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The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering reviews a year of impact

December 29, 2021

It has been a remarkable year for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. From introducing a new school that will help spur technological growth and expansion to faculty members and alumni earning national recognition for their research and discovery, the Fulton Schools continues to create unique opportunities for faculty and students to explore and excel.

Revisit some of the year’s most popular stories published to school's engineering news blog, Full Circle, and take a look, month by month, at how Fulton Schools students and faculty made lasting impacts throughout the year.

Graphic showing people learning and exploring.

January: Collaboration committed to diversity in engineering

A Fulton Schools summer research experience for engineering students from historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, expanded in 2021 to include new schools and additional industry sponsorship. Intel, which helped facilitate the 2020 program, and now Facebook, committed significant funding to support internships for students from HBCUs, faculty collaboration among the universities, and diversity in STEM fields.

Members of the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Water Access Coordination Group working outdoors

February: ASU launches tribal coordination center to battle COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted Indigenous communities in part due to long-term, inadequate investment in education, infrastructure and health care services. Otakuye Conroy-Ben, an assistant professor of environmental engineering, is the principal investigator in National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health projects to apply wastewater-based epidemiology to detect coronavirus in reservation sewer systems. A new Wastewater-Based Epidemiology Tribal Coordination Center will also help make connections with tribes to address infrastructure needs.

Group of people working at a MakerSpace

March: Experiential lab customizes technology for community impact

“Our mission (in the new Social Innovation Startup Lab) is to focus and strengthen university, industry and community partnerships. We want to engage and connect companies, employees, faculty, students and communities in a meaningful experience while developing purposefully driven startups that provide responsible technological solutions to the community and nonprofit sectors," says Andrea Cherman, technological and entrepreneurship and management lecturer who developed the Social Innovation Startup Lab.

Biomedical engineering and neuroscience graduate Nicole Haikalis in her graduation attire.

April: Graduate empowered to achieve and serve through adversity

“After my injury, the thing I struggled with most was not having control over certain parts of my body," said Nicole Haikalis, spring 2021 biomedical engineering and neuroscience graduate. "I learned about biomedical engineering because of all the devices that disabled people rely on, and became aware of a whole new world of pains and struggles filled with incredibly strong people fighting for life. It’s engineering, but it is also related to health care. It’s a role in medicine, but from a different perspective. I thought it was perfect.”

Graphic with nine photos of faculty members and 2021 NSF CAREER Awards

May: 9 ASU engineering faculty continue record of excellence earning NSF CAREER Awards

Nine faculty members in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering have received National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Awards in 2021. The awards total an estimated $4.8 million to fund projects over the next five years. Earning the NSF CAREER Award is a hallmark achievement for these early career faculty members who have each developed a comprehensive plan to conduct impactful research and deliver a rich educational experience to their students.

Zachary Pirtle

June: A passion driven mission: Alum’s work guides nation’s space exploration endeavors

“I’ve been lucky to work on some of NASA’s most complex systems engineering problems and public policy issues involved in trying to shape our human spaceflight goals," said Zachary Pirtle,
a NASA Early Career Achievement Medal winner. "And because of the range of my undergraduate and graduate studies, I feel I can bring both technical knowledge and a philosophical approach to problem-solving in these different areas." Pirtle earned his mechanical engineering and philosophy bachelor’s degrees in 2007 and a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering in 2009. 

Intel's Fab 42 in Chandler, Arizona

July: Semiconductor certificate moves students from lab to fab

A global shortage of computer chips is disrupting the production of goods ranging from appliances to automobiles. The semiconductor industry is responding by expanding its manufacturing capacity, and the Phoenix metropolitan area is an emerging locus for new fabrication plants, or “fabs.” Meeting the challenge of fueling the pipeline of technical talent for new fabs is the purpose of a new Certificate in Semiconductor Processing program in the Fulton Schools.

Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering New Faculty 2021-2022

August: ASU welcomes new engineering faculty

“Academic and research excellence is a central goal, and one that is effectively a journey requiring tremendous dedication by the faculty and support by the Fulton Schools," said Kyle Squires
dean of the Fulton Schools. "Our faculty not only make an impact within their disciplines but also foster an environment and a culture that promotes excellence. We always benefit from more gifted minds and articulate voices to broaden the impacts that we have all come to expect from the Fulton Schools. So, please join me in extending an enthusiastic welcome to these impressive scholars.” 

Mary Niemczyk

September: Beloved aviation faculty receives her wings

“Without a sliver of doubt, Dr. Mary Niemczyk remains one of the most influential forces in my higher education career," said Ryan Ewing, an aviation management alumnus and ASU Women in Aviation student chapter leadership member. She motivated me to get a master’s degree and showed me new paths and horizons that I previously thought weren’t attainable. Indeed, she challenged her students, but made time for each and every one of us, pushing us to the next chapter in our careers. Her sense of goodwill, empathy and selflessness was contagious.” Niemczyk, was an associate professor of aviation who served at ASU for 19 years.

Saeed Zeinolabedinzadeh

October: Engineering innovations to enhance the performance of wireless systems

Today, navigation, communications and nearly all operations of sea-going vessels and airborne transportation are performed with technologies that could scarcely be imagined only several generations ago. Still, the demands of the modern world necessitate innovative new connectivity and security developments. Saeed Zeinolabedinzadeh, an electrical and computer engineer and assistant professor, has earned a Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research for his work to advance navigation and communications technologies for the next generation of highly reliable systems. 

Happy 90th Birthday, Ira Fulton

November: Happy 90th Birthday to Ira Fulton

On his 90th birthday, Ira Fulton had a lot to celebrate. For nine decades, the businessman and philanthropist has made an indelible mark — accomplishing professional goals, fulfilling personal ambitions and making a positive impact around the world through a diverse range of endeavors. This year, we recognized the major benefactor and namesake of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, the success he has achieved and how he has used the fruits of his labors to help better the lives of others.

A graphic of a magnet and a group of human figures in alternating colors.

December: Computing scenarios for defusing polarizing politics

New research shows that common ground is shrinking in politics, and people on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum are more entrenched in their divergent positions than at any time in recent history. Studies using big data and cutting-edge computational techniques confirm a troubling spread of extreme polarization across the United States. Two Arizona State University researchers — Stephanie Forrest and Joshua Daymude — and one of their colleagues examined the roots of accelerating social divisiveness through their computational lens.

Honorable mentions:

Mariana Bertoni and members of her research team.

Becoming shatterproof

ASU has been at the forefront of creating a very different model for the Valley — one that isn’t just resilient in the face of change, but “antifragile.” 

 Engineering the manufacturing boom

Engineering the manufacturing boom

ASU is poised to help develop the talent pipeline needed to meet the demand for advanced manufacturing engineers.

AirGarage founders

Student startup receives $12.5M from venture capitalists

During their time at ASU, a trio of alumni formed AirGarage, an online marketplace for people to list, find and book parking spaces.

Sylvia Lopez and Brinlee Kidd

ASU students named US finalists in Red Bull Basement Global competition

A pair of undergrads were selected from 182 applications nationwide for their innovative note-taking tool, Jotted.

Water tower at the ASU Polytechnic campus

Evolving to increase impact and better meet society’s needs

The Fulton Schools introduced a new school, the School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks, and is restructuring two others to increase impact and address critical societal challenges. 

Engineering Dean Kyle Squires

Engineering Dean Kyle Squires appointed vice provost

The new position acknowledges Squires’ role in reshaping engineering education at ASU and how that effort aims to expand in the future.

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-727-1958

 
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Should we go back to the office full time?

December 29, 2021

ASU planning professor says maintaining some pandemic-prompted habits can be beneficial

Nationwide — with the uptake of coronavirus-response strategies like vaccinations, masks and distancing  more aspects of society are reopening. Select restaurants and stores are opening to full capacities, air travel volumes are increasing to near pre-pandemic levels and many Arizonians are back to commuting and reporting to in-person work on a full-time basis — but should we resist the urge to return to all of our pre-pandemic habits and choices?  

Deborah Salon, a transportation planner and associate professor in Arizona State University's School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, says that maintaining some prandemic-prompted habits can be beneficial to individuals, organizations and the environment, and that we have a chance now to radically rethink former norms to improve our day-to-day lives. 

Salon’s recent National Science Foundation-funded COVID-19 and the Future survey project investigates long-term changes to daily habits in the U.S. caused by the pandemic. One of the most significant findings of her study, conducted in collaboration with colleagues across ASU and the University of Illinois Chicago, sheds new light on the attitudes and opportunities toward a future of less time in the office and more remote work.

ASU News spoke to Salon about her study, transportation habits during the pandemic and the opportunity for some to emerge from the pandemic with an improved quality of life. 

Deborah Salon

Question: Can you tell us about your study? How did this research come to be? 

Answer: When the pandemic hit in the U.S., my collaborators and I realized that it was going to impact people's transportation choices. We quickly developed and deployed our national survey of U.S. adults covering people’s transport choices before the pandemic, what they were doing during the pandemic and what they expect to do post-pandemic. 

Our project aims to measure both how much transportation choices changed during the pandemic and the extent to which people expect these changes to persist as the pandemic wanes. To date, we have collected thousands of responses in three waves of survey data; we just collected our third survey wave this fall.

Q: What are some of your most significant findings?

A: There were many changes in people’s transportation choices during the pandemic, but probably the biggest change that people expect to continue into the future was more working from home. In fact, when we asked people which features of pandemic life they most value, working from home was at the top of the list for employed adults. 

We found that the majority of workers experienced remote work at some point during the pandemic and most of them liked it. Pew Research also found that among those who can do their jobs remotely, nearly 90% would like to telecommute at least some of the time post-pandemic. You would expect people to like more flexibility, but another thing that we found was that for those that worked from home, a little more than 70% said that their productivity was stable or went up, and this is consistent with other study findings. 

Not only did workers prove during the pandemic that they could successfully and productively work remotely, but data shows that they enjoyed it and got better at it over time. 

Q: So, nearly everyone who could do their job remotely worked at some point from home, most enjoyed it, were productive and want to continue to work remotely in some form post-pandemic. What does this mean for employers? 

A: The evidence suggests that working from home doesn't necessarily lead to reductions in overall productivity for workers, so why not try to figure out how to continue to offer this flexibility?

Another point that I think is important is that one of the reasons for that productivity result may be that happier workers are actually more productive. That's been found in prior research, and it makes sense. The more you can have happy or satisfied workers, the more those workers are going to be with your company longer-term. 

So with that, I think it's a win-win scenario: Let people continue to have some level of flexibility working from home while still thinking about how to provide customer service, and whatever else you may need to allow people to do their job duties. 

Q: Given your findings, why do you think some employers may still be resistant to work-from-home policies? 

A: When I started to hear news that there are companies calling their employees back to the office 100% of the time, that just seemed really short-sighted to me.

My best thought is that some employers may be concerned about their customers not being able to handle or feel comfortable with the remote customer service experience. That comes up in the university setting, and I've heard anecdotally that it comes up in health care settings. But I think that's only part of it. I think for some companies, it's that they aren’t ready to spend the time and energy to reorganize their workflows so that a partially or fully remote workforce makes sense. Going back to how they did things in 2019 might just seem easier.

I really want to encourage people who are in a position to make decisions about whether people who work for them have the option to work remotely to try to work with their employees to come up with creative solutions together. 

Q: Where should employers start? 

A: Look at the data you have from the pandemic period when at least some people were working remotely, and see if in fact they did experience a problem with a drop in productivity.

If they did, investigate. Was it because of the remote working situation or was it because there was a pandemic, or was it because they didn't have the right procedures in place to support remote work? There are a lot of reasons that it might be, and even if they did see a drop in productivity, I wouldn't abandon further thinking about remote work for employees. 

It's really about quality of life for your employees. But it could also mean good things for employers: potential for enhanced productivity and possibly saving money on office space. Try to think creatively about how to make sure everybody's goals are met.

Q: Some companies have announced that they will operate fully in-person, others have announced that they will be fully remote and others have taken a hybrid approach, allowing employees to work from home some days and in the office the rest. Is there a certain trend you are seeing about what the future of remote work may look like post-pandemic? 

A: That’s a good question. I think it's going to be tailored to the particular job and worker. For jobs that can easily be done at least partially remotely, I would expect and hope that people will end up with a situation where it's a combination of either fully remote or hybrid. I do think there is some value in sometimes seeing your co-workers in person. I hope that most employers will decide to offer this flexibility, and it'll just be a question of whether it is full time or part time.

Overall, I think there's a really great opportunity right now to rethink and reorganize how we do work and make it better for everybody. I don't think we should let that pass without taking advantage of it.

Top photo courtesy of depositphotos.com