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ASU, Peace Corps agreement to expand SolarSPELL learning platform's reach

July 10, 2020

Peace Corps volunteers are perfect community liaisons for the solar-powered, portable, customizable libraries

The Peace Corps and Arizona State University have signed a strategic agreement that will help Peace Corps volunteers in the field advance their humanitarian work by using an educational device invented by an ASU professor.

Under the memorandum of understanding, which was marked with a virtual celebration on July 10, Peace Corps volunteers will have wide latitude to use the SolarSPELL portable library, created by Laura Hosman, an associate professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at ASU. The solar-powered device has already been used informally by Peace Corps volunteers who serve in communities without internet service.

ASU ranks eighth in the United States for sending graduates into the Peace Corps, which ASU President Michael Crow said is one of the most important organizations in the U.S. government.

“It’s an exemplar of a whole new logic of sending talent and energy and creativity and youth — and experience, these days — to countries around the world where we partner to solve problems and work together,” he said during the Zoom celebration.

“We will continue to evolve the platform, link with other technologies and work together to be a comprehensive partner to the Peace Corps as a comprehensive teaching, learning and discovery institution that is deeply committed to the attainment of all the things the Peace Corps stands for.” 

Jody Olsen, director of the Peace Corps, said the formal agreement strengthens the existing collaboration between volunteers and ASU in international development.

“Peace Corps posts and ASU’s SolarSPELL team have collaborated in multiple countries to provide training and to integrate libraries through the use of the SolarSPELL units into local community-based capacity building projects,” she said.

“To Peace Corps volunteers, SolarSPELL is a gift in how it will help volunteers integrate with community partners and school partners.”

The agreement is a dream come true for Hosman, who developed SolarSPELL in 2015 and has distributed hundreds of devices around the world.

“What we’ve come up with at SolarSPELL is a concept that can go anywhere,” she said. 

“And now we’re working with a trusted partner. The government has invited the Peace Corps to be there, and in many cases they have been in that country for 50 years plus.”

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Media Relations and Strategic Communications

Hosman’s journey started 10 years ago, when she visited teachers in remote schools in the Caribbean and Pacific islands.

“They had been handed tablets or laptops and told simply, ‘Transform how you teach using this new technology to bring about amazing results. Go,’” 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.

But the teachers were not trained and didn’t have internet access or even electricity. 

So Hosman challenged her engineering students to create a solar-powered library that would fit into a backpack, be resistant to rain, humidity, sand and heat, and work in communities that have limited or no internet connectivity. 

But even after creating and distributing the devices, Hosman still was stuck at how to provide the sustained training that local teachers would need to use it. 

“I had hit a wall and I didn’t know how to move forward,” she said. “And then one day a Peace Corps volunteer emailed me.” 

The volunteer was interested in using SolarSPELL, and after learning about the Peace Corps, Hosman realized the volunteers were ideal liaisons because they spend two years at a posting, often in small, remote villages. The library content is hyper-localized, so having advocates embedded in the field can help determine the kind of information that is most helpful.

“They reach out because they know their communities would benefit, and that’s how you know you’ve really found the right partner,” she said.

The agreement will allow SolarSPELL to greatly expand around the world because Peace Corps volunteers are in more than 100 countries. 

SolarSPELL in Vanuatu

Assistant Professor Laura Hosman has traveled with ASU students to a number of Pacific Islands (including Vanuatu, pictured), where they worked with Peace Corps volunteers on training and implementation of the SolarSPELL digital library. Photo by Bruce Baikie

“We are able to demonstrate that there is a way to scale up,” she said. “There are few things in the international development arena that can scale and can fit that concept of going around the world,” she said.

The agreement will help another way: SolarSPELL can now leverage its connection to the Peace Corps for fundraising. Any expansion into new countries will be funded by SolarSPELL, which raises donations for its work. 

The SolarSPELL device is simple and inexpensive — the parts cost less than $200. Each case includes a small solar panel, a microcomputer and a micro digital memory card, which contains all of the 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.

“It looks and feels like you’re online even though you’re offline,” Hosman said.

Many Peace Corps volunteers are just out of college and are digital natives. They will be key in helping to develop digital literacy among people who have never encountered the internet.

“They don’t surf to education sites because they don’t know those sites exist, and they never develop skills that we might take for granted of knowing when something is suspect or not trustworthy,” she said.

When talking to people in remote communities, Hosman has asked what they would be interested in if they had connection.

“One-hundred percent, the answer is Facebook,” she said.

“Facebook is a huge service to connect with loved ones and to find out when their cousin had a baby. It’s fulfilling a big need but it’s limited and it’s a for-profit company that makes its profits off of emotions.

“So this an opportunity to build information literacy skills and they can become savvy users of information,” she said.

Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic has suspended most travel. The Peace Corps volunteers returned to the U.S. in March and the SolarSPELL team has stayed home. Three new SolarSPELL programs have been paused: a nursing library in Juba, South Sudan; a primary and secondary school library at a refugee camp in Ethiopia that’s in conjunction with Education for Humanity; and a Spanish-language library to be used at the Arizona-Mexico border.

But work on the libraries continues. Typically, up to 60 students are working on curating digital content every semester, mostly drawn from open-source sites. 

And SolarSPELL is still helping. In South Sudan, schools are closed because of the pandemic, although lessons are being broadcast over the radio. 

“But it’s very difficult for students to make progress because there are no textbooks or learning materials to follow along with the radio lessons,” Hosman said. 

“So we put the devices on a motorbike and send them around to the schools, where the parents can come and download the textbooks to take them home.”

Hosman said that the Peace Corps partnership fulfills her longtime goal.

“I don’t see a better partner for us out there to do what I have wanted to do since the beginning of my academic career, which is to help other teachers out there to see technology as a friend and not a foe,” she said.

Top photo: Creator of the SolarSPELL Laura Hosman works with girls in Samoa. Photo courtesy Laura Hosman

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Evacuated Peace Corps volunteers continue learning through online foreign language program

June 25, 2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic first began to unfold, people’s lives were deeply impacted on many levels, and they continue to be. This includes Peace Corps volunteers serving in countries around the world who had to evacuate in March.

After learning about the circumstances many Peace Corps volunteers were facing due to the pandemic, Arizona State University’s Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies worked to find a way to help. The center’s advisory board and leadership team quickly connected with country directors where five languages — Albanian, Macedonian, Armenian, Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian and Ukrainian — were being studied, and offered volunteers the opportunity to enhance their language proficiency through the Critical Language Institute’s summer language programs. Students in a Critical Languages Institute Macedonian summer language class virtually share some of their favorite things to eat, drink and learn about from Macedonian culture. Download Full Image

The center received an overwhelming response and with support from the advisory board and a number of private donors, they were able to offer nine scholarships to Peace Corps volunteers who were serving or were waiting to begin their service. Volunteers enrolled in the Critical Languages Institute are now participating in seven-week long introductory courses in Albanian, Macedonian and Ukrainian.

All 12 of the language programs offered, which are normally in person at ASU or in countries around the world, have shifted to an online format, with many native-speaking instructors providing synchronous instruction based around U.S. time zones from their home institutions.

“At ASU, we hope to support those who have been evacuated from the Peace Corps, including our alumni, in whatever next steps make the most sense for them,” said Julia Tebben, assistant director of service delivery and strategic initiatives at ASU. “The work of Peace Corps volunteers and their host communities is so important, and we hope that those who feel equipped and ready to go back to service reapply. For others, the next step may be graduate school or furthering their career. Regardless of where evacuated volunteers are at, we have a variety of graduate programs and Coverdell Fellowships available.”

Building on Macedonian language skills to better connect with community

Bre Lombard, a Peace Corps volunteer who was serving in North Macedonia, was eager to take her Macedonian language skills to the next level. Lombard graduated from Kansas State University in 2017, earning a degree in marketing with a minor in nonprofit leadership and a certificate in international business. Before being evacuated in March, she had volunteered in North Macedonia for six months at a high school alongside English teachers.

She said things had just started falling into place for her; students were starting to open up to her, she was making connections with teachers and she started an English club. Just as she was beginning to prepare for summer, she received the news that she had to evacuate and return home to Iowa.

“It was definitely hard. Not being able to say goodbye to really anyone that I've made connections with was very difficult,” Lombard said. “I've stayed in touch with them, but it was just a really hard adjustment from hearing everything, seeing everything and finally being able to set up a community and then having to pack up and leave.”

Although she had completed three months of language training during her Peace Corps training, Lombard said she hadn’t perfected the language, and jumped on the opportunity to apply for the Critical Language Institute’s Macedonian summer language program.

“If it weren’t for the scholarship, I probably would have passed on it just because I couldn't really afford it,” she said. “The scholarship is a huge benefit because it's giving me an opportunity that I really didn't have. It's going to benefit my community because I can connect with them more by knowing this language better. I'm so grateful for it and so glad that I've been given this opportunity.”

So far, Lombard said she has enjoyed delving into Macedonian history as well as becoming more well-versed in Macedonian grammar and writing. She said she looks forward to returning to North Macedonia and resuming her volunteer work with her improved language skills.

Improving Albanian language proficiency to prepare for the future

Hillary Holman earned her undergraduate degrees in communication and comparative history of ideas from the University of Washington and her master’s degree in international community development from Northwest University. She is a second-time Peace Corps volunteer, previously serving in the community development sector in Moldova from 2017 to 2019. She signed on to be a Peace Corps volunteer in Albania for two years, and had been training for several weeks to work in the organizational development sector when she was evacuated. 

After taking three flights over the span of three days to return home to Washington state, Holman said she was looking for something productive to do with her time when she was sent the application for the Albanian summer language program.

“Although this pandemic has disrupted the typical functioning of so many things, I do appreciate that the Critical Language Institute courses are being offered online this year for the first time in the program's history,” Holman said. “This has enabled my classmates and me to participate from all over the country in different time zones. Linda Mëniku is an excellent teacher and makes our class interesting by giving us relevant ways to apply the new skills we are learning.”

Holman said she has enjoyed learning a variety of Albanian language structures and concepts, and appreciates the ability to practice speaking the language with other students. She has also participated in virtual cultural presentations shared by other language classes.

Although she is unsure if she will be able to return to Albania to resume her volunteer work, she plans on pursuing a career in public service and hopes to continue to volunteer her time to make a positive difference in the world through cross-cultural communication.

“This scholarship is incredibly meaningful to me in allowing me to study a language that is valuable both personally and professionally. Although my Peace Corps service in Albania was abruptly cut short, I am grateful to have the opportunity to study Albanian language through the Critical Languages Institute this summer, to develop my skills and prepare for the next step in my career.”

Learning Ukranian grammar and finding new connections

MiKayla Wolf graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University in 2017 with degrees in political science and psychology. In the Peace Corps, she served as a youth development volunteer, working with children with disabilities in Ukraine for over a year. She had just signed on to serve for one more year as a Peace Corps volunteer when she found out she would have to evacuate and return home to Oklahoma.

Wolf said she had a basic understanding of the Ukranian language to get by, but had never learned how to speak the language grammatically. 

“Having a good understanding of the language is really important because you don't always have a translator or internet access,” Wolf said. “I had the basics of the language down; I can get on a train or buy food. But to be able to speak in a way that is grammatically correct will be great and beneficial for when I can return. I give trainings around Ukraine and now I will be able to do that alone without a translator and I will be able to communicate with people better. ”

Through this experience she said she has also had the opportunity to connect with fellow Peace Corps volunteers who were serving in Ukraine that she hadn’t met before and who she looks forward to meeting in person someday.

“The languages the Critical Languages Institute teaches are important languages. These are not languages that are commonly taught. But they're so important to us and they're important to our community,” Wolf said. “Every Peace Corps volunteer goes into their community wanting to better them. So by being able to learn their language, we're going to gain their respect. Even if we don't go back, we're going to be able to talk to them and they're really going to appreciate it.”

Emily Balli

Communications Specialist and Lead Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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ASU community continues humanitarian help remotely during pandemic

Humanitarian programs get creative in allowing ASU students to help remotely.
June 25, 2020

Prestigious fellowships, nonprofit work continue in creative ways

Students at Arizona State University have access to dozens of programs that allow them to help people in the community, in Arizona, across the U.S. and around the world.

But how can people do public service work when almost everything has gone virtual, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Several humanitarian initiatives in the ASU community have become creative in making the switch to helping people remotely or with social distancing. And in some cases, the change has allowed more people to benefit.

Ruben Neal has been working with Diana Gregory Outreach Services, a Phoenix-based organization that provides fresh fruits and vegetables along with nutrition education to low-income older adults and veterans. Before the pandemic hit, the nonprofit held farmers markets to distribute produce.

A man packs boxes of produce for vets and low income adults

Ruben Neal, a member of Public Allies Arizona, based at ASU, packed and delivered 3,000 bags of produce to low-income older adults and veterans. Photo courtesy of Ruben Neal

“But then we went to a whole new model. The idea came into my head when I saw all the restaurants doing delivery,” said Neal, a student at Colorado Technical University. He worked with Gregory to pack and deliver more than 3,000 bags of fruit and vegetables to older adults and veterans in the Phoenix area.

“We actually ended up helping a lot more people via this model,” he said.

Neal is in Public Allies Arizona, an intense, full-time AmeriCorps apprenticeship program that pairs young people with nonprofit organizations. The allies are paid for their work over the 10-month period and then receive a grant to pay for tuition, professional development or to apply to student debt. Public Allies is part of the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, in the School of Community Resources and Development.

Many of the Public Allies already did some digital work, helping their nonprofits with social media. Neal started making videos for the Diana Gregory Outreach Services Instagram and hugely increased the number of followers.

The 26 young people in the current Public Allies cohort, based in Phoenix and Tucson, made the switch to virtual work in different ways depending on the needs of the nonprofit, according to Jacob Teskey, director of the Public Allies program.

“Our partner organizations all have their own protocols and standards we’ve been navigating,” he said.

“We’ve worked to create telecommuting or remote work plans, and their service projects have had to evolve with the circumstances, but everyone has taken the initiative to say, ‘OK, let’s figure this out.’”

For example, one member's service project changed to include creating a team to assess the impact of COVID-19 on homeless people. Another’s job was to recruit volunteers, so she created a “virtual volunteer” process.

The allies also complete a curriculum that teaches leadership and professional development skills. Typically, the group gathers one day a week to do that work, but over the past few months, it’s been on Zoom.

“It’s hard to sit in front of a computer for eight hours and we understand that,” Teskey said. “So we’ve had to be creative in what those days look like. The allies can leave and work on assignments and come back.”

Some of the allies were able to do some work in person. Kyah Recard is a Public Ally working as a program specialist with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Valley, whose locations have largely have remained open.

“I began in the office, reading data points and making my own spreadsheets, and I also was making highlights of what was going on in the clubs,” said Recard, who will be a sophomore at ASU this fall, majoring in family and human development.

Working from home allowed Recard to tackle the kind of important projects that always seem to get put off.

“At home, I began a new project where I sorted all the of the employees in our organization and I organized their CPR and first aid certificates — who from what club was certified and if they’re not, when they’re doing it,” said Recard, who’s living with her family in Buckeye, Arizona, this summer.

But the Boys and Girls Clubs locations became busy, so Recard started helping out the staff at the Avondale site, even as she continued to take 18 credits during the spring semester.

“The staff all wore masks and enforced distancing and we were making sure we washed our hands,” she said. “And we were disinfecting the toys.”

The experience has opened her eyes to the world of public service.

“For a career, I want to work with kids and (create) a better future for children who are going through family issues,” she said.

‘They know the realities’

One nonprofit organization based at ASU has been able to leverage the enthusiasm of humanitarian workers who were displaced when the pandemic hit. In March, the Peace Corps brought more than 7,000 volunteers around the world back to the United States.

That presented an opportunity for Laura Hosman, an associate professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at ASU and the inventor of SolarSPELL, a solar-powered library that fits into a backpack. Over the past few years, the SolarSPELL initiative has distributed hundreds of digital libraries filled with educational resources to remote communities in nine countries that have limited or no internet connectivity.

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 drawn from open-source text and videos that are available for free on the internet or taken from textbooks that are used with permission.

Hosman is hoping to greatly expand the use of SolarSPELL around the world, and to do that, the devices must have libraries of information that are relevant to local communities.

When she learned about the recently returned Peace Corps people, many of whom are staying at home and eager to contribute, Hosman launched the Help from Home initiative, in which the returnees can volunteer to collect content for SolarSPELL libraries.

“All these volunteers are at home looking for quality opportunities,” she said.

“They are the content specialists and they know the realities on the ground and they have a heart that’s bleeding for the communities they left.”

Courtney Finkbeiner, who served in the Peace Corps in Fiji and returned last fall, is leading the effort for SolarSPELL. She used the devices in her community in Fiji and is now working with about a dozen returned volunteers in the Valley on Help from Home.

“There are a lot of benefits for all parties involved,” she said. “It’s not just about curating content for libraries, although that’s a big part because we believe, with their field experience, they’re highly aware of what the needs are.”

Help from Home also will increase exposure for SolarSPELL as the nonprofit seeks to expand around the world.

“The biggest draw for me in working with SolarSPELL is that I’ve lived it and I worked with it and I’ve seen the challenges and I’ve seen the success and the potential,” Finkbeiner said.

Backyard science

Every year, many ASU students are selected to participate in prestigious fellowship opportunities in the U.S. and abroad. Some of those programs have been suspended due to the pandemic, but others have transitioned to work virtually.

Tahiry Langrand, a sustainability major at ASU, was selected for the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, a highly selective two-year award to pursue coursework and research leading to careers in environmental conservation.

Langrand was supposed to spending this summer at the University of California at Santa Cruz completing eight weeks of intensive field science. Instead, he’s staying with his family in Virginia and doing online coursework. The curriculum includes a synchronous class, small-group projects and storytelling exercises.

And instead of being trained to do field work in California, the scholars are doing it in their own locations.

“I go on the trails around my house and in the woods and observe nature and do science locally,” he said.

“Even though it’s on our own, it’s guided.”

The second summer of the program is supposed to be an internship, but instead, Langrand and the other scholars will do the fieldwork sessions they missed this year.

“I’m very busy and it’s still a great experience,” Langrand said. “They put a lot of effort and thinking into designing this.”

A man poses in front of the US Capitol in Washington DC

Hussein Mohamed, a grad student at ASU, is delaying his trip to Ghana and is now doing immersive language study as a Boren Award winner. Photo courtesy of Hussein Mohamed

Hussein Mohamed, a graduate student studying social justice and human rights at ASU’s West campus, is one of seven Sun Devils chosen for a Boren Award. That fellowship is sponsored by the U.S. National Security Education Program to build a more qualified pool of Americans with foreign language and international skills through linguistic and cultural immersion.

“In my studies and what I’m passionate about is human trafficking and the terror funding nexus,” Mohamed said.

“For myself, that means studying the vernacular language of Akan Twi in Ghana, West Africa, where there are a lot of national security interests.”

Originally, Mohamed was supposed to travel to Washington, D.C., this summer for an orientation with all the Boren Fellows nationwide, then go on to the University of Florida for language immersion. After that, he was scheduled to go to Ghana in August for nine months.

But the pandemic upended the program. Now, he is doing five and half hours of language immersion classes remotely every day, with plans to travel to Ghana in January 2021.

Mohamed said the flexibility of the program was key. When he found out he would be staying in Arizona, he had to renew his lease, and he was able to get funding from Boren to do that.

He’ll also use the delay to improve the experience once he gets to Ghana.

“Of course, I wish coronavirus never existed and I was in Florida right now because I think I would have more focus on my program,” he said.

“I still have to balance family life and school life and work life. But now I have more time to think about the research project I’ll implement when I’m in Ghana and I can do all the pre-work in the fall.”

Mohamed already spent time in Ghana as a Fulbright student scholar, but he really started on the track toward humanitarian work after he studied abroad in Morocco as a Gilman Scholar while he was an undergrad at ASU.

“That five-week experience ignited this passion and I want to continue this international work,” he said. “This is the path that was calling me.”

Top image courtesy of Pixabay.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Supporting character-driven leaders around the world through the pandemic

June 24, 2020

After graduating with the 2015 cohort, McCain Institute for International Leadership Next Generation Leader (NGL) Mohammed Al Tarawneh returned to his home country of Jordan with goals to promote democratic engagement and create a safe space for Jordanian youth in political and social expression while preserving the national identity of the country.

Using the McCain Institute leadership development model, Al Tarawneh has achieved substantial success by incorporating the Train the Trainer program into his NGO Blue Umbrella’s mission. In the past year and a half, Blue Umbrella launched a leadership training project that has trained over 1,200 youth to date, and has now become one of the most prominent leadership programs in Jordan.  McCain Institute logo Download Full Image

The McCain Institute has granted the 2020 Catalyst Grant to Al Tarawneh and three other NGLs — Mira Koroma Dumbaya (Sierra Leone, 2017 cohort), Aliz Pocsuvalszki (Hungary, 2019 cohort) and Gantuya Sainkhuu (Mongolia, 2018 cohort) — to continue the support of character-driven leadership development.

Catalyst Grants support and encourage top achievement in the implementation of an NGL’s Leadership Action Plan — a strategy each NGL develops during their program year that brings about positive change in their home communities.

"Being a Catalyst Grant winner is not just a privilege, but it's a commitment to continue my leadership journey,” Al Tarawneh said. “It's a clear message from the McCain Institute family that my passion to lead and serve is recognized and admired. In this critical time, solidarity and support are essential and help us to empower youth and implement the leadership activities for the young leaders of Jordan in the schools and to make these aspirations a reality."

With this Catalyst Grant, Al Tarawneh will continue to expand and diversify his leadership development efforts to an even younger audience, establishing a Leaders Club in high schools across Jordan and a leadership training center for Jordan’s refugee population.

See how the 2020 winners will use their Catalyst Grants and keep up with past recipients on the McCain Institute website

The Institute also awarded nine NGLs with the COVID-19 In The Arena Grant to support and encourage their leadership around the world in the adversity of the pandemic.

Vimal Kumar, an NGL from India (2020 cohort), is the founder of Movement for Scavenger Community (MSC) an organization committed to the eradication of manual scavenging in India and bringing education and awareness to the existing scavenger community. To date, MSC has established six Jai Bhim centers that have provided 15,000 people with free meals in the poorest communities, working together with upper caste members through collective community action. 

These areas house the majority of those affected most by the COVID-19 lockdown: essential workers, such as sanitation laborers, and the now-jobless residents, such as domestic sweepers.

“Our activities related to the education classes are paused nowadays, but communities are looking towards us for the help,” Kumar said. “In this difficult situation, I am my community’s leader, and I can’t sit silent. So we have to stand with the community to support them for food and safety gear.”

Kumar will use his micro-grant to purchase safety tools like gloves, masks and soap for the essential workers and food for the jobless families.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread around the world, another virus, albeit not a pathogen, has emerged. This is the virus of disinformation, a tool often used by authoritarian and rogue governments to try and sow confusion among their adversaries at home and abroad. As we have seen, U.S. and European efforts to clamp down on disinformation spread by the likes of Russia and China has been met with mixed results.

NGL Leon Hernandez (2017 cohort) has been engaged in this battle in his home country of Venezuela. There, the regime of Nicolas Maduro has used misinformation and fake news to deflect from his inadequate response to the virus’ impact on the Venezuelan people. Launching daily reports on specific cases of spreading fake news, Hernandez and his organization, Observatorio Venezolano de Fake News, have detected more than 600 individual cases of deliberate fake news since its June 2019 launch.

However, with the coronavirus taking aim at the already-ailing Venezuelan people, his work (now from home) is more important than ever. Not only has Hernandez been at the forefront of identifying misinformation, he has also been speaking out about how everyday citizens can recognize it for themselves.

“The fight against disinformation is part of this duty of creating a model of communication for democracy, because the education and promotion of a cleaner public opinion, one based on real facts, are needed to improve the awareness about the manipulation of information that is established by dictatorships and socialists regimes,” Hernandez said.

While information about the pandemic is scarce and contradictory, Hernandez will generate five publications that provide documented information and dismantling fake news circulating in Venezuela to better inform citizens and give journalists tools to fight disinformation.

In Ethiopia, Judge Selamawit Girmay Birhane (2019 cohort) focuses her goals on children. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the closure of schools, children have been left in more vulnerable to various dangers including the virus. Birhane took the initiative to convene a meeting with the neighborhood association and community police to make a plan on how to address 600 households’ needs.

“As a result, our association executive committee is now mobilizing to donate basic food and safety materials for those who are affected by the current crises,” Birhane said. “We have already set an optimized intervention standard, which can optimally sustain the family for one month and keep our community safe through minimizing the possible causes for spread of COVID-19.”

With this micro-grant, Birhane expects to supply families with food, sanitation materials and personal protective equipment.

Six more NGLs received the COVID-19 In The Arena Grant for pandemic relief efforts in their communities: Ezzeddine Ben Rhima (Tunisia, 2017 cohort), Dael Dervishi (Albania, 2017 cohort), Ljubomir Filipović (Montenegro, 2019 cohort), Sahana Mishra (India, 2015 cohort) and Jerlie Requerme (The Philippines, 2020 cohort). 

See how the 2020 winners will use their micro-grants on the McCain Institute website.

About the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University

Inspired by the character-driven leadership of Sen. John McCain and his family’s legacy of public service, the McCain Institute implements programs and initiatives to make a difference in people’s lives across a range of critical areas: leadership development, human rights, rule of law, national security, counterterrorism and combatting human trafficking. More information can be found here.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the institute is proudly part of ASU, the largest public university in America — ranked No. 1 in innovation for five years running.

Staci McDermott

Communications Manager, McCain Institute for International Leadership


Measuring a lifespan of learning

June 24, 2020

Human adaptation is a unique combination of maturing and learning slowly from childhood to adulthood, the development of complex production skills and the establishment of cooperative sociality. 

A new study published in Science Advances provides powerful empirical confirmation that the human hunting skill-production curve for male hunters from around the world — one essential skill that calls upon all human adaptation faculties — is universal and important for understanding how humans became a “special” animal. Tsimane hunters in Bolivia Tsimane hunters in the Bolivian Amazon. Image by Benjamin Trumble. Download Full Image

The research is the result of collaborators using large, geographically and culturally diverse data on modern hunter-gatherer communities from 40 study sites around the world. Arizona State University researchers involved in the study include Kim Hill, with his long-term research on the Ache in Paraguay, and Ben Trumble’s fieldwork with the Tsimane in Bolivia. Hill is a research associate with the Institute of Human Origins and professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Trumble is an assistant professor with the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the Center for Evolution and Medicine.

Tsimane hunter

Tsimane hunter in the Bolivian Amazon. Image by Benjamin Trumble.

All traditional societies that were part of the data from 23,000 hunting records of 1,800 individuals show very low hunting productivity in childhood and mid-teen years, followed by a steep increase until middle age (30 to 50), and then a slow decline until the mid-60s. While there is some cross cultural and interindividual variation (mainly in peak age and rate of decline in older ages), the pattern appears to be a universal feature of the human hunting niche. Other empirical studies have also suggested a similar pattern for plant collection by women and even a similar age-specific income curve from modern industrial states like the United States.

This study is important because it helps clarify the adaptive “socioeconomic” niche of humans. It shows that a unique resource acquisition pattern had already emerged in small-scale hunter-gatherer societies and has been retained to the present. This pattern emerged when our ancestors began to use their big brains and cultural adaptations, or tools and techniques, to become predator specialists on complex prey and high-quality plant resources.

In short, children produce little to no food resources, teens begin a steep learning curve and final skill development doesn’t peak until middle age. This is dissimilar to any other known mammal where most individuals are able to meet their own food/resource needs efficiently soon after weaning. The human niche, on the other hand is about learning and development of skills (human capital) that ultimately lead to high productivity in the final one-third of the lifespan. 

“In order to effectively hunt, you need to know the behavioral patterns of dozens of prey species, what time of day they sleep, what their tracks look like, what calls they make and what those calls mean. It is not just about how fast you can run, or how steady you are with a bow,” said Trumble.

Notably, earlier work by Hill and colleagues had shown that the hunting production curve peaks almost 20 years after peak body strength is achieved. Successful hunting takes skill and know-how, not just adult size and strength.

“For 99% of human history, we lived as hunter-gatherers,” said Trumble. “In the U.S., we can drive to a fast-food restaurant and pick up 2,000 calories, but that is not been the case throughout human history. With the Tsimane in the Bolivian Amazon, the average hunt lasts nearly nine hours and covers more than 11 miles. Even then food isn’t guaranteed, only around two-thirds of hunters return with meat.”

The pattern shows that ancestral human foraging societies faced a life trajectory similar to modern Americans, with young adult hunters, mainly developing skills that later lead to high resource production rates in middle age. This also means that juveniles are totally dependent on adults for resources while they dedicate their time to learning. Much like today's college students, young adults in hunting societies are still mainly learning rather than bringing in high income. And, like in today’s world, middle age and older adults are the workhorses of society that subsidize younger individuals who are learning skills and cultural traits.

“Humans are in a very unique adaptive niche that we might call the 'learning niche,'" said Hill. “For many years of our lives we produce little and dedicate our time to learning. Then as we grow older we use that knowledge to produce high levels of resources that can subsidize the next generation of young learners. This leads to the unique human social system of intergenerational dependency throughout the lifespan.”

Julie Russ

Assistant director, Institute of Human Origins


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Making the future of space exploration a more inclusive one

June 22, 2020

Convergence Lab hosts event with ASU astronaut, Mexican writer on incorporating new perspectives into shared idea of universe

When you’re an astronaut, whom do you represent? Do you represent the citizens of the country whose flag is emblazoned on your suit? Or do you represent a larger group of people, all those billions of humans whose lives light up the planet below you?

That was Juan Villoro’s first question for Cady Coleman, ASU’s Global Explorer in Residence and a former NASA astronaut, in Wednesday’s virtual Convergence Lab event. ASU’s Convergence Lab, a series of events usually held in person in Mexico City, brings together communities across borders to learn from each other — with the ultimate goal of building a better, shared North American future.

Villoro, a renowned Mexican journalist, novelist and playwright, spoke with Coleman about her experiences in space, and together the two discussed ways to make the future of space exploration a more inclusive one.

“I have my U.S. patch on my sleeve,” Coleman said, pointing to the American flag on her uniform. “It's hard to say this without sounding like you don't appreciate your home, or the fact that we all come from somewhere. But looking back at the Earth, we're all from the same place … we’re all from there.”

Though Mexico doesn’t have a national space program equivalent to NASA (the Mexican Space Agency is focused principally on research and education and doesn’t send humans to space), the country has a long history of looking toward the stars, Villoro said — from Mayan astronomers to present-day visionaries like Alfonso Cuarón, director of the film “Gravity,” which Coleman consulted on.

Villoro and Coleman

Cady Coleman, ASU's Global Explorer in Residence and former NASA astronaut, and Juan Villoro, award-winning writer and journalist, discuss international collaboration and our shared future in space in a virtual Convergence Lab event June 17. Screenshot courtesy of Mia Armstrong

When Cuarón won an Oscar for “Gravity,” “many people thought, 'Well, how come a Mexican is so deeply interested in outer space and is so accurate in his redemption of what's going on out there?' ” Villoro said.

The answer, he said, is “because this adventure has been important for the whole human race.”

Villoro was 12 when Apollo 11 reached the moon, he remembered, “and for my generation that changed the whole idea of the universe.”

This shared idea of the universe is a constantly shifting one, Coleman said, especially as we push existing barriers and discover new limits to our knowledge of space, and also incorporate new perspectives into our exploration of it.

“What I discovered when I got to go to space was I used to think that we're here on Earth, and then space is somewhere else, and some people go,” she said. “But actually, Earth and the place that we call home is just bigger than we thought, and just not enough people have been to these edges yet.”

Through its School of Earth and Space Exploration and Interplanetary Initiative, ASU is trying to bring more people toward those edges. The ASU-led NASA Psyche Mission, set to launch in summer 2022, for example, offers free online classes that allow people from around the world to participate in the mission. 

Villoro and Coleman discussed private-sector participation in space exploration: “I would go with whatever vehicle is leaving … I really love these additional collaborations,” Coleman said; human rights in space: “It’s a totally new turf,” Villoro said, which needs to be “solved by the whole community of the Earth”; and experiments on the International Space Station: “We’re learning things in space that really we can’t learn down here,” Coleman said.

One audience member, a psychology student from Mexico, asked Coleman for her advice to endure the social and physical isolation many of us have found ourselves in over the last several months. Coleman’s response? “Focus on the mission.”

READ MORE: Bringing astronaut skills down to Earth to handle isolation

Right now, there are many different important individual and societal missions, Coleman said. One is trying to keep ourselves, our families and our communities safe in the face of a global pandemic. Another is educating ourselves about our roles in systems that perpetuate racial inequality and injustice, and working to change that.

When asked by audience members whether they would jump on the opportunity to go to space again for an important mission, or accept a one-way ticket to Mars, Coleman and Villoro had different answers.

“Yes and yes,” Coleman said immediately.

“I will write about going to Mars, and I will write about somebody who has a single ticket to Mars, but I will never go there,” Villoro said, laughing.

The truth is, Villoro, the storyteller, and Coleman, the astronaut, both have equally important roles to fill. Art and storytelling, Coleman said, are crucial to building our future in space. 

“When people see themselves in a story, in problem solving, then they think, ‘Oh, maybe this could be me,” she said.

So whether you’re writing a book or directing a commercial or illustrating a cartoon, Coleman urged, “Please, please, please include other people that really don't look or feel like you, because they're part of the equation. And by them seeing themselves in your story, it makes all the difference.”

In space, said Coleman, the thing that links everyone to each other, despite different government positions or priorities, is “the passion for exploration.” That passion is what spurred collaboration on the International Space Station, she remembered.

“It's always the people between each other that build those bridges,” Coleman said.

Those are bridges we can build from anywhere in the universe.

Watch the full event.

Written by Mia Armstrong. 

Top image: Cady Coleman, ASU's Global Explorer in Residence and former NASA astronaut, shares a photo from the International Space Station and talks about the time she spent there during a binational Convergence Lab event June 17. Through two Space Shuttle missions and an almost six-month stint on the ISS, Coleman has logged a cumulative 180 days in space. Images courtesy of Cady Coleman and Mia Armstrong.

ASU expert discusses converging crises in America

June 19, 2020

Amidst a global pandemic, the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement have increased the awareness of issues surrounding police brutality and systemic racism in America. As these crises converge, questions about the fragility of the United States have arisen.

When Western countries like the United States show vulnerability, who comes to their aid? Will humanitarian groups turn their attention toward social justice issues in countries that previously weren’t even considered? ASU Professor of Practice Candace Rondeaux. Download Full Image

On June 18, Arizona State University School of Politics and Global Studies Professor of Practice Candace Rondeaux participated in a virtual event titled “When the West falls into crisis” to discuss some of these questions.

After the New Humanitarian-sponsored webinar, she followed up with ASU Now to discuss some of the topics covered: Rondeaux, who is also a senior fellow with the Center on the Future of War and New America, has a long history of journalistic work on international security affairs as well as conflict and violence. She currently teaches for Arizona State University's online MA in global security.

Question: In the webinar you touched on the idea that money can change some things but power can change everything. How might companies, nonprofits and other institutions use their power to bring about change?

Answer: Substantial and sustainable change will require institutions, organizations and leaders who want to be responsive in this moment to rethink what is meant by change. Instead of token, one-off hires for this or that position, give people from diverse backgrounds titles, authorities and salaries that force others to pay attention. Promote agency and empower people you want to see leading and influencing change by getting out of the way. Remove barriers to entry like unpaid internships. Stop privileging high-level degrees over real-world work and life experience. All that is going to be key, especially in academia and in international and humanitarian affairs where diversity at the leadership level is sorely lacking.

Q: You also discussed the idea of taking a “sledgehammer” to various structure systems like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It was a topic that a number of other panelists also touched on. How would you envision that?

A: In the context of crisis response, humanitarian assistance and international security, it is going to mean challenging every aspect of the liberal world order and the exceptionalism that has defined the last 70 years. The Washington consensus on what stimulates economic growth and what makes free-market economies dynamic is based on outmoded models that reinforce capital concentration in too few hands. For many IMF and World Bank beneficiaries, a wholesale reset is in order on debt forgiveness, tech and knowledge transfer and aid distribution. Instead we need to see partnered investment in renewable energy and natural resource stewardship. We need to see more accountability for multinationals and better management of foreign direct investment.

Q: The topics of language and narrative in America surrounding things like racial injustice, voting fraud and police brutality were brought up often. As someone who frequently writes about topics like these — especially internationally — do you see a difference in the language used when reflecting about the United States?

A: We are not used to thinking or talking about the United States as a fragile state or failing state, but now suddenly American headlines read a lot like what you might see in a place like Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. “Unregulated militias,” “state terror,” “public health catastrophe,” “leadership vacuum,” “ethnic and racially tinged clashes,” “creeping authoritarianism,” these are the watchwords of state fragility and failure to people like myself but now we are seeing them crop up in reference to the United States. That’s probably surprising for some but for Black Americans like myself these are everyday watchwords of growing up here.

Q: What are some of the pitfalls this country faces, and how might the U.S. avoid the risk of becoming a failed state?

A: The biggest risk facing the United States is the very real prospect of a disputed outcome in the presidential elections in November and an outbreak of violence as a result. We have to anticipate that mail-in ballots and constraints imposed on election day voting due to the pandemic will mean more time is needed for counting the results. We have to anticipate that no matter who wins, some who feel that they have lost because their candidate lost may contemplate violent action. If there is violence, there is also a risk of an overreaction by political, police and military leaders. We have to assume at least parts of this scenario are inevitable and we have to call on leaders across the country to get out in front of it.

Matt Oxford

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Politics and Global Studies


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6 international courses to check out for fall 2020 semester at ASU

June 17, 2020

School of International Letters and Cultures offers variety of courses, from Japanese civilization to photography in Latin America

Editor's note: A previous version of this story listed the course "Noisemaker! Tracing the Origins of Modern Music in Italy," which is no longer offered.

This fall, the School of International Letters and Cultures at Arizona State University will offer a variety of courses — from Japanese civilization to photography in Latin America.

Information about these and other courses is below — but there are even more offerings by the School of International Letters and Cultures in the ASU class schedule, where you can find both online and in-person options.

City of Water. Uncovering Milan’s Aquatic Geographies

Promotional image for "City of Water, Uncovering Milan's Aquatic Geographies" course

When: Mondays/Wednesdays, 12:15–1:30 p.m.

Taught by: Serena Ferrando

Course cross-list: ITA494/SLC494/CDH594

About: In the course "City of Water. Uncovering Milan’s Aquatic Geographies” (ITA494/SLC494/CDH594) students will explore the cultural history of water in Milan, Italy’s self-described “city of water,” in a multimedia environment that fosters an atmosphere of creative collaboration and encourages creative design. Students will generate searchable, annotated, thick maps of Milan and disseminate them outside the classroom and will also have the opportunity to see their work featured on the Navigli Project. (The course will include a guest lecture by a renowned Milanese illustrator and two Milan-based film directors).


Japanese Civilization: From the Ice Age to Last Thursday


When: Tuesdays/Thursdays, 10:30–11:45 a.m.

Taught by: William Hedberg

Course cross-list: JPN 394/SILC 394

About: This course provides an overview of the entire sweep of Japanese history and culture from the earliest inhabitants of the Japanese archipelago, c. 30,000 BCE, to the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 and beyond. The course covers the main events, narratives and individuals of Japanese history through documentary sources and literary works such as plays, novels, poetry and manga. 

Also, the course introduces important events and individuals, recurring themes and prominent literary and artistic works. Particular attention will be paid to the interconnections between religious, economic, social, political and literary aspects of Japanese history and culture.


Holocaust and German Memory

When: Tuesdays, 4:30–7:15 p.m.

Taught by: Dan Gillfillan

Course cross-list: GER 445/SLC 445/FMS 445/JST 445/HON 494/SLC 598 

About: This course places students in the midst of one of the most traumatic events of the 20th century and one of the darkest chapters in German history. It examines representations of the Shoah from the perspective of its survivors, its perpetrators and its victims, both with respect to its immediacy and its generational impact. The course takes up examples from the media of dramatic and documentary film, photography, narrative, poetry, autobiography, graphic novel, cyberspace, critical theory and architectural monuments/memorials, beginning with anti-Semitic, National Socialist manipulation and propaganda, and continuing forward as each successive generation of Germans sought to confront their country’s National Socialist past, and as each successive generation of survivors sought to cope with their own and their families’ experiences. Within this constellation of critical discussions are set some of the critical questions that will guide this course:

  • How can popular culture media like film, photography, literature, graphic novel and cyberspace adequately represent the enormity of the Holocaust?
  • What political, social, cultural and economic issues arise through the processes of commemoration?
  • In what ways can we talk about individual memory, cultural memory, national memory and collective memory?


Photography and the Latin America


When: Fridays, 2–3:50 p.m.

Taught by: David William Foster

Course cross-list: SLC/LIA

About: Soon after its invention in Europe, photography arrives in Latin America and quickly becomes a privileged genre of cultural production. In Latin America, photography intervenes in the processes of social history and constitutes an invaluable source of information about Latin American life. This course will examine the work of seven outstanding figures of Latin American photography and major Latin American cities through the medium of photography and discuss how photography both represents and creates sociohistorical reality. 


Why is the Amazon Burning?

When: Tuesdays/Thursdays, 3–4:15 p.m. and lab time Tuesdays, 1:30–2:45 p.m. (This time is reserved for students to work on collaborative lab projects.)

Team-taught by: Mary Jane Parmentier (FIS) and Glen Goodman (SLC)

Course cross-list: HUL/FIS/SLC/POR/SPA 494 and HUL/SLC/GTD 598 

About: How is the Amazon portrayed globally? How have humans utilized it over time? What about indigenous rights for the human occupants? These questions and the complicated human relationship with this rich and diverse ecosystem lend themselves to multiple analytical lenses, including film, literature, anthropology, history, politics, sustainability and international development.

More information | Enroll

Only English? 

When: Tuesdays/Thursdays, 10:30–11:45 a.m. and lab time Tuesdays, 9–10:15 a.m. (This time is reserved for students to work on collaborative lab projects.)

Team-taught by: Danko Sipka (SLC) and Katie Bernstein (EDU)

Course cross-list: HUL/ SLC/ POS / SGS 494 and HUL 598

About: Given the widespread attitude that the whole world speaks English, is there a need to study or maintain other languages? What laws have been created about language? Why? What are the values behind these decisions? Is English monolingualism a problem? Is it just? Students will develop their own possible solutions based on their inquiries into the policies, practices and ethical principles related to monolingualism and multilingualism.

More information | Enroll

Top photo by Daniel Hernández Salazar 

Taylor DiGiro

Communications and Marketing Intern , School of International Letters and Cultures

ASU professor awarded international journal editorship, Fulbright grant

Associate Professor of counseling psychology Ashley Randall named new editor of Personal Relationships

June 15, 2020

Ashley K. Randall, associate professor of counseling and counseling psychology at Arizona State University, is the new editor of Personal Relationships, one of the flagship journals of the International Association for Relationship Research.

Randall and editorial assistant TeKisha Rice, of the University of Illinois, began accepting new submissions this month. ASU professor of counseling psychology Ashley Randall ASU Associate Professor of counseling psychology Ashley Randall is the new editor of the journal Personal Relationships. It publishes work focused on personal relationships of all kinds and at all stages of life. Download Full Image

The journal promotes the work of scholars who use a wide variety of methodologies and who are based in a range of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, philosophy, communication, anthropology, family studies, child development, social work and gerontology.

It publishes work focused on personal relationships of all kinds — including between romantic or intimate partners, spouses, parents and children, siblings, classmates, coworkers, neighbors, and friends — at all stages of life and within social contexts like families, workplaces, historical periods and cultures. 

“As an active member of IARRInternational Association for Relationship Research, I’m thrilled to be in a position to foster use-inspired interdisciplinary relationship research that is both socially embedded and globally engaged,” Randall said. “My vision for the position is to adopt an open science framework, increase international collaboration and visibility, and increase submissions from early-career professionals. I’d also like to find more ways to bring research findings to the public.” 

Randall brings to the role her years of service on several editorial boards, including for the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (the other journal of the IARR). Randall’s own research, in ASU’s Couples Coping with Stress Lab, looks at how stress impacts romantic relationships and how romantic partners can help cope with feelings of stress.

In Randall’s appointment letter, the chair of the IARR Publications Committee noted, "The committee and the board unanimously agreed that you will bring a valuable skill set to the position. You have ambitious plans for the journal, and the committee appreciated that your vision considers scientific excellence as well as the human investment in the publishing and review process. They also thought that your experience with international collaborations is a tremendous asset, which may allow the journal to increase its audience across borders."

Indeed, among Randall’s nearly 50 peer-reviewed manuscripts and over 100 peer-reviewed conference presentations are many that reflect work with colleagues from around the world as well as research that considers psychological well-being in cross-cultural personal relationships in societies beyond the United States.

This spring, Randall and ASU counseling and counseling psychology graduate students Lauren Hocker and Kai Kline began a research study looking at COVID-19’s impact on romantic couples.  

“The project began in March as part of a larger cross-cultural project with colleagues in India, Israel, Italy, Kenya and Switzerland,” Randall said. “Within a week’s time we’d invited collaborators from around the world to join the project, and researchers from 30 nations are now participating."

The project is supported by funding from the American Psychological Association’s Office of International Affairs, awarded to Randall (principal investigator). 

“These rich data will yield insight into our understanding of stress and coping processes for individuals across the world, informing prevention and intervention practices to mitigate the negative effects of global stressors on individual and relational well-being,” she said

Fulbright specialist selection

Randall was also recently selected as a Fulbright specialist grant recipient, to engage in a collaboration with the faculty of psychology at the University of Indonesia.

Though Randall’s Fulbright experience, originally set for April, has been postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she will eventually work with faculty at the University of Indonesia onsite for two weeks.

“My responsibilities will include delivering workshops on research methodology and special topics with students and faculty, along with providing consultation on the development of a counseling curriculum, which will focus on service delivery for individuals, couples, and families,” Randall said.

Her involvement with Fulbright programs dates back to 2007-08, when Randall held a Fulbright fellowship at the Institute for Family Research and Counseling at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. In 2016 she was selected to be on the Fulbright specialist roster for the Institute of International Education, Council for International Exchange of Scholars.

“I’ve been truly honored to have been selected for these Fulbright opportunities,” said Randall, who said the missions of Fulbright and ASU — promoting world peace through educational exchange, while serving our communities and engaging globally — connect deeply with her.   

Randall joined ASU's College of Integrative Sciences and Arts in 2013 after earning a doctorate in family studies and human development at the University of Arizona. She earned an MS in clinical psychology at North Dakota State University and a BS in psychology at Indiana University-Bloomington.

Maureen Roen

Manager, Creative Services, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


ASU student shares experience interning with consulate general in Frankfurt

June 15, 2020

With aspirations of becoming a foreign service officer, Matthew Snow, a junior studying political science at Arizona State University, thought it paramount to get experience and knowledge of different countries and cultures.

With the assistance of the SPGS Travel Grant offered by the School of Politics and Global Studies, Snow traveled to Frankfurt, Germany, as part of the State Department’s spring 2020 internship program.   Matthew Snow, a political science major at ASU, gives a Black History Month presentation to consulate employees. Download Full Image

“This internship put me in a position where I got to play the part of (foreign service officer) abroad and to really try on the career for three months.”

During his internship in the executive office at the consulate general, Snow had the opportunity to work in the political and public affairs sections of the consulate.

“With the political section, I researched and reported on topics like the effects that Germany’s transition to battery-powered electric vehicles will have on the German auto industry,” Snow said.

“While working with the public affairs section, I was a part of school outreach programs where we went and spoke with German high school seniors about different American cultural topics,” he continued.

Snow shared some of his experiences from his internship with ASU Now:

Question: What were some of your takeaways from this experience?

Answer: Working as a foreign service officer in the political and public affairs sections of the consulate gave me the real-world experience to help me narrow down my aspirational career path in the foreign service. My time in Frankfurt has led me to choose the public affairs career path over the political.

I also took away how important our foreign postings are in the day-to-day relationship maintenance with our global partners. We were constantly getting ready for meetings between consulate personnel and officials in the public or private sectors in Germany.

Q: How do you think this trip will help you attain your career aspirations?

A: My time in Frankfurt allowed me to fit into the everyday routine of working in a foreign diplomatic post and try on my choice career path. Having that firsthand knowledge will do wonders towards helping me prepare for the foreign service officer test, specifically the job knowledge portion of the written exam and a portion of the oral assessment. This trip has also given me the experience of working in a foreign country that will hopefully give me a leg up when applying to entry-level positions in international affairs after graduation.

Q: What advice would you give those who are interested in a similar experience?

A: As cliché as it may seem, I would recommend applying to an internship abroad. The application process can be a bit daunting because you are required to get a security clearance. However, being able to become a contributing member and step into the shoes of the career path I aspire to has been invaluable. Even if you don’t want to become an (foreign service officer), working at a consulate or embassy abroad can give you a wide spectrum of experience that you can draw from in almost any circumstance.

Matt Oxford

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Politics and Global Studies