Realizing the New American University Design Aspirations

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ASU articulates eight design aspirations that characterize the New American University.  Here are some ways that the School for the Future of Innovation in Society helps realize them.

Conduct Use-inspired Research: Through its close relationship with the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes (CSPO) – consistently ranked one of the top ten Science and Technology think tanks in the world and the top at a US university – SFIS faculty conduct research on some of the most pressing problems facing humanity: How do subsistence farmers adapt to climate change? How can emerging technologies like nanotechnology, synthetic biology, geoengineering and artificial intelligence be developed responsibly and governed democratically? How can we expand access and equity while transitioning large-scale socio-technical systems like energy production to a more sustainable basis? Opportunities to participate in research projects are available to students at all levels.

Leverage Our Place: SFIS faculty take advantage of our place here in Tempe, the state capital in Phoenix, the state of Arizona, and desert southwest in a number of ways. Our outreach activities include a robust partnership with the Arizona Science Center. Our research on the ethical, social and policy side of energy transitions includes collaborations with state and local energy companies and public authorities. But our place is also Washington, DC, where our partnership with CSPO in DC offers internships in Washington DC for students, provides co-curricular opportunities like Science Outside the Lab for graduates from ASU and elsewhere, and coordinates seminars and professional development programs for policy makers and other professionals.

Transform Society: Socially transformative actions can be as small as a helpful insight, or as large as an educational reform reaching millions. SFIS faculty have been involved across all these scales. A city planner in Phoenix heard something interesting about the vision of the Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS) at ASU, and soon she was meeting with faculty who designed an interdisciplinary graduate studio that helped perform background research, analysis and engagement for her study of the future of Phoenix. Another CNS team collaborated with science museums to educate visitors about nanotechnology, reaching some ten million people with information and questions about the values that go along with the development of nanotechnology.

Value Entrepreneurship: SFIS courses and curricula are designed to allow students to make and follow their creative instincts and innovative choices. Success is less about checking the right box and more about taking intellectual risks and designing novel combinations. Master’s students put their knowledge to use in capstone applied projects that bring new ways of thinking to public and private sector organizations. Doctoral students create their own fields of study. Our faculty work the same way: They have developed innovative concepts that resonate with scholars and practitioners alike, they have pioneered new ways of communicating across intellectual boundaries, they have founded new journals, and they have helped create intellectual communities and communities of practice where there were none before.

Enable Student Success: The words of visionary John Seely Brown – “teach content, mentor skills, and cultivate dispositions” inspire the approach of SFIS to enable student success. Because we teach cross-disciplinary content, mentor for 21st century skills like critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication, and cultivate dispositions to prepare now for the inevitable challenges of the future, graduates of SFIS and CSPO are sought after by private sector, government and academic employers, including current employers: Honeywell, Intel, Google, Cisco Systems, the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian), the US Department of State and USAID, NASA, Michigan State University, the University of California at Berkeley, and University of Southern California.

Fuse Intellectual Disciplines: Faculty in SFIS represent intellectual disciplines as diverse as physics and geography, law and electrical engineering, political science and environmental science, geology and science and technology studies. The fusion of these perspectives shows in curricula that examine the human and social dimensions of science and technology, research programs that integrate humanistic and policy understandings of energy with scientific and technical understandings, and activities like Emerge, an annual event supported by SFIS, which blurs boundaries not only among disciplines but also between art and science, present and future, and university and community.

Be Socially Embedded: SFIS faculty and students work in and with communities to achieve common goals together. Collaborating with natural scientists and engineers on a training program for doctoral students studying the generation of solar power, SFIS faculty helped expose students to the communities surrounding local power stations, to help them understand that large technological systems are also interwoven with politics, jobs, cultures, landscapes, and other dimensions of social meaning. In another project, a student used an internship opportunity to study and work directly with refugee communities in the Phoenix area. After graduation, the student accepted a job with the same organization in Idaho to apply the research findings to refugee communities there and across the United States.

Engage Globally: Many contemporary and future challenges play out on the global stage, and SFIS is ready to meet them there. Since 2009, faculty, students and staff in SFIS have help lead US participation in World Wide Views, a global public deliberation activity that has fed into global decision making around global warming, biodiversity, and climate and energy. A vibrant master’s program addresses social, economic, and technological challenges at the intersection of global technology and development. Doctoral student research energy and society in north Africa, smart cities in Brazil and Korea, the history of biophysics in China, and nuclear power in India. SFIS touches, and is touched by, people and issues from across the globe.