Transborder program helps get research that matters off the ground


September 4, 2015

The Mexican government calls them “etnias,” or ethnicities. In her research, Saskias Casanova refers to them as “indigenous immigrants.”

They are individuals descended from groups of peoples living in Mexico prior to its European colonization – much like Native Americans in the United States today are descended from tribes living here prior to European colonization. Nahua/Mexicano community dance in the streets during a celebration Members of the Nahua/Mexicano community dress up and dance through the streets of Coatepec de Costales in Guerrero, Mexico, during a celebration hosted by the indigenous organization Mi Tierra,Mi Familia, which connects families from Coatepec de Costales to their transnational families in Arizona. Saskias Casanova, an assistant professor in ASU's School of Transborder Studies, and her team are conducting research into four Mexican indigenous transnational communities (Maya, Mixteco, Nahua/Mexicano and Zapotec) and how indigenous students from Mexico adjust in Arizona. A grant from the year-old Program for Transborder Communities is helping to further their research. Download Full Image

The U.S. is seeing a growing number of these indigenous immigrants from Mexico making their homes in the border states of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. And, much like modern-day Native Americans in the U.S., because of factors such as varying cultures and languages, they face distinct issues when it comes to social institutions like education.

Before becoming an assistant professor at Arizona State University, Casanova conducted research that found indigenous Mexican adolescents in the U.S. faced higher levels of discrimination compared with indigenous Mexican adolescents still living in Mexico, and also compared with Mexican students who weren’t of indigenous origin in Mexico.

In essence, she was trying to find out “what happens to [indigenous immigrant] students when they are trying to negotiate multiple cultures in the context of schooling.”

“From sharing my findings with colleagues in the field, I knew there was still a need to continue my research,” Casanova said.

So when she came to ASU’s School of Transborder Studies in August 2014, she was delighted to discover the school’s brand-new Program for Transborder Communities.

Launched in July 2014, the program is a initiative that provides yearlong seed funding for ASU faculty conducting collaborative, interdisciplinary research on the changing needs and growing cultural, political and economic influence of Latinos in the U.S., as well as on cross-border issues faced by communities in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and other border regions in the world.

During its inaugural year, the program awarded three research cluster grants and three individual research grants. Along with her colleagues – Brendan O’Connor, School of Transborder Studies, ASU; Vanessa Anthony-Stevens, University of Idaho; and Francesca Lopez, University of Arizona – Casanova applied for and was awarded a cluster grant to continue her research.

They titled the project “Ecologies of Cultural and Linguistic Adaptation for Indigenous Latina/o Immigrant Families With Children: Implications for Development and Learning.”

With the help of the cluster grant, Casanova’s team has been able to begin collaborating, and also hired a community liaison to assist in targeting indigenous communities in Arizona with whom they intend to conduct further research.

The next step is applying for a larger, external grant to fund the actual research, but, Casanova asserts, the initial grant money from the program has made being awarded a larger grant much more likely.

“Research projects that already have a team of experts assembled are more likely to get funded by larger grants because the initial seed grant gives you time and funding to pull together research and a collaborative team, and to do some initial outreach,” she said. “You’re not rushing to apply [for a grant] … so you have time to build a strong foundation and really explore your research questions and build a good study and be prepared.”

A social psychologist herself, Casanova touts the program’s emphasis on research that reaches across disciplines.

“One of the things I really appreciate about the program is that it’s interdisciplinary, so it encourages you to reach out to potential collaborators that aren’t just in your field.”

She cites as proof fellow researchers O’Connor, an anthropologist, and Lopez and Anthony-Stevens, an educational psychologist and an educational anthropologist, respectively.

“There are a lot of things in place within the Program for Transborder Communities that really encourage young, emerging scholars like us to really push ourselves to not only engage in a project that we all care about, but also push ourselves to be really interdisciplinary, which also fits within the larger mission of ASU as the model of the New American University,” said Casanova.

The program also organizes seminars, workshops and colloquiums to facilitate a network of information and research sharing, and to explore opportunities for collaboration across disciplines, institutions and borders – both physical and metaphysical.

School of Transborder Studies associate professor Francisco Lara-Valencia helped to design the program and now serves as its director.

“In particular because of the location of ASU, within a border state, the study of border issues and communities is critical,” he said. “What we are trying to do with this program is facilitate a better understanding of borders in general and, in particular, the Arizona-Mexico border, through research and education.”

During its inaugural year, the Program for Transborder Communities hosted eight interdisciplinary seminars and two colloquiums – one of which served as the final major event of its inaugural year, the Arizona-Sonora Colloquium – and also partnered with the Mexican Consulate General’s Office in Phoenix for a public exhibition titled “Imagined Regions: The ASU Simon Burrow Map Collection.”

Due to heightened interest, the program has increased some of the funding for its second year.

Carlos Santos, an assistant professor of counseling and counseling psychology at ASU, and Enrique Vivoni, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, are the respective recipients of an individual research grant and a cluster research grant for the program’s 2015-16 academic year.

Santos’ project, titled “The Stigma of Illegality and Its Impact on the Well-Being of Immigrants of Mexican-Origin in Arizona,” takes a hard look at certain laws, such as SB 1070, that “institutionalize racial profiling.”

“What is interesting to me as a psychologist (about laws like SB 1070) is that they target people regardless of status; if you appear to be of Mexican origin, you can be targeted. And there are psychological underpinnings of that. That makes people anxious … I wanted to capture that anxiety quantitatively through numbers, through surveys,” he said.

Vivoni will be researching urban sustainability across the U.S-Mexico border. He feels that the program “supports existing strengths, such that our efforts at ASU can be taken to another level. … This effort will serve as a seed for research for years to come.”

Santos and Vivoni represent the varied nature of the research being funded by the program, and both are enthusiastic and appreciative of what it’s enabling them to accomplish.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to be able to expand my research. It’s wonderful to have the resources to do that,” Santos said.

Other recipients for the 2015-16 academic year:

•Individual: Elizabeth Sumida Huaman, assistant professor, Justice and Social Inquiry, School of Social Transformation. Project: Indigenous Education in the Americas: A Comparative Study of Community-based Schooling in Canada, the United States, Peru, and Bolivia.

•Individual: Christiana Honsberg, professor, School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering. Project: Efficient Water Desalization Using Combined Photovoltaic and Solar Thermal Energy Sources.

•Cluster: Rudy P. Guevarra Jr., associate professor, Asian Pacific American Studies, School of Social Transformation. Project: The Latino Pacific Archive: Digital Access to the Latina/o Experience in Oceania.

•Cluster: Noe Crespo, assistant professor, School of Nutrition and Health Promotion (Exercise Science and Health Promotion). Project: Fostering Transborder Collaborations to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity
Among Underserved Latino Families Living in the Southwest U.S.-Mexico Border.

Emma Greguska

Reporter, ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

Students strive for deeper understanding of urban desert meteorology


September 8, 2015

Three Arizona State University engineering and science students are hoping to contribute to knowledge of the complex interplay of energy and water fluxes in our built urban environments.

With the support of a grant from the Earth Materials and Processes program of the U.S. Army Research Office, they have deployed a 30-foot metal tower equipped with environmental and meteorological sensors in an irrigated grassy area at ASU’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa. Vivoni meteorological flux tower A meteorological flux tower assembled by three ASU students is being deployed at various campus sites to study factors that impact urban desert climates. Checking out sensing devices on the tower are students (from left) Adam Schreiner-McGraw, Nicole Pierini and Ivan Lopez-Castrillo and professor Enrique Vivoni. Photo by: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU Download Full Image

The sensing devices mounted on the meteorological flux tower track changes in moisture, carbon dioxide, energy and wind speed and direction, among other things.

The tower had been set up on the Tempe campus this spring – first in a sparsely vegetated desert area near the Biodesign Institute building, and then in an asphalt-paved parking lot near a high-traffic intersection.

The project team is comparing how energy and water fluctuations change as the land cover varies from engineered surfaces to irrigated landscaping at the three Tempe and Polytechnic campus settings. The aim is to better understand the interactions of engineered surfaces, soils and vegetation with the surrounding atmosphere, and how they affect evaporation, gas and heat-transfer processes.

What they find could reveal important information about fluxes in energy and moisture levels in urban environments, says team member Nicole Pierini, a doctoral student in the hydrosystems engineering program.

She’s working with civil engineering undergraduate Ivan Lopez-Castrillo and geological sciences doctoral student Adam Schreiner-McGraw, under the direction of Enrique Vivoni, a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, and the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

By putting the flux tower in a greenbelt setting at the Polytechnic campus site during the summer, the students have been able to measure environmental interactions during Arizona’s monsoon.

“We’ll be able to see the relationship between the energy fluxes and varying moisture input in very different weather conditions than at other times of the year,” Pierini says. “We hope this will give us insight into how regularly irrigated grass plays a role in evapotranspiration rates within an urban environment.”

After mid-August, the team began comparing data from the three sites to identify what locations promote heat emissions that cause the urban heat-island effect, and to quantify the effect of irrigation on ameliorating or altering these heat emissions at each site. The role of irrigation can also be compared to the landscape’s natural responses to rain events during the spring and summer seasons.

“The deployment of this new mobile tower in the three different urban-cover types has really opened our eyes to the large differences in energy and water fluxes within the built environment,” Vivoni says. “We have also been lucky to have been monitoring the sites during unusually wet periods in the spring and early summer, as well as during our monsoon season. The results should be very telling about how the surface energy budget varies within our desert urban region.”

Team members say more extensive research data from such studies could help regions cope more effectively with the implications of changes in urban climate – including changes in air quality, energy and water conditions and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Army Research Office is interested in the research because of its potential to increase understanding of the impacts of climate conditions in the types of desert environments in which the nation’s military could be called on to carry out more operations in the future.

The project is giving the students valuable experience in seeking out collaborators whose assistance and expertise is necessary for carrying out their work, Pierini says.

Help in obtaining permission to set up the tower, finding appropriate locations for the structure and providing irrigation data has come from Raymond Humbert, associate director of operations for ASU Parking and Transit Services, and from Polytechnic campus facilities management director John Herrera and grounds supervisor Jimmy Mastalsz.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-965-8122