ASU Graduate College announces 2023 Staff Awards for Excellence recipients

May 24, 2023

Four staff members were honored with 2023 Graduate College Staff Awards for Excellence by the Graduate College at Arizona State University on Thursday, May 18.

This annual event celebrates the work and contributions of staff members who support graduate students, uphold the mission of the Graduate College and fulfill the ASU Charter.  2023 Staff Awards for Excellence recipients stand in a line holding their awards. (From left) Tina Lopez-Hughes, Mark Bernal, Amanda Athey, who accepted the award on behlf of Michele Clark, and Christopher Clanahan pose with the 2023 Graduate College Staff Awards for Excellence. Download Full Image

Nominees were selected across different categories that highlight their dedication, adaptability and penchant for innovation. There were many powerful examples of the impact graduate support staff have on graduate students’ lives and careers. 

The awards are distributed across four categories: Going the Extra Mile, Outstanding New Staff Member, Supporting Student Success and Outstanding Collaboration.

Outstanding New Staff Member: Christopher Clanahan

Clanahan, manager of graduate programs at the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, upholds a commitment to graduate success by carrying out annual reviews for doctoral students. Clanahan is crucial in assessing students' academic progress, as well as managing graduate advising, admissions, funding and awards, alumni relations, academic program logistics, curriculum, coordination, assessment and accreditation.

Clanahan actively seeks opportunities for change in the school’s graduate policies and regularly shapes the policy agenda, ensuring graduate students have current, relevant, equitable and transparent information. 

"It is a great honor to receive the Graduate College Staff Award for Excellence: Outstanding New Staff Member. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Daoqin Tong and the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning for nominating me for this award. I would also like to thank my team for their ongoing support and dedication towards providing exceptional graduate experiences to our students. As an academic administrator, my goal is to engage, inform and advise students to become effective practitioners, innovative academics and empowered members of the community," Clanahan said.

Going the Extra Mile: Tina Lopez-Hughes

Lopez-Hughes is often called a “lifesaver" for graduate students as the academic success coordinator and manager of student services at the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences on ASU's West campus.

She has been integral in promoting and implementing New College's accelerated master's degree programs. Lopez-Hughes meets with every student to craft a unique pathway to a graduate degree. She is hands-on during the faculty review process, explaining the nuance of each student's particular qualifications and career goals. Lopez-Hughes' efforts have helped increase the diversity and quality of the college's graudate student population.

"I am honored to receive this award, especially as my nomination came from two program directors I admire so much. I love education and serving others. Each opportunity to support our incredible faculty and students is my small contribution to their educational and professional goals. Whether it is connecting students and faculty, guiding international students through policies and procedures, or reminding students to apply to graduate, I hope my assistance makes their educational journey a smooth and positive experience," Lopez-Hughes said.

Outstanding Collaboration: Michele Clark

Known for establishing networks for underrepresented graduate students, Michele Clark has been instrumental in advocating for representation in science, technology, engineering and math. Clark is the program manager for Earth System Science for the Anthropocene Graduate Scholars Network, where she brings a robust scientific background working across disciplines and within governmental agencies. 

Clark has helped seek funding for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program and other entities. She was instrumental in the continuity of the CIRCLES Mentor Training Program in 2022 and has served on hiring committees for the Graduate College. She also spoke at student-facing events like the Preparing Future Faculty and Scholars Lunch and Learn seminar.

Clark is recognized as being thoughtful and generous with her time and expertise and has helped to transform graduate education into a more inclusive and holistic experience.

“She is a great connector within the university; she pulls engagement with staff, faculty and students to form essential networks of support,” said nominator Amanda Athey, the director of professional development and engagement at the Graduate College.

Supporting Student Success: Mark Bernal

Since Mark Bernal started working at the College of Health Solutions, faculty and staff have enjoyed positive changes in daily operations. For the past few months, the academic facilities specialist at the Downtown Phoenix campus has addressed maintenance issues small and large and prioritized health and safety concerns.

Bernal is known for excellent communication skills, diligence and dependability on the job and is highly attuned to the needs of faculty and staff. He strives to break barriers to accessibility and overall comfort, and his commitment to advancing graduate education is shown through a history of compassion toward the problems of others.

“Mark followed up with me the next day to verify whether my issues were resolved. I have not experienced such personalized follow-ups with service tickets in the past. This has been of tremendous help,” said nominator Thomas Kaufmann, a graduate teaching associate at the College of Health Solutions.

From taking off-hours calls to resolving escalating issues, faculty have noticed that he delivers in a timely manner, alleviating anxiety and ensuring his colleagues feel heard. 

Marketing Content Specialist, Graduate College

Into the 'Mammalverse': Genomics advances unlock secrets hidden within mammals' genetic blueprints

Article from ASU professor explores future, implications of mammal genomics

May 24, 2023

An Arizona State University researcher recently co-authored a perspective article as part of the special section “Zoonomia” in the renowned journal Science. School of Life Sciences Assistant Professor Nathan Upham and Michael Landis, assistant professor at Washington University, explore the implications and main advances of six publications by the Zoonomia Consortium on evolutionary history and give their view on the future of mammal genomics.

I think this article expertly highlights some of the most important features of the largest release of mammalian genomes ever,” said Melissa Wilson, an expert in genetics and associate professor in the School of Life Sciences.  Portrait headshot of Assistant Professor Nathan Upham with greenery behind him. ASU Assistant Professor Nathan Upham published a perspective article that explores the implications and main advances of six publications by the Zoonomia Consortium on evolutionary history. Photo courtesy Nathan Upham

The “mammalverse” – as referred to by Upham – encompasses the universe of diverse mammal species, ecologies and genomes to be investigated. Mammal genomics — studying the genes and DNA of mammals — is a fast-growing area of research that can help us learn more about how mammals have evolved and are related to each other, and even discover new ways to improve human and animal health.

Mammals include monkeys, cats, whales, mice, bats and humans. This fascinating group of species has complex genetic codes that determine their characteristics and traits. 

Geneticists use advanced techniques and technologies to examine the DNA sequences of different mammals and compare how their genes work. Genomic datasets containing hundreds of mammals’ DNA (or RNA) sequences can provide critical information about evolutionary relationships, genetic diversity and potential health implications. 

The Zoonomia Consortium’s new dataset of 240 species’ genomes has unlocked new research at the molecular, individual and population levels among mammals. In their perspective article, Upham and Landis explore such publications and provide additional insights into the field.

“The alignment of whole genomes for these 240 species of placental mammals shows how much we can learn about humans by studying nonhumans,” Upham said. 

“We can now better explore all the mammal diversity that is alive today on Earth (6,500 species), including their wide variety of ecological traits (flying to burrowing to fully aquatic) and genomic diversity (transposable elements, enhancers, transcription factors and protein-coding genes). All of this diversity is now beginning to be explored using datasets and tools like those presented in these Zoonomia articles,” he said.  

Various cutting-edge techniques and technologies, including high-throughput sequencing, comparative genomics and computational analyses, have allowed scientists to explore the vast complexities of mammalian genomes, including previously unexplored regulating elements.

“The sequencing of genomes from wild mammal species is far more feasible now than it was 20 years ago, thanks to new ultra-long read sequencing technologies that are now able to traverse the highly repetitive DNA regions that are abundant in mammal genomes,” Upham said. As one article in the package found, this “dark matter” of mammal genomes makes up  approximately 25–65% of DNA content for typical species.

Shown is the consensus timescaled phylogeny from Upham et al. (2019) and genome data downloaded from NCBI on 9 February 2023.

Genomes for 675 mammal species relative to the Mammalia phylogenetic tree of 5,911 living species shows the disproportionate representation of large-bodied species related to cats, dogs, whales, monkeys and some marsupials. Shown is the consensus time-scaled phylogeny from Upham et al. (2019) and genome data downloaded from NCBI on Feb. 9. Photo courtesy Nathan Upham

“As a result, studying the diversity and abundance of different types of transposable elements is now feasible for the first time,” Upham said.  

Despite all the significant advances in the field of mammal genomics, there are still several limitations.

“The alignment of these 240 genomes (from the Zoonomia Consorium’s new dataset) is a big advance, but they highlight how little is actually known about the mammalverse of 6,500 living species’ genomes. Only 675 species of mammals have yet had their genomes sequenced, and many of those are low-quality assemblies," Upham said.

In addition, he said there is a large bias in which species have been sequenced, mostly large-bodied and high-latitude species (e.g., species related to cats, dogs, whales, cattle and monkeys). As a result, there is a need to sequence small-bodied bats, rodents and shrews to even out the sampling of genomes.  

“Future sequencing of genomes in small-bodied mammals will be valuable, as these species are expected to evolve more rapidly because of large population sizes and short generation times. However, both dynamics can be flipped when small species are range restricted (for example, on mountains or islands) or long lived (such as in some bats like Myotis species), which underscores their value for comparative genomic studies,” Upham and Landis wrote in the article.  

Nonetheless, the article shows that the field holds immense potential for enhancing our understanding of mammalian biology, evolution and health, ultimately paving the way for advancements in medicine, conservation and evolutionary biology.

Anaissa Ruiz-Tejada

Graduate Science Writer, School of Life Sciences