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On course to cure

January 1, 2019

Prompted by the tragic death of her father, Cambridge scholar Charity Bhebhe has traveled from Zimbabwe to ASU to the UK on a medical mission

Arizona and Zimbabwe are at opposite ends of the alphabet, and traveling from one to the other really has been a trip from A to Z for Charity Bhebhe.

The Arizona State University graduate from Barrett, The Honors College has made the journey, and those who don’t understand what that entails should find her impression of ASU and Tempe instructive.

“It was very hot, but it’s very well developed and the transport system is really organized,” Bhebhe says. “There’s free internet, there’s hot water all the time, there’s air-conditioning …”

Besides hot summers, none of the above can be said of her native Zimbabwe, its economy and infrastructure severely stunted by hardships that began under British colonialism in the late 19th century and continues today. What citizens of the developed world would consider normal life is impossible to conduct in the African nation.

In the United States, for example, diarrhea is an easily managed inconvenience. In Zimbabwe, it can lead to death. Bhebhe’s goal is to one day treat minor illnesses so she can change that harsh reality for the better, one patient at a time.

One of those patients might have been her father. She was 8 when he died from pneumonia after being misdiagnosed at a hospital in Zimbabwe. That prompted Bhebhe to focus on the prevention of such unnecessary deaths, leading her to the latest stop on a 15,000-mile voyage from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, to Tempe, Arizona, to Cambridge, England.

Now in the first stages of a PhD in pharmacology at the University of Cambridge, she was a Mastercard Foundation Scholar at ASU, where she majored in molecular biology and biotechnology in the School of Life Sciences. She earned a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, one of only 92 granted worldwide in 2018.

“My journey wasn’t perfect,” Bhebhe says, “but it successfully brought me to a beautiful ending, so I wouldn’t change anything about it.”

Map showing a student journey across the globe

Bulawayo to Tempe: 9,489 miles

Bhebhe grew up in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city after the capital of Harare. It is home to more than 1.2 million people, a sleepy place of warm, open inhabitants where the streets were built wide enough to allow wagons pulled by 16 oxen to turn around unimpeded.

Zimbabwe lacks basic health care resources, which motivated Bhebhe: “My goal is to be able to apply my medical research skills in investigating and preventing diseases.”

That led her to ASU and Barrett, The Honors College, which she chose to attend because of its “diverse and inclusive” community.

“I knew that I was going to fit in somewhere,” she says. “There is a big international community at ASU, and that gave me an opportunity to work with people from diverse backgrounds. I became more accepting and open to learning about different cultures and trying new things.”

But she was so shy, remembers Heather Bean, Bhebhe’s mentor in the Biodesign Institute. “It was like pulling teeth to get her to talk about herself and her aspirations. The one thing she conveyed to me was that she was really enthusiastic about having a career in science.”

That led Bhebhe to make one of her best decisions at ASU, Bean says, one that would set her apart from other scholarship applicants. Instead of waiting until her senior year, Bhebhe applied for a research project as a freshman. The Bean Lab became Bhebhe’s favorite spot on ASU’s Tempe campus: “It felt like home.” She continued there until her graduation in 2018, demonstrating a thirst for knowledge and, Bean says, a “brain for soaking up scientific information.”

“That was one of the key things for Charity when she interviewed for the Gates,” Bean adds. “She could speak really eloquently about her research project because she knew it so deeply. I think honestly that is what made her stand out. She took the initiative and believed in herself enough her freshman year to just go ahead and apply.”

Bhebhe, meanwhile, credits Bean and Kyle Mox, associate dean of Barrett — among others — with helping her become ASU’s third Gates Cambridge Scholar in four years.

“I received a lot of guidance from my professors and advisers as well on the writing portion of the application and the preparing for the interviews,” she says. “Being at ASU exposed me to opportunities that helped me further identify my interests for me to find my place in science and medicine.”

ASU Cambridge Scholar Charity Bhebhe
Instead of waiting until her senior year, Charity Bhebhe applied for a research project as a freshman. Heather Bean, Bhebhe’s mentor in the Biodesign Institute, said she demonstrated a thirst for knowledge and a “brain for soaking up scientific information.”

Tempe to Cambridge: 5,243 miles

For the next three years, Bhebhe’s place is in Cambridge, where she is adjusting to the weather and trying to decipher what people are saying.

“Cambridge is beautiful,” she says. “I’ve been enjoying seeing all these amazing old historic buildings, which I’d heard all these stories about before I came here.

“The weather’s different, and that’s taken a lot of adjusting. But the biggest thing I’m dealing with is that in the U.S. I got used to American English and here it’s British English. My brain is struggling to process things; trying to go back to British English [widely spoken in Zimbabwe] after spending so many years thinking in U.S. English. I don’t even know what I sound like anymore!”

It’s mostly been a blur, she admits: “I honestly can’t wait until I know what I’m doing! Hopefully that will happen soon. I don’t know how I got the scholarship. I still ask myself, ‘How did I even get here?’”

She’s being modest. Bhebhe was one of 92 selected from nearly 5,800 applicants — a 1.5 percent probability of winning one the world’s most prestigious scholarships.

“I do think I’ve worked very hard, and I’m really proud of myself that I’ve made it this far,” Bhebhe admits when pushed. “It’s a great opportunity. I’ve learned so much just from talking to the other Gates scholars. They’re from all sorts of different backgrounds, and they’ve all done amazing things.”

If Bhebhe ever pauses to ponder her amazing journey, she might reflect on her middle name — Ntando, which translates as “will” in Ndebele, her native tongue. The more formal version, Ntandoyenkosi, means “will of God.”

It could also be taken to mean she has the will to follow her winding path back to where she feels she is needed most: Zimbabwe.

Written by Telford Vice; photos by Jeff Newton and Darran Rees. Vice is a London-based journalist has written for ESPN websites, the Reuters news agency and the Guardian newspaper, and he has broadcast for the BBC.

This story originally appeared in the winter issue of ASU Thrive magazine. 

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ASU's Millennium Fellows pool talents to make big social impact

Millennium Fellows at ASU work to reduce hunger, help refugees, change the world
Program harnesses students' creativity to help each other advance their projects
December 31, 2018

University hosts global UN program for the first time with largest cohort at any school

Arizona State University has no shortage of students who are passionate about changing the world, and many have launched startups and formed nonprofits to make a difference.

Now, 28 students in the ASU community who are among the most driven to create social impact have become connected, sharing resources, influence and knowledge as the Class of 2018 Millennium Fellowship, sponsored by the United Nations. This is the first cohort of Millennium Fellows hosted by ASU, which had the largest group of any university. Worldwide, there were 530 fellows at 30 universities, 17 of them American schoolsThe U.S. campuses were: Alma College, ASU, Becker College, Brandeis University, Concordia University, Cornell University, Furman University, Georgetown University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Jarvis Christian College, Lynn University, Moravian College, Northeastern University, Rollins College, Spelman College, University of California, Davis and the University of Pennsylvania..

The juniors and seniors are among the most accomplished students on campus. Most are in Barrett, The Honors College and several are ASU Tillman Scholars. Delaney Bucker was on the ASU women’s triathlon team for two years, winning the national championship. Last month, Shantel Marekera, a Millennium Fellow and a MasterCard Foundation Scholar at ASU, was named a Rhodes Scholar, one of the most prestigious honors in the world.

The students all have their own projects, which show how they want to solve challenging problems. Some of the fellows have joined existing organizations. Three work with the local chapter of the anti-hunger nonprofit Feed My Starving Children, and two work with GreenLight Solutions, founded at ASU in 2013 to connect students with local organizations on sustainability projects. Other fellows launched their own initiatives. Marekera, the Rhodes Scholar, founded the Little Dreamers Foundation, a subsidized preschool in her native Zimbabwe. Nisha Rehman started the student club Hands for Henna, which supports refugee girls.

For some, their passion was fueled by personal experience. As a child, Elijah Smith experienced hunger.

“It’s something that has ultimately had a really profound impact on my upbringing, outlook and who I've become,” said Smith, a senior majoring in computer information systems in the W. P. Carey School of Business.

Elijah Smith
ASU student Elijah Smith, a Millennium Fellow, is working on a project that would allow students to donate unused M&G Dollars to reduce hunger.

At ASU, students who buy a meal plan get a certain amount of “M&G (Maroon & Gold) Dollars,” which are lost if they’re not used by the end of the semester. Smith saw students spending their end-of-term M&G Dollars on fancy coffee drinks and pizza for friends.

“And while these decisions aren't bad or inherently selfish, they represent an inefficiency and lack of support within the current framework,” Smith said.

He thought that, given a choice, students would rather spend some of their extra food money to help people who are hungry. So, as part of his Tillman Scholars venture project and, now, his Barrett thesis, Smith came up with the M&G Drive, which would encourage Sun Devils to use M&G Dollars to buy a non-perishable food item to donate.

“Even though the M&G Drive is tangibly focused on diverting M&G and supplying our community with the food it needs to combat hunger and food insecurity, it is focused on something greater — helping our fellow students understand just how privileged we truly are as students, and that we can create meaningful, lasting impact in the lives of those around us by simply asking, ‘How can I help?’ ” said Smith, who is working with university administration to get the program implemented.

Two other Millennium Fellows, Madison Sutton and Sonia Sabrowsky, both senior psychology majors, co-founded the Home Base Initiative after dealing with a friend who committed suicide. Their nonprofit offers mental health resources for students, parents and educators and will be creating peer-support networks for teens.

The point of the Millennium Fellowship is to harness the creativity and energy of the students to help each other advance their projects through networking and brainstorming. The group met several times over the fall semester to learn best practices. One of the exercises was “road mapping,” determining a project’s chain of effect. That was eye-opening for Smith, who saw how the M&G Drive would affect students, parents, the administration and even the contracts that ASU has with vendors.

Another program related to food insecurity is the Culinary Collective Project, a student-led research initiative aiming to provide resources for low-income ASU students. Nathan Tom, one of the co-founders, said that the project held an event called “Full Plates for the Whole Planet” during the fall semester to survey students and connect them to food resources.

“This event gave our a team a more comprehensive understanding of the scope of food insecurity at ASU and what a viable solution might look like in the future,” he said. “We had over 100 students and community members in the space that night, and we were able to successfully bring both students and stakeholders to the table.”

The Culinary Collective Project team, which also includes Millennium Fellow Jacklyn Nguyen, was able to network beyond ASU. Tom discussed the Culinary Collective on a global webinar with J.P. Bilbrey, the former CEO of the Hershey Company.

“We discussed the importance of corporate social responsibility and the role it will play for the Culinary Collective in the future,” Tom said. “Not only did the Millennium Fellowship give me a global community of social-impact leaders, it also gave me direct access to prominent, accomplished leaders in the industry I aspire to work in one day.”

The Millennium Fellowship program has been around for a few years, but the U.N. expanded it worldwide this year and aligned it with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

Two of the ASU fellows who served as campus directors, Nina Patel and Jennifer Guzman, coordinated activities and ran the meetings.

Patel said there were logistical challenges because the program is in its first year and has a large number of students. But she discovered that the program helped to raise the profile of the Global Women’s Health Initiative, the project she co-founded with another Millennium Fellow, Asha Ramakumar.

ASU student and Millennium Fellow Paula Kibuka Musok
ASU student and Millennium Fellow Paula Kibuka Musoke participated in a "road mapping" exercise with the other fellows to see the effects of their individual projects. Musoke's project is a research initiative into sexual health.

“It was a brand-new project, but once we started advertising it with the U.N. Millennium name, we started getting a lot of attention, not only from students but also from other organizations who wanted to come speak at our events and communicate with us,” said Patel, a junior majoring in global health.

One of the concepts the fellows studied was partnership — avoiding paternalism by collaborating with people they’re helping. Guzman said that attitude was helpful as she worked with Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy to register people to vote.

“Our main objective is closing the gap with people who are not engaged with the political process, through voter outreach and getting people to the polls, and giving them a role for themselves,” said Guzman, a junior double majoring in political science, and public service and public policy.

“We’re not trying to preach to them.”

Like about one-third of the Millennium Fellows worldwide, Guzman is a first-generation college student.

“We’re privileged in the sense that we have access to education and resources, and we understand that not everyone comes from the same background,” she said.

While the fellows graduated from the program in December, their projects will continue and Patel said the group will still try to meet. And they now are part of the worldwide Millennium Fellow alumni network.

“Throughout the semester we were constantly checking how the projects were doing and whether the fellows needed resources and how we could connect them with a student halfway around the world doing similar work,” she said.

“It was interesting to see the fellows in India, China and Saudi Arabia doing amazing work and how we could find a way to collaborate with them.”

Top photo: ASU student Nathan Tom (right), a Millennium Fellow, works with team members of the Culinary Collective, a project to reduce food insecurity.

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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Hugh Downs Invitational welcomes the great high school debates

December 28, 2018

ASU Forensics sets the stage for Arizona’s largest high school speech and debate tournament

  • speech (/spēCH/), a formal address or discourse delivered to an audience, or what ASU business student Lauren Barney calls confidence building.
  • de·bate (/dəˈbāt/), a formal discussion on a particular topic and the way ASU engineering major Tanzil Chowdhury likes to keep up with the world around him.

Lauren Barney and Tanzil Chowdhury are members of the forensics team at Arizona State University, a diverse community of speech and debate enthusiasts who parley the power of parlance into competitive communication. They are also part of a small but driven class of students who chose to continue speech and debate competition at the college level after participating in ASU’s Hugh Downs School of Human Communication Invitational in their not-so-distant high school past.

“High school forensics is massive and getting more participants every year as evidenced by the scores of students we are seeing at this tournament in recent years,” said Adam Symonds, director of ASU Forensics. “This tournament is about offering an opportunity for anyone from any type of forensics event to be here and our goal is to offer one campus, one stop for high schools to bring all of their students to campus to compete in different events.” 

Formerly known as the Southwest Championship, the Hugh Downs School invitational is the largest high school speech and debate tournament in Arizona. More than 125 schools from more than 20 states and two countries — the U.S. and Taiwan — are expected to participate in public speaking and debate events over three days, from Jan. 4 to 6. 

Symonds says high school students who visit ASU’s Tempe campus to participate in the Invitational embrace the opportunity to see where they can potentially go to school and he’s hoping that the tournament will also entice more students to join ASU Forensics given the benefits speech and debate offers to students across all disciplines.

“It teaches clarification of personal values; how to conduct credible research; develop advocacies that are meaningful to you; and how to speak on your feet,” Symonds said. “Professionally, we see what folks really want out of their employees are people who can anticipate data, bring an argument to bear and defend it. Debate is really useful because it changes the way your brain works. It changes the way you think about things. You can make better comparative assessments.”

Now a sophomore in ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business, Barney joined ASU Forensics in her first semester at ASU after learning through high school speech and debate that she wasn’t as shy about speaking in public as she once thought she was.

“I have been able to transfer a lot of the skills that I had in high school, but I’ve also been able to learn so much more in college.” Barney said. “College debate has more freedom when it comes to researching what you want, and I really appreciate being able to strengthen the skills I learned in high school.”

Chowdhury said the ASU high school tournament was a perennial activity for his debate team in his teenage years and that being a part of ASU Forensics has been extremely rewarding and a welcome complement to his junior year studies in engineering and science.

“I get to read about so many different things like philosophy and politics that I wouldn’t get to read about otherwise. I get to engage with a great group of people, coaches and other members of our team. I get to travel across the country — it’s just been really fun.”

Video by Ken Fagan and Suzanne Wilson/ASU 

Clark Olson, an instructor in the Hugh Downs School and the director of ASU Forensics from 1984 to 1999, said ASU has earned quite a reputation as a national leader in collegiate speech and debate tournaments in recent decades and has taken pride in former students who were motivated by skill and inspired by experiences in ASU Forensics to pursue their chosen career paths — TV writer and producer Anthony Zuiker among them.

“We had Tony Zuiker, who was the founder of ‘CSI,’” Olson said in reference to the forensics TV crime drama “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” “Because the term ‘forensics’ is always misinterpreted as being about dead bodies — when it actually means speaking for judgment — Tony decided to capitalize on forensics, using it in the modern way people think of the term, to create the TV series.”

Zuiker’s pal, actor, producer and “CSI” writer Dustin Abraham also shored up the ASU Forensics squad during his years at the university, according to Olson, along with a number of other former students who have gone on to successful careers in to politics, business, law and the performing arts.

ASU Forensics’ team started in 1885, the same year that ASU started as the Territorial Normal School. It is the oldest student organization at ASU and continues to welcome participation from undergraduates from any discipline enrolled at ASU.

“We have majors from engineering, business, English, social justice, communications, political science — you name it,” Symonds said. “The number one thing I encourage students to do is to find what motivates them — what makes them want to research and advocate — then we talk about how to make that competitive and make it a thing that people are really interested in and want to watch.”

Speech and debate fans can watch high school students — and perhaps some future ASU Forensics team members — tackle policy and prose during the 2019 Hugh Downs School of Human Communication Invitational on Jan. 4-6 at ASU's Tempe campus. Almost 2,000 students and judges participated in the 2018 event, and a similar attendance count is expected for the 2019 tournament. Final rounds will be held in large auditoriums throughout the day on Sunday, Jan. 6. Awards will be presented in the Student Pavilion Auditorium at 6 p.m. that day.

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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Learning sustainability on the ground in Nepal and China

ASU students learn from sustainable farmers across the globe.
Three-week program is open to all majors at ASU.
December 19, 2018

Summer 2019 program expands its locations; applications are open and due by March 1

As Arizona State University senior sustainability scientists Nalini Chhetri and Netra Chhetri know, some educational experiences are more effective outside the classroom.

That’s why the wife-and-husband pair of ASU professors have directed a study abroad program in Nepal for nearly five years.Though directing the program isn’t easy, Nalini Chhetri — who is also the assistant director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society — said she keeps doing it because she wants to “provide students with immersive and hands-on experience that has authenticity and credibility. Doing so allows students to have a deeper awareness and respect for local knowledge that supplements their classroom learning, and that is invaluable in preparing them to make a positive difference in this complex world.”

While past programs have taken place only in Nepal, June 2019's three-week program, called “Innovation in Green Growth in China and Nepal,” will also take students to China as well. Students will spend time in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital; the farming community of Pokhara, Nepal; and Guangzhou and Shishou, cities in China.

Specifics have changed from year to year, but the focus of the program is always on engaging communities in sustainable growth and renewable energy. In 2018, 14 ASU students from various majors participated in five main activities: They led STEM projects for schoolchildren, attended workshops to design an eco-park protecting Rhino Lake in Chitwan National Park, produced high-quality biochar, installed a fully operational solar irrigation system serving an indigenous community and learned from sustainable farmers in Pokhara.

Almost all activities on this study abroad program, offered through the ASU Study Abroad Office, are done in conjunction with local university students.

“I attribute so much of my learning towards my interactions and conversations with these students and would not have learned anywhere near as much without them,” said School of Sustainability PhD student Leah Jones, who joined the study abroad program in 2017 (pictured at the top of this article). “I was able to pick their brains and learn about the nuances of Nepali culture in a unique way, while also being able to share my American culture with the students.”

For School of Sustainability undergraduate Mikka Suhonen, who participated in 2018, learning from the sustainable farmers was a major trip highlight. As he noted, the farmers had radically different landscapes on which to create their farms.

“In turn, each farmer had unique approaches to creating their livelihood on that land,” Suhonen said. “One farmer had an intricate system where water would carry pig slurry down a hill to a pond in order to feed the fish inhabiting it. Another utilized the different heights of trees and vegetation in order to grow shade crops such as coffee. And another raised fish in a rice paddy, which fed the fish on bugs that normally prey on the rice stalks. The best part? We call it sustainability, but they call it surviving.”

This aspect of the program will remain in 2019. “There is no alternative to learning by observing and engaging with the farmers to whom the practice of a sustainable system is a way of life,” Nalini Chhetri said.

The 2019 study abroad program will also give students hands-on experience with sustainable economy projects and sustainable development that revolves around renewable energy. Applications are accepted until March 1, 2019, and the program is open to all majors. Students will receive four credits by the end of their experience. The Chhetris will again direct the program, along with the support of John “Marty” Anderies, a professor in School of Sustainability and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

“If you ever have the opportunity to be a part of this program with the Drs. Chhetri, I highly recommend it,” Suhonen said. “They are fantastic people, and the trip is surreal, both in experiences and natural beauty.”

Video courtesy of ASU student Megan Dieu, who participated in the program in 2018.

Top photo: Leah Jones, a doctoral student in the School of Sustainability, joined the Nepal study abroad program in 2017. To learn more about the 250-plus study-abroad programs in more than 65 different countries offered at ASU, see the Study Abroad Office website.

Kayla Frost

Associate Editor , Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability


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ASU grad student Shantel Marekera named Rhodes Scholar

December 18, 2018

School of Social Transformation student 'focused on the best kinds of justice,' hopes to stand up for and empower others

Arizona State University graduate student Shantel Marekera has been awarded the 2019 Rhodes Scholarship, the oldest and perhaps most prestigious international scholarship program in the world.

“Getting a Rhodes Scholarship is a chance for me to join a community of changemakers and transformative leaders I have identified with for a long time … (and to further) the desire to stand up for others,” said Marekera, one of three recipients from Zimbabwe.

The Rhodes Scholarship affords students the opportunity to study at the University of Oxford in England. Marekera is the second Rhodes Scholar in recent years for ASU.

“At Oxford, I will get a second BA in jurisprudence, which I hope to use to challenge existing backward practices against women as well as create a culture of transparency and accountability to the law by subverting unjust institutions,” said Marekera, who is also one of ASU's Mastercard Foundation Scholars, an initiative to prepare young people to make a positive social impact in their communities.

“I am and continue to be impressed by Shantel,” said Ersula Ore, the Lincoln Professor of Ethics in the School of Social Transformation who recommended Marekera for the scholarship. “She is a compassionate young leader of integrity, vision and drive — a young woman whose passion for the empowerment of black girls will continue to be recognized and supported.”

Shantel Marekera

In April 2018, a project Marekera co-founded called Female Dreamers Foundation was awarded $2,400 from ASU’s Changemaker Challenge — an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students from all ASU campuses to make a difference in local and global communities through innovation. The Female Dreamers Foundation is an extension of another foundation Marekera started in 2018 called Little Dreamers Foundation — a project for which she was awarded the Resolution Project Fellowship in 2017.

“Little Dreamers Foundation focuses on providing preschool education for children from low-income families in Zimbabwe,” Marekera explained, “and Female Dreamers Foundation focuses on the creation of jobs and helping the parents of those children to be financially self-sufficient.”

Marekera graduated summa cum laude from ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College and the School of Social Transformation — an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — and is a current graduate student in the School of Social Transformation’s Justice Studies MS program.

“I am thrilled to know that Shantel Marekera has been named a Rhodes Scholar,” said School of Social Transformation interim director Bryan Brayboy. “I had her in an introductory course in 2014, and it was evident then that she was special; the Rhodes Foundation has affirmed what many of us already knew. Shantel is a brilliant young woman, focused on the best kinds of justice and committed to her country and community. She is the epitome of what SST hopes for in our students.”

History of the award

Established in 1902, the Rhodes Scholarship originated from the will of colonialist and diamond tycoon Cecil Rhodes, whose legacy is notably infamous because of his exploitation of people and resources in Africa. And initial limitations imposed by the will largely restricted the scholarships to males in predominantly white countries. But the Rhodes Trust has developed the scholarship into something far removed from Cecil Rhodes’ “white male privilege” mindset.

In an effort to expand the program, the Rhodes Trust announced in early 2018 that the number of awards issued each year has increased, and the program has opened to students from all countries. More than 100 Rhodes Scholarships are now awarded each year.

The recent push to make the scholarships truly global is directly tied to the organization’s mission to bring together people with different ideas, opinions, backgrounds, and viewpoints — a true representation of the world’s diversity — to address complex questions and enact meaningful change.

The naming of three Rhodes Scholars from Zimbabwe is significant. But it’s especially ironic and fitting for Marekera that a person of color who is also a woman from Zimbabwe has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. That’s because what is known today as Zimbabwe used to be Rhodesia — a south-central African region named after Cecil Rhodes.

“After a rigorous application process, I heard the news on Friday but I still can’t believe that my dream has finally become reality,” Marekera said.

Top photo courtesy of Shantel Marekera. For students who are interested in learning more about the process for this and other national and international scholarships, the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarship Advisement offers a wealth of resources for all students, including undergraduate, graduate and professional.

Communications specialist , School of Social Transformation


ASU psychology professor improving global literacy through adaptive training

December 17, 2018

Over the past 65 years, global literacy has increased by 4 percent every five years, but the poorest countries still have large percentages of the population who are illiterate. In countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Nigeria and Guinea, youth literacy rates can be around 40 percent.  

Arizona State University’s Danielle McNamara wants to change those numbers. Left to right: Marina Solnyshkina, Prof., Laboratory "Intellectual Technologies of Text Management" Kazan Federal University, Valeriy Solovyev Prof.,  Laboratory "Intellectual Technologies of Text Management" Kazan Federal University, Radif Zamaletdinov, Danielle McNamara, a professor in the Department of Psychology, shared her research in Kazan, Russia. The trip was funded by a governmental grant for the global study of literacy. Left to right: Marina Solnyshkina, Prof., Laboratory "Intellectual Technologies of Text Management" Kazan Federal University, Valeriy Solovyev Prof., Laboratory "Intellectual Technologies of Text Management" Kazan Federal University, Radif Zamaletdinov, Prof., Director of Institute of Philology and Intercultural Communication, Kazan Federal University. Download Full Image

“Two hundred years ago approximately only 14 percent of the population could read and write, but now that number is reversed: Only about 14 percent of the world’s population cannot read or write,” said McNamara, who is a professor in the Department of Psychology. “This number is still too high. Adult literacy is an extremely important and understudied topic that is inherent to our survival.”

The main goal of McNamara’s research is to improve the overall understanding of language worldwide through online adaptive training. The impact of her research stretches far beyond Arizona — recently all the way to Russia.

McNamara, who was named an American Educational Research Association Fellow in 2018, studies education and reading comprehension and directs ASU’s Science of Learning and Educational Technology (SoLET) lab. The SoLET lab creates practical and free tools that are designed to improve reading comprehension and accessibility of education. The lab’s mission is to improve literacy globally through intelligent tutoring systems.

The global mission of the lab was on display last summer when McNamara shared her research in Kazan, Russia. The trip was funded by a governmental grant for the global study of literacy. Kazan is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan in Russia and is home to the Kazan Federal University. McNamara taught master classes about game-based learning and reading comprehension to students and educators at the university. She also led a three-day workshop for students, teachers and faculty at the university’s Institute of Philology and Intercultural Communication. In St. Petersburg and Moscow, McNamara also led workshops.


“It was truly remarkable to see how hard the educators work in Russia,” McNamara said. “They spend their full day teaching or working and then continue their research when they are home.”

The project McNamara shared in Russia focuses on using computer programs to predict language and text difficulty in Russian, English and Spanish. One of the innovative tools that the SoLET lab has created is the Interactive Strategy Training for Active Reading and Thinking, called iSTART. This tool teaches strategies for reading comprehension like linking ideas together in a text, paraphrasing, using logic and common sense and elaborating a text. The SoLET lab has also developed Writing Pal, a tool that seeks to improve reading and writing comprehension. The SoLET programs provide immediate and interactive feedback to students and have demonstrated success in increasing student literacy.

McNamara recently was awarded four grants totaling $3.4 million from the Department of Education to explore writing and math literacies and to develop a writing assessment tools for teachers, students and researchers.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


Religious studies alum stresses the importance of humanities and social sciences

December 17, 2018

The study of religion is becoming more prominent as countries around the world continue to connect with one another. Religion plays a large role in each society, and understanding each one is important when building relations with countries and the people who populate them.

Alli Coritz graduated from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Barrett, The Honors College with bachelor’s degrees in global studies from the School of Politics and Global Studies, geography from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and religious studies from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies in 2011. She knew studying religion was vital to comprehend the world around her. Photo of Alli Coritz Alli Coritz is a 2011 triple-major graduate from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Barrett, The Honors College. Download Full Image

“Religious studies often challenge assumptions and make you think about what you ‘know’ to be true,” said Coritz.

Before starting her college career, Coritz was already stepping out of her comfort zone as a youth exchange student in France. She didn’t have access to her high school counselors and resources, but when her mom emailed her saying she had received a scholarship offer for ASU, she didn’t hesitate to apply.

Her interests while she was a student concentrated on violence, conflict, gender and human rights. She worked hard toward a double major and even received a fellowship from the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. All of her passions pointed her to take on one more challenge during her last few years.

“I was interested in studying gender and religion, and I found that the religious studies major offered far more opportunities to do so,” said Coritz. “These interests and the variety of courses available led me to pick religious studies as my third major.”

Studying religion helped her focus on some of her soft skills such as critical thinking and writing. She has carried those skills with her into the Peace Corps after graduation where she taught English in Benin, in West Africa, for two years.

“In the Peace Corps, I didn’t have internet very often and had inconsistent electricity, giving me a lot of time to reflect,” said Coritz. “I read lots of books on conflict, religion, gender and more. All of this time reflecting and reading made me realize that the best way to combine all of my many interests — religious studies, gender studies, geography, etc. — was to study sociology.”

Coritz is currently in her fifth year of a PhD program at the University of Southern California, studying sociology, and plans on graduating in 2020.

“My religious studies degree helped me tremendously,” said Coritz. “I am training as a sociologist but never studied sociology at the undergraduate level. However, because so much of religious studies overlaps with sociology and anthropology, I came in with a great base to be able to think sociologically.”

Religious studies can open doors to many different careers. Just like Coritz decided to continue her studies in sociology, others are finding there are opportunities that scale up to a global scope with their degree.

The U.S. government created the Office of Religion and Global Affairs in 2013 to expand political officials' understanding of religious dynamics and engagement with religious actors. The office knows how diverse the study of religion can be and how vital it is to comprehend in our age of global diplomacy.

The School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies has launched two new concentrations within the religious studies degree to help prepare students for jobs in the global market. One option is to concentrate in religion, culture and public life, and the other is a concentration in religion, politics and global affairs. These new programs were developed to bring more intersectionality to a degree that already encompasses so much.

“We thought that it was important for our undergraduate programs to reflect changes in the broader field of religious studies, and we sought to ensure that our curriculum aligned with these intellectual developments,” said Jason Bruner, assistant professor of religious studies. “Doing so enables our graduates to develop a wide range of intellectual tools and research methods for understanding the myriad ways religion and religious traditions have shaped the past and present.”

The new concentrations offer a distinctive opportunity for faculty to show off their specialized studies.

“We wanted to use the curriculum to present the unique strengths of our faculty, which has a remarkable range of research methods and geographical expertise,” said Bruner. “While any faculty will have intellectual diversity, ours has faculty trained in anthropology, ethics, history, and religious textual traditions.”

Past students understand how large and complicated human culture can be. That’s why Coritz branched out and studied as much as she could during her time at ASU.

“I really believe the importance of religious studies cannot be overstated,” said Coritz. “Understanding different religions and learning to think critically about how our understanding of the world is so heavily shaped by our social networks and social institutions — such as religion — is of increasing importance in today’s world.”

When asked what advice she had for current students, Coritz said:

“Gain as many research skills while you can — both quantitative and qualitative. Understanding statistics is a great skill to have not only professionally but as a good, informed citizen. Further, interviewing skills are often high in demand at many companies due to things like focus groups. Regardless of what you’re majoring in, getting extra background in a variety of research methods will be really beneficial.”

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

ASU In the News

Should uncontacted peoples remain isolated forever?

A young American man was recently killed by the indigenous inhabitants of North Sentinel Island — one of the few uncontacted human groups on the planet, known to be violent towards intruders — while attempting an evangelical mission there.

Though his actions were illegal according to the Indian government, which protects the island, they shine a light on the moral debates that surround the policies affecting the islanders. satellite photo of North Sentinel Island Satellite photo of North Sentinel Island
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Is it right for the Indian government to prohibit outsider contact with the Sentinelese, as it does now? Or is it inhumane to deprive them of interactions with other cultures, not to mention the potential for education, health care and technology that much of the world enjoys?

Kim Hill, an anthropologist and professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University, argues that humans, as a social species, are not meant to live cut off from the rest of the world, and that experts should work on learning what the islanders want for themselves.

“Humans are an extremely social species. No groups want to live isolated forever. They do it out of fear,” he said.

Read the full article to learn more.

Article Source: The New York Times
Mikala Kass

Editorial Communications Coordinator, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


ASU’s Career and Professional Development Services cultivates success for Chinese alumni

December 5, 2018

Of the many benefits an Arizona State University degree affords its graduates, one is the offer of lifelong career services to all alumni, in all corners of the globe.

To support this mission, ASU’s Career and Professional Development Services takes great care to build strong connections with employers and alumni around the world. These connections are especially important as ASU was recently ranked one of the top public universities in the nation for international students, with more than 13,400 international students from over 136 countries attending in the 2017–2018 school year. ASU students alumni in China ASU students and alumni in China. Photo courtesy of ASU Career and Professional Development. Download Full Image

One specific area of focus for Career and Professional Development Services' efforts is on behalf of ASU alumni from China. Currently there are nearly 4,000 Chinese students attending ASU and an exponential number of alumni.

With any international location, professional expectations and values will differ from culture to culture. Part of Career and Professional Development Services' work involves understanding the needs of international employers and the best ways to prepare students for those markets.

Experts with ASU’s Career and Professional Development Services responsible for leading global career initiatives in support of ASU alumni, have observed that China has its own set of standards that they look for in prospective employees.

A few of these include English proficiency, internship experience and an understanding of the importance of humility in the Chinese work environment. They are also expected to anticipate a lack of work/life balance for their first three to five years in the workforce and to understand the hierarchy of Chinese state-owned enterprises.

“In 2017, almost 80 percent of Chinese students studying overseas decided to return to China after completing their degrees,” said Cindy Parnell, executive director with Career and Professional Development Services. “Recognizing this trend and the fact that the postgraduation work authorization (H-1B visa sponsorship) held by many ASU international graduates typically ranges between one to three years, it is imperative that ASU deliver career services and cultivate employer relationships in a geographically and culturally-relevant way to optimize the long-term career success of our Chinese alumni.”

Career and Professional Development Services' work in securing this knowledge and applying it to advance the ways in which the university provides career support to international students and graduates involves traveling to China to meet with employers and ASU alumni. Earlier this year, Career and Professional Development Services participated in LockIn China’s Global University Career Development Conference.

LockIn China, a “global youth talent career development platform,” also recently visited ASU’s Tempe campus for the first time on Oct. 19, as part of their “80 Days Event for Overseas Talent.” Representatives held a workshop for students where they provided information relevant to their job search including resume writing and interviewing skills.

Career and Professional Development Services staff who work with Chinese students and alumni are aware of these cultural expectations and sharing these insights through reports and presentations. The team also offers a workshop to students each semester titled “A World of Opportunity: China Careers,” which features information on conducting a job search in China as well as being a competitive applicant in the Chinese job market.

Further, ASU recently joined a collective of other U.S. universities called the American Universities’ China Association, which coordinated a series of career and professional development events in three Chinese cities in July and August of 2018.

The events took place in Shanghai, Shenzhen and Beijing and focused on professional development training with human resources professionals and a career fair with a variety of employers in China.

Xiao Lan, an ASU alum who graduated in 2015 with a finance degree from the W. P. Carey School of Business, attended one of the recent career events in China. Xiao felt the event was useful in a number of ways.

“I communicated with some of the top companies’ recruiters to get more information on the job market. Plus, I could talk with workers and alumni of universities on my application list for graduate schools,” he said. 

Xiao also took advantage of ASU’s career services offerings while on campus, using the resume review service, accessing Career and Professional Development Services online career search platform and attending an on-campus career fair for summer employment that helped him land a position at Wells Fargo.

“ASU students and alumni benefit by having access to career content and career opportunities so that they are prepared for the realities of entering the Chinese job market, setting them up for greater — and more rapid — success,” Parnell said. “Global employers benefit by gaining access to a talent pipeline where innovation is embedded as a cultural norm and where 'master learners' are created.”

Parnell believes that when it comes to career success for Chinese students, collaboration is key. To support this mission, she works closely with multiple units across the ASU enterprise, including members of the International Student and Alumni Action Team.

ASU’s Alumni Engagement and Impact Office and multiple student clubs and organizations also provide invaluable support. Key organizations supporting these efforts include the Coalition of International Students and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, according to Parnell. 

“We are grateful that ASU cultivates a boundless environment where silos are removed to the benefit of serving our students and alumni in all aspects of their development, including their career and professional development.” Parnell said.

Copy writer and editor, Educational Outreach and Student Services


ASU student gains research and publishing experience through Center on the Future of War

December 5, 2018

Arizona State University's Center on the Future of War’s Center Student Research Fellows program provides juniors and seniors the opportunity to conduct research, publish their work and interact with scholars and experts working in the field of international security. Through the center’s partnership with New America, a think tank in Washington, D.C., ASU students are able to work with leading researchers.

Every spring, the center issues a call for applicants for the upcoming academic year. Students are paired with center faculty and ASU Future of War Fellows and others at New America, including journalists, academics, former government officials and former and current military leaders to work on various research projects — including books, magazine articles, databases and more. Students have worked with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, best-selling authors, retired three-star generals, former National Security Council officials and others. Hannah Hallikainen Hannah Hallikainen, Center Student Research Fellow at the Center on the Future of War. Download Full Image

The Center Student Research Fellows also attend a weekly seminar where they discuss their work alongside influential readings in human rights, philosophy, political science and social theory. ASU School of Politics and Global Studies faculty Daniel Rothenberg and Jeff Kubiak co-teach the seminar and manage the program. Fellows are also invited to attend an annual conference in Washington, D.C., each spring, which brings together top scholars and experts to discuss developments in international security.

Hannah Hallikainen, a returning Center Student Research Fellow and major in chemical engineering, recently published an article titled "Birth of a Birthright" in Politico with ASU Future of War Fellow at New America Jonathan Katz.

“Last year, I got to be a test reader for the book 'LikeWar,' which was recently published. This year, I’m doing historical research on the Boxer Rebellion and U.S. immigration policy toward Chinese immigrants, and that research has already gone toward a published article, and will eventually support a book that is being written,” Hallikainen said.

These research experiences have inspired Hallikainen’s career goals and graduate school plans related to technology and policy.

“We’re always really pleased when our students get to help these top thinkers, scholars and writers with a concrete outcome like this, which is a really nice opportunity for undergraduates,” Rothenberg said.

After graduating, fellows have gone on to work at New America, the International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia, NGOs in the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere. Some have received major awards, such as the Killam Fellowship and the Marshall Scholarship. Others attend MA programs in international relations, law school and PhD programs in a variety of fields.  

Connect with the Center on the Future of War on Twitter at @Future_of_War and browse the center's website to learn more about upcoming events such as the 2019 Spring Speaker Series.

Baltazar Hernandez

Center Coordinator, School of Politics and Global Studies