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ASU strengthens its bond across the border with universities in Mexico

From energy to law to entrepreneurship, ASU and Mexico partners find solutions.
August 24, 2018

Partnerships produce wide-ranging research as well as small-scale ventures

The bonds between Arizona State University and its partners in Mexico over the past few years are producing large-scale research that will help millions of people as well as small projects to assist indigenous groups in tiny villages.

In a huge, multiyear agreement, ASU and Tecnológico de Monterrey have been collaborating on an exploration of energy reform through the Binational Laboratory on Smart Sustainable Energy Management and Technology Training. The deal includes exchanges of professors and doctoral students to collaborate on research.

This month, a major part of the project was completed: a platform to explore complicated socio-technological systems, such as the environmental effects of petroleum production, to make sure everyone involved has input. The data-visualization platform, called the “Energy Decision Center,” in Mexico City includes the development of a mathematical model that represents the energy sector, visualizations of the effect that different policy options can cause, and the infrastructure required.

While that project — done in conjunction with ASU’s Lightworks — has a vast reach, a professor in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts is pursuing a plan to help a small group of indigenous people. John Takamura, an associate professor of industrial design, has taken students to Mexico several times and will travel there himself next semester to work with an indigenous community.

“Taking students to Mexico is so important because they can see who they’re impacting,” he said. “It’s one thing to hypothetically design solutions for real-world problems, and it’s another thing to take them in the early phase before we know what we’re doing and have them talk to the people there to find out their problems.

 “It becomes a real partnership.”

ASU Professor Michael Smith (center) talks with staff from ASU and other institutions at the Teotihuacan archeological site in Mexico. Photo by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

A few of the many projects that ASU is working on with partners in Mexico are:

• The Teotihuacan Research Laboratory in San Juan Teotihuacan is the only foreign archeological research lab on the site of an ancient city that’s home to several of the most important pyramids built nearly 2,000 years ago. The lab — which has been in operation for more than 30 years and is run by Michael Smith, a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change — is a collaboration between ASU and Mexican students, scholars and staff.

• “English for Impact” is an online language-training program started last year and operated by ASU’s Global Launch and Tec de Monterrey. More than 1,000 K-12 teachers from throughout Mexico have already graduated from the program, which builds English-language skills.

Julia Rosen, managing director of Global Launch, said ASU is working with Tec de Monterrey and the Mexican government on the program. “English for Impact fills a specific need for the Mexican education system. Because the courses are online, teachers from all parts of Mexico, including rural areas, can improve their English proficiency and experience models of new ways to teach English," she said. "In turn, teachers help their own students improve their English, having a powerful multiplier effect for the country.”

• The Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology in the Biodesign Institute worked with the National Autonomous University of Mexico on the use of microalgae in wastewater treatment, which has the potential for inexpensive nutrient removal and harvest of biomass for energy. Graduate student researchers are working in both locations.

• Keepin’ it REAL is an evidence-based substance use prevention program for middle school youth developed by the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center at ASU. The center is now working with several partners in Mexico to expand the program into middle schools in Guadalajara, Mexico City and Monterrey with a version centered on local cultural values, such as the importance of family and respect. The 10-week curriculum helps adolescents build skills to avoid using drugs.

• A hybrid desalination device is being developed by the Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies lab at ASU and University of Sonora. Christiana Honsberg, a professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, said that most desalination involves very large generating stations with heavy infrastructure to transports desalinated water to users. But because installing water pipes is very expensive, a huge number of people in remote areas of Mexico face water stress.

“What we recognized is that by doing a smaller scale version of the desalination combined with solar could make an enormous impact addressing the water-scarcity issues,” she said.

“We’re developing a system that has photovoltaic, desalination and some thermal heating at a household or village level rather than a million-gallon plant sitting at the edge of the ocean.”

The team worked with the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at ASU, which had a grant to examine water stress in Mexico. Researchers interviewed people and discussed ways to address water scarcity.

The project is unique because it includes two identical systems — one on the Tempe campus and one near the Sea of Cortez, to be installed later this year. The ability to have one device at the site and a control in Arizona will be critical to measuring performance, she said.

The close work with the University of Sonora is important because research has found that when outside organizations show up to build water projects in remote areas and then leave, the systems frequently fail.

“So it’s critical to work with a partner down there,” she said.

Evelyn Cruz, shown here playing the role of judge to her law students in her Immigration Law and Policy Clinic at ASU, is leading a project in Mexico to train lawyers to better communicate in the country's newly reformed judicial system. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

‘Students at the center’

Evelyn Cruz is assisting in the newly reformed Mexican judicial system and leveraging that work to help law students there. The project, funded by a $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of State, is a partnership with Tec de Monterrey.

Cruz, director of the Immigration Law and Policy Clinic in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU, said that Mexico recently changed its judicial system to be more transparent and effective, rather than having judges decide trials away from the public eye. Some lawyers have been trained in oral advocacy, which consists of entering evidence into the record, direct and cross-examination of witnesses, and opening and closing statements to the court. But the grant will allow more lawyers to be trained for free, in exchange for them working with students at Tec de Monterrey’s law clinic.

“Both universities are teaching institutions,” Cruz said. “The students are always at the center of what we do, which is not just proving our theories.

“The idea with the clinic is the students who will be going on to work in the law need those oral advocacy skills and they need to see what is good about being a criminal law attorney.”

So far, Cruz and her team have trained 170 lawyers; the goal is to train 720 and expand from two clinics to five by 2020.

“It’s important to recognize that the synergy with Tec is part of the success,” she said. “The ultimate goal is to duplicate this in other universities so this is a good place to start, where we have a good relationship built over the years.”

Lifting an indigenous community

John Takamura’s projects in Mexico have been on a much smaller scale.

Over the years, he and his ASU grad students have developed several different entrepreneurship ventures as part of the Pedal Out of Poverty project, funded by an $8,000 seed grant from the Herberger Institute. All rely on energy supplied by people pedaling bikes.

“We were trying to create a low-tech, no-tech types of ventures that use design solutions to alleviate poverty in some of these communities,” he said.

They developed the “Bandit Bike Smoothie” project, a prototype in which users pedaled a bicycle flywheel to mix up the fruit smoothie, combined with education on how physical activity burns calories.

Now Takamura is working on his dissertation research — an entrepreneurship project with the women of the Mazahua community, who raise sheep and use the wool to make colorful petticoats.

“The community wanted to know whether they could monetize their weavings, so I’ve done extensive research to learn the best ways to introduce entrepreneurship into the community,” said Takamura, who, as part of GlobalResolve, has seen small village ventures become flourishing companies in other countries. He met members of the Mazahua community through his work with Tec de Monterrey.

During the spring semester, he’ll spend several weeks in the Mazahua’s remote farming community to study the best way to help them develop a business.

In earlier visits, the women told him they would like to preserve their native language, which is endangered.

“I told them, what if we said that any woman who wanted to be part of the venture had to learn the language and speak it while at work?” he said. “They really loved that idea because it’s the women who teach the young ones the language.”

Takamura had a career as technology designer before he became a professor, and working with the community in Mexico has changed his perspective.

“All of those wonderful things I designed are all in the landfill now. I don’t want to have that kind of impact in the last part of my career,” he said.

“By working with these communities, it’s transformed me and I want to see how design can impact poverty. What benefits the bottom of the pyramid benefits everybody.”

Top photo: ASU's Teotihuacan Research Laboratory is the only foreign archeological research lab on the site of an ancient city in Mexico that’s home to several of the most important pyramids built nearly 2,000 years ago. Shown here is a view of the Avenue of the Dead and the Moon pyramid with Cerro Gordo mountain in the background. Photo by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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Whatever happened to the Taliban?

August 23, 2018

Despite the media’s distraction, they’re strongest they’ve been since 2001, notes ASU expert

Whatever happened to the Taliban? They, along with the Islamic State group and al-Qaida, seem to have slipped from the headlines.

There have been no strikes, no dirty bombs, and no taking responsibility for acts of terror in a while. Should we assume they have been beaten into submission or given up? Quite the contrary, says one Arizona State University expert.

“The Taliban are stronger than at any point in the last 17 years,” said Anand Gopal, a professor with ASU’s Center on the Future of War and an assistant professor with ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict. Gopal recently wrote a best-selling book on Afghanistan called “No Good Men Among the Living,” which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.

Gopal believes terrorists groups are getting a pass because the media’s focus has shifted elsewhere, mostly onto the commander in chief. ASU Now reached to Gopal to get his opinion on this new turn of events, and get his responses in a "lightning round" format.

Man with dark hair
Anand Gopal

Question: The Taliban, the Islamic State group and al-Qaida seem to be under the radar in regards to news coverage. Is it because they have been defeated or beaten back or are they simply regrouping?

Answer: The Taliban are stronger than at any point in the last 17 years. They have momentarily captured major Afghan cities, and the United States is finally being forced to enter into negotiations with them. If it seems that they are no longer in the media, it is because our media is largely focused with Donald Trump, and the space for foreign news has shrunk considerably in recent years.

Q: Should we as a nation be concerned about that shift?

A: We should be concerned because Americans have a right to know what our government is doing in our name overseas.

Q: What’s the best way to deal with the Taliban on a military and diplomatic level? 

A: The United States should enter into peace negotiations with them and end the war.

Q: What is their end goal toward the United States, other free nations and democracy?

A: They want to be left alone and their interests concern matters internal to Afghanistan.

Q: What can we expect from them in the future?

A: Continued fighting unless peace talks are successful.

Top photo: A U.S. soldier holding his post in an abandoned village in the Middle East. Courtesy of Pixabay.

Can earthquakes from injected wastewater be predicted?

ASU scientist receives a grant to find out how much injected wastewater it takes to make an earthquake

August 23, 2018

One of the fastest-growing techniques for producing oil and gas today involves widening cracks in hydrocarbon-bearing rock formations underground. The cracks are opened by forcing a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into them in a process commonly called fracking.

The resulting fluid is processed to remove the oil and gas it has freed from the rock, and a wastewater residue called brine is left. The brine, which is toxic, is then disposed of by injecting it into deep layers of the Earth capped with rocks that keep it from reaching the surface. A house in central Oklahoma was damaged by the magnitude 5.6 earthquake on Nov. 6, 2011, which research suggests was caused by wastewater injected into deep disposal wells. ASU scientist Manoochehr Shirzaei has received a Department of Energy grant to develop a method for predicting the size and time of earthquakes from wastewater injection. Photo by Brian Sherrod/US Geological Survey Download Full Image

But the injection process, which is carried out far away from the fracking sites, can induce earthquakes. These may be large enough to damage buildings and other structures at the surface where the brine injection is done.

To gain an understanding of how brine injection causes earthquakes, Arizona State University scientist Manoochehr Shirzaei has received a $1 million grant (over three years) from the U.S. Department of Energy to model the injection process and its subsequent effects.

"Our goal is to find a physics-driven mathematical relationship between the amount of brine injected, its depth, and any effects at the surface," said Shirzaei, an assistant professor in ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration.

"These effects can include earthquakes and also deformation — uplift — of the ground surface," he said.

First focus: Oklahoma

Initially the study will focus on Oklahoma, a state that has been a center for brine injection activities and which has logged a detailed record of seismic events. These include a magnitude 5.8 earthquake in September 2016.

"We will also consider expanding the research to include brine injection sites in Texas, California, Ohio, Kansas, and Colorado," Shirzaei said.

Seismic records are readily accessible for the study from the U.S. Geological Survey, and quantities of injected brines are, by law, made publically available by the companies involved.

A third element in the modeling is to include any deformation of the ground level. This is usually hard to measure because the effects are small and spread over a wide area. However, the use of interferometric synthetic-aperture radar (InSAR) data from orbit allows precise measurement of millimeter-scale uplifts over areas that are miles across.

Shirzaei explains, "We are looking to correlate injected wastewater quantities, measured deformation, and previous seismic activity to develop a model that can predict the likely effects of brine injection activity in a given area."

Because extraction of oil and gas is so important to a modern economy, Shirzaei expects the study will benefit a variety of stakeholders.

"The general public is the most important because they may be exposed to potential injury and damage," he said. The list also includes oil and gas producers, brine injection companies and geothermal energy providers.

"In addition, we expect the study will benefit land-management, regulatory, and permitting agencies," Shirzaei said. "Plus emergency managers and responders, building owners, insurers, mortgage holders and research scientists."

Robert Burnham

Science writer, School of Earth and Space Exploration


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ASU, Thunderbird work to help make Los Angeles more sustainable

Thunderbird dean: Sustainability mindset can open up new markets for businesses.
August 22, 2018

City aims to achieve UN economic, social and environmental development goals by 2030; students and dean work with policy makers

Three years ago, all 193 member countries of the United Nations agreed to adopt a set of goals to achieve an economic, social and environmental vision for peace, prosperity, people and the planet by 2030.

The Global Sustainable Development Goals may have been agreed upon by nations, but it's cities, including Los Angeles, that are beginning to work on them.

Arizona State University is playing a role in helping Los Angeles achieve those goals.

Work was carried out this summer at the ASU California Center in Santa Monica by students from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and three other universities. Thunderbird Director-General and Dean Sanjeev Khagram, who is also a senior adviser to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, supervised the project.

Khagram, a Foundation Professor of Global Leadership at ASU, is a world-renowned expert in global leadership, the international political economy, sustainable development and the data revolution. He says the environment and sustainability increasingly are important to business and that businesses should think of themselves as corporate citizens.

“What companies are trying to do is not just avert a negative backlash, they are trying to promote positive contributions to society and the natural environment and broader economies beyond their direct contributions to jobs and employment and profits,” he said. “The (Sustainable Development Goals) are the most universal framework around sustainable development that we have. … Global business was very much a part of the development of those sustainable development goals, which very much have the kind of economic, social, environmental tripartite framework for sustainable development at its core. They see this framework as a way to make that contribution.”

Businesses can reap a number of benefits if they think about sustainable development and issues. Cost savings from reducing their energy footprint will save money and boost the bottom line.

New markets can be opened up, Khagram said.

Sanjeev Khagram Thunderbird dean ASU
Incoming Director-General and Dean Sanjeev Khagram delivers a presentation on Thunderbird’s future to alumni and faculty members at the ASU downtown campus on April 8. Photo by Summer Sorg/ASU Now

“British Petroleum is the archetypal example,” he said. “They decided in the 1980s and 1990s that they had gone from British Petroleum to beyond petroleum; they weren’t just an oil and gas company — they were an energy company, and they were in the market for solar and wind and all kinds of things. That opened up possibililties for sustainable business.”

Financing increasingly looks to sustainability as a sign of corporate health. Financial magazines and information companies like Corporate Knights, Bloomberg and CSRHub rate companies’ sustainability fitness.

“A lot of investors, both institutional and individual, care deeply about the future of society and the natural environment and the planet,” Khagram said. “Increasingly companies have to produce what are called triple-bottom-line reports, where they report not only what their financials are, but what their impact on society and the environment has been. Investors look at those and they make judgements. I’d rather invest in a good company that’s doing well in all these areas than a company that’s not doing as much.’”

That means new sources of financing companies can access. There’s a risk-management side as well — debt financing from banks, for example.

“Banks are always worried about managing their risks,” Khagram said. “If they’re looking at a company whose entire business model is based on a nonrenewable resource, then there’s a huge risk there because there's a term limit to how long their business is going to be. They’re looking at ‘Are they making decisions that are going to make them less risky to investment?’ For business, it’s very material that they think about sustainability.”

Madit Yel, who is earning a Master of Arts degree in global affairs and management at Thunderbird, worked on the Los Angeles project over the summer. He worked with a team tasked with assessing the role of private stakeholders in implementing the goals in Los Angeles. The work involved mapping, aligning and identifying gaps and opportunities within the private sector that could push the goals forward. 

“Working with the city of Los Angeles in implementing the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals was an opportunity for me to gain hands-on experience in development planning,” Yel said. “I'm interested in international development and wanted to experience what it looks like to implement global goals on a local city-level context. LA's adoption of the (goals) is important because it not only helps the city align its development plans with the goals, but allows it to work with other cities as an example of how the (goals) can be achieved at a local city level. Many cities are adopting the (goals), including New York City.”

Thunderbird student Alejandra Molina worked as a research analyst localizing the goals. 

"Because cities are unique and individual components of the state, localizing (them) is compulsory," Molina said. "Los Angeles is at the forefront of many movements, and I believe it can become a model for a sustainable city." 

Top photo: The bustling city of Los Angeles has formidable sustainability challenges to face. Photo courtesy Pixabay

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU receives multimillion grant from NSF to create a national biorepository

Ecological data to be collected and curated over three decades

August 22, 2018

Ecosystems and natural resources are rapidly changing across our nation and around the world. Now, more than ever before, measuring the causes and effects of environmental change is taking on greater importance.

The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) has named Arizona State University as its primary location to house a national biorepository for the next 30 years. Hundreds of thousands of biological samples collected over the next three decades from 81 field sites across the U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, will be curated by ASU’s Biodiversity Knowledge Integration Center (BioKIC) and Natural History Collections and be made available to the greater scientific community.  ASU Natural History Collections Charlotte Johnston inspects a specimen at the ASU Natural History Collections. Arizona State University has been chosen as the primary location to house a national biorepository. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now Download Full Image

NEON is the first-ever, continental-scale ecological observation facility sponsored by the National Science Foundation and managed by Battelle Memorial Institute.

Nico Franz, professor at ASU’s School of Life Sciences and founding director of ASU's BioKIC, will serve as primary investigator for the $4.1 million National Science Foundation grant, which is projected to increase to $35 million over the full funding period.

"NEON is a project of immense scope for biology in general and for ecological forecasting in particular,” said Franz. "I believe that NEON and ASU are an excellent fit. The biorepository has a clear purpose and relevance to society. We will play a key role in documenting shifts in invasive species, disease vectors — such as mosquitoes — and changes in ecological communities and functions.

“Moreover, two of NEON's sites are located in Arizona, so we are also adding sample diversity from local sites. We are combining our history as a collections unit with a new identity in order to advance ecological monitoring and forecasting nationwide," Franz said. 

For the next 30 years, ASU will receive as many as 100,000 biological samples each year. These diverse bio-samples will include DNA extractions, frozen soil samples, bulk and pinned insect collections, herbarium vouchers, and partial or entire vertebrate specimens, among others. Dozens of expert field biologists will gather the samples and associated data and send them to ASU.

Once they arrive at the university, the samples will be processed, stored and made available to the public and to use for scientific research. Detailed information about each specimen will be available online through the NEON Data Portal and a new NEON Biorepository Data Portal, based on the “Symbiota” software platform developed by ASU.

More valuable research over the long term

Given the current and potential future effects of environmental change, the NEON project is of critical importance. Because the project will span three decades, scientists will be able to gather long-term ecological data that they could not with shorter studies. 

“NEON is designed to test the degree to which Earth’s ecosystems influence each other across very large scales of space and time,” said James P. Collins, Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Natural History and the Environment at ASU. “The NEON observatory is being commissioned at a time when Earth’s ecosystems are changing at an increasing rate and over ever greater spatial scales. This makes NEON exactly the right research infrastructure to have in place to help us understand environmental change and other large-scale forces influencing Earth’s ecosystems. The biorepository will help to place ASU at the leading edge of macrosystems-level research.”

As head of the Biological Sciences Directorate at NSF from 2005 to 2009, Collins played a lead role in securing funding for building NEON by working with the research community, NSF’s leadership, the National Science Board, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and Congress.


Opportunity for student learning

The NEON Biorepository will be housed at the existing ASU Natural History Collections facility. Eventually, the biorepository will need additional space and will include specially designed freezer storage. Large portions of samples are intended for cryo-storage — a combination of ultralow and liquid nitrogen freezers that will ensure long-term preservation for genomic research.

Hundreds of biodiversity sample shipments will arrive each year that will need to be processed. And a high rate of sample use for NEON-related research projects is expected. To meet the work demands, Franz and his team will hire at least six collection specialists and up to 10 undergraduate student workers who will be closely involved in the project.

"ASU students will receive state-of-the-art skills in bio-collections curation and biodiversity data science,” said Franz. “The latter theme will be connected to efforts within and beyond our school to boost undergraduate as well as graduate training in data science that is related specifically to the complex fields of evolutionary biology and ecological data."

Professor Kathleen Pigg, a paleobotanist with the ASU Natural History Collections, said this is an exciting time for ASU students, as they will be provided unique research experiences.

“The presence of the NEON biorepository at the Natural History Collections will provide tremendous opportunities for students to participate in data collection and curation vital to addressing environmental issues,” said Pigg. 

The ASU team will begin accepting biological samples this fall.

Sandra Leander

Manager, Media Relations and Marketing, School of Life Sciences


Recent PhD graduate awarded one of Canada’s top prizes for research

August 17, 2018

Karina Benessaiah, a recent PhD in geography graduate from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, has been named a 2018 Banting Fellow.

The Banting Postdoctoral Fellowships Program is Canada’s most prestigious and highest valued award for postdoctoral researchers. The award provides significant funding for both national and international researchers who show potential to positively contribute to Canada's economic, social and research-based growth. Karina Benessaiah in the field.

Benessaiah, who was awarded her PhD from ASU in the spring of 2018, travelled to Greece to conduct her research for her dissertation that focused on understanding how people adapt to rapid, multifaceted social-ecological changes, and to assess societal and environmental transformations.  

“Environmental changes, economic recessions and globalized trade are all drivers of change that shape livelihoods and environments around the world, often in unexpected ways,” Benessaiah said. “Understanding the processes involved in those social-ecological transformations highlights emergent vulnerabilities and potential opportunities towards sustainable and equitable pathways.”

With the upheavals experienced within Greece’s economy, Benessaiah's research focused on how that crisis brought people “back to the land,” supporting her thought of looking at sustainability efforts from the vantage of small-scale projects that work and that may then be used to a broader benefit.

Recalling her work in Greece, Benessaiah said, “People went back to the land not necessarily out of despair but because the crisis upended previous markers of social and economic success and thus allowed people to explore different pathways, which if supported, could lead to a broader shift towards sustainability.”

Karina Benessaiah (right) can be seen working the land as part of her research of small-scale sustainability efforts.

According to Billie L. Turner, professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning who served as chair of Benessaiah’s doctoral committee, her research has the capacity to be groundbreaking.

“Karina’s dissertation carves out a research problem that has heretofore not been addressed by the sustainability science and ecosystem service research communities in which she engages,” Turner said. “The Banting Fellowship, including her extremely high ranking in the competition, registers the innovativeness and quality of her research and the promise that she holds for scholarship.”

For the duration of the fellowship, Benessaiah will be hosted by McGill University in Montreal, which is where she completed both her bachelor's and master’s degrees. Her research during the fellowship will take place both in Montreal and Greece, as she continues investigating how social-ecological transformations are scaling up.

In total, over 590 applications were reviewed for the highly coveted award and only 70 were ultimately funded. Benessaiah was one of 23 to be funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Manager, Marketing and Communication, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


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Accomplished alumna from Mexico reflects on ASU experience

August 14, 2018

Arizona State University attracts students from all over the world for varied reasons — degree program variety, accessibility, recommendation from others, research and program reputation, athletics and many others. 

But for an aspiring PhD student from Mexico, choosing ASU came down to primarily one thing she discovered while conducting research for her master’s degree: an inspiring professor.

María Rita Plancarte Martínez, now a senior leader serving as a vice rector with the Universidad de Sonora, earned her doctorate in Spanish literature from ASU in 2004. She discussed her path to Tempe and reflected on the benefits of the experience with ASU Now.

Question:  How did you end up at ASU?

Answer:  While completing my master’s degree at Universidad Autónoma de México, I found certain specialized articles and books, which proved very useful for my research. The author was Professor Emil Volek, who happens to be a well-known scholar in the fields of Spanish-American literature and literary theory and, after doing some more research on his work, I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was a professor at ASU. Since his areas of expertise were the same as mine, in terms of academic interests, I decided to contact him and, through our academic exchange, Professor Volek proved to be not just an expert on his field, but also a mentor of sorts. That’s why when the time came to look for a PhD program, I had no doubt that ASU Spanish graduate program was the best option for me. Besides, another advantage of studying at ASU was that Tempe is relatively close to my hometown in Sonora, México, which meant I could see my family as often as possible. Therefore, I enrolled to the graduate program in 2000 and got my PhD in March 2004.  

Q: Looking back at your ASU experience, how would you describe it?

A:  Studying abroad provides some of the best learning experiences that life has to offer. Living abroad taught me a lot about self-reliance when it comes to achieving my goals. Studying at ASU allowed me to broaden my academic and social horizons. By participating in a program with American and international students, I became culturally aware of both our differences but, most importantly, our similarities. Speaking of my student experience, I’d like to mention that I really appreciated the faculty’s work discipline. The professors’ awareness of their roles as mentors, and later as colleagues, allowed for the creation of lasting academic bonds between my fellow students and the faculty. Likewise, I'll forever be thankful to the staff of the Spanish graduate program whose disposition to help grad students was more than anybody would’ve expected. They made me feel welcomed and comfortable throughout my stay.

Q: Where do you work today?

A:  On Sept. 1, 2017, the UNISON Board of Regents elected me as vice rector of our main campus. I have many and great responsibilities, which range from coordinating the different academic divisions and departments’ activities in terms of their academic programs and projects to managing the technical and financial resources UNISON’s main campus needs to work properly, while ensuring the fulfillment of the university's missions and goals. Therefore, this office strives for a close relationship with students and faculty across campus, in order to help them achieve their academic and professional goals. I’m very thankful for having had the opportunity to study at ASU. I made very good friends and, I honed my knowledge and skills, in order to reach the highest position as a full time professor at UNISON.

Q: How do you feel about student or research exchange programs between U.S. and Mexican universities?

A:  The personal learning experience is one of the many benefits of exchange programs. Others include the creation of an academic network, being in contact with or participating in cutting-edge research, as well as an intercultural connection. While there may be some challenges in terms of financial resources, I have no doubt that the benefits of exchange programs work both ways for students and universities alike. Having the opportunity to study, research or teach abroad is a unique experience, not only when it comes to professional growth, but with individual growth, making people more understanding of others. Going through an experience like this helps us realize that we share so much more than we think. Which I believe to be one of the unseen benefits of these type of programs.   

Q:  Any parting thoughts?

A:  Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my stay at ASU, I hope that sharing a little bit of my experience, motivates students and faculty to participate in or promote exchange programs between Mexican and American universities. Last, but not least: Go Sun Devils!

Top photo: María Rita Plancarte Martínez and Arizona State University Professor Emil Volek participate in the International Colloquium of Mexican and Hispanic American Literature 2013, held at the University of Sonora in Hermosillo, Mexico, Nov. 6–8 of that year. Courtesy photo/UNISON

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

Global Launch hosts international educators for annual ASU TESOL conference

August 14, 2018

This month, Global Launch, Arizona State University's English-language training unit, hosted the international Teach English Now! conference at the Tempe campus.

Now in its second year, the Teach English Now! conference focused on the “future of language learning” to encourage participants to share innovative solutions to language learning in their home countries. The conference allowed participants an opportunity to collaborate with professional TESOLTESOL stands for teaching English to speakers of other languages. teachers from around the world, discussing intersectional topics on technology, blended and flipped classrooms and personal learner stories.

Teach English Now! Conference Participants Teach English Now! conference participants with global educator Jessica Cinco (far right). Download Full Image

Along with the conference, 15 attendees participated in the Teach English Now! practicum taught by Global Launch international educators Shane Dixon and Jessica Cinco, earning a TESOL certificate upon completion.

"The concept of 'traditional education' has been rapidly changing with the constant and continual creation of new technology," Dixon said. "Language educators are finding new, unique ways to enhance classes, whether courses are taught in the traditional classroom or online. This conference allows educators to reflect on all the ways in which they ignite learners to engage in language learning through technology and explore exciting possibilities for the future.”

This year’s conference, held from Aug. 2–4, included 55 participants from more than 20 countries. Of the attendees, 22 participants presented, including Allison Sobol from the Council on International Educational Exchange.

At the end of the program, Global Launch recognized the work of Nancy Biddington, an international educator from Canada for the 2018 TEN! Outstanding Achievement Award.

According to Dixon, “Nancy’s work with underprivileged Haitian youth and Syrian refugees represents the values that best represent Teach English Now!: commitment, courage, community, and competence. During her time at the conference, Nancy not only sought to improve her own pedagogy, but she extended a helping hand to other teachers, bringing advice and ideas to group conversations, demonstrating a willingness to connect to teachers globally.”

To learn more about Teach English Now!, the first completely online TESOL certificate provided by a major university, or the Teach English Now! practicum and conference, contact Shane Dixon or visit teachenglish.asu.edu.

Samantha Talavera

Marketing and Communications Manager, Global Launch


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ASU journalism students visit the birthplace of golf

August 13, 2018

Cronkite School study-abroad program ventures to Scotland for a Gaelic old time

Fourteen days. Twelve students. Seven cities. One memorable trip, and lots of cool stories. And there was haggis, too … fore everyone.

A dozen students from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University recently ventured to Scotland for an immersive study-abroad program that had them studying golf’s roots while honing their journalism skills and learning about a new culture.

“We wanted to create a news operation in a foreign country but also provide a one-of-a-kind opportunity that helps students gain valuable experience while putting something on their resumes that helps set them apart,” said Brett Kurland, director of sports programs at the Cronkite School.

The school is home to immersive professional programs in which students regularly cover professional and intercollegiate sports from bureaus in Phoenix and Los Angeles. Since the Cronkite School announced new sports journalism degrees in 2014, students have covered major sporting events, including the Super Bowl, the Summer Olympics and the NCAA Final Four.

Kurland said it’s the first sports journalism study-abroad program at Cronkite not tied to the Summer Olympics. He said his motivation for creating the trip was to increase the study-abroad opportunities available to sports journalism students beyond the Summer Games, which take place every four years. Cronkite brought students to the Summer Olympics in 2012 and 2016, and Kurland is currently working on a 2020 trip to Tokyo.

“This trip was designed to open the door to international reporting experience for more sports journalism students,” Kurland said, who led the trip along with Cronkite PhD student and faculty associate Gail Rhodes.

The group traveled to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Aberdeen and Gullane to discover golf’s roots and report on the nuances of the game in the country where it was born.

They tried to incorporate as much golf and Scottish culture as possible, including visiting Edinburgh Castle and eating haggis their first night on the town.

“You know, it wasn’t that bad,” said Drake Dunaway, a 24-year-old graduate student. “It gets a bad rap. Pretty much like the American hot dog.”

Other stops included the British Golf Museum in St. Andrews, Glasgow Golf Club, the Royal Burgess Golfing Society, the St. Andrews Golf Company, the Scottish Open, the British Open, and the Old Course at St. Andrews, arguably the most iconic golf course in the world. They also met with the Golf Environment Organization, which pursues sustainability in and through golf, as well as members of the NBC and Golf Channel crew in the 18th tower at the British Open on the Monday of tournament week.  

For this trip, students were required to write or produce one enterprise story or video, and report daily short photo stories that were shared via Instagram. Kurland said the idea was to identify compelling people and sources for each post, which included a quote and a photo to help tell their story. He said the ultimate goal was to capture the entire picture and essence of each location.

“The idea was to find real-life characters and tell their stories,” Kurland said.

Sports journalism major Scotty Gange, 19, said he produced a story in Edinburgh on Bruntsfield Links, located just outside the front door of the Golf Tavern, the oldest golf clubhouse in the world, tracing its roots back to 1456. He said he learned about the two places through an Edinburgh city guide.

“It’s a 36-hole chip and putt course located in the middle of the city near the University of Edinburgh,” Gange said. “You pay five pounds and get a chipping wedge and putter. Students, in groups of usually 20, go there, have beers and play golf. It’s a way for them to relax.”

Gange said he didn’t know much about golf before the trip, but now he has much more respect for the sport and the complexity of filming a major golf tournament.

“With football and basketball, there’s one ball, one field or court,” Gange said. “With a golf open, there’s 144 players, 144 balls all playing in the span of about five hours. Seeing that unfold from a broadcaster’s perspective was eye-opening.”

Dunaway covered a story that has been plaguing golf around the world: How to invigorate the sport with newcomers.

“Memberships are down and the younger generation either doesn’t have the time or money, or would rather spend their money on other things that aren’t as time consuming or cost as much,” Dunaway said. “They are trying to reverse this trend.”

Dunaway visited courses and golf societies that are coming up with initiatives such as shorter courses, playing tee forward, team formation and prizes, no golf fees for players under 18 and speeding up the game.

Student Nicholas Welter took an old-school approach to his story and reported on the manufacturing of wooden clubs at the St. Andrews Golf Company. According to Welter, the manufacturer dates back to 1881 and is the only Scottish company still producing these special clubs, which retail anywhere from 90 to 300 British pounds per club.

“It’s a niche thing and the wooden clubs are made of hickory,” Welter said. “They’re mostly manufactured as collector’s pieces, and players still compete in hickory tournaments throughout the world,” said Welter, a 20-year-old senior.

In addition to Dunaway, Gange and Welter, other student journalists on the trip included Mark Feldman, Carson Field, Logan Huff, Daniel Karl, Madison Kerley, Kynan Martin, Evan Millstein, Katie Thomas and Will Tyrell.

To learn more about the 250-plus study-abroad programs in more than 65 different countries offered at ASU, see the Study Abroad Office websiteVisit the Study Abroad Expo from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 22 in the Ventana Ballroom of the Memorial Union to learn more about programs and scholarships.

Top photo: Cronkite journalism student Madison Kerley tapes a segment for Cronkite News on the Swilken Bridge at the St. Andrews Links golf course in St. Andrews, Scotland. Kerley was one of a dozen students who went to Scotland on a study-abroad program that looked at the birthplace of golf. Photo courtesy of Brett Kurland

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Disciplines collide for scientific adventure in Finland

August 13, 2018

New College course combines art and biology to increase science literacy

Cardboard, soda cans, cheesecloth, Christmas lights, duct tape.

Ingredients for a DIY craft project? How about a clever use of otherwise mundane items to test a scientific theory?

Arizona State University students Guillermo Ortiz and Tiffany Gibbs used the assortment for the latter while participating in a study-abroad trip to northern Finland this summer, turning the objects into a makeshift Tullgren funnelA Tullgren funnel is an apparatus used to extract living organisms, particularly arthropods, from samples of soil. to extract microarthropods from samples of Arctic soil in order to better understand how their soil habitat changes with elevation. Later, they used the soil from which the organisms were extracted to create clay representations of them, rescuing the microscopic creatures from myopic obscurity so that one might observe them with the naked eye.

The pair’s decidedly meta experiment was part of a new course offered through the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. BioArt: Sonoran and Arctic Environments, co-taught by Professors Becky Ball, a soil biogeochemist, and Richard Lerman, a sound artist, seeks to increase scientific literacy by providing an opportunity for undergraduates to engage in independent research and communicate it to a wide audience.

The students and faculty of BioArt: Sonoran and Arctic Environments keep bundled up on their excursion to Finland. Photo by Becky Ball

The reason to value scientific literacy is pretty straightforward, according to Ball: “So that you don’t get hoodwinked.”

She’s concerned that American culture has become too accepting of the notion that some people “just don’t get science,” and the ramifications of that thinking.

“If you don’t know how your body works, for example, which is biology, how do you understand what your doctor is telling you? How do you know that you’re getting good advice? How do you vote for politicians based on their science policy if you don’t understand the science?” Ball asked.

And at a time when the internet is the leading source of information, how do you know that Facebook meme isn’t misrepresenting data to serve a particular agenda?

“It makes you very susceptible to believing whatever you’re told, without being able to know whether it’s credible or not,” Ball said. “[Scientific literacy] is incredibly important to being an informed and functional citizen.”

The idea for the BioArt course took root during Lerman’s 2014 residency at the Kilpisjarvi biological research station above the Arctic circle run by the University of Helsinki, in Finland.

An audiophile since childhood, Lerman has been making his own microphones for more than 30 years and attaching them to rocks, trees, credit cards and more to study the sound of various materials. While in Finland, he thought to capture the sound of the environment by placing thin, carbon fiber rods into the snow and ice, then recording the audio emitted through them.

“For me, this is an image of climate change,” Lerman said of the resulting recordings, which at different points sound like anything from a creaking ship to silverware scraping a plate.

Guillermo Ortiz and Tiffany Gibbs make the Tullgren funnels while on their study-abroad program, which blended artistic and scientific pursuits. Photo by Becky Ball

Inspired by the outcome of his unorthodox experiment and enthused by the transdisciplinary conversation it sparked between the artists and scientists at the university, he sought a way to bring similar experiences to his students.

Back at ASU, Lerman recruited Ball, who had plenty of experience working in frigid climates, having carried out much of her soil work in Antarctica, and the two conceived of a course that would bring together science and art students to conduct research and communicate their findings.

“Everyone thinks they’re very different,” Ball said. “That artists are just these flighty people and that scientists are just these boring analytical people, and that if you do art, you can’t do science and vice versa, when in reality they use the same skill sets.”

Scientists, she pointed out, have to be creative in formulating new concepts and theories to test, and artists have to observe, analyze and interpret. The course, Ball and Lerman feel, is a way to teach students that not only can they be all of those things, regardless of their field, but that it’s actually advantageous.

During the first two weeks of the course, the class met at the West campus, where they were introduced to the basics of both science and art, as far as techniques and approaches. Some days students ventured into the Sonoran desert to get experience surveying ecosystems. Then it was off to Finland for two and a half weeks, where they worked in artist-scientist pairs on a variety of projects, from how reindeer diets might change with global warming, to the effects of human activity on bird behavior, to how phytoplankton responds to temperature change.

Ortiz, who hopes to study the effects of human activity on climate change and how to mitigate them, said one of the benefits of working with an artist was being able to consider the subject from a different perspective, which increased his own understanding of the subject.

“Prior to this experience, I had a lot of trouble with identifying microarthropods because I would have trouble paying attention to the details in the morphology of the microarthropod,” he said. “However, working with Tiffany on the art portion has really improved my ability … because of our attention to detail when we designed the microarthropods out of clay.

“Using art to convey science not only allowed for a powerful way to present our work, but our collaboration amongst disciplines improved our creativity and meticulousness within our respective focus.”

As for Gibbs, before BioArt, she had only ever taken one science course, because it was required. Now, she said she would consider taking more.

“I love to experiment and try new things, and I definitely learned more about science from this experience,” she said.

The art pieces that resulted from the student collaborations will be on display at ArtSpace West during the fall semester, beginning in September.

A nontraveling version of BioArt will be offered in spring 2019, and another traveling version will be offered over the summer.

Learn more about the 250-plus study-abroad programs in more than 65 different countries offered at ASU. Visit the Study Abroad Expo from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 22, in the Ventana Ballroom of the Memorial Union to learn more about programs and scholarships.

Top photo: A view of the landscape around the Kilpisjarvi biological research station. Photo by Becky Ball