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ASU selected nation's most innovative school for second straight year

ASU officials say ranking reflects school's overarching approach to innovation.
ASU has topped innovation list in each year the category has been surveyed.
September 13, 2016

U.S. News & World Report puts Stanford at No. 2; MIT comes in third

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

For the second consecutive year, Arizona State University is the nation’s most innovative school, according to U.S. News & World Report rankings.

The widely touted list compares more than 1,500 institutions on a variety of metrics. The latest review, released today, is based on a survey of college presidents, provosts and admissions deans around the nation. ASU has taken the top spot in each year the innovation category has been considered.

The back-to-back No. 1 rankings demonstrate that the news magazine’s annual poll recognizes ASU’s overarching approach, rather than a single initiative or moment, university officials said.

“We do things differently, and we constantly try new approaches,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said. “Our students’ paths to discovery don’t have to stay within the boundaries of a single discipline. Our researchers team up with colleagues from disparate fields of expertise. We use technology to enhance the classroom and reach around the world. We partner with cities, nonprofits and corporations to support our advances as the higher-education economy evolves. This ranking recognizes the new model we have created.”

Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology took the No. 2 and 3 spots, respectively, maintaining last year’s positions. Georgia State, University of Maryland Baltimore County, Carnegie Mellon, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Northeastern, Portland State, Purdue and Michigan filled out the rest of the top 10Because of a tie there are actually 11 schools with a top 10 rank. .

Voting panel members nominated up to 10 colleges or universities making the most innovative improvements for curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology and facilities.

In the year since its first No. 1 ranking, ASU has extended its global reach by joining with universities in the United Kingdom and Australia in an alliance to meet education needs in developing nations. ASU also has launched the Global Freshman Academy, which allows students to take online classes and decide later whether to pay for the credits. The school has also defied skepticism over putting laboratory classes on the web and offers the first online, accredited engineering degree.

Public and media attention to last year’s top ranking often highlighted ASU’s groundbreaking Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which offers full tuition reimbursement to the company’s employees who pursue an online degree through ASU.

University leaders said this year’s repeat at the top recognizes the mission and culture that give rise to such creative approaches to education.

Among ASU’s ongoing innovations, the school — in keeping with its charter that pledges to expand access to higher education — has developed systems and tools to bolster student success, using technology and data-mining to catch early warning signs of academic struggles so that counselors can intervene. Also, a project-based learning initiative allows students to tackle required, general-education courses through team-driven projects.

“We do things differently, and we constantly try new approaches.”
— ASU President Michael M. Crow

ASU has forged partnerships to ease students’ financial burdens, including a venture with a research firm to rework the university’s financial-aid communications, which increased grants and scholarships, and an alliance with PayPal and a nonprofit, which has produced 400 student jobs on campus that provide a paycheck plus tuition assistance.

The partnership with the city of Phoenix that led to ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus — which now serves more than 12,000 students — inspired such projects as a proposed multi-building ASU center in downtown Mesa.

ASU’s Biodesign Institute, built around the idea that nature often provides the map to problem-solving, connects researchers from across the university’s colleges, schools and specialties, and their discoveries have affected the world. The institute has produced a new, low-cost Zika virus test and helped develop a drug treatment for Ebola.

The university’s Public Service Academy fills a previously unmet need for a program that prepares those who want to help fix problems around the world through military, nonprofit or government work. In its second year, the undergraduate program draws half the class from the ROTC corps, integrating civilian and military experiences. The joint learning cultivates a mutual understanding that will be essential when, as graduates, the students are part of the increasing military-civilian cooperation in international hot spots.

U.S. News also named ASU one of the 92 “A+ Schools for B Students,” which were not numerically ranked.

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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'Performance in the Borderlands' enters 13th season with focus on women's rights
ASU Now will follow project's installments, plays, discussions through May
September 13, 2016

Artists say work engages community, has potential to drive social change

In the coming weeks and months, desolate sections near the U.S.-Mexico line will transform into arthouses, theaters and classrooms as Arizona State University brings together a collection of artists to focus their talents on borderland issues.

An initiative of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts’ School of Film, Dance and Theatre, the 13th season of “Performance in the Borderlands” got underway Tuesday with a panel of prominent artists discussing the works’ scope, impact and potential to drive social and political change.

The planned plays, installations and workshops are part of ASU’s cross-disciplinary approach to expanding access, addressing problems and taking responsibility for the well-being of the communities it serves. ASU Now will follow the initiative to document the ways it engages the region and its people.

“We think of borders not just in terms of the physical demographic of a wall in southern Arizona, but in terms of these complicated identity issues and structures,” said Mary Stephens, producing director for “Performance in the Borderlands.”

“Our approach is to think of the borderlands as a conceptual space where people are meeting, ideas are exchanged and as a methodology for life. Really good art takes your everyday perceptions and kind of twists it so that you can see it in a different way.”

As it has done since 2003, the art series will bring together local, national and international artists, ensembles and theater groups. Past invitees have been from Arizona, California, Mexico, Peru and Argentina, and their work has explored topics including immigration, social justice, race, religion, sexual orientation and women’s rights.

Memorable borderlands installations have included a play in the Desert Valley Rock Center reserve, a queer Chicana monologue on body image and politics, and a mural that momentarily erased the border in Douglas, Arizona.

"We've had so much positive response," Stephens said. She said the project aims to support the work of artists and and leaders in the communities they serve, adding "It's not only been positive, but catalytic because ASU is able to fund artists that these small communities could not normally afford and work with these communities, so they're able to produce an event with an incredible artist of great caliber."  

This year’s theme, “Voices of Power,” examines the role of women of color in the arts and social justice. “My job as curator is to give these amazing women visibility because they’re not just part of, but leading the arts movement in Arizona,” Stephens said.

Martha Gonzalez, a Grammy-winning artist, activist, scholar and the current ASU Gammage guest residency artist, is contributing to the borderlands project as a featured speaker at the introductory discussion.   

Martha Gonzalez


She sees the connection between art and social consciousness as inextricable. Through workshops and her Mexican folk band, Quetzal, Gonzalez has engaged communities in critical thought through music. At the same time, she has increased access to health care and educational programs for underserved populations in the Los Angeles area.

“With hypercapitalism as the way we understand it, we tend to think of art as something separate from community and something we buy and sell,” Gonzales said. “Art has always been meant to document and instigate critical thought and bring communities together.”

This year’s borderlands project will include close to 20 activities that will run through May.

The first event of the season included ASU professors Marlon Bailey and Liz Lerman along with Gonzalez. Speakers discussed the creative process, community representation and — as Gonzalez put it — developing a sense of "convivencia," or coexistence.


"It means to be with each other," Gonzalez said, "deliberate presence to each other, commitment to each other, dialogue through this art and music. I think that it's extremely important for us as well to instill a sense of 'convivencia' through music and our practices."


The rest of the season's lineup features Arizona artists Raji Ganesan, Rashaad Thomas, Leah Marche and Liliana Gomez.

Projects are expected to include an on-site installation and performance at the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area in Phoenix; a DJ scholarship and music activism lecture with Lynee Denise and a bi-national arts residency with solo performance artist Yadira de la Riva, who will travel through Arizona, northern Mexico, the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Sonoran Desert.

“I feel this is our strongest year because we’ll be working with and reaching many communities, especially women,” Stephens said.  

For a list of complete listing of the 2016-2017 season, go here.


Top photo: Last year's "Performance in the Borderlands" included painting the U.S.-Mexico border fence to match the sky. Project leaders said it removed an oppressive visual barrier to help create optimism. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now


Reporter , ASU Now