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ASU alum on mission to create communities for adults with autism

ASU alumna works to expand housing options for adults with autism.
January 28, 2021

Resnik, Morrison Institute collaborate on report to remove barriers to housing

An Arizona State University alumna has been on a decades-long mission to provide housing for people with autism, and her collaboration with ASU on a new research report will make it easier to address the crisis.

Denise Resnik, founder and CEO of the First Place AZ nonprofit, teamed up with the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU on the recently released study, “A Place in the World: Fueling Housing and Community Options for Adults with Autism and Other Neurodiversities.”

The report seeks to establish a common language for all the stakeholders involved in creating housing for people with autism – families, investors, real estate developers, nonprofit and philanthropic groups, government agencies and decision-makers. A universal terminology will make it easier to collect data and create policies.

Resnik has worked on this issue since her son was diagnosed with autism in 1993, and she saw her work come to fruition with the 2018 opening of First Place, a residential community in Phoenix for adults with autism.

Nationwide and in Arizona, there is a severe shortage of housing for adults with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities, and “A Place in the World” lays out the obstacles.

“This incredible body of work came about following what has been a challenging journey of trying to help express what our son needs and what other people need in terms that a marketplace can understand,” said Resnik, who was an editor and publisher of the study.

The need is great. The report points out:

  • More than 7 million people in the U.S. have an intellectual or developmental disability, including more than 157,000 in Arizona.
  • About 75% of adults with an intellectual or developmental disability live with family members and most do not receive formal services or supports.
  • Approximately 50,000 young people with autism exit high school each year.
  • One study found that 49% of adults with autism lived in the home of a parent or relative.
  • In 2017, 1.3 million people with an intellectual or developmental disability lived with a caregiver who was over age 60.

Resnik has a deep background in housing development. She graduated from ASU in 1982 with a degree in business administration, and her first job was with the Del Webb Corp., which pioneered the concept of retirement communities. In 1986, she started her own marketing company, DRA Collective, focused on real estate and community development.

When her son, Matt, was diagnosed with autism at age 2, the family was told “to love, accept and plan to institutionalize him.” So they visited institutions.

“I remember what I saw and how they smelled and I ran away as fast as I could. I became committed to finding a better way.”

In 1997, she co-founded the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting people with autism throughout their lifetimes.

“I knew that would lead us to residential housing, and I tried to get there right away,” she said. But the journey ended up taking many years. The real estate industry and government policy are complex. In 2012, she launched First Place AZ, a nonprofit to work on housing, which is separate from SAARC, which focuses on advocacy and research.

Resnik compares the evolution of housing for retired people, which has expanded from a focus on golf to including a wide range of options, to the need for housing for people with neurodiversities.

“We need to realize there is not a ‘one-size-fits-all.’ We need a mature marketplace,” she said, with choices in types of housing and levels of support.

For that to happen, all sectors must work together – public, private, philanthropic and nonprofit – and that requires a common language, she said.

“A Place in the World” catalogs a huge array of variables in housing to create a shared terminology, including support needs (drop-in, one-on-one), target markets (intergenerational, low-income, seniors, students), housing types (apartments, adaptable homes, dormitories), lifestyle (active living, agricultural, faith-based), payment models (subsidized home ownership, rentals) and project financing (Affordable Multifamily Housing Bonds, charitable campaign, grants, loans, tax credits) among others.

The report also points out obstacles to a healthy housing market. For example, there is no federal landmark housing policy for this population. In addition, Medicaid funding restrictions make it difficult for people who need support to afford housing, according to two policy briefs in the report written by Pooja Paode, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at ASU. She was a Daniel Jordan Fiddle Foundation Adult Autism Public Policy Fellow and graduate research assistant at the Morrison Institute when she participated in the report.

Public policy is driven by data that shows the depth of a problem, but that data is nearly impossible to come by because of the lack of a universal nomenclature, Resnick said. Existing data sets can’t be linked because no one knows exactly what is being measured.

“We need to be able to go to policymakers with actual data and experiences,” she said.

Resnik said that housing for elderly people often follows a progression in intensity from independent living to semi-skilled to nursing. For young adults with autism, the progression might be reversed.

“We need more intensive support early in their adult lives after leaving high school,” she said.

“In the past few decades we’ve made tremendous advances in early identification, early intervention and early education.

“But after they leave high school at the age of 22, they’re faced with a scarcity or disjointed services, and they slide backward. So few resources have been focused on the adults.”

The report includes examples of innovative supportive housing communities, including First Place, in central Phoenix. Residents there have the opportunity to participate in the First Place Transition Academy, a two-year program run by the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center that builds independent living and career skills. The residents also have community activities and other supports, including vocational skills building and a culinary teaching kitchen.

First Place also is home to the First Place Leadership Institute, a hands-on training center for professionals, educators, support staff and medical personnel. The center offers a fellowship in which doctoral students in the Watts School of Public Policy and Community Solutions at ASU can conduct research while living and participating in the community. 

The “Call to Action” portion of the report was written by Resnik and Desiree Kameka Galloway, director of the Autism Housing Network. Among the actions they urge are:

  • Require local and state housing plans to include people with autism and intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • Make it easier for underutilized properties to be developed into supportive housing, including incentives, planning grants and capacity-building initiatives for faith-based congregations, universities, community colleges, vacant land or remnant lots, etc.
  • Expand programs such as Non-Elderly Disabled Housing Choice Vouchers, Medicaid HBCS waivers and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.
  • Revise the IRS tax code to incentivize donations to nonprofits that provide housing.
  • Help families and friends understand how to bequeath or purchase a home for a loved one with autism that protects them from financial exploitation, provides an adequate plan for sustainability and increases the housing stock available for others in need.

After Resnik’s son, Matt, moved into First Place, a blog on the website followed his victories and challenges as he learned how to do his laundry, keep track of his apartment key and host dinner parties for friends.

“A Place in the World” takes a respectful approach on what autism is and isn’t, Resnick said.

“It reinforces my personal belief that a diagnosis need not stand in in the way of an individual’s opportunity to have a friend, a job, a home and a community that is important to them.”

Top image: Denise Resnik, founder and CEO of the First Place AZ nonprofit organization, stands in front of First Place, the residential community for adults with autism that opened in 2018. The residents, including Resnik's son, get supports including life and career skills building. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


CompuGirls Hawaii announces free virtual spring program

January 27, 2021

Hawaiian girls in grades 8-12 are invited to apply for the CompuGirls Hawaii Spring Camp 2021, a free virtual program aimed to introduce and educate Hawaiian girls underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education to cybersecurity and information technology.

CompuGirls Hawaii is an affiliate of COMPUGIRLS, a national program focused on increasing opportunities for girls of color in the fields of science and technology that was founded by ASU Professor Kimberly Scott. A Zoom collage screen of participants in a high school STEM program Participants of the CompuGirl Hawaii fall cohort 2020. Download Full Image

Participants of CompuGirls Hawaii will take part in nine, two-hour sessions on Saturdays from Feb. 20 to April 24 and will be provided with full access to the curriculum and activities. The registration deadline is Friday, Feb. 12.

The nine-week course continues the accumulation of cybersecurity knowledge, skills and experiences that started with the multi-year program in the fall of 2020. Throughout the virtual camp, students solidify their understanding and definition of cybersecurity, collaborate with peers and learn how to use ciphers to solve problems while sharing their knowledge within their community. Nearly 50 girls attended the fall camp and have been invited to return to continue their cybersecurity education along with additional girls from the islands of Hawaii.

The spring camp will include the use of innovative technologies, such as Gather.Town, a virtual space for students to interact more effectively online by combining video calling with a 2D map, and micro:bit, a pocket-size computer that introduces how software and hardware work together. In addition, students will be introduced to cryptography: the practice of encrypting and decrypting data; the role of ciphers in cybersecurity: guessing the cipher key to reveal encrypted data; whether cracking ciphers is ethical; and much more.

“CompuGirls Hawaii provides Hawaii girls with the unique opportunity to explore cybersecurity and IT with access to mentors, job shadowing and industry internships. Following the success of our fall 2020 program, we look forward to welcoming a new spring cohort and engaging students in new activities, while connecting them with local leaders and exploring possible career paths.” 
Jodi Ito, chair of CyberHawaii and chief information security officer of the University of Hawaii

Registration for CompuGirls Hawaii Spring Camp 2021 is free and open to Hawaiian girls, grades 8-12. Students who do not have access to a laptop with USB ports and/or Wi-Fi must indicate that in their application, and devices will be provided to them for the duration of the program. To register, visit

The inaugural CompuGirls Hawaii fall cohort was led by Hawaii public school teachers selected as mentor-teachers to implement the curriculum and be responsible for student academic growth. The fall cohort had 49 students representing Oahu, Maui, Lanai and Hawaii Island, with a large number identifying as Native Hawaiian or having more than one ethnicity.

CompuGirls Hawaii Logo

CompuGirls Hawaii is an affiliate of COMPUGIRLS, a national program focused on increasing opportunities for girls of color in the fields of science and technology. The program was developed in partnership with CyberHawaii, the University of Hawaii, Arizona State University Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology and the Defense STEM Education Consortium. The goal of CompuGirls Hawaii is to introduce Hawaiian girls, from populations traditionally underrepresented in STEM, to cybersecurity and IT as a field of study and viable career path.

Julianne Culey

Communications Specialist, Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology


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Black economic successes need more study as part of racial reckoning

Black economic successes ignored in business scholarship, professor says.
January 22, 2021

W. P. Carey community reflects on diversity and inclusion issues in workshop series

Students, staff and faculty of the W. P. Carey School of Business met Jan. 21 to discuss how the school’s motto of “Business is Personal” can reflect the urgent calls for better diversity, equity and inclusion.

Like many units of Arizona State University, and the university as a whole, W. P. Carey started discussions on racial reckoning last year, after the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd in May 2020. The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and the Inclusive Teaching and Learning Committee were formed.

Jeffrey Wilson, a professor of economics, is the faculty chair of the universitywide Advisory Council on African American Affairs.

“I have been at ASU for 35 years and somehow, this time, this past summer, was really different,” he said, noting that there are now many diversity committees across the university.

“I’m sad to tell you that in my 35 years, we picked up some things and there was smoke and no fire. This time, I expect the fire to come forward soon.”

The workshop was a chance to update the W. P. Carey community on the work done so far and to allow several people to highlight important issues to consider.

One key message from the workshop speakers was to accept difficult truths, both in history and in what’s happening now.

Lois Brown, director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at ASU, has been working with W. P. Carey, and was the keynote speaker of the workshop.

She described the history of using violence to destroy the economic livelihoods of Black people. Her primary example was the 1921 massacre of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, when a thriving Black neighborhood of 35 city blocks with more than 100 businesses was firebombed by white residents. More than 300 people were killed and 1,000 homes were destroyed by a white mob fueled by jealousy, she said.

Brown said that Black economic enterprises such as the Greenwood District are understudied.

“There have been traditions and histories of African American enterprise and financial success that have been stunning,” said Brown, an ASU Foundation Professor of English.

“They are not often taught and they are not often woven into our larger understanding of American industry,” she said.

Americans often forget that the full title of the 1963 event where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech was the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” Brown said.

“Economic justice is intertwined with every conversation we have about democracy, diversity, equity and inclusion,” she said.

Brown said that inclusion must be a deliberate practice informed by history, culture and awareness.

“What does it mean to champion diversity? It means to access histories that have enormous amounts of trauma that reveal the schisms, that reveal the tensions, that reveal the undoing of prosperity,” she said.

Several speakers shared their thoughts on how W. P. Carey can improve inclusion.

Aniyah Braveboy, a senior majoring in public service and public policy in the W. P. Carey School of Business, said that the school must “prepare Black students for life as a Black person outside of college.”

That means having more Black mentors and faculty members, as well as incorporating more content about Black people and culture into the classroom, she said.

“I took African American Affairs, and other than that class, none of my other classes spoke of Black culture or Black history in other realms, such as accounting or psychology or business,” said Braveboy, who is president of the Black African Coalition student group.

“Other than talking about slavery or Martin Luther King Jr. Day or Black History Month, it’s never mentioned in coursework.”

The Black African Coalition has surveyed students and found that they want more Black academic advisers and peer advisers at ASU, she said. She suggested the school have more Black mentors in the freshman-level W. P. Carey 101 class.

“I know that ASU loves the idea of treating every person the same, but when a Black person applies for a job, they are not looked at the same as a Latin person or a white person,” said Braveboy, who recounted a recent job interview in which she faced discrimination.

“Minority students need more assistance and more attention in this area because of how America is,” she said.

Dan Gruber, associate dean for teaching and learning, said that the school will soon announce a new grant to encourage innovative and inclusive practices in curriculum. The speaker series will continue over the next few months, with an April session focused on syllabi and coursework.

The workshop participants were encouraged to reflect on what each speaker said, and a discussion session followed the talks.

Kim Jones started working in the business school when she was an undergraduate in the late 1970s.

Back then, she rarely saw anyone in the business school who looked like her.

“There were not many people of color,” said Jones, who is now an academic success adviser.

“Things have changed very gradually. I don’t want to say we’ve become complacent, but we need a flow, we need a movement.”

She said it’s important to clear a path to staff and faculty positions for people from underrepresented groups.

“It’s propping the door for others to walk through,” she said.

Top image by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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Education the key to systemic change

January 21, 2021

RaceB4Race symposium focuses on education around premodern critical race theory

As the turbulent summer of 2020 wound to a close, with the nation still reeling after the killing of George Floyd ignited a spate of Black Lives Matter protests calling for an end to systemic racism and violence directed at Black people and communities of color, Arizona State University announced its commitment to a 25-step plan for the advancement of its Black students and community members.

It is education, after all, that is the key to achieving systemic change, said Ayanna Thompson, ASU Regents Professor of English and director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Since 2019, Thompson has been at the helm of the RaceB4Race symposium, a biannual conference series she founded that invites scholars of premodern studies to consider the study of race through the framework of classical texts.

Thompson on Wednesday welcomed attendees to the first day of this year’s four-day virtual conference by reflecting on the significance of the day, one which saw the replacement of an administration that in September 2020 issued an order to the heads of federal agencies banning funding for antiracist trainings, warning them that “the divisive, false and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the federal government.”

“While I rarely agree with the previous administration's policies of rhetoric, I wonder if they were correct declaring critical race theory a movement,” Thompson said. “And while I assume that the directive will be withdrawn by the new administration, the memo reminds us all how important education is for achieving systemic change.  

“Education is the key to unlock the concept and creation of new structures, new systems, new theories, new practices and new possibilities. We have to be taught to be actively anti-racist. We have to be taught to pursue radical equity. We have to be taught how to make systemic change. We have to be taught how to open our fields and we have to be taught how to teach premodern studies in a more inclusive fashion.”

The two guest speakers for the symposium’s opening event were Ian Smith, professor of English at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, who gave a talk titled “Racial Literacy: A Reckoning,” and Adrienne Merritt, a visiting assistant professor of German studies at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, who gave a talk titled “Feirefiz, White Legacies, and Interraciality: Teaching German Studies While Black in America.”

The purpose of their and other symposium speakers’ talks, Thompson explained, is to “interrogate how we teach our fields, why we teach our fields and who we implicitly and explicitly include and exclude in the process,” reminding the audience that the Jamaican-born Stewart Hall was once dissuaded from becoming a medievalist, and beloved American novelist Toni Morrison was once dissuaded from becoming an early modernist. (Neither listened to their dissenters.)

“If we remember those injustices, we must push and pull with BIPOCBlack, Indigenous and people of color students,” Thompson said. “I am fond of saying that we BIPOC folks have always been here, and that we have rich histories, but that our education systems have not always taught those rich histories. The speakers at this gathering of RaceB4Race will challenge us all to rethink our pedagogical approaches to both premodern literature, history and culture and critical race studies.”

screenshot of professors on a Zoom call

Clockwise from top left: Adrienne Merritt, visiting assistant professor of German studies at St. Olaf College in Minnesota; Ian Smith, professor of English at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania; Ayanna Thompson, ASU Regents Professor of English and director of the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies; and Kim Hall, Barnard College Lucyle Hook Professor of English and Africana Studies.

Following Smith’s and Merritt’s talks, Barnard College Lucyle Hook Professor of English and Africana Studies Kim Hall moderated a question and answer session between the duo and symposium attendees. Hall began the session by reflecting on a quote from each talk that speaks to larger issues at play in society today.

From Merritt’s talk, Hall quoted a statement about how the denial of imagined supremacy and literary whiteness in Germanic medieval literary study allows such legacies to continue to flourish.

“One look of the footage of the recently attempted coup by right-wing insurrectionists in D.C. details the continued presence of Germanic medieval symbolism and ideology,” Merritt said. “I choose to name German studies for what it is, enveloped in whiteness, and by doing so, break the silence concerning the legacy of imagined supremacy.”

From Smith’s talk, Hall quoted questions he asked about how the recent proliferation of critical race readings of texts and the rise of the field of early modern critical race studies may change the work of reading and teaching Shakespeare in particular, and in turn, the effect that may have on modern day consumption of Black culture.

“Race is evident everywhere in Shakespeare,” Smith said. “In early modern drama, it resides in plain sight. But what has this meant to our profession? What must it mean today for our own critical investments in early modern texts? Is Blackness … still something to be consumed but not necessarily anything to engage with? … Here then is an opportunity to consider the work of racial literacy … Racial literacy is understanding the racism structured into every aspect of our society and accepting the quality of others, their experiences and lives as part of the democracy we build.”

One of the most important questions Smith and Merritt addressed was how to effectively bring the moral reflection and reckoning required by critical race studies into classrooms of students from a variety of backgrounds, in a way that will help them learn and unlearn assumptions about whiteness that unknowingly color their interpretations of literature.

“That work in the classroom is slow. It takes time. It is not a quick fix,” Smith said. “Students grow significantly as undergraduates … and you need to get them engaged in the conversations over and over again … because each time you return to it, it has the possibility of meeting them in different places at different times and having a different sort of impact. This is why I think institutions need to make the firm commitment to this kind of work, so it can encompass the time that is needed.”

There are still two days’-worth of talks left in the symposium, including “coffee talks” with  Geoffrey Way, manager of Publishing Futures for the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and Farah Karim-Cooper, professor of Shakespeare studies at King’s College London, as well as talks and discussions by scholars including Eric L. De Barros, Old Dominion University assistant professor of English, and Barbara Bordalejo, University of Saskatchewan professor of English and digital humanities.

The next RaceB4Race symposium is scheduled to take place in April, with the theme of politics.

Top photo: statue of William Shakespeare, courtesy of Pixabay.

ASU Law professor appointed to Interior Department leadership role in Biden-Harris administration

Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, also an ASU Law alum, named deputy solicitor for Indian Affairs

January 20, 2021

When Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes attended the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, the college’s Indian Legal Program was one of only a few of its kind that focused on enrolling and retaining Native American students, recruiting Native faculty and expanding the number of Indian law courses.

“That commitment was the key to my success,” said Bledsoe Downes, who has been named deputy solicitor for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior. “Now, the Indian Legal Program has over 370 alumni, and I know I will inevitably be working with many of them in this new position.” photo of Ann Marie Bledsoe-Downes ASU Law Professor Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes has been named deputy solicitor for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior. Download Full Image

Bledsoe Downes most recently served as an ASU Law professor of practice and director of the college’s Indian Gaming and Self-Governance Programs and was executive vice president of community impact and engagement at Ho-Chunk Inc. She previously served as the deputy assistant secretary for policy and economic development for the Interior Department’s Indian Affairs and as interim director of the Bureau of Indian Education under former President Barack Obama’s administration. She also is a prior executive director of ASU Law’s Indian Legal Program.

“It is extremely hard for me to leave ASU Law and my work in my tribal community at Ho-Chunk Inc., but I believe in public service and President Biden has prioritized several things that are also extremely important to Indian Country, including climate change, racial justice, economic recovery and, of course, COVID response,” Bledsoe Downes said. “President Biden has also made restoring the relationship with the 574 federally recognized tribes in the United States a priority for the Department of the Interior. I look forward to being part of the team working on solutions to these challenges.”

Bledsoe Downes noted the implication of that team potentially being led by Deb Haaland, Biden’s choice to be interior secretary. Haaland would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary.

“The significance of her nomination and to me personally and to all of Indian Country cannot be overstated,” Bledsoe Downes said.

Bledsoe Downes offered some important advice for ASU Law students.

“I encourage all law students to consider public service as an option and to take advantage of the courses and externships we have through our Washington, D.C., campus as a way to learn and connect with the wide range of professional opportunities available in our nation’s capital,” she said. “In fact, MLS, JD and LLM students interested in Indian law can connect directly with Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance Programs Executive Director and Professor Larry Roberts, who is based out of our D.C. campus.”

Read more about Bledsoe Downes’s appointment in the Interior Department’s press release.

“With today’s announcement, President Biden is delivering on his commitment to build teams that exude talent and experience, and look like America,” Jennifer Van der Heide, incoming chief of staff, said in the release. “We look forward to working with the dedicated civil servants at the department to fulfill Interior’s missions, advance President Biden’s vision to honor our nation-to-nation relationship with tribes and uphold the trust and treaty responsibilities to them, address the climate and nature crises, and build a clean energy future that creates good-paying jobs and powers our nation. We are ready to get to work on behalf of the American people.”

Julie Tenney

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

The science of the brain and the heart meet in ASU professor and Latino advocate

January 20, 2021

Jose E. Náñez Sr. holds many esteemed titles and roles at Arizona State University, yet his honors and credentials can’t encapsulate his lifetime of advocacy and groundbreaking science.

Náñez is a President’s Professor of psychology in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the executive director for community outreach and student services at Educational Outreach and Student Services, an affiliated professor in the interdisciplinary graduate program in neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience and a professor in Barrett, The Honors College. Jose Nanez in Minneapolis Professor Jose E. Náñez in Minneapolis. Download Full Image

Náñez grew up in a small town in northern California. His parents immigrated to the United States from Chihuahua, Mexico. Although the farming life in Mexico served them well, they felt that a move to the United States would benefit their son and his siblings, Náñez said. 

“We start building memories we remember at age 3,” said Náñez. “I have many fond memories of my early childhood and adolescence. I was brought up by my parents since birth to respect, appreciate and help people.”

As a bilingual child, he was expected to flip between both English and Spanish at the drop of a hat. This talent took him further than he imagined. And he made sure that his skills did not only benefit himself but others as well. Náñez realized that his neighbors could not file for a driver's license and other social services due to the language barrier and having to write in English. So he tagged along as a translator. When he noticed that cognitively delayed students were being targeted by middle school bullies, he stood up to protect his classmates. His motivation to be an advocate for others started early and has continued throughout his life.  

“There were people who acted like they were above other people, and there were people who were treated less than equal,” said Náñez. “So I became a social justice advocate at a very young age.”

Náñez served active and reserve duty in the U.S. Navy and reserve duty in the U.S. Army. His military service enabled him to pursue a  college education with little debt thanks to the GI Bill. He decided to become a psychologist and neuroscientist after discovering the impact stress has on people both in and out of the military. Náñez earned his associate degree in liberal arts from Butte Community College in Oroville, California, his BS and MA in psychology from California State University, Chico, and his doctorate in psychology from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

His time in college served as a “psychological timeout” to study human behavior. He redefined his life while holding onto the lessons he was taught by the most intelligent people he knew: his parents. It became clear that academia was his path.

He discovered Arizona State University after earning his doctorate in Minnesota. Though the Midwest taught him well, he said ASU was a community where Hispanic heritage was valued and honored. He could have an impact on students who needed a professor who looked like him in their lives. 

“I felt like a role model without people to model for. I felt out of place,” said Náñez. “I wanted to be where they have Mexican American students.”

Over the past 32 years at ASU, Náñez became an advocate for students not only within the university but in the communities surrounding it. He collaborated to design the city of Guadalupe’s preschool program, launched the innovative Summer Experience at West college prep program for high school students and even honored César E. Chávez, whom his parents had worked with in the farm labor movement, with an honorary doctorate from ASU.  

“From him, I learned that serving others can be a mission in life, no matter what you do,” Náñez said. 

For Náñez, his scientific background also intersects with his humanitarian nature; he has also spent his career researching how the brain changes while learning languages and gaining experiences. This has taught him to value the education of both the mind and the heart, or conscience. 

“Scientists say you don’t think with your heart; it’s all in your head,” said Náñez. “But Dr. Chávez would say, ‘What good is an education of the mind if you can’t educate your heart?’”

Every day at ASU, Náñez is asked questions about the mind, racism, curriculum, the Hispanic community and the “heart." He said his work with students and the community here has been very rich, diverse and rewarding. His many awards and honors, including being honored in 2020 for National Hispanic Heritage Month at ASU, show how much the ASU community values him in return.  

“I was brought to this dance called the university, and I'm dancing with the people here,” said Náñez. “I'm dancing with the students here, whoever they are. I am dancing with people wherever they are. So, I guess that’s why I call myself a universalist.”

By Annika Tourlas, ASU Student Life

Reporting by Macy Kimpland and Hannah Moulton Belec

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


ASU faculty discuss equity and inclusion in STEM at virtual event

'Picture a Scientist' documentary post-screening discussion touches on systemic solutions, the importance of empathy

January 19, 2021

On Jan. 7, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University hosted a virtual screening and discussion of “Picture a Scientist” — a documentary film that chronicles the groundswell of researchers who are writing a new chapter for female scientists. 

The film, an official selection of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, follows a biologist, chemist and geologist’s experiences in the sciences, overcoming harassment, institutional discrimination and subtle slights to revolutionize the culture of sciences. From left to right, top to bottom: Nancy Grimm, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Meenakshi Wadhwa, Nancy Gonzales and Ann McKenna discuss the documentary “Picture a Scientist” after a virtual screening. Download Full Image

The livestreamed discussion was led by Nancy Gonzales, provost pro tempore and outgoing dean of natural sciences, and Raychelle Burks, professor of analytical chemistry at American University in Washington, D.C., and one of the scientists featured in the documentary.

Discussing her thoughts on the film, Burks said she feels it helps illuminate the different types of harassment happening in the science world.

“People tend to be very focused on the gratuitous sexual harrassment and sexual assault — which of course is shocking and violating — but it’s also all of the gendered harassment that is more common,” Burks said. “Asking women to take notes, to fetch your coffee, not inviting them to key meetings, giving them twice as much service work. ... To hear all the stories and see all the data presented in that way makes it very clear that this is a systemic problem.”

As part of ASU’s Innovation Quarter, the event included discussions from three esteemed panels of ASU faculty and leaders who answered questions around the themes of equity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Progress and the barriers that remain

The first panel featured a group of distinguished female faculty in the sciences and engineering who discussed their own experiences in the field, the progress being made in STEM and the barriers that remain in ensuring more equitable environments:

  • Lindy Elkins-Tanton, vice president of ASU’s Interplanetary Initiative and Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

  • Nancy Grimm, ASU Regents Professor in the School of Life Sciences and an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences.

  • Ann McKenna, vice dean of strategic advancement and professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

  • Meenakshi Wadhwa, director and professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Wadhwa reflected on the ways in which women and minoritized groups, not only in the film but in many labs around the country, are often pushed out of STEM fields because of bullying, harassment and exclusionary behaviors.

In discussing how she believes this can be addressed, she said there are two main aspects.

“One needs to create a culture, a climate that's inclusive and welcoming. The second is that we need to address structural and systemic issues. We’re actively working to address both of these in my school,” Wadhwa said.

Reiterating a point made by Burks in the film, Wadhwa said she believes it's crucial to create a workplace environment where women and minorities don't feel invisible but they also don't feel hypervisible. She shared that the School of Earth and Space Exploration hosts monthly community conversations where anyone can share information, feedback and commentary in an effort to encourage awareness and an open dialogue.

When asked where she sees positive change happening in STEM, Elkins-Tanton said she feels progress is being made because these issues are being openly discussed.

“The change we’re trying to make is a change in culture, a change in expectation, a change in our subconscious reactions and thus our implicit bias — and it starts with new laws and policies, but that's not enough,” Elkins-Tanton said. “The change becomes real when we all see all people as equally deserving and equally promising — that has to be brought about by talking.”

The role of male allies in creating systemic change 

The second panel, consisting of five men currently in leadership roles at ASU, discussed how men can be institutional allies to women in STEM and their roles in impacting institutional practices and culture at universities:

  • Christopher Boone, dean of the College of Global Futures.

  • Patrick Kenney, dean of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

  • Vernon Morris, director of the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences.

  • Kyle Squires, dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

  • Neal Woodbury, interim executive vice president and chief science and technology officer of the ASU Knowledge Enterprise.

From left to right, top to bottom: Patrick Kenney, Nancy Gonzales, Christopher Boone, Kyle Squires, Neal Woodbury and Vernon Morris.

Morris spoke about how as systemic problems, these issues require systemic change.

“I think for men, generally speaking, we’ve got to recognize that sometimes we’re comfortable with systems that are broken. If the system is actually discriminatory, we may have to change elements of the system,” Morris said. “The approach that would make the most sense to me is actually interrogating the system as it is, challenging it and changing it.”

He went on to say he feels leadership must be brave enough to challenge and turn the system on its head, while not just simply modifying or adding things so people can get through the system as it exists.

In discussing some of the men in the film, Boone said it is clear that even friends and allies need to work harder together to continue to learn and do better. When asked what his ideas are to encourage men and other allies to develop greater empathy, he said he believes it starts with giving them the opportunity to explore how they would react when presented with circumstances of workplace discrimination and other related issues.

“There’s lots of reasons why people don’t speak out, fear of retribution, whether it’s violent or verbal. I think people also freeze in the moment, they don’t know what to do because this is outside of what they consider ordinary behavior, at least for themselves,” Boone said. “So I think we need to do a better job of putting people into those scenarios where they can at least have a sense of ‘what could the potential intervention be.’” 

Reflecting on the ways his path and that of his male colleagues may have been made easier than that of women and other minoritized populations, Kenney added that one pervasive force he recognizes is white male privilege.

“You have no idea how powerful it is as you move along,” Kenney said. “White male privilege is there from the get-go, it doesn’t go away and it probably has a multiplier effect across time.”

The importance of mentorship, innovation and awareness

The final panel, consisting of five women who are earlier in their teaching careers in the sciences and engineering, discussed and shared resources they have found supportive in achieving their professional goals as academics: 

  • Laura Ackerman, assistant professor in the School of Molecular Sciences. 

  • Brooke Coley, assistant professor in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

  • Esther Florsheim, assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences.

  • Christy Till, associate professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. 

  • Marisol Perez, associate professor in the Department of Psychology.

From left to right, top to bottom: Christy Till, Raychelle Burks, Laura Ackerman, Brooke Colley, Esther Florsheim and Marisol Perez.

Florsheim shared how eager she is to be able to explore topics nobody has studied before while finding new things and potentially helping people through her work as a member of ASU’s faculty. 

“As a member of the professoriate I think what will be exciting is to connect with people — to collaborate, to mentor and to brainstorm new ideas. I don’t think there’s innovation without a diverse group of people generating new ideas,” Florsheim said.

Perez added that mentorship has been a crucial part of her own personal success in STEM. After becoming connected to several mentors through the National Science Foundation’s advanced scholars program, she said her outlook and career aspirations changed for the better.

“That changed my developmental path in my career,” Perez said. “They fundamentally changed my view and most importantly, they showed me the playbook. There was nobody that was a leader in my field that looked like me. My mentors really helped me step by step in teaching the playbook and I think that was just vital.”

In talking about efforts and initiatives taking place within their labs, schools and departments, Coley shared how she is leading a book club for faculty and staff called the Fulton School of Engineering Equity Book Club, in an effort to combat the myth that constructs of racism and sexism exist in the world but not overtly in academic environments.

“We’re trying to elevate the standards of responsibility. Where is it no longer enough to say, ‘I didn’t know?’ or ‘I didn’t see that?’ How can we prepare people to navigate as professionals in this realm?” Coley said. “The goal is that through educational awareness, we’ll be able to expose people to more evidence.”

Empowering STEM professionals to be agents of change

Gonzales said conversations like the ones had during the virtual panel sessions are crucial to creating positive, systemic change within STEM, academia and at ASU.

“We are grateful to all of our esteemed guests for sharing their thoughts and expertise,” Gonzales said. “I am hopeful that as we continue these important discussions, members of our community who are watching will feel empowered to be agents of change, working together to create inclusive environments for women, women of color and other previously excluded groups in STEM." 

Emily Balli

Communications Specialist and Lead Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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Tiffany López appointed ASU's next vice provost for inclusion and community engagement

January 15, 2021

Tiffany López, professor in The New American Film School in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, has been named Arizona State University’s next vice provost for inclusion and community engagement.

López assumed the new leadership role on Jan. 1, after spending the fall semester in the provost’s office as a leadership fellow, working alongside Professor Stanlie James, who vacated the role Dec. 31, 2020. James will retire in May 2021.

López was previously the director of the former School of Film, Dance and Theatre. The Herberger Institute recently reorganized its schools, with the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and The New American Film School taking the place of the former School of Film, Dance and Theatre and the School of Music.

As the School of Film, Dance and Theatre’s director since July 2016, López has helped position ASU’s film program as one of the top 25 fastest-growing programs in the nation, while increasing the number of undergraduate female filmmakers and diversifying faculty within the school’s programs. She has also been a key player in preparing the university's film program to launch into The New American Film School and for the Herberger Institute's scheduled expansion into Mesa City Center in 2022.

As a first-generation college student, López has dedicated her career to expanding opportunities in higher education, advancing the role of the arts and building pathways to support success through leadership. López believes she would not be where she is today without the support of transformative mentors.

“I’m excited to be appointed into a leadership role that serves the entire university and has a core focus on inclusion and community engagement,” López said. “These are pillars for creating an environment where everyone feels supported to bring their best and whole selves to working with a sense of purpose and connection.”

The Office of Inclusion and Community Engagement is a unit within the Office of the University Provost that helps ASU achieve its commitment to creating an inclusive environment through campus programs, initiatives and beyond.

“Dr. López has demonstrated great efforts in advancing the university’s commitment to inclusion,” said Mark Searle, executive vice president and university provost. “Her leadership of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre reflects that and positions her well to contribute to the university’s continued work toward a fully inclusive community. Tiffany will be building on the work of Professor James and her challenge will be to help ASU accelerate its achievement of its goals.”

Before coming to ASU, López spent more than two decades at the University of California, Riverside, where inclusion and community engagement were instrumental to her teaching, research and creative activity on how artists use their work to stage conversations about trauma and violence to generate paths for personal and social change.

It has been no different at ASU’s Herberger Institute. López has worked tirelessly to create a spirit of “radical welcome.” And as senior adviser to the dean for equity practices and engagement, she has helped advance inclusive initiatives, such as recent work with the social justice organization Race Forward and the ongoing Projecting All Voices fellows program.

“I’m looking forward to working with university leaders and members of the ASU community to identify the gap between our intentions and impact,” said López about her goals in the new leadership role. “This is necessary to fully realize the vision of our charter, which provides such a wonderful compass for this work.”

López is a founding member of the Latino Theater Alliance of Los Angeles, the National Latinx Theater Commons and the Latinx Literature Society for the American Literature Association. She earned her bachelor’s degree from California State University, Sacramento and her master’s degree and PhD from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She was also the first Cesar Chavez Dissertation Fellow at Dartmouth College.

López is the recipient of many prestigious awards, including ASU Faculty Women’s Association Outstanding Faculty Mentor award (2019), Hispanic Lifestyle Latina of Influence (2015), Fulbright Scholar (2004); and numerous grants and fellowships from the Mellon Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts and Rockefeller Foundation.

Top photo of Tiffany López provided by the Herberger Institute. 

Jimena Garrison

Copywriter , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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ASU grad students launch project to illustrate diversity in anthropology

January 12, 2021

Frustrated by lack of diversity shown in depictions of anthropologists, team creates series of free-to-use illustrations

Liam Gleason sat scrolling through dozens of images hoping to find something that showed diversity in anthropology for a poster they were creating. An image search for “archaeologist” yielded many results, but they were all very similar and didn’t capture the diversity of the profession. 

“There was one archaeology image that showed a man and a woman working in a ditch,” Gleason said. “He’s got this giant white mustache and a helmet, and he’s digging for bones, and she has an hourglass figure and is serving the man drinks.”

In that moment, the idea for Anthro Illustrated was born. 

Gleason, a graduate student in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change who prefers they/them pronouns, was frustrated by the lack of diversity shown in depictions of anthropologists, so they decided to create their own. Gleason formed a team of interdisciplinary Arizona State University anthropology graduate students to help and commissioned an artist to create vibrant digital illustrations that feature a wide range of anthropologists. 

Anthropological geneticist

The illustrations show people who are passionate about anthropology. There are people of different races, ages, ethnicities and religions, pregnant women, people of different body types and people with tattoos, among others. 

The project is called Anthro Illustrated, and the illustrations are available free of charge for personal and noncommercial use, with the hope they will be used for public outreach. The illustrations are appropriate for adults and kids and are accessible through the website

The first 10 images depict people working in core fields of anthropology, including primatology, archaeology, linguistics and genetics. Twelve newly created images branch out into other fields, like cultural studies, environmental social science and archaeological chemistry. 

Many illustrations also have variations, which is one way the team strives to show more inclusivity and representation. The same illustration may have variations with different hair or skin color, or featuring different areas of anthropology.

For example, this archaeological illustration (below) depicts a pottery excavation, and a variation of the same image shows an excavation of human skeletal remains. 

illustrations of two different anthropology scenarios

The team and the vision

The diverse group of graduate students want to show what anthropology looks like to them. 

The team was mindful of how many identities one person can have. They also considered how one image could portray multiple aspects of a person’s life. Gleason notes how often binary labels can fail to accurately define a person. Gleason, for example, is a United States Air Force veteran, a graduate student and an adjunct anthropology professor at a local community college. 

illustration of man working in lab

The illustrations also help people visualize areas of anthropology that might be more difficult for people who don’t work in anthropology to understand. 

Sofía Pacheco-Forés graduated from ASU with a PhD in anthropology last spring, but continues to serve as one of the main collaborators of Anthro Illustrated. She is excited about utilizing accurate illustrations to help describe her field — bioarchaeology, an area of anthropology that studies ancient human remains. 

A common ethical theme in anthropology is to be aware and respectful of human remains, and one way anthropologists can do this is by not sharing images of human remains. This can make it difficult for people to visualize what a bioarchaeologist does. 

“I was very excited about the opportunity to have illustrations that I could use for outreach to show what bioarchaeology looks like,” Pacheco-Forés said. “People can actually see what I’m talking about when I describe archaeological chemistry on bones and teeth, but without actually showing images of human remains.” 

Pacheco-Forés does a lot of education and outreach with elementary school children, and her “Skype with a Scientist” sessions are more engaging when she can use bright imagery. 

The image creation process

Each image is intended to be both visually compelling and accurate, but there is often more than meets the eye. 

illustration of person in field studying primates

For example, one illustration (at right) depicts a queer person studying primatology. A cultural consideration of place was important while creating this image. Gleason notes many popular locations for observing wild monkeys are in countries where it’s not safe to be a queer person.

So, instead of the person wearing a shirt that says “PRIDE” across the front, the representation is more subtle. 

“We’re trying to be accurate in lived experience while still trying to foster belonging,” Gleason said.

Response from the public 

Tisa Loewen is a graduate student involved with Anthro Illustrated. When Loewen shared the first illustrations on her Twitter account, she was overwhelmed by the response.

“I wasn’t prepared to be the public relations person,” Loewen said. “I was just really excited to share our project.”

woman marking dig site with flags

She said she has experienced personal growth through the process of creating and then unveiling the illustrations, managing people’s responses, editing illustrations and rereleasing them. At times it was challenging, but she said it’s worth doing all the hard work.

Gleason said the project grew faster than anyone expected, and the feedback is mostly positive. 

“It’s monumental to me, to have people I really aspire to be like, who’ve been in the field for so long, say that they finally feel seen," Gleason said. 

“I was really surprised at the amount of graduate students and professors, even tenured professors that I really look up to, who shared with me that ‘this is the first time I feel seen.' Or, people who are really famous in their field, who notice, ‘Wow, that guy looks like me.’ That blew me away.” 

Illustrations in action

The team has received thank you notes and encouragement from around the world. Professors, graduate students and staff at cultural and educational organizations are using the images in the United States, Australia, Europe, South Africa and Mexico. 

Now, knowing people are utilizing the illustrations globally, the team strived to be even more inclusive in the newly released images.

group of people studying ethnobotany on site

For example, the illustration at right focuses on ethnobotany, which is the study of how people use plants. Gleason notes that they considered how to make the depiction technically accurate, but vague enough that it could be taking place in various rainforest locations.

Palmyra Jackson, education research coordinator for the American Anthropological Association, used the images as part of a campaign encouraging first generation college students and students of color to study anthropology.

“Thank you for creating illustrations that represent the people who make up the discipline," Jackson said. “Our whole office loved your illustrations and we're happy we can use them to support our ‘Anthropologists Go Back to School’ program.” 

Aware of countries with very strict internet regulations, the Anthro Illustrated team made sure the website doesn’t track cookies or gather user data. This means the team doesn’t know how many people have visited the site since its launch in August of 2020.

“But, we do know it must be a lot, because I bought the domain name for $2 and it went up to about $1,000 in a month,” Gleason said. 

Room to grow 

Gleason’s two main goals for this project were to create illustrations that allow people to see themselves, and that the images would be free to use so there are no financial barriers. 

Pacheco-Forés hopes that the illustrations will help kids see themselves in anthropology careers and inspire them to become anthropologists. 

They’re off to a strong start with 68 total illustrations, but there are still a lot more to create. The team would also like to have illustrations with words translated into multiple languages.

Illustrations are created in batches each semester. This schedule allows room for ideas and adaptations, and gives Gleason time to fund the work.

Gleason said that they have received offers for donations, but politely decline and suggest instead donating to charities.

Founders of Anthro Illustrated include School of Human Evolution and Social Change graduate students Liam Gleason, Tisa N. Loewen and Sofía Pacheco-Forés (a recent graduate), who utilize the knowledge of many other graduate students to help review images for accuracy. The team also consults with volunteer community members and anthropologists. 

The artist for Anthro Illustrated is Bircan Mutlu, a Turkish art student commissioned to create illustrations for this project from a pool of more than 50 applicants. 

View and download the Anthro Illustrated images

Taylor Woods

Communications program coordinator , School of Human Evolution and Social Change


City of Tempe recognizes ASU Project Humanities with MLK Diversity Award

January 11, 2021

Arizona State University’s Project Humanities will be recognized for excellence in education by the city of Tempe at the 23rd annual MLK Diversity Awards ceremony on Jan. 15. Project Humanities will be among 11 organizations and people who will be honored for demonstrating a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and for exemplifying the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.

Every year, the city of Tempe accepts community submissions of adults, students, businesses and organizations who live, work or volunteer in Tempe and contribute to making Tempe a more inclusive city. After reviewing submissions, the Tempe Human Relations Commission selects the winners in a number of categories.  Download Full Image

This year’s education category winner, Project Humanities, works to facilitate critical conversations through multidisciplinary and inclusive public programming that engages local, national and international communities in humanities discussions.

Neal Lester, professor of English at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of Project Humanities, said diversity work is not often intersectional, typically focusing on one or two areas. This is something he says Project Humanities works to overcome through their work.

“Our approach for the past 10 years has been to see individual identities through multiple lenses of lived experience,” Lester said. “Our work is about human ties that bind us all to each other through narrative and storytelling that is both radical and transformative. The community conversations we have are never about telling folks how to think but rather to invite ourselves and each other to think more critically about complicated ideas.”

From workshops and lectures with thought leaders to film screenings and virtual hackathons for social good, Project Humanities has continued to find ways to engage the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. This continued dedication to highlighting interconnectedness of humanity, justice and equality was central to Project Humanities being selected for the award.

Lester said the life and work of King often informs their efforts and inspires them to continue working to fulfill their mission of bettering the community.

Project Humanities team (right) with panelists at the “Dispelling the Myths: The Angry ‘Other’” event on Feb. 28, 2018, hosted at SEMA Foundation (Chandler).

“We are in the business of telling stories of us that encourage, challenge and inspire us all to be better and to do better,” he said. “This message is certainly one that propelled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to stay the course even when others doubted, challenged and aggressively sought to stop his work. Though he is not physically with us — his life tragically cut short precisely because of his unflagging justice work — we are inspired and challenged by his deep commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of justice for one and all.”

The Jan. 15 awards ceremony will be held virtually and will feature keynote speaker Tempe Mayor Corey Woods.

“Congratulations to Project Humanities and all the MLK Diversity Award winners for the exceptional work they do in Tempe,” Woods said. “Project Humanities offers real tools to teach people how to be more inclusive, compassionate and kind to each other. Programs like this one are vitally important to creating a more equitable community.”

The awards ceremony will be broadcast live at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 15 on Tempe 11, the city of Tempe Facebook, Cox cable channel 11 and on Century Link 8012. The awards ceremony recording will also be made available to watch after the event at

Emily Balli

Communications Specialist and Lead Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences