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Nevertheless she persisted ...

August 23, 2019

ASU scholars weigh in on women's suffrage, 19th Amendment 100 years later

19th Amendment document

19th Amendment Resolution. Courtesy of National Archives General Records

After 304 votes in the House of Representatives, 56 votes in the Senate, 36 state endorsements and one more declaration to put it into effect, the 19th Amendment — the proclamation that gave American female citizens the right to vote in all elections — took its place in the U.S. Constitution on Aug. 26, 1920, almost 99 years ago today.

You’ve come a long way, ladies — and longer still if you consider what came before and after the passage of the amendment. 

In a yearlong series in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of Amendment XIX in 2020, ASU Now is exploring the history of the women’s suffrage movement, its influences and its influencers, through the study and practice of scholars at Arizona State University. Follow along on Twitter — @asunews — all year as we share quotes, characters and historical tidbits from the long road to the vote.

Below, peppered with historical quotes from activists, ASU researchers discuss the challenges faced both externally and internally within the women's movement, as competing priorities led to fractures and additional obstacles. History is rarely simple.


"All the nations of the earth are crying out for liberty and equality, Away, away with tyranny and oppression!" — Maria Stewart (teacher, journalist, abolitionist, women’s rights activist)

“The history of the United States has been a struggle for the right to vote,” said Stanlie James, professor of African and African American studies in ASU’s School of Social Transformation. From pre-Civil War abolitionists to present-day reformists, James says people have been arguing about who has the right to vote since the promulgation of the U.S. Constitution. And although unified in the purpose of including women’s voices in the votes that have decided leadership and helped to shape the country, the suffrage movement itself was not without debate — either before the passage of the amendment, or after.  

“The suffrage movement is intertwined in other forms of collective action such as the movement to abolish slavery, the labor struggles of working girls in the textile mills, and creation of benevolent societies to assist the poor,” said Mary Margaret Fonow, professor of women and gender studies in the School of Social Transformation. But although the strategies, tactics and organizational forms of these various movements and campaigns may have influenced each other for the betterment of their causes, Fonow says societal divisions in race and class among these groups presented extreme challenges in the long history of the women’s movement.  

“It is a cause of astonishment to us that you white women are only now, in this 20th century, claiming what has been the Indian woman’s privilege as far back as history traces”Laura Cornelius Kellogg (Oneida leader, author, activist)

Laura Cornelius Kellogg

Laura Cornelius Kellogg. Courtesy of Quarterly Journal of the Society of American Indians/Wikimedia Commons

“What makes the 19th Amendment so interesting to me is that Native Americans as a people didn’t win the right to vote until 1924 — four years after the amendment was adopted into the Constitution,” said Angela Gonzales, whose research includes indigenous studies and women and gender studies in the School of Social Transformation. At the height of the women’s suffrage movement, Native American women were more inclined to focus on group rights, according to Gonzales. But that did not hinder intellectuals such as Laura Cornelius Kellogg and Marie Louise Baldwin from publicly supporting the women’s movement as well. 

“A number of Native American women came from societies where women were not marginalized as were women in the mainstream,” says K. Tsianina Lomawaima, a professor of justice and social inquiry in the School of Social Transformation and the Center for Indian Education. So, to many like Cornelius Kellogg, a member of the matrilineal Oneida Nation, the mainstream women’s movement was looked upon with some amazement. Women’s rights and responsibilities, according to Lomawaima, were not new ideas for many Native American women.  

“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” ― Ida B. Wells-Barnett (journalist, educator, civil rights activist, suffragist)

African American women also presented perspective in the campaign for women’s rights that, although rooted in antislavery efforts, began to divide black and white women at the introduction of the 15th Amendment in 1870. After an energizing show of unity at the first women’s rights convention 22 years earlier in Seneca Falls, New York, the suffrage movement splintered over the amendment that would enfranchise black men the right to vote — but not women of any race. The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA), formed by abolitionist and reformer Lucy Stone and her husband Henry Brown Blackwell, supported the 15th Amendment. The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA), founded by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, opposed it — unless it included women. It did not. And so began the rift that would move women to take sides in a debate that would, much later, challenge ideas of inclusion, intersectionality and political expediency in academic studies.     

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

According to Fonow, abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth became an early example of the role black women would play as “bridge leaders between the women’s movement and the civil rights movement” through her work with the rival women’s suffrage groups, which were still largely composed of white women. But the anti-lynching campaigns inspired by the work of journalist and suffragist Ida B. Wells-Barnett would soon become a signature form of black women’s collective action and highlight the differences in agenda and priorities between black and white women in the women’s suffrage movement.

There were other pressing priorities for black women as well.

James says black women’s reasons for wanting the vote were oriented around a feeling of responsibility to take care of the black community and the necessity of protecting their “honor” against rampant occurrences of discrimination and sexual abuse by white men. For black women, James says having the vote would mean they could participate in the process of selecting the officers running their towns and act on opportunities to serve on juries. 

“We ask only for justice and equal rights — the right to vote, the right to our own earnings, equality before the law.” — Lucy Stone (abolitionist, orator, suffragist)

Flashes of progress came in the midst of the long struggle when a handful of frontier states gave way to women’s suffrage. Wyoming led the way in 1869, enfranchising women in the territory. And in 1870 Louisa Ann Swain of Laramie, Wyoming, earned the distinction of becoming the first woman in the United States to cast a vote in a general election. Utah followed Wyoming in granting women suffrage. Colorado and Idaho were also among the states that granted women suffrage in the late 19th century.

Lucy Stone - Suffragist

Lucy Stone. Courtesy of Library of Congress

On the global level, New Zealand became the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote in 1893. Ten more countries would grant women suffrage before the 19th Amendment was ratified in the United States in 1920. Many more would follow, with Saudi Arabia becoming the latest country to grant women suffrage in 2011.

Challenges persisted, however, even with the 19th Amendment fully anchored in the U.S. Constitution. It took almost 40 years after the passage of the Snyder Act in 1924 for all 50 states in the United States to recognize Native Americans as full citizensNew Mexico was the last state to enfranchise Native Americans in 1962 and therefore eligible to vote. It would take another three years, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, for Native Americans, African Americans and other disenfranchised groups to fully exercise their legal right to vote under the protection of the federal law that sought to end discrimination and violence against people of color at the polls. 

But even today, activists and civil rights groups continue to fight voting laws perceived as discriminatory.

"I know nothing of man's rights, or woman's rights; human rights are all that I recognize." — Sarah Moore Grimke (abolitionist, writer, suffragist)

“Suffrage was neither the beginning nor the end of women’s collective action,” said Fonow. She says women’s activism has since taken on different forms, pointing to numerous examples of women participating in political parties, working to end segregation and fighting for equal access to education and for equal pay. “It is a myth that winning the vote was the end of women’s activism,” Fonow said. The proof is at the polls. 

While critics were quick to pounce on reports of a low voter turnout for women in the first presidential election after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, subsequent history would begin to silence the naysayers. Just 36% of women cast a ballot in 1920 after a hard-fought battle that brought out 68% of men at the time. Almost a century later, the number of female voters has grown exponentially with a recent study showing voter turnouts for women had “equaled or exceeded” voter turnouts for men in recent elections.

Follow ASU Now on Twitter all year for more on the history of the 19th Amendment and the movement that made it happen. Top photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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Origins of world’s first cure for Ebola had roots at ASU

August 21, 2019

High-risk, creative plant-based therapeutic program led to discovery of Ebola antidote

Recently, dramatic news came out of Africa concerning Ebola, one of the world’s deadliest and most feared diseases. New drugs can overcome the virus and save lives.

Health officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced that four antidotes — including one first developed by Arizona State University and its commercial partners — had been tested in the largest Ebola clinical trial to date. The trial proved so successful, it was ended early to make the best performing antidotes widely available for the ongoing Ebola crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

This is the first time that dramatic evidence has been obtained to show improved survival rates in people who had already been infected by the deadly virus. The trial also showed that the earlier health care workers can administer the antidotes after an Ebola infection, the more potential lives can be saved. This included survival rates as high as 96% for one particular antidote.

Planting the roots of discovery

The WHO trial in the DRC began last November. One of the drugs that served as the “control” was ZMapp, which had its discovery origin in work by ASU scientist Charles Arntzen in a collaboration with San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical and Kentucky Bioprocessing.

The roots of the amazing Ebola cure can be traced back to Charles Arntzen’s groundbreaking research center at ASU’s Biodesign Institute, where he also served as the founding director. Arntzen, who retired from ASU in 2017, had worked closely for several years with Mapp Biopharmaceutical on the idea of plant-based therapeutics to fight infectious diseases, which are still the world’s No. 1 killer.

After 9/11 and the 2001 anthrax attack in the U.S. Senate office building, the government invested heavily in biodefense, including $3.7 million in 2002 to Arntzen and a small San Diego-based startup called Mapp Biopharmaceutical, led by Larry Zeitlin and Kevin Whaley.

“We had proposed to the U.S. Army that plants (specifically tobacco) could be used for rapid production of vaccines or monoclonal antibodies that might be necessary to protect us from bioterrorism. This was shortly after terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon in 2001, and the use of anthrax spores for a bioterror attack in the U.S. Senate building; funding for countermeasures was quickly becoming available.”

The goal was to develop defenses against pathogens, including Ebola, that could be used to thwart potential bioterrorist attacks using infectious agents.

“I think the real gain is from all of the money that was invested early on. It takes a long time to build up that core competency that is necessary for drug development,” Arntzen said. “This has happened for both vaccines and therapeutics in academia and companies. We should give credit to funding agencies like DARPA and NIH for giving us the tools that we need.”

Such an endeavor was true to the spirit and mission of the newly formed ASU Biodesign Institute.

George Poste, who succeeded Arntzen as director of the Biodesign Institute and has extensive experience in combating global infectious disease, commented, “Arntzen’s research emphasizes the importance of strong national defense spending on global health and preparedness against constantly emerging new infections such as Ebola, Zika, SARS and MERS."  

Using nature as inspiration, Biodesign Institute scientists have taken on major world problems and solved them using highly creative, multidisciplinary teams and formed spinouts or partnered with companies to rapidly move these ideas to the marketplace.

With a dream team of collaborators, Arntzen’s team created a “molecular toolbox” to transform tobacco plants into biological factories. Within three years after proposing this very novel concept to U.S. Army collaborators, the team achieved production of anti-Ebola monoclonal antibodies. Three antibodies with high levels of virus inactivation were including in the Ebola antidote called ZMapp.

“We’ve been teaming together manufacturing innovation, tobacco engineering innovation, our virus work and antibody discovery,” Arntzen said. “Just in the development of ZMapp, I’m guessing there were as many as 100 different people with many different skills who came together.”

After a decade of hard work, sweat and trial-and-error experiments, they made steady progress. Back-to-back ASU/Mapp publications in 2011 described their first success in protecting animals from Ebola infection using plant-made vaccines or antibodies. In work published in 2014, the ZMapp therapeutic cocktail proved to be 100% effective in protecting animals against Ebola, even five days after onset of infection.

After their success in the animal studies, they imagined it would take at least another 5-7 years to do the necessary human clinical trials and gain FDA approval for any widespread human use.

Poste said that “this success in developing effective treatments for Ebola illustrates the complexity of the process of translating innovation from the laboratory to clinical benefit which requires integration of diverse scientific and clinical skills and investment of hundreds of millions of dollars”.

A day that changed the world

Then Aug. 4, 2014, turned into a day that astounded Arntzen.

During the height of the Ebola outbreak, two American missionaries became infected. Physician Kent Brantly and health care worker Nancy Writebol, both near death and desperate for help, became the first people to receive ZMapp, knowing full well that it had never been tested — for safety or effectiveness — in humans before.

“I opened an email from Larry Zeitlin on this morning in August. It was a short message that alerted me to the fact that ZMapp had been used to treat two missionaries in Liberia, and they were recovering from severe Ebola infection.”

“By that afternoon, the newswires were alive with stories with titles such as ‘Secret serum likely saved Ebola patients.’ It was hardly a secret to Larry and me, or our colleagues who had been working for over a decade on finding a life-saving Ebola therapeutic.”

It seems ironic that ZMapp is a serum extracted from tobacco — a plant with a notorious reputation as a killer. The pathway from discovery to treatment began with an idea Arntzen had to produce low-cost vaccines in plants to fight devastating infectious diseases in the developing world. It was one of those outside-the-box ideas that turned into a career-crowning achievement for Arntzen, and an excellent example of success in an academic, federal and industry collaboration. 

“What can happen in biology, rarely but wonderfully when it does, is the application of some aspect of research in a way that saves lives,” Arntzen said when he reflected on the events upon his retirement.

It was like a climactic scene out of a sci-fi movie. Within 24 hours after taking ZMapp, Brantly went from death’s door to walking again, and both Writebol and Brantly fully recovered.

“On Aug. 4, in 2014, I was amazed and delighted,” Arntzen said. “We were able to draw a straight line from a hypothesis to a dramatic outcome, which had happened in just over a decade. Such an occurance is rare for a biological scientist like me. I'm still amazed but delighted.”

No one was more moved than Kent Brantly. With a second chance at life, and after five years of a “spiritual and emotional recovery,” he’s now returning to Africa as a medical missionary.

“Since my recovery, I've had the chance to learn the miraculous history of this drug's development,” Brantly said. “I'm grateful for the role the Biodesign Institute at ASU has played in the discovery process and in forging ties to industry collaborators who translated new ideas into the product that I received.”

Thwarting an ever-alarming epidemic

The Ebola epidemic forever changed the way WHO would handle future epidemics. At the height of the epidemic, ZMapp was rolled out for "compassionate use" which allows for the use of an unlicensed drug as a last resort when no other options are available, but only with governmental authorization. Because ZMapp was still in development at the height of the epidemic, the handful of experimental doses quickly ran out. All told, the West African epidemic of 2014-16 affected 28,616 people, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. With no hope or cure available, about 11,310 people died during the largest Ebola outbreak ever witnessed.

An Ebola clinical trial using newly manufactured ZMapp and other antidotes was started near the end of the West African Ebola outbreak, but it failed to reach a definite result before the outbreak ended. Without incidence of disease, there was no way to test drug efficacy.  But, U.S. governmental agencies began to stockpile ZMapp in case the disease re-emerged.

“The re-emergence of Ebola in West Africa, and more recently in the ongoing epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo highlights the need for constant vigilance in global public health. Earlier detection saves lives by mobilizing quarantine and treatment responses," Poste said. "For many emerging infectious diseases, no treatments are available or are rendered ineffective by the development of drug resistance. At least for Ebola, these clinical trials provide a much-needed treatment. The next challenge will be to monitor if Ebola develops resistance to the monoclonal antibodies in the same way that the world at large is now facing a growing problem with bacterial resistance to antibiotics."

An outbreak in eastern DRC began in August 2018 and is the second-largest of the 10 to hit the country since 1976, when Ebola was first discovered. What made the latest outbreak more alarming was news that Ebola, for the first time, was spreading to big city populations.

This time, the world is much better prepared for the Ebola virus. There has been remarkable progress made toward developing an Ebola vaccine, which has been shown to be 99% effective. The first vaccine made by the drug company Merck was successfully deployed in Guinea in 2015.

More than 160,000 people have received it to date.

No cure after exposure

But for those who haven’t been vaccinated, until now, there was little hope and no cure after infection. Not everybody is vaccinated. The vaccine has been reserved for only those who come into direct contact with an Ebola patient and their families. And some people simply refused to take it.

According to the WHO, as of Aug. 6, 2019, a total of 2,781 Ebola cases have been reported in this most recent DRC epidemic. Of these, 1,866 people have died (with an overall fatality rate of 67%). Of the total confirmed and probable cases, 56% (1,572) were female, and 28% (791) were children younger than 18 years old.

Last November, the WHO and NIH began a new clinical trial to test the newest available Ebola antidotes in the DRC. The clinical trial used ZMapp as the control drug, and compared it to three different drugs, including two newer drugs based on the ZMapp concept.

ZMapp is a cocktail made up of three monoclonal antibodies, Y-shaped proteins in the body that can recognize the specific spiky shapes on the outer shell of the Ebola virus and then recruit immune cells to attack it.

The goal of the trial was to compare ZMapp with newer formulations based on the same principle.

The drug mAb114 was developed using antibodies harvested from survivors of Ebola while REGN-EB3, like ZMapp, is a cocktail of antibodies which specifically target the Ebola virus to inactivate it. A broad-spectrum antiviral compound, remdesivir, was the fourth drug tested in the trial.

Since the start of the recent clinical trial, the four experimental drugs have been tested on around 700 patients, with the preliminary results from the first 499 now known. There were only limited and preliminary data available at this point, but they showed mortality rates of 49% in people treated with ZMapp, 53% in those who received remdesivir, 34% in people treated with mAb114, and 29% for people who received the Regeneron cocktail (compared with 2 out of 3 people, or 67%, who die if not treated).

The results were most striking for patients who received treatments soon after first becoming sick with Ebola symptoms. In this instance, death rates dropped to 11% with mAb114 and just 6% with Regeneron’s drug, compared with 24% with ZMapp and 33% with remdesivir.

As a result of the trial, the WHO and NIH agreed that all Ebola treatment units in the DRC outbreak zone will move forward, administering the two most effective monoclonal antibody drugs, the NIH’s mAB114 and Regeneron.

Does the trial spell the end of ZMapp as an Ebola therapeutic? Not necessarily. Clinical trials using naturally infected individuals in settings with minimal health care facilities are complex. U.S. government agencies are continuing their funding support of more extensive ZMapp testing, including studies to find optimal dosages of the drug. 

Drug development is inherently complex, and fighting to find treatments to a disease that moves and shifts will require continued adaptation. 

Will Ebola fight back?

While the world rightfully celebrated the first known cures of Ebola after infection, the scientific community knows that the Ebola threat is not over. And there are closely related viruses, such as Marburg virus, which are lurking in nature.

Because Ebola is a large RNA virus that has the ability to mutate and potentially change its response to drugs, the ZMapp and REGN-EB3 drugs were designed as a three-antibody cocktail approach. This builds redundancy into the drug, so that a viral mutation which could lead to resistance to one antibody still leaves two other parts of the cocktail to work. This design is part of the original research concept introduced by Arntzen and Mapp as an Ebola treatment strategy.

Think of it like the flu, where different strains emerge every year, which may affect people’s health differently, and the yearly flu shot formulation may be more or less effective.  

With Ebola, despite the amazing success of the clinical trial, all the antidotes tested so far during the latest clinical trial are targeting only a single type of Ebola virus (the Zaire strain, which caused both the recent West African and DRC epidemics).  

Mapp Biopharmaceuticals is currently designing new antibody-based drugs against the other two known strains which have caused outbreaks, the Sudan and Bundibugyo virus (there are five known species of Ebola virus) and to Marburg Virus. These efforts are building upon the original ASU-Mapp collaboration that lead to ZMapp.

And so, Arntzen has passed the baton to the next generation of ASU scientists, who are laying new groundwork.

Arntzen's longstanding ASU research team, which includes Tsafrir Mor, Hugh Mason, Qiang “Shawn” Chen and many others, have pioneered the production of pharmacologically active products in plants (principally tobacco), both to overcome health constraints in the developing world as well as the use of plant biotechnology for enhancement of food quality and value.

“Most scientists only plow in one plot,” Mor said. “Few transcend the disciplines as Charlie Arntzen did.”

Together, the team will carry on Arntzen’s quest for life saving drugs to pursue plant-based vaccines and therapeutics to combat West Nile virus, dengue fever, nerve agents and even cancer.

Their efforts have explored the possibility of plant-based anticancer agents, therapeutic agents to protect populations from bioterror threats, proteins to combat rabies, plant-derived vaccines against Hepatitis C, noroviruses and many infectious diseases.

Meanwhile, the creative folks at Mapp and elsewhere have not rested on their laurels, because they know Ebola doesn’t either. Mapp’s latest cocktail, called MBP134, is the first experimental treatment to protect animals from all known strains of the Ebola virus (formerly known as Ebola Zaire), as well as Sudan virus and Bundibugyo virus.  

There hope is that it could lead to a broadly effective therapeutic, should another epidemic ever occur.

But now, there is pause for celebration, joy and greater hope than ever, as the best scientific minds around the world have in their arsenal, for the first time, new Ebola vaccines and cures.

“I am sure all of us who participated even in some small part of ZMapp development remain amazed that in only 12 years, this project could go from a hypothesis to a drug,” Arntzen said. "We are also amazed this happened with modest monetary support — only a fraction of what is normally spent on development of a new drug in the pharmaceutical industry.”

Joe Caspermeyer

Manager (natural sciences) , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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ASU prof on how an engaged civil society can prevent the erosion of democracy

August 16, 2019

In recent years, political scientists across the globe have taken note of an alarming rise in the number of populist candidates in democratic elections. This summer in the Czech Republic, more than a quarter-million people assembled in Prague’s Letna Park to call for the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babis, a move that Arizona State University School of Politics and Global Studies Associate Professor Lenka Bustikova and colleagues wrote in a Washington Post Monkey Cage article sought to defend liberal democracy against a populist political approach that threatens to undermine it.

Bustikova co-wrote the article “Czech protesters are trying to defend democracy, 30 years after the Velvet Revolution. Can they succeed?” along with Petra Guasti, interim professor at the Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany, and a 2018-2019 Democracy Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation; and Michael Bernhard, a professor of political science at the University of Florida.

In particular, the article explores technocratic populism and how social movements like the demonstration in Letna Park have the power to protect liberal democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

“Technocratic populism is an understudied form of populism that is a sophisticated threat to liberal democracy in many places around the world,” said Bustikova, whose research focuses on party politics, voting behavior, clientelism and state capacity, with special reference to Eastern Europe.

“Civil society and demonstration do not and cannot replace political parties and elections,” she added, but “what they can do … is increase pressure on elected representatives to act responsively.”

ASU Now asked Bustikova and Guasti to share more of their insights on populism, how it threatens democracy and what can be done about it.

(Editor’s note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.)

headshot of ASU professor

Lenka Bustikova

Question: The general definition of populism (a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups) doesn't sound that bad. So when does it become a problem, and how can populism undermine democracy?

Answer: Populism can undermine democracy in multiple ways:

1) Populist leaders create a direct relationship between themselves and the “people” — the electorate. This direct relationship bypasses traditional institutions of representative democracy, such as political parties and intermediary institutions of representations. These institutions constrain political leaders and create a system of checks and balances. Populism dissolves them.

2) Populism embraces majoritarianism — the majority will of the “people.” As such, it suppresses plurality and minority voices in politics. Populism is compatible with majoritarian democracy, but it is not compatible with liberal democracy. Liberal democracy protects minority voices in politics and policymaking.

3) Populism can have many forms. Some populism(s) polarize the electorate. Polarization diminishes the ability of political representatives to seek compromise. Populism that uses nativism and xenophobia is especially polarizing. It hollows out the moderate center.

4) Populism’s three primary forms are nativism, economic populism and technocratic populism. Each form of populism represents a different problem for democracy. Nativism is exclusionary — hostile to migrants and minorities. Economic populism expresses intense hostility to economic differences. Technocratic populism glorifies simple life and offers the ideology of economic efficiency and technocratic solutions. Technocratic populism is not a rule by efficient technocrats, but a strategy to delegitimize traditional political parties and civil society. Me and my co-authors describe this form in the Washington Post Monkey Cage article, and Petra Guasti and I explore it further in our paper “The State as a Firm: Understanding the Autocratic Roots of Technocratic Populism.” Technocratic populism is an understudied form of populism that is a sophisticated threat to liberal democracy in many places around the world, and therefore merits further attention and comparative analysis.

Q: Why are populist candidates appealing to some voters?

A: In the era of globalization, all advanced industrial democracies are subject to uncertainty, which transforms fear into resentment against the “other,” often drawing on negative emotions linked to historical stereotypes. Populism offers hope: “that where established parties and elites have failed, ordinary folks, common sense, and the politicians who give them a voice can find solutions” (Spruyt, Keppens and Van Droogenbroeck, 2016). Therefore, traditionally egalitarian countries in northern and central Europe are just as prone to populist appeals as societies that experience economic divisions.

Q: What parallels are there between the current state of politics in the Czech Republic, the U.S. and other countries? Is democracy in danger?

A: Democracy, defined as liberal pluralism, is under stress worldwide. Liberal democracy is built on democratic institutions and engaged citizens with shared democratic values. Pluralistic democratic institutions, free press, civil society and the rule of law are under attack. The culprits, however, are not anti-democratic forces that want a regime change (which often involves military coups and crude electoral fraud). Instead, as Nancy BermeoNancy Bermeo is an American political scientist and professor and Nuffield Chair of Comparative Politics at Nuffield College, University of Oxford. argues, the changes are incremental — elected leaders who seek to aggrandize executive powers undercut democratic institutions (judicial autonomy, media freedom, transparency in elections). By attacking the press and civil society, they seek to limit accountability to pursue their agenda. Populists in power seek to limit the ability of citizens to demand that elected representatives act responsibly and responsively. Therefore, democracies are not endangered by reversals, but by hollowing out — erosion and decay — while preserving the facade of electoral democracies.

Q: What accounts for the apparent rise in populism globally?

A: It is tempting to associate the rise of populism with the global economic crisis. Economic anxiety can lead to the destabilization of political systems and prompt voters to punish parties by opting for anti-establishment, populist challengers (Hawkins, Read and Pauwels, 2017). However, with the data in hand, we can say that while economic crises certainly fueled the rise of populism, it is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for it. Populism is associated with: 1) growing uncertainty connected but not limited to changes in labor and globalization (ie; the gig economy, automation, etc.), and 2) changes in societal relations (i.e., emancipation of women and minorities) that generate grievances among large segments of society — in particular white males and the working class — who face increased uncertainty about maintaining and reproducing their social status.

Q: What evidence do we have that demonstrations can prevent the erosion of democracy? Why/how do they work?

A: What prevents democratic erosion are not demonstrations per se. Large-scale demonstrations that are called to protect liberal democracy, the rule of law and human rights are an expression of a robust civil society. Protests signal that civil society is able to mobilize significant segments of the population. This increases pressure from below on elected officials and expands horizontal accountability. Civil society and demonstration do not and cannot replace political parties and elections. What they can do, however, is increase pressure on elected representatives to act responsively.

Q: How can we ensure an active and engaged civil society?

A: Civil society is an autonomous sphere outside the state, business and private life. As Robert Putnam, in his seminal piece “Making Democracy Work,” puts it: Civil society is crucial for the fabric of democracy, as it is a place where shared values, trust and social capital are built. For Jurgen HabermasJurgen Habermas is a German philosopher and sociologist in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism, best known for his theories on communicative rationality and the public sphere., civil society is a precondition for political society — space where rational will-formation takes place.

In a democracy, civil society is a watchdog of the political sphere, ready to challenge the authority of elected officeholders and public servants if they do not act responsively and ethically. The survival of any political system depends on legitimacy — on the acceptance of the rulers by the ruled. An active civil society depends on active, engaged citizens committed to liberal democracy. Citizens who care about norms and values need to be willing to organize, stand up to power and use their voice to express discontent and hold elected representatives to high moral standards.

Top photo: Protest in Prague's Letna Park against Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis on June 23. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Learning and teaching in Guatemala

Global health student’s field school experience yielded practical insights for her future career

August 14, 2019

Undergraduate global health student Mariyah Dreza spent her summer researching mental health in Guatemala and along the way had the opportunity to speak to an audience of local undergraduate students.

After receiving a competitive Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, Dreza chose to attend the Guatemala: Community Health and Medical Anthropology field school led by Arizona State University's School of Human Evolution and Social Change. photo of Dreza giving presentation at Universidad del Valle Mariyah Dreza. Download Full Image

This year, Dreza and other students came up with research questions, designed surveys and conducted interviews with more than 60 women to determine their perceptions of mental health, which can help inform local health organizations’ goals.

Through her scholarship, the American Spaces office — part of a U.S. Department of State program that provides places for people to learn about American culture — heard about Dreza and invited her to give guest lectures at two cultural anthropology courses at the Universidad del Valle. Despite feeling nervous, she spoke to a large crowd of students there about her research experience and answered their questions about anthropological methods.

“This type of interaction between undergraduate students is incredibly valuable,” said Associate Professor Jonathan Maupin, the field school’s lead. “We hope to have more opportunities like this in the future.”

Dreza shared more with ASU Now about this immersive field school experience.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: What inspired you to study global health?

Answer: I really love that global health is well rounded and recognizes how extensive the discipline of health is. I was also interested in the field study with Associate Professor Maupin because it was more research focused, and ultimately research is what drives global health programs and steers proper health care and program development.

photo of Dreza kayaking on lake in Guatemala

Dreza kayaking on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Mariyah Dreza.

Q: What was your role in this onsite ethnographic research? What skills did you learn?

A: Maupin was researching the community of Acatenango and that community's perceptions of mental health and mental illness. Our role was to conduct in-home interviews with women, which involved reading them stories about a person with clinical symptoms of different mental illnesses.

We asked what they believed to be happening to the person in the story, and if they thought that person had a mental illness. We asked them about how probable were different possible reasons for the illness, such as: their own bad behavior, genetics, circumstances in their life, the way they were raised, God's will, things like that. We learned a lot about the methods behind research.

We also measured social distance, which was the most interesting to me. We asked questions such as how willing they would be to be neighbors with someone like the person in the story, to rent a room with them, to work with them, to have their daughter marry someone like them. So far, it looks as though alcoholism is the most readily recognized, and people tend to answer with keeping the most distance from that hypothetical person. 

Q: What was your most memorable moment from the field school?

A: Maupin is actually the vice president of the nonprofit ALDEA that focuses on empowering vulnerable Mayan communities. Our very last day of the program, we were able to come along for a board meeting, where we visited a Mayan community to see firsthand the progress going on there.

Some of the houses finally had stoves, compared to the open-fire cooking they previously had. Picture 39 parts per million carbon monoxide exposure to women and children, down to three parts per million. There were also family gardens, and goats had been distributed to families with toddlers so that they had access to goat milk and more nutrition. It was great to see global health concepts in action.

Q: What was your greatest challenge during the program?

A: I think the hardest part was learning all about Guatemala. They have a long history of violence, a 36-year-long civil war that barely ended in 1996, where more than 200,000 people died. Now, almost half of the population lives in poverty. It wasn't unsafe while we were visiting, and the culture is incredibly hardworking and beautiful. But definitely a bit of culture shock came with being aware of their history.

Q: What was it like to give a presentation at Guatemala City’s Universidad del Valle?

A: I got a call that I would be giving a presentation to two anthropology classes at Universidad del Valle to approximately 60 college students. It was a Tuesday afternoon and this presentation would be on that Thursday morning. Needless to say, I was pretty terrified. But I was able to do most of the presentation in English, which was a relief. 

I didn't feel very comfortable about giving the presentation, and in all honesty I wasn't sure if I could do it. But it seemed like one of those moments in life that's sort of a turning point, and that you're supposed to push through. In the end, it actually went pretty smoothly, given the short notice!

Q: What did you and Maupin discuss?

A: I talked about the methods of the study and my role in the ethnographic research. Basically, I went through why Maupin was interested on their perceptions of mental health, what previous research our study was based off of, the questions we asked and our preliminary observations. The main question is: Is mental health a cultural construct, and then to what extent are mental illnesses universal? Then Maupin finished up with answering questions and discussing his past research in Guatemala.

Q: How did this experience impact you long-term?

A: I'm planning to be an optometrist, and my main goal is to ultimately work in developing countries or low-resource settings and deliver eye care where there would otherwise be less access. I could see myself in the future utilizing both my global health degree and this field study experience towards researching barriers to eye care.

This is just one of the many experiences offered through the ASU Study Abroad Office, which has 250-plus programs in more than 65 different countries.

Top photo: Dreza giving a presentation to an anthropology class at Guatemala's Universidad del Valle. Photo courtesy of Mariyah Dreza.

Mikala Kass

Editorial Communications Coordinator, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


Ramona Melikian envisions a new era of global engagement at ASU's Melikian Center

August 14, 2019

Ramona Melikian was born into a global family. 

Her grandparents were Armenians uprooted by the 1915 Armenian Genocide who fled to Russia, Iran and finally, New York. Her parents, Gregory and Emma Melikian, married in New York and came to Arizona with legacies of their own. Ramona Melikian at her home in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Ramona Melikian will take the helm as president of the Melikian Center's advisory board this December. Photo by Alisa Reznick Download Full Image

Gregory is a World War II veteran famous for being the radio operator who sent the coded message announcing Germany’s surrender to the world. He and Emma were active in civic and cultural work while raising Ramona and her three brothers in Phoenix.

Ramona said at first her international background made her feel like an outsider. But as she got older, she began to see it as an opportunity.  

“Living in Arizona was really a cultural transition for us; we were a family of immigrants with this crazy Armenian food that my friends didn’t recognize, sometimes it was really challenging feeling like you weren’t like all the other kids,” she said. “I didn’t know then, but it turned out to be great training for us to really see the importance of cultural diversity and understanding." 

Ramona honed that sentiment as an adult, working as a corporate programs coordinator at the Council On Foreign Relations in New York and moving into consulting for Fortune Global 500 companies in California. 

Back in Arizona, her parents sought to help a new generation engage with the world at Arizona State University. They created the Melikian Fund to support Armenian language and culture studies in 2001. Five years later, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Russian and East European Studies Center was renamed after the family in recognition of a $1 million contribution they put toward the center’s growth.

Over a decade later, the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies offers language and culture courses in lesser-taught dialects including Albanian, Macedonian and Armenian through its internationally recognized Critical Languages Institute. It hosts some 140 students, conducts language programs with ASU ROTC and serves as a research platform for scholars from around the world. 

Ramona returned from California to Arizona in 2017 and now serves as the president-elect of the center’s advisory board. She sees the role as a chance to expand the center’s reach, while preserving her own family history.

Ramona shows a wall tapestry from one of her family's global destinations.

Ramona shows a wall tapestry her family collected while spending time in Europe. Photo by Alisa Reznick 

“The Council on Foreign Relations offered a wonderful forum to see dignitaries coming together to discuss foreign policy and share their culture with the hopes of achieving global understanding — I think the Melikian Center offers a similar opportunity by bringing world scholars to Arizona and training future dignitaries,” she said. “For me personally, it’s a way to honor my ancestors by keeping their culture and language alive as well as others on the verge of extinction.” 

Ramona answered a few questions about the center’s legacy and its next phase of global engagement below. 

Question: Why has it been important for your family to be involved with the center?

Answer: Our family has been a part of the Arizona community for over 50 years, so partnering with ASU was a natural extension. ASU approached my parents for involvement in 2006, which also happened to be the year the matriarch of our family passed away at age 100. That may have been the impetus for our family to create a legacy for the Melikian name and also support our community at the same time. 

But the Melikian legacy extends beyond the boundaries of our own family. We want to create an atmosphere in which all Melikian Center associates are part of one big family working together with ASU to propel the mission of both the center and the university as a whole.

Ramona Melikian shows a photo of her paternal grandmother, who passed away at the age of 100, just before the Melikian Center was first named in 2006.

Ramona Melikian shows a photo of her paternal grandmother, who passed away at the age of 100, just before the Melikian Center was first named in 2006. Photo by Alisa Reznick

Q: What have been some center milestones over the years? 

A: Keith Brown joined the center as its new director in 2017, and Irina Levin became the new director of the Critical Languages Institute this year. Over the last several years the languages we offer have also changed and increased. Every generation of leadership brings new and innovative ideas that propel it to the next level of quality research and programs. We’re just scratching the surface of our potential. 

Q: What are your goals as incoming president of the advisory board?

A: One of my main goals will be to harvest and utilize the knowledge and experience of our 32 distinguished board members by offering them opportunities in which to contribute to their areas of interest. 

We also have over 40 faculty affiliates working on research projects who are available for expert commentary on a wide variety of global issues. So another goal is to become a go-to resource for the media to get timely and thoughtful stories on all things Russian, Eurasian and East European. 

Q: What’s in store for the center’s future?

A: We see ourselves as creating a family of students. In line with President Michael Crow’s vision for ASU, we aim to create meaningful change in the lives of students going through our programs. In turn, they’ll go on to leave their mark on the world and become ambassadors for ASU. 

I believe both my family and ASU are committed to increasing the center’s visibility. And with the university’s expansion to Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and perhaps beyond, we are headed for even greater global engagement. 

In fact, on a recent trip to Prague, I saw a plaque with New York University’s logo and thought to myself that there is nothing stopping ASU from international expansion, too. I look forward to the day when I’m walking down a beautiful, historic street in a Russian, Eurasian or East European city and see a plaque with the Melikian Center’s logo.

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


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ASU prof explores feminism, Islam and politics in new book

August 13, 2019

“Islam” and “feminism” are two words most people in Western society wouldn’t usually associate with one another. But recent developments in the historically conservative Persian Gulf region, and in Kuwait in particular, suggest that may be changing.

In 2005, Kuwait, a country that is more than 90% Muslim, passed laws granting women both the right to vote and the right to run in elections. In her new book, “Perspectives of Five Kuwaiti Women in Leadership Roles: Feminism, Islam, and Politics,” ASU Professor and Founding Chair of the Council for Arabic and Islamic Studies Souad T. Ali reveals how these and other advancements have affected them on an individual and societal level.

A native of Sudan who became a naturalized U.S. citizen after the 1989 Sudanese coup d'état replaced her original home country’s newly elected democratic government with a totalitarian regime, AliIn addition to serving as the Founding Chair of the Council for Arabic and Islamic Studies, Ali serves as faculty head of classics and Middle Eastern letters and cultures; associate professor of Middle Eastern studies, Arabic literature and Islamic studies; and is an affiliate faculty for women and gender studies. was inspired to write “Perspectives” during her 2009–2010 Faculty Fulbright Fellowship at the American University of Kuwait.

“I admire the fact that Kuwaiti women are very outspoken,” Ali said. “They're very interested in improving their society and they don't fear speaking out against what they see as oppressive aspects of their society.”

front cover of ASU Professor Souad T. Ali's book "Perspectives of Five Kuwaiti Women in Leadership Roles" 

Based on ethnographic research and in-depth interviews with five women, Ali’s new book discusses these women’s work in diverse leadership roles. They include Rola Dashti, a leading Kuwaiti economist, politician and human rights activist who was among the first four women elected to the Kuwaiti parliament; Sheikha Hussah Sabah al-Salem al-Sabah, a patron of Islamic art and museums; Sara Akbar, an oil industry engineer leader and co-founder of Kuwait Energy; Sheikha Dana Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, founder of the American University of Kuwait and an established businesswoman; and Safa al-Hashem, a powerful Kuwaiti politician and entrepreneur who is currently the only elected female member of the Kuwaiti parliament.

Ali, who serves as head of Middle Eastern and classics studies, and coordinator of Arabic studies, turned down an offer from Princeton in order to build ASU’s Arabic studies program from the ground up. Since joining ASU in 2004, she has established three concentrations, including a certificate in Arabic studies, the Arabic studies minor and most recently the Arabic studies bachelor’s degree concentration.

She also is the author of more than 25 articles and three booksIn addition to “Perspectives of Five Kuwaiti Women in Leadership Roles: Feminism, Islam, and Politics,” Ali is the author of “A Religion, Not A State: Ali ‘Abd al-Raziq’s Islamic Justification of Political Secularism,” (University of Utah Press 2009), and the edited volume “The Road to Two Sudans,” (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2014), including “Perspectives,” and she has participated in more than 100 scholarly presentations and academic conferences in her fields of Middle Eastern studies and Islamic studies. Her forthcoming book, an edited volumeTitled “Retrieving Subjugated Voices: the Marginalized, Colonized, and Out of Place.” with colleague Emily Silverman will explore subjugated voices in religion.

Ali has been active nationally and internationally representing ASU as president of the American Academy of Religion/Western Region branch; as president of the Sudan Studies Association of North America; as a Fulbright Scholar in Kuwait and the Persian Gulf; and as a State Department’s speaker and specialist in Senegal on issues including Islam and democracy, Sufism and religious freedom.

ASU Now sat down with Ali to talk about her new book and how Islam and feminism aren’t as disparate as you might have thought.  

Question: How does the feminist movement in Kuwait compare to other countries in the Persian Gulf region?

Answer: From my perspective, the issue of women’s rights is just one issue. But there are many brands of feminism, given the fact that women come from different cultures and have different backgrounds and different histories. Kuwaiti women have a marginal freedom within their government, which is a parliament. There isn't any other parliamentary government anywhere else in the Gulf region. I discuss feminism in Islam in much detail in the last chapter of my book, highlighting the fact that it emphasizes the inclusion of Muslim women in the religious sphere, with no conflict with their call for their political rights or their active participation in public life. There have been several Muslim women elected as prime ministers in their countries, for example.

Q: What are some of the issues you discussed with the women in your book?

A: The book discusses multiple issues addressed by these women in their leadership roles. These include women’s rights, the issue of reform, political change, equality, gender segregation, veiling, etc., and how these women view feminism and their similar or different perspectives therein. This of course includes the issue of interpretation in Islam that affects how people view issues such as veiling and whether or not it is required by the religion, the need to respect difference in interpretation as much as it does not infringe on others’ perspectives and freedom of expression, and most importantly, respecting women’s agency.

Q: What accounts for the lack of understanding of Muslim women’s rights?

A: I would say the majority, or at least 50% of Muslim women, don't know their rights, if they don't read the Qur'an directly. Many of them depend on the male interpretation. And the Qur'an, for the past 14 centuries, has been interpreted by men projecting male perspectives to the exclusion of women’s voices. Only recently has it begun to be interpreted by women. I have been teaching a very popular class at ASU since 2007 titled Qur’an Text and Women. Among the texts we read are “Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective,” by Amina Wadud; “'Believing Women’ in Islam: Un-reading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur'an,” by Asma Barlas; and “Woman's Identity and the Qur'an: A New Reading,” by Nimat Hafez Barazangi, among others. These women are among the first Muslim American women to interpret the Qur’an. There were some earlier female interpretations of the Qur’an in the region. However, those were seen by many as appeasing to the male interpretation.

Q: Are there aspects of feminism in Islam?

A: Yes, except they didn't call it feminism at that time. My research on “a focus on the egalitarian message of the Qur’an” can help answer this question. I discuss the issue of feminism in Islam in detail in the last chapter. Further, feminism is not a monolithic concept and can differ based on women’s history, background and culture, as I and several other scholars — including Barbara Christian — argued. Based on historical records, several aspects of Islam, in their correct interpretation, speak to women’s rights, despite other controversial aspects. In her book, “Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate,” Dr. Leila Ahmed, a professor at the Harvard Divinity School, argues that the prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha contributed 2,210 HadithA collection of traditions containing sayings of the prophet Muhammad which constitute the major source of guidance for Muslims apart from the Qur’an. narratives. The Hadith is the second source of Islamic law, next to the Qur’an. She maintains that women in seventh century Arabia were sought out by the prophet’s companions and included their testimonies into the Hadith. At the society level, the prophet’s marriage story with his first wife Khadija, who was 15 years his senior and a very wealthy merchant, could be interpreted and seen through the prism of those egalitarian aspects. At first, she employed him because she perceived him to be an honest person, then she proposed to marry him. This was in the seventh century, and at that point, the pre-Islamic society was very misogynistic. They remained married within a monogamous situation for 25 years until her death. She was also the first person to embrace religion of Islam.

Q: Why is this something everyone around the world should care about?

A: The fact that there are so many misconceptions about women and women’s rights in Islam. The book gives readers the opportunity to see facts that have been distorted. For example, Muslims in general, but especially Muslim women, are perceived to be oppressed by their religion, which is a fallacy. They are oppressed by their society, by tradition, by governments and politics. Several of these oppressive measures are in fact criticized in the Qur’an itself, such as female infanticide — used as basis for the so-called “honor-killing” in some countries. Polygamy, that had existed before the advent of religion and had existed in all monotheistic religions, including Islam that inherited it, is very much discouraged in the Qur’an with clear verses within the context of a fair interpretation. Although there are other controversial aspects of Islam that we continue addressing as scholars, Muslim feminists draw attention to the importance of emphasizing those egalitarian aspects of Islam that have largely been neglected by male interpretations that endured for centuries, unfortunately. I cordially invite the audience to read the entire book to help them learn more of these aspects on women in Islam, and Kuwaiti women, the focus of the book.

Top photo: ASU Professor and Founding Chair of the Council for Arabic and Islamic Studies Souad T. Ali. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Joint ASU-Army project helps bridge the gap between civilians, soldiers

August 7, 2019

Since the military became an all-volunteer force in 1973, there has been an increasing gap between civilian and military sectors, said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Freakley. But a joint research program between the U.S. Army and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society is helping Arizona State University students develop valuable skills while supplying the Army with critical research to help bridge the gap.

Less than 1% of the population serves in the armed forces, and the veteran population is less than 10%. Freakley, who is a special adviser to ASU President Michael Crow for leadership initiatives, said the program is an innovative way to increase civilian understanding of how the military functions. Army soldiers in fatigues take notes in a desert landscape Download Full Image

“Many Americans know very little about our military, which is troubling,” he said. “For our students and faculty, this project increases our awareness and understanding of the Army and its function in defending our nation.”  

The ASU portion of the national program, called the e-intern TRADOC (Training and Doctrine Command) program, was launched as a pilot in fall 2018 and focuses on population-dense urban areas around the world, which impact U.S. relations and diplomatic goals. The program developed after TRADOC approached ASU Research Enterprise, the applied research lab of ASU, to tap into ASU’s wealth of expertise about megacities, dense urban environments and critical thinking. 

Each semester, groups of ASU students are assigned a city or region and conduct research as it relates to U.S. interests. The project engages ASU students in current, transdisiplinary and critical research into the Army’s requirements, shaping the doctrine that guides soldiers and Army leaders while inspiring a new generation to consider careers with national relevance.

In the spring 2019 semester, three groups of students focused on three major cities in Africa, analyzing the effect of terrain, population, infrastructure and information on U.S. security forces. African cities were selected for analysis since increasingly U.S. forces deploy there for humanitarian reasons, and there is a need to better understand the dynamic cultural, demographic, social and economic environment in advance of a deployment.

Nathan Hui, a biomedical engineering major who will be a senior this fall, participated in the program. He and his research partner analyzed the city of Algiers, Algeria, on the northern coast of Africa. 

At the end of the spring 2019 semester, Hui and other students presented their research to Army training command officials who visited ASU’s Tempe campus for the presentations. 

“The months leading up to the final report (are) mostly an enormous amount of internet research, using databases the Army provides and cross-linking them with the information I find online,” Hui said. 

Hui, who started the program in the fall 2018 semester, said he was nervous before delivering his first presentation but that he has “really enjoyed working with them for the past year, so presenting it this time was actually kind of fun.” 

Patricia DeGennaro, a subject matter expert from the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, was one of the Army officials to receive the students’ presentation. She said that the students’ research helps the Army understand issues in different environments.

TRADOC’s role is to train and develop today’s Army while conceptualizing the doctrine for tomorrow’s Army. Through the e-intern project, ASU students have the opportunity to directly assist the Army with imagining the future operational environment and how the Army might meet ever-changing security, environmental, social and economic challenges.

DeGennaro said that the program provides an opportunity for students to understand different aspects of the U.S. Army and government but that it also helps the Army understand students’ perspectives. 

Claudia ElDib, director of university engagement at ASU Research Enterprise and a faculty adviser for the e-intern effort, said that the program helps universities and students in various fields, often not related to defense, view government entities as “partners in the same quest.” 

The Army believes that student research is important because “analysis developed by a demographic similar in age to those soldiers deploying will resonate more than if the analysis had been developed by career analysts,” ElDib said. 

Hui, who is currently preparing to work in the medical device industry and is considering going to law school, said that he joined the program to gain exposure to different kinds of research and to take part in an opportunity to learn more about the world. 

“I’ve learned how to be more efficient at conducting research where the amount of data is so massive and overwhelming,” Hui said. “Looking at the amount of information available on these cities and learning how to compile and analyze it in a way that answers the specific needs of the Army is great training in how to conduct research.” 

The chance to develop these research skills are an invaluable professional opportunity for undergraduate students at ASU.

“This project focuses on the complex interdisciplinary nature of research about Dense Urban Areas," said project director Ira Bennett, a faculty member in the school. "The skills necessary for this type of research are what we focus on in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society’s Undergraduate Research Program. We are excited to be recruiting a new cohort of researchers for this fall.” (Applications are due Aug. 11.) 

Freakley, who served more than 36 years in active duty in the Army, including worldwide recruiting efforts, said he’s impressed with the students’ work and that ASU is paving the way for future military-university collaborations. 

“Since we are engaged and leading, other institutions can learn from our initial efforts and approach,” he said.

Freakley emphasized that ASU’s collaboration with the U.S. military is crucial to building problem-solving networks for the Army while enabling student success.

“The key for the Army is to be prepared, to be ready to counter the threats to the American way of life,” he said.

“Our students will help TRADOC develop new, relevant doctrine so that the Army is as ready as possible as new threats emerge. Clearly, if the Army is trained and ready, that alone will save lives on the battlefield.”

Written by Bryan Pietch, Sun Devil Storyteller, and Hannah Moulton Belec, EOSS Marketing.

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


Predicting earthquake hazards from wastewater injection

ASU-led geoscientists develop a method to forecast seismic hazards caused by the disposal of wastewater after oil and gas production

July 29, 2019

A byproduct of oil and gas production is a large quantity of toxic wastewater called brine. Well-drillers dispose of brine by injecting it into deep rock formations, where its injection can cause earthquakes. Most quakes are relatively small, but some of them have been large and damaging.

Yet predicting the amount of seismic activity from wastewater injection is difficult because it involves numerous variables. These include the quantity of brine injected, how easily brine can move through the rock, the presence of existing geological faults and the regional stresses on those faults. Oil and gas production requires the disposal of wastewater, which is injected into rock formations far underground through wells such as this. To minimize earthquake hazards from this process, an ASU-led team has created a new model for forecasting induced seismicity from wastewater injection. Photo courtesy KFOR-TV, Oklahoma City.

Now a team of Arizona State University-led geoscientists, working under a Department of Energy grant, has developed a method to predict seismic activity from wastewater disposal. The team's study area is in Oklahoma, a state where much fracking activity has been carried out with a lot of wastewater injection and where there have been several induced earthquakes producing damage.

The team's paper reporting their findings appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on July 29.

"Overall, earthquake hazards increase with background seismic activity, and that results from changes in the crustal stress," said Guang Zhai, a postdoctoral research scientist in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration and a visiting assistant researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. "Our focus has been to model the physics of such changes that result from wastewater injection."

Zhai is lead author for the paper, and the other scientists are Manoochehr Shirzaei, associate professor in the school, plus Michael Manga of UC Berkeley and Xiaowei Chen of the University of Oklahoma.

"Seismic activity soared in one area for several years after wastewater injection was greatly reduced," Shirzaei said. "That told us that existing prediction methods were inadequate."

Back to basics

To address the problem, his team went back to basics, looking at how varying amounts of injected brine perturbed the crustal stresses and how these lead to earthquakes on a given fault. 

"Fluids such as brine (and natural groundwater) can both be stored and move through rocks that are porous," Zhai said.

The key was building a physics-based model that combined the rock's ability to transport injected brine, and the rock's elastic response to fluid pressure. Explained Shirzaei, "Our model includes the records collected for the past 23 years of brine injected at more than 700 Oklahoma wells into the Arbuckle formation."

He added that to make the scenario realistic, the model also includes the mechanical properties of the rocks in Oklahoma. The result was that the model successfully predicted changes in the crustal stress that come from brine injection. 

For the final step, Shirzaei said, "We used a well-established physical model of how earthquakes begin so we could relate stress perturbations to the number and size of earthquakes."

The team found that the physics-based framework does a good job of reproducing the distribution of actual earthquakes by frequency, magnitude and time. 

"An interesting finding, was that a tiny change in the rocks' elastic response to changes in fluid pressure can amplify the number of earthquakes by several times," Zhai said. "It's a very sensitive factor." 

Making production safer

While wastewater injection can cause earthquakes, all major oil and gas production creates a large amount of wastewater that needs to be disposed of, and injection is the method the industry uses.

"So to make this safer in the future, our approach offers a way to forecast injection-caused earthquakes," Shirzaei said. "This provides the industry with a tool for managing the injection of brine after fracking operations." 

Knowing the volume of brine to be injected and the location of the disposal well, authorities can estimate the probability that an earthquake of given size will result. Such probabilities can be used for short-term earthquake hazard assessment. 

Alternatively, the team says, given the probability that an earthquake of certain size will happen, oil and gas operators can manage the injected brine volume to keep the probability of large earthquakes below a chosen value. 

The end result, said Zhai, "is that this process will allow a safer practice, benefiting both the general public and the energy industry."

Robert Burnham

Science writer, School of Earth and Space Exploration


Phoenix lawyer expands human rights work legacy at ASU and abroad

July 25, 2019

In 1985, Patience Huntwork was freshly graduated from Yale Law School and working in Phoenix when an article about the American Bar Association and the Soviet Lawyers Association caught her eye.      

The Phoenix Gazette article referenced an opinion piece penned by lawyer Alan Dershowitz alleging the Soviet Lawyers Association had close ties to USSR leadership and encouraged the American Bar Association to sever ties.  Patience Huntwork is a staff attorney at the Arizona Supreme Court and a board member at The College's Melikian Center. Patience Huntwork is a staff attorney at the Arizona Supreme Court and a board member at The College's Melikian Center. Download Full Image

Phoenix lawyer and human rights activist Patience HuntworkPhoenix lawyer and Melikian Center board member Patience Huntwork has a long legacy of human rights activism in post-Soviet Ukraine. This year, she headed to the country to volunteer as an election overseer.

“I wanted to learn more, so I started making calls to Soviet Jewish activists and learned that many believed the Soviet organization was a front for KGBTranslated into English as Committee for State Security, the KGB was the central security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 until its breakup in 1991. officers,” she said. “I felt that the fact that something like this could be entering our legal system required someone to stand up.”

She gathered fellow attorneys and activists from the Phoenix area for a campaign that aimed to convince the U.S. legal body to stop cooperating with its Soviet counterpart for good. For 16 months, they picketed American Bar Association meetings, waving the national flags of the 15 states under Soviet rule at the time.

The campaign succeeded. By 1987, just before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the relationship between the two legal bodies ended. 

It’s been almost three decades since then, and Huntwork, now a staff attorney at the Arizona Supreme Court, has continued to advocate for legal reform and empowerment in former Soviet countries.

That was the impetus behind her involvement in the Critical Language Institute at Arizona State University. Part of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies, the institute focuses on less commonly taught languages deemed important to national security and international affairs. 

With seed funding from Huntwork and her husband, James, the institute introduced Ukrainian as its 12th language in 2017.

“As a board member of the Melikian Center and longtime friend of the Melikians, I keep hearing about what a critical language Russian is,” she said. “But at the same time, Ukraine was becoming increasingly important in the eyes of the world.” 

Huntwork has also put that idea to work in her own efforts. She served in the Ukrainian presidential election as an official observer at the polls this March, the latest in a series of trips she and her husband have taken to Ukraine since 2014. 

She answered a few questions about her time abroad, the courses she heralded at the Melikian Center and the role of language as a tool for the future. 

Question: What is your history with the Melikian family and the center? 

Answer: I met Emma and Gregory Melikian during that first campaign in 1985. They were part of a group of people my husband and I worked with, including several dissidents from the Soviet Union. We have kept in touch over the years, which is why they asked me to be on the board of the Melikian Center a few years ago. That’s how I ended up working to bring Ukrainian courses to the center. The language is becoming increasingly important, and it shows. 

Q: How so? 

A: Today, the people you see taking Ukrainian at the Melikian Center are very diverse. One young man took classes at the center because he is going to Ukraine with the Peace Corps. 

Another is graduating with a degree in international business development and simply wants Ukrainian skills in his portfolio. Another wrote a novel based in Ukraine and another is training to be a medic in response to the country’s war. I think the importance of this language is proved by the fact that students from so many different backgrounds are taking part, and I hope to see that grow even more. 

Q: That interdisciplinarity is also a core principle at The College. How do you think language skills can assist students entering the workforce in a number of different fields today?

A: Whatever field you end up in, being able to speak another language is a tool. The Ukrainian language is something so attuned to national identity, for example, so we send a powerful message by embracing it. That is also the case for all the other languages at the Melikian Center and the Critical Language Institute. I also think that ASU prides itself on being able to positively impact the world — speaking a language gives you the power to do that.

Q: What did your work as an electoral overseer entail? 

A: My husband and I observed two elections in 2014 — the presidential election and the parliamentary election. We did the same thing earlier this year, during the presidential elections in March. 

We went as observers with the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, which has the second-largest delegation of observers. To do it, we applied and were accepted through the committee’s website, which then forwarded the applications to the Ukraine Central Election Commission for approval.

On election day, you fill out an assessment form describing what’s going on at your assigned precinct. National organizers collect these assessments from all over the country to get a clear idea of what’s going on. 

Huntwork shows her overseer ID card issued during this year's Ukrainian presidential election.

Huntwork shows her overseer ID card issued during this year's Ukrainian presidential election.

Q: What is something you learned in the process or would like others to know? 

A: I was impressed by how expertly organized the elections themselves were. Ukraine is one of the most literate countries in the world, so the people that carry out the election are incredibly well informed and educated about the process. In many ways, some of our own elections here in Arizona could benefit from some of that organization and access to the polls.

Q: What did you take away from the experience and what do you think young people can take away from your activism?

A: All the crazy, supposedly hopeless efforts, from picketing in 1987 to speaking about it later, actually turned out to be successful. I have been involved in a lot of other activism here locally since then, including for homeless populations in Phoenix and other legal issues. But the campaign in 1985 has really been one of those threads that’s carried through my whole career and informed my work at the Melikian Center as well as in the Ukrainian elections. I think this is all to say that hearing you can’t do something shouldn’t stop you from trying, because sometimes you actually succeed.


Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


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ASU professor's solar-powered library is transforming global education

ASU professor's solar-powered library brings education to unconnected areas.
July 25, 2019

SolarSPELL device is providing lessons, health information to remote communities

In just five years, an Arizona State University student engineering project has grown into a global humanitarian mission that is now poised to transform the way health care is delivered.

SolarSPELL began when Laura Hosman, an associate professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, challenged her engineering students to create a solar-powered library that would fit into a backpack. Now the initiative has distributed hundreds of digital libraries filled with educational resources to communities in nine countries that have limited or no internet connectivity.

“Over half the world’s population has never connected to the internet and has no internet access,” said Hosman, the co-founder and director of SolarSPELL, which stands for solar powered educational learning library.

And when there is internet, it’s not like in Western countries.

“They don’t have unlimited access. It’s slow, it’s on their phone and they pay for it by the byte.”

In those places, people don’t waste their few precious moments of connectivity on surfing the web.

“They use it for communication with loved ones,” said Hosman, who also is an associate professor in The Polytechnic School in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.

So they don’t even realize all of the educational opportunity that’s available online.

Laura Hosman giving a demo of the SolarSPELL library to Mayen M. Achiek, associate professor of surgery at the University of Juba. Photo by Hakim Monykuer Awuok

The genius of SolarSPELL is the incredibly simple and inexpensive design — the parts cost less than $200. It works this way: Each weatherproof, portable case, which fits into a backpack, includes a small solar panel and a voltage regulator that plugs into a battery that powers a Raspberry Pi microcomputer. A micro digital memory card plugs into the microcomputer. The card contains all of the digital library content and some code that allows it to be accessed by any type of browser. The device creates a Wi-Fi hot spot, so no electricity or internet connection is needed. Students then connect any Wi-Fi capable device, such as smartphones, tablets or laptops, to access and download the content. Some of the SolarSPELL devices include the tablets too.

The true value of SolarSPELL is the carefully curated content. Each memory card holds reading and math tutorials, science projects, health information or English lessons that are chosen specifically for each location. The content can be provided by the local community, drawn from open-source text and videos that are available for free on the internet or taken from textbooks that are used with permission.

When it started, the SolarSPELL devices distributed mostly primary and secondary school lessons, but then the program expanded to include other kinds of education.

• In the spring, Education for Humanity, an ASU initiative that provides higher education to refugee communities, started using SolarSPELL to deliver an agribusiness course to people in Uganda.

• In June, Tonto Creek Camp near Payson became SolarSPELL’s first Arizona implementation site with the official pilot launch of the AZ Natural Resources library. The young campers used their smartphones to access educational modules and outdoor STEM-related activities at the camp, which has limited internet access. Plans are underway for more SolarSPELL projects in remote areas of Arizona.

• Earlier this month, the SolarSPELL team traveled to South Sudan to open a new teacher-training center in Juba, the largest city, and also to discuss how to distribute health care information via the devices.

Heather Ross, a clinical assistant professor in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, was on the team that went to South Sudan, a country that was created in 2011 and has struggled with poverty and violence. Because the country has so few resources, there is no culture of practicing evidence-based medical care, she said. While medical guidelines exist, there is no way to distribute them to practitioners in the field, said Ross, who also is affiliated with the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

“But South Sudan is the newest country in the world, so there is not a longstanding culture of ‘this is the way we always do things.’ There’s willingness to change,” she said.

“And they saw that SolarSPELL is a solution to getting the guidelines out to the field and getting the people in the field trained. So our project in the next 12 months is building that medical library.”

Making the content relevant to the local community is crucial. For example, medical guidelines say that for a slow heartbeat, a pacemaker should be implanted.

“But there is no way to get a pacemaker in South Sudan,” Ross said, so the content must reflect that.

ASU undergraduates and doctor of nursing practice students will be researching the best way to compile a medical library, finding the actual medical content and creating modules instructing people how to find and use the content.

Last year, teams of ASU nursing students visited the small Pacific island nation of Vanuatu to deliver specially curated health content to remote villages. One student realized that people there don’t have access to high blood pressure medicine, Ross said. So the student created a video describing why it’s important to watch salt intake and to exercise and quit smoking. She measured the community members’ blood pressure and found that it decreased four weeks after watching her video.

That’s why working directly in the field is a key component to SolarSPELL. Because the security situation in South Sudan is fragile, students did not accompany the SolarSPELL team earlier this month, but students have gone to other sites, including Tonga and Rwanda.

The SolarSPELL model is “train the trainers.” At each location, the SolarSPELL team trains teachers to teach with the libraries. Feedback and revision are important parts of the process, and during the recent trip to South Sudan, where the first devices were delivered a year ago in a pilot program, the teachers asked for updated textbooks and modules to help them navigate the content, according to Bruce Baikie, the co-founder and technical lead of SolarSPELL and adjunct faculty in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

The initiative is finding support.

“There was a surprise announcement during the Juba ceremony that the U.S. Embassy in South Sudan will pay for SolarSPELL to go into four schools,” Baikie said. That funding will cover the cost of the devices, teacher training, follow-up support and evaluation.

SolarSPELL also works closely with Peace Corps volunteers, who are already embedded into local communities. In August, the SolarSPELL team will take ASU students to Fiji, where they’ll roll out lessons on climate change to Peace Corps volunteers who work in remote areas, he said.The Fiji project came at the request of the Peace Corps director there, Hosman said.

“He told me that all the volunteers are teaching about nutrition and healthy living, but what they really need is information about climate change because half the people are living in villages that are already affected and the volunteers don’t know what to tell them,” she said.

“They needed content that was actionable and local to Fiji, and that’s exactly what we’re all about.”

As SolarSPELL expands, it needs more students. This summer, six interns are working full time on creating and curating content. This fall, engineering students will work on revising the portable case because the size of the tablets has changed. The program also is a good fit for students who are looking for applied projects or capstones, Hosman said. Every semester, there's a one-day session at the Polytechnic campus for volunteers to build the devices. And, of course, working in the field is invaluable.

“Going into the field, they not only see their classroom work come to fruition, but it also changes their lives in what they thought they could accomplish,” Hosman said.

“If they can already make a positive change in the world while they’re students, imagine what they can do with the rest of their lives.”

Top image: A student at Gabat Primary School in Juba, South Sudan, connects to the SolarSPELL library. Photo by Laura Hosman

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now