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ASU students produce APS Electric Light Parade preview event for capstone project

December 9, 2019

As thousands of community members packed the parking lot of the North Phoenix Baptist Church to check out the float entries for the APS Electric Light Parade, Special Event Management students entertained children of all ages with an event of their own.

Arizona State University students enrolled in PRM 486 — Introduction to Special Event Management worked hard all semester to develop the concept for their interactive station: They created the vision, maintained a budget, organized a site plan, developed the marketing strategy, drafted an emergency plan and built props, games and crafts in anticipation for the event.

“The city of Phoenix is celebrating the 33rd annual Electric Light Parade, and it is an honor to partner with them to support our community through an auxiliary event,” Clinical Assistant Professor Erin Schneiderman said. “This is a perfect platform for our students to learn the fundamentals of event planning in the classroom and then see it all come to life as they execute the populated event.”

Representatives from the city of Phoenix’s Parks and Recreation Department and event sponsor APS visited the class early in the semester to explain the significance, traditional components, layout and expectations for the preview event. Students spent the next several weeks working in groups to brainstorm suitable activities for a younger audience. The last few weeks of the semester saw students create their experiences, loading up supplies and creating their station at the event site.

The event featured eight interactive holiday stations from around the world all run by students. Guests learned about the significance of the pickle while playing games popular in Germany; decorated doughnuts while learning about Israel; left a wish in the Great Wall of China; enjoyed a spot of tea and hot chocolate in England; and celebrated the arts culture in France. In addition, guests learned about the unique concept of celebrating winter holidays in the summer months in Australia and played Dutch games. And no holiday festival would be complete without a visit from Santa, who accepted present requests accompanied by the event management "elves."

“It is a great partnership for both the city of Phoenix and ASU to come together and host a community event,” said Bob Berlin, recreation coordinator and parade lead. “There is a chance for students to learn public service firsthand, and we appreciate all of their hard work. But the real beneficiaries are the kids and families who attend a great event where they have fun and learn about traditions from around the world!”

During the event, a few learning moments stood out, including the students having to handle an overloaded power source, a lost child being reunited with his father and an impromptu need to create a photo backdrop from the Santa station using only leftover materials that were at the event site. The students handled all challenges with composure and got a real lesson in what could actually happen during an event.

The Special Event Management program offers students with an interest in working in the special event industry an opportunity to learn fundamental principles of producing a wide range of events including concerts, festivals, weddings, conventions and sporting events. Students can pursue a minor that ties their degree into event management or a six-credit certificate to add to their degree, which puts them at a competitive advantage entering the workforce.

“Our courses are experiential — yes, we spend time discussing fundamentals inside the classroom, but we pride ourselves on the hands-on experiences our students are developing outside of the classroom,” Schneiderman said. “Students will take several visits throughout the community, hear from experts and have several opportunities to develop their own events and volunteer in areas that interest them. Our ultimate goal is to place students in the event industry who have experience and can make an immediate impact!”

Learn more about the Special Events Management program.

Top photo: Marley Fischer helps two young girls create their wish at the China station on Dec. 7. Photo by Paige Corbin

Clinical Assistant Professor , Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Internship led Watts College outstanding grad to fall 'in love with local government'

December 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

Ashley Funneman was a case manager and crisis intervention specialist working in a state-funded program to help seriously mentally ill adults and children when she realized she wanted to learn more about how such programs are run. Ashley Funneman, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions overall outstanding graduate Fall 2019 Ashley Funneman, fall 2019 overall outstanding graduate, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Download Full Image

That is, what it’s like to be the boss.

“I really wanted to get more on the administrative side of things,” said Funneman, who holds an undergraduate degree in psychology and is receiving her master’s degree in public administration from Arizona State University's School of Public Affairs. She is the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solution’s overall Outstanding Graduate for fall 2019.

“After doing direct service for vulnerable adults, I realized I could have more of an impact on the administrative side, developing policies and programs that work and are more efficient at reaching their objectives,” she said.

Funneman, from Effingham, Illinois, said she was surprised at this revelation, because she originally had no plans to go into local government.

“But after an internship with the Medical Examiner’s Office, I fell in love with local government, and my belief in community was strengthened,” she said. “I was able to see all the working pieces and how they come together.”

Funneman said she chose ASU because as she examined public administration degree programs, the School of Public Affairs ranked highly and offered the convenience of being in Arizona, where she now lives and where she wanted to network.

"I’m very passionate about disadvantaged populations and wiping out poverty. A lot of issues stem from poverty, including physical and mental illnesses.” 
— Ashley Funneman

Another revelation came while Funneman worked as graduate assistant to Watts College Associate Dean and Associate Professor Joanna Lucio, who was writing a book exploring homeowners’ opposition to affordable housing developments.

“I helped her research articles and case studies. I did a smart studies research project to see if public housing recipients getting internet access would increase their access to opportunities,” Funneman said. “Her passion for affordable housing and her knowledge helped solidify the idea in me that everybody deserves housing and access to healthcare.”

She advises fellow students to grab on to any interest they have in their fields of study and explore it. There are so many topics which overlap.

“You’ll never know where it’ll lead you. I’m very passionate about disadvantaged populations and wiping out poverty. A lot of issues stem from poverty, including physical and mental illnesses,” she said, adding her explorations led to internships she treasured.

“And apply for scholarships,” she said. “Not a lot of people do.”

She’s thankful for the financial assistance she’s received from the Segal Scholarship for AmeriCorps service and the Frank Sackton Scholarship Endowment.

After graduation Funneman plans to work in local government either at the city or county level, possibly in a human services department, leading to her plans for advancement.

“Eventually I want to work my way up and have more power in program development and working with disadvantaged populations,” she said. “I want to try to eliminate the negative consequences of poverty as much as possible with support and community resources.”

If granted $40 million to solve one of the world’s problems, Funneman said she would use the money toward improving equitable access to basic needs, including housing, food, water and education, for all people.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Outstanding grad overcame personal, academic challenges to complete online program

December 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

For Wendi Malmgren, it took a community of friends, fellow students, teachers, tech support staff and field instructors to facilitate her success as a graduate in the Master of Social Work online program at Arizona State University Wendi Malmgren, Watts College School of Social Work outstanding graduate fall 2019. Wendi Malmgren, fall 2019 outstanding graduate, School of Social Work, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Download Full Image

Several difficulties presented themselves to the School of Social Work’s fall 2019 Outstanding Graduate. The biggest: During her course of study, Malmgren had to deal with the deaths of two immediate family members.

As a returning student, she found the online program technology to be daunting, and considered transferring to the traditional classroom model. But through it all, Malmgren said she found ways to succeed. Her first ASU experience two decades ago, after all, was a rewarding one.

“My history with the university goes back 20 years, not as a student, but working with faculty in the theater department to develop and sustain an arts-against-violence program and provide an alternative field education experience for theater majors,” she said.

Malmgren had been in the social work field for those two decades before realizing she was ready for a new challenge.

“I wanted to add depth and breadth to my academic experiences, and ultimately want to obtain a clinical license in social work,” she said.

“As a single mother who raised two daughters, I understand many of the challenges facing women in today’s world,” she said. “I believe that women’s rights are human rights, which must be honored and protected."
— Wendi Malmgren

Malmgren, from Phoenix, is a member of the second cohort of the online MSW program. She said that changing from the classroom to online was frustrating at first. But within the first few weeks she was able to reach out to other students, instructors and tech staff, and with their support, began to embrace the new learning opportunity.

That support enabled her to reach her goal and pursue her dream of practicing in the rural community where she has lived, completed an internship and plans to return: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

“Without that support and encouragement, I was ready to terminate my program and revert to the classroom model,” she said. “Ultimately the online program provided the flexibility to participate in my first internship in Coeur d’Alene and a second in Phoenix with ASU.” 

She said she is grateful for School of Social Work faculty members Associate Professor Joanne Cacciatore and Lecturer Jamie Valderrama for support and compassion while dealing with the deaths of her father and daughter during her program.

Both faculty members provided sensitivity and understanding at a time when Malmgren was seriously deciding whether to postpone her program or even go into another professional direction.

Once she returns to Idaho after graduation, Malmgren plans to take the Licensed MSW exam in January, then ultimately obtain a clinical license, which requires 3,000 hours of supervised practice.

If she were to be granted $40 million to solve one of the world’s problems, Malmgren said she’d use the money to advance women’s rights.

“As a single mother who raised two daughters, I understand many of the challenges facing women in today’s world,” she said. “I believe that women’s rights are human rights, which must be honored and protected."

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Outstanding grad credits ASU program for becoming a fire captain at 24

December 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

For a firefighter to attain the rank of captain usually takes several years, often a decade or two, of dedicated service. Oliver Silva, Watts College School of Public Affairs outstanding graduate fall 2019. Oliver Silva, fall 2019 outstanding graduate, interdisciplinary programs., Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Download Full Image

At age 24, Utah Air National Guard Staff Sgt. Oliver Silva — make that Fire Captain Oliver Silva — credits his graduate studies at Arizona State University as what set him apart from his colleagues.

Silva is captain in the fire department at the 801,505-acre U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground in the northwestern Utah desert, about 50 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. He is receiving his master’s degree in emergency management and homeland security offered by ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, and is the Watts interdisciplinary programs’ fall 2019 Outstanding Graduate.

“I heard from fire chiefs and had a lot of mentors who made it clear that the way the fire world is going, they want educated people.It was one of those things they highly recommend to set you apart from other individuals, and that is what I wanted to do.” 
— Oliver Silva

“I consider it one of my greatest achievements,” he said of his becoming captain. “Most career firefighters take at least 20 years to get to that level.”

Silva, from Mount Pleasant, Utah, said he realized he wanted to study emergency management after people he respected in the field informed him that employers were increasingly seeking applicants with college credits.

“I heard from fire chiefs and had a lot of mentors who made it clear that the way the fire world is going, they want educated people,” Silva said. “It was one of those things they highly recommend to set you apart from other individuals, and that is what I wanted to do.”

He said he was pleasantly surprised to find many of his ASU courses were directly related to his career, from learning how to write policies to directing programs.

Today at Dugway, he’s in charge of all department preparedness and response to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosives, or CBNRE for short.

Silva said he chose ASU because of its renowned program for emergency management and homeland security, ranked No. 1 by U.S. News & World Report. “It’s also one of the best military-friendly schools — also a plus,” he said.

The online program he undertook was easy to fit into even Silva’s complicated firefighter schedule: 72 hours on, 96 hours off. He also has time to volunteer at his community's local fire department and ambulance service.

He said one of the best aspects of online study was interacting with other students with different preparations.

“Everyone had different knowledge and experience from different organizations and different parts of the world,” he said. “Someone would be focused on earthquakes and hurricanes, others on snow, depending on the different parts of the nation they were from.”

Silva said his post-graduation plans are much the same as they are now.

“I’m going to stay where I am, and keep working on improving myself as a captain and leader,” he said.

If offered $40 million to solve one problem in the world, Silva’s answer was clear and straightforward, the kind you might expect from a dedicated fire captain: “I’d help improve my community emergency response services to keep our community safe.”

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Book that outstanding grad read as a teen led her to seek a criminology career

December 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

College students often have doubts, and Brittny Dwyer is no different. In fact, she recalls struggling during her junior year with feelings of inadequacy, belying the passion and drive that eventually would earn her the title of 2019 Outstanding Graduate for the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. Brittny Dwyer, Watts College School of Criminology and Criminal Justice outstanding graduate fall 2019. Brittny Dwyer, fall 2019 outstanding graduate of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Download Full Image

Dwyer, also a student at Barrett, The Honors College who will receive her bachelor of science degree in criminology and criminal justice, was sitting in a physio-psychology class surrounded by cerebral fortitude.

“I needed the psych credit,” recalled the Gilbert, Arizona, resident. “It was intimidating, sitting in class with biology and neurology majors. I felt so out of place.”

But the instructor, psychology Lecturer Eevin Jennings, taught Dwyer how much she could push herself in her studies.

“She has become such a mentor to me,” Dwyer said. “She was so encouraging and passionate about the material. I remember being in class saying, ‘Yeah, I want to be a professor like her one day.’ Now, I’m a teaching assistant for her.”

By the way, Dwyer said she ended up acing Jennings’ class.

“She helped me realize I want to be a professor. I want to help future generations.”

Dwyer discovered she wanted to study criminal justice when she first read a book, "The Lucifer Effect" by Phillip Zimbardo, which deals with the psychology of what pushes seemingly normal people to do bad things, things that seem outside of their character.

“At the time I was 14 or 15, and in early college enrollment at Chandler-Gilbert Community College,” she said. “I took a criminology and a psychology class on a whim and I fell in love with it. I wanted to do something with my future to help people. I didn’t know what that looked like until I found criminology and criminal justice and completely immersed myself in it.”

“I had to have the drive to discipline myself and work very hard, even at times when I didn’t want to work at all. That was one thing I was not really expecting.”
— Brittny Dwyer

Her experiences at ASU helped her realize something she hadn’t before, she said: That merely being inspired or motivated only takes a person so far.

“In my degree, I had to rely on self-discipline and passion for the subject, especially during my (honors) thesis,” Dwyer said. “I had to have the drive to discipline myself and work very hard, even at times when I didn’t want to work at all. That was one thing I was not really expecting.”

After CGCC, she said she heard ASU had an “amazing” criminal justice program, with criminology and criminal justice doctoral and online graduate programs ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

She advised social science students how important it is to never stop asking questions and to be unafraid to ask them.

“Sometimes people hold back. I did sometimes in my career at the risk of sounding ignorant or dumb. But the CCJ profs are so encouraging of analytical thinking,” Dwyer said. “Through asking questions, that’s how you make progress in your field. Otherwise we’ll never find any answers to the problems, so you should not be afraid to ask questions.”

Even though the CCJ program is based at the Downtown Phoenix campus, her favorite campus location is the Noble Library on the Tempe campus used by mostly engineering students, whom she said are among the quietest at study.

“It’s a great place to focus. Less noisy than Hayden,” she said with a laugh.

After graduation, she said she plans to finish work on publishing her thesis in a scholarly journal and applying to PhD programs in forensic psychology or clinical psychology.

If she were granted $40 million to solve one of the world’s problems Dwyer said she would use the money to battle sex trafficking, with a big chunk of the funds devoted to shining light on the damage trafficking has done to its victims and to society.

“Better education of the public and stronger intervention policies, internationally (are needed),” Dwyer said. “There are a lot of issues in other countries where certain laws work against themselves, especially in cases of child pornography. It’s worth investing in rehabilitation, not only for victims, but offenders, too.”

“It’s worth trying — compared to doing nothing,” she said.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Commitment to public service led outstanding graduate to study nonprofit leadership and management

December 6, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

As a career choice, the nonprofit sector hadn’t initially occurred to Atlas Pillar, who originally enrolled in ASU as a double major in musical theater and journalism. But, reflecting on his life and the many champions who helped him along the way, Pillar eventually decided he wanted to devote his life to serving others. Atlas Pillar, Watts College School of Community Resources and Development outstanding graduate Fall 2019 Atlas Pillar, fall 2019 Outstanding Graduate, School of Community Resources and Development, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Download Full Image

“I’ve always had a passion for caring for others, as well as an aptitude for research and writing, but I didn’t know how applying my skills in the nonprofit sector might look,” said Pillar, the School of Community Resources and Development’s (CRD) fall 2019 Outstanding Graduate.

“Ultimately, I chose ASU because of the Nonprofit Leadership and Management program, which I believed to be my first step in becoming someone who could impact meaningful change,” said Pillar, of Gilbert, Arizona. Pillar is receiving a bachelor’s degree this fall from ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

The CRD Nonprofit Leadership and Management program checked all the right boxes, plus provided something he hadn’t expected: a sense of empowerment.

“This program changed my perspective on what I can accomplish, and gave me the power of applied learning and proactive problem solving,” he said. Additionally, the leadership experiences and opportunities to have an impact on his peers during his academic career helped fuel his confidence. “ASU served as a training ground for me to be a mover and shaker, even prior to receiving my degree.”

“I want to be at the forefront of professionalizing and streamlining the endeavors of the nonprofit sector."
— Atlas Pillar

Pillar is grateful for the influence of Sandra Price, a CRD lecturer, for whom he said he has worked as a research assistant for all four years of his program. He said she taught him much about utilizing creative and nontraditional processes to manifest important change at ASU and beyond.

“When it comes to creating solutions, Dr. Price taught me that with passion and patience, anything can be done, regardless of how others approached it in the past, and if anyone is going to do it, it can and will be me.”

He’s also thankful for the financial assistance he received through the Yoshioka/Hossbach Family Maroon and Gold Leaders Scholarship, Dean's Undergraduate Research Scholarship, Barack Obama Scholarship, the New American University Scholar — Provost's Award and a scholarship from the Homa and Irene Wood Foundation.

Now his plans for graduate school include even further study and research in the nonprofit sector, including a master’s degree in program evaluation and data analytics.

“I want to be at the forefront of professionalizing and streamlining the endeavors of the nonprofit sector,” he said.

If he were given a $40 million grant to change one of the world’s problems, Pillar answered immediately.

“Assuming this is an arbitrary number supposed to fit the bill of solving any world problem, I would use this money to redistribute food and the means for food production,” he said. “Fulfilling basic nutritional needs has been shown to have drastic impacts on health, education and employment rates. We have the food and the mechanisms. We’re just not doing it.”

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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ASU hosts biosecurity conference on synthetic viruses, DIY biology, disaster preparedness

Creating a synthetic virus is very possible — but luckily not that easy.
December 6, 2019

In 2002, virologist Eckard Wimmer led a team at the State University of New York at Stony Brook that created a live polio virus from chemicals, using internet information and mail-order DNA.

The work was funded by the Pentagon. The military was interested in developing biowarfare countermeasures. Wimmer, distinguished professor of molecular genetics and microbiology, received death threats and was called “Frankenstein.” A Texas congressman introduced a resolution condemning the journal that published the study, calling it a “blueprint on how to create for release human pathogens on the American people.”

All viruses can be synthesized in the absence of a natural template, Wimmer said.

“That’s very scary,” he said. At the same time, he added, “No, you cannot go into a garage and make a smallpox virus.”

The Arizona Biosecurity Workshop held Dec. 5-6 at Arizona State University was attended by a diverse group of people ranging from scientists to FBI agents and first responders. The discussions were just as diverse, ranging from safety, to ethics, to new innovations.

“We’re looking forward to a couple of exciting and interesting days,” said ASU’s Jamie Winterton, director of strategy for the university’s Global Security Initiative.

The two-day event focused on more than synthetic viruses. Do-it-yourself biology, disaster preparedness, ethical quandaries in biotech and bio information security were other themes. This year’s workshop marks the fourth consecutive year of it being held on the ASU Tempe campus.

“Partnership is key to our success,” said Daniel McGee, the FBI special agent in charge of counterterrorism operations in Arizona. “Weapons of mass destruction threats have the potential for major disruption at a national level-the effect could be catastrophic.”

It’s not that easy to create a synthetic virus, said David Evans, an expert in medical microbiology and immunology from the University of Alberta who synthetically recreated the extinct horsepox virus. There are significant technical challenges. Evans described failures he has experienced.

“This could be done by a state actor,” he said, “but I assure you it’s not something you can do in your garage.”

“The FBI wants everyone from academia to the DIY communities to be security-aware when it comes to threats from people looking to do harm,” said Philip Bates, supervisory special agent with the agency.

“Through biosecurity workshops like this, we can raise awareness and educate various communities about the importance of biosafety and biosecurity,” Bates said. “This is a community effort and the important relationships built during this conference will help in this effort.” 

The FBI’s 56 offices nationwide reach out to colleges and universities, the private biotech sector, DIYers and others. Their concerns include academic espionage, insider threats and chemical security.

“Biosecurity is not a new concept, but it is an emerging concern,” Bates said. “But, to be clear, the FBI is in no means trying to deter or impede innovation — it's quite the opposite. We are working to protect assets and interests that impact U.S. national security.”

The conference was co-sponsored by the FBI and ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“You should all read 'Frankenstein,'” Wimmer said. “It’s a remarkable book.”

Top photo by Pixabay

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


Gallego tells ASU students about public service, what it’s like to be mayor of Phoenix

December 6, 2019

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego talked about her job — that it’s very rewarding but involves dealing with criticism — and encouraged students to sign up for city internships in a recent impromptu talk to PAF 200 students at Arizona State University's Downtown Phoenix campus.

Gallego is a former District 8 City Council member elected earlier this year to fill the unexpired term of former Mayor Greg Stanton, now a Democratic congressman from Arizona. Gallego noted that a large number of Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions students are currently serving as interns in her office. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego tells ASU students taking PAF 200 about what it's like to be mayor. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego speaks to ASU Professor of Practice Jerry Oliver's PAF 200 (Public Service & Policy in the 21st Century) class during a recent visit. Download Full Image

The class is taught by Professor of Practice Jerry Oliver, a retired police chief who headed police departments in Detroit; Richmond, Virginia; and Pasadena, California. He has served at several posts in Arizona's state government including director of the Department of Liquor Licensing and Control. Oliver was executive assistant on Gallego’s transition team. During her nearly one-hour talk, the mayor told students how she deals with media scrutiny and works with those on opposite sides of issues.

Phoenix is the nation's fifth-largest city. Population USA predicted its population was to have exceeded 1.7 million by July 2019.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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Rural Arizonans share views with urban citizens but face unique challenges

Tourism, housing, poor roads among rural challenges described at ASU conference.
November 26, 2019

Morrison Institute conference addresses affordable housing, lack of resources

People who live in rural Arizona share many of the same concerns as their urban counterparts, but they also face unique challenges and wish for a bigger share of support from the state, according to speakers at the 10th State of Our State conference held by the Morrison Institute of Public Policy at Arizona State University.

“Rural Arizona Now” was the theme of Monday’s conference, which covered a broad range of issues. Experts described dealing with heavy tourism, complicated relationships with the federal government and a lack of resources for affordable housing and road repairs. Here are the highlights:

'Arizonans Speak'

The Morrison Institute released a poll on Monday called “Arizonans Speak,” a web-based survey of 975 residents balanced for age, gender, ethnicity and location. The respondents, who included both registered voters and nonvoters, answered questions on a variety of topics.

Water quality ranked as the most important policy issue, with 80% of respondents agreeing that it is important, and less than one-fourth of respondents believing that Arizona has plenty of water to meet its needs in the foreseeable future.

For rural residents, water quality tied with health insurance as the most important issue, according to Melissa Kovacs, associate director for research at the Morrison Institute.

“Rural residents are more likely to agree that they use water more efficiently than nonrurals, and that they’re worse off financially than the previous year,” she said.

“They feel less strongly than urban residents that trade with Mexico is an important policy issue.”

Other survey findings:

• 82% of all respondents support requiring background checks for all gun purchases.

• Over half believe the laws covering the sale of guns should be stricter, while just under 10% believe they should be less strict.

• 69% of Republicans agree with the statement, “I support deporting all undocumented immigrants,” while 21% of Democrats do.

• 77% of Democrats agree with the statement, “I believe climate change is a threat to Arizona’s water supply,” while 39% of Republicans do.

• 53% of Republicans agree that “I have confidence in Arizona state government when it comes to handling Arizona’s problems,” while 38% of Democrats do.

A rural identity

Kovacs noted that 18% of the survey respondents indicated that they live in a rural area, but according to their zip codes, only about 5% actually do, based on U.S. Census indicators.

Jonathan Koppell, dean of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, said that the disconnect isn’t surprising.

“There’s something there when a disproportionate number of people identify themselves as being rural. I would put it to you that rural Arizona is important economically and socially, but it’s important psychologically as well,” he said.

“And the collapse of rural life in America, broader than just in Arizona, has a disproportionate effect on the psychological health of America and the confidence we feel as a country because so much of our identity is bound up in the imagery and lifestyle that we associate with rural America.

“We still think of a cowboy on a horse as a quintessential American image.”

Koppell said that the Watts College, which houses the Morrison Institute, has been working to address problems that affect rural communities, including higher risks of addiction and suicide.

“We’re spending time focused on the most pressing issues, including homelessness, which is of increasing concern not only in urban Arizona, but in rural Arizona, where our forests and parks are often homes of last resort for people who have no other place to live,” he said.

He described the college’s One Square Mile initiative as a “systems integrator,” connecting people and programs in Phoenix’s Maryvale community.

“I predict that one day, one of our One Square Miles will be in rural Arizona,” he said.

Eliminating educational inequity

ASU President Michael Crow showed several charts that described the lower rates of high school graduation, percentage of population with a bachelor’s degree and personal income in Arizona’s rural counties compared with the national average. 

“The number of jobs available in the U.S. economy for a person without a high school diploma has decreased 25% in the last 10 years and will decrease 50% more in the next 10 years,” he said.

“I don’t care whether you think that’s fair or good or bad. Educational attainment is the single most important predictor of social mobility.”

ASU is working to close the educational gap through its ASU Prep Digital online school, which provides math and science coursework in remote schools that can’t attract teachers, and through ASU Online, which offers more than 200 degree programs.

“In a place like Arizona, as massive as it is, what we’re trying to do is construct an institution that’s capable of being present everywhere as needed,” Crow said.

“Let’s talk about education not as a place or an institution, but as a force available to anyone, anywhere.”

Rural challenges

Several experts discussed the challenges that are unique to rural areas of the state, which urban residents often don’t even realize.

Affordable housing: Jane Russell Winiecki, past chairwoman of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, said the proliferation of short-term rentals like Airbnb has severely affected the housing market. “The state of Arizona has taken it upon themselves to not let each of the towns and cities make their own decisions for short-term rentals. It’s big government trying to tell all the communities of Arizona that if short-term rentals want to come in, they can do that. It’s devastating to the Verde Valley.”

Matt Ryan, of the Coconino County board of supervisors, agreed that short-term rentals are hurting the housing market. “The last apartment complex in Page was just turned over to short-term rentals. We should be moderate in our approach and say, ‘If you have more than three rentals, you’re operating a business’ and there should be tax equity associated with that.”

Mila Besich, mayor of Superior, said the Resolution Copper project, a proposed mine, could bring many jobs to the area but Superior might not get the full benefits. “Four-hundred-fifty households are expected because of this project, and we don’t have enough housing.”

Broadband: Traci Morris, director of the American Indian Policy Institute at ASU, noted that of the 975 survey respondents, only 44 were Native American. “You know why that is? (The survey) was online. We’re talking about connectivity,” she said. The institute recently released a report showing that people who live on reservations have unequal access to the internet, with 18% having no access and 31% having spotty access. “Telecommunications underpins everything, access to technology, phone, Wi-Fi, the components of what makes life possible in America, whether we like it or not.”

Tourism: Ryan described the impact of heavy tourism in northern Arizona. “We’re being loved to death. There are so many people coming to our region that the impact is tremendous. We have a metro level of visitors but a smaller tax base associated with it.”  He said that tourists will neatly stack up their garbage on the side of U.S. Forest Service roads, expecting it to be picked up. “There’s no trash service out there,” he said.

Poor roads: State Rep. Arlando Teller, who is Navajo and represents District 7, the entire northeastern part of Arizona, said: “I am glad I’m hearing these conversations but what I don’t hear is next steps — how we’re going to do what we need to do about the deteriorating bus routes in tribal Arizona. I was home last week where it snowed, and a school bus had driven off the road. In urban Arizona, you don’t have the issue of ‘How do I get to work when the road is muddy?’”

Natural resources: Jason Whiting, supervisor of Navajo County, said that wildfire is increasingly a threat to his community. “Our forests are very unhealthy right now and the fuel load is not where it’s meant to be,” he said. He also said that the complicated web of federal, state and private land makes it hard to extract valuable minerals from the area.

Lack of social services

In conjunction with State of Our State, the Morrison Institute also released a new research project called “Interactive Maps: Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Resources in Arizona.” The online tool draws from the institute’s earlier research project on child neglect in Arizona. The maps show areas where risk factors are high for issues that affect child well-being, such as domestic violence and substance abuse. Overlaid on that are dots that show where services are available.

The maps show a stark picture with many gaps. The Tohono O'odham Nation in southern Arizona is at the highest risk for domestic violence and has only one service provider. Mohave County in the northwest corner of the state is also at high risk, with only two providers.

Research has shown the effectiveness of home-visiting services, in which a nurse or social worker meets with new parents to provide support and knowledge to create a safe home for children. The map shows huge areas with few or no providers.

There are only two substance-abuse treatment providers for the Navajo Nation, and only four in the entire swath of northern Arizona.

Top image: Andrea Whitsett, director of the Morrison Institute, kicks off the 10th State of Our State conference on Monday in Phoenix. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now 

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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5 top ASU researchers earn prestigious Regents Professor title

5 top research experts at ASU honored as Regents Professors.
November 21, 2019

Professors awarded for expertise in business, criminal justice, ecology, evolution and energy

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. Read more top stories from 2019.

Five Arizona State University professors are being honored with the highest faculty award possible: Regents Professor.

The five are internationally recognized experts at the top of their fields, and on Thursday, they joined an elite rank when their nominations were approved by the Arizona Board of Regents.

“The 2019 Regents’ Professors are pioneers in ecology, engineering, judicial decision making, business and social evolution,” said Mark Searle, executive vice president and university provost at ASU. “Their scholarship contributes to the better understanding of our world, environment and each other. The entire ASU community celebrates their great achievement.”

The new Regents Professors are:

Blake Ashforth, an expert on organizational behavior who holds the Horace Steele Heritage Chair in the Management and Entrepreneurship Department of the W. P. Carey School of Business.

Nancy Grimm, who holds the Virginia M. Ullman Chair in Ecology in the School of Life Sciences.

Joan Silk, a world-renowned primatologist in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change.

Cassia Spohn, a Foundation Professor and director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Vijay Vittal, Ira A. Fulton Chair Professor and ASU Foundation Professor in electric power systems in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering.

“Arizona State University is proud to count these deserving scholars among our world-class faculty,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said.

“Their work meaningfully expands our knowledge of the world, and our university community is fortunate to benefit from their experience and leadership.”

Here’s more on the new Regents Professors:

Blake Ashforth

 Ashforth’s work focuses on how organizations and individuals affect each other, how newcomers find meaning and a sense of identity in their workplaces, and why things go wrong in organizations, from corporate corruption to job burnout. He also looks at how individuals find dignity in stigmatized occupations and the importance of respect to employees.

His recent research has included topics such as bullying in the office and the ways that employees think of their companies as a person.

One reviewer wrote: “Professor Ashforth is one of the premier living scholars in the field of organizational behavior and management. He has brought the concept of social identity into the mainstream of organizational behavior and in doing so expanded it to make apparent how participation in an organization can shape an individual’s sense of self and membership (both “who am I” and “who are we”).”

Nancy Grimm

 Grimm is a scientist who has had an international impact in the environmental sciences and is a pioneer in desert stream ecosystems. Her collaborations across the disciplines of earth, life and social sciences, as well as engineering, helped create the subdiscipline of urban ecology. Her research includes novel projects that have shaped current approaches to environmental sciences, including ASU’s Central Arizona–Phoenix Long Term Ecological Research, a project that’s been in the works for almost 40 years.

Her lab, the Urban and Stream Ecosystems Lab, is working on several projects, including a collaboration among several universities to develop a way to take the “pulse” of streams. She recently won an award for being part of a team that created an international consensus on how to approach urban ecology.

Grimm, who earned her master’s degree and PhD at ASU, inspired a reviewer to write this: “Nancy recognized early the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to solving global change problems and has been an effective champion for integrating the work of natural and social scientists and engineers to promote resilience of urban infrastructure.”

 Joan Silk

 Silk is recognized internationally as a leader in the study of primate and human behavioral evolution. Her research has transformed understanding about the relationship between nonhuman primate behavior and human evolution, especially the origin of humans’ prosocial behavior, such as sharing, cooperating and volunteering. She is a co-author of the signature book “How Humans Evolved,” now in its eighth edition and published in Spanish, French and Japanese.

She spent years studying the social lives of baboons in the Okavango Delta of Botswana and did research on how baboons use relationships to decrease stress.

One reviewer wrote: “Her multiple theoretical and data-based contributions across a 40-year span have shaped the modes and manners by which we model and understand primate groups and primate sociality. It is near impossible to read any substantive work on primate studies and not see Dr. Silk cited.”

Cassia Spohn

 Spohn has shaped three areas of criminology: race and justice, sentencing and handling of sexual assault cases. She has researched the decision-making of prosecutors, judges and police officers to understand patterns in the administration of criminal justice, and she’s looked at how laws have different effects on different populations. Her book, “The Color of Justice,” is a definitive source, and her work on sentencing was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in revising sentencing guidelines to eliminate systemic biases.

Her research on biases in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault led the Defense Department to call upon her as an expert on its advisory board. She reviewed material from different branches of the military service to compare the outcomes of sexual assault in the military justice system with the civilian justice system.

One reviewer wrote: “She is hands down the leading American social scientist in the study of sentencing and prosecution decisions, and among the small handful of leading specialists on racial disparities and discrimination in the criminal justice system. … Her creativity, combined with her methodological sophistication, make her uniquely influential.”

Vijay Vittal

 Vittal’s expertise is in the field of large-scale power grids — the transmission, distribution and security of energy infrastructure, including smart-grid and renewable energy technologies. One of his pioneering contributions has been the development of methods for dealing with fluctuations on the power grid due to renewable energy sources. Another transformative contribution is his development of the theory and application of “islanding” to isolate parts of the power grid to prevent the rapid and disastrous cascade of outages.

Earlier this year, Vittal was part of a team that received a $3.6 million award from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office to advance solar energy’s role in strengthening the reliability and resiliency of the nation’s electricity grid.

One reviewer wrote: “Dr. Vittal is without question the No. 1 scholar globally in power system dynamics and is amongst a handful of scholars that lead the broader area of power system engineering in the world.”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now