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Student veterans seeking to boost academics, career prospects needed for new scholar program

August 23, 2018

Application deadline is Sept. 2 for program that offers a range of support

Arizona State University is searching for challenge-seeking military veteran students to sign up by Sept. 2 for a new program that aims to improve academics and carve a path toward career success.

The Veterans Scholar Program is an initiative by the Pat Tillman Veterans Center in collaboration with the Public Service Academy, made possible by a $100,000 kick-start grant by the ASU Foundation engagement program Women & Philanthropy.  

Participants can earn up to a $1,000 stipend to use for expenses related to starting a new career, such as purchasing a new suit, attending a professional conference or paying for a certification exam.  

However, there is more to the Veterans Scholar Program than money.

“The goal is to really elevate student veteran success,” said Brett Hunt, Public Service Academy executive director. “We do that in three different ways … academic, professionalism and networking.”

Academically, there will be monitoring and tutoring help if needed, Hunt said. The professionalism side will focus on training veterans on everything from building a LinkedIn profile and writing effective resumes to preparing for job interviews. The third element focuses on involving veterans in more networking.  

“Those three components all come together,” Hunt said. “When they complete the program, they will be eligible for a tiered professional-development stipend based on their active participation in the program and improved GPA.”

“Participation” means veterans’ involvement in events that support the program’s three components, and engagement in at least one volunteer service opportunity each semester. The first volunteer event for this initial cohort will be a joint session with Public Service Academy students planned for November during ASU’s Salute to Service, Hunt said.

Any veteran graduate student or undergraduates in their junior or senior year may apply to compete for a slot, but the ideal candidate is a middle-of-the-road student.

“For the most part, society looks at veterans as we’re either heroes or homeless,” said Army veteran Michelle Loposky, Pat Tillman Veterans Center assistant director of outreach. “So we’re either overachievers or underachievers, but there is this big mass of veterans in the middle who are just the average individual. So we really want to target those students who just need a little extra step up to improve in their academics.”

Loposky said there is another reason veterans may want to jump on this opportunity.

“There is one thing that a lot of us veterans miss from the military, and that is a challenge,” Loposky said. “This is a way to get them focused on a mission, to challenge them, to see that they can also achieve this in their academic pursuits.”

Running the Veterans Scholar Program will be ASU seniors Miryam Valdivia Romero and Gary Schell. As veterans, they have experienced the challenges of transitioning from military service and see great value in a program that will prepare veterans get to their next stage in life.

“The beauty of the VSP is that we can help with the transition process, the next level,” said Schell, a Marine veteran and criminal justice major. “Whether they want an internship, graduate school position or whether they’re going to their career profession, whatever that next transition is for them, the VSP can be there to be the advocate and help that process go more fluidly.”

Valdivia Romero, a veteran still serving in the Navy Reserve and studying criminology, homeland security and French, experienced transition challenges and is looking to make it better for others.

“As a veteran coming in I didn’t give myself time to adapt into the civilian life when I came back from deployment; I just dove into school,” said Peru native Valdivia Romero. “This is a perfect opportunity for me to give back to a community that has given me so much.”

The Veterans Scholar Program is aiming for 100 student veterans to start their first cohort, with future cohorts selected near the start of every fall semester. A kickoff leadership seminar for all those chosen this year takes place Sep. 21. The seminar will include workshops on networking, career advice and a guest speaker. 

This new program exemplifies how the ASU community strives to take care of student veterans by creating opportunities to help them succeed. Michigan native Schell attests to the fact that ASU bests peer schools.

“I had heard of the Tillman Center and then I applied to MSU [Michigan State University] and ASU,” Schell said. “It was night-and-day difference as to the veterans assistance. It was hands down ASU on top.”  

Top photo: ASU seniors and military veterans Gary Schell and Miryam Valdivia Romero rehearse a presentation Aug. 22 in the Pat Tillman Veterans Center about the new Veterans Scholar Program. Schell and Valdivia Romero are in charge of managing the program.

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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ASU students study wildlife in Okavango Delta in new PLuS Alliance project

ASU students share quarters with elephants in new study-abroad trip to Africa.
August 13, 2018

Study-abroad trip to Botswana focused on the complexities of river management

Most study-abroad trips don’t involve wild elephants tramping a few yards away from the sleeping quarters, but a group of Arizona State University students got to experience just that this summer.

Six ASU students spent 10 days in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, one of the most remote places on Earth, studying a critically important ecosystem with some of the top experts in the world.

The study-abroad trip is a new project of the PLuS Alliance, the two-year-old partnership among ASU, King’s College London and UNSW Sydney in Australia.

The ASU team joined seven students from the other two universities in an immersive three-credit research course titled, “Intersection of Water, Ecosystems and Governance.”

The point was to look at one of the world’s last unspoiled aquatic environments from an interdisciplinary perspective, according to Dave White, a professor in the School of Community Resources and DevelopmentPart of the College of Public Programs and Community Solutions., who was the ASU professor on the trip. The other experts were professors from KCL and UNSW, who were experts in aquatic ecosystems, and Claire McWilliams, an instructor in tourism the School of Community Resources and Development.

“The students were learning about not only the environment, the ecology and the tourism but also the management and the complexity of trying to balance all of these competing values,” said White, an expert on water policy, who is director of the Decision Center for a Desert City at ASU.

The Okavango Delta is one of the last undammed river systems in the world and tourism is an important industry, he said. But management is complicated because the Okavango river flows from Angola into Namibia and then into Botswana, where it dissipates into the wetlands and grasslands of the delta, creating one of the richest wildlife environments in the world.

The students learned about the very complex questions on who controls the water.

“Most of the water originates in Angola. Do they have the moral and legal right to develop those resources by creating hydroelectric plants and reservoirs to support agriculture in the country?” White said.

Michael Chadwick, a professor at King’s College London, said that the collaboration was especially useful.

“Working within the PLuS Alliance is amazing as everyone gets to learn from a wide range of people who are working and learning at institutions which are quite different in their approaches,” said Chadwick, whose expertise is in water quality and aquatic invertebrates.

“I think my favorite aspect of the course is observing how students from PhD candidates to second-year undergraduates interact with each other to learn about interdisciplinary river basin management.”

The students spent two days in the small town of Maun, at the edge of the delta region, where they learned about the ecosystem and did some preliminary field work. Then the group took two small bush planes into the delta, where they stayed at a research camp run by the nonprofit group Elephants Without Borders. The students stayed in tents and had no internet access.

“They were disconnected the whole time,” White said. “They loved it. They repeatedly said they felt liberated by that.”

The students took water samples, which they analyzed for microorganisms and oxygen levels, and did a census of animals and migration routes in the area. They encountered a leopard lounging in a tree while setting up a remote camera.

“It’s a sensory overload,” White said. “You’re on heightened alert, conscious of all the animals. You’re in the wild environment.”

The students’ work was important to determine what the delta is like now so changes can be tracked if the water flow in the area is disrupted, he said.

The Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives at ASU provided financial support to some of the students on the trip, which cost $4,800, not including airfare to and from Africa. Other students received travel stipends from the PLuS Alliance.

White said that next year, the study-abroad experience will be even better because it will include students and professors from the University of Botswana.

“This is important because the PLuS Alliance is between the three universities but we won’t make significant impact on understanding and advancing solutions for sustainability issues unless we work with people on the ground,” he said.

Sabrina Lomprey, a senior majoring in business sustainability in the W. P. Carey School of Business, was one of the students on the trip, which changed her thinking about how to solve environmental issues.

“The biggest thing I learned on the trip was that I thought it took individuals to make a difference in the world, one really dedicated person, but you realize that no one can do something like this on their own,” she said.

“It takes an entire team of researchers to create this difference that we were a part of.”

Lomprey said the experience of being in the wild was life changing.

“Our camp didn’t have fences so you had to be aware of your surroundings,” she said.

“We saw elephants walk through our camp at night and you could hear them come through and break the branches. We saw leopards, lions and millions of antelopes. We woke up at dawn to go on safaris and do bird surveys.”

An intense trip to a remote location requires students to be open minded, she said.

“When you’re in the wild, there are so many moving parts, you have to be adaptable and you have to be open to it all.”

To learn more about the 250-plus study-abroad programs in more than 65 different countries offered at ASU, see the Study Abroad Office websiteVisit the Study Abroad Expo from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 22 in the Ventana Ballroom of the Memorial Union to learn more about programs and scholarships.

Top photo: The ASU students came across a leopard lounging in a tree while they were setting up a remote camera during their study-abroad trip to the Okavango Delta in Botswana in July. The trip was a new project of the PLuS Alliance. Photo courtesy of Dave White/School of Community Resources and Development

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Helen's Hope Chest, ASU work to ease college transition for former foster youth

Bridging Success program at ASU supports former foster youth throughout college.
August 11, 2018

Mesa nonprofit provides Target gift cards to help students with supplies; students pay it forward, make blankets for current foster kids

Sheets, blankets, towels, laundry supplies, personal toiletries, maybe a bike and a printer — the cost of college life essentials can add up. For youth aging out of foster care who may not have any family support, the start-up costs of moving into a residence hall or an apartment can be a strain.

This fall at ASU, thanks to a fundraising effort from first-time community partner Helen's Hope Chest, former foster youth participating in University College's Bridging Success Early Start program received $250 Target gift cards to help ease their college transition.

On Saturday, Aug. 4, the first day of the weeklong early-start program, 17 students enjoyed a welcoming lunch, icebreaker activities to get to know one another and their peer mentors, a presentation on the science of resilience by College of Public Service and Community Solutions Vice Dean Cynthia Lietz, a lesson on college budgeting strategies and financial literacy, a laptop set-up session with executives from Tempe-based Insight (which has donated computers to all four cohorts of Bridging Success Early StartBridging Success Early Start is a program of ASU's University College aimed to help former foster youth successfully transition to campus life. Bridging Success, coordinated by ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions, supports students throughout their time at ASU.) and, after dinner, a group shopping trip to the Target store at Tempe Marketplace.

“I bought a microwave, a vacuum cleaner, organizers and school supplies,” said freshman elementary education major Maria Rubio.

Psychology freshman Colby Nelson said he spent a chunk on bedding.

Helen’s Hope ChestHelen’s Hope Chest is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and Qualifying Foster Charitable Organization that provides clothing, personal products, school supplies and more to foster youth. Executive Director Katie Pompay is excited about this new partnership with ASU: “Through the fundraising effort we’ve called Back to School Drive: College Edition, we’re able to offer the participants of Bridging Success Early Start a modest lifeline with the freedom to begin making important adult decisions and addressing their own personal needs.”  

Giving youth the freedom to make their own choices is a model that Helen’s Hope Chest follows even with its youngest clients. It serves 600-800 children in foster and kinshipKinship care refers to a situation in which a grandparent or other extended family member is raising a child. care every month, giving them a chance to secure new and like-new clothing, books, toys and other basic items in a boutique environment. They reach about 3,000 children over the holidays and have recently launched Foster 360, a program to help teach independent-living skills to kids aging out of care.

“Our mission has always been to create an inviting space where kids are able to make their own selections and decisions. We believe this model helps them regain a sense of self-confidence and begin the process of enjoying a healthy childhood,” explained Pompay. “Our new college initiative is merely an extension of that mission.

“When I started college, my aunt and uncle set me up with a gift card at the university bookstore, and I know how much that helped me,” she added. “We want to reduce the economic barriers that can play a determining factor in whether someone chooses to pursue, or persist in, college.”

The roots of the ASU-Helen’s Hope Chest partnership were planted at the May 2017 Mesa United Way campaign luncheon, where Jared Vibbert, assistant to University College Dean Duane Roen and co-chair of the college’s United Way efforts, met Pompay.

“Jared introduced the ASU Bridging Success team to Katie, who invited us to come out and tour Helen’s Hope Chest. We were impressed and found we were very much on the same page in terms of wanting to support college readiness,” said Jeanne Hanrahan, director of community outreach for University College and the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. “Soon after, John Zielonka [community outreach coordinator for Helen’s Hope Chest] got in touch about their interest in doing some fundraising to help support our college-transition program for foster youth.” 

“Arizona’s foster-care tuition waiver, along with the efforts of ASU’s Bridging Success staff, has made higher education a reality for nearly 100 current and former foster youth since the policy’s implementation,”  Zielonka said about the group's motivation for getting involved. “But for those who have spent their teenage years in foster-care group homes or regularly between living arrangements, it is still often uniquely difficult to obtain other necessary supplies not covered by scholarships or waivers. We don’t want this to be the reason these kids choose not to attend college if they otherwise have a desire to go.”

The Bridging Success Early Start team was absolutely delighted when Helen’s Hope Chest came back with the news this summer that it would be able to offer the Target gift cards.

“The gift cards offer great flexibility to meet the individual needs of our students,” Hanrahan said. “Whether they're living in a residence hall or are already set up in an apartment but could use a bike or groceries or whatever during the year — the funds don’t have to be spent all at once.” 

Paying it forward

By Tuesday afternoon, the Bridging Success Early Start students were already paying it forward, participating in a volunteer effort to make fleece blankets for Helen’s Hope Chest to share with kids who are first-time clients.

Pompay and Zielonka dropped by the classrooms-turned-crafting-studios at ASU's Tempe campus, where the rooms were looking very much like a scene from a “Project Runway” team challenge. Pompay and Zielonka had both gone with the Bridging Success Early Start students to the shopping outing on Saturday. They wanted to thank the students in person for making the blankets and see how their first week as Sun Devils was going.

As the crafting session was winding down, Zielonka asked the students if anyone would be interested in talking about their college-going journey on video, to be shared with other foster youth who might be thinking about higher education. A number of hands immediately shot up.     

Jesus Ledezma, a freshman majoring in health-care compliance and regulations in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, said he decided his first year of high school that he wanted to go to college, so he worked at getting good grades while juggling a job to help support himself and his siblings.

“Don’t take your future lightly while in high school. Have fun, but also do the academics and get involved,” he said. “Take advantage of all the resources and systems in place in the foster-care system to help you. … Bridging Success Early Start has raised my confidence.”

Crafting partners Dominic Watson, an engineering major, and Michaela Martin, a biological sciences major, shared that they were excited about starting college and being out on their own.

“Whatever you’ve been through in your life, you’re smart enough to do this. You have the power to make a path for yourself,” said Martin, who added that at one point in life she never thought college would be a reality for her because of the cost.

Watson was in and out of different houses during high school and had an unstable educational experience.

“That unstable situation was motivation for me to get out and be successful," he said. "I can be what I want to be and have a stable life. There’s really no such thing as ‘smart people.’ There are just people who work harder for what they want.”

“You guys are the future,” Pompay told some of the students who, as they folded up the colorful no-sew blankets, again thanked her for the gift cards. “Investing in you is more important than just about anything I can think of."

Top photo: ASU health-care compliance and regulations freshman Jesus Ledezma trims a strip of fleece as he and elementary education freshman Maria Rubio make a blanket for foster children served by Helen's Hope Chest. The students are part of Bridging Success Early Start, an ASU transition program for first-year students who were involved in foster programs. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Maureen Roen

Manager, Creative Services , College of Integrative Sciences and Arts


ASU alum and staff member advocates for refugees and his home country in DC and NY

August 7, 2018

Bandak Lul knows what it’s like to live between worlds: to leave everything behind, to step into uncertainty, to be separated from home and family. Lul knows because he was a refugee — forced to flee his home with nothing but hope that the other end of the journey would offer safety and a new beginning. Now, he uses his voice to speak on behalf of others facing the same.

Lul recently returned from a trip to the nation’s capital with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, where he and a cohort of other refugees and supporters spoke before Congress to advocate for refugee issues on June 20, World Refugee Day. For Lul, it was personal. He spent 14 years growing up in refugee camps in Ethiopia after escaping civil war in his native Sudan. His family was forced to leave due to their ethnic background, as well as their religious and political views. Bandak Lul seated next to youth delegate from Pakistan Lul takes his seat at the International Human Rights Youth Summit next to the youth delegate from Pakistan.

While in Washington, D.C., Lul and others talked about ensuring the administration keeps its promises regarding refugee admissions for this fiscal year as well as urging the government to keep families together.

“I haven’t seen my family in nearly 13 years now,” shared Lul. “I cannot imagine what those children are going through and not knowing exactly what is happening. I took it dearly to advocate on their behalf.”

After coming to the United States in 2006 as an unaccompanied minor, Lul went on to earn his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Arizona State University. Now, Lul is a project manager and researcher for the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research housed in the ASU’s School of Social Work. His research focuses on sex trafficking within refugee populations.

Upon returning from the nation’s capital, Lul had the special honor of attending the 15th annual International Human Rights Youth Summit as the representative for South Sudan — a country he hasn’t been able to return to for 22 years.

He was one of 60 delegates from 60 different countries all converging in New York City for the event. The summit brings people from around the world together to share, encourage and inspire global peace and tolerance. Hosted by Youth for Human Rights International, there is special emphasis on teaching youth about human rights in general and the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in particular.

The experience afforded him the opportunity to network with other young men and women committed to human rights and forge international friendships. He was also able to meet the U.N. Secretary in addition to presidents, ambassadors and other government leaders from across the globe.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunity,” Lul said. “I appreciate the work I’m doing at ASU and the people who believed in me and made it possible for me to represent South Sudan."

One of his biggest champions is Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, director of the Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research and the person who encouraged him to apply. 

“I am thrilled to have nominated Bandak for the United Nations event,” Roe-Sepowitz said. “He is an outstanding representative of ASU and the human trafficking and social justice work we do.”

There is still much advocacy work ahead for Lul. He wants to bring his expertise to his birth country in hopes of improving conditions there. 

“We don’t have any regulations on forced marriage and child marriage,” Lul said. “Also we don’t have any regulations on child labor, so these are the kinds of things I want to get into as I progress with the work I’m doing at ASU.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story referenced Lul's advocacy work with Lutheran Migration and Refugee Services, which has since been corrected to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Community Resources and Development doctoral student honored at international conference

August 6, 2018

Chiamei Hsia, doctoral candidate in the School of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University and research associate in ASU’s Partnership for Community Development, was honored with two awards at the Community Development Society’s 49th annual international conference for her research poster, “Transformative Activism through Community Art Practice.”

In addition to being awarded “Most Visually Appealing” by a panel of judges, Hsia secured the highest ranking award for overall contributions to the field: “The People’s Choice Award,” decided by a vote of the Community Development Society members in attendance at the conference. Chiamei Hsia stands with Richard Knopf in front of conference banner holding her awards Chiamei Hsia holds her conference awards beside Richard Knopf.

The Community Development Society is the primary international organization of scholars and practitioners in the community development field. The International Association of Community Development defines the field as a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that promotes participative democracy, sustainable development, rights, economic opportunity, equality and social justice through the organization, education and empowerment of people within their communities.

“It was an extraordinary experience for me to participate in the 2018 conference,” said Hsia.

Hsia’s research findings demonstrate how micro-level changes in communities result in broader shifts in community dynamics and generated transformative activism. The latter is defined as activism lacking a traditional agenda, leader, or mass mobilization appeal and instead adopts inclusive and collaborative measures to change status quo in a less intrusive and more amiable way.

“I wanted to understand how community dynamics change through the process of community art practice and explore how communities incubate capacity building to respond to macro-level forces, such as globalization and urbanism,” Hsia said.

“Chiamei’s pioneering community engagement practices have captured the attention of scholars and practitioners around the globe,” said Richard Knopf, director of ASU’s Partnership for Community Development.

“Through these awards, she has provided witness to the global strength not only of her work, but that of our entire school,” Knopf added.

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Morrison Institute analyst given 'Everyday Heroes Award' for research on child neglect

July 27, 2018

Prevent Child Abuse Arizona recently presented Morrison Institute policy analyst Erica Quintana with its “Everyday Heroes Award” at its annual conference held at the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park. Quintana is the author of a five-part series of reports on child neglect in Arizona titled “Spotlight on Arizona’s Kids.”

“We chose to give Erica our 'Everyday Heroes' because of the work she has done to advance understanding of child neglect in Arizona,” said Claire Louge, director of training and outreach for Prevent Child Abuse Arizona. “We know that Erica’s research will be utilized to inform solutions to preventing child neglect in our state, and for that, we are grateful.” Erica Quintana Erica Quintana is the recipient of this year's “Everyday Heroes Award.” Download Full Image

The series explored how neglect is the primary cause of children coming into the state’s foster care system. Quintana examined 800 child abuse reports made to the Department of Child Safety between 2013 and 2015. Her findings shed light on the nuances and circumstances surrounding neglect, including issues such as parental substance abuse, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency and financial hardship.

Quintana shared her research findings with community leaders and child welfare professionals throughout the state. The results of community meetings in Cochise, Coconino, Pima, Yavapai and Yuma counties were summarized in a report that highlights how each community is dealing with the issue.

“This award is a testament to Erica’s inclusive style in which she presents original, objective data and then engages with community leaders to seek their localized interpretation and understand what it might mean for strategic prevention efforts at a local level,” said Andrea Whitsett, director of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. “Her extensive research on child welfare has tremendous potential to improve targeted prevention services statewide.”

Quintana's research at the institute focuses on poverty and homelessness in addition to child welfare policy. The “Spotlight on Arizona’s Kids” series was made possible by a grant from the Arizona Community Foundation. 

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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Millennials giving up their voice by not voting, ASU report finds

Millennials are underrepresented when they skip voting, ASU report finds.
July 17, 2018

Morrison Institute for Public Policy weighs whether low turnout in elections is a crisis

Millennials account for nearly a third of the voting-age population in Arizona, and yet only 19 percent of the votes cast for president in 2016 were in that age group — leaving governing decisions to a demographic of voters that is older, richer and whiter.

Whether that scenario amounts to a crisis was the topic of a panel discussion on Tuesday, sponsored by the nonpartisan Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University and the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

A report released this week by the institute in conjunction with the panel, “Arizona’s Voter Crisis,” outlines the voting patterns in the state, which ranks 43rd for voter turnout.

“The choice of the word ‘crisis’ is not exaggerated or selected haphazardly,” said Joseph Garcia, director of communication and community impact for the institute and one of the authors of the report.

“There’s no guarantee that the younger people who aren’t voting today will suddenly become voters. Voting is a habit. How do we change that?”

Among the points made in the report are:

  • In the 2016 general election, 55 percent of voting-age Arizonans cast a ballot, compared with 61 percent nationwide.
  • Only 51 percent of millennials in the state are registered to vote, compared with 74 percent of baby boomers. Millennials make up 32 percent of the adult population in Arizona, while 29 percent are baby boomers.
  • Among millennialsDefinitions vary for the years the millennial generation spans, but for this report it's considered that millennials were born between 1981 and 1996. Baby boomers were born in the 18 years after the end of World War II. who were registered to vote, 21 percent did not cast a ballot in 2016, compared with only 12 percent of registered baby boomers who skipped the Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump election.

“In short, older adults have a disproportionate say in the state’s political decisions as young adults choose not to exercise their right to vote,” said David Daugherty, a senior research fellow at the Morrison Institute and the other author of the report.

Overall voting rates are even lower in primary races. In the 2016 primary, only 29 percent of registered voters in Arizona participated.

Garcia said that primaries in Arizona are often the “de facto” general election.

“In districts where there is very little competition because they are overwhelmingly Democratic or Republican, the primary decides who will advance to the general election, where there is little or no challenge from the other party,” he said.

Daugherty said that voters know that local elections will have a direct effect on their everyday lives, but in the 2015 Phoenix mayoral and city council races, only 21 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.

Other factors are that voter turnout is lower among nonwhite people, who are becoming a larger share of the Arizona population, and among people with less education. The state’s bachelor degree attainment rate is 28 percent, compared with the nationwide level of 30 percent.

Not everyone believes that low voter turnout is a crisis. Paul Avelar, managing attorney of the Institute for Justice Arizona office, was a panelist at the Tuesday event and said that the trend is stable.

“The term ‘crisis’ strikes me as hyperbolic and fake-newsy,” he said.

“Years ago it was still the case that the electorate was older, whiter and richer. That’s not a recent change. We’ve still muddled through. We can not like it and still realize it’s not a crisis.”

Tom Collins, executive director of the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission, said that “crisis” also can refer to a longstanding but alarming scenario. 

tom collins

Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission Executive Director Tom Collins (left) makes a point while Institute For Justice's Paul Avelar and Arizona Clean Elections Commissioner Amy Chan listen during their panel discussion at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy presentation of its research on "Arizona's Voter Crisis" at the Westward Ho in downtown Phoenix on Tuesday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

“I used to be a public defender and I had a significant number of clients charged with crimes related to opioid addiction, one way or another, and that was in 2010,” he said. “In 2018, we see public health officials describing the opioid crisis. You can look at the status quo and say, ‘It’s problematic.’”

Amy Chan, a Republican member of the Citizens Clean Elections Commission and the third panelist, said that she’s especially disappointed in the abysmally low primary turnout.

“Maybe 100 percent turnout is unrealistic, but it’s valuable to strive toward that,” she said.  

Another reason for lower turnout is the high number of people in Arizona not affiliated with either political party. Of the overall registered voters for the 2016 general election, 1.2 million were Republicans, 1 million were Democrats and 1.1 million were independent. Nearly 39 percent of independents skipped the election, compared with 21 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans.

“Independents don’t have the clout their numbers would dictate because their voting frequency is lower,” Garcia said.

Avelar said that there are few get-out-the-vote efforts directed toward independents.

“No one in this world tries to get out generic voters — they try to get out their own voters because elections are about winning,” he said.

But Collins said it doesn’t have to be that way.

“The more folks withdraw from parties, the less likely they are to turn in ballots or early ballots,” he said. “As a practical matter, if you believe everybody should participate, there should be ways to compensate for that.”

The experts agreed that lack of information isn’t driving low turnout, but lack of time and interest is. A Morrison Institute poll found that “no time/too busy” was the most frequently cited response by people who skipped voting, followed by “out of town” and “didn’t want to.”

Chan, the former state election director, said that she gets it.

“I feel I’m very educated on federal and statewide elections and my legislative and ballot issues,” she said. “But when it comes to the water board, and the different county things, there are some things I have a hard time educating myself on.”

Garcia said that simply offering a mass of information to unknowledgeable or new voters is like expecting someone who doesn't watch TV to understand the show “Game of Thrones.”

“It’s like saying, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out,’” he said. “It’s daunting and confusing.”

Collins said the Citizens Clean Elections Commission website curates information and presents it in a clear way.

“We have a Facebook chat bot and voter dashboard that individualizes your experience getting information about your candidates,” he said.

“We’re in the process of developing a candidate compass tool that ties issues you care about to the candidates.

“I think these efforts are ways of cutting through some of the noise.”

Top photo: Students could vote in the 2016 presidential election at the Sun Devil Fitness Center on the Tempe Campus. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

MORE: Read the "Arizona's Voter Crisis" report.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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A century after his birth, Nelson Mandela's legacy lives among young Africans

Young African leaders at ASU reflect on Mandela 100 years after his birth.
July 17, 2018

Mandela Washington Fellows at ASU working to empower their communities back home

Twenty-five young African leaders visiting Arizona State University this summer are part of a generation that has grown up with the legacy of anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela.

Mandela, South Africa's first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election, was born July 18, 1918. As president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, he fought to dismantle apartheid and worked for racial reconciliation.

The young people are at ASU as part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, an intensive six-week program of academic work and community service. This is the fifth year of the program, begun in 2014 as the main part of the Young African Leaders Initiative in the U.S. Department of State.

The 25 fellows at ASU are from 17 countries in Africa and are selected based on their accomplishments. Many own businesses, lead nonprofit organizations or teach. While here, each scholar develops a project that he or she can implement back in their communities. They also learn practical skills, such as marketing strategies and how to write a grant application.

The fellows are between the ages of 25 and 35, so they were children during Mandela’s presidency and the major changes that swept South Africa.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Jordan Griffiths, 28, is the policy adviser to the executive mayor of Pretoria, one of the three capitals of South Africa.

“My journey is unique. I’m a young, white South African, so I am a minority,” he said. “I’m an English-speaking white South African, which also puts me in a smaller group as well.

“I was born in 1990, which is when apartheid was still in effect, and I was 4 years old when apartheid ended. I went to a school that was racially diverse, but my siblings did not. They were in high school when apartheid ended and all of a sudden the racial demographics in the school changed. I’ve been grateful to grow up in that society.”

Griffiths said that Mandela’s legacy is in how he effected such dramatic change.

“He spent well over a quarter of his life in prison, under apartheid, and he came out of prison and was able to negotiate a peaceful transition for South Africa from apartheid to a democratic society,” he said.

“If you think about Africa’s history and the levels of conflict on the continent, these things often don’t happen that way.”

Daniel Kanyambu Mbonzo of Kenya said that among Mandela’s lasting contributions to Africa is the leader’s public acknowledgment in 2005 that his son died of AIDS.

“Back when his son died, HIV was not accepted in Africa. We still had stigma. People were thrown out of their communities because they were HIV-positive,” said Mbonzo, who is a nurse and runs a wellness organization.

“But he did not hide it, and he succeeded in pushing the acceptance of HIV across the whole continent.”

Mandela often spoke of the importance of educating all African children, and Janet Leparteleg of Kenya said her favorite Mandela quote is: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

“I use that in my personal project,” said Leparteleg, who is from the Samburu community in Kenya. Known as the “Butterfly People,” they move around frequently in search of water and pasture for livestock, and most of the girls do not go to school.

“I got a degree in business information technology, which was a first for my community. When I started a career in technology I decided to go back and empower the girls,” she said.

Lelparteleg started an education organization, Butterfly Techies, to encourage girls to pursue education and careers in science or technology.

“I’m having my first bunch of girls clearing high school and hopefully (will) have them get their bachelor's in STEM careers,” she said.

Top photo: A statue of Nelson Mandela is in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Investigating gun violence from many angles

July 5, 2018

ASU experts across a variety of fields talk about the many challenges we face when it comes to mass shootings, protecting the 2nd Amendment and public safety

Guns — few issues evoke as much passion and raw emotion from almost all corners of society. No matter what your opinion of them is, they are a defining part of what it means to be an American. Whether you view guns as a public-safety issue, a constitutionally protected right or both, their place in our society provokes strong reaction and heated debate.

Despite those polarizing debates, addressing gun violence is not black-and-white, but instead nuanced and multifaceted. And people with good-faith, honestly held opinions on both sides of the issue may end up feeling equally uncomfortable with possible solutions.

Here, Arizona State University experts from a variety of disciplines, including law, education and design, weigh in on the issues regarding gun violence and mass shootings.

Does the 2nd Amendment prevent meaningful legislation? 

Does the Second Amendment really stand in the way of meaningful gun regulation in the United States? The answer has not been forthcoming from the Supreme Court, which hasn’t heard a Second Amendment case in almost a decade. ASU Now turned to Paul Bender, a professor of law, constitutional law expert and dean emeritus of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, to find out what it would take to enact major gun reform.

Addressing our knowledge gaps about firearm injuries and deaths 

Sometimes, it's hard to admit that we don't have all the answers, especially when it comes to gun violence. Which is where research comes in. Jesenia Pizarro, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, is one of 20 researchers from a dozen universities and health-care organizations taking part in an interdisciplinary study on firearm injuries and deaths of children and teens. ASU Now spoke with Pizarro to learn more about what questions the study hopes to answer.

Adapting learning spaces for a culture of safety

For insight on the discussions taking place on the future of school design in light of school shootings, ASU Now turned to Philip Horton, assistant director and head of architecture at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, with a few questions.

Processing school shootings through young adult literature

ASU English Professor James Blasingame strongly believes that books are a “roadmap to life” for young adults that can be used to explore the causes and impact of teen violence and school shootings. That’s why he’s devoting time to developing a curriculum for young adult readers so that educators and students can have dialogue on issues such as gun control, bullying, mental health and school climate.

More counselors, programming improves behavioral health

Sarah Lindstrom Johnson, an assistant professor in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, has been researching school climate for years. A former high school teacher in Baltimore, she studies school environments and how they affect student learning. "It involves thinking about school shootings as part of a bigger puzzle of supporting students’ social-emotional needs," she said.

Rethinking school safety: The essential role of authentic relationships   

Schools are increasingly staking their hopes on high-tech security systems originally developed for the military, police and private industry. Many public schools now have resource officers, metal detectors and security cameras; practice lockdown drills and active-shooter training; and have expanded mental health screening and on-campus counseling. While all of those measures are necessary, they’re still not sufficient, said Carl Hermanns, a clinical associate professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

What we do and don't know about mass shootings

Any news organization could tell you that guns are almost always a timely topic. Hardly a year has gone by over the past decade when there wasn’t a mass shooting, and in 2018 alone, there have already been several major incidents. Sherry Towers, a statistician, modeler and research professor at ASU, began her academic career studying the spread of disease in populations. As incidents of mass shootings began to occur more frequently in the U.S., she wondered if contagion might have something to do with it.

Mental health and gun violence — is there any action we can take?

It has become routine. Reports come in on the news of another mass shooting. This time it’s at a school. A church. A newsroom. Amid the grief and the rhetoric about gun control and mental health, one question surfaces: How can we prevent this? Ronald O’Donnell, a clinical professor in ASU's College of Health Solutions, shared with ASU Now his thoughts on what public policy efforts, in the realm of mental health, could be pursued to encourage a decline in these events.

ASU behind the scenes: Preparing for crises

Tucked inside the University Services Building adjacent to ASU's Tempe campus is a small office with a big job: to prepare the university for major emergencies. Built from the ground up by a former assistant police chief and military veteran, the Office of Risk and Emergency Management in its short existence has transformed the university’s incident-response structure from an additional duty within the ASU Police Department to a full-time operation benchmarked by other institutions.

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Addressing our knowledge gaps about firearm injuries and deaths

July 5, 2018

ASU participating in National Institutes of Health study on gun violence and homicide

Editor's note: This is part of a series investigating gun violence from many angles.

Sometimes, it's hard to admit that we don't have all the answers, especially when it comes to gun violence.

Which is where research comes in.

Jesenia Pizarro is an associate professor in ASU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. She studies homicide and is one of 20 researchers from a dozen universities and health-care organizations taking part in an interdisciplinary study on firearm injuries and deaths of children and teens. The $5 million project is funded by the National Institutes of Health. 

ASU Now spoke with Pizarro to learn more about what questions the study hopes to answer.

Question: Why do people kill each other? 

Answer: Because there are so many types of homicides, with multiple types of motives, there are multiple reasons for why they occur. A drug homicide will be different from an intimate-partner homicide, which will be different from someone killing their child. One of the things we do know is that if we want to understand why these crimes occur, we have to get to the bottom of the events or crimes that lead to a homicide. And that will be different depending on each situation. Without understanding that, we can’t effectively try to prevent future occurrences. 

Q: Are there any circumstances that tend to lead to more homicides? 

A: Yes, situationally, there are things that increase the risk of a homicide taking place, and this is different from someone’s motive. A motive might be that a husband wants to kill his wife. But situationally, we know that crime facilitators such as alcohol, drugs and the availability of firearms increase the risk of a homicide taking place. If you have a firearm, you are more likely to use it. Of all the traditional types of weapons you can use, firearms are the most lethal. So, the availability of a firearm increases the odds of a homicide incident occurring. 

Q: Has there been enough research on firearm violence to fully understand the problem? 

A: No. There has not been a lot of research funding for the study of firearm violence, and this has been mostly for political reasons. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant that is funding our study is the largest NIH funding commitment in the past 20 years. It is meant to support research into understanding the knowledge gaps in firearm violence research, informing a research agenda, and identifying best practices in the reduction of firearm violence among children and youths. 

Q: Why is it important to do this kind of research? 

A: There is a lot of rhetoric around gun violence. But researchers have not been able to put together a background of objective research that can outline factors that increase incidents of gun violence in recent years. Research is important because you need to understand exactly what you’re tackling before you give a response.

For example, let’s say we want to decrease homicides, and one hypothetical policy proposal might be to focus on open-air drug markets. Well, not all homicides are caused by open-air drug markets, so you may be putting money into an aspect of the problem that may not benefit the entire scope of the problem. That path wouldn’t help mothers who are mentally ill who kill their infant children, or victims of intimate-partner homicides.

To put it in everyday terms, let’s say your car does not start tomorrow. You just don’t blindly put a new battery in. You take it to the auto shop to be checked in order to identify why the car did not start, and then fix the specific problem. That is what we are trying to do with this line of research. 

Leslie Minton