ASU professor awarded grant for research in adolescent substance use

November 15, 2017

The National Institute on Drug Abuse and Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research has awarded Kit Elam, an assistant professor at Arizona State University, the Mentored Research Scientist Development Award.

The award provides support of intensive, supervised career development in the biomedical, behavioral or clinical sciences leading to research independence. Elam was chosen for his project, “Gene Environment Interplay Underlying Negative Family Environments and Family-Based Interventions in Early Adolescent Substance Use.” Kit Elam, assistant professor in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics Download Full Image

“I’m particularly interested in child aggression and genetic influences,” said Elam, a faculty member in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. “Those are two bodies of research I’ll try to be merging and looking at their interplay. The third body of research is how that contributes to substance use later in life and whether there’s intervention effects that buffer the influence of children’s genetics on negative family environments or between negative family environments and substance use later in life.”

A benefit of winning the award is the ability to train with a number of mentors who will help Elam gain expertise in a number of realms. During the first two to three years of the grant, Elam will be supported to build advanced skills and tools in bioinformatics.

“The award is a more unique mechanism because it includes a training and a research portion,” Elam said. “I’ll focus on building those skills and methods first and then in the final two or three years, there will be more of a focus on publishing and applying those methods to looking at gene environment interplay in the family.”

Elam has been interested in studying child development since before he went into graduate school. He began developing research skills by looking at genetic influences on behaviors in twins, but his post-doctoral research led him to be more interested in how the family environment contributes to behavioral outcomes.

“A lot of people do research on negative family environments and substance use, or they do research on genetics and substance use, or intervention research, but not a lot of research is looking at all of these pieces together,” Elam said. “Biological scientists are looking at the function of genes on behavior, but nobody has really taken those skills and applied them to family studies.”

Elam’s ultimate goal for the project is to better the lives of children and their families through his research.

“I hope to develop new methods that will advance the field of behavior genetics and family studies,” Elam said. “I think this can be accomplished through developing applied materials from this research for communities, but also interventions and refining interventions so they’re more effective for at risk youth.”

His findings will be regularly published through academic manuscripts throughout the course of the project. He will also put together conference presentations based on his findings. At the end of his grant, Elam hopes to write a R01 Research Grant to the National Institute on Drug Abuse to continue his research.

“I’ve proposed to submit about two manuscripts every year in the first couple years where it’s less research heavy and three or four in the later years,” Elam said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to translate some of that to both applied materials for children and families but also some of this research should inform intervention designs to help refine intervention designs for children and families.”

Elam is eager to take on the project. His new and innovative approach to researching substance use in adolescents is pivotal to the development of family studies.

“I’m really excited at this point because it really was just about two months ago that I found out it was funded,” Elam said. “I’m really excited and I think in talking with my different mentors, there’s a lot of innovative avenues we can pursue. So I’m just really excited to get started.”

Rachel Bunning

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

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ASU design students bring Mesa kids' vision of play to life

ASU interior architecture students collaborate with community on play project.
November 15, 2017

'Pause + Play' structure, a collaboration with schoolchildren, will debut at Mesa festival

What do kids want when they play? A group of interior architecture students at Arizona State University asked 70 sixth-graders, who said they wanted to climb and slide and be immersed in a different world.

And then the ASU students built it.

Their structure, called “Pause + Play,” brings to life the vision of the Mesa schoolchildren and will be part of the free Main Street Prototyping Festival in downtown Mesa on Friday and Saturday.

“The idea of this project was to look at how to establish a dialogue between the community and the profession, and the relationship between culture and play,” said Milagros Zingoni, an architect and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts assistant professor who led the class.

The festival, sponsored by the Mesa Arts Center, asked for photographs of finished projects, but Zingoni submitted a proposal to have her ASU students collaborate with the community on an assignment about play.

“Play was a way to find an equalizer. When we play we don’t care about the color of our skin or the shape of our eyes. We all play,” she said.

ASU interior architecture master's students Jen Grysho (left) and Maryam Ali lift the last piece of the bench into place on the "Pause + Play" structure. Photo by Anya Magnuson/ASU Now

Although time was short, Zingoni had several goals in mind for “Pause + Play.”

“I wanted to expose the kids to design thinking and also to the college experience,” she said. “I wanted to expose my students to a design-build experience, and also I wanted social embeddedness.”

The project became a whirlwind for the eight master’s level students in the Advanced Interior Architecture Studio IThe course is part of The Design School in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. course, who did the entire task, from data collection to completion, in two and half months. They began working with the sixth-graders at Porter Elementary School in Mesa in August, asking the kids to interview their parents and grandparents about how they played, and what their favorite play experience is.

“They all wanted a place to climb; they all wanted something in circles for loops,” Zingoni said. “They all wanted a trampoline, and they all wanted a zip line. They wanted this idea of immersion and being in a place where you can be away from reality.”

Then came the design, based on the kids’ responses. There’s an “immersion” section, where you’ll hear recordings of the kids talking about play, a climbing bench and a translucent canopy inspired by origami. Part of “Pause + Play” is an instrument, designed by students in the School of Music, that creates sound when activated.

At the festival, the Porter School students will get to play on the structure, which is made of wood, vinyl, PVC piping and corrugated plastic.

“We needed to be very strategic,” Zingoni said of the design. “Everything had to fit into a U-Haul truck, able to be assembled in eight hours and disassembled in six hours. We couldn’t make holes in any walls or dig a foundation.”

Construction presented several challenges. The concrete footings needed to be deep enough to support the PVC pipes that are the skeleton of the structure, but at that size would have been too heavy for the students to lift. So instead they created several donut-shaped footings that will be stacked.

The ASU students learned a lot more than design, having to code motherboards, wire for sound, pour cement and use power tools. They also had to be liaisons to the school, collaborate with the School of Music students as well as the children, figure out marketing and meet with the festival officials.

Being able to fabricate the project was key, Zingoni said.

“With most design studios, you’re working in the computer and you have all these beautiful projects on the screen. But then you realize, I can’t make this taller than 8 feet because the material doesn’t come taller than 8 feet,” she said.

“My students were able to learn about full-scale details.”

Courtney Davis, a student in the ASU class, said that working with power tools and learning about fabrication was key.

“I think people think interior design is about picking finishes for inside a building, and they don’t think that we can actually design a structure, put it up and get the details right so everything fits together,” she said.

“We came to the shop with our plans thinking, ‘This is how it will go together,’ and the shop guys would say, ‘Well that’s going to fall over.’ So then we learned about the joint that will make it stand up.”

Zingoni said that typically, a prototype is an object that is tested and, if it works, is mass produced.

“But for me, prototype was a way to test a relationship, to leverage the resources of the university with the community, and to be friendly. Because lately, if we don’t agree, we are against each other.”

“Pause + Play” will be among 20 temporary structures at the Main Street Prototyping Festival that are created by artists, architects, designers, students, makers, urban planners and others. The festival, which also will feature artists and musicians, runs from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday at 1 E. Main St., Mesa. Top photo: Master's of interior architecture student Dalal Altassan tries to decide if the lighting for part of the play structure will look better suspended or taped. Photo by Anya Magnuson/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News