image title

ASU's year in review 2016

December 21, 2016

A roundup of some of the university’s top stories of 2016

It was a year of big headlines for both the nation and Arizona State University. As the world has been faced with new challenges — and opportunities for new solutions — ASU has found innovative ways to help the communities it serves. The university’s faculty, staff and students have made advancements in health, space exploration, robotics and more, all while expanding access to education and extending compassion to others.

Here are some of the top stories from 2016:


From shooting stars to shooting hoops, ASU researchers were in on some big finds.


ASU faculty and staff found real-world ways to solve today's challenges and prepare for tomorrow's.


A sprawling, forgotten building turned into bustling art studios; a tiny satellite turned space exploration on its ear; an uber-popular game turned into a teaching tool — these are just a few ways that the ASU community took an innovative approach to the world.


From student startups to a journalism "teaching hospital" with Google News Lab, ASU's entrepreneurial spirit thrived. 

Global Engagement

ASU welcomes the global community into its halls and classrooms — the university was recognized as the top public university in the country for international students. The school also sends its scholars around the world to help, study and grow understanding.

Arizona Impact

Part of ASU's charter is assuming fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves. Faculty, students and staff embody that.

Sun Devil Life

The university celebrated icons both historical (Palm Walk turning 100) and new (Michael Phelps). 

ASU News

As ASU drew accolades ranging from ranking in the top 10 for graduate employability to being named the nation's most innovative university for the second consecutive year, it also drew some brilliant minds and doubled its number of Nobel laureates.

image title

Testing resilience — with data

ASU professor earns $3.4 million grant to study adversity using new approach.
ASU prof to research whether we get stronger through adversity — and if so, how?
December 22, 2016

ASU professor earns $3.4 million grant to find out whether adversity really makes people stronger — and if so, how?

The old adage “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” has become a sort of cultural trope we rely on when things don’t go our way, but is it true?

Until recently, any scientific attempts to test that theory have been flawed, according to Frank Infurna, assistant professor of psychology at ASU. 

Frank Infurna

Infurna was recently awarded a $3.4 million grant from the Templeton Foundation to conduct research that seeks to improve upon past methods, to determine to what degree — if any — people experience personal growth following adversity, and what factors affect that growth.

“Throughout the course of our lives, we’re all likely to experience various forms of adversity,” Infurna said. “What this research aims to do is to understand how adversity can change us, but also — more importantly — to identify various factors, such as social support and coping strategies, that can be utilized in the future to promote more positive outcomes following adversity or trauma.”

Every year the Templeton Foundation awards roughly $70 million in research grants. They chose Infurna to receive this most recent grant based on his previous work with mental resiliency and his novel proposal.

In the past 15 to 20 years, Infurna said, research has used a single assessment tool, called the “post traumatic growth inventory,” to determine whether people perceive personal growth following adversity. The assessment consisted of a questionnaire, given to people after their adverse experience.

“The problem with that,” Infurna said, “is that we don’t know how they functioned before the trauma.”

In other words, without measuring an individual’s general disposition and perceived character strength before experiencing adversity, there’s no way to tell whether they actually experienced growth following a traumatic event.

Infurna’s proposed experiment will track a group of middle-age people for up to two years. They’ll be given monthly questionnaires to determine their outlook on life and perceived strength of character. Over the course of two years, some participants may experience traumatic events and some may not. For those who do, however, there will be data from before the trauma to compare with data following the trauma.

Each participant will also nominate a confidant — a close friend or loved one — who will be given a questionnaire every three months asking about the participant. Infurna and his colleagues will then be able to compare and contrast the perceptions of the participant with those of their confidant.

Infurna will be working with his colleagues at ASU, Suniya Luthar and Kevin Grimm, on the experiment that will track a group of middle-aged people and their confidants for up to two years. They have plans to launch their experiment in the upcoming year. Infurna will also be teaming with his co-project leader Eranda Jayawickreme, assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest University, for the solicitation of applications from the larger research community across the country for their own experiments on post-traumatic resiliency.

“People have so many different perspectives and ideas when they approach this research,” Infurna said. “So to get a larger perspective, to see how other researchers will use their different expertise to approach this research question will allow us to better inform the literature on this topic.”

Infurna and Jayawickreme will make their final decisions on proposed contributing research projects in the fall.

“These types of grant opportunities do not come along very often,” Infurna said, “and to be able to stimulate research in this area is incredible, especially given my passion for this topic. We greatly appreciate this opportunity and are looking forward to getting started.”