ASU life sciences professor harnesses technology to provide innovative learning experiences

March 3, 2017

Editor’s note: This story is one in a series of profiles of individuals being honored as part of the ASU Alumni Association’s 2017 Founders’ Day celebration on March 16. Visit the Alumni Association’s website to read the entire series.

Sharon J. Hall is being honored at Founders’ Day 2017 with the Faculty Teaching Achievement Award for her commitment to teaching, particularly as it relates to incorporating innovative pedagogical methods and championing the education of underrepresented groups in science. portrait of woman Sharon J. Hall, associate professor in the School of Life Sciences. Download Full Image

Hall joined the faculty of Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences (part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) in 2005, where she is an associate professor. She also holds a position as a senior sustainability scientist at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. As an ecosystem scientist, she and her students are exploring the many ways that people are changing the natural world — and in turn how nature changes us. She shares the results of her work in the many courses she teaches to undergraduate and graduate students. The topics she explores with her students focus on the intersection of nature and society, ranging from classes on the conservation of biodiversity, to courses on ecosystem ecology, “grand challenges” in environmental science, and peer mentoring for environmental majors.

As an enthusiastic participant in the School of Life Sciences digital learning community, she uses numerous active learning methods to engage her students in both small and large enrollment courses. For example, she piloted a peer collaboration and creation platform known as VoiceThread; she uses student-made video, in-class debates, and peer review for assignments; and she weaves stories from her fieldwork in Phoenix, Nepal, and South Africa to connect students to real-world topics. In her teaching, Hall aims to build up students’ confidence by first hearing their stories and then helping them to develop their scientific and critical thinking skills.

Another emphasis of Hall’s teaching is ensuring equal access to mentoring and science education for culturally diverse groups. She has overseen the scientific work of numerous female and culturally diverse students, and presents and participates in a variety of professional settings, ranging from ASU’s Preparing Future Faculty program to the Ecological Society of America’s undergraduate SEEDS program. She is the director of ASU’s Environmental Life Sciences Ph.D. program, and advises Nature at ASU, an undergraduate professional development community.

Hall’s students are enthusiastic endorsers of her teaching acumen.

“The best mentors are ones that motivate their students to be excited about learning and inspire them to continually be better at any path they choose,” said Erica Warkus an alumna of ASU’s conservation biology degree program and a current student in the University of Hawaii’s MD/PhD graduate program. “The students that worked with Hall through her soil ecology class or her lab were some of the most devoted, hard-working students that I encountered in any academic setting, which is a testament to her ability to inspire enthusiasm and curiosity.”

Jorge Ramos, a current doctoral student in ASU’s School of Life Sciences, said Hall “elevates the students’ confidence and unique strengths so they can be part of solving the challenges we as a society face … she will help (students) realize that … each individual can contribute something unique to a solution.”

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in biology from Stanford University, Hall received a master’s in education from Harvard University and a doctorate in soil science from the University of California-Berkeley.

ASU research informs city of Phoenix on eco-friendly buying

March 3, 2017

Arizona State University's School of Public Affairs is helping the city of Phoenix improve its impact on the environment by suggesting ways to make better eco-friendly purchasing decisions.

A half-dozen faculty members and researchers conducted focus group interviews with city procurement specialists. These interviews helped identify barriers that had prevented the city’s Environmental Procurement Policy from being implemented. The city policy sets the scope and procedures for purchasing products and services that have a reduced effect on human health and the environment. The goal is to utilize sustainable products and services while remaining fiscally responsible. Public Affairs professor Nicole Darnall Public Affairs professor Nicole Darnall presents research findings on city of Phoenix eco-friendly purchasing policies. Download Full Image

ASU researchers identified complex organizational barriers in how purchasing is managed across city departments. They also found trade-offs between purchasing criteria that compete with greener, more eco-friendly options.

“Phoenix appreciates the partnership with ASU on this study and the thoughtful analysis and recommendations received,” said Joe Giudice, the city’s environmental programs manager. “Phoenix will use the feedback to improve the city’s sustainable purchasing program and advance the city’s 2050 environmental sustainability goals. The research data will help develop a holistic program that engages the city’s buyers to increase green purchasing.”

The ASU researchers provided eight recommendations to the city:

  • Form an Environmental Procurement Policy team

  • Include the city’s director of Office of Environmental Programs in strategic planning

  • Connect with professionals in other cities that have policy teams to determine best practices

  • Implement training on green procurement to create a shared vision

  • Link the city’s e-procurement system with green purchasing options

  • Use life cycle assessment to determine long-run costs

  • Create a mayoral directive on environmental preferred purchasing

  • Create city-level incentives at both the department and individual level to encourage green purchasing

ASU School Public Affairs research team presents findings on eco-friendly purchasing to Phoenix city managers.
A research team from the School of Public Affairs discusses its recommendations during a presentation for the city of Phoenix about ASU's guidance on eco-friendly purchasing decisions.

The pro bono work by professors is part of a broader, collaborative approach by ASU’s Center for Organization Research and Design, a unit within the School of Public Affairs. The center promotes, supports and conducts high-impact, use-inspired organization design research.

“By engaging city officials, our team was able to address one of the city's concerns — how it can further integrate environmental considerations into its purchasing processes,” said professor and principal investigator Nicole Darnall. “At the same time, we developed a better understanding about sustainable procurement, advanced our research ideas, and engaged teams of graduate students in project-based learning. This project created wins for everyone.”

The research project was undertaken by Darnall, professor Stuart Bretschneider, assistant professor Lily Hsueh, assistant professor Justin Stritch, postdoctoral researcher Melissa Duscha and graduate research assistant Jeffrey Iles.


Written by Bryce Newberry