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Unique celebrations mark the graduation of this year's health solutions grads

June 3, 2020

Arizona State University President Michael Crow called it “one of the most complex semesters in the history of the known universe.” And for the 850 students who graduated this spring from the College of Health Solutions, it was certainly that and more. 

The COVID-19 pandemic upended the final semester of the Class of 2020, with students finishing the last two months of their classes online, completing lab assignments remotely, meeting with advisers and faculty via Zoom, modifying their internship plans and research projects, and marking their graduation with the university’s first-ever virtual commencement. ASU graduate Almasi Sepideh wearing graduationg gown, robe, hat and face mask Sepideh Almasi graduated with her degree in kinesiology from the College of Health Solutions.

Altering traditions

Despite their physically distanced circumstances, health solutions seniors finished their degrees and were celebrated with the college’s first virtual convocation. Many of the traditional elements of a live convocation were the same, with Deborah Helitzer, dean of the College of Health Solutions, addressing the graduates (albeit in a pre-recorded message) and videos showcasing outstanding graduates: Paige Ellis, who earned a Bachelor of Science in speech and hearing sciences, and Hiral Soni, who graduated with a PhD in biomedical informatics. A student highlight video was also part of the ceremony, although featured students had to submit selfie videos instead of being interviewed on campus as they had for past convocations. 

In addition to the videos, the website that took the place of the usual one-hour event in Desert Financial Arena on the Tempe campus included individual slides of the graduates, many of whom added photos and special thank you messages.

While she missed congratulating students as they crossed the stage, Helitzer said this year’s virtual event was in many ways more memorable and intimate.

“I was able to spend time getting to know more about our students as I scrolled through the online slides, read their messages and studied their photos, which made me feel connected with them in a way I hadn’t expected,” she said. 

The more informal student highlight video also felt more personal, Helitzer said.

“With their selfie videos, I was able to hear their authentic voices as they spoke with passion about their dreams for the future. While the semester didn’t end how we had hoped, the way the members of the Class of 2020 completed their final semester showed their creativity, resilience and flexibility, qualities which will serve them well as they move on to the next step in their journeys.”

Video courtesy of the College of Health Solutions

Creating new ways to celebrate

Health solutions graduates found ways to make the online format special. Anita Daryayani, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in nutrition, arranged with a friend to watch the online celebration at the same time from their different locations.

“We made sure to click start at the exact same time on our computers, and we texted each other throughout the ceremony, sharing comments as we watched,” she said. 

Teresa Lageson, a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology graduate, said her family made the event memorable.

“They blew up balloons, cooked some of my favorite foods and bought me two cakes,” she said. “They asked me questions about college, like what my favorite class was and what struggles I had. While I didn’t get to walk across the stage this semester, my family celebrated with me, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

Several students had to celebrate with family from a distance. Adriana Verdezoto Alvarado, who graduated with her Master of Science in nutrition, watched the ceremony in Arizona while the rest of her family watched in Ecuador.

“They weren’t able to fly to the U.S., but we watched together from our respective computers,” she said. “My dad opened a bottle of champagne and cheered with my mom and sister during the ceremony. I did not have any champagne, so I cheered with water. My dad gave a speech about how proud he was. It was a happy moment for all of us.” 

Sepideh Almasi, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, connected online with family too.

“My family is all around the world, so basically it is just me and my husband here, but we celebrated my graduation through Facetime and took screen shots while I was wearing my ASU cap and gown. My husband cooked my favorite food, and I baked my favorite Persian pastries. We will always remember the spring 2020 graduation!” 

Several health solutions faculty arranged online celebrations for their students. Nutrition faculty member Maureen McCoy hosted a Zoom reception for about 40 graduates and 18 faculty members who spoke about each student’s accomplishments.

“After each speech, everyone unmuted to clap and celebrate and raise our glasses in a big cheer,” McCoy said. “Students emailed afterwards to say they really enjoyed the experience, that it felt even more personal to them to have that one-on-one time with the faculty and some of their fellow graduates.” 

Making history

When the Class of 2020 began as first-year students in 2016, they were the largest class in ASU history. Their graduation has been equally historic.

“Our students will likely never forget the hurdles they overcame — and all the time they spent on Zoom!” Helitzer said. “This unusual semester had us connecting and celebrating in ways we had never done before, which has been a silver lining of this shared experience. We can’t wait to see what the Class of 2020 accomplishes next.”

Kelly Krause

Media and communications manager, College of Health Solutions

ASU offers free transportation engineering program for high school juniors, seniors

Start this summer: Earn college credit online, prepare for transportation degree

June 2, 2020

A free, online U.S. Department of Transportation program for high school juniors and seniors is being offered for college credit at Arizona State University in the upcoming school year.

The nine-month program, offered through the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, will give students an opportunity to explore transportation and engineering-related careers and pathways. The program covers transportation engineering in channels that range from designing municipal infrastructures for pedestrians, bikes, cars and light rails to the software systems that manage those transportation modes. Participants will also get exposure to aerospace engineering design and management. Registration closes June 10, but may be extended based on placement availability.  ASU High School Transportation Engineering ASU high school transportation engineering programs have included trips to the Valley Metro Light Rail facility, municipal transportation centers and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU Download Full Image

The fall semester will include online workshops with parents or guardians on topics such as college readiness, financial aid and completing the college application process. The spring semester will be a mix of online and in-person programming to explore transportation and engineering related careers and pathways, depending on COVID-19-related social distancing precautions.

Students will also complete a capstone project, giving them a chance to develop real-world solutions to engineering challenges. Workforce development trainings, such as OSHA 10 and other certification programs that may qualify students for jobs and internships, will be available.

Eligible students must be Arizona residents entering grades 11 or 12 in the fall 2020 semester; must have a minimum, unweighted GPA of 2.5 at the time of registration; and must be proficient in college algebra and ready to enroll in online, college precalculus by August. The ASU college credit course will be offered for free to program-registered students. Students not yet algebra proficient may take college algebra online, also for free, upon admission to the program beginning on June 15.

Students who’ve completed AP calculus can participate in the program without enrolling in the ASU course.

For more information or to register, visit ASU’s NSTI Scholars Program.

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


ASU premieres summer concert series with Jason Derulo

Free live event for the ASU community on June 4

May 29, 2020

Arizona State University is kicking off its summer featuring a free concert with multiplatinum singer, songwriter and dancer Jason Derulo, live at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 4.

Live from his studio, Derulo will perform for thousands of members of the ASU community including students, faculty, alumni and staff. Jason Derulo is a multiplatinum powerhouse singer, songwriter and entertainer. His debut single “Whatcha Say” has earned five-time platinum status.

The ASU summer concert series "Live from ASU" was conceived by ASU President Michael Crow as a way to engage with students and the ASU community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each concert will be an opportunity to reinforce ASU’s commitment to students, culture of innovation, as well as provide an interactive shared experience with artists.

The concerts will be produced and livestreamed exclusively to the ASU community at asuforyou.asu.edu (ASURITE login required) and will include a Q&A session following the performance. Members of the ASU community can begin submitting questions now using the hashtag #ASULiveJason for an opportunity to ask Derulo a question during the Q&A.

“The live concert experience is part of being together — and now we will be together in new ways with technology and innovation,” said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, ASU vice president for cultural affairs. “We want to bring memorable experiences with lots of energy and fun and a great way to welcome new students, along with the record-breaking enrollment of 57,000-plus ASU students for the summer session."

“ASU is focused on innovative experiences and we want to create opportunities for people to connect during this time,” said Cassandra Aska, deputy vice president and dean of students for the Tempe campus. “We’re thrilled to generate this type of excitement to the ASU community and bring entertainment to the virtual live stage.”

With more than 190 million records sold worldwide, Derulo is a multiplatinum powerhouse singer, songwriter and entertainer. His debut single “Whatcha Say” has now earned five-time platinum status while “Talk Dirty,” “Want To Want Me,” “In My Head” and “Ridin’ Solo” (featuring 2 Chainz) have reached quadruple-platinum status. “Wiggle” (feat. Snoop Dogg) went triple-platinum and “Trumpets” earned a double-platinum certification. Platinum singles include “Marry Me,” “The Other Side,” “It Girl” and “I Don’t Wanna Go Home.”

performer on stage

Courtesy Jason Derulo

The TikTok star’s cumulative streams continue to soar, exceeding 18 billion overall and over 6 billion YouTube views. Derulo's single “Colors” served as the Coca-Cola anthem for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, reaching over 274 million streams across all platforms. On the radio, his music has impacted a total audience of 22 billion-plus listeners with a staggering 4.4 billion spins. Derulo was a featured performer for the Monday Night Football theme, is an investor in many enterprises, including Catch L.A. and Rumble Boxing with Sylvester Stallone and Ashton Kutcher, and he has a partnership with Warner Chappell Music through his publishing company, Future History. His most recent project is "2Sides (Side 1)," a prequel release with six all-new songs, which sets the table for the full length project "2Sides" coming in 2020.

"Live from ASU" will be announcing other artists for upcoming concerts in June.

Marketing Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage

ASU Prep Digital grad balanced high school and competitive hockey

May 29, 2020

Though Alejandro Apud spent much of his life in the desert, he was equally at home on the ice. His burgeoning hockey career led him to move away from home in 2018 to play for traveling junior hockey teams based out of first Louisiana then Connecticut. To balance his collegiate athletics and academic pursuits, Apud turned to ASU Prep Digital. He graduated this month along with 291 classmates in the ASU Prep class of 2020.

Apud moved to the Scottsdale area from Mexico when he was in the seventh grade. He moved away his junior year of high school to play for under-21 hockey leagues that often feed players into college teams. This year, he traveled between Arizona and Connecticut to train for his hockey season.  Portrait of ASU Prep Digital graduate and hockey player Alejandro Apud ASU Prep Digital graduate Alejandro Apud. Download Full Image

Though he was far from home and one of the youngest players on his team, the experience provided Apud many opportunities to travel around the East Coast to compete. “It’s a pathway to college,” said Apud, who recently turned 18. 

While Apud is a serious and focused scholar, his rigorous hockey practice schedule required greater flexibility than what could be provided by an average high school. With practices going from about 8 a.m. to noon, there was no time to go to a local school. That’s what led him to ASU Prep Digital. 

“It allowed me to keep going to school. … It allowed me to manage my time,” he said. “And the main thing that caught my eye is I was able to take college classes at the same time at ASU along with normal classes. I really liked that.”

Apud’s goal is to get a commitment from a D1 school for hockey, and his dream schools are Notre Dame University and Cornell University because of their programs in architecture and civil engineering.

His interest in hockey, engineering and architecture stemmed from the construction of an arena near his home in Mexico when he was growing up. He remembers stopping by the arena after school and watching his father work with architects as the arena was built. Apud was fascinated by the architectural process from start to finish. He had the opportunity to take college classes in civil engineering and environmental engineering through ASU Prep Digital to get a preview of what his future majors would be like.

Once the arena was open to the public, Apud began figure skating there. He saw a hockey team practicing one day and told his parents that he wanted to give it a try. Apud continued playing in Arizona and now plays center and wing for the Connecticut Chiefs in the Eastern Hockey League

“(Hockey) is something that makes me a better person. It gives me a vision, something to work hard for every day … and you can just never get enough of it,” he said. 

Apud said that although time management was an issue for him at first, his ASU Prep Digital counselor sent him some resources that helped him develop a schedule and get disciplined. Now that he’s graduated, he’s looking forward to what’s next and reflecting on a high school experience that he was able to customize for his athletic and academic goals. 

“I just think it was the best option for me,” he said.

Written by Claire Muranaka and Hannah Moulton Belec, EOSS Marketing

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


16 classes to explore this summer from ASU's The College

May 28, 2020

Do you want to get ahead in your degree? Are you debating graduate school? Maybe you’re an incoming first-year student who just can’t wait for fall. Or maybe you’re just tired of the same routine and want to mix it up this summer.

No matter your motivation, with Arizona State University’s 5,000-plus summer course offerings, there is a class for you. Many of ASU’s popular courses are being offered with flexible start dates and the university is offering awards for a variety of students as well as financial incentives to assist learners with their educational goals. student looks at computer Popular courses are being offered online this summer with flexible start dates. Download Full Image

Check out some of the featured courses offered this summer from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Understand the past and present to impact your future

CEL 200 – Great Debates in American Politics and Economics: This course introduces fundamental ideas and debates about liberty and equality in American thought from the colonial era to the present, focusing on major political and economic figures and issues.

CEL 100 – Great Ideas of Politics and Ethics: This course surveys ancient, medieval and modern thinkers in the Greek, Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions, tracing their influences on contemporary debates with focus on the great questions of human nature, social and political life and the relationship between religion and politics.

JUS 350 – Immigration and Justice: This course examines immigration policy, history of immigration, refugee issues, labor force participation, gender, family, children, social networks and transnationalism.

JUS 435 – Cinema and Justice: This course tracks the conceptualizations of justice that have been and are currently conveyed in film, including the relationship between crime and various notions of justice. Other depictions include social issues such as gender, race and economics.

WST 335 – Gender, Race and Sex in Science Fiction: This course explores such questions as: How have biological scientists explained human differences along axes of gender, race, class and sexuality? In what ways have these scientific discussions manifested themselves in science fiction?

Discover insights into human behavior

Whether you’re ready for a deep dive into psychology or just want an introduction to why humans behave the way they do, The College has a variety of courses to offer: 

COM 100 – Intro to Human Communication: Required by many majors, this course introduces basic theories, dimensions and concepts of human communicative interaction and behavior while fulfilling general education requirements.

PHI 310 – Environmental Ethics: This course examines a full range of philosophical positions pertaining to our moral relationship to the natural world; anthropocentrism, individualism and biocentrism.

PSY 366 – Abnormal Psychology: This course covers historical and current definitions, theory and research concerning abnormal behavior and major categories of psychopathology, including related treatment approaches.

PSY 394 – Introduction to Applied Behavioral Analysis: By developing a better understanding of why behavior occurs in the first place, this course will give you a taste of how we may accomplish behavior change to benefit the individual and society as a whole.

Explore your world from Earth to outer space

Do you find yourself looking around at your surroundings and asking “how?” The classes below will help you find answers to questions about the solar system, natural disasters, geologic history and more.

AST 111 – Introduction to Solar Systems Astronomy: How did our Earth and solar system come to be? What are the patterns we observe in the sky? This course offers learners the opportunity to use astronomy and physics concepts to connect with our solar system and nearby stars, with an optional lab (AST 113).

GLG 102 – Introduction to Geology II (Historical): This course covers the basic principles of applied geology and the use of these principles in the interpretation of geologic history, with an optional lab (GLG 104).

GIS 598 – Special Topic: GIS Methods for Non-Majors: Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are a valuable tool being used by professionals in a variety of industries. This four-credit, hands-on course is designed for students who are new to GIS and would like to learn how to use it as a tool and apply it to work in their particular field.

GLG 110 – Dangerous World: This course combines both the scientific and human perspective, with primary focus placed on physical processes, case studies and the interactions between humans and Earth, with an optional lab (GLG 111).

GLG 327 – Earth’s Critical Zone: This course offers a quantitative review of the form and function of the processes impacting Earth’s critical zone to build an understanding of the interactions of physical, chemical and biotic processes in shaping the surface and determining fluid, solute and sediment fluxes.

SES 106 – Habitable Worlds: Are We Alone?: This question was once addressed only in our imaginations. Now, it is at the cutting edge of science. In Habitable Worlds, learn how scientists search for other worlds and how they determine whether a planet is capable of harboring life.

SES 141 – Energy in Everyday Life: This transdisciplinary online survey course helps students understand concepts and develop skills that crosscut scientific disciplines, such as the ability to observe, think critically and gather data to make order-of-magnitude estimates.

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Changing the world one student at a time

May 27, 2020

Wendy Peia Oakes is an associate professor at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, and has been a faculty member since 2012. Her research and teaching continue a mission she undertook nearly 30 years and three degrees ago as a middle school teacher in a self-contained special education classroom: improving educational access and outcomes for students with emotional and behavioral disorders.

But the much older students she teaches today, along with her faculty colleagues, will attest she invests as much time and energy working to support the ASU students in her classes as she did in her 13 years as a special education teacher. Oakes knows that the quality of education that children with special needs receive tomorrow depends on nurturing their prospective teachers now. And she says the relationships those teacher candidates experience with each other and their professors are vital to their future success in one of public education’s most challenging specialties. man and woman posing and smiling Dan and Wendy Peia Oakes, creators of the Oakes Peia Scholarship. Download Full Image

“As special educators, every day we have an opportunity to positively impact the life of a child and their family,” Oakes says. “It is a profession in which every day is exciting, challenging and rewarding. Special education teachers are a talented group of professionals committed to creating positive learning experiences for each child to grow and develop.”

Oakes’ students may not be aware of the commitment she shares with her husband, Dan, to working outside the classroom to enable their success; a commitment they demonstrate by financially supporting scholarships for MLFTC students. And this year, they went a step further, with an endowment that created the Oakes Peia Scholarship, which will be awarded to students who plan to enter the special education field.

The scholarship bears both names of this couple who met more than 30 years ago when Daniel Oakes and Wendy Peia were students at the University of Maryland. Wendy’s roommate, who had worked with Dan, introduced them. Four years later, they were married.

Since leaving the pre-K–12 public school system, Wendy completed her PhD at ASU in 2009, then became an instructor and research associate for the Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University before returning to MLFTC in 2012. Dan is chief operating officer for Randstad SourceRight, a North American talent acquisition firm that’s part of the Dutch multinational, Randstad.

Three years ago, Dan and Wendy decided the time was right to start donating to scholarship support for MLFTC students. What made the time right, Wendy says, was, “... when our youngest graduated from ASU! We were finished paying for tuition for our girls” — they have two — “and we thought we could help support other students completing their degrees.”

“Helping others has always been a strong value in our family,” agrees Dan, “and we are extremely fortunate to be in a financial situation to do so. I’m always saddened by the stories I hear from Wendy or her students about the hardships of getting to their teaching placements or buying supplies, and of how difficult it is to stay in school.”

That’s part of what motivated the couple to give an additional gift to the Dean McGrath Scholarship fund this year. The McGrath Scholarship provides emergency assistance to MLFTC students facing unforeseen circumstances — lack of food or transportation, or unexpected outstanding fees — to help them stay on track to earning their degree. “We hope that gift gives someone a financial lift that enables them to keep pursuing their teaching dreams,” Dan says.

The McGrath scholarship has been doubly vital this spring as the coronavirus pandemic has upended not only ASU’s academic year, but the American economy. Wendy says, “We know many of our students hold multiple jobs — including in businesses that have closed. And many of them have families and small children and are already living on tight budgets as they attend school. We knew the need would increase for the emergency funding. We are fortunate that both Dan and I and both our daughters are still employed.”

Creating a scholarship after years of gifts to others seemed like a natural step to Wendy and Dan. “At the time we had decided to support the immediate needs of students,” Wendy says, “but we really liked the idea of a long-term ability to support future teachers as well.”

Still, a natural step is not always a small one, and while Wendy says the MLFTC development staff made the endowment process easy, it is a substantial commitment — one the couple felt strongly was right for them.

Dan says, “President Obama spoke at Wendy’s graduation at ASU when she received her doctorate, and he challenged the graduates to go out and change the world. The work Wendy does now, and has been doing since I met her 30 years ago, is so inspiring to me. So providing a scholarship with which we can help other teachers and students achieve their dreams and be able to change the world was an easy decision.”

Wendy says the best thing she could hear from a graduate who receives the Oakes Peia Scholarship and enters the field she has devoted her life to, is “... that they love their work! And I look forward to hearing about gains made or successes by their students or a student’s family.”

The long-term result Dan hopes for is, “... that we help students achieve their dreams of becoming teachers, and that they are able to touch the lives of many of their students — changing the world one student at a time.”

 Written by: Erik Ketcherside

Shayla Angeline Cunico

Student digital content specialist, ASU Enterprise Partners


American Astronomical Society awards ASU students Chambliss medals

May 27, 2020

Three ASU graduate students — Santosh Harish, Rashmeet Kaur Nayyar and Mansi Padave — have been awarded prestigious 2020 Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Awards by the American Astronomical Society (AAS).

Chambliss medals recognize exemplary research by students who present at one of the poster sessions at the meetings of the AAS. Only six awards were granted nationwide to graduate students. American Astronomical Society Chambliss medal The Chambliss medal is awarded annually by the American Astronomical Society. Download Full Image

 Each awardee is honored with a Chambliss medal, which is named after Carlson R. Chambliss of Kutztown University, who donated the funds to support the prize.

Santosh Harish 

Harish is an astrophysics doctoral student in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, whose research is primarily focused on galaxy formation and evolution using emission-line galaxies. He plans to continue exploring such galaxies to better understand the dynamics of galaxy evolution, using multiwavelength studies. 

“It is an honor and privilege to be the recipient of the Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Award,” said Harish.

“This recognition instills great confidence and encourages aspiring astronomers like myself to reach greater heights in our research.”

Santosh Harish

Harish’s mentors are ASU adjunct professors James Rhoads and Sangeeta Malhotra, who also work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Facility. 

“Santosh is a fantastic scientist with great attention to detail,” said School of Earth and Space Exploration astronomer Sanchayeeta Borthakur. “I am truly excited to see him grow and shine.”

Rashmeet Kaur Nayyar

Nayyar is a computer science doctoral student at ASU’s School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering. She is also a member of the Autonomous Agents and Intelligent Robots (AAIR) research group.

Her research focuses on key artificial intelligence principles to help build efficient systems that can reason, plan and act under uncertainty. In collaboration with co-adviser professors Sanchayeeta Borthakur and Siddharth Srivastava, she studies probabilistic approaches to automate physics-based detection and identification of intergalactic clouds.

Rashmeet Kaur Nayyar

“My experience at the American Astronomical Society meeting has opened my eyes to the immense potential of interdisciplinary collaborative research,” said Nayyar.

“I believe in, and remind myself every day, that satisfaction in research comes with a struggle for discovery. I hope my work now, and in the near future, will help in advancing our understanding of the universe and its evolution."

Nayyar’s achievement is particularly exciting because she won this award as a computer science student and presented her AI research on using first-order probabilistic logic for reliably inferring properties of intergalactic space far beyond our own galaxy.

“Not only did she succeed in explaining her work to an entirely different academic community, but she did it so well that she won an award for it! She's helping build bridges across research communities in true ASU style,” said Srivastava.

Mansi Padave

Padave is an astrophysics doctoral student in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Her current research is an investigation of the connections between stars and interstellar gas in the outskirts of galaxies, which helps us understand galaxy growth and evolution. 

Mansi Padave

“I am honored to receive this award and grateful for being recognized,” said Padave. “Winning this award is a big boost for my career. I feel like I have taken the first step on the long staircase of success but there is always more to learn, experience and achieve. It also makes me believe a little bit more in myself and it motivates me to work harder to successfully complete my PhD and pursue a career in research.”

She is currently working with School of Earth and Space Exploration professors Sanchayeeta Borthakur and Rolf Jansen.

“Padave is an extremely motivated and budding scientist, who is forging her own path,” said Borthakur. “Her work uses state-of-the-art observational facilities available to our graduate students through the Arizona telescope system.”

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration


Virtually the best: Undergraduates present their honors research in annual symposium

May 27, 2020

Each year, students in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology compete for the title of most outstanding undergraduate research thesis. This year, the honors symposium poster session happened in a virtual conference room.

“The sheer quality of these research projects was outstanding. It was frankly difficult to pick a winner after such amazing presentations," said Clark Presson, professor of psychology and director of undergraduate studies. "The quality is something you would expect from graduate-level theses, and in an entirely virtual environment. screenshot of students meeting on Zoom Psychology students present their research via Zoom. Download Full Image

“The fact that they were able to roll with the punches and still have such exceptional presentations really is a testament to our undergraduates. Our students truly make the Department of Psychology a special place to be.”

The competition requires students to present and defend their theses to an audience of their peers, mentors, faculty and scholars from around the country. After the research presentations, a committee of ASU faculty members and outside scholars deliberate and select a winner based on the quality of the research and presentation. The finalists for the best thesis award were Elliot Smith, Xochitl Arlene Smola and Haidyn Bulen.

Haidyn Bulen – Winner

 Haidyn Bulen

Bulen’s thesis “Deficits in spatial working memory depend on age in a novel rat model of Alzheimer’s disease” won the best undergraduate thesis award.

Bulen’s fascination with psychology began as a young child, when she accompanied her mom to work. Her mom provided therapy to children who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Bulen wanted to know how peers her same age could experience the world differently and how that happened in the brain.

An Advanced Placement capstone project during high school with faculty from Gonzaga pushed Bulen’s research interests further toward neuroscience, so she joined Heather Bimonte-Nelson’s behavioral neuroscience lab at ASU. The summer after her freshman year, she presented her research as part of the ASU-Banner Neuroscience Symposium, hosted by the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center.

“This was the first time I realized that I could combine two things I was interested in: women’s health and neurological conditions,” Bulen said.

For her senior thesis, Bulen used spatial working memory to explore when early cognitive symptoms began in an animal model of Alzheimer’s disease.

“I believe that any progress we make in understanding this disease will be helpful in eventually finding better treatments and hopefully a cure one day,” Bulen said. “Emerging clinical research suggests that impairments in spatial working memory may be one of the earlier symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. The results of my study support this literature and provide further evidence that spatial working memory impairments exist early on.”

Bulen recently won a Fulbright Fellowship and was accepted into graduate school in the psychology department at the University of California, Berkeley to pursue a doctorate in neuroscience. She will do both, because Berkeley gave her permission to defer her enrollment until after she completes the Fulbright work. Next year, she will begin work at the University of Sydney, Australia, with Markus Hofer on the role of inflammatory cytokines in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Elliot Smith – Finalist

 Elliot Smith ASU Psychology

Smith worked in the Behavioral Neuroscience Research in Stress Laboratory with Cheryl Conrad, where she studied the effects of chronic stress on the brain and behavior as a model for depression. She also worked with Visar Berisha and Julie Liss in the College of Health Solutions, using study speech samples to identify patterns associated with neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease.

“I am pursuing computational neuroscience for grad school, and my goal is to be an open-minded and creative researcher and scientist,” Smith said.

Smith’s research thesis examined the local expression of estradiol, a specific type of estrogen, in different brain regions. The goal was to determine the impact of chronic stress and sex on hormone expression.

“The expression of aromatase, which converts testosterone into estradiol, may be important for understanding sex-specific and region-specific brain responses to chronic stress. Overall, local estradiol synthesis in the brain may be a critical mechanism for structural and functional changes in response to chronic stress,” Smith said.

Her findings suggest that depression could be associated with altered local estrogen production that varies in different brain regions. Understanding the role of estrogen in the brain could help scientists understand why women are more vulnerable to depression than men.

Smith will begin working toward her doctorate in neuroscience at ASU with Rick Gerkin and Sharon Crook.

Xochitl Arlene Smola – Finalist

 Xochitl Smola, ASU Psychology

Smola, the 2020 Spring Dean’s Medalist in the Department of Psychology, is not only a mentor and student success coach in the department’s Student Success Center, but she is also an accomplished researcher who will continue her academic journey in the developmental psychology doctorate program at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Smola’s interest in psychology began after she moved from a Title I high school in the border town of El Paso, Texas, that served a 96% Hispanic student body to a new high school in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“The differences in resources and student trajectories was clear and shocking. Witnessing the divergent paths among my peers from both schools led me to want to understand how disparities shape adolescent psychobiological development among diverse youth,” Smola said.

Smola completed her research thesis under the mentorship of Nancy Gonzales, professor of psychology and dean of natural sciences.

“The virtual honors colloquium was a great experience," said Gonzales. "The student presentations were all so strong and polished that I felt like I was watching a group of seasoned professionals. My student, Arlene, has always been exceptional and will be a great success as a graduate student at UCLA next fall.“ 

Smola’s research took a strength-based approach to the development of Hispanic adolescents. 

“Overall, the findings emphasize that the role of familism is nuanced, potentially offering both promotional and risk-amplifying effects for the physiological stress response system,” Smola said. “Although there are many disparities between ethnic minorities and other groups, not all differences reflect negative outcomes.”

The external examiners for the 2020 Honor’s Thesis were Gemma Casadesus Smith, a professor of biological sciences at Kent State University; Cara Wellman, director of the Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior and professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University Bloomington; and Andrew Fuligni, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


ASU Alumni Association awards Medallion Scholarship to Arizona high school graduates

May 27, 2020

The Medallion Scholarship Program is one of the ASU Alumni Association’s signature scholarship initiatives. More than a financial award, the comprehensive program recognizes and develops a tradition of leadership, scholarship and service. 

This year, the ASU Alumni AssociationFounded in 1894, the ASU Alumni Association connects ASU’s more than 500,000 alumni. Dedicated to serving and uniting all graduates of ASU, the Alumni Association hosts programs and oversees numerous groups that enhance the alumni experience and help alumni engage with their alma mater. is awarding an annual scholarship of $3,600, or $14,400 over the course of four years, to a select group of 39 Arizona high school graduates. These 39 students will be joining 100 students who are current Medallion Scholars at ASU. 

ASU campus sign Download Full Image

In order to qualify for this scholarship, applicants must be an incoming first-year student from an Arizona high school and must have been awarded the New American University Deans merit-based scholarship, which is an award that recognizes academic achievement. The Alumni Association's Medallion Scholarship Program selection committee is comprised of more than 200 ASU alumni from around the world who review applications and interview the scholars. 

Financial support for the Medallion Scholarship Program comes from individual donations and from a portion of the fees paid for ASU collegiate license plates. For each ASU license plate, $17 of the $25 is allocated directly to the Medallion Scholarship fund that gives ASU students opportunities to enhance their college experience through participation in this leadership scholarship program. 

The Medallion Scholarship Program incorporates components of leadership, scholarship and service. During their four years as a Medallion Scholar, these students become leaders within the university and their communities through community service, both individually and as a group, specific leadership development and training courses, participation in a mentorship program and requirements to maintain a satisfactory grade-point average.

Learn more about the ASU Alumni Association Medallion Scholarship or become a donor.

Meet this year's Medallion Scholars:

Morgan Harrison

Director of strategic communications , ASU Alumni Association


After a break to play pro golf, graduate returns to earn degree

May 26, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Skyler Hong first attended Arizona State University in 2008, but after a semester, decided to leave and pursue a career in professional golf.  ASU grad in laboratory Photo courtesy of Skyler Hong Download Full Image

Hong played golf for the next several years, competing in small tours across Asia and the PGA tour in China in 2014. But he said uncertainties of a career in professional golf and a desire to pursue a career in dentistry led him to return to The College Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU in 2016.

“During my time playing golf, I felt really nervous for not having a backup plan in case I never made it as a successful player,” said Hong, a recent graduate of The College’s School of Life Sciences with a degree in biological sciences (neurobiology, physiology and behavior).

Hong came back to ASU and met with an adviser who helped him get enrolled again for the next semester.

“Coming back after taking a break from school was definitely challenging,” he said. “However, I think the challenge was really in my head.”

Being an older-than-usual undergraduate student made Hong worry he’d feel out of place at ASU.

But that’s not what ended up happening.

“I feel extremely fortunate because my first semester back actually gave me a lot of confidence throughout the next four years,” Hong said. “I knew I could succeed because ASU supplies students with amazing tutoring centers, supplemental instruction sessions and thoughtful professors to help us do well in class.”

Hong answered some questions about his time at Arizona State University.

Question: How has The College prepared you for success? 

Answer: ASU and The College prepared me for success by supplying me with the best professors and tools to feel ready for dental school, which is where I want to go after graduation. I have had multiple professors who love to give examples of how their class is useful in our future line of work. Sometimes, it was the most unexpected classes where I learned the most! In addition, there were times when I felt exams were quite challenging, but later on, I realized how important it was to have that knowledge for future classes. 

Q: What’s been your motivation to succeed?

A: I was a regular volunteer at a homeless shelter called André House of Arizona as well as Brighter Way, a nonprofit dental clinic I spent two years at. During these years, I realized how little care is put into oral health for those who are struggling financially. I would like to one day give back to the community by helping those who need dental services.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: I feel my “aha” moment was when I took BIO 201: Anatomy and Physiology I, and I learned an introductory level of how parts of the brain work and how they function. I wanted a major which focuses on just that, and when I shared that with my adviser she suggested neurobiology, physiology and behavior.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: Something that I learned time and time again is how everyone struggles. There are times when you feel everyone is smarter than you, but I realized everyone struggles and that whoever studied the most efficiently does well in class. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: It's really difficult to single out one professor because I feel each of my professors has taught me something very important. If I had to choose one professor, it would be Dr. Rizal Hariadi. He was my research professor and he taught me not to get lost in the little things and to enjoy what I'm passionate about.

Q: What inspired you to pursue a graduate degree?

A: I’ll be attending the University of New England’s dental school in Portland, Maine, as part of a four year program. The reason I picked University of New England was because of more clinical experience I would receive and also because we’ll get to work with drills and hand pieces on our first week of school. UNE was definitely my first choice and I am grateful ASU helped me reach my goal! 

Christopher Clements

Marketing Assistant, The College Of Liberal Arts and Sciences