Families, ASU faculty shed light on cold case crisis at ASU symposium

September 30, 2022

In the United States, there are over 270,000 cold cases — unsolved criminal cases of homicide or missing persons that remain open pending the discovery of new evidence. Behind each of these cold cases there are thousands of families, friends and loved ones that are left without answers.

This topic and more were discussed last week at the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences’ first-ever Cold Case Symposium. At the event, over 300 community members, faculty, experts, students and staff came together, both in-person and virtually, to better understand this crisis, bring awareness to local cold cases and explore some of the work being done to address this growing problem.  People seated on a stage. One of them speaks into a microphone. Krystal Hans (left), an assistant professor of forensic entomology at Purdue University, leads a Q&A panel discussion with speakers (left to right) David Robinson II, Ethan A. Ristow, Kelsi German and Sarah Turney at the first-ever Cold Case Symposium at ASU's West campus on Sept. 23. Download Full Image

The event, co-hosted with the Purdue University College of Agriculture’s Department of Entomology, took place at Arizona State University’s West campus in recognition of National Forensic Science Week.

“This event is the first of its kind where it's bringing together academics, students, family members, advocates and organizations to build a collective community of people that have the same goal and the same interest,” said Krystal Hans, an assistant professor of forensic entomology at Purdue University.

“We are talking about ways that we can build this network, support these cases and aid in these investigations, whether it's from a student that wants to find out how they can get involved, or a community member that wants to hear more about a case and wants to share that in their community. We’re just looking to bring all of these people together to help support cases that are in need.”

Disparities in cold cases

Although cold cases are a topic that many are familiar with, one of the goals of the event was to encourage attendees to go beyond entertainment and gain a deeper understanding of the lives that are impacted by cold cases.

The event began with an introduction from the organizers Hans and Lauren Weidner, an assistant professor in the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences

In their overview of cold cases, they shared that one of the reasons cases go cold is the lack of resources and a centralized location to access information. In the U.S., only 7% of police departments have a dedicated cold case unit, and only 20% have a protocol for initiating cold case investigations.

Hans and Weidner also touched on the racial disparities seen in media coverage of missing persons. Although nearly 40% of missing persons are people of color, experts agree that the coverage of white and minority victims is disproportionate.

“One thing that we see is very striking is that vulnerable communities are impacted the most,” Hans said. “Every case deserves as much attention as the Gabby Petito case received. Daniel Robinson and Lauren Cho should be names that we all know well. It's unfortunate how many cases don't get that kind of attention and community support.”

Families seeking justice

During the event, attendees first heard from David Robinson II, the father of Daniel Robinson, who went missing in June 2021. Daniel Robinson, a 24-year-old geologist, was last seen leaving his work site in Buckeye, Arizona. In July 2021, his vehicle was found about two and a half miles from the work site in a remote part of the desert. Although his vehicle was recovered, he has still not been found.

David Robinson II, an Army veteran, spoke about how he moved from South Carolina to Arizona to search for his son and has continued his unwavering fight for answers over one year later. He founded the Daniel Robinson Foundation to provide help for families who are experiencing a similar situation.

Kelsi German took the stage next to speak about the murder of her sister, Liberty German and her best friend Abigail Williams. Liberty German and Williams were murdered in February of 2017 in Delphi, Indiana. The crime remains unsolved to this day, despite video evidence found on Liberty German’s cell phone. 

Since 2017, Kelsi German has become an advocate for her sister and other family members fighting for answers. She is a recent graduate of Purdue University with degrees in forensic science and psychology.

Ethan A. Ristow went on to speak about his son, Ethan B. Ristow, a 38-year-old man who has been missing since August 2021. He was last seen in the desert near the border of Fountain Hills, Arizona. At the time of his disappearance, he was with his wife and two sons and became separated from his family and has not been seen since. Ethan A. Ristow continues his tireless searches for his son, and has started a YouTube channel in an effort to bring greater public awareness.

New College alumna Sarah Turney was the final speaker during the morning session. Sarah is the sister of Alissa Turney, a 17-year-old woman who went missing in May 2001. Sarah, the host of podcasts Voices for Justice and Disappearances, spoke about the power of social media in missing persons cases.

After searching for answers in her sister's case for years, Sarah took to TikTok in the hopes that the case would gain media exposure. Her videos began going viral and with a renewed public interest in Alissa’s case, an arrest was made in August of 2020.

Following the individual speakers, attendees had the opportunity to ask questions during a live Q&A panel discussion.

Students and organizations dedicated to finding answers

In addition to hearing directly from families impacted by cold cases, attendees also heard from students and organizations working on cold cases.

Brayden Johnson, an undergraduate student from Purdue University, shared work he had done on a cold case and what he learned from the experience via Zoom. In a course taught by Hans, Johnson researched the cold case of Janet Shirar, the great aunt of his fiancée who was murdered in 1980. Through this experience, Johnson was able to uncover new details in the case 

“It wasn't just about finding any information. It was about finding information that had been overlooked or needed a new pair of eyes — something that could push the investigation even an inch toward a solution,” Johnson said.

The final speaker of the day was Ryan Backmann, the founder of Project: Cold Case, an organization based out of Jacksonville, Florida. Project: Cold Case was founded in 2015, after Backmann’s father was murdered in 2009. The organization works with families around the U.S. who have lost loved ones in a cold case to provide resources and support. Over 1,000 cases have been submitted by families and law enforcement to be featured on the Project: Cold Case website.

Continued collaboration to heighten awareness

Moving forward, the event organizers said they plan to hold the Cold Case Symposium annually as part of New College’s commitment to leading the way in the forensic sciences. 

“The first Cold Case Symposium hosted here at ASU’s West campus was an incredible experience and I am proud that I was able to host this event with friends and colleagues,” Weidner said. “This event was an opportunity to share knowledge and experience with attendees who had a common goal — supporting these cases and raising awareness. I am looking forward to growing this event and seeing the positive impact that can come from it.”

New College currently offers several degrees in forensic sciences that take an interdisciplinary and practical approach, including bachelor’s degrees in forensic science, forensic psychology and computational forensics as well as master’s degrees in forensic science and forensic psychology

Since 2016, New College has granted nearly 900 degrees in forensic science, forensic psychology and computational forensics.

Emily Balli

Multimedia specialist, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

New Center for American Institutions aims to help Americans regain confidence in their institutions

ASU center’s Oct. 14 launch event to feature local leaders, keynote on academic freedom on college campuses

September 23, 2022

The new Center for American Institutions, housed in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University and established in summer 2022, has a single mission: to foster and renew respect for foundational American institutions through undergraduate education and public outreach. 

Surveys show that many Americans have lost confidence in their institutions. The Center for American Institutions seeks to restore that confidence, especially in college-aged audiences, who may not understand how these institutions work within a constitutional framework. American flags fly at the Washington Monument American flags fly at the Washington Monument. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now Download Full Image

“There are many common questions I’ve heard from students about our institutions, such as: Why are Supreme Court justices appointed without term limits? Why was the Federal Reserve Bank created and how are interest rates set? What role does organized religion play in maintaining a well-ordered society? What is religious liberty and why did the framers of the Constitution guarantee religious freedom? What role should the media play in society?” said Donald Critchlow, professor of American political history at the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and director of the center.

“We want to answer these questions and help foster respect for our institutions through public forums, discussions and research.”

The newly designated center aligns with ASU's New American University enterprise of transdisciplinary study, academic rigor, broad accessibility and social embeddedness through meaningful engagement with local and national communities.

“Over the course of the next five years, the Center for American Institutions will form national panels composed of leading public officials to examine key institutions," Critchlow said. "These panels are charged with issuing national reports based on objective data and prescriptive remedies to improve these institutions. These reports will be widely distributed to the media, public officials and the public. These panel reports will present an opportunity for ASU to have a national impact on these discussions.”

ASU students will serve as research assistants for these panels and will have the opportunity to meet national public figures. Additionally, the center will provide opportunities for students to participate in education forums sponsored by the center.

“For example, the center is facilitating a Reagan Ranch Retreat in Santa Barbara, (California), this year where 15 ASU students will participate in a moot Supreme Court case about free speech,” Critchlow said. “The center is funding travel and lodging expenses for students participating in this three-day workshop. This is the first of many such workshops that the new center will sponsor.” 

In addition, the center will continue offering the ASU High School Leadership Academy, which attracts hundreds of high school students from the area each year. The center plans on expanding this program statewide by sponsoring one-day workshops in cities and towns across the state. 

The official launch event is planned for 6 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 14, in Armstrong Hall on ASU's Tempe campus, and event RSVPs are now being accepted. It will feature comments by Arizona Board of Regents’ Jessica Pacheco, Arizona Supreme Court Justice Bill Montgomery, Ingrid Gregg, center Director Donald Critchlow and Associate Director Jonathan Barth, and will include a keynote by author Bret Weinstein.

Andrea Chatwood

Communications Specialist, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Collaboration is key to future of health care workforce, panel says

September 22, 2022

Collaboration is the key to shaping the future health care workforce, said health leaders at a recent panel discussion.

That was the overwhelming consensus among experts and attendees alike at “The Future Health Workforce: Insights and Solutions” discussion. The event, hosted by Arizona State University's College of Health Solutions, took place at the ASU California Center, located in the historic Herald Examiner building in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Woman speaking into microphone behind a lectern on a stage on which two other people are seated behind a table. A sign behind them reads "ASU California Center." College of Health Solutions Dean Deborah Helitzer (left) introduces Dr. Donna Elliott and Dr. Michael Kanter at the panel discussion "The Future Health Workforce: Insights and Solutions" at the ASU California Center in Los Angeles on Sept. 16. Photo by Carl Jimenez/ASU Download Full Image

Moderated by College of Health Solutions Dean and Professor Deborah Helitzer, panelists Dr. Donna Elliott, vice dean and professor of the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, and Dr. Michael Kanter, professor and chair of the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine, responded to the question of how colleges and universities can prepare students to meet the challenges presented by our health care system.

Both noted physicians and educators said future doctors and other health care providers must learn how to work with others in order to deliver better health outcomes.

High test scores won’t be enough

Elliott said high MCAT scores and grade point averages won’t be the most valuable assets for people applying to medical schools.

“As medical schools go about screening the large number of applicants for those who can succeed in their institutions and medicine in general, they are looking for students who have evidence of ability to function as a team,” Elliott said.

Kanter said that modern medicine offers health care providers the opportunity to consume large amounts of data about conditions and patients. But he said finding solutions to those concerns requires more than just being able to sift through raw data.

“Data by itself is useless, and I would argue that the information, by itself, is almost as useless,” Kanter said. “It’s really the implementation of that information that needs to happen. Students need to learn how to convert data to information and information into change. It involves leadership, thinking, how to work in teams and how to educate. I think those are general skills that will move that learning cycle along.”

Future doctors need a broad-based curriculum

Following the discussion, the health leaders took questions from the audience about what they have learned, what they are challenged by and how we must reenvision health education and the workforce to reduce disparities and prepare for a better future through collaboration, transformation and innovation. Helitzer then closed the discussion by asking what schools such as the College of Health Solutions at ASU could do to better prepare students for medical school.

Elliott said that of the traditional pre-med training that was in place when she went to medical school — subjects such as biology, chemistry, physics, calculus and English it is the language skills that were most useful.

She said that today’s medical students need a broader-based curriculum.

“It’s the breadth of education now,” Elliott said. “We need students who are thinkers, not memorizers. Students who can think and imagine and apply what they learn.The more opportunities they have to do that before we get them, as well as after we get them, is what’s most important.”

The complete recording of the live discussion is available on the College of Health Solutions' Youtube channel.

This panel on "The Future Health Workforce" was part of a series of events to mark the ASU expansion in California at the ASU California Center in downtown Los Angeles. The events are open to the public and designed to share ideas and explore collaborations on issues facing our communities.

Weldon B. Johnson

Communications Specialist, College of Health Solutions

Setting the course in electrical engineering

Coast Guard officer Mike Freeman advocated for, graduated from online delivery of accelerated program

September 19, 2022

​When he received his first bachelor’s degree in management from the United States Coast Guard Academy, Mike Freeman had every intention to become a businessman after his five years of Coast Guard service were completed. But all of that changed when Freeman reported to his first assignment.

“Working with aviators landing their helicopters on the tiny flight deck of the Coast Guard’s USCGC Confidence ship convinced me that aviation was the path for me,” he says. “Once accepted into flight school, I became a fanatic and learned as much about aviation and aerospace as possible.” Coast Guard helicopter with a person standing next to it. Download Full Image

With his newfound passion, Freeman didn’t wait to leave service to pursue his next goal and started his journey to earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. The field has many applications in aviation and aerospace technology, such as designing sensors and aircraft instrumentation. Because his military assignments had him moving around the country, Freeman chose the program’s online delivery method, which shares the same course path and ABET accreditation as the in-person offering.

Freeman also knew he wanted to earn an advanced degree and became interested in pursuing the accelerated master’s degree program, enabling him to complete both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years.

“I first heard of the accelerated degree program when I was applying for school in 2017 and knew that it would be a great option for me with my full-time career and family commitments,” he says.

In ASU’s accelerated master’s degree programs, students can use master’s degree courses to fulfill elective credits at the bachelor’s level, reducing the length of time it takes to fulfill the requirements for both degree programs.

However, the accelerated electrical engineering master’s degree program was only offered on campus when Freeman started at ASU. Yet, he was determined to complete it as an online student.

Freeman was persistent throughout his studies in advocating for an online delivery method of the accelerated program to benefit nontraditional students. He worked with the electrical engineering advising team to get an online delivery method of the accelerated program set up and became the first student to enroll once it was approved.

This summer, Freeman became the second student to graduate from the accelerated program’s online delivery method. (The first graduate, Trang Dunham, graduated in spring 2022.)

“Our success in online deployment of our undergraduate, master’s and accelerated degrees has greatly expanded our reach to students who would otherwise not have access to our programs,” says Stephen Phillips, director of the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering. “Graduates like Mike Freeman demonstrate what our highly motivated students can accomplish.”

The accelerated program’s online delivery method follows the same curriculum as its in-person counterpart, including the same rigorous expectations for students to gain hands-on engineering experience. Freeman’s favorite part of the program was the undergraduate senior capstone project.

“My capstone team had a fantastic mentor, David Ramirez, who at the time worked at General Dynamics Mission Systems. He helped us get a home-built radar set off the ground and running,” Freeman says. “It was really enjoyable figuring that challenge out.”

Portrait of ASU Online student Mike Freeman in his Coast Guard uniform.

Coast Guard MH-65E Dolphin Helicopter Instructor Pilot and Flight Examiner Mike Freeman. Photo courtesy of Mike Freeman

As an online student, Freeman says communication was key. He informed his instructors early on that his schedule as an active duty service member could be unpredictable at times, and with tasks like hurricane response deployments, he might need flexible deadlines to complete his assignments.

“It’s gotten much easier to connect with professors and other students during my time at ASU, and that will hopefully continue to improve,” Freeman says.

He credits a large part of his success in the program to School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering academic advising staff members Robert Monahan and Lynn Pratte.

Monahan sought authorization of the online delivery method for the accelerated electrical engineering master’s program and Pratte served as Freeman’s academic advisor for the graduate portion of the program. Freeman praises Pratte as being highly invested in her students’ success.

“Working with Mike has been awesome,” Pratte says. “He advocated for himself and other students who are interested in this program. Actions like his are what make ASU No. 1 in innovation.”

Freeman took two courses in electronic materials and quantum mechanics with Michael Goryll, an associate professor of electrical engineering who remembers Freeman as a standout student.

Goryll helped Freeman prepare for his comprehensive exam, a requirement to receive his master’s degree, and was so impressed with Freeman’s achievements that he nominated him to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Eta Kappa Nu honor society.

“My experience working with Mike has been great,” Goryll says. “While the quantum mechanics course is very mathematical, Mike was very enthusiastic about it and never lost his motivation.”

Now a lieutenant commander, Freeman works as a helicopter flight examiner and instructor pilot at the Coast Guard’s Air Station Houston in Texas.

He hopes to use his new degree to seek further technical leadership roles in the Coast Guard. After his military service is up, Freeman will pursue work in technical roles in the aerospace industry.

“I’m a total space nerd and look forward to advancing humanity’s presence in space,” he says.

TJ Triolo

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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A bold cure for the irrelevant university?

September 19, 2022

Beyond the Academy's 'Guidebook for the Engaged University' highlights how universities can help solve defining problems of our age

Today's students increasingly demand engaged scholarship — curricula and research opportunities directly relevant to addressing climate change, misinformation, widespread social unrest and other sustainability, environmental and social challenges. But they often find the traditional university model ill-equipped to deliver that worldly engagement.

This lack of engagement by academia is a traditional narrative Arizona State University has dramatically upended in serving the nation, state and community, as evidenced in its charter, mission and vision of a New American University, and most recently, as the most innovative university in the nation eight years in a row.

Now, ASU professors Leah Gerber and Nancy Grimm have taken some of the best lessons learned to help share their knowledge by contributing to a new guidebook for academia.

They’ve contributed to a new book — "The Guidebook for the Engaged University" — that provides a comprehensive roadmap for administrators, faculty and students who want to make their institutions of higher education systematically more welcoming to engaged research — and avoid accusations of ivory-tower irrelevance.

Grimm and Gerber are part of an an international network of hundreds of researchers working to make universities more supportive of engaged scholarship with real-world impact. Written and published by Beyond the Academy, the new guidebook highlights university best practices to foster and support engaged scholarship — aligning their structures, incentives and outcomes with solving the defining problems of our generation.

"Business-as-usual approaches to academic research and teaching aren't enough to solve these challenges," says Bonnie Keeler, director of Beyond the Academy and faculty member at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

"We hope the guidebook encourages others to advocate for reforms in their own institutions and serves as a reminder that change is not only possible, but happening at universities all across the globe."

Tackling the greatest challenges

One of the greatest challenges ASU has undertaken for the benefit of the community it serves is the future health and sustainability of our planet. After launching the very first School of Sustainability a decade ago, ASU’s commitment to sustainability has evolved to now become the Rob and Melani and Walton Center for Planetary Health, which treats the Earth in a new emergency health-care model to help cure the effects of climate change.

Gerber is enthusiastic about what the guidebook’s publication could catalyze, particularly to meet the global challenge of biodiversity in an age of human-caused climate change:

"There is nothing more inspiring than conducting cutting-edge research with real-world applications. At the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, we not only produce actionable science, we share it with organizations outside academia who are making a difference both on the ground and in the real world,” she said.

“We look forward to a broad dissemination of the guidebook to encourage other institutions, particularly STEM departments, to value actionable science in equal measure with conventional data-driven science. This is not just about changing institutional norms in science production; it is about increasing applicable knowledge that will help ensure our planet’s future."

Gerber’s students are also excited about the guidebook.

"In being a part of an interdisciplinary program like Biology and Society at ASU, I know firsthand that the need for resources like this is there,” said graduate student Olivia Davis. “Our science cannot exist in a vacuum — it impacts so many people in so many different fields. Having a resource like this guidebook is a great starting point for reform that aligns with today's reality."

The guidebook is also aligned with ASU's Earth Systems Science for the Anthropocene (ESSA) Graduate Scholars Network, directed by Grimm and Professor Abigail York.

"This guidebook touches on many elements that are needed to transform academia to meet the challenges that humanity faces in this age of rapid change that we call the Anthropocene,” Grimm said.

The network has been supported by ASU President Michael Crow’s office since 2020 and is affiliated with ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory.

“At ASU, our ESSA scholars network emphasizes team science, co-production and a solutions focus; centering justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in our work and in our community; and openness to diverse ways of knowing — inclusive of non-academic perspectives that we can gain from engagement outside the academy," Grimm said.

This past summer, Grimm and colleagues Michelle Hale, Michele Clark and Liliana Caughman mentored students who worked on the Rio ReImagined project, which helps realize community visions for the future of the Salt River and Gila River watershed. There, a team of graduate students across multiple disciplines are working together in their cohort to co-design solutions-oriented research focused on the Rio Reimagined project.

The ESSA initiative supports graduate students interested in developing a collaborative research and action project that explores several interconnected aspects of community development and ecological restoration on the Rio Salado (Salt River) and Gila River watershed. Their aims are to work with Indigenous and urban communities living along the river to co-create a collaborative, culturally affirming and solutions-oriented project that centers diverse knowledge systems to respond to community needs.

A first of its kind, 3 years in the making 

The guidebook is the first blueprint of its kind to building “the engaged university,” an institution that systematically supports engaged scholarship and service. To write it, members of the Beyond the Academy network spent the last three years exploring how universities are already reforming their systems and structures in ways that promote action-oriented research and practices that respond to society's needs. Academic leaders from across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom shared ideas, research, resources and examples.

Chapters of the guidebook cover solutions for some of the major challenges to engaged scholarship at scale, from the way research impact is measured to promotion and tenure practices, graduate training, and recruitment and retention of engaged scholars.

The guidebook also showcases dozens of examples from universities around the world of how these solutions have been put into practice. For instance, The Office of Public Engagement at the University of Minnesota provides grants for academic departments that wish to develop or strengthen community engagement initiatives, offers training to promotion and tenure committee members about standards for high quality, community-engaged scholarship, and supports graduate students in developing projects with neighborhood organizations. 

The next step: Broader institutionalization of engaged scholarship

Keeler says the next phase of academic reforms must build on these experiments and best practices toward broader institutionalization of engaged scholarship in academia.

“Universities today risk global irrelevance unless they adopt an 'engaged university' approach as we’ve outlined — one that systematically supports and encourages scholar and staff engagement with society,” she said. 

“Shifting to that model will require deep transformation in universities. They must better align their structures, incentives and outcomes to acknowledge, value and incentivize scholarly and staff engagement with these issues. But examples of positive steps exist in nearly every institution. We must scale and share these steps as quickly and widely as possible.”  

The entire guidebook is available for free on the Beyond the Academy website.

Joe Caspermeyer

Manager (natural sciences) , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


Helping maltreated children in foster care

Psychology graduate student named NRSA Fellow to study child and parent separation

September 19, 2022

Each year, approximately 250,000 children enter the foster care system, and at any given time, upwards of 400,000 children are in the system. Additionally, according to the Arizona Department of Child Safety, there are nearly five children in care for every licensed foster family. 

A graduate in Arizona State University's clinical psychology training program hopes to find new ways to help those children and families at the most pivotal time. Portrait of ASU doctoral student Austin Blake. Austin Blake, a doctoral student in the ASU Department of Psychology, was recently named a National Research Service Award Fellow by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for her project "Estimating the Impact of Out-of-Home Placement on Health Risk Behavior in Adolescents Exposed to Maltreatment: An Advanced Causal Inference Approach." Photo by Robert Ewing Download Full Image

Austin Blake, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology, was recently named a National Research Service Award Fellow by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for her project "Estimating the Impact of Out-of-Home Placement on Health Risk Behavior in Adolescents Exposed to Maltreatment: An Advanced Causal Inference Approach."

The award provides funding for her research and allows Blake to receive additional training necessary for her research career, including in the areas of child welfare research and advanced statistical methods.

“I study the link between parent and child separation and health risk behaviors. One context in which separation occurs frequently is through maltreatment — both abuse and neglect,” Blake said. “Prior to coming to ASU, I studied kids who were adopted from foster care, and oftentimes they entered foster care because of parental addiction and other things like that. Once coming here, I became really interested in just how substance use and other health risk behaviors develop across adolescence and adulthood.”

Blake wants to find out if removing the child from the home increases or decreases the risk for later adverse health risks behaviors. 

“The time period when a child is removed from the home and their guardians is a crucial window of time. I believe that future interventions should target that time period in order to reduce the long-term impacts of the experience,” Blake said. 

Using a public data set of maltreated children, Blake will be using an advanced causal inference statistical method to determine more specific differences between children who are removed from the home versus those that remain. 

“We're looking at what mechanisms might underlie the effect of out-of-home placement on later health risk behavior. Through this research, we can identify factors that we can target for that population. For instance, we might want to focus on adolescents’ increases in depression or anxiety, or perhaps their relationships with parents. Being able to identify causes at this stage can prevent those increases in health risk behavior while in foster care,” Blake said. 

What makes Blake’s research different from what has been done before is that she is using advanced statistical methods to account for confounding variables so that she can most accurately estimate the effect of out-of-home placement on health risk behaviors. In populations like this, it is impossible and unethical to run randomized research on placing children in foster care, so being able to identify potential areas for intervention can be difficult.

Additionally, rather than looking at younger children, her research is focusing on adolescents. The adolescent period between ages 13–18 is a turning point that redirects developmental trajectories of health risk behavior, such as initiating substance use and sexual behavior. Blake wanted to focus on this age group as well because when compared with younger children, teenagers placed in foster homes experience greater placement instability and greater difficulty adjusting to new caregivers or guardians. 

Blake’s two primary co-sponsors at ASU are Regents Professors Laurie Chassin and David MacKinnon, considered leaders in the fields of health risk behaviors and statistical mediation, respectively. Their mentorship has helped shape how Blake looks at statistical data and applies it to real-life situations, such as improving the foster care system. 

“Throughout my academic career, I've been working with Dr. Chassin on projects that broadly look at how substance use develops and the etiology where it comes from. Specifically, I've been looking at how parent-child separation may impact those trajectories,” Blake said. “This is such important research because there are really far-reaching impacts, such as the intergenerational risk for substance use.”

Data are from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Wellbeing I (NSCAW-I), a large longitudinal, national probability sample of 6,228 children (ages 0–14 at baseline) who were investigated for child maltreatment between October 1999 and December 2000.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


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Alzheimer's conference at ASU to highlight advances in fight against disease

September 16, 2022

Event brings together some of the nation’s top scientists, physicians

The Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium Conference, which brings together some of the nation’s top scientists and physicians to discuss advances in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease, will be held Sept. 22 at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.

The one-day conference will include more than 100 interactive scientific presentations, 10 Q&A sessions with neurological research leaders and a keynote address by Sterling Johnson, the associate director for the Wisconsin Alzheimer Disease Research Center and the principal investigator for one of the world’s largest and longest-running studies of individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for researchers to come together, but it’s also an amazing opportunity for students to come and rub elbows at a one-on-one level,” said David Coon, the director of ASU’s Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging.

ASU News talked to Coon and ASU University Professor Eric Reiman, who is also the executive director of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute and director of the Arizona Alzheimer’s Consortium, about the conference and the latest advances in Alzheimer’s research.

Editor's note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Question: What advances in Alzheimer’s research will be talked about at this conference?

Reiman: One of the areas that there’s tremendous excitement about is the emerging role of potentially blood-based biomarkers. We now have brain imaging techniques and cerebral spinal fluid biomarker measurements that require you to put a needle in somebody’s back, and not a lot of people volunteer to do that. So, with the emerging development of potentially affordable, repeatable and widely accessible blood tests, you can imagine the chance to galvanize research and support drug development.

One of the real challenges to Alzheimer’s research has been the inclusion of individuals from underrepresented and underserved minority groups, an area that David has spent an awful lot of time thinking about. (Having blood tests) would help us know how these biological measurements or treatments that were investigated behave in these underrepresented groups.

Q: Would these blood tests be as simple as scheduling an appointment at your doctor’s office?

Reiman: We’re not really where we need to be yet in this space, but it has the potential to transform research, treatment development and clinical care.

I’ll give you an example in the clinical care space. There was a treatment that was approved by the FDA last year called aducanumab, which can help reduce amyloid beta plaque in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. But you would need an amyloid PET scan to know who has plaque in the brain, and the test would be expensive and it’s not going to be feasible to do an expensive PET scan every two years. So instead of doing a $5,000 PET scan, what if you could do a $75 blood test to either reduce or eliminate the need for those PET scans? It could be helpful in reaching out to people who aren’t close to specialty centers and imaging centers.

Q: How close are we to those blood tests becoming a reality?

Reiman: These blood tests look very promising, but there’s more work that needs to be done. But I think they could be available in the next year or two.

Q: David, Eric mentioned underserved communities. What is known about the preponderance of Alzheimer’s in these communities?

Coon: There may be risk factors that increase the proportion of folks that are impacted in these communities. We really have to continue to establish ongoing relationships with these communities. I think there’s some myth that everything has to be hand-in-hand. The bottom line is there are a growing number of folks from underserved communities, from minority communities, that do engage in social media and utilize smartphones to help them stay connected, not only to providers but also to what’s happening in the research world. So, how do we provide ongoing education? How do we provide opportunities to help serve these families that are already impacted by Alzheimer’s disease?

Q: What are those risk factors you mentioned?

Coon: Diet, sleep issues, exercise issues, access to health care across their lifespan.

Reiman: We believe that genetic factors account for about 70% of a person’s risk in developing Alzheimer’s disease, leaving 30% which you could potentially intervene with to promote cognitive health and slow or delay the onset of symptoms. Also, we see a number of factors that promote a healthy heart that have been suggested to promote a healthy brain, like a heart-healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet.

In the meantime, we are waiting to see what happens with some disease-modifying treatments. We’ve seen so much progress on Alzheimer’s research, understanding risk factors … but the glaring exception to this progress has been finding effective treatments. Once we have treatments that work, we’ll be able to know what biological changes are associated with the clinical benefit, further inform the development of treatments and speed up the evaluation of prevention therapies.

We’ll see what happens in the next year, but we have a 50-50 chance that these treatments (being currently tested) will demonstrate a benefit in the next few months in cognitively impaired individuals. And if they do, we’ll have a great chance in supporting and finding the approval of prevention therapies potentially in the next five years. There’s no guarantee, but we’ll know soon.

Q: That’s incredible news.

Reiman: We’ve just completed the world’s first trial of an investigational drug to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. We did a five-to-eight-year trial for which we were disappointed that we did not see a statistically significant benefit. But what this study did was show that prevention trials were possible, and it led to ways to accelerate the evaluation and approval of prevention therapy.

We have other prevention trials going on right now. And if those treatments work in the next few months, we’ll have an outstanding chance to find and support the ... prevention of clinical onset of Alzheimer’s disease by 2025. So there’s a lot of work happening in this space.

Top photo courtesy iStock

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

ASU partners with Purdue to co-host inaugural Cold Case Symposium

September 15, 2022

For years, America's consumption of true crime documentaries, books, podcasts, movies and TV shows has steadily grown, with the category easily becoming one of the most popular among all genres. 

A new event co-hosted by Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and the Purdue University College of Agriculture’s Department of Entomology seeks to go beyond entertainment and bring awareness to the cold case crisis in the United States. Yellow police caution tape that reads "Crime scene do not cross." Download Full Image

With over 200,000 unsolved murder and missing persons cases in the U.S., increased visibility and advocacy is more important than ever, said Lauren Weidner, assistant professor in the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences.

“​​I am excited to share this information not only with the ASU and local community but also on a national scale, thanks to our collaboration with Purdue University,” Weidner said. “Through the symposium, we hope to shed light on the cold case crisis in the U.S. while also sharing how we can all be advocates for this important cause.”

The inaugural Cold Case Symposium is open to community members, students, faculty and staff, and will be hosted from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23, at ASU’s West campus and online via Zoom in recognition of National Forensic Science Week. The event will feature three speakers who will share their personal experiences working with cold cases, including:

  • Kelsi Germanadvocate and sister of Liberty German, who will speak about the 2017 unsolved double murder of Abigail Williams and Liberty German and the experiences and challenges her family faced in their pursuit of justice.
  • David Robinson II, advocate and father of missing geologist Daniel Robinson, who will speak about his son’s case, the evidence recovered and his continued search to locate his son.
  • Sarah Turney, advocate and host of the true crime podcast "Voices for Justice," who will speak about the power of social media and her experience with propelling missing persons cases into the spotlight.

Attendees of the symposium will also learn about cold case resources and hear about student work being conducted at New College and Purdue University. Last spring, New College launched FOR 496 - Forensic Science Service Learning, a new course created by Weidner in collaboration with Krystal Hans, an assistant professor of forensic entomology at Purdue University. In the course, students use their knowledge of forensic science to work on various service learning opportunities that include working on cold cases, lesson planning and activity design with high school educators and educating the general public.

“This year, we’ll be focusing on a lot of Arizona cases, particularly ones in the Phoenix area, with the hope that families that are local can attend in person to better network with people who have shared experiences and to understand the resources that are available to them,” Hans said. “We will have counselors on site as well, as we realize the nature of this topic and its accompanying material is triggering. We want to support families and our participants as much as we can.”

Registration for the event is open to ASU students, faculty, staff and community members. Learn more or register at newcollege.asu.edu/destinationwest.

Emily Balli

Multimedia specialist, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Innovation in health care focus of Edson College California Center launch event

September 15, 2022

On Aug. 25, Arizona State University's Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation held a launch event at the ASU California Center.

"Innovation in Health Care: Charting the Future" featured a panel of experts discussing innovative solutions and directions for tackling some of our most pressing health care workforce needs.  Speakers sit on a stage in the ASU California Center looking out at an audience. Signage for ASU's Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation can be seen in the background. Panelists share ideas for tackling health care workforce needs at the ASU California Center last month. Download Full Image

Edson College Dean Judith Karshmer and members of the college’s executive leadership team were joined by trusted industry leaders with decades of health care experience. 

The distinguished participants included:

  • Keynote speaker Dan Weberg, innovation executive with experience leading change in large, top five health systems and three-time ASU alumnus.

  • Panelist Diane Drexler, vice president of patient care and system chief nursing officer for Community Memorial Health System in Ventura, California, and ASU alumna.

  • Panelist Anita Girard, chief nursing officer and vice president of nursing at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and president of the American Nurses Association of California.

“The robust discussion at this event included an assessment about how we can move from talking about workforce issues to putting actionable and impactful practices into motion,” Karshmer said. “It was the start of what will be an ongoing conversation on diverse topics in areas critical to health care professionals, educators and students.”

The panel discussion can be viewed in its entirety here.

Edson College is developing a comprehensive slate of programming and events at the California Center, including programs and workshops on topics around wellness, human trafficking, innovation in healthy and resilient aging, health care workforce development, and clinical research management and regulatory science.

“In addition to alumni and students who call California home, we also have a number of partnerships and collaborative opportunities with area health care educators and providers,” Karshmer said. “Having this physical presence in the Los Angeles area allows us to broaden our reach and deliver dynamic and impactful programming around in-demand health care topics.”

Arizona State University’s California Center is located in the historic Herald Examiner building in downtown Los Angeles. Learn more about upcoming events here.

Written by Lisa McQuerrey, director, Strategic Marketing and Communications, Edson College

ASU philosophy camp teaches local high school students how to have disagreements

September 13, 2022

Over the summer, the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University hosted its inaugural philosophy summer camp for high school students.

The camp came together as a combined effort between philosophy graduate students and philosophy faculty to get young students interested in philosophy and to understand what it entails.  PhD candidate Angela Barnes sits among a circle of high school students. Philosophy PhD candidate Angela Barnes guides a discussion with high school students at an ASU philosophy summer camp. Photo by Rachel Bunning/ASU Download Full Image

Philosophy Professor Joan McGregor was happy to bring the students onto campus to give them the opportunity to not only learn about philosophy, but to see themselves as university students as well.

“The experience for them can be transformative,” McGregor said. “High school students are natural philosophers, asking the big questions.”

PhD candidate in philosophy Angela Barnes initiated the idea based off of a similar project she was involved with when she was a student at Ohio State University.

“In high school especially, we are starting to really wrestle with philosophical questions, about ourselves and our identities, our systems of beliefs and morals, and the value and purpose of living well,” Barnes said. “I am interested in building homes for curious minds, and this summer camp was one way that I could share that vision with our community here in the Valley.”

Barnes worked with fellow graduate students Aubrial Harrington and Triston Hanna to create a schedule and agenda for the camp. They settled on the topic of "disagreement" as the theme for the camp. 

“We are constantly bombarded with the idea that we should hate people that have different beliefs than us, particularly different political beliefs,” Barnes said. “The polarization of ideas and the news outlets covering them make it seem as though you just have to pick a side — that critically engaging with the other side is a waste of time. My other instructors and I disagree.”

In helping students engage in disagreement, Barnes says students can examine and learn from people who think differently than them. The benefits of doing so are that students can come closer to knowing the truth by knowing all sides of an argument, and they don’t have to engage with the world as if half the population is their enemy. 

The high school students showed up to the camp with many questions and a curiosity to learn. Over the week, they learned how to listen carefully, break down arguments and be charitable. 

“The opportunity to teach these young people how we can have actual influence on our day-to-day lives using philosophy has multiple good effects,” Barnes said. “Watching philosophy at work in young minds, opening them up to new possibilities, gave me so much satisfaction. That is the very thing that drove me to pursue a PhD in philosophy.”

PhD candidate Aubrial Harrington and Angela Barnes lead a discussion with the campers.

Philosophy PhD candidates Aubrial Harrington (right) and Angela Barnes presenting to the campers. Photo by Rachel Bunning/ASU

Owen Fisk, a high school sophomore student who participated in the camp, said he felt he was able to use what he learned over the summer in a class that did a Socratic seminar this fall. 

“One thing that impacted me the most was definitely the argument structures, specifically how to not include logical fallacies in my arguments and how to listen to other arguments,” he said.

Another high school student, a junior named Adelina Grotenhuis, said she enjoyed learning the principles of philosophy and getting to meet other kids her age who shared her interest in philosophy.

“I love the sense of community,” she said. “I just wish more people knew about this.”

Next year’s camp is already in discussion. The focus of the camp is still an ongoing topic and the students and faculty are working on securing more funding to increase access to the program. 

“We hope to be able to provide more scholarships this year so that there are no barriers to curious minds that would want to come participate in this program, see ASU's campus and start to get a feel for what it might be like to come study at a university,” Barnes said.

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies