Psychology student aims to change how refugees access mental health resources

Isabel Glass conducts research on developmental psychopathology of children in war-torn countries

July 19, 2021

Arizona State University student Isabel Glass wants to find better ways for immigrants and refugees to integrate within our society. 

Currently a senior studying psychology with a minor in global studies, she will be starting a master’s degree in social justice and human rights as part of her 4+1 program. Isabel Glass Isabel Glass is a senior studying psychology with a minor in global studies and will be starting a master’s degree in social justice and human rights. Photo by Robert Ewing/ASU Download Full Image

She started her academic career as an undergraduate business student before she realized that her interests resided in the human condition and studying behavior. Another of her long-term goals is to develop methods of acceptance for and remove cultural barriers to mental health.

“I wanted to keep some essences of nonprofit organization and volunteering and the degree in psychology gave me the flexibility to pursue both while also conducting research,” Glass said.

Glass’ honors thesis focuses on the efficacy of the nonprofit War Child USA and its effectiveness on reintegration and psychosocial development of children in war-torn countries. Current estimates done by UNICEF show that more than 1 in 10 children worldwide are affected by armed conflict. The effects of that conflict are both direct and indirect and are associated with immediate and long-term psychological and physical harm.  

War Child USA aims to protect children from the impact of war through a community-driven approach, with local staff and support. The multinational program currently assists children in Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Iraq, Afghanistan, and with Syrian refugees in Jordan.

“My thesis will focus on the models that they use for developmental psychopathology and not just how psychology affects the individual and community, but also at the larger economic or sociopolitical level,” Glass said.

“Ultimately, the refugee crisis is staggering and I want to work towards getting rid of the hate and stigma towards those communities.”

Through her experiences at ASU, Glass found that she has a passion for understanding different cultures and the people involved in order to really make positive change.

“You can’t just come into a community that you don’t know and prescribe ways to improve their lives. There are so many cultural nuances and significant biases that we need to be aware of before we can work collectively to make a difference,” Glass said.

Her journey toward her master’s degree in social justice and human rights began with connecting with Elizabeth Nelson, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychology who worked with UNICEF in the past, and continued with Glass’ time as a research assistant in the Human Generosity Project and with the Cooperation and Conflict Lab.

The Human Generosity Project is a joint research project with Athena Aktipis, an associate professor of psychology at ASU, and Lee Cronk, a professor of anthropology from Rutgers. This project is the first large-scale cross-disciplinary research project to investigate the interrelationship between the biological and cultural influences on human generosity, or giving without reciprocation. The lab uses a mixture of methodologies such as fieldwork, computational modeling and experiments to understand the complex nature of human generosity among small-scale populations around the world.

Her graduate mentor, Jessica Ayers, has been impressed with Glass’ work in the lab as well.

“Isabel is great to work with," Ayers said. "She is both a psychology and global studies major and is passionate about refugee and immigrant studies. She joined our lab to learn more about the Human Generosity project as a way to explore current research that is going on at ASU and find synergies with her own interests. Isabel has helped me a lot with one of my projects that deals with familial conflict. She brought a fresh perspective to the research and loved to talk about how conflict with family members differed depending on if the families were from Western samples or ethnographic data.

"Isabel always speaks up during lab meetings, and asks very intuitive questions — it is clear that she is very curious and eager to learn more about the science behind social relationships.”

Getting involved on campus

Glass’ biggest piece of advice to other students is to find out what you are interested in and pursue it, because there is likely a club on campus dedicated to what you care about.

One such club for Glass is the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA). Members of the UNA-USA chapter at ASU act as ambassadors for the United Nations and work to educate themselves and others on the vital work of the U.N. and to advocate for global issues they care about most.

“The great thing about the UNA at ASU is that there so many capacities of getting involved, with goals ranging from climate action to women and gender violence, to good health and well-being,” Glass said. “Students can attend summits or even serve as Millennium Campus fellows. All you need is a desire to be involved and there is a place for you.”

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


Team awarded NSF grant to teach virtual explorers about permafrost, Arctic climate change

July 19, 2021

Scientists at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, the Arizona Geological Survey at the University of Arizona, and the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder have been awarded almost $2 million from the National Science Foundation to develop a virtual reality teaching tool called Polar Explorer.

In this web-based, immersive environment, undergraduate students will explore polar environments in the Arctic to learn about permafrost from their laptops, desktops or mobile devices. Polar Explorer is a web-based immersive environment where undergraduate students can explore polar environments in the Arctic. Credit: Victor O. Leshyk, Center for Ecosystem Science and Society, Northern Arizona University Download Full Image

“The real-time transformation of the Arctic affects everyone, but most of us can’t travel there to witness these changes,” said Deborah Huntzinger, project principal investigator from Northern Arizona University. “Polar Explorer will take students deep into thawing permafrost and to the edge of Arctic shorelines to learn about how the region is changing in an immersive, accessible way.”

Huntzinger is joined by co-principal investigators Ariel Anbar and Chris Mead of ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and Center for Education Through Exploration, as well as Michelle Mack and artist Victor Leshyk from the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at NAU, Lisa Thompson from Arizona Geological Survey at the University of Arizona, and Kevin Schaefer from the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The team is zeroing in on the Arctic because climate warming is altering this region rapidly in ways that affect climate, infrastructure and public health around the globe.

Over the past three decades, the Arctic has warmed at twice the rate of the rest of the world and permafrost has started to thaw. Thawing permafrost releases enormous amounts of previously frozen greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, accelerating the pace of climate change. Permafrost thaw can also threaten the food security and clean water of local residents, lead to the erosion of landscapes, the collapse of buildings and roads, and increased risk of wildfires.

These impacts make it important for the general public to understand how the Arctic is changing and why these changes have significant consequences for people around the world. But the remoteness and inaccessibility of the Arctic makes teaching students about permafrost and its consequences challenging.

The team hopes Polar Explorer will change that by creating an adaptive learning environment built around a series of immersive virtual field trips (iVFTs), an approach pioneered by ASU's Center for Education Through Exploration. Students will be able to visit scientifically accurate landscapes and interact with them as if they were physically there — regardless of a student’s socioeconomic background, physical ability or level of academic preparation.

“What's particularly exciting about this project is the opportunity to study how iVFTs help students to learn difficult concepts such as working across multiple scales and understanding transdisciplinary connections,” said Mead, who is an assistant research scientist at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration. “These skills are inherent to polar science, and they are absolutely critical for preparing students to solve the challenges of the 21st century."

For example, to examine the connections between carbon and permafrost, students will travel (virtually) to the Carbon in Permafrost Heating Experimental Research site in Healy, Alaska, where NAU researcher Ted Schuur has been studying permafrost for over a decade.

Starting in the cabin where Schuur’s research team lives during the summer, students will hear neighborhood sled dogs howl. At the field site, they will measure carbon dioxide emissions, examine carbon dioxide and temperature data output in real time, and make other virtual measurements to compare permafrost thaw depths in plots that were warmed versus those that were not.

“Polar Explorer will put students in the field, so they are not just reading about the dramatic changes we observe in the Arctic, but experiencing them,” said Schaefer, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Each student navigating the iVFTs within Polar Explorer will have a unique experience, receiving personalized feedback appropriate to their needs while working toward the same learning outcomes as their peers. The team will test Polar Explorer in undergraduate courses at NAU before making it free and available to all college-level students with access to the internet and a modern web browser.

The COVID-19 pandemic increased the need for outcome-driven, distance learning resources for teachers at all levels, and Polar Explorer meets that need, said Thompson, a research scientist at the Arizona Geological Survey. “Intelligent tutoring systems have been tested in undergraduate science classes at NAU, ASU and around the nation and world,” she said. “We have the technology, and now is an important time to bring the rapidly changing Arctic to student’s devices.”

This article was written by Kate Petersen of NAU with contributions from Karin Valentine of ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration