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Young people find profound personal growth in Public Allies Arizona

Young people find transformation in Public Allies Arizona service program.
May 30, 2019

Participants hone skills, increase nonprofits' impact in ASU Lodestar program

Brandon Vickers served his country for five years while he was a welder in the Navy. When he resumed civilian life in 2016, he knew he wanted to continue serving his community, but he didn’t know how.

And then he found Public Allies Arizona, an intense, full-time apprenticeship program that pairs young people with nonprofit organizations. And he knew it would be perfect.

“It turned out to be the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” said Vickers, 25, who has spent the past 10 months working at the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Phoenix as part of the program.

“The Navy was awesome and gave me skills, but this has given meaning to the work I’m doing.”

Vickers is among 30 young people in Public Allies Arizona, a program of the Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, in the School of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University.

This is the 13th cohort of Public Allies Arizona, which pays the allies a stipend of about $14,000 to work at nonprofit organizations in the Valley. After completing the program, which is part of the federal AmeriCorps program, the participants receive a $5,800 award to pay for tuition or professional development or to apply toward student-loan debt. More than 400 young adults have participated since Public Allies Arizona was launched in 2006.

The nonprofit groups get motivated staffers and the participants not only learn valuable job skills, but also undergo profound personal growth. Several of the current allies described their experiences at “Presentations of Impact” Wednesday night at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

“My childhood wasn’t the easiest. We moved a lot and I attended a lot of different schools,” Vickers told the crowd.

“The Navy gave me an idea of what it meant to serve a cause greater than myself,” he said.

He was ecstatic when he found Public Allies Arizona listed on a job-search engine, although — like all the allies — he was nervous and unsure if he could do the work.

“But that feeling quickly went away,” he said, as he described how he helped the Boys and Girls Club renew its service enterprise certification, reached out to alumni and helped to recruit millennials and people with disabilities to be volunteers.

Besides working with nonprofits, the allies work on projects together, get personal coaching and attend leadership training.

“The biggest thing it’s helped me do is to learn the value of networking and forming relationships — and forcing me to do it,” said Vickers, who transferred from Glendale Community College and now is majoring in nonprofit management at ASU.

“I was always a shy person. Now I’m a better communicator, even just talking with family and friends,” he said.

The allies come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some are college students, some have degrees and a few joined right out of high school.

Channtal Polanco spent her Public Allies term with Opportunities for Youth, an ASU initiative to help young people who are neither working nor in school. At the presentation Wednesday night, she described her own experience. She was attending college in California when she unexpectedly became pregnant. She left college and returned to Phoenix, where she had her daughter.

“I was not working or enrolled in college. I became an opportunity youth,” she said.

“I knew I needed a change in my life not only for myself but also my daughter. But I was faced with relentless obstacles and barriers.”

Finally she was able to enroll her daughter in a full-time preschool program run by Chicanas Por La Causa, allowing her to enroll in school and get a job.

“But I still yearned for a new challenge,” she said. “And that led me here.”

At Opportunities for Youth, she recruited teens for a manufacturing job-readiness program.

“I thought, ‘How can I make this program appealing? Why should they listen to me?’” she said. “I learned an important lesson — to meet the youths where they’re at.”

The allies described their victories. Polanco was able to get a very motivated young man enrolled into the job program within 24 hours. Vickers learned the stories of people who attended the Boys and Girls Club in the 1940s as part of his work to reenergize the alumni group. Yaylah Trujillo, a student at Estrella Mountain Community College, recruited 10 people to become LGBTQ-friendly foster families through her work with Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.

And Anne Mbugua is launching a new youth-employment program, Arizona Youth Forces, through her work at the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Phoenix.

“I’m helping teens ages 16 to 18 get paid internships, which introduces them to the work force,” she said. The teens attend workshops to learn soft skills, like how to communicate in the workplace, before they’re placed.

Mbugua, who is from Kenya, came to Public Allies Arizona after several years of living abroad in Europe and Canada.

“This program has really helped me enhance my skills. I’m very passionate about working with young people and I was excited that I would get to pilot a program, which I’ve never done before,” she said. “I thrive in the chaos of it. I just run with it.”

Public Allies is the just the latest service stint that Mbugua has taken on.

“Every country I’ve gone to, I’ve always volunteered,” she said. She worked with homeless people in train stations in Poland, at an international youth hostel in London and with a mental-health youth program in Canada.

“I love the joy of traveling and living in a different culture whether it’s six months or five years,” she said. “I’ve gone through five passports.”

Mbugua will end her term with Public Allies Arizona in November, and is working on keeping the new internship program sustainable and measuring its success.

“One way to measure success is who finished the internship? Were they retained somewhere? Did they attend all 10 workshops?”

Mbugua plans to move to New York and pursue a career in cross-cultural coaching.

Public Allies Arizona has been invaluable in charting her course.

“You’ll figure out what you want to do and what you absolutely don’t want to do,” she said.

“You learn teamwork, management, and you learn to be a good leader.”

Top photo: ASU student Brandon Vickers works a volunteer fair at Grand Canyon University. A Navy veteran, Vickers has been working at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix as part of his participation in Public Allies Arizona. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503

 
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ASU researchers receive MURI award to track criminals, their weapons of destruction via pollen

May 28, 2019

One of the surest signs that spring has sprung is the abundance of fresh blooms sprouting from greenery everywhere. For that, we have the work of honeybees to thank, unwittingly pollinating plant after plant as they go about collecting the fine, dusty gold for their queen.

But those industrious little black and yellow fuzzballs aren’t the only things transporting pollen — it’s literally everywhere and sticks to everything, making it an invaluable tool to use for tracking movement.

Forensic palynology is the study of pollen, spores and other acid-resistant microscopic plant bodies to prove or disprove a relationship among objects, people and places. Now, with the support of a multimillion-dollar grant from the Department of Defense, a team of interdisciplinary researchers at Arizona State University plan to use it to improve the U.S. government’s ability to identify where and when criminals and their weapons of destruction are moving.

headshot of a man wearing sunglasses and a dark blue shirt with nature in the background

Anthony Grubesic

“For me, the most exciting aspect of this project is the collaborative work (and team) that spans the social, spatial, ecological and biological sciences,” said Anthony Grubesic, director of the Center for Spatial Reasoning and Policy Analytics at ASU, who will lead the team.

“All the project investigators are experts in their own fields, but the cross-pollination (no pun intended) of our ideas and methods hold real promise for improving models of pollen diffusion and improving the accuracy of geoforensic efforts in tracking objects of interest for law enforcement and the military.”

The team includes Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions College Research Professor Elisa Bienenstock and School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning Associate Professor Daoqin Tong, in collaboration with geographers and biologists from the University of Texas and Emory University.

During the five-year project that is part of the DOD Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), the team will work to find methods for using the distinctive genetic signatures of pollen to track the origins of improvised explosive devices and other activities. 

The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory through its Army Research Office will provide ASU $6.25 million in funding to complete the project.

MURI is a highly competitive DOD program that has made immense contributions to both defense and society at large. For fiscal year 2019, the Army Research Office, the Office of Naval Research and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research conducted a merit-based review of nearly 300 proposals.

Grubesic and his team submitted the winning project proposal, titled “Networked Palynology Models of Pollen and Human Systems (NYMPHS),” to DOD, making ASU one of only 24 universities selected to lead projects that span multiple scientific disciplines.

Along with ASU, some of the award-winning institutions include MIT, Boston University, University of Chicago, Penn State and the California Institute of Technology.

“The project underscores an important dimension of the Watts College commitment to public service,” said Jonathan Koppell, dean of the Watts College. “We are committed to advancing national security, in this case, by pulling together multiple disciplines using advanced analytic frameworks under the leadership of Dr. Grubesic.” 

Pollen’s constant presence in the environment makes it a useful biomarker. It is durable and has predictable distributions across terrains. Investigators have used palynology in the past to link movements of bodies in mass graves in Bosnia, and researchers are confident traces of pollen can help determine the origin of items such as computers, undetonated explosives and papers.

The team aims to develop a NYMPHS geocomputational toolbox; extend the use of DNA metabarcoding for identifying pollen samples; develop a rapid-deployment sampling framework for capturing airborne pollen; develop validation methods for determining accuracy, precision and uncertainty of species distribution models; and enhance use of social network methods and mathematical optimization to generate accurate geographic localization for objects that have moved among locations.

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay

School of Criminology and Criminal Justice recognizes community-engaged alumni


May 22, 2019

The School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University has announced its 2019 alumni awards, which this year included three categories.

Alumni Scholar Award

Presented to Associate Professor Scott Wolfe, Michigan State Alumni award winners stand beside CCJ director Cassia Spohn Left to right: Cassia Spohn, Scott Wolfe, Allyson Roy and Randall Snyder. Download Full Image

For outstanding scholarly contributions to the discipline of criminology and criminal justice by a person who has received the MA, MS, or PhD from the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU.

Scott Wolfe, associate professor at Michigan State University, is a 2012 PhD graduate who is heavily engaged in research with state and federal agencies associated with police reform. Honing his research chops at ASU, Wolfe has been cited over 2,000 times with six of his articles cited 100 or more times. Scott moved quickly to produce useful research evidence around the “Ferguson Effect.” This work figured prominently in public policy debates relating to policing and crime. As noted by his nominator Ed Maguire, “To help inform policy is the mark of a genuine public scholar. Wolfe is a public scholar who is engaged with the community at multiple levels. I see in him a bright, industrious and very promising young scholar.”

Alumni Award for Early Career Excellence

Presented to Officer Allyson J. Roy, Tempe Police Department

For demonstrating notable early-career accomplishments that indicate future success for contributions to the fields of criminology and criminal justice through research, practice or policy.

Allyson Roy is steeped in Sun Devil pride, having received both her undergraduate ('12) and graduate degree (MS '14) from ASU. Immediately hired as a crime analyst with the Tempe Police Department, Roy used her knowledge of ASU and Tempe to make connections that helped lead to the school receiving grant funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation for work on the Tempe Police Department’s body-worn camera program. Fast forward to 2016, and Roy became a sworn officer of the Tempe PD. Her nominator, Mike White, said, “Allyson epitomizes what it means to be a 21st-century cop: educated, mature, empathetic, data savvy, a strong communicator and an excellent problem solver”. You can look for Roy on the television show "Live PD presents: Women on Patrol."

Dr. Marie Griffin Distinguished Alumni Award

Presented to Detective Randall W. Snyder, Pinal County Sheriff's Office

For having made significant contributions to the advancement of criminology and criminal justice through distinguished leadership achievements as a practitioner in one of the justice professions.

This award is in memory of beloved School of Criminology and Criminal Justice professor Marie Griffin. This year’s recipient, Detective Randall Snyder (MA '14) of the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office criminal investigations bureau, internet crimes against children unit, was recognized for his significant contributions to the advancement of criminology and criminal justice through distinguished leadership achievements. Among other awards, Snyder has received a special commendation from the U.S. attorney general’s office. He has been directly responsible for the capture of domestic and international child exploitation offenders, rescuing many children from the hands of abusers. As noted by one of his former supervisors, “but for Snyder’s efforts these children would still be in the hands of their abusers.”

School Director Cassia Spohn noted, “As our program continues to mature, selecting from our pool of alumni nominations for these awards has become increasingly difficult. This is further testament to the fact that the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice continues to develop and train the most highly qualified graduates in the industry.”

Written by Nancy Johnson, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

'Connections are everything': 11th class graduates from ASU Lodestar Center's American Express Leadership Academy


May 22, 2019

Smiles on every face. Congratulations passed around left and right. Speakers saying they don’t want to speak for too long. Just another scene of another graduation in May.

Not quite. These students aren’t graduating from a school or a university. Class 11 stands in front of Heard Museum Class 11 graduated on May 10, 2019, at the Heard Museum. Download Full Image

On Friday, May 10, at the Heard Museum, 32 participants graduated from the American Express Leadership Academy at the ASU Lodestar Center. They are the program’s 11th class of emerging nonprofit leaders in the Phoenix metro area.

The participants spent almost 10 months together, meeting for monthly program days on leading and managing nonprofit organizations, working closely on their respective group projects outside of class, learning about themselves with the help of their classmates and executive coaches and bonding so closely that they say they’re nearly a family.

“This is a program for emerging leaders to be able to develop themselves as leaders, and I was looking for something like that,” said Claire Louge, one of the graduates of Class 11 and the training director for Prevent Child Abuse Arizona. “Not just about the logistics of managing a team or an organization, but the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills I wanted to develop.”

Jennifer Jenkin, another Class 11 graduate and the education manager for McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, said the academy helped her to realize many things about herself, such as her core values, how those are being implemented in her professional growth and her own leadership potential.

“Attending the academy made me realize how resilient I already was as a leader,” Jenkin said. “And that I wasn't necessarily leveraging my leadership skills to their full potential. (The academy has) helped me reflect a lot on who I am and what I bring to the table at an organization. It has helped me be able to recognize strengths and weaknesses in others in order to build highly effective teams.”

Launched in 2008 and originally called the Generation Next Nonprofit Leadership Academy, the Lodestar Center’s American Express Leadership Academy was expanded and renamed in 2014 thanks to additional funding from the American Express Foundation. The new grant allowed the academy to grow its class size to about 30 leaders, while adding programmatic offerings like 360-degree evaluations and one-on-one executive coaching. It’s a unique melding of professional and personal development in preparation for high-level leadership roles.

“This year’s class of academy graduates is exemplary as they have built their individual leadership skills while simultaneously unleashing the power of the network they have built throughout the year with their peers and with alumni from our prior classes,” said Robert Ashcraft, executive director of the ASU Lodestar Center and Saguaro Professor of Civic Enterprise in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions and its School of Community Resources and Development. "We are grateful for our more than decade-long partnership with the American Express Foundation, whose leaders realize the value of nurturing nonprofit leadership as a powerful community development strategy and who values the relationship to our center given our ability to deliver on mutually beneficial goals.”

What is leadership?

Sadhna Bokhiria, chief operating officer of Kapoor Foundations, was chosen by her classmates as the graduation speaker for Class 11. She said she learned what leadership is from the academy.

“True leadership is understanding that you're more similar than you are different. Leadership is understanding that everyone is human, and everybody has the same core needs,” Bokhiria said the day before the ceremony, sentiments she shared during her graduation speech. “True leadership is helping people grow."

More than a class

Louge said that, when she applied, she was also hoping to make connections with other emerging leaders through the academy, which is a key part of the collaborative cohort model it uses.

“In Arizona, connections are everything, connections are key to our success as nonprofits,” Louge said. “So the more connections that we can make, the better.”

But those networking connections were just the start, she said.

“There's a lot of love in our class,” Louge said. “We support each other, we will learn things and reflect together, we go to each other's events, whether they’re work events or personal events. The connections I've made are both professional and personal. We developed a sense of a work family within this team. I'm going to miss it so much.”

Bokhiria said that this program was the first time she didn’t feel like an outsider in all her years of education, from grade school through her doctorate.

“This is the first educational experience I've had, where it's like, every single person in the room wants you to do well, and they cheer for you and they support you,” Bokhiria said.

Kenneth Mims, the superintendent for Science Prep Academy, said the academy and this class will always mean a lot to him.

“It's a network of friends who are leaders doing good work. This is a cohort that I feel that I will stay in contact with for the rest of my life,” Mims said. “Also I feel that it will (lead to) opportunities to partner with other organizations and to help more people in the community and do great things for a lifetime.”

Jenkin said that her favorite part of the academy was the people she spent so much time with.

“The people in this program have been amazing and wonderful,” Jenkin said, adding that many of them spend their free time together and even started a book club. “We've really become almost — I know it's cliche to say a family, I don't want to say family — but we've become really close. A lot of us have made friendships that are going to last well beyond the program.”

Many impacts from one class

For Jenkin, the academy’s impact didn’t stop at her or her classmates. After each monthly program day, she immediately started sharing what she had learned with her colleagues at work.

Mims said the curriculum they learned was very helpful and practical for his organization, too.

“A lot of the curriculum, lot of the lessons, a lot of the strategies that we were learning in the class, I can apply immediately within the next week," he said. "I felt more confident because I had ... tools or strategies that I could use to deal with situations. It was just very empowering.”

Program days are led by a variety of speakers and practitioners, from established nonprofit leaders to professors to community leaders, with plenty of interaction as the group hones leadership skills and delves into critical issues facing the nonprofit sector.

“I think everybody has walked out feeling they better understand themselves,” Jenkin said. ”And that they better understand the role that they play in organizations, and how to successfully take their team to the next step and implement change.”

And that, she said, ultimately has a significant impact on the nonprofit sector in Arizona.

“Now you've got this cohort of capable, skilled, qualified, competent leaders who can take these organizations into the next step — to become more professional, to continue to move that needle and to continue to have a bigger impact on the clients that they serve,” Jenkin said.

Louge said she doesn’t know what the impact of Class 11 will be yet, but she feels they’ve already found the key to success as they continue their work in the sector.

“This program forges real and meaningful relationships between people of different nonprofits, so that in the future, we can call upon each other if we need something,” Louge said. “Relationships are everything.”

Written by Troy Hill, ASU Lodestar Center

 
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ASU grads make billion-dollar impact on Arizona economy

May 17, 2019

Sarah Phillips, a student at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, knew Arizona State University was home from the minute she stepped on campus. The criminal justice major graduated this May with a job offer already on the table, and she will continue to call Arizona home.

There were more than 238,000 ASU graduates working in Arizona in 2017, earning approximately $15 billion annually. Phillips is one of the thousands of ASU students graduating this May and contributing to the Arizona economy — spending, purchasing and paying taxes.

“I chose Arizona as home after graduation because I was able to get a great job after the internship with State Farm last summer,” she said. “I have also called Arizona home for the past four years, and I could not imagine a better place to begin my post-grad life.”

Educational attainment is strongly related to upward social mobility and a boost in earnings. Median weekly earnings were more than 60% higher for people with a bachelor's degree than those with a high school diploma. Additionally, the higher the level of education, the lower the unemployment rate.

ASU graduates employed in Arizona earned approximately $15 billion in 2017. Based on those earnings, individuals contributed between $1.065 billion and $1.217 billion in state and local government taxes, including between $613 million and $753 million in state government taxes.

Research suggests that having college graduates in the workforce increases productivity among all workers due to the sharing of knowledge and skills and from the shift to knowledge-based activities. These productivity gains translate into higher incomes and standards of living.

“When we graduate students and they work here, everyone’s wages go up as a result of these productive workers being here,” said Dennis Hoffman, ASU Office of the University Economist and L. William Seidman Research Institute director. “State revenue increases too.”

As an employer, ASU created an economic impact of $3.8 billion. All businesses generate jobs. ASU is unique in that creates jobs (at the university itself) and human capital — the university produces graduates, who then contribute to the state's economy.

According to a report from the L. William Seidman Research Institute at ASU, educational attainment is important to produce highly skilled, competitive individuals, key components of regional competitiveness. Regions competitive in the 21st-century economy are composed of competitive companies, which consist of competitive individuals. The more highly skilled the worker, the higher the worker’s productivity.

ASU has a diverse student body with different abilities, talents and skill sets that span across more than 800 degree programs, offering a large talent pool for Amazon, Intel Corporation, Make-A-Wish Arizona and State Farm Insurance, a few of ASU’s top employers.

Rich Ortiz, a State Farm college recruiter, said ASU’s innovative culture develops a rich talent pool that will help move State Farm forward. 

“ASU offers a diverse student population with regard to academic backgrounds and experiences,” he said. “This aligns with State Farm’s diverse workforce.”

Ortiz says he looks for students who have developed transferable skills through academics, internships and general work experience and who are in search of a career, not just a job. He looks for students who are willing to learn and those who enjoy helping people.

“State Farm is excited to find employees that match our internal culture. Giving back to the community is a major value of State Farm,” he said. “We’re known for doing good by our customers and our communities. It’s important for our employees to understand this type of culture and represent it with every interaction.”

He is in search of students like Phillips.

Phillips accepted a job offer at State Farm. She had an offer of employment before she even walked across the stage with her diploma in hand. Her goal? Get promoted to the special investigations unit, sharing that the company invests in its employees by providing opportunities to succeed and achieve their career goals.

“I am entering the workforce with a different mindset and a different set of goals than when I first came to ASU, thanks to my degree,” she said. “My degree gave me a new understanding of how the world works. My professors and my classes taught me to work hard to help others. I intend to work hard to help others throughout my career, wherever it may take me.”

ASU’s culture of social embeddedness and philanthropy also attracts nonprofit organizations.

Sawyer Kilen, volunteer manager at Make-A-Wish Arizona, says the organization provides children living with critical illnesses the opportunity to seize a dream, passion or goal in life — something they most desire, adding that a wish can be the turning point for a child, allowing them to see all the possibilities that life has to offer.

“One of the things I enjoy most about ASU students is the passion they have for success and making a difference in the world,” he said. “They come in with a passion to support our mission, a desire to learn and the work ethic to succeed in their role.”

Kilen says one of the reasons he looks to ASU for future interns is because of the diverse population at the university and the importance it places on bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds, knowing that diversity and inclusion provide a rich foundation for innovation, success and togetherness. 

When students are at ASU, they work alongside students from different counties and backgrounds. Students engage with others, learn from different perspectives and leave prepared to engage with individuals from all walks of life, wherever their career takes them. 

Native Arizonan Nicole Barrett graduated in 2015 from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She pursued a career with Make-A-Wish Arizona and landed a full-time position after graduation. Barrett loves everything about it — a career where she gets to engage with different families, children and life stories. 

“It means a lot to be part of an organization where everyone is so dedicated to our mission and we all play a part in fulfilling the wishes of children with critical illnesses,” she said. “The people I work with are some of the most dedicated and compassionate people I have ever met.”

Barrett, a digital marketing manager, writes content for the organization’s website and for its social media channels. Meeting wish kids and families, talking to them and having the opportunity to share their stories are her favorite parts of the job. Nearly four years later, she now oversees two marketing interns of her own. 

“The most valuable thing I learned in my years at Arizona State University was how to develop strong writing skills and work on deadline,” Barrett said. “I use these skills every day in my current job, and I think being a strong writer is an important skill for any job.”

When students graduate, they are prepared with the skills employers are looking for, making students not only marketable locally but also beyond the state. A vast majority, nearly 70%, of ASU graduates work in Arizona.

For others, they leave Arizona but are eager for the day when they can return to the community that they now call home. Robert Chandler, a recent computer science graduate from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, is one of those students.

Originally from Georgia, Chandler visited the Tempe campus and immediately fell in love with the environment and the atmosphere. Most attractive was the vast engineering opportunities available to him. It made ASU the obvious choice.

“From undergraduate research to student organizations and internship opportunities, I knew that I would be able to find my own path through my degree and beyond,” he said.

Chandler’s biggest takeaway was the interdisciplinary collaboration — working on teams with diverse backgrounds helped him understand the impact that a variety of perspectives brings to the table, adding that no problem exists in a vacuum from a larger system. It’s important to keep all aspects of that system in mind when developing a solution.

That wise insight was not missed by the Honeywell team, who Chandler said reached out to him through the online career portal Handshake, offered by ASU’s Career and Professional Development Services.

He is briefly departing the state and heading to Honeywell’s Atlanta software center as part of a rotational program.

”I still love the desert,” he exclaimed. “More importantly, Phoenix is really booming in terms of the tech industry. More and more companies are getting in on the great city and taking advantage of the talent coming from the nearby massive research university that also happens to be No. 1 in innovation. Though I will be in Atlanta immediately after graduation, I’ll be coming back to the Valley and I hope to stay here when the two-year program is finished.”

 
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Passion with a purpose

May 9, 2019

Forged by his foster childhood, Oxford scholar Frank Smith III wants to pave a better path for others through public service career

Frank Smith III arrived at Arizona State University knowing what he planned to be when he grew up.

“I joke with my friends that I wanted to be the next Ryan Seacrest,” says Smith, a Mesa, Arizona, native who was initially drawn to ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

That changed several months later, and so did the trajectory of Smith’s academic career.

A discussion with fellow students during Smith’s freshman year led to him testifying on behalf of an Arizona state bill to abolish tuition fees for former foster children. The bill passed, and the experience flipped a switch.

“When I had the opportunity to go down to the state Legislature, I saw that I enjoyed being in the policy discussions and really being a part of the change, as opposed to being on the outside,” Smith says. “I really wanted to be on the inside, where the action was.”

Now, public service is his passion, and it has taken the 2018 ASU graduate to the University of Oxford in England, where he is a Marshall Scholar studying for a Master of Philosophy degree in comparative social policy.

“It’s about doing everything I can to make my community better,” Smith says. “What’s going to improve the outcomes of the most disadvantaged members of society, and what can I do to help them out? It’s about putting the needs of the community above my own. How can I be a tool of change?”

Frank Smith III

Frank Smith III credits friends and mentors for helping him succeed and "start giving back to the community that has given so much to me." Photo by Aaron Kotowski 

The answer to those questions could be by making something factual of the fiction that was Frank Capra’s classic 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” starring Jimmy Stewart as a newly appointed U.S. senator who works tirelessly against corruption.

“A few professors from undergrad mentioned that before my internship in D.C.,” Smith says. “And even more people started saying that to me when I said I wanted to have a career on the Hill.”

Leaving behind ambitions of becoming a TV star, the real Mr. Smith went to Washington in 2016 as an intern on Capitol Hill in the education office of Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and worked with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

He also traveled to Mexico and Ghana for research and volunteer trips. He then paused for a semester to work on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign team in Michigan. When that finished, he returned to Arizona to work on David Garcia’s 2018 race for governor.

Smith has a plan for going back to Washington.

“I’d like to take what I learn back to Capitol Hill,” he says, “try to work my way up to be a senior policy adviser or a chief of staff in some way that I can utilize the knowledge that I’m gaining and to be an advocate of foster care reform.”

A foster child himself, Smith didn’t lack for motivation to take up his cause. By the age of 17 he had lived in 27 foster homes.

“Stability was definitely not part of my childhood,” Smith says. “Honestly, life was hard growing up. I spent most of my adolescence in extreme poverty, which typically results in untapped potential, a lifetime of closed doors and often insurmountable obstacles. Through the support of social services, scholarships, mentors and a considerable amount of determination, I have been able to start giving back to the community that has given so much to me.”

But far from a handicap, he sees his experience as the fuel for his fire in beating incredible odds — only 10% of former foster children reach university, and just 3% graduate. “Because of my upbringing, there’s one more advocate for foster care reform,” he says. “It’s really unlocked some of my potential.”

ASU provided scholarship support to help Smith unlock that potential. He entered the university as an Armstrong Scholar, an Obama Scholar, a Spirit of Service Scholar and a Nina Mason Pulliam Scholar. His help in passing Arizona’s Foster Care Tuition Waiver earned him the Truman and Marshall scholarships, the capstone of an accomplished academic career.

In his sophomore year, Smith was elected the youngest student body president ever at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus, and he was reelected for a second term. After focusing on public service in his studies, he graduated in 2018 with two bachelor’s degrees — in political science and public service/public policy with a concentration in business.

Now, Smith is expanding his worldview at Oxford, having learned that public policy shouldn’t be confined to border lines drawn on maps.

“What’s really interesting about the (philosophy) program is that it takes an international perspective to issues that are traditionally seen as domestic policies — health care, education, pensions, labor market policies,” Smith says. “It tries to look beyond the borders of one nation.”

Smith also wants people to look beyond negative stereotypes associated with the foster care system.

“When people hear about foster care, they think, ‘Oh, this child was a delinquent. They got involved with the criminal justice system,’” he says. “My past has not only instilled a sense of compassion and empathy within me at an early age, but has given me a firsthand view of the inequalities in America, which I would like to spend the rest of my life improving through a career in public service.”

Written by Telford Vice, a London-based journalist who has written for ESPN websites, Reuters News Agency and the Guardian newspaper, and also has broadcast for the BBC. Top photo by Darren Rees. This article originally appeared in the summer 2019 issue of ASU Thrive magazine. 

Golden grad reflects on dynamic career, journey back to ASU and what has changed in 50 years


May 6, 2019

Anniversaries are ways to mark milestones and reflect on the years and accomplishments that occur between them. A 50th anniversary is a particularly momentous occasion, one that has been long affiliated with the precious metal gold. This year, a faculty member in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions is celebrating his golden anniversary as an alumnus of Arizona State University.

From an eager undergrad to an adviser to some of the highest offices in local government, Geoffrey Gonsher, a professor of practice in ASU’s School of Public Affairs, has built an impressive resume over the last five decades. In 2010, he added his role as faculty to the list — a position he never pictured himself holding but now one he holds dear. Geoffrey Gonsher graduation photo from 50 yrs ago, wearing black cap and gown and thick, black rimmed glasses Geoffrey Gonsher's graduation photo from 1969.

We asked him to share a bit about his journey, his memories of ASU and his insights for today’s grads.

Question: When you left ASU 50 years ago, did you ever imagine you’d be back in this capacity?

Answer: No. Although I was confident of my knowledge about government and politics when I received my undergraduate and my graduate degrees in political science, I never viewed teaching as my career path. I saw myself as a public policy person working for elected officials and government agencies. It was after my friend Professor Martin Vanacour asked me to step in to replace a professor who dropped out of a course in 2010 that I gained the confidence and ability to plan and present academic and professional information on a regular basis to students. I am thankful for that opportunity and wish I had done it sooner.

Q: Where has your degree taken you since graduation day?

A: My degrees have taken me to the heights of public policy success and to the depths of political conflict. I have worked as a public policy adviser, cabinet member, agency executive and speechwriter for over 30 elected officials — 15 republicans and 15 democrats. I held executive management positions in the administrations of Arizona Governors Rose Mofford, Fife Symington, Jane Hull and Janet Napolitano and served on the staff of Phoenix Mayors Margaret Hance and Timothy Barrow. In addition, I was the head of several state agencies, including the Arizona Lottery, Department of Racing and Boxing, Corporation Commission, Governor’s Division of Workforce Development and the Department of Weights and Measures.

Geoffrey Gonsher wearing dark blue suit, with bluch graphic tie and glasses)

Geoffrey Gonsher 

Q: From your perspective, how has ASU changed over the last 50 years? 

A: It has both changed and remained the same. What is consistent is the passionate activism of students. During my undergraduate days, it was the civil rights movement, the anti-war period, the generation gap, the marijuana counterculture, the space race, the sexual revolution and the beginnings of the women’s movement. Today, students are actively involved in immigration issues, minority interests, LGBTQ rights, climate control, poverty, women’s equality and many other societal problems. The issues have changed, but the commitment and fervor are just as strong.   

What has changed is for the good. When I look at 58 pages of graduates in the 1969 annual, there are only about two dozen students of color, which was about .048% of the graduating class. Today, our multicultural university is a leader across the country in accepting, supporting and graduating students who represent every community and demographic in America. Good for ASU and Arizona!

Q:  What is one of your most memorable ASU experiences — from now or when you attended?

A: Graduation night when I saw my father cry. He had come from a difficult home environment on the streets of New York, through World War II, as an undereducated worker in the fields outside Phoenix, to a factory worker who raised his sons to be good men with a strong work ethic to do more and better than he had accomplished in his life. It always reminds me to do what I can for my students as my father did for me.

Q: What advice would you give to students graduating in 2019?

A: My advice is not to focus on your salary, your title or your job in your career. Just do your work. People will notice and respect that. Do not spend time plotting your next promotion, raise or job. If you are conscientious, dedicated, thorough and fair in all your professional dealings, people will recognize your talent and your value. The promotions and raises will happen when you least expect them and more often than if you were to plan them out. Before you know it, you will be the person in charge and making these decisions for others.

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

602-496-0130

On the border, grad hopes to make a difference in immigration policy


May 5, 2019

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

Joanna Williams didn’t travel lightly on her purposeful journey to earning a master’s degree in public policy, and she’s leaving Arizona State University with more than a diploma. The director of education and advocacy at the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) said she now has greater means to promote policies that respect the rights and dignity of migrants. Joanna Williams (light complexion, dark brown hair, wearing teal embroidered blouse and teal dangle earrings) smiles in front of Downtown Phoenix campus Joanna Williams, who is building a national reputation for her scholarship and fieldwork on migration, is the spring 2019 outstanding graduate for the School of Public Affairs in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Photo by Alexis Bojorquez Download Full Image

“I’ve seen through my master’s all the tools and best practices and other dimensions I think we can apply to our advocacy,” Williams said. “I’m really excited to implement that at KBI.”

Williams, who is building a national reputation for her scholarship and fieldwork on migration, is the spring 2019 outstanding graduate for the School of Public Affairs in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

KBI is a binational organization on the U.S.-Mexico border that serves deported migrants and asylum seekers through humanitarian aid, education, research and advocacy. Williams, who has practiced empathy for migrants since her childhood days in Denver, joined the staff in 2015. She has gotten to know people at different stages in their journey both in the United States as well as at the border.

“I care really deeply about them as friends and neighbors and brothers and sisters,” she said.

Williams first arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border by way of Georgetown University, where she first learned about the Kino Border Initiative as an undergraduate student in 2010. Georgetown sponsored her on a weeklong KBI immersion program.

She went to Georgetown with thoughts of becoming an immigration lawyer. But a career at the border held more appeal than a career in a Washington, D.C., office. She said a mentor told her there was nothing wrong with going to the border and loving people there. Her career focus shifted from becoming a lawyer who upholds laws to a position with an opportunity to influence the making of policy and laws.

For Williams, to spend time doing something other than concentrate on her work at KBI, ASU had to offer something special, and it did. She said she leaves the program with a better understanding of policy analysis and the political calculations in developing policy alternatives. That’s especially helpful on a subject as intense as immigration, she said.



Williams brought to the master’s program her life experiences of growing up in Denver attending school with children of immigrants from Mexico, coming of age as a high school volunteer teaching English to refugees and several years of scholarly work on immigration issues in Mexico and Central America, including stints as a Truman and Fulbright scholar. At ASU, she was a Barrett Endowed Scholarship recipient.

Completing course credits for her master’s degree involved at least 150 hours commuting to Phoenix from her home in Tucson and her work in Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. There was also the challenge of balancing a demanding job with the commitments of graduate study. The past two years have been exhausting, but she said appreciates the dialectic between the intensity of her work and school, where she had time to “reflect and think more deeply.”

In graduate school, she continued her history of producing results from solid research. She was part of an independent study that developed orientation materials in a train-the-trainer model, which helps information about asylum reach people while they are still in Central America. The initiative provides the information before potential migrants invest significant financial resources and puts their lives in danger to reach the border.

Williams said she also enjoyed global development courses that informed her thinking about bigger-picture issues surrounding the movement of people.

“I believe that global development, especially from the perspective of business and sustainable industries, is critical to addressing the root causes of migration,” Williams said. “In a similar vein, scientific research in areas of sustainability and climate change is an important piece of addressing these challenges.”

Earning her master’s degree may conclude Williams’ robust research career. Her focus now is on carrying out the vision of KBI. While that, no doubt, will require additional research, Williams says she now sees herself in different roles.

“Maybe I’m not a researcher who’s carrying out the whole project, but I can set some of those visions and manage a bit of the research,” Williams said. “I think there’s a lot that we don’t know, and that information can help us better understand the implications of policy, better understand the options for support.”

Earning her master’s degree to advance her life’s work also is in keeping with Williams’ personal quest to be “grounded by the commitment to be humbly growing in love.”

“People throw out the word 'love' a lot, in a casual sense,” Williams said. “What I’ve really come to understand is the commitment and responsibility that comes with love. Love is much more than an emotion. It’s a dedication to somebody’s well-being. I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like.”

Story by Jennifer Dokes

Criminal justice grad's research on trouble spots in policing gives her hope


May 5, 2019

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

Katharine Leigh Brown loves and values the criminal justice system. She even entertained thoughts of becoming a police officer. Katharine (with brown hair and white floral blouse) stands in front of ASU Downtown campus “I have a really big passion for policing and helping the policing system,” Katharine Brown said. “As much as I love and value the system, [there are] injustices with marginalized communities, particularly the poor and the homeless. I just want to contribute and help make it better if I can.” Photo by Alexis Bojorquez Download Full Image

But Brown’s love is not blind and unquestioning. She is acutely aware of policing issues, particularly with regards to marginalized people, that need attention for the sake of police officers and the communities they serve.

“There are practices in policing I see that could use changes, and as of now we don’t have clear answers to what the best changes are,” said Brown of Palmdale, California.

Brown is on the case. She wants her research on fairness and police-citizen interaction to unlock mysteries of how and why the criminal justice system does what it does and how to make that system better for everyone.

“I have a really big passion for policing and helping the policing system,” Brown said. “As much as I love and value the system, [there are] injustices with marginalized communities, particularly the poor and the homeless. I just want to contribute and help make it better if I can.”

Brown is the spring 2019 outstanding graduate for the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

While an undergraduate student studying sociology at the University of California-San Diego, Brown worked as a first responder, a civilian position, in the university police department. She thought she was on a path to become a police officer but decided to add another possible alternative by applying for a spot in the criminal justice master’s program at Arizona State University.

At ASU, she learned she loves research, and her professional interests switched from the academy to academia. Her plans now are to be a career researcher instead of a career police officer.

“What threw me into the research side is realizing there are so many questions that I want answered, and there are so many ways I want to help police departments and officers,” Brown said. “I really think I can have a lot of opportunities to do so as a researcher.”

Brown, a first-generation college graduate, is a scholar of procedural justice. As a graduate research assistant, she worked with Assistant Professor Cody Telep in evaluating efforts by a police department in California to better approach the homeless.

Her master’s thesis research on the influence of officer gender grew from her push for valuing women and their role in the criminal justice system. She will present her research at the American Society of Criminology's annual meeting this November.

“Women are awesome,” Brown said. “They are undervalued. We need to do more research on them because they are amazing.”

While pursuing her doctoral degree at ASU, Brown will continue looking at criminology and the criminal justice system with an emphasis on fairness and process with marginalized communities. Her research will focus on evidence-based policing and procedural justice in a quest to create effective and fair policies that improve relationships between police and communities and implement tactics that make officers safer.

She expects her future research could go in many directions. For example, her interests in gender and crime could lead to an investigation of how things like access to health care for marginalized and poor women may contribute to disparate outcomes in the criminal justice system.

Brown’s research to date on trouble spots in policing gives her hope.

“When you study marginalized populations, when you hear about frequently or see frequently how marginalized populations have had bad interactions with the criminal justice system, it’s disheartening,” Brown said.

“Seeing my fellow students and the professors doing such important work, I think it made me more positive in that I feel like we can help as a population. There’s more we can do and that people are already doing. It’s going to take work and it’s going to take time, but there are things being done.”

Story by Jennifer Dokes

 
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Schools, communities tackling food insecurity but policy changes needed, experts say

ASU forum highlights complex issue of improving family diets in South Phoenix.
May 3, 2019

ASU forum on family nutrition in South Phoenix highlights complex issue

Improving the quality of food for families in South Phoenix will likely require many changes, ranging from policy updates at the federal level to a stronger focus on culture at the family level, according to a group of experts who tackled the issue last week.

“Feeding Families” was a panel discussion sponsored by the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center at Arizona State University, which held the event at the Verna McClain Wellness Center in South Phoenix.

The Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center has federal funding to study health disparities and how research can be applied to directly help communities, according to James Herbert Williams, interim executive director of the center, which is part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“One thing we work at very hard is trying to understand what a community needs to address — and to be empowered to solve — problems,” said Williams, who is the Arizona Centennial Professor of Social Welfare Services. “We decided to come to South Phoenix so we can hear from you.”

Here’s what the experts said about food insecurity and nutrition:

Working with families

Sonia Vega-López, associate professor of nutrition, College of Health Solutions, ASU: I’ve been focusing on Hispanic families and how to promote healthy eating for prevention of chronic diseases, specifically on how to change behavior. A lot of people say, “You need to educate,” but we know that’s not enough to make people make better choices on what to buy, cook and eat. 

Our approach in recent years has been to focus on families, not individuals, and to look at factors to motivate people to change not only for themselves, but for other members of their families.

Lawrence Robinson, president of the governing board of the Roosevelt School District, described programs in his schools that include gardening, cooking and nutrition at the "Feeding Families" forum on Thursday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

 

The pleasure of eating

Vega-López: I’ve been thinking about diet quality, not just food insecurity. We’ve been very good at getting the public very confused about what we shouldn’t eat. We’re starting to talk about whole foods and utilizing foods from farms and preparing more meals from scratch. We’re using simpler messages and focusing on the pleasure of food.

Lawrence Robinson, director of Leadership for Educational Equity and governing board president of the Roosevelt School District: We shouldn’t talk about food without saying that it’s delicious and people enjoy it. With food comes culture. At Lassen Elementary School, we gave the students a task to take one ingredient and go home and talk to their families about it. By the end of the project, they learned not only how to grow and cook and consume that ingredient but how it related to their families.

Then we had a dinner with all that produce. We shared the dinner together, and the kids shared their stories. People came together and were fed. They learned responsibility. And all of that made them healthier. If you cook it, they will come and hopefully it will transform the academic outcomes in our district.

Food and culture

Vega-López: We forget that traditional foods include a lot of healthy foods. A traditional Mexican diet is not what you see on the list of items at a Mexican restaurant. They eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and fish.

We can tell people that those are the foods they already know how to cook and they don’t need to invent new meals. They need to go back to their roots.

Robinson: This area is now a food desert, but I remember as a kid picking collard greens, with miles of fresh produce tended by African American families. You have the neighborhood that had the fresh food that now has obesity and diabetes and is deemed a food desert.

It’s now the policy of land use to wipe out the healthy, safe neighborhood culture that was just here a minute ago.

Shifting the conversation

John Wann-Ángeles, founding director of the Orchard Community Learning Center, a farm and educational organization based in South Phoenix: I’ve read about the "100 things we can do to reverse global warming." A plant-rich diet is No. 4 on the list, and we know a plant-based diet is the only one proven to reverse heart disease.

Why aren’t these questions at the center of school curriculum, not as add-ons? If this were the center of curriculum, a generation could change this conversation.

Federal policy effects

Angie Rodgers, president and CEO of the Association of Arizona Food Banks, which serves 450,000 people per month: We have to recognize the role of the federal government. SNAPThe Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a federal program that provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families. feeds more than a million families but the benefits are so low, about $230 a month, that your choices are based on your pocketbook and not on what’s appropriate.

There are constant discussions about who should be able to buy what types of food, but until they raise the amount that allows it to be a true choice, we shouldn’t have conversations about restricting SNAP choices.

If you go into our food banks now you’ll find the result of the trade war — food the growers were unable to sell to governments like China, which includes pork and a significant amount of all dairy products. We’re thankful for the food. But we’ve received 24 million pounds of pork and dairy in the last eight months, and now you’ve changed the expectations and the palate of the clientele. Could we do that with fresh fruits and vegetables? We absolutely could.

Linda Rider, director of nutrition services at Tempe Elementary School District: The policy changed about 10 years ago to require more whole-grain foods. The current administration has taken a step back, and that’s frustrating because we work hard to make sure we have the right foods. We had that extra 6 cents in reimbursements for healthy foods, and when you take a step back, it will allow them to take back that reimbursement.

Feeding children in school

Rider: We’re in the process of putting salad bars in the serving line because of research we did with ASU. One of their great findings was that when you put salad bars in the serving line versus outside the line, kids will take more fruits and vegetables and actually eat them. When it’s outside the line, they already have their food and are too interested in talking to their friends.

Robinson: Getting farm to table is extremely hard for schools. You have to certify all the health and safety processes. And we’re required to accept the lowest bidder so we can’t buy locally sourced food if it’s not the lowest bid.

Top image: Sonia Vega-López, associate professor of nutrition in the College of Health Solutions at ASU, makes a point at the "Feeding Families" forum held by the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center in South Phoenix on May 2. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503

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