How do the humanities help us imagine the future?

July 2, 2013

With the landscape of technology and research changing at a rapid pace, it is hard to predict what society will look like in a year, let alone 10 or 20 years. However, Project Humanities at Arizona State University is challenging thought leaders to ponder this very question, using a humanities-focused lens.

Jonathan Hall, chief financial officer of Dreamspan, says that before we can look ahead, we must first unlock our “creative genius.” To do so, Hall has found that receiving a well-rounded education can help an individual form multi-disciplinary skills and talents needed to be successful.   graphic of eye overlayed with computer circuits Download Full Image

“Having a strong academic background in the humanities can balance our more empirical training derived from the natural sciences. I am grateful that my humanities classes first introduced me to the importance of original thinking and to discover the more counter-intuitive sides of life,” he said.

Once equipped with the knowledge to be successful, individuals can begin finding solutions to the most pressing challenges on a local and global level.

So, what exactly does this elusive “future” look like? Many conjure images of talking robots and cars that transform into crimefighters. The real answer, though, may be right in front of us.

“In the past, people imagined, then created technological advances, like the telegraph. Today, technology is helping us imagine the future. Technology is enabling us to analyze situations, and devise and test solutions we would not have been able to on our own. From nanotechnology to genomics to computer animation, technology is expanding our vision in all aspects of life,” said Denise Meridith, owner of Denise Meridith Consultants.

Both Hall and Meridith believe the humanities are key in navigating both the current world as well as a future society. They feel attributes related to humanity, such as compassion, the ability to reason and desire for overall balance, are essential in mitigating adverse impacts of our advances.

“Whether it is sexting or cloning, we have not kept up with defining the ethics of our use of new technology. Humanities are invaluable with understanding human nature and how to help us cope with our new superpowers,” said Meridith.

A negative aspect of the human race is that we sometimes allow our emotions to overrule instinct. As a result, laws are put in place to control negative side effects like war and crime. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Meridith says the humanistic ability to “look on the bright side” is what generates new tools and activities to increase happiness.

As for making direct predictions about the future, she prefers the element of surprise.

“Five years ago, few of us could imagine we needed an iPad," she says. "But someone else did. What is most exciting to me about the future is that we can no longer imagine what all will happen! I have always enjoyed a good mystery!"

To learn more about Project Humanities, visit

ASU students help small businesses grow in downtown Mesa

July 3, 2013

Business is better for nine small companies in downtown Mesa, thanks to entrepreneurship students at the College of Technology & Innovation (CTI) at Arizona State University.

A Local Entrepreneurs Assistance Program (LEAP) grant, funded by the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, gave $100,000 to build a partnership between ASU’s College of Technology & Innovation and Mesa’s Neighborhood Economic Development Organization (NEDCO) to support and build the capacity of minority-owned businesses along the light rail construction area in Mesa. Download Full Image

Students provided marketing help for taco shops, taught sales tactics to a religious book store, unearthed the legacy of an upscale Thai restaurant and helped streamline the business model for an air-conditioning business. All saw a decline in activity due to construction along Mesa’s light rail corridor.

NEDCO studied about 200 companies and qualified nine minority-owned businesses that needed help. “NEDCO helped us find the businesses and filtered the ones that really needed assistance,” said Jason Bronowitz, an ASU lecturer in Technological Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management.

"We welcomed the fresh perspective that the students and faculty of CTI brought to our downtown community of businesses. These companies are looking forward to the expansion of the program in 2013-2014," said Terry Benelli, executive director of NEDCO.

Students met with business owners and spent 90 minutes every week for 15 weeks to understand their needs and provide solutions. Six students participated in helping the affected businesses.

“Our biggest challenge was communicating with the owners,” said Bryan Azeka, a Technological Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management major. “Many companies would not divulge information and it took time to gain trust,” he said. Most businesses were owned by Hispanics and some owners were more fluent in Spanish than in English.

“Once we got to know them better, we got quite a bit of access working with them personally,” Azeka said. Sometimes, business partners did not communicate well among themselves and this added to their challenges. Faculty from other disciplines pitched in to help them in difficult cases.

However, most businesses started making good strides once students identified their needs.

“Students helped them with guerrilla marketing, public relations and tactics to help enhance community awareness,” said Aram Chavez, a lecturer in Technological Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management.

This included a marketing strategy where students assisted in the development of websites, search engine optimization and earned media. When some students said they wanted to launch their own businesses after acting as consultants, Bronowitz felt that a teaching moment had arrived.

“Once students understood the businesses’ stories, they became live case studies. This even inspired them to start their own ventures,” Bronowitz said. “They helped businesses set price points, create healthy margins and schedule staff to optimize revenues.”

They received context to start their business and this became a consulting class where they learned to practice it in their ventures. Students acted as consultants and learned to separate themselves from that as they began launching their own ventures.

“We are very pleased to support the development of the Local Entrepreneurs Assistance Program,” said Cree Zischke, vice president of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. “We look forward to the continuation of our collaboration with CTI to support small businesses in Mesa.”

CTI will soon be participating in the National Conference on Business Development in underserved communities being held at the University of Washington from July 10-12. The conference enables university staff and faculty to share and learn from other educational institutions doing work with small businesses in high need areas.