Master’s degree student reflects on online learning experience

May 7, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Marvin Leal started Arizona State University's Master of Arts in Global Security as a way make advancements in his life-long career in the military as well as in his education. As a Threat Analyst for the U.S. Army’s Network Enterprise Technology Command, his duties include developing informational products detailing foreign threats to U.S. Army networks for the staff at NETCOM. Leal Family: Marvin (left), Rhi (right) and their son Luke Marvin Leal and his family. Download Full Image

“I realized that I wanted to learn more about why we fight wars, how strategies are developed, and how the international system works. I found out that the courseware in ASU’s online MA in global security filled many of the areas that I wanted to study and as a bonus, many of the courses were taught by authors whose work I had been following over the last 10 years,” Leal said.

Marvin will be graduating this May with his master’s degree from the School of Politics and Global Studies. He is part of the first graduating cohort for the cybersecurity concentration.

“As a practitioner, I was very specialized in a niche topic and I would metaphorically miss the forest because I was focused on one tree,” Leal said.

The program allowed him to take his existing knowledge and broaden his scope to view international policy and military problems from a strategic point of view, while also allowing him to understand how to better communicate with senior government civilian and military leaders.

“I think that this degree program is unique because of the people that are associated with the program. The student body within the program is very unique because it consists of people who want to get into the global security field and practitioners who have been working in the field for years, sometimes decades,” Leal said.

The master's program also holds events, which students can attend either in-person on the Tempe campus or via Zoom. Events sometimes feature program professors who live in various parts of the country and world.

“For me, another unique factor of this program is that, while not required, I was invited to participate in multiple seminars and workshops at the campus where I was able to meet and work with some of the top minds in the global security arena. These opportunities vastly exceeded my expectations of an online program,” Leal said.

As Leal was working on his master’s degree, his wife, Rhi Leal, became increasingly interested in the program. She works as a cross-cultural competency instructor for the Army’s Culture Center, which is tasked with teaching soldiers about different cultures, build rapport and successfully work with partner nation militaries around the world.

“I decided to join the MAGS program because when my husband was taking classes I noticed that the staff was very friendly and made him feel as if he was an on-campus student. They invited us to attend virtual workshops and events at the campus, which made me want to switch from the MA program I was attending at another university to the MAGS program,” Rhi Leal said.

Rhi Leal is confident that the program will provide her with a better understanding of the structure and fundamentals of global security and conflict around the world which will help her develop better seminars and research products for soldiers who are deploying to support partner nations. One of the biggest benefits of working on their Master’s though ASU Online was the fact that they are able to balance work, academics, and the transition of becoming new parents to their son, Luke.

“I was able to coordinate with my professors and not fall behind on my classes. A day after my son was born, I was even able to do a zoom meeting from the hospital with a professor to get some advice on my capstone project while my son slept in my arms,” Leal said.

As a result of some of the work that Leal has done within the Master of Arts in Global Security program, he has been selected to work on two very competitive broadening assignments within his organization that will make him more competitive for higher-level positions in the future. In terms of plans after graduating with his degree, Leal is looking forward to helping his wife achieve to advance in all aspects of his life.

“In the near term, I think I am going to take a short break from school and concentrate my time on raising my son, competing for promotion opportunities at work, and doing chores around the house so that my wife will also have the time to successfully complete the MAGS program,” Leal said.

Center Coordinator, School of Politics and Global Studies


ASU faculty to design visual AI curriculum for middle school students

May 7, 2020

Suren Jayasuriya, an Arizona State University professor jointly appointed with the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, and Kimberlee Swisher, ASU lecturer and co-founder of the Digital Culture Summer Institute, have been awarded the NSF Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) grant. 

The NSF ITEST grant supports projects that build understandings of practices, program elements and processes contributing to increasing students’ knowledge and interests in science, technology and information, and communication technologies.  Middle students and professors doing projection mapping Photo credit: Digital Culture Summer Institute Download Full Image

The grant will support the design and development of curriculums that will enable the professional development of middle school teachers and engage students in learning visual artificial intelligence through working with hands-on technology and interactive lesson plans.

The project will be completed in partnership with Wendy Barnard (College Research and Evaluation Services Team, ASU), Terri Kurz (Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, ASU), Ramana Pidaparti (College of Engineering, University of Georgia), John Mativo (Department of Career and Information Studies, University of Georgia) and Dawn Robinson (Department of Sociology, University of Georgia) over the course of four years.

According to Jayasuriya, the following three summers will be spent conducting four-week workshops where middle school teachers will co-create technology modules with researchers to then deploy in short courses and lessons with middle school students (sixth to eighth grade), with the goal of bringing these lesson plans into the classroom for the academic year.

The program will use computational cameras to integrate computer science, math and design thinking in teaching visual AI concepts while also drawing inspiration from media arts to enhance science learning experiences. Learning technology modules to be developed include color and lighting for physics-based vision to understand the interface between the physical world and image sensing; image classification pipelines that teach the basics of visual feature extraction, machine learning classification, and the collection and training of data; and use of machine learning for synthetically-generated visual media.

“In addition, we have a dedicated research component where we will study the factors underlying learning these new technological topics,” Jayasuriya said. “We are bringing a team of education and sociology researchers to explore these questions, and will write up any findings in education research journals and conferences.”

The proposed curriculum will also be implemented at the Digital Culture Summer Institute hosted by the School of Arts, Media and Engineering every summer. Swisher explained the main objective of the summer institute is to help provide grade schoolers a point of entry into STEM practices paired with the arts and humanities. 

“Our hope is that students who have lived in disciplinary silos and who have already built identities for themselves as ‘not an artist’ or ‘not an engineer’ can start to break down those notions,” Swisher said. 

A major focus of this project is to allow students from underrepresented backgrounds the ability to be exposed to arts and the humanities and STEM practices. Jayasuriya and Swisher explained there are various barriers these students face and why the interdisciplinary learning approach at the Digital Cultural Summer Institute is a crucial piece of this project. 

“At DCSI we have a focus on project-based learning, and we believe that critical skills like computational thinking, collaboration, innovation and information literacy can be taught in a highly effective manner by using aesthetic challenges as motivation,” Swisher said. “When students are inspired by something and want to make it themselves, they imagine possibilities and start to ask questions. Then, as instructors, we are able to successfully help the students gain the skills they need to answer the technical questions of how, because the students have already answered the why.”

The project will continue over the next four years with the University of Georgia in the hope of positively engaging the community and increasing the education of STEM practices and arts and humanities in middle school curriculums around the states.

Megan Patzem

Multimedia specialist, School of Arts, Media and Engineering