Home Page Display: 
image title
September 20, 2017

ASU marketing professor shares insights on Facebook, Google advertising practices

Facebook and Google have recently come under fire for allowing advertisers to target ads towards users who express an interest in hate speech or racist sentiments. Facebook has also been criticized for allowing Russian-linked accounts to purchase thousands of ads intended to influence the presidential election.

Bret Giles, professor of practice in marketing in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, shares his insights on the ethics of digital advertising in light of these events.

Question: What responsibility do companies like Facebook and Google have to consumers when it comes to monitoring and regulating the use of their advertising platforms?

Bret Giles

Answer: Just as companies of any kind have a responsibility to create a safe environment for customers and employees, so too do Facebook and Google have an inherent obligation to create such an environment within their platforms. For digital platforms such as these, much of what can be done to manipulate them outside their intended purpose is still being learned, is difficult to anticipate and is evolving exponentially. This doesn’t negate any responsibility on the part of Google or Facebook, but it does highlight the difficult balancing act of providing scalability through technology and machine learning with accountability and oversight.

Q: What business risks do these large tech companies take by becoming associated with advertisers that target users open to hate speech?

A: Facebook and Google’s ad platforms are designed to deliver the most relevant advertising possible at an individual level, hopefully giving people a chance to discover products and services they would otherwise never see. Those very platforms can also be used in unintended ways that hurt people. While most people probably don’t think that Google or Facebook are purposefully providing a venue to encourage hate speech among advertisers, the question is fair in terms of what they might or might not be doing to actively prevent it. In this instance, the risk of inaction is substantial, which is why we have seen swift action to make necessary changes to both systems. Not only may people see the platforms in a negative light, but longtime advertisers may also become worried — and both of those actions have negative financial repercussions.

Q: Going forward, what can Facebook do to prevent these kinds of incidents from occurring?

A: Facebook continues to learn how people behave, both good and bad, within the advertising platform they offer. It is through this continued learning from which they should draw, expanding their emphasis not only on preventing incidents, but also on anticipating behaviors as their platform matures. As marketers, we speak of empathy in understanding people’s needs by gaining their perspective and looking at the world through their lens. The same holds true here. The goal should not be to play catch-up, always one step behind how the platform might be ill-used; instead, it should be to learn from those perspectives so you can anticipate what is possible before it becomes an unintended reality.

Q: How can social-media users protect themselves against fake, misleading or hateful ads?

A: The best protection is to always remember there is a motivation behind each and every ad out there, be it on a social-media site, a search engine, a television channel or in a magazine. The goal of the ad is to get the user to take some sort of action, and that action may or may not be in their best interest. When something doesn’t seem quite right, don’t second-guess that concern. Look to other trusted sources to corroborate the ad or social-media post. Technology is available that can assist in this effort. YourAdChoices allows a user to control how sites can use their personal information to target the advertising they see.

Katherine Reedy

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


image title
More than half of adolescents experience online bullying.
ASU BullyBlocker app combines computer science with psychology insights.
September 20, 2017

BullyBlocker an interdisciplinary effort, goes beyond abilities of other apps by combining risk factors with keywords to alert parents

Last December, as other teens were looking forward to the holiday season and planning outings with friends and family, Houston-area high school student Brandy Vela was feeling so overwhelmed by online harassment that she held a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger.

Vela's death is an extreme example of what can happen as a result of cyberbullying, but a 2016 paper co-authored by Yasin Silva, associate professor of computer science at Arizona State University, cites a statistic that more than half of adolescents have been bullied online.

Just this month, Silva and his New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences team of faculty and students announced the public availability of BullyBlocker, a smartphone application that allows parents and victims of cyberbullying to monitor, predict and hopefully prevent incidents of online bullying.

The first version of the app is currently available for free in the Apple app store, and the ASU team has received a nearly $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue research and development of subsequent versions.

While there are other cyberbullying applications available, BullyBlocker is different in that it is the first and only application so far to do more than just flag potentially harmful posts and comments.

Existing apps comb through content on a person’s social-media profile looking for keywords or phrases that could indicate bullying and alert the user of the app — the user of the app can be a parent, guardian or even the victims themselves.

“We are going beyond that,” Silva said. “That’s just step number one in our process.”

BullyBlocker not only identifies those kinds of threats, it combines that information with risk factors (also called states of vulnerability) that have been shown to increase the probability of bullying, such as whether a person has recently moved schools, their socioeconomic status or their race. The app calculates the probability that an adolescent is being bullied based on keywords and risk factors, then alerts the app user — who most likely would be a parent or guardian, helping them to be aware of what is happening in their child's life.

“We’re trying to use a more holistic approach to really consider all the different signs and factors that might be involved in cyberbullying,” Silva said.

people in a conference room

Yasin Silva (far right), ASU associate professor of computer science 
meets with the BullyBlocker team. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now


Doing so has been a truly interdisciplinary undertaking. When the idea for BullyBlocker came about in 2013, Silva quickly realized that in order to have the best, most accurate model, the application would need input from areas other than applied computing.

“From the computer science side, we are experts in terms of data analysis and creating computational models and so on,” Silva said. “But we didn’t know much initially, and I think still our understanding is limited, in terms of what is the nature of cyberbullying? How does it happen? And when it happens, what are the factors involved?”

So he approached Deborah Hall, ASU assistant professor of psychology, who was excited to collaborate. Hall and her psychology students were able to provide insights Silva and his computer science students may not have considered.

At a recent BullyBlocker meeting, the team was discussing the risk-factors portion of the app. They were considering adding sexual orientation to the list, as many LGBT youth experience a higher rate of bullying than their heterosexual peers. Hall pointed out that there could be an issue if the LGBT youth had not come out to their parents, who may be operating the application.

“With each meeting, my knowledge of the computer science and applied computing side of things is getting incrementally larger,” Hall said. “But what attracted me to the project in the first place … was the potential to take some of the research literature and findings from psychology that have been published in more traditional academic outlets and find a way to incorporate them in a meaningful way that will have some real-world consequences.”


BullyBlocker came about from the desire to make a positive social impact through use-inspired research. More than one of the student team members have been supported by NCUIRE, New College’s Undergraduate Inquiry and Research Experiences program.

One of them, Rusty Conway, said that along with giving him real-world experience that has helped build his computing skills, working with the BullyBlocker team has been meaningful because “it’s going to have some kind of social impact that I can be a part of and hopefully be beneficial to people.”

The first version of BullyBlocker that is available now works in conjunction with Facebook. Future iterations are in development to incorporate other social-media platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Funding from the NSF grant will be helpful to that end, Silva said, as well as making further interdisciplinary collaboration possible.

“I really enjoy watching the interactions and how [we all] grow in understanding of relevant theories,” he said. “I see the potential of even greater impact coming out of these collaborations.”

Top photo: Associate Professor Yasin Silva (center) of the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences stands along with his team of students and faculty members from different disciplines during the BullyBlocker app's group meeting at ASU's West campus on Sept. 13. The team created an app that can detect bullying but also provides resources to the individual being bullied. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

image title
September 19, 2017

ASU expert explains the benefits and drawbacks of such a system

Last week, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced a “Medicare for All” proposal that would create a single-payer health-care system in the United States. Swapna Reddy, clinical assistant professor in Arizona State University's College of Health Solutions, explains the benefits and drawbacks of single payer, and how likely it is that the country would adopt such a system.

Swapna Reddy

Question: What is single-payer health care?

Answer: When we discuss a “single-payer health-care system,” we are referencing a system by which health-care providers are reimbursed for their services by a single entity — the government — rather than by private insurers. Providers are paid at the same rate, and individuals all receive the same health benefits through that system. All members of a society in which a single-payer model exists contribute to a single pool, and that pool is meant to cover the health services of all other members, regardless of their finances.

Simply having a single-payer system, however, does not completely remove private insurers from the equation as Medicare occasionally utilizes private insurers to act as middlemen between providers and the government.

Q: What are pros and cons of this type of system?

A: The major health-care systems all have their pros and cons, and the “right” approach for any one society is a highly nuanced decision that depends on a country’s social contract with its citizens, foundational principles and relationship with government.

Some pros:

• coverage for all
• overall health-care spending will likely reduce
• overall health outcomes will likely increase
• rate consistency for services
• providers can still offer private services outside of the single-payer system
• existing models in Medicare and Medicaid

Some cons:

• some providers may choose to provide services only through a private-pay system
• does not address provider shortages faced in the U.S.
• generally includes higher taxation
• known to have long wait times for non-emergency services
• increases the role of government
• reduces incentives for innovation

Q: How likely is it that the United States will adopt a single-payer health-care model?

A: With regards to the recent “Medicare for All” bill proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, we have seen a dramatic level of support within the Democratic Party in Congress. In the Republican-led Congress and Republican-led White House, however, this bill has a minimal-to-no-chance of passing in the near future. Nevertheless, public support for major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, paired with recent polling, indicates modest increases in the American public’s openness towards this approach. That said, recent polls also indicate that while more of the American public wants increases in coverage and access, less are willing to pay higher taxes to achieve those goals.

So while we are perhaps closer than we’ve ever been, we are still quite a ways away from adopting this system. This remains a highly polarizing issue, and movement either toward single payer or away from it will depend largely on the results of the next presidential election. In the end, the model we land on will likely be a uniquely American solution.

image title
September 18, 2017

Powered prosthetic would adapt to walking on a variety of surfaces, something current designs struggle to consistently do

For the more than 2 million lower-limb amputees in the United States, the path less traveled is usually on sand or grass.

That’s because of their prostheses. Powered ankle prostheses enable users to walk naturally and even run, in some cases. But when they switch from walking on concrete to a more compliant surface like the beach or a lawn, the ankle doesn’t understand the difference. It tries to have exactly the same motion on each surface.  

“People fall because of that,” said Panagiotis Artemiadis, a roboticist at Arizona State University.

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Artemiadis and two other ASU scientists a $1 million grant to develop and test a smart robotic ankle that can adapt to walking on a variety of surfaces.

People spend 10 to 20 percent of their walking time on uneven surfaces. Using current prosthetics designs, users fall on soft surfaces about 20 percent of the time.

“It’s not a huge percent, but if you fall 20 percent of the time, it’s a huge problem,” said Artemiadis, an associate professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Lower-limb amputees sometimes prefer a passive spring like the blades worn by Olympian Oscar Pistorius instead of a powered ankle that will enable them to walk and run because they won’t fall when they cross an uneven surface. They know what the spring will do, and they can compensate for it.

When you step from concrete to mud or sand or grass, the mechanics of how ankles and knees move changes. Everyone knows it’s harder to walk on sand than a sidewalk, for instance. Muscles move differently on different surfaces.

“We want to create a robotic ankle that is powered but can identify differences on the walking-surface compliance, and adapt to that so that it can transition between surfaces,” Artemiadis said. “You can go from sand back to concrete and solid surfaces and transition from grass to mud and still not have any problems.”

Human-systems engineering program chair Rob Gray from the Polytechnic School will help design the system and test it from a human-factors standpoint. Height and weight play significant roles in lower-limb prostheses. Roboticist Tom Sugar will also work on designing the prosthetic.

“It’s a project that will have an impact out of the lab,” Artemiadis said.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


image title
Adding rhythm to psychotherapy techniques could make them even more effective.
September 17, 2017

Public workshop at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert to feature demo

On a recent Saturday morning in September, a small group of people files into a room at Arizona State University’s Counseling Training Center on the Tempe campus. Laid out on tables are drums of various shapes and sizes. They each pick one, some tapping hesitantly to test the sound, and then take a seat.

Clinical Associate Professor Cynthia Glidden-Tracey welcomes them and gives a brief introduction to the day’s agenda, which is to be a rehearsal for the upcoming Rhythmic Cognitive Restructuring demonstration from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19, at the Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert, Arizona.

Tuesday’s event is part of Banner’s PIKNIC (Partners In Knowledge, News In Cancer) series, an informal educational forum that provides patients, caregivers, family members, volunteers and staff an opportunity to hear about the issues, needs and concerns relevant to the cancer experience.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Glidden-Tracey has a background in psychotherapy, which uses certain techniques to treat psychological disorders like depression and anxiety, often emerging as a result of a cancer diagnosis. One of those techniques is cognitive restructuring, in which patients are encouraged to consider the ways in which their thoughts can influence their feelings.

When they realize they’re thinking something negative, the idea is to stop, evaluate the thought and change it into something positive.

“Catch it, check it, change it,” Glidden-Tracey tells the rehearsal group.

There is much research evidence that such cognitive restructuring techniques work when it comes to improving patient outcomes, Glidden-Tracey said. Still, some of her clients found it difficult to implement in their daily lives.

“Sometimes clients report trouble remembering or using the positive messages generated in counseling sessions when they are facing negative or self-critical thoughts outside of the session,” she said.

A one-time music major, she began to wonder how the introduction of rhythm might affect clients’ use of the technique after becoming involved in ASU’s African Drum Ensemble.

“The more I learned in the [drum ensemble] about how rhythms are used to communicate messages, including in healing ceremonies, I realized that counseling also uses language and nonverbal communication to help our clients,” Glidden-Tracey said.

“This got me thinking about how paying attention to the cadence of speech in a client’s words and teaching them to speak and/or tap out words in rhythm could provide auditory and motor reinforcement to well-researched cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques like (negative) thought-stopping and (positive) thought-substitution.”

In a cancer setting, that positive thought might be something like, "Don't give up," repeated in rhythm. Other situations might call for more mindfulness-centered phrases. On Saturday, participants at the rehearsal tapped out various rhythms to the mantra: “Find the rhythm of your breath, feel the beating of your heart.” Some beat their drums quickly, a tap for each syllable; some beat them more slowly. There was some discussion as to which is best.

“My feeling is that it’s more powerful if [the tempo] comes from the person themselves than if I’m telling them” how fast to go, Glidden-Tracey said. “Find your own internal rhythm.”

After her earlier experiences with the African Drum Ensemble, she had set out to learn more, sitting in on ASU School of Music lectures on the psychology of music, music and healing, and music for community building. Along the way, she met several faculty and students who were intrigued by her theory, which she now refers to as Rhythmic Cognitive Restructuring (RCR).

Glidden-Tracey got to know one student, Grace O’Leary, now a graduate of ASU’s music therapy program, at an African Drum Ensemble meeting. O’Leary worked with Glidden-Tracey in the development of the RCR technique and provided research from the field of music therapy to inform Glidden-Tracey of how music therapists work in similar situations. 

Glidden-Tracey has even implemented the RCR technique with a small number of clients at ASU’s Counseling Training Center, “with good responses and effects.”

“So far, the numbers have been small … but I am becoming more clear and more convinced about the value in testing it out,” she said. “The evidence so far for good results has come from clients’ and their counselors’ (my supervisees’) glowing descriptions of how much they liked it and found themselves using it after learning it in counseling sessions.”

ASU School of Music Associate Professor Roger Mantie participated in Saturday’s rehearsal. He specializes in music education and community engagement, and he has been involved with a program supported by the Arizona Arts Commission called “Mayo Music Makers,” in a partnership with Mayo Clinic. When he learned about Cindi’s work at Banner, he immediately reached out to learn more.

“Music therapists have been using music to help people for many decades … and in some areas of the world have been expanding their work into an area called Community Music Therapy,” he said. “The goals of RCR, as I understand them, are quite different. This isn’t about music therapy, per se, but about a form of community engagement where drumming is used as a motivator and a support. I suspect the engaging aspects of drumming may incline some people who might otherwise be reluctant to participate in cognitive restructuring to give it a try.”

While Mantie stressed that he is not a trained counselor or therapist, and therefore not qualified to speak on the medical aspects of RCR, he did say, “Although the medical model has been the predominant paradigm, I think it’s worth noting that social models of health are on the ascendency. Based on my knowledge of the emerging music and health literature … I am excited about the potential of rhythm to enhance the social aspects of RCR.”

Glidden-Tracey has enjoyed developing her theories and learning more about music therapy but is eager to get into the research and data collecting process on RCR. One professor she hopes to collaborate with in that respect is Monica Tsethlikai, an assistant professor at ASU’s T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics who studies cognitive development in cultural contexts involving biosocial stress.

They hope to design a research project around drum circles for children in Mesa schools.

Glidden-Tracey said she has also thought about putting together a camp for kids to test RCR techniques and even potential collaborations with the YMCA.

“I am carefully weighing options and resources as I explore these ideas that so intrigue me,” she said.

Her hope overall for the future of RCR is that “adding the rhythmic element from a music-therapy context to this set of widely employed cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques will make the positive messages even more memorable, accessible and even fun in those stressful moments when the client most needs to remember and use them.”

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657

Broadening diversity in biodiversity science

ASU Center for Biodiversity Outcomes developing education programs that provide sustainability literacy focused on underrepresented youth

September 15, 2017

In August 2015, the ASU Center for Biodiversity Outcomes Founding Director Leah Gerber and graduate student affiliate Beth Tellman from the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning organized a panel titled “Expanding diversity in the next generation of ecology.” This event attracted dozens of minority students who have led a paper just out in Science titled “Without inclusion, diversity initiatives might not be enough.”

Fewer young people are pursuing conservation science degrees and working in their professions after graduation — even as platforms to increase diversity persist. What is behind this disconnect?  Young students participating in biodiversity science research. Download Full Image

Insights on this question are numerated in the Science article. The paper reveals that, while the unique challenges minority youth experience that impede academic success are well-documented, it is not clear that this knowledge is integrated effectively in diversity initiatives. The panel also found a disproportionate amount of attention is given to undergraduate diversity, there are significantly less programs for graduate students which is a “strategic point of loss” for students entering Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers.

Although recruiting and matriculating diverse students is a step in the right direction, the publication argues that it is not enough — steps must be taken beyond increasing diversity to advancing inclusion.

While diversity refers to numbers and differences within a group, inclusion speaks to how minority students are treated and feeling within an institution. This distinction is critical to increasing minority students in STEM, as it focuses on the “unintentional implicit biases” that influence institutional culture and impede success. “Transitioning from diversity to inclusion requires acknowledging that structural bias and social justice impacts scientists as people, and that this has consequences for the science they do,” the paper argues.

To tackle pressing conservation problems, it is essential to understand the social problems that threaten biodiversity. Problems that are only framed from a single viewpoint miss valuable insights that can become key guiding questions driving research and real-world applications forward. 

“This publication highlights our commitment to diversity and inclusion in biodiversity science,” explained Gerber. “The event was transformative for all who attended, and inspired a diverse group of students to share insights more broadly.”

The Center for Biodiversity Outcomes is developing novel education programs that provide environmental and ecological sustainability literacy focused on underrepresented youth.

Its proposed Diversity in Biodiversity Science program expects to engage undergraduate and graduate students, develop its diversity network at ASU through campus engagement events and work with non-profit partners to deepen the connections with high schools.

The center has been collaborating with the ASU Center for Gender Equity in Science and Technology to develop a university wide summer STEM diversity program, of which conservation science will be one focus.

“Concurrently, we are developing partnerships with The Nature Conservancy and Conservation International to target underserved youth, specifically in Arizona schools and get them into ASU where we can mentor them through the program,” explained Gerber. 

Gerber and Project Manager Amy Scoville-Weaver currently lead the center’s education and diversity efforts, but the opportunities in this area exceed its capacity to engage. The center is currently seeking $25-50,000 to develop the program framework.

Committing institutional support, programs and resources to diversity and inclusion will continue to allow ASU to identify promising underserved high school students, recruit them, mentor them and provide professional opportunities with conservation organizations, leading into successful and impactful careers in conservation science and policy.

image title
Know your Constitution? 3/4 of Americans can't name all 3 branches of government
September 14, 2017

In honor of Constitution Day, ASU hosts events to promote understanding and appreciation of our nation’s fundamental law

Think Americans have a pretty firm grasp on the basics of U.S. government? Think again.

The annual Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey recently found that only a quarter of those surveyed could name all three branches of government. What’s more, more than a third couldn’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment.

That’s troubling news to Peter McNamara, a professor of practice at Arizona State University's School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL).

“[Those stats] mean for one thing that it is very hard for people with such limited political knowledge to participate meaningfully and constructively in civic debate,” he said. “Of course, another problem is the things that people think they know but are not actually true! I guess what these kinds of studies show is that there is a lot of work to be done on the civic education front.”

SCETL — launched in the spring — is rising to that challenge. On Thursday evening the school hosted its inaugural Constitution Day Lecture in the University Club on the Tempe campus to promote understanding and appreciation of our nation’s bedrock document. Clint Bolick, associate justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, delivered the lecture titled “The Renaissance of Federalism.” Watch highlights from the evening below:

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Earlier this week, SCETL kicked off its yearlong public lecture series “Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education and American Society.” And it will host another lecture from 1 to 2 p.m. Monday, Sept. 18, at Hayden Library to celebrate Constitution Day at ASU.

At Monday’s talk, titled “Hamilton and ‘Hamilton,’” McNamara will discuss the rivalry between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, as portrayed in the hit musical “Hamilton” (which comes to ASU Gammage in January). McNamara will pay special attention to each man's views on the Constitution.

To help beef up your constitutional cachet, here are five lesser-known facts about the historical document:

1. The Constitution was nearly not ratified

“Just as we have ‘battleground states’ and ‘safe states’ in our elections today, there were some less eventful state ratifying conventions (e.g., Delaware, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut), and others that were hotly contested (e.g., Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, Virginia),” said Zachary German, SCETL assistant professor.

Rhode Island initially rejected passage of the Constitution, even refusing to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention. It took two and a half years before the state finally agreed to ratify, at which point it had already gone into effect.

In Pennsylvania, “Some delegates opposed to ratification were dragged from their boardinghouses to attend the vote in the state assembly (in Philadelphia) so that the assembly could meet its quorum,” said School of Politics and Global Studies Lecturer Tara Lennon. 

2. Why we celebrate Constitution Day on Sept. 17

This one’s pretty simple: The reason we have Constitution Day on Sept. 17 is because it was the last day the convention met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787. That was the day all of the delegates still present stepped forward to sign their names with Gen. George Washington, who presided as the president of the convention.

3. The ‘pamphlet wars’ played a crucial role in ratification

“In the pamphlet wars over ratification, it was customary on both sides to use pseudonyms, such as ‘The Federal Farmer’ or ‘Publius,’ withholding authors’ identities in order to keep the focus on ideas and arguments, rather than personalities,” German said.

In a last-ditch effort to sway delegates in Virginia, the Federalist Papers were shipped down to the state, where Washington helped to reprint and distribute them — and it worked.

“It was really only a few votes that made the difference in Virginia,” said Paul Carrese, director of SCETL.

4. Memorable names took some convincing

Elbridge Gerry — the Massachusetts governor who approved a salamander-shaped state senate district to favor his political allies, thus giving rise to term “gerrymander” — was originally famous for being one of three delegates who at the end of the convention refused to sign. And even John Hancock — the man with the most famous, iconic signature on the Declaration of Independence — was opposed to ratification as late as January 1788.

Both men eventually voted in favor of it; Hancock doing so after assurances were made regarding the promise of the first 10 amendments, and Gerry after taking the advice of leading delegates such as Benjamin Franklin and Washington who pleaded with delegates to swallow their particular objections and support the larger good achieved by the new frame of government. Gerry later served in the U.S. House and as vice president under James Madison.

5. George Washington thought we should be thankful for it

According to McNamara, on Oct. 3, 1789, Washington issued a proclamation that Nov. 26, 1789, be designated a day of Thanksgiving to God for the “favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.”

image title

Department of Homeland Security taps ASU to lead newest Center of Excellence

September 14, 2017

Researchers to build data analytics, economic analysis, management systems to improve effectiveness of DHS organizations

Going through Transportation Security Administration screenings at the airport can be unpredictable. Lines may be long or short, equipment may be down and guidelines for screening passenger belongings can change regularly. What many passengers don’t realize is that TSA screenings also are quite expensive. Finding cost-effective ways to keep airports and flights safe is one of the many challenges the U.S. Department of Homeland Security faces daily.

To that end, DHS has turned to ASU researchers for help developing advanced tools that will improve operations in DHS organizations, including the TSA, U.S. Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency and Customs and Border Patrol. DHS has selected only a small number of universities across the country to lead research efforts in its Centers of Excellence.

“That DHS chose ASU for this Center of Excellence speaks to ASU’s commitment to impactful, use-inspired research,” said Ross Maciejewski, who will serve as the center’s director. “We will develop new research and translate existing research into useful tools, such as data analytics, economic analysis or operations management systems that DHS organizations can put in place for improved decision-making and effectiveness.”

Some of the questions the center will explore include how to make TSA pre-screening more effective and how to develop tools to assess, mitigate and plan for threats, said Pitu Mirchandani, who will serve as the center’s chief scientist.

The new DHS Center of Excellence will be housed jointly in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and Global Security Initiative (GSI). The new center brings $20 million in research funding to ASU over the next five years, with potential to extend for another five years.

“By applying advanced analytical tools, this new center will support real-time decision making that enables the department’s operational components and other security practitioners to achieve improvements in operational efficiency,” said William N. Bryan, acting DHS under secretary for science and technology. “This new center will work to provide an extra edge to the personnel protecting our ports, border crossings, airports, waterways, transit systems and cyber infrastructure.”

ASU’s strength in security research comes, in part, from the interdisciplinary nature of research teams involved in security-focused projects across campus. Within GSI, for example, researchers bring to the table backgrounds in computer science, mathematics, engineering, communications, psychology, policy, law, economics and more.

“What sets us apart is not only the expertise and passion of our faculty, but the innovative institutional design at ASU that prioritizes collaborative, mission-focused research and impactful results,” said GSI Director Nadya Bliss. “We are excited to bring these strengths to support the Homeland Security Enterprise.”

The DHS center also will provide opportunities for students interested in careers focused on homeland security to conduct research and complete internships, giving ASU an opportunity to broaden its work in preparing the next generation of security practitioners.

“The comprehensive mission of the center will not only advance our research enterprise, but also our CIDSE (School of Computing, Informatics and Decisions Systems Engineering) academic programs through the opportunities the center will present for training and educating our students,” said Kyle Squires, dean of the Fulton Schools of Engineering.

ASU’s Fulton Schools of Engineering has more than 20,000 students enrolled and more than 400 faculty members. CIDSE, which has nearly 6,000 students enrolled, offers degrees including computer science, industrial engineering, computer systems engineering, informatics and software engineering. Researchers in CIDSE focus on areas including artificial intelligence, data mining and machine learning, information security, network algorithms and more.

“The selection of ASU to lead this Center of Excellence is a vote of confidence in our ability to identify, convene and work with experts from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds to address challenges that most concern our nation,” said Sethuraman Panchanathan, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise Development and chief research and innovation officer at ASU. “We’re looking at security and decision-making issues with an all-encompassing lens, ensuring that the right tools and data are available to people protecting our borders, ports and infrastructure systems.”

Mirchandani is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences. Mirchandani was the lead architect of the new multi-university, multi-disciplinary DHS center at ASU.

Maciejewski is a GSI Fellow and associate professor in CIDSE. Maciejewski’s research areas include geographical visualization, visual analytics focusing on public health, social media, criminal incident reports and the food-energy-water nexus. While earning his doctorate in computer engineering at Purdue University, he worked in Purdue’s DHS Center of Excellence focusing on visual analytics. His work at the center was honored by the U.S. Coast Guard with a Meritorious Team Commendation.

Leslie Minton

Media Relations Manager , Media Relations and Strategic Communications


ASU lands grant to ensure first-generation success among engineering students

September 13, 2017

Since 2011, enrollment of first-generation college students in Arizona State University's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering has grown more than 150 percent, bringing new ideas, perspectives and experiences into engineering education.

However, these laudable advances in enrollment are tempered by the significant drop off in persistence, especially compared to students whose parents have attained bachelor’s degrees. A study examining persistence rates of the class of 2011 found that first-generation students were 20 percent less likely to complete their bachelor’s in engineering than their continuing generation peers. A group of ethnically diverse students gather around a table, displaying the "pitchfork," Arizona State University's signature hand gesture. On the table sits a LEGO robot, and the students are surrounded by tools and equipment. Above: A group of first-generation students pose for a photo during their FSE-100 class. Enrollment of first generation-students has steadily increased in recent years, but retainment remains an issue, with first-gen students 20 percent less likely to complete their degrees in engineering compared to students whose parents attained degrees. But thanks to a recent investment by the National Science Foundation, Arizona State University has embarked on an ambitious project to develop mechanisms, systems and programs to increase persistence of these students as well as cast a wider net to attract underrepresented groups to engineering and STEM careers. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU   Download Full Image

With the support of a two-year, $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, the Fulton Schools is looking to change that pattern by developing and adapting a suite of support systems and introductory programs to not only ensure first-generation student success, but broaden participation of underrepresented groups in engineering.

Fulton Schools Dean and Professor Kyle Squires serves as the principal investigator on the effort, called Engineers from Day One: Fostering Engineering Identity and Support Structures to Promote Entry and Persistence in Engineering for First-Generation Students. Co-PIs include Vice President of Industry Partnerships at Maricopa Community Colleges Maria Reyes, Director of the Fulton Schools Career Center Robin Hammond, Vice Dean of Academic and Student Affairs and Professor Jim Collofello and Tooker Professor and Assistant Dean of Engineering Education Tirupalavanam Ganesh.

“Inclusion is inherent to the DNA of ASU, and we’re very pleased to receive support from the National Science Foundation to continue the important work of drawing engineers from all backgrounds,” Squires said. “Diversity not only builds a healthy, vibrant community, but is an essential ingredient for innovative solutions and impactful change.”

ASU is one of 27 institutions to receive such an award — part of the Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science, known as the INCLUDES program — alongside Boston University, the University of Pittsburgh, Clemson University, the Georgia Department of Education and others. This is the second year of INCLUDES awards, designated one of the “10 Big Ideas for Future NSF Investments.”

ASU is not embarking on this ambitious program alone. Engineers from Day One involves a range of partners, including the Maricopa Community Colleges, K–12 school districts of Chandler, Mesa, Phoenix, Tempe and Tolleson, as well as industry partners Honeywell, Intel and Texas Instruments. The Helios Education Foundation, a philanthropic organization committed to aiding students from underserved populations in Arizona and Florida complete post-secondary education, will serve an advisory role.

“Maricopa Community Colleges are built on a foundation of providing access to higher education for diverse students and we are proud of this alliance with Arizona State University's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering to expand our efforts to attract more students to engineering programs,” said Maria Harper-Marinick, chancellor of the Maricopa Community Colleges. “We are committed to developing institutionalized responses that will support entry and persistence in engineering of first generation students, women, underrepresented ethnic minorities, and those with socio-economic need.”

Engineers from Day One will involve 500 high school students, 100 community college students working toward associate’s degrees and 200 ASU students enrolled in a four-year engineering program. The project will focus on developing engineering awareness and an identity tied to the discipline, as well as contextualizing engineering’s personal and social relevance.

“What if students don’t even know what an engineer does? What if you don’t know that people like you are engineers, and you too can aspire to become one?” Ganesh asked. “You’ve never even thought about it or explored engineering, and if you have, it doesn’t have any connection to people like you or people in your neighborhood. How do you make that change?”

Engineers from Day One seeks to catalyze that change through four different programs: Hermanas: Diseña Tu Futuro Conference, Young Engineers Shape the World, Engineering Projects in Community Service and Engineering Futures. Each program is designed to develop awareness and interest in engineering, as well as building systems that can respond to the unique needs of first-generation students at various educational junctures.

Hermanas is a Maricopa Community Colleges event that promotes STEM educational pathways to young women historically underrepresented in these fields. The project aims to adapt the long-running conference from a one-day event into a series of experiences to encourage Latinas to explore attending college and financial aid while breaking down stereotypes about STEM careers. ASU will provide mentors for the program, which plans to serve 100 high school students a year.

Young Engineers Shape the World, or YESW, is newly developed program designed to serve 150 high school girls over the course of two years. Eight ASU undergraduate mentors will guide high schoolers through planned exploratory activities, stereotype confrontation, industry mentorship and ASU site visits for 60 contact hours per year.

“Basically, it’s a way to get high school women to explore engineering by interacting with undergraduate students in an informal setting,” Ganesh said. “By the end of it, our desired outcome is that students make the choice to enter engineering, because they’ve explored the various majors we offer and have a better idea what those majors could lead to.”

Engineering Projects in Community Service, a popular social engagement program within ASU and area high schools, will be further expanded to more high schools as well as Maricopa County community colleges.

“It’s a way to show the social relevance of engineering, because you’re solving problems for the greater good,” Ganesh said. “How can you serve your community, be it your school, your neighborhood or even the global community?”

EPICS pairs student teams with local partners in need of an engineering design solution and is already supported by ASU in the Chandler, Mesa, Phoenix and Tolleson school districts. It will expand to Tempe as well as Maricopa Community Colleges, with the support of ASU undergraduate and community college mentors.

EPICS will be integrated into introductory engineering courses in community colleges, designed to present engineering as a socially relevant and beneficial discipline from the start.

“If we could show the social relevance in those early courses, it could possibly drive some students to transfer to ASU and continue their engineering education,” Ganesh said.

However, simply opening up engineering pathways and aiding the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree is only part of the equation. Once underserved, first-generation students arrive at four-year university, aforementioned persistence rates steadily decline.

To combat this, the fourth program, Engineering Futures, is specifically designed to support first-gen students navigating the university. Through the creation of student cohorts, the program constructs support systems with first-generation junior and senior counselors aiding in the development of engineering identity as well retention advisors to monitor progress.

“Inclusion and access are the two hallmarks of what ASU does,” Ganesh said. “We pride ourselves on how many students we include and how we help them be successful with high-quality education. But it’s not enough to include them, we also have to help them become successful. This is a small investment to test out these ideas on how we can build supportive networks and resources.”

Through advancing the success and persistence of first-generation students, researchers engaged in the study hope to create a model for use elsewhere. The combined effort of the Fulton Schools, Maricopa Community Colleges, partnered K–12 school districts, industry collaborators and the Helios Foundation could serve as a resource for the expansion of the programs, systems and mechanisms of Engineers from Day One to include individuals from all walks of life in engineering.

Pete Zrioka

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


image title
September 12, 2017

Prominent First Amendment lawyer kicks off yearlong ASU lecture series about intellectual diversity on college campuses

Free speech, one of the most basic rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens, has become a hot-button issue with phrases like “fake news” and “safe space” entering the national lexicon, and arguments raging over what is and is not acceptable conversation for the public square.

Lawyer and author Floyd Abrams — who over the course of a career spanning more than half a century has argued and won many significant Supreme Court First Amendment cases that protected freedom of speech, including the Pentagon Papers case — took the stage Tuesday night to speak on why now, more than ever, free speech must be protected.

“It’s worth thinking about why we protect some speech,” Abrams said, alluding to what many have viewed to be intolerant rhetoric in recent weeks and months. He cited former Supreme Court Associate Justice Hugo Black, who said, “The very reason for the First Amendment is to make the people of this country free to think, speak, write and worship as they wish, not as the government commands.”

The fact that the speech of some may make others uncomfortable is the price Americans pay for the protection of their own speech.

Abrams' talk at the Arizona PBS Studios on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus kicked off the 2017–18 lecture series “Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education and American Society,” a series created by the recently launched School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership (SCETL) in hopes of encouraging a more productive dialogue in an increasingly heated arena.

In the last year on college campuses, conflicting views about what exactly is protected by the First Amendment have resulted in schisms ranging from fierce debates to outright violence, as was the case when two students were carted off, bloodied and in handcuffs, after coming to blows over alt-right white nationalist Richard Spencer’s visit to Auburn University.

At the same time, a number of universities and colleges, bowing to student pressure and likely hoping to avoid similar incidents, joined a long list of institutions disinviting high-profile speakers perceived as potentially incendiary — among them, divisive British political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos, rapper Action Bronson and right-wing pundit Ann Coulter.

But, said ASU Professor and SCETL Founding Director Paul Carrese, allowing for argument and civil dialogue between parties who disagree is “what universities are all about.”

“This year’s (lecture series) theme rose out of an immediate question facing universities and colleges about speakers on campus sparking protests and even violence, and being disinvited or shutting down the campus,” Carrese said.

“The larger issue is, what is a university or college’s mission? … We thought our mission was not to provide a specific answer but that the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership could be a national space to have the debate about that.”

At Tuesday night’s event — co-sponsored by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law — Abrams was introduced by Associate Professor of Journalism Joseph Russomanno, who said there may be no one else who has worked so hard to uphold the First Amendment as Abrams.

After being welcomed to the stage, Abrams expressed his pleasure at being the first to speak in such “a series of lectures at time when the country desperately needs to be thinking about free speech and intellectual diversity.”

He then recounted with dismay recent testimony he gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee in which he found it “almost too easy” to list a number of recent incidents involving the misinterpretation or suppression of free speech on college campuses.

In regards to a lawsuit filed just last week against Michigan State University for refusing to provide a space for Spencer to speak, Abrams said, “His views I consider to be ugly in nature, and I am not at all alone in thinking that.”

However, free speech protects even potentially incendiary speakers invited to speak on campuses.

“Discrimination on the basis of message and content cannot be tolerated under the First Amendment,” he said. “That being so, speech must be permitted and campuses must take adequate precautions to prevent violence.”

First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams speaks at ASU
First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams (right), who represented The New York Times in the landmark Pentagon Papers Supreme Court case, discusses free speech on campus with ASU Associate Professor Joe Russomanno on Tuesday in Phoenix. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Abrams’ encouragement of the audience to consider the rationale behind free-speech laws echoes SCETL’s goal to involve and educate the university and community at large about civil discourse and fundamental American values and principles.

According to Carrese, if universities lead the way on free speech and the serious, responsible and open exchange of ideas on campus, they can set an example of what it means to be an educated, active citizen for the community beyond the campus.

SCETL is working with ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and Great Hearts Academies in Phoenix to develop a master’s degree focused on classical, liberal education. The school also recently facilitated the acquisition of a first printing of the Federalist Papers, of which only 500 exist. There are plans to collaborate with ASU Gammage on a public exhibition of the document when the Broadway production of “Hamilton” comes to Tempe this winter. (Alexander Hamilton was one of three writers of the Federalist papers. His co-writers were John Jay and James Madison.)

The lecture series and other upcoming panels and events hosted by SCETL — all free and open to the public — are being filmed by Arizona PBS, which will use the content to produce a four-part series that will air next year. The content will also be made into a book, separately.

Next up in the lecture series is a debate between former U.S. Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Tom Daschle (D-SD), titled “Disagreement and Civil Dialogue on American Politics and Civic Culture.” It is scheduled for 5 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Katzin Concert Hall on the Tempe campus.

“[They have] agreed to share the stage and have a dialogue about why it’s important to keep discussing and arguing with people who hold divergent views from your own,” Carrese said. “That’s what universities are all about.”

Find more events here.


Top photo: First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, who represented The New York Times in the landmark Pentagon Papers Supreme Court case, discusses free speech on campus before 200 people at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Tuesday. The talk is part in the "Free Speech and Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education and American Society" lecture series, sponsored by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, the Cronkite School and the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU Now

(480) 965-9657