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September 28, 2016

Thomas Kim one of this year's Spirit of Service Scholars — students with a track record of working on community issues

Thomas Kim is living the American dream. He almost didn’t.

Kim is a second-year law student at the Sandra Day O‘Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. As a high school senior living in Portland, Oregon, he was planning to work at a Japanese restaurant following high school. He didn’t see any other options. His family had legally emigrated from Korea a few years before but had since lost their immigration status. As an undocumented immigrant, Kim couldn’t afford tuition.

A friend encouraged him to apply to Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. He qualified for merit scholarships that covered the cost of tuition at the private university. He also worked 30 hours a week to pay for living expenses and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in economics and psychology.

“I’m so blessed and lucky enough to have received all those scholarships and mentors at the right time, but that’s not the case for other immigrants,” Kim said. “So I’d like to create a system and atmosphere for other immigrants to see their fullest potential.”

That’s why, as a Spirit of Service Scholar, Kim plans to create an organization to help mentor students and identify scholarships for students who don’t have immigration status and who otherwise couldn’t afford to go to college or get an advanced degree.

“There are many students who simply don’t know that they can go for a JD, MD or PhD,” Kim said. “And they don’t know that there are scholarships out there, full merit scholarships, to help pay for it.”

The Spirit of Service Scholars program was established six years ago by the College of Public Service and Community Solutions on the Downtown Phoenix campus. It’s overseen by the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service. Each year, more than a dozen students who have a track record of working on community issues are selected to serve as scholars. 

“About 10 seconds into his interview, I think we all knew Thomas had to be part of the next Spirit of Service scholars cohort,” said Alberto Olivas, executive director of the Pastor Center. “He spoke so passionately about wanting to study law in order to use it to work effectively on issues affecting immigrants. He’s just a very inspiring young man, and truly embodies the public service orientation we’re looking to groom and develop in this program.”

For Kim, being a Spirit of Service Scholar will provide the tools to accomplish his goals. 

“We’re not just some students spending time in theory la-la land,” Kim said. “We’re actually coming up with an action plan. And with all the resources that this program provides, we’re going to make a dent.”

Scholars learn about leadership and subject matters during weekend seminars and special events. They are also assigned to work with groups of students from local high schools on community or school-based projects.

“The coolest part is that you’re assigned to a mentor,” Kim said. “You’re not only mentoring high school students as a Spirit of Service Scholar, but you’re assigned a mentor.”

When Kim was asked whom he would like for his mentor, he replied “Rebecca White Berch.” He had met the retired chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court soon after he started law school.

“And she has kindly agreed to be my mentor for the year.”

This, despite taking a prized item away from the chief justice at a fundraising auction last year — Kim had outbid White Berch for a dish of baklava, a Greek dessert.  

“After I won, her clerk, who is a past scholar, comes over to me and she says, ‘Thomas, what in the world are you doing?’” Kim recalled. “‘Why did you bid against her? You know that was for her daughter and son-in-law from Idaho who are vegans.’”

Embarrassed by the social faux pas, Kim tried to make amends. He immediately emailed the chief justice.

“Can I stop by your chamber and drop off this baklava?” Kim asked. “I don’t care about the cost, it was for a good cause.”

White Berch told him her family had already departed, but the gesture was appreciated.

Paul Atkinson

assistant director , College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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‘Faithful Forest’: ASU poet pens ode to national park

ASU professor and poet laureate pens #NPS100 poem on Petrified Forest.
September 29, 2016

Work by Alberto Ríos, Arizona’s official poet laureate, is part of initiative marking park agency's centennial

The striking landscapes that make up our national parks can inspire profound exclamations in even the most ineloquent of visitors. But for an occasion such as the National Park Service's centennial, a creative initiative is bringing out the pros: poets lending their words to the nation. 

On Thursday, the first fiveFirst to be featured are writers from Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. of 50 commissioned poems — one for each state — were released by the Academy of American Poets for the “Imagine Our Parks with Poems” initiative. Arizona's entry was written by Alberto Ríos, an Arizona State University Regents’ Professor and the state’s official poet laureate

Ríos was asked to write a contribution on an Arizona national park of his choice. His poem, “Faithful Forest,” lauds the state’s quieter natural wonder — Petrified Forest National Park (pictured above).

Alberto Rios
Alberto Ríos

“The Grand Canyon, of course, speaks for itself,” said Ríos. “The Petrified Forest is a place with a wonderful name but something of a baffling first impression. This was something I could do: help us to understand where we are and how important the greater conversation of the world around us truly is.”

Petrified Forest National Park is in northeastern Arizona, about 50 miles from the New Mexico boundary on Interstate 40. It is known for the large number of fossilized trees and other Late Triassic flora and fauna, as well as for its colorful landscapes.

Engaging people with such memorable places is the goal of the larger “Imagine Your Parks” grant initiative from the National Endowment for the Arts, created in partnership with the National Park Service, an initiative of which the Academy of American Poets project is a part.

Ríos was the natural choice for an Arizona poet. He has described much of his work as written “for public purpose,” since he is often called on to create poems commemorating occasions and events. He has written poems for the visit of Mexico’s President Vicente Fox to Arizona in 2003, for the inaugurations of Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2003 and 2007, for a permanent installation on the U.S.-Mexico border at Nogales, and, most recently, upon the death of former Arizona Gov. Raul Castro in 2015.

“I have come to see the value of paying attention,” Ríos said, “and the wisdom of paying attention not simply to oneself. Paying attention to and for others, and to the things of this world as well — this has given me a new work, a next level of public as well as personal consideration.”

The U.S. National Park Service turned 100 on Aug. 25. According to the park service website, “The centennial kicks off a second century of stewardship of America's national parks and engaging communities through recreation, conservation, and historic preservation programs.”

Ríos’ poetic statement follows his poem below. 


Faithful Forest
Alberto Ríos


I will wait, said wood, and it did.
Ten years, a hundred, a thousand, a million —

It did not matter. Time was not its measure,
Not its keeper, nor its master.

Wood was trees in those first days.
And when wood sang, it was leaves,

Which took flight and became birds.



It is still forest here, the forest of used-to-be.
Its trees are the trees of memory.

Their branches — so many tongues, so many hands —
They still speak a story to those who will listen.

By only looking without listening, you will not hear the trees.
You will see only hard stone and flattened landscape,

But if you’re quiet, you will hear it.



The leaves liked the wind, and went with it.
The trees grew more leaves, but wind took them all.

And then the bare trees were branches, which in their frenzy
Made people think of so many ideas —

Branches were lines on the paper of sky,
Drawing shapes on the shifting clouds

Until everyone agreed that they saw horses.



Wood was also the keeper of fires.
So many people lived from what wood gave them.

The cousins of wood went so many places
Until almost nobody was left — that is the way

Of so many families. But wood was steadfast
Even though it was hard from loneliness. Still,

I will wait, said wood, and it did.


About this poem

I remember first coming to the Petrified Forest as a very young man and wondering what all the fuss was about. There didn’t seem to be much there. Petrified wood lay everywhere, in greater and lesser amounts, but it just seemed like curious rock. In driving through the area, which is large, however, the more the place began to change before me. It was a drive through time.

The great expanses of northern Arizona are geologic in their scope — human measures are not adequate to understanding them. The Grand Canyon we can “see” — but to see the Petrified Forest, you must use a different set of eyes.

Arizona is a place in which the human imagination is called upon to be complicit in understanding that this desert once was — so magically in this arid place, this very specific place — a forest. 

The openness of this region lends itself to myth, to big story, to the engaged imagination hard at work for centuries in the act of understanding and in trying to see what is profoundly in front of us. In this effort, the desert is full of mirages, which may not be mirages at all but living acts of memory held in common with the Earth.

—Alberto Ríos


Ríos was named inaugural poet laureate for the state of Arizona in 2013, and a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2014. He is the author of 10 books and chapbooks of poetry, three collections of short stories, and a memoir. His books of poems include, most recently, “The Dangerous Shirt,” preceded by “The Theater of Night,” winner of the 2007 PEN/Beyond Margins Award. His memoir about growing up on the Mexico-Arizona border — “Capirotada” — won the Latino Literary Hall of Fame Award and was designated as the One Book Arizona choice for 2009. His work is regularly taught and translated, and has been adapted to dance and both classical and popular music. He has taught at ASU for more than 30 years and also holds the Katharine C. Turner Endowed Chair in English.

Kristen LaRue

communications specialist , Department of English