Taking on the world

ASU social work grad student turns global dreams into reality

May 8, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

Megan McDermott admits she is an unlikely selection as the College of Public Service and Community Solutions outstanding graduate for spring 2018. She never envisioned earning a college degree, let alone a master’s degree in social work. Megan McDermott, College of Public Service and Community Solutions Spring 2018 Outstanding Overall Graduate Student Megan McDermott is the ASU College of Public Service and Community Solutions' Spring 2018 Outstanding Overall Graduate Student. Download Full Image

School was a constant struggle. McDermott was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. Then her father passed away when she was 16 years old.

“At that point, I pretty much gave up on school,” McDermott said. “I failed, quite literally. I graduated with a 1.9 GPA.”

After high school, McDermott moved from Michigan to Arizona, where she had family.

“We used to travel to Arizona a lot when I was a kid to see relatives, and every visit we would stop by the ASU Tempe campus and I’d get an ASU sweatshirt,” McDermott remembered. “I loved ASU and always wanted to go there.”

McDermott spent her first year in the Valley working for a local pizza chain and struggling with how to make her dreams of helping people a reality. College was the last thing on her mind.

“After I’d been out here about a year, my mom begged me to just take one class at a community college, just to test it out,” said McDermott.

It wasn’t immediate, but after more badgering, she agreed to try. To her surprise, she did well.

“I signed up for one psychology class, and I got my first A,” she said. “I cried like a baby, because I had never gotten an A before.”

That success gave her the confidence to enroll in more courses. Soon she was excelling and even joined the college’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, of which she later became president.

McDermott knew, however, that achieving her goals of helping people at the level she wanted meant going on to get her four-year degree. There was only one option in her mind.

“I only applied to ASU,” she said. “It was the only school I wanted to attend. For me, it was always ASU.”

ASU’s School of Social Work was the perfect fit for McDermott. Ever since high school, she had dreamed of becoming a school social worker.

“After I lost my father, I had a social worker at my school. His name is Mike Mohler, and he honestly saved my life,” said McDermott. “I saw the way he interacted with other students and how much he helped them.

“I knew if I could make an impact on one person's life the way he made on mine, then that's all I could I ask for. That’s the number one thing I wanted to achieve.”

McDermott earned her bachelor’s degree in social work. But she wasn’t done. She had bigger dreams.

“I realized I had so much energy and passion that I really wanted to tackle things on a larger policy level,” she said.

That is what led McDermott to the macro social work concentration for her graduate social work program. Someone pointed her to Barbara Klimek, an economist by training who is a clinical associate professor in ASU's School of Social Work.

“She ran the Office for Global Social Work,” said McDermott. “And where other people would look at me like I was crazy for wanting to help so many kids and at a global level, she got it.”

The two clicked. Klimek saw a dedicated, passionate social worker who was interested and committed to global issues, particularly disadvantaged children.

“Her creativity and ability to search for innovative and sustainable solutions to global problems has to be recognized,” said Klimek. “For Megan, ‘The sky is the limit,’ and she will find a way to get there.”

Under Klimek’s guidance, McDermott thrived as an intern in the Office of Global Social Work, and her dreams of making a global impact are already coming to fruition. She took a trip to Nepal to work with the Global Network for Sustainable Development. There, she connected with a local orphanage and discovered beautiful beaded necklaces the orphanage wanted to sell but did not know how to.

“I asked if they would trust me to take 200 of the necklaces back to Arizona to sell them and send back the money,” said McDermott. “They were so excited. We were able to sell many of them at the Global Market.”

McDermott and fellow MSW student and Office of Global Social Work intern Alyaa Al-Maadeed created the Global Market as a project for their degree program. What began as a one-day pop-up for local refugee women to sell their wares blossomed into a monthlong pop-up store and professional development initiative in the heart of downtown Phoenix. The School of Social Work collaborated with the City of Phoenix and local refugee organizations to make it happen.

“It was incredible,” said McDermott. “We're actually trying right now to do another one.”

McDermott also kept her word to the orphanage in Nepal. So far, she has sent back $1,600 in profits from the necklaces. And she recruited sponsors to pay the costs of providing education to each of the 16 orphans for an entire year.

McDermott says she would love nothing better than to see kids around the world have a home, food to eat and access to education.

“We would see these kids living on the streets with no shelter, no food,” McDermott said about her experiences in Nepal. “I saw kids as young as 6 smoking cigarettes — someone said they do it to curb their hunger. So, the first thing I would do is make sure every child in the world had a safe home and get them fed.”

While McDermott is unsure what is next in life, she knows what she would tell herself as a teenager who thought college wasn’t an option.

“I’d say don't be scared to take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way,” McDermott said. “I think a lot of times my nerves or doubts I had in my abilities hindered me.”

Once McDermott was able to put those insecurities aside, she was able to excel and embrace her journey.

“Each person goes through hard times, and how we handle them shapes our lives and our future,” said McDermott. “Every bump in the road has gotten me to where I am today.”

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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ASU students create pop-up shop to help refugees become entrepreneurs

ASU students help refugees become entrepreneurs through a downtown pop-up shop.
February 9, 2018

Global Market in Phoenix to showcase women's handmade crafts, artwork

After the life-altering difficulties they faced in their home countries, refugees who come to America can feel overwhelmed trying to integrate into their new communities.

Becoming economically self-sufficient is crucial for the families, and a group of Arizona State University students has stepped up to help with that.

The Global Market is a monthlong pop-up shop in the heart of downtown PhoenixThe students partnered with RED Cityscape Development, which is providing the space with the assistance of the city of Phoenix. that sells handmade goods, art and other items created by female refugees. The store is a project launched by ASU students in the Master of Social Work program who are interns in the ASU Office of Global Social Work.

The shop, directly across the street from the CityScape retail and dining complex, features items made by female entrepreneurs from Middle Eastern countries, including handmade soap, ceramics, jewelry, textiles, home decor, glass art and paintings.

“It’s a low-cost, low-risk way to get exposure for their merchandise,” said Alyaa Al-Maadeed, one of the ASU graduate students.

Al-Maadeed, who is from Qatar and earned her bachelor’s degree in social work at ASU, said she wanted to tackle a project in which her fluency in Arabic could help refugees.

“We’re trying to get them to the point where they’re engaging with the community and to feel empowered,” she said.

The students did a one-day pop-up shop in December as a pilot project to help the women understand what the event would be like.

Megan McDermott, one of the ASU students, said that the process of coming downtown to the shop and interacting with customers in English is challenging for them.

“As social workers, we have to be very aware that we’re taking them out of their comfort zone,” said McDermott, who helped the women deal with the parking garage.

Creating a shop like this is complicated and involves dealing with a lot of people and different cultures — the exact skills the master’s program is teaching, according to Barbara Klimek, a clinical associate professor in ASU’s School of Social Work and coordinator of the MSW program.

“It takes time, and students understand the issues and the process,” Klimek said. “I’m pleased to see the energy of the students and how they want to do something good for the community and their devotion to the refugee population.”

The students are learning what “help” really means.

“It’s what we teach in social work: Take people where they are at and move them at their own pace,” said Klimek, who also is director of the Office of Global Social Work.

“You can create wonders, but you need to be creative and patient and to really find the solutions that can help those people to achieve the goal they want, which you’re helping them to do. It’s their goal, not yours.”

A previous project by students in the Office of Global Social Work included developing and training refugees on different topics, such as safety, transportation and child welfare, in a culturally appropriate way.  

“They worked with the community leaders who said, ‘If you want this topic introduced, this is how you need to do it,’ “ she said.

When refugee families arrive in Phoenix, some of the women are eager to go out into the community to work, while others are less comfortable doing that. The American Muslim Women’s Association of Arizona can guide them, according to Asma Masood, the president.

“We want to provide opportunities to refugee women who don’t work outside the home, whether because they have children at home or for cultural reasons,” she said. “Some women come with skills. Other don’t have marketable skills so we teach them.”

The nonprofit organization offers English lessons, tutoring, mentoring and a yearlong program called Creative Refuge Studio that teaches the women how to sew and launch a business. Items from the studio are being sold at the Global Market pop-up, including clutches, colorful aprons, kitchen and table linens and knitwear, including hats with cat ears.

“We tell them if you want to make it here, you can do it. It just needs hard work. And many of them have done it,” Masood said.

Among the success stories is the Syrian Sweets Exchange, a cooperative of independent family bakers that formed in 2016 and is selling pastries in the Global Market.

McDermott said the sweets have been selling out every day. “Then they go home after being in the shop all day and bake at night,” she said.

One entrepreneur who has already found success but is looking for a wider customer base is photographer Marwah Asad, who has a display in the Global Market of her photographs, as well as bridal and home decor that she creates.

Asad has a degree in computer engineering, but after she emigrated from Iraq in 2012, she found that the process to become qualified in that field in the United States was expensive and difficult, so she started taking photographs.

“I’m really patient with children, so I started photographing birthday parties for my friends and they said, ‘Why don’t you make it a business rather than doing it for free?'”

“Most of the customers I’m having are from the Middle Eastern community,” she said. “I thought that being in a store downtown, everyone would be here that’s out of our society. I don’t want to be in just one corner.”

The Global Market is in a storefront shop just one door south of the southeastern corner of Washington Street and Central Avenue in Phoenix. The shop is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday through Feb. 28.

Top photo: ASU student Alyaa Al-Maadeed (right) looks at the pricing of some of the Syrian Sweets Exchange treats with Rodain Abozeed at the Global Market in downtown Phoenix. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now