Students provide insights into overcoming challenges facing education at ShapingEDU Unconference

August 5, 2021

If you’re talking about issues in education, it’s vital for all voices to have a seat at the table. That’s exactly why Arizona State University students were invited to speak during the “Student Panel: Decoding the Wicked Problems” session on Friday, July 23, during the 2021 ShapingEDU Unconference.

From July 20–23, participants gathered at a “remote” inn to discuss and untangle complex, pressing challenges — what are referred to as "wicked problems" — in learning that were voted on by the community. The student panel shared their thoughts and opinions on critical issues, like how to better engage virtual learners and avoid burnout; diversity, equity and inclusion; and encouraging positive mental health and wellness. The panel included: Unconference Student Panel with Moderator Samantha Becker Students spoke at the “Student Panel: Decoding the Wicked Problems” session on Friday, July 23. Download Full Image

  • Lance Israel Lim, BS community health, BS health entrepreneurship and innovation, certificate in cross sector leadership.

  • John Janezic, BA in interdisciplinary studies: sustainability and applied biology, with a minor in Spanish and a certificate in cross-sector leadership in 2021, master's degree in global management candidate at Thunderbird School for Global Management. 

  • Sophie Jones, BS in family and human development and current master's degree in communication candidate.

“Learner voice is paramount,” said Samantha Becker, co-founder of ShapingEDU and moderator for the panel. “Learning takes place no matter how old you are or where you are in the world. We are all lifelong learners.”

Here are some of the topics discussed and the student panels’ responses:

1. When it comes to traditional degrees versus microcredentials, how do students perceive their value?

“It’s less about whether or not the value has changed but how its perception has changed,” Janezic said. “People are still learning and engaging in the universal learner idea outside of the four-year degree. How we can use micro-credentials as a supplement, thinking about these other credentials and how they can blend together to really bring more value than just individual siloed accomplishments.”

Lim, a former nursing student, explained that the traditional degree is still important.

“The four-year degree still stands as a very valid way to verify knowledge,” Lim said. “Four-year degrees are a standard for a lot of friends, especially those in STEM and medicine. However, I do think that the advent of online courses, self-teaching has made education more accessible to all people.”

Lim went on to share some of the many benefits of micro-credentials, which includes allowing: 

  • Learners to be better advocates and bring better accessibility to the workforce.

  • People who cannot afford or don’t have the time to complete a four-year degree to gain skills.

  • More degree exploration.

2. What about the many tools that are available now online due to the pandemic?

When it comes to tools, “it’s imperative that we look at the pandemic as a point of inflection or a point to pivot,” Janezic said. He suggested that we consider how we can use technology and tools to better supplement and support student learning as a way of addressing problems in our education system.

Janezic added that while this shift in technology and online learning is important to students, it’s also critical to facility, staff and instructors.

“We are all universal learners, and we have to think about our instructors as learners ... supporting the people who are supporting the students is just as important as directly supporting the students.”

3. When it comes to voice and choice, what is important to students as a lifelong learner?

Empathy is what Jones values most. Her advice to instructors: “Understand the vast diversity of student experiences and that all those communities are equitably served. Take the time to place yourself in their shoes and empower their learning style.”

The human aspect is important to Janezic.

“We need to think about how everyone can come together and support the learning individually from each of those fears — and then hopefully that would lead to greater decision making as we progress our whole universal learning journey.”

4. How important is accessibility to students?

For Jones, who shared stories from her personal learner journey, it comes back to being empathetic of students and the concept of humanizing learning: recognizing that learners are all coming from different places and are learning in different environments.

“The best thing you can do as a professor or as a professional is just to address that feeling of indignity that might come with self-disclosure (of having a disability),” Jones said. “(It’s about) working within the parameters of what you might be capable or not capable of on a day to day basis and just approaching it with that humanity.”

“ShapingEDU always strives to include the voice of lifelong learners in our discussions; their perspectives are a critical component of our problem-solving process,” said Stephanie Pierotti, director of ShapingEDU. “I was incredibly impressed with their introspection, and their thoughtful analysis of each wicked problem we discussed.” 

Watch the entire conversation now:

Stephanie King

Content Strategist, University Technology Office

Student innovation you can bank on

Bank of the West taps ASU students for part-time think tank work

August 5, 2021

Over the past year and a half, the global pandemic has scrambled all sense of “business as usual,” including how we manage our money.

With mobile banking now used by 89% of adults — including 97% of millennials, according to Business Insider — savvy chief information officers like Jacob Sorensen with Bank of the West are focused on digital makeovers. A woman uses a banking app on her smartphone. Download Full Image

When Sorensen was looking to revolutionize Bank of the West’s mobile banking experience, he could have hired an outside consulting firm. Instead, he’s building a strong in-house team that includes Arizona State University students and alumni. 

Delivering a first-rate online customer experience is a key to success today.

“If you can’t provide customers with a great mobile experience, someone else will,” said John Fleharty, head of digital engineering and senior vice president of IT at Bank of the West.

To attract not just new customers, but digitally savvy ones who may be disgruntled by aging technology, Bank of the West taps into a roster of bright talent and innovative minds at ASU’s Luminosity Lab.

The bank recruits students for part-time work during summer, fall and spring semesters in the Bank of the West Innovation Lab in collaboration with ASU, with a potential pathway to full-time employment. The interdisciplinary research and development lab gives students an untethered environment to innovate solutions.  

Cameron Anundson, an undergraduate student earning a computer science degree in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, heads an eight-member ASU Luminosity Lab student team for Bank of the West. 

“They’ve isolated us from bureaucracy, from red tape and other business constraints, and we have the freedom to pursue these bigger picture ideas,” he said. 

Showing a great app-titude

“We’ve created a prototype mobile app that represents a reimagination of the Bank of the West digital experience,” Anundson said. “It’s unique because it delivers the most important features of the app to the customer in a natural and intuitive way, which makes the experience seamless and enjoyable.”

The app has all the standard functions you might expect — digital deposits, transfers and account balance information — plus features designed to appeal to Generation Z and millennial customers. One is a tool that helps them manage money with a log that tracks expenditures against a monthly budget. Another is an intelligent chat bot that can answer questions about finance and banking, providing customers with quick and relevant answers while reducing call center volume. 

The prototype mobile app received rave reviews during a recent presentation to the bank’s executive management team. 

"I think our leaders were completely blown away by the end results and how articulate, well-organized and driven the students are,” Sorensen said. 

“I think everyone was wowed by what’s possible when you give the right individuals the right platforms and the right opportunities, and quite frankly when you get out of their way,” Fleharty said. 

Enriching the planet through green practices

Bank of the West prides itself on having one of the strongest environmental stances of any major U.S. bank.

“When you put money in the bank, it doesn’t just sit there. It goes out into the world and finances things,” Sorensen said. “Bank of the West has policies in place that restrict financing for what we believe to be the dirtiest forms of fossil fuel extraction — such as coal, fracking, tar sands and Arctic drilling — and other activities believed to be harmful to people and the planet, like Big Tobacco. We don’t support ventures we believe to be environmentally destructive, and feel strongly that what we don’t finance is as important as what we do.” 

The bank offers a checking account built for climate action, which donates a portion of its net revenue to environmental nonprofits. The account also features a carbon tracking app that allows customers to view the carbon impact of every purchase made with account’s debit cardThe carbon tracking tool, which will appear in the Bank of the West Mobile app for 1% for the Planet account, uses the Åland Index, a cloud-based service for carbon impact calculations, to provide a measurement of the potential carbon impact of purchases made with the 1% for the Planet debit card.The Innovation Lab team has plans to incorporate additional functionality into the next iteration of their prototype app as a way for Bank of the West customers to get a sense of how their everyday spending habits impact their carbon footprint.

Gaining a 360-degree perspective

Emerging technologies make it possible for businesses like Bank of the West to capture and analyze vast amounts of data. Armed with that data, the Innovation Lab helped to create a prototype for the bank’s Customer 360 Platform that delivers advanced customer insights with a click of a computer mouse. 

Haley Harelson, a data science major with a concentration in computer science in ASU’s School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, was one of the team members who worked on this platform. 

“The 360 platform makes it possible for a banker to see advanced customer insights on one dashboard,” she said. “It makes their workflow a lot easier and creates really creative data visualizations to better assist bankers as they pursue opportunities and close their referrals.” 

The platform awaits beta testing, but “so far, we’ve received a lot of really positive feedback from the bank’s sales and service departments because it’s a much more efficient workflow,” Harelson said. “Bankers don’t have to search for information through a lot of different mediums — it’s all in one place.” 

Developing disruptive digital leaders

As many as 80% of large businesses are in the midst of a digital transformation, according to McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm. The partnership with ASU has helped Sorensen and Fleharty find disruptive digital talent. 

“When I took on the CIO role a few years ago, it became really clear to me that we’re not going to win by outsourcing our customer experience,” said Sorensen, who has been impressed with the level of talent, critical thinking and innovation he has encountered in ASU recruits. “If you haven’t been somewhat constrained by corporate America for the last 10 to 20 years, you can bring in a different way of solving problems and question the way to do things. It’s a different way to compete.”

Fleharty says creating a great digital experience today requires recruiting the technology leaders of tomorrow.

“That’s why we’re leveraging ASU to try to attract some of the top talent to help transform our organization in the coming years, reshaping the way we interact with customers, and help to build the digital products that separate us from our competition.”

Hands-on experience in a real business setting

Innovation Lab members gain experience in a think tank environment.

“It gives students the ability to work on projects or ideas that the Bank of the West is interested in exploring, and also provides students the opportunity to recommend products or technology to us,” Fleharty said. “So it absolutely goes both ways — we give students enough freedom to bring us ideas and innovation while also asking them to test or prove sample technology solutions that we are considering for the future.”

Innovation Lab students say the experience has been a boon to their careers. 

“Leading this team has really helped me develop my ability to take product vision from leadership and stakeholders, bring it to engineering, and ultimately take that idea and turn it into a reality that’s really closely aligned with their expectations," said Anundson, whose goal is to land a job in big tech after graduation. "I know as I move into my career, bridging that gap between leadership and development is going to be a crucial part of my work.

“I’ve especially enjoyed how we, as a group of college students, have been able to deliver tangible value to the Bank of the West in the form of software products and business initiative ideas, and how they really cleared the red tape for us, giving us freedom and trust to develop new ideas and iterate on them super rapidly."

Harelson, who envisions herself working in technical product management at a company that drives social impact, said, “It’s great because they literally treat us like consultants. I think the hands-on learning is fundamental to any college student’s success because it does prepare you for real-world experiences, things you can’t replicate in a classroom environment.” 

Are you a student who is interested in joining ASU’s Luminosity Lab? Contact the lab at

If your organization would like to work with a team of high-performing students to innovate solutions, contact ASU’s Business Concierge at

Lori Baker

Communications Specialist, Knowledge Enterprise