Archaeologist focused on community-based Indigenous research joins ASU faculty

September 18, 2023

With a career focused on Indigenous archaeology, Davina Two Bears is excited to be back in Arizona and researching at Arizona State University. 

Two Bears is joining the faculty at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change this fall as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship Scholar. Her research focuses on the Old Leupp Boarding School on the southwest Navajo reservation.  Portrait of ASU scholar Davina Two Bears. Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship Scholar Davina Two Bears is joining the faculty at ASU's School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Download Full Image

“I will be further researching and writing a book about the Old Leupp Boarding School's history,” she said. “I will also research the Old Leupp Boarding School's reuse as a Japanese isolation center during World War II.”

Two Bears is Navajo from Birdsprings, Arizona, and is happy to be back in the state. She earned her PhD in anthropology with an emphasis in archaeology from Indiana University-Bloomington and obtained a minor in Native American and Indigenous studies. 

“I enjoy my career because I enjoy educating people about Native Americans, both in the past and present," Two Bears said.

ASU News spoke with Two Bears about her work and plans at Arizona State University

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

Question: Can you tell us about your current research?

Answer: I am researching the history of the Old Leupp Boarding School on the southwest Navajo reservation. It was a federal Indian boarding school that was open from 1909 to 1942. In 1943 it was reused as a Japanese isolation center (the Leupp Isolation Center) during World War II, where the U.S. government imprisoned Japanese Americans who were "troublemakers" from all the other Japanese incarceration camps. This school has a unique history of oppression and injustices committed against Navajo children and Japanese Americans by the U.S. government. My research of this historical archeological site is decolonizing and community-based, and I incorporate non-destructive research methods to tell the story of Old Leupp.

For my postdoc, I will be further researching and writing a book about the Old Leupp Boarding School's history. I aim to conduct oral-history interviews with Navajo people from the Leupp and Birdsprings community to investigate the history of the Leupp Isolation Center and Japanese American imprisonment on Navajo lands.

I will also partner with my colleagues, Dr. Jun Sunseri and Dr. Koji Lau-Ozawa, historical archaeologists experienced in community-based archaeology and the use of non-destructive archaeological field methods, to map the Old Leupp Boarding School historical site. We plan to invite the local community and students as well to assist in this project, and we aim to develop educational products and materials. 

Davina Two Bears

Davina Two Bears holds an Archaic projectile point that is approximately 8,000 years old during work on a survey of Navajo sites in Chaco Canyon Cultural Historical Park. Photo courtesy of Davina Two Bears

Q: Why do you enjoy your career, and what you are looking forward to at ASU?

A: I enjoy being out in the field conducting archaeological survey work at Native American/Navajo sites, as well as interviewing Navajo elders — learning about the past from tribal cultural knowledge-keepers. 

I look forward to being back home in Arizona where I am from and being closer to my research sites on the Navajo reservation. I also look forward to mentoring students here at ASU, especially Native American and Indigenous students interested in the field of archaeology.

Q: Anything else you would like others to know about you? 

A: I am Navajo, originally from Birdsprings, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation. My clans are Bitter Water, and I am born from Red Running into the Water clan. My maternal grandfather's clan is Edge Water, and my paternal grandfather's clan is also Bitter Water. I previously worked for the Navajo Nation for 14 years as a tribal archaeologist and program manager at the Navajo Nation Archaeology Department – NAU Branch Office. I enjoy spending time with my three young adult children and my extended family.

Nicole Pomerantz

Communications specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


ASU entrepreneurs benefit Balkan businesses

Team led by electrical engineering faculty leads effort to ignite small-business growth in Eastern Europe

September 18, 2023

Having grown up in Kosovo, Visar Berisha is driven to help showcase innovation in the Balkans to the rest of the world. He recently got the opportunity to do just that through the U.S. Department of State’s Global Innovation through Science and Technology, or GIST, initiative.

“The development and growth of the Balkans region has always been close to my heart,” says Berisha, a professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University with a joint appointment in ASU’s College of Health Solutions. “When the Melikian Center at ASU introduced me to the U.S. State Department’s GIST Innovates the Balkans program, it resonated with me, as it felt like an opportunity to make a difference in a region that is very special to me.” ASU Professor Visar Berisha gives a presentation to participants in a classroom. Visar Berisha, a professor of electrical engineering with a joint appointment in ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and College of Health Solutions, instructs participants in the GIST Innovates the Balkans program. Photo courtesy of Innovation Centre Kosovo Download Full Image

With assistance from the Melikian Center and ASU’s J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute, Berisha’s proposal resulted in GIST Initiative funding powering a two-year program with multiple cohorts of select companies based in the Balkans, during which participants learn how to expand their offerings to the U.S. market.

The program’s first cohort consists of 13 companies taking part over the course of 10 weeks between July and October. Participants take part in training sessions in which they learn from the experiences of ASU faculty entrepreneurs from the Fulton Schools and beyond. They also get mentorship and networking opportunities with ASU-affiliated entrepreneurs matched to their industries, and they conduct interviews with prospective customers. Some participants will also be selected to participate in ASU’s Venture Devils pitch competition.

Designing an international entrepreneurship education program

Berisha took the lead on running GIST Innovates the Balkans with his co-principal investigator Zachary Holman, a professor of electrical engineering and Fulton Schools vice dean for research and innovation.

Berisha and Holman have entrepreneurial experience running startup companies; Berisha co-founded digital health company Aural Analytics, and Holman is a co-founder of coating company Swift Coat and solar technology businesses Beyond Silicon and SunFlex Solar.

Holman and Berisha designed the program with Eusebio Scornavacca, professor and interim director of ASU’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, who also serves as a professor in the Thunderbird School of Global Management, and Ji Mi Choi, executive director of the National Science Foundation-funded I-Corps Hub: Desert and Pacific Region, which ASU leads.

They modeled the GIST Innovates the Balkans curriculum after the NSF’s Innovation Corps, or I-Corps, which helps academic researchers in science and engineering move projects into the marketplace. Unlike I-Corps, GIST Innovates the Balkans includes startups from a wider variety of industries beyond science and engineering that didn’t all begin in academic settings.

Regional collaborator and entrepreneurship organization Innovation Centre Kosovo helped tailor the curriculum to benefit participating startups as much as possible. The center also helped select the participants from four countries in the region: Kosovo, North Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia. Additionally, Innovation Centre Kosovo handled logistics for the program and hosted in-person entrepreneurship training sessions.

Denise McKenzie, an academic associate at ASU’s College of Health Solutions, serves as lead instructor for GIST Innovates the Balkans. Also an instructor for I-Corps, she led the in-person sessions in Kosovo for a week in July with assistance from Holman and Berisha, after which participants learned from weekly online sessions.

“We’re teaching a process of how you come up with solutions based on who your customer is,” McKenzie says. “This is something they can use for this product or service, but also in the future. It’s really wash, rinse and repeat.”

Understanding U.S. customers’ needs and learning from entrepreneurs’ experiences

Participating startups include companies in a diverse array of industries, such as AI speech-to-sign-language translator SignAvatar, sustainable hat brand Mirjana Josifoska and marketing platform the Brand Pack. These companies are paired with ASU-affiliated mentors who help participants find potential customers with whom they will conduct about 40 interviews per company.

After the interviews are completed, the mentors help participants analyze the information they’ve gleaned and determine what changes need to be made to their products or services.

“By the program’s conclusion, participating teams will accumulate the evidence needed to confirm or refute product-market fit,” Berisha says. “This insight will help them to construct a data-driven business model and craft a compelling pitch.”

Participating startup teams are in various stages of development, including those with some market share in the U.S. and others investigating whether expansion is worthwhile. One of these teams is Brummell, which invented a blazer jacket engineered to maintain a professional, suit-like look while meeting strict motorcycle gear safety standards through the use of Kevlar.

Nina Levic, CEO and co-founder of Brummell, says the experience has been beneficial for the opportunity to learn from the ASU entrepreneurs about their own experiences running companies and diving deep into their customers’ needs.

“This program has been truly valuable for us, as it has allowed us to extensively explore our customer segment, acquire fresh insights and share experiences with fellow entrepreneurs,” Levic says. “It’s been a great experience for us, and we look forward to witnessing the emergence of similar programs like this within the Western Balkans region.”

Looking to the future, Berisha is investigating making the program self-sustaining through collaborations between ASU and local institutions, possibly through ASU’s Global University Partnerships. He sees the program as helping people see the Balkans in a positive light.

“While much of the world might primarily associate the region with its past conflicts, my experiences in regular visits there paint a different picture,” Berisha says.

“This initiative represents a bridge connecting the untapped potential of the area with the tools, knowledge and opportunities in the U.S. to make a meaningful, sustainable impact. Introducing these ventures to a wider audience allows us to present the Balkans in a fresh light, highlighting innovation and hopefully promoting a shift in attitudes about the region.”

TJ Triolo

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering