ASU archaeologist lauded for inclusivity

May 14, 2014

“When you have life experiences where you are often treated differently because of some aspect of your identity, a place where you are treated equal to everyone else – and that treatment is positive – is a sanctuary.”

Those words from Arizona State University anthropology graduate student Juliana Novic speak to the spirit and value of the ASU Committee for Campus Inclusion’s Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Awards. Professor Michael E. Smith and Associate Dean of Students Alonzo Jones Download Full Image

Novic nominated her faculty advisor, Mesoamerican archaeologist Michael E. Smith, for creating a sanctuary of learning for all of his students. Last month, Smith accepted the 2014 award in the academic professional/faculty category at a breakfast ceremony on the Tempe campus.

“Mike treats everyone with the same respect and offers everyone the same opportunity,” Novic says. “The only thing that matters is your interest and education. Your social status, position, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, age, immigrant or disability status doesn't matter or impact how you get treated or what opportunities you are offered in his research lab.”

Smith, a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is known for his dedication to his students and for offering undergraduates and graduates alike field, lab and classroom experiences that build skills and boost résumés.

Former Smith student and advisee Jeanette O’Neil-O’Callaghan said that she is impressed by the diversity of Smith’s undergraduate and graduate students, as well as the fact that Smith fosters open and honest dialogue.

According to her, “All points of view, regardless of academic level, are encouraged in his lab and classroom.”

She adds that Smith goes above and beyond to help his students find their own scholastic paths without forcing his own preferences on them. He also encourages them to read widely and get to know as much as possible about the world and its peoples – past and present.

When O’Neil-O’Callaghan moved on to the art history program at ASU, Smith offered her an available desk in his lab and continued to include her in discussions with current students.

“Dr. Smith knows implicitly that archaeology does not exist in a vacuum. It needs the input of many diverse fields and people to accomplish its goals and advance its course,” she explains. “He didn’t care that I was no longer a student in his school. I was an Aztec scholar in training, and my point of view was welcome.”

Novic is proud of Smith’s win and the message it sends. “I think it is important for our school that one of its faculty was honored for something meaningful like this,” she says.

The recipients of the ASU Committee for Campus Inclusion’s 2014 Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Awards are:

Jordan Hibbs – ASU Student, Undergraduate
Marcelino Quiñonez – ASU Student, Graduate
Tyderyon Neal – ASU Staff
Michael E. Smith – Academic Professional/Faculty
Cesar Chavez Leadership Institute – ASU Group or Organization
Belinda Chui – Community Individual
Indigo Cultural Center – Community Group or Organization.

Rebecca Howe

Communications Specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


ASU grad creates new system for interactive media design

May 14, 2014

Matthew Ragan is the only ASU student graduating from his particular degree program this year. He is earning an MFA in Theatre with a concentration in interdisciplinary digital media and performance, one of the newer cross-institute degree concentrations in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, which is split between the School of Film, Dance and Theatre and the School of Arts, Media + Engineering.

“The reality that I had the most trouble with coming in as a student, but now I really appreciate on the other end of this experience, is how new this particular thing is,” says Ragan. “I came in wanting someone to sit me down and show me the way. Instead, the experiences I have had with a lot of my faculty mentors is that they would just push me. They’d say, ‘Stop looking to me for answers and go do that thing and come back and report to me about what you learned, and then I’ll push you in a different direction.’” Matthew Ragan Photo courtesy of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Download Full Image

For Ragan, this open landscape of possibility allowed him to explore uncharted territory at the intersection of live performance and interactive design.

But he didn’t discover this path immediately.

After earning his undergraduate degree in theatre and dance at Cal State Fresno, he spent several years working at Keene State College in New Hampshire, first in educational outreach and later in educational media creation and distribution. In the meantime, he was also training at the New England Center for Circus Arts and performing circus acrobatics.

“I had this schizophrenic life where I felt like I had this one part of me that was all technology and media and this other part of me that was all performance,” he recalls. “I finally ended up landing in the interdisciplinary digital media and performance program here at ASU because it felt like it was a chance to finally steer both parts of my life together in a way that felt less divided.”

During his time at ASU, Ragan estimates that he worked on close to 26 productions in total. He can’t pick a favorite, but he does identify several important benchmarks along the way.

The first of these benchmarks was the thesis project of then-MFA-student Boyd Branch, called “Neuro,” which was a devised piece that had audiences interacting closely with actors and a slew of different pieces of responsive technology.

“Working on ‘Neuro’ was interesting because at that time I didn’t know hardly anything,” says Ragan. “So that was really an opportunity to start thinking about installation artwork and how sensors work and how you build something that’s interactive, not just for an operator, but for some person to interact with in a live environment.

As a more recent benchmark, Ragan points to a summer project in a live quarry in Branford, Conn. (the same quarry that provided the stone for the base of the Statue of Liberty and portions of the Brooklyn Bridge). The performance, “TERRA TRACTUS: The Earth Moves,” was the largest project Ragan had ever tackled; it was also important because it involved live media mixing in what Ragan describes as a sort of DJ-style improvisation.

This ability to improvise through digital media became the foundation of Ragan’s MFA thesis.

“One of the things I kept coming back to in the process of designing shows in the first two years [in the program] is that we were constantly reinventing the wheel every time we wanted to do any kind of interactivity in a show,” says Ragan. “I just always felt like it was crazy that we were building a program and designing the media every time. So I started to ask, what happens if we think of the interactive environment as something that we can come back to?”

Part of Ragan’s thesis was to design the media for ASU School of Film, Dance and Theatre MainStage production “romeo&juliet/VOID.” But he went a few steps further, programming the actual media system for the show and teaching a concurrent class in the School of Arts, Media + Engineering about how to program for live performance.

“For my thesis, I developed a year-long piece of curriculum that’s really about how you use media with live performance, as well as developed a tool to use in theatres,” he explains. “So it was both about building an application and then building all the documentation and curriculum around it.”

In a way, Ragan’s story has come full circle, incorporating performance, design, media and teaching all together.

Completing that circle, he’s moving back home to California. Ragan has a job lined up post-graduation as an interactive engineer at San Francisco-based Obscura Digital, one of the leading creative technology companies in the United States.

“They do large-scale immersive interactive environments, projection, video systems — they run the gamut in terms of artistic work and corporate work, in terms of the kinds of things that they produce,” says Ragan. “And it’s on the scale that we always talk about but never have the time or budget to actualize.”

Media Contact:
Katrina Montgomery