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The spirit of ASU comes alive at university's inaugural Innovation Day

Several thousand faculty, staff and students headed to Sun Devil Stadium on Friday to learn, play, experiment and explore new ideas

innovation day
November 18, 2018

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2018 here.

Arizona State University celebrates its reputation for innovation every day, but on Friday, the community held a giant show-and-tell of how it’s actually done at the first Innovation Day.

Several thousand people wandered the newly renovated Sun Devil Stadium, experiencing innovation firsthand and picking up swag like pens, sunglasses and stickers. Starbucks gave away cold-brew coffee and a line of people snaked down two levels of stairs for free design-your-own adidas T-shirts. 

The exhibits spanned all parts of the ASU community, from a Sun Devil Athletics display showing a new kind of iron-on padding for football uniforms to the University Technology Office, which described how a new system eliminated technology disruptions across the thousands of classrooms at all campuses. There were also local activities hosted at various individual units throughout the morning.

Innovation doesn’t have to be complex or high-tech. PlayMakers is a brand-new initiative of Sun Devil Fitness that uses simple play to spread messages of wellness. Their exhibit featured stress-busters like kinetic sand piles and a giant Jenga game.

One of the PlayMakers, Cate Marken, described how it works: Student workers go out onto campus common areas and residence halls and engage people in games like ring toss or craft activities. While students are having fun, the PlayMakers share tips about health and wellness.

“I ask them how they’re managing stress and what they think they need,” said Marken, a senior double-majoring in microbiology and family and human development. 

“Play is critical to human development, and to college students as well.”

Innovation Day also showcased research by faculty. Eric Legg, an assistant professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, described his work with youth sports coaches. The project started when Legg was talking with a recreation director who told him how the volunteer coaches meant well, but didn’t know what they were doing.

“So I said, ‘Let’s tell them what they should be doing,’" he said. He recently concluded a research project with the Cottonwood Parks and Recreation Department in which he observed volunteer coaches, gave them feedback and surveyed the players. He found that the coaches who practiced “autonomy support” — explaining their reasoning rather than declaring “Do this because I said so” — had better outcomes.

“That’s what is exciting — this research was community-led,” Legg said. 

ASU is always creating new ways of doing things, but the challenge is doing them to scale. Can it work with tens of thousands of students? This semester, ASU Online offered the first virtual-reality biology lab in which students use headsets to immerse themselves in a lab. At Innovation Day, the School of Life Sciences showcased the course, letting participants don the headsets and click the handheld remote to put on a lab coat or draw a blood sample.

Video by Ashley Sorensen/ASU Now

Sometimes the innovation is not in reaching thousands of people, but in personalizing the experience. A new app called myPlan is designed to help one person in the right way at just the right moment. MyPlan is an online intimate-partner violence safety-planning tool that uses technology to empower those affected by IPV to make safety decisions.

Jill Theresa Messing, an associate professor in the School of Social Work and part of the faculty of the Office of Gender Based Violence, was one of the app designers. She displayed the app in her exhibit.

“It takes you through these questions and judges the risk of an abusive relationship and connects you to the resources,” she said. “It can also be used by family and friends.”

Innovation is a critical component of ASU’s mission of increasing access to everyone. Devils Adapt is a new initiative that provides recreational and athletic resources and equipment for athletes who use wheelchairs and other kinds of adaptations. For example, to improve cardiovascular fitness, it’s important to boost the heart rate, but that can be difficult for people who don’t run, so Devils Adapt, through a partnership with the Adaptive Training Foundation, has a “ski machine” that uses arm movements to simulate skiing. Innovation Day featured a fitness challenge, measuring distance and time.

Peter Means tried it out, vigorously pulling on the arm pulleys, and beat all the previous participants, “skiing” 87 meters in 20 seconds.

“It was fun, and it gets easier as you get going,” said Means, the senior development director for the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Innovation is also about the process, according to Minu Ipe, knowledge enterprise architect at ASU and the organizer of Innovation Day. 

“It’s in the ideas that fail that we also learn a lot,” she said. “The process is just as important to celebrate.”

So the First Year Success Center didn’t just announce how it supports students who are new to higher education, it showed the process. Visitors to the exhibit were invited to fill out a “Learn to Thrive” self-assessment, describing how satisfied they were with their sense of purpose, connections, stress, accomplishments and other life factors. Then, based on the results, the center prescribes ways to help improve those outcomes, using a “positive psychology” model, according to Kevin Correa, director of the center.

“We want to see what they’re doing well and where there’s room for improvement,” Correa said. “This is a blueprint to thrive not just at ASU, but lifelong.”

And ASU students have harnessed innovation for fun. A student-led entrepreneurial venture called pakpak uses an app to connect people who are interested in outdoor adventures like hiking, rock climbing and skiing. Still in the beta stage with about 30 members so far, pakpak co-founder Nico De Bruyn displayed the app at Innovation Day.

“We got the name because we were sitting around thinking ‘backpack,’ which became ‘pakpak.’ And so our mascot is a yak,” said De Bruyn, a senior majoring in dietetics. 

“We hope to connect students from the digital world to nature.”

Innovation Day, which was capped with a performance by vocal artist Reggie Watts, promoted a carnival atmosphere as all parts of the community came together to show off what they’ve created. A giant blackboard invited people to inscribe messages, which included: “I’m not leaving ASU without being innovative.”

Top photo: Interdisciplinary studies student Gabrielle Honda writes some creative ideas on a whiteboard while brainstorming with junior Jonah Ivy (left) at the inaugural Innovation Day at Sun Devil Stadium on Friday. The display was part of KED's Luminosity Lab. Many colleges and schools held exhibits and interactive displays to celebrate the efforts of faculty, staff and students trying new things and taking on grand challenges. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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