Prison reform advocate talks about the justice system

Caroline Isaacs to speak at ASU as part of the Seeking Justice in Arizona lecture series

August 24, 2022

Caroline Isaacs, executive director of Just Communities Arizona, has advocated for decades to reimagine and improve the criminal justice system.

On Sept. 19, she will deliver a lecture titled "Creating Safety Outside of the Punishment System," which is the second of three webinars in the 18th annual Seeking Justice in Arizona Fall Lecture Series hosted by the School of Social Transformation at Arizona State University. Portrait of Caroline Isaacs, executive director of Just Communities Arizona. Caroline Isaacs, executive director of Just Communities Arizona, is a guest speaker at the 18th annual Seeking Justice in Arizona Fall Lecture Series. Download Full Image

MORE: Reproductive rights, prison reform and voting equality take center stage in ASU lecture series

The school sat down with Isaacs to talk about abuse in the prisons, the criminalization of behavior and ways that the community can assist in reforming these systems.

Question: Please introduce yourself; where are you from?

Answer: I’m Caroline Isaacs, I’m originally from northeast Pennsylvania, a small town that is named Trucksville.

Q: What’s something you learned during your professional or academic journey that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: The most significant lesson — one I am constantly re-learning — is about the importance and power of human relationships. It’s easy to get mired in a viewpoint or ideology and start seeing people as allies or opponents. We also make the mistake of thinking that facts and data are what make people change their behavior. The extreme isolation in our culture, combined with COVID and the polarization of political issues, makes it very difficult to just relate to people as human beings. But when we can do this, it is transformational. One of our most overlooked basic needs is connection and belonging, and it is what we all have in common.

Q: What types of social problems do you work on? Why do you think they are important?

A: For the last 25 years, I have been dedicated to rethinking and reforming what we mistakenly call the "criminal justice system." The reality is that what we have is a punishment system. It is designed not to produce safety or justice but for social control of people and groups that those in power find threatening, distasteful or useful (i.e., surplus labor). This system is at the nexus of virtually all social problems — poverty, violence, mental health issues, addiction, racism and inequality of almost every kind. The default response is to criminalize behavior we don’t like, fear or don’t understand. This work is important because criminalization and punishment are not solutions to these problems, and function to exacerbate them. The punishment system drains resources, including people, away from communities and locks it into a perpetual cycle of failure. This impacts all of us.

Q: Why do you think these problems exist?

A: First, and most obviously, because of the institutionalization of racism and economic inequality in all government structures. But it also has its roots in our toxic culture of extreme individualism and normalization of violence to solve problems. The utter disregard of collective or social responsibility for creating conditions that foster poverty, substance use, behavioral health problems and other root causes of criminalized behavior means that the default is to view these behaviors as inherent flaws in the person, making them “less than” and therefore disposable. This label of criminal and the underlying assumption of their behavior as evidence of a personal deficit then justifies all manner of abusive treatment and absolves society of any responsibility to aid the person. Our culture equates justice with retribution. We hurt people who hurt people, "an eye for an eye." Increasingly, we also hurt people who have hurt no one but themselves. This state violence is believed to keep people in line out of fear of the harsh consequences of their actions, which reveals a complete lack of understanding of why people break the law.   

Q: How did you become involved in this type of work? What inspires you to continue working for social change?

A: When I moved to Arizona in 1995, I had a one-year internship with the American Friends Service Committee. At the time, one of their big projects was the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), which utilizes volunteers to conduct conflict resolution and communications skills workshops in prisons and in the community. I was told to go attend one such workshop over the course of a weekend at the Medium Security Federal Men’s Penitentiary in Tucson. I was terrified — a young woman walking into a prison to hang out with a bunch of incarcerated men for three days! I was absolutely blown away by the men I met there — some of the most brilliant, funny, insightful and fun people I had ever encountered. They schooled me on what prisons really are and do, and who is caught up in that system. It lit a fire for me — it was the one social justice issue that just made me the angriest. The incredible waste of these precious lives and the fallout on their families and communities is just staggering. I continue to believe that if we can confront what is broken about our punishment system, we can learn a new way of addressing people’s needs and our collective well-being.

Q: What do you like best about this work?

A: I love strategic thinking — struggling with complex problems and having the ability to be creative in thinking about ways to approach change. I also love being able to work with so many incredible people, learn their strengths, build community and dream together.

Q: What are a few concrete steps that people can take to address the justice issues you work on in the community?

A: Join our mailing list at Elections matter: State legislators determine criminal sentencing laws and have the power to reform them. Prosecutors are elected at the county level. Judges are also elected in Arizona. But these are races that are largely ignored. Take the time to educate yourself on the record of people running, and do what you can as a constituent to make it clear to them that you want to see change.

On a personal level, begin questioning how individualism and normalization of punishment show up in your own life. If someone offends you, hurts your feelings or violates your boundaries, how do you respond? Do you distance or reject them, assuming that their motives were deliberately harmful? Or do you reach out, ask them why they did that, help them understand the impact of their actions, and give them the chance to make amends? Think about what makes you feel “safe.” Chances are, its relationships with other people, not punishment meted out by the government.

The Seeking Justice in Arizona Fall Lecture Series, now in its 18th year, brings in experts from our local communities to discuss critical national issues in an Arizona context. Each lecture is followed by a Q&A session and time to interact with the speaker informally. These events are free and open to the public, and are held virtually on Zoom from 3 to 4:15 p.m. Video recordings will be available on YouTube following each event.

Visit for more information. Register here.

Marketing Content Specialist, Graduate College

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'ACES' up: Online students get cancer research experience

August 22, 2022

Mentoring program provides undergraduate students with hands-on research experience, career skills

For online students living far away from campus — more than 2,000 miles in Ryan Kilinski’s case — being able to participate in the research process can be tricky. 

So when Kilinski, an Arizona State University online student who lives in Oregon, learned about the ACE Scholars Program, he jumped on the opportunity.

The ACE Scholars Program is part of ASU’s Arizona Cancer Evolution (ACE) Center. It was created in 2021 to provide mentorship and undergraduate research experience on projects in the emerging field of cancer evolution. The program is open to students in any major, whether they attend ASU on campus or online.

Kilinski is a sophomore majoring in physics as well as astronomical and planetary sciences, but he was open to learning something new.

“I have an interest in science in general, but biology and even cancer wasn’t a specific passion of mine. But I knew that going into something that I might not be familiar with at all could prove to be even more beneficial,” he says.

Inclusive opportunities

The ACE Scholars Program began during the coronavirus pandemic, when most workplaces and schools were in a virtual, work-from-home format. The program still holds most of its meetings through Zoom so that students from Arizona and elsewhere can attend.

Cristina Baciu, a research program manager for the ACE Center, and Zachary Compton, a fourth-year PhD candidate studying evolutionary biology in the center, created the ACE Scholars Program as a way to give students hands-on research experience that many of them were missing out on. It has grown to become a 50-student program that provides rigorous training and a community of support.

“We both had really great experiences as undergrads that shaped us into who we are today,” Baciu says. “So a good part of it is us just wanting to help students who don’t have access to the same opportunities that we had.”

The ACE Scholars Program is open to both online and on-campus students in any degree program who have an interest in cancer and evolutionary biology research. It is supervised by Carlo Maley, director of the ACE Center, a researcher in the Biodesign Institute and a professor in the School of Life Sciences

Though the research at the ACE Center is rooted in evolutionary biology and oncology, the ACE Scholars’ projects span a variety of disciplines, from the psychology of cancer to modeling the life history of reproductive cancer risk. 

One commonality is that most of the projects require students to work closely with data. In some cases, this means developing code to assist in sifting through large data sets to determine the differences in cancer risk between different groups of animals. In other cases, it involves analyzing survey responses about preferred cancer terminology when it comes to doctor-patient interactions.

Since the projects have both clinical and social implications, any type of student can find an area of interest in the program.

“A student’s background — their CV, GPA, whether or not they’re in the honors college — has really had no predictive power in their success in our group,” Compton says. “Really, the only prerequisite to being in the group is having an interest in the group and the work we’re doing.” 

A student’s average week involves attending a lab-wide meeting and a professional development seminar, as well as working on the project at hand. Since the meetings can be attended virtually and the projects don’t require a physical laboratory, the structure of the program allows for seamless collaboration between in-person and online students.

For online students like HD Cross, a senior studying biological sciences with a concentration in genetics, cell and developmental biology, the program has made their experience feel less isolating.

“I love the research and being able to be published and all the great things that come from that and the experience, but the social connection has just been the best,” Cross said from their office in North Carolina. “You miss that as an online student sometimes.”

Level up leadership

In addition to working on research projects, students have a chance to prepare for their post-graduation careers through bi-weekly career and professional development courses taught by Baciu. On the off weeks, they can hone their coding skills in sessions taught by Compton.

“I think that positions students in a really great way for whatever their future goals are,” Baciu says. “That’s another purpose of ours, to help students build a really solid application for whatever it is that comes next for them.”

Students who have spent at least a semester in the program also have the opportunity to become mentors for the newer cohorts. 

Walker Mellon, a third-year economics and computer information systems major, says that the experience has encouraged him to think differently. 

“The way that the ACE Scholars Program is set up has really enabled me and a lot of other students to not only follow the lead, but also really take charge and answer the questions we might want to know,” he says. 

For Harshini Darapu, who graduated last spring with a degree in biological sciences with a concentration in neurobiology, physiology and behavior, the leadership experience was the most rewarding part of the program.

When she joined the center in spring 2020, she couldn’t picture herself leading and mentoring a group of her peers. After guiding her team through poster presentations and working with them on projects throughout the semester, the experience taught her how to delegate and check in with a team, but more importantly, it boosted her confidence to take on future leadership opportunities.

“I’ve definitely felt a lot more confident taking that leadership role,” Darapu says.

Next steps

After two successful years of the program and 10 awards at the 29th Annual SOLS Undergraduate Research Symposium, students are currently preparing six manuscripts for publication, something relatively uncommon at the undergraduate level.

But for the directors, the only thing that matters is making sure their students have a platform to get involved.

“If all we ever accomplish is providing undergraduate research opportunities, we’ve accomplished enough,” Compton says.

As the program expands, they hope to provide more in-person lab experiences in collaboration with the School of Life Sciences and SOLUR, the school’s undergraduate research program.

The ACE Scholars Program will be accepting applications for spring semester in November 2022. Fill out an interest form to be notified when applications open.

The ACE Center is a National Cancer Institute-funded research program housed in ASU’s Biodesign Institute. The ACE Scholars Program has received additional funding from the Online Undergraduate Research Scholars program in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Student science writer , Knowledge Enterprise

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These women are leading the charge for more diversity in STEM

August 19, 2022

Nancy Manley latest in series of women heading STEM-related units at ASU

As she grew up in Yugoslavia, Tijana Rajh knew men were OK with her becoming a scientist – as long as she understood there were limits to what she could accomplish.

“There was a feeling of, ‘OK, we’ll let you play with the ball.’ But there was this glass ceiling that existed,” said Rajh, director of Arizona State University’s School of Molecular Sciences.

Rajh’s experience isn’t unique. Women make up less than 30% of the world’s scientific researchers, according to UNESCO data, and a report by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources found that women hold the least senior administrative positions in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math).

Donatella Danielli

“It’s still an old boys club in many respects,” said Donatella Danielli, director of ASU’s School of Mathematical and Statistical sciences.

ASU is changing that dynamic.

Over the last 18 months, ASU has hired four women to head units in STEM-related areas: Rajh, Danielli, Patricia Rankin, chair of the Department of Physics, and, most recently, Nancy Manley as director of the School of Life Sciences (pictured above).

It’s important to note that ASU didn’t purposely seek female candidates for those positions. Patrick Kenney, dean of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said all four women competed against men in the selection process and were hired, “because they’re all really big catches for us.”

“The first thing I think to stress is that ASU got the best possible people it could,” Rankin said. “I don’t think I was hired because I was a woman.”

That said, the four women recognize the importance of being in the positions they’re in. Although they have different backgrounds, they said they all experienced sexism in some way in their formative years as scientists and were told — sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly — that their voices and ideas were not valued.

“You can be in a room and nobody’s listening to you, or you can say something and then a male colleague will say something similar, and he will get acknowledged and credited for it,” Manley said. “It happens all the time. It’s just sort of pervasive. I have been called aggressive for speaking up where in other cases men would be called proactive. So you just sort of are having to constantly fight against that.

“That women were hired in these positions in fields that are considered to be primarily male is very important to me.”

Now that they are the heads of their departments, the four women can fight against that long-held bias. Just as important is the trickle-down effect their hires can create.

Woman's portrait

Tijana Rajh

Since Rajh was hired, for example, the number of tenure track female faculty in the School of Molecular Sciences has increased from 12 to 16, and the number of female non-tenure track faculty has increased from 11 to 16.

“We are paying so much more attention to try to develop a diverse faculty,” Rajh said. “We’re fighting to show that they can do the work the same as the big guns (men) could.”

Female undergraduate students also benefit. If, in ASU’s STEM leadership, all they saw was men, they’d question the university’s commitment to diversity and their chance to become a department director or chair.

“When they’re mentored by a female and see women in these roles they think, ‘OK, I can go this high in the science and math fields,’” Danielli said. “Maybe they didn’t get that message 30 years ago.”

“I’ve had female graduate and undergraduate students tell me that having female leadership matters to them,” Manley added. “So I know it makes a difference.”

Last January, Danielli organized a panel on women in math leadership at the American Mathematical Society meeting. Its purpose: build support groups among female mathematicians.

“We also want to encourage or at least have women think about the possibility of taking a leadership position,” Danielli said. “The women who have already gone down that path can give the perspective of what challenges we faced and why we chose to do it.”

These are all big-picture, societal changing issues. Sometimes, though, having women in leadership roles in traditionally male-dominated fields can be seen in small things.

Woman posing with coffee mug

Patricia Rankin

Rankin said one of the items on her to-do list after becoming chair of the Department of Physics and hearing from female students was making sure the women’s bathrooms were stocked with sanitary products.

“That may not seem a big deal, but, in fact, when you’re stuck in a department and you’re doing three-hour labs, having somewhere you can actually go nearby for things like that is important,” she said.

There’s still work to be done. According to the American Institute of Physics, just more than 2,000 female students earned bachelor’s degrees in 2020, compared to more than 9,000 male students. Rajh said 20–25% of the faculty in the School of Molecular Sciences is female while more than 50% of undergraduates are female.

ASU is out to change those numbers – and, as evidenced by the hirings of Rajh, Danielli, Rankin and Manley — in a meaningful way.

“Once a problem is found, there’s a big, sustained push to make a difference,” Rajh said. “I think this is the greatest thing about ASU.”

Top photo: Nancy Manley is the new director of the School of Life Sciences. She started her position on Aug. 1. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

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ASU expert weighs in on FDA ruling about hearing aids

August 18, 2022

Audiologist Kristin Samuelson says ruling that allows hearing aids to be sold over the counter could have positive and negative outcomes

Need hearing aids? You’ll no longer be required to get a prescription from an audiologist.

The Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday that hearing aids will be available over the counter as soon as October. The agency cited studies that showed more than 30 million Americans suffer from hearing loss, but only one-fifth of them get help.

Federal officials estimated the new ruling would result in an estimated $2,800 savings on a pair of hearing aids.

ASU News talked to Kristin Samuelson, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Health Solutions and the director of ASU’s Speech and Hearing Clinic, about the ruling and what it might mean for consumers.

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

Question: What was the process that led to this decision?

Answer: It really started in 2016. The FDA wanted to create a new category of what we call direct-to-consumer, over-the-counter hearing aids. The FDA started looking into the regulations, but then COVID hit and everything got stalled. So it kind of got put on the back burner with a bunch of other stuff. And then last year, it kind of got what I call resurrected and started becoming a reality.

Q: Should this ruling lower the cost of hearing aids?

A: Theoretically, that’s the talk, but because they’re (the hearing aids) not even available yet, we don’t exactly know what they’re going to be. We’ve been told they’ll (cost) anywhere from $100 to $1,000 … When people think of hearing aids, they immediately think of the really top-end, $3,000 or $4,000 hearing aids you get from an audiologist. What’s going to happen now is there’s going to be these two categories of hearing aids instead of just a category called hearing aids. There’s going to be over-the-counter and what they’ll call prescription hearing aids, and those are the ones that will still be fit by audiologists.

Q: Will anyone be able to buy the over-the-counter hearing aids?

A: Anyone under 18 is still going to have go to an audiologist. And these (over-the-counter) hearing aids are only supposed to be marketed to and fit to people with perceived mild and moderate loss. The big beef that we audiologists have with that is … I’ve been doing hearing tests and fitting hearing aids for over 30 years, and it’s my own personal experience that people are not a good judge of their own amount of hearing loss. I’ll have people walk in with a really severe loss and they think they have no loss at all. And people with no loss at all think they have a severe loss.

Q: Is that one of the potential downsides to the ruling, that people will buy hearing aids without the critical information and knowledge they would get from an audiologist?

A: You wouldn’t wear your friend’s glasses, right? Glasses are all prescription. Same thing with hearing aids. They’re all very specifically programmed for a person’s loss. Those are our big concerns. If you’re just going in and buying it off the shelf at a drugstore or something, it’s not going to be fitted for your loss. And you won’t even know if you have the right hearing loss for that kind of aid. The other thing is that the very first thing we (audiologists) do when we get a patient is look in their ears. A lot of times it’s just that their ears are plugged with wax or they have a medical condition, like an ear infection. And then we get them to the proper medical professional. With these over-the-counter hearing aids, nobody is looking in their ears. And then nobody is doing is verification testing, which is the gold standard for hearing aid fitting. That’s the concern.

Q: Is there also a fear that the over-the-counter aids will be inferior products?

A: There’s a huge fear of that. I guess using the word inferior will be relative because do we mean inferior in that they can’t be programmed and adjusted? Or are they truly going to be just for sound quality? I have a feeling there’s going to be some very good products out there, but they just have to be used right.

Q: What are the positives, besides a potential price drop, of having over-the-counter aids?

A: It will at least get people to start thinking about it earlier. Having people think about hearing loss and they walk into a CVS or Walgreens and see hearing aids, at least gets it in the forefront of their minds. And maybe people with what we call mild loss will jump in and try something until it gets worse, and then they can go and get a prescription, fitted hearing aid from an audiologist.

Q: Could we see more manufacturers getting into the hearing aid business, so to speak?

A: This is what we’re all waiting to find out. For instance, Bose was part of the initial snowball of getting this thing going, and they’ve already pulled out. We’ve heard rumors of Apple and various different manufacturers, so we’re all kind of waiting to see who’s going to jump in the fray.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is considering buying an over-the-counter hearing aid?

A: In June, I gave a talk at Mirabella (ASU’s on-campus retirement community), and I said, “There’s definitely a place for these. They’re going to do some good in the world of hearing loss if they’re used properly. But we do recommend that they would at least go to an audiologist just to get a hearing test. And most hearing tests are covered by insurance. So, go get the hearing test.

Top photo courtesy iStock/Getty Images

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

ASU program receives national recognition for improving success for Latino students

College Assistance Migrant Program one of only 20 in US to be recognized by Excelencia in Education

August 18, 2022

This year, Excelencia in Education, the nation’s premier authority on efforts accelerating Latino student success in higher education, received 93 program submissions representing 17 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

Arizona State University’s College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP) program and the other 19 finalists will be featured online as well as in Excelencia’s Growing What Works Database — the only national online, searchable database for institutional leaders, funders and policymakers interested in identifying working strategies for Latino students. Family of a CAMP student posing for picture with ASU-themed signs. Members of a CAMP family teach their grandmother how to throw the ASU pitchfork. Photo courtesy Seline Szkupinski Quiroga Download Full Image

“Arizona has one of the largest migrant student populations in the nation, and many students in migrant families make the decision to forgo a college education in order to financially support their families,” said Nancy Gonzales, executive vice president and university provost at ASU.

“I am incredibly proud of the faculty and staff who launched the CAMP program within the School of Transborder Studies. It is an innovative, comprehensive and culturally responsive approach that is creating impactful results for our ASU students participating in it. CAMP is well-deserving of this important national recognition,” she said.

“We are elated that this recognition has been given to CAMP, especially in light of the terrific barriers we have had to overcome over the past two years because of the impact of the pandemic,” said Carlos Vélez-Ibáñez, project principal investigator, Regents Professor and founding director emeritus of the ASU School of Transborder Studies.

“The program's recognition will only enhance our capacity to serve our students and community and bring even greater attention to the excellence of the university,” he said.

Examples of Excelencia was created in 2005 and is the country’s only national effort to identify, aggregate and promote evidence-based practices improving Latino students’ success in higher education.The ASU CAMP program was nominated as an exemplar, led by practitioners who work directly with students on their entire journey from enrollment to degree completion.

“This recognition will help with our motivation for continuing this difficult work, and will hopefully attract more migratory students who will realize that ASU is a place for them to pursue their education and succeed,” Program Director Seline Szkupinski Quiroga said. “I also hope that this recognition will bring more awareness to the migratory students of Arizona and the challenges they face, and that we find more supporters of our work.”

The ASU CAMP Scholars Project, which is federally funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Migrant Education, provides academic support to students from migrant and seasonal farmworker backgrounds during their first year in college. The project was created when Szkupinski Quiroga realized that Arizona had the seventh-largest population of migrant students in the country but ASU had no programs for them. 

“ASU CAMP’s programming and service delivery model was designed with the LatinxLatinx is the gender neutral term for a person from, or whose ancestors were from, a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America. student population in mind. We conducted extensive research into what is most effective for first-generation, low-income Latinx students and incorporated the most impactful components into our program,” Szkupinski Quiroga said. “We also kept ASU’s Charter in mind: that we as an institution are measured not by whom we exclude but by whom we include and how they succeed.” 

The CAMP project identifies, recruits and enrolls students from migrant and seasonal farmworker backgrounds to attend ASU and provides them with academic, financial and social support to help them be successful in their first year of college.

“We have a phrase in Spanish — ‘persona educada’ — which literally means an ‘educated person’ but in reality, means a learned, self-sufficient and socially and civilly responsible individual who thinks first of others’ well-being, rather than just their own,” Vélez-Ibáñez said. “This underlies all of our efforts.”

Students who have participated in the CAMP program say that it provided them with crucial financial, emotional and academic support, and through personal development workshops, internships and guidance on grad school applications, they developed the leadership and collaboration skills necessary to be successful.  

Young Latinos are one of the nation’s fastest-growing populations. ASU has recently been named a Hispanic-Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education and is committed to serving those individuals who wish to pursue a college degree regardless of their background or socioeconomic status, and to provide the support and resources for success.

Andrea Chatwood

Communications Specialist, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

ASU College of Health Solutions announces Health Talks speaker series for fall 2022

1st event to touch on heat and health

August 17, 2022

The Health Talks webinar series from the College of Health Solutions resumes Aug. 25, with the timely topic “Heat and Health: How to Help Vulnerable Populations.”

Health Talks began in spring 2020 as a series of conversations featuring health solutions faculty and other experts discussing topical, relevant health issues that impact our community. Each webinar in the series is offered at no charge and is approved for one continuing education credit for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists, social workers and other health care professionals. Arizona State University College of Health Solutions Health Talks Logo Download Full Image

Past talks have included such timely subjects as vaccine mandates, understanding statistics and evidence-based medicine, the opioid crisis and telehealth.

Topics for other talks in this year’s series include monkeypox, veterans health, and speech and hearing health.

The Aug. 25 conversation on heat and health will feature Dr. Pope Moseley, a physician and College of Health Solutions research professor, and David Hondula, director of the city of Phoenix Office of Heat Response and Mitigation who is also an associate professor at the ASU School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

Dr. Brad Doebbeling, College of Health Solutions professor of health care delivery and biomedical informatics, who is also a physician, will moderate the discussion.

While triple-digit temperatures are common in Arizona in the summer, people in regions outside of the Southwest are increasingly having to deal with temperature extremes brought on by climate change. Officials in those impacted areas look to Arizona for its experience in dealing with the effects of heat on vulnerable populations.

Moseley, who as a physician has worked in intensive care units, said heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke or heat exhaustion are a small part of the negative impacts of high temperatures.

“Heat causes exacerbation of a variety of diseases, from heart failure to emphysema to drug overdose fatalities,” Moseley said. “In fact, only about 10% of the morbidity and mortality caused by heat are characterized as heat-related illness.”

Moseley added that the impacts of high temperatures affect disadvantaged communities even more due to a lack of access to air conditioning and other extenuating circumstances.

“Since we know that underserved populations also have a disproportionate share of the chronic conditions made worse by heat, they are in effect, doubly impacted by increasing temperatures,” he said.

Fall 2022 Health Talks schedule

  • Thursday, Aug. 25: "Heat and Health: How to Help Vulnerable Populations."
  • Thursday, Sept. 15: "Understanding Monkeypox: Status and Prevention."
  • Thursday, Oct. 27: "Veterans Health: Supporting the Transition to Civilian Life."
  • Thursday, Dec. 8: "Speech and Hearing Health: Optimizing Quality of Life."

All Health Talks are free, open to the public and held online via Zoom from noon to 1 p.m. Arizona time. Registration is required. 

For more information or to register, visit

Weldon B. Johnson

Communications Specialist, College of Health Solutions

ASU director encourages community to get involved with sustainability efforts

Diane Pataki, director of the School of Sustainability, discusses the power of individual action

August 15, 2022

You’ve switched to metal straws and reusable water bottles. You bike to work and use reusable grocery bags. No matter what you do, it still feels like you aren’t making any headway against climate change and environmental degradation.

An issue like climate change can feel insurmountable when it seems like large corporations are to blame for the majority of global emissions, not just your 20-minute drive to work. Portrait of Diane Pataki, Director of ASU's School of Sustainability. Diane Pataki, director of ASU's School of Sustainability. Photo by Andy DeLisle Download Full Image

Diane Pataki, director of the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University, instead suggests challenging the systems in place. The key to sustainable transformation, the process by which organizations can implement mindful changes in order to foster sustainable futures, lies in individual action, not just individual choice. 

Pataki says that individual action involves more than just daily lifestyle habits. Instead, its impact comes from getting involved in your community’s sustainability efforts and advocating for change in local government. 

“That's where the change happens. We seem to have lost the message that participation in local government — good old-fashioned civics — works. There’s a lot of leverage there,” Pataki says. 

Pataki is an urban ecologist who previously served as an associate vice president for research at the University of Utah. In October 2021, she joined ASU to lead the School of Sustainability, a unit of the College of Global Futures, which is housed within the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory.

In this Q&A, Pataki discusses her path to ASU, how the school is advancing a sustainability transformation, and how we can all play a role in creating a future in which humans and nature thrive.

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

Question: What inspired you to come to ASU? 

Answer: I really resonated with President Crow’s vision, both for ASU and for sustainability, and for the priorities of the university with respect to sustainability. I think there are very few universities that have placed such an emphasis on actually achieving sustainability through social embeddedness in communities. It's unusual that a university of this size would prioritize those kinds of outcomes. The School of Sustainability itself, of course, is unique, as the first school of sustainability in the U.S., which is very visionary. So it was a real opportunity to be able to contribute to what ASU is doing. 

Q: What does sustainability mean to you?

A: For me, I feel that the ultimate question in sustainability is how we should live on this planet in a way that will allow both humans and nature to thrive. That's the ultimate question: How should we live? There are a lot of answers to that question, but in the end, we want to do more than just survive climate change. We really believe that there are ways that human society and nature will thrive together in the future. 

Q: How did you find yourself in a career in sustainability? And then as a leader in the field?

A: I started out as an ecologist. I was trained in the ecology of natural systems. I went to a school that was originally a forestry school and became a school of the environment, but I learned a lot about both planted and natural forests and how humans can manage forests. And the more I studied ecology, the more I felt that the real challenge for us as a society was understanding those human-nature interactions, the role of humans in nature and how humans are influenced by nature. So I started out studying plants, but over time I've been studying interactions between people and plants, or between people and nature more and more. And you move on from wanting to understand why things are to wanting to get answers to the question of how things should be.

Q: What does your own research focus on? 

A: I study the role of nature in cities. I'm trying to answer questions about how we should incorporate nature into urban design and urban planning, and about nature-based solutions to problems like climate change. How much of it is about bringing more nature to people, incorporating nature into urban design, and the role of nature, landscapes, trees, gardens in urban sustainability.

Q: Do you have any current projects that you are excited about?

A: A lot of what we're working on now is about the water consumption of landscapes in dry cities. Here in the Phoenix area, we are facing a huge drought and yet we still want nature and landscapes within our cities. So how are we going to do that? People are always arguing about whether we should have trees and lawns and so forth in these desert cities. But we do need nature, and trees are going to be an important part of the solution to cooling. We need shade, and yet those trees need to be watered. We're trying to figure out how to optimize the water consumption of landscapes in cities so that we can maximize our cooling effects while using less water.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit more about sustainability transformation? 

A: Sustainability transformation is a real strength of this particular school. Our faculty all focus on some aspect of fostering actual transformations, which is working not just in academia and not just with theories of sustainability or transformation, but the practice of collaborating with many different outside partners — communities, the government, NGOs — to actually find ways of achieving change outside of the university. They come at this from all different perspectives because we have faculty from social sciences, natural sciences, engineering, humanities, business and even journalism. But they're all focused on that goal: How do we achieve sustainable transformations in the real world? 

Q: What are some of the specific challenges that are currently facing sustainability transformation, and how is the School of Sustainability and the College of Global Futures addressing them? 

A: Global Futures was launched to help guide communities and governments and society to achieve the kind of futures that they actually want. One of the major challenges right now is that many people don't believe that the changes that are happening are putting us on the path where we want to be as a society. It's a huge issue. People are pessimistic about the future, and persuading them that sustainability and better futures are truly possible is a challenge. If they don't believe that change towards a positive outcome is possible, we just won't have enough people joining this effort. We have enough information to be able to show people that these transformations are really within our grasp. We need to talk to the public, we need to talk to students, we need to talk to practitioners. We need them to come on board because that's how we're going to make transformations happen. It's all about the people that join in this effort. I think the world can be much better and that we need to think a lot bigger. 

Q: What brings an idea for sustainability from just an idea to a part of our daily lives? 

A: There's a big debate in the media about the role of the individual and how much can one person do to contribute to sustainability. There’s some pessimism of “well, I'm just one person and only corporations can solve sustainability, or only the federal government can solve sustainability,” and that's definitely not the case. Some of it is about individual choice, but some of it's also about getting involved at a very local level in things like government and decision-making.

I study urban sustainability, that's my field. So cities constitute a lot of the interface between people and the environment. A lot of the resource use that causes climate change and pollution takes place in cities because a lot of the population is urban. Figuring out what should happen in cities is going to determine the future of sustainability, and a lot of that decision-making is hyperlocal. It matters what the city government does, what the city council does. It matters what local zoning is like, decisions about transportation, about building codes, about EV chargers — that's all local decision-making. People have a lot of influence over that, and they have more influence than I think they realize. 

Q: What kind of careers are available to sustainability graduates?

A: We’re seeing a sea change in the job market right now for sustainability graduates. The demand for sustainability and “green” skills is skyrocketing in virtually all sectors. Sustainability degrees were always very versatile, but now we’re seeing private companies, government agencies and nonprofit organizations specifically looking for graduates with degrees and credentials in sustainability. Many of the fastest growing job titles are for sustainability specialists, managers and analysts. Sustainability graduates are in high demand to help organizations live up to their values and transition to more sustainable practices, investments and supply chains. We’re also seeing unprecedented interest from employers in corporate responsibility, community and public engagement, and ESG, which is environmental, social and governance practices. There’s currently a shortage of job applicants with skills in these areas, and sustainability degrees provide these skills.

Q: What do you want sustainability students to take away from their time at ASU?

A: There is no one definition of sustainability, and we don't have an official school definition of sustainability. We have different ways of thinking, like systems thinking, values thinking, collaboration, future thinking. These are all competencies that the students can walk away with, and it will allow them to come up with innovative solutions to complex sustainability problems. We also give them a lot of hands-on experience. Our students do internships, they do hands-on workshops, they get a lot of training and career skills. We want the students to be able to walk away with tools, with knowledge and with experiences that will let them enter organizations, businesses, government, NGOs. Our students are going to enter all of these different types of organizations, and they're the ones that will make transformations happen.

Explore ASU sustainability degree programs. Learn more about sustainability career options.

Student science writer, Knowledge Enterprise

Emerging Minds Lab receives NSF CAREER grant to expand access to research

August 15, 2022

A new grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is allowing the Emerging Minds Lab, directed by Arizoan State University psychology Assistant Professor Kelsey Lucca, to expand access to research for undergraduate students and the community.

The Emerging Minds Lab explores the genesis of learning and curiosity in children, and, with this new funding, they are able to involve more undergraduate students in this work.  Woman standing behind a lectern next to a screen displaying a multpile choice question as people seated in the audience look on. This spring, the Emerging Minds Lab at ASU hosted a “Who Wants to Be a Researcher?” trivia night, modeled in the same format as the game show and featuring questions about psychology, ranging from neurons to Sigmund Freud. Download Full Image

The Department of Psychology at ASU has long been proud of the research done by undergraduate research assistants in its labs and has recently been focusing on how to improve access to research for students who may not feel like they can participate. These students may have time, financial or logistical barriers to entry, such as needing transportation or working multiple jobs to support their families. 

The $800,000 grant is provided by the NSF CAREER Award “Cultivating Curiosity to Promote Learning and Discovery," which will provide funding over the next five years to promote the understanding of curiosity and its formation. 

“Curiosity is so important for so many different facets of life. Curiosity leads to enhanced engagement and achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, improved psychological well-being and healthy aging,” Lucca said. “Despite the importance of studying curiosity, we still have very little basic knowledge about curiosity, how it develops and how to promote it. This is because curiosity is notoriously difficult to study, especially in infants and young children”

The grant will fund research on curiosity drawing from cognitive science, developmental science and education to investigate:

  1. What are the cognitive processes involved in early curiosity?
  2. How does curiosity unfold across infancy and early childhood?
  3. What role does the social environment play in shaping curiosity?
  4. How does curiosity impact STEM learning readiness?
  5. What factors cause increases in preschool-aged children’s curiosity?

The grant also supports outreach and educational activities.

“A big part of the outreach is thinking about how we can make research more accessible to students who might not have known about it, or know how to get involved. This grant is all about coming up with new ideas and ways to engage with students, pushing the boundaries of what has been done before,” Lucca said.

This spring, the lab hosted a “Who Wants to Be a Researcher?” trivia night, modeled in the same format as the game show and featuring questions about psychology, ranging from neurons to Sigmund Freud. Lab managers Sarah Kiefer (now a developmental psychology PhD student at Brown University) and Vanessa Lazaro (now a developmental psychology PhD student at the University of Chicago) helped with formulating the first event of the grant and creating the creative material to advertise to students.

Paola Hernandez, an honor’s student in the Emerging Minds Lab and recipient of the Janessa Shapiro Undergraduate Research Scholarship, along with Jeri Sasser, ASU psychology graduate student and student representative for ASU's ENERGIZE program, which helps connect students with research experience during their undergraduate career, also played an integral role in the evening. 

“We wanted to make it a special event that was not just coming to listen to a panel of faculty speak about research,” Lucca said. “We ended the night with an ice cream sandwich cart and distributed packets with next steps and tangible ways they could get involved in research if they were interested.”

Faculty were paired up with students based on their research interests, and they competed as a team in order to win the trivia night and to increase their exposure to psychology concepts. 

The main purpose of the event was to reduce the barrier to entry for students who were interested in gaining connections with psychology faculty and eventually joining a research lab. The informal setting allowed students to see that they have common ground with psychology faculty who care about their interests and long-term dreams. 

“Trivia is a very humbling experience. We had everyone from undergraduate students, graduate students, research staff, junior professors, tenured faculty members, to retired faculty members attend, but the questions really evened the playing field,” Lucca said. “That made it a lot of fun – everyone was laughing and smiling. That to me was a sign of a successful experience. It  was fun to see faculty members getting questions wrong and showing the students that it is OK to make mistakes, to laugh and learn.” 

It was important to Lucca that the students saw the faculty as approachable and for them to understand that reaching out to a faculty member doesn’t need to be a stressful experience. 

“We partnered with ASU's ENERGIZE program, which has a shared goal of 'energizing' students’ interest in psychology, to design and execute the event,” she said.

After the successful event, they plan on building it to be even larger in 2023, and launch a new yearly summer internship program for undergraduate students. 

“This was a great trial run, and we really learned a lot about what makes an outreach event valuable to students,” said Lucca. 

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


ASU receives 1st cryptocurrency gift to support clean air work

Gift to benefit ASU's Clean Indoor Air Project in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change

August 15, 2022

As cryptocurrency continues to gain popularity for individuals looking to diversify their investment portfolios, it is also gaining traction as new way for people to give back. Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change recently accepted its first cryptocurrency gift exchanged for U.S. dollars.

“We continually look for innovative ways to enhance the donor experience and meet donors where they are,” ASU Foundation Chief Investment Officer Jeff Mindlin said. “It’s a natural evolution to think that the next generation of donors would give cryptocurrency to support ASU.” Woman speaking to two students as they assebmle an air filtration unit. ASU Associate Professor Megan Jehn advises students as they assemble a Corsi-Rosenthal air filtration box during the spring 2022 semester. Download Full Image

The university opened cryptocurrency as an opportunity for giving in November 2021. In addition to cryptocurrency, ASU provides many non-cash asset ways to give, including stocks, bonds, fine art, real estate, closely held companies and life insurance. These additional giving options enable the foundation to support the many ways donors want to give.

The first cryptocurrency donation to the university is a $300,000 gift from Balvi, a direct giving fund established by Vitalik Buterin, the co-creator of Ethereum. This donation will support ASU's Clean Indoor Air Project, a public health initiative focused on increasing awareness about the importance of indoor air quality, improving access to portable indoor air cleaners and evaluating the performance of DIY air cleaners in under-ventilated K–12 classroom environments.  

According to their website, Balvi is a scientific investment and direct gifting fund established for the purpose of deploying funds quickly to high-value COVID-19 projects that traditional institutional or commercial funding sources tend to overlook.

ASU's Clean Indoor Air Project has worked extensively to slow the transmission of COVID-19, including building and testing 275 Corsi-Rosenthal (CR) air filtration boxes that are being used in 21 cities throughout Arizona.

According to Megan Jehn, epidemiologist and associate professor of global health at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, the funds from this gift will be put to immediate use in support of ASU's Clean Indoor Air Project, which she leads.

“The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is expected to ease COVID guidelines in coming days while encouraging schools to do more to clean and refresh indoor air to slow disease transmission and improve health and productivity. Our work aligns well with this national call to action,” Jehn said.

“With this generous gift, we will be purchasing state-of-the art MODULAIR-PM air quality monitors from QuantAQ, Inc for Valley classrooms, partnering with local school districts to evaluate the effectiveness of DIY air cleaners in K–12 classrooms, creating new outreach and dissemination efforts through a Clean Air Ambassadors program for high school students, and launching a citizen science project with our local public libraries through SciStarter.”

SciStarter is an online hub created for the purpose of enabling people to learn about, participate in and contribute to science through research efforts and citizen science opportunities.

“Citizen science enables people of all ages, cultures and skills to engage in real scientific research by collecting or analyzing data that is shared with professional scientists, while provenly increasing public understanding of science,” said Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter and professor of practice at ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

The partnership between ASU's Clean Indoor Air Project and SciStarter will enable 10 libraries in Arizona to add to their suite of citizen science kits to circulate a total of 50 carbon dioxide monitors, along with step-by-step instructions for participants to identify indoor areas with poor ventilation. The information gathered through this program will be shared locally and globally.

“The data will be used by decision-makers, scientists and the public to better understand where there are problems and how to take action,” Cavalier said.

Funding from Balvi’s gift will also support ASU student interns to help in the design of K–12 lesson plans, data tracking, as well as support ongoing efforts to build and deploy DIY air cleaners to communities in need.

“This gift is incredibly valuable to our team because we are in the midst of a fast-moving pandemic and the funds allow us to study innovative ideas to improve indoor air quality to slow the spread of disease,” Jehn said.

Megan Martin

Manager, Marketing and Communication, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


AI project to use human breath to detect fatigue

ASU, Texas A&M collaborate on multidisciplinary $4.8M biometrics project

August 11, 2022

Imagine being able to know if you're sleep deprived just by blowing into a device.

That's the eventual goal of a $4.8 million multidisciplinary project between Arizona State University and Texas A&M University that will create artificial intelligence for detecting fatigued states using human breath. fatigued health care worker Human breath can detect health issues such as bowel inflammation and asthma. A new multidisciplinary collaborative project between Texas A&M and ASU will study human breath as a biometric to detect sleep deprivation, as well as mental and physical fatigue states. Photo courtesy Getty Images

The project aims to better understand sleep deprivation and mental and physical fatigue in humans by measuring breath volatile organic compound (VOC) biomarkers and how they can affect performance, especially in high-stakes environments. It is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Biological Technology Office.

Heather Bean, a researcher with the ASU Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics, along with Arul Jayaraman, executive associate dean of the Texas A&M College of Engineering and a chemical engineering professor, will measure VOCs in the breath samples.

Bean says the volume and combination of breath samples at different stages of fatigue protocols will help to advance the understanding of breath VOCs beyond the ability to predict fatigue.

“This study will generate more than 3,000 breath samples, which is an order of magnitude larger than any breath VOC study published to date,” said Bean, associate professor with the ASU School of Life Sciences.

Understanding the breath VOCs will enable researchers to create a set of AI algorithms to detect a person’s fatigued state.  

“Fatigue is an important topic for the U.S. Department of Defense and many other sectors in our society. Yet, it is very challenging to quantify fatigue. I am pleased to see the DARPA’s investment in our rigorous scientific approach and its trust in our world-class team,” said Roozbeh Jafari, the Tim and Amy Leach Professor in Texas A&M’s College of Engineering and the project’s principal investigator.

Steven Riechman, associate professor of kinesiology in Texas A&M’s School of Education and Human Development, said the insights may lead to new opportunities for monitoring and predicting fatigue by using wearables to prevent catastrophic failures. He also said there may be new ways to intervene against fatigue to improve resilience in challenging environments and circumstances.

“Comprehensively examining the change in breath VOCs during the progression from rest to fatigue will provide valuable insights into the transitions in metabolic states,” Riechman said. 

According to the project’s proposal, these compounds have been used before to detect other health issues, such as bowel inflammation and asthma. They will be key resources of chemical information from all body systems.

The project will be phased from a highly controlled environment, leading to less-controlled, real-life settings.

Texas A&M researchers will collect participants’ breath VOC samples at different states of fatigue with machines that can detect VOCs in the breath samples. They will use wearable monitors and sensors to measure heart rate, body temperature and other biometrics.

Ranjana Mehta, associate professor in the Wm Michael Barnes ’64 Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and director of Texas A&M’s Neuroergonomics Laboratory, will lead the creation and execution of fatigue protocols with Riechman by inducing fatigue in a highly controlled environment.

“This project will not only enable us to develop breath and physiological biomarkers of fatigue in general and military populations but also expand our understanding of the interactions between fatigue due to a variety of sources,” Mehta said.

“The team will use pattern recognition and statistical modeling to identify VOCs that can detect and discriminate the types of fatigue studied during the course of the project,” said Ivan Ivanov, clinical professor of physiology and pharmacology at Texas A&M’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

Jafari will lead the project alongside co-investigators Bean, Mehta, Jayaraman, Riechman and Ivanov.

Article prepared as a collaboration by Arizona State University and Texas A&M research communications teams

Dominique Perkins

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Life Sciences