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Adding a new perspective to the editor's desk

February 4, 2019

2 Native American students at the helm of ASU-sponsored publications

Journalism, a profession with few minorities — and even fewer Native Americans — is now starting to see change.

Taylor Notah, a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Joseph Perez, a journalism sophomore at Cronkite, are editors of two Arizona State University-sponsored publications this semester.

Both come from indigenous backgrounds.

Notah hails from the Navajo Nation and is the current editor of Turning Points, a first-of-its-kind magazine geared specifically for Native American students written by an all indigenous staff.

Perez is a member of the Quinalt tribe from northwestern Washington and is a community editor for The State Press, which was founded in 1906.

Both love telling stories. And both have their own stories to tell.

ASU Now spoke with Notah and Perez about their struggles in the newsroom, overcoming the cultural challenges of the job and how they picked up leadership skills along the way.

Question: Historically it’s been tough getting minorities into the newsroom, despite initiatives and efforts from schools, universities and newspapers from across the country. What was it like for you at the Cronkite School being the only Native American in the classroom?

Taylor Notah: It was challenging but I loved gaining the experience. Knowing to go out and report, learning how to shoot video, things like that. Gaining those skill sets was fun for me. I think being in the newsroom was a challenge because I was the only Native American in Cronkite News, and I didn’t see myself amid all of these young budding professionals who had these really great stories and great backgrounds. In the beginning I felt disconnected with my peers and I didn’t see myself among them.

Joseph Perez: Sitting in a room full of talented journalists every day is intimidating for me, no matter my lineage or theirs. However, when I do take the time to notice, as I often do, that I am typically the only Native American in that room full of talent, the intimidation I feel is magnified greatly. It’s never comforting to be the only person of your kind — whatever that "kind" may be — and even less comforting during these vastly important years in college, where we’re all doing our best to find ourselves, to define who we’ll be in the world. That’s why I did my best to cover Native American affairs as a reporter, to talk to more indigenous students, to incorporate the culture into my work and ultimately to serve as a voice for a people that I think isn’t loud enough in the media today.

Q: Were there any cultural hurdles you had to get over because of the nature of the profession?

TN: I grew up very shy, and so approaching people was the biggest hurdle. On the Navajo Nation, we often tease each other for being shy, and being off of the Navajo Nation being shy is something different. It’s something I still encounter and struggle with when I initially reach out to people even though I love connecting with people to hear their stories. I think a cultural disconnect can be the person I’m interviewing may not understand where I come from. Being in the newsroom you’re being put under the spotlight because they want to hear your stories and they want to hear your ideas. It was very jarring and in the beginning, it was a completely different experience for me.

JP: It was a bit difficult for me to come out of my shell at first, but the newsroom I work in has been beyond accepting of my indigenous roots, and they’ve even encouraged me to use that piece of me and share it with our readership. I have had the best mentors at the State Press that have taught me that who I am and where I come from gives me something worth writing about, not something to overcome. They’ve shown me that my Native American identity is a leg up rather than a hurdle to climb over.

Q: So what made you ultimately stick with journalism?

TN: Because I had story ideas: No one in the newsroom knew what was going on in the community that I came from. My first story for Cronkite was about language revitalization among the Navajo Nation … I would hear from back home the language was declining at a very fast rate. I wanted to report on that because stories about Native Americans aren’t always negative. Yes, our language is declining but there are so many amazing things that are happening by our people who are trying to make the language come back. So I wanted to show that … and that stems from the mission in my work to show the beauty and the resilience and the strengths that Native Americans have. What people in mainstream media always see are stereotypes and misconceptions, and I wanted to turn that around.

JP: Journalism is what I love. I’ve been a writer for a good chunk of my life, and finding this niche where I can write, but write something worth reading is all I could ever ask for. I’ve never once doubted whether this is what I want to do, and the fact that I can do this incredibly important job while offering a voice to my people is a dream come true.

Q: Any major turning point for you?

TN: We did this intermediate reporting class, taught by Maureen West. I actually took that class two times. The first time I tried reporting how I thought they wanted me to report — I’d go to these council meetings in Mesa or cover an event, and I didn’t really connect with it. I just bombed because I was trying to step into a world where I didn’t feel connected. So I retook the class with Maureen West and she really pushed and encouraged me. She told me that I had good story ideas and that I should pursue them. So I began seeking stories in Native communities where I felt comfortable reporting. I first got published through the Gila River Indian Community, and the editor said they had a story I could write. I had to have six stories to pass the class. So with GRIC, they realized that both of us are helping each other if we tell our stories together.

JP: A major turning point in my journalistic endeavors was when I began writing for the State Press. I had a job doing what I loved, and I felt like a shark that had smelled blood. I got a taste for reporting as a job, and walking into that newsroom every Thursday night only assured me that this is what I was meant to do. I believe that everybody has a purpose, and as soon as I started writing for this student-run publication, I knew that I had found mine. Writing and now editing for the State Press has made me sure that there’s nothing else in the world I’d rather do than this.

Q: How did the opportunity come up for your current position?

TN: I was on the Navajo reservation one summer and I got an email from Rebecca Blatt, my director at Cronkite News, who mentioned a possible podcast opportunity. She connected me with Dr. Amanda Tachine at the Center for Indian Education who was looking for someone to do a podcast, and I had experience in that from Cronkite. So we connected and I found out about “Turning Points,” and heard they needed someone to finish a few stories. That was my reconnection to Native communities and stories on campus. That’s where it all came back for me and where I find myself now. I’m honored with all of these connections that brought me to my current path now.

JP: This past fall was my second semester writing for the State Press and I had decided to take on a full-time reporting position. It was arduous. I had a really hard time, but I was always proud of the work I did, and it seemed that my editors were as well. It came up in conversation with my editors and leadership that editor applications were opening and I decided I would apply. Friends of mine told me that I’d undoubtedly get the job, but I was extremely nervous to apply nonetheless. Of course, I filled out an application the very day they were open and interviewed for the spot on the very first day I was available to do so. Needless to say, I got the position and I couldn’t be happier with where I am.

Q: Why do you think that historically many young Native Americans have not pursued a career in journalism? And how can this trend be reversed? 

TN: Maybe it’s because they don’t see themselves in this role. I certainly didn’t. All of my other friends pursued other careers and I was the only one in my group who gravitated toward the Cronkite program.

To reverse this, I would say we come from a long line of strong indigenous people and that we can do it. We may be in places that weren’t originally designed for us, but if we think of the need of our community and family, we can achieve anything. That’s where our strength comes from. We face so many obstacles, but in the end we have the teachings from our culture to persist and keep going.

JP: I think it’s hard for Native Americans to pursue a career in journalism because we already feel so underrepresented. Journalism has been a white man’s business for so long and I think it’s hard for any minority to go out on a limb and try to make something of themselves in a field where almost nobody shares their ethnic roots. It’s intimidating. That’s not to say that Native Americans aren’t bold or brave, because that’s so far from the truth. It’s to say how intensely horrifying it is to be the only indigenous person in any field, especially one as important and daunting as the journalistic field. A lack of representation can be a huge hurdle to overcome, and I think it’s a vicious cycle: Natives don’t pursue careers in journalism because there are no Natives in journalism.

The key to changing this is to see our aloneness the way my peers at the State Press taught me to: as an advantage. Newsrooms everywhere are trying to diversify their staff and with so few indigenous people in the field now, the few will stand out to publications. We need to see ourselves not as unwelcome, but as unique. We need to see ourselves as special, because that’s what we are.

I also think that we need to see how important it is that our voice is heard. Without Native American journalists, our voice will never be heard and I think that we, as a people, need to recognize our duty to ourselves to make sure that we are heard — and heard loud and clear.

Top photo: Taylor Notah (left) and Joseph Perez are Native Americans and editors of two Arizona State University-sponsored publications this semester. Notah graduated from Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and is the senior editor at "Turning Points, A Guide to Native Student Success." Perez is a sophomore at Cronkite and is the community editor at "The State Press." Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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New Regents’ Professor is one of the nation’s pre-eminent history scholars

February 1, 2019

Donald L. Fixico's scholarly achievements include pioneering contributions to Native American ethnohistory and oral history

Arizona State University Professor Donald L. Fixico doesn’t like surprises, especially when they involve a boss.

Last October, he was contacted by ASU President Michael M. Crow’s assistant asking for his availability. The caller did not give a reason for the meeting, and Fixico was left hanging in suspense.

“I thought I had done something wrong or was going to be fired,” said Fixico, the Distinguished Foundation ProfessorFixico is also a Distinguished Sustainability Scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. of History in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. 

It was definitely not that.

When Fixico finally met with Crow in his office a week later, he was told that he had been named one of four Regents’ Professors for the 2018-19 academic year.

“It was a major relief,” Fixico said with a laugh. “I thought I might have to look for another job.”

That doesn’t appear to be likely now.

Regents’ Professor is the highest faculty honor and is conferred on full professors who have made remarkable achievements that have brought them national attention and international distinction.

Less than 3 percent of all faculty at Arizona State University carry the distinction.

Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, a President’s Professor, director of the Center for Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian affairs, was quick to sing Fixico's praises.

“Don Fixico is among the very best historians of American Indians in the world," he said. "He is prolific, and, importantly, his work is meaningful to many of us outside of history. Having Don as a colleague at ASU means that we have someone who is very, very competent, who is fair-minded and tough and who cares deeply about American Indian students and faculty. I admire him as a scholar and as a human being; he really is a gentleman and a scholar.”

The designation capped off a banner year for Fixico. He published his latest book, "Indian Treaties in the United States," and finished serving as president of the Western History Association, considered one of the most prestigious appointments in historical studies. In recognition of Fixico’s prolific scholarly legacy, that organization presented the first Donald Fixico Book Award in 2018. The $1,000 award annually recognizes innovative work in the field of American Indian and Canadian First Nations history that centers on indigenous epistemologies and perspectives.

The Oklahoma native, who is Shawnee, Sac and Fox, Muscogee Creek and Seminole, has far exceeded his own expectations. He has come a long way from working in construction during the summers in order to put himself through college.

“I began to realize there’s got to be an easier way of making a living,” Fixico said. “My big ambition was just to get a job that was indoors.”

It almost didn’t happen.

He tried his hand at chemical engineering but couldn’t keep up with the accelerating coursework and finally accepted that he was in over his head. He switched majors to history, and everything clicked. Though it took several years for him to understand, he says his mind worked like a wheel and took a circular, rather than linear, approach when writing. He said that approach didn’t endear him to his professors or future editors, but he learned to adjust.

Fixico said he had to rewrite his first book, "Termination and Relocation," four times before it was published in 1986.

He has published more than a dozen more in the ensuing years and today is considered among the foremost scholars in North American Indian history. Among his pursuits is writing a major Indian history textbook for Oxford University Press and writing the chapter, “Writing American Indian History in the 21st Century,” for Vol. 1 of the "Handbook of North American Indians" by the Smithsonian Institute.

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Collection of books written by ASU Professor Donald L. Fixico. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Fixico has created a knowledge base of the narratives that did not exist before his research in what he calls the “Medicine Way of American Indian History.” He has shown the importance of Indian oral traditions and Native perspectives in general as a necessary ingredient for the writing of not only Indian histories but American histories. He said that developed as a necessity when he gave his first lecture at Rose State College, where he taught a course as a doctoral student.

“I delivered that first lecture with a lot of energy and gave it everything I had, and walked out of that classroom so proud,” Fixico said. “Then I realized that I told them everything I knew and didn’t have anything else to offer my students. I was so tightly focused on American Indians. Then I got very scared because I realized that I didn’t know enough about other types of history.”

Fixico made a concerted effort to have lunch with older professors who could teach him world history from different eras. He said this exercise helped him to understand that history has universal themes such as liberty, democracy, sovereignty, love and hate.  

“An important key to teaching history is making big-idea concepts and themes relevant to everyday life,” Fixico said. 

Today Fixico is now that "older professor" who is teaching others how to become historians. Three years ago, ASU recognized him with the Doctoral Student Mentor Award. To date he has mentored and graduated 16 PhD students and has two more in the pipeline. One of his former students is William S. Kiser, an assistant professor and director of the Global Borders and Borderlands History Program at Texas A&M University-San Antonio.

“Professor Fixico just didn’t teach us history — he taught us the craft of being a historian,” said Kiser, who received his PhD from ASU in 2016. “He’d teach us things about tenure, the importance of publishing, peer guidelines. He instilled a high bar of excellence in the most compassionate way possible.”

Farina King, an assistant professor of history at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, also gave Fixico high marks for his tutelage.

“The most valuable thing he did was enable us to discover what made us special as students and scholars, and how to understand ourselves as individuals,” King said. “I never felt like a checkbox to him because he made himself available to us at all times and was always in the moment. I’ve found other scholars to be self-serving, but Professor Fixico is a humble person and a person you naturally respect and honor.”

Fixico said that though he studies and teaches history, millennials are teaching him that he must stay relevant to their issues and concerns in order to engage them in the classroom.

“I want them to think analytically and to articulate their views as well as they can and improve,” Fixico said. “They are teaching me that I must stay in tune with what’s going on in the world, and if you can keep an open mind, you can learn something new every day. … It’s refreshing to stay young in that way.”

Top photo: Regents' Professor of history Donald L. Fixico, of the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, is the author of more than a dozen books on American Indian issues. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


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Conference helps tribal governments develop strategies for e-commerce

January 24, 2019

ASU College of Law brings together talent to host 5th annual 'Wiring the Rez'

With the growth of e-commerce and other assets that can be earned through the internet, Indian Country is no longer bound to geographic borders.

Tribal governments have enormous opportunities to grow their economic-development abilities through their sovereignty, including web-based businesses, sports betting, tax initiatives, blockchain and a multitude of new industries.

That’s the goal of the “Wiring the Rez: Innovative Strategies for Business Development Via E-Commerce" conference, which is specifically geared to tribal governments, indigenous businesses and Native peoples. Offered through Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the Indian Legal Program, the conference will take place Jan. 31–Feb. 1 on the Gila River Indian Reservation.

ASU Now spoke with Robert J. Miller, a professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the faculty director of the Rosette LLP American Indian Economic Development Program, ahead of the conference.

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Robert J. Miller

Question: Why the need for this conference, and what do you hope participants will get out of it?

Answer: This is our fifth annual Wiring the Rez conference at ASU College of Law. We have begun to focus more heavily on economic-development issues in our Indian Legal Program because American Indians are the poorest people in the United States. On reservations and Indian lands, more families live below the poverty line than any other Americans. Unemployment can reach as high as 80 to 90 percent on some reservations, and most reports state that unemployment averages 50 percent on the 300-plus reservations across the United States. Indian peoples are also the least educated, with the shortest life spans, and with the poorest health and housing conditions for any identifiable group of Americans. The need for economic development of any and all kinds is self-evident in light of these facts.

Much of the American economy today is based on the internet and e-business, so it is only natural that Indian nations and tribal communities should look to improve the e-commerce conditions in Indian Country for tribal governments and Indian entrepreneurs. On the flip side, though, some tribal governments have succeeded very well at "regular" economic-development activities, and some reservations are becoming more prosperous due to tribal economic activities and gaming. Yet every economy needs diversification, and even for those successful reservations, where the standard of living has risen, tribal governments and reservation economies need to diversify their economic activities and “thicken” and thereby strengthen their economies. E-commerce is a natural candidate for economic expansion in the 21st century.

Conference participants will be exposed to new ideas about how tribal governments and Native entrepreneurs can better access the web and can better profit from business conducted online. Our conference attendees also benefit from networking with tribal representatives and Indian business people at such gatherings.

Q: E-commerce, as you have stated in your literature, has helped to create thriving economies on a few reservations, but has also led to a complicated tangle of legal issues. Give us an example of the legal issues that tribes face?

A: One of the first legal issues that Indian nations face is the federal “trust responsibility.” The United States plays an important and sometimes overwhelming role in Indian affairs, including in economic activities. So one of the legal issues that tribal nations have to deal with is the paternalistic role of the United States and the various federal approvals and laws that must be complied with to engage in many businesses on reservations. Some tribes have also encountered state interference with business activities such as gaming and e-commerce, and all tribes face the question of state competition and jealousy over successful tribal businesses. While these last two points are not specifically legal issues, they do become legal issues when dealing with states and fighting over jurisdiction and power, which includes subjects like the power to tax. Jurisdiction, regulation and taxation are definitely legal issues that tribal governments and individual Indians have to navigate with federal, state, county and city jurisdictions.

Some tribes have done very well in the e-lending world, and they have faced questions of both state competition and federal and state control. Ample litigation has ensued over this particular business activity, and our conference will discuss many of these pending cases.

Q: What are some of the other real-life issues that some tribes face as they look to get wired to the internet?

A: Due to the trust relationship that I mentioned above, and the fact that the United States is the legal owner of a lot of the land within Indian reservations, the United States has approval authority over various land leases and development projects that can involve issues concerning telephones, cable and internet. I do not think this has been much of a problem, however.

A much larger problem is the fact that Indian Country and Indian families are still grossly underserved by the internet. Somewhat similar to rural America, Indian Country lacks access to the best and highest-speed internet and the best telephone service. A 2018 Federal Communications Commission report demonstrated that more than 1.2 million residents of tribal lands lack access to high-speed internet! Extrapolating from those numbers infers that the FCC found that nearly every Indian living on any reservation lacks high-speed internet. In today's modern world, this is both highly regrettable and — in light of the federal trust responsibility for Indian nations and Native peoples — highly inexcusable. How can one function in the modern day and in the modern business world without access to high-speed internet and telephone connections that help "smart" phones really be "smart" and business people and economies on reservations conduct business efficiently, effectively and profitably?

Q: What are some of the unique e-commerce you’re seeing come out of the reservations?

A: I am of course not aware of all the e-commerce that Indian nations and individuals are engaged in. But I do know that some tribes are doing very well in the e-lending business, for example. Other tribal enterprises are working in the internet technology field itself, such as Cayuse Technologies, which is owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in northeastern Oregon; the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma's Cherokee Nation Technologies; and the Navajo Nation's DDC IT Services.

Furthermore, most of the thousands of Indian entrepreneurs and artists across the United States obviously use the web to promote and sell their products. For examples, I would note Native American Natural Foods, LLC, Tanka BarsBethany YellowtailBeyond Buckskin BoutiqueTribal Tech; and a platform for indigenous artisans, SOLVE.  

Q: What is the future of Native entrepreneurs and e-commerce?  

A: As for all Americans, our future seems to be intimately connected to the internet and e-commerce and e-life. Indian nations, Indian entrepreneurs and reservation economies must get fully connected and fully involved in the current, and the emerging, e-universe. Rural Americans and Indian peoples on reservations deserve the same access to the internet as all other Americans, and they must aggressively pursue their rights in this arena and the options available to make rural and reservation areas more prosperous and sustainable. I honestly believe that the future of Indian reservations as tribal homelands and the sustainability of tribal cultures depends on increasing the income levels and the living standards in Indian Country. The ASU Indian Legal Program's Wiring the Rez conference is a good step in that direction.

For more information on the Wiring the Rez conference, visit ASU Events.

Reporter , ASU Now


The work of writing: Bojan Louis announced as inaugural Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence

January 9, 2019

Combining the artistic space of a traditional residency with the teaching and professionalization of an academic fellowship, the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University is proud to announce the Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence: a new, yearlong, full-time, benefits-eligible position presented in partnership with ASU’s Department of English and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ humanities division.

The inaugural Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence is Bojan Louis, an indigenous writer and Arizona native who graduated from the MFA program in 2009 with a focus in fiction. Picture of Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence Bojan Louis Bojan Louis (2009 MFA in fiction) is the inaugural Virginia G. Piper Fellow-in-Residence. Photo by Sara Sams Download Full Image

As a writer, educator and community organizer, Louis is uniquely qualified to serve as the center’s first fellow-in-residence. Widely published in multiple genres, Louis’ debut collection of poems, "Currents," received the American Book Award in 2018. Louis also has diverse and comprehensive experience in the classroom, having taught across the Valley since 2012. Throughout, Louis has given back to the community through extensive volunteer and organizing work, playing foundational roles in journals like Waxwing and RED INK while connecting and advocating for indigenous writers in the state of Arizona and the national field. 

While the position has some analogues and other points of reference in the academic and creative writing fields — the Stegner fellowship at Stanford University for one — the Piper fellow-in-residence is unique in spirit and design, reflecting and embodying the values of outreach, inclusion, public service and social embeddedness that distinguish ASU and its creative writing program.

Over the course of a year, the Piper fellow-in-residence will teach one creative writing course a semester to undergraduate students through the Department of English and present talks, readings and other programs for the public through the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Candidates for the fellowship are drawn exclusively from alumni of ASU’s MFA in creative writing program. 

“The English Department is delighted to welcome Bojan Louis as the inaugural Piper fellow-in-residence,” said Department Chair Krista Ratcliffe. “His teaching will support our creative writing students interested in writing poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.”

Louis’ class, “The Narrative and Poetic Forms of Work and Apprenticeship” is a multi-genre creative writing and English literature undergraduate class exploring the narratives, themes and poetics of what it means to work. In modern society, Louis explains, it’s easy to forget the people who build and design the products and experiences we enjoy.

“So the texts I had in mind are these people who are involved in work and have sort of vainglorious dreams of becoming something more, or not. Maybe they don’t want to, or maybe they’re just stuck. The poetic stuff is getting into the language of work and how we use terminology and words, (and) how they affect not just the person working with them but the audience or people they’re directed at. So through this I want my students to then become apprentices of taking apart these stories to sort of write their own.”

As a nontraditional student from a working-class background — Louis spent years working as a general contractor and electrician before entering the MFA program at the age of 26 and continued with the profession throughout graduate school and his own teaching — he hopes the class will create a haven for people who may not feel comfortable in academic spaces. 

“There’s such a disconnect between this working class and intellectualism,” Louis said. “Especially with this sort of presidency, this divide has gotten really big. Sometimes we throw all of these terms around in the academy like equity and unity and diversity and intersectionality, and at some point it stops meaning anything once you get outside of the academic circle.”

While Louis is still thinking about his programs, he’s already figuring out ways to empower young people, particularly those who come from community colleges or are otherwise nontraditional students. 

“How do we create conversations with people who might feel invisible?” he asked. “And before that, how do we get to students who are interested in community college and don’t know what to do? A lot of this comes with self-reflection, so giving them a moment or a workshop where they can self-reflect, so it’s not me telling them what to do or being all motivational, but asking them who they are and what they see.”

Louis is also thinking about a translation project with the Navajo Nation as a way to continue and advance his work with Native American communities. 

Whatever they end up being, Louis’ programs will be developed organically as the fellowship unfolds, as Louis and the center assess various community needs.

“His initiatives are by purpose designed to be new to the world,” explained Alberto Ríos, a Regents’ Professor of English who directs the Piper Center. “They’re going to, I hope, startle us in the obviousness of how good they are — they’ve been right in front of us all this time, and now we get to act on them. It’s rare today to be able to get the wherewithal to do something that isn’t already being done. They’re going to take some thinking through.”

Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is excited about the new fellowship's possibilities.

“I believe that the best future for the humanities involves working to ensure that the field better resembles and resonates with the students attending universities like ASU — students who represent the future of the United States,” he said. “They deserve a humanities that attends to them — and talented writers like Bojan Louis are creating exactly that.”

Jake Friedman

Coordinator, Virginia G. Piper for Creative Writing


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New online degree takes hassle out of getting a tassel

January 3, 2019

ASU’s School of Social Transformation will offer master's degree in indigenous education to graduate students in remote areas

Putting mortarboards on Native Americans has historically been a challenge for colleges and universities.

Indigenous peoples’ pathways to higher education are littered with hurdles: Many live in remote areas, commutes can take hours and access to the internet is difficult. That especially rings true for Native American graduate students, who often work and stay in their communities after graduation.

Arizona State University’s School of Social Transformation and the Center for Indian Education have figured out a way to bring the campus to the reservation (and other remote parts of the world) with a new online master’s degree program that will debut this month.

“The center develops programs that first begin with a conversation: listening to the needs of indigenous communities who are seeking support to provide new opportunities that meet the needs of their own individual communities,” said Deborah Chadwick, interim co-director of the Center for Indian Education.

ASU Now spoke to Chadwick about the new program, which starts this semester.

Question: How did the idea for this program come about, and how long did it take to develop it?

Answer: The idea for creating an online MA in Indigenous Education program was first prompted by tribal communities and nations located within Arizona and outside the state. In conversations with them, they stressed a need for a graduate program in indigenous education that would allow potential students to stay in their Native communities and/or jobs while earning a graduate degree. This online program provides students the opportunity to stay within their own communities while strengthening their ability to work in the field of Indian education and within tribal nations’ education programs. 

Although initial conversations about developing an online program started in the fall of 2012, the actual development of the indigenous education program of study began in spring 2016 by a core of indigenous faculty from the School of Social Transformation and other faculty and staff with many years of experience working with tribal communities and Native students. This group of individuals were mindful in the development of a program of study that engages individuals who are either interested in or currently working with and in indigenous communities or schools serving indigenous children.

Q: Since this is an online degree, who will be your audience and what is your reach? 

A: We have marketed this online program throughout the U.S. and internationally. We envision people will come to the program from multiple backgrounds — education, social science, human services, environmental studies, tourism, tribal and state government entities — with an interest in building their knowledge base that focuses on indigenous education.

The primary audience for this degree are those working in indigenous education, those working for tribal nations with education programs, those businesses working on tribal land for or with tribal members and those interested in American Indian education. 

Interest in our program has come from as far away as a high school administrator and science teacher in the Philippines. We have received applications from prospective students from Ohio, Washington and Arizona. We foresee the demographics of students will broaden, as recruiting students will be ongoing.

Q: What is the benefit of learning this particular material online?

A: The online format of delivery of the indigenous education program is a way to reach a greater audience of potential students that might not have the opportunity to leave their community. I believe online courses are more accessible to students who do not have the privilege to leave their communities due to family responsibilities, employment and desire to continue supporting their tribal community.

This online program will focus on indigenous knowledge systems, current issues in American Indian education, history of American Indian education, issues of indigenous language and culture, American Indian education policy, American Indians in higher education and critical indigenous research methodologies and community-based participatory action research. 

Q: Is there a central theme in this program?

A: The MA in Indigenous Education program seeks to explore differences between the indigenous educational processes, or the ways knowledge has been passed down through generations, and Western institutions of schooling.

The goal of this degree is to provide students with an advanced theoretical foundation and current practices in indigenous education, strengthening their ability to work in the field of Indian education and within tribal nations with education programs.

Learn more about the degree on the ASU Online site. Top photo: Deborah Chadwick, project director and senior research professional at the Center for Indian Education, is leading a new online master's degree program, the MA Online Indigenous Education, with three courses being offered in the spring. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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Cultural relevance laying foundation for meaningful engineering education

December 11, 2018

Support from a National Science Foundation CAREER award aids professor's efforts to draw Navajo students to STEM subjects

Shawn Jordan took a risk five years ago with his proposal for a project he hoped would earn one of the most sought-after National Science Foundation awards granted to young academic researchers.

Jordan knew the proposed endeavor to partner with Navajo Nation educators to develop engineering curriculum for their schools would challenge him both as a researcher and educator.

To understand the Navajo culture deeply enough to design effective curriculum “was going to present me with a very large learning curve,” he said. “So that was the risk.”

But based on the knack for innovative approaches Jordan was demonstrating as a young faculty member in Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the NSF decided to throw its support behind his aspirations.

In 2014, Jordan received the NSF Early Career Development (CAREER) Award, which recognizes university faculty members deemed to have the potential to become leading researchers and educators in their areas of expertise.

The award has funded Jordan’s collaboration with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education specialists with the Navajo Nation Department of Diné Education’s Office of Diné School Improvement (Diné is what many Navajo people traditionally call themselves) to introduce middle school students to the engineering design process.

The challenge isn’t about bringing conventional approaches to teaching engineering to Diné students. The idea has been to develop culturally relevant ways of instructing youngsters in the fundamental technical and conceptual aspects of engineering while also instilling in them a sense of the rewarding possibilities STEM studies could make happen in their futures.

The goal is also “to teach engineering in a way that each individual discovers and defines for themselves what it means to be both Diné and an engineer,” Jordan said.

“Navajo culture is grounded in Diné epistemology and guided by traditional teachings that influence our societal and environmental values,” said Colin Ben, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and a postdoctoral research scholar in the Fulton Schools and ASU’s School of Social Transformation.

“Navajos evaluate projects and potential partnerships based on how the end product will improve the quality of life for our people, strengthen economic stability and/or enhance educational services for our youth, but only if it is carried out with respect and sensitivity to Diné protocols,” said Ben, who is doing research on Navajo education

“Culturally, today’s decisions are made with the understanding that it will impact future generations of Navajos,” Ben said. “Therefore, the decisions require high-quality outcomes that will last for a long time.”

Similar thinking guides the Navajos’ outlook on subjects such as natural-resource extraction.

“Land is sacred in the Navajo culture,” Jordan said. “So, if you are using engineering in mining or drilling, even if it’s very efficient and profitable, it can be seen as a horrible travesty if it violates their traditional relationship to the land.”

A group of teachers from the Navajo Nation participate in a hands-on training workshop on culturally relevant engineering curriculum modules in preparation for piloting the modules in their schools. Photo by Shawn Jordan/ASU

Those factors are why designing curriculum for Navajo Nation schools won’t work if it’s based on one-size-fits-all models of education.

Jordan’s NSF project has led to ongoing pilot programs in Navajo middle schools that involve culturally relevant engineering design studies. The programs are showing encouraging results.

Students are demonstrating an understanding of how skills in engineering and other STEM fields can serve the interests of the nation and be pathways to improving the lives of those in their communities.

Jordan said the project is proving the effectiveness of focusing on cultural relevance as a cornerstone of a solid foundation for educational improvement, especially in underserved communities. 

“Periodic interventions to improve curriculum are not going to change the paths of education systems,” Jordan said. “We need holistic approaches that establish the connections between what and how students are being taught and the challenges they face in the communities they are living in.”

One of the major outcomes of the project is the work now underway to support Navajo Nation middle schools to become certified as STEM schools. The certification provides schools professional guidance and support to boost the quality of their education programs.

Jordan said results so far are showing educators can bridge cultural divides and bring lessons from each other’s experiences into efforts to improve education.

“I think my research could be used as a model for how to successfully and respectfully carry out research and curriculum development in partnership with cultural or ethnic groups that the researchers and scholars involved are not a part of,” Jordan said.

Jordan is also spending some of his time on sabbatical during the 2018-19 academic year learning new methods he can use to help schools spark students’ interest in STEM subjects.

Through studies at the Storytelling Institute at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Jordan will develop a framework for using oral storytelling as a tool for engineering education.

He wants to help engineers and students learn how to craft and tell the stories of their own pathways into the profession.

The approach is contrary yet also complementary to the way engineering education is often marketed by colleges and universities.

“The focus is usually on degree programs and academic disciplines and the skills they give you and the jobs they prepare you for. The focus should instead be more on people who do engineering and the positive impacts they are making in society,” he said. “We can use storytelling to help young students envision a life as an engineer and the impact they can have in their communities.”

Fulton Schools Associate Professor Shawn Jordan gives a presentation about his project, "Career Engineering Design Across Navajo Culture, Community and Society," to a gathering of the Trustees of Arizona State University and ASU President Michael Crow. Jordan is helping to develop engineering curriculum for Navajo Nation middle school students. Photo by Jamie Ell/ASU

Jordan’s work has been gaining interest among his peers.

He has given talks, presentations and workshops at gatherings of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the National Indian Education Association, the ASU Office of American Indian Initiatives, at an NSF Engineering Education meeting and at the Innovation Arizona Summit, among other events.

In 2017, Jordan’s contributions to engineering education earned him the NSF Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, which recognizes innovative research and community service leadership in education and community outreach.

From a big-picture viewpoint, Jordan said the Navajo Nation education project is one of many undertakings that could eventually bring different sociological and cultural perspectives into the practice of engineering — and the NSF is trying to encourage that change by supporting efforts to bring diversity into the engineering workforce.

“That would make the engineering profession more inclusive,” Jordan said, “which in the end will make for better engineering.”

Shawn Jordan shares credit for his progress on the Engineering Design Across Navajo Culture, Community and Society research project with the ASU students and staff members who have been on his research team in recent years:

  • Christina Foster, who earned an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering and a doctoral degree in engineering education at ASU.
  • Ieshya Anderson, who is Tohono O’odham and Navajo, and a doctoral student in the Fulton Schools’ Engineering Education Systems and Design program.
  • Courtney Betoney, who recently earned an undergraduate degree in mechanical systems engineering at ASU and is now working for Raytheon.
  • Tyrine Pangan, who recently earned an undergraduate degree in software engineering at ASU and will pursue a doctoral degree in engineering education.
  • Project manager Jay Fernandez, who earned an undergraduate degree in electrical systems engineering at ASU.

Top photo: Shawn Jordan (standing) has directed a series of STEAM Machines programs that integrate science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics by applying concepts from each of those disciplines to the design and construction of chain-reaction machines. Jordan is pictured working with students in ASU’s INSPIRE program for American Indian high school students. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU

Joe Kullman

Science writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU group's work with Navajo Nation recognized for innovative community planning

November 16, 2018

The Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association recently held their annual conference, during which members from Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning were recognized for their project with the Navajo Nation’s Dilkon Chapter.

David Pijawka, professor of planning and senior sustainability scientist with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, has a long history of working with indigenous communities to ensure Native culture, customs and traditions are considered in community planning. Pijawka and Jonathan Davis, a geography PhD student, recently worked alongside the Dilkon Chapter to successfully complete a community land-use plan. It is for this outstanding work that Pijawka, Davis and the Dilkon chapter were recognized on Nov. 8 for special recognition for a public outreach plan. Jonathan Davis (left) and David Pijawka (second from right) are joined by members of the Dilkon Chapter and the Navajo Nation Office of Government Development as they accept their award from the Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association. Download Full Image

The Dilkon Chapter of the Navajo Nation, located in the northeastern region of Arizona, is an active and engaged community that desired to compete for funding for further economic, housing and public service development within their community. In order to better compete for funding for these initiatives, the Dilkon Chapter needed to update their community land-use plan, as dictated by the Navajo Nation. Teaming up with Pijawka and Davis, the chapter began to utilize a new approach help create their plan

In February 2017, a community-based land use plan was created through the use of "geodesign."

Geodesign is primarily guided by the principle that land-use planning is complex, therefore to effectively design a resilient and sustainable community or place, it requires a collaborative approach between GIS (geographic information systems) experts, planning professionals, geographic scientists, community members and other stakeholders such as environmental, development and housing experts.

“Geodesign leading to a land-use plan incorporates community participation and visioning of a different and viable future based on community-shared goals and needs that leads to consensus on the type of land uses, their location and connections,” Pijawka explained. “We found that the idea of a community working together to reach a consensus of a future connected well with indigenous approaches to planning communities. The exchange of ideas and knowledge, through the use of computer GIS systems for communicating among community groups was original and innovative.”

The Dilkon Chapter’s project is the first known application of geodesign as a planning framework in an American Indian community.

In order to complete this effort, the Dilkon Chapter, Pijawka and Davis, along with members from the Office of Navajo Government Development, completed a two-day long workshop where eight different data development groups were created based on their area of interest and expertise, including economic development, public services, conservation (both cultural and environmental), transportation, infrastructure, grazing and housing. During the workshop community members were able to consult with experts and design land-use designations using the land suitability maps, their local knowledge and their cultural and traditional sensibilities.

As soon as these designs were contributed, the ideas were immediately shared with the other data development groups through the geodesign software. At the end of the first day, eight unique land-use plans had been developed from over 100 potential land-use designations contributed by Dilkon community members. The group then worked to prioritize and combine the plans until they were ultimately able to complete one final land-use plan that incorporated community feedback and that was built through consensus and compromise.

The final land-use plan incorporated a cultural conservation map with an explanation from Dilkon Chapter elders on why certain areas in the community are culturally and traditionally important, identification of recreation areas within the town that could serve as a community area to interact with nature and designation of a potential solar field to reduce energy costs for the community. A transportation plan was also created, designating five miles of road for paving, five miles of road for sidewalk and three additional crosswalks.

One of the most important aspects of the geodesign workshop is that planners from Arizona State University and the Office of Navajo Government development were able to provide their expertise to the community when called upon, but final decisions on land designations were up to the community members. The effort also incorporated planners from the Navajo Nation, promoted public participation within the Dilkon Chapter and used Navajo GIS analysts as technical assistants. With the successful results from this exercise, it is now believed that the geodesign planning framework can serve as a future planning model for American Indian communities by leveraging Western planning with a strong influence of community values and traditions.

“(Dr. Pijawka and Jonathan Davis) provided technical and professional support to our community to empower us to create a land-use plan that will guide our community into the future,” said Lorenzo Lee Sr., president of the Dilkon Chapter. “The use of geodesign to create a land-use plan allowed our community members to engage with each other and actively participate in the planning process which allowed us to propose alternate futures for Dilkon.”

The plan from the Dilkon Chapter has now been submitted to the Navajo Nation Office of Government Development for approval and marks an important milestone in a budding relationship.

“This is an important partnership that places ASU in the center of important community work with American Indian communities,” Pijawka said. “It demonstrates a successful and innovative approach to community development through the use of information technology, spatial analysis and community engagement.”

Manager, Marketing and Communication, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


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The healing power of pursuing a dream

Billy Mills, winner of 1964 Olympic 10,000-meter race, speaks at ASU event.
November 15, 2018

Iconic Native American athlete visits ASU to speak about turning tradition and spirituality into motivational fire in life and sport

When Billy Mills beat the pack on a muddy cinder track in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, it was one of the greatest upsets in sports history. 

The grainy black-and-white video shows his graceful, effortless stride in the 10,000-meter race. But those steps were part of a difficult journey that left Mills, an Oglala Lakota, so despondent that he almost killed himself before he won the gold medal.

“That moment was magical to me. I felt as if I had wings on my feet,” Mills told a crowd at Arizona State University on Thursday night. He spoke at an event titled “Indigenous Identity and the Athletic Experience with Billy Mills,” sponsored by the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples, the Global Sport Institute and the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. The talk was held at the Tempe campus, which is on the homeland of the Akimel O’odham and Pee-Posh peoples.

Mills was raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When he was 8, his mother died, and his father told him, “It takes a dream to heal broken souls. The pursuit of a dream will heal you.”

“He told me to take our culture, our traditions and spirituality and extract from them the virtues and values that empower them,” Mills said.

His father died when he was 12, but Mills found his passion in running and won an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas. 

“I was not ready for the lack of understanding that Americans had for me,” he said.

He was told he could not join a fraternity or be roommates with his white and black friends. And when he was named an NCAA All-American cross-country runner, he was told to not appear in the official photograph. 

“By then I knew something inside of me was broken, but I didn’t know what. I was locked out of the American dream.”

He opened the window of his fourth-floor hotel room and looked down, but heard his father’s voice telling him not to jump. 

Then he met Patricia, to whom he has been married for 56 years.

“Instantly, I’m in love,” he said. “Now I have a partner.”

Mills earned a degree, took a commission in the Marine Corps and made the U.S. Olympic team.

At the race in Tokyo, Mills knew he was running a scorching pace, but didn’t think he could keep it up. He felt his blood sugar plummeting, his vision blurring. Also, he was in fourth place. Then he stumbled. He briefly thought of quitting, until he saw Patricia in the crowd.

“She was crying because I was pursuing a dream and she was my support team. I was pursuing a dream to keep from thinking of suicide again,” he said.

“She knew I was taking the virtues and the values of my culture, my traditions, my spiritualty and I was putting them into my Olympic pursuit and my marriage.”

He surged to the finish and was briefly confused when he won.

“Did I miscount the laps? Do I have one more lap to go?”

When Mills returned to the United States, the country was in the midst of civil rights protests.

“The games inspired me to go on a journey into my past to understand footprints laid by my indigenous ancestors and my European ancestors, and what I found is what we face today in America,” he said.

He visited the black church in Birmingham, Alabama, where four little girls were killed by a bomb, and he studied the history of oppression against people of color, up to the “war on drugs” that fueled the growth of gangs on reservations.

He decried the backlash against former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans. Mills said that as a veteran, he supported the protest.

“He’s not disrespecting me. It’s a cry for unity,” he said.

The event also featured Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo and a social worker who was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that sought to revoke trademark protection of the term "Washington Redskins,” a slur against Native Americans. She said she was thrust into the world of sports when she took on the mascot issue.

“I didn’t grow up saying, ‘Someday, I’m going to take the Washington NFL team to court,’” she said. 

“A lot of times in social justice and activism, the issues just happen. We don’t seek them. They come to us.”

Blackhorse said she has always admired athletes who take a stand on political issues.

“I was delighted to hear that Billy Mills spoke out against the name of the Washington team. I thought, ‘Yes, an icon is on our side.'"

In 1986, Mills founded the nonprofit group Running Strong for American Indian Youth, and he travels more than 300 days a year, speaking to young people about healthy lifestyles and taking pride in their heritage. Now 80 years old, he said the United States is in “strange times,” but he’s optimistic.

“I know we can come together and complete the maturity of our democracy,” he said.

Top photo: Retired ASU environmental graphic designer Randy Kemp (left) shares a laugh with Billy Mills, the Sioux Olympic gold medalist who won the 1964 Tokyo 10,000 meters. Kemp took part in a 500-mile ultramarathon in 1979, sponsored in part by Mills, and had him sign his finisher's certificate. Mills later addressed around 100 people at the "Indigenous Identity and the Athletic Experience" event on the Tempe campus on Thursday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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4 at ASU honored with Regents' Professor title

November 15, 2018

Honorees are nationally and internationally recognized by their peers, with outstanding achievements in their fields

Regents’ Professors are the elite of the academic world. To be awarded the distinction, scholars must be full professors, with outstanding achievements in their fields, who are nationally and internationally recognized by their peers.

No more than 3 percent of all faculty at Arizona State University carry the distinction.

This year, four ASU faculty members are being recognized as Regents’ Professors.

One has revolutionized education through cognitive science. Another is one of the country’s foremost scholars in Native American history, pioneering the creation of a knowledge base of Indian oral traditions and Native perspectives. A third is lauded as being the most significant geographer of a generation. The fourth is the world’s top expert on drylands, work vital to global sustainability.

“These four new professors recognized by their peers as being at the very zenith of their fields represent the outstanding faculty we have here at Arizona State University,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said. “Their transformative scholarship has contributed to our understanding of the world, and this latest honor is extremely well deserved.”

Let’s meet them.

Michelene Chi

portrait of woman

Michelene Chi

Chi is the Dorothy Bray Endowed Professor of Science and Teaching in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. She has designed and implemented best-practice forms of school instruction to enhance students’ learning at the K–16 level. She has published pioneering research on such topics as conceptual change, the nature of expertise, learning from being tutored, and learning strategies.

An internationally renowned cognitive scientist who has been awarded at the highest levels, her contributions for which she has been awarded are not only transformative, but founding. She is regarded as one of the founding figures of modern learning science and has published 120 papers that garnered 48,000 citations.

A nominator said, “She has repeatedly identified phenomena that present the critical test of competing theories. This is extremely rare and the mark of the very finest scholars. A single time makes a career, and she has done it at least three times. Modern cognitive science would not be in the advanced state it is without her work of the past 40 years.” 

Another said she has “five papers that are seminal. I wish there was a Google index for percent of papers in a field that cite a given work — I suspect it would be stunning.”   

Chi was thrilled at the news.

"I am most honored to be named a Regents' Professor,” she said. “Recognition from one’s own university is most heartening and appreciated."

Chi's current work focuses on three strands. One is devoted to how to assess different ways of engaging students cognitively, using students’ overt actions as a measure of cognitive engagement. A second strand of her research is devoted to enhancing students’ understanding of complex processes that are typically taught in science classes. The third studies new ways to deliver digitally enhanced instruction, incorporating ways that can optimize student learning. Her research has been used in ASU’s design of its blended adaptive-active learning courses for general education.

Donald Fixico

ASU Professor

Donald Fixico

Fixico is the Distinguished Foundation Professor of History in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. He is among the foremost scholars in North American Indian history. Fixico’s scholarly achievements are remarked as monumental, including pioneering contributions to Native American ethno-history and oral history. Internationally recognized as an expert on indigenous studies, he has led national historical organizations. Further testimony to his preeminence, the Oxford University Press has selected Fixico for its major Indian history survey. His scholarly leadership achievements include the presidency of the Western Historical Association, one of the most prestigious appointments in historical studies.

Fixico created a knowledge base of the narratives that did not exist before his research. He has shown the importance of Indian oral traditions and Native perspectives in general as a necessary ingredient for the writing of not only Indian histories but American histories. His extensive research on the termination and relocation policies is regarded as the first place to begin any serious account of this critical period for American Indian peoples.

One reviewer wrote that “he is one of the three most prominent historians of Native America working in the academy today. ... Professor Fixico may in fact be the most accomplished of the three. … (He) has left an indelible mark not just on his own field but on American history as a whole.”

Fixico was pleasantly startled by the news.

"This was quite a surprise!” he said. “In fact, it was shocking news that made me feel honored that the Regents' Professor Committee, ASU administration and Regents recognized my work in the field of American Indian history and the West. I am grateful to the individuals who nominated me for this honor, and I still feel numb from the wonderful news of being named Regents' Professor."

One of his career goals has been to help people to gain a better understanding of American Indians from Native perspectives and U.S.-Indian treaties. 

“ASU has been very supportive of not only my work, but supportive of American Indian professors and Native students,” he said. “This year is a banner year. I served as the president of the Western History Association — the most important organization for my field — published my 15th book, and the WHA honored me with an annual book award: the Donald L. Fixico Award for the best book on presenting an indigenous perspective in the U.S. and Canada.”

Stewart Fotheringham

ASU Professor

Stewart Fotheringham

Fotheringham, a Foundation Professor of Computational Spatial Science in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, works at the triple junction of geographical information science, statistical analysis and spatial modeling. He has authored or co-authored 12 books, 36 book chapters and more than 100 research articles. In recognition of his contributions to science, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2013 and the UK Academy of Social Sciences. He also was awarded a Leverhulme Fellowship (the U.K. equivalent of a Guggenheim).

His crowning achievement is the development of a tool called geographically weighted regression. This tool is at the essence of geographical thinking and has been widely embraced by geographers and incorporated into commercial Geographical Information Systems software packages.

Of his many achievements, one reviewer said, “The significance of his work cannot be overstated. For example, these approaches have been implemented in a series of software platforms which are used by hundreds of thousands of scholars and practioners.”

Another said, “Stewart Fotheringham is, without doubt, one of the most renowned quantitative geographers of his generation — perhaps the most renowned.”

Fotheringham was delighted to be named as a Regents' Professor.

“It is an especially great honor given the number of brilliant people here at ASU,” he said.

Osvaldo Sala

ASU Professor

Osvaldo Sala

Sala is the Julie A. Wrigley Professor and Foundation Professor in the School of Life Sciences, as well as founding director of the Global Drylands Center at ASU. He has explored several topics throughout his career from the response of arid ecosystems to climate and land‐use change to global biodiversity scenarios for the next 50 years. His work has been truly interdisciplinary, collaborating with geologists, social scientists, mathematicians and humanists and using a variety of tools from experimentation to simulation modeling. He is best known for his experimental manipulations of drylands. Sala's research has had a substantial local as well as global impact. He has carried out many experiments around the world from Patagonia to the Kalahari, from the Loess Plateau in China to the Chihuahuan Desert.

His publications are among the most cited in the fields of ecology, sustainability and biology. He has more than 200 publications and 40,000 citations.

One reviewer wrote, “Dr. Sala’s service to the scientific community is extraordinary. He is considered a world expert in biodiversity in global terrestrial ecosystems. ... He is a scientist who has been at the frontiers of knowledge in ecology his whole career.”

A second reviewer explains his pioneering contributions: “Osvaldo’s contributions to our understanding of the controls on primary production in grasslands are without equal. …. Osvaldo also developed an experimental approach for studying the consequences of drought in grasslands. The science community has broadly adopted this experimental infrastructure. Indeed, his ‘Sala Shelters’ are integral to climate change studies in a wide variety of ecosystems worldwide.”

Sala said he cherishes the honor.

“I feel honored and humbled to be among ASU’s Regents' Professors who encompass excellence in so many fields of study,” he said. “My day-to-day work focuses on drylands that range from deserts to grasslands and savannas. I use field experimentation together with mathematical models in my quest to provide the necessary knowledge to achieve drylands sustainability, which is essential to achieve global sustainability.”

Being named Regents’ Professor is a triple distinction, Executive Vice President and University Provost Mark Searle said.

“Being named Regents’ Professor is not only a recognition of excellence by the Arizona Board of Regents and the university, it is a recognition by their peers in the field,” Searle said. “Their pioneering research and scholarly achievements go beyond elevating only their own work, but also that of their respective fields. We celebrate their great achievement.”

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Students reimagine ASU campus with designs that better reflect Native cultures

November 13, 2018

Their work is gathered into new book, 'Indigenous Placekeeping,' launched Tuesday evening at workshop

Arizona State University has more than 3,000 Native American students, and a group of them has created a powerful proposal to redesign the campus to reflect their culture. The ideas include adding pottery symbols to Sun Devil Stadium, building a “welcome wall” to include the languages of the 22 tribes in Arizona, and building a storytelling pavilion and gathering place.

The concepts came from six Native American students who took a studio course last year with Wanda Dalla Costa, Institute Professor in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Dalla Costa said that when she came to ASU three years ago to teach construction management, she didn’t see any Native American representation.

“To be honest, I looked around and said, ‘Where are the historical markers of the people who lived in this place?’ I could only see them when I drive on the highways,” she said.

So the students worked on ways to use design to bring representation to the campus and came up with 16 proposals. Their work, and Dalla Costa’s ethic of “design sovereignty,” has been gathered into a new book, titled “Indigenous Placekeeping: Campus Design + Planning.”

Dalla Costa, a member of the Saddle Lake First Nation in Alberta, Canada, and the first First Nations woman to become an architect in Canada, believes that local communities should control the design practice.

“The community has to drive the priorities, and they should also drive the process,” she said.

Dalla Costa and the students held a design workshop on Tuesday evening to unveil the new book and to engage the community in their ideas. The event was part of Native American Heritage Month, co-sponsored by ASU Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. The original studio course was sponsored by the Office of the President and the Office of American Indian Initiatives.

professor with group of students, one of who is holding a book

From left: Brian Skeet, Rhonda Harvey, Institute Professor Wanda Dalla Costa, Lauren Slim and Selina Martinez stand with their book, "Indigenous Placekeeping: Campus Design + Planning" during a design workshop held Tuesday to unveil the new book and to engage the community in their ideas. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Several of the students’ designs incorporated imagery of the map of canals created by the Hohokam Indians, which led to the creation of Phoenix. The map is on the cover of the book as well.

“This is the most important aspect of the city. The canals still exist,” Dalla Costa said.

“The Hohokam people used sticks to dig canals to bring water. They are the original placemakers.”

Among the 16 projects is an idea by architecture student Selina Martinez, a Pascua Yaqui tribe member, to embed the canal map in the glass façade of the Arizona Room in Hayden Library, which is currently being renovated.

Other concepts by the class included having Native artists paint murals on campus, adding multi-lingual signage using local indigenous languages and transforming existing walkways into interpretive artworks.

Lauren Slim, a landscape architecture graduate student, proposed a “welcome wall,” which would include a phrase of welcome from each of the 22 tribes in Arizona.

“It’s super simple and super feasible,” said Slim, who is Navajo.

Brian Skeet, a Navajo student who is majoring in industrial design, proposed a multi-level structure based on the traditional maze design. Each level would be dedicated to a different activity, including congregation, rejuvenation and celebration. 

“This is basically where people can come and feel like they’re at home,” he said.

“It’s inspired by the maze because it’s about your journey through life. With each level, you’re going through different phases of life.”

Rhonda Harvey, a graduate student in urban planning and architecture, proposed a storytelling pavilion gathering space, which would look like a basket and from above would look like a rug.

“It’s inspired by Navajo rug weaving, which is one of the ways tribes tell stories,” said Harvey, who is Navajo.

“I wanted to do an outside space to emphasize the relationship with nature and keep it grounded.”

professor and student hugging

Rhonda Harvey, an ASU graduate student studying architecture and urban planning, gives a teary-eyed hug to Professor Wanda Dalla Costa at the "Indigenous Placekeeping" event Tuesday in Tempe. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Not all of the proposals were visual. Ravenna Curley, an industrial design student and Navajo, reworked ASU’s design aspirations into “Indigenizing ASU’s Design Aspirations,” to be used to rework degree programs and coursework to incorporate indigenous cultures.

“I had a hard time finding my place at ASU. It was a whole culture shock coming from the rez,” she said.

For example, the design aspiration “leveraging our place” becomes “Acknowledging local people of this land and recognizing that this campus is on indigenous lands included on all course syllabi.”

“This is Native land,” Curley said, “and we don’t acknowledge it anywhere on campus, and that’s kind of sad.”

To buy a hard copy or online version of “Indigenous Placekeeping: Campus Design + Planning,” contact Dalla Costa at

Top photo: Selina Martinez, an ASU graduate student studying architecture, speaks Tuesday evening about her design for creating a more inclusive space for indigenous students on the ASU Tempe campus. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now