ASU center naming honors visionary mathematician Simon A. Levin

April 29, 2014

Arizona State University announced today that the Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will be renamed as the Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational and Modeling Sciences Center.

In a private ceremony to be held May 1 on the Arizona State University Tempe campus, Simon A. Levin, George M. Moffett Professor of Biology at Princeton University, will be honored for his accomplishments in mathematics and insights into fundamental group dynamics. portrait of Princeton professor Simon A. Levin Download Full Image

“Dr. Levin and the ASU center named for him promote intellectual fusion and solution-based approaches to complex challenges in health, environment and the human condition,” said ASU Provost Robert E. Page Jr., who will preside over the renaming ceremony. “Shared, too, is a passion to promote diversity in the next generation of mathematical scientists. ASU has become a leader in the production of U.S. Hispanic doctorates in mathematics because of the center’s efforts.”

As part of the ceremonies, the center will host a series of panel discussions, featuring ASU’s President Michael Crow, Regents’ Professor Carlos Castillo-Chavez, Foundation Professor of Anthropology Sander Van der Leeuw and other distinguished speakers from the U.S. and Canada, including the center’s honoree, professor Levin.

"I started as a mathematician who wanted to use math to make the world a better place," said Levin. "Environmental degradation was a huge concern for me. Eventually, I realized the complexity we see in nature can offer incredibly valuable lessons for more than individual environmental problems; this work also translates to everything from the relationships among banks to the prospects of international collaboration to addressing climate change."

Over the last six years, the center has pioneered interdisciplinary research, including undergraduate, doctoral and mentoring programs, such as the Applied Mathematics for the Life and Social Sciences program in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. This program blends competencies in mathematics with natural and social sciences, engineering, business, government and economics, and is designed to advance students interested in developing the critical thinking skills needed to make innovative contributions to global challenges. The doctoral program has produced 22 students, 17 of whom are from underrepresented minority groups, and 15 of whom are Latinos/as, according to Castillo-Chavez.

Castillo-Chavez, founding director of the center and the Joaquin Bustoz Jr. Professor of Mathematical Biology, said he looks forward to advancing the goals of the center as it assumes its new identity: bridging the gap between the biological, environmental and social sciences and the mathematical sciences; establishing flexible research and training cross-disciplinary programs driven by global and dynamic perspectives; and offering students from all backgrounds pathways to achieve their dreams.

Margaret Coulombe

Director, Executive Communications, Office of the University Provost


Psychology students shine as ASU New College outstanding grads

April 30, 2014

While ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences offers degrees in fields as diverse as applied computing, history, communication studies and life sciences, it was two psychology majors who rose to the top among the nominees for the college’s Outstanding Graduate awards for the spring of 2014. Benjamin Polakoff was selected as outstanding undergrad, while Melissa Flores was named outstanding grad student in New College, the core college on ASU’s West campus.

Both Polakoff and Flores have been accepted to doctoral programs. In fact, Flores was able to choose from five offers from doctoral programs around the country. portrait of Ben Polakoff & Melissa Flores Download Full Image

As he wraps up his bachelor's degree in psychology, Polakoff is headed to the University of Utah to attend its doctoral program in school psychology. His aspirations in that field are twofold; he would like to engage both in counseling and in research that informs and improves counseling practices in educational settings and contexts.

During an ASU internship with the Alhambra School District, Polakoff shadowed a school psychologist in a Title I middle school. There, he gained experience assessing children to determine their eligibility for special education services.

“The internship enabled me to have experiences out in the field for my future career even before I graduated,” Polakoff said. “The West campus and New College have been perfect for having access to the classes and experiences that I needed to be able to get into a good graduate school.”

To gain experience conducting research, Polakoff served as a research assistant for New College’s Identity & Intergroup Relations Lab. “Ben has played a vital role in a program of psychological research that explores how identification with social groups shapes the way we perceive and interact with others,” said Deborah Hall, the New College faculty member who nominated Polakoff for the Outstanding Graduate award.

Polakoff’s busy schedule also included work with America Reads, tutoring children from diverse backgrounds across a range of grades at Title I schools in metropolitan Phoenix. He worked at an off-campus job and served as a scout master with the Boy Scouts of America.

“Ben is not only incredibly bright, hard-working and mature, but also deeply committed to helping those around him,” Hall said.

Flores, meanwhile, earned praise from faculty member Elias Robles for her work during her pursuit of a master's degree in psychology through New College. She enrolled in the program after earning her bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin.

“Melissa is a bright, extremely dedicated student who did everything right in our program,” Robles said. “She worked very hard to excel in every class and project she undertook, and she was able to see and seize the many opportunities afforded by the New College and ASU. It is so refreshing to see a person be proactive about her own education and professional growth, and she’s just beginning.”

Flores’ research interests focus on how emotion and stress can affect the human immune system, health and health behaviors.

“My thesis investigated how measures of positivity in the workplace are related to health in full-time workers,” she said. “I found that perception of performance and mental resilience at work are positively related to health, but being happily engrossed in one’s work is negatively related to health. For my doctoral dissertation I am interested in exploring how social stress and emotion suppression can affect glucose metabolism.”

While at the West campus, Flores worked with New College faculty member Mary Burleson on a National Institutes of Health-funded project studying effects of affectionate touch between spouses on cardiovascular stress responses. She also worked with faculty member Perla Vargas on multiple projects, including an examination of the role of sleep disturbances on the health of college students, as well as the usage of over-the-counter medications in this population.

Flores will head to Tucson and the University of Arizona for her doctorate. She chose that program after also being accepted at the University of California-Merced, Utah State University, Clemson University and University of North Texas.

“New College's M.S. program in psychology helped me solidify my interests in research while helping me build my resume to become a competitive applicant to doctoral programs,” Flores said.

“I was able to present at conferences, help write manuscripts with professors, guest lecture for many different undergraduate classes and serve as a teaching assistant for courses as well,” she said. “The program also offers two statistics courses that led me to become more interested in the quantitative aspect of research psychology. I then had the opportunity to take an upper-level graduate statistics course in Tempe, which I very much enjoyed.”

Flores and Polakoff will be recognized during New College’s convocation ceremony at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 13, on the Quad at ASU’s West campus. Graduating students will also participate in the ASU-wide commencement ceremonies in Tempe, on May 12 for grad students and May 14 for undergrads.