Graduating Jewish studies student hopes to build human connection

December 7, 2020

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

Growing up in Winslow, Arizona, Norma Jean Owens loved being around the diverse cultural experiences of pow wows, rodeos and meteor crater tours. But it was her mother’s dedication to helping her and her siblings have a better life in Phoenix that led Owens to pursue her academic studies in different fields. Norma Owens Norma Owens is graduating with a bachelor's degree in Jewish studies, a certificate in Hebrew and a teaching certificate. Download Full Image

“I am motivated by my late mother who did not have a higher-learning experience, but sought refuge in securing residence for her five children in the Phoenix inner-city housing project,” said Owens. “Eventually, she was able to accomplish her goal of purchasing our first home by her strong work ethic and determination.”

Owens started at Arizona State University in the 1980s and met her husband during her sophomore year. After getting married, they home-schooled their five children through the eighth grade. When their last daughter was in high school, she decided to return to complete her degree.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, focusing on business and English, 30 years after she began, but she didn’t stop there. Owens returned to ASU to earn a bachelor’s degree in Jewish studies from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, a certificate in Hebrew from the School of International Letters and Cultures and a teaching certificate from Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

“Learning the culture and literature provided a global perspective of inclusivity, as the Jewish story can be found in all nations,” said Owens. “The sustainability of global resources such as water, agriculture and ecology, technology and medicine are at the forefront of Jewish research.”

Owens earned a scholarship to the Critical Languages Institute as well as the Jess Schwartz scholarship, Benjamin Goldberg Memorial scholarship and Jenny Norton and Bob Ramsey Religious Study in Israel scholarship.

Along with the scholarships she received as a student, Owens also created Histo-News Club, an academic service club to high school students at ASU in 2017. 

“For the past three years, we guided students in learning historical research by utilizing primary sources and various digitized tools,” said Owens. “The project is in partnership with the Holocaust Memorial Museum History Unfolded program in Washington, D.C.”

As an outstanding graduating student this semester, she answered a few questions about her time at ASU.      

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

Answer: I registered for Judaism 101 with Dr. Norbert Samuelson, one of the first courses in my program. He sparked an "aha" lightbulb by his heart and passion of culture and religion coupled with his desire to see each student succeed. He had a back injury that was extremely painful for him to sit and move. He did not let this discomfort hinder the execution of the course, nor the transfer of knowledge to hungry students. He provided amazing feedback that made me grow in confidence to ask engaging questions on specific subjects. He retired the next semester, but his words, voice and passion have remained with me.

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

A: Success is more than an individual process. It requires a tribe of associates giving and receiving to accomplish it.  

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: ASU chose me. In my senior year at Tempe High School, our class was invited to meet several college students. They inspired our class and our counselors helped to register students who found value in the modeling of an ASU college student. I identified with the student in criminal justice studies, as social justice was a strength in this course of study.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?  

A: Dr. Hava Samuelson, the director of the Center for Jewish Studies, has been a mentor, a model and an academic inspiration. She taught me to love learning, value education, engage in a lifestyle of activism in interconnectivity and inclusivity and integrate sustainable and ecological opportunities. She would say, "As you acquire your degree, acquire skills, attitudes and values necessary to become a responsible citizen.”

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

A: “Education is not received, it is achieved.” — Anonymous. Each day is an opportunity to grow forward and stretch into success!

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

A: My hangout and place of study was the basement of the Language and Literature Building. It hosts several computer rooms, a podcast room and a critical think tank room with amazing technology. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will teach secondary English virtually as an online teacher.  

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

A: I would tackle "otherism," by investing money in educational programs that build connectivity through projects, community service, camps and peer groups that place students of mixed backgrounds, ethnicities and economic statuses together to build or create a sustainable project that benefits all people.

Rachel Bunning

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

Elkins-Tanton named vice president of Interplanetary Initiative

December 7, 2020

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of Arizona State University’s Interplanetary Initiative and the principal investigator on NASA’s Psyche mission to a metallic asteroid, will become vice president of the ASU Interplanetary Initiative effective Jan. 1, 2021. The new position acknowledges Elkins-Tanton’s success as a space explorer and her ability to bring people together to think outside the box when it comes to space exploration. 

Elkins-Tanton has led the Interplanetary Initiative – an effort to advance society through exploration – since its inception in 2017. As a vice president, Elkins-Tanton will further develop the operating principles of the initiative and move it into more of a mainstay in ASU’s academic portfolio.   Lindy Elkins-Tanton Download Full Image

“Lindy Elkins-Tanton is a pathbreaking scientist and truly a modern-day explorer with the Psyche mission she leads for NASA,” ASU President Michael Crow said. “We want to have Lindy focus some of those creative energies and organizational abilities to what comes next not only in space exploration, but also in the bold move that follows as we transcend from being Earth-bound to Earth-based and reach out to new worlds.”

The goal of the Interplanetary Initiative is building the future of humans in space to create a bolder and better society. It does this by tackling some of the grand challenges presented before our society, like: How can public and private support be galvanized for space exploration? What fundamental rules govern the self-sustainability of ecosystems for long-term space settlement? How can we successfully build thriving communities on other worlds? How do we train and prepare the human psyche for being interplanetary? 

“Humans are compelled to explore, and we will explore space,” Elkins-Tanton said. “The question is, will we explore it in the flawed model of the past, where only a few benefit, and many suffer, or can we imagine a way to evolve in our level of civilization and move into this new era as our better selves.” 

Elkins-Tanton said that the initiative spans all of ASU and includes participation from 50 centers and more than 20 external partners. It also has academic support coming from 15 units for Interplanetary Initiative’s Bachelor of Science degree in technology leadership. 

“It brings all of the critical disciplines to bear, including design, psychology, sociology, education, theater, engineering, science, writing, management and leadership,” she added. “Some of the initiative’s pilot projects concern space technology, but others are more in the realms of human engineering, organizational management and communications.” 

Through the initiative, ASU has set the stage for a new and exciting era of exploration of Earth, the universe and the future of humans. 

“Interplanetary will have the support and connections in the university to create a prototype of a new kind of university entity,” Elkins-Tanton said. “We'll be connecting the private sector, government and universities to make more rapid progress toward being an interplanetary society and toward truly deserving and embracing being an interplanetary species.”

To be interplanetary, Elkins-Tanton said, will require working across disciplines and conducting intersector work on targeted goals in technology, team-building and education. It will also require a society of problem-solvers with a sense of agency and a perspective that reaches beyond our own town, country or planet.

She explained that the Interplanetary Initiative is advancing the state-of-the-art for putting together interdisciplinary teams and supporting them to move more rapidly toward key goals. For example, one of the more than 20 Interplanetary Initiative pilot projects is focused on changing the nature of human-robot interactions, and another is gathering key data on how people will collaborate, or compete, on off-Earth settlements.

“We need to create new processes for building teams that work more efficiently toward targeted goals; we need teams that are diverse and high-functioning; we need better, faster teaming of organizations, and more effective education for the problem-solvers of the future,” Elkins-Tanton explained. “To be who we should be for an interplanetary future, we need new processes.”

“I am completely thrilled to have the opportunity to bring people together to invent better ways of making progress, and to inspire humanity to look beyond our dusty feet and up to our place in the universe,” she added.

It is expected that the Interplanetary Initiative will mature into the Interplanetary Laboratory at ASU, which will include the creation of several large-scale projects and support systems that aid the development of proposals for enhancing interplanetary systems development. 

Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications