Student-driven initiative promotes healthy minds, bodies

September 10, 2012

Well Devils Freshman Challenge encourages students to 'weigh in'

Aiming to be the healthiest university in the nation, Arizona State University has launched a large-scale, student-driven effort called the ASU Well Devil Initiative to enhance the health and well-being of its students. Download Full Image

Well Devils, for short, promotes a well mind, body and community to help students achieve their academic, personal and professional potential.  

As part of the Well Devil Initiative this semester, ASU has launched the Well Devils Freshman Challenge to encourage first-year students to adopt a healthy lifestyle and help them to perform at their best – inside and outside the classroom.

Students are being encouraged to start their Freshman Challenge by visiting a Well Devil Zone in select residence halls on all campuses or at the Sun Devil Fitness Center or ASU Health Services on the Tempe campus. More information is available by visiting

The Freshman Challenge is an ASU-Mayo Clinic sponsored research study that will help build a healthy campus. Participation is easy. Students will be asked to swipe their ASU Sun Card, step on a scale and write down their height to help the research team develop a general picture of where freshmen are when they arrive on campus. The weigh stations initially do not show weight to the students stepping on the scales during the initial couple of weeks in which the research study is running, but after that will be converted to scales so people will have access to the information about their weight directly if they wish. Later, students may be contacted again to see if they would like to participate in specific studies or projects on campus.

Students who participate in the study will receive a free T-shirt and be entered into prize drawings including gift cards to the Sun Devil Bookstore.

“The Well Devils Freshman Challenge is one part of a much wider set of activities that transects all parts of ASU," said Professor Alexandra Brewis Slade, director of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and director of operations for the ASU-Mayo Clinic Obesity Solutions project. "This isn’t just or even particularly about weight, but also such factors as how we handle stress, think about food, and make exercise a fun part of our daily lives. It is a problem we collectively face.

“We will be working with the experts at Mayo Clinic to use the data to help design the solutions that will be rolled out on campus, and will be testing which ones students find to be most helpful and effective. No one health solution fits all, so it is a matter of using the data to understand which solutions work best for different sets of students.”

According to Karen Moses, director of ASU Wellness, health is an important part of student success.

“The ultimate goal is that students will leave ASU and remain healthy throughout their lives,” Moses said. “We are building a community and culture of wellness. This is a pivotal time in the lives of our students. If they are able to adopt a healthy lifestyle while they are here in our care, then we are contributing to their lives far beyond when they graduate."

Sharon Keeler

New software helps reveal patterns in space and time

September 10, 2012

The GeoDa Center for Geographical Analysis & Computation, led by ASU Regents’ Professor Luc Anselin, has just released a new version of its signature software, OpenGeoDa. The software provides a user-friendly interface to implement techniques for exploratory spatial data analysis and spatial modeling. It has been used to better understand issues ranging from health care access to economic development to crime clusters.  It is freely downloadable and open-source.

The software is used internationally, with more than 75,000 unique downloads, and lab installations at universities such as Harvard, MIT and Cornell.  The new version, OpenGeoDa 1.2.0, provides the most significant enhancements since the first release in 2003.  Sample OpenGeoDa map and parallel coordinate plot Download Full Image

A key addition in the new version is space-time analysis – maps and charts that make it possible to track changes in spatial patterns over time.

“For example, a series of maps could plot variations in educational achievement by school district, for a series of years,” says Anselin. “An individual map would show clusters of high and low achievement; but adding the dimension of time makes it possible to assess the effect of a policy intervention, by comparing both achievement levels and spatial clusters, before and after the intervention.”

Another powerful capability is the real-time link between maps, graphs and statistical summaries of the same data set.  For example, researchers have used OpenGeoDa to explore the relation between crime and social deprivation, which turns out to hold in urban but not necessarily in rural areas.  Using OpenGeoDa, a cluster of high-crime regions can be selected on a map; and data for various socioeconomic aspects of each region will highlight on a graph.  Descriptive statistics for the cluster – as distinct from the entire map area – will also appear. 

The new version of OpenGeoDa can show how these relationships vary over time, and offers live links between the maps and different chart types such as scatter plots, histograms, box plots, parallel coordinate plots, 3D plots, conditional maps or plots, and bubble charts. Bubble charts are entirely new to OpenGeoDa and can visualize four variables by varying the size and color of scatterplot points.

OpenGeoDa runs on the National Center for Health Statistics’ Research Data Center’s servers;  allowing researchers to use the software to analyze microdata not available elsewhere.

ASU’s GeoDa Center for Geographical Analysis and Geocomputation, directed by Anselin, offers free downloads, documentation and tutorials to support new OpenGeoDa users.

Luc Anselin, who has led development of OpenGeoDa from its origins to the present version, is director of ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences & Urban Planning in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as well as holding the Walter Isard Chair. Mark McCann is the principal software engineer of OpenGeoDa. The development of GeoDa and related materials has been primarily supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation/ the Center for Spatially Integrated Social Science (CSISS) and more recently by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Justice.

Barbara Trapido-Lurie

research professional senior, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning