McCain Institute’s Next Generation Leaders Program announces Catalyst Grant winners at 2016 cohort graduation

September 1, 2017

The McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University congratulates the three winners of the 2017 Catalyst Grant: Giorgi Akhmeteli of Georgia, Urmo Kübar of Estonia and Karambu Ringera of Kenya.

As part of the Next Generation Leaders Program, the Catalyst Grant supports and encourages top achievement in the implementation of an NGL’s Leadership Action Plan. Catalyst Grants are annual monetary awards of up to $10,000. Awarded funds must go toward further enhancing character-driven leadership and impact in the NGL’s home environment. McCain Institute Next Generation Leaders Program 2016 cohort graduation At the graduation ceremony of the 2016 Next Generation Leaders cohort (from left): Leon Hernandez of Venezuela; Rosie Gomez of the U.S.; Dael Dervishi of Albania; Eman Elabd of Egypt; keynote speaker Sen. Kelly Ayotte; Ezzeddine Ben Rhima of Tunisia; Esra Assery of Saudi Arabia; Diego Mora Bello of Colombia; and Mira Koroma of Sierra Leone. Photo by Neshan Naltchayan/McCain Institute Download Full Image

The winners were announced at the graduation ceremony of the 2016 NGL cohort, held Aug. 30 at the McCain Institute in Washington, D.C. Since 2013, the NGL program has trained 44 leaders from 33 countries in values, ethics and character-driven leadership.

“We are extremely proud of the accomplishments of our 2016 cohort and have full confidence that they will take on the implementation phase of their Leadership Action Plans with great passion and determination,” said Ambassador Michael Polt, senior director. “We are also delighted to recognize our previous graduates Giorgi, Urmo and Karambu for the positive change they have already achieved. Exemplifying the spirit of character-driven leadership, each will use their Catalyst Grant awards to further create a lasting impact in their communities and beyond.”

Giorgi Akhmeteli, a member of the 2013 cohort, is the founder and chairman of the Georgian NGO Accessible Environment for Everyone, an organization that advocates the interests of persons with disabilities. Akhmeteli uses a wheelchair due to a spinal trauma, and through his Leadership Action Plan, he works with the Georgian Parliament on health care, rehabilitation and habilitation issues within the disabled Georgian community. Akhmeteli will use his Catalyst Grant to fund disability-awareness seminars at five Georgian universities.

Giorgi Akhmeteli speaks to media

In Tbilisi, Georgia, Next Generation Leader Giorgi Akhmeteli advocates for disability rights. Courtesy photo

Urmo Kübar, a member of the 2014 cohort, is an experienced civil society leader in Estonia. He is dedicated to promoting more civic activism and social action, building a supportive environment for civil society organizations and strengthening their capacity. His Leadership Action Plan is to establish a venture philanthropy foundation in Estonia to support non-profit organizations that make a difference in people’s lives. As the Civil Society advisor to the president of Estonia, Kübar will use his Catalyst Grant to develop a website, the first of its kind in Estonia, that will catalyze philanthropic engagement and turn Estonians into more active and impactful financial contributors.

Urmo Kübar

Civic activist Urmo Kübar (right) with Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid. Courtesy photo

Karambu Ringera, a member of the 2015 cohort, is the founder and president of International Peace Initiatives, an NGO that aims to create models of sustainable development and peace in Kenya. By implementing her Leadership Action Plan, she is building an advocacy agency for citizens and developing a leadership-training program to educate and train current and future leaders. Her work has received national attention in Kenya and has directly impacted 1,000 people. Ringera will use her Catalyst Grant to support leadership workshops across Kenya.

Karambu Ringera with students

Karambu Ringera (left) shares her perspective with students in Kenya. Courtesy photo

“I am honored to receive a Catalyst Grant from the McCain Institute’s Next Generation Leaders program,” said Ringera. “Through the NGL program, I have been able to not only deepen my commitment to driving positive change in Kenya, but I have also learned to lead more effectively through trainings and networking with other leaders. I plan to use the Catalyst Grant to host leadership workshops in five regions of Kenya and throughout other countries in the region as I continue to expand the impact of my Leadership Action Plan, which is focused on building citizen agency to impact policy in Kenya.”

ASU researcher works to design algorithms for more robust networks

September 1, 2017

Our daily lives depend on various networks — from the electric grid and transportation systems to online social connections — running reliably.

At their most basic level, networks are a collection of nodes and links between those nodes. Using road systems as an example, a node would be an intersection, and a link would be the roads connecting those intersections. Looking at a nationwide transportation level, this can get complicated, with many opportunities for disruption. Hanghang Tong Hanghang Tong, assistant professor of computer science at ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Download Full Image

An important area of study for many networks surrounds robustness, or the quantification of a network's ability to continue to function in the presence of an external disturbance, which could be severe weather, random failures or deliberate attacks. Attacks can also be cause for limiting network robustness, for example when trying to stop terrorist propaganda networks on social media.

Such a critical aspect of our society has generated much research for measuring networks and how their robustness changes as they evolve, as well as for comparisons of robustness between different networks.

However, Hanghang Tong, assistant professor of computer science at Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, seeks to take the study of network robustification one step further: to design effective intervention strategies and algorithms when networks are likely to fail.

This work has earned Tong a five-year, $500,000 National Science Foundation CAREER Award project, “Network Robustification: Theories, Algorithms and Applications,” where he and his team will develop and test basic theories and algorithms to address network robustification.

“We’re looking at what we can do to intervene — by establishing or cutting out links or nodes to rewire them — so robustness changes in a desired way,” Tong said.

Two challenges have largely prevented this problem from being solved in the past: the theoretical side of what measures to take to intervene and the execution side of how to design an effective algorithm for intervention.

“Based on existing literature from the past 20 years, we don’t know exactly what the intrinsic relationship is between different robustness measures, or if there are any common building blocks for network intervention algorithms or optimization algorithms,” Tong said. “If we have a unified view, it’ll help us to simplify the algorithm design so we don’t need to design 20 different algorithms for 20 different robustness measures.”

Designing a unified suite of algorithms also means ensuring they’re scalable, adaptable and optimized for a wide variety of networks and robustification challenges. Then Tong’s team will verify the algorithm suite works with real-world applications in an intelligent transportation system and an online social collaboration.

Tong believes his innovative approach in moving beyond network robustness observation to intervention and its broader impact were what caught the NSF’s attention.

“Network robustness itself is pivotal to many other high-impact applications, and we hope that other domains will also benefit from our findings, tools and algorithms,” Tong said.

He said he would not have been able to fully show the innovation and broader impact of his research without the help of many different channels in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Sandeep Gupta, School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering interim director, wrote a detailed and tailored letter of support for Tong’s research. Tirupalavanam Ganesh, associate research professor and assistant dean of Engineering Education, helped him polish a detailed education plan for the K-12 outreach requirement of a NSF CAREER Award. And the Research Advancement support team was instrumental in crafting his proposal.

“On top of that, I am very grateful to my ASU colleagues,” Tong said. “A lot of them gave me constructive advice and suggestions, read proposals despite their busy schedules, and gave very helpful reviews. Most important is the encouragement I receive from them when I feel stuck.”

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering