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Forks up for ASU sports fans

March 4, 2021

The 942 Crew keeps Sun Devil sports fandom alive through pandemic

Bright lights. Screaming fans. Stadiums filled to the brim. This is part of the college experience, especially when you’re an ASU Sun Devil. However, with the unprecedented shift from live sporting events to streaming games on personal devices, it seems that the COVID-19 pandemic has regressed college sports and its fans. 

But that's not the case for Arizona State University students. 

At the start of the pandemic, many things were left up in the air, especially for students and athletes who weren’t sure when sporting events would return. Nevertheless, the 942 Crew, an ASU student section group that strives to increase student attendance at ASU athletic events, has learned how to adapt and thrive during this uncertain time.  

Junior Committee Chair Catherine Antuna from 942 Crew said that even though ASU students can’t physically attend games, the 942 Crew continues to promote Sun Devil spirit through their Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Prior to COVID-19, Antuna, who is head of game experience within the organization, explained that to promote ASU school spirit the 942 Crew would make themed posters and innovate ways to create a welcoming environment for ASU students and athletes at sporting events. Currently, students have the opportunity to post game-day selfies while sporting their ASU gear and holding up a piece of paper with words of encouragement to support Sun Devil student-athletes and teams. 

“Even though we’re not (physically) there we still have that pride,” Antuna said. “We’re still proud to be Sun Devils and we’re not afraid to show it.”

Additionally, Antuna explained that the 942 Crew is continuing to run their social media accounts, which collectively have over 15,000 followers, as if they are still attending games in person. The group consistently live tweets ASU games, posts game-day graphics, engages with other Pac-12 schools’ Twitter accounts, and highlights athletic performances from both ASU and competitor sports’ teams. 

“We’re still running everything like we’re in person, we’re just not there unfortunately,” said Antuna, a sophomore studying sports business at the W. P. Carey School of Business.  

COVID-19 led to an opportunity for innovation: recreating the 942 Crew’s infamous “Curtain of Distraction,” which involves students popping out to do funny skits and humorous actions to distract opposing basketball team players during free-throw attempts, in a remote fashion. Antuna explained that this quirky innovation is now known as the “static curtain.” 

Since members of the 942 Crew and ASU students aren’t able to physically attend games, the organization created non-moving skits made out of pipe stick figures that are dressed up and placed behind the curtain. The curtain is opened at the start of the second half of each game by a facilities manager and whoever is broadcasting gives the curtain some air time and acknowledgement. 

The 942 Crew has also partnered with other groups on new events to encourage students to continue to have school spirit and to not heavily rely on digital interactions — such as on-campus watch parties during fall football season encouraging students to come together and support the ASU football team ... in a COVID-19-appropriate manner, of course. These watch parties were made successful through a partnership between Educational Outreach and Student Services, the Sun Devil Fitness Center, the Programming and Activities Board, 942 Crew, ASU Greek Representation, the Student Alumni Association and the ASU Residence Hall Association. 

Partnerships through the 942 Crew and the Black African Coalition at ASU have encouraged students to be involved in campus activities while celebrating important observances such as Black History Month. A “COVID-19-friendly scavenger hunt” was put in the works, open to all ASU students on every campus as a way to keep the community bond alive through these nonsociable times.

“It was a way for us to engage with not only our exec members, but with the general student population at ASU in partnership with the coalition for Black History Month,” Antuna said.  

Through social media, the 942 Crew posted riddles to where the location of the scavenger hunt was on each campus. Once students found the location, they had three options of participation: fill out a Google form with a picture of themselves, make a poster or letter to support an ASU sports team, or post a picture on Instagram with the hashtags #BlackJoy or #BHMSunDevilPride. 

According to Antuna, the event had a great turnout — students from all four campuses participated, and the posters, letters and pictures were used for four different ASU sports games that were held during Black History Month. 

Antuna expressed how the 942 Crew has always tried to bring the ASU sports community together and that it’s not going to go away during the pandemic. She said that students are always welcome to join the organization and are encouraged to join now during the pandemic to not only stimulate the general ASU student community, but to support ASU sports teams and maintain positivity until the day the pandemic ends and games are back on. 

“Me, personally, I’m going to be so happy I might cry,” Antuna said. “Once we have the opportunity to go back in person it’s going to be so surreal and we’re not going to take it for granted.

“We had so much fun pre-COVID, so knowing that after the tough year, year-and-a-half that we’ve had, being able to go back — we’ll have so much built up after having nothing to do we’re going to give it our all. It’s going to be better than ever.”

Top photo: (clockwise from top left) computer science major Alexis Bacon, supply chain management and business analytics major Jonathan Li, business entrepreneurship and financial planning major Alexandre Shappell, sports business major Catherine Antuna, digital culture major Julianne Wilde, sports business and data analytics major Ashley Osborne and architectural studies major Duha Hasan show their Sun Devil spirit watching games from home. Photos courtesy of students

Constance-Sophie Almendares

Student worker , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

Jeffrey Kordower to lead ASU's fight against neurodegenerative diseases

March 4, 2021

Arizona State University has announced the appointment of Jeffrey Kordower as the founding director of the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center and endowed chair as The Charlene and J. Orin Edson Distinguished Director at the Biodesign Institute.

For more than 30 years, Kordower has been a faculty member at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, where he was the Alla V. and Solomon Jesmer Professor of Neurological Sciences. His pathbreaking investigations into the underpinnings of neurodegenerative disease have made him a leader in the field and his ambitious plans for the NDRC promise to make the facility an internationally recognized center of excellence in this highly diverse research space. Jeffrey Kordower is the founding director of the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center and endowed chair as The Charlene and J. Orin Edson Distinguished Director at the Biodesign Institute. Download Full Image

Kordower’s interests include the study of gene and stem cell therapies, disease pathogenesis including the morphological and molecular changes during the course of neurodegeneration, learning and memory, and aging. He has also been a pioneer in the field of neural transplantation techniques.

He has conducted innovative studies on Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s disease and has a particular passion for Parkinson’s research and related disorders. He has explored these illnesses in great depth, describing his findings in over 400 research papers, edited books and book chapters.

“It’s with immense excitement that we welcome Jeff to our Institute,” said Joshua LaBaer, executive director of the Biodesign Institute. “We anticipate his efforts will complement the existing research strengths of the NDRC, ultimately transforming this center into a global powerhouse of new ideas and bold solutions for these devastating ailments.”

A stealthy and relentless foe

A suite of human diseases, known to progressively degrade the brain, have been among the most devastating in all of medical science. Such neurodegenerative disorders include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, the two most prevalent afflictions, as well as many other neurological ailments.

These diseases have exacted a pitiless toll on patients and caregivers and threaten to overwhelm health care systems without improved methods of early detection, better therapeutics and preventive measures. The establishment of the NDRC therefore answers one of the most urgent needs facing society.

Many factors, from genetics to environment, contribute to these still mysterious diseases, but the greatest risk factor for all of them is age. The issue of neurodegenerative disease is particularly acute in Arizona, where over 1 million people over the age of 65 currently live. This population expected expand to 2.4 million by 2050.

Nerve center

Kordower describes the new appointment as a dream job: “The only job I want is to build an internationally recognized neurodegenerative disease research center from the ground up and I’m confident that with the resources ASU has provided, is providing and will likely provide in the future, that's a very attainable goal,” Kordower said.

To further these ambitions, Kordower draws on his extensive experience in pioneering basic research, clinical trials and clinical care and far-flung industry partnerships. (Research from Kordower’s lab has already resulted in seven clinical trials.)

In the immediate future, Kordower plans on five new faculty hires, though he expects that over time, the NDRC will grow well beyond this.

“You need to have representation for all the major neurodegenerative diseases, so you need someone who's an expert in Alzheimer’s, in Parkinson’s, in ALS, maybe in multiple sclerosis. But then you also need people who will bridge all of these disease-related silos, including experts in inflammation and immune responses and expertise in misfolded proteins which are common for many degenerative diseases.” 

Quest for answers

Finding safe and effective treatments for neurodegenerative diseases has been a daunting challenge for medical science, with many promising efforts and billions of dollars in research investments and drug development yielding few successes. It is clear that radically new thinking will be required to overcome this stalemate.

Kordower’s research is on the forefront of one such innovation, the introduction of dopamine-producing cells into regions of the brain damaged by Parkinson’s disease. Indeed, he and his colleagues were the first to demonstrate that grafts of dopaminergic cells can survive, innervate and form synapses in patients with Parkinson’s disease. This was a major milestone, overturning long-held assumptions that the brain could only lose, but never gain, functioning neurons over time.

He has also been among the first to intensively study misfolded proteins capable of seeding the brain and spreading from cell to cell. The findings come from studies showing the development of inclusions of the protein α-synuclein, known as Lewy bodies, appearing in grafted tissue. These intriguing new discoveries imply that the whole range of neurodegenerative disorders may be thought of as “prion-like” diseases.

Another area of active research for Kordower addresses an ongoing hurdle in the treatment of neurodegenerative disease, the inability to reach targets in the brain with therapeutic drugs due to the blood-brain barrier. Recent studies have shown that this boundary between the circulating blood and the extracellular space of the brain can be temporarily and selectively opened, providing an entryway for drugs to reach the brain, through the use of low frequency, focused ultrasound.

A new era begins

Recognized as an outstanding scholar and teacher, Kordower is the recipient of many prestigious awards and appointments. He has been recognized as a Director’s Scholar and Professor of Neurodegeneration at the Van Andel Institute. He received the Huntington’s Disease Society of America’s Award of Excellence in Medicine, was a John Douglas French Fellow for the Study of Alzheimer's Disease and won the Bernard Sandberg Memorial Award for Brain Repair.

Kordower has served as a consultant to both the FDA and numerous pharmaceutical companies, including Takeda, Biogen, A.P. and others, and has served on numerous editorial boards including as an associate editor for Neurobiology of Aging. He completed his undergraduate and graduate education at Queens College, the City University of New York and was a postdoc at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. He has also received an honorary Doctor of Science from the City University of New York.

“There are people out there suffering with neurodegenerative diseases and we will do everything to try to help them,” Kordower said. “If you want an overarching goal of my center, it’s this: Every decision will be laser-focused on how we can help patients.”

Richard Harth

Science writer, Biodesign Institute at ASU