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ASU meets global challenges


December 14, 2007

The world is changing, and ASU is addressing the policy, science and engineering that affect global dynamics in the fields of sustainability, research, education, business and diplomacy.

From the grasslands of Mongolia to the Sonoran desert, from high schools in China to business schools in Mexico, ASU is making a difference in the way many people look at themselves and the world in which they live.

“Today, we must direct the full measure of our academic and research strengths to meeting global challenges, concentrating on the topics and regions of the world in which we can most readily expand and apply our capabilities as a socially relevant institution, and returning the results of this engagement to the benefit of the local communities in which we live and work,” says Anthony “Bud” Rock, ASU’s vice president for global engagement.

At the center of these efforts is ASU’s Office of the Vice President for Global Engagement (OVPGE), which was established for the sole purpose of advancing the university’s global initiatives. The office maintains strong relationships with international partners, supports globally focused programs of study, research and student mobility, and creates international strategic partnerships with key institutions around the world.

“We need to ensure that ASU students have the ability to work effectively in other cultures on issues of both local and global significance, and that they appreciate the importance of diverse perspectives in responding to challenges that we, as a global community, will face,” Rock says.

Building sustainable systems in Arizona

The establishment of ASU’s School of Sustainability – the first of its kind in the nation – serves as the most prominent marker of the university’s commitment to “green” practices, research and education.

“Our major focus on rapid urbanization positions us to comment on how the majority of the world’s population that now live in cities will react to the increased temperatures, increased variability in precipitation, increased degradation of air quality, decreased availability of water and increased migration of environmental refugees – all anticipated outcomes based on current climate models,” says Jonathan Fink, the Julie A. Wrigley Director of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS).

One project of local significance is the research conducted by ASU’s National Center of Excellence on Sustainable Materials and Renewable Technologies (funded by industry and the EPA). The center is finding solutions to mitigate the phenomenon known as the “urban heat island” (UHI). In simple terms, the materials and structures of big cities alter average air temperatures of an area by 2 degrees Fahrenheit to 5 degrees Fahrenheit per 100 years, and up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit at night. The effects of UHI are being studied in Phoenix, but it is likely that the dynamics of climate change will make other cities around the world more vulnerable to the phenomenon.

Another project of local significance, but with worldwide implications, is the work by ASU’s Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC), which looks at how water managers make decisions about water allocations in the face of uncertainty caused by climate change, population growth and drought. The center, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through a $6.9 million grant, represents the largest endowment given to a social science project studying aspects of climate change.

International research

ASU isn’t just focused on what affects Arizona. The university touches many people in different countries, and through the work of its distinguished international faculty, ASU reaches some of the most remote areas of the world.

One of ASU’s most distinguished international professors is ecologist Jianguo “Jingle” Wu, the recipient of the 2006 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) International Scientific Cooperation Award for his contributions to sustainable science, including his conceptual modeling activities. Wu studies the relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in the vast grasslands of China’s autonomous Inner Mongolia region.

Stretching from eastern China to Hungary, the Eurasia Grassland is the largest contiguous biome, or regional community of organisms, in the world.

Wu is part of a team that is combining the more than 50 different species of plants in this environment. The team’s members are analyzing the results of each combination to determine what factors contribute to a sustainable ecosystem.

“The most pressing issue affecting the world today is global sustainability,” Wu says. “The greatest challenge is to preserve and improve the environment for future generations while meeting the present needs of humanity.”

The findings of Wu’s research will build knowledge to preserve the grasslands and will help create more sustainable environments for the more than 30 percent of the world’s population that live in arid or semi-arid environments. The results also will help drive public policy and worldwide decisions on land management.

Local issues in global research

ASU education researchers, led by Joseph Tobin, the Nadine Mathis Basha Professor of early childhood education with the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education, are assessing five countries – England, France, Germany, Italy and the United States – in their approaches to serving the children of immigrants.

Tobin’s study, “Children Crossing Borders: A Comparison of Parent and Teacher Perspectives on Children of Immigrants in Preschools in Five Countries,” examines how the early childhood education and care (ECEC) systems of these nations are serving the children of recent immigrants, as well as what parents who recently have migrated from another culture want for their children in ECEC settings.

“For parents who have recently immigrated to a new country, enrolling their child in an early childhood program is the paradigmatic moment where cultural values of their home and adopted culture come into contact and often conflict,” Tobin says. “For countries with high rates of immigration, ECEC programs are key sites for enacting national goals for social inclusion and the creation of new citizens.”

A study by assistant professor Doug Clark at the Mary Lou Fulton School of Education looks at culture and language as key factors in student achievement in science. In 2006, he was awarded the prestigious National Academy of Education/Spencer postdoctoral fellowship. The fellowship has funded his two-year study, “International Analysis of Students’ Knowledge Structure Coherence.”

Clark is observing students from Turkey, China, Korea, Mexico and the United States to determine the impact of language and culture on students’ understandings of core science concepts.

“Most science education research in this country has traditionally focused on monolingual English speakers,” he says. “As a result, the science education curricula developed through that research has been tailored to the needs of monolingual English speakers. This research will help to clarify the actual level of variation in students’ conceptual change processes resulting from differences in culture or language.”

Partnerships in global markets

Global markets are expanding rapidly, and economic growth in many countries has created immense need for education and knowledge. The W. P. Carey School of Business is committed to providing advanced managerial education to prepare leaders for global markets.

The W. P. Carey School, following the strategic partnerships of the university, primarily is focused on managerial education in China and Mexico. While the countries may appear vastly different from an economic standpoint, what they have in common is a desire to learn from the top business school faculty in the United States.

China, a dynamic and evolving global economic and political power, is transitioning from a manufacturing to service economy, says Robert Mittelstaedt, dean of the W. P. Carey School. Such development parallels economics in the West, where the service industry – 70 percent to 80 percent of the West’s economy – developed over just 25 years.

“For China’s economy, the next frontier is services, not goods,” Mittelstaedt says. “As the Chinese economy grows and increasingly shifts its focus from production to consumption, promotion of consumer spending from the middle class becomes paramount.”

Requirements of a successful service sector include such things as the ability to move and invest ahead of the growth curve, marketing and careful human resources management – all new concepts for Chinese managers accustomed to the mindset of a command economy.

One of the sources of inefficiency that is slowing China’s development is the shortage of experienced managers, Mittelstaedt says.

The W. P. Carey School has a set of relationships with China that have evolved over the last decade and are focused on providing education in high-tech, financial and service management.

In 1998, the school collaborated with Motorola to establish a customized MBA program in Beijing, with a curriculum focused on high-tech management. The program has produced more than 130 alumni who are among the global leaders of Motorola.

An executive MBA program was launched in 2003 in Shanghai. The program, delivered in collaboration with Shanghai National Accounting Institute under the governance of China’s Ministry of Finance, was cited by the Washington Post as “the first partnership between a U.S. business school and the Chinese government on Chinese soil.”

The Shanghai executive MBA program, which offers specializations in financial and service management, has attracted senior management of China’s largest firms and the government officials in charge of policy-making and regulation. The program has 280 students and alumni, ranking it as a substantial international program for ASU.

In addition to the MBA programs, the W. P. Carey School also offers executive education programs to Chinese firms and multinationals with operations in China. This program works with companies on a one-to-one basis on numerous goals, such as improving resource management, measuring performance and learning the language and techniques of financial management in a global environment.

Closer to home, the W. P. Carey School has partnered with the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) in offering an executive MBA degree. The program, designed for senior executives, has risen to first place among MBA programs in Latin America, according to the latest rankings in AméricaEconomía, a leading Latin-American magazine for top executives.

ITAM is a private Mexican university in Mexico City that specializes in business, economics and public accounting. Students in the executive MBA program complete coursework in Mexico City and at ASU’s Tempe campus, and they receive two degrees from business schools that are internationally recognized and respected. The curriculum mirrors the highly regarded executive MBA program at ASU.

The program is structured for executives and managers who are interested in expanding their managerial expertise and abilities. The curriculum addresses local topics, but also analyzes them for a global business perspective.

Imagining the future now

In just about every field, ASU is taking on the challenges in imagining a brighter future.

In the field of sustainability, ASU researchers are working hard to develop new forms of biodiesel and improve on existing solar technology with their Chinese partners. Dozens of researchers at ASU’s School of Life Sciences are working to protect environments in Arizona and worldwide, and reduce the effects of human activities on ecological systems. ASU’s Biodesign Institute is conducting key research in the field of nanotechnology.

As one of the most diverse universities in the United States, ASU is looking to global engagement to help inform its role as a university in a 21st-century world.