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China makes keeping tabs on bird flu difficult

~1.5K humans have been infected with H7N9 bird flu strain; ~40% have died.
H7N9 bird flu strain cannot yet be transmitted from human to human.
February 13, 2019

ASU professor on how nation's tactic of withholding pathogen samples could create a public health threat

Last year, the New York Times reported that China had begun withholding samples of a strain of bird flu virus from U.S. health authorities. The news was of particular import to Arizona State University College of Health Solutions Associate Professor Matthew Scotch, whose research into virus evolution helps to inform public health officials of potential pandemic threats.

An expert in phylodynamics, Scotch looks at viruses to see how they’re related to one another from an ancestral standpoint. In an ongoing project funded by the National Institutes of Health, he is working to develop a bioinformatics system that can be used by health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control to implement models of phyloydynamics without having to be experts themselves.

“It’s sort of like a pipeline that gets all the data necessary, integrates them and does the modeling for them, then visually presents the results in a way we think will allow them to make meaningful decisions about what to do if public health action is needed,” Scotch said.

However, the lack of up-to-date virus samples puts such efforts in jeopardy. Scotch talked with ASU Now about why and how concerned we should be.

ASU College of Health Solutions Associate Professor

Matthew Scotch

Question: Why is the threat of bird flu especially concerning at this point in time?

Answer: There have been many instances throughout history of different types of flu that have caused pandemics in humans. The swine virus, for example. Only somewhat recently, though, has there been this growth in the amount of avian viruses that have potential for causing pandemics. Flu viruses are always evolving. The complexity with avian flu is that you have different types of viruses that are circulating in both domestic and wild birds that causes what we call antigenic shiftAn antigenic shift is the process by which two or more different strains of a virus, or strains of two or more different viruses, combine to form a new subtype having a mixture of the surface antigens of the two or more original strains., basically a mixing of viruses that creates new forms of the virus that we haven’t seen before. That can obviously catch people off guard and cause big problems.

Q: What are the potential consequences of China’s refusal to share fresh pathogen samples?

A: As researchers, we rely on publicly available data that is well annotated so that we can incorporate that into our models and get the most up-to-date information about what’s going on with these viruses. If the last sample of a virus you have is from more than a few years ago, that’s really outdated. Especially with H7N9, a bird flu strain that started in 2013 as a low pathogenic virus but has recently evolved into a highly pathogenic virus, meaning it now has the ability to kill its host. That shows that the virus is not sitting still, so we need to be monitoring it so we know what are the necessary changes needed for the virus to evolve into a strain capable of spreading from human to human, and at what point it’s at in its evolution. I have no idea when or if it could ever happen but it’s something that we need to monitor very closely, and the fact that we’re not able to monitor it as closely as we want to because China is withholding samples is concerning, because without them, we also can’t develop treatments and vaccines for it.

Q: Has this ever happened before?

A: We’ve seen this before with China, when they withheld samples of SARS and another bird flu strain, H5N1. But it’s hard to say what’s going to happen this time. These viruses are so unpredictable. We know H7N9 has killed about 40 percent of the people it has infected, and most of them had direct contact with poultry, usually through live bird markets. So those are the risk factors we know about. And the fact of that matter is, if we continue to allow live bird markets, more people are going to get sick and that could potentially lead to larger problems.

Q: Do we know why the majority of bird flu outbreaks happen in Southeast Asia?

A: It’s likely due to climate: temperature, the type of land, etc. And definitely the abundance of live bird markets and the mixing of those birds with wild birds. When you have a combination of close contact with birds that are kept together in close, confined spaces; a supportive climate; unregulated slaughtering practices; and a mixing of these birds with wild birds — that’s my understanding of why you have it in that specific area. China and other countries are trying to do away with these live bird markets, but it's such a common custom that it’s hard to eliminate all of them. But just because outbreaks tend to start in Southeast Asia doesn’t mean they’re going to stay there, and that’s where the public health concern is. Obviously it’s an area that needs to be continually monitored, which emphasizes the need for real-time data sharing.

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mother-daughter classmates bond through learning English

February 13, 2019

When Lee-Fang Chen and Selina Wang first arrived in Arizona, all they had was their luggage, each other and a common goal: to learn English.

“My daughter has always wanted to study in America, and it has always been a dream of mine to travel the world. To do either of these things, we knew we needed to be able to communicate in English. When we looked for English schools in Arizona, we found Global Launch,” said Chen. Mother Daughter selfie Selina Wang (left) and Lee-Fang Chen attend Global Launch registration on ASU's Tempe campus. Download Full Image

For many international students, learning English in their home country is a challenge because there aren’t many opportunities to converse with native English speakers. Wang learned this firsthand: “The environment is very important when you are learning English. For Taiwanese learners, speaking skills are very important. We knew that we would be forced to use English all the time in our daily lives (in America), which helped us learn without pressure. I also knew that learning these skills would help me pass the TOEFLTOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. It measures whether an English learner has mastered the language enough to take university-level courses taught in English. test.”

Along with learning a new language, both mother and daughter were forced to acclimate to an entirely different environment than their native Taiwan.

“When we first arrived to Arizona, I thought it was very brown with cactus and desert everywhere. When we came to ASU’s campus, we learned how very beautiful, big and joyful the campus is,” said Wang.

As classes began, both Wang and Chen experienced a new set of challenges.

“Of course the biggest challenge for me was the language. It is different when a second language becomes a part of your life,” said Wang.

“For me, there was a lot of homework, and the teachers push students very hard. I am also not very good with technology, and many things have changed from when I was a university student. For me, this was all very challenging, but my daughter helped me a lot,” Chen recalled.

“Because of Global Launch, I have gotten stronger and have become more mature. This experience brought us closer because we experienced every challenge together. This has made me feel really grown-up, and I now have more faith in myself.”
– Selina Wang, daughter

For Chen, another challenge was the age difference compared with many of her Global Launch classmates.

“I met a lot of friends who came from different countries and different ages,” she said. “I am 46, but studying with the young students made me feel young. It was interesting to share my experiences with people younger than me too. I was very happy every day.”

At the end of the session, both mother and daughter had a newfound respect for each other, a new confidence to explore the world, and a bond they would always share.

“My daughter’s English was better than mine, so she helped me a lot with homework and assignments. I enjoyed her helping me and loved the challenge. This experience has encouraged me to speak in English, and I feel I can now travel anywhere in the world,” said Chen.

“This experience made me feel like the roles were reversed, and I was able to take care of my mom a lot,” said Wang. “Because of Global Launch, I have gotten stronger and have become more mature. This experience brought us closer because we experienced every challenge together. This has made me feel really grown-up, and I now have more faith in myself.”

Samantha Talavera

Marketing and Communications Manager, Global Launch


Six-author team awarded ASU Morrison Prize for analysis of climate change’s impact on a critical conservation tool

February 13, 2019

Land conservation may seem like a simple enough formula: Set aside land, then protect it.

But climate change is complicating land conservation practices because of how it alters land over time. Among other things, climate change is raising new questions about perpetual conservation easements — a critical land preservation tool relied upon by government agencies and nonprofit land trusts. A six-author team that conducted an unprecedented analysis of the structuring of conservation easements in the face of rapid climate change has been awarded the 2019 Morrison Prize, an honor established in 2015 and administered through the program on Law and Sustainability at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. Download Full Image

The ASU Morrison Prize contest awards a $10,000 prize annually to the authors of the most impactful sustainability-related legal academic article published in North America during the previous year. The prize is named after its benefactor, Richard N. Morrison, who is also a co-founder of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU.

“We were delighted and honored to learn that our interdisciplinary research was awarded this year’s Morrison Prize,” said co-author Jessica Owley, director of the environmental law program at University at Buffalo – State University of New York. “Our project brings together several fields to not just examine the problems that plague sustainability but also to propose concrete ways to improve the world around us through better approaches to land conservation.”

Jessica Owley

The article, titled “Climate change challenges for land conservation: Rethinking conservation easements, strategies, and tools,” was co-written by:

• Federico Cheever, a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law who died during the final stages of the project, and to whom the article is dedicated.

• Adena R. Rissman, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology.

• M. Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist for the World Wide Fund for Nature.

• Barton H. Thompson Jr., a professor of natural resources law at Stanford Law School.

• W. William Weeks, director of the Conservation Law Clinic at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.

Frederico Cheever

Federico Cheever

Under a conservation easement, a landowner voluntarily enters into an agreement with a land trust or government agency to limit use of the land in order to further conservation efforts. The restrictions in the easement typically prohibit real estate development and subdivisions, which reduces the land’s value, and the landowner usually gets significant tax benefits in return.

But climate change presents a number of challenges to the use of conservation easements, which tend to focus on the present-day status of land and to inadequately account for potentially dramatic changes in land over time. For example, throughout the world, coastal land — some protected by conservation easements — is being swallowed by rising sea levels. Current habitats on some conserved land may not be able to continue supporting native species. Droughts, floods and wildfires may become more frequent and extreme. Invasive species could spread. And agricultural land may not hold long-term viability.

Adena R. Morrison

Adena R. Rissman

The prize’s winning authors analyzed more than 360 conservation easements and interviewed more than 70 land conservation professionals, finding that over-reliance on perpetual versions of these easements could ultimately limit the effectiveness of long-term conservation efforts. Their article urges conservation organizations to take climate change into consideration when structuring conservation easements, identifying the risks it poses to their goals and properties, and prioritizing accordingly. It further advises conservation groups to build partnerships, choose more-effective tools, write flexible and sustainable conservation easements, and conduct long-term stewardship of their land.

In connection with their project, the authors held sessions with conservation funders, met with government officials, presented their work at annual meetings of land trust officials, and were contacted by practitioners, researchers and activists seeking collaboration to expand conservation efforts.

“I think the innovations of our research came from our diverse strengths in law, ecology and social science, and our commitment to conservation in practice,” Rissman said.

M. Rebecca Shaw

About the Morrison Prize

Professor Troy Rule is the faculty director of the Law and Sustainability program at ASU Law. He says this year’s prize-winning paper exemplifies the type of valuable work that the program and prize seek to encourage in law schools across the United States.  “As in past years, this year’s winning paper was one that meaningfully advanced our understanding of how to better structure laws and policies to support and drive sustainability.”

Each year, law professors from throughout the world who have recently published articles in North American legal academic journals are eligible to enter the Morrison Prize contest. All entries undergo independent review and scoring by a diverse group of full-time law professors who teach in environmental sustainability-related areas at various North American law schools. The scores from these judges are aggregated to determine the prize winner.

Barton H. Thompson

Barton H. Thompson Jr.

“We are particularly honored to receive ASU’s prize because it recognizes the importance of sustainability in finding a way to make conservation work in the face of climate change,” Thompson said. “Private conservation of our natural world has long been of importance to sustainability, and this paper looks for ways to ensure its effectiveness in the face of climate change and evolving landscapes.”

The authors will accept the 2019 Prize on May 10 at ASU Law’s Beus Center for Law and Society, when they give a presentation at the fifth annual Sustainability Conference of American Legal Educators.

“ASU’s reputation in environmental law and sustainability gives this award additional esteem and illustrates why the Morrison Prize has become the sought-after prize in our field.” Owley said. “This prize is also a testament to the legacy of our dear colleague and co-author, Fred Cheever.”

W. William Weeks

W. William Weeks.

Past winners

In 2018, Minnesota Law School professor Hari M. Osofsky and Jacqueline Peel, associate dean of the University of Melbourne Law School in Australia, won the Morrison Prize for their academic article “Energy Partisanship.” They outlined the critical importance of circumventing fierce political divisions in order to combat climate change, and provided guidance for doing so.

In 2017, Vanderbilt University professors Michael P. Vandenbergh and Jonathan Gilligan’s won the prize for "Beyond Gridlock." The article underscored the difficulties of effecting change through government and highlighted the underutilized potential to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through the private sector.

In 2016, Dave Owen, a professor at University of California, Hastings College of Law, and Colin Aspe, a freshwater conservation adviser at the Nature Conservancy, were the inaugural winners of the Morrison Prize. Their article, “Trading Dams,” described creative new policy approaches for better balancing hydroelectric energy generation and environmental protection on the nation’s river system.

Lauren Dickerson

Marketing and communications coordinator, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law


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Crow bids farewell to 46 visiting scholars from Saudi Arabia

February 12, 2019

School immersion initiative was designed to create change and innovation in Saudi schools by teaching their educators

Arizona State University President Michael Crow on Tuesday addressed 46 scholars from Saudi Arabia who spent a year at ASU as part of a teacher leadership program and will be returning to their native country next week. 

Crow essentially told the cohort thank you, job well done and good luck on your next journey. Oh, and remember — learning is a lifelong pursuit.  

“Teaching is a profession that will only accelerate ahead in the decades to come in terms of importance,” Crow said. “Workers of the future, citizens of the future and others in the future will constantly be involved in more learning in a cycle we call lifelong learning, universal learning and continuous learning.

“So that means as teachers, if you’re not constantly learning and improving, if you’re not in that mindset for the rest of your life, you’re not going to be a very good teacher.”

The Saudi group was here as part of the “Building Leadership for Change through School Immersion” program, an initiative of the Ministry of Education of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that was created in direct response to their government’s goal of investing in the future of their country by changing the educational landscape in their local schools.

The program launched on Feb. 19, 2018, through ASU's Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Its aim was to strengthen the values, skills, knowledge and attitudes of teachers, counselors and principals through university-led structured immersion in high-performing, English-speaking K-12 school systems.

Saudi Arabian scholars

(From left) Saudi educator cohort members Majed Alsaeed, Samah Hobani and Ebtisam Alghamdi talk at the Fulton Center in Tempe on Tuesday about a memorable experience during their yearlong program. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

As part of the program, participants also attended various workshops; facilitated quality problem-based lessons; led others in developing problem-based learning opportunities; developed teacher leadership skills by exploring topics like communication, collaboration and adult learning; participated in a STEM camp; attended the Teacher Leadership Institute conference in Tucson; and participated in a mentorship program with Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College professors.

Following the coursework, all participants were embedded in top Phoenix-area schools within the Washington Elementary, Phoenix Elementary and Cave Creek Unified school districts. Through this experience, they learned firsthand how the American educational system works and developed individual professional learning plans that will support their role in leading change in Saudi Arabia.

Crow affirmed that change is coming, and that the role of the educator will be important in shaping Saudi Arabia’s future for generations to come.

“The high school graduate of 2020 and the years ahead will constantly be evolving,” Crow said. “It used to be that high school students didn’t know anything about the world. Now they must. They didn’t need to understand anything about other faiths. Now they must. As teachers, you must be open to change. Your job is not the rigid keeper of the rules. Your job is the creation of a learning environment where students can thrive.”

Abdulelah Alotaibi, an English-language supervisor in Saudi Arabia, said the country has become less conservative and more open to the world. However, their education system is still lacking.

“The accountability of the student is far greater here,” Alotaibi said. “The expectations and standards are also higher here than in Saudi Arabia. We have yet to meet the standard of rigorous curriculum or content in my home country.”

Michael Crow

President Michael Crow stressed the importance of universal learning to the Saudi scholars, who will take what they've learned back to their home country next week. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

The standards are also lower for teachers, said Saeed Alzahrani, who has taught the English language in Saudi Arabia for 14 years.

“In Saudi Arabia we have a curriculum we must follow and present it to the students,” he said. “The teachers here have more choice to present topics to the students. There’s just not the same freedom.”

Teacher supervisor Samah Hobani said the program has showed her a way to help educators in her country become more successful and that she is excited to present to them those opportunities.

“Part of my job as a supervisor is to focus on a teacher’s professional development,” Hobani said. “I want to give them more hours of training to help refresh their teaching and give them more control of the curriculum.”

It wasn’t just all about teaching and learning. There were strong bonds and connections forged in the past year, said Jeanne Hardy-Miller, one of five mentors in the program who worked specifically with 10 male scholars.

“I have traveled the world extensively, but I had never met any Saudis before and all I had to offer was my personality, my smile and my empathy,” Hardy-Miller said. “I’m really going to miss them. I’m going to miss seeing their faces. I’m going to miss their smiles. I’m going to hear missing their ideas and their plans. We just feel connected. A year ago, we didn’t know each other at all.”

Top photo: One of the members of the Saudi cohort takes a quick video of ASU President Michael Crow speaking during a program at the Fulton Center on the Tempe campus on Tuesday, near the end of their yearlong program. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now 

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU Global Launch innovates English language curriculum in Brazilian K-12 schools

February 12, 2019

This week Global Launch, Arizona State University’s English language learning unit, will say goodbye to 34 Brazilian K-12 educators who participated in a teacher training program at ASU as part of the U.S. Department of State and Regional English Language Office Brazil initiative.

Participants of the six-week “Bilingualism in Brazilian Public Education” program, launched this January, engaged in a rigorous in-person training program to improve teaching practices and methodology in Brazilian K-12 schools, as well as to learn innovative best practices for using English as the language of instruction. Brazilian K-12 Educators pose at Arizona State University Brazilian K-12 educators at Arizona State University. Photo provided by the U.S. Embassy in Brazil Download Full Image

Through networking with experts and peers within the teaching English as a second language (TESOL) industry, observing classrooms, researching U.S. education standards and revising lesson plans, each educator will not only be qualified to implement innovative best practices to enhance current Brazilian curriculum in bilingual schools, but will also be able to provide objectives and assessment for colleagues in Brazil seeking professional-development opportunities. The goal of the current initiative is to increase Brazil’s English proficiency ranking, which currently sits at 53rd out of the 88 countries assessed in 2018 by English First, an organization that studies global English proficiency.

“The Brazilian government recognizes the impact that English can have on the well-being of their country and its citizens, so much so that English language instruction has become mandatory in public schools. In fact, studies show that higher proficiency rates in English directly correlate to better economic and social development,” said Dianna Lippincott, Global Launch’s director of strategic innovation. “ASU and Global Launch are also uniquely qualified to produce this program given successful implementation of similar teacher training programs in Peru, Mexico, Iraq and Vietnam.”

Along with pedagogical training, Global Launch integrated cross-cultural experiential learning into the curriculum to help teachers better recognize the importance of cultural understanding and language training through immersion in English-speaking spaces.

“Learning English in a non-English-speaking country poses many challenges to learners, in particular the inability to practice outside of the classroom with native English speakers and the inability to learn about American culture through interaction with native speakers. By providing language immersion opportunities, such as lectures and field trips around Arizona, participants will find more success in creating their own authentic and meaningful language experiences and will gain a better cultural understanding of Arizona and the U.S.,” said program lead Alissa Nostas.

As part of their research, the educators also presented at the Innovative Practices in K-12 Education conference, which was attended by teachers from countries including Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Uganda, India and Finland.

At the program’s end this month, participants attended a reception to meet local Brazilian expats and hear firsthand accounts of the usefulness of the English language on their road to professional success.

“We hope this experience transforms teachers into leaders and advocates for quality bilingual models for future capacity building in the areas of bilateral education, such as English language, STEM and study in the United States," said Jennifer Uhler, the regional English language officer for the U.S. Embassy in Brazil. "These educators will become trainers and role models for other Brazilian states and municipalities who would like to begin teaching more subjects in English.” 

For more information about the “Bilingualism in Brazilian Public Education” program or Global Launch international partnerships, please contact Dianna Lippincott at dianna.lippincott@asu.edu.

Samantha Talavera

Marketing and Communications Manager, Global Launch


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Sport continues to drive social change

February 11, 2019

Two former Olympians spoke as part of a Global Sport Institute event about the role athletes play in changing culture

The dominating performances by nine African-American male track athletes in the 1936 Olympics was an inspiration for those who followed them, according to two former Olympians who spoke at Arizona State University on Monday.

The nine black men won 13 total medals in the Olympics in Berlin, under the nose of Adolf Hitler. Of the 15 gold medals won by the U.S. team at those games, eight were won by those nine athletes. 

Their success opened the door for other African-American athletes, including Herbert Douglas, the oldest living African-American Olympic medalist, and Harrison Dillard, the oldest living American gold medalist. Both earned medals in the 1948 Olympics in London; Dillard added two more in 1952. They spoke at an event sponsored by the Global Sport Institute at ASU at the Downtown Phoenix campus. 

The event included a screening of the documentary, “The Renaissance Period of the African-American Athlete in Sports,” which highlights the achievements of those athletes at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. The nine were Jesse Owens, one of the greatest Olympians of all time, who won four gold medals; Cornelius Johnson, who won gold for the high jump; John Woodruff, who won gold for the 800-meter; Ralph Metcalfe, who won gold for the 4x100-meter relay and silver for the 100-meter; Archie Williams, who won gold for the 400-meter; David Albritton, who won silver for the high jump; Mack Robinson, who won silver for the 200-meter; James LuValle, who won bronze for the 400-meter; and Frederick “Fritz” Pollard Jr., who won bronze for the 100-meter hurdles.

Douglas, who will be 97 in early March, co-produced the film with Bob Lott and said he was motivated by what happened to Owens, who faced discrimination after he returned from the 1936 Olympics.

“Jesse Owens was the greatest athlete during my time in the 1930s and '40s, when I competed,” said Douglas, who won a bronze medal in the long jump.

“He never won the Sullivan Award, the award for being the greatest amateur athlete in the U.S., even after he electrified the world.”

Years later, Owens told Douglas that the slight stung him.

“I carried that with me, and that’s why I told Bob we had to do something and make this film,” Douglas said.

The documentary described the personal and professional success of the nine men after their Olympic years. Pollard earned a law degree and had a long career in the Foreign Service. Metcalfe earned a master’s degree from the University of Southern California and went on to become a U.S congressman.

The discussion was moderated by Victoria Jackson, a sports historian and lecturer of history in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at ASU. 

“If we look at African-American athletes in the country, they are the best and brightest because they always had to be better,” she said.

“When we say that sport is just a pastime, and this stuff doesn’t really matter, and we want to step away from the reality of the world and have fun — it’s simply not the case. 

“Every type of system at work in the broader society is in sport as well.”

After the successes of 1936, discrimination persisted. Dillard, 95, described how during the 1948 Olympics, the black athletes were segregated.

“The African-American athletes intentionally, or accidentally perhaps, all lived together in one area of the village. That’s all I ever say about it. We were in a section that was just us,” he said.

Dillard won gold medals in the 100-meter and the 4x100 relay in London, and two more gold medals in the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, in the 110-meter hurdles and 4x100 relay.

Douglas was asked about the current activism of current athletes, including Colin Kaepernick, a former player in NFL who protested police killings of black people by kneeling during the national anthem.

“If I had done that when I was playing football for Pitt, I wouldn’t be here today,” Douglas said. “Through the years I watched the progress. How many African-Americans play football today? Seventy percent. It’s the first time we have had the leverage to do that.”

Dillard said that sports has always driven social change.

“I think that athletes have become more apparent in making America live up to its dream that all men are created equal,” he said.

“There is no doubt that sports has played an immensely great part in that story.”

Dillard then addressed Douglas, his friend:

“Herb, maybe we’ll live long enough to see it get a little bit better. Let’s hope so.”

Top photo: (From left) Victoria Jackson, sports historian and lecturer of history, with Harrison Dillard, the oldest-living American gold medalist, and Herbert Douglas, the oldest-living African-American Olympic medalist, after the screening of "The Renaissance of the African-American Athlete." Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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ASU once again a top producer of students who win Fulbright awards

ASU has highest student-selection rate for prestigious Fulbright awards.
February 11, 2019

Nearly 40 percent of Sun Devil applicants accepted for study, work abroad

Arizona State University is again one of the top producers of students who won the prestigious Fulbright award for 2018-19, according to newly released rankings.

ASU has 21 students in the U.S. government’s flagship international educational exchange program for 2018-19 — more than Harvard, Columbia and Stanford universities. With 21 Fulbright winners out of 53 applicants, ASU’s selection rate was 39.6 percent — the highest among top-producing schools.

Among public universities, ASU ranked third in student Fulbright awards, while among all institutions, ASU was 11th. The top Fulbright producers overall for 2018-19 are: Brown University, 35 students; Princeton University, 33; Georgetown University and the University of Chicago, both with 30; the University of Pennsylvania, 27; Northwestern University, 26; the University of Michigan and the University of Notre Dame, both with 24; Rutgers University, 23, and New York University, 22.

ASU’s 21 Fulbright students who are abroad now feature five graduate students and 16 undergraduates. Eight are doing academic research or pursuing graduate study and 13 are serving as English teaching assistants, according to Kyle Mox, director of the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement at ASU and associate dean of Barrett, The Honors College. Sixteen of the current Fulbright students were in Barrett, The Honors College.

Austin Cotter, Fulbright student in Spain

Austin Cotter, who graduated in May 2018 with a degree in biological sciences, is teaching English in Spain as part of the Fulbright program. He will attend medical school next year.

“Our continued status as a top-producing Fulbright institution illustrates our prominence as a truly global university,” said Mox, whose office works with students during the application process, not only for Fulbrights but for all prestigious scholarships.

“We are especially proud of our nation’s best selection rate at nearly 40 percent, which demonstrates how hard our students work to write these winning applications, and how hard our faculty and staff work to provide them excellent guidance and support.”

Over the past decade, ASU has produced 191 Fulbright grantees, placing the university ninth among research universities, ahead of Stanford, Penn, the University of California, Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University.

The Fulbright program, created in 1946 to increase mutual understanding between Americans and the people of other countries, provides the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research abroad. The program awards about 1,900 grants annually in all fields of study and operates in more than 140 countries. In addition, about 4,000 foreign Fulbright students and scholars come to the United States annually to study, lecture, conduct research and teach foreign languages. The sponsor is the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The 16 undergraduate awardees are: Alissa Albrecht, Julia Anderson, Catherine Carson, Austin Cotter, Alec Davies, Shannon Ditto, Rachel Fadlovich, Haley Gerber, Selma Ismail, Darby Jones, Mikala Malmgren, Monet Niesluchowski, Michael Pineda, Hannah Spencer, Madeline Williamson and Jacob Zarate. The five graduate students and their areas of study are: Kelly Blevins, who will study archaeology in Mexico; Carlyn Harris, public health, Panama; Aliya Hoff, anthropology, Greece; Paige Madison, history, Indonesia; and Alexander Meszler, organ/harpsichord study, France.

On Wednesday, March 20, ASU will hold a “Fulbright Day” at the Memorial Union in Tempe from 3 to 4:30 p.m., at which representatives and alumni from Fulbright will describe the program and answer questions.

Top image by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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Desert ecologist earns top faculty honor

Sala: Impossible to solve sustainability puzzle without figuring out drylands.
February 6, 2019

After 35 years of study and more than 200 publications, Osvaldo Sala named Regents' Professor at ASU

Drylands account for 40 percent of the Earth’s surface. They are home to 30 percent of the people, including some of the most vulnerable, and half of the world’s livestock. About 35 percent of terrestrial carbon is fixed in drylands.

“Drylands are very important,” said Osvaldo Sala, an ecologistSala is also a Distinguished Sustainability Scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and is the Julie A. Wrigley Chair in Life Sciences and Sustainability. in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University.

Sala has spent more than 35 years studying the driest places on Earth: the Patagonian steppe, the annual grasslands of California, the Kalahari in southern Africa, the Loess Plateau in China and the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico. His publications are among the most cited in the fields of ecology, sustainability and biology. He has more than 200 publications and 40,000 citations.

That work, and the recognition of his peers, has earned him the distinction of Regents’ Professor at ASU. Regents’ Professors are the elite of the academic world. To be awarded the distinction, scholars must be full professors, with outstanding achievements in their fields, who are nationally and internationally recognized by their peers.

No more than 3 percent of all faculty at ASU carry the distinction.

Sala’s work is particularly important in the Age of the Anthropocene.

“People who live in Africa and Asia are very dependent on natural resources, herders of cattle and goats and camels,” he said. “They also live in nations that are the most politically volatile, who are going to be affected first by climate change. Once there is climate change we are going to see prolonged droughts that are going to affect their ability to raise cattle, that is going to cause famines, and that’s going to create unrest and political instability.”

That, in turn, affects global sustainability — the biggest problem of our age.

“It’s impossible to figure out the sustainability puzzle without figuring out what to do with the drylands because of the immensity of all the things we talked about,” Sala said.

Figuring out part of the puzzle is Sala’s global Drought Net experiment, funded by the National Science Foundation.

Drought is happening all over the world. Is it affecting all ecosystems equally? Are there ecosystems that are more sensitive to drought, and others that are less sensitive to drought? How do we know? Are those that experienced a lot of drought in the past less sensitive to drought? Are those that have high diversity of species less sensitive to drought? Are those that are located in deep soils less sensitive to drought?

“We don’t know,” Sala said. “How we are going to answer those questions? So we designed a very simple experiment where we apply experimentally a drought that has a probability of occurring once every 100 years and distributed this very simple experiment over 100 locations all over the world, from Asia to South America to Africa to Australia to Europe.”

The first results will be analyzed this winter.

Sala is famous for his Sala shelters. A simple way of reducing incoming precipitation, they are a way of increasing droughts of different intensities. “They are all over the world now,” he said.

Osvaldo Sala with Sala shelter

Osvaldo Sala with a Sala shelter. Photo courtesy of Sala Lab/ASU

In the future he would like to see ASU become the global center for the study of drylands.

“Arizona State University is in the desert,” he said. “We live in the drylands. If you look at the ASU charter, it says we are embedded in the community. I see working in drylands not only an opportunity for ASU, but our responsibility. We must do it. We don’t have a choice. We can lead the drylands research education of the world from here. Who else can do it? We should do it.”

Sala cherishes the honor of being named Regents’ Professor.

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

Top photo: Regents' Professor Osvaldo Sala (photographed on the ASU Tempe campus Jan. 28) is the founding director of the Global Drylands Center at ASU and is the president-elect of the Ecological Society of America. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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Thunderbird and the American Express Leadership Academy: Teaching leadership, one NGO at a time

February 6, 2019

Every year, the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University and American Express host the American Express Leadership Academy. The academy takes emerging leaders from nonprofit/nongovernmental organizations and helps them become more effective leaders, allowing them not only to have an increased impact on their organization, but also to teach others how to be more effective leaders.

Launched in 2009, the academy has now served more than 296 managers from nearly 100 organizations. The five-day program provides practical opportunities to learn and build personal leadership skills while also building the organizational capacity of their organizations. 

“One of the philanthropic goals of American Express is to focus on the development of social-sector leaders,” said Thunderbird Professor Mary Teagarden, the academy’s academic director. “These participants are on their way to positions of senior leadership.”

Last year, 30 program participants came from 10 different nonprofit/nongovernmental organizations and represented seven countries or territories: Congo, Israel, Palestinian territories, Rwanda, Switzerland, Uganda and the United States.

Two of these organizations whose missions are to help underserved and marginalized populations are spotlighted below: Days for Girls, who works to increase access to menstrual care and education in emerging markets, and Oxfam International, a global confederation of 20 independent charitable organizations focusing on the alleviation of global poverty.

Days for Girls International

In 2008, Celeste Mergens was working with a family foundation on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, where she was assisting an orphanage. In the wake of postelection violence, the population at the orphanage had more than tripled, growing from 400 children to 1,400 children.

As she was preparing to return to Nairobi, Celeste went to bed with a question on her mind: “What were all the girls doing for feminine hygiene?” So, she sent an email to the assistant director of the orphanage.

His reply: “Nothing. They wait in their rooms until it’s over.”  

Recently, Days for Girls shared news of the heartbreaking death of a Nepali woman and her two sons, who died from apparent smoke inhalation while participating in the practice of chhaupadi — a tradition in western Nepal that leaves women and girls isolated in cattle sheds or small huts during menstruation. 

Days for Girls aims to prevent such tragedies. Their Kalikot project, started in 2017, works to shift the narrative around menstruation in Nepal from one of shame to one of celebration. The locally led team works to empower women and girls through distribution of Days for Girls kits and health education, while also working to shatter stigmas around menstruation by leading community conversations to tackle these harmful taboos.

Now in its 11th year (its 10th anniversary was Nov. 1, 2018), Days for Girls’ mission is to increase access to menstrual care and education for women and girls across the world. They develop global partnerships, cultivate social enterprises and enlist volunteers to create, according to their website, “a world with dignity, health, and opportunity for all.” 

With operations in the U.S., Uganda, Nepal, Lebanon, Philippine Islands, India and several areas in Latin America, Days for Girls employs two business models to manufacture and distribute reusable menstrual kits to women and girls: volunteer groups that make and distribute free kits and enterprise partners that manufacture and create kits for sale with the goal of returning a profit to the enterprise partner.

As with many global organizations, generalized support from headquarters to the regional areas can be difficult. Significant communications challenges occur because many of their volunteers and enterprise partners are located in rural areas of developing countries. With more than 1,000 volunteer chapters and teams in 113 countries and 105 enterprise operations in 14 countries, this isn’t unexpected.

Under pressure

Libby Daghlian, global enterprise program director for Days for Girls International, said the primary challenge was figuring how to grow the enterprise model in a way that maintains quality and also reaches the internal growth targets Days for Girls has.

“As we’ve been increasing our scale, we’ve discovered pressure points on how to support the enterprise partners once they’re certified,” Daghlian said. “What does that look like? Since (enterprise partners) operate similar to a franchise, we needed to look at what we were offering at the beginning and on a continuing basis.”

Prior to attending the American Express Leadership Academy, Days for Girls’ outreach was centered mostly on registration and certification of enterprise partners.

“We spent a lot of effort on training and coaching enterprise partners to get through certification (but) we just didn’t have much ongoing support for them afterward,” Daghlian said. “We looked to our time at the American Express Leadership Academy as a way to devise a strategy to address this.”

Along with Diana Nampeera, Days for Girls’ country director for Uganda, and Sarah Webb, global enterprise programs director (and who has since left Days for Girls), Daghlian arrived at Thunderbird’s original campus in Glendale, Arizona, not quite knowing what to expect.

“Our plan was to design a process where we could create and maintain an ongoing support structure for our hybrid business model, where we could help the volunteer groups serve women in immediate need while, at the same time, supporting our enterprise partners’ desire to run a business.”

They found the academy allowed them to not only accomplish that, but also come up with a plan to create a culture of communication to serve both sides of their hybrid model.

Location is everything

Days for Girls deals with two support structures for models that can overlap and, sometimes, conflict with each other. The volunteer chapters and teams make one-time donations of kits to women and girls in high-need situations such as refugee camps. 

Enterprise partners make and sell kits on an ongoing basis in any of the areas they’re located. The challenge has been balancing the desires of volunteers to help and the goals of the enterprise partners to create and maintain a business.

The volunteer model works well for refugee and emergency situations, where a for-profit model makes little sense. Nevertheless, there have been times volunteer groups have distributed kits to local populations, cutting into the activities of the local enterprise partner. This usually comes not as any ill-intended action, but more often from roadblocks in communications.

“Our volunteers and enterprise partners use a variety of communication methods,” Daghlian said. “One woman in Uganda connects via WhatsApp, while an enterprise in South Africa uses a high-speed, dedicated internet connection. That can create a challenge itself in communication logistics, which can affect how we support our people in the field.”

Why reinvent the wheel?

Daghlian said it was invaluable to connect with coaches who had experience, who understood business and what they were trying to accomplish. She and her colleagues knew something like this would benefit Days for Girls. 

“As an organization, we’d been so focused on registration and training for the enterprise partner certifications we overlooked the ongoing support,” she said. “Our coaching experience from Thunderbird was so positive that we took the idea and incorporated it into our process.

“Days for Girls has always had a strong element of the human touch. In fact, chapter leaders can call Celeste (Mergens, the founder) directly. But over the past couple of years, we’ve been moving away from that as the organization has grown. We realize now that we need to get back to this if we’re going continue to succeed.”

So, how has it panned out?

Daghlian’s team put together a plan to pull in funding to hire full-time staff dedicated to coaching the enterprise partners. The three enterprise coordinators, as they’re known, work in the country they oversee.

“Their sole purpose is to conduct site visits and make the phone calls. They collect monthly reports and act as the liaison between the enterprises and Days for Girls,” Daghlian said. “We’re already seeing more engagement and better sales results. The ROI of sending me and my team members to Arizona for a week is already being seen.”

“Being in the same room as organizations with similar challenges or which had already overcome such challenges isn’t anything we would have gotten at a big conference. It’s been totally worth it.”

How worth it?

“Our improved communications helped us coordinate and reach our 10th-anniversary goal of giving out 100,000 kits between Oct. 11 (International Day of the Girl) and our Nov. 1 anniversary. The American Express Leadership Academy was instrumental in helping us make that happen.”

Oxfam International

While Days for Girls seeks to empower teens and adolescent girls, Oxfam International’s project seeks to assist the other end of the age spectrum by helping women learn to invest money to bring a return on the investment, something that local savings clubs do not offer. 

Ismail Abu Arafeh and two of his teammates, Mohammed Sawafta and Pierre-Olivier Laforge, came to the American Express Leadership Academy to improve, vet and validate their project for Oxfam.

The Women’s Investment Cooperative is designed to teach women about investing, including topics like investing strategies, investment evaluation and selection and evaluating performance and ROI.

“Traditionally, women in Palestine have been in charge of savings for the family through what is commonly called a Village Savings and Lending Fund (VSLF),” said Ismail Abu Arafeh, economic justice program manager for Oxfam International in Jerusalem. “These funds are a safe way for local lending needs, which have no-to-very-low interest earned on savings.”

Oxfam’s initiative is to take the concept of pooled savings and teach about investing in order to bring a higher rate of return.

“The cooperative holds onto the money and makes collective investment decisions; they maintain total control of how the money works for them. This is a very new idea for the region, so the majority of our pilot program is to create a system that runs the entire spectrum of investment education, from what investments are, all the way through understanding management fees and return on investment.”

What goes up, might go down

One of the biggest challenges ahead, Abu Arafeh says, will be educating participants that their investments can lose money.

“This will require a shift in the participants’ mindset, since investing is obviously only for those who have the ability to tolerate risk,” Abu Arafeh said. “Because the VSLFs have no risk, this is a new concept.”

To help overcome the initial fear of losing their investment in a new program, Oxfam has entered into loan guarantees to offset losses for a set period of time. Once the program has been running for a while and they are confident the groups understand everything, Abu Arafeh says the guarantees will be rolled back.

“We will work to mitigate the risks as much as possible and help them make informed (investment) decisions,” he said. “At some point, we’ll phase out the support. Our goal is to see the Women’s Investment Cooperatives become completely independent of Oxfam or any other subsidy.”

So how has the American Express Leadership Academy contributed to their project?

“One of the great things about the American Express Leadership Academy is the ability to get an unbiased review of your project. The different layers of scrutiny were good for validating the idea and encouraged us to move forward with the plan.”

Abu Arafeh says that participation has been beyond expectations so early in the program.

“So far, there are 153 women across 11 of the region’s VSLFs who have invested $45,000 into the program. These investment cooperatives just received approval from the Ministry of Labor, so the next step is for the cooperatives to open a bank account.”

At that point, he says, the funds from the 11 clubs will be combined into a single fund and the Women’s Investment Cooperatives can begin investing. But the American Express Academy has benefitted Abu Arafeh more than just at the project level.

This time, it’s personal

“The week we spent in the program was invaluable not only for the assistance with the investment project, but also with my own leadership style. It may not seem like a lot of time, but the five days spent there made a huge difference,” he said.

“A big change was how I give and receive feedback. Prior to the program, I had no structured way to get feedback. One of the things I learned at the academy was that management is a process, and that I need to relate feedback in a constructive way in order to have a two-way dialogue.”

“Now I give immediate feedback, which is something I didn’t do before. My experience at the leadership academy fundamentally changed how I manage and lead my team.”

The academy also contributed in another way, he said.

“Coaching is another area in which the academy helped me. I am much more aware of how I interact with employees. Before the program, my ‘coaching’ was just giving people answers,” he said. “Now, I am more inclined to ask questions about the situation, even if I know the answer. I try to coach them to arrive at the answer on their own. I still have to work on this, but I’m so much better than I used to be.”

So, what does he think of the program?

“The American Express Leadership Academy wasn’t just career-changing for me, but was a life-changing experience. And to think this was all from a weeklong program is amazing to me. It’s not just business, but it applies across my everyday life,” he said.

How so?

“My sister called the other day asking for some information, and my immediate inclination was to give her the answer, but decided to apply the coaching process I learned,” he said. “After a few minutes of questions and conversation, she came up with a solution on her own. The process worked so well, in fact, that she ended the call saying, ‘Honestly, I don’t need you’ and hung up.”

If you know of a nonprofit organization that could benefit from the American Express Leadership Academy, contact Debisu Hyde, key account director, at debisu.hyde@thunderbird.asu.edu.

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Putting the world in world-class education

February 4, 2019

This summer, ASU students will snack, snorkel, survey and safari around the globe to gain a broader view of the human story

For those who study humanity, it’s tough to get the big picture if they limit themselves to the culture, history and environment of just one place. That’s why the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University is taking students to four continents and two island nations this summer, where they will learn firsthand about topics like traditional health care practice, the latest in sustainable tourism, global haute cuisine, modern wildlife management and the dawn of humanity.

Checking off bucket lists in Australia

The school’s Australia program is perfect for students craving adventure, says Assistant Professor Katie Hinde, the trip’s faculty leader.

“It includes some incredible adventure activities — kayaking, hiking, snorkeling and canoeing — but no experience is necessary. Many students learn these skills on the program,” she said.

Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef checks off a lot of students’ bucket lists, but this summer, Hinde is most excited for the sunset camel ride at the country’s most famous rock formation, Uluru.

During the trip’s four weeks, students will live by the “One Health” concept that human, animal and ecosystem health are all interconnected and explore those connections through hands-on experiences across the country.

“The trip was an amazing experience. It was eye-opening, fun and educational all at the same time,” said undergraduate student Danielle Velasco Padilla, who went to Australia with the school in 2018. “You didn’t feel like you were learning, but when you talked to your classmates the next day, you would be surprised with all the information you retained.”

Listening to tales of the dead in England

The England program suits students from any discipline, as the undergrads from dozens of different majors who have attended in the past can attest. It touches on history, health, forensics and urban life, so there’s something of interest for everyone.

When asked what makes the program stand out, Professor Alexandra Brewis Slade, who will help Professor Kelly Knudson lead this summer’s trip, said, “The learning here is through experiencing, talking with a range of local experts and exploring firsthand so many corners of an amazing city. By the end of the program, many students feel like London is a second home.”

That may be because program participants get privileged looks into many of the city’s otherwise-hidden places, like behind-the-scenes at the famed British Museum or inside the oldest hospital in Europe.

“I was so close with all these remains from ancient Egypt, like a mummified crocodile — really cool stuff. And I was inches away from it, no barriers, no glass,” said undergraduate student Kaeli Stenroos of her British Museum experience last summer.

A key focus of the trip is learning how scientists study human history, including major historical events like the Black Plague, through skeletal remains — a discipline known as bioarchaeology. Students also take walking tours of London with city guide Angie, who has been a group favorite for over a decade.

Sampling the flavors of France

Those who are curious about the relationship between food and identity, culture and health are ideal for the school’s program in France. There, students have the opportunity to explore topics such as the importance of food in French culture, how food has changed with processes like industrialization and immigration, and how people make decisions about what to eat.

“I am really excited to try out my skills in the chocolate workshop,” said lecturer Rhian Stotts, who leads this program. “I also think that chocolate, as well as coffee, another topic we will explore, provides such an interesting way to look at our globalized food system overall.”

As the home of the people who pioneered the concept of cuisine, France is also the perfect place to learn how food has forged relationships and created identities throughout history.

Stotts advises students who join the program to “come with an open mind and be willing to actively engage in new experiences. You might not like stinky cheese, but there is a reason we ask you to try it — to think about the role that cheese plays in French culture and how aspects of food, such as smell, can both attract and repel.”

Exploring the people and nature of New Zealand

New Zealand provides a plethora of learning opportunities, said Research Professor David Feary, a native of the country and leader of this program. It has a socialized health care system, hosts a multicultural society (including the indigenous Maori people) and — as a smaller island nation — takes pains to incorporate sustainability into many aspects of life.

The trip also includes tours to “Lord of the Rings” sites (because New Zealand) and breathtaking encounters with nature.

“This year we’re going river rafting down through this forested area where it’s all about protection of native forests and the environment. Water is a big theme throughout the trip, so I’m looking forward to that,” Feary said.

Students will also get the chance to collect data from interviews with locals for an ongoing climate survey, as well as learn about Maori culture and approaches to health.

“This trip affirmed the things that I’ve been studying as an anthropologist. You learn a lot of theoretical frameworks for taking your mind out of your subjective biases, but actually being in another culture, seeing the different types of diversity, it was a different experience than I had ever had before,” said undergraduate Azzam Almouai, who joined last year’s excursion.

Feary suggests that students pack light, as they often have to carry their luggage while traveling from Northland all the way down to Queenstown, hopping coaches and ferrying between islands.

Eating while learning in Peru

For foodies who’d rather go south of the border than across the ocean, the Peru program uses food as a lens to understand humans and their relationships to each other and to the environment, while also exploring how those relationships shape our identities, daily practices and health.

“Because our focus is on food, there’s a lesson and discussion to be had around every single meal and snack. And what’s more fun than eating while you learn?” said lecturer Sara Marsteller, who leads the trip. “Students will learn not only about Peruvian cuisine and culture, but about themselves as well.”

A major highlight of the trip is visiting the Misminay rural community outside of Cusco. Residents welcome students into their homes and give them hands-on lessons in their techniques for plowing the land and spinning and dying wool.

“Plus, the view of the Andes Mountains from their hillside is even more breathtaking than Machu Picchu in my opinion!” adds Marsteller. (Although, since the trip also includes a visit to that famous Incan site, students can decide that for themselves.)

Encountering wildlife and human history in South Africa

“Anyone who is interested in the exploration of both nature and other cultures would have a great time on the South Africa trip,” said President’s Professor Kaye Reed, the program’s lead.

There, students will learn about everything from animal identification and Khoisan culture to the apartheid system and hominin fossil discoveries.

“My absolute favorite place to take students is Kruger National Park, where we will be identifying mammals of all kinds and working on the Hominins and Habitats Project from a safari vehicle,” Reed said.

The trip also includes an outing at the seaside West Coast National Park, where students hike, kayak and learn about the local wildlife. However, Reed warns, they shouldn’t expect warm temperatures to match the setting.

“July is winter in the Southern Hemisphere — don’t bring light clothing because you are going to Africa. Coats are a necessity in some places,” she said. “But be ready for adventure.”

These are just a few of the many experiences offered through the ASU Study Abroad Office, which has 250-plus programs in more than 65 different countries.

Top photo: Students show their Sun Devil pride on a beach in Australia. Photo courtesy of Katie Hinde

Mikala Kass

Editorial Communications Coordinator , School of Human Evolution and Social Change