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Student Health Outreach for Wellness seeks volunteers

August 13, 2018

Emily Brennan, a Barrett, The Honors College student majoring in biological sciences and anthropology, says her work with a student-led health-care organization has helped her see people experiencing homelessness through new eyes.

Brennan is executive secretary of Student Health Outreach for Wellness (SHOW), an interprofessional, student-run health-care initiative that provides care to vulnerable people who otherwise may not have access to it.  SHOW students with patient SHOW students provide care to a clinic patient. Download Full Image

“Being a member of SHOW has helped me to look at people experiencing homelessness, as well as other vulnerable populations. I have learned to connect with these people, hear their stories and understand how they are regular people who are going through difficult times in life. Hearing stories about the impact some of our events and programs have had on their lives increases my desire to try to help, as well as try to eliminate the stigma surrounding people who are experiencing homelessness,” she said.

Her involvement with SHOW also has brought her leadership and mentorship opportunities and personal satisfaction.

Emily Brennan
Emily Brennan, SHOW executive secretary

“It is extremely rewarding to be able to see, through our health education programs, how we can help educate people about their health, and what they can do to stay healthy,” she said.

SHOW started in 2013 as a collaboration among Arizona State University, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University. It aims to mitigate the barriers that vulnerable populations face in finding continual access to care. Since its inception, SHOW has provided care to thousands of patients at a clinic near downtown Phoenix.

SHOW provides free integrated behavioral and physical health care, preventative holistic care and educational health programming aimed at helping patients to self-manage chronic disease.

Students work collaboratively under a preceptor team of various disciplines to deliver comprehensive and patient-centered health care services. SHOW also promotes health and wellness through social workers, outreach activities and more. Small research grants and donations fund SHOW.

SHOW currently is recruiting volunteers and members for its six student-run committees, including Research and Quality Assurance, Volunteer and Human Resources, Programming and Special Events, Fund Development and Sustainability, Marketing and Media, and Clinical Operations. Students with any major, not just those that are healthcare or medical related, may volunteer for SHOW. The organization not only needs students with an interest in health care to work with patients, but also students in the areas of journalism, marketing, computer science and event management to help with communications, fundraising, outreach, web development and event coordination. Volunteers who have been active in SHOW may apply for committee leadership positions.

Brennan said some goals for this year include setting up a new clinic in Mesa, beginning a street medicine initiative and continuing health education programs. Another focus will be participating in the Hotspotting Learning Collaborative, an annual program that trains interdisciplinary teams of professional students from schools around the country to work with complex medical and social needs using a patient-centered approach.

SHOW aslo will host its 5th annual Health Fair for people experiencing homelessness near downtown Phoenix in October and the Mill Avenue Health Outreach Fair for vulnerable and homeless populations in Tempe in the fall.

Ross Johnson
Ross Johnson, student director of clinical operations for SHOW.

Ross Johnson, a Barrett student majoring in biology, has been involved with SHOW for over two years and serves as student director of clinical operations. He plans to attend medical school next year. Through his work with SHOW, Johnson was able to complete his honors thesis at the end of his sophomore year in 2017.

"SHOW is an interprofessional health clinic with 11 different disciplines. After working with SHOW for over a year, I became extremely interested in interprofessional clinics and how they operate around the country. This led to my thesis, 'The Comparative Analysis of Interprofessional Clinic Models,' which looked at different clinic modes in order to make recommendations for the SHOW clinic. The primary reader was the program director of SHOW, Liz Harrell, and she helped steer the project in the right direction," Johnson said.

“My greatest learning experience, professional and leadership growth has come from SHOW,” added Johnson, who has volunteered as a patient navigator assisting patients in the clinic, an assistant in the pharmacy and a coordinator for health fairs.

Students interested in volunteering for SHOW may contact the organization at applications@showaz.org.

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College


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ASU faculty to explore racially charged topics at national sociology meeting

Simply knowing a deportee can negatively impact Latinos' mental health.
Recent immigration actions found to affect Latinos' parenting behaviors.
August 9, 2018

15 ASU faculty and researchers invited to present papers, participate in panel discussions at ASA meeting

Recent and ongoing changes to U.S. immigration policies have many unsettled about the potential effects of certain tactics on the well-being of the mostly Latino individuals and communities impacted. But the issue can be easy to dismiss without concrete evidence to support cause for concern.

Research coming from several scholars at Arizona State University offers that evidence.

This month, they will share their findings and consider possibilities to further investigation into this and other raciall charged matters at the 113th annual American Sociological Association meeting in Philadelphia.

The theme of this year’s meeting is “Feeling Race: An Invitation to Explore Racialized Emotions.”

A total of 15 ASU faculty and researchers from six schools and four colleges were invited to present papers and participate in panel discussions on topics ranging from “Colin Kaepernick and Sports Activism” to “American Indian Diabetes Narratives.”

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Nilda Flores-Gonzalez

“This is the main venue for sociologists to share their work and network with others,” said Nilda Flores-Gonzalez, who will join ASU Aug. 16 as associate director of sociology at the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. “ASU’s strong presence at the conference reflects the diversity and quality of work being done at the university.”

Flores-Gonzalez comes to ASU from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she has been a professor of sociology since 1995. She was drawn to the cultures of innovation and interdisciplinarity at ASU and looks forward to assisting in rebuilding the university’s sociology program by recruiting faculty and expanding course offerings and research opportunities for students.

At this year’s ASA meeting, Flores-Gonzalez will be presenting on her current project that expands on her book “Citizens But Not Americans: Race and Belonging Among Latino Millennials” by exploring the conflicted national identity of young Latinos in an increasingly nativist America.

Others presenting on similar topics include School of Transborder Studies assistant professor Edward Vargas, who will present new developments since the publishing of his paper “Latinos’ connections to immigrants: How knowing a deportee impacts Latino health” in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies in February, and Sanford School associate professor Rebecca White, who will participate in a discussion of her recently published paper, “Impacts of Immigration Actions and News and the Psychological Distress of U.S. Latino Parents Raising Adolescents.”

Vargas, whose roots in the American Southwest go back several generations, to “before Texas was Texas,” feels there needs to be a shift in the way Latino children are viewed in America. While they may come from families whose documentation statuses vary between generations, many of the children are full U.S. citizens.

“Minority children are the largest demographic of children [in America] right now,” Vargas said. “That has really important implications for our community and society. And until we get to the point where we’re saying these children are our children, it’s not looking very bright for our future.”

White, whose study found that recent immigration actions and news triggered symptoms of psychological distress — including clinical anxiety and depression — in a significant number of Latino parents in the U.S., regardless of their legal status, echoed Vargas’ sentiments.

“It’s very challenging to explain to a child that, yes, these things are happening to families that look like us but they’re not going to happen to you,” White said. “For one thing, [Latino parents] may be hard pressed to convince themselves of that. … It’s very psychologically taxing.”

Rebecca White

The reason that should concern everyone, White explained, is because parents who are psychologically taxed have a harder time engaging in the types of parenting behaviors — demonstrating warmth, monitoring activities, etc. — that children need to develop and thrive.

“All parents have to help their kids process challenges but this is a challenge that goes above and beyond normal parental duties because it targets one ethnic group,” White said.

School of Social Transformation professor Mary Romero, who will present her paper “Normalizing Hate in Immigration Law Enforcement: Making America White Again,” will take over as president of the ASA following this year’s meeting. She’ll also contribute to a number of roundtable sessions on such topics as “Guns in American Life” and “Surveillance and Emotion.”

Below is a complete list of ASU faculty and researchers invited to participate in this year’s ASA meeting, along with some of the panels topics and papers they will be addressing:

• Michael Hechter, Foundation Professor, School of Politics and Global Studies, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — State Strategies of Containment and Consolidation; “The Limits of Indirect Rule: Containing Nationalism in Corsica.”

• Margaret Hinrichs, postdoctoral research associate, School for the Future of Innovation in Society — Science, Knowledge and Technology; Representation in the Knowledge Economy; “Engaging Graduate Students in Research Networks: Confidence, Knowledge, and Skills for Interdisciplinary Collaboration.”

• Jennifer Keahey, assistant professor, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences — Environmental Sociology; Ecovillages, Community and Sustainability; Frontiers in Feminist Development; “Cultivating Heritage: Sustainable Development in the South African Cederberg.”

• Jennie Jacobs Kronenfeld, professor, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — Medical Sociology; Marriage and the Family; “Marital Disruption, Social Support, and Diabetes in Older Adults.”

• Pat Lauderdale, professor, School of Social Transformation, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — Political Economy of the World-System; Contradictions of Our Times; “Climate Disruption: A Crack in the Hegemonic Façade of Global Stability and the World-System.”

• Tennille Marley, assistant professor, American Indian studies, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences – Thinking by and about Indigenous People; “We are Digging Our Own Grave with Spoons and Forks: American Indian Diabetes Narratives.”

• Nathan Martin, assistant professor, School of Social Transformation and associate professor, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — Global and Transnational Sociology; Citizenship and Identity; “Citizens of the World: Globalization and Transnational Identity Formation.”

• Aggie Noah, assistant professor, School of Social Transformation and T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — Finding a Mate: Changing Preferences and Practices; “Neighborhoods, Legal Status, and Family Formation Transitions among Mexican-origin Adults.”

• Joshua Raymond, MA, sociology, December 2017, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — Inequality, Poverty and Mobility; Safety Nets; Ethnicity, Alcohol and Drugs.

• Mary Romero, professor, School of Social Transformation and T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — Surveillance and Emotion; Immigration and Law Enforcement; Guns in American Life; Exposing Invisible Burdens: Critical Race Theory and Racialized Emotion; “Normalizing Hate in Immigration Law Enforcement: Making America White Again.”

• Thomas Seager, associate professor, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and School for the Future of Innovation and Society — Science, Knowledge and Technology; Representation in the Knowledge Economy; “Engaging Graduate Students in Research Networks: Confidence, Knowledge, and Skills for Interdisciplinary Collaboration.”

• David Siroky, associate professor, School of Politics and Global Studies, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — State Strategies of Containment and Consolidation; “The Limits of Indirect Rule: Containing Nationalism in Corsica.”

Edward vargas
Edward Vargas

• Edward Vargas, assistant professor, School of Transborder Studies and T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — Health Care and Care Delivery; Racializing Empathy: Policing, Immigration and Health; How the Stress of Deportations is Impacting Latina/o Health.

• Mary Ingram-Waters, associate chair and honors faculty fellow, Barrett Honors College; senior lecturer, School for the Future of Innovation in Society — Sociology of Culture; Culture, Gender and Sexuality; Take a Knee: Colin Kaepernick and Sports Activism; “Palatable Queerness as Queerbaiting in Video Games.”

• Rebecca White, associate professor, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — Latina/o Youth and Legal Liminality; “Impacts of Anti-immigrant Actions and News on the Psychological Distress of U.S. Latino Parents Raising Adolescents.”

Synthetic biology sparks promise of medical, energy advances

ASU researchers explore solutions to challenges at synthetic biology conference

August 8, 2018

If synthetic biology can “catch fire,” few areas of science and engineering could match it for having as dramatic an impact across such a broad a range of human needs.

That’s the prediction from Karmella Haynes, an Arizona State University assistant professor of biomedical engineering. The field has yet to build the critical momentum necessary to fulfill that potential, said Haynes, but when it does, she thinks “it will basically make all of bioengineering better.” woman working in lab Cassandra Barrett, a graduate research associate in Assistant Professor Karmella Haynes’ synthetic biology lab, checks on engineered cell cultures stored in a deep freezer set at -150 degrees Celsius. Barrett is pursuing a doctoral degree in biological design in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Photo by Marco Alexis-Chaira/ASU Download Full Image

She and her synthetic biology research colleagues are confident advances within their reach will help provide solutions to an array of challenges in medicine, health care, fuel production, energy, environmental protection, industrial processes and much more.

Those possibilities were explored recently at the 2018 Synthetic Biology: Engineering, Evolution and Design gathering called the SEED conference, hosted by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Haynes co-chaired the event held in Scottsdale, not far from ASU’s Tempe campus, which drew more than 400 attendees, including industry representatives, government agency leaders, academics and researchers from many major universities across the United States, as well as faculty members from research universities in Europe, Canada and Mexico.

SEED 2018 was one of the largest meetings yet of the synthetic biology community and one that participants say also demonstrated the field’s robust acceleration.

“It was a strong showing that our community has been maturing marvelously over the past decade and a half,” said James Collins, a professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a pioneer in the synthetic biology field. He was a keynote speaker at SEED 2018.

Programming biomaterials for beneficial purposes

Conference presentations revealed strides being made on several major application fronts, in particular in biomedicine and the expansion of biology-based tools that can be employed in research, Collins reported.

Besides expertise in various facets of biology and biotechnology, researchers are drawing on chemistry, computer science and genetic, molecular, electrical and systems engineering to examine how to construct biological systems in new ways that maximize the functions those systems are capable of performing.

“It’s essentially putting living systems to work, designing them and programming them at the cellular level,” Haynes explained.

Such biological pathways could be programmed to direct the body’s immune system to more aggressively attack diseases or repair damaged body tissues, or to produce biofuels that are cleaner and renewable or to genetically enhance crops, Haynes said.

At the SEED conference, discussions and presentations focused on questions researchers are trying to answer about how genes, proteins, chromosomes, DNA and the like can be synthesized and made to behave predictably for productive and beneficial purposes.

Work by Haynes and other faculty members in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the Biodesign Institute covers some of the main thrusts of these pursuits.

Enhancing the body’s ability to heal itself

Associate Professor Xiao Wang is working on design, modeling and engineering of novel gene-regulation networks — groups of interacting genes that together dictate the function of cells. His goal is to better understand what triggers the cell differentiation process that takes place within those networks and causes stem cells to transform into the kinds of specialized cells critical to the functioning of essential bodily systems.

Wang’s lab is looking for ways to more effectively determine “cell fate.” Controlling these transformations could make it possible to produce cells designed specifically to repair tissues and organs or treat infections and diseases.

Gene-editing tools for better therapeutics

Assistant Professor Samira Kiani uses synthetic biology techniques to control when, where and how genes in the body can be modulated, or adjusted, to perform safe and controllable gene therapies.

Using CRISPR, short for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, an advanced DNA- and gene-editing tool, Kiani wants to ensure CRISPR-based therapies can be made safer and more effective for correcting genetic or acquired diseases.

Kiani’s focus is on engineering biological “safety switches” that enable CRISPR to generate targeted therapeutic treatments while preventing toxicity or other unwanted consequences from emerging during the process.

New products to boost bio-based industries

Combining metabolic and bioprocess engineering with synthetic biology and microbiology, Associate Professor David Nielsen’s lab team is striving to overcome technological barriers that are limiting the potential to produce bio-derived fuels and chemicals.

The effort includes developing new biotechnologies that convert renewable biomaterials at the microbial level into biofuels and biochemicals.

Nielsen’s research is advancing the engineering of what he calls “microbial chemical factories” to synthesize novel bioproducts, and he’s developing strategies for carbon and energy conservation to enhance yields of those products from biomaterials.

His team is engineering microbes with characteristics and capabilities that will prove valuable to bio-industries — for example, microbes that would be key ingredients in bioprocessing methods that enable biochemicals to be produced more economically.

Exploring regenerative possibilities

Assistant Professor Mo Ebrahimkhani is trying to find ways to trigger body tissue regeneration by essentially “writing” gene-regulation networks onto human cells. Those regulatory networks would then program cells to generate new tissues for internal organs.

His team is concentrating on studies of the human liver because of its distinctive regenerative capacity. They hope to create a platform for the development of new regenerative therapies, as well as for drug testing and gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms of human diseases.

Ebrahimkhani expects the outcome to be “tools, technology and treatment approaches that will set the stage for a new way to perform regenerative therapy in humans. We will add a new dimension to the field of tissue engineering to program the generation of new tissue from the inside out.”

Empowering proteins as defense mechanisms

Haynes’ research projects include developing synthetic proteins that can perform a range of biomedical functions. These proteins could provide a safer and more effective method of injecting medicinal drugs into specific locations in the body.

Synthetic biology techniques could also be used to make certain proteins produced by our bodies able to battle cancer and other diseases more effectively than the chemical compounds widely used in current drugs, Haynes said.

Modeling methods of fighting off infectious disease

Cheryl Nickerson, a professor in ASU’s Schools of Life Science, conducts her research in the Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines and Virotherapy at ASU’s Biodesign Institute. She is leading work that combines microbiology, tissue engineering and physics to understand the dynamic interactions between a host, its microenvironment and the microbial pathogens that lead to infection and disease.

Her team has developed innovative model pathogenesis systems to study these interactive processes, including 3D tissue culture models as predictive human surrogate platforms to study host-pathogen interactions and disease mechanisms, and characterizing mechanotransduction responses of pathogens to physiological fluid forces naturally encountered during infection and in the microgravity environment of spaceflight.

In addition to such advances in disease modeling and therapeutics, Nickerson said, these models can provide powerful research tools for developing treatments of infectious diseases using synthetic biology techniques.

Student forsees life-enhancing impacts

The diverse opportunities synthetic biology offers to improve the quality of life drew Cassandra Barrett into the field. After earning a degree in microbiology from the University of Minnesota, she is now pursuing a doctoral degree in the Fulton Schools' biological design program and is a research associate in Haynes’ lab.

In synthetic biology, Barrett sees the promise of pathways to enriching agriculture and the nutritional value of foods, reducing plastic and petroleum waste, making industrial production more innovative and less harmful to the environment, and even providing more efficient data storage systems.

Barrett is planning for a career in genetic medicine.

“I want to implement genetic medicines in a way that is responsible, ethical and equitable,” she said.

ASU courses that delve into synthetic biology are drawing not only biomedical engineering students but also those majoring in biological sciences, computer science, other branches of engineering and even business and humanities.

“That reflects the nature of the field. The overall impact will be broad and substantial,” Haynes added.

Ambitions and hopes running high

The 2018 SEED conference also reflected the wide-ranging possibilities of synthetic biology, said Nickerson, who gave a talk at the event.

“It was an excellent opportunity to interact with scientists from highly multidisciplinary backgrounds that spanned academia, government and corporate entities and a terrific platform for researchers to network interact with others looking for new synergistic applications and cutting-edge technologies,” Nickerson said.

Representatives from government, business and industry at the SEED conference gave researchers “insight into how their work aligns with the need for advances in synthetic biology among those groups.”

“Interest from industry is active and growing because they’re seeing a mix of clinical and industrial applications that are really edging close to fruition,” said Collins, who works with the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University.

Synthetic biology is poised to more strongly assert its ability to boost major parts of the economy — particularly in bioenergy, food, environmental management and the next generation of medical diagnostics and therapeutics.

“We are showing that we can use synthetic biology to address real-world problems in unique ways,” Collins said.

There’s been steady progress in moving advances out of the lab and into application in commercial enterprises, said Julius Lucks, an associate professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University who will co-chair the 2019 SEED conference in New York City.

“We’re seeing the emergence of some very exciting companies in the metabolic engineering and strain engineering areas that are starting to deliver on some of the early promises of our field,” Lucks said.

By hosting this year’s conference, ASU faculty members and administrators were able to show their state-of-the-art research facilities and projects to representatives of potential funding sources, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense and its research agency.

It was a welcome opportunity to introduce the small but ambitious core of up-and-coming ASU researchers in the field.

“We are going to need time and sustained support to establish a consistent record of contributions,” Haynes said. “But I have no doubt we have the talent to put ourselves on the synthetic biology map.”  

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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Scripps Howard Foundation establishes Howard Centers for investigative journalism

August 6, 2018

ASU to be 1 of 2 locations, with focus on hands-on projects and stories of national or international importance

In a move to advance high-quality enterprise journalism, the Scripps Howard Foundation today announced a $6 million investment into the creation of two centers for investigative journalism.

Arizona State University and the University of Maryland will each receive $3 million over three years from the Scripps Howard Foundation to establish a Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at their institutions.

The Howard Centers will be multidisciplinary, graduate-level programs focused on training the next generation of reporters through hands-on investigative journalism projects. The Howard Centers’ students will work with news organizations across the country to report stories of national or international importance to the public.

The Howard Centers honor the legacy of Roy W. Howard, former chairman of the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain and a pioneering news reporter.

“Roy Howard was an entrepreneur whose relentless pursuit of news took him around the world, sourcing his education directly from the lessons of the newsroom,” said Liz Carter, president and CEO of the Scripps Howard Foundation. “That same pursuit led us to establish the Howard Centers — bridging the classroom and the newsroom to ensure tomorrow’s journalists are prepared with the mastery of dogged reporting they need in a world that increasingly demands it.”

ASU and the University of Maryland were selected as locations for the Howard Centers based on proposals submitted in a competitive process. Both universities have journalism programs that feature a rigorous curriculum and hands-on training for student journalists. 

“The centers are envisioned as innovative educational programs,” said Battinto Batts, director of the journalism fund for the Scripps Howard Foundation. “Both Arizona State University and the University of Maryland are well-positioned to challenge their students to become ethical, entrepreneurial and courageous investigative journalists.” 

The Howard Centers will recruit graduate students and faculty of diverse academic and professional backgrounds. Students attending a Howard Center will be introduced to topics including new media, data mining and the history and ethics of investigative journalism.

In addition to the emphasis on multidisciplinary studies within their own curriculum, the Howard Centers also will collaborate on investigative projects to deliver high-impact content to news consumers. 

“The Howard Centers will create a new cadre of great investigative journalists — steeped in the values and vision of the Scripps Howard Foundation — while generating impactful national investigations on some of the most important challenges facing our country today,” said Christopher Callahan, dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, vice provost of ASU and CEO of Arizona PBS. “We are honored to be selected for this critically important initiative and to preserve and celebrate the extraordinary legacy of Roy W. Howard.”

“Investigative journalists shine a light on our society’s problems and protect democracy by holding the powerful accountable,” said Lucy A. Dalglish, dean of the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. “The Howard Center at Merrill College will provide an unmatched opportunity for our students to learn to tell important stories in innovative ways, preparing them to become outstanding professional journalists.”

The Howard Centers will launch national searches for directors this fall and will open programming to graduate-level students in 2019.

Communications manager , Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication


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New ASU Law clinic helps protect, defend First Amendment rights

August 3, 2018

ASU professor and renowned media attorney Gregg Leslie will run clinic’s day-to-day operations

Seems like journalists can’t count on many allies these days.

But they have a new one in Gregg Leslie, an Arizona State University professor and media law expert who will open a legal clinic this week on the Downtown Phoenix campus to advance the legal rights of reporters.  

Leslie, a former journalist, in May was named the inaugural executive director of the First Amendment Legal Clinic at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. The center’s twin goals will focus on freedom of the press issues as well as teaching a new generation of lawyers how to help individuals stand up for their rights and address the roadblocks keeping journalists from doing meaningful work.

The clinic was funded by an almost $1 million gift from the Stanton Foundation, a private organization established by longtime CBS president Frank Stanton.

ASU Now recently spoke to Leslie, who will run the clinic as executive director with ASU Law Professor James WeinsteinJames Weinstein is a noted free-speech author and litigator, and the Dan Cracchiolo chair in Constitutional Law at ASU. serving as faculty adviser.

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Gregg Leslie

Question: Congratulations on opening ASU’s First Amendment Legal Clinic. What made you want to take on this challenge?

Answer: I’ve always been involved in defending and advancing the legal rights of journalists and ensuring that the government is open and accountable to its citizens. So when the opportunity came up at the law school here, I jumped at the chance to help teach the next generation of media lawyers and openness advocates. As the news industry continues to grapple with financial challenges and therefore scales back its push for access somewhat, it’s more important than ever that we train lawyers to take up the cause on behalf of bloggers, freelancers and other advocates and activists.

Q: What is your vision for this clinic and how will it be run?

A: The first objective is to train young lawyers, so we’ll pursue anything that helps the students learn how to interact with and represent journalists and others speakers. The interest in actually making positive changes in the law is also important, but even the ordinary access cases have a real educational value. I want to make sure the students see every aspect of a media practice, from the early consultations, letter-writing and negotiating to the issues that come up in more formal litigation.

Q: You were once a professional journalist before you became an attorney. What were some First Amendment issues you ran into as a reporter, and have those issues changed over time?

A: In some ways, the issues that the media encounters have been the same for decades. We’re still fighting libel claims, which are often brought when a news subject is angry or embarrassed, rather than truly harmed by a false statement of fact. But in the last two decades, we’ve seen a large number of states pass laws that make it easier to dismiss frivolous lawsuits on matters of public importance (called “anti-SLAPP laws”), and that has helped. And, of course, the evolution of online news and social media has added a host of other issues, from copyright claims to take-down demands to questions of liability for readers’ comments.

Personally, the biggest issue I ran into as a reporter concerned a claim for invasion of privacy, when we were sued for $120 million for reporting on a wealthy lawyer and real estate developer. Being served with a complaint with a number that big really sticks with you. Thankfully, our attorney was able to get the case dismissed.

Q: What are the biggest legal challenges facing journalists today?

A: Getting information in the first place is often the biggest challenge. Government officials don’t want to release records, judges and litigants often want to hide what’s going on in court, and police, politicians and even protesters want to interfere with reporters trying to cover important events. And with dwindling news media resources, many officials seem to feel emboldened in their efforts to thwart disclosure and keep the public in the dark.

Q: In terms of the law, is defending First Amendment rights a lost art form?

A: I think there will always be lawyers who defend these rights, and students who want to learn how. But lawyers also have to make a living, and that keeps getting harder to do in this field. So we want to see more general-practice lawyers be prepared to take these issues on as pro bono matters. Those pro bono lawyers have in fact been an important part of the First Amendment landscape for a long time, as it is often the most marginalized people with few resources whose rights are interfered with. So I’m hopeful that the skills necessary to keep fighting this fight will not die out anytime soon.

Q: Is there reason to be positive about the future in this area?

A: Yes. I think that some of the anti-media rhetoric that we’ve seen in the last few years has really encouraged reporters out there to fight even harder for access and accountability. And people generally are learning how important a free press is, which will hopefully help in our efforts to defend and advance those rights. It’s an exciting time to be a journalist or a media lawyer — not because it’s easy, but because it’s challenging and more important than ever.

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Decoding the pipeline for tech's 'hidden figures'

August 2, 2018

Data brief begins new effort to recalculate percentages of girls and women of color in computing

The double meaning of the title of the movie “Hidden Figures” remains a go-to for what was, is and could be for women and girls in science.

As told in the 2016 film, the road to racial and gender equity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics has not been easy or fast — especially for women of color.

And while the story of NASA's human computers and the team of African-American women who calculated astronaut John Glenn’s historic Earth orbit is finally getting long overdue recognition, advocates say there is still plenty of work to do to ensure women of color have the opportunity to succeed in computing and STEM fields.

The Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology (CGEST) at Arizona State University is all too aware of the still-hidden figures in computing careers and, in a new collaboration with the Kapor Center, is taking steps forward in acknowledging, understanding and untangling what is known as the “double-bindWithin science, technology, engineering and math fields, the unique situation of experiencing the combined and cumulative challenges of racism and sexism has been described as the "double-bind."” for women of color in STEM fields.

CGEST and the Kapor Center have released a new data brief that puts a glaring spotlight on the trends in participation of women of color across the computing ecosystem, from early to postsecondary education, in the workforce and as entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.   

The brief, “Women and Girls of Color in Computing,” informs that while women of color are a rapidly growing and significant population in the U.S., they remain vastly underrepresented across the technology pipeline.

The brief highlights concerning facts that are prompting more research: 

• Less than 7 percent of students taking Advanced Placement computer science in the U.S. are girls of color.

• Women of color make up less than 10 percent of those earning bachelor’s degrees in computing and less than 5 percent of those earning doctoral degrees in computing.

• Less than 2 percent of the Silicon Valley tech workforce are black, Latinx or Native American/Alaska Native women, and less than 1 percent of leadership in Silicon Valley’s tech companies are black, Latinx, or Native American women.

• Black women represent only 4 percent of all female-led startups and only 1 percent of all venture capitalists.

“This brief represents the most recent summary of data specific to women of color in computing,” said Kimberly Scott, executive director of CGEST and professor of women and gender studies in ASU’s School of Social Transformation.

“This data brief is also the first part of a larger effort which aims to build the body of literature on barriers and strategies to increase the number of women of color pursuing computing degrees and participating in the tech workforce, entrepreneurship and venture capital.”

Akhila Murella, left, Anisha Gupta and Michaela Foote, right, work on their coding in a special topics class at ASU on Nov. 23, 2016.

With technology declared a significant driver of economic growth across the globe and computing occupations cited among the fastest growing, a robust, skilled and diverse national workforce is essential to ensure the future of economic growth and prosperity in the U.S, according to the data brief. And women of color must be intentionally included as part of that equation.

“Through this data brief and our new research collaborative on women of color in computing, we hope to call attention to the importance of understanding intersectionality and the unique experiences of women of color,” said Allison Scott, chief research officer at the Kapor Center. “At the same time we want to develop and share strategies to increase the participation and success of women of color across the computing pipeline.”

The data brief is the first provision from the Women of Color in Computing Researcher/Practitioner Collaborative, which aims to develop foundational landscape data on the participation of women of color across computing. The collaborative, whose membership is composed of academic researchers, will continue to work to identify obstacles and barriers unique to women of color in computing to improve outcomes and representation in the field.

"Math is always dependable" — A scene from the 2016 movie "Hidden Figures"


Top photo from Pixabay

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


NSF Graduate Research Fellow engineering solutions to big data challenges

July 31, 2018

For the past six years, first as an undergraduate and now as a doctoral student, Logan Mathesen has used industrial engineering to find solutions to big data problems. His hard work and dedication are paying off, as Mathesen was recently selected as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow.

Mathesen arrived at Arizona State University with the intention of earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial engineering through ASU’s 4+1 program. However, his strong work ethic and genuine interest in the field prompted his professors to encourage him to apply for the doctoral program directly from the undergraduate program. Headshot of Logan Mathesen Logan Matheson was selected as a recipient of the 2018 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. The program supports outstanding students considered to be potential leaders in science, technology, engineering and math. These students are contributing to the high-impact research, teaching and innovation needed to maintain the nation’s technological strength, security and economic vitality. Download Full Image

“I actually had no clue what industrial engineering was until about five years ago,” Mathesen said. “But the more you learn about industrial engineering, engineering processes and flow factories or service systems, the more you start to see it everywhere in the world.”

His interest in the field could not have come at a more opportune time. In the age of big data when information is being captured at nearly every turn — from online shopping behaviors to the data collected from robots on a factory floor — Mathesen is working to build the algorithms, data analysis and modeling techniques that will help manage these large data sets and aid in decision-making. 

“I want to influence how the next generation interacts with data and information,” the Tucson native said.

As a participant in the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program, Mathesen is one step closer to fulfilling that dream. Graduate Research Fellowship Program scholars earn an annual stipend and a cost-of-education allowance to support their graduate education. Mathesen is one of 2,000 students accepted out of 12,000 applicants nationwide, and one of just three industrial engineers selected during this year’s award cycle.

Mathesen believes his past research contributed to why he was chosen for the NSF fellowship program. While a student in ASU's Barrett, The Honors College, he designed pivoting regression analysis techniques to help quantify and understand the relationships of various city and social systems in dense urban areas.

During the first year of his doctoral program, he developed algorithms for black-box stochastic optimization and descriptive statistical modeling techniques over irregular response surfaces to support real-time decision making when exhaustive decision analysis is not feasible.

“It’s cool to have a formal language for understanding and modeling what happens in our random world, and then being able to take that model and enable smart, data-driven, objective decision-making,” Mathesen said of his research.

While acknowledging his research was a deciding factor in attaining the fellowship, Mathesen also noted, “NSF does an amazing job of taking a holistic view of GRFP applicants.”

Matheson grew up in a home where neither of his parents had college degrees, but they worked tirelessly to support him and his brothers in all their pursuits. He said being recognized by his professional peers through the fellowship validates not only the hard work he has put forth academically, but also the support his family has provided over the years.  

The young data scientist is growing in his current leadership role as president of ASU’s INFORMS student chapter, his new status as an NSF scholar and, in general, as a representative of ASU and the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“I chose ASU because I knew that I had a support network here. I knew that I enjoyed the people and that there are people who genuinely care about my well-being both as a student and a person,” Mathesen said.

“Plus”, he added, “I feel that ASU’s engineering program has some of the best young faculty in the country, and there is really a sense of community.”

More about the 2018 NSF Graduate Fellow from the Fulton Schools of Engineering:

Brendon Colbert combats cancer with math

Lexi Bounds aims to improve lives with synthetic biology

Alisha Menon sets her mind to research brain-inspired computing

Scott Freitas wants to use computer science to solve society's toughest problems

Lanelle Strawder

Content Manager, Communications, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU, Dash publish new research on blockchain scalability

July 30, 2018

The Arizona State University Blockchain Research Lab and Dash, a top digital currency for payments and e-commerce, have released new research that highlights some of the scaling challenges and potential opportunities for the Dash blockchain. The paper, “Block Propagation Applied to Nakamoto Networks,” discusses the results of different scaling solution scenario simulations for the Dash network while also providing potential insights on the scalability challenges facing proof-of-work blockchains.

“The scalability question has been a major limiting factor for most cryptocurrencies, as there has been doubt surrounding whether or not these networks can scale to handle mass adoption," said Dragan Boscovic, director of the ASU Blockchain Research Lab and professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. "Through this research, which was made possible by our partnership with Dash, we were able to investigate the scaling limitations of the Dash network while also exploring various block propagation techniques. We’re excited to broaden our research in the future to potentially explore other pertinent topics including the operation of mining pools, and the role of multi-tier networks.” Dragan Boscovic, ASU Dragan Boscovic, ASU Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering research professor. Download Full Image

The team — led by Boscovic and researchers Nakul Chawla and Darren Tapp — focused on simulating different block size scaling scenarios for the Dash network with three different types of block propagation protocols: traditional full block propagation, compact block propagation and extreme thin (xthin) block propagation. Each simulation was applied to networks with at least 6,000 nodes and, to account for variance, the simulations were run long enough to simulate at least 700 blocks.

Some highlights from the research include:

• Scaling to 10MB block sizes is feasible for the Dash network when utilizing xthin block propagation. Utilizing compact block propagation, the Dash network can reliably scale to between 6-8MB block sizes with a negligible orphan block rate.

 • Based on the simulation data, scaling well beyond 10MB block sizes using compact or xthin block propagation, while maintaining a minimal orphan block rate, is realistic.

 • If miners are acting “rationally” and “in search of a profit,” there is an “economic limit” that disincentivizes mining blocks that eclipse .9MB in transactions using traditional block propagation techniques (unless higher transaction fees are included in the block); however, when using xthin propagation the economic limit disappears in block sizes up to 10MB.

“Scalability has been a key challenge for the blockchain industry, but the lack of academic research into the issue has been notable," said Ryan Taylor, CEO of Dash Core. "The implication of this research is prodigious not only for Dash, but for crypto as a whole. First, it means we can continue increasing block size and network capacity to at least five times our current capacity in the near term. This means we will soon have 40 times the capacity of the Bitcoin network and a credible path to scaling further in the future. This is the type of scalability we need to achieve mass adoption as a daily payments solution.”

The simulations were carried out at ASU’s Center for Assured and Scalable Data Engineering. The research is part of a $350,000 partnership that was announced in January 2018 between Dash and ASU, which was funded by Dash’s unique treasury system and includes funds earmarked for the Blockchain Research Lab as well as a Dash Scholars program.

Read the full paper

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What $10 in public health spending can actually buy

Analysis: $10 per person in public health spending can make a major impact
July 27, 2018

ASU professor breaks down where our taxpayer dollars are really going when it comes to health-care spending

With public health expenditure on the decline in the United States, Mac McCullough, an assistant professor in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University, set out to determine just where our taxpayer dollars are going and how effective spending on public health systems really is.

In an analysis sponsored by AcademyHealth and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, McCullough, also a health economist at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, found that $10 per capita of public health spending can buy:

• A decrease of 7.4 percent in infectious disease morbidity and a 1.5 percent decrease in premature mortality at the county level.

• An increase of 0.6 percent in the proportion of the population in very good or excellent health.

An additional $10 in overall health spending can lead to:

• A decrease of 0.4 cases of salmonella per 10,000 person years.

• A decrease of 3 to 6 percent of county-level STD rates.

The issue, McCullough said, is that it’s hard to see the benefits of public health spending because we don’t notice when someone doesn’t get sick.

“Spending on public health systems can improve health and save lives because rather than waiting until after someone has a disease, public health works to prevent disease,” he said. And that means paying for “the knowledge and tools needed to live healthy lives.”

McCullough discussed the results of his analysis with ASU Now.

ASU prof
Mac McCullough

Question: What was the overall finding of your analysis?

Answer: The evidence is nearly unanimous that public health spending leads to better health outcomes and saves money. It’s like the old adage that an ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure. Except in this case, the evidence doesn’t specifically identify a single exchange rate, just that $1 of spending on public health systems can lead to more than $1 in savings.

Q: Why do we need more than health-care insurance to ensure public health?

A: As many of us who have had health-care insurance know, simply having an insurance card in our wallet does not guarantee us our health. Modern medicine is truly remarkable in terms of the treatments and cures it can deliver. But many of us would recognize that we need to rely on more than just our visits to the doctor’s office to stay healthy. The public health system is set up for exactly that purpose and should be seen as a critical complement to health-care insurance. For example, even if we have home insurance that doesn’t mean we should completely disregard maintenance and upkeep on our houses.

Q: Is there any evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of health insurance compared to our nation’s public health system on population health?

A: Public health spending likely totals somewhere around $50 billion. That pales in comparison to the more than $3 trillion spent on health care each year. It’s hard to compare the return on investment for public health versus health insurance because they are designed for different purposes — public health seeks to keep people healthy while health insurance seeks to keep people healthy and also to return people to health when they are sick. But even if we don’t directly compare the two, evidence that public health spending saves lives and saves money should be a powerful impetus for us to seriously consider how and why we only choose to allocate 2 to 3 percent of our total spending for health toward public health.

Q: If public health spending leads to better health outcomes, why is it on the decline?

A: When public health succeeds at preventing disease, that success is often invisible. Statistically speaking, someone reading this likely had their life saved by a vaccination. Someone else may have avoided foodborne illness as a result of food sanitation policies. Countless others benefit from having clean air, clean water and safe places to live and play. That’s remarkable to think of from a population perspective, but the challenge is we will never know who. Another issue is that when public health succeeds at preventing disease and saving money, those savings tend to accrue to other actors in the health care or government sectors. It may be helpful to think of public health as a common good, much in the way that national defense is. We all benefit from it, but the free market tends not to want to invest in it.

Q: What is the benefit of focusing on populations when it comes to improving health?

A: With tobacco-free policies, for example, the health — and financial — impact is substantial. We are probably talking about deaths from lung cancer being reduced by these policies. It’s hard to put a price on a human life, but consider how much we are willing to pay for small reductions in risk of death. New cars contain thousands of dollars of optional safety features demanded by consumers, for example. So the value of preventing a death easily stretches into the millions of dollars per life saved. In comparison, the financial investment required to pass and enforce these policies is relatively modest. So while different parts of the public health system may have different levels of returns on investment, it is fairly easy to see how spending $1 on public health can yield sizable health gains and cost savings.

ASU delegation leads the way at first YA lit summit

ASU scholars are guiding the conversation about using literature to change young lives

July 26, 2018

Arizona State University played a major role in the first-ever Summit on the Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature, held at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, June 13-16. Ten participants from ASU — faculty, alumni and doctoral students — presented 11 of the 40 keynotes and were featured in programs for authors, K-12 teachers and university scholars and administrators in attendance.

The best minds and practitioners in adolescent education, literacy, and literature were invited to the conference, which centered on youth literature — known as "YA lit" — dealing with all manner of adversity faced by teens today, from LGBTQ discrimination to racial injustice, from abuse to school violence. As teen suicide rates climb and funding for schools and social services dissipates, the future might seem bleak. The YA Summit intended to demonstrate that through reading and working together, hope and help are on the horizon. Bill Konigsberg, James Blasingame, and author Chris Crutcher on a panel at the 2018 YA Summit / Photo by Noah Schaffer ASU professor James Blasingame (center), a young adult literature expert, moderated a panel with authors Bill Konigsberg (left) and Chris Crutcher (right). Photo by Noah Schaffer Download Full Image

Keynote speaker and ASU English Professor James Blasingame summed up the value of quality reading experiences: “Reading good young adult literature not only saves lives, but it can also help kids become the best version of themselves, providing a map to navigate a world fraught with problems.” Blasingame is also executive director of the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the National Council of Teachers of English

YA Summit 2018 conceiver and convener, Steven Bickmore, director of the UNLV Gayle A. Zeiter Literacy Development Center, envisioned a gathering to showcase methods, materials and motivation for providing literacy instruction that enable young readers to take charge of their own circumstances. Laughter, tears, and breaking voices were the standard for four days in Las Vegas during which well-known authors, dedicated K-12 teachers, devoted librarians, internationally renowned scholars, graduate students, and community organizations convened to address growing concerns about teenagers whose lives are in shambles, and the power of reading to save them.

Assistant Professor E. Sybil Durand presented with four ASU Department of English doctoral students.

"There was something really special about the YA Summit at UNLV," she said. "YA authors, teachers, graduate students, and university professors convened in the same space and shared their creative work, research, and teaching ideas, and YA literature was firmly at the center of these conversations. For the first time in a long time, I felt part of a field of study, one that brought together all the aspects of YA literature I explore in my own work — the books themselves, the authors, how students respond to these stories, and how current and future teachers can share these stories with their students and teach them in critical ways."

 Bill Konigsberg signs book copies / Photo by Noah Schaffer
ASU creative writing alum Bill Konigsberg (seated), an award-winning YA author, signed copies of his books for convention-goers at the 2018 YA Summit. Photo by Noah Schaffer

Featured author Bill Konigsberg, an ASU creative writing alumnus, weighed in about tough teen issues in his presentation. Before publishing six award-winning young adult novels, Konigsberg was most famous as the first openly gay major league sportswriter.

Konigsberg had grown up in the Bronx, where he knew of no books in his school library with gay characters. Upon finally seeing a reference to homosexuality in an out-of-date medical text, he was disheartened to see this sexual orientation categorized as a mental disorder. Eventually, in high school he discovered texts with gay characters, including the "Tales of the City" books, first published as serials in the San Francisco Chronicle beginning in 1978. Konigsberg explained how, like so many authors, he writes the books he needed when he was a teen.

Aaron Levy, who earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from ASU, is now director of academics for the Georgia Film Academy. Levy was on hand to discuss his award-winning book, "Blood Don’t Lie," as well as techniques to help young readers become writers. While Levy was presenting at the summit, news came  that the Georgia Writers Association had just named him author of the year in the young adult category.

In addition to authors and faculty, ASU alumni-turned-professors Alice Hays (PhD English education 2017), and Danielle Kachorsky (PhD education 2018) presented their research on books and readers. ASU doctoral students Stephanie Reid (Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College), Kristina Bybee (Department of English), Darby Simpson (Department of English) and Heather O’Loughlin (Department of English) presented to packed venues about literacy issues.

The summit had advertised the inclusion of an unscripted, organic, extemporaneous “unconference” component called the “EduCamp,” which attempted a level of professional work rarely aspired to at education conferences. By all accounts, the EduCamp experiment succeeded. Problems in the field and potential solutions were identified and discussed live. License was given to think out loud, bat down traditional thinking and toss around critical and new ideas.

ASU professor Sybil Durand presents at the YA Summer 2018 / Photo by Noah Schaffer
ASU Assistant Professor of English E. Sybil Durand presented on the value of teaching how to evaluate young adult literature with a postcolonial lens. Photo by Noah Schaffer

"One of my favorite parts was the Educamp portion of the conference, where participants had spontaneous conversations about the issues we still needed to address as a field," Durand said. "These ranged from discussing issues of diversity in YA texts and research to the potential of YA literature for engaging in social activism, and raised questions that went beyond typical conference transactions. It was generative, and I’m still unpacking all the ideas I collected over the weekend."

"As the conference took on its 'unconference' format, the summit also presented participants with the opportunity to envision the future of the field and to start formulating steps towards those imagined possibilities," Reid said. "I left the summit inspired, ready to read even more young adult literature and eager to start journeying along new research pathways."

Hays was a longtime high school teacher in Gilbert, Arizona, and is now assistant professor at California State University, Bakersfield. She said she found the event, sessions and collaboration empowering.

“Every person at the summit was there because they care about young adults and their growth," Hays said. “I feel privileged to have been a part of this historic event in which authors, teacher educators and classroom professionals were able to speak freely, get new ideas and walk away inspired by one another."