ASU partners with UN, World Bank on gender equality training for world leaders

October 19, 2020

Only eight countries have legislated full gender equality, according to the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law database. (No, the United States isn’t one of them.) And an estimated one in three women worldwide experience physical violence.

To accelerate the adoption of policies that empower women and ensure equal rights, Arizona State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory and EdPlus partnered with global organizations — including the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the United Nations and the World Bank — on a unique video training series: SDG 5 Training for Parliamentarians and Global Changemakers. graphic that says "zero countries have achieved full gender equality. Let's change that." Download Full Image

This series will inform members of parliaments and other leaders on gender issues and trends, providing actionable steps they can take to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls (UN Sustainable Development Goal 5) in their countries.

In 2015, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by all 193 United Nations member states. SDG 5 is an especially important goal because “gender equality is intrinsically linked to all our development challenges,” according to Sanda Ojiambo, executive director of the United Nations Global Compact.

To increase the training’s impact, ASU students in the Luminosity Lab are piloting an online notification tool that sends partners country-specific information about legal discrimination against women, says Erin Carr-Jordan, head of social impact at EdPlus.

The SDG 5 training was developed during the beginning of the United Nations Decade of Action. 2020 is a landmark year to commemorate commitments to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. To take stock, it has been:

  • 25 years since the Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Declaration.
  • 20 years since the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.
  • 10 years since the creation of UN Women and the launch of the Women’s Empowerment Principles.

"The Global Futures Laboratory is thrilled to partner with so many wonderful organizations in a collaborative SDG 17 multi-stakeholder initiative to promote SDG 5,” said Amanda Ellis, director of global partnerships for the Global Futures Laboratory and co-chair (with Thunderbird Dean Sanjeev Khagram) of the universitywide UN SDG and Beyond Task Force.

Ellis was previously New Zealand’s ambassador to the UN and lead gender specialist for the World Bank. Other partners on this training series include the Council of Women World Leaders, Women Political Leaders and the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians.

This SDG training for world leaders won’t be ASU’s last.

“Based on the quality of ASU’s work with the SDG 5 training, the Inter-Parliamentary Union has asked us to create a new training series for SDG 13: climate action, which will be key in the run up to COP 26,” Ellis said. “It’s wonderful to be able to align key global partnerships with the brilliant work going on at ASU.”

View the training videos below and learn how to take action on the SDG 5 Training for Parliamentarians and Global Changemakers site.


Only eight countries have legislated full gender equality. Time for change to benefit not only women and girls, but also everyone, everywhere.


Did you know that companies with more gender representation perform better? Yet there is still a gender gap in leadership positions in corporations. Similarly, gender representation in the government correlates with stronger governance, but the majority of the global population is still uncomfortable with a female head of state. 

Violence against women and girls

One in three women are expected to experience some form of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime, according to the World Health Organization. Additionally, violence against women and girls costs approximately $1.5 trillion every year. Learn how to be an effective advocate against violence against women and girls.

Women, peace and security

Women are overly impacted by conflict, yet they’re often left out of peacekeeping processes. Agreements are more likely to succeed when women are involved. Learn how your country can develop a comprehensive "Women, Peace and Security" plan.

Kayla Frost

Communications Specialist, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


Graduate College partners with Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation to bring scholars to ASU

Truman Scholars attending ASU will receive additional tuition support

October 19, 2020

The ASU Graduate College is partnering with the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation to bring more Truman Scholars to Arizona State University to complete their graduate or professional degrees. 

To do this, the Graduate College has committed to providing a full-tuition award for up to two years to Truman scholarship recipients enrolled in on-campus graduate programs. This award will be provided in addition to the award Truman Scholars receive from the foundation. Harry S Truman Foundation Download Full Image

What is the Truman Scholarship?

The Truman Scholarship awards merit-based scholarships to undergraduate students who plan to attend graduate school and pursue careers in public service.

Truman Scholars receive a $30,000 award for graduate or professional school, participate in leadership development activities, and have special opportunities for internships and employment with the federal government.

“ASU is deeply committed to promoting public service and is proud to provide additional financial support for Truman Scholars, who are answering the call to public service leadership at a time when public leadership is more valuable than ever," said Mark Searle, ASU executive vice president and university provost.

Well-known Truman Scholars from Arizona

The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation has awarded 21 Truman scholarships to ASU Sun Devils since the program began in 1977. In addition, prominent Arizonan Truman Scholars include former Gov. Janet Napolitano, Congressman Greg Stanton, former Ambassador Michelle Gavin and ASU professors Kristin Mayes and David Gartner.

“Now is the time to invest in the next generation of leaders,” said Terry Babcock-Lumish, executive secretary of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. “Arizona State University's generous commitment to add additional financial support for Truman Scholars demonstrates a shared commitment to creating opportunities for innovative problem-solvers tackling society's greatest challenges.”

A living memorial

The scholarship, a living memorial to the 33rd president, is intended for “future change agents” — students who demonstrate the passion, intellect and leadership potential to serve the public interest. Truman Scholars can be found in the White House, Congress and on the Supreme Court. They are ambassadors, journalists, educators, philanthropic leaders and more. 

“For more than 40 years, the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation has served as a beacon for public service, inspiring Americans from diverse backgrounds and from across the country,” Babcock-Lumish said. “Thank you to President Crow, Dean Wentz and the ASU community for championing public service.”

The Graduate College oversees the university’s commitment to Truman Scholars who bring their award to ASU for their graduate studies. Scholars should contact after receiving the Truman Scholarship and being admitted to their graduate program to coordinate funding. Review the Graduate College Truman Scholarship webpage for more information.

Undergraduate students interested in applying for the Truman Scholarship should visit the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarship Advisement Truman Scholarship webpage for more information.

Article by Emily Carman and Tracy Viselli

ASU student aspires to use passion for data, geoscience tools to support public lands

October 16, 2020

Margaret Tueller is a visual learner with a curious mind. With an affinity for analytical problem solving and spatial thinking, she found a home in studying geographic information systems (GIS) and urban planning.  

“When I was deciding what major I wanted to go into initially, I was interested in astrophysics because I love science and math, but I wanted something where I could visualize the results in a more practical timeline than astrophysics might do,” Tueller recalled. School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning senior Margaret Tueller participated in the National Park Service’s highly competitive “Geoscientists in the Parks” program. Download Full Image

“That's when I decided urban planning would be the perfect choice. Then when I learned about GIS through the urban planning program, I realized it had those key elements of math and statistics that I felt I was initially missing to have a rounded education with spatial and practical projects that I could work on.” 

Tueller, who is a senior in Arizona State University's School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and is double majoring in geographic information science and urban planning, aspires to use her passion for data and geoscience tools to support land management and conservation, like that of the National Park Service.

“One thing that's important to me is that since these are public lands, they are available to everyone,” Tueller said. “It's interesting to consider: How can we get as many people to the parks as possible? How can we plan for folks who maybe aren't as outdoorsy, who maybe don't want to go backpacking for eight days? What resources are available to them? And how can we advertise the parts to them so everyone can enjoy these resources?”

This past summer, Tueller, who is also a Barrett, The Honors College student, participated in the National Park Service’s highly competitive “Geoscientists in the Parks” program. During her internship she used geospatial data to help inform current and future park zoning, which is key to managing different aspects of the park including visitor use and resource allocation. 

“GIS can be used to easily communicate a vision for a park system,” Tueller said. “You could make a map or show zoning options that can help visualize and manage desired conditions. GIS can also be used in a more traditional science sense through partnerships that study geology, history or reconstruction maps; GIS can apply to all of it.” 

Across the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Tueller’s commitment and passion is evident through her studies and work ethic. 

“Margaret is a committed and passionate student with a focus on tomorrow and professional preparedness,” said Steven Maierson, academic success specialist in the school. “Students like her are positive beacons and role models that other students should aspire to when navigating a degree program. Being a self-starter, getting involved and researching opportunities are all stand-out student markers that Margaret embodies.”

We spoke with Tueller and asked her a few questions about herself and her internship with the National Park Service. 

Question: How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your internship experience with the National Park Service? 

Answer: I did everything remotely. I had an opportunity where I went up to Tuzigoot National Monument and did some work with the NPS cultural resources team that came down from Denver and got to meet a couple of people for the day with masks, on which is fun, but otherwise, I attended meetings, submitted all of my work online and presented online. 

I tried to replicate experiences and social interactions I would have gotten at an office on a digital platform. It was a real challenge, but lots of people were willing to meet with me over lunch with a video call and just listen to my questions or tell me about their day. I tried to form as many connections as I could despite the circumstances, and everyone was willing to do that with me. 

Q: Which professor has taught you the most important lesson at ASU so far?

A: The most important thing I’ve learned is the importance of working with people. I’ve had Dr. Jason Kelley for a lot of my classes, and at the end of the day, he never lets us forget that urban planning is all about working with and for people, which is important to know and understand. A scenario may be perfect on paper, but it’s all about the people you’re working with to get something done or who will ultimately approve what you do.

Q: What's one interesting fact about yourself that only your friends know?

A: I really enjoy making art and drawing and painting. I really like to draw and have been getting into watercolor a lot more recently. It kind of feels like an obvious one for me when I'm not working on school. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would invest it into new energy solutions. I would definitely invest it in advancing renewable energy technology so that we could find other solutions and start those as soon as possible to reverse the effects of climate change.

David Rozul

Communications Program Coordinator, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


ASU students with passion for film connect through student-led organizations

October 15, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create changes in lifestyle, work and school, forcing individuals, as well as groups, to adapt and work together in ways they hadn’t previously planned. In the midst of these changes, the New American Film School emerged, previously a part of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre and now its own entity.

This new school has given a number of opportunities to students, including several student-led groups where members meet regularly to discuss common interests, make plans and have fun. Members of Maroon and Gold Entertainment in 2019. Download Full Image

The student groups in the New American Film School and other ASU-wide student-led film or film-oriented organizations have come to the forefront and are currently putting in the work to keep up these passions and continue to engage with one another.

The Association of Filmmakers at ASU is primarily a club for student networking as well as showcasing ASU film students' projects and other work. In the face of the pandemic, their team has worked tirelessly to help make sure students will still have a platform for new and creative ways to connect. Their mission is to bring people together and help students no matter what level they are on in their academic film journey. Their goal is to help break down the walls and fear that can come with networking and help foster a web of support throughout the film community. 

Serena Hoskyns, an AFA club president, shared that "(AFA) is like my film family, and has been one of the best parts of my time at ASU. This isn’t just a network, it is a link of support from people who want to see their members and fellow students succeed and showcase their achievements. I hope that the community and connectedness we foster carries on and helps usher in the next group of artists and dreamers in the New American Film School. It truly has been a gift just to be a part of this journey with so many amazing individuals.” 

AFA will host its Halloween event, which will include a costume contest, games and prizes, on Oct. 23rd at 7:30 p.m. The group is also planning to host a preelection event this November. 

Hollywood Invades Tempe provides students with an opportunity to learn from diverse filmmakers. It typically hosts screenings and offers students a unique blend of ethical training and artistic perspectives by including Q&A sessions. Just like ASU, Hollywood Invades Tempe believes that it's not about exclusion but rather inclusion.

“I believe that Hollywood Invades Tempe has given me the best introduction into the film community in Arizona and California,” said president Sedona Saulnier. “I have had unparalleled experiences working with my teams over the years, and I can only hope that those who care as deeply about the organization and the film program here at ASU continue the great work we have done here. I want to continue to help foster creativity and inclusivity for the long haul. I sincerely believe that is my mission as a film student and a Sun Devil.” 

Fade In: is a screenwriting club, a place where screenwriters can bring their scripts to have them read and get feedback. The club starts by casting a script, giving out parts and then hosting a reading, where the cast members read their respective lines. After the reading, they open the floor to anyone for feedback.

“It’s an open dialogue, a conversation between writer and audience,” explained club president Alex Plaizier. “The hope is that the feedback will aid the writer when they go to do the rewrite.” Plaizier said that “being a part of Fade In: is like being a part of a writer's guild. We're here to support you, help you, and we hope you find collaborators that can help you see your work as a reality." 

Fade In: has its general meetings on Thursdays at 6 p.m. on Zoom; links are on both Instagram and SunDevilSync pages. It has several scripts to read for the next few weeks, and organizers hope that in the near future they can reach out and work with guest speakers. 

Entertainment Business Association is a student organization dedicated to building a diverse community of young professionals passionate about the entertainment industry by promoting professional development and celebrating creativity. Members develop business skills while exploring careers in film and television, event planning, performing arts management, branding and many other fields of entertainment. EBA provides valuable and inclusive experiences through professional workshops, industry experiences and guest speakers to build a successful community both within ASU and in the industry. 

“Entertainment Business Association helped me find a home where I could meet like-minded individuals interested in the business and creative side of filmmaking,” said Valeria Valdes, club president. “Through EBA's Speaker Series, I met and networked with local professionals whose stories helped me gain a deeper understanding of the industry, how to continue my professional growth, and the rewards and challenges associated with a career in entertainment.”

The Association of International Media at ASU has a goal of promoting culture and diversity through film and media. Students can expect to work on documentaries and to host interviews that showcase the work and talent of people from around the world. In a biweekly segment called “Studio Talk,” group members feature special guests with international backgrounds, and they showcase their guests’ culture/diversity through music, film, dancing or life story. All majors are welcome in order to work together and promote culture and diversity.

“Being a part of AIM is a wonderful opportunity for everyone, regardless of their background, to learn more about cultures worldwide and to exercise their skills in highlighting the diversity of not only ASU’s campus but our surrounding communities as well,” said AIM club officer Shalina Baysan. “The ultimate goal for this club is to get more connected with them.”

AIM’s usual club meetings are every Friday from 3 to 4 p.m. on Zoom. 

Maroon & Gold Entertainment is a platform that allows ASU students to conceptualize, develop, shoot and produce independent films. Through MGE, students can create content and learn the ins and outs of the industry from preproduction to post. The club produces three or four short films every semester, and students can learn how to develop and cover scripts, pitch ideas, work together on set and market their art. MGE is founded on community and connection. 

For the most updated announcements and clubwide communication, follow MGE on Instagram and on Facebook. For more detailed updates through email, request to be a member on SunDevilSync.

Connecting the dots

The leaders of each of these barrier-breaking and highly organized groups come together on a biweekly basis to discuss events and ways to support one another while fostering a sense of unity and inclusivity. 

Plaizier explains on behalf of his organization, “I know the big idea is that people can come to Fade In: with their script, get it workshopped and then bring it to, say, Maroon & Gold Entertainment to actually produce it. As for other clubs such as Entertainment Business Association, Hollywood Invades Tempe and Association of Filmmakers of ASU, we are supporters and collaborators of their events and activities. Ideas are still being thrown around, but I'd like to see Fade In: co-host events with each club.”

Hoskyns of Association of Filmmakers at ASU adds in a final note, “Each club represents a very different but very important part of the industry; we no longer want any competition but rather finding ways we can all help and support each other. In the world beyond ASU we are going to need each other too, so we want to build that foundation and connectivity now and have it continue on.”

Danielle Munoz

Media and Communications Coordinator, School of Film, Dance and Theatre


Progress in water treatment earns accolades for engineering researchers

October 15, 2020

Good quality drinking water is crucial to public health. From its natural source to your kitchen faucet, water undergoes a long journey involving several physical and chemical treatment processes to remove contaminants before it is potable, or safe for consumption.

Disinfection is one crucial process that eliminates harmful pathogens from water before you drink it from the tap. But the chemicals involved sometimes result in undesired byproducts. Drinking water can contain anything from microplastics to trace amounts of pharmaceuticals. overhead view of a water treatment facility Download Full Image

So, what actually is in drinking water, and just how safe is it?

Naushita Sharma is a civil, environmental and sustainable engineering doctoral student at Arizona State University. Growing up in India, she noticed that people are largely unaware of where their drinking water is sourced. This motivated her to research water quality and targeted contaminant removal for providing safe and reliable drinking water.

"Little is known about water quality and the impact of water treatment processes around the world and especially in many communities in India," Sharma said.

“We used to play in water puddles and drink water from local wells,” she said. “My notion had been that as long as the water looked clear, it was safe to drink. No one told us otherwise!”

After coming to ASU and working with Professor Paul Westerhoff, Sharma learned that even clear water can contain toxic substances, a realization that changed her perspective on the meaning of safe or potable water.

“Through my research, I’ve learned a lot about source water quality and understanding potential sources of contaminants in rivers and wells. I’d like to take all this knowledge back to India and see how we can improve our own drinking water treatment processes geared towards our own natural sources of water,” she said.

Naushita Sharma

Sharma received the 2020 Holly A. Cornell Scholarship from the American Water Works Association, or AWWA, an organization dedicated to improving water quality and supply. The scholarship, which provides $10,000 to support research, is awarded to female or minority students who want to pursue water treatment research.

“I want to use the funds to focus on designing treatment processes for the removal of contaminants from source waters,” Sharma said. “I would also like to present my research to the water community because it could directly impact water utilities. I also want to use the funds to learn different characterization techniques, so I can understand more about water quality.”

Sharma’s work examines the occurrence of bromide and iodide in water, a widespread problem.

“Bromide and iodide ions are ubiquitous in water,” Sharma said. “Every water stream, river, lake or even groundwater has ions such as these. They’re not a problem in themselves, but when that water goes through a treatment process for disinfection, which is a mandatory process to remove pathogens, then bromide and iodide can react with disinfectants to produce byproducts.”

Although disinfection byproducts occur in drinking water, their presence alone doesn’t pose significant harm. However, when bromide and iodide ions become incorporated by organic materials, they can be even more hazardous than common chlorine-based byproducts.

Sharma is analyzing drinking waters from across the U.S. to understand the occurrence of more hazardous byproducts, particularly those that contain bromide and iodide. She also seeks to determine their sources and how water utilities can mitigate byproduct formation.

“Water utilities want to know water quality at its source so they can better design treatment processes around that source,” Sharma said. “By doing so, they can reduce the formation of these byproducts. My role is understanding the water quality, informing water utilities if there is a high concentration of bromide or iodide and figuring out why these variations occur.”

In addition to informing utility companies about water quality, Sharma hopes to improve treatment methods and help the public stay informed about what is in their drinking water.

“Through ASU and this scholarship, I would like to organize local community outreach activities to create general awareness about our water sources,” she said.

Balancing water treatments and their byproducts

Westerhoff is Sharma's mentor and an ASU Regents Professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the six Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. The two have been working to improve the quality of water across the United States, including collaborating on the three-year project focusing on the occurrence of bromide and iodide. Work on the project led to Sharma’s scholarship award.

“Put simply, I am trying to figure out if there's something in water that we should remove and, if so, develop a way to remove it,” Westerhoff said.

Paul Westerhoff. Photo by Tim Trumble Photography, Inc. Reprinted with permission from Journal AWWA

Westerhoff received the AWWA’s 2020 A.P. Black Award, which recognizes outstanding research contributions to water science and ensuring safe water supply.

Improving drinking water treatment safety involves not only looking at what’s in water, Westerhoff says, but determining if a contaminant is harmful enough to be worth removing. It then looks at what treatment processes already exist and determines if they should be adapted to better remove it.

“Sometimes water treatment plants add chemicals to water to remove one thing but cause another problem, so we also want to understand if processes that exist today could be optimized to solve that problem,” Westerhoff said.

With the important responsibility of improving drinking water quality comes the tough challenges of balancing the removal of a contaminant with the overall safety of the water and the environmental burdens the removal process can create.

“Say there’s arsenic in your water,” Westerhoff said. “That’s bad. So, in order to remove the arsenic, let’s say the water treatment plants add a little bit of aluminum. Now you’re drinking a little bit of aluminum. While this doesn’t pose a health risk, our studies show that other chemicals we add to remove particles from water actually react with disinfectants to produce carcinogens. Balancing these risks is important to understand.”

Removing arsenic could save lives, but there are other environmental burdens to consider.

“The material to remove the arsenic is manufactured somewhere, so you have workers in Germany or China making arsenic-removing adsorbents,” Westerhoff said. “They’re not using the arsenic, but they are making something that emits chemicals that can cause cancer. So by making sure we have clean water, we could be increasing the risk of cancer for workers in communities somewhere else in the world.”

Westerhoff says such risks mean he prefers to completely avoid using chemicals to clean water, which requires turning to an entirely different type of material to clean water — in this case, harnessing energy from across the electromagnetic spectrum to activate nanomaterials composed of common, earth-abundant elements that pose low risks.

“Once you go down to controlling material structure at the nanoscale, you can start to do really interesting things,” he said. “When you put nanoparticles on optical fibers and add a little bit of light, contaminants in the water react with nanoparticles on the surface of the fiber and it cleans the water.”

Westerhoff is currently working on funded water-safety projects as well as managing a related startup that is supported by NASA to improve the safety of water in space or on the moon.

“There's a broad range of methods to keep pollutants out of the environment as well as taking pollutants out of water,” Westerhoff said. “I'm really excited to look at how we can use nanotechnology to purify water.”

Karishma Albal

Student Science/Technology Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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ASU's State of Sustainability: Sun Devils reach new green heights

October 15, 2020

ASU celebrates banner year in achievements in sustainability rankings, reaching goals

When Arizona State University President Michael Crow committed the campus to sustainability in 2007, he pledged that it would be carbon neutral by 2025.

This spring, ASU announced that it had hit that goal six years ahead of schedule — on June 30, 2019 — during a period when the university increased building space by 40% and on-campus enrollment by more than 20%.

It also capped a year when ASU reached new heights in sustainability rankings of all stripes.

All that was celebrated Oct. 14 at ASU’s annual State of Sustainability meeting.

“This is really about making sure we’re walking the talk,” said Morgan Olsen, ASU executive vice president, treasurer and chief financial officer.

ASU ranked top in the U.S. and fifth in the world out of 766 institutions in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

“We really feel great about that as well,” Olsen said. “It's a testament to the efforts that people are making all the way across the university.”

In the annual rankings published by Times Higher Education magazine, ASU scored the top spot for Sustainable Development Goals impact, earning 96.3 out of 100 points, ahead of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Penn State.

With 90 solar systems installed on campuses, ASU is ranked second on green power by the Environmental Protection Agency.

And this year Sierra magazine’s Coolest Schools rankings landed ASU in the top 10 at No. 4.

“In this case it takes the whole university,” Olsen said, pointing to Mick Dalrymple, director of University Sustainability Practices, and his team.

“They’ve done a fantastic job” working across the whole university, Olsen said.

In the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System — a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance — ASU is the only institution with a platinum rating.

“Sustainability is an ongoing journey,” said Nichol Luoma, University Sustainability operations officer and vice president of University Business Services.

“We will embrace sustainability opportunities at every turn.”

ASU’s rankings “reflect a tremendous culture of teamwork across disciplines and departments,” she said.

Olsen also applauded the university’s facilities development and management staff.

“Those folks are responsible for the built environment,” he said. “You know we have over 25 million square feet of built environment at ASU across the four campuses and now around the world that they have to worry about and maintain this great living, learning, and sometimes even play environment for all of us. This is where we work, this is where we study, and they have to make sure that that supports both operations at a very, very high level so their efforts are greatly appreciated.”

Crow said students need to see that a sustainable world is possible.

“We have one of the most sustainable campuses in the world,” Crow said. “It’s been a long time coming. … Why do we care about being sustainable? Because that’s the world we have to go to.”

How to get involved

Learn about ways you can practice sustainability at ASU on the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation's roundup page and on Business and Finance's personal actions page.

Top image by RoadLight from Pixabay 

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


Engineering better airline passenger security

October 15, 2020

Long lines of passengers waiting to go through Transportation Security Administration screenings at airports can be a source of dread. The time it takes to complete the security process varies, and this can add extra stress for both passengers wanting to get to their flights and TSA officials wanting to provide a smooth and secure operation.

The Center for Accelerating Operational Efficiency (CAOE), a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, is tackling the challenge of ensuring that TSA screenings are maximizing the efficiency of their resources.  The process of going through security checkpoints at the airport can be stressful for both airline passengers and Transportation Security Administration staff. The Center for Accelerating Operational Efficiency, led by the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, is developing tools to create efficient processes that will decrease the average wait time and increase performance by the TSA without compromising security. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock Download Full Image

Researchers at the CAOE have been developing decision-support tools to simulate, optimize and visualize TSA security screening checkpoint operations with ever-changing passenger demands.

The goal of this project at CAOE is to improve the performance of the airport screening process without compromising safety and security. The team is engineering operations research techniques to reduce the wait times for passengers as they go through the screening process to get onto an airplane.

CAOE’s work is meant to help the TSA strategize when and where to have agents assigned to best serve passengers and maintain a secure airport.

“Our first concentration was to come up with a better estimation of when passengers will actually be arriving at the screening checkpoints,” said Ron Askin, professor of industrial engineering in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, one of the six Fulton Schools. “We based that on flight schedules, how many people are originating at the airport and the allocation of flights to various concourses in Phoenix.”

Building prediction models

The research team put together a mechanistic model, which is a method of examining the workings of individual parts in a system. It looked at flight schedules, the capacity of the planes that are scheduled for each gate and a statistical curve of when people tend to arrive for flights.

The team then used machine-learning techniques to compensate for errors based on data that were not specific to the day of week and time of day. They also integrated a time series analysis model, which predicts future values based on previously observed data.

“We did an ensemble of the different approaches to get a better sense overall, and we were able to enhance the methodology that TSA is currently using,” said Askin.

The statistical curve for the length of time passengers arrive before a flight was drastically altered this year as the COVID-19 pandemic greatly diminished the number of people flying. So, researchers at CAOE had to update the passenger arrival curve to keep the models current.

Part of that update was delivered courtesy of computer science capstone projects using the video captured by airport TSA checkpoints to estimate when passengers arrive. Using that data is potentially more accurate than the counts used by the TSA now as it captures when passengers actually arrive instead of when they complete the screening process after waiting in queue.

When COVID-19 started spreading this spring, the TSA wanted to know about changes in passenger behavior. Were people arriving closer to their flight times? Or were they arriving even earlier, expecting extra waits due to the need for social distance?

“We found that passengers were arriving closer to their flight time,” said Jorge A. Sefair, assistant professor of industrial engineering in the Fulton Schools and principal investigator of the project. “The challenge was that we couldn’t interview passengers to ask them the times of their flights. So, we wanted to create an indirect method of calculating those arrival profiles, without interacting with people because of COVID-19.”

The team was able to provide multiple tools to the TSA to help direct resources to maximize efficiency. One of those tools was a spreadsheet built from the work the team had done previously.

Using the variables of the number of screening lanes that will be open at each checkpoint for PreCheck, standard lines and how many X-ray machines are available, equations in the spreadsheet estimate wait times and predict the lines passengers will experience throughout the day.

The TSA can use this tool to decide whether and when to open an additional lane. It also can evaluate the impact of closing certain screening lanes and opening others elsewhere. Taken as a whole, the agency can determine how to improve passenger experience.

Optimizing resources

With the prediction models created, CAOE is working with TSA analysts in Phoenix to develop best practices for optimizing and deploying staffing resources.

The new tools will help the TSA decide how many security officer shifts to plan for the various days of the week and schedule the correct number of agents to provide the best experience for the arriving passengers.

The researchers at ASU have also been working with colleagues at the University of Texas at El Paso on simulations that allow them to validate the models they have created.

“We have deterministic optimization models and they have simulation models to insert more stochasticity (randomness) into it,” said Askin. “That’s also another way of validating the model.”

Those simulation models display and can track individual passengers moving through the system. It’s detailed enough to see them walking through the turnstiles.

The models are now being tested with data from Phoenix and Las Vegas, but the goal is to create systems that can help the TSA nationwide. Also, some of the tools might be commercialized and used on a widespread basis across the country in different capacities.

“We want to improve the efficiency of the security checkpoint,” said Sefair. “But we’re doing that in many layers. It’s not only focused on the passenger experience in terms of wait times, but it’s also from the perspective of efficiently allocating TSA’s resources.”

Those resources are the transportation security officers, but also their technology. CAOE is able to see what happens if there is a change in technology, such as a new, more efficient scanner.

“It’s a scan of efficiency, but in a broad sense,” said Sefair. “It’s beyond just the public’s perspective. It’s also about internal operational excellence.”

TSA staffing is determined by Congress, but it’s up to the agency to decide the best way to use them. The agency also has a desired level of service requirement in terms of the maximum amount of time passengers should be waiting to pass through a checkpoint.

Educating the future

One benefit of having CAOE housed at ASU is it creates opportunities for students to learn and understand how engineering and computer science impacts the world around us — even the seemingly mundane experience of waiting in airports.

“Part of research is developing tools for (the TSA) to improve their operation, but part is training students in the analytic tools for decision-making in general,” said Sefair. “We use the airports as a case study for them to go collect information and learn about the operation of TSA. Our goal is to train the next generation of decision-makers for the homeland security enterprise.”

More than 20 undergraduates and several master’s degree and doctoral students have been involved in the project over the past three years at ASU; UTEP; the University of Nevada, Las VegasTexas State University and San Diego State University.

Deploying tools

Now that the tools have been developed, the next step is transitioning them to the TSA for everyday use.

In an era of new social distancing standards, new questions will likely arise, but the tools will help make the decisions easier.

Questions include the future possibility of incorporating machines capable of doing document checks so one security officer can float between multiple stations. Another question relates to the advantages of having one officer working at the front of the X-ray machine belt to assist people in getting their luggage ready.

Across all possible scenarios, the tools created by CAOE can help the TSA distribute staff effectively and efficiently.

“They may have more questions coming,” said Sefair. “But we’re here to help them with their decisions.”

CAOE wants to provide the TSA with tools that improve decisions, but they are not trying to replace decision-makers. The idea is to reduce the burden of calculations that TSA officials make in real time.

“They need the autonomy to make crucial decisions,” said Askin. “And they can incorporate factors we may not know about for our model, so we just want to support their work. Our models are meant to be advisory, and ideally easy to use and accurate. We just need to convince people that we have factors built into these models that are relevant and are helpful.”

Erik Wirtanen

Web content comm administrator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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Tough questions about 'Race, Justice and Leadership in America'

The next "Race, Justice & Leadership" talk will take place Monday, Oct. 19.
October 15, 2020

ASU School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership discussion series addresses civic crisis of conscience

Over this past summer, statue after statue of historical figures were uprooted from their foundations in parks, plazas and thoroughfares across America as civil unrest following a spate of killings of unarmed Black men and women caused many to seriously question the worthiness of some of the prominent individuals our country has long venerated.

While many of the statues to meet their demise depicted long-contested leaders of the Confederate Army, when statues of presidents Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt were toppled in Portland, Oregon, it seemed no historical figure was safe from the judgment of modern-day citizens.

Such circumstances raise such questions as how much we can hold past leaders accountable for, what their true motivations were and whether there is anything we can learn from them today.

It is those questions that Arizona State University’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership seeks to answer with its “Race, Justice and Leadership in America” events, a four-part discussion series launched this fall as part of the school’s popular Civic Discourse Project in direct response to ASU President Michael Crow’s call to address racial events in America.

The series kicked off Oct. 12 with a discussion of George Washington and will go on to examine other famous leaders of thought and action, including Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. It is the brainchild of School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership Associate Professor Adam Seagrave, co-founder of Race and the American Story, a national educational project that brings together faculty and students from universities around the country to discuss race and its impact on college campuses.

The Oct. 12 discussion welcomed Professor William B. Allen of Michigan State University, author of “George Washington: A Collection” and “George Washington: America’s First Progressive.” It began with the acknowledgment that Washington was not only a slave owner but a slave trader. And yet, in his will, he made a provision to free all of the slaves he held, knowing full well it would be broadly read.

To understand the apparent contradiction, we must understand that Washington underwent a profound conversion, one that no other figure in the founding generation made as well as him, according to Allen. At first, for Washington, owning slaves was simply a part of the society in which he lived.

“The real story of George Washington is not that he was a slaveholder, any more that he breathed oxygen (as anyone living on Earth must breathe oxygen),” Allen said. “The real story is how he matured into the serious moral conviction that slavery was wrong.”

Having reached that conviction, the abolishment of slavery became his “first wish,” as he wrote in a letter to his contemporary Robert Morris, an English-born merchant known as the “Financier of the Revolution.”

Still, Washington also knew it was something that could only be accomplished through legislative means, and that was something that required time and finesse. For this reason, Allen said, Washington’s public actions didn’t always appear to align with his privately held opinions.

“He quite subconsciously understood that you couldn’t shape a nation by command,” Allen said. “It had to be accomplished through the agency of the people themselves. One could inspire but one could not command the accomplishment of national character.”

In response to a question posed by School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership Director Paul Carrese regarding what he called a growing cultural tendency to call for the complete banishment of Washington and other similar historical figures from the national memory, despite their contributions to the formation of America, for their failure to act immediately on such issues as emancipation, Allen said, “The answer to these people is to say you are stripping yourself naked with nothing to protect you if you reject the founding of the United States (as the source of the idea behind a government in which) all men are created equal.”

The next discussion in the series “Race, Social Justice and Higher Education Today: How Racist Are Universities, Really?” will take place Monday, Oct. 19, at 5 p.m. and will feature Professor Randall Kennedy of Harvard Law.

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay

New Edson College partnership opens doors for qualitative research around recovery and exercise

October 15, 2020

Editor’s note: This story was written in collaboration with The Hope House.     

Arizona State University’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation has entered into a five-year partnership with The Hope House, an addiction rehab center in Scottsdale, Arizona, to expand treatment services while providing high-quality research opportunities for graduate students. Hayley Avino and brother Jeremy Plummer inside Plummer's Florida-based group fitness center. Edson College Doctor of Nursing Practice student Hayley Avino (left) and her brother, Jeremy Plummer, inside his Florida-based group fitness center. Avino is leading the first project as part of a new partnership. Download Full Image

The partnership will give students enrolled in the advanced nursing practice track of the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program at Edson College the ability to work alongside clinicians at The Hope House and conduct research on a variety of addiction treatments.

To begin, two doctoral nursing students, Hayley Avino and Courtney Routson, will spend the fall 2020 semester providing mindfulness, physical exercise and healthy living classes to The Hope House patients three times a week. 

These sessions will expand on the dual diagnosis program currently in place at The Hope House, intended to help patients deal with mental health problems alongside addiction.

Avino and Routson call their program The DREAMER Project: Defying Relapse through Exercise and Mindfulness to Extend Recovery. 

Prior research has shown that exercise and mindfulness practices are likely to positively impact sobriety and overall mental health, but there has been little concrete evidence around the subject. The nine-week program seeks to change that. 

“We’re looking to build the academic foundation that supports the positive impacts group fitness has on sobriety,” said Avino. “There’s been a lot of anecdotal evidence, but we want to provide a high-quality project to point to.” 

, Edson College DNP student

Hayley Avino

Avino’s motivation behind the project goes beyond overall community health. Her brother, Jeremy Plummer, struggled with addiction for a number of years and took part in a variety of treatment options with marginal success. However, after incorporating group fitness and mindfulness into his daily routine, Plummer was able to attain sobriety and remain in recovery.

In honor of her brother’s accomplishments and the real-world effects Avino has witnessed in relation to exercise and addiction, Avino launched the DREAMER project with The Hope House on Sept. 27, 2020 — her brother’s four-year sobriety date.

“I just want to give people the same opportunity that Jeremy had, and I want to implement it early in their recovery,” Avino said.

Launching this project during a pandemic was both challenging and, it turns out, necessary.

COVID-19 has had a heavy impact on many Arizonans, and Brenna Gonzales, clinical director at The Hope House, says it has led to a significant increase in substance abuse and the need for addiction treatment in Arizona. 

“I would say about 75% (of patients) that are coming in right now are specifically citing COVID as a catalyst to seeking treatment,” Gonzales explained. 

, clinical director, The Hope House

Brenna Gonzales

With the influx of patients and the need to adhere to public safety guidelines, Avino and Routson altered their program to be delivered virtually. The duo designed the program to be broken into three, three-week courses in order to treat as many patients as possible. 

Each patient will participate voluntarily and take the WHO Quality of Life abbreviated assessment before and after completing their three-week session. This assessment was developed in the early ’90s and is widely considered the standard for measuring substance abuse management.

While Avino and Routson’s focus is on exercise and mindfulness, DNP students who come after them are not pinned down to these and can choose alternative treatment paths they are interested in exploring.  

“Future students may develop programs on nutrition, aftercare or even something as cutting-edge as virtual reality treatment,” said Gonzales.

Avino said letting go of the DREAMER Project when she graduates next May will be tough because it is so personal, but she knows it will be in good hands.

Amanda Goodman

Media relations officer, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation


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School of Social Transformation welcomes new faculty members

October 15, 2020

Get to know the newest additions to the School of Social Transformation faculty.

Mellissa Linton, assistant professor, women and gender studies 

Dr. Mellissa Linton

Prior to coming to the School of Social Transformation, Linton completed her PhD in ethnic studies at University of California, San Diego. Before teaching there, she was a double major in English literature and American studies at the University of Southern California. 

Linton is an ethnographer, and her research focuses on reproductive justice, materialist feminism and Central American studies. She is currently working on her first book that utilizes ethnography and cultural analysis of political texts to assert that the right to migrate and flee from Central American countries are reproductive justice issues.  

One of her favorite memories of her academic career was receiving her PhD, as she is the first in her family to do so. Linton is also an ambassador for the 501c3 nonprofit Latino Outdoors and is an avid hiker, backpacker and rock climber.

Tracy Perkins, assistant professor, justice studies 

Dr. Tracey Perkins

Prior to coming to ASU, Perkins was an assistant professor in the department of sociology and criminology at Howard University in Washington, D.C. 

Perkins’ research is focused on social movements and environmental inequality, with a particular focus on environmental justice activism. She has a book coming out with the University of California Press titled “Movement Matters: Protest, Policy and Three Decades of Environmental Justice Activism.”

Some of her favorite memories in her academic career are found in meeting activists and interviewing them about their lives. For example, she created a digital humanities project featuring the late California pesticide drift activist Teresa De Anda. 

She also does photography along with her written work, an example being "Voices from the Valley: Environmental Justice in California’s San Joaquin Valley."

Jennifer Bondy, associate professor, justice and social inquiry, women and gender studies, and culture, society and education

Dr. Jennifer Bondy

Bondy will be joining the School of Social Transformation in the spring 2021 semester. Prior to coming to ASU, she was an associate professor in the women’s and gender studies program in the Department of Sociology at Virginia Tech. 

Her research is focused on three interrelated lines of inquiry: Latina youth citizenship formations, school socialization of the children of immigrants, and how white, female preservice teachers understand immigration and undocumented status. She is co-authoring a forthcoming book titled “Immigration and School Safety,” as well as an article titled "Critical Affect Literacy: A Call to Action in a Trump Administration.” 

Her favorite memory in her academic career thus far is joining the editorial board for academic journal Race, Ethnicity and Education. Something that you may not know about Bondy is that she loves strength training and can flip a 300-pound tire and pull a car!

Megan Barbera

Marketing and graphic design student worker , School of Social Transformation