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ASU center helps veterans find footing after military service

November 7, 2017

Heading off to college is often the next logical step for many servicemen and women exiting the military.

But that next step is not necessarily an easy one as student veterans grapple with a host of challenging circumstances. Many soldiers return “home” only to find themselves having to learn how to navigate a culture that is completely different from the military. The social structure is different, the dress is different — the customs, protocols and even the language are not quite the same. For those adjusting to physical or invisible injuries, it can be even more daunting. 

It's why Arizona State University’s Pat Tillman Veterans Center has made its primary mission to empower and support the veteran and military community in their pursuit of academic and personal success at ASU and beyond.

ASU Now spoke with Steven Borden, director of the veterans center, to discuss transitioning to a large university and what it means to be a “military-friendly” environment.

Question: What’s one thing veterans often don’t think to ask when they enter the university environment?

Answer: I think oftentimes the conversation with veterans using their education and going back to school is we don’t start off with the right question. When I say "we," I mean all of those that interact with veterans as they leave the military and start on their journey toward what is coming next. The question really should be, “Why are you interested in pursuing your degree?”

Some of them don’t know. They tell me, “Well, I just got out of the service and I don’t know what to do, so I’m using my GI Bill until I do.” We need to have a very special conversation with that student about possibly some other options for them. It may very well be that they don’t need to have a four-year degree. It could be they need some special training or education starting their own business and really set on entrepreneurship and might not necessarily need a four-year degree. If they have good experience and a solid business plan, maybe what they need is a connection to a business incubator. Here at ASU, we can do that through SkySong and there are some other national programs to which we can connect them.

If we don’t start with that “Why?” question and help them think through what they want to achieve while they’re here, then those conversations happen at the tail end of their degree. That conversation is not necessarily a pretty one. Our students need to be thinking about what they want to do after ASU. Short, intermediate and long-term plans should be identified, and we can help make sure that those plans are properly aligned.

Q: What are some of the things that the Pat Tillman Veterans Center does to get vets acclimated to campus life?

A: It starts with our initial communication with veterans even before they arrive at ASU. We talk to them about what to expect here. We talk to them about opportunities in which to engage whether it be student academic opportunities, professional development or student/veterans’ clubs.

The Tillman Center itself provides a connecting point for student veterans, and we hold veteran-specific welcome events on each campus. We also have a student-success class for veterans, which is a great place for them to get an ASU 101 perspective in a cohort of their peers.

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Pat Tillman Veterans Center Director Steve Borden (center) talks with retired Marine Eli Robles (left) and fellow engineering management senior Josh Miller about a project they're working on. Borden, a retired captain, began ASU's Naval ROTC and is the center's first director. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Q: Who do most veterans hope the public will think about as Veterans Day approaches?

A: There’s a couple of thoughts with respect to that. One of them is understanding the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day. We often get those two days confused. Memorial Day is about remembering our service members that paid the ultimate sacrifice in service to this country. Veterans Day is a day of thanks to the veterans who are still with us.

There are two prevailing narratives in our society about our veterans, and both of them are unhealthy. The first is that veterans are broken and we should thank them for their service, but almost in a pitying way. You know, “I’m sorry you had to go through that.” The other narrative is that veterans are heroes. Both are unhealthy perspectives with respect to what the veteran community is about. Veterans are people who have a heart for service. Today’s military is an all-voluntary service. They have chosen to serve. They served honorably, and they’re going on to do something else. They’re looking for a way to reintegrate into society and to continue being a contributing member and somebody who is continuing to serve their community.

If we can use Veterans Day as a way of highlighting those individuals who are successfully making that transition back, we will be telling a story of our service people that is more reflective of what the veteran community is about.

Q: What are the challenges and advantages of veterans attending ASU after their military service?

A: When you look at ASU’s charter and see that our success is defined not by whom we exclude but by whom we include, and how our students succeed, it is definitely an advantage for our veterans to know that ASU wants them here. They are an important element of diversity to our student body. Only about 1 percent of our nation is in uniform at any given time, and to have a significant number of students that chose to serve our country through military service and then chose to attend ASU broadens the perspectives, experiences and depth of diversity of the ASU community.

A college education is not a transactional experience. It’s just not the matter of going to class, passing your courses and getting your degree. At an institution like ASU, veterans have the opportunity to interact with top faculty members in the nation in their respective fields, they can get involved with research opportunities, there’s a wide array of internships, fantastic professional career resources, and, generally speaking, unparalleled opportunity for people that have left the military service. Then, when you tie that together with the academic rigor of being in a Tier 1 research institution, they should really be able to launch into their next career.

I believe we do veteran services correctly here at ASU. We play a direct role in empowering veterans to use their veteran education benefits; they still have to do the work, but they can leave here to become the next "Greatest Generation."


Top photo: Pat Tillman Veterans Center director Steve Borden works with vets attending ASU, assisting them with their academic, social or financial issues. Often, he will count on veterans' expertise to help with the center's goals. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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Technology may be disruptive but don't fear it, ASU's futurist says

Technology is disrupting our jobs but don't be afraid, ASU futurist says.
November 7, 2017

Jobs will change but people are in control, Johnson tells State of Our State Conference

Technology is disrupting our lives at an ever increasing pace, but Arizona State University’s futurist in residence has a message about that: Don’t be afraid.

“I’m an optimist,” said Brian David Johnson, whose title encompasses his roles as a professor in the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination and as director of the ASU Threatcasting Lab.

“Because I know the future is not fixed. The future is built every day with the actions of people, and we should all get together and make sure we don’t build a future that sucks.”

Johnson spoke at the State of Our State Conference on Tuesday, the ninth one held by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU. The annual conference explores issues affecting Arizona; this year’s event focused on innovation and disruption by technology.

“It begins with people and ends with people, and there’s lot of technology and stuff in between — but it’s always about people,” he said.

Johnson said that autonomy in land, sea and air transportation is coming, as is industrial artificial intelligence, which will not only process information but will be social, “knowing” the people it encounters.

“Imagine if we create a sentient building to make you feel as secure and welcoming as possible,” said Johnson, who also is a professor of practice with the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at ASU.

“Are we educating the workforce to interact with sentient tools 10 to 15 years from now? We’re not, but we need to.”

Workforce disruption was one theme of the conference, and the panelists agreed that education must focus on critical-thinking skills to keep up with the changes.

Jaime Casap, an ASU alumna whose title is education evangelist for Google, frequently speaks to young students who are asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“It’s a stupid question,” he said. “Jobs in the future don’t exist yet. Cashier jobs are going away, so in a grocery store imagine that instead of 10 cashiers you can have a person in each aisle and they’re dietitians or food experts.

“That’s why we need to teach those most important skills of collaboration and critical thinking.”

Rapid change in the workforce can exacerbate inequities, and access to new kinds of education must be universal, according to Luke Tate, assistant vice president and executive director of ASU Opportunity Initiatives. He noted that from October 2016 to April 2017, the United States lost 100,000 retail jobs.

“What we need are universally available pathways for people to build skills and continually augment their skills, not just students but also later-life workers,” he said.

“There are areas of the West Valley where a higher percentage of jobs are threatened to be destroyed, and in Chandler, where there’s already technology employment, more jobs will evolve and not go away. We have to plan for that.”

Megan Garcia, senior fellow with the New America Foundation, said her organization is working with ASU to re-examine the future of work.

“In Phoenix, the jobs most likely to be automated are retail salespeople and food-and-beverage service workers,” she said. “Jobs that won’t become automated are those that require knowledge and human interactions,” like a kindergarten teacher.

The conference also included a panel that addressed questions on the future of automated vehicles, such as: Will the vehicles improve highway congestion or make it worse? What happens when a city look doesn’t need parking spaces anymore, and how will local governments replace that lost revenue? What will an automated car of the future look like if it doesn’t require a steering wheel and brake pedal?

And what about people who like to drive? Panel moderator Duke Reiter, senior adviser to ASU President Michael Crow and executive director of University City Exchange, asked that question.

“The fact that people know that 35,000 people a year are killed but never for a moment think about not driving shows how much people associate cars with freedom,” he said.

Tekedra Mawakana, vice president of public policy and government affairs for Waymo, said she doesn’t expect autonomous cars to take over.

“People will always love their cars and it’s not an either/or. I think for a long time we will have both. I love driving when I want to drive. I love the idea of not having to drive,” she said.

Waymo announced on Tuesday that its self-driving cars operating in Arizona will now be truly driverless. Previously, the vehicles were operating autonomously but still had a driver behind the wheel.

Mawakana said that the driverless cars will likely disrupt the traditional notions of who most readily accepts new technology.

“It’s important in this case to think about who cares about safety and mobility. Not a lot of young people will be contemplating mobility options,” she said. “I caution against using an old paradigm in a new opportunity.”

Grady Gammage Jr., senior research fellow for the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, said that knee-jerk political reactions can get in the way of meaningful discussion about important issues, and that’s why events like the State of Our State are important.

“What technology seems to have created is a space of less nuance, where we hang out with only people who agree with us or listen to commentators who don’t give us sophisticated public-policy responses but give us knee-jerk reactions,” he said.

“And we’re talking about those things here.”

The Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU is marking its 35th anniversary of creating nonpartisan research, analysis and discussion. Find out more here


Top photo: Brian David Johnson, ASU's futurist in residence, is optimistic about how technology will change our lives, he told the State of Our State conference on Tuesday, sponsored by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now