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ASU celebrates new graduates

December 13, 2007

ASU honored its fall graduates during the university’s commencement ceremony Dec. 13 at Wells Fargo Arena.

The fall ASU class includes about 5,000 ASU students. Participating in the ceremony were more than 600 graduates from the Downtown Phoenix campus – including about 180 nurses – and about 700 from the West campus, 300 from the Polytechnic campus and 3,500 from Tempe.

As part of the ceremony, ASU honored Leland Hartwell, a pioneering biologist and 2001 recipient of the Nobel Prize, with an honorary doctorate degree.

Hartwell, president and director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, earned recognition from the university for his contributions to the understanding of cancer at the cellular level.

Early in his research career, Hartwell set out to find an organism simple enough to experiment on, yet complex enough to provide insight into humans. He made a risky choice to use yeast – the same single-celled fungus that makes bread dough rise.

At the time, most scientists thought yeast was not a good model for understanding the complexity of human cells. But Hartwell persisted, and a series of experiments over several years led to a landmark discovery of the genes that control cell division. These genes turned out to be the universal machinery for cell growth in organisms ranging from fungi to frogs to humans.

By identifying “checkpoint” genes that determine whether a cell is dividing normally, Hartwell provided important clues to cancer, which arises from abnormal, uncontrolled cell growth. Hartwell’s discoveries have led him and other scientists to explore ways to stop abnormal cells from dividing. Researchers think this work can lead to new and better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer.

Hartwell’s efforts aim to improve the field of protein diagnostics. He is involved in projects to increase the number of laboratories working in protein diagnostics, improve the availability of informatics for data sharing and stimulate new technology development.

He recently was named chair of the executive board for the Center for Personalized Diagnostic, which is part of the Partnership for Personalized Medicine, a collaborative effort among ASU’s Biodesign Institute, TGen, the Virginia Piper Trust and the Flinn Foundation.

In addition to the 2001 Nobel Prize in physiology, Hartwell is the recipient of the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, the Gairdner Foundation International Award and the Alfred P. Sloan Award in cancer research. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Also at the commencement ceremony, the ASU Alumni Association honored two students with Moeur Awards for graduating with 4.0 grade-point averages, with all their coursework taken at ASU. The students are:

• Heather Carter of Mesa, an interdisciplinary studies major in University College.

• Bryce Walker, an accountancy major in the W. P. Carey School of Business.

The latest group of graduates also included 77-year-old Louise Alflen of Mesa, who enrolled at ASU four years ago. She took out student loans, rode the shuttle between the Polytechnic and Tempe campuses four days a week, and struggled through college algebra but maintained nearly a 4.0 GPA to get her history degree, all for the love of learning. Her granddaughter, an ASU director of student success programs, nominated her for graduation honors.