Graduating ASU seniors publish children’s science book

April 30, 2020

Graduating Arizona State University seniors Annmarie Barton and Alison Lane worked together on their Barrett, The Honors College creative project to write and publish "The Scientist in Me," a children’s “scientific notebook” that explores the lives and specialties of five scientists from historically underrepresented backgrounds.

Their book recounts the struggles and successes of Mary Anning, James Pollack, Temple Grandin, Percy Lavon Julian and Ayah Bdeir, while at the same time asking critical-thinking questions and encouraging readers to explore on their own through experiments and further research. School of Molecular Sciences seniors Annmarie Barton and Alison Lane holding their newly published book, "The Scientist in Me." Download Full Image

“I thought it important to write a book that helps kids explore and understand science while also addressing social issues," Barton said. "The scientists we write about are people who have overcome challenges while making strides in their fields.”

“We believe that representation in science is important, and therefore chose people from underrepresented backgrounds relating to race, religion, sexuality, disability and gender," Lane said. "It was also important to us that the scientists’ fields of study appeal to kids. Although X-ray crystallography might be interesting to us, subjects related to space and dinosaurs are more likely to interest kids.” 

Lane and Barton, both students in the School of Molecular Sciences, decided to write about three women and two men, with at least two of the individuals currently living — and one scientist with a connection to ASU: Mary Temple Grandin. Grandin received her master’s degree in animal science from ASU in 1975. She is one of the first people to document firsthand insights about having autism. 

Temple Grandin, ASU alumnus and scientist. Artwork by Alison Lane

To gather background information, Lane interviewed Grandin. “I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to correspond with Temple over email and speak with her on the phone," she said. "I was extremely nervous to talk with her, but she turned out to be very funny, personable and straightforward!”

Barton and Lane wanted to publish a book that is relatable for many children.

“I remember when I was younger, feeling I didn’t relate to the scientists I read about," Barton said. "That was something I wanted to change.”

Consequently, the book recounts the backgrounds and struggles of the featured scientists. One of these scientists is Percy Lavon Julian, who is among the first African Americans to earn a doctorate in chemistry, and the first African American chemist in the National Academy of Sciences. Julian’s story impacted both Barton and Lane. 

“Percy Julian’s altruistic tendencies and ability to recognize potential in others are very inspiring to me,” Lane said.

Percy Julian, pioneering African American chemist. Artwork by Alison Lane 

Barton added, “His story was one of the hardest for me to write. He was a great chemist but rejected from many jobs because of the color of his skin. That really riled me up!”

Barton and Lane hope their book will help readers be empathetic toward those with different backgrounds, as well as learn something about themselves, whether that be a new interest or a recognition of their own potential abilities.

For Lane, working on this book challenged her abilities as an artist. The artwork throughout the book was made by Lane on her computer. She had never created digital art before and doing so was both a challenge and a rewarding experience. 

“Prior to this, the artwork I have done has been using physical media, such as chalk or paint on paper. Learning a new medium in such a short time for a significant project required patience and persistence,” Lane said, noting that these are important qualities in scientists, of any era.

In the 1800s, paleontologist Mary Anning patiently explored the cliffs along the English Channel, discovering Jurassic fossils that transformed how people thought about ancient life and the history of Earth. Her first major discovery, as Barton and Lane’s book recounts, the discovery of an Ichthyosaurus fossil, happened when Anning was only 12 years old.

“Kids can make discoveries too,” Barton said. She hopes to inspire them to explore the world around them, or even explore other worlds, like James Pollack, an American scientist who studied the atmospheres of Mars and Venus. His study of planetary atmospheres includes the formation of gas giant planets and climate change on Earth, and also relates to the extinction of the dinosaurs. 

“One of my favorite things about this book,” Barton said, “is that I wrote it with educational standards in mind. I wrote a general lesson plan that could be adapted to any part of the book, as well as a specific example. It helped that my mom is an elementary teacher.” 

Having her mom’s help and support has been an encouragement to Barton. “My mom always reminds me to be myself and love what I do,” she said.

That was important for this project, because not everyone supported Barton’s idea to write a book.

“There were some people who thought this project was silly and tried to discourage me from starting it,” Barton said. “So I really want to thank all those who told me not to listen to them. I am honored to have had the opportunity to work with many amazing people on this project, especially Alison, who took my dream for this book and made it into a beautiful reality through her artwork. I am proud of what we have made, and I dream that it can give people the hope they need to pursue doing what they love.”

“I hope that readers feel like they can be a scientist too," she said. "I want them to see themselves in the position of the scientist. I want them to ask questions, even if the answers are sometimes difficult. I want to see the joy that science brings me instilled in the next generation.”

James Klemaszewski

Science writer, School of Molecular Sciences


OLLI at ASU helps hundreds of active adults keep learning, connecting during pandemic

April 30, 2020

Retirees Nancy and Ted Wolter were already big fans of the wide variety of learning and engagement opportunities within the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Arizona State University. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and OLLI at ASU offered knowledge and comfort as the Wolters remained at home.

OLLI at ASU, or Osher as it’s sometimes called, offers noncredit, university-quality learning experiences for adults age 50 and older through diverse classes, engagement with the university and public service initiatives. The 2,500 members — and growing — have fun sharing wisdom, acquiring new knowledge and making friends. Nancy and Ted Wolter, OLLI at ASU, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Nancy and Ted Wolter of Gilbert are lifelong learners at OLLI at ASU. They've found taking classes online while the COVID-19 pandemic has kept them at home to provide comfort, knowledge, engagement and continued connections with fellow learners. Download Full Image

Both Nancy and Ted had long careers in the arts — she at a Valley arts center and he at a college — and they loved continuing to learn by choosing from OLLI at ASU’s extensive class list and engagement beyond the classroom.

Then, when OLLI at ASU recently did what the rest of the university did — transform its in-person courses to online ones in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with no break in engagement — the couple had reasons to be particularly grateful.

Ted took ill upon the couple’s return home to Gilbert from a spring break trip to New York City March 15, forcing them to stay inside.

Lockdowns were not in place when they left on their trip, and Broadway theaters were still open.

“There was no effort to keep people informed. We thought, if we washed our hands and wiped everything, we’d be safe,” said Nancy, a former development director at Mesa Arts Center. Weeks later, Ted’s test results showed he had contracted COVID-19. He convalesced at home, where both quarantined themselves. Nancy also tested positive several days later, saying her mild case gave her a runny nose and cough.

During this time, Nancy joined her OLLI at ASU friends in classes and in her role on its development committee. She said OLLI at ASU was there for her while staying home in ways it couldn’t have been before, as she found her role as a caretaker, home and scared, more manageable because of her connections to those she cared about within Osher.

Today, Nancy says her husband is well enough to rake leaves in their yard, and she is reorganizing shelves. “Just good old quarantine stuff,” she said.

Now, lifelong learning means something even more special to Nancy and Ted, as the preciousness of life has become so apparent. The couple appreciates how OLLI at ASU, along with the community of learners it has fostered over the years, has made a huge difference in their quality of life.

Nancy said since 2017 she has taken 25 in-person classes, learning about topics ranging from Einstein’s mathematical theories to how to pay attention to the needs of others.

For a membership fee of $20 in fall and spring, and $10 in summer, she and Ted have had opportunities to take classes, participate in committees, form interest groups, become involved in the community and more.

Battling isolation is good mental health

Richard Knopf, director of OLLI at ASU, said that the creation of online platforms not only keeps adults ages 50 and older learning during this time of mandatory social distancing, but has also become a means for members to connect with each other in new and exciting ways.

Richard Knopf, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Arizona State University

Richard Knopf, director, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Arizona State University

Online learning helps reduce the negative effects of social isolation many are feeling while staying at home, said Knopf, a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“Distancing equals isolation, and isolation has effects on physical mobility and mental health,” Knopf said. Though this pandemic is new for so many of us, he said he has been researching ways to combat isolation, increase quality of life and foster community for decades with ASU.

Keeping connected, especially today, is important to the Wolters.

“At this time, by God, community is important,” Nancy said. “I get very emotional about the work the OLLI at ASU staff is doing. When they first started letting us know about going online, we had just gotten back from New York, and we didn’t know it was going to be so catastrophic.”

What Nancy said what she and her husband found so touching was the staff’s strong desire to connect people, far beyond merely a transactional experience of paying a fee and getting access to a class. OLLI at ASU learners receive a Community Care Letter every several days with technology tips, resources, pathways to engagement, and activities that have meant so much, she said.

“Of all the organizations I am active in, it was the most responsive, and most willing to get out and tell us what was going on, telling us to please stay involved,” said Nancy, a recent cancer survivor. “It just endears the organization to me.”

Nancy recently sent OLLI at ASU’s program coordinator, Abby Baker, a floral bouquet to thank her for the work she does within Osher, and to let her know she was “seen” during a time when so many feel they’re alone.

Many updates, new class offerings

OLLI at ASU has updated its website to reflect the many recent innovative pivots it has made to shift from in-person activities to virtual connections.

Osher also is gearing up for its summer 2020 semester, offering 74 classes via Zoom on a variety of topics from baseball to gender differences to chemistry to Hollywood musicals. Classes range from lecture-style to highly interactive, including a backyard birding class and a tai chi class.

Abby Baker, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Arizona State University

Abby Baker, program coordinator, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Arizona State University 

OLLI at ASU recently established a “Party Line,” Baker said, a 24-hour unmonitored Zoom room where learners can feel free to join to see who else is online and strike up conversations, or to test their computers to make sure Zoom is working properly before their classes.

“We are hoping to start a book club, as well as other clubs, on our Party Line,” Baker said. “We’re encouraging faculty to do ‘Party Line takeovers,’ where they can talk about things such as mindfulness, resilience and online shopping. We’re also starting to see intergenerational programming, like our upcoming ‘Explore the World’ series or our new ‘Lunch and Learn’ series in partnership with the Human Services Campus.”

Baker said the newsletters, called Community Care Letters, go out twice a week to members. “They’re full of hope, resources, connection points, carefully curated news and more,” she said. Click here to view a recent one.

In June, OLLI at ASU will offer over 70 short classes in the digital classroom, and will provide Zoom training and support for members and instructors, Baker said.

Knopf said the National Resource Center for Osher Institutes (the Osher NRC) is celebrating how the OLLI at ASU staff turned dozens of in-person classes into online ones — something now happening at many other OLLIs across the nation. There are 124 OLLIs in 394 cities and towns across America, serving over 200,000 older adults, Baker said, and all of them are affiliated with colleges and universities.

Your brain doesn’t stop

Although their careers have been in the arts, the Wolters don’t confine their educational interests to just the sectors of their “past lives.” They have both taken a class on Einstein’s theory of relativity from an instructor who worked on the particle accelerator in Switzerland. Soon, they’ll be taking another about the events leading up to the Civil War and another called “The Anatomy of American Political Ideologies.”

Nancy said she hopes the OLLI at ASU experience provides its members with more than learning, as it did for her and her husband. In early April, she took an online class on “the magic of mindfulness” that she said helped her feel her brain isn’t going to stop just because she’s staying at home during the pandemic.

“I think in some way, in this whole crisis, hopefully something will bubble up that we will see each other in a connective way, instead of as consuming units,” Nancy said. “I think that’s what OLLI at ASU did, they stepped into the void and said we love you, not because you sign up for our classes, but because we want to connect with you and connect to each other. It was done in such a marvelous way.”

OLLI at ASU’s 'Zoom in June' summer schedule

OLLI at ASU will be announcing a wide array of summer 2020 class offerings on its website at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 6. Registration for membership, just $10, allows members to sign up for classes (a la carte, $14 per session), receive the Community Care Letters, access the Party Line, engage in small groups and more. Summer 2020 classes will be held June 1–30, and membership runs through the first week of September.

To learn more about OLLI at ASU’s “Zoom in June” plans, visit its updated “Online Learning, Leading, and Interacting” web page.

OLLI has updated its website to accommodate the changes that are happening daily within the institute during the pandemic. Click here to learn about the changes. Want to be a new OLLI member? Register here.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions