Researchers of hope gather virtually for world conference

May 10, 2021

According to the myth of Pandora, even when all the evils of the world were unleashed — hope was protected. Although the power of hope is recognized and honored as a powerful skill in navigating life’s challenges and opportunities, it seems to attract greater attention during setbacks and uncertainty.

Whether it be a pandemic, epidemic, world or civil war, hurricane, tsunami, earthquake, plague, wildfire, holocaust or other catastrophes, hope is often the guiding light. History has demonstrated time and again that hope demands that we share its powers. World Conference on Hope & Youth Download Full Image

It was that understanding — hope needs to be shared — that launched Kids at Hope and Arizona State University’s Center for the Advanced Study and Practice of Hope to imagine the first world conference focused on the energy, dynamic and strategy known as hope, and its importance to the lives of children, their families and community. 

The conference was first conceived as an in-person gathering of scientists and practitioners from around the world, but COVID-19 had other ideas. However, hope would not be quarantined.

A steering committee made up of ASU academics, researchers, graduate students and practitioners, who represented the partnership between ASU and Kids at Hope, designed a virtual conference instead. The event last fall attracted over 500 people from around the globe, including Canada, Uganda, Africa, India, two Indigenous nations and the United States, representing academia, education, juvenile justice, behavioral health, medicine, child welfare, early childhood education and community-based child and youth development agencies.

Regardless of one’s theoretical or spiritual perspectives, the concept of hope as a positive force has been universally accepted as a dynamic worthy of study and understanding. By understanding hope as a cognitive function rather than a loose set of emotions, science is unraveling its mysteries. Hope theory and research examine the elements of hope that include the importance of goals, pathways in pursuit of goals and the agency or energy required to achieve goals through perseverance and grit. 

The World Conference on Hope and Youth stated objectives were to be: 

  • A forum where researchers and practitioners intersect to advance knowledge and practice.

  • A forum where young academics can connect to recognized scholars and leading voices in hope theory and practice.

  • A forum to discuss the formation of a Hope Science Network.

  • A forum where practitioners can learn from each other’s experiences.

  • A forum that inspires and empowers all to advance their work.

The virtual world conference was a one-day event on Nov. 13, 2020, that began with a tribute and memorial to two pioneering hope scientists — Richard Snyder and Shane Lopez — followed by spoken word poetry shared by poet Jordan Janey. 

Matt Gallagher from the University of Houston and co-editor of the "Oxford Handbook on Hope" was the conference’s opening keynote, offering a perspective of hope theory, past, present and future. 

Gloria Ladson-Billings, professor, University of Wisconsin, and author of "The Dreamkeepers — Daring to Dream in Public," presented the conference’s afternoon keynote. 

Other sessions included: "From Research to Practice and Practice to Research," "Hope Through an Equity Lens" and "A World View of Hope." 

The conference concluded with an inspirational video that included Ugandans reciting the Kids at Hope treasure hunters pledge, committing themselves to ensuring every child succeeds, and a youth student from Tacoma, Washington, sharing her voice of hope.

Other featured speakers included: Joseph Kelroy, director of the Youth Services Division of the Arizona Supreme Court; Rick Fabes and Crystal Bryce from ASU; Valerie Calderon, former senior consultant with Gallup Poll; Paul Tighe, superintendent, Saddle Mountain Unified School District, Arizona; Rosemarie Allen, director, Center for Equity and Excellence, Metropolitan State University, Denver, Colorado; Andrea Ettekal, assistant professor, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences, Texas A&M University; and Rick Miller, founder, Kids at Hope.

“I trust the seed we planted to premiere this remarkable conference will inspire us to continue to bring people together from around the world so that hope continues to be shared as a positive strategy for all humankind,” said Miller, conference chairman and clinical director at ASU’s Hope Center.

Shelley Linford

Marketing and Communications Manager, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics

Student goes from dropping out of high school to excelling in ASU physics program

May 10, 2021

John Byrd, rising senior at Arizona State University, originally dropped out of high school due to a lack of motivation and poor grades.

“Basically, when I was in high school I was sick of education," Byrd said. “I was like, ‘Why do I need to go to college? I don't want to do that. I want to stay home and watch movies, read books, play video games and do anything but school.’” portrait of student John Byrd Download Full Image

After working in retail positions for a few years, Byrd learned his cousin was graduating with his bachelor’s degree, even though they were the same age.

“As I went into the community college, I was like, ‘Hey, I know classes start next week but can I get in on that?' And then pretty much never looked back,” Byrd said. 

Byrd then transferred to ASU for the school’s biomedical engineering program, but realized how much he loves physics.

“I love exploring the how and the why behind things — but the engineering side of it: ‘How do we make this product? How do we get money out of this?’ — just didn't fit with me at all,” Byrd said.

Byrd is currently working on his thesis with David Meltzer on the Physics Education Research Project, which looks at how physics is currently taught and how it can be changed. 

“There's this conception that physics and math are terribly hard impossible courses that some people are just not cut out for, that ‘Oh, I'm just not a math person,’ and what we found is (that is) absolutely not true,” Byrd said. “So the idea is by getting the diagnosis evolved over the years to different courses of introductory physics students, we can kind of see where those gaps are in their math knowledge.

"And then the eventual idea is once we can definitively say, 'OK, these are where the gaps are in the math knowledge,' what my thesis is doing when I'm starting up in fall is to go in and do some in-depth interviews with the students and figure out what their mental block is with all these promises or something they never learned about, and really get to the bottom of the why. Because we can say, "Oh, well students are problem-solving this particular problem.” 

Byrd hopes to later take this knowledge toward his PhD and improve the status of education.

“Eventually I'd like to move up into more college management positions where we're talking about themes and things like that, and have a role in shaping the curriculum and the degree to be better students,” Byrd said.

Kiersten Moss

Marketing Assistant, Department of Physics