ASU students, Maryvale teens, educators collaborate on resources for college success

Watts College-based studio assisted Humanities Lab, community to provide information on completing applications, dealing with challenges

December 13, 2022

You want to be the first in your family to graduate from college. But how do you navigate a journey that nobody close to you has ever traveled?

High school students in the west Phoenix community of Maryvale received support in their quest for higher education from Arizona State University students in the Humanities Lab course Avanzando Education Pathways who spent the semester working on ways to help the teens learn pathways to a college degree. The ASU students’ efforts culminated in December at a workshop for the teens and their families that featured tips for achieving academic success, as well as the unveiling of a website with links to helpful resources. People throwing their graduation caps into the air at a high school graduation ceremony. Photo by Gillian Callison/Pixabay Download Full Image

First-generation college students often have extra burdens to succeed, particularly in underserved communities where English might not be the predominant language spoken at home. Common challenges include how to write a convincing application essay to get accepted, how to find reliable transportation to school and how to keep up with a college workload while making sure younger siblings are taken care of while parents are working, said an ASU instructor whose fall Humanities Lab class helped local teens find solutions to these issues and more.

The lab, titled “Avanzando: Education Pathways,” and instructor Dulce González-Estévez, principal lecturer of Spanish in the School of International Letters and Cultures, turned to the Design Studio for Community Solutions at the Watts College for Public Service and Community Solutions for assistance. More than 34% of students enrolled at the Watts College are the first in their families to attend college, according to university records. “Avanzando” in Spanish means “moving forward.”

In October, the Humanities Lab treated 11 Maryvale high schoolers to an informational and social event at ASU’s Tempe campus that the ASU students created after consulting with the teens and local educators.

Working with communities, achieving solutions

Allison Mullady, the Design Studio’s program director, said the collaboration tracks with the studio’s mission to work with local communities to create practical solutions to complex challenges.

Mullady said the studio’s approach is to listen to what people want and how they want to make it happen, then engage university and community resources to affect lasting change.

The experience working with the Humanities Lab means a lot to Mullady, she said, as it demonstrates how the university can enter the community and learn.

“Based on the ongoing Maryvale One Square Mile Initiative’s community-driven work, we were able to provide an initial challenge and context, which the instructors and ASU students ran with, developing practical projects to share with Maryvale High School students,” Mullady said. “It really is a unique opportunity for college students to see how they can impact the world around them through their ASU coursework.”

The lab students presented the resources to the teens and their families at a Dec. 1 event at the high school. They included advice on how to fill out financial aid forms and a resource map with a QR code that takes them to the website. The event also included a skills workshop for writing a convincing, effective college-application essay.

“They created four rooms,” González-Estévez said of her students. “One was for parents that taught about scholarships and being a college student parent and the sacrifices involved. The second offered pre-essay workshops, information on college entrance exams. The third was about how to apply for scholarships and the fourth was a fun room for the students to win prizes.”

Presentation made in Spanish

The presentation to the Maryvale High School parents was conducted in Spanish, while the scholarship essay tips for the teens were in English.

“One hundred percent of the parents spoke Spanish. All of them expressed how grateful they were that the meeting was conducted in their language by people who understood their culture,” González-Estévez said. “They were telling me that they want their students to go to college but they don’t know how. They didn’t know where the resources are and what is expected of students. So providing information in Spanish was very helpful.”

González-Estévez said so much was presented, “I can’t tell you how many skills they acquired: getting to know how complex the educational system is; what to do about a lack of transportation, lack of mental health, lack of food; how some students have to be nannies for their siblings while parents are working two jobs.”

It was the start of what is hoped to be long-lasting partnerships between the university and the Maryvale High School community, González-Estévez said.

“The beautiful thing about the class is that we started it not knowing what we were doing. We went to Maryvale and asked them what they needed and wanted. And we established a line of communication to become better partners with them,” she said.

ASU students in the lab described how they put together meaningful opportunities for the Maryvale teens.

Adrian Galan, a senior with a double major in speech and hearing science and in English linguistics, said the class initially considered holding an assembly before learning that the Maryvale students already go to a number of college assemblies and likely would gain greater benefit from a more focused approach.

“My team went to Maryvale High School and directly asked the students to write down some things they would be interested in focusing on, and the one that stood out to me was essays,” Galan said. “So we decided to make a workshop that focuses on just writing essays for college.”

Lynette Hrabik, a senior double majoring in political science and sociology, said that most class members are from Arizona and shared a desire to improve educational outcomes in the state.

“After learning more about the Maryvale community, educational inequity and how the humanities can affect change, we decided to support pathways to higher education for Maryvale students,” Hrabik said. “Since we have personal experience navigating college, we thought this firsthand knowledge could benefit students seeking a similar path. My team collaborated on a website that covers college applications, financial aid and other resources. This is a practical compendium that high school students can continue to benefit from, beyond our time with the Humanities Lab.”

Experience provided insights to students about service

Both Galan and Hrabik gained insight about the people they served and what they were looking for.

Galan said helping the high school students find information about college opportunities showed that they need more attention and additional academic training.

“The informal nature of the essay workshop made it very easy to connect with the students, who expressed to me that they feel alienated by the school system,” Galan said. “The event reaffirmed my belief that high schoolers need to receive one-on-one guidance.”

Hrabik said that it’s essential for anyone seeking to serve a community to learn how to collaborate.

“It was meaningful to speak with students at Maryvale High School about their future goals, the information they need and how we could facilitate their access to information and opportunities. This collaboration also made the website more useful,” Hrabik said. “In addition, supporting students in their educational journey is important to me. Attending ASU and having a college education has transformed me and my life, and this includes opportunities like the Humanities Lab. Any student who wants to continue their education should have the resources they need to actualize their dreams.”

González-Estévez said the experience allowed the ASU students to gain and improve many skills, including event planning, website development, interviewing, writing grant proposals and moderating a panel.

“And of course, reaching out in culturally appropriate ways that are symbiotic and beneficial for both high school and college students,” she said. 

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


New study shows policies designed for land use can also protect coral reefs

December 12, 2022

Earth’s coral reef ecosystems continue to be exposed to human stressors such as overfishing and pollution, placing these habitats at greater risk of extinction. Arizona State University researchers are finding actionable pathways to protect coral reefs in an unexpected place: existing policy focusing on land. 

Untapped policy avenues to protect coral reef ecosystems,” a paper published Dec. 2 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), explores how the use of current legal policies and procedures aimed at drinking water, freshwater and emergency management could preserve coral reefs. The paper was written in collaboration with the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.  Bird's-eye view of coral reef. Researchers pointed out pre-existing policies that could assist in coral reef preservation. Photo courtesy ASU Global Airborne Observatory Download Full Image

“There are very immediate ways that existing laws can be applied to coral reefs, and that often isn’t happening,” said Rachel Carlson, lead author of the paper and affiliate scientist with the ASU Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. “This paper was published in part to increase understanding of how laws that are mainly focused on the land can work to protect coral reefs in the future.”

Carlson knows firsthand how long it can take to enact environmental laws. As a previous employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., she worked on a variety of freshwater laws. When she transitioned from land conservation to coral reef research, however, she found that implementing policy she had worked on seemed to stay exclusively on land. 

Greg Asner, director of ASU's Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science and senior author of the article, said stronger communication could improve implementation of existing policy in reef protection.

“There is a huge gap between coral reef scientists and conservationists and the entire land-based policy sector,” Asner said. “This gap exists even in places where land directly touches the ocean.” 

He said the Clean Water Act is a good example of how current policy is underutilized. In one possible scenario highlighted in the paper, states across the country could classify waterways with the “designated use” of supporting coral reefs under the Clean Water Act. This would allow water quality goals to be “directly tailored to the biological thresholds of corals,” according to the paper. 

The researchers point directly at the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act as examples of existing policies that could be applied in various ways for coral protection. Other existing programs in the U.S. that could be used to protect coral reefs are the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s flood insurance and restoration programs and nonpoint source management programs. 

While the article highlights U.S. policies, Carlson said it also includes many global examples, giving the article an international audience. She hopes the paper urges coral conservationists across the globe to leverage existing policy where appropriate to ensure coral reef futures. 

“I think coral reef conservation is seen sometimes as something that belongs only in communities that have reefs, but it really does touch us all,” she said.

Carlson said significant biomedical research has been done on the backs of coral reef ecosystems, and a large portion of global food security, especially in marginalized countries, rely on these ecosystems. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, about 25% of the ocean’s fish depend on healthy coral reefs. 

“Even though climate change is happening, local actions can dramatically affect coral resilience,” Carlson said. “If we can act in ways to minimize local impacts on reefs, such as decreasing pollution through some of these existing policies, we can have an impact on how the corals can respond to these global issues.” 

Katelyn Reinhart

Communications specialist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory

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FLAGSHIP program puts underrepresented students on path to success

December 9, 2022

Students to attend largest conference of geoscientists in the world, held Dec. 12–16 in Chicago

This month, a group of 19 students and recent graduates is headed to Chicago for the largest and most influential geoscientists conference in the world. 

The trip is a key component of FLAGSHIP, otherwise known as the Future Leaders and Geoscience High-Road Internship Program, which is based at Arizona State University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

Now in its second year, FLAGSHIP is a national initiative providing real-world career pathways to students and others who are historically underrepresented in the sciences. The 10-week program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. 

“It’s an amazing program that helped me build experience, a network and gain the necessary tools to succeed,” said Monica Ortiz, who is studying environmental science at ASU and who said it's especially hard for women of color to gain opportunities like this in STEM. “I am very thankful.”

The American Geophysical Union conference in Chicago runs Dec. 12–16 and gathers researchers, scientists, educators and policymakers from around the world for one purpose — preserving the planet. 

Students will not just attend the conference, but also join the other professionals in presenting their research.

Vernon Morris

“We want to ensure that students of color have full access to professional meetings,” said Vernon Morris, founder of the FLAGSHIP program and director and professor at ASU’s School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. 

Morris said attending the conferences is “not just to look at people and say, 'Oh, those are what professionals look like.’ But to actually be a presenter — share knowledge on a panel and engage with people.”

Program is a professional plan

FLAGSHIP is an experimental program based on an equity-centered educational model. Participants come from a diverse group of disciplinary backgrounds, including environmental science, geoscience, engineering, public health and even English. They are studying at academic institutions throughout the country. 

FLAGSHIP works closely with the American Geophysical Union's Thriving Earth Exchange, where students work with scientists to address local environment challenges such as climate change and natural hazards. 

During the 2022 internship, students choose from a broad selection of projects including: 

  • Wetland management in the Chicago region (related to stormwater runoff and flooding of communities).

  • Responding to sea level rise in the San Francisco area (relating to shoreline management for vulnerable communities).

  • Green infrastructure for a more resilient New Orleans (relevant to flooding and drainage).

  • Power grid management and resiliency in Chicago (relating to decarbonization).

At the conference, cohorts will present the research from these projects and connect with leaders, educators and even prospective employees. Morris says the collective intellectual capital at the conference represents nearly 10,000 years of experience.

“The program is really about creating access points,” Morris said.

Looking foward

Attending the conference is a significant opportunity, but it is not the finish line. 

After working on research projects and presenting them, students learn how to package their knowledge and experience in what Morris describes as a “professional wraparound.” 

That means stronger and more competitive resumes and applications for summer projects and scholarships. 

“We professionalize students and provide on-ramps to help them develop their social capital on one hand, and on the other hand, we make sure that leads them into the workforce,” said Morris, who has spent his entire career helping students.

Morris joined ASU’s New College in July 2020. He is passionate about increasing opportunities for underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. His outreach programs have reached more than 50,000 students worldwide.

FLAGSHIP, one of his most recent initiatives, collaborates with many professional groups. These collaborations become career connections for FLAGSHIP participants.

“We are not just handing a person a rung," Morris said. "We are helping build their ladder to success.”

FLAGSHIP will be accepting applications for their next 10-week session through September 2023.

Top photo: Students from ASU FLAGSHIP will be presenting their research at a conference in Chicago this December. Photo courtesy Pexels

Dolores Tropiano

Reporter , ASU News

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ASU professor on the plausibility of Elon Musk's brain implant plans

December 8, 2022

Neuralink, a startup co-founded by Elon Musk, is developing technology to improve the connection between humans and computers through implanted chips in the brain. 

The technology is purported to be able to restore a person's vision or assist people with mobility issues. 

Last week, Musk announced that the startup will begin human trials in six months. 

The idea of brain chips is not new. Researchers in this rapidly growing field have been developing devices that can decode brain signals for decades.

But what is new, is that by testing these wireless chips on humans, Neuralink is putting the possibilities of this life-changing technology within reach by June 2023. 

Musk, the SpaceX founder, Tesla Inc. CEO and Twitter Inc. owner, explained that the brain chips' interface could help severely disabled patients to move and communicate, and even restore vision by decoding brain activity. 

Eventually, these chips would be mass produced and may be used for non-medical purposes like leveling the intellectual playing field. According to Musk, Neuralink has submitted most of the necessary paperwork to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But are his plans plausible? ASU News spoke with Bradley Greger to find out. Greger is a neuroscientist, a neural engineer and an associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering.

Portrait of ASU Associate Professor .

Bradley Greger

Question: What do you think about Musk’s plans to restore sight to the blind? 

Answer: He’s really taking the field to an entirely different level — to the place where technology can really give useful vision to a human being. And that is a pretty monumental undertaking.

Q: Musk claimed that even if someone was born blind, he can restore their vision. Is that really possible?

A: Being concerned over providing accurate information to people who may benefit from a particular medical technology is very important. Clearly differentiating between what can currently be done and what may be possible in the future is critical.

Restoring limited vision and movement has already been accomplished in small numbers of patients through similar approaches.

The goals elucidated by the Neuralink team are achievable in the next few years. However, this is largely dependent on the level of resources allocated and the requirements imposed by regulatory agencies. 

Q: Explain your work in this area? How will Neuralink build on that? 

A: Right now, I am specifically working on restoring vision by directly stimulating the visual cortex of the brain — the part of the brain that processes early vision. 

Let’s say someone has lost their eyes — they're blind for whatever reason. Researchers and clinicians can go straight to the visual processing parts of the brain and stimulate tiny parts of that brain and the patient will see little flashes of light. That's been done — that’s what I have done and it’s been done many, many times. But really developing it into an actual device that could be medically applied ... that is very different. 

I think the most interesting and perhaps more challenging part is getting information into the brain. This was the first time Musk showed data on that and went into more detail. But for that to be useful to somebody, there has to be enough information there that it improves their quality of life. For example, the person using it can recognize somebody coming up the street or they can navigate around their house. That's what Neuralink is doing. 

(Musk is) very aware of the fact that it’s all about how much information we get in and out of the brain. You'll hear him say we need more bandwidth — he's absolutely right there. He's developing the technology to get that level of information to somebody who is blind. That is when it really truly becomes useful.

Q: What do you mean by information?

A: In the case of vision, information would come from an image that could be used to guide behavior or decisions. For example, if the image produced by the Neuralink device allowed people to recognize a doorway and door handle then they could move toward it and open the door. 

This is like older low-definition versus new high-definition screens. On a low-definition screen with fewer pixels, you could see that a person is present, but it would be harder to recognize that person. On a high-definition screen with many more pixels, you can see more detail and easily recognize the person. The thousands of microelectrodes in the Neuralink device should allow for thousands of flashes of light — that is, pixels — which can be used to construct an informative image. 

Q: How big is the implant and where would it be placed in the brain? 

A: It's really teeny, tiny, and this is where what Neuralink has done is astounding. The actual electrodes that go into the brain are smaller than a human hair — they're microscopic, and that's what really has been a great technological advance. The electronics they have made are just amazing.

The device would be implanted in the vision part of the brain; the visual presentation part of the brain is laid out in a spatial way with certain parts of it mapped out very well. We understand that from a neuroscience point of view, that if you stimulate this part of the brain, they'll see something here at this point in space and then you can use that to build an algorithm so that you can literally hook the patient to a video camera and map it from the video camera to the brain and the person will see a kind of pattern of light. 

That's greatly simplified. But that's basically the idea. 

Q: Can you explain the connection between a location in life and a location in the brain?

A: The anatomy of the visual processing part of the brain is laid out like a map. A specific location in space maps onto a specific anatomical location of the brain.

For example, my coffee cup is at a specific location on the right side of my desk. This results in a specific part of my brain, the “right side of the desk” part, being activated so that I can see the cup of coffee. The Neuralink device utilizes this mapping to guide what part of the brain is stimulated so that a person with blindness will see a coffee cup at the proper location in space when the right parts of the brain are stimulated.

Q: What Musk is proposing is not exactly new — what makes his plans different?

A: There is a long history of brain computer interfaces, and the work at Neuralink is repeating and building upon this previous work.

The earliest research on using this type of technology to restore vision dates to the 1960s. Neuralink is advancing the technology to get it out of laboratories and be more widely available for clinical applications. That takes tremendous resources and a lot of very smart and dedicated people to achieve.

Q: When will this technology be available? 

A: Musk is talking about almost restoring natural vision as we understand it. I think that is very far in the future. Again, it is theoretically possible, but I don't think that's going to happen in my lifetime.

But for it to be beneficial to somebody, they don't have to have fully complete natural vision, but rather something that just helps them work — do their job, go to the supermarket. That would be huge, and that is possible. And I think we will see that relatively soon. 

Top photo courtesy iStock

Dolores Tropiano

Reporter , ASU News

Translating addiction, mental health research for the Chinese American population

Psychologist brings WAVES program to ASU

December 7, 2022

Jinni Su, an assistant professor in Arizona State University's Department of Psychology, knows the importance of scientific research in the fight against addiction, mental health problems and substance abuse. She conducts research on alcohol abuse within marginalized populations, with recent findings highlighting the link between racial discrimination and drinking, the protective role of personality and problem drinking, and the importance of parents during the transition to college during the pandemic

Su, a developmental psychologist with training in human development and statistical/molecular genetics, recently gave a presentation on behalf of the Wellness, Advocacy, Voices, Education and Support (WAVES) initiative from the organization United Chinese Americans. She spoke in Chinese about alcohol use, mental health and supporting adolescent Chinese Americans.  Portrait of ASU Assistant Professor Jinni Su. Jinni Su, an assistant professor in the ASU Department of Psychology, knows the importance of scientific research in the fight against addiction, mental health problems and substance abuse. Photo courtesy the ASU Department of Psychology Download Full Image

“I study adolescent and young adult mental health and alcohol use-related problems. I try to understand the risk and protective factors that influence mental health and alcohol use-related problems,” said Su. “One of my focuses is trying to understand these processes within racial and ethnic minority populations, because they face their own unique challenges and they are relatively underrepresented in research.”

Drinking as a coping mechanism for issues like the increased stress from the pandemic, inflation or to cope with discrimination can lead to long-term challenges. Over 3,500 people died from alcohol-related causes in Arizona in 2022, and 60% of those cases came from issues related to chronic overuse of alcohol, such as Alcohol Use Disorder. 

“My dream is, of course, to have my work be impactful and to be a change leader to inform practices, prevention and education programs that can actually help serve the people,” said Su. 

Over 305,851 Asian American/Pacific Islanders live in Maricopa County, and the population has experienced a growth rate of 138% since 2000. Many of them speak English as a second language, and so speaking about research in Chinese makes a difference in connecting with the community and preventing problems such as adolescent alcohol abuse.

According to the UCA WAVES, many Chinese American adolescents suffer mental health challenges in silence due to the stigma associated with seeking out treatment and may turn to alternative methods for coping with the challenges of bilingualism or discrimination. 

“It's really special to me that I have the opportunity to engage with people who are working on the front line of the WAVES program — a program that is interacting with my community members and serving them,” said Su, adding, “I hope I can get more and more involved and be able to contribute to promoting the mental health of Chinese American adolescents.” 


Video courtesy the ASU Department of Psychology

Related: ASU launches first online master’s degree in addiction psychology with in-person practicum

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


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AI technology may be the answer to future education disruptors

December 7, 2022

Interdisciplinary researchers at ASU find that AI-powered learning apps can help reverse learning loss

This fall, the U.S. Department of Education released its latest report card on the state of learning, showing large declines in fourth and eighth grade math and reading scores between 2019 to 2022, while COVID-19 pandemic protocols were in place.

With a quick pivot to online learning at the height of the pandemic, analyzing the impacts of learning loss, and how to reverse it, has been a major area of focus for Sang-Pil Han, an associate professor of information systems in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, whose research focuses on artificial intelligence, digital platforms and educational technologies.

In a new interdisciplinary paper, Han and his co-authors detail their research using QANDA, an AI-based learning app by Mathpresso Inc. Han, who is an advisor for Mathpresso, and his colleagues, found that AI learning apps like QANDA can help close the learning loss gap for K–12 students, especially if there’s an immediate goal, like taking a college placement exam.

But as Han points out, the pandemic will not be the only disruption in education going forward. Yes, the world may have to brace for another pandemic, but there’s also the reality of climate disasters, wherein classes could be canceled for, let’s say, a hurricane, like families in Florida recently experienced with Hurricane Ian.

Then, there’s equity in education. Han explains why AI-powered learning apps serve students more broadly, and how they can deliver for businesses too.

Question: Why are AI-based apps more effective at closing the learning loss gap than, let's say, a tutor? 

Answer: AI-based learning apps provide student-tailored educational content at an affordable price, with a few screen touches from their comfortable locations, without interruptions, at their own pace, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as long as students have internet connectivity. In this regard, the benefits of AI-powered learning apps can be summarized in five aspects: 1) affordability (cost-saving), 2) actionability (less time/effort required), 3) accommodability (personalized experience), 4) assurance (reliability and consistency in service) and 5) accessibility (greater reach to educational resources).

In addition to the aforementioned five "A's," from an efficacy and experiential perspective, for certain segments of students, AI-based learning apps are more effective. For example, Gen Z's simply learn not only more effectively but also (more enjoyably) when they interact with AI technology. Especially for resource-strapped students who cannot afford personal tutors or who live in remote locations where accessibility to tutors or test-prep institutions are limited, AI-based learning apps are essential in the sense (that they) close the existing learning app.

Q: Does this research suggest that AI-based apps will be essential to everyday learning, regardless of whether we are in a pandemic? 

A: Yes, we see this at ASU and at other universities. The pandemic has been an inflection point that has accelerated and shaped the landscape of many industries, including the education sector, not only in hybrid working but also in hybrid learning.

Q: The pandemic won’t be the last disruptor in education. How can this technology aid students and industry alike?

A: Global pandemics and natural disasters derail students’ learning paths and lead to dire economic and social consequences. Our research shows that AI-powered learning apps can play a pivotal role in mitigating learning loss under such adverse conditions. Our study provides implications for businesses as well as to policymakers and administrators. For investors, investment in edtech firms will help achieve the double bottom line of financial and social objectives. For policymakers and administrators, AI should be given serious consideration as the next frontier in leveling the playing field by advancing equity in education.

Top photo courtesy Pixabay

Jimena Garrison

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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Pursuing wellness focus of 'Hacking the Human' conference

December 6, 2022

First-year nursing students display solutions to health issues

Judith Karshmer’s message was simple:

If we don’t take care of ourselves, who will?

“We’ve learned in our focus on health wellness that it’s not somebody doing something for us. It’s us doing it ourselves,” Karshmer, dean of Arizona State University’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, said at the start of the "Hacking the Human: Innovative Approaches to Wellness" conference on Dec. 2 at the Health Entrepreneurship Accelerator Lab in downtown Phoenix.

“What we’re trying to do at ASU is make wellness not a program but a value. We’re trying to do that by saying everybody has wellness practices. Maybe they use sunscreen, maybe they choose to limit their alcohol or marijuana intake. Maybe it’s exercise. Maybe one day a week you don’t eat meat. I often ask people: ‘What’s your wellness habit?’”

Karshmer’s remarks preceded several speakers and panel discussions that looked at wellness through the prisms of innovation, technology, fitness, food and more.

“Wellness cuts through every discipline,” Karshmer said. “It’s something we should talk about and experience every day.”

Mark Naufel, a professor of practice in ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise and director of strategic projects in the Luminosity Lab, told the audience about a Daily Dose app that would help recovering addicts by digitizing the 12-step program used by organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous.

The app, Naufel said, would help recovering addicts find the nearest meetings and include a breathalyzer test that could be taken every morning or night. The information from the test would then be seen by the friends and family members who have been invited to join the addict’s “circle of trust.”

“Now family members can wake up (and) see if the addict is doing his daily tasks,” Naufel said, adding that the goal is to release the app to the public after Jan. 1.

Following the conference, first-year students in the Edson College gathered in the building’s north parking lot to present their solutions to real-world health challenges.

Nursing students share their ideas to improve wellness at Hacking the Human conference

ASU nursing students present their innovative solutions to health issues regarding food, family and finance in the parking lot of the Health Entrepreneurship Accelerator Lab in downtown Phoenix on Dec. 2. 

Among the top posters:

"SOS: A Silent Call For Help"
Brianna Lopez, Tatum Boxley, Elyse Dunham

Almost 20% of all human trafficking victims are children, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

SOS is a bracelet that would hopefully reduce those numbers.

Dunham said the lightweight, gender-neutral bracelet has three main components:

A tracking device that can be shared with 10 selected followers. A safety button that, if held down for five seconds, would immediately alert local trafficking authorities. A push notification that would be sent to authorities and the 10 selected followers if the bracelet is removed or broken.

“Our purpose basically is to keep people out of the trafficking system in a way that almost outsmarts the traffickers,” Dunham said. “It’s crazy how easy it is for people to get manipulated and put in the trafficking system. With something like this, we want to overcome those extreme manipulative traffickers.”

Three students standing next to poster presentation

From left to right: First-year nursing majors Brianna Lopez, Tatum Boxley and Elyse Denham talk about their "SOS" project. 

Ziyan Chen, Taj Whitley, Kyler Morga

Build-a-Bot is a robot that would encourage children to get outside and exercise.

“Childhood obesity affects 20% of children in the U.S.,” Chen said. “That puts children and adolescents at risk for poor health, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and other problems.”

The robot would have an app that parents can customize to match their child’s interests. The child would be able to choose the color of the robot.

“It’s a little buddy they can do exercise with,” Chen said.

Although they didn’t research how Build-a-Bot’s could be funded, Chen said they would like to see the government purchase robots for lower-income families, “as they would do with food stamps.”

Woman talking to people about her poster presentation

First-year nursing major Taj Whitley presents her group's "Build-a-Bot” project. 

"Auditing System for Nurses"
Jerry Verdugo, Dara Ouk

The auditing system would guarantee that nurses are being given scheduled breaks in order to improve their mental health.

“There is a nationwide problem in the U.S. in which nurses don’t receive substantial breaks,” Ouk said. “Because of the lack of breaks, nurses have reported to have high levels of stress and anxiety.”

How would it work? Nurses would enter information such as how much water they’ve drank, what they ate for lunch, their anxiety level, etc., on the auditing system, which would then in turn encourage the nurses to take their mandatory breaks.

“Studies have shown this would improve their quality of life and also improve health care,” Ouk said. “We feel that it’s really important nurses are taking care of themselves. They need to be treated well because they work really hard.”

Two people talking about poster presentation

First-year nursing majors Dara Our (right) and Jerry Verdugo explain their project “Auditing System for Nurses.”

"Check Up"
Sarah Kohler, Christianna Carr, Vanessa Bailon Barrera

Check Up is an app that would provide health care resources for prisoners reentering society.

“Prisoners have a lot of chronic health conditions that have worsened in prison,” Kohler said. “It’s such an overlooked topic these days. Most people don’t think about the fact that these prisoners aren’t getting the health care they need. We wanted a really accessible way to get resources for them.”

Released prisoners would install Check Up on their phone and be able to schedule appointments, be reminded of appointments and, because of chronic conditions prisoners face such as hypertension and diabetes, even have an alert when low insulin levels are detected.

“It’s just going to help overall because it’s given them resources in one place,” Kohler said. “A lot of times, prison inmates don’t have a high literacy in technology. This is a simple way to access everything.”

The 2022 winners were announced at the end of the conference:

First place, $1,000 cash prize

"Break the Cycle: Nurse Burnout" — Aromatherapy patches to relive stress, by Mackenzie Anderson and Kamrielle Wyatt.

Second place, $500 cash prize

"Breast Buddy Box" — New moms received postpartum-specific pamphlets, information on local resources, by Jordan Sornsin, Isabelle Bridgeman, Alexa Medrano and Madalyn Tibbits.

Third place, $250 cash prize

"Nursing Home Care" — Digital care portfolio for nursing home patients, by Brei Bergman, Jatziry Lopez Castro and Gabriela Rosales Gaitan.

Top photo: First-year nursing majors Christianna Carr (left) and Sarah Kohler present their project, “Check Up,” to Sparky after the "Hacking the Human" conference in the parking lot of the Health Entrepreneurship Accelerator Lab in downtown Phoenix on Dec. 2. Students presented their innovative solutions to health issues for an opportunity to win a cash prize. Photos by Samantha Chow/Arizona State University

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

Student group put ASU charter’s call for inclusivity into multiple learning experiences

Tourism Student Association devoted fall programs to inclusivity in serving travelers

December 2, 2022

The Arizona State University Charter mandates that inclusion is front and center in all of ASU’s programs, classes, research and other activities.

Students in the Tourism Student Association, a student organization based at the School of Community Resources and Development (SCRD), devoted its major fall 2022 activities to focus on inclusive and accessible tourism, said longtime TSA faculty co-advisor Claire McWilliams. Group of people seated in a home smiling and waving as they teleconference with a couple who are visible in an inset in the lower, right-hand corner of the screen. Kevan and Katie Chandler (lower right inset), founders of and creators of a "human backpack," visit with members of ASU's Tourism Student Association during a recent movie night. Photo courtesy Claire McWilliams Download Full Image

McWilliams, an SCRD tourism development and management and hospitality lecturer, said the students decided before the semester began to have an entire slate of fall programs live out the mission of the charter.

McWilliams said she brought the idea to TSA leaders before the semester began, as she admired an author in the tourism industry who sought to travel beyond the constraints of his wheelchair and wanted to integrate his work into the club’s activities. From there, more ideas came up and a schedule of four events was created.

“In all my years advising the TSA, I’ve never been more inspired about what this student organization has achieved,” McWilliams said.

McWilliams said the fall programming included:

• A Sept. 28 appearance by Marisol Vindiola from Visit Tucson, who talked about cross-border tourism, which involved learning about and being aware of guests' needs, no matter what their point of origin.  

• A Nov. 2 conversation with Ed Salvato, an author, editor and professor who is a thought leader in the LBGTQ tourism community. Salvato discussed how anyone can support inclusive tourism as it relates to the strong LGBTQ travel market. “Salvato reminded TSA’s future tourism leaders to go straight to the root of hospitality, to invite, respect and protect, to avoid making assumptions, and to use gender-expansive language that focuses on the reason for visiting, whether camper, cruiser or guest,” McWilliams said. “When in doubt, he said, ask.”

• A Nov. 9 “Fall Fireside” presentation by Alison Brooks from Visit Mesa, along with Camilo Bustos Navarro from Wheel the World and Brett Heising, a disability and diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging consultant. The three told students how universal design, training and partnerships can equip industry leaders and frontline service workers to help travelers overcome impediments to tourism activities related to neurodiversity and physical challenges. Visit Mesa’s leadership helped Mesa, Arizona’s third-largest city, to become the first-ever Autism Certified City in the United States.

• A Nov. 18 appearance by Kevan Chandler, author, advocate and founder of, who successfully left his wheelchair behind and journeyed as a “human backpack” by using an invention where he can be carried on the back of a hiker. TSA members raised more than $3,000 to purchase and outfit six of these adaptive backpacks, provide training for users and cover shipping costs. Members met Chandler via Zoom and watched a documentary he produced. McWilliams said members were impacted by his bravery, trust and total freedom-inducing joy in dancing, running and making it to a 360-view at the top of the Great Wall of China — all in the adaptive backpack with his friends carrying and supporting Chandler and enjoying the moments.  

McWilliams said she was struck by a statement from Brooks, of Visit Mesa, that everyone will become disabled at some point in life, through injury, age, disease or some other cause, and so adaptive tourism methods will ultimately apply to anyone who seeks to travel.

McWilliams said all the presenters emphasized that providing equal opportunities to all tourists not only is the right thing to do, but can be profitable to someone in the tourism industry who opens up such opportunities to more people eager to spend on travel.

Students impressed with speakers' messages

Salvato’s message resonated with TSA member Cailia Flatt.

Man carrying his friend on his back as they travel along the Great Wall of China.

Kevan Chandler (top) sits in a "human backpack" as he joins friends traveling along the Great Wall of China. Photo courtesy Kevan Chandler

“My biggest takeaway was embracing the LGBTQ community. At the meeting, (Salvato) told us to yell the words ‘lesbian,’ ‘gay,’ ‘bisexual,’ ‘transgender’ and ‘queer/questioning’ out loud, because it was something to be proud of and not ashamed of,” Flatt said. “I've been an ally since my cousin came out in middle school. I was never ashamed to talk about it; I was just worried I would offend someone. After the experience, I didn't feel like I needed to censor my words anymore. The faster we make it normal, the faster it will be normal. That's what I thought after the whole thing."

TSA Secretary Jordyn Hoff said she found the experience of each event to be rare.

“They had us critically thinking about how inclusivity will fit into all the industries we want to go in. I could tell the students were so engaged through all these events, which is precisely what an officer wants to see in their club,” Hoff said. “It was great to see inclusivity on a local scale through our Fall Fireside, across borders with Marisol and globally with Kevan.”

TSA President Jeneca Kostad said she was “intrigued, inspired and amazed” at how well students learned to surmount obstacles to inclusivity within the tourism industry.

“I believe our club is the next generation to make the world more inclusive as a whole, starting with travel and tourism,” Kostad said. “TSA is out to make a change in the tourism industry!”   

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Award-winning professor launches hybrid learning experience for online students

Early Career Award winner Viridiana Benitez expands access to language-learning research

December 2, 2022

Viridiana Benitez – a daughter of immigrants, an English-as-a-second-language learner and a first-generation college student – knows firsthand what it’s like to overcome challenges in academia. Now, the Arizona State University assistant professor is aiming to help current college students in their own higher education journeys.

In the spring of 2023, Benitez is launching an innovative new course to provide research experience for ASU Online students who utilize a learning modality that, despite its many benefits, has previously lacked the same research opportunities afforded to traditional immersion students who learn in-person, on campus. ASU Assistant Professor Viridiana Benitez smiling, looking at the camera, on a sidewalk lined with trees and bushes. Assistant Professor Viridiana Benitez. Photo by Robert Ewing/ASU Download Full Image

“It is just so important for students to be able to conduct the research they are learning about,” Benitez said.

Benitez is the primary investigator of the Learning & Development Lab at ASU, where she researches cognitive development with a focus on how young children learn words, how they track the patterns of their environment and how language experience, such as bilingualism, affects cognition. She hopes to better understand how to promote the development of language in children, in particular, the kinds of early experiences that might support dual language development.

This fall, she was recognized as an Early Career Award winner by her doctoral training institution, Indiana University. She was selected based on the quality of her early career research and the impact she is having on the field of psychology.

Benitez received her developmental psychology training under the mentorship of Linda Smith, a renowned professor in the field of cognitive development.

“I received the email early this year that I was selected, and I was just very proud, surprised and also very humbled to have received it. The training I received from Dr. Smith really enabled me to become the scientist I am today, and for that I am grateful,” Benitez said.

To accept the award, Benitez flew back to Indiana for a reception dinner with her academic peers and family. At the ceremony, she acknowledged another prominent faculty member from Arizona State University — the late Martha E. Bernal, the first Latina PhD in psychology, which she also received from Indiana University, who studied ethnic identity development among Mexican American children.

Bernal is recognized as a groundbreaking figure in the fields of clinical and developmental psychology, and contributed significantly to the advancement of ethnic minority psychology. Each year, ASU's Department of Psychology also awards The Martha E. Bernal Memorial Scholarship Award to deserving doctoral students who are contributing to research on ethnic identity and minority mental health.

“I have also been reflecting about Martha Bernal’s story and how she may have made it a little easier for someone like me — a daughter of immigrants who is an English-as-a-second-language learner and a first-generation college student — to be able to complete a PhD,” said Benitez. “Additionally, for ASU to be recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, I think is really amazing. We're serving a lot of Latino students, and in particular, in our work, we focus on bilingualism, which is an important factor in the Latino experience.”

This course Benitez is launching in the spring, titled “Learning words across language and development,” is designed to provide the hands-on psychology learning required for continuing training and graduate education. In it, ASU Online students will engage in a 15-week research opportunity to examine the mechanisms of word learning and bilingualism across development.

While the students are working remotely, they will attend weekly meetings with the Learning & Development Lab and help to conduct a literature review on bilingual word learning, design experiments to fill gaps in the literature, and conduct research with adults and children via Zoom.

“Right now, we're conducting a study in which we're inviting parents to read bilingual books to their young child, aged 3 to 4. We're interested in how caregivers incorporate both languages as they are reading to their child,” said Benitez. “I’m very excited for this cohort of students and for all that they will have the opportunity to accomplish.”

Video courtesy the Department of Psychology

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


image title

Cyberattacks threaten global security

December 1, 2022

Director of US National Security Agency discusses cyber warfare at ASU event

The United States is engaged in a quiet but potentially devastating intelligence, cyber and information war, with the greatest threats to national security coming from China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. 

That was the topic of a webinar on “Confronting Current and Future Cybersecurity Threats,” hosted Wednesday by Arizona State University’s Center on the Future of War.

“As you think about what computers have evolved to these days, they've gotten so much more entwined in everything we do — whether it's the information on our computer desktop all the way out to the military's weapons,” said Rob Joyce, director of the U.S. National Security Agency’s cybersecurity directorate.

Part of the mission of the agency is to partner with allies, private industry and academics to strengthen awareness and collaboration, and advance the state of cybersecurity.

Joyce was joined by retired Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, professor of practice in the Center on the Future of War and School of Politics and Global Studies, and Daniel Rothenberg, a professor of practice in the School of Politics and Global Studies and co-director of the Center on the Future of War.

Rothenberg asked if a devastating and fundamentally destabilizing cyberattack is imminent and inevitable in American society.

“Yeah it is,” said Joyce, citing the 2021 ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, which was caused by one compromised password that led to major fuel shortages.  

“So, it is not unimaginable.” 

Beyond government computers

A cyberattack on the U.S. government would be far-reaching, going beyond its official web of networks to thousands of partner companies, defense contractors, subcontractors and more.  

According to Joyce, the ecosystem consists of 30,000 cleared companies that work as subcontractors and 300,000 companies that feed into the defense department. It is an enormous amount of tech surface that adversaries can get into in order to steal information, manipulate data and more.

“So we were frankly seeing a lot of stuff lost in that ecosystem,” Joyce said. 

Joyce said that anything from civic governments to companies that are assaulted are a national security issue. Hospitals, schools and manufacturing plants are all driven and dependent on computers. 

“Criminals understand that If you have something that people depend on, they can exploit it,” Joyce said.

Cyber solutions

The NSA’s Cybersecurity Collaboration Center works with industry partners to prevent and eliminate foreign cyber threats. 

Joyce explained there are ongoing offensive and defensive efforts to comprehend and combat cyber threats — exploiting the enemy’s web system while at the same time trying to keep them out of U.S. networks. 

Finding out the enemy's secrets puts the U.S. on the path to security, he said.

What do adversaries know or intend to do against those military communication systems? And what are the adversaries doing to get our classified communications? These are questions the NSA must ask, Joyce said.  

“You know, it takes a thief to catch a thief,” Joyce said. “So when you work on both sides of this … you get a better appreciation for the practical things the adversary will do to win, and that's really what it's all about.” 

Desktop defense 

Schmidle asked what people could do to protect their personal computers from attacks.

Joyce said the number one thing to do is install updates as soon as they come out and have a solid password management system. Security that is breached on one site can be an entry point to all personal information. 

“Criminals are going around, and they're rattling the doorknobs,” Joyce said.

“It's the equivalent of a criminal finding a car that's unlocked and just taking whatever they find inside. If you lock your car, you're safe.” 

Joyce said that there is a real need to be vigilant in improving the technology but, “it is not going to be any one entity that solves the problem.”  

It's not just regulation, or collaboration between government and private industry, or international coalitions or laws that are the answer, he said.

“But it's going to be a bit of all of that.”

Top photo courtesy iStock

Dolores Tropiano

Reporter , ASU News