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'Serpico' of Sierra Leone among emerging leaders at McCain Institute

McCain Institute cohort visits ASU, talks ethics and character-driven leadership
April 18, 2017

Mira Koroma among scholars in international leadership program who spoke with ASU President Michael Crow in Tempe

Mira Koroma is the Frank Serpico of Sierra Leone; she could end up becoming the Teddy Roosevelt.

A police superintendent in the West African nation, Koroma is fiercely dedicated to ending the country’s endemic corruption.

Not to fight it. Not to discourage it. Not to campaign against it. 

To end it.

To this end, Koroma applied to the McCain Institute for International Leadership’s Next Generation Leaders program. It trains emerging leaders from around the world in values, ethics and character-driven leadership through a yearlong program blending professional development, exposure to top-level policymakers, and formal training in leadership and communications.

This year’s cohort visited the McCain Institute’s home base at Arizona State University in Tempe, meeting with university leaders and polishing their action plans on how to reach their goals.

More than 70 percent of Sierra Leone’s 6 million people live below the dollar-a-day international poverty line, living conditions that go hand-in-hand with corruption.

“Corruption is really bad, from top to bottom,” Koroma said. “It has become normal. It is expected. When you go to the hospital or the health clinic, you know you have to bribe to have services. When you want water or energy, you have to bribe. It is expected. People do it unconsciously because it is the norm of life.”

It enrages Koroma because Sierra Leone is rich in natural resources. “We are capable of taking care of all of our issues,” she said.

The government established an anti-corruption commission, but it rarely comes down on anyone inside government. Koroma thinks more law enforcement is not the right approach.

“Addressing the fruits of corruption is not addressing it at all,” she said. “We have to look at the root cause, and the root cause is lack of integrity, lack of morals, lack of values. We should address the root cause and then you can eliminate corruption. So go back to the homes and parents will teach their children and practice good morals in front of them. Inculcate such attitudes, and the children will become better citizens. … Gradually, there will be a change.”

ASU President Michael Crow spent time discussing leadership with the nine-member cohort. Leaders pursue their visions relentlessly, he said.

He discussed Horatio Nelson attacking the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile, completely disregarding established protocols in naval warfare.

He described how Churchill responded when the British army was driven in defeat off the beaches of Dunkirk, threatening Hitler personally: “We’re coming for you,” he broadcast.

Leaders do things that are “nearly impossible,” Crow told the cohort. “Leadership is not a function of rank or position. … It’s a mind-set. … You do whatever is necessary.”

Crow asked each program member about their projects one by one.

“They believe it’s impossible to wipe out corruption in my country,” Koroma told him. “They accept that corruption is a norm in our society.”

Crow discussed how widespread corruption used to be in the U.S., citing the New York Police Department until the 1970s, which SerpicoAl Pacino was nominated for best actor for his portrayal of the title character in 1973's "Serpico." famously fought from within, blowing the whistle on other officers.

Crow also mentioned 19th-century New York’s Tammany Hall. As he spoke his eyes shot to the right, where Old Main was visible from the conference center window.

A former New York City Police commissioner who waged a successful one-man war on corruption once stood on those Old Main steps. He walked beats late at night and early in the morning, to make sure cops were on duty, awake and sober. He personally hired 1,600 recruits and mandated physical and weapons inspections. He installed phones in every police station. That was Theodore Roosevelt, who shortly after leaving the White House delivered a speech on the future of Arizona and the West in front of the oldest building at ASU. 

“The leader is the one who never, ever, ever says it can’t be done,” Crow said. “Leaders run on positive energy.”

Before entering the leadership program, Koroma had no idea how to address corruption. The McCain Institute program changed that, she said.

“When I came here, having gone through the ethics and values module, it was an eye-opener. I was able to realize the issue we are having is not corruption, it’s lack of morals, lack of ethics and lack of integrity. So if we address those issues, corruption will be terminated from our culture.”


Top photo: Mira Koroma wants to end corruption in Sierra Leone. A member of the McCain Institute's Next Generation Leaders program, she spoke with ASU President Michael Crow at the Decision Theater on Tuesday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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Devils' Advocates: 50 years of walking the Sun Devil walk

April 18, 2017

Former campus ambassadors reunite at ASU for Devils' Advocates anniversary

The Devils’ Advocates student group is looking back on 50 years of walking backward around the Arizona State University campus.

The group, which leads tours for prospective ASU students and their families across the Valley campuses, is the longest continuously running student group at the university. Started in 1966 as a way to recruit more National Merit Scholars to ASU, there are now about 1,100 Devils’ Advocates alumni. Nearly 150 former Advos, as they call themselves, gathered at a “Walking the Walk” reunion at Old Main on Tuesday.

Jen Bergmark, a 2006 ASU graduate, came from California for the event and fondly recalled her time as a Devils’ Advocate.

“We had moved to Virginia, so I came from far away for my tour, and I was so impressed by my tour guide. I thought he was the coolest guy ever, and I wanted to be him,” said Bergmark, who was a member from 2003 to 2006.

The daylong reunion started with a session in which alumni got to ask questions about the current Devils’ Advocates.

Does the group still surprise new members in their dorm rooms to tell them they’ve been accepted?


Do they still wear khaki shorts with the white sunburst logo polo shirt?

Yes, but they also can wear black or maroon pants, shorts or skirts.

Do the Advos still take a yearly weekend retreat at Camp Tontozona in Payson?

No. The retreat is now a daylong event at a state park.

How many Devils’ Advocates are there?

There are more than 100 on the Tempe campus, with nearly 50 on the Downtown Phoenix, Polytechnic and West campuses.

This drew gasps from the alumni, some of whom didn’t know ASU has grown beyond Tempe.

Do the Advos still walk backward?



Katie Troupe, a senior accounting major and the current president of the Devils’ Advocates, addressed the alumni at a luncheon later in the day. She has been giving tours for four years.

“I walked backwards for the first three, but this year we started walking forwards,” she said.

The group loudly booed.

“I wanted to address the elephant in the room,” she said to raucous laughter.

This is the first year that the tour guides are walking forward. Studies have shown that guests on the tours would concentrate on the backward walking and not on the information they were hearing. So now the Advocates walk forward, with the group, and then stop and chat.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

The guides, chosen after a rigorous three-round interview process, are armed with lots of information about ASU and the campus, but one of the points is for families to just interact with a real student.

And that also was the goal when Bob McConnell, the ASU student body president in 1966, launched the group after reading an article that the University of Arizona was attracting many more National Merit Scholars than ASU.

“I thought, ‘That makes no sense.’ I was aware of how the athletics teams recruited, and I thought, ‘Why don’t we recruit National Merit Scholars like that?’ ” McConnell said.

The group later became a partnership between the ASU Alumni Association and the Admissions Office. Although the Advocates still conduct campus tours, they no longer visit high schools in Arizona or travel on out-of-state recruiting trips like the group did in the early years.

Back then, the group members were hand-selected. They would find a letter in their mailbox saying, “Congratulations! You’re a Devils’ Advocate.”

Patricia Ladue, who was in the group from 1975 to 1976, said it was much more low-key back then.

“It was much simpler. A tour was usually one student who already decided to go to ASU and their family, and it wasn’t like we were trying to compete with schools in California,” she said.

Ladue was among several dozen alumni who went on a campus tour Tuesday with current Devils’ Advocates. The alumni marveled at the changes.

“There used to be only one business building. It was all open here, it was all green,” Ladue said of the area where McCord Hall sits now. “I had a physical conditioning class, and we used to run around here.”

people receiving a tour of the Tempe campus
Former Devils' Advocates take a tour of the Tempe campus as part of the program's 50th anniversary reunion celebration. Although Devils' Advocates now walk forward during campus tours, they tried out the old style — walking backward — during the alumni event. Photo by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

 Chuck Wattles was in that first group in 1966, and stopped every few steps during the tour to take photos.

“You’re kind of in awe of how big it is and how many different colleges they have,” he said.

Wattles was among the 25 founding Devils’ Advocates. Nadia McConnell, now Bob's wife, was the first president, and she gave the group its name.

“The idea of Devils’ Advocates had a deeper meaning,” she said. “We wanted something unique and catchy.”

Phoenix attorney Brian LaCorte, who graduated in 1985, said that being in Devils’ Advocates was one of the highlights of his college career. He introduced the McConnells during the reunion luncheon and noted that they never received their own polo shirts with a sunburst logo because the group didn’t start wearing them until 1974.

“So now I’m going to walk backwards and give them their polo shirts.”


Top photo: Former Devils' Advocates gather for a reunion in front of Old Main on ASU's Tempe campus in recognition of the program’s 50th anniversary. Photo by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now