ASU grad looks forward to a career in criminal justice

May 19, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

For Anahi Parra, education is a path to a job that doesn’t feel like a job. Anahi Parra ASU grad Anahi Parra Download Full Image

Parra graduated last week with a degree in criminal justice and a minor in social welfare from the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Parra aspires to one day work as an FBI agent, Border Patrol officer or a probation officer. 

She got a headstart on her career experience working as an intern for the Maricopa County Adult Probation department in the Presentence Investigation Unit.

“I was taking DNA samples. Anyone who’s convicted of a felony, they have to submit to a DNA test. So that’s what I was doing. It was pretty fun,” Parra said.

Parra made the most of her ASU experience. She enjoyed attending career fairs, worked in the Education at Work program at ASU and even studied abroad in Costa Rica for a summer semester. 

A Phoenix native, Parra has always wanted to give back to her community and be out in the field making an impact. 

With her undergraduate years at ASU now complete, Parra reflected on how her journey began and where she plans to go next.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I feel like ever since I was in high school I knew I wanted to help out my community and give back, because in high school I would volunteer a lot with St. Mary’s Food Bank or St. Vincent de Paul. I also knew deep down that I didn’t want to become a social worker because that's not what I was interested in. 

So throughout high school, that’s what really motivated me to figure out that I wanted to be a criminal justice major and also because I want to be out in the field doing something. I don’t want to be in an office doing case management or anything like that. I want something exciting and fun and basically feel and know that I’m working but it doesn't feel like I'm working because I love my job so much.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I feel like from a personal standpoint, ASU has taught me how to save money. My freshman year I was buying lunch on campus every single day and you know, keep in mind, I didn’t live on campus, so I didn’t have a meal plan. I didn’t have a car, so I was spending money on transportation. Then toward my sophomore year I started to meal prep.

I also studied abroad last summer in Costa Rica. When that happened I had to save money because (even though) I had scholarships for the trip to be paid for, I still needed to save for spending money or emergency money. So, ASU really taught me that I should not only rely on financial aid to pay for everything; it was my responsibility to save money.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Well, initially when I graduated high school, I didn’t even think about going to ASU. I just thought about going to community college and then transferring to ASU. I mainly thought that I wasn’t even going to get financial aid from ASU because my grades were OK, but not straight A’s. 

Also, I was scared to start off at a big university. But my mentor, she's the one who encouraged me to apply. She was like, "just do it, you never know if you'll get a scholarship.” So, I did, and I got a grant and here I am.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: One professor right off the bat is Professor Eric Johnson. He's my internship coordinator, and I had him in some of my previous CRJ classes. He is always pushing us to do our best no matter what. 

Also (academic success coordinator) Shonda Hertle. I keep in close contact with her. I’m always asking her just random questions and she’s never denying me or telling me to go to someone else. She’s always there for me and she’s always providing a lot of resources.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I would say work hard and go to any ASU event, even if you go by yourself because more than likely someone else will be there by themselves, too. 

Work hard. Especially if you’re first-generation, you need to bust your butt to do everything you can to make your parents proud or to make yourself proud. That’s mainly why I did it.

And especially because no one wants to be up at one o’clock in the morning doing projects. That’s one thing that I’m glad I don’t do. I don’t do all-nighters to finish my homework. I am mainly on top of everything. So, I feel like if the students start off with that their freshman year, it’ll continue on as a habit so they’re not all stressed out, adding more stress on top of what they’re already feeling.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: Well throughout my four years I traveled back and forth to the Tempe campus and the Downtown Phoenix location. I would say for the Tempe campus, I really enjoy just staying in the library and just chillin’. Even if it wasn’t for homework, I can go in there and take a nap and no one will tell me anything or I can go in there and eat food. 

Then in the Downtown Phoenix campus, I really enjoyed staying in the Student Center. I liked all the nice furniture that they have and they always have events there. I can always just hang out with my friends and not even do homework, just chill until the next class.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Well, I had a trip planned but it was canceled because of the coronavirus. I had a service learning trip to Spain, but like I said, it was canceled. I think as of right now, I do want to try to get a higher position, where I am currently working, in the meantime while I apply to other jobs and wait to hear back from them. So I’m really striving to get to a higher position so I can work full-time with them and then just apply everywhere else. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Extreme poverty in Third World countries and education. I really like and am fascinated with the service agencies that go out to rural countries and build houses and build schools and then teach all those kids. I feel like more funding should be provided to them just across the United States and across the world, anywhere in general. I feel like that’s super, super important. Also, a little more funding with providing more supplies to young girls like, giving them more feminine hygiene products.

Written by Carmen De Alba Cardenas, Sun Devil Storyteller

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


3 mothers and classmates wrap up work on their online master’s degrees

The day before commencement, each one celebrated Mother’s Day as the mother of five children

May 15, 2020

To make the grade and get the degree, every college student has some hills to climb that aren’t detailed in a syllabus. They’re the nonacademic challenges that can be just as imposing as any stack of papers, projects or exams.

At least the stars aligned this spring so that Jessica Cooper, Sara Ebert and Jacquelynn Sokol could meet and share their unique circumstances when they enrolled in the same online capstone class at Arizona State University. Jacquelynn Sokol, mother, five children, master's degree, School of Community Resources and Development, Watts College, Arizona State University Jacquelynn Sokol (left) with her husband, Jeff, and their five children. Sokol and two other mothers of five were in the same online capstone class in nonprofit leadership and management this spring, earning their master's degrees from ASU. Download Full Image

They were all near the end of their journeys toward a Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management degree from the School of Community Resources and Development. Two received their degrees May 11, with Sokol having one last class to go.

Above the pressures most any graduate student must face, they share a rare common experience. The day before commencement, each one celebrated Mother’s Day as the mother of five children.

Five children, all with requests, many at inopportune times — as in, when assignments were due.

Each mom, a professional seeking to augment her career, was completing all that classwork while still having most or all of her kids living at home with her. Two of them had all five.

And although all three live in the same metropolitan area around Salt Lake City, they had not met before enrolling in their master’s degree program.

Throw in the unique hurdles this spring of each being sheltered at home with their families during the COVID-19 pandemic (fortunately, none of the three moms has had anyone sick with the virus) and dealing with a 5.7 magnitude earthquake that struck near Salt Lake City two months ago. All these things, and graduate studies, too.

“They’re just warriors the way they navigated all of the disruption,” said Professor Robert Ashcraft. “The earthquake posed even more obstacles such as lost electric power, which is obviously a problem when pursuing online education. They demonstrated remarkable resilience, getting their assignments in and performing well throughout the semester.”

Robert Ashcraft, nonprofit leadership and management, Arizona State University, three moms, five children each

Professor Robert Ashcraft taught a graduate capstone class in nonprofit leadership and management in spring 2020 that was attended and completed by three mothers, each of whom has five children.

Ashcraft calls them inspirational. But each woman describes herself as someone ready to further her career who just happens to be the mother of five, and maybe might serve to inspire those children, particularly the girls.

One reason to succeed: Inspire my children

Ebert said she wanted to inspire her daughters.

“My youngest was in kindergarten so I decided to get my feet wet,” said Ebert, an administrative director with a nonprofit foundation. “Four of (my children) are girls, they’re getting to the age of deciding what to do. There’s a lot rhetoric about women’s roles out there. They saw Mom at home all the time. I wanted to show them that it was important to me to be their mom, but it was important also to keep learning and growing. It’s not one or the other.”

Sokol said her story is similar.

“My first three (children) are girls,” said Sokol, whose children, ages 2, 5, 8, 10 and 13, are the youngest group of the three. “My youngest is in diapers. I was nursing a newborn when I started. I wanted my daughters to see me walk (at commencement). My sons are going to have no memory of me going to school. But my daughters have seen Mom with the laptop, going to the library. They’ve seen me do the work.”

Cooper, who is formerly from Scottsdale, Arizona, with an undergraduate degree from ASU, is an event coordinator for a nonprofit and a board member of two others.

“I wanted the flexibility of an online program,” she said. “Being able to have the flexibility and not having to go someplace (for graduate school).” Despite taking courses from home, Cooper, a member of the executive team of a nonprofit organization, said that there were still plenty of sleepless nights.

“It is still a very large commitment of time. You want a lot out of the program, you have to put a lot into it,” said Cooper, whose children are ages 7, 9, 16, 21 and 26.

Cooper said her children often tried to get her attention, asking her to watch something they’re enjoying on TV, for example. But she said she had to tell them she couldn’t because she had schoolwork to do.

“We’re fighting over technology,” Cooper said. “It was easier when they were at school. Now we all see what it’s like to be online and all need Wi-Fi.”

Sokol said after her husband completed a three-year night-school Master of Public Administration program at nearby Brigham Young University, she wanted to be able to go to a campus herself, as she liked social interaction.

“But I loved this program,” Sokol said. “ASU was the right fit. It was really doable and affordable. It was just the right program and has been a really good program. I’m impressed with the course topics and what I’ve learned.”

Midnight master’s degree

So, what was this spring semester like?

“This time period has been crazy between being stuck at home (due to) COVID-19 and the earthquakes,” said Ebert, whose kids’ ages are 7, 10, 13, 17 and 20. “Every time the ground shakes I’m buying more water.”

The capstone class has been challenging, both inside and outside the virtual classroom, she said.

“Everything seems to have hit. It’s been a work-life-home balance, an interesting time to slow down and focus on a capstone. I would say it is so different than my undergraduate study course was,” Ebert said. “But I could not have done this program any other way. I never could have done it (in person).”

Ebert calls the program her “midnight master’s,” because much of her best work was accomplished between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“Where else but online can you do that? Everyone’s winding up. Everyone’s had something happen in their lives and now are wrapping it up,” she said.

Sokol also remembered some midnights.

“There are so many nights. For me, school doesn’t start until 8 or 8:30 at night, once the kids were in bed. I’d go to the library and at 8:55 the (library) ladies would give me the stink eye,” Sokol said. “They were closing it down and looked worried that I wouldn’t leave.”

Public places to study ceased to be an option when shelter-in-place rules went into effect in March, and Salt Lake City’s climate meant it was too cold in March to work outside, Sokol said.

Priorities and commiserating

Cooper said she frequently worked on school assignments inside her car while doing typical parent things such as waiting for her daughter to get out of ballet.

Cooper also moved during the semester, but school priorities came first, and many boxes are still unopened.

“The boxes can wait until the second week of May,” she said.

There wasn’t much time or opportunity to share advice on parenting, although the three remember commiserating about classwork, just like many students.

“There’d be a late-night email: ‘Did you read that assignment? Are you ready to drop out?’” Ebert said with a laugh.

Last year school was canceled for a snow day.

“We thought it was worst thing ever. One day was a real pain then,” Cooper said. “Now, it’s three months.”

Sokol said she is still amazed of the “random and crazy” situation that put three women, all from the Salt Lake City area, and all three mothers of five, in the same small class of a total of 15 students.

“There is something really great about having people who are just like you working toward the same goal,” Sokol said. “Our lives are similar, there is that unity and understanding.”

Beyond that, she said, was the opportunity to get to know others in their graduate degree program who were from much farther away, whose midnights came earlier or later.

“There were other moms in my classes with newborns; we have kind of connected. People living in different countries. One guy was doing some sort of military operation with an undisclosed location,” Sokol said. “They’ve all had different life stories. One thing I’ve loved, is the diversity in my classes, but a lot of people with commonalities.”

Doubts, sorrows, but ultimately, perseverance

Ebert said that she and her fellow mothers proved that they could get those degrees, but that didn’t mean that at times there weren’t doubts.

“As time goes on, you say, 'I can’t do it. This is the one thing that has to give,'” Ebert said. “But your family says, 'You can do it, keep doing it.' My dad died in October. I had a paper due the night of his viewing. The funeral was the next day.”

Ebert would sit up many nights with her mother, who was dying herself, until her mother fell asleep. She typed papers while her mother was sleeping, until her mother passed away a few weeks later.

The advice for others from these mothers with 15 children between them could be summed up in a few words: "Do it. It’ll be tough, but worth it."

“I love being a later-adult-learner. I care about the material. I went back to school to learn, not just to get a degree,” Ebert said. “Dive in. Enjoy the material. It’s a different experience.”

Sokol agreed, “You have to make it a priority to invest in yourself, because when you do something for yourself, all other things on your plate will just work themselves out,” she said. “You’ll be a more whole person to show up in those other areas. A lot of times I haven’t been the best mom. But I am showing my kids a better mom for investing in in myself.”

Cooper says one of her children is a college senior.

“She’s ready to be done. For her to think of going back to school is absurd to her. I said I wanted to, I wanted to do something for myself,” Cooper said. “I wanted to be a lifelong learner. You get out of it what you put into it. Pick things out and apply them.”  

Mark J. Scarp

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


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ASU survey finds state's nonprofits hit hard by pandemic recession

ASU Lodestar Center finds stories of resilience among nonprofits in crisis.
May 12, 2020

Lodestar Center poll finds increased need during crisis but plummeting revenue

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating huge disruption for many Arizona nonprofit organizations, which are seeing increased demand for services but plummeting revenue.

A new survey of 449 nonprofits released by the Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation at Arizona State University captured the profound effects of the crisis and the resulting economic distress after only a few weeks:

  • Nearly 80% reported a reduction in their normal services.
  • 11% of organizations are not operating at all.
  • Almost 40% of arts and culture nonprofits are not currently operating.
  • Just under 20% of nonprofits say they won't meet payroll in eight weeks.
  • Only 5% of nonprofits say they are operating normally.

The nonprofit sector is Arizona's fifth largest nongovernment employer, employing 1 in 16 workers and representing $8.3 billion in annual wages, according to the center's "COVID-19 Report."

“The through line is disruption,” said Robert Ashcraft, executive director of the Lodestar Center and Saguaro Professor of Civic Enterprise at ASU.

“On the one hand, those involved in front-line services such as food insecurity, shelter services and emergency child care are seeing an increased demand for services, but at the same time there are difficulties around the volunteerism piece, with social distancing.”

Arts and culture nonprofits that depend on revenue from tickets, gift shop sales and on-site cafes are especially hard hit, as those institutions are closed during the shutdown.

“They have pent-up demand but no market,” Ashcraft said. “People can’t go to shows or museums.”

As everyone stays home and avoids crowds, events that raise significant funds for nonprofits have been canceled. In addition, the pandemic has driven unemployment to record levels, leaving many people unable to donate money.

The federal and small-business relief funding has helped some smaller nonprofits to avoid furloughs and layoffs for now, but those programs don’t help the larger entities such as Goodwill and the YMCA, Ashcraft said. To help keep revenue flowing, many nonprofits have held online fundraising drives and stepped up their communications with donors in hopes of staying afloat.

The Tempe Community Action Agency is a perfect example of what the survey results discovered: Demand is up, and the financial future is uncertain.

The agency is a front-line provider of food and shelter in the Tempe area and has had to not only help more people, but also find new ways to do it, according to Deborah Arteaga, executive director.

The TCAA food pantry has seen 800 new clients, and the agency increased the meals it delivers to schools from 150 to 500 per month, she said. The home-delivery meal program for house-bound older adults and adults with disabilities increased from 200 to 350 meals per day.

“Those are new clients that we expect to continue for the remainder of the year,” she said.

People also need help with rent. The agency’s emergency-rent assistance program, which can aid about 50 households a month, received 450 requests in April, up from the typical 300 requests. That’s an alarming indication of financial stress, Arteaga said.

“Usually a household will take care of rent before anything else. They want to keep their home,” she said.

When the pandemic hit, the agency pivoted. The Neighbors Helping Neighbors program, in which social workers assist low-income older adults, focused on food- and shelter-related errands, delaying nonessentials like yard work. Other programs, such as support for families with babies and employment assistance, switched from in-person to phone work.

Arteaga has seen a bit of a silver lining. While some of the agency’s older adult volunteers couldn’t come out to help, 45 new volunteers have signed on since mid-March.

“They have helped to fill that gap, and we could not do the work without them,” she said, adding that all volunteers follow the guidelines set by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, the Tempe Community Action Agency has gotten some emergency grants from corporate and community sources, and it has an online donation platform. There have been no layoffs or furloughs. But the financial future is uncertain.

“We are seeing donations coming in, and we’re hugely grateful for that that. Some people are saying they’re giving now instead of in the fall or around the holidays.

“But we did have a grant placed on hold,”  Arteaga said. “We’re focusing on the unknowns of the next fiscal year.”

Feeding Matters, a small, Phoenix-based nonprofit with eight employees, has felt the financial pinch.

“Our biggest fundraiser is supposed to be in October, but we didn’t feel comfortable putting money on the line when we don’t know what will happen,” said Jaclyn Pederson, senior director of programs and strategic initiatives.

“What if there’s a second wave or we’re not comfortable with 700 people in a ballroom? We may be able to think about adapting a little bit in the short term, but what does it look like in a month from now or three months or six months?” she said.

“And it’s not only the individual component of fundraising, but on the foundational and corporate side, we’ve seen a shift toward COVID-related relief.”

Feeding Matters raises awareness about pediatric feeding disorder, a condition in which children have trouble swallowing or must use a feeding tube. So it’s not a front-line nonprofit that provides food and shelter assistance, but it does support health care workers and families with children who have underlying health conditions or are immunocompromised, many of whom have had to strictly quarantine.

“Our constituents are very much affected by this,” Pederson said. “Our families have specialty food needs — and even specialty water — and when there was panic buying going on, there was a lot of increased stress.”

Feeding Matters has hosted virtual support groups for families and provided resources for feeding therapists on how to work via telemedicine.

“The biggest thing is what the new normal will look like,” Pederson said. “We’ll be transparent about shifts we’ll have to make because of financial resources.”

Ashcraft said the news isn’t all bad.

“There’s a gloom and doom to this data and I don’t want to be a cheerleader, but there are also stories of amazing innovation and adaptation,” he said.

“We want to be a place that captures that.”

On its website, the Lodestar Center has created a “Nonprofit Innovation Hub” page, where organizations are invited to share how they’ve made the best of this situation. In one example, a small food pantry in Safford bought beer from a closed bar, gave it to a bakery that was unable to source yeast, and then handed out the resulting loaves of bread to its clients.

Arteaga of the Tempe Community Action Agency agrees that the unprecedented circumstances have sparked creativity.

“What we’ve been excited about is this presents an opportunity to try new ways of serving the community, and the use of technology creates efficiencies we want to continue,” she said.

Food-box deliveries and meals-to-go for older adults are two services that had to be added because of the pandemic, but will likely stay.

“One plus that came out of this is a daytime resource center for homeless persons in Tempe,” she said.

“It’s a plan we were working on, but the pandemic emphasized the need to put it in place sooner rather than later, so we expedited the timeline and we’ll have that by June 30.”

Arteaga said the results of the survey are difficult to hear about.

“Nonprofits are the trusted organizations in communities that folks rely on,” she said. “When one nonprofit struggles, it creates a demand and we all suffer.”

The Lodestar Center will survey nonprofits again in June, Ashcraft said.

“As tragic as this pandemic is, there’s been disruption before and this field has shown surprising resilience because it enacts the purpose and passion that people care about,” he said.

“And that care doesn’t go away.”

Infographic on nonprofits

Infographic by Alex Davis/ASU

Top image by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Professors’ coloring book gives parents tools to help minimize kids’ COVID-19 anxiety

ASU social work Assistant Professor Paige Safyer part of team

May 12, 2020

Parents often struggle to explain certain things to their children. There are topics that can be embarrassing, like sex, or tougher situations, like the death of a beloved pet or divorce. But what about pandemics?

When the world found itself in the grip of COVID-19, a global wave of illness unseen in the lifetimes of almost every living person, resources for parents were few. That’s part of what motivated Paige Safyer, Sara Stein, Julie Ribaudo and Kate Rosenblum to create Tender Press Books and write a coloring storybook to help children cope with what they may see or hear about the virus and its effects. Georgie & the Giant Germ, Paige Safyer, School of Social Work, Arizona State University Illustration from "Georgie & the Giant Germ" by Maja Rosenblum-Muzik. Copyright 2020 Tender Press Books – All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Safyer, a new assistant professor at Arizona State University’s School of Social Work in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, recently completed her doctoral degree in social work and developmental psychology at the University of Michigan. This spring, Stein continues as a doctoral student there in social work and clinical psychology. Ribaudo and Rosenblum are both Zero to Thrive faculty at the University of Michigan.

This group teamed up to create the story coloring book “Georgie & the Giant Germ." Safyer said the book was created to support parents in helping their children make sense of the novel coronavirus and its implications, strongly felt by families at this time.

Safyer said that while still finishing her degree, she and Stein were working with families, some of whom were undocumented. They wrote a children’s book, along with Ribaudo, in English and Spanish to help the kids deal with the anguish of being separated from their mothers and fathers during the forced separations in 2018.

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out earlier this year, that same motivation to help kids and families led to “Georgie & the Giant Germ,” which has now been translated into Spanish, French, German, Hebrew and Arabic.

The story is about a boy named Georgie, who learns about the virus and has questions for his mother, who gives calm, accurate, simple explanations that provide comfort and assurance. Georgie learns about the importance of thoroughly washing his hands to keep the germ at bay, about why he has to stay home and is unable to go outside and play with friends (“because it’s what we have to do until the germ goes away”) and how knowing about the virus can make you grumpy, even if you’re a grown-up.

Safyer said she and the authors knew what needed to be in the book but were challenged with taking the right tone.

“We all work clinically with kids, with young children,” she said. “But writing is awfully hard.”

Like many children’s books, this one looks deceptively simple. Yet, it is the product of decades’ worth of the combined knowledge of its authors.

“What’s unique about this book is that it’s using theoretical knowledge from the fields of developmental clinical psychology and social work. … It’s knowledge gained from 60 years of our collective clinical experience,” Stein said. “It has what we know, theoretically and empirically, (that) needs to be in there.”

Safyer said children think differently than adults. A child will often not have the language to be able to talk about feeling anxious or worried, but may be more able to identify body sensations such as, “my chest feels tight” or “my stomach hurts.” In the book, Georgie’s tummy ache is soothed by the hug of his mother.

Georgie’s felt sense of safety with his caregiver is a crucial theme of the book.

“Children need to feel safe even if there are scary things going on,” Safyer said. “Some parents are afraid to talk about scary things because they think their children aren’t aware of them. But they are.”

Stein said the book aims to help children acknowledge what’s causing them stress and help them to know that their caregivers are there to keep them safe. Reading the book to a child not only helps the child, she said, but it can help parents learn to explain things and to identify the feelings and worries in the child’s internal world.

The book’s illustrator is 12-year-old Maja Rosenblum-Muzik, daughter of Kate Rosenblum, one of the professors who collaborated on the book. Maja has a talent for illustrating beyond her years, Safyer said.

“We gave her a rough concept and she just took off with it,” Safyer said.

The book can be downloaded free here. More information is available here about Tender Press Books.

Mark J. Scarp

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


Overcoming adversity to achieve Sun Devil dream

May 11, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

A Phoenix native, Justin Sanchez has always considered himself a Sun Devil. In fact, he’s been displaying his Arizona State University pride since birth. His first baby photo was taken in a Sun Devil sweater, a prized article of clothing he’s committed to keeping in the family for future generations. ASU online student Justin Sanchez (middle) with his family. Download Full Image

“I actually still have that sweater, and it gets passed around to different family members when they have a new baby,” he said.

The grandson of an ASU alumnus, Sanchez is fulfilling his destiny this May as he graduates with his Bachelor of Science in emergency management and homeland security from the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

However, some unexpected news once threatened to change the course of Sanchez’s life. Not long after enrolling at ASU, he was diagnosed with cancer. Despite this, he kept going and managed to beat the disease, all while juggling his responsibilities as a student and working full time as a senior nuclear security officer.

“I went through surgery during finals in fall 2018 and underwent chemotherapy in spring 2019. As of today, I’m cancer-free,” Sanchez said. 

In addition to being a student, he is also a Marine veteran and a member of the first graduating cohort of the Veteran Scholar Program. Sanchez is passionate about using his ASU experiences to help make a difference in his community and support fellow service members in pursuing a college education after leaving the military. 

He’ll be solidifying his legacy with ASU later this fall as he begins the Master of Arts program in biosecurity and threat management with Watts College. Continue reading to learn more about Sanchez and his unique experience as an online student and finally, an ASU alumnus. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: My “aha” moment was sitting at work at Palo Verde Generating Station (PVGS). I’ve worked in nuclear security there for the past 11 years, and I knew I wanted more in my professional life. I needed to be pushed and stressed out a little, and I wanted more than what I was doing already. I’ve been in this line of work for a long time, starting in the Marine Corps from 2004-2008 and at PVGS, but it’s always been at the lower echelon. I wanted to be at the higher end, making the decisions — the plan — and seeing it executed.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: Something I learned at ASU is that I really love being part of the community and serving it. Before going to school, I really had no interest in community service. ASU changed that in me, with the Sun Devils in Disguise and the Veteran Scholar Program. It pushed me to become a more active member in the ASU community and my own in the West Valley, where I became a tutor at the local high school in my area.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: This is an easy question. ASU is in my blood. My first baby photo says it all. My grandfather Pete Sanchez went to ASU in the 1940s and graduated before going into the Arizona Air National Guard and serving more than 40 years. For them, it's just a family affair. I remember being at the ASU vs. Nebraska game in the ‘90s when we won and the students stormed the field and walked the goal post down Mill Avenue. ASU is who I am at my core, and it was a lifelong dream to be able to officially become a Sun Devil.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Not a teacher or professor, but my leaders in the Veteran Scholar Program, Brett Hunt and Michelle Loposky, have really been instrumental in showing me that ASU, Arizona and our nation are in desperate need of true leaders. I hope to be able to take the things they have taught me to my community and make a difference.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: The best advice I can give to anyone still pushing through at ASU is just keep going! Get that work done, and then slow down and look around. ASU is a beautiful campus and has this electricity inside of it. Feed off of that and make this time the best in your life! I know I have and will continue to as I move through my graduate program.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I am fortunate to be an online student but also be able to come to campus for activities. I love Memorial Union and the hustle when it's packed, but my sanctuary is Sun Devil Stadium. I had the opportunity to help out with opening ceremonies during the 2018-19 football season. The moment I stepped foot on the field it was the greatest rush.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on pursuing my master’s in the same field. I still work full time at PVGS in nuclear security, but I hope to be able to move on to bigger and better things in the future. However, right now I’m just enjoying being a Sun Devil!

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would work on something smaller here in our Arizona community and get more veterans on campus. I feel that vets are a valuable resource with all the life experience and knowledge they take away after they leave the military. It's then when they can go out into their communities all over the country and start making the U.S. and world a better place for everyone. The smallest spark can start the largest fire within someone. I hope I can do that for someone.

Carrie Peterson

Sr. Manager, Media Relations, EdPlus at Arizona State University


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Watts graduate exemplifies public service

May 10, 2020

Graduating veteran begins emergency management career with agency managing local response to COVID-19 pandemic

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Marisa Von Holten’s Arizona State University journey took some unexpected twists, turns and setbacks, but her “can do” attitude, spirit of service and perseverance enabled her to not only finish her college degree but also transition to a new public service career.

The former Air Force medic switched majors “a couple of times” at ASU, eventually finding the degree she would march with across the graduation finish line — the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions bachelor of science in public service and public policy, with a focus on emergency management and homeland security, managed by the college’s School of Public Affairs.

As part of the degree program, Von Holten entered into an internship with the Maricopa County Department of Emergency Management. That led to a job offer as an emergency management services planner, as the agency activated its emergency operations center to organize the county response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I really like it; I’ve gotten a ton of experience,” said Von Holten, who served in Afghanistan with an Army transportation unit. “We’ve been activated since March 16 in response to coronavirus … March 23 they hired me as a fulltime employee.”

Among the ASU veteran community, the Huntsville, Texas, native is known for being deeply involved with the Pat Tillman Veterans Center outreach team, helping veterans transition to campus life and helping the center execute multiple events throughout the year, including the Veterans Honor Stole ceremonies.

“The stole event has always been my absolute favorite, to see all the veterans graduate each semester,” Von Holten said. “The outreach team has been amazing.”

Von Holten’s involvement with the veterans center spans many initiatives. She served as a spokesperson for a new student orientation video for veterans and helped establish the Women Veterans Club on campus.

During her time at ASU, and before while in military uniform, Von Holten has exemplified work ethic and service. Below she provides more insight into her ASU journey.   

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: As a prior medic, I missed helping people during times of crisis. I explored a few different career fields outside of medicine including firefighting, but obtaining my degree before returning to work was still a priority. Through that, I found emergency management and realized I could help my community as a whole be prepared for all types of emergencies and disasters. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: During my time at ASU, I learned that while being a veteran might help open doors and opportunities, that alone is not enough. Meeting other vets, I think sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking we can put our military experience on a resume and be a shoo-in; but it's important and vital to recognize that you still have to be able to translate your experiences and put in the work to be successful. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I wanted to be sure that I was using my benefits at a college who cares about me as both a successful student and veteran. Using the internet, I searched for "military-friendly schools" and came across ASU several times. After doing an online tour and speaking with staff at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, I knew I found what I was looking for. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Through his teaching style, Professor Kevin Robinson showed me it is possible to have our guards up but still approach life with an open mind. For that, and the respect he gave us as adults in his courses, I'm grateful to have been instructed by him. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I would recommend that students look for job opportunities well before they graduate. That might mean internships, volunteering or simply networking and making job-site visits in your career field aspirations. For me, graduation came quick; and although I now have a job lined up through my last internship, I wish I had done more!

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: I loved being at the Tempe campus and having the traditional "college student" experience. I'm going to miss studying in the basement at Hayden Library and walking to classes by the MU or Palm Walk. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: As an expectant mother, I lined graduation up so that it would be within a few weeks of delivering our first child. I was recently employed by Maricopa County's Department of Emergency Management, and after some maternity leave, I'm hopeful to continue my employment serving the Valley!

Top photo: Air Force veteran Marisa Von Holten (second from the right) poses with members of her Army unit in 2014 during a deployment to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Von Holten served as a medic attached to an Army transportation company supplying U.S. troops at forward operating bases throughout eastern Afghanistan. Courtesy photo

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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ASU creates tool to link nonprofit agencies during pandemic response

Emergency Corps at ASU students helping with logistics during COVID-19 pandemic.
May 8, 2020

Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security faculty, students part of statewide collaboration effort

An Arizona State University team is working to keep the state’s front-line nonprofit agencies connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security at ASU has been at the forefront of working with partners during the crisis. The center, in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, had already established working relationships with organizations and agencies in Arizona, so when the COVID-19 crisis hit, the team was ready to go.

“Our collaboration with these organizations did not happen ad hoc because of COVID-19,” said Melanie Gall, research professor at ASU and co-director of the center.

“Our center has been a member of Maricopa County’s Community Organizations Active in Disaster group, and we’ve been a partner with the Arizona Volunteer Organization, which has all been in place before COVID-19 hit.”

Melanie Gall 

That regular contact is key to managing any disaster, especially a pandemic, according to Brian Gerber, co-director of the center and director of the Emergency Management and Homeland Security academic program at ASU.

“Natural disasters are limited by time and space, but a pandemic is global and of uncertain duration and the response to it involves literally everyone,” he said.

One major accomplishment of the center is a data dashboard that connects nonprofit organizations and agencies, called the Arizona Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters Situational Awareness Dashboard. AZVOAD is the convening body of all the disaster-relief nonprofit organizations in the state.

On the site, the organizations list what they do and what they need now. Food is the overwhelming need listed, followed by money, water, clothing, hygiene products, disinfectants and volunteers. The United Food Bank listed fuel and transportation. Pet rescue groups need help with animal care. The Arizona State Chaplain Services is asking for counselors.

The site, which lists 309 organizations in Arizona with unmet needs, up from 152 in late April, can inform decision-making on how to match resources with needs.

The dashboard, created by Gall, is based on similar logistics work she and Gerber did with volunteer organizations in Florida after hurricanes in 2017 and 2018.

“We can see on a map who is where and in what area they work,” she said.

“Do they do sheltering or food distribution or manage volunteers? And at the same time, they can say, ‘This is what we need.’”

Brian Gerber 

The center involves students in its work through Emergency Corps at ASU, a program for students in any major to find volunteer, professional or internship opportunities. Emergency Corps is a partnership with several ASU units, including the Public Service Academy, the School of Geographical Studies and Urban Planning, the School of Social Work, Sun Devil Fitness and ASU Health Services.

Danielle Jacobs, a graduate student in computer science, is interested in researching artificial intelligence and how it can predict disaster response, so she had already been in contact with Gerber and Gall when the pandemic hit.

“Everything shut down and they were working around the clock and needed assistance where possible, so I volunteered to pitch in with my skills,” said Jacobs, who is working on building a website for Maricopa County’s Community Organizations Active in Disaster group.

She’s been working several hours a day from home on the programming and is grateful to be able to help out right now.

“It’s been a good learning process and really interesting to find out more about the nonprofits in different communities and what they’re doing to help,” she said.

Gall said the pandemic is different from natural disasters because not everyone in the public can see the devastation.

“In this crisis, journalism is extremely important because that is the mechanism to connect people who don’t have firsthand experience,” she said.

“I can’t think of any other situation where the behavior of the public is as central to mitigating the disaster itself.”

While shocking, the pandemic was not unexpected among emergency-management experts, who plan for every scenario. In December, the Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security co-hosted a global exercise with ASU’s PLuS Alliance partners in which Gerber designed and, with ASU students, executed a simulation of a smallpox outbreak.

The hazard characteristics of this is unique, but the effective response is dependent upon the utilization of the coordination that we have in place,” said Gerber, who is an emergency operations center liaison to the Maricopa County Department of Emergency Management during the COVID-19 response.

“And I will say clearly and expressly that when you deviate from good practice of response management, that’s when you get into trouble.”

Explore the AZVOAD dashboard at

Top image courtesy of Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Pandemic a 'natural experiment' for reducing incarceration, prosecutors say

Prosecutors on ASU panel are wary of inundating court system after crisis eases.
May 7, 2020

Virtual court proceedings could be here to stay, experts tell ASU panel

America’s criminal justice system was already in the process of reforming, but the COVID-19 pandemic could make further progress uncertain, especially if crime jumps when the shutdown ends, according to a panel of prosecutors who spoke at an Arizona State University event on May 6.

Court systems across the country have been working virtually, and that’s one change that might stay, experts said during the “Prosecuting During the Pandemic” event. The online panel discussion was sponsored by the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, both at ASU, and the Prosecutors' Center for Excellence.

“We’re in the middle of a natural experiment,” said Kristine Hamann, executive director of the Prosecutors’ Center for Excellence. She said that prosecutors around the country were already rethinking booking and incarceration.

“It was driven by the desire to be fair. It was funding implications, resource implications, racial disparities, all reasons to look at whether low-level offenses were worthy of their time and efforts,” she said.

“This pandemic is speeding that analysis.”

Watch the full panel on Vimeo

Among the topics covered by the panel discussion:

The switch to technology was rapid

Allister Adel, Maricopa County attorney: There were two major challenges. The first was getting our employees to be able to telework. We have about 70% of our workforce teleworking now. The other challenge is that our court stopped using grand juries, which hopefully will resume in a couple of weeks with social distancing, but we’ve had to do preliminary hearings for all cases, including murder and child molestations, so it’s gotten a bit adversarial.

Jeff Reisig, district attorney for Yolo County, California: It’s been balancing the rights of victims and defendants, and even the attorneys themselves, against the real risk imposed by the virus. In California, victims have the right to be present at all critical proceedings and to be heard. We’re in a shutdown and courts are open in a very limited capacity, so we can’t safely or even legally bring victims into the courtroom for most proceedings. So we’ve had to find solutions for them, including the use of Zoom and other technology to get them into the courtroom so they can participate.

Prosecutors have gotten pushback

Darcel Clark, district attorney for Bronx County, New York: With the virus in our community as well as in our jails, prosecutors have been asked to look at those who are incarcerated to see if they can be released back into the community. That’s a daunting task. We want to make sure we’re compassionate to pretrial detainees and people who are incarcerated. We don’t want them to get sick. But we also don’t want to put them into a community full of people who are sick. Some of the pushback was that I consented to quite a few people being released because I didn’t think they were a threat to public safety, and hopefully they’ll come back to court, but some of the most violent cases I was asked to release, I couldn’t consent. We went to the judges.

Reisig: We’ve had a little bit of pushback from the criminal defense bar on the idea that proceedings can be done remotely because there’s a belief by some that clients get a better shake if they’re physically present in the courtroom with a judge. That puts people at risk. We’ve had to work with the court and the defense bar to try to get around that. Frankly, the defense holds the cards on that issue and most of the time they can demand a court appearance.

The crisis has shed new light on justice reform

Adel: We have been collaborating with our sheriff and public and private defense bar. We’ve been able to reduce our jail population by 30%. We’ve been looking at the types of cases we file. Normally this office files 700 to 800 cases per week, but to give you an example, from April 4 to April 24, we only filed 332. So we’re going after the worst of the worst. We also rolled out a very robust diversion program but with social distancing those programs have been put on hold.

Clark: In the Bronx, we’ve been doing this for a long time. In New York, we just went through major criminal justice reform laws. We’ve changed discovery policies, and people can’t be held on bail. I started a new policy and sat with my team and the police department and the public defenders to let them know that there are certain crimes I was no longer going to prosecute — the low-level, nonviolent — and even some of the felonies I decided to prosecute as misdemeanors. So when the pandemic came, it was easier to really use that discretion to say even those misdemeanors we do try, maybe now is not the time.

Jon Gould, professor and director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU: We know that the American criminal justice system targets or affects people of color. There are two things prosecutors could be doing. The first issue is, "Who do you end up charging and what do you charging them with?" Darcel Clark talked about how now is not the time for misdemeanor cases. Do you hold them or come back later or think that this is the time for alternate systems rather than the criminal justice system? The other thing is that prosecutors need to sit down with sheriff’s offices and go through the list of everyone in jail ahead of trial and make a decision on who truly needs to be there because they’re dangerous or because we’re mad at them or because they can’t afford bail. Being charged with a minor crime should not put your life at risk in a pandemic.

The technology changes will likely continue

Clark: (The pandemic) has forced us to move into the 21st century. Our courts weren’t there. I can tell you that my office wasn’t there. Technology costs a lot of money. With this pandemic, we were forced into a situation where we had to invest in technology to allow us to do the work. We have virtual court appearances. You can interview your witnesses virtually. It’s a game changer. It helps us to be paperless and it’s taken a long time to move from paper. I was dying to do it. It’ll speed that effort.

Adel: We needed to find laptops so we refurbished a significant number so we could have more people working at home. I agree that technology has been key not just in the office but in partnering with the courts too. It’s helping to do virtual hearings on a limited basis and I hope we can engage with that more.

Not everything can be online

Adel: Our courts are having us do in-person hearings for in-custody defendants. All out-of-custody defendants are not in person. We rotate which lawyers are going into court so they’re not exposed very long. We practice social distancing.

Reisig: It’s a hybrid in my county. Defendants and his or her attorney are in the courtroom but the prosecutor and all witnesses are appearing via Zoom. We’ve been doing violent cases that way for the last few weeks and it’s been working.

Hamann: I’ve been talking to prosecutors around the country and it varies. Some people are in the courtroom and some are home, or everyone is home. There are many challenges to doing it virtually. How can the attorney speak to the client in private? Where is the court reporter? In Michigan, they’ve been posting their preliminary hearings on YouTube and for some of us, there’s a worry there. It’s an evolving issue.

Returning will be a gradual process

Adel: We had our own task force created two weeks ago to explore how we safely reopen. We’re not going to flip the lights on and bring 800 people back to our building. We’ll have a phased approach. How many people can be in the break room? How many in the rest room? People are nervous right now. Some want to come back to work and others are afraid. In Arizona, our schools are shut down. It’s tough to bring a parent with children at home back into the work force.

Clark: We’ll see how many employees are well enough to come back. The other thing is the safety of those who come back. They need to have masks, they need to have gloves. There has to be a cleaning schedule.

There will be a backlog of cases

Gould: When you come back, you’ll have a huge backlog of cases, particularly the nonviolent ones that you may not have made a decision on. Will we see a free-for-all in terms of plea bargaining? Will we see cases dismissed?

Adel: In Maricopa, this does not mean someone is getting a free pass or immunity. We will still prosecute people when we’re back but it has to be a measured approach because we can’t flood the courts with a backlog of cases. We’re not looking at dismissing anything at this point. Our No. 1 job is to protect the community and protect victims’ rights.

Clark: We’ll look at each case to make sure it’s still viable. A lot of people have died in New York. Diversion is key. When we go back, mental health treatment, drug treatment and job training will ease what we can do.

Reisig: We did have a delay of many speedy trial timelines issued by our chief justice so it’s given us some wiggle room. It's coming to a point where we have to act. I predict there will be some tough decisions made on some cases.

The future of reform is uncertain

Clark: I think what this pandemic did was to finally put some focus on the public health section. The reason why so many people end up in the criminal justice system is because so many other systems are failing, so criminal justice becomes a default. Someone is homeless, someone is ill, someone has an abuse problem. If those systems were working and people had insurance and could take care of themselves, they wouldn’t end up in the criminal justice system. Even violence is a public health issue.

Adel: Before, when our legislature was in session, there were a lot of efforts to pursue criminal justice reform. We’ve seen interest in the business community. Will there be an appetite for those discussions when we get through this? I don’t know. We need to make sure we’re doing this in an incremental way or the system will collapse.

Gould: The virus is coming at a time in the American criminal justice system where we have seen a push toward reform, asking whether the system is targeting the right people. Kristine hit it on the head when she said we’re in the midst of a real-time experiment. We are forgetting that there’s something likely to come shortly after everyone comes back. There will almost assuredly be a rise in crime. The experience has been that criminal justice reform doesn’t fare as well when people perceive that crime rates are rising. Will there still be room to experiment if we think crime is rising? I’m not sure about that.

Reisig: I think there will still be momentum for reform. Personally I believe the system is not very efficient in dealing with crime. I believe there are other ways, such as restorative justice or courts that deal with diversion.

Hamman: I’ve seen a lot of work going on in trying to come up with diversion programs remotely. It’s not perfect. It’s hard to take a urine sample remotely. There’s a lot of work being done, and this crisis will see a lot of creativity. With creativity, we can do more than we think.

Top image by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Quick thinking keeps instruction going for incarcerated students in ASU's 'Inside-Out' class

May 7, 2020

The logistical challenges of teaching a class inside a state prison are complicated enough during a typical semester, let alone one that includes a pandemic.

This spring, an Arizona State University professor and a doctoral student were instructing 10 students based at the Downtown Phoenix campus, plus 10 more who happen to be men serving criminal sentences at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence. Student, ASU "Inside-Out" class, inmates, incarcerated, prison The 10 Phoenix-based members of the spring 2020 "Inside-Out" class at Arizona State University, including their two instructors, doctoral student Stephanie Morse (top left) and Associate Professor Cody Telep (top center). The class also included 10 incarcerated men at the Arizona State Prison Complex-Florence. Download Full Image

The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice offers the Communicating Justice course through a national curriculum based at Temple University and the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which gives incarcerated people the chance to learn along with students from outside those walls.

The Phoenix students and their teachers, Associate Professor Cody Telep and doctoral student Stephanie Morse, boarded a couple of vehicles each Wednesday for the two-hour round trip drive to the prison. They would spend three hours in a visitation room doing what most college students do in a classroom: interacting with professors and each other, discussing readings and completing small-group work. Their classroom just happens to be behind tall fences patrolled by Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation and Reentry officers.

The incarcerated students all had either a high school diploma or a general educational development certificate, Telep said. A few had taken college courses, while most had not.

The course dealt with how communication between police and the public and between incarcerated people impacts the justice system, Telep said, and how relationships with friends, family and others are affected.

“We usually started class sitting in a circle, with small and large group activities,” Morse said. “The groups have a mix of inside and outside students, to provide opportunities to get to know one another.”

The weekly, long round trip and out-of-the-ordinary classroom setting aside, the class was going along as it had been since Inside-Out classes were first taught at ASU in 2016.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and the university’s mid-March decision to move in-person classes to a remote-learning format. While students at ASU’s four Valley campuses would soon be adjusting to seeing formerly in-person professors and classmates online, those serving sentences in Florence couldn’t. The incarcerated students aren’t allowed internet access or use of cellular phones. Those in the class only had tablets with restricted content and no ability to connect outside the prison.

Instructors, students no longer could visit prison

“We had a normal class meeting the Wednesday before spring break. We had talked in January about the first ASU case of COVID-19, but not about the virus in that last class,” Telep said. “Stephanie and I talked over spring break when the prison decided to restrict visitors. We decided it wasn’t going to be safe for those inside — especially after so many of our outside students had traveled — so our goal was to as quickly as possible get word out to all our students that we could no longer go to Florence.”

The Phoenix-based students received an email about the matter on March 13, the Friday of spring break, but the incarcerated students hadn’t been told because neither of their instructors could get out to Florence to deliver the news.

Fortunately, Associate Professor Kevin Wright, director of the ASU Center for Correctional Solutions, part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, was able to go that same day, the last day visitors were allowed. Wright brought copies of ASU President Michael Crow’s message to the university about the situation, as well as a letter from Telep saying he and Morse would do their best to continue the class.

“At first it (online-only teaching) was only for two weeks. Then, it was the whole semester,” Telep said.

Because their incarcerated students could not log on, Telep and Morse faced some unique challenges that other instructors solved by merely putting the material online. In addition, this class had no lectures, but was built upon students engaging in activities with one another.

“There’s a national curriculum you can teach. But, in this class, we were developing new content,” Morse said. “We were meeting two to three times a week for planning. That had us asking ourselves, what can we do from a distance? It became clear our ability to get into the prison wasn’t going to be there anymore. So how do we preserve the culture of the class?”

Putting assignments and resources on paper

Telep said the class went on, in part, by relying on 20th-century technology: use of a copy machine to print assignments and resources on paper and having them delivered to the prison. Corrections officers delivered the copies to the incarcerated students, and one officer got approval to use her computer to allow the incarcerated students to closely gather around it to communicate with instructors and fellow students via Zoom.

Telep praised the students for pressing on under the new, strange circumstances, and the corrections officers for helping save the day.

“With all they’ve had to do during this time, the officers were so good about getting materials to them,” he said. “In a sense, it’s very 2020 because we are meeting on Zoom with collaborative Google Docs, but in another way it’s more 1980 with copying paper documents.”

Those in Florence were asked to write letters to their classmates outside the prison, enabling them to update each other, Telep said.

Morse said class members are thinking of ways to enhance the lives of those in a correctional setting.

“It’s something to see students thinking of others right now,” she said. “They’re discussing new ways to impact their lives after release, ways to help others. It’s incredibly admirable.”

Telep said that since 2016 the number of incarcerated students who have completed Inside-Out classes has grown, including some who have entirely served their sentences. Plans are being talked about to invite these former class members back to talk about how their educational experiences impacted their lives.

Students from inside and outside the prison are struggling with dealing with the pandemic, Telep said, and bonds formed in the first half of the semester when they were meeting in person were able to continue.

CRJ 317: Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, will be offered next in spring 2021 at a state women’s prison in Perryville west of Phoenix, where it was taught in fall 2019.

Mark J. Scarp

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


Community of public servants inspires passion for local government in outstanding grad

May 5, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates. 

Some people take online quizzes to find out what movie star they most resemble, or in which state they should be living. When Thomas Prior was an 8th-grader, his class took a career exploration quiz that had a lasting impact on his life. ASU grad Thomas Prior School of Public Affairs outstanding grad Thomas Prior advises students to pick up extra classes to explore other interests. "ASU has quality courses in just about everything you could imagine. Use this time to learn as much as you can by broadening your perspective and venturing outside of your minimum degree requirements. Although during finals you may question why you decided to double major or pursue a certificate, by the time of graduation, you will be that much prouder of yourself." Download Full Image

“Although it may sound crazy, basing your career path on a 20-minute online assessment, that is essentially what I did. While other classmates received results like teacher, artist and police officer, my top result was city manager,” said Prior, the spring 2020 outstanding graduate in the School of Public Affairs.

“I was eager to learn more, despite the fact that I hadn’t a clue about what a city manager does for a living. My teacher at the time organized an opportunity for me to learn more about local government by job shadowing the city manager of Glendale,” said Prior, of Peoria, Arizona. “That opportunity led me down an exciting path of civic engagement, including serving on the city of Peoria’s Youth Advisory Board, appointment as one of the state’s first high school student ex officio members of the Peoria City Council and multiple internships in cities and towns across Arizona.”

With the help of a passionate educator, a city manager who recognized how important being a mentor could be, and a “community of public servants who provided support, guidance and compassion throughout my academic career,” Prior said he found his own passion for local government.

He said that while at ASU, he was impressed by the high degree of support and numerous available resources.

“(From) the fantastic faculty and staff to the caring professors, ASU employs a consistent network of individuals who have a vested interest in student success,” Prior said.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I chose ASU first as an undergrad, and then again for my graduate program, because of the school’s highly ranked local government management program, dedication toward being a leader in innovation and for its value of inclusion. Ranked third in the U.S. for local government management and No. 1 in innovation, ASU is committed to improving alongside its students — resulting in an exceptional, co-produced educational experience.

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? 

A: Throughout my time at ASU, I developed rewarding connections with staff and faculty as a student, teaching assistant and as a colleague. One of the most important lessons I learned while attending ASU didn’t come from a textbook, but rather from a cumulation of mini lessons in leadership and ethics from Professor of Practice George Pettit. Some would argue that these topics can only be learned through experience; however, Professor Pettit instills lessons in leadership in his students through tales of his own experiences as the former town manager of Gilbert, Arizona. As I look back on my time at ASU, these mini lessons have been the most important and meaningful takeaways.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: The best piece of advice I would give to those still in school is to explore what interests you and find your passion. ASU has quality courses in just about everything you could imagine. Use this time to learn as much as you can by broadening your perspective and venturing outside of your minimum degree requirements. Although during finals you may question why you decided to double major or pursue a certificate, by the time of graduation, you will be that much prouder of yourself.

Q: As an on-campus student, what was your favorite spot to study or to just think about life?

A: During my undergrad and now graduate program, I’ve had a front-row seat to the positive growth that has taken place at the Downtown Phoenix campus. Over the past six years, I have found so many great places to study. While I’ve been able to explore so many great spots on campus … my all-time favorite spot to study is at the Mercado. If you’re looking for a quiet, scenic spot on a nice day, the Mercado is a great place to be productive.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would look to help those most in need within our immediate community. I’m a fervent believer that change begins at the local level. In the Phoenix area, we have neighbors, friends and family members who are one missed paycheck away from a financial disaster. Although we spend substantial time identifying vulnerable populations, we often lose sight of them during times of hardships, such as economic crises, natural disasters or even during a pandemic. I would help to protect these vulnerable community members and challenge others to do the same by helping those in need, not when it's convenient, but when it’s most needed.

Mark J. Scarp

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