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"Towers Falling" comes ahead of 15th anniversary of 9/11 terror attacks.
Author hopes book will guide conversations with young people about the tragedy.
July 8, 2016

ASU professor Jewell Parker Rhodes writes children's novel about terror attacks of 9/11

Jewell Parker Rhodes writes children’s novels about tough subjects. The best-selling author had tackled slavery, the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina, but there was one challenge she hadn’t taken on: the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

It had been more than a decade since the tragedy when Rhodes got an idea for a 9/11 story that she said “stayed in my soul.” 

Jewell Parker Rhodes

Her initial reaction, and early advice from family and friends, had been to stay away. The topic seemed too raw, intense and emotional for young readers. But on a long flight, Rhodes said she began to feel a connection to the people on the hijacked planes and developed the story that would become her latest book, “Towers Falling.” 

Timed for the 15th anniversary of the attacks, the story for young readers takes a fictional fifth-grade class through lessons about one of the defining moments of modern history. Rhodes said she hopes “Towers Falling” can be a tool for educators and parents to guide discussions with children.

“Students are the citizens of tomorrow and need to be taught how 9/11 affected our world,” said Rhodes, artistic director of Arizona State University's Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and writing professor in the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

“We’re now seeing the impacts of terrorism and how it has become even more widespread since 9/11. Do we really want to wait 30 years from now to teach the people who are going to have to live with this?”

To get the book done, Rhodes had to sensitively introduce young readers to an attack that killed more than 3,000 people, including hundreds of police and firefighters, and triggered a massive counter-terror response from the U.S. government. She also had to craft a story that teachers could teach, something that conveyed both shocking devastation and the ultimate triumph of American resilience and ideals. She wanted to make the grim moment into a story that could inspire young people to become good citizens.


She said it came together when she was “cocooned on a 14-hour plane flight.”

“It was a midnight flight and everything was dark save for a reading light,” Rhodes said. “Being in that space and spiritually connecting with the people on those planes brought it into focus for me.”

A possible approach as well as the title popped inside her head. For Rhodes it was “a sign that I should try and write this book.”

Rhodes wanted input from fellow teachers, so she consulted the principal and other staffers at the Brooklyn New School, PS 146, who witnessed the two planes flying into the World Trade Center through their school windows. The educators said they were still traumatized by the crashes, which left the school coated in debris and ashes, and the sudden realization that family members and friends worked in the twin towers. Even years later, many still couldn’t discuss it with their students, some of whom asked, “What happened?” and “Where are those buildings?”

Rhodes also discovered through classroom visits around the country that lessons on 9/11 varied widely and that many teachers had avoided the topic altogether.

Part of the trepidation had to do with age: At what point is it appropriate for young people to learn about a troubled chapter of recent history?

“It depends,” said Amanda Vickery, assistant professor of elementary social studies at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

“It can be taught at the elementary level, but it has to be done in an age appropriate way that doesn’t focus on fear but teaches about bravery, citizenship, resilience and the human spirit,” she said.

Vickery said teachers aren’t eager to venture into such territory because they want to “preserve and protect the innocence of the child.”

In Arizona, current state social studies standards do not call specifically for lessons on 9/11 or contemporary terrorism. That doesn’t mean, however, it’s not being taught, said Kenneth De Masi, past president of the Arizona Council for the Social Studies.

“Many teachers are challenged in placing Sept. 11 in the context of world history,” said De Masi, who has taught social studies for the last four decades. “It is simply a question of when to do it, how to do it, for how long and who should do it? I know some people in our society that I would not want to be teaching my grandkids 9/11 or terrorism in general.”

That doesn’t appear to be the case with Rhodes, who has received widespread support for the project.

“Jewell is a very magical person, and she has the presence of an angel,” said Sid Reischer, a fifth-grade teacher at Castleton Elementary in upstate New York. Reisher received advance copies of “Towers Falling” from publisher Little, Brown Books as part of his yearlong study of 9/11. Reisher read it to his students in April while Rhodes participated through Skype.

The reading became “an avenue for students to have a conversation with their parents about 9/11 as part of their homework,” Reischer said. He said other student outcomes included a “feeling of connection to the country as a whole, a deep appreciation for first responders and what it means to be an American.”

Reischer said “Towers Falling” affected parents, many of whom had personal connections with people who died that day.

Towers Falling book cover

“For the kids to see the emotional impact it had on the parents was very valuable and an important piece,” Reischer said. “It showed that history is alive and well and is about people. We had very rich conversations about the subject for the next few days.”

Reischer’s study will culminate with a visit from Rhodes. She will travel to the 9/11 Memorial to meet with about 75 Castleton students on Sept. 9, to memorialize the attacks.

“The idea that Jewell will come and meet us there makes this a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these kids,” Reischer said. “When does an author do that? It’s amazing if this all comes off.”

“Towers Falling” is set for release Tuesday, July 12. 


Reporter , ASU Now


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Rise in rankings for patents shows how ASU excels at taking tech to marketplace.
Patents reflect volume of high-quality research at ASU to benefit the community.
July 12, 2016

International standing shows how the university excels at taking technology to market — all with goal of helping society

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2016, click here.

There’s a device that pulls water out of the desert air, a gadget that instantly gauges human immune system reactions and a gizmo that measures indoor contaminants by testing the condensation from an air conditioner — an air-quality check that doesn't require entering a building. 

The common fuel to all three is a culture of innovation at Arizona State University that has accelerated the path from drawing board to application for dozens of new technologies. That environment of creativity was recognized in both global rankings and dollar figures released Tuesday.

ASU ranks 38th among worldwide institutions in earning utility patents, the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association said today. ASU had 55 patentsThe report is based on data obtained from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association compile the rankings each year by calculating the number of utility patents that list a university as the first assignee. ASU actually was awarded 62 patents in fiscal year 2015, but because the patent office didn’t accurately list ASU in all the filings, the rankings captured only 55 patents. in fiscal year 2015 and moved up from 40th place in the previous rankings.

It underscores the university’s effort to ease the process for acquiring patents.

Just ask Rolf Halden, director of the Center for Environmental Security at the Biodesign Institute, who has been awarded six patents in the last six years and has about a dozen more in various stages of approval.

“It’s a very nurturing culture that makes it easy for folks to file patents,” Halden said. “There’s a lot of information on how it’s done, most of it is done online and it takes away some of the horrors of dealing with forms.”

Ninety-six companies have been launched based on ASU innovations, and more than $600 million has been raised — including a record $96 million in fiscal year 2016.

A patent is important because it protects the work done by ASU’s faculty and shows that research done in a lab turns into something tangible.

“The reason we do this is not just to get a patent — which is a good metric and great accomplishment and is significant,” said Ken Polasko, executive director of Arizona Technology Enterprises, the intellectual property management and tech transfer organization for ASU. “We want to help facilitate getting the technology out into the marketplace for the benefit of society.”

The number of patents reflects the amount of high-quality research at ASU, according to Charlie Lewis, senior vice president of venture development at the Arizona Technology Enterprises at ASU.

“When you’re looking for money, what investors are concerned with is their protection, and this ranking is evidence of the robustness of the research and development that’s happening here and the number of patents applied for,” he said.

“We can directly count more than 350 jobs through start-ups launched in Arizona that have intellectual-property patents licensed to them through ASU,” he said.

Lewis said that 96 companies have been launched based on ASU innovations, and more than $600 million has been raised — including a record $96 million in fiscal year 2016.

Start-ups that drew investments last year were Zero Mass Water, which uses solar-powered systems to produce drinking water and was founded by Cody Friesen, an associate professor in the School for Engineering of Matter and Transport of Energy in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and HealthTell, a diagnostic platform that can assess real-time immune system responses and came out of ASU’s Biodesign Institute with company founders and ASU professors Stephen Johnston and Neal Woodbury.

“Success begets success,” Lewis said.

“When our research gets commercialized for societal benefit, that creates more credibility and that helps when our faculty go out for federal grants, where most of the research funding is from,” he said.

“At ASU, during every step of the research process, we ask ourselves, ‘What can we do differently or better to have a bigger positive impact on the world around us?'”
— Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU

Halden, a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, works on improving human health by studying exposure to toxic chemicals and inventing ways to clean up contamination in soil and groundwater. He has developed several diagnostic devices and methods.

His start-up company, launched after he came to the Biodesign Institute, is called In Situ Well Technologies and commercializes his “In Situ Microcosm Array” technology, a pod-like device that gets sent into a groundwater monitoring well and can conduct multiple experiments simultaneously.

Halden also has patents pending on a technology that measures indoor air contamination by examining the condensation water that leaks outdoors from an air-conditioning unit.

“That water can be analyzed for chemicals, and it turns out that you can tell the exposure of the people inside without even entering the building,” he said. “It’s a very efficient and economical way of determining the quality of air in a workplace.”

In the newly released patent report, ASU ranked higher than Seoul National University, in 39th place, as well as Duke, the University of Southern California, Princeton, Ohio State, Penn State and Yale. The University of California system, with 10 campuses, ranked first with 489 patents. 

“At ASU, during every step of the research process, we ask ourselves, ‘What can we do differently or better to have a bigger positive impact on the world around us?'” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU.

“The increase in patents and our rise in the rankings demonstrates that our approach is working and exemplifies the drive of our faculty and researchers.”


Top photo: The Biodesign Institute on ASU's Tempe campus.

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now