ASU gala honors unsung changemakers

December 17, 2014

More than 400 community members joined Arizona State University’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Talking Stick Resort on Dec. 6 to celebrate the service and accomplishments of eight unsung heroes working for positive social change.

The inaugural Architects of Change Gold and Silver Gala also raised funds to support the work of the center, which promotes unity across cultural and racial boundaries, and more citizen involvement in participatory democracy. group of people pose with Sparky the Sun Devil at a gala event Download Full Image

Frederick Douglass was there. So were Sojourner Truth, Marian Anderson, Wilma Rudolph and other historical change agents and social pioneers – played by cast members of “Black Women Walking” and “Black Men Talking,” a one-act play and theater piece playing in the Valley next month. The actors visited with guests in-character during the pre-dinner reception and performed scenes featuring Harriet Tubman and Willie May Ford Smith during the recognition portion of the evening.

Honored as the 2014 Architect of the Year was ASU alumnus and Phoenix resident Vada O. Manager. The former Nike executive, who is now president and CEO of Manager Global Consulting Group, was joined at the celebration by family and friends from across the country.

Deflecting attention from his own work, Manager spoke about the need for educational equity for all. He spoke with gratitude about the mentors and support he found at ASU, including a pivotal conversation in the financial aid office when his ability to remain at the university was in jeopardy. Manager also gave special acknowledgement to his longtime mentor and friend, former Gov. Rose Mofford, “who had the courage to hire someone who looked like me to be a spokesperson for her administration” in the 1980s.

Other servant-leaders recognized at the event with Architects of Change awards were Amanda Blackhorse, Karen Callahan, Roshawndra Carnes, Brittney Griner, Oskar Knoblauch, Adolfo Maldonado and RJ Shannon.

“Whether they advocate for equity and inclusion, leverage financial success to aid the less fortunate, educate young people others have left behind, teach people how to empower their neighbors, or fight bigotry and bullying, our 2014 honorees have worked successfully on behalf of progress and transformational change – in our community and beyond,” says Matthew C. Whitaker, ASU Foundation Professor of History in the College of Letters and Sciences and founding director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.

Too often individuals who are true architects of change are hidden in plain sight, he notes.

“Bringing their accomplishments to light helps all of us, especially young people, understand the wonderful things that relatively unknown people can do to make our neighborhoods, cities, states, country and world a better place,” Whitaker emphasizes.

ASU alumna Gayle Bass, longtime radio and television journalist in the Valley and now host of “RightThisMinute,” emceed the spirited event. Spoken-word artist Tomas Stanton, co-founder of Phonetic Spit, opened and closed the formal portion of the program.

“Tomas’s poetry resonated deeply with our audience members,” Whitaker says. “And guests appreciated Gayle’s comedic touch and willingness to share relevant personal stories about her life, including some key ways multicultural unity has enriched it,” he continues. “They each contributed an additional layer of energy and cohesion to this evening.”

Putting on an event of this magnitude was a lesson in community-building in and of itself.

The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy’s small staff was joined by more than 40 volunteers, many of them ASU students and staff, who worked behind the scenes for months to coordinate the details – contributing and, in some cases, learning along the way some skills applicable to event management, fundraising and community organizing.

The mayors of the cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale, Greg Stanton and W. J. “Jim” Lane, shared written statements of welcome and support, as did Diane Enos, president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, who noted that the community was proud to partner in honoring those who “are among the best and brightest of opportunity creators and unity builders.”

Premier sponsors were Ashland Inc. and the Helios Education Foundation. Platinum sponsors included APS, Maricopa Community Colleges, the Safeway Foundation and ASU Educational Outreach and Student Services.

Macy’s generously outfitted many of the student volunteers with appropriate attire for the black-tie event.

“The wonderful turnout for this recognition event was in keeping with the enthusiastic response for each of the center’s recent lectures and Healing Racism dialogues,” observes Duane Roen, College of Letters and Sciences interim dean. “There is a hunger and appreciation for all that the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy is doing to bridge differences and celebrate our humanity.”

In November, the center was presented with the Inclusive Workplace Leader award, sponsored by Arizona’s Diversity Leadership Alliance and the Arizona Society for Human Resource Management, at a conference luncheon of more than 1,000 participants.

“The incredible support we’ve received from the community for the work to which we’ve placed our hands has been humbling and affirming,” says Whitaker.

View informative, inspirational vignettes about each of the honorees:

Vada O. Manager 
Amanda Blackhorse
Karen Callahan 
Roshawndra Carnes
Brittney Griner 
Oskar Knoblauch
Adolfo Maldonado 
RJ Shannon 

Maureen Roen

Director, Creative Services, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


NIH grants reflect vibrant biomedical engineering research environment

December 18, 2014

Research grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are among the hardest to obtain. More than researchers’ past accomplishments and the potential for the success of their projects are weighed in the decision-making process.

The NIH wants researchers who will use new and innovative approaches to making scientific and engineering advances. It wants discoveries the research produces to remedy significant problems, providing solutions that will have far-reaching impacts on improving the lives of the nation’s citizens. Stabenfeldt biomedical research Download Full Image

“Only the most promising proposals among those that meet all these criteria are getting grants,” said professor Marco Santello, director of the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. Santello also serves as grant reviewer for the NIH.

He said the hyper-competitive environment, as well as federal budget tightening, is what makes it remarkable that the biomedical engineers, physicists, neurophysiologists and synthetic biologists on the school’s faculty have been awarded several NIH research grants within the past year. The grants amount to more than $7 million in research support.

Grants fund diverse projects

Assistant professor Rosalind Sadleir has been awarded NIH grants of $1.8 million and more than $400,000 for separate research pursuits to develop new imaging techniques for examining the fundamental processes of the brain, and for understanding mechanisms of treatments for neurological disorders and stroke.

Assistant professor Sarah Stabenfeldt has a $2.3 million NIH grant for a project aimed at developing methods to better detect, diagnose and treat traumatic brain damage.

Associate professor Jeffrey Kleim recently received an NIH award for $411,000 to support his work with Stabenfeldt investigating new therapies for treating traumatic brain injuries.

Research led by assistant professor Karmella Haynes to design proteins that will prevent or arrest the development of cancer is being funded by a $390,000 NIH grant.

Xiao Wang, an assistant professor, will lead research supported by an NIH grant of more than $1.5 million to better understand the functions and behavior of the human body’s network of genes. The project is expected to provide knowledge to aid development of medical therapeutics, particularly regenerative medicine techniques.

The NIH awarded $400,000 to a project teaming Santello with researchers at the Mayo Clinic and the Italian Institute of Technology to pursue advances in technology to improve prosthetic hands.

Associate professor Brent Vernon’s $150,000 NIH Small Business Technology Transfer grant is supporting his partnership with Sonoran Biosciences to develop an innovative delivery system for antibiotics to fight infection in open fracture wounds. Sonoran Biosciences was founded by a team led by Derek Overstreet, who worked in Vernon’s lab while earning his doctoral degree in biomedical engineering at ASU. The project involves a clinical partnership with Alex McLaren, who is with the Banner Health Orthopedic Residency Program.

Demonstrating depth of expertise

“For the school’s faculty to get this number of NIH grants in a short span of time is impressive, considering the competition,” said professor Raymond DuBois, executive director of the Biodesign Institute at ASU. “One of ASU's great strengths is the blending of technology science and basic science, and these new grants reflect a coming-of-age for that intersection.”

DuBois himself has been doing research with NIH support for about 25 years, and as much as 40 percent of the research at the Biodesign Institute is funded by the NIH.

The string of grants awarded to researchers in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering “demonstrates the depth and breadth of expertise among the faculty, and shows that they are doing research in really important areas,” DuBois said.

Just as extraordinary, Santello said, is that faculty members are earning the kinds of grants that have historically been awarded predominantly to researchers at universities with medical schools on campus.

“These grants are a stamp of approval, a recognition that we are doing research in a wide range of critical endeavors in health and biomedical engineering, and that we have developed a high-quality and thriving research environment,” he said.

Impact on quality of education

A key factor in establishing that reputation, Santello added, are the school’s expanding clinical partnerships with prominent medical institutions, such as the Mayo Clinic, Banner Health, Phoenix Children’s Hospital and Barrow Neurological Institute.

Also helping to bolster the school’s identity is that faculty members are competing for and earning highly sought-after support from other prominent funding sources, particularly the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, industry and prominent foundations.

Students in the biomedical engineering program are benefiting from the faculty’s success at attracting high-level research support, as well.

“Students get the opportunity to take classes taught by faculty members who are leaders in their fields, who have diverse specialties, who are involved in high-impact work and are committed to making significant contributions to engineering and science,” Santello said.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering