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New ASU vice provost opens doors wider

September 5, 2019

Cheryl Hyman wants to leverage strengths of community college partners to ensure maximum access for students

Cheryl Hyman has traveled the pathway to success. Now, she wants to make sure it is available for others. Many, many others. 

Arizona State University’s new vice provost for academic alliances, Hyman came from a family that lived in public housing on the west side of Chicago. She was once a high school dropout, and her road to a better life through education started in the community college system. From there, she went on to receive a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and an MBA. Her message? If I can do it, you can, too. 

Hyman arrived at ASU in January of this year after six years as the chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago, replacing Maria Hesse, who retired from ASU as the 2019 spring semester came to a close. After a period of transition into America’s most innovative university, Hyman has developed a new strategic plan — one that builds on the foundation Hesse helped ASU establish. 

“Maria did a tremendous job building a foundation with community colleges,” Hyman said. “My focus is taking us from a partnership to a platform. We need to have more integrated systems where we are leveraging each other’s strengths and offerings. So now, our community college partners become another platform for us to help figure out how to get people from where they are to where they want to be.”

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Providing service for universal learning is central to the mission, according to Hyman. And inevitably, that means a higher volume of students.  

“Everybody in higher ed will be forced to deal with not just servicing students, but how to re-service, and re-service,” Hyman said. “People are not staying 30 years in jobs anymore. They are constantly transitioning in and out of education for various reasons, whether it be life, reschooling or retooling. And as they do that, we have to reposition to respond and change very rapidly.

“We need to use our alliances to help position ASU as the premier platform for universal learning.” 

Hyman says that will require a focus in three areas: expansion, integration and opportunity identification. 

From Hyman’s perspective, expansion is not about “growth just for the sake of growing ASU.” It’s about expanding opportunity for the large percentage of the population that is not pursuing a postsecondary education. And that means helping people find their way. 

“The people who aren’t going to college, I don’t believe it’s because they don’t want to. I don’t believe it’s because they don’t see everything that’s happening in the world,” she said. “But I do believe it’s because no one is helping them understand what it means to them and then helping guide them through that process.” 

So, when Hyman talks about expansion, she means helping people navigate their way through the system and helping them understand how to obtain the credentials that will translate into something tangible. With the volume of people who will need to behave as universal learners, the days of a one-on-one relationship with an adviser are over. ASU’s transfer tools offer students a way to do it themselves. 

“ASU has a very robust transfer tool,” Hyman said. “It has been tried and tested with many of our community college partners and allows students to self-navigate. It enables them to create a pathway based on what’s offered at their community college, wherever it might be, and what’s offered at ASU. Students can go there and view their course equivalencies and figure out how to build a very robust associate degree that prepares them for the discipline they want at ASU. If they follow that pathway, they have guaranteed program admission into ASU, in their discipline of choice, without loss of time or credit.”

The tool functions independent of a traditional personal adviser — with a 1,000-to-1 adviser-to-student ratio in Arizona, the need for digital tools is critical. 

“Right now, we have more than 600,000 course equivalencies with almost any public institution,” Hyman said. “In my opinion, all those institutions should have access to this tool, and so should their students. So it’s not a tool just for ASU. How do you create it so other institutions, no matter where they are, can have access? How do you get more students to use these tools so they don’t have loss of time or credit?” 

That’s where Hyman’s focus on integration comes in.

“The universal learner is going to be weaving in and out of education for a lifetime,” Hyman said. “So, we want tools that work for anyone in any state that help them figure out how to transfer in and out, back and forth, that take them from where they are to where they want to be.” 

The key is awareness — knowing what options exist. 

“I believe that most people act on the limited information they have,” Hyman said. “If you don’t have access to a wide network of social capital, many people helping you navigate and make choices, a lot of times you’re stopped at just not knowing what to do.”  

Hyman sees ASU as an innovator and a leader that can create models to be replicated by others in higher education. 

Hence, her third focus — identifying opportunities. That, she says, is a team sport. 

“The question for me is, how do I help everyone else in ASU leverage our alliances to service this population? How can we work with business, industry, state systems to help them service that population?” she said. “Creating a platform means ASU doesn’t have to do everything by itself. We can serve as a conduit for helping people get from where they are to where they want to be by connecting them to what they need through our alliance partners, not just transfer institutions.”  

From Hyman’s perspective, addressing the challenge of disruption in the work environment and the need for more college-educated talent transcends her role at the university. 

“Everything I do, not just here but in my past work, it’s not just for the institution itself; it’s aimed at how you solve the larger crisis,” she said. “Everything we're doing nationally, everything we’re doing locally — I’m doing it in a mindset of building a model for others.

“ASU can’t be the only institution for universal learning, but it certainly can be the designer of it.” 

Top photo: Cheryl Hyman, vice provost for academic alliances, leads academic partnerships between ASU and community colleges, both locally and nationally, ensuring that students who wish to pursue an undergraduate degree have the resources and a pathway to successfully transition to ASU. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Assistant vice president , Media Relations and Strategic Communications


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Searching for the methods of alien life in a national park

September 5, 2019

How Yellowstone hot springs reveal a glimpse of other worlds

Among Jupiter’s 79 moons, Europa jumps out at planetary scientists. Covered in an ice crust, it has the smoothest surface of any object in the solar system. Spacecraft have detected water vapor plumes wafting from the Jovian moon. Scientists estimate an ice crust 62 miles thick covers a subsurface ocean.

Down there, at the bottom of that ocean, may be the first place we find life off Earth.

If we do, Everett Shock will recognize it right away.

The Arizona State University environmental biogeochemist spent the past summer peering down into the depths of the Pacific Ocean and Yellowstone National Park hot springs. In both places he studied chemical energy sources and the microorganisms that live off them.

NASA has planned a mission to Europa to fly sometime in the next decade. Plenty of planetary scientists are more excited about Europa than Mars. Shock is involved with the mission.

“I don't expect to find the same organisms,” he said. “I expect to find the same kind of process … whatever's going on that produces these kinds of energy supplies. And then, if something's living there — whatever living there means on another planet — what an organism might be like.”

Most of Earth’s volcanoes are underwater, in the oceans. Put a volcano in an ocean and you’re going to get some hot water. It’s an energy supply being delivered by a normal geologic process.

“It's like, yeah, this is normal,” Shock said. “That's how our planet works.”

We only have one data point of a planet with life. (You’re on it right now.) We know organisms used chemical energy sources before they figured out how to use sunlight.

“So, based on our one data point, you're placing a bet,” Shock said. “How does it work on another planet? OK, maybe it also starts with chemical energy. … So that's a really exciting mission.”

Shock is a professor in the School of Life Sciences with joint appointments in the School of Molecular Sciences and the School of Earth and Space Exploration. He has been conducting research at the Yellowstone hot springs for 20 years now. He travels up with 10 students. They camp in the tourist campground, because it’s cheap and convenient and fun, but they follow a carefully planned research program.

They don’t think that Yellowstone is the early Earth or that it’s Europa. They go there to understand how these chemical energy sources become available.

On the Gorda Ridge expedition almost two miles below the Pacific, Shock studied sea vents which feed tiny organisms. (He was in a control room, studying instruments' readouts and live video images.)

Hot water escaped the vents and mixed with chilly ocean water. Elements mix, providing energy sources that microorganisms tap into. And it all happens in the dark.

There's an aspect of the Yellowstone hot springs that is quite similar. There is a temperature limit on photosynthesis. It depends on the pH of the water, but there are high temperature parts of many of the hot springs systems where there's no photosynthesis.

It's quite similar to the Pacific seabed, but not because it's dark. The hot spring is sitting out in the sunlight, but photosynthetic organisms are not there. So once again, you can study a system that has chemical energy sources supporting it. There's life there: microorganisms, bacteria, archaea, those sorts of things. They’re eating sulfur.

At the big picture level, many of the same chemical energy sources exist. If you go down into the details, the life at the bottom of the ocean and the hot springs are really different. But, in both cases the planet is supplying chemical energy and microorganisms are taking advantage.

Research permit in hand, Shock and his group head to Yellowstone, where they take samples and make some measurements which have to be done in the field, like temperature. They sample sediments, because that’s usually where the microorganisms are. Their water sample kit has eight different little bottles in it, each one destined for a different type of analysis. The biological sample has at least that many smaller vials.

It's a coordinated effort. There's one person who's in charge of making the basic measurements of pH and temperature and so forth and keeping records of all those as somebody else is making the chemical measurements that need to be done in the field. Another person is just trying to get that dissolved gas sample. Another person's doing the water sampling and the fifth person in this group is doing the biological sampling.

They do things in a certain order to minimize pain and suffering. (You don’t want to take water sample after the sediment guy has stirred up a mess, for instance.) Every day there is a whole plan of where they’re going and which hot springs they’ll be sampling and why that is. That's a couple of weeks of field work.

“Yellowstone is always dealing me a new hand,” Shock said. “I’m definitely never bored. … Even the places I've been before, they change a little or they change a lot and I can now stand in an area where I've been there many times and remember what it was like and how it is now and then, ‘Oh wow, this part has really changed.’ So there's an advantage to having been to the same places many times.”

Top photo: Sapphire Pool, Biscuit Basin, Yellowstone National Park. Photo by Jim Peaco. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News