Student research opportunities

New opportunities for undergraduate research at SFIS

The School for the Future of Innovation in Society launched an undergraduate research fellows program in fall 2017, designed to give undergraduate students a chance to engage in research projects on science & society topics, working closely with SFIS faculty mentors.

Engaging in research projects as an undergraduate is a great way to broaden your ASU experience. You’ll get the chance to develop critical skills in how to gather reliable data, how to analyze this information, and how to present your findings to others in a clear and compelling way. These skills can prove very useful in the workplace. Research experience can also help you decide whether you’re interested in graduate school – and, if you are, it can significantly increase your chances of getting accepted.

Students participating in the SFIS undergraduate research program can apply to receive a stipend ($1,200 per semester) or to receive research credit (2 credits per semester). You will be expected to spend 5-7 hours per week as a research fellow, including attending a weekly meeting with your faculty mentor and a series of research masterclasses. (For spring 2021, faculty meetings and masterclasses can be completed online/remotely.) You will also be expected to present a research poster at an end-of-semester research symposium (likely virtual). Subject to student interest and faculty approval, students may participate in this program over multiple semesters.

Applications for the Spring 2021 research program will be open from December 21, with a closing date of Monday, January 4 at 11:59 p.m. Spring research projects will ideally start the week of January 11, 2021. If you would like to apply for a research position, please complete the online application.

For questions, please contact Elisha Thompson

Faculty advisorProject titleAvailable for stipendAvailable for creditPre-requisites required
Nalini ChhetriGrassroots innovations: Its value to science and societyNoYesNone
Faheem HussainRethinking death in the digital era: What happens to your digital self after you die?NoYesNone
Matthew Feagan and Jennifer RichterValuing student knowledge: researching the design of an SFIS peer mentoring programNoYesSee below
Emma FrowGames for exploring synthetic biology prototyping a board gameYesYesSee below
Mary Jane ParmentierTechnology for the developing world: Responsible innovation and factors for successNoYesNone
Darshan KarwatEngineering social Justice, and environmental protection: Research vs. practiveYesYesSee below
Lauren Withycombe KeelerCapaCities ASU – Tempe Collaboration InventoryYesYesNone
Jameson WetmoreThe future of automated vehiclesYesYesNone

Full project descriptions

1. Grassroots innovations: Its value to science and society

Faculty advisor

Nalini Chhetri, Clinical Associate Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society

Research project overview

Innovations are examples of human adaptations – whether they be innovations in technologies, in management, in governance, and/or systems. A large part of our current focus is on modern innovations that are top-down and led by large companies and agencies. But incredible creativity occurs at the grassroots and goes unsung, or even unheard. Grassroots innovations are complex, and in many cases, resilient and transformative examples of human creativity. We have overlooked and even ignored them to our peril. This project will ask student(s) to 1) explore and identify through case studies, examples of grassroots innovation in technological improvement, governance and in complex systems around the world, and 2) conduct in-depth literature analysis to understand the value they bring (or can potentially bring) to current scientific knowledge, and the potential they may have for the well-being of our society.

Any pre-requisites needed? None.

Research available for stipend? ($1,200/semester): No

Research available for course credit? (2 credits/semester): Yes

Research opportunity available to ASU Online students? Yes

2. Rethinking death in the digital era: What happens to your digital self after you die?

Faculty advisor

Faheem Hussain, Clinical Assistant Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society

Research project overview

We have so many types of digital assets: social media profiles, email archives, digital music and video purchases, image galleries, web browsing histories, online subscriptions, etc. How to deal with these assets after we die has become a critical consideration as more and more of our lives take place online. Global companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon all have their own protocols for managing the digital assets of their deceased users. However, until now, there has been no significant participation in such processes from any user groups or policymakers (either within or outside the United States).

This project focuses on the need to rethink postmortem design for digital products and platforms. Students will undertake a comparative analysis of the Digital Afterlife policies of Facebook and Google, will perform in-depth literature reviews on existing digital afterlife-related challenges and innovations for users within and outside the USA, and will develop a repository of existing government policies and regulations relating to Digital Afterlife.

Any pre-requisites needed? None.

Research available for stipend? ($1,200/semester): No

Research available for course credit? (2 credits/semester): Yes

Research opportunity available to ASU Online students? Yes

3. Valuing student knowledge: Researching the design of an SFIS peer mentoring program

Faculty advisors

Mathieu Feagan, Lecturer, School for the Future of Innovation in Society and Jennifer Richter, Assistant Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society & School of Social Transformation

Research project overview

Students will be working independently as well as part of a group investigating the diverse needs of undergraduate students in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society through an action research framework. Special focus is on the power of student peer mentoring in helping students name, claim, and use their experiential knowledge from curricular and extracurricular activities for the betterment of school program design. With support from SFIS staff and faculty, students will be playing roles as peer mentors for other students: (1) designing peer mentoring drop-in workshops for meeting student needs; (2) making virtual visits to undergraduate courses to support and learn from student work; and (3) developing the logic of using peer mentoring skills to access and put in motion the power of student knowledge through a literature/document review. Students will meet weekly to plan, execute, and debrief the above interventions using methods within the parameters of action research, including journaling, participant observation, self-and group- evaluation, and other qualitative methods to support analysis of student-led peer mentoring.

Any pre-requisites needed? Students with prior qualitative research experience are particularly welcome to apply, however, any experience with peer mentorship and student-led initiatives is deemed an asset.

Research available for stipend? ($1,200/semester): No

Research available for course credit? (2 credits/semester): Yes

Research opportunity available to ASU Online students? Yes

4. Games for exploring synthetic biology: Prototyping a board game

Faculty advisor

Emma Frow, Assistant Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society & School of Biological & Health Systems Engineering

Research project overview

As part of a project funded by the National Science Foundation, we have been developing a series of games and outreach activities about synthetic biology, an area of biotechnology receiving a lot of interest and funding lately. One of these activities is a resource-based board game (inspired by Settlers of Catan) focused on using synthetic biology to build space colonies on Mars. We have the basic structure and rules laid out, and are looking for a talented undergraduate researcher to help us build (and ideally test) a formal prototype. This will involve research to familiarize yourself with the visual world of synthetic biology, and using this as inspiration to design and produce the game tiles, cards, pieces, and instruction booklet using graphic design and CAD software. With this prototype we will move into more formal testing of the game, first within the project team and then with broader audiences.

Any pre-requisites needed? Ideal applicants will (1) be comfortable working with graphic design software, CAD software and 3D-printing, and (2) have a broad interest in biotechnology and synthetic biology.

Research available for stipend? ($1,200/semester): Yes

Research available for course credit? (2 credits/semester): Yes

Research opportunity available to ASU Online students? Yes

5. Technology for the developing world: Responsible innovation and factors for success

Faculty advisor

Mary Jane Parmentier, Clinical Associate Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society

Research project overview

What happens when new technologies are introduced into developing regions? With technological interventions at the center of many national and multinational development projects around the world, it is assumed that it is a critical tool for enhancing quality of life. Yet it is well known that many technological projects fail, from large infrastructure to small-scale initiatives. However, there is a lack of organized data on how many projects fail, what makes them fail, and what contributes to success. This research project is going into its third year and based on the excellent work done by the undergraduate research team, we have identified a set of factors that help explain when and how development projects that implement technology can succeed. These factors are social, political, economic, and cultural, not technological! This year we will work to organize these factors, using a framework for responsible innovation, and analyze projects in energy, water, transportation, education, health and other sectors.  We look forward to welcoming new members to the team!

Any pre-requisites needed? None.

Research available for stipend? ($1200/semester): No

Research available for course credit? (2 credits/semester): Yes

Research opportunity available to ASU Online students? Yes

6. Engineering, social justice, and environmental protection: Research vs. practice

Faculty advisor

Darshan Karwat, Assistant Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society & The Polytechnic School

Research project overview

There has been significant research in the intersections between engineering, social justice, and environmental protection (including areas of sustainability).  Much of this research has focused on student perceptions, and how to train engineers differently.  However, it is unclear the extent to which existing research speaks to and is translated for practicing engineers, and whether new research is affecting engineering practice.  This project will (1) compile existing research that influences academic thought in engineering, and resources, tools, and processes that existing engineering companies and firms use related to environmental protection and social justice to (2) understand what the overlaps and gaps are between research and practice.

Any pre-requisites needed? Applicants must (1) have experience conducting literature reviews, (2) be an engineering student or have experience working with engineers, (3) demonstrate an understanding of intersections between social justice, environmental protection, and engineering

Research available for stipend? ($1,200/semester): Yes

Research available for course credit? (2 credits/semester): Yes

Research opportunity available to ASU Online students? Yes

7. CapaCities ASU – Tempe Collaboration Inventory

Faculty advisor

Lauren Withycombe Keeler, Assistant Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society

Research project overview

International observers and former participants reported Cuban government officials force or coerce individuals to participate and remain in the Cuban government’s labor export programs, particularly the foreign medical missions program, managed by the Unidad Central de Cooperación Médica and Ministry of Health. The Cuban government has not taken action to address its exploitative and coercive policies in these missions, which are clear indicators of human trafficking. Observers note Cuban authorities coerced some participants to remain in the program, including by withholding their passports and medical credentials; restricting their movement; using “minders” to conduct surveillance of participants outside of work; threatening to revoke their license to practice medicine in Cuba; retaliate against their family members in Cuba if participants leave the program; or impose criminal penalties, exile, and family separation if participants do not return to Cuba as directed by government supervisors. In early 2020, the Cuban government sent more medical professionals to assist countries to respond to the global COVID-19 pandemic under unclear financial arrangements.

The research student will gather open-source data from library databases, newspapers, and online NGO, think tank, and government sources regarding the history and background of Cuba’s foreign medical missions program and allegations of forced labor within that program.  The student will also gather information about Cuba’s foreign medical missions program and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic in various countries around the world. The student will collect, organize, and analyze the data and produce a report on their findings at the end of the semester.

Any pre-requisites needed? None. However, an ideal student would have Spanish language skills to search for sources in Spanish; other language skills could also be useful (e.g., Italian, Portuguese, French) but also not required.

Research available for stipend? ($1,200/semester): Yes

Research available for course credit? (2 credits/semester): Yes

Research opportunity available to ASU Online students? Yes

8. The future of automated vehicles

Faculty advisor

Jameson Wetmore, Associate Professor, School for the Future of Innovation in Society

Research project overview

Living in the Phoenix area we are fully aware that automated vehicles may be just around the corner. After all, they seem to be on every corner already.  But we still don’t know what the world will be like once they are widespread and used by everyday people. The companies building them, however, have some ideas and they’ve begun to share them with the general public. This research project will analyze the rhetoric, videos, press releases, and promises made by automated vehicle manufacturers to see what they think the future might look like.  Most of this research will be internet-based. We will seek out the materials that these companies have made public, analyze what they are saying (and not saying), compare the techniques used by different companies, and perhaps begin to think about whether the worlds they present are worlds we would like to live in. We will meet weekly via Zoom to share what we’ve found and discuss the broader implications. The goal will be to produce at least one publishable paper by the end of the semester. Project lead Prof. Jameson Wetmore has been studying the history of automated vehicles for over 20 years and is excited to explore our future with them.

Any pre-requisites needed? None.

Research available for stipend? ($1,200/semester): Yes

Research available for course credit? (2 credits/semester): Yes

Research opportunity available to ASU Online students? Yes