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ASU workshop showcases the challenges for those newly released from prison

ASU workshop simulates challenges of people who leave prison to rejoin society.
April 10, 2019

Simulation participants navigate probation, rent, transportation as they reenter society

Shawn served three years in prison for burglary, then walked out to face a dizzying array of requirements he had to fulfill with almost no help and no money. He had to pay for drug testing and probation but wouldn’t get his disability check for another week, and his landlord was demanding a $50 deposit right away.

“Shawn” was one of the characters in a role-playing scenario held Tuesday by the Center for Child Well Being at Arizona State University. About 100 people participated in the “reentry simulation,” each assuming the identity of someone who was recently released from prison. The participants included students, staff, faculty and community members, each of whom received a packet describing their character’s prison record, living and employment situations and everything he or she needed to accomplish every week to avoid being sent back to jail: look for a job, undergo drug testing, pay restitution, pay rent, pay child support, buy food, attend Alcoholics Anonymous.

The simulation was put on by the U.S. attorney’s office and was based on input from real people who have been released from prison. The goal is to demonstrate what it’s like for men and women to make their way through the system.

“We release people back into their communities every day, and with very little instruction,” said Tasha Aikens, a reentry specialist for the U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona, who runs the simulation for any group that requests it.

The simulation was divided into 15-minute segments, each representing one week. The room had 15 stations, representing the obligations of a returning citizen — probation, social services, bank, landlord, etc. Every participant had several tasks to complete each week.

The responsibilities were confusing and overwhelming. Every obligation required a bus pass. Even bus passes could not be purchased without handing over a bus pass.

The first week, Shawn, one of the lucky ones who left prison with $20, was able to purchase the all-important state ID card for $15, then sell his plasma for $25 to pay his $30 probation fee. He went to the “court,” handed over a bus pass and was told he needed to cash his plasma check before paying the fee. So he used another bus pass to go to the bank and cash the check and then another bus pass to finally pay the fee.

The second week was more stressful. Shawn had to wait in the church line to borrow a bus pass, which he used to buy more bus passes, then go back to the church to repay the bus pass before going to collect his disability check.

The simulation included real-life scenarios. Everyone who took a drug test had to pull a card from a deck to tell them whether it was “clean” or not. Every week, the participants received a card with an unplanned situation — like Shawn’s landlord discovering that he had a dog and needed to pay a $50 deposit.

In the third week, Shawn was waiting in line to pay his rent when the sheriff came by, saw that Shawn had not completed his second-week drug testing and sent him back to jail.

In the guided discussion after the simulation, many of the participants described how out of control they felt.

“A lot of it is pretty demeaning,” said Anthony Evans, a senior researcher for the L. William Seidman Research Institute in the W. P. Carey School of Business. The institute is working with Televerde, a call center operator that has been a leader in employing prisoners and people who have left prison. Evans said he decided to experience the simulation to gain insight into what Televerde’s workforce is facing.

“People in positions of authority should be encouraged to attend one of these,” he said.

The process was eye-opening even for practitioners. Molly Hahn-Floyd, a doctoral student at Northern Arizona University who works in adolescent behavioral health, said that during the simulation, she didn’t go to the church or social services or any other place that offered help.

“And I don’t know how many times I’ve preached to people, ‘Ask for help,’” she said.

Jan Wethers, reentry coordinator for the Arizona Department of Corrections, portrayed the mean pawn shop owner, who gave Shawn $10 for a $50 CD player.

“Take the bus sometime,” she told the practitioners. “See what it’s like when it’s hot and you have kids in tow and grocery bags.”

Empathy is critical, but so is responsibility, she said.

“You must hold them accountable. That is very, very important,” she said.

Many participants described how returning to jail felt inevitable — and almost a relief.

“If you’re released to a community and your family wants nothing to do with you and you have no job and no home and you have all these obligations, it makes sense to go back,” Aikens said. “They know your name in jail. You have food in jail. I get it.”

For a person who’s newly released, thinking about returning to prison can be a “comfort zone,” according to Theron Denman Jr., who left prison a year ago. He volunteered at the simulation “treatment” table and addressed the participants during the discussion.

“I was scared to drive, I was scared of the police, I was scared of technology,” he said. “If I hadn’t had the support of my family over this past year, I would’ve wanted to go back.

“But that’s not my comfort zone anymore. Volunteering here today is a beautiful thing.”

In the fourth week, Shawn got out of jail, bought bus passes, got food, completed weekly treatment, paid for a drug test and checked in with his vocational rehabilitation case worker. All the boxes were checked.

But it didn’t matter. While he was in jail during Week 3, he missed paying rent. Shawn was homeless.

The reentry simulation was a kickoff to the National Children of Incarcerated Parents Conference to be held next week by the Center for Child Well Being, part of the School of Social Work. The conference will include some events that are open to the public. On Sunday, the opening reception will feature photographer Isadora Kosofsky, who documents prison visitations between parents and children. Additionally, Denali Tiller, director of “Tre |Maison |Dasan” will screen her film and discuss the three young boys featured. On Tuesday, Rudy Valdez, director of HBO's “The Sentence,” will screen his documentary and discuss the effects of incarceration on his nieces. A panel discussion will follow, featuring people who have been affected by incarceration.

Top image: Tasha Aikens, a reentry specialist with the U.S. attorney's office, led a "reentry simulation" Tuesday at the Westward Ho in downtown Phoenix. About 100 students, staff, faculty and community members participated in the workshop, in which they took on the persona of someone who recently left prison and had to navigate all the tasks necessary to avoid being sent back to jail, such as getting a job, being drug tested and paying rent. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Looking at sports as a microcosm of racial, gender disparities in society

ASU summit looks at racism, sexism issues in society through the lens of sport.
March 30, 2019

ASU Global Sport Institute's second summit draws experts to examine inclusion and diversity in college and pro leagues

Sports is a microcosm of the racial and gender issues facing society, and it often serves as the vehicle for change, according to several experts who spoke at the second Global Sport Summit held by the Global Sport Institute at Arizona State University on Thursday and Friday.

Kenneth Shropshire, CEO of the Global Sport Institute, said that Americans last year marked the 50th anniversary of the 1968 Olympics, when black athletes protested racism, as well as this year commemorating 400 years since the first African slave was brought to America.

“We’re thinking about how important this is, and also it’s a time to think about the progress that’s been made — or not — in that time,” he said.

The summit, which focused on topics of race and inclusion in sport, was sponsored by the Global Sport Institute as well as the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, the W. P. Carey School of Business, the School of Community Resources and Development, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. The event was held in downtown Phoenix.

The summit gathered experts from different areas of the world of sports, where several panels addressed racism, sexism and the role of sports in helping refugees, veterans and people with disabilities, as well as how to achieve a career in sports. Here is some of what the speakers had to say:

Sports leagues are profiting from black athletes, who could be leveraging their positions.

Bill Rhoden, former columnist for the New York Times and writer-at-large for ESPN’s “The Undefeated,” said that although black people make up a majority of the athletes in some sports, they are underrepresented among those in power — the management and journalists.

“I’ve been to countless Super Bowls and national championships, and when we go through the tunnels, black folks are not in the spaces of event production and event management,” he said at the morning keynote address. “When you get closer to the field you see the black guys running and jumping, but farther away from the court or the field, we’re not there.”

To address this, ESPN established the Rhoden Fellows, two-year paid journalism internships for students from historically black colleges and universities, who cover race, class and culture for “The Undefeated.”

“When you’re sitting in a room and there’s no black people or women there, you know you’re sitting in the wrong space,” said Rhoden, author of “Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete.”

Rhoden said that star college recruits like Zion Williamson, the Duke University basketball player who is widely expected to become the top pick in the NBA draft, should be making more demands, such as asking Duke to help other black students.

“Zion knows he’s only going to be in school for eight months at best, but there’s probably a deserving young black person in his community with the scores to go to Duke,” Rhoden said.

“Leverage is nothing without strategy and courage. It’s still a slave mentality of not looking white people in the eye,” he said. “If a top-10 kid threatened to walk away, all of a sudden things could happen.”

Race, gender and socioeconomic dynamics are a huge influence on college sports.

Amira Rose Davis, an assistant professor of history, and women's, gender and sexuality studies at Penn State University, said that Title IX is considered to be transformative legislation in women’s sports, and it has increased scholarships and participation for females.

“When Title IX was enacted, coaches of women’s teams were 95% women and now it’s less than 50%,” said Davis, who hosts the “Burn It All Down” podcast and spoke at a panel titled, “Race, Gender and Inclusion in College Sports.”

“There’s disproportionate representation of black women in track and basketball, and in the sports that are growing the fastest — field hockey, golf and tennis — black women make up less than 3%.

“We’ve grown sports but haven’t grown diversity, and we’ve invested in sports that are disproportionately more accessible to middle-class people, like soccer, where you have to play at the club level.”

Jean Boyd, executive senior associate athletic director at ASU, said: “The people with the highest salaries are almost exclusively white male coaches, juxtaposed with the overrepresentation of black male athletes.

“The most overrepresented but the most underachieving population of student-athletes are African American males.”

Boyd said Sun Devil Athletics differs from the typical narrative because there are black people in positions of power, including the athletic director, the head football coach and several other coaches.

Davis said sports can be a driver for social change and that she sees some college athletes leveraging their power. She mentioned the University of Missouri football team, which in 2015 brought attention to long-standing issues of racism on campus by threatening to not play a game.

“Within 24 hours, people were fired,” she said.

“Sports is a connector, and you can talk about hard issues that otherwise people won’t want to talk about,” she said.

Producing real change is complicated.

A panel titled “Policies Driving Progress in Sport and Beyond” tackled the issue of whether change should be mandated, like the Rooney RuleThe Rooney Rule is a National Football League policy started in 2003 requires teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching jobs..

Vince Pierson, director of diversity and inclusion for Minor League Baseball, said that the biggest challenge is changing the culture.

“We can insert policies that may create an immediate change, but how do we make it part of our culture and have a true understanding and empathy behind what we’re doing?” he said.

“I always appreciated the intentionality of the Rooney Rule. It’s in place and be revisited and revised. You can’t legislate change to culture, but you can legislate change to behavior and that’s what the Rooney Rule tries to do.”

Pierson said that in Minor League Baseball, there are no mandates, so he must come up with incentives.

“That makes us think about how we’ll genuinely connect. We have a lot of programs to influence our pipeline — we get onto college campuses, we visit with first-generation college students,” he said.

“You have to create rewards. If you have some kind of pat on the back, everybody wants it.”

Mike Haynes, a former football player for ASU and the NFL, said that change must be organic.

“If I’m an NFL owner, I’m going to hire someone I’m comfortable with, and the challenge with the Rooney Rule is you’re hiring someone you don’t know or trust because of this requirement,” said Haynes, who is in the NFL Hall of Fame and used to work with the NFL.

“When I was with the NFL, I wasn’t in favor of it, but it was better than nothing.”

Black athletes face enormous hostility.

USC Professor  speaks onstage at the Global Sport Summit

Todd Boyd

Todd Boyd, a professor at the University of Southern California, said there’s a double standard when it comes to wrongdoing.

“If an athlete is accused of doing something wrong, it’s a huge story and the underlying component is, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ Lurking beneath the surface is this narrative of black athletes run amok,” said Boyd, who holds the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture at USC.

“Hollywood is a community of movie stars and musical artists, and all the same sorts of things that people associate with athletes goes on in these spaces but I don’t know of anyone holding them to the same level of contempt,” he said.

Black athletes are faced with losing everything if they speak out.

Howard Bryant, a writer for ESPN and NPR, is the author of “The Heritage: Black Athletes, a Divided America, and the Politics of Patriotism.”

“I make the argument that in a lot of what is being sold in the American sport milieu is that being black is the worst thing in the world,” he said. “Look what happens to any black athlete who advocates — they take everything.”

Author, writer and commentator  speaks onstage at the Global Sport Summit

Howard Bryant

Bryant said the intertwining of sports and patriotism after 9/11 has heightened racism in sports.

“You’re watching the government use sports as a recruiting tool under the guise of patriotism,” he said. “It’s not patriotism, it’s commerce. You’re selling patriotism at a sporting event at a time when you’re telling black athletes they can’t speak.

“You’re criminalizing the most patriotic thing you could do in this country, which is to speak.”

The pressure isn’t just on the athletes. Pierson, the diversity and inclusion director for Minor League Baseball, said he feels that anxiety as well.

“I sit in boardrooms where I hear statements I should challenge,” he said. “There could be a sacrificial moment in my career where the change I look to create I never get to experience.”

The summit also included a screening of the film, “Through the Banks of the Red Cedar,” as well a showcase of Global Sport Institute research and a pitch competition for entrepreneurs.

The Global Sport Venture Challenge included seven competitors. The winner was Force Impact Technologies, whose CEO is Bob Merriman, who earned his bachelor’s and MBA degrees from ASU. Merriman invented a device called the FITGuard, a mouthpiece worn by athletes that measures the force of an impact and can detect a possible concussion. The mouth guard measures the hit and turns different colors depending on the severity of impact, sending data to a phone app.

Merriman said the device will have a huge potential market in youth and college sports.

“We understand the mindset of the player who wants to be on the field, and we also understand the mindset of the parents,” said Merriman, who won $10,000 and a mentoring trip to the headquarters of adidas in Portland, Oregon.

Top photo: Ken Shropshire (left), CEO of the Global Sport Institute at ASU, holds a keynote discussion with USC Professor Todd Boyd at the Global Sports Summit on Friday in downtown Phoenix. Boyd is an expert on race in pop culture, especially sports and film. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Displaced populations can cultivate hope, social work experts find

Displacement leaves refugees under constant stress, researcher tells ASU crowd.
March 22, 2019

Refugees, incarcerated people find ways to be resilient, researchers say at Roatch-Haskell Lectures

Displaced and powerless, refugees and incarcerated people both struggle with the concept of hope, according to two social work experts who have researched the resilience of these populations.

“Human beings are incredible entities if they are given the chance,” said Alex Polgar, an author and researcher of correctional services in Canada.

Hope is defined as positive expectations for the future, said Polgar, who spoke as part of the annual Roatch-Haskell Lectures, held Friday in Phoenix. The two lectures addressed how social work practitioners — and the community — can help refugees and formerly incarcerated people. The speakers were Polgar, who was the Haskell speaker, and Bree Akesson, an associate professor of social work at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, who was the Roatch lecturer. The event was presented by the School of Social Work at Arizona State University.

For both incarcerated people and refugees, it all comes down to environment, Polgar said.

“Why did this happen? If we create environments that are questionable in our communities and our society, if they do not produce the results we want, why can’t we create an alternative environment?” he said.

Alex Polgar, a researcher and consultant on incarceration, gave the Haskell lecture at the University Club in Phoenix on Friday. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Polgar has researched cognitive development and emotional intelligence and found that almost all offenders had endured adverse environments, relationship trauma and failed attachment. He said it’s a misnomer to say that people released from prison will be “re-entered” into a community because most of them were never assimilated to begin with.

“They felt alienated. Many could only conceptualize hope as hoping to be alive tomorrow,” he said. “Their life skills, which became known as ‘emotional intelligence,’ were basic survival.”

Programs to develop cognitive skills and emotional intelligence helped prisoners to develop hope, Polgar said.

“We changed the environment and we measured everything,” he said. “As their cognitive development perspective improved, their emotional intelligence improved and their behavior improved.

“They began to understand that there were different ways of hoping than just survival.”

But programs to develop those skills in prisoners take time and money, and are unpopular when the public attitude is to punish rather than habilitate, according to John Hepburn, a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU, who discussed the Arizona perspective after Polgar’s talk.

“Our sole technique is ‘punishment will deter.’ And if a little doesn’t work, we’ll give you more,” said Hepburn, who has researched prisoner re-entry. But that doesn’t help recidivism rates, which are more than 60 percent for male prisoners in Arizona, he said.

He also cited Arizona’s reliance on private prisons as a factor.

“Private prison services are not being held accountable for recidivism,” he said. “If you’re running a private prison, you want them coming back because it’s profit.”

Akesson discussed her extensive research in Lebanon with Syrian refugee families, who always had to balance their hopes to return home with the reality that they might not.

Civil war that started in 2011 has displaced millions of Syrians, and about a million have fled to Lebanon, where they live in informal camps on farms or in overcrowded apartments in Beirut. The Lebanese government doesn’t recognize the refugees or provide services, so the families live in constant fear of being arrested.

“The moms and children are working. Men aren’t working because they’re afraid of being arrested,” she said. “Men are targeted by security forces and asked to show IDs they don’t have, so that is changing family dynamics.”

Akesson and her research team spent time with 46 Syrian families, doing extensive interviews with every family member, having the children draw pictures, going on tours of their neighborhoods with them and asking them to wear activity-logging devices and fill out daily diaries. Then they made “mobility maps,” and went back to interview the families again.

They found that the families live in constant stress.

“It was the idea of precarity — underemployment, food insecurity. Parents feel inadequate for not being able to provide for their children,” she said.

“That leads to restricted mobility. Families don’t go outside because they’re afraid their children will ask for things, like ice cream or a trip to the beach. That was surprising and heartbreaking.”

Arizona has accepted some Syrian refugees, according to Juliana Davis, the state refugee health coordinator at the Arizona Department of Economic Security, who gave the local perspective.

The number peaked in 2016, when 800 Syrian refugees were resettled in Arizona, but after the Paris attacks that year, the vetting process was changed, and this year only five Syrians were accepted here, she said.

Akesson said that despite the hardships, the refugees she met were resilient, finding a way to earn a living and send their children to school.

“We always ended the interviews by talking about dreams for the future,” she said. One 10-year-old boy said: “I dream of going back to Syria and going back to school.”

The John F. Roatch Global Lecture Series on Social Policy and Practice was established by John and Mary Roatch. The Linda Haskell Memorial Master Class was established by Rose and William Haskell to honor the memory of their daughter, Linda Haskell, a social worker who was killed by a drunk driver in 1992.

Top photo: Bree Akesson, an associate professor of social work at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, describes her research with Syrian refugees in Lebanon during the Roatch-Haskell Lectures at the University Club in Phoenix on Friday. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU works inside prisons, out in community on incarceration solutions

ASU initiatives work inside prisons, with families on incarceration solutions.
March 21, 2019

Initiatives on re-entry and reform include students, inmates and the public

Momentum is beginning to shift toward addressing the effects of mass incarceration, and Arizona State University has several initiatives to address the growing concern over the fate of people in prison, how it affects their families and what happens when they rejoin society.

The programs in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions work inside the prisons and in the community and involve undergraduates, grad students and the public:

• ASU undergraduates are invited to apply for the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, in which students will visit Perryville Prison once a week for a semester to learn about crime and justice alongside women who are incarcerated there. The deadline to apply is April 5.

• Members of the public can gain insight from a simulation workshop on April 9 in which they’ll experience what it’s like to navigate life after being released from prison.

• Researchers and practitioners will gather for the four-day National Children of Incarcerated Parents Conference held by the Center for Child Well-Being next month to discuss best practices and hear from experts.

Nationwide, about 2.2 million people were incarcerated as of December 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, while about an additional 4.5 million people were under supervision, either probation or parole. That means that about 1 in 38 adults, or 2.6 percent of people age 18 or older in the United States, were under some form of correctional supervision at year-end 2016. Despite declining crime rates and sentencing changes, which led to a decrease in the number of imprisoned people over the previous decade, the United States still has the highest rate of incarceration in the world — at 655 inmates per 100,000 people, according to the World Prison Brief.

When people leave incarceration, they often fall into what is called “the second prison” of poverty and homelessness. Formerly incarcerated people are unemployed at a rate of more than 27 percent — higher than the unemployment rate during the Great Depression, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

But several bipartisan efforts are underway to address the effects of mass incarceration. In December, President Donald Trump signed the First Step Act, a bill to repeal some of the harsh sentencing measures passed decades ago. In Arizona, a poll by a bipartisan lobbying group found that 80 percent of those surveyed felt it was important to reduce the number of people in prison, although several bills on the issue died in the Legislature.

About 95 percent of incarcerated people eventually will leave prison, so focusing on their outcomes is critical, according to Kevin Wright, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

"Our ASU students are changing the mindset of people who have had years of experience with criminal justice that is negative and now they see a more promising future.”
— Kevin Wright, ASU associate professor

Wright is the director of the Center for Correctional Solutions, a year-old unit devoted to research, education and community outreach. The center houses the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which has been offered since 2016 but will be at Perryville for the first time next fall. That’s important because work with men in prison is not necessarily translatable to women in prison, Wright said.

“We can’t say all the results we come up with will tidily work with women. There’s good reasons to think that’s not the case,” he said.

“Women who are incarcerated often have different histories — often there’s more abuse, victimization, addiction and financial dependence, and children play a role.”

The Inside-Out class will include 10 undergraduate ASU students, who will take a van once a week to Perryville to meet with 10 women who are incarcerated there. Together, they’ll study motivational justice. There are no prerequisites, but the undergraduates will be interviewed before being accepted. The past few classes have included students from a variety of majors, which has enriched the experience, Wright said.

"In the last class we had students from business, finance and global studies. The perspectives they brought are what we need to come up with innovative solutions,” he said.

RELATED: Barrett, The Honors College Inside-Out program focuses on toxic masculinity and fostering positive change

Prospective students at Perryville must have a high school equivalency diploma and no misconduct points.

“One of the things everyone loves is that we don’t read criminology and justice — we read organization systems and social psychology, what makes a good team and what inspires people,” he said. “We take all that general knowledge developed elsewhere and apply it to criminal justice and our approach to rehabilitating people.”

Last year, an ASU master’s degree student analyzed the results of surveys taken by the participants before and after the classes. As expected, the undergraduates become more understanding of why people end up in prison. But the view of the “inside” people changed as well after they met ASU students who plan careers in law enforcement, Wright said.

“They no longer think, ‘I hate police.’ They think, ‘Megan will be a police officer.’ Our ASU students are changing the mindset of people who have had years of experience with criminal justice that is negative, and now they see a more promising future.”

The Center for Correctional Solutions has other initiatives as well, including the Arizona Transformation Project, a think tank based at the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence that includes alumni from the first Inside-Out class held there. Research projects are evaluating whether the state’s Second Chance Centers are helping to reduce recidivism and how restrictive housing affects the mental health of inmates and correctional officers.

Currently, a doctoral student is creating an employment program for the women at Perryville, Wright said.

“She is doing interviews because we don’t want to take something off the shelf and assume it will work with the women,” he said.

“We’re asking, ‘What’s the best programming you’ve ever had?’ and ‘What’s your dream job?’ to develop something that will make an impact.”

When a person goes to prison, the effects reverberate among the family. In 2014, people in the Phoenix community came to the Center for Child Well-Being and asked for help in addressing the needs of children whose parents are incarcerated. So the center held a daylong conference, which was informative but didn’t lead to any momentum, according to Judy Krysik, an associate professor in the School of Social Work and director of the center.

So last year, the center held its first national conference.

“We had people with lived experience — people who were children of incarcerated parents and maybe still had parents who were incarcerated. We had parents who had been incarcerated. Researchers. Advocates. People from the faith-based community. Government agencies such as probation, child welfare, corrections,” she said.

“That was a little bit tense because people don’t always agree or see things the same way. And it was a healthy tension, where people were able to voice their dissatisfaction with certain aspects of research or policy or practice.”

For example, research in this field often focuses on poor educational outcomes or generational incarceration.

“That’s disturbing for children who are trying to do well and feel they are doing well,” she said. “There needs to be a better balance there.”

Families face so much stigma when a parent is incarcerated that sometimes they’ll lie to the children about why the parent isn’t there.

“Sometimes they’ll tell the child that the parent has a job at the prison,” Krysik said. “And a lot of times the child knows they’re not being told the truth, and that creates an even bigger sense of shame around the issue.”

The second conference, on April 14-17, will bring together experts to share best practices, including training for teachers who have children of incarcerated parents in their classrooms.

And the participants also will focus on research.

“There’s pockets of research in different places with children of different ages,” she said. “There’s a little research on visiting programs and there’s a little research on re-entry programs, but there’s nothing that lays out a framework or tells us where our gaps in research are,” she said. “And that’s what we’re trying to put together this year, really mapping that out and making sense of it.”

RELATED: Podcast focuses on children of incarcerated parents

The conference also will be a mini film festival, featuring four documentaries: “Run for His Life,” by photographer Pete Monsanto, whose father is serving a life sentence; “Foster,” about foster families, which will be on HBO later this year; “Tres Maison Dasan,” about three boys whose fathers are in prison, and “The Sentence,” about a mother serving a 15-year term, which also will feature a discussion by the director, Rudy Valdez.

The public will get a unique opportunity to delve into this issue at a “re-entry simulation” workshop on April 9 in which they can experience the first month of post-release life. Each participant assumes the identity of an ex-offender and receives a packet of materials explaining criminal background, living situation, job situation and weekly tasks that must be accomplished to avoid being sent back to prison. Then the participants try to navigate their new lives. A guided discussion will follow.

“We hope to influence the practices and the policies and to reduce some of the barriers for people re-integrating into society,” Krysik said.

“There’s is growing recognition that it’s such a loss of human capital and creates so much havoc with so many families.” 

Top photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Community conversation moves One Square Mile Initiative forward

March 20, 2019

ASU project to help revitalize a growing community of 230,000 residents in Phoenix

The Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University is moving forward with a project to help revitalize a growing community of 230,000 residents in Phoenix.

Dean Jonathan Koppell led a community conversation in Maryvale Monday to discuss the Maryvale One Square Mile Initiative with a standing-room only crowd of stakeholders representing the neighborhood, various community groups and local police.

The initiative is a core project stemming from Sunstate Equipment founders and philanthropists Mike and Cindy Watts’ investment in the college to support Maryvale, the neighborhood where they grew up. 

“Maryvale is a great place,” Koppell said. “It’s a strong community with lots of people engaged. What we see is a community that is ambitious with aspirations to be more than it is today.”

Maryvale’s soaring population accounts for 10 percent of Maricopa County, and if it were a city, it would be the seventh largest in the state. The neighborhood is also one of the poorest in Phoenix, where 39 percent of residents lack a high school diploma or equivalency.

“There are some extraordinary things going on and there are some signs of unhealthy patterns,” Koppell said.  

Although Monday’s meeting was the first for the public at large, the college has been working on the project for months by listening to residents and soliciting feedback. That is a key piece for the long-term success of the initiative, because Koppell wants to ensure all work going forward is “of, by and for the community.”

“The idea is not that we come here, plant a flag, say we’re open for business and everything is about us,” Koppell said. “Because that’s not sustainable. What we are interested in doing is helping start things that have an organic basis and they last forever.”

To that end, the college established the Design Studio for Community Solutions. Led by Director Erik Cole, the studio will be the place to share ideas, bring in different perspectives and run possibilities up against reality.

“It’s not purely an architectural exercise,” Koppell said. “We think of it as a studio where we design concepts and we repeat, and if we fail we try again, and we design again.”

Many groups in Maryvale are already engaged in different community initiatives. Watts College is interested in helping concentrate efforts and “connect the dots” between activities that are already happening.

“There are so many assets, opportunities and organizations (engaged),” Cole said. “Maryvale Revitalization Corporation, Heart of Isaac (community center), YMCA, Grand Canyon University, school districts. None of why we are here is to say there aren’t those assets and that incredible work is not already happening.”

One other organization mentioned by Cole was Estrella Supermoms, a neighborhood block-watch program of about 20 families who help clean up Maryvale, remove graffiti and work on other service projects.

“That’s what this is about,” Cole said. “It’s really about community and coming together, and if we can be a vehicle for that, so be it.”

Monday’s community conversation also served as an opportunity to continue gathering feedback from residents. Attendees participated in three faculty-led group discussions about health and wellness; youth, families and children; and public safety. The discussions brought up areas of concern that present opportunities for improvement.

Security is an important topic often taken for granted in other neighborhoods, said Carlos Mendoza, a 16-year-old student at Phoenix Union Bioscience High School.

“Other communities have bright lights, security cameras, everything is safe and protected,” he said. “You look at the parks here; the lights are yellow, dim and so far away from each other.”

Parents don't let their children out to play after the sun goes down, because those who are not at home could find themselves in a “scary situation,” Mendoza said.

Contributing to neighborhood crime is the reality in Maryvale that many people are hesitant to report crimes to police, said Rosa Menjivar, who is the president of the Estrella Supermoms.

“We see the fear in the community that leads people to not report crime,” Menjivar said. “I need officials to help do their part in communicating more with families and get them more engaged.”

Crime is not the only safety factor challenging Maryvale residents. Simply walking down the street can be risky. The community layout and sidewalks are not pedestrian-friendly, and this can account for the high number of accidents, Mendoza said. Pedestrians have to walk a light or two down the street to get to a bus stop, which can take an extra 10 to 15 minutes. So jaywalking is common because some are willing to risk their lives to save some time.

“Sidewalks are not practical,” Mendoza said. “Things are dictated by how things are shaped, and I feel like most things here are shaped by, of course, the engineers that originally designed this community.”

Watts College has not set a specific timeline to achieve objectives of the Maryvale One Square Mile Initiative, Koppell said. The university intends to remain a resource for as long as necessary. The idea is for ASU to serve as an “empowering” force rather than an essential element needed for success.

“We can change Maryvale,” Menjivar said. “If we work as a team.”

Top photo: Dean Jonathan Koppell, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, speaks with Maryvale community members on March 18 in Maryvale. Photo by Jerry Gonzalez/ASU

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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African-American law enforcement officers balance dual identities

African-American law-enforcement professionals talk about racism, reform.
March 14, 2019

Criminal justice system professionals talk about racism, reform during panel at ASU

African-American law enforcement officers must balance two identities simultaneously during these complicated times, and each identity serves the other, according to a panel discussion at Arizona State University on Thursday night.

Five African-American men discussed the complexity of race in their experiences as professionals in the criminal justice system in a talk titled “Being Blue from a Black Perspective” at the Beus Center for Law and Society on the Downtown Phoenix campus.

Kevin Robinson, a lecturer in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and a retired police officer, said that a student recently asked him: “Are you a black law enforcement officer or a law enforcement officer who happens to be black?”

“I didn’t answer right away, but I came to this conclusion: Being one makes me more acutely aware of being the other,” said Robinson (pictured above), who was assistant police chief in the Phoenix Police Department when he retired.

“As a police officer, I understand what happens to black males at stops sometimes. I get it. As a police officer I understand the concerns that police officers have in dealing with adverse situations. It goes both ways.”

Timothy Woods, a Phoenix Police Department patrol shift commander, said: “One thing I cannot escape from forever is the melanin in my skin.”

“Whether I have the uniform on or have the uniform off, I’m a black man. I’m proud to be a black man. I’m proud of my culture, and I’m proud to serve as a Phoenix police officer as well. It is a career path I’ve chosen,” he said.

The men described the discrimination they have faced on the job. Michael Powell, a former state trooper, deputy sheriff and retired senior manager in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, recalled how he was handcuffed by two troopers for speeding while working as an undercover agent in Miami.

“They didn’t believe I was a DEA agent, and I was locked in the back of the car,” he said. “About 15 minutes later, it didn’t turn out well for them.”

Robinson said that he more often faced racism from fellow officers on an individual basis than institutional racism.

“You have to go right to them,” he said of the racists. “And they were a real motivation for me to take promotional exams.”

Jocquese Blackwell, a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix, said he didn’t always have a good view of law enforcement. He worked in military intelligence for several years and then as an engineer before going to law school at ASU.

“I had dreads in law school, and I got pulled over all the time. I had dreads when I worked as an engineer, and I got pulled over all the time,” he said. “We need to address that.”

Cecil Patterson said that, besides being mistaken for a clerk, he also dealt with the “fishbowl syndrome.” He was the first black judge appointed to the Maricopa County Superior Court, the first black lawyer in the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the state’s first black appeals court judge. He also was a graduate of the second class of ASU’s law school, in 1971.

“I had five major jobs in 32 years of practice, and every job I was the first and only African-American in the job. And that lasted a long time,” he said.

“I had the chance to influence, but it was on an individual level and what hurts is not having more African-Americans. If you have more people, you can have a community effort and more lasting positive change.”

Patterson said he has seen an evolution.

“One of the things that I was proud of and that has continued to happen is the presence of blacks in the system — defense attorneys, prosecutors, police officers, probation officers — and the numbers have increased,” he said.

The experts were asked what they would tell the current candidates who are running for president about the American criminal justice system and black people.

Robinson said that the next president needs to work with states to make sure that law enforcement has more training.

“If we look back at all the negative things we see occur in law enforcement with folks of color, it is lack of communication,” he said. “They don’t understand someone else or take the time to listen. You have to understand folks.”

Powell, who now owns a company that consults with law enforcement, said that accountability is critical.

“You have to hold police departments accountable, and it has to be transparent. All the action has to be transparent,” he said.

Woods said that law enforcement has often been on the wrong side of history and is now figuring out how to be on the right side.

“This goes back to slavery. When the slave ran away, who was entrusted to capture the slave? The sheriff was,” he said.

“We’ve had such a long ‘us versus them’ mentality. We’ve gone into a community and called it ‘the jungle’ or ‘the hood.’ We go in and wreak havoc and destroy and leave. But we’re entrusted to serve and protect, and a candidate needs to understand that dynamic.”

He also said that incarcerating people for nonviolent crimes is expensive and unhelpful.

“We need to be restoring the rights of people and if you don’t, you keep them in prison. And if you keep them in prison they won’t have any options to get resources, and if they don’t get them legally, they’ll get them illegally. We have to change that.”

Blackwell said that candidates who supported the 1994 federal crime bill must acknowledge that the result has been increased rates of incarceration for black people for nonviolent crimes.

“If they believed that crime was rampant and that black people and poor people were ‘superpredators,’ they need to own it and they need to apologize for it,” he said.

The talk was sponsored by the Sigma Pi Phi fraternity, the nation’s oldest African-American professional fraternity, and moderated by Greg Vincent, president of the international organization and a retired law professor.

Vincent said that the often-repeated statement that there are more black men in the criminal justice system than college is a myth.

“But what is true is that for black men in their 30s, on any given day, 1 in 10 is connected to the criminal justice system, many for nonviolent drug offenses,” he said. And although black men make up 13 percent of the population, they make up more than 30 percent of the victims of police shootings.

“We know there have been bipartisan efforts to reform the criminal justice system, and we think in the next election cycle, we’ll see this issue front and center,” he said.

Top photo: Kevin Robinson, an ASU lecturer and former assistant chief for the Phoenix Police Department, introduces the discussion "Being Blue from a Black Perspective" on Thursday evening at the Beus Center for Law and Society on the Downtown Phoenix campus. Photo by Marcus Chormicle/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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US News ranks ASU's disaster management program top in nation

March 11, 2019

Emergency Management and Homeland Security's top spot leads strong showing of graduate programs around ASU

Floods, fires, earthquakes and hurricanes. An Arizona State University graduate program sending professionals into the teeth of disasters was ranked the top in the nation this week by U.S. News and World Report, ahead of George Mason University, Naval Postgraduate School and Columbia.

And the Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security did it just five years after it was created.

“It’s nice to be No. 1,” said Don Siegel, director of the School of Public Affairs, where the center is housed. “It’s an amazing achievement, and we offer a tremendous array of programs in that space.”

The center fuses academics, research and real-world experience to meet disasters and emergencies, respond to them, manage them and recover from them, in both the private and public sectors. It also educates and trains public management professionals.

The No. 1 ranking leads a strong showing of competitive graduate programs around ASU, including several others in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions: Information technology management rose to second, ahead of Georgia Institute of Technology and Syracuse University; and urban policy moved up to fourth, ahead of Harvard, the University of Chicago and UCLA.

Elsewhere around ASU, the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, College of Nursing and Health Innovation, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and the W. P. Carey School of Business all saw graduate programs with improved rankings. See the full list at U.S. News and World Report's education website.

Managing crises and security is one of the fastest-growing job categories in both public and private sectors, according to Siegel. “There are tremendous job opportunities there,” he said.

Emergency management director is a job category not only in government agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but in large plants and facilities, and at private-sector companies like engineering, procurement and construction company Kellogg, Brown & Root.

“We see this as a growing field, and that’s why we offer so many programs,” Siegel said. “This is a growing area in government, but also in industry.”

Brian Gerber, an associate professor at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, directs the program.

“We have a wide range of interesting people who go through the program,” Gerber said. Of three recent grads, one works for the Secret Service, another is the emergency manager for Maricopa County, and the third is the emergency planner for a Middle Eastern country’s national health system, Gerber said.

The college is also ranked third in the country for local government management. Most of ASU’s grad students in the field end up as city managers or assistant city managers.

“We train a lot of city managers,” Siegel said. “A lot of them are engaged in this, so they need to know this. It’s a very important part of their job. Not as much in a city like Phoenix, but in places like Florida, where they have all kinds of hurricanes and floods and have to deal with the response to that. ... We also place people in positions like compliance manager — very high salaries in these fields. ... It’s not just limited to the public sector.”

The vast majority of emergency management students are already working professionals. It’s a degree that’s oriented to early- or mid-career folks, Gerber said. The Emergency Management and Homeland Security degree is available online.

Part of the program’s meteoric success arises from the faculty, who are a mixture of various professors in the schools, along with a heavy component of faculty associates who are practitioners.

“That’s intentional,” Gerber said. “This being a professional degree, it’s important you have a blend of practitioner experience combined with an academic perspective that offers a different type of rigor useful to the students.”

Professor Eric Welch has done important research on how transportation departments manage extreme weather events. Associate Professor Yushim Kim has explored public health issues related to emergency management. Research Professor Melanie Gall is a hazards geographer studying the interaction between natural hazards and society. Her expertise lies in risk metrics (e.g., disaster losses, indices, risk assessments), hazard mitigation and climate-change adaptation planning as well as environmental modeling.

“The central strength of the program is that it’s an inherently interdisciplinary program precisely because policy and management issues in homeland security are inherently interdisciplinary in nature,” Gerber said. “When a disaster strikes, all types of professional disciplines are involved in response and recovery — really all phases of an emergency or disaster incident involves everyone from police and fire to public health to public works to transportation and the traditional emergency management office. We have all that expertise in the college, so the program really reflects that.”

Getting the program to the top of its game in such a short time took a lot of effort, said Siân MooneyGerber, Welch, Kim, Gall and Mooney are also senior sustainability scientists in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability., associate dean for Interdisciplinary Programs and Initiatives at Watts College.

“I am excited that we are No. 1 after only five years!" Mooney said. "This rank reflects the hard work and dedication of our faculty, and our commitment to engage community partners and students. The Watts College at ASU truly supports high-quality, interdisciplinary experiences that prepare our students for meaningful careers.”

Top photo: The Rim Fire in the Stanislaus National Forest near in California in August 2013. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service/Wikipedia Commons

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU research finds poor engagement by parents can lead to gun carrying in boys

New ASU research proves link of poor parenting to gun carrying among boys.
March 4, 2019

Long-term study among first to track parenting, delinquent behavior and guns

A new Arizona State University study has found that boys whose parents were less involved and communicative with them during childhood were significantly more likely to carry a gun during their teen years.

The long-term study, posted in the journal Pediatrics today, followed 503 boys over 13 years and found that boys whose parents were less engaged were more likely to associate with delinquent peers and that, in turn, increased their risk of carrying a gun.

“One of the things that we were thinking about before we did the study was that parenting has been shown in studies to predict all these other kinds of adolescent problems and violence, but not specifically gun carrying,” said Jordan Beardslee, an assistant research professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU, who is the primary investigator of the study.

The key finding is that poor parenting engagement leads to other behaviors that lead to gun carrying, according to Dustin Pardini, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice who was on the research team.

“We know from this study that early family factors are important, but there has to be a cascade of events that leads up to the actual carrying behavior,” he said.

“It’s because it sets the stage for the kid engaging in early conduct problems that are not seriously delinquent, like physical fighting, and beginning to affiliate with other kids that are engaged in similar deviant behaviors. That leads to this transition in early adolescence to more serious delinquencies, which also includes carrying a firearm illegally.”

Few studies have examined the relationship between parenting and gun carrying in adolescents, which is illegal in every state. Yet more than 7,000 young people were seriously injured or killed by firearms each year from 2012 to 2014 in the United States, according to a 2017 study that also was published in Pediatrics. Boys are more than four times more likely to be shot to death than girls, and African-American youths have the highest rates of firearm mortality, that analysis found.

The new ASU research is also unique because of the extraordinary data set, acquired through the groundbreaking Pittsburgh Youth Study, which started with first-grade boys in the Pittsburgh Public Schools system in 1987 and is still continuing. The new research paper in Pediatrics analyzed 503 subjects’ answers about gun-carrying behavior from ages 14 to 21. About 56 percent of the cohort is African-American, with 40 percent white and the rest other racial groups. After the first survey, as first-graders, the boys were interviewed every six months for four years, followed by annual assessments.

Their parents also were surveyed, with questions about how often they talked over problems with their sons or did activities together. They were asked, “Do you enjoy being your son’s parent?” And boys’ teachers also were interviewed over nine years, answering questions about the boys’ behaviors.

“It’s the most extensive longitudinal study of males that’s ever been conducted in the U.S. in terms of the frequency of assessment and the breadth of the assessments,” said Pardini, who has taken over as the lead researcher for the Pittsburgh Youth Study.

Over the 13 years that were analyzed, 20 percent of the subjects reported that they had carried a gun. But in any given year, about 4 percent to 7 percent reported that they had carried a gun at least once.

“We found that gun carrying is a very transient behavior among adolescents,” Pardini said, adding that typically the subjects reported carrying a gun only one time in the past year.

“We don’t understand the dynamics of this. But it doesn’t seem like kids who are carrying handguns are doing so every day. It seems like they’re grabbing them and using them for potentially brief periods of time.”

Pardini also is the lead researcher of the Arizona Youth Survey, which is administered to students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades every two years. The 2018 survey results, released in December, included 48,000 students in all 15 counties and addressed drug use, violence and other risk factors. The results of that survey showed that more than 6 percent of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders surveyed in Arizona reported that they carried a handgun at least once.

The Arizona and Pittsburgh surveys are unusual because they ask specifically about gun carrying — not just “weapon” carrying, he said.

“We know that guns are what’s killing kids and are the most dangerous weapon,” he said.

The Arizona survey also asks specifically about gun carrying at school — a topic that Pardini is further analyzing. Because the number of students who take guns to school is so low — less than 1 percent of respondents — he has combined two years’ worth of Arizona Youth Surveys to get a large enough sample to study.

“That’s enough to look at what distinguishes kids who carry guns but not at school compared with kids who actually carry in school,” he said.

Pardini said he knows that people are interested in research that predicts mass shootings in schools, and it was the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012 that led to a surge of federal grants for gun research after many years of that funding being blocked. But he said that mass shootings are too rare to predict.

“I feel like our focus should be on reducing the general likelihood that a kid carries a gun and targeting that rather than trying to focus on mass shooters because it’s too difficult to predict that behavior with any degree of accuracy,” he said.

“What’s sad is that it took these mass shootings for people to become interested in this topic but this has been a huge problem in the African-American community in terms of the amount of deaths that occur from firearm violence for decades and it’s been largely ignored.”

Pardini said that programs already exist to address risk factors for delinquent behaviors, including parent-management training.

“If you’re not working with parents, the effectiveness of the intervention won’t be as robust.”

Longitudinal studies are difficult because the subjects have to be tracked down over the course of several years. The researchers were able to reach 80 percent of the original Pittsburgh cohort when they were in their mid-20s.

“It takes a lot of legwork because you have to go their homes or to people who know them. At every phase, roughly 10 percent of the sample was in prison so we have to go to the prisons to interview them. If they’re out of state, we interviewed them on the phone.”

The team has more research papers forthcoming on the Pittsburgh subjects, including analysis of how gun carrying actually transitions to gun violence.

“The nice thing about Pittsburgh is that it’s a small big city and it’s a tightknit community," Pardini said. "A lot of people don’t leave and if they leave, family stays, so it’s a good city to do a longitudinal study in.”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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The future of visiting the Grand Canyon

February 25, 2019

Several issues will affect tourism at the famed national park in the coming years, say two ASU experts

Editor's note: This story is part of an ASU Now series celebrating the centennial of the Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park draws visitors from all over the world to bask in its beauty, making it not only a precious ecological resource to cherish but also a major economic driver for the state of Arizona. 

Balancing the twin missions of access and preservation is key to its future, according to experts at Arizona State University.

“When you think about the Grand Canyon itself, there’s so much to it,” said Megha Budruk, an associate professor in the School of Community Resources and Development in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. 

“There’s something for geologists, there’s something for artists, something for historians, the tourists,” said Budruk, who teaches a course called Wilderness and Parks in America.

“The park is physical, but the meanings we ascribe to it allow people to connect to it in different ways,” she said.

And many more people are connecting to the Grand Canyon. The park had 6.2 million visitors in 2017, up 42 percent from a decade earlier. The month of November 2018 had 10 times more visitorsAbout 410,000 in November compared with about 38,000 in 1919. than the entire year of 1919, when Grand Canyon National Park was formed.

All those tourists generated $648 million — along with 9,800 jobs. The total economic benefit to Arizona, according to the National Park Service, was more than $900 million.

In fact, the park is so important that Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order in early 2018 calling for the Grand Canyon to remain open in the event of a federal government shutdown. When the government did shut down in late 2018, the state’s tourism and parks offices paid to keep day-to-day operations running.

Crowd and Shuttle

Along with the revenue, tourism brings crowds requiring roads and parking lots and toilets and maintained trails. The National Park Service, in a 2017 report, estimates that the backlog of maintenance and repairs totals nearly $12 billion nationwide. About $330 million of that is needed at the Grand Canyon. Photo by Michael Quinn/National Park Service

More popular than ever

Christine Vogt, a professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Tourism, and Budruk have done research on the Grand Canyon’s economic impact in the region.

“It’s very clear there’s a prominent route starting in Las Vegas and doing the North Rim and coming around, including the Grand Canyon and Navajo parks and back up to Utah,” Vogt said.

“The whole region, with Las Vegas and its marketing machine, is getting a lot of international visitors,” she said. “The Grand Canyon, Zion, Monument Valley, Moab — all are getting increased tourism.”

Budruk said the spillover effect is felt throughout northern Arizona, which includes Canyon de Chelly, Montezuma Castle, Navajo, Parashant, Pipe Spring, Sunset Crater Volcano, Tuzigoot, Walnut Canyon and Wupatki national monuments, Glen Canyon and Lake Mead national recreation areas, Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site and Petrified Forest National Park. The Navajo Nation is home to four tribal parks, including Monument Valley, and there are several state parks in the Flagstaff area.

“What we found is that most visitors did not have the national monuments as their primary destination but were stopping over as part of their Grand Canyon visit,” Budruk said.

But along with the revenue, all that tourism brings crowds who require roads and parking lots and toilets and maintained trails. In fact, all of the national parks are badly in need of infrastructure work. The National Park Service, in a 2017 report, estimates that the backlog of maintenance and repairs totals nearly $12 billion nationwide. About $330 million of that is needed at the Grand Canyon, mostly for water systems and trails.

“The recent shutdown shed light on what it takes to keep a park open and friendly and clean and safe,” Vogt said. “But over the course of my professional time, the backlog of infrastructure and money needed to run these parks has not changed.

“There needs to be a more significant mechanism for paying for the management and enhancing the overall park infrastructure, which then improves the park experience.”

Adding infrastructure with conservation in mind

Vogt said that one change that likely will continue is the increased role of advocacy groups like the Grand Canyon Conservancy

“They play a very important partner role with the National Park Service in fundraising and in helping to pay for infrastructure and improvements,” she said.

“They’ve supplemented and in some places have taken over the guide and interpretation programs.”

Among the Flagstaff-based nonprofit’s projects: replacing light fixtures in the park to preserve dark skies, restoring and maintaining trails and completing renovation of the Desert View Watchtower and murals. The Grand Canyon Conservancy also runs a Field Institute that offers guided day hikes, backpacking trips, cultural classes and certification courses.

Vogt and Budruk said that the Grand Canyon has done a good job of trying to balance welcoming big crowds while mitigating their effect on the environment. One solution was the redevelopment of the South Rim a few years ago to add shuttle buses and limit driving and parking.

In 2010, the park approved a climate change action plan, warning that a hotter climate could lead to changes in weather and animal habitats, more insects, an increase in frequency and intensity of wildfires and floods and changes to water flows in the Colorado River. The sale of water bottles was eliminated, solar panels were added to the visitors center and the park increased recycling and added a system to reuse wastewater for toilets and irrigation.

Another way to control crowds is to keep the North Rim open only part of the year, which allows it to rest. The lack of infrastructure, including roads and personnel, keeps the crowds down and allows visitors a more solitary experience.

Technology, including social media and wildlife cams, have been cited as a driver of tourism at the national parks, but Vogt said that the Grand Canyon has to consider limiting technology to protect the environment.

“I think a big issue is dark skies and noise pollution. Regulating drones and helicopters is important,” she said.

“I don’t think people go to the parks to have technology in their faces. One reason you go to a park is to step away from that,” she said.

Managing the park on the macro

Michelle Sullivan Govani is a PhD student in School of Life Sciences who is studying preservation across the national park system. Her research project is examining the National Park Service mandate to preserve natural resources for future generations. She has interviewed top agency officials, administrators and park rangers from around the country to see what preservation means to them and how it has changed since the agency was formed in 1916.

“In the beginning, it was about these spectacular scenes and feeling emotionally and mentally invigorated,” she said. Over time, the mission has evolved.

“It’s not that scenery isn’t still important, but it’s not what defines preservation or the park service’s mandate any more, as they would tell it,” she said.

“They’re more concerned with ecosystems and with ecological processes.”

So now, just like each park is embedded in an economic network, each park also must be managed as part of a regional ecosystem.

“Ecosystems aren’t defined by the political lines that parks are defined by, so how do we work outside those boundaries to make sure we’re preserving ecosystems as they function in reality and not just for the scenes they provide to us?” Sullivan Govani said.

“You see that in the way they’re managing parks across boundaries. They’re working with the Bureau of Land Management, with the U.S. Forestry Service and with private landowners.”

Using science to inform the management of the park system has always been part of balancing competing interests, she found. 

“The thing about National Park Service history that’s fascinating is that you see all these starts and stops with regard to how they incorporate science-based management. It’s not that whoever is in charge doesn’t support research, but priorities differ and there’s a limited budget,” she said, noting that customer service is always a concern.

Going forward, it also will be important for the Grand Canyon, as part of the National Park Service, to be more representative of the American public. The agency released a report in 2018 that revealed that its workforce is 81 percent white, 62 percent male and 42 percent over the age of 50. 

“It helps to have an agency that reflects the American population so they see somebody like themselves and feel that, ‘This is a place for me too, where I am welcomed,’” Budruk said.

Top photo: Crowd of tourists gather at an overlook at the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/iStockphoto

Audio interview by Karie Dozer.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Stories of the Grand Canyon

"This incredible hole in the ground" — ASU faculty share Grand Canyon memories.
February 25, 2019

A national park, a university and a century: Trail tales and river reports from across ASU

Editor's note: This story is part of an ASU Now series celebrating the centennial of the Grand Canyon National Park.

“For each man sees himself in the Grand Canyon.” 
— poet Carl Sandburg.

Feb. 26 marks the centennial of Grand Canyon National Park and the sesquicentennial of John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Colorado River. Literally and figuratively, it’s Arizona’s biggest attraction. Naturally, it draws the attention of artists, faculty, and scientists from Arizona State University, the state’s biggest university.

“Oh my gosh! We are so fortunate,” said geologist Steve Semken. “We are the Grand Canyon State. What we like to say is, ‘There are bigger canyons than the Grand Canyon, and there are deeper canyons than the Grand Canyon, but none are as grand as Grand Canyon.’ It’s an iconic landscape. It exposes 2 billion years of Earth’s history. It is absolutely spectacular. It also incorporates tremendous amounts of human cultural history.”

When you’re in the world below the rims, you realize that it’s not one world; it’s a million worlds in one. Tiny grottos lined with ferns and moss and monkey flowers tinkle with water. Vast slickrock benches bake in the sun. There are broad sandy beaches; twisting, convoluted slot canyons; silent, towering stone hallways; glittering creeks and waterfalls; and yawning chasms. 

“The Grand Canyon is not just a natural environment,” said ASU history Professor Paul Hirt. “It’s an environment that takes your breath away. It’s an environment that hits you over the head with the profundity of the evolution of the planet. Looking into that incomprehensibly huge hole in the earth and thinking about the forces of erosion that shaped that, and how long it took, gives you an ability to think about things way beyond the human timescale and the human perspective.”

The best way to tell the story of the canyon and the draw it has had on the university community is that way, by examining one small world at a time. You will hear the experiences of a disparate group of people. Some of them have only gazed into its depths from the edge. Some have vanished into the place for months at a time. Their stories join to tell a single story, in the way hundreds of side canyons snake together to form one Grand Canyon.

The canyon’s story is a story of love and death and loss, fascination and obsession, of the passions of humankind and how a place reflects them.

“Every time I go I’m like, ‘My God, why don’t I go here more often?’” said geology Professor Ramon Arrowsmith.

Moon over canyonA yellow full moon just above the horizon of a canyon rim. On the left a pointed peak of orange and white stone layers. The view is from Powell Memorial on the South Rim of the park. Photo by Michael Quinn/National Park Service

The university president

It’s 1962. A carsick 7-year-old Michael Crow and his three siblings are in the back of a 1956 Pontiac Star Chief, driving from San Diego to Iowa. They ate ham — from a can you opened with a key — with saltines and drank Pepsi. His father was the type of driver who usually stopped only for gas. On this trip, he also stopped at the Grand Canyon. Crow’s father liked to frighten his kids, so he pretended he was mad and gunned the car toward a rim overlook.

“I remember seeing it and being inspired by not just its size, but what somebody told me: that most of the erosion was not the water, it was the wind,” Crow said. “Even as a kid I was like, ‘How is that possible? How can the wind do that?’ And I had no concept of time and what the wind could do over millions and millions of years, or water and the wind. I just remember being awe-inspired by the thing.”

The family got back in the car and went to the Painted Desert, where Crow got in a fight with his brother, dirtied his clothes and had to spend the rest of the trip in his underwear.

His subsequent Grand Canyon adventures have been no less memorable. He has hiked down to the river and back in a day seven times, and he has done two rim-to-rim hikes.

One of those two rim-to-rims was a contest hosted by former Arizona Regent Greg Patterson. Two months before the hike, Patterson ran into Crow. “You don’t look like you’re training,” he said. “You look fat.”

“I’m training,” Crow said, tapping his temple. “Right here.”

“Well, I hope that works out well for you,” said Patterson.

Crow decided to make the hike a mental challenge, inspired by natural beauty and the challenge itself. His objective was to hike the whole thing nonstop. No breaks at all.

The group started on the North Rim before dawn on a beautiful October day. Crow and a 17-year-old lacrosse player took off at the same time.

“He was like a rabbit to me,” Crow said, referring to the fakes that racing greyhounds chase. “I’m going to do my best, whatever it takes to keep up with that kid as if everything depends on that. I kept up with him until Indian Gardens.”

At that point it’s another four and a half miles to the South Rim, but it’s very steep, with about 3,800 feet of elevation gain. Crow discovered the big toenail on his right foot was no longer attached.

“It’s causing me a little bit of pain, so I decided to pull it off. My wife is always thrilled when my toenails fall off in my hiking boots. For whatever reason, I was probably going too fast, didn’t have my toenail trimmed to perfection. That was the one time I stopped. … After that I’ll say I was much less effective.”

The last mile and a half was the hardest part for him, but he went through the canyon in eight hours and 45 minutes, finishing in the top five.

Patterson took 16 hours, finishing 34th out of the group of 34. “I was back in Phoenix before he got out of the canyon,” Crow said with a laugh.

Four years ago, Crow almost drowned in the Colorado River.

“That was the second-closest I’ve ever come to drowning,” he said.

He was on a six-day August paddle boat trip from Lees Ferry to the Bright Angel trail when the guide told everyone they could ride through a small rapid in their life jackets. The river is bitter cold because it comes out of Glen Canyon Dam from the bottom of Lake Powell. It doesn’t heat up, even in summer.

Crow watched his teenage daughter and a few other people plunge in and shoot through the rapids without incident. So he jumped out of the boat.

“I had not checked my life jacket carefully enough. I’m a pretty good swimmer, but my life jacket didn’t fit, so it shot up over my head.”

He was underwater, with the life jacket pinning him down and the 40-degree water sending him plunging into hypothermia.

“It’s not allowing me to get any air. I thought to myself, ‘Really? You? Eagle Scout? Trained lifeguard? A person that knows how to hike and swim and all that? You’re going to drown from some stupid little life jacket problem with your kids down there waiting for you?’ I guess the only thing I could think to do was try to pull it down and hold it, and then kick with my legs.”

Meanwhile, his son and another passenger were in the boat, laughing their heads off.

“They thought this was the most hilarious thing they’d ever seen. They dragged me in. I had a few superlatives to say about my life jacket. They throw me in the raft, which had about this much water in it, and my head is underwater. They let me drown in that for a little bit and pulled me out and said, ‘Are you relaxed?’”

Other than almost drowning, it was a great trip. They hiked to waterfalls and Anasazi granaries high above the river and lay on warm sand at night gazing at the stars. Would Crow float the river again?


Rafting Lava Falls

Boaters running Lava Falls Rapid on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park. Photo by Mark Lellouch/National Park Service

The floating professor

Paul Knauth is a professor emeritus of geology who retired in 2016. While at the university, he led 32 geology rafting trips sponsored by the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Knauth also led 70 student field trips to the South Rim. “With the student trips, we’d do some 'death marches' down the Kaibab Trail, have them work on the rocks, and then have them come out — (we'd) do that two days in a row,” he said.

Back in camp, his students would work on describing and interpreting the stories in each layer of rock. What was it? What did it look like the day that unit was made and deposited? What caused it?

“That night, sitting around the campfire in Mather Campground, which is my second home, was the most satisfying thing to me in teaching,” Knauth said. “Those people were on a high. They had confidence. They felt like they were geologists. Not only that, they felt they owned the Grand Canyon because they had not just stood at the rim and looked, they’d gone down there and interacted with it in the deepest way possible. To be around a group of people like that, with that kind of feeling … it was a wonderful experience for me as a teacher. If they didn’t have that, I would have been very disappointed. You let the canyon do that to them. I just got out of the way.”

ASU's first float trip was in 1962. A PhD candidate named Everett Gibson decided the university needed to do a geology rafting trip. He contacted Hatch River Expeditions and set the idea in motion. They did three day trips from Lees Ferry to Phantom Ranch, then hiked out.

Knauth went for the first time in 1984. The next year he led the trip.

Calm boating Colorado Grand Canyon

Boating down the Colorado River below Havasu Creek in Grand Canyon National Park. Photo by Mark Lellouch/National Park Service

The ASU geology trip is open to the public and costs $3,000. It’s not advertised, but it sells out every year. People come from all over the world for it. For many years it was 36 people on three boats. Eight years ago the park service cut them down to two boats.

“Now it’s even harder to get on this trip,” said Knauth, who will be going again this year. 

While at ASU, Knauth taught sedimentology, geology of the Grand Canyon and astrobiology, among other courses.

“Where else in the country can you teach a class, go up on a Friday, do a day and a half in the canyon, and be home for supper on Sunday night?” he said. “I took full advantage of it when I taught geology. … It’s the greatest teaching resource you can have. … That’s recreation and tomfoolery and research. I’ve done it all at the canyon.”

The geomorphologist

Kelin Whipple is a geomorphologist at ASU. He studies how wind, water, climate and tectonics shape the Earth.

How the canyon was formed is a bit of a chicken-and-egg question. Before 6 million years ago, there was no river running along that path.

“It’s a young river, geologically speaking,” Whipple said. “The canyon was cut quite young, cut quite quickly sometime soon after 6 million (years). After that, everything is debated. How much is uplift of the plateau playing a role, and how much is just a river cutting back into a preexisting uplifted plateau? It’s very much a topic of debate.”

How was the canyon cut, and when did the Colorado River appear in that formation? It’s tough to study, because the canyon is a net erosional environment. Simply put, most of the evidence is gone. The river is silty and the plateau is windy.

“It’s been studied a lot, and it’s been debated the whole time, for the 100 years (of the park's existence) and before that, since Powell 150 years ago,” he said. “Today, it’s about the age and timing of the Colorado and other rivers, the San Juan and the Goosenecks. It’s been debated constantly.”

Mather Point inversion Grand Canyon

View from Mather Point on the South Rim. Cloud inversions are formed through the interaction of warm and cold air masses. Photo by Erin Whittaker/National Park Service

A controversial 2012 University of Colorado study made quite a splash when the authors put the canyon at 70 million years old.

“But the main, young, canyon is less than 6 (million), we think,”” Whipple said. “In my view, that thermochronology data — clever as it is — there must be something incomplete in our understanding of how to interpret that data to allow it to look like it’s that old when it’s not. That’s an unresolved debate that’s going on. There’s more scientists that believe in the Younger Canyon side than the Older Canyon side.”

Whipple looks at erosion rates outside the canyon vs. inside the canyon. Erosion rates are faster in the canyon, and the rates are about right to carve that deep of a canyon in about 6 million years.

Most of Whipple’s work has either been remote or done on rafting trips. He’s gone on a two-week raft trip where they stopped everywhere they could get access to a new rock unit.

“Pile out of the raft real quick, pull out all the seismic gear, run out a line of geophones, do the rock hammering thing on a steel plate, record the signals that give you the velocity that the acoustic waves go through the rock, and that is correlated with the rock strength and its density and all that stuff,” he said, describing a typical day. “You gather the stuff back together, you get it in the raft, fight for your life to survive the next rapid, and get out and do it again. We’ve done a couple of trips doing that.”

If scientists want to float the river for research, they need a research permit and they have to apply in the lottery as well. On Whipple’s trip, the crew of about 20 all entered the lottery. (He got the permit, earning him the enviable position of trip leader. The trip leader sets the rules — they usually don’t cook, for instance. “TL does nothing,” Whipple said with a laugh.) “There’s a great community sense on those trips, when you’re all cooking and cleaning together and you’re pretty isolated. It’s pretty fun.”

And, of course, he goes to the canyon for recreation.

“It’s still astounding to me,” he said. “I feel like every time we approach that canyon it’s like a religious experience. You just drive across this low-relief plain. There’s no indication a canyon is coming, then all of a sudden, WHOOSH! There it is — this incredible hole in the ground, with really spectacular scenery with all the colors and different ledges. It’s mind-blowing to me every time.” 

The volcanologist and the ecosystem scientist

Heather Throop is an ecosystem scientist in the School of Life Sciences and the School of Earth and Space Exploration. She studies drylands across the globe. Christy Till is a volcanologist in the School of Earth and Space Exploration. Both run trails for fun, often together. Last fall they decided to do a rim-to-rim run.

“I like having goals, and planning for trips, and this seemed like a really good goal to have,” Throop said.

ASU professors Heather Throop and Christy Till take a selfie during a trail run in the Grand Canyon

ASU faculty Heather Throop (left) and Christy Till did a rim-to-rim trail run last fall, just for fun.  

They ran from the South Rim to the North Rim, down the Bright Angel Trail and up the North Kaibab Trail, “to torture ourselves with more uphill,” Throop said. “I think most people go the other way, but we very intently went the other way.”

They enjoyed the geology during the run. Till has hiked the canyon before, spending more time staring at rocks than she did during the run.

“But it’s also nice to see it all in one go,” she said. “You’re always impressed with the scale of it, but you’re moving very quickly through units, so you get a little bit more of a story. ‘Oh, now we’re in a marine unit; we’re underwater. Now we’re in a shallow, beach-like environment’ — things like that. You kind of get that story as you move through everything, which is fun.”

They checked out every major rock layer. They brought a cheat sheet, but Till amused herself by looking at it with a scientist’s eye.

“Part of the fun as a geologist is trying to see if you can reason your way through it rather than memorize it; ‘Oh, yeah, I can see these ripple marks or these cross-beds that tell me they were sandstone dunes in the past,’” she said.

They stopped at the Great Unconformity for pictures. An unconformity is a surface in the rock record representing a time from which no rocks are preserved. It could represent a time when no rocks were formed, or a time when rocks were formed but then eroded away. In the Grand Canyon the length of time varies along its length, anywhere from 175 million years to 1.6 billion years, depending on where you are.

“We were going quickly, but we were stopping a lot,” Throop said. “That was way more satisfying to me than someone who just wanted to run it for a goal of the time.”

At the river they stopped on the bridge, then for a lemonade break at Phantom Ranch.

“It’s kind of fun to be down there,” Till said. “There are people who are on a river trip or whatever. There are people who are staying at Phantom Ranch, and everyone is having a different experience. ... Everyone is very nice and sort of courteous, and there’s sort of a trail culture where everyone says hello to each other.

“I hadn’t been up on the north side since I was a child, and getting to experience how different the South and the North Rim are from each other, you see slightly different rocks going up and down both sides,” Till said. “It was a wonderful way to take it in as a whole. ... That was really cool.”

Throop was stunned by the contrast in vegetation between elevations.

“You’ll go around a corner in the canyon and the vegetation changes completely,” she said. “That was pretty neat to see at the speed of running.”

Commercial raft launch Lee's Ferry Grand Canyon

Rafts at Lees Ferry prepare for a trip through the Grand Canyon. Additional side floats will be attached for the downriver trip. Essential supplies await loading. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The resource management expert

Legendary boatman Regan Dale and his extended family spent a whopping 103 days in the canyon, the crowning glory of the '70s trend of slow-boating — making a trip last as long as possible. Called the Hundred Days Trip, it has not been repeated. 

Dave White came close, though. A professor in the School of Community Resources and Development at ASU, White was a grad student in the summer of 1998 when he spent 60 days on the river for a social science research project studying how visitors experience it, to inform the National Park Service's Colorado River Management Plan. 

“What struck me the most was the quirkiness of the people who recreate and work down there,” White said.

For the research, White was randomly assigned to travel with commercial and private trips where he conducted observational research and administered survey questionnaires to rafters and guides. On commercial trips, he contributed to the chores as part of the crew and blended in. Private trips, where everyone usually knows each other well, were another story. Imagine going to a stranger’s house for Thanksgiving — and Thanksgiving lasts up to 18 days. He floated with Christians who sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” through the rapids and with partiers who enjoyed various substances throughout the trip.

After two months of sleeping under the stars and listening to the trill of canyon wrens and the gurgle of water, White got off his last trip and flew from a dirt airstrip to Las Vegas. Ninety minutes later he was in a busy casino restaurant, gobsmacked by the noise and bustle and lights.

That summer on the river inspired White’s work as director of the Decision Center for a Desert City, where he carries out climate, water and decision research for cities dependent on Colorado River water. The river reaches far beyond its banks. It is in our food, the cotton on our backs, our yards and in every aspect of life in the Southwest. Twenty million people directly depend on the river, and White works to ensure that it will be sustainable into the future.

Anasazi granaries Nankoweap Gran Canyon

Prehistoric granaries along the Colorado River above Nankoweap in Marble Canyon. The oldest human artifacts found within the park are nearly 12,000 years old and date to the Paleo-Indian period. There has been continuous use and occupation of the park since that time. Photo by Mark Lellouch/National Park Service

The education researcher

Sports like baseball and basketball are taught in schools, but outdoorsmanship is not. Like hunting and fishing, it’s usually passed down from generation to generation. This is a story of three generations at the Grand Canyon.

It was 1973 and Scott Marley was 2 years old. The Marley family visited Havasupai Falls in the canyon. They carried him down there, but on the way out they let him do the final mile, a steep climb up a switchbacking cliff trail.

Marley now is an associate professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Each year he spends about 50 to 60 days backpacking the canyon. He’s working on finishing up his sectional hike of the canyon’s full length.

“It’s one of those things where if I took two weeks off I could probably go finish it,” Marley said. “You’re kind of just plunking along at whatever you feel like. Eventually you’re like, ‘Oh, I’ll go sew the line up.’ It’s not as dedicated as ‘I’m going to do this piece, this piece and this piece.’”

His father is one of the few people who have hiked the length of the canyon. Robert Marley did it with a partner in 55 days on the south side in 1980.

“We spent our summers up there, bouncing around the rim on the dirt roads, camping out for weeks,” Marley said. “He was always poking around, trying to find some line or something. That was a pretty lucky childhood, I’d say. We thrived off of it.”

Before his epic hike, Robert Marley was involved with a Phoenix Boy Scout troop in the 1970s, along with a lot of fathers who were hiking fanatics.

“They did a lot of lines that break the norms,” Marley said. “I don’t think anyone else has really done it since. Everyone’s Boy Scout troop has been down to Grandview. Everyone’s troop has been down to Bright Angel campground. But whose troop has hiked the Walter Powell Route? (A 2.4-mile beast with 3,200 feet of elevation gain.) Whose Boy Scout troop has done the Freefall Route in Marble Canyon? The fact that parents would let their kids go on some of these hikes, it has to be because they just didn’t know.”

By the time Scott Marley came of age to tackle those envelope-pushing trips, the Boy Scouts hit the brakes on them. His father went off to do his own thing, eventually culminating in his epic 1980 hike. Then he became obsessed with rafting. The Marleys rafted the Colorado and rivers across the West.

Marley has a 3-year-old son. “I took him down to Havasupai to re-enact it, and he had a blast down there, playing around the waterfalls, that kind of thing. It was good stuff. I hope he buys into it the way my brother and I have. I just think it’s good for kids, a good thing for them to do.”

Hilairy Hartnett field geochemistry class at Horseshoe Bend

Oceanographer Hilairy Hartnett's field geometry class at Horseshoe Bend. As part of Hartnett's project to study carbon cycling in the Colorado River, the students took samples at 12 sites along the river, from Yuma to Wyoming. Photo courtesy of Hilairy Hartnet.

The oceanographer

Hilairy Hartnett, an oceanographer in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Molecular Sciences, won a National Science Foundation award to study carbon cycling in the Colorado River. The study ran from 2009 to 2014, and the last papers are being written up now.

The work was to understand the types of carbon that get put into the river from the land, from bacteria and algae in the river that create organic matter, from human-influenced material and from other sources. How does that carbon change as it moves downstream? Is it broken down by sunlight in the reservoirs? Does it get buried in sediments in reservoirs? What happens to it?

The award has a strong education component to it, and this one was to develop opportunities for undergrads to do field research associated with the main research project. As a local project with large-scale scope and impacts, it was a great opportunity. 

“It’s great for Arizona students because it’s place-based,” Hartnett said. “They know the Colorado River. It’s familiar because we live here.”

The project took samples at places like Lees Ferry, where the Grand Canyon begins; at Willow Beach below Hoover Dam; on the river at Blythe; down at Yuma; as far north as Green River, Wyoming, and other places — 12 sites along the river in all. 

Even if those students didn’t go into science as a career, they learned about a vital resource and are more informed and concerned citizens as a result. Twenty million people depend on the river.

In the summer of 2016, Hartnett and her husband went on Paul Knauth’s geology raft trip through the Grand Canyon. Despite years of experience as an oceanographer and studying deep-sea sediments and teaching about geology and inland seas, she wasn’t prepared for the experience.

Hilairy Hartnett and Stan Klonowski during a Grand Canyon rafting trip

Associate Professor Hilairy Hartnett and her husband, Stan Klonowski, on Paul Knauth’s geology raft trip through the Grand Canyon. Klonowski, a lab manager in the Fulton Schools, had previously been Knauth’s lab technician for almost 15 years. Photo courtesy of Hilairy Hartnett  

“I think of it as I know the Colorado,” she said. “It’s my river. I study it. I’ve taken students to it. I teach about it. And until I’d gone down the river in a boat, I didn’t know anything about the river. ... Until you’re at the bottom of the Colorado, looking up at essentially a mile of sedimentary rock, imagining oceans over your head depositing sediment very slowly over billions of years, you don’t ever internalize the idea that you’re sitting in a place that was a lot of the ocean once. It was amazing — amazing!

“Then you realize this river has carved down through billions of years of time. Those rocks are ancient. It was pretty spectacular. It was astounding to me as a geoscientist and earth scientist. It’s mind-blowingly beautiful, even to someone who studies rocks. ... If you haven’t been to the bottom, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like.”

Hartnett loves the fact that through science, she has a strong connection to a quintessential piece of Arizona.

“I’m not from Arizona, but when I moved here I wanted something regional with real science attached to it that I don’t know much about,” she said. “The biogeochemical study of the river surprisingly hadn’t been done much before I started that project. That was cool.”

She and her husband are planning a kayaking trip on the river.

The historian

Paul Hirt is an ASU history professor who specializes in environmental history and sustainability. His first trip to the canyon was in 1976. That summer he was hanging out with some friends in Flagstaff, camping out in City Park. A German tourist stopped by, looking for someone to backpack into the canyon with.

“I said, ‘I’ll come,’ because I had my backpack and I had nothing better to do,” Hirt said.

They got a ride to the South Rim and picked up a permit to enter the canyon, but all the campgrounds were full.

“The only campground that had a space left in it was all the way down to the river and all the way up Bright Angel Creek to Cottonwood Campground, so it was like 13 miles,” Hirt said. “It was my first hike into the Grand Canyon, with inappropriate equipment, a crappy old backpack from Boy Scout days … I had more blisters on my feet that day than I’ve ever had in my life.”

Hirt directed a multimedia educational project, “Nature, Culture and History at the Grand Canyon,” that includes a digital audio tour of Grand Canyon Village, a walking tour brochure and Travelin’ Trunks for K-20 teachers.

“First I researched the Grand Canyon because I loved it, rather than loving the Grand Canyon because I researched it,” he said. “I was going to the Grand Canyon long before I turned it into a scholarly project, and I will go to the Grand Canyon long after I retire from my scholarly career.”

Hirt may be inspired by the creative things found in cities, like great restaurants and art exhibits and craft beer and performances, but not fulfilled.

“There’s so much to do in the city, but the city doesn’t bring me equanimity,” he said. “I get perspective and inspiration that lasts when I go to nature, when I’m quiet, when the noise around me is silenced and I’m filled with the environment around me, rather than hundreds of details of things competing for my attention in the city: honking cars, traffic lights changing, neon signs and stuff like that. The universe has been here for 12 billion years. The planet has been here for 5 billion years. The Grand Canyon has been here for 5 or 6 million years. Our lifetime, this year, this presidential administration, this career that I have, is such a small, tiny piece of the larger world. When you go to a place like the Grand Canyon you really gain the kind of perspective that lets you put your own life in perspective when you get back from it.”

Trail of Time Grand Canyon

The geographic Trail of Time is set up at the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

The geoscience educator

Steve Semken was part of a project at the canyon that helps visitors put things in perspective.

A team from different universities created an interpretive project to explain the canyon’s geology to visitors, helping them make an “intellectual and emotional connection” to the park, as officials say.

“It was the most fun project I’ve ever been a part of,” said Semken, a geoscience educator in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

The Trail of Time is a 2.83-mile interpretive walking timeline focusing on Grand Canyon geology. It helps visitors to explore and understand the geologic time of Grand Canyon rock layers and landscapes.

The exhibit follows the paved rim trail on the South Rim of Grand Canyon between Yavapai Observation Station and Grand Canyon Village and is marked by brass markers every meter, representing 1 million years of time.

“Basically one long step represents a million years, which is an amount of time in itself almost incomprehensible. … You actually walk out the history,” Semken said.

The team spent four years at the canyon working on the Trail of Time, visiting at least once a month. Almost 50 rock samples were brought up from the canyon by raft and helicopter. They brought parts of the canyon that are usually very difficult to get to up to the rim. Mockups of the design were built and tested at ASU. The trail was completed in 2010.

“We think the Trail of Time is one of the most rigorously evaluated exhibits in the whole National Park system,” Semken said. “Our evidence suggests it is.”

Semken leads an ASU field trip to the canyon at least once a semester. He has three river trips under his belt. He enjoys hiking up side canyons on his own, where it’s just him and the wildlife.

“As big as the canyon seems from the rim — and it does seem very big — when you’re down in the bottom of it it seems endlessly bigger,” Semken said. “Your entire reality is down there. We talk about the rim world, which is everything outside of the canyon. When you’re down there, you’re usually down there for two weeks. You start at Lees Ferry and you end at Pearce Ferry. It’s 277 river miles, and very little interaction with civilization. You stop at Phantom Ranch perhaps and provision yourself and get water and maybe make a phone call and have an ice cream cone, and then you’re back on the river again. The only other people you see are fellow river travelers. … Communication is spotty. We take a satellite phone, which works most of the time but not always. … So you’re really isolated for two weeks. You’re just there with your companions and the wildlife and the river.”

Mark Klett Anvil Pan

Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe, 2008 photograph: "At the canyon's edge: From the foot of the Toroweap to the 'Devil's Anvil' overhang with an upstream view of the Colorado River" contains pictures from William Bell taken in 1872. Bell's photos are courtesy of the National Archives.

The fine art photographer

Family hops out of car, runs to rim, stands in a row in front of viewpoint, has picture taken. It happens thousands of times a day at the canyon, and it has been happening since 1883, when organized tourism began. Canyon photos through the decades show women wearing Victorian high-collar blouses in the 1890s, cloche hats in the 1920s and bouffants and miniskirts in the 1960s.

Canyon photos have been made for all different reasons. Photographing the canyon began during the 19th-century surveys, when the government was trying to figure out what was there. Ansel Adams and others made fine art photos. High modernist photos were made in the 20th century. Commercial photos were taken to sell to tourists. The railroads and park service made promotional photos.

“People don’t really know the visual history of the canyon — seeing all the relationships that were occurring there between different kinds of photographers making different images of the same spot,” said fine art photographer Mark Klett, a Regents' Professor in the ASU School of Art.

Klett and partner Byron Wolfe, a former MFA student, have collaborated on projects for more than 20 years. They did a project in Yosemite where they overlaid contemporary photos with vintage illustrations and photos. They began thinking about the history of photography in national parks. Klett suggested they work on Grand Canyon.

“We realized there was just thousands and thousands of pictures made there in the 19th and 20th centuries that we could start to mine,” Klett said. “There’s this really broad range of all these different kinds of pictures of the same subjects. You never see them put together in a way that’s meant to show the contrasting ways of seeing the canyon, made by different people with different purposes. ... Now, with tourist images, since the advent of digital and smartphones and so on, social media is just packed.”

They began in 2007. Digital cameras had just gotten good, and the duo could do research online, onsite.

“We could go to the El Tovar and sit in the lobby and get on their wifi and look at the images in the National Archives or the USGS or any number of places where we could tap into and start downloading pictures, then we could just get out there and check them out. It was pretty cool, having all the resources right there,” Klett said. “Everything was incredibly convenient, working at the canyon. We loved it there.”

"Reconstructing the View: The Grand Canyon Photographs of Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe" was published in 2012 after five years of work.

Klett Adams Point Imperial

Point Imperial was photographed by Ansel Adams in 1941 and Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe in 2008. Adams' photo courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona.

“We had a really good response to it,” Klett said. “I think people really like that idea of linking history to their present experience.”

Technically the project was challenging. It wasn’t as simple as holding up an image to a view and going, “That’s it; here’s the spot.”

Klett explained: “Once you get to that spot, and you know where that picture was made, then you have to think about things like the lens, focal length, time of day and stuff like that. The time of day and time of year can matter.”

Almost all survey photographs in the 19th century were done in the summer, because that's when the crews were there. But Klett found one photo from the North Rim that couldn't have been done in summer because the light was too low.

“I went back every month for like a year until I finally figured out it was done in late December or early January,” he said. “It was totally unexpected. … Sometimes you just have to keep going back.”

He still keeps going back. He first went to the canyon in 1983, and he has grown fond of a few particular spots over the years: the North Rim in general, Point Sublime, the remote stretches around Kanab Creek where he has had to lower bags of camera gear down 50-foot pour-overs and Toroweap.

“That’s maybe the best spot where you can get literally right over the river and there’s a big drop and you can look both upstream and downstream. You’re sort of right above Lava Falls, and it’s just a gorgeous part of the canyon.”

The geologist

Ramon Arrowsmith, a geology professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration, has published a couple of papers on active faults in the western part of the Grand Canyon. This summer he is doing interpretation on a weeklong float down the river sponsored by the Institute of Human Origins. He and another ASU faculty member will tell stories during cocktail hour on the beach.

“It’s a chance for us to talk about our work,” Arrowsmith said. “Our idea is to share our enthusiasm for the history of the Earth and the history of life on Earth by this really amazing field experience.”

Arrowsmith has floated the river six times. His first time was on a private trip, when he was in grad school.

Flatwater rafting Grand Canyon

Two rafts float on the Colorado River. Photo courtesy of Getty Images/iStockphoto

“We were down there for 18 days,” he said. “Talk about an attitude adjustment. It was amazing. We were in oar boats and we took our time. … I was kind of an inefficient rower, and we’d get caught in those late afternoon up-canyon winds, and if we weren’t careful we’d be pulling ourselves down the canyon. That was hard work. They gave me that job because I was the drone, you know?”

At the bottom the canyon is 1.8 billion years old. There are trilobite trails and nautiloid fossils.

“It’s so cool,” Arrowsmith said. “We always talk about the rim world and the river world. As you go down, your sense of time changes because you tell time by sunlight rather than by your clock.

“The idea is to get up early and get on the river and get going, and pull over to some side canyons and do some hikes and see some spectacular features both kind of the modern flora and fauna and geomorphology of the river — but also it’s an amazing opportunity to look back in time. When you talk about Earth science and geology as a sort of time machine, that’s the place you really feel it.”

Colorado River night camp

"River Mile 202, melancholy about the end, buoyed by star- and firelight." Photo by Phillip Engle, courtesy of Ceiba Adventures River Outfitting Services   

The unbearable lightness of insignificance

Being deep within the bones of the Earth, surrounded by silence and towering cliffs that blot out much of the sky, can bring on the realization that we are nothing but tiny specks and our whole lives are an eyeblink.

Hirt finds that stimulating rather than depressing.

“Some people, when they’re made to feel small, it’s really oppressive,” he said. “I think that the way the Grand Canyon makes you feel small is expansive. … Most people, you stand on the rim and look down: It’s really, really hard not to be silent and awestruck. We use that word ‘awesome’ all the time. It’s kind of overused, but there is a deep cultural meaning to the word ‘awe’ and ‘awesome.’ I’d say the Grand Canyon is one of those places — if you’re not sure what ‘awesome’ is, in the most literal sense, go to the Grand Canyon and stand on the rim and you will understand for the first time.”

Klett feels the solitude and sense of feeling insignificant is substantial and important.

“Everything focuses on the here-and-now when you’re there," he said. "You realize that you’re, in some ways, less significant in that situation. You wouldn’t think about that sort of thing when you’re not there. You think about your daily routine and how much you have to do and stuff like that. It puts you in a different place. … It’s liberating, and I think it’s wonderful. It’s a little humbling. … You look all around you and realize this is a place that took a long time to form. Not only are you this little speck down there, but the time that you’re spending there is just this blink of time.”

Andrew Holycross is a herpetologist and an adjunct professor in the School of Life Sciences. He is the ninth person of 10 to thru-hike (to walk without leaving) the length of Grand Canyon and only the third person to walk the length on both north and south sides. There is a yin and yang to his view of the sensation.

“I feel that in terms of the physicalness of existence, because of the scale of the canyon and the stars at night and things like that, you realize how small you are physically in the universe," Holycross said. "But from a spiritual point of view, you feel more a part of everything, so maybe bigger in a way. It’s kind of weird those two things are opposites.”

Top photo: End-of-day sun hits the tops of the canyon walls. Photo by Craig Zerbe/Getty Images/iStockphoto 
Special thanks to Ceiba Adventures, River Outfitting Services, Flagstaff, Arizona. 

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now