The annual Gary Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award was established through generous contributions of faculty, staff and friends of Arizona State University to honor a faculty member who personifies the spirit of difference-making as demonstrated by Krahenbuhl, a former dean of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
This year, The College recognized two outstanding faculty who worked to solve the various and complicated problems associated with the COVID-19 virus.
Meet this year’s awardees:
Early into the pandemic, the ASU Biodesign Institute converted its research infrastructure to focus on testing, tracking and mitigating the coronavirus. Compton at this time was the only faculty member that was board certified in laboratory medicine and volunteered for the role of medical director.
“It was a wild ride in a time of medical uncertainty about the disease, supply chain shortages that challenged our ability to perform the tests, recruiting and training volunteers, hiring new staff and even running our own drive-thru specimen collection units while performing thousands of tests every week,” Compton said.
ASU’s Biodesign Clinical Testing Laboratory has had a huge impact on how Arizona has responded to the COVID-19 virus. Within the first few months, the clinical testing laboratory grew to one of the biggest saliva testing sites in the country. Its successes include the prestigious CAP accreditation, Arizona’s Innovator of the Year award and administering over one million COVID-19 tests.
The learning experiences in the lab were rich and varied, including aspects of business, law, laboratory testing technology, information technology, quality management and communications. Compton organized a year-long project for 40 Barrett, The Honors College students that were team-taught by 13 faculty from across the university. The project culminated in a publication made up of the theses produced by these students and a documentary film that was shown on PBS.
Apart from the COVID-19 pandemic, Compton has participated in many initiatives that have been transformative for medicine.
She served as the editor-in-chief of the first publication of the Cancer Protocols of the College of American Pathologists, where she helped set the current standard of care. Compton was also involved with the team that was the first to use an engineered human organ (skin) in a life-saving setting to successfully treat patients with massive burn wounds.
“This was the first time that survival for burn wounds that extensive had ever been achieved – a medical first,” Compton said.
Furthermore, as the director of the Office of Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research at the National Cancer Institute, she designed and launched large national scientific programs for biobanking and biospecimen science that became foundational for the Cancer Human Biobank.
“It is a true honor. It was an honor to be able to serve the university in this way, in this time of need, by doing what I love in the practice of medicine,” said Compton, on receiving the award.
“To have this award bestowed on me for having done so is humbling. It is my loss that I never knew Dr. Krahenbuhl, but from what I know of him and his change-making impact on our university, I can only hope that he would have approved.”
Jehn is an infectious disease epidemiologist and associate professor of global health in The College’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change. She serves as the head of the ASU COVID-19 Case Investigation Team, where she leads many efforts to track and respond to the spread of COVID-19 in the state of Arizona. She advises senior leadership, provides modeling and analytic support, investigates campus outbreaks and supports test and trace infrastructure.
She has been actively involved in ASU’s COVID-19 response since the detection of the first Arizona case. As she watched the surging case numbers in Arizona, she realized that ASU’s existing Student Outbreak Response Team could fill an urgent need for a surge public health workforce across Arizona.
“We immediately developed a secure, HIPAA-compliant data management platform, built an online training platform and began recruiting volunteers. Within several weeks, ASU students were actively working as COVID-19 case investigators, providing surge capacity for our understaffed local, state and tribal public health partners,” Jehn said.
With Jehn’s guidance, the team grew from 15 students per semester (pre-pandemic) to a program that included 200 public health volunteers, 150 undergraduate service-learning internships, 25 paid student worker positions and six graduate RAs.
In response to the marked disparities in who was getting sick and dying from COVID-19, Jehn led the launch of a field epidemiology team in June 2020 that has provided a wide range of services designed to slow the spread of the virus and serve those in need. This field team has supported over 1,500 families disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
In July 2021, Jehn led the efforts to design and staff a serological survey of Maricopa County. The study was a joint effort by the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, Mayo Clinic and ASU to determine how many people in the county had been infected with COVID-19.
Over 200 students and community volunteers went into neighborhoods from Wickenburg to Apache Junction to knock on doors, conduct public health interviews and offer free in-home antibody tests. The results of this study were critical for informing public health policy and directing resources to communities that have been hardest hit in terms of infection rates.
Most recently, the ASU COVID-19 Community Response Team has been building and deploying DIY air filtration units to slow the spread of COVID-19 in schools and keep kids learning safely in the classroom. The team has built 275 units and placed them in schools and shelters across the state and along the border in Mexico.
“I’m honored to be recognized, although I feel uncomfortable with an award. The reason that I stepped up is because I care and it’s my life’s work and I feel grateful to be in a position to use my skills and expertise to help our community get through this pandemic with as little suffering as possible” Jehn said.
“I also would like to acknowledge that behind every person who receives an award is a huge team doing the hard — and underappreciated — work every day. Thanks to my amazing public health leadership team — Jessica Wani, Jasmine Truong, Jennifer Jackman, Tanya Palit, Laura Meyer, Kim Prete — and ASU’s epidemiology team — Tim Lant, Heather Ross, Val Harris, Anna Muldoon and Gil Speyer.”