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Connecting veterans to benefits, services

ASU alums build site to connect vets with much-needed resources.
May 27, 2016

ASU alums provide a one-stop shop for veterans looking for resources

Transitioning from military to civilian life can be daunting to many veterans — especially if they don’t have a strong support system to guide them through it. 

Arizona State University alumni Danita Rios and Joanna Sweatt are hoping to fill that gap. Rios and her team are helping veterans who are looking for benefits and services after leaving the military, through their nonprofit website called the Veterans Directory.

It all started in 2012 when Rios was approached by a Marine vet who had served in Vietnam. He had attended a military funeral service for a friend who had committed suicide and lamented that his friend might still be alive if he had a type of “yellow pages” for service men and women. That inspired Rios to create an informational database that partners with veteran-friendly organizations to give to those who have served.

“We wanted to get the veterans connected to the services and people who are already out there,” Rios said. “For the most part it’s been word of mouth up to this point.”

In 2015, was founded — and it quickly expanded. The website provides information for employment, education, benefits, health and wellness as well as a calendar that displays events each month.

With its growth, the organization increased its staff, adding Sweatt as its chief operating officer. Sweatt served in the U.S. Marine Corps for nearly 10 years and worked at ASU’s Pat Tillman Veterans Center after her service.

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Joanna Sweatt, ASU alum, Marine veteran and chief operating officer of the Veterans Directory, talks about the new veterans-resource website that she and four others are building, at the East Valley Veterans Center in Tempe on May 24. The site is first designed to assist vets in Arizona, with goals to become a nationwide advocacy source. Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


“We’re interested in creating access that you can trust. We will host everyone who does something viable for veterans, and doesn’t exploit them,” Sweatt said. “We want to put the power back to veterans and let them know we have real-life, in-person experience to report, to give.”

ASU student and Army veteran Brian Fore used the directory to connect with other veterans and gain employment as a videography freelancer.

“I can use the directory to look for internships, or for opportunities for myself and others,” Fore said. “Really, it's a one-stop shop. It doesn’t just cater to one thing; you're able to look up information and it makes sure it provides everything you need.”

Right now the site focuses on Arizona, but Sweatt says the group is moving to expand in the Southwest and hopes to expand nationally over a three-year process.

“There is no other .org out there that is taking the time to put together all the resources and have that be their sole mission. We hope to be the sole .org that does this and helps veterans access resources from wherever they are located,” she said.

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ASU’s archaeology collection uses latest techniques to archive the past.
June 3, 2016

Inside ASU’s archaeology collection await discoveries from the past

In a nondescript building in an industrial area of Tempe, one room crackles with treasures of the ancient Southwest.

Here sit pots of Salado Polychrome, Show Low Black-on-Red, Sacaton Red, White Mountain Redware and others. The shelves are a tour across prehistoric Arizona, illuminated by the reds, oranges, ochres, browns, blacks and whites of canyons and deserts. There are giant polychromes — multicolored pots — used in feasts and a 30-gallon Hohokam water storage pot. It sat in the corner of a dwelling and was filled by smaller pots carried up from the canal.

The whole pottery room is part of Arizona State University’s archaeology collection. The collection is closed to the public, but officials hope to change that.

“What you see here is the tip of the iceberg,” curator Arleyn Simon said.

Simon, an associate research professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social ChangeThe School of Human Evolution and Social Change is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences., recently led visitors on a tour of the facility, called the Center for Archaeology and Society Repository.

The whole-pottery room is the collection’s gem. There are more than 1,500 whole pots in the university’s collection. Periodic behind-the-scenes tours are given here. It’s where the objects seen in exhibits are kept.

The impression that comes from passing one’s eyes across the shelves is that ancient Arizona hummed with traveling traders. The names of the pottery types are a catalog of Arizona place names.

“Sometimes it’s hard to break free of that static idea of people,” Simon said. “Some groups moved around a lot.”

The pots are a study in contrasts: rough and smooth surfaces, elegant and utilitarian shapes, plain clay or elaborate geometrical designs that clearly took weeks to produce. (And that’s not counting the time it took to gather the plants and make the paint.)

“They were very skilled at the hand-building techniques they used,” Simon said.

There is humor and life and engagement in these everyday objects. The sense comes across that their makers would be amused and proud that people they couldn’t have imagined admire their work astride a gulf of thousands of years.

“They’re very much appreciated,” Simon said.

The anthropology department was founded in the 1960s, and the collection is spread all across the Tempe campus. “We’ve been in existence for about 20 years,” Simon said.

A row of metal cabinets in the back of the room holds finely woven basketry, wide-bladed stone knives used for hacking agave, deer-bone awls used to punch holes in basketry, and huge obsidian spear points.

Outreach from the collection is achieved at two places: the Innovation Gallery in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change building on the Tempe campus, and in the exhibit space at the Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve in northwest Phoenix. Those two places are the collection’s living rooms, where things are put on display. The repository and other facilities are the attic.

“As various exhibits are developed, we constantly have things going out on exhibit,” Simon said.

It’s hard to put a number on the amount of objects in the collection because a good part of it is potsherds and lithic chips (pieces of stone discarded from making knives and arrowheads).

Simon estimates the whole collection at more than a half-million objects, “if you count the sherds and flakes.”

“We can learn a great deal from the potsherds and chipped stones,” she said. “But it’s mostly the finished products the public wants to see.”

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now


The reception area at the front door features an exhibit that sprung from a doctoral dissertation a few years ago on Hohokam pottery production. Bowls, jars, dishes, scoops and a parching tray from the Valley’s prehistoric days glow inside glass cases. Parching trays were used for toasting and dehusking grains.

“The pottery was very precious to them,” Simon said, pointing out mending holes drilled along a break in a bowl. The bowl was corded back together at some point by an anxious Hohokam. “Pottery took a lot of work to make,” she said.

Twenty students work at the center. “They help with collection management,” Simon said. “We constantly have to keep up with technology.”

This can involve repacking objects in state-of-the-art storage materials, instead of the paper boxes they came in from the field in the 1970s and so on. Students learn the necessary grunt work of archaeology and anthropology. Museum-studies students also work at the facility.

Beyond the reception area are labs, conference rooms, offices, storage, conservation workspaces for cataloging artifacts, a photography studio, and microscopes to look at different pottery materials. If materials can be traced to their sources, it tells researchers a lot about trade routes and migration.

“Students are very much involved with the content and the labels in the exhibits,” Simon said.

“We deal with old things, but we have to keep up with the new.”
— Arleyn Simon, curator of ASU's archaeology collection

In a conference room a grad student is transferring old cassette interviews of a deceased faculty archaeologist into digital format.

“We deal with old things, but we have to keep up with the new,” Simon said.

Back in the small photo studio, a pot is in the process of being reassembled from sherds. Students use archival glue that is made onsite. The glue can be dissolved with acetone in the future if needed. Reassembling pots from sherds looks like an exceptionally tedious puzzle. It’s not so bad because you can only do a few pieces at a time before you need to let it dry, Simon explained. Further complicating the reconstruction is the fact that some holes in pots were intentional, meant to let the spirits of the pot out.

There’s a huge storage room in back (big enough to park a tour bus). The shelves are stacked with boxes from the Roosevelt excavations. When Roosevelt Dam was heightened in the 1990s, archaeological surveys before construction brought in a haul of objects.

The room holds about 25 to 30 percent of the university’s total collection, which is scattered across several buildings on the Tempe campus.

Simon hopes to have all the collections consolidated. “It’d be nice to have it all in one place,” she said.