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ASU online takes top-five spot in US News ranking

ASU's online bachelor degree program jumps seven spots in U.S. News ranking.
January 10, 2017

Program moves up 7 spots; MBA, business master's also rated highly

Arizona State University’s online bachelor’s degree program has been ranked fourth in the nation out of more than 1,300 reviewed by U.S. News & World Report.

The program moved up seven spots, having tied for 11th place in the magazine’s 2016 rankings.

“The work being done here at ASU Online through EdPlus at ASU continues expanding access to higher education for students around the world, and through our technology-enhanced, digitally enabled platform, we are able to deliver many of the same high-quality degree programs as those offered on-ground,” said Phil Regier, University Dean for Educational Initiatives and CEO of EdPlus at ASU.

“We strive to allow all individuals who are interested in pursuing their education the opportunity to achieve this goal."

ASU Online had 17,589 undergraduate students and 6,261 graduate students in the fall term.

The magazine releases several higher-education rankings throughout the year, most recently rating ASU as the most innovative university for the second year in a row.

ASU's online program earned a score of 92 out of 100. The magazine’s top three online bachelor’s programs were Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Worldwide, which ranked first with a score of 100; Temple University; and the University of Oklahoma.

Other ASU Online programs that ranked highly were two from the W. P. Carey School of Business — the master’s in business, which ranked third in the nation with a score of 96, and the MBA, which was fifth. Both programs’ rankings were the same in 2016.

“We continue to improve our online business degrees through strong partnerships with industry and executives helping us tailor our programming towards skills and needs of the future,” said Amy Hillman, dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“With strong competition in the online business school space, we are thrilled to be recognized again as one of the leading online business programs in the country.” 

ASU’s online criminal justice program also ranked fifth this year.

U.S. News scored its “Best Online Bachelor’s Programs” based on four categories: student engagement, 40 percent; faculty credentials and training, 20 percent; student services and technology, 20 percent; and peer reputation, 20 percent (partially based on a survey of high-ranking academic officials).

One of ASU’s most celebrated innovations was the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, launched two years ago, which offers full tuition reimbursement to Starbucks employees who pursue an online degree through ASU.

Jessica Ohrt is an ASU Online student pursuing a degree in sustainability.

Jessica Ohrt began pursuing an online bachelor’s degree in sustainability last year when she was a Starbucks barista, and tuition for her first semester was reimbursed. She then left her job at Starbucks, but she decided to continue working on her ASU Online degree.

“I looked for a local college that had a sustainability program that would be comparable, and there wasn’t one. It was such a distinctive program and set of classes that I decided to stick with it,” said Ohrt, who lives in Marietta, Georgia.

Ohrt became interested in sustainability while serving as a Girl Scout leader for her daughter’s troop years ago.

“We did a lot of work on environmental responsibility and citizenship, and then it was like, ‘Oh, I can get a degree in that!’ ”

She likes that the courses keep students on track and are self-directed, so she could work in between caring for her granddaughter.

“I could watch a lecture in the evening or on the weekends, and if I woke up at 4 in the morning and wanted to get something done, I could,” she said. “The flexible approach was appealing to me.”

Ohrt expects to graduate in December and is considering working for a government agency or a nonprofit focusing on environmental justice.

“I’ve learned that sustainability is not just global warming and recycling. It’s also social stability and people having access to food and transportation and shelter,” she said.

Sustainability is one of more than 60 undergraduate online degrees offered at ASU.

U.S. News & World Report assessed 1,328 online degree programs to compile the 2017 list. Rounding out the top 10 online bachelor’s degree programs after ASU were Western Kentucky University; California University of Pennsylvania and West Texas A&M University (tied for sixth); and California Baptist University, New England Institute of Technology, Ohio State University, Oregon State University, Pennsylvania State University World Campus and the University of Illinois Chicago (all tied for eighth). 

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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ASU beats out dozens of other labs, creates scent algorithm.
Applications for smell-detecting algorithm are boundless, ASU researcher says.
January 10, 2017

Algorithm screens through hundreds of millions of molecules to make it easier to replicate any given smell

Hundreds of billions of molecules with odors exist. If you want to create a particular scent or flavor, say char-grilled beef, rose petals or freshly baked bread, you’d need to screen thousands or millions of compounds to match what you were looking for. It would take thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in human testing.

An Arizona State University scientist helped create an algorithm that winnows down 99 percent of that workload.

The algorithm doesn’t find a needle in a haystack. It finds the handful of hay with the needle in it. It's one of the latest developments from the school selected as the nation's most innovative university by U.S. News & World Report for two years straight. The potential applications are boundless, highlighting the freedom researchers at ASU have to track down big-picture projects.

Rick Gerkin, an assistant research professor in the School of Life SciencesThe School of Life Sciences is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences., investigates how smell perception, learning and behavior are represented in the brain. He explained what the algorithm he co-wrote does.

“If you wanted to find a molecule that fit that smell, by taking samples off the shelf and testing them, that would take a long time,” said Gerkin (pictured above). “What we have is a computational approach that can screen through any molecule in existence and can tell you it’s a candidate for that smell. … If you had 100,000 molecules, it’d be great if we could get you the one, but we narrow it down to 1,000.”

Why things smell the way they do is poorly understood, according to Gerkin. It’s a wicked problem for the flavor and fragrance industries. International Flavors and Fragrances, an industry leader, spends $250 million a year on research and development, Gerkin said.

Gerkin and his co-authors had collected a lot of data based on extensive smell-testing of 49 human subjects asked to sniff 476 different odor chemicals. Subjects were asked to tell how pleasant the odor was, how strong the odor was, and how well the smell matched a list of 19 descriptors. Gerkin’s team decided they wanted to reach out to the community and see who could predict human olfaction.

They submitted the data set to the DREAM Challenges, a collaborative open science effort made up of researchers from academia, technology, industry and nonprofits, which focuses on biological and biomedical research problems. Challengers will put out a data set on a subject like mammography or genomics and then see who can make sense of it. They give out some of the data and ask scientists to build a model that can predict the rest.

“If you predict the data, you’ve done a great job,” Gerkin explained. Of the 28 labs that participated in the challenge, Gerkin’s had the best model.

“We proved that the model is nearly as good as can possibly be made, given the data available,” he said. “In other words, an oracle with access to the same data couldn't really make a much better model.”

The model makes it possible to prescreen all possible molecules and select a tiny fraction — as few as a few hundred — for testing.

There are probably hundreds of billions of molecules that exist that have an odor.

“That’s the space we’re talking about,” Gerkin said. “This can cut the workload by 99 percent and make it practical to possibly discover molecules that evoke any desired percept, and then to put those to use commercially.”

Whether and how soon industry adopts the math is up in the air. He has talked to International Flavors and Fragrances. “The thing is, it’s an algorithm,” he said. “They’re interested in it, but it’s an open-source kind of thing. They can implement it however way they’d like to. … What they would probably want to do is use the basic model, but collect their own data.”

Gerkin said the algorithm could bring ideas like Smell-O-Vision to (virtual) reality. Smell-O-Vision was a system that released odors in movie theaters so viewers could smell what was going on in the film. It was used for only one movie in 1960 before being abandoned.

However, hunting virtual dinosaurs and smelling the jungle around you in a game would be compelling, Gerkin said.

“I think it would be very emotional,” he said, “to have smell as part of your experience.”

Rick Gerkin, an ASU assistant research professor, has helped create an algorithm that will make a big stink in the world of smells. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now