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ASU's Public Service Academy has worked to train civilian leaders since 2015.
ASU political expert Richard Herrera says Obama keeps with tradition.
April 24, 2017

Former President Barack Obama speaks publicly for first time since leaving office

In his first public comments since leaving the White House, former President Barack Obama on Monday called for an increase in civilian leadership while avoiding any criticism of his successor, Donald Trump.

The message of engagement aligns well with ASU’s efforts from the Center for Political Thought and Leadership, the Center for Race and Democracy, the Civic Economic Thought and Leadership, the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership, and the Public Service Academy.

Obama's avoidance of political critique falls in line with tradition of outgoing presidents staying mum on new administrations.

For this combined Q&A, ASU Now reached out to a pair of university experts to help contextualize it all: Brett Hunt, founding executive director of ASU's Public Service Academy, discusses engagement and leadership; and Richard Herrera, associate director and professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies, expands on the role of ex-presidents in public life.

Question: What did you think when Obama called for the next generation of leaders in his comments Monday in Chicago?

Brett Hunt: President Obama correctly identified a civilian leadership crisis in this country, and that should be no shock because we don’t train leaders to take on big challenges.

The military and several corporations do a great job of this, but on a national scale we don’t do anything to train the next generation of public and civic service leaders.

We shouldn’t be shocked when we have a crisis in Washington, D.C., in regards to the budget or those in Congress, because we haven’t trained the leaders that are capable of taking on those challenges. That’s why we disproportionately lean on the military for leadership, because they do train leaders.

So I applaud former President Obama’s recognition of the issue, and look forward to training the next generation of leaders.

Q: At ASU’s Public Service AcademyTraining the next generation of new leaders has been the primary charge of the Public Service Academy since its inception in 2015. The program was launched in part on the idea that "we've grown apart as a nation" and need to find ways to "get us back together," Hunt said. The Public Service Academy is a unit inside the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. , that is precisely your mission — to train the next generation of leaders. How did ASU get on this path?

Hunt: ASU President Michael Crow, in conversation with news legend Tom Brokaw, helped to identify the issue during an interview asking what can military leaders do for the country beyond their service.

ASU took that kernel of an idea and correctly identified that the nation needed leaders engaged in serving the nation in many different cross-sector capacities — private, public, nonprofit and military.

Two years ago, we debuted the Public Service Academy, which started with zero students and now has over 250 students.

Q: How are things going so far?

Hunt: The first thing I want to point out is the idea that millennials only think of themselves and are inward-looking is not correct in our experience. What we see are young, innovative people who don’t see barriers make outstanding leaders.

We have taken a model that essentially didn’t exist before this and built a four-year leadership development program that brings together academic components with leadership where students are put in charge of small teams working on real issues in a community. We’ve seen enormous and positive growth in many of our students.

We’ve also seen where it’s really hard, because this doesn’t exist anywhere else and we try and provide context for our students as they go out and engage in their leadership journey. We’ve had some successes, and we’ve had some setbacks; but we contemplate on all of these and use them as examples in the program.

This summer we have students taking off all over the world in internships and programs where they will develop their skills as a leader.

Q: Given how divided we are as a nation, how do you develop those skills in a nonpartisan way?

Hunt: We really focus, as the military does, on serving the nation and the obligation to serve the nation beyond trying to assign some political tilt to that.

We have students from all over the political realm, but their obligation is to build leadership capacity to deal with challenging issues that cross sector and are complex and inter-connected by a single solution.

What we see in these complex challenges is that they are not going to be solved by a political party or organization or a government but by leaders. Leaders who intuitively and instinctively who bring a nonpartisan solution to these complex issues. That’s what we train our students to do.

Q: What defines a strong leader?

Hunt: A strong leader has to be respectful but bold and character-driven. Being able to take everyone’s opinions into account but understand that it’s their decision to make, and they have to live with the consequences — good or bad — of their decision. They must have core values and live with those every day. 


Herrera, meanwhile, explains what we should expect from Obama based on tradition.

Question: Some expected Obama to speak out on President Trump's harsh criticism of his eight years in office or to bash the Republican agenda, but he didn't. Why do you think he went that route?

Richard Herrera: The best way to address that question is to say that perhaps there is an expectation from a lot of Democrats, but I’m not sure there’s an expectation or a wish on the part of Republicans to have the former president do anything other than stay in vacation mode. The expectations are being built more from Democrats than anyone else.

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ASU Professor Richard Herrera

To answer your question, I believe Mr. Obama will follow in the footsteps of other presidents: When they do choose to talk about political issues — and they don’t always — but when they do, they tend not to invoke the current name of the president. They tend not to attack certain policies tied to the current president. They tend to talk about their own policies. They tend to talk about things they’d like to see but not get into the sort of back and forth with a sitting president.

Q: Why is it important for former presidents not to comment on a current administration’s term?

Herrera: It’s an unspoken protocol sort of like when a president-elect is not supposed to start engaging in policy work before they’re actually sworn into office. You actually saw some of that criticism when the Reagan and Trump administrations began. There was some criticism that they were intruding upon the governing process of a sitting president. So that’s what it looks like — somebody with a lot of political leverage is intruding upon a democratically elected president’s administration and is largely seen as out of bounds.

Q: Why do you feel there's an expectation from Democrats for Obama to speak up?

Herrera: There is no leader in the Democratic Party with the same stature as former President Obama, but they also don’t have either majorities in the House of Representatives and Congress.

They have a minority leader in both, but they don’t have a majority leader, a speaker of the House. So there is a void there. In that sense, they are sort of rudderless.

That could be part of why Democrats are wanting Obama to emerge as their voice because they don’t have one right now. None of the political leaders in the Democratic Party have the megaphone that the former president has, so that is what they’re seeking.

Where do they find their megaphone because they’re being drowned out?

Q: Do you envision Obama working behind the scenes to help prop the Democratic party back up again?

Herrera: Yes, I believe so.

My guess is that he’s going to lend his name, legacy and reputation to those efforts being made — for example — to those who are trying to make a difference in social and political issues such as congressional redistricting.

He'll lend his name and weight to those sorts of issues that he sees as helping not just Democrats but Americans who are hoping to be more directly heard in elections.

He’s committed to issues of inequality, so where there’s groups who are looking to advance those causes, he’s going to lend his weight. I don’t necessarily see him taking a leadership role in a founding organization that necessarily does that. I don’t see him forming something like the Clinton Foundation, but lending his weight and voice to other efforts that are already ongoing.

Q: What should the role of an ex-president be?

Herrera: There are no rules because there are not a whole lot of former presidents, and it’s a small club. Most former presidents take a lower profile. They tend not to engage with current presidents.


Top photo: Brett Hunt, director of the ASU Public Service Academy, discusses outreach with Jessica Eldridge, manager of public service opportunities for the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Photo by Paul Atkinson/ASU

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ASU specialist: A glass act

Quartz cover on Mars rover made at ASU's Scientific Glassblowing Facility.
Christine Roeger, head of ASU Scientific Glassblowing Facility, makes key parts.
April 25, 2017

Christine Roeger leads ASU’s Scientific Glassblowing Facility, which creates custom work for sensitive research

Two hundred and fifty million miles away, glistening on the Martian surface, sits a NASA rover fitted with a quartz cover made at Arizona State University’s Scientific Glassblowing Facility.

Most people probably don’t think much about where the glass tools in scientific research come from. While beakers and test tubes are mass-produced and easy to buy online, custom pieces — including the cover of a Mars rover — are created by an estimated 650 scientific glassblowers across the country at educational, industrial and government research facilities.   

Dating back to the ancient Egyptians, scientific glassblowing has allowed researchers to advance technology and further their studies. Thomas Edison’s light bulb; Galileo’s thermometer; and early televisions, radios and computers were invented thanks to scientific glassblowing. Today, researchers use glass tools to collect air samples from volcanoes, precisely dilute chemical mixtures and mix gases in closed systems, among other activities. 

Christine Roeger is a third-generation scientific glassblower who leads ASU’s facility. She is one of an increasing number of women entering the previously male-dominated field — bending the glass ceiling, so to speak.

“I belong to an American glassblowing society, and there are a lot more women now than when I first started. People don’t think women can do scientific glassblowing, but the female glassblowers that I have met are really good glassblowers,” Roeger said.

Over her 26 years working at ASU, Roeger has created a wide variety of customized products. For example, she made a glass birdhouse with a valved chamber that allowed a researcher to collect and analyze a bird’s respiration.

Generations of glassblowers

Roeger was introduced to the trade early. Her father worked with her grandfather for a glassblowing shop at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He went on to lead the ASU glassblowing facility starting in 1975.

“My dad always had a little shop at home. He would do side work, and my sisters and I would go out to his shop and just watch him. When I was 7 or 8, he would let us blow into the glass and blow big bubbles. Then when I was 10 to 12 years old, he would have me helping him do basic cutting and getting jobs ready for him,” Roeger said.  

In college, she realized she shared her family’s passion and talent for glassblowing. She switched her major from education to business and became a student worker alongside her dad in 1991.

“Glassblowing has always been in my life. I didn’t really know I wanted to be a glassblower until I got to college and actually experienced what my dad would do on a daily basis. I thought ‘This is really cool. Maybe this is something I want to do,’ and I did a four-year formal apprentice program,” Roeger said.

After graduation, she became a full-time worker in the facility, taking over in 2006 when her father retired. However, Roeger never lost her love for education. In addition to running ASU’s Scientific Glassblowing Facility, she also teaches a graduate chemistry course on the topic.

“This course gives students a basic idea of glassblowing techniques,” Roeger said. “We start simple with cutting and polishing, and by the end of the class, they are making a full-scale distillation apparatus.”

ASU’s house of glass

Located in the Bateman Physical Sciences Center on the Tempe campus, ASU’s Scientific Glassblowing Facility allows faculty and students from all schools and departments to request customized glassware for their research needs. This includes distillation glassware, custom reaction vessels and vacuum glassware, among other tools.

“I don’t make beakers or test tubes. I take an idea from a researcher here at ASU, then using raw material of Pyrex tubing or quartz tubing, I heat the glass in a flame, and I can manipulate it to a shape or system needed,” Roeger said.

One common product Roeger makes is vacuum glassware.

“Researchers often need to collect samples with no air in them. I can make a glass vacuum system that hangs on a wall in their lab and is a tool to take out all the air in a sample. I can also add valves that allow researchers to put a specific gas like nitrogen into the sample,” she says.

No two pieces are the same — every order is custom-built. Roeger can even modify or repair pieces from catalogs, including test tubes. Modifications can include adding new valves, connecting new pieces and adding drain mechanisms. The facility is a cost-effective way for researchers to create customized glassware and repair pieces they already have.

“If you order from a catalog, and you try to customize those pieces from a manufacturer, it is going to cost ridiculous amount of money,” Roeger said. “A lot of times, repairing glass — repairing a bucket of glass— is way cheaper than buying all new parts, too.”

Roeger consults with researchers during daily office hours. Starting with nothing more than an idea, she can draw out a design with the customer and create the project. Service occurs on a first-come, first-served basis, with a typical turnaround time of a week-and-a-half to two weeks.

“If any researcher has an idea in their mind, I can make it for them,” Roeger said. “I have never had to say no to anybody.”

For more on ASU's glassblowing services, click here

By Cheyenne Howard, Knowledge Enterprise Development