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ASU to lead new DOE Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute

May 16, 2023

Institute will seek to eliminate industrial use of onsite fossil fuels for process heating

The U.S. Department of Energy has selected Arizona State University to receive up to $70 million to establish a new Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute devoted to the challenge of fighting greenhouse gas emissions from industrial process heating. ASU will lead the multi-institution effort known as Electrified Processes for Industry Without Carbon, or EPIXC.

“The industrial sector accounts for more than 30% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, and fossil fuel-driven process heating — from pasteurizing milk to melting steel — is the most significant contributor to those emissions,” said Sridhar Seetharaman, vice dean for research and innovation in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU and the director of EPIXC. 

Seetharaman said the new institute will support expanded use of clean electricity for process heating — the thermal energy used to prepare materials and produce manufactured goods — and a dramatic reduction of CO2 emissions across industrial sectors, including iron and steel, chemicals, petroleum, food and beverage, forest products and cement. It will operate as a public-private partnership conducting innovative research, development, demonstration and deployment of relevant technologies as well as necessary workforce training. 

“Additionally, this is part of society’s broader transition to clean energy, and we need to look at the social justice aspects of what we are doing,” Seetharaman said. “Our current energy landscape positioned petrochemical plants in an unjust way. Certain communities suffered health consequences from their proximity, and they continue to suffer from them. As we move forward with the new energy landscape, we need to make it happen in a truly just manner.” 

Alongside ASU’s leadership of EPIXC, key partners include the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, Pennsylvania State University, Stanford University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Tuskegee University, North Carolina State University, Navajo Technical University, Idaho National Laboratory, the National Energy Technology Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. KB Science provided strategic guidance for the proposal’s development. 

EPIXC joins the DOE’s six other Manufacturing USA institutes, which convene the nation’s brightest minds to solve the country’s toughest manufacturing challenges and move novel electrification processes out of the lab and into the market. 

“The enhancement of energy efficiency in industrial manufacturing processes poses a complex array of technical and societal challenges,” said Kyle Squires, ASU’s vice provost of engineering, computing and technology and dean of the Fulton Schools. “We look forward to leading the development of clean energy heating solutions for industry, leveraging our outstanding faculty, strong partnerships and the support of the community.

"Our commitment extends beyond technological advancements as we also anticipate fostering the growth of a new generation of engineering leaders who will drive the necessary technology innovations in an equitable fashion to achieve the greatest possible benefit to the communities we serve.”

“This strong array of academic, community and industry partners will propel the EPIXC team to groundbreaking impact via scientific and technological leadership, workforce development and just energy transition,” said Sally C. Morton, executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise at ASU. “These objectives fit squarely within the responsibility and mandate of the New American University, and ASU is honored to lead this Manufacturing USA institute for the nation.”

EPIXC is funded through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Industrial Efficiency and Decarbonization Office

Top photo by GCShutter/iStock

Gary Werner

Senior Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Researcher wins $2.6M NIH grant for machine-learning tools aimed at molecular interactions

May 16, 2023

Cells are more than just bags of molecules. They are complex and dynamic environments with frequent molecular interactions orchestrating life’s most basic events. Many researchers investigate molecules by monitoring them outside their natural environments, sometimes in crystals, or simulating them on a computer. However, to better understand molecular events in their natural environment, for example how DNA is transcribed to RNA, we need to indirectly observe them in action.

Steve Pressé, a faculty member of Arizona State University's Center for Biological Physics and the School of Molecular Sciences, along with a team of collaborators around the world that includes Marcia Levitus and Douglas Shepherd at ASU, is unraveling life’s intracellular processes at single-molecule levels on the rapid time scales and small spatial scales at which reactions and interactions occur. Blue, red and green abstract image. Pressé et al molecular modeling image. Used on cover of Biophysical Reports journal on March 8, 2023.

Pressé was recently awarded a five-year, $2.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to help develop the machine-learning tools needed to observe life’s events in their natural environment.

“Every disease and drug taken operates at the level of the molecular actors within the cell,” Pressé said. “Accurately monitoring molecular interactions in living systems is a key step toward evaluating the role of therapeutic agents and developing clear disease diagnostics, as well as refining our understanding of how living systems work. To do this, we have to adapt machine learning tools to capture molecules doing what they do in a noisy and crowded biological system uniquely sensitive to our probing tools. No biological system likes to be poked and prodded for too long with strong lasers. Therefore, we need to make the most of the very limited information we can gather quickly.”

Pressé, the principal investigator of the project, proposes means to unravel molecular interactions by collecting information carried by individual photons emitted by the molecular system and developing data-efficient Bayesian machine learning tools to make the most of the limited light budget available.

“It is analogous to studying light emitted by faraway stars using Earth-bound telescopes where light passes through our atmosphere, which scrambles the signal. Except imagine the stars being timid and moving in space!” Pressé said. “We are working at the absolute limit of what is achievable to learn from the limited data we gather before the system starts turning its figurative back to us.”

Indeed, studying the behavior of molecules deeply embedded in complex biological environments is critical in unraveling a molecular basis for disease.

School of Molecular Sciences Director Tijana Rajh commented on the significance of this grant and Pressé’s research.

“We still have to learn a lot about the way individual cells process information and make decisions in response to environmental perturbations. These flexible decisions are made with the highly stochastic tools cells have available in tuning their response," she said. "Following Bayesian approaches, Steve Pressé and his collaborators infer from data how cells ultimately decide their fates, for example by learning transcription kinetics and gene states from noisy single-cell RNA counts. This data-driven approach is unavoidable given the information cells are willing to reveal to us through experiments and holds the promise of teaching us the rules of integrated sensing and coordinated response to varying environments in which these cells exist.”

James Klemaszewski

Science writer, School of Molecular Sciences


ASU expands computer science offerings with online degree

May 15, 2023

​Beginning this fall, the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, will offer a new degree option for students interested in studying computer science.

The undergraduate computer science degree program will be available through ASU Online, affording more flexibility and opportunities to students who have an aptitude for computational thinking and problem-solving and are interested in developing the next generation of computer technology. Close-up look of a circuit board. ​Beginning this fall, the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, will offer a new online degree option for undergrads interested in computer science. Photo courtesy Pixabay Download Full Image

“This really embodies ASU’s mantra of ‘meeting learners wherever they are,’ whether it’s people who have full-time jobs and families, who are active military or veterans, or who are coming back to finish their degrees after time away,” said Jim Collofello, the vice dean of academic and student affairs in the Fulton Schools and a faculty member in the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence.

In addition to providing opportunities for students who need flexibility, the new online degree option bridges learning styles for a new generation of students.

“We’re seeing that younger generations have very diverse learning habits, as they have grown up with more exposure to technology,” said Baoxin Li, associate director for academic and student affairs and a professor of computer science in the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence. “The pandemic also demonstrated that some students flourish in an online environment and prefer that modality to be able to learn at their own pace.”

The online computer science degree will offer undergraduate students the same access to award-winning faculty and curriculum as the in-person option. Students can expect to learn how to apply computer science theory and software development fundamentals to analyze a variety of applications from artificial intelligence to database systems. In addition, students will develop competency in widely used programming languages, including Java, C and C++.

Student experiences

Michelle Houchins, a graduating senior in computer science, was able to discover her passion for coding through the immersion degree offered on ASU’s Tempe campus.

“For any problem, coding offers an infinite number of solutions. No one program looks alike, and yet code will either work or it will not,” she said. “It’s the perfect balance of creativity and logic.”

As an in-person student, she is pleased that the new degree option will continue to allow students to connect with their passions.

“The Fulton Schools provides students with endless opportunities to chase their dreams and turn them into reality,” Houchins said.

Casey Randall, a junior studying computer science, reflects on how the new online option will be similar to taking classes fully online during 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I honestly preferred the online versions a little bit more than my in-person classes,” Randall said. “Taking classes online gave me the same access to resources, and my professors were very communicative and helpful. I loved it, and I ended up doing better in my online classes.”

Like Houchins, Randall has also found a deeper connection to the degree’s subject matter.

“My favorite thing about earning my computer science degree is the feeling of accomplishment after finishing a project when everything finally clicks and works and there are no errors,” Randall said. “Throughout my three years at ASU, that sense of pride in my coursework has always been present.”

Career prospects

According to Robin Hammond, director of the Fulton Schools Career Center, computer science remains one of the most desired degrees because of the field's potential for career opportunities, continuous learning and meaningful work that makes a difference in society.

“The solid foundation of the computer science degree arms graduates with essential knowledge and skills that employers value, such as computational thinking, complex problem-solving, logic and reasoning, rigorous analysis, communication and teamwork, in addition to innovative and entrepreneurial mindsets, which are essential skills in every Fulton Schools graduate,” she said.

Hammond noted that these foundations create highly skilled graduates who are ready to enter a wide array of careers in areas such as digital identity and transformation, software and app development, artificial and augmented intelligence, cloud computing and more.

“The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ surveys also show that employers highly value these attributes, making ASU graduates stand out and encouraging employers to return year after year to recruit students from the Fulton Schools,” she said.

“Computer science and other computing degrees will continue to be high-demand, high-paying and high-value degrees well into the future."

Annelise Krafft

Communications Specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU Cronkite School convocation honors graduates, retiring faculty

May 15, 2023

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication celebrated the accomplishments of nearly 390 graduates at its spring 2023 convocation ceremony while honoring four distinguished faculty members who are retiring at the end of this semester.

The Cronkite School recognized associate professors Xu Wu and Marianne Barrett, Professor of Practice John Misner and Kristin Gilger, Reynolds Professor in Business Journalism, during the ceremony on May 12 at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe. Cronkite School graduates sit in a line wearing their graduation gowns, hats and stoles. The Cronkite School awarded degrees to 387 students during the ceremony on May 12 at the Desert Financial Arena in Tempe. Download Full Image

Gilger and Barrett, the Louise Solheim Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication, both served in associate dean and senior associate dean roles during their tenure at Cronkite. Gilger led the Cronkite School as interim dean from 2020 to 2021.

Misner served as the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship’s curator, senior advisor to the dean and senior advisor to the ASU Foundation.

The ceremony also paid tribute to former faculty member Mark Reda, who passed away earlier this month.

Adam Symson, president and CEO of the E.W. Scripps Company, delivered the keynote address to the graduating class. The convocation served as a homecoming for Symson, who first joined Scripps in 2002 as executive producer of investigations and special projects for ABC15 in Phoenix.

Symson reflected on his rise from an investigative reporter and producer to news executive, saying he learned just as much from his failures as he did from his successes.

“If you aren’t failing in life, you likely are not trying hard enough, and not taking the necessary risks in your personal or professional lives,” Symson said. “I can tell you without a doubt that what has propelled me from the assignment desk to the C-suite has been a willingness to take risks, gather a handful of successes, but just as important, pick myself up off the floor after getting punched in the gut.”

Symson said he “stumbled plenty of times” as a journalist and CEO, submitting a reporting tape and receiving zero job offers, applying for jobs and getting rejected, pursuing stories that didn’t pan out and launching products that failed to capture an audience.

“I’ve had them all. And each hurdle, every stumble and failure strengthened my resolve to do it again, but differently and better,” he said.

Those experiences paved the way for his successes, he said.

Symson lauded the graduates for enduring through “the most dynamic of times,” which included a pandemic, along with a changing economy and political landscape.

“Just think about what you all have gone through over the last four years,” he said. “You’ve been handling the real world … and are already exercising the resilience necessary to succeed, no matter what life throws your way next.”

In total, 387 students received degrees, including 77 with a Bachelor of Arts in mass communication and media studies, 100 with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communication, 80 with a Bachelor of Arts in sports journalism, 57 with a Bachelor of Science in digital audiences and six with a Bachelor of Arts in digital media literacy.

The Cronkite School also awarded 65 master’s degrees — 47 with a Master of Science in digital audience strategy, 17 Master of Mass Communication degrees and one Master of Arts in investigative journalism. Two graduates received PhDs in journalism and mass communication.

Student convocation speaker Autriya Maneshni encouraged her fellow graduates to be patient with themselves and not expect to get everything right on the first try.

Maneshni recalled waking up on her first day of classes after she fell asleep with her favorite green pen in her bed. She discovered green stains all over herself and her comforter and only had 30 minutes until she had to attend class.

The experience reminded her that the most terrible days can blossom into an “amazing experience,” she said.

“Everything really does happen for a reason even if we are blind to that reason at first,” she said. "Don’t be so hard on yourself. ... Immerse yourself in the moment and focus on the present.”

Jamar Younger

Associate Editor, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

CAREER Award energizes research on power conversion

NSF honors ASU professor for work on electrical systems

May 12, 2023

Electronic devices are among the necessities of modern life. From the cellphones we use as alarm clocks to the technologies powering our transportation, electrical power is essential for society to function efficiently and productively.

This creates growing demand for new advances in maintaining and improving our power generation and distribution systems and puts a great responsibility on those who work to develop innovative ways to ensure our power sources perform more robustly and reliably. Ayan Mallik standing in a lab posing for a photo. Ayan Mallik, an assistant professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, has been awarded the 2023 National Science Foundation CAREER Award for his research on noise immunity and stability in electrical systems. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

Ayan Mallik, an assistant professor of electrical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, is among those at the forefront of these important pursuits.

Mallik has received the 2023 Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation, or NSF, for his work in advancing the characterization and mitigation of electromagnetic interference in power converter systems. Mallik will receive $500,000 over the next five years to develop software that detects flaws in electrical systems.

The award

The NSF CAREER Award is a prestigious accolade given to early career faculty who show potential to become academic role models in research and education. Mallik has been awarded grants from federal agencies, including NASA, the Department of Defense, the Army, the Office of Naval Research and the Department of Energy, and several private companies in and outside of Arizona.

But the latest award carries a special honor, Mallik said.

“This award is a great opportunity for me to add some transformative knowledge to the field,” Mallik said. “It’s going to give me a good platform to build research and publish research findings in the next five years. I will also have the opportunity to educate a lot of engineers and students. It’s exciting.”

The challenge

Mallik is taking a big picture approach to managing electrical systems by focusing on electromagnetic interference, known as EMI, which refers to the disruptions that interfere with the communication and efficacy of power conversion in electrical systems.

EMI can be caused by signals that disrupt the stability of the power converter systems. The different types of EMI cause signature electrical signals as byproducts, known as noise.

By creating an algorithm that can identify these signatures, Mallik is tackling system instability so that engineers can maximize the capabilities of an electrical system.

To develop the algorithm, researchers in Mallik’s lab will conduct a series of experiments with a range of noise generation patterns. As they develop a database of known signatures, they will also be building an algorithm that analyzes noise and connects it to known EMI.

Connor Reece, an electrical engineering graduate student in Mallik’s lab, is eager to lead the project’s technical efforts.

“The successful execution of this project would benefit the power industry significantly by reducing time-to-market and development risk for power equipment suppliers,” Reece said.

Mallik believes his project appealed to the NSF because of the prevalence of the EMI phenomenon; given that all electrical systems and radio frequencies are prone to EMI occurrences, the solution is relevant to a range of industries. By approaching the challenge through the design process, Mallik said he is circumventing countless hours and wasted resources to identify the problem early on.

The community

ASU’s interdisciplinary research environment has been instrumental for Mallik to develop a network of collaborators, both within the university and in the broader Arizona community.

“The Fulton Schools encourages faculty to collaborate across specialties as well as with both small and large businesses in Arizona,” Mallik said. “That really gives you a push to reach out to different companies and establish connections. The collaboration is really strong here.”

The CAREER Award also offers Mallik an opportunity to do outreach within the community. He intends to use a portion of the award funding for this purpose.

Mallik will open positions in his lab for undergraduate students to do capstone design projects that align with this research. He is also in talks with the ASU Preparatory Academy, ASU’s K–12 preparatory charter school, to develop summer programs that teach the basics of electrical engineering to high-school students. 

Mallik said the next step in engineering education is to raise awareness of the major design challenges in the field and prepare students for how to meet energy needs in the future.

“I want to give more opportunities to the kids who are really keen to join engineering and get clarity on what this electric engineering is all about,” Mallik said.

He plans to continue testing, refine the algorithm structure and ultimately patent the EMI technology. He is optimistic about the success of the applications and impacts of EMI-identifying software and algorithms in industries that rely on power conversion systems and technologies.

“I expect this kind of approach to be adopted by many industries for power product design,” Mallik said. “EMI is a fundamental roadblock in any power converter, and this new methodology will change how we approach EMI.”

Hannah Weisman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Marketing and Communications


ASU honors graduate makes his mark as a student-athlete

May 12, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Julian Hill was a powerhouse in the swimming pool and in the classroom at Arizona State University. Photo of Julian Hill Julian Hill, a freestyler on the Sun Devil Men's Swim Team, graduated with a bachelor's degree in biological sciences. Download Full Image

The freestyle specialist on the Sun Devil Men’s Swim Team graduated this week with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences (conservation biology and ecology) from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with honors from Barrett, The Honors College.

He plans to stay at ASU to pursue a Master of Legal Studies with an emphasis on law and sustainability at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

Hill, who is from Gainesville, Florida, compiled an impressive swimming record as an undergraduate. He made the 2023 Pac-12 Winter Academic Honor Roll, which recognizes student-athletes with a cumulative grade-point average of 3.3 or above. He received the Stephen L. Estes Endowed Scholarship and the ASU President’s Scholarship.

His swimming bona fides include being a Pac-12 champion in the 800-yard free relay and an All American in the 200-yard free and the 800-yard free relay. His team also finished second at the NCAA Championships in March - the highest finish in program history.

He completed an honors thesis, titled "Sustainability of Desert Golf: An Assessment of Golf Courses in the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area and Plan of Action Moving Forward."

Hill took time out to reflect on his ASU experiences. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: My "aha" moment was in ninth grade when I took AP Environmental Science at my high school.

Q: What event or accomplishment helped to shape your ASU experience?

A: I think a major event that shaped my ASU experience would be just this past month getting national runner-up at the NCAA Men's Swimming and Diving Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Q: You are a scholar and an athlete. How did you balance these two priorities?

A: It was definitely tough at times, but I put a big emphasis on getting better at time management in college. This has been so important to me and my success both in the pool and the classroom.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: There are so many things that I have learned at ASU. I think I am a well-rounded student, and ASU has given me so many various viewpoints and curiosity.

Q:  Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU largely because of the swimmers, coaches and culture on the swim team. The team was really up-and-coming, and I believed in it. I also chose ASU because of the beautiful weather and campus.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Jianguo "Jingle" Wu has been so influential in my time at ASU. He has been my honors thesis director, and I had my favorite class while at ASU with him as well. He is a distinguished professor, author and editor. He is currently the editor-in-chief of the journal Landscape Ecology.

Q: What benefits did you derive from completing an honors thesis?

A: I never worked on a single project for as long as I did on this one. It taught me how to be resilient, as well as to plan long-term. I also worked with various programs, including R-ArcGIS, and did a lot of reading and research.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Enjoy it. It's over in a heartbeat.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus is on floor seven of the Life Sciences Center E wing. The views from up here are awesome.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: If someone gave me $40 million, I would take steps to mitigate global climate change and instill sustainable practices across the globe.

Nicole Greason

Director of Marketing and Public Relations , Barrett, The Honors College


Victims' rights advocate, governor aide honored by ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Kennesha Jackson receives 2023 Dr. Marie Griffin Distinguished Alumni Award

May 11, 2023

A victim advocate and policy advisor to Gov. Katie Hobbs has received the Dr. Marie Griffin Distinguished Alumni Award from the Arizona State University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Kennesha Jackson, who graduated from ASU in 2012 with a Master of Science in criminology and criminal justice, was honored in a May 5 ceremony by school Director and Professor Beth Huebner. Headshot portrait of Kennesha Jackson. Kennesha Jackson is the 2023 recipient of the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice's Dr. Marie Griffin Distinguished Alumni Award. Download Full Image

Huebner said it was thrilling to present the Griffin award to Jackson.

“Kennesha represents the ideals of service leadership and community embeddedness that are integral to the Watts College mission. She has been a tireless advocate for individuals who have been victims of crime,” Huebner said. “We are excited to see all of what she accomplishes in her new role as part of Gov. Hobbs’ policy team.”

Jackson thanked her nominator, Professor Kate Fox, the school’s graduate program director, and expressed her gratitude for the award.

“I’m honored to be joining career professionals that have made a lasting impact and change in the advancement of criminal justice through their leadership,” Jackson said. “This award is a marker of where I have been and where I am going.”

In her nomination statement, Fox wrote that Jackson has not only represented the school well, “but has made significant contributions to the advancement of criminology and criminal justice through distinguished leadership achievements in the field of victims’ rights.”

The award honors alumni who have made “significant contributions to the advancement of criminology and criminal justice through distinguished leadership achievements as a practitioner in one of the justice professions.” The honor is named for Marie Griffin, a School of Criminology and Criminal Justice professor who died in August 2016 at age 49. Griffin was one of the nation’s leading authorities on female corrections officers and the stresses they face, and taught courses on women and crime.

Jackson spent nearly 12 years with the Attorney General’s Office, the last nine as the state’s victims’ rights administrator. The U.S. Department of Justice presented the management team where Jackson served with the National Crime Victims’ Rights Award.

Since January, she has been advising the governor on public safety and military affairs policy.

Originally from California, Jackson moved to Arizona with her mother, a Phoenix native. She said her mother, a paraprofessional in the Roosevelt Elementary School District, envisioned her as the first in the family to attend and graduate from a four-year university.

Jackson had already earned college credits from Mesa Community College by the time she graduated from Tempe High School in 2006 at age 16.

Jackson earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication from ASU. She became interested in crime news, specifically crime and victimization and its impact on individuals and communities, while earning her bachelor’s degree in journalism.

After covering a crime victim-related story in college, Jackson said she was eager to learn about the criminal justice system and the impact of crime on the victims' lives. She earned a master’s degree from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, where she quickly developed a passion for victim advocacy.

While in graduate school, Jackson served as a service aide for the Tempe Fire Department before she began work at the Attorney General’s Office upon receiving her master’s degree in 2012.

Read on to learn more about Jackson’s time at ASU and her contributions since.

Note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Describe your work in victims' rights, and your most notable accomplishments while at the Attorney General’s Office.

Answer: While in graduate school my area of interest was victimology, and to gain practical experience in the field while earning my degree, I took the initiative to participate in an internship program. I was offered an internship with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office of Victim Services (OVS). After more than a year of volunteering with the OVS, and upon completing my degree, I knew I wanted to help serve victims. I started my career as a systems-based victim advocate working directly with victims as their cases moved through the criminal justice system.

As a victim advocate, I gained ample exposure to victims’ rights by monitoring criminal cases through my direct involvement with case management in both the pre- and post-conviction phases and cases on appeal. I was then promoted to serve as the state victims’ rights administrator. 

The core of this position required a commitment to enhance the ability of governmental agencies to comply with victims' rights laws by establishing and administering a victims’ rights program to ensure services were being provided to crime victims and survivors in Arizona. This required reviewing agency policies and procedures, assisting agencies to institute best practices, and ensuring compliance and implementation with victims’ rights laws.

In this role, I’m proud to have contributed to the state’s history in serving victims and survivors of crime. As we look to a future of victim services that is more inclusive, accessible and trauma informed, I think it’s important to honor the strength and resilience of victims and their families as they journey through the criminal justice system.

Q: Today, you advise Gov. Katie Hobbs in military affairs and public safety. What does that involve? How would the public recognize results of the work you do?

A: From starting my career as a direct service provider to administering programs and now serving as a policy advisor, I’m grateful that I have the opportunity to continue to work on the safety and security of Arizonans. Public service is selfless work, and each day I’m reminded that it is truly about the incremental steps taken to improve Arizona and its residents. While this chapter of my career is still being written, I will continue to bring lasting, positive change to the lives of people across the state. I’m humbled and honored to work on behalf of the Hobbs administration, helping to build policy and creating a safer Arizona.

Q: Tell us how your academic experience at ASU earning your master's degree in criminology and criminal justice prepared you for your recent positions.

A: The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice has provided me with the foundation and building blocks for my career. I often rely on the skills learned while earning my degree, including participating in an internship program. Now that I’m an ASU alum, I am constantly reminded that I have access to a community of experts anywhere I go. Together, we are creating solutions and advancing public safety priorities in the state and across the world.

Q: Explain what being honored with the Dr. Marie Griffin Distinguished Alumni Award means to you.

A: As I’ve mentioned before, public service is selfless work, and I’m honored to receive this award as I embark on a milestone in my career. Without hesitation, I’m always a proud graduate of ASU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Q: What advice would you give a student considering or starting studies toward a degree in criminology and criminal justice?

A: Criminal justice is a broad field that encompasses diverse career paths and opportunities. Participating in an internship program will allow students to tailor their studies toward their interests and professional goals. I wouldn’t be this far in my career had I not taken that first step to gain practical experience while earning my degree.

The key is to remember that ASU is just the beginning, and that you are joining a community that requires you to be a lifelong learner in order to continue to advance the safety and security of Arizonans.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Families, friends join Watts College faculty, staff to recognize spring grads

College honors nearly 1,000 who received diplomas from its four schools

May 11, 2023

Nearly a thousand new graduates celebrated their first full day as Arizona State University alumni on May 9 as the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions honored them at its spring 2023 convocation.

Representatives of the college’s leadership, faculty and staff, along with families and friends, gathered to celebrate the hard work of 997 graduates from the Watts College’s four schools at an afternoon ceremony at ASU’s Desert Financial Arena in Tempe. A graduate holds his diploma cover over his head at the spring 2023 Watts College convocation. A graduate triumphantly holds a diploma cover at the spring 2023 convocation of ASU's Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions on May 9 at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe. Photo by Mark J. Scarp/ASU Download Full Image

The School of Social Work presented the most spring 2023 graduates, 357, followed by the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice with 349, the School of Public Affairs with 214 and the School of Community Services and Development with 77. An estimated 800 graduates participated in the ceremony.

The college’s online graduates totaled 306 during the spring, while 691 immersion, or in-person, learners also earned diplomas. ASU officially conferred 12 doctoral degrees, 408 master’s degrees and 577 bachelor’s degrees upon Watts College graduates at university commencement ceremonies held a day prior in Tempe.

The convocation began with a procession of Watts College faculty, led by college marshal Eric Legg, a School of Community Resources and Development associate professor. Legg was chosen for the role in recognition of his outstanding commitment to undergraduate education.

The college’s four spring Outstanding Graduates also entered at the head of the procession. By carrying a colorful gonfalon behind Legg, each represented their schools: Charles Cooney for the School of Public Affairs, Cassie Harvey for the School of Criminology and Crinimal Justice, Lauren Kuhman for the School of Community Resources and Development, and Makiyah Murray for the School of Social Work.

Associate Dean Chandra Crudup later introduced the Outstanding Graduates with individual accounts of their academic journeys. Read more about them in the college’s spring 2023 convocation program.

In addition to Crudup, other members of the college’s leadership formed the core of the platform party: Dean and President’s Professor Cynthia Lietz, Senior Associate Dean Joanna Lucio and associate deans William Terrill, Gyan Nyaupane and Megha Budruk. Joining the deans were the directors of the Watts College’s four schools: the School of Community Resources and Development's Christine Buzinde, the School of Criminology and Crinimal Justice's Beth Huebner, the School of Social Work's Elizabeth Lightfoot and the School of Public Affairs' Shannon Portillo.

Dean recognizes grads’ ‘passion for making a positive impact’

Lietz welcomed guests and graduates to the celebration and praised the graduates for their dedication to careers in public service.

“You chose to pursue your studies in an academic program from one of our four schools, because of your commitment to serve, your desire to build stronger communities and your passion for making a positive impact in the world,” Lietz said. “This moment is indeed worthy of celebration, so, in that spirit, it is my distinct pleasure to be the first to congratulate this year’s graduating class of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.”

Lietz also complimented the graduates’ guests, family and friends for their important roles in each student’s achievements, pointing out that no degree is realized only through the efforts of the student alone.

Graduates acknowledged the dean’s invitation to recognize the contributions from families, friends, faculty and staff with enthusiastic applause and cheers.

Lietz also asked the crowd to acknowledge contributions from college benefactors Mike and Cindy Watts with more applause and acclamation.

‘Great confidence’ expressed in graduates

Lietz welcomed the graduates into “the company of scholars, with all its rights, honors, privileges and obligations,” as each school director formally presented them to her as degree holders.

Lietz then directly addressed the graduating class, noting the difficult times the world is facing, and that many of the ideals that the graduates highly value are under attack. Nonetheless, Lietz said, she has “great confidence that the graduates of this college are a dramatic contrast to the very things that we fear.”

“When people try to divide us, you bring us together. When others feel discouraged, you inspire. When some might be defeated, you persevere. When others lead with anger, you lead with respect and civility,” Lietz said. “You remind us that higher doses of empathy and courage are needed to respond effectively to the challenges we face.”

Lietz highlighted the graduates’ commitment to meet society’s most difficult challenges head on, with a powerful focus on making the world a better place, which she found personally inspiring.

“Whether you aspire to elected office, work in local government or will respond as a first responder during natural disasters; whether you will keep our neighborhoods safe, preserve our parks, advocate for social justice or meet the needs of vulnerable populations; your mission is complex, important and impactful,” Lietz said. “Your success matters so much to us, because the ability to build more vibrant, healthy, equitable communities is now, in many ways, in your hands. I can tell you that when I start to feel discouraged, you provide a sense of hope that we all need today.”

Hundreds of maroon and gold balloons fell from the rafters at the end of the roughly 90-minute ceremony, a convocation tradition. The band played ASU’s fight song, “Maroon and Gold,” as the balloons floated down upon the gleeful graduates and their friends and families, who tossed them about as they departed the arena.

Graduates look back at their time at ASU

Before the ceremony, four graduates shared their thoughts about the importance of their achievements.

School of Criminology and Crinimal Justice graduate Samantha Jo Perez said she was excited to receive her Bachelor of Science. Her future plans include studying for a master’s degree, before attending law school. Wherever she goes next, Perez said she’ll always remember her ASU community. “They were so inclusive,” she said.

With her Master of Social Work, Andrea Mendoza plans to go into providing hospice care. She said her internship in a hospice environment, one of her ASU journey’s most cherished memories, helped influence her career decision.

“It’s closing a chapter in your life,” Mendoza said about receiving her MSW degree.

Graduating also meant the closing of one chapter, as well as the start of a new one, for School of Public Affairs graduate Ian Higgins, who received his Bachelor of Science in public service and public policy.

“It’s a launch pad into something else,” said Higgins, who also plans to study for a master’s degree.

Higgins said he knew life in the public sector was for him after he and his roommate, with whom he was sitting at the convocation ceremony, both completed a policy internship in Washington, D.C.

One activity involved a visit to the White House for a Fourth of July barbecue, which he said cinched his decision.

School of Community Resources and Development graduate Christopher Joseph said his path to his diploma included having to drop out during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I worked really hard,” said Joseph, whose Bachelor of Science is in tourism development and management with an emphasis on sustainable tourism. “I came back to finish my last year.” Joseph helped new and prospective students while working part time as a student recruiter for the Watts College.

Joseph said he’ll always remember a moment that occurred while he was leading a Downtown Phoenix campus tour for incoming first-year ASU students. One of the participants asked about the local population of people experiencing homelessness.

“I said, ‘This is why I’m in school. I want to work on the real-life problems.’”

A recording of the livestream of the Watts College spring convocation may be viewed here on ASU Live.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


John Zicarelli honored with ASU Charles Wexler Teaching Award

May 5, 2023

John Zicarelli is the recipient of the 2023 Charles Wexler Teaching Award, presented each year to an outstanding teacher of undergraduate mathematics at Arizona State University.

He was selected by the awards committee based on nominations made by undergraduate students with majors in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. ASU Professor John Zicarelli (left) received the 2023 Charles Wexler Teaching Award. Download Full Image

“Receiving this award is an incredible honor,” Zicarelli said. “I’m blessed to work with so many wonderful students and my colleagues in the actuarial science program. This is beyond anything I expected could happen!”

Zicarelli joined ASU as a professor of practice in 2017 and has been an adjunct faculty member off and on since 1996. He has taught courses in actuarial science, data science and mathematics, but his favorite course to teach is ACT 420: Ratemaking and Reserving.

“It was one of the first courses I created from scratch here, and it covers the two most important work assignments for actuaries,” he said.

Zicarelli was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and spent most of his early childhood in Evanston, Illinois. His family moved to a suburb of Minneapolis where he lived until his mid-30s. He then took a job in the San Francisco Bay area and eventually moved to Scottsdale, Arizona. He also lived in western North Dakota between 1982 and 1985, on a potato farm.

Zicarelli was an actuary for over 30 years, but his career could have turned out much differently had the U.S. economy not suffered a major recession in the 1970s, including record post-war unemployment.

“I was always interested in math, but I was inspired to major in it and study it at the graduate level because of three amazing professors at St. Olaf College. I got another boost when I met Richard McGehee at the University of Minnesota, who became my dissertation advisor. I attempted to get a teaching position when I finished my PhD in 1975, but due to economic conditions at the time, nobody was hiring,” Zicarelli said. “So, I found a job as an actuary trainee that led to an interesting and successful career.”

In 2009, he retired from Scottsdale Insurance Company as vice president of strategy and risk management. Prior to that position, he led much of the company's strategy work as vice president of actuarial and chief actuary. He also served as chairman of CAME, LLC., a family-owned and operated private equity investment company. Zicarelli completed a fellowship in the Casualty Actuarial Society, is a chartered financial analyst and is also a member of Scottsdale Leadership.

“When I reached retirement age, I decided it was time for a new career, and here I am,” he said.

Zicarelli created the Actuarial Science Scholarship, which encourages students to pursue careers in the actuarial field. He also regularly supports the school’s fund for actuarial exam reimbursements.

Zicarelli teaches actuarial science courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels, but his enthusiasm for the undergraduate courses stands out, as evidenced by the positive comments from students about his undergraduate courses.

  • "I liked how the course encouraged thought behind meaningful data analysis rather than coding for the sake of coding. Understanding behind the data especially in projects helped me make valuable visualizations."
  • "Very engaging with the class and promotes class discussion on the material. Explained difficult concepts in different ways to make it clear."
  • "Dr. Zicarelli is the nicest guy ever, always so friendly and so helpful."
  • "I liked how the professor became interested in what the students were asking him about the course material. He was helpful in understanding the new topics and explaining new things."
  • "Dr. Zicarelli is very approachable and has been more than happy to work through any problems I might have. He has also given good, specific feedback to assignments where I feel like I'm learning from my mistakes. He also very obviously knows a lot about the subject."

Several students who nominated Zicarelli for the teaching award also saw him as a role model.

“Dr. Zicarelli is extremely passionate about teaching and helping students prepare for their careers," one student said. "The projects he comes up with for his classes are always creative and applicable to real work we might do in our careers. Dr. Zicarelli was also one of my committee members for both my undergraduate honors thesis and for my master’s applied project, and he serves on thesis committees and as the thesis director for many other students. He really cares about his students and always attends our end-of-semester actuarial science graduation celebration, where he helps with presenting the accomplishments of the graduates, almost all of whom he’s had in his classes over the years.”

“Dr. Zicarelli has always been a professor that I am excited to learn from when I am lucky enough to have him as a professor," another student said. "He is dedicated to making sure that we can see how the information we are learning in class is actually applicable to what we will be doing in real life. ... I have also had the opportunity to work with him on an outside project through the ACT Lab and he was a fantastic mentor throughout the process. He made sure to highlight the work his students did by allowing us to present on the project when the time came, as well as making time to help us through tough spots.’”

The Charles Wexler Teaching Award was established in 1977, in memory of Professor Charles Wexler, with a gift from his wife, Helen, to honor his accomplishments in the field of mathematics and his contributions to the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. Wexler was the founding chairman of the Department of Mathematics at ASU. At the time of his retirement, he had accumulated 47 years of service, the longest period of faculty service in the university’s history. In 1977, the A-Wing of the Physical Sciences Center was named after Wexler in appreciation of his outstanding service to the university from 1930 until 1977. The 46th annual Charles Wexler Awards ceremony was held in March in Charles Wexler Hall.

“John brings wisdom and real-world experience to the classroom, which excites the students. His friendly demeanor and enthusiasm make him approachable. He truly embodies the values of the Charles Wexler Teaching Award,” said Donatella Danielli, professor and director of the school. “We are lucky to have him in our school.”

We asked Zicarelli to share more about his experiences at ASU.

Question: What do you like most about teaching actuarial science and mathematics?

Answer: I am doing this because I want to share my experience as an actuary and business leader with students nearing the beginning of their careers. The time I spend interacting with them inside and outside the classroom is a gift every day.

Q: What is something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I was surprised, and gratified, by the support the actuarial program has received from both the local industry and the national actuarial societies. I knew we had something special going on here, but it always nice to get recognition.

Q: What advice would you give to incoming college students thinking of possibly majoring in mathematics (or actuarial science)?

A: For students with math skills, there are an incredible variety of opportunities available both at ASU and after graduation. Be open to trying something new.

Q: What do you think is most misunderstood about mathematics by the general public?

A: That math is fun and exciting.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time for fun?

A: Play piano. I am equally into Bach fugues and piano jazz.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would probably give it to my colleagues who are young enough to be able to do something meaningful for the planet.

Rhonda Olson

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


Retiring ASU Professor Sarah Amira de la Garza plans to continue community collaboration

May 5, 2023

Associate Professor Sarah Amira de la Garza is retiring after more than three decades at Arizona State University and the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication

Her extensive research and leadership roles at are immeasurable, and her teaching has been described as "inspirational, innovative and empowering." Sarah Amira de la Garza Associate Professor Sarah Amira de la Garza Download Full Image

An expert on qualitative methodologies and decolonial and Indigenous approaches to inquiry, she specialized in studies of performance, race, spirituality and identity.

De la Garza's research has resulted in two books and more than 70 scholarly essays published in a range of top disciplinary outlets. Her research has been published in both Spanish and English and has been included in numerous juried scholarly performances.

Reflecting on her early days at ASU, De La Garza said she is deeply grateful for the opportunities she had to collaborate on research and teach across disciplines on work that has direct relevance today, including connection and engagement with the borderlands and Indigenous cultures of Arizona and the Phoenix area. 

“ASU was a much smaller institution in those days, and I am proud to have been here during the years where the imperatives to serve and engage with the issues and communities that surround us have become central to the university’s mission and charter.” 

In fall 2002, De la Garza served as ASU’s first-ever Southwest Borderlands Scholar. She worked to found and ultimately direct the North American Center for Transborder Studies, served in administrative roles in Barrett, The Honors College, and was an officer in the Chicano/Latino Faculty and Staff Association and the ASU Faculty Women’s Association. In these roles, she organized numerous conferences, speaking series and workshops related to Indigenous and feminist scholarship.

"Professor de la Garza has made a difference from the time she arrived at Arizona State University as one of ASU’s first Southwest Borderlands faculty," said Karen Leong, associate professor at the School of Social Transformation. "Through her mentoring and program-building, Amira has proven to be an exceptional leader who consistently advocates for the success of graduate students and faculty of color at ASU. She has created spaces for women of color and underscored the significance of their research across the college and the university.

"For example, as a founding member of the Faculty Women of Color Caucus, Amira worked steadfastly behind the scenes to organize the caucus, effectively communicate its goals and render it a visible presence across the university, while also mentoring faculty women of color to be effective leaders. She forges innovative collaborations, including when, as founding director of the North American Center for Transborder Studies from 2004 to 2007, she articulated a transdisciplinary vision that brought businesses, policymakers and, most importantly, communities together across North America’s borders. Her transformative scholarship is evident as well in her development of the Four Seasons of Ethnography, a methodology that she has taught to students across the university and the world."

Richard Knopf, a professor in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, also praised De la Garza for her work mentoring students.

“Dr. De la Garza puts students at the center of everything,” Knopf said. “She has mentored countless doctoral students in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, teaching them the power of curiosity, advocacy, and raising the voices of those marginalized or left behind because there were few in their paths who believed in their capacities. She will always stand as one of ASU’s finest methodologists, illuminating in the most miraculous of ways the deepness of the human drive and spirit. Her passion, compassion, authenticity and joyful pursuit of servant leadership will benefit generations to come.”   

He added, “She is the consummate wisdom weaver, paradigm shifter, systems thinker and discipline fuser.”

De la Garza

ASU Professor Sarah Amira de la Garza served as emcee for a student rally held outside of Hayden Library in 2017.

De la Garza also made a lasting impact on performance studies in the Hugh Downs School and has mentored the creative scholarship of undergraduate and graduate students across many units at ASU. She introduced her students to a variety of critical performance methods that embrace creativity and innovation, rigorous interrogation of the body as a site of knowing, and decolonial performance practices.

“Amira’s performances at The Empty Space (Theatre) and in the broader community have exposed audiences to her poetic texts and personal narratives grounded in ancestry, spirituality and culture,” said Jennifer Linde, Hugh Downs School artistic director.

“Her service to the performance studies divisions of the National Communication Association and Western States Communication Association has been enormous. Amira worked tirelessly to provide opportunities for performance scholarship to be celebrated and shared with others.”

She received the Gary Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award, the National Communication Association Francine Merritt Award for outstanding contributions to the lives of women in communication, the NCA's Córdova-Puchot Scholar of the Year Award from the Latina andLatino Communication Studies Division, the National Communication Association’s Ethnography Division’s Legacy Award and the Victoria Foundation’s Dr. Eugene Garcia Outstanding Faculty Research in Higher Education Award.

"Together, these awards recognize Amira's career-long excellence in ethnographic and qualitative research," Hugh Downs School Director Sarah J. Tracy said. "However, these accomplishments are a mere outline of the impact she made as a scholar, teacher and friend.”

Reflecting on the past three decades at ASU, De la Garza said, "I have taken seriously my commitment to the community of scholars, professionals in higher education and students that make up our university, and to be in a university where my work could serve as a model and resource to the Chicano/a community within and off campus, as well as to serve the Indigenous communities of Arizona.

"I have celebrated the vision brought to ASU by President Michael Crow and his capacity to foresee and lead the arduous path to make our university capable of representing and substantively including marginalized populations in all aspects of university life and leadership."

As for her post-retirement plans, De la Garza looks forward to many years of continued collaboration with the ASU community as a member of the emeritus faculty.

“I will be collaborating with scholars in Arizona, Texas and Mexico on research begun here as an affiliate faculty member with the School for Transborder Studies, exploring the benefits of expressive arts, including writing and performance, to mitigate the social fear and anxiety experienced by borderlands youth in today’s sociopolitical realities and continuing my work globally training scholars in Four Seasons methods of inquiry. I'll also take time to enjoy life,” De la Garza said. 

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication