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ASU finds legacy through research excellence

ASU celebrates two decades as a Research 1 school.
October 28, 2015

ASU innovation knows no bounds.

In 1994, the university met a high standard of criteria that propelled it to a Research 1 school, and over the years it has achieved everything from making equipment for the Mars landing to finding a human genus jawbone that’s more than 2.8 million years old.

After two decades it was time to celebrate these achievements.

On Tuesday, ASU President Michael Crow and Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, who leads ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, thanked faculty and celebrated the impact of excellence at ASU at the Legacy of Discovery reception.

Crow claimed ASU’s new standard was in thanks to its progressive staff.

“I never encountered, or met, a faculty willing to do the things that you are willing to do, and able to do," Crow said. “And that is to stay committed, and stay true, to the fundamental purpose of teachers while simultaneously progressing your research and creativity towards success.”  

ASU was granted Research 1 school status in 1994 from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. This placed the university among a select group who produce a great volume of quality work. In order to achieve this status, a university must offer a full range of baccalaureate programs, give a high priority toward research, award 50 or more doctoral degrees each year and receive $40 million or more annually in federal support.

Panchanathan showed his appreciation with direct praise and presented two videos, which hosted a timeline of every great milestone from the beginning of 1994 to present day.

“These amazing accomplishments that have been achieved at ASU through research and support have created impact, and most importantly, a legacy,” Panchanathan said. “We are now recognized as the most innovative university in the United States.”

The faculty in attendance shared in the feeling of accomplishment. Stuart LindsayStuart Lindsay is a Regents' Professor in the Department of Physics and the School of Molecular Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences., a Regents' Professor since 1979, expressed how much the university has expanded over the course of time, elevating itself to a new standard.

“To see the enterprise, where it started, and to see it not only funded and supported on a much larger scale, but to see it grow to a level of excellence that is just stunning,” Lindsay said. “And if I want to find the best brains in the country to collaborate with, there is a good chance I’ll find it here now.”

After awards were handed out to celebrated faculty, Crow closed the evening with his own personal acknowledgment.

“Today is reflective of you, the success of all of you,” Crow said. “So what I want to say here today, most of all, is thank you.

Reporter , ASU Now

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The human side of military tech

October 28, 2015

ASU professor Nancy Cooke focuses on the psychology of technology, such as teamwork with drones

Editor's note: Professors Nancy Cooke and Tom Sugar will be recognized for their work on military matters at Thursday's football game against Oregon, as part of ASU's Salute to Service. Read a profile of Sugar's work on wearable robotics here.

Students who have graduated with a master’s in applied psychology from the Polytechnic School at Arizona State University have gone on to help defend the nation. They teach at military colleges and work with drone pilots.

And occasionally they call or email Nancy Cooke and thank her.

“Excellent.” It's how she described her feelings about the results of her work helping people use technology better. “That’s one of the best compliments we can get; that the program not only gave them a master’s degree, but also practical use in the real world.”

Cooke is a human systems engineer.

“It’s putting humans in the center of technology, designing the technology systems around them, rather than vice versa,” she said. “It has a major psychological impact.”

ASU professor Nancy Cooke

ASU professor
Nancy Cooke works
with students in the
Human Systems
Engineering program.

top photo:
Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Along with veterans and active service members, Cooke will be recognized for her work Thursday when ASU’s football team plays Oregon as part of the university’s Salute to Service celebration.

“The students who have graduated from here ... value their education,” Cooke said. “I have one student now working at Creech Air Force Base (in Nevada) with (drone) pilots … I think our master’s program prepares them well for what they’re going to do, either in the military or the commercial sector.”

Cooke is a professor and program chair of Human Systems Engineering at the Polytechnic School, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. As an undergrad at George Mason University in Virginia, she majored in foreign languages but found she enjoyed her introduction to psychology class.

“I also wanted to help people,” Cooke said. She did some peer counseling, but recognized going into clinical work was not for her. “I found it kind of boring,” she said.

She also liked her computer science classes. On a visit to career counseling, she discovered human factors, or engineering psychology as it was called then. It combined technology and computer science to help people use technology better.

“A lot of my work (with drones) has to do with teamwork, and how teams interface with a ground control station,” Cooke said. “I’ve been getting more interested in the psychosocial effects of the people who operate them.”

Human Systems Engineering lab
Students learn to program drone airplanes in the Cognitive Engineering Research on Team Tasks lab on the Polytechnic campus, run by professor Nancy Cooke. Charlie Leight/ASU Now


Cooke runs the Human Systems Engineering program on the Polytechnic campus, where students learn to design technology that works for humans.  Her Cognitive Engineering Research on Team Tasks lab investigates human and team performance in cybersecurity systems, unmanned aerial systems, intelligence analysis, emergency medicine and more — all with the aim of better understanding human behavior and how that intersects with technology.

Her work is funded primarily by the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Army Research Office.

A single drone mission requires almost 200 people working together, according to Creech Air Force Base. They fly seven days a week, 365 days a year, over countries like Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen.

“Many people are coming to the realization that we are fighting warfare in a completely different way,” Cooke said. “We’re fighting it remotely, and drones are a part of that. But in many ways there are people who are on the battlefield remotely, but sitting in Langley, Virginia, or the Pentagon or Creech Air Force Base in Nevada. They all remotely fly to the battlefield.

“The question is what kind of effects does that have? Many people have likened flying drones to a video game, but to the operators it’s anything but a video game. It’s very real.”

A pilot flying a manned plane into combat will drop ordnance and get out. They never get to watch their targets for days on end. Drone operators survey a village day in and day out. They begin to learn how many people live in a particular house, how many kids they have, how people are living in the village. They get to learn the patterns of life.

After they fire on a target, they stay over the area, assessing battle damage. A pilot flying a plane almost never sees the effects on the target.

“That can be all too real, in a place they know pretty well,” Cooke said. “It’s not at all like a video game.”

There is post-traumatic stress disorder, but without the support they’d get overseas in a theater of war.

“That’s why I really got into this line of work,” Cooke said. “I wanted to have an impact, to see the results of my research do something good. There’s a lot of problems that can be addressed in national defense, especially with so many incredible changes happening in robotics, remote operations, and censored data exploitation, and it feels good to do something that has an impact.”