New pillars of education to serve community in multiple ways

Broadening access to higher education. Advancing research that helps people. Taking responsibility for the communities it serves.

These are promises laid out in Arizona State University’s charter, and now — to better fulfill those promises — they are the three “pillars” around which the university will organize its efforts going forward.

Three pillars graphic

The Academic, Knowledge and Learning enterprises are led by women:

  • Nancy Gonzales has been named as the university’s next executive vice president and university provost and will begin her tenure leading the Academic Enterprise on July 1. The Academic Enterprise encompasses everything to do with degree-seeking students and the faculty who teach them.
  • Sally C. Morton began serving as executive vice president of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise on Feb. 1. The Knowledge Enterprise is the research arm of the university.
  • Maria Anguiano was named executive vice president of ASU’s Learning Enterprise in December 2020. The Learning Enterprise includes the university’s resources for lifelong learners, from kindergartners to mid-career professionals to retired people.

The Learning Enterprise is especially relevant for people who never knew that ASU had resources for them. It covers the ASU Prep Digital online charter school for K–12 students, professional development courses such as Six Sigma, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, a program in which ASU faculty teach short, noncredit courses to adults over 50.

Nancy Gonzales

Gonzales said the new reorganization represents the true power of ASU.

“The pillars really reflect our charter and the way in which we are not just a traditional institution of learning but also a knowledge-generating institution where we do take fundamental responsibility for our broader community,” she said.

“And reaching out to learners beyond the traditional college student is a fundamentally important aspect of our mission.”

Academic Enterprise

The Academic Enterprise at ASU has expanded access to higher education through initiatives such as ASU Online and easier transfer from community colleges, Gonzales said.

“But it’s not just enrollment, it’s student success and we’ve taken a more student-centric approach,” she said.

Getting students to graduation has been a core aspect of ASU’s mission, with supports such as adaptive learning and experiential learning.

“It’s also important that we know we serve a diverse student population and make sure that our curriculum is inclusive, and we have faculty members who offer a sense of connection and representation so students can see themselves,” she said.

Three pillars graphic
An illustration of the trajectory of ASU's Academic Enterprise.

Knowledge Enterprise

The Knowledge Enterprise oversees ASU’s research, which had more than $640 million in research expenditures in fiscal year 2019 and $673 million in FY 2020, as well as 135 patents and 19 startup companies in 2020.

“Our goal in Knowledge Enterprise is to foster use-inspired research, which goes back to how we use that research to answer questions of importance to our community,” Morton said.

“That doesn’t preclude what we call basic research, down to the molecules. We are intellectually curious. And that feeds into use-inspired research.”

One of ASU’s design aspirations is “social embeddedness.”

Sally Morton

Sally C. Morton

“Often as researchers, we were taught to tell the community, ‘We know what you need.’ That’s the wrong way to go about serving ASU’s charter,” said Morton.

“We want to hear — really hear — the questions that the community is interested in, and research them in a full-circle way that brings the research back to the community.”

Morton, who came from Virginia Tech, is a statistician.

“At the land-grant university where I worked, we would think about agricultural crops. I say data are the new crop and we have to understand how to gather that crop and make it useful.

“Data by itself isn’t of any use. It’s how we translate it into information that people can use.”

Knowledge Enterprise is also focused on transdisciplinary research, gathering experts across many fields to tackle complex problems. This transdisciplinary approach is embraced at the student level — for example, at the student-led Luminosity Lab — up to the space-travel level, where astrophysicists, artists and engineers are collaborating on the Interplanetary Initiative.

Recently, Knowledge Enterprise gathered researchers from across the university to think about artificial intelligence in national security.

“It was everything from the methodological work on algorithms, such as how we validate them, how they work, to work on facial recognition,” Morton said. “There’s legal work going on, regulatory, social science. There are ethical and equity issues around AI. How do we communicate all this? It will impact all of us even if we don’t know about it.”

Knowledge Enterprise is constantly aware of the interconnectedness of the three pillars, Morton said.

“We generate knowledge and we push it out to the degree-seeking students and then to the lifelong learners and the community as well,” she said.

Three pillars graphic
The growth of the Academic Enterprise along with the Research Enterprise.

Learning Enterprise

The Learning Enterprise is a new initiative that will serve people across their life span, said Anguiano, who will take the lead on harnessing all of ASU’s assets to give everyone a chance to expand their social and economic opportunities.

“We’re a lifelong-learning ecosystem that will be technology-enabled and -integrated, so a learner can plug in as needed,” she said.

Learning Enterprise will focus on keeping people on a pathway to bachelor’s degrees through programs such as Universal Learner Courses, which allow people to try out college classes, earn credits at a lower cost and pay only if they pass.

Maria Anguiano

Maria Anguiano 

“We want seamless on-ramps to higher education,” Anguiano said.

“We want to get folks to see themselves as ASU students, and be prepared to do so early or later in their lives.” 

Many people have already earned a degree and worked for years in a career before finding out they need new skills in a rapidly changing workplace — or a different career altogether. Continuing and Professional Education in ASU’s Learning Enterprise offers more than 250 courses, in person and online, in topics such as marketing, sustainability, organizational diversity, health care and communication. Some lead to credentials, including data analytics, small business management and Six Sigma.

The Learning Enterprise will incorporate many programs that have existed at ASU for years, such as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and create new ones. For example, ASU Local will be a network of sites where ASU Online students can gather in their own communities to study together and share Sun Devil experiences. Current ASU Local sites are the ASU California Center in downtown Los Angeles, opening in the fall semester, and the ASU Barbara Barrett and Sandra Day O’Connor Washington Center in the nation’s capital. Several more ASU Local sites are planned.

Activating the charter means engaging people who never realized that they could be part of the ASU community. Learning Enterprise offers enrichment for the community at large, from free personal-development courses in topics such as space missions, climate research and entrepreneurship to Mirabella at ASU, an intergenerational living and learning complex near the Tempe campus.

Three pillars graphic
Adding the Learning Enterprise means a wider expanse of education opportunities going forward.

“Learning happens everywhere, and it happens with groups of people, so we want to create a learning experience that highlights that — the facilitation of people coming together, solving problems and being engaged in community, civic and intercultural learning,” Anguiano said.

“We want people engaged in learning for the fun of it and for the love of it.”

Find more of the Learning Enterprise’s offerings at the ASU for You website.

Top photo illustration by ASU Media Relations and Strategic Communications. Graphics by Chad Musch/ASU.

Mary Beth Faller