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ASU class schedulers are 'hidden heroes'

September 15, 2023

From fire extinguishers to a professor's preference, scheduling is delicate task

To the 144,000 or so Arizona State University students who will start planning their spring semester when the schedule of classes becomes available on Sept. 19, they are invisible.

Nameless. Faceless. The picture of anonymity, working in a cubicle, a computer staring back at them.

Kim Marrone Beckert knows better.

Beckert is an assistant vice provost on the Undergraduate Education Team in the Office of the University Provost. Ask Beckert about the people who work tirelessly to put together the schedules for ASU’s 17 colleges and she says, “They’re hidden heroes.”

“That is 100% true,” said Julia Himberg, associate chair of curriculum in the Department of English. “The work of scheduling is complicated, and a lot of people are involved. It’s a true group effort.”

How are class schedules put together at ASU?

Let’s start here: It’s a complicated process that takes at least a year. Beckert said class schedules for the 2024–25 school year will be due in November, just three months after the kickoff of the 2023–24 school year.

Himberg said the Department of English works on its schedules two years in advance in order to try to best serve its more than 6,600 students.

“Schedules are an enormous part of the student experience,” Himberg said. “It’s not just about having the chance to take a variety of classes. I think it also affects their day-to-day quality of life.”

Here’s how the process works: As the schedulers for each college begin to map out the schedule for the following school year, they have to consider several factors.

How many students will take a respective class? How many rooms are available? When are those rooms available? Does the proper technology exist in those classrooms? Is faculty available to teach? Is there faculty on sabbatical? Does a certain professor prefer on teaching only in the morning? Or on Thursdays? How does course modality fit into the schedule?

Then there’s the unexpected.

“I was just talking to someone who told me a story. They said a fire extinguisher blew up in a room,” Beckert said. “So some shuffling and rescheduling had to take place.

“It’s a big puzzle. I find the best schedulers are people who love puzzles because that’s ultimately what it is.”

Jennifer Malerich, the assistant vice provost for academic and global engagement in the Office of the University Provost, said school schedulers also have to be mindful of all the construction on campus.

“I was driving to work the other day and noticed a building had been taken down in the few days I was away from campus," Malerich said. “There is a lot of advance planning and coordination that goes on in conjunction with the Office of Enterprise Planning, Enterprise Technology and Facilities Management. Classroom scheduling needs to know what’s going to happen to these buildings ahead of time, whether it’s a new building, renovations or technology improvements.

"It’s very important for us to look ahead and understand how we can maximize our footprint in a way that makes the most sense for our students.”

Kim Sjostrom, the coordinator in the School of Molecular Sciences, said schedulers have to be great negotiators. As they begin the process of composing a schedule, they’re trying to appease the requests that might come from the various parties involved.

For example, is the Chemistry 101 professor or the Chemistry 453 professor going to get the classroom they both request on a Tuesday afternoon?

“The scheduler really is the liaison between the faculty, the leadership of that academic unit and the provost office in terms of policies and things that they need to be paying attention to,” Beckert said. “The faculty has its own set of needs. The unit has its own set of needs. They have to manage all these relationships.”

Once schedulers have the necessary information, they input the schedule into the PeopleSoft scheduling software that’s used throughout the university. After the schedule is designed by PeopleSoft, it’s fed to another software called Ad Astra, which considers logistical hurdles.

“So students don’t have to go from one end of campus to the other with back-to-back classes,” Sjostrom said.

Then schedules are submitted to central class scheduling in the provost’s office where they are tweaked as needed before being released.

“I remember the days when I first started doing this,” Sjostrom said. “We got printouts on computer paper, and we went in with a red pen and Wite-Out and made all of our changes. “Then they all went to central scheduling and somebody sat down with a pen and was like, ‘OK, this is what needs to be changed.’

“What we do now saves a lot of time.”

In the end, Beckert said, everything schedulers do has one purpose.

“How we deliver classes in a way that is most beneficial to student success,” she said.

Top photo of a classroom in Hayden Library by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

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Sanford School professor, culture expert shares insights for Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15, 2023

Associate Professor José Causadias on the importance of culture and trends in his academic research

Throughout history, culture has been one of the underlying forces driving human behavior. Like an invisible hand, it shapes actions, systems and identities, determining whether someone “belongs” as part of one community or is an outlier.

Associate Professor Jose Causadias

Associate Professor José Causadias of the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University is a culture expert with over a decade of research intersecting cultural influence with human well-being. Studying topics like cultural rituals, youth development and the interplay of culture and biology, Causadias has investigated how culture and cultural rituals shape mental health by helping groups resiliently withstand challenges.

Causadias has a specific interest in Hispanic groups, having studied how cultural values such as familism, or the importance of family, lead to greater well-being. Growing up with strong cultural influences from his own community, he saw how traditions and group values affected his own daily life and the lives of those around him. 

Throughout his research, Causadias has questioned why culture has such an impact on communities, and how we define it. He says that culture is a fuzzy topic, with some defining it by group differences and others by values and practices. Causadias, however, has suggested a more concrete definition of culture based on what he calls the “p-model,” or people, places, practices, power and purpose.  

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked Causadias about his definition of culture, the importance of culture and trends in his academic research. 

Editor's note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: How would you define culture?

Answer: I define culture as a system of people, places, practices, power and purpose. These five components create and are created by each other, and we cannot understand culture without them. 

Our culture is about who we are as individuals and groups (people), the history of where we live and we come from (places), how we behave and celebrate our beliefs (practices), why those in charge create hierarchies (power) and how we fight for change and find joy (purpose).

When I think of the culture of Puerto Ricans in New York, Mexican Americans in Phoenix and Cuban Americans in Miami, for example, I think of proud communities who have transformed and enriched their cities (people), have a complex history here and in Latin America (places), who share and create different languages (practices), are affected by inequalities within and outside our communities (power), and find meaning in celebrating and challenging our traditions (purpose).

Q: Why is culture an important concept?

A: Although it means different things for different people, the concept of culture is valuable. When we think about Latinxsgender-neutral term for a person from, or whose ancestors were from, a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America, for example, we often hear the idea that we are a mosaic and not a monolith, meaning that there are a lot of differences among us. For example, we use different names to call ourselves, such as Hispanic, Latine, Latinx and many others. I use Latinx because it is not binary and includes LGBTQ+ people. 

With all these differences, what do Latinx people have in common? Why put us under the same umbrella? One rationale we often hear is that we share the same culture, which is partially true. But thinking that all Latinxs are the same can be a problem because we have different experiences. That is why we also need to think and measure culture, ethnicity, race and national origin separately.

Q: How does culture play a role in the well-being of Hispanic or Latino people, and how has this evolved over time?

A: There is a large body of theory, research and interventions that show that Latinx cultures play an important role in the well-being of Latinx people, especially in the lives of children and adolescents. ASU graduate student Karina Cahill has done outstanding research showing how familism, the values that emphasize respect and dedication to the family, are associated with positive mental health and doing well in school. 

Additionally, Latinx culture continues to change over time, as it is challenged and revised by each generation. For example, we see new ways Latinx youth celebrate quinceañera, updating this rite of passage to include boys and transgender girls. We are also trying to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic affected our communities and changed our cultures. 

Q: What are some common misconceptions or stereotypes about this culture that you encounter in your research?

A: There is an idea that there is a lack of knowledge about our culture when in fact, there is a rich body of knowledge about many Latinx cultures. Sometimes people cannot access that knowledge because they are not investing enough time to search, or they are only looking into one scientific discipline. Other times it is because the research was published in other languages. Maybe the knowledge has not been published at all, but it is part of the oral traditions of a community. You may not know about it if you are not familiar with or part of that community.

Q: Previously, you’ve called for a review of cultural research methods due to implicit assumptions. What are these assumptions and why is it important to be careful about the way we study culture?

A: There’s a notion that you can use any method to study Latinx cultures and that the results will be valid, but validity is the degree to which evidence and theory support the interpretation of results. If the theories and the measures we use in research are not centered on Latinxs, then the interpretation of the findings of the study are not valid.  

Another assumption is that we can study culture well just by using questionnaires and self-reports, but in reality, we also need methods such as interviews, photovoicePhotovoice is a visual research methodology that puts cameras into the participants’ hands to help them to document, reflect upon, and communicate issues of concern, while stimulating social change. and ethnography.  

Q: You’ve previously researched the need for innovation in diversity and inclusion in social sciences. What do you think needs to happen next in cultural studies — especially surrounding Latino groups?

A: I wish I knew! I find the best and most innovative ideas about Latinx cultures when I read the work of our Latina scholars who often are also activists fighting for our communities. I am teaching a class this fall on Latinx children, youth and families, and I look forward to learning with my students from the work of Nilda Flores-González, Cristina Mora, Tanya Katerí Hernández, Rachel Valentina González and many others.

Top photo courtesy Adobe Stock

Jennifer Moore

Communications Specialist Associate , T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics