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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


ASU sweeps the podium at 2019 Materials Bowl

June 13, 2019

Ten teams from Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering competed against five teams from the University of Arizona Department of Materials Science and Engineering in the 16th annual Materials Bowl in Tempe, Arizona.

The Materials Bowl is a senior capstone project and poster competition for Arizona materials science and engineering students sponsored by the ASM International Phoenix Chapter in which a jury of four industry professionals award the three top-ranked projects. The winning team receives the Materials Territorial Trophy. Members of the winning teams and mentors (from left: Pranvera Kolari, Benjamin Shindel, President’s Professor James Adams, Senior Research Specialist Shahriar Anwar, Austin Bennett, Brandon Houck, Andrew Black, Samantha Hom, Devin Hardy and Ariana Tse) pose with the Materials Territorial Trophy after winning the three top prizes at the 2019 Materials Bowl. Photograph courtesy of Shahriar Anwar Download Full Image

Teams of two to five students gave presentations to a panel of judges and were critiqued based on the quality of their projects and presentations.

“In the materials science and engineering capstone course we strive to give the students as much real-life experience as possible,” said Shahriar Anwar, a senior research specialist in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy.

This year, ASU teams took the top three prizes. The first-place team included Andrew Black, Devin Hardy, Samantha Hom and Ariana Tse. They took home the top prize of $1,000 and claimed the Materials Territorial Trophy for their project, “Redesigning Heat Treatment of Additively Manufactured AM355.”

In the project mentored by Honeywell, the team designed a heat treatment for additively manufactured AM355 stainless steel, which is used in the aerospace industry. They reduced processing time and costs while maintaining the material’s desired properties. The team achieved roughly 20% increased tensile strength (increased ability to be pulled apart without breaking) while reducing costs by 20% and direct treatment time by 50%.

The team of Austin Bennett and Brandon Houck earned the second-place prize of $700. Their project was titled “Design and Process Development of Natural Fiber Reinforced Bio-Composites.”

The duo developed a method of generating and testing a microbial harvested biocomposite that may be able to be used as a replacement for natural leather made from animal hide. They were able to achieve mechanical properties comparable to that of natural leather.

The third-place team featured Pranvera Kolari and Benjamin Shindel, who won a $300 prize for their project, “ConCreate: Design of an Additively Manufacturable and Sustainable Concrete Mix.”

The ConCreate team produced additively manufactured concrete that incorporated waste glass. The team claimed that their product would reduce both global carbon dioxide emissions and improve glass recycling while speeding up building construction using additive manufacturing techniques. The resulting product had similar mechanical properties to traditional concrete structures. 

The Materials Bowl competition helps showcase the caliber of materials science and engineering students to members of the local industry.

“The competition between ASU and UA generates real excitement and a competitive mindset toward excelling and taking pride in their projects,” Anwar said. “The presentations are made in a formal atmosphere similar to that of a scientific conference and affords an opportunity to our students to present to a diverse audience from academia and industry.”

Erik Wirtanen

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


ASU anatomy and physiology faculty turn book proceeds into student scholarships

June 12, 2019

When ASU students purchase the lab manual for their human anatomy and physiology courses at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, they're not only preparing themselves for success in the classes, they're contributing to the success of their fellow students.

The customized text, developed in-house by the faculty who teach the BIO 201 and 202 courses, not only costs less than a standard manual, the proceeds directly support ASU students pursuing their passion for science.  ASU SHAPER Scholarship recipients with children at Tide Academy The first SHAPER Scholarship recipients used the funding to help pay for a science-focused ASU Study Abroad experience in Costa Rica. Alyssa Anderson (middle) and Erika McClinton (right) with students at the Tide Academy. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Anderson Download Full Image

Co-authors Jeff Kingsbury, senior lecturer; J. P. Hyatt, associate professor; and Tonya Penkrot, lecturer; in collaboration with then-lab manager Jennifer Legere, were driven in 2017 to create a manual that better served students and was in keeping with the teaching innovations that College of Integrative Sciences and Arts faculty have implemented in science courses.

“We wanted something more relevant, customized and affordable for students. We wanted to develop a product tailored to what we actually do in our labs, that could incorporate the Anatomage Table, and would reduce the cost for students,” explained Kingsbury. “Our manual saves students roughly 50% of what they paid when we used a standard lab manual.”

When the trio ditched the previous lab manual in fall 2017 for their co-authored alternative, they took the benefit to students to an even higher plane, deciding that royalties from the sale of their manual would establish the SHAPER (Scholarship Honoring Anatomy and Physiology Education and Research) Scholarship.

“We all agreed that we wanted to give back to the students,” said Hyatt, about their decision to create the scholarship.

“It’s a good thing to do, and it helps the students,” said Kingsbury. “We worked with our college development officer to start the scholarship with the ASU Foundation. The money goes directly from the publisher to the fund every July and January.”

All three faculty members wanted the scholarship to help students pursue their passions in science in some way.

“We want students to be able to use the scholarship for research, application fees, conference fees or other special educational opportunities in the realm of anatomy and physiology,” said Penkrot.

This includes the study abroad experience that College of Integrative Sciences and Arts faculty direct in Costa Rica. In the program — a partnership between ASU Study Abroad and the Tide Academy, a small school in Costa Rica — students gain exposure to another culture and have the chance to teach and develop science curriculum for K-12 students, helping prepare them to become instructional assistants in anatomy and physiology courses at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.  

By December 2018, the SHAPER fund was able to support its first two scholarship recipients.

Rising junior Erika McClinton and graduating senior Alyssa Anderson both used the scholarship to support their participation in the Costa Rica experience in March. For both, the benefits of that experience are still paying dividends.

SHAPER impacts professional paths 

For ASU health entrepreneurship and innovation major McClinton, the academic plan had originally been to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing. But when she didn’t get accepted into the highly competitive program, she found herself stuck and unsure of what her next move was — until a series of opportunities came her way.

“I found out about the Costa Rica trip through Dr. Kingsbury’s BIO 202 class,” McClinton said. “At first, I told Dr. Kingsbury that I was not able to go, but then he told me about the scholarship opportunity, which was amazing.”

The Costa Rica trip allowed her to combine a few of her passions.

“I wanted to go on the Costa Rica trip because of my love for science. My minor is in Spanish, and I had not been to another Spanish-speaking country since I was 9, so this whole experience was all I had ever dreamed of,” she said. “Also, I knew that we would be teaching children at a school, which really captured my attention, because I had just applied to be an instructional assistant for BIO 201, so everything was lining up perfectly.”

Receiving the scholarship helped change McClinton’s outlook and provided her with new opportunities.

“Getting the scholarship and going to Costa Rica helped me build relationships with the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts faculty, and they encouraged me and gave me the confidence to pursue a summer internship with Anatomage,” McClinton said.

Anatomage, the Silicon Valley-based technology company that created the Anatomage Table that students use for digital dissections in the BIO 201 and 202 courses at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus, took its first ASU intern last summer and has sponsored two for summer 2019.

“I’ll be there for eight weeks, and I will be working on the computer technology and helping build the anatomy software,” McClinton said.

“The scholarship really helped me bounce back after not getting into nursing school. I realized that some of the things you want may not be for you right now,” she reflected. “I’m excited to be in Silicon Valley, the capital of technology, and to be surrounded by lots of opportunities.”

Alyssa Anderson outside the Tide Academy in Costa Rica

Alyssa Anderson took away life-changing lessons from Costa Rica.

The scholarship and the Costa Rica experience have had similar professional impact on Anderson, who graduated from the College of Health Solutions in May.

During the study abroad experience, Anderson said, her passion for teaching impressed the director of the Tide Academy.

“I really like teaching, and I care about teaching younger kids about science so they can be inspired and be the change we need them to be,” said Anderson, who kept in touch with the school in the months following the experience and has been offered a teaching position there.

Starting in August, she will be teaching math, science and ocean awareness to grades 3-12.

“I’m super excited,” she added. “It's an opportunity for a lot of personal and professional growth and will allow me to leave my comfort zone. I plan to learn as much as I can from a new culture, new country and the kids.”  

Anderson said several faculty members had put the study abroad trip on her radar, but it wasn’t until she learned about the SHAPER Scholarship that she realized she could make the trip happen.

“While finances were the root of my stresses regarding whether or not I was even going to be able to go, ASU made it very possible,” she said. “With the SHAPER Scholarship, the grant I got from the Study Abroad office and the money I raised, studying abroad became a reality — and for that, I am still forever grateful.”

ASU Downtown Phoenix campus anatomy and physiology students can apply at any time for SHAPER Scholarship support by emailing faculty members Tonya Penkrot, J. P. Hyatt or Jeff Kingsbury. The request should detail the rationale for why the award would be appropriate for the educational or research activity that students want to engage in. Although the process is relatively new, Kingsbury said, they are generally reviewing students’ requests in December and April.

Written by Kelley Karnes

ASU alumna shares perspective with STEM undergraduate researchers

June 7, 2019

This past March, Megan Thielges returned to Arizona State University not as an undergraduate chemistry student, but as the keynote speaker at the 26th annual Undergraduate Research Symposium hosted by the School of Life Sciences, in conjunction with the SOLUR Undergraduate Research Program.

The symposium provides a chance for undergraduate researchers to present what they've learned through their research experiences. The event is open to faculty, staff, students and the general public. Indiana University Bloomington Professor Megan Thielges and SMS Professor James Allen. Download Full Image

In a talk titled "Trek of a Biophysicist," Thielges shared her story of progress from an undergraduate at ASU to an associate professor in the department of chemistry at the University of Indiana Bloomington. She described her personal development in science while sharing a broader perspective gained along the way.

“My career as an academic professor should be considered a lifestyle. I feel very fortunate to do what I love,” Thielges said. “The freedom to pursue my interests is the key advantage of my specific position.”  

Thielges received her BS (summa cum laude) at ASU in 2003. She was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship for training in biophysics at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, where she earned a PhD under the direction of Professor Floyd E. Romesberg in 2009. She went on to a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Institutes of Health-funded postdoctoral fellowship with Professor Michael D. Fayer at Stanford University. She joined the faculty at Indiana University in the summer of 2012.

From left to right: Megan Thielges, Joann Williams and James Allen Photo. Courtesy Jacob Sahertian, School of Life Sciences

Thielges answered a few questions about her experience at ASU, her work today and the advice she has for those who are interested in studying in the STEM field.

Question: How did your undergraduate experience in the School of Molecular Sciences at ASU prepare you for your current career path?

Answer: My experience in a research group as an undergraduate was most valuable to my career trajectory. The experience convinced me to pursue a career in academic research and bolstered my application for top graduate programs, setting up my path to becoming a professor myself.

Q: What is it like applying your degree in a new area?

A: The interdisciplinary nature of our research is very challenging. Gaining depth of understanding in multiple scientific areas requires versatile thinking and simply more time. For this reason, I also find it difficult to train new students in our research group. However, I am excited by the science so the challenge is worthwhile.

Q: Can you describe your Sun Devil story? What brought you to ASU?

A: Honestly, having grown up in the cold of North Dakota, initially I considered ASU because of the warm weather and the offer of a generous scholarship package. I had just applied for fellowships, which made me aware of the importance of research experience. When I visited, ASU promoted their undergraduate research programs, and learning about all the opportunities cemented my decision to attend ASU.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories of ASU — academic, research or otherwise?

A:  My time in the laboratory was the highlight of my undergraduate years. I worked with a fantastic bunch of graduate students, and my mentors were very supportive. A research lab becomes one’s family.

Q: What is your advice for current students in the School of Molecular Sciences who are thinking of pursuing a career path similar to yours?

A:  While my work is satisfying, the career also is very competitive, so you have to be consistently dedicated, which can mean giving up other things in life, as well as getting used to handling setbacks and criticism. There are many excellent career paths in which you can do science. Also, as an undergraduate, I did not realize how so-called “soft” skills, like communicating effectively both verbally and in writing or interacting with and motivating people with diverse personalities, are just as critical to your success as your technical understanding of science.

Q: What would you tell a prospective ASU student that they need to know about studying in the School of Molecular Sciences at ASU?

A: Take advantage of all that is offered. Don’t be shy to engage your professors. Enjoy being a student. Your undergraduate years likely will be among the best times in your life. 

Communication specialist, School of Molecular Sciences