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Supporting students in the Google age

April 17, 2019

New ASU Library peer mentorship program aims to help students discover all their available research resources

Last fall Google turned 20. 

Today's ubiquitous search engine is now older than the majority of Arizona State University’s freshman class — many of whom have never experienced a Google-less world.

“Technology has changed everything,” said Israel Zaldivar, a student in Barrett, The Honors College at ASU. "Everyone focuses on doing a Google search. Many students aren’t aware of all the resources we have access to.”

Zaldivar is part of a new library peer mentorship program — the ASU Library Barrett Mentors — aimed at helping Barrett students develop university-level research skills.

As a Barrett Mentor, Zaldivar and his fellow library mentors, Max Hernandez and Lauren Barnes, do everything from conducting workshops on how to use Zotero, an online citation management system, to engaging in lunch-hour conversations with other Barrett students on how to determine the most appropriate research database or develop a thesis question.

“Research is a general skill that applies to many fields, but a lot of students don’t have these skills,” said Hernandez, a sophomore at ASU who is double majoring in accounting and computer science with a minor in sustainability. “By providing support, we’re making sure that students are prepared and equipped for the work they’ll be encountering at the university.”

The Barrett Mentors are paid student worker positions, embedded within the Barrett community for ultimate student accessibility, with the goal of discussing and modeling research skills with and for their student peers in both casual and formal settings.

A good percentage of his classmates at Barrett, Hernandez says, are first-generation college students, unaccustomed to the resources and services of an academic library. 

Figuring out how to navigate those resources is half the challenge of being a college student, he says.

“Even for non-first-generation college students, college is kind of a new experience,” Hernandez said. “It’s much easier to do a quick Google search and pick the first three articles. We want to show them that the library can be accessible and what sources are valid and what sources are not valid. They know what they want, they just don’t know how to find it. We’re helping people discover all the stuff the library has.”

All the stuff includes 740 online databases and more than 200 million print and digital resources, including 150,000 journals and over 4 million print volumes; a center for data science and geospatial research; a makerspace; more than 100 study rooms; and some of the world’s leading rare materials collections.

Tomalee Doan, associate university librarian for the ASU Library, who oversees engagement and learning services across nine libraries, says student mentorship and leadership opportunities are helping steer a changing library infrastructure, focused on active, adaptive and informal learning spaces, where students come first.

“Many of our undergraduate students are part of the most diverse generation ever seen before in the United States,” Doan said. “The question of how to best support their success, their varied learning styles and unique contributions, is driving a number of new and interesting initiatives at the library, many of them student-led.”

‘The library is for students’

Two decades ago, Google was just another way to search for information. Today, it is a synonym for that.

Access to vast quantities of information can feel both overwhelming and commonplace for those born between 1996 and the early 2000s — a generation often referred to as “Gen Z” or “iGen.”

It’s how you share information, said Zaldivar, that makes the difference.  

“It’s more effective when it’s informal, when it’s student-to-student or between friends,” said Zaldivar, a double major in microbiology and global health. “There’s more (comfort), more trust. It brings about conversation, and you can be more open.”

Hernandez agrees: “We have a good sense of what the issues of students are because we are students.”

Student-to-student interaction is at the heart of the Library Student Ambassadors program, launched last fall to help bridge the gap between students and library staff.

According to Jesse Lopez, student success librarian and director of learning services, the program has the potential to raise awareness about the wide spectrum of library resources and services as well as give rise to new ones.

“I believe few things, in terms of education, are as valuable as peer-to-peer instruction,” Lopez said. “Students love to learn from and teach each other, and that's what this program is about.”

As library ambassadors, Alexis Juarez, Melovee Easley and Paola Palomino have become familiar faces around the Downtown Phoenix and Tempe campuses, attending a variety of student events, including new student orientations, where they help answer questions like: “Do I have to get a library card?” and, one of the most common questions, “Do you have the books I need for class?”

They post regularly to Instagram about library offerings in their efforts to show students that the library is more than just a search box — but a space to dwell, create and feel supported.

“We let them know they can check out ‘Game of Thrones,’” said Juarez, laughing. “In libraries, especially academic libraries, there’s a lot of anxiety around knowing where to get books or assuming that it’s purely academic. We like to remind them that a library is also a place to hang out with friends, relax, see art and make stuff.”

Juarez, Easley and Palomino meet regularly to discuss plans for books displays, front desk decor, snacks and study aids.

“I get suggestions for things that need to be changed about the library,” said Easley, an English major, who works at the information desk at the Downtown Phoenix campus library. “People mention that they enjoy using the whiteboards for studying.”

For Valentine’s Day, the library ambassadors created custom-made bookmarks to give to each student who visited the information desk — a way to show support for students and foster a sense of community.

Recently, for Sun Devil Giving Day, Easley asked students what they love about the library. (Here’s what they said.)

“I feel like the library is a lot more welcoming and homey and interesting than people think it is,” said Juarez, a Barrett student. “Once you learn more about the library, you start to get more curious about all the things you can do here.”

With the Hayden Library reinvention set to launch next spring, ASU students are playing an increasingly active role in the future of the library through their participation in initiatives such as the Future of Print, which looks to students to select and curate reading lists and book collections to share in library and campus residential spaces, and ASU Library mkrservices, which relies on students to lead trainings and workshops for students and faculty interested in using the makerspace.

“We want to welcome and accommodate all sorts of students and in ways you wouldn’t expect from a library,” said Lopez, who has been working with the epics@asu program (Engineering Projects in Community Service), partnering with students on use-inspired design solutions for new library spaces that will soon be opening. 

“By 2020, students will be running all the library information desks universitywide,” Lopez said. “We’re reversing the model so that students are on the frontline. The library is for students. We want them to know this is their place.”

 Co-written with Melovee Easley, ASU Library Student Ambassador

Britt Lewis

Communications Specialist , ASU Library

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After fleeing persecution, ASU student eager to tell stories like hers through film

Fleeing persecution, ASU grad finds film can tell a powerful story.
April 17, 2019

Outstanding Herberger undergraduate finds editing can give voice to people like her

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement. 

Maedeh Moayyednia’s journey as a refugee inspired her to become a storyteller through the art of film.

Moayyednia, who will earn a bachelor’s degree in film and media production at Arizona State University this May, discovered that she can best tell a story specifically through the editing process. She also has been named the outstanding undergraduate in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“Editing is the art of filmmaking. It’s where it all comes together,” she said.

“I love to think about, ‘What am I saying and who am I making visible? What are the voices I want to be heard in this story?’”

Moayyednia was born and raised in Iran in the Baha’i faith, a persecuted minority.

“It’s very dangerous and very oppressed for them,” she said. “I studied sociology in an online university, the Baha'i Institute for Higher Education — that’s illegal. People have gone to jail for teaching there.”

In 2014, Moayyednia was approved for religious asylum and came to the United States, settling in Phoenix, not far from Scottsdale Community College.

She struggled with English, but started taking general education and film classes at SCC.

“I loved movies but I never thought I could be a filmmaker, but I realized that for the things I wanted to talk about, film is the best tool I could use,” she said. “I loved my film classes and I found my calling.”

After earning her associate degree, she transferred to ASU, which was overwhelming. She took five production classes her first semester, and worked two part-time jobs — in the videography office of the Herberger Institute and as a film lab technician at SCC.

“But I talked to my professors and went to them for advice and they helped me to get through it,” she said.

“What I learned was to prioritize my tasks. I have work and I have assignments and I learned to make the best of the short amount of time I have.”

In one film class, Moayyednia had an assignment to edit some random bits of film together.

“I made a very dramatic story out of it and the professor asked me to stay after the class and he said, ‘You should consider becoming an editor,’” she said.

“I told him I was just having fun and he told me, ‘You took something that wasn’t good and you told the story you wanted to tell.’”

Moayyednia answered some questions from ASU Now:

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: When I moved to the United States, I faced a lot of prejudice and a lot of inappropriate questions, being a brown Middle Eastern person in Arizona. I faced a lot of people being ignorant, for example, asking me about terrorism. Somebody told me, "I didn’t know you knew how to eat with a fork and knife." Hurtful questions. With a sociology background, I thought "I have to stop being upset and just do something." It came to me, film is the best way I can show my heritage and my culture and the reality of what it is. I feel the way the media portrays people from the Middle East is untrue and not honest. It was a moment I was like, "I have to stop being upset and I need to choose to tell stories in film that are about people like me."

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I realized that I found my people. I found my chosen family at ASU, and I found people who understand and support me. When I started talking to my professors and people in my workplace, I thought, "These are the people I want to surround myself with so I don’t constantly face ignorance and prejudice." It was comforting to have these people around me.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: As a person who’s older, I am so proud of everything that I’ve done. Some of it I’m like, "I wish I hadn’t done that, but I grew from it." I would say try different things and go to different clubs and internships and classes to find what’s for you. Even if you’re not happy, it’s a growth opportunity. I had internships that weren’t for me, but it was like, "Well, at least I know I don’t want to do this."

For film students, I would say, tell a story that matters to you personally because when you do, it will touch the audience’s heart. Also think about the people you’re making visible. If you’re telling a story about immigration, you have to include people from the immigrant community and the story has to be honest.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: The videography office that I work in, because we are such a great department. We have memes on the wall and it’s so fun and we all put our best into every project. I’m going to miss it.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My favorite thing is documentaries. I was accepted into some graduate programs, but I want to take a year off and work. I’ll be an assistant editor on a feature documentary about the struggles of transgender people in a professional environment and their personal lives. Then I’ll look at a postproduction internship to build a better portfolio. I am eager for that experience rather than going straight to graduate school.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would make a university for people in my own country who are not privileged to go to other universities. I do feel guilty that I had this amazing opportunity to pursue my dreams and be here but there are people still there who are fighting. I want to make a place for them where they can all come together and study any major they want and they don’t have to pay.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News