Family matters to ASU super-advocate Dan Turbyfill

September 17, 2015

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2015, click here.

Dan Turbyfill likes to get up early on game day and smell the freshly cut grass at Sun Devil Stadium. Dan Turbyfill in his office Dan Turbyfill chats with some new students at a Student Alumni Association meeting Sept. 9. Eighty-three students showed up to prepare a banner and activities for that Saturday’s Sun Devil football game against Cal Poly. Photo by: Charlie Leight/ASU News Download Full Image

This is hours before kickoff — the calm before the storm — when barely a soul is around.

He has performed the ritual for every home football game in the past five years, anticipating the electric atmosphere that will shortly follow — tailgate parties, the sounds of the marching band, the sea of maroon and gold, Sparky thrusting his pitchfork in the air, the players roaring out of the locker room and onto the field topped off by an explosive fireworks display.  

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year to be a Sun Devil,” Turbyfill said. “I want every ASU student to experience the same feelings and emotions that I do on game day, and instill that pride in them.”

As student program manager for the ASU Alumni Association, it’s Turbyfill’s job to get ASU students pumped up about the game, their academic careers and, perhaps most important, to encourage graduates to become ASU family members for life by joining the Alumni Association.

“I’m a first-generation college graduate in my family, so when I got that acceptance letter from ASU, it was the most extraordinary moment in my life,” Turbyfill said. “I had numerous ASU professors assist me in advancing my career, and I maintained excellent communication with them well after I graduated.”

Dan Turbyfill - Part 1 - Leadership:Students from Arizona State University on Vimeo.

Turbyfill left ASU after graduating in 1995 with a bachelor's in recreation and tourism management. He moved west, working in Southern California managing the Sports and Aquatics Division for the city of Manhattan Beach and, later, for the Pleasant Valley Recreation and Park District in Ventura, California.

He came back to Arizona in spring 1998 and worked for the town of Gilbert. Whatever downtime Turbyfill had — he was married with three children — he devoted to ASU in a volunteer capacity. He lectured students about his work, served as alumni chapter president and even sold roses at commencement — anything to give back to his alma mater.

“One day a good friend of mine looked at me and said, ‘Dan, why don’t you just work for ASU?’ ” Turbyfill said. “ASU was my passion and escape from my regular job at the time, but I didn’t know how to make it full-time work.”

That opportunity came in 2007 when ASU offered him a position as a special-events manager with the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Later, Turbyfill was recruited by the Alumni Association in 2009 as its student program manager, overseeing the Medallion Scholarship Program, Legacy Scholarship Association and the Student Alumni Association, which recently hit the 2,000-member mark. Despite the heavy workload and long hours, Turbyfill says what he does is personally and professionally satisfying.

“I’ve seen students who came here as nervous freshmen and who had so many high expectations from their family and didn’t know if they could do it,” Turbyfill said. “I see them thrive today and doing well, and that is heartwarming.”

The familial atmosphere he nurtures is gratifying. But it works both ways.

The ASU community embraced Turbyfill during one of the most painful episodes of his life when his wife, Laurie, was diagnosed with muscular system atrophy, a terminal disorder that affects the body’s autonomic functions like breathing and digestion.

“The ASU community just surrounded me with their love and support. I was able to take compassionate leave so I was able to be at home with Laurie,” Turbyfill said. “Students would bring me meals at night and doughnuts in the morning, or offered to watch Laurie while I went grocery shopping or did work-related things. Others left us beautiful notes of support, saying, ‘Love you, Dan.’ It was very heartwarming.”

After Laurie died in June 2013, Turbyfill leaned into the warm embrace of the university ­­— a comfort he’s still feeling.

Last semester he went back to school to pursue his master’s in public administration, and two years ago he volunteered in the equipment room to prepare the football team for Camp Tontozona in Payson.

Speaking of his connection to the ASU football team, when football coach Todd Graham first stepped foot in Sun Devil Stadium after being hired in 2011, it was Turbyfill who gave the coach his first ASU wristband. It read, “I am a Sun Devil.”

The motto might as well have been scripted for Turbyfill, whose campus office reflects his commitment with a dense decorative collage of maroon and gold — from personalized license plates to a computer mouse in the shape of a Sun Devil football helmet.

The only thing that seems to be missing is that distinct scent of fresh-cut turf in Sun Devil Stadium.

Dan Turbyfill - part 2 from Arizona State University on Vimeo.

Reporter , ASU News


ASU chosen to host global conference on complex systems

September 18, 2015

The annual Conference on Complex Systems (CCS’15) traditionally organized by the European Complex Systems Society is coming to Tempe.

“Arizona State University has been making a name for itself in complex systems science for the past decade. We were delighted to be offered the opportunity to host this year’s conference, along with our partners at the Santa Fe Institute,” said Sander van der Leeuw, lead organizer of this year’s conference and co-director of the Arizona State University-Santa Fe Institute (ASU-SFI) Center for Biosocial Complex Systems. Download Full Image

This is the first time in its 12-year history that the annual gathering will take place outside of Europe.

“While the science of complex systems has been around for 35 years now, it’s more recently seen a rise of centers and institutes all around the world and is expanding to include more social sciences and sustainability,” van der Leeuw said.

The conference organizers felt it was time to bring these diverse communities together to promote greater interaction and awareness of the different work that is being done. ASU’s reputation for being a highly innovative university made it a top choice.

“It’s turning out to be a global summit,” van der Leeuw said. “For the first time, we’ll have more than 500 researchers and students from 58 countries on five continents, all in the same place looking at this together.”

This new approach, with an emphasis on computational methods and modeling, is revolutionizing scientific disciplines across academia. Where reductionist science seems to drop the ball, complex systems science picks it up and runs with it.

It directly challenges the assumptions that every effect has an observable cause, that the whole can be understood by analyzing it in ever smaller pieces, or that a thorough enough understanding of the past can predict the future.

“The science of complex systems looks at information flows, relationships, emerging patterns and iterations. It views the world in terms of systems that are constantly influencing and adapting to their environment. It understands that sustainable solutions are not about increasing control to maintain a status quo, but learning to adapt and ride the currents of change and work harmoniously with interacting systems,” van der Leeuw said.

“This is a new frontier for science, and the hope is that it will be able to provide actionable answers to complex real-world problems that involve nature, society, technology and culture — all while preserving the success of the scientific method,” said Manfred Laubichler, who co-directs the ASU-SFI center with van der Leeuw.

Students trained in modeling and complex systems theory are in high demand for the jobs of the future in all sectors of the economy, he added.

The five-day conference will take over the entire DoubleTree by Hilton in Tempe, Sept. 28 through Oct. 2. It features an impressive lineup of keynote speakers, satellite sessions, paper presentations, ignites and posters. Registration is open online through the CCS’15 website and will be available onsite once the conference begins.

“This is undoubtedly the event of the year for complex systems scientists,” van der Leeuw said.

Besides workshops and speakers, attendees will have a variety of opportunities to network at conference dinners and receptions at some of the Valley’s iconic venues, as well as adventure excursions around the state.

“We expect a lot of new friendships to be forged in pink jeeps or while riding a mechanical bull,” Van der Leeuw joked.

For more information and registration, visit the conference website at