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ASU Prep Digital graduates to become two-time Sun Devils in the fall

July 1, 2019

In May, 33 seniors from five different states graduated in ASU Prep Digital’s second-ever graduating class. The rigorous virtual high school’s enrollment has increased 300% (to 300 full-time students) since last year, when the inaugural graduating class of three students earned their diplomas. 

In addition to the digital full-time academy students, ASU Prep Digital also served 4,000 part-time students through augmenting district offerings across the state and country and is rapidly expanding its footprint. The program was founded in 2017 and is part of ASU Preparatory Academy, an innovative pre-K–12 school started by ASU that serves more than 2,300 students at five campuses throughout Arizona.  Students in maroon caps and gowns clap ASU Prep Digital students at graduation at Wells Fargo Arena. Photo by Asa Culver. Download Full Image

ASU Prep Digital students get to know their classmates, teachers and success coaches virtually, but there are also in-person meetups in Arizona. A graduation lunch and ceremony in Tempe on May 22 was the first time that many of the graduating seniors had met in person. Fifteen ASU Prep Digital students participated in commencement at Wells Fargo Arena, including one who flew in from New York, walking the stage with the 230 ASU Preparatory Academy graduates who celebrated on May 24.

One student who attended in-person graduation festivities was ASU Prep Digital graduate Aidan Chutkan, 17. The Phoenix resident enrolled in ASU Prep Digital after attending a charter school that unexpectedly shut down. He tried other online options, but nothing clicked before he enrolled at ASU Prep Digital, where he enjoyed taking advantage of dual enrollment; his favorite class was Engineering 100.

“I took four classes here last semester, so I spent most of my time just hanging out on campus,” he said.

He enjoyed getting to know ASU’s Tempe campus through his college courses and studying at Hayden Library. He found it invaluable to get a preview of his future academic and campus life.

“It was really great to be able to experience the classes that I’m going to be taking in college and get ahead on the work I’m going to have to be doing. It sort of gave me an idea of what I want to be doing,” Chutkan said. 

“When I started I thought I’d be majoring in computer science, but now I switched to mechanical engineering. It helped to show me what I like to do.”

He’ll be pursuing mechanical engineering in the fall at ASU and wants to focus on renewable energy and the environment; this path makes sense for him because he’s always liked building things, and he’s been interested in environmentalism ever since going on a trip to the Galapagos. Chutkan is especially excited to get started in research and hands-on work as part of the Grand Challenge Scholars program at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Eighteen-year-old Allie Reckinger from Gilbert, Arizona, was also at the luncheon in Tempe to celebrate graduation. She said that before she enrolled at ASU Prep Digital, she wasn’t sure she would graduate on time.

“I needed something stable in my life. I went to a traditional high school, and it just wasn't working for me at the time,” she said. “I stumbled across ASU Prep Digital online ... and I fell in love with it.” 

She said meeting everyone in person was like meeting celebrities after knowing people in a tight-knit virtual community. Reckinger said she was grateful for the confidence the community gave her that she was going to succeed.

“This is a great place to flourish. You’re on your own time and your own schedule, but you have amazing support and amazing helpers to be there for you — even if you fall and stumble and think you’re not gonna graduate,” she said.

“They’re there to see you succeed.”

Reckinger will be attending ASU in the fall to study nursing. She wants to work as a nurse in pediatrics and later train to be a physician’s assistant. Working in health care is a family tradition, and she is passionate about helping people, especially children and veterans.

ASU Prep Digital enrolls students in Arizona and around the world, offering flexible and accelerated coursework, access to for-credit college courses at ASU and both full-time and part-time options. The virtual school program prepares students for college acceptance, enabling them to start earning credit toward college majors and careers. 

Executive Director of Digital Academy for ASU Prep Digital Jill Rogier said students such as Chutkan, Reckinger and the rest of the class of 2019 are the picture of the 21st-century student. 

“These students are living out what it means to progress through a learning path as they are ready versus according to a prescribed four-year timeline for high school and then four more years through college,” Rogier said.

“They also represent what it means to work with peers located all over the world. This is the reality of today’s global workforce, and we’re pretty excited to be part of preparing students for that reality. These students are going into the future workplace with eyes wide open and with experience under their belts,” Rogier said.

The ASU Prep Digital class of 2019 is moving on to study engineering, religious studies, nutrition and more in Arizona and beyond. Some, including Chutkan, graduated high school with significant college credit — 34 in his case. McKenna Basteyns earned 26 credits while at ASU Prep Digital, and their classmate Erik Johnson will start college with 19 credits. Johnson, a National Merit Scholar, also graduated a year early and will be a Barrett, The Honors College student at ASU in the fall.

ASU Prep Digital faculty and staff love seeing students graduate high school so far ahead of the game, said Rogier.

“Our dream is to graduate students who are confident about where they are headed and who feel prepared to walk toward their future, even as technology is driving changes in the workforce daily. Our teachers and learning success coaches work closely with the students to prepare them for this exact moment, and it’s so rewarding to watch it happening,” she said.

“It’s amazing, really, and such a privilege to be part of it.”

ASU Prep Digital strives to advance next-generation education models that transcend the traditional boundaries between high school and college and eliminate barriers based on location, modality, background and income so that all learners can thrive. 

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


ASU Alumni Association receives No. 1 networking rank

July 1, 2019

For the sixth consecutive year, the Phoenix Business Journal has ranked the ASU Alumni Association the No. 1 networking association in the Valley of the Sun. The ASU Alumni Association, with nearly 500,000 alumni across the globe, boasts a membership of more than 246,000 Sun Devils in Maricopa County.

The ASU Alumni Association fosters a lifelong connection to the university and keeps Sun Devils connected. Alumni networking events, professional development seminars, special interest chapters and a program for Sun Devil-owned and -led businesses support ASU graduates in their professional careers. ASU Alumni Association Download Full Image

“We know it’s important for Sun Devils to grow and advance in their careers, and staying connected to their Alumni Association builds a powerful network,” said Christine K. Wilkinson, president and CEO of the ASU Alumni Association. “This ranking illustrates the strength of the Sun Devil alumni community and our commitment to fostering connections.”

The Phoenix Business Journal released its ranked list of networking associations in its June 7, 2019, edition of the publication, which compared the total membership for the networking associations.

You can get involved in the ASU Alumni Association’s upcoming networking events. The Alumni Association, dedicated to serving and uniting all ASU alumni, offers programs, hosts signature events and oversees numerous groups that enhance the alumni experience and help alumni engage with their alma mater.

ASU alumnus helps students acclimate to DC

June 25, 2019

The first week in Washington, D.C., for Arizona State University students participating in the Capital Scholars program feels like a whirlwind.

While dressed in business attire, students walk countless steps in the hot and humid summer weather touring various political offices, government buildings and historic sites. Students also get a chance to receive advice and network with government staff, ASU alumni and other professionals. ASU alumnus Matt Caruso Matt Caruso attends the Capital Scholars Alumni Reception at the ASU Barrett and O’Connor Washington Center. Download Full Image

Matt Caruso is one of those ASU alumni who help Capital Scholars navigate our nation’s capital.

“It’s so worth it to me because the students want to learn,” Caruso said. “They want more out of D.C. and out of the program.”

In his mid-20s, Caruso moved from Connecticut to Arizona hoping to become the first member of his family to earn a degree. Upon finishing his associate degree at Paradise Valley Community College, Caruso chose to attend ASU next due to the quality of the professors in his major at the time — history. After taking summer and winter classes, Caruso turned his interests to political science, adding it as another major.

Once he graduated from ASU in 2006 with degrees in both political science and history, Caruso left for Washington, D.C., to intern with Common Cause while participating in the Capital Scholars program.

According to Caruso, the experience would ultimately change his life.

“The program and internship prepared me to learn that in D.C. versatility is an extremely valuable commodity that I have used in my professional career,” Caruso said.

The camaraderie between students was just as key to Caruso as the professional skills he gained. He has maintained friendships with his fellow Capital Scholars, as well as the faculty program director, Richard Herrera.

In 2014, Herrera asked Caruso and a few other past participants if they would come out and meet with the students at the annual welcome dinner for the program. Over time, Caruso’s role would evolve to become a resource for students interested in life in Washington, D.C.

Working in the nation’s capital as the manager of committees and educational programs with Intermodal Association of North America, Caruso has intimate knowledge of the city. He often takes students out to group dinners and various excursions. For this year’s group of Capital Scholars, Caruso took students to the Folger Theater and Library to see Shakespeare’s "Love’s Labor’s Lost" where an actor spoke with the students about the performance afterwards.

Beyond volunteering his time to help students integrate with Washington, D.C., Caruso shared that mentoring students gives him the opportunity to learn from the current generation of Sun Devils.

“The students will meet so many D.C. superstars,” Caruso said. “I like to be the person that scales it back as someone they can look up to but also someone that treats them as a peer.”

Each year, roughly 16 students participate in the Capital Scholars program with the School of Politics and Global Studies. Many of the internships that students get are unpaid, and the costs of the program prevent some of the most promising students from participating unless they receive financial assistance. Thanks to the help of donors, the school is able to offer scholarship opportunities specifically for deserving students participating in the program.

“If I had not received a scholarship, I do not think I could have participated in the program,” Caruso said. “An investment in the Capital Scholars program is an investment in the future of ASU students that are going to accomplish great things they had no idea they could.”

Matt Oxford

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Politics and Global Studies


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Workshop shows ASU staff how to nurture first-generation college students

ASU staff, faculty trained in how to support first-generation students.
June 25, 2019

Celebrate their identity — and make sure to explain the jargon

Everyone who works at Arizona State University is critical to the success of students — especially students who are the first in their family to go to college. On Tuesday, hundreds of staff and faculty attended the first-ever ASU First-Gen Zone workshop on how to support this growing group of students.

ASU has about 25,000 first-generation undergraduate students. Of the total undergraduate and graduate population, about 35% are first generation college-goers — more than three times the proportion since 2002, according to Kevin Correa, director of the First Year Success Center at ASU.

“We want first-generation students to know they’re not alone at the university,” he said.

Staff and faculty are so eager for this information that the 100 seats allotted for the workshop filled up within half an hour of registration opening, Correa said. So the event was enlarged and moved to the Memorial Union, drawing more than 250 staff and faculty members from all four Valley campuses plus the SkySong and Lake Havasu locations.

The First Year Success Center’s Game Changers program is devoted to first-generation students, with one-on-one peer coaching and other services. But Marisel Herrera, founding director of the center and now the director of training and development, said that all staff at ASU are instrumental in guiding this population.

“All of us are educators and influence students because they see us as the experts,” she said. “There’s an invisible army at ASU we don’t talk about, like the cashiers and the custodians. Those people matter in making connections.”

ASU was recently designated a First Forward institution by the Center for First-generation Student Success.  

To truly support first-generation students, universities must take the responsibility for their success — not foist it onto the students, according to Lindsay Romasanta, who gave the keynote address at the workshop. Romasanta, who earned a bachelor’s and doctorate degree at ASU, is director of student success programs at the University of California, San Diego.

That requires a change in mindset, she said, because first-generation students are more likely to be working, to be female and to be people of color.

“I’ve heard folks say, ‘They should have showed up for that advising appointment’ or ‘They should have joined that club,’" she said.

“But when we blame the lack of engagement on the student without being conscious of their lived experience, we’re missing the boat. They might be commuting or taking care of a family member.”

Romasanta said that a lot of previous research approached first-generation students as being “at risk” or lacking certain skills.

“It’s time to flip the script,” she said, noting the strengths she saw when she worked in the TRIO program at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus. 

“I was always amazed by those students. ‘How many jobs are you working? How many people are you feeding?’”

It’s important to remember intersectionality, Romasanta said — or the many identities that make up every person.

“First generation is just one identity that a student might have, but their most salient identity might be their immigration status or their gender identity or their commuter status,” she said.

At the institutional level, universities need to create systems of data and research on first-generation students, as well as provide a system of support including one-on-one peer coaching, she said. And consider setting up support for new graduates.

“First-generation students who are being surveyed are saying it’s taking them longer to get a job,” she said. “We can’t just push them out the door with a degree.”

The workshop included several break-out sessions. Correa and Herrera shared tips in a session titled, “Brilliant and Resilient: The Impact of Coaching on First-Generation Students.”

Correa said that the 78 peer coaches, who each receive 100 hours of training, have made a difference: 85% of first-generation students who met with peer coaches in spring 2019 registered for classes in fall 2019, while 71% of first-generation students who did not meet with coaches registered. The coaches engaged with 62% of first-generation freshmen.

Herrera said that many staff members’ most frequent contact is with student workers, which is crucial.

“Those jobs are critical to their success at ASU,” she said.

“What they’re doing day to day may not seem to matter to their future, but it’s important for you to show them how it will matter.”

Some of the advice from that session includes:

• Normalize first-generation identity by talking about it. Staff and faculty who were the first in their families to go to college can share their stories. Celebrate First Generation College Student Day on Nov. 8.

• Embrace the perspective that first-generation students bring their own strengths.  

• Connect students to resources, opportunities and information they need. Explain procedures and jargon to them.

• Be a cheerleader by encouraging them. “Help them know they do belong at the university and that they’ll be cared for and supported,” Herrera said.

• Be willing to have difficult conversations. “Sometimes you don’t know how to navigate an environment, and that might show up in your attire. That’s an awkward conversation,” Herrera said. “Most people respond to feedback when they know you care about them. Say, ‘I know you have goals in mind. Do you think the attire is conveying the message you want others to have?’ It’s our responsibility to have those conversations.”

• Be authentically curious and nonjudgmental. “For me, the phrase is, ‘Tell me more about your experience,’” Correa said. “A coach helps a student find their best path by being nonjudgmental.”

Herrera said the future of higher education is with first-generation students.

"That's not hyperbole — that’s a demographic reality," she said.

Top photo: Lindsay Romasanta, an ASU alumna who is now the director of student success programs at the University of California, San Diego, was a first-generation student at ASU. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Another one in the history books, literally

ASU alumnus publishes fourth book on the history of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands

June 19, 2019

William Kiser attended Arizona State University from 2009 to 2016. In those seven years, he earned his master’s degree and PhD in history and authored two books: “Dragoons in Apacheland: Conquest and Resistance in Southern New Mexico, 1846-1861 and “Turmoil on the Rio Grande: The Territorial History of the Mesilla Valley, 1846-1865.” 

The same year he graduated from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, Kiser was offered a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University. Kiser published his third book while working at the university titled, “Borderlands of Slavery: The Struggle over Captivity and Peonage in the American Southwest.” William Kiser William Kiser graduated from ASU with his MA in history in 2009 and his PhD in history in 2016. Download Full Image

His fourth and latest book, “Coast-to-Coast Empire: Manifest Destiny and the New Mexico Borderlands,” focuses on the New Mexico Territory from 1821–1865 and argues that the area was indispensable to U.S. westward expansion.

“Aside from its important geographic position — you couldn’t build a railroad on U.S. soil from Texas to California without going through New Mexico­ — most Americans had little interest in settlement, mining, farming or other economic pursuits,” Kiser said. “This book pulls together topics and themes from all three of my previous publications, making it more of a synthesis type of work that has broader appeal to general readers.”

His interest in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands during the 19th century goes all the way back to his childhood. He grew up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, a city less than an hour from the countries' shared border. 

“I spent a lot of time in my youth visiting regional historic sites with my dad,” Kiser said. “By the third grade, I was reading all the books I could find on the Apaches and the U.S. Army. This initial area of interest evolved during graduate school into a broader focus on 19th-century borderlands.”

Kiser took that same fervor into his studies at ASU where he worked with world renowned scholars such as history Regents’ Professor Donald Fixico. Fixico was Kiser’s dissertation adviser and was impressed by his drive to achieve his career goals.

“Every once in a while, a sui generis young scholar like Billy Kiser comes along who is brilliant, works extremely hard and produces high quality scholarship at an extraordinary pace,” Fixico said. “He is the only scholar that I have ever met in my 40-plus years in academia who within six years from master's to completing the PhD, not only published his first academic book just as he completed his master's degree, but published his second book before he completed his doctoral dissertation, and he publishes award-winning books.”

Kiser shows no signs of slowing down his exploration of borderlands history. He is currently working on his fifth book, which will include research on Civil War diplomacy in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, spanning the entire border from Tamaulipas, Mexico to Baja, California. The book is under contract with the University of Pennsylvania Press and will be published between 2021 and 2022.

“It takes a transnational approach, focusing mainly on northern Mexico and highlights the irregular and often bizarre ways in which Union and Confederate agents attempted to cut deals with independent-minded Mexican governors, rather than the national government, in order to gain advantages in fighting the Civil War,” Kiser said.

The U.S.-Mexico border has always been a complex region and Kiser believes its history can help us understand today’s modern dilemmas in a political, economic and social sense.

“Major issues in the international borderlands during the 19th century — slave raiding and firearms smuggling are two examples — bear striking similarities to current issues involving undocumented immigration and drug smuggling,” he said.

For students wanting to follow a similar path in academia or history, Kiser has this advice:

“Go as far as possible beyond the basic requirements for your graduate seminar or your advanced degree. It is a very competitive world, especially for new PhDs entering academia and you need every advantage to be competitive on the job market. It is never too early to begin thinking about publishing, because this is what will distinguish you from thousands of other PhDs competing with you for just hundreds of available jobs.”

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

ASU Law grad Heather Boysel becomes Phoenix firm’s first female managing partner

June 18, 2019

Heather Boysel, a 2007 graduate of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, has been named managing partner at Phoenix law firm Gammage & Burnham. At age 37, she is one of the youngest managing partners in Arizona, and the first female to hold that title at Gammage & Burnham.

She interviewed with the firm when she was a second-year law student, was hired as a summer associate and has been there ever since. In addition to managing partner, she also leads Gammage & Burnham’s health care practice group. photo of Heather Boysel ASU Law 2007 alumna Heather Boysel is Gammage & Burnham's first female managing partner and was named to the 2019 Phoenix Business Journal “40 Under 40” list. Download Full Image

“I’m grateful for the leadership roles that I’ve been given the opportunity to take on,” she said, noting that she is also thankful to be working at a firm with such a well-known and respected health care practice.

An Arizona native, she grew up in Tucson and attended ASU as an undergrad, majoring in biomedical engineering. Around her junior year, she decided that she wanted to go to law school — and that ASU, centered in Phoenix’s thriving legal community, continued to offer the best opportunity.

“I knew I wanted to stay in Arizona and loved ASU and being in Phoenix,” she said. “The majority of the legal jobs also seemed to be in Phoenix, so it made sense to be here for school.”

She didn’t know what to expect from law school, but right away, she discovered it was going to be very different from her undergrad experience.

“My first class was with Professor Michael Berch, who was a force of nature!” she said. “Certainly a change of pace from engineering classes!”

Boysel, however, says it was in her engineering studies that she began developing the analytical and problem-solving skills that turned out to be “good training for a law career.”

Throughout her time at ASU Law, she found the everyday classroom discussions fascinating. She had a dual interest in patent law and health care law but ultimately found the latter to be a better fit.

Her career achievements have landed her on the 2019 Phoenix Business Journal "40 Under 40” list, which recognizes 40 of the most accomplished young executives in the Phoenix metro area who are making a difference both in their organizations and the community. Boysel is one of two ASU Law alums on this year’s list, joining Ahron Cohen, a 2010 graduate who is now president and CEO of the Arizona Coyotes.

A Phoenix resident, she is married with two young daughters and enjoys traveling in her free time. In fact, she was just getting off a plane for a vacation in Amsterdam when she saw an email notifying her of the 40 Under 40 recognition.

“It was certainly unexpected and a great start to my trip!” she said. “It is such an honor to be in a list with so many other extremely talented individuals.”

Like others on the list, she is thankful for the opportunities that have allowed her to achieve what she has at a relatively young age. And she looks forward to continuing to grow with Gammage & Burnham.

“I’m focused on ensuring that this firm, which has given me so much, continues on for many decades to come.”

Nicole Almond Anderson

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law


Linking problem drinking behaviors to impulsivity

ASU psychology student wins NSF fellowship for doctoral research

June 18, 2019

When recent graduate Lyndsay Campbell transferred to Arizona State University in 2017, she also started a part-time job. Her work, as the assistant to the program coordinator for AmeriCorps at ASU, would be the seed for a proposal she wrote as a senior to the National Science Foundation (NSF). In April, Campbell found out her proposal was selected for a fellowship that will fund doctoral work in psychology at ASU.

The NSF’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program covers tuition and gives recipients a stipend for three years. Campbell is the third ASU psychology student to receive the fellowship in as many years. Lyndsay Campbell Psychology student Lyndsay Campbell wins National Science Foundation fellowship. Photo by Robert Ewing Download Full Image

With AmeriCorps, Campbell worked on ways to increase academic engagement at local Title I schools. In her NSF proposal, she wrote about how eye-opening it was to begin to understand the impact that early life experiences had on how students performed in school.

“Having an adverse experience in childhood dramatically increases the probability of having negative outcomes — like addiction or homelessness — as an adult. At AmeriCorps, I worked to include trauma sensitivity training into our programs,” Campbell said. “In graduate school I want to continue this type of work, but from a neuroscience perspective. I want to study how childhood experiences link to problem behavioral patterns like substance abuse.”

Campbell’s graduate work will bridge two labs in the ASU Department of Psychology: the Social Addictions Impulse Lab led by Julie Patock-Peckham and the Decision Neuroscience Lab led by Samuel McClure.

Patock-Peckham’s lab studies what causes alcohol use disorders in adulthood, and Campbell will focus on how childhood trauma affects the decisions people make about alcohol. She will look at the relation between adverse experiences in childhood and impulse control in college students.

“Lyndsay is a brilliant student who is interested in just about everything associated with making healthy and unhealthy choices. When she worked in my lab as a research assistant, we had several spontaneous conversations about how victims of trauma in early life often have difficulties with self-control and self-regulation, especially related to alcohol,” said Patock-Peckham, assistant research professor of psychology. “Lyndsay linked problems with impulsivity to the work on decision-making happening in the McClure lab. Our chats led to the proposed experiments in her GRFP application and a collaboration between SAIL and the Decision Neuroscience Lab.” 

Campbell will examine the relation between childhood trauma and impulse control when drinking alcohol in a new way: through the lens of neuroscience. With McClure, she will use neuroimaging methods to study the brain circuits involved in impulsivity.

“The technology used in neuroscience lets you ask complex questions,” Campbell said. “Exploring the neural basis of why people make the choices they do could lead to more effective interventions.”

Work from the McClure lab has shown that when people make choices that are less impulsive, an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex — located just behind the forehead — is very active. The Decision Neuroscience Lab has also shown that structural differences in the prefrontal cortex predict how impulsive people are in general. Campbell wants to test whether such structural differences are linked to the choices people make about how much alcohol to drink.

“Lyndsay’s interests lie right at the forefront of what we can do using neuroscience tools to study the human brain. We have a new ability to measure differences in how people’s brains are connected and how different parts of the brain interact as people make decisions. Lyndsay will be applying these methods to better understand a really important problem in society,” said McClure, associate professor of psychology.

About the same time she was writing her GRFP proposal, Campbell was also applying to graduate school. She said the decision to apply to ASU was easy because of her undergraduate experience.

“ASU has so many opportunities for undergraduate students to volunteer in different labs, and that really guided my choice. I could see myself doing the research at the graduate level, excelling in the program, and having the tools and resources to answer the questions I want to study,” Campbell said. “My interests are also interdisciplinary, and I feel right at home at ASU, which has a culture of promoting interdisciplinary research.”

Science writer, Psychology Department


ASU Law grad leading an NHL revival in the desert

June 17, 2019

Less than a decade after graduating from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, Ahron Cohen is leading a dramatic turnaround for the Arizona Coyotes.

The 35-year-old Cohen, who previously served as general counsel for the Coyotes, was named the NHL franchise’s president and CEO in July 2018. Although they missed out on a playoff berth in Cohen’s first year at the helm, the Coyotes just completed a 39-35-8 season — the most wins they’ve recorded since the 2011-12 season, when they won 42 regular-season games and made a magical run to the Western Conference Finals. photo of Ahron Cohen ASU Law 2010 alumnus and president/CEO of the Arizona Coyotes Ahron Cohen was named to 2019 Phoenix Business Journal's “40 Under 40” list. Download Full Image

It’s an accomplishment that helped land Cohen on this year’s Phoenix Business Journal “40 Under 40” list, which recognizes 40 young executives in the Phoenix metro area who are making a difference both in their organizations and the community. He is one of two ASU Law alums on the list, joined by Heather Boysel (2007), who was recently named managing partner at Phoenix law firm Gammage & Burnham.

Cohen said the 40 Under 40 recognition is more of a team honor than an individual one, crediting the amazing support he has at home and on the job.

“There are a lot of people who are responsible for this,” he said. “First and foremost is my wonderful family, who’s incredibly supportive. Second is my family with the Coyotes, both people who work for me, as well as our entire Coyotes community, for recognizing our message and what we're trying to do. So it's really because of my family at home and my family at work. I owe it all to them.”

Like all members of the 40 Under 40 club, Cohen stands out for how quickly he ascended to the pinnacle of his profession. It’s a journey that began growing up in Minnesota, where he fell in love with sports. Specifically as a football and basketball player.

“Surprisingly, no hockey,” he said with a laugh. “I was the one person in Minnesota, I think, who didn’t play any hockey.”

He went on to play collegiate football at Bowdoin College in Maine, where he also studied government and economics.

“I certainly realized during my time there that I wasn’t going to be playing on Sundays, so I was looking for other opportunities to stay involved in sports, and that’s what led me to law school,” he said.

After graduating from Bowdoin, he made a trip to Arizona to see his hometown Minnesota Golden Gophers play in the Insight Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium. That sparked an interest in ASU and the Phoenix area, and although he had been focused on law schools in the Northeast and Midwest, he began looking into ASU Law.

Although ASU now runs a groundbreaking Master of Sports Law and Business program — something Cohen would have been highly interested in — the school had no specific sports law program at the time. Still, ASU Law’s administration sold Cohen on all the opportunities the Phoenix area offers, as a year-round hotbed of high-profile sporting events. And the law school’s dean at the time, Patricia White, had something else to offer: She was friends with Kevin Warren, a Phoenix native with ASU ties who was working as the general counsel for the Minnesota Vikings.

The possibility of an internship with Warren and the Vikings was a dream a Minnesota sports fan couldn’t pass up and helped seal Cohen’s decision to come to ASU Law.

He said he knocked on the dean’s door on Day 1 to follow up about the internship, got it, and that set in motion a series of events that led to where he is today.

“I worked for the Vikings throughout law school and after law school, and that’s what really propelled me into the sports world,” he said. “It’s all thanks to ASU.”

Warren, who was recently named commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, advised Cohen at the time that if he wanted to advance in the sports industry, the best thing he could do is hone his skills as an attorney at a large law firm. So Cohen joined the Snell & Wilmer office in Phoenix as a corporate attorney, and tried to get involved with as many sports issues as he could. That included the Super Bowl host committee, as well as representing the Coyotes ownership group when they purchased the team in 2013.

That work with the Coyotes led to an opportunity two years later to join the team as general counsel, and from there, he quickly climbed to his current role. Now at the top of his profession at the relatively young age of 35, where does Cohen go from here?

“First off, I’ll say this: I don’t feel too young,” he said. “There’s a lot of work, so I’m getting my fair share of gray hairs. But right now, my career goal is just solely focused on turning the Coyotes into a model sports organization, making this a great franchise.”

He said the biggest challenge of the job is that there’s always more work that can be done.

“There's always more that we can do to better connect with our fans, and engage our fans and reach new fans, and provide a great sports experience for everybody in this entire Arizona community,” he said. “So the work never stops, and there's always more that we can do.”

But that challenge is also the job’s biggest reward.

“The thing I enjoy most is the opportunity to be a builder and really help grow this franchise into a model sports organization,” he said. “Every single day, when I go to bed at night, and when I wake up, there's always more that we can do. And we can always take a positive step forward and be better today than we were yesterday. And that’s the excitement for me. There are a lot of positions out there where the status quo is acceptable. That's not the case for us. So I love that opportunity of continuing to grow and build something and develop it into something great.”

Being the president and CEO of the Coyotes is a full-time job and then some.

“There’s not too much free time these days,” Cohen said.

But when there is, he loves spending it with his wife and two young sons. They enjoy any type of exercise that lets them enjoy Arizona’s unique and beautiful scenery. And after all those years staying off skates in Minnesota, what is a favorite activity for the now desert-dwelling NHL executive and his boys?

Street hockey, of course.

Nicole Almond Anderson

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law


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ASU female engineers to debut biomed project on international stage

June 17, 2019

Fulton Schools teams head to London to develop and present medtech devices

As International Women in Engineering Day on June 23 approaches, two female biomedical engineering students at Arizona State University are preparing to debut a biomedical device on a world stage in London. 

Mariam El Sheikha and Kelsey Boos are members of one of three ASU engineering teams headed to London this summer to advance their projects during the PLuS Engineering Summer School, then present them at an international showcase event. Their device is designed to speed upper limb function recovery for stroke patients.

Mariam el sheikha

Mariam El Sheikha 

El Sheikha and Boos are traveling the course to medical school by way of biomedical engineering degrees — when they’re not preparing for their trip to London this summer, they are studying for their Medical College Admission Tests. Their project, the design and initial development of a therapeutic medical device that enhances physical therapy for stroke victims, serves as the perfect gateway between biomedical engineering and medicine. 

El Sheikha was drawn to the biomedical path, and particularly this project, because of her grandfather. When he suffered a stroke in Egypt, “not only did he not have access to the biomedical devices we have in the U.S., he didn’t have access to comprehensive physical therapy,” El Sheikha said. “I wanted to do something that will help people’s lives.” 

Kelsey Boos has always wanted go to medical school, and while she initially thought she would focus on pediatrics, her experiences in biomed have her considering an alternative path. Her roommates have careers as biomedical engineers who design and develop medical devices. “I can see myself working in those environments,” she said.

The women were part of a bioengineering interdisciplinary product development team (IPDT) for a class focused on the fundamentals of developing and bringing to market a biomedical device using best industry practices and an entrepreneurial mindset, including ethics, FDA regulatory processes and business practices.

The team assignment was based on a relatively new stroke therapy that uses a surgically implanted vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) device to enhance physical therapy after stroke. According to recent studies, VNS in concert with therapy can as much as double upper limb function recovery. 

stroke device

The students will present their project this July during the PLuS Engineering Summer School Showcase. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

“When stroke causes damage to the brain, repetitive physical therapy supports neural plasticity — a reorganization of neural circuits which, over time, assigns lost functions to new pathways and ultimately improves motor function,” explained Jeffrey Kleim, a Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering associate professor of biological and health systems engineering who conducts neuroplasticity research and is one of the course instructors.  

“For example, when a patient tries to grasp an object, the old neural pathways no longer effectively connect to that action. VNS provides much needed extra neurotransmitters that drive neural plasticity to help reorganize brain function,” Kleim said.  

“This promising clinical trial research result may be more practically translated in the clinic, and especially at the point-of-care, if a technology can be developed that allows the patient to self-direct (at home) therapy in addition to clinical guidance,” explained Vincent Pizziconi, an associate professor of biological and health systems engineering and director of the bioengineering design center. Pizziconi also is a course instructor.

Kelsey Boos

Kelsey Boos 

The challenge presented to the BME design class was to develop a low cost, noninvasive (nonsurgical), self-directed device that would facilitate at-home VNS therapy for stroke patients that would speed recovery and function — while reducing treatment costs and minimizing adverse events associated with implantable VNS devices. 

In addition, a key product specification required for home use involved an ergonomic, or human factor consideration, such as ease of use.

The resulting, external device stimulates the vagus nerve through its auricular branch, which is located in the ear. In addition to triggering additional neurotransmitters, “there’s a closed feedback loop that ensures the patient is performing the motion correctly,” El Sheikha said. “The nerve is stimulated only during the correct therapeutic movements.”

The device itself mimics current earpiece models and is positioned in a way that won’t be displaced by movement or impede physical therapy. A built-in motion detector is used to signal the stimulation electrode.

The IPDT of 20 students was divided into four core technology groups: circuits, electrodes, microprocessor and systems integration.

El Sheikha, a member of the electrodes design team, developed the electrode circuit design for the earpiece. Boos, the section leader for systems integration team, designed an earpiece that accurately targeted the auricular branch of the vagus nerve for stimulation, while also guiding her team in the integration of Xbox Kinect technology. 

According to Pizziconi, the novel concept of using Kinect technology has the potential to set the project apart from other medtech competitors.

“It was a valuable learning process to see that it could be done with multiple groups of people,” Boos said about the process that had teammates working in their assigned areas before coming together to integrate all of the components. 

For El Sheikha, the process has been an opportunity to familiarize herself with tools she’ll be using as a physician. “As a doctor, it’s important to investigate how you can improve a device and provide feedback to the technology developers,” she said. 

Both women are looking forward to sharing the project in London and getting feedback from international perspectives.

Top photo: Mariam El Sheikha and Kelsey Boos work on the work on their stroke rehabilitation device at the Schwada building on June 12, 2019. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Native American students explore advanced degree horizons at Graduate Pathways conference

June 14, 2019

As a transgender woman and first-generation student from the Navajo community of Teec Nos Pos in northeastern Arizona, Arizona State University alumna Trudie Jackson is used to forging her own way.

Today, she holds concurrent bachelor’s degrees in American Indian studies from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and public service and public policy from the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, and a master’s degree in tribal leadership and governance from The College’s American Indian studies program. But the road hasn’t been easy. Trudie Jackson graduated with a master's degree in tribal leadership and governance from The College's American Indian studies program.   Trudie Jackson graduated with a master's degree in tribal leadership and governance from The College's American Indian studies program. Download Full Image

Trudie Jackson, an alumna of The College's American Indian Studies program's master's degree track.Trudie Jackson, an alumna of The College's American Indian Studies program's master's degree track.

“Native students balance being in a Western educational institution and coming from a tribal community,” she said. “Part of going to school is just learning sometimes you had to make sacrifices — you may not be able to engage in a ceremonial event back in your community, for example, because you have a paper due.”

Learning to navigate those challenges is what led her to attend Graduate Pathways ahead of her master’s degree track a few years ago. Organized by American Indian Student Support Services (AISSS), the biennial conference helps Native American undergraduates and alumni learn more about advanced degrees and application processes.

Now pursuing a doctorate at the University of New Mexico, Jackson returned to campus this month to share her experiences with a new generation of postsecondary-bound indigenous students at the 2019 Graduate Pathways.

After graduating with a master's degree in tribal leadership and governance from The College's American Indian studies program, Trudie Jackson wants to help others do the same.

Alumna Trudie Jackson speaks to a room of fellow Native American students considering graduate paths.

“You may encounter professors who have never had a Native student, but that’s actually where you have the chance to share your knowledge,” Jackson said, speaking to a crowd of around 50 students, alumni and faculty mentors at the conference. “I believe one way I contribute to academia is through my own experience as an American Indian transgender woman; that perspective is not always reflected in the scholarship we read, and that’s what inspires me to keep going.”

Paving the way

According to AISSS Acting Director Laura Gonzales-Macias, more than 3,000 Native American students were enrolled at ASU in 2018, many of whom are in The College’s 23 schools and departments. Over 500 are working toward doctorates or master’s degrees.

She said the number is continuing to grow and already significant, particularly by national standards — Native Americans make up less than 1% of U.S. college students and are represented even less in graduate programs.

Several initiatives aim to bring more young people into the fold and support them once they arrive, but fewer exist at the graduate level.

Graduate Pathways was designed to bridge the gap.

“There are many challenges involved in being a Native American student, one of them being that often you are the only one in the course,” said Gonzales-Macias, who is also an instructor in The College's American Indian Studies program. “I think it is particularly important at the graduate level for these students to hear what the climate is like for indigenous students and how they can continue navigating such a large institution.”

The two-day training includes resume and personal statement workshops and one-on-one mentorship sessions with faculty from the degree programs students are interested in. Perhaps most importantly, Gonzales-Macias hopes participants walk away feeling like they’re not alone. It is a sentiment she remembers being a vital step of her own psychology graduate track at The College, in 1992.

“Coming to ASU back then, it was not as diverse a place as it is today,” she said. “I was far from home and family, a first-generation student and by then, continuing onto my doctorate — connecting with fellow Native graduates was my saving grace.”

Lasting connections

Now in its fifth year, Gonzales-Macias says the program comes full circle when alumni like Jackson return to give today’s prospective graduate students a unique insight into what’s next.

“Bringing back former participants lets new students see that someone else has been in their shoes,” she said.

That was the case for Rodney Aguilla, a Tohono O’odham tribal member who came to Graduate Pathways to learn more about advanced programs in fields spanning American Indian studies, law or teaching.

Rodney Aguilla, a senior in The College's American Indian Studies program, came to Graduate Pathways to learn more about advanced degree options.

Rodney Aguilla, a senior in The College's American Indian Studies program, came to Graduate Pathways to learn more about advanced degree options.

Growing up in Three Points, Arizona, southwest of Tucson, Aguilla saw getting an education as a way to give back to the sister who raised him.

“My sister always told us that education is the key to the world,” he said. “She literally saw me go from dropping out of high school, to getting my GED, and finally, to coming here — she did a lot to help push that forward.”

He transferred to ASU from Tohono O’odham Community College last May to pursue a bachelor’s degree in American Indian studies and a minor in history, both from The College.

He said being homesick and away from family made coming to ASU difficult at first. Hearing from current graduate students at the conference made him feel like he was on the right track.

“I think as Native students, we all kind of have that extra weight on our shoulders to come back and do something for our tribe,” he said. “Meeting other students and learning from their experiences really helped, I hope to one day be here too, putting on these programs for others who come after me.”

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences