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11,500 ASU freshmen set to receive training in art of civil communications.
Sun Devil Civility plans to expand from incoming freshmen to other groups.
January 27, 2017

University initiative aims to promote communication skills, finding common ground through peer-to-peer training

In a time of heated rhetoric and fraying decorum, Arizona State University is planning to train incoming freshmen in the art of civility.

Nearly 11,500 new students will take a three-hour workshop called “The Art of Inclusive Communication” next fall, with the hope that they begin their college careers with the skills to find common ground with one another.  

The Office of Student and Cultural Engagement has been piloting a workshop with students, faculty and staff for more than a year and has hired 32 student facilitators, who will train 1,400 students this spring, according to Mark Sanders, senior coordinator of the office, which is part of Educational Outreach and Student Services at ASU.

“The underlying goal is to celebrate and recognize differences and to get people to learn from each other and advance the idea of inclusion and access — all of those great things the ASU charterThe ASU charter: ASU is a comprehensive public university that is measured not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed; advancing research and discovery of public value; and assuring fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health our the communities it serves. is about,” he said.

Emily Kwon said she learned how to talk through emotionally charged conversations at the workshop.

“The art of communication is an undervalued art. People need to realize that the way you say it really does matter,” she said. “Especially with recent events, opinions are heated and people won’t listen to each other because of the high-impact emotions.

“So we learned that people have different opinions, and that’s OK. And it’s important to discuss it in a productive manner and how to move on,” said Kwon, a senior majoring in biological sciences.

The peer-to-peer training will be key in working with the incoming freshmen next fall.

“It’s not about ‘let’s come in and preach at you about civility,’ ” Sanders said. “They’ll talk about identity and unconscious bias, and students say, ‘I never thought about it that way before.’ And freshmen have the attitude of, ‘OK, teach me some cool things.’ ” 

Besides practical skills for managing conflict, workshop participants learn about their own values and communication style.

The idea for encouraging civility started about two years ago, when leaders at ASU noticed some issues on campus and decided to partner with the National Center for Conflict ResolutionNCRC was founded in 1983 by the University of San Diego Law Center and the San Diego County Bar Association., a San Diego-based nonprofit organization.

“We had free speech visitors coming in and yelling at people, and people were not responding in the best way,” Sanders said of the confrontations that occurred between proselytizers and students.

The National Center for Conflict Resolution partners with other universities, but ASU’s university-wide initiative is unique. First-time freshmen at the Tempe, Polytechnic, Downtown Phoenix and West campuses will get the training within the first eight weeks of the fall semester. Eventually, other groups will get the opportunity, including transfer, graduate, international and online students.

The Student and Cultural Engagement office offers other workshops that promote communication and respect, including “Navigating the Rainbow of Inclusion,” “Interfaith Identities: Learning and Conversation,” “Different Faces, Same Spaces: Diversifying Cross-Cultural Dialogue and Interactions” and “Global Allies Training.”

All of that will be gathered under one umbrella called Sun Devil Civility.

“The hope is that this serves as the basic platform, and it launches from there,” he said. “How do you engage with your peers? How do you move forward in the cycle of life at ASU? And what can you do to create civility and a sense of community in the citizenry of ASU, Arizona, the U.S. and the globe?”

Fasha Johari, the president of ASU’s Coalition of International Students, is a Muslim student from Malaysia. She said the tips she learned in the workshop have helped her with some uncomfortable situations.

“It’s helped me to not engage with people who want to provoke,” she said. “They want that kind of reaction so they can say, ‘This person is aggressive.’ ”

A senior majoring in biological sciences, Johari said ASU has improved in the four years she has been here.

“I really think ASU is moving forward to include all of us. They really help a lot in terms of making this a second home for us.”

Sanders said the goal of Sun Devil Civility is that students can complete several of the workshops and acquire a certificate in civility training.

“I have this vivid image that 20 years from now, these students will be our senators and representatives who say, ‘In college I learned how to have a conversation with you.’ And, ‘We disagree, but we can make this about the global good.’ ”

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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Bob Bowman uses Michael Phelps to explain how to achieve excellence

ASU swim coach: Development is imagination, challenge and high performance.
ASU swim coach Bob Bowman helped lead Michael Phelps to 28 Olympic medals.
January 30, 2017

ASU swim coach reveals success secrets of his most famous pupil to crowd of hundreds of students at First-Year Success Center talk

Michael Phelps had a dream of winning Olympic gold medals, so when he dove into the pool in one race in Beijing and his goggles filled with water, blinding him, he still managed to set a world record.

It happened because he spent years on the small details of training and learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, according to Bob Bowman, his coach.

“There can be no growth without discontent,” said Bowman, who now is the head coach of the Arizona State University swim and dive team.

“Michael learned skills so that under pressure, he could perform. Don’t try to make everything perfect for yourself — be tough on yourself.”

On Monday, Bowman addressed several hundred students on how they can work toward achieving excellence in a talk sponsored by ASU’s First-Year Success Center. He frequently used Phelps as an example of someone who embodied excellence through planning and hard work — plus talent. Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, with 28 medals. Besides coaching Phelps, Bowman also was the men’s coach for the U.S. National swim team at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and was the assistant coach for the American men in the 2012 Olympics in London. He also has coached at the University of Michigan and the North Baltimore Aquatic Club.

“It isn’t a straight line to success,” Bowman said of his collaboration with Phelps, whom he coached since he was 10 years old. “We didn’t just have an idea, a dream, and then just go directly toward it. Success has a lot of ups and down, backward and forward. Over time, you move in the direction you want to be.”

Bowman said the three phases of personal development are imagination, challenge and high performance.

“Imagination is where you use your noggin and heart to come up with something that drives you,” he said.

Dreams are emotional and should be the catalyst for the hours of sometimes excruciating work that’s needed for success, he said. Then you set short-, medium- and long-term goals with clearly defined time frames.

“Write down your specific target. If you write something down, it’s more meaningful,” he said. “You don’t have to post it on Facebook. It can be very private.”

A crucial part of goal setting is visualizing success, in which you see yourself in a different place.

“You’re running a movie in your head of yourself attaining your goals,” he said. It’s a powerful tool he uses with his athletes.

“I want them to visualize in the most vivid way possible. I want them to smell the chlorine and see themselves swimming exactly the way they want to. Because the brain cannot distinguish between something that’s vividly imagined and something that is real.”

Phelps was so adept at visualization that he would have recurring dreams predicting his success, Bowman said.

The challenge phase is about the process — the daily practice and refinement of details.

In one Olympic race, Phelps was behind another swimmer, but ended up winning the gold medal by one-hundredth of a second because he had his palm outstretched and touched the wall before his opponent, whose hand was flexed. It was a detail that Phelps had practiced endlessly.

“Details matter. He went back to 12 years of me yelling at him about his finish,” Bowman said.

The high-performance phase is a natural outcome of the process that led up to it, Bowman said, and includes attitude and the ability to work through adversity, including the example of Phelps winning the gold with his eyes full of water, which he did by counting his strokes so he knew when to flip at the pool wall.

“You’ll have to adjust your plan,” he said, and that’s why coaches are important.

“The journey will be circuitous. It won’t be what you mapped out, but your coach is your GPS,” he said.

The freshmen and sophomores in the First-Year Success Center are assigned peer coaches to help them adjust to college life, excel in their classes, get involved in activities and clubs and find out about financial aid. Seventy-five upperclassmen and graduate students serve as the peer coaches.

Bowman told the peer coaches in the room to personalize their approaches.

“When I first started coaching, I only had a hammer so everything looked like a nail. That is incredibly effective, but it will wear you out. You cannot be other people’s motivation,” he said.

“I now have hammer, but I also have logic, I have a pat on the back, and I have empathy. So you want to add to your toolbox because it takes different tools to reach different people.”

Now in its fifth year, the free program works on all four campuses, according to Marisel Herrera, director of the First-Year Success Center.

“What we know from the coaching profession, whether it’s life coaching or athletic coaching, is that highly successful people in every walk of life employ coaches,” Herrera said. “It’s the smart thing to do. Celebrities do it, athletes do it, and we do it here at ASU.”


Top photo: Sun Devil Athletics head swimming coach Bob Bowman talks about how to achieve world-class excellence at a First-Year Success Center talk before more than 250 freshmen and sophomores at the Memorial Union on Monday. He gave insight into the mental game that gave his protégé Michael Phelps the ability to become the best Olympic swimmer. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now