Donations to ASU fund COVID-19 assistance, many other causes

October 12, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic upended students’ academic and personal lives during the spring, leaving several students in need of swift assistance.

Yaritza Hernandez Gil, a first-generation student who is double majoring at Arizona State University, was working two jobs to pay for college and living expenses when her work hours were cut because of the pandemic. Students wearing masks and social distancing Download Full Image

Around the same time, an ASU Law student was in the United Kingdom for an externship when the pandemic started shutting down countries, and she needed to quickly return to the United States. She was unprepared to incur the last minute travel expense.

Sun Devil supporters stepped up to aid both of these students and many more who found themselves in crisis from the pandemic. Donors provided more than 4,260 gifts earmarked for COVID-19-related student support, research and community resources between March and June, when the ASU Foundation’s fiscal year ended. Overall, the ASU Foundation raised $290 million during the year for ASU students, faculty, research and community programs.

“The engagement and generosity of ASU donors reflects their amazing commitment to student success and the advancement of new knowledge,” ASU President Michael Crow said. “In a year of unprecedented challenges and opportunities, support for our mission by those who share our vision has remained constant and we are deeply appreciative of that dedication to ASU and our learners.”

Hernandez Gil received emergency crisis funding in the form of grocery store gift cards from the Bridging Success program, which assisted her and other former foster youth who needed financial help.

“It’s tough to not get a paycheck,” Hernandez Gil said. “But this allows me to have meals for myself.”

Rick Barry, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law alumnus (’73), already had a scholarship established in the college, but wanted to do more for ASU when the pandemic hit. That’s when he learned about the Law Annual Fund, which supports urgent needs of the college at the discretion of the dean, and he was sold on the notion of helping as many student as possible.

“For those families that don’t have traditional support that I’ve always enjoyed, it’s really tough,” Berry said. “I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to help.”

Berry’s gift helped several ASU Law students including the one stranded in the United Kingdom. The student’s airfare was covered by the law fund, along with an Airbnb rental in which to complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine period when she returned. Since Berry’s gift, more than 40 other supporters donated to the fund.

When many community resources were forced to close or move to virtual offerings, donors stepped in to ensure their services could continue. Donations to the ASU Speech and Hearing Clinic enabled many of the clinic’s telehealth services to be free during the summer.

Additional private support aided the Biodesign Institute’s COVID-19 research and testing kits and provided personal protective equipment to medical professionals.

“We are very grateful for the generosity we received, both for COVID-19-related resources and for donations to support ASU’s vision to solve grand problems that will improve lives and enhance our communities,” ASU Foundation CEO Gretchen Buhlig said. “Donors have the ability to support causes they are passionate about and every donation – large or small – makes an impact on students, faculty and the community.”

Donors enabled more than 7,900 unique undergraduate and graduate students to receive $29.2 million in scholarships last school year, according to preliminary data counts. That is a nearly 6% increase in students who received a scholarship compared with the preceding year.

Scholarship recipient Amalie Strange is a first-generation student who graduated in May with bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences and Spanish from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and she returned this fall in pursuit of her PhD in animal behavior.

“I don't think I would have been able to make it to this point if I didn't have those scholarships,” Strange said.

Four siblings – Brett, Chase, Scott and Jenna Fitzgerald – who graduated from ASU with distinction from Barrett, The Honors College established a $25,000 endowed scholarship to give back to the community that gave them so much.

“Barrett has enabled my entire family to find fast and frequent success in our careers and we thought it fitting to, in turn, start paying back early and often” Chase said.

Support for faculty remained strong with 39 gifts totaling $4.8 million for faculty chairs and professorships. Rhett Larson, a professor in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law was recently named the first Richard Morrison Professorship in Water Law.

“Richard Morrison has been my friend and mentor since I was a young water lawyer,” Larson said. “He’s also been a leader in Arizona water policy. It’s an honor to hold a position that bears his name.”

Faculty not only benefitted from private support, but also donated to causes they were passionate about. Nearly 1,600 faculty and staff donated to ASU during the fiscal year.

Returning faculty member Alexandra Navrotsky donated money to establish the Navrotsky Eyring Center for Materials of the Universe to bring science and engineering together for materials and space exploration.

Private support also funded a variety of programs and initiatives during the year.

One of those gifts came from State Farm to establish the Pathways for the Future initiative. The $30 million gift will provide education and career development opportunities for high school and community college students, as well as adults in the workforce who need to update their skills.

Campaign ASU 2020 publicly launched in January 2017 to raise the long-term fundraising capacity of the university and focuses on six priorities including student access and excellence; student success; the academic enterprise; discovery, creativity and innovation; enriching our communities; and Sun Devil competitiveness. The fundraising campaign ends on Dec. 31.

Michelle Stermole

Director of communications, Enterprise Partners


XR@ASU creates new immersive learning experiences

October 12, 2020

You may have heard about different kinds of alternative realities, whether virtual (VR), augmented (AR) or mixed (MR). They all blend physical and digital worlds in unique ways, and together form the concept of extended reality (XR).

As a leader in exploring the potential for technology-enabled learning, Arizona State University is at the forefront of what President Michael Crow calls “the fourth realm of teaching and learning,” which focuses on “education through exploration.” So it is no surprise that ASU is at the forefront of understanding the novel and deeper learning opportunities afforded by these kinds of immersive activities and experiences.  Download Full Image

XR@ASU came together through the Immersive Learning through Extended Reality work stream from the Learning Futures Collaboratory, which also included the Embodied Games Lab at ASU, the Meteor Studio at ASU and individuals from EdPlus and UTO. With six immersive experiences already on display, and more on the way, XR@ASU has already begun shaping a new way of learning.

Real-world learning experiences

One of those experiences, developed by the Embodied Games Lab, is a COVID Campus Simulation that highlights eight key decisions to illustrate the probability of infection from the novel coronavirus. This informative experience shows how an ASU community member’s decisions, including distancing, masking and transportation choices, can keep others safe.

“Players should leave the game understanding not only how their decisions affect their own health, but also how individual decisions affect group health,” said Mina C. Johnson-Glenberg, Embodied Games Lab head.

Embodied Games also developed a bite-size, engaging game to illustrate the concept of natural selection. Catch a Mimic, designed for fifth graders through college-level students, demonstrates the biological concept of Batesian mimicry, the ability of an animal to present itself as toxic to avoid predators, through an interactive simulation.

Student-designed XR

Robert LiKamWa, assistant professor at the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, leads the Meteor Studio in designing and researching XR.

“We put together teams of students to collaborate on different XR projects at the intersection of technical and creative development,” LiKamWa said. “I'm also helping to give high-level direction to the projects, but the students are really taking charge with leading the projects where they need to go.”

Students led other ASU-centric learning experiences. For example, Career Arcade (currently in its beta form) will take users into the jobs their fields of study could lead to. With environments for planetary scientists, public health scientists, structural engineers and more to come, the Career Arcade will enrich and aid in the process of setting into the professional world.

A look inside the Career Arcade, currently in its beta form

“We've also decided to focus on how Arizona State University contributes to these fields,” said Brayden Jenkins, the student project director of Career Arcade. “For example, in the Planetary Science room, you can play with meteorites from ASU's meteorite vault or view satellites built with the help of ASU at one-to-one scale.”

The genesis of the project was to add another layer to the learning experience that continues even past ASU.

“Our hope is that anyone can enter the Career Arcade and leave inspired and excited for the future of these careers,” Jenkins said.

Also coming soon is the ASU Virtual Tutoring Simulation, led by Aashiq Shaikh. The mock tutoring experience provides an in-depth look at the process of virtual tutoring, bringing to its users information about the process and best practices for preparing for a tutoring session. In collaborating with the ASU Tutoring Center to ensure that his simulation is an accurate portrayal of its services, Shaikh found new light for those in need of tutoring.

“It is especially important now, as more and more students need online tutoring from home to succeed in their classes, but aren't sure what to expect,” he said.

ASU students Linda Nguyen and Brandon Thomas handled the front-end and back-end development of the ASU Scavenger Hunt, respectively. The project guides users to landmarks around ASU’s Tempe campus for a fully virtual experience or to visit in the real world (socially distanced and masked up, of course).

“We envision this app being utilized across ASU 101 courses as an engaging, gamified way for new students to familiarize themselves with ASU,” Nguyen said.

The app is available now, but Nguyen and her team are already thinking of ways to improve it (such as adding ASU’s other campuses) and reflecting on the whole process.

“The overall development process was a fun, collaborative and valuable experience that gave us more in-depth knowledge and practice in numerous areas of mobile app development, including databases, security, user interface design and cross-platform compatibility,” she said.

A companion to the Scavenger Hunt displays ASU at a different scale. The ASU 360 Virtual Campus immerses users in a number of 360-degree “portals” across ASU’s four Valley campuses. Designed as a tool to archive university events and provide virtual tours in the time of COVID-19, the 360 Virtual Campus is also seen, by lead developer Alireza Bahremand and his team, as a constant resource in the future.

“We envision that in the years to come, ASU will become a hybridized campus that merges the virtual and physical world,” Bahremand said. “This platform is one of the first steps towards building a hybridized experience that connects in-person and online students to explore the university.”

Editorial specialist, University Technology Office