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Community garden for refugees gets a makeover thanks to help from ASU students.
ASU students show their concern for Valley's refugees through service.
April 20, 2016

ASU students help refugees tend to community garden

Lindsay Dusard has a heart of gold.

Get the 20-year-old Arizona State University student to open up about the subject of refugees, and more likely than not a tear or two will be shed by the time she finishes her first sentence.

Refugees have an ally in Dusard, one of approximately 60 members in ASU’s Peace Corps Club. She says being a Peace Corps AmbassadorAmbassadors are interns who work closely with Peace Corps recruiters to raise the agency’s profile on campus and introduce the Peace Corps to new and diverse student groups. has been a life-changing experience.

“I’ve grown up here in Arizona and lived a very comfortable life. Working with refugees has completely changed my perspective on the things that really matter and what life is about,” said Dusard, who is a public policy and marketing major in the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“Almost all refugees have been through some sort of trauma. They’ve seen their houses bombed, family members get shot and yet we’re still sometimes unwelcoming as a country. My mission is to get people to understand who they are, how thankful they are to be here in this country and why we should help them start a new chapter in their lives.” 

For about 20 refugee families in the Valley, their new chapter started in 2011 with the construction of a community garden at the southwest corner of Dunlap and 39th avenues. The 1.5-acre lot belongs to the West Dunlap Baptist Church, which has leased the land for free to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) for the past five years. The IRC has a few other community gardens in the Valley, which it calls its New Roots program. The program allows refugees to grow food to eat and to sell to help support themselves.

While other Valley service groups and grants initially raised more than $100,000 to prep the once-vacant land into a community garden, ASU’s Peace Corps Club was able to make further enhancements to the property this year thanks to a Woodside Action Community Grant provided through ASU’s Changemaker Central.

The $1,500 grant allows service groups to carry out community-focused projects that are engaging, solutions-focused, sustainable and have long-term impact.

“The participation of ASU students this spring has not only added color to the garden but also creates an image that sends a good message to the community and the refugee families,” said Timothy Olorunfemi, the New Roots program supervisor with the Glendale-based International Rescue Committee. “The ASU students have really shown their love and passion for the refugees.”

On April 9, with the assistance of 27 ASU students, the Peace Corps Club put the grant into action with a day of service. Students pulled grass and weeds, collected trash, cleared out irrigation systems, painted murals and provided garbage bins to the site. A few of them picked up shovels and hoes and worked alongside the farmers, tilling the dusty crops, which include tomatoes, okra, pumpkin, corn, sweet potatoes, melons and beans.

Siang Neh, a farmer from Nepal, grows pumpkin leaves. It is considered a delicacy in many countries, including Nepal, Bhutan and some countries in Africa.

“We can only grow this for three months,” said Neh, who has lived in the United States for five years. “The cold is no good.”

About a hundred yards away, a handful of students were painting a mural of farmers working their crops, lead by Peace Corps Ambassador Miriam Carpenter-Cosand.

“Images are very powerful, and creating a mural in a place like this will help bring something to the farmers and the community,” said Carpenter-Cosand, a 21-year-old painting and Spanish literature major in the ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. “I’ve had a couple of farmers thank me for making them feel more welcome. They know we care about them.”

Farmer Mohammed Mohammed definitely feels the love. It’s an emotion he savors after being driven away from his war-torn home in Iraq five years ago. He says being forced to move from his native land at his age — he appears to be in his mid- to late 60s — was difficult at first. Knowing people want him to succeed makes his life here easier to accept.

“The students are amazing and wonderful,” he said through an interpreter. “I am very thankful to them for coming to the garden, and I always have a nice time with them.”

man giving thumbs up in garden

Mohammed Mohammed gives volunteers the thumbs-up after
giving his directions for digging the irrigation canal at the
IRC's New Roots community garden in Phoenix on April 9.

Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mohammed grows okra, tomatoes and eggplant. He feeds his family and sells the rest at various farmers markets in the Valley. He estimates he makes about $1,000 a month. He says the garden gives him more than money: It gives him a sense of purpose. 

“Back home there was no land for planting,” Mohammed said. “I like farming and am happy in the garden.”

His story doesn’t come as a surprise to Mohammed Alkhyeli, a 19-year-old finance major in the W. P. Carey School of Business who is from Dubai.

“Back home in Dubai there are twice as many immigrants than there are natives,” Alkhyeli said. “We try and help them with their issues, and I believe that’s a good thing. Other countries should be doing the same thing.” 

Dusard believes the reason why most Americans don’t want to help refugees is based on fear, not facts. She said there are approximately 60 million displaced refugees in the world, and less than 1 percent get resettled in other countries and even fewer enter the United States. She said refugees endure a strenuous international vetting process, which can often take years — but they never give up hope.

“I take it very personally when the media or whomever attacks them,” Dusard said. “The majority of those who are resettled are large families, and all that they want is to have the opportunity to put down roots again and to create a better life for their children. 

“Isn’t that what we all wish for?” 


Top photo: Double major in biochemistry and non-profit organization management junior Lissette Valle (left) tends to pumpkins in rows of the garden being farmed by Siang Neh from Burma at the IRC's New Roots community garden in Phoenix on April 9. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

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Two-thirds of prestigious Flinn scholars chose #ASU in 2016.
The #ASU Flinn scholars will make you feel inadequate. In a good way.
April 21, 2016

Two-thirds of this year's elite Flinn Scholars will call ASU home

Maggie Zheng performed her first surgical procedure when she was just a preschooler.

Granted, it was on one of her stuffed animals.

But in hindsight it was a relevant precursor to where she finds herself today: one of an elite group of winners of this year’s Flinn Scholarship, who will be attending Arizona State University in the fall.

Zheng, who will study biomedical sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has loved the idea of being a doctor since she was child watching medical shows on public television.

Flinn Scholar and future Sun Devil Maggie Zheng“I just always found it really fascinating, so I want to become a surgeon,” said Zheng (left).

She is a member the 31st class of Flinn Scholars. The award, which started in 1985, is offered to outstanding Arizona high school students on the condition that they attend one of the state’s three public universities: ASU, which will have 13 Flinn scholar enrollees this fall; the University of Arizona, which will have six Flinn scholars; or Northern Arizona University, which will have one.

Flinn scholars are chosen based on merit and receive more than $115,000 to use towards tuition, room and board, and study abroad expenses. They also get support for off-campus internships and are paired with faculty mentors. 

The Flinn scholars coming to ASU will attend Barrett, the Honors College.

“The Flinn Scholarship is an important investment in keeping Arizona’s finest and most highly qualified students in-state,” said Mark Jacobs, dean of Barrett, the Honors College. “We are pleased to welcome them to ASU.”

Zheng’s passion for (and early foray into) medicine is not the only thing that caught the attention of the Flinn Foundation — or, for that matter, the attention of Yale, NYU, the University of Chicago and Rice, some of the other schools to which she was accepted.

The high school senior has composed three full orchestral pieces working with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra (“I play the piano, but I can compose for basically the whole orchestra.”) and is active in the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona and has been involved with the Metropolitan Education Commission since the seventh grade.

She’s not alone in her exceptionalism.

One of her future classmates is Yisha Ng, who has been hooked on space as a result, at least in part, of growing up near the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff.

She wants to work in space exploration — whether it’s NASA or one of the other new space-based companies that have appeared in recent years.

“But NASA is my dream job,” she said. 

Future Sun Devil Yisha Ng with a rocket she built in high school.She has chosen ASU to help her get there. She’ll enroll this fall as an aerospace engineering student. She may have a little bit of a head start, having built a rocket (picture left) as part of a capstone project in high school.

She also plays violin, earned a black belt in a Hawaiian mixed martial art called kajukenbo, and switched to diving after an injury sidelined her from gymnastics — getting her high school to reinstate its diving program in the process. She also helped resurrect her school's speech and debate team and travels next week to a national tournament.

This year’s Flinn class at ASU also includes future astrophysicists, high-level accountants and musical theater majors like Vaibu Mohan.

She’s finishing up her senior year at the BASIS Scottsdale high school, a charter school focused on the STEM disciplines. And although her school has had an intense focus on science, technology, engineering and math, Mohan has continued to grow her love of the arts, founding the school’s first a cappella club, becoming an accomplished violinist, and performing and teaching Indian classical dance.

Flinn Scholar and future Sun Devil Vaibu MohanMohan (left) chose ASU because she’ll be able to be “completely immersed in this wonderful performing arts program while also being a business major,” something that other schools to which she was accepted would not have made so easy.

“The other schools are fantastic, but none of the other programs had the ‘anything you want, anything you need, and it’s here for you to use’ mentality here at ASU,” she said.

Mohan hopes to someday open and run her own theater company that tailors to performers of color, like her.

Many of the incoming Flinn scholars share a desire to make the world better for those around them.

Martín Blair spent a portion of his high school career getting his classmates and teachers excited about sustainable transportation — like carpooling and riding bikes to school or work.

But he took it a step further.

Flinn Scholar and future Sun Devil Martin Blair“I built a hybrid electric vehicle that they could use as inspiration,” said Blair (left). “... The students are having a lot of fun with it, and it’s being used as a teaching implement.”

Blair, a rock climber, snowboarder, surfer, archer and Eagle Scout, will study to be a mechanical engineer in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, which he hopes will lead to further work as a systems engineer.

“I’d like to get a PhD in systems engineering at ASU,” he said, “and consult with different businesses and spread my efforts to help design the best products we can so we can have a better world.”

A lofty goal, but he and his Flinn cohort see ASU as a good place to start.


The Flinn Scholars headed to ASU:

Aidan McGirr is going to study astrophysics in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. He attends Anthem Preparatory Academy.

Martín Blair is coming to ASU from the Phoenix Union Bioscience High School. He’ll study mechanical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Rohini Nott, currently at BASIS Chandler, will major in biology and society in the School of Life Sciences.

Maeve Kennedy, from Westwood High School in Mesa, plans to study chemical engineering in the Fulton Schools.

Ivette Montes Parra, also from Westwood High School, will also go to the Fulton Schools, to study mechanical engineering. 

Cameron Carver at Sabino High School in Tucson will be a mechanical engineering student in the Fulton Schools.

Anagha Deshpande, currently at Hamilton High School in Chandler, will study genetics, cell and developmental biology as a biological sciences major in the School of Life Sciences.

Andrew Roberts will study electrical engineering in the Fulton Schools. He’s finishing up at Westwood High School.

Margaret “Maggie” Zheng will study biomedical sciences in the School of Life Sciences. She attends University High School in Tucson.

Yisha Ng wants to be an aerospace engineer. She’ll study in the Fulton Schools. She’s currently at Flagstaff High School.

Enrique Favaro, in high school at the Tempe Preparatory Academy, is going into accountancy at the W. P. Carey School of Business.

Vaibu Mohan, focusing on the STEM subjects at BASIS Scottsdale, will immerse herself in performance and musical theater in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. 

Tina Peng, from Chandler Preparatory Academy, will study computer science in the Fulton Schools.