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Researchers use technology-based interventions to help at-risk communities

June 13, 2019

Advances in technology make modern living easier, from improving communication to creating new tools such as the internet and smartphones; these technological improvements are now being applied to interventions.

In a new study published in Behavior Research and Therapy, Arizona State University psychology graduate student Saul Castro and Associate Professor of Psychology Frank Infurna investigate whether an online intervention program can improve emotional awareness and social engagement in middle-age adults who have experienced childhood trauma. In a new study published in Behavior Research and Therapy, psychology graduate student Saul Castro (pictured) and Associate Professor Frank Infurna investigate whether an online intervention program can improve emotional awareness and social engagement in middle-age adults who have experienced childhood trauma. Photo by Robert Ewing Download Full Image

“One of the cornerstones of resilience is social relationships. Our ability to communicate with and rely on other people helps us immensely with being resilient through adversity,” said Castro.

The research featured an online social intelligence training program that centered on improving social emotional regulation. Previous research had shown a strong association between social functioning and physical and emotional health. People who have better social engagement typically live longer and have less anxiety and symptoms of depression.

Related: Taking the message ‘It’s OK to not be OK’ global

“If you can target improving social relationships, we think that it will have downstream effects later on, such as better physical and mental health. We wanted to design a program around this idea,” said Castro.

The intervention is an online course that was developed by ASU Foundation Professor Alex Zautra and his wife, Eva, and has seven modules that each cover a particular topic, such as neuroplasticity — all centering on the concept that with effort you are able to adapt and change aspects about yourself. They were designed to be done at the participant’s own pace and on their schedule, which was made possible through its online delivery.

Rather than bringing strangers together, the research team allowed participants to test the principles out in their own lives, with the intent of actually using the intervention. Following each module, each participant would be presented with a task to go and apply the behavior in their own environment in the real world.

“It is really important to take the knowledge we get from research and apply it to people who can benefit from it,” said Castro.

“We were able to show evidence to suggest that facets of social relationships can be improved through intervention. Our ability to deliver the intervention via online methods can enable its widespread use and accessibility,” said Infurna.

Pathways to African American Success intervention

Cady Berkel, associate research professor in the ASU Department of Psychology, in collaboration with Velma McBride Murry of Vanderbilt University, also recently published information about the Pathways for African American Success (PAAS) intervention in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology. The digital intervention was an adaptation of the Strong African American Families (SAAF) program developed by McBride Murry and her colleague Gene Brody at the University of Georgia, where Berkel conducted her graduate work.

The SAAF program reduced the risks of substance use and sexual risk behavior among rural African American families by promoting parents’ use of positive racial socialization. Despite its success, attendance was a challenge for families. Many of the participating families had members who worked jobs that had unpredictable shifts, making consistent attendance a challenge.

“We wanted to pursue using technology to implement the program to try and reduce attendance issues,” Berkel said.

Initially, Berkel said the efforts to translate the programs from in-person to e-health interventions were met with skepticism. Few thought rural African American families would use a technology-based intervention, especially one that was game-based. Berkel and Murry conducted extensive ethnographic research in rural African American communities and found evidence supporting their efforts.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2015 about 88% of eighth graders and 83% of fourth graders reported using a computer at home. A Pew Research Center survey also found that in 2016, more than 67% of U.S. seniors age 65 and older use the internet and 51% used the internet at home. Another Pew Research Center study in 2018 found that even among those with an income lower than $30,000 per year, 82% still used the internet.

“Not everyone had a computer in their home, but they all had access to a computer, either at a library, at school or in a friend’s house,” Berkel said.

There were three groups in the study: a control group that was sent materials about youth development, a group that met in person and a group that used the e-health version. The researchers used the computer game “The Sims” as a model for how they wanted the technology version of the program to look, complete with customizable avatars. The e-health intervention was similar to the in-person group setting, in which participants learned strategies for supporting their adolescents and discussed how to talk with them about sensitive topics such as sex, drug use and discrimination.

“We wanted to answer two questions about the digital version,” Berkel said. “Can we really get families to engage? Will the effects of the intervention be different?”

The researchers found the families did engage. Families in the e-health group attended more sessions, and they showed better improvements for sensitive topics like discrimination, sex and substance use.

“We often see extended kin raising children. We also wanted to know, can we engage older people with a computer-based intervention?” Berkel said. “Grandmas were more likely to attend the technology sessions, and that was really cool.”

Even though the attendance was best in the e-health group, the in-person intervention group reported better improvement in communication and support for adolescents. Berkel said this finding leads her to believe that a hybrid model that combines technology with traditional in-person methods, similar to ASU’s New Beginnings Program, might be the best bet moving forward.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


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New business tool demonstrates responsibility toward society

June 11, 2019

ASU professor says firms are embracing social accounting as a business strategy

In its May newsletter, Salt River Project gave tips to consumers on how to save money using its new pricing plans and what to do in case of an outage. They also listed where they gave more than $3.6 million in donations to 358 different organizations last year.

Businesses, companies and large organizations like SRP are investing in a larger responsibility toward society by putting their money — and kind deeds — where their mouths are.

Ten years ago, examples of such corporate social responsibility would merely be publicity. Now, however, a fairly new concept called “social accounting” helps firms explain how generosity relates to their business strategy. It builds consumer trust, increasing investor confidence in its decision-making and business model.  

Social accounting accomplishes that goal by communicating how a firm’s operations create value for the organization and the community. This increases organizational transparency, strengthens stakeholder trust and provides an indicator of future performance.

Arizona State University’s Elizabeth Castillo, an assistant professor in organizational leadership with the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, spent 20 years in management and is an expert on social accounting.

Castillo spoke to ASU Now about this new business tool, which is taking hold around the globe.

Woman in glasses with pendant

Elizabeth Castillo 

Question: What is your definition of social accounting?

Answer: Social accounting is a business tool to track and report a company’s performance along multiple dimensions — financial, environmental and social. Besides financial statements, it includes qualitative analysis and quantitative measures for assets like human resources, such as employee satisfaction, diversity, training and development; environmental impacts such as carbon emissions and water consumption; and intangibles such as intellectual capital, reputation and governance.

Tracking all these dimensions in an integrated way enables a firm to understand and evaluate its decision-making systematically and to show how its choices impact employees, investors, suppliers, regulators and the community. In sum, social accounting is a holistic way for the firm to strategize and communicate how it creates value for its stakeholders and society.

Q: When and how did this movement gain traction?

A: Businesses have long recognized they must hold themselves accountable to the community to remain viable. In previous centuries, this was easy to do because consumers, investors and businesses were geographically proximate. As business became more global and complex, more sophisticated methods for accountability were needed and developed, primarily financial accounting and auditing. However, in the last half of the 20th century, the negative impacts of this purely financial focus became more visible. Through media coverage, the public became aware of harmful systemic practices like environmental destruction and racial discrimination. Social audits emerged in the 1970s as a way to publicize and remedy these practices. In the 1980s, social audits began to be standardized so results could be compared. In the 1990s, business started to use social audit data to improve their operating performance. This led to frameworks and concepts such as the Balanced Scorecard, triple bottom lineThe triple bottom line looks at benefits to people, profit and planet. and corporate social responsibility reporting.

In the last decade, social accounting has become increasingly sophisticated. Standards-based models include the Global Reporting Initiative and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board framework. Principles-based models include integrated reporting which tracks six types of resource inputs — human, natural, financial, manufactured, relational and intellectual — and depicts how a firm transforms those into outputs, outcomes and societal impact. Dr. Laurie Mook and Dr. Sandra Cherie Henderson are doing important work on similar social accounting models.

Q: What are the benefits and value added to companies who incorporate this practice?

A: Social accounting, particularly integrated reporting (IR), provides benefits at multiple levels. It gives organizations information to understand how their resource allocation decisions produce organizational success and profitability. This detailed, relational understanding enables them to devote attention to what matters most to their long-term performance. IR’s focus on capitalsResources that endure and can produce more resources. also conveys future value creation potential, providing helpful insights for investors. Finally, IR improves internal management and decision making by fostering holistic understanding of the firm’s operations and its interdependencies with stakeholders and the environment. This strengthens accountability and illuminates the company’s positive and negative impacts on society, or externalities.

At the societal level, integrated reporting promotes transparency, trust and legitimacy in the eyes of the public. It also gives investors information they need to more accurately assess future prospects for profitability and sustainability. For example, some companies report on the number of their internal ethics investigations. This gives investors a more accurate picture of risk exposure. Perhaps most importantly, social accounting connects organizational actions to community and planetary indicators such as the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. By illuminating intangible resources like relationships, knowledge, ecosystem services, and trust, integrated reporting makes the foundations of sustainable commerce visible and actionable. It also makes businesses accountable. For all these reasons, IR is widely regarded as an enabler of financial stability for firms and the entire economy.

Q: The cynic in me says it sounds like a lot of extra work and is labor intensive.

A: That’s a common concern, yet people who use integrated reporting say the amount of work is not burdensome. For example, two researchers developed an integrated report for Exxon in about 40 hours. Thus, time and information availability are not barriers. The hard part — at least initially — is changing a company’s mindset about what it means to manage. Rather than the conventional approach where departments act in silos, IR calls for holistic understanding of the firm, internally across departments and externally by recognizing interdependencies with stakeholders and the operating environment.

As firms become familiar with the IR process, they report enhanced capacity for integrative thinking and better comprehension of their value creation ecosystem. For example, 2014 research by BlackSun and the International Integrated Reporting Council found that 96% of responding firms experienced increased cross-departmental collaboration, respect and communication when they used IR. Other benefits included broadening perspectives, enhancing shared understanding of their company’s value creation process and improving their decision-making. This integrative understanding is also beneficial to new organizational forms such as B Corps and social enterprises, and government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Q: Which countries are leading the way in this practice, and which companies in the United States are successfully incorporating social accounting?

A: South Africa is the world leader in social accounting. This is because integrated reporting is required there for firms listed on its stock exchange. Japanese companies are rapidly adopting IR because their government recently encouraged its use. Integrated reporting is also gaining traction in the United Kingdom, where it has been adopted by the Crown Estate.

The big four accounting firms have all published papers and guidance on integrated reporting, including Deloitte, Ernst Young, KPMG and PwC. The International Integrated Reporting Council’s U.S. Community has presented webinars on American companies that have adopted IR. You can watch these videos to get a better understanding of these organizations’ experiences, including Clorox, Etsy, Coca-Cola, Intel and the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). For companies interested in learning more about Integrated Reporting, the IIRC has a library of “how-to” guides and a database of exemplar reports sharing best practices.

Top photo: Photo illustration courtesy of Getty Images/iStock. 

Reporter , ASU Now


StoryCorps project coming to ASU to promote civil discourse on campus

June 7, 2019

Arizona State University founded the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership in 2017 in part to promote civil discourse and free speech on campus.

In the more than two years since its founding, the school has developed a robust curriculum. It has expanded its academic offerings to include two bachelor's degrees, as well as a minor; expanded its public programs to include nationally renowned and politically diverse speakers from all over the country; and launched several new civic education initiatives to benefit the Arizona community. The school recently celebrated its first graduate, a Dean’s Medalist in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. StoryCorps' One Small Step project is coming to Arizona State University The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership will host StoryCorps’ One Small Step project at the beginning of the fall 2019 semester. Download Full Image

To further its mission, the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership will host One Small Step at Arizona State University this August. The project, put together by national nonprofit StoryCorps, will give ASU students the opportunity to have a civil dialogue with other students with different political views.

“We’re happy to be partnered with One Small Step because it complements our curriculum and the broader experience for students, which emphasizes fundamental debate about political and civic affairs,” said Paul Carrese, director of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership.

One Small Step will host a series of 40-minute conversations between pairs of students in August to preserve and record the stories of the ASU community. With permission, StoryCorps will then archive the conversations at the Library of Congress to be preserved for future generations.

“Arizona State University's commitment to engaging with difficult topics with respect and thoughtfulness, specifically through programming hosted by the School for Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, creates the perfect environment for having these types of conversations,” said Roselyn Almonte, manager for community partnerships for One Small Step.

One Small Step is a new project from StoryCorps, which has given over 450,000 people the opportunity to record interviews about their lives and have them preserved in the Library of Congress. The One Small Step project invites people to sit down with people with different political views and have StoryCorps-style conversations in an effort to break down the barriers created by politics.

One Small Step is open to all students from all ASU campuses. To sign up, students will need to fill out a questionnaire by July 19. The questionnaire will help StoryCorps staff to match people for discussion topics.

“We think this strengthens the intellectual foundations for our 21st-century leaders in America and beyond,” Carrese said. “It also strengthens the civic and intellectual fabric of ASU, as well as our broader community.”

One Small Step has held similar programs at other universities across the country, including Berry College in Georgia, Hamilton College in New York and Trinity College in Connecticut. Past recordings have included moving connections between two seemingly opposite people days after the 2016 election

“These conversations are not debates, but a space to learn about the life experiences that have shaped someone's worldview, and share their own, as well,” Almonte added.

Another step forward

The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership encourages nonpartisan civil discourse. Through the school’s previous public programs, as well as its upcoming lecture series “Citizenship and Civic Leadership in America,” the school seeks to promote honest conversation about the principles, values and discussions that influence America today.

The school’s curriculum is designed to produce a new class of leaders. Graduates from the school will thrive in public service, journalism, law, business or elected office. Through the discussion of classic, primary texts, as well as hands-on learning through the school’s Global Intensive Experiences and Summer Leadership Institutes, students in civic and economic thought and leadership courses will be prepared to handle tomorrow’s challenges.

Carrese says partnerships like this one with One Small Step will only further the school’s mission of preparing its students. By providing a platform for civil discourse, the school is giving its students a chance to have challenging, yet meaningful conversations with their peers — something they will have to do frequently when they enter their careers and civic life.

“People who want to be leaders in the private or public sector need to be able to hear diverse points of view and respond in a civil and reasonable fashion, accepting that those who disagree with one’s own principles or policies are not always bad people,” Carrese said.

For more information on the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, or the One Small Step program taking place at ASU, contact Joe Martin.

Manager, Marketing and Communications, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership


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ASU, Dignity Health continue to redefine health care collaboration

June 6, 2019

In its fourth year, the partnership between the hospital system and the university has led to 9 joint research projects

In 2015, one of the longest-running hospital systems in the nation and the most innovative university in the nation came together to address the need to accelerate the health and well-being of their local community through collaborations that focus on research and discovery, educating and building a robust health care workforce and improving patient quality of life.

For Dignity Health and Arizona State University, Arizona's health is key.

“By a number of measures, the health and life expectancy of our citizens in Arizona is not where we’d like it to be,” said Dr. Keith Frey, chief physician executive at Dignity Health, clinical professor at ASU’s College of Health Solutions and senior architect of the partnership.

Traditional medical issues like premature birthhigh blood pressure and diabetes affect anywhere from 10%-30% of the state’s population, while more recently recognized social determinants of health, such as poverty, food instability and access to care, make getting and staying healthy even more challenging.

Keith Frey

Dr. Keith Frey

Those are the broader social challenges that ASU and Dignity Health are concerned about, and the ones they’re aiming their collaborative projects at, Frey said.

“ASU is a large, well-resourced university with a lot of talent that wants to make a difference in the health of our community, ” he said, “but because it doesn’t have a medical school and doesn’t provide care, having a partnership with a large, established health system like Dignity Health — which has decades of experience taking care of patients across many different socioeconomic dimensions — is a natural partnership to improve the quality of life in our community.”

Over the past four years, the ASU-Dignity Health partnership has seen 41 adjunct faculty appointments, 13 capstone projects, nine joint research seed projects and two continuing education programs. Currently in development are a graduate medical education event and a boot camp for chief residents.

“The progress we’ve been able to make and the impact we’ve had in just a handful of years is really exciting,” said Dr. Susan Pepin, managing director of health and clinical partnerships and clinical professor at ASU.

Through joint efforts like the Collaborative Strategic Initiatives Program, funding has been provided for teams of ASU researchers and Dignity clinicians to explore issues as diverse as racial disparities in low birth weight, Type 2 diabetes medical and behavioral lifestyle management and speech analysis in ALS patients with and without cognitive abnormalities.

A third round of seed funding is expected to be available in the fall.

Student capstone projects run the gamut of health issues as well. For the third year in a row, Dignity Health Medical Group (Arizona) Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Bethancourt has overseen the Transitional Care Clinic. The clinic was developed to address the problem of patients at high risk of readmittance, which can result in penalties for the hospital and adverse health outcomes for patients, and to ensure that their transition from the hospital to home is successful.

“The students have been instrumental in helping us fine-tune the clinic,” Bethancourt said. 

Susan Pepin

Dr. Susan Pepin 

Working alongside Bethancourt and other experienced Dignity clinicians, students were able to identify factors that made patients more likely to be readmitted and recommend solutions. For example, they found that the No. 1 predictor of readmittance was a lack of transportation to get to follow-up doctor visits. Other contributing factors included cost of prescription medication and a lack of understanding of doctor’s orders for continued care.

Denise Kennedy, College of Health Solutions clinical assistant professor who provides administration leadership for student capstone projects, recalls another student project that proposed a way to streamline the traditionally slow discharge process, resulting in a faster turnaround time, enhancing patient satisfaction and generating more revenue.

“This is the kind of work that our program does,” Kennedy said. “There’s a long list of these big health improvements that might have taken forever to get to, but what we do is send in highly talented, free labor (in the form of graduate students) who have access to a professional learning environment and they send us highly seasoned experts to teach our students.”

Bethancourt and other Dignity clinicians have given lessons to ASU students on everything from how to measure physician performance to patient satisfaction to health care payment models.

“I can teach them these things, but they (the Dignity Health clinicians) live it every day,” Kennedy added. “It’s a beautiful, win-win partnership.”

The partnership is also focused on continuing education programs for current health care professionals. Kristen Will, College of Health Solutions assistant clinical professor, serves as director of executive and continuing education for the college. 

“What makes our program unique is that we’ve developed programs that are interprofessional, and they really work across the whole spectrum of the health care continuum,” Will said. “We bring expertise from our college, which includes the science of health care delivery, which is the only program of its kind like that in the U.S.   

“We also focus on leadership development, which is not something that’s taught in traditional training programs for health care professionals.”

Later this year, ASU and Dignity Health hope to capitalize on the success of the inaugural health care symposium they held in 2018 with a follow-up. They’re also planning a boot camp to give chief residents lessons on the nonclinical, business side of health care.

RELATED: Thunderbird, Dignity Health partner to train global health care leaders

Top photo by Nicolas Hansen/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

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ASU and Helios Education Foundation debut tools to track education progress and test interventions

June 4, 2019

Two years ago, Arizona State University and Helios Education Foundation began conversations about how the two organizations could work together to provide the state with better information and data on Arizona’s education system.

“We have a lot of data systems that are separate and distinct, but nothing that provides a comprehensive way to look at the education system,” said Vince Yanez, senior vice president of community engagement for Helios Education Foundation. “Early education data doesn’t necessarily talk to the data in K-12, which doesn’t talk to the data in higher education.”

The Decision Center for Educational Excellence, powered by Helios Education Foundation, was launched in 2018 as a means to address this disconnect and provide school administrators, policymakers and elected officials with the tools and information needed to address educational deficiencies in the state and increase student achievement. Joe O’Reilly, one of the state’s leading experts on education research and data, was brought on to direct the center.

“The idea is, if we can bring together all the data we have on the education system in Arizona, apply the resources and knowledge of Helios and ASU and bring stakeholders together to discuss where we’re at and where we’re heading, we will have significantly better student outcomes, and that will result in significantly better community outcomes, family outcomes and state outcomes,” said O’Reilly.

New tool to pinpoint bright spots and test interventions

For the past year, O’Reilly and his team, which includes the Decision Theater and ASU engineering students, have been building a first-of-its-kind, interactive model of Arizona’s K-12 education system. The model offers stakeholders the ability to test the impact of potential policies on education outcomes, pinpoint scalable bright spots in the state’s education system and identify strategies that could improve student performance.

“There are over 220 school districts in the state. There are over 500 charters in the state. Each of those systems and each of those schools are unique,” said Vince Roig, founding chairman of the board of Helios Education Foundation. “One of the powerful things about this work is you’ll be able to look at possible interventions, possible allocations of resources, for all of those different systems in a way that’s not cookie-cutter, that’s not overly prescribed. We’ve never been able to do that before.”

The model draws on 2016 data — the first data publicly available — from a variety of sources, including the Arizona Department of Education, the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Center for Educational Statistics, the FBI, the Environmental Protection Administration, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights and individual Arizona schools.

Tracking progress at the local level

The center, working with Expect More Arizona and the Center for the Future of Arizona, has also made a significant upgrade to the Arizona Education Progress Meter — a tool designed to offer reliable information on where Arizona stands as a state on issues ranging from access to quality early learning to postsecondary attainment. The tool now allows stakeholders to choose specific cities and towns, schools or school districts and track progress toward the goals at the local level.

Collectively, these tools will give Arizona’s education stakeholders the ability to deeply understand the state’s education system, discuss local conditions and implement changes, either at the individual school level or across the board, that will support a high-quality education for all Arizona students.

Unveiling the tools and key takeaways

“How do we significantly improve the outcomes of education in Arizona, so we can improve Arizona?”

This was the question posed by O’Reilly as he unveiled the new tools at a public event this week in the drum of Tempe’s Decision Theater. Arizona’s education administrators, policymakers, business leaders and community members gathered to learn about the new tools created by the Decision Center for Educational Excellence.

Before introducing the tools, O’Reilly shared three key takeaways about the state’s education system that an analysis of the 2016 data revealed:

1. Poverty does not determine graduation rates, but it does impact academic achievement.

Contrary to common belief, no correlation was found between poverty levels and high school graduation rates. “Whether a school has high rates of poverty or low, the graduation rate is, on average, the same,” said O’Reilly.

“However, many high-poverty schools have fewer graduates that are ready for college-level work, and fewer going to college,” said O’Reilly. “But we also find high-poverty schools with higher achievement and college-going rates, so we need to learn more about how they are accomplishing that.”

For example, the data show that 92% of the students attending Phoenix Union’s Franklin Police and Fire High School are low income, yet 97% graduate on time and 70% go to college. Similarly, almost 70% of Nogales High School students are low income, yet 95% graduate on time.

2. FAFSA completion is a leading indicator of college-going.

Controlling for student characteristics, for every 10% increase in FAFSA completion rates there is a 2.2% increase in college-going rates.

“This is not because filling out a form causes a student to go to college,” said O’Reilly. “But it may reflect a school’s college-going culture, and may be one of a number of strategies by the school and parents to encourage students to attend college.”

The model shows that many of the schools with high FAFSA completion rates are also high-income schools, such as Catalina Foothills in Tucson. However, there are also low-income schools, such as San Luis High School on the border south of Yuma, where 64% of students complete the FAFSA and even more — 76% — go to college.

3. There is a lack of rigorous courses available.

More than one-third of the high schools in Arizona do not offer students the opportunity to take rigorous courses such as advanced placement, International Baccalaureate, dual enrollment or even just calculus.

“We assume students have ability, and that range of ability is widely shared, but the opportunity to develop that ability is not everywhere,” said O’Reilly. “And that’s the challenge that we see here.”

Students with the potential to be leading engineers, doctors and scientists can be found in communities throughout Arizona, but without the opportunity to accelerate their learning, they may never be able to compete for top spots in these fields.

“They may have dreams, they may have the innate ability, but that ability needs to be developed,” he said.

Building on the model in Year 2

Over the coming months, O’Reilly plans to share the tools with education stakeholders around the state.

“We are really proud of Joe and the team and the tools they are putting in the hands of policy makers and school administrators,” said Luke Tate, associate vice president and executive director of opportunity initiatives at ASU. “We need more data and evidence to guide our decision-making.”

Data will continue to be added to the system in perpetuity, allowing for the analysis of education trends over time and the development of strategies, locally and statewide, to increase student success.

For example, the tool could identify high schools in a particular county that have large populations of Spanish-speaking students and a high percent of students receiving free or reduced lunches, but also high achievement scores. Schools with a similar demographic profile but with low achievement scores could look to those better-performing schools to identify what interventions could be implemented at their own school to improve student achievement.

As another example, city leaders might be interested in learning how increasing the college-going rate in their city will affect average incomes and the city’s income tax profile. Or, they may want to see how their college-going rate compares with a neighboring city with a similar demographic and economic profile.

“There are so many possible uses of the system — you can’t list them all,” said Roig. “We’ll be able to see what’s working, what’s not and what changes need to be made. When you start talking about modeling the education system and potential interventions and what’s likely to have the most impact for students — the possibilities really are staggering.”

Top image: Joe O’Reilly, director of the Decision Center for Educational Excellence, powered by Helios Education Foundation, presents an interpretation of data on Arizona's K-12 education at the Decision Theater in Tempe on Tuesday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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Leading the way in sustainability

May 30, 2019

ASU faculty member Bruno Sarda named head of high-profile sustainability outfit

An Arizona State University faculty member in the School of Sustainability now is the leader of the top climate research providers in the world.

Bruno Sarda, an established leader in sustainability, was recently named president of CDP North America, an international nonprofit that drives companies and governments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, safeguard water resources and protect forests.

Sarda has been named one of the "most influential sustainability voices in America" by the Guardian and also was chosen by Environmental Leader as one of the top 50 sustainability leaders in the U.S. for 2017.

Working with institutional investors with assets of $96 trillion, CDP leverages investor and buyer power to motivate companies to disclose and manage their environmental impacts. More than 7,000 companies with more than 50% of global market capitalization disclosed environmental data through CDP in 2018.

“For the last 20 years or so we’ve been at the forefront of really inventing and scaling disclosure to make issues visible that will allow the shifting of capital to more sustainable solutions and outcomes,” Sarda told ASU Now. “Any of these topics we talk about, we can’t really talk about them intelligently if we don’t have enough visibility into not just the problem, but all of these underlying aspects of the problem, like where’s the material going? Where’s it coming from? Who uses it?”

Sarda discussed how he defines sustainability, the biggest issues facing the field, and the bad news proliferating about plastic recycling.

Question: Please define sustainability.

Answer: Acting today in ways that don’t limit our ability to act in the future. … It’s meeting the needs of present generations without restricting the opportunity for future generations to meet their own needs. At a broad level that’s how I think about it.

Q: What are two or three of the biggest issues facing sustainability now?

A: Our focus, now that I’m at CDP,  (is) we picked three particular areas of the intersection of environment and economy that we believe are truly pivotal: climate change in general as well as water security and deforestation. Clearly there is much more that fits under the umbrella of sustainability, sometimes also referred to as the letters E, S, and G: environmental, social and governance. There’s plenty that fits under each of those letters.

Q: Recycling seems to be hitting a bottleneck. You read stories in the New York Times and elsewhere that it’s getting turned away from China, cities are starting to dump it in landfills. Any idea how that can be turned around?

A: One of the things I focused on a lot in my career both as a corporate sustainability professional and certainly in my teaching at ASU, and even now heading up CDP for North America, is really trying to focus on what are the things that it makes sense to do economically? We as a species and as human decision agents tend to do better that way. We make the point that acting to address climate change or water security or deforestation actually makes a lot of economic sense. It’s a much better decision to do that than to not do that. Recycling is kind of the same.

When I was working at Dell years ago and we were dealing with e-waste issues, the point was not about can you make something that is recyclable, but what’s important is whether that thing will actually get recycled. You have to look at the whole system. In our case, we were working with recyclers to figure out if we make something that’s recyclable, but it’s going to take an hour’s worth of somebody’s time to disassemble the product and (if) the value of the commodities that they can pull out of that old laptop are not worth what it took to pay that person’s hour of time to do the work, then the economics don’t make sense.

I think that’s what we’re seeing in recycling today — some commodities like metals make a lot of sense, so those recycling flows work well. Plastic, there is frankly still a lot of work to be done. By the time you’ve collected it, sorted it, shredded it and repurposed it into something else, it’s still mostly cheaper … to just go to some virgin material like petroleum. … You have to make the problem visible and feed it with actionable data and insights drawn from that data so ultimately what matters is the actions taken.

Top image: Hans Braxmeier, courtesy of Pixabay

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


Prevention science certificate will prepare students to help children and families

New ASU online program teaches how to identify and implement proven treatments

May 30, 2019

The rates of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders in American youth are all on the rise. But over 90% of proven treatments and interventions have yet to be used by public and private health care professionals.

The Arizona State University Department of Psychology and REACH Institute are trying to change that. Over 90% of proven treatments and interventions have yet to be used by public and private health care professionals. Download Full Image

To help those who need it, the psychology department will launch an online training program that teaches students how to find, evaluate and implement interventions that have been shown to prevent or reduce the severity of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. The first session of the ASU Certificate in Applied Prevention Science (CAPS) will begin on Aug. 22, 2019. Students who complete the five-course certification program will understand the research-based approaches that promote healthy social, emotional and interpersonal development in youth.

“The ASU Certificate in Applied Prevention Science is here to increase the number of proven strategies and programs made available to the community,” said Armando Pina, associate professor of psychology. “By training people how to find and evaluate evidence-based treatments and interventions, we will give them tools they can put into action in any community at any time.”

From reaction to prevention

In 2009, the Institute of Medicine released a report on the prevention of mental, emotional and behavioral problems in American youth. The impact of research in prevention science research since then has been blunted because most proven preventative interventions are not used in the public and private health care sectors, including schools.

Jeff Boles knows firsthand the importance of implementing preventative interventions in schools. He is the executive director of the Creighton Community Foundation that works closely with the Creighton School District to improve the lives of children who live in some of the poorest neighborhoods in metropolitan Phoenix. He said it is time for educators to turn away from taking a reactive stance to the social and emotional problems of children, especially those who have experienced trauma. Instead, the focus should be on how to best equip children to cope, and prevention is key.

Pina, who will oversee the CAPS program, recently published a study showing there are few effective treatments and interventions for ethnic minority youth. The study also reported that it takes about 17 years for a research-based intervention to make it from the lab bench into the community. Pina has called for research in prevention strategies and treatments to move outside of the lab and into the community, and the CAPS program is an expansion of prevention science beyond the research lab.

“The long-term goal of the CAPS program is to create an entire workforce that can make the best decisions to help children and families using available evidence-based programs,” he said.

The five CAPS classes will teach the students how to become educated consumers of scientific evidence so that they know how to choose a research-based intervention program that works. Class topics cover how preventative interventions are designed and evaluated and address strategies for how to deliver interventions to children and families in a community. The training program also delves into specific interventions that have been shown to work.

To enroll in the CAPS program, students must have a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related health, mental health or counseling field. The certificate can be useful for jobs involving working with families and children in schools, courts, community health centers and mental health agencies, child welfare, home visiting services, foster care services and tribal behavioral health. The ASU CAPS program also satisfies the education component for becoming a licensed prevention specialist through the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium.

Science writer, Psychology Department


Understanding verbal behavior in children with autism

ASU behavior analysis program to host renowned autism speaker Vincent Carbone

May 29, 2019

Having a conversation is something most of us take for granted. For people with autism, especially children, talking with family or friends can be challenging.

The Master of Science in applied behavior analysis (MS ABA) program in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology has partnered with Pinnacle Autism Therapy to host a workshop on verbal behavior in children with autism. The Understanding Verbal Behavior in Children with Autism Workshop will take place in the Memorial Union Ventana Ballroom (room 241) on June 1-2 and will be headlined by Vincent J. Carbone with Pinnacle Autism Therapy. The workshop will cover topics such as applied behavior analysis as a science and applications of ABA methods for teaching communication to people with autism. Vincent Carbone The ASU Department of Psychology is hosting Vincent J. Carbone for a two-day workshop on verbal behavior in children with autism. Download Full Image

“Vincent Carbone is a pioneer in our field. When the opportunity arose to partner with Pinnacle Autism Therapy and expose our program’s students to his prowess, it was a no-brainer,” said Adam Hahs, clinical assistant professor of psychology and director of the MS ABA program. “Our program produces behavior analysts who make an immediate impact all over the United States, so the opportunity to learn from an expert like Dr. Carbone greatly supports the development of our students’ behavior-analytic repertoires.”

Pinnacle Autism Therapy, a local organization that serves individuals with autism, is also one of the partners that provides MS ABA students with the practicum training they need for their certification exam. 

Carbone is a board-certified behavior analyst and has more than 35 years of experience designing learning environments for persons with autism and developmental disabilities. He trained at Drake University and has been faculty at the Florida Institute of Technology and Pennsylvania State University. Carbone has also worked as a visiting professor in the behavioral education doctoral program at Simmons College in Boston.

Carbone teaches applied behavior analysis and verbal behavior. He has prepared hundreds of students in several states and overseas for certification as a behavior analyst through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board. He also has developed and presented a series of workshops that teach verbal behavior to children with autism. These workshops are based on B.F. Skinner’s analysis of verbal behavior.

Related: ASU applied behavior analysis program is booming

What is applied behavior analysis?

The goal of ABA is to shape behavior in positive ways, and Behavior Analysts do this by systematically and experimentally investigating variables that are responsible for behavioral change. Though ABA is most often associated with interventions for individuals with autism, the applications of the discipline are far-reaching. Behavior analysts can address parenting challenges and underperformance in academic settings or develop support plans for individuals with substance abuse or eating disorders.

“Applied behavior analysis can help discover why people do things or how they respond to reinforcement and their environment,” said Don Stenhoff, clinical assistant professor in the MS ABA program. “We take the impact of ABA in a socially significant direction. We improve lives, and improve relationships with other people.”

Related: The psychology behind lasting behavior change

Tickets for the workshop can be purchased on the event website. Participants will learn how to conduct a behavioral language assessment, how to select appropriate forms of communication for a child and how to select the right communication responses and supporting skills to help children.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


Combating the opioid crisis with better equipped counselors

New online substance abuse counselor certificate program at ASU teaches evidence-based rehabilitation treatments

May 29, 2019

Each day, more than 1,000 Americans are treated in emergency rooms for opioid use, and more than 130 die from an overdose. Only 20% of the people who need rehabilitation receive treatment, and only a small fraction receive evidence-based rehabilitation.

To meet the nationwide need for effective addiction rehabilitation, the Arizona State University Department of Psychology will launch an online training program that teaches evidence-based treatment strategies. The first session of the ASU Online Addiction and Substance Use Related Disorders Graduate Certificate will begin Aug. 22, 2019. Students who complete the seven-course certificate program will have the foundational knowledge required for licensure as an addictions counselor in Arizona and most other states. Each day, more than 1,000 Americans are treated in emergency rooms for opioid use, and more than 130 die from an overdose. Only 20% of the people who need rehabilitation receive treatment, and only a small fraction receive evidence-based rehabilitation. Download Full Image

“Most of the empirically validated treatments for substance abuse rehabilitation are not readily available, and our goal is to increase access to effective addiction treatments,” said Matthew Meier, assistant clinical professor of psychology. “We believe one way to do this is by teaching people who will be helping addicts about evidence-based treatment options.”

Each class in the program is based on the latest scientific research on addiction. Class topics include the psychobiology and neuroscience of addiction, multicultural issues associated with substance abuse and the ethics of substance abuse treatment.

Substance users can be addicted to more than one drug, and addiction is often accompanied by mental illness. The ASU Online Addiction and Substance Use Related Disorders Graduate Certificate addresses the complexity of substance abuse with classes that focus on the evidence-based options for the assessment of addiction and any accompanying mental disorders and research-based rehabilitation treatments.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one of the most effective evidence-based substance abuse treatments is contingency management. This method seeks to incentivize and reinforce behaviors in patients that promote sobriety. An example of contingency management is giving patients vouchers for each day of sobriety. The vouchers can then be exchanged for food and entertainment. Rehabilitation programs like this have been effective at treating both opioid and stimulant addiction in adults.

“There is widespread bias against contingency management,” Meier said, “but research has shown it is an effective intervention alone and works better than other approaches.”

Other examples of evidence-based rehabilitation treatments are medication assisted treatment and behavioral therapies like motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral therapy. In medication assisted treatment, patients receive prescribed medications help treat the symptoms of withdrawal and decrease the likelihood of relapse due to cravings. In behavioral therapies, patients receive counseling to help them complete treatment. The certificate program will teach students about these and other validated rehabilitation interventions, so they are aware of the current state of research on drug addiction.

“Providing more up-to-date information about research in the field of substance abuse treatment is desperately needed,” Meier said. “There is also a huge need for well-trained substance abuse counselors, especially outside of metropolitan areas.”

Prospective students must have a bachelor’s degree in a behavioral health-related field, be enrolled in a behavioral health master’s degree or doctoral program or currently work as behavioral health professional. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics expects job opportunities for licensed substance abuse counselors to grow by 22% through 2026. Jobs for licensed substance abuse counselors are available in substance abuse treatment centers, community mental health agencies, primary care, integrated health, criminal justice, hospitals, schools, universities, the military and Veteran’s Affairs.

Science writer, Psychology Department


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ASU researchers receive MURI award to track criminals, their weapons of destruction via pollen

May 28, 2019

One of the surest signs that spring has sprung is the abundance of fresh blooms sprouting from greenery everywhere. For that, we have the work of honeybees to thank, unwittingly pollinating plant after plant as they go about collecting the fine, dusty gold for their queen.

But those industrious little black and yellow fuzzballs aren’t the only things transporting pollen — it’s literally everywhere and sticks to everything, making it an invaluable tool to use for tracking movement.

Forensic palynology is the study of pollen, spores and other acid-resistant microscopic plant bodies to prove or disprove a relationship among objects, people and places. Now, with the support of a multimillion-dollar grant from the Department of Defense, a team of interdisciplinary researchers at Arizona State University plan to use it to improve the U.S. government’s ability to identify where and when criminals and their weapons of destruction are moving.

headshot of a man wearing sunglasses and a dark blue shirt with nature in the background

Anthony Grubesic

“For me, the most exciting aspect of this project is the collaborative work (and team) that spans the social, spatial, ecological and biological sciences,” said Anthony Grubesic, director of the Center for Spatial Reasoning and Policy Analytics at ASU, who will lead the team.

“All the project investigators are experts in their own fields, but the cross-pollination (no pun intended) of our ideas and methods hold real promise for improving models of pollen diffusion and improving the accuracy of geoforensic efforts in tracking objects of interest for law enforcement and the military.”

The team includes Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions College Research Professor Elisa Bienenstock and School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning Associate Professor Daoqin Tong, in collaboration with geographers and biologists from the University of Texas and Emory University.

During the five-year project that is part of the DOD Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), the team will work to find methods for using the distinctive genetic signatures of pollen to track the origins of improvised explosive devices and other activities. 

The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory through its Army Research Office will provide ASU $6.25 million in funding to complete the project.

MURI is a highly competitive DOD program that has made immense contributions to both defense and society at large. For fiscal year 2019, the Army Research Office, the Office of Naval Research and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research conducted a merit-based review of nearly 300 proposals.

Grubesic and his team submitted the winning project proposal, titled “Networked Palynology Models of Pollen and Human Systems (NYMPHS),” to DOD, making ASU one of only 24 universities selected to lead projects that span multiple scientific disciplines.

Along with ASU, some of the award-winning institutions include MIT, Boston University, University of Chicago, Penn State and the California Institute of Technology.

“The project underscores an important dimension of the Watts College commitment to public service,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of the Watts College. “We are committed to advancing national security, in this case, by pulling together multiple disciplines using advanced analytic frameworks under the leadership of Dr. Grubesic.” 

Pollen’s constant presence in the environment makes it a useful biomarker. It is durable and has predictable distributions across terrains. Investigators have used palynology in the past to link movements of bodies in mass graves in Bosnia, and researchers are confident traces of pollen can help determine the origin of items such as computers, undetonated explosives and papers.

The team aims to develop a NYMPHS geocomputational toolbox; extend the use of DNA metabarcoding for identifying pollen samples; develop a rapid-deployment sampling framework for capturing airborne pollen; develop validation methods for determining accuracy, precision and uncertainty of species distribution models; and enhance use of social network methods and mathematical optimization to generate accurate geographic localization for objects that have moved among locations.

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay