Remembering ASU microbiologist Betty Davidson

March 14, 2023

It is with great sadness that the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University announces the passing of Professor Elizabeth (Betty) Davidson, a beloved member of the institution. 

Davidson was a microbiologist and internationally recognized insect pathologist. Throughout her lengthy and distinguished career, she was recognized for her excellence in teaching, her brilliance in research, and her dedication to outreach and mentorship.  Betty Davidson holding a studded-animal frog with her children's book in its mouth, with an outdoor setting behind her. With a big green puppet in hand, Elizabeth Davidson, a microbiologist at ASU, has young children imagining the life cycles and life challenges of a threatened frog species in Arizona — and cheering for the underfrog. Photo courtesy School of Life Sciences/ASU Download Full Image

She and her husband, Joe Davidson, both came to ASU in 1970. Joe was recruited by the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, where he spent his whole career. 

Betty studied the pathogens of insects and amphibians, and she sustained a research lab and appointment over many decades. She also taught for the zoology and biology departments, and then later at the School of Life Sciences after it was founded in 2002. 

“Betty Davidson was a lovely, warm, encouraging scientist who truly cared about students and about developing knowledge to improve the world. She was a fine person who enriched our lives,” said Jane Maienschein, University Professor of History of Science; Regents, President's and Parents Association Professor; and director of the Center for Biology and Society.

Davidson’s study of insects focused on their impact on plants and agriculture, and in turn how that affected human life. Her work explored intricate relationships inherent in a world most of us never stop to consider. Insect-microbial interactions are crucial to public health — it’s astonishing how frequently human health throughout history has come down to a contest of bug against bug. 

While it may seem easy to label insects, and indeed many view them this way, they are also important species within their own ecosystems, with their own ways of fighting infection. Careful study of insect pathology in relation to their environment has more than once shaped the course of human history. 

Davidson’s work raised important questions about how best to combat these “pests” and their effect on a much larger picture. Addressing these considerations led her to start an ethics course for biology majors with Maienschein and Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Natural History and the Environment and then-department chair Jim Collins.   

“The first time we taught the course, we had to scramble to read a lot and learn a lot, and Betty really jumped into the challenges,” said Maienschein. “She made the course her own, and welcomed Karin Ellison when Dr. Ellison arrived from Wisconsin to help develop our bioethics courses.”

These courses grew into a Life Science Ethics program within the School of Life Sciences that still exists today, currently led by Ellison

In 2006, Davidson published “Big Fleas Have Little Fleas: How Discoveries of Invertebrate Diseases Are Advancing Mored Science," which shares amazing stories throughout history about diseases of insects and the scientists who learn to use those diseases to benefit our world. 

In addition to her specialty in insects, she also collaborated with Collins on the pathogens of amphibians. 

In 2011, as an infectious disease was threatening frog populations in Arizona and across the world, Davidson published “Cheery: The True Adventures of a Chiricahua Leopard Frog,” an illustrated children’s book that takes the reader through the life cycles and life challenges of the threatened species. 

Published by Five Star Publications Inc., the book was developed with support from the Heritage Fund, funded by Arizona Game and Fish Department, and was officially designated an Arizona Centennial Legacy Project by the Arizona Historical Commission. 

“Children need a way to relate to things that are important in the environment, because they are important in ways that no one could even guess,” said Davidson in an article about the book’s release. “This book helps them learn a bit about biology, about predator-prey relationships, about lifecycles, about ecology and about overcoming obstacles.”

Davidson’s passion and dedication to her work, as well her talent for public outreach, made her a recognizable face around campus. 

“She was well known around campus, and well liked,” said Collins. 

“She was always friendly and warm,” agreed Wim Vermaas, a Foundation Professor who said Davidson was a frequent sight on his way to and from work, even after she had officially retired. 

Davidson's contributions to the field of insect pathology in the School of Life Sciences will be deeply missed. Her legacy will live on through the countless students whose lives she touched, the groundbreaking research she conducted and her publications that have opened so many ideas to the rarely seen world of insect disease. 

Dominique Perkins

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Life Sciences


Nobel laureate to deliver distinguished Eyring Lecture Series at ASU

Biochemist Jack Szostak will give the general lecture 'The Origin of Life: Not as Hard as it Looks?' on March 16

March 9, 2023

Jack Szostak is known by many for his significant contributions to the field of genetics.

The Canadian American biochemist of Polish British descent is a Nobel Prize laureate, a professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago, a former professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and the Alexander Rich Distinguished Investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. Portrait of Jack Szostak. Jack Szostak, Canadian American biochemist of Polish British descent, Nobel Prize laureate and professor of chemistry at the University of Chicago, will deliver Eyring Lecture Series on March 16 and 17 at ASU. Photo courtesy Jack Szostak Download Full Image

A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Szostak's achievements have helped scientists map the location of genes in mammals and develop techniques for manipulating genes. His research findings in this area are also instrumental to the Human Genome Project, and he was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, along with Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol Greider, for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres.

On March 16 and 17, Szostak will be the featured School of Molecular Sciences’ Eyring Lecture Series speaker at Arizona State University's Tempe campus.

The general lecture on March 16, titled “The Origin of Life: Not as Hard as it Looks?”, will be presented at 6 p.m. in the Marston Theater in ISTB4, and will also be available via Zoom, followed by a reception in the lobby from 5 to 5:40 p.m.

The Eyring lectures are part of an interdisciplinary distinguished lecture series dedicated to stimulating discussion by renowned scientists who are at the cutting edge of their respective fields. Each series consists of a leadoff presentation to help communicate the excitement and the challenge of science to the university and community. Past lecturers have included Nobel laureates Ahmed Zewail, Jean-Marie Lehn, Harry Gray, Richard Smalley, Yuan T. Lee, Richard Schrock, John Goodenough, Mario Capecchi and, most recently awarded, Carolyn Bertozzi.

The technical lecture, “Why did Biology Begin with RNA and not some other Genetic Material?”, will take place at 3 p.m. on March 17 in the Biodesign auditorium. It will also be available via Zoom.

In the 1990s, Szostak and his colleagues developed in vitro selection as a tool for the isolation of functional RNA, DNA and protein molecules from large pools of random sequences. Szostak’s current research interests are in the laboratory synthesis of self-replicating systems and the origins of life.

The combined efforts of laboratories around the world have begun to converge on a reasonable pathway going all the way from planet formation to the beginning of life itself. Many deeply embedded preconceptions have had to be overcome and discarded in order to enable this progress.

In his general talk, Szostak will explain how overcoming these conceptual barriers has enabled fresh thinking into how the molecules of life were synthesized on the early Earth and then assembled into the first living cells. Once the ability of life to evolve in a Darwinian sense had become firmly established, life was free to adapt, diversify and flourish, eventually giving rise to all the varieties of life we see around us today.

Szostak’s lab is interested in the chemical and physical processes that facilitated the transition from chemical evolution to biological evolution on the early Earth.

As a way of exploring these processes, Szostak is trying to build a synthetic cellular system that undergoes Darwinian evolution. His view of what such a chemical system would look like centers on a model of a primitive cell, or protocell, that consists of two main components: a self-replicating genetic polymer and a self-replicating membrane boundary.

The job of the genetic polymer is to carry information in a way that allows for both replication and variation, so that new sequences that encode useful functions can be inherited and can further evolve.

The role of the protocell membrane is to keep these informational polymers localized, so that the functions they encode lead to an advantage in terms of their own replication or survival. Such a system should, given time and the right environment, begin to evolve in a Darwinian fashion, potentially leading to the spontaneous emergence of genomically encoded catalysts and structural molecules.

Szostak hopes that explorations of the chemistry and physics behind the emergence of Darwinian evolution will lead to explanations for some of the universal properties of modern cells, as well as explanations of how modern cells arose from their simpler ancestors. As he explores these fundamental questions he is also on the lookout for chemical or physical phenomena that might have practical utility in biomedical research.

The Eyring Lecture Series is named in honor of the late Leroy Eyring, an ASU Regents Professor of chemistry and former department chair, whose instructional and research accomplishments and professional leadership at ASU helped to bring the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry into international prominence. The Eyring Materials Center and the Navrotsky Eyring Center for Materials of the Universe at ASU are named in his honor.

Jenny Green

Clinical associate professor, School of Molecular Sciences


Award-winning musician to host 10th annual community dialogue

Wynton Marsalis will serve as the distinguished speaker at the ASU Center for the Study of Race and Democracy's 2023 Delivering Democracy event April 1

March 7, 2023

The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy (CSRD) at Arizona State University is welcoming Wynton Marsalis to host its 10th Delivering Democracy program. The legendary Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning musician, trumpeter, composer, teacher and artistic director will help CSRD celebrate the milestone of the event with a dialogue and concert on April 1.  

Delivering Democracy 2023, like the annual programs in years past, will provide opportunities for powerful engagement and spirited dialogue with communities across the nation and the world. Each year, Delivering Democracy provides a forum in which visionary speakers discuss democracy and issues of race, justice and engagement with thousands of local, national and global attendees. This year's program will feature a dialogue between Marsalis and Lois Brown, director of the CSRD and Foundation Professor of English. The program will be held in person at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Phoenix and livestreamed, starting at 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time. Viewers will be able to contribute questions in advance. Portrait of musician Wynton Marsalis holding a trumpet. Legendary Grammy and Pulitzer Prize-winning musician, trumpeter, composer, teacher and artistic director Wynton Marsalis will host the ASU Center for the Study of Race and Democracy's 10th Delivering Democracy program. Photo courtesy Wynton Marsalis Download Full Image

Known and deeply respected for his contributions to jazz and classical music, as well as his involvement with the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, Marsalis has paved the way for countless musicians, especially those of color. He has broken barriers in and beyond the workplace, won the highest accolades and recognition from his peers and professional community, and become a role model for many in and beyond the United States.  

The Delivering Democracy Community Resource Fair, which is free and open to all attendees, will again be held before the program begins. From 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on April 1, attendees can discover and engage directly with many organizations and learn about their missions and how their work advances democracy, inclusion, education, mentoring, community health and wellness, justice and cultural awareness. 

Visit for registration information.

The Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Arizona State University facilitates powerful and informed dialogues and transformative scholarship about issues related to race and democracy.  The center’s innovative programming and its deliberate outreach in and beyond the ASU community contributes to the university’s commitment to academic excellence and accessibility. CSRD's programs and events feature experts and changemakers, community leaders, scholars and accomplished professionals who engage with and inspire audiences. Distinctive lectures, effective workshops and productive, inspiring collaborations are signatures of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy.

Suzanne Wilson

Sr. Media Relations Officer, ASU Media Enterprise


image title

Fellowships help extraordinary Sun Devils launch stellar careers

March 6, 2023

Arizona State University astrophysics student and full-time staff member Shireen Dooling grew up gazing at the stars. Now, thanks to her love of challenge and a prestigious fellowship, she’ll have the opportunity to intern with NASA this summer.

Dooling is part of the latest group of undergraduates to receive the Brooke Owens Fellowship, a nonprofit program that recognizes exceptional female and gender minority undergrads who aspire to work in aerospace. Fellows are matched with paid internships at top aerospace companies and receive executive mentorship. Out of nearly 1,000 applicants from around the world, 47 were selected for the fellowship’s class of 2023.

ASU students have been remarkably successful in earning spots in this competitive program, with at least one Sun Devil joining its ranks in six out of the seven years that the fellowship has been offered.

Picturing the invisible

 stands in front of a tree

Shireen Dooling

Beginning this June, Dooling will intern for 10 weeks with two of the design labs at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center near Washington, D.C. Both labs focus on helping people picture the invisible — creating visuals for data and illustrations of abstract ideas.

In addition, Dooling will work with science writers and create images to accompany articles on science topics.

Her work at the internship will draw significantly from the skills she honed as a multimedia developer lead for ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise. In her full-time role, Dooling designs digital illustrations and infographics to aid people’s understanding of abstract concepts and very technical research applications while also lending color to news stories, websites and other publications.

In Dooling’s youth, a wealth of starry nights combined with a love of sci-fi classics like “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and “The X-Files” stirred up a passion for outer space.

“I grew up in a low light-pollution setting, in the middle of nowhere outside of Florence. So there were a lot of dark, clear Arizona nights,” she says. “I always enjoyed looking up at the night sky and imagining the unknown and the possibilities.”

Learning about Marie Curie in school further inspired her to pursue her interest in science. Curie was a physicist and chemist in the early 20th century — a time when few women worked in the sciences. She pioneered research on radioactivity, won two Nobel Prizes and later died from exposure to radiation during her work.

“I was so captivated by her determination. Understanding that she had died because of her research, while contributing to the greater good through science, was a pivotal life lesson,” Dooling says.

While trying to decide on her major for her first bachelor’s degree from ASU, Dooling says she briefly considered astronomy. But, because she doubted she had the necessary math skills, she chose to get a Bachelor of Science in graphic design instead. Working at ASU, however, provided an unexpected opportunity to pursue another degree.

“Over the years reflecting on it, I thought, I might as well try to do the thing that I thought I couldn’t do,” she says. “So I picked astrophysics because it sounded the hardest.”

Going forward, Dooling’s overarching mission will be to make science, and specifically space science, easy for anyone to understand. She hopes that teaching people the process of science will help them when they learn something new or run into misinformation.

“Giving further insight into the research that's coming out of the space industry is definitely what I want to help with. The space industry is going to be so pivotal in our future as a society, and it's only going to get more complicated socially, philosophically, ethically,” Dooling says. “I want to make sure that people are equipped with an understanding of the science behind it.”

If she had the opportunity in real life to visit space, Dooling says she would love to live in low Earth orbit or go to the moon.

“But in a ‘Miss Frizzle’s Magic School Bus’ scenario, I would absolutely love to fly through a nebula and see what it looks like in person,” she says. “Maybe you get there and you’re just this tiny speck in this enormous nebula, so you can’t see anything because of the scale. But flying up on it would be something really, really dramatic to see.”

A legacy of star students

Dooling is the latest in a long line of ASU students who have earned their place as “Brookies,” or Brooke Owens Fellows.

“Interacting with the other fellows has been phenomenal — it's extraordinary how much talent is in this group. It's also nice to have a group of people who have similar experiences as they begin their careers,” said Angelica Berner, an ASU physics alumna who was part of the class of 2019 Brooke Owens Fellows.

A record three ASU students made it into last year’s class of fellows, including first-generation, transfer and online students.

“No matter what words I use, I could never explain how honored I feel to be a part of such an incredible fellowship. This isn’t the kind of thing I grew up thinking that I could accomplish. To be here just makes me realize that I can, and I did,” said Rose Ferreira, an astronomical and planetary sciences major who was part of the class of 2022 Brooke Owens Fellows. Ferreira interned with the Spanish communications team at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

“I was once a 12-year-old girl, staring at the stars, wondering what it would be like to explore them. Now here I am, only a decade later, literally building a rocket that will probably take the first people to Mars. Our stories show the next generation that if we can do it, they can do it,” said mechanical engineering major Sierra Malmberg, who interned as a Starship booster build engineer at SpaceX through her 2022 fellowship.

“I've always had a passion for science communication, and I've always really admired NASA's aim of making the science that they do accessible to everyone. No matter where my career takes me in the future, making sure I'm responsibly and accurately portraying the science I'm doing is always going to be my top priority,” said Erica Kriner, a geography and sustainability major who interned with the media and communication team at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center through her 2022 fellowship.

One of the goals of the fellowship is to provide tailored learning experiences that will give fellows an edge as they pursue jobs in the aerospace industry. ASU journalism alumna and class of 2017 Brookie Chelsey Ballarte used her internship as a launchpad for starting her career at NASA.

“In school, I thought if I couldn't land a job at the Discovery Channel, I could never be a science communicator. The internship allowed me to see that there are reporters focusing on science and space, and that space companies have their own PR people as well,” she says.

Ballarte interned at GeekWire, an online tech news website, where she provided written and multimedia coverage on aerospace and aviation in the Seattle area. While there, she got an offer to intern at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and she later became a full-time employee at NASA.

She now works as a public affairs specialist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, which is focused on human spaceflight. The job comes with a lot of creative freedom, she says, including the chance to produce video content as she once dreamed of in school.

“Being in the very first class of Brooke Owens Fellowships was incredibly rewarding, but also scary. There was no data on how many people were going to apply, no template on how your application should look, and no idea what the summer ahead would look like. But it also meant I got to pave the way for others and provide feedback on what worked and what didn't for future classes,” Ballarte says. “Today, I'm still active in the program, reviewing applications and reminding other communications majors that they have a place in this very engineering-focused fellowship.”

Top illustration by Shireen Dooling

Mikala Kass

Communications Specialist , ASU Knowledge Enterprise


ASU Law hosts historic US Patent and Trademark Office hearings

March 2, 2023

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University played host to a historic event on Feb. 23. 

Representatives from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), including USPTO Director and Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property Kathi Vidal and several Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) and Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) judges, paid a visit to the Beus Center for Law and Society for live hearings — some of the first held since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. ASU Law was also the first law school to simultaneously host the sitting director of the USPTO, who participated in a student-led fireside chat during the free, public event.  A blonde woman in a pink blazer speaks to a blonde student while both sit in armchairs. U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Director and Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property Kathi Vidal took part in a fireside chat and spoke at length about her goals for the agency, including increasing pro bono work and curbing abuses of the system. Photo courtesy ASU Law Download Full Image

The USPTO is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, with four other regional offices across the country. It is the largest intellectual property office in the world and has existed in some form or another since 1836. That includes over 250 PTAB and TTAB judges with various science or technology specialties, including one veterinary doctor. 

Willard H. Pedrick Dean and Regents Professor of Law Stacy Leeds was on hand at the event to deliver opening remarks. 

Leeds pointed to ASU SkySong and The McCarthy Institute as two university initiatives that show ASU’s commitment to technology and innovation to fuel economic growth. ASU Law, she added, is one of just 19 law schools with an A-plus rating in intellectual property law. 

“It illustrates how important intellectual property is, not only to the U.S. economy but the global economy,” she said. 

The PTAB and TTAB held three hearings: The first was an ex parte appeal of an examiner’s rejections of a pending patent application; the second was a trademark cancellation proceeding; and the third was an America Invents Act inter partes review trial proceeding.

Steve Koziol, acting regional director of the USPTO’s Silicon Valley region, said the live hearings are intended to clarify a complicated process. 

“These hearings are demystifying the often very complex processes around intellectual property,” he said. “That’s part of why we’re here today.” 

His remarks were followed by an overview of the USPTO and PTAB by the latter’s Lead Judge Georgianna Braden. 

Vidal later participated in a fireside chat hosted by second-year law student Leah Dosal, a McCarthy Fellow who plans to practice IP and patent law when she graduates in 2024.

As the director, she said she runs the organization with 13,000 colleagues to advance American innovation, often working internationally and here at home to protect the country’s IP. 

“We’re doing a lot of work on inclusive innovation across the country, protecting that innovation, making sure the system’s working and having an impact,” said Vidal. “If you’re not bringing solutions to the market, you’re not having an impact.”

Vidal, who has been on the job for 10 months, said some of her goals for the agency include curbing any abuses of the system, creating more robust and reliable IP rights, cutting down barriers for inventors and increasing pro bono work. 

According to Vidal, women make up about 13% of all U.S. inventors. She said that when the USPTO meets innovators where they are and works with pro bono organizations to support them, that number jumps to 43% (up from 41% last year.) Those who benefit from pro bono and identify as African American or Black are up 5% to 35% this year. There is also more representation for those who identify as Hispanic, Asian American or Pacific Islander, and Native American. But, as Vidal noted, “We must do better.”    

Speaking on patent eligibility, she noted, “There are things you can’t patent in the U.S. that you can in other countries. That’s not good for the U.S. — that’s not good for innovation.”

She also plans to continue listening to stakeholders about what the USPTO and PTAB can do better moving forward to increase innovation. 

“I love dissenting views,” she said. “I think it’s what makes us better.”

Dosal said the opportunity to moderate the chat and hear directly from the USPTO’s director about the agency’s direction was “invigorating.”

“It seems clear the USPTO is interested in what stakeholders have to say,” she said. “It’s also nice to hear that diversity, equity, inclusion and access are important to them.” 

Like Dosal, third-year law student Matt Lutz plans to practice patent and IP law, which brought him to the event to hear directly from experts in his chosen field.

“This is one of the coolest things I’ve gotten to do during my time at ASU,” he said. 

Lindsay Walker

Communications Manager, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

Kerri Rittschof named director of data science and analytics at ASU Library

March 2, 2023

The ASU Library is pleased to announce Kerri Rittschof as the new director of its Unit for Data Science. Rittshof was previously the program manager and will now lead, plan and organize operations of the data science and analytics unit.

“Whether you are a social worker or engineer, understanding data science can help us all tell our stories more effectively,” said Debra Riley-Huff, associate university librarian for engagement and learning services at the ASU Library. “We’re excited to have Kerri step into leading the data science and analytics unit, a central hub where we’re able to reach all levels and all disciplines at ASU.” Portrait of Kerri Rittschof Kerri Rittschof, director of the ASU Library’s Unit for Data Science. Photo courtesy ASU Library Download Full Image

Established in 2016, the unit was most recently led by Michael Simeone, associate research professor. The department connects students, faculty and staff to grow their knowledge of data science through workshops, tutorials, research and collaborations. 

Rittschof sat down with ASU News to talk about her journey and what’s on the horizon for data science at the library and beyond.

Question: What is data science and why is it relevant to everyone?

Answer: Data science helps us understand and to think critically about the massive amounts of information we process in our world in order to tell the story. What excites me about data science is that it applies to all fields and all individuals. It’s not just programming and coding, which is a common misconception. In data science we use statistics, the scientific method and various processes and analysis to tell that story. One very important component involves asking questions of stakeholders regarding the research or project and examining the data to assist in understanding and identifying the problem — the "why" behind it. For example, we can use data science to make predictions in fraud detection, social work, health care, animal medicine and in the arts. 

Q: You have a background in organizational psychology. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to the ASU Library?

A: I began my career in child welfare, where I held various positions from investigations, case management, family advocacy and then designing, implementing and evaluating programs to ensure child safety. I knew I wanted more, to make an impact at an organizational level; therefore, I obtained a doctorate in organizational psychology. My original goal was to be a consultant to help identify and resolve various issues within the workplace. To help me learn and understand, I took courses to obtain a master’s certificate in program evaluation using R, sharpened my skills in project management, remained current on I/O trends, expanded research knowledge and utilized motivational interviewing. 

This is where my path changed in a great way, and I was at the data science unit at ASU Library. I learned about the needs and wants of the ASU community, and the external stakeholders involved to share their stories. Based on those wants and needs, I created events and provided library resources related to data science and their disciplines. I managed projects and conducted research with various internal and external stakeholders on their data science projects. I am now using data science in my work, and I do not have a data science degree. 

Q: Data Science and Analytics provides multiple workshops and events for students, faculty and staff. What can they expect to learn?

A: The open lab series and virtual workshops provide supplemental learning beyond the classroom and degree programs. We create a big tent around data science to make sure that those who are interested in data science can learn more about the topics and concepts. The ASU Library provides these opportunities to provide webinar style or hands-on instruction to learn and enhance one’s skills. We’re also excited to partner with groups like ASU’s Interplanetary Initiative on the SpaceHACK For Sustainability on March 24 and 25 at Hayden Library, to examine Google Earth satellite data to address the United Nations' Sustainability Development Goals.

Another way the library can help researchers is research data management, providing support to manage and publish your data. We are here to help researchers and provide them the support they need.

Q: What do you say to students who say, "Data science isn’t for me"?

Portrait of Kerri Rittschof

Kerri Rittshof

A: Last year at Passport to ASU, I met many first-year students who said, "Oh, data science isn’t for me," or "I will never use data science." However, after we started talking about their major and projects they’re passionate about, we could immediately make connections with tools such as predictive modeling and regression analysis that can infuse their questions process. That’s data science, and we don’t even realize it. Opening up dialogues with students and providing feedback for how data science can enhance their projects enables us to support student success.

Q: What’s on the horizon for data science in libraries?

A: Ever since we hosted the inaugural data science conference last June, we’ve been able to continue holding conversations with colleagues at other academic libraries from across the country. From MIT to Duke, we’re leading our peers in providing support for students and faculty. We’ll be continuing to create workshops that can take you from beginning to advanced sessions, and we hope to do more outreach to student clubs. We’re committed to providing opportunities to be collaborative across disciplines, and being at the library allows us to support everyone at ASU. 

Upcoming data science events:

Marilyn Murphy

Communications Specialist, ASU Library


NEH Summer Institute creates space for humanists to engage in the sciences

March 1, 2023

What does it mean to be human? Throughout history, philosophers, scientists and artists have all debated this question, but new developments in the field of bioengineering and emerging technologies may fundamentally shift the conversation. 

Advancements in areas such as stem cell research, genome editing and neural interface design are dramatically changing our preconceptions of what human society and our shared future could look like. The Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics and the Center for Biology and Society at Arizona State University have received a joint grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to explore this very subject, and are inviting instructors to join this paid opportunity in the summer of 2023.  Various faculty engaged in discussion in the foreground with the Arizona state flag and ASU flag in the background. Our SHARED Future is a four-week, residential NEH Summer Institute focused on building capacity to teach and do humanities with impact on emerging developments in bioengineering. The institute will run from June 12 to July 7 on ASU's Tempe campus. Photo courtesy the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics Download Full Image

“This rapidly developing field raises all kinds of ethical questions — questions that should be deliberated upon by those with some subject matter expertise,” said Jason Robert, associate professor for the School of Life Sciences and co-director of the institute. “This institute will provide exactly that kind of expertise.”

From June 12 to July 7, through the NEH Summer Institute, Our SHARED Future: Science, Humanities, Arts, Research Ethics, and Deliberation will take scholars on a journey of critical engagement over issues of novel technologies, through the lenses of ethics, history, philosophy, literature and film. 

“The NEH Summer Institute is aimed at college and university humanities teachers who want to integrate real-life science and technology discussions into their courses,” said Robert. 

Over the course of four weeks, humanists will also gain firsthand experience on what it’s like to do science — from editing the bacterial genome to experimenting with neuromodulation techniques to improve cognitive abilities. 

He continued, “Students — especially in general education courses — will benefit from professors who can speak confidently and competently about science and technology.” 

Faculty are invited to read more about this initiative and apply. The deadline for applications is Friday, March 3.

Karina Fitzgerald

Communications program coordinator , Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics


Hugh Downs School faculty, students recognized at communication convention

February 28, 2023

A number of doctoral students and faculty from Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication were recently recognized for their scholarship at the Western States Communication Association (WSCA) annual convention, held Feb. 17–20 in Phoenix.

Laura K. Guerrero, professor of communication at the Hugh Downs School, received the 2023 Distinguished Scholar Award, a prestigious career award given each year to a member of WSCA whose scholarship has had a significant and lasting impact on the field.  A collection of photos and letters that spell "human connection" Download Full Image

When announcing Guerrero as the recipient, the chair of the selection committee, James Cherney from the University of Nevada, Reno, noted that Guerrero was selected from a highly competitive pool of qualified nominees. 

Hugh Downs School Director and Professor Sarah J. Tracy noted that Guerrero’s program of research is “extensive, well known and widely respected, not only by interpersonal communication scholars but those across the social sciences as well.”

Guerrero has authored or co-authored several books and over 100 articles and chapters on communication in relationships, including groundbreaking work in the areas of jealousy, emotion and nonverbal communication. She is also lead author of the bestselling book "Close Encounters: Communication in Relationships," a research-based textbook used in upper-division and graduate classes in universities across the country. 

Receiving the award, Guerrero said, “I am honored and humbled. WSCA has been an academic home to me since I was a graduate student, so it is very special, and very motivating, to be selected for this award.”

ASU hosts the WSCA convention

Professor Paul Mongeau from the Hugh Downs School, a past president of WSCA from 2016–17, led the host team for the 93rd annual WSCA convention. Other local host-team leaders included Hugh Downs School doctoral students Marco Dehnert and Pablo Ramirez.

Held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Phoenix Feb. 17–20, the event brought communication scholars from around the country to share research and discuss issues and ideas.

The primary program planner for the WSCA convention was Heather Canary of San Diego State University, a Hugh Downs School doctoral program graduate. Canary also assumed the role of president of WSCA at the convention. Canary took the leadership reigns from outgoing President Christina Yoshimura of the University of Montana, also a graduate of the Hugh Downs School doctoral program.

The convention's keynote event was coordinated by ASU’s Southwest Borderlands Scholar and Hugh Downs School Associate Professor Amira de la Garza, in conjunction with the organizing efforts of Carmen Guerrero of Arizona’s Cultural Coalition. 

This event highlighted work from the Center for the Future of Arizona, the Black Theatre Troupe, Native Health, Chispa Arizona and Cultural Coalition. It included a program of music, performance and dance, featuring an array of artists including Los Waukis, Coatlicue Danza Mexica, Zarco Guerrero and Music of the Americas with Zarco and Carmen.

“The keynote event highlighted the ways that Arizonan's well-being has a long tradition of powerful nonprofit and grassroots community organizations dedicated to the needs and lives of the people of Arizona, often sustaining and working towards the development of policy and infrastructure in state and local government, as well as building community and celebrating our culture and strengths,” De la Garza said.

Hugh Downs School Top Paper Awards

Several Hugh Downs School faculty and graduate students were honored at the WSCA convention with Top Paper Awards from nine different interest groups.  The top papers include:

Top Papers in Communication & Instruction 

  • “Educative Erasure, Resistance, and Well-being among Asexual-Spectrum Individuals” by ben Brandley and Angela Labador.
  • “Letter to A Former Student” by Ana Isabel Terminel Iberri.

Top Paper in Health Communication

  • “COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy: Communicating Cultural Medical Mistrust” by LD Mattson.

Top Papers in Intercultural Communication

  • "My first words were 'knock-knock-knock housekeeping': Queer Femme Brownness, Humor, and Whiteness Performative Drag” by Michael Tristano, Jr. and Lore/tta LeMaster.
  • “When Liberalism Fails Liberation: On Axiomatic Whiteness and Praxis" by Dacheng Zhang.

Top Papers in Organizational Communication  

  • “Shut Up and Color: How K-12 Teachers Are Subjugated and Silenced Through Contradictory Institutional Logics and the Good Teacher Ideal” by Rowdy Dale Farmer.
  • “Phronetic Iterative Qualitative Data Analysis (PIQDA) in Organizational Communication Research” by Sarah J. Tracy, Marco Dehnert and Angela Gist-Mackey.
  • “Occupational Socialization and Identification in Pain Work: (Re)Conceptualizing the Experience of Pain as an Interactional, Coconstructed Process” by Laura V. Martinez, Alaina C. Zanin and Sarah J. Tracy.

Top Paper in Communication Theory and Research 

  • “The Queer Political Potentiality of Collaborative Storytelling” by Lore/tta LeMaster and Tyler S. Rife.

Top Debut Papers in Racialization of Gender in Trauma, Public Memory and Marketing 

  • “Engaging Black Feminist Liberation Pedagogies to Address Historical Trauma” by Sarah Keeton.

Top Paper in the Performance Studies Interest Group

  • “After Inclusion: A Trans Relational Meditation on (Un)belonging” by Lore/tta LeMaster.

Top Papers at the ORWAC Top Paper Panels

  • “Silent Witnessing: Navigating the Silences of Survivor Rhetoric” by Kaylee Mulholland.
  • “Interrogating power with high school students: Care and humanization through pláticas methodology” by Ana Isabel Terminel Iberri.

Top Paper of the Communication, Identities and Difference Interest Group 

  • “A Sense of Healing: A Relational Meditation in Queer (and Trans) of Color Communism” by Lore/tta LeMaster and Michael Tristano, Jr. 

See the full list of WSCA presentations from the Hugh Downs School.

WSCA Undergraduate Scholars Research Conference

Three undergraduate research projects from the Hugh Downs School were also presented at the convention after their instructors encouraged them to submit their work. 

The Hugh Downs School students and papers that were presented at the Undergraduate Scholars Research Conference (USRC) are as follows:

  • Sara Downs, “Coming out: Constant Self-Disclosure of the LGBTQ+ Community.”
    Graduate student mentor: Marco Dehnert (COM 407)

  • Grace Lahey, “Lost but not Forever: A Dialectical Autoethnography of Ambiguous Loss.”
    Graduate student mentor: Angela Labador (COM 407)

  • Christina Reimche and Tara Rastkhiz, “Living Unplugged: Effects of a Social Media Detox on Well-Being.”
    Faculty mentor: Assistant Professor Joris Van Ouytsel 

“The USRC is an excellent opportunity for our undergraduates to present their research and receive constructive and supportive feedback from experienced scholars,” Tracy said. “They are also able to network with faculty in diverse graduate programs and learn how to advance academically in the field of communication studies.

Western States Communication Association, founded in 1929, is a not-for-profit educational association of scholars, teachers and students of communication with over 1,000 members from around the globe. WSCA publishes two scholarly journals--Western Journal of Communication and Communication Reports, as well as an online newsletter, WSCA News.

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication


ASU’s first chemistry PhD receives Milton K. Curry education award

Jesse W. Jones reflects on a legacy of dedication and inspiration

February 27, 2023

Intrepid, innovative and inspiring describe Jesse Jones, the first person to receive a PhD in chemistry from Arizona State University, in 1963.

Following his own successful academic career, Jones became a dedicated professor, helping to increase the number of minority students who when on to graduate school and medical school. Side-by-side portraits of ASU's first PhD recipient Jesse Jones. The portrait on the left is a young Jones in a cap and gown, while the portrait on the right is a more recent photo of an older Jones holding an award. Jesse Jones, ASU's first chemistry PhD recipient. Photos courtesy ASU's School of Molecular Sciences and Jesse Jones Download Full Image

This month, Jones was honored by a citywide group of ministers in his hometown of Dallas, Texas, who presented him with the Milton K. Curry education award.

A leap of faith

Jones came to ASU in 1958, invited by Roland K. Robbins, upon learning ASU would soon have new doctoral degrees. Married with three children at the time, Jones initially lived with his family in on-campus housing but had to move when it was torn down to make room for the construction of Gammage Auditorium.

Renting off-campus housing proved to be a challenge. After being denied housing multiple times in Tempe because of being Black, Jones and his wife took a “vacation” and went back to Texas with their children while he searched for a place to live so he could complete his education. Eventually, in faith, they packed up their car and headed back to Arizona, not knowing where they would live.

“We left east Texas without a place to stay,” Jones recalled. “At the time, we had three children. ... We were in contact with a realtor, and, as a graduate student, needed a place to stay with no money down. On the drive back, we would stop along the way and call the real estate agent, and he told us to come and there would be a place for us to stay. So on his word, we drove on and he showed us a place in Phoenix that became our home while I finished my degree at ASU.”

At ASU, Jones’ research focused on the chemistry of purines, which was an exciting area in organic chemistry at the time. After earning his PhD in 1963, Jones moved to Tyler, Texas, where he taught undergraduate chemistry at Texas College, a historically Black college.

The highlight of a career

Although he knew his research would suffer from his decision to move back to Texas, Jones felt it important to help others.

“The first hot plate we had was an old waffle iron,” Jones remembers of this time teaching at Texas College.

“Not having any graduate students was also a challenge. The work that we did was with undergraduates. In spite of that, we were funded by several grants, which allowed us to continue our research.

“We discovered that our students who went on to graduate school did much better in their research because of the scarcity of materials and the creativity they had to use out of necessity. At times, we would have to drive 100 miles from Tyler to Dallas in order to get chemicals. Things were not prepared and handed to our students, and that gave them an edge in terms of their research capability.”

Jones estimates that, at the time, they likely had more Black women majoring in chemistry than other major institutions around the country. Additionally, he helped to increase the number of minority students who when on to graduate school and medical school, which he considers to be a significant accomplishment.

“The success of my students is the highlight of my career,” Jones said, “because they would go on and transform their communities.”

Commitment to serving others

Community and family have been constant themes throughout Jones’ life.

“We had a philosophy that because our students came from disadvantaged areas, and at that time our children were getting old enough to begin thinking about college, we chose to live right in the community with similar conditions to the students we taught. If I should have expectations of my students to succeed, from whatever their backgrounds, the same conditions and expectations should be good enough for my children as well,” he said.

Jones and his wife had a total of seven children, and his devotion to chemistry and education can be seen in their lives. Six of their children majored in chemistry, and he had the privilege of teaching all six of them. Out of those six, two are physicians, two are college professors, one works for Exxon Mobil and one went into psychology. The seventh also has a successful career in real estate.

Jones continued his professional career at Bishop College from 1967 through 1988, where he was principal investigator on several projects, including the National Institutes of Health Minority Biomedical Research Program and a Department of Defense Contract involving the preparation of potential antimalarial drugs. Jones was the director of the Minority Institution Science Improvement Program and chair of the Division of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at Bishop College. In 1988, hired by Baylor University, Jones continued as a professor of chemistry until his retirement in 2021.

In addition to a fruitful academic career, Jones spent 15 years as an elected official in the Texas House of Representatives, where he provided leadership in his community, including on issues related to higher education.

“Successes in government are shared,” Jones said. “We had many successes over the years. I’m proud to have been the House sponsor for the creation of a state-supported school between Dallas and Austin, which became the University of North Texas at Dallas in 2009.”

An enduring example

Throughout his life, Jones has felt that he needed to take his share of the load by setting an example, whether with regard to civil rights, education or in his community. Jones has been an active member of Good Street Baptist Church since 1968, where he still uses his skills as a teacher. His oldest student is 107; some are in their 90s, and “a few youngsters” are in their 80s.

After receiving the Milton K. Curry education award this month, Jones reflected on the enduring importance of good teachers.

“Whatever success I’ve enjoyed is because I was given strong mentors throughout my career,” Jones said. “They set an example for me early in my career, nurtured me, and saw hope and promise. Students today need the same. They need someone they can look up to and admire.”

James Klemaszewski

Science writer, School of Molecular Sciences


Christy Slay brings science experience, more than $1M in grants to ASU

February 27, 2023

Christy Slay, CEO of The Sustainability Consortium, is a modern-day pioneer. Her PhD in biology and research experience make her the first person with a science background to lead this science-based global organization. Slay recently transitioned her affiliation within the consortium from the University of Arkansas to Arizona State University, along with more than a million dollars of grant funding. 

The Sustainability Consortium is a member-based, university-led initiative to integrate science-based research into sustainability business practices. It is jointly housed within ASU, Wageningen University & Research and the University of Arkansas and engages more than 600 decision-makers and thought leaders across 230 organizations annually. Christy Slay pictured standing at the opening of a cave. In addition to her other research, Christy Slay has discovered multiple cave species in Hawaii. Photo courtesy Christy Slay Download Full Image

Slay’s projects, which will continue at ASU, include a grant with Ethical Food Initiative and the Walmart Foundation, which supports produce growers to strengthen on-farm labor practices. Another funding outlet comes from the USDA Climate-Smart Commodities Project for two different projects totaling $135 million that increase on-farm sustainability practices for underserved farmer populations and climate-smart agriculture. 

Slay is also heavily involved with the HICaves Project, a survey of cave fauna in lava tube caves in the southwest region of the Ka’ū district of the Big Island, Hawaii. Her discoveries of Hawaii cave species have led her to multiple research papers and documentary features. 

Where previous CEO’s of The Sustainability Consortium have had backgrounds in business, Slay said her science background serves her well in her current and previous positions at the consortium. 

“Historically, I’ve led much of the science work at The Sustainability Consortium, including leading the team that developed our main platform, THESIS,” Slay said. “THESIS is a science-based platform that helps retailers assess their suppliers year over year.” 

THESIS, or The Sustainability Insight System, is one of the tools used by The Sustainability Consortium’s team to achieve their goal of transforming the consumer goods industry to deliver more sustainable consumer products. 

Slay was formally appointed CEO of the consortium in April of 2022. She said ASU’s support for sustainability is something she plans to fully engage with as an ASU affiliate.

“Support for sustainability is so important because often it is seen as a nice-to-have, but not a must-have,” Slay said. “For an educational institution to deeply value sustainability at all levels is, unfortunately, rare.”

Slay said the support that exists for sustainability can be felt across campus, but especially at the consortium’s home base at ASU, within the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. A shared value between the laboratory and the consortium — actionable impact — makes Slay’s transition to ASU even more seamless. 

“In addition to our research, we also take that scientific knowledge and translate it for the business community to enable better decision-making around sustainability,” Slay said. “We’re conducting and synthesizing research that informs business tools, and I’m thrilled to lead this process from ASU.” 

Katelyn Reinhart

Communications specialist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory