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Michael Phelps talks about the secrets of his success (and that shark 'race') at ASU

Michael Phelps' advice to ASU crowd: Write down goals, ask for help when needed.
SAP CEO: Adversity doesn't build character, it reveals your true character.
July 24, 2017

Olympian shares stage with software company CEO Bill McDermott; both discuss how they overcame profound adversity

For Michael Phelps, the journey to becoming the greatest Olympian in history began with a piece of paper.

“Write down your goals,” he told a room full of Arizona State University students Monday evening on the Tempe campus.

“I was taught at an early age to write my goals down, and I’ve been doing it since I was 11 years old. I put them in a place I could see them every day.”

Phelps discussed his path to glory as part of a presentation on leadership called “The Winning Move” that also featured Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP, a global technology company.

“I went through ups and downs personally, publicly, in the pool. There were times I was more dedicated than not,” said Phelps, who has won 28 Olympic medals, 23 of them gold.

“The great ones do things when they don’t want to. Every day I woke up at 5 or 6 in the morning to jump in a cold pool after being in a nice warm bed. It wasn’t fun, but I had goals I wanted to achieve. It was 365 days a year, 100,000 yards a week.”

McDermott discussed how, when he was a 16-year-old living in Long Island, N.Y., he bought the corner deli he was working at for $7,000. For him, it was a practical move.

“I went from having three part-time jobs to having one,” he said.

Both men have been tested by profound personal adversity. In 2015, McDermott fell down the stairs while holding a glass of water. A shard of glass went through his left eye, and he suffered great blood loss. He lost his eye and endured nearly a dozen surgeries.

“People said, ‘That must have built a lot of character in you.’ It didn’t build an ounce of character, but it did reveal everything about my character,” he said.

In 2014, Phelps was in dark place after facing his second charge of driving under the influence.

“I had no self-confidence, no self-love. I hated myself. I was at a place where I didn’t want to be alive anymore. It took me a long time to look in a mirror and like who I saw,” he said.

“That moment where I put my hand out for help, I found out who I am.”

Both men said that they hope to be remembered for more than their career achievements.

“As you get advanced in this leadership game, it’s not just wanting to be somebody. It’s about doing something and leaving your mark on the world,” said McDermott, whose company hires a lot of young people just out of college.

“Young people today don’t want to work unless they can change the world too,” he said of changing SAP’s corporate culture to embrace inclusion.

Phelps started an eponymous foundation in 2008 that promotes water safety for kids, but he’s especially passionate about a new project that addresses mental health. He has been working with the company Medibio on a wearable device that tracks mental health indicators.

“I’ve been talking about mental health, destigmatizing it. I sat next to an 11-year-old boy the other day who wanted to kill himself,” Phelps said.

“I’ve been able to overcome these obstacles, but I didn’t do it alone. It’s OK to ask for help, and it’s OK to not be OK.”

Phelps came to Arizona in 2015, following his longtime coach Bob Bowman, who had been named head coach of the Sun Devil swim teams. Phelps then trained for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center at ASU. He immersed himself in Sun Devil life, appearing in the “Curtain of Distraction” at a men’s basketball game in January 2016 and swimming in an exhibition race during an ASU meet. A few months before he won six medals at the Rio Olympics, he got married and had a son.

“For me, mentally, to see sunshine and blue skies every day is awesome,” he said. “People always ask if I’m coming back, but I’m content with what I achieved in my swimming career.”

But his competitive spark isn’t completely gone. Phelps was part of the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” programming, which broadcast a simulated “race” on Sunday night, comparing Phelps’ time against that of a great white shark. The shark was faster by two seconds.

“I got whooped,” Phelps said. “That’s a butt beating to me. Instantly after the race I tweeted, ‘Rematch!’ ”


Top photo: Michael Phelps talks about how he sets goals during "The Winning Move," a conversation facilitated by sports analyst Rosalyn Gold-Onwude between Phelps and SAP CEO Bill McDermott on Monday in Tempe. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


Better engineering for humans, by humans

Rod Roscoe awarded prestigious Tooker Professorship to advance work in developing engaging human systems engineering curriculum at ASU

July 25, 2017

Engineers create the devices, software, chemicals, materials, machines, buildings, airplanes and other systems that make our daily lives better.

However, to successfully design for the diversity of the human experience, engineers must understand people — their clients as well as themselves — in addition to technology. Portrait of Rod Roscoe in a computer lab. Caption "Rod Roscoe, assistant professor of human systems engineering, works with students in his SLATE Lab to improve engineering education Rod Roscoe, assistant professor of human systems engineering, works with students in his SLATE Lab to improve engineering education. His efforts led to a prestigious Tooker Professorship to advance his work in developing an engaging human systems engineering curriculum at ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU Download Full Image

Enter the Human Systems Engineering program in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. This recently added program seeks to prepare students to consider both the human and technology sides of engineering by combining psychology and technical coursework.

Introduced as a major and minor in fall 2016, the program is being developed out of the applied psychology-focused courses offered in the former College of Technology and Innovation, which became the Polytechnic School in 2014. The merge became a unique opportunity for faculty members with backgrounds in psychology and an interest in education, such as Rod Roscoe, assistant professor of human systems engineering.

“We’re a group of psychologists in an engineering school, and I think that makes us a unique resource in the way we think about things,” Roscoe said. “There’s a growing appreciation for this kind of mind-set.”

Roscoe believes this human-focused approach to engineering will help attract, engage and retain students in engineering fields of study — and to integrate it into the Fulton Schools program, he’s taking his own iterative human systems engineering approach.

Prestigious Tooker Professorship leads the way

Roscoe’s efforts to improve engineering education at the Fulton Schools has earned him a prestigious Tooker Professorship to further his work. Tooker Professors implement innovative projects to increase engineering student retention and persistence, create more rewarding learning experiences, greater student diversity and provide experiences that give students a competitive edge in the job market. They’re selected through a competitive annual proposal process and appointed for one- to two-year terms.

“This is a wonderful encouragement and commitment from the Fulton Schools to the Human Systems Engineering program,” Roscoe said. “I think it shows that others appreciate the ‘human side’ of engineering and are willing to let us promote that approach. And I think all of us in the Human Systems Engineering faculty are committed to living up to those expectations.”

The Tooker Professorship began in 2011 with an endowment from ASU alumni Diane and Gary Tooker. The Tookers are passionate about attracting and retaining students in STEM fields with exciting learning environments, owing to their backgrounds as an elementary school teacher and CEO of Motorola. 

Roscoe will leverage his Tooker Professorship to develop an engaging human systems engineering curriculum. He seeks to identify the needs, gaps and opportunities to introduce students to human systems engineering principles in ways that strengthen their engineering and how they conceptualize as well as solve engineering problems.

“We think that human systems engineering has the potential to be really engaging to the ASU students who are here to solve real problems, change the world and improve the world,” Roscoe said. “Doing these things involves not only strong technical knowledge and skills, but a good understanding of the ‘people side’ of real-world challenges.”

To foster an appreciation for a broader view of engineering’s role in society, Roscoe will first explore how students are currently applying human-centered engineering in their projects and survey prospective and current students to determine their attitudes toward psychology and engineering.

These activities will help Roscoe generate guidelines for aligning human systems engineering course content to students’ broader needs and interests.

To encourage students to pursue and engage in engineering, Roscoe will also develop a “problem-based recruiting” exercise to help prospective students think about being problem solvers and engineers.

“Students are more engaged and persistent when they have a passion and a purpose for what they do — when they can connect ‘stuff I’m learning’ to ‘stuff I want to do,’” Roscoe said. “Introducing students to the human side of engineering solutions could make that link more real and authentic to students at risk of ‘disconnecting,’ switching majors or even leaving ASU.”

To achieve this, students would brainstorm a problem that interests them and then come up with engineering and human solutions to the problem.

For example, if a student is interested in reducing infection risks in surgery, they may imagine engineering bacteria-resistant materials or new antiseptic drugs, but could also think of doctor, nurse and patient behavior adjustments that would decrease infection risks.

Recruiters can use this dual problem-solving approach to introduce prospective students to Fulton Schools programs that would enable them to solve these problems, as well as encourage them to consider human systems engineering courses or a minor to supplement their ability to solve human problems through engineering.

The analysis of these activities will help tell what the human systems engineering program should be teaching to excite and benefit students.

An emphasis on the human side of engineering can help with retention as well as engagement for students who highly value a sense of belonging and contribution, personal and real-world connections, and opportunities for people-centered or altruistic work that benefits society. Roscoe notes that these concerns are often important to groups that are underrepresented in engineering.

A course, a minor or a major all improve engineering education

Whether students pursue human systems engineering as a major or a minor or simply take the introductory course, Roscoe aims to make human systems engineering a helpful part of a Fulton Schools student’s education.

“We made sure that HSE 101, the intro freshman course, fills the social-behavior course requirement,” Roscoe said. “Engineering students can now take a course that is geared to engineering interests and that satisfies an important general-studies requirement.”

Other HSE courses cover a wide range of topics, including research methods, statistics, decision making and qualitative and quantitative methods. Some courses are geared more toward the psychology side, and Roscoe said they’re working on adding more of a technology focus to others.

“Curriculum design is iterative in the same way that the human systems engineering approach is iterative,” Roscoe said. “As existing and new students move through the program, students nearing graduation and alumni can also tell us what experiences they felt really prepared them.”

Taking a human systems engineering approach beyond ASU

Roscoe was also recently awarded a three-year, $300,000 research grant through the National Science Foundation’s Division of Undergraduate Education.

With engineering Assistant Professor Micah Lande, human systems engineering Associate Professor and program chair Rob Gray and human systems engineering Assistant Professor Scotty Craig, Roscoe will assess the progress made by his Tooker Professorship project with an eye on achieving a wider impact.

Their aim is to develop and test learning modules that integrate psychology and engineering for use in classrooms beyond ASU.

“The Tooker Professorship activities are primarily directed at strengthening Human Systems Engineering, the Polytechnic School and Fulton Schools,” Roscoe said. “The recent NSF award ensures that we’ll be able to test our ideas more rigorously and share them with a broader audience beyond ASU. We look forward to sharing the work with colleagues and contributing to the scholarship in this area. In turn, their input and expertise will improve our own program development.”

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering