Skip to main content

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

A student in graduation garb and a Class of 2020 mask takes a selfie in front of Old Main
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

More Health and medicine


Dad and son smiling and discussing

Developing tools for positive parenting in face of 21st-century challenges

Top ASU psychology professors with expertise in trauma-informed parenting interventions have joined with the Child Mind Institute to develop videos and tools to directly help families dealing with…

Woman wearing a maroon cap and gown in an audience of similarly dressed people, smiling next to another woman.

Faculty mentor guides 3-time ASU alum to career in health law

Though she began her academic career at Arizona State University with designs of becoming a doctor, the relationship Mary Saxon formed with her health care disparities course instructor — who also…

Students in a classroom building air filters.

New research: DIY air filters work better than commercial HEPA filters for fraction of cost

We spend about 90% of our time indoors, breathing in air that can contain particulate matter like dust, wildfire smoke, volatile organic compounds, carbon dioxide and exhaled aerosols that may…