UTO Stretch Program offers new opportunities for working students

January 14, 2021

As members of the Sun Devil community know, lifelong learning is an important part of the university experience. Whether a student, instructor or staff member, your time with Arizona State University will prepare you for personal growth in the future.

In keeping with this mission, UTO’s Experience Center — the front door for all services that provides the highest level of support for the ASU community — has created a new learning experience for its staff, many of whom are students themselves. Screenshot of a virtual reality concert experience created by student Xavier McDonald. Download Full Image

The Experience Center's “Stretch Program” brings its customer service agents into other areas at the university, embedding them into units to gain new knowledge, skills and experiences that align with the employees’ career aspirations and interests.

The Stretch Program allows individuals to extend beyond their usual Experience Center roles in order to explore adjacent career interests and ultimately develop a portfolio more closely aligned to their educational or professional pursuits.

One such individual is Xavier McDonald, an IT support agent at the Experience Center who studies digital culture in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering. As a second-year master’s student, McDonald is on track to graduate in May 2021, and on top of his curricular requirements, his participation in the Experience Center Stretch Program will help prepare him for his future goals.

While he helps members of the ASU community with any technology questions they may have and meets the requirements of his digital culture program — a field that finds ways to bring art and technology together — for his Stretch Program assignment, McDonald is working at ASU’s Meteor Studio, a research laboratory dedicated to virtual and augmented reality.

“My work at the Meteor Studio is closely related to my school curriculum, which aligned very well for me,” McDonald said. “What was needed at the time I joined was 360-degree photography. So I learned how to set it up, take shots, edit the footage and put it in a presentable format that can be used for projects within XR@ASU.”

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Xavier McDonald

McDonald’s emphasis within the digital culture area of study is music, including performance and digital production. He is taking technological aspects of the arts a step further with a project that brings a live concert experience into virtual reality.

“For me, it’s a great way to blend those two interests in technology and arts and music,” McDonald said.

With these goals in mind, his direct, hands-on experience with three-dimensional photography at the Meteor Studio fits perfectly into McDonald’s VR concert experience, which would need to leverage such technology to work.

Within his coursework, McDonald is learning the skills necessary to make his ideas a reality, and his time at the Experience Center is giving him work experience, as well as supporting the ASU community at large. But his Stretch Program assignment is also giving him insight into his future professional field. McDonald worked with his supervisors at the center to propose collaboration with the Meteor Studio.

And it wasn’t just tech skills that McDonald found useful in working with the Meteor Studio.

“I can see myself being in that sort of environment, which is a team working towards creative development,” McDonald said.

The center's Stretch Program brought him into a unit that demonstrated not only technical skills, but those ever-valuable “soft” skills that make working in a professional environment all the more effective.

“I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to learn in this way because it’s super unique,” McDonald concluded. “It’s a really innovative way to share knowledge throughout the community,” he said.

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Sophie Jones

McDonald isn’t alone in the Experience Center Stretch Program. Sophie Jones is a colleague who, through the Stretch Program, began working with the creative and communications team at UTO. Jones’ major in human development called for a different approach to communication and interaction, in addition to her support of financial aid inquiries at the Experience Center.

She echoed McDonald in explaining how technical and soft skills better prepared her for her future career.

“The values and daily tasks within the program align with my degree in human development, in which communication, empathy and culture are key,” Jones said. “In essence, it was through the Stretch Program that I was afforded the opportunity to explore career prospects that converge with my goals.

“The Stretch Program provided me with the ability to ‘get my foot in the door.’ After working for seven years in customer service, retail and operations, I was finally able to enter a role focused on communications and storytelling, with values of accessibility and innovation at the forefront.”

The Experience Center Stretch Program is the perfect representation of UTO’s commitment to ensuring the best experience for staff and students and connecting studies to the future of work. McDonald's and Jones’ time with the Experience Center is preparing them for their professional lives in a multitude of ways.

Editorial specialist, University Technology Office

School of Earth and Space Exploration awarded 4 JEDI seed grants for 2021

January 14, 2021

Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration was recently awarded four Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) seed grants from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The grants are from the natural sciences division of The College and represent initiatives of The College’s JEDI framework, which seeks to support calls to action and appeals for social change and justice following the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. Seed grants from The College will support programs that prioritize justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Credit: ASU/SESE Download Full Image

Specifically, the seed grant program was created to support novel and impactful contributions to promote equity and inclusion in The College’s natural sciences division, which includes the School of Earth and Space Exploration, the School of Life Sciences, the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, the School of Molecular Sciences, the Department of Physics and the Department of Psychology.

“Dean and Provost Pro Tempore Nancy Gonzales initiated a seed grant program in the natural sciences to support JEDI-related activities in the sciences,” said Dean Patrick Kenney, of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “The efforts in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and in many other units, are working diligently to prioritize justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. We strive to meet this critical moment in our nation’s history to find ways to improve people’s lives with new and innovative solutions that will ultimately enhance greater scientific discovery and impact.”

Proposals were accepted from students, staff, faculty and administrators with priorities given to projects developed in partnership with the groups they are intended to impact, that integrate evidence-based principles and include a plan for continued refinement and sustainability beyond the initial seed-funding period.

The four awarded proposals featured below are interdisciplinary and involve members of the School of Earth and Space Exploration in addition to representatives from other schools and departments within The College:

The INCLUDES Training Program

Associate Professor Christy Till of the School of Earth and Space Exploration, with Professor Sharon Hall of the School of Life Sciences and Clinical Assistant Professor Ara Austin of the School of Molecular Sciences were awarded $9,550 for their proposal “Natural Sciences INCLUsion DEpartmental (INCLUDES) Training Program.” They plan to use the funding to set and run yearly workplace climate and bystander intervention trainings for their academic units.

“The INCLUDES Training Program utilizes bystander intervention and inclusive teaching and mentoring approaches to reduce the prevalence of harassment and other types of hostile behaviors,” Till said. “We will build an initial cohort of nine trainers to lead regular workplace climate and inclusion training for faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students in our units, as well as annual ‘train the trainers’ workshops to renew the program each year.”

The initial cohort of trainers for the INCLUDES Training Program will be trained by the ADVANCEGeo program, which currently hosts inclusion workshops and trains trainers for the geoscience, biology, ecology, chemistry and engineering research environments.   

Graduate student experiences

Graduate student Aliya Hoff with Professor Monica Gaughan of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and Associate Professor Amanda Clarke of the School of Earth and Space Exploration were awarded $500 for their proposal “Graduate student experiences at the School of Earth and Space Exploration.”

This project aims to characterize current and former graduate students’ perceptions of departmental culture, their sense of belonging and interpersonal interactions at the school using qualitative data and semi-structured interviews.

“We will use those findings to evaluate the efficacy of policies and initiatives currently in place to support graduate students and identify opportunities to promote diversity, equity, inclusion and justice in the school,” Hoff said. “We hope that our study design can serve as a model for other interdisciplinary units in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.”

Science in a Box Educator Kits

School of Earth and Space Exploration graduate student Linnea McCann and Associate Professor Patrick Young received $4,500 for their proposal to create educational materials for Title 1 schools. Their Science in a Box Educator Kits are designed to bring more science activities into the classroom through free self-contained four-week science curricula for teachers and parents.

“The next school year will provide new challenges for educators and students due to the recent coronavirus-related school closures,” Hoff said. “It is more important than ever to create opportunities for students in difficult situations to remain engaged with learning in creative and supportive ways. We hope that our kits will provide improved classroom experiences in the next year to offset some of these negative impacts.”

The curricula will include: School of Earth and Space Exploration outreach tours (which can be offered virtually), educator kits with hands-on experiments and materials for classroom science activities, graduate student volunteers to aid teachers in demonstrating the activities and instructional videos of graduate students performing experiments.

Sexual harassment prevention and bystander workshop

Graduate students Edward Buie II, Justin Hom and Jasmine Garani received $3,300 for their proposal to conduct a series of sexual harassment prevention and bystander workshops for schools and departments in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

The project goals are to educate the graduate student community on sexual harassment and micro-aggressions and to ultimately erase these behaviors within the STEM community by giving graduate students the tools to be active bystanders who can safely intervene whenever such behaviors occur.

“Workshops like this are needed to increase the dialogue surrounding these persistent issues within academia which hinder inclusivity and diversity in the community,” Buie said. “This peer-led workshop program aims to create a more positive and inclusive environment for all graduate students.”

School of Earth and Space Exploration JEDI Seed Grant

The School of Earth and Space Exploration has also set up its own JEDI seed grant program. It recently announced its inaugural winner, undergraduate student Bryanna Gutierrez-Coatney. Her award-winning proposal is an education initiative designed to build awareness of physics and earth and space topics among students in Arizona’s Title 1 schools.

The school’s seed grant is one of several initiatives from the School of Earth and Space Exploration JEDI Task Force, which empowers a just, equitable, diverse and inclusive environment by facilitating and promoting individual action, dialog, education, long-term planning and systemic change. It was formed in 2020, is chaired by Associate Professor Christy Till, the school’s associate director for an inclusive community, and is composed of members from all parts of the school’s community.

Karin Valentine

Media Relations & Marketing manager, School of Earth and Space Exploration