Researching the real-world impact of COVID-19, its effects on health policy

November 22, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.

It's been nearly two years since the first confirmed case of COVID-19, but there is still much more to learn about its impact. Melissa Smallwood Melissa Smallwood Download Full Image

What are the long-term health issues people may experience? What policies could we see in the future as a result of COVID-19?

Melissa Smallwood is working to answer those questions. Earning her Master of Science and Technology Policy degree at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society in the College of Global Futures, she is researching long-haul COVID and its effects on health policy.

"I was interested in this research because my background has focused on disability and medicine and the ways they fit into the bigger picture," Smallwood said. "It's something people don't always think about, particularly in regard to disability, because it tends to be so siloed in our society. We don't really think about it outside of an individualized medical context. But now, with COVID, the volume of people being infected and developing complications is so large that I don't think that we can afford to do that anymore, at least not without some serious negative consequences."

Working with Brian David Johnson and the Threatcasting Lab, Smallwood is researching long-haul COVID through the lens of Threatcasting, a methodology designed to model scenarios 10 years in the future to try and determine potential threats and find ways to overcome them. 

"Bringing in the Threatcasting methodology was new for me. I was introduced to it while working with a lab that was putting together a pandemic preparedness game plan for Sandia National Laboratories since they were basically sidelined during the early parts of the pandemic. They had resources and knowledge that could have been applied to the response, but it just wasn't utilized well. They hired the team that I was a part of to find ways they can better respond and help in the early parts of a pandemic."

After graduation, Smallwood wants to continue her research and anticipatory work. As part of the Arizona Science Policy Network, she is looking to present her long-haul COVID and policy research at the network's Science Day at the Capitol in the spring. The Master of Science and Technology Policy (MSTP) program has helped her develop her research and find ways it can be applied effectively to make change.

"Many issues aren't confined to a single discipline anymore. Everything sort of bleeds into everything. The MSTP program interested me because it's interdisciplinary and focuses on systemic thinking. We need a lot more of that moving forward to really address complex issues."

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I chose ASU because of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the Master of Science and Technology Policy program. I was on the mailing list for the school and saw a notice for the annual conference. I thought the agenda looked interesting, so I attended as a community member and met people in the school. Everyone was very friendly and engaged in interesting work. Throughout my entire prior academic career, I had always been interested in the intersection between science and society, particularly in health and biology. The schools I had previously attended didn't have a science policy program, so I didn't know that existed as a field. Once I found out about the MSTP program, it clicked. This is what I had been looking for my entire academic career.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: One thing that I found valuable that I didn't know before was the different ways that policy gets made beyond just legislation. In a couple of my classes, there was a lot of focus on soft law and consensus-building, which is different from legislation and has different advantages and disadvantages. It was good to learn about the various definitions of policy.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Clinical Associate Professor Heather Ross has been my main professor at ASU and is the head of my applied project. One of the courses I had with her was on uncertainty and decision-making. That was the class where I learned the most and read a lot of where we don't necessarily have answers, and that's kind of the problem but also the point. But yeah, that was also one of my more rigorous classes.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Stay in school, wear a mask and get vaccinated.

Ashley Richards

Communications Specialist , School for the Future of Innovation in Society


Graduating film student wants to be part of a revolution in Hollywood

November 22, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2021 graduates.

Shannon Sons dreams of working as writer, producer and showrunner in the entertainment industry, but she wants to do it with purpose.  Photo of Shannon Sons Download Full Image

“Peter Murrieta is a professor at the film school that not only has taught me extremely valuable lessons about screenwriting and filmmaking but also about how to pursue your career and life with a purpose,” said Sons, who will graduate this December with a BA in film and media production, with a concentration in producing from The Sidney Poitier New American Film School. “His words of wisdom have helped me mold my own purpose as I move into the industry, to develop and produce uplifting stories from underrepresented communities on screen.”

From short stories and poetry to screenplays, Sons said she has been writing and sharing stories her whole life. 

She said during her time at ASU, Murrieta helped her realize that “whose stories we tell and create is important.” 

“He is a champion for the LatinxA gender-neutral American English term sometimes used to refer to people of Latin American cultural or ethnic identity in the United States. community and continues to write and produce stories that show the daily joy and love of being Latinx,” she said. “It inspired me, a white woman, to go into the industry with a purpose bigger than myself … I want to be a part of a revolution in Hollywood, a changing of the narrative to be about the happiness and success of people from all walks of life rather than solely one skin tone and one language.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: My “aha” moment for when I knew I wanted to study film and media production was during my final year of high school. I spent my junior year pestering the principal to greenlight my production of a schoolwide lip dub — better known as a music video with a mashup of popular songs. On the first day of my senior year I was pulled into his office where he told me he wanted to make the lip dub a reality. I spent three months working on pre-production by myself. I created the mashup of songs, detailed the route around campus (where) we would record, made instructional videos for both students and staff to know how to prepare themselves for the day and much more. When the day of production finally came around, I remember feeling like everything I had done leading up to that moment was rewarded. It was the first time I was able to see a production I put together leave a lasting positive impact on all those who were a part of it. I will never forget the feeling I received when this large-scale project I had been working on for weeks finally came together, it felt like magic and I knew I had to pursue producing in college.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective? 

A: The biggest takeaway I have from my time at ASU is the importance of a team. During my freshman year of college, I thought filmmaking was something that could be executed to a high standard by yourself. Yet, my courses at ASU challenged that philosophy and proved me wrong. Throughout the past year and a half, I have been working closely with a small team of student filmmakers to create our senior capstone films. This experience has completely changed my perspective on filmmaking and allowed me to realize that when you have a team of talented individuals who know their specific role and can execute their role at a proficient level, that is when the magic happens.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of a few factors such as distance from home, scholarship opportunity and their reputable film program. But I think the moment I knew in both my heart and soul (that) this is where I was meant to be is when I came to the Tempe campus for my college orientation. I remember seeing the ASU charter inscribed in stone with the words, “measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed;” and from then on, Tempe has felt like home.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: For the individuals still in school, my biggest piece of advice is to let your college experience run at its own pace and let go of comparison. Do not let yourself get swallowed by the suffering of competing against your peers. Of course you are in college courses to learn about your choice of study, but also take time to learn about yourself and what you genuinely enjoy in life without the influence of others. College is a strange time of growth and realization, so please know that it is more than okay to switch majors halfway through and it is perfectly normal to not know what you want to do after graduation. Take college day by day without thinking too much into the future, and use the time that you do have to grow closer to yourself before heading out into the “real world.”

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: My favorite spot on campus for anything and everything will always be the Memorial Union (on the Tempe campus). Some of my fondest memories from college come from sitting in the Starbucks to do my homework, meeting with groupmates in Sparky’s Den and eating with my coworkers in Pitchforks. I spent so much time in the MU thinking about my college experience and reflecting on growth each year. As the walls stayed the same, I changed significantly inside them.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation this December, I hope to move to Los Angeles, California, sometime in 2022 when a job opportunity I have been pursuing becomes available. I am hoping to start my career as a personal assistant to a reputable television producer/writer.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I want to acknowledge that $40 million is not enough money to tackle any problem our planet currently faces, but I would ultimately put the money towards an organization working towards reforestation efforts, such as Trees for the Future, One Tree Planted or Plant With a Purpose. One-third of the world’s forests have been lost, but humanity needs trees for survival. Trees help clean the air we breathe, filter the water we drink, brings nutrients to our soil and even improve mental health. Deforestation is a serious environmental issue that affects many aspects of our lives, and I think it is important we address the issue sooner rather than too late.

Sarah A. McCarty

Marketing and communications coordinator, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts