Behavioral neuroscience grad student wins Knowledge Mobilization Award for mentorship

Dylan Peay promotes graduate school opportunities for underrepresented students


October 20, 2021

This fall, graduate student Dylan Peay was announced as a recipient of the Graduate College Knowledge Mobilization Spotlight Award for his work in promoting and mentoring underrepresented students toward pursuing graduate school in neuroscience and psychology.

As an undergraduate, Peay didn’t believe that graduate school was an option for a student like him. He came from an economically disadvantaged background and didn’t think he was qualified to even attempt pursuing higher education. Fortunately, he learned from many mentors that he actually had a place. Their guidance led him to research and, ultimately, into his current doctoral program. ASU graduate student Dylan Peay stands with arms crossed in the middle of a mall on the Tempe campus “I know that thinking about the next opportunity can be very difficult for undergraduates, as it was for me. And I would just like for students to understand that there are a lot of opportunities there for them, including graduate school, no matter their position in life,” said ASU psychology graduate student Dylan Peay. Download Full Image

Peay’s research uses basic science models to test how chronic stress specifically impacts male but not female subjects. As part of Professor Cheryl Conrad’s Behavioral Neuroscience Research in Stress lab, Peay focuses on the neurobiology of chronic stress as well as the impacts that chronic stress has on learning and memory in the spatial domain.

“What got me interested in behavioral neuroscience was the opportunity to really understand the interactions between the brain and behavior,” said Peay. “With most research experiences, you only get one aspect, such as observing behavior, or you only get to perform experiments in a lab setting. Whereas, in behavioral neuroscience, we get to observe both an animal behaving and then correlate that with what we see in the brain.”

Peay and the Behavioral Neuroscience Research in Stress lab use chronic stress to model things such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Their research is important in order to understand the mechanisms behind how stress influences brain plasticity and resilience.

“Overall, the stress response is crucial for survival, but when things go awry with the stress response, that can be problematic for everyday life,” said Peay.

Conrad said Peay stands out for his curiosity and desire to pursue research questions, as well as his love for teaching and mentoring students to be successful.

“When Dylan applied to graduate school, he impressed the committee by earning an educational certificate along with his other STEM degree,” said Conrad. “This showed us that his interest in helping others learn was one of his core values. As a scientist, significant findings are less impactful unless the information can be disseminated in a way that is understandable, and Dylan is very talented in explaining difficult concepts to others.”

Refocusing his mentorship goals

In 2020, Peay found himself contemplating the tension surrounding political and social events around the world, and it refocused his attention toward what is really important to him: being a good mentor to students who needed guidance. Additionally, he noticed there is a distinct lack of Black STEM professionals, and he wanted to be a strong example of an African American mentor in neuroscience.

“I know that thinking about the next opportunity can be very difficult for undergraduates, as it was for me. And I would just like for students to understand that there are a lot of opportunities there for them, including graduate school, no matter their position in life,” said Peay, who already has a secondary education teaching credential and considers his role as an educator a personal passion.

In the Behavioral Neuroscience Research in Stress lab, there are anywhere from eight to 10 undergraduate volunteers and researchers who play a crucial part in every experiment, both in running them and processing and coding data.

Peay helps to train them through behavioral processes and surgical procedures, and the students are often able to assist with publications in the lab. Many of these undergraduate students eventually pursue graduate school as a result of their experiences in the lab.

“Dylan is an excellent young scientist who works very hard, challenges himself and thinks about science using an approach that spans from the brain to its functions via behavior. He thinks critically so that he can do the very best science, always steps up to teach others and collaborate, and does it with sincerity and kindness,” said Heather Bimonte-Nelson, President’s Professor of Psychology and director of the Behavioral Neuroscience of Memory and Aging Lab.

“Dylan is an excellent role model, an inspiration to others and a testament to what resilience, hard work and a sharp mind can accomplish. We are so proud that he is in our program."

After the completion of his PhD, Peay is looking to join a postdoctoral fellowship opportunity that will help to expand his skill set and ensure that his research maintains its translational value to inform future interventions and treatment.

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School of Social Work research center, nonprofit create newest release of program to help abused children


October 20, 2021

As students began returning in person to school this fall, educators faced a greater likelihood of encountering children who had been abused at home since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recent research by JAMA Pediatrics and the Arizona State University Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center's Wendy Wolfersteig, Marisol Diaz and Diane Moreland examined restricted-access data of calls to the 24/7 Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline operated by Childhelp, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based national nonprofit organization that assists in the prevention and treatment of child abuse. Researchers found that total 2020 inquiries to the hotline rose 13.75% over the 2019 total. Sad child Stock photo by Lucas Metz/Unsplash Download Full Image

Fortunately, a program created by Childhelp, and rigorously tested by the School of Social Work-based Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center (SIRC), is on hand to assist. The program, called the Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe prevention education curriculum, teaches children about the many forms of abuse and encourages kids to speak up if they, or anyone they know, has been abused.

SIRC’s Office of Evaluation and Partner Contracts has been teaming up with Childhelp for several years to evaluate its Speak Up Be Safe curriculum. The evaluation recently led the California Evidenced-Based Clearinghouse for Child Welfare (CEBC) to list the program in its registry as having “promising research evidence.”

Articles SIRC researchers published about the program and its efficacy in the classroom were submitted to CEBC as part of its review.

“We are proud to have our research achieve evidence-based status with a national clearinghouse,” said Wolfersteig, SIRC evaluation and partner contracts director, who also is a research associate professor in the School of Social Work. “This designation gives families and organizations the confidence to know that Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe delivers the results needed to help keep youth safe.”

SIRC’s research revealed 80% of the 10th, 11th and 12th graders surveyed said the curriculum taught them ways to keep themselves safe and how to better protect themselves against child abuse, Wolfersteig said.

CEBC works to advance the effective implementation of evidence-based practices for children and families involved with the child welfare system. The organization reviews and rates programs for listing in its program registry, a searchable database.

Being designated as an evidence-based program, which is required or preferred by some states, allows Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe to reach even more children with safety information related to abuse, neglect and bullying, according to a Childhelp press release.

The program includes age-appropriate lessons for children enrolled in pre-K through 12th grade, and it is the longest-standing and only comprehensive abuse curriculum, according to Childhelp.

The program covers a range of abuse including physical, emotional, sexual, neglect, bullying and cyber abuse.

The curriculum includes materials and resources in both English and Spanish for students, teachers, facilitators, parents, administrators and community members, designed to help build a safety network to protect children from abuse and neglect.

The program also partners with the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline, which is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by professionals who confidentially answer questions or give information on how to report abuse. The hotline number for calls or texts is 800-4-A-CHILD, or 800-422-4453.

Ways to implement the Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe prevention education curriculum are available by visiting speakupbesafe.org or calling 800-790-2445.

Story by Morgan Carden, student journalist for the ASU School of Social Work. Stock photo by Lucas Metz/Unsplash