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Barrett senior wins one of world's most prestigious scholarships

April 19, 2018

ASU student and Zimbabwe citizen heads to UK for pharmacology doctorate with Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2018 here.

Charity Bhebhe had about a 1.5 percent probability of winning one of the world’s most prestigious scholarships.

It was enough.

This month, the Arizona State University senior from Zimbabwe found out she beat out thousands of other applicants from around the world to earn a Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

One of 92 scholars, the molecular biology and biotechnology major in the School of Life Sciences — also a Mastercard Foundation Scholar — will pursue a doctoral degree in pharmacology at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

“I am very excited, and I am proud of myself,” Bhebhe said. “I am also very thankful to everyone who helped me with the application — especially my advisers, professors and my mentor and (principal investigator) Dr. Heather Bean for all the guidance and support. I wouldn’t have done it without their help.”

While at Cambridge, scholars pursue the full range of subjects available and are spread through its departments and colleges. Up to 95 scholars are selected each year, including 40 from the U.S. and 55 from other countries. Of this year’s almost 5,800 applicants, 423 were shortlisted by their departments and, of these, 201 were interviewed in the U.S. and Cambridge by four panels of interviewers drawn from across Cambridge University.

“Winning a Gates Cambridge Scholarship is a remarkable achievement, and my office and the Barrett leadership could not be prouder of Charity,” said Kyle Mox, associate dean of Barrett, The Honors College at ASU and director of the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement.

“She is among a cohort of only 92 stellar students from around the entire world chosen to receive this honor, which illustrates not only her remarkable academic and intellectual potential, but her long-term leadership potential,” Mox said. “She’s somebody that is going to make a real difference in the future.”

The lack of basic resources to treat minor illnesses in Zimbabwe spurred Bhebhe to study the molecular mechanisms of diseases with the goal of successfully preventing them.

“It has always been my goal to be able to apply my medical research skills in investigating and preventing diseases to improve health care standards and give people from disadvantaged communities like my own a fair chance to fight against disease,” she said. “I intend to use my training in pharmacology to continue researching molecular and cellular systems involved in disease progression and, consequently, develop therapies for human disease.”

ASU and Barrett were a huge help in winning the honor, Bhebhe said. She heard about the opportunity from the Barrett Office of National Scholarship Advisement.

Mox talked her through the process and provided pointers for the application.

“I received a lot of help and guidance from my professors and advisers as well on the writing portion of the application and the preparing for the interviews,” she said.

Charity is the third Gates Cambridge Scholar from ASU in the past four years. In the 2016 competition year, ASU alum Michael Meaney was selected, and in the 2015 competition year, Blake Thomson was honored. Other recent ASU winners include Nicole Person-Rennell in 2011 and Ben Strauber in 2010.

“This high level of commitment — to research, leadership, and service — is a fundamental quality of the Barrett community, and we try to encourage our students to see how they can leverage their talents against the opportunities that they receive at ASU to go out into the world and tackle the big problems,” Mox said. “It isn’t always apparent to our students, when they’re walking back and forth to meals or study sessions, that they live and study at a global campus. When our students win these sorts of awards, I hope they say, 'Yes, I can do that, too.'”

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship program was established in October 2000 by a donation of $210 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of Cambridge. Scholarships are awarded to outstanding applicants from countries outside the U.K. to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in any subject available at the University of Cambridge. Scholars are selected on the basis of their outstanding intellectual ability, leadership potential and commitment to improving the lives of others.

Top photo: Charity Bhebhe will head across the pond to study on the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. Photo by Nicole Greason

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News

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ASU conference to address needs of children of incarcerated parents

An estimated 2 million children in the U.S. have an incarcerated parent.
Roughly 13% of Arizona children have an incarcerated parent.
April 19, 2018

Like many children who grow up with an incarcerated parent, it took Deborah Jiang Stein years to step out from the shadow of societal stigma and personal shame, eventually detailing her experience in the book “Prison Baby.”

What she went through happened decades ago. Today, although an estimated 2 million children in the U.S. — and roughly 13 percent of children in Arizona — are currently experiencing parental incarceration, resources to help them and their families cope are still scarce.

“We’re a culture of secrecy and shame,” Jiang Stein said. “So if a child has a parent in prison, that falls into the category of ‘Let’s not talk about this.’”

This Sunday through Wednesday, April 22-25, hundreds will gather at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Phoenix to challenge that notion at the inaugural National Children of Incarcerated Parents Conference, hosted by ASU’s Center for Child Well-Being.

Jiang Stein will be on hand to deliver the keynote lecture.

The Center for Child Well-Being was founded in 2016 to bring more attention to the needs of vulnerable kids, focusing their work on three areas: research and evaluation, development and facilitation of professional training, and bringing in speakers from community organizations to deliver talks.

Research at the center is carried out by faculty, graduate and undergraduate students from disciplines that include engineering, computer science and nutrition, among others.

The idea for the upcoming conference grew out of a smaller, regional event held in 2014, where center director Judy Krysik realized something more permanent and sustainable needed to be established.

“I didn’t know how many people I knew who were touched by this issue until we started planning the conference and people I’ve known for a long time suddenly were telling me they had an incarcerated parent,” Krysik said. “This isn’t something that people talk about. So we hope this conference will raise awareness and allow people to have an open conversation about it.”

The conference will focus on four themes: impact on children and families, training and support for professionals, evidence of program and policy effectiveness, and empowering change through system building. Panel discussions will include trauma impact, reducing harm, visitation practices, providing maternal health services in corrections, resiliency, family-sensitive practice, and addressing gender and racial assumptions and biases.

Those in attendance will include children and families, advocates, practitioners and researchers.

Catherine Tijerina and her children, Brandon and Blake, will be speaking about their personal experiences as the family of a formerly incarcerated husband and father. When Ron Tijerina was released from prison, he and Catherine founded the Ridge Project, a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower generational responsibility to ensure the strength of future generations.

The Ridge Project reaches out to families, youths and individuals touched by incarceration and offers services and support, something Catherine wishes she had more of while Ron was incarcerated.

“You just feel so discarded and unwanted,” she said. She hopes the Ridge Project and the upcoming conference will encourage more people to reach out and mobilize around the cause.

“The very best programs in the world don’t change people,” Tijerina said. “People change people. Having those connections is so important.”

Jiang Stein founded a similar organization to address the needs of those in the prison system. The unPrison Project provides drug and alcohol treatment, as well as mental health resources for incarcerated individuals.

“If we stopped warehousing people in prisons and provided resources for healing, trauma recovery, employment and adequate housing, we’d see recidivism drop,” Jiang Stein said.

One of the deliverables of the conference is a publication based on the topics covered, which will be distributed to help increase knowledge on the subject.

“We’re very fortunate that because of the center, we have the resources to offer this to the community,” Krysik said.

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay