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ASU helping state achieve education goal

ASU helps Arizona achieve educational goal.
Arizona's plan to set educational attainment goals was proposed by @michaelcrow
September 16, 2016

The university is a partner in a new initiative to increase the number of Arizonans with post-secondary degrees

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey joined a community-based educational alliance on Friday in announcing a plan to substantially increase the number of college degrees earned in Arizona over the next decade and a half.

The goal is to raise the state’s degree or professional certificate attainment from its current rate of 42 percent to 60 percent by 2030.

A group of 60 community, business, philanthropic and education organizations have joined the initiative to make Arizona’s workforce more innovative and competitive. 

“A 21st century economy requires a 21st century workforce,” Ducey told a group of key education, philanthropic and business leaders, at a press conference announcing the venture.

“The message is clear: an additional education past high school is a must. We have to do this. We must do this. And through this goal, we will do this.”

This initiative, called Achieve60AZ, aims to create a more highly-educated population in order to build Arizona’s tax base, decrease poverty, improve social outcomes, replace thousands of baby boomers who are retiring, and attract more business to the state to compete on a national and global stage.

Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow, who called for such an initiative at a breakfast with Arizona legislators in January, said he supports the goal.

“That higher level of education in our society drives scientific discovery, technological invention and understanding in all the fields that guide us forward,” Crow said in a statement released shortly before the governor’s announcement.

In his remarks earlier this year, as he has in many recent speeches, Crow tied the educational attainment to the economic success of the state.

“I can guarantee that reductions in educational attainment, with fewer people going to college, fewer people learning to become master learners, as a percentage of the population, won’t produce good outcomes,” he said in January.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with a college degree tend to earn more than non-graduates, have better health, have pension plans, vote, volunteer, spend more time with their children, and are capable of adapting to various careers throughout life. 

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey talks about the goals of the Achieve60AZ initiative to boost educational attainment at the Franklin Police and Fire High School in Phoenix, on Friday, Sept. 16. The initiative is a community-based alliance with the goal of having 60 percent of adults with a professional certificate or college degree by the year 2030. Above, Arizona Board of Regents President Eileen Klein speaks about the initiative. Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


The same data also show the earning power of education. In 2015 dollars, workers can expect to earn $678 on average per week if they have a high school diploma; $738 for those with some college or no degree; $798 for associate degree holders; and $1,137 for individuals with a bachelor’s degree.


ASU, a member of the Achieve60AZ initiative, has as a charter goal the mission to include and educate as many people as possible

“We believe it’s very good to be goal oriented in our actions, and this initiative will help mobilize and organize all of our efforts in achieving those goals,” said Mark Searle, ASU’s executive vice president and university provost.

According to Searle, ASU has increased the number of people earning degrees from more than 14,000 people in 2007 to roughly 20,000 last year.

That is in part due to increasing efforts to reach out to Arizonans and college-going students around the country to offer them the opportunity to attend ASU.

The university is also helping more students earn degrees by providing online programming that awards undergraduate and graduate degrees. The ASU Pathways Program prevents Maricopa County Community College District students from wasting time and money on credits that don’t transfer. In addition, ASU is also cooperating the community college students on reverse transfer, which helps transition students to the university and retroactively awards them an associate’s degree. 

Once enrolled, ASU works closely with students to keep them on track, through programs such as eAdvisor, an online tool which prescribes a pathway to graduate in all of ASU’s 370 undergraduate majors, and courses like ASU 101, in which students learn time-management and academic integrity. In ASU 101, students are also introduced to the values of the university, including its focus on sustainability and entrepreneurship. The course teaches all entering freshman best practices to be academically successful in college.

Achieve60AZ has outlined four key focus areas to help achieve their goal, which include: increasing college readiness and high-school graduation rates; putting policies in place to make it easier for adults to finish their certificates or college degrees; raising awareness about options beyond high school and making them affordable; and engaging businesses, governments and educators to identify and close the workforce gap. Specific strategies and tactics will also be developed to track and measure progress.

“The effort behind this effort is truly inspiring,” said Eileen Klein, president of the Arizona Board of Regents. “There are many organizations in our state working to increase job certifications earned and college-going rates.”

Klein said the alliance allows for an ability to share information to help the most students achieve.

“We don’t want students getting lost along the way.”

Reporter , ASU Now


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Virtual lab accommodates growing interest in computer networking, cybersecurity.
September 19, 2016

ASU professor launches virtual lab platform for computing research and education

What started as a way for an Arizona State University professor to help enhance lab access for his students has launched into an entrepreneurial venture to improve hands-on computer science education and research capabilities worldwide.

When associate professor Dijiang Huang (pictured above) first joined the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering in 2005, a physical laboratory with 20 computers was a workable solution for hands-on computer networking and cybersecurity coursework for around 20 students. As enrollment rapidly increased over the next few years and cybersecurity interest grew among computer science and engineering students, a physical lab was no longer feasible. There was no way for an instructor to schedule lab time for more than 100 students in one class each working on five lab projects per semester, nor was there a way to keep a large enough lab equipped and maintained.

This got Huang thinking about creating a cloud-based virtual lab, where the physical computers and network connections could be emulated on a server to form any computer network configuration needed. Students would be able to explore real-world cybersecurity problems and solutions on networks that mirrored real-world implementations in a hands-on platform — the most effective way to train students for today’s job market — and it’d relieve a lot of logistical headaches of building a physical lab for computer science educators.

The effort began in 2010, and over the next several years, Huang attracted funding from the National Science Foundation and Department of Defense that allowed him to grow his virtual lab infrastructure from a small set of servers in his office to clusters of high-performance cloud servers at the ASU Data Center that run a versatile cloud-based virtual lab.

Huang’s success with his own students encouraged him to think about commercializing his platform to benefit a wider range of instructors and students, so he began working with Arizona Technology Enterprises to overhaul the lab’s software and infrastructure in preparation for commercialization. Out of these efforts came the startup Athena Network Solutions LLC and its product, ThoTh Lab.

Huang's ThoTh Lab is entirely browser-based. Instructors can create any configuration of computer network and monitor student progress and performance.
Huang’s ThoTh Lab is entirely browser-based. Instructors can create any configuration of computer network and monitor student progress and performance. Image courtesy of Dijiang Huang


While originally conceived as V-Lab, or Virtual Lab, Huang saw that it was hard to differentiate his product with such a generally descriptive name, and got the idea from a student to name it after the ancient Egyptian god of knowledge and wisdom, Thoth — you look to Thoth for knowledge, and ThoTh Lab is the platform for computer networking and cybersecurity knowledge.

ThoTh Lab is a browser-based virtual lab environment where instructors can create customized lab configurations in the cloud for personalized and collaborative learning, while saving the cost and time associated with setup and maintenance of physical labs. Students get hands-on experience with computing resources that closely resemble real-world systems, which translates to better problem-solving skill development that will make them competitive in today’s job market. ThoTh’s hands-on lab service tools allow instructors to more easily manage courses and track student progress and performance. (Watch a video about ThoTh Lab)

As part of the commercialization process, Huang leveraged the NSF Innovation Corps, a program that teaches NSF grantees to think of the business opportunities of their research through rigorous entrepreneurship training.

Through I-Corps, Huang and Chun-Jen Chung — cofounder, CTO and Huang’s former doctoral student — talked with more than 100 potential users, mostly instructors from other universities, and received positive feedback about how the platform could enhance the implementation of their curriculums.

The startup company had recently successfully secured $225,000 funding from NSF Small Business Innovation Research Program to incorporate personalized learning capacity into the hands-on learning environment.

Huang’s entrepreneurial efforts earned him an appointment in 2015 as a Fulton Entrepreneurial Professor. This Fulton Schools program recognizes outstanding faculty who translate their innovations to positive community impact through product commercialization and the formation of new companies based on their research. They are selected through an annual competitive proposal process for one- to two-year terms. Halfway through his appointment, Huang has achieved much and isn’t slowing down. He’s working on expanding the reach and scope of ThoTh Lab.

Since launching Athena Network Solutions LLC, the use of ThoTh Lab has expanded well beyond ASU’s campus, with users in California State University at Fullerton, Penn State Altoona and the University of Missouri-Kansas City in addition to universities in China, India and the United Arab Emirates.

Through ThoTh Lab's interface, students get experience with real-world systems and can receive real-time assistance from their instructors.
Through ThoTh Lab’s interface, students get experience with real-world systems and can receive real-time assistance from their instructors. This makes learning more effective for the student, and makes it easier for instructors to evaluate their students. Image courtesy of Dijiang Huang


The platform has the potential to be useful beyond lab coursework. Huang and professor Gail-Joon Ahn, the director of the Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics, have used the platform as a training environment for their students participating in cybersecurity competitions, such as the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. Huang and Ahn create vulnerable systems for students to explore, try out cybersecurity tools and develop and deploy a countermeasure. Last year ASU’s team placed eighth in the Southwest region. They plan to continuously train ASU students and participate in subsequent CCDC competitions.

Huang’s own cybersecurity research on server networking, cloud, Internet of Things and data-center systems could benefit from a quick, customizable and versatile virtual lab platform, and he thinks other disciplines could benefit from ThoTh Lab as a Research as a Service platform.

“Environmental, transportation, anthropology and biomedical research all require high-performance computing, and ThoTh Lab’s cloud-based platform provides the computational support to test and demonstrate research results,” said Jay Etchings, ASU director of research computing. “With an RaaS platform, researchers could choose a lab template and get started right away or customize their own lab in minutes rather than days or weeks — this functionally reduces the time to valuable research.”

Next, by working with ASU high-performance computing, Huang would like to create a distributed cloud that will enhance the capabilities of the centralized ASU-based cloud. This would allow ASU to replicate the RaaS model for other universities.

ASU is a foundational member in the Tri-University partnership with Sun Corridor for 100-40-10 Gigabit-per-second connections to Arizona’s research and education institutions. Huang also collaborates with Internet2, a next-generation 100 Gigabit network that provides high-speed data transfers among U.S. universities, and Science DMZ from the Department of Energy’s Energy Sciences Network, a secure network optimized for high-performance scientific applications.

Together with these partners, Huang is looking to push a solution that uses these existing network initiatives for local, regional and national research.

Top photo: Fulton Entrepreneurial Professor Dijiang Huang created a cloud-computing-based virtual lab to help the growing student population of Arizona State University's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering get better access to a hands-on lab that mirrors real-world computer networking systems. Photo by Pete Zrioka/ASU

Monique Clement

Communications specialist , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering