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ASU students can choose to study abroad in 65 different countries
Earn ASU class credits in Finland, Fiji, Italy and beyond.
February 28, 2017

From visiting one of the most beautiful Nordic cities, to exploring interpersonal relationships on beaches in Fiji, to understanding the integration of science and humanities in Italy, Arizona State University students are making the world their classroom.

“The beauty of the study abroad experience is that it opens your eyes to different ways of thinking that can spark new insights into how your own culture and community might operate,” said Paul LePore, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Students can choose from more than 250 programs in 65 different countries offered by the Study Abroad Office to complement studies in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. This year, the college’s faculty will direct several study abroad programs during spring and summer to help students culturally diversify themselves and gain valuable global skills — all while earning class credits from around the world.

“I’ve always wanted to lead a study abroad program,” said LePore, the faculty director of the Comparative Education in Finland program. “If I had an opportunity to travel and bring students along, I wanted to give it a shot! We put a program together on Finland to see how they might be doing education better than we are.” 

Comparative Education in Finland

The Comparative Education in Finland program is a two-week trip to Helsinki with visits to Estonia and Rovaniemi. Students will have a chance to explore K–12 schooling outside of the U.S. and experience firsthand the educational system of Finland, a known leader in education.

LePore, a sociologist who specializes in social psychology and the sociology of education, has been identifying factors that promote academic achievement and student success for years. This program furthers his own studies and helps students analyze trends that impact our nation’s educational system.

“It should be a lot of fun,” said LePore, who led the program last year. “You can read a lot about how other cultures think about education, but when you’re in a country and you can actually sit and watch classrooms, you can really delve deeply into the daily student experience and have deeper insight.”

The program is multidimensional, said LePore. Students see a different culture in terms of education, but they also experience the country’s economic and social history. These different perspectives allow for those studying abroad to experience a real richness and discover the context of a foreign land.

Multicultural Psychology Summer Experience in Fiji

Students will also travel to Fiji for the Multicultural Psychology Summer Experience program, designed to highlight social dimensions of human behavior. They will address real-world issues that combine social and political factors, including sustainability and gender relations, to understand what affects daily life in another culture.

“I have a strong desire to share global immersion experiences with my students,” said Delia Saenz, associate professor in the Department of Psychology. “The lessons students learn from studying abroad change their current lives and inform their futures.”

Apart from learning about interpersonal perception and interpersonal relationships, students also have the opportunity to go snorkeling, scuba-diving, zip-lining and more in the cities of Suva and Nadi, Fiji.

“I become giddy in the process of designing the courses to be taught and the relevance of the material to the excursions we will take,” said Saenz, the faculty director of the program.

This will be her third time leading a study abroad program in Fiji. Over the years, she has become friends and collaborators with many Fijians and shares her international relationships with her students.

“Many of my Fijian friends often ask by name about students they have gotten to know and remember them with great fondness,” said Saenz. “I believe this reflects the fact that our students make genuine connections across the places we visit.” 

Saenz encourages every student to gain global experience because they have a lasting impact.

“Study abroad changed my life,” said Charlotte Harrington, a psychology and English major who participated in the program. “Living abroad for a month showed me I want to go beyond just traveling and live abroad someday. Travel has become my greatest passion, and I plan to pursue it endlessly!”

Exploring Science & Medicine Through Art & Literature in Italy

Most study abroad experiences are specific to an academic unit or discipline, but the Exploring Science & Medicine Through Art & Literature in Italy program creates a transdisciplinary experience with faculty from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Health Solutions.

Faculty directors Mark Lussier in the Department of English and Alison Essary in the School for the Science of Health Care Delivery will transcend traditional boundaries to facilitate historical perspectives on science, medicine and art in Florence, Italy.

“Lussier and I are most excited about hosting this new and innovative program,” said Essary. “Students will have the opportunity to learn from faculty and with students outside of their discipline, and in a location that provides a rich learning environment.”

The program is tailored to fit the individual needs of every student. For example, students interested in health and health care can refine their observational skills through the critical examination of art.

“Critical reflections of these experiences can assist students in their approach to challenging or difficult scenarios, which may help cultivate characteristics consistent with humanistic, empathetic health care professionals,” Essary said.

Outside the classroom, students will get a glimpse of the most famous museums in the world, including Museo Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci Museum, La Specola Museum, Accademia Gallery and the Museo Di Palazzo Poggi Anatomy and Obstetrics Collection in Bologna.

“Students will gain an appreciation for the intersection between arts, science, medicine and literature,” said Essary. “They will hone their ability to compare forms of knowledge and cultivate the abilities operated beyond the standard zone of comfort.”

Regardless of where students decide to study abroad, they will experience the wonder of being an outsider and their lives remain forever changed upon returning home.

“After realizing my passion for travel and living abroad, I decided I needed a marketable skill to make those dreams come true,” said Harrington, a study abroad participant. “I added another major and am considering joining the Peace Corps. These thoughts and desires were always a part of me, but studying abroad helped bring them to the surface and shape my future plans and career.”

ASU students can participate in a multitude of program options ranging from one week to one year and everything in between. All study abroad programs provide students with ASU credit, and students can use their financial aid and scholarships to fund their experience. Learn more about program options and opportunities at the ASU Study Abroad website.


Top photo: Paul LePore (back right), associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, takes a photo with student participants in the 2016 Comparative Education in Finland and Sweden study abroad program.

Alexis Berdine

Student writer and reporter , College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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ASU professor challenges conventional wisdom in invasion biology

ASU professor Matt Chew savors role as 'most hated man' in invasion biology.
ASU professor says everything in nature has been shaped by human activity.
February 28, 2017

Counterintuitive School of Life Sciences professor Matt Chew calls for emphasis on effect, function of tamarisk shrub

The license plate on Matt Chew’s Toyota Tacoma reads “Tamarix.”

It’s the scientific name for tamarisk, also called the saltcedar, a shrub introduced to the U.S. in the 1800s. Today, it’s choking off waterways throughout the Southwest.

People call the plant by many names. Few are fit for print. And the same can be said for Chew, an assistant research professor in the School of Life SciencesThe School of Life Sciences is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. at Arizona State University and the most hated man in invasion biology. It’s an appellation he savors.

Of all the names he’s been called, his favorite is “the invasive species gadfly.” His counterintuitive approach puts him at odds with those who would rank him somewhere between river scum and climate change deniers.

“I don't love tamarisk, either,” Chew said. “I just don't hate it. But I do find tamarisk — and people's feelings about it — very interesting.”

To most, the pink-flowered scrub brush embodies the worst problems associated with invasive species. Chew, however, is calling for more emphasis on understanding the effects and functions of the plant, and less emphasis on where it came from and when. Invasive species can create benefit as well as harm, Chew argues. A paper defending his views is due to be published soon in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Water managers, farmers and ranchers say tamarisk bushes suck up too water. Botanists say it kills every native plant around it. Environmentalists say it turns desert riparian areas into dry, salty basins. For rafters and kayakers, it turns riverbank campsites into impenetrable thickets and creates deadly hazards. People floating the Rio Grande have been sucked beneath matted tamarisk roots and pinned by the current.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies tamarisk as an invasive plant. There are groups dedicated to removing it, a near-impossible task. Burning tamarisk makes it grow back faster. Cut it down, and it just grows back. Herbicides don’t work.

When national parks and other federal agencies responsible for public lands talk about restoring natural habitat, “what they’re talking about is a perpetual gardening project,” Chew said.

“They want it to look like it was before man came,” he said. “In some ways it’s misanthropic.”

Chew tries not to use the word “native” anymore.

“It doesn’t mean very much,” he said. “Everything has been brought in from somewhere else. Invasive biologists systematically exclude imported species from their classifications.”

One of Chew’s points is this: Which point in the past do you choose as the ideal Eden? Before Europeans came to the New World? Mesoamericans traded (non-native) red macaws with the Anasazi in present-day New Mexico. Tamarisk was introduced to New England sometime before 1818. So, is it the ideal native state of nature before 1818? Or before the tamarisk was widely planted out West in the 20th century? Or do you go back to North America before people, when wooly mammoths and giant sloths roamed the plains?

“Invasion” has also gone from the New World to the Old, as well. Raccoons in Europe aren’t native, nor are grey squirrels in the United Kingdom.

"Every organism now living occupies an environment shaped to some degree by human activity."

– Matt Chew, assistant research professor, School of Life Sciences 

“Invasion is a difficult metaphor, but it’s a compelling one,” Chew said. “You’ve got to take them on a case-by-case basis.”

When ecology emerged, society distinguished humans from nature. By the time ecology became a science, human affairs were regarded as an imposition on nature. Ecologists sought to study wild sites. By the time it was understood that the players and the stage were inseparably intertwined, few were (and are) unwilling to abandon the idea of “real” ecology where man’s hand is unseen.

In the case of tamarisk, it’s been vilified beyond rational thinking. In one of his papers, Chew notes that post-World War Two, the plant was described in similar terms to the Japanese a few years earlier. One suggestion at the time was to burn the plant out with flame throwers, a callback to the Pacific campaign.

“The history to date has been fostering fear and loathing whenever possible,” Chew said.

The problem is governmental, industry, and conservation groups use the widely available body of misinformation regarding tamarisk in preparing legislation, executive orders, management policies and plans, and promotional and educational materials, Chew said. Scientists, too, redisseminate outdated, inaccurate information in journal articles, further disconnecting science and management, he said.

But some scientists are becoming convinced that tamarisk is, as Chew says, “as much a ‘passenger’ of change as a ‘driver’ and has positive ecological values of its own.”

Trend lines are shifting from a “pest plant” eradication stance to systemic, process-based restoration.

Increasingly, scientists are recognizing that ecosystems are reorganizing around tamarisk, providing food and cover to species.

Chew teaches a field class called Novel Ecosystems. It is intended to challenge preconceptions and received wisdom about the environment. The class goes to places you’ll never find on a postcard: to effluent-dominated wetlands, farm fields, newer and older commercial and residential areas, fake lakes and vacant lots.

“Among all this contention, one fact remains: Every organism now living occupies an environment shaped to some degree by human activity,” the class syllabus reads. “The conceptual separation between history and natural history is undeniably fictional. We would be hard pressed to demonstrate that individuals of any other species know or care. Real organisms must live and real ecological relationships must occur in the real world, and we will look for them there.”

On a recent balmy day, the class meets at the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area in Phoenix. Planes roar overhead. Rabbits hop along dirt paths. Salt River Project is doing a release from the Verde River, so the normally modest channel is bank-to-bank.

“This is very artificial,” Chew told his students. “At one point they basically killed everything down here to rechannel it.”

Underneath the Seventh Street bridge, Chew points out a white lead tree, a Central American tree spread around the world for cattle fodder. They’re found in vacant lots all over Phoenix. There is also an Australian acacia, papyrus (from North Africa and the Middle East, used as paper by the ancient Egyptians), and a eucalyptus tree (also from Australia).

“It’s getting kind of cosmopolitan down here,” Chew said.


Top photo: Assistant research professor Matt Chew checks the early buds on a willow branch at the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Project under Seventh Street in Phoenix. Chew guides his dozen BIO494 students through the Rio Salado area helping them identify native and invasive flora, mammals and birds in the area. After rainstorms, biological debris, including seeds, come through the flood control zone from residential and commercial landscapes. The seeds — papyrus, willow, acacia, fan palms, etc. — then take root in the damp soil of the riverbed. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now