ASU seminar explores sustainability through international collaboration

November 26, 2014

Illustrating that physical location can be a beneficial – rather than inconvenient – aspect of international collaboration, ASU’s School of Sustainability reintroduces its distributed seminar this spring.

The seminar, SOS 591 “Sustainability Science: Interactions Between Human and Environmental Systems,” uses a virtual classroom to convene graduate students and faculty from four universities in three countries. Here, disciplinary backgrounds and cultures come together for a meaningful exploration of sustainability’s themes, findings and debates. Sustainability students in classroom Download Full Image

Initially held in 2013, the seminar features original institution partners – the University of Minnesota and National Autonomous University of Mexico – in addition to ASU. This spring, the University of Sao Paulo joins the virtual classroom to examine the theories that anchor sustainability science and the problems in most dire need of its application.

The inspiration for the seminar originated, in part, at a 2009 workshop hosted by the National Science Foundation. After exploring how to advance the field of sustainability science, workshop attendees found that the fragmentation of communities – by discipline, institution and application focus – was a noteworthy impediment. The seminar serves as on ongoing experiment aimed at reducing this fragmentation.

Technology is essential to the seminar’s success in that it simplifies the international logistics. Every Thursday, a faculty member from one of the four universities – or a guest expert – presents a lecture on material reviewed independently the previous Tuesday. Students in the other three physical classrooms experience the lecture in real time through a video conferencing program. The program broadcasts all classrooms simultaneously, allowing for a collective post-lecture discussion.

It is such discussions that Osvaldo Sala, a distinguished sustainability scientist and professor in both the School of Sustainability and School of Life Sciences, views as the seminar’s most novel benefit.

“The truly remarkable thing about this class is the varied points of view that it highlights,” Sala says. “For example, American students tend to have a more theoretical interest in the subject matter, while our Mexican students seem most interested in its practical application.”

The students interact across universities on other technological platforms, as well. They contribute to regular online discussions, and use programs like Skype to collaborate on their final assignment.

“Not only do the students have access to a broader faculty group than they do in other courses, they develop an international network of peers that they maintain after the seminar ends,” Sala says. “That is truly invaluable.”

Sala and his colleagues look forward to the coming semester, anticipating that the addition of the Brazilian cohort will further their goal of distributed, multi-disciplinary collaboration in the field of sustainability science.

Enrollment for SOS 591 is now open. Interested graduate students are encouraged to apply here.

Communications specialist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability


Project Humanities director to receive Francis Andrew March Award

November 26, 2014

Neal A. Lester, founding director of ASU Project Humanities and Foundation Professor of English, will be presented the 2014 Francis Andrew March Award by the Modern Language Association of America in Vancouver, Canada, on Jan. 10, 2015. 

The Francis Andrew March Award was established by the Association of English Departments Executive Committee in 1984. The award is named for Francis March, professor of English at Lafayette College and the first professor of English in America. The Andrew Francis March Award honors those who have committed exceptional service to the profession of English. portrait of Project Humanities director Neal A. Lester Download Full Image

In addition to being the Director of Project Humanities, Lester has received various teaching and service recognitions: Dean’s Distinguished Professor of English, Parents Association Professor of the Year and Arizona Humanities Distinguished Public Scholar. Lester received his doctorate in English from Vanderbilt University. In 1997, he joined the faculty of Arizona State University, where he chaired the English department from 2004 to 2010. While at ASU, he has also served as associate vice president for humanities and arts, dean of humanities, and visiting scholar at Sichuan University in Chengdu, China. Lester has taught and published widely on African-American literature and culture, and he is a national and international expert on American race relations.

Lester founded Project Humanities in 2010 at a time when humanities programs were becoming endangered across the country as courses were being cut out of school curricula. Lester was then tasked with making humanities understanding and cross-disciplinary engagement more robust by first debunking the myth that humanities happens in the classroom. He launched Project Humanities with a goal to explore humanities by reaching across disciplines, generations, and communities. Although Lester’s teaching and scholarship emphasis was on African American literary and cultural studies, often his research, writings, and lectures in the area of human rights and race relations sparked vibrant social discourse, a pattern that became the signature of Project Humanities: "Talking, Listening, Connecting."

Lester and Project Humanities have received major accolades since the Project was founded in 2010, demonstrating the rapidly growing success and impact of this university initiative. In 2014, Lester received the Roy Wilkins Community Service Award from the East Valley National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the inaugural Key of Excellence Award from the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the Juliana Yoder Friend of the Humanities Award from Arizona Humanities, and a written commendation from His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the Humanity 101 effort.

Reporter , ASU News