ASU Hugh Downs School graduate endows communication scholarship

June 3, 2021

Jennifer Kaplan, a 1996 graduate of Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, recently established the Jennifer G. Kaplan Endowment Scholarship. The scholarship provides funding to Hugh Downs School undergraduates with an interest in pursuing or studying a career in public relations.  

Kaplan is the owner and founder of Evolve Public Relations and Marketing, a Scottsdale-based firm founded in 2010. The company has grown and currently has a team of 14 employees and more than 90 clients in industries such as restaurants, retail, entertainment, real estate, medical, legal, global and international companies and nonprofit organizations. Jennifer Kaplan Download Full Image

Kaplan says public relations and studying communication was a natural fit.

“I loved taking interpersonal communication, intercultural communication and public speaking. I use all of these in my daily life,” she said.

"I had a wonderful college adventure that I want students today to experience. I hope that they grow and thrive, achieve their goals and pursue their career dreams. I don’t take for granted all that I have been given and want others to have the same opportunities.”

ASU undergraduate Helena Pereira, who is majoring in both communication and philosophy, was chosen as the first recipient of the Kaplan Scholarship for the 2021–22 school year.

“I am eternally grateful for this educational opportunity,” said Pereira in a thank you letter to Kaplan.    

Belle Edson, director of undergraduate studies at the Hugh Downs School, served on the committee that chose scholarship awardees and had Pereira in her spring COM 207 class, Introduction to Communication Inquiry.

Helena Pereira

“Helena is consistently and fastidiously present,” Edson said. “She asks questions and was very involved in the class. She demonstrated a commitment to the field of communication, is meticulous, and is interested in her classmates.”

Pereira served as the public relations chair of her sorority during her freshman year. In that role, she managed all of the chapter’s social media platforms.

“It was a creative outlet where I posted and edited pictures that would connect our audience to build our brand,” Pereira said. “Content editing and graphic media production were my forte and I realized that the substance had to inspire people, but the style had to appeal too. I was able to find a balance between the two that only increased our interaction, which was a great accomplishment.”

Kaplan and Evolve Public Relations and Marketing was named to the Sun Devil 100 Class of 2021, which is sponsored by the Arizona State University Alumni Association. This is the sixth year Kaplan has made the prestigious list.

The Sun Devil 100 celebrates the achievements of ASU alumni who own or lead businesses across the globe that demonstrate innovation, growth and entrepreneurial spirit.

Jennifer Kaplan and Sparky

Jennifer Kaplan and Sparky 

“I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so it was in my blood to start my own business,” Kaplan said. 

Hugh Downs School Interim Director Paul Mongeau says that Kaplan understands the importance of a communication degree “both as a leader and through her work that engages and informs key audiences, and builds important relationships.

“We look forward to working with her to engage our students in the field of public relations, and appreciate her largess very much,” he said.

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication


Student researchers answer questions about science courses, anxiety in remote learning

June 3, 2021

When the COVID-19 pandemic pushed education and thousands of jobs online seemingly overnight, many Arizona State University faculty and students found themselves in uncharted territory. Along with the challenges, this past year has provided opportunities for growth, experimentation and problem-solving that will carry forward into the years to come. 

For ASU School of Life Sciences Assistant Professor Katelyn Cooper, this included finding new ways to give her students the research experience they need.  Online course on laptop "We landed on this topic and method of research because we know that anxiety is the top mental health concern among undergraduates, and with the recent shift to online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were interested in how this novel online learning environment was affecting student anxiety," said student Tasneem Mohammed. Download Full Image

Cooper, a new faculty member with expertise in undergraduate biology education, created a course-based undergraduate research experience — or CURE — with the aim to engage students in real, publishable biology education research. Previous in-person research courses taught by Cooper had yielded positive results, including student-co-authored publications about how students perceive instructor humor, why undergraduates leave their research experiences and what discourages students from asking questions in science courses

But could this type of course be completed fully online? Cooper decided the answer was yes. 

And she was right. In the span of a single semester, her students went from an initial research question to a finished research manuscript that was submitted to a peer-reviewed education journal with all 14 students as co-authors exactly three weeks after the end of the term.

“Dr. Cooper’s 'Biology Education Research' class focused on conducting real research that could be performed within the semester that the students were enrolled in this class,” said Madison Witt, a biomedical sciences student of the course who graduated this spring.  

Originally from Rochester, New York, Witt came to ASU as a linguistics major before switching to biomedical sciences. 

ASU SOLS graduate Madison Witt

ASU School of Life Sciences graduate Madison Witt.

“I realized that I had an overwhelming desire to be able to help people and solve problems that they may be facing,” she said. “I think this stemmed from growing up with a family full of first responders. I was also extremely interested in the intricacies of the human body and the way that through science and research we can answer questions about the human body.”

When it came time to select a research topic, Cooper and her students decided to build on research out of the Cooper lab, which examines how biology learning environments affect student mental health. 

“Off the bat, all of us students were extremely interested in how the COVID-19 pandemic was affecting students and how exactly that could be studied,” Witt said. “I believe we were all interested in how the transition from learning in class to a rapid transition to at-home learning affects how students learn and perform within science classes.”

“We landed on this topic and method of research because we know that anxiety is the top mental health concern among undergraduates, and with the recent shift to online due to the COVID-19 pandemic we were interested in how this novel online learning environment was affecting student anxiety,” said biological sciences student Tasneem Mohammed, who graduated this spring and served as first-author on the project. “Given that most of us in the class had experienced some levels of anxiety due to having to learn science online, this was a topic that was really interesting to us.”

Mohammed was accepted into ASU’s 4+1 Accelerated Bachelor of Science/Master of Science program, and was awarded a graduate fellowship. Born and raised in Phoenix, her family is originally from Palestine. 

ASU SOLS graduate Tasneem Mohammed

ASU School of Life Sciences graduate Tasneem Mohammed.

“I chose ASU because of the different opportunities ASU offers,” she said. “Particularly, the 4+1 program motivated me to seek research opportunities and pursue what I’m passionate about to achieve my career goals. This accelerated degree program is designed to allow ASU undergraduate students to complete a master's degree only one year after the completion of their bachelor's degree.”

After coming up with their research question, the students were responsible for designing a survey to collect their data, analyzing the data, interpreting the results, and writing up their findings. The students distributed their survey to over 2,000 students in biology courses.  

“The method of research, the survey, came naturally because we wanted to hear as many students' voices about their experiences in their classes and we proposed that the best way to do that was through this survey,” Witt said.

The students’ research revealed that over 50% of undergraduate biology students report experiencing at least moderate anxiety in the context of online science courses and that women, students who are not financially stable and students with depression experience disproportionately higher levels of anxiety than their peers. 

The students also found that the potential for technology issues, proctored online exams, difficulty getting to know other students in class and stress about causing an accidental disruption on Zoom were some of the most common factors that increased students’ anxiety in online science courses. 

“What surprised me the most about what I discovered in this project was the number of students who also experienced social isolation online and the lack of communication between instructors and students that negatively affected students' ability to learn and succeed," Mohammed said. “I was also surprised that having the cameras on during class negatively affected students' anxiety.” 

“I think this research could be so, extremely useful to online education in the future,” Witt said. “Specifically, one of the questions in the survey asked students to give their opinion on how professors could help reduce student anxiety. If professors took the time to read the students' words and implement some of the suggestions into their online course it could possibly help many students manage their anxiety better in the classroom.” 

As part of the study, undergraduates recommended that instructors work to decrease anxiety by increasing test-taking flexibility, being understanding, having an organized course and trying to develop relationships with students.

“The findings provide simple ways that instructors could make biology education more inclusive,” Mohammed said. “For example, once we learned that having cameras on can negatively affect student anxiety, Dr. Cooper allowed our cameras to be optional. This was a really small change that seemed to have a really positive impact on a lot of the students in class.”

“I’m a big believer in using data to inform your teaching,” Cooper said. “So, when the data came back and we saw that a primary aspect of online learning that exacerbates students’ anxiety is needing to have your camera on, I knew that I needed to make a change. I used to ask students to turn on their cameras during class, but we switched to a ‘cameras optional’ policy and the students did all of their data analysis with their cameras off."

“I wasn’t completely convinced that we could take a research project from start to finish entirely online,” she said. “I didn’t know how well we would all communicate via Zoom, but the students were awesome at sharing ideas and collaborating. They made me rethink how we do undergraduate research.”  

Engaging students in research through online courses has the potential to broaden access to far more students, including fully online students, potentially revolutionizing who gets to participate in undergraduate research. 

While the switch to an online course format was necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, online science degree programs at ASU will continue to grow. The student research team hopes that their work will influence how online instructors design and teach their courses. 

“The mental health of our students should be one of our top priorities, and we hope that this work will help science instructors to construct their courses in more inclusive ways,” Cooper said. 

Dominique Perkins

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Life Sciences