Student innovation on display

July 31, 2012

Where can you find students working to solve problems ranging from language barriers in school to compliance with HIV medication? Try the College of Technology and Innovation (CTI) at ASU’s Polytechnic campus.

Students from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds work together through CTI’s iProjects program, an initiative that connects students with industry partners to find creative solutions to real-world problems. Each spring, the student teams display their hard work to the community at the Innovation Showcase. They also have the opportunity to meet with potential sponsors. Download Full Image

“The iProject program is really about giving students hands-on, practical experience, and bringing to real life what they’re learning about in the classroom,” says Mitzi Montoya, vice provost and dean of CTI. “Giving students the opportunity to practice what they’re learning really changes everything about their understanding of what they need to do when they take a job.”

IProject teams range in size from two to eight students who work together, under the guidance of faculty mentors, for either one semester or a full academic year, depending on the complexity of the project. While some teams are still in early stages of development, others have already received funding and are looking to expand. In the spring 2012 showcase, presented in May, the projects ranged from medical and educational technologies to socially responsible marketing ventures.

Clothing with a conscience

The Masahua tribe in southern Mexico is a poor community where the average family lives on $2-3 per day. However, the women of this tribe have a special talent – they hand-make beautifully embroidered clothing, using wool from their own sheep and a technique that has been passed down for generations.

“The problem is that they live in a very poor area and they don’t have a lot of people that can buy these beautiful garments that they make,” says Jake Irvin, a member of the Masahua’s Mama’s student team. Irvin and fellow team members Grecia Rojo and Allison Skabrat are helping the women of the Masahua tribe export their products to the United States. The project is sponsored by GlobalResolve, a CTI program that aims to improve technology, sustainability and economic activity in developing communities.

“We are really trying to give these women a way to make a good living off of what they’re really talented at, while also trying to preserve their tradition and tell a story,” Irvin says.

The team surveyed potential customers and distributors in the United States to determine what kinds of products are in demand. To ensure the garments would be received well in modern clothing boutiques, the team researched American fashion trends so the Masahua women could incorporate popular styles with their traditional designs. They have developed a business model and are now looking to partner with local Arizona boutiques.

Technical support

While some projects are aimed at helping communities abroad, others are focused on issues that hit close to home. One student team is working to transform education through new technology. The project, called Information, Communication, Education (ICE) Avatar, is a digital resource for students who need extra support outside the classroom.

The ICE Avatar can be downloaded onto a tablet computer and includes a calendar, music and video player, and other useful tools for students. Team members Arnav Anshul, Kalpana Algotar, Shawn Pike and Pranay Mahendra developed the program with foreign students in mind, because they often struggle with a language barrier.

“The system encourages students to learn at their own convenience and without the constraint of language, reducing burden of the teacher,” the team states on their presentation poster. ICE Avatar uses voice recognition software and has the ability to pause and resume lecture videos, so students can learn at their own pace.

The system can be applied to any age level and will include original instructor content, as well as educational videos created by experts in various subjects. Shawn Pike, a team member and graduate student in CTI’s computing sciences department, says the ICE Avatar will use video contributors who get paid each time one of their videos is downloaded.

Pseudo clinical trials

Innovative technology played an integral role in other projects as well. Jeremy Glick, a CTI engineering student, and Miles Manning, who is double majoring in applied biological sciences and mathematics, worked together on a project called Optimizing the Drug Holidays in HAART Treatment for HIV. HAART stands for highly active antiretroviral therapy, the leading treatment for HIV patients.

“Of great concern is the fact the 25 percent of patients discontinue their treatment plan,” the team states on their presentation poster.

HAART therapies can increase life expectancy by up to 32 years. So why are so many patients non-compliant?

“The problem is, you have to take the treatment twice a day, and there are a lot of side effects,” says Manning. But if patients do adhere to their treatment for a certain length of time, they can take a “holiday” from the drug without compromising their health. The trick is figuring out exactly how long the treatment must be administered before the patient can take a break.

Under the guidance of their mentor Abdessamad Tridane, an assistant professor of applied sciences and mathematics at CTI, Manning and Glick developed a model for HIV progression in an individual using a genetic algorithm.

“We’re running pseudo clinical trials,” Manning says. “The idea is this replaces real patient data,” which give patients the benefit of clinical research without the risk of side effects.

Initial tests showed that eight months of adherence to treatment would allow a temporary holiday without reducing life expectancy. The team has partnered with the Mayo clinic and hopes to continue the project and develop a protocol for allowing patients the maximum number of days without treatment.

While the iProjects are first and foremost learning experiences, they also contribute to students’ professional success.

“Industry tells us that we’ve solved the two-year problem,” Montoya says, referring to the amount of time most entry-level employees take to become fully productive. After the real-world experience students gain at CTI, they can immediately dive into their careers.

Montoya adds: “More importantly, a lot of these projects are sponsored by companies, and many lead to job offers for the students. Sometimes companies even hire entire student teams.”

Written by Allie Nicodemo, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. This story first appeared on the Research Matters website.

Director, Knowledge Enterprise Development


Professor uncovers lost stories of Cesar Chavez, United Farm Workers movement

August 1, 2012

Cesar Chavez – the man, the myth and the legend – helped bring the plight of farm workers into the international spotlight at a time when all hope seemed lost. But Matt Garcia, the director of ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, says the story of Chavez and the farm worker movement is not so simple.

In his new book, titled “From the Jaws of Victory: The Triumph and Tragedy of Cesar Chavez and the Farm Worker Movement” (University of California Press), Garcia brings to light the individuals who helped Chavez in making the organization succeed and also uncovers some of Chavez’s secrets, which he believes directly contributed United Farm Workers (UFW) decline. Matt Garcia Download Full Image

In 1962 Chavez, Gilbert Padilla, Dolores Huerta and many others worked together to create the UFW to raise awareness about the deplorable conditions and wages for hard-working farm laborers. They successfully organized many boycotts, including the infamous grape boycott, which hit growers and suppliers extremely hard. In fact, it was this strategy that made Chavez a household name. But Chavez didn’t do this work alone.

To bring the boycott from the rural fields to the urban cities, hundreds of college students took time away from their studies to fight for the farm workers they would never meet. In fact, Garcia says he found that young people of all races worked together to put pressure on the grape growers, consumers and politicians, resulting in the creation of official labor contracts in 1970. Garcia says his research dispels the popular perception that the movement was carried out primarily by Mexicans, and to a lesser extent, Filipinos.

“The story of the boycott demonstrates that youth of all backgrounds can work together to change the world. It shows that when young people decide that there is something worth achieving, they can do it,” Garcia says. “While the UFW ultimately didn’t achieve its goal of becoming an effective voice for all farm workers in this country, for a time it did. It was amazing – in five years, it went from no movement to the first contracts for farm workers in the state of California.”

The most shocking discovery he unearthed in his research was Chavez’s intent to turn the UFW into an “intentional community.” Following the path of Chuck Dederich, who started The Synanon, Chavez fixated on building a community “that revolved around his Chavez’s beliefs and values.” According to Garcia, in an attempt to accomplish this task, Chavez moved the UFW headquarters to La Paz, Calif., and began asserting his will over other leaders in the organization. Garcia’s findings reveal that Chavez was suspicious of anyone who shared opposing political views and purged members who questioned him.

So what prevented Chavez from turning the UFW into a cult-like organization? Garcia says that some members of the executive board fought against changes on the inside, while former members whom Chavez purged from the UFW began to communicate their opposition from outside the organization.

“The existence of former boycott volunteers was critical to the formation of checks against Chavez’s power,” Garcia says. “In interviews, members of the inner circle told me that the boycott was critical in preventing UFW from going the way of other intentional communities of the 1970s.”

While Garcia uncovered many unknown facts about the UFW, his favorite discoveries were of the inspiring people who helped Chavez advance the movement – people like Elaine Elinson, who singlehandedly extended the grape boycott to England, and Jessica Govea, a farm worker’s daughter who extended the grape boycott to Canada – all because they believed in the cause.

Gilbert Padilla, Chavez’s right-hand man, also played a large role in the creation and success of the movement, yet remains largely unknown. Recruited by Chavez, Padilla was vital in developing and implementing many strategies that caused the movement to progress and succeed.

“He deserves as much recognition as Chavez for starting the movement,” Garcia says. “In fact, when he stood up at the first meeting among Mexican and Filipino farm workers in Delano, people mistook him for Chavez because he is such a charismatic person.”

It is Garcia’s hope that his book will not only paint a more accurate picture of Chavez, but also reveal the stories of complexity and heroism of the many men and women who helped create the union.