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ASU, Helios all-in on improving Arizona's education system

January 18, 2018

Partnership to tackle state’s educational challenges by leveraging technology to find out what’s working, what isn’t

Arizona State University and the Helios Education Foundation announced on Thursday a historic partnership that will serve as a nexus for facilitating education research and practice in the state.

In the drum of Tempe’s Decision Theater, ASU President Michael Crow and Vince Roig, founding chairman of Helios Education Foundation, announced the creation of the Decision Center for Educational Excellence, Powered by Helios Education Foundation.

“ASU is proud to be joining with Helios Education Foundation on a partnership to tackle the serious challenges within Arizona’s education system,” Crow said. “We will pool our energy, our values and our ideas to create a tool that will allow people in school districts, community colleges and universities to make better decisions about how we prepare students for the next economy.”

Together, ASU and Helios will develop a first-of-its-kind computational model of Arizona’s pre-K through post-secondary education system, which will provide real-time feedback on how policies, practices, new innovations and other interventions would affect the state’s complex education system.

“There is no reason Arizona can’t be the highest achieving educational attainment state in the nation,” Crow said. “The only thing that keeps us from that is, do we work hard enough, do we innovate fast enough and do we use every possible tool we have at our disposal.”

The model will allow stakeholders to identify bright spots in the state’s education system that may be scalable system-wide. It will also help to identify interventions that could serve to improve performance in underperforming schools. Arizona currently ranks amongst the lowest in the nation for teacher pay, student-teacher ratio and spending per student.

“I have often said that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but none of us are entitled to our own facts,” Roig said. “It is our sincere hope that this project will bring a new level of data analysis and sophistication to our state’s efforts to improve education outcomes for all students.”

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Vince Roig, founding chairman of the board of Helios Education Foundation, speaks at the announcement of the Decision Center for Educational Excellence, Powered by Helios Education Foundation on Thursday in Tempe. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

The partnership will leverage ASU’s strengths in computational modeling, complex systems and innovation with Helios’ commitment to student success. The model will offer Arizona’s decision-makers, from school leaders to policymakers, the tools needed to make informed, effective, data-driven decisions that support a high-quality education for all Arizona students.

“Our state has set a postsecondary degree attainment goal, and many of us in this room are involved in developing strategies to help us reach that goal,” Roig said. “We have named our collective effort Achieve60AZAchieve60AZ is a coalition of more than 60 community, business, philanthropic and education organizations in Arizona whose goal is to generate greater awareness of the importance of increasing Arizona’s level of educational attainment while building support to improve college entry and completion; boost adult education and training; and fuel a pipeline of competitive talent for Arizona’s employers., and the work that will be done here — at the Decision Theater — will help us realize that goal.”

The Decision Center for Educational Excellence is being funded by a three-year, $2.5 million grant from the Helios Education Foundation and will be showcased out of the Decision Theater in downtown Tempe. The Decision Theater Network actively engages researchers and leaders to visualize solutions to complex problems using the latest computing and display technologies for data visualization, modeling and simulation.

Top photo: ASU President Michael Crow speaks at the announcement of the Decision Center for Educational Excellence, Powered by Helios Education Foundation on Thursday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Katherine Reedy

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Young people urged to find their cause at MLK celebration

Young people urged to find a cause to help humanity at ASU's MLK Celebration.
January 18, 2018

Annual ASU event marks civil-rights leader's legacy of servant leadership

Cindy McCain told a roomful of young people that even if they haven’t yet found the cause that moves them, they soon will.

“You are next. It’s your time to make the right decisions and live your life in the right way so that you too can help others,” she said.

McCain spoke at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Arizona State University on Thursday morning, where she won the 2018 Community Servant-Leadership Award for her work fighting human trafficking.

“With regard to vulnerable women and children, it’s an area that I’ve worked in for a long time. It is something that moved my heart at a young age,” she said.

She praised ASU for inspiring students to find their causes and to make a difference.

“Make sure you leave this planet a better place than when you stepped on it,” said McCain, who is co-chair of the Arizona Human Trafficking Council and serves on the McCain Institute’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council.

She had hoped to attend the event on ASU’s Tempe campus but instead addressed the crowd via Skype so she could stay at home with her husband, Sen. John McCain, who is recovering from brain surgery.

The breakfast celebration, which has been held for 33 years, had the theme of “Look deeper, speak louder” and included the winners of statewide poster and essay contests for K–12 students, several of whom read their essays. The event was just one of several sponsored by the MLK Committee at ASU, according to Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, vice president of cultural affairs at ASU who served as the emcee of the event.

Last Saturday, more than 300 ASU students spent a day of service on projects including repairing houses for refugees and gardening at a children’s group home. On Wednesday, thousands of young people participated in the “March on West” at ASU’s West campus — a tradition that dates to 1991 — that concluded with a reading of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

“Those words are very relevant for us today,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “And we see all of those young people look deeper, speak louder and have an understanding that they are part of the thread and the legacy of Dr. King.”

The winner of the 2018 Student Servant-Leadership Award is Evvan Morton (pictured at the top of this story), a graduate student in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and president of the Black Graduate Students Association. She hopes to work in government on science policy issues.

Morton said her research looks at policies that reduce carbon dioxide emissions in order to eliminate the negative effects of climate change.

“Many people see this research as saving the planet, but I am among those who see this as helping to save humanity,” she said. “Regardless if you believe in climate change or not, we collectively need clean water and clean air so that we can sustain the human race.

“In parallel, regardless if you like the color of my skin or not, we collectively need to fight against injustices so that we can sustain our humanity.”

The event also featured a performance by Kristina Wong, a writer, actor and filmmaker who is appearing at ASU Gammage this weekend. She walked through the crowd, flinging pieces of red felt shaped like hashtags as she talked about King’s legacy in the era of Twitter.

“I go on social media and put a hashtag and attach a word to it and I send it out,” she said. “This is how we dialogue with each other. I just tweeted and tweeted and I felt like I was really getting somewhere just lying on my couch creating this revolution.”

Until her account was blocked by several political figures.

“I realized this can’t be the revolution,” she said. “Dr. King did the revolution without Twitter. Maybe we should leave our houses, take to the streets and take action and not just lay on the couch and make demands on our phones.”

For details on the MLK Celebration, including winners, click here. For information on Kristina Wong's performance at ASU Gammage on Saturday, click here.

Top photo: Evvan Morton, a graduate student in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, won the Student Servant-Leadership Award at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at ASU on Thursday. She also is pursuing a certificate in Responsible Innovation in Science, Engineering and Society from ASU's School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News