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ASU hacks the competition in Moscow hackathon

September 25, 2017

Though this story contains the words “Russia” and “hack," an Arizona State University student team's recent trip to Moscow had nothing to do with elections or cybersecurity. Rather, it was the students doing the hacking — bringing home first-place finishes in an international hackathon.

The competition, dubbed VisionHack, was the first computer vision for autonomous vehicles hackathon and tasked 27 teams from around the globe with creating an intellectual subsystem for driver assistance, capable of detecting obstacles and other challenges on the road. The Arizona State University VisionHack team accepts its award after finishing in first place for Best Presentation, Most Original Approach and Most Innovative in the computer vision hackathon. (From left) Faculty mentor Jared Schoepf, computer science undergraduate students Abhik Chowdhury and Ashley Megumi Satkowski, computer science graduate student Daniel D’Souza, software engineering graduate student Alexander Lampis Slaughter and electrical and computer engineering graduate student and team lead Sami Mian take the stage at the conclusion of the three-day hackathon, held at Moscow's National University of Science and Technology, Sept. 11–13. Photo courtesy of NUST MISIS Download Full Image

ASU’s solution impressed judges, earning first place for Best Presentation, Most Original Approach and, fittingly, Most Innovative. Dismantling the competition like a stack of Russian nesting dolls, the ASU team finished ahead of the other finalists, which emerged from a field of 242. The hackathon ran Sept. 11–13 at Moscow’s National University of Science and Technology, known as NUST MISIS. The event was organized by the university in partnership with Russian software company Cognitive Technologies.

ASU’s team consisted of electrical and computer engineering graduate student Sami Mian, computer science graduate student Daniel D’Souza, software engineering graduate student Alexander Lampis Slaughter and computer science undergraduate students Abhik Chowdhury and Ashley Megumi Satkowski. Jared Schoepf, Fulton Schools alumnus and recently appointed director of Engineering Projects in Community Service, accompanied the team as faculty mentor.

The ASU team's trip was fully funded and sponsored by NUST MISIS, and ASU was one of three American universities to earn a spot in the competition, along with MIT and University of Wisconsin–Stout. Peking University, the Harbin Institute of Technology and the University of Science and Technology Beijing represented China in the hackathon, and students from the University of Cambridge and Spain’s Polytechnic University of Catalonia supplied the other non-Russian European contingent. Nineteen teams from various universities across Russia also competed in the competition. 

A rigorous challenge

Team solutions were scored on six obstacles they were charged with teaching the computer to identify: a bridge, a tunnel, windshield wipers, crosswalks, speed bumps and road signs denoting city exits and entrances.

The key to ASU’s approach was prioritization, according to Mian, who served as the student team lead due to his experience with international competitions previously.

“We had six different types of obstacles to account for, so we looked at the problem overall and tried to determine which obstacles, if any, would overlap,” Mian said. “We then prioritized the challenges based on what we thought was most critical — that being the crosswalk.”

Schoepf, who recently earned his doctorate in chemical engineering from ASU, is no stranger to pitching and presentations. Not only did he co-found the startup SafeSIPP, but he has mentored more than 200 EPICS teams and participated in many of ASU’s entrepreneurship and venture development programs. While faculty members weren’t permitted to help with the technical challenges, they could aid in presentation preparation, which is where Schoepf lent his expertise.

“Jared really helped us consolidate our story and find that thread throughout,” Mian said. “I’m not sure many faculty members could’ve helped us as much as he did, whether it was helping us polish our presentation, motivating us to work or just making sure we took a break and ate every so often.”

As well as presenting to a panel of judges — where the ASU team picked up its first-place finishes — there was a purely technical scoring round as well. The team placed fifteenth overall, but first out of the U.S. universities — soundly defeating MIT and Wisconsin — and completed the challenge first. In addition, they submitted only four of the six criteria for judging in this round.

“We were risk-averse,” Mian said. “We determined we potentially stood to lose more than gain on those two criteria, so erred on the side of caution and opted out.”

The cultural and lingual barriers of the competition were particularly challenging, according to the team. The Russia-centric competition’s provided materials introduced a whole system of unfamiliar traffic laws, signs and patterns. No one on the team spoke or read Russian, let alone had an understanding of the Cyrillic alphabet.

Despite being at a disadvantage, the team worked tirelessly through the three-day event, never leaving the enormous hall where all the teams worked. They took shifts sleeping in bean-bag chairs while other teams returned to their hotels, and their constant presence earned them the nickname “Camp ASU,” according to D’Souza.

Cultural and technical exchange

Though the competition was fierce, getting to know students from other competing universities was a highlight for the entire team.

“I really enjoyed talking to other teams — I learned some things about materials science from the Cambridge team, and about statistics from the Harbin team,” D’Souza said.

In addition to the competition, the team had time for sightseeing and presented at the Moscow Maker Faire, which ran Sept. 9–10. The team set up a human-machine interface demonstration, which D’Souza put together, drawing on his experience working in Professor Subbarao Kambhampati’s lab. The demo displayed the ease of human-machine interaction both online and in person.

The team noted how welcoming and helpful their hosts were. The host university provided cultural presentations and technical lectures from sponsoring companies following the hackathon, as well as student volunteers to serve as guides and translators, taking visitors around the city.

“I really enjoyed exploring different museums around Moscow,” D’Souza said. “It was interesting to see history from another perspective, especially that of the Space Race. I learned some interesting things about that period, such as how the Russians were the first to launch space stations and successfully complete a soft satellite landing on the moon.”

Schoepf was equally enamored with the experience and plans to return.

“It was my first time in Moscow, but it definitely won’t be my last,” Schoepf said. “We had a fantastic experience learning about the Russian culture, the engineering programs at the university and interacting with the students and faculty from the other universities.”

Pete Zrioka

Communications specialist, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development


ASU Thunderbird grad finds community, builds diplomacy along her path

September 25, 2017

This profile is part of a series highlighting the personal stories and achievements of Thunderbird students. Ready to read more? Subscribe to the Knowledge Network newsletter.

Gabrielle Gueye is on a path with a purpose. From AmeriCorps to the Peace Corps to Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, each experience has paved the way for the next. Thunderbird Experience Gabrielle Gueye '17, USA, Thunderbird Master of Arts in Global Affairs and Management. Download Full Image

“Each one felt like a community,” she said. “And I’ve found that to be a common theme wherever I go.”

Gueye grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and attended a performing arts school there. After high school, she was accepted into West Point but after a couple of years decided it wasn’t the right path for her. Gueye headed home to Ohio to complete her undergraduate studies at Kent State University.

“I had grown very interested in volunteering, so I applied to the Peace Corps. During the application process, I decided to get some volunteer experience, so I joined AmeriCorps and served in the Ohio Reading Corps. It was really fun — I was a literacy coach for kids from kindergarten through 3rd grade.” 

With AmeriCorps experience under her belt, Gueye began her Peace Corps service. She was sent to Ethiopia, where she was an English Language Improvement Advisor. “As a teacher-trainer, I was assigned to a cluster of schools where I would train primary school teachers in things like classroom management and lesson planning. I also taught grammar to 8th graders after school and ran gender clubs in a couple of schools. So the entire experience was a lot of fun.”

Not long after returning from Ethiopia, Gueye headed to Thunderbird. She was heartened “just to see the closeness of the students and the faculty — everyone knows everyone,” she said. “It’s a family environment, and that’s what I had a taste of in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.”


Thunderbird on the radar

Even before the Peace Corps, Gueye had her eye on Thunderbird. “I was interested in international travel and in being philanthropic — I wanted to do something that would impact people around the world,” she said. “So I was looking for a master’s program that would propel me in that direction.”

Her research led to Thunderbird. “I started reading more about it. The website had profiles about students from around the world, their experiences with TEM Labs and travels. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that’s fascinating, I’d love to go to a school where could travel the world and have experiences related to business.’”

“I really like being around different people. That’s the biggest draw at Thunderbird — the people.”

Gueye looked at other business schools, but Thunderbird won her over. “A big draw was the student body — the fact that Thunderbird had so many international students,” she said.

That international focus struck a personal chord for Gueye, whose father is from Senegal. “Since I was born, I’ve always been around different cultures. I really like being around different people. So that’s probably the biggest draw at Thunderbird – the people.”

Confident that Thunderbird was the right fit, Gueye built a relationship with a recruiter. “I did this for a couple of years, just asking questions and staying in contact. And then I finally thought, ‘You know what, let’s go for it.’ While I was in Ethiopia, I did my application interviews so I was set up to go straight to Thunderbird afterwards.”

‘You have to listen’

Now that she’s at Thunderbird, Gueye sees the connections between all her experiences. “These lessons all kind of mesh into each other. In AmeriCorps, I was working with children. Yes, they’re super cute, but they’re also very smart and intuitive. The AmeriCorps experience got me feeling hopeful about the younger generation,” she says.

“You can’t just go into a country and say, ‘This is what you need.’ You have to listen.”

“Peace Corps was a different animal. I was in another country and working with adults. It taught me a lot about going outside of your comfort zone and really trying to be part of a community and understand the people and their needs. Adaptation and tolerance were the biggest lessons I learned there.

“It taught me how to listen,” she said. “You can’t just go into a country and say, ‘This is what you need,’ and expect them to roll with it. You have to listen.

“And all of this was only enhanced by the Thunderbird experience,” she said. “While Peace Corps was from just one cultural perspective, Thunderbird is from many. And not just the student body. The professors have so much experience outside of academia, and that’s reflected in the classroom. They share situations they’ve faced in different parts of the world, and they tie it into the lesson.”

“The variety of perspectives in the classroom is a major positive at Thunderbird.”

As an example, Gueye points to Assistant Professor Joshua Ault, who conducts debates in his class and gives every student a different role. “I love his style of teaching. Sometimes you have to take a role you may not agree with, but it forces you to think in other ways and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. The variety of perspectives in the classroom is one of the major positives at Thunderbird.”

“These takeaways could be applied to consulting, they could be applied to any type of work in the business world,” she said. “You have to listen.”

The path to diplomacy

As Gueye pursues her master's degree in global affairs and management, she’s counting on the program to prepare her for the next step. “Someone with my degree could do many different things. I’m interested in moving around, learning about different governments and people in different places. I’m looking at the Foreign Service and possibly diplomacy. It would align well with my experiences.”

“I especially want to go to West Africa – it’s near and dear to my heart because my dad is from Senegal — but I could go anywhere in the world,” she said. “I’m very flexible.”

Thunderbird Peace Corps Gabby

Gueye is already building those diplomatic skills as an international student advisor assistant at Thunderbird. In this role, she works with and advises international students to ensure they get the appropriate authorizations to do internships and remain in the United States for work after finishing at Thunderbird.

“I get to meet people from all over, which is awesome,” she said. “I get to learn the nuances of their cultures, and that helps you act more appropriately in certain situations. It makes you a more well-rounded and cultured person. And I think it prepares you do business better.”

And if a career in diplomacy becomes a reality, Gueye knows she’s in a great position right now to build cultural knowledge.

“It’s very important in diplomacy — or any globally focused career — because there are so many different stakeholders at the table. You never know who you’ll be in negotiations with or have to compromise with,” she said.

“You’ll have mutual understanding and more patience and appreciation for other people and their thought processes. You’ll be able to make meaningful connections and pass any barrier in front of you. And that will make for better deals and more lasting relationships,” she said.

“Those are the things you put in your toolkit and take with you from Thunderbird — they are going to serve you well.” 

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'Asia Mediated': 1 year later

Asians make up roughly 50 percent of the world's internet users.
ASU prof: Communication technologies and Asia are the future.
September 21, 2017

ASU professors bridge Asian digital media knowledge gap through outreach to area educators, open-source learning

ASU Japanese Lecturer Bradley Wilson wishes his American students knew more about the cultural influences behind the anime comics they love so much. Chandler Gilbert Community College Adjunct Professor Elizabeth Daly wants to make sure her composition courses are catering to a changing student demographic. Jacque Starks, diversity coordinator for Maricopa County Community Colleges, hopes to be a resource for faculty who want to know more about the Asian experience.

“There are so many stereotypes and misunderstandings” about such a vast area of the world, Starks said.

That’s why she, Wilson and Daly all attended the Engaging Asia workshop last week at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. The workshop, hosted by ASU’s Center for Asian Research, served as an introduction to the center’s Asia Mediated project and a chance for local community college faculty and staff to network with one another as well as ASU faculty and staff.

“This event came out of a desire to connect better with community colleges and examine ways we might collaborate and better serve all of our students,” said Maria Hesse, ASU vice provost for academic partnerships and a former community college professor herself. “It’s a way to have a conversation about what we might be doing together to advance this area.”

The Engaging Asia workshop is just one way ASU Professors Juliane SchoberJuliane Schober is a professor in ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. and Pauline CheongPauline Cheong is a professor in ASU’s Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. have been working to increase knowledge and understanding of that area since receiving a two-year U.S. Department of Education UISFLUndergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language Program grant to fund the Asia Mediated project last year.

They’ve also developed a lunch and lecture series; a new multimedia course, COM 394: Digital Media, Culture and Communication in Asia; a suite of open-source online modules; and an internship program for Barrett Honors students.

“Asia is more than 40 countries, with a whole spectrum of media [platforms], from traditional media to brand-new digital applications,” Cheong said. “So we are talking about a rather deep and broad, rapidly evolving terrain.”

However, it’s a terrain not often trod by those in Western countries, resulting in a potentially problematic knowledge gap.

“What happens in Asia doesn’t just stay in Asia. It’s not like Vegas,” Cheong said. “It affects us here [in America and other Western countries] in our everyday lives.”

The Asian influence is felt in a variety of areas, from tech hardware to immigration to entertainment — not to mention the internet. Asians make up about 50 percent of internet users worldwide, Cheong said.

“In terms of internet users, Asians dominate the scene. … I tell my students, if you’re studying anything to do with communication technologies and Asia, you are the future,” Cheong said. 

Biological sciences and Asian Pacific American studies double-major Ronae Matriano was one of three Barrett Honors students chosen to work as interns for the Asia Mediated project. Together, they helped translate ASU professors’ research into two weeks' worth of online course material, available to anyone. Each module covers a different topic, such as Wilson’s “The Shadow of WWII” and ASU history Professor James Rush’s “Truth to Power: Activist Journalism in Southeast Asia.”

“Each professor has a unique and interesting field of study, and being able to work side-by-side with them to put their research into a module for use state-wide, and possibly even internationally, has been invaluable to my learning,” Matriano said. “I have not only learned more about Asia, but I have also developed skills for module development and communication.”

Both Wilson and Rush presented their modules to the community college faculty and staff at the Engaging Asia workshop. Cheong hopes the open-access material will get all educators thinking about “teaching to a larger audience and engaging the wider community.”

The Asia Mediated lunch and lecture series will begin Thursday, Oct. 19, with a talk by Aswin Punathambekar, associate professor and director of the Global Media Studies initiative at the University of Michigan. His talk, “A Sound Bridge: Listening for the Political in Digital South Asia,” will explore the centrality of sound and listening practices in the mediation of politics and citizenship in Indian public culture.

During the final year of funding, Cheong and Schober have plans to compile all the activities and knowledge accumulated for Asia Mediated into an electronic book of sorts. Cheong hesitates to use the word “book” because it will be highly interactive, with hyperlinks, keyword search capabilities and a linked index and glossary.

All of the faculty who have contributed “have been tremendous, and very creative,” Cheong said. She hopes the project and the resulting compilation will serve as an enduring resource for students, faculty and the community.

“Not everybody learns from lectures or multiple-choice questions,” she said. “[Asia Mediated provides] a new way of learning that’s more interactive and textured, so that the subject matter becomes richer and more memorable.”

It’s how Schober, Cheong and their ASU colleagues across different campuses are trying to “do a better job of teaching and engaging in these critical issues.”

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Echoes of the Vietnam War

September 21, 2017

With debut of 10-part Ken Burns documentary stirring interest, ASU expert discusses war's effects decades later and situation today

The debut of the new Ken Burns 10-part documentary series “The Vietnam War” on PBS last weekend brought back a period in American history when the country was more divided than it is now.

For more than a decade, the Vietnam War loomed over every aspect of American life. It came into homes in vivid color every night. Lives, people and families were shattered. More than 57,000 American troops died in Southeast Asia.

Sheldon Simon, a professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University, is an expert on Pacific Rim geopolitics and the author or editor of 10 books. He is also an academic associate of the National Intelligence Council and a consultant to the U.S. Departments of State and Defense on Asian security issues.

American involvement in the country arose because of a misconception about the relations of the major players. It was the height of the Cold War, and the U.S. believed the Russians and the Chinese were aligned with each other. This hadn’t been the case since the 1950s.

“Our whole conception of what the Vietnam War was about was wrong,” Simon said. “It wasn’t Soviet expansionism; it was Vietnamese nationalism, which also happened to be Communist. ... We were involved in something that didn’t exist.”

ASU Now interviewed Simon about the fallout from the war.

Question: Forty-two years later, what changes did the war make in the region?

Answer: Tremendous. Vietnam is now a very important member of (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations); has been for a number of years. Vietnam is probably the most anti-China member of ASEAN. The Vietnam-U.S. relationship has never been better. We’re about to send one of our carrier battle groups to Cam Ranh Bay sometime in the next few months — first time since the end of the Vietnam War. We are involved in helping Vietnam develop a Coast Guard. We have military-to-military relations with Vietnam now. We have very important economic relations; in fact, we have a fairly large trade deficit with Vietnam.

Q: Some of the vets interviewed in the Ken Burns series express pride in their role in the global strategy of containment, which was supposed to prevent war between superpowers. What’s the perspective on containment now?

A: The Cold War is over. We’re concerned about Russia, but in a European context. Their behavior in Asia is minimal, although increasing.

We’re definitely concerned about China, but I would say China is a complicated relationship. We have major economic ties to China. China is the primary holder of our debt, which in effect makes a symbiotic relationship between Washington and Beijing. Neither one of us can afford to financially antagonize the other. ... Are we unhappy with China’s aggressive behavior in the East and South China Sea? Sure. Are we going to do anything about it? We don’t have a dog in that fight. We don’t have any claims in the East or South China Sea.

Q: This isn’t a geopolitical question, but some subjects in the documentary discuss the effect the war had on the American psyche. It was like the alcoholic father no one talks about. Why do you think that was the case?

A: I have my own take on that. It’s an important question. I think in part it’s the only war up to that point that we ever lost. We didn’t lose it militarily; we lost it politically. That was very difficult in terms of the national psyche. What we wanted to do was forget about it. We wanted to put it out of our minds.

A good example of that is the Army War College. During the Vietnam War the Army War College developed a whole curriculum on counterinsurgency from scratch because the only time we had engaged in counterinsurgencies was the turn of the century when we occupied the Philippines. ... The military policies we followed in Vietnam were conventional war: highly kinetic, heavy firepower, move in, pull out. Counterinsurgency required a whole different skill set. And we learned it. So we began teaching counterinsurgency. As soon as we pulled out of Vietnam, that whole curriculum was scraped. It was as if we never had the experience.


Top photo: D. R. Howe of Glencoe, Minnesota, treats the wounds of Private First Class D. A. Crum of New Brighton, Pennsylvania ("H" Company, 2nd Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment) during Operation Hue City on June 2, 1968. Photo by undetermined U.S military photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


Picture this: Pakistani scholar brings illustrative twist to Thesis

September 19, 2017

If a picture is worth a thousand words then Syeda Qudsia’s master’s thesis must be worth at least 40,000 words. In March, she successfully defended her thesis at the National University of Sciences and Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan on the applications of graphene oxide for solar cells, using cartoons.

Syeda Qudsia attended Arizona State University last year as part of an exchange program with the U.S.-Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy, better known as USPCAS-E, that seeks to brighten the lives of her fellow compatriots and be part of the solution for Pakistan’s energy crisis by developing skilled energy professionals. The “cartoon Qudsia” illustrates the complexities of chemical bonds with a superhero graphene molecule. The “cartoon Qudsia” illustrates the complexities of chemical bonds with a superhero graphene molecule. Image courtesy of Syeda Qudsia. Download Full Image

“I chose a comic strip format because it is a great medium for storytelling and it makes everything so much more interesting,” Qudsia explained.

Like her cartoon alter-ego featured in her thesis, Qudsia is known for wearing her traditional hijab and veil hijab but also dons her trademark Converse sneakers. The “cartoon Qudsia” illustrates the complexities of chemical bonds with a superhero graphene molecule.

“We modified graphene oxide with a chemical compound, believing that it would change the electrical properties of the material. And it did,” she discovered.

The work she conducted in electrical engineering Assistant Professor Zachary Holman’s lab in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU was on silicon nanoparticles, aimed at improving the efficiency of silicon solar cells. This experience polished her skills and helped her complete her research on graphene oxide’s role in similar solar cell applications back in Pakistan.

Qudsia believed that most science presentations were tedious and dull, and although she felt like she was breaking the rules of traditional science presentations, her thesis was well-received amongst her peers and advisors.

Syeda Qudsia (center) playfully throws the ASU fork in her trademark Converse sneakers. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

“Sometimes people cannot cover the gap-of-knowledge between the audience and the presenter,” she said, but her project certainly bridged that gap and made technical concepts more approachable.

In the spring of 2017 she graduated from NUST in Pakistan with a master’s of science in nanoscience and engineering. Currently, Qudsia is in the process of applying for a doctoral position in solar cell research with the hope of contributing to energy research.

Qudsia was grateful for the USPCAS-E program and the many opportunities availed for her to grow personally and professionally. She credits ASU’s research facilities as an integral part of her success.

USPCAS-E is based at ASU and is a collaboration sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development and Pakistan’s Higher Education Commission in conjunction with two leading Pakistani engineering universities. It aims to train and enable students to be change agents in helping both countries improve their energy systems.

Erika Gronek

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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ASU expert says US military, NATO will be watching 'Zapad 2017' closely

September 15, 2017

Weeklong Russian military exercise raising concerns among NATO nations

Russian war games or Trojan Horse? Many Western defense ministries and militaries have expressed concern that “Zapad 2017” is the latter — a cover for actual military operations.

The weeklong military exercise commenced Thursday and involves maneuvers in Russia’s northwest to Belarus. U.S. military and NATO officials think Russia could amass as many as 100,000 troops along the borders shared with Eastern European countries.

To gain insight on this issue, ASU Now turned to Keith Brown, director of Arizona State University’s Melikian CenterASU’s Melikian Center is a unit within the School of Politics and Global Studies., whose individual research focuses primarily on politics, culture and identity in the Balkans.

Man in glasses smiling
Keith Brown

Question: What are the Zapad 2017 military exercises — and how many troops does it involve?

Answer: The Zapad 2017 military exercises are a "war game" that professional militaries all over the world conduct. "Zapad" means "West." The script calls for Russian and Belarusian military forces to cooperate because of an attempt by its Western neighbors (given fictional names in the exercise) to destabilize Belarus.

In official announcements, Russia has claimed that only 12,700 troops will be involved. The number is significant because, as a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Russia has agreed to allow foreign military monitors for any exercises involving more than 13,000 troops. Politicians in the Baltic countries of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, as well as NATO leaders, believe that the exercises will actually involve the deployment of far more Russian troops into Belarus.

Q: Some NATO nations have expressed concern about Russia’s intentions, particularly Poland and the Baltic states. How concerned should they be?

A: The three Baltic states and Poland are all members of NATO, which through its well-known Article 5 is committed to collective self-defense — an attack on one is an attack on all. As long as all sides know that NATO's members remain 100 percent committed to Article 5, then Zapad poses zero real risk. 

Still, during his European visit in May, President Trump broke with prior presidential practice and initially chose not to restate that the United States would uphold that commitment. This, together with President Trump's stated skepticism around NATO and clear admiration for Vladimir Putin, raised concerns among European leaders. Their concerns were that a change in U.S. policy would alter the calculus of risk for Russia to undertake a military attack. And that is a frightening prospect. For without the deterrent effect of Article 5, NATO's capacity to defend the sovereignty of the Baltic republics comes into question.  

Q: To what extent do you think this is Russian President Vladimir Putin thumbing his nose at the West and showing off? Is it a sign of deteriorating relations?

A: President Putin has long stoked and maintained fears of Western or U.S.-led aggression to maintain popularity. He has also demonstrated, in Crimea and Ukraine, willingness to use direct military action. The Zapad exercises are part of a longer-term commitment to military cooperation between Russia and Belarus; they have been scheduled for a long time, and the Estonian foreign minister was already expressing concerns back in April, before President Trump's visit to Europe.

It is striking that the scenario on which the Russian exercises is based — defense against paramilitaries who are agents of a neighboring power seeking to destabilize a regime — could be derived from Ukraine, with Russia as the destabilizing neighbor. Putin wins admiration from his base in Russia when he plays by his rules, and is one or two steps ahead of his Western rivals. He has made these exercises into a kind of spectacle, and the alarmed reactions from the West are already a win for him.

Q: Do you see these maneuvers as a “Trojan horse” — that is, a cover to leave behind some troops and military equipment?

A: I'm not a military expert, but I know from U.S. soldiers and Marines that logistics matter above all in military operations. If Putin can leave troops or pre-position supplies in Belarus, he gains a tactical advantage in terms of potential surprise or movement that would, in modern terms, split NATO's forces. This would enable Russian forces to stage a coup de main [surprise attack] and put NATO in the position of having to go on the offensive to restore the sanctity of borders it has pledged to protect.

Alternatively, the scheduled Zapad exercises could represent a masterly piece of misdirection. The Baltics, with their substantial Russian populations, represent only one "front" for Putin, where he is already deploying a wide range of tactics of destabilization. There is broad consensus, for example, that Russia has been using covert methods in the Western Balkans to try to prevent countries firmly joining the Euro-Atlantic "camp." In addition, Putin has shown, in Ukraine and Crimea, a willingness to take calculated risks in the conduct of a foreign policy aimed at eroding confidence in the Euro-Atlantic alliance.


Top photo courtesy of Pixabay

Reporter , ASU Now


2 ASU undergrads among 10 American students attending youth conference in Canada

September 14, 2017

As Canada turns 150 this year, our northern neighbors have extended invitations to Americans to help develop a vision for Canada’s place in the world. On Sept. 23, Fulbright Canada will begin its week long Youth Institute on Canada in the World, bringing 10 American and 10 Canadian undergraduate and graduate students to Ottawa, Ontario and Quebec City, Quebec. From a pool of applicants competing for the limited number of American spots available, two Barrett students were awarded the opportunity to participate: junior Anirudh Koka and senior Mikkaela Salamatin.

Salamatin, a finance major with minors in French and sustainability, has long been interested in international relations. Mikkaela Salamatin Mikkaela Salamatin is one of two ASU students who will attend the Youth Institute on Canada in the World beginning Sept. 23. Download Full Image

“I was extremely involved in high school speech and debate, which initially sparked my interest in international issues,” Salamatin said. “Since coming to college, however, I hadn’t been able to do very much in relation to that interest. This opportunity seemed like an interesting way I could explore it while actively using my education to help other people.”

Koka, majoring in economics and global politics, also saw the Youth Institute as a way to explore his interests.

“I was inspired to apply because I’m really interested in foreign relations and international economies,” Koka said.

As Koka and Salamatin prepare for a week of policy formulation, debates, cultural activities and more, they look forward to learning more about Canadian-American relations. For Koka, the weeklong Youth Institute promises to provide insight into Canada’s role within multilateral organizations and economic unions.

“I’m particularly interested in how Canadian-U.S. bilateral relations manifest themselves in the multilateral organizations like NATO,” Koka said. “Why does Canada want the U.S. to assert itself internationally? I’m also fascinated in economic unions such as NAFTA, and I want to learn more about how the trade deal affects Canadians.”

As for Salamatin, the Youth Institute will give her an opportunity to learn about Canadian sustainability issues.

“I am particularly interested in how Canada can choose to react to different decisions made by the U.S.,” said Salamatin. “Issues regarding climate change and sustainable energies are really interesting to look at, and I hope to have the opportunity to discuss them during the program.”

Koka and Salamatin both expect the Youth Institute to be instrumental in achieving their future goals.

“One day I hope to be in a career that allows me to work with foreign relations in terms of international development and international law,” Salamatin said. “I am passionate about being an agent of change and promoting more inclusive perspectives on global citizenship, and through this program I hope to not only develop meaningful relationships with some of Canada and America's greatest young minds, but to also develop the skills necessary to pursue and effect impactful change in my future career.”

Anirudh Koka

Koka also feels the skills he will develop through the Youth Institute will help his career.

“I want to use my background in economics and international affairs to work with governments and non-profit organizations in developing nations to enact fiscal and social policy that expands access to education,” Koka said. “I think the Youth Institute will give me practical experience debating and designing policy that will be invaluable for me later in life.”

Koka and Salamatin are looking forward to the opportunity to discuss Canadian foreign policy with fellow participants, diplomats and government officials. As the Youth Institute takes place in both Ottawa — the capital of Canada — and Quebec City, within French-speaking province Quebec, students also have a variety of cultural experiences to take advantage of.

Salamatin hopes to put her French knowledge to work in Quebec. “I am very excited to have the opportunity to learn a bit about Quebecois French and utilize my French language skills to further develop my relationships with the people I meet in Canada,” she said.

And Koka, a self-proclaimed history nerd, is looking forward to spending a week in two historical hubs of Canada.

“I’m really excited to visit all the historic places in Ottawa and Quebec City, and getting a better understanding of the Canadian experience.Most of all, I’m ready to absorb everything. I know I’m going to learn so much,” Koka said.

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College


3 countries, 3 universities, 1 unforgettable experience

ASU student travels to China for study-abroad course on sustainable development

September 14, 2017

For ASU sustainability senior Hailey Baker, three countries plus three universities plus three weeks adds up to one unforgettable experience.

Baker and 31 other students – representing Arizona State University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and National Taipei University – traveled to three cities in Southern China for their summer studies, part of a program supported by the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and the ASU Study Abroad Office. Four students give presentation ASU sustainability senior Hailey Baker and her student team present their work to the class. Download Full Image

During the three-week course on sustainable urban development, students experienced field trips and lectures in three cities: Guangzhou, China; Taipei, Taiwan; and Hong Kong. Then, working in teams with peers from each participating university, each group of students completed a final solutions-focused project, including development of sustainability plans for a new district in Hong Kong.

Living a comparative analysis

“The students lived a comparative analysis,” said Rob Melnick, presidential professor of practice in ASU’s School of Sustainability. Melnick, along with instructor and sustainability doctoral candidate Joe Knott, co-taught the course with faculty from the two partner universities.

“I thought Hong Kong and Taipei were more western — Hong Kong had more of a British influence, while Taipei was more U.S.-influenced,” Baker noted. “Guangzhou definitely felt more like what I expected from an Asian city.”

Guangzhou was less developed than Hong Kong or Taipei, Baker said, and she found it interesting to see first-hand how the city is developing.

Fellow ASU participant Eric Trinh, a sophomore chemical engineering major, was surprised by the transportation systems in the different cities. “Such an amazing and effective strategy for mass transit exists,” Trinh said. “I know it’s difficult to incorporate this into America because of urban sprawl, but I think we can make an effort to make a denser and more efficient city.”

We’re all in this together

This course, which builds upon a course that Melnick previously developed and taught at City University of Hong Kong, is listed at HKUST as a course on Global Citizenship — the idea that “we’re all in this together” as residents of the same planet. Students learn to think globally and act locally — while working together across cultural and disciplinary divides.

“During this unique, multi-cultural, educational experience, it was personally rewarding for me to see our ASU students grasp the significance of sustainability concepts and stakeholder engagement as well as a growing understanding among all of the students regarding their shared future and responsibility as global citizens to ensure that it is sustainable,” Knott said.

“I had one economics major, one finance major and one architecture major on my team; none of them had ever dealt with sustainability before,” Baker said. “Once they began to understand the sustainability aspects, they were able to ask questions to poke holes in my ideas. They brought local background knowledge to improve our plan for their local cities.”

Baker said needing a translator to get everyone on the same page was stressful, especially under deadline. But her group had a lot of passion, everyone contributed ideas, and people got really excited.

Trinh agreed. “I think the best part of the program was the students from other cultures. The lectures and field trips were amazing, but the classmates are the ones that breathe life into the course,” he said. “Studying abroad really opens up your perspective so much and gives you meaningful connections and networks around the world.”

“Learning what it means to be a global citizen – to work with people from other cultures to find solutions to shared social, economic and environmental problems — should be central to an education in sustainability,” Melnick said. “This course enabled our students to do just that.”

This program is one of more than 250 in more than 65 countries organized by the ASU Study Abroad Office. Students can participate in programs as short as a week, as long as a year and everything in between for academic credit.

Vietnamese scholars study at ASU to advance Ho Chi Minh City’s Smart City efforts

September 11, 2017

A recent $1 million investment from Intel Products Vietnam helped Arizona State University to sponsor six Vietnamese scholars for one-year master’s fellowships to speed the transformation of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) into an innovative Smart City by 2025.

Facilitated by Arizona State University's Higher Engineering Education Alliance Program known as HEEAP, the Intel Grand Challenge Master’s Fellows began their studies within graduate engineering programs at ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering in August 2017. Five of six Vietnamese Fellows arrive at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, Arizona. Six Vietnamese scholars arrived at Arizona State University in August to study in Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering master’s programs as part of the Intel Grand Challenge Master’s Fellowship program facilitated by ASU’s Higher Engineering Education Alliance Program. Pictured are five of the students arriving at Phoenix International Airport on August 7. Photo courtesy of Angela Harguess Download Full Image

Nguyen Quang Hung is studying chemical engineering, Dao Doan Duy is studying environmental resource management, Hoang Thi Khanh Ha and Ho Hoang Hai Nam are studying materials science and engineering, Le Phuoc Tri is studying solar energy engineering and commercialization, and Pham Quoc Thai is studying civil, environmental and sustainable engineering.

“I chose chemical engineering to dig deeper into the industry and learn more about using chemistry to solve environmental and energy problems,” said Hung, who studied analytical chemistry at Vietnam National University Hanoi University of Science prior to this fellowship. “I hope that I can manage to help Ho Chi Minh City to build modern systems regarding wastewater treatment, air quality control and food quality control.”

As part of their efforts to advance Ho Chi Minh City to become a Smart City, fellows will work on an applied project to develop their skills. After they finish the program by August 2018, fellows will return to Vietnam and begin work on Smart City projects for the HCMC government for at least three years.

“I am really honored,” Ha said about the opportunity to work on HCMC’s Smart City projects. “I want to be at ASU to learn more new things and then come back and contribute my ability to operate this project. I believe that this project will help my country increasingly become modern and developed.”

All six fellows are excited about their time at ASU.

“ASU is No. 1 in innovation, and I also know that there are a lot of internet of things systems facilitating students around campus,” Thai said. “I think that ASU’s campus can be seen as a small Smart City. ASU also has many labs and clubs related to smart sensor applications where I can discover more about the internet of things.”

Recent Vietnamese bachelor’s degree graduates whose engineering-related studies focused on Smart City design were eligible for the fellowships. The final six scholars were recommended by their dean or department chair, met standard ASU admission requirements and were chosen based on their undergraduate GPAs, GRE scores, English proficiency and interviews with the HCMC People’s Committee, Intel and ASU.

“It has been an honor to collaborate with Intel Products Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee,” said Jeff Goss, associate vice provost for SE Asia Programs at ASU. “This fellowship will help to further the development and decide of HCMC into one of the world’s premier Smart Cities.”

Founded in 2010, HEEAP is a collaboration of academic, government and corporate partners in the United States and Vietnam whose goal is to improve the quality of higher engineering education and technical vocational programs in Vietnam — a country that is quickly becoming a hub of innovation. Applied and hands-on workshops HEEAP offers at ASU and abroad help to create work-ready graduates with applied technical skills needed by industry.

HEEAP has previously supported fellowships at ASU to help female faculty at partner universities extend their master’s education. During the 2016–17 academic year, HEEAP facilitated the Advancing Women in Engineering Fellowship, a one-year opportunity for Vietnamese female students to earn their master’s degree in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering or information technology at ASU.

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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Undergrad travels around the world to conduct sociocultural research

ASU undergrad participates in global research, wins Pickering Fellowship.
September 8, 2017

ASU senior collects data on water security and fat stigma for pair of projects

ASU senior Monet Niesluchowski gave Phileas Fogg, the protagonist of Jules Verne’s classic adventure novel “Around the World in Eighty Days,” a run for his money this summer when she traveled to Iceland, Guatemala, Cambodia, Tajikistan, New Zealand, Paraguay and the United Kingdom in just under four months.

But unlike Fogg, the purpose of her grand tour wasn’t to settle a bet. It was to collect data for a pair of research projects — one about global perceptions of fat stigma and the other about water security. They might seem like disparate topics, but for the anthropology-political science double major, they both stand to reveal fascinating sociocultural insights.

Niesluchowski (pronounced kind of like Mike Wazowski from “Monsters, Inc.,” she said) — a student in Barrett, the Honors College, and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change — grew up in Arizona but developed an interest in faraway places and peoples at a young age.

Woman and girl standing in front of a bike shop
Monet Niesluchowski with a local girl in Battambang, Cambodia.

“My mom is Iranian, but she left Iran right around the time of the revolution in 1979,” Niesluchowski said. “So I’ve always found her stories really interesting, and I’ve always been really interested in different languages, cultural traditions and governmental systems.”

Niesluchowski had some experience living abroad from when she received the Boren Fellowship to study Farsi and Tajiki in Tajikistan from August 2015 to July 2016. The knowledge she gained then came in handy when she returned to the country this summer.

The work she did related to water security involved managing the data collection of 225 household surveys in Tajikistan in the hopes of developing a scale that can be used to measure water insecurity at several sites throughout the world.

“There’s pretty well-established food-security scales … but there isn’t a well-developed water-security scale just yet,” Niesluchowski said. She plans to use some of the data collected over the summer to develop her senior-year thesis.

The work she did related to fat stigma is part of a series of projects led by linguistic anthropologist and School of Human Evolution and Social Change Associate Professor Cindi SturtzSreetharan that consider the forms and functions of language concerning fat stigma in different cultures (for this, Niesluchowski collected data from Tajikistan, as well as the other six countries she visited over the summer).

Niesluchowski was awarded the Barrett Honors Intercontinental Travel Award to participate in the fat-stigma research but had previously worked on similar projects with Obesity Solutions, an ASU-Mayo partnership geared toward studying and finding solutions for the disease. One study she contributed to, titled “The Fat Self in Virtual Communities,” was published in the academic journal Current Anthropology in 2016.

women sitting at a table in a cafe
A group of women in Encarnacion, Paraguay, respond to the fat-stigma survey.

Being able to participate in meaningful research as an undergraduate has been invaluable for Niesluchowski.

"Getting involved in research as an undergraduate may be the single most important thing a student can do," she said. "Regardless of the field, learning research methods teaches students how to think critically and process complex theories and complex amounts of information.

"Moreover, understanding research methods makes undergraduates more rounded individuals because often science is talked about in the media and is used as a basis for making policy changes. Understanding research and research methods gives individuals a more critical understanding of the world around them."

Woman smiling with her two daughters
A survey respondent and her two daughters in Guatemala.

One of the lessons she learned firsthand was what kind of challenges to expect in the field, and how to overcome them.

In Iceland, Niesluchowski had trouble finding natives to take her survey. She came up with the idea to recruit participants at bus stops, where she was more likely to find locals. And in Cambodia, when the language barrier posed a problem, she found success by putting the survey online.

There were other encouraging moments: Partway through her trip, Niesluchowski got word that she had to fly back to the U.S. for a quick trip to Washington, D.C. — to accept the Pickering Fellowship, a prestigious award from the U.S. Department of State that provides funding for graduate studies and the offer of a position as a foreign service officer upon graduation.

Niesluchowski said she may defer the fellowship but only long enough to pursue a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant Fellowship in Mongolia. She hopes to one day work in public diplomacy as a foreign service officer.

For now, Niesluchowski has her work cut out for her sorting and analyzing all the data she collected, which she’ll be doing over the next two semesters. She's excited to see what the data reveals but cautious about jumping to conclusions.

"Right now, we're just kind of getting into it, so it's hard to say what concrete findings we'll have until we do more in-depth analyses," she said. "As a social-science researcher I have to be careful about keeping things very unbiased. So we’ll see."


Top photo: ASU anthropology-political science double major Monet Niesluchowski poses for a photo in Iceland, where she conducted research over the summer of 2017. All photos courtesy Monet Niesluchowski