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New universitywide conference aims to facilitate open dialogue on issues of religion, ethics and science

February 5, 2021

In a time when issues of religion, ethics and science are often challenged inside and outside the academic world, a new conference put on by five academic units at Arizona State University is aiming to facilitate meaningful dialogue and address these topics in a respectful, productive way.

The first-ever Conversations on Religion, Ethics, and Science conference will be held virtually on Feb. 11–12 and is open to international participation.

“We are living in a unique moment in which the future of humanity is challenged by new technological advances and ecological transformations,” said Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, Regents Professor of history, director of Jewish studies and a member of the conference organizing committee. “These profound changes compel us to address big questions. What does it mean to be human? What is the task of humanity? What are humans responsible for? This conference is most relevant today because it insists that we need both science and religion to help us navigate the ethical challenges of our day.” 

The major organizing units involved in the project include the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science, the Center for Jewish Studies and the Center for the Study of Economic Liberty. Faculty from each of the five units will lead discussions with speakers from eight additional units across the university as well as other leading experts. 

The topics discussed will range from humane technology and the origin of the universe to spirituality, sustainability and theology.

“We have tried to tackle some of the really big questions of science and society, questions that thinking people wrestle with all the time,” said Paul Davies, Regents Professor with the Beyond Center and the Department of Physics and a member of the conference organizing committee. “In the subject of my own session, dealing with cosmology, there have been dramatic discoveries in recent years that are transforming our understanding of cosmic origins, and the origin of life — both hot topics in science that have sweeping implications for religion.”

The free conference was made possible by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation that was awarded to Barry Ritchie, professor in the Department of Physics, and Ben Sanders of the Arizona Center for Christian Studies.

Several members of the conference’s organizing committee shared their thoughts on the importance of these discussions, what they’re most looking forward to at the event and more.

Question: Why is it important we have these kinds of conversations right now?

Paul Davies

Paul Davies: Over the past 20 years there has been a tendency for the media to stress the disputes, often in strident terms, between religion and science. Scholarly theology has always been open to questioning, reexamining concepts and agreements to differ. It is good for the wider public to know that most religious scholars have come to accept the key ideas of modern science, such as the Big Bang origin of the universe and the evolution of life over billions of years. Conversely, it is good for the public to know that many scientists, even those not conventionally religious, find conversations with theologians both rewarding and enjoyable.

Hava Tirosh-Samuelson: Our society is deeply divided politically and culturally. In this divided context, science is pitted against religion and the perception that they are necessarily in conflict with each other has become more prevalent than before. This perception fuels some of the debates about biotechnology but it also fuels the current feuds about the right response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To navigate and resolve these challenging debates, we need to listen to both science and religion. We need to ask different kinds of questions that are informed by history, philosophy and theology as well as by scientific knowledge. This conference seeks to engage in conversations rather than in polemics. The conversations are meant to provide information, pose novel questions and inspire all of us to become more conversant with the academic field of science and religion.

Q: What discussions or presentations are you most looking forward to and why?

Davies: My own session: “What Does God Actually Do?” Two of the other panelists, cosmologist George Ellis and theologian Keith Ward, are old friends and very open to knockabout discussions. I don’t know Sarah Coakley, and I am eager to learn her thinking about God’s action in the world. So often people use the word "God" in vague ways. I want to know whether God is an abstract timeless sustainer of existence or a being who intervenes in the actual running of the universe. As a scientist, I don’t like the latter idea. But what does a modern theologian think? Can God really make a difference on a day-to-day basis? Can a being outside of time act within time? It seems like a contradiction, but maybe that’s naive.

Barry Ritchie: As an organizer, I am excited and interested in every conversation we’ve put together. Each includes scholars and experts with different perspectives, beliefs and ideas and all those speakers will marvelously model what respectful discussions can be even with passionately held differences.

Hava Tirosh-Samuelson

Tirosh-Samuelson: I am looking forward to the two sessions I am participating in — "Science, Wisdom and Common Good" and "Theology, Technology and the Post-Secular World.” Since I write about theology, I am also looking forward to "What Does God Actually Do?” These three sessions will feature theologians, philosophers and scientists who are at the forefront of the discourse on science and religion as well as ASU faculty who are engaged in the field. One of the goals of the conference is to showcase the richness and diversity of science and religion work at ASU, and it will certainly feature the richness of universitywide offerings in the past as well as its contribution for the future of this academic field that impacts the public sphere.   

Q: What makes this conference special? 

Tirosh-Samuelson: The conference is uniquely interdisciplinary, involving scholars from the natural sciences, the social sciences, the humanities, law, engineering and the arts. ASU has promoted interdisciplinarity as the right approach to tackling the challenges of our time. The various sessions illustrate that commitment to interdisciplinarity. The conference features people of diverse intellectual training, cultural habits and religious convictions. Despite their differences, the leadership team of the conference has been able to interact with mutual respect, and we hope that the conference's session will exemplify the same commitment to mutual respect. Therefore, the conference offers a model for collaboration and cooperation among academic units, religious communities and intellectual traditions.  

Q: What do you hope folks who attend the conference take away from the experience?

Davies: First, that religion is not a “done deal.” It can be evolving, accommodating and open. No religion that turns away from scientific facts can expect a long shelf life. Second, I feel that Islam is often sidelined in debates between science and religion in the U.S. I am delighted that we have organized a session for Muslim students and scholars.

Barry Ritchie

Ritchie: My sincere hope is that folks will be emboldened to reject the current cultural expectation and predilection that we must mock, hate and destroy those with whom we do not agree. Though perhaps individuals might change their minds about one or more of the topics to be discussed, my goal is much more modest — let us above all seek to listen humbly to these diverse opinions to see that people of goodwill may disagree deeply about important questions yet still be able to respectfully dialogue about those differences.

Tirosh-Samuelson: I would hope that people who attend the conference will take away from it the following lessons: There is no necessary conflict between religion and science, we need both religion and science to address the technological and ecological challenges of our time, and both science and religion have ethical dimensions and ramifications. In addition to these three substantive points, I hope that attendees of the conference will learn how people who hold different views can engage in a respectful and informed conversation. We will be able to overcome our divided public sphere if we learn to listen to each other patiently, if we seek to probe difficult questions rather than generate superficial slogans, and if we are committed to knowledge and wisdom rather than fame and notoriety.    

Learn more about the Conversations on Religion, Ethics, and Science conference or register.

Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Emily Balli

Communications Specialist and Lead Writer , The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

ASU In the News

ASU lecturer cited in article that explores workplace discrimination

In the recent opinion article "ASU’s diversity training needs to be more inclusive of disability language," Haley Tenore, a columnist with The State Press, shares her findings on ASU’s diversity training. According to Tenore, ASU's diversity training does a great job of explaining race, gender and sexuality, but its section on disability language needs improvement.

In support of her article, Tenore reached out to Krista Puruhito, a lecturer in ASU’s School of Social and Family Dynamics. The two discussed discrimination against those who have a disability, known as ableism. Animated image of person in wheelchair at a laptop desk Photo by Jennifer Dam | The State Press
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“A lot of people know what racist or sexist means, but if I say ableist they don’t know what that means,” said Puruhito.

