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Michael Phelps talks about the secrets of his success (and that shark 'race') at ASU

Michael Phelps' advice to ASU crowd: Write down goals, ask for help when needed.
SAP CEO: Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals your true character.
July 24, 2017

Olympian shares stage with software company CEO Bill McDermott; both discuss how they overcame profound adversity

For Michael Phelps, the journey to becoming the greatest Olympian in history began with a piece of paper.

“Write down your goals,” he told a room full of Arizona State University students Monday evening on the Tempe campus.

“I was taught at an early age to write my goals down, and I’ve been doing it since I was 11 years old. I put them in a place I could see them every day.”

Phelps discussed his path to glory as part of a presentation on leadership called “The Winning Move” that also featured Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP, a global technology company.

“I went through ups and downs personally, publicly, in the pool. There were times I was more dedicated than not,” said Phelps, who has won 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold.

“The great ones do things when they don’t want to. Every day I woke up at 5 or 6 in the morning to jump in a cold pool after being in a nice warm bed. It wasn’t fun, but I had goals I wanted to achieve. It was 365 days a year, 100,000 yards a week.”

McDermott discussed how, when he was a 16-year-old living in Long Island, N.Y., he bought the corner deli he was working at for $7,000. For him, it was a practical move.

“I went from having three part-time jobs to having one,” he said.

Both men have been tested by profound personal adversity. In 2015, McDermott fell down the stairs while holding a glass of water. A shard of glass went through his left eye, and he suffered great blood loss. He lost his eye and endured nearly a dozen surgeries.

“People said, ‘That must have built a lot of character in you.’ It didn’t build an ounce of character, but it did reveal everything about my character,” he said.

In 2014, Phelps was in dark place after facing his second charge of driving under the influence.

“I had no self-confidence, no self-love. I hated myself. I was at a place where I didn’t want to be alive anymore. It took me a long time to look in a mirror and like who I saw,” he said.

“That moment where I put my hand out for help, I found out who I am.”

Both men said that they hope to be remembered for more than their career achievements.

“As you get advanced in this leadership game, it’s not just wanting to be somebody. It’s about doing something and leaving your mark on the world,” said McDermott, whose company hires a lot of young people just out of college.

“Young people today don’t want to work unless they can change the world too,” he said of changing SAP’s corporate culture to embrace inclusion.

Phelps started an eponymous foundation in 2008 that promotes water safety for kids, but he’s especially passionate about a new project that addresses mental health. He has been working with the company Medibio on a wearable device that tracks mental health indicators.

“I’ve been talking about mental health, destigmatizing it. I sat next to an 11-year-old boy the other day who wanted to kill himself,” Phelps said.

“I’ve been able to overcome these obstacles, but I didn’t do it alone. It’s OK to ask for help, and it’s OK to not be OK.”

Phelps came to Arizona in 2015, following his longtime coach Bob Bowman, who had been named head coach of the Sun Devil swim teams. Phelps then trained for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center at ASU. He immersed himself in Sun Devil life, appearing in the “Curtain of Distraction” at a men’s basketball game in January 2016 and swimming in an exhibition race during an ASU meet. A few months before he won six medals at the Rio Olympics, he got married and had a son.

“For me, mentally, to see sunshine and blue skies every day is awesome,” he said. “People always ask if I’m coming back, but I’m content with what I achieved in my swimming career.”

But his competitive spark isn’t completely gone. Phelps was part of the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” programming, which broadcast a simulated “race” on Sunday night, comparing Phelps’ time against that of a great white shark. The shark was faster by two seconds.

“I got whooped,” Phelps said. “That’s a butt beating to me. Instantly after the race I tweeted, ‘Rematch!’ ”


Top photo: Michael Phelps talks about how he sets goals during "The Winning Move," a conversation facilitated by sports analyst Rosalyn Gold-Onwude between Phelps and SAP CEO Bill McDermott on Monday in Tempe. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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Military tattoos tell the tale of warriors

For these ASU vets, tattoos represent self-expression & a reminder of service.
July 14, 2017

For National Tattoo Day, ASU vets share the stories behind their ink

The skin sings: Iraq. Afghanistan. Korea. Japan. Indonesia. Germany. Hungary. And the good ol’ USA.

Military veterans say they get inked for a variety of reasons. They often symbolize loss, patriotism, resistance and sacrifice. Sometimes they’re used to quietly sniff out fellow warriors, but they can also serve as a shield to keep citizens from asking too many questions.

Mostly, they represent a form of self-expression and a permanent reminder of their service — or even just their favorite sci-fi show.

In recognition of National Tattoo Day on July 17, Arizona State University veterans share the stories behind their ink.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now


“Military people travel all over the world with deployments and duty stations, kind of jumping all around all the time, making new friends and having to leave their old friends,” said Chris Hennessy, a mechanical engineering major at ASU who recently served in the U.S. Marines.

“They want to bring parts of them with them wherever they go.”

Anthropologists have traced the age-old practice of tattooing as far back as 400 B.C., but its American military roots can be found in the Revolution. Tattoos picked up steam in port towns in the 18th and 19th centuries but somehow lost their luster during World War II.

Despite rigorous restrictions in the past, the American armed forces are more accepting these days, and tattoo culture among soldiers appears to be more popular than ever. That goes for the female vets, too.

“I would say it’s pretty common among women in the military,” said Marisa Von Holten, a justice studies major at ASU and Air Force vet. “I got my first tattoo with two other females in the service. One even ended up as my bridesmaid.”

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ASU golf coach sees mental toughness as key to team's championship season

Coach balanced toughness, fun on ASU team's road to national golf championship.
July 11, 2017

Missy Farr-Kaye led Sun Devils to a record 8th NCAA title — and her third

The Sun Devils women’s golf team had a lot of ups and downs this season, according to Head Coach Missy Farr-Kaye. But they ended the year at the very top: Arizona State University won the national championship for the eighth time in the program’s history — the most of any NCAA Division I program.

It was Farr-Kaye’s third NCAA title. She won the first while a senior on the ASU golf team, in 1990. Her second was as an assistant coach of the Sun Devils, in 2009. She took the program to the national championship in Illinois in May in only her second year as head coach, and she has won a plethora of accoladesFarr-Kaye was named the Golfweek Division I Women's National Coach of the Year, National Coach of the Year by the Women's Golf Coaches Association, West Regional Coach of the Year and Pac-12 Coach of the Year..

The golf season runs from September to May, and Farr-Kaye started the season last fall without an assistant coach, which, she said, was a blessing in disguise.

“It worked out well to have a couple of months by myself because I really had a chance to connect with my players. When you’re the only resource, they come to you for everything,” she said. In November, Michelle Estill, a former professional golfer and a teammate of Farr-Kaye’s at ASU in the 1980s, was hired as the assistant coach.

Besides the team victory, Sun Devil Monica VaughnVaughn was named winner of the Honda Award, the Pac-12 Tom Hansen Medal of Honor and the Pac-12 Women's Golfer of the Year. won the NCAA individual title, two weeks after graduating with a degree in communications.

Vaughn said the key to Farr-Kaye’s coaching success is that she’s more than coach.

“She’s a mom away from home, and she’s a mentor. She’s a doctor when she needs to be,” she said.

“That’s helped to create such a great bond. She lets us know that she cares more how we are as people than how we are as golfers.”

Farr-Kaye talked to ASU Now about how she worked throughout the season to lead the team to the pinnacle of success.

1. She found inspiration in different places.

“I realized the most important thing we needed to do was to be a team that was mentally strong and gritty.

“I love to watch what the good coaches are doing, and I spend a lot of time reading. I watched a TED Talk on grit by Angela Duckworth, who also wrote a book about it [‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance’] that’s on my nightstand and that I keep highlighting.

“I started following Jon Gordon, who mentors many coaches and wrote ‘The Power of Positive Leadership.’ ”

2. She asked for a commitment to the very end.

“In January, we had a team retreat. We brainstormed how we wanted the entire season to look up until the last day. We had to be all in until May 24, the last day of the finals.

“It’s easy to get a little burnt out at the end of the season. They miss their families. We had Monica as a senior, with the pressure of graduating and ‘what will I do next?’

“I wanted them to commit to each other, and all of us to commit to each other, until we were done.”

3. She personalized her coaching.

“It’s really important to know the individual players. What I say to one player is not going to resonate with the next one.

“You have to have those relationships where you know who needs a tougher love — ‘Come on. What are you doing?’ And that the other needs to hear, ‘You’re fine. It’s all right.’

“It takes a lot of time and intuition to learn what makes each of them tick.”

4. She built up the players' mental toughness.

“We struggled at conference. We had a bad first day in our minds, and the girls were devastated. I told them we had a fantastic year. We won our home tournament for the first time in 10 years. We’re not going to let one bad day ruin it. Let’s take apart what we need to. Let’s be smart about his. [The team won the PING/ASU Invitational by 20 strokes in April but finished in sixth place in the PAC-12 Women’s Golf Championship in Tucson later that month.]

“I think it worked well for us that we played poorly at conference because it helped us reset. They dug a little deeper, practiced a little harder and showed what they were made of.

“I pulled an article out of the Arizona Republic, ‘Mental toughness cannot be underrated.’ We had a meeting about it. I said, ‘Bring your highlighters’ and we talked about it.

“These are qualities that are really important that will hold you through difficult times.”

5. She balanced the work with play.

“That was something I really focused on at the end of the year. I wanted them to have fun on the journey.

“And we did. We had team songs. There are Snapchats of me dancing. That’s not something they always see in me.

“We were about to walk to the tee to play for the national championship and I put my music on and made Robbie Liti dance with me. That was good for her to get her relaxed.

“Our song was by Shawn Mendes, ‘No Holding Back.’ We played it in the cars, and they nicknamed the trophy Shawn.”

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU


Top photo: Missy Farr-Kaye, head coach of the Sun Devils women's golf team, won her third NCAA title in May. Her first was as an ASU player, in 1990, and the second was as assistant coach, in 2009. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


ASU math student wins national essay contest

Paper focused on how insurance industry can become a champion for climate change

June 23, 2017

An essay contest for math people? Sounded like an intriguing idea to Arizona State University student Zhihan Jennifer Zhang.

Zhang won this year’s annual White Paper Contest sponsored by the American Association of Managing General Agents (AAMGA), the nonprofit insurance trade association of the global wholesale distribution marketplace. The competition encourages actuarial and risk management students to research and write about a topic of current interest to the insurance marketplace. AAMGA White Paper Contest winner Zhihan Jennifer Zhang AAMGA White Paper Contest winner Zhihan Jennifer Zhang with Chip Pecchio, chair of the AAMGA Education Committee. Download Full Image

Zhang’s paper, “Climate Change: An Insurance Perspective,” was voted as one of the three winners of the national competition. She is a senior triple majoring in actuarial science, business global politics and business law, and looked at the contest as “a way to combine my love for math and writing in a competitive environment.”

This was the first time a student from Arizona State University entered the annual contest. She made a positive first impression.

“Her article was well written, well researched, and provided great insight into how the insurance industry can become a champion for climate change,” said Chip Pecchio, vice president and underwriting manager of RSUI Group, Inc. and chair of the AAMGA Education Committee.

Zhang’s paper details how the impacts of climate change, with more unpredictable and serious natural disasters, would directly lead to increased claims and ultimate losses for the insurance industry. Her paper explained how “climate change presents a unique opportunity for insurance companies to highlight their dedication to sustainability. Climate change is a global issue, and the insurance industry, as the largest industry in the world, can play a key role in advancing climate research and potential ‘green tech’ solutions.”

For her winning paper, Zhang received a $1,000 scholarship and an all-expenses-paid trip for her and a professor to AAMGA’s annual meeting in Orlando, which she attended with her co-advisor, John Zicarelli. Her paper was also published in the AAMGA’s Wholesale Insurance News quarterly magazine.

One of Zhang’s favorite perks of winning was the opportunity to shadow AAMGA board members at the conference and network with the 1,200 attendees from the U.S., Australia, Canada, Germany and England.

“I think I learned a lot just from being in the environment,” Zhang explained. “It is one thing to learn about the industry in a classroom, and another to hear it applied to real-world situations. Shadowing different mentors was definitely helpful as I got to meet and follow both MGAs and insurance companies' underwriters and see how they both approached the industry.”

“Jennifer was extremely engaged and professional at the AAMGA Annual Meeting, taking advantage of the opportunity to see the underwriting and marketing aspects of the industry,” Pecchio said. “I truly enjoyed meeting her, and my staff was very impressed with her as well.”

“These days the industry is interested in a 'well-rounded' actuary whose technical and analytical skills are matched with strong verbal and written communication abilities,” said Jelena Milovanovic, professor of practice and coordinator of the actuarial science program in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at Arizona State University. 

“Opportunities like the AAMGA White Paper Competition provide a unique avenue for ASU actuarial science students to practice becoming prolific writers.”

“This year was the first time Arizona State participated in the competition, and Jennifer’s paper on climate change has set the bar exceptionally high for next year,” said Milovanovic, who served as Zhang’s co-advisor on the essay.

Zhang's winning essay published in AAMGA's WIN magazine
Zhang's winning essay, "Climate Change: An Insurance Perspective," as published in AAMGA's WIN magazine.

 Zhang was also recently honored as one of ASU’s best and brightest students and awarded the Nationwide E&S/Specialty Actuarial Science Scholarship. She is currently interning at Mercer and has another internship lined up at Nationwide for the fall semester.

Would Zhang encourage other students to enter AAMGA's White Paper competition next year? 

“Definitely,” Zhang said. “Even if students don't end up in insurance, it's still interesting to explore and research pressing current issues. They are, after all, important to everyone, and thinking through how various economic sectors are impacted is a good way to critically understand the topics.”

She also emphasized the great perks of winning: “The AAMGA annual meeting isn't generally opened to student participation, and it's a great way to network.”

Past winners of the national competition have all come from universities on the East Coast. Zhang’s winning paper served as an introduction of ASU’s actuarial science program to the industry. 

“I think it was a good way to get ASU's fairly new program on the radar of many Midwest/East Coast companies whom we don't see a lot and who may not have know about us,” Zhang said.

Ken Levine, chief financial officer and vice president, P&C Specialty Lines, Nationwide, is not surprised a student from ASU’s actuarial science program won.

“Despite being a new program, the caliber of the students is very high. These students are being encouraged and developed by extremely talented faculty members, as well as an actively engaged business community that supports the program,” he said. 

“The necessary pieces are in place to make ASU’s actuarial program a premier program in the nation.”

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences


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Remembering Sun Devil legend Frank Kush

June 22, 2017

Winningest coach in ASU football history died Thursday at age 88, hailed as the man who built the university into national power

Frank Kush, Arizona State University and College Football Hall of Fame inductee and the winningest coach in Sun Devil football history, died Thursday at age 88. Kush was a part of the ASU family since 1955 and served in many roles over the years, most recently as an ambassador for Sun Devil Athletics.

ASU Coach
Frank Kush

"Coach Kush built ASU into a national football power,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said. "He taught us how to make football work, and he put ASU on the map long before it was a full-scale university. Throughout his life he maintained his strong connection to ASU, working with coaches and devoting time to the football program. By growing ASU football he helped us build the whole university into what it is today. He will be sorely missed.”

Kush started his career at ASU in 1955 as an assistant under former head coach Dan Devine. Three seasons later, on Dec. 22, 1957, Kush became the 15th football coach in Arizona State history.

Kush went on to win 176 games — the most in school history — across 21.5 seasons and was elected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He led his team to seven Western Athletic Conference Championships and guided the Sun Devils to winning seasons in 19 of his 22 years. The Hall of Famer also holds the ASU football record for most postseason victories.

“Frank Kush is Sun Devil football,” said ASU Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson. “… Today, he and his family are in our hearts."

Read the full story about Kush and his impact on the university on the Sun Devil Athletics site here.


In the players' words

In October 2011, Kush and players from his 1958–1979 teams gathered at ASU for the Legends Luncheon. Watch the memories and hear what players had to say about their coach.


What's in a name?

In the late 1950s, efforts were afoot to change Arizona State College's name to Arizona State University. There were strong feelings on both sides.

Kush was among those who played a key role in drumming up support for the "university" change. Hear Kush and others speak about what it was like during that time.

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Revved up: ASU race car crew ready to impress at international competition

June 16, 2017

A confident Arizona State University team is gearing up for what is widely considered the toughest international student automotive design and performance competition.

About 30 members of ASU’s chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers are planning to make the trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, for the 2017 Formula SAE event June 21-24.

Those students are about half the number of the chapter’s members who have been working for much of the past year on the race car that will be put to the test against about 80 other teams from colleges and universities throughout the United States and several other countries.

“We have been designing, engineering and building almost nonstop since last June,” said Troy Buhr, the Formula SAE team captain who graduated this spring with a mechanical engineering degree from ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“We’ve had workshop days just about every Saturday, and in the past two months we have been in the shop almost every day,” he said.

Refined design and cool features

What the sustained effort has wrought is stoking Buhr’s optimism about the team’s prospects for success at the Formula SAE competition.

He notes that this is the third straight year the SAE chapter has produced a brand-new race car from start to finish — the first time that has been done by the student organization.

The trend had been for the ASU teams to build a new car about every five years. So designing and assembling new cars in three consecutive years “is a huge accomplishment because it shows we are building a strong foundation of teamwork and using the new knowledge we’ve gained year to year,” Buhr said.

Equally as significant, the 2017 car is the first in the chapter’s more than 25-year history to have a full package of aerodynamic features, highlighted by front and rear wings on the vehicle.

“This shows our design skills are maturing,” Buhr said. “Full aerodynamics packages create more downforce, which enables cars to go through corners faster. Plus, it makes the car more closely resemble a Formula One race car.”

Such a resemblance, he adds, gives the car a “cooler” look that’s “more professional and less like a go-kart."

The new race car also sports 10-inch wheels instead of the 13-inch wheels used in years past. The new wheels, along with a decrease in the size and weight of other components, should enable the vehicle to perform more efficiently.

Teams challenged to demonstrate multiple skills

At the competition, cars are evaluated through highly detailed technical inspections and cost analysis. Teams must submit an in-depth evaluation of the fundamental engineering principles that guided the design and building of the car.

There’s also a sales presentation that requires teams to make the business case for how mass production of their vehicle could be a profitable venture.

On the track, cars are judged on their proficiency in acceleration, braking, general driving stability, overall efficiency and endurance. They must be driven on an autocross run, a timed competition requiring drivers to navigate a track designed to test the vehicle’s responsiveness and road-handling capabilities.

“The idea is to test every aspect of a team’s engineering and teamwork skills,” Buhr said.

Just getting into the competition requires a test of the team’s fundraising skills. The cost of producing the race car amounted to about $30,000, and then there was the $2,250 registration fee to enter the Formula SAE event.

To cover costs, the team launched a crowdfunding campaign and secured industry sponsorship and other support from dozens of companies, including Ford, AEI Fabrication, Industrial Metal Supply, Solidworks and PPE Engineering.

“All of these challenges are what makes this a great club,” Buhr said. “The competition forces us to apply the engineering knowledge that we are learning in class to actually creating a high-performance vehicle.”

The project management, collaborative labor, financing and other aspects of the endeavor “are training our members for work in industry,” said Buhr, who will soon begin a job with Ford Motor Company in Michigan.

Preparing to make a big splash

“What’s really cool is that we’re not just an engineering team,” said the team’s industry partnership manager, Robert Tichy. “We want to be an engineering organization that pulls in students with diverse talents from several schools.”

Tichy notes that the team’s crowdfunding effort was aided this year by members who are pursuing degrees in business and communications fields. They helped with advertising for the fundraising campaign.

The team is looking to add journalism and art students in the near future to benefit from their particular skills, he said.

 “Above all else, our primary goal is to develop the technical, professional and communication skills of our members,” Buhr said.

Right up at No. 2 on the SAE chapter’s list of goals this year is boosting the team’s reputation among its peers by placing within the top 25 among the formidable contenders it will face at the upcoming Formula SAE competition.

“Our aerodynamics package really sets a new standard for our team,” Tichy said. “No one can count ASU out, and I think we’re going to make a big splash in Lincoln. I’m looking forward to seeing heads turn as we perform.”

Top photo: Members of the ASU chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers and their supporters gathered recently for the unveiling of a new race car equipped with aerodynamic features designed to boost the vehicle’s performance. Photo by Pete Zrioka/ASU 

Joe Kullman

Science writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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Open ASU event Saturday in honor of International Day of Yoga, which is June 21.
Yoga comes from an ancient Sanskrit word meaning "to unite."
ASU expert: 5-10 minutes of yoga a day better than single 1.5-hour class a week.
June 15, 2017

Learn more about the practice, history and benefits from ASU's experts; take part in community event this weekend

Thirty years ago the phrase “downward dog” was likely to raise a few eyebrows when overheard in conversation, but nowadays you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t recognize it as a yoga pose.

The United Nations seemed to think so when in 2014 it sought to give the more-than-5,000-year-old practice the recognition it deserved by establishing June 21 as the International Day of Yoga. From 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 17, the Arizona State University student chapter of the Art of Living Foundation will host a community yoga celebration on the Tempe campus’ Hayden Lawn.

The gathering is part of a nationwide event to spread awareness of the practice, and an estimated 50 to 100 people are expected to show up, according to Alicia Nelson, global studies undergraduate and president of the Art of Living ASU student chapter.

Nelson took her first yoga class at ASU a few years ago and began teaching it around the Valley in early 2016.

“Yoga is that time where you say, OK, I’m going to pause everything I’m doing in the outside world and focus on what’s going on inside,” she said. “When you give yourself that time, you’re more aware of how you’re going through life, and it gives you the power to have a deeper experience and come to happiness in the moment.”

Yoga featured prominently at the recent opening of ASU’s Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience, a new initiative that will bring together researchers, practitioners and educators across disciplines to collaborate, study and spread ideas about mindfulness, compassion and resilience throughout the university and surrounding community.

“I’m really excited about the new center,” ASU health sciences lecturer Julia PearlJulia Pearl is a lecturer in ASU’s School of Nutrition and Health Promotion. She holds the following certifications: E-RYT 500 (Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher); YACEP (Yoga Alliance Certified Education Provider); ACSM-CPT (American College of Sports Medicine, Certified Personal Trainer); and AFAA- CGFI (Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, Certified Group Fitness Instructor). said. She has been teaching yoga since 1995 and hopes to incorporate her specialty, Ashtanga yogaAshtanga yoga is a style of yoga popularized by K. Pattabhi Jois during the 20th century and consisting of eight “limbs,” or branches, of which physical poses are only one. “Power yoga” is a generic term that may refer to any type of aerobically vigorous yoga exercise derived from Ashtanga yoga., into the center’s offerings.

In preparation for Saturday’s event, ASU Now tracked down some of the university’s foremost experts on yoga to create a mini guide on its practice, history and benefits.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

An age-old practice

The word “yoga” comes from an ancient Sanskrit word that means “to unite,” as in uniting the body, mind and spirit. The practice originated in India more than 5,000 years ago with the goal of enlightenment and self-realization.

“In almost any culture, there’s this desire to understand why are we here, and now that we’re here, how do we live this life,” said attorney and Desert Song Healing Arts Center yoga instructor Alisa Gray. “People have always sought answers to these questions, and we’re still seeking answers.”

Desert Song Healing Arts Center is a community partner of ASU’s Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience. Gray, who earned her undergraduate and law degree from ASU, also teaches yoga and mindfulness to law students and legal professionals.

Gandhi, as it turns out, was also both a lawyer and a yogi, though not in the sense we might think. He practiced Ahimsa, or non-violence.

“Gandhi was a yogi in the sense of practicing what’s called karma yoga — good works,” Gray said. “So he was a yogi although you wouldn’t see him doing downward dog.”

Western vs. Eastern

Yoga only recently became commonplace in Western countries. Some trace the origin of yoga in the West to the yogi Swami Vivekananda’s visit to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, where he demonstrated various poses. Almost a century later, during the 1970s, University of Massachusetts Medical School professor Jon Kabat-Zinn helped boost its popularity in the U.S. when he integrated the teachings with scientific findings.

Since then, yoga has seen the endorsement of celebrities like Sting and Madonna and has even been incorporated into professional athletes’ training regimens.

“Gosh, it’s changed so much over the last 22 years,” Pearl said. “The biggest way is just how mainstream it’s become. … It’s very normalized. Much more so than when I first started in Seattle, when I was involved in the ‘Earthy-mama’ movement.”

And yoga is no longer thought of as a solely religious practice meant to achieve enlightenment.

“Western yoga is definitely more fitness-oriented,” said ASU health sciences lecturer Christina BarthChristina Barth is a lecturer in ASU’s School of Nutrition and Health Promotion. She holds the following certifications: Registered Dietitian Nutritionist; Registered Yoga Teacher., “but it still helps us to manage stress, learn to relax and increase our overall sense of well-being.”

More than just striking a pose

There are several schools of yoga, including Bikram (hot yoga), Yin (slow-paced) and Ashtanga (power). One of the main components of Ashtanga is deep breathing, which Pearl said “almost sounds like Darth Vader” in an otherwise quiet studio.

That breathing aspect is very important, though. In fact, breathing is one of the eight “limbs,” or branches, of yoga. Other limbs include meditation and ethics.

The poses we generally associate with the entirety of yoga actually only make up one limb, called the “asana” limb, and there is some debate among yogis as to where they all came from, since ancient writings mention just one: the seated meditation pose. One theory, according to Gray, is that the plethora of modern-day yoga poses originated from calisthenicsCalisthenics are gymnastic exercises intended to achieve bodily fitness and grace of movement..

There’s also the mental and emotional aspects of yoga to consider, said Devi Davis-StrongDevi Davis-Strong is a lecturer in ASU’s School of Nutrition and Health Promotion. She holds the following certifications: Yoga Alliance 200 Hour Teacher Certification; American College of Sports Medicine Health Fitness Specialist and Personal Training Certificate; American Council on Exercise Group Fitness and Personal Training certifications; Certified Health Education Specialist., ASU exercise science and health promotion lecturer. It’s those aspects, as opposed to the physical poses, that have kept her coming back over the roughly 15 years she has been practicing.

“The poses are challenging, but that’s not really the point of yoga,” Davis-Strong said.

Research to back it up

Among the benefits of yoga are lessened insomnia, anxiety and depression; lower heart, respiratory and blood pressure rates; increased serotonin levels; and improvement in body image. And those benefits have been scientifically proven, something that satisfies Westerners’ desire for empirical justification, Gray said.

Barth, who has been doing yoga for 10 years, has seen firsthand the positive effect it has had on clients at her private practice, who are recovering from eating disorders.

“I’ve seen a big change in them as far as mindful eating,” she said.

Research has also shown that yoga can shift the body from a state of “fight or flight,” our bodies’ natural response to stress, to a more relaxed one.

“We live in such a fast-paced, stressful society, we need a way to calm ourselves, to soothe ourselves,” Davis-Strong said. “The stress response is quick; it’s a survival mechanism” that can muddle the circuitry in our frontal cortex, which helps us make good decisions. “Yoga can help us slow down so we can make better decisions and respond better to challenging situations.”

Anyone can be a yogi

Incorporating yoga into your life could be easier than you thought. Pearl recently helped create a video demonstrating 10 stress-relieving postures that can be done at your desk.

“You don’t even have to go to a gym; you can practice mind-body exercises at your desk when you get an email that makes your blood pressure go up,” she said. “You can do something about it right then that will be better for your well-being.”

When it comes to setting goals, she advises against putting too much pressure on yourself or forcing yourself to do something that’s too difficult.

“With all behavior change, it’s really about starting with the ‘smart’ goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-oriented. Things that somebody will actually be able to do, because consistency is key. If you can do five to 10 minutes of yoga a day, that’s better than one, one-and-a-half-hour class a week,” Pearl said.

Adding to that, Davis-Strong said it’s important not to be intimidated and to just enjoy the experience.

“I just encourage people to give it a try and see how they feel,” she said. “Just feel good, have fun and enjoy your body.”


Sun Never Sets on Yoga

What: Yoga session open to the public.

When: 6:30-8 p.m. Saturday, June 17.

Where: Hayden lawn, Tempe campus.

Admission: Free; donations accepted.

Details: Bring mat, water bottle and small meditation cushion. Find more information at ASU Events.


Top photo: ASU health sciences lecturer Julia Pearl does yoga at ASU's Sun Devil Fitness Complex on the Downtown Phoenix campus. Photo by Anna Werner

Sun Devil Send-Offs help ASU feel like home for new students

June 13, 2017

College can be overwhelming for incoming students, with more people, more choices and more responsibility. To help transform a student’s introduction to the Arizona State University experience from potentially intimidating to absolutely energizing, the ASU Alumni Association has crafted its Sun Devil Send-Offs, a yearly series of more than 30 summer gatherings in cities across the country.

  The Orange County (Calif.) alumni chapter welcomes new ASU students and their families to the Sun Devil Nation through a Sun Devil Send-Off. The ASU Alumni Association hosts more than 30 send-offs at locations around the country each summer. Download Full Image

It’s a cross between a mini pep rally and a maroon-and-gold lovefest, and for many new ASU families, it provides all the confirmation they need that they made the right choice when their child decided to become a Sun Devil.

ASU has sponsored welcoming events like the send-offs for decades, but once the association got involved in the late 2000s, the organization tapped its coast-to-coast network of alumni chapters and clubs to serve a broad cross-section of first-year students — incoming freshmen, international students and transfer students from community colleges.

According to Eddie DeVall, Class of 1993 and president of the Los Angeles alumni chapter, the send-offs are as much for the student’s parents as they are for the student.

“We serve as a local connection if the student or family has a question and needs assistance,” he said. “Parents and family members are welcome to attend our alumni events to further connect them to the ASU family while their student is on campus.”

Send-off event venues range from houses and city parks to alumni-owned restaurants and, in one memorable instance, a car museum. Kevin Tomkins, Class of '93 and a send-off host in the Los Angeles area, invites students, their families and local alumni to his house, which includes an impressive collection of ASU memorabilia, including Sun Devil tents, banners and an ASU-branded golf cart.

“My wife, daughter and I have been doing ASU Send-Offs at our home in Arcadia for the past 10 years. I have pictures of my daughter starting at age 6, when she would wear an ASU cheerleading outfit to greet people, to today when she is about ready to begin her own college journey,” he said. “We provide the food, the house and a very festive environment.”

Student attendance can range from a handful of ASU hopefuls to dozens in larger areas, such as Los Angeles (which hosts three Sun Devil Send-Offs most years) or Orange County, California. Sherry Brooks, Class of '89, has overseen send-offs in Orange County both as a chapter leader and a site host. She said her chapter now holds its Send-Off in a community clubhouse.

“We have found that morning events work best for our community, and we serve breakfast burritos, fruit, muffins, juice and coffee,” she said. “ Attendees have a chance to mingle and chat. Then we separate the students and parents. The students get a chance to meet one another in a smaller setting, and the parents have a chance to ask questions of chapter leaders and alums.”

That Q&A time is a vital component for most send-offs, according to the chapter members and hosts who lead them. Students and their families can find out everything from move-in/move-out procedures and how to register for classes to how to make the most of their time at the university. Alumni often have a lot to say about that last question, said Jim Shaughnessy, Class of '72, who has hosted send-offs for the Greater Philadelphia chapter at his home in Paoli, Pennsylvania.

“Alumni often share stories of opportunity,” he said. “[They advise students to] make your ASU experience what you want it to be.”

DeVall added, “The biggest piece of advice I hear at send-offs each year is to get involved in a club or organization. That helps make immediate connections for a student once they are on campus, which can build their resume and make the campus seem smaller.”

Alumni say the send-offs play a crucial role in making a new Sun Devil’s transition to ASU a smooth one. Brooks called the events “an important step in becoming a Sun Devil.”

“Sending a student to college — especially out of state — is a scary experience,” she said. “I think the send-offs make the large ASU community feel much smaller. It helps to have questions answered and the students like knowing that they will recognize someone from home on campus.”

Shaughnessy, who played football under Coach Frank Kush, encouraged new ASU families to attend a nearby send-off for both practical and spirit-boosting reasons.

“Make time for this special event,” Shaughnessy said. “ You will get spoiled by all the Sun Devil love, and you will learn many behind-the-scenes tips for surviving and thriving.”

To learn more about the Sun Devil Send-Offs series, or to register for an event near you, visit

Time at ASU taught student importance of human communication in everyday life

June 7, 2017

Amy Rajnisz was that one student in high school who could never answer the question: "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

So after high school, she did some soul-searching. She spent her first two years of college at Chandler Gilbert Community College focusing on general credits that could apply to any liberal arts degree. After a slew of frustrations and self-doubt, Rajnisz's “aha” moment came when she discovered a way to cope with those difficult times — she found relief in writing. Amy Rajnisz at graduation Amy Rajnisz at ASU's May graduation ceremony. Download Full Image

“I've always known of my passion for writing but I never thought about pursuing it,” she said. “For the first time, I had my sights set on something.”

Now, Rajnisz is an Arizona State University alumnus from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication and recipient of the 2017 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medal. She was selected to receive the Dean’s Medal as one of the outstanding students who has demonstrated an unyielding commitment to academic excellence during her time at ASU.

She had some obstacles along the way though.

Originally, she had planned to apply as a journalism major at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, but an adviser told her that she feared that Rajnisz would not live up to the potential of others at the Cronkite School. 

Also, Rajnisz had  lived in the shadow of her older sister, having been told so many times that she was "not good enough" because her sister was better. 

The night before she applied to ASU, Rajnisz talked to her mom about the pressure she was feeling and how hard it was for her to feel like her own person when she had been in a shadow her whole life. She remembers her mom telling her that she wished her siblings would communicate as openly and honestly as Rajnisz did. That's when she knew she wanted to study human communication.

“The lightbulb over my head went off and the next morning, I applied for a BA in communication in the Hugh Downs School of Communication,” she said. 

The best piece of advice that she would give to anyone still in college would be to challenge those that doubt you, even if that means challenging yourself.

“Never in a million years did I think I would ever be the recipient of the Dean’s Medal,” she said. “What got me to where I am today was all of the doubt others had in me. Instead of letting it defeat me, I bought a carton of ice cream and let the negativity motivate me,” Rajnisz said. “The endless 'no's' lit a fire. It didn't matter how many 'no's' there were as long as I got the one 'yes' that outweighed everything else. “

Coming to ASU as a transfer student was also challenge for Rajnisz. Not knowing a single person and feeling incredibly nervous, she attended Passport to ASU with her dad by her side for support.

The pink Sun Devils Wear Prada booth immediately caught her eye and she was greeted by friendly faces.

“It was almost an overwhelming feeling that I had been accepted by a group of genuinely nice girls,” she said. “They welcomed me with open arms and now I have lifelong friends.”

Rajnisz said she has learned two important concepts while at ASU: that her instructors only cared as much as she did and that it was okay to seek support.

Previously, Rajnisz said she had always been timid to ask for help or make her presence known in class. 

Amy Rajnisz with her advisor Carol Comito

But she decided that to start anew, she would build a good rapport with instructors and advisers like Carol Comito (pictured at left).

She began introducing herself to every instructor the first day of class and would offer to help them in any way she could; feedback, notes, etc. She asked questions and challenged conversations.

“Slowly, I began to realize I was communicating more than ever and I loved it. I felt support from my instructors because I had opened lines of communication,” she said. “I can confidently say the faculty who knew me truly cared, because they saw that I did too. I was invested in my success. “

Rajnisz had also quietly battled anxiety since middle school and never gave it the attention it deserved. When she arrived at ASU, she sought out counseling and went once a month, every month.

“I credit a lot of my success to those who took the time to sit with me and simply listen,” she said. “I live with anxiety and it has taught me a lot about myself. It has challenged me and I am stronger because of it.”

Rajnisz has a long history of volunteering while a student at ASU. She has been a stylist for Sun Devils Wear Prada since 2015; she volunteered to help oversee the Tempe Festival of the Arts; and she volunteered at Maggie’s Place, which provides pregnant women in need with resources and a supportive community. She is also bilingual in English and American Sign Language.

Between her volunteer work, rigorous coursework, living in student housing, working with different groups, and working in the food service industry, Rajnisz also found her patience tested at ASU. But she now takes all of those experiences to help her interact with people and guests in her current job with patience and understanding.

“As silly as it may seem, the whole premise of this discipline at the end of the day, is to have a better understanding of how we as humans interact with one another,” she said. “Little did I know — although I was constantly challenged academically — everything I learned was very much applicable to my daily life.”

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication


ASU engineering students take off on microgravity adventure with NASA

Next Level Devils to participate in NASA's Micro-g NExT program near the Johnson Space Center in Houston this month

June 6, 2017

It has long been Brittany Nez’s dream to work in the aerospace industry, and she’s not waiting until graduation to do so.

In fall 2015, the aerospace engineering senior founded the Arizona State University Next Level Devils to participate in NASA’s Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Teams program, better known as Micro-g NExT. A year later, the team’s proposal has been accepted and they’re gearing up to take their design to NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) near the Johnson Space Center in Houston for testing this summer. Photo of three students attaching an auger to a drill The Next Level Devils prepare to test their conical tapered anchor before heading to NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory near the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Photo by Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU Download Full Image

The Micro-g NExT program challenges undergraduate students to design, build and test a tool or device that addresses an authentic, current space exploration challenge. The testing of the designs is conducted by trained divers in the simulated microgravity environment of the NBL.

When the team of Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering students received the challenge in August 2016, they had three months to design and write the proposal. Their acceptance notice arrived in December, and they have been manufacturing, testing and participating in outreach activities since then.

“A central goal of our project and opportunity to participate in the NASA program is community outreach,” said Patrick Hull, a mechanical engineering junior who is the team’s design lead. “We have been participating in on-campus events like Night of the Open Door as well as going to local high schools to teach STEM lesson plans related to aerospace topics.”

Next Level Devils begin

While interning with the NASA Space Grant Program, Nez learned of the competition and ASU’s lack of representation in the program. Nez contacted a few fellow students whom she thought would be interested. The team set out preparing right away with meetings and some inspiration from Jack Lightholder, a former lead of the ASU Dust Devils Microgravity Team that participated in a similar program a few years prior. Lightholder inspired the team to continue with the project and work toward submitting an application for the 2015–2016 academic year. Unfortunately, the team ran into a design flaw and, due to time restraints, was unable to submit the proposal.

“Much of what we learned was about the project guidelines, particularly about safety guidelines, which apply to both the professional divers that will handle the projects in the neutral buoyancy tank at Houston this June and to potential astronauts in space,” Hull said. “We also learned to design our project with simplicity in mind after we later received feedback from NASA commenting that our design was complicated.”

“I think we were able to structure ourselves better for the second attempt,” Nez said. “We learned from our mistakes the first time, and we had a better idea on how to create a structure for the team in terms of support, funding and the general engineering process of the project.”

The extra year also allowed the team more time in the design phase.

“To me, this is the most important part,” Nez said. “There are hundreds of different ways a team can tackle this problem, and really narrowing in on a project that works best for the full team was a huge factor to our success.”

The 12-student Next Level Devils team is diverse, and each member brings something different to the table, according to Nez.

Nez leads the group as team president. Aerospace engineering major Alek Cook is the team’s vice president and manufacturing lead, and Hull is the team’s design lead, treasurer and secretary. The rest of the team is made up of aerospace engineering students Alessandro Laspina, Garrett Nez, Maria Samir, Christian Sclafani, Justine Tang, Evren Uner and Gashaw Bizana, who is both an aerospace and mechanical engineering student. Chemical engineering student Wakhile Shongwe and Robert Mann, a molecular biosciences and biotechnology student from the ASU School of Life Sciences, round out the team. The team is mentored by mechanical and aerospace engineering Assistant Professor Hamid Marvi and Honors Faculty Fellow Joseph Foy from ASU’s Barrett, the Honors College.

“We all have a different upbringing and different experiences that provides many perspectives to our challenge,” Nez said.

Gravity in space

When we think of objects in space we imagine them to be in zero gravity. In actuality, they exist in a micro-gravity environment, meaning objects are outside the sphere of influence of a celestial body but are still affected by pulls of gravity on a minuscule scale.

NASA has discovered that it is extremely difficult to anchor to an unconsolidated surface in microgravity. Due to the small amount of gravity in space, especially when the bodies are as small as asteroids, anchors are needed to keep equipment and people on the surface. 

This is where the Next Level Devils come in. The team is building an air-powered anchoring device that will attach to the sand-like surface of a planet or asteroid. They will be testing their prototype auger design, crafted by the team using the TechShop Chandler facilities. Additionally, Next Level Devils will be testing a pair of 3-D-printed aluminum drills provided to the team by Donald Godfrey and the additive manufacturing team at Honeywell Aerospace in Phoenix.

“Our design is a drill-like anchor that allows astronauts to secure or grip tools to the soil while under the low-gravity conditions of space,” Hull said. “This is significant because low gravity makes it difficult to keep items on the surface of a planet or asteroid without floating away. When conducting research activities like taking soil samples, it is important that an astronaut’s tools are secure and do not float away.”

Innovation of the space industry

The space industry is at the forefront of innovation with much of the research that goes into the space industry being used to correct issues on Earth.

“The medical industry, construction industry, automobile industry, etc., have all used aerospace research to find better solutions to their own issues,” Nez said. “When we have to look at how a person will react a certain way in an alien environment, we gain so much more insight about the human condition as a whole.”

The goal for the Next Level Devils is to continue to build on their entrepreneurial and engineering skills that they will need in their future careers.

“There are plenty of skills that can be learned from working through a project from the designing and prototyping phase, all the way to the final project,” Nez said. “I hope that the younger members on the team will be able to work on building the engineering skills they need for future classes at ASU and the older students will be able to build skills that they will use when entering the industrial setting.”

What comes next?

With the team headed to Houston to test out their design this summer, Nez isn’t afraid to look beyond Next Level Devils.

“I have gained many skills from this experience that will help me after I graduate,” Nez said. “I have built on my leadership, time management, public speaking and mentoring skills because of this project. The project has also given me more confidence in my choice of major. I know I am doing what I am passionate about, and that gives me confidence knowing that I will be happy with what I am doing when I am done with my degree.”

Each member on the team has put in a large amount of work and time into this project, and Nez hopes that they feel accomplished after completing the program and realize that they are doing something they enjoy.

“I hope they will be able to use the experience they gained while working on the team after they graduate and are working in industry,” Nez said. “For the younger members, I hope they have had a good experience working on a project of this caliber. I know they are hard-working, and I hope they will step up and take on a leadership role next year.”

Erik Wirtanen

Web content comm administrator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering