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ASU students help Himalayan farmers support their farms beyond the monsoon.
July 14, 2017

Solar-powered system helps provide water beyond the annual rainy season

In the Hindu Kush Himalaya region, an area that extends 3,500 kilometers across eight nations including Nepal and India, approximately 210 million smallholder farmers engage in a practice known as rain-fed agriculture. However, 80 percent of the annual rainfall in the area occurs during the annual four-month monsoon, so costly infrastructure is required to transport water from distant sources during the rest of the year.

This summer, a group of 11 Arizona State University sustainability and engineering students enrolled in a study abroad course organized through the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives that implemented solutions-based projects to help local farmers support their farms year-round instead of having to migrate to lowlands or to other countries as seasonal laborers. The program was coordinated through ASU's Study Abroad Office. The ASU students were partners with five students from the Tribhuvan University Institute of Engineering in Kathmandu. 

The course, Grassroots Innovation for Sustainable Development, was developed through GlobalResolve. The student workers, who traveled to a community in the buffer zone around Nepal’s Chitwan National Park, developed hardware during the spring semester and then deployed it while they were onsite in June.

“This class cooperates with local farmers to combine existing irrigation and solar technologies to provide a refreshing shortcut for the region’s food and energy challenges,” said Netra Chhetri, associate professor and senior sustainability scientist at ASU. “With assured water supply, these farmers can plan their crops better and grow offseason vegetables that fetch four times more value than cereals, which are the current crops being harvested.”

To address the irrigation challenge, the class integrated a solar-powered lift irrigation system in the community of Kuleni. Due to declining costs of producing solar panels and solar integrator pumps, solar lift irrigation has the capacity to double the productivity and income of more than 25 smallholder farmers. A 10-kilowatt solar array that pumps approximately 7,100 cubic feet of groundwater per day from a 158-foot-deep aquifer has the potential to irrigate about 50 acres of land throughout the year.

Support for the installation, including $20,000 in material costs, was provided by the Kuleni community and a local private company, Sunbridge Solar Nepal. A Nepalese NGO, Local Initiatives for Biodiversity Research and Development, helped to identify the community.

Using a cellphone link and antenna, the system operation is monitored remotely from Kathmandu by Sunbridge Solar so they can identify problems and call local technicians for repairs without the difficult and costly commute from Kathmandu. Sunbridge also provided maintenance training to the farmers.

“Over the decade of experience that I have working in agriculture and rural development in this region, I have learned two things: Smallholder farmers have the ability to feed themselves but they cannot do it alone, and that technological and social innovation customized to location-specific needs of smallholder farmers can be part of the solution to lift people out of poverty, empower communities and ultimately contribute to regional geopolitical stabilization,” Chhetri said.

This program is one of more than 250 offered in more than 65 different countries around the world through the ASU Study Abroad Office. Students can participate in programs as short as a week, as long as a year and nearly anything in between to earn academic credit. For more information about study abroad programs, visit the Study Abroad Office website:

Top photo courtesy of ASU/Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives/GlobalResolve

Jason Franz

Senior manager, Marketing and Communications , Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives


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McCain Institute's Kurt Volker talks about what's ahead in new role as Ukraine envoy

July 13, 2017

A former ambassador to NATO, he will work with both sides of urgent, deadly conflict

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has seen a chance for progress in the conflict in Ukraine and has tapped Kurt Volker, executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, a unit of Arizona State University, to work with both sides in the peace process.

Kurt Volker

Volker was named a special representative for Ukraine negotiations on July 7 and immediately traveled to Kiev with Tillerson, meeting the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, and other key players.

Ukraine and Russia have been in a violent conflict since 2014, after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The fighting has cost some 10,000 lives. Volker is working on convincing both sides to comply with the Minsk Agreement, a blueprint for ending the tensions that was negotiated by France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia.

“This conflict has been around for over three years, and there are still daily cease-fire violations,” Volker said. “There are still people dying. In fact, more people died in 2017 than in prior years. It’s still an urgent issue that needs to be addressed.”

Volker has worked in the U.S. Foreign Service, as a legislative fellow on the staff of Sen. John McCain, as acting director for European and Eurasian Affairs for the National Security Council, and was appointed U.S. ambassador to NATO by President George W. Bush in 2008.

Volker answered some questions from ASU Now in between trips to Kiev.

Question: How did Secretary Tillerson come to appoint you to this role?

Answer: I had met Secretary Tillerson on a number of occasions from when he was preparing for his own confirmation hearing and also since he’s become secretary of state.

In getting to know him, he asked me if I would be willing to take on this role of giving a new impetus to the negotiations to resolve the conflict in Ukraine.

Q: Are you doing the nitty-gritty work of diplomacy in this position?

A: In the sense of traveling and meeting and trying to find solutions with all of the stakeholders, that’s what I’m doing. If it’s sitting at a table and scrubbing a text, adding and deleting, that’s not what I’m personally doing a lot of.

The issue is fundamentally a political issue rather than a textual issue. The reason there is conflict in Ukraine is not that there is something wrong with the text.

We need to tackle this issue at a strategic level, not a textual level.

Q: With whom did you meet?

A: On this visit to Ukraine I accompanied Secretary of State Tillerson. I stayed on after his departure and had meetings with the president, prime minister, several members of parliament, several ambassadors, the civil societyThe civil society refers to the non-governmental organizations and institutions that work for the citizens of a country., the Red Cross, the International Organization of Migration. I also had a number of meetings at the U.S. Embassy with our ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch.

I had a lot of meetings to understand who all the players are in Ukraine and to touch base with them directly and understand the shape of the conflict and what’s been done already.

Q: Will you be returning to Ukraine?

A: In order to carry out this responsibility, I’m going to travel a fair amount. I have not yet visited the line of contact, the cease-fire line in Ukraine. I expect to go back in 10 days to do that. In addition I’ll need to speak with the other players.

It will be an intensive period over the next several weeks because there is a sense of momentum right now.

Changing the status quo and really getting a settlement in Ukraine is something we’ll be able to figure out in a year or so, or less. It’s not going to be something that drags out forever.

Q: Have you been to Ukraine before?

A: I’ve worked on Ukraine as a substantive issue in terms of its reform, its integration into Europe and NATO, and I have many friends and contacts in Ukraine as a result of that. A lot of this is not new, but it’s the first time I visited there.

Q: Will you remain executive director of the McCain Institute?

A: Yes. Secretary Tillerson asked me to take on this responsibility, and I’m happy to do so and I’m doing it on a voluntary basis without compensation.

The McCain Institute was created as a “do tank” and we want to get our hands dirty and actually solve our problems, and so taking on this responsibility is very consistent with that approach at the McCain Institute.


Top photo: St. Andrews Church, Kiev, Ukraine. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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ASU faculty find community on other side of the globe.
July 9, 2017

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Bert Jacobs lead 2-day teachers' workshop in Tanzania to help create students passionate about learning

Sometimes Arizona State University’s mission is carried out far beyond the boundaries of campus.

This summer two ASU faculty members — Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and Bert Jacobs, director of the School of Life Sciences — went to Tanzania, where they led a team conducting a two-day teaching workshop for 102 secondary school teachers.

What they found was, despite being on the other side of the globe in sub-Saharan Africa, they are part of a global community.

“What warmed my heart and made my hair stand up is they all want the same thing we want for our students,” Elkins-Tanton said. “We want our students to become passionate, connected, energetic, fair people who solve problems and have a sense of how to do it. ... We really are a global community with a purpose.”

Jacobs, co-founder of a nonprofit called HEAL International that has been teaching HIV/AIDS prevention in rural Tanzania for 10 years, arranged the workshop.

“Most of our work revolves around service learning,” Jacobs said. “We take ASU students to Tanzania, and they work with African students and teach basic public health and AIDS / HIV prevention.”

This is the first year HEAL International has done a teachers’ workshop.

“Since we had Lindy; myself; her husband, James; her son, Turner — all established people — we felt like we had a better chance of having an impact on teachers,” Jacobs said.

The June workshop was co-sponsored by Beagle Learning, a learning platform for managing online discussion- and question-based classes founded by Elkins-Tanton; her husband, James, a mathematician and teacher; and her son, Turner Bohlen, a technologist.

“We have this vision that I hold in common with my position at ASU and Beagle Learning: We want to help create a next generation of students who are passionate about learning,” Elkins-Tanton said.

She worked up a curriculum and a math lesson with her husband. HEAL International advertised for teachers to attend and found a workshop space. They warned her that people might not show up or that only a few might show up.

The teachers walked down dusty roads to a village and a market to buy paper and pens and found a little copy shop. The tables were set with supplies.

“To our great thrill, everyone showed up,” Elkins-Tanton said. “At first they were very shy.”

The team gave two one-day workshops, teaching math learning, HIV prevention and leadership.

“It ended up really positively,” she said. “I think it was a big success.”

“Most of the stuff that came up was the same stuff we hear in the U.S. what we want for our students,” Jacobs said. “It was quite remarkable.”

After the workshop, the team traveled to Dodoma, the capital, for a meeting with the minister of education.

“It was a short meeting, and it was very productive,” Jacobs said. “The ministry is interested in us expanding what we’ve been doing for 10 years and expanding it to other regions of Tanzania.”

Government officials want to ramp up STEM education in the country.

“They really think it’s their future,” Elkins-Tanton said.

The meeting had the potential to spark a new international partnership, Jacobs said.

“I think the potential is much larger to include all of ASU and what we do to help work with Tanzania to build their education system,” he said. “In my mind it’s critical.”

Elkins-Tanton has some education funding from NASA as part of her Psyche mission that could bring ASU online learning into Tanzania.

“I’m feeling grateful for being part of ASU,” she said. “The whole university really cares about this kind of thing and having this kind of connection.”

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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July 7, 2017

Combining digital and hands-on learning leads this Sun Devil to success

Imagine you’re on a 28-mile journey that takes you across icy rivers and up steep jungle trails. After a grueling two days, you and your research team catch your first glimpse of the mountaintop archaeological site Ciudad Perdida, the “Lost City.”

It may sound like the opening scene of a summer blockbuster, but it was a recent reality for one mother of three, military spouse and Arizona State University online student.

Kristin Keckler-Alexander spent last summer at a field school in Colombia. Although the trek to the site itself was long, her journey really began several years before, when she was working toward an associate’s degree in history.

During that time, a “crazy-amazing professor” made anthropology come alive for her, she said, and got her interested in the connections between history and archaeology.

At an adviser’s recommendation, she later transferred to ASU Online and is now in the process of earning an undergraduate degree in anthropology, a minor in global health and a 4+1 master’s degree in history through the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

“ASU Online gave me — a military spouse with three children who doesn’t live anywhere for very long — the opportunity to pursue my degrees, and that’s not something I would have at a brick-and-mortar institution,” she said.

“A lot of people seem to think that getting an online education is super easy,” she added, “but this learning style comes with its own set of challenges.”

Besides self-motivation, organization and an openness to unique communication workarounds with professors, online students also require a willingness to seek out their own extracurricular experiences.

"You dive into something, and you find out new information which leads you to new, bigger questions. And that’s part of the fun of it."
— Kristin Keckler-Alexander

Not wanting to miss out on the grit and real-world adventure of archaeological research, Keckler-Alexander found a program that allowed students to work in the field — in this case, at Ciudad Perdida.

Located high in the Sierra Nevada on the north coast of Colombia, the sprawling, terraced site was built by the Tairona people around AD 800.

“Getting to the site is pretty intense, but you fall in love with it as soon as you’re there,” she said. “It was definitely one of those life-changing experiences.”

Keckler-Alexander and the team with her camped on the site for a month. During that time, tasks such as historic reconstruction, archaeological survey, excavation and topographic mapping cemented a passion for fieldwork and taught her that each discovery only leads to more curiosity.

“You dive into something, and you find out new information which leads you to new, bigger questions,” she said. “And that’s part of the fun of it.”

This summer, in addition to continuing her online studies, Keckler-Alexander is taking advantage of several other opportunities to work in her field, including an ongoing project with the Society for American Archaeology to advise the Boy Scouts on the archaeology merit badge. She’ll also be heading to the Kansas State Historical Society field school with one of her sons, and she is anticipating the publication of a scholarly paper she wrote as a capstone project for her history degree.

The paper describes a little-known, WWI-era women’s civic organization that nonetheless had a big impact in the Midwest. Members of the Military Sisterhood of America provided financial charity, negotiated discounts for goods sold to soldiers, and even organized lawyers in Kansas and other Midwestern states to offer free legal services to military families.

“I became very passionate about making sure that people knew who these remarkable women were,” Keckler-Alexander said. “In my opinion, they were the precursor to a lot of the standard Army community service activities that we have today.”

Once she completes her master’s degree, Keckler-Alexander plans to apply to an archaeology doctoral program, though she may take some time off beforehand to work in the field. Her hope is to someday return to the sites in Colombia and bring her daughter with her, so that she too can be inspired by all the female scientists there.

“My daughter is very much in that age where she’s starting to think about what she wants to be when she grows up,” Keckler-Alexander said. “If that means she wants to be a shovel bum like her mom, then she can be a shovel bum. There really are no limits.”


Top photo: Kristin Keckler-Alexander (center-right) hikes across a river in Colombia with her research team. Photo courtesy of Kristin Keckler-Alexander

Mikala Kass

communications assistant , School of Human Evolution and Social Change


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Before you share a story — even this one — read it all, use your common sense.
July 6, 2017

Innovation Chief Eric Newton on the danger of fake news and the need for the public to become more news literate

“The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent,” said the 28-year-old gunman days after he fired an assault rifle inside a Washington, D.C., pizzeria because he believed the eatery was enslaving children. 

The intel he was referring to was actually a hoax caused by a fake news item, and the December 2016 incident is now known as “Pizzagate.”

That scenario is an example of what could go wrong when people are given false or misleading information. In June, several sites claimed that 87-year-old actor and filmmaker Clint Eastwood died in his Brentwood, California home. Around the same time, Twitter was set ablaze when it was reported that NBA superstar Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs cut off his trademark braids, which he has had since 2011. Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg recently vowed to aggressively deal with fake news on his platform, which has an estimated 2 billion users.

Getting taken in by fake news may sound harmless to some, but it can fuel nationwide conspiracies and promote hateful propaganda, and it has the potential to affect outcomes in key global elections.

Here’s the thing about reading a fake news item, according to Eric Newton, professor of practice at Arizona State University: Slow down and use your common sense to discern what’s fact and what’s fiction.

“Consume news from more than one source. … If a story is outrageous, amazing or unbelievable, take a minute to confirm it,” said Newton, who is also the innovation chief at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “If you can’t find a legacy news source to confirm a story, be suspicious.”

ASU News spoke to Newton about the history of fake news, its emergence in the digital age and why it’s a threat to our democracy.

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Eric Newton

Question: What is your definition of “fake news”?

Answer: Journalists worldwide depend on the Associated Press stylebook. The AP says: “the term 'fake news' may be used as shorthand for deliberate falsehoods masked as news circulating on the internet.” Note the phrase “deliberate falsehoods.” People who produce fake news know it is untrue. They are trying to create mass delusions to make money or otherwise influence our decisions. Fake news is counterfeit, a fraud, a forgery, a hoax, specious, a sham. Fake news succeeds to the extent that it deceives. It’s deplorable.

Mainstream professional journalism is not “fake news.” Even when journalists get things wrong, you shouldn’t call their mistakes “fake news.” Sloppy journalism, maybe. Professional journalists have no intent to deceive. They are trying to get it right. They correct their mistakes.

Saying mainstream media produces fake news is like saying a person who makes a mistake is the same as a zombie. Journalism is imperfect. Even good journalists sometimes shoot themselves in the foot — but most of their self-inflicted wounds are tiny. Fake news, on the other hand, is like a zombie: It wants to eat your brain. People should be able to tell the difference between a paper cut and a monster.

Q: When did fake news begin to emerge, and what has happened to it in the digital age?

A: Fake news has been around as long as news itself. Whenever a new form of media rises, the hoaxers join in. We really don’t know when the first fake news story happened. Perhaps it was around an ancient campfire, when an early Homo sapien realized he could get everyone to run and hide — and therefore have the best food to himself — by jumping up and pretending a tiger was coming.

A famous example of a daily newspaper hoax came in 1835, when the New York Sun printed a series of stories hailing the discovery of life on the moon. The Sun printed a drawing of humanoid creatures with bat-like wings. When real astronomers said it was fake, the paper congratulated itself for fooling everyone. That was a long time before journalism ethics.

Today, through the internet, search engines and social media, fake news can spread around the world in seconds. Anyone can create it. Everyone can share it. Journalists by themselves can’t stop it. In the 21st century, we need new forms of literacy — digital literacy, media literacy, news literacy and civics literacy — to fight back.

Q: What in your opinion is dangerous about fake news?

A: Democracies use common sets of facts to solve problems. Fake news puts toxic facts into our heads. When we let that happen, all sorts of things go wrong. You might drink water you shouldn’t, or not vaccinate your child when you should, or even run into a pizza parlor with a rifle to break up a child sex ring that doesn’t exist. That’s just the start.

Without facts, the worst evils become possible: wars, famines, disease, you name it. When autocrats control the media of their countries and can saturate their nations with fake news, these dictators can commit all manner of atrocities. When an entire society operates under a delusion, millions of people can die.

Q: What’s a quick and easy gauge for the public to use when deciphering what’s a legitimate news source and what’s not?

A: Consume news from more than one source. Use common sense. If a story is outrageous, amazing or unbelievable, take a minute to confirm it. If you can’t find a legacy news source to confirm a story, be suspicious. If a fact-checking organization has debunked a story, don’t share it. If the story doesn’t link to original source material, watch out.

A simple search often can expose fake news sources. But most of all, slow down. Fake news spreads fastest when people share it immediately, without reading it or without thinking.

Q: How can the public become more news literate in the future?

A: I’ve already covered why hoaxers aren’t the same as honest journalists. But I’m glad you asked about news literacy. We all can do more to spread it: educators, technologists, journalists and everyone. News literacy should be universal, part of every teacher’s classroom. Technology companies can better deal with content that is undeniably false. Journalists can be more transparent, showing their sources, and more engaged with the communities they serve. Everyone can look at their media diets and learn how to stop sharing fake news.

We hold in the palms of our hands the most powerful personal communications devices ever invented. They can unlock facts or unleash fictions. Be honest: Do you really know how to use your smartphone? The speed and power of technology has made more urgent some long-standing questions.Here’s one example: Frustrated by the partisan press, Thomas Jefferson once wrote that “the real extent of the state of misinformation” is understood only by people who can use “facts within their knowledge” to confront “the lies of the day.”  

News literacy is teaching everyone how to find, understand, use and even create news that helps people better run their governments and their lives. It hopes to turn everyone into people who can understand the extent of the state of misinformation. Why? Because our system is based on the idea that truth can drive out falsehood, that voters can make informed decisions.

Until we have a news-savvy nation, we’ll never be all we can be.


Top photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

ASU instructor given the opportunity of a lifetime to benefit another culture

Darien Keane to teach communication, help develop program in Sudan

June 30, 2017

Darien Keane will spend the month of July halfway across the world teaching communication to benefit students of another country.

Keane, instructor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, will spend the remainder of her summer in Sudan working with ASU alum Neal Van Hydershadt, who teaches rhetoric and composition at the American University in Cairo. Hydershadt and Keane are working with the Bridges International Organization, which are coordinating the international project with the Sudanese Ministry of Human Resource Development.   Darien Keane Download Full Image

“The opportunity to work in a new culture on the African continent seemed like a chance of a lifetime,” said Keane. “I am excited to use my experience teaching communication to benefit another country.”

The joint project is to create and deliver a business-communications training for a new certificate that the Sudanese Ministry anticipates becoming part of a continuing adult education program at a local university.

Keane is part of a team of three course developers currently creating the pilot program, which will continue to be a work-in-progress during the summer. The title of the course is “English Writing and Communication Skills in Business and Professional Settings.”

Each course developer will have 20 students and a teaching assistant. They will teach through the entire curriculum over the course of the project. The total in-class time is about 95 hours.

“I expect I will get to know these students really well,” Keane said.

The students participating in the program must have a working knowledge of English and need to apply for acceptance into the pilot program. Participating students will be government employees who work with the public, and most will have a college degree.

“The objectives of the courses are to help the employees become more familiar and comfortable with communicating with Westerners and with using English,” said Keane. 

Topics being covered include: the communication process, listening skills, best emailing practices, introducing a colleague, small talk, running a meeting and giving a presentation.

Keane plans to incorporate her international teaching experience into the communication courses she teaches at ASU, introduction to communication and small-group communication.

She also hopes to grow her teaching practices in new ways and gain new ideas of teaching activities through her collaboration with the two other professors.

“I look forward to immersing myself in a new culture that is very different from my own,” Keane said. “I hope to come away with a deeper understanding of cross-cultural communication and the communication training process." 

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication


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ASU professor is co-editor of new Bioarchaeology International journal.
June 30, 2017

New bioarchaeological journal gives scientists a platform to share research on past lives and deaths in international forum

Bioarchaeology is a young but quickly growing field that studies how people from the past lived and died, and is most often described as a combination of biological anthropology, archaeology and social theory. However, this field also faces a problem: There are many different approaches to and even definitions of bioarchaeological research, making it difficult to share findings across disciplines, organizations and geographic borders.

cover image of Bioarchaeology International

Bioarchaeology International is a new, first-of-its-kind journal specifically dedicated to bioarchaeological research. Its goal is to help unify perspectives by providing a space for peer-reviewed articles and encouraging global discussion. The quarterly publication, which will appear in print and online, will release its inaugural issue on June 30.

“This is a platform for bridging the archaeological focus on mortuary behavior, ritual and cemetery organization with the more biological focus on skeletal remains,” said Brenda Baker, co-editor of the journal. Baker is an associate professor in Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change and a bioarchaeologist with the school’s Center for Bioarchaeological Research.

Bioarchaeology is unique in its interdisciplinary nature, investigating both the material and the biological evidence left behind in the grave. Although different factions may emphasize one side over the other, in the journal’s introductory article, BakerBrenda Baker is an associate professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, a core faculty member of the school’s Center for Bioarchaeological Research and director of the Bioarchaeology of Nubia Expedition. Her research encompasses bioarchaeology, mortuary archaeology, human osteology and paleopathology, emphasizing the investigation of human skeletal remains within their archaeological contexts to reconstruct past lifeways and the health status of ancient people. and her co-editor Sabrina Agarwal of the University of California Berkeley argue that integrating these aspects is what allows researchers the clearest understanding of ancient people’s life experiences.

Two of the papers that will be published in the first edition of the journal, for example, explore how the dead were handled by the living in Neolithic Ireland and Turkey. By studying both how graves were used and how bodies were treated, researchers are able to learn about the social significance behind mortuary traditions.

These bioarchaeologists are answering questions about past societies that are of special interest to today’s modern readers, social scientists and policy makers, such as how humanity has historically responded to challenges like disease, climate change, migrations and inequality. With current research trends focusing on the life experiences of individuals and the use of rapidly advancing techniques in biogeochemical analysis and molecular biology, the journal promises to be a wealth of relatable, relevant and cutting-edge findings.

Although bioarchaeology has many branches, with Bioarchaeology International, these schools of thought now have a vetted public forum to explain their research, exchange ideas and stand together in their common goal to better understand the human experience.

The first edition of Bioarchaeology International will be available at on June 30. Read the open access introduction to the journal.

The journal is currently accepting submissions, particularly those from around the globe using varying scales of analysis that focus on theoretical and methodological issues in the field. More information, including how to submit to the journal, can be found at

Mikala Kass

communications assistant , School of Human Evolution and Social Change


ASU Alumni Association adds 16 new groups to chapter network

June 28, 2017

Arizona State University Alumni Association recently added 16 new groups to its chapter network, bringing the total number of groups operated by the association and its alumni volunteers to 176.

At its June 23 meeting, the Alumni Association board approved the upgrade of the alumni club in Las Vegas, to an alumni chapter; and the establishment of 15 international connection groups, in the following locations: Download Full Image

• Toronto, Canada
• Handan Hebrei, China
• Bangalore, India
• New Delhi, India
• Surat Gujurat, India
• Bali, Indonesia
• Banten Province, Indonesia
• Tokyo, Japan
• The Hague, Netherlands
• Karachi, Pakistan
• Kazan, Russia
• Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
• Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
• Bangkok, Thailand
• Istanbul, Turkey

These groups will join a network that now includes 45 geographically based groups within the United States, 33 academic affiliates focused on graduates of specific degree programs at the university, 19 special interest chapters or clubs representing alums of registered student organizations, and 79 international connection groups, representing Sun Devil alums worldwide.

The primary goal of chapters is to keep alumni connected to and engaged with ASU. Chapters sponsor a range of activities for their members, including networking events, Sun Devil game-watching celebrations, outdoor recreational activities, and service-oriented volunteer projects. Many chapters give back to the next generation of ASU students by providing mentoring services, by hosting Sun Devil Send-Offs for incoming ASU students, or by awarding scholarships.

To learn more about the association’s chapter network, including how to organize a new group, visit

ASU doctoral candidate spends summer biking across Africa

June 26, 2017

Editor's note: Lluis Algue Sala is a doctoral student at the School of International Letters and Cultures at Arizona State University. In between his studies, Sala travels, biking across countries and continents. He believes in connecting with locals, enriching himself through authentic experiences. While he "bikepacks" independently of his linguistic work, Sala enjoys observing the way people interact and overlap despite their language differences. Read his story in his own words. 

"During my summer breaks, and after the pressure and hard work from the academic year, I feel that I need to travel as many other people do. I like to do it (and I reckon I have no alternative) in a simplistic way that lets me reset my mind to face all the new challenges that following course always has in store. For me, it is as important to end a course being satisfied with the job done as starting the new one excited and ready for whatever that might come. Traveling in summer, among other things, serves this purpose. Lluis Sala 'bikepacking' across Africa ASU doctoral student Lluis Sala while "bikepacking" across Africa. Download Full Image

"For the last 10 years, moving around the world has become some kind of lifestyle to me. I have worked in five different countries, and I have extensively backpacked around Europe and Asia, where I settled and taught Spanish in a Chinese university for six years.

"Some years ago, while I was enjoying tea and sunset in the colossal Naghsh-i Jahan square in magical Isfahan, Iran, I felt that my trips were slowly becoming meaningless, feeling somehow empty, tired of travelling, and I realized that backpacking was gradually becoming, in a way, boring and monotonous. As an eager traveller, that feeling certainly worried me and I spent a couple of years without much travelling when settled in China.

"One winter, during the Chinese New Year Holiday, I somehow reluctantly bought a flight to Sri Lanka just because it was cheap and I needed a break from China and personal issues, but I was not really excited about the trip itself. While on the plane, I suddenly decided that once I landed in Colombo I would buy a bicycle and would start cycling and see what might happen.

"Twenty-five days later I had circumnavigated the island with a $25 bicycle and super-rudimentary gear, having the time of my life. I had fallen in love with bikepacking and once again I did it on the cheap and going local; first-world comfort was never necessary.

"From then, whenever I have some time off (summers), I cycle, or bikepack. I have done 1,500- to 2,000-mile trips in Uganda, western China, British Columbia, Alaska and right now I am in Lusaka, capital city of Zambia, halfway between the 4,000 miles separating Nairobi and Cape Town, starting point and final destiny of my summer trip. I have cycled through Tanzania and Malawi, and after Zambia I am headed to Namibia.

"Cycling an average of 50 miles a day for 85 days, this is the longest cycling trip I have ever done. I eat what the locals eat and sleep where the locals sleep. When cheap accommodation is not available, I just ask permission and pitch my tent wherever the local leaders allow me. Believe me, it's lots of fun.

"I remember a friend of mine telling me that 'cycling lets you go where touring buses don't go.' Well, it's a little bit more than that. By cycling, I pass by hundreds of settlements where not even local buses stop, which provides me a deeper contact with local people and their cultures. It becomes priceless knowledge about cultural differences and living realities that is impossible to get otherwise. There is a big difference between reaching a village in a Jeep with AC than doing it after having cycled 70 miles, sweaty, dirty, thirsty, hungry and smelly.

"Somehow, the distances between them and you fade easily; learning from each other becomes an easier game that I feel enriches us mutually. For instance, as a linguistics PhD student, it amazes me to see how people who literally have nothing have become bilingual or even trilingual, due to the rich cultural and linguistic diversity they are continuously exposed to in their communities. I might learn some words of a local language (please, thanks, hello, bye-bye) which will not be understood some miles away, and this really fascinates me. At the same time, when preparing my trips, I do extensive readings and research about my destinations, and experiencing how readings and reality intersect or not is always some kind of surprise box.

"However, it's important to note that such an experience is not a walk in the park, because getting so close to local cultures also lets you see things that you might not like, might not expect or sadden you, such as the prevalence of poverty and many other associated issues. Sometimes the reality in underdeveloped countries is sweetened by certain Western accounts ('They are poor, but they are happy'). But once you find yourself there, you come to realize that such statements are, at least, arguable.

"For example, last week I cycled a stretch of 200 miles where all the men living in those little villages were inebriated all day long due to the lack of opportunities and future in the area they lived, spending all their scarce monetary resources on alcohol with all the implied consequences for their families and communities. I felt really hopeless about them, and the whole situation truly frustrated and hurt me, realizing again how tough life can get in the certain parts of the world.

"Still, for good or bad, I try my best to pile up all the stimuli that I can during my trips. It goes without saying that everything contributes a lot to my personal and professional growth, especially when dealing with differences, not only interculturally but also between classes. Despite the fact that 'wealthy' is not an adjective to describe a TA at all, I still live, unlike them, in a land of material abundance and with future opportunities and I am logically seen and perceived as such. Establishing an intercultural dialogue under these circumstances is also something from which one learns a lot and prepares him/her for successfully facing the challenges that our global world presents. Needless to say, my long rides also allow me to reflect a lot on what happens around me, put some order in my life and continuously reassess my goals and direction in every aspect of my life.

"Moreover, I am strongly convinced that as scholars it's essential to get out of the books, libraries, papers and authors' bubble and experience what's happening out there and set bridges with reality, which at times might become idealized by academia. In the fast-changing world we live, I believe that being in the field as much as possible is a key factor to keep updated on our development."

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ASU is meeting the need for proficient speakers of uncommon languages.
June 23, 2017

Critical Languages Institute marks 15 years of teaching Albanian in immersive program

About 5 million people in the world speak Albanian, making it one of the less common languages. It’s not even in the top 100The most commonly spoken language is Mandarin, with 955 million speakers..

But with the fall of communism in 1991 and the strategic location of the Balkan states, Albanian has become a language of crucial importance in the world.

This summer, the Critical Languages Institute at Arizona State University is marking 15 years of teaching Albanian — one of the only immersive programs for that language in the United States.

“Now that Albania is more open to the world, it’s important to have students learn Albanian language and culture,” said Linda MenikuShe spends two months at ASU every summer and is a lecturer at the University of Tirana the rest of the year. Meniku wrote the textbooks used by the students., the instructor who launched the program in 2002.

Typically, there is a handful of students in each session. In 15 years, 127 people have learned Albanian at the institute on ASU’s campus. Some want to speak Albanian for careers in international business, law or diplomacy, but Meniku has also had students who wanted to learn it so they could study archeology or mythology in Albania. One student became interested after working with Kosovar refugee families in Phoenix, and this summer, one student is learning it so she can converse with her boyfriend’s family.

Students in this summer's Critical Languages Institute's Albanian program make the Albanian "eagle" symbol with their hands. From left, they are Joe Casavecchia, Tyler Moore, Emily Barnes, instructor Linda Meniku, Aleksej Demjanski, Chris Kinley and Travis Nielsen.

 Albania, a bit smaller than South Carolina, lies about 45 miles across the Adriatic Sea from the heel of Italy’s boot. Occupied during World War II and then isolated and ruled by a brutal communist dictator until 1991, the country now is a member of NATO. Tourism is booming, with the dramatic Albanian coastline named one of the “52 Places to Go” by the New York Times in 2014.

Albanian also is the language of Kosovo, a country still recovering from ethnic wars in the 1990s with Serbia, and it is spoken in Macedonia, Italy and Greece.

The U.S. government has designated Albanian as a critical language with proficient speakers in high demand, according to Kathleen Evans-Romaine, director of the Critical Languages InstituteCurrently, the CLI offers programs in Albanian, Armenian, Bosnian, Croatian, Hebrew, Indonesian, Persian, Polish, Russian, Serbian, Turkish and Uzbek., part of the Melikian Center for Russian, Eurasian and East European Studies.

“Typically you have heritage speakers, who are the children of refugees or immigrants. The difficulty is that there are sometimes restrictions in working with the government if you are a heritage speaker, because they might not be able to get certain kinds of clearance,” she said.

“If you’re going to be working on legal reform in Kosovo, you need to speak Albanian at a very high level,” she said.

The institute’s programs are tuition-free, funded by federal agencies, sponsors and donors. The federal Title 8 program pays for language instruction for graduate students, such as Joe Casavecchia, who graduated from ASU in May with degrees in political science and American history. In the fall, he’ll enter the University of Chicago Law School.

“I’ll be studying international trade and economic development from a domestic perspective, but you always need to have an international background and to keep your options open,” he said.

“If you find your international niche and they need someone who speaks Albanian, then there you are.”

Albanian is considered a “category 2” language — more difficult to learn than French and Spanish but not as hard as Mandarin and Persian.

Chris Kinley, a doctoral student in modern Balkan history at Ohio State University, is studying border villages between Greece and Albania and is learning the language at ASU this summer for his research.

“This is my sixth language, and I think it’s the hardest one to learn. I love the Albanian language, but there are some really intense grammar rules,” he said.

First-year Albanian is taught in a seven-week program on ASU’s Tempe campus with an optional four-week immersion trip to Tirana, Albania’s capital, where students stay with host families. Second-year Albanian is taught in eight weeks in Tirana.

“Visiting Tirana is a very deep and strong cultural experience, and they see a lot of historical sites,” Meniku said. The country has been open to outsiders for only about 25 years, and the students visit an old Cold War bunker that’s now a museum.

“Every year I have students who change their lives by taking Albanian.”

Indeed, one of Meniku’s former students became so passionate that she funded a scholarship for the study of Albanian. Elaine Berkowitz, a dentist in Pittsburgh, was deployed to Camp Bondsteel in post-war Kosovo with the U.S. Army Reserves in 2007, 2010 and 2011, where she volunteered her time lecturing in a dental school and teaching brushing and flossing to children. She found the Kosovars to be kind and appreciative. After she retired from the Army in 2012, she searched for a program to learn the language.

“Lo and behold, ASU was the one,” said Berkowitz, who was 68 when she took first-year Albanian in 2013. “It was tough! But I thought the program and Linda were terrific.”

Since then, she has returned to Kosovo and Albania several times. In 2015, she established the scholarship to make it easier for students at the Critical Languages Institute.

“This is a poor country, but the Albanian Muslims are the greatest people,” she said. “They extend hospitality like you wouldn't believe.”

The Critical Languages Institute’s Albanian program will celebrate its 15th anniversary at a gathering at 7 p.m. Monday at the Adelphi Commons on the Tempe campus, with ethnic food, music and dancing. For more details, contact the institute at 480-965-4188.

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now