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Duke Reiter and ASU's University City Exchange: Driven by a sense of urgency

February 27, 2019

The I-10 corridor offers a living laboratory for exploring the biggest issues of our time, from immigration, to energy, to water

Wellington “Duke” Reiter is committed to finding viable responses to urgent issues. This mindset has influenced the projects that he’s pursued as executive director of Arizona State University's University City Exchange and as special adviser to ASU President Michael Crow. These include the design and development of the ASU campus in downtown Phoenix to help serve as a catalyst for sustainable growth and the Ten Across (10X) initiative to create a network of cities along the Interstate 10 corridor to address many of those communities' shared issues. 

ASU Now reached out to Reiter to better understand the thinking and goals that drive the University City Exchange and 10X.

“We are particularly interested in the city as a leading indicator of who we are, what we value, and how our desires are registered in built form,” Reiter said. “Most important, 10X will be unblinking in addressing the risks we face and the need for course corrections.”   

Question: How would you describe the central impetus for your work with the University City Exchange?

Answer: To my eye, cities and universities are not only comparable in their organization, I believe their fortunes are inextricably linked. The purpose of the University City Exchange is to make sure opportunities for mutual benefit between the two entities are identified and acted upon through physical planning, economic development strategy and cultural connections. 

Both cities and universities benefit from large, diverse and tightly packed populations which make them ideal settings to build unexpected relationships, exchange ideas and imagine possibilities. Design matters enormously in these settings. Well-orchestrated proximity in the city makes a streetscape walkable, vibrant and attractive. That same ingredient also causes two researchers to encounter each other on campus and generate an idea that neither would have developed independently. The optimal interaction between people and the environment at multiple scales is what the University City Exchange is all about. 

Video: Reiter talks about 10X as part of the ASU KEDtalks series. Short for Knowledge Enterprise Development talks, KEDtalks aim to spark ideas, indulge curiosity and inspire action by highlighting ASU scientists, humanists, social scientists and artists who are driven to find solutions to the universe’s grandest challenges. Tune in to to discover how researchers are attacking locust plagues, why baby steps are not the best way to achieve change and more.

Q: Can you offer examples of the projects that best exemplify your mission?

A: Upon arriving at ASU in 2003 as the dean of the College of Design, one of my first projects was to help establish a presence for ASU in the heart of downtown Phoenix. The motivation behind this effort was urgent for both parties. The urban core did not project a sense of a city on the rise. At the same time, ASU was expanding rapidly and in search of new options. It was also clear that certain professional programs could be woven into the fabric of an urban environment to the benefit of all parties.  

By combining the common interests of all stakeholders, we were able to convince the voters of Phoenix to make a simultaneous investment in downtown, the university and the future of education in the region. Quality urban design was essential to the success of this new campus, including a carefully arranged sequence of buildings, parks, public art and key partnerships. In so doing, we demonstrated that the university would not be a place apart but an integral part of the city. We take pride in the fact that ASU’s burgeoning downtown now includes a number of schools, including journalism, nursing and law, and nearly 15,000 students.

The essence of the University City Exchange mission is captured in this partnership. It is also one that is replicable if all parties are willing. Accordingly, we advise other city/university combinations which might yield similar results under the right conditions.

Q: One of the great challenges in dealing with climate change is reaching people who are either uninterested or overwhelmed by the reality. Is this something that the University City Exchange considers in the course of your work?

A: As suggested above, the University City Exchange seeks to connect mutual interests and at multiple scales. We seek to put Phoenix into a larger context so as to understand what is unique to our situation and what is shared with other locations. I have lived in two cities whose very existence is often questioned: one below sea level — New Orleans — and the other in an arid climate with triple-digit temperatures and limited access to water — Phoenix. Both are going to adapt and persist in some format into the future, but the question is how.

A city like New Orleans is one that simply had to be, positioned as it is at the mouth of the largest river in North America. Phoenix, on the other hand, is an invented place, one built on 20th-century technologies, including the automobile, production housing and air conditioning. This has come with a host of unintended, and often negative, consequences to which we must be attentive. 

As the University City Exchange evaluates projects for engagement, we are constantly seeking alternative approaches to water, energy, transportation and buildings which reduce the demand we are placing on our finite resource base and the land itself. This should be the expectation of a university, especially one dedicated to the vitality of the region we serve.

Q: How urgent is the need to address climate change and pursue collaboration at a whole new level?

A: While we are committed to cities, even that unit of measure is too small to deal with the scale of the issues we face. So we have expanded our frame of interest, one which places Phoenix and ASU in a network of committed observers and problem-solvers ranging from Los Angeles to Miami, all along the U.S. Interstate 10. This has sprouted our Ten Across initiative. As we note in our mission statement, the I-10 corridor provides the most compelling window on the future of the country, one that is on the front lines of social, economic and climate change positioning this region as a living laboratory for resilience, adaptation, and where necessary, orderly retreat.

In keeping with the New American University model, 10X is an expansive network built to pursue viable responses to urgent issues. At University City Exchange, we are particularly interested in the city as a leading indicator of who we are, what we value, and how our desires are registered in built form. Most important, 10X will be unblinking in addressing the risks we face and the need for course corrections.  

Q: You are an architect and urban planner by trade. How optimistic are you that we can design our way to a sustainable future?

A: My actions and work on a daily basis are those of an optimist, one who believes that design is indeed a key component. And that would be true of the University City Exchange team as a whole. I don’t believe there is another option.

However, I know we need to work faster, smarter and at elevated scale to have any hope of inspiring the changes needed to tackle the difficult conditions ahead. Knowing that humans have a remarkable ability to ignore warning signals, even when starkly rendered by the built environment, the challenge is really one of communication. How to translate uncontestable data into collective action — and not despair — is the design project of our time.

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Steven Beschloss

Senior Director for Narrative Development , Media Relations & Strategic Communications

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The College debuts at Arizona State University

The College offers more than 95 undergrad degrees and 140-plus graduate programs
The College reported $140 million in research expenditures in 2018
February 27, 2019

New name for ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences reflects its position as the 'academic heart' of the university

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2019.

Shiv Shah is a scientist first and foremost. And he looks every bit the part, clad in a white coat, seated behind a microscope, peering through the lens at a slide in a lab at Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building I on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.

His love for the field is why he decided to major in biological sciences through The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. But he has other interests, too. Shah is also minoring in economics, something that might not go as smoothly elsewhere.

“Something that I definitely undervalued when I first began studying at ASU is simply the access we have as students in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” Shah said. “Many universities often have application processes or minimum requirements to add minors and dual majors, but at ASU and in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, students have easy access to diversify their education.”

Lizbeth Meneses was less sure about where she wanted to focus her studies when she came to ASU. Originally, she had chosen justice studies as her major. But after participating in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Early Start program, a free, two-week immersive experience that allows students to tour campus and meet with faculty before classes begin, she reconsidered and went with psychology.

Like Shah, Meneses also has other interests, specifically history. So she added that as a minor and is just as appreciative of the opportunity to explore more than one area of interest at the same time.

“I like how I'm able to do a lot of things and still focus on my main interest,” she said.

shiv shah

Biology senior Shiv Shah began working in the neuroscience research lab at ASU while he was a senior at Hamilton High School in Chandler. He’s currently working on a project that looks into developmental ailments such as autism and is applying to medical schools where he may continue his neurological research and combine it with patient care. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

The experiences of Shah and Meneses are an apt reflection of the mission of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said Dean Patrick Kenney, who called it the “academic heart” of the university.

“(We want to) deliver graduates who have a very broad education in the arts, in the sciences, in the humanities and the social sciences,” Kenney said. “People have believed for a long time that that a balanced education will help not only general society, as people come out with a broader view of what the world looks like, but also help them in their careers … ”

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences acts as a foundation, he added, from which students can add subjects to their academic pursuits.

On Wednesday afternoon, that idea was reinforced by an event at Armstrong Hall to announce the rebranding of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences from its former acronym “CLAS” to its new informal title of “The College.”

“At the heart of Arizona State University is the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in its historic name, which is all those things that you would think of — history, philosophy, political science, chemistry, physics, English — the core disciplines of the university,” ASU President Michael Crow said in a previously recorded interview. “The core of the core of the core. And so that is The College; it’s the core of the institution.

“The rebranding is just to have a simple, focused name. We get a lot of people out there that get confused with, what is a liberal art (or science)? … There’s little understanding of what the capital “L” liberal means. The whole notion of … a liberal education being one which is guided by reason, guided by logic, guided by elements that go beyond the temporal or the physical. … We just think that ASU should have The College, the place that’s the core of the university, where the heart of what universities are about is taught and advanced.”

The College infographic

The College was established in 1953 by the Arizona Board of Regents as “The College of Arts and Sciences” (it has undergone a number of name changes over the years). At the time, it offered two degreesThe Bachelor of Arts offered concentration areas in departments including art, biological sciences, English, foreign languages, mathematics, music, physical sciences and social studies; the Bachelor of Science offered concentration areas in agriculture, biological science, business administration, psychology, home economics, industrial arts, mathematics, health education and physical education, physical sciences and social studies.: a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science.

Today, The College offers more than 95 undergraduate degrees and 140-plus graduate programs, and boasts 25,500 students. While such growth is generally a good thing, it led to a less-than-ideal spatial situation in which The College eventually found itself spread out over 40-some buildings across the Tempe campus.

In an attempt to bring it all together and establish a cohesive identity for ASU’s liberal arts and sciences students, The College secured a new home base at Armstrong Hall last May. The freshly renovated 98,000-plus-square-foot building on the southeast edge of ASU’s Tempe campus includes:

• Nearly 46,000 square feet of space for academic advising and services focused entirely on student success, including The Futures Center — a project built in partnership with ASU’s office of Career and Professional Development Services as a 21st-century career center for liberal arts and science majors.

• Two levels of student study space staffed by ASU Library and open after-hours from 5 to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, where students will have access to an active learning classroom, group study rooms, event space and academic support from an ASU librarian.

Video by The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

In addition to its size, The College has come to be known for its excellence. It is a top producer of the world’s most elite students, such as Boren, Gates Cambridge, Goldwater, Marshall, Truman and Udall scholars; its faculty includes three Nobel laureates, 28 Guggenheim Fellows, 91 Fulbright American Scholars and three MacArthur Fellows; and in 2018, it reported $140 million in research expenditures.

Opportunities for research at The College range in subject from STEM to the humanities, often cross traditional disciplinary lines and are available even to undergraduates.

Shah began conducting research while he was still in high school in School of Life Sciences Assistant Professor Jason Newbern’s lab. There, he studies the pathological mechanisms of neurodevelopmental conditions in the hopes of helping to identify targets for therapeutic drugs.

Meneses has been conducting research under the guidance of School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies Assistant Professor Volker Benkert since her first semester at ASU. She has taken on a couple of projects: one that explores the history of the Beth Hebrew Synagogue in Phoenix as a resource for a variety of minority communities over time; and, under the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict’s Undergraduate Research Fellow’s Program, one that examines the psychological dispositions of ordinary Germans as tacit accomplices, beneficiaries and sometimes perpetrators in the Holocaust.

“(Lizbeth) epitomizes a kind of student that only ASU can produce: She is grounded in her major, but always open to interdisciplinary approaches,” Benkert said.

Lizbeth Meneses

Psychology sophomore Lizbeth Meneses is researching, in her free time, how the German populace from 1933–38 became complicit with the Nazis and their push to exterminate the Jewish population. Unlike most of her peers, who start to do independent research in their junior year, Meneses started working with a faculty research adviser as a freshman and won two grants to continue her study. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

In the years to come, Kenney sees The College as central to ASU’s mission of access, with a diverse student body that is more representative of the population of the community it serves — roughly 40 percent students of color, about 40 percent of whom are Pell Grant eligible; roughly 30 percent of first-generation students, about two-thirds of whom are students of color; and about 55 percent of students who are women — and a burgeoning suite of online offerings: Twenty-six undergraduate degree programs and 12 graduate degree programs are now available online.

Kenney summed it up thusly: “The access mission doesn't work if The College isn’t successful.”

Top photo: The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences administration moved to its new home in the renovated home in Armstrong Hall in May 2018. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now