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Springing into quirky courses

Looking for a quirky spring semester course? ASU has you covered.
January 8, 2016

ASU offers classes for a wide range of interests as new semester gets under way

A new semester means a new crop of interesting courses at Arizona State University.

Perhaps that (bad) romance novel you received as a white elephant gift leads you to Arthurian Knights and Ladies (ENG 320) or Bad Romance Edges Glory Lady Gaga: Ideology of Otherness (ENG 394). Or maybe those many family holiday get-togethers have you contemplating God and the Problem of Suffering (MAS 598) or — if your holiday meals are of the less dramatic type — Philosophy of Happiness (PHI 326).

Spring is full of commemorative months. In time for Women’s History Month in March, students can learn about the Gender, Science and Technology (WST 340) or attend a women’s studies course like Desperate Housewives (WSTWST stands for Women’s Studies, by the way, not Wisteria Lane. 374) and learn about the visualization of housewives in popular culture — not just on Wisteria Lane. Students can also double-down on American culture, history and society with American Style (AMS 201).

More of a mad-scientist type? Other ASU courses cater to STEMSTEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math students, such as Design of Aerospace Structures (AEE 426) and Space Vehicle Dynamics/Control (AEE 462) or the Essentials of Astrobiology: Exploration for Life in the Universe (SES 311). While Ecology and Natural History of the Sonoran Desert (SCN 301) will prepare students ahead of the springtime blooming season, maybe their interest lies less in flora and more in fauna, with such courses as the HoneyBee Biology and Apiculture (BIO 494) and Equine Therapy (PRM 494). 

Many students are unaware that language tracks at ASU focus on culture as much as language. Fans of the movie “300” can get a more in-depth understanding of Greece and Rome at War (GRK 360). Students can learn more about Rumpelstiltskin and the Frog Prince in the German course Fairy Tales (GER 441). They can learn about such cultural topics as gosa, an offering to spirits, in Korean Culture and Society (KOR 250), or explore the Arabic course Quran Text and Women (ARB 341).

And while a bit dark, students can prepare themselves for the far future with Death and Dying – Cross Cultural Perspective (ASB 353) as they prepare themselves for life after graduation.

These classes fit into the more than 300 academic programs and majors offered within the ASU knowledge enterprise. They are intellectually rigorous takes on a diverse array of topics that can help to develop the thinking skills that create adaptable master learners — and make learning a lot of fun.

Deanna Dent

Photographer , ASU Now


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'Good for a girl'

Watch out, boys: Girls got game in STEM.
ASU center fosters girls' pursuit of STEM fields.
January 8, 2016

New ASU center aims to change the game for women in STEM

Courtney Besaw is a natural when it comes to numbers and experimentation. She’s also a girl. And as such, she took notice of a certain nuance in her elementary and high school math and science courses:

“There were always more boys.”

Though that fact in itself did nothing to detract Besaw from her personal ambitions, she found it was often difficult to ignore the implicit bias.

“People were always impressed when I was good at math or science, like they were not expecting such excellence from a girl. I would hear adults say, ‘You are good at math for a girl,’ or ‘Usually boys are better at math,’ ” Besaw said.

That’s not uncommon, said Kimberly A. Scott, associate professor in Arizona State University’s School of Social TransformationThe School of Social Transformation is an academic unit of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.. The founder of the nationally recognized CompuGirls, which introduces young girls from under-resourced school districts to technology, Scott has seen her share of educational injustice.

“I can recall going back to my time teaching in high-needs districts back East where I witnessed differential treatment by teachers and administrators in the schools,” she said. “They thought that these kids didn’t know enough or would never have the capacity to know enough because of their race, or gender, or socioeconomic status. So for me, not only as an African American woman, but as a social justice activist, this is something that we all must take seriously if we are really interested in addressing inequity.”

Keeping good on her word, Scott followed up on the success of CompuGirls with the formation of the Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology (CGEST), which will host its official launch Monday, Jan. 11, on ASU’s Tempe campus.

“I am not good at these things ‘for a girl.’ I am good at these things because they interest me regardless of gender or the background that I come from.”
— Courtney Besaw, ASU Barrett Honors senior and CompuGirls peer mentor

The center will serve as a central hub — the first and only one of its kind — for the facilitation of research, building of programs and advocacy specific to African American, Latina, Asian American and Native American women in their pursuits in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

The goal, said Scott, is to “make a systemic impact on issues of disparity that are affecting our society as a whole.”

The launch of the center comes on the heels of the White House’s announcement in September 2015 that ASU will lead the National STEM Collaborative, a consortium of 19 institutions of higher education and nonprofit partners committed to supporting minority girls and women in STEM fields.

Scott, who was instrumental in the creation of the collaborative, said it arose from the realization that something “actionable” and “impactful” needed to come out of all the conversations and meetings being had on the topic.

In relation to CGEST, the National STEM Collaborative is one of the signature programs within its advocacy arm. There are two other arms of the center: knowledge-building and capacity-building.

The advocacy arm, explained Scott, focuses on communicating the research and information from the other two arms to leaders and policymakers. The knowledge-building arm is dedicated to synthesizing and presenting research, making it accessible to a large audience in order to make sustained and scalable efforts through informed empirical data. The capacity-building arm houses programs such as CompuGirls, that reach out to adolescent minority girls and provide them with multimedia courses that cover subjects from digital storytelling to robotics programming.

Besaw, now an ASU Barrett, the Honors College senior double majoring in anthropology and psychology, participated in the very first cohort of CompuGirls as a high school student in 2009, along with her friend and fellow Barrett Honors senior Mitzi Vilchis, a secondary education major.

Both girls stayed involved with the program through college, serving as peer mentors or interns after graduating from it, and even co-authoring a chapter in the book “#youthaction: Becoming Political in the Digital Age,” with Scott, in which they detail their experiences in the program.

“I know from when I was in the program that CompuGirls can have a great positive impact on the girls involved,” said Besaw.

And not just in terms of learning STEM; participants in the program also learn about social injustice and how to address the various forms of it.

Vilchis’ topic was domestic violence, which her group chose to address by creating a video documentary. She served as the group leader for the project, which involved the use of technology she said she had never even considered attempting to master.

Now she’s a pro.

“My peers all know that when they're having a technical difficulty, I'm the person to go to,” said Vilchis.

group photo at convention
ASU honors seniors Courtney Besaw (far right) and Mitzi Vilchis (front, middle) pose with science guru Neil deGrasse Tyson at the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in New York City. Also pictured are ASU professor and director of the Center for Equity in Science and Technology Kimberly A. Scott (back row, left) and fellow ASU student and CompuGirl research assistant Felina Rodriguez (front left). Top photo: Vilchis and Besaw in New York City. Photos courtesy Courtney Besaw


In the fall of 2015, both students accompanied Scott to New York City to attend the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting on behalf of CompuGirls. When they weren’t demonstrating their robotics projects or singing the program’s praises, they ran into a few familiar faces: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Madeleine Albright, among others.

Besaw called the experience “the most exciting opportunity that I was given through CompuGirls,” and both she and Vilchis intend to remain involved with the program after graduating from ASU this May.

They will also both be the first in their families to graduate from college, and they intend to teach in the future; a good thing, considering there is still much work to be done in advocating for girls and women in STEM, as well as changing society’s perception of what they are capable of. 

“Just this last semester my professor was having issues with the computer and asked, ‘All right, who's our tech guy?’” said Vilchis, “and my classmates in unison said, ‘Mitzi!’ I found it funny that she was expecting a guy to fix the technology problem and had a girl come to her rescue.”

Besaw sums it up thusly: “I am not good at these things ‘for a girl.’ I am good at these things because they interest me regardless of gender or the background that I come from.”


Watch the full interview with Kimberly A. Scott, ASU associate professor and founder of CompuGirls: