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Solving a pest problem that's been plaguing us

April 13, 2018

ASU's Global Locust Initiative connects international experts to combat the expensive crop damage the insects commit worldwide

During a plague year, locusts affect the livelihoods of one in 10 people and cover 20 percent of the earth’s land surfaces. In most of the world, they are one of the most destructive crop pests. From 2003–05, $450 million was spent to stop a desert locust plague in Africa that caused $2.5 billion in crop damage.

But an issue that size inevitably attracts the brightest problem-solvers.

Representatives from 12 countries gathered at Arizona State University this week for the inaugural meeting of the Global Locust Initiative, a new research and action program designed to help scientists, governments, agribusiness workers and farmers cope with locust plagues.

The initiative, a unit of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, combines lab science, fieldwork and data modeling to help reduce locust outbreaks and the effects of plagues.

The goal? The well-being of farm communities and global sustainability. It’s based on three pillars: facilitating research, creating a global network and developing on-the-ground solutions with local stakeholders.

“It’s a challenge all continents except Antarctica are dealing with,” said founding director Arianne Cease, an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability who studies locusts.

Video: In many parts of the world, locust swarms devastate crops and communities. Arianne Cease is trying to change that, and she talked about that in a recent KEDtalk.

A panel of experts from seven global regions kicked off the event.

Aliou Diongue from the World Food Programme in Senegal expressed his region's primary focus: the necessity of healthy crops.

“Food security is our utmost concern,” Diongue said.

In China, more than 1,000 species of grasshoppers and locusts pose a danger to crops including bamboo and rice. The nation struggles to control swarms like these, and Long Zhang of China Agricultural University was intent on prediction.

“How can we exactly forecast the big swarms?” he asked.

Australia deals with three native species, according to Chris Adriaansen, director of the Australian Plague Locust Commission, but in the U.S., “the North American locust is gone, essentially,” said Derek Woller of the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Woller noted that his unit deals with small outbreaks from 12 species.

The Global Locust Initiative is dedicated to fostering the knowledge transfer that will lead to new interventions that reduce the frequency and impacts of locust plagues.

“We are here to learn from you,” said Maria Martha Cigliano of the National University of La Plata, Argentina, addressing the assembled group.

But elementary questions about locusts and grasshoppers remain. Why do they take off when they do? How do they decide which direction to fly in? How do they decide where to land?

Researchers such as Cease and her team are looking to answer those questions, which may lead to better plague prevention for years to come.

“We’re in this for the long term,” Cease said.

More than just an issue of economic impact, the danger of locust plagues extends to basic human resources, making the initiative's goals all the more pressing.

“My objective is saving life and feeding people,” Diongue said. “That’s why I’m here.”


Above photo: Braedon Kantola, a sustainability graduate student holds an Americana grasshopper at the launch of the Global Locust Initiative, outside Wrigley Hall on Thursday, April 12, 2018. The locust project, part of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, has as its goal to help address and lessen the destructive effects of locust plagues. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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Out of this world events on tap at ASU for Earth Month

It's Earth Month for ASU. Check out a list of events.
ASU Baseball to hold annual Green Game on Earth Day, April 22.
April 10, 2018

April 1 may have brought tricks and pranks, but Arizona State University's plans for Earth Month are no joke. 

Centered around Earth Day on April 22, which has been celebrated annually around the world for nearly the 50 years, Earth Month looks to further raise awareness for those who are still living in the dark when it comes to taking care of the planet. ASU plans to do its part over the next few weeks, sponsoring more than 20 different events through April 27.

"Earth Month has grown over the past years out of a celebration for Earth Day," said Lesley Forst, program manager at ASU's University Sustainability Practices. "This year, I'm thrilled to see new partnerships and collaborations from across the university joining in on the celebration. We are continuing to expand the celebration and demonstrate that sustainability is a university-wide value."

One of those celebrations will include the Sun Devil Baseball Green Game, which takes place at 12:30 p.m. April 22 at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

"'Green Games' are a celebration of sustainability and sports," Forst said. "The baseball Green Game falls on Earth Day this year, so it’s a perfect day to recognize ASU's leadership and commitment to sustainability. Student groups will host a variety of sustainability-themed games, fans can test their knowledge by participating in in-game trivia and there will be some sustainability-themed giveaways."

It's a commitment Sun Devil Athletics has focused on since spring 2013. Since then, they have hosted zero-waste events for basketball, baseball, softball, soccer and other select sports. 

Other events include the year-end celebration for the Green Devil Network, a group that leads the way in championing sustainability at all of ASU's campuses. The group will meet from noon to 1 p.m. April 25 at the Student Services Lawn on the Tempe campus to both network and garden with other like-minded individuals.

"The Green Devil Network was founded in 2014 as a tool to educate, connect and recognize staff, students and faculty from across the university who are actively creating a culture of sustainability," Forst said. "The program is now active on all campuses and monthly events are facilitated by University Sustainability Practices and Zero Waste. This year, in partnership with ASU Grounds, the herb garden near the student services building was dedicated to the Network as a way to recognize the work that they’ve accomplished."

For more ASU Earth Month events visit sustainability.asu.edu/earth-month or view the list below.

List of events for Earth Month 2018
*Note: The location for the Borderlands Food Bank on April 21 has changed to the Tempe Public Library northwest parking lot.

Download PDF: PDF iconem2018_elevator_v3.pdf


Top photo: Green Light Solutions displays a poster where students contribute "Dear Mother Earth" notes of how they will live a more sustainable lifestyle during the Student Sustainability Club Earth Day Festival on Hayden Lawn on April 19, 2017. Photo by Deanna Dent

Connor Pelton

Communications Writer , ASU Now

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Answering the call of the curious

April 10, 2018

ASU's Ask A Biologist website, recently redesigned, has 50 million visits and growing

Do reindeer have red noses?

Of course they don’t. (Sorry, but they don’t fly, either.)

However, if you posed the question to the website Ask A Biologist, you might be surprised by the scientific truth. When it’s very cold, reindeers’ noses heat up. If you look at them under infrared light, they glow red.

Hosted by Arizona State University since before Google existed, Ask A Biologist provides answers like that every day to people around the world. The site, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, unveiled a new redesign last month. 

Ask a Biologist by the numbers

• more than 50 million visits
• more than 40,000 questions answered
• more than 30,000 visits every day
• 46 percent of traffic comes from abroad
• 4th most visited page on ASU’s website
• 1,200 top search results in Google

“Without a doubt we teach more students than any instructor at ASU,” creator and developer Charles Kazilek said. Include the fact that teachers download content for their classrooms, and “it has a multiplier effect,” he said.

Video by Jamie Ell/ASU Now

It started because of people trying to reach experts at the university to answer questions. Kazilek, a senior research professional in the School of Life Sciencespart of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, had an idea. He grew up in a small town where you could call a help line at the library.

“But you’ve got to have someone on the other end of the line to answer it.”

So, the site started with an oath to answer the question within 72 hours. That gave the faculty time to research the question and respond. The time frame has another benefit too.

“That allows us not to be turned into a homework site,” Kazilek said. “We’re here for the truly curious.”

Each semester, a student teaching assistant and a graduate student playing Dr. Biology route the questions to the appropriate expert. There are more than 150 volunteer experts. (Not all of them are from ASU.)

Answering questions can get complex. The answer to “Why is milk white?” involves chemistry and physics, as well as biology. When the answers come back, they’re turned into kid-friendly prose.

“We offer a service and we package it in plain language,” said Kazilek.

The site has more than 5,000 pages of content. There are resources for teachers and games and activities for kids. Virtual tours of rain forests, deserts and the inside of a beehive are on tap. The Bird Finder tool can help identify mystery birds in your backyard. There’s also a dedicated Youtube channel.

“Its footprint has been growing stronger and stronger,” Kazilek said. “Lots of ASU creativity and vision and desire to communicate to the world … It reaches such a large global audience. It is a bit of an ambassador for ASU.”

ask a biologist 


Top photo: Chuck Kazilek, ASU's chief technology innovation officer, and the creator and developer of the "Ask A Biologist" website, works from his Computing Commons office on Wednesday, April 4. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU hosts conference to reduce violence in Latin America and the Caribbean

April 9, 2018

Criminal justice experts from the Western Hemisphere will examine the impact of violence in Latin America and the Caribbean and how to prevent it at a two-day conference held at the Arizona State University Tempe campus April 11–12. The free event is sponsored by the Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety, part of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU in downtown Phoenix.

The event takes place as National Guard troops have been deployed to the U.S./Mexico border in advance of the arrival of a caravan of migrants from Central America that is making its way north through Mexico. Researchers from the center have studied violence in Honduras, El Salvador and nations throughout the Caribbean and are working on solutions to help governments and communities reduce violence. Charles Katz, a criminology professor and director of the Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety, talks to ASU Now about the conference.  Unidos Por La Justicia in Honduras From left to right: Jonathan Hernandez from the ASU Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety with Vivian Pavon, Ana Karina Suazo and Faiz Velazquez of Unidos Por La Justicia (United for Justice) at a community event in Tegucigalpa, Honduras held to establish a better relationship between the National Police and the citizens they serve. Download Full Image

Question: Why hold a leadership conference on violence and its prevention in Latin America and the Caribbean?

Answer: Over the past 10 years, our faculty and staff have focused much of their effort on projects that diagnose problems associated with violence and have been collaborating with governments in these regions to identify and evaluate best practices to respond to violence in Latin America and the Caribbean. Today, these nations are at a critical point where they are about to embark on a major shift in policy and responses to violence. Given the relationships we have developed and the progress we have seen we believe that there is a unique opportunity for ASU to play an important role in the development and institutionalization of citizen security in the region.

Q: Can you talk about ASU’s role in researching violence in these regions?

A: ASU has played both large and small roles in examining violence in the region. From 2004 to 2010 we worked under contract with the Ministry of National Security of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago to develop a comprehensive strategic plan to reform the Trinidad and Tobago Police Services. We have also completed a project funded by the United Nations Development (UNDP) program to assess citizen insecurity throughout the Caribbean; and completed work for the Eastern Caribbean’s Regional Security System (RSS) to diagnose the gang problem in nine Caribbean nations and develop a regional approach to responding to gangs.  We have also completed several research projects for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of Justice, and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to examine violence and responses to in El Salvador and Honduras.

Charles Katz
ASU criminology professor Charles Katz speaks at the 2017 American Society of Evidence Based Policing Conference held in Phoenix.

Q: You’ve been interviewed a lot by major news organizations about the MS-13 gang. What kind of threat does the violence of gangs in Latin America and the Caribbean pose to the United States?

A: That is a complicated question with multiple issues interwoven through it. First, the violence in Latin America and the Caribbean has an effect on the U.S. in terms of the fact that people in those nations are driven from their countries to the United States in the hopes of finding a safer place for themselves and their families. The violence in those nations also has a substantial impact on those countries' economies, which also drives people to the United States in the hopes of better employment opportunities. While the vast majority of these immigrants have nothing but positive intentions and seek a better life for them and their family, a small minority of those who come have a deeply disturbing past and have ill intentions. These are the people that federal and local officials need to identify quickly to prevent violence from occurring in the U.S.  

Q: Who will be attending the conference and what do you hope they come away with?

A: We have a variety of people who will be attending the meeting. Some of these folks are from USAID, UNDP and various organizations that attempt to work within developing nations to improve their security and decrease violent crime. Faculty from Brazil, Jamaica and the United States, as well as graduate students will be attending. We have also noticed some local criminal justice officials who will be attending the event.

Conference registration: Future of Violence and Its Prevention in Latin America and the Caribbean

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


With thesis project, student discovers Korean culture through ASU school

April 9, 2018

The Korean department at Arizona State University's School of International Letters and Cultures (SILC) is one of the college’s fastest growing programs, with more students benefiting every year. Senior Simon Huynh, in pursuit of his thesis project, found out exactly what that growth and energy meant.

“I originally got involved with SILC on a recommendation to find an honors thesis director,” Huynh said. "SILC has a very open faculty, willing to help you. Their level of expertise is very high.” Simon Huynh Simon Huynh used School of International Letters and Cultures classes to explore Korean culture for his thesis project. Download Full Image

Huynh’s thesis project for Barrett, The Honors College, analyzes how Korean popular culture, or K-pop music, is influenced by videos, livestreams and reality television.

“The goal of my thesis was to see how various social media tools generate a very interactive, very invested fan base for K-pop. Something very unique about K-pop is how organized the fans are around a particular group,” Huynh explained.

He said this ranges from active fan clubs to wide-scale donations in a band’s name. Huynh himself has listened to K-pop since middle school, but realized his interest had thesis potential after learning about Professor Jiwon Shin’s class on Korean popular culture. Shin became Huynh’s director.

“Studying culture enables you to obtain and widen your lens of perception,” Huynh said. “You’re able to see people for who they are. In my study of Korean culture, I’ve come to appreciate both the differences and the similarities between my original culture … Vietnamese American.”

Huynh credits his thesis and Shin with helping him become more aware of other cultures and more empathetic of cultural differences. In the future, students can get even more out of the Korean department than Huynh was able to, thanks to the addition of a Korean minor to SILC degree options.

The Korean minor will empower students to explore technological, economic and political realities tied in with Korean language and culture. Korea is at the center of geopolitical, security and global conversations. SILC wants students to be part of those conversations.

“My professors are actually trying to help me publish my thesis,” Huynh said. “I think that’s a huge step I didn’t consider, but they want to help me build that step. … It’s important for me to share my culture and understand other people’s culture.”

Gabriel Sandler

ASU students travel to India for lessons in service, leadership

For 12 accomplished students from the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, this year was not your typical spring break

April 6, 2018

For a lot of students, spring break is a time to recharge and enjoy the benefits of a few carefree days before the storm surge of year-end deadlines hits.

For 12 accomplished students from the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, this was not your typical spring break. SCETL students exchange experiences with college students in India at Fulbright House, New Delhi Arizona State University School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership went to India over spring break for the Global Intensive Experience. Download Full Image

When these students signed up for an immersive service and leadership experience in India, they exchanged beaches, parties, visits home and camping trips for arduous travel to bewildering urban centers and dusty villages, where they would work hard and learn from entrepreneurs, teachers, journalists and nonprofit workers about what it takes to be a leader in the world's largest liberal democracy. 

The Global Intensive Experience, sponsored by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership and led by cultural anthropologist Susan Carrese and political scientist Paul Carrese, exposed ASU students to some of the diverse facets of modern India — from densely populated, technologically advanced cities to the most rural, amenity-poor villages.

Each day, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., the students took on new intellectual challenges, and in some cases, confronted personal stereotypes and false assumptions while serving communities with completely unfamiliar cultures and value systems.

When the school proposed this leadership-service trip to ASU’s Study Abroad Office they listed several major themes that students would explore in their Global Intensive Experience in India:

• Cross-civilizational issues of leadership and liberal-democratic politics in a predominantly Hindu and Muslim culture

• The power of globalization

• America’s growing partnership with India as a world power in a prominent but difficult region

• Journalism and a free press in India

• Market economics in a formerly social-democratic or “third way” economy

• India’s vast socio-economic diversity

• The challenge of service and service-learning in a completely different cultural context

To address these complex issues in a short period of time, Susan Carrese curated a syllabus of lectures, interviews, service activities and cultural experiences that offered students the opportunity to engage, not as cultural tourists, but as researchers, collaborators and volunteers.

A cultural tour

The students began their service trip with a visit to Humayun’s Tomb, a great mausoleum of the Mughal dynasty that would later influence the Taj Mahal. Humayun’s Tomb is a UNESCO world heritage site and an important touchstone to understanding the complex interactions of Hindu and Muslim culture in contemporary India.  

During a guided walk through the former center of the Muslim imperial city of Shahjahanabad — now part of the national capital city of New Delhi — they visited India’s largest mosque and participated in a pujaworship ceremony at a Hindu temple.

Students say they were struck by the religious diversity they witnessed.

“While the group was walking down the streets of Old Delhi, we witnessed Jain, Hindu, Sikh and Islamic places of worships all on the same street,” said Ivan Bascon, a junior majoring in molecular biosciences and biotechnology. “Although the relationships between the religious communities are not perfect, I saw a far better form of respect and understanding between religions than in the United States.”

Kira Olsen-Medina, a junior studying sociology, said, “It’s one thing reading about religious conflict and seeing it on the news in distant places, but seeing firsthand the dominant role of religion in another culture was significantly impactful.”

Later, at a visit to the Fulbright House — which administers the Fulbright-Nehru fellowships for educational exchanges between India and the United States — they learned about international scholarship opportunities and talked with Prasad V. Kunduri, a senior editor of The Tribune newspaper, northern India’s largest circulating daily newspaper.

“Speaking with Prasad Kunduri about the state of the news media in India was fascinating,” said Rebecca Spiess, a student of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “While the numbers of English newspaper consumption have plateaued, other dailies aren’t losing readers across India. I think it will be incredibly interesting to see whether, as the prevalence of smartphones rises, newspapers in India will take a different approach than we’ve taken in the U.S. to make sure revenues stay steady.”

The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership cohort also met with Indian university students for an exercise in which the students identified together the issues that mattered to them on local, national and international levels. They then worked toward collaborative, cross-cultural solutions, and exchanged ideas about education reform, democratic participation and the "brain drain" that leads educated students in India to leave smaller villages in pursuit of careers in larger, more prosperous cities. 

Other activities included a Q&A session about transportation, globalization and business leadership with the CEO of a major Indian freight company, an impromptu cooking lesson, and a walking tour through the markets and old city of Jaipur, not far from the Pakistan border.

Making a difference

As the students complete their post-Global Intensive Experience written assignments, an overwhelming majority say that among the many activities on their journey, the service project and the residential experience at Barefoot College, in the state of Rajasthan, was the most memorable.

Barefoot College is a volunteer organization founded in 1986, committed to giving poor, rural communities the tools they need to independently thrive. Inspired by the principles of India’s independence and civil rights leader Mahatma Gandhi, the Barefoot ethos elevates the values of service and citizenship over financial wealth. The college rejects certifications and university degrees, claiming that students who attend Barefoot are certified by the communities they serve.

The mission of Barefoot College is to promote self-sustaining communities. They do so by training older students (often grandmothers) to produce solar energy and clean drinking water technology to take back to their communities.

The Global Intensive Experience cohort met with the Solar Mamasthe school's village-matriarchs-turned-solar-engineers, and learned how — since the program's inception — they have brought solar lighting, cookers, heaters and water desalination systems to over 18,000 households in 83 countries. 

“I was absolutely blown away when I saw the education and work that the Solar Mamas were undertaking in the workshop with electrical wiring and solar panels,” Bascon said. “Inviting these older women from all over the world really speaks volumes about the idea of being a global citizen and serving communities all over the world by educating and creating future leaders and community change makers.”

A unique education

While the training at Barefoot gives students technical skills, the backbone of the multi-faceted approach is civic education. 

Through a network of “night schools,” about 75,000 children, most of whom work during the day taking care of farm animals or their siblings, are able to learn everything from mathematics and reading to how to care for their sheep or what to do if they get arrested.

Among the top priorities of the night schools is teaching the children about democracy and citizenship, even going so far as to elect a 12-year-old “prime minister” and “government cabinet” that monitors and supervises 150 schools.

Sophomore political science major Alexis Kwan noted that India has an astounding 66 percent voter turnout, and it is likely this kind of early civic engagement by Indian youth that leads to a lifetime of democratic participation.

ASU students were lucky to attend a session of the night school — after a long and bumpy ride on dirt roads. During that session, freshman philosophy major Max Fees also delighted the Indian students by leading them in interactive songs.

Because a majority of Barefoot students are illiterate and often don't speak the same language as their peers or teachers, lessons are routinely taught through sign language, art and puppetry. 

School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership students led activities ranging from painting a mural to illustrate the medicinal benefits of plants to coordinating educational games that teach children about gender stereotypes and how to identify and expose sexual abuse. 

In spite of language barriers, the ASU students felt like they made connections with the night-school students.

“By the end of the day, the kids were teaching us phrases in their language, calling us ‘sister’ or ‘friend,’ and walking back with us to the new campus,” Kwan said. 

The Barefoot night school visit was arranged by Shuvajit Payne, Barefoot director of education who left London and a successful consulting career with IBM to return to India and work on developing sustainable rural communities. 

Justin Heywood, a sophomore political science major, said that he learned something about servant-leadership from Payne.

"He had a great job working in the U.K., but was willing to leave it all behind after witnessing he could make a difference in India," Heywood said. "He could have ignored the problems that he saw, but he decided to act. His decision led to him living a less lavish lifestyle relative to the U.K. However, it was my perception that he does not regret his decision and is happier as a result. He is dedicated to his job and truly seeks opportunities for his communities."

Given limited tools, compromised communication and last-minute changes to lesson plans, the Global Intensive Experience students learned to be flexible and find solutions and compromises at Barefoot.

“Barefoot College really taught me a lot about working with the resources you have, being creative and innovative” Olsen-Medina said. “Working together, we realized that sometimes a leader’s responsibility is to recognize individual strengths and direct those energies into one cohesive mission.”

Reflecting on the experience

Before leaving India and a dizzying series of activities, the students visited the Taj Mahal, arguably the most significant cultural site in all of India. But the grandeur of the mausoleum, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, is not without its price, as Olivia Gonzales, a junior majoring in global health, remarked.  

“One of my main takeaways from class has been that the most successful empires understand the importance of balance and moderation," Gonzales said. “They use their power with purpose, not just for the sake of exercising it. Seeing the Taj Mahal and hearing about the life of Shah Jahan really stuck out to me as the dangers of losing sight of moderation.” 

As the students submit reflections on their experience in India, their comments testify to the value of studying abroad, and the life-changing impact that traveling with purpose can have on those who are ambitious enough to participate.

“Diving deeper into the sociopolitical and historical aspects of India gave me a much more detailed understanding of this country than I had from my other short travels," Gonzales said. "More than that, however, our trip reaffirmed my love of service abroad. From now on when I travel, I want to be sure I have a symbiotic relationship with the country I go to. I want to give back as much as I take.”

According to Olsen-Medina, she returned from the Global Intensive Experience experience with big goals. 

“I have a new found sense of global responsibility, and a desire to make meaningful impact," she said. "I see the importance of understanding those you are trying to help and immersing yourself in the issue before trying to make solutions. Often we are so quick to try to ‘fix’ things that we do not fully understand the problem.” 

To learn more about the 250-plus study abroad programs in more than 65 different countries offered at ASU, see the Study Abroad Office website.

Ty Fishkind

Communications specialist, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership


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A life-changing journey of humanitarianism

April 5, 2018

New documentary, 'Seeking Asylum,' features students from ASU's New College as they work with refugees in Greece

The wave of refugees that began flooding into Europe as early as 2014 as a result of massive unrest in the Middle East has shown no signs of ebbing. In the last two years alone, roughly 1.3 million refugees have passed through Greece, a country that, thanks to its geographical location, has become a sort of unofficial gateway to Europe for those fleeing war, famine and religious persecution.

Director of ASU’s master’s program in social justice and human rights Julie Murphy Erfani called it “the nexus of the largest humanitarian refugee crisis since World War II.”

Since 2016, she has directed an annual, two-week study abroad trip that takes students to the region, where they volunteer and engage directly with forced migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere as they await asylum application processing for residence in the EU.

Last May, Erfani lead a group of 19 ASU students from a variety of disciplines — including social justice, communication, psychology and political science — to Greece’s capital city of Athens. Dave Hunt, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences director of communications and marketing, accompanied them to document their experience on film.

The documentary “Seeking Asylum” takes us through the students’ days before they set off, their time in Greece and the close of their journey. We hear their expectations, their daily struggles and victories, and finally how it changed them in the end.

Criminal justice and international studies undergraduate Dania Kassab was excited when she first heard about the study abroad opportunity. Her parents emigrated to the U.S. from Syria 30 years ago, and she has always wanted to do something to help refugees in some way.

“I feel like it’ll be good for me too,” she said in the documentary before leaving for Greece last year. “I’ll come back with a different perspective and be more aware.”

In Athens, the students spent their time at one of three locations serving refugees: Caritas Refugee Program, a soup kitchen and clothing distributor; Hope Cafe, which also gives free meals and clothing; and Welcommon, a refugee community center providing families a place to live.

There, they witnessed firsthand the reality of life as a forced migrant.

“For the most part a lot of the people who are coming through here are pretty desperate,” said Tony Crowder, who graduated from ASU with a master’s degree in social justice and human rights in the fall of 2017.

“They look like they haven’t been fed, they’re wearing clothes that are torn. … These people aren’t fleeing because they want to flee. These people are fleeing because they have to flee. And they all want to go back home. Nobody wants to have this sort of life.”

Trailer; see the full-length documentary here.

The conditions faced by refugees in Athens are particularly harsh, Erfani said, because they’ve been waiting there, in some cases for years, for asylum applications to be processed. During that time, they’ve been unable to work and their children have been unable to attend school.

The psychological trauma they’ve endured, first as a result of violence and persecution in the home countries they fled, and then as a result of having their lives put on indefinite hold manifests in different ways. Sometimes parents withdraw, spending all day alone in their rooms. Many of the children express their frustration through aggressive behavior.

“From what I’ve just seen with the kids, there’s hostility but it’s because they’re in this survival mode, they’re trying to cope with what they’ve gone through,” psychology master’s degree student Julie Hurd said.

But there are moments of hope: “You can see with some of the kids … we’re building their trust. You see the joy in their face that someone cares.”

With the nation in the midst of an economic crisis and facing a 23 percent unemployment rate, the students were struck by the Greeks’ hospitable attitude toward the refugees.

“[They’re] very altruistic people,” Hurd said. “I’m in awe; I’m impressed, and I wish that more of the world could follow suit.”

Communications master’s degree student Thomas Jouganatos wonders if perhaps the Greek people's openness can be attributed to the fact that they remember a time when they were in the same situation — Jouganatos’ own family fled Greece roughly 100 years ago to escape violence and turmoil associated with the Armenian genocide.

“I can only imagine what my family went through,” he said. “They were fleeing their country and being killed on the roadside. … It’s kind of why I did this, just to give thanks to the people who helped my family.”

As conflict and chaos continue to roil the Middle East, Erfani is monitoring the situation closely in order to adjust the study abroad program’s focus for next year. In the spring of 2019, she plans to take students to Italy, where a new flow of refugees is forming from Africa, through Libya. There, she intends to focus their efforts on two populations of people she calls “involuntary migrants”: those fleeing war-torn regions and those who are victims of sex trafficking.

Erfani’s advice for those who don’t have the ability to travel overseas to help out?

“Welcome the stranger. And adjust your spirit and your heart to be prepared to respect and help restore the dignity of any asylum applicants or refugees who are arriving in your community. If you can pitch in through your local church or your local nonprofit, do it.”

For the students, although the experience is behind them, it will never leave them.

“At the end of the day, we’re all humans,” Hurd said. “We need to be humanitarians.”


Top photo: An image from the "Seeking Asylum" documentary featuring ASU students working with refugees in Athens, Greece. 

ASU psychology alumna energizes Washington, D.C.

April 4, 2018

Making a difference is a shared goal among Arizona State University graduates. Many choose to pursue careers in the private sector and donate their time on the side, while others work in the nonprofit sector or for the government.

In fact, millennials increasingly value the culture of a company and careers that change the world over just working to acquire money and possessions. In a Cone Communications report, 70 percent of respondents reported they would sacrifice pay to work in an environment that fosters caring about others and facilitates an attitude of social and environmental accountability. Jordan Hibbs, ASU Psychology Alumna and Presidential Management Fellow Jordan Hibbs, a 2014 graduate from psychology and Barrett, the Honor’s College, serves as a Presidential Management Fellow in Washington, D.C. Photo: Robert Ewing Download Full Image

ASU's Department of Psychology graduates experience first-hand what it means to change the world they live in while earning their degree. From the research done at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, to the Child Study Lab, to the intervention work performed through the REACH Institute, or the ongoing RISE mentorship program at Red Mountain High School, the research ongoing in the psychology department directly affects the community.

One ASU alumna has taken making a difference to a new venue: Jordan Hibbs, a 2014 graduate from psychology and Barrett, the Honor’s College, serves as a Presidential Management Fellow in Washington, D.C.

The Presidential Management Fellows program is a highly selective and prestigious two-year training and development program at a U.S. government agency for U.S. citizens with a recent graduate degree. At the conclusion of the program, the fellow might be placed in a federal agency as a permanent employee. Notable alumni from the program include Oregon’s sitting U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley.

Hibbs currently works as a management and program analyst for the United States Department of Energy. Her long-term goal is to stay within the department to help the general public through policy changes. She currently works with the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in their Building Technologies office. Her focus is on efficiency in commercial buildings and advancing energy-efficiency solutions and technologies to help U.S. businesses save energy, time and money.

“Understanding human behavior has always been an influence in everything I’ve done,” Hibbs said. “It was the main reason I was passionate about psychology and it is a driving factor why I applied to the fellows program. The energy technology space has a lot to do with people, in more ways than many think.”

While she was an undergraduate at ASU, Hibbs also worked with Gene Brewer, associate professor of psychology, as the manager of Brewer’s Memory and Attention Control Lab.

“I recruited Jordan to manage my laboratory and contribute to my research program because she is an incredibly hard-working and intelligent young woman with all of the potential in the world. In many ways, Jordan left my laboratory in better shape than she found it,” Brewer said. 

Hibbs said her success at placing data in context comes from her days working with Brewer. She credits the statistical training she received there for her ability to discern trends in information and problem solve for people.

“Human behavior should always be considered for every policy or decision. The psychology department at ASU taught me the importance of understanding what people really need to thrive,” Hibbs said.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


ASU enters international partnership to accelerate research collaborations, educational reforms in Japan

April 4, 2018

Committed to finding pedagogical solutions and educational reforms beneficial to every Japanese citizen, Japan’s universities have begun forging international relationships to face their unique challenges — including a rapidly aging, shrinking population and changing economy.

Arizona State University, along with seven other U.S. universities, has entered into an ambitious collaboration with eight Japanese universities to promote international, cross-institution partnerships and cooperative research. From left to right: Troy McDaniel, associate director of Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC); Satoshi Watanabe of Hiroshima University; Derrick Anderson, adviser to the president; Sethuraman Panchanathan, chief research and innovation officer and executive vice president of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise Development; Nadya Bliss, director of the Global Security Initiative; Luke Tate, assistant vice president and executive director of opportunity initiatives and Professor Yohsuke Yamamoto of Hiroshima University pose for a photo in Toyko during a Japan-U.S. Digital Innovation Hub event. Download Full Image

Through the Japan-U.S. Digital Innovation Hub, the sixteen institutions aim to facilitate and promote research collaboration, especially in fields such as data science, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. The hope is that the hub will serve as a platform to create educational projects to develop necessary skills for the digital age.

“The future of education is rapidly changing, providing an exciting and unprecedented opportunity for forward-thinking universities to shape the next iteration,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, chief research and innovation officer and executive vice president of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise Development. “As institutions of higher learning, we can empower individuals with the mindsets necessary to succeed in a continually evolving economic and technological landscape.”

From March 19-20, representatives from the hub’s member universities, as well as Japanese government officials, gathered at the University of Tsukuba’s campus in Tokyo for a workshop to discuss the future of the Japan-U.S. Digital Innovation Hub.

Along with Panchanathan, ASU’s delegation included Luke Tate, assistant vice president and executive director of opportunity initiatives; Nadya Bliss, director of the Global Security Initiative; Troy McDaniel, associate director of the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC) and Derrick Anderson, adviser to the president.

Panchanathan presented a keynote speech to the assembled representatives and guests, who included Yasuo Fukuda, former prime minister of Japan and Michael Chertoff, former secretary of the U.S. Department of HomeIand Security. Both Fakuda and Chertoff delivered lectures as well.

Panchanathan’s keynote covered the accelerating pace of knowledge creation, lifelong learning, the future of work and the relative role of universities. These topics are of particular interest to universities in Japan as the nation weathers great economic and demographic change.

The enormous economic growth of the '80s and '90s, spurred by advanced manufacturing and electronics, has slowed in the past two decades as the population is both declining and becoming older. More than 22 percent of Japanese citizens are 65 or older and working-age adults are either having fewer children later or forgoing parenting altogether. These factors are leading to predictions of an overall population decline of more than 30 percent by 2060, when more than 40 percent of the population will be 65 or older.

This uncertain future is challenging universities in Japan to reconsider the role they have in the broader societal context, said Anderson.

“Within that challenge, many Japanese institutions have connected with ASU out of interest in learning more about the design for a New American University and how that thinking could benefit Japanese higher education reforms,” he added.

The hub’s next summit is slated for summer 2018. ASU will host the event at the newly opened Barrett & O’Connor Washington Center in Washington, D.C.

Japanese universities participating in the initiative are Osaka University, Hiroshima University, Kyushu University, Keio University, Nagoya University, Tohoku University, University of Tsukuba and Waseda University.

In addition to ASU, Case Western Reserve University; University of Delaware; Johns Hopkins University; North Carolina State University; Ohio State University; Washington University in St. Louis and University of Maryland, Baltimore County comprise the U.S. institutions in the Japan-U.S. Digital Innovation Hub.

ASU hosts 2018 Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative fellows

April 3, 2018

Arizona State University recently welcomed 41 emerging leaders from Southeast Asia as part of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative fellowship sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

The academic fellows are undergraduate or recently graduated students between the ages of 18 and 26, coming from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Laos, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. YSEALI 2018 welcome Arizona State University recently welcomed 41 emerging leaders from Southeast Asia as part of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative fellowship sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Download Full Image

ASU hosts two academic fellowships. The Civic Engagement Institute, housed under the College of Public Service and Community Solutions, will explore social innovation, sustainable and inclusive practices to consider when developing a project or business, as well as effective networking, leadership and communication strategies. The Social Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Institute, housed under the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, will shadow successful community organizers, learn tools for effective communication and leadership, explore the key elements of human-centered design, and even develop their own entrepreneurial ideas and business models.

The five-week institutes, which run through April 28, will primarily be held at ASU’s Tempe and Downtown Phoenix campuses. The institutes include academic residency, leadership development, an educational study tour, local community service activities, homestay experiences and opportunities to engage with ASU students.

The programs conclude in Washington, D.C., to allow for engagement with policymakers, governmental representatives, businesses and think tanks.

Launched in 2013, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative is the U.S. government’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia. Through a variety of programs and engagements, including U.S. educational and cultural exchanges, regional exchanges, and seed funding, the initiative seeks to build the leadership capabilities of youth in the region, strengthen ties between the United States and Southeast Asia, and nurture an ASEANAssociation of Southeast Asian Nations (asean.org) community. The initiative focuses on critical topics identified by youth in the region: civic engagement, sustainable development, education and economic growth.

More informationContact Jose Quiroga, Social Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Institute, 480-727-4184 or Hector Zelaya, Civic Engagement Institute, 602-496-1308.: Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.