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ASU students hone political engagement expertise at national conference

ASU students refine their political engagement experience at Harvard conference.
ASU poli-sci students "are actively engaged and are changing our community."
October 4, 2015

Arizona State University students Andrew Sypher and Zachary McCutcheon traveled to Harvard University last week as part of a national effort fostering youth political engagement. They joined students from 22 states from Sept. 25-27 at Harvard’s Institute of Politics for “Campus Activation: Increasing Student Voting and Political Engagement,” an intensive training and conference featuring top political practitioners.

Sypher is a junior studying political science in the School of Politics and Global Studies and public service and public policy in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. McCutcheon is a junior studying public service and public policy with a concentration in law and policy.

Led by the College of Public Service and Community Solutions, ASU has been a partner in the Harvard Institute of Politics’ National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement since 2013. The consortium of 27 colleges and universities around the country work on their own campus and collaboratively in three key areas: electoral politics, career development in public service and civic education. 

At the annual conference, students from National Campaign schools focused on voter registration outreach techniques. They also received grassroots organizing training and learn to use technology for political engagement. Conference trainers include professionals with expertise in government, voter mobilization, communications, social media and marketing. 

Both Sypher and McCutcheon are already engrained in civic engagement. As a Spirit of Service Scholar, Sypher is part of a team mentoring Camelback High School Students.

“We are teaching them how to apply their values and passion to societal issues,” he said. “This spring, we’ll be working with them to take their ideas to build public awareness for the issues they see impacting their high school.”

McCutcheon said he draws on past experiences in national camps and as an intern for the Hillary Clinton campaign.

“I’ve been really involved in the political process,” McCutcheon said. “I want people — particularly students — to understand that they can have an impact.”

Sypher and McCutcheon said the goal was to come away with new ideas, something that hasn’t been tried on the ASU campus.

“We have voter registration tables, but we want to find out what other campuses are doing to drive engagement,” McCutcheon said.

“This is an opportunity to learn what specialists in this area are doing and how they are doing it so that I can be a better activist in my community. It is also a great opportunity to network to see how we can collaborate,” Sypher said.

Andrew Sypher
Andrew Sypher is a junior at Arizona State University studying political science.


"The IOP is honored to host students from across the country who will create the future of politics by driving political and civic engagement," said Harvard IOP Director Maggie Williams. "This conference and training seminar will help foster political participation both here at Harvard and at National Campaign schools throughout the nation."

“This experience is one of the many hands-on opportunities for students that will fall under the newly established Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. “We want students to embrace engagement in electoral politics. We want them to push innovative ideas forward and advance how we think about – and implement – public service to better our communities.”

Some of the goals for students attending participating year include issuing recommendations for government, media, campaigns and educational institutions to promote political and civic engagement; collecting and making available key research; and creating new training opportunities for organizations and individuals seeking to promote youth engagement and participation. 

“This really is an honor and I want to be a good representative for ASU. We want them to know that ASU is making headway in civic engagement,' " Sypher said. "We are actively engaged and are changing our community.”

For more information on the Harvard IOP program, visit

Heather Beshears

director marketing and communications , College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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ASU students focus on Latinos in fight against diabetes

Personal connections to diabetes inspire ASU students to fight obesity
October 4, 2015

According to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost half of all post-Millennial youth will be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in their lifetime, with Latinos leading the way.

Although those numbers might startle some people, they don’t surprise Tatianna Alvarado and Jamie Karch, a pair of students enrolled in ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

“Many of my family members have diabetes, and my mother is a type 2 diabetic. The last year of high school I took care of her,” said Alvarado, a 19-year-old sophomore. “I’d interact with her, told her what diabetes was, took her to the gym and tried to discipline her sometimes … but there was only so much I could do as a daughter.”

Now that she’s a bit older and better educated, Alvarado feels she can do much more. So does Karch, which is why the two undergrads are playing key roles in a community-based diabetes prevention program and study for obese Latino youth called “Every Little Step Counts.”

The five-year, $1.2 million study funded by the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities tests the effects and incremental cost-effectiveness of a culturally grounded community-based lifestyle intervention on obesity-related health outcomes among Latino adolescents.

To date, 160 obese Latino youth, ages 14-16 have been enrolled in the randomized control trial. Participants in the 12-week intervention and their families engage in weekly nutrition education sessions where they learn behavioral strategies to prevent chronic health conditions related to obesity and type 2 diabetes at the Lincoln Center Family YMCA in Phoenix. In addition to nutrition classes, youth participate in three, one-hour moderate-to-vigorous physical activity sessions led by certified trainers. At the end of the trial, youth in the control arm of the study receive a free, one-year membership to the YMCA, and participate in exercise sessions at the YMCA and nutrition classes at ASU’s Nutrition Kitchen at the Downtown Phoenix campus.

 Tatiana Alvarado, 19, and St. Vincent De Paul Family Wellness Program Health Education Coordinator Ricardo Reyes speak to community members
Arizona State University nursing and health innovation student Tatiana Alvarado, 19, and St. Vincent De Paul Family Wellness Program Health Education Coordinator Ricardo Reyes speak to community members as they examine their blood work during a nutrition course at the ASU state-of-the-art food lab at the downtown campus Wednesday afternoon, September 23rd 2015. According to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control, almost half of all post-Millennial Latino youth will be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU News

Gabriel Shaibi, an associate professor with the College of Nursing and Health Innovation and the principal investigator on the trial, said past community-embedded intervention programs have failed to reach its intended audience because it has been a “top down” approach from doctor/researcher to patients. And the reality is patients don’t always listen to their doctor.

That might be one reason why the past decade has seen Arizona experience the largest statewide increase in the number of children and adolescents who are obese. Shaibi said those numbers translate to a myriad of problems, including rising diabetes rates.

“Once you are diagnosed with diabetes, it becomes a management issue,” Shaibi said. “This is a relatively new phenomenon with kids, but it can ultimately lead to neuropathy, blindness, kidney disease and ultimately heart attacks. Those kids on average lose about 15 years on life.”

Latinos are genetically predisposed to having diabetes. But the problem is compounded by the fact that, culturally and historically, Latinos have often used food to express themselves, Alvarado said.

“Anything that happens in the Latino culture, be it positive or negative — birthdays, graduations, weddings, anniversaries, promotions, funerals — food plays a big part,” Alvarado said. “It’s interaction and eating, but you don’t really notice you’re overeating until after the fact. Moderation is the key, and that’s what we’re trying to teach the Latino community.”

Which is why Shaibi has pushed Alvarado and Karch to the forefront of the trial program, but at opposite ends of the spectrum — Alvarado interacting with the community and dispensing exercise and nutrition advice, and Karch in the lab gathering blood samples, data and reviewing medical information.

“I am closer in age to these kids and have gone what they’ve gone through,” Alvarado said. “Age is a big thing and they feel as if they can come to me for advice.”

Karch said she is content in her role in the lab because she understands her work is just as vital.

“I do more of the background work, but mine and Tatianna’s goals are the same in that we want to give back to the Latino community,” Karch said.

That is also the goal of the ASU Sun Devil Family Association, who awarded Alvarado and Karch with $5,000 scholarships each for the academic year. These scholarships are awarded to individuals who have demonstrated financial need, a record of community service and a commitment to their education despite challenging circumstances.

This semester Alvarado and Karch have plans to meet their donors, who are also in the nursing field.

“I cannot wait to meet her and hug her,” Alvarado said. “I cannot believe she gave money to someone she didn’t even know. She has made my life so much easier because of her help.”

And it’s not lost on Alvarado or Karch that the help they receive from the Sun Devil Family Association goes right back into the community.

“That’s what I love about nursing,” Alvarado said. “It’s the art of caring for people.”

Reporter , ASU Now