ASU graduate creates website aimed at online safety for teenagers

September 15, 2017

In spring 2016, Jessica Swarner, then an Arizona State University junior majoring in political science and journalism, saw an alarming story about a young girl’s use of a messaging app.

According to the story, a 13-year-old girl from Virginia was killed by an 18-year-old man she had met on Kik, a mobile instant messaging app. Her parents had been unaware of their daughter’s use of the app and the dangers that could lurk there. Jessica Swarner May 2017 ASU honors graduate Jessica Swarner has created a website called Parenting In The Digital Age to help parents learn about Internet and social media safety for their teenagers. Download Full Image

“It really scared me because I had a younger sister in high school at the time who was using Kik,” said Swarner, who graduated in May 2017 with a bachelor's degree and honors from Barrett, The Honors College at ASU.

Swarner already was doing research on cyberpsychology in a lab at ASU focusing on people’s attachment to their mobile phones, online communities, and cyber security, but when she saw this story, it really hit home. She decided to take her research into the realm of parental supervision of minor children’s Internet use, the safety of mobile apps, and online security.

What she found out is that many parents have little or no knowledge of what their children are doing online. In fact, according to a 2016 National Cyber Security Alliance study, 30 percent of teens said their parents were not aware at all or not very aware of their online activities. The same study showed that 57 percent of parents said they were unaware of what their children were doing online.

Swarner set out to rectify these facts. As her honors thesis project, she created a website that could serve as a resource for parents concerned about their children’s online activities. The result was Parenting In The Digital Age, an Internet and social media safety resource for parents of teens.

The site is full of useful information, including the pros and cons of internet and social media use; reviews and profiles of apps with features, policies, and safety and security measures; videos with tips from social media and public safety experts; and a constantly updated blog covering online safety.

“A significant issue is that because apps come and go so quickly it’s hard for parents to know what’s being used and what it’s being used for. So I try to keep up with that on the site by posting information about new apps and links to articles where parents can find more information,” she said. Subscribers to the site can receive weekly email updates.

Swarner suggests that parents create an action plan for their children’s online activity and social media use, and talk to their children about their concerns with things that can happen online, such as bullying, inappropriate conversations that include racist language, sexting, the use of fake profiles by people who would seek to cause harm, and communicating with strangers.

“It’s important for teens to, for example, use social media to connect with friends and to use the internet for homework, but they shouldn’t be given free reign. An action plan should address when and how teens can use their phone, what type of information should not be posted online, and how to be careful with the use of social media,” she said.

Nicole Greason

Director of Marketing and Public Relations , Barrett, The Honors College


Broadening diversity in biodiversity science

ASU Center for Biodiversity Outcomes developing education programs that provide sustainability literacy focused on underrepresented youth

September 15, 2017

In August 2015, the ASU Center for Biodiversity Outcomes Founding Director Leah Gerber and graduate student affiliate Beth Tellman from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning organized a panel titled “Expanding diversity in the next generation of ecology.” This event attracted dozens of minority students who have led a paper just out in Science titled “Without inclusion, diversity initiatives might not be enough.”

Fewer young people are pursuing conservation science degrees and working in their professions after graduation — even as platforms to increase diversity persist. What is behind this disconnect?  Young students participating in biodiversity science research. Download Full Image

Insights on this question are numerated in the Science article. The paper reveals that, while the unique challenges minority youth experience that impede academic success are well-documented, it is not clear that this knowledge is integrated effectively in diversity initiatives. The panel also found a disproportionate amount of attention is given to undergraduate diversity, there are significantly less programs for graduate students which is a “strategic point of loss” for students entering Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers.

Although recruiting and matriculating diverse students is a step in the right direction, the publication argues that it is not enough — steps must be taken beyond increasing diversity to advancing inclusion.

While diversity refers to numbers and differences within a group, inclusion speaks to how minority students are treated and feeling within an institution. This distinction is critical to increasing minority students in STEM, as it focuses on the “unintentional implicit biases” that influence institutional culture and impede success. “Transitioning from diversity to inclusion requires acknowledging that structural bias and social justice impacts scientists as people, and that this has consequences for the science they do,” the paper argues.

To tackle pressing conservation problems, it is essential to understand the social problems that threaten biodiversity. Problems that are only framed from a single viewpoint miss valuable insights that can become key guiding questions driving research and real-world applications forward. 

“This publication highlights our commitment to diversity and inclusion in biodiversity science,” explained Gerber. “The event was transformative for all who attended, and inspired a diverse group of students to share insights more broadly.”

The Center for Biodiversity Outcomes is developing novel education programs that provide environmental and ecological sustainability literacy focused on underrepresented youth.

Its proposed Diversity in Biodiversity Science program expects to engage undergraduate and graduate students, develop its diversity network at ASU through campus engagement events and work with non-profit partners to deepen the connections with high schools.

The center has been collaborating with the ASU Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology to develop a university wide summer STEM diversity program, of which conservation science will be one focus.

“Concurrently, we are developing partnerships with The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International to target underserved youth, specifically in Arizona schools and get them into ASU where we can mentor them through the program,” explained Gerber. 

Gerber and Project Manager Amy Scoville-Weaver currently lead the center’s education and diversity efforts, but the opportunities in this area exceed its capacity to engage. The center is currently seeking $25-50,000 to develop the program framework.

Committing institutional support, programs and resources to diversity and inclusion will continue to allow ASU to identify promising underserved high school students, recruit them, mentor them and provide professional opportunities with conservation organizations, leading into successful and impactful careers in conservation science and policy.