ASU grad brings innovation to US Air Force

May 2, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Austin Lamar Wiggins has always been interested in innovation. He joined the U.S. military right out of high school, and for the last few years of his career he has been serving as a consultant on a variety of innovation-related projects with the Air Force and Department of Defense. Wiggins in military uniform smiling at the camera Austin Lamar Wiggins, an ASU Online student in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, is fascinated by the intersections between innovation, technology and policy, as well as the implications of these factors on society as a whole through a philosophical lens Download Full Image

Working in this space for such a long time prompted him to look for more formal innovation education to supplement his practical experience. Seeking a degree program was really Wiggins’s “aha moment,” and he’s getting ready to graduate with the program that drew him to Arizona State University in the first place — a Bachelor of Science in innovation in society from the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, which is part of the College of Global Futures

As an ASU Online student, he cites the non-traditional class structure as a key to his success at ASU. 

“We’re seeing an evolving trend of people being able to go to school online and still integrate to a significant degree,” said Wiggins. “People make the argument that the education quality is different, online versus in-person, but what I have come to understand is that online learning simply facilitates a different kind of learning that is good for certain cognitive types.” 

He mentioned that he, like many other students, can get overstimulated or easily distracted in social situations. Whether it’s the echo of the professor’s voice or the clicking sounds of a classmate typing out notes in the back of the room, there are many aspects of being in a large lecture hall that can make learning challenging. By taking courses online, Wiggins was able to create his own best environments to study while also finding opportunities to actively apply his coursework to his day job. 

After graduation, Wiggins plans to continue his education and pursue a Master of Science in public interest technology, also offered through the College of Global Futures.

He is fascinated by the intersections between innovation, technology and policy, as well as the implications of these factors on society as a whole through a philosophical lens. He cited the widespread interest in ChatGPT as an example: how people have responded to generative AI so far and how innovation like this has the potential to influence the way people interact with one another. Longer term, Wiggins hopes to build upon this line of inquiry and dive deeper into this field in a doctoral program. 

Read on to hear more about his time at ASU in his own words.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective? 

Answer: In one of my core classes, we read an article from the 1980s called “Do Artifacts Have Politics.” It’s a chapter excerpt from Langdon Winner where he talks about how technology isn’t just a benign thing that people can use well or use badly — rather, these things that people create, even as part of their design, have real effects on people. 

For me, as a futurist, as a technologist, and as a person involved in innovation, to realize that it’s not just about the creation and use of technology that we should pay attention to, but also the ways that technology can privilege some people or others, or fundamentally reshape the way that we interact as people. It has political power and meanings behind it. Probably one of the most fundamental knowledge shifts for me, in fact, is that this article changed what I wanted to do as my master’s degree. Up until reading that, I was probably going to go into a sociology-related master’s degree. After reading that, I decided being involved in technology policy and the philosophy of technology is actually closer to where I wanted to go. It shaped me in a really interesting way. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? 

A: Lauren Keeler. She doesn't know that she did, is the thing, but it’s in a really interesting way.

So I’ve read a bunch of her papers. I am a School for the Future of Innovation in Society Undergraduate Research Fellow, and she’s my professor for that. There’s a paper that she wrote that I read recently that talked about some characteristics that people should have when dealing with cross-disciplinary problems. It was really interesting to see myself in that paper without her really knowing I existed at the time she wrote it. I thought, “Oh, this describes a lot of my background.” 

Now, when I’m engaging with her as an undergraduate research fellow and in my last course (which she’s teaching), I’ve been realizing that she has in a way helped me recognize that there’s a place for somebody like me, and recognize all the ways that I intersect with various identities. She’s helped me realize that I have a place, and that’s meant more to me than any academic lesson that I could learn. It’s probably been the most important thing that I’ve gotten, and I got that from her. 

Q: What is the best piece of advice you would give to those still in school? 

A: This will be a little bit of a controversial take. There is learning as a means, and learning as an end. With learning as means, you make sure you get your A’s or B’s or whatever your’re aiming for, and your learning is for the sake of facilitating that letter grade for the class you’re in.

My recommendation for people is to stop caring about grades so much. Instead, put that effort into learning about what interests you within the specific classes you are taking. You will 100% forget anything that you didn’t really want to learn anyway. Instead, focus on learning as an end — go back to enjoying what you’re learning just for the sake of it. I think the more that people do that, you might actually see better academic results anyway since you’re finding how your interests align with your courses. 

Sometimes that’s harder than other times. I had a class that was about politics, economics and innovation. Probably the hardest class I took, not necessarily because of the material but because I had trouble aligning my interests with a specific subset of the class. What it did help me do is learn a lot about how tied innovation is the economic structure of a government. I did enough to pass the class, but a majority of my time was spent learning about how innovation is different in a capitalist society versus a socialist one versus others, and what happens when money is controlled in different ways. Overall, learning for learning’s sake is something that I feel like we need to get back to. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: Because I have a full-time job and because I have a family, I didn't necessarily have the chance to have a single place where I could study. It makes for an interesting dilemma because you have to figure out how to create the environment to study wherever you are. So I had my iPad and a pair of headphones that I keep around with me wherever I go, because, you know, I might have a free lunch one day at work where I have a free hour to use for studying. Or if I’m at home and AJ, my 5-year-old, is asleep, I could spend an hour or two studying. For me it was more about how do I bring the conditions for the best studying with me wherever I go, as opposed to finding the best place.

Dana Peters

Communications specialist , College of Global Futures

Astrophysics major named Dean’s Medalist finds inspiration in the natural world

Claire Blaske excels in research — and the sport of curling

May 2, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Claire Blaske’s fascination with the natural world began at an early age when her father, a geologist, would take her on trips to explore the breathtaking beauty of national parks across the United States. Those early experiences ignited a passion within her for the wonders of the universe and inspired her to pursue a career in astrophysics. Dean's Medalist Claire Blaske, who won a bronze medal in the 2022 USA Curling Club competition, founded the Sun Devil Curling Club at ASU. Download Full Image

“I’ve been interested in studying the natural world and why it is the way it is. Going on trips to national parks, my dad being a geologist, and attending a talk in elementary school on Mars water by my dad’s friend who works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory all contributed to my decision to major in astrophysics when I was 11 years old,” said Blaske. “And I’ve been on that path ever since!” 

Throughout her time at Arizona State University, Blaske has been able to pursue her passion for science while also deepening her understanding of geology. Her unique combination of interests has allowed her to explore the connections between Earth and the cosmos, uncovering new insights into the mysteries of the natural world.

Blaske was named the Spring 2023 Dean's Medalist for the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and she is also a student in Barrett, The Honors College, which has selected her as an Outstanding Graduate for Research. She will graduate with a Bachelor of Science in astrophysics and a minor in geological sciences. 

During her time at ASU, Blaske demonstrated exceptional academic performance, maintaining a 4.0 GPA while excelling in research at ASU and the California Institute of Technology, first-authoring a published scientific paper and presenting at five scientific conferences. She did high-level research on lightning in the atmosphere of Venus for her honors thesis.

She received the ASU President’s Club Scholarship, the Goldwater Scholarship for excellence in STEM research, Universities Space Research Association Distinguished Undergraduate Award and the Dwornik Award Honorable Mention at the 2021 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference hosted by the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

Her research projects have centered on heat flows out of metallic cores of exoplanets and the evidence of ice in Martian gullies. Her research work under ASU Assistant Professor Joseph O’Rourke examines the relationship between the atmosphere and the surface of Venus.

In addition to her academic and research work, Blaske founded the School of Earth and Space Exploration Undergraduate Student Council. She mentored first-year students at Camp SESE and was active in outreach activities through the ASU/NASA Space Grant program and the ASU-led NASA Psyche Mission.

Hailing from Grand Ledge, Michigan, she also actively engaged in extracurricular activities, including curling, which she credits as one of the ways she maintains a healthy work/life balance. She founded the Sun Devil Curling Club at ASU and served as its president. She won a bronze medal in the 2022 USA Curling Club competition.

Blaske detailed the importance and prevalence of interdisciplinary work at ASU. She noted that throughout her academic career, she has learned how crucial interdisciplinary collaboration is in research, and how it is truly necessary to work through problems that we don’t understand about our universe.

“Claire embodies all of the wonderful characteristics that we hope to see in all our undergraduate majors. She is inquisitive and motivated, and always open to exploring and learning. Whatever she chooses to do after she graduates from ASU, I am confident that she will excel at it and make us proud,” said Meenakshi Wadhwa, Foundation Professor and director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Blaske will continue her pursuit of geological and planetary studies at Stanford University this fall, where she will be obtaining her PhD in planetary sciences.  

“She is one of the all-around strongest undergraduates that I have met at ASU or anywhere,” O’Rourke said. “Claire is filled with intrinsic motivation and drive, coupled with an increasingly mature understanding of science as a human enterprise — the hallmarks of someone who could have a productive research career,” he added.

Blaske shared some of her thoughts and experiences with ASU News. 

Question: How does it feel to be selected as Dean's Medalist? What does it mean to you

Answer: I am so honored and excited to have been selected as SESE’s Dean’s Medalist this year. 

To me, it represents all my hard work throughout the last four years, taking more credits than required almost every semester on top of at least one research project, and so many other commitments, including my competitive curling career! 

I am grateful for the support of the SESE community and how everyone has contributed to my amazing experience here at ASU. SESE is full of amazing mentors, professors, students, staff and leaders. They are all an inspiration to me! 

Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: There was never really one “aha” moment for me — for as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in studying the natural world and why it is the way it is. Every day I am so excited to be able to work on science problems that we don’t understand about our universe — there is never any end to the discovery, and I love sharing that excitement with the people around me.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: At ASU, I learned how research is so much more interdisciplinary than anyone thinks, and how having a diverse group of people involved in projects is the best way to conduct science. So many people think that science is sitting alone in a room doing research by yourself. But it’s also outreach, communication, education and collaboration! 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of the huge amount of opportunities available to students, even as a freshman. Getting involved in research is so accessible! The School of Earth and Space Exploration is also incredibly interdisciplinary, and I knew it was the perfect environment for my variety of interests. Tempe also has an awesome curling club (yes, the sport on ice) at Coyotes Curling Club right down the street.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: My Physics 3 professor, Dr. Matthew Baumgart. I was having a difficult time understanding the material on one of our midterms, and after receiving a poor grade on it, I emailed him to ask how I could improve because I thought I had done everything I could to prepare well for the exam. He told me a very simple, but very important piece of advice that I have kept in mind ever since: The worst thing you can do is get discouraged. That class taught me the importance of resiliency and overcoming challenges. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Get involved with the opportunities available to you! Join clubs and intramurals, take extra classes, participate in research, apply for scholarships and internships. Make the most of it, because it will pay off.  Make sure to balance school and life, though. Take up a hobby that's totally unrelated to what you work on. Mine are curling and reading.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: I loved hanging out in the classrooms in the basement of the libraries — they’re great places to get group work done or just work with a bunch of friends. Of course, ISTB4 is my favorite building. There’s so many models and cool stuff going on inside! 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Climate change is the biggest issue facing our planet today. Though $40 million is not enough to solve the climate crisis, it’s a start to install solar panels on every house in the Valley. 

Written by Taylor Hess, marketing digital communications specialist in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, and Nicole Greason, director of marketing and public relations for Barrett, The Honors College.