were injected, He said, and 70 percent were CRISPR-edited with the HIV-resistant version of CCR5.

Two of those embryos were implanted into a woman, who gave birth to twin girls a few weeks ago. They are healthy and being monitored, while the identity of the babies, mother and father are being protected.

“He opted to work on HIV not because there is a heightened medical risk to these children, but because of the social stigma that the disease carries in China,” Hurlbut told CNN. “So the first instance of human germline modification was not only medically unnecessary and a genetic enhancement, it was also undertaken as a genetic fix to a social problem. That is a very dangerous door to open.”

During the Chemical & Engineering News interview, Hurlbut said, “These two lives are now an experiment, a matter of scientific curiosity, which is an outrageous way to relate to human lives.”

During the Q&A portion of the discussion, He, when pressed, seemed to only reluctantly reveal another bombshell — that a second mother is early in her pregnancy with a CCR5, CRISPR-edited baby.

In 2017, during He’s postdoctoral training and visits to America, both Hurlbut and his father, William, a bioethics professor at Stanford, met him at gene-editing meetings. They had the opportunity to discuss CRISPR ethics, exchange emails and help with surveys that He wanted to develop to explore Chinese attitudes toward genome editing. 

They described the conversations to STAT news, which Sharon Begley characterized as “the Hurlbuts have discussed the ethics of human-genome editing with He more than any other scholars in the West and probably the world.”

“Clearly he recognized that his work would be controversial,” J. Benjamin Hurlbut told STAT by email. “But for all the unease and even outright condemnation from his scientific colleagues, his actions reflect, at least in part, motivations that are widespread in the conduct of science. His research pushes the envelope, seeks to have a significant impact and aims to make headlines and earn recognition.”

ASU bioethicists Ben Hurlbut speaks onstage at a gene editing summit
ASU School of Life Sciences bioethicist J. Benjamin Hurlbut gave a talk at the summit Thursday. Back in March, Hurlbut helped spearhead an effort to try to spark a new kind of international, “bigger” conversation on gene editing: "My view is that categorically this should not have been done. Because what was at stake in this project was a matter that belongs to the whole human community.” Photo Courtesy of Peter Mills/Nuffield Council on Bioethics

During his summit discussion on “Identifying Basic Principles for Moving Forward” on Thursday, Hurlbut offered a long-view societal perspective to address the safety, risks and ethics and responsibility of He’s actions, and gene-editing science.

He talked about an event 40 years ago, with the birth of the world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown.

“It’s worth remembering that this is not the first time that a risky and controversial experiment in human reproductive technology has been undertaken without thorough preclinical research, has been revealed first through the popular press and without passing through scientific peer review,” said Hurlbut.

“That famous first goes to the inventors of IVF itself (Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe). Let’s remember too that rushing into these risky kinds of human applications was not a one-off but is, in fact, a pattern.”

WATCH: Summit's archived webcast — Hurlbut's talk starts around the 2-hour, 3-minute mark

There was the 2000s political and ethical controversy over human embryonic stem-cell science, and Hurlbut mentioned the more recent development of “three-parent” babies to treat infertility.

“Professional self-regulation often fails to hold these in check, particular in a scientific culture that rewards provocative research, grabbing headlines and famous firsts,” said Hurlbut. 

“We should seek to learn from the event of this week because it kind of continues a larger pattern rather than departs from it. And it’s a pattern that the wider community has to acknowledge, and own and address.”

“To be absolutely clear, my point is not to justify the experiment that was revealed this week. My view is that categorically this should not have been done. Because what was at stake in this project was a matter that belongs to the whole human community.”

Just how, when and if the international human community can put the genome-editing genie back in the bottle remains to be determined.

Top photo: Researchers and media crowd this week's second International Summit on Human Gene Editing in Hong Kong. Photo by J. Benjamin Hurlbut/ASU

Joe Caspermeyer

Manager (natural sciences) , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


CISA's Ashley Randall one of five ASU faculty selected for prestigious winter fellowship in Israel

November 27, 2018

Ashley Randall, associate professor in Arizona State University’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, is one of 24 professors chosen to attend the Jewish National Fund’s 2018 Winter Faculty Fellowship Program in Israel.

Randall, who is director of training in the Counseling and Counseling Psychology program and does innovative research into couples’ regulation of emotion in interpersonal relationships, will travel throughout Israel from Dec. 26 to Jan. 8, meeting Israeli professors who have similar research interests, with the goal of developing collaborations, research projects and co-authored articles, and establishing exchange programs between faculty and students. The fellowship, which more than 250 have already taken part in, is a fully paid intensive program for full-time U.S.-based academics. ASU associate professor of Counseling and Counseling Psychology Ashley Randall Ashley K. Randall is an ASU associate professor of counseling and counseling psychology. Photo by Tim Trumble Download Full Image

Randall said she received a call confirming her acceptance in the program while attending a conference in early November.

“The organizers told me they had 100 applicants, conducted more than 40 interviews, and selected 24 faculty to attend this winter’s program,” she said. “Needless to say, I was very honored and humbled to be selected for this prestigious program.”

During the trip, the participants will meet Israelis from all walks of life and will hear from a variety of speakers. They will also be exposed to contemporary Israeli society, culture and historical sites.

“I have heard from many past participants that this trip is a ‘life-changing’ experience,” said Randall, who is one of five faculty from ASU selected for this year’s program. “I’m hoping to not only have the opportunity to discuss with like-minded colleagues both the current state of the field and important future directions, I’m also looking forward to being exposed to the many faces of Israel, including its history and current society.” 

The other ASU faculty are Bradley Greger, associate professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering; Lekelia Jenkins, associate professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society; Kenan Song, assistant professor in the Polytechnic School; and Thomas Dempster, associate research professor in the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation.

Randall said that program participants were asked to list six faculty across the various program’s partners with whom they would like to meet. She said she feels honored to get to meet with faculty and postdoctoral students from institutions that include Tel Aviv University, Bar-Ilan University, University of Haifa and Hebrew University. 

The academics will also meet with professionals and experts involved in government, industry, education, media and other sectors to understand the many facets of Israel's evolving national and international policies. Those who take part will gain a deeper awareness of Israel as a “startup nation,” its success in water innovation, and how the country addresses regional and global challenges.

To learn more about the universities and professors taking part in the 2018 Winter Faculty Fellowship Program in Israel, or to register for future programs, visit http://www.ff2israel.org or contact Rene Reinhard at 212-879-9305, Ext. 235, or Eileen Wedeen at 212-439-7855.

Kelley Karnes

Marketing Content Specialist, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


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Climate change statistics rising faster and higher

November 27, 2018

ASU Professor Dave White discusses the dire new National Climate Assessment, which he co-authored

The fourth federal climate change report was released late last week. The assessment was grim.

Thousands could die. Annual losses could top billions of dollars. Seafood harvest and crops will decline. Wildfires and floods will increase. Rising sea levels will threaten trillions of dollars' worth of coastal real estate.

Dave White, director of the Decision Center for a Desert City and professor in the School of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University co-authored the paper. ASU Now talked to him about what the results mean.

Question: The Fourth National Climate Assessment report (NCA4 Volume II) was released this week. How is the report produced and who are the authors?

Answer: The Fourth National Climate Assessment was produced by the U.S. Global Change Research Program with input from more than 300 expert authors. The contributors come from federal government agencies, universities, national labs, tribal and indigenous communities and the private sector. The Global Change Research Act of 1990 mandates that the federal government prepare a report for Congress every four years to analyze the effects of global climate change on the environment, economy, agriculture and other aspects of American life. The report is classified as a "highly influential scientific assessment," which means that it has the potential to affect many areas of federal law and policy and therefore must meet the most stringent quality and review requirements. 

Dave White

 Q: What are the major highlights or key findings from the assessment? 

 A: First of all, the report once again confirms the overwhelming scientific consensus that there is clear, significant and compelling evidence that human activities, especially greenhouse gas emissions, are warming the Earth's atmosphere and causing global climate change. The report makes a direct connection between climate change and negative impacts on Americans' lives both now and in the future.

The report concludes that the evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and that climate impacts are intensifying across the United States. These impacts are increasing risks to environmental, physical, social and economic well-being. The NCA4 details the impacts of climate change to national topics such as human health, water, energy, forests, oceans, agriculture, transportation and tribes and indigenous people. Also, the report explains how climate change is affecting different regions of the country such as the Southwest.

Most importantly perhaps, the report focuses how we can respond to climate change by reducing emissions and adapting to changes. While the message is clear that the risks are real and already here, the report highlights responses that can not only help us to adapt to climate change but also improve equity, justice, health and national security, for instance. 

Q: Which chapter did you help to write and what are the take-home messages? 

A: I co-authored Chapter 17 of the assessment (Complex Systems), which highlights the interconnected nature of climate change risks. For example, climate change is increasing the severity and extent of droughts in the West, stressing the availability of water supplies and leading to less water available to support agriculture or energy. As climate change leads to more severe heat waves, stressing electricity demand, we will experience more energy infrastructure failures, or blackouts, which can cripple a city's water treatment plants. One of the key messages from our chapter is that we need to improve the joint management of these interconnected systems to enhance the resilience of communities, industries and ecosystems to climate stress. For example, in the Southwest during times of severe drought, reservoir operations are managed to balance the demands for drinking water, farms and electricity production. 

Q: The chapter in the Southwest included some helpful things being done in the region. What can individuals do to do their bit?

A: Climate change is affecting the Southwest by increasing the likelihood and severity of water shortages, wildfires and droughts but also occasional floods, episodes of extreme heat and diminished snowpack, among other factors. Many of these risks disproportionately affect the most vulnerable members of our communities. People, communities and governments across the region, however, are taking action to respond to climate change and reduce future vulnerabilities. These are discussed in Chapter 25 of the report (Southwest), which was led by our colleague Greg Garfin of the University of Arizona. To contribute to climate change adaptation, communities of the Southwest are promoting renewable energy, urban water conservation, wildfire fuel reduction and increasing agricultural efficiency. This report provides the most authoritative and up-to-date assessment of the impacts of climate change — impacts that are here now — and provides specific actions we must take to avoid the most disastrous consequences. 

Above photo: The image, taken while the International Space Station was located over western Africa near the Senegal-Mali border, shows a fully formed anvil cloud with numerous smaller cumulonimbus towers rising near it. The high energy levels of these storm systems typically make them hazardous, due to associated heavy precipitation, lightning, high wind speeds and possible tornadoes. Credit: NASA. Source: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Flickr page.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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Math and science boot camp solves for diversity and success in STEM

November 20, 2018

ASU institute helps students of all backgrounds gain the skills needed for graduate school

Every year at Arizona State University, one program works to bring students from different universities and even countries together to solve real-world problems, connect with internationally renowned experts and be inspired to pursue the next academic step in their STEM careers.

The Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute is an intensive, eight-week summer program that aims to prepare undergrads from any college for graduate school, with a special focus on underrepresented-minority students.

Out of over 200 applicants each year, the program carefully accepts a total cohort of 25-35 students.

Part of the Simon A. Levin Mathematical and Computational Modeling Sciences Center, this institute gives students the chance to develop and work on their own projects and later present their findings, all the while receiving valuable mentorship from ASU faculty and each other.

“The program was strategically designed to attract and train students with no previous research experience who would not otherwise have access to a world-class, graduate-style learning environment,” said founder and Regents’ Professor Carlos Castillo-Chavez.

“Typically, when participants first arrive at the institute, they are either unmotivated or unclear about graduate school — but by the end, almost all are interested in that option,” added the program’s co-director, Assistant Professor Anuj Mubayi.

Castillo-Chavez created the institute 22 years ago and brought it to ASU in 2004 with the hope of broadening its participation. Now serving as co-director along with Mubayi, he has watched that vision become a reality, with almost 600 undergraduate students and nearly 200 graduate student mentors participating to date.

The program has significantly contributed to an increased diversity among those receiving a PhD in mathematical sciences.

The Simon A. Levin Center reports that, out of 596 alumni, 27 percent have earned a PhD, and 60 percent of those degrees went to underrepresented-minority students.

Funding comes from both local and federal sources — currently including the National Science Foundation (which has made the institute part of its Research Experiences for Undergraduates program), the National Security Agency, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the ASU Office of the President and the ASU Office of the Provost.

For on-ground support, the program draws heavily from the faculty and postdoctoral researchers of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, in which Castillo-Chavez and Mubayi are faculty members, though staffing for its lecturer and mentor roster is a team effort that includes subject experts from across the university, nation and world.

A transformational experience

During the first three weeks of the program, students attend special lectures and classes by guest speakers and program faculty throughout the day, and then spend their evenings doing homework. The fourth week is the critical research design phase, where students choose research on topics of their interest with help and insight from faculty and select peer groups so they can tackle the issues together.

“Working together and learning from each other naturally leads to a cross-sharing of one’s culture and values,” said Castillo-Chavez. “Through this exchange, our students gain perspective about how to better contribute to their communities.”

The last four weeks are spent doing rigorous research and creating math models to address their selected problems. At the end of the program, there is a banquet and poster symposium where students formally present their findings. Many participant groups go on to present their research at conferences around the country, or continue the research they began during the program along with their mentors to submit for publication.

Aside from these scholarly pursuits, another important aspect of the program is allowing students to have fun and connect with their mentors and each other, building a network of STEM peers. Community activities range from talent shows to trips to the Grand Canyon, and every weeknight students chat with faculty and tutors over dinner for “mentor meals.”

“The institute is not just about learning mathematics and biology, discovering new research techniques, or creating new models to aid in solving complex, real world problems. It’s about building relationships and connections with others,” said Mubayi.

Daniel Romero, currently an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and a guest lecturer at last summer’s program, says that his participation in the institute was a transformational experience.

“After attending the institute, I knew I wanted to get a PhD and become a professor so I could continue doing research for life,” he said.

Beverly Gonzalez, another alumnus, has a multifaceted career — she’s a mathematical statistician for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an affiliated assistant professor at the University of Illinois and Northwestern University, and an adjunct professor at Northeastern Illinois University.

“This program exposed me to real-life applications for mathematics and biostatistics, which led me to pursue my degree in applied mathematics and led to my current roles,” she said.

Several current ASU faculty are also alumni of the institute, including Mubayi, Associate Professor and Simon A. Levin Center co-director Yun Kang, Associate Professor Erika Camacho, Professor Stephen Wirkus, Lecturer Raquel Lopez and Instructor Arlene Evangelista.

“Once you join the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute Family,” said program coordinator Rebecca Perlin, “you are family forever.”

Applications for the summer 2019 program are open through Jan. 31.

Top photo: Karen Funderburk presents her final report as a student in the summer 2017 program. Funderburk is now an applied math for the life and social sciences graduate student in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Photo courtesy of the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute

Mikala Kass

Editorial Communications Coordinator , School of Human Evolution and Social Change


Biodesign symposium hosts researchers from renowned West China Hospital

November 20, 2018

Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the Biodesign Institute, co-hosted a lively and innovative symposium Nov. 9, greeting the international guests in their native Chinese. After enthusiastic applause, the presentations began.

The symposium, which hosted representatives from Sichuan University and West China Hospital, in addition to researchers from the Biodesign Institute, focused on exploring strategies for the detection and treatment of infectious diseases and cancer. Symposium Biodesign investigators and representatives of Sichuan University and West China Hospital presented at the symposium on Nov. 9. Download Full Image

The gathering represented the most recent of many of international university collaborations spearheaded by ASU’s Biodesign Institute. Symposia like these extend existing relationships, foster new partnerships and provide a valuable exchange of ideas. 

“I think Biodesign’s major objective is to translate the bench side of research to clinical applications, and we are not only looking for clinical partners in the U.S. but also for partners outside,” said Tony Hu, associate professor at the Biodesign Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics and co-host of the symposium.

The West China Hospital and its accompanying Sichuan University are highly regarded in China, especially in the realm of medical research. In fact, West China Hospital was ranked No. 2 on a list of China’s best hospitals.

“The West China Hospital definitely has great facilities, and it’s a well-known hospital. Its medical research is often No. 1 in China, so it could be perfect for collaboration with Biodesign,” Hu said.

Four speakers spoke on behalf of Biodesign, and four speakers spoke on behalf of the West China Hospital and Sichuan University.

West China Hospital, Sichuan University

Liu Jie — Immune-regulation in immunity against RSV infection 

Liu Jie works in the Department of Infectious Diseases and Vaccines at West China Hospital studying the flu, RSV, MCV and cancer.

In his presentation at the Biodesign Institute, he focused on the challenges posed for vaccinating against the RSV infection. Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, is common, very contagious and typically infects the respiratory tracts of children before the age of 2. The (FI)-RSV vaccine, which was previously used to immunize children, is no longer in use due to the fact it enhances the disease and its associated symptoms.

Currently, the only treatments available are nucleoside inhibitors and monoclonal antibodies, and there is no licensed vaccine for the infection. Some challenges to creating a new vaccine include the fact that most patients are infected at a young age, making clinical trials less viable; the failure of the human immune system to protect the body against re-infection; and the lack of sufficient animal models to test out a new vaccine.

Ding Bisen — Vascular niche regulates lung regeneration and fibrosis 

Ding Bisen, an assistant professor at the Weill Cornell Medical College, studies liver and lung regeneration. In his lecture, he addressed how the vascular niche can regulate fibrosis and regeneration in human lungs.

With fibrosis being the cause of death in about 40 percent of all diseases, it is important to understand how and why it takes place in the human body and what mechanisms can be targeted to prevent it. Ding presented findings that could mediate fibrosis while promoting lung regeneration.

He first proposed that vascular regulation could be used to bypass lung fibrosis. He followed this up with some background regarding lung generation, noting that endothelial cells guide organ regeneration while blood vessels instruct hepatic regrowth after injury.

Ding focused much of his research studies on the endothelial Mmp14 gene, which encodes for lung regrowth. He concluded that Mmp14 in lung endothelial cells could promote regeneration while suppressing fibrosis, in what he called a “proregenerative and antifibrotic vascular niche.”

Zhang Wengeng — Precision medicine in West China Hospital 

Zhang Wengeng, a representative and member of the editorial board for the Precision Medicine Center at West China Hospital, presented on the different laboratories within the center and elaborated on their research goals.

Launched in 2014 by Weimin Li with building beginning in July 2015, the Precision Medicine Center’s mission is to “accelerate the implementation of precision medicine into clinical care.”

The center has a high throughput sequencing laboratory with a wide variety of platforms for microbial sequencing and clinical genetic testing. The lab has technology that can sequence anything from a whole genome to single-cell RNA, and is currently covering various projects, ranging from topics of genetic cancer susceptibility to the driver genes in lung cancer.

The center houses other labs including the Lung Cancer Molecular Phenotype Lab and the Molecular Imaging and Targeted Tracer Laboratory. The Industrial Technology Institute, which belongs to the center, aims to bridge the gap between hospitals and commercial companies.

Meihua Wan — Nanoplasmonic quantification of circulating pathogen-derived extracellular vesicles 

Meihua Wan, a member of the Department of Integrative Medicine at West China Hospital, studies nanoplasmonic sensing and detection and its use in clinical applications.

In her presentation, she discussed exosomes as novel biomarkers for proteins, lipids and nucleic acids. She also addressed the limitations imposed on exosomes in diagnostics, citing that they are unable to directly detect tumors, the experiments are sample intensive, and the protocol is time-consuming.

She delved into the pros and cons of far-field and near-field microscopy, noting that far-field imaging takes less time, is easily operable and that the technology is conducive to high throughput techniques.

She applied these methods to the example of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and explained the importance of early diagnosis, something nanoplasmonic detection could accomplish.

Biodesign Institute

Grant McFadden — Oncolytic virotherapy with myxoma virus

McFadden, the center director and a professor in the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy and the School of Life Sciences, studies novel proteins that inhibit inflammatory pathways and develops poxviruses to treat cancer.

His presentation at Biodesign covered the recent push for next-generation therapies, such as cell therapy, virotherapy and immunotherapy. He specifically touched on his research focus: oncolytic virotherapy, or the use of viruses to treat cancer.

McFadden, in his research, found that the myxoma virus, a virus specific to rabbits and non-rabbit cancer cells, could be used to treat cancer, whether it be through in situ virotherapy or through ex vivo virotherapy, to treat residual cancer. According to his results, all mice that were treated with ex vivo MYXV virotherapy were alive and disease-free. 

Stuart Lindsay — Electron tunneling through a molecule

Lindsay, the director of the Center for Single Molecule Biophysics, studies nanoscale biophysics.

For his presentation, in what he called the thing that pulled him out of retirement, Lindsay describes a new method of electron tunneling through molecules, which could be used for various types of sequencing in future applications. For example, this process could be used for electronic single-molecule sequencing of DNA, the sequencing of modified proteins and peptides, the sequencing of oligosaccharides, single-molecule detection of proteins and an electrical reading of enzyme activity.

Lindsay is also affiliated with the School of Life Sciences, the School of Molecular Sciences and the Department of Physics.

NJ Tao — Developing new detection technologies: From single molecules to single cells

Tao is the center director and a professor in the Biodesign Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors and the School of Molecular Sciences. His research focuses on molecular electronics and nanoelectronics, chemical and biological sensors and wireless devices for mobile health and environmental applications.

In his presentation, he discussed the development of the first mobile metabolism tracker, wearable personal exposure devices, and devices that can optically image physiological parameters without having to be worn.

Lastly, in relation to new drug-discovery tools, Tao unpacked the possibility of targeting membrane proteins and small molecules with drugs, spoke to his project aimed at developing a point-of-care antimicrobial susceptibility test and discussed the potential for label-free imaging of action potentials in neurons, which could be used for diagnostic purposes and would forgo the slow and invasive patch-clamp technique.

Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown — Microbial intervention improves gastrointestinal and autism symptoms by changing the gut bacterial community and fecal metabolites

Krajmalnik-Brown, faculty member at the Biodesign Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology and associate faculty at the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics, as well as a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, studies molecular microbial ecology to enhance bioremediation and human health.

In her presentation, she covered how the gut microbiota in humans governs the immune system and signaling to the brain. Krajmalnik-Brown presented her findings, indicating that there was lower microbial diversity among autistic children. She also measured the four most differentially abundant gut bacteria, similarly finding that the relative abundance in the three of the four microbes was lower for autistic children.

To evaluate whether microbiota transfer therapy is a viable option to mediate the symptoms of autism in children, Krajmalnik-Brown treated a group of neurotypical children and a group of autistic children. The outcome was a marked reduction in the gastrointestinal symptoms associated with autism and the recruitment of beneficial microbes in the gut environment.

Gabrielle Hirneise

Assistant science writer , Biodesign Institute


ASU microbiologist receives NSF CAREER Award to study greenhouse gases

Associate professor to quantify the role of microbes in Amazon peatlands

November 16, 2018

Hinsby Cadillo-Quiroz, a microbiologist and associate professor with Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences, has received a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award for his work in the Amazon.

Cadillo-Quiroz and his international team of researchers are studying the Amazon peatlands from an ecosystem perspective — investigating microbes, tree size and growth, climate and floods, and changes in greenhouse gases such as CO2, methane and nitrous oxide. More specifically, they are learning about the connections between microorganisms and elements of the Amazonian ecosystems that lead to the consumption and production of methane gas. ASU's Hinsby Cadillo-Quiroz and students Associate professor Hinsby Cadillo-Quiroz (right), along with ASU undergraduate researcher Carlos Courtney (left) and high school student Jesus Fernandes, deploy a soil microbial community manipulation experiment in Quistococha, Iquitos, Peru. Photo: Sandra Leander/ASU School of Life Sciences Download Full Image

“I’m proud to receive this award and pleased that the National Science Foundation recognizes the importance of our work in the Amazon,” said Cadillo-Quiroz. “The Amazon basin has a large area of peatlands that are releasing high levels of methane and we do not understand the microbial contribution to this situation.

“It’s critical that we develop new tools and protocols to better understand these important ecosystems. But we also need to account for the pressure that climate change is having on peatlands and on the organisms that moderate methane cycling. Then we may be able to make better decisions in land management,” he said.

Peatlands are an important part of our world’s ecosystem, as they effectively absorb and store large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Globally, they cover only about 3 percent of the world’s land area but store two times more CO2 than all other land biomass combined. Previous studies on northern peatlands have shown these boggy lands can quickly change from an environment that absorbs greenhouse gases to ones that releases large amounts of CO2 and methane instead.

One of his project’s goals is to create a predictive microbe-inclusive model that researchers can use to better understand methane cycling at local or regional levels in the Amazon. This will be an important tool in managing ecosystems and predicting regional atmospheric conditions.

Additionally, by studying microbes that live both inside and outside of the Amazonian peatlands, Cadillo-Quiroz’s team hopes to show exactly what role microbes play in the absorption or release of greenhouse gases.

Furthermore, to expand the knowledge base and research capacity for the tropics, Cadillo-Quiroz will develop inquiry-based learning modules for undergraduate and graduate education. These modules will have U.S. and international collaborative research components. ASU undergraduate researchers and educators will complete their research activities with partner institutions in countries with Amazonian peatlands. 

“We are working at the cutting-edge of scientific knowledge about the world’s tropics. Building long-term capacity in these regions is as critical as knowledge generation. We are always enthusiastically looking for more partners to study peatlands with us, and to help us make a better world,” said Cadillo-Quiroz.    

The five-year NSF CAREER Award totals more than $650,000. This award is the most prestigious in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as leaders in their respective fields of research. Cadillo-Quiroz received the award earlier this year while an assistant professor at the school.

Sandra Leander

Manager, Media Relations and Marketing, School of Life Sciences


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ASU is the top public university of choice for international students

November 13, 2018

The university marks its 4th consecutive year atop the Institute of International Education rankings

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2018 here.

Arizona State University is ranked as the top public university of choice for international students, according to the 2018 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange. This is the fourth consecutive year that ASU has topped all public universities on the list, which is based on figures from the 2017–18 academic year.

During 2017–18, ASU was home to more than 13,400 international students from over 136 countries. This community of international students places ASU as the No. 5 overall college or university to host international students in the nation — in the company of private universities New York University, University of Southern California, Northeastern University and Columbia University, ranked first through fourth, respectively.

The Open Doors study, published by the independent nonprofit Institute of International Education, reported that the number of international students in the United States surpassed one million for the third consecutive year. The U.S. remains the top host of international students globally.

“Our international students bring the whole world to our university. They are a diverse set of learners who enrich our university culture and make ASU a truly global community,” said Holly Singh, senior director of the International Students and Scholars Center (ISSC).

International students choose ASU for numerous reasons, including undergraduate and graduate research opportunities, a diverse set of campus environments, the first-rate faculty and its international reputation for innovation.

Ye Chen studied at Hunan University and came to ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business through a student exchange program, partially sponsored by the China Scholarship Council. After two semesters at ASU, she didn’t consider any other university for her graduate program. Now majoring in higher and postsecondary education, she said she fell in love with everything — the faculty, staff and school culture.

“I found my career passion to work with college students,” Chen said. “I deeply agree with the values here: inclusion, community building and serving the public. This is why I decided to come back to ASU and follow my passion and study higher education as my master’s degree.”

With such a diverse student community, there are opportunities to learn from other cultures and make international friends, she added. The other incentive for Chen? The great Arizona weather.

Those who call ASU home not only have access to a high-grade education, they also receive support before setting foot on the campuses and beyond graduation.

ASU has a network of support systems in place to ensure students succeed through graduation. ISSC provides international students resources and advisement on a wide array of topics during their stay in the U.S.

“As students continue to value international education, it will be critical for us to support them in holistic and comprehensive fashion,” Singh said. “These students are not only learning in the academic sphere but also at psycho-emotional and sociocultural levels, thereby creating new ways of connecting and collaborating. These ‘global citizens’ need our full support so they continue to create a better future for us.”

Invested in the success of all of its students, the university supports students beyond graduation. ISSC facilitates the transition between school and job placement opportunities. Optional Practical Training allows eligible students to receive up to 12 months of employment authorization in their major area of study and receive real-world experience to boost their employability.

Gnyanesh Trivedi came to ASU to pursue a graduate degree in mechanical engineering from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and said he chose ASU for the vibrant campus and the opportunities both inside and outside the classroom.

“I believe that the engineering career center is a phenomenal place,” he said. “During the time I was employed there, I learned of the myriad resources available to help students focus on career development and job hunting.”

Trivedi, a graduate who is now taking advantage of Optional Practical Training (OPT), continues to stay connected to the university and ASU alumni through ASU-hosted events. He credits ISSC for anticipating student needs — providing him information on the university resources he can tap into — during his time on campus, providing him continued support through his OPT and keeping him on track after graduation.

“OPT is the best way for an international student in the U.S. to gain experience upon completion of, and sometimes even during, their degree,” he added.  “It's the best way to have hands-on experience and put classroom/lab-based knowledge into practical industry based application.”

Beyond visa, travel and job placement assistance, ISSC assists students in adapting to American university life and aids with cultural adjustment — providing opportunities for students to engage on campus through workshops and informal gatherings. This includes the Let’s Chat Series — an opportunity for students to practice and focus on English communication skills.

Programs like Global Launch were developed to prepare students to thrive in globally connected world, providing language training and academic preparation support for international students who are looking to refine their English or students who plan on studying, working or living abroad.

ASU has a history of engaging on a global level and engaging with people and issues locally, nationally and internationally.

Open Doors also reported a 6 percent increase in ASU students studying abroad in the 2016–17 academic year, placing ASU in the top 10 for students who studied abroad. Over the past five years, ASU has consistently climbed the ranks from unranked to 10th in the nation, sending students on credit-bearing study abroad programs through various international study, research, internship and service opportunities in numerous places around the globe.

In addition, opportunities for research development and international collaboration exist in more than 80 countries through various initiatives such as the Global Sport Institute and the Global Security Initiative

“I feel like there are unlimited resources here at ASU for students,” Chen said. “I always strongly encourage students that have great ideas to take action because you will have all the resources and support from the university to make it happen. Not all universities put so much effort to support the success of their students like ASU."

PLAYLIST: ASU students on their study abroad experiences

Top photo: The packed audience begins to get into the Sun Devil spirit at the International Orientation Opening Ceremonies at ASU Gammage, on Aug. 8. Around 2,000 students and 300 parents came to the event. ASU is the top public university in the U.S. for international students, coming from more than 136 countries. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

ASU ranks in top 10 in the nation for students studying abroad

November 13, 2018

Consistent with the past four years, Arizona State University improved its university study abroad ranking in the annual Institute of International Education Open Doors 2018 report. ASU jumped from No. 15 to No. 10 in the nation for U.S. colleges and universities with the most student participation in credit-bearing study abroad programs. 

In the report, ASU also maintained its ranking as the No. 1 public university for hosting international students for its fourth consecutive year. Cynthia Alaffa Cynthia Alaffa, a social work major, is pictured with her classmates in Madrid. She is taking part in the faculty-led University Service-Learning program in Burgos, Spain. Download Full Image

Asked about the continued growth in study abroad enrollments at ASU, Study Abroad Office Director Adam Henry expressed that it is further example of ASU’s commitment to being a global university.

“During the 2016–17 academic year (on which this report is based), 2,414 ASU students participated in a study abroad program,” he said. “This student participation rate is largely thanks to partnerships between our academic departments and our study abroad office that focused on helping students understand the value of studying in another country. Study abroad is very much a part of the ASU culture that thrives on global engagement.”

“Additionally, being in the top 10 is an incredible feat considering just five years ago we were unranked,” Henry said.

The top 10 destinations for U.S. students studying abroad are the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, China, Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica and Japan. The most common academic programs for study abroad are business and management, STEM fields (including physical or life sciences, health professions, engineering, math or computer science and agriculture) and social sciences.

PLAYLIST: ASU students on their study abroad experiences

Cynthia Alaffa, a social work major, traveled to Spain through ASU’s study abroad program and said the experience allowed her to work with populations she had never worked with before.

“As a social work student, we are taught that it’s not about us, it’s about making sure our clients’ needs are being met,” she said. “Being abroad, I was able to listen to many stories and perspectives. Not only was I able to gain travel experience, I learned about different social work practices of professionals in another country."

Nationally, numbers of U.S. students studying abroad grew by 2.3 percent to 332,727 Americans studying abroad for academic credit at their home institutions in 2016–17.

In addition, Open Doors 2018 shows that the profile of U.S. students going abroad continues to diversify. The number of students who identify as racial or ethnic minorities who studied abroad in 2016–17 was 29.2 percent. In 2005-06, racial and ethnic minorities accounted for only 17 percent of the study abroad population.

Outpacing the national average, 37 percent of ASU students studying abroad in 2016–17 identified as racially or ethnically diverse, including 21 percent identifying as Hispanic or Latino/a.

ASU is committed to creating flexible options for all campus-based and online students interested in studying overseas. Most recently, the Study Abroad Office launched short-term program options during semester sessions A and B. This new option allows students to study abroad for six to seven weeks and then return to complete the other session in-person or online.

“To become a master learner in the 21st century, our students need global experiences,” said Mark Searle, executive vice president and university provost. “Traveling, experiencing new cultures, and building relationships with people from other countries are skills that are critical to our shared future.” 

The Study Abroad Office at ASU offers more than 250 program options in more than 65 countries, with program lengths ranging from one week to one year. Financial aid and scholarships are available for students who participate in semester and yearlong programming.

“I believe this experience also helped me to explore more and get out of my comfort zone,” Alaffa said. “I learned it’s OK to be lost sometimes because in the end you find your way no matter what. Overall, this journey brought me many memories, amazing support and many new long-lasting friendships as well as growth within myself, personally and professionally.”

Learn more at mystudyabroad.asu.edu.

Carrie Herrera Niesen

Manager, Marketing & Publicity, Study Abroad Office