Graduate overcomes barriers for community

December 12, 2022

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

While in high school, Ruwaida Jaylani Abshir took dual enrollment classes and earned an associate degree through South Mountain Community College. Through her science classes, Abshir became interested in medicine, which was noticed by her family, who had immigrated to the U.S. from Somalia. Portrait of ASU grad Ruwaida Abshir. Download Full Image

“Many of my parent’s family members who were older did not know how to fully understand English,” Abshir noted. “Anytime they would have an ailment or needed a trip to the doctor, they would call me and ask me for help. I saw that there is a barrier between elderly people in my community and their doctors that I want to bridge."

While volunteering in hospitals during high school, Abshir visited the hospital’s pharmacy most often, which led to her interest in medicinal biochemistry. Now, she is graduating with a degree in the field from Arizona State University's School of Molecular Sciences.

“I would constantly talk with the pharmacist there and look at all the medications,” she recalled. “I then wanted to go to pharmacy school and become a pharmacist to have a clinic of my own and be able to understand any medication a patient showed me. Thinking of my grandparents, I wanted them to be able to have more people in the medical field that looked like them and they could automatically trust would understand them. That’s why a degree in biochemistry was an automatic choice for me.” 

Abshir’s freshman year began normally; she could usually be found studying at Noble Library or in the basement of Hayden Library. After courses went online, it was difficult for her to be involved in ASU activities. However, she used Handshake to connect with a local pharmacist who gave her the opportunity to administer COVID-19 vaccinations for the elderly. This year, Abshir joined three clubs, which helped her make more connections at ASU. After graduation, she plans on connecting with more pharmacists and working in a clinic while studying for the PCAT.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I did not want to stray far from home, and my associate (degree) only applied to universities in Arizona, so I chose to go to ASU. My older brother also went to ASU, so it felt like a safe choice. Thankfully, ASU also offered a full ride. I was granted the Dean's Award, obtained a Federal Pell grant, the Obama Scholarship and a university grant upon entering ASU.

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

A: One piece of advice I have would be to take advantage of the internships and research labs ASU offers, and participate in ASU events hosted by clubs that interest you.

James Klemaszewski

Science writer, School of Molecular Sciences


New study shows policies designed for land use can also protect coral reefs

December 12, 2022

Earth’s coral reef ecosystems continue to be exposed to human stressors such as overfishing and pollution, placing these habitats at greater risk of extinction. Arizona State University researchers are finding actionable pathways to protect coral reefs in an unexpected place: existing policy focusing on land. 

Untapped policy avenues to protect coral reef ecosystems,” a paper published Dec. 2 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), explores how the use of current legal policies and procedures aimed at drinking water, freshwater and emergency management could preserve coral reefs. The paper was written in collaboration with the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.  Bird's-eye view of coral reef. Researchers pointed out pre-existing policies that could assist in coral reef preservation. Photo courtesy ASU Global Airborne Observatory Download Full Image

“There are very immediate ways that existing laws can be applied to coral reefs, and that often isn’t happening,” said Rachel Carlson, lead author of the paper and affiliate scientist with the ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. “This paper was published in part to increase understanding of how laws that are mainly focused on the land can work to protect coral reefs in the future.”

Carlson knows firsthand how long it can take to enact environmental laws. As a previous employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., she worked on a variety of freshwater laws. When she transitioned from land conservation to coral reef research, however, she found that implementing policy she had worked on seemed to stay exclusively on land. 

Greg Asner, director of ASU's Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science and senior author of the article, said stronger communication could improve implementation of existing policy in reef protection.

“There is a huge gap between coral reef scientists and conservationists and the entire land-based policy sector,” Asner said. “This gap exists even in places where land directly touches the ocean.” 

He said the Clean Water Act is a good example of how current policy is underutilized. In one possible scenario highlighted in the paper, states across the country could classify waterways with the “designated use” of supporting coral reefs under the Clean Water Act. This would allow water quality goals to be “directly tailored to the biological thresholds of corals,” according to the paper. 

The researchers point directly at the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act as examples of existing policies that could be applied in various ways for coral protection. Other existing programs in the U.S. that could be used to protect coral reefs are the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s flood insurance and restoration programs and nonpoint source management programs. 

While the article highlights U.S. policies, Carlson said it also includes many global examples, giving the article an international audience. She hopes the paper urges coral conservationists across the globe to leverage existing policy where appropriate to ensure coral reef futures. 

“I think coral reef conservation is seen sometimes as something that belongs only in communities that have reefs, but it really does touch us all,” she said.

Carlson said significant biomedical research has been done on the backs of coral reef ecosystems, and a large portion of global food security, especially in marginalized countries, rely on these ecosystems. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about 25% of the ocean’s fish depend on healthy coral reefs. 

“Even though climate change is happening, local actions can dramatically affect coral resilience,” Carlson said. “If we can act in ways to minimize local impacts on reefs, such as decreasing pollution through some of these existing policies, we can have an impact on how the corals can respond to these global issues.” 

Katelyn Reinhart

Communications specialist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory