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Design aspirations guide New American University

December 19, 2008

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article is a personal look at the New American University through the eyes of Eliza Gregory, a writer with the Office of University Initiatives.

What are the design aspirations? What do they do? What do they mean? Why are they written this way? And what have they accomplished?

Hi. My name is Eliza Gregory. I am a writer for the Office of University Initiatives, one of the offices on campus that writes the most about the New American University. (You can learn more about us at I’m 27. I grew up in California. I went to college in New Jersey. I’ve been a high school teacher at a private school and a humanitarian aid worker in Tanzania. And now I live in Arizona.

When I moved here, I had no idea what kind of a job I wanted or what I would do. I started working at UI as a photographer, documenting community and ASU partnerships. And now I help write about ASU’s vision to be a New American University.

I do this because I think “the NAU” (as we call it) is one of the most cutting edge things going on in higher education in this country. I went to a small private boarding school in California for high school, and then I went to Princeton University. I had never attended a public school until I took my first classes at ASU. I basically knew nothing about the public school system in this country. I’ve always believed that education was really important, but I wasn’t sure what aspect of education I cared the most about, or how I could engage with education in my career to have an impact.

In my job at UI, my thinking about education has evolved a lot. I’ve come to believe that access is one of the most important parts of education. Without access, education is a luxury good, rather than an equalizer or a right. ASU has taught me about the importance of access. And it has introduced me to the idea that access and excellence are not mutually exclusive. I believe that it is possible, in this country, for us to deliver a good public education to EVERY individual who wants one.

So I think ASU is doing really incredible work. It’s taking on challenges that a lot of other institutions have failed to recognize or have shied away from. And ASU is right in the middle of a huge transformation – it’s not coasting along on successes or looking back at a legacy of accomplishment: it’s right in the thick of figuring things out, innovating, experimenting, and implementing really exciting new ideas, some of which work well, and some of which fail. Not everyone gets to be a part of something like that, to see that kind of risk-taking and innovation actually happening.

So the design aspirations. My office works with President Crow to update and rephrase them. We take a critical look at them every so often and see how we can improve them – make them clearer, more active, more inspiring. They started out being called the “design imperatives,” but that seemed a little too strident, so they became the “design aspirations” to reflect the fact that they are qualities we as an institution aspire to.

They originally came from President Crow’s inaugural speech, in which he articulated his vision for what he would lead ASU toward during his tenure here. The idea is, if our goals are excellence, access and impact, then what are some strategies for achieving them? The design aspirations are those strategies.

In case you’ve never read them, or in case you haven’t read our newest version of them, the current design aspirations read like this:

ASU urges its students, faculty, staff and programs to:

01. Leverage Our Place.
ASU embraces its cultural, socioeconomic and physical setting.

02. Transform Society.
ASU catalyzes social change by being connected to social needs.

03. Value Entrepreneurship.
ASU uses its knowledge and encourages innovation.

04. Conduct Use-Inspired Research.
ASU research has purpose and impact.

05. Enable Student Success.
ASU is committed to the success of each unique student.

06. Fuse Intellectual Disciplines.
ASU creates knowledge by transcending academic disciplines.

07. Be Socially Embedded.
ASU connects with communities through mutually beneficial partnerships.

08. Engage Globally.
ASU engages with people and issues locally, nationally and internationally.

And what have they accomplished? Well, ASU has accomplished a lot in the past six years, and the design aspirations have contributed to the work of many people by providing a shared vocabulary with which to talk about a set of exciting ideas. They are one of the many tools the ASU administration uses to encourage and guide its students, faculty and staff.

ASU has built entirely new structures based upon collaboration between the university and external partners – industries, local government, non profit organizations, other schools, and individual investors. Biodesign, GIOS and SkySong are three examples that all fit into this category.

And ASU has instituted a wide array of entrepreneurship education opportunities, open to anyone at ASU, and relevant to many new partners. You can learn more about this work at And we have profiled a whole host of really inspiring smaller-scale university and community partnerships at People here are doing such exciting things—the more I’ve learned about what has been going on at ASU, the more broadly I’ve come to think about my own potential to have an impact in the world.

I have wanted to be an artist for a long time, but now I also think of myself as an entrepreneur, as an educational innovator, and as someone who will be able to carry this experience of reinventing higher education – which I didn’t realize anyone had ever invented in the first place—into every job or project I take on. It feels great! It feels like so much is possible.

To get a sense of what ASU has done in 2008, check out this year’s annual report at

And feel free to send me your thoughts and ideas. Right now, I’m working on redesigning our ASU Community Connect site, currently called ASU in the Community ( I’m also continuing to work on the best ways to communicate about New American University ideas. I encourage you to write to me at