RISE Leadership Institute celebrates next generation of Black scholars at ASU

August 13, 2021

Twice a year, Arizona State University hosts a conference to celebrate and continue the legacy of Black and African American Sun Devils through the RISE Leadership Institute.

One hundred percent of respondents to an institute survey said that after this summer's event on July 19–23, they feel like going to college is a realistic goal for their future. Student in a gold shirt on palm walk with his hands outstretched Download Full Image

ASU Program Director Kiana Sears, who is also a governing board member for Mesa Public Schools, hopes that for the cohort of 55 summer 2021 participants as well as the 50 alumni who have participated in the program since 2019, RISE will have a profound effect on their educational path.

RISE Leadership Institute serves rising eighth through 12th graders with resources focused on leadership and navigating the college-going process while connecting with Black students, alumni and community members. The event — hosted twice a year since 2019 to provide more support for educational and economic opportunity for Black students — features five days of discussions with faculty, student leaders and community leaders to provide skill building and inspiration.

Sears said that while many underrepresented populations have made gains in educational attainment, there’s a need for more focused effort to support Black students because although all students are welcome in ASU college-prep summer programs, she found that Black students weren’t participating in those programs in high numbers. 

“RISE is the main, intentional program that is embracing Black and African American students, created uniquely to address where there was a gap or void,” she said. “In our first year, we had a cohort of 48 Black and African American students who will make a profound impact.”

The summer 2021 participants heard from staff from departments such as Access ASU, ASU Athletics and the Dean of Students Office about the history of Black students at ASU, financial aid, college readiness, time management, career trajectories and more. Attendees even took a virtual tour of ASU. 

2021 survey respondents praised the engaging content, even in a virtual format.

“This summer program was a great way to help me figure out many different ways to deal with stress, time management and college tuition. This was an amazing program, and I would love to join again next summer!” said one respondent. 

“This was an amazing opportunity I was very blessed to experience. I made new relationships with peers and teachers and learned so many useful things to help me prepare for college!” said another 2021 participant. 

December 2020 RISE participant Elijah Foster, then a junior in high school, said the event got him thinking not just about college but beyond.

“I intend to major in business, but I am unsure of what my career path should be. I needed the RISE Leadership Program to help me identify what my particular major I should be in the college of business, so I can choose the right career path,” Elijah said.

His mother, Anique Ruiz, helped Elijah sign up and attended with him. She said that she and his father thought it was important for Elijah to go.

Ruiz said it’s invaluable for students to connect with students who are in the same situation and to see that ASU has professors and leaders who care and will help them grow.

“Students need to see that institutions of higher education are invested in them as high school students of color and what the university has to offer its prospective Black or urban students,” Ruiz said. 

Sears emphasizes that RISE’s goals are focused on students’ success and emphasizing their part in a legacy of Black scholarship at ASU.

“We start with the end in mind. We look at the five-year graduation rate,” Sears said.

Sears said that she’s interested in increasing Black students’ graduation rates and reducing their student debt to set them up for economic opportunity. 

“(We focus on) graduating our students ready for the workforce, ready to get those jobs that will give them stability and a lifestyle and economic empowerment. That's why we do everything that we do,” she said.

Access ASU Assistant Vice President Lorenzo Chavez agreed that the work that RISE does goes back to the foundations of what Access ASU and Arizona State University are all about.

“As part of our effort to fulfill our ASU Charter, the RISE Leadership Institute is committed to removing barriers that prevent our Black and African American students from accessing a postsecondary education,” Chavez said.

ASU Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs Kenja Hassan spoke about Black and African American history at ASU at the 2021 summer institute and said that her favorite part of being involved has been hearing about students’ ambitions. 

“In Arizona, many students choose not to pursue any post-secondary option, which means they will be at an employment and economic disadvantage for the long term,” she said. “The event is impactful because it gives students attention that they may not otherwise receive and helps them understand processes that will make it easier to successfully apply for college. Moreover, the program helps them understand why furthering their education is important and how it can increase their opportunities for career and life success.”

Ruiz said the experience was rewarding for their family; she said that the energy from students’ connections with each other was moving and that the facilitation and speakers were excellent. 

“There was such an energy when the students — of like minds and hearts — melded together and provided each other with support, encouragement and love. … I am very proud of this new initiative and want to see it flourish for many years to come for more Black and gifted young people at area high schools,” she said. 

As for Elijah, he was left thinking more about his future career as well as giving back to the communities that lift students up. 

“My favorite takeaway from the RISE Leadership Program is how to be a leader for my peers and people who I don't know to communicate between all the students that volunteer to participate in the RISE Leadership Conference,” Elijah said.

The next RISE Leadership Institute will be held in December 2021. Learn more about RISE

Hannah Moulton Belec

Digital marketing manager, Educational Outreach and Student Services


Bioimaging funding stimulates harmonized research

Fulton Schools faculty members receive support from Chan Zuckerberg Initiative for multidisciplinary research

August 13, 2021

A portmanteau of science and dialogue, Scialog supports research and multidisciplinary collaboration allowing researchers to address scientific challenges of global significance. For three Arizona State University researchers, selection as grantees for Scialog: Advancing BioImaging will give them a unique opportunity to explore the next generation of imaging technologies in a three-year initiative designed to spark creativity and generate ideas for novel research projects.

Benjamin Bartelle, assistant biomedical engineering professor, and Barbara Smith, associate biomedical engineering professor, both in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, and Douglas Shepherd, an assistant physics professor in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, were each selected to participate on one of 10 research teams bringing together physicists, biologists, bioengineers and medical imaging specialists to develop solutions in advanced bioimaging. Image courtesy of Pixabay Download Full Image

Each researcher will receive $50,000 in funding to support their team’s project. The Research Corporation for Science Advancement, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, or CZI, and the Frederick Gardner Cottrell Foundation are funding a combined total of $1.15 million to support 23 awards across 10 research teams in this inaugural year.

“Imaging technologies play a critical role in CZI’s mission to support the science and technology that will make it possible to cure, prevent or manage all disease by the end of the century,” said Stephani Otte, science program officer for imaging at CZI. “We hope these teams of early-career researchers will advance the imaging field’s ability to observe and analyze biological processes and help build a much deeper mechanistic understanding of biological systems, identify potential points of intervention in disease and inform directive treatments.”

Converging to decode data

man's portrait

Benjamin Bartelle

The first virtual meeting of the Scialog: Advanced BioImaging series occurred in May, and it’s where Bartelle and collaborators Lu Wei of the California Institute of Technology and Ulugbek Kamilov of Washington University in St. Louis began discussions for their project, “Enabling Noninvasive Lipid Profiling with Intermodal Deep Learning.”

Lipids are a part of every cell and embedded in every tissue in the body. Lipid biomarkers can be found in everything from blood samples to tumors, but in most cases, it is unknown if they are the cause or the product of a disease.

The team will use magnetic resonance spectroscopy and Raman imaging, techniques that generate images with both spectral and spatial information, to detect lipids. They will use the Raman imaging, which is highly sensitive, to decode MR imaging, which can be used clinically, on the same field of view using an artificial intelligence algorithm called "deep learning.”

Bartelle says that the goal of his lab is to create new tools to resolve and manipulate neuroimmune signaling.

“Lipid signaling is one well-known form of inflammatory signaling that we can currently detect only by drawing blood and measuring from plasma,” Bartelle said. “I don’t just say ‘inflammatory signaling’ because our best understanding of that right now is that there are dozens of different kinds of inflammation that can’t be treated the same way.”

Circulating lipids like triglycerides can indicate inflammation or heart disease; but if diseased tissue is on the other side of the blood-brain barrier, it may be difficult to detect. A patient could also have some focal inflammatory signaling that a drop of blood would not locate.

This is where MRI comes into the picture.

“We can see almost everywhere in a human patient, and sometimes you can even pick up inflammation by seeing edema,” Bartelle said. “That’s a dead giveaway for something like a stroke, but that doesn’t give you any specifics on what is happening. You need something molecularly specific. It turns out MRI might be good for that, too.”

MRI is based on chemistry method nuclear magnetic resonance, which allows for information about atomic nuclei to be read out as a spectrum of molecular information. Combining the imaging of MRI with the molecular information from nuclear magnetic resonance is called magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging, or MRSI.

“I was talking with Lu Wei about how her method, Raman spectroscopy, is actually really great at identifying all kinds of individual molecules from tissue, as long as you have a slice in a dish in front of your Raman microscope,” Bartelle said. “We wondered if there was a way to use Raman data to ‘decode’ MRSI data. Dr. Kamilov has a lot of experience building such decoders, so we approached him about working together.”

The three researchers know enough about each other’s fields to harmonize their approaches while lending expertise in their respective specialties. Wei and Bartelle will collect MRSI and Raman data and translate the information to assist Kamilov in the decoding process.

Bartelle says that if they achieve their goal, they will have a computational tool that can take MRSI data and translate it into individual chemical species using an algorithm trained on Raman data.

“The end result would be something you could use on a patient to diagnose what kind of inflammation is going on, where it is and how best to treat it,” Bartelle said. “Think of it as a machine learning tool that can read things from MRSI that no human could. This could become a critical tool for determining a course of treatment for any brain disorder from migraine to stroke to neurodegeneration. We’ve never been able to see these things before so it’s hard to say just what will be the ultimate application.”

The innovative thinking and fusion of ideas and expertise are why Scialog convenes scientists to explore cutting-edge projects.

Two imaging systems, one novel solution

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Barbara Smith

Barbara Smith’s Scialog: Advancing BioImaging award is for a project named “Microendoscopy-Guided Diagnosis and Treatment of Early-Stage Ovarian Cancer.” It is a collaboration with Bryan Spring of Northeastern University and will draw on her research, which uses microendoscopy to diagnose and treat early-stage cancer.

Smith and Spring are currently developing independent microendoscopy systems. Their project will enable the integration of two imaging techniques to investigate early-stage ovarian cancer as it develops in the fallopian tubes.

“This vision to develop practical screening methods aims to save lives and reduce health care costs by mitigating the occurrence of advanced-stage disease,” Smith said. “Through this work, we aim to develop a clinically relevant imaging tool capable of scanning the entire fallopian tube to enable routine screenings for early-stage ovarian cancer detection.”

The project could result in an innovative approach to screen a large-volume area at a high resolution in the fallopian tubes.

“This enables, for the first time, synthesis of comprehensive, high-resolution volumetric renders of the fallopian tube to precisely locate neoplasms for immediate image-guided ablation, biopsy collection and follow-up surveillance,” Smith said. “It would be transformative for catching and treating premalignant lesions.”

The team’s proposed advance in bioimaging is driven by a critical need and represents a bold step forward that will enable clinical diagnostics for early-stage ovarian cancer.

“This collaboration formed by the Scialog grant will join labs that are distinctly suited to work together towards a critical scientific advance that has not otherwise been achieved,” says Smith.

New and better tools will always be a need in health care systems, allowing for better diagnosis and information on how to care for patients. The funding of these projects has the potential to fill gaps in modern medicine.

“With more awards than any Scialog to date, this initiative is off to a great start,” said Daniel Linzer, president and CEO of RCSA. “We’re grateful for funding partnerships that enable us to seed even more projects with the potential to transform an area of science.”

Erik Wirtanen

Web content comm administrator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering