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Hearing a call for safety innovation

April 23, 2019

Vietnamese engineering students tackle problem of safety for deaf drivers in ASU-supported EPICS program

A car collided with an ambulance on the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Despite the blaring sirens, the driver hadn’t heard the frantic ambulance approaching because the windows were up and the music was playing loudly. 

Hoàng My, a fourth-year automotive engineering student at Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology and Education, witnessed this collision on her way to class. In a country with tens of millions of motorbike drivers, My worried for the roughly 2.5 million deaf Vietnamese people who drive motorbikes every day. 

Most deaf people don’t wear hearing aid devices while driving and, since they can’t get an official driver’s license, they also drive unprotected by any accident insurance. 

My was determined to do something to protect these vulnerable drivers.

Both jarred and inspired by the collision, My joined the USAID-sponsored Engineering Projects in Community Service Program — known by the students as EPICS. EPICS is an engineering design challenge that asks university students to identify an engineering-based community issue, form a team of students to tackle that issue, and create a working prototype of a solution. 

Arizona State University, as an implementing partner of the USAID BUILD-IT Alliance, supports the EPICS program in six Vietnamese engineering universities. Since 2017, ASU faculty and staff have traveled to Vietnam regularly to conduct a number of EPICS curriculum trainings to prepare Vietnamese faculty to run the EPICS course on their campuses. ASU encourages EPICS in Vietnam as a means to empower young innovators to engineer better communities. 

Starting in September 2018, My formed the Wonder Girls, an EPICS team with three other female engineering students. The Wonder Girls set out to engineer a safety device for deaf motorbike drivers.

To understand a deaf person’s challenges, My and her teammates, Minh Hoà, Hoàng Hà, and My Hông, visited a school for the deaf. They learned how the deaf and hearing-impaired use signals, touch rhythms and signs to communicate. The deaf students shared their driving challenges with the Wonder Girls through writing and sign language. The students learned that driving is especially dangerous for the hard of hearing, but thet are compelled to drive to earn a living. Although expensive hearing aid devices can help the hearing-impaired drive more safely, there are few innovations for the entirely deaf.

wonder girls team

From left: Hoàng My, Minh Hoà, Hoàng Hà and My Hông.

With guidance from the deaf community, the Wonder Girls spent the next four months designing, re-designing, 3D printing and coding a signal and vibration gadget prototype. While the Wonder Girls’ regular classes had prepared them to do the technical work needed for their prototype, no class had ever asked them to apply their learning by leading their own innovation.

My saw EPICS as a chance to “actualize our idea and turn society into a better place with it.” The EPICS faculty at her school encouraged the Wonder Girls to reach beyond their comfort zone to code, weld electronic circuits and 3D print their prototype at the nearest USAID-supported Maker Innovation Space. 

“Before EPICS I only learned basic programing,” shared Wonder Girls’ team tech guru, My Hông. “But now I can program a whole complicated device. We never designed and printed a 3D prototype before, but now we’ve taught ourselves how.”

In preparation for the EPICS Final Showcase in January 2019, the Wonder Girls demonstrated their prototype, Abu-Friend, to industry mentors from Dow Vietnam. Onlookers were impressed to see that a small orange box containing just a microphone sensor, a wi-fi transmitter and a vibration motor can give a lifesaving signal to a deaf driver.

The Wonder Girls explained that the Abu-Friend gadget is worn close to a driver’s chest and vibrates when it hears an ambulance siren. Feeling the vibration, the driver can follow traffic rules to gradually pull over to let the ambulance pass safely. The Abu-Friend impacts a specific problem for a specific vulnerable population and does so at about the U.S. equivalent of $20.

The Wonder Girls are still working on the kinks in the system. As first-time innovators, designers, coders and builders, they acknowledge there is still room to grow as engineers and entrepreneurs. 

Now that EPICS is complete, the Wonder Girls will continue developing Abu-Friend with the USAID-supported Maker-to-Entrepreneur Program so they can bring Abu-Friend to market. 

Reflecting on the EPICS Hoàng Hà said, “As a team player, step-by-step EPICS made me better. I’m no longer embarrassed to say my opinion, right or wrong. We respect each other’s views.” 

Written by Deren Temel, program manager, ASU Vietnam. 

Top photo by Pixabay

ASU grants 'MiniMasters' to Chemonics employees at global graduation

Arizona State University holds classroom doors open for its students, for the public and for the world

April 23, 2019

In the spirit of educational access for all, Arizona State University has awarded MiniMasters certificates in global supply chain management to over 350 Chemonics International employees in 25 developing countries across the globe, with the intent of empowering the world’s next generation of international development professionals. 

The pilot program was launched in August 2018 by ASU and Chemonics International, an international development company working in 75 countries around the globe. The program provided a unique opportunity for Chemonics’ global employees to pursue accredited, accessible continual learning.  group of people posing on steps of Old Main making pitchfork sign with hands Students, faculty and administrators from Chemonics and ASU pose in front of Old Main after the graduation ceremony. Download Full Image

“Education is the only path to global peace, harmony and prosperity,” said Amy Hillman, dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU, during her remarks at the MiniMasters graduation ceremony on April 8. “The more we understand about one another, the more we understand about each other’s motives, cultures, political constraints, etc. This joint effort in education from ASU and Chemonics is helping develop a deeper understanding of cultures around the world and serves as an example of how innovative organizations are capable of helping individuals with different backgrounds work together and overcome differences.”

According to Stephen Feinson, associate vice president of ASU International Development, the MiniMasters certificate program was created out of discussions with Chemonics about their goal of providing affordable, world-class continual learning opportunities to their 5,000 employees worldwide.

“ASU is pioneering new ways to connect international development issues across many disciplines through research and lifelong access to learning,” Feinson said. “This program combines ASU’s forward-thinking approach to international development with our expertise in breaking down boundaries in education and research. It engages international development professionals across the world while utilizing education technologies to increase access.”

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Stephen Feinson speaks at the MiniMasters graduation ceremony at Old Main on April 8, 2019. Photo by Laura Segall

“I came from Afghanistan where educational resources are limited for females,” said Wadia Waheed, an accounts payable associate at Chemonics’ headquarters office in Washington, D.C., who attended the graduation ceremony. “Being a mom of four kids with a full-time job made it hard for me to pursue further education. The MiniMasters degree was very valuable for me because it was a way to pursue continual education, be a working mom and not take on a financial burden for my family. We need opportunities like this.”

“Continual learning is an integral part of Chemonics’ culture and we constantly encourage our staff to learn new technical areas and grow as development professionals,” added Susi Mudge, president and CEO of Chemonics. “I’m thrilled this program with ASU exposed our global workforce to new areas in which they can have global impact.”

According to Jamey Butcher, executive vice president of Chemonics, ASU was a natural choice for partnership as the university's mission is closely aligned with Chemonics’ mission to promote meaningful change around the world to help people live healthier, more productive and more independent lives.

Classes in the program were taught by ASU faculty within the W. P. Carey School of Business and utilized innovative online learning platforms such as Canvas and Yellowdig to connect students to their faculty and to each other. 

“The class brought everyone together and we all worked as a team,” said Kelechi Enweruzo-Amaefule, a state strategic engagement manager working with the Chemonics-implemented USAID Global Health Supply Chain Program - Procurement and Supply Management project in Nigeria. “It helped us integrate our work, both within the project in Nigeria and also learn from other employees' ideas and experiences globally. I now have a greater understanding of others’ jobs, for example procurement processes and quantification and distribution, and can better contribute to and complement what they do. The program has increased our capacity and encouraged this integrated approach.”

Before the program, Waheed felt as if she executed financial tasks solely because it was required of her, without understanding all of its complexities.

“Now I know the rationale and importance as to why I am doing things a certain way,” Waheed said. “(The MiniMasters program) has given us the confidence to better understand what we do and why. It’s given us the tools to deliver this knowledge to others as well.”

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Wadia Waheed speaks at the MiniMasters graduation ceremony at Old Main on April 8, 2019. Photo by Laura Segall

According to Mudge, Chemonics hopes to continue offering the program, while exploring additional needs of Chemonics’ global workforce and expanding their continual learning offerings with ASU. 

The MiniMasters program was not only a test of success for ASU and Chemonics, but also a global test for how to engage people around the world.

“This was a pilot program to explore how we can educate international development professionals,” Feinson said. “Now we want to see how this program scales to impact more people.”

Aside from this program, ASU International Development and Chemonics are working together to bring innovation to other industries including supply chain management, monitoring, evaluation, learning, conservation and biodiversity. 

ASU International Development is also involved with rule of law projects in South America, education projects in Pakistan, and other projects around the world. For the future, ASU International Development is focused on perfecting university design models that will work in the developing world. 

Written by Maya Shrikant

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ASU supports young innovators in Southeast Asia

April 22, 2019

Arizona State University’s missions of inclusivity and serving the community go beyond the state of Arizona, and even the United States. Funded by the U.S. State Department, ASU is implementing a three-year program to promote equitable, sustainable and inclusive economic growth in the Lower Mekong countries of Southeast Asia through education, science and the environment.

The Lower Mekong Initiative Young Scientist Program supports young scholars in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam to create a collaborative research community that will develop solutions to challenges people face along the Mekong River.

"Together, we are going to make a difference in the lives of these young scientists who will have an impact throughout the entire Lower Mekong region for years to come,” said Jose Quiroga, director of the LMI Young Scientist Program and associate director of global outreach and extended education in the Ira. A Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

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Lower Mekong Initiative Young Scientist Program participants pose for a group photo in front of the Maker Innovation Space in Danang, Vietnam, where they built prototypes of ideas inspired by real-world challenges along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. The Maker Innovation Space is supported by the USAID Building University-Industry Learning and Development through Innovation and Technology Alliance, better known as the BUILD-IT Alliance, and implemented by Arizona State University. Photo courtesy of Jose Quiroga

Solving real-world challenges through multinational collaboration

In its first year, the 2018 LMI Young Scientist Program cohort included 24 young researchers from the five Lower Mekong countries who solved challenges related to water, energy and environmental sustainability. The four-week program in Vietnam included workshops, networking events and a scientific symposium to share knowledge, ideas and experiences such as authoring peer-reviewed scientific research papers. They also met with companies in the region to see what solutions are already being developed and to learn about the skills employers are looking for in prospective employees.

Throughout the four weeks, scholars worked together on international and multidisciplinary teams to create prototypes for solutions to water, energy and sustainability issues. They created prototypes of an eco-floating farming system made of affordable, recycled materials for residents of floating villages on the Mekong River; a low-cost, easy-to-maintain household wastewater treatment system to prevent the transmission of pathogens for households that practice aquaculture farming (such as raising fish and shellfish); a seesaw-powered water filtration system to provide safe and clean drinking water access for primary schools in rural areas; and an energy warning system for smart electric meters to help conserve energy used by appliances.

Waste material turned into heavy metal adsorbent earns seed grant

As Vietnam’s industrial sector grows, mitigating pollution is a priority for both industry and academia. An LMI research team is working to tackle pollution caused by one of Vietnam’s leading agricultural sectors.

LMI Young Scientist Program participants were encouraged to submit proposals for the LMI Young Scientist Seed Grant Program that awards up to $15,000 in seed funding to further develop and implement their projects. Proposals are judged on the quality of their idea, project planning, the team’s ability to achieve objectives and cost effectiveness.

Lan Nguyen Phuong Tran, a recent chemical engineering doctoral graduate and current lecturer of mechanical engineering at Can Tho University in Vietnam, participated in the 2018 LMI Young Scientist Program. She studies bioenergy and biodiesel production from agricultural byproducts. At the beginning of the program, she was especially excited about the opportunities it would bring.

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Lan Nguyen Phuong Tran (center), a recent chemical engineering doctoral graduate and current lecturer of mechanical engineering at Can Tho University in Vietnam, works with other Lower Mekong Initiative Young Scientist Program participants. Photo courtesy of Jose Quiroga

“I would like to learn new research activities from other participants and lecturers, especially about the conversion of biomass into bioenergy and byproducts because the Mekong Delta is a rich source of agricultural waste,” said Tran, who is from Vietnam. “Another concern is to treat the pollutants from rice fields and remove pollutants and heavy metals from wastewater treatment plants in Vietnam.”

Tran joined in on the seed funding competition with LMI Young Scientist Program participants Bundit Buddhahai, a doctoral student in energy management technology at King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi in Thailand, and Chanreaksmey Taing, a recent environmental design master’s degree graduate and current water and environment researcher and lecturer at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia.

Together, Tran, Buddhahai and Taing developed a proposal to synthesize a composite using cellulose acetate and zeolites from rice husk ash to remove heavy metals from wastewater.

As one of the top rice exporting countries, Vietnam also has an abundant supply of rice husk ash. Rice husks are a byproduct of the milling process and are burned to generate electricity, which produces ash. Currently, rice husk ash is thrown away or used in lower-value applications such as soil improvement and cement production.

The team proposes the silica found in rice husk ash can be used to synthesize zeolites, an adsorbent that can be used to remove heavy metal ions from wastewater due to their excellent ion-exchange capacity, selectivity and compatibility with the natural environment. However, due to the difficulty of separating zeolites from the solution after absorption in large-scale wastewater treatment, the team developed a composite of zeolites and organic polymers like cellulose acetate.

Their actionable results and potential for advancement earned the team the $15,000 in seed funding. They also learned essential skills in grantsmanship, opening up the potential for additional grant funding from Vietnam’s National Foundation for Science and Technology Development, the Ministry of Education and Training and other local Mekong Delta region funding.

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A certification ceremony during the last day of the Lower Mekong Initiative Young Scientist Program at the Arizona State University Makerspace in Danang, Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Jose Quiroga

Focus shifts to health challenges in program’s second year

In its second year, the 2019 LMI Young Scientist Program will challenge Lower Mekong-area graduate and doctoral scholars to solve challenges in public health using bioinformatics. The four-week summer program will be hosted at the National University of Laos, or NUOL, in Vientiane in collaboration with the university’s faculty of engineering.

The LMI Young Scientist Program is recruiting current master’s degree and doctoral students, or recent graduates of statistics/biostatistics, informatics/bioinformatics, epidemiology, public health, data/information science and mathematics from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The 2019 program aims to recruit up to 34 participants by May 17.

“Since this program is open to eligible candidates in the five LMI member countries, we encourage Fulton Schools faculty and students to forward this opportunity to their colleagues in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam,” Quiroga said.

Participants will be challenged to form multidisciplinary and multinational teams and develop a prototype using physical or computational models to help solve public health issues related to monitoring, modeling and controlling vector-borne diseases and outbreaks.

The projects completed by LMI Young Scientist Program participants could lead to the formulation of public policy and public health strategies for the region, and could earn additional local, national or international funding to further their research and collaboration.

Top image: Arizona State University supports young scientists in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam to collaborate and create innovative, real-world solutions to challenges people face along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. It is done through the Lower Mekong Initiative Young Scientists Program, funded by the U.S. State Department. Photo courtesy of Jose Quiroga

Monique Clement

Communications specialist , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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To save life on Earth, here’s the $100 billion-a-year solution

April 19, 2019

There have been five mass extinctions in the history of the Earth. But in the 21st century, scientists now estimate that society must urgently come to grips this coming decade to stop the very first human-made biodiversity catastrophe.

“The sixth extinction is on our societyʻs shoulders; it really is,” said ecologist Greg Asner, who serves on the faculty of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and the School of Earth and Space Exploration and came to Arizona State University this past January to lead the new Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science.

“We have to make a decision about where to save biodiversity, and where to let it go,” said Asner. “That’s where we are now. We are playing that game as a society. Unfortunately, it’s gotten to that point because we are dominating the planet.”

Asner is one of 19 international authors with a bold new science policy proposal to reverse the tide, called A Global Deal for Nature (GDN). The policy's mission is simple: Save the diversity and abundance of life on Earth — for the price tag of $100 billion a year.

“It’s not a huge price tag,” said Asner. “That’s not a pie-in-the-sky number, but one we had to meet on and agree on. I know that those numbers are not outlandish.”

Consider that in 2018 alone, the top two most profitable U.S. companies, Apple and Berkshire Hathaway, almost matched that amount. What’s the price of saving the Earth by comparison?

Societal investment in the GDN plan would, for the first time, integrate and implement climate and nature deals on a global scale to avoid human upheaval and biodiversity loss.

While the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement was the first major accord to take global action toward climate change policies, the international team of GDN scientists believe a similar companion pact is desperately needed to implement the very first global nature conservation plan to meet these challenges.

“All nations have signed on to this (Paris) agreement,” wrote corresponding author Eric Dinerstein, of the Washington, D.C.-based nongovernmental organization Resolve. “But the Paris agreement is only a half-deal; it will not alone save the diversity of life on Earth or conserve ecosystem services upon which humanity depends.

"The Global Deal for Nature is a time-bound, science-based plan to save the diversity and abundance of life on Earth. Without the Global Deal for Nature, the goals of the Paris climate deal become unreachable; worse, we face the unraveling of the Earth's natural ecosystems that sustain human life. Achieving the milestones and targets of the Global Deal for Nature is the best gift we can offer to future generations — an environmental reset, a pathway to an Eden 2.0. We must seize this hopeful pathway."

The study, published in Science Advances, included a team of international academic, societal, philanthropic and industrial leaders, including: Resolve; the National Geographic Society; University of Minnesota; George Mason University; University of California, Santa Barbara; Zoological Society of London; Arizona State University; UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre; Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation; Florida Institute for Conservation Science; Kunming Institute of Zoology; Chinese Academy of Sciences; Woods Hole Research Center; Google; Colorado State University; Microsoft and the Environmental Foundation Ltd.

30 by 30

In the GDN plan, the team has outlined the guiding principles, milestones and targets needed to avoid the disastrous extinction threats of a 2 degrees Celsius global warming forecast.

The three overarching goals of the GDN are to:

  • Protect biodiversity by conserving at least 30% of the Earth’s surface by 2030.
  • Mitigate climate change by conserving the Earth’s natural carbon storehouses.
  • Reduce major threats (such as meeting 2050 world food demand by directing cropland expansion to degraded lands and reducing food waste; or curbing industrial fishing or illegal hunting and poaching; or reduce use of plastics or ecologically damaging toxins).

The essence of implementing the plan is to set up protected areas of land as natural ecosystems.

“There has to be aggressive conservation of remaining habitats,” said Dinerstein.

Dinerstein says reprioritizing the woods is the key to saving biodiversity and some of the best natural carbon sinks on the planet.

“Because two-thirds of all species on Earth are found in natural forests, maintaining intact forest is vital to prevent mass extinction. And maintaining intact forests, and especially tropical forests, sequesters twice as much carbon as planted monocultures, so, forest conservation is a critical approach to global warming,” he said.

Basically, any place that can store carbon is important, from the land to the sea, including forests, peatlands, tundra, mangroves, grasslands, freshwater and marine realms, wetlands and coastal habitats.

“Nature provides the ecological building blocks of human civilization – from the mangroves and coral reefs that harbor much of the world’s tropical fisheries, to the trees that purify our air and water, to the insects, birds and bats that pollinate our crops," Dinerstein said. "Simply put, we need wild nature in every one of the Earth’s 846 terrestrial ecoregions, conserved in protected areas representing the complex web of nature upon which we all depend."

It's an aggressive goal.

“This 30% plan is not easy to achieve,” said Asner. “Weʻd like to go higher — but we realize we weren’t going to make it. Thirty percent is achievable, but it will be very hard to reach. We’ve gone through different studies to try and figure out what’s the minimum amount of land area that needs to be protected, managed or conserved that would save the greatest number of species on the planet from extinction."

Drawing the biodiversity map

When it comes to protecting biodiversity, creating a global map, let alone setting aside the precise global locations for specific conservation areas, is very much a work in progress.

To make a better biodiversity map, they propose that the GDN embrace monitoring progress from the ground (and below the sea surface) to space using powerful new technologies, much of it publicly available.

ASU global ecologist

Greg Asner

That’s where Asner’s particular expertise comes into play.  His new ASU center is focused on using methods to help map, monitor and conserve aspects of the environments, including biodiversity.

“In addition to biodiversity, we have a water resource interest, we have carbon and climate,” said Asner. “We use satellites, we use aircraft and in my group, we have a global field program. We have our own aircraft here now, which I brought with me, and then we have the world’s largest constellation of satellites, called Planet.”

Planet currently operates 331 Earth-observing satellites. “This monster data pipe is bringing in an unlimited amount of data to the entire ASU campus. That’s a technology piece that supports this type of application.”

His center’s science and technology is part of the GDN effort to drive the capability of the best-informed decision-making possible about where to save biodiversity.  

“My role is in the assessment of where the biodiversity is on the planet,” said Asner. “We do not know that well at all. Land or sea. We know a lot about it, and I happen to know a lot about the tropics, but it’s a hard one to crack. That’s why I’m involved in this.”

In the sea, Asner has been focused on making the first high-resolution biodiversity maps of coral reefs.

“Coral reefs are where we have the most species per acre,” he said. “That’s where the hotspots of biodiversity are in the ocean. Now, they don’t sequester carbon the way tropical forests do, but they are critical for the biodiversity aspect. They do protect coastlines and forests like mangroves, so reefs are important connections to land-based carbon and biodiversity. ”

 Video by Greg Asner

Implementing GDN at scale

The heart of the GDN plan is to simply let nature do what it does best to offset and undo humanity’s harmful actions.

“The amount of carbon sequestered in Peru, just one country, with their rainforests equals all of the U.S. emissions per year,” said Asner. “And I know that because I mapped Peru’s carbon over and over again for their government.

“And so, that’s scalable. If you can keep these forests intact, to where they are naturally pulling in carbon, you can get what are called carbon offsets. You are compensating for your rates of gross emissions with rates of sequestration that you wouldn’t have if you didn’t have those forests there.”

But just how will the team reach the $100 billion-a-year estimate to achieve GDN goals?

Dinerstein estimates that the international community currently spends $4 billion to $10 billion per year alone on conservation. Extending the area-based targets in the post-2020 strategic plan for biodiversity to 30% by 2030 will likely require direct involvement of the private sector, some of whom — including Google, Microsoft, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and Environmental Foundation Ltd. — are among the first to have made commitments to the GDN.

"The Global Deal for Nature presents a hopeful solution to avert the sixth mass extinction and help stabilize the climate, powered by the latest technology to visualize and analyze global change from space," said Tanya Birch, program manager for Google Earth Outreach. 

“The time is short and the science is clear — humanity must do more than reduce our global carbon emissions in order to escape the brink of climate disaster," said Lucas Joppa, chief environmental officer at Microsoft. 

In other key sectors — fishing, forestry, agriculture and insurance — corporations may be able to align their financial returns directly to reaching targets recommended by the GDN.

Through the team’s actions, the time-bound targets of the GDN will have the greatest short-term effect on saving species and habitats deemed most sensitive to rapid climate change.

“It’s going to be a combination of governments, business community and public-private partnership approaches to implement this,” said Asner. “The Paris agreement opens up the web of interactions on these topics, not just carbon and climate, that would allow for agreement making.”

Can this all really happen to meet their aggressive 2030 goal? Asner and the GDN team don’t have the time nor inclination to dwell on the alternative.

“The science is now clear," said Karl Burkart, director of innovation, media and technology at the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. "We must act with boldness and vision if we are to prevent the worsening impacts of climate change — from sea level rise and extreme flooding to prolonged drought, cataclysmic fire events and collapsing food systems. Ultimately, we will stay below the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold because we must. And the Global Deal for Nature is a big part of how we do it."

Top image: A map of the world's 846 terrestrial ecoregions. International scientists have provided an ambitious plan, the Global Deal for Nature, an assessment of how the 30% protection they call for by 2030 could be readily achieved in 67% of those ecoregions. 

Guillaume Long, former foreign minister for Ecuador, to speak at ASU about Latin American politics

April 16, 2019

Latin American governments have veered right toward conservatism in the last five years with implications for the region’s relationship to the United States, according to Guillaume Long, a former foreign minister for Ecuador.

“The United States plays an important role in most regions of the world, but particularly in Latin America, which (politically and geographically) is known as the United States’ backyard,” Long said. Guillaume Long Guillaume Long, former foreign minister for Ecuador. Download Full Image

Long will speak about politics in Latin America in a keynote address titled “Perspectives on the Current Political Climate in Latin America,” at 6 p.m. on  April 18 in the Biodesign Institute Auditorium on the Arizona State University Tempe campus. His talk, which is free and open to the public, is part of the Distinguished Global Leader Series presented by Barrett, The Honors College at ASU.

He will touch upon the United States’ intervention into Latin American politics through the Monroe Doctrine, how Latin American governments have shifted from the left to the right, the legacy of leftist governments, the current unrest in Venezuela, the Colombian peace process, the politics of regional integration and Latin America’s geopolitical future.

Long is a French, British and Ecuadorian academic with experience in government and politics. He was foreign minister of Ecuador, minister of culture, minister of knowledge and human talent, president of the Board for Accreditation and Quality Assurance in Higher Education, chancellor of Ecuador’s school of government, and public administration and adviser to the minister of planning and development at different times during the 10-year presidency of Rafael Correa. He was later Ecuador’s ambassador and permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

He holds a PhD in international politics from the University of London and is currently an associate researcher at the Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques in Paris. He also teaches international relations at Sciences Po's Paris School of International Affairs and comparative Latin American politics at Johns Hopkins University. 

“America plays an important role in most regions of the world, but particularly and historically in Latin America,” he said.

“I think Americans have a responsibility to know what is happening in Latin America and their country’s role in it. It’s important for people who care about what is happening in the world to know about what is happening in Latin America,” he said.

Long predicts the relationship between the U.S. and Latin America will take center stage as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up.

“There are issues of immigration, climate change, drugs and much more. Now that we’re getting closer to a campaign year with Mr. Trump and others, issues in Latin America will be even more significant,” he said.

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College


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ASU professor helps nations find forgiveness, reconciliation

ASU political psychologist helps traumatized nations heal, find forgiveness.
April 12, 2019

Political psychologist at Thunderbird to address genocide-awareness conference

Pain and trauma can afflict not only individuals and families, but also entire countries.

Eileen Borris is a political psychologist who has worked to generate healing in war-torn nations by training groups of people in forgiveness and reconciliation.

Borris will be one of the speakers in the weeklong Genocide Awareness Week starting April 15 at Scottsdale Community College, a series of lectures, art exhibits, film screenings, memorial services and storytelling by survivors, scholars, politicians, activists, artists and members of law enforcement. Her talk is titled “Healing Hate in America.”

Borris, an associate professor at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, is on the board of Forgiveness International and has consulted with the U.S. Agency for International Development on several projects.

She answered some questions from ASU Now:

Eileen Borris

Question: How did you get into the field of forgiveness?

Answer: Once I finished getting my doctorate in clinical psychology and counseling psychology, I went on a trip to the Soviet Union and I was asked to teach about conflict resolution there. This was at the peak of the time when they were considered to be “the evil empire.”

I recognized that not only do I like working with individuals, I also really like working with groups of people who have been in conflict to help to bring the walls down and build relationships.

Then I was invited to do some work at the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy, where I started to develop conflict-resolution programming and I began to study forgiveness. I asked if there were case studies about forgiveness in international affairs, and there was nothing. I began thinking and writing about this, and that’s how I became interested in the area of political forgiveness.

I’ve worked in a number of different countries, most recently in Afghanistan. I worked in Liberia and Nigeria and Lebanon and with the Tibetan government in exile. I did some work in Rwanda and some teaching in South Africa

Q: How do you start teaching a nation to find forgiveness?

A: I connect with different civil society organizations or nongovernmental organizations, and they tell me what they need and I develop a training program to accommodate their needs. In Liberia, I was invited by the foreign minister, and I gave trainings in multi-track diplomacy, conflict resolution and forgiveness.

One concept is to give them skills in conflict resolution so they begin to understand how conflict develops and the components of conflict, so they can look at their differences with greater understanding.

We talk about how to heal the pain and fear, and how do we learn to deal with anger? Is there a different way to deal with anger besides killing each other?

I introduce the concept of the psychological landscape of “the other” and how we can begin to walk in their shoes. I help them to learn about empathy and understanding that we’re all human beings and will react in similar ways in similar circumstances.

The conflicts are different, but the concepts are the same.

Q: You’re writing a book about political forgiveness. What’s it about?

A: It’s about reckoning with the past and how that requires a change in society, which means new contracts between citizens. We can’t ignore the painful past if we want to move forward.

We have to look at individual forgiveness — how can we help heal individuals who have gone through trauma and pain?

It’s a difficult process. None of this is easy. It requires changing the mindset of leaders.

Q: How does your expertise translate to the business world that Thunderbird students are studying?

A: It’s the same concepts. If you want to be a successful negotiator, you need to understand something about the person you’re engaging with and you need to understand some of the fundamentals that make up conflict. For example, you’re going to have different needs from the person you’re negotiating with and you might have a different set of values.

The more you understand yourself and the more you understand “the other,” the more effective you’ll be in negotiating.

Q: Is it important to have events like Genocide Awareness Week?

A: Absolutely. We haven’t learned. Most of the people who lived the genocide of the Holocaust are gone now, so we don’t have their stories. And it was so unbelievable that we don’t want to repeat history and yet we are repeating history all over the world, especially in Africa. We see a cultural genocide happening with Tibetans.

We need to start applying what we’ve learned from around the world to this country.

Q: What will you discuss at your talk on Wednesday?

A: I’m going to start off with the story of what happened in Charleston, and ask the question of why did this happen and talk about crime here in the United States. I’ll talk about how we can heal from that.

I’ll talk about political forgiveness and the importance of restorative justice, and I’ll share the fact that there have been some truth and reconciliation commissions in the United States, including one in Greensboro, N.C. There are some novel things being done in Alabama, through the Equal Justice Initiative.

There are many ways to think about truth and reconciliation processes. In this country, there won’t be a one-size-fits-all. Each state has a different history.

And I’ll talk people through a visualization to imagine a world that didn’t have to deal with all this pain and suffering, and to imagine a world without violence and war, where our anger would be washed away.

Borris will speak at 9 a.m. Wednesday. All events are in the Turquoise Room of the SCC Student Center, unless otherwise indicated. Two other events will feature experts from the ASU community:

A panel discussion at 1 p.m. Tuesday titled “Stewards of the Story of Beth Hebrew, Phoenix” will include Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, director of Jewish Studies, a professor of history and the Irving and Miriam Lowe Professor of Modern Judaism at ASU, as well as Volker Benkert and Jason Bruner, both assistant professors in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

A performance at 10:30 a.m. Thursday titled “Soviet Memories: Music and the Holocaust in the former USSR” will feature Alexandra Birch, a violinist and scholar of music and the arts in the former USSR who holds three degrees from ASU, and Dani Shraibman, a faculty associate and doctoral candidate in the School of Music at ASU.

Top image courtesy of Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


Fellner awarded Fulbright Specialist grant to North Macedonia

April 11, 2019

Dan Fellner, faculty affiliate with the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has received a prestigious Fulbright Specialist grant to the Republic of North Macedonia.

This is Fellner’s seventh Fulbright fellowship; previously he has received Fulbright Scholar grants to Latvia, Moldova and Bulgaria, and Fulbright Specialist grants to Indonesia, Lithuania and Latvia. Additionally, he has taught a one-week intensive course in communications four times at the Fulbright International Summer Institute in Bulgaria, which borders North Macedonia. Dan Fellner Dan Fellner. Download Full Image

Fellner joined Arizona State University as a faculty associate in 1998. He has taught courses in print and broadcast journalism, public relations, international mass media, intercultural communications and travel writing. He currently teaches courses in Eastern Europe, Asia, Cuba and other foreign destinations for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

In North Macedonia, Fellner will be teaching a course in intercultural communications and conducting other lectures at the Saints Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, or UKIM, during a six-week period beginning in late April. UKIM is the oldest and most prestigious university in North Macedonia, which recently changed its name from the Republic of Macedonia to resolve a three-decade-long dispute with its neighbor, Greece. Greece had blocked the country’s full international recognition, including its admission to NATO and the European Union, since its declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in 1992.  

Skopje, capital of North Macedonia, is Tempe’s sister city. The relationship dates back to 1971, when Skopje was part of socialist Yugoslavia. As part of that relationship, ASU and UKIM collaborated to exchange students and faculty between the 1970s and the early 2000s. Fellner’s Fulbright is one of a set of initiatives the two universities are pursuing to revitalize the partnership. During summer 2019, UKIM Professor Borche Arsov will teach Macedonian at ASU’s Critical Languages Institute in Tempe, while School of Politics and Global Studies faculty members Henry Sivak and Daniel Pout will head a study abroad program to Greece and Northern Macedonia.

"The University of Saints Cyril and Methodius and Arizona State University share a commitment to the importance of higher education for broader society. We are pleased to be extending our collaboration by hosting Professor Fellner as a Fulbright specialist," said Professor Nikola Jankulovski, rector of UKIM. 

“As a vibrant, multicultural democracy that avoided major violence throughout a turbulent period, the Republic of North Macedonia offers lessons and inspiration for foreign scholars and students,” said Keith Brown, director of the Melikian Center. “We look forward to the mutual learning that Professor Fellner’s Fulbright will set in motion.”

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. The Fulbright Specialist Program provides awards to U.S. academics and professionals to work in partnership with academic, nonprofit and cultural institutions in over 100 countries. Grants range from two to six weeks.

Scholars redefine the border conversation at Arizona-Sonora Colloquium

April 11, 2019

The U.S.-Mexico border is a complicated mosaic of unpredictable policies and shifting economic tides. A patchwork of man-made and natural barriers spanning four U.S. states and almost 2,000 miles, the stretch is usually defined by the things it separates.

But at the Arizona-Sonora Colloquium, academics aimed to challenge that notion by reconnecting the area’s historic ties and forging a more sustainable future for both lands. School of Transborder Studies Regents’ Professor and Founding Director Emeritus Carlos Velez-Ibanez hosts a panel discussion between social scientists from Arizona and Mexico at the Arizona-Sonora Colloquium.  ASU School of Transborder Studies Regents’ Professor and Founding Director Emeritus Carlos Velez-Ibanez moderates a panel discussion of social scientists from Arizona and Mexico at the Arizona-Sonora Colloquium. Photo by Alisa Reznick Download Full Image

The biennial event convened for its latest session April 4–5 at Arizona State University and gathered researchers, university presidents and public policy representatives from across Arizona and Mexico’s northern state of Sonora to discuss how knowledge exchange can be used as a tool to build resiliency.

Rethinking the borderlands

Launched in 2015 by The College of Liberal Arts and SciencesSchool of Transborder Studies with support from the ASU Office of the President, the international conference and its parent initiative Program for Transborder Communities (PTC) spotlight the common ground of Arizona’s south and Mexico’s north.

Where others see a delineating borderline, PTC’s program director  Lara-Valencia sees a transborder megaregion.

“This is a multidimensional space with cultural connections, economic interactions and environmental linkages that extend far beyond the border itself,” said Lara-Valencia, also an associate professor in the School of Transborder Studies. “Through research and knowledge sharing, we are trying to find ways to overcome the barrier effect of the border and facilitate the processes of interaction that happen on a daily basis here.”

One example Lara-Valencia points to is in the twin cities of Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, Sonora, a border zone that sees around 10 million people each year passing through its two entry ports. In addition to being an active trade and familial corridor, both cities are sustained by the Santa Cruz River. The survival of each place depends on its ability to manage resources effectively, meaning collaboration is imperative.

“Institutions on both sides must work together to ensure they have that water supply for generations to come,” Lara-Valencia said. “If they do not, they risk the future of their entire communities.”

The situation is not unique to Nogales. Several urban centers across the region may face daunting futures without electricity, food and water resource management that works for both countries.

“Relations at the federal and national level are at a complicated place, but there is more uniting us than dividing us,” said Manuel Valenzuela, director of innovation and internationalization at the Universidad de Sonora. “By gathering ideas, we can strengthen and amplify collaboration.”

Valenzuela was one of several institutional leaders, including ASU President Michael Crow, Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng and University of Arizona President Robert Robbins, at the colloquium. Held in either Tempe or Sonora’s capital Hermosillo, the event is the staging ground for the cross-border scholarship Lara-Valencia and other PTC founders originally envisioned.

“The colloquium and PTC as a whole are both mechanisms to create narratives of understanding, cooperation and commonalities between the U.S. and Mexico,” Lara-Valencia said. “I think it also challenges what you normally see in the media about this region to help people see that the reality of the border is much more complex.”

Funding impactful research

Still, creating a platform for meaningful discourse is neither easy, nor free. In 2014, the Office of the President helped bridge the gap by allocating over $1 million to PTC’s research grant initiative to fund research projects partnering ASU faculty with academics from institutions in Sonora and other border regions.

The grant program has since expanded to include funding and participants from several institutions in Mexico and the University of Arizona. Through the Arizona-Sonora Interuniversity Alliance, the money has helped fund over 20 projects so far. A call for research proposals for the 2019 cycle is forthcoming this spring, and now also includes Northern Arizona University, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte and Instituto Tecnológico de Sonora.

At the two-day colloquium, participants and seed grant recipients had the chance to discuss research barriers face-to-face and plan for the future. 

Angela Arzubiaga, an associate professor in The College’s School of Social Transformation, is one of the 2018 grant recipients. Arzubiaga and ASU colleagues Jessica Solyom and Nicholas Bustamante will partner with El Colegio de Sonora’s Gabriela García Figueroa, Valentina Glockner Fagetti and Nohora Constanza Niño Vega for a project following the journeys of Central American children through Mexico and the U.S. as they apply for asylum.

The topic has dominated national headlines over the last few years, but Arzubiaga said little has been done to look at what happens to young people after their initial arrival. The ASU researcher, whose work has examined how a range of institutions impact immigrant lives, said coordinating with her Sonoran counterparts gives the project more depth.

“The collaboration allows us to question what we take for granted,” she said. “It not only provides different perspectives on the work itself, but affords participating students with opportunities that are globally relevant.”

Thinking about the big picture is also how Enrique Vivoni, a concurrent professor in The College’s School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, approached his grant project in 2016.

Back then, Vivoni partnered with Instituto Tecnológico de Sonora academic Agustín Robles-Morua and El Colegio de Sonora’s Rolando Enrique Díaz Caravantes for a comparative study of urban sustainability in Phoenix and Hermosillo.

Each sitting several hours from the international line and each other, neither of the Sonoran Desert cities seems particularly tied to border studies at first glance. But the sprawling capitals actually share a lot. Both rely on seasonal monsoons that are increasingly threatened by the impacts of climate change, while the desert’s arid landscape means resource management and allocation systems are crucial to their survival.

As the study progressed, Vivoni said the project built upon itself by exploring new facets.

“Both are cities trying to grow in very harsh climatic conditions, that’s how our work started,” Vivoni said. “As we went on, we started looking at more local aspects like water conservation, storm water control and the use of green spaces to reduce urban heat.”

Three years later, the project has tangible results.

“We created a visualization tool for Hermosillo that informs residents about heat waves and details areas in the city that are more susceptible to higher temperatures,” said Vivoni, who also serves as associate dean of ASU’s Graduate College. “That came directly from our collaboration in PTC.”

Scholarship for a revamped region

Vivoni said studies done through the program should be a springboard for new generations of scholars to drive cross-border research forward and, when possible, spur change and offer solutions.

That sentiment was echoed by the director of the Sonora government’s international cooperation office, Yamilett Martínez, who asked scholars at the colloquium to consider how their work could have impacts outside the classroom.

“The Arizona-Sonora commission needs the knowledge you are generating to have public policy outcomes go hand in hand,” she said. “We ask that you, the academics, demand our attention to continue to make progress in the executive offices in both states.”

Wielding academic innovation as a means of social change has been one of the PTC’s major goals since its inception. April’s colloquium drove that idea forward with a roundtable event gathering university leaders to discuss how collaboration has helped shape policy thus far, and what more can be done.

“Our states together represent 180,000 square miles of territory with unbelievable natural assets, unbelievable natural beauty and unbelievable potential,” Crow said. “There is no future economy for which education is not important, no success for which universities are not important; let’s set aside the politics and rhetoric going on (on the national level) and figure out how we can be a more successful region.”

Writer, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


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In Mexico City, ASU thinks about the future

April 10, 2019

When we think about self-driving cars, we don’t usually think about organ donation. But, as Anne Hobson and Ian Adams argued in a 2016 article published in Slate’s Future Tense— a partnership between the magazine, Arizona State University, and the New America Foundation — we should. 

About 20% of donated organs come as a result of traffic-related deaths, which tragically claimed more than 34,000 lives in the U.S. in 2017. Self-driving cars promise to reduce that number by taking human error off the road. But as we work to ensure that self-driving technology reaches its goal of saving human lives, we also need to think about solutions to the less obvious consequences that technology’s success may leave behind — such as a reduction in donor organs. 

Asking about the less obvious consequences of technology is one of Torie Bosch’s rules for thinking about the future, which she shared with an audience in Mexico City last week. Bosch is the editor of Future Tense and an editor-in-residence and lecturer at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She was joined by Pablo Duarte, an editor of the prestigious Mexican magazine Letras Libres, and Alejandro Pisanty, a professor of chemistry at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México who is one of the foremost authorities on the Mexican internet. Letras Libres is a partner of Future Tense, publishing its content in translation for its readers in Mexico, Spain and across Latin America.

The event, titled “How to Think About the Future in the Present,” forms part of a series of events hosted by ASU’s Convergence Lab, an initiative that brings together thinkers from ASU and Mexico to explore challenges and opportunities shared across the border. 

“Mexico is a great place to be if you care about the future, the present and the past,” Pisanty said, echoing the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes’ saying that Mexico is a place where all times co-exist. 

Both Pisanty and Bosch urged the need to strike a balance between optimism and pessimism about emerging technologies — the kind of balance that allows you to ask the right questions. 

Pisanty, who has extensively studied the internet and information security, said that when the internet first started becoming widely used, he and other researchers were “too optimistic about online behavior.” Now, he’s working on creating frameworks to understand that behavior, especially as it moves between online and offline. 

Bosch’s other rules include admonitions against making predictions about specific technologies or believing that technology can fix human problems by itself. 

Bosch has used these rules in over close to eight years of editing Future Tense, since its founding in 2011. In that time, and through the support of ASU, Slate and New America, Future Tense has explored how emerging technologies will change the way we live through published commentary and its own public events. 

The project’s effects have rippled far beyond ASU: About 25% of Future Tense’s readership on Slate (which was founded in early internet days by Bill Gates) comes from outside the U.S. And in addition to Letras Libres, Future Tense is also partnered with publications in Brazil and the United Arab Emirates that translate its articles into Portuguese and Arabic. 

The idea is that if — across borders and languages — we all think about the future together, we’ll be able to construct a better one. 

Although, Bosch said, there is one problem with thinking about the future.

“The truth is that there is no single the future, it’s a limitation in English ... the future isn’t a fixed destination,” Bosch said. “Every day we all make decisions that lead toward the future where we will arrive. And some of our decisions matter more than others, some people’s opinions matter more than others. And that’s the point of Future Tense, is to try to democratize these conversations.” 

Sign up for newsletters from Future Tense. To stay updated on ASU’s activities in Mexico, follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Top photo: ASU hosts an event on technology and the future in Mexico City on Thursday, April 4. The event featured a presentation by Torie Bosch, the editor of Future Tense, a collaboration between ASU, Slate Magazine and the New America Foundation that explores how emerging technologies will change the way we live.

Written by Mia Armstrong

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ASU GSV Summit explores human potential through education

April 9, 2019

President Crow, Cindy McCain, others discuss refugee education, trafficking, companies' role in employees' educational journey

The ASU GSV Summit, which explores innovation and technology in education with a range of keynotes and industry experts, celebrated its 10th year at its annual conference this week in San Diego.

At several livestreamed events Monday and Tuesday, Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow discussed the access mission of higher education.

Empowering refugees with education

Crow held a “fireside chat” with Cindy McCain (pictured above), widow of the late Sen. John McCain, on Monday. They discussed her work with the McCain Institute for International Leadership at ASU in working with vulnerable populations around the world and the politically divisive atmosphere right now.

Technology and education is life-changing, McCain said.

“You take a country like Congo or Nigeria, a little bit of education can make a world of difference, especially when you’re talking about women’s empowerment,” she said.

Most people don’t want to believe that human trafficking exists in North America.

“To them, it happens in Vietnam, Cambodia or some place in Africa, but it happens right there,” she said. “Education is a large part of this, not only knowing what it is but knowing what you can do to stop it.”

Crow said that ASU is involved in deploying education assets to refugee areas in Africa and the Middle East.

“We’re using tools we’ve developed with companies here to project educational content and to allow us to create learning environments,” he said. “But the refugee situations are so large and complex and so daunting.”

RELATED: ASU offering rapidly deployable online courses to refugees

McCain said that it’s difficult to imagine a situation in which your only hope of saving your child is to leave your country.

“So what you end up with is the most vulnerable people who end up in the hands of traffickers,” she said. “Education becomes primary in this — not just educating them on the ability to understand what trafficking is so they can save themselves, but to continue their existence.”

Crow noted that the McCains spent more than 30 years in politics and that the current climate is based on partisanship.

“George Washington gave his inaugural address in 1790 and he talked about how to move the country forward, and he was very much against political parties,” he said.

“He said we could end up in a country in the distant future, where the parties become the actual contest rather than the ideas. Here we are 200-plus years later. Now it does seem like it’s more important for red to beat blue or for blue to beat red.”

McCain said that Americans can reclaim power by voting and by telling leaders “what you want, not what they want.”

“I also believe in the goodness of America,” she said. “I’ve lived long enough to see this pendulum swing from side to side to side, and I believe it will swing back and we’ll see this country change again for the right reasons. We’re being tested.”

Crow asked McCain about her husband’s legacy and the McCain Institute, which is housed at ASU in Washington, D.C., and gathers young leaders from around the world to learn about values and ethics.

“I had a long time while he was ill to talk to him about this,” she said. “It’s about a commitment to human rights, freedom of the press, cybersecurity and all the things that meant a great deal to him,” she said.

“It’s making sure we continue the discussions and the disagreements and begin to understand not only what’s important but how we can be a part of making it better.

“He was the eternal optimist.”

Four men speak onstage

At a Monday afternoon panel, (from left) moderator and InStride CEO Vivek Sharma, ASU President Michael M. Crow, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson and Steve Ellis, managing partner at TPG Growth and the Rise Fund, discuss the ways in which companies can help their employees' education journey. Photo by Robert Behnke/EdPlus at ASU 

Helping companies create lifelong learners

Crow also spoke on a panel Monday that explored how companies should help their employees attain higher education and have a more humane view of the labor force.

“In the past, in American capitalism, we viewed labor as a commodity,” he said.

“I’m hoping companies will take a new view of the worker, as a human being that each company has a responsibility to help move forward and be adaptable for the next job — maybe in another company. It’s a whole new way to think about human capital as more than just a commodity.”

Last week, ASU announced that it is partnering with the Rise Fund — a global impact investing fund managed by TPG — on a new education enterprise called InStride, which will collaborate with employers to provide university degrees for employees. As the economy increasingly demands workers with knowledge and skills, university degrees — and the opportunity to pursue a higher education — become increasingly crucial. As the link between universities and employers, InStride aims to facilitate partnerships that will positively impact the lives of thousands of people.

ASU’s successful partnership with Starbucks, the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, is the catalyst for the new company, with plans for more employers and universities to be added in the coming months.

ASU, as the first university partner in this effort, offers a unique technology platform designed for scalable delivery of digital teaching and learning models to increase student success and reduce barriers to achievement in higher education. ASU Online offers more than 175 bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and certificate programs. InStride will work with employers to build education partnerships with ASU and other universities that meet the needs of their employees.

Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks, said on Monday that his company’s purpose is about more than profits.

“About five years ago, we observed that we have many partners struggling under loads of student debt to finish their educations,” he said. “It’s about helping our partners get that education that was out of reach.”

Johnson said about 12,000 Starbucks employees, called partners, are taking ASU classes through the program, with about 3,000 graduates so far.

“We find now that 50 percent of the graduates stay at Starbucks and get promoted faster and about 50 percent move on,” he said. “In new applicants for jobs at Starbucks, nearly 20 percent indicate their primary reason is to get an education in partnership with ASU.”

Steve Ellis, managing partner at TPG Growth and the Rise Fund, said that a new model of education accessed via the workplace could help ease income inequality.

“We know that between a third and one half of income inequality, which has expanded dramatically over the years, can be attributed to a lack of high-quality continuing education,” he said.

“What would it take for us to create a movement that would make this a responsibility of all corporations and organizations? There was more than $800 billion of company stock bought back in 2018. What if we spent a tiny fraction of that to create programs like the Starbucks College Achievement Plan?”

Crow said that the old-fashioned linear model of education in which children go to school, then college and then the workplace — and are finished with education — no longer works.

“Let’s make every organization a learning enterprise. Let’s surround people with opportunities to learn and stop judging them based on their age or what neighborhood they came from or whether they got a B in college algebra in 1980,” he said.

“We all know that it’s about whether we can help people to fulfill the totality of their potential,” he said.  

Making the case for lifelong learning

Crow elaborated on the need for lifelong education at the keynote address on Tuesday morning, saying that rapid technological change will require workers to keep learning.

“We’d like to work against income disparity, and we’d like to provide for rapid economic growth,” he said. “We’d like to not have these huge ups and downs in the current cycle of the economy.”

ASU President Michael Crow speaks at ASU GSV Summit

Michael M. Crow

Crow said the current linear system of K-12, then vocational school or college, then workplace, is inadequate.

“It’s poorly designed, and it’s useful for the past but not useful for the future,” he said.

A universal learning system would provide opportunities for education throughout the lifespan and be accessible in the workplace. But designing that model is very difficult because there are many types of universities, and they all operate very differently from corporations. 

“There’s nothing systematic at scale given the tens of millions of people in the workplace who have not attained a higher level of credential,” he said.

So this would require a new kind of entity — a “boundary-spanning organization” — to take the knowledge content provided by the universities and customize it for access by the companies’ workforce.

“The mediating organization has a special set of skills and talent and the ability to understand the two different clock speeds and cultures,” he said.

“It would have the ability to design the special interfaces needed, the people and the technology and the analytics.”

Crow visualized the scenario as two blocks of Legos, the university and the company, connected by a white Lego, the mediating company.

“At ASU, we’ve been thinking about how we do this. We have lots of experience in building these kinds of relationships on our own,” he said, citing education partnerships with Starbucks, adidas and Uber.

“These are going very well, but we realized immediately that back at the university, our skill set is not best at designing these white Legos. It’s a completely different set of skills,” he said.

ASU has taken a step toward creating this model through the new InStride partnership, he said.

But scaling that design will require significant changes:

  • New technologies, such as artificial intelligence-based advising and teaching for every life stage. 
  • New policies, such as the creation of a new tax-advantaged, employer-sponsored tuition savings account and a new higher-education classification system.
  • New mindsets, such as a creation of a culture of reward around education and an increased awareness that learning doesn’t end at an arbitrary age.

Crow referenced the recent scandal in which wealthy parents were charged with bribing to get their children admitted to some universities.

“It means something is wrong with the design,” he said.

“But if you’re learning throughout your entire life, maybe you go to college when you’re 18 or 28 or 38. It’s a system that needs some serious rethinking.”

Top photo: ASU President Michael M. Crow and Cindy McCain talk about populations made vulnerable by unstable political situations and the role of education Monday at the ASU GSV Summit in San Diego. Photo by Robert Behnke/EdPlus at ASU 

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now