Scholar, artist brings new meaning to desert places

January 13, 2023

If you Google image search the word “desert,” you’ll find a series of glamorized yet homogenous landscapes of sand dunes, mountains, open sky — and a significant lack of people.

Scholar and author Celina Osuna works to understand the relationships between these perceptions and their connection to lived experiences and land use of deserts.
Self portrait of artist Celina Osuna. Osuna is picture from below, reaching toward the camera. Behind her is a blue sky and she is framed by bricks stacked in a cylindrical formation. The ASU Social Transformation Lab will host scholar and author Celina Osuna as its Postdoctoral Scholar Lecturer for a talk titled "Desert Distortion" on Thursday, Jan. 26. Photo courtesy Celina Osuna Download Full Image

On Thursday, Jan. 26, the Social Transformation Lab at Arizona State University will host Osuna as its Postdoctoral Scholar Lecturer for a talk titled "Desert Distortion." The talk will explore Osuna's current research on the aesthetics of desert places in literature, art and film, and their impact on cultural imagination and geopolitical relationships to land, with an emphasis on Indigenous and Latino environmentalisms.

Registration for the event is now open.

Born in El Paso, Texas, Osuna is a student of desert places. She’s one who sees the Valley as a vast and beautiful place, but knows there is more to it than what meets the eye.

In a challenge to "desert-as-void thinking," Osuna’s talk will explore the reciprocal bonds between place, stories and animacies that reveal the multiplicity and possibility of desert places by turning to the poetry of three Indigenous women writers — Ofelia Zepeda, Leslie Marmon Silko and ASU's own Natalie Diaz.

Through close readings and an interdisciplinary analysis bridging the environmental humanities and Indigenous studies, Osuna employs desert distortion to emphasize story as an epistemological practice.

Her monograph "Desert Distortion" is under contract with Texas Tech University Press and explores distortion as a desirable technique emerging from entanglements with desert places — their stories, material conditions and representations — through which we as humans become better kin to our other-than-human relatives and each other.

Kyra Trent

Communications Specialist, Social Transformation Lab

ASU celebrates Online Master of Arts in International Affairs and Leadership's 1st graduating class

January 13, 2023

In 2021, recognizing the need for a program that would prepare students to meet the complex challenges of an increasingly volatile and uncertain world, Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies launched an online master’s degree program in international affairs and leadership.

The program set out to empower students to be future leaders in diplomacy, national security and the global arena, providing them with the opportunity to learn from experts who have spent decades in the field as ambassadors, generals and senior U.S. and international officials. ASU Online Master of Arts International Affairs and Leadership students stand together with the Washington Monument in the background. Students in ASU's international affairs and leadership master’s degree program during a week of activities in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy the School of Politics and Global Studies Download Full Image

This past December, the program celebrated its first graduating class, a cohort of six students who completed the degree in a little over one year while taking classes in the fall, spring and summer.

“I am incredibly proud of our first graduates,” said Ambassador Roderick Moore, professor of practice at ASU and director of the master’s degree program. “Through their hard work and commitment, they have established a high standard of academic achievement that we hope many future generations of IAL graduates will match. ... We expect to see them in rewarding careers in international affairs in the years ahead.”

“Our first graduates delivered a powerful set of recommended solutions in their capstone presentations, ranging from peacekeeping in Africa to reversing democratic backsliding around the world,” added Michael Polt, an ambassador-in-residence at ASU.

Recent graduate Joey Joson had seen several global events that helped shape his worldview, ranging from 9/11 to multiple wars, financial recessions and climate change. He was considering a career change that fit more with his interest in history, social issues and world events when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“I felt compelled to acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to help shape future policies that would better serve Americans and the international community alike,” Joson said. “These events, among myriad others, inspired me over the years to be an agent of positive change and policy influence so that future generations would be more safe and secure.”

James Baker, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation based in western North Dakota along the Missouri river, also graduated last December. He chose the program because of the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., and learn from experienced diplomats about real-world problems.

“It was a very rewarding experience to be a part of this inaugural class,” Baker said. “As a proud Native American man who was raised on a reservation, to be in a place like this was very rewarding and eye-opening.”

Throughout their time in the program, Joson and Baker shared that they were able to expand their knowledge as well as receive professional mentorship from instructors — especially during their time in Washington, D.C.

“These movers and shakers were able to confer their lived experiences with us and it will be very useful in our careers,” Baker said. “Learning how to bring your people together for a common goal while also being personable is a valuable skill. This program has taught me this and much more.”

“Experiencing the mentorship and expertise of diplomatic professionals such as Ambassadors Polt, Moore and (Edward) O'Donnell, as well as (Lt.) Gen. Freakley, greatly enhanced my personal commitment to the foreign policy space, and also strengthened my abilities as a character-driven leader,” Joson said.

Courses in the international affairs and leadership master's program are taught by distinguished fellows from ASU's Leadership, Diplomacy and National Security Lab.

“Our MA in International Affairs and Leadership program is unique,” said Magda Hinojosa, School of Politics and Global Studies director, who will soon serve as dean of Social Sciences for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Our faculty in this program bring exceptional, real-world experience in international affairs, providing our students with a learning experience unlike any other.”

Joson said the program aided his pursuit of a career in foreign policy by helping him to build a robust skill set in analytical research, critical writing and oral communications. He added that the program’s course in leadership, taught by Lt. Gen. Freakley, taught him the importance of ethics and values in navigating complex global arenas.

“Having such a wide and deep breadth of knowledge about these sectors has helped me better understand the dynamic relationships between each sector, ultimately allowing me to better chart my career path,” Joson said.

“I just want to thank the educators that put this program together,” Baker added. “The many life lessons that I will carry with me and the skills obtained will help me to succeed to be a character-driven leader.”

Matt Oxford

Assistant Director of Strategic Marketing and Communications, College of Global Futures