President's Professor Leona Aiken treasures teaching

February 25, 2011

This article is part of a" target="_blank">series that looks at ASU's 2010 Regents' Professors and President's Professors.

Professor Leona Aiken, who was once a ballet dancer, prepares for class each day as carefully as she would for a performance. Download Full Image

Rising in the early hours of the morning, Aiken reviews her lecture and asks how she might present the information in a new way, what could improve and how her current group of students will best learn the material.

“Every time, it’s show time,” said Aiken, a psychology professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University.

Aiken has been named a President’s Professor at ASU, an “unexpected and humbling” honor in a long string of awards that she has won. 

“I never dreamed this would happen,” she said. “I was just numb.”

As a former ballet dancer, Aiken aims to bring the beauty, symmetry and order inherent in ballet to her quantitative psychology classes. Although the relationship is not immediately evident, Aiken is attracted to the fundamental attributes shared by statistics and ballet. She characterizes these as “order, pattern, strong form, technique, powerful geometry, discipline and the beauty of human invention.”

“I resonate to that, the beauty and patterns in the structure of statistics,” Aiken said.

Aiken is a treasured professor among her students and her colleagues. Psychology Department Chair Keith Crnic writes of Aiken in his letter nominating her for President’s Professor: “The aspect that shines most brightly to me is Professor Aiken’s willingness to give more to her students and their development than she is to her own scholarly pursuits. That is incredibly rare for someone so internationally regarded as among the vanguard in her field. Other outstanding professors may earn excellent ratings, but few generate the absolute devotion that Professor Aiken does.”

ASU student Taylor Finegan credits Aiken with helping her deal with math anxiety that caused her distress during class. Aiken taught her an easy and effective relaxation technique that helped her succeed in the class.

“There were many days when she would stay after class with me to clarify material. She always made time to see me at her office if I had questions or felt uneasy about a topic,” wrote Finegan in a letter nominating Aiken for President’s Professor.  “Ms. Aiken went above and beyond her obligation as a teacher every day for me.”

Now Finegan is a student who excels in statistics courses. She graduates in May with honors.

Without the help and guidance from Leona Aiken, I would have never found the motivation to face my anxiety and overcome it,” Finegan wrote.

In the classroom, Aiken’s style is active - moving about the room, making the subject fun with color-coded markers and enjoying the class. She distributes complete narratives of all her lectures, so students don’t scramble to take notes. “I’m a very old-fashioned chalk and talk teacher,” she said.

 “While, of course, I use PowerPoint for delivering professional talks and statistics workshops, I don’t use PowerPoint in class because I want to be ‘out there’ in the classroom — I want the material to feel new each time I present it, even if it is material I teach all the time,” Aiken said. “The transcripts of the lectures assure everything is in place for the students.  My lecture is to energize curiosity and interest, and to firmly plant understanding.” 

Aiken began teaching psychology statistics 40 years ago when she went to graduate school at Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind.

“When I got into graduate school, I fell into it and fell in love with teaching,” she said.

And she earned her doctoral degree in quantitative psychology at a time when women were just coming into their own. Aiken was the lone female in her graduate class and she was terrified of failing. Many years later when reunited with three former Purdue classmates who were fellow members of the Society for Multivariate Experimental Psychology, she learned that they were also terrified of her because she never made a mistake.

Those days of few females in statistics are long gone. Aiken recently scanned her multivariate analysis class and noticed that everyone in class was a woman.

“I thought, ladies you have no idea how the world has changed,” she said.

Teaching has also evolved through the years with technology. Using the internet for research can be problematic among students who don’t understand the concept of intellectual property. Aiken carefully teaches her students to attribute everything that someone else wrote.

“You never go to jail and lose your job for too many citations,” she said.

Time spent with those she teaches is treasured by Aiken who talks of challenges her students have overcome from the young woman who took care of her newly disabled father while going to school to a student who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and came to Arizona with her husband and two young children. She graduated from ASU and now has a “phenomenal” job directing a lab.

“I try to let students know that my door is absolutely open,” she said.

Aiken takes role at the beginning of each class and calls students if they miss class twice in a row, since it’s easy to fail statistics if sessions are missed.

Research that she pursues focuses on health psychology and applied statistics. She is a co-author of “Multiple Regression Testing and Interpreting Interactions,” with Stephen G. West. The book has been cited in articles more than 10,000 times and she is currently on sabbatical in Berlin at Free University Berlin working on a revision.

She is a highly treasured professor as her awards attest: ASU Professor of the Year (2010); Outstanding Graduate Mentor award (2009); the Distinguished Teaching/Mentoring award (Division 5, Evaluation, Measurement, Statistics, of the American Psychological Association, Inaugural Award, 2001); College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Distinguished Teaching award (2000); and ASU Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching award (1997).  

The honors are humbling, but it is the beauty of statistics, experiences with students and the geometry that she finds in ballet that inspire her.

“Ballet has a glorious and dynamic geometry that I adore,” she said. “Statistics has this same awesome beauty.”

Robles, Meredith claim Pac-10 wrestling titles

February 28, 2011

Final"> Brackets and Team Standings (pdf)

The Arizona State University wrestling team sent four individuals with two champions while automatically qualifying six individuals to the national tournament as the 2011 Pac-10 Wrestling Championships came to a close Sunday night inside Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, Ore. Anthony">">... Robles won his third title in a row at 125 pounds and Jake">">Jake Meredith won the 184 title while Bubba">">B... Jenkins (157) and Luke"> Macchiaroli (197) each took second to pace the Sun Devils to a third-place showing. Download Full Image

Boise State won the team title with 147.0 points to edge host Oregon State, who took second place with 137.5 points. ASU was third with 117.0 points while Stanford was fourth with 114.0. The remaining three teams in the tournament included CS Bakersfield, who was fifth with 97.0 points, Cal Poly, who was sixth with 96.5 points, and CS Fullerton, who was seventh with 61.5 points.

Robles was solid on the mat once again as he became the 14th different Sun Devil to win three Pac-10 titles and the 18th ASU wrestler to win three conference crowns (includes ASU’s time in the Western Athletic Conference) as he took care of business by scoring a 15-4 major decision over third-seeded and 17th-ranked Jason Lara (Oregon State) in the finals. The last time a Sun Devil won three or more titles in a career came in 2006 when Patrick">">... Pitsch captured the 165 weight class for the third time in a row.

Robles won his 22nd technical fall in the quarterfinals with an 18-0 score over Tyler Iwamura (CS Bakersfield) before scoring a 14-1 major decision over fourth-seeded and 22nd-ranked Allen Bartelli (Boise State) in the semifinals. Robles earned a berth to this fourth-consecutive NCAA appearance where he will be one of the favorites to win the national crown. For his domination in the Pac-10 Championships, Robles was voted as the Outstanding Wrestler of the Championships in a vote from the coaches.

Meredith, who entered the tournament seeded second but unranked in the nation, advanced to the finals and captured the Pac-10 title at 184 pounds and earned the lone automatic berth to the NCAA tournament at the weight class as he downed unseeded and 30th-ranked Brice Arand (OSU) in a 5-2 decision. Meredith opened his tournament with a 6-0 win over Kelan Bragg (CPU) in the quarterfinals before downing third-seeded and 33th-ranked Todd Noel (CSF) in the semifinals with an 8-0 major decision. Meredith, who placed sixth in the Pac-10 as a freshman and fourth last year as a sophomore, earned his first tournament title of the season after taking second in the Fullerton Open, where he lost in the final to Noel.

At 157 pounds, Jenkins reached his second final of a conference after taking second at 149 for Penn State two years ago at the Big Ten Championships, this time facing top-seeded and third-ranked Adam Hall (BSU) for the title. After both men scored on escapes in regulation, neither scored in the sudden victory period before both escaped in the tie-breaker to make it 2-2. After another scoreless overtime, neither man could escape the other, but Hall had built up nine seconds of riding time in the first tie-breaker, giving the Bronco the 2-2 win on riding time. Jenkins opened the tournament with a 19-10 major decision over Alex Elder (OSU) and a 5-2 decision over third-seeded and 25th-ranked Barrett Abel (CPU) in the semifinals. Jenkins automatically qualified for his fourth NCAA appearance.

Another finalist was Macchiaroli at 197 pounds, who finished second after an impressive run through the bracket. Unseeded and ranked 33rd nationally, Macchiaroli had not defeated a Pac-10 foe this season and went on to defeat fourth-seeded and 20th ranked Ryan Smith (Cal Poly), 5-3, in the quarterfinals. He then faced the top-seeded and 16th-ranked Matt Casperson (BSU) and took a 6-2 decision to advance the final. In the championship match, Macchiaroli put up a fight, but was unable to upset his third foe in a row, this time falling to second-seeded and 17th-ranked Zach Giesen (Stanford). With his finish in the Top 4 of the weight class, Macchiaroli, a redshirt freshman, will advance to the NCAA Championships.

Placing third for the Sun Devils were Eric">">Eric Starks (174) and Levi">">Levi Cooper (285). Starks, who was unseeded in the event, dropped an 11-4 decision to second-seeded and seventh-ranked Nick Amuchastegui (SU) in the quarterfinal, but bounced back to win the next two matches for a third-place finish, which he needed to earn to qualify automatically for the national meet. In the consolation semifinals, Starks upset fourth-seeded and 15th-ranked Jacob Swartz (BSU) with a 2-1 decision in the tie-breaker to advance to the third-place match where he upset third-seeded and 29th-ranked Joey Granata (CSB), 6-2. Starks will be making his first NCAA appearance.

Cooper, who was the top-seed in the tournament, lost a close 5-3 decision to fourth-seeded and 29th-ranked J.T. Felix (BSU) in the semifinals, but rebounded with two extra-time wins to take third. In the Consolation semifinals, Cooper took Kurt Klimek (CSF) to overtime tied at 1-1 before taking down the Titan for the 3-1 win in sudden victory. Then, in third-place match, Cooper faced his former teammate from his days in Bakersfield, scoring a reversal in the tie breaker to score a 3-2 win over third-seeded and 28th-ranked David Morgan (CSB) to take third place and earn a berth into the NCAA Championships.

The remaining four Sun Devils in the tournament all placed as well, including Josh">">Josh Sandoval (141), Carlos">">C... Castro (149) and Kyle">">Kyle DeBerry (165), who placed sixth, and Kalin">">... Goodsite (133), who finished seventh. Sandoval, wrestling up two weight classes, scored a pin over Peter Hoang (CSF) in 2:00 for his lone win in the tournament while DeBerry, in his first action of the season, went 1-3, with a 14-2 major decision over Bryce Whitehead (CSF) for his lone win.

On March 9, the NCAA will announce its at-large selections to the NCAA Wrestling Championships to complete the selections for the tournament. The event will take place in Philadelphia, Pa., at the Wells Fargo Center on March 17-19.

2011 Pac-10 Wrestling Championships
Sunday, February 27, 2011 • Gill Coliseum (Corvallis, Ore.)
#/# indicates tournament seed/national ranking (NCAA Coaches Top 33)
125 - #1/#1 Anthony">">... Robles (3-0, Pac-10 Champion)
Quarterfinal: Robles tech fall nr/#28 Tyler Iwamura (CSB), 18-0
Semifinal: Robles major #4/#22 Allen Bartelli (BSU), 14-1
Final: Robles major #3/#17 Jason Lara (OSU), 15-4

133 - Kalin">">... Goodsite (0-2, 7th Place)
Quarterfinal: #3/#14 Garrett Drucker (OSU) major Goodsite, 17-3
Conso Quarter: Brandan Rocha (CPU) dec. Goodsite, 3-2

141 - Josh">">Josh Sandoval (1-3, 6th Place)
Quarterfinal: #4/#25 Elijah Nacita (CSB) pinned Sandoval, 0:21
Conso Quarter: Sandoval pinned Peter Hoang (CSF), 2:00
Conso Semi: #2/#13 Michael Mangrum (OSU) pinned Sandoval, 4:06
5th Place: Jordan Gray (SU) major Sandoval, 21-8

149 - Carlos">">C... Castro (0-3, 6th Place)
Quarterfinal: #3/nr Filip Novachkov (CPU) tech fall Castro, 19-2
Conso Quarter: BYE
Conso Semi: #4/nr Timmy Boone (SU) tech fall Castro, 18-3
5th Place: Nick Jordan (CSF) major Castro, 14-5

157 - #2/#4 Bubba">">B... Jenkins (2-1, Runner-up)
Quarterfinal: Jenkins major Alex Elder (OSU), 19-10
Semifinal: Jenkins dec. #3/#25 Barrett Abel (CPU), 5-2
Final: #1/#3 Adam Hall (BSU) dec. Jenkins, 2-2 tb2 (won on riding time of 0:09)

165 - Kyle">">Kyle DeBerry (1-3, 6th Place)
Quarterfinal: #3/nr Jonathan Brascetta (OSU) dec. DeBerry, 2-1
Conso Quarter: DeBerry major Bryce Whitehead (CSF), 14-2
Conso Semi: #1/#15 Ryan DesRoches (CPU) dec. DeBerry, 4-1
5th Place: #3/nr Jonathan Brascetta (OSU) dec. DeBerry, 3-2

174 - ns/#28 Eric">">Eric Starks (2-1, 3rd Place)
Quartefinal: #2/#7 Nick Amuchastegui (SU) dec. Starks, 11-4
Conso Quarter: BYE
Conso Semi: Starks dec. #4/#15 Jacob Swartz (BSU), 2-1 tb1
3rd Place: Starks dec. #3/#29 Joey Granata (CSB), 6-2

184 - #2/nr Jake">">Jake Meredith (3-0, Pac-10 Champion)
Quarterfinal: Meredith dec. Kelan Bragg (CPU), 6-0
Semifinal: Meredith major #3/#33 Todd Noel (CSF), 8-0
Final: Meredith dec. ns/#30 Brice Arand (OSU), 5-2

197 - ns/#31 Luke"> Macchiaroli (2-1, Runner-up)
Quarterfinal: Macchiaroli dec. #4/#20 Ryan Smith (CPU), 5-3
Semifinal: Macchiaroli dec. #1/#16 Matt Casperson (BSU), 6-2
Final: #2/#17 Zach Giesen (SU) dec. Macchiaroli, 10-4

285 - #1/#19 Levi">">Levi Cooper (2-1, 3rd Place)
Quarterfinal: BYE
Semifinal: #4/#29 J.T. Felix (BSU) dec. Cooper, 5-3
Conso Semi: Cooper dec. Kurt Klimek (CSF), 3-1 sv1
3rd Place: Cooper dec. #3/#28 David Morgan (CSB), 3-2 tb1

Final Team Standings
1. Boise State - 147.0
2. Oregon State - 137.5
3. Arizona State - 117.0
4. Stanford - 114.0
5. CS Bakersfield - 97.0
6. Cal Poly - 96.5
7. CS Fullerton - 61.5