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'Lawyers should be social engineers for justice'

Myles Lynk, a man who believes in the law as a form of social justice.
From the White House to the NAACP, ASU law professor has worked with them all.
November 17, 2015

ASU professor Myles Lynk has a long line of social justice stitched into his law career

With all due respect to the people who guide us through the legal system, everybody knows a good lawyer joke.

Like this one: Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, an honest lawyer and an old drunk were walking along when they simultaneously spotted a hundred-dollar bill in the street. Who gets it? The old drunk, of course — the other three are mythological creatures.

Or, why won’t sharks attack lawyers? Professional courtesy.

All fun aside, Myles Lynk isn’t the type of lawyer who would be the butt of any of these jokes.

The professor in ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law has been tapped by the likes of the White House and the Chief Justice of the United States for his objective legal mind, as well as his sense of fairness.  

“I took to heart the words of Charles Hamilton Houston, Howard University’s most famous dean, who once said, ‘Lawyers should be social engineers for justice,’ ” Lynk said.

He hasn’t forgotten the message. Earlier this year, Lynk was one of several lawyers who worked with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Bar AssociationStephen A. Salzberg, a law professor at George Washington University, was the main driver behind this appointment. to craft a statement that addressed the issue of race and inequality in the justice system. It was a response driven by the real and perceived evidence of racial bias among some representatives of that system.

Lynk grew up in a time and place when civil rights were fluid and evolving, which he said is what made him the person he is today.

“I was born in the Bronx, and I tell my kids that I grew up on ‘Sesame Street’ because it was such a wonderfully diverse community. I have great affection for everyone I knew — the butcher, the baker, the barber, the grocery man, the police officers and the firemen. It was a diverse community and there was not the kind of friction you often associate with that today.”

The friction came later in 1969 when Lynk became a VISTA volunteerThis was a precursor to the AmeriCorps VISTA organization., working and living in St. Louis’ notorious Pruitt-Igoe public housing project — known for its poverty, crime and segregation. It was there where he got his first taste of discrimination as well as a jaundiced eye from both sides of the law.

“I lived there with a white fellow, Jim, whom I still consider a brother. So it was this white guy and black guy living together in the projects,” Lynk said with a laugh. “The hardheads on the block called us ‘The Mod Squad’ because they all thought we were undercover cops. And the police thought we were narcotics dealers because who else would live there like that? We had to tell each group, ‘No, we’re not who you think we are. We’re just volunteers.’ ”

"Racism, whether unconscious or not, is a difficult reality we need to face. Until the day comes when racism no longer exists, we cannot pretend it does not exist."
— ASU law professor Myles Lynk

Lynk and his partner proved themselves over time fighting for the residents of the community, who were forced to move when St. Louis decided to raze the housing project. Lynk forced the city to relocate all of its previous residents.

“The city felt it was good enough to tell them that they had to be out by a certain date, but the problem was other housing developments didn’t want anyone from Pruitt-Igoe,” Lynk said. “We told them, ‘You just can’t put the burden on these residents to find housing when you brought them here in the first place.’ ”

The Pruitt-Igoe project was eventually imploded on television in 1972. Lynk was gone by that time, moving on to another project that took him to another part of the world.

After the completion of his VISTA service, Lynk served as co-director of the Harvard Africa Volunteer Project in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Nairobi, Kenya, while obtaining his undergraduate degree at Harvard. After he graduated cum laude, Lynk traveled to Ngora, Uganda, where he worked as a community health research officer at a rural hospital working on health education, child nutrition and disease prevention projects. The hospital was run by British Anglicans while President Idi Amin, known for human-rights abuses, ethnic persecution and mass killings, was in control of the country.  

“I came to deeply respect and appreciate the Anglicans’ faith and respect to service,” Lynk said. “The same respect applied to Africans in Africa. To be there, work there, be a part of a community for a year was an incredible opportunity. It expanded my horizons.”

While volunteer opportunities nourished Lynk’s soul, he eventually came to the realization that he could help more people as an attorney. In September 1973 he returned to Cambridge and enrolled at Harvard Law School, where he received his Juris Doctor degree three years later.

“You make certain decisions in your life and I thought this was something I could do,” Lynk said. “What are your gifts? What are your skills? I’m glad I chose that route.”

And so was the Carter administration, who appointed Lynk as a special assistant to the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in the late 1970s. Later, the White House, appointed Lynk to its domestic-policy staff as assistant director for the Transportation and Maritime Policy.

However, Lynk spent the majority of his career (1983-1999) in private practice at Dewey Ballantine LLP in Washington, D.C., where he served on the legal staff of the Special Counsel to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct of the U.S. House of Representatives, investigating allegations of improper conduct involving congressmen, staff and teenagers serving as House pages. He also advised companies on governance and regulatory issues, litigated in federal and local courts and worked with area attorneys to give pro bono work to low-income clients.

“I think all of us who grew up in the 1960s, white or black, were influenced by the civil-rights movement,” Lynk said. “One of the things I tell my students is that lawyers have a special responsibility for the quality of justice. This special responsibility means that, among other duties, lawyers should also be mindful of deficiencies in the administration of justice.”

Discovering that he had a natural gift for teaching, Lynk began spreading his academic wings as a visiting professor of law at George Washington University Law School and a lecturer in law at the University of Maryland Law School. In 2000 he was invited to ASU as a visiting professor but was offered tenure and is now the Peter Kiewit Foundation Professor of Land and the Legal Profession.

The university immediately recognized that Lynk could be effective beyond the classroom, and appointed him in 2004 to serve as the faculty athletics representative to ASU’s athletic department. He also chaired the then Pac-10 Conference’s Diversity Leadership Initiative Committee for new policy to include ethnic minorities and females in searches to hire coaches and administrators and approved annual funding for participation in the NCAA Leadership Development Institute for professional development of current ethnic-minority males and of female athletic administrators.

Man talking with his hands.

ASU Law professor Myles Lynk sees his job as a social engineer for change and has spent a majority of his legal career fighting for the underrepresented and oppressed in low-income areas. Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Lynk’s reputation as a community builder who could keep a cool head is part of the reason he was recruited by the American Bar Association and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to help leaders draft a statement regarding the crisis of confidence about the integrity of the criminal justice system over a string of shootings — like Walter Scott in South Carolina, 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Ohio, Eric Garner in New York and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, which were captured by citizen video and viewed nationwide.

“I don’t believe police departments are more racist today than they were in the past. There are many more black commanders and police officers with much more training,” Lynk said. “However, the impact of the bad apples can be far greater today because it’s immediately disseminated nationally and internationally, and it resonates. It’s an issue that needs to be addressed in a responsible way.”

And part of the responsibility, Lynk said, extends to the black community. He believes community leaders need to work with young black men to help them better understand how they are perceived by others.

“Racism, whether unconscious or not, is a difficult reality we need to face,” Lynk said. “Until the day comes when racism no longer exists, we cannot pretend it does not exist.”

Lynk believes America today has made a lot of strides since the civil-rights movement, but there’s still so much more to do.

“A lot of (barriers) have been removed since the 1960s, and America today is much more diverse,” Lynk said. “In a sense we won, but one of the things we’ve had to realize is that there are no final victories. Frederick Douglass once said, ‘Nothing is given to you. You have to work for it and reenergize.’ New generations need to be reminded of the struggles of the past and we need to build on those victories, but always be building.”

Reporter , ASU News


ASU professor on progress toward an HIV/AIDS vaccine

After the announcement by actor Charlie Sheen that he is HIV positive, ASU Now asks how far away we are from a vaccine.

November 17, 2015

The actor Charlie Sheen announced Tuesday that he is HIV positive. He said in an interiew on NBC News that he was diagnosed four years ago.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 78 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and about 39 million people have died of HIV since the beginning of the epidemic in the 1980s.  Globally, an estimated 35 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2013. A screen grab of Charlie Sheen on the Today Show Charlie Sheen. Photo courtesy NBC News.

Bertram Jacobs, director of the School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and professor at the Center for Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, says HIV/AIDS has gone from a death sentence to a manageable disease. But he emphasizes that costs and other hurdles have put a vaccine a decade or more from becoming a reality. 

ASU Now: How far have we advanced over the past few decades in the treatments for those with HIV/AIDS? And how have these developments affected quality of life and survival rates among those diagnosed as HIV positive?

Bertram Jacobs: We have made incredible progress in treating AIDS since 1995.  The treatments that are available now can allow people to have a relatively normal life span, and can also decrease transmission to uninfected people.  The drugs do have side-effects, which are often manageable, and are expensive.  However, we need to expand access to these life-saving drugs, both in the US and around the world.

ASU Now: Given your research over the past decade, what is the likelihood — and possible timeline — that we soon will develop a vaccine for people diagnosed as HIV positive?

BJ: There are still hurdles to be overcome.  We have had the first positive vaccine trial in Thailand, which suggests that a protective HIV vaccine is possible.  We are learning how people develop broad immune responses to HIV.  All of this suggests that a vaccine is possible, but it is probably still at least a decade away.

ASU Now: From the early days of the epidemic in the 1980s to today, does it seem that this serious disease has slipped from public awareness and involvement? If so, why?

BJ: Certainly, the epidemic has slipped from public awareness. Fewer people are dying, both in the US and worldwide, because of the power of the current anti-retroviral therapy to keep people alive, so HIV/AIDS appears to be less of a problem.  But this comes at a cost, both in the cost of the drugs and the cost to those who don’t have access to the drugs.

ASU Now: How far behind the U.S. are developing countries in responding and treating people diagnosed as HIV positive? Is this tied primarily to the cost of treatment? And how can we close the gap? 

BJ: All countries, including the US, have difficulties getting universal access to life-saving anti-retroviral therapy. That is primarily an issue of cost.  While generic anti-retroviral drugs are available in much of the developing world, they still place a huge cost burden on the economies of developing countries, and are currently subsidized by developed countries.  But they are critical, both to keep people alive and to help stop the spread of HIV. So it is imperative that we find ways to get universal access to these drugs, both from a personal health point of view and a public health point of view, to help stem the tide of HIV infection.

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Real-life 'CSI'

ASU's popular forensics program is notable for the dedication of its faculty.
ASU forensic science majors aren't limited to careers in crime labs.
Forensic science can bring swift justice and give a voice to victims.
November 16, 2015

ASU's interdisciplinary forensics program equips students to make a difference in a variety of careers

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

A bottle of Turnbull's scotch whisky sits next to an overturned bottle of pills on an end table. Next to the table, a man is seated in an armchair, a pillow covering his face.

The scene is straight out of an episode of "CSI" — that is, until forensics professor Kimberly Kobojek lifts the pillow from the man’s face to reveal that it’s not a man at all, but a Styrofoam dummy head. The liquor and pills are props, too.

What makes the scene so convincing is not only the materials used — which include professional-grade crime-scene markers and ultraviolet light to fluoresce biological fluids — but also the care taken by Kobojek in constructing it.

Before becoming a clinical associate professor in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences on Arizona State University’s West campus, Kobojek worked for 17 years as a forensic scientist with the City of Phoenix Police Department Crime Laboratory.

At different times, she worked in the controlled-substances unit, the toxicology/blood-alcohol unit and the forensic biology unit. She even testified as an expert witness or was involved in a number of groundbreaking or high-profile criminal cases in Maricopa County, including the “Baseline Killer” case.

Though her father had been a police officer, Kobojek never intended to follow in his footsteps. As an undergrad at ASU, she majored in biology with the intent of becoming a teacher. That ambition fell temporarily by the wayside as her career with the Phoenix Police Department progressed, but reignited when she began leading forensic training sessions with police officers.

“That was when I rediscovered my passion for teaching,” Kobojek said.

She decided to go back to school to get her master’s in biology when a friend happened to mention an opportunity at ASU. There was a new program, her friend told her, and it needed a director. The subject matter, she said, was right up Kobojek’s alley.

“So I put in application,” she said. “And the more I researched ASU West … the more excited I became.

“After my on-campus interview, I was floored; I really wanted to be here. And then I was fortunate enough that they hired me.”

The official launch of the forensics program was the fall 2014 semester. Only available through New College on ASU’s West campus, the program offers a bachelor’s in forensics, as well as a bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in forensics.

That first semester, 120 students enrolled in the forensics major, and 42 students enrolled in the forensics concentration. The fall 2015 semester saw an increase in enrollment in both, with 159 forensics major students and 45 forensics concentration students.

“I think there’s a real national demand, both in terms of student interest and in terms of professional need,” said Marlene TrompTromp also serves as a professor of English and women and gender studies, and as vice provost of ASU's West campus., dean of New College, citing a national backlog in crime labs.

“And one of the great things about a forensics degree is that when you’re trained in forensic science, you’re taking biology, chemistry, mathematics and computing; so forensics is not your only option when you graduate, and those are the fastest-growing, most marketable areas in the economy. … So [students are] going to be able to do a lot of different things with that degree,” she said.

A self-proclaimed science lover, Tromp herself was pre-med as an undergrad. She points out that the application of forensic science isn’t limited to the courtroom. Hospitals often use forensic science to determine cause of death in autopsies, and insurance companies have used forensic science to analyze data for claims.

Students of forensic science are also qualified to work in private labs that do biological analyses, and they are well-prepared to continue on to law or medical school, according to Kobojek.

All of this attests to the inherently interdisciplinary nature of the degree, something New College is distinctly capable of nurturing.

“One of the exciting things President Crow did when he came to ASU is he said, ‘We really need to think across disciplinary lines more,’ ” Tromp said. “But New College was built that way from the very beginning. … We’ve never had traditional departments, so our faculty have always worked across those lines.”

Besides collaborating with scientists in other hard data-based fields, forensics majors also collaborate with bioethicists at West campus who are trained as philosophers.

“We think we can make an impact on how people understand science, how people understand the world around them, how justice operates — as many other science degrees do — with this degree,” Tromp said of the forensics program at ASU West campus.

As a non-traditional student returning to college after 20 years in customer service, Robin Lane was looking to do just that. Originally interested in pharmacy school, he reconsidered after some deep thought.

“After starting my college career, I contemplated whether I really wanted to be a pharmacist. I wanted to serve people in ways that would make an impact on their lives,” he said.

A lifelong plant enthusiast, Lane decided to look into what career fields were available in botany. To his surprise — and delight — he discovered there is such a thing as forensic botany.

Forensic botanists can determine whether an individual was present at a crime scene based on things like the type of pollen found on their clothing.

Lane will graduate at the end of the 2015 semester with a bachelor’s in forensics. In his time with the program, he said he has been nothing short of “thoroughly impressed by the academic and personal support provided by each instructor.”

Upon graduation, he looks forward to working with local, state or government agencies in forensics, and “being the voice of victims that cannot speak.”

As for the future of the program itself, there are some innovative developments underway.

“One of the exciting things that we’re doing right now is we’re developing a training program for EULEXEULEX is a contract between the European Union and Kosovo that allows for certain states of the European Union to send police forces and lawyers to help make Kosovo more secure. to do additional training for their people who are in the field doing cadaver analysis in war crime zones,” said Tromp, adding that other programs like it with various international organizations are also in the works.

“So that’s huge global impact. We also are impacting the local community by training students in areas that are really marketable and that will help our students graduate and get great jobs and make an impact here in Arizona. And the more we do of this work, the more Arizona becomes a center for this kind of activity,” she said.

That fact excites Kobojek, who noted the recent uptick in students majoring in forensics.

“That not only means the program is accessible but students are choosing to come to ASU for forensics. To me that means we have set ourselves apart as a leader in forensics programs here in Arizona,” she said.

And she plans to take it even further.

“I do have grand plans,” Kobojek admitted demurely.

“I would love to be able to establish a forensic science training center on West campus, not just for ASU students but for the community to come in and learn about new things happening in areas of forensic science, as well as for collaborations with crime labs who need to get their people quality and affordable continuing education as mandated by lab standards.

“If we were to establish a training center here, people from the entire state of Arizona, as well as neighboring states, could come here for training. California has done this, and they have ongoing waiting lists for their courses.”

In the meantime, she’s happy to continue spattering the walls of mock crime scenes with synthetic blood in her basement lab in the CLCC BuildingThe Classroom/Lab/Computer Classroom Building on ASU’s West campus contains general-purpose and computer classrooms; science laboratories; studios for art, dance and music; and the University Technology Office..

“I love it when I meet students who are very excited about it, and who get it,” she said. “And every day is different, so there’s constant change. But I still get to do forensic science!”

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A new approach to licking Alzheimer's

November 13, 2015

ASU researchers are studying dogs' memory loss, hoping to find clues for human disease

Man's best friend might prove an unexpected ally in the fight against Alzheimer's.

The disease affects more than 5 million Americans — and that number is expected to more than triple by 2050. Researchers at Arizona State University's Canine Science Collaboratory, led by professor Clive Wynne of the Department of PsychologyThe Department of Psychology is part of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences., are studying dog memory and the effects of an Alzheimer's-like disease, canine cognitive dysfunction, with a maze and lots of treats.

The Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development visited the lab to see the dogs in action.

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Students get a glimpse of workplace life

ASU Polytechnic students get a glimpse of workplace life in mentoring program.
On-the-job experiences prepare ASU students for life after school.
November 12, 2015

ASU job-shadowing program matches mentors with Polytechnic students

The reality of the workplace can be hard for students to grasp, but a new job shadowing program is giving some Arizona State University students a clearer idea of what their potential careers look like.

Twelve students from ASU’s Polytechnic campus are spending several hours a week this semester with mentors in the East Valley through a partnership with the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce.

Stephanie Salazar, director for East Valley community and municipal relations at the ASU's Polytechnic campus, created a shadowing program several years ago through the city of Tempe, and it was so successful that she launched a similar one last spring.

“It was important to me that students have the opportunity to be mentored, but I also wanted to show the community what our students are doing and the impact they can have,” Salazar said.

“We want them to be workforce-ready and socially embedded.”

The students are being mentored at places including Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK and several medical practices.

Ryan Bain, a junior majoring in air-traffic management, is shadowing staff members in the operations and maintenance department at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. His plan to become an air-traffic controller started at the airport while he was still at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale.

“I took a tour here while I was in high school, and it really piqued my interest,” he said.

“It’s been really insightful,” he said of the shadowing program. “I’ve really seen the commercial side of things at the airport and what the city requires.”

Bain (pictured above at the airport in a photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now) has spent time with the controllers as well as helping the operations staff perform inspections.

Ivan Smith, supervisor of operations at the airport, said this is the first time he has mentored an ASU student.

“We’re here to serve the public,” he said of the decision to participate.

Smith has arranged Bain’s schedule so that he can spend time with several staff members who work different shifts.

"Every day is different. She might go to a kickoff meeting for an event, or film a video or launch a website or meet with people in the community."

— ASU junior Taniyah Williamson, about her job-program mentor

“We have inspections that we only do overnight that have to be done in the dark hours,” Smith said.

“Having him come the same three hours every time would have been very limiting in what he could see.”

Taniyah Williamson, a junior communications major at ASU Polytechnic, is being mentored by Jennifer Alvarez, the digital media and marketing officer for the town of Gilbert.

“I’ve gotten to see all the social-media tools they use,” Williamson said. “Every day is different. She might go to a kickoff meeting for an event, or film a video or launch a website or meet with people in the community.

“She gets to meet so many people, and she’s not a prisoner to a cubicle.”

The shadowing has made Williamson excited for her career.

“It’s been eye-opening knowing that there are so many options open to me for when I graduate,” Williamson said.

The program has enlightened the Gilbert businesses as well.

“It is our goal to provide students with a real-world understanding of the opportunities that exist within their field of study,” said Kathy Tilque, president and CEO of the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce. “In many cases, the students have been able to solidify their interests and narrow their scope of study. The mentors that have participated have also found value in understanding the different degrees that may be a fit to their organizations.”

Salazar, who hopes the program eventually can be expanded into a full-fledged internship, said one mentor has already agreed to participate again next semester.

“So you can see that impact when the mentors want to come back,” she said.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


ASU criminology professor briefs lawmakers on impact of police officer-worn video cameras

November 6, 2015

Jacob Young, an assistant professor at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the ASU College of Public Service and Community Solutions, told a legislative study committee that research suggests body-worn video cameras influence the behavior of police officers.

His comments were based on several peer-reviewed studies and data obtained through an ASU study with Mesa Police. Young told members of the Law Enforcement Officer Body Camera Study Committee about the study’s three key findings. The first focused on whether officers with body-worn cameras were more or less likely to initiative encounters with citizens. “Officers who wore a camera were much more likely to issue a citation than officers who didn’t wear a camera,” Young told the committee. “And they are much more likely to initiate encounters with citizens.”
The Mesa study involved 50 officers who were given body-worn cameras and 50 officers who did not wear cameras. Both groups tracked their daily interactions with citizens for nearly a year.
Young told the committee that the second key finding was that officers who wore the camera were more likely to find cameras useful in doing their job.
“Compared to those who didn't have a camera …, officers who wore cameras though it was more useful,” Young said. “And this is consistent with research on the use of technology — showing that people who see it as useful are much more likely to then use it.”
Of the 50 Mesa Police officers that wore cameras, 25 had volunteered to wear then and 25 officers were randomly-assigned to compulsorily wear a camera. When the study began, all participating officers were required to turn on their camera for every encounter with citizens. But after five months, officers were given the discretion to activate cameras when they thought appropriate. Young told the study committee that there was a distinct difference in the activation of cameras between the two groups of officers.
“Compulsorily assigned officers were three times more likely to stop activating their cameras when the policy switched to discretionary activation relative to the volunteer officers,” Young said.
One of the committee members is Colonel Frank Milstead, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. He was Mesa Police chief at the time of the study and says officers are now embracing the new technology.
“The desire to have them is much greater as the world has continued to change and the media has continued to paint law enforcement with this broad brush of negativity and trust,” Milstead said. “The officers want to show that they are doing the right things, most of the time.”
Earlier in the committee hearing, a legislative analyst told committee members that six of the state’s 15 sheriff’s departments and 30 local police agencies use body-worn video cameras.
The Law Enforcement Officer Body Camera Study Committee will hold future hearings to examine policies about when cameras should be turned on and off and what recordings should be released to the public. The committee will ultimately make recommendations that could be used to craft legislation on the use of body-worn cameras by state and local police agencies in Arizona. ASU criminology professor Jacob Young talks to a legislative study committee Jacob Young, an assistant professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, talks about research on police officer body-worn cameras to a legislative study committee. Download Full Image

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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New smartphone app encourages vets to BeWell

Proposed app would help military veterans regulate their daily activities.
BeWell24 app hopes to help veterans avoid metabolic syndrome.
November 5, 2015

Veterans can face a number of challenges when they return home from the battlefield.

Some suffer through PTSD or depression. Others grapple with sleep disorders. And many have to deal with the reality of permanent injuries.

But one trait that doesn’t get much publicity might be the most widespread and damaging of all: inactivity.

After spending years in a culture that regimented every part of the day — including physical activity — soldiers often come back to unstructured and sedentary lives. The change can lead to declining physical and mental health.

However, there could be help on the way.

A transdisciplinary team of researchers at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions and the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, along with the Phoenix VA Health Care System, are developing an Android-based smartphone app called BeWell24. The app is aimed at veterans who are susceptible to metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of conditions that puts individuals at greater risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“Veterans are at high risk to all of these due to disproportional rates of obesity, and it’s driven primarily because of lifestyle behaviors,” said Matthew Buman, an assistant professor in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion.

“They come back from deployment challenged in many ways. They have a new set of stressors in how to habituate themselves back into daily life and tend to, at earlier ages than non-veterans, develop risk factors for disease.”

A $50,000 Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust seed grant has enabled Buman and his team to develop an app that monitors a combination of three behavioral components — sleep, sedentary behavior and physical activity — in a 24-hour cycle.

“Time is disproportionately distributed between them, and increasing time in one inevitably requires decreasing time in another,” Buman said.

Men holding a smartphone

ASU research software engineer Kevin Hollingshead (left) and exercise science and health promotion assistant professor Matthew Buman created the BeWell24 app for veterans.
Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Buman and Dr. Dana Epstein, chief of nursing research evidence-based practice at the Phoenix VA, just finished a pilot study of veterans ages 30 to 65. They asked vets to use the app to monitor their activity for an eight-week period, hoping that smartphone-based behavioral changes could lead to improvements in sleep, sedentary behavior and physical activity.

Preliminary findings have already shown that the app can significantly improve sleeping and activity patterns in the eight-week window.

“We know that reallocating just 30 minutes a day of sedentary time with equal time of sleep or physical activity can lead to improvements in health,” Buman said. “For example, we know that someone might have a favorite TV show they watch. We’re not asking them to not watch the show. We might suggest they get up during the commercials and perform a household chore just to get up and walk around. It’s a very common-sense approach.”

Buman said he and his team have spent almost two years developing the app, along with ASU software engineer Kevin Hollingshead, who also works in the College of Health Solutions and was the lead developer on the BeWell24 app.

The app is not ready for market and needs further development. Buman’s team will apply for a large grant from the National Institutes of Health this coming March. The grant would enable BeWell24 to be tested on a wider scale.

“The challenge is there are a lot of apps out, but we don’t know whether they actually work or not to change behavior,” Buman said. “Ours is based on principles we know are evidence-based, and that’s where we’re different.”

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ASU expert decries high-stakes testing of students

ASU expert sees split between policymakers, parents on high-stakes testing.
November 3, 2015

Professor sees split between politicians, parents

The debate over high-stakes testing for students was highlighted last month when President Barack Obama said that schools should have fewer, but better quality exams.

In Arizona, starting this year, students are no longer required to pass a standardized test to graduate from high school. But the state’s public schools still are required to test third-graders to prove reading proficiency, and a portion of teachers’ evaluations are tied to test results.

Audrey Amrein-Beardsley (pictured above), an expert on testing and an associate professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, weighs in on the current debate about the effectiveness of testing students. She writes a blog about educational policy and testing called VAMboozled!

Question: Do you believe that students are being tested too much? Or is the amount of testing appropriate, but the emphasis — “high stakes” — out of whack?

Answer: I definitely believe students are being tested too much, especially given that students across the nation spend over four solid days on tests alone. These estimates do not include the time it takes to prepare for tests, taking away from valuable instruction time. In addition, “high-stakes” testing is not a good way to measure the quality of education in our schools. Research over the past 30 years shows that attaching test scores to academic progress never works, even though conceptually doing so makes sense. A good rule of thumb is that the farther the test gets away from the classroom-level (such as tests designed by entire statewide systems), the less useful the test becomes for its intended/informative purposes.

Q: What level of testing do you believe is appropriate for younger students? For high schoolers?

A: I do not believe large-scale standardized tests are appropriate for young children. There are many methodological issues that come into play when testing young children related to their ages and levels of maturity, the complexities that come along with defining and measuring young children’s development, learning and academic productivity, and other ethical concerns. As for high school students, research indicates it is OK to test these students. However, the most effective tests are developed near the school level instead of on a larger scale. These are the tests that are the most closely aligned with what has been taught and are capable of yielding data and information that is actionable. Large-scale standardized tests yield little to no timely or actionable data, especially at the high school level given most tests are not developed to measure specialized subject areas.

Q: Testing has increased as taxpayers have demanded more accountability — requiring teacher pay to be tied to test scores, for example. And requiring a third-grade test to determine reading proficiency or the student is held back. If testing is cut back, how will schools provide accountability to taxpayers?

A: Despite policymakers' increased focus on accountability, few taxpayers demand it. National survey data shows that the average taxpayer does not demand “more accountability.” Politicians and policymakers are largely the ones demanding accountability. In fact, there is a widening disparity between policymakers and taxpayers. The growth of the “opt-out” movement, where parents of hundreds of thousands of public school students choose to not take high-stakes standardized testing, highlights this disparity. While parents are concerned with frequent testing, policymakers responded with serious consequences and penalties to force parents and students to take these tests. The question to me is: How will the federal and state governments ensure that the accountability measures and models they put into place, to hold schools accountable to the taxpayers and for which taxpayers also pay millions, are actually working?

Q: The National Assessment of Education Progress scores were recently released. These are often considered to be among the “gold standard” of standardized test scores because of the rigorous and consistent testing methods used. Yet budget reductions have reduced the scope of these tests. Do you think these large-scale, nationwide tests are important? Do you think it’s important, or even relevant, to compare states to each other?

A: Testing experts across the nation respect the NAEP and admire it for its ability to monitor states’ educational programs. The NAEP is also respected because “high-stakes” have not been attached to the test and have not distorted the results. I also think it is important to compare states to one another. However, we do know a lot about these states without such tests and all tests in general, when we know other correlated factors (such as states’ political demographics, teacher-student ratios, average class size, teacher salaries, per-pupil funding). For anyone who thinks that any test-based measure is picking up or assessing only “student learning,” they are seriously wrong as test scores are so highly correlated with these and other variables. While this is unfortunate, it is true.

Q: Is there any research proving any negative effects of testing on students? Does it address the quantity or quality of the tests?

A: There is a lot of research on the negative effects of testing on students. In fact, it’s more worrisome that our nation continues to perpetuate such test-based accountability approaches to educational reform. Tests, while still extremely expensive, are still the cheapest educational reform measure to adopt and implement.

Q: Is testing actually a better reflection on a student’s socioeconomic status than their subject proficiency?

A: Unfortunately, this is also true. With a handful of variables about any student population, we can predict with about 80 percent accuracy what students’ test scores would be without students actually taking the tests.

Q: Some states, such as New York, require end-of-course tests for high school graduation. What are your thoughts on those tests? How about SATs/ACTs? Some universities are moving away from requiring them. Is that a good idea?

A: End-of-course tests are OK because they are more instructionally sensitive and better assess a student’s learning outcomes. However, if we add end-of-course tests, other tests need to give way. In addition, the SAT and the ACT do not predict student success in college as well as most people think. Common stats indicate that approximately 50 percent of the students who perform well on either test will perform well in college and the other 50 percent will not. I think that universities should get rid of the current college entrance exams and replace them with more quality (albeit likely less efficient) indicators for making college entrance decisions.

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Why children's worries should be everyone's worries

ASU team teaches local schools how to treat anxiety in at-risk children.
November 3, 2015

Professors working to prevent child mental disorders at ASU find that treating anxiety early can yield great results

Most people have had times in their life when they’ve been too nervous to raise their hand in class or ask a crush out on a date.

But not everybody knows what it’s like when those tendencies interfere with daily life, making simple things like going outside or speaking to strangers nearly impossible.

That’s what can happen to someone whose anxiety disorder goes untreated, according to Arizona State University associate professor of psychologyThe Psychology Department at ASU is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Armando Pina.

“Anxiety is a normal emotion that everyone experiences. But sometimes anxiety gets a little bit out of control. And sometimes it gets very out of control. And once it begins to get out of control or impair kids, then it begins to affect other areas of their lives,” he said.

Pina has been researching and implementing anxiety prevention strategies for children in grades three through five for the past five years with a program called REACH for Success.

“This is one of the most common problems in kids, period,” said Pina. “The prevalence of anxiety ranges from something like eight to 12 percent, and as high as 35 percent in adolescents.”

The program was developed as part of a grant funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Through REACH, Pina and fellow researchers work with local school districts to distribute materials and train teachers and school psychologists on how to use them to prevent and treat symptoms of anxiety in at-risk children.

The trial time for the program at each school is six weeks long and is comprised of six, 20 minute sessions in which students utilize materials such as board games or a mobile applicationPina’s team worked with associate professor Kevin Gary and assistant professor Ashish Amresh in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering to develop the app. — which has just recently begun testing in schools — to learn tools necessary for coping with anxiety.

After the six week trial, children showed significant reductions in worries, improvements on emotion displays and expressions, and more confidence in coping with stressful situations at school.

group of people sitting on bench

Armando Pina (third from left) and his team at ASU's
Department of Psychology have worked to implement
the REACH for Success program at local schools to
help children cope with symptoms of anxiety.

Photo by Ryan Stoll

When they were evaluated a year later, the results were even better; the children showed greater reductions in anxiety (as rated by the child and their parent/s), even fewer body signs of anxiety (such as their heart beating fast, sweating, stomachaches) and better social skills. The children showing the most reductions in worries also began to perform better when taking tests.

The program, said Pina, is unlike any other before it.

“We now have a streamlined, simple, quick way to help kids that can be used in the schools. This program was designed for delivery in the schools by school staff because when we leave, we want them to still be able to do it,” he said. “And we have results that show that it works.”

It also addresses the issue of anxiety at a time that is most crucial.

“Third graders, fourth graders, fifth graders … that’s a developmental period where kids are changing really fast, and that’s really the best time (to intervene),” Pina said, because, “anxiety typically doesn’t go away by itself. And it interferes with kids’ abilities to make friends, to develop meaningful relationships with peers, to develop social skills.

“These kids, if you don’t help them, go on to develop depression and many of them become addicted to substances.”

The issue of children’s mental health in general is something Pina believes everyone should care about.

“Whether you have kids or not, kids are going to grow up and they’re going to move society forward," he said. "They’re going to be your doctors, they’re going to be your teachers; that’s the future. It’s very simple.”

With that in mind, Pina is looking forward to attending an upcoming fundraising event at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

The event is being hosted by the Institute for Mental Health Research, with co-sponsorship from ASU’s Department of Psychology, and will feature a lecture by prominent child psychiatrist Judith Rapoport.

Rapoport, chief of the child psychiatry branch of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), will discuss important research advances that are improving the treatment of children with mental health disorders.

“It’s a good cause that supports faculty and researchers and families, not only that are linked to ASU but to the community in general,” said Pina. “It’s a good, solid community event.”

“An evening with Judith Rapoport” will take place from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 5, at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Mel Cohen Conference Room in the Rosenberg Children’s Medical Plaza.

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Celebrating 3 decades of artist-citizens

This year marks the 30th anniversary of ASU's MFA program in creative writing.
The ASU program's focus on nurturing "artist-citizens" sets it apart.
Students in the ASU Creative Writing MFA Program work one-on-one with faculty.
November 2, 2015

This year marks the 30th anniversary of ASU's distinguished MFA program in creative writing

Some of us are Type A people; we plan our days down to the minute and make decisions based on a practical system of weighing pros and cons.

And some of us are daydreamers.

Alberto Rios falls into the latter category.

“I got busted for daydreaming in elementary school. The egregious second-grader crime,” he said of the moment he knew he wanted to be a writer.

“I retreated to my imagination, and that was the beginning of my writing.”

Alberto Rios speaking at podium

Regents’ Professor and Katherine C. Turner Endowed Chair in English at ASU Alberto RiosAlberto Rios is a Regents’ Professor and the Katherine C. Turner Endowed Chair in English at ASU. speaks at an event celebrating the Creative Writing MFA Program. Photo by Bruce Matsunaga.

Fitting, then, that he should one day help found the Creative Writing MFA Program at Arizona State University. The program, which is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

“It’s a mark of some distinction,” said Rios, who in 2013 was named Arizona’s first poet laureate.

He began teaching at ASU in 1982, shortly after winning the Walt Whitman poetry award and being subsequently recruited to the university by ASU Regents’ Professor Norman Dubie, whose own poetry has appeared in The New Yorker and “The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry.”

Around that time, a crop of fresh, hungry English faculty was beginning to materialize on campus.

Current director of the program Cynthia HogueCynthia Hogue is a professor of poetry and the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at ASU. called their serendipitous congregation a “critical mass of talent” that soon attracted a wave of students — Hogue herself had come to ASU to study under Dubie in 1978.

Other members of that faculty group included the poet Rita Dove and the artist and former program manager Karla Elling.

man writing

ASU Regents’ Professor Norman Dubie. This photo (© Rebecca Ross)
is part of the "Write Now: Celebrating 30 Years of Creative Writing at ASU"
exhibit on display at Hayden Library through Nov. 14.

Recognizing the need to meet student demand and eager to foster the growing community of serious writers at ASU, they determined it was time to establish a bona fide MFA program in creative writing.

In the 30 years since, the program has stood witness to a faculty that has received national and international recognition, garnering Guggenheim fellowships, NEA fellowships and several Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award nominations. As well, its students have gone on to win multiple prizes, Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships; publish books; and secure university teaching positions.

What sets it apart from other creative writing MFA programs, said Hogue, is “the element of the artist-citizen.”

“To be an artist is to be involved in the world in various ways. And we do that really consistently, and we also model a mentoring relationship,” she said, noting how each student in the program has the opportunity to work one-on-one with members of the faculty on their work.

Jennifer Irish, assistant director of the program, reiterated what she sees as the extraordinary nature of the program.

“I have the experience of having been part of several other programs and I have never been in a program or worked with a program that has such a true dedication to its students — at all levels," she said. “We have an amazingly committed faculty here who care about their students’ growth as artists and as people.

“And again, it goes back to that idea of the artist-citizen, that we are training artists who are going to go out and do good things in the world.”

One example of that intention realized is Poesía del Sol (Poetry of the Sun), an ASU Project Humanities partnership with the Mayo Clinic Center for Humanities in Medicine and the Creative Writing Program, led by Ríos.

Poesía del Sol pairs ASU MFA students with palliative-care patients at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix. The students interview the patients and their families, then create poems based on that interview. The poems are printed, framed and presented to the patients and their families as a gift and a celebration of life.

portrait of a woman

Cynthia Hogue, professor of poetry and Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at ASU. Photo © Rebecca Ross

Another example of being involved in the world is ASU’s Prison English Program, which allows students to not only edit the writing of inmates but also to teach in person at prisons in Arizona, helping educate those members of society who might otherwise not have such an opportunity.

Third-year creative writing master’s student Jacqueline Balderrama is one of the students who has done so. Her focus is poetry because, she said, “It belongs to the moment and to the image. It is concise, purposeful, and having an eye for poetry, I think, allows writers to perceive the world with an openness that invites meaning into the ordinary.”

Balderrama also serves as a poetry editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review, a semiannual international literary journal that showcases emerging talents in the literary community.

A small portion of the publication is solicited from established authors, but the majority of contributors are chosen from the thousands of manuscripts received each year. Each issue includes poetry, prose, translations and visual art.

Hayden’s Ferry Review editor-in-chief Chelsea Hickok, who will graduate from the Creative Writing MFA Program in May 2016, relishes the position it has afforded her.

“I’m coming out of this program with three years' teaching experience, two years editing a literary journal, connections in the industry, publications and a confidence in my writing I didn’t have before,” she said.

Balderrama agreed about the importance of creative writing, saying, “Fine arts are critical to our humanity.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley delivered a Marshall Lecture on Oct. 7 at ASU in which she spoke on the importance of art in teaching us empathy and helping us to understand what it is to be human.

Reflecting that is a favorite mantra of Rios’: “Say it, and I will understand it. Say it well, and I will feel it.”

ASU’s Creative Writing MFA Program 30th-anniversary celebration continues next with professor of English Melissa Pritchard’s telling of the story of the Afghan Women's Writing Project and the Ashton Goodman Fund from noon to 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4, in the Memorial Union Gold Room on the Tempe campus.

For a full list of anniversary celebration events, visit