ASU engineer named 2021 Society of Behavioral Medicine fellow

April 20, 2021

Daniel E. Rivera, a professor of chemical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, has been named a 2021 Society of Behavioral Medicine Fellow

The Society of Behavioral Medicine is a multidisciplinary organization of clinicians, educators and scientists who are improving knowledge and applications in the areas of human behavior, health and illness. The society honors full members who have made outstanding contributions to advances in the science and practice of behavioral medicine with the distinction of fellow.  Daniel Rivera Daniel E. Rivera's sustained history of research, impactful publications, mentorship and support of the Society of Behavioral Medicine earned him an election of fellow. Download Full Image

As of 2020, only 157 of 2,304 Society of Behavioral Medicine members have achieved fellow status, representing less than 7% of members. Rivera, who has been a member since 2011, is the first ASU engineering researcher to be distinguished with this honor. 

Rivera was recognized during the 2021 SBM Annual Meeting held virtually from April 12–16.

Rivera has made a career of applying control systems engineering — looking at change over time and managing variability for optimized outcomes — to many fields, including behavioral medicine. He teaches both undergraduate and graduate students this important concept in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of the six Fulton Schools. 

“The topic of optimized behavioral interventions is a nontraditional problem in engineering,” Rivera said. “Both becoming involved in the field and being able to contribute over a sustained period of time are necessary requirements for qualifying for fellow status. I am glad that the SBM fellowship committee believed that my contributions were meritorious.”

Though engineers and computer scientists work in behavioral medicine, not many are members of organizations like the Society for Behavioral Medicine. However, Rivera says there is an increasing interest in this field for the benefits obtained from engineering approaches, and control systems in particular. 

Behavioral medicine is inherently interdisciplinary, so joining a society not focused on engineering is advantageous to Rivera’s work.

“Our ability to learn both practical and fundamental aspects of behavioral interventions, as well as meaningfully communicate the benefits of our work, requires that we actively communicate with communities outside of engineering,” he said. “SBM, and its journals and annual meeting, have been an important resource in this regard.”

Rivera was nominated by Linda Collins, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at the New York University School of Global Public Health, and Eric Hekler, an associate professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego. Collins served as Rivera’s mentor for a National Institutes of Health K25 Mentored Quantitative Research Career Development Award. Hekler is a former faculty member in the ASU College of Health Solutions with whom Rivera has collaborated.

They noted his sustained, influential publication history over a period of more than 15 years, his mentorship of students who have contributed to the field of behavioral medicine and his commitment to the activities and goals of the society.

Rivera is particularly proud of the paper he co-authored in the inaugural issue of the research journal Translational Behavioral Medicine in March 2011 — which has been cited more than 1,000 times — among other developments.

“We are pleased with our efforts in casting behavioral theories, such as the theory of planned behavior and social cognitive theory, as dynamical systems, which has, in turn, facilitated the use of control engineering approaches, such as model predictive control, for optimizing behavioral interventions,” said Rivera, who has recently worked on multiple research projects to improve mobile health applications

Rivera believes this award validates the contributions he and his students and collaborators have made, and that engineering has an important role in this field.

“Engineering can play a role in so many important societal problems,” he said. “Being elected as SBM fellow validates the enriching experience that this work has been for my 31-year career at ASU, and the experience of five PhD graduates, and multiple MS students, who have done thesis and dissertation work in behavioral medicine under my supervision.”

Going forward, Rivera believes this fellowship will give his students, collaborators and him greater confidence as they address the challenges of their current and future research. 

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Psychology undergraduate aims to help underserved medical communities

Psi Chi honors society president will be going to medical school this fall

April 20, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Lara Eltze is a senior double major in psychology and biological sciences with a minor in Spanish. Born in Germany, she is fluent in German, English and Spanish. She is also the president of Psi Chi at ASU Tempe, the psychology honors society, and works as a research assistant in the Arizona Twin Project. Lara Eltze Lara Eltze is a senior double major in psychology and biological sciences with a minor in Spanish. She will be starting medical school in the fall. Photo by Robert Ewing/ASU Download Full Image

Eltze recently found out that she was accepted into medical school and will be studying in the southwest in the fall.

“I knew from a young age that I wanted to go into medical school, so when I was in high school I shadowed a physician at the VA in Tucson. Her demeanor and patient presence were so impressive, and she had a way of making people feel at ease in a high-stress environment,” said Eltze, adding “I asked this doctor about how she handled it all, and she said it was from her degree in psychology!”

The route to medical school varies for every applicant, but the scientific rigor and people-centered research approach that psychology provides aligned closely to what Eltze was looking for in an academic experience.

In addition to her studies and research, Eltze volunteers with the Editha House, a compassionate health care facility that focuses on providing support for the most vulnerable of patients. The facility provides lodging and care for adult cancer and lung-transplant patients who live far away from the hospitals where they are receiving daily treatments.

In Arizona, over a half million people live over 30 minutes from a hospital location, and on top of that, many of those people do not have adequate transportation to and from these facilities. Additionally, more than 100,000 of those people are over the age of 65.

“We have a large population of people living in medically displaced areas that do not have adequate access to health care for debilitating conditions,” said Eltze, “I would like to research how we get well-funded clinics, residency positions and more doctors into those areas.”

An interest in stress

As a research assistant in the Arizona Twin Project, she started off coding subjective data and continued on to become a project lead for the on-call home visit team. She prepares families for home visits where researchers conduct interviews with families for the longitudinal twin study. Following the interviews, Eltze and her team go back to the lab and help to analyze the data, including salivary cortisol levels.

Eltze’s favorite part of the whole process is watching the data in action.

Her honors project is a case in point: She hypothesized and found that the patterning of children’s daily cortisol levels (an indicator of how the body’s stress response system is functioning) predicts their chronic pain levels one year later. Hers is the first research of this kind in children.

Lara embodies qualities that make her an impactful leader, budding scientist and person. She is deeply curious and excited by ideas, tenacious, open-minded, collaborative and kind. I have seen her in action and have no doubt that she will use all of her considerable skills to make an impact on the practice of medicine,” said Mary Davis, professor of psychology and co-director of the Arizona Twin Project. 

If it wasn’t clear from her busy schedule, Eltze thrives on stress and is looking forward to begin her journey into emergency room medicine.

“Ultimately, I want to have a profession where I’m able to make a difference in a high-pace, high-intensity setting,” said Eltze.


Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology