Putting family first

ASU scholarship supports children whose parents were injured or lost their lives serving in the military

November 9, 2020

Chris West spent two decades building what would become a national real estate servicing business, Green River Capital, based out of Salt Lake City. 

But while he worked 24/7 on his business, he wrestled with a nagging thought. West family (From left) Christopher West and his wife, Meredith, and daughter, Carolina, established the Family First Scholarship to benefit dependents of service members killed or wounded during their service. Download Full Image

“I’ve always felt a little guilty that I didn’t do my patriotic time,” he said. “None of my family members have ever been in the military. My father was in the reserves, but we didn’t have much of a legacy or a push for the military.”

For someone who said he feels “very, very strongly about our freedom in this country,” that omission festered. 

He supported veterans through the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides wounded soldiers with programs and services for their mental and physical health. He also directed his philanthropy to children’s causes, serving on the board of directors for the Ronald McDonald House. 

But always there was the thought that he wanted to do more.

So, when he sold his last business and “got out of the rat race,” West realized he had the time and resources to do something “a little more personal.”

West and his family established the Family First Scholarship at Arizona State University to support the dependents of U.S. service members wounded or killed in action. 

The loss of life or a service-related severe injury can be devastating to the children of military personnel, he says. While they qualify for Veterans Administration Chapter 35 benefits for survivors and dependents, those don’t cover many of their educational expenses.

“Unlike a lot of the scholarships that the Veterans Administration give out, if you fall into the category of Chapter 35 as a child or student, the amount of money that you’re allocated for your education only barely covers three years,” he said. Students are left to find financing and scholarships on their own. 

The Family First Scholarship helps fund the remaining balance of their education.

For junior Brian-Kalani Headen, that support means he can continue to pursue biomedical and neural engineering, a career path he chose in large part because of his mother’s injury.

Headen’s mother, an administrative specialist in the U.S. Army, suffered a spinal injury during her service. Headen’s academic work focuses on creating biomedical devices to help those who suffer brain or spinal cord injuries. He is seeking a patent for a synthetic biomaterial device that emergency personnel can place on a victim at the scene of an accident that will transmit vital signs and biomedical data to doctors at a hospital.

“I guess you could say the impetus for creating this device was my mom’s spine,” he said.

He says he is grateful for the Family First Scholarship, which has given him the financial freedom to pursue in-depth studies in biotechnology. “This scholarship goes directly to my studies. What has been given to me, I want to put back into the world. My whole mission statement, you could say, is to use what they gave me so I can help others.”

woman's portrait

Helena Wegner

For senior Helena Wegner, a journalism major, the scholarship allows her to pursue her growing interest in investigative journalism and long-form reporting as she navigates college on her own. 

“This scholarship has allowed me to focus on my schoolwork, which, to be honest, is something I have not had the luxury of doing,” said Wegner, whose father was injured while serving in the U.S. Air Force. “I applied for college on my own with no help — I taught my mom how to do the FAFSA with me. So, I’ve pretty much been navigating my entire college life by myself. 

“I usually work multiple jobs, usually at a restaurant and I’ve never had the time or opportunity to try 110% in classes. Receiving the scholarship gave me the opportunity to focus on my classes and network with other students.”

Wegner is taking a narrative writing class with Fernanda Santos, an award-winning former staff writer at The New York Times, and is taking a course at ASU’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, where she is learning to report on and write in-depth stories.

“I get to spend more time and know that I am actually giving it my best. And when I graduate, I get to use these stories and apply for jobs,” she said. 

According to West, if children of service members don’t get the opportunity to complete their education without accruing too much debt, it makes the rest of their life much tougher.

“So, their parents’ decision to be patriotic is affecting them. And so, I want this to be a stepping stone. I want them to know there are people out there who care about them.”

The Family First Scholarship is currently accepting applications for the 2021–2022 school year. To apply, visit the Financial Aid and Scholarship Services website.

If you would like to donate to the scholarship fund, please visit the ASU Foundation website.

Shayla Angeline Cunico

Student digital content specialist, ASU Enterprise Partners


A new 'normal' body temperature

Body temperature decrease in remote populations in the Amazon show a decrease that took place over only 20 years

November 9, 2020

Have you taken your temperature recently? Was it lower than the standard 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit? 

Research published earlier this year indicates “normal” body temperature has been steadily decreasing in the United States over the last 200 years, now hovering around 97.8 degrees. Similar trends were reported in studies from the United Kingdom.  Thermometer Thermometer photograph courtesy of Unsplash. Download Full Image

New research not only found the same decrease in remote populations of people living in the Bolivian Amazon, but the decrease in body temperature took place over a mere 20 years.

The study was published by a transdisciplinary team, including Arizona State University anthropologist Benjamin Trumble. Their findings show rapidly decreasing body temperatures among the Tsimane people, living in remote communities in the rainforests of Bolivia.

“The finding of lower-than-expected body temperatures in the U.S. had a lot of people scratching their heads,” said study author Michael Gurven of the University of California, Santa Barbara. “Was this a fluke? Here, we confirm that body temperatures are below 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit outside of places like the U.S. and U.K. The area of Bolivia where the Tsimane live is rural and tropical with minimal public health infrastructure.” 

Researchers are unsure why the change in the Tsimane population body temperature is so rapid, but the Tsimane have undergone other rapid changes as well. Increased exposure to larger nearby market towns has impacted many facets of everyday life for the Tsimane. For example, some Tsimane communities close to the town San Borja now have access to electricity.

General societal advancements may point to why we’re seeing this trend. For example, in the U.S., body temperature started decreasing after the industrial revolution. Access to running water in people’s homes and increased availability of medical care could lessen the prevalence of infection and disease and cause body temperatures to decrease. 

Among the Tsimane, decreased body temperature could be a result of increased interactions with larger towns — leading to more antibiotic use, and better access to warm clothing and insulated housing. Changes in parasitic infection rates may also affect body temperature. Trumble notes there is no “silver bullet,” or one factor to which the decrease can be attributed. 

Other factors that may impact body temperature in the Tsimane are changes in body fat percentage, physical activity and sleep patterns. 

These temperature studies could have major implications for global health. Our body temperature is easy to measure and can be used as an indicator of overall health. Both in the U.S. and in Tsimane communities, the decreased body temperature has coincided with increased life expectancy. 

Figure Showing Body Temperature_Gurven Et All_Benjamin Trumble_ Science Advances_ASU Now_Tsimane Body Temperature

Figures showing predicted body temperatures by study date. From Gurven et al., Science Advances 28 Oct 2020: Vol. 6, no. 44, eabc6599 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc6599. This work is licensed under CC BY-NC (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/).

Expanding medical data

Trumble notes the majority of our medical data comes from studies conducted in the U.S. or Europe. This information forms our foundation of what is considered “normal,” but for most of human history, we lived in a nonindustrial environment.  

“If you compress the last 5 million years of human evolution into a single year, we were hunter-gatherers on Jan. 1, March 1 and so on, all the way until Dec. 31 at 11:40 p.m.,” Trumble said. “That’s when the industrial revolution happened.”

Human evolution provides important context in studying human physiology and changes in health over time and in our current populations. By better understanding health in nonindustrialized populations, researchers can achieve a broader view of how humans interact with and adapt to their surroundings, and better understand variation in global health.

“Right now, we’re operating way outside of the manufacturer’s recommended usage,” Trumble said. “Meaning, our bodies didn’t evolve to sit in chairs in front of computers.” 

Tsimane Health and Life History Project

The Tsimane live in about 95 communities in remote, forested locations in Bolivia, largely living off hunting and foraging. Few communities have access to electricity but none have access to running water.  

The Tsimane Health and Life History Project was founded 16 years ago. The team has received funding from the National Institutes of Health to study healthy aging, specifically cardiovascular health and Alzheimer’s disease. This team is composed of a mobile medical team of Bolivian doctors, a Bolivian biochemist and Tsimane community members trained as anthropologists. This group of experts provides free health care to the Tsimane, and, with approval from community members, conducts specific health-related studies. Research is largely led by co-directors Hillard Kaplan, Gurven, Trumble and Jon Stieglitz.  

The research, “Rapidly declining body temperature in a tropical human population” is published in Science Advances. 

Taylor Woods

Communications program coordinator, School of Human Evolution and Social Change