Snapshots of a knowledge enterprise

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September 21, 2016
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Snapshots of a knowledge enterprise

Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan shares examples of ASU’s approach and global impact as a knowledge enterprise.


Full transcript

Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, executive vice president, ASU Knowledge Enterprise and chief research and innovation officer:  Thank you all. I'm glad you're all here. I wanted to share a few talks about Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU, what that is about, and I want to share some personal stories, too, as part of that.

At ASU, we have embarked on this fantastic mission of, what we call, the New American University. That is defined by three things that we are advancing on simultaneously, namely access, excellence, and impact. All three at the same time advancing at a very rapid speed.

A knowledge enterprise view of the university, we call ASU Knowledge Enterprise, implies that we are producing three things through this knowledge enterprise view, namely people, ideas, and things reflecting this access, excellence, and impact mission of the university. We, therefore, produce outstanding people, fantastic ideas, and creating phenomenal impact.

What I'm going to do today is to share with you some anecdotes, some stories through which I can communicate the power of this conceptualization and what is happening at ASU. We have had 20 years of this Research 1 designation, a very high intensive research university status.

We called this the Legacy of Discovery campaign because much has happened even in the last 20 years. We are accelerating at such a pace that we probably will have three or four times that level of accomplishments, if not more, in the next 10 years. We're very excited by that.

Let me start off on the people front with a personal example. I have a center called the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing at ASU. [inaudible 2:18], this center is embarked upon designing technologies, devices, environments for assisting individuals with a range of disabilities.

We started off first with individuals who are blind and visually impaired. As we were working on this since 2001, around 2007, one day, a student knocked on my door. His name is David Hayden.

David came to my office and said, "Panch, I see that you're working on designing devices for individuals who are blind to be successful in their daily activities as well as productive members of society. I am a visually impaired student. I can read things as long as they can be presented to me at this distance."

"I am a double major in Math and Computer Science. I just completed my freshman year and I'm doing well. But I can already see the challenges that I'm facing or about to face – namely that when I go to a class in Math or in Computer Science specifically, I need to be able to understand what is going on from the first step to the second step to the third step to the nth step."

"In order to do this, I need to have accessibility to the board. Even if I sat in the very first row in my class, I would not have this accessibility. Therefore I worry and wonder if I will be able to successfully complete my program."

I said, "David, how can we help you? How can we work with you to be of help?" But I said one thing to David. I said, "This is not something like a problem being given to us to solve for you, but instead that you will work with us to solve this problem as a team."

"I will surround you with master's students, PhD students, postdoctoral fellows, undergraduate research students like you will be, and other high school students, all of whom work in this lab."

He took my challenge. He came in as an undergraduate research student at the start of his sophomore year of his undergraduate program. Then he started to design the solution, which he was seeking for himself and for others like him.

He had a tablet PC. He connect it through a USB interface to a pan/tilt/zoom camera, and he was able to control the zoom and the pan and the tilt, obviously, of the camera from his tablet PC. The classroom that was not accessible to him, he was able to bring the classroom through the camera into his tablet device that then he had access to the classroom material. But he did something even more clever.

He split his tablet PC screen into two halves. On the left half was this classroom notes coming in, which he would either capture as video segments or freeze the frames. Then on the right half, he developed a nice notes interface. He would take down his classroom notes and he would link his notes to the specific video segments or the frozen frames.

Now, he had enriched course content that his cited counterparts came at the end of the class to him and said, "David, will you please share your course notes with us. You have better course notes than we can ever take in the class."

David did further improve on this device in his junior year, gave the prototype to other visually impaired students so they too may try it. They would give him his feedback, so that he can improve upon this device even more. Then he submitted this prototype that he had designed at the end of his junior year to a competition of the Microsoft Company called the Microsoft Imagine Cup.

He submitted this idea and the prototype. This competition has many people entering their ideas into the competition. These are graduate students, undergraduate students from all over the country and all over the globe. His idea not only won the regional competition, he beat students from Berkeley and Stanford. But that's OK.

[laughter]

Panch:  He went to the national competition and beat all the students at that level also, MIT, Carnegie Melon, and others. There were in 11 categories. His category was called the "touch and tablet" category. Then he went to the world competition in Poland. There were 325,000 entries total in this Microsoft Imagine Cup competition in these 11 categories. He won the world competition also.

He was excited and called me from Poland and said, "Dr. Panch, we have won the competition." That is the power of what Arizona State University provides to our students. The environment that anybody, if they were to put their ideas, hard work and all their energies in, that they can succeed.

He again challenged himself in the software design category the next year, won it again in the national level, and now he's at MIT pursuing his PhD. He's also started a small spin‑out, so that he might produce this device in broader quantities that might be available for other visually impaired students to be successful in their endeavors.

That's what I mean by excellent people. Every student of this university has the opportunity to engage in very creative endeavors by working with faculty and other students and staff, in order to be able to create these amazing things for themselves and others.

On to next, ideas. I promised you fantastic ideas. I talked about amazing people, promised you fantastic ideas. There are so many of them, I'm going to pick just one. This is a project which was funded by the Department of Defense in their Minerva program.

In this project, a social scientist, an anthropologist, Mark Woodward, working with a computer scientist, Hasan Davulcu are looking at all the transactions that happened in terms of terrorists or other kinds of folks, communicating amongst themselves, in languages, in terms of terms and trying to understand when those things do rise to the level of what might be considered as undesirable or rising to a level, which might be concerning.

They're working in collaboration in an international way, in a global interdisciplinary project, you may say, with experts in religious studies, in communications, in other areas, such that you might bring all these inspirations together and that you might work with on‑the‑ground NGOs and other agencies that gather the data on the ground.

Combining that with scouring the Web, the Twitter accounts, the Facebook accounts, etc., to be able to extract that information that then can when combined with the on‑the‑ground information, can provide some clue in terms of when things are getting to be talked about in a manner that might be concerning.

This is a very successful project. I would encourage you to read about this project, because I have a very short time to talk about each of them in great level of detail, but it is very exciting.

The DOD recognize this project as exemplar project and now have funded the second phase, but again Hasan Davulcu working with a fellow computer science faculty member, Paulo Shakarian and collaborating with Mark Woodward, are working on the next set of tools.

They call it the looking glass ‑‑ the software ‑‑ to do some amazing things that can help our nation, our national security and more importantly, excite our students through these kinds of projects that they may then in the future become innovators, designers and can achieve amazing things.

Let's talk about the third part. I promised you impact. Let's take some examples on impact for example, and again I would like to focus on students because that's what we're all about here at Arizona State University ‑‑ amazing students, producing amazing students.

This where we talk about things, it's about students and faculty and staff working in the university and with our partners in the community, be it a Mayo clinic, be it an industry like Intel, whatever it takes in order that we may produce these fantastic ideas which can them move to the realm of producing fantastic things.

We have amazing number of patents by our faculty. We're ranked fourth nationally among universities without a medical school in terms of the number of patents. Let's talk about what we do with those things.

Here is again, a group of undergraduate students who got together and said, "The problem of access to water in different parts of the world, particularly the developing world, is a real challenge. People have to carry water on top of their heads miles together to be able to get the water that they need. How might we be able to help in the situation?"

It's how they started off thinking about the solution. They designed, they took this beer drum ‑‑ a simple thing ‑‑ attached handles to that, so that the water can be made more portable. Instead of having to carry it, to be able to roll the drum with the water from the source to their home.

They did again something even more clever. As this drum is rotating they use the kinetic energy for purification of the water at the same time, so that you might not only have the water as portable but also potable. That's the ingenuity of the students.

It's being able to take those very interesting problems ‑‑ global grant challenge problems ‑‑ even if you're an undergraduate student that you are able to now find solutions that can really provide significant value and provide one pathway for a solution for those situations.

That's what impact really means. I will give you another example. I talked about working with our partners in industry Intel. Intel came to us and said, "We have this one billion dollar factory in Vietnam. We would like to get more trained graduates, how might ASU be able to help in that situation?"

We took on the challenge ‑‑ Intel is our partner ‑‑ we worked with Intel, the ministries in Vietnam as well as the USAID together as partners and build a training for the trainers program, so that we might produce engineering faculty members that will be able to now generate the number of students with engineering qualifications that Intel needed in Vietnam to be successful.

This pilot project which started off as a five million dollar co‑investment not only addressed it the way Intel needed it, it won the Secretary of State, at that time, Clinton's Award for Corporate Excellence in engagement around the world because ASU partnered with Intel in this project and now is in the next phase doing even broader things helping Intel.

Not only just Intel now but many other companies in Vietnam to be successful.

We take on these challenges of our partners. Take on the challenges as we see them in different parts of the world and how might we be able to bring the right team, the right partners, such that we may be able to actually create the impact. That is what a knowledge enterprise is all about. I repeat again, amazing people, fantastic ideas and phenomenal impact. That's what we are about.

I'm so happy that we are able to bring that excellence that is there in the university and manifest it through the KEDtalks that we're launching right now, so that we might take the curiosity and connect it with the amazing discoveries that is happening at ASU, and that's what we hope.

This is a place of tremendous intellect, so thank you all.