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ASU grads make billion-dollar impact on Arizona economy

May 17, 2019

Sarah Phillips, a student at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, knew Arizona State University was home from the minute she stepped on campus. The criminal justice major graduated this May with a job offer already on the table, and she will continue to call Arizona home.

There were more than 238,000 ASU graduates working in Arizona in 2017, earning approximately $15 billion annually. Phillips is one of the thousands of ASU students graduating this May and contributing to the Arizona economy — spending, purchasing and paying taxes.

“I chose Arizona as home after graduation because I was able to get a great job after the internship with State Farm last summer,” she said. “I have also called Arizona home for the past four years, and I could not imagine a better place to begin my post-grad life.”

Educational attainment is strongly related to upward social mobility and a boost in earnings. Median weekly earnings were more than 60% higher for people with a bachelor's degree than those with a high school diploma. Additionally, the higher the level of education, the lower the unemployment rate.

ASU graduates employed in Arizona earned approximately $15 billion in 2017. Based on those earnings, individuals contributed between $1.065 billion and $1.217 billion in state and local government taxes, including between $613 million and $753 million in state government taxes.

Research suggests that having college graduates in the workforce increases productivity among all workers due to the sharing of knowledge and skills and from the shift to knowledge-based activities. These productivity gains translate into higher incomes and standards of living.

“When we graduate students and they work here, everyone’s wages go up as a result of these productive workers being here,” said Dennis Hoffman, ASU Office of the University Economist and L. William Seidman Research Institute director. “State revenue increases too.”

As an employer, ASU created an economic impact of $3.8 billion. All businesses generate jobs. ASU is unique in that creates jobs (at the university itself) and human capital — the university produces graduates, who then contribute to the state's economy.

According to a report from the L. William Seidman Research Institute at ASU, educational attainment is important to produce highly skilled, competitive individuals, key components of regional competitiveness. Regions competitive in the 21st-century economy are composed of competitive companies, which consist of competitive individuals. The more highly skilled the worker, the higher the worker’s productivity.

ASU has a diverse student body with different abilities, talents and skill sets that span across more than 800 degree programs, offering a large talent pool for Amazon, Intel Corporation, Make-A-Wish Arizona and State Farm Insurance, a few of ASU’s top employers.

Rich Ortiz, a State Farm college recruiter, said ASU’s innovative culture develops a rich talent pool that will help move State Farm forward. 

“ASU offers a diverse student population with regard to academic backgrounds and experiences,” he said. “This aligns with State Farm’s diverse workforce.”

Ortiz says he looks for students who have developed transferable skills through academics, internships and general work experience and who are in search of a career, not just a job. He looks for students who are willing to learn and those who enjoy helping people.

“State Farm is excited to find employees that match our internal culture. Giving back to the community is a major value of State Farm,” he said. “We’re known for doing good by our customers and our communities. It’s important for our employees to understand this type of culture and represent it with every interaction.”

He is in search of students like Phillips.

Phillips accepted a job offer at State Farm. She had an offer of employment before she even walked across the stage with her diploma in hand. Her goal? Get promoted to the special investigations unit, sharing that the company invests in its employees by providing opportunities to succeed and achieve their career goals.

“I am entering the workforce with a different mindset and a different set of goals than when I first came to ASU, thanks to my degree,” she said. “My degree gave me a new understanding of how the world works. My professors and my classes taught me to work hard to help others. I intend to work hard to help others throughout my career, wherever it may take me.”

ASU’s culture of social embeddedness and philanthropy also attracts nonprofit organizations.

Sawyer Kilen, volunteer manager at Make-A-Wish Arizona, says the organization provides children living with critical illnesses the opportunity to seize a dream, passion or goal in life — something they most desire, adding that a wish can be the turning point for a child, allowing them to see all the possibilities that life has to offer.

“One of the things I enjoy most about ASU students is the passion they have for success and making a difference in the world,” he said. “They come in with a passion to support our mission, a desire to learn and the work ethic to succeed in their role.”

Kilen says one of the reasons he looks to ASU for future interns is because of the diverse population at the university and the importance it places on bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds, knowing that diversity and inclusion provide a rich foundation for innovation, success and togetherness. 

When students are at ASU, they work alongside students from different counties and backgrounds. Students engage with others, learn from different perspectives and leave prepared to engage with individuals from all walks of life, wherever their career takes them. 

Native Arizonan Nicole Barrett graduated in 2015 from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She pursued a career with Make-A-Wish Arizona and landed a full-time position after graduation. Barrett loves everything about it — a career where she gets to engage with different families, children and life stories. 

“It means a lot to be part of an organization where everyone is so dedicated to our mission and we all play a part in fulfilling the wishes of children with critical illnesses,” she said. “The people I work with are some of the most dedicated and compassionate people I have ever met.”

Barrett, a digital marketing manager, writes content for the organization’s website and for its social media channels. Meeting wish kids and families, talking to them and having the opportunity to share their stories are her favorite parts of the job. Nearly four years later, she now oversees two marketing interns of her own. 

“The most valuable thing I learned in my years at Arizona State University was how to develop strong writing skills and work on deadline,” Barrett said. “I use these skills every day in my current job, and I think being a strong writer is an important skill for any job.”

When students graduate, they are prepared with the skills employers are looking for, making students not only marketable locally but also beyond the state. A vast majority, nearly 70%, of ASU graduates work in Arizona.

For others, they leave Arizona but are eager for the day when they can return to the community that they now call home. Robert Chandler, a recent computer science graduate from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, is one of those students.

Originally from Georgia, Chandler visited the Tempe campus and immediately fell in love with the environment and the atmosphere. Most attractive was the vast engineering opportunities available to him. It made ASU the obvious choice.

“From undergraduate research to student organizations and internship opportunities, I knew that I would be able to find my own path through my degree and beyond,” he said.

Chandler’s biggest takeaway was the interdisciplinary collaboration — working on teams with diverse backgrounds helped him understand the impact that a variety of perspectives brings to the table, adding that no problem exists in a vacuum from a larger system. It’s important to keep all aspects of that system in mind when developing a solution.

That wise insight was not missed by the Honeywell team, who Chandler said reached out to him through the online career portal Handshake, offered by ASU’s Career and Professional Development Services.

He is briefly departing the state and heading to Honeywell’s Atlanta software center as part of a rotational program.

”I still love the desert,” he exclaimed. “More importantly, Phoenix is really booming in terms of the tech industry. More and more companies are getting in on the great city and taking advantage of the talent coming from the nearby massive research university that also happens to be No. 1 in innovation. Though I will be in Atlanta immediately after graduation, I’ll be coming back to the Valley and I hope to stay here when the two-year program is finished.”

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$1M-plus grant to College of Health Solutions targets maternal and child nutrition

Mom's eating habits can affect her offspring for life.
May 17, 2019

You are what you eat. But first, you are what your mother eats. And it wasn’t that long ago when no one blinked an eye at a pregnant woman sipping a cocktail. Nowadays, a growing body of research suggests that what women eat while they’re pregnant can affect their child’s health across their entire lifespan.

Despite this knowledge, there is still a dearth of well-trained health care professionals in the field of maternal and child nutrition, especially in the Western United States, said Meg Bruening, associate professor in Arizona State University's College of Health Solutions. 

It’s why she jumped at the chance to apply for a grant from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau to bring the Translational Training, Education and Leadership Program in MCH Nutrition and Childhood Obesity Prevention, otherwise known as The TRANSCEND Program, to ASU.

“There aren't a lot of experts in maternal and child nutrition,” said Bruening, a former trainee during her graduate years at the University of Minnesota who now serves as director of the program at ASU. “And nutrition during early life — although I feel like it's never too late to make behavior change — predicts health outcomes and prevents chronic disease later on in life.”

The $1 million-plus grant will provide funding for five years to support College of Health Solutions graduate students interested in maternal and child health as it relates to nutrition. Funding began last July and is currently supporting seven trainees at ASU — two doctoral students and five master’s students. Six more slots will be available this fall for students enrolled in a College of Health Solutions graduate program.

The TRANSCEND Program has been around for more than two decades, and besides ASU, it is being funded at seven other sites across the nation: Tulane University; University of Minnesota; University of California, Los Angeles; University of California, Berkeley; University of Tennessee; University of Alabama at Birmingham; and Baylor College of Medicine.

group photo of ASU College of Health Solutions professor Meg Bruening and seven ASU students in the TRANSCEND maternal and child nutrition program

ASU College of Health Solutions Associate Professor Meg Bruening (far left) with the first cohort of ASU TRANSCEND Program students. Photo courtesy of College of Health Solutions

All the sites work closely together with the goal of preparing graduate students to be leaders in the field of maternal and child health and nutrition. Trainees interact through a peer network in which they hold monthly calls to discuss shared projects and interests, and take turns blogging about their experiences online. They also get together for an annual meeting. This year’s took place in Washington, D.C., where trainees attended talks, networked and made a visit to the Hill for a policy-themed day.

The program aims to train students in 14 core competencies that include leadership; family-centered care; and policy and advocacy, among others. At ASU, the College of Health Solutions administers those core competencies through two new coursesThese courses are open to students of any major. and a research project for which students are matched with a faculty member from disciplines across ASU who are focusing on maternal and child nutrition.

“The idea is to provide training across the translational spectrum,” Bruening said.

As far as student outcomes, by the end of the first year, students will have a research manuscript ready to submit for publication in academic journals, and travel will be provided for them to present their research at national conferences. Over the course of the program, they will also prepare a two-minute mock testimony they will present to legislators and experts in the field and gain experience working on a policy brief.

In addition to the student training component of the program, there is a continuing education component, in which faculty at the College of Health Solutions provide training to current professionals in the field, as well as a technical assistance component, in which college faculty provide assistance to state agencies and local health departments.

man crouching in a gym watching as torso of person in foreground jogs past

Exercise and nutritional sciences doctoral student Armando Pena cheers on kids participating in a diabetes prevention program geared toward Latino youth. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

One thing the TRANSCEND Program is eager to address is a lack of representation in maternal and child health and nutrition.

“We need more diversity in the field to better impact health outcomes,” Bruening said.

To that end, there is an effort to recruit students from underrepresented communities and to focus their research on vulnerable populations.

Exercise and nutritional sciences doctoral student Armando Pena grew up in Somerton, a city near Yuma, Arizona, only a few miles from the U.S.-Mexico border that is roughly 97% Hispanic. He’s working with Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation Associate Professor Gabriel Shaibi to research behavioral interventions for obese Latino youth at risk for diabetes.

Before he applied to be a part of the TRANSCEND Program, Pena did most of his academic work in lab settings.

“I wanted to find a way to apply my clinical lab skills in the real world,” he said. “This helps me meet my academic goals of pursing research and science, and it also helps me reach my more personal goals of helping my community.”

While his work as a master’s student focused mostly on adults, Pena says the TRANSCEND Program opened his eyes to a whole new field of possibilities. In particular, a lecture on breastfeeding left a deep impact on him, causing him to shift his focus to mother-to-infant health outcomes.

“If it weren’t for this program, I probably wouldn’t have the career path that I have now,” he said.

woman smiling as she hands a tablet to another woman in a library setting

Nutrition master’s student Emily Masek passes out tablets for parents in a nutrition education program to take surveys. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Nutrition master’s student Emily Masek had a similar realization through her work with a substance abuse prevention and nutrition education program targeted at parents of middle-school children.

“I've never really worked with an adolescent population, before but this has really informed me about how important adolescence is for starting to build those good health behaviors,” she said.

The curriculum for the program was adapted from one that focused solely on substance abuse prevention to one that includes nutrition education, with the idea being that parents take what they learn and teach it to their children.

Under the guidance of College of Health Solutions Associate Professor Sonia Vega Lopez, Masek and others are measuring the effectiveness of the program through dietary questionnaires given to both the parents and their children. They also perform home visits to collect other data such as height, weight and blood values.

“A lot of existing intervention models either directly impact the kids or directly impact the parents,” overlooking the opportunity that leveraging the parent-child connection provides to empower parents to continue to educate and be a knowledge resource their children, even after the intervention is complete, Masek said.

In the future, Bruening is looking to build a partnership with a similar program at the University of Arizona called Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (ArizonaLEND), which is a leadership training program that prepares the next generation of policy makers, faculty, clinicians and researchers to lead the maternal and child health workforce.

There are also plans to develop an online fellowship program for existing professionals in maternal and child health leadership.

Overall, the TRANSCEND Program at ASU is a win-win for students and the community alike, Bruening said: “The program provides hands-on experiential learning so that the students can understand and have exposure to what the community is facing when they try to intervene around nutrition-related issues. It also provides the leadership training for them to be able to dive in right away once they graduate and help move the needle faster.”

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay