Cronkite grad gets an education – and an adventure – with dual degrees

May 2, 2014

When Mauro Whiteman enrolled at ASU’s Cronkite School in 2010, he suspected it would be an exciting time. He didn’t realize he’d be in for a major adventure.

The 22-year-old senior has covered a major election cycle for The Associated Press, visited Nogales, Ariz., and Mexico to report on complex border issues, witnessed the birth and death of the Occupy Phoenix movement and helped cast a national spotlight on the plight of post-9/11 veterans. Mauro Whiteman listening in a News21 meeting Download Full Image

Whiteman will graduate this month from ASU with dual degrees – a master’s in mass communication and a bachelor of arts in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Fittingly, he has been named the 2014 ASU Alumni Association Outstanding Graduate at Cronkite.

In addition to his two degrees, Whiteman will receive a pair of certificates in international studies and religion and conflict.

“When I started at the university, I didn’t want to leave here with just an understanding in journalism. I wanted a well-rounded education,” Whiteman said. “I want to make the world a better place through conflict resolution and understanding one another by finding solutions.”

Whiteman was raised in Great Falls, Mont., and says he contemplated the University of Montana, New York University and the University of California, Berkeley as college possibilities, but ultimately chose ASU's Cronkite School because of its state-of-the-art facilities and emphasis on digital media and studies. Whiteman admits he was initially intimidated “coming from a small pond to a big lake,” but overcame his fear through hard work and diligence.

He served as the executive editor at the Downtown Devil, an online newspaper run by students, as a reporter and multimedia producer at The State Press and as an intern at The Cronkite Journal. His talents were tapped by The Associated Press to cover the 2012 Arizona state elections; Reuters News in San Francisco on technology and startup companies; News 21, where he traveled to New York and Los Angeles for an exhaustive package on the challenges facing post-9/11 veterans; and most recently as a video producer for the National Journal in Washington, D.C.

Whiteman also pushes himself hard outside of the classroom. Starting his freshman year, he worked as a mentor at the Community Outreach and Advocacy for Refugees program in Tempe, while also teaching English as a second language at the Somali Bantu United Association of Greater Phoenix. Whiteman also lent his talents to former ASU President Lattie Coor as co-founder and creative director for The Manifesto Project, a statewide initiative to help Arizona retain its young leaders.

“Journalism at its core is about constantly learning and getting to know people who have stories to tell,” Whiteman said. “Many times those are underserved populations, people who are constantly struggling and perhaps don’t have a voice. I want to be able to provide that for them and never lose sight of that goal.”

Now that Whiteman has seen a bit of the world, his next goal is to try and change it. He says his dream job is to start a nonprofit for journalism education in smaller countries that are limiting free press and social media.

“Mauro represents everything that’s best about the Cronkite School. He’s serious about his profession, incredibly hard-working, strong in and out of the classroom and engaged with the community. And he takes chances; he stretches himself,” said Kristin Gilger, associate dean at Cronkite. “Mauro is a leader who is bound to make a difference, and I feel confident about the future of journalism knowing that he will be part of it.”

Whiteman will graduate with approximately 260 other journalism majors at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, May 15, at Grady Gammage Auditorium in Tempe.

Reporter , ASU News


ASU, Chinese scientists unlock secrets of the fountain of youth

May 4, 2014

Arizona State University scientists, together with collaborators from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai, have published a first of its kind atomic level look at the enzyme telomerase that may unlock the secrets to the fountain of youth in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.

Telomeres and the enzyme telomerase have been in the medical news a lot recently, due to their connection with aging and cancer. Telomeres are found at the ends of our chromosomes and are stretches of DNA which protect our genetic data, make it possible for cells to divide and hold some secrets as to how we age – and also how we get cancer. Julian Chen and graduate student Dustin Rand conduct research at ASU Download Full Image

An analogy can be drawn between telomeres at the end of chromosomes and the plastic tips on shoelaces: the telomeres keep chromosome ends from fraying and sticking to each other, which would destroy or scramble our genetic information.

Each time one of our cells divides, its telomeres get shorter. When they get too short, the cell can no longer divide, and it becomes inactive or dies. This shortening process is associated with aging, cancer and a higher risk of death. The initial telomere lengths may differ between individuals. Clearly, size matters.

“Telomerase is crucial for telomere maintenance and genome integrity,” explains Julian Chen, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at ASU and one of the project’s senior authors. “Mutations that disrupt telomerase function have been linked to numerous human diseases that arise from telomere shortening and genome instability.”

Chen continues that, “Despite the strong medical applications, the mechanism for telomerase holoenzyme (the most important unit of the telomerase complex) assembly remains poorly understood. We are particularly excited about this research because it provides, for the first time, an atomic level description of the protein-RNA interaction in the vertebrate telomerase complex.”

The other senior author on the project is professor Ming Lei, who has recently relocated from the University of Michigan to Shanghai, China, to lead a new National Center for Protein Science (affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences).

At its core, telomerase is composed of two principle components: 1) a catalytic protein which synthesizes DNA from a template located within and 2) an intrinsic RNA component.  Chen's laboratory has recently developed a means to highly purify an independently functional fragment of the telomerase protein.  This functional telomerase protein fragment is aptly termed, Telomerase RNA Binding Domain (TRBD) for its RNA binding function.  Additionally, Chen’s researchers employed their purified protein to determine the specific region within TRBD responsible for binding a fragment of the telomerase RNA component, termed CR4/5.

The collaboration with Lei's group enabled the two laboratories to generate highly pure TRBD protein and successfully assemble this with the CR4/5 RNA for X-ray crystallography.  X-ray crystallography involves bombarding the protein-RNA complex with high energy X-rays, which then scatter.  By interpreting the scatter pattern, Lei’s laboratory was able to determine the structure of the protein-RNA crystal, providing important insights into the binding of the RNA by the protein.  

The mysteries of telomerase protein and RNA assembly are beginning to be exposed, with the exhaustive work of researchers within the telomerase field.  The findings of professors Chen, Lei, and many others are improving our understanding of this fundamentally essential enzyme, slowly divulging its secrets which will be applied towards the development of therapeutics to enhance human health. 

The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences ranks 6th worldwide for research impact (gauged by the average cites per paper across the department for the decade ending in the 2011 International Year of Chemistry), and in the top eight nationally for research publications in the journals Science and Nature. The department’s strong record in interdisciplinary research is also evidenced by its 31st national ranking by the National Science Foundation in total and federally financed higher education research and development expenditures in chemistry.

This work was supported by grants from the US National Institutes of Health (RO1GM094450 to J.J.-L.C.), Ministry of Science and Technology of China (2013CB910400 to M.L.) and the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (XDB08010201 to M.L.).

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences