Episode 49 - Innovation: Innovation as a Driver of Accessibility

The current series of podcasts is focused on innovation, and we're excited to showcase ideas from various industries and people worldwide. In episode 49, President Scott L Wyatt and Professor Steve Meredith invite Arizona State University’s Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer Sethuraman (Panch) Panchanathan to discuss innovation as a driver of growth and accessibility, ASU’s inclusion charter, and the benefits of online education.

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I’m your host, Steve Meredith joining me, as he always does, on this beautiful January day is President Scott Wyatt. Hi, Scott.

Scott Wyatt: Hello, Steve. It’s nice to be with you today.

Meredith: It is, and we’re going to talk to somebody who is in a much warmer part of the country today and I was saying in our little preliminary interview that I am actually am an alumnus of this university, Arizona State University, and a proud Sun Devil. Got my doctorate there, did my undergraduate and master’s at the University of Utah but lived in the Phoenix area for a long time and have nothing but great love and respect for Arizona State University, and our guest is a very prominent member of the administration at ASU, and why don’t you introduce him?

Wyatt: Thank you so much. Yeah, we have with us today Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, and I think you typically go by Dr. Panch, is that right?

Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan: That’s right, Scott. You did a great job with my name. [All laugh]

Wyatt: Well, you are the Chief Research and Innovation Officer at one of America’s most innovative universities. So, we’re honored to have you with us, thanks for joining us today.

Panchanathan: Thank you for having me and I’m delighted to be with you.

Wyatt: Why don’t we started by inviting you to provide just a little bit of an introduction. You haven’t been the Chief Research and Innovation Officer your whole time at Arizona State, you’ve served in a variety of roles. So, why don’t you start by telling us how you went…how you first came to Arizona State and then walk us through that quickly?

Panchanathan: Happy to do so, Scott. I came to Arizona State University in 1997 and I often joke around, as we have President Crow since 2002 that I was part of the “before Crow” or the “B.C.” era of ASU. [All laugh] And so, I joined as a faculty member in computer science and engineering department and by the time President Crow came here in 2002, I had started a research center called the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing, which I still direct, and that center is responsible for designing devices and technology for assisting individuals with disabilities. And when President Crow came here, he looked at what I was doing and it aligned with his vision of what a university ought to be: transdisciplinary, solutions-focused with impact at the same time advancing this fantastic intellectual persona and innovation and entrepreneurial mindset—all of that at the university—and he saw what we were doing at the center that had those elements, and so, he asked me if I would lead the Computer Science and Engineering Department. And so, I became the chair of the department soon after he arrived here, and then I proposed the formation of a new School of Computing and Informatics, which is how you bring computer science and work with various problems for solutions requiring collaborations between computer scientists and engineers as well as psychologists, cognitive scientists, anthropologists from the school of business and a host of other areas across the university in order to find real solutions to problems. So, this school, then, has evolved and matured and is doing exceedingly well as one of the schools in the Fulton Schools of Engineering. And then in 2009, I came to the central administration as leading the research activities as a chief research officer and then over the years, I’ve taken on the roles of also coordinating entrepreneurship elevation, global engagement, global development, strategic partnerships, economic development and clinical partnerships. So, the portfolio has grown and now I’m the Executive Vice President and the Chief Research Innovation Officer at ASU. Through this set of roles at the university, I’ve had the good fortune of interacting with thousands and thousands of students and hundreds and hundreds of faculty who all are tremendous assets driving this institutions into the future. And blessed to work with my colleagues and with President Crow and his fantastic vision of the university. It’s been a privilege and an honor to serve at Arizona State University.

Wyatt: Why don’t we…thank you so much, and what an exciting opportunity to be part of leading innovation at such an impressive place. Why don’t we start some of our conversation here with about ASU’s charter regarding inclusion? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Panchanathan: Absolutely. If you look at most universities, clearly, we are all looking to get the best and the brightest talent into the universities. And one way of doing that is by saying that we will take the…you know, the typical “What is the ACT score? What is your high school GPA?” and other methods by which you then start to look at the various applications and then you weed out those people that you will not admit to the university and you take the top whatever percentage that you desire to take because you have a certain number of slots at the university. And that’s the modality of admitting students to the university which you could characterize as a process of exclusion, right?

Wyatt: Right.

Panchanathan: Now, at ASU, we have taken a different approach. As part of what the charter says, we measure ourselves by not who we exclude but by who we include and how they succeed. In other words, if there are two students who are capable of going through a post-secondary education experience, and we then ensure that they are given the opportunity to come into the university so that they might thrive in the university and becomes a place where they can express their talent and therefore given the opportunity to really build the skill sets, mindsets, and career aspirations through the process of going through the university. And when you do that, oftentimes the feeling is, “If you’re including these students from various socioeconomic demographic then you might not be excellent.” Somehow, access and excellence do not necessarily go together. In fact, we have challenged that assumption and we have shown that our excellence through any metric has also shown simultaneous progress. For example, our research volume has grown at the same time as our student numbers have grown and that we’ve embraced the socioeconomic demographic of our state in terms of admissions and our research in 2002 was $110,000,000 of annual research. This year, we just finished—the year that concluded last June 30, we call the fiscal year 18—we are reporting $620,000,000, $618,000,000. We are the fastest growing research university in the United States for universities over $100,000,000. And that’s because of the fact that we have shown that access and excellence can not only coexist, but in fact be mutually reinforcing and synergistic. And at the same time as we are doing the access and excellence mission, the last piece of the charter says that we are committed as a university for the emission of impact. That we assume fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and oral health of the community that we serve. So, that we can have access, excellence and impact as our aspirations that that we are able to make progress on all fronts is really an exciting thing for us.

Wyatt: Yeah, these national rankings of universities typically rank us higher the more people that we exclude, suggesting that we are so wonderful because everybody wants to come here, and we can only admit a small percentage of them and they’re usually the smartest in that group. And so, you’ve kind of looked that in the eye and said, “That doesn’t work for us.”

Panchanathan: Yes. That doesn’t work not only for us as a university, but as a region, a state and the nation because there are so many well-qualified individuals, youth, who need the educational opportunities so that they might thrive and prosper in the future.

Wyatt: This is an interesting…I don’t want to get too caught up in this, but my dad was a research, senior researcher and professor at Utah State University working in the space dynamics laboratory and the most prolific writer in that group, and he told me that under the current admission standards, he wouldn’t have been admitted to the engineering program as an undergraduate.

Meredith: [Laughs]

Panchanathan: Yes. Many folks say that. And that is an interesting part…

Wyatt: He was a late bloomer.

Panchanathan: [Laughs] Exactly. Many of us can attest to the fact that when opportunities are given and the right environment is provided, the right ecosystem is made available, we thrive and we flourish. For example, our student population is socioeconomically identical to the breakdown of Arizona. 53% of Arizona freshman are from underrepresented populations. And our access and outreach efforts, combined with our financial aid policies and student success programs have essentially resulted in doubling first generation students over the last decade. So, this is huge in terms of being able to provide those opportunities. Ad you see them succeed and succeed not just in graduating from the university but some of them are winners of amazing awards, they get employment in fantastic places, and it is wonderful to see them succeed that way.

Wyatt: What do you see as the…let’s talk for a few minutes about ASU Online. What do you see as the differences between the students that are online versus the students that are on your campus taking face-to-face classes? How would you compare those?

Panchanathan: So, typically you find the 18 to 24-year-old demographic of students, they thrive in an environment where you have the face-to-face, you have the community of students that they come with and that is a lot to have in terms of the experience of being in a university setting on campus. Clearly that has tremendous value and we see that in our students. But then there are many, many, many thousands of students who never had the opportunity to graduate for a variety of reasons. They had to exit and go and take on work in order to be able to support their families or those kinds of situations that they…that required them to not necessarily be at the university for the length of time that it requires to graduate. So, in those situations, you want them to have the opportunity to be able to take on the courses that they need to take on with the flexibility that they need to have with their lifestyle and other situations, that then gives them the opportunity to still finish their graduation. So, that’s one demographic of students that are online. Then, there’s a demographic of students who are already in the workplace who want upgrade their skill, reskill. Which means that they then find this mechanism of online, on-demand, being able to do it flexibly, that makes a huge difference for them. And therefore, that demographic of students have to be served. For example, you look at our Starbucks partnerships. You know, the Starbucks partners—they call their employees partners—now, they are baristas to all the people that work at Starbucks in different roles, they might not have had a chance to finish their undergraduate degree or they might have wanted to pursue a graduate degree so, these are folks that are enjoying our online program. It gives them an opportunity, as I said, to upskill themselves, to reskill themselves, to finish the degrees that they started but they did not get an opportunity to do so. So, we find our line outreach is phenomenal. Having said that, there’s an important point to be made here that the online development, which is again, taught by our outstanding caliber research faculty, the same faculty that teach our on the ground, on-campus students are the faculty that teach our online students also, which means the quality is at the highest level. Some of the content that they double up now become available for on-campus students. We call them therefor “on-campus technology enabled.” That is, they are able to now take advantage of this technology-enabled delivery of courses and content and modules that then enriches the learning experience of on-campus students at the same time.

Meredith: Hmm.

Panchanathan: So, we see it as a win-win.

Meredith: Yeah, that’s very interesting.

Wyatt: What’s the average age of your online student?

Panchanathan: I would…I mean, I don’t have an exact number off the top of my head. I would venture to say sometime in the mid-30s to late-30s kind of a thing would be an average age, I would think. But I have to verify those numbers for you though.

Wyatt: You’re seeing, though, what you’re describing is the online students are students who could not go to campus?

Panchanathan: Many of them are people who are in work situations that does not allow them to come on campus. They may be remote, they may not even be in Arizona. They may be in different parts of the country. We serve our online students in several countries across various continents. We have a program called the Global Freshman Academy, which is the freshman courses being available for students, free, until they decide that they want to  then get credits for the course they will pay a small fee for identifying…verifying their identification, rather. And, for example, Global Freshman Academy is in over 195 countries. Students from all parts of the globe are enrolled in Global Freshman Academy courses. Our 30,000-35,000 program students are students, again, from 140 countries. So, this is something that we find allows students, wherever they are, we have students who are on aircraft carriers in the Gulf, for example. So, these are people that then get a chance to dial in and be able to get the quality education experience so that they then might upskill themselves or reskill themselves.

Wyatt: You started into online in a big way about 10 years ago.

Panchanathan: Yep.

Wyatt: What was the leading motivation for doing that? At the time, online education was seen differently than it is today.

Panchanathan: Yes.

Wyatt: Almost exclusively for the profit schools. And you became one of the first public research universities to say, “We’re going to embrace this.” What was the…what was one of the…knowing that this might have a negative impact on your reputation…

Panchanathan: So, I think the…

Wyatt: What was the leading motivation?

Panchanathan: The motivation was, as I said earlier, we have several thousand students who did not graduate from the university for a variety of reasons. How might we get them to complete their education? Because they deserve that opportunity to be able to do so. How might we serve our campus where there are people who are in the workforce that need the opportunity to upskill themselves?

Wyatt: On…

Panchanathan: And so those were…yeah, go ahead.

Wyatt: Were you worried back then? That it might have a negative impact on the reputation of ASU?

Panchanathan: We were not worried for the following reason: because we were deploying outstanding research faculty, research caliber faculty, the same faculty who teach our on-the-ground students, and that’s a big distinguishing feature. When you have a university who’s putting the same quality of instruction, no difference between on-campus and online students…in fact, sometimes our surveys show that our online students feel the quality is even higher because we give them a lot of experiences that the technology has made possible. And that’s why we were recently ranked the second in the nation in terms of ASU Online Undergraduate Program by the U.S. News and World Report. Because we focus on quality. We wanted to make sure that the product that we have there are no different, if not better so that people may get what they need to advance in their careers. And…

Wyatt: So, I’ve actually taken some online courses and Steve Meredith here seated by me has taught online courses.

Meredith: Yeah, I actually oversee a master’s degree here in music technology that’s taught entirely online.

Panchanathan: Great.

Wyatt: And I took a master’s degree in American History and Government that was half online just for fun.

Panchanathan: Yes.

Wyatt: And I would agree with you. My experience was very positive, and I’ve seen reviews of your classes, Steve. Your students are having a very positive experience.

Meredith: My…he may not appreciate my saying this, but my department chair, when he comes in for my annual review—faculty evaluation review—frequently puts the forms on the desk and says, “These are among the highest or the highest rated courses that we have in the music program.” And the follow-up question at the beginning was, “How are you doing that? Because you’re doing this all online.” And, “Well, we hire very talented faculty and we have very talented course development specialists here that help us.”

Panchanathan: Right.

Meredith: And I’ll circle back to what President Wyatt was saying, when you all started this in earnest 10 years, ago, if we think back about technology the way it was 10 years ago, if you haven’t visited an online course in a while, I think people would be shocked at how much they have changed and how much they have improved and how much the technology has allowed for greater interaction between student and faculty member and I…to be honest, I was a little bit of a skeptic. I’m an ASU Conservatory trained classical musician, and I was a little bit skeptical about delivering an online program—despite the fact that it was in music technology—delivering it 100% online, and I will say, I am an evangelist for that now. I regularly speak in our cabinet meetings and other places about the fact that I seem to get to know these students better than I have over a career of 30+ years in front of students in a classroom. And I think it’s because…I think there’s a distance, a freedom that students feel composing their thoughts behind a keyboard that they may not feel surrounded in a classroom of their peers.

Wyatt: With everybody staring them down.

Meredith: Yeah, and I’m not suggesting that the one is necessarily better than the other. I am, however, suggesting that the automatic poo-pooing or gainsaying of online education that used to, 15, maybe 20 years ago, that was sort of an automatic response amongst traditional academics. It has dramatically changed and dramatically improved and, in many ways, I think is not only the equal but better.

Panchanathan: Absolutely, Steve and Scott, you just said exactly what I was thinking and going to say. It’s just unbelievable what technology has been able to bring to the table here and we have similar experiences. These are outstanding research faculty who are skeptical,  but now will come and tell us, “This has been the best experience because now I’m able to inspire, motivate and get students to understand the concepts that I thought that the students were not capable of understanding—that they were stupid or whatever—but instead, I realize how blind I was to not being able to deliver them what they needed in order to get them to understand.” And they have found unbelievable outcomes from that and they feel that, “I only wish that we had it so many years back all through my career.” So, this is the kind of thing that we get often, is faculty telling us—and it has been a tremendous help to faculty too, because, as you said, the instructional designers, who work with faculty now, take the content which is the expertise of the faculty member and then present it in ways that make it very exciting, engaging, interactive and so that what happens then, the faculty member now is…we talk about a flipped-classroom concept, right? The faculty member now is having this rich content and then uses the time in the lectures to now engage with the student and interact in a way to be able to address their questions, areas where they find that they need more development and strength to be built around the  content area and they spend more time doing that. So, it’s an amazing experience for faculty also. And so, it has been, as I said earlier, a win-win. From so many perspectives.

Wyatt: When you first began this, how did your faculty react?

Panchanathan: I think there was agreeable a sense of skepticism, me being one of the faculty members myself, there was all this skepticism about these things. But, when you start to look at the faculty getting digitized, right? Meaning that they get trained to how to use these and then they are surrounded by these experts who are willing to design, co-design with them the content, then the faculty just get on board and they see the outcome of what it means to students. And then they become even more excited by this. So, we have found that this concept of what it could do for not only students on campus, but students online and even support this concept that we have been talking about a lot with President Crow is lifelong learning. That learning never…it only starts at the university or continues at the university from your school, but then, you leave, and learning continues all through your life. And that you are able to get that done because of the fact that the same infrastructure that enriches the experiences of students on campus, which now provides the ability for students outside to be able to get access to it, and then people being able to tap into this all their life so that they might stay abreast or just even curiosity-based. I tell you, my father—who was also a professor, by the way, so we have something in common, Scott—my dad, an electronics and communication engineering professor, when he semi-retired at the age of 80, he went and enrolled into a master’s in history and completed it. He enrolled at 81, completed at 84. When he was 84 because he’s always been passionate about history and he felt that he wanted to get involved with this program and just disciplined himself to be able to learn everything about history. And that’s what you find. People are curious to learn, sometimes it’s for career advancement, but most of the time it is to satisfy their curiosity all through their life.

Wyatt: Yeah. My father’s first distance course was in the 1950s, it was a correspondence course…

Panchanathan: Yes.

Wyatt: That he took…he took just for personal learning.

Panchanathan: Yes.

Wyatt: He was stationed on an army base—or an Air Force base—in Alaska and wanted to take a course and so it was correspondence through the mail. My, how things have improved since the 1950s. [Laughs]

Meredith: Yeah.

Panchanathan: That’s amazing. Amazing.

Wyatt: What was the process you went through at ASU to make this decision or to get buy-in to turn towards having significant online.

Panchanathan: I think the process is when you make the case and you go back to our charter again, our charter says that we want to have significant impact in all things that we do and that we take responsibility, as we said, for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the community that we are embedded in. And then you then say that we are about access, making education available for everybody, opportunities available for everybody. And then you say, “But then you’re going to do all of this with excellence as an imperative.” Now, you start to go back and look at that sentence in the charter and then that is being reflected in this form through online being one of those platforms by which we are doing that, then you could buy-in. And if you tell people that “You need do more,” that’s one type of reaction. But when you say, “We want you to do more but we are going to surround you with help so that you get all of the assistance that you need and through that you are now going to have this impact,” then the conversation quickly changes to something from “doing more” to doing something that they become passionate about.

Wyatt: You’ve experienced a lot of growth in the last 10 years. A lot of different universities have moved into online, but few of them have grown like you have.

Panchanathan: Yes.

Wyatt: Were you prepared for the growth? What were the biggest challenges that you faced?

Meredith: Happy surprises and…

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: And the other kind. [Laughs]

Panchanathan: [Laughs] Yeah, well, we are thrilled about the growth. Were we prepared for the growth? We did have in our aspirations to want to grow rapidly because with technology, you can deliver that. So, we always challenge ourselves to a lot more than somebody would think that we would be capable of because we believe in that. And we do that because of the innovative mindset, the entrepreneurial mindset that I talked about at the beginning, we are always ready to do more. I mean, people would say, “Do you think that you can execute even if you have as your ambition that you want to be a half a billion-dollar enterprise?” And now we are at $618,000,000 wanting to achieve $815,000,000 by 2025. “Do you think that you are capable of doing that?” I think we pose the question a different way. Instead of asking “Are we capable?” We ask the question “What does it take?” And with the mindset that we have, we keep moving forward, charging forward, because the need out there, Steve and Scott, is so much you just can’t rest. You just can’t pause. You just have to keep charging forward. And we are very blessed to have an amazing group of faculty members at the institution, amazing staff members that are contributing their very best for moving the institution at this pace. I often would say to people, “’ASU’ is ‘Advancing with Speed University.’” [All laugh] Or “Advancing with Scale University,” whatever you want to call it.

Wyatt: How many online students did you have 10 years ago?

Panchanathan: 10 years ago, when we started the online program, we had this distance learning kind of thing, we had maybe a couple hundred, maybe a thousand…not a whole lot.

Wyatt: And how many…

Panchanathan: But right now, we have 30,000 students, 35,000 students online in programs and about 500,000 students in our Global Freshman Academy.

Wyatt: 500,000 in the Freshman Global Academy?

Panchanathan: In the Global Freshman Academy, yeah.

Meredith: Wow.

Wyatt: So, you’re adding, online students,  you’re adding over 3,000 a year average over 10 years?

Panchanathan: Yes. Yes, yes, yes. That would be a good way of looking at it, yes.

Wyatt: That’s a pretty good growth.

Meredith: I’ll say. [Laughs]

Panchanathan: But of course, part of this…you asked me, “Were we prepared for the numbers?” President Crow, when he started this 10 years ago, the aspiration was the following: that we would have 100,000 on-campus students and 100,000 online students. 1:1. Degree seeking. And then now he’s talking about a million students in terms of Global Freshman Academy. And so, the aspirations are always thought ahead of where we are, but that’s what challenges us, motivates us and gets things done.

Wyatt: How do you market the…or, how do you get the word out?

Panchanathan: So, we have a…

Wyatt: About the Global Freshman…the Global Freshman Academy?

Panchanathan: I think they are partners. We have edX as a partner, so…the MIT, edX at MIT. So, we have partners that we work with. One of our content delivery partners is Pearson. So, we have many marketing channels through which we get the word out. But the best word out is the fact that our quality is high. Our completion rates in terms of programs, degree seeking, is very high. In the 90s. When you talked about some of the private offerors, their completion rates are far, far less. And so, we believe that quality and performance speaks for itself. Of course, we market through all the marketing channels that we can market it…you know, online, all kinds of marketing efforts that we do. I remember one time somebody was telling me…I was just at Long Beach Airport in the security line and I saw the ads showing  ASU Online or something and so we are everywhere. But that alone is not sufficient. It’s that you have to show that we are also delivering the quality. And at the end of the day, it’s about partnerships, right? Anything that we do is about finding the right partners, working with the right partners. Starbucks has been an amazing partner for us. Adidas and Uber are now amazing partners. There are many, many. Mayo Clinic is our comprehensive clinical partner. We have so many partners because we believe partnership is a way in which you get things done at scale.

Wyatt: Yeah, it’s hard to do things alone.

Panchanathan: At Coursera, for example, we are doing a Master of Computer Science. And so, this, again, a partnership. It’s all about partnerships.

Wyatt: How do you distinguish…help us see the difference between the Freshman Global students and your regular online students or face-to-face students. Can anyone sign up for this free freshman experience?

Panchanathan: Yeah. Global Freshman Academy is free for anybody who wants to pursue freshman courses, no problem. If they eventually want to take that and then they feel that, “Hey, I’ve gotten the content well underway and I would like now to be tested and certified for me” then they have a small fee for that so that we give them the credits for that.

Wyatt: So, if I lived in Phoenix, Arizona, could I take that?

Panchanathan: Oh, absolutely. You can take anywhere, wherever you are.

Wyatt: Does it affect your bottom line? Has it had any impact on revenue?

Panchanathan: No. I mean, we find that the more those students are going to now come back with and engage with us in terms of becoming degree seeking students, right? So, it all works out at the end of the day. I always find when you do good deeds, never go…you know? [All laugh]

Meredith: Never go unpunished. [All laugh]

Panchanathan: No, in this case, a good deed always pay, you know?

Meredith: That’s right.

Panchanathan: It produces its rewards, and we see that. We see that.

Wyatt: Do you still have students sign up for your ASU Online and just pay right upfront? Or do they all start in this Freshman Global Academy for free?

Panchanathan: No, many of them…many of them go directly into their academic programs and they pay, and they just get started right away. Global Freshman Academy is only for students who are thinking about whether they want to get into college and they want to experience the courses.

Wyatt: So, they sign up, they take the courses, they…are they graded like anybody else?

Panchanathan: Yes…

Wyatt: Or is it just taking the courses?

Panchanathan: No, they take the courses, they are graded and then if they want to get credit for the courses, they have to verify their ID and then…

Wyatt: They sign up…

Panchanathan: Yes, exactly.

Wyatt: They sign up and take an assessment…

Panchanathan: Yes.

Wyatt: To make sure they’ve prepared.

Panchanathan: Yes, exactly.

Wyatt: What percentage of your Global Freshman Academy students convert into degree seeking students?

Panchanathan: I wouldn’t know the answer to that, I’d have to ask the online folks. [All laugh] You know, I am a…believe me, Steve and Scott, I am a computer scientist. I have a lot of data in my head, but that data I don’t. [All laugh]

Wyatt: I don’t blame you, but I could just…I have in my head this image…

Panchanathan: Yes.

Wyatt: Of students in Ethiopia and London and Hong Kong and India…

Panchanathan: Yes.

Wyatt: Where you were born and all over the world, people that…on the reservations, people that may not have any opportunity at all signing up for free, getting some confidence built up…

Panchanathan: Yes.

Wyatt: And finding a vision that they didn’t have before.

Panchanathan: Correct.

Wyatt: All over the world.

Panchanathan: Correct. All over the world, that’s what is very exciting about this. In fact, we have launched a product called Digital High School now. So, to motivate students to get high quality instruction in high school and then imagine the high school students now taking Global Freshman Academy because they are…they want to get advanced learning so that they can take these Global Freshman Academy courses. So, this is available for many, many people to either try out how it feels like or get comfortable with the freshman content and/or understanding what it means to be in college and get a level of confidence developed before they actually enter college.

Meredith: We’ve just been through a similar thing. We recently have been approved for a dual-enrollment partnership with our local technical school, which sounds like it’s not a big deal, but we exist in two different worlds. They’re clock hours and competency based and we’re credit hours and Carnegie based and we did it for the exact same reasons. We want those students who are going to technical school and who may not at this time or may not ever have imagined themselves as university students to being to accrue credit at the university for their work…

Panchanathan: Yes.

Meredith: So that should they decide to come over here, they’ve already got quite a substantial leg up towards an associate or a bachelor’s degree.

Panchanathan: Exactly.

Meredith: Our community…

Panchanathan: And we have…

Meredith: Our community…yeah, I’m sorry. Our community is very excited about it for all of the reasons that you mention.

Panchanathan: That’s exactly the case, Steve. And we have a tremendous articulation agreement with community colleges to make this transfer process so seamless and simple because we want to welcome, as you said, the access mission, going back to the anchor. That we want to welcome students who want to pursue higher education. Give them the opportunities, give them the fantastic experiences and high-quality education experience, then it will speak for itself.

Wyatt: You talk a lot about this entrepreneurial mindset.

Panchanathan: Yes.

Wyatt: Tell us about that.

Panchanathan: So, I think increasingly what I find, Scott, is that it is not just enough in the future of work that we talk about to have the skill sets, as important as they are, but also to develop mindsets. An important mindset is the entrepreneurial mindset which is that you are willing to go and try out things. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail. But just because you fail, you don’t stop trying. You keep trying and trying, you fail and fail and fail and you succeed. So, that process of trying and failing and that not becoming a failure therefore, but it is a part of your mindset that you build is exceedingly important for no matter what you do in your life. Whether you end up being an entrepreneur, fine. Whether you are in public service, whether you are in academia, whether you are in industry, it doesn’t matter what you do at the end of the day. That mindset, I call it the infection, once it is there, then it expresses itself in so many forms all through your life and that you will be willing to take challenges, willing to solve problems and complain less, do more. And take responsibility. And so, we believe that the mindsets are what you are. And this is not something therefore you teach. So, the university itself has to be entrepreneurial if you want to now train people to think entrepreneurially, right?

Wyatt: Right.

Panchanathan: That’s important. You can not teach it, you have to be it. Because otherwise…

Wyatt: You have to be it. You have to model it.

Panchanathan: Yes, you have to model it. And when they are immersed in an environment of the being then they become it.

Wyatt: We’re all kind of…

Panchanathan: And that’s…

Wyatt: No, go ahead.

Panchanathan: That’s the most important thing and that’s why, you know, at ASU, whatever we want our students to be, the ideal characteristics, we want the university to be it.

Wyatt: It seems like we’re all born with the mindset of being willing to take risks. We learn to walk and we fall, and we learn to ride bikes and we fall, and kids learn how to skateboard and they fall and just all these things…but the older we get, the more risk averse we become.

Panchanathan: Exactly.

Wyatt: And it’s a shame, isn’t it?

Panchanathan: It is a shame. It’s beautiful that you said this Scott. You are right. We are free spirits willing to do a lot of experimental things but then, over time, we lose it somehow. Or it is not cultivated somehow, let’s put it that way.

Meredith: I think school…

Panchanathan: And so, I think…

Meredith: I was going to say, I think school might actually beat it out of us. [Laughs]

Panchanathan: Yeah.

Meredith: In the most traditional sense, we…traditional education doesn’t actually encourage that kind of risk taking.

Panchanathan: Yeah, yes. Yes, you are correct about that. In fact, I see that this has to now percolate to K-12 systems also because you want people not to lose it and regain it, but people that keep building on it and developing it and so, that’s something…you can imagine universities, again, have a role to play and we take it also very seriously is we are training  teachers, colleges of education, where we train the teachers of the future.

Wyatt: You know, I’ve…

Panchanathan: And if you can make a difference there then that can, again, impact what happens in schools as students go through this.

Wyatt: I’ve taught some high school classes and one of the difference I’ve noticed between high school students and college students is that, at least in my very small anecdotal world, is that the high school students were terrified of failing the class…

Panchanathan: Yeah.

Wyatt: Because if they failed it, they wouldn’t graduate with their graduating class.

Panchanathan: Yes.

Wyatt: College students at least know that they can retake a class or do it in summer and most people don’t graduate precisely on their four-year mark.

Panchanathan: Yes.

Wyatt: But it seems like when we go through public education…

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: It kind of beats us out of taking risks—not everybody—but it beats that risk taking out of the people.

Meredith: Yeah.

Panchanathan: Yes.

Meredith: I agree.

Panchanathan: Yes. Sometimes it’s a school, sometimes it’s a family worried about making sure their kids are…

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: Yes.

Panchanathan: Doing well and graduating and getting the As and so on that they are not willing to have their children take those risks. And I think it requires a rethink basically and to accept that higher education enterprises can impact that, not only at the university but also then backward into the high schools and the K-12 spectrum. That can be exceedingly valuable how you can help impact and change that also. I think it’s very important. If it’s important at any point in time, it is now because everybody is worried about “What does technology do to my career? My future? My all of that. My job…” and so on. I say that, in fact, technology is an asset. It depends on how you are able to think about it, technology and humans working together, and that happens to be my area of research expertise when I am working with people with disabilities. How do you get technology to enhance their abilities? Which then enhances their abilities for everybody. We are all disabled, after all.

Wyatt: It almost feels like every student ought to have an online class because the world is moving in that direction.

Panchanathan: Yes, correct. Correct, that’s a very good point.

Wyatt: And if they can’t thrive in that environment, then we should be concerned.

Panchanathan: Exactly, because that’s what you would think that ultimately they would adopt through their life is learning through technology and through online mechanisms that keeps them always at the cutting edge and beyond.

Wyatt: This is, Panch, this has been so much fun visiting with you. Steve and I like to think that, on occasion, that we’re creative and innovative.

Meredith: [Laughs]

Wyatt: But this…

Panchanathan: You guys are. You guys, I enjoy talking to you…

Meredith: I try to do my best to hang on. [All laugh]

Wyatt: But this…

Panchanathan: No, you guys are. It is very clear by the way you are questioning and the way you are engaging. This conversation has shown to me that you guys are on the bandwagon that we are all in, and I think that it’s exciting to see that.

Wyatt: Yeah, but it’s so fun to visit with somebody like you that has been this creative, this innovative and realize that there is so much more out there. That we allow ourselves to be a little bit captured by the world that we see. And the more we talk to others whose world is different, the more the possibilities grow.

Panchanathan: Yes.

Wyatt: And you have really taken to heart this idea of inclusion to make sure that everybody gets an opportunity for a high-quality education, to the extent that you’re giving the first year for free. Well, thank you so much for helping us…

Panchanathan: Yes.

Wyatt: See a vision of what you’re doing. And thank you for serving so many people around the world.

Panchanathan: Thank you. Thanks to you too, Steve and Scott, and thanks for reaching out to me, I enjoyed the conversation and look forward to someday hosting you all at ASU. Thank you.

Meredith: You’ve been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We’ve had as our guest via the telephone from his office in Tempe, Arizona Dr.  Sethuraman Panchanathan, who is the Chief Research and Innovation Officer for Arizona State University. We thank Panch for joining us, and we thank you, our listeners, for listening to us. We’ll be back again soon. Bye bye.