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Bold restructuring of ASU’s College of Health Solutions results in growth

New model enables high-impact translational research and experiential learning

ASU autism lab
October 10, 2019

One year after a large-scale restructuring, Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions has announced growth in enrollment, new faculty and research advancement.  

Last fall, the College of Health Solutions made a bold move to eliminate its five departments and schools and centralize all of its academic programs and research initiatives. The goal was to give faculty and researchers a better way to collaborate and move their discoveries more rapidly into practice. The unique structure is starting to show results, with faculty creating translational research teams and forming new partnerships with the region’s health community to solve some of Arizona’s most intractable health challenges.

Growth is also evident with 15 new faculty and a nearly 10% increase in student enrollment. In addition, the college has added hands-on learning opportunities in many of its courses, giving students more real-world learning outside the classroom. Students are getting involved with research much earlier in their academic careers. They are also immersing themselves in the surrounding community through more internships and participation in health-related community projects.

Translational research to accelerate improved health outcomes

Translational research teams have begun work on practical, evidence-based solutions for health problems many people are facing in communities surrounding ASU. 

“Tackling health problems through translational science shortens the time between research and implementation so that discovery can directly impact and improve the health of populations in our community more quickly,” said Deborah Helitzer, dean of the College of Health Solutions. “To do that, however, you have to collaborate at all levels, not only within the college, but with researchers in other colleges and universities as well as with community partners and health professionals.” 

Currently, translational teams are addressing these complex health challenges:

• Autism spectrum disorder.

• Hearing loss in adults: Communication, connection and community.

• High-need, high-cost patients.

• Language outcomes in children with developmental disabilities.

• Metabolic disease.

• Value-based payment for oral health in Arizona.

Building relationships with community partners is a key focus. The Autism Spectrum Disorder team, for example, held its first conference recently, giving researchers and local practitioners the chance to pitch their expertise and needs in quick, lightning round sessions. “It was a little like speed dating,” said B. Blair Braden, assistant professor and a leader of the autism translational team. “The event helped remove traditional barriers between researchers, clinicians and community members, and we were able to share research and on-the-ground problems and brainstorm together. That kind of back-and-forth increases the chances of success when evidence-based solutions are implemented in the community.”

More experiential learning opportunities for students 

To bring the vision of a community-embedded, solution-oriented college to life requires that students have more ways to engage in research and hands-on learning. To that end, the college stepped up its research advancement efforts to increase grant awards. “The large amount of regulatory paperwork is a common barrier for researchers in applying for grants, and having more support through the research advancement team has allowed us to submit a greater number of proposals than ever before,” Braden said.

Research proposal awards were the highest since the college formed in 2012, with award funding increasing by 41.5% and faculty more than doubling their research expenditure goals over the previous year.

With this increased funding comes more projects in which students can gain research experience. Translational teams actively seek student participation, community connections provide more internships, and courses in citizen science have students combing downtown Phoenix to collect community health data. 

Jordan Junk, a College of Health Solutions kinesiology student participating in research with the Metabolic Disease translational team, said that she now realizes how important it is to do research that will benefit the real world.

“It’s not just about a single researcher or a group of researchers with the same idea exploring a question. It’s working with other people of different interests and expertise, getting their ideas on a topic so that we can examine it from different angles and get a better, more rounded solution,” she said. 

New faculty grow research and clinical practice

New faculty who share the college’s commitment to collaborative research, clinical practice and innovative teaching have joined the college, providing experiential learning to enrich the student experience. 

Chad Stecher is an assistant professor in the science of health care delivery programs. Stecher’s research applies experimental behavioral economics and social network analyses to identify behavioral and policy interventions that improve individual and population health outcomes. He received his PhD in economics from the University of California-Los Angeles and was previously a faculty member at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

Katherine Hunt Brendish, clinical professor, brings deep experience as a certified genetic counselor and is developing degree programs that prepare students to counsel individuals and families on the complex issues surrounding genetic testing. 

And new clinical faculty in speech and hearing science — programs that are consistently ranked among the Top 20 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report — bring breadth and depth to the clinical training opportunities for students. 

Joshua Breger, director of the college’s Speech-Language Pathology Clinic and assistant clinical professor, brings a wealth of medical and critical care experience from many years as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) and rehabilitation clinic director in Phoenix-area hospitals and clinics. 

Victoria Clark, assistant clinical professor, has worked as an SLP in the region’s K–12 schools, expanding the college’s connections to those populations. Bilingual in Spanish and English, Clark serves children whose parents speak primarily Spanish and supervises graduate students as well as several after-school therapy programs for children. 

Elizabeth Trueba, assistant clinical professor, brings with her a long career working with adults as an SLP for trauma hospitals and certified stroke centers in the Phoenix metro area, expanding even further the variety of clinical experiences for speech-language students. 

Ten new lecturers are also bringing real-world experience to the classroom to prepare students in behavioral health, biomedical informatics and biomedical diagnostics, movement science, medical studies and health sciences, population health, nutrition, science of health care delivery, and speech and hearing science.   

“The results that we’ve seen over the past year are validating our decision to move forward with an integrated approach to creating community health solutions,” Helitzer said. “We have more opportunities for students to make a real and lasting difference in health as we address some of the most difficult health challenges facing Arizona. The culture of innovation at ASU has made it possible to implement a new vision that can more quickly improve health outcomes.” 

Top photo: Students research with Assistant Professor B. Blair Braden (second from right) to discover how aging affects adults with autism in the Autism and Brain Aging Laboratory at ASU's College of Health Solutions.

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