LA high schoolers say HOLA to ASU Downtown Phoenix campus for a glimpse of college life

April 30, 2019

A budding partnership between Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions and Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) recently brought a dozen LA sophomores and juniors to the Arizona State University Downtown Phoenix campus for an immersive college experience.

As ASU begins establishing its newest location in downtown Los Angeles at the Herald Examiner building, this growing partnership with HOLA — a vital resource for youth in the area — will serve to strengthen ties with the LA community. HOLA teens throw up their pitchforks for a group photo in front of Wells Fargo Arena HOLA teens pose for a group photo outside Wells Fargo Arena where they watched an ASU basketball game. Photo courtesy of Heart of Los Angeles

HOLA is nonprofit organization currently serving over 2,100 youth ages 6 to 24. It provides underserved youth with free, exceptional programs in academics, arts and athletics within a nurturing environment, empowering them to develop their potential, pursue their education and strengthen their communities.

Watts College hosted HOLA’s Southwest Airlines pre-alumni scholars in downtown Phoenix for an overnight campus stay in February, offering the high school students a taste of college life. The 2019 visit was the first, with the goal of making the visit an annual occurrence.

From Sunday to Monday, HOLA students toured the campus, participated in college classes and college-readiness workshops, watched the ASU Sun Devils beat the California Golden Bears men’s basketball team 69-59 and talked with current Watts College student Xochilt Zelaya.

Zelaya, a senior in the School of Public Affairs, is from the Koreatown neighborhood in Los Angeles close to where HOLA is located, which made it easy for her to connect with the students.

“As an L.A. native who transferred over to ASU, it was exciting to see more people from my community wanting to take the same educational route I did,” Zelaya said.

“HOLA is an incredible organization that is nurturing young people to see themselves as agents of change in their communities, creating pathways to education for their families,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of Watts College.

“That’s why this partnership is so important to me. Watts College exists to make a difference in communities, and supporting the goals of young people like HOLA’s scholars is core to our mission.”

Along with making the overnight campus visit an annual one, Watts College will sponsor four HOLA students per year (sophomores, juniors or seniors) with scholarships to attend “SummerUP,” an ASU camp held on the West campus, where students are mentored on college readiness and get a taste of university-level, hands-on learning in areas like forensic science, coding, global entrepreneurship and game design.

“Watts College’s consideration shown to our scholars is immensely helpful in our mission to support aspiring college students,” said Anthony Gilmore, scholarship coordinator for HOLA. “Our students have not stopped talking about their adventure in Arizona and have now been exposed to what could be when studying out of state.”

HOLA CEO Tony Brown added, “ASU's track record of sharing its resources with communities striving to reach their full potential is phenomenal, and HOLA is thrilled to be working with them to bring relevant opportunities to our neighborhood.”

The Watts College-HOLA connection exists thanks to Watts College alumnus Alan Adelman, one of HOLA's longest-standing board members and senior equity fund manager and senior equity analyst at Frost Bank.

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


ASU grad wondered what it took to be smart — now she’s headed to Harvard

April 29, 2019

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

When she was growing up in Jinja, Uganda, Arizona State University senior Leah Nakaima wondered why her teachers paid more attention to the American students. ASU spring 2019 graduate Leah Nakaima Leah Nakaima Download Full Image

They’re smarter than you, the teachers said.

Nakaima, who is graduating this spring with a degree in public health, including a minor in public policy and a certificate in public administration, wondered if it was the food that made American kids smart.

She made it all the way to ASU for college and as a Mastercard Foundation Scholar, and in her time as a Sun Devil Nakaima took advantage of everything ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus had to offer, serving in Undergraduate Student Government, participating in Next Generation Service Corps, creating the International Inclusion Club, working on wellness initiatives and volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul. She was admitted to the five-week Public Policy and International Affairs Program, becoming one of the first African students to participate. She wondered why she was chosen, so she asked a recruiter.

“Why did you choose me? I’m from Uganda. I just came here for a college degree,” Nakaima asked.

The recruiter told her, “You’re not only a girl from Uganda. You have way more potential than you may think.”

That was a wake-up call, Nakaima said. The recruiter encouraged her to apply to Ivy League schools for her graduate degree, so Nakaima applied to Brown, Syracuse, NYU, Harvard and Princeton even though she didn’t think she’d get in.

But she did.

After being accepted to and receiving funding packages from nearly every school she applied to, Nakaima decided on Harvard, where she will pursue a master’s degree in the fall.

“It feels overwhelming,” she said. “It’s my dream, but I still don’t believe it.”

Nakaima has learned a lot at ASU, including owning her own intelligence and potential. She said her dad told her when she was a child that people who go to Harvard go on to be presidents, which is appropriate, because Nakaima now sees her dream job within reach.

“My ultimate goal is to become the first female president of Uganda,” Nakaima said.

She’s well on her way. She’ll be shadowing a regional minister in Uganda this summer, and she has a platform in mind that would address the social determinants of health, youth education, entrepreneurship and more.

“I want to be the change,” she said.

As she prepares to take the next steps in her journey, Nakaima spoke with ASU Now about what lessons she has learned at ASU and where she’s headed next.

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

A: When I came to ASU my parents wanted me to be a physician. I dreamed of being the doctor that cures my brother of asthma.

My parents didn’t want to know anything about policy. All they know is, the physicians do the work. They save the people. Telling them that I’m majoring in public health and [with a] public policy minor … [and] I’m thinking of concentrating on public policy, they were like, “Leah what are you doing?”

I tried to explain, “Daddy, you can treat someone, but if there is no law that is making you treat that person, you won’t treat them.” It was hard for me, but finally they are beginning to understand that policy is a way to go.

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

A: Treating people the way we want them to treat us.

We may think that is just a saying, but it’s really something big. … You never know what your neighbor is going through.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because it’s No. 1 in innovation. When I was in primary school, we had some American children in school. And I remember my teachers treating them really special. As a child, I was like, “Why not me?” And [the teachers] were like, “Oh, they’re smart.” And I was like, “Am I not smart?” And they were like, “But they are smarter than you, and that’s why we give them extra care.”

And I remember reaching out to everyone, my parents, my teachers and the kids, and I’m like, “Hey, what makes you smart? Everyone thinks you’re smart.” And I remember asking questions like, “Is there a food they eat in America that makes them smart? Or is it the upbringing?”

So I chose ASU first because of curiosity. I wanted to come and see what Americans did to be smart. And also because of being No. 1 in innovation.

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

A: The professor who taught me the most important lesson in my life is Professor Jerry Oliver. He’s a professor in the [Watts College of] Public Service and Community Solutions.

He’s really great. I remember struggling with assignments and stuff like that, and he reached out to me and he was like, “Leah, if you don’t read you can’t answer anything. And you can’t pass. So you have to learn how to read and talk with people, communicate, tell them what you think and get responses.”

So he taught me how to read. I used to just skim through a textbook but not actually read. … He’s been very supportive. He has taught me how to be strong and hardworking.  

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

A: I have two pieces of advice for those still in school. First is get out of your room. If you are in your room, trust me, you are going to sleep or watch a movie or watch videos. … Get your assignments done on time, and [set aside] the last three or two days of your week to just go outside and go to all the extracurricular activities.

The best way I learned how to be confident is by constantly associating with people, talking to people and working with people. So get out of there and let people know you. Speak your truth, and they’ll respect you and correct you if they need to.

And the other thing is, you need to read. There is no way you can learn anything without reading. Yes, you can get word of mouth, but is that really what you want to get? No. You need to get firsthand information. So read your books.

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

A: My favorite spot is the Undergraduate Student Government office. That is located in the Post Office [at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus] on the lower level. 

It’s the one place that I go to when I want to just talk or relax or study. It’s just a convenient environment for everything. There is coffee and snacks. It’s just a great place, and Undergraduate Student Government is something that has totally made my life the way it is right now. Without it I wouldn’t know how much of an influence I could be to fellow students. It empowered me to actually represent students better and actually learn from them.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m planning on leaving Arizona one or two weeks after graduation, and I will go straight to Uganda. First because I miss my family, and second, I want to shadow my regional youth minister. That is like a youth representative in that entire eastern region of Uganda.

I want to learn what he’s doing for the youth in my country because Uganda has the fastest-growing youth population, and that is leaving a lot of youth unemployed and on the streets so I’m curious to learn about what he’s doing and see if that’s a leadership position that I can start with in my country before my ultimate goal [of running for president].

I’ll be returning to the United States in August to report to Harvard. And I’ll be there for two years. But I’m thinking of transitioning from a master of public policy to a law degree.

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

A: I’ll just say access. And access is ambiguous. [I have a previous project] I call it Healthy People 2030. … The main goal for Healthy People 2030 is I want to improve health and well-being and the general lifestyle of people from developing countries. That can start in Uganda because I’m from Uganda and then will test the impact it has had and plan on moving it to the East African countries and then all over the world.

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


Scientists map food supply chains for every US city

What data tool says is bigger than just where your food comes from; it shows how the fates of far-flung communities are closely connected

April 29, 2019

No matter where you are in the United States, the food on your plate probably started its life in Fresno, California. Vegetables follow a complex supply chain that moves bumper crops of delectable lettuce, tomatoes, fruits and nuts from where they’re grown to where they’re used.

How do we know? New data from the FEWSION Project, led by Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University scientists, can now illustrate how every corner of America is connected. A pickup truck whose bed is filled with cauliflower Vegetables follow a complex supply chain that moves crops around the country according to demand. Photo by Pattymooney (Patty Mooney, San Diego, California) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (] Download Full Image

FEWSION is a data fusion project that maps the food, energy and water supply chains for every community in the United States.

Making big data more accessible to policymakers and the community is part of the core mission of ASU’s Decision Theater. They took on the FEWSION project to visualize solutions to complex problems like feeding the nation in a more sustainable way amidst the challenges of severe weather or climate.

“The FEWSION project helps us to understand and visualize the links between the food, energy and water systems, and this knowledge is necessary to develop strategies for more coherent and integrated policies,” said Dave White, who is looking at similar problems as a professor in the ASU School of Community Resources and Development and director of the Decision Center for a Desert City. “With the insights generated by FEWSION, decision-makers can develop an integrated policy approach that considers all three sectors simultaneously to maximize efficiencies, optimize trade-offs and reduce risks.”

Ramesh Gorantla, a software development lead at the Decision Theater and part of the FEWSION team, said the project has the potential to enhance the supply chain and make communities more resilient.

“The [FEW-View] tool performs massive big-data computations and displays the queried results in an intuitive way so an ordinary public user can use the data,” said Gorantla.

Those maps are now available for public use through the FEW-View website, allowing people to see whether their gas prices could be affected by a Gulf Coast hurricane or how much New Englanders should worry about water shortages on the other side of the country. (Answers: Possibly and a lot.)

Ben Ruddell, an associate professor in the School of Informatics, Computing, and Cyber Systems at Northern Arizona University, led the multi-institution team of engineers and data scientists.

“This is a way to see that big data, to see your supply chains, see your lifelines,” Ruddell said. “We look at exposure. If you have a lot of exposure in your supply chain, there is a strong potential for you to be affected by a drought, storm or decision far away.”

This data was collected by hundreds of researchers at federal agencies and universities throughout the country and for the first time has been put into a searchable and visual form for anyone to use.

With FEWSION, people can map the sources of their community’s animal products, grains, meat and other foodstuffs; crude oil, gasoline, natural gas and electricity; and water sources. This is useful information for people who want to buy more local products or measure the sustainability of the community’s food and energy consumption, but the purpose of this data is far greater.

Ruddell sees FEWSION being especially useful for emergency managers, who can use it to plan ahead if a disaster or situation in some other part of the country is likely to affect their community; and sustainability officers who want to reduce their community’s footprint by changing their commodity sourcing and supply chains. He also encouraged K-12 and higher education teachers to introduce their students to the FEWSION website, which features video, a podcast, news, publications and links to other educational supply chain content and programs.

Richard Rushforth, the lead research scientist on the FEWSION project for NAU, produced all of the data for the first version of FEWSION. It’s a game-changer, he said.

“People want to know: How am I impacted locally? How is something happening on the other side of the country going to affect my life here?” he said. “Being able to have that data on hand visually and to be able to explore it is a really valuable tool.”

For people wondering how to apply the program, here’s an example: FEWSION’s website illustrates the supply chains linking New York City to Otter Tail County, Minnesota; Forsyth County, North Carolina; Bonneville County, Idaho; Monona County, Iowa; Yuma County, Arizona; and about half of California. These connections show more than the routes lettuce, almonds, citrus, fuel and other commodities take to get to the country’s biggest city. FEWSION visualizes the relationships that tie the United States together — relationships that often are invisible to the consumer but are evidence that Americans, for all their differences, are inextricably connected to one another, Ruddell said.

“Rural Americans and urban Americans are different in many ways,” he said. “Their politics are very different, their lifestyles are different, but they depend on each other completely because of their supply chains. In particular, city dwellers need to understand that they get much of their food, clean water and energy from rural Americans and from communities throughout the country. Without this kind of mapping, city dwellers can’t see that connection, and because they don’t see, they don’t understand that they’re exporting their environmental problems and food and energy production to their rural neighbors.

“When you see those connections, you can understand how to vote and spend your dollars in ways that benefit everyone — urban and rural — because we’re all part of the same system.”

In addition to understanding that no city is a resource island, this knowledge also empowers communities to invest in the security, resilience and sustainability of their supply chains.

For example, the current drought emergency of the Colorado River is not just a regional problem, Ruddell said. If farms in Arizona or California run out of water, the supply of produce is reduced and the price of healthy, fresh food goes up nationwide.

“Members of the public should know where their food, energy and water are coming from, to understand how connected they are,” he said. “That can affect the way they see the world, and it can make you realize that problems in other places — other people’s problems — are actually your problems too, and that changes everything about the way we see the world. It can change the way we vote; it can change our priorities.

“Information is power — the power to create positive change.”

To see where your community’s food, water and energy comes from and to discover how FEWSION can benefit educators, emergency managers, community leaders and sustainability officers, visit

FEWSION was funded in 2016 by a grant from the Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems program (#INFEWS ACI-1639529), which is funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S Department of Agriculture.

Joe Caspermeyer

Manager (natural sciences), Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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Public Service Academy graduate beat overwhelming obstacles

Public Service Academy's 1st graduating cohort a highlight of May commencement.
April 26, 2019

Imani Stephens is among 86 students in first-ever graduating class of ASU's civilian leadership program

The fire that burned down her apartment could have been the coup de grâce for Imani Stephens, but it didn't stop her from pursuing a college degree.

Raised by a single mother, Stephens beat other obstacles: financial hardships, a cross-country move and sleeping on floors. Now, the Arizona State University senior will close the door on her past and embrace a bright future when she graduates in May.

Stephens, a student with the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, credits her family, her faith and the university’s Public Service Academy for getting her through.

“I persevered by looking at the end goal and knowing that my situation was temporary,” said Stephens, who is also a student in Barrett, The Honors College with a 4.0 GPA. “Leadership teaches you to try (to) improve gradually. I always try to be better than yesterday, last semester and last year. My goal is to improve from that last step.”

Stephens’ next step will be to join thousands of other ASU studentsAccording to Public Service Director Brett Hunt, four PSA students graduated in the fall and spring of 2018. in collecting their diplomas on May 6. Some 15,797 immersion and online students have applied to graduate, nearly 11,000 of those undergraduates. Of the total number of students receiving degrees, 54% are Arizona residents. New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks will deliver the address at the undergraduate commencement.

PLAN: Full schedule of ceremonies at

In addition to her Bachelor of Arts in journalism and mass communication, Stephens minored in justice studies and will receive a Cross-Sector Leadership Certificate from ASU’s Public Service Academy in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

The academy, now in its fourth year, will see its first graduating class of 86 students at its individual convocation ceremony May 4. The 400-member academy answers the nation’s call for a new type of leader: a character-driven leader armed with the courage to cross sectors, connect networks and ignite action for the greater good. 

It launched in 2015 to develop leaders of tomorrow who are prepared to find solutions for society’s biggest challenges and create a culture of service. It does so by leveraging and combining military and civilian experiences. It has two tracks: Reserve Officer Training Corps, the existing university-based program to commission officers into the U.S. Armed Forces, and Next Generation Service Corps, a program for service-oriented students from all majors to become civilian service leaders.

It aims to foster collaboration between those two groups — military and civil service — that work together in the field. They learn how to communicate and work together, and how to navigate the different structures of each group.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Public Service Academy Director Brett Hunt said Stephens demonstrated leadership qualities from day one.

“Imani looks at everything as an opportunity to better herself and grow,” Hunt said. “She walks into a situation and determines where she fits and then takes full advantage of that opportunity. Over the past four years, I’ve seen her do that with rocket fuel.”

Stephens finds that depiction somewhat ironic. She said she initially sputtered at ASU because of her tumultuous upbringing in Compton, California. Her father left them for another family when she was in second grade, leaving her mother to raise Stephens and her sister alone and without financial help, Stephens said.

Their situation grew worse with a sudden move to Florida.

“My mom wanted to get away from the situation and start a new life,” Stephens said. “But in doing so we hit a deep dive financially. We didn’t have any family or support system there, and no furniture our first year there. We slept on the floor.”

A move back to the Los Angeles area three years later was a slight improvement — the family had a few furnishings and now slept on air mattresses. But then the apartment where they lived was destroyed by an electrical fire during Stephens’ senior year of high school, dispersing the family to different relatives’ homes.

“We didn’t have much in the first place and now we had to rebuild,” Stephens said. “That was the hardest moment — trying to come back from that. Even now looking back, I’m amazed how I just kept going and moving forward.”

Stephens continued hitting roadblocks after she graduated from Junipero Serra High School in Gardena, California. She didn’t qualify for the Cronkite School her freshman year because of low SAT scores and an average GPA. She also didn’t know how she was going to pay for college, much less acquire a laptop needed for her studies. Even with a Pell Grant, Stephens had already racked up almost $9,000 in debt in her first semester.

But when she found out about a scholarship offered through the Public Service Academy that covered gap tuition, it was “an answered prayer.”

“A particular scripture that resonates with me is ‘I walk by faith, not by sight,’” Stephens said. “If I look at my circumstances through my eyes, that’s when I see all of my problems, challenges, adversity and barriers against me. But when I look through a faith lens, that’s when I say, ‘I can achieve this.’”

Stephens’ four years at ASU is a study in achievement. Each successive semester her grades improved, and she eventually received eight separate scholarships to pay for her tuition. She also did internships every semester, which included stints at KAET 8 – Arizona PBS, KCBS 2/KCAL in Los Angeles, CBS News in New York, CBS Evening News with Jeff Glor in Washington, D.C., and News/Arizona PBS in Washington, D.C. Stephens even managed to find time to give back to the ASU community. She is a regular volunteer at the downtown Pitchfork Pantry for students in need.

She is also a go-getter when it comes to her craft, said Heather Dunn, content director for Cronkite News/Arizona PBS.

“One of the things that impresses me about Imani is her passion for journalism and storytelling,” Dunn said. “She works hard every day to not only find good stories to present to our viewers but works hard to find great people to illustrate the problem, which helps the viewer to connect to the story.”

As she sharpened her journalistic skills, Stephens was also getting another type of education from the Public Service Academy.

“What I really learned from them was how to communicate with different people and understanding how we can all work together regardless of backgrounds, political views, race and socioeconomic levels,” Stephens said. “I never thought of myself as a leader before but I knew I had something to bring to the table.”

MORE: Ultimate commencement guide

Stephens’ peers and supervisors say she brings a lot to the table.

“Imani is kind and she’s highly motivated and ready at the drop of a dime to do anything that is asked of her and then figures out how to do it,” said Veronica Gutierrez, curriculum and course manager for the Public Service Academy. “She’s been motivated to get out of that cycle of poverty and that space she was in before, but it’s not something that defines her.”

What does define her is connecting to other people, said Chris Frias, a Public Service Academy member who has known Stephens since she was a freshman.

“Imani is very sociable and cares a lot about people and her community,” Frias said. “Her time with the Public Service Academy has increased her scope with the issues that people face. I think it’s also helped her journalism to become more social impact oriented.”

Stephens said ASU’s impact on her life will never be forgotten, and she'll pay it forward whenever possible.

“Coming to ASU was part of my destiny and it had to happen,” Stephens said. “I’m astonished by the willingness of others to help me achieve my goals. I hope to pass that trait along to others as I move forward with my life.”

RELATED: More fantastic spring 2019 grads

Top photo: Journalism students Eliav Gabay (left) and Imani Stephens host an installment of Cronkite News from the downtown Phoenix studio. Photo by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU pursuing deeper veterans' wellness engagement

April 25, 2019

Symposium brings together community stakeholders, ASU staff and faculty to investigate how to better serve veterans

Arizona State University representatives from across campuses attended a symposium April 17–18 in Phoenix to gain insight into the veteran space, network with local and military veteran community leaders and gather ideas on how the university can help further.

ASU was a key sponsor of the Arizona Coalition for Military Families' 10th annual Statewide Symposium in Support of Service Members, Veterans and Their Families — a highly attended event that included White House representation and a national Department of Veterans Affairs lead.

The coalition serves as the programmatic arm for the Arizona Department of Veteran Services. 

“These are significant times as we look to improve the quality of life of every veteran in Arizona,” said ASU alumna Wanda Wright, director of the Arizona Department of Veterans' Services and a retired Air Force colonel.

Due to the Arizona Coalition for Military Families and the collective efforts of many other groups to support veterans, Arizona is unique.

“This kind of work does not happen in most other states,” Wright said. “We are unusual in the way we are able to work together to influence the veteran echo system to manifest goodness for servicemembers, veterans and their families.”

ASU’s interest in the veteran echo system is twofold, supporting student veterans on campus and those out in the communities, plus driving innovative research and curriculum opportunities. The school’s military-affiliated student population grows each year, and currently hovers at well over 8,000 with continued growth expected. The university also owns comprehensive tools and resources to socially embed with public agencies that are on the front lines of veteran/military support.

One of ASU’s colleges with a significant number of student veterans is the College of Health Solutions. The college is aware of the unique challenges veterans face when they transition out of the military and onto campus. Its counselors, some of whom are also veterans, are there to assist.  

“We are trying to understand the veteran experience,” symposium attendee and College of Health Solutions Dean Deborah Helitzer said. “And how their education at the College of Health Solutions can be enhanced by thinking about their situation from a more holistic perspective. We recognize that the veteran students come from a team environment to the university where they are individual learners. We believe our collaborative, experiential approach to education will be effective for veterans who are interested in careers in health.”

The college engaged with the VA to look at different areas where new collaboration may be possible, the dean said. Both ASU’s College of Heath Solutions and Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation participated in strategic working sessions with the Phoenix VA Medical Center in January.

One of the key Arizona Coalition for Military Families programs College of Health Solutions faculty and students are engaged in is “Be Connected.” Launched in 2017, Be Connected is a collaboration between public and private stakeholders in Arizona aiming toward “upstream” suicide prevention in the veteran community.

“Right now Be Connected is a responsive model,” said Nicola Winkle, coalition project director. “You call, the team answers. You need help, it is provided. What we’ll be adding to complement this responsive approach is a proactive approach where we actively seek out and connect to segments of our military veteran and family population.”

Transitioning Be Connected to a proactive model requires data for focusing efforts, Winkle said. Data can prove what works, show how training and support increases intervention and reveal risk and protective factors of the military population. It can also help identify vulnerable populations within veteran communities with higher risk and lower protective factors.  

The symposium featured two days of programming and 11 learning tracks “all focused on increasing knowledge, skills and abilities for serving and supporting the military, veteran and family population.” The Pat Tillman Veterans Center hosted a roundtable discussion on building a veteran-supportive college campus, Veterans Upward Bound reps provided on-site resources throughout the event and ASU’s School of Social Work, a unit within the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, conducted a mindfulness and meditation session.

ASU participants also included around 25 faculty and staff from ASU’s Educational Outreach and Student Services, Enterprise Marketing Hub, Office of Government and Community Engagement, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Office of the President, Flag Officer Council, the Public Service Academy, and affiliate ASU Research Enterprise.

Top photo: Attendees of the Arizona Coalition for Military Families' 10th annual Statewide Symposium in Support of Service Members, Veterans and Their Families mingle at the exhibitor fair in Phoenix on April 16. Photo by Jerry Gonzalez/ASU

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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The human cost of expensive homes

April 16, 2019

Lack of affordable housing is key in homelessness issue, ASU experts say

Easing the problem of homelessness will require communities to build more affordable housing, and that will require creating a new narrative with people who oppose it, according to two Arizona State University experts.

“We need to get businesses, public safety, education and neighborhood groups on board,” said Joanna Lucio, associate dean of academic affairs and an associate professor in the School of Public Affairs.

She has researched community members who oppose affordable housing.

“We often say to them, ‘How can we assure you it won’t hurt you?’ Instead I want to say, ‘How can you be welcoming?’ ‘What do we need to do to create a community here?’”

Lucio spoke at a talk titled “Who Are Our Neighbors in Need? Homelessness and Affordable Housing in Our Community” at the Arizona Heritage Center in Tempe on Tuesday. 

She addressed the issue of affordable housing, while Melissa Kovacs, associate director for research at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, gave details about homelessness, which has increased.

Every January, volunteers spend a night counting people who are experiencing homelessness in shelters or on the streets, called a “point-in-time census.”

The total number of homeless people in Maricopa County was 5,605 in 2017, and it was 6,298 in 2018. And in that time, the number who were unsheltered — sleeping in a park or in a car — increased 12%, she said. About 1,100 were children.

A map of the Valley showed a dot for every person experiencing homelessness.

“I think the message here is that they were spread all around the county,” Kovacs said. “They were essentially everywhere they could be sleeping.”

In a survey of clients at the Human Services Campus in Phoenix, 40% said they were in debt, but 40% have a regular income. More than a third said they had been attacked or beaten up.

“Violence is a part of the life of experiencing homelessness,” she said.

Lucio said that lack of affordable housing is one reason for homelessness.

“There’s a lack of supply: wait lists for subsidized units, not enough shelter space and little support for transitional housing,” she said.

“I’ve been studying this for 14 years, and it always comes back to this.”

The impact of homelessness is encampments in parks and public spaces, leading to security expenses for businesses and arrests for the people experiencing homelessness. 

Many cities have passed “nuisance laws,” such as outlawing sitting on a sidewalk. 

“Something I’ve been working on is this ‘othering’ effect,” she said. “People who are experiencing homelessness are our neighbors. When we create nuisance laws, it’s dehumanizing — ‘They’re over there, and we’re over here.’”

Some communities have embraced permanent supportive housing, which also offers a lot of services. The city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, did so and saw spending on homelessness and incarceration reduced by 64%, she said. 

Lucio has talked to people who moved into affordable housing that was set aside for them, and they felt out of place in their neighborhoods. 

“I saw how that latent opposition affected them,” she said. 

“I want to do more than just put people into housing. I want to create communities.”

This talk was in conjunction with the exhibit at the Arizona Heritage Center called, “I Have a Name,” a collection of black-and-white portraits of people living on the streets by art photographer Jon Linton. Linton included bits of his conversations with his subjects in the accompanying text. Eugene, 63, said that he had been on the streets for a third of his life and missed listening to music. Billie, 53, panhandled in Tempe and told Linton: “You know, I’m homeless, but I am still a human being.”

Top photo: Melissa Kovacs (right), associate director for research at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, and Associate Professor Joanna Lucio, associate dean of academic affairs, discuss homelessness and affordable housing at the Arizona Heritage Center on Tuesday. They engaged the audience talking about the causes, demographics and solutions to the community problem. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now 

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Sí, se puede! Maryvale mural unveiling brings community together

April 16, 2019

It’s a typically gorgeous spring morning in Phoenix. Families paint color on a drab brick wall as others visit nearby booths and food trucks. Cumbia music and announcements pump out of speakers overhead.

Shaded by tents are representatives from local organizations who talk to visitors about health, financial services and more. Serving as both a backdrop and a centerpiece of the scene is a giant, vibrant, colorful mural depicting an intergenerational Latinx family and the Maryvale community where the artwork resides. Crowd sits and stands in front of stage set up in front of mural Attendees gathered for the formal mural unveiling, with special guest speakers and representatives from the community partners who worked to make the mural a reality. Photo by Alexis Bojorquez Download Full Image

The March 31 event fittingly held on Cesar Chavez Day is the official unveiling of a mural by artist Isaac Caruso in collaboration with Arizona State University's School of Social Work, its Survivor Link AmeriCorps program, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions and community partner Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC).

The 25-foot-tall and 130-foot-wide mural faces the CPLC’s Centro De La Familia, a community center in Maryvale located at 67th Avenue and Indian School Road. It was painted on the east-facing wall of the AAMCO building that shares the center’s parking lot.

The project was initially conceived by Seth Wilson, a Survivor Link student working to complete his Master of Social Work degree at ASU. Wilson currently interns at CPLC as a social work clinician and had the inspiration for the project while parking in front of the giant green wall next to the center.

“I was just, like, we need something that's more welcoming to our clients and staff and the community as a whole,” Wilson said.

Wilson collaborated with CPLC to develop the concept and connect with the artist, writing up a proposal that would serve as the thematic foundation of the artwork.

In it, he wanted to include Cesar Chavez, as well as a tie-in to CPLC's mission statement to help individuals become economically and politically empowered and self-sufficient a key component of which, Wilson felt, is family and community support.

“I wanted to include that, because you're all from a family, no matter what it looks like,” Wilson said.

About an hour into the festival, crowds gathered near a platform and podium set before the mural. Speakers included representatives from the School of Social Work and CPLC, local community activists and even Cesar Chavez’s former bodyguard, who served as emcee of the event.

Pedro Cons, executive vice president of integrated health and human services at CPLC, spoke to the many transformations Maryvale has experienced over the last 40 years. For him, the project and the partnerships with ASU all come down to community.

“We're very proud that we were able to come in and help with some of the revitalization of the community. And, a mural like this, I think, just brings a community together in a bigger way,” Cons said.

The theme of the day was what people can accomplish when they are empowered to positively shape their community, working both at the grassroots and community policy levels to achieve social justice.

Caruso was chosen due to his previous experience with murals, as well as managing and including volunteers as a part of the painting project.

Painting began on Martin Luther King Jr. Day an annual Day of Service for AmeriCorps members which made Cesar Chavez day a fitting bookend for a scene connected with themes of social justice. The 75 AmeriCorps members from the School of Social Work Survivor Link program came in shifts to assist with painting and helped to plan the unveiling community event.

“The image is a reminder of the strength and resilience of Latinx families and their positive role in the greater Phoenix community,” said Jill Messing, an associate professor in the ASU School of Social Work and director of the Office of Gender-Based Violence, which houses the Survivor Link program.

The project is indicative of how Watts College is engaging with the Maryvale community overall supporting and recognizing local efforts to bring to life collaborative initiatives like this mural. Watts, through the Maryvale One Square Mile Initiative, is seeking more opportunities to connect ASU’s programs and resources to create a positive and lasting impact on the community.   

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Environment vs. economy: Outcomes can be win-win according to recent research

ASU professor's paper receives international recognition

April 16, 2019

Climate change is an ever-present and ever-pressing issue that has the attention of national and world leaders. On Nov. 23, 2018, the United States federal climate report was released. Several days later, U.N. world leaders met in Poland for two weeks of climate change negotiations. Scientists and researchers remain committed to finding solutions to one of the world’s greatest challenges.

Among them is Mark Roseland, professor and director of the School of Community Resources and Development, a unit of Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University. Roseland’s research article with colleagues Robert Newell and Ann Dale, both professors in the School of Environment and Sustainability at Royal Roads University in Canada, was recently recognized with the International Award for Excellence by the International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses. professionally dressed individual's leg touches brick pavement while pausing astride yellow community bicycle Photo by Yannis Papanastasopoulos on Unsplash Download Full Image

“This is a big deal because the award is from an international journal,” Roseland said. “Once a year, they select the best article from that year. So, to be honored by your peers like that is quite a substantial recognition.”

The article focuses on how climate action through integrated sustainability strategies can yield benefits for communities in more effective ways than through compartmentalized approaches.

One difficulty in addressing climate, noted Roseland, is tradeoffs — some real, some perceived. There is a pervasive notion that to take action in favor of the environment will cost more in another area, like the economy — two arenas often pitted against one another when discussing spending and allocation of resources.

The article, titled “Climate Action Co-benefits and Integrated Community Planning,” demonstrates that, at a community level, climate change adaptation can create co-benefits rather than tradeoffs, and that those benefits can generate a positive, self-perpetuating cycle.

Said Roseland, “That's the sweet spot. The old way of thinking is to pit energy efficiency, for example, against affordable housing, rather than recognizing that we have to address them both.”

With the new co-benefits way of thinking, Roseland offers, we can create win-win situations.

 stands in gray suit, smiling with arms folded across chest on the second floor of UCENT

Mark Roseland

One example is increasing the proportion of people taking public transit. This creates a positive cycle of reducing the number of cars on the road, relieving congestion, improving air quality, reducing obesity and improving public health.

The benefits can seem obvious when laid out in this context, but Roseland notes, “The way we account for them makes them seem hidden, because the transportation budget doesn't benefit when the health care budget decreases.”

Roseland also said this is the reason his research team focused on the community level, where the co-benefits are easier to see.

“When you wake up in the morning, you're not in the Department of Housing,” he said. “You don't go have breakfast in the Department of Agriculture, commute to work in the Department of Transportation, and then start your work day in the Department of Labor.”

Roseland added, “Our lives are messy and complicated, and all of these things are integrated and synergistic. And that's what we mean by co-benefits — that if we can think holistically, we can start to frame interventions and choices that benefit multiple dimensions of our lives.”

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Students, professionals in parks and recreation team up for co-learning experience

April 15, 2019

College students, professionals and high school students came together to learn, network and tackle community problems at the third annual SPARK conference in March. The yearly event is coordinated by students within the Arizona State University School of Community Resources and Development with assistance from the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association and the Arizona State Therapeutic Recreation Association.

This year’s event theme, “It Takes a Village,” offered attendees a chance to learn how different professions have successfully worked together to build stronger communities and to apply their knowledge through case studies. Parks and recreation professionals and students stand in a circle on the grass for an activity-based workshop Parks and recreation professionals and students participate in an activity-based workshop. Download Full Image

Eric Legg, assistant professor in the school, a unit of Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, said the event provides an opportunity for students to interact with professionals and see how what they learn in school can be applied outside the classroom walls. “One of our major goals is to give students a chance to network and be mentored by professionals,” he said.

The one-day event began with a networking breakfast, followed by a choice of team-building activities or a professional panel. Attendees then came together for the opening session, where the keynote speaker, John Sefton, community services director for the city of Peoria, talked about the importance of passion in pursuing one’s career.

Ryanne Mueller, the Parks and Recreation Student Association president, noted that, “John’s engagement with the audience set the tone for the whole day. He lit up the room and visibly sparked passion within the students and professionals.” Following his address, event organizers honored Sefton with the SPARK award for his ongoing inspiration and support of students.

Following the keynote, attendees participated in their choice of various 20-minute educational sessions. Each session highlighted how individuals from different professional backgrounds such as tourism, nonprofit management and communications work together to build stronger communities.

After a networking lunch, attendees broke out for the culminating activity: case studies based on actual situations faced by cities and towns across Arizona. Students were provided with two options for the case studies and in each they applied their learning alongside professionals in the field. In one session, students competed against each other to see who could come up with the best solution. Staff from the city of Phoenix helped facilitate and judge this competition based on a rubric that included how well the solution incorporated different professional approaches. Students who wanted a more collaborative environment could choose a second session where multiple groups worked together on the same problem to develop the ideal solution.

“The case studies were definitely the best part of the day," said Wilber Valencia, a community sport management major. "It was fun to work together to come up with solutions to these problems.”

Over 100 students and professionals attended this year’s event, including students from a local high school.

“The inclusion of high school students this year was great for all of us," said Krista VanderMolen, deputy director of the Arizona Parks and Recreation Association. "They were excited to be paired with a college counterpart and were fully engaged throughout the day.”

As any conference planner can attest, it is no easy task, but Legg summed up the payoffs of events like the SPARK conference: “The planning process can be exhausting, but at the end of the day, seeing high school students, college students and professionals networking and learning from each other makes it all worth it.”

Summary provided by Eric Legg

Community partnership supports local teens in learning the ins and outs of courtroom procedure

April 15, 2019

During February and March, the Valley of the Sun YMCA in partnership with Arizona State University's Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions hosted its inaugural Youth and Government Judicial Conferences. During these conferences, over 70 teens from across Arizona learned courtroom procedure, how to take a case to trial and how to present both the prosecution and defense. Using the 2019 Youth and Government assigned case, students simulated a criminal trial proceeding, participating as attorneys, judges, bailiffs and witnesses.

During the first phase of the semester, attorneys from the Maricopa County Public Defender’s Office joined the YMCA to offer hands-on and real-life training to students. The attorney volunteers taught students when and how to object during a trial, how to present evidence during a trial and the key components needed when trying to prove the guilt or innocence of the defendant. Large group of high school student participants in judicial conference poses in front of ASU logo in Concho Room Over 70 teens participated in the YMCA's Youth and Government Judicial Conferences.

At the competition conference in March, the students put their learning into practice as teams participated in several rounds of trial. Through the scores of evaluators, two teams were announced as the winners of their respective age brackets.

Watts College provided the YMCA’s Youth and Government program classroom and conference space downtown as courtrooms for the trainings, trials and deliberations.

“The YMCA is excited to continue our judicial program, and we look forward to working with Watts College in the future,” said Brooke Baumer Saldivar, Valley of the Sun YMCA’s youth and civic outreach director. 

Summary courtesy of Brooke Baumer Saldivar