In the summer of 2002, when Michael Crow became president of Arizona State University, he set about restructuring the university in a way that eschewed the traditional siloing of educational departments and emphasized cross-disciplinary collaboration and inquiry.
One of Crow’s first major presidential moves was the establishment of more than a dozen new transdisciplinary schools and large-scale research initiatives — including the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict in 2003.
As the world continued to reel from the events of Sept. 11, Crow had a sense, according to a 2011 interview with the center’s founding director, Linell Cady, “that questions of religion and conflict were hugely important and that there were enormous resources at ASU to deal with them.”
Too many to limit to just one discipline.
“To really understand an issue, we’ve got to look at it from a number of different angles, and we need places, research centers like this one, where we can do that,” said John Carlson, the center's interim director.
“And if you have religious scholars in one room and science scholars in another room, and they don’t talk to each other, you’re probably having some really anemic conversations and stultifying conclusions. Because you simply don’t have the aperture open very wide.”
As the center celebrates its 15th anniversary this year, ASU Now spoke with Carlson and a handful of the center’s leaders and affiliated faculty to reflect on where it’s been and get a sense of where it’s going.
When the center was founded, it identified two pillars of focus: conflict at the border of religion and the secular and the connection between religion and violence, as far as countering violent extremism and negotiating intergroup relations.
In the late 1990s, there was a growing sense that society was becoming more secular. Then 9/11 came, seemingly out of nowhere, and the entire world turned its attention to the role of religion in international affairs.
“It raised all sorts of questions about to what extent is this primarily about religion, and to what extent is religion part of our conflicts more broadly?” Carlson said. However, he cautioned, “At the center, the rubric of religion and conflict is a much more open-ended, complicated picture than simply ‘religion causes violence.’ Not all conflict is religious, not all conflict is violent and not all conflict is bad.
“What we study is how religion is or isn’t a part of the issues, contentions and controversies that are dominating headlines, and in what ways might religion be part of a response to those issues.”
MS program leads to career advancement for new graduate
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates.
A Colorado native, Kelly Vaggalis traded the Rocky Mountains for Raleigh, North Carolina, for a job opportunity in the medical device field. She didn’t know it at the time, but eventually she’d end up back in the Southwest — at least digitally — as a graduate student.
Vaggalis says networking with peers and colleagues, plus a personal desire to expand her career path, led her to pursue a degree from Arizona State University’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. It also helped that the program she was interested in, the MS in clinical research management, was online.
“Taking courses online was an absolute must for me because of the amount of travel that I do for work. It was so nice to be able to have the flexibility to do my schoolwork either early in the morning or at night or from a hotel room,” Vaggalis said.
Two years later and her hard work has paid off. Not only is Vaggalis graduating but she recently accepted a position with the clinical operations team at her company and will be working on her own clinical research study to help get a therapy approved for a new indication of cancer.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: My "aha" moment when I realized I wanted to study clinical research management was when I was at a new clinical trial site for one of the studies I was working with at my company. There, I met the clinical research manager for the study who was helpful enough to discuss with me my career goals and how to get there. She started out in the job that I was currently in and went back to get her MS in CRM to get the background necessary for a career in clinical research. I took her story to heart and I’m following the same path that she took to eventually become a global trial manager.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the (virtual) classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: While at ASU I learned a great deal about how many different components there are in clinical research. I had an understanding of how a sponsor works with a CRO and investigators due to the interactions I was a part of at work, but I never took into consideration many of the other players who hold a stake. There are ethics review boards, regulatory requirements, data management software and so many other roles that work together to run a single trial. It was very eye-opening to experience a class in each perspective of the trial. Now, I feel better able to understand the context of the big picture even if I don't specialize in every aspect personally.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I chose ASU for my MS because I had a recommendation from someone at my company to look into CRM programs. Later that same day I ran into a friend that I hadn't seen in a while and started discussing next career steps. She told me that she had just started her first semester at ASU and gave the program a glowing review! I especially loved the fact that each semester I was able to take one class at a time for 8 weeks before beginning the next course so my attention was never split between too many classes in addition to all that I had going on at work.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: My capstone professor, Barbara Marusiak, taught me the most important lesson while at ASU. She was nice enough to get in touch with me before my capstone course even began to help me understand what the intent of the project was and brainstorm ideas that I could use to complete the course requirement and also leverage my career. I ended up using my capstone project as the networking opportunity I needed to get involved with the clinical operations team at my company, and due to this I eventually received a job offer to become part of this team.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: The best piece of advice I'd give to those still in school is to use what you're learning in class in the context that you work in. Bounce ideas you learn off of your contacts working in the industry. There is usually a big difference between classroom learning, which gives you a great background and context for the field, and how things actually work in the real world. Being able to extrapolate information that you learn in class and put it into practice will help you better understand the "why" of how something is done and will help you make connections in your company that can help you continue to progress in your career.