ASU student-led Woodside grants to tackle elder wellness, ‘period poverty’ and more

December 31, 2019

Sun Devils were inspired this fall to launch projects addressing community issues as diverse as gender-inclusive sports and postpartum health for refugees. 

After pitching their projects in November, seven teams were awarded a total of $8,600 in funding through the Woodside Community Action Grants to complete projects by summer 2020. The teams granted funding were: Two ASU students paint during a day of service Changemaker Central at ASU students at a day of service event. Download Full Image

• Menstrual equity project Devils Go With The Flow ($1,500).

• St. Vincent de Paul Teen Program for homeless youth ($1,500).

• K–6 Gardening Project for Roosevelt Elementary in Mesa ($1,500).

• Refugee Women’s Health Clinic for pregnancy and postpartum health ($1,500).

• Furry Friends social connectedness for elder Phoenix residents ($1,000).

• Equality and Ultimate Frisbee for gender-inclusive athletics ($850).

• Student Action for Community Health Advancement for health education in Title I schools ($750).

The Woodside Community Action Grant is a seed-funding competition for Arizona State University students who are passionate about community service and social change. Students are eligible to receive funding to carry out service-focused projects in Maricopa County. Six years after the grant was launched through the generosity of Migs Woodside, 88 projects have earned a total of $106,420 in funding for community impact. 

Sarah E. Ford, who is a graduate student in the School of Social Work at ASU, is a leader of the Furry Friends project, which will address social connectedness for the residents of Westward Ho in Phoenix, where Ford interns through ASU’s Community Collaborative. The historic building was a hotel for decades; now it serves as housing for residents over the age of 62 or with a disability. 

Ford says that older adults and people with disabilities are at elevated risk of social isolation, which is linked to several poor health outcomes, including early death, coronary heart disease and stroke. But being a pet owner is associated with better health because it’s an opportunity to interact with others.

“I myself can attest to this, as I did not know any of my neighbors before adopting a dog over the summer, and now I know at least two dozen,” Ford said. 

The Furry Friends project will host a social support group and pet resources for Westward Ho residents and their leashed pets and even non-pet owners. The project will help offset the cost for pet care for residents on fixed incomes and provide a space to encourage interaction among residents. 

“Furry Friends will hopefully serve as an opportunity for the residents I work with to meet and connect with their neighbors and build a stronger community,” she said.

Grant writing has been a personal and professional goal, said Ford, and she plans on volunteering to write grants for local agencies in the future. 

“It has been so exciting to go through this process, and I have learned so much. … I am excited to begin what many in the grant writing world refer to as ‘the real work,’ which is making the proposal for the grant a reality,” she said.

Biological sciences junior Lauryn Jackson is the treasurer of another Woodside grantee, Go With the Flow. The project is part of a statewide effort to provide menstrual hygiene products to secondary students who need them.

Jackson said that many schools in the state can’t afford to keep these products in supply, so Go With the Flow provides “period packs” with an array of products to keep students from rationing products in a way that could be detrimental to their health, among other issues. 

“These period packs are distributed across participating schools and help diminish period poverty, as well as reduce the chances of students staining their clothes or facing public ridicule from their peers,” Jackson said.

Thanks to their Woodside funding, Sun Devils involved with Go With the Flow will package period packs for local Title 1 schools that students can take home over summer break. 

“This project will relieve students and parents from any stressors that may come from a lack of access to period products typically obtained from school nurses; now they will have enough products at home to last them throughout their whole break,” Jackson said.

The project is fulfilling in multiple ways, Jackson said, since it works toward an important mission but also has allowed her to build her professional skills.

“This organization has allowed me, as an individual, to be a part of an incredible movement and has taught me more about the aspects of business such as marketing, finance, etc. I am very excited to contribute to the growth of Go With the Flow and observe its impact on our community,” she said.

That kind of leadership experience is what ASU student Natalie Zarasian finds inspiring about helping manage the Woodside grants through her role at Changemaker Central at ASU. The sophomore, who is pursuing concurrent degrees in supply chain management and sports business along with a minor in art history, helps guide student groups through the application process as service chair. 

The grants are offered once per semester; the process starts with an online application and moves through to a pitch day in November, which Zarasian and two other students this year helped judge, before awards are announced. Zarasian said she enjoys seeing how people’s projects evolve based on feedback.

“It’s a great way to get started on something you’re really passionate about. I’ve talked with students who they’re not sure if they’re ready. And it’s a great way to get that initial push to make that change,” she said.

Students are supported throughout the process with office hours at Changemaker, mixers among those who applied and more. Zarasian said she’s impressed with the diversity of ideas but loves watching the ideas and the students’ skills grow. 

“That’s why I think Woodside is great. It gives them the opportunity to explore what they want to do and it gives them such a great platform to make these great projects and to see the impact they can truly make,” she said.

The deadline to apply for a spring 2020 grant is coming up. Applications open Jan. 13, and the deadline is March 1. Follow Changemaker Central on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for updates on Woodside-related events.

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


Alumnus uses political science degree as springboard to multifaceted career

December 31, 2019

Much like the professional path that follows, the road to a degree isn’t always straightforward. For Arizona State University alumnus Alex Witherill, a break from school to see more of the world offered the long view he needed to jump-start his studies and forge a career.

“I finished my freshman year in 1987 and then took six months off to travel around Europe,” he said. “I remember thinking that I had to do it right then — I wanted to have that experience so I could come back to school more engaged and with more perspective.”  Alex Witherill obtained a bachelor's degree in political science from what is today the School of Politics and Global Studies in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1992. Alex Witherill obtained a bachelor's degree in political science from what is today the School of Politics and Global Studies in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1992. Download Full Image

The trip paid off. Witherill said he returned to the Tempe campus a year later with a renewed drive for higher education and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science at what is today the School of Politics and Global Studies in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. After graduating in 1992, he accepted a position in the Mesa office of investment banking and retail brokerage conglomerate Shearson Lehman Brothers. A few years in, he was looking for the next big thing when a three-month training program took him to the firm’s New York investment office.

“I wasn’t feeling challenged working on the firm's retail side in Arizona, and when I saw the investment side I thought I’d found something that offered more,” he said. “So I started to enlist the help of some of my fraternity brothers working in San Francisco and former classmates who’d gone into investment banking. Eventually, I met a guy who hired me to work at Lehman Brothers in the Bay Area.” 

Witherill’s new position provided the change he was searching for. But another barrier still loomed — graduate school.

“Everyone at the firm who had their own clients had advanced degrees in business, usually from places like Harvard or the University of Chicago,” he said. “A guy that I worked with told me, ‘Look, you can either find a way to go back and get an MBA or you can just work to overcome that obstacle. I decided to work hard enough to find a way around it, and I became the only undergraduate degree holder with his own clients.”

A broad base 

Witherill spent almost 10 years at Lehman Brothers before moving to investment banking and wealth management positions at Credit Suisse and Barclays. He now serves as managing director of investments at San Francisco firm Stifel Financial Corporation. And while the progression from a political science degree to an investment banking career may not seem like the most obvious, Witherill said his time at ASU gave him the tools to make the jump successfully. 

“My belief is that an undergraduate degree should be broad-based and something that really teaches you about yourself and what you can offer to the world,” he said. “My favorite class at ASU was a Shakespeare course, and even though that’s not information I necessarily use in my career today, it’s something I really enjoyed and something that helped me become a more knowledgeable and well-rounded person — I feel that way about a lot of my education at ASU.” 

Between joining Greek life and writing articles for ASU student publication The State Press, Witherill remembers juggling a range of diverse interests while in school. And the same drive for variety continues to play a role in his professional life. 

In addition to his work in banking, Witherill has found a second calling producing independent films. Over the last several years, films like “Dean” and “Frontera” have earned him recognition at the Tribeca Film Festival and Sundance. Today, he’s a board member of the San Francisco Film Society and the owner of his own production company, Green Street Films.

“Business and filmmaking have become some of my main interests, and the ability to combine both is really rewarding,” he said. “Getting to play your small role in the creation and dissemination of art, there’s a certain validation to that. It allows me to use the skills I know from business and apply them to something new.”

Giving back 

Witherill’s filmmaking passion has also led him back to give back to current students. He became a board member of ASU Film Spark almost a decade ago and still holds the position today. The university initiative is based at the ASU California Center in Santa Monica and helps students interested in careers in Hollywood network and work with industry professionals. 

“The film world can be really tough to break into,” Witherill said. “What Film Spark gave students was the chance to work with award-winning actors and cinematographers that they could take into the real world as tangible experience.” 

From advancing in banking, to building a reputation in the world of independent films, Witherill said he tries to remember to always look for opportunities to expand. And he encourages students still in school to do the same.

“When I started my career, I threw caution to the wind and moved to San Francisco to try to start a new career. That meant leaving my comfort zone and taking a risk, but it’s one of the things that really shifted everything for me,” he said. “I think you should always be thinking about how much more is in your city, or how much more is at ASU. Those are the questions that will help you get to where you want to go.”

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences