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ASU leads a new wave in ocean research

April 19, 2023

Vast, complex and partially unexplored, the oceans form the world’s largest biome — and hold the power to shape our global future. There are many systems that come together to make a healthy ocean, and many ways that human activities disrupt them.

One of the ocean’s most prominent threats is warming, which impacts currents and ocean layers, the cycle of nutrients, and sea creatures and their ecosystems. Other perils include acidification, overfishing, pollution, declining biodiversity, coral bleaching and melting ice caps.

But in good news, Arizona State University has a fleet of ocean researchers who are finding solutions for healthier, more sustainable relationships with our oceans that support a thriving planet and prosperous communities.

prow of a ship looks out on clear blue ocean water with green islands on either side

The BIOS research vessel Atlantic Explorer ventures into the ocean surrounding Bermuda. Photo by Jeff Newton

Where desert meets ocean

ASU is located in the state of cactuses, rattlesnakes and sweltering summers. How are those of us living in the Sonoran Desert affected by anything ocean related?

“We are so dependent on climate cycles that are happening in the Pacific,” said Professor Susanne Neuer, an oceanographer and the founding director of the new School of Ocean Futures. “Our storms bring water from the Pacific that has evaporated there. Next time you get drenched in the rain, just think about how this is all water that originally came from the Pacific. In summer, we get the monsoons from the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf of California. Life in the desert, and the supply of water, are really dependent on the ocean.”

More than that, the entire globe depends on the ocean in some way or another. That’s why ASU’s School of Ocean Futures is critical to the overall mission of ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, which aims to ensure a habitable planet and a future in which well-being is attainable for all.

In that spirit, ASU has formed connections across the globe to scale its ocean research. In the Pacific Ocean lies ASU’s Hawaii location, which is home to the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science. In the Atlantic is ASU’s new partner, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences

Read more: Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences joins ASU's Global Futures Lab

“We have these two locations now on islands in the middle of the ocean, Hawaii and Bermuda. This is really expanding our capabilities to include the two largest oceans,” said Neuer. “We are no longer landlocked.”

Working with coastal communities

Can fishing be sustainable?

Commercial fishing is a vital source of income for coastal communities around the world, but it can harm at-risk species that are accidentally caught along with the target fish.

Marine biologist Jesse Senko’s research has demonstrated that new fishing technology can benefit both vulnerable marine wildlife and fishers’ productivity on the Pacific coast of Baja California Sur, Mexico. Adding solar-powered lights to gillnets, a type of large fishing net, dramatically reduced the bycatch of animals like sharks, rays, sea turtles and unwanted fish. At the same time, catch rates for target fish remained steady, and the reduced bycatch saved fishers precious time.

“This likely occurred from fishers needing to remove fewer entangled animals in the illuminated nets, which included considerably less turtles, sharks, skates, rays, squid and small finfish, which can be time consuming, difficult and even dangerous to remove,” said Senko, an assistant research professor in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

Fishing sustainably provides an opportunity to not only protect ocean wildlife, but to improve the livelihoods of fishers and their communities that rely on the industry.

Read more: Saving the seas with lighted nets

Senko examines a light attached to a net while on a small boat

Jesse Senko working with fishers in Baja Sur California, Mexico. Photo courtesy Arizona State University

Is there plastic in food and water?

Microplastics, heavy metals and other contaminants can end up in your seafood platter. 

Beth Polidoro, an associate professor in the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, studies marine pollution and how it impacts the health of aquatic life as well as people who eat seafood. With this information, she can help guide conservation and environmental policies.

“Here in the U.S. and in Europe, we’re really blessed. We have lots of data, scientists, equipment and capacity for looking at pollution and impacts. We have a lot of good regulations, too, monitoring and mitigating those pollutants from impacting the environment,” Polidoro said. “Step outside those countries and you don’t see the same things at all. There’s very little regulation, practically no monitoring and very little capacity to do those things.”

Polidoro helps fill that gap in places like the Philippines, which has the highest marine biodiversity in the world but is also one of the globe’s top plastic polluters. Through her work, countries can prioritize the biggest risks to human and ecosystem health in their coastal areas and work to reduce risks and impacts.

Read more: Tiny little pieces of plastic are getting into everything

Polidoro sits at a bench in her lab

Beth Polidoro studies marine pollution and how it impacts the health of aquatic life as well as people who eat seafood. Photo courtesy ASU

How do Native Hawaiians care for the land and sea?

Born of volcanoes, the Hawaiian Islands have a very steep geography. Mountain rains can flow down quickly, bringing runoff to coastal marine environments. But the mountains’ forest cover can help absorb that rain or even add more nutrients to the water that makes it to the ocean.

“We call that the mauka-makai relationship. Mauka means mountains, makai means oceans, and that connection is really important in Hawaii,” said Katie Kamelamela, an assistant professor in the School of Ocean Futures.

Kamelamela studies how people of Hawaii gather and use plants from the forest to the ocean through interviews with cultural practitioners. She completed the first analysis of forest gathering permits for the state of Hawaii with the goal of streamlining county communication across the islands.

Historically, Native Hawaiians have made clever use of the mauka-makai relationship to engineer closed food systems. For example, wetland patches growing crops of taro root collect rain and add nutrients to the water. This water feeds the seaweed downstream, which fattens the fish in Hawaiian-made stock ponds.

Through her work with Native communities and her own experience living in Hawaii, Kamelamela sees how Hawaiians have mastered adapting to the islands’ extreme weather as well as stewarding the health of their natural resources.

“Adaptation and gratitude are what conservationists can learn,” she said. “The health of the land is the health of the people.”

Hawaiian lei garlands laid out on display

Kamelamela goes to markets and cultural fairs like the annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo, Hawaii, to see how people use native plants to craft goods such as these haku lei that are worn on the head. Photo courtesy Katie Kamelamela

Creatures great and small

What lives at the bottom of the ocean?

The seafloor is one of the ocean’s most mysterious regions, where life persists despite intense pressure, scarce food and complete darkness. 

Elizabeth Trembath-Reichert’s research has shown that microbes living below the seafloor are surprisingly lively and hungry, despite living in a place with few food sources. These microbes are also crafty in how they use carbon to grow.

“Our theory is that these microbes are being resourceful and using carbon dioxide directly as a building block without having to convert it into a food source first,” said Trembath-Reichert, an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. “And this could have major implications for the deep ocean carbon cycle.”

Understanding the many clever ways that these microbes of the deep use carbon dioxide to survive in their home will give scientists a better idea of how the ocean works to cycle CO2 out of our atmosphere and expand the definition of an environment hospitable to life.

Read more: Deep under the ocean, microbes are active and poised to eat whatever comes their way

Where is coral most at risk?

Coral reefs support an estimated 25% of marine species, protect coastlines from destructive storms, and support coastal communities’ economies through food and tourism. We know they are under threat from warmer and more acidic waters — but where are the reefs, and what areas are suffering most?

The Allen Coral Atlas is an effort led by Greg Asner at the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science to map and monitor the health of coral reefs around the world. Asner’s team completed the first global map of shallow-water coral reefs in 2021 and continues to expand the map’s capabilities today.

The Allen Coral Atlas wouldn’t be possible without a key methodology created by Robin Martin, an associate professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. Her research project, Spectranomics, uses spectral imaging to detect chemicals present in an environment. Martin has found that different coral species give off different chemical signatures, and those signatures change depending on their state of health. Using spectral imaging data gathered from planes and satellites, Martin can tell what types of coral are present in a given area and how well they’re doing.

“One of the advantages of being able to use remote sensing is that you can take measurements in places that you can’t physically get to, and you can also look at patterns over much larger areas,” she said.

Read more: Saving oceans from the sky

Aerial photo of beach in Dominican Republic

An overhead shot of coral reefs helped the Dominican Republic protect a growing tourism-focused coastline. Photo by Greg Asner

How can we restore coral reefs?

Corals live in a symbiotic relationship with algae: Corals give algae a safe home, and algae give corals photosynthetic energy (plus some technicolor hues). Coral bleaching happens when corals experience stress from higher temperatures and the algae are expelled.

“We don’t know whether it's the host coral, or whether it's the algae partner, or whether it's both,” said Liza Roger, an assistant professor in the School of Molecular Sciences. “We’re trying to look at how they are handling this stress and understand it at the molecular level.”

Roger is leading a new lab in the School of Ocean Futures that will grow and study corals to find solutions for combating this stress.

Read more: Deciphering the mysterious relationship between coral and algae

Cliff Kapono, an analytical chemist and professional surfer based in Hawaii, studies an area of coral reef that seems impossibly resilient. For thousands of years, Honoli’i beach on Hawaii’s Big Island has naturally experienced runoff from heavy rains. This flushes brown sediment into the water that can block sunlight from the reef and even smother corals.

“What I’ve noticed from surfing this wave just outside of town is despite having constant brown water throughout the year, there’s a brilliant reef that exists out there. Reef and coral species that are only found here in Hawaii,” he said.

Kapono, who is also an Indigenous Hawaiian, blends a cultural heritage of surfing and native wisdom with chemistry to investigate how these reefs survive hostile conditions, which may one day help reefs elsewhere.

Read more: Native knowledge

Where are baby sharks born?

Sharks are a key part of a healthy ocean; as predators, they keep other wildlife in check and promote more biodiversity and thriving coral reefs. Because of their slow growth and long life spans, these creatures are especially vulnerable to threats, so protecting their nurseries is a focus for conservation.

James Sulikowski spends his time studying these misunderstood antiheroes of the ocean. At the Sulikowski Shark and Fish Conservation Lab, he and student researchers collect movement patterns, growth rates, fishing pressure and other data on sharks, skates and rays to help conserve these fish populations.

In a recent study, Sulikowski implanted a shark-safe intrauterine transmitter into pregnant scalloped hammerhead and tiger sharks. Each transmitter released and emitted a signal when a shark gave birth to let his team know the location.

“In order to protect sharks as babies, we have to protect their moms,” said Sulikowski, a professor in the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. “Being able to see exactly where sharks are giving birth — something we’ve struggled to do in the past — is the holy grail of shark science and conservation.”

Read more: Shark-saving technology makes waves

Oceans in hot water

What’s special about plankton?

In the sunny upper layer of the ocean’s waters is a group of tiny creatures — microscopic algae called phytoplankton. Through photosynthesis, marine phytoplankton use sunlight to absorb carbon dioxide that has dissolved into the water and convert it into carbon in their bodies.

Professor Neuer also studies the critical role that phytoplankton play in the carbon cycle and how they’re affected by the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere and other factors.

“When most people think of the ocean, they think of large creatures, like whales, dolphins or turtles,” said Neuer, who is also a researcher in the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics. “But in reality, the ocean is run by microbes. The enormous importance of these tiny organisms is unbelievable.”

As temperatures rise, the smallest of phytoplankton may also prove to be the most hardy, making their work in the carbon cycle all the more important to understand.

Read more: Priming the ocean’s carbon pump

Neuer and a PhD student look at beakers of plankton cultures

Probing the world of microbes, Susanne Neuer (right) and PhD student Bianca Nahir Cruz observe different types of phytoplankton cultures in their ocean lab. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU

Can we protect sea ice?

Sea ice does a lot for the planet. When seawater freezes into ice, the salt is left behind in the waters below. This denser water sinks down and flows around the world’s oceans, bringing oxygen to deep waters around the world. Sea ice also reflects sunlight, keeping Earth’s poles chilly and influencing weather systems. In places where the ice is thinner, sunlight shines through to grow algae beneath, inviting plankton, fish, seals and polar bears — a vibrant ecosystem that the Inuit call the under-ice garden.

But the ice is also under threat. Sea ice forms along the northern coasts in the winter, then over a period of years it travels across the Arctic, becoming thicker as it goes. With the warmer air and ocean heating the ice from above and below, it’s harder for thick ice to form. Stephanie Pfirman tracks where the oldest, thickest ice is, because this ice will take longest to melt in a warming world.

“There’s one special spot called the Last Ice Area, north of Canada and Greenland. It’s the size of Madagascar. And it will keep ice, we think, for decades longer than anywhere else in the Arctic in summertime,” said Pfirman, a professor in the School of Ocean Futures.

Using satellite data, Pfirman studies sea ice movement to inform policy for managing the Last Ice Area — for example, which areas should be protected and what kinds of activities to avoid in those areas, like oil development or shipping.

She is also improving Arctic science communication by working with Indigenous communities on outreach efforts and translating materials into languages like Inupiaq. She developed a game called EcoChains: Arctic Futures, hosted by ASU’s Ask a Biologist, where players strategically manage sea ice ecosystems in the face of warming, ocean acidification and overfishing.

Listen: Ask a Biologist podcast: The last stand for ice

aerial view of sea ice breaking off of glacier into ocean

Sea ice helps oxygenate the ocean's deep waters, reflects sunlight to cool the Earth, and provides a unique marine environment. But, it is also under threat. Photo courtesy Shutterstock

What is ocean acidification?

While you may have heard about ocean warming, sea level rise or melting ice caps, did you know that the ocean is also becoming more acidic? As CO2 molecules absorb into the ocean, they shift the balance of carbonate and bicarbonate, lowering the ocean’s pH level to make it more acidic.

This acidity has big consequences for marine life. Hard structures like coral skeletons and the shells of sea butterflies, for example, have become more fragile.

“In the last 40 years, we’ve seen a pH change of 0.1. Now it doesn’t sound like very much, but it’s on a logarithmic scale. The reality is that the acidity of the subtropical North Atlantic Ocean has increased in the last 40 years by about 40%,” said Nicholas Bates, a professor in the School of Ocean Futures and director of research at the Bermudia Institute of Ocean Sciences.

Bates studies changes in ocean chemistry over time using decades-long studies called time series. The Bermudia Institute of Ocean Sciences is home to the planet’s oldest time series program, called Hydrostation “S,” which has been measuring the ocean’s physical properties every two weeks since 1954. The Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study is another that has been collecting information on the ocean’s pH level since 1988.

Data from this work also goes beyond the lab to inform international policy. Bates’s record of ocean acidification has been included in past IPCC reports. BIOS also works with the nonprofit Sargasso Sea Commission to create protective policies for the international waters within the Sargasso Sea.

Technicians on a boat pull a large piece of equipment with lots of sampling tubes out of the ocean.

Aboard the research vessel Atlantic Explorer, Bermudia Institute of Ocean Sciences marine technicians pull equipment from the ocean that takes a variety of samples and measurements as part of the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study, or BATS. BATS has been collecting information on the ocean’s pH level since 1988. Photo by Jeff Newton

Hope for the ocean

Creating powerful agents of change who will shape a positive future for the ocean is a key focus of the School of Ocean Futures.

“A lot of it begins with education, and that’s why we are very focused on developing academic programs,” Neuer said.

Faculty are developing bachelor and PhD programs in marine science, which are slated to be offered in fall 2024. The school aims to bring students of many backgrounds into its programs. Since Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are underrepresented in marine science, Kamelamela and Kapono — themselves Native Hawaiians — are finding ways to increase diversity, support graduate students and do meaningful work in students’ communities.

“We thought that it would be a great opportunity to provide homegrown talent in the islands' access to resources of ASU that are available in Hawaii and online,” Kamelamela said.

Neuer pointed out that ASU’s recent designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution also provides the school with opportunities to increase diversity in the next generation of marine scientists.

To help train new scientists in the field and find solutions for the ocean, the school has access to a suite of high-tech tools, like the Global Airborne Observatory plane laboratory, Carbon Mapper satellites, the BIOS Atlantic Explorer research vessel and the BIOS MAGIC autonomous underwater gliders. This equipment allows researchers to study marine ecosystems from the air, space, open ocean and deep ocean layers, respectively.

“It enables us to ask and to answer many more questions on the large-scale context of changes that we see in one place,” Neuer said.

Read more: This imaginative tech is transforming conservation

A large white boat docked next to an island with smaller boats and a large building nearby.

Access to high-tech equipment, like the Atlantic Explorer research vessel above, allows scientists at ASU to ask — and answer — more questions about our oceans. Photo by Jeff Newton

And there are even more reasons to be optimistic. Last month, more than 100 countries agreed on the United Nations High Seas Treaty, which protects marine life and biodiversity in the international waters that make up nearly half of the world’s surface.

“Now that this is done, it is incumbent upon us as a community to put this to work and to do it fast and to do it quickly, equitably and effectively. That is the real challenge that we have right now, but there's a real opportunity around that as well,” said Jack Kittinger, a research professor in the School of Ocean Futures. “The global ocean could look very different in a decade's time because of this, but only if we put this treaty to work.”

Read more: New UN treaty aims to protect ocean biodiversity — what's next?

The ocean plays a critical role in supporting life on our planet — including maintaining a healthy climate, promoting biodiversity on both land and sea, and providing for communities’ livelihoods. Ultimately, it deserves our attention, even here in the Sonoran Desert, because it holds the key to a more sustainable future for Earth.

“We cannot understand our world,” said Neuer, “without understanding the ocean.”

Top photo: A view of ocean skies from aboard the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences research vessel Atlantic Explorer. Photo by Jeff Newton

Mikala Kass

Communications Specialist , ASU Knowledge Enterprise


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ASU+GSV summit looks toward a 'brave new world' in education

April 19, 2023

Higher education institutions, policymakers come together to discuss equal education access

Editor's note: We'll be updating this story daily throughout the summit.

This year's ASU+GSV Summit, held in San Diego on April 17–19, is exploring the theme “Brave New World: Imagining a new era in which all people have equal access to the future.”

The education-technology conference drew more than 7,100 in-person attendees and an additional 10,000 watching the panels livestreamed. About 350 higher education institutions are represented, including 22 speakers and 12 deans from Arizona State University.

Here are some panel highlights:

Wednesday, April 19

Blazing New Trails on the Innovation and AI Frontier

The American nonprofit educational organization Khan Academy started using the artificial intelligence platform GPT-4 a few weeks ago for its personalized learning tool called Khanmigo, and ASU Prep Academy was one of the first schools to have access to it.

Sal Khan, founder and CEO of Khan Academy, chatted with Julie Young, managing director of ASU Prep Academy, about the benefits of AI for personalized education.

Young: “I think one of the things we’re increasingly excited about with AI is that it’s going to be such a helper. It will help us dig into teaching and every student and every circumstance so that when we talk about personalized learning, we’ll actually be able to go to the core. I’ve explained that AI is like an MRI for learning.”

Khan: “(GPT) forced everyone to grapple with what’s exciting about it and what’s not exciting about it, and it’s created an urgency in education because, ‘Kids are going to cheat.’ If someone doesn’t put guardrails around it, it won’t capture the benefits, and that was our framework around Khanmigo. The principle is mitigating the risks and putting guardrails around it.

“Everything the students do is monitored by teachers, and we have a second AI monitoring the first AI. You can ask it to do lesson planning or create rubrics. It’s like a teacher’s aide on steroids. Not only can we mitigate the risks, but it will unlock a whole new dimension of learning that was science fiction a few months ago.”

Two people smiling and talking on stage during panel

Khan Academy CEO Sal Khan and Julie Young, managing director of ASU Prep Academy, talk about AI learning at the ASU+GSV Summit on April 19.

Young: “We have to train our educators in an entirely different way, and we’re way behind when it comes to that. The technology will push us because the kids will push us. Back in the day when we started online learning, creating an assessment with one question was incredibly time-consuming and expensive, and now I can go to ChatGPT and say, ‘Write me a problem on right angles about baseball’ and two seconds later I have it.

“Teachers want flexibility. I could staff our four digital schools today, and we struggle to staff our brick-and-mortar schools and that’s something everyone should take a moment to think about.

“Public education is designed to be a controlled environment, a replicated environment, an environment that’s very predictable, and we’ve learned that that is the opposite of children in society today. So our teachers are asking for more flexibility, more training, more opportunity to work together.”

Khan: “We’ve already started using AI not just to help the teachers with lesson plans and to help the students but to help communication between the parents and teachers and students. The future is where the teacher talks to AI and says, ‘What are the kids up to?’ And the AI says, ‘Three kids finished that assignment and three kids haven’t, and I helped Billy with binomials and a couple of students are having trouble so let’s put a rubric together.’ ”

Other ASU panels from Wednesday included:

Technology for the Next Education Workforce: Beyond the One-Teacher One-Classroom Model

Carole Basile, dean of ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, moderated a panel of education experts — including Brent Maddin, executive director of the Next Education Workforce at ASU, and Ronald A. Beghetto, a professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College — that explored the technology needed for team-based teaching models.

Scaling Local Partnerships to Accelerate College Attainment

Together with more than 457 local partners, ASU has created low-risk college pathways with a focus on career and general education mastery certificates with the capacity to provide nationwide support to high school students, emerging college learners and non-traditional learners. Audrey Moreno, senior director in ASU's Learning Enterprise, joined panelists for a discussion on how these models can scale to unlock an array of educational opportunities for millions of learners nationwide.

The Future Is Now With Dreamscape Learn: Combining Hollywood Storytelling, VR and Cutting-edge Pedagogy

Dreamscape Learn is a collaborative venture between Dreamscape Immersive and ASU, merging the most advanced experiential pedagogy with the entertainment industry's best cinematic storytelling through virtual reality. Michael Angilletta, associate dean for learning innovation at EdPlus at ASU, moderated a group of ASU panelists — including Lisa Flesher, chief of Realm 4 project acceleration at EdPlus; Annie Hale, executive director of the Action Lab at EdPlus; and John VandenBrooks, associate dean for immersive learning at EdPlus — in a discussion about the technology and its potential impacts in the 21st century.

People wearing VR headsets and sitting at desks

ASU+GSV attendees participate in a Dreamscape Learn demo.

Tuesday, April 18

Accelerating Equity in Higher Education on Youtube

Earlier this year, Arizona State University partnered with YouTube and Crash Course to offer college credit for courses that are on the Study Hall YouTube channel, as a way to make college more accessible and lower in cost.

In a Tuesday morning session at the ASU+GSV Summit, ASU President Michael Crow moderated a panel discussion on what this inclusive, scalable platform means for the future of higher education.

Crow: “There are technologies that have come along that have enabled us to reach almost everyone all the time with ubiquitous information. There is huge resistance to the notion of a highly egalitarian, highly democratic, highly autodidactic empowerment through new kinds of learner systems.”

Katie Kurtz, managing director and global head of learning at YouTube: “We realized that just increasing access and affordability do not ensure student success. We learned that inspiration and motivation have to be pieces of the puzzle. Also learning is better when done with a community, and that’s where Crash Course comes into play.

“Because of all this intrinsic motivation, there tends to be a notion among those in formal education that supplemental education is important, but it’s supplemental to the core. What if, for the learner, supplemental learning is the core?”

Four people sitting on stage for panel discussion

Katie Kurtz (right), managing director and global head of learning at YouTube, speaks during a panel on higher education and Youtube, while (right to left) Danielle Bainbridge, assistant professor of theater at Northwestern University, Hank Green, co-founder of Crash Course, and ASU President Michael Crow listen at the ASU+GSV Summit on April 18.

Hank Green, YouTube star and co-founder of Crash Course: “There’s this feeling I get every time someone says to me, ‘You taught me this.’ Teaching is a lot of things and I’m doing one of them. I think that person is basically saying, ‘I ultimately taught myself a lot of biology and used some of the tools you created.’ There’s a huge amount of value in figuring out how to teach yourself.”

Danielle Bainbridge, assistant professor of theater at Northwestern University and host of the history course in Crash Course: “I think a lot of my approach as a learner when I was going through the college process was that college was a competitive process, a game I had to win against other students. I had to beat out other people. By the time I got to grad school, I was disenchanted with that model.

“I wanted to do something that felt meaningful to me and brought education to a wider audience. 

“I think some of my ideas are showing people that this is viable and it’s vibrant. I think oftentimes, people trained in the traditional system think public-facing work is dumbed down. The word ‘rigor’ makes me so crazy because it’s usually utilized to say, ‘things behind a paywall’ or ‘not accessible to everyone.’

“If we can change that mindset and show people that this work is of equal value if not more valuable than some of the work behind a paywall, we’ll get more people involved.”

A Conversation with Farm to Table Icon Alice Waters

Alan Arkatov, a senior advisor to ASU President Michael Crow and the founding director of Center EDGE (Engagement-Driven Global Education), had a conversation with American chef Alice Waters about her history as a food and education activist. She created Chez Panisse 50 years ago, is a pioneer in farm-to-table eating, and founded the Edible Schoolyard and School Lunch Initiative.

Waters: “I wrote the book ‘We are What We Eat’ two years ago during the pandemic and I wanted to know really what happened in this country that we have industrialized our school system like our farmers. This is only a phenomenon since about 1950. Before that time everybody ate locally produced food.

“It was very important that I went to France in 1965 because it was a slow-food nation. At that time there, kids would come home and have lunch with their parents for an hour in the middle of the school day.

“When I came back I said, ‘I want to live like the French.’ I started looking for that food and I couldn’t find it. I thought naively that if I opened a little French restaurant I could find that food, and I did when I met the local organic farmers and ranchers and fishers, and we started buying food directly from them.

“I had an opportunity when an enlightened middle school principal in Berkeley wanted me to create an edible garden. I wanted a kitchen classroom and garden classroom so kids could learn academic subjects in the context of the kitchen or garden. They might taste a raspberry in biology class or make hummus in a geography class.

“And when you think about what could be changed that would directly affect climate and health, you come to food and the growing of food and the way that it is fed to students.”

Two people sitting on stage during panel at summit

American chef Alice Waters talks to moderator Alan Arkatov, a senior advisor to ASU President Michael Crow and the founding director of Center EDGE, about her pioneering work in farm-to-table eating.

Arkatov: “In addition to being an antidote to the constant state of being online, this is a business model that makes sense, that’s good for the community and brings people together for the local farmers.

“Ideas are the easy part, it’s always about the execution. There are folks here who can figure out the procurement problem. Next year, we would like to hear from those who come up with the best solutions that are implantable for a procurement system for K–12 and one for higher education.”

Other ASU panels on Tuesday included:

A New Design for Local Opportunities and National Impact: The promise of the ASU Local Model

The ASU Local model reshapes the landscape of higher education for underserved learners and their families by offering the opportunity to stay connected to and grow their home community while pursuing a bachelor’s degree from a major public research university. Moderator Patrick Rossol-Allison, associate vice president of strategic initiatives at ASU Learning Enterprise, spoke with panelists Taylor Pineda, director of strategic partnerships at ASU Local; Mike Muñoz, superintendent and president of Long Beach City College; and Sarah Belnick from the ECMC Foundation about the current successes and challenges of the ASU Local model and its potential for having a lasting impact on the U.S. higher education system.

Workforce Development in the Digital Age: University-based perspectives in the U.S. and Worldwide

New programs, models and learning experiences need to be developed by higher education institutions on a domestic and global basis to meet learners, organizations and societal needs. Moderator Marco Serrrato, associate vice president of ASU Learning Enterprise and professor of practice at the Thunderbird School of Global Management spoke with Todd Sandrin, vice provost and dean of ASU's New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences; Raghu Santanam, associate dean of ASU's W.P. Carey School of Business; Monica Sacristan, dean of executive education at ITAM (Mexico); and Juan Arenas, vice rector of corporate training and development at Universidad Tecmilenio about the issue.

Leveling the Playing Field: The Role of HSI’s and HBCUs in Advancing Equity in Higher Education

Nancy Gonzales, ASU executive vice president and university provost talked with Eloy Oakley from College Futures Foundation and Michael Sorrel from Paul Quinn College about the critical role of Hispanic Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the national educational landscape, and what other colleges and universities can learn from this intentional work to scale their own efforts to advance equity in education.

Women in Online Learning, a $14 Billion Opportunity

A recent IFC study shows that online is a valuable and accessible tool for women, female caregivers and those without a tertiary degree to develop valuable skills. Annie Hale, executive director of EdPlus at ASU, joined other experts in the digital education space and female leaders of ed tech companies about how they are working to broaden the access and outcomes of online education to reach this underrepresented user base and drive growth in the industry.

Why Aren't More School Districts Pursuing Radical Innovation?

Recent studies conducted by the Center on Reinventing Public Education — which is affiliated with ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College — on school district pandemic recovery and transformation efforts show that system leaders have ambitious aspirations, but there are many challenges undermining their efforts. Bree Dusseault, principal and managing director at the Center for Reinventing Public Education, spoke with school district leaders, funders and entrepreneurs about what it will take to help district leaders become addicted to innovation rather than the status quo.

Enabling Technologies for the Future of Education

In the internet age, a variety of technologies are at the forefront of not only scaling access to higher education, but also improving the quality of education received by people around the world. Bethany Weigele, chief innovation officer of EdPlus at ASU, spoke with panelists Chris Bennett, global sales director of Academic Publishing at Cambridge University Press; Joseph Nsengimana, director of the Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning in ICT at the Mastercard Foundation; and Smita Bakshi, zyBooks co-founder and senior vice president of academic learning at Wiley, about how these technologies have the potential to improve equitable outcomes where other interventions have failed.

Monday, April 17

Designing Scalable Education Systems for Africa: Lessons From ASU and the Mastercard Foundation

ASU’s partnership with the Mastercard Foundation is helping to advance education in Africa, a continent bursting with economic opportunity.

ASU President Michael Crow kicked off the ASU+GSV Summit on Monday morning with a conversation with Reeta Roy, president and CEO of the Mastercard Foundation, which focuses on two goals in Africa: improving financial services for poor people and preparing young people for the workforce through education and upskilling.

Man and woman sitting on stage talking at ASU+GSV Summit

ASU President Michael Crow and Reeta Roy, president and CEO of the Mastercard Foundation, talk about the Mastercard Young Scholars program at the ASU+GSV Summit on April 17.

Of Africa’s 1 billion people, 60% are under the age of 25, Roy said. About 40% have completed high school, and about 9% have some higher education.

“We all know education is part of nation building. It’s where leaders come from. It’s about economic competitiveness as well as social inclusion,” she said.

Roy said that technology innovation is necessary.

“When you look at the gaps, we can’t build enough schools or train enough teachers or professors. Technology is the force multiplier, enabling access and quality and allowing for relevance,” she said. “ASU has been an innovator when it comes to technology and education.”

Crow noted that dozens of young Africans have come to ASU as part of the Mastercard Young Scholars program, and he listened to one of them speak a few years ago.

“It was one of the most emotional moments I’ve had, listening to this student articulate her plan for the future of Arizona and her country, Zimbabwe, with her talent and her energy,” he said.

Two years ago, Roy moved to Rwanda when the foundation moved its headquarters there. She said the true story of Africa is different from the bleak headlines.

“Some of it is true, but there’s a bigger story under that,” she said. “I see young people creating companies and running for office and continuing their leadership for the city or organization they’re a part of.

“One of my wishes is for more organizations like ASU with whom we could partner, who enter a partnership with the right level of trust building, respect and listening.”

Following the Mastercard Foundation session, Crow then joined Pradeep Khosla, chancellor at the University of California San Diego, and Shellye Archambeau, board director at Verizon, for a panel on "Universities in the New Economy." The panel was moderated Maria Anguiano, executive vice president of Learning Enterprise at ASU. 

The panelists discussed how universities are powering industries of the future through research, development and innovation, while partnering with leading enterprises to connect education and training with workforce needs. National-scale research universities in the U.S. have a responsibility for the health of the communities they serve, according to the panelists.

Four people sitting on stage for panel

From left: Moderator Maria Anguiano and panelists Michael Crow, Pradeep Khosla and Shellye Archambeau during the session on "Universities in the New Economy‍." 

Other ASU sessions for the day included:

Moving “or” Toward “and”: Breaking Down the False Dichotomy of College or Career

A recent study showed that 56% of Gen Z teens believe a skills-based education makes sense in today’s world. Yet, completing a college degree still remains one of the best predictors of socioeconomic mobility. Maria Anguiano, executive vice president of ASU Learning Enterprise, was joined by Lisa Gevelber, founder of Grow with Google and chief marketing officer of Google — Americas, and Shavar Jeffries, chief executive officer of the KIPP Foundation, to discuss how to move toward a “both/and” structure where people can earn career credentials and simultaneously earn a college degree. The panel was moderated by Ann Kirschner, a senior advisor to ASU President Michael Crow.

Transforming California Schools: A Conversation With State Superintendent Tony Thurmond

Christian Osmeña, vice president of enterprise planning at ASU, spoke with Tony Thurmond, state superintendent of public instruction in California, on how technology can advance progress for the state’s students.

The CHIPS Science Act: Exploring Our Nation's STEM Needs

Sally Morton, executive vice president of ASU Knowledge Enterprise, joined fellow panelists Paula Golden, president of Broadcom Foundation; Robert Simmons, head of social impact and STEM programs at MICRON Foundation; and Jan Morrison, founder and CEO of TIES for a discussion on the need for increased funding for STEM education and research, the importance of diversity and inclusion in the STEM workforce, and the role of industry-academia partnerships in addressing the nation's STEM needs. Panelists also delved into the CHIPS Science Act, legislation that addresses these issues and promotes the growth and competitiveness of the STEM workforce in the United States. The panel was moderated by Ann Kirschner, a senior advisor to ASU President Michael Crow.

Innovating to Address California’s Education Needs

Alan Arkatov, professor of practice and executive director of the ASU Institute for Education Transformation, was joined by leaders of higher education policy in California to discuss college enrollment declines, barriers to access and uneven outcomes in the state. Panelists were presented with the question: How can innovation transform outcomes for Californians?

Photos courtesy EdPlus at Arizona State University

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News