Character first, robotics second

ASU engineering student mentors share their love for robotics, teamwork with a winning group of local high schoolers

May 10, 2022

STEM education isn’t typically offered at the grade-school level, but a group of local science, technology, engineering and math activists, including faculty members and students from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, and industry mentors from General Motors and Intel, are working to change that.

Together, they created a unique program for high schoolers from underrepresented communities to competitively build robots in their spare time. The program is called Degrees of Freedom and it’s supported by the Si Se Puede Foundation, a Chandler, Arizona-based nonprofit that provides STEM education in underserved communities. Students pictured from behind as they look at a laptop with coding on the screen. Degrees of Freedom high school students program their robot, Red Bull. Students and faculty members from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University and industry professionals mentor grade school students from underrepresented communities to learn robotics and engineering skills through the FIRST Robotics Competition. Photo courtesy Degrees of Freedom Download Full Image

Degrees of Freedom invites high schoolers who have an affinity for STEM subjects and want to expand their skills and collaborate with other like-minded students.

This year, the team is made up of 18 students from six local high schools. More than half of the team represents gender minorities in STEM, and three-quarters of the team represent Black, Indigenous and people of color communities.

Degrees of Freedom isn’t like other after-school programs. It is largely supported by ASU engineering students who volunteer to mentor the team in their pursuit of winning robotics competitions. The team’s electric synergy between students and mentors helped them take home a top honor at a regional competition in March, and qualified them for the world championship.

Daniel Frank is the Degrees of Freedom co-head mentor and an engineering lecturer at The Polytechnic School, one of the seven Fulton Schools at ASU. He also advises Fulton Schools student organization Desert WAVE, of which one of the eight ASU student mentors is a member.

Desert WAVE is also supported in part by the Si Se Puede Foundation, making it Degrees of Freedom’s big sister robotics team. In just a few short years, the student organization has created a reputation of success for themselves in the ASU community and beyond. The group has received international accolades for their complex underwater autonomous vehicle designs.

The mentors believe that sharing their knowledge with young learners opens a variety of doors for them in terms of college opportunities and career possibilities. Their mentorship mission is partly motivated by their own high school robotics experiences or lack thereof.

ASU software engineering and robotics and autonomous systems graduate student Romney Kellogg is a mechanical and social media mentor for Degrees of Freedom.

She enjoys teaching students new skills because, she says, “I didn’t have a mentor in my corner as a member of my high school robotics team, so part of the reason I joined was because I see how the mentors on this team are actively involved with the students, and I wanted to make an impact.”

As a high school student, she recalls being sidelined because of her gender, and her resulting struggles to learn computer-aided design, or CAD.

“I worked with one particular student who was struggling to learn CAD, just like I had years ago, and realized I could connect with her and actually share some tips on how I overcame my struggles,” Kellogg says. “She ended up making a prototype and cut it out on the CNC machine. I felt proud and excited that my help actually fostered a new skill in this student, and that was a personal victory for me.”

ASU student Andrea Schoonover smiling while working with teammates at a robotics competition.

Andrea Schoonover, a third-year software engineering major and project manager for Desert WAVE, is a mentor for Degrees of Freedom. She says she didn’t know she was interested in STEM subjects until entering ASU, so being able to help high school students discover STEM concepts early on is rewarding for her. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Andrea Schoonover, a third-year software engineering major and project manager for Desert WAVE, recalls the learning curve she faced when studying software programming and the feeling of gratification she also gets from helping young learners overcome their struggles.

“Before the season, there is a lot of prep work to build up the students’ competencies so they can be more equipped during the build season,” Schoonover says. “During the build season, we encourage the students to be the ones who are driving the solutions and using the mentors as resources to help implement those solutions.”

The Chairman’s Award

As a result of this camaraderie, Degrees of Freedom competed with their robot, Red Bull, against 35 teams and earned the top honor, the Chairman’s Award, at the Arizona Valley Regional FIRST Robotics Competition in March, qualifying them to compete at the 2022 FIRST robotics world championship in Houston, Texas, in April.

The Chairman’s Award goes to the team that the judges believe is the best role model for other teams.

ASU Lecturer  holding a robotics award.

Daniel Frank

Frank recalls a time at the competition when another team was struggling with their robot’s programming.

“One of our student software experts went to take a look at their code and got their robot driving in time for the next match,” Frank says. “This is the way we compete. We want to make sure everyone is competing at their highest level.”

He reminds the students that “although you are competing against these teams today, years from now, you may be at the same university studying together or working at the same company doing a project together.”

Frank says he believes that “one of the competition’s goals is to get the students to be inspired and become leaders in technology and engineering.”

Third-year mechanical engineering major Ashley Faucher remembers sitting in the stands as the ceremony went on and realizing they weren’t winning any of the smaller awards.

“I knew we were in a good position to win the Chairman’s Award because of our strong team values,” she says.

Faucher was also on a robotics team in high school, and that gave her the motivation to pursue mechanical engineering at ASU. She said she chose ASU because she wanted to go to a school that had a high-quality machine shop and fabrication laboratory.

Robotics and autonomous system graduate student Kylel Scott says he and the rest of the team try to lead with “gracious professionalism,” and “this honor was also based on the impact we have on our community. Our inclusive values make us successful.”

While Degrees of Freedom did not place in the world championship, a few of the seniors decided that robotics was too enjoyable to give up. So they made the decision to attend ASU and become Sun Devils, following in the footsteps of their mentors to live and breathe engineering at the Fulton Schools and join Desert WAVE.

“I cried when they told me they were going to join Desert WAVE,” Schoonover says. “They’ll have a safe space to come to and be creative once they join ASU, and that’s priceless.”

Degrees of Freedom robot, Red Bull.

Degrees of Freedom competed with their robot, Red Bull, designed to launch large tennis balls into a goal and climb a series of elevated bars, each higher than the next. Photo courtesy Degrees of Freedom

Sona Patel Srinarayana

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU launches new online master's degree to fight addiction

New program in the Department of Psychology offers hands-on practicum experience

May 10, 2022

People all over the world have been under immense strain in recent years, with global pandemics and uncontrollable events, such as war and economic unrest. As a result, drugs and alcohol have been increasingly used to help cope with this stress. While they may bring short-term relief, the long-term consequences can be dire. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there were 62 million people aged 12 or older that binged alcohol in 2020, and 18 million people were classified as "heavy alcohol users," with five or more binge alcohol days in the past 30 days. Additionally, over 59 million people reported using illicit drugs in 2020, including hallucinogens, marijuana, cocaine or opioids.  Glass of wine. The Arizona State University Department of Psychology is launching a new Online Master of Science in Addiction Psychology program. Download Full Image

To better answer the call for more addiction counselors, the Arizona State University Department of Psychology is launching a new Online Master of Science in Addiction Psychology program. Unlike other online programs, this program includes an in-person practicum experience, which is completed wherever the student lives, and prepares students to use evidence-based treatment strategies. 

“We just don’t have enough providers to meet the demand for the number of people who are struggling with addiction,” said Matthew Meier, associate director of the ASU Clinical Psychology Center and co-director of clinical training for the clinical psychology PhD program. “We are launching this program to train students how to provide evidence-based addiction treatment so that they can make a difference for people needing help overcoming addiction. The program provides the educational and practicum experience needed to pursue licensure as an addiction counselor."

Meier also heads up the graduate certificate in addictions and the master’s degree in addiction psychology programs. His experience in the clinical environment provides students with real-world scenarios, along with training on the most up-to-date science research.  

MORE: Professor Foster Olive speaks with state legislators about the opioid epidemic

“The great thing about the practicum experience is that it is on-the-job training where students can take what they've learned from the books and manuals in class and go out and apply it under the supervision of a licensed addiction counselor. Students begin helping others while they are still completing their training, allowing them to more quickly make a difference,” Meier said. 

“It is so important to have the practicum experience as part of the program because it improves students’ training and is also a necessary requirement for becoming licensed after they've completed their degree.”

The practicum course has two components: working in an addiction treatment program under the supervision of a licensed addiction counselor, and a weekly online class with other students. In both circumstances, students are taught and guided by a licensed addiction counselor or licensed psychologist leading the practicum and training.

The disease of addiction

Addiction is an incredibly stressful and alienating experience. Families are often broken from it, and individuals can feel personal shame while battling addiction. While there are proven treatment strategies, many people either feel like they don’t have access to those treatments or they may not feel like they need treatment. According to SAMHSA, of the 43 million people diagnosed with a substance use disorder over the past year, less than 10% sought any type of treatment.

“From a treatment perspective, addiction is a disease – there is a predictable, developmental progression of the illness, with identifiable symptoms, and there are treatments that alleviate those specific problems,” Meier said. “Our program not only provides our students with a comprehensive understanding of the psychology of addiction, it also trains students to treat addiction so that they can make a real difference on the ground, in their communities.”

Courses in the program will teach students everything from assessment and diagnosis to evidence-based intervention strategies, multicultural issues related to addiction, and ethics in addiction treatment.

The Master of Science in addiction psychology provides the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to pursue state licensure and become an addiction counselor. The program pairs leading-edge science research from internationally recognized experts in addictions with clinical expertise from licensed psychologists and licensed addiction counselors with decades of experience providing addiction treatment.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology