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Initiative challenges ASU community to engage in global issues

October 22, 2009

Not all of the Homecoming festivities this year will have a devilish theme. ASU’s future as a New American University and the pressing challenges it intends to tackle will be the focus of activities on Cady Mall during the Homecoming Block Party Oct. 31.

All faculty and staff are urged to explore the Challenges Before Us area, sponsored by the ASU Foundation.

The Challenges experience will feature interactive displays and a series of riveting videos. The goal is to introduce the public to a new way of thinking about what ASU does, why it is so important and ways to become involved in the initiative.

“We are seven years into a systematic redesign of ASU, moving ourselves in the direction of being a very accessible, deeply public university with an outstanding faculty,” says ASU President Michael Crow. "For ASU, with its unique purpose and mission, it’s about more than creative learning and great instruction. Now that we’ve achieved a lot of progress toward that objective, we want to take all the power, knowhow and capability of the university and begin addressing a series of challenges that we think are essential for our state and our nation to address.”

The challenges are expressed in eight major questions facing the world today: How do we create a sustainable way of life? How do we educate in a rapidly changing world? These are some of the questions that help capture important concerns that the university and the community share.

The eight global challenges, and a set of some 100 more immediate ones, represent the combined expertise and potential of ASU faculty, staff, students and programs. They emerged from nearly two years of study and consultation. Deans and program directors, for example, singled out 400 specific teaching or research activities that addressed problems of local, national or global importance.

In addition, the challenges include immediate goals, such as teaching critical thinking, accelerating breakthroughs in basic science and linking the arts to social and personal well-being, that will serve as foundational knowledge for making progress on a number of other major challenges as well.

“Arizona State University faculty and students are expected to engage in research, exploration and scholarship that is impactful,” says Quentin Wheeler, ASU’s vice president and the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Impact may involve a new theory or method that changes how colleagues around the world conduct their research. Or it may solve a problem facing society locally, regionally or globally. We want people to see more clearly the connection between issues they care about deeply and the exciting, often complex work that ASU students and faculty are doing.”

A preview of the challenges project has been available since last fall when a Web site was launched and a video produced. Many faculty, staff, students, alumni and others who have previewed the project have expressed excitement about it.

“The Challenges video literally gave me goose bumps when I saw it,” says Rojann R. Alpers, an associate professor in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and the president of the University Senate.

Michelle Gutierrez, a senior journalism major, saw the video at spring commencement. She says it made her proud to be part of ASU and eager to get involved in the Challenges initiative.

“The powerful words and images resonated in my mind,” she says. “As soon as I arrived home, I checked out to read more about this inspiring project. Learning more about all of this makes me realize how ASU is redefining the purpose of my college education. Sun Devils like me are discovering real-world applications for everything that we learn in the classroom. We are expected to change the future. We are empowered to reach our potential. We are empowered to create solutions.”

To learn more about the Challenges initiative, come to Cady Mall Oct. 31 and visit the Web site at In addition to learning more about the overall initiative, you will have opportunities to leave a comment, sign up to receive more information and connect with groups who are working on one or more of the challenges.

Barby Grant,