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January 24, 2022

ASU YP CoNext partnership accelerating LIFT commitments

“Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Reflecting on the words and works of Martin Luther King Jr. in the month that celebrates his life — and National Mentoring Month — members of Arizona State University’s multifaceted community continue to carry forward King’s servant-leadership legacy through service and mentorship. 

YP CoNext@ASU is one such program that’s working to connect ASU students with mentors interested in helping them explore and achieve their professional goals. A community partnership between ASU and the Greater Phoenix Urban League Young Professionals (YP), YP CoNext@ASU leans into foundational pillars of leadership, life skills and community service in its aim to  transition college students into high performing young professionals. Applying the innovative mentoring at scale approach developed at ASU to create a more expansive model of ASU’s virtual career assets, the YP CoNext@ASU program allows students access to help that is personalized to their interests, schedules and needs.

“Our members are professionals in a variety of industries, including physicians, engineers, lawyers, accountants, educators, entrepreneurs and elected officials,” said Ashlee Atkins, president of the Greater Phoenix Urban League Young Professionals. Atkins, who also serves in the role of diversity manager for ASU Enterprise Partners, says the partnership between YP CoNext and ASU was a natural fit when the collaboration began in the fall of 2020 when ASU President Michael Crow announced a list of 25 actions that became the LIFT (Listen, Invest, Facilitate, Teach) Initiative, designed to enhance the lived and learned experiences of Black students, faculty and staff at ASU.

Ashlee Atkins

“This partnership made sense,” Atkins said. “As we are developing our young professionals, we also wanted to develop the Black students who are coming up behind us as we were once in their shoes. We also know how valuable it is to have a mentor while transitioning from college into the workforce. A lot of us wish we had this program growing up.”

Kyle Grout, a junior studying business financial planning in ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business, is one of the dozens of active student mentees taking part and making the most of the mentorship resources available through YP CoNext@ASU. The California native and Marine Corps veteran said he got involved in the program because he wanted to connect on campus with other like-minded students from diverse backgrounds like himself.

“I also found the opportunity to learn one-on-one from a mentor with experience in the corporate world and the perspective of a minority to be a valuable insight into my future career and possible situations I may find myself in,” Grout said. His mentor, Ray Gibson, an enrolled agent and tax accountant who recently opened his own tax and accounting firm, says mentoring has been a rewarding experience for him as well.

“Mentoring is important to me because it is a fair exchange between individuals that creates a bond that normally would not have been established,” Gibson said. “Training is most enjoyable because it offers a different perspective than my own. Everyone has a story. I was once in my mentee’s shoes. Listening, learning and setting the bar for myself and others motivates me as a mentor.”

Suma Hodge, another YP CoNext@ASU mentor and a professional counselor says mentoring is an important way to give back as “an older friend” and guide someone who may be navigating challenges and uncertainty in their personal and professional lives.

“As the oldest of my siblings, I was always looked up to, and had to ‘fake it until I made it.’ I spent a lot of time winging it. I wish that I did not have to,” said Hodge. “(As a mentor) I want to be someone that I wish I had. That’s what motivates me — to show up however they need me to. I feel like a chameleon at times. I could be a cheerleader one day, counselor the next and then a teacher or a coach at the buzzer.”

Hodge is that cheerleader, counselor, teacher and coach at the buzzer for Mariah Buchanan, who recently graduated from ASU’s College of Health Solution with a degree in medical studies. Buchanan says she has learned much from Hodge through their mentor-mentee relationship and is enjoying new experiences along the journey.

“I have been to conference meetings, painting events, MLK marches. I am starting to feel like I really am important in this organization,” Buchanan said. “My mentor is so reliable, relatable, hilariously funny and very honest. She really is inspiring because she speaks her mind and drives a Tesla — doesn’t get better than that.”

Hodge, who also owns a behavioral health consultation practice, also serves as the parliamentarian on the YP board. She says the in-school support that YP CoNext@ASU provides makes it a standout among other mentoring programs, in addition to being a one-of-a-kind program that is specific to Black and African American students.

“You are connecting young aspiring professionals with current professionals that they may not have had access to otherwise,” Hodge said. “They are learning how to advocate for their educational and professional needs that will help them in their future careers. This program is strategic in its matching and connects the right people and gives them space to make it their own within a professional construct. The professional training that is held on the weekends also allows for another opportunity to be prepared to face the ‘real world’ with more tools and armor.”

Buchanan, who currently works for a medical infusion center, says YP CoNext@ASU has been valuable in getting her connected with professionals in her field of study and the community at large. Grout also calls his experience with YP CoNext valuable and says he would be delighted to pay forward the benefits he has received in a mentor role someday when he has gained more experience in his chosen career path. 

CoNext -

Kyle Grout

“I would recommend this program to students who want to get involved on campus and create a connection with an expert in the field they may be pursuing,” Grout said. “The YP CoNext mentors are caring and versatile people that make an effort to help you reach your goals, and together you can have a lot of fun doing this along the way.”

In 2021, in alignment with the LIFT Initiative commitment to encourage more participation in mentoring activities, the number of approved release time was increased from 16 to 24 hours annually to offer more options for ASU personnel to engage in university mentor or mentee programs.

According to Educational Outreach and Student Services, about 40 students participated in the YP CoNext@ASU program in 2021. The cohort was composed of students from various schools and colleges across ASU, including: College of Health Solutions, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, New College, The College, Thunderbird School of Global Management, W. P. Carey School of Business and Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.  

For those who would like to become a part of the next cohort for YP CoNext@ASU, Atkins says recruitment for the program typically begins in the summer. She says information and an interest application form can be found on the Greater Phoenix Urban League Young Professionals website as well as the ASU Mentor Network website, which provides additional information about mentoring opportunities for ASU students, faculty and staff.

“Mentoring is important in any stage of our lives, whether it is for personal development or career guidance,” Atkins said. “No matter what age you are, it allows us to learn from the life experiences, skill sets and knowledge of others, and can help us make informed decisions. I enjoy being the champion and cheerleader for our mentees and seeing them take advantage of the resources provided to them as it’s only going to help them in the future.”

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Top photo by Lagos Techie via Unsplash

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Friendship sees duo through challenging ASU health program into professional life


January 24, 2022

Not everyone makes a best friend in college who will become a trusted ally and colleague for years to come.

Megan Hiestand and Josie Lamp, two 2018 College of Health Solutions graduates, found that kind of friendship the day before their very first class at Arizona State University, forming a bond that helped them throughout a challenging first-of-its kind degree program, and one that has continued as they’ve moved to the next phase of their careers. Josie Lamp and Megan Hiestand with ASU mascot Sparky Josie Lamp (left) and Megan Hiestand met at ASU as freshmen and formed an instant bond as students of the first biomedical informatics bachelor's degree program in the nation. Download Full Image

An instant connection

Lamp and Hiestand came to ASU to join the nation’s first-ever biomedical informatics undergraduate degree program. They met at an orientation mixer designed to give the small cohort a chance to get acquainted with each other and their instructors. While most first-year students attend social events where shorts fit the dress code and food is generally something crunchy you buy in a bag, their experience was quite different. They boarded a bus for the Mayo Clinic campus in Scottsdale where they mingled with Mayo doctors and College of Health Solutions faculty.

“It was super fancy,” Lamp said. “I remember being very intimidated,” but she also remembers thinking Hiestand looked friendly and approachable.

“We just hit it off from the start,” Hiestand said.

Lamp agreed, adding that the two were nearly inseparable from day one. “We took a lot of hard classes through our entire undergraduate careers,” she said. And over their four years at ASU, they helped each other through many of them.

Friendly support

Biomedical informatics is an interdisciplinary major, requiring students to take classes related to clinical medicine, chemistry, biology, federal regulations, computer science and more. These students carry a heavy cognitive load.

“I was pre-med all through my undergrad work,” Hiestand said. “While I was taking science classes — organic chemistry, biochemistry, physics — Josie was working her way up the ranks in much harder and more rigorous computer science classes. Our interests complemented each other. We were able to help each other through classes the other person might not enjoy as much.”

They often studied together in a windowless basement room in Hayden Library, and both women count those study hours among their fondest memories of ASU. Together they labored until the wee hours of the morning, and Lamp recalls breaking down into giggles because the two had “probably been studying for way too long,” she said. “We were tired, but we were still laughing and enjoying life."

A new degree

Biomedical informatics is the reason Lamp chose to become a Sun Devil.

"I took computer science in high school and liked it, but I also like working with people and biology,” she said.

After learning that biomedical informatics encompassed all her interests, Lamp also discovered that ASU had just launched an undergraduate biomedical informatics degree program and that she could be part of its inaugural class. She chose ASU because it was the only school in the nation with this highly specialized undergraduate degree at the time.

Hiestand discovered the major accidentally in an orientation, and it happened the day students were signing up for classes. She was registered as a biochemistry major, but when an orientation speaker rattled off various majors offered, including biomedical informatics, she knew she had to change directions.

Portrait of ASU College of Health Solutions alum

Megan Hiestand

“I switched my major, dropped all my classes and registered immediately,” Hiestand said. “I always joke that I set a record for changing majors because I was officially in biochem for about half a day.”

The field of biomedical informatics is rapidly growing. ASU’s program focuses on four areas: clinical informatics that uses information technology and data science to improve health care delivery and patient outcomes; public/population health; biomedical research, including genomics and proteomics; and imaging, a track of biomedical informatics that looks at data from things like MRIs and CT scans.     

While the field is large, the first cohort of biomedical informatics majors was quite small — about two dozen students.

“Even though ASU is big, we had our own little corner of the university,” Lamp said. “The caliber of the faculty was amazing, and I really felt like the program was there to help us.”

Hiestand agreed: “We were a small group, and I got to know my professors at a far deeper and more meaningful level than the relationship I had with professors outside of my degree program.”

Elevating patient care

As ASU students, both Hiestand and Lamp were conducting research by the end of their first year, and Lamp was a contributor to a handful of academic papers before earning her bachelor’s degree. Both women also were part of ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College.

After graduation, Hiestand earned a Fulbright Fellowship and taught in Malaysia until COVID-19 brought her home. The Fulbright program is an international academic exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government.

Lamp is currently earning her doctorate in computer science at the University of Virginia, with her education funded in part by a National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship. Lamp also earned the prestigious Jefferson Fellowship, UV’s premier graduate fellowship.

Portrait of ASU College of Health Solutions alum

Josie Lamp

The duo still talks to each other regularly, and they visit each other, too. When Hiestand was living in San Diego last year, Lamp paid her a visit, and they took a break from computer science to enjoy Disneyland.

At work, both Lamp and Hiestand see themselves as translators of sorts, people who contribute to health care solutions by bridging the language barriers between computer software developers or other technologist and clinical personnel.

“Biomedical informatics puts you at the intersection of several different fields,” Lamp said. “You have to translate what a clinician needs into something the technologist can use to build a solution.”

Lamp knew she loved research from the first time she was part of it at ASU and hopes to use her doctorate in an academic setting so that research will continue to be part of her daily activities. In the research she is doing now as part of her doctoral degree, Lamp works with advanced heart failure patients and Type 1 diabetics.

“I’m looking at developing better diagnostic systems to help these patients,” she said. “I use machine learning — computational techniques — to figure out the relationship between clinical data and patient outcomes.”

Hiestand now works in Wisconsin for Epic Systems Corporation, the largest electronics health records software company in the U.S. As a quality manager, she acts as the intermediary between end users and the developers creating the software.

Her ASU degree is a huge advantage for her, she said. “I understand the health care system, and I also learned about different medical coding systems and genomics data. Things like that have been very helpful in my job.”

Like most BMI majors, Hiestand and Lamp are working every day to improve health outcomes through complex information systems and data. Both women empower medical providers to deliver more effective treatment, with Lamp working on predictive models to advise medical decisions and Hiestand working on the medical records that track results.

Both of these smart, driven women arrived at ASU with abilities that would have helped them succeed regardless, but their almost-instant friendship that first year made their academic experiences more manageable and enjoyable for each of them.

And though she is surely exaggerating, Lamp made a half-joking comment that sums up how important their friendship was then and continues to be now: “There’s no way I would have made it through if not for Megan,” she said.