Article Source: The State Press
John Keeney

Media Relations Coordinator, T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics


Meet ASU's new math lecturers and instructors

February 4, 2021

The School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at Arizona State University has an international reputation as an outstanding center for research and scholarship in the four core groups of applied mathematics, theoretical mathematics, mathematics education and statistics. But did you know the school also teaches a variety of mathematics, statistics and data science courses to over 23,000 students across ASU each fall?

A vast majority of these courses are taught by the school's excellent lecturer corps, nontenure track faculty whose role is mostly instruction. The school recently hired a new group of lecturers and instructors with a variety of expertise.  Group at picnic Several of the new lecturers and instructors joined other math colleagues for a socially distanced gathering outdoors at a local park. From left: Tamara Rodic, Adam Leighton, Julia Inozemtseva, Sabiha Mahzabeen, Hedvig Mohacsy, Peyam Tabrizian, Gordon Rojas Kirby and Xiaoqian (Janie) Gong. Download Full Image

"As a group, we have two very strong statistics and data science people, a handful who are strongest at the high levels and online, some who are ideal for introductory level math, a couple with extremely strong mathematics education credentials, all with excellent future prospects in leadership roles, and most importantly, great instructors who love to teach," said Scott Surgent, associate director for first-year mathematics and a principal lecturer. "This was a very strong group and am thrilled to have them all!" 

This group of lecturers started at ASU in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fall semester was challenging for everyone, but was especially hard for new people just joining the school.

"They never got a chance to meet everyone in real life after they arrived to Tempe," Lecturer Julia Inozemtseva said. "Some of them have never seen our beautiful campus."

For example, Sabiha Mazhabeen, one of the new lecturers who teaches statistical classes, never got to come to ASU before she accepted a job offer here. Her flight tickets to Arizona got canceled due to the pandemic. All her interviews after that took place online.

In spite of all the struggles and lack of social interaction — and the proper introduction to the community — the new lecturers have performed their best.

"They used all their skills and dedication to teach hundreds of students during the pandemic," Inozemtseva said. "We got some amazing feedback about their work from both colleagues and students.

"I am glad we had a chance to organize at least one picnic in the park together. We also went to play tennis and badminton, and attended some yoga in the park classes. Some of us became good friends, which means it is possible to stay a little bit social and happy with masks on and 6 feet apart."

Xiaoqian (Janie) Gong  

Xiaoqian (Janie) Gong

Born and grew up in Hengshui city, Hebei province, China 
PhD applied mathematics, Arizona State University

Question: What courses are you currently teaching for spring 2021?

Answer: MAT 170 Precalculus, MAT 171 Precalculus: STEM, MAT 210 Brief Calculus.

Q: Why did you decide to come to ASU as a lecturer in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences?

A: I "grew up" at ASU, working for five years as a graduate teaching associate. Getting back to ASU is like coming home to me. I am passionate about teaching. I like the teaching atmosphere of ASU very much.

Q: What is your favorite mathematics course to teach, and why?

A: I have been teaching both lower and higher levels of undergraduate mathematics at ASU. Among all the classes I have taught, MAT 265 Calculus I, is my favorite. In this course, in my opinion, students start to realize that math is not just about computation, but more about logic. One should use more concise and rigorous mathematical language to describe some intuitions of daily life. For example, starting from this course, students begin to use the concept of limits to describe the continuity of functions.

Q: How would you describe your teaching style?

A: My role as an instructor is to inspire students’ curiosity, stimulate discussions, and act like a guide in the classroom. For example, in my vector calculus class, MAT 460, I did not present the equality of mixed partials of twice continuously differentiable functions directly in the beginning. Instead, I started by leading a group discussion on a “surprising” example of a function that fails this property. This interestingly generated a contradiction to the first instinct that most students have while thinking about this type of problem in class. Not only did the students get the chance to practice the calculation of higher order partials, they also showed their eagerness to know when the equality would be true. In order to meet their needs, I provided the theorem precisely with a rigorous proof.

Q: How did your first semester go, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic? What adjustments did you make?

A: My first semester went much more smoothly than I had expected, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic. I made remote teaching more like in-person teaching by interacting with students live in class. For example, I use the breakout room feature in Zoom for group work discussion and collaboration, the annotation feature to engage students participation while I am lecturing, and the poll feature to gather feedback from students. I respond to students’ emails and queries in a timely manner. I also reach out to students as often as I can.

Q: How important is a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for students?

A: A diverse, equitable and inclusive environment is very important. I believe that intregrated and diverse classrooms promote critical thinking, problem solving and creativity. It is very essential to ensure that all students feel supported and be respected as individuals and as members of groups, so that they are free to learn and explore new ideas and feel safe to express their views.

Q: What advice would you give to college students thinking of possibly majoring in mathematics?

A: Mathematics is particularly broad and subtle. A good way to explore various branches of mathematics is to attend summer internships, conferences and talk with different professors about their research. In addition, persistence and diligence play very important roles in success. Last but not least, the best work is often a result of teamwork.

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

A: The general public thinks about mathematics as a tool of performing computations. But the beauty of mathematics lies more in its logic. It is a discipline that encourages rational thinking, problem finding, and problem solving. The beauty of mathematics lies in its ability to analyze phenomena in real life in a concise and rigorous way.

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

A: I like hiking, yoga and playing piano.

Younghwan Kim 

Younghwan Kim

Born and grew up in Seoul, South Korea
PhD mathematics, Arizona State University

Question: What courses are you currently teaching for spring 2021?

Answer: MAT 242 Elementary Linear Algebra, MAT 243 Discrete Math Structures, MAT 211 Math for Business Analysis.

Q: Why did you decide to come to ASU as a lecturer in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences?

A: First, I love to teach mathematics, and my educational background fits the position. My PhD degree helps me teach college level math better. Second, I am familiar with the ASU system and people because I had been a teaching assistant in the math department for six years, and I worked at ASU as an instructor right after graduation.

Q: What advice would you give to college students thinking of possibly majoring in mathematics?

A: I would say that studying mathematics gives me positive feedback in that while I study mathematics, I could see unexpected connections between concepts and new interpretations of concepts. I could feel the beauty of math, and that makes me explore math more.

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

A: There is a belief that math is difficult and boring, but I believe that once we understand it there are a lot of ways to enjoy it. Many interesting problems could be presented in understandable ways to the general public so that they could enjoy them.

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

A: Work out, travel, spend time with my family.

Sabiha Mahzabeen

Sabiha Mahzabeen

Born and grew up in Dhaka, Bangladesh
MS mathematics and statistics, Minnesota State University, Mankato; MS applied mathematics, University of Dhaka

Question: What courses are you currently teaching for spring 2021?

Answer: MAT 210 Brief Calculus, STP 226 Elements of Statistics, MAT 117 College Algebra (online).

Q: How would you describe your teaching style?

A: One of my important goals while teaching mathematics and statistics is to help students to become independent thinkers, capable of approaching, framing and solving problems on their own. I use a three-step learning model, which consistently introduces concepts in a progression. It moves from the concrete to visual representation and then on to the more abstract — questioning and solving written equations and hands-on practice problems. Students are taught not only to know how to do something but also why it works and the practical usage of it. Students' participation and interest is crucial for learning mathematics and statistics.

I attempt to make my classroom to be an engaging place where discussion of relevancy is more important than structured lectures, and where students always feel free to contribute and ask questions. I am a constant learner when it comes to understanding the pace and capacity of my students. I try to accommodate different styles of learning by illustrating concepts in different ways and by collecting informal feedback from students a few times throughout the semester. This helps to address their concerns and allows me to modify my teaching in order to enhance students' learning. When students know their instructor cares and is committed to helping them learn, it can make all the difference. Even-though the satisfaction of students is important for better learning and teaching, especially in mathematics and statistics, I believe that, it should not become a popularity contest while teaching. A teacher is responsible to the society in general and should resist the pressure of lowering academic standards in education.

Q: Do you identify as part of any underrepresented groups? If so, how has that impacted your teaching and how you relate with students?

A: Being a woman is STEM automatically places me in the list of underrepresented groups even if I don’t mention about my religious and racial minority status. Being born, growing up and studying in a south Asian mega city with an extremely diverse population, belonging to a family which has members of two different religious faiths, studied and taught in inclusive university in the USA as an international scholar — all of these experiences laid a very strong foundation in me to be a teacher who can ensure that, regardless of background or abilities, all students feel supported in the process to freely learn and explore new ideas. Most of the time, to my students, I am more learning facilitator than an instructor. No matter where my student is from, or what their story is, I often find some similarity with me. This helps me to understand and pay proper attention to a unique student in helping to succeed in course.

Q: How important is a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for students?

A: Not only for the school or ASU, I think it is extremely important for any educational institution to be a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion. Inclusive learning infrastructure is not just a positive empowerment, it’s a mandatory establishment for the makeup of a future-proof and competitive institution. Research shows that diverse classroom results improved intellectual engagement and self-motivation. Students educated in diverse environments are trained to interact with people outside of their normal comfort zone which improves their adaptability, tolerance and communication skills. Inclusive education doesn’t just make a student a better person, it makes them a prepared individual. Today’s global economy requires employees that can easily communicate with a variety of clients, customers and partners. An educational institution that embraces diversity can give their graduates an edge in the job market. Besides recruiting and graduating a diverse student population, it is also proven that inclusion of diversity in administration, as well as recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce profoundly improves the overall success of an educational institution.

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

A: I consider hiking and reading books as the source of my mental energy during my free time. What else can be more amazing than reading a favorite book while sitting on top of a mountain!

Q: What is something most people do not know about you?

A: It’s not a secret but most of the people do not understand that I am an ambivert.

Alan O'Bryan 

Alan O'Bryan

Born and grew up in Columbus, Indiana
PhD mathematics education, Arizona State University

Question: What courses are you currently teaching for spring 2021?

Answer: MTE 320 Conceptual Foundations of 7-12 Mathematics Curriculum and Assessment, MTE 592 Research (Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education 2), MAT 117 College Algebra.

Q: How does your teaching style and vision align with the ASU Charter?

A: ASU’s Charter calls for us to “(assume) fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves.” The foundation of any success we might have in this mission is our ability to improve access to high quality educational experiences for Arizona students. Working with current and future secondary teachers to help them better understand the mathematics they teach, better understand how to create coherent lessons, units, and courses, and better understand how students learn is the best way I know how to contribute to the goals in ASU’s Charter.

Q: How important is a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for students?

A: I think it’s critically important. A lot of studies show that students do better when they have access to mentors who they feel represent them. On top of all other initiatives, having a diverse and inclusive environment is a necessary component to maximizing the success of all students.

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

A: I often hear two different perspectives about mathematics when I talk to people.

1. They disliked mathematics because they didn’t see how it was useful to them and they struggled to remember all of the various rules and procedures they were asked to memorize.

2. They enjoyed mathematics because it was “black and white” with only one correct answer to each question. I think that both of these reflect a fundamentally flawed view of what mathematics is really about.

To me, mathematics is about reflecting on and attempting to communicate one’s reasoning and understanding to others as well as taking seriously the reasoning of others. It’s a fundamental failure of our mathematics education system that more students do not encounter classroom experiences with this focus.

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

A: I enjoy indoor rock climbing, painting and reading.

Q: What is something most people do not know about you?

A: I paint model miniatures and have won several national awards for my work. Over the years some companies have hired me to paint the “box art” for commercial releases of their products. 

Tamara Rodic 

Tamara Rodic

Born and grew up in Belgrade, Serbia (former Yugoslavia)
MS mechanical engineering, Arizona State University; MS mechanical engineering, University of Belgrade, Serbia

Question: What courses are you currently teaching for spring 2021?

A: MAT 210 Brief Calculus, MAT 211 Math for Business Analysis, MAT 117 College Algebra Online.

Q: Why did you decide to come to ASU as a lecturer in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences?

A: I truly enjoy teaching, and I heard from some friends that ASU was looking to hire several lecturers. At the time, I was working as an adjunct faculty at Chandler-Gilbert Community College. The timing was good — my children had become more independent — so I decided to try a full-time job. I am also an ASU graduate, and it feels great to be back, though in a different role.

Q: What is your favorite mathematics course to teach, and why?

A: My favorite course to teach has been precalculus (college algebra/trigonometry), because I have witnessed the most student “aha” moments in those classes.

Q: How would you describe your teaching style?

A: Active learning, constant interaction with students during my lectures, focus on students’ understanding, real-life examples. I try to be as clear as possible in my explanations, and I look for ways to connect new topics to students’ previous knowledge.

Q: How important is a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for students?

A: A diverse, equitable and inclusive environment is important for everyone. We may have our differences, but we are all human beings, after all, and we should care for each other, and treat others the way we want to be treated.

Q: What advice would you give to college students thinking of possibly majoring in mathematics?

A: If you enjoy math — go for it! Be patient and persevere. I wanted to study pure math, but I let others convince me to go with engineering instead. And still, I’ve spent most of my career teaching math.

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

A: I enjoy walking and hiking with my family and friends, playing badminton and tennis, board games, going to concerts (classical music), reading. I love jigsaw puzzles and Sudoku. I sang in a choir back in Serbia, and also in Mexico. I have yet to find a choir to join here in the U.S.

Q: What is something most people do not know about you?

A: I used to be afraid of dogs when I was young. I don’t eat eggs — except in cakes. I like languages – I am fluent in three: Serbian, Spanish and English. I also learned Russian in school but I have not had the opportunity to use it, so I kind of “lost” the ability to speak it.

Larry Schneider

Larry Schneider

Born and grew up in Brooklyn, New York
MS predictive analytics, Northwestern University

Question: What courses are you currently teaching for spring 2021?

Answer: STP 429 Applied Regression, STP 420 Introduction to Statistics, DAT 250 Data Science and Society.

Q: Why did you decide to come to ASU as a lecturer in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences?

A: After spending three years as a planning analyst in the ASU Office of the Provost and teaching part-time for two years as a faculty associate in the school, I wanted to move back into teaching full time, having taught high school students for 14 years. I believed that my ASU experience developing retention models would allow me to help students understand how to apply the concepts that I would be teaching them in class. My youngest daughter graduated in 2017 from ASU, so after four years of visiting and exploring the Phoenix area, we made the decision to change our lifestyle and I started searching for a position at ASU. The goal was to live somewhere where we would never see snow again!

Q: What is your favorite mathematics course to teach, and why?

A: I have enjoyed teaching all my applied statistics courses as they are each a unique experience due to the different student makeup of the class section, which is what I have always enjoyed about teaching. This semester I have also had the opportunity to teach students how to approach data from a different perspective with the DAT 250 course.

Q: How did your first semester go, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic? What adjustments did you make?

A: Well, my first semester was not really my first semester teaching at ASU, so I was comfortable teaching in ASU Sync mode. Having the spring 2020 experience of teaching part of the semester in the classroom and part of the semester online gave me the confidence to be able to juggle both at the same time when I was in the classroom during the fall 2020 semester. At the beginning of the fall semester, I told my students that they needed to be patient with the technology challenges, but our overall goal was flexibility.

Q: What advice would you give to college students thinking of possibly majoring in mathematics?

A: Math majors tend to be creative thinkers and a major in mathematics allows you to follow either a theoretical or applied path. So, all math options should be considered when deciding on a major including statistics and data science!

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

A: I think the general public does not understand how easily statistics can be manipulated, so I have always told my students to research the source of anything they read. Always check the fine print!

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

A: Kayaking when I can, biking, watching, and attending my favorite sports — baseball and hockey, enjoying our nonhumid weather!

Q: What is something most people do not know about you?

A: I was a major party candidate for U.S. Congress when I worked in the financial industry and lived in New Jersey.

Peyam Tabrizian

Peyam Tabrizian

Born in Massachusetts, grew up in Austria (went to a French school there), moved to New York in 10th grade
PhD mathematics, University of California – Berkeley

Question: What courses are you currently teaching for spring 2021?

Answer: MAT 267 Calculus for Engineers III, MAT 242 Linear Algebra (online).

Q: What is your favorite mathematics course to teach, and why?

A: Literally the two courses above! I love linear algebra because of its elegance, and also because it gives students a second chance to fall in love with math, especially those who had a bad experience with calculus before. And for Calc III it’s an interesting experience; I used to despise that course, especially in undergraduate, since I didn’t understand a single thing in that class, but when I taught it for the first time in 2018, everything clicked and it was like an explosion in my head! I also love to teach partial differential equations, which is my math specialty.

Q: How would you describe your teaching style?

A: I see myself as being very quirky and fun. People often notice my enthusiasm and passion for mathematics. I love math and I want my students to fall in love with it as well! Also one of my favorite teaching evaluation comments was, “He is a little annoying, but it’s tolerable,” which I guess is true.

Q: Do you identify as part of any underrepresented groups? If so, how has that impacted your teaching and how you relate with students?

A: I officially came out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community in 2019, and I am proud to have a pride flag in my office. It hasn’t impacted my teaching and my relation with my students, which is a good thing actually. One of my biggest fears before coming out was that my friends and colleagues would judge me because of who I am, but I am fortunate to say that they are treating me with the same respect as before I came out.

Q: How important is a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for students?

A: I think it’s very important! I was blessed to grow up in a French school that represented people from over 50 different countries and backgrounds, and moreover I went to college at UC Berkeley, which was also culturally diverse, and it definitely enriched my life experience as a whole. Especially with the field of mathematics, which, by its very definition, should accept everyone.

Q: What advice would you give to college students thinking of possibly majoring in mathematics?

A: It’s OK to struggle! Mathematics is an unforgiving subject, and there will be times in your math major path where you’ll struggle, but I promise you that, at the end, it will be worth it. Even though it’s almost been five years since I got my math PhD, I still stand in front of the mirror every morning and tell myself, “Who’s got a PhD? You got a PhD!” Seriously, the happiness one gets when doing math is indescribable and makes all the struggle worth it.

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

A: Definitely that you need to be a “genius” to do math, and that not everyone can do math. I truly believe that everyone has the seed in math in them, just waiting to be blossomed. It’s completely normal that some people learn math faster than others, but I really think that, given enough time and effort, anyone can eventually understand math and its beauty. It is the root of human thinking after all.

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

A: Outside of math I like doing ... math! I currently have a YouTube channel, Dr Peyam, which I’m proud to say currently has over 75,000 subscribers — currently more than the ASU YouTube channel — and on which I post math-related videos, ranging from calculus all the way up to partial dfferential equations. Usually in my spare time, I work on creating and editing the videos, which, incidentally, helped me a lot in my online teaching. I also have a TikTok channel, @drpeyam, on which I post shorter and fun videos. Other than that, I love eating, and petting my bunny, Oreo.

Q: What is something most people do not know about you?

A: I love food! In fact, if you tell me that there’s this amazing restaurant — even if it’s far — I would probably check it out. In fact, I once literally flew to Portland, because they had this amazing donut place called Voodoo Donuts. And let me tell you, it was worth it — yum!

Adam Leighton

Adam Leighton

Born and grew up in the Phoenix, Arizona area
PhD statistics, Arizona State University (expected 2021); MA statistics, Arizona State University

Question: What courses are you currently teaching for spring 2021?

Answer: MAT 211 Math for Business Analysis, MAT 210 Brief Calculus, MAT 266 Calculus for Engineers II.

Q: What is your favorite mathematics course to teach, and why?

A: I like to teach the calc sequence because, for a lot of people, it’s where the relevance of math becomes much more apparent with the variety of applied problems that can be solved. Also, there’s a lot of diversity in students who take calc as opposed to higher-level math courses that might only have engineering/physics/math majors.

Q: How would you describe your teaching style?

A: My teaching style is student-centered, leveraging active learning to help my students become excellent learners. I like to use presentations in small classes and most of every day in my classes revolves around group work.

Q: How does your teaching style and vision align with the ASU Charter?

A: Because student learning is the focus of my teaching, I’m able to pay particular attention to accessibility, inclusion, etc., rather than on the content alone. I create assignments to encourage persistence and engagement.

Q: What advice would you give to college students thinking of possibly majoring in mathematics?

A: Take a variety of classes, even if you think you know what topics interest you. You’ll develop skills you may not otherwise develop, and you might find a topic that interests you more.

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

A: That being good or not at math is an inherent skill people have. Just like every other skill, it can be improved and honed through practice and persistence.

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

A: I like to play board games, video games and powerlifting.

Hyunkyoung Yoon

Hyunkyoung Yoon

Born and grew up in Seoul, Korea
PhD mathematics Education, Arizona State University

Question: What courses are you currently teaching for spring 2021?

Answer: MAT117 College Algebra, MAT210 Brief Calculus, MAT211 Math for Business Analysis.

Q: How would you describe your teaching style?

A: I am aware that students often think differently about mathematical ideas than I do, and students’ interpretations of what I say and do are not always same as what I intended to convey. Thus, I try to think about how my students think about the ideas I teach. I also try to adjust my instructional actions if I detect inconsistencies between my students’ understanding and the instructional goals I set for them.

Q: How did your first semester go, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic? What adjustments did you make?

A: Last semester, one of my first-year students told me that he was taking courses in his apartment. He said he had no opportunities to make friends. I didn’t realize that first-year students had no chance to enjoy campus life. I thought about myself. I first met more than 80% of my current friends when I was a first-year student. Right after that, I created group work, and asked students to work together after giving them Zoom links.

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

A: Most misunderstood about mathematics by the general public is, “mathematics is so difficult, so mathematics has nothing to do with people’s lives.” However, learning mathematics helps people interpret the world throughout their lives. For example, people are using mathematics to interpret COVID-19 media data such as death rate or graphs representing total confirmed cases per day.

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

A: I enjoy spending time with my family, hiking and going to the gym.

Rhonda Olson

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


ASU faculty on the history of celebrating Black History Month

Learn more about this year’s celebrations at ASU and what resources are available to fight racism

February 4, 2021

The Black Lives Matter movement started way before 2020, but last year forced many to see the reality of racism in all its shapes.

From Black people disproportionately suffering in the pandemic to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and Dion Johnson — a few among thousands that are part of a legacy of centuries-long state-sanctioned violence against Black and other non-white bodies — Americans' eyes have been opened like never before. Black History Month Events 2021 School of Social Transformation Black History Month events 2021. Download Full Image

The protests around the world brought the commitment of many people fighting and educating themselves about Black history, culture and heritage, through social media, books, podcasts and TV programs.

Every year, as part of that same commitment, Arizona State University celebrates Black History Month, a celebration of achievements by African Americans to recognize the central role that Black people played and continue to play in U.S. history. 

ASU News spoke with three ASU faculty members —  Pardis Mahdavi, dean of social sciences in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor in the School of Social Transformation, Lisa M. Anderson, associate professor of women and gender studies and deputy director in the School of Social Transformation, and Mako Ward, assistant professor and faculty head of African and African American studies — about the origins of Black History Month, how people can participate in this year’s celebrations and what resources are available to fight racism.  

Question: Why is Black History Month even more important this year? 

Ward: What started as Negro History Week, Carter G. Woodson’s homage to the intellectual study of Black life and history, has transformed into Black History Month. Woodson’s vision was greater than the celebration of African American traditions; he championed for the full integration of Black history in public education across all levels. We see this liberatory vision in the movement for Black lives and the demands for economic equity, investments in education and health and reparations for past and continuing harm. 

Anderson: I don’t know if Black History Month is more important this year than any other year, but I think there is certainly more attention and interest this year. It is always nice to take time to reflect on the challenges, obstacles and accomplishments of Americans of African descent. There are so many things available right now that reveal little-known aspects of the history of Black people in the U.S., everything from The 1619 Project to television shows like "Lovecraft Country" and "Watchmen."

Q: What can we expect from Black History Month 2021 at ASU? 

Anderson: There will be quite a few events for Black History Month at ASU this year. In the School of Social Transformation, we are planning several events, with the key event a talk with Dr. Lewis R. Gordon on his new book, "Freedom, Justice, and Decolonization." The (school's) monthly book club is reading N. K. Jemisin’s latest novel, "The City We Became."

Mahdavi: Innovative, intersectional and thoughtful approaches to celebrating this most important month.

Ward: We have a dynamic series of events featuring students and scholar-activists and we’ve partnered with a wide range of colleges, schools and centers, in the spirit of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called “the beloved community.”

Q: How can people be more involved in celebrating Black History Month?

Mahdavi: Educate yourself! Attend our events, learn from suggested readings and engage in the JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) work that is needed to not just be an anti-racist, but to celebrate Black history.

Anderson: There are lots of ways to be involved in Black History Month. First, participate in the amazing events in the School of Social Transformation and across campus. Second, take the opportunity to find out more about African and African diaspora history, culture and knowledge production. 

Consider immersing yourself in fiction, poetry, film and television developed by Black people. Third, share the new things that you discover with others. Consider taking a class in African and African American studies — perhaps in B session – to learn even more. Remember too that Blackness is not monolithic, and there are many different Black perspectives and histories and stories.

Q: What resources would you recommend to understand racism in the United States and elsewhere?

Anderson: Understanding racism is a deep endeavor. There are so many places to start, but I often recommend things that are accessible to many people. One of my favorite books is Isabel Wilkerson’s "The Warmth of Other Suns," which documents the Great Migration and is a wonderful look into the lives of Black people who left the South in the early to middle of the 20th century. I love films by Black creatives – documentaries and feature films – that reveal the lives of Black people. Julie Dash’s film "Daughters of the Dust," John L. Jackson’s documentary "Making Sweet Tea" – these are a couple of my favorites. There are lots of books out currently about what kinds of things you can do to live as an anti-racist person. And of course, you can read the academic and public writings of ASU’s Black faculty.

Ward: The Office of Inclusion and Community Engagement compiled a wonderful resource list on understanding race and racism.

Q: What are other actions can we take to fight racism?

Mahdavi: Gain a deeper understanding of structural violence and structural racism. Look inside to be reflexive about our positionality, and figure out how to be a part of the structural changes that need to happen in our world. Be a part of the change. JEDI work is everyone’s work.

Anderson: Aside from educating ourselves, we must speak up when we see or hear racist speech and actions. It is important for non-Black people to speak up in their communities and not leave it to Black people to always bear the responsibility for speaking up.

Ward: Get involved in student organizations, like the members of the student coalitions. This allows you to build community with others who share a vision for social justice. Take courses in the School of Social Transformation to deepen your understanding of the issues, politics and history of injustice and social inequalities. 

Enrique Martin Palacios

Communications specialist , School of International Letters and Cultures


Renowned scholar Angela Davis to speak at ASU virtual event

Black African Coalition and Undergraduate Student Government leaders will host the discussion

February 3, 2021

Join Arizona State University’s Black African Coalition and Undergraduate Student Government leaders for an incredible evening of conversation with Angela Davis on Thursday, Feb. 18. Students and community members are invited to tune in to the event, called “Remaining Resilient & Rejoicing in Freedom with Dr. Angela Davis.” The virtual event is free to attend and will be available to watch online. Live broadcast begins at 6 p.m. MST. 

Through her activism and scholarship over the last decades, Angela Davis has been deeply involved in our nation’s quest for social justice. Her work as an educator – both at the university level and in the larger public sphere – has always emphasized the importance of building communities of struggle for economic, racial and gender justice. Headshot of Angela Davis smiling in a black blazer in front of a blurred bookcase background. Angela Davis Download Full Image

“For Black History Month, the Black African Coalition aimed to reflect on the lives of those that have contributed to the liberty and movement towards social equality and alleviation of racism through rejoicing and celebration within the Black community,” said Aniyah Braveboy, president of the Black African Coalition. “To achieve our goals, the BAC wished for Dr. Angela Davis to be our keynote speaker as she has been on the forefront of her advocacy and the epitome of a strong Black woman and Black power beginning in her teenage years.”

Davis’ teaching career has taken her to San Francisco State University, Mills College and UC Berkeley. She also has taught at UCLA, Vassar, the Claremont Colleges and Stanford University. She spent the last 15 years at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she is now Distinguished Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness, an interdisciplinary PhD program, and of feminist studies.

Angela Davis is the author of nine books and has lectured throughout the United States as well as in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. In recent years a persistent theme of her work has been the range of social problems associated with incarceration and the generalized criminalization of those communities that are most affected by poverty and racial discrimination. She draws upon her own experiences in the early '70s as a person who spent 18 months in jail and on trial after being placed on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List.” Davis has also conducted extensive research on numerous issues related to race, gender and imprisonment. Her most recent book is "Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement."

Davis is a founding member Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to the dismantling of the prison industrial complex. Internationally, she is affiliated with Sisters Inside, an abolitionist organization based in Queensland, Australia, that works in solidarity with women in prison.

Like many other educators, Davis is especially concerned with the general tendency to devote more resources and attention to the prison system than to educational institutions. Having helped to popularize the notion of a “prison industrial complex,” she now urges her audiences to think seriously about the future possibility of a world without prisons and to help forge a 21st-century abolitionist movement.

“Students from all races and ages should feel empowered and enticed to continue the change and revolution to promote diversity and inclusivity,” said Braveboy.

The ASU community and the public can tune in to watch the live event online

Kimberly Inglese

Marketing and Sales Coordinator, ASU 365 Community Union


Join virtual launch of new ASU Center for the Future of Equality on Feb. 11

February 3, 2021

Issues of social inequality, racism and economic disparity remain at the forefront of the most serious challenges facing America. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified their complexity and diminished the confidence and resources of many Americans, yielding serious implications for our nation’s overall health, security and social cohesion. Moreover, business, government and civil sectors have put forth few sustainable solutions.

To move beyond publishing research and reports, ASU is launching a new kind of academic endeavor – an ASU Center for the Future of Equality – to create tangible and useful products that communities can use to help reduce the effects of inequality. Photo of Ehsan Zaffar On Feb. 11, ASU will announce the new name and website of an ASU-wide center that will create tools to end the nation’s rising social, political and economic inequality. Download Full Image

Join a special, virtual launch event at 1 p.m. MST,  Feb. 11, when ASU will unveil additional details, including the center's full name, and ASU President Michael M. Crow, other university leaders and Executive Director Ehsan Zaffar, will talk about the inception and realization of this center. ASU will also share the plans for 2021 and opportunities for collaboration in the endeavor.

Register for the event.

Subscribe to stay connected to the center’s news.

The center is a cross-disciplinary effort with funding and support from Arizona State University President Michael Crow, as well as the Sandra Day O’Connor College of LawW. P. Carey School of BusinessIra A. Fulton Schools of EngineeringThe College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the School of Social Transformation.

Julie Tenney

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

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Scholar Ayanna Thompson named Regents Professor

Ayanna Thompson of ASU wins top faculty honor for work on Shakespeare and race.
February 2, 2021

Research on Shakespeare, race has earned her ASU's top faculty honor

A dispiriting job on Wall Street led Ayanna Thompson to the realization that she wanted to change the world more than she wanted a big paycheck.

Now, the Arizona State University professor of English is among the top scholars of Shakespeare in the world and was recently named to the board of the Royal Shakespeare Company. She is so excellent in her field that she has been named one of four Regents Professors for 2021 – the highest faculty honor, which is achieved by only 3% of faculty members at ASU.

Thompson studies questions about Shakespeare and race and has written books exploring the roots of blackface and minstrelsy on the English stage in premodern times. She’s applied her expertise in working extensively with theater companies to explore issues of race in casting and the audience experience.

And while that Wall Street job was not for her, she appreciates what she learned in the months she was an analyst in the oil and gas group at Lehman Brothers.

“I grew up working-class poor and my goal in life was to make money and be successful financially,” she said.

“I started out working on Wall Street and I thought I made it. I was able to have take-out food every night. It was a working-class person’s dream.”

She grew a tough skin in the male-dominated atmosphere, but it was not intellectually inspiring.

“I realized that I wanted to be in an environment where I could be with people who were constantly thinking about big ideas and how the world worked and how to make it a better place,” she said.

She thought about her professors from her undergraduate years at Columbia, and gave up her big salary to go to graduate school. Although she didn’t intend to focus on Shakespeare.

“I was thinking about race and power structures in the colonial world, but I realized that for the questions I had about race and race formation, I had to go backwards in time.

“I ended up back in the Renaissance and when you end up in the Renaissance, you have to do Shakespeare.”

In her first job at the University of New Mexico, she had her students watch filmed performances of Shakespeare's plays. She became curious about the casting, where sometimes actors were playing characters who were of a different race than them.

“It was this moment when they were doing integrated casting,” she said. “I said, ‘Who’s writing about this and how did it come to be?’ And no one had written about it.”

So she wrote “Colorblind Shakespeare,” the first book on the topic.

Thompson was going where no one else had gone. 

“I think about it as following the question. Being trained in African American studies and postcolonial studies, I was asking a whole different set of questions than Shakespeare scholars were because I wasn’t trained as a Shakespeare scholar."

She encountered a lot of resistance to her work in Shakespeare and race.

“For years it felt Sisyphean,” she said. “They would say, ‘Your argument is anachronistic,’ so I would lay out an argument that was not anachronistic. I’d have to keep mounting the same arguments.”

Finally, there was a tipping point.

“I felt fueled by the early-career scholars who came behind me and were reading me, and at the same time I was getting validation from the theater companies who were hiring me to work with them.

“They were saying, ‘You are asking the right questions and we need your help to put your theories into practice.’

“That’s what kept me in the field.”

The theater companies wanted Thompson to help them with what they put on the stage, but she also was interested in how audiences were interpreting it. The companies weren’t asking their audiences what they thought about inclusive casting.

She discovered that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival kept an archive of letters dating back to the 1930s.

“The companies were saying, ‘Our audience loves inclusive casting.’ A lot of the letters to the company had to do with racial casting, so I told them, ‘I’m not sure the evidence you have bears out what you’re saying.’"

She worked with the theater companies on how to guide conversations with audiences that could change the way they were experiencing Shakespeare.

“Summer 2020 was the moment every theater company had a reckoning,” she said. “I joked that I’ve never been so popular.”

Thompson also uses performance with her students.

“I do a lot of performance practices in my classroom because we know that kinesthetic learning and embodied knowledge stay with you longer.

“I get them to think about performance as an interpretation and a decision, not an answer,” said Thompson, who wrote the book “Teaching Shakespeare with Purpose” with an education specialist.

At ASU, students are “sponges,” receptive to new ideas and without preconceived notions, she said, which allows her to continuously discover nuances in the plays.

“My favorite play to teach is ‘Titus Andronicus,’ which is a bloody play about rape and mutilation,” she said.

There are two characters who orchestrate the violence, and one time, a student asked how old they were.

“I was like, ‘Right. How old are they?’ If they’re in their 20s, that’s one thing, but if they’re 13 or 14, that’s another thing,” she said, adding that the play does not reveal their ages.

“That was a question I had never asked myself, and it blows the students’ minds that one person can think they’re in their 20s and another thinks they’re 12.”

“Hamlet” has a different meaning when, for example, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Black friends as opposed to white friends, she said.

“They’re killed by Hamlet without a thought, and that is then part of the disposability of the Black body in that performance or in your reading of that play.”

“All of the issues that are present in the 21st century also are present in Shakespeare’s plays, including race, gender and ability.”

Thompson has worked to expand access to Shakespeare, and premodern studies, through the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. She became director of the center in 2018, when she returned to ASU after teaching for five years at George Washington University.

“We are a much larger presence in the world, and we’re at the forefront of premodern race studies and premodern studies in general,” she said.

The pandemic has allowed the center to reach a bigger audience.

“An event that would have had 60 people on campus at ASU now has 300 people with audience members in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa,” she said.

“It turns out there’s an international audience for our programming.”

Thompson has also transformed the center’s press, ACMRS Press, which publishes research on medieval and renaissance studies, by making it open access – free to anyone.

“Like ASU, we want to have maximum impact and maximum access, and pay walls shouldn’t stand between you and the resources you need to research or teach,” she said.

Thompson said that ASU is the perfect environment for her work.

“There is no other place in the world that would support the kind of access and impact and excellence that we’re trying to achieve.”

Top photo of Ayanna Thompson by Jarod Opperman/Arizona State University

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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Journalism field faces challenges with misinformation, trust

February 2, 2021

News/Co Lab director calls this an especially difficult time for journalists

After a tumultuous four years and a presidential election that rendered voters divided, journalists must work harder to regain the public’s trust by relying more on accurate and solutions-oriented reporting, according to a leading voice in nonprofit journalism.

“Journalism is one of the many industries and institutions that’s being called to task,” said Susan Smith Richardson, chief executive officer of the Center for Public Integrity at a Feb. 1 Arizona State University virtual event. “The work we do is so important, and we are under siege. I would even argue that we’re being interrogated, and rightly so, at a really important time for this country’s democracy.”

Richardson’s talk, “Misinformation, Trust and the Future of Journalism” was part of the spring 2021 “Must See Mondays” lecture series hosted by ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

The aftermath of the 2020 election provided an opportune time to have a frank discussion about trust in the news, said discussion moderator Kristy Roschke.

“A messy information environment and public decline in institutional trust have made it an especially difficult time for journalism,” said Roschke, managing director of the News Co/Lab, a Cronkite School initiative aimed at helping people find new ways of understanding and interacting with news and information. “Susan Smith Richardson is a leader in the community-focused, solutions-oriented journalism that plays a critical role in helping restore trust in the news media.” 

Trust in the news has never been more critical, especially when the threat of misinformation dominates social streams, news sites and public airwaves. Richardson, who soon will leave her post as CEO of the Center for Public Integrity to join The Guardian U.S. as deputy editor, said this should be a period of self-examination and looking toward the future for journalists.

Susan Smith Richardson

Susan Smith Richardson, former Chicago Reporter editor and publisher and current CEO of the Center for Public Integrity, talks about the essential elements of context, fairness, accuracy and transparency in reporting during an ASU Must See Mondays talk on Feb. 1. Screenshot by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Richardson said the last four years were a learning experience for all journalists, who had to walk a fine line when disseminating information.

“In many ways we weren’t prepared for an administration and presidency that didn’t play by the rules … there were lies coming out of an administration,” Richardson said. “We (news organizations) shouldn’t be spreading misinformation and we have to be mindful about the trust side … if we’ve got the megaphone, what are we doing if we allow knowingly false information to just circulate as another bit of information?”

Journalists, however, can regain some of the public’s trust if they continually practice transparency, objectivity, fairness and context. Newsrooms should also be reflective of society as much as possible, with plenty of diversity.

“The most dynamic newsrooms are the ones with the most diversity,” Richardson said.  “Different perspectives are incredibly valuable.” 

In addition to being the public’s watchdog and holding the powerful accountable, journalists should incorporate more solutions-based stories in their reporting. That means not only focusing on social issues but reporting on how people are responding to problems. These types of stories not only bring more balance but thoughtfully engage readers, Richardson said.

“We have a responsibility in mending our democracy and looking at ways in which people are responding to issues and how deep, evidenced-based investigative reporting of those responses actually open up a door to both community-building and providing people with information that they want, and indeed, may need,” Richardson said. “This is a moment when solutions journalism should be tried.”

Richardson said journalists aren’t the only ones who should be held accountable – Americans have a duty to improve their news literacy. They also need to have a better understanding of civics, their role in government, and how to find a credible news source when misinformation abounds on the social media platforms where they often consume their news.

“It’s important for the country to have media literacy, which is a grounding piece,” Richardson said. “There has to be some training in vetting information and an understanding of this big media ecosystem. And that has to be coupled with civics.”

Roschke said a new Cronkite degree in digital media literacy launching in the fall is not only good timing, but necessary.

“There is no singular fix to restoring trust in the media and other democratic institutions,” Roschke said. “It will take a concerted effort that includes challenging norms in education, journalism and civic participation. As Susan said, this is a perfect time to explore new approaches.”

Reporter , ASU News


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Mellon Foundation awards record $4.2M to ASU's Center for Imagination in the Borderlands

January 29, 2021

Grant will aide mentorship program to reconfigure traditional academic structures and support Indigenous scholars

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has issued a $4.2 million grant to Arizona State University to support the development of a collective model of mentorship centered on Indigenous knowledge and practices, establishing the Praxes of Indigenous Knowledge and Collective Mentorship project at the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands under the directorship of poet, 2020 National Book Award finalist and creative writing Associate Professor Natalie Diaz.

“Our goal is to build a foundation of knowledge for Indigenous artists and scholars that challenges institutional habits of disseminating that knowledge,” said Diaz, associate professor of English and the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry. “The way mentorship occurs in our Indigenous communities is continual and across generations, in a relationship of reciprocity. This project will initiate a sustained conversation among Indigenous scholars from different regions, tribes, countries and generations. We want to move beyond the one-on-one mentorship model and return to a more collective imagining and creating.” 

The Collective Mentorship project will introduce a new model of mentorship and scholarship, enlisting postdoctoral fellows and graduate research assistants as mentors to stress the importance of relationships and reciprocity and create academic structures to honor knowledge production of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. By bringing together small groups of students, faculty and visiting scholars for discussions in an intimate space free from assimilative pressures, the project aims to generate new courses at ASU through the production of a curriculum of best practices for collective mentorship and teaching models, along with six to eight individual publications and one collective publication each year.

Natalie Diaz

Natalie Diaz 

The program has a level of intentionality to generate the presence of more Indigenous peoples and ideas in decision-making capacities according to the program’s co-principal, Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy.

“Indigenous peoples are often invisible in academic institutions. We’re usually removed from the conversation until November when we celebrate Native American Heritage Month. Or when there is talk of Thanksgiving,” said Brayboy, who is a President’s Professor, director of the Center for Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian affairs. “This grant allows us to consider what kinds of structures we want to put in place to begin mentoring new generations of Indigenous scholars to make our presence more visible in every day settings and not just in November.” 

Currently, there are approximately 3,500 faculty and 18,000 staff members at the university. ASU’s 42 Indigenous faculty members, many of whom are senior members of the ASU academy and will retire within the next decade, represent just over 1% of the entire faculty.

Brayboy co-wrote “Praxes of Indigenous Knowledge and Collective Mentorship: Indigenous Origin and Migration as Collective Praxis” with Diaz. Blending their talents, the two scholars introduced a nuanced and innovative model of mentorship that will prepare emerging Indigenous academics to understand, through practice, the importance of building relationships and activates a plan to create a future for themselves in academic structures.

Man in glasses smiling

Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy 

This is a conglomeration of work Diaz and Brayboy have been doing separately. Brayboy has been convening weekly meetings of Indigenous scholars (from the ages of 22 to 70) for a year to discuss the role of Indigenous knowledges and the future of the planet. Diaz has also been doing this at the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands, her brainchild that launched in 2020. In the past year, the center has convened national and international scholars, artists and activists to build interdisciplinary collective inquiries on urgent issues.

The gift follows a previous $750,000 grant in 2019 to ASU for Native Narratives, which supports college completion and graduate school preparation for American Indian students.

Man in tie and suit

Armando Bengochea 

“The Foundation is delighted to support the extraordinary and dynamic tandem of our two principal investigators on this grant, Natalie Diaz and Bryan Brayboy,” said Mellon Senior Program Officer Armando Bengochea. “Their joint vision for creation within ASU, and among their peers elsewhere, a new way of being, thriving and flourishing for Native scholars while also helping to transform the traditional spaces of a large academic institution is breathtaking and compelling.”

The bulk of the $4.2 million grant will fund several initiatives and collaborative efforts over a four-year period. They will include collective conversations at ASU; collaborative talks sharing Indigenous knowledge at reservations; curriculum development and research; migratory land-based engagements at other universities; increasing the number of postdoctoral graduates and graduate research assistants; and hosting workshops, symposiums and public-facing events and performances at other institutions. The hope is to increase the number of Indigenous faculty, scholars and graduate students and build knowledge and mentorship structures in and outside of the university.

The grant money will also fund several new positions in the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands, including a program manager, project coordinator, media and publishing futures specialist, four graduate research assistants, elder and artist scholars, two new postdoctoral students and an evaluator consultant.

In addition to Brayboy and Diaz, core faculty for this program will include Megan Bang, professor of the learning sciences and psychology at Northwestern University and senior vice president at the Spencer Foundation; Linda Tuhuwai Smith, a Maori scholar and professor at the University of Waikato; Aulani Wilhelm, a native Hawaiian scholar and vice president of Oceans, Conservation International; and one more Indigenous scholar to be determined at a later date.

Once these people and systems are in place, Diaz believes a paradigm shift could be in the offing.

“We will create a 21st-century space for Indigenous scholars to be present in institutions of higher education, to change the way those institutions imagine, and to elevate and escalate our knowledges and mentoring relationships,” Diaz said.

Top photo of the ASU Charter on the Tempe campus by ASU Now

Reporter , ASU News


ASU Department of Psychology amplifying voices of color

Psychology graduate students working to promote conversations about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in academia

January 28, 2021

In response to the protests over the death of George Floyd in May 2020, graduate students in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology found themselves asking how they could enact meaningful change in academia.

This question spawned the Amplified Voices Graduate Committee, a graduate student-led initiative led by Skye Mendes, Vanesa Perez, Juan Hernandez, Beza Bekele, Rana Ulhman, Felix Muniz and Veronica Oro. Amplified Voices Graduate Committee The Amplified Voices Graduate Committee, a graduate student-led initiative led by Skye Mendes, Vanesa Perez, Juan Hernandez, Beza Bekele, Rana Ulhman, Felix Muniz and Veronica Oro. Also featured on the right are speakers Clint Smith and Shardé Davis. Download Full Image

According to the American Council on Education, although over 40% of associate degrees and 31% of bachelor’s degrees were earned by a student of color, only 8% were earned by African American students and only 6% of faculty nationwide were African American. Additionally, African American students borrowed on average $4,000 more in student loans per student than any other ethnicity.

The goal of the Amplified Voices team is to foster an open dialogue about real issues and biases that exist in university environments. The Amplified Voices speaker series highlights topics such as the lived experience of underrepresented academics and ways research and teaching practices can be more equity-minded.

“A big goal that we had in developing this series was to humanize these topics and share these people's lived experiences in the right way. We wanted to put an authentic face and a voice to these topics that are often just talked about in the shadows,” said Vanesa Perez, a fifth-year graduate student in the clinical psychology program.

The project has been funded by programs and individual faculty members within the Department of Psychology and through a Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) seed grant from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

ASU psychology community members who RSVP for an Amplified Voices talk will be provided with background resources chosen by the speaker. Each presentation also includes calls-to-action, with the goal of actually activating change.

The first speaker for the series was Clint Smith, staff writer at The Atlantic and author of "Counting Descent," a book of poems published to critical acclaim in 2016, and the forthcoming nonfiction book, "How the Word is Passed," which addresses America's reckoning with its relationship to the history of slavery. He presented stories and poetry with historical context to an audience of over 200 faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students. After illustrating some problems that many students of color face, he described tangible ways to make a difference in academic settings. Smith’s calls to action included the importance of adding historical context to courses taught at universities, reflecting on what stories and histories are included in or omitted from our narratives, and reframing work that may be rooted in deficit models.

“Because of the lack of representation of other academics of color, it can get tough to have those deeper conversations because people do not have the same lived experience. The goal of this series is to answer how we connect with our broader community of color. We want to have experts on race, bias and discrimination in academia present and help to share the basics of how we can do better as a department,” said Juan Hernandez, a third-year clinical psychology graduate student who is also a Sharon Manne Scholar.

The next speaker in the series is Shardé Davis, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut who created the viral hashtag #Blackintheivory. Her talk will feature how “Blackademics” — Black faculty, postdocs and graduate students— can stand up for truth and make lasting change to the traditional structure of academic institutions, the so-called “Ivory Tower.”

 Additional initiatives in the department

The Department of Psychology also recently launched new diversity initiatives including the ENERGIZE Project, designed to make the path easier into research labs for underrepresented students, created an internal Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging committee — Psych for All — and has raised $85,000 of private philanthropy for a new Jenessa Shapiro Undergraduate Research Scholarship to support underrepresented students who are pursuing research.

Visit the ASU Department of Psychology page for more information about the Amplified Voices group and upcoming presentations.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology