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ASU and Helios expand partnership to enhance education in Arizona

June 18, 2021

$6.5M Helios grant fuels data-driven Decision Center for Educational Excellence to help guide policy, increase postsecondary completion

Arizona State University and Helios Education Foundation announced June 18 a five-year expansion of their partnership to enhance the work of the ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence, amounting to an additional $6.5 million dollars to improve educational outcomes in the state.

The Decision Center for Educational Excellence builds groundbreaking tools to navigate data on Arizona’s pre-K through postsecondary educational landscape, providing real-time feedback on how policies, practices, new innovations and other interventions affect the state’s education systems.

“ASU and Helios are both driven by a profound commitment to enhancing access to quality learning through meaningful collaboration, innovative thinking and data-driven solutions,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “The robust continuation of our cooperative analysis and service as realized by the Decision Center for Educational Excellence is vital to designing Arizona’s education future and, in turn, strengthening every community.”

The state-of-the-art data visualization delivers school administrators, policymakers, community leaders and elected officials the tools and information needed to improve student performance, increase equity in education and promote postsecondary degree attainment.

“Together, Helios and ASU are tackling some of the most serious challenges within our educational system,” said Paul J. Luna, president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation. “This partnership is key to putting Arizona on a path towards a more equitable, higher-achieving educational system that improves college-going rates for all Arizonans, regardless of ZIP code, race or gender.”

A man sits at a control desk with about a dozen screens looking into a room filled with people and a man at the front talking

The state-of-the-art data visualization (such as this setup at Friday's announcement) allows stakeholders to better understand data and complex topics. Photo by Denny Collins Photography

While today’s announcement looked forward, the center has already had great success in providing crucial data to education stakeholders in the state. Recently, in partnership with the Arizona Department of Education, the Decision Center helped school districts understand how their students are performing in postsecondary education. These reports gave districts feedback on grades in courses, degree and certificate completion, and how they compare to the state overall. This information enables districts to better prepare students for success in college and beyond.

The ASU Helios Decision Center for Educational Excellence is funded by a $6.5 million educational grant from Helios. ASU and Helios originally announced their groundbreaking Decision Center partnership in 2018, funded by a $2.5 million grant from Helios. 

Top photo: ASU President Michael M. Crow speaks at the announcement June 18 of the five-year expansion of the partnership between ASU and Helios. Photo by Denny Collins Photography

Strategic communications manager , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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‘Gain Power Over Pain' program aims to address opioid epidemic through preventive efforts

June 18, 2021

Curriculum teaches people how to manage their chronic pain; next sessions expected to be held this fall

For many, managing chronic pain means getting a prescription for some form of opioid medicine, despite the documented risks. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, two out of three drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2018 involved an opioid.

But alternatives to opioids exist, said Associate Professor Natasha Mendoza of the School of Social Work at Arizona State University. A curriculum created by the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy at the school gives community members options for alleviating chronic pain that don’t involve pills.

Gain Power Over Pain (GPOP) aims to impact the opioid crisis through preventive, evidence-based efforts related to chronic pain.

“The GPOP programming does not suggest patients should not medicate their pain. To do so would be completely inappropriate and outside the scope of our expertise. But, perhaps we can offer a complement to the management of chronic pain. Ultimately, managing chronic pain should be a collaboration between a primary care provider and her or his patient,” said Mendoza, center director. “The GPOP programming is really a means of assisting people who have chronic pain with understanding how they can be mindful and address their chronic pain (in part) through their own thought processes, so we offer some techniques to do that.”

Some of the techniques utilized by GPOP, which is conducted entirely on Zoom, include mindfulness and meditation.

“I have seen the impact that chronic pain can have on an individual’s quality of life,” said GPOP facilitator and psychiatric nurse practitioner Melissa Christmas. “The GPOP program addresses the important topics of SMART goal setting, approaching activity, relaxation skills, healthy mood, sleep and mindfulness as they relate to chronic pain.” SMART goals are ones that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound.

GPOP has offered learning opportunities for its facilitators as they teach people how to manage their chronic pain.

These facilitators are students from the Interdisciplinary Training Academy, which is funded through a grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, with Mendoza as the principal investigator. The academy trains Master of Social Work students, doctoral students, nurse practitioner students, nursing students and psychology postdoctoral professionals.

GPOP flyer, School of Social Work, ASU

This flyer promoted last spring's Gain Power Over Pain program. New sessions are planned for this fall. Courtesy ASU School of Social Work

Mendoza said the academy’s focus is to positively impact the opioid crisis, gearing its training efforts toward creating behavioral health practitioners who can address the epidemic.

These students are exposed to different kinds of behavioral health work: They visit treatment centers, participate in community prevention efforts, learn about policy and harm-reduction efforts (such as needle distribution) and get the opportunity to facilitate learning sessions such as GPOP.

The GPOP program, which was originally intended for residents of the former Westward Ho hotel in downtown Phoenix, was recently opened to anyone age 18 or older.

The last session ended April 22, but others are expected to be held in the fall semester. Those who would like more information on the fall sessions may email Mendoza at

“The GPOP program is a free resource that offers engaging information sessions. Information presented is aimed at building skills that will improve the quality of life for individuals living with chronic pain,” Christmas said. “Please consider engaging in this helpful free resource if chronic pain is a concern in your life.”

The Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy is based at ASU's Watts College for Public Service and Community Solutions.

Written by Morgan Carden, marketing communications, ASU School of Social Work.