New ASU school to take more holistic look at innovation

August 18, 2015

Innovation is a complicated business.

Especially when the innovation moves faster than our society can adapt to or manage it — whether it’s new technology, energy resources or health solutions. New faculty of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society Dave Guston (center), the founding director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, with the school's new faculty (from left): Ashok Kumar, Jennifer Richter, Michael Bennett, Emma Frow, Diana Bowman and Andrew Maynard. <br><br> The new school brings together faculty with transdisciplinary backgrounds in social sciences, law and policy, renewable energy, marine conservation and more, with the goal of exploring new, creative approaches to innovation challenges. Download Full Image

A new school at Arizona State University will take a transdisciplinary, more encompassing view of innovation in order to better predict those outcomes. In the words of Dave Guston, founding director of the new School for the Future of Innovation in Society, “We are planning now for the kinds of futures that we will want to inhabit.”

“The idea of the school is to take our understanding of innovation — which includes not just technical elements but social elements — and have those technical and social things fit together,” Guston said.

The school has its roots in ASU’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes, which aims to enhance the contribution of science and technology to the pursuit of justice, freedom and quality of life. The new school takes what the consortium does as a research center and transforms that into a larger operation with degree programs, Guston said.

Its faculty reflect the transdisciplinary approach, with backgrounds in social sciences, law and policy, renewable energy, marine conservation and more.

“The challenge is we’ve built a society that’s dependent on innovation … but we’re innovating faster than we know how to manage that innovation,” said professor Andrew Maynard, an expert in risk innovation and one of the school’s new faculty. “We need new ways of making sure that innovation is helping people and not going to harm them.”

People tend to think of risk just in terms of whether the technology works, he said. But how people think about an innovation is just as important to its success.

Maynard was drawn from the University of Michigan to the new ASU school because it brings together such a wide range of interests and ways of thinking. People get stuck in ruts of deep expertise, he said, but the goal is to get the physicist talking with the psychologist, the engineer with the artist, the legal expert with the scientist.

“The hope is that brand-new insights come out of that, and brand-new ways to improve people’s lives,” said Maynard, who will be teaching introduction to risk innovation this fall. “The bottom line for the school is making a difference in society.”

The School for the Future of Innovation in Society launches this fall semester with master’s degrees in science and technology policy; global technology and development; and applied ethics in both biomedical and science. There is also a doctorate in human and social dimensions of science and technology, and a certificate in responsible innovation. An undergraduate program is being developed.

One of the students pursuing the school’s doctorate is Monamie Bhadra, who was awarded an American Institute for Indian Studies fellowship to study the Indian government’s decision to continue its plans for new nuclear plants.

She chose India as her case study for reasons both personal — she had spent only a few years there as a child and wanted to get to know the country better — and intellectual.

“India is a unique nation, holding the status of the world’s largest democracy, but also one with fault lines along caste, class, language and religion,” she said. “I wanted to know how developing nations and emerging democracies like India pursue high technologies like nuclear power, while at the same time having commitments to democratic governance.”

Science diplomacy — that tricky area where policy and technology must find common ground — is an area that the new school will be putting resources behind, Guston said. He has spent much of his career thinking about how science and democratic institutions can get along.

“Contrary to a lot of ways that the relationship between science and democracy are currently framed — through the lens of denial of anthropologic climate change or rejection of evolution — I actually think that there are many positive and mutually reinforcing relationships between science and democracy,” he said, “and that we should be more optimistic about some of the opportunities we have to democratize science and technology.”

Students at the new school will study the interplay of such diplomacy, environmental factors and that most intriguing of mysteries: the human factor. 

People have been the focus of the research of Jennifer Richter, an assistant professor who holds a joint appointment between the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the School of Social Transformation.

Richter has a background in energy and community activism, branching from her research into nuclear waste; specifically, the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico.

“I was really intrigued by this idea of how we create these sacrifice zones” now uninhabitable to life, she said, “just out of convenience.”

She applies the same curiosity to renewable energy. Why isn’t Phoenix the “solar mecca of the universe?” she said. What are the reasons, political or technical, holding renewable energies back?

It is this sort of interplay between the scientific and the societal that will steer the new school.

“We like the cool gee-whiz stuff,” Richter said, “but we also really like the people.”

For more information about the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, visit

Penny Walker

News director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Sun Devil Welcome a raucous start to new year

August 18, 2015

Editor's note: As ASU gears up for the start of classes this week, our reporters are spotlighting scenes around its campuses. To read more, click here.

If anyone walking into the arena Tuesday afternoon for the Sun Devil Welcome rally didn’t have maroon and gold blood coursing through their veins, they certainly did when they left. Incoming freshman show their school spirit at the Sun Devil Welcome. Incoming freshmen of the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering show their school spirit during the Sun Devil Welcome at Wells Fargo Arena on Aug. 18 in Tempe. Download Full Image

Plus ruptured eardrums.

With drums, horns, dancers and balloons cascading from the ceiling, the 11,000-strong class of 2019 filled two-thirds of the arena with a sea of gold from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

“Awesome,” said Race Carter, a business management major from Scottsdale.

After a kickoff performance by Andaaz, the Bollywood dance team, vice president of athletics Ray Anderson told the crowd that when he arrived at ASU two years ago, people said ASU Athletics was a sleeping giant.

“I’m here to tell you the giant is alive and well, and stomping through the Valley and the Pac-12,” Anderson said. “And we are kicking butt in all our programs.”

“Raise your pitchforks high and give ’em hell, Sun Devils!” yelled Corina Tapscott, ‎president of downtown student government.

A video of a Godzilla-size Sparky stomping across the Valley to the thundering bass of AC/DC drew huge cheers, especially when he crushed a car with the University of Arizona logo on the roof before entering his Sun Devil Stadium and impaling the turf with a flaming pitchfork.

“That is the last time you will hear those words (U of A) spoken,” marching band director James Hudson told the crowd. “It’s ‘that place down south.’ We never speak those words.”

And, he added, “On Friday we wear gold.”

University President Michael Crow took the stage. “Yes, I’m the old serious guy,” he began. “Somebody’s got to be.”

He asked the crowd what they want their lives to mean. “When people talk about you after you’re gone, what do you want them to say?” he said. “There is not a person in this room who should not graduate from this institution and go on to do fantastic things.”

There are 400 areas of subjects to learn from at ASU, Crow said.

“We have hundreds and hundreds of majors,” he said. “Why? It’s not because we have so many students. It’s because they have so many dreams."

The university president — who was the first in his family to graduate from college — spoke about how majoring in political science helped him, despite not going into politics. It doesn’t matter what you study, he said.

“What that major did for me was help me to understand how things work,” Crow said. “It helped me to figure out how to learn new things. … I was able to adjust to anything I experienced. Every job I’ve had, every opportunity that I’ve had, everything was a function not of the specifics of what I learned, but of the process of learning how to learn.”

He gave out his email address and asked any student with an unsolved problem to contact him directly.

Carter was most impressed by Crow’s speech, “the fact that he believes in all of us, the fact that someone that high up is approachable is impressive.”

Ashley Altmann, a journalism and mass communication major from the Bay Area, thought the rally was inspiring.

“It made me want to get involved,” she said. “I feel like I’m at home here. It’s only my third day and I feel like I’m at home.”

SunDevil Welcome from Arizona State University on Vimeo.

Scott Seckel

Reporter, ASU News