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Making global progress through mutual exchange

ASU is helping foster relationships with Pakistan universities.
Understanding differences through humanities-based academics is a no-brainer.
December 31, 2015

Exchange programs between ASU, Pakistan universities allow for academic, cultural advancement

Hands go up in a crowded ASU lecture hall when a social justice course instructor asks who has ever experienced prejudice. The instructor asks another question: Are any of you willing to share that experience?

The hands start going down. One girl, toward the front, keeps hers raised. The instructor gestures for her to speak, and the room gets quiet. The student tells how she no longer feels comfortable wearing her hijab on campus because of the negative comments and looks it elicits from people.

That was in 2007.

Nearly a decade later, American perceptions of Muslims have arguably become even more adverse due to factors like the rise of militant extremist groups, such as ISIS, who commit mass global terror attacks, allegedly in the name of Islam.

At the same time, the Muslim world’s perception of the Western world has become increasingly circumspect due various factors, such as American military presence in Middle Eastern countries where Islam is largely practiced.

“When I went [to Pakistan] in the 1990s, I couldn’t walk down the street without people saying, ‘You’re American? Come in for tea,’ ” Chad Haines said. “In 2009 when I went as a Fulbright Fellow it was a different story.”

Haines, assistant professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University, serves as the principal investigator for one of two academic exchange programs between ASU and universities in Pakistan.

The first, which began in the fall of 2014, is an exchange between ASU’s Department of EnglishThe School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and the Department of English are units of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. and Kinnaird College for Women. The second, launched in the fall of 2015, is an exchange between ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the University of the Punjab, involving both journalism and development studies.

The programs, each lasting three years, are made possible by two separate $1 million grants from the U.S. State Department to ASU’s Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, which facilitates the programs. Their goal is to establish long-term, ongoing relationships and understanding between Pakistani academic institutions of higher learning and those in the United States.

That goal is achieved by the exchange of faculty members each semester, where they take seminars which teach them about U.S. teaching methods and pedagogy, have discussions about differences and similarities between cultures and even present research.

As Carolyn Forbes, assistant director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, puts it, “One of the ways you build peace is through these kinds of exchanges — creating dialogues across these cultural spaces.”

Forbes worked with each program’s team to develop the proposals for the grants. Invaluable to that process was Yasmin Saikia, an ASU professor of history who had been working with Haines and ASU English professor Neal Lester on how to implement humanities research in impactful ways.

A native of India, Saikia’s studies focus on the histories of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

History, she says, is simply the stories of people in places — places marked by borders on maps. And the boundaries that exist between those spaces — those countries or territories — she realized were more often than not determined by things like religion and politics. They also served to create divisions between people, even when the actual distance that separated them was very small.

Saikia points to the huge amount of conflict between neighboring countries India and Pakistan, which prompted her to wonder: “How did we get to the point where we live in a state of perpetual enmity?”

group photo of academics

ASU-Kinnaird College
for Women exchange
participants in Lahore,
Pakistan, in fall 2014.

Photo courtesy of
Carolyn Forbes

“It’s troubling because you see that these things are made up; you realize the power of rhetoric and propaganda and bad governance,” she said. “… [The area that includes] India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is the most populated region in world, so governments wanted to control it. It’s an area where the world’s largest number of minorities are living side by side … a mosaic of world religions, and they have been living together for ages, and suddenly they have started not just being enemies, but violently disliking one another.

“It’s a very important question to ask: How did this happen and what purpose does it serve? And you see that it doesn’t serve the purpose of people.”

In response, Saikia made it her mission to “move outside of those given categories” and “start working on a different kind of history that brings people’s stories to the forefront. In doing that, you find that people are so similar.”

The exchange between ASU and Kinnaird College for Women focuses on English and American literature. Claudia Sadowski-Smith, ASU associate professor of English and principal investigator for the Kinnaird exchange, said connecting across cultural boundaries via literature is a no-brainer:

“Literature very often is engaged with thinking about identity, which might be identity in a national sense. … And literature personalizes stories of [political and global] developments that seem so systemic, so depersonalized. It humanizes a lot of these stories that we don’t always hear about, gives us perspective, counter-narratives and counter-discourses.

“In that regard, allowing us to have seminars where we talk to each other and exchange ideas is powerful.”

Nadia Anjum, head of postgraduate studies in the Department of English at Kinnaird College for Women, said that the faculty there who have been participating in the program report feeling enriched and more confident.

“Five have presented papers at international conferences, which surely is a great achievement,” Anjum said. “The research area each one took up has strengthened our program.

“And these exchange programs are mutually beneficial — academically and generally. It has given our female practitioners exposure to U.S. educational systems, research collaboration and fostering friendships. It [has given] American universities the opportunity to reach out to a larger audience and promote American studies and literature in our part of the world. Moreover, as felt and stated by the cohorts, [it gives Americans the opportunity for] ‘closer cultural ties and to see the real Pakistan (as opposed to the picture media portrays).’ ”

The exchange between ASU and University of the Punjab focuses on transdisciplinary approaches to communication and development studies.

“One of the ways you build peace is through these kinds of exchanges; creating dialogues across these cultural spaces.”
— Carolyn Forbes, assistant director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict

Haines echoes Sadowski-Smith’s and Anjum’s sentiment in regards to the mutual benefit of exchanging ideas.

“The exposure itself, as far as pedagogy, will be hugely beneficial rather than traditional top-down methods they tend to use [in Pakistan]. As well the nature of how we do research and interact as community of scholars,” he said.

“For us at ASU, I think it’s significant in multiple ways. Development studies in the U.S. tend to be defined by very American-centric views of the world. [Americans] see development very quantitatively; it’s all about the numbers. And I think we fail to really appreciate the way in which different cultures and religions inform those processes.”

According to Saikia, the effects are already apparent.

“It is remarkable to me that as an individual I can feel [the effects]. These are community issues, and one can do something about them. I appreciate that U.S. Embassy and State Department have given us this opportunity to create these linkages.”

Click here to view a video about the ASU-University of Punjab exchange.

Top photo: Kanza Javed chats with attendees at a meeting hosted by the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at the University Club in Tempe on Nov. 2. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

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Thallium! Polonium! Iridium too! Goooooooooo science!

Breaking stereotypes about cheerleaders and scientists.
Encouraging young girls to enter science and technology fields.
December 31, 2015

Professional cheerleaders — who are scientists themselves — root for more women to join technical fields

A little-known secret of professional sports is that some of the smartest people in stadiums aren’t in the boxes; they’re on the field, holding pom-poms.

Eleven percent of professional cheerleaders are pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math. (Compare that with Congress, where out of 535 representatives and senators, 0.37 percent, or two, are scientists.)

A group of about 300 current and former professional cheerleaders pursuing science and technology degrees led by an Arizona State University professor are working to encourage women to join technical fields, inspire younger generations and entice the public into citizen science projects.

Science Cheerleader was started about five years ago by Darlene Cavalier, a professor of practice at ASU's Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society, an affiliate of the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, and a former cheerleader for the Philadelphia 76ers pro basketball team. Cavalier joined a panel at ASU on the future of space a few weeks ago.

The group started as a science policy-focused blog, with the title of "Science of Cheerleader" alluding to Cavalier’s own background as a 76ers cheerleader. Cavalier talked her squad mates into making videos about science facts. She started hearing from actual science cheerleaders who wanted to join and began posting interviews with them about their scientific backgrounds.

Leader of science cheerleaders group

ASU professor of practice 
 — and former NBA
cheerleader — Darlene Cavalier
started Science Cheerleader
as a policy-focused blog.

Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now;
top photo by Jenna McGee/
Honeywell Aerospace

In 2010, the Science Cheerleaders were invited to perform at a scientific gathering in Washington, D.C. Eleven cheerleaders flew in and met each other.

“We knew there would be some raised eyebrows because you don’t usually see professional cheerleaders at science events,” Cavalier said. “It was fascinating because the women came from all over the country.”

Cheerleaders, often being more approachable than Nobel laureates, can make science accessible to people who would not show up at a science event or try to join a research project, Cavalier said.

“There’s two takeaways from this,” she said. “ ‘I didn’t know you could be smart and be a cheerleader.’ Or ‘I didn’t know that scientists are happy and have a social life and can look me in the eye when they talk, and enjoy what they do.’  We don’t force either definition when we go to events.”

One way the group has gotten the public involved in science was shooting microbe collection kits out of a T-shirt cannon at a 76ers game. The announcer came on and said, “OK fans, it’s your time to do science. Be part of an experiment to send microbes from your shoes or cellphone to the International Space Station.”

The experiment was Project MERCCURI, a study of how microbes behave on Earth and how they behave in space, in particular on the International Space Station. There were three areas of research: to understand the population distribution and behavior of 4,000 samples of microbes taken from shoes and cellphones all around the country; to compare the growth rates of microbes on Earth to 48 sent to the International Space Station; and to understand the types of microbes lurking on the International Space Station itself.

“All of this gets into looking at some data that would be important for long-term manned spaceflight,” Cavalier said.

Science Cheerleader has partnered with youth football and cheerleading program Pop Warner. It’s an opportunity to reach 100,000 young cheerleaders, Cavalier said

“Cheerleading is an important avenue for us because there are almost 3 million youth cheerleaders in the United States,” she said. “It’s really big. We feel we have the potential to make a huge dent.”

One young girl the group reached was Alexa Nieves, a 2015 ASU graduate, Arizona Cardinals cheerleader, and a product specialist with Honeywell Aerospace. Her father worked with Science Cheerleader event manager Bart Leahy.

“My parents always joked, ‘That’s you! You’re going to be a Science Cheerleader some day,’” Nieves said. “It’s funny — 10 years later I am a Science Cheerleader.’”

Nieves has always been drawn to science.

“I can remember being in seventh and eighth grade and having homework and doing assignments, and science was the one I always loved,” she said. “I could care less about English. I liked how (science) was very methodical. You started with something and you ended with something, and you knew what you were going to get. I liked that it was structured.”

Science cheerleader at workAlexa Nieves, a Honeywell Aerospace product specialist and Arizona Cardinals cheerleader, sits at a computer in an area for the repair and overhaul of Honeywell auxiliary power units Dec. 18. An APU is a system that delivers power to the engines, flight control and other avionics on an aircraft. With an ASU M.S. degree in business analytics and a love of dancing, she is able to find professions for each. Photo by Jenna McGee/Honeywell Aerospace

Now Nieves holds a Bachelor of Science degree in geographic information systems from the University of Maryland and a Master’s of Science degree in business analytics from ASU.

“The people I work with very closely know I’m a cheerleader, but organization-wide I don’t think they know,” she said. When co-workers at Honeywell find out about her other job, they’re curious, she said.

“At first it’s ‘Oh! Really?’ ” she said. “And then they ask how I got into it and how I balance both things and how I do it all. Those are the kinds of questions I get.”

Every science cheerleader has her own experience, Cavalier said.

“Some never feel any stereotypes,” she said. “You will recognize a pattern for those that have found it difficult, or they had to hide the fact they were a cheerleader, usually that advice or that social stigma comes to them from their PhD adviser — usually a female. Almost always a female. … It takes a lot of courage for that science cheerleader to share that. ... It’s a generational issue as well. … There’s people who never show up in makeup, who shed every bit of feminism about them to be taken seriously in the lab. I think part of that sets up that conflict with the female adviser giving that advice, because that was her experience. ‘Oh my God, don’t ever tell anyone you’re a cheerleader, because it’ll be career suicide for you.’ ”

Nieves said that’s something she hasn’t run into, either in academia or the workplace.

“I haven’t gotten that reaction, thankfully,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people don’t know how to accept it. They don’t quite understand. ‘What do you mean you dance? What do you mean you’re at all the sporting events?’ It’s a lot of just educating people that I have practice a couple of nights a week and then I do game days. When I’m at my job I’m fully committed; that’s what I’m here for. It’s just that in the evenings I also have something else that takes my attention. But I haven’t gotten a negative reaction. Maybe I’ve just been lucky.”

Being a cheerleader makes for being a better scientist, Cavalier said.

“The unique things I bring to my team and my lab are my sense of optimism,” she said. “Oh, it didn’t work? Let’s do it again. You practice and practice and practice. There’s a certain level of determination. They’re intelligent. They have very good time-management skills.”

Nieves, who has danced since she was in high school, said her avocation has been a huge help in her professional life.

“Dancing my entire life has given me the confidence to walk into a room, to interview really well, to give a presentation really well, to talk to people, so it’s given me skills I will carry the rest of my life,” she said. “You should go for your dreams whether they’re conventional or unconventional, or whether people understand them or not.”