image title

ASU 2021 Founders' Day celebrated innovators, entrepreneurs and changemakers

March 29, 2021

On Wednesday, March 24, the ASU Alumni Association and President Michael M. Crow recognized the achievements of the university’s faculty, alumni and supporters during the 2021 ASU Founders’ Day celebration. The event was attended virtually by thousands of supporters from around the globe, and friends and family of the honorees were brought in virtually as the background of the studio set to celebrate with them.

Flavio F. Marsiglia, a Regents Professor at the School of Social Work in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, was awarded the Faculty Research Achievement Award. Watch Marsiglia’s Founders’ Day video.

Jeffrey R. Wilson, an ASU professor of statistics and biostatistics with extensive experience in the biomedical, statistics and law, business management and public opinion research industries, was awarded the Faculty Service Achievement Award. Watch Wilson’s Founders’ Day video.

Brian DeMaris, an associate professor and artistic director of music theater and opera at ASU, was awarded the Faculty Teaching Achievement Award. Watch DeMaris’s Founders’ Day video.

More than 350,600 Campaign ASU 2020 donors who raised $2.3 billion to fuel ASU's innovative, world-changing educational model were awarded the Philanthropists of the Year Award. Watch the Campaign ASU 2020 Founders’ Day video.

Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint, Inc., was awarded the Alumni Achievement Award. During Goldin’s acceptance speech she said, “I remember my time fondly at ASU. And as I share with so many people that I have met along the way, but also so many students, I think that the most important thing that I learned at ASU is to just go and try. Just go and do it. And it’s up to you to really set the stage and look at the future and not look at what everybody else is doing. Satisfy your curiosity and take risks. Little did I know that those things would actually add up to being an entrepreneur and doing what I’m doing today. As Steve Jobs used to say, sometimes the dots eventually connect.” Watch Goldin’s Founders’ Day video.

After the awards were given to each honoree, Crow answered questions live from three virtual attendees from Arizona to Dubai and concluded with a question about what’s next for ASU.

“What’s to come for us is really just a greater and more impactful university," Crow said. "There’s huge forces of change all through our society – social forces, cultural forces, political forces, economic forces, technological forces — and one of the things that we know is that we’ve got to find a way to make college and advanced learning available to everybody. Available to anyone, available to families teaching at home, available to people that have been knocked out of work, available to people that weren’t able to finish college, available to people that can’t go to college, available to people that just need a little bit of enhanced learning to be able to do something new so that they can adjust to the next wave of change. Whether it’s a wave related to the pandemic or it’s a wave related to a technological advancement or a wave related to more autonomous technology that’s coming online disrupting the economy. All those things.”

After a year of disruption due to a pandemic, the Alumni Association was still able to bring together thousands of Sun Devils from around the globe to recognize an outstanding group of honorees and continue the annual tradition of celebrating ASU’s Founders’ Day to honor the past, celebrate the present and continue to invent the future.

Watch and share the 2021 Founders’ Day recorded celebration.

Top photo: President Michael M. Crow (center), President and CEO of the Alumni Association Christine K. Wilkinson (second from left), Founders' Day Chair Stephanie Mitrovic (second from right), Founders' Day honorees and Sparky at the March 24 event. Photo by Tim Trumble

Morgan Harrison

Director of strategic communications , ASU Alumni Association


image title

Developing new worldwide leaders

February 3, 2021

Donor-driven SHARE program generates opportunity for international students who aim for change

Sneha Pujani’s parents could hardly believe it. In fact, they still don’t. She laughs about it while speaking from her downtown Phoenix apartment, situated within walking distance of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University — and 9,000 miles from mom and dad’s home in Mumbai.

As a Thunderbird SHARE Fellow, both Pujani’s tuition and housing are funded by donors of the ambitious program, which provides scholarship and mentorship for exceptional students from developing countries who otherwise may not have the resources to attend the school.

“My parents think it’s way too good to be true,” said Pujani, her smile uncontained.

She enthusiastically speaks of her new life on the other side of the world — she frequents the downtown Phoenix farmers market, so much so that she’s come to know many of the vendors — and is equally enamored by her Thunderbird experience. She’s even joined ASU’s scuba diving club, just for fun.

SHARE is opening new doors for scholars like Pujani, who holds a bachelor’s degree in telecommunications engineering and an MBA from the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies in Mumbai. She’s a project management professional and engineer responsible for having overseen more than 130 IT projects for India’s largest telecoms operator.

But Pujani sought more: a global education to further her aspirations. She aims to be a global affairs expert, “working with institutions all over the world and also part of international organizations helping untangle the complicated relationships between nations.”

So she began Googling the top global management graduate programs in the world. She even made a spreadsheet to sort through her options. Pujani quickly discovered Thunderbird, and a welcoming network that’s opening new doors for international students thanks to one of the school’s very own.

Creating a community

Marshall Parke is a 1977 Thunderbird graduate who has spent much of his career working in emerging markets around the world. From the get-go, he found Thunderbirds everywhere he went — that is, Americans with Thunderbird degrees.

“I started thinking that it would be interesting to provide locals with access to a Thunderbird education with the hopes that they would come home at some point and participate in using their skills and knowledge to build their countries,” Parke said.

The wheels were set in motion, and SHARE came to life in 2008.

But earning a degree, as Parke came to realize through his work in developing countries, is only half the battle. Students also need access to strong networks and professional mentoring in order to collaborate and compete on equal footing with economically privileged classmates.

“Early on,” he said, “we realized that to bring these students to the U.S. and immerse them in Thunderbird was more than a full-time undertaking for them, and that meant that in many instances we needed to provide a broader level of support than just tuition.”

Parke recognized he needed his own support to execute this vision. That’s when he brought in Maria Houle, a fellow Thunderbird alum, to be the executive director of the program. She is the connector between students and mentors, many of them Thunderbird alumni and others Houle has known professionally.

“Marshall had a strong desire to share his success by setting up something for students from developing countries, but his own experience had been that mentorship was really important,” Houle said. “What he didn’t want to do was have students come and then not feel supported or not be able to get good jobs when they left campus.”

Houle does it all for SHARE Fellows; there are cultural issues to consider, and locating proper resources. Conversations about how to interview, how to work a room, how to dress, how to effectively network without being too invasive or too humble. Houle, essentially, is the mama bear of the bunch. Their support system.

She also oversees the vetting process, which includes a series of virtual interviews — conducted wherever the candidate can find Wi-Fi. One of America’s many conveniences often taken for granted is a precious commodity in other countries.

Houle recalls interviewing a young man in a suit and spotting a poster of a minion behind him.

“Excuse me, is that a minion behind you?” she remembers asking. “He was like, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Where are you?’ He said, ‘I’m at a McDonald’s to get Wi-Fi, and a friend of mine has locked the playroom door to keep the children out so that I could have an office to have my interview.’

“The second time I interviewed him, there would be a light that would come on his face and I asked him about it. He said, ‘Well, I’m at the doctor getting the blood tests I need for my U.S. visa, and I didn’t want to miss the meeting with you, so I’m outside the hospital in the parking lot.’ He was pretending like it was nothing.”

Video by ASU Foundation

Philanthropy in action

“I love when Maria talks about SHARE,” said Megan Petty, senior associate director of development at Thunderbird.

It’s easy to see why. Houle’s passion for the program fuels its ongoing success. So does a stream of gifts made by alumni, friends and donors of Thunderbird, which ensures full tuition and expense money for fellows so they can fully participate in campus life, take advantage of unpaid internships and attend academic programs.

Petty estimates the cost to be close to $100,000 per student. Roughly six are chosen to join the program each year, and by 2021 they will have had approximately 75 SHARE Fellows from 38 different countries, including South Sudan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Ghana, Colombia, Togo, Northern Cyprus, Peru and the Philippines.

More than 80 donors have collectively contributed $4.5 million to make this happen, greatly contributing to the success of Campaign ASU 2020 and its impact on ASU students.

“The people that are invested in this program are very, very committed to it,” Petty said. “They don’t just donate once, one and done. They’re not just investing in a student. They’re investing in fellows who can create a ripple effect in their communities back home when they leave, and that’s the big selling point for prospective supporters of the program.”

“Some come from middle-class families that, in their country, means they can’t afford to come to the States for school, but some are orphans or refugees,” Houle added. “They’re coming from different socioeconomic backgrounds too, but they have so much in common. When they’re with donors, the donors are just enchanted.”

While tuition is fully covered, the expense money is considered a loan, as Houle explained: “It’s a good-faith loan. No payment schedule, no interest. They opt in, and take as much as they want up to a pretty generous set limit. Almost all of them take the full amount, and a good portion of them have started slowly paying back. The others pay back by mentoring and other forms of participation and support until they are in a position of financial security that enables them to pay back the loan.

“We started developing this sort of community, and what happened is the students started to feel really tied into the community, really thankful to the donors because they, in turn, will be donors.”

Giving back

The goal, Houle explains, is to have SHARE Fellows “graduate pretty employable or close to being employed.”

“The selection is not based on people that just have a sad story,” she said. “These are students that are chosen because we believe they can make social change in their region.”

Irene Kinyanguli is a 2019 SHARE alum who always wanted to make her home country of Tanzania a better place, particularly for women there who marry young and, without education and employment, succumb to poverty. She’s now back in Tanzania working as an analyst for Dalberg and hopes to inspire and encourage young people around her to seek education and attain their dreams.

Borijan Borozanov, a proud SHARE alum (’14) and Fulbright Scholar, returned to his home country of Macedonia and has greatly impacted the economy by establishing the electronic and safety division for Aptiv, which has hired 500 local employees. He is plant manager and managing director of the Macedonia plant, which proudly produces auto parts that are found in 10% of the vehicles worldwide.

“Many of these students,” said Parke, “have gone home where they are successful entrepreneurs, corporate executives, venture capitalists, impact investors and senior government officials. They come home with a powerful American business education taught in a culturally sensitive environment, and respectful of the nuances of our cultural differences.”

Once or twice a year, Parke is able to join a dinner that includes SHARE students, committee members and donors. It’s powerful, he said, “to see just how dynamic and enthusiastic these students are, and I love hearing how they got to Thunderbird and what they want to do with their lives.”

Pujani has dreams of creating a program like SHARE back in India.

“I want them to experience the stress-free experience that education should be,” she said. “Education for all and, more importantly, the global education that’s missing from the world today is what I want to create.”

Ninety percent of SHARE Fellows are actively engaged alumni, and 35% have donated financially to SHARE. Half are back in their home region, leaning on their Thunderbird education to implement change in their countries.

“It’s because of philanthropy that we’re able to recruit from such diverse locations,” said Petty. “That message is so strong and makes the case for why philanthropy is so important at Thunderbird. This underscores the importance of it, to support these opportunities.”

This article was originally published by the ASU Foundation on Medium.

ASU Foundation, one of Arizona’s oldest nonprofits, raises and invests private contributions to Arizona State University.

Top photo: The donor-driven SHARE fellowship program is providing scholarship and mentorship support to top students from emerging markets around the world who aim for change in their communities. Photo by Jonathan Ward/ASU Thunderbird

image title

ASU transcends fundraising goal, grows culture of philanthropy

January 27, 2021

Campaign ASU 2020 was a resounding success, generating $2.35B and helping countless Sun Devils succeed

Dementia research. Coronavirus testing. Revitalizing communities. Giving more students access to education through scholarships.

Supporters’ tremendous generosity to Campaign ASU 2020 enabled all of those accomplishments and many more.

Nearly 359,700 individuals, corporations and foundations donated to Arizona State University’s fundraising campaign, which raised $2.35 billion and established a culture of philanthropy across the university. Of those, 213,473 were new donors.

“The resources the university receives from donor investors are among the most impactful support ASU receives,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow during a virtual donor appreciation event Tuesday. “They enable us to fund individual students in making progress, to give special resources to individual faculty members, to create entire faculty chairs that change the trajectory of an academic unit. They help us to maintain all of our initiatives in sustainability and dozens of other engagements that allow us to serve more people and accomplish more for the state; $2.3 billion-plus sounds like a huge number, and it is a huge number, but the impact is infinitely greater than that — it’s infinitely greater in lives changed, trajectory changed, outcomes changed.”

A gift of land enabled ASU’s start, so it’s fitting that philanthropy pushed boundaries and opened up new avenues for faculty, students and the community overall. More than 87.5% of the gifts were less than $100, but there were more than 10,000 gifts of $25,000 or more during the campaign.

“We are extremely grateful for the gifts to support ASU’s vision for what higher education can and should be,” ASU Foundation CEO Gretchen Buhlig said. “Every gift is important, whether it’s $10 or thousands of dollars. It all makes a tremendous impact on our students, faculty and the community.”

RELATED: Celebrating the impact of faculty and staff giving

Another notable campaign milestone is the endowment reached the $1 billion threshold. This achievement enables the university to attract and retain distinguished faculty and their research, provide additional scholarships to students, and offer additional enrichment opportunities and research to solve world problems in perpetuity.

ASU is one of about 45 public universities and 100 universities overall that have an endowment of $1 billion or more, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers fiscal year 2019 survey.

The ASU Foundation publicly kicked off Campaign ASU 2020 in January 2017 to raise the long-term fundraising capacity of the university and focused on six priorities: ensure student access and excellence; champion student success; elevate the academic enterprise; fuel discovery, creativity and innovation; enrich our communities; and drive Sun Devil competitiveness. The campaign concluded Dec. 31, 2020.

“Together, our potential is limitless,” Crow told donors during the celebration. “There’s nothing that we can’t do, nothing that we can’t achieve, and you all have been a part of making that happen. Thanks.”

Enrich our communities

“This has really been a fantastic opportunity where the campaign has allowed us to amplify our charter,” Crow said. “Our focus on inclusion versus exclusion and the success of our students, our focus on research that benefits the public, and really importantly, our focus on taking responsibility for our community.”

Caring for the ASU and Arizona communities was paramount when the COVID-19 outbreak spiked in March 2019.

“We were very fortunate that the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust stood and helped us out in our early response to the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Josh LaBaer, executive director of the Biodesign Institute. “We were contacted by a number of first responder organizations as well as critical infrastructure people, people who run power companies. They have individuals critical to the power grid, but they cannot socially distance. By offering them testing, these people could safely work in their environment and know they weren’t going to infect each other.”

ASU developed a COVID-19 saliva test to offset the shortages of nasal swab tests in Arizona and rapidly scale testing for the ASU community as well as the community at large. The new test was available by the beginning of April, and more than half a million tests have been completed since then, LaBaer said.

“All of this was because of the seed the charitable trust planted by getting us going quickly, by putting that equipment in place, by getting us the supplies we needed to run those tests,” he said. “It got us up and running immediately. That was crucial.”

Ensure student access and excellence

One student who benefited from donor support is Sonia Villalba, a senior studying communication in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She moved to the United States from Ecuador when she was 5, and her father passed away when she was 11.

“Going to school was a big deal for my family, especially attending a four-year university,” Villalba said. “We never thought we’d have the money to do that. That all changed when I met Chris and Chuck Michaels.”

Charles “Chuck” (’83) and Christine “Chris” (’87) Michaels created a scholarship to help Arizona high school graduates continue their education at their alma mater. They were among 92,479 degreed alumni who donated to ASU during the campaign, which is up 11% from when the campaign began.

“Education is the great equalizer,” Chris Michaels said.

“We’ve really tried to not only help financially but to help with mentoring,” Chuck Michaels added.

Villalba is one of 70,969 undergraduate and graduate students who received $253 million in ASU Foundation philanthropic scholarships during the campaign. That’s a 22% increase in scholarship recipients.

Elevate the academic enterprise

During the campaign, $85 million was donated to establish 60 new chairs and professorships, which is a 53% increase during the campaign.

While endowed positions are prestigious for the scholars who hold them, they are also marks of distinction for a college, Mari Koerner said. The former dean of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College became the Alice Wiley Snell Professor of Education in 2015 to 2020. Now a professor emeritus, she said, “An endowed professorship or chair is an act of trust by an individual that an investment in this enterprise, specifically in faculty, will pay dividends through increased knowledge for and impact on the community.”

Koerner’s professorship was not the first to be funded by Richard and Alice Snell. They previously endowed a professorship in education policy studies in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ School of Social Transformation, formerly held by Emeritus Professor Teresa McCarty.

Faculty not only benefited from private support, but also contributed to a culture of philanthropy. Nearly 4,747 faculty and staff members donated during Campaign ASU 2020, doubling the number of employees who gave to ASU at the start of the campaign.

Fuel discovery, creativity and innovation

Brent Nannenga, an assistant professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, is working with a few others in the university to use advanced technology to understand why toxins attack the brain and a transformational gift from J. Orin and Charlene Edson is bolstering that work.

“The seed funding has really helped us because we’ve had this idea that has potentially groundbreaking implications, but we just need to get it off the ground,” Nannenga said. “Can we use some of these tools for new diagnostics, or can we use some of these tools for new therapeutics, maybe develop a vaccine?”

“It’s been great to finally get the resources to make a difference for Alzheimer’s research,” Nannenga said.

Abigail Gomez Morales, nursing and health care innovation PhD candidate in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, is combining virtual reality and geriatrics to simulate what Alzheimer’s disease and dementia patients endure to help their caregivers improve communications.

“Thanks to your gift I got an education that gave me all of the foundations that I needed to create this gift for the community,” Gomez Morales said during the virtual donor appreciation event.

Champion student success

Donors contributed to the new, larger Pat Tillman Veterans Center, now located inside ASU 365 Community Union, which also was made possible, in part, from donor support.

The Pat Tillman Veterans Center provides comprehensive resources for about 10,000 student veterans, military active duty, guard and reserve members, as well as their dependents who are utilizing their sponsors’ GI Bill benefits while attending ASU. The center connects them with academic and support services such as assistance with veterans’ benefits, employment and referrals to make the transition from the military smoother.

Chris West and his family established the Family First Scholarship to assist dependents of veterans who died or were completely and permanently disabled while on active duty with their Chapter 35 benefits, which includes 45 months of education and training benefits.

“What’s so important about this group is they fall short of Veterans Administration help by one year,” West said. “It just fell in our lap that this is a great opportunity to pick up this last year for them. When you speak to them, and you can hear in their voice and see the relief you’re bringing to them, it gives me great joy that I’m touching lives and not just writing checks.”

Drive Sun Devil competitiveness

Zylan Cheatham, NBA player and ’19 graduate, wanted to make a difference in the south Phoenix community he grew up in that was surrounded by poverty, gang violence and other challenges.

“I knew I wanted to change things for the next generation of kids,” Cheatham said. “I wanted to get into the classrooms and get into the school systems and donate. Anything I can do to help.”

Cheatham’s gift benefits the ASU Center for Child Well-Being, which works with children whose parents are incarcerated.

“I know I’m going to impact kids that weren’t presented the same resources that everyone else was. That’s pretty much a big thing for me,” he said. “The more educated, the more prepared students are for the next level, for the real world, it’s only going to benefit us in every way.”

Private support is not a replacement for the university’s other sources of revenue, including investments from the state, students, their families, faculty, staff and research grants.

“Private support is critically important to Arizona State University because it enables solutions to problems that can transform lives and improve communities,” Buhlig said. “Private support enables opportunities for growth, innovation and excellence for our students and faculty.”

Although the campaign concluded, fundraising to elevate ASU’s work toward transforming higher education and making it more accessible continues.

“There’s no rest. There’s only where we move to next,” Crow said. “We have already emerged as America’s most innovative university and we are well-positioned by 2025 to be a completely new breed of university. One that impacts the state of Arizona, its residents, businesses and environment and extends across the nation and around the globe.”

Michelle Stermole

Senior Director, Public Relations and Strategic Communications , ASU Enterprise Partners


Campaign ASU 2020: Celebrating the impact of faculty and staff giving

January 15, 2021

A decade ago, Arizona State University launched Campaign ASU 2020, a universitywide fundraising campaign designed to unite ASU's growing body of supporters around the idea that, together, we can improve lives and influence society for the better. 

ASU faculty and staff were among the nearly 359,700 donors who fueled the campaign’s success. ASU Now has collected some of the most inspiring stories that highlight their generosity and impact on students and our communities.   Download Full Image

ASU Law faculty, staff, community raise over $2.5 million, provide employment opportunities for students during pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law faculty and staff quickly stepped up to give their students the support they needed. They were among a group of generous donors who helped provide ASU Law students with new opportunities.

Librarian's gift to advance archival research at ASU

It was Marilyn Wurzburger’s attention to detail that landed her a job as a cataloguer at the ASU Library, but it was her determination and the 4 o’clock hour that launched her career as a rare books librarian. Today her legacy is continued through a $1 million endowment gift.

Archivist to leave theater collection she built over the past 35 years

Katherine Krzys, a woman whose name has become nearly synonymous with the Child Drama Collection, has dedicated the last 35 years to curating the internationally acclaimed archive for theater for youth. Future generations will benefit from her generosity for years to come. 

Faculty gift supports creation of program that will teach how to connect classroom lessons and real-life issues

Regents Professor Emeritus Cordelia Candelaria wanted to bridge the past with the present by making ASU classroom concepts and theories applicable to real-life situations. With a generous donation made by Candelaria, the School of Transborder Studies was able to create a program doing just that.

ASU anatomy and physiology faculty turn book proceeds into student scholarships

In 2017, Jeff Kingsbury, J. P. Hyatt and Tonya Penkrot, in collaboration with then-lab manager Jennifer Legere, developed a new, less expensive lab manual to better serve students in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. With their royalties from the sale of the manual, they are providing life-changing student scholarships. 

Changing the world one student at a time

Three years ago, Dan and Wendy Peia Oakes decided the time was right to start donating to scholarship support for students in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. This year, they went a step further by endowing a scholarship to support students who want to dedicate their careers to the field of special education.

Shayla Angeline Cunico

Student digital content specialist, ASU Enterprise Partners


Renowned expert and professor awarded distinguished chair position

Bert Hölldobler honored for achievement in social insect research

January 14, 2021

Bert Hölldobler (Hoelldobler), University Professor of Life Sciences, Regents and Foundation Professor with Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences, has been appointed as the inaugural Robert A. Johnson Chair in Social Insect Research. 

Hölldobler is known as one of the world’s experts in insect social behavior and ecology. A behavioral biologist, he has spent his career exploring how insect societies are organized, diving deep into the underlying mechanisms of communication. His innovative and multifaceted research has led to many new discoveries about the dynamics of social structures, communication behavior and the evolution of animals.   In addition to his many other accomplishments, Bert Hölldobler is also one of the founders of the ASU Social Insect Research Group, now an internationally acclaimed group studying the evolution and organization of insect societies. Download Full Image

“Bert Hölldobler’s extensive, award-winning work on behavioral biology among insects is a shining example of the innovation being done within The College,” said Patrick Kenney, dean of The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU. “We are thrilled to recognize him as the inaugural Robert A. Johnson Chair in Social Insect Research for his decades of outstanding research.” 

This distinguished appointment is made possible through the generosity of ASU alumnus Robert A. Johnson, who received his PhD from ASU in zoology in 1989, where he worked with adviser Steve Rissing on a comparative study of bumblebees and ants. This launched a lifelong passion for ants, and he has traveled around the globe researching numerous species of ants, with a primary focus on desert seed-harvester ants.  

“Ants are cool!” Johnson said. “They are the world’s most successful eusocial organisms, as illustrated by their occurring virtually everywhere, having a mass similar to that of all humans, and displaying an amazing array of behaviors and life histories.” 

“Life has been good to me, and I am lucky and happy to be able to give back to ASU to support high-quality research via funding an endowed faculty position – the Robert A. Johnson Chair in Social Insect Research within the School of Life Sciences – with research focusing on the evolutionary ecology of ants.” 

“Bob Johnson has given a great gift to ASU, (the school) and to social insect research,” said Robert Page, Regents Professor and provost emeritus for the School of Life Sciences. “It is only fitting that Bert is the inaugural recipient of the endowed chair because of the parallel interests of Bob and Bert in ant biology and the great mutual respect they have for each other.”

Hölldobler taught at Harvard, the University of Würzburg (Germany), and Cornell (where he was the Andrew D. White Professor at Large), before joining the ASU School of Life Sciences in 2004. A widely published author, he has contributed to more than 325 scientific publications and co-authored several books, including “The Ants” and “The Superorganism” with E.O. Wilson, which explores the diversity and success of social organizations in ants, and the wider implications these observations hold for the theory of social evolution. 

Hölldobler and Wilson were awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1991 for “The Ants.” 

“I am honored to have worked with Bert Hölldobler for many years,” said Kenro Kusumi, director of ASU’s School of Life Sciences. “His groundbreaking work in the School of Life Sciences has contributed enormously to the field of social insect research, and we are pleased to have this appointment added to his legacy.” 

In addition to his many other accomplishments, Hölldobler is also one of the founders of the ASU Social Insect Research Group, now an internationally acclaimed group studying the evolution and organization of insect societies. 

“It was one of the highlights in my professional career when I received the offer from ASU to build together with Rob Page a first-class, internationally respected research group consisting of several of the best young scholars in this field of social insect research worldwide,” Hölldobler said.  

ASU has grown immensely in both quality of teaching and research since 1983, when I started my PhD,” Johnson said. “With the most important moment for me being the hiring of Bert Hölldobler and his junior faculty, which formally started the Social Insect Research Group. This group has been a phenomenal success for attacking and understanding numerous aspects of the biology of ants and honeybees.” 

Johnson’s generous support for the creation of this distinguished chair position will enable many future innovations and discoveries in the fields of social insect research, animal behavior and evolution. 

“We all hope that SIRGSocial Insect Research Group will continue to flourish at ASU in the future and the creation of an endowed chair due to the generosity of Robert (Bob) Johnson — himself an outstanding systematist and ecologist who studies ants — will be an immense contribution to the 'stabilization' of SIRG,” Hölldobler said. “It will also reflect the significance of social insect research to the wider academic community. I feel very honored to be chosen to be the first holder of the Robert A. Johnson Chair in Social Insect Research.”

Dominique Perkins

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Life Sciences


ASU geological sciences student succeeds remotely during pandemic, with help from donors

October 21, 2020

Paityn Schlosser, a geological sciences major at Arizona State University's School of Earth and Space Exploration, was on spring break in Utah last March when ASU implemented plans to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Students were asked to leave campus and finish the semester virtually. As an out-of-state student, Schlosser had two choices, return home to Missouri or move in with a friend. She chose the latter.  

“This decision also meant leaving my job as a desk assistant in my dorm,” she said. “I was left scrambling to find another job in Tempe, just as most of the city was shutting down.”  School of Earth and Space Exploration geological sciences major Paityn Schlosser. Photo courtesy Paityn Schlosser Download Full Image

Schlosser went from going to classes on campus and studying in the library to attending lectures from her bedroom. When the Wi-Fi went out, she’d complete assignments on her laptop by tethering to her cell phone’s connection. 

“You don’t appreciate the convenience of in-person studies until it’s no longer an option,” Schlosser said.  

Like Schlosser, many students found themselves upended by the pandemic: classes moved to an online format, plus the loss of income from jobs suddenly gone.

In response, the School of Earth and Space Exploration looked for ways to support students facing urgent needs and created the Student Emergency Fund. Since the school initiated it in spring 2020, more than 40 donors have made a gift to the fund, supporting students who needed help with essential needs like food, shelter and health care. 

“There are many things you plan for as a student, but a pandemic shouldn’t be one of them,” said Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration. “This is a reminder that we are stronger together, and we are committed to supporting our students through this challenging time.” 

The lockdown from the pandemic also added financial stress to Schlosser with worries of student loans and insurance payments. Initially, she didn’t consider the Student Emergency Fund, thinking someone else would need it more than she would. It didn’t occur to her at first that she could be that “someone.”

Financial assistance from the school’s Student Emergency Fund allowed Schlosser to focus on her health, safety, and ultimately her studies and her future. She says she is thankful for the support and the opportunity to return for her sophomore year at ASU.  

“I’d like to thank the donors who helped me and my fellow Sun Devils through a difficult time, and without their generosity I believe my current situation would be a much different story,” Scholsser said. “Without their support, I may not have been able to continue my studies and attend ASU.” 

Learn more about the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration Student Emergency Fund.

Alumni and Special Events Coordinator, School of Earth & Space Exploration


Donations to ASU fund COVID-19 assistance, many other causes

October 12, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic upended students’ academic and personal lives during the spring, leaving several students in need of swift assistance.

Yaritza Hernandez Gil, a first-generation student who is double majoring at Arizona State University, was working two jobs to pay for college and living expenses when her work hours were cut because of the pandemic. Students wearing masks and social distancing Download Full Image

Around the same time, an ASU Law student was in the United Kingdom for an externship when the pandemic started shutting down countries, and she needed to quickly return to the United States. She was unprepared to incur the last minute travel expense.

Sun Devil supporters stepped up to aid both of these students and many more who found themselves in crisis from the pandemic. Donors provided more than 4,260 gifts earmarked for COVID-19-related student support, research and community resources between March and June, when the ASU Foundation’s fiscal year ended. Overall, the ASU Foundation raised $290 million during the year for ASU students, faculty, research and community programs.

“The engagement and generosity of ASU donors reflects their amazing commitment to student success and the advancement of new knowledge,” ASU President Michael Crow said. “In a year of unprecedented challenges and opportunities, support for our mission by those who share our vision has remained constant and we are deeply appreciative of that dedication to ASU and our learners.”

Hernandez Gil received emergency crisis funding in the form of grocery store gift cards from the Bridging Success program, which assisted her and other former foster youth who needed financial help.

“It’s tough to not get a paycheck,” Hernandez Gil said. “But this allows me to have meals for myself.”

Rick Barry, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law alumnus (’73), already had a scholarship established in the college, but wanted to do more for ASU when the pandemic hit. That’s when he learned about the Law Annual Fund, which supports urgent needs of the college at the discretion of the dean, and he was sold on the notion of helping as many student as possible.

“For those families that don’t have traditional support that I’ve always enjoyed, it’s really tough,” Berry said. “I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to help.”

Berry’s gift helped several ASU Law students including the one stranded in the United Kingdom. The student’s airfare was covered by the law fund, along with an Airbnb rental in which to complete the mandatory 14-day quarantine period when she returned. Since Berry’s gift, more than 40 other supporters donated to the fund.

When many community resources were forced to close or move to virtual offerings, donors stepped in to ensure their services could continue. Donations to the ASU Speech and Hearing Clinic enabled many of the clinic’s telehealth services to be free during the summer.

Additional private support aided the Biodesign Institute’s COVID-19 research and testing kits and provided personal protective equipment to medical professionals.

“We are very grateful for the generosity we received, both for COVID-19-related resources and for donations to support ASU’s vision to solve grand problems that will improve lives and enhance our communities,” ASU Foundation CEO Gretchen Buhlig said. “Donors have the ability to support causes they are passionate about and every donation – large or small – makes an impact on students, faculty and the community.”

Donors enabled more than 7,900 unique undergraduate and graduate students to receive $29.2 million in scholarships last school year, according to preliminary data counts. That is a nearly 6% increase in students who received a scholarship compared with the preceding year.

Scholarship recipient Amalie Strange is a first-generation student who graduated in May with bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences and Spanish from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and she returned this fall in pursuit of her PhD in animal behavior.

“I don't think I would have been able to make it to this point if I didn't have those scholarships,” Strange said.

Four siblings – Brett, Chase, Scott and Jenna Fitzgerald – who graduated from ASU with distinction from Barrett, The Honors College established a $25,000 endowed scholarship to give back to the community that gave them so much.

“Barrett has enabled my entire family to find fast and frequent success in our careers and we thought it fitting to, in turn, start paying back early and often” Chase said.

Support for faculty remained strong with 39 gifts totaling $4.8 million for faculty chairs and professorships. Rhett Larson, a professor in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law was recently named the first Richard Morrison Professorship in Water Law.

“Richard Morrison has been my friend and mentor since I was a young water lawyer,” Larson said. “He’s also been a leader in Arizona water policy. It’s an honor to hold a position that bears his name.”

Faculty not only benefitted from private support, but also donated to causes they were passionate about. Nearly 1,600 faculty and staff donated to ASU during the fiscal year.

Returning faculty member Alexandra Navrotsky donated money to establish the Navrotsky Eyring Center for Materials of the Universe to bring science and engineering together for materials and space exploration.

Private support also funded a variety of programs and initiatives during the year.

One of those gifts came from State Farm to establish the Pathways for the Future initiative. The $30 million gift will provide education and career development opportunities for high school and community college students, as well as adults in the workforce who need to update their skills.

Campaign ASU 2020 publicly launched in January 2017 to raise the long-term fundraising capacity of the university and focuses on six priorities including student access and excellence; student success; the academic enterprise; discovery, creativity and innovation; enriching our communities; and Sun Devil competitiveness. The fundraising campaign ends on Dec. 31.

Michelle Stermole

Senior Director, Public Relations and Strategic Communications , ASU Enterprise Partners


Edson seed grants advance innovative dementia solutions

September 24, 2020

More than $300,000 from the Charlene and J. Orin Edson Initiative for Dementia Care and Solutions was awarded to three Arizona State University research teams for innovative research projects. The funding comes from a portion of Charlene and J. Orin Edson’s $50 million gift to ASU for dementia research and education initiatives. 

The Edson Initiative for Dementia Care and Solutions aims to revolutionize care for individuals suffering from neurological disease and support their caregivers. The Edson Initiative will support collaborative research aimed at understanding the roots of dementia in order to treat, detect and prevent its occurrence in patients. older man looks at wife, who is staring out Funding from the Charlene and J. Orin Edson Initiative for Dementia Care and Solutions supports research projects into neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's and dementia. Download Full Image

“The Edsons have been very generous to Arizona State University over the years with multiple endowed and nonendowed gifts to a variety of research causes,” said Joshua LaBaer, executive director of ASU’s Biodesign Institute. “We are excited to see this vital funding propel innovative researchers and students forward in making impacts that help those suffering from dementias and other neurodegenerative diseases.”

Proposals awarded the seed funding by Biodesign embody the spirit of the Edson Initiative for Dementia Care and Solutions by bringing together scientific experts and students from different disciplines to create solutions to the challenges of neurological disease.

Protein-based therapies for neurological disease

Michael Sierks, a professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy; Jeremy Mills, an assistant professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and the Biodesign Center for Molecular Design and Biomimetics; and Brent Nannenga, an assistant professor in the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery and the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, were awarded funding to analyze toxic proteins in neurodegenerative diseases.

The team will develop and apply high-resolution imaging techniques to characterize the structure of proteins commonly found in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients. The information discovered from these studies will be used to develop protein-based therapies to fight the mechanisms of toxic proteins in degenerative neurological diseases.

Interdisciplinary living learning lab

Another team led by David Coon, associate dean and professor in the Edson College of Nursing and Health InnovationPhilip Horton, interim director of The Design School; and Patricia Moore, an industrial designer and gerontologist, received funding to create the Edson Family Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center Living Learning Lab.

The lab will bring together scientists and clinical researchers from across ASU to design, test and implement tools that improve care — from everyday object use and behavior management approaches to health care systems and homes of the future. The research outcomes will provide a platform to build real-world solutions for those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and their family caregivers.

Uncovering molecular mechanisms of poor cognition

The final team, awarded for their work to decipher the underlying molecular mechanisms leading to cognitive dysfunction in Alzheimer's patients, is led by Ramon Velazquez, an assistant research professor at the ASU-Banner Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center. Velazquez will be collaborating with Patrick Pirrotte, an assistant professor at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix, and Matthew Huentelman, head of the Neurobehavioral Research Unit at TGen.

Velazquez’s team will be determining whether exposure to glyphosate, a common herbicide used to prevent plants from making proteins needed for their growth, is a risk factor for cognitive deterioration leading to Alzheimer’s disease. The team will utilize findings on environmental toxin mechanisms to better understand how exposure to chemical agents in people’s daily lives can affect their risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases.

image title

Entrepreneur's legacy honored with establishment of institute

September 2, 2020

J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute announced

Editor’s note:  This story is being highlighted in ASU Now’s year in review. Read more top stories from 2020.

J. Orin Edson was the quintessential entrepreneur. He cared deeply for his community and believed others should have the resources to pursue their entrepreneurial visions.

Edson, who died in 2019 at the age of 87, built his first boat when he was just a kid. By his 20s, he was building boats through a small company that he built into Bayliner Marine Corp., which was the largest manufacturer of luxury boats when he sold the company in 1986. He went on to buy a majority interest in Westport Yachts in 1992 and grew it into a successful yacht-building company before selling his shares.

He and his wife, Charlene, wanted other aspiring entrepreneurs to have similar opportunities for success. They have donated to programs at Arizona State University since 2005 with an initial gift that created the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative. Additional endowed and nonendowed gifts to support entrepreneurship followed.

J. Orin Edson smiling on a boat

J. Orin Edson was a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist who gave generously to help ASU students pursue their dreams and obtain real-world experiences. Photo courtesy of the J. Orin Edson family

Today, Edson’s legacy is being honored with the establishment of the J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute at Arizona State University. The naming recognizes the Edsons’ longstanding commitment to further entrepreneurship support at ASU, which includes an additional endowed gift. The newly formed institute provides an overarching home for the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative and the Edson Training and Development Network at ASU, which was formed from an Edson gift in 2018.

“It is an honor for Orin’s life and spirit to be alive at ASU, carrying on the entrepreneurial passion he thrived on,” Charlene Edson said.

Establishing the Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute also enables ASU to expand its portfolio of entrepreneurial programs and initiatives in perpetuity. The primary focus of the institute will always remain ASU students and faculty, and the institute will continue to provide support from as young as middle school youth to lifelong learners.

“Renaming the home of entrepreneurship at Arizona State University in honor of J. Orin Edson is a heartfelt tribute to the enduring legacy of one of America’s most dedicated and prolific innovators and education advocates," ASU President Michael M. Crow said." We are immensely proud to carry the Edson name into the future as a hallmark of unparalleled entrepreneurial education and practice capable of changing the world.”

Success through Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation programs

Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute offers a robust suite of support and resources to serve students, faculty and community members to nurture ideas into fruition. Aside from collaborations with several ASU academic programs and colleges, Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation also facilitates multiple funding opportunities, communal working spaces for ventures at all stages, training and development resources and a mentor network.

“This generous gift will allow us to solidify the foundation for our portfolio of entrepreneurial programs and initiatives, as well as set the stage for new collaborative efforts and partnerships across the communities we serve,” said Neal Woodbury, ASU Knowledge Enterprise interim executive vice president and chief science and technology officer. “The J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute will continue to create opportunities for student entrepreneurs and communitywide programming to have a substantial socioeconomic impact on our region.”

The entrepreneurship program has received numerous awards over the years, including being one of the first 12 national programs selected for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s Inclusion Challenge to engage diverse entrepreneurs from a variety of backgrounds, ensuring that communities reach their full potential.

“Our goal is to nurture entrepreneurs for life. It requires that we seek to develop the whole person, to empower everyone to do good while doing well; to build a life, while making a living building products and providing services that bring value to society,” said Ji Mi Choi, founding executive director of the Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute and associate vice president of ASU Knowledge Enterprise, who has led Entrepreneurship + Innovation since 2015. “While there are more resources and opportunities for entrepreneurs, far too many people still lack access. All innovators, regardless of gender, race, age, sexual orientation or background, should have the opportunity to develop and exercise their entrepreneurship. The Edson E+I Institute’s suite of resources and services will integrate all our practice areas and programs for ASU students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community here in greater Phoenix and nationally.”

Since the inception of the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative in 2005, students have been able to transform their ideas into viable ventures with significant impact. There have been 297 student-led ventures supported to date. More than 40 patents have been filed and more than $46 million in external funding raised. Payout from the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative to assist students totals nearly $3 million.

The initial Edson gift formed an endowment that gives ASU students the opportunity to pursue their creative and business goals by providing seed money to help them in their entrepreneurial quests. The awards are for any type of business — ranging from high-tech for-profit startups to nonprofit public-sector ventures. The endowed initiative was designed to spur innovative thought and entrepreneurial spirit in ASU students by providing them the means to pursue their ideas.

In 2018, the Edson Training and Development Network was established from an endowed gift from the Edsons to accelerate innovative talent and increase capacity to train Edson entrepreneurs in greater numbers through an expanded training and development network, enhanced curriculum to augment and complement academic curriculum and on-demand programming. Payout from the endowment has expanded the program into a full year of entrepreneurial training using a co-curricular training suite. It has also provided support for faculty to develop and offer extra- and co-curricular training utilizing a wide range of subject matter expertise.

Over the past five years ASU has increasingly supported student-led teams, growing the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative from supporting 20 student led teams per year to now supporting more than 500 student led teams through the Entrepreneurship + Innovation Venture Devils program, while growing its community programs including a national youth entrepreneurship program.

During the Venture Devils’ Demo Day held every semester, hundreds of thousands of dollars in seed funding is awarded. Freda Sarfo, a master’s degree student in global logistics, won $5,000 in May to expand her enterprise, Tropical Almond. In 2019 she won $4,000 during the entrepreneurial competition to build a small processing facility in Ghana where she grew up.

Sarfo’s enterprise uses Ghana’s tropical almond trees, which are planted for shade and produce nuts that are less sweet than those found in the United States so they often go to waste.

Tropical Almond hires women to collect and crack the almonds, which are then cold pressed and the oil is packaged and sold as a hair product. The nut byproduct is processed into nutritious snacks. For every bottle of almond oil sold, one bag of high-protein snacks is donated. In the first three months, Sarfo sold 350 bottles through her online store. During her presentation in May, Sarfo said she provided income for more than 100 single mothers and fed more than 100 children this year with the snack byproduct.

There are numerous success stories similar to Sarfo’s because ASU has developed a comprehensive ecosystem that includes support for faculty including through programs like the prestigious National Science Foundation I-Corps program, various funding sources, mentors, multiple innovation spaces, co-curricular programs added to academic courses and community programs that support all entrepreneurs to thrive. The Edsons have played a pivotal role in contributing to entrepreneurial initiatives at ASU.

Edson gifts to spur innovation across ASU

The Edsons have made a transformative impact on the ASU community, donating $70 million to colleges, units and programs.

In addition to generous support to Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation over the years, the Edsons made a $50 million gift that was announced in March 2019 and split evenly between two ASU programs with a focus on health care. The gift renamed the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation and established The Grace Center for Innovation in Nursing Education (named for Charlene’s mother, who was a nurse) to enhance education and training for nurses and caregivers. The other half of the gift benefited the Biodesign Institute for research on causes and cures of dementia, as well as tools to manage the disease.

“The passion and generosity of the Edson family over the years has made a huge impact on the ASU community that will resonate for generations,” said Gretchen Buhlig, ASU Foundation chief executive officer. “Their continued support will help students pursue their entrepreneurial dreams, following in Orin’s footsteps.”

Top photo: A group of ASU students meet for an Entrepreneurship Catalysts virtual meetup to discuss ideas and serve as a peer resource for all things entrepreneurship happening at ASU. Photo courtesy of J. Orin Edson Entrepreneurship + Innovation Institute 

Michelle Stermole

Senior Director, Public Relations and Strategic Communications , ASU Enterprise Partners


ASU Enterprise Partners awarded for trailblazing technology use

June 25, 2020

ASU Enterprise Partners was awarded the Dave Perry Excellence in Innovation Award by for being a trailblazer that uses technology in an unconventional way to enhance the donor experience.

ASU Enterprise Partners, parent organization to the ASU Foundation for a New American University, was recognized for implementing Salesforce’s Commerce Cloud e-commerce technology on the ASU Foundation website. The award was announced virtually during Salesforce’s eighth annual Higher Education Summit. The Dave Perry Excellence in Innovation Award recognizes a college or university that uses Salesforce to advance recruiting, student success, advancement, marketing or engagement. It is named after a Salesforce employee who was integral in higher education data architecture and passed away in 2017. ASU Foundation website screenshot of donor funds available The ASU Foundation website features an e-commerce platform for an enhanced donor experience. Download Full Image

“What was innovative is we’re the first higher education nonprofit to implement the Commerce Cloud for online giving,” said Zach Lisi, director of solutions development for ASU Enterprise Partners and an integral part of the multidisciplinary team that implemented Commerce Cloud. “The old platform was very basic. We wanted to give donors the ability to go to the ASU Foundation website and do research, look up funds, learn about those funds and see the impact of how they affect students directly.”

Not only was the nonprofit the first to use a platform that is commonly used among online retailers, but the implementation team transitioned the ASU Foundation giving experience on a very aggressive timeline.

ASU Enterprise Partners worked with a seasoned partner to implement the platform and was told such implementations typically take a year, but some companies have implemented Commerce Cloud in six months, Lisi said.

ASU Enterprise Partners implemented the platform in just 12 weeks.        

“They were very skeptical. We made it happen,” Lisi said.

Other ASU Enterprise Partners implementation team members included Melissa Bordow, Jana Brown, Andrew Carey, Anna Consie, Jorge De Cossio, Chris Dizon, Carey Fredlake, Melissa Kwilosz, Liz Levenson, Gabe Martinez, Lauren Mitchell, Blake Pappas, Erin Sherman, Debbie Williams and Serah Ye.

Commerce Cloud enables donors to search by cause instead of fund name, similar to how a consumer searches for an article of clothing from their favorite online retailers.

The e-commerce experience allows each of the nearly 600 fund pages to provide a visual representation of the fund through videos and photos, stories about what the fund is intended to do and the impact the donor can make through the fund, said Fredlake, director of strategic outreach for ASU Enterprise Partners.

If a donor is interested in funds related to COVID-19 research, they can search for that interest and learn more about funds focused on that cause, Lisi said.

“People aren’t necessarily donating to a school they are an alumni of,” he said. “People want to give money to things they’re passionate about.”

Commerce Cloud reduced the time it takes a donor to donate and the additional visuals and information led to a 25% increase in gift amount, Fredlake said, adding that there has also been an increase in conversion rates compared to nonprofit industry benchmarks.

ASU Enterprise Partners has used the Salesforce customer relationship management platform for a few years and recently added Salesforce’s gift processing tools.

“We’re just starting the journey of what this can turn into,” Lisi said of the potential for the Commerce Cloud platform in the future.

It could become a donor portal to see giving history and provide endowed scholarship reports and donation tax documents, he said, adding that it could also be used to sign up people for volunteer and mentor opportunities at ASU.

The foundation can provide a more targeted and personalized experience to donors between Commerce Cloud and Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud.

“Commerce Cloud is a robust tool in our toolbox, which has provided a streamlined, storytelling focused donation experience,” Fredlake said. “It has become a natural extension to the stories shared through our donor journeys.”

Other higher education foundations have reached out to ASU Enterprise Partners to learn more about the possibilities because of its success, Lisi said.

“It was a big effort, it was a big team, it took a lot of resources and dedication,” he said. “We should all be very proud of what we accomplished.”

Michelle Stermole

Senior Director, Public Relations and Strategic Communications , ASU Enterprise Partners