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ASU celebrates Mexico through music

September 29, 2023

Festitivies included food, games, crafts and a DJ

The Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, ASU Gammage and Educational Outreach and Student Services at Arizona State University worked together to kick off Hispanic Heritage Month on Sept. 16 with a sold-out concert celebrating the music of Mexico, followed by an after-party with food, games, crafts and a DJ.

“¡Viva México!,” the opening concert of the ASU Symphony Orchestra season, paired the symphony orchestra with ASU Mariachi Ensemble and special guests Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuéllar from Los Angeles. Telemundo was the media sponsor for the concert, and Veronica Quintero served as the MC for the evening, with additional performances by Micha Espinosa, faculty in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, and renowned mask-maker and performer Zarco Guerrero.

The symphony orchestra was conducted by Julie Desbordes, with Sergio Freeman as assistant conductor, and the ASU Mariachi Ensemble was conducted by Scott Glasser.

Top photo: ASU student Christian Armanti performs to a sold-out audience as part of the ASU Mariachi Ensemble at the “¡Viva México!” concert at ASU Gammage on Sept. 16. Photo by Tim Trumble

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist , Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


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The Wright stuff

September 29, 2023

New director of Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement is also a teaching professor, researcher and sustainability advocate

Editor's note: New Faces on Campus is a monthly feature by ASU News showcasing faculty members who have been hired in the 2022–23 academic year.

Wanda A. Wright served her country with distinction for more than a quarter-century, achieving the rank of colonel when she retired from the Arizona National Guard.

As a third-generation veteran, she gets to serve her country again — this time in a university setting.

It appears to be the perfect match. She has educational, federal, state and military experience, and has been applying her unique blend of skill sets at Arizona State University since June.

Wright is the director of ASU’s Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement (OVMAE), a teaching professor in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, and most recently, named by the Veterans Administration (VA) secretary to be the new chair for the VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans and selected to be in the next class of Arizona Veteran Hall of Fame inductees.

She's also a new face on campus this year.

In her new position, Wright will be teaching, networking and promoting existing programs, as well as conducting vital research on veterans’ issues.

ASU News spoke to Wright about her life before and after the military, and the new journey that awaits her.

Question: Can you tell us a bit about your background — where you’re from and how you ended up in academia?

Answer: I grew up in a military family. We moved every two years to a new Army post until I graduated from high school. After graduating from the United States Air Force Academy, I was commissioned and was relocated twice in my military assignments to Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, South Carolina, in 1985, and to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, in 1987. Three years later, I transitioned out of the active-duty military into the Arizona National Guard. I changed positions, on average, every three years while in the Guard. I retired in 2011 after 26 years of service and transitioned into education.

My role in education was as a vice principal and an elementary school teacher for four years. I taught math to sixth graders and middle school students. While there I also applied to ASU to get a master’s degree in educational leadership. I finished the degree during 2015; by then, I had been asked to be the director of the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services (AZDVS). I spent the next eight years there as director and left the position in 2023.

The combination of all these roles put me in a great position to apply for the director of the Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement. I started the new job on June 1.

Q: What is your area of research or academic focus? What are you most excited about regarding your work?

A: I love that I can continue to work with veterans. Working at AZDVS over the last eight years put me in a position to network with a myriad of organizations to support veterans. I am glad I can bring that expertise to ASU. I am excited to work in an academic environment and to do research on veterans. I am looking forward to writing papers around veteran issues and finding solutions for those issues.

Q: When did you realize you wanted to study this field?

A: I always had a feeling I would work at ASU in OVMAE. I assisted the director at the time in 2016 for the program in writing the curriculum for the certificate in study of veterans, society and service. I worked with Nancy Dallett, the assistant director at the time, to begin the process of creating a woodland therapy program. It all came full circle when I was called to tell me I got the job of director.

Q: How do you want to see this field advance to the betterment of society?

A: We are losing veterans every day. It is important to recognize the good and bad of serving in the military so we can figure out how to mitigate the harm of war as much as we can. Each veteran has a story to tell about their experience. Each of these stories added together can give us insight on how to help the next generation of veterans.

Q: What is something you wish more people realized about your work or research?

A: OVMAE is a little-known resource. But the office has great potential to bring knowledge, research and collaboration to ASU and the larger community. Examples include a stronger bond between Veteran Affairs and ASU research, understanding tribal ceremonies and their effect on veteran PTSD or working with the DOD as to why is there a lack of minority leadership in the military.

I also want to note that we bring together the veteran community and ASU to discuss issues around social determinants to include employment, caregivers, mental and physical health. Our programs like Guitars for Vets, Treks4Vets, poetry workshops, employment roundtables and Veterans Voices support keeping the connection and education of veterans at ASU and in the larger community.

Q: What brought you to ASU, and what do you like about the university?

A: Everyone is so helpful. I ask a lot of questions, and everyone is so happy to help.

Q: What specifically would you like to accomplish while at your college/school/department?

A: I would like to make the office into an entity that everyone knows and uses to support discourse, research and teaching those who have served to increase understanding between military, civilian and academic cultures.

Q: What’s something you do for fun or something only your closest friends know about you?

A: I garden and hike. Both hobbies have taught me a lot about how to live sustainably in the world.

Top photo: Col. (Ret.) Wanda Wright gets help from her dog Nakai as she tends her south Tempe garden on Friday, Sept. 1. She is the new director of ASU’s Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement and a teaching professor in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Reporter , ASU News


Chicano alumnus reflects on the impact of education, heritage

September 28, 2023

As a child, Martine Garcia Jr. remembers sitting in the back of the Oaxaca Restaurant in Phoenix where his mother worked. He would often see U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor come in for a meal and hear his mom speak with pride about Arizona’s first Hispanic member of Congress.

Garcia could not imagine that one day Pastor would sit in the audience at Arizona State University's Hispanic Convocation and listen to him speak as the recipient of the 2017 Ed Pastor Outstanding Graduate Student Award.  Portrait of ASU alum Martine Garcia Jr. Martine Garcia Jr. Courtesy photo Download Full Image

“It was amazing,” he said. “I got to speak on our Chicano culture. I got to speak on our heritage. I got to tell stories about my parents, about the things … essential to my success.” 

Garcia graduated that day with two master’s degrees, in management and legal studies. Just one year earlier he had earned a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Graduating three times with distinction is something that Garcia never could have envisioned for himself. 

“It’s a feeling that can never be matched,” he said. “It’s pride. It’s not just pride in yourself, but pride in your family. It’s happiness. It’s a celebration. It’s also sadness that one chapter of your life is closing. It’s a myriad of emotions.”

Garcia had no family history of higher education. He was the first in his family to graduate from high school. Yet, his parents always emphasized the importance of higher education.

Growing up, he didn’t always take their advice to heart. He was an average student in high school, and he never aimed to earn a college degree. 

But after working an unfulfilling summer job after his senior year of high school, he reached a turning point. Garcia enrolled at Chandler Gilbert Community College (CGCC), where he discovered ASU’s transfer pathway program.

At ASU, Garcia found his calling in higher education and passion for giving back to his community. 

Today, Garcia works as the assistant director of strategic initiatives for ASU Career Services, helping students from both similar and different backgrounds to his own by organizing clubs, coalitions and career-readiness modules for underrepresented groups on campus and in the community. 

As the university celebrates this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month, Garcia reflects on his journey up to this point, and the impact education and his Chicano identity have had on his life.

Embracing heritage

Ever since Garcia was young enough to understand, he remembers his grandparents saying to him, “You are a Chicano.” 

For his grandparents, it was an important term of empowerment, advocacy and social awareness, representative of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century. It’s a title that Garcia still strongly identifies with, he said. 

Family pose for a photo with ASU alum Martine Garcia Jr.

Martine Garcia Jr. with family at Arizona State University's Hispanic Convocation in 2017. Courtesy photo

“We celebrate our heritage every day in every circle,” Garcia said, not just during one month. 

Hispanic Heritage Month is an annual celebration from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 that pays tribute to the enduring contributions and significance of Hispanic individuals in the United States. 

The monthlong celebration acknowledges the diverse heritages and cultures of individuals with ancestral roots in Mexico, the Caribbean, Spain and Central and South America.

While Hispanic Americans celebrate their heritage year-round, this month provides an opportunity to celebrate with the wider community and explore the diversity of Hispanic identities, history and heritage. 

“I really love this month because more than ever, everyone else is celebrating the culture. It’s not just my culture. Now we can all have fun together and we can learn and talk,” Garcia said. 

Giving back 

When Garcia began attending CGCC after graduating high school, his goal was to become an actor. 

He met with his first career advisor and said, “I’m just here so I can get to Hollywood, dude. Show me how to do it.”

Instead, the career advisor asked Garcia what his interests were. 

ASU alum Martine Garcia Jr. with family.

ASU alum Martine Garcia Jr. with family. Courtesy photo

“From what I’m hearing,” Garcia recounted the advisor telling him, “you want to inspire people. You love to talk to people and share your story. You like to bring out the best in yourself and in others.”

The career advisor encouraged him to explore communications as a course of study, get involved on campus and find an on-campus job. 

Garcia said the gesture of support was unfamiliar to him and felt like a handout.

“It’s not a handout. It’s a hand up,” he said the advisor told him. “And it’s not for free. You need to help somebody with this information when you get a chance.”

Garcia took the lesson from his advisor to heart. Ever since, he has always incorporated a culture of service into the work he does. 

“It's what helps our community grow,” he said. 

Creating community 

In community college, Garcia became the founding president of the Male Empowerment Network (MEN) CGCC Chapter, a Maricopa County Community College District program focused on increasing the graduation and retention rates of minority men. To be in a room full of students like himself, who didn’t see themselves in education, building self-efficacy and self-advocacy was empowering, he said. 

When he first got to ASU, he thought he had lost that community. 

“I have a strong need for community. I need to be able to see myself in spaces that I’m in, and I need students to be able to do that,” Garcia said.

ASU alum Martine Garcia Jr. in his graduation regalia standing in front of a brightly colored mural.

ASU alum Martine Garcia Jr. is the assistant director of strategic initiatives for ASU Career Services. Courtesy photo

Once he transferred to ASU, he said the university rallied behind him and a few other transfer students who were members of MEN and helped them found a chapter at ASU. Once again, he was the founding president. 

“I just think that’s a unique experience to ASU, that any person can come in and say, ‘Hey, this is the community I need,’ and folks rally around and say, ‘Let’s give you the resources you need,’” Garcia said. 

In 2019, while working as a coordinator for ASU TRIO Student Support Services, Garcia encountered a similar situation on the Polytechnic campus. 

“I would see a lot of Chicano students here and the Chicano staff and faculty, but I didn't really feel the community coming together. So we built our own community,” he said.

Garcia, along with four other staff members, created Poly Sol, a faculty and staff collective and branch of the Chicano/Latino Faculty and Staff Association at ASU, or CLFSA.

In spring 2021, CLFSA added a representative from Poly Sol to its executive board to strengthen commitment and outreach at the ASU Polytechnic campus and the East Valley. Garcia served as the first representative in the new role.

Now, Garcia is president-elect of CLFSA. He will serve in the upcoming year and continue fostering community and giving back.

Navigating the future

As students look to their futures and navigate the world, it can be daunting, but Garcia wants students to know that they are not alone. 

“I think it's really hard when you're 18 years old and you're being asked to make a decision that feels like it's gonna be the rest of your life,” Garcia said. “I think some advice I'd give is knowing that nothing, especially in today's world, is as definite as we feel it is.” 

Even Garcia said his journey has only just begun.

“Other students should see themself in me because I see myself in them. This is part of everyone's journey. We don't know what we're doing exactly all of the time. We have an idea. But as long as you move toward that idea, that's important,” he said.

To support ASU’s Hispanic students, staff and faculty, visit the ASU Foundation’s featured funds page and explore giving opportunities.

Nicole Rossi

Student writer and editor, ASU Enterprise Partners

ASU Spanish instructor shares top 10 books for Hispanic Heritage Month

September 27, 2023

Latin American literature has evolved throughout time, with writers being influenced by everything from traditions to caste systems, colonization and wars, resulting in literary works that span a variety of creative styles.

For the past 20 years, Sandra Correa-Suarez, an instructor of Spanish in the School of International Letters and Cultures at Arizona State University, has studied the Siglo de Oro, or the golden age, of Spanish literature. Her expertise is in trans-Atlantic approaches to early modern Peninsular Spain and Latin America — the cultural, political and socioeconomic factors connecting America and Europe.  Portrait of ASU Spanish Instructor Sandra Correa-Suarez. Sandra Correa-Suarez Download Full Image

Considered the literary high point of Spain’s history, the classic “Don Quixote,” by Miguel de Cervantes, was one of the most significant novels to be produced during the golden age.

RELATED: ASU acquires rare book from golden age of Spanish literature

Golden age drama, Cuban cinema, the feminine picaresquefemale protagonist, and other related areas of early modern Spain and Latin America are the focus of the courses she teaches through ASU Online.

“In Hispanic literature courses, my students are exposed to some of the most important authors from Spain and Latin America and their masterpieces,” Correa-Suarez said. “They cultivate an understanding about a variety of topics like Hispanic cultural customs and traditions, family, poverty, oppression, alienation and many more that are still current in the 21st century.”

Words matter, language matters and the way one sees the world has a historical and linguistic standpoint, she added.

For Correa-Suarez, it’s not only important that she help students to understand the influence of Hispanic literary works, but that she also serves as a mentor for students pursuing the same path she chose long ago. To that end, she works to positively impact her students and create a space where they feel part of the literary community at ASU, regardless of their location across the U.S.

Correa-Suarez shared her recommended reads for Hispanic Heritage Month and discussed the influence Hispanic and American literature have had on each other.

Q: How does Hispanic literature compare to American literature?  

A: American and Hispanic literature share universal concepts, such as love, life, death, humanity, war and pride. 

In contemporary literature, we find that American literature focuses more on themes such as the American dream, the melting pot, capitalism and personal growth, while Hispanic literature is inclined toward different themes, such as the problems of society, women's rights, loneliness and the difference between social classes. Also, given our modern tensions of cultural wars, one voice should stand very clear: that of the most famous Mexican writer, Octavio Paz.

Although, I believe (Hispanic literature and American literatre do not) differ as much as one thinks. There are Hispanic writers who are influenced by American writers as much as the other way around. 

“Don Quixote,” written by Miguel de Cervantes, is not so different from Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Both are very well-known books, filled with biases, social injustice and suffering, but there is also comedic relief. A difficult time in history only benefited by the escapism of a reader entering the story and understanding the true reality of what they could not witness. That’s the ultimate cure that only true literature can bring.

Q: Has Hispanic literature influenced contemporary American literature? 

A: Many American authors of Hispanic descent have incorporated into their cross-cultural narrative themes such as their struggles of assimilation and acculturation, racial discrimination and alienation that Hispanic people living in the diaspora have to face every day. 

Writers such as Cristina García, Julia Alvarez and Esmeralda Santiago, of Hispanic heritage, are holding prestigious positions within the canon of contemporary American literature and have paved the way for many other American writers to follow in their footsteps. It’s through these writers that contemporary American literature is increasingly influenced by Hispanic literature.

Q: What Hispanic authors should people know about, and what do you think has been their biggest contribution?  

A: Personally, I appreciate the work of these authors:

  • Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: She was the first published feminist in the New World, in the 17th century. She was born and raised in Mexico. Her life story is an inspiring story of tension between education, religious beliefs, intellectual freedom and male domination in a culture that has been and still is silencing female voices.
  • Miguel de Cervantes: Considered the most famous writer in Spanish literature, Miguel De Cervantes was a poet, playwright, novelist and the creator of Don de la Mancha, an unforgettable character of Spanish literature. In his work, he explores the universal nature of human beings.
  • Mario Vargas Llosa: I had the pleasure of meeting Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa, who is a Peruvian writer, politician, journalist and essayist. A leading writer of his generation and one of Latin America’s most significant novelists and essayists, Vargas Llosa writes across an array of literary genres, including literary criticism and journalism. He has lectured and taught at universities in the United States, South America and Europe.

Q: What are the top books you recommend people read in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month?

A: Since I studied classic Spanish literature, I love the traditional writers, and my favorite books are "Don Quixote," "The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities" and "Respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz." Not to say I don’t appreciate the newer ones, too. Here would be my top 10 (books to read in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month):

  1. "Cien años de soledad" ("One Hundred Years of Solitude"), by Gabriel García Márquez

  2. "The Green House," by Mario Vargas Llosa 

  3. "The House on the Lagoon," by Rosario Ferré

  4. "El Sembrador de Numeros," by Roberto Hernández Sánchez 

  5. "How the García Girls Lost Their Accents," by Julia Alvarez 

  6. "When I was Puerto Rican," by Esmeralda Santiago 

  7. "Family Lore," by Elizabeth Acevedo 

  8. "Dreaming in Cuban," by Cristina García

  9. "La piel del tambor," by Arturo Pérez Reverte

  10. "Los Revolucionarios," by N. Rosec

Meenah Rincon

Public Relations Manager, ASU Online

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Empowering change in science education

September 27, 2023

Meet the all-female team leading the natural sciences division at ASU

The natural sciences division at Arizona State University has an impressive group of chairs and directors who are making waves in the scientific community and in higher education. 

Each member of the group leads one of the division’s six schools and departments, and is tackling a variety of innovative and expansive new directives, from tripling online biology enrollment to helping collect the first rock, soil and atmosphere samples from Mars

In this piece, ASU News interviewed each of them on their life experiences and career successes, their accomplishments and current projects at ASU, and how they serve — both individually and collectively — as female role models in STEM and advocates for inclusion in the sciences.

Donatella Danielli, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences

Portrait of ASU faculty Donatella Danielli.

Donatella Danielli, director of the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, has led an impressive career in research, teaching and mentorship. Her accolades include several grants from the National Science Foundation and other national organizations, as well as the Extraordinary Faculty Instructor Award for her previous role at Purdue, among other recognitions. 

“I think that one of my career-defining moments was the NSF CAREER Award,” said Danielli, who received the award in 2003. 

“I think it really set a different tone for the trajectory of my career, and especially it gave me the confidence of knowing that my work was appreciated.”

La Matematica, of which Danielli is co-editor-in-chief, is a high-quality mathematics journal set apart by its commitment to inclusivity and to a positive review experience, including a doubly-anonymous review process, meaning that authors and reviewers are anonymous to each other. 

“We’re very proud that we have been among those leading the way,” Danielli said. “We believe that it does make a difference in giving a more equitable outcome to the authors.”

While Danielli is grateful for the awards and recognition she has received and knows they have helped her gain credibility in her field, she noted that the day-to-day notes and emails of gratitude are just as important. 

“I have a folder of emails from students and from junior faculty that I mentored with lines like ‘I didn’t do well in your class, but still you helped me get through it,’” she said. “These kinds of things to me are sometimes even more meaningful.”

Now in her third year at ASU, Danielli’s proudest achievements are focused on educational access and mentorship. They include:

  • Leading an innovative and adaptive new approach to core math curriculum in order to improve student success rates, with pilots launching this fall.

  • Hiring several new teaching faculty to improve student-to-faculty ratios.

  • Seeing a new data science program flourish, with the launch of a fully online version.

  • Expanding the school’s postdoctoral research program.

  • Providing one-on-one mentorship opportunities to postdoctoral scholars and assistant professors.

Coincidentally, Danielli’s team of four associate directors is also all women. In regard to the all-female leadership team within the natural sciences division, she said, “I think that this sends a message that can inspire women to follow their aspirations. This is what is most important to me.

“But we should keep in mind that people are chosen because they are the right person for the job and they happen to be women.”

Nancy Manley, School of Life Sciences

Portrait of ASU faculty Nancy Manley.

“You should always be ambitious for yourself. Don't ever ask permission to do the things that you want to do. Assume that you can do them just like anybody else can do them.”

That’s the advice that Nancy Manley received from her mentor Nancy Hopkins when she was a doctoral student at MIT. 

Manley’s current research focuses on the thymus, the primary organ responsible for the generation of T cells. She is researching the neonatal thymus’ cell production, a process that will be required to understand how to engineer thymus organs for transplant patients. She also serves on the organizing committee for the Global Thymus Network.

Now entering her second year as director of the School of Life Sciences, she is reinventing structures in undergraduate programs, graduate admissions, research groups and more. 

“SOLS started 20 years ago, so the timing is great for us to reimagine ourselves, and that's what we're going to do,” she said.  

The school will be the first at ASU to use an umbrella admissions structure for doctoral candidates, meaning that students will come in with a cohort of colleagues and spend their first year experiencing different labs and research topics before having to commit to one specific program.

“When you are part of a larger cohort, you have a feeling that you're not the only person who's trying to do what you're trying to do,” Manley said. “And it makes a huge difference in your ability to recruit and retain students.”

Manley also runs the only lab in the world that studies the embryonic development of the parathyroid glands, which regulate the body’s calcium levels.

“That's probably the project that has the highest likelihood of leading to a clinical treatment of anything in my whole career,” she said. 

Manley is proud to be a part of a group of female leaders in the natural sciences division.

“Women and girls who want to be scientists can see that it's something that you can do, and that this is a job that you can have and that you can be successful and achieve at a high level,” she said. 

“A cadre of strong and talented women have all achieved this at ASU.”

Tijana Rajh, School of Molecular Sciences

Portrait of ASU faculty Tijana Rajh.

Tijana Rajh, director of the School of Molecular Sciences, joined ASU two years ago ready to lead and encourage students, faculty and staff to explore innovative research and collaboration.

Rajh grew up in the former country of Yugoslavia and spent 25 years at the Argonne National Laboratory, a research facility with the U.S. Department of Energy.

She conducted some of the earliest research on quantum dots, nanoparticles made from semiconducting materials. Her research now focuses on developing self-adapting nanostructures for converting and storing energy as well as a hybrid system for the sensing of biomolecules, including quantum qubits, one of the simplest units in quantum information science.

Over the course of her tenure as director, she has continued the school’s growth of being a top program in chemistry and biochemistry and encouraging the development of faculty and student research.

“I am very passionate about expanding teaching into nontraditional areas,” Rajh said. 

The renovation of the Bateman Physical Sciences Center, which houses the school, allows for the expansion of new educational programs, utilization of state-of-the-art technology and conducting sustainable research experiments. 

Rajh is proud that the school is implementing new programs this year that utilize:

  • Digital laboratories that leverage smart systems, connected devices and cloud capabilities for learning general chemistry principles.

  • An undergraduate research program that incorporates a course-based research experience in biochemistry classes and engages students in the process of scientific discovery. 

  • A platform that expands the school’s research portfolio to incorporate societal factors into research and education.

“We aim to use laboratory renovations to enhance students' training in transferable skills for post-graduate careers. In this new teaching space, student collaboration will be strengthened, and innovative new experiments will be implemented. We are also applying electronic record-keeping to reduce environmental impact and better prepare students for upper-division courses and real-world applications of the skills they learn,” Rajh said.

“The future holds even more potential as we work with other programs at The College and university. Only by combining the expertise of science, business and arts can we tackle global societal challenges.”

Patricia Rankin, Department of Physics

Portrait of ASU faculty Patricia Rankin.

Over the years, Department of Physics Chair Patricia Rankin has explored research interests from particle physics and the symmetries of nature to the very issue of female representation in STEM fields, specifically in leadership positions. Among her notable achievements are an Outstanding Junior Investigator Award from the Department of Energy, A Sloan Fellowship, and being principal investigator on an NSF ADVANCE Institutional Transformation Grant.

“When I started my career in physics, the argument was very much that the lack of women in physics was a lack of role models,” she said.

Then best practices shifted to training women to be better negotiators and networkers, with the idea that they needed to develop skills traditionally seen as masculine in order to achieve career success. But that wasn’t enough either. 

There has been a recent shift from “fixing the women” to looking at systemic barriers such as education and hiring practices and how to improve processes and therefore welcome diverse perspectives, in regard to gender as well as other marginalized groups. 

Rankin emphasized that the current approach moves away from a stereotypical expectation of how women should behave and lead — and the diverse panel of leaders in the division of natural sciences is a great example. 

“By getting a large number of women in leadership roles, there’s actually a variety for us to show a range of styles, so people understand that there is not just one style of leadership that is traditionally feminine or one style of leadership that is masculine,” she said.

“I hope what people are going to start to realize is that there are good ways of leading a unit and ineffective ways of leading a unit. And I think the women who have made it up into leadership roles have generally done so by being more effective rather than less effective.” 

Rankin is most proud of her work at ASU related to public outreach, access to physics education, and the connections between physics and public policy. Accomplishments in these areas include:

  • Developing a Universal Learner Course on physics, energy and the environment that will run again in spring 2024.

  • Encouraging physics graduate students to found an American Physical Society Chapter that has been recognized for its innovation in creating public-facing videos that break down complex scientific topics. 

  • Facilitating ASU’s recent partnership with the Association for Women in Science, which advocates for women in STEM and provides students with free access to career and other professional development resources.

“I started off as a very traditional physicist working at the frontier of how the universe works, and I’ve evolved into a somewhat nontraditional physicist using the techniques of physics to look at societal concerns,” she said. “The chance to work on science literacy and connect physics to current problems that we need to be paying attention to is something that I am really enjoying while it allows me to give back to society.”

Tamera Schneider, Department of Psychology

Portrait of ASU faculty Tamera Schneider.

Tamera Schneider is the most recent addition to the natural sciences leadership team at The College, taking over as the chair of the Department of Psychology in July.

Over the course of her career, she has gained extensive experience in leading university-wide research and brings decades of knowledge in both the psychology and neuroscience fields.

Her research focuses on emotions and psychophysiological stress resilience, the science of persuasion to promote behavioral change and the science of broadening participation, which uncovers barriers for underrepresented groups in STEM fields.

“I always believed that if I just applied myself I could reap the rewards of my efforts and talents. However, having led behavioral research for an NSF ADVANCE Award for almost a decade, I’ve learned substantive research about the accumulation of disadvantages for underrepresented groups in STEM. This was news to me,” Schneider said.

“As a woman leader, and a woman in STEM, I am happy to apply this knowledge and other skills I’ve learned about opening doors for those who often believe the doors are closed.”

As she looks ahead in her role with ASU, she keeps in mind the lessons she’s learned throughout her own career.

Schneider shared that her focus at ASU is enhancing the culture and capacity for collaboration and shared goals to build upon the department’s strengths. To do so, it is important to listen thoughtfully and consider the goals and needs for the organization itself and those involved.

As a leader, Schneider believes it is her responsibility to bring together everyone in the department to have the best understanding and get the most impactful results.

“The most important thing I’ve learned over the course of my career is that there is often overlap in broader goals where people can agree on a path forward,” she said. “That’s what I strive for every person or every team gets a win, and in doing so we all adjust a little to move closer to the  the collective goal.”

Meenakshi Wadhwa, School of Earth and Space Exploration

Portrait of ASU faculty Meenakshi Wadhwa.

Meenakshi Wadhwa’s impressive career has taken her around the world — from studying meteorites in Antarctica and volcanic rocks in Iceland to the formation and evolution of the solar system.

When she joined ASU in 2006, she began as a professor and the director of the Center for Meteorite Studies (now the Buseck Center for Meteorite Studies). The center houses the world’s largest university-based meteorite collection that is used for geological, planetary and space science research at ASU and around the world.

Wadhwa serves as the program scientist for NASA’s Mars Sample Return program, working with scientists and engineers to bring back the first samples from the planet Mars.

She has also been involved with several advisory committees for NASA and the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and served as the president of the Meteoritical Society from 2019 to 2020.

Wadhwa became a member of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year, which is one of the highest honors for a scientist. She is one of only 15 members among all of ASU’s active faculty.

In 2019, she began her appointment as the director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration and her focus has been on propelling ASU as a world-leading institution for exploring the Earth and space. She also seeks to bring once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, like the ones she’s experienced, to ASU students.

“I have been fortunate to have had incredible research and collaborative opportunities that, growing up as a young woman in India, I never thought would be even remotely possible for me,” she said.

“This perspective drives my motivations as an academic leader I am always seeking ways to create more and better research and educational opportunities for our students.”

Entering her fifth year as director, Wadhwa is proud of the work the school has done related to online education, virtual-reality learning and leading-edge scientific and space research. Accomplishments in those areas include:

“It’s been amazing to see the evolution of the school and the natural sciences from when I joined ASU over 17 years ago,” she said. “It has been particularly thrilling to see how we are using technology and innovation to advance ASU’s charter of inclusive excellence.”

Lauren Whitby contributed to this story.

Top photo: From left to right: Donatella Danielli, Tamera Schneider, Meenakshi Wadhwa, Nancy Manley, Patricia Rankin and Tijana Rajh. Photo by Meghan Finnerty

Stephen Perez

Marketing and Communications Coordinator , The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

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Pathways program provides STEM opportunities for Native American students

September 26, 2023

4 ASU undergraduates spent summer in Berkeley National Lab

Hannah Nockideneh grew up in Wide Ruins, a community on the Navajo Nation so small that its population was listed as 176 in the 2010 U.S. Census.

As a child, Nockideneh heard stories about the constellations from her ancestors. The stories fascinated her. She kept asking: Why? Why?

“I wanted to know more,” she said.

But when she started going to school, her questions went unanswered. The subject of science was an afterthought.

“A lot of us (Native Americans) live on reservations or in very rural communities,” Nockideneh said. “I feel like we shouldn’t be neglected, but we kind of are. We’re not exposed to what kids learn in other schools and towns.”

Nockideneh is talking about her childhood less than two months after completing a summer internship in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

She was one of four Arizona State University undergraduate Native American students who took part in the eight-week ASU-Berkeley Lab STEM Pathways program out of ASU’s School of Molecular Sciences and led by Gary Moore, associate professor also affiliated with the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery.

The initiative develops and enhances educational pathways for undergraduate Indigenous students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, while aiming to disrupt systemic racism, bias and discrimination in institutional policy and practice as it relates to STEM.

“Even though I come from what seems like a small background, I made it to a national lab,” said Nockideneh, a junior who is double-majoring in physics and mathematics. “It made me so much more confident.”

According to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, of the more than 55,000 students who received PhD degrees in the United States in 2019, only 40 were Native American/Alaska Native in STEM-related fields.

“Investments in research and education and the public understanding of science and technology are all key drivers for our nation’s health and prosperity,” Moore said. “And in a sense, this really relies on having equitable and diverse participation in the studies.”

During their time at Berkeley, the students worked 40-hour weeks, received funding support to cover travel, stipend, housing costs and other materials, had access to a cohort of peers from across the United States, wrote a research paper with their mentor group, and presented a poster session during the final week of the program.

Moore personally understands the need for the Pathways program, which is funded by a $250,000 Creating Equitable Pathways to STEM Graduate Education grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. His grandparents grew up on the Powhatan reservation back East.

“I can appreciate some of the additional struggles, but I can also appreciate the opportunities that come with these sort of summer internship programs,” Moore said. “I participated in a summer research program that was funded through the National Science Foundation. And it really changed my entire life, my career trajectory and convinced me that I was interested in pursuing a PhD.

“So it was that personal experience for me that made me say, ‘Wow, this is something that really can be a game-changer for people.’”

The four undergraduate students who worked in the Berkeley lab — Nockideneh, Hozhoo Emerson, Jordan Barriga and Kai-Se Toledo, who are all Navajo — said the experience deepened their love of science and made them contemplate pursuing a PhD in a STEM-related field.

“Honestly, I feel like in the STEM fields, if you’re thinking about graduate school, it’s important to have these research opportunities accessible,” said Barriga, a junior majoring in chemical engineering whose work at the lab consisted of researching membranes used in fuel cells, with an eye toward clean and renewable energy. “And I know sometimes they can be competitive. So to have a program catered to Native Americans specifically and to be able to be represented in a national lab is really cool.”

Barriga said it can be difficult for Native American students to pursue careers in science because their education in the field is often lacking. She said she was fortunate to attend Northland Preparatory Academy in Flagstaff.

“I feel like in comparison to some of the people that I grew up with, I was privileged to go a prep school,” Barriga said. “That prepared me a lot for ASU, looking for more opportunities and having more knowledge about college and what to expect. I feel like that’s something a lot of other Native American students struggle with.”

Emerson, a senior majoring in geological sciences, said she was ready to ditch a career in science until she participated in the Pathways program.

“Oh man, I had given up on science,” said Emerson, who in the internship studied the healing properties of sagebrush tea, often used on Native American lands for medicinal purposes. “Just flat out, I was so lonely. I was so isolated. In my brain, I was like, ‘I shouldn’t be a scientist.’

“And then I did the internship, and I was like, ‘I am a scientist.’ And it’s really important for me to be there because if we want more people in the earth science field that look like me and talk like me and act like me, I need to be present in the earth science field.”

The grant from the Sloan Foundation funded a three-year cycle. The first year — the 2022–23 school year — was spent planning the program, and this summer was the first year that students spent time in the Berkeley lab.

Moore believes the program already has been proven successful based on the feedback he received from the students when he visited them in Berkeley.

“It was really eye-opening for them to see research in a national lab setting,” Moore said. “Some of these students were working on projects where they’re inventing the next generation of lasers. That sort of research you can do at a national lab is different from an academic environment in terms of the scale of some of the projects.”

Moore was so encouraged he hopes the program can be expanded nationally.

“There’s an opportunity for this to expand both in terms of scope and scale, and we’re hoping that this could serve as a model system that could be applied to other institutes or national labs,” he said. “This is just the start, we hope.”

Top photo: Trent Northern (right), senior staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, talks to ASU undergraduate students Kai-Se Toledo and Hozhoo Emerson at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory this summer. Photo courtesy Lillian Hensleigh

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

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4 essential artworks to see at ASU Art Museum during Hispanic Heritage Month

September 22, 2023

Exhibits show how Latinx art 'is not a monolith'

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which is being celebrated through Oct. 15, ASU News is featuring four essential artworks to see in the ASU Art Museum, selected by Alana Hernandez, the new senior curator and CALA Alliance Curator of Latinx Art.

Two of the works are part of the exhibit “Luis Rivera Jimenez: A Brief Proposal on Race and Cultural Cosplay,” the first solo show for the Puerto Rican artist, and two are from the exhibit “Making Visible,” which features artworks from the permanent collections and examines how they perpetuate and fortify mythologies of the American West.

Hernandez, who was most recently the executive director and curator of CALA Alliance, a Phoenix-based LatinxA gender-neutral term for Latino/a. arts organization, said she selected these artists to show that Latinx art is not a monolith.

“We have artists from Puerto Rico, from the border in Texas and from here in Arizona that all have a dynamic richness and cultural background,” she said.

“It’s important that we make sure that we show the dynamism within our communities.”

“Phatic Function #2,” 2023, by Luis Rivera Jimenez (pictured above)
Wheat-pasted LaserJet-printed posters

This work includes more than 200 phrases that are printed and pasted on a gallery wall. Rivera Jimenez culled the phrases during his three-month stay in Phoenix for his residency at the CALA Alliance.

“Phatic” refers to language that’s used for social interaction, such as, “What’s up?” rather than to give information. Among the artwork’s phrases are: “Which of you will tell me who I am?” “Why do you people not hug each other?” “Do I really have to be brown forever?”

“The artist really thinks about a digital global society — that we’re all connected in certain ways, especially when we talk about race,” Hernandez said.

“What’s important about this project is that when we think about race and questions of race, often people can feel uncomfortable with that macro topic. But here (within the exhibition) it ranges from the frivolous to the more intense.”

Some of the phrases he overheard while on the light rail, including “It’s racist but chill.”

Others are bits of song lyrics, including one from “Potential Breakup Song” by the Disney duo Aly and AJ.

“It’s something I would play in the office. I know it’s Aly and AJ, but if you have no context, what does it mean? ‘Let me repeat that — I want my s*** back.’ It can speak to land-back movements,” Hernandez said.

“Within the exhibition, Luis has created a space where we can collectively talk about race and have hard conversations, but we can do so in any manner we bring to it.”

“Field Positions,” 2023, by Luis Rivera Jimenez features screen-printed dress shirts with phrases that are personal to the artist. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

“Field Positions,” 2023, by Luis Rivera Jimenez
Screen-printed dress shirts

“Field Positions” features three stacks of dress shirts screen-printed with messages. Rivera Jimenez collaborated with Phoenix-based artist Gloria Martinez-Granados on this artwork.

“He’s interested in language, and we see that manifested in different ways. These are his most deeply personal phrases,” Hernandez said.

One of the messages is, “why is my self worth so at ends with how others perceive me?”

Hernandez said: “It questions, ‘Who wears dress shirts — these inexpensive shirts that cost less than a dollar to make?’”

“Pulso,” 2022, and “En Tu Honor,” 2022, are chromogenic prints by the queer artist Isela “Chela” Meraz Rodriguez. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

“Pulso,” 2022, and “En Tu Honor,” 2022, by Isela “Chela” Meraz Rodriguez
Chromogenic prints

Isela “Chela” Meraz Rodriguez is a Phoenix-based artist who was born in Durango, Mexico.

“This is an interesting work from a queer artist. As someone who is from Durango but grew up in Arizona, what does it look like when the cowboys don’t include her and don’t include people like her?” Hernandez said.

“As a queer woman, and especially in Mexican American communities with machismo, what does it look like to dress up and be what she would identify as most comfortable?

“She’s queering this idea of the noble cowboy in a fascinating way.”

Hernandez said that many museum visitors don’t realize that most artworks in museum permanent collections come from donors.

“We often have little control over what comes into the collection. The tastes and trends of museum collections are for the most part informed by donors,” she said.

“Now, it’s important that we have checks and balances.”

That means the museum must work hard to put the artworks into context.

“Because of where we are sited, much of the work references historic cowboys and representations of Indigenous communities that are not from their vantage point,” she said. “So the aim of this exhibition seeks to visualize invisible history.”

Hernandez said she’s excited to have “Pulso” and “En Tu Honor” in the permanent collection.

“It’s a contemporary look at the Southwest and what the cowboy means,” she said.

“Being queer in Mexican American communities is often challenging. She had a rekindled relationship with her father after she came out, so this is her father’s clothing that she uses to costume herself.”

Untitled, from the series "America’s Finest,” 2014, is a lithograph by Vincent Valdez. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Untitled, from the series "America’s Finest,” 2014, by Vincent Valdez

Valdez is a painter and printmaker from Texas.

“So much of his work is representational. So much of it underscores the social plight of Mexican American communities,” Hernandez said.

“I would say Valdez is one of the best painters of our generation. He’s a wonderful painter and person and teacher.”

This image of the boxer is also St. Sebastian, an early Christian martyr who survived being shot through with arrows.

“He blends the iconography of his Catholic upbringing, which a lot of Mexican Americans have, with tenacity. The brown body in pain, many times,” she said.

“It blends the ideas of Indigeneity, Catholicism and of our cultural shift to the boxer as a heroic figure, and sports people as heroic figures.”

The artwork is part of a wall in the gallery that contextualizes images of “noble Indian,” from earlier representations to what it looks like when Indigenous people represent themselves.

“Luis Rivera Jimenez: A Brief Proposal on Race and Cultural Cosplay” will run through Dec. 31, and “Making Visible” runs through April 28, 2024.

Top photo: Alana Hernandez, senior curator and CALA Alliance Curator of Latinx art, gestures toward Luis Rivera Jimenez's work “Phatic Function #2,” 2023, which features more than 200 phrases that are printed and pasted on a wall of a gallery at the ASU Art Museum. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


ASU, Arizona PBS partner to bring social transformation to global community

New podcast will feature unique perspectives on some of Arizona’s most pressing topics

September 20, 2023

The Social Transformation Lab at Arizona State University has a new offering for those looking to practice more thoughtful stewardship of the communities around them.

On Sept. 20, in partnership with Arizona PBS, the lab will launch the “Okay! School Me” podcast, a show rooted in sharing unique perspectives on some of Arizona’s most pressing topics — from LGBTQ+ activism to K–12 education in a post-COVID-19 community. Two people sit in chairs opposite each other in front of a tripod video camera. Jamal Brooks-Hawkins (left) and Mako Fitts-Ward (right) sit down during the filming of the "Okay! School Me" podcast at Ed Plus Studios in Tempe, Arizona. Photo by Kyra Trent Download Full Image

“’Okay! School Me’ asks some of the leading experts, educators and leaders in our community to put social transformation into action, whether it’s in how we educate young people, how we hold lawmakers accountable, or how we envision more equitable and just worlds,” says Mako Ward, director of the Social Transformation Lab and assistant professor of African American and women and gender studies in the School of Social Transformation.

“At its core, social transformation is about acknowledging the existence of structural inequalities and identifying solutions to improve the lives of those most negatively impacted. We wanted to feature the perspectives of individuals most closely impacted by social problems.”

Throughout the inaugural season, hosts and guests demonstrate how classrooms are liberatory spaces of knowledge production and inclusive equity. The season's kickoff features unique voices, each offering a robust take on what social transformation means to them, reflective of their lived and intersectional experiences.

Listeners will hear from guests like queer screenwriter and Faculty Associate Rebecca Semik and Writing Programs Instructor David Boyles, co-founder of Drag Story Hour Arizona, who dives into recent anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and offers thoughtful tools for advocates and queer communities.

Associate Professor Carrie Sampson and Ashley Farrell, who recently obtained her master's degree in social and cultural pedagogy from ASU, share staggering realities from the front lines of K–12 education in a post-COVID-19 Arizona.

Listeners will also hear from Associate Teaching Professor Mathew Sandoval and scholar and author Celina Osuna, who break down the balance between deeply rooted, soul-affirming art practices with being educators inside a classroom.

To close out the season, Assistant Professor Joyce McCall is joined by Adrienne Dixson, executive director of the Education and Civil Rights Initiative at the University of Kentucky, to delineate the concept of the New American University, who it’s made for, who it includes and how it can most equitably serve learners across the country.

“Voices on ‘OKSM’ are doing the work of social transformation. … No one is doing the work alone, and the guests featured demonstrate this all too well,” says Jamal Brooks-Hawkins, graduate research assistant at the Social Transformation Lab and a third-year gender studies PhD student at ASU.

Episodes drop weekly beginning Sept. 20. For more information, visit Arizona PBS.

Kyra Trent

Communications Specialist, Social Transformation Lab

Archaeologist focused on community-based Indigenous research joins ASU faculty

September 18, 2023

With a career focused on Indigenous archaeology, Davina Two Bears is excited to be back in Arizona and researching at Arizona State University. 

Two Bears is joining the faculty at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change this fall as a Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship Scholar. Her research focuses on the Old Leupp Boarding School on the southwest Navajo reservation.  Portrait of ASU scholar Davina Two Bears. Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship Scholar Davina Two Bears is joining the faculty at ASU's School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Download Full Image

“I will be further researching and writing a book about the Old Leupp Boarding School's history,” she said. “I will also research the Old Leupp Boarding School's reuse as a Japanese isolation center during World War II.”

Two Bears is Navajo from Birdsprings, Arizona, and is happy to be back in the state. She earned her PhD in anthropology with an emphasis in archaeology from Indiana University-Bloomington and obtained a minor in Native American and Indigenous studies. 

“I enjoy my career because I enjoy educating people about Native Americans, both in the past and present," Two Bears said.

ASU News spoke with Two Bears about her work and plans at Arizona State University

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Can you tell us about your current research?

Answer: I am researching the history of the Old Leupp Boarding School on the southwest Navajo reservation. It was a federal Indian boarding school that was open from 1909 to 1942. In 1943 it was reused as a Japanese isolation center (the Leupp Isolation Center) during World War II, where the U.S. government imprisoned Japanese Americans who were "troublemakers" from all the other Japanese incarceration camps. This school has a unique history of oppression and injustices committed against Navajo children and Japanese Americans by the U.S. government. My research of this historical archeological site is decolonizing and community-based, and I incorporate non-destructive research methods to tell the story of Old Leupp.

For my postdoc, I will be further researching and writing a book about the Old Leupp Boarding School's history. I aim to conduct oral-history interviews with Navajo people from the Leupp and Birdsprings community to investigate the history of the Leupp Isolation Center and Japanese American imprisonment on Navajo lands.

I will also partner with my colleagues, Dr. Jun Sunseri and Dr. Koji Lau-Ozawa, historical archaeologists experienced in community-based archaeology and the use of non-destructive archaeological field methods, to map the Old Leupp Boarding School historical site. We plan to invite the local community and students as well to assist in this project, and we aim to develop educational products and materials. 

Davina Two Bears

Davina Two Bears holds an Archaic projectile point that is approximately 8,000 years old during work on a survey of Navajo sites in Chaco Canyon Cultural Historical Park. Photo courtesy of Davina Two Bears

Q: Why do you enjoy your career, and what you are looking forward to at ASU?

A: I enjoy being out in the field conducting archaeological survey work at Native American/Navajo sites, as well as interviewing Navajo elders — learning about the past from tribal cultural knowledge-keepers. 

I look forward to being back home in Arizona where I am from and being closer to my research sites on the Navajo reservation. I also look forward to mentoring students here at ASU, especially Native American and Indigenous students interested in the field of archaeology.

Q: Anything else you would like others to know about you? 

A: I am Navajo, originally from Birdsprings, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation. My clans are Bitter Water, and I am born from Red Running into the Water clan. My maternal grandfather's clan is Edge Water, and my paternal grandfather's clan is also Bitter Water. I previously worked for the Navajo Nation for 14 years as a tribal archaeologist and program manager at the Navajo Nation Archaeology Department – NAU Branch Office. I enjoy spending time with my three young adult children and my extended family.

Nicole Pomerantz

Communications specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


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Sanford School professor, culture expert shares insights for Hispanic Heritage Month

September 15, 2023

Associate Professor José Causadias on the importance of culture and trends in his academic research

Throughout history, culture has been one of the underlying forces driving human behavior. Like an invisible hand, it shapes actions, systems and identities, determining whether someone “belongs” as part of one community or is an outlier.

Associate Professor Jose Causadias

Associate Professor José Causadias of the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University is a culture expert with over a decade of research intersecting cultural influence with human well-being. Studying topics like cultural rituals, youth development and the interplay of culture and biology, Causadias has investigated how culture and cultural rituals shape mental health by helping groups resiliently withstand challenges.

Causadias has a specific interest in Hispanic groups, having studied how cultural values such as familism, or the importance of family, lead to greater well-being. Growing up with strong cultural influences from his own community, he saw how traditions and group values affected his own daily life and the lives of those around him. 

Throughout his research, Causadias has questioned why culture has such an impact on communities, and how we define it. He says that culture is a fuzzy topic, with some defining it by group differences and others by values and practices. Causadias, however, has suggested a more concrete definition of culture based on what he calls the “p-model,” or people, places, practices, power and purpose.  

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked Causadias about his definition of culture, the importance of culture and trends in his academic research. 

Editor's note: Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: How would you define culture?

Answer: I define culture as a system of people, places, practices, power and purpose. These five components create and are created by each other, and we cannot understand culture without them. 

Our culture is about who we are as individuals and groups (people), the history of where we live and we come from (places), how we behave and celebrate our beliefs (practices), why those in charge create hierarchies (power) and how we fight for change and find joy (purpose).

When I think of the culture of Puerto Ricans in New York, Mexican Americans in Phoenix and Cuban Americans in Miami, for example, I think of proud communities who have transformed and enriched their cities (people), have a complex history here and in Latin America (places), who share and create different languages (practices), are affected by inequalities within and outside our communities (power), and find meaning in celebrating and challenging our traditions (purpose).

Q: Why is culture an important concept?

A: Although it means different things for different people, the concept of culture is valuable. When we think about Latinxsgender-neutral term for a person from, or whose ancestors were from, a Spanish-speaking land or culture or from Latin America, for example, we often hear the idea that we are a mosaic and not a monolith, meaning that there are a lot of differences among us. For example, we use different names to call ourselves, such as Hispanic, Latine, Latinx and many others. I use Latinx because it is not binary and includes LGBTQ+ people. 

With all these differences, what do Latinx people have in common? Why put us under the same umbrella? One rationale we often hear is that we share the same culture, which is partially true. But thinking that all Latinxs are the same can be a problem because we have different experiences. That is why we also need to think and measure culture, ethnicity, race and national origin separately.

Q: How does culture play a role in the well-being of Hispanic or Latino people, and how has this evolved over time?

A: There is a large body of theory, research and interventions that show that Latinx cultures play an important role in the well-being of Latinx people, especially in the lives of children and adolescents. ASU graduate student Karina Cahill has done outstanding research showing how familism, the values that emphasize respect and dedication to the family, are associated with positive mental health and doing well in school. 

Additionally, Latinx culture continues to change over time, as it is challenged and revised by each generation. For example, we see new ways Latinx youth celebrate quinceañera, updating this rite of passage to include boys and transgender girls. We are also trying to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic affected our communities and changed our cultures. 

Q: What are some common misconceptions or stereotypes about this culture that you encounter in your research?

A: There is an idea that there is a lack of knowledge about our culture when in fact, there is a rich body of knowledge about many Latinx cultures. Sometimes people cannot access that knowledge because they are not investing enough time to search, or they are only looking into one scientific discipline. Other times it is because the research was published in other languages. Maybe the knowledge has not been published at all, but it is part of the oral traditions of a community. You may not know about it if you are not familiar with or part of that community.

Q: Previously, you’ve called for a review of cultural research methods due to implicit assumptions. What are these assumptions and why is it important to be careful about the way we study culture?

A: There’s a notion that you can use any method to study Latinx cultures and that the results will be valid, but validity is the degree to which evidence and theory support the interpretation of results. If the theories and the measures we use in research are not centered on Latinxs, then the interpretation of the findings of the study are not valid.  

Another assumption is that we can study culture well just by using questionnaires and self-reports, but in reality, we also need methods such as interviews, photovoicePhotovoice is a visual research methodology that puts cameras into the participants’ hands to help them to document, reflect upon, and communicate issues of concern, while stimulating social change. and ethnography.  

Q: You’ve previously researched the need for innovation in diversity and inclusion in social sciences. What do you think needs to happen next in cultural studies — especially surrounding Latino groups?

A: I wish I knew! I find the best and most innovative ideas about Latinx cultures when I read the work of our Latina scholars who often are also activists fighting for our communities. I am teaching a class this fall on Latinx children, youth and families, and I look forward to learning with my students from the work of Nilda Flores-González, Cristina Mora, Tanya Katerí Hernández, Rachel Valentina González and many others.

Top photo courtesy Adobe Stock

Jennifer Moore

Communications Specialist Associate , T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics