Sustainability innovators to be honored at Founders' Day event

Ryan Delaney

Alumni, faculty and alumni supporters who have developed game-changing ideas and projects in the field of sustainability will be recognized at this year’s annual Founders’ Day Awards Dinner, slated for 6 p.m., March 5, at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa in Phoenix.

The award ceremony has been a signature university event for decades, as each year the Arizona State University Alumni Association honors individuals who exemplify the spirit of the founders of the Territorial Normal School of Arizona, ASU’s predecessor institution.

This year, the event will focus on sustainability innovators.

From encouraging individual responsibility to positively influencing corporate behaviors, ASU champions the education, research and practical work necessary to achieve a sustainable world. As part of the celebration, ASU President Michael M. Crow will provide an update on the university.

Tickets to the Founders’ Day event are $150 for Alumni Association members and $200 for non-members. Table and corporate sponsorship opportunities are available.

For additional information, or to RSVP, visit

Alumni Achievement Awards

Young Alumni Achievement Award

A 2011 graduate of ASU’s School of Sustainability, Ryan Delaney will be awarded the Young Alumni Achievement Award for his work as founder and co-director of Carbon Roots International (CRI), a company that uses sustainability principles to help rural farmers in Haiti develop more efficient agricultural practices.

Delaney collaborated with his co-founders to create CRI in 2010. The company’s main purpose initially was to develop a viable model for the deployment of a sustainable soil amendment known as biochar in rural Haiti. During several years of close collaboration with rural Haitian communities, CRI implemented field trials, developed appropriate technology, and ultimately expanded its organizational focus to include the production of a renewable fuel known as “green charcoal,” which allows farmers to convert crop waste into a fuel source with which people can cook.

In 2013, Delaney’s company formally launched an innovative, market-based social enterprise model in northern Haiti that addresses deforestation, energy security, rural poverty and job scarcity.

Alumni Achievement Award

Rev. Jenny L. Norton is being honored with the Alumni Achievement Award for her advocacy on behalf of sustainability and social justice issues, and for her concern with the impact of environmental challenges upon the most vulnerable populations within our society.

While serving as an Arizona state representative from District 27 in the 1980s, Norton co-sponsored legislation to mandate the use of clean fuels and to re-write the state’s energy policy. She worked with U.S. Rep. Jay Rhodes to draft a bill that authorized the Central Arizona Project to recapture 2 million acre-feet of clean water per year.

At ASU, Norton has established five scholarship endowments, including four in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and one in the School of Sustainability. The scholarships assist undergraduate and graduate students interested in justice studies, religious studies, sustainability, and women/gender studies.

Faculty Achievement Awards

Faculty Research Achievement Award

For his contributions to major transdisciplinary projects related to biogeochemistry, ecosystem dynamics, and nutrient limitation, with a special emphasis on phosphorus, James Elser will be honored with the Faculty Research Achievement Award.

Since arriving at ASU as a faculty member in 1990, he has been a pioneer in the integrative field of biological stoichiometry, which is the study of the balance of energy and multiple chemical elements in living systems, and has applied this theory primarily in limnology, which is the study of inland waters (lakes, reservoirs, rivers, streams, wetlands, and groundwater).

He was integral in the 2011 founding of the Sustainable P Initiative at ASU, which seeks to integrate disconnected geological, agronomic, biogeochemical, economic, and sociological data and perspectives related to phosphorus sustainability. He is currently the principal investigator for the initiative’s Sustainable Phosphorus Research Coordination Network and a founding leader of the emerging North American Partnership for Phosphorus Sustainability.

Faculty Service Achievement Award

Christopher Wharton will be awarded the 

Faculty Service Achievement Award for his service work in the field of sustainability and nutrition. He is an expert in local food systems and food security and is the director of the Food Systems Transformation Initiative at ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.

Wharton’s research interests include developing innovative models that improve small and mid-sized farms’ financial viability, and studying the ways in which the local supply chain can offer increased healthy food access in “food deserts,” or locations in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food.

At ASU, he has performed numerous service activities, including acting as chair of the research seminar series for the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion and participating in the school’s curriculum committee.

Faculty Teaching Achievement Award

Chad Johnson will be honored with the Faculty Teaching Achievement Award for his contributions to ASU and the local community as an outstanding teacher and mentor to students. He is praised in evaluations by former students as a caring, passionate, and creative instructor, who is able to distill complex biological and ecological dynamics into clear, understandable concepts.

In his research, Johnson tracks animals through their life cycles, studying behavior in conjunction with ecological variations found in nature. His most recent research focuses on the study of behavior and population ecology/genetics of desert-versus-urban populations of black widow spiders native to Arizona. It is his hope that by concentrating on the dynamic interaction between the behavior, ecology and population genetics of these urban infestations, the ineffectual application of pesticides can be curtailed.

Johnson is a strong advocate of hands-on learning, and utilizes up to a half-dozen undergraduate student research collaborators in his laboratory each semester. He has mentored more than two dozen undergraduate and graduate students as a faculty research supervisor, thesis/dissertation committee member, or committee co-chair since arriving at ASU in 2006.

Faculty Teaching Achievement Award

For her innovative approach to instructing students in the School of Sustainability, Hallie Eakin will be honored with the Faculty Teaching Achievement Award. Eakin is known for her dynamic lecture style, peer-to-peer learning, and community-based projects, as well as field trips to observe sustainability concepts and dynamics unfolding in their natural state.

Eakin’s research seeks to understand the adaptability, resilience and sustainability of different social systems in the face of global environmental and socioeconomic change. Her recent projects have focused on viability of maize farming in Mexico, and the influence of water policy on farmers’ adaptation strategies in Central Arizona. She currently is coordinating a large international project intended to improve the resilience of Mexico City to chronic flooding.

Eakin has taught a range of courses on sustainability at ASU. She also coordinates project-based learning courses in which students design and implement collaborative projects in collaboration with elements of the Phoenix community. In recent courses, teams of undergraduate and graduate students have provided recommendations on better integrating rural interests into municipal planning processes, and have assessed stakeholder attitudes about the sustainability of the Phoenix food system.

The Philanthropists of the Year Award

Presented by the ASU Foundation For A New American University, the Philanthropists of the Year Award will go to Rob and Melani Walton

 for their exemplary support and dedication to creativity, innovation and engaged practice to create a more sustainable world through their philanthropy and corporate leadership. This dedication is demonstrated by their investment in ASU to create the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives.

Rob Walton is chairman of the board of directors of Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, and serves Conservation International as chairman of its executive committee. Melani Walton has served on numerous boards and committees for organizations that support research and innovation in the areas of education, art and humanities, conservation and sustainability. Together, they oversee the work funded by the Rob and Melani Walton Fund within the Walton Family Foundation, which focuses on sustaining the Walton family’s commitment to provide a positive difference in significant social and environmental issues.

The Waltons’ current engagement with Arizona State University helped the university to extend its expertise in sustainability outside the bounds of academia by establishing two high-impact programs: The Sustainability Consortium, established in 2009 in partnership with the University of Arkansas; and the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, established in 2012 through a $27.5 million investment from their fund within the Walton Family Foundation. The seven programs of the Walton Initiatives are designed to develop scalable solutions to global economic, social and environmental challenges.