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2020: The year in pictures

December 23, 2020

Take a look at some of the most intriguing images made during a most unusual year

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …

Charles Dickens’ introduction was as valid for Arizona State University in 2020 as in his “A Tale of Two Cities.”

The year began with promise and potential, as each one does. The ASU Visual Communications team photographed its new beginnings, the interest in lifelong learning and connecting with new friends. We were hearing about the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), coming first from the Chinese city of Wuhan, spreading soon around the world, to our coasts, to Arizona and the rest of the country.

ASU didn’t sit back to ponder what to do. Once again, it showed why it again earned the title of most innovative university in the country. It acted on its Charter, setting about advancing its research and discovery for the overall health of the communities it serves. The team told the visual stories of the university as it honored first responders and health care workers, as it collected and distributed aid to the people in Indian Country, as it brought comfort to veterans and the indigent, as it showed its grit, creativity and leadership in developing and administering an accurate saliva-based COVID-19 test with results in 24–48 hours.

Simultaneously, the university’s innovation led to enhanced technology installations through all classrooms and lecture halls. Through ASU Sync, students had the choice to attend classes in person or in real time through Zoom.

The visual team documented ASU as it pivoted throughout the year. We couldn’t escape the virus, but we adapted to its challenges. And we took memorable pictures of innovation in action.

MORE: ASU's year in review 2020 — and oh, what a year it has been

Top photo: Senior Lecturer Karla Murphy delivers her English 101 composition lecture to one in-class student and 21 others online, on the West campus. Despite the coronavirus challenges, the campus had around 5,375 students enrolled for the fall 2020 semester in the on-campus and in-person immersion modality, increasing from 4,944 a year ago. Overall, ASU had more than 127,500 new and returning students, with over 53,000 fully online. Photo by Charlie Leight/Arizona State University

Charlie Leight

Senior photojournalist , ASU Now


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ASU's year in review 2020 — and oh, what a year it has been

December 18, 2020

This year showed us the power of resilience.

With a new virus changing life as we know it, social justice protests and a big election — not to mention ASU's first (and second) virtual commencement and the launch of distance-and-in-person learning via ASU Sync — there was no shortage of news in 2020. Sun Devils have stepped up, showing their compassion, their smarts and their grit in the face of a very tough year.

COVID-19 dominated many of the top ASU Now stories, but there are also compelling research findings, stories of inspiring entrepreneurship and helping others, creative performances and even a presidential pet feature. Click through the months below for a fast-forward review of 2020.

And remember: Forks up, masks up. We are all — still — in this together.


We broke new ground in more ways than one, as construction projects began and finished, and a new viral threat began to make headlines.


Sun Devils were feeling the love this month, winning innovation prizes, sharing their meet-cute stories and learning more about our state.


The month everything changed: On March 11, midway through spring break, ASU made the decision to transition in-person classes to remote instruction. Employees pivoted to working from home wherever possible, and life on campus looked very different.


We began to adjust to our new reality, looking to new ideas for food and PPE supply chains. And "A" Mountain sported a new look in salute to those frontline medical workers caring for communities facing an unprecedented crisis.


A very big month: ASU's first-ever virtual commencement took place in May, and ASU's Biodesign Institute developed the state's first saliva-based COVID-19 test — which continues to be available to the public at no charge. The university kicked off its summer concert series with multiplatinum singer, songwriter and dancer Jason Derulo. And yes, two of our top stories that month involved the efficacyA topic that some in the wider community debated throughout the rest of the year. of face coverings in fighting COVID-19.


After George Floyd's death at the end of May, protests and discussions about social justice and equity began to dominate discourse across the country — and the university.


As summer heated up, so did preparations for the fall semester and the need for COVID-19 testing in high-need communities across the state. ASU's staff and faculty stepped up for both — including several First Peoples' COVID-19 Resource Drive events. And to further help the community, ASU Prep Digital rolled out a full-time K–8 virtual school option.


A semester unlike any other began with students in classrooms and on Zoom screens around the world. Learning continued, as did research on everything from ice to heat.


Big headlines dominated the month, including the launch of the Global Futures Laboratory and ASU's sixth straight No. 1 innovation ranking. September was also the month when — to accelerate meaningful change at ASU and to contribute to a national agenda for social justice — President Michael M. Crow announced the university's commitment to 25 actions to support Black students, faculty and staff.


ASU continued to work with its communities, whether that was expanded COVID-19 testing or building a student-centered learning approach for Arizona's K–12 schools. And at the end of the month, early voting began on or near all four campuses as the nation headed toward a momentous Election Day.


The ASU community blazed new trails, with a new residence hall, two new schools, a new head of Knowledge Enterprise and new best practices for learning in a pandemic. 


The changes continued in key positions, with leaders of Academic and Learning enterprises announced, as well as ASU's first-ever Innovation Quarter over winter break.

Top photo: Ashley Tabar snaps a selfie as she celebrates receiving her bachelor's degree in marketing. ASU and portrait agency GradImages offer fall 2020 graduates in-person photo sessions in front of the iconic Old Main in mid-November. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now