Camp ASPIRE returns to empower students with essential life skills

ASU’s Department of Psychology teaches elementary, middle school students how to manage stress and grow in social settings

June 5, 2023

Camp ASPIRE, a virtual summer program at Arizona State University that combines strength-based skills training and engaging activities to empower students and foster the development of essential life skills, is returning for its fourth year. 

Led by clinical psychology graduate students, Camp ASPIRE (ASU’s Skills Program Inspiring and Reinforcing Excellence) aims to equip children and adolescents with the tools needed to navigate life’s challenges and embrace their full potential. Through interactive sessions full of activities, collaboration and reflection, participants learn to manage emotions, build social skills and develop problem-solving abilities, all in a virtual setting accessible to anyone with an internet connection.  Young women looking at an open laptop screen Led by clinical psychology graduate students at ASU, Camp ASPIRE returns for its fourth year, offering a virtual summer program that equips children and adolescents with the tools they need to navigate life’s challenges. Sessions begin on June 12 and July 10. Photo courtesy Unsplash Download Full Image

“You won’t find a summer camp that has more qualified camp counselors,” said Matt Meier, clinical associate professor and co-director of clinical training. “On top of their expertise, our graduate students are just a bunch of good people. They’re counselors that are excited to be interacting with kids, and they have the skills needed to do so effectively.” 

Camp ASPIRE provides students with the tools they need to respond and participate fully in their lives, so that they can show up as the best versions of themselves. It’s not therapy — instead, it’s a program designed to help students from all backgrounds learn to positively approach life experiences and challenges. Programming and activities look different for various ages, and students are grouped accordingly. 

Rising third- through sixth-graders make up the younger age group and benefit from research and activities adapted from Associate Professor Armando Pina’s Courage Lab and offshoot programs like COMPASS for Courage. A game-based environment helps children to socialize, better understand their emotions and learn how to handle uncomfortable or stressful situations.

“Think of things like the movie 'Inside Out.' That did a lot of really great work giving personalities to different emotions and helping us see that we all have these emotions inside of us,” said Rana Uhlman, a doctoral student and Camp ASPIRE facilitator. “We build off this idea of characters with the younger group, and we play games that identify the different ways unpleasant emotions like anxiety, anger, worry or fear show up. One of the fun games we play is Simon Says Emotion, where we have campers display what that emotion looks like so they have awareness of the different feelings that pass through their bodies.”

Students are given vocabulary to help describe what they are feeling, and they’re equipped with the skills needed to process emotions like worry. A game called Worry Head is used to teach students how to identify and investigate things that might be causing them concern. Instead of feeling anxious, counselors help students consider alternative possibilities to what a worry might be telling them.

Similar, approachable methods are applied to the older age group, too. Rising sixth- through eighth-graders are encouraged to envision their future and taught problem-solving skills so they can start building the lives they want to live. They learn to be independent and step into their individuality. 

“As students get older and are more engaged in social media, they often lose out on social skills like talking directly to people, learning to cope with their emotions and being able to pay attention to what other kids are going through. This program helps them focus on interacting with each other,” Meier said.

Programming is based on Provost Nancy Gonzales’ Bridges Program, an initiative designed to increase grades and confidence among teens while decreasing depressive and anxiety symptoms. Participants learn to create small, achievable goals that contribute to larger aspirations. They are connecting with people their age, finding similarities and working with adults.

Constructed out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, Camp ASPIRE continues in a virtual setting for the benefit of its participants and is not limited to Arizona residents. Campers meet three times per week for shorter bursts of structured time, helping them stay engaged with activities so they stick long after the program ends.

“They’re not spending an entire day zoned into a screen. The bite-sized programming gives students a chance to practice new skills in between us seeing them,” Uhlman said. “We’re able to check in and reinforce these skills as campers build them into their daily lives. We see so much growth.”

Camp runs for two weeks, meeting online from 1 to 3 p.m. Arizona time Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The program is $100 per child and contains activities akin to previous camp years. Scholarships are available based on financial need. Sessions begin on June 12 and July 10. To sign up, fill out the interest form online.

Laura Fields

Marketing and communication manager, Department of Psychology

ASU Women and Philanthropy funds 5 projects to 'build better futures'

June 5, 2023

ASU Women and Philanthropy awarded grants to five Arizona State University faculty-led projects aimed at solving complex world issues, ranging from developing electric canoes to addressing the causes of chronic pain.  

One of the projects funded is Solar Canoes Against Deforestation, which is led by Janna Goebel, assistant professor of sustainability education in the School of Sustainability and a senior Global Futures scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. Goebel and her team are exploring how solar energy could transform how Ecuadorians travel the Amazon River. Five canoes side by side on a river in a forest setting. Canoes on a river in the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve in Ecuador. These are similar to the gas-powered canoes currently used by the Indigenous Waorani community in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Photo courtesy iStock

The Indigenous Waorani community in the Ecuadorian Amazon currently relies on gas-powered canoes, which disrupt the local ecosystem through contamination and cause air and noise pollution.

Goebel and her team are striving to implement an alternative to the gas-powered motor by retrofitting canoes with an electric clean motor.

“Having respectful and reciprocal interactions with Indigenous communities is very important to me,” Goebel said. “It is really important that we work on solutions with them, not for them. We are hoping with this funding that we will be able to implement one functioning prototype electric canoe to provide evidence that this is a viable solution.”

In the future, Goebel and the team hope to scale up the development of electric canoe prototypes, delivering functioning solutions for sustainability to multiple communities.

“The whole process has been incredible,” Goebel said. “When we got the grant, I was so excited. The mentorship we had this entire time has been so meaningful. We felt ourselves grow as scholars throughout the whole process.”

ASU Women and Philanthropy awarded grants to four other projects as well. 

Urban food production

The vertical farming education and research project is led by Yujin Park, an assistant professor whose research focuses on horticultural crop physiology and controlled environment agriculture, and Zhihao Chen, an instructor of chemistry and controlled environment agriculture, both in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. Their project focuses on revolutionizing urban food production to address the challenges of decreasing freshwater resources and arable lands, rising energy prices and climate change. The team will also focus on developing a food waste fertilizer for production.

Mosquito study

The Mosquitoes in the Sonoran Desert project studies how heat and drought affect mosquito activity and insecticide efficacy. Last year, 60% of all national West Nile virus cases, which are transmitted by mosquitos, occurred in Arizona. The project is led by Assistant Professors Silvie Huijben and Krijn Paaijmans in the Center for Evolution and Medicine.

Reducing chronic pain

The HEAL project is led by Bradley Greger, associate professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, and considers the neurological, psychological and situational mechanisms of chronic pain to develop novel nonpharmacological treatments and address the underlying causes of chronic pain rather than attempting to reduce the symptoms using opioids.

Personalized immunotherapy

The cancer immunotherapy project addresses immunotherapy efficacy to reduce adverse effects. Ji Qiu, a research professor in the Biodesign Institute's Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics, and Jin Park, associate research professor, lead the project to advance personalized immunotherapy for cancer patients using personalized-neo-antigenome analysis.

'Build better futures'

Women and Philanthropy has provided more than $4.5 million to over 100 programs and initiatives in the 21 years since its inception. The group was founded in 2002 with the intention of serving and making a positive impact toward ASU’s collective success as a New American University. The program offers a unique model of philanthropy, pooling philanthropic dollars and letting the donor group collectively decide how the funds are invested at ASU.

Sybil Francis, standing co-chair and founding member of ASU Women and Philanthropy, helped start the initiative in the early days of her service to ASU.

“Women and Philanthropy gathers a community of women philanthropists dedicated to advancing ASU. The grants we fund aim to improve society, increase longevity and quality of life, provide education and resources for underserved communities and, ultimately, build better futures,” Francis said. 

Written by Richard Canas

ASU Interplanetary Initiative announces 2nd fellow

Anthropologist to research intersection of space exploration, culture, science and religion

June 2, 2023

For anthropologist John Traphagan, Arizona State University’s newest Interplanetary Initiative Fellow, space is more than the final frontier. It is the opportunity of a lifetime, and the ASU enterprise is the place to explore.

A professor emeritus of anthropology in the Human Dimensions of Organizations program at the University of Texas at Austin, Traphagan has been announced as the second recipient of the fellowship. He joins 2022 fellow Theodora Ogden, a defense and security analyst at Rand Europe. Headshot portrait of John Traphagan. John Traphagan, Arizona State University’s newest Interplanetary Initiative fellow. Download Full Image

“The exploration of space encompasses all different aspects of what humans do,” said Traphagan, who was drawn to ASU by its reputation for innovation and interdisciplinary collaborations. “Everything is there. Engineering, science, medicine. But space also raises the social, cultural, religious and philosophical questions.”

This year, the fellowship — which supports bold interdisciplinary projects and thinkers to further a positive space future — is offered in collaboration with the ASU School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, focusing on projects that address the human, social and cultural implications of exploring outer space.

As a scholar of Japan, Traphagan will explore how the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA's) programs and narratives around space exploration are shaped by Japanese religious ideas. His findings will be included in an edited volume, tentatively titled "Religion and Space Exploration in Cross-Cultural Perspective," and shared as part of a cross-cultural symposium to be hosted in spring 2024. The symposium will discuss how religion, ideology and space exploration intersect in different societies and shape the ways those societies approach space exploration.

“A key goal will be to feature scholars who work on non-U.S. contexts,” Traphagan said, “so that we might explore how these ideas come together in Russia, the (European Space Agency) community, China and India, as well as the U.S."

As more nations from around the globe develop space capabilities, it is more vital to ensure the peaceful and collaborative use of the domain.

“Avoiding conflict in space requires an understanding of how culture, science and religion influence a nation’s political and social ideologies around space exploration and by extension its behaviors in space,” said Jessica Rousset, deputy director for the Interplanetary Initiative. "We believe research such as this is vital to ensuring lasting cooperation in space.”

Widely published, Traphagan received his PhD in social anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, Master of Arts in religion in social ethics at Yale University, and bachelor's degree in political science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. At UT Austin, Traphagan teaches coursework in ethics in space exploration; biomedicine, ethics and culture; religion and family in Japan; and multidisciplinary methods in exploring organizations. Now, the fellowship marks another step in what he believes is a natural career progression that mirrors his passion for culture, science and religion.

“We look forward to having Dr. Traphagan engage with our faculty and students and broaden our network of scholars interested in these important topics," said Richard Amesbury, director of ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies.

Traphagan’s fellowship will begin in the coming fall semester. As an ASU research scholar, his fellowship puts him in a pioneering space for integrated research and learning, and the opportunity to investigate, communicate and help define humankind’s future in space.

“I’m really impressed with what the Interplanetary Initiative is doing,” Traphagan said. “I don’t know of any other place that is trying to do such work. I think it’s extraordinary that ASU realizes the 19th-century model of higher education doesn’t work very well any more. I’m happy to see someone doing something different, and I’m excited to be a part of it, and to be able to contribute to the future of space exploration in such a vibrant setting.”

Story written by Steve Des Georges. 

ASU student receives NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for DNA origami research

June 1, 2023

Imagine creating and folding tiny, intricate shapes and structures, made from DNA, that can deliver drugs to specific targets in the body, potentially reprogramming the body to fight off diseases, including cancer.

Cancer is a leading cause of illness and death in the developed world. In 2019, over 1.7 million individuals in the U.S. alone were diagnosed with cancer; 600,000 cases proved fatal. Although new gene therapies, such as oncolytic viruses and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy have proven effective in late-stage cancers, their high costs pose an unreasonable burden upon patients. NSF Graduate Research Fellowship recipient Bryan Ugaz. Photo by Mary Zhu/School of Molecular Sciences Download Full Image

To make treatments more widely available and affordable, doctoral student Bryan Ugaz, from Arizona State University's School of Molecular Sciences, has been awarded a highly competitive National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship grant to pursue research using DNA origami as a gene delivery system to create anti-cancer T-cells and CAR-T cells in situ.

WATCH: Ugaz talks about his research

This involves using a DNA origami nano-cage as a "synthetic virus" to deliver genes to T-cells. If successful, this approach would enable logic-gated, "locked" nanostructures, which only will release the genetic cargo if specified RNA "keys" that specify the cell type are present. This work would have powerful implications in immunotherapy and genetic engineering of T-cells to kill cancer.

In DNA origami, a viral genome (scaffold strand) is folded into a user-defined 2D/3D object by a series of short 20–60 base-pair staple strands, which selectively bind to regions of the genome, generating the desired nanostructure. Compared with their viral or lipid-based counterparts, DNA origami nanostructures are dynamic and site-addressable. 

CAR-T cell and oncolytic viral therapies have been approved by federal agencies. If successful, this project will lay important foundations for increasing the accessibility of both therapies by leveraging potentially cheaper materials (oligonucleotides) and making the therapy available for general use rather than being patient specific, which is a drawback of current therapies.

Ugaz is conducting this research with two advisors, School of Molecular Sciences professors Jeremy Mills and Nicholas Stephanopoulos.

Student with two professors

Bryan Ugaz (center) with advisors Nicholas Stephanopoulos (left) and Jeremy Mills. Photo by Mary Zhu/School of Molecular Sciences

“Bryan's work focuses on using programmable DNA nanostructures to template complex and highly asymmetric protein-based nanostructures," Stephanopoulos said. "One of the big limitations of protein design for nanotechnology is that it is still hard to make shapes with the complexity of DNA origami, due to the lack of unique protein-protein interfaces needed. Bryan's work, in effect, 'piggybacks' off the addressability of DNA nanostructures to attach proteins in defined locations and crosslink them into novel and addressable shapes.”

Mills added, “Among the unique approaches Bryan has chosen to address these difficult goals is the inclusion of non-canonical amino acids (amino acids that do not exist in nature, ncAAs) into these proteins. The use of functional ncAAs in protein engineering is highly innovative and will enable novel functions in these protein materials not possible in nature.”

Mills and Stephanopoulos agreed about Ugaz's bright future.

“Bryan is a hardworking and highly innovative graduate student, and they are always coming up with new ideas and experiments to try,” Mills said.

Stephanopoulos said, “The NSF GRFP is a great recognition of their potential, and both of their advisors look forward to many exciting projects in the years to come.”

James Klemaszewski

Science writer, School of Molecular Sciences


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ASU partners with community colleges to smooth path for transfer students

ASU partners with community colleges to avoid credit loss for transfer students
May 30, 2023

With 150 partnerships, students can avoid wasting time, money on unneeded credits

In a major push to widen access to bachelor’s degrees for transfer students, Arizona State University has formed partnerships with 150 community colleges around the country over the past three years.

These alliances create a seamless transfer experience to more than 400 degree programs at ASU for students who begin their journey at community colleges to save money and stay near home.

Transfer from two-year colleges to university has been a major sticking point in higher education for decades. Many students find that they cannot transfer community college credits to their desired degree programs at universities, resulting in wasted time and money.

While about 80% of community college students want to earn a bachelor's degree, only 32% who started in fall 2015 actually transferred to a four-year institution within six years, according to the Community College Research Center at Columbia University. The reasons are complicated, with lack of money often hindering housing and transportation. But difficulty in transferring credits is one major barrier.

That’s a big deal because of the number of students who come to ASU after starting their higher education somewhere else: 42% of all newly enrolled students at ASU in fall 2021, both on campus and online, had taken classes at another institution.

So ASU has worked to eliminate transfer obstacles through two big initiatives – the MyPath2ASU course-mapping tool, plus supportive partnerships with community colleges around the country through the Academic Alliances unit at ASU. The university hit the 150-partnership milestone this month.

About 30,000 students around the country are now actively using MyPath2ASU, a personalized course-by-course transfer map. The digital tool minimizes the loss of credits by helping students select the right courses for their intended major at ASU, for either in-person degree programs or through ASU Online. More than 400 degree programs are offered.

ASU’s research has shown that students who use MyPath2ASU are more likely to transfer and have better outcomes than students who don’t use it.

The personalized, self-service MyPath2ASU is available to any community college student, regardless of whether their college has a partnership with ASU. But a partnership provides much more support for both students and the community college.

Another reason the transfer process works smoothly is because ASU has fully evaluated more than 1 million courses from other institutions to receive equivalency at ASU, thanks to the Academic Transfer Credit Solutions team, which works closely with ASU faculty to continuously add courses.

It’s not uncommon for community colleges to have articulation agreements with universities for individual programs such as psychology or business, according to Amber Covington, senior director of collaboration and partnership integration for academic alliances in the Office of the University Provost.

“What has been different about our approach is that we’re partnering institution to institution, not program to program,” she said.

 “We’re looking to serve all students,” she said. “Because of the way we do course equivalencies, we’re able to offer pathways at a larger scale.”

Encouraging associate degrees

The Academic Alliance team is always reaching out to community colleges around the country, explaining the benefits of partnerships to the institution and its students. The 150 partners include all of the two-year colleges in Arizona, including tribal colleges, and dozens in California.

“We show the colleges how we want to be engaged with them and that we’re encouraging their students to stay and earn their associate degree. We’re not poaching their students,” Covington said.

“We’re working together for their students’ success and best outcome and that’s what’s most salient to the colleges we speak to and why they buy into the partnership and why we were able to get to this level.”

Annique Petit, senior director for community college engagement and training at ASU, said that students who sign up for MyPath2ASU while studying at community colleges are much more likely to enroll at ASU after completing their community college goals.

“This directly improves upward mobility opportunities for transfer students, and that’s where our focus lies,” she said.

“We’re especially fortunate to have a partner like the Maricopa County Community College District. MCCCD was in lockstep with ASU at the beginning of the evolution of our transfer tools and has been instrumental in assisting ASU to help students obtain applicable credits while at MCCCD that apply to their eventual majors at ASU.

“This, in turn, helped ASU to evolve and grow MyPath2ASU in order to assist students at the rest of the Arizona community colleges, and now nationally,” she said.

It’s important for community college students to start using MyPath2ASU as early in their educational journey as possible so they don’t take unneeded courses. So once a college signs a partnership agreement, ASU helps it to get the word out, according to Renee Beauchamp, senior director of transfer operations for academic alliances.

“We actively create a co-marketing toolkit and media campaign to promote the use of MyPath2ASU, which is unlike anything else partner institutions are doing at community colleges,” she said. The campaign includes news releases, blog posts, social media assets and integration into both institutions’ websites, as well as twice-yearly training for staff.

“A lot of times during the onboarding phase, the community colleges are impressed with how we work with them. They’ve never experienced that before,” she said.

The onboarding process involves training sessions with community college advisors to introduce them to ASU and the resources and support provided to the advisors and their students. Advisors are introduced to topics such as the benefits of MyPath2ASU, campus information, choices of learning modalities, the myriad of transfer-specific tools available to help students choose degree options, how to apply for transfer-specific scholarship opportunities, and how to connect with transfer student ambassadors before enrolling.

Later, ASU will refresh the partnership strategy, creating video testimonials with successful students and tailored messaging around in-demand majors.

“We have a design process so that it’s a full-circle experience for our partners,” Covington said.

“We don’t want any of our early partners to feel like we have lofty goals and then we forgot about them. We work hard at maintaining our partnerships and determining the best touch points to make sure they work.”

One of ASU’s partners is Long Beach City College in California. Mike Muñoz, the Long Beach Community College District superintendent-president, said the alliance provides the college’s students with an avenue to pursue higher education at a university that offers tailored resources for transfer students.

“This also expands the possibilities for our students to transfer to a top-tier university like ASU, renowned for their cutting-edge research, innovation, collaborations with NASA and distinguished faculty,” he said.

Easing the burden

Program managers Patrick Emmons and Glorian Konieczny are on the team that reaches out to community colleges to see if they’re interested in partnering. Very few decline.

“It’s a completely free service that benefits their students and provides them with the most seamless and clear transfer experience,” Emmons said.

“But they often wonder how they can take this on because they don’t want to add responsibilities to an already busy staff. We try to take as much of the work off the community college as possible so it’s a simple connection for them.”

Once an agreement is signed, the colleges give ASU access to the course catalogs for the top five programs they initially want to prioritize for articulation — typically majors that are popular or that they want to highlight. ASU then articulates all the courses in those five programs, matching each with the equivalent course at ASU so the credits will transfer toward a degree.

Among the most popular majors for transfers are nursing, business administration, criminology and criminal justice, psychology and engineering.

After the top five programs, the college’s entire catalog is articulated, Konieczny said.

ASU and the partner colleges also agree to share data on student enrollment success.

“We both really appreciate the fact that we get to be a part of a movement in higher education that has the potential to lay a foundational change to how transfer is done,” Emmons said. “We’re demystifying the process.”

Top photo of ASU sign on Tempe campus by Deanna Dent/ASU

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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Designing for an energy transition

May 30, 2023

ASU professor talks about the future of transitioning from fossil fuels

The United Nations World Meteorological Organization has recently reported that global temperatures are almost certain to be the warmest on record during the next five years.

Additionally, one of those years is likely to exceed the threshold — 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial averages — identified by the Paris Agreement to limit greenhouse-gas emissions and mitigate worsening droughts, wildfires, storms and flooding.

The news reinforces the urgency of efforts to transition electric power generation, transportation, manufacturing and other systems from their reliance on fossil fuels to renewable sources, including solar and wind. Much of this work focuses on the development and deployment of carbon-neutral energy technology, but achieving the necessary changes also involves debates and decisions about the routes we take to adopting clean energy at individual, organizational and societal levels.

Portrait of professor

Clark Miller

ASU News discussed these broader issues with Clark Miller, director of the Center for Energy and Society within ASU's School for the Future of Innovation in Society. The center collaborates with community, industry and government stakeholders to help Arizona and the nation chart and navigate pathways to a successful clean energy future. 

Question: Your school references the idea of different energy futures. Could you explain what that means? Isn’t the goal simply to eliminate fossil fuels and stop the planet from overheating?

Answer: Transitioning to renewables and not burning carbon is the goal, and it’s important for everyone. But it’s estimated that we are going to spend $100 trillion dollars to achieve a global clean energy economy. So, we should spend it well because how we design our future energy system will have major consequences separate from climate. What criteria should we be applying to this transition? Right now, our sole criterion is net zero carbon. I’d like to add other criteria that assess how well future energy technologies serve human purposes. While we're optimizing for emissions, can we also optimize for social outcomes?

Let me give you an example. Many people here in metro Phoenix and across the country are putting solar panels on their rooftops. Doing so means they are supporting clean energy and saving a lot of money on electricity. But not everyone can afford to buy solar panels and enjoy those savings. So, what do we do about that? There's an obvious unfairness if we simply leave that disparity to market forces. How do we correct for market failures, and whose responsibility is it to do so? These are questions we need to ask as we design and deploy clean energy technologies.

Q: What are some of those different models when it comes to the example of residential solar panel systems?

A: They relate to the allocation of ownership. For example, there’s a model in which people own their rooftop systems. They use the electricity they generate and trade it with the grid and maybe with each other. This model represents a widely distributed solar energy future in which people can engage in the market as producers and consumers.

In another model, the solar panels are owned by big businesses that rent rooftop space from the homeowners. It’s a leasing model that is very common in Arizona. It’s a way for lower-income households to enter the solar game. But the rent is usually paid as an electricity bill credit, and the savings for the homeowner are a lot less.  Most of the financial benefits of this arrangement flow to the solar company. They are far more centralized.

Finally, there is the idea of a community solar cooperative, which is popular in Europe and a few places in the U.S. A neighborhood association gets together and buys everyone’s solar panels collectively and cheaply. Each resident then benefits from a share of ownership as well as the electricity generated and any revenue from power sold back to the grid. Even renters benefit, as well as people who can’t afford to buy a full solar system.

Note that these solar panels and systems are physically the same in every model. But they represent different financial arrangements and quite different energy futures — and human futures — if we scale any one of them versus another. It’s an example of how the design of our new electrical power systems can have significant implications for society. We explore those implications in our recent books, "The Weight of Light" and "Cities of Light."

Q: Awareness of those implications extends beyond the deployment of residential solar. What are some points to consider around the expansion of renewables at the commercial level?

A: Well, we're already seeing the early stages of concern in rural areas about large-scale solar and wind deployment. Ranchers in Arizona who have been using Bureau of Land Management parcels to graze cattle for decades are suddenly not able to renew their leases because new energy projects are taking over those sites. The same is happening to farmers in the Southeast. It’s a form of competition that is starting to drive up land rental prices and displace ranching and farming family businesses. Plus, we are very early in developing large solar projects across the country, and the pace of development is increasing quickly. So, these disruptive issues are likely to become more acute.

Q: Are there measures we can take to ease those pressures and keep expanding renewables? For example, can we employ underused urban land?

A: Yes, but the farmland model is very popular among solar energy developers. Farms are low-cost places to build projects. The land has already been disturbed and leveled. It can be purchased or rented from private landowners. All of which helps these energy projects to competitively price the electricity they sell. With that said, there are a lot of urban spaces that can be used for solar projects. At ASU, we have a number of solar shade canopies that make space more livable in the summer heat. You could do the same in parks. Plus, parking lots make up a significant portion of American cities, so they could be tapped for this purpose. Developers would need to build the solar panels higher off the ground and initially dig up the lots to put in electrical conduit lines. So, it would certainly be more expensive at first, compared to open farmland. However, the shade is an added benefit, and you can add even more social value if you make them beautiful.

Perhaps most importantly, the urban approach may also move us closer to a more equitable future. Cities are the world’s energy hogs, and it would be good if they produced more of their own energy instead of continuing to impose new infrastructure on rural communities. And urban solar tends to be smaller and owned in a more distributed fashion, which lets more people enjoy financial benefits.

Q: Electricity is so fundamental to the fabric of our lives that we don’t often think about it. We take it for granted. Will a transition from fossil fuels to renewables bring about some unexpected changes to how we live?

A: Almost certainly. Consider the fact that our world has been driven by electricity from large coal-fired power plants for a very long time. Coal still produces more electricity than any other single source of energy, despite all the closures of coal plants and coal mines. Why? Part of the reason is that coal plants deliver the same amount of power all the time — day and night, summer and winter.

But people have never consumed electricity as a constant function. We collectively consume more electricity during the day, and less of it at night when society shuts down. Of course, those coal plants keep generating power at night, and that means there is a surplus of output. This is why electricity is more expensive during the day and cheaper at night.

Converting to solar flips that situation on its head. The surplus will happen during the day, making daytime electricity cheaper than nighttime electricity, since the latter will need to be stored in costly batteries before delivery. It’s already happening in California, where daytime electricity prices are now sometimes even negative, meaning they pay you to use solar energy.

So, what does that mean? We don’t know. But what we do know is that many aspects of today’s society are enabled by cheaper electricity at night. Think about the ubiquity of night life in the form of shopping, restaurants, concert venues and more. In fact, some of the original investors in amusement parks were electricity utilities seeking to create demand for their power surpluses at night and on weekends. If a shift to cheap daytime electricity and expensive nighttime electricity are similarly drivers of behavior, the changes to culture will be significant.

Currently cheap nighttime power also contributed to industry becoming so capital intensive. If your manufacturing equipment operates around the clock, you produce more and you do it more quickly. This is why we have three-shift factories and warehouses. But what does it mean if the most expensive electricity is now in the middle of the night? Does that change — combined with the fact that few workers really like the graveyard shift — sufficiently outweigh the capital investment benefits?

These are scenarios we need to consider as we plan the future of our power grid.

Top photo: The Red Rock Solar Plant, located between Tucson and Casa Grande in Arizona. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Gary Werner

Senior Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Tech showcase spotlights 5 digital projects at ASU

May 26, 2023

For one of the largest universities in the nation, technology plays a critical role in the advancement of student and learner success. 

Recently, over 500 team members from Arizona State University’s IT community united at Empower, celebrating the collective impact of technology-driven innovation happening within the university. From immersive learning environments to intelligent chatbots, ASU stands at the forefront of educational advancements.  Person wearing a virtual headset. Students immerse themselves in virtual reality at Arizona State University's Tempe campus. Photo courtesy Mike Sanchez/ASU Enterprise Technology Download Full Image

Five teams from across the university took the stage at Empower for the 5x5 Technology Showcase to share how their projects are enhancing the digital ecosystem at ASU and beyond. Below is a glimpse at those presentations.

1. Unlocking learning in virtual reality at Dreamscape Learn

Presented by Hasrah Thomas

ASU’s Dreamscape Learn offers fully immersive learning environments, providing students with engaging, interactive educational experiences. Seamlessly blending cutting-edge virtual reality technology and innovative pedagogy, Dreamscape Learn enhances and complements traditional learning methods, propelling students into the future of education. 

At Empower, Hasrah Thomas, director of Realm 4 initiatives at Dreamscape Learn and EdPlus at ASU, delved into recent research on the success rate of nearly 700 students participating in the Dreamscape Learn biology course. 

“We found that the students participating in Dreamscape Learn labs not only enjoyed the experience but also significantly outperformed their peers in the non-DSL labs, leading to greater student success and confirming the effectiveness of this innovative approach,” Thomas said.

In recent studies, students’ lab grades were 9% higher than those in the conventional courses. The median lab grade for students in Dreamscape Learn was 96%, compared with 87% for the other group. Additional findings highlighted the positive impact of the full-immersive course on collaboration and engagement, with students expressing overall enjoyment and giving it a high rating of 4.4 out of 5.

2. Exploring credit mobility to advance student and learner agency

Presented by Bobby Gray and Kate Giovacchini 

Research shows that there are 39 million learners in the U.S. who have some college but no degree. Bobby Gray, executive director of products and programs at Enterprise Technology, and Kate Giovacchini, director of the Trusted Learner Network at Enterprise Technology, took to the stage to share a suite of tools being developed by ASU’s Enterprise Technology to improve credit mobility.

First, the Trusted Learner Network (TLN) is designed as a central credential repository. Institutions and organizations that are part of the TLN can securely store evidence of an individual's credentials inside the network. Students can then access their full evidence of achievements from across their lifetimes in one, easy-to-access portal.  

Tools like the Interactive Degree Planner (IDP) and ASU Pocket — which can operate within the TLN and as stand-alone products — allow students to apply their credentials to better navigate the lifelong learner journey. 

ASU Pocket is a digital wallet for students to carry evidence of their earned credentials. The digital wallet uses a self-sovereign identity model that gives individuals full ownership and control of their digital identities and associated credentials — such as degrees, digital badges or certificates. Individuals can directly share verified credentials with institutions and organizations using their digital wallet. 

Interactive Degree Planner is the most recent development. The service, which is still in the design phase, will provide prospective and current students with a portal to map out their academic journey. The planner helps students explore up to five academic plans, track progress toward their degree, plan their courses each semester and ensure they meet the requirements for graduation. 

“These critical mobility initiatives are designed to reduce friction for all of our learners and students, recognizing that they come to us from completely different pathways, backgrounds and experiences,” Giovacchini said. 

3. Bridging educational gaps with Study Hall

Presented by Wayne Anderson and Sean Hobson

EdPlus Chief Design Officer Sean Hobson and Wayne Anderson, director of strategic design and development, took the stage next to share about one of the university’s most recent initiatives. 

Study Hall is a collaboration between ASU, Crash Course and YouTube to offer accessible educational content for millions of viewers and learners for transferable college credits. The project focuses on three main areas: a series on “how to college,” a series on fields of study and majors called Fast Guides, and a first-of-its-kind pathway from curiosity on YouTube to college credit.

“By leveraging the technology and access on YouTube, we're pushing new bounds in our learning architecture, ultimately bridging the gap between informal and formal education and making enriched and scalable experiences for our learners,” Hobson said.

ASU faculty worked closely with the Crash Course team, led by Hank and John Green, to develop the Study Hall series, which has garnered over 3.4 million views. The seven-week courses include subjects such as English composition, college math, U.S. history and human communication. This innovative method is meeting learners where they are and providing new ways to engage with the university experience, thus expanding the university's mission to democratize learning online.

4. Empowering ‘100 Million Learners’ around the world

Presented by Laura Polk

The Francis and Dionne Najafi 100 Million Learners Global Initiative, led by the Thunderbird School of Global Management, aims to offer online, global education in 40 languages at no cost to the learner. With the aim of being the boldest and most ambitious global education initiative in higher education history, this program was designed to provide world-class education to individuals who might not have access to traditional learning resources. 

The program offers three pathways to help advance the learner’s personal and professional development — a foundational entrepreneurship boot camp course (for learners at any level of education) and intermediate and advanced pathways for learners at the high school, undergraduate or graduate levels. In order to reduce language barriers, the program's content has been translated into 20 languages, prioritized based on the number of native speakers and greatest areas of educational need. 

Future plans include adding another 20 unique languages in order to reach all learners — no matter where they live — across the globe. Participants who satisfactorily complete the intermediate or advanced programs can apply for academic credit, which can be used toward degrees at ASU and universities around the world. 

“Our focus is on delivering transformative learning experiences that not only cater to the unique needs of our learners but also continually adapt and evolve in this ever-changing educational landscape,” said Laura Polk, executive director of digital initiatives and learning experience at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. “Through this commitment, we're reshaping the boundaries of global education, ensuring that every learner, regardless of their location or native language, has access to an empowering educational journey.”

5. Bridging the AI knowledge gap with Simpli-fAI

Presented by Mickey Mancenido

The Simpl-fAI project aims to make artificial intelligence more accessible and understandable to a broader audience. Mickey Mancenido, an AI researcher and assistant professor at the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, highlighted the need for simplifying AI education.

Mancenido, who is also a graduate of Enterprise Technology’s T4 Leadership Academy, proposes using social media as a tool for AI education, using short, engaging informational videos and leveraging social media’s popularity among younger generations to dispel misconceptions surrounding the new generative technology. At Empower, he emphasized the importance of a well-informed society in our increasingly technology-driven world, highlighting the Simpl-fAI project's commitment to bridging the gap between AI and the general public.

“One approach we can take as educators is to use social media as a platform to educate learners and the broader public on artificial intelligence technologies,” Mancenido said. “We can simplify AI concepts and counteract the fear and sensationalism that often surround them.”

Read more about the annual Empower event here.

Kevin Pirehpour

Editorial Specialist, Enterprise Technology

ASU team wins Society of Actuaries international student research case study challenge

May 26, 2023

A team of four students from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciencesactuarial science program at Arizona State University took first place in the Society of Actuaries Research Institute Student Research Case Study Challenge.

A team from ASU also won the highly competitive international challenge in 2020. Members of ASU's winning team at spring graduation (from left): Lainey Waldman, Neil Bhardwaja, Isabelle Welsh and Charlotte Cliatt. Download Full Image

The case study challenged student teams to act as consulting firms hired to design a social insurance program for the fictional country Storslysia, aimed at effectively managing its exposure to displacement risks arising from catastrophic climate-related events. The proposed coverage would aim to address voluntary, proactive relocation as well as involuntary displacement that may occur in the aftermath of severe occurrences such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and other similar disasters.

Students worked over the course of the nine-week competition to develop an innovative plan for the open-ended case study, representing realistic actuarial challenges. Each team submitted a 10-page report and finalists presented their recommendations to a panel of judges.

All members of the Relocation Station winning team graduated in May from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Neil Bhardwaja, Charlotte Cliatt and Isabelle Welsh all earned their master’s degrees in actuarial science through ASU’s Accelerated Masters degrees program, and Lainey Waldman earned her bachelor’s degree in actuarial science with a minor in economics as a student in Barrett, the Honors College.

The team was awarded a grant of $5,000 for Arizona State University, as well as cash awards of $500 for each student.

“The case study presents a realistic depiction of the challenges actuaries often encounter throughout their professional journeys. Unlike traditional classroom projects that follow predefined instructions, the SOA’s case study challenge requires students to approach problems in an innovative and comprehensive manner,” said Hongjuan Zhou, professor of practice and the faculty advisor to the team.

“This year’s challenge demands students to not only design social insurance program features but also evaluate and manage the associated risks. They must navigate imperfect data and select suitable actuarial models, utilizing given datasets to derive parameter values for their models. In cases where pertinent data is unavailable, students must make informed assumptions by referring to external resources and employing actuarial justifications. These technical skills honed through participation in case study competition prove invaluable for students embarking on their careers.”

Relocation Station’s solution to the case study challenge stood out due to their innovative program features and their remarkable proficiency in constructing intricate actuarial models.

“In addition to covering basic necessities and housing support as usually seen, the program offers childcare services and extra financial assistance for low-income families in the event of catastrophic incidents,” Zhou said. “Furthermore, with regards to voluntary relocation, the program incorporates a buyout feature that is offered by the government, aiming at acquiring the properties of residents in the risky regions. This strategic approach actively encourages residents to move from hazardous regions to safer areas.

“Second, the team performed a thorough analysis and employed solid actuarial modeling techniques. ... Their designed social insurance program effectively manages the societal displacement risk while enhancing safety and alleviating the economic burden faced by residents.”

Bhardwaja describes how the team was in investigation and discovery mode during the first few weeks of the competition.

“All of us read through academic and scholarly papers about natural catastrophes as well as similar government programs and initiatives that could assist with our task. ... There were so many little details to learn and understand along the way — how to define a hazard event like a flood, how to predict hurricane frequency and severity, how CO2 levels affect future catastrophes, and how population and migration patterns could be modeled," Bhardwaja said

“The most challenging aspect of the case study was certainly the timeframe,” Welsh said. “Despite having a long period of time to work on the project, with so many things to consider we were constantly wishing we had more time on our hands to spend working on the project.”

Waldman said that during the last two weeks of the case every member of the team spent anywhere from 40 to 60 hours per week doing analysis, writing and proofreading.

"I am so proud of the entire team for pushing through and remaining driven and inspired to do well on this project when it would have been much easier to quit," Waldman said. "It meant the world to know all that hard work paid off.”

The group was also appreciative of their faculty advisor’s guidance through the program.

“Dr. Zhou’s astuteness and supportive nature were invaluable throughout the process,” Waldman said. 

“This year’s case study involves a fascinating topic that is very relevant for current times, where the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters are causing instability in people's lives,” Bhardwaja said. “Learning more about these topics was incredibly eye-opening and useful to our future careers and working together with my teammates to construct a full insurance program (that could feasibly be used in the real world) was a valuable experience.

“Alongside the high visibility the competition has, the SOA Case Study enables students to really develop their technical and business skills by thoroughly analyzing data, constructing models and forming big ideas. These skills are essential to the workplace and will give students a competitive edge when transitioning from college to work.”

Rhonda Olson

Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences


$4.5M grant to explore link between exercise, slowing down Alzheimer’s

May 25, 2023

A $4.5 million groundbreaking grant will fund research to explore a promising link between aerobic exercise and slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease in a study led by an Arizona State University researcher.

An estimated 6.7 million Americans age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association's 2023 report An older couple are side by side working out on stationary bikes in a gym A $4.5 million groundbreaking grant from the National Institute on Aging will fund research exploring a promising link between aerobic exercise and slowing the progression of Alzheimer's. Photo courtesy Shutterstock Download Full Image

“Alzheimer’s is a complex disease with many factors contributing to it, which is part of the reason we haven’t found a single cure. Recently though, we’ve found that modifying lifestyle factors may contribute to slowing the progression of the disease,” said Professor Fang Yu, Edson Chair in Dementia Translational Nursing Science at the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

The grant comes from the National Institute on Aging, a division of the National Institutes of Health. Yu and her team will conduct the first-ever sequential, multiple assignment, randomized trial, or SMART, for Alzheimer’s disease.

“I think this grant shows what Professor Yu and her team are doing is really cutting edge. This research could impact millions of people, potentially giving them some hope of relief from a terrible disease that steals their very essence. I’m looking forward to the findings and seeing how they develop into real-world interventions,” said Edson College Dean Judith Karshmer.

This area of research builds on Yu’s previous work, which found that a six-month exercise program significantly reduced cognitive decline in comparison to the natural course of changes for Alzheimer’s dementia. Specifically, aerobic exercise is effective in reducing white matter hyperintensities progression, which is associated with cognitive decline and the development of dementia.

The new Phase 2 clinical trial will examine the best exercises to improve aerobic fitness in older adults with early Alzheimer’s disease and examine how those exercises impact their memory.

“The most exciting part of this is trying to reduce the variations in responses to exercise among participants. To this point, we’ve seen some people improve, while some decline. So, what we’re trying to do is to reduce the variability to help people respond positively in some way so we can truly understand if exercise has an impact and for who,” Yu said.

The team is planning to recruit more than 100 participants in Arizona to enroll in the study. They’re looking for people who are 65 and older, who have noticed changes in their memory and have someone who knows them to serve as their study partner.

To learn more about the study and eligibility, email or call 602-496-2292.

Amanda Goodman

Senior communications specialist, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation


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Meet the world's 1st outdoor sweating, breathing and walking manikin

May 25, 2023

ASU researchers to use ANDI and heat chamber to better understand human body's response to extreme heat

Behind a 4-inch-thick metal door with a small glass window in the far northeast corner of Arizona State University’s Tempe Campus lives ANDI, the world’s first indoor-outdoor breathing, sweating and walking thermal manikin. 

ANDI is funded by an NSF Major Research Instrumentation Grant and is custom-built for ASU by the company Thermetrics. He can mimic the thermal functions of the human body and has 35 different surface areas that are all individually controlled with temperature sensors, heat flux sensors and pores that bead sweat. 

“ANDI sweats; he generates heat, shivers, walks and breathes,” said Konrad Rykaczewski, associate professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy and principal investigator for a new ASU research project aimed to measure the effects of extreme heat on human health. 

“There's a lot of great work out there for extreme heat, but there's also a lot missing. We're trying to develop a very good understanding (of how heat impacts the human body) so we can quantitatively design things to address it.” 

Around the globe, 10 ANDI manikins currently exist, mostly owned and used by athletic clothing companies for garment testing, but ASU’s ANDI is only one of two used by research institutions and it's the first thermal manikin in existence that can be used outdoors, enabled by a unique internal cooling channel.

In the coming decades, every region in the U.S. is expected to experience higher temperatures and more intense heat waves. Thousands of people around the country die from heat-related illnesses each year, and in Maricopa County alone in 2022 there were 425 heat-related fatalities, a 25% increase from the previous year. 

ASU researchers aim to better understand heat stress on the human body and what makes hot weather so deadly.  

Using both ANDI and a heat chamber in which ANDI lives, Rykaczewski, Jenni Vanos, associate professor in the School of Sustainability, and Ariane Middel, assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, are working togetherCo-principal investigators include: Middel and Vanos, as well as David Sailor and Stavros Kavouras. Additional senior personnel include Dongwoo Jason Yeom, Floris Wardenaar, Pat Phelan, Sangram Redkar, Dennita Sewell and Jason Siegler. Also involved are Galina Mihaleva and Daniel Collins. to better understand how our human bodies are impacted by heat stress and quantify the risk different environments pose to health. 

“You can’t put humans in dangerous extreme heat situations and test what would happen,” said Vanos, whose research connects extreme heat to human health, specifically for active populations, like children, outdoor workers and athletes. “But there are situations we know of in the Valley where people are dying of heat and we still don't fully understand what happened. ANDI can help us figure that out.” 

Built for the outdoors  

Inside ANDI’s current home, ASU’s newly developed heat chamber, researchers can simulate heat-exposure scenarios from different places around the globe. 

Dubbed the “Warm Room,” the heat chamber is outfitted with advanced technologies that control the wind, temperature up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit and solar radiation. 

But in addition to being studied indoors, ASU’s ANDI is the only thermal manikin in the world that is able to be used outside.

ANDI is built with internal cooling channels that circulate cool water throughout its body, which enable him to stay cool enough to withstand extreme heat while measuring complex variables that contribute to our perception of heat in different environments — solar radiation from the sun, infrared radiation from the ground and convection from the surrounding air.

This summer, researchers will pair ANDI with MaRTy, ASU’s biometeorological heat robot, to work together and better understand human sweating mechanisms, like changing skin temperature and changing core temperature, and identify how specific environments may enhance heat risk. 

“MaRTy can tell us how the built environment modifies the amount of heat that hits the body, but MaRTy doesn't know what happens inside the body,” said Middel, who studies urban climate and how urban environments influence weather hazards. “MaRTy measures the environment, and then ANDI can then tell us how the body can react.”

The ANDI and MaRTy duo will first be walking around ASU’s Tempe campus together and eventually make trips around the greater Phoenix area to be tested in heat-vulnerable environments, like exposed streets and old mobile homes where the AC went off. 

People experience heat differently

Outside in 115-degree Fahrenheit temperature, an elderly man with diabetes will experience heat stress differently from an active woman in her mid-30s, and differently from a child in elementary school. Age, body size and other characteristics of overall health play critical roles in how people respond to extreme heat. 

ASU researchers can account for variations in body type and health characteristics to create and input into ANDI different customized thermal regulation models for almost anyone in the U.S.   

“We can move different BMI models, different age characteristics and different medical conditions (into ANDI),” said Ankit Joshi, an ASU research scientist leading the modeling work and the lead operator of ANDI. “A diabetes patient has different thermal regulation from a healthy person. So we can account for all this modification with our customized models.” 

Solution forward 

With the data and information collected, researchers hope to design interventions, such as cooling clothes or exoskeletons for backpacks that are designed for cooling support. 

“We're trying to approach this from a very holistic point, but there's not going to be a silver bullet for anything,” Rykaczewski said. “This project very much involves students from engineering, sustainability, in addition to people with backgrounds in weather and even fashion.”

The team is actively recruitingIf interested, email Konrad Rykaczewski at undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students to participate in this project. And as the team says, ANDI could always use more friends. 

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation's Leading Engineering for America’s Prosperity, Health and Infrastructure (LEAP HI) program. 

Top photo: (From left) Associate Professor Konrad Rykaczewski, research scientist Ankit Joshi, ANDI the thermal manikin, Associate Professor Jenni Vanos and Assistant Professor Ariane Middel in the lab. Photo by Christopher Goulet/ASU 

David Rozul

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications