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'Seize the Moment': Coalition of ASU leaders launch vision to address the intersecting crises of the pandemic – ASU Now

Shaping tomorrow requires path-breaking, creative solutions. That challenge has never been more critical than it is today, as a “syndemic” of intersecting crises — the coronavirus pandemic, racial injustice and accompanying civil unrest, and cascading environmental hazards — have had a cascading effect on social systems and death rates around the world.
At this critical time in human history, Regents Professor Sally Kitch, Professor of Practice Diana Ayton-Shenker and a coalition of influential leaders across Arizona State University have launched Seize the Moment, a new initiative designed to address the challenges of the current moment through transdisciplinary collaborations in the arts, sciences, humanities and technology in pedagogy, research and public engagement. A mosaic of images depicting various social, health and environmental crises. Download Full Image
“We know that complex problems require creative solutions,” said Ayton-Shenker, CEO of Leonardo/ISAST and executive director of the think tank’s partnership with ASU. “Creativity is what the world needs today. To seize this moment at ASU, Leonardo is honored to collaborate with the Humanities Lab and the Global Futures Lab, centering arts, science and technology together with the humanities as key drivers to reimagine higher education.” 
Centering around themes of social justice, environmental action, public health and future building, Seize the Moment features a diverse array of interdisciplinary, collaborative engagements within and beyond the university, ranging from academic classes and online courses to research grants, public events, pitch contests and more. 
“Often, humans are limited to addressing the symptoms of the problems they really need to solve,” said Kitch, founding director of the Humanities Lab. “Fully probing global challenges requires addressing the questions considered by artists and humanists: How is environmental injustice related to racial injustice? Why have humans allowed their planetary home to reach its current degraded state?” 
Working in transdisciplinary student and faculty teams, the Humanities Lab offers students hands-on opportunities to tackle complex problems in society. 
“Your assignments aren’t just … quizzes or papers,” said student Sofya Pangburn, “but projects that can make an impact.” 
Seize the Moment also features new Leonardo Labs, a series of online courses developed in partnership with Leonardo/ISAST, one of the foremost arts-science-technology organizations in the world. Drawing on over 50 years at the forefront of publishing, fellowships, residencies and more, Leonardo Labs use experimental art and publications, augmented reality and other game-changing, creative technologies to navigate crises, build resilience and shape the future.
With the Seize the Moment initiative, students and faculty will have the opportunity to take their impact outcomes to the next level through Amplifier mini-grants and Beyond the Lab fellowships, which provide competitive funding to create projects and reach new communities.  
Inspired by his experience in the “Humanizing Digital Culture” course earlier this fall, graduate student Jason Robinson is currently working on a proposal to transform elevators into a public art space through augmented reality. 
“As a user experience designer and master’s student in public interest technology at ASU, I spend a lot of time thinking about how we express, communicate and function in our digital lives. We’re currently putting together a detailed feasibility study of the proposal we formed in the lab: a distributed, place-based public gallery exhibition that uses augmented reality (and elevators) as tools to tell impactful human stories. I can’t wait to see where this investigation takes us.”
Other outcomes from this semester’s labs include a performance art piece on greenwashing, a video series on the intersection of race and disability, and a brochure on vaccine hesitancy among immigrant populations. Student outcomes will be featured in a dynamic variety show on Dec. 2. 
This spring, Seize the Moment and the Humanities Lab are offering eight new courses across a wide variety of subjects and disciplines. In “Language Emergency,” students will collaborate with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian community to document and revitalize the O’odham and Piipaash languages. In “Decolonizing ‘Madness,'” students will map the cumulative effects of intergenerational trauma and amplify Black, Indigenous and people of color’s resilience and strategies of resistance. 
For all the impact labs have on students, they’re also powerful experiences for faculty, who rarely have the opportunity to collaborate outside of their own discipline.
“For me, integrating creative fiction, films and documentaries into the course was a very unique and enriching experience,” said Rimjhim Aggarwal, who co-taught “Food, Health and Climate Change” with Joni Adamson in fall 2021. “It led to the kinds of conversations I have never had in my own classes related to the historical roots of conditions we are facing today.”
Adamson concurred: “Although Professor Aggarwal and I had worked together on grant projects before, I had never had the pleasure of seeing her teach. Nor was I as familiar with the policy issues as she, so I was able to put fictional works into a much deeper and more policy-oriented context. I had not known before how these facts shape our current climate, economic and social issues when it comes to food and agriculture.”
Outside of teaching a lab, ASU faculty have additional opportunities through Seize the Moment seed grants, which offer up to $10,000 to support the collaborative, transdisciplinary, solution-focused scholarship called for by the current syndemic. Explicitly designed to bring together the arts and humanities with science and technology, the seed grants are one of the most transdisciplinary programs of its kind at Arizona State University. For its first cycle, Seize the Moment received over 30 pitches. The recipients will be announced in January 2022. 
This spring, Seize the Moment and Leonardo will launch Leonardo Liftoff, a dynamic showcase for art-centered enterprise and creative economy entrepreneurs, shining a spotlight on the ideas, people and projects that can change the world.  
Over the last 10 years, Arizona State University has dedicated itself to becoming a New American University, serving as model for how transdisciplinary, socially-embedded research can advance research and discovery of public value, improve the lives of individual people and assume fundamental responsibility for the communities it serves. 
As a deeper meditation on the values and principles contained in ASU’s Charter and Design Aspirations, Seize the Moment represents the next stage of higher education, serving at the forefront of Arizona State University’s commitment to create a more just and livable global future. While the program has received funding for two years through a Strategic Initiative grant from the President’s Office, the hope is to effect a permanent transformation in higher education.
To learn more about Seize the Moment, individuals can sign up for the mailing list or visit the initiative’s website at
Public Engagement Coordinator, Seize the Moment
Editor’s note: This story was written in partnership with ASU’s Smart City Cloud Innovation Center and the eThekwini Municipality.The future of cities is becoming increasingly dependent on the use of data to make informed decisions regarding the planning, implementation and monitoring of basic services provided to the community.When eThekwini, the third largest municipality in South Africa, wan…
Editor’s note: This story was written in partnership with ASU’s Smart City Cloud Innovation Center and the eThekwini Municipality.
The future of cities is becoming increasingly dependent on the use of data to make informed decisions regarding the planning, implementation and monitoring of basic services provided to the community. Laptop screen displaying various data-related charts and infographics. The future of cities is becoming increasingly dependent on the use of data to make informed decisions. Download Full Image
When eThekwini, the third largest municipality in South Africa, wanted to create data-driven strategic decisions regarding equal access to their water supply, they turned to Arizona State University’s Smart City Cloud Innovation Center following a visit to the university. 
Known as “the CIC” at ASU, the Smart City Cloud Innovation Center partners with agencies and organizations to solve pressing community and regional challenges using smart technology solutions. eThekwini and the CIC have been working collaboratively since July 2020 to understand the city’s data challenges in supplying water to over 3 million residents spread across 900 square miles.  

Smart solutions for water management 

Ranking with gold and oil, water is an officially tradable commodity in several countries because of its increasing rarity and precious value in energy production, agriculture and general public use. With water scarcity affecting every continent, the United Nations defines “scarcity” as both a physical shortage of water and “the failure of institutions to ensure a regular supply due to a lack of adequate infrastructure.” So even if a municipality has plenty of water available, managing it is as equally important as supply. 
To kick off the partnership between eThekwini and the Smart City Cloud Innovation Center, a series of virtual workshops were held with eThekwini’s data custodians, data users and water sector partners to unpack the data landscape in the water space. 
As both organizations operate within and serve water scarce communities, ASU was able to leverage on-campus experts to partake in these exploratory discussions, including Ray Quay, an ASU research professional and senior Global Futures scientist who leads research on water resources, climate change, regional growth policy issues and scenario analysis.  
Ryan Hendrix, general manager of the CIC, described the importance of this collaborative approach: “We know that the transformation into a data-driven smart city requires a carefully constructed process that uses a multi-stakeholder approach. These workshops use Amazon’s working-backwards design process that puts the customers — in this case residents of eThekwini — at the center of any solution, and uses a series of exercises that facilitates the co-creation and co-production of sustainable and inclusive solutions.” 
Student interns from the center played a major role in executing the design and development of the dashboard solution, including the development of a data lake and the water analytics dashboard.
The result of this collaboration is the development of a customizable water dashboard for use across the region. Known as SHANA — short for “ukushintshana,” which means “exchange” in Zulu — the data exchange prototype highlights the art of possibilities when multiple data sources are integrated, analyzed and visualized.
“This work is going a long way toward supporting our city’s vision of becoming a data-driven smart city,” said Sandile Mbatha, senior manager at eThekwini Municipality. “This process has allowed for a dismantling of silos and a creation of new data partnerships that extend beyond sectoral lines. The achievement has not only been the production of the proof of concept, but also the creation of a template for future data integration as a collective process.”
Using the Amazon Quicksight platform, the dashboard for eThekwini aggregates data from several points throughout the area, including the government-owned supplier of water for the province Umgeni Water. The dashboard provides an overview for four specific areas critical to monitoring water supply:

  1. Overall usage data by domestic consumption or non-domestic.
  2. Dam level status measures of water in each dam to indicate water leakage or overflow.
  3. Amount of water sold versus used.
  4. Consumption by month or season, including special indicators for COVID-19 usage or the drought of 2016–17.

This information helps the supplier identify critical areas, including water leakage, theft and dam overflow in order to concentrate efforts to mitigate identified areas of concern.
“We hope the partnership between eThekwini Municipality and ASU’s CIC will continue beyond this project and to other areas of expertise relating to enhancing efficiencies in the city’s service delivery system,” Sandile said. 
Learn more about how ASU’s Smart City Cloud Innovation Center integrates collaboration, technology and innovation in partnership with organizations in Arizona and around the world. For more information on this project, check out the story “Becoming data-driven: Lessons from tackling Durban’s water crisis” via Amazon Web Services.
PR + Editorial Manager , University Technology Office, Creative + Communications
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