ASU dean honors alum with Social Science Distinguished Alumnus Award


November 7, 2019

Arizona State University political science alumnus Mark Kerrigan was the recipient of the inaugural Social Science Distinguished Alumnus Award that will be given out annually by the social sciences dean, Elizabeth Wentz. The award is given to an alumnus from the social sciences who personifies the ASU Charter through significant contributions to society, business and commerce and their communities.

"Mark Kerrigan is an ASU political science alum who has been involved in advancing the interests of the social sciences broadly including alumni involvement, research and student support, and advancing proofs of concept for bold ideas," Wentz said. "He is more than deserving of distinguished alumni recognition." Mark Kerrigan (left) with School of Politics and Global Studies director, Cameron Thies Mark Kerrigan (left) with School of Politics and Global Studies Director Cameron Thies. Download Full Image

School of Politics and Global Studies Director Cameron Thies presented the award to Kerrigan at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' second annual Evening of Innovative Thinking. The event on Oct. 24 included discussions from faculty and guests of The College who are at the forefront of innovation and pioneering solutions to today’s most pressing issues.

Kerrigan's work experience spans more than 30 years in the energy management and public policy space. He has held senior management roles in both the federal government and the private sector.

After graduate school, Kerrigan went to Washington, D.C., as a presidential management intern. He started his career at the White House Office of Management and Budget in 1980, where he advised senior staff at the Office of the President on budgetary matters associated with a range of energy technology and regulatory issues. He left public service in 1987 and returned in 1989 to an appointment in the George H. Bush Administration as deputy undersecretary for policy at the Department of Energy. In 1992, Kerrigan became the manager of the energy solutions group at Science Applications International Corporation.

In March 2009, Kerrigan received the James W. Creasman Award for excellence from the Arizona State University Alumni Association. He was recognized for his efforts in co-starting the GlobalResolve project, a social impact, engineering-based program that designs and implements solar and clean energy projects in developing countries.

After the event in Washington, D.C., Kerrigan reflected on what this achievement means to him:

Question: How does it feel to be honored with the Social Science Distinguished Alumni Award from ASU?

Answer: I am very honored to be recognized by The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I very much appreciate this inaugural award by the (social sciences dean). I hope this becomes another great tradition at ASU.

Q: You graduated ASU with a degree in political science and have since amassed over 30 years in the energy management and public policy space. What led to your passion for the field of energy?

A: My interest in energy issues started with the oil embargo in 1973. I was fascinated with the broad impact that energy has on our global economy and the global environment. I grew very intrigued with energy technology, especially renewable energy and the tremendous promise it holds for people across the globe.

Q: You have previously been recognized for your efforts in co-starting the GlobalResolve project with Barrett, The Honors College. As a member of their advisory board, what has it been like to see the project grow to help 13 counties in Asia, Africa and North and South America?

A: GlobalResolve is one of the best things that I have ever been involved with. ASU has responded to the global challenge to provide opportunities for our students to experience the needs of underserved communities and create innovative solutions to improve their lives.

Q: What career advice would you offer students and young alumni?

A: Work hard. Be good at what you do and above all be innovative. Try to work with smart people who share your values. When you become the boss, hire the best people. They will eventually make you successful.

Bio contributions from Barrett, The Honors College.

Matt Oxford

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Politics and Global Studies

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A life of lichen

November 7, 2019

ASU researcher shares important role of tiny organism

A couple miles away from Arizona State University’s Tempe campus is a building filled with fascinating sights ranging from stuffed javelinas to ancient fossils and rocks. 

Amid all these eye-catching items is a collection of less-conspicuous organisms often so tiny, you’d miss them if you were out in the wild: lichens.

Lichens are composite organisms made up of a fungus and a photosynthetic partner, living together in a mutually beneficial relationship. They’re often found on rocks, on trees, even on tortoise shells, in colors ranging from black, brown, deep-orange red or yellowish-green to a bright neon yellow. And while their existence may not be common knowledge to most, they play a very important role in the environment.

Their importance in our ecosystem is one of the reasons Frank Bungartz, the collections manager of lichens and digital data at Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, became so passionate about these organisms. 

“We really should care about lichen,” Bungartz said. “When they disintegrate stone, they start forming soil. And soil is something really essential, I mean, all plants live on soil and we all eat plants. Essentially, without lichens, there could still be bare rock almost everywhere. And nothing would grow.” 

Lichens also lend themselves to air pollution monitoring and studies because they obtain all their nutrients directly from the air rather than through their roots, Bungartz said. While working in Europe, he would receive phone calls from homeowners concerned about “stuff” growing on their trees. That “stuff” was lichens, which were coming back to the inner cities after a period of extinction during the industrial revolution.

“And I said, ‘Well, be happy that you have this stuff growing on your trees because it means that you can breathe your air again as lichens are actually a good indicator that things have improved,’” he explained.

Today, Bungartz manages the fifth-largest lichen collection in the country as part of ASU’s Natural History Collections.

The collections facility houses nine collections in four different units: the Vascular Plant Herbarium, Zoological Collections, Fossil Plants Collection and Lichen Herbarium. The Lichen Herbarium is home to more than 128,000 fully accessioned and databased lichen specimens from all over the world and boasts a collection most representative of the Southwest.

From lichen to fascination

“Looking at these organisms, they are so beautiful, they could be a Georgia O’Keeffe painting,” Bungartz said. “I became so intrigued by what these things look like. When you examine them at a microscopic scale, they’re incredibly beautiful.” 

Bungartz’s appreciation began long before he came to ASU, back when he was an undergraduate student studying at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. 

In his third year, he had to complete a bachelor’s thesis — but Bungartz didn’t want to do his in a lab.

While bicycling through the countryside one day, he came across a graveyard with tombstones covered with lichens.

At the time, Bungartz said the only thing he knew about lichens was that they were a good indicator of air pollution.

“I came up with this idea to look at lichen communities on tombstones and see whether there was a difference between the countryside churchyards and inner-city churchyards,” Bungartz said. “I had no idea what I was getting into at the time.” 

Researching and educating about the importance of lichen

After completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Europe, Bungatz came to ASU in 1999 as a PhD student to study under the now-Emeritus Professor Thomas Nash, in what is today known as the School of Life Sciences. Nash was the creator of the Lichen Herbarium. 

Nash, his wife, Corinna Gries, and then herbarium curator Bruce Ryan invited Bungartz, at the time still a graduate student, to help edit the “Lichen Flora of the Greater Sonoran Desert Region,” written by 90 contributing authors worldwide.

This lichen "Flora” represents today the most comprehensive biodiversity inventory of almost 2,000 desert lichens reported from the Sonoran Region, almost 40% of all lichens known from North America, a gigantic, 30-year endeavor which culminated in the publications of three authoritative volumes of research, Bungartz said.

Aside from publishing his findings, Bungartz also serves as a resource to those concerned and curious about lichens from around the world. 

“We know that many lichens inhabiting rocks can sit on these surfaces for ages, some even centuries,” Bungartz said. “Recently, people in Peru contacted me because they’re really worried how lichens might affect stonework and how they might deteriorate their national monuments. The most famous is Machu Picchu, for example.”

Bungartz said he gave a presentation to officials in Peru on how best to monitor the effect of lichens on stone over time, using a long-term series of photographs to document how lichen communities on the monuments changed.

“To an archaeologist, he or she looks at these stone walls and says, ‘Oh, this is horrible, this is really dirty,’” he said, “But actually, removing (the lichens) might not be the best solution.”

Instead, Bungartz argued that removing them from the rock could actually accelerate the process of erosion. 

“And Machu Picchu is full of lichens that are virtually unknown,” he said. “It’s kind of an ideal habitat that could protect the biodiversity of these organisms. You’d want to protect the cultural heritage of these sites, but also the living heritage, the biodiversity of this planet.”

Prior to returning to ASU three years ago, Bungartz had worked and lived almost 10 years on the Galapagos Islands. There he did research similar to his work in the Sonoran region. He documented several hundred species previously unknown from the archipelago, and described 50 species of lichens new to science. He is still collaborating with researchers worldwide to catalog the tremendous diversity of lichens on these islands and he plans to eventually publish a comprehensive identification guide of Galapagos lichens.

Bungartz and daughter

Bungartz inspects lichen with his daughter Lea. 

Researchers who discover new species can choose how to name them. From the Galapagos, Bungartz recently described Usnea leana, named for his 8-year-old daughter Lea. In the Sonoran region Bungartz also left his mark: As part of his doctoral dissertation he named a new desert lichen Buellia regineae — after his sister Regine.

As his research continues, he said it’s important to think of lichens not as individual organisms, but as one piece in a larger, interconnected web.

“Lichens are a part of complex ecosystems,” Bungartz said. “By taking little pieces in or out of this ecological web, we’re endangering the entire web. That’s why lichens are so important.”

Christopher Clements

Marketing Assistant, The College Of Liberal Arts and Sciences