Connecting ASU innovation to national defense needs

January 27, 2020

With six major active-duty military installations, the most innovative university in the nation and branches of companies like Boeing, Raytheon and General Dynamics calling the state home, Arizona is built to be a national security powerhouse. The challenge is that defense contractors and higher education institutions aren’t aligned into a cohesive ecosystem that can quickly respond to the Department of Defense’s most pressing challenges.

Enter Drew Trojanowski and Samantha Hiller, who recently joined Arizona State University to build those connections and help the university work with the Department of Defense (DOD) to rapidly innovate new solutions for problems that require minds from many disciplines. Drew Trojanowski Drew Trojanowski is the new assistant vice president of strategic initiatives at ASU Knowledge Enterprise. Photo by Andy DeLisle Download Full Image

Trojanowski is an ASU alumnus and a veteran of the U.S. Army. After leaving the military, he moved back to his native Arizona, where he witnessed firsthand the 2014 Phoenix VA scandal that brought the health care system’s inadequacies into the national spotlight.

“The failure of the federal system was anathema to me, and I wanted to figure out how to fix it, how to make it more effective,” he said. “That’s just my modus operandi as a person.”

That journey led him to become the senior policy adviser to Sen. John McCain and serve as the special assistant to the president for the Domestic Policy Council at the White House. There he helped create the MISSION Act, which strengthens the VA health care system and improves veterans’ access to health care.

He brings that same knack for improving existing systems and envisioning better ones to his new role at the university. As the assistant vice president of strategic initiatives for the ASU Knowledge Enterprise, he will be strategizing the university’s efforts related to veterans and defense.

“The opportunity is right on the table for Arizona to break through and become a market for emerging national security technology,” Trojanowski said. “I believe that ASU should be the catalyst for a national security innovation ecosystem.”

To find out how to effectively leverage the might of ASU’s researchers and students to create solutions for national security, he first needs to know what the DOD needs. That’s where Hiller comes in.

Hiller, who formerly served as McCain’s press secretary in Washington, D.C., now serves as the university program director for ASU on behalf of the National Security Innovation Network, a DOD program office within the office of the secretary of defense, research and engineering. NSIN works with nontraditional problem solvers to generate and accelerate new solutions to national security challenges. In addition to ASU, the National Security Innovation Network has program directors on the campuses of six other top research universities.

Samantha Hiller

Samantha Hiller is the ASU-based university program director for the National Security Innovation Network. Courtesy of Samantha Hiller

“For us to be strategic in the way that we're deploying our programs and connecting dots, it's most helpful to have somebody on the ground,” said Hiller, who partners with Trojanowski to match the DOD’s needs with ASU’s resources. “My goal here is to turn Arizona’s defense footprint into an ecosystem, with ASU at the epicenter.”

Two of several of the network's programs that Hiller will implement at ASU starting this spring are X-Force and Hacking for Defense. Both programs afford graduate and undergraduate students the opportunity to collaborate with the U.S. military to solve national security problems.

The X-Force fellowship allows students to either work remotely or embed with a host military unit for applied national security problem solving. Applications are available for summer 2020, with other programs offered throughout the year. The program calls for students with a range of skills, such as STEM, app development, data analysis, hardware prototyping, social media strategy and technology scouting.

Students participating in the fellowship also gain access to unique experiences. On Jan. 27, the National Security Innovation Network will host an F-35 Lightning II and MV-22 Osprey at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, near the Polytechnic campus, where this semester’s X-Force students, as well as faculty and staff, will get an up-close look at the aircraft.

Hacking for Defense will be offered through ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School of Sustainability as a spring 2020 course for both undergraduates and graduates called, “Lean startup problem solving for sustainability.”

Students in this class will design, build and test solutions for real-time DOD needs while engaging with both the military and civilian defense companies. It not only gives students applied experience in their fields, but also benefits local defense companies, who will have a pool of knowledgeable future employees in a high-demand industry.

And those DOD needs aren’t all about weaponry and warcraft — most involve everyday problems that, if solved, would help service members be safer and more efficient.

Trojanowski gives the example of F-16 hangars at Luke Air Force Base. The hangars were built specifically to house F-16s, but the base now needs them to service F-35s. These planes have exhaust pipes nearly twice as big as those on the F-16s, which make the ambient temperature inside the hangar deadly. Trojanowski argues that the situation is the perfect opportunity for students to engage.

“Students can create a hypothesis, build a minimum viable product and work with the stakeholder until they have a deployable solution,” he said. “From there, it becomes a discussion around transitioning to government sponsor and building a new company.”

Hiller and Trojanowski have a common goal, which is to demystify national security to students and researchers who may not know how their skills can serve the country.

“Almost every discipline that you can think of applies to the Department of Defense,” Hiller said.

National security is a broad term that refers to efforts that ensure the country survives and thrives. It encompasses much more than people may realize, such as communications, design, psychology, health, agriculture, energy, business, analytics, artificial intelligence and engineering.

Trojanowski envisions a future in which ASU innovation on all these fronts — and more — is part of a statewide ecosystem that can act quickly when the DOD needs a solution.

“We are designing this to solve problems in a way that no one else is — agile, innovative and disruptive. No one else is thinking with this type of entrepreneurial mindset right now. That will give us a very specific advantage,” Trojanowski said. “We will become the go-to place to quickly solve national security problems.”

Mikala Kass

Communications Specialist, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


Herberger Institute receives $60K investment in student artists and designers

Scholarships totaling $50,000 plus a $10,000 concert series mark Camelot Homes' commitment to Arizona

January 27, 2020

To celebrate its 50th anniversary in business, Arizona-based Camelot Homes is donating $50,000 for endowed scholarships for the Arizona State University Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

A $25,000 scholarship is earmarked for students of ASU’s new popular music program, a bachelor’s degree concentration in the School of Music. A second $25,000 scholarship is available to students studying in any of the five schools of the Herberger Institute. helios quartet The Helios Quartet will be performing for Camelot Homes communities as part of new concert series established by a $10,000 gift from Camelot Homes. Download Full Image

In addition, the School of Music and the family-owned homebuilder have joined forces to establish the Camelot Homes-ASU School of Music Concert Series. The eight-concert series, underwritten by a $10,000 gift from Camelot Homes, will feature four concerts this spring and four concerts in fall 2020 for residents of Camelot Homes’ communities throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area. Students selected by the School of Music will perform at each concert.

Since the company’s inception in 1969, Camelot Homes has been guided by three generations of the Hancock family, most of whom are ASU alumni. After graduating from ASU, Trent Hancock, now vice president of operations for Camelot Homes, pursued a career as a musician, toured across the country for seven years and released four studio albums. 

“We have had a hand in building the Valley’s most iconic communities for the past 50 years,” Hancock said. “With this investment, we hope to shape the future of Arizona, to infuse our communities with arts and music, and to establish a company legacy of investing in our youth.”

“Trent and Camelot Homes are celebrating their success and longevity by paying it forward and ensuring that the arts will enrich other lives as well as their own,” said Steven J. Tepper, dean and director of the Herberger Institute. “This is a wonderful opportunity for our students, and we couldn’t be more grateful.”

“We are thrilled that Camelot Homes has chosen to support our students,” added Heather Landes, director of the School of Music in the Herberger Institute. “The Camelot mission of building healthy, long-lasting community aligns well with the ASU School of Music’s vision of preparing our students to engage with community and transform society through music.”

“Bringing music to the community is quite different from bringing the community to the music,” said Richie Brennan, an undergraduate music education major and jazz performance student. “It builds relationships between the students and the audience. We can all see each other less as audience and performer and more as a group of individuals who are all sharing a great musical experience.” 

The concert series opens Jan. 27 with a performance featuring the Richie Brennan Quartet, comprised of four students from the jazz performance program. For the second concert, undergraduate students from the Bachelor of Music in music theatre program will present material from their upcoming Cabaret performance at Studio 54 in New York City. The March 30 concert features three saxophone performance majors and one music composition major in Quartet Helíos, an award-winning saxophone quartet fresh off their competition performance at the Music Teachers National Association conference in Chicago and the North American Saxophone Alliance competition in Tempe, Arizona. The Herberger String Quartet rounds out the spring concert series and features four of the top graduate students in string performance.

The concert series performances are open to members of the Camelot Homes communities and the general public. The events are from 5 to 7 p.m. with the concerts from 6 to 7 p.m.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music