New ASU initiative to accelerate innovations in higher education that expand access and empower learners

Nearly $12 million in grants will support ASU's ambitious vision


September 1, 2020

With a shifting landscape facing learners of all kinds, Arizona State University today announced a new initiative that will accelerate the university's efforts to redesign American higher education. The initiative is supported by the Stand Together community.

"The work advanced through this partnership will drive a culture change and the commitment to redesign and restructure higher education that we embrace at ASU and that is critical to the success of students across the country," said ASU President Michael M. Crow. "The public health pandemic that has swept the globe and the stress it has placed on our education system has exposed weaknesses that have existed for years. Universities are being forced to adapt right now, and so we're saying, 'Let's take advantage of this opportunity and let's build things in a way that serves the learner in a new world that doesn't look anything like the one that existed when most of America's institutions of higher learning were designed.'" A student walks past the ASU charter sign Students walk past the ASU charter sign on the Polytechnic campus on the first day of the fall semester Aug. 20. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now Download Full Image

ASU's new University Design Institute (UDI) will coordinate the initiative and support other universities to implement their own culture change initiatives. The goal is to broaden access to world-class education methods and cutting-edge technological innovations that are tailored to empower students and be responsive to their specific needs and goals. ASU's design-driven commitment to both educational access and scholarly excellence — two historically opposing objectives — has captured the attention of leaders within and outside universities from around the world. The former teachers college stands out among research universities in such factors as its 380% increase from 2002 to 2019 in enrollment of students from low-income families. During this same period, first-generation undergraduate student enrollment increased from 7,500 to nearly 26,000, Hispanic undergraduate student enrollment increased from about 5,000 to 20,500, and Black undergraduate student enrollment increased from less than 1,500 to more than 4,500.

Financial commitments by the Charles Koch Foundation, the Morgridge Family Foundation, Michael and Beth Kasser, Ambassador Frank and Kathy Baxter, Mike and Cindy Watts, the O'Neil Family Foundation and Gary and Claudia Phillips are supporting the initiative. The nearly $12 million in donor gifts will contribute to an overall campaign to raise $30 million to support this initiative. With these gifts, ASU will:

  • Advance development of the UDI to build partnerships with university leaders who are driving broad-based innovations at their respective institutions.
  • Accelerate the development of a stackable credential system that will make it easier for students, initially at ASU and eventually at other universities, to adjust their course selection to reflect individualized aptitudes and interests and represent mastery of knowledge and skills relevant to student preferred career paths.
  • Develop key technological components of the world's first Trusted Learner Network to drive adoption of a verifiable learner-owned record system that has the potential to replace current transcripts with a less expensive, competency-based credential that lives with the learner themself, rather than with various institutions.
  • Scale ASU's high school programs to enroll 30,000 additional students into ASU's digital high school curriculum and reach an additional 30,000 students with personalized online learning and career development tools.

"The principle of individual empowerment and a student-centric approach to learning and to education is a shared commitment, one where we are called to take action and broaden the network of stakeholders engaged in bringing about a change of culture," said Crow. "The goal is not to replicate ASU, but to advance a design model that enables every university to put learners, of all ages and life circumstances, at the center, implemented in the way that works best for the students served by that institution."

The institute already plays a key role in sharing lessons learned through ASU's transformation.

"UDI is intended to help universities speed innovation, enhance outcomes, lower costs and scale impact," said Crow. "The point is to not have one model, but to have many models that fit the circumstances of anyone who aspires to learn and to contribute to their community."

"ASU has made transformational changes in its comprehensive efforts to improve access and learning outcomes for its students at an affordable cost. This new initiative will invite other universities to develop and apply new ideas in partnership with their peers, leading to increased opportunity for millions of learners," said Charles Koch Foundation Executive Director Ryan Stowers. "We are thrilled to support this work to empower university leaders with a forum and support network to help drive innovation and better serve their students. There is no better time than now to think about how we can innovate to open new opportunities for as many people as possible."

Watch this video to learn more about the partnership.

Assistant vice president, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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75 years after WWII ends, discussions remain relevant


September 1, 2020

Arizona State University's School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies partnered with the National World War II Museum two years ago to help create the first master’s degree program in World War II studies. Part of the partnership includes offering continuing education courses through the museum for those who want to learn more about the war.

No class is as relevant today as the continuing education course “The 75th Anniversary of the End of WWII in a Global Perspective.” Sept. 2, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of World War II's official end with the Japanese delegation formally signing the instrument of surrender on board the USS Missouri. Japanese surrender signatories arrive aboard the USS MISSOURI in Tokyo Bay to participate in surrender ceremonies. Japanese surrender signatories arrive aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay to participate in surrender ceremonies. Photo courtesy of the National Archives. Download Full Image

This course includes lectures from Arizona State University faculty, WWII Museum scholars, faculty from other universities and McCain Institute faculty ambassador Edward O'Donnell and Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley.

“Memory of World War II is neither static nor solitary,” said history Assistant Professor Volker Benkert, a School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies faculty member who helped teach the course. “Our perception of the past changes over time and it is subject to constant negotiation nationally and internationally. This continuing education course explores memory cultures of WWII in the U.S. and across the globe through a discussion of monuments, memorials and memory acts.”

Although the war ended 75 years ago, Benkert argues the study of it is important today politically, culturally and personally. Culturally, we are surrounded by memorials and media referencing the war and personally, people have relationships with those who fought in the war.

“World War II shaped the world as we know it today and its commemoration can lead to reconciliation and renewed conflict,” Benkert said. “For example, between Japan and South Korea over Japanese cabinet members visiting the famous Yasukuni Shrine where many Japanese war dead — but also convicted Class-A war criminals — are commemorated.”

This course worked with students from all over the country to engage them with the history and stories of the war. One focus of the course is showing students of all backgrounds how they connect to the war through their relatives who were either at home or on the front lines. Another focus is understanding the global comparative of how the war and genocide impacted people around the world.

One student in the class is Kathryn Fuller, who grew up mostly in Indiana but has lived in several states. She has degrees from American and British universities and is now a permanent resident of the U.K. and has always had an interest in WWII. 

“I found the course while wandering around on the website of the World War II Museum in New Orleans,” Fuller said. “I wanted to do something beyond books and webinars or similar to further my knowledge and I wanted a bit of challenge. I wanted to meet, even remotely, other people who shared my interest.”

Both of her parents served in the war, her mother in the Coast Guard and father in the Navy. However, she was surprised by how many of her peers had veteran parents or had served in the military themselves. 

“Although I had known that the program would ‘include discussion forums,’ I hadn’t realized that that meant we would be able to read each other’s assignments,” Fuller said. “Seeing what my classmates have written has been one of the best things about the course. I have learned a lot from them.”

Another student in the course is Paul D. Belczak, who retired from the U.S. Army in 2010 after a 30-year career and was hired as a Department of the Navy civilian at United States Indo-Pacfic Command located at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii. This course is the third continuing education course he has taken and he is now enrolled as a master’s degree student in the World War II studies program.

“Camp Smith is located above Pearl Harbor, allowing me to see the Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri,” Belcza said. "In a glance, I view the beginning and end of the United States' participation in World War II.” 

Both sets of his grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1930s, lived through the Great Depression and saw their sons go off to war. For Belczak, supporting the war effort was almost a family effort.

“The heroes of my life, my father and my uncles, served in the military during the war," Belcza said. "Although they did not discuss it, I was very proud that they willingly defended our country. My mother and most of my aunts worked in the defense industry; my mother helped assemble sights for bombers.”

These students learned how to connect with their personal past and the larger effects of the war, allowing them to develop a greater understanding of the impact it has today.

“These courses are truly communities of interest in which participants have the opportunity of trading insights on the war,” Belczak said. “Similar to me, I expect some desiring a greater burst of learning in WWII will enroll in ASU's master's degree program.”

For more information on continuing education courses and the master’s degree in World War II studies, visit the program’s webpage or the museum’s webpage.

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies