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Setting the table for better health

CENAS isn't just cooking, but a cooking experience, organizers say.
Incorporating cultural ties as well as health is key to cooking program's aim.
April 15, 2016

New ASU program combines cooking, theater to promote healthy behavior changes

In ASU’s teaching kitchens in downtown Phoenix, the din of cooking activity is peppered with the sounds of friendly conversation.

Just an hour ago, the white-aproned amateur chefs knew each other only casually. Now they are cooking shoulder-to-shoulder and sharing stories inspired by the food, such as eating nopalesNopal is a common name in Mexican Spanish for Opuntia cacti, as well as for its pads. and making tortillas with their grandmothers. They also discuss their roles in the cooking show they will record. As the group cooks, shares and later crafts a theater piece together, they are also promoting behavior that will help prevent type 2 diabetes.

A tall white chef’s hat bobs energetically about the room as the lead chef demonstrates tortilla-making techniques or asks someone to elaborate on a meal or recipe they remember. The man beneath the hat calls himself Mero Cocinero, the People’s Cook. Periodically he gestures broadly with a wooden cooking spoon or praises the participants in a booming voice.

The role of Mero Cocinero is played by Robert Karimi, a chef and performance artist. He joined faculty from ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre and the School of Transborder Studies to create Cultural Engagements in Nutrition, Arts and Sciences (CENAS, which is the Spanish word for “dinners”). CENAS combines theater-making and cooking to promote behavior changes linked to healthy eating and type 2 diabetes prevention in populations at risk for the disease. At the same time, the program honors the cultural food pathways each participant brings to the table.

That theater-making can take the form of role-playing, but sometimes includes actually filming a cooking show. It's not just cooking, but a cooking experience, organizers said.

Tamara Underiner is associate dean for research in ASU’s Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts. She leads CENAS with colleagues Seline Szkupinski-Quiroga, faculty research affiliate with the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center; and Stephani Etheridge Woodson, associate professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. The research is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and by ASU’s Institute for Humanities Research.

The team designed the research methods and cooking curriculum for CENAS to evaluate the impact of a series of lively, immersive cooking experiences on the attitudes and behavior of participants. Over a three-week period, students, community leaders and professionals in south Phoenix donned aprons and began to mix, mince and marinate under the direction of Mero Cocinero.

Mero Cocinero enthusiastically guided participants to put on cooking shows, role-play as farmers or chefs or learn a new skill in the kitchen. With encouragement from Karimi and trained ASU students, participants shared stories about the recipes their grandmothers made, favorite holiday foods and memories of a childhood garden.

“Making theater together, honoring the stories your grandmother told while she was cooking the beans over the cookstove, those are the kinds of things that help people move to a position of strength to honor who they are and where they came from and to continue to cook together for the whole family's benefit,” said Underiner.

The CENAS team introduced ways to incorporate traditional foods into meals using the American Diabetes Association’s “plate method” of eating, which recommends filling half a plate with vegetables, one-quarter with starches and one-quarter with protein. Karimi emphasizes that eating culturally important foods is not inherently unhealthy, contradicting a message that some of the participants unfortunately have received, even from medical doctors. Instead, he explains, returning to the recipes and foods cooked by older generations and based in ethnic cuisine can be both healthy and empowering.

“This is the place to do this kind of work. If you have a good idea you can do it here.”
— Tamara Underiner, associate dean for research in ASU’s Herberger Institute of Design and the Art

“Food is the beginning, not the end. Food is both educational and is bringing the community together through food culture and joy,” said Karimi.

After the cooking experiences, participants reported eating more fruits and vegetables and having a more open attitude towards healthy eating. Importantly, participants also reported viewing healthy eating as a practice they could embrace and one that made them feel empowered.

Quantifying the effects of theater-making on behavior change and healthy eating is novel in the field of medicine. The results of this study are now being used to design broader intervention research that will comply with National Institutes of Health standards.

Karimi likens ASU’s transdisciplinary culture to the comedy improvisation rule of “yes, and,” which commands actors to consider unexpected outcomes and to collaborate with other performers.

The CENAS project would not be possible anywhere but ASU, said Underiner, because of the “yes, and” willingness of faculty to collaborate across academic disciplines and the support from university leadership to try something new.

“This is the place to do this kind of work,” said Underiner. “If you have a good idea you can do it here.”

Top photo by Lyn Belisle/

Kelsey Wharton

Science Writer , Knowledge Enterprise Development

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Growing leaders in sustainability

ASU's School of Sustainability the first of its kind in the nation.
Celebrate ASU School of Sustainability with rescued-food feast, festival, more.
April 12, 2016

ASU's trailblazing School of Sustainability celebrates 10 years of innovation, adaptation and advances

It was 2008. Brigitte Bavousett stood in the office of U-Haul International president John Taylor, having just graduated from Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability.

“It was a very lonely graduation,” she says, noting that she was first — and only — in her class.

She was the company’s carbon-sequestration program manager in ’08, when U-Haul was just starting to implement a tree-planting program. The carbon-credit market was hovering in and out of existence and political conversations. At U-Haul, Bavousett researched forestation processes and nonprofit partnership options to help the company create a plan to reduce its carbon footprint.

After reams of research, Bavousett thought, “Let’s just get the trees in the ground and worry about the credit later.”

She stood in the office of a man responsible for 18,000 employees and $4 billion in annual revenue, took a breath and said, “These are my recommendations.”

“Let’s do it,” Taylor replied.

Since then, the partnership between U-Haul and the Conservation Fund and Tree Canada has resulted in more than half a million trees being planted, engaging 1.2 million customers. It’s still going strong today.

And that was how the School of Sustainability came out swinging with its first graduate. This week, it is celebrating its 10th anniversary as the nation’s first university granting degrees in sustainability as a stand-alone academic discipline. Now 143 universities teach a sustainability degree, according to Bavousett.

“It’s exciting,” said Bavousett, now senior student recruitment and retention specialist and an instructor in the School of Sustainability. “Arizona was first.”

Training for jobs that don’t exist — yet

In 2014-2015, more than 1,500 students were enrolled as sustainability majors and minors across business, engineering, sustainability, humanities and nutrition.

The Dow Jones Sustainability Indices are a sign it’s an important issue in the corporate world. Launched in 1999, the family of indices evaluates the performance of 2,500 companies based on an analysis of economic, environmental and social performance, assessing issues like corporate governance, risk management, branding, climate-change mitigation, supply-chain standards and labor practices.

“We’ve had a lot of really well-paying jobs from Dell and Intel and Goldman Sachs and Nike and Vanguard and Fidelity,” Bavousett said. “When you mention the Fortune 500 companies, they’re hiring our graduates for their sustainability reporting.”

Bavousett likes to tell potential students that the job they're going to get in 10 years may not exist yet.

Willingness to embrace change is part of why benefactor Julie Ann Wrigley has supported the school with her continued financial and personal investment.

“The only constant in life is change,” Wrigley said. “I would hope that (the School of Sustainability) continues to be willing to embrace change. Ten years from now I expect to see new issues and totally new technologies. The goals should continue to be around educating and participating in solving leading-edge, real-world problems.”

Hearing the job you’re going to get doesn’t exist now isn’t altogether reassuring when you’re young and deciding what to do with your life and education. Founding director Charles Redman said he is proudest of the graduates who took a chance and enrolled in the school 10 years ago.

“It’s exactly because of those early students at all levels who took a chance,” he said. “This isn’t a career that’s a category at job fairs. ... It’s their involvement that has made it work.”

The School of Sustainability’s undergraduate major-to-career match is nearly double the national average. According to a 2015 survey, 48 percent of the school’s employed undergraduate alumni are working in sustainability careers; the national average is 27.3 percent. The rate was even higher for ASU graduate students (89 percent) and doctoral alumni (86 percent).

Video from the 10th-anniversary celebration

Creating an impact

Before ASU’s School of Sustainability was created, you were either an environmentalist or pro-business. It was an adversarial stance with no middle ground. That has changed, Redman said.

“You can have both,” he said. “The issue is finding solutions that everyone can get behind, where no one can say, ‘This is a bad idea.’ We’ve been part of that.”

Not only are graduates creating an impact, but they are directing colleagues and peers towards ASU as a sustainability resource.

“We’re beginning to create a legacy among students and alumni,” Redman said. “That’s very exciting. ... We’re just getting old enough now. You can’t expect it in the first three or four years.”

He pointed to Bavousett’s success with U-Haul as the type of triumph the school is achieving by producing graduates who can recognize opportunities.

“These were impacts waiting to happen, and they were waiting for an entrepreneurial spirit to make them happen,” he said.

The institution has gained international recognition for its work, said sustainability dean Christopher Boone. It has become a model for sustainability programs around the United States and the world.

“We've had an almost constant stream of visitors here to the institute and the school to try to understand how we did what we did,” Boone said. “And I'm very proud of the fact that we've inspired so many other programs around the country and around the world. ... We need those global partners of universities and research centers around the world to have an impact on the scale that we think is necessary.”

The transdisciplinary approach draws from every field: biology, engineering, business, geology, law, planning, math and scores more. “We want to try them all,” Redman said. “This is about solutions, not disasters.”

This is an eminently practical school, focusing on practical solutions that succeed in the real world.

“In the beginning when this school opened, I was one of those 28 guinea pig grad students,” Bavousett said. “The school was teaching us all of the doom and gloom. We literally protested, after about a month. We said, ‘OK, we get it, there are horrible things happening. Start showing us the lights at the end of the tunnels.’ The school responded quickly, and all of our curriculum was very solutions-based. ... That’s the beauty here; the school really responds to student input.”

Looking forward

That solutions focus is one of the school’s features Boone is proudest of.

“What differentiates us, I think, from other institutions is that we have a very strong and firm commitment to solutions-oriented learning and research,” Boone said. “What this means is that in addition to generating knowledge, which is what society expects of us, we want to make sure that that knowledge is useful in the near to immediate term in order to address very key and urgent sustainability challenges. So we’d like to see knowledge turning into action.”

Charles Redman

Founding director Charles
Redman said he is proudest
of the graduates who took
a chance and enrolled in
the school 10 years ago.

Photo by Charlie Leight/

What’s the school’s goal for the next 10 years?

“Getting more people in the world aware of this,” Bavousett said. “Just promoting awareness.”

Boone wants to see global outreach both through distance and online education, and through international partnerships.

“In the end, sustainability is a global issue,” he said. “We can be looking after things locally with the best of intentions, but we might be undermining the ability of people elsewhere around the world to achieve their own sustainability goals. Ultimately, the way that this is all going to work is if we can engage with partners across the entire globe. That's where I'd like to see us in 10 years.”

Join in the celebration

Festivities on the Tempe campus will mark the School of Sustainability's 10th anniversary throughout the day Thursday, April 14, including:

Rescued-food feast: Noon-1:30 p.m. on Hayden Lawn. The school is doing its part to fight food waste by feeding 500 students, faculty and staff with a meal made from nutritious food that would otherwise be discarded for cosmetic reasons. Meals are limited to the first 500 people. Food-bank donations of canned food are requested.

Kickoff Celebration at Wrigley Hall: ASU marching band at 1:15 p.m., remarks from ASU President Michael Crow, benefactor Julie Ann Wrigley and dean Christopher Boone at 1:30 p.m.

Celebration of Sustainability @ ASU Festival: Farmers market from 1-3:30 p.m on Old Main Lawn. Booths with giveaways and demonstrations from 2-3:30 p.m.

Other events include a lecture with food activist Michael Pollan (sold out), internship poster session and a community service project.


Top photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

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A pragmatic approach to extreme weather

ASU report: We must make common-sense moves now to protect lives, property.
Elevated parks, flexible civic plans among the adaptations that are working.
April 8, 2016

ASU report argues that efforts to reverse climate change not fast-acting enough, so we must take practical steps now to blunt disasters

When a super cyclone slammed into the northeast coast of India in October 1999, winds with top speeds of 160 miles per hour and tidal surges of 26 feet battered the coast, killing almost 10,000 people and destroying the homes of millions more.

Flash-forward 14 years. In 2013, another massive cyclone developed off the east coast of India, in the Bay of Bengal. It was disturbingly similar to the 1999 event, with sustained winds of 160 miles per hour, tidal surges that destroyed fishing boats, and heavy rains that caused extensive flooding. However, remarkably, of the 13 million people affected by the cyclone, only 44 people died.

India simply decided mass deaths because of cyclones were unacceptable. The nation built cyclone-proof shelters that doubled as schools when not used for emergencies, developed contingency plans for evacuating and housing storm refugees, and improved the national weather service’s storm tracking and predictions.

Mankind is going to have to make adaptations like these to extreme weather events, according to a report issued late last month by the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, a unit of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, and the Breakthrough Institute, an Oakland-based think tank focused on modernizing environmentalism.

“Adaptation for a High Energy Planet: A Climate Pragmatism Project” argues that efforts to combat climate change won’t produce results quickly, so people need to come up with solutions to blunt disasters.

“We term it Plan A, actually,” said Daniel Sarewitz, professorSarewitz is also a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and an advisory board member for the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. of science and society in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and co-founder and co-director of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, one of the report’s co-authors. “We think that’s part of the whole problem, that adaptation hasn’t been seen as inevitable and necessary. ... Reducing emissions is a great idea, but we’ve all seen how that is.”

A multipurpose cyclone shelter in India.

A multipurpose shelter like this one protected citizens of Odisha, India, from the worst effects of Cyclone Phailin in 2013. Photo by ADRA India

Even if actions like those taken at December’s climate talks in Paris are wildly successful, “the world is stuck with at least some warming and the consequent impacts,” the authors wrote. “Even dramatic reductions in emissions today will not significantly manifest in terms of either global temperature trends or sea level rise until late this century or early in the next.”

“There’s lot of things that can be done, and we know how to do them,” Sarewitz said. “If you lead with adaptation, you’re protecting people against climate now, plus changes in the climate in the future.”

The report examined solutions being implemented in four countries around the world. Most of them are cheap and simple.

“There’s so much arguing about climate change, but a lot of these things that can protect lives and property are not rocket science; they’re common sense,” Sarewitz said. “It feeds hope and the sense that you can deal with the problem.”

Most notably, the Dutch have been dealing with vulnerability to the natural world since the 13th century. They build flexibility into policies and infrastructure so adaptations can be adjusted to future conditions. Levees are constructed or strengthened to withstand existing flood predictions, but are also designed to be heightened in the future. The Dutch also systematically lower river levels by creating bypasses, or “room for the river.”

“There’s so much arguing about climate change, but a lot of these things that can protect lives and property are not rocket science; they’re common sense,” Sarewitz said. “It feeds hope and the sense that you can deal with the problem.”
— ASU professor Daniel Sarewitz

The Netherlands are far wealthier than the other countries discussed in the study — India, Nepal and Indonesia. Global death rates from natural disasters plummeted in the 20th century, a chart in the report illustrates. Wealth is a component of that, Sarewitz said.

“The more economically developed countries are, the more protected they are from natural disasters,” he said, citing better housing, stringent building and land-use codes, more comprehensive emergency management and response, and simply more economic wherewithal to protect themselves. “The fact is we’re much better prepared because of the wealth of industrialized society, and that’s what the numbers are showing.”

When the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit, inhabitants of one Indonesian island knew to head into the mountains when they saw the ocean retreat. That life-saving knowledge had been passed down from generation to generation since a similar event in 1907.

“Several programs since then have sought to educate coastal communities about what to do for the next tsunami, using social networks and institutions to provide information, rather than high-tech measures that fail to reach everyone and have proven to be unreliable,” the report read.

However, it could be impossible for coastal residents to reach higher ground, especially if they’re living in a densely populated city. So, Indonesian authorities in one city decided to bring the higher ground to them.

“A half-dozen elevated parks in the Indonesian city of Padang could save as many as 100,000 people from the threat of inundation,” the report noted. “Simple, relatively inexpensive, and reassuring to the city’s inhabitants, this innovation depends more on knowledge of a particular social and institutional context than of the science of tsunamis or complex models of how they work.”

An artist rendering of an elevated park and evacuation area in Indonesia.

The conceptual drawing for
an elevated Tsunami
Evacuation Park in Padang,

Image by Kornberg Associates

Shaped like pyramids, the elevated parks are home to soccer fields and other amenities.

“It’s important to be clear about the kinds of things humans can accomplish,” Sarewitz said. “You don’t have to be rich to get this stuff right.”

Nepal suffers from a highly variable climate. The government partnered with farmers and researchers in a collaboration to enhance rice plant breeding and seed production. The result was the development of hardy rice varieties in a region of Nepal that has had historically poor production because of climate swings.

“These arrangements are crucial contributors to Nepal’s capacity to recover from the tremendous destruction of the 2015 earthquakes,” the report read.

“There’s all sorts of aspects to this; it’s not just a technological problem,” Sarewitz said. “What we’d really like to see is policymakers and the media realize that there is a different, more hopeful way to look at the problem, and it points the way towards solutions.”

Top photo: Aceh in Indonesia, the most devastated region struck by the 2004 tsunami. Photo by U.S. Navy

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Should health-care systems be national?

April 6, 2016

Health experts from the U.S. and Europe explore the idea of coverage that is both effective and feasible in a Zócalo Public Square event

Having medical coverage for all Americans is a noble cause and in recent years has been touted as a national priority.

But getting buy-in from the public and politicians is a challenge when there are still so many unknowns: how to share the costs, what kinds of coverage should be offered, and should oversight be federal, state, non-profit or private sector?

Two health-care experts explored the topic Wednesday night at a Zócalo Public SquareZócalo Public Square, an affiliate of Arizona State University, is a not-for-profit ideas exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism. event in Phoenix moderated by Arizona State University President Michael Crow.  

“The health-care system that we have evolved into has been an evolutionary rational response to the incentives we’ve put in place,” said Dr. Denis A. Cortese, emeritus president and CEO of the Mayo Clinic, and Foundation Professor and director of the Healthcare Delivery and Policy ProgramThe program is part of the College of Health Solutions. at ASU.

“But we’ve ignored the fact that we should be paying attention to the way care is provided and outcomes over time. Redesigning the delivery system today is something that we are probably way behind in dealing with, and the problem is urgent.”

Cortese was joined by fellow panelist Sir Malcolm Grant, the founding chairman of National Health System England (NHS), which provides health care for approximately 60 million and employs close to 5 million people.

A Zocalo Public Square audience sits under a large gazebo at Desert Botanical Garden.

About 100 people gather at the Desert Botanical Garden for the Zócalo Public Square conversation April 6 in Phoenix. Top photo: (From left) ASU President Michael Crow moderates the conversation between Sir Malcolm Grant, the founding chairman of National Health System England, and ASU’s Denis A. Cortese. Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

The pair spoke in front of a crowd of approximately 100 people at Desert Botanical Garden about America’s health-care system, the challenges it faces in the 21st century, and whether we should consider another model or partnering with other countries to create an international system.

“One of the things I like about Zócalo is that they are unafraid about taking on the biggest issues, the big topics and the really complicated things that other people run away from,” Crow said. “Both of these gentleman have been thinking about the issues that seem to get lost in the political rhetoric, in the day-to-day economic discussions that are going on today.

Crow added that of the 30 or so leading economies in the world, the United States spends more per capita on health by a factor of two than any other country and has a net health outcome in the bottom five.

“We have lower levels of life span and more problematic health outcomes,” Crow said. “Many countries are spending less than half of what we are and getting equal or greater outcomes than we are.”

Grant said Britain’s nationalized system was started in 1948 by the Labor Party, who believed the best way to provide security for their entire population was a system paid for through taxation and payroll deduction. He said that although it did and still does have the best of intentions and has had fairly good health outcomes, that system is no longer working.

“It’s a model that’s totally taxable but really creaking under the pressure of what we can afford to provide,” Grant said. “We are a single payer that provides for hospitals directed by the government. But it’s a fragmented system that’s not very coherent … we’re entering a stage of hysteria, and we know we’ve got to make a change.”

The hysteria was felt on Tuesday when the NHS suffered its third junior doctor’s strike of the year — doctors with 10 years or less of service — disrupting operations, treatment and service to thousands of patients. On April 26-27, junior doctors plan to strike again, refusing to staff their departments as well as emergency surgery and intensive care.

Three men discuss universal health care on a stage.

Malcolm Grant (center) shares about the negative realities of Britain’s nationalized health system with (left) ASU President Michael Crow and Denis A. Cortese.

Cortese said before anything drastic like that happens on our side of the pond, he thinks the States should consider adopting a government-sponsored insurance program like that in the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland, which offers insurance to all but is administered through private insurance companies.

“You hear about fraud in Medicare all the time, but when’s the last time you heard about any fraud in private insurance?” Cortese said. “They’re efficient, they’ll weed out the fraud and waste and can still make money.”

Cortese said he’s not talking about socializing health-care delivery but about a carefully crafted five-point system that includes national coverage to everyone, has the option for a higher level of care, is market-based and offers means-tested support from the government.

Many already contend that the Affordable Care Act of 2010 mandates that all Americans possess health insurance and requires private insurance companies to offer certain kinds of coverage, Cortese said. But the act has failed in many regards, chiefly in insuring all Americans.

“Even if the Affordable Care Act works perfectly by 2025, we’ll still have 31 million people uninsured,” Cortese said. “Our federal government should have a national strategy and make a commitment to getting everybody insured.”

But there’s good news. Although the current system is broken, says Cortese, it can be fixed.

“We already have a system in place that like in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program,” Cortese said. “It’s a very efficient system and is run well. It’s a great model.

“The problem is our leaders do not understand the difference between governance and managing. Governing means oversight, making sure goals and expectations are met and holding people accountable. We can get this done, so let’s do it.”

Reporter , ASU News


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Don't bug out, but crickets are on the menu

ASU nutrition students came up with cricket-centric menu for capstone project.
Public is welcome at ASU Kitchen Cafe.
April 6, 2016

ASU cafe to serve dishes featuring the insect, which is a good source of protein, environmentally friendly — and quite tasty


It's what you might hear when you offer an insect entree, but it's also what will be on the menu April 12 at the ASU Kitchen Cafe on the Downtown Phoenix campus.

Customers on that day won’t be eating plates of whole crickets. Instead, they’ll have a choice if they want a powder containing the remnants of the insect sprinkled on their meal — or not.

“They’ll be ground up so it doesn’t look like you’re eating them … but it’s still a cricket,” said Heidi Lynch with a laugh.

Lynch is a registered dietitian who teaches Management of Food Service Systems (NTR 445), a lab for students in the School of Nutrition and Health PromotionThe School of Nutrition and Health Promotion is part of the College of Health Solutions. who are majoring in either dietetics or food service management. For their capstone project, students were assigned to groups of four and came up with their own theme and recipes for their production day next week, when their menu would be on offer for a day.

“This is not a culinary class or school, and while students will be preparing food, I’ll also be looking at how they manage each other, production schedules, food safety, purchase orders and menus,” Lynch said. “They’ll be putting what they’ve learned all semester long into practice.”

The groups have prepared menus that promote healthy eating, focusing specifically on antioxidants, diabetes, digestion, heart and energy.

One team — Anna Gianpetro, Rachel Pfeifer, Melissa Galloway and Jared Blake — prepared a menu that promoted brain concentration. They came up with a clever low-calorie, high-protein menu of a Neuro-Nut Burger, Perceptive Pesto Penne, Mind-Muffin and Focusing Fruit Salad.

But how did Gianpetro come of with the idea of adding cricket powder to the first two menu items?

Students work in the ASU Nutrition Kitchen.

ASU nutrition/dietetics students Jared Blake and Anna Gianpetro (also pictured in the top photo) go over ingredients for a low-sodium, diabetic-friendly Tuscan vegetable soup at the ASU Kitchen Cafe on April 5. Their team’s menu April 12 will feature antioxidant-rich foods for concentration, with the option of adding powdered cricket protein. Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

“I had been listening to a Gastropod episode called Night of the Living Radishes where they describe eating grasshoppers in Mexico,” said Gianpetro, a 36-year-old dietetics and nutrition senior in the College of Health Solutions. “After their experience, they liked the flavor enough to incorporate cricket flour into recipes and spoke about the sustainability of the product. I’m a firm believer in sourcing low-impact, responsibly raised and slaughtered protein, and that’s where crickets fit the bill.”

Crickets also fit the bill nutritionally speaking. They are considered a sustainable and environmentally sound protein, loaded with potassium, calcium, iron, vitamin B and brain-building omega-3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fats and antioxidants.

Beyond all the nutritional and health benefits of crickets, it’s also a good idea to give natural protein such as beef a break, said Pfiefer, a 28-year-old dietetics and nutrition senior who will graduate in December.

“Eating a lot of beef can develop and bring up a lot of bacteria in your body,” Pfiefer said. “That could translate into inflammation, and eating less is healthier for you.”

The problem, of course, is that many Westerners consider eating insects disgusting. But according to Gianpetro, it’s as tasty as the dickens.

“It’s got a salty-nutty taste, and the flavor is quite savory,” Gianpetro said. “It doesn’t work with everything, but it should be considered a spice or seasoning.”

Students work in the ASU Nutrition Kitchen.

ASU nutrition/dietetics students Rachel Pfeifer and Jared Blake peel onions at the ASU Kitchen Cafe on April 5. NTR 445: Management of Food Service Systems is a lab for students in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion who are majoring in either dietetics or food service management, and the goals are learning to manage production schedules, food safety, purchase orders and menus.

Gianpetro hopes cricket protein powder will catch on with foodies in the States. It has has been used in such items as protein bars, milkshakes and brownie mix.

But even she readily admits she can only stomach the critters if they’re dead and have gone through the milling process.

“They’re cute, but I don’t like the idea of them jumping around my legs,” Gianpetro said, laughing.

If you go

What: “Foods for Concentration” special menu featuring two items with optional cricket powder at the ASU Kitchen Cafe, which is open to the public.

When: 11:40 a.m.-12:50 p.m. Tuesday, April 12.

Where: ASU Kitchen Cafe, on the ground floor of the Health South Building, 500 N. 3rd St. on the Downtown Phoenix campus.

Cost: Two menu items will have the cricket option: Neuro-Nut Burgers (walnuts, oats, lettuce, tomato, avocado, whole-wheat bun) are $4 each, and Perceptive Pesto Penne (whole-wheat penne, pesto, zucchini, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella) is $6. Other menu items range from $1 to $3.50.

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Should engineers take more risks in the classroom? Skydiving professor says yes

Risk taking in classroom leads to graduates who make an impact, ASU prof says.
New approach could attract great students who hadn't considered engineering.
Risk-taking approach a perfect fit with ASU's innovative mind-set, group says.
April 5, 2016

Nadia Kellam, a pro freestyle skydiver and engineering professor, champions taking risks in engineering education

If you are an engineering doctoral student with excess funding from a graduate fellowship, do you put it toward upgrading your car or training to become a skydiver?

Associate professor Nadia Kellam chose skydiving, and her engineering career and skydiving escapades have been intertwined ever since.

During her mechanical engineering doctoral studies, Kellam became a certified skydiving instructor. As an engineering faculty member at the University of Georgia, she also entered professional skydiving competitions.

Her skydiving and engineering careers continued to take off. Between 2012 and 2014, she not only earned tenure, but also second- and third-place finishes in the United States Parachute Association’s National Skydiving Championships.

Now at Arizona State University, Kellam not only experiences risk firsthand as she falls from the sky, performs as a flying-trapeze artist and cruises on her motorcycle, but she also researches the role of risk taking in the classroom.

Kellam is among a group of engineering education researchers from the Polytechnic School, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, inciting revolution in engineering education. With funding from the National Science Foundation’s Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) program, the group is, in part, examining how sustaining a mind-set of risk taking in the classroom can produce engineering graduates ready and excited to tackle society’s most pressing challenges.

Through her studies in narrative inquiry, Kellam interviews students and analyzes the motivations and factors that develop their identity as engineers.

Frequently students find their way to engineering because they’re good at math and science or want to make money and have career stability, she finds.

“Although these are valid reasons, they reflect a limitation in engineering education to attract a critical mass of students interested and committed to addressing the grand challenges of today,” Kellam said.

“Diversifying the engineering workforce with the inclusion of different perspectives, life stories and experiences is vital to meeting society’s engineering needs,” she added.

Creating an educational culture that values risk taking will enable students to go beyond textbook problems and extrinsic rewards. Students can become systems thinkers who understand and contribute to big, complex problems, while also exhibiting technical prowess.

This approach can change a university’s ability to attract students who may not have been considering engineering, but have a great deal to offer to the field.

ASU’s RED team, led by Ann McKenna, director of the Polytechnic School, is finding that a risk-taking culture in the classroom both attracts and prepares this impact-oriented type of engineering student.

“Risk taking in the classroom prepares students to ask critical questions and produces graduates who pursue careers that promise to make an impact after graduation,” Kellam said.

But producing these type of students requires risk taking to start at an institutional and faculty level.

“It can be hard for teachers to break out of the teach-by-the-textbook mold,” said Kellam, referring to this as a safe and traditional approach to engineering education. If teachers only teach by the textbook, students are likely to go on to only solve problems by the textbook or to avoid challenges that go beyond basic vocational training.

“Inciting a revolution in engineering education can start with creating a risk-seeking culture that helps and encourages faculty to step out of their comfort zone and try new approaches to instruction,” Kellam said.

One approach ASU’s RED team champions in the Polytechnic School’s engineering program is creating safe spaces where faculty members gather to reflect on their efforts to try innovative instructional methods. These groups provide a place where faculty members can receive constructive feedback and support for taking risks and trying to enable positive change, whether it’s immediately successful or not.

“By empowering and rewarding risk taking among faculty and students we create a culture of change agents [within the Fulton Schools] where everyone is able to modify and innovate the curriculum and learning experience, and this can lead to amazing transformation,” McKenna said.

Kellam is taking a risk this semester by incorporating peer instruction and reflection throughout her mechanical engineering class.

“Even if it doesn’t work perfectly I know it can be revised the next time around,” Kellam said.

She also regularly invites faculty to observe her classes and takes time to observe other classes in an effort to learn from her colleagues’ successes and failures.

“Nadia is a great example of our faculty in the Fulton Schools and the Polytechnic School. Her approach represents the forward-thinking and collaborative culture we have both in terms of teaching and research,” McKenna said.

Kellam said ASU is well suited for this type of environment. During her hiring interview she recalls former engineering dean Paul Johnson saying, “One thing that is always true is that we like change at ASU.” This message spoke to Kellam and was key in attracting her to the Fulton Schools faculty.

“At ASU we aren’t terrified of the idea of doing things differently. Here, progressive change is valued and permeates throughout the institution from our research labs to classrooms,” Kellam said.

“I do like showcasing that you can be an engineer and also have balance and other interests in your life.”
— Nadia Kellam, ASU associate professor of engineering

She recognizes that fear of new things can be debilitating, but she also encourages faculty and students to not let fear distract them.

“As a skydiver, fear is a distraction that can make things more dangerous in the moment,” Kellam said.

This fear can translate to teaching.

“If a faculty member fears bad evaluations, then that fear can impact the way they teach and cause paralysis in their teaching methods — prohibiting them from taking risks that might benefit students,” Kellam said.

She will be the first to admit she doesn’t fit the typical professor mold.

“I do like showcasing that you can be an engineer and also have balance and other interests in your life,” Kellam said.

Her ability to maintain balance has been an inspiration to her colleagues and students.

“Sometimes people need to be empowered to be a professional human. Nadia pushes me to answer the challenging questions in my research, while still pursuing the balance that I need personally to thrive,” said Brooke Coley, an associate research scientist on Kellam’s research team.

Emily Coutts, a sophomore engineering student, said she was “impressed and surprised” to have a professor who is into extreme sports.

“It’s beneficial when a professor can relate real-world examples to class work,” said Coutts. “It helps me to visualize the material and think about how to apply it outside the classroom.”

Kellam said her students might find her a little unusual, but when she explains engineering mechanics by talking about her firsthand experience with the statics and dynamics used in trapeze rigs, they pay attention.

Top photo by Robin Kellam

Rose Gochnour Serago

Communications Program Coordinator , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

Students build ability through CUbiC

Lab workers design solutions ranging from training tools for surgeons to assistive devices for visually impaired

April 4, 2016

When Troy McDaniel was a senior at Arizona State University, he thought he had the next chapter of his life planned out. After completing his bachelor’s degree in computer science, he would enter the workforce and find a job in the programming industry. But a few months before graduation, McDaniel started an independent study at ASU’s Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC), and his whole plan changed.

The center focuses on machine learning and pattern recognition, human-computer interaction and haptics (a science concerned with the sense of touch), with applications for assistive and rehabilitative technologies. Download Full Image

“The idea of developing something that could go toward helping someone with an impairment was really motivating to me,” McDaniel said.

Undergraduate and even high school students are welcome in the lab, where they are paired up with graduate student researchers based on their skills and interests.

Simulating surgery

As an undergraduate, McDaniel wanted to explore the world of computer simulations and multimedia information systems. He took a class co-taught by Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, the founding director of CUbiC, and was inspired by a lecture to join the lab. Through his independent study, McDaniel had the opportunity to apply his research interests and help surgical residents at a local hospital.

Specifically, the residents were training for laparoscopic surgery. This type of procedure, also called bandaid or keyhole surgery, is minimally invasive for the patient but can be challenging for surgeons.

“They have to hone some very precise skills,” McDaniel said. “Instead of opening the abdomen up, you make small incisions, stick the tools in, get the work done and get out of there.”

Because the incision is so small, surgeons must develop precision fine motor skills. They practice by using the surgical tools to perform certain tasks, like placing a ring on a peg.

McDaniel and his mentors at CUbiC saw an opportunity to improve the training procedures. The team connected the laparoscopic surgery tools to a device that could provide haptic, or touch-based, feedback. This mimicked what the residents would feel during an actual surgery. McDaniel developed a simulated graphical model of surgeons’ hand movements, driven by “cybergloves,” which are wearable gloves embedded with sensors for detecting joint angles in the fingers.

“We were able to capture how many mistakes they made, how much time it took, and provide some real-time feedback,” McDaniel said.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree, McDaniel continued his studies and ultimately received his doctorate from ASU with Panchanathan as his adviser. He secured a postdoctoral fellowship that turned into an assistant research professorship and led to his current role as associate director of CUbiC. Now, McDaniel mentors other students so they can experience and benefit from research in the lab.

‘Seeing’ through touch

One of these students was Shantanu Bala. As a high school student, Bala was interested in assistive and rehabilitative technologies. He volunteered at CUbiC for two years to gain experience and learn more about the field. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at ASU with a double major in psychology and computer science and rejoined CUbiC as a student researcher. He began exploring ways to help visually impaired people have more enriching social interactions.

Sighted people take for granted a multitude of visual cues that enhance interpersonal communication. These include the location of others, which way they are facing, body language, facial expressions and hand gestures. Bala wanted to develop technology that could convey facial expressions.

“We were looking for some way of communicating information that wouldn’t interrupt the conversation,” Bala said. “You can’t really wear headphones or have a speaker or something like that, so we were left with the sense of touch and figuring out how to communicate things entirely through touch.”

The CUbiC team developed and tested two devices to address this challenge. One is a chair connected to a camera. When a visually impaired person sits in the chair, the camera can record another person’s facial expression and send that information, based on a predefined visual-tactile mapping, to vibrotactile motors on the chair. The motors cause the chair to vibrate in different formations to indicate a smile, frown or other facial expression, helping the user better gauge the interaction. 

Another device Bala worked on is a variation of the cyberglove. Instead of mimicking the sensations of surgery, Bala’s glove provides haptic feedback in the shape of a facial expression on the back of a user’s hand.

Bala worked at CUbiC for a total of six years — two during high school and four as an ASU undergraduate. The semester before he graduated with his bachelor’s degree, Bala was offered a Thiel Fellowship. These competitive awards are marketed as an incentive for talented young entrepreneurs to drop out of school and pursue their ventures full-time.

Bala, however, was able to finish his studies and start the fellowship after graduating instead. Now, he’s continuing the assistive technology work he started at CUbiC, this time with a wearable wristband he hopes to patent and bring to market. 

The device is similar to a smartwatch, except it doesn’t have a screen. Instead, it communicates via sensations that move across the skin. For example, if the user is following directions and needs to make a left turn, the wristband can provide those cues entirely through the haptic feedback.

Like McDaniel, Bala was inspired to pursue research at CUbiC because he wanted to help people.

“I don’t think I would be as engaged with the research if I felt that the end product wouldn’t be contributing to someone’s life in a very tangible way,” Bala said. “It makes me feel much better about the work, and I really enjoyed working with people at CUbiC because everybody has that shared goal or shared enthusiasm for building projects like that.”

Do-it-yourself solutions

Other students at CUbiC have been motivated by a problem they were facing firsthand. That was the case for ASU student David Hayden, a double major in computer science and mathematics. Hayden is legally blind, and his impaired vision was hindering his ability to keep up in his upper-division math classes. He had an optics piece that made the board easier to see, but he would lose a lot of time between looking up and reading the board, then looking back down to write his notes.

“I was struggling with the assistive technologies that already existed, and at some point I realized they just weren’t solving my problems,” Hayden said.

Hayden approached Panchanathan to find out if the CUbiC team had a solution, but Panchanathan had a different idea.

“I said, ‘You’re a very bright student. Why don’t you come and work in my lab with the other students to see how we can solve this problem? Who better understands this problem than you?’” Panchanathan recalled.

Hayden rose to the challenge. Working with a team of mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and industrial designers, he conceived an idea and secured funding from the National Science Foundation to help bring it to fruition.

He developed a device that combines a custom-built camera and a tablet computer. The camera can zoom and tilt as needed to capture a classroom lecture. It uploads video footage to the tablet, which has a split-screen interface. That way, the user can watch the video on one half of the screen and make typed or handwritten notes on the other half simultaneously.

Hayden called the device NoteTaker. After he graduated from ASU, his team formed a company to make the invention widely available. Today, about 50 people ranging in age from 7 to 55 are using NoteTaker. Hayden’s team also won first place in the Software Design category of the Microsoft Imagine Cup U.S. Finals, and then went on to take second place in the same category of the Imagine Cup World Finals.

Hayden is now a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, working on computer vision and machine learning projects. He wants to use technology to improve social interactions for people at all levels of the ability spectrum.

“I imagine wearable computers that stay out of our way, that don’t interrupt us when we’re engaging with others, but at small points in time can give us little bits of useful information just in the moment,” Hayden said. For him, disability has been a personal “call to arms” to create solutions. Hayden credits CUbiC for providing the tools he needed to solve his own challenges.

“CUbiC was really a nurturing space for me to build a worldview that enabled me and continues to enable me to work on technological solutions to everyday problems, whether they’re for people who are disabled or not.”

Allie Nicodemo

Communications specialist, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development


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Health and the city

Study: The higher the population density, the higher the physical activity level
April 1, 2016

ASU part of international study that shows how a city is built can encourage physical activity, up to 90 more minutes per week

Air pollution. Heavy traffic. Too much concrete. Not enough parks or bike paths. Cities can get a bad rap when it comes to being spaces that encourage healthy behaviors.

But a new international study shows that characteristics of cities such as high population and density might in fact lead to better health through more physical activity — if cities are willing to spend a little extra to put in the proper infrastructure.

“We’ve been taught that when it comes to health it’s all about personal responsibility, but what our research is showing is that it’s more than just eating right and getting your exercise,” said Marc A. Adams, an assistant professor in Arizona State University’s School of Nutrition and Health PromotionThe School of Nutrition and Health Promotion is in the College of Health Solutions. and member of one of 12 international teams that worked on a recently published study that highlights our health is a function of where we live.

“The environment also matters and has a huge influence on how active we are as a society. Municipal leaders and planners can improve our cities and environments to where we don’t have to think about forcing ourselves to go outside and be active. If it’s built smart enough, it will all come natural.”

Published in The Lancet, the study, called “Physical Activity in Relation to Urban Environments in 14 Cities Worldwide,” was a cross-sectional comparative study that examined 6,822 adults ages 18-66 from 14 citiesThe cities were Ghent, Belgium; Curitiba, Brazil; Bogota, Colombia; Olomouc, Czech Republic; Aarhus, Denmark; Hong Kong; Cuernavaca, Mexico; North Shore, Waitakere, Wellington and Christchurch, New Zealand; Stoke-on-Trent, England, and — in the U.S. — Seattle and Baltimore. in 10 countries from the International Physical Activity and Environment Network. Their neighborhoods were measured using Geographic Information Systems, a mapping tool to measure spatial features. Physical activity was measured by using accelerometers, research-grade devices worn around participants’ waists for a minimum of four days, recording movement every minute.

The main find of this $2.7 million study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, revealed that adults tend to be more physically active — up to 90 minutes more per week — when they live in neighborhoods that are densely populated, have interconnected streets and are close to public transport and parks.

That’s important information for health researchers because physical inactivity has been linked to diabetes, heart disease and some cancers, leading up to 5 million deaths per year worldwide. And the relationship between a neighborhood’s characteristics and the physical activity of its residents were similar across the diverse global cities studied.

Traditionally, some of the most pedestrian- and cycle-friendly cities in the world were built or developed not for specific physical or health considerations, but for larger public good and common civic sense. However, cities that have not designed with public health in mind still have the power to make their environments more active-friendly, researchers say. They can do so by retrofitting or adding amenities such as wider pedestrian walkways, cycling or bike lanes, green spaces and shaded trees for walking, and parks and community centers.

“Health has to be a priority for cities, and it’s up to them to decide how healthy they want to be,” Adams said. “As a health worker, I don’t have the tools to go out and revamp the street, install a sidewalk or narrow down traffic lanes. What is in my toolbox is to perform the science to inform municipal leaders, transit planners, park and recreation directors how to make improvements to urban environments. After that it’s up to them to make those implementations or modifications.”

Adams points to Amsterdam and Portland as successful cities that made a conscious decision to change public health. They did so by becoming a cycle- and pedestrian-commuter society.

“The priority in Amsterdam is cyclists first, pedestrians next, public transportation and then automobiles. They did it by narrowing their traffic lanes, installing separate bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly sidewalks,” Adams said. “They spent the money to put in the infrastructure and made a radical culture shift. It’s paid off tremendously in terms of public health and sustainability.”

Amsterdam old and new

A before-and-after comparison of a street in Amsterdam, made much more cycle- and pedestrian-friendly by narrowing or removing traffic lanes and expanding the space for bikes and people. Photos courtesy IPEN study

The mortality rate in Dutch cities is 30 percent lower in cycle commuters compared with those who use passive transport, according to a commentary on the study.

Adams said Phoenix has also made major strides in the past decade in terms of building active-friendly neighborhoods, mixed-use districts, sports arenas, innovative retail, bike lanes, enhanced historic districts, a $1.1 billion light rail corridor, improved bus service and the addition of Grid Bikes — a bike-share system available around the city’s urban core — before Super Bowl XLIX.

“For a long time people in Phoenix were leaving the urban corridor for the suburbs, and that’s shifted now,” Adams said. “People are moving back into the city, and it’s because it’s a dynamic place to live with new restaurants, shops and services popping up where residents can walk or bike to. Phoenix is definitely moving in the right direction.”

Top photo by Beverly Lloyd-Roberts/

Reporter , ASU News


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Shave and a health check

ASU project uses barbers' standing in black community to promote health.
March 31, 2016

ASU program promotes health and community by equipping barbers with blood-pressure monitors, training

Barber Marvin Davis takes pride in knowing his clients’ likes and dislikes. He knows how high to cut their hair, knows when they’re due for a shave and when they aren’t feeling their best.

And when that happens, he also knows how to talk to them about their health.

Health is an important topic to Davis, who knows that conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer and diabetes are claiming the lives of African-American men in record numbers. That fact was underscored by a customer whom Davis recently groomed.

“A customer who’s a mortician came in a few weeks ago. I was clipping his hair, making small talk and asked, ‘How’s business?’ He said without hesitation, ‘Very good,’ ” recalled Davis, who was taken aback.

The mortician told Davis that the average age range of his dead black clients was between 30 to 50 years old, which Davis said chilled him to the bone.

“The sad part is, most of them died from diseases that would have shown up on a blood-pressure machine, which is why we keep one in the shop,” Davis said.

Men have their hair cut in a barbershop.

Barber Marvin Davis trims Michael Okonkwo's hair at the
Ageez Hair Center in Chandler on March 30.
Top: Silester Rivers laughs as Ageez owner Anthony
Gathers takes his blood pressure.

Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Davis is the manager of Ageez Hair Center in Chandler and is one of a handful Phoenix-area barbers who sit on the steering committee of the African American Cardiovascular Disease Health Literacy Demonstration ProjectThe project is supported by the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center, a National Institutes on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD)/National Institutes of Health (NIH) Center of Excellence (Award: P20MD002316-10) for the study of health disparities in the Southwest, in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.. The project puts an emphasis on prevention and health literacy through culturally grounded community efforts for African-American men in the greater Phoenix area. Participating barbershops and hair centers are supplied with blood-pressure monitors — and trainingThe Black Nurses Association of the Greater Phoenix Area partnered with Olga Davis to train and certify the barbers. — to give readings to their customers.

“Barbers hold a unique and esteemed place in the African-American community,” said Dr. Olga Idriss DavisDavis, no relation to Marvin Davis, is also a professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences., who is principal investigator for the project and for community engagement at the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center (SIRC).

“The culture of the black barbershop is a folk tradition, a gathering place in the male community, a site where knowledge can be traded, disputes resolved and wisdom transferred from generation to generation. It’s a wonderful microcosm of society.

“Barbers are looked upon as leaders in the African-American community. Clients often tell their barbers intimate things, sometimes things they would never tell their partners and family members.”

Dr. Davis, who started the project in 2013, admits it took her a while to earn the trust of the barbershops and the surrounding communities in which they serve.

“Researchers employed by institutions of higher learning have not had the best interactions with African-American and Native American communities. Historically, they smile at the door, gather data and leave without any follow-up that supports the community,” Dr. Davis said. 

A man has his blood pressure taken at a barbershop.

ASU professor Olga Idriss Davis checks the blood pressure of barber Marvin Davis (no relation) in between clients March 30. Olga Davis is the principal investigator for the African American Cardiovascular Disease Health Literacy Demonstration Project. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Dr. Davis said even though she’s African-American, it didn’t entitle her to a free pass or easy entree into the community. That trust had to be earned over a long period of time.

“Early in my research and fieldwork there was a woman from the community who frequented a barbershop, and all of the barbers were her ‘babies.’ She walked into the shop one day, and asked the barbers, ‘Who is this chick on my turf?’ ” Dr. Davis said. “She then got an inch away from my face and said, ‘I wanna talk to you. You’re one of them and you’re here to take our stories. You’re part of the establishment.’ ”

Dr. Davis calmly explained to her that nearly 50 million men in the U.S. have high blood pressure, 40 percent of whom are African-Americans. She added that African-American males are particularly at risk because they are often unaware of the disease, do not receive treatment and rarely adhere to a treatment regimen if one is prescribed. That had to change, Dr. Davis said.

She then explained a vision: transforming barbershops into a health-care space where barbers become “community health advocates.” Dr. Davis said it was a moment where she could see the woman’s defiance morph into understanding.

“I told her, ‘I want this to have a ripple effect throughout the entire African-American population, not just in this community … but I’m going to need your help, too,’ ” Dr. Davis said. “She finally got it and smiled, then said, ‘You all right, sister.’ I said, ‘You’re all right, too, sister.’ We’ve been good ever since.”

So has the program, which had made serious headway in the African-American communities in Chandler and south Phoenix. Barbers are casually talking to their clients about their health and discreetly taking blood-pressure readings.

“I usually say, ‘Hey man, sit down and let me take your numbers, check you out and make sure you’re all right,’ ” said Anthony Gathers, the owner of Ageez Hair Center who sits on the steering committee with Marvin Davis. “In this business you get to know your clients and so it’s not real hard to get them to allow you to take their blood pressure. Then others see it and they say, ‘Hey, take mine, too.’ It catches on.”

And sometimes they catch on to others’ health issues before they become a crisis.

A man has his blood pressure taken at a barbershop.

Jamall Anderson (left) is surprised to see his blood pressure higher than average March 30. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

“I can definitely tell when someone has an iron deficiency, and I counsel some of the younger men about getting insurance under the Affordable Health Care Act,” Gathers said.

He recalled an incident in the shop where a customer had a seizure and an ambulance had to be called. Another time a customer’s blood-pressure numbers were “off the charts,” and he was forced to sit in the barber’s chair until he was escorted to the hospital.

Those sorts of health scares, as well as countless opportunities to gently counsel their clients on their well-being, makes the barbers more resolved than ever before.

Dr. Flavio Marsiglia, director of the SIRC, said the project is highly relevant and innovative, pointing out that the project has the possibility to address other health conditions in the future.

“Other communities around the nation are closely looking at this demonstration project as a model,” Marsiglia said. 

The next phase of the project includes partnering with hair stylists in African-American beauty shops. 

“What we underscore at SIRC is that ‘culture matters.’ Culture is an anchor in developing health promotion and health interventions where communities and their culture count,” said Olga Davis.

Gathers said clients also count, whom he views as extended family, and only wants the best for them.

“I care about other people and I want them to have good health,” Gathers said. “If you have your health, you have everything. You can have a million bucks but if you don’t have your health, you don’t get to experience everything life has to offer.”

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Making sense of a dark chapter in America's past

Eugenics practices got their start in early 20th-century America.
More than 60,000 people were sterilized in U.S. as a result of eugenics laws.
March 30, 2016

ASU professor, colleague team up on Eugenic Rubicon, seeking to make forced-sterilization history more visible

At a large, state-run medical facility, a young woman’s reproductive fate has been determined. The medical director presiding over her case carefully types out a letter requesting authorization to have her sterilized, citing “recent thefts” and her admission of having “sexual relations” with a young man as the rationale.

This isn’t the beginning of a dystopian novel; this really happened.

And not in some far-off, foreign land. This happened in the United States — in this particular case, in California in 1938 — as the result of the eugenics movement of the early 20th century.

With the hope of gleaning something valuable from this heinous chapter of American history, ASU assistant professor of English Jacqueline Wernimont has teamed up with colleague Alexandra Minna Stern at the University of Michigan on a project called the Eugenic Rubicon.

The Eugenic Rubicon serves as a digital resource on the history of eugenic sterilization in the U.S., providing archival documents, data visualizations and more. It began in 2013 when Stern and her team first discovered the eugenics records, which then had to be hand-entered over the course of several years into a HIPAAThe Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was passed in 1996 and has strict rules about the privacy of medical records. -compliant database. Wernimont and Stern recently received a $40,000 NEH Humanities Collections and Reference Resources (HCRR)The Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program is part of the National Endowment for Humanities and supports projects that provide an essential underpinning for scholarship, education and public programming in the humanities. seed grant that will enable the ASU-UMichgan team to develop a protocol for making sensitive records available online, thus ensuring a balance between the public right to know about this horrific history and patient privacy rights.

“One of the things that’s really exciting to me about this grant is that because it’s made by a federal organization, it gives us an opportunity to highlight this history not just for the general populace but for lawmakers, Congress members, senators, etc., both at the state and federal level,” said Wernimont. “That sort of historical, community engagement and public policy nexus is potentially one that is quite powerful for social change.”

In 1907, Indiana became the first U.S. state to pass a eugenics law allowing for the sterilization of those deemed to be of diminished mental capacity, which often meant they had a history of criminal behavior but could also mean they were simply “peculiar” — more on that later.

Thirty-one states, including North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona and California, would later follow suit. By the 1970s, at least 60,000 people had been sterilized as a result of eugenics laws — 20,000 in California alone — many against their will.

It all started when evolutionary science and the idea of hereditary genetics became mainstream. In California, the concept gained popularity when it was applied to agriculture to improve crop and livestock yields and quality.

Then it took a dark turn.

California was also seeing a rise in the amount and prestige of institutions where the practice of eugenics was seen as a way to strengthen the nation.

“Aside from the insane implications for disability rights — that people who are in some way disabled aren’t fit to have children — there are a number of ways in which those metrics were less about mental capability and more about social behavior,” Wernimont explained. “So a person could be considered lower on the intellectual scale if they couldn’t control their sexual desires — both men and women — or if they were known to have committed misdemeanors, things like theft of food, harassment of people … but things that are pretty common if you’re in fiscal straits.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the majority of those sterilized when the first eugenics laws were passed were males, as the method of sterilization — vasectomy — was already a widely practiced, fairly low risk procedure that was seen as an easy way to prevent sex offenders and petty criminals from reproducing. Later, in the 1920s and 1930s, as steralization became more widely practiced, the demographic of those undergoing sterilization shifted disproportionately to femalesUntil the 1960s, sterilizations on women were called salpingectomies (salpingectomy) and involved severing the fallopian tubes, sometimes transvaginally and later more transabdominally; tubal ligations came later in the 1960s. For men, the procedure has always been called vasectomy.. Part of that is likely due to the lack of effective, accessible birth control. For some women, having themselves committed in order to be sterilized was the only alternative.

“There are some records of particular hospitals where people come in and then are released very quickly that seem to be precisely this kind of thing,” said Wernimont. “Additionally, the records show those being committed are very often women from underrepresented minority groups. So we have a high proportion of women with Spanish surnames who were sterilized. You also have a large number of Catholics who were sterilized. So there are these intersecting social issues that are coming to bear on peoples’ bodies.”

One of them being the fear of an encroaching immigrant population.

“It’s also the case that you have a very high population of Latino and Latina people [in California]," Wernimont said. "And also Native Americans. And there is a long-standing rhetoric around people of color who can’t control their reproductive capacity, so they are seen as a threat and need to be controlled. …

“There’s a set of things in California, both the prestige of the institutions, the existence of several hospitals in the area that were feeders for this kind of sterilization, and then this kind of sentiment in the West that there were all of these highly fecund brown people who were threatening to colonial settlers in the 20th century.”

Jacqueline Wernimont

ASU assistant English professor Jacqueline Wernimont
is hoping to glean something valuable from a dark chapter
in American history.

Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

In many cases, language barriers and the underrepresentation of the mentally ill at the time presented a situation in which informed consent was questionable. There are even instances of girls as young as 13 being sterilized with the explanation that “although this girl’s IQ would place her in the normal class, her poor practical judgement and flighty unstable mentality tends to place her in the class of the feebleminded.”

“It speaks very powerfully to how men thought they could control women, and how they put it under the guise of genetic improvement,” said Wernimont. “As if what the nation needed in the moment right after enfranchisement of women was to take their bodies and do something to them such that they could not reproduce.”

In some states, such as North Carolina and Virginia, reparations processes have begun, thanks to journalist reports that revealed what many knew but few could confirm. But due to privacy rules under HIPAA, obtaining records from institutions that practiced sterilization is often an exercise in futility.  

“[Laws like HIPAA] are really interesting guidelines because they are in some ways a mechanism that states can hide behind,” said Wernimont. “In the case of the North Carolina sterilization records, they were actually destroyed by the state. So just getting access to the records is a problem.”

Whatever documents can be obtained are also subject to strict HIPAA regulations that require no personally identifying information be revealed. In the case of the Eugenic Rubicon project, that makes it very hard to convey the humanity of those who underwent sterilization to the general public viewing their stories — which is kind of the whole point.

“One of the things that’s been really interesting to me is the ways in which these peoples’ bodies weren’t considered valuable and their own desires weren’t considered valuable. Except that extensive records were taken to make the case that their bodies could be transformed. But then those records, despite having been made and been quite extensive, were then sort of left disregarded. So it’s a kind of double slight of the people, both of their physical bodies, but then that body of record,” said Wernimont.

“So for me, it’s really important to think about what does it mean to re-embody first that knowledge and to show care for those documents that were discarded, but also to show care for those bodies that were uncared for. What does it mean to extend a hand backwards into time and say we care that this happened?”

Unfortunately, not everything about the practice of eugenics is history. Although eugenics laws began to be repealed in the 1970s, instances of forced and/or non-consenting sterilization have been reported as recently as 2010 at two separate California state prisons. California Gov. Jerry Brown has since signed a law making non-consenting sterilization of inmates illegal. However, the real concern is that it was allowed to happen in the first place.

“These are histories that keep going,” said Wernimont. “And part of why it happens, in the case of the California prisons, is those were instances where a single doctor or a set of doctors had extraordinary power and were able to ... do it in relative silence because of their position of power.”

The same situation plays out, said Wernimont, when you have immigrants, minorities or people from underrepresented groups who don’t have the agency to speak out about how they were wronged.

Wernimont and Stern are hoping for and actively seeking further funding for the Eugenic Rubicon project, so that it has a chance to reach an even wider audience — and maybe even enact real social change.

Top photo used in accordance with the California Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects Protocol ID 13-08-1310 and the University of Michigan Biomedical IRB HUM00084931.