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ASU teams up with Department of Homeland Security to build a new Center of Excellence

ASU will run the newest DHS Center of Excellence

The Fulton Center on the Tempe campus for a photo illustration on Nov. 11, 2015.

Government contracts are the bread and butter of large public universities, and ASU just landed a massive one. ASU will run the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) latest Center of Excellence (COE), tasked with innovating within the realm of defense.

Ross Maciejewski, an associate professor in the School of Computing, Informatics and Decisions Systems Engineering (CIDSE), will serve as the center's director.

"The DHS has several centers of excellence around the country, focused on different mission-relevant areas," Maciejewski said. "What's great for ASU is that we're going to be their center of excellence for accelerating operation efficiency."

The Center of Excellence will pair experts and students from CIDSE with those from the Fulton Schools of Engineering, together encapsulating about 26,000 students. This means that students from many different disciplines will be cooperating and blending their talents.

"This sort of exemplifies this idea of this trans-disciplinary notion that ASU has where we're showing how we can cross boundaries between different disciplines to try to attack these bigger problems," Maciejewski said.

These bigger problems, which the center will tackle, come from the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard and Border Patrol. ASU's new focus on improving these DHS processes will not shift the focus of its researchers.

"It explores questions like 'how will TSA screening be more effective?' and 'what tools might help security officials identify immediate threats to the homeland?'" Sethuraman Panchanathan, the chief research and innovation officer at ASU, said.

To do this, the DHS will fund the university with $20 million over the next five years, with an option for renewal.

Even with the security focus of the contract, Panchanathan and others associated with the program do not expect the research conducted at ASU to change as a whole.

"We're committed to (security) as a pillar, it's not the only thing that we do," Panchanathan said. "As you know we do a lot of work in health and medicine at the Biodesign Institute. We do a lot of work in sustainability."

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GIF by Aslan A.

Nadya Bliss, the director of ASU's Global Security Initiative (GSI), echoed the sentiment.

"I wouldn't say that this is somehow changing the type of research we're doing," Bliss said. "But I think what this does do is it highlights that we are in the top tier of research universities."

Other universities tapped to run COEs include George Mason University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Northeastern University.

"So that sort of puts us in the same playing field," Bliss said.

In contrast with the other universities selected to participate in the Center of Excellence program, ASU has been appointed a leadership role.

"This is the first time ASU has been selected as a lead entity for a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence," Bliss said.

Students themselves will play a major role in the research conducted for the center.

"Student participation is incredibly important," Bliss said. "The Department of Homeland Security is very interested in making sure that students have access to working on these important problems."

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