ASU’s Nash earns Distinguished Primatologist Award

October 1, 2008

Professor Leanne Nash of ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change has been selected by the American Society of Primatologists to receive the 2008 Distinguished Primatologist Award. According to the society’s president, Suzette Tardif, Nash is “a woman who has steadfastly and with understatement held strong to the principles of conducting rigorous and diverse scientific research.” She also pegs her as an academician who forges strong collegial relationships and offers her “sound mentorship to students altruistically.”

A pioneer in the field of nocturnal primate research, Nash was one of the first primatologists to study exudates, or plant gum, which some primates eat and ferment in their guts. She has researched a broad range of primates but is perhaps best known for her work with galagos—popularly known as bushbabies—small nocturnal primates from continental Africa. Download Full Image

In fact, in the 1970s, Nash instituted a galagos colony on ASU’s Tempe campus and oversaw the group until 1994, when the remaining animals were transferred to the Phoenix Zoo and Duke University. The colony was a success on many levels, providing great insight into a species that previously had been studied on a relatively limited basis while providing unique research opportunities for students.

Nash is not one to be pigeonholed. Her legacy is far-reaching and includes notable integrative research on captive and wild animals, including mother-infant interactions, and extensive work regarding the psychological welfare of captive animals. She has been associated with the Primate Foundation of Arizona since her 1971 arrival at ASU.

Hailed for her ability to inspire and motivate, Nash is a natural mentor who enjoys working with students, especially in smaller settings where she can offer more personal attention. When asked what advice she has for students, she answers, “The most important thing is to find the best questions to ask and not be species specific. Be prepared to learn about what’s thrown in your path and take advantage of the situation.”

Also, on a more practical note, she offers, “Don’t expect glamour in the field. You will spend less than 1/10th of your time observing animals and may spend a year in a tent living off rice and beans, so make sure this work is really something you want to do.”

Nash has done fieldwork in such exotic locales as Madagascar, Makapansgat and Gombe, where Jane Goodall asked her to direct a long-term baboon field project. Unfortunately, that plan was derailed by a kidnapping that put a halt to foreigners’ fieldwork at Gombe for several years. But that didn’t stop Nash from traveling to other African locales to initiate her field research on wild nocturnal primates.

A member of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists and former executive board member, Nash teaches undergraduate and graduate courses while continuing her research. She also edits and writes an impressive number of publications each year. Tardif calls her collective written works “the bible” for nocturnal primate specialists.

Rebecca Howe, rebecca.howe">">
School of Human Evolution and Social Change
(480) 727-6577

Rebecca Howe

Communications Specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


Professor, students turn service into success

October 1, 2008

Phil Mizzi and his quantitative business analysis students should be familiar with the so-called “butterfly effect.”  The phrase refers to the idea that a butterfly's wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado, or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado in a certain location. The flapping wing represents a small change in the initial condition of the system, which causes a chain of events leading to large-scale alterations of events.

Not that the associate professor in ASU’s School of Global Management and Leadership and the students are altering global climatic conditions. The team, however, has had a tornado-like impact on the Phoenix conference of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic charitable organization serving homeless and economically disadvantaged populations across the Valley. Download Full Image

Since 1994, Mizzi, who has taught at the West campus school for 20 of its 25 years, has had a connection with St. Vincent de Paul.  It began with an evening spent serving meals to those in need.  It has moved forward from that point like a warm front rushing up from the Gulf.

“At the time, I thought it would be a good idea to get some of our students involved,” remembers Mizzi, who earned his Ph.D. in economics at Texas A&M in 1984.  “I felt maybe our students could perform this community service while at the same time breathe some new life into the organization.”

Breathe new life, indeed.  Mizzi turned the good deeds into classroom assignments, asking students to write reflections of their service.  What he learned impressed him.

“Many said it was their first time doing something like this,” he says.  “They said it was eye-opening and that they had been afraid to get involved in the past because of the uncertain environment.

“Many also said this type of service should be a course requirement, so we made it so.”

As Mizzi got further involved with St. Vincent de Paul, he learned the Phoenix conference was one of the largest in the country.  Soon, he and his students were in the middle of organizational duties for the conference’s annual appreciation day fund-raising event.

And this was just the beginning.

In 1997, Stephen Zabilski, a senior vice president at Transamerica Insurance Group, was named executive director of the Phoenix conference, bringing a professional business perspective to the organization.  Upon learning that Mizzi and his business students were involved with the society, he looked for more meaningful ways to expand their service.

Zabilski’s direction has been evidenced by the Phoenix center’s growth – in 1998, the conference took on 50,000 pounds of donated food items, while today it accepts five million pounds annually.  An operations challenge-in-the-making.

“The conference board of directors determined it would take $2.5 million to build a new warehouse to take in that much food,” says Mizzi.  “They also wanted to see a business plan before moving ahead.  They called on us; this was the first time it wasn’t about serving meals or organizing a fund-raiser.  We said, ‘Hey, we can do this.’”

In the meantime, Mizzi made his board rounds, meeting with members face to face, gaining their confidence and learning more about their ideas.  He turned to Mohan Gopalakrishnan, global management associate professor of operations management, for assistance, and understandably so – Golakakrishnan is an expert in applied research with industries in the areas of capacity, process, performance, inventory, quality and supply chain risk management.  He determined a new warehouse was not necessary, that a more efficient way of accepting, inventorying and distributing the food was.

“The students took this on as a project and came through with flying colors,” boasts Mizzi, who has won ASU’s “Excellence in Service” three times as well as the 1996 Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Service Award.  “We doubled the loading docks, doubled the scanners, doubled the length of the conveyor belts.  We even looked at the conference’s adjoining thrift shop and redesigned its layout to make its use of space more efficient, giving us more room in the warehouse.

“We went from serving meals to becoming part of the management team,” relates Mizzi.  “We are contributing in business engineering ways, in information-flow areas, and we are using our students to make a difference in the success of the conference’s ability to serve more of the community than ever before.”

So successful has the impact of Mizzi and Company been on the Phoenix conference of St. Vincent de Paul, others are seeking the expertise of Mizzi’s budding professionals.  Among those at the receiving end of the students’ efforts – which have become capstone projects on the way to management and leadership degrees – are the Phoenix Public Library, From the Heart (formerly the Glendale Human Services Council), and the Phoenix Music Conservatory.  On the private side, SGML students are analyzing the best locations for a restaurant chain and how much homebuyers will spend upfront to have solar energy-efficient designs.  There is also work with a national grocery association to look at ways to reduce the 200 billions pounds of food that is wasted, preconsumer, annually.

“There are so many positive things that can come from the work our students are doing – work that is centered on real-world challenges being met with real-world solutions.  All of this comes from the success we have had with St. Vincent de Paul.

“When we’re successful, we’re very successful.”

Steve Des Georges