ASU anthropology graduate to focus on ethics in museum studies

April 24, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Mackenzie Wright found her true passion at Arizona State University while navigating being a student during the COVID-19 pandemic. She will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Science in anthropology from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.   Mackenzie Wright Mackenzie Wright

As a fifth-generation Arizonan, and soon-to-be third-generation ASU graduate, Wright knew ASU was where she wanted to study, but her focus changed a little and she said it was for the best. 

I started at ASU as an astrophysics major and only switched to anthropology in the middle of my sophomore year,” Mackenzie said. “What made me switch was Physics 2, Calculus 3, and the onset of COVID – all-in-all a terrible combination that forced me to reflect on what I really wanted to do with my life. At this point, I already had a history minor and had always gravitated towards anthropology after watching the show “Bones” as a kid, so switching my major to anthropology was a no-brainer. After three years of following through with anthropology, my only regret is not switching sooner.”

ASU News talked with Wright about her plans for the future. 

Note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

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 surprised me was the true sense of community that ASU offers, despite being a commuting student. Initially, I was worried I wouldn't be able to navigate the college experience and connect with professors and students since I didn't live on campus. But ASU, and specifically the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, have a bunch of online resources, clubs and events that allow you to connect with others. In addition, the newsletters that provide information about scholarships, internships and more, made integrating myself into the school and ASU a smooth process. You don't have to live on campus to be involved!

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

A: Interning with Brenda Baker, associate professor with my school, for the past year has taught me a lot of valuable lessons, but the most important one she hammered into me was to not doubt myself and my accomplishments. Being a woman in STEM and the first of my siblings to go through college, imposter syndrome was (and still is) a big struggle for me. But by guiding me through my work, research and classes, providing feedback, and supporting me in all my endeavors, Baker has soothed that self-doubt.


Mackenzie Wright

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

A: One piece of advice that I always stick to is the phrase “the worst they can say is ‘no’,” in reference to applying to jobs, meeting new people, asking for advice/extensions, etc. Two of my current positions as a student worker at the Institute of Human Origins and intern at my school were gained by simply applying, despite thinking I wasn’t entirely qualified. But I applied anyway because the worst they could say was “no.” Flash-forward a year, and I still have both positions, so I think it turned out pretty well. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you, seek them out and apply.

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

A: The second floor of Noble Library was my spot for everything – studying, meeting with friends, more studying – plus the Starbucks downstairs was a nice incentive to go. My other go-to location is the courtyard inside the Social Sciences building because all the natural sunlight and plants provide a really nice and calming atmosphere.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’ve accepted an offer to attend George Washington University to pursue a master's degree in anthropology, with a concentration in museum training, and will be moving to Washington, D.C. at the end of the summer. Afterward, I aim to find myself a position as a collections manager or Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act coordinator to ensure museum collections are up to date with legal and ethical standards.

Nicole Pomerantz

Communications specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


ASU global health PhD graduate creates new tool to help treat opioid use disorder

April 24, 2023

Roughly 188 individuals in the United States die every day due to an opioid-related overdose, according to Arizona State University PhD student Alexandria Drake, who reported on the issue in her dissertation.

Her research led to the development of a dashboard that communities, health-care providers and policymakers can use as a tool to help combat the opioid problem in America.  Alexandria Drake 1 Alexandria Drake is graduating with her PhD in global health this spring from the ASU School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Photo courtesy Alexandria Drake Download Full Image

“One of the things about working in public health is that resources are limited,” said Drake, who is graduating with her PhD in global health from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change this spring. “As much as we would like to say we’re going to address opioid dependency and a lack of treatment throughout the United States, there’s just not enough resources, whether it’s financial, personnel or time. How can we figure out a way to prioritize areas that really need attention right now? How do we highlight those alert areas?” 

Drake's dashboard provides flexible data about opioid use disorder, or OUD, and treatment, at a county level, that is easy to access. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health indicate the gold standard of treatment for OUD is called medication-assisted treatment, or MAT, explained Drake. This treatment combines medication and cognitive and behavioral therapies. 

“Despite the proven efficacy of MAT, current estimates show that roughly 30 to 40% of all counties in the United States do not have any providers licensed to prescribe one of the most common MAT medications, buprenorphine, and that percentage increases to roughly 54% when looking specifically at rural counties,” Drake said. 

The dashboard she created provides the tools for “identifying the unmet need for MAT in the United States.” She accomplished this by developing an unmet need of MAT metric, which is a ratio of risk (opioid mortality) to care provision (number of providers standardized by population) for each county in the U.S.

unmet need metric equation

"We saw a big pocket of unmet need of MAT along the Gulf Coast — southern Louisiana, southern Alabama and a little into the panhandle of Florida," Drake said. "We saw some high unmet need of treatment around parts of the Four Corners states and counties surrounding Lake Michigan."

Stigma and treatment hurdles 

If MAT is effective, why are there some counties with no one to prescribe buprenorphine? 

“I think there are a lot of stigmas,” Drake said. “One of the stigmas you hear about more frequently is this rhetoric that if you’re involved in this type of work, you hear all the time that medication-assisted treatment is swapping one dependency out for another. Which is not accurate. The use of medication-assisted treatment is the same as medication you would take for any other ailment you were treating.”

Another stigma is that drug dependency is seen as some kind of moral failure, Drake said. 

A major part of her PhD research focused on the DATA 2000 waiver or “X-waiver.”  Essentially this meant that in order for a medical doctor to prescribe Buprenorphine, they needed to go to an additional eight-hour training and obtain extra certification. This could be another treatment hurdle. 

However, in January 2023, the federal government removed this requirement. Drake said this was a huge step in the right direction, and it's an example of how fast-changing the opioid epidemic and policies are. 

Drake made it clear that she wants this dashboard to be used in a way that makes it easier for communities to get the help they need. She said the problem doesn’t just lie with not enough providers helping, but it could also be insurance hurdles. 

“This is a tool to help communities identify what may be driving the opioid epidemic in their community,” she said. 

“Is it more that it has to do with this unmet need of treatment? Is it the case that there are just not enough providers and not enough care provision? Is it insurance barriers? Or is there is a high quantity of fentanyl being brought in through interstates? These are issues that all need to be explored,” Drake said. 

Next steps

Alexandria Drake presenting her research at a conference in Portland, OR.

Alexandria Drake presenting her research at a conference in Portland, Oregon. Photo courtesy Alexandria Drake

Drake’s next goal for her dashboard and research is outreach. She wants to continue to gather feedback and make the dashboard more user-friendly. Eventually, she hopes to include other types of substance use data. 

Drake has accepted a position as an assistant professor in the Master of Public Health program at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington, where she will be able to continue her research and teach. 

"I think there is more that can be done to better integrate communities and those outside of academia into public health work. I feel strongly about having community stakeholder voices involved in the research process, especially when it comes to developing tools to help the community and public health practitioners."

Drake was also a graduate research assistant at the Knowledge Exchange for Resilience at ASU, focusing on qualitative research methods where she collected data on utility bill burden

Nicole Pomerantz

Communications specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change