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Preeminent reading and writing scholar earns ASU's top faculty honor

February 9, 2021

Steve Graham took a long and winding road from restless youth to innovative academic

In the early 1970s, Steve Graham was a long-haired free-spirit hitchhiking across America, trying to find himself. All he needed to survive was a few bucks in his pocket, a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread. 

Flash forward to 2021. The former hippie drifter is now a Regents Professor at Arizona State University.

Graham was recently named one of four Regents Professors for 2021. News of the elite designation, he said, came like a thunderbolt.

“Initially, I took the news rather matter of factly because it was such a surprise. I really didn’t see it coming,” said Graham, who is the Mary Emily Warner Professor of Education at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “As my wifeGraham’s wife, Karen R. Harris, is also a Mary Emily Warner Professor of Education on the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College faculty. likes to say – who is also an academic – she could see that I was smiling a little bit more each day because the reality of it started to sink in. It’s nice to get recognition where you live.”

Regents Professor is the highest faculty honor and is conferred on full professors who have made remarkable achievements that have brought them national attention and international distinction.

Less than 3% of all ASU faculty carry the distinction.

“Steve exemplifies the importance of committing to research that matters. His life’s work has been about understanding how young people learn to write, and he has been a tireless advocate for the value of writing as a key to reading, learning and personal self-determination,” said Carole G. Basile, dean of the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at ASU. “His work illustrates what happens when education scholarship blends rigor and tenacity with compassion and empathy.”

For more than 40 years, Graham has studied how writing develops, how to teach it effectively and how it can be used to support reading and learning. In recent years he has been involved in the development and testing of digital tools for supporting writing and reading through a series of grants from the Institute of Educational Sciences and the Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department of Education. His research involves developing writers and students with special needs in both elementary and secondary schools, with much of it occurring in classrooms in urban schools.

Graham has a particular interest in special needs students because he can relate to them.

“When I was younger and in my first four or five years of school, I was a kid who probably would have been labeled as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” said Graham, an Air Force brat who moved frequently. “I think from everybody’s point of view except for mine, those early school years were a disaster. The mantra from every teacher was, ‘Can’t sit still, can’t stay quiet, can’t keep his hands off others.’ When I later became a teacher, I decided to work with kids who had the same issues I had.”

Most of Graham’s learning issues were ironed out by a fifth grade teacher in Clovis, New Mexico, one of a dozen places his father was stationed throughout his military service. He said his teacher harnessed his excess energy with planned physical activities, constant movement and competitive problem solving. That year Graham moved from the bottom of his class academically to the top of it.

His newfound classroom success propelled his love of learning, which included a lot of reading. Being a Cold War kid, Graham had an affinity for science fiction. His father was an airplane mechanic, so the younger Graham was constantly surrounded by fighter jets and the latest technology, sparking his imagination. The first book Graham read, which he could not remember title of, was a Jules Verne knock-off about a group of people visiting Mars.

“When we were stationed in France, we had no television. My bedroom included two rooms of my own above a barn and nobody could monitor me because they lived in the main house,” Graham said. “I would stay up all night and read science fiction. Reading became an important part of my life.”

When Graham’s father retired in 1968, the family landed in Valdosta, Georgia. Graham attended Valdosta State College, where he majored in history and secondary education. After graduation, he wanted to taste life outside the Deep South. By then the counterculture of the 1960s had exploded, rejecting the cultural standards of their parents’ generation. White middle-class youth like Graham turned their attention to social issues such as the war in Vietnam, race relations, sexual mores, women’s rights, traditional modes of authority and a reimagining of the American Dream.

By then Graham no longer looked or acted like a military brat. He wore blue jeans and often went barefoot. He grew his hair to the middle of his back.

Young man with brown hair

Steve Graham in the early 1970s.

He spent six months hitchhiking across America after he received his bachelor's degree in history and secondary education. He traipsed the county, visiting friends in New York and San Francisco, and showed up at the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami to stand alongside 3,000 other anti-war protesters. He held many odd jobs — most of them blue-collar — that did not satisfy his intellect or curiosity. He eventually drifted back to Valdosta, and academia.

“I had enjoyed student teaching a great deal as an undergraduate and I went into Valdosta State, introduced myself to this new assistant professor, Lamoine Miller, and said, ‘I’d like to work with kids,’” Graham said. “We talked and I was offered a job as his assistant. I look back in amazement because that day I had really long hair, wore a tank top, had holes in my jeans and had no shoes on.”

Graham cleaned up nicely, especially where it concerned research and evaluation. He received his master’s degree in learning disabilities and was encouraged by Miller to pursue his doctorate. It was a pivotal moment.

“I didn’t see myself as an academic until he (Miller) had suggested it to me,” Graham said. “When I went back into the classroom and started doing more research, participating in research, I had a completely different view of teaching. I realized I could really make a difference in the lives of students.”

Graham graduated from the University of Kansas in 1978 with a doctorate in special education.

After four decades in academia and a 138-page curriculum vitae filled with honors, awards and citations, Graham is no longer the pupil. Today he is a master teacher and researcher, a fellow in two prestigious education academies, and has authored/co-authored 14 books. Now with the Regents Professor designation, it could be a fitting end to a remarkable career.

That doesn’t seem likely, though. At age 70, Graham hikes two hours a day, is working on a pair of books, and has a hand in six research projects and grants.

“I’m not at start of my career. I’m not at the middle of my career, but I’m not ready to stop or slow down,” Graham said. “I love what I do so much. I can’t believe I get paid to do this.”

Top photo: Steve Graham, a Mary Emily Warner Professor of Education at ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, was recently named a Regents Professor. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU Enterprise Marketing Hub.

Reporter , ASU News


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Getting the goods, during uncertainty

February 9, 2021

How sustainable supply chains can blunt economic 'black swans'

After the 2020 pandemic fades into the rearview mirror, what will be remembered — after COVID-19 itself — will be the shortages. First it was toilet paper, then face masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning products, pasta noodles, lamb chops, and on and on. Shelves were empty and getting what you wanted was never guaranteed. In a word, supply chains were disrupted.

A "black swan" had landed.

Expecting upheaval to come from climate change, the financial industry has become more and more invested in helping businesses create more resilient supply chains. Supply chain expert Kevin Dooley published a paper last June that looked at improving resilience to manage climate change risks. Much of that research can be applied to our current pandemic situation.

Dooley is a distinguished professor of supply chain management at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business. He is also chief scientist of the Sustainability Consortium, created in 2009 to transform the consumer goods industry. By partnering with leading companies, nongovernmental organizations, universities and government entities, the consortium works to help companies define, develop and deliver more sustainable products.

Created by Arizona State University and the University of Arkansas, the organization has for more than 10 years employed a science-based system, where research insights into almost 130 product categories are offered to companies — a place where retailers can work with competitors in a noncompetitive way. Retailers using the consortium's tools include Walmart, Amazon, Sam’s Club, Marks & Spencer and Walgreens.

Dooley recently discussed how financial institutions can help improve supply chain resilience.

Editor's note: Answers edited for length and clarity.

Question: In the past 10 months, we’ve all seen the effects of supply chain disruption. Have you noticed any kind of a sea change in companies’ attitudes toward the issue?

Answer: No. If you were to draw a curve — and it's not a line, it's a curve — it's not huge, but it's accelerating. Companies are taking their initial steps of just asking themselves, "What the heck is sustainability; what does it mean for us? What's the first steps we take?" All the way to the bleeding edge of the leading companies like Unilever or Patagonia or whatnot, there's been continuous progress. It's actually probably surprising that the pandemic hasn't really interrupted that growth in interest, in investment at all. Has it accelerated it? No, but I think that's for practical purposes. A lot of sustainability work in the corporate world and in industry involves supply chain — and supply chain people are very, very, busy.

So there's a bandwidth issue, but there's not an interest issue. Now, our company is seeing the connection between COVID and what might happen from climate change as we've suggested in our postpublication interviews and stuff. I think the leading companies already knew that. Climate resiliency, at least right now, the perception is it's a five- to 10-year time. So, how many companies have a five- to 10-year planning period? Some of the big companies and leading companies and excellent companies do. Absolutely. But a lot don't.

Q: How does the financial industry benefit from helping businesses create more sustainable supply chains?

A: So if we're talking about textile manufacturers in China, (they may) have inefficient equipment and perhaps somewhat dangerous equipment that they're using for textile productions. And so they're creating water pollution, they're creating carbon emissions and air pollution, or they're potentially causing risks to worker health and safety. They need money. And a lot of those improvements that might pay off pretty quickly if you're talking about retrofitting — boiler equipment and kind of basic production equipment, with new filters and calibrating it and all that kind of stuff, or you're talking about switching to LED lighting — it still takes an upfront investment.

Somebody has got to have the cash laid out. If you're a farmer and you know that a smart irrigation system would be really awesome in terms of both reducing costs and increasing yield and be the better sustainability solution, you’re going to have to lay down money for a new irrigation system. Most of your small- or medium-size organizations, whether it's a small hold farm or a textile mill in China, or a farmer in the U.S., the credit rate that you can get is low, but it's still relatively high. It's certainly very high compared to big companies who are your downstream customers like a Walmart or whatnot. … And the supplier has to demonstrate that they're engaged in sustainable practices, have improved over the last (period) … and have engaged with Walmart. And with that they get a loan. … So, yes, we want to upgrade our manufacturing equipment, or we want to create a worker health and safety training program. You know, we may need some cash to do that.

Again, for a small company that cashflow period can be problematic. And so instead of waiting 90 or 120 days to get paid, supply chain financing system says, we'll pay you three days. And you'll pay a tiny, tiny, tiny percent fee for that. And again, it's because the big partner downstream is putting up the cash to get that low-interest loan.

Sustainability in the finance industry — the initial discussions focused on the footprint of the finance industry, which is primarily, from a current standpoint, the servers that they run and stuff. It's all honestly trivial compared to the impact that financial services and institutions can make by the services they provide, by the choices they make about where to allocate funding. That's where there's profound potential for impact.

Q: From reading your report, it seems that business as usual going forward is going to be more like life during wartime, as in a permanent state of disruption. Do you agree with that?

A: There are just some inevitable delays and disappointments when a disruption occurs. I wouldn't necessarily call it a war zone like you did in your question. But I think it's still a lot of uncertainty about what certain changes will mean to business and supply chain.

So for example, there could be massive climate migration. We just really don't know what that does to labor forces, what it does to the consumer markets, what it does to supply chains. … We have, for example, increased productivity in fisheries off of eastern Canada. The water patterns are changing, and it's actually increasing the productivity or the population that's capturable of the fish. That's an example where climate change has actually produced a positive impact in a business supply chain. It's created more supply of fish, you know, more supply typically means that prices decline. So what's the impact, and were people in the supply chain ready for that excess supply and decrease? That's a micro example of how production is highly local and supply chains connect those local areas of production. Climate change impacts winemaking. As many winemaking regions move northward, we're still gonna make wine. It's going to be in a different land. It's going to be in a state or even country shifted northward depending on where you are in the world. What does that mean to supply availability risk? What does it mean to labor pools? Do the old owners simply move and acquire new land? And so yes, I think that there's increased uncertainty. … In some cases no matter how much insurance you buy by increasing capacity or establishing long-term contracts, inevitably things will not go completely smoothly, no matter how much you plan.

Q: Tell me about some of the strategies businesses will need to adopt, like bridging. Are any name-brand companies you know of adopting them now?

A: You have to be adaptive and smart and creative. And that's where people typically think about the insurance for a supply chain being an additional factory or a warehouse, or building an inventory, but that's where this other strategy of bridging (comes in), where you work with your suppliers to make them stronger and more resilient themselves. … You establish a strong relationship, whether it's contractual or relational, so that when supplies dwindle, you're at the top of the priority list. …You want to be the customer on the buyer's list that they're a priority customer: "We're taking care of them first."

Top image by Tumisu courtesy of Pixabay

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News