ASU Sanford School student receives Outstanding Graduate Award

May 30, 2018

Larissa Gaias recently received her PhD from Arizona State University's T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. In addition to this milestone, Gaias' several other outstanding accomplishments  led to her being featured in front of thousands of graduates at this year’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences graduation ceremony.

Here are a few of the many reasons she earned this years Outstanding Graduate Award. Picture of Larissa in her ASU cap and gown. PhD graduate Larissa Gaias.


Gaias was the recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, worth over $160,000. As part of this NSF fellowship, and additional support from the United States Agency for International Development, she undertook a self-directed international project involving original data collection from 12 schools (more than 3,000 students) in Colombia that was designed to understand how schools can help mitigate the negative effects of decades-long armed conflict.

In 2016, Gaias spent seven months in Cartagena, Colombia, researching the effects on students of exposure to armed conflict and community violence. In this project, she worked with faculty at the University of Cartagena and surveyed students in six rural and six urban schools. She also held focus groups for the adults in these adolescents' lives to get a more in-depth understanding of how members of the school community perceived the challenges and opportunities that schools faced. 

Larissa with several ASU students in professional attire in Washington DC.

Representatives from the ASU Student Development Corps at the Society for International Development 2017 annual dinner in Washington, D.C. (Gaias top row right of center)

The goal of this research was to identify particular aspects of the school environment that can better support students affected by violence. Exposure to violence can have negative effects on adolescent development, by reducing educational engagement, social competence and hope, and by increasing aggression, delinquency and substance use. Gaias' research indicated that students who experienced a high level of connectedness, safety, and resources at their schools were not as negatively affected by violence exposure. These aspects of the school environment could lessen the negative impact the traumas of the past 50 years of civil conflict in Colombia has had on adolescent development. 

In recognition of her hard work, Gaias was selected to represent ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and attend the Society for International Development’s annual dinner in Washington, D.C., in December 2017. The mission of SID is to advance equitable development by bringing diverse constituencies together to debate critical ideas, policies and practices that will shape our global future. 

Larissa with several Colombian students in their school uniforms.

Gaias with a group of students from Colombia.

In addition to her scholarly achievements, Gaias has also been involved in two high-profile projects designed to improve the state of education for racial/ethnic minority students, including co-authoring “The State of Latino Arizona: School Funding” with David Garcia. She also has a very impressive publication record, that includes seven publications with five as the lead author.

ASU community engagement 

The ASU Community has also benefitted from Gaias’ scholarship and commitment to applied research. She served as the inaugural chair for the Diversity and Inclusion Sciences Initiative Graduate Research Conference. The aim of the conference was to empower students who are underrepresented in their fields and build capacity for graduate students to promote equitable access to higher education for future students as they advance their careers. Due to her work on this conference, she was invited to attend the 2017 Clinton Global Initiative University meeting


Gaias has taught three in-person undergraduate courses at ASU, for one of which she was awarded the ASU Graduate Teaching Excellence Award. In addition, she has been both a formal mentor, as part of the Sanford School Undergraduate Honors Research program, and an informal mentor to undergraduates working with her on numerous research projects. A student summed up Gaias best when she said, “Amazing role model and she knows her stuff!”

This video was played at commencement before thousands of graduates in spring 2018.

John Keeney

Media Relations Coordinator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics


ASU criminology professor part of national research collaborative on youth firearm injuries, deaths

May 30, 2018

Medical and academic researchers are conducting the first major study in 20 years on firearm injuries and deaths of children and teens. The $5 million project seeks to reduce the number of young people wounded and killed by guns. Firearm-related fatalities are the second leading cause of death among children, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

“There is a gap in the literature and now we have an opportunity to actually go back and identify these gaps and come up with good policies that are based on facts, that are based on best practices, and based on what we know,” said Jesenia Pizarro, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. Jesenia Pizzaro ASU Associate Professor Jesenia Pizarro Download Full Image

Pizarro, who studies homicide, is one 20 researchers from a dozen universities and health-care organizations taking part in the interdisciplinary study. The consortium includes specialists in trauma surgery, adult and pediatric medicine, psychiatry and psychology.

“The large problem of gun violence, as it affects children and adolescents in the U.S., cannot be solved without an interdisciplinary group of scientists coming together to bring their individual expertise to develop solutions to this complex issue,” said Frederick P. Rivara, a professor of pediatrics and adjunct professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington.

Researchers are working on different teams tasked with examining a specific focus. The first task is to create a research agenda or outline for the field of firearm injury that is specific to pediatrics. It’s scheduled to be published this fall.

“The Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine) put out a broad report in 2013 but it didn’t have a research agenda on the firearm issues specifically affecting children,” said Stephen Hargarten, a professor and chair of emergency medicine and director of the Comprehensive Injury Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “Our workgroups are already reviewing current literature to highlight those issues and find the research gaps, and by the end of the summer, we will publish the ‘big questions’ that require investigation.”

Researchers are also working on five small projects to generate preliminary data for use on larger scale studies of firearm injuries. The FACTS consortium will serve as a training ground for new researchers, including graduate students and postdoctoral trainees. A webinar series to educate researchers will also be produced.

“There are not enough researchers, trainees, junior faculty or funding for seed projects in this research area and this is truly a capacity-building grant to jump-start the field of pediatric firearm injury prevention,” said Rebecca Cunningham, a professor of emergency medicine at Michigan Medicine and the University of Michigan School of Public Health and associate vice president for research-health sciences at the University of Michigan. “This grant will have a significant effect on reduction of firearm injury; however, to prevent childhood firearm injury and death will require similar resources as have been applied to childhood cancer, motor vehicle crashes and asthma.”

For her part, ASU’s Pizarro will examine research on suicides, accidental and intentional shootings. Researchers will also work with stakeholder groups to identify evidence-based solutions.

“We don't want this to be one sided so we are examining the issues from varying view points and angles, we're not looking to take away people's guns or do anything like that,” cautioned Pizarro. “We just want to come up with possible solutions to prevent gun injuries.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the five-year project excites Pizarro. It’s something that will not only inform her research, but also her teaching. She considers it an honor to work with leading researchers in other disciplines.

“It’s an opportunity for me to learn so much that I could bring into my classroom — that I could bring into criminology — because, too often, the fields don't talk,” Pizarro said. “We don't talk with that emergency doctor, we don't talk with a pediatrician, we don't talk with the public health specialists and now this is an opportunity for all of us to be in the same room — for all of us to learn from each other.”

The consortium is made up of faculty from the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago/Northwestern University, Arizona State University, Children's National Health System, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Columbia University, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, University of Pennsylvania, Rhode Island Hospital/Brown University, University of Washington and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions