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Thunderbird rugby club marks 40 years of scrums

Rugby team travels the world and shares the history, curriculum of Thunderbird.
Thunderbird team members reflect the global nature of the school.
110 players, past and present, are committed to attend reunion match in April.
March 17, 2016

'Old Boys' alumni team spreads mission of global engagement

Students at the Thunderbird School of Global Management pride themselves on cultivating an open spirit and a global mind-set.

So it’s no surprise that one of oldest clubs on the Glendale campus is rugby, which is played around the world and has a jovial culture in which opposing teams party together after a match.

Next month, more than a hundred alumni of the rugby club will gather to celebrate their legacy, which includes promoting Thunderbird’s mission around the world.

The Thunderbird Rugby Football Club is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and the reunion will include a match between alumni and current players on April 9. Typically, the rugby reunions are held in March, but this year the alumni decided to move their get-together to coincide with Thunderbird’s 70th-anniversaryThunderbird, which was built as a World War II airfield, became the American Institute for Foreign Trade in 1946. Later, the school changed its name to the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and it became part of ASU in 2015. celebration weekend.

Rugby is a rough-and-tumble sport, and its beginnings at Thunderbird in 1976 were equally as scrappy. A group of students decided to form a rugby club, and on the first day of the fall semester, they recruited players from the guys who were standing in line for orientation. Jim Emslie was part of that first team.

“They asked me, ‘Have you ever played rugby before?’ And I said, ‘No, but I’d like to know. I understand they drink a lot of beer.’

“Some of us had played before, some of us hadn’t,” Emslie said of that first team.

They competed against alumni teams from ASU and the University of Arizona, plus the Phoenix Rugby Club and a team that came down from Las Vegas.

“They were mostly bouncers,” he said.

Emslie said that because of the global nature of Thunderbird, the team included players who had competed internationally.

“We had a few ringers. We probably won about half of our games, but we were always competitive, especially in the post-game activities,” said Emslie, who continued to play rugby while working in Venezuela for a few years after graduating from Thunderbird. He’s now an investment banker in California.

Back in the 1970s, the campus was still pretty isolated.

“There wasn’t a whole lot to do but sit around the pool or play tennis, so the matches became quite a campus event,” he said.

A few years after graduating, Emslie was back on campus and suggested a game between alumni and current players. That launched RAW — the Rugby Alumni Weekend.

Those get-togethers continued informally for several years. Then Chuck Hamilton, a rugby player who graduated in 1991, took the club and the reunions to the next level in the late 1990s.

“I started researching old rosters, trying to go all the way back. I would find guys via e-mail and ask, ‘Who did you play with?’ I looked at alumni lists and pulled names of guys who listed rugby as an activity,” Hamilton said.

He had the alumni club incorporated as a non-profit and began organizing international tours.

“Thunderbird being Thunderbird, we couldn’t just go to the usual places, like the UK or Australia,” Hamilton said. “We had to go off the beaten path.”

So the first tour, in 2003, was to Cuba, which was still off-limits to tourists then. The visit was arranged with the help of a professor at the school, and the players visited museums and other cultural attractions in between matches.

The Thunderbird 'Old Boys' rugby team plays in Cuba in 2015.

The Thunderbird "Old Boys"
alumni rugby team played
in Cuba in 2015.

Since then, the alumni, known as the Thunderbird Old Boys, have traveled to Argentina, Iceland, Croatia and Montenegro and then back to Cuba last year, just after it opened to U.S. tourism. The visits usually get a lot of local media attention. The match in Cuba was broadcast by a Chinese TV station.

“It’s been one way to give back to the school by going to other countries, passing out programs that talk about the history of the school and the curriculum,” Hamilton said, adding that he will typically try to have some of the program printed in the local language.

The team members — both current and former — reflect the global nature of Thunderbird.

“When I look at my roster, I see people from Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, India, Dubai and all over Europe,” said Hamilton, who coaches the rugby team at Northwestern University and also works a corporate job.

So far, the biggest reunion has been 80 players, but Hamilton said that 110 are committed to attend next month, including 17 of the founding players from 1976. The April event will include spring-training baseball games, skeet shooting, golf, the traditional “pub night” on campus, the alumni game and a banquet.

Hamilton also added a networking event, so the current players can better connect with the alumni.

Patrick Shields, president of the current club, said the players are looking forward to the reunion. The Thunderbird Executive Leadership Council has paid for the club to have special commemorative jerseys made for the anniversary.

“We can definitely see the bond that comes with being on the team,” he said.

Shields, who got his undergraduate degree from ASU, is pursuing a master’s degree in global management at Thunderbird. He said the players always find it a challenge to juggle graduate studies with the team’s seasonThe Thunderbird club is in the Arizona Rugby Union., which is going on now.

“There are some late nights. But I’ve talked with alumni who told me, ‘Sleep is overrated. Try to take part in as many things as you can.’ “

The alumni said the camaraderie of rugby culture is a key part of the game.

“I’ve coached high school sports and been involved with a lot of sporting activities, and I’ve never seen a sport that has that tradition, where after a game you get to know each other before going your separate ways,” Emslie said.

He said the connections remain strong.

“From college and post-college and the first place I went to work, the people I stay in touch with the most have been my rugby friends from Thunderbird,” he said.

“There’s a bond that is not severable.”

Top photo: Alex Marino gets tackled by Cody Payne as Rafael Salamanca comes to help out during a three-on-four scrimmage on March 15 at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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Natural resilience to major life stressors not as common as thought

Researchers find giving a person time alone to deal may not be best approach.
ASU resilience findings have implications for science and also public policy.
March 18, 2016

ASU psychologists find that many people can struggle considerably and for longer periods of time than previous research showed

When someone goes through a rough period, say a divorce or losing a job, the common thought has been that this is a test of the person’s ability to bounce back — and most psychological studies have supported the idea of a person’s innate resilience to the struggles of life.

The common mantra has been “Give the person time to heal,” meaning that those who struggled were oftentimes left to deal with their situation on their own.

But now, new research from Arizona State University finds that natural resilience may not be as common as once thought and that when confronted with a major life-altering event, many people can struggle considerably and for longer periods of time.

The new research questions prior claims that resilience is the “usual” response to major life stressors by looking at longitudinal data in a more nuanced way and making less generalization about the human response to such dramatic events.

A paper detailing the research, “Resilience to major life stressors is not as common as thought,” is published in the current issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science.

“We show that contrary to an extensive body of research, when individuals are confronted with major life stressors, such as spousal loss, divorce or unemployment, they are likely to show substantial declines in well-being and these declines can linger for several years,” said Frank Infurna, an ASU assistant professor of psychology and co-author of the new study.

“Previous research largely claimed that individuals are typically resilient to major life stressors,” he said. “Whereas when we test these assumptions more thoroughly, we find that most individuals are deeply affected and it can take several years for them to recover and get back to previous levels of functioning.”

Infurna and co-author Suniya Luthar, an ASU Foundation Professor in psychology, were seeking to replicate prior work that showed among adults, resilience — which is described as stable, healthy levels of well-being and the absence of negative outcomes during or following potentially harmful circumstances — is the prototypical trajectory after potentially traumatic events.

“Our findings go against the grain and show there can be more to the picture than that. It may not be the case that most people are unperturbed and doing fine.”
— Frank Infurna, an ASU assistant professor of psychology

Previous work by others in the field involving people going through traumas ranging from bereavement and deployment in military service to spinal-cord injury and natural disasters had reported that resilience is the most common response following significant negative life events.

“Our findings go against the grain and show there can be more to the picture than that,” Infurna said. “It may not be the case that most people are unperturbed and doing fine.”

Infurna and Luthar used existing longitudinal data from Germany (the German socioeconomic panel study), which is an ongoing survey that began in 1984 and annually assesses participants over a wide range of measures. The outcome that they focused on was life satisfaction, which assesses how satisfied individuals are with their lives, all things considered, as they pass through years of their lives.

Essentially, Infurna and Luthar documented that “rates of resilience” vary substantially based on assumptions applied while running the statistical models. 

They explain that in essence, the question that was addressed in previous studies was not, “How many people are resilient?” But instead, “Assuming A and B, how many people are resilient?”

And what were the A and B assumptions applied in previous studies?  

One was about how much the groups (resilient and others) differed but within one another. Previous studies assumed that whereas resilient and non-resilient groups differed in life-satisfaction changes over time — steady and high in the former but not the latter — trajectories of change were the same for all people within all of the groups. To illustrate with four hypothetical people, this would mean that Rita and Ralph, in the resilient group, both showed the same steady, high life satisfaction over time; whereas Norma and Nate, both in a non-resilient group who showed declines as a function of their major life event, showed declines exactly at the same time, and then rebounded at exactly the same time. Infurna and Luthar allowed for the possibility that Nate might have recovered two years after the adverse event and Norma immediately after the event (for example, when divorce signaled release from a particularly unhappy marriage).  

The second assumption in earlier studies was that “peaks and valleys” over time would be the same within the resilient and non-resilient groups, that is, the degree to which people showed extreme highs and lows around the average of their own subgroups. Back to the illustrative example, this assumption would mean that in prior studies, life-satisfaction scores across all 10 years ranged between 4 and 8 (out of 10) for resilient and for non-resilient groups. Infurna and Luthar, by contrast, allowed for the possibility that Ralph and Rita may have stayed within the range of 6 to 8 over 10 years (that is the definition of resilience — stable good functioning) but that Norma and Nate may have been as low as 2 in one or two years, and as high as 10 in others; again, by definition, these people are “not stable.”

Merely removing the restrictive assumptions applied in previous studies dramatically changed the percentage of people found to be resilient. Using exactly the same database, rates of resilience in the face of unemployment were reported to be 81 percent. With the restrictive assumptions removed, Infurna and Luthar found the rates to be much lower, around 48 percent.

“We used previous research as a basis and analyzed the data based on their specifications,” Infurna explained. “Then we used our own specifications that we feel are more in line with conceptual assumptions and we found contrasting results.”

“The previous research postulated that most people, anywhere from 50 to 70 percent, would show a trajectory characterized by no change. They are largely unperturbed by life’s major events,” Infurna said. “We found that it usually took people much longer, several years, to return to their previous levels of functioning.”

A finding that means giving a person time alone to deal with the stressor might not be the best approach to getting him or her back to full functionality, Infurna said.

“These are major qualitative shifts in a person’s life, and it can have a lasting impact on their lives,” he said. “It provides some evidence that if most people are affected, then interventions certainly should be utilized in terms of helping these individuals in response to these events.”

The findings have implications not just for science but for public policy. According to Infurna, sweeping scientific claims that “most people are resilient” carry dangers of blaming the victims (those who do not rebound immediately), and more seriously, suggest that external interventions are not necessary to help people hit by traumatic events. 

“Previously it was thought such interventions may not be a good utilization of resources or could be detrimental to the person,” he said. “But based on our findings, we may need to rethink that and to think after the event: What are the best ways that we can help individuals to move forward?” 

Top photo by Steven Bulhoes/

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