ASU organizations collaborate to fight for social justice

December 29, 2020

With the year coming to an end, three of Arizona State University’s groups committed to social justice met on Dec. 17 for reflection and healing after 2020's pandemic, contentious election and violence against people of color. 

After systemic racism gained fresh attention this summer following the killings of George Floyd and others, ASU President Michael Crow proposed a series of actions to promote inclusivity on campus. Zoom meeting Representatives from three faculty and staff organizations at ASU met for the "Hindsight is 2020" event on Dec. 17. Download Full Image

The Chicano/Latino Faculty and Staff Association (CLFSA), African and African American Faculty and Staff Association (AAAFSA) and Faculty Women of Color Caucus (FWOCC) are all planning to tackle this problem locally, and they said they hope to see enactment of Crow’s 25 items of support for the Black community over the next few years.

In September, the organizations met as one for the first time to discuss how they can better collaborate to promote inclusivity at the university and across the broader community. The presidents of each group said they believe coming together can help unite people of color at ASU.

“There is a need to be there for each other, to be able to process things together … but also look at ways where we can make an impact, where we can work together with university leadership to create progress and make sure that they know the needs of our communities,” CLFSA President Sandra Martinez said. 

That first meeting cemented a partnership that led to the “Hindsight is 2020” event, where 79 attendees learned about the importance of working together to create positive change at the university and to help students.

The presidents of each diversity organization shared the history of their group and plans for the future. Lisa Magaña, a professor at the School of Transborder Studies who heads the Faculty Women’s Association, also discussed turnout this election and the role of Arizona as a swing state. 

Vanessa Fonseca Chávez, an assistant English professor and president of FWOCC, said she hopes these efforts create a platform to help faculty “in this political moment” and to foster relationships among organizations. 

“Now is a conversation to really think about who are the critical constituents and key stakeholders to the types of national and even regional conversations that we are having on Black Lives Matter and police brutality,” Fonseca Chávez said.

Kenja Hassan, president and founder of AAAFSA and assistant vice president for government and community engagement at the Downtown Phoenix campus, said systemic inequities and the “visible and invisible hatred” against people of color make it vital for organizations fighting for inclusivity to band together.  

“In order for us to hold truth to these statements that our nation has written — that we believe in liberty and justice for all — it takes work,” Hassan said. “A conversation like this is so important, because in order for us to be successful as a nation, we all have to figure out where we can find common ground. … Us being able to do it at ASU is critical.”

Stanlie James, ASU’s outgoing vice provost of inclusion and community engagement, was a special guest at the meeting — her last appearance before the groups. She offered some words of wisdom about the importance of continuing to fight for social justice. 

“Our country has an opportunity to finally begin to figure out how to live up to the words in our founding documents,” James said. “We will not be returning to the way it used to be. Rather, we must begin to specifically clarify how we want it to be, and how we can contribute to enacting that vision here at ASU.” 

Martinez shared her excitement to see CLFSA member Nancy Gonzales as the next executive vice president and university provost and Maria Anguiano as the next executive vice president of ASU’s new Learning Enterprise.  

2020 marks the 50th anniversary for CLFSA, which has had a strong presence at ASU as an advocate and a voice for communities of color.

Martinez believes that despite the obstacles they faced this year, this new leadership is a positive way to end the year and celebrate the organization’s anniversary, as well as a step in the right direction for the university.

RELATED: Donate to social justice opportunities at ASU

Written by Diana Quintero, journalism student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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ASU’s service, experience for Sun Devil community aligns with future tech trends

December 23, 2020

Serving university students, faculty and staff means understanding and anticipating trends of the future.

In order to ensure Arizona State University remains on the forefront of enabling the disruptive potential of technology, the University Technology Office cross-referenced ASU’s diverse portfolio of technology activities, products, programs and services to top research and forecasting firm Gartner’s report on the Top 10 Strategic Technologies Impacting Higher Education in 2020.

From next-gen security and risk management partnerships and processes to systems empowering faculty in their career journeys, to strategic use of nudge technologies across ASU's digital campus services, ASU is leveraging key technologies for the current and future success of its community. 

Gartner Infographic

Discover how a variety of ASU technology-enabled initiatives, protocols and strategic partnerships have aligned with Gartner’s 10 top trends of 2020:  

1. Artificial intelligence strategy and tactics

Broadly speaking, artificial intelligence (AI) is a process by which programs identify trends or patterns across large data sets, using this information to “make a decision,” whether that is providing accurate information or assessments. 

ASU embodied artificial intelligence strategy and tactics with its service of the university’s community. Software like Benji, the financial aid chatbot, or Sunny, the ASU information chatbot, was built to intuitively assess and anticipate the needs of the user. Furthermore, the assessment-predictive program ALEKS was able to quickly and effectively place test-takers into the most fitting mathematics courses.

2. Next-gen security and risk management

A fortress of countless apps, programs and devices mitigated security threats for all of ASU’s users in part of the university’s next-gen security and risk management. Protocols geared towards awareness and understanding of one’s data usage also promoted proactive protection of important information. 

In addition to protecting the university, ASU convened a community of cybersecurity professionals, practitioners, partners and champions at the 2020 ASU Partner to Protect Arizona Unconference, in partnership with Crowdstrike, to surface emergent trends and challenges — and strategize accordingly.

Partner to Protect Conference

ASU’s Partner to Protect Unconference tackled seven key themes. Photo by UTO

3. Smart campus

ASU advanced a variety of smart technology initiatives from campus to community. From advanced networks powering smart parking and internet-enabled buses to “blue light” smart safety poles, smart campus efforts enhance the safety and well-being of ASU's students. 

The Amazon Web Services Smart City Cloud Innovation Center (CIC) and Cox Connected Environments Collaboratory are important representatives of the partnerships ASU has built to create a smart campus that, in turn, works with community partners to foster smart city projects. In 2020, the CIC partnered with cities across Arizona to tackle a variety of challenges — from senior fall prevention to reducing poverty, graffiti removal and so much more — using Amazon’s innovation processes, cloud expertise and global solution platforms.

4. Nudge tech

“Nudge tech” brings a more personalized touch to digital interactions, which was all the more necessary in a time of remote learning, teaching and working. Technologies like the ASU Mobile App, Slack and more kept students, instructors and staff members connected and collaborating both asynchronously and in real time. 

This trend also resulted in heightened digital security through two-factor authentication.

Daily health check app 

5. Digital credentialing technologies

ASU is considered a pioneer of digital credentialing technologies, changing the way experience and accomplishments are measured in the higher education and professional worlds. The Learning Futures Collaboratory’s efforts in this field are expanding opportunities for lifelong learners, and this year’s Digital Credential Summit brought the university’s changemakers together to advance those efforts even further.

6. Cross-life-cycle CRM

ASU’s commitment to customer service is epitomized by its technical investment in cross-life-cycle CRM (customer relationship management). Standardization of tools like Salesforce allow for a cohesive experience for everyone the university touches.

7. 5G/ecosystem infrastructure 

The Cox Connected Environments Collaboratory is working with ASU to build the smart campus of the future, while also investing heavily in 5G infrastructure, expanding the capabilities of wireless devices beyond the bounds of what is currently possible. Partnerships with T-Mobile, Verizon and others are accelerating the progress to a 5G future.

ASU’s Dreamscape Learn initiative will transport biology students to the Alien Zoo to study new life forms using a new multisensory, virtual reality environment that is equipped with 5G enabled wireless haptic backpacks to provide sensory input. 

8. New display, visualization and collaboration technologies

New display, visualization and collaboration technologies became even more necessary in the world of COVID-19, pushing results forward that were the product of years of ASU innovation. Notable innovations include: ASU Sync, the university’s new learning hybrid modality, which allowed students to interact safely in-person and remotely simultaneously; the Daily Health Check supported Sync in the background by tracking the health of the community both on and off campus; and XR@ASU offered new ways to for students to consume and create learning experiences using emerging technologies like VR and AR. 

ASU Sync classroom

ASU Sync connects students on-campus and remote for live, synchronous instruction. Photo: ASU

9. Career software

At its core, ASU’s mission is to educate its learners and prepare them for their future work, and so the university has put a premium on career software. This includes the professional development program Career EDGE, the virtual career exploration experience offered by Career Arcade’s virtual reality application and a partnership with the job search site Handshake, all working together to set students up for success in the future of work.

10. Faculty information systems

Support of our faculty is support of our students, so it is important that faculty information systems are able to let them effectively do their jobs. ASU Vita; the Review, Promotion, Tenure system; and Faculty Activity Reports work in the background to enable lifelong learning.

Looking toward 2021 and beyond

Named the most innovative campus in the nation six years in a row, ASU continues to redefine the landscape of higher education. By understanding and aligning its work with the trends of the future, the university can continue to adapt to best meet the needs of its community in an ever-changing world.

The various initiatives, protocols and strategic partnerships mentioned above represent only a part of UTO’s extensive portfolio of work. For more, check out this top 10 trends infographic

Many thanks to all team members across the university for their hard work and continued commitment to supporting the entire Sun Devil community. And a special thanks to Tristan Ettleman (co-author), Sophie Jones (co-author), Klariz Gapusan (designer), Laura Geringer (designer) and Samantha Becker for their support on this article. 

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ASU's year in review 2020 — and oh, what a year it has been

December 18, 2020

This year showed us the power of resilience.

With a new virus changing life as we know it, social justice protests and a big election — not to mention ASU's first (and second) virtual commencement and the launch of distance-and-in-person learning via ASU Sync — there was no shortage of news in 2020. Sun Devils have stepped up, showing their compassion, their smarts and their grit in the face of a very tough year.

COVID-19 dominated many of the top ASU Now stories, but there are also compelling research findings, stories of inspiring entrepreneurship and helping others, creative performances and even a presidential pet feature. Click through the months below for a fast-forward review of 2020.

And remember: Forks up, masks up. We are all — still — in this together.


We broke new ground in more ways than one, as construction projects began and finished, and a new viral threat began to make headlines.


Sun Devils were feeling the love this month, winning innovation prizes, sharing their meet-cute stories and learning more about our state.


The month everything changed: On March 11, midway through spring break, ASU made the decision to transition in-person classes to remote instruction. Employees pivoted to working from home wherever possible, and life on campus looked very different.


We began to adjust to our new reality, looking to new ideas for food and PPE supply chains. And "A" Mountain sported a new look in salute to those frontline medical workers caring for communities facing an unprecedented crisis.


A very big month: ASU's first-ever virtual commencement took place in May, and ASU's Biodesign Institute developed the state's first saliva-based COVID-19 test — which continues to be available to the public at no charge. The university kicked off its summer concert series with multiplatinum singer, songwriter and dancer Jason Derulo. And yes, two of our top stories that month involved the efficacyA topic that some in the wider community debated throughout the rest of the year. of face coverings in fighting COVID-19.


After George Floyd's death at the end of May, protests and discussions about social justice and equity began to dominate discourse across the country — and the university.


As summer heated up, so did preparations for the fall semester and the need for COVID-19 testing in high-need communities across the state. ASU's staff and faculty stepped up for both — including several First Peoples' COVID-19 Resource Drive events. And to further help the community, ASU Prep Digital rolled out a full-time K–8 virtual school option.


A semester unlike any other began with students in classrooms and on Zoom screens around the world. Learning continued, as did research on everything from ice to heat.


Big headlines dominated the month, including the launch of the Global Futures Laboratory and ASU's sixth straight No. 1 innovation ranking. September was also the month when — to accelerate meaningful change at ASU and to contribute to a national agenda for social justice — President Michael M. Crow announced the university's commitment to 25 actions to support Black students, faculty and staff.


ASU continued to work with its communities, whether that was expanded COVID-19 testing or building a student-centered learning approach for Arizona's K–12 schools. And at the end of the month, early voting began on or near all four campuses as the nation headed toward a momentous Election Day.


The ASU community blazed new trails, with a new residence hall, two new schools, a new head of Knowledge Enterprise and new best practices for learning in a pandemic. 


The changes continued in key positions, with leaders of Academic and Learning enterprises announced, as well as ASU's first-ever Innovation Quarter over winter break.

Top photo: Ashley Tabar snaps a selfie as she celebrates receiving her bachelor's degree in marketing. ASU and portrait agency GradImages offer fall 2020 graduates in-person photo sessions in front of the iconic Old Main in mid-November. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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ASU ranked a top university for protecting free speech

December 11, 2020

Arizona State University has been ranked as one of the top universities in the country for its policies on free speech and protecting its community’s First Amendment rights.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released its annual Spotlight on Speech Codes for 2021, awarding ASU an overall green light rating — the highest metric possible in FIRE’s rating system: green, yellow and red.

In 2011, ASU became the 13th university in the country to receive FIRE’s top “green light” rating for its written policies related to free speech, which allow students, faculty and staff to freely express their thoughts and ideas within the ASU community. A total of 56 institutions now hold this top honor. ASU also maintains “green light” ratings in several subcategories

  • Harassment policies.
  • Protest and demonstration policies.
  • Posting and distribution policies.
  • Internet usage policies.

“ASU is committed to free, robust and uninhibited sharing of ideas among all members of the university community and we strive to provide an environment that fosters the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression — in a safe environment,” ASU President Michael Crow said. “As a public university, we advance our charter within the framework of state and federal policy, including the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides the right to free speech.”

In 2018, ASU expanded its efforts to protect free speech within the university community by adopting The Chicago Statement for Free Speech — a robust policy statement created by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago and endorsed by dozens of higher education institutions. And, most recently, ASU was ranked fifth in the nation in the 2020 College Free Speech Rankings, which were determined by surveying students at 55 top colleges and universities in the U.S.

For a list of university resources and policies related to First Amendment rights, please visit ASU’s free speech page.

For its Spotlight on Speech Codes 2021, FIRE reviewed the written policies of 478 colleges and universities (372 public and 106 private) across the country, looking for blatant violations (red light) and moderate violations (yellow light). Institutions that had no violations received a green light rating.

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now 

ASU humanities institute staff develop Student Stories Project

December 10, 2020

As the year 2020 comes to a close, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact student learning and life, and many students are finding it increasingly difficult to press forward in the “new normal.”

To help students feel a sense of community and support in a safe, virtual space, staff at Arizona State University's Institute for Humanities Research have developed the Student Stories Project Notebook on top of packing envelopes with doodles in the background The first batch of Student Stories Project notebooks shipped this week. Photo and graphic courtesy Lauren Whitby. Download Full Image

“The ‘new normal’ has changed the university experience for students,” said Barbara Dente, Institute for Humanities Research business operations specialist. 

“This project is meant to help students take pen to paper, in a traditional sense, and explore their thoughts on topics that are affecting them as students and individuals in today’s world. They then have a global platform to share their thoughts and ideas with their fellow ASU students.” 

Here’s how the project works:

• Starting Dec. 15, the Institute for Humanities Research will provide daily prompts on the project webpage to inspire students to write, draw or create notebook entries with any medium they choose. 

• Students who want to participate can register online to receive a free project notebook to record their responses.

• Students are not obligated to follow every prompt and can participate at any level they choose. If they post a picture of their entry with the hashtag #StudentStoriesASU on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, they will be entered to win giveaways that will be distributed by the Institute for Humanities Research. 

“One thing that is really challenging for students right now is that they can’t interact with friends and classmates like they used to,” said Lauren Whitby, marketing and communications specialist senior at the Institute for Humanities Research.

“We’re hoping that the project hashtag will help students stay in touch and be inspired by fellow students’ writing and drawings.”

Prompts will run through Feb. 15. Free project notebooks are limited, but anyone can participate by following the prompts on the project webpage and posting pictures of their entries.

Though the Institute for Humanities Research traditionally has worked primarily with faculty and graduate students, the institute felt a responsibility to support all students during the trying months ahead.

“This is an opportunity for the IHR to show up for students every day over the winter break and into the new year, to listen to their stories, and to learn from their experiences,” said Celina Osuna, Institute for Humanities Research coordinator and Desert Humanities assistant director.

Lauren Whitby

Communications Specialist, ASU Institute for Humanities Research


Elkins-Tanton named vice president of Interplanetary Initiative

December 7, 2020

Lindy Elkins-Tanton, director of Arizona State University’s Interplanetary Initiative and the principal investigator on NASA’s Psyche mission to a metallic asteroid, will become vice president of the ASU Interplanetary Initiative effective Jan. 1, 2021. The new position acknowledges Elkins-Tanton’s success as a space explorer and her ability to bring people together to think outside the box when it comes to space exploration. 

Elkins-Tanton has led the Interplanetary Initiative – an effort to advance society through exploration – since its inception in 2017. As a vice president, Elkins-Tanton will further develop the operating principles of the initiative and move it into more of a mainstay in ASU’s academic portfolio.   Lindy Elkins-Tanton Download Full Image

“Lindy Elkins-Tanton is a pathbreaking scientist and truly a modern-day explorer with the Psyche mission she leads for NASA,” ASU President Michael Crow said. “We want to have Lindy focus some of those creative energies and organizational abilities to what comes next not only in space exploration, but also in the bold move that follows as we transcend from being Earth-bound to Earth-based and reach out to new worlds.”

The goal of the Interplanetary Initiative is building the future of humans in space to create a bolder and better society. It does this by tackling some of the grand challenges presented before our society, like: How can public and private support be galvanized for space exploration? What fundamental rules govern the self-sustainability of ecosystems for long-term space settlement? How can we successfully build thriving communities on other worlds? How do we train and prepare the human psyche for being interplanetary? 

“Humans are compelled to explore, and we will explore space,” Elkins-Tanton said. “The question is, will we explore it in the flawed model of the past, where only a few benefit, and many suffer, or can we imagine a way to evolve in our level of civilization and move into this new era as our better selves.” 

Elkins-Tanton said that the initiative spans all of ASU and includes participation from 50 centers and more than 20 external partners. It also has academic support coming from 15 units for Interplanetary Initiative’s Bachelor of Science degree in technology leadership. 

“It brings all of the critical disciplines to bear, including design, psychology, sociology, education, theater, engineering, science, writing, management and leadership,” she added. “Some of the initiative’s pilot projects concern space technology, but others are more in the realms of human engineering, organizational management and communications.” 

Through the initiative, ASU has set the stage for a new and exciting era of exploration of Earth, the universe and the future of humans. 

“Interplanetary will have the support and connections in the university to create a prototype of a new kind of university entity,” Elkins-Tanton said. “We'll be connecting the private sector, government and universities to make more rapid progress toward being an interplanetary society and toward truly deserving and embracing being an interplanetary species.”

To be interplanetary, Elkins-Tanton said, will require working across disciplines and conducting intersector work on targeted goals in technology, team-building and education. It will also require a society of problem-solvers with a sense of agency and a perspective that reaches beyond our own town, country or planet.

She explained that the Interplanetary Initiative is advancing the state-of-the-art for putting together interdisciplinary teams and supporting them to move more rapidly toward key goals. For example, one of the more than 20 Interplanetary Initiative pilot projects is focused on changing the nature of human-robot interactions, and another is gathering key data on how people will collaborate, or compete, on off-Earth settlements.

“We need to create new processes for building teams that work more efficiently toward targeted goals; we need teams that are diverse and high-functioning; we need better, faster teaming of organizations, and more effective education for the problem-solvers of the future,” Elkins-Tanton explained. “To be who we should be for an interplanetary future, we need new processes.”

“I am completely thrilled to have the opportunity to bring people together to invent better ways of making progress, and to inspire humanity to look beyond our dusty feet and up to our place in the universe,” she added.

It is expected that the Interplanetary Initiative will mature into the Interplanetary Laboratory at ASU, which will include the creation of several large-scale projects and support systems that aid the development of proposals for enhancing interplanetary systems development. 

Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


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Maria Anguiano to helm ASU's Learning Enterprise as executive vice president

December 3, 2020

Learning Enterprise aims to serve learners across their entire lifespan, from kindergarten to postretirement

Editor’s note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now’s year in review. Read more top stories from 2020.

When Maria Anguiano joined Arizona State University as senior vice president of enterprise strategy and planning in fall 2018, she was excited to get down to work in the university’s fast-paced environment. 

Since then, Anguiano has kept busy working with senior leadership on university budget strategies, enrollment and nonenrollment revenue development opportunities, as well as spearheading a number of strategic projects, including the planning of ASU’s new Los Angeles location (which is set to open next summer) and the launch of the first ASU Local site there. 

As far as keeping her on her toes, Anguiano said, “ASU hasn’t disappointed!” 

And the pace is only picking up. The university announced this week that Anguiano has been named executive vice president of Learning Enterprise, an initiative for which she developed the initial conceptual design and now will have responsibility for implementing and evolving.    

As one of ASU’s three pillars — the other two being Academic Enterprise and Knowledge Enterprise — Learning Enterprise shares the same primary goal of advancing the university’s charter in its entirety. However, Learning Enterprise’s main focus is the last part of the charter: “assuming fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves.”

Most universities serve students pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees shortly after high school. ASU has emerged as a different kind of university that aims to serve all learners at every stage of life. In addition to undergraduate and graduate degrees, ASU also has learning options from K–12 to midcareer to postretirement. Learning Enterprise aims to grow these education options through scalable, technology-enabled pathways that will serve the greatest number of learners possible. In her new role, Anguiano will take the lead on harnessing and mobilizing all of ASU’s assets to achieve this while continuing to work with senior leadership on overall university priorities. 

“Underlying everything we do in Learning Enterprise is the desire to grow access to social and economic opportunity, no matter the stage in a person’s life,” Anguiano said. “To do this well requires dedicated effort, and so we felt it was important to develop a pillar, the Learning Enterprise, where folks wake up every single day thinking about how to make all of ASU’s assets and learning offerings relevant, available and accessible to everyone in the community.

“Relevance here is an important word as people need to feel that what ASU has to offer was created with them in mind. We are 100% focused on delivering value to the lives of our learners.”

ASU Now recently connected with Anguiano and asked her to expand on what that all means.

Question: What makes Learning Enterprise unique?

Answer: ASU has recognized that to meet the needs of a rapidly changing, technology-driven world, people will need to access education and learning platforms throughout their lives. So the scope of ASU’s Learning Enterprise is quite broad as we are serving learners across their entire lifespan. The initial work of Learning Enterprise requires conceptualizing how a research university might best serve any learner, whether they are just starting their educational journey or are embarking in a postretirement learning journey and everything in between. No major research university has ever attempted to take this on, and it will require working across the entire ASU enterprise, with every school, with every institute, with every partner we have to advance this vision. While I’m sure the work of Learning Enterprise will evolve substantially, our initial focus areas include K–12 learners, learners seeking accessible pathways into college, learners seeking resources that will help them reskill or upskill and lifelong enrichment. 

Q: What are some of your immediate and long-term goals for Learning Enterprise?

A: I believe that in order to truly transform the lives of people through education, we as educators are going to have to rethink and redesign learning to better fit the lives of our learners and meet them where they are, instead of expecting them to fit one mold. We want Learning Enterprise to provide a lifelong learning infrastructure that anyone can plug into and feel like it was created with their needs in mind. Thus, we have a lot of work to do to achieve that vision of ASU as the premier lifelong learning global education brand. It will require us to build best-in-class learner support infrastructure and technology that is both robust and cost-effective.

In the short term, we are focused on publicly launching Learning Enterprise, so we are working on branding, communications, partnerships and making our initial content offerings the best that they can be.

Q: What about this opportunity most excites you?

A: I’m excited that Learning Enterprise will be working on breaking down barriers and reimagining how to curate, structure and distribute learning opportunities to be high quality, accessible and affordable to everyone. 

My mother is a great example of those whom we want to help with Learning Enterprise. She only received a traditional education in Mexico until sixth grade, but at 67 years old, education is more important to her than ever. She is a voracious learner and is constantly asking me where she can find learning resources for everything from contract negotiations for her business, to how to become a better teacher for classes she leads at her church, to improving her English. There are so many people out there like my mother whom Learning Enterprise can help! It’s really exciting to think about the impact we can make in people’s lives outside the traditional university learning environment.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is not a traditional college student but wants to expand their knowledge base and/or education?

A: I would point them to ASU for You! ASU for You will be the portal that helps learners to discover and navigate which Learning Enterprise offerings are right for them. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all advice. This is both the opportunity, and the challenge, for Learning Enterprise to solve. We want to become a trusted source of information that can reliably advise learners on what’s best for them, whether that’s something ASU provides or not.

Q: Anything else folks should know about Learning Enterprise? 

A: For Learning Enterprise to be successful, we will need to harness all that ASU has to offer. I encourage anyone that has ideas on how to advance the Learning Enterprise or how their work could contribute to please reach out to me.

Top photo by Jarrod Opperman/ASU

Emma Greguska

Reporter , ASU News

(480) 965-9657

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ASU receives $12.5M subcontract to better understand COVID-19 immune response and improve patient outcomes

December 2, 2020

Arizona State University has been awarded a $12.5 million multiyear subcontract from the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (FNL), operated by Leidos Biomedical Research on behalf of the National Cancer Institute, to join the NCI’s Serological Sciences Network (SeroNet), the nation’s largest coordinated effort to study people’s immune response to COVID-19.

SeroNet was enacted as a result of $306 million in emergency supplemental funding from the U.S. Congress for the NCI to study serological sciences related to COVID-19.

ASU is one of just four Capacity Building Centers (CBCs) selected nationally for SeroNet. The goal is to develop high performance serological tests to determine a person’s previous exposure to SARS-CoV-2. The network aims to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic by improving the ability to test for an antibody response to infection, especially among diverse and underserved populations, and to accelerate the development of treatments and vaccines aimed at preventing COVID-19 and improving patient outcomes.  

“This award will now establish Arizona State University as the most comprehensive COVID testing research center in the Southwest, and is a testament to our commitment and scientific capabilities to be offered the opportunity to join SeroNet and to provide a critical service to our community and nation,” said ASU Biodesign Institute Executive Director Dr. Joshua LaBaer. “It builds upon the great successes of our innovative antibody testing platform, robust biomarker discovery and diagnostic assay development capabilities; our extensive experience at successfully completing large federal contracts, grants and FDA emergency use authorizations; and our response to this pandemic through large-scale PCR-based SARS-CoV-2 testing of saliva samples.”

Joshua LaBaer

According to ASU Biodesign Institute Executive Director Dr. Joshua LaBaer, ASU hopes to develop a simple, FDA-approved COVID-19 antibody test to detect for previous SARS-CoV-2 exposure and to better understand a person’s immune response to COVID-19.

The NCI, FNL and ASU were able to pivot to support COVID-19 research because of their deep experience in virology and immunology research, including research on viruses that cause cancer, such as HPV, and experience in immunotherapy.

In March, LaBaer, a medical oncologist by training who co-discovered breast cancer biomarkers included in a CLIA-approved breast cancer test with colleague Dr. Karen Anderson, shifted his laboratory to become a CLIA-certified clinical laboratory to fully support COVID-19 testing.

In May 2020, LaBaer and Vel Murugan, an ASU associate research professor and co-principal investigator on the SeroNet CBC subcontract, created the first saliva-based COVID-19 test in the Western United States.

To date, ASU has provided more than 300,000 free saliva tests to the general public, first responders, doctors, nurses and medical personnel, and the entire ASU community to help Arizona in the response to keep individuals safe and healthy during the pandemic.

As part of the national SeroNet, ASU’s interdisciplinary team of expert scientists and researchers at the Biodesign Institute, led by LaBaer, will establish the ASU Biodesign Capacity Building Center (ABCBC). Other key individuals involved in this project are Ji Qiu, Jin Park, Femina Rauf, Lusheng Song, Mitch Magee and Michael Fiacco.

“Through this latest project, we hope to develop a simple, FDA-approved COVID-19 antibody test to detect for previous SARS-CoV-2 exposure and to better understand a person’s immune response to COVID-19,” said LaBaer. “We ultimately want to develop a test for any exposures people may have had to all known human coronaviruses and other respiratory pathogens in order to improve patient outcomes.”

The core of the technology builds upon a novel ASU platform (called MISPA) that uses rapid DNA sequencing to monitor many patients’ immune responses to multiple viral proteins simultaneously, via a molecular “barcoding.” ASU has tested the platform on cancer subtypes caused by HPV. Now, they want to adapt the same technology for understanding COVID-19.

“This system exploits the power of DNA next-generation sequencing (NGS) technology to quantify COVID virus antigens and their interactions with antibodies produced in the body to fight the infection,” said Murugan. “With this assay, we 'barcode' individual proteins called antigens within the virus with unique DNA sequences that interact in solution with patient serum, followed by quantification of the antibody-bound barcodes by NGS.”

Unlike current commercially available serological tests, the MISPA-based test is designed to be quantitative about the strength of the immune response while providing information about responses to multiple proteins and eventually, multiple viruses simultaneously. In addition, because individual reactions can also be indexed (or barcoded) in parallel, thousands of patient samples can be combined, and all the results determined in a single NGS run (many barcoded patients versus many barcoded proteins).

“MISPA will also be deployed through a similar high-throughput, fully automated test that can process thousands of samples per day as we have successfully demonstrated from our COVID-19 saliva test,” said Murugan.

Initial tests will rely on a testing pool of individuals who have recovered from the infection. Potential sites for serological tests include: ValleyWise, Midwestern/Abrazo hospital networks, Dignity Health hospital network, Columbia University, Colorado River Indian Tribal community through their tribal government, ASU students and population, other universities in Arizona and essential infrastructure partners.

Should the test validation and FDA EUA become approved, testing will expand to essential infrastructure employees, health care professionals and residents in long-term care facilities or other congregate living settings, including prisons and shelters. Community surveillance for asymptomatic population will be conducted at a lower priority when needed.

The lessons learned from ASU’s role in SeroNet research could be applied immediately to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and may prove valuable to public health beyond the pandemic.

Joe Caspermeyer

Manager (natural sciences) , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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Nancy Gonzales named ASU's next university provost, executive VP

New university provost and ASU alum was 1st in her family to get college degree.
December 1, 2020

Dean of natural sciences' career dedicated to psychology research with culturally diverse populations, expanding access to education

Editor’s note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now’s year in review. Read more top stories from 2020.

When Nancy Gonzales graduated high school in Miami, Arizona, she was awarded an Arizona Board of Regents scholarship, which at the time was given to the top 1% of students in the state to attend any of the three state universities. There was never really any question that she would choose Arizona State University.

“My father was a huge Sun Devil supporter and football season ticket holder for as long as I can remember. This created a strong connection to the university that influenced my decision to attend ASU and become the first in my family to earn a college degree,” she said.

That decision launched a 25-year award-winning career in psychology with a focus on research and outreach to communities often underrepresented in higher education in the United States. Today, Gonzales is being named ASU’s next executive vice president and university provost.  

“As an undergraduate student at ASU I became engaged with outstanding, forward-thinking faculty members and research teams pursuing big ideas in the psychology department that were early exemplars of ASU’s community-embedded, use-inspired research,” said Gonzales. “Since I returned to ASU, it has been exciting to participate in the bold transformation of ASU as the New American University and to see our mission expand beyond anything we had imagined before.”  

Her appointment is subject to approval by the Arizona Board of Regents. She will serve as provost pro tem and work with current Executive Vice President and University Provost Mark Searle until June 30, 2021, when he steps down and moves into the role of University Professor. Gonzales will start her official term as executive vice president and university provost on July 1.

Gonzales will be responsible for the Academic Enterprise of ASU and will lead a complex organization that provides a multitude of opportunities and challenges to ensure the university continues progress toward its charter and goals. She will engage in all aspects of the day-to-day operations of the university as well as developing and supporting long-term strategic initiatives to drive student and faculty success. Her duties also will include advancing academic excellence through the faculty recruitment, retention and renewal processes, and growing the quality, scope and scale of both campus immersion and online programs.

“Nancy is a highly credentialed, well-respected leader among her peers who is a natural fit to be our next executive vice president and university provost,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “As a first-generation college graduate, she is representative of so many of the students we currently serve and strive to serve more of. Her background and expertise will undoubtedly help the university advance its mission to be of the greatest public service to the citizens of Arizona that we can be.”

Gonzales said she considers herself the product of the right combination of opportunities, stemming from a strong family and a community with a focus on maintaining cultural strengths and being afforded a quality education despite limited financial resources.

“Part of what I hope to do is provide those conditions for success to more students ,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a big mystery as to what individuals need to thrive in life. But we need to find flexible ways to provide those opportunities for more of our students, and at times in life when they can benefit most. I am inspired by ASU’s charter that prioritizes access and inclusion, and our commitment to universal learning as a means to achieving these goals.”

Gonzales received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from ASU, then left Arizona to pursue her master’s degree and PhD in psychology from the University of Washington. She also completed an internship in clinical psychology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. She came back to ASU in 1992 as an assistant professor in psychology and moved up through both the academic and administrative ranks, most recently serving as dean of natural sciences in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She is also a Foundation Professor of psychology and co-director of the REACH Institute at ASU.

While at the University of Washington, she found a mentor in Ana Mari Cauce, then a professor of psychology and now president of the university. Cauce also served as provost and executive vice president.

Cauce’s focus on diverse populations — she is trained in community psychology focused on community change — was what Gonzales wanted to pursue in her career.

“I gravitated to Ana Mari because of her approach to research and her focus on underrepresented populations,” Gonzales said. “Thirty years ago, our knowledge of psychology was derived almost entirely from white middle-class populations.  In fact, too much of our research in psychology has been based on WEIRD populations — Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic — that ultimately limits our understanding of the human condition and ultimately leads to damaging assumptions and social policies.” 

Cauce said she can’t think of anyone better suited for this position at ASU — an excellent public research university that is so dedicated to, and successful at, increasing access to higher education for all.

“Her own journey is proof positive of the transformative power of higher education,” said Cauce. “The depth of her intelligence, curiosity, creativity and compassion, as well as sheer grit and determination, was evident from the moment we met. Serious, but with a wonderful sense of humor, she very quickly became a leader in the lab, dedicated to bringing out the best in others. She has an uncanny ability to read people and situations and adapt her leadership style accordingly. ASU and all of higher education will be better off with her in this position. I have no doubt that her impact will be broad and lasting.”

Gonzales has been active in developmental and clinical research with culturally diverse populations for more than 25 years, with continuous National Institutes of Health funding as a principal investigator on grants since 2001. Gonzales has published her research in top journals in her field.  

Her research on mental health and substance use problems has focused on culturally informed etiological pathways for Latino and other minority adolescents and young adults, including identification of health-compromising and health-promoting influences in the lives of the youths. Her work has particularly focused on the role of family and cultural strengths within immigrant and other minoritized populations that facilitate positive adaptation and educational success. Her research also includes development, implementation and dissemination of culturally informed interventions to prevent mental health and substance abuse problems and to promote college degree attainment in low-income communities.

Gonzales’ research is housed with the REACH Institute at ASU, a center of excellence that is dedicated to the dissemination of evidence-based prevention programs and practices. Funded by several federal agencies and foundations, the center has generated more than $88 million in the past 20 years to support research and implementation of programs nationally and internationally.

As dean of natural sciences, Gonzales oversees six interdisciplinary schools and departments at ASU: the School of Earth and Space Exploration, School of Life Sciences, School of Molecular Sciences, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, the Department of Psychology, and the Department of Physics. In this role she has been particularly dedicated to the pursuit of inclusive excellence in the sciences.  

In addition to her leadership at ASU, Gonzales has consulted with several organizations on issues of equity and inclusion, including the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Developing Indicators of Educational Equity; the National Institute of Mental Health; the National Association of Latino Elected Officials; and as a member of the board of trustees for the William T. Grant Foundation. She also serves on numerous professional boards, review panels and mentoring programs to advance the careers of students and early career faculty in the sciences. Gonzales has received numerous honors and awards including Fellow status in the American Psychological Association, the Advances in Culture and Diversity in Prevention Science Award from the Society for Prevention Research, the Eugene Garcia Award for Outstanding Latino/a Faculty Research in Higher Education from the Victoria Foundation, and the ASU Alumni Association Founders Day Faculty Research Achievement Award (watch her story below). 

Video by ASU

Top photo: Nancy Gonzales, pictured at the Tempe Center for the Arts. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU

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5 ASU faculty elected AAAS Fellows

November 25, 2020

The American Association for the Advancement of Science recognizes career contributions to science and innovation

Five outstanding Arizona State University faculty spanning the physical sciences, psychological sciences and science policy have been named as Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

ASU’s Leah GerberAndrew MaynardSteven NeubergYing-Cheng Lai and John McCutcheon are being honored for their career contributions to science, innovation or socially distinguished efforts to advance science and its applications.

The AAAS, publisher of the journal Science, is the world’s largest general scientific society. Election as a fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers. Within that general framework, each awardee is honored for contributions to a specific field.

The five new ASU faculty members' election this year brings the total number of AAAS Fellows affiliated with ASU to 86. There are 489 newly elected AAAS Fellows this year.

Read on to learn about the ASU AAAS 2020 Fellows’ individual scientific achievements.

Leah Gerber

Leah Gerber

For leadership in balancing conservation priority setting, ecosystem-based management, adaptive monitoring, marine reserve design, endangered species recovery policy and decision science. 

Gerber is a professor of life sciences and the founding director of ASU’s Center for Biodiversity Outcomes. Her research employs science in decision-making with the goal of achieving sustainable biodiversity through policy. A population ecologist and marine conservation biologist by training, Gerber is a leading conservation scientist. Her approach to research and policymaking is grounded in natural history and data collection, quantitative methods and a keen understanding of the interactions between humans and the environment.

“As humans and as stewards of Earth, we need to acknowledge that our actions have a direct influence on the rest of the of the planet and all of its species,” Gerber said. "Our actions to advance societies or personal growth, for better or worse, directly influence the lives and fate of other animal and plant species. For our own well-being, we must strive to strike a balance between advancing ourselves and fostering a healthy planet for all of its inhabitants.”  

Andrew Maynard

Andrew Maynard

For distinguished contributions to the public’s understanding of science, risk and responsible innovation in the fields of nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies.

Maynard is associate dean for student success in the College of Global Futures and a leading expert in responsible and ethical innovation. Originally trained as a physicist, Maynard's work cuts across disciplinary boundaries at the nexus between technology, society and the future. He explores integrated approaches to building a more vibrant, just and sustainable future. In addition to his scholarly work across areas as diverse as nanotechnology, biotechnology and the fourth industrial revolution, Maynard is a widely respected communicator and a staunch advocate for integrating public communication and engagement into academic enterprises. His latest book, "Future Rising," is a unique exploration of our relationship with the future and our responsibility.        

“As a species, we have an amazing ability to imagine and create different futures," Maynard said. "But only by having the creativity and vision to transcend conventional areas of knowledge and expertise, the humility to recognize how the insights of others enable us to overcome our own limitations, and the foresight to build futures for others, not just ourselves, will we be able to channel this ability into building better futures. In a very real sense, our relationship with the future is at a tipping point, and we are going to have to use all of our collective skills to ensure that it doesn’t tip the wrong way.”   

Stephen Neuberg

Steven Neuberg

For distinguished contributions integrating evolutionary and social psychology to understand how fundamental social goals direct social perception, social cognition and social behavior. 

Neuberg is an evolutionary social psychologist who integrates social-cognitive and evolutionary approaches in his research exploring the origins, nature and nuances of prejudices and stereotypes, and the ways that fundamental motivations shape cognition and social behavior.

At ASU, Neuberg is a Foundation Professor and the chair of the Department of Psychology and the director of the Evolution, Ecology, and Social Behavior Lab. He also is a co-director of the Evolutionary Social Cognition Lab with President’s Professor Doug Kenrick and Associate Professor Vaughn Becker. He recently received the 2019 Daniel M. Wegner Theoretical Innovation Prize, recognizing the authors of the most innovative theoretical contribution to social psychology. 

“I’m extremely flattered to be recognized in this way, but we must give much of the credit to my many incredible graduate students and close faculty collaborators,” Neuberg said. “It’s working — playing, really — with others that generates the most interesting, most novel ideas.”

Ying-Cheng Lai

Ying-Cheng Lai

For distinguished contributions to the field of nonlinear dynamics and chaos, particularly in relativistic quantum chaos and transient chaos. 

Chaos theory is considered a main component of modern physics. It is used to describe dynamic systems that are so sensitive that small perturbations have large effects and their behavior appears random, making them hard to predict. Chaos theory is popularly known as the “Butterfly Effect,” wherein a butterfly flapping its wings may cause a seemingly unpredictable, catastrophic weather event half a world away. This far ranging, yet fleeting effect is being looked at in terms of aiding the design of future systems to make them more useful. 

For example, it is possible that combining chaos theory with the other pillars of modern physics, like relativity and quantum mechanics, could have real-world implications for the design of certain electronic devices. The relativistic motion of the electrons in the quantum world is described by the Dirac equation that was derived by British physicist Paul Dirac in 1928. Now scientists like Lai are looking into ways to design and exploit the so-called Dirac materials for applications in nanoscience and nanotechnologies. 

“In a chaotic system, you cannot make a long-term prediction because a small amount of error is going to be magnified exponentially,” said Lai, a professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering. “Yet, this fascinating but rather abstruse piece of theory might one day have more practical uses, such as in the design of nanoscale electronic devices based on Dirac materials like graphene.” 

At ASU, Lai has expanded his research to complex networks, theoretical biology, Dirac materials physics and machine learning, or artificial intelligence.

John McCutcheon

John McCutcheon

For exceptional contributions to our understanding of the genetic underpinnings of symbiosis, in particular, several-partner systems with conflict. 

McCutcheon, associate director of the ASU Biodesign Institute’s Center for Mechanisms of Evolution and professor in the School of Life Sciences, studies how and why cellular symbioses form, how they are maintained and why they sometimes break down. He studies bacteria (and sometimes fungi) that form long-term infections in host cells, mostly within insects, through the use of cell biology, genetics, genomics, microscopy, molecular biology, molecular evolution, biochemistry and field biology. 

“No organism exists alone,” McCutcheon said. “Bacteria, no matter where they live, must cope with the presence of huge numbers of other bacteria competing for the same space. Animals are coated, both inside and out, with complex communities of microorganisms. All of these interactions are interesting, but we focus on a special type of symbiosis, where one cell takes up long-term residence inside another cell. We study cell-in-cell interactions because they are key to the origin of plant and animal cells. Our insect models have taught us fundamental lessons about how cells work in general, and promise to provide important new information about how bacteria become pathogens, or not.” 

A virtual induction ceremony for the 489 newly elected 2020 AAAS Fellows will take place on Feb. 13, 2021, the Saturday following the AAAS annual meeting. The honorees will receive official certificates and rosette pins in gold and blue, colors symbolizing science and engineering.

Eliza Robinson, Rob Ewing, Robin Tricoles and Joe Caspermeyer contributed to this article. Top photo by Deanna Dent/ASU

Director , Media Relations and Strategic Communications