Quantum computing: When the right direction is random

ASU researcher Christian Arenz and his team are refining quantum computing algorithms

November 1, 2022

Christian Arenz wants to harness the yet untapped powers of quantum computing, an emerging field that sits at the intersection of computer science, physics and engineering. 

The assistant professor of electrical engineering in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, is working to develop new algorithms to enable advanced quantum computing capabilities in collaboration with Sophia Economou, the T. Marshall Hahn professor of physics at Virginia Tech. Illustration of a pink ball in blue waves of energy. Assistant Professor of electrical engineering Christian Arenz and his collaborators at Virginia Tech are working to improve adaptive quantum computing algorithms. Adding randomness to the algorithms could be the key to guaranteeing a quantum computer produces the best possible solutions to problems. Photo courtesy of Unsplash Download Full Image

Economou is the senior principal co-investigator on an $800,000 National Science Foundation grant funding the researchers’ work on the advanced algorithms. The project, called ExpandQISE, also includes the development of a textbook and training programs for teachers to introduce quantum science topics to students through more beginner-friendly instruction.

How quantum computing works

At very small scales, matter behaves according to the laws of quantum mechanics, which can lead to counterintuitive behavior. A common example of this is Heisenberg’s famous uncertainty principle, which implies that if we know a quantum mechanical object’s precise position, then its momentum is necessarily uncertain.

In the 1980s, questions and ideas began to emerge about what it would mean to create a computer out of quantum mechanical components — a quantum computer. Early work found that such a computer would be powerful for certain high-value applications, such as cryptography and quantum simulation.

These findings have ultimately motivated the surge of interest in advancing quantum computing technology we see today.

“Classical computers are based on bits, which can be zero or one, on or off,” Arenz says. “Quantum computing is based on qubits, which can exist in so-called ‘superposition’ states that are a combination of zero and one simultaneously. Qubits can also become entangled with one another, meaning that they possess correlations which cannot be explained classically.”

Quantum computing opens the door to a new paradigm of computing thanks to these uniquely quantum mechanical features.

The state of quantum computing today

Today, prototype quantum computers are under development at numerous institutions spanning industry, government and academia. These prototype devices can execute small, short computations, but their power remains limited by noise and errors in the system, which make it difficult to scale up to solve robust computational problems.

To face this challenge, hybrid quantum-classical algorithms have been developed that aim to get maximum performance out of noisy quantum computers by coupling them to a conventional computer and using both computers in tandem to solve a problem under consideration. Hybrid quantum-classical algorithms have been developed for a range of applications including optimization, quantum simulation and machine learning.

These algorithms have attracted significant attention in the quantum information science community in recent years, in the hope they will provide a computational advantage over traditional computing for solving a meaningful problem. So far, the only computations that quantum computers have been able to run faster than a traditional computer have no direct practical application.

Hybrid quantum-classical algorithms operate by using the classical computer to optimize over a set of parameters in a quantum computation. The overarching structure of a quantum computation is typically held fixed, but the details of the parameters entering into each step are free to vary.

By searching for the parameter values that best solve the problem under consideration, the hope is that these algorithms will find solutions to difficult societal problems, like optimizing limited resources such as food or medicine, in more efficient ways than solving problems using traditional computers and human brainpower.

However, quantum computing presents a big challenge: We often don’t know the structure of a quantum computation that will lend itself to effectively solving problems we care about, let alone the parameters that we enter into this structure, the researchers explain.

“The typical convention is to fix the specifications of a quantum algorithm and then use it to compute a solution,” Arenz says. “But when we do that, we can’t guarantee we’ll get the best solution.”

Arenz likens the situation to hiking a mountain. Just as a hiker may want to climb the summit — the tallest peak of a mountain — a user wants a quantum computer to output an optimal solution to a problem. It’s difficult for a hiker to judge the peak's height by sight. They might think they’re at the highest mountain peak, but they can’t be entirely sure when other peaks look to be a similar height.

Likewise, Arenz says, a quantum computer’s solution could seem like the best, but there might be more optimal solutions the machine could produce.

Current quantum algorithm research

Arenz and his collaborators’ current research builds on past quantum algorithm work by Economou and her Virginia Tech colleagues to develop adaptive quantum algorithms. Adaptive quantum algorithms allow adjustments to the size of a quantum circuit.

Adaptive algorithms can be expanded by adding more “gates,” essentially running more calculations based on outcomes produced by a quantum computer. This expands the size of the quantum circuit as much as needed to produce the best possible result from a calculation.

“These adaptive algorithms provide a simulation approach that is tailored to the system that is simulated,” Economou says.

However, even the adaptive algorithms’ outcomes are a “best guess” for computing a solution for now. The team’s research looks to improve adaptive algorithms to ensure the optimal solution is guaranteed from quantum computations by adding a crucial element to the algorithms.

“Once you start to think about adding randomness, that’s the key,” says Alicia Magann, a Truman Fellow researcher from Sandia National Laboratories who is a collaborator on the project.

Randomness essentially shakes up what the computer is doing, giving the calculations a push toward the optimal outcome when performing calculations.

Arenz uses another hiking analogy: A hiker determined to reach a peak, encountering obstacles on their way up, will continue to find their way higher until they reach the top. The hiker will keep going to arrive at the highest peak, continuing to overcome obstacles. Once they encounter no more obstacles and the steep slopes level off, they know they’ve arrived at their destination.

This research will benefit significantly from the Quantum Collaborative, which is led by ASU. A major part of the IBM Quantum Network quantum computing knowledge collective, the Quantum Collaborative will give student researchers valuable opportunities to implement and test adaptive quantum algorithms on IBM’s state-of-the-art quantum computers.

Developing a future quantum workforce 

Arenz says many people are scared off from studying quantum information science, which encompasses quantum computing, by the complex math involved. The research team is developing a new textbook and training to ease potential students and teachers into the topic.

“The textbook explains, with pictures, certain rules you need to introduce to explain how quantum computing works,” Arenz says.

Economou’s team at Virginia Tech is leading work to develop this textbook and its associated course for first-year undergraduate students.

In the K–12 teacher training programs, teachers will learn in summer programs how to educate students on quantum topics, and then expose their students to the field as part of their normal curriculum.

Like the college course, this quantum information science curriculum for K–12 students would focus on introducing the subject without immediately emphasizing complex math.

Arenz’s hope is to make an introduction to quantum science understandable for students from all backgrounds. At present, he says, the “scary” math usually takes up the first chapters of a quantum textbook, turning many students off from the complex subject matter.

As Arenz looks toward the future of quantum computing, he is excited about the opportunity that ASU has to expand knowledge in the field.

“You want to bring in different disciplines, and I think that ASU is an ideal place for doing that,” Arenz says. “Quantum information science is multidisciplinary, and you can find an expert in just about everything on this campus.”

TJ Triolo

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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How universities can support the National Defense Strategy

November 1, 2022

The U.S. Department of Defense released the National Defense Strategy (NDS) on Oct. 27, the first in nearly five years. This comes on the heels of the Biden administration’s recently released National Security Strategy earlier in October. Together, these foundational strategic documents outline the federal government's priorities and approaches to core defense and security challenges. 

The DoD is the largest federal funder of research and development projects, with a heavy focus on critical and emerging technologies. Unsurprisingly, the National Defense Strategy and National Security Strategy both place United States leadership in the development of new technologies as central to the nation’s security and international stability.

Nadya Bliss

Executive Director Nadya Bliss

ASU News spoke with Nadya Bliss, the executive director of the Global Security Initiative, about the role of critical and emerging technologies in geopolitical competition and how universities can support these priorities.

Question: What are your biggest takeaways from the new National Defense Strategy and National Security Strategy?

Answer: My biggest takeaway is how central United States’ continued leadership in technological development and operationalization is to both of the strategies. Both documents note the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as our greatest strategic competitor, with the National Defense Strategy referring to the PRC as a "pacing challenge." U.S. efforts to keep up with the PRC are in part centered around the contest for global leadership in emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, microelectronics and quantum computing. This technological competition will have major impacts on what our future looks like and is part of the reason President Biden has called this a "decisive decade."

Technological development permeates many of the other challenges and strategies outlined in the document, from the need to build resilience and adaptability to transborder challenges like climate change and pandemics, to how we deter and respond to "Gray Zone" activities aimed at altering the status quo without leading to direct conflict. Challenges like disinformation and cyber attacks often fit into this definition. Additionally, the NDS often refers to the cyber and space domains as presenting a unique, common challenge that can create unpredictable pathways to conflict escalation due to the lack of “collective experience, common understandings and established norms of behavior.”

A second big takeaway is how focused the DoD is on investing in the future of the military workforce and aligning that workforce to make sure it is supporting the U.S. technological advantage. As the document says, “People execute the strategy,” and upskilling and diversifying the military workforce is key to the strategy’s success. The strategy says the DoD will aggressively seek to fill specific technology gaps in cyber, data and artificial intelligence specializations and will look to work with universities to do so through a variety of pathways, from revising professional military education to rotational assignments with the private sector. The ability to train and educate a diverse universe of STEM learners interested in defense and national security careers is key to this effort, and an area ASU — with the largest engineering school in the country by enrollment — can clearly help.

Third, there is a heavy focus on the need to work with allies if the U.S. is to be successful in this geopolitical competition. President Biden has said the grand challenge of our time is the competition between autocracy and democracy as governing models, and both of these strategies clearly outline how important alliances and security partnerships like AUKUS are to U.S. strategy.

Q: One portion of the strategy reads: “Technology is central to today’s geopolitical competition and to the future of our national security, economy and democracy. ... In the next decade, critical and emerging technologies are poised to retool economies, transform militaries and reshape the world.” What are some of the technologies that will "reshape the world"?

A: The NDS outlines a few key critical and emerging technologies the DoD will focus on, some as the driving force for advancements and others as a "fast follower" to advancements made primarily in the private sector.

Areas where the DoD expects to "fuel research and development" are cyber, integrated sensing, hypersonics and directed energy, while seeding opportunities in biotechnology, quantum sciences, advanced materials and clean energy technology. Areas where the DoD anticipates the market taking the lead are microelectronics, artificial intelligence and autonomy, space and human-machine interfaces, with DoD taking on the "fast follower" role.

These strategies clearly build on recent legislation that is aimed at transforming the scale of research, development and production of new technologies in the U.S. The CHIPS and Science Act, for example, is a massive investment in building in-country capabilities to develop and produce microelectronics, mitigating our reliance on foreign supply chains and negating a major national security threat considering how vital microelectronics are to our society, defense capabilities and economy.

Q: The National Defense Strategy mentions the need for more resilience and agility across domains multiple times in order to meet today’s complex challenges — whether a targeted cyber attack from an adversary or the consequences of climate change. What does resilience and agility mean, and how can universities support the DoD’s goals?

A: Both strategies are premised on the idea that the world is growing increasingly complex and interconnected. In that environment, it is hard to predict and plan for exactly what is going to happen — better to build resilience to future shocks and agility to be able to pivot quickly based on changing circumstances. An integrated deterrence approach is a key element of the NDS and maps out the need for a holistic response to the most complex challenges and the ability to align “policies, investments and activities.” Effective deterrence shores up resilience.

Additionally, the NDS in particular calls out transborder threats like climate change and pandemics as major security challenges and drivers of the need to build more resilience into the system. One example is physical resilience around infrastructure like military installations — think multiple and redundant energy supplies so when one goes down, another takes its place.

Another element of resilience is being able to withstand coercive activities conducted by an adversarial nation — so building up people’s defenses against disinformation efforts or our cyber networks’ abilities to withstand sophisticated attacks. As the National Security Strategy notes, autocracies often abuse technology and the connectivity it can provide to undermine stability. The ability of the U.S. and our allies to be able to withstand those efforts is critical. One U.S. advantage in this competition is our emerging focus on socio-technical resilience — our ability to develop tightly integrated cross-disciplinary approaches that bring in advanced tech capabilities with expertise from social sciences, humanities, policy and law.

The Global Security Initiative is partially supported by Arizona’s Technology and Research Initiative Fund. TRIF investment has enabled hands-on training for tens of thousands of students across Arizona’s universities, thousands of scientific discoveries and patented technologies, and hundreds of new startup companies. Publicly supported through voter approval, TRIF is an essential resource for growing Arizona’s economy and providing opportunities for Arizona residents to work, learn and thrive.

Written by Nathan Evans

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SAGE program plants gardens, educates children on healthy eating

November 1, 2022

ASU Edson College project has partnered with 40 local preschools

It’s just past 7:30 a.m. when Nathan Ashok dons his pair of gloves, picks up a gray cinder block and smoothly places it a few feet away from the swing set.

As fellow Arizona State University students Joanna Carvallo and Anjali Patel grab more cinder blocks, Ashok begins to level the ground. In less than 45 minutes, the three students, along with program coordinator Joseline Jimenez, construct a 3-by-6 garden bed with eight bags of soil and 28 blocks at Faith Lutheran preschool near Seventh Street and Camelback Road.

If all goes well, the bed will become a flourishing garden of carrots, radishes and zucchini for the 44 children at the preschool, who in turn will get to enjoy the vegetables of their labor.

“Our hope is to have them explore new fruits and vegetables through the garden and also know the process of what it takes to grow something to eat,” said Alma Cortes, preschool director at Faith Lutheran. “Expose them to something they haven’t had in the past.”

That’s the goal of SAGE (Sustainability via Active Garden Education), an ASU project that over the last seven years has partnered with 40 Head Start and Child and Adult Care Food Program preschools to build open-air gardens and provide a curriculum that includes garden materials, lessons, video instruction and technical support.

Rebecca Lee, a professor in ASU’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation and a senior global futures scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures laboratory, said SAGE grew out of a family of projects that started in Houston in 2010 with the goal of preventing and controlling obesity.

Lee, the SAGE principal investigator, said for that goal to be reached, education has to start early in a person’s life.

SAGE, which is funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, identifies schools that fit the criteria for the gardens, plants the garden bed, gives the seeds to the school principal or director and then goes about educating the students.

The curriculum, which was designed in coordination with early-care teachers, understands the audience it’s trying to reach.

“We’re helping children learn about healthy food, where food comes from and physical activity,” Lee said. “We start out talking about fresh air and sunshine and adequate nutrition and water, and how you can grow big and strong.”

“Through the 12 sessions of the curriculum, (the children) have songs and games, there’s three science experiments and some small groups circle-time discussion. There’s a lot of material, and some of it is pretty redundant, but when you’re working with 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, you need a lot of redundancy.”

SAGE also provides follow-up care if school officials have questions or need any technical support.

Lee said SAGE is staffed by undergraduate students, who receive anywhere from one to three credit hours, depending on their involvement, and master’s students who are doing field research. In addition, SAGE was recently awarded an AmeriCorps public health grant, so 20 AmeriCorps students will be working 10 to 20 hours a week on the project.

“There’s a lot going on,” Lee said with a laugh.

On this Friday morning, Carvallo, a biochemistry major with a minor in Spanish, Patel and Ashok, a science of health care delivery graduate student, are not thinking about the scope of the project. They’re making sure the garden bed is level, filling the top of the cinder blocks with soil and imagining the kids’ delight when the first carrots are pulled from the ground.

“This is my first time going out and planting the garden,” said Patel, who’s majoring in biomedical sciences and minoring in global health and human development. “I’m really excited. Honestly, I wish I had this kind of stuff when I was little. Gardening is such a fun activity to do, and the nutrition aspect I feel is really educational.”

But it’s the smile on the children’s faces — and the joy they get when they’re digging through the soil — that stays with Carvallo.

“They love to grow all the little plants,” she said.

Happiness. Nutrition. Education.

They’re what SAGE is all about. 

Fourth-year biochemistry student Joana Carvallo rakes out the freshly spread garden soil as a group of ASU SAGE-affiliated students and the project coordinator assemble a raised garden for preschoolers on Friday, Oct. 28, at the Faith Lutheran Church in Phoenix. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

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ASU launches new quantum research collaborative

November 1, 2022

Initiative to promote understanding of quantum technology, forge partnerships to advance it

Arizona State University has launched the Quantum Collaborative, a major 21st century initiative poised to profoundly impact society and the American economy with new discoveries and applications in advanced quantum technology.

The promise of quantum technology has kicked off an international contest the likes of which have not been seen since the space race, and ASU is joining scores of nations, companies and universities striving to realize its potential. A state-funded and globally-oriented initiative, the Quantum Collaborative aims to promote understanding of this important technology and forge partnerships to advance it. 

“A key objective for ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise is to fundamentally change how the world solves problems,” says Sally C. Morton, executive vice president of the ASU Knowledge Enterprise. “Quantum technology holds a unique promise to accomplish this, and I am thrilled to see what we can accomplish with our partners in the Quantum Collaborative.”

Quantum-powered partnerships

The Quantum Collaborative is a broad endeavor consisting of a community of companies, academic institutions, startups and initiatives cooperating across several strategic areas to deliver incremental advances across the emerging quantum technology landscape, as well as develop training and education for the future quantum workforce. 

The Quantum Collaborative’s founding industry partners include:

  • Quantinuum, a combination of Honeywell Quantum Solutions and Cambridge Quantum, is an integrated quantum computing company that has released next-generation quantum products, including trapped-ion quantum computers, quantum computing enhanced cybersecurity and quantum computational chemistry software.
  • Google Quantum AI will guide the curriculum and workforce development of the ASU Quantum Collaborative through hands-on resources such as its open-source quantum programming framework called Cirq and the Quantum Virtual Machine.
  • SandboxAQ is developing business applications that combine the power of AI and quantum technology — dubbed AQ.
  • CR8DL, an artificial intelligence and cloud computing company, is interested in quantum simulator optimization and quantum combined with high-performance computing.

Along with industry partnerships, the Quantum Collaborative is forging connections with leading academic institutions. Founding academic partners include:

  • Purdue University, with its Rosen Center for Advanced Computing and the Purdue Quantum Science and Engineering Institute, pairs high-performance computing with quantum expertise and broad regional integration.
  • Tecnológico de Monterrey, the top private university in Mexico and a longstanding ASU partner, brings broad STEM expertise and machine learning prowess.
  • Virginia Tech contributes expertise in quantum information science, producing research in key areas including quantum computing, simulation, networking, and cryptography and pioneering educational programs, facilitated by its Center for Quantum Information Science and Engineering.
  • The University of Texas at San Antonio is poised to bring its long-standing experience in cybersecurity and AI and data science expertise to deal with the challenges that quantum presents to protect data and infrastructure. This includes its broad network of partners in their School of Data Science and university research institutes focused on AI and cloud/edge computing. 

ASU will also operate as a hub within the IBM Quantum Network, a global community of Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions, startups and national labs with cloud access to IBM’s premium quantum computers, experts and resources. Organizations can join ASU’s hub as members to draw on IBM’s quantum technology and resources to advance quantum computing research.

The first members to join ASU’s IBM Quantum Hub are Purdue University and Virginia Tech.

“We’re excited to welcome ASU into the IBM Quantum Network,” says Aparna Prabhakar, vice president, partner ecosystem, IBM Quantum. “They’re already building a diverse academic and industry ecosystem, with an academic and workforce program focused on how quantum computing can be applied to key demonstrations of the technology.”

In addition to assembling this collection of universities and companies to cooperate on quantum technology initiatives, the Quantum Collaborative recently joined the Quantum Economic Development Consortium, or QED-C, and is developing relationships with prospective international partners. 

From bits to qubits

In the emerging field of quantum technology, one area already transforming society is quantum computing.

Essentially, quantum computing is a marriage between computing and quantum theory — a branch of physics that focuses on the behavior of atoms and the subatomic particles within them.

Traditional computers — be it your laptop, cell phone or high-performance supercomputers — operate using binary digits, or bits. Bits have only two possible values, one or zero. They make up binary code, which your computer reads to carry out its tasks.

Conversely, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, to process information. Qubits can exist not only as a one or a zero, but also as both a one and a zero simultaneously. Together with other quantum mechanical features, this behavior allows quantum computers to run certain computations much faster than any classical computer.

Quantum computing is just one aspect of a field known more formally as Quantum Information Science and Technology, or QIST, which stands to revolutionize many areas of industry such as pharmaceutical development, finance, telecommunications, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.

“There are few organizations engaging across all QIST areas simultaneously, because each individual area is advancing so quickly and focused on individual goals,” says Sean Dudley, assistant vice president and chief research information officer of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise. Dudley oversees the Quantum Collaborative with support from internal and external advisory boards.

“We’ve found that groups working in specific areas of QIST struggle to keep tabs on advancements across other areas, even when co-dependencies are in the mix,” Dudley says. “For example, quantum sensing is already reaching the market. It can deliver tremendous advancements in areas such as human health or climate science and can also be integrated with both quantum computing and networking, which are different yet complementary technologies, to bring further advancements.” 

The Quantum Collaborative solves for this silo effect by aligning research and development efforts where appropriate to create joint initiatives and mechanisms for knowledge exchange. In addition, by creating certifications, upskilling opportunities and modified degree programs, the collaborative aims to develop a robust talent pipeline for a quantum-enabled economy.

A ‘quantum leap’ forward

While the potential of quantum technology remains unrealized, the field has already attracted worldwide talent and leading researchers to advance it. Christian Arenz believes that the true impact of quantum technology is very hard to foresee. Arenz is an assistant professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and serves on the ASU faculty advisory board for the Quantum Collaborative.

He imagines quantum computers may initially fulfill a role of today’s supercomputers — tackling large scale problems beyond the scope of standard computing, such as simulating complex systems.

“As a physicist, I care about actually being able to simulate complex systems, but who cares about that besides physicists, right?” he asks. “But, you can often map the simulation of complex systems to real-life problems.”

Simulation could pave the way for stronger and more resilient materials, more effective pharmaceuticals, as well as better predictive modeling of financial market and weather patterns. A quantum computer could also theoretically reveal how pathogens spread through the air.

At a global level, the race for quantum supremacy is a serious competition with many nations racing to advance QIST. This competition has become more intense partly due to quantum’s anticipated disruption of data privacy and encryption.

Today’s encryption relies on algorithmically generated keys that encode data shared between parties. These encryption algorithms are based on large prime numbers. While classical computers can very easily multiply two large prime numbers, breaking the result back down into prime numbers is much more difficult.

“Take 15 — you can easily factor that into primes. Three times five is 15,” Arenz says. “That becomes much harder when dealing with very large numbers, and most encryption protocols are based exactly on the fact that a classic computer cannot efficiently factor a large number into prime numbers.”

This encryption method leaves hackers two options to decipher secure information: either intercept a key or use powerful computers to predict the key. The latter isn’t currently feasible, but the massive jump in computing power promised by quantum computers is expected to deliver rapid and easy decryption.

This has led to a “harvest now, decrypt later” mindset in which bad actors capture troves of data, anticipating the ability to decrypt it later. It’s a bit like a thief stealing a near-uncrackable safe full of valuables with the assumption that they’ll eventually learn how to open it.

In recognition of this threat, governments and intelligence agencies around the world are working quickly to achieve post-quantum cryptography to safeguard data from powerful quantum computers. In 2016, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology launched a global effort to standardize post-quantum cryptography protocols to secure data against quantum computers and maintain functionality with existing systems and networks. NIST announced the first four standards in July 2022, and additional standards are currently under review.

Beyond encryption, there is broad federal interest in quantum technology. In 2018, the U.S. founded the National Quantum Initiative to propel the United States’ strategic advancement in quantum technology overall. New funding programs, established by the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy, bolster quantum research and development. The recently passed CHIPS and Science Act delivers hundreds of millions in additional funding for QIST.  

“This is a national competition, for a global advantage. We can't afford to have siloed efforts throughout the country and our partner nations. The winner of the quantum race will gain an 80-year advantage — the outcomes are going to be that transformative,” Dudley says.

Creating a vital quantum-enabled workforce

In addition to fundamental research and technology development, another key aim of the Quantum Collaborative is workforce and education program development, a goal that ASU and other academic partners are well-positioned to achieve. 

With the largest engineering school in the nation, ASU is also mobilizing significant resources to address a widespread need for quantum workforce development across many skill areas such as engineering, chemistry, materials science, human performance, communications and manufacturing. 

“Academic and workforce program development is a federal interest and is as yet a relatively unmet call to action from the National Quantum Initiative,” Dudley says.

For Arenz, his primary goal is to introduce students of all disciplines to paradigms in quantum technology. Because, he says, fundamentally we need people who can build and improve these solutions. Then and only then can we develop a workforce around this new technology.

“More or less, everyone can take a software class and code a little bit on their laptop right at home,” he says. “Quantum computing is not like that at this point. The goal is to get there, but at this point, we need to understand how to scale the quantum computer up, how to make it better.” 

Arenz bases this on his experience teaching a quantum computing course. His students come from several disciplines, each looking at problems very differently.

“It’s not just physics. It's engineering, it's computer science, it's math — and then if you then think about applications, simulating chemistry — well, you need chemists. For something like optimization, you need engineers,” he says.

To fully realize the potential of quantum technology, everyone from executive leaders and specialized technicians to entry-level engineers and researchers far outside computing and physics will need education tailored to their needs and interests. One goal of the Quantum Collaborative is to demonstrate that quantum technology is a skill area within reach that has potential to create economic mobility for many people.

“When I was growing up in a small manufacturing town in Wisconsin, people were excited about the opportunity offered by a radiology certification. It was two years of learning and then you could make great money without having to follow the previous generation into a factory,” Dudley says. “While the manufacturing industry certainly took great care of many families in the Midwest, radiology brought hope as something that might lift you up and out of a limited professional destiny. We at ASU, with our many partners, will deliver what the National Quantum Initiative calls for by working within and outside STEM-engaged populations to bring a new set of professional opportunities to families across all communities.”

The Quantum Collaborative is funded by the Arizona Board of Regents through an addition to Arizona’s Technology Research Initiative Fund. This funding also supports ASU’s enrollment in the Quantum Economic Development Consortium. 

TRIF investment has enabled hands-on training for tens of thousands of students across Arizona’s universities, thousands of scientific discoveries and patented technologies, and hundreds of new start-up companies. Publicly supported through voter approval, TRIF is an essential resource for growing Arizona’s economy and providing opportunities for Arizona residents to work, learn and thrive.

Top photo illustration by Shireen Dooling

Pete Zrioka

Assistant director of content strategy , Knowledge Enterprise


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October 31, 2022

Edson College workshop prepares nurse practitioner students for tough conversations with future patients

Through tears, a patient in her 60s asks what she could have done differently after nurses Alina and Viva break the news that she has breast cancer.

Empathetically, the pair explain that it’s not the woman’s fault, that these things happen and, because she has had regular mammograms, it appears they likely caught it early, offering reassurance that she has done everything right.

After answering all of her questions and providing resources and contact information, they stepped out of the room to debrief.

That tough conversation was part of a simulated scenario for doctor of nursing practice students in ASU’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation taking part in the “Breaking Bad News” workshop this month. 

“When I heard about the workshop, I felt it was something I needed to know. Being a nurse and now becoming a nurse practitioner, I feel like I need to be more aware of how I present things to the patient. This workshop is helping me learn those skills,” Nneka Onyia said.

Onyia is one of 28 students who participated in the half-day workshop. The students started off learning about therapeutic communication techniques and a validated, evidence-based communication tool known as the SPIKES protocol to “break” bad news, as well as how to navigate family and patient responses and emotions to the news. 

“Especially in our new roles as nurse practitioners, we’ll be the ones who will be giving this information,” said DNP student Kristine Murdock. “It could be a cancer diagnosis or news of an STD or the loss of pregnancy; those are just some of the situations we might encounter.”

After learning about the evidence-based methodology for delivering tough news, the students moved into the hands-on portion of the day. During this part of the workshop, they rotated between stations practicing their new skills on simulated patients, similar to the breast cancer diagnosis scenario described above. They also worked on delivering different types of bad news to each other.

“There are a lot of times you don’t know how your patients are going to react, and sometimes it can trip you up, and you want to make sure you’re saying the right things. Having this exercise and education to help reinforce that and to provide confidence in knowing that I’m doing the right thing for the patient is great,” Murdock said.

That’s precisely what workshop creators and Edson College faculty members Erin Tharalson and Janet O’Brien were aiming for.

“Our goal is that this will build student nurse practitioners’ confidence in having these tough conversations in their future practice,” Clinical Assistant Professor Tharalson said. 

Clinical Professor O’Brien shared that the idea for this workshop started percolating about four years ago when Hospice of the Valley reached out with an interest in collaborating and using simulation to help train their staff.

Eventually, a simulation case was developed, and O’Brien, Tharalson and a gerontology nurse practitioner from Hospice of the Valley conducted a small pilot with four student volunteers in 2019 to test it out.

“Outcomes of the pilot were highly successful,” O’Brien said. She said they later presented their findings at the National League of Nursing Education Summit in 2021. That led to them applying for and getting a $2,000 grant from the Association of SP Educators (ASPE) in 2022.

So it was only fitting that Hospice of the Valley volunteered to participate in the workshop as well. Guest lecturers were able to offer students their expert insights and feedback during the debriefing sessions.

O’Brien said those sessions, where students received constructive feedback on their behaviors from the simulated patients as well as the faculty volunteers and other health care professionals, were key.

“It’s an invaluable experience that will help them improve their skills and become more effective in patient care,” O’Brien said 

In the past, the topic of breaking bad news has not been traditionally covered in nurse practitioner education. Due to the pandemic and an increased focus on simulation-based learning, it's now taking a front seat.

“In our program, students are educated in therapeutic communication and motivational interviewing, so this particular area is our next area of focus to bring in and round out that education,” said Tharalson.

For this particular workshop, students volunteered to attend and received indirect patient care hours for participating, as the workshop addressed several program essentials.

All of the students who took part in the workshop showed enthusiasm and support for the potential to one day incorporate this topic more fully into the DNP curriculum.

“As providers, regardless of specialty, you will encounter situations where you’ll be telling patients something they don’t want to hear. Being able to know how to navigate through that is a good skill to have,” Onyia said.

Top image: During the workshop, students practiced delivering different types of bad news to each other.

Amanda Goodman

Senior communications specialist , Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation


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New report details benefits of expanding organic agriculture, policy opportunities

October 27, 2022

In preparation for the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill, the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University has co-authored a new report with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Californians for Pesticide Reform (CPR) to help guide U.S. policymakers on the benefits and value of organic agriculture practices.

“Grow Organic: The Climate, Health and Economic Case for Expanding Organic Agriculture” was published on Oct. 27 and details the potential of organic agriculture in addressing climate change, health crises and economical struggle. Some of the topics discussed in the report include organic agriculture’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect human health and support economic resilience. 

“Expanding organic agriculture is an investment in our future, one that could ultimately produce significant returns,” said report co-author Kathleen Merrigan, executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at ASU. “Today’s conventional system contains immense hidden costs subsidized by our tax dollars that we can no longer afford.”  

The “Grow Organic” report features stories from over a dozen organic farmers and ranchers across the country to demonstrate their recommendations in practice

Kanoa Dinwoodie of Feral Heart Farm is a Filipino and Chinese farmer who seeks to make organically grown culturally appropriate foods more accessible to communities of color. Benina Montes of the Burroughs Family Farm was inspired to transition her entire farming operation to organic following her pregnancy with her first child — she didn’t want to risk the health of her child by mixing chemicals for her conventional almond orchards.  

“When we account for the true costs of our current farming systems, including health, environmental, social and economic impacts, the value of organic farming is undeniable,” Merrigan said. “This report lays out where we need to go.”

Top photo courtesy Shutterstock

Katelyn Reinhart

Communications specialist , Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory

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7 things you should know about cybersecurity

October 24, 2022

ASU experts give simple steps and advice for Cybersecurity Awareness Month

Connected devices are everywhere — from our phones and doorbell cameras to our cars and smart infrastructures — and the security of those devices is critical. Cybersecurity needs to be everyone’s responsibility; we must all work together to create a safer environment for this generation and those to come.

Since 2004, the President of the United States declared October to be Cybersecurity Awareness Month, led by the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and the National Cybersecurity Alliance. This year’s theme — “See Yourself in Cyber” — demonstrates that while cybersecurity may seem like a complex subject, it’s really about the people.

In this Q&A, Arizona State University experts Nadya Bliss, executive director of the Global Security Initiative, and Jamie Winterton, director of strategy at the Global Security Initiative, discuss how cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility, how can you protect yourself online and what can we do about cybersecurity challenges.

1. Why is cybersecurity critical?

Nadya Bliss: Computing and connected devices are literally in every aspect of our lives and we put so much trust in them to help us function as individuals and as a broader society – from helping us organize our day to tracking our exercise to managing the worldwide supply chain of critical goods. As a result, the security of those devices is paramount.

Jamie Winterton: So many of the building blocks of society are connected to the internet, so I think it really counts as critical infrastructure at this point.

2. What can people do to protect themselves online?

Here is some practical advice from Bliss and Winterton.

  • Step back and assess. Ask yourself: “Why do I feel threatened and what do I need protection from?”
  • Keep your technologies up to date. Updates help to identify software vulnerabilities to keep our operating systems secure.
  • Be careful with untrusted sources. If you do not recognize a link that someone has shared with you, do not click on it — many times these are malicious and can cause harm.
  • Turn on multifactor authentication. In addition to your regular password, this will give you an alert to ensure this is you logging in to your bank account or credit card website.
  • Use a password manager. These let you create complex passwords that you likely cannot remember, and help make your life easier by keeping them safe.
  • Think before you share. Always check your sources and avoid spreading misinformation and phishing attacks. Many phishing scams today are relying on a fear factor, resulting in poor decision-making. Pause, think and understand.
  • Disabling unnecessary connections to the internet. Many times, day-to-day devices do not have protocols for updates that protect from security breaches — so disconnect them from the web if you can.

3. Why is cybersecurity a good career choice?

Winterton: The first reason is the pay — cybersecurity professionals tend to be paid very well. There are so many ways to participate in cybersecurity, and I think that gets missed sometimes. There are needs in governance, compliance, in policy and in being a security evangelist to users and communicators. All of these are sorely needed today.

A second reason is the fact that careers in cybersecurity drive real-world impact. You are doing something which protects those who may not be able to protect themselves. When we create more secure technology, we are asking users to take on less burden, and also less risk.

Bliss: Thinking like a hacker does not necessarily require a technical background; there are great cybersecurity professionals who have backgrounds in history, philosophy and theater. Many studies show that there is a labor shortage in cybersecurity. As technology evolves and increasingly becomes prevalent, opportunities continue to rise. An employee on this desired career path is guaranteed a growth trajectory due to the many opportunities to learn different techniques, modalities and operations within cybersecurity.

4. What is the reason and solution for the deficit within cybersecurity?

Bliss: We have an overfocus on capability and an underfocus on security, which is often relegated to a secondary consideration. Also, the cost of vulnerabilities continues to rise — from the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack to the Equifax data breaches — and the shift we see now is that people realize the importance of security. We need a different set of incentive structures in order for things to improve at a steady rate, and the next step is implementation.

Winterton: In the infosecinformation security community, we hear about companies that create job postings that do not match the actual need. Yes, we need more people in the field, but we need to hire the right people, with the right experience, as well.

Learn more about how ASU is addressing the deficit of cybersecurity.

5. What are some predictions about the cybersecurity industry in the near future?

The following predictions from Winterton and Bliss look ahead over the next five to 10 years:

  • Increased cybersecurity risk in health care, biotechnology, agriculture and automotive industries.
  • A continued increase in coordination between government and industry, much of which is made possible through the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
  • The increased adoption of artificial intelligence both in making systems more resilient to attacks, and allowing automated agents to initiate attacks faster and more efficiently.
  • Foundational breakthroughs in quantum computing capabilities and corresponding potential impacts on broadly adopted technologies such as encryption.

6. What are some grand challenges effecting cybersecurity?

Bliss: We tend to be more excited by novelty than we are about security, and I think we need to pause and ask ourselves, “Do I need this household item to be connected to the internet?” Also, we need to connect the communities of those who build the systems and those who use them. We should ensure a better understanding of the vulnerability space at all education levels, from kindergarten all the way up.

Winterton: In the United States, we have an overlap between the public and private sectors, and the regulation and governance across those spaces will always be a grand challenge. There are unique issues when privately-owned companies that perform public good are breached or fall victim to ransomware, like Colonial Pipeline. The challenges increase when we look at the international level, and we do not as of yet have an international consortium to address cybersecurity issues. This is possibly the grandest challenge of all.

7. What is ASU doing to address these challenges?

Winterton: We cannot fix cybersecurity issues without a radical interdisciplinary approach, and at ASU, we have the edge through the Center for Cybersecurity and Trusted Foundations. One of the focuses of the (center) is to give people hands-on experience in real-world situations.

ASU has a wide range of offerings in cybersecurity training and education that enable people to pursue different career paths in the field. In addition to formal degrees through the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence and other academic units, ASU is engaged in experiential learning – through efforts like supporting student hacking clubs and organizing Capture the Flag competitions, including in the past organizing the largest in the world at DEF CON.

Learn about ASU’s involvement in DEF CON.

Get involved this cybersecurity awareness month

  • ASU Hacking Club. The ASU Hacking Club aims to teach people the basics of hacking.
  • Pwn.college. The online educational platform provides training modules to aspiring cybersecurity professionals both within and outside ASU.
  • ASU’s computer science (cybersecurity) Bachelor of Science degree. Through the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence, this degree provides students with the knowledge and skills needed to build dependable and secure information systems and networks, and to ensure the integrity and quality of information being stored, processed and transmitted.
  • Get Protected. ASU is committed to raising the bar when it comes to cybersecurity awareness. Get involved with events and campaigns this October.

The Global Security Initiative is partially supported by Arizona’s Technology and Research Initiative Fund. TRIF investment has enabled hands-on training for tens of thousands of students across Arizona’s universities, thousands of scientific discoveries and patented technologies, and hundreds of new startup companies. Publicly supported through voter approval, TRIF is an essential resource for growing Arizona’s economy and providing opportunities for Arizona residents to work, learn and thrive.

Top image: Jamie Winterton (left) and Nadya Bliss.

Oliver Dean

Manager of Marketing and Communications, Knowledge Enterprise , Global Security Initiative


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Is transparency the right path to equal pay?

October 21, 2022

ASU business professor examines how a new law in the UK deals with gender pay gap, whether it can benefit the American workforce

A research team led by an Arizona State University professor has discovered that naming and shaming a company alone won’t close the gender pay gap.

Since 1963, the United States government has tried to narrow the discrepancy in wages between men and women, even instituting legislation to enforce the issue. For six decades they’ve chipped away at the inconsistency, as women now earn 82 cents for every dollar a man does, according to 2020 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

They’re now hoping that more transparent legislation will help. But a new study by ASU’s Amanda Sharkey and co-authors Elizabeth Pontikes and Greta Hsu of the University of California-Davis demonstrates that naming and shaming is not enough, and more nuance is needed.

Sharkey, who is an associate professor in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship at the W. P. Carey School of Business, has been working on this issue for years. Her new study, “The Impact of Mandated Pay Gap Transparency on Firms' Reputations as Employers,” looked at how employee reviews on the website Glassdoor changed in the wake of pay gap disclosures prompted by new regulations in the United Kingdom.

ASU News spoke to Sharkey about her findings and how they could potentially impact firms in the United States.

Woman in beige sweater smiling

Amanda Sharkey

Question: Can you explain why you chose to study this issue, and why in the United Kingdom as opposed to the United States?

Answer: The gender wage gap is stubborn. Although the gap has gotten a lot smaller over the last century, there has been almost no change over the last 15 years. In fact, forecasters project that the pay gap won’t be eliminated until 2059, if we (keep) up at the same pace as we have since 1985. The slow pace of change, combined with public attention to the issue, has intensified the search for effective remedies. Transparency is one promising solution, and it is intuitively appealing in many ways. But, given the costs involved in disclosure and what’s at stake here, we’d ideally have hard evidence of transparency’s effects, rather than just intuitions.

We chose to study this in the U.K. for a couple of reasons. First, when we started working on this paper, a national initiative that would have required companies in the U.S. to disclose pay gap information had just fallen by the wayside. So the data simply did not exist in the U.S. At the same time, a lot of other countries were just starting to implement transparency regulations. These requirements have a different flavor in each country. The one in the U.K. was especially attractive to us because it is very far-reaching — all organizations with 250 employees or more had to disclose. Other studies have been done on pay disclosure, but they focus on specific industries or on companies that have voluntarily disclosed. It wasn’t clear whether the findings from those studies would hold more broadly across a wide range of organizations. Because the law in the U.K. affects such a broad swathe of organizations, it can help us get a sense of how transparency operates more generally.

Q: What were some interesting findings?

A: Well, when mandatory disclosure laws were being considered, most of the arguments in favor of them centered around “naming and shaming” firms with large pay gaps. The idea was that word would get out about the size of these pay gaps, people would complain either to their bosses or to one another, and these firms would take steps to narrow the gap in order to avoid these negative reputational consequences. But we actually did not find any evidence of reputational penalties on Glassdoor for these firms. In other words, when we looked at how ratings changed from before to after disclosure for firms with a large gender wage gap (more than 20%), as compared to firms that had a more modest gender pay gap (2 to 20%), the ratings for firms with a large pay gap didn’t show a decline.

Frankly, we were surprised by this. So we looked into several possible explanations. For example, we thought maybe employees just weren’t aware of the information. Or maybe there are industries, like tech or finance, where everyone kind of knows that there is a large pay gap, and employees only react to a large pay gap in other industries where this information is more surprising. But none of these seemed to account for our results. Our best intuition — and we have some suggestive evidence to support this — is that employees who stay at firms with large pay gaps have come to accept the disparity as part of their workplace.

On a more positive note, we also looked at what happened to firms that disclosed that they were paying men and women relatively equally. There is good news for these firms. We found that these firms got a reputational boost from disclosure. Their ratings improved, and people started talking more about gender in their reviews of the company, which helps us be more certain that the improvement was due to disclosure.

Q: How will firms in the U.S. potentially use your information and make it meaningful to them?

A: Many firms in the U.S. have looked at their own pay gap numbers, although not a lot have voluntarily disclosed them. Our research suggests that firms that have a low pay gap could benefit from making this information public. Since Glassdoor is widely used by job seekers, putting this information out there for people to discuss could potentially help them attract a bigger or better pool of job candidates. Our research shows that people do care about and react favorably to this information.

Q: Pay gap reporting is being considered or being implemented in some U.S. cities and states. How might these governments use your findings? 

A: Well, collecting this information and making it public entails some costs, both for firms and for the government. Our findings suggest some ways that governments can get the most bang for their buck if they require reporting. For example, we find that the positive reaction to firms with a small pay gap is bigger during periods when people are paying more attention, such as when this issue is in the news a lot. This suggests that government efforts should not just be about collecting this information, but they also need to engage in heavy publicity efforts if they want it to have an impact. We also find that the positive reaction is bigger when it is easier for people to interpret this information, such as when the information is more comparable across people in different jobs. In the U.K., firms were required to report only an overall firm-level number, but our findings suggest reporting information at a more granular level makes the information more powerful — at least in the case of firms with only a small pay gap.

Q: Is transparency legislation the right path forward to close the gender pay gap?

A: You may be asking the wrong person. This is a tough question — especially for someone who chose a career that centers around analyzing data. I wouldn’t have been able to do this research if this data wasn’t publicly available, and I don’t want to put myself out of a job!

More seriously, transparency is logically an important starting point for taking steps toward closing the gap. But our research suggests that it isn’t a panacea. Information has the potential to empower people, but whether it ultimately impacts anyone depends on whether people can and do use it. In the case of the gender wage gap, understanding the size of the gap can certainly be useful for employees. For example, when this information is made public, job seekers can have a better sense of which firms are more egalitarian and they can incorporate that as a criteria in their search. Our research suggests that employees do pay attention to this information, at least in the case of firms with a small pay gap.

Although we didn’t find evidence of a negative effect on the reputations of firms with large pay gaps, it is possible that job seekers’ positive reactions to firms that are paying their employees equally will have an indirect effect on firms with a large pay gap, as job seekers look for those firms that report small wage gaps. But this could take a while. As a result, more direct interventions may be needed to prompt these firms to address the issue. There are examples of transparency policies that are more heavy-handed, such as the one in Iceland, where companies must conduct a pay gap audit and pay a daily fine if it reveals a disparity.

Q: Aside from transparency, what else can managers do to close the gap? 

A: There is research indicating the power of changes to hiring and promotion processes, such as evaluating candidates simultaneously rather than sequentially, or formally posting jobs rather than filling them through word of mouth. We may be at the point where there is not a lot of low-hanging fruit in terms of ways to make big gains in closing the gap. But many of these seemingly smaller changes in organizational policies can really add up. And while my research here is focused on the gender wage gap, many of these interventions show promise for promoting greater equality for other underrepresented groups as well.

Top photo illustration courtesy iStock/Getty Images

Reporter , ASU News


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Veterans' resilience focus of 2-day ASU conference

October 21, 2022

Panelists discuss ways to aid veterans in transition to civilian life

At the outset of the two-day Veterans in Society conference at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, moderator Bruce Pencek asked a question:

“What does it mean to be a veteran?”

Panelists at the event, which was hosted by the College of Integrative Science and Arts, attempted to answer that question Oct. 20–21 by looking at issues such as veterans’ resilience, the transition from military life to civilian life and how the arts can help veterans.

The keynote speaker for the event was Zonnie Gorman, a recognized historian on the original Navajo Code Talkers of World War II and the daughter of World War II Code Talker Carl Gorman.

'Veterans’ Transitions'

At the first panel discussion Thursday morning, the panelists discussed the difficulty veterans face when leaving the military and what more society can do to help that transition.

Bob Beard, a Marine Corps veteran and public engagement strategist for ASU's Center for Science and the Imagination, talked about the university's Veterans Imagination Project, which helps veterans project their future through the use of storytelling, futures thinking and collaborative imagination.

At the end of the project, the veterans — with the help of an artist — can clarify and envision their future in ways they never would have imagined.

“More than 200,000 men and women transition out of the military every year. For them, drastic change is not somewhere on the horizon. It’s instant,” Beard said. “The military world does a fantastic job training people to do the jobs they’re hired to do. But I believe the way out of the service is treated more like a simple job change and relocation. For veterans in the room, we know that can’t be further from the truth.”

Former military member and independent scholar Robert J. White conducted a study to find out why so many veterans leave their first jobs in civilian life within 24 months.

A 2014 study from VetAdvisor and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University found that nearly half of all veterans leave their first post-military position within a year, and between 60% and 80% of veterans leave their first civilian jobs before their second work anniversary.

White said he left the Army to work for Shell Global in 2008. Fourteen other veterans made the same transition to Shell that year, but only two remained by 2010.

White said he found that veterans, in addition to feeling dissatisfied with typical job concerns like compensation, poor leadership and no clear path for promotion, also cited a loss of camaraderie, a lack of respect for veterans’ leadership experience and a lost sense of purpose.

White said it’s incumbent upon veterans to understand career ownership is their responsibility and that working for large companies can’t replace the camaraderie and sense of service they had in the military.

“I don’t know how camaraderie can be fulfilled in the corporate world,” White said. “I look for those experiences somewhere else. I’m not going to find my sense of purpose in corporate America.”

Code Talkers

Woman speaking at lectern

Historian and expert on the original Navajo Code Talkers of World War II Zonnie Gorman delivers the keynote address for the fifth Veterans in Society conference on Thursday, Oct. 20, at the Beus Center for Law and Society on ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus. As the daughter of the oldest of the original Code Talkers, Carl Gorman, she spoke of her personal and academic knowledge of the first 29 Navajo Marine code creators. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

During her keynote speech Thursday night, Gorman eloquently told the life story of two men who were part of the original 29 Code Talkers: Her father, Carl, and William D. Wilson.

The Code Talkers were made up of 29 Navajo men who created a code assigning a Navajo word to key phrases and military tactics. For example, in the code, a dive bomber became a “chicken hawk,” an observation plane became an “owl” and a fighter plane was a “hummingbird.”

“They were using Navajo words for words we didn’t have in our native language, like bombs and tanks,” Zonnie Gorman said. “They also developed a coded alphabet using sounds.”

How successful was the code? It remained unbroken through the end of the war, and during the nearly monthlong battle for Iwo Jima, six Navajo Code Talkers transmitted more than 800 messages without an error.

Gorman noted that the urge to serve was so strong for her dad and Wilson that they lied about their age to get into the Marines. Carl, who was 35 in 1942, said he was 25 on his application form. Wilson, who was a 15-year-old sheep herder, said he was 18.

All 29 Code Talkers graduated from boot camp; the dropout rate for other units was approximately 10%.

“These men were extremely patriotic,” Gorman said. “During World War II, Native Americans were the largest group to volunteer for service.”

That fact is remarkable, she said, because many Native American children, including Carl and Wilson, attended boarding schools that attempted to assimilate them into mainstream society, one method being prohibiting them from using their native language.

“Now, suddenly, the same government that was forbidding them to speak their language was now using their language to help American men win their freedom,” Gorman said. “The irony of this story is what resonates with a lot of people.

“To me, that’s what the Code Talkers represent. Their story connects with everyone. It’s a Navajo story, an American story, a military story and an international story. But, to me, it’s all about their resiliency as Diné people.”

Before Gorman spoke, retired Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, now a professor of practice of leadership at ASU and a special advisor to President Michael Crow for leadership initiatives, said he was appreciative of the conference because it will help civilians better appreciate what veterans have endured.

"We have an increasing military-civilian gap," Freakley said. "Fewer and fewer people understand what the military is and what the military does. That's why this work is so critical."

Freakley said the perception of veterans as victims has to change.

"Let me assure you. They are not victims. They are victors," he said. "They did everything we asked them to do."

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Retired Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley speaks at the Veterans in Society conference on Oct. 20 at the Beus Center for Law and Society on ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

'Resilience Among Veterans'

Friday morning, Rachel Larson, a lecturer in ASU’s College of Health Solutions, and Amanda Straus, a doctorate of behavioral health student at the College of Health Solutions, told the audience about an ongoing project titled “Veteran Resiliency Review” aimed at empowering veterans to take charge of their health in an effective way and reducing the suicide rate among veterans during their panel on "Resilience Among Veterans."

In Arizona, veterans account for more than 20% of all suicides while accounting for just 9% of the population.

Larson said the project works in coordination with the Arizona Coalition for Military Families and Be Connected, a support and resource group for Arizona veterans. With the help of the coalition, nominations of veterans in need are put forward. A review committee then chooses which cases to review with in-depth interviews.

Thus far, Straus said, 51 veterans have been nominated. Of those 51, 16 reported needs and requested assistance.

“Most veterans reported having only one need. Some had more than one need,” Straus said.

Once those needs are identified, the veterans are provided access to resources, whether it’s Be Connected or another group. And they’re not just handed a phone number. They are directly connected to a person who can provide either the support or resources they desire.

“Many veterans indicated they were unaware many of these resources were even available to them,” Larson said.

Larson said project organizers will do more interviews over the next few months to collect a larger sample. They will use the results to help implement programs targeted at specific needs, such as transportation, access to health care and food insecurity.

The power of arts and humanities

During a panel titled "Humanities and the Arts for Veteran Resilience," Alisha Ali, an associate professor in the Department of Applied Psychology at New York University, talked about a program called DE-CRUIT, which uses narration through theater – specifically, Shakespeare’s works — to help veterans heal from trauma, feel more connected to others and begin the process of forgiving themselves.

The panel was moderated by Jerome Clark, assistant professor in ASU's School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies.

DE-CRUIT’s goal is to help veterans understand the emotions swirling inside them as they enter the civilian world. Shakespeare’s words help because many of the military characters of Shakespeare’s plays also dealt with the same terrors that modern-day veterans feel today.

The program has shown to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress and depression, produce greater self-efficacy, which then translates into greater confidence in themselves, and improve heart-rate variabilities, Ali said.

Here’s how the eight-week program works: Participants first practice and perform Shakespeare verses that eloquently describe the horrors of war. Then, each person writes his/her own personal “trauma monologue.” They’re asked to circle words that are emotional for them, a way to identify themes and help them find what Shakespearean monologue they’ll eventually perform.

In a key stage, the veterans hand off their trauma monologue to another participant, who then performs the monologue.

“I can perform something and not forgive myself,” Ali said. “But if it’s performed by a fellow veteran, I can understand from a distance that I need to forgive them, and that begins the process of forgiving myself.”

In the final stage, the veterans perform their trauma monologue — “It’s terrifying,” Ali said — and a Shakespearean monologue in front of family members and friends.

Often, the veterans will describe things in their trauma monologue that they have not expressed to those closest to them.

“They know they’ll be listened to, and they’ll be heard,” Ali said.

Top photo: Rashaad Thomas, a poet, writer, scholar and U.S. Air Force veteran from South Phoenix, reads one of his works as part of the introduction to the conference keynote address on Oct. 20. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

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Are fake reports of active shooters desensitizing children?

October 21, 2022

Yes, says ASU expert, but a sense of agency can help young people curb emotional numbing

In addition to a rise in school shootings, students, parents and teachers are dealing with another threat to the classroom: False shooting reports across the U.S. have become a recent trend in school safety.  

Even when the report is false, young people must respond as if it was a real threat, potentially elevating cortisol levels and emotional responses, says Elizabeth Anthony, a child researcher and associate professor in the School of School Work at Arizona State University's Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Anthony’s work examines children and adolescents exposed to environmental stressors and innovative ways to support families.

Over time, she says, young people can learn to protect themselves from this repeated elevated response through emotional numbing or ignoring the stimuli.

Since false reports of school shootings are a relatively recent phenomenon, researchers don’t exactly know yet how this impacts young people. But, Anthony says, we know from other traumatic events that suppressing feelings of fear and anxiety for any length of time can cause health and mental health problems, such as stomach pain, rapid heart rate, difficulty sleeping and recurring negative thoughts.

So what can adults do to calm the fear without desensitizing children? Here, Anthony provides some answers.

Elizabeth Anthony

Question: Are young people becoming desensitized to school shootings and possible threats on school grounds?

Answer: As a youth researcher who studies positive adaptation, I know that young people naturally adapt to the stress of exposure to school shootings and are capable of managing their emotional reactions. Young people can learn how to keep negative exposure from harming their psyche. I liken this process to how trauma professionals learn to keep their work from negatively impacting their personal health and well-being or how families responded to support one another during Hurricane Katrina.

Emotionally numbing can reduce distress and anxiety and may be psychologically helpful in the short term. This may, however, make a young person less likely to respond when a real threat is present. It is possible that young people are becoming desensitized to school shootings and possible threats on school grounds as we see an increasing number of shootings and threats of shootings.  

What is fabulous about child and adolescent development is brain plasticity, or the ability to flexibly adapt to stimuli. Young people are more capable of neural adaptation than adults because their brains are still developing. Cognitive reappraisal, for example, helps children and teens re-interpret an emotion-eliciting situation in a way that makes it less distressing. The positive aspects of this adaptation can be accentuated by providing supportive environments for young people to experiment.    

Q: How does desensitization harm children when it comes to a real threat?

A: Children need to learn what is a real threat versus a “fake” threat. When it comes to school shootings, every threat has to be taken seriously. While young people might not respond as quickly in a real threat because of repeated exposure, my educated guess is they will quickly figure things out and adapt in a real emergency. Young people naturally adapt to environmental stressors, but it becomes more difficult when the stressors overwhelm their regulatory systems.  

Q: How do parents effectively communicate what’s happening without traumatizing and desensitizing children?

A: Parents can learn from responses to other traumatic experiences and natural disasters. It is not altogether different than how we speak to children about the war in Ukraine or violence in the community. First and foremost, parents can simply listen to kids and ask what they are experiencing and what questions they have. 

Q: How should parents be contributing to safety education? And how does safety education differ between children and teenagers?

A: As parents, we can communicate at the development level of the child and not provide more information than they need. For example, what young children need to know versus an adolescent will vary based on their cognitive and emotional maturity. Teenagers typically view more social media than younger children and are therefore exposed to a wider variety of stimuli. Young people are naturally inquisitive; we can’t safeguard them from overexposure, but we can help them make good decisions about what information they take in and how they process that information.  

Q: What does it mean to have a sense of agency? How do parents and educators help children develop it?

A: A sense of agency is a sense of control over one’s actions and their consequences. For example, the belief that if I study hard in school, I will get good grades gives me a sense of agency. When we have no control over the consequences of our actions, it can lead to paralysis or limited action. In the same example, if I study hard but do poorly on an assignment, I might not try as hard the next time.  

Parents and educators can help young people develop a sense of agency by identifying their strengths and selecting activities that accentuate their strengths. Parents can also help young people identify areas where they can advocate for assistance. In regards to school safety, parents and educators can help young people use cognitive reappraisal skills to say, “School lockdowns are stressful, but I know how to respond to keep myself and my friends safe because I have practiced this before.”  

Ultimately, we cannot control what happens in the environment, but we can control our responses. At the same time, my research seeks to change negative environments so young people don’t have to work so hard to control their responses. If we can make schools safer, I believe we absolutely should.

Q: On a related topic, you’ve worked with the Phoenix Elementary School Board on violence-reducing strategies for schools. Does “hardening” schools promote safety?

A: The research consistently indicates that “hardening” — specifically the use of metal detectors, bars on windows, armed guards, surveillance cameras, etc. — causes more harm than good. Hardening does not prevent school shootings and, in fact, makes schools more like prisons than learning environments. Commonsense strategies such as limiting entrances to schools and requiring name badges are helpful in promoting school safety. On the other hand, more aggressive approaches such as armed police officers and surveillance cameras interrupt the learning environment and make it more likely that Black and Latino youth will be targeted for discipline.  

School shootings are not particularly different from other shootings we see in churches, grocery stores and other presumably safe environments. Effective violence prevention examines all aspects of the problem. Strategies such as limiting who has access to certain types of guns, mental health screening, commonsense lockdown drills and increasing school staffing can reduce the negative impacts of violence in schools.

Nikai Salcido

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications