ASU sustainability scientists study climate change impacts, disease with NSF support

September 4, 2014

Home to more than 300 members and bridging nearly every discipline, the Sustainability Scientists and Scholars program at ASU's Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability is focused on finding solutions to the most pressing problems of the 21st century.

Demonstrating the caliber of research the institute supports, four members of the program recently received substantial awards from the National Science Foundation totaling more than $5 million. National Science Foundation logo Download Full Image

The NSF-awarded research projects include:

Megacity vulnerability

Megacities are considered hotspots of climate change vulnerability. Though most models cite climate change itself as the primary cause of vulnerability, the uncoordinated human response to this change is often equally culpable.

Senior sustainability scientist Hallie Eakin, with an interdisciplinary team from ASU and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, seeks to reveal the cumulative effect of human response on megacity vulnerability.

Stationing itself in Mexico City, the team will assess how the population's influence on urbanization patterns and water infrastructure affects flooding, water scarcity and water-borne disease scenarios. The resulting dynamic modeling tool, called MEGADAPT, will enable water managers to test the effectiveness of risk management strategies and improve their adaptation plans.

The team expects that the MEGADAPT tool will have application in other megacities struggling with climate change vulnerability as well.

Trade-related diseases

Though world trade is responsible for the spread of many animal and plant diseases, it is a key component of the global economy. For this reason, it is important that it not be disrupted by ineffective cautionary measures.

Charles Perrings, Ecoservices Group director in the School of Life Sciences, endeavors to balance the disease risks and economic benefits of trade. He does so with an interdisciplinary team of mathematicians, ecologists, plant pathologists, environmental and resource economists, and computer scientists.

In order to increase understanding of trade-related diseases, the team will pool extensive research and develop a virtual laboratory. Decision-makers at the local, national and international levels will interact with the laboratory using a Web-based interface, which will enable them to evaluate the effectiveness of risk management strategies.

As a result, both biosecurity and economic well-being will be better served.

Soil communities

Like many regions, the Antarctic Peninsula is experiencing rapid environmental changes. These changes influence the peninsula’s inhabitants, including the soil-dwelling microscopic organisms about which scientists know little. Because these organisms are responsible for critical processes, such as nutrient recycling, it is important to understand how they are impacted.

Becky Ball, an assistant professor in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, is leading a team that will examine soil communities along the Antarctic Peninsula, uncovering how they change with varied conditions from north to south.

By understanding how factors like plant cover and climate influence these communities, the team can predict how they will respond to changes such as climate warming and invasive species.

Resilience and crises response

Resilience – simply put – is an approach to crisis response that improves preparation, planning, absorption, recovery and adaptation. Though a buzzword in many sectors, the theory and analytic tools associated with resilience are largely misapplied or misunderstood. As a result, planners may revert to avoiding losses through risk analysis, a historic approach that has been proven problematic.

Recognizing that a generalized understanding of resilience is needed for the approach to be more widely applied, a team led by Thomas Seager, an associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, seeks to do just that. After uncovering the adaptive actions, ideas and decisions that contribute to resilience, the team will develop models that simulate approaches to crisis response.

It is the team’s expectation that those who interact with the resulting computer-based environment, having observed simulated successes and failures, will gain an accurate understanding of resilience and be better equipped for future crisis response.

Communications specialist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability


Maricopa County internship program invests in ASU students

September 4, 2014

In a conference room in a non-descript downtown Maricopa County office building, Arizona State University senior Jared McDaniel listens intently as Maricopa County manager Tom Manos talks about his career in public service. McDaniel, a criminal justice major, is one of several ASU students to have an exclusive audience with Manos. They are part of a new internship program called Maricopa County Leadership and Education Advancing Public Service. It’s more commonly referred to by its acronym: MC LEAPS. The internship, run by the College of Public Programs, connects ASU students with county agencies and community support projects for a semester.

“I was interested in the MC LEAPS program for the knowledge base,” says McDaniel. “I want to learn more about the public service side, as far as what Maricopa County does within each department, as well as working with other departments.” Tom Manos with ASU students Robert Celeya and Jared McDaniel  Download Full Image

McDaniel is one of two criminology and criminal justice students who is working in Maricopa County’s Justice System Planning and Information unit. The office focuses on effective crime prevention by utilizing crime research and data analysis. McDaniel will be putting together reports on juveniles and female offenders.

“I think this is a huge opportunity for me, mainly because of the knowledge we’re going to learn from this, the hands-on experience that each of us are going to be able to get,” McDaniel says.

In addition to the daily hands-on experience, MC LEAPS interns are able to expand their skill set and develop mentoring relationships. They will also attend professional training sessions throughout the semester. Students receive a tuition and fee waiver for the semester and earn a stipend of $4,700.

The internship is open to any ASU undergraduate or graduate student with a minimum 3.0 grade point average. Students submit an application, including a resume, unofficial transcript and a personal statement of interest, which explains how the internship fits with the student’s academic and career goals. Students also select the county agency and project where they would like to intern. The fall 2014 pilot program offered work-learning opportunities with: Air Quality – management and small business; Education Service Agency – communication systems and fiscal policy; Facilities Management; Human Resources; Justice System Planning and Information; Office of Budget and Management; Public Fiduciary or Treasurer's Office – research and IT systems. A dedicated ASU website contains general information about the program.

“MC LEAPS creates the opportunity for the future leaders of Maricopa County to begin their professional journey now through exposure to the work, challenges and people who serve in their local government,” says MaryEllen Sheppard, an assistant county manager who oversees the internship program. “The county benefits from their creativity, enthusiasm and questioning of what is done, and most importantly, why and how. The present and the future are connected through this program.”

ASU students can receive up to 12 academic hours for the internship, which requires students to work 40 hours a week. At the end of the internship, each student will make a presentation to county administrative staff and ASU personnel about their MC LEAPS experience and contribution to the projects they worked on.

“This gives them an opportunity to learn more about the work they want to do in the future and make the connection between their academic studies and career goals,” says Maryjo Douglas Zunk, manager of career development for the School of Public Affairs, who is coordinating the program for ASU. “And the win for the students? Developing real-world knowledge, transferable skills and leadership experience that is highly sought and rewarded in today’s changing communities!”

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions