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Young people find a transformative path in ASU nonprofit program

Young people transformed by ASU Lodestar Center's nonprofit apprenticeship.
May 25, 2018

Apprentices find purpose, motivation with Lodestar Center's Public Allies

Just before Beatriz Mendoza graduated from Arizona State University a year ago, she joined her engineering classmates in figuring out where to apply for jobs.

“While everyone else was applying to Honeywell, Intel, Microsoft and Apple, I was applying to nonprofits,” said Mendoza, who graduated with a degree in industrial and organizational psychology with a focus on consumer and human systems engineering.

“I thought, ‘I have to apply to something that means something to me,'" she said.

Mendoza is among 34 young people in Public Allies Arizona, an intense, full-time apprenticeship program that pairs participants with nonprofit organizations. Public Allies is part of the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, in the School of Community Resources and Development.

Mendoza worked with the Million Dollar Teacher Project, a nonprofit that placed her as a technology integration specialist at Granada Primary School in Phoenix. There, she created time-saving student-data spreadsheets for teachers and a simplified progress report for parents.

“I want to have many stories attached to my name and after the first year of working in a nonprofit, I have 40. I have 40 students in the class and that’s the greatest achievement I’ve ever done,” she said.

Mendoza and several other allies described their powerful experiences during “impact presentations” at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus on Wednesday. They made posters about their accomplishments and several spoke about how the 10 months changed them.

This was the 12th cohort of the program, which pays the allies to work at more than 20 nonprofit organizations in the Phoenix metro area. After completing Public Allies, which is part of the federal AmeriCorps program, the participants receive a $5,800 award to pay for tuition or professional development or to apply toward student-loan debt. More than 250 young adults have participated since the Arizona program was launched in 2006.

Since last fall, the current allies have planted zucchini at an urban farm, taught art to children at a museum, delivered meals to homebound elderly people and helped high school students fill out college applications. They sorted mail and entered data in computers. They overcame their fears of being overwhelmed and underqualified. They learned about teamwork and what it feels like when no one shows up to an event they organized. They had doors slammed in their faces and made someone's day with a few minutes of attention.

The allies come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some are college students, some have degrees and a few joined right out of high school. One is a single mother who had been out of the workforce. Some chose Public Allies as a deliberate pathway, and for others, it was a miraculous opportunity.

By the time Damonte Johnson came to Phoenix a year ago, he had flunked out of several colleges, derailed from his studies by a series of family traumas.

“I had given up hope completely of ever going back to school. I had chased success as far west as L.A. and as far east as Baltimore,” said Johnson, who found out about Public Allies at a job fair.

He’s worked at two organizations and with both experiences, he helped kids who were like him. At the Creighton Community Foundation, he served after-school meals to children who often did not have food waiting for them at home. He also is a youth outreach coordinator with Opportunities for Youth, a group that connects young people who are neither in school nor employed with resources to move ahead.

“It was exactly where I had been many times in my life,” Johnson said.

Jill Watts, director of capacity building for the Lodestar Center, said that Public Allies aims to be life changing not only for the young people but also for the nonprofits.

“We have a lot of metrics around how the allies advanced the capacity of the organization during their time there,” she said. For example, if the ally is doing volunteer outreach, they have to quantify how many new volunteers they recruited, how many returning volunteers they brought back, how many hours they served and the economic value of the volunteers’ contribution to the organization.

Last year, 90 percent of the organizations reported that the ally improved the nonprofit’s performance, she said.

“We take people you might not expect or who might not look like what you think of as a leader and we engage them in this program,” she said.

“For 10 months, we’ll take them by the hand and we’ll drag them, if we have to, across the finish line and for some of them, it really is a journey getting across the finish line.”

Not everyone makes it, Watts said. A few will leave the program despite all the support. But for most, the practical job experience and sense of accomplishment are transformative.

Taylor Polen joined Public Allies a few months after graduating from high school in 2016. She knew she wanted to go to college but she didn’t have a clear sense of her path.

“I never felt like a doctor. I never felt like a teacher. I never felt like any conventional career that we’re taught growing up,” she said.

When she discovered the program, “It dawned on me that nonprofit work is a career.”

Allies can opt to stay for a second year, which Polen did. She worked as program specialist at the Alzheimer’s Association, where she staffed the helpline, did data entry and helped with the family support groups.

“They helped me to find my direction and opened my eyes to what’s out there,” said Polen, who in the fall will be a freshman at ASU, where she’s been accepted into the Next Generation Service Corps of the Public Service Academy.

At the impact presentation, many of the allies expressed wonder at how far they’ve come in 10 months.

Johnson recalled that as a child, he was enthusiastic and certain that he would be a success, but the struggles of the past few years had dimmed his optimism.

“Public Allies rekindled it. They gave me purpose and they gave me hope and they gave me a way to succeed.”

Top photo: Beatriz Mendoza, a 2017 graduate of ASU, described her work at Granada Primary School at the Public Allies impact presentation on Wednesday at the Downtown Phoenix campus. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU student fosters connections with Taiwan Pilot Tour and International Forum project

May 23, 2018

Doctoral student Chia-Mei Hsia had a vision of connecting her native Taiwan to the United States around the theme of community development. That dream is coming to life as she launches the Global Community Development Partnership — a collaboration between Arizona State University’s Partnership for Community Development (PCD) and Feng Chia University.

The initiative started with her research data collection in summer 2016 when she interviewed people in Taiwan and noticed the need for community collaboration. Chia-Mei Hsia in Taiwan School of Community Resources and Development doctoral student Chia-Mei Hsia leads a forum as part of a pilot effort to encourage open communication and collaboration among nine communities in Taiwan. Photo courtesy of Chia-Mei Hsia Download Full Image

“Numerous communities have attained incredible achievement and made great progress in enhancing well-being and quality of life, but they are confronted with larger issues and challenges, particularly from globalization and urbanization,” Hsia said. “Coincidently, these communities seek sustainable solutions for various issues they are tackling. This motivated me to think of ways in which my skills as a community organizer could help them.”

When Hsia traveled back to Arizona from Taiwan, she recruited two volunteers from ASU to launch an “idea think tank” through which resources and ideas could be shared and collaborations formed among various communities.

“We knew we had the right direction but needed to find funding,” she said.

Hsia connected with her colleagues at ASU’s PCD and shared the idea with her mentor, Richard Knopf, professor in the School of Community Resources and Development. At the same time, Hsia reached out to Chieh-Ying Chen, director of the Center for Studies of Everyday Life at Feng Chia University and found he shared her vision. A new partnership was formed.

Chen, with a background in sociology and years of experience in fieldwork with communities, sees community development as the potential solution for social change.

“I witnessed some amazing community development cases and believe they have influential roles in a bigger society structure. The key issue is how we can leverage an individual community’s influence to amplify its strength and impacts,” he said.

A forum to open collaboration

The idea of creating a platform for international community collaboration and partnership formation became a reality when Hsia and her colleagues launched the Taiwan Pilot Tour and International Forum project in summer 2017.   

The trip featured visits to communites and an academic forum that focused on eco-tourism, community culture exploration and participatory art activities. The forum also included a professional symposium for the communities to collaboratively brainstorm on community issues. Scholars and representatives from ASU’s PCD and Arizona nonprofit organizations visited nine Taiwanese communities and learned about their culture and history. A community development forum was held on the last day of the trip at Feng Chia University as the capstone event. It served to incubate community innovation and to facilitate a comfortable environment for honest and open-minded dialogue among members from the various communities.  

“Community development is all about facilitation and dialogue,” said Knopf. “One fundamental thing we added is what we call listening conversations. We start not with a premise that there is a problem to be solved and we bring in the experts. Instead, we just open conversations in which community members can discover their gifts and build a collective vision for change.”

Hsia’s understanding of Asian culture has been a key element in fostering open dialogue.

“There were great conversation dynamics happening in the forum. Even in the midst of occasional disagreement, people listened to each other and began to understand the perspectives of others. I think that is a big step,” she said.

The forum participants included community members and practitioners, professionals and government officers together with ASU scholars who collaboratively examined insights gathered during the site visits. They shared challenges, successes and issues present in the various communities visited. The topics ranged from youth community engagement to tribal culture preservation. Also, the discussions explored how to boost community economic viability without compromising local traditions and cultural heritage.

“There was lots of spirited conversation,” Knopf said. “They shared opinions, then listened, and we co-discussed a way to draw the community together for forward movement.”

Aiming to scale up 

The pilot tour to Taiwan was the first step in a larger goal to provide a global platform to incubate creative ideas, reciprocal networking, exchange of resources, and facilitate international partnerships to increase community capacity building.

To continue the collaboration between ASU’s PCD and Feng Chia University, Hsia plans to launch a community participatory tour program aiming to send a team to Taiwan in the summer of 2019. The tour will identify and more deeply explore select communities and building partnership with locals in those communities.

“The destination for future tours is not limited to Taiwan,” Hsia explained. “Any country with unique community development cases would be in our visiting destination list.”

To extend the partnership network, Rodney Machokoto, a current ASU doctoral student and Zimbabwean financial professional, and Ethan Hsu, a former ASU student and Taiwanese travel professional, are helping to contribute their connections and expertise to broaden the scope of the GCDP collaboration. The ultimate aim of the collaboration is to expand the concept to other parts of Asia, Europe, South America and Africa.

“It is a big dream, but we start where we are, leverage what we have, and achieve what we can,” Hsia said.   

Heather Beshears

director marketing and communications, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


ASU Veterans Upward Bound students receive scholarships from local veteran organization

May 22, 2018

Three Sun Devils, who are also alumni of the Arizona State University TRIO Veterans Upward Bound program, recently received scholarships from the Mesa Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

The scholarships are intended to help further the student veterans’ education and assist with college expenses such as tuition, textbooks and professional development. Tyler Obermeit Tyler Obermeit, an Army veteran majoring in conservation biology and ecology at ASU, received a scholarship from the Mesa Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America. Photo courtesy of Tyler Obermeit Download Full Image

“Vietnam Veterans of America is an incredible organization, helping vets from all backgrounds,” said Tyler Obermeit, an Army veteran majoring in conservation biology and ecology. “I am humbled to be a recipient of their scholarship.”

Dexter Marquez, another Army veteran majoring in journalism and mass communication, agreed.

“The scholarship that they provide is an inspiration to us veterans to keep in the fight and to better ourselves,” he said. “I, for one, do appreciate it with all my heart.”

The third scholarship went to Kara Jaramillo, an Air Force veteran majoring in social work.

ASU Veterans Upward Bound has been partnering with the Mesa chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America for almost a decade, during which time they have helped to support veterans at the university.

“The [Vietnam Veterans of America] East Valley veterans feel a great sense of pride helping their fellow veterans with their educational pursuits,” said Constance Benedict, instructional supervisor at ASU Veterans Upward Bound.

The Vietnam Veterans of America East Valley veterans organized fundraisers to raise the money for the scholarships.

The recipients of the scholarships were chosen by ASU Veterans Upward Bound staff for their “work/study habits, merit and dedication,” Benedict said.

“VUB is an amazing organization, and I would not be a successful student if it weren’t for them,” Obermeit said. “Adjusting back to civilian life, especially being a student, can be very difficult, and if it weren't for them I wouldn't be where I am today. I am happy to be working for VUB, helping out my fellow veterans after they have given me so much.”

Written by Logan Maro

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ASU@Yuma celebrates 1st graduating class

May 21, 2018

Partnership between ASU, Arizona Western College produced 24 graduates in 3 majors

Arizona State University is known as a university in many places — Tempe, Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix and Lake Havasu. But what if students in western Arizona didn’t have to travel to be part of the Sun Devil community?

This spring, ASU@Yuma celebrated its first graduating cohort. The 24 students pursued bachelor's degrees from ASU without ever stepping foot near any of the four metropolitan Phoenix campuses.

Maria Hesse, ASU’s vice provost of academic partnerships and a former community college president, oversees the community college partnerships that span the entire state of Arizona. The path to a four-year degree has been simplified through partnerships that bring ASU’s quality education to communities like Yuma.

“It has been such a pleasure to work with colleagues at Arizona Western College to create seamless transfer pathways leading to bachelor’s degrees in career areas that were needed in the Yuma community,” Hesse said.

Graduation: MIT president to Sun Devils: Education allows you to invent your own future

At the celebratory commencement ceremony at Arizona Western College (AWC) on Friday, Daniela Ayala, a graduate of the secondary education program from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, spoke on behalf of ASU’s graduating class. The program focuses on developing the skills required to successfully teach middle and high school students.

When Ayala found out that ASU was bringing a program to Yuma, she jumped at the chance to continue her teaching education and be in her hometown. Ayala’s childhood experiences in school had shaped her career path — she felt all her teachers needed to have the answers to all her questions.

“Now as a teacher, I feel that sometimes not having the answers is OK,” she said. “It gives the opportunity for teachers and students to learn together and explore different possibilities.”

The program enabled Ayala to learn, grow and teach in the community that taught her, experiences that she will take with her as she moves into her teaching role.

Photos: 2018 spring commencement around ASU

Estela Marin, a first-generation student, was ecstatic to finish a four-year degree close to home. When her husband received an opportunity to be stationed in Yuma, she was excited to be back in Arizona and began to pursue her degree at AWC. Shortly after, she discovered the ASU transfer program and immediately asked what she needed to enroll.

“Obtaining a degree from Arizona State University has always been a goal, ever since I visited the campus after my high school graduation,” she said. “At that moment I promised myself one thing: No matter where the military life took us, I would return to Arizona and graduate from ASU."

Marin received her bachelor's degree in criminology and criminal justice. The program prepares students for careers in law enforcement, probation, parole and corrections, to name a few. It provides the foundation to enable students to think critically, contribute to society and enhance public safety.

More: Read profiles of outstanding spring 2018 graduates

Her continued commitment to public service brings her back to ASU. Marin plans to pursue a master’s degree at ASU in emergency management with an emphasis in homeland security. Her ultimate goal: to apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The partnership between ASU and AWC allows students to pursue ASU bachelor's degree through classes delivered at AWC after successful completion of an associate degree from AWC. Currently, three degree programs are offered: criminology and criminal justice, organizational leadership, and education (secondary education).

The degree programs are specifically tailored to address employment needs for the Yuma and La Paz region, preparing students for in-demand careers and the ability to create a positive impact in their local community.

ASU brought a piece of the Sun Devil spirit to Yuma, a community that believes in the success of every student and that success is attainable by anyone with the right tools and resources.

“Receiving a bachelor’s degree has changed my life because it has exposed me to new challenges and experiences that changed my personal perspectives in life and my future contributions to society,” Marin said. “These experiences have motivated me to seek a higher education and to become a role model for my young son.”

Top photo: Vice Provost of Academic Partnerships Maria Hesse with Daniela Ayala, a graduate of the secondary education program from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College who spoke at the ceremony on behalf of ASU’s graduating class Friday. Photo courtesy of Craig Fry/Arizona Western College

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ASU students address health needs of local refugees

~80% of refugees in Arizona live in Maricopa County.
May 15, 2018

Socially conscious ASU students are enacting smart plans to help refugees acclimate through health and education

Roughly 80 percent of the 62,000 refugees who have come to live in Arizona since the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program was established in 1980 reside in Maricopa County. Many have endured violence and years spent in camps lacking basic resources, leaving them with myriad health-care concerns.

At Arizona State University, several socially conscious students are rising to the occasion and addressing this need in their community by providing care for refugees. R.E.A.C.T. and Smiling Eyes, two student-run clinics, aim to give refugees free health-care education and resources. 

“No matter where refugees are, transitioning to a new country and home with little resources is always really difficult, so just being able to provide that for them is our mission,” said Julia Lorence, founding member of R.E.A.C.T. and biomedical sciences undergrad.


After attending Mayo Clinic’s annual conference last September, Lorence was moved to create an organization to help underserved communities. She shared her idea with biochemistry classmate Chance Marostica, who expressed similar aspirations.

Together, the pair presented the concept for R.E.A.C.T. (which stands for refugee education and clinic team) to Professor Lara Ferry, director of the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences and faculty adviser to R.E.A.C.T., who was “blown away.”

“They had thought of every detail,” she said. “Their plan was very clever about partnering with nonprofits and medical providers to make sure they were doing everything right. It’s really an amazing example of what our students can do. The whole effort embodies ASU’s mission.”

With Aidan McGirr, Nyla Shah and Ashlee Starr (also pre-health majors at ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences) on board, Lorence and Marostica began establishing relationships with local nonprofits geared toward refugee resettlement.

Working with Gathering Humanity, the students spent much of finals week furnishing West Valley apartments for incoming refugees and created an illustrated flipbook demonstrating basic hygiene and health care to leave in the apartment for them. They also hosted educational workshops on topics like handwashing and exercise.

“The ASU connection has just been marvelous,” said Christina Atwood, director of Gathering Humanity. “I think it’s really bridging a gap.”

Though they were meeting their goal of health-care education, R.E.A.C.T.’s long-term goal was to serve as a fully functioning, free student-run clinic. To do that, they needed experienced clinicians.

As luck would have it, Marostica met Mayo Clinic School of Medicine student Michael Sarvi on a service trip to Nicarauga. Sarvi and a small group of other Mayo Clinic students had recently established their own student outreach group to serve underserved communities.

Realizing they each had something to offer each other — the Mayo students their clinical expertise, and the R.E.A.C.T. undergrads their community connections and manpower — they decided to join forces.

“We’re learning as much from them as they are from us,” Sarvi said.

Right now, R.E.A.C.T. is working on solidifying rapport with the local refugee community and nonprofits, and securing a physical location for the clinic.

“We’re still taking baby steps,” Lorence said.

She and the rest of the group will be completing cultural humility training in May, after which they’ll be submitting R.E.A.C.T. for consideration to ASU’s Changemaker Challenge.

“It’s those little things that I am grateful for at ASU,” she said. “I am so thankful to be offered this platform where you can live out your dreams and passions, and then see new students follow happily and … truly have an impact on the community.”

Smiling Eyes

In 2015, ASU’s Office of Global Social Work was established with Barbara Klimek as its director. Having worked in the field for 25 years focusing on refugee populations, Klimek came to be known as the go-to person for students interested in that type of work.

Since joining ASU, Klimek has made it her mission to promote research, community collaborations and international faculty and student exchange related to refugee-themed social work.

Just last month, students from the School of Social Work collaborated with RICE (Refugee and Immigrant Community for Empowerment) and Arizona Healthcare Outreach to provide a pop-up dental clinic for Phoenix-area refugees after the city expressed to them that there was a need in that area.

“We were well aware that refugees needed dental care, but having the resources to put something together that’s sustainable and effective was a completely different story,” said Clinton Reiswig, a public policy graduate student.

Reiswig and others helped recruit local dentists to provide free or low-cost services. The program that resulted, Smiling Eyes, offers not just services but also the opportunity for refugees to learn new skills. ASU students work to train them in administrative functions for the pop-up clinics, such as scheduling and taking a client’s personal information.

Going forward, the Smiling Eyes pop-up clinics will be offered twice a month on Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 3581 W. Northern Ave. #8 in Phoenix.

Other endeavors the Office of Global Social Work has lead in the past few years include the Global Market, a pop-up shop in downtown Phoenix that provides space for female refugee artisans to sell their wares; the Refugee Health Video Project, a series of short orientation videos explaining how to navigate the U.S. health-care system; and Peace and Sustainability Clubs in Nepal, in which students travel to Nepal for one month to help create and maintain peace and sustainability clubs in middle schools.

“I think especially at ASU, students are into what we are saying about it being a modern university oriented toward innovation and solutions to big problems, not only in our local communities but globally,” Klimek said. “They want to get engaged, and [educators] can help by asking them what their passion is and helping them to create projects around that using whatever resources are available to us.”

Top photo: Founding member of R.E.A.C.T. and ASU biomedical sciences undergrad Julia Lorence (left), psychology undergraduate Katherine David and Gathering Humanity volunteer McKinlie Jones (right) pose with furniture and household items in a moving van while working with local nonprofit Gathering Humanity to furnish apartments for refugees newly arrived to the Valley. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Tourism major sees opportunities to help global economies through technology and cultural collaboration

May 10, 2018

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

Diana Lizcano Hernandez says that frequent moves and three years living in China sparked her interest in tourism. In particular, she was fascinated by who decides what goes where in building tourism destinations. Ever since graduating high school, she knew she wanted to go into this field and is excited by the many different avenues she can take with her degree. Diana Lizcano Hernandez in grad cap and stole in front of Tempe campus Palm Walk Diana Lizcano Hernandez is the Spring 2018 outstanding graduate for ASU's School of Community Resources and Development. Download Full Image

Hernandez is the outstanding Spring 2018 graduate for the ASU School of Community Resources and Development. She is also a student in Barrett, The Honors College, where she worked with the city of Apache Junction to create a 10-year tourism plan.

Her research looks at the growing use of technology in tourism—specifically by millennials and independent travelers. For her honors thesis, Hernandez researched the needs of female solo travelers and created a personal tour-guide app to match them with local resources while also accounting for safety.

“The U.S. is very technology-driven — everything is on our cellphone. However, there are certain countries that are not there yet,” said Hernandez. “We need to look at how we can improve the use of technology to enhance the tourist experience.”

After graduation, she is pursuing a master’s in international affairs and global management at the ASU Thunderbird School of Global Management. Her goal is to work in consulting or planning to develop newly found tourist destinations in Asia and South America.

“I am highly passionate about the tourism industry and applying it as a tool for economic growth and multicultural collaboration,” said Hernandez.

You can read the full Q&A below:

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized that you wanted to be in this field? 

Answer: Growing up, we moved around a lot. I think that started my ability to quickly adapt to new environments, languages and people. I lived in Shanghai, China, for three years, and it sparked an interest in Chinese culture and multicultural collaboration. I’m very interested in who decides what goes where in building tourism destinations. Coming out of high school, I knew I wanted to go into that field. I’m particularly interested in planning and all of the details.

Once I got to ASU, I realized how much goes into planning. It got scarier, but I also saw that there are so many different avenues I can take with this degree. I could literally go into so many areas and have an impact.

Q: What is something that you learned during your time at ASU that surprised you or shaped your perspective?

A: One class that has had a huge impact is a tourism planning class that Dr. Evan Jordan taught — it looks at tourism destinations that have been most successful economically, culturally and socially. For example, there may be little thought on the cultural impacts of building a hotel on an island. On the other hand, some destinations look to the future and plan for longer-term success.

For my thesis with Barrett, The Honors College, I looked into female solo travelers specifically and creating an app that meets their demands. The goal is to match them with local destinations to show them around, while also accounting for safety. I did a lot of background research on millennials’ use of technology and their behavior, looking at women and traveling independently.

Q: What piece of advice would you give your past self when you were first starting at ASU?

A: Over the summer, I went to Australia and Fiji, which was probably one of the best experiences of my entire life. Take advantage of all of the opportunities that ASU offers.

Q: What’s next now that you have your degree?

A: This summer I’ll be doing an internship with a property management company that manages hotels. They didn’t have an internship program, but I reached out with a proposal. I revised it a couple of times. I’ll be their first intern. I’m super excited to be on board. I came up with the whole proposal and responsibilities on my own, and they’ve been very supportive.

Then I’ll be pursuing a master’s in international affairs and global management at the ASU Thunderbird School of Global Management. My dad is an alumnus, class of 2003. Eventually, I would like to work in consulting or planning to develop newly found tourist destinations in Asia and South America.  

Q: What is one issue that is close to your heart that you hope to help solve?

A: One of the biggest issues, that obviously one human being can’t fix, in the tourism industry is how companies build huge hotels in Third World countries and all of the money leaks back out. Locals end up getting 4 percent of the entire profit. I’d like to help bridge that gap. I’d like to help bring a local voice to gain a better understanding the cultural and social impacts.

Also, the U.S. is very technology-driven — everything is on our cellphone. However, there are certain countries that are not there yet. We need to look at how we can improve the use of technology to enhance the tourist experience.  

I am highly passionate about the tourism industry and applying it as a tool for economic growth and multicultural collaboration.

Written by Heather Beshears

Putting public policy in perspective

ASU grad uses his past to pave a better path for others, while looking to apply global insights to domestic policy

May 9, 2018

College was never a certainty for Frank Smith III, a first-generation college student and former foster youth.

“It was never something that was talked about in my family,” Smith said. Frank Smith Frank Smith III is the Spring 2018 Outstanding Overall Undergraduate Student for the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Download Full Image

Now this Arizona State University senior is graduating with not one, but two degrees in political science, and public service and public policy, and he has been selected as the Spring 2018 outstanding overall undergraduate for the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Smith entered Arizona State University as a journalism major — initially drawn to the university’s reputable Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. But then something happened.

It was while helping to pass a foster care tuition-waiver bill in the state Legislature his freshman year that Smith realized he wanted to dedicate his life to public service.

“I saw that through public policy, you can be an active participant in the decisions being made that are going to impact the lives of the community,” Smith said.

Despite his challenging upbringing and time in Arizona’s foster-care system, Smith was determined to change things for the better.

“Frank is just really motivated to create opportunities for other people,” said Amanda Andrew, manager of student services in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. "As a former foster youth, he wants to create a path for other foster children to have opportunities like he’s had to be really successful in college.”

Smith was awarded the prestigious Truman Scholarship for his work on the bill. Former Governor Jan Brewer signed it in 2013.

In his sophomore year, Smith was elected the youngest student body president at ASU, and later was re-elected for a second term.

He was also named one of 12 Spirit of Service Scholars for 2017-2018 — a scholarship program that honors outstanding students who are not only interested in pursuing careers in the public service and nonprofit sectors after graduation, but who are already making a difference.

With the successes he’s seen throughout his undergraduate career, one of the biggest his advice Smith would offer to incoming students is to get involved from day one.

“Easily one of the best decisions I ever made was getting involved with student government as a freshman,” Smith said.

A choice he says helped him build social capital, get connected with the university and hone his leadership skills.

Smith took a semester off school in 2016 to work on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, after which, he seized the opportunity to travel Europe. That time, combined with studying in Ghana for a summer and volunteering in Mexico, has since expanded his horizons beyond Arizona policy.

“The more I’ve gone abroad, the more I see that you can’t just look at public-policy issues through the lens of a single nation or single point of view — you need to see it from that global vantage point,” Smith said. “I’ll always be an advocate for foster reform, but now I want to tie my previous work into much larger goals.”

Those larger goals are exactly what Smith will focus on at Oxford when he starts his philosophy in comparative social policy master's degree program in the fall. He is one of 43 American students to receive a prestigious Marshall Scholarship for graduate study in the United Kingdom in 2018.

“The U.S. and the U.K. have a lot in common in terms of how society is structured,” Smith said. “I want to study how we can combine knowledge in education and economic and social policy to help close the opportunity gap and provide equal opportunities for all.”

As he graduates and reflects on his undergraduate career, Smith is filled with gratitude.

“I'm very fortunate, and I'm very thankful for all the teachers, mentors and everyone in between including friends and family that have helped me along the way," he said. "I definitely think I wouldn't be here if it weren’t for them.”

So what’s the end goal for Smith? 

I'd like to go to Washington D.C., work on Capitol Hill and work my way up to one day being a policy adviser or a chief of staff to an elected official.”

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Taking on the world

ASU social work grad student turns global dreams into reality

May 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Making sure everyone has a seat at the table

ASU public affairs graduate is committed to giving a voice to the voiceless

May 8, 2018

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

Jimmy Arwood is no stranger to the Downtown Phoenix campus. In fact, he’s a face many people — students, faculty, even legislators — would recognize from a mile away. Jimmy Arwood sits on the steps of Old Main in his grad cap and gown Jimmy Arwood is the ASU School of Public Affairs Outstanding Graduate for Spring 2018 Download Full Image

In his time at Arizona State University, he’s served on numerous boards and committees, and volunteered for dozens of organizations, making lasting connections with peers and mentors alike.

Arwood is the Spring 2018 Outstanding Graduate for ASU's School of Public Affairs. He was also selected as one of Barrett, The Honors College senior spotlights. He graduates with his bachelor’s degree in public service and public policy with a concentration in sustainability.

“There are so many incredible people here that made such enormous impacts on my life, that it's really hard to say goodbye,” Arwood said. “The staff, my advisers, my professors, they've all been a part of my development, and it's really strange to think that I won't be taking anymore classes with them.”

One class that was a standout for Arwood was School of Public Affairs Professor Jerry Oliver’s "21st Century Contemporary Policy Issues," where he heard from various policy makers nearly every week. Oliver said Arwood is a marvelous selection for the outstanding graduate honor.

“Jimmy is a high performing student that excelled as a discussion and thought leader in our classroom public policy lectures and discussions,” Oliver said. “Jimmy has a keen sense of humor that he used to take the edge off sensitive in-class debates rendering him a go-to person for his fellow students seeking to grasp the touchy concepts.”

Arwood didn’t wait to have his public service and public policy degree in hand before making his mark on local policy issues. Active in grassroots organizing, he has seen first-hand the tangible effects public policy has on people’s lives.

“I believe Jimmy is a natural politician and seems at ease blending others’ points of view as he seeks to gain consensus or compromise,” Oliver said. “He is confident, always prepared yet humble enough to realize that he still has much to learn. Jimmy is someone who will make a difference and leave a legacy of achievement in his life beyond ASU.”

One issue Arwood is particularly passionate about is education policy. He feels fixing the system should be a top priority.

“We need to give every kid and every a student a real opportunity to be successful,” Arwood said. “Teachers feel unheard, students feel unheard. The education community deserves a voice.”

Arwood has had notable success, including his work with Save Our Schools Arizona, a local citizens’ group dedicated to strengthening Arizona public schools, and he’s only getting started.

“I know that we can't achieve the vision of balanced government, without a balanced state legislature,” Arwood said. “I'm going to be working day and night to make sure that all voices are represented at the table.” 

Written by Bryce Newberry

Criminology graduate applies desire to help others to improving criminal justice system

May 8, 2018

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

Shayla Fordyce always knew she wanted to go into the social sciences and work with people. As an undergrad in sociology, she took an “Intro to Criminology” class as an elective one semester, which inspired her to pursue her master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University. Shayla Fordyce Shayla Fordyce is the Spring 2018 Outstanding Graduate for the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Download Full Image

The Iowa native and first-generation student faced challenges in relocating to Arizona for graduate school, but she feels it has been worth it.

Throughout her college tenure, she has researched, worked, volunteered and studied the effects of substance abuse and how she can contribute her efforts to that issue. In summer 2017, Fordyce even became an AmeriCorps member and served a term with the Arizona Supreme Court – Adult Probation Division, where she worked with the Drug Court and DUI Court programs.

So what’s next for Fordyce? She recently accepted a research analyst position with the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission in the Statistical Analysis Center.

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

Answer: I have always known I wanted to be in the social sciences, and I have always wanted to work with people. My major in undergrad was sociology and I took an "Intro to Criminology" class as an elective one semester. From there, I realized that this is the industry I wanted to be involved with in order to do impactful research and work with agencies to improve their systems and processes — ultimately having a direct effect on those involved with the criminal justice system. 

Q: What’s something you learned during your program, in the classroom or otherwise,  that surprised you, that changed your perspective? 

A: One thing that has consistently been demonstrated throughout my classes and research is the "victim-offender overlap." This is the idea that people who have previously been victimized or have experienced trauma are more likely to offend and victimize others in the future. I had never thought about why offenders commit the crimes that they do, and more often than not, it is a direct result of something traumatic in their past. With that being said, there is still a level of personal accountability that should be considered with all people, but contextualizing some of these actions really provides a more holistic understanding of these behaviors.  

Q: Why did you choose your particular degree at ASU? 

A: The criminology and criminal justice program is ranked within the top 5 in the United States, so that was really enticing. I wanted to go somewhere where I knew I would get the best experience including a quality education and opportunities with agencies outside of the department ... and I did! 

Q: What piece of advice would you give your past self when you were first starting school? 

A: Trust yourself throughout this process; too often, it is easy to submit to the departmental norms/culture and become engulfed in what your colleagues are doing, but you know what you want and everyone is on their own journey, so be confident in your decisions and trust yourself. 

Q: What will you miss most about your experience at ASU? 

A: My cohort! Over the past two years, we have gone through this graduate school process together and I have formed several relationships with my colleagues and other students within the department. Although I plan to keep in touch with my cohort members, it will not be the same as going to class, hanging out after class, and traveling to conferences together. 

Q: What’s next now that you have your degree? 

A: I recently accepted a research analyst position with the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission in the Statistical Analysis Center. 

Written by Faith Petersen