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Aiming high: ASU grad student pursues dream of flight

December 18, 2018

Luke Air Force Base commander invites former Sun Devil walk-on cornerback for the ride of his life

Arizona State University graduate student Anthony Lawrence recently got a taste of what his future life could be like when he strapped into the back seat of an F-16D Fighting Falcon at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale.

His Dec. 11 ride in a two-seat jet fighter used primarily for training student pilots marks the symbolic beginning of Lawrence’s path toward fulfilling his childhood dream of flying.

“The flight was amazing, from takeoff to landing,” Lawrence said. “It definitely exceeded my expectations of anything I could have dreamed of.”

The Georgia native’s passion for flying began around age 5 after a family trip to an air show, and it eventually led him to an aviation enrichment program at his local airport during high school, followed by four and a half years on active duty with the Air Force starting in 2011.

“I went to a few air shows growing up and then that really turned into hopefully one day becoming a fighter pilot,” Lawrence said. “So here I am.”

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Lawrence, who transferred from an active-duty unit in California to a reserve squadron in Tucson, will have a chance at becoming a fighter pilot when he returns to active duty in January to attend Air Force Officer Training School, followed by flight school.

While at ASU, Lawrence received his private pilot’s license in 2016, played football for the Sun Devils as a walk-on that same year and earned his bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies this past May. He was also an active member of the Pat Tillman Veterans Center outreach team and starred in an orientation welcome video with fellow veteran Marisa Von Holten.

“All of those things are something I am passionate about, and it kind of just came easy to me to put in the work because I knew it would pay off in the long run,” said Lawrence, who also credits the Tuskegee Airmen for inspiring him to fly.

ASU alumnus Brig. Gen. Todd Canterbury, 56th Fighter Wing commander at Luke, met Lawrence during ASU’s Salute to Service week in November and subsequently invited him to fly, something the service does as part of the Air Force’s Orientation Flight Program

“It really came through him, and I’m just eternally grateful for the opportunity to even be here,” Lawrence said after the flight. “An experience like this just gives you that carrot at the end of the road letting you know that this is the culmination of all the hard work that you’ve put in up until this point and beyond to try and work for.”

Currently, Lawrence is an ASU Online graduate student in the homeland security program with the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“Through ASU, through networking, through the Pat Tillman Veterans Center and Luke Air Force Base, that’s how it’s all possible,” Lawrence said. “I’m definitely feeling inspired, more inspired than even before, knowing that the work ahead will lead to something like this in the future.”

Top photo: Future Air Force officer Anthony Lawrence walks away from the F-16D in which he just flew at Luke Air Force Base on Dec. 11. The ASU Online graduate student will soon attend the Air Force's Officer Training School and flight school. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

 
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ASU Lodestar Center offers nationally recognized training to boost nonprofits' efficiency

ASU's Lodestar Center offers new training to help nonprofits be more efficient.
December 18, 2018

Grant from governor's office helps organizations learn best practices for recruiting, keeping volunteers

The lifeblood of any nonprofit organization is its volunteers — those people who gladly donate their time for a cause that stirs their passion.

Thanks to a new grant from the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith, and Family, Arizona State University is helping nonprofits in the state to better manage — and appreciate — their volunteers. The ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation won the funding last summer to offer the nationally recognized “Service Enterprise Initiative” program. Ten state nonprofits are wrapping up the training now, and the center is accepting applications for the next cohort to begin in February.

“It shows our volunteers that we’re really trying,” said Elaine Starks, executive director of Power Paws, a Scottsdale-based organization that trains assistance dogs. The nonprofit has about 30 volunteers and aims to place about 12 dogs a year with people who have diabetes or post-traumatic stress disorder or who need mobility assistance. Volunteers foster the dogs while they are being trained.

“Some of our volunteers have been with us for 10 years, and we want to show them that we’re making an investment in them and recognizing them.”

The grant allows Lodestar to offer the program at a cost of only $430 for the nonprofits, which can then begin the national certification process by the Points of Light Foundation The foundation was created in 1990 in response to President George H.W. Bush’s 1989 inaugural address, which compared service by volunteers to a “thousand points of light.”, a nationwide organization that works to increase and improve volunteer service. The Service Enterprise Initiative training is based on research that pinpointed 10 practices that nonprofits should incorporate to be most efficient, such as standardizing training, setting up a tracking system and communicating clear expectations.

The training helps nonprofits of any size to become more effective, according to Cynthia Thiede, director of professional development education for the ASU Lodestar Center’s Nonprofit Management Institute. The center is in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“They all want to do better at managing their volunteers, and they want a higher retention rate,” she said.

The Points of Light Foundation estimates that, after the training, organizations can expect a return of $3 to $6 for every $1 invested in effective volunteer engagement. The research found that nonprofits that engage volunteers in productive ways are equally as effective as agencies without volunteers, but at almost half the median budget.

Starks started to revamp the volunteer procedures at Power Paws after she was promoted to executive director a year ago, and she said the Service Enterprise Initiative training has improved that process.

“It helped me to see that we needed to provide our volunteers with more structure,” she said. “To have an invested volunteer, you need to give them an outline of your expectations.”

Previously, Power Paws volunteers had to agree to a two-year commitment. Now, in the new system, dogs will attend training more frequently, reducing the commitment to one year, and volunteers will get a better picture throughout the process of how close their dog is to being placed. In addition, other volunteers will provide short-term respite to the dog-fostering volunteers.

“Our volunteer program was put together 17 years ago, and it needed to be freshened up,” Starks said.

 The Maryvale Revitalization Corporation, which manages 2,500 volunteers a year, works to build collaboration among non-profits, faith-based communities, government initiatives, schools and local businesses in West Phoenix. Jaime Lyn Gonzales, the director of programming, said that the training included a valuable "diagnosis" of the agency.

 "Much of what we believe about our vision and practices for engaging human capital proved to be true, while some areas of improvement were highlighted," she said. "We appreciated seeing and embracing these, as many of those opportunities aligned with improvements in practices and policies that were already in development. This also provided our team and board of directors with the validation to move forward in these investments."

Pat Bell-Demers, executive director of the Sonoran Arts League, said the training revealed a lot of “aha moments.”

“It was an eye-opener to get through the diagnostic and uncover those weaknesses and those strengths,” she said.

The Sonoran Arts League, which is based in Cave Creek and has more than 400 volunteers, promotes arts in the community with exhibits, classes, artists-in-residence, studio tours, veterans’ programs and a gallery.

One of the training sessions teaches nonprofits how to calculate the return on investment for volunteers’ work.

“Being able to identify the value that these individuals bring is priceless,” Bell-Demers said. “They open up doors, bring us relationships and help further our mission.”

The training helped the league set up a strategic action plan, she said.

“Boards of directors come and go all the time, but this plan is timeless,” she said.

Top image by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503

Criminal justice outstanding graduate motivated by difficult life experiences


December 13, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

Arizona State University graduate Philip Wellwerts beat the odds and then some. His father was incarcerated just a few months before he was born. He continues to serve out a lengthy prison sentence. Growing up, Wellwerts watched his birth mother battle her inner demons with drug addiction. He felt he had no choice but to cut all ties with her due to her continued substance abuse. Philip Wellwerts Philip Wellwerts poses with his cap before graduation. Wellwerts is a proud Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan before pursing his college degrees. Download Full Image

“Overall, the crime, drug usage, and violence I witnessed growing up were the motivating factors that allowed me to overcome my childhood challenges,” Wellwerts said.

As a kid, he heard his great grandfather talk about joining the military during World War II only to be discharged because he had lied about his age. He was too young. His great grandfather eventually joined the Marine Corps following the war.

So, Wellwerts set his sights on military service out of high school. Like his great grandfather, he became a Marine.

“Statistically, the odds were stacked against me as many people in my situation growing up would not have made it through high school,” Wellwerts noted. “I made the decision early in my teen years that I would not be a victim of the deteriorating cycle my family created.”

Wellwerts rose to the rank of Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. He learned the best way to lead was by his own actions and his own resolve. With limited resources, he ensured his battalion’s readiness in Afghanistan as the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment helped with the withdrawal of U.S. military forces in 2014. He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his work.

“I got back from Afghanistan on September 11, 2014,” said Wellwerts. “It was a surreal moment during my enlistment because it almost felt like coming back on that day was written in a movie script.”

But for the Phoenix native, the script wasn’t complete. It was simply switching scenes.

Wellwerts married his high school sweetheart, Sandra, whom he met at Apollo High School. When he was discharged from the Marines in 2015, they moved back to Phoenix. She began to teach high school math in Glendale. He enrolled in Glendale Community College.

The aptitude he showed toward military service helped him excel as a college student. But it wasn’t easy.

“During night classes I would find myself exhausted during some courses, but I felt wide awake during my criminal justice classes,” Wellwerts recalled. “I just had a personal passion that would keep me intrigued.”

Sandra and Philip Wellwerts

Sandra and Philip Wellwerts at a Marine Corps Ball. Sandra earned her Bachelor's degree in Computational Mathematical Sciences from the ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2013 and her Master's in Secondary Education from Grand Canyon University in 2015. Philip earned two degrees in December 2018: a Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice and a Bachelor of Science in Public Service and Public Policy.

He soon transferred to the the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the ASU West campus in Glendale. It was there that adviser Karla Moreno-Arias suggested the first-generation student seek a second degree. Moreno-Arias pointed out that his GI Bill would pay for two majors if they were taken at the same time.

“I sent him an e-mail to congratulate him on his success and he responded with ‘hey, if you wouldn't have told me that it was possible, I wouldn't have done it,’” Moreno-Arias said.

Wellwerts dedication paid off. He is the fall 2018 outstanding graduate of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice. He graduates with a second degree in public service and public policy with an emphasis in business from the School of Public Affairs. Both schools are in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions in downtown Phoenix. And both are top ten rated schools in the nation based on US News & World Report rankings.

“It was pretty difficult going from a criminology and criminal justice class to a public affairs class because you were looking at society from a different lens, but I would say they both balance each other out very well,” Wellwerts said.

During the fall 2018 semester, Wellwerts interned with the Phoenix Fire Department's Community Assistance Program or CAP. As a CAP team member, he provided on-scene crisis intervention and victim assistance services throughout Phoenix.

“My internship allowed me to experience the situations that people find themselves in; it can be the worst day of a person’s life,” Wellwerts said. “It gave me more insight so I can understand what people are going through and how they see their situation.”

His own situation growing up continues to guide his future. The dual-degree graduate plans to go back to school in a couple years to earn an MBA from ASU’s W.P. Carey School of Business.

“Business and money management have become a personal venture,” Wellwerts said. “I’ve seen what happens financially when you have incarcerated family, drug-induced household members and mismanagement of family funds.”

It also helped that his commanding officer in the Marine Corps highly encouraged Wellwerts to get a business degree.

“He would often say that, “Everything is business,” Wellwerts recalled.

First, the former Marine hopes to get hired on with the Phoenix Police Department. Ultimately, Wellwerts would like to work in narcotics. He knows his life experience and education can make a difference.

“If I could help just one family so that a child does not have to experience what I suffered through as a kid, it will be worth it.”

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions

602-496-0001

ASU graduate plans to empower others through social work


December 11, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

Kourtney Conn is the fall 2018 outstanding graduate of the School of Social Work in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions in downtown Phoenix. Kourtney Conn School of Social Work outstanding graduate Kourtney Conn (Photo courtesy Kayla Kitts) Download Full Image

Service to others is an important part of who Conn is. It’s how she was raised.

“I’ve spent my whole life being passionate about serving people,” Conn said.

The Fort Collins, Colorado native chose to attend ASU after a visit to the Downtown Phoenix campus.

“I didn’t know anyone and had only spent a couple days visiting the campus, but I knew ASU was the right choice for me based on the culture and ASU’s commitment to the community,” Conn said.

Originally enrolled as a nutrition major, Conn wanted to make a difference in the lives of people with health issues. But, it never felt right. After talking to friends, family and even high school guidance counselors, Conn switched her major to social work. She hasn’t looked back since.

“On the first day of my social work classes, I genuinely cried tears of joy because it felt like I was where I belonged, like all my passion could finally be funneled into something,” Conn said. “Sitting in that lecture hall preparing for a career of loving and empowering others was the ‘aha’ moment.”

Conn had lots of experience helping others over the years. Her family would annually travel to Somoto, Nicaragua, a rural town near the Honduras border. There, they have helped build homes, hosted a kid’s camp in the small mountain community and paid for local students to attend college.

Kourtney Conn plays with kids in Nicaragua

School of Social Work outstanding graduate Kourtney Conn volunteers in Somoto, Nicaragua. Photo courtesy Kourtney Conn.

“After taking seven years of Spanish classes, I use my language skills to ensure our trips are not just about laying concrete blocks or writing checks, but rather creating positive and meaningful relationships between Americans and Nicaraguans.”

An internship at New City Church in Phoenix gave Conn the opportunity to create a “Foster Care Closet” where foster families could find needed clothes and toiletries. Conn created a system for processing and distributing supplies, recruited volunteers, designed marketing materials and conducted outreach to social service agencies to promote the community resource.

“This was a unique and creative concept that required a lot of thinking from a different perspective and problem-solving on the fly,” Conn said. “While it was certainly a challenging intern project, it helped me to recognize how I represent innovation — by leading with energy and empathy to create new solutions."

Conn is also a student in Barrett, The Honors College. She says being in Barrett is the best decision she’s ever made.

“It opened so many doors for me,” Conn said.

Through Barrett, Conn served as a peer mentor and a residential leader helping create positive first-year experiences for new Barrett students and serving as part of their support system. She also directed communications for the Barrett Leadership and Service Team.

Barrett scholars are required to write a thesis and Conn is thankful for the opportunity.

“My favorite experience in Barrett was getting to write a thesis about digital dating abuse trends among teens with social work professor Lauren Reed as my faculty project director and professor Jill Messing as my second reader,” Conn recalled. “I did a mixed-methods study analyzing survey data and created a project I am so proud of in a field where there is little existing literature.”

Conn and her social work professors are now hoping to get the thesis published in an academic journal.

“Being a part of Barrett has enriched my time at ASU immeasurably and I feel so grateful for the opportunity,” Conn said.

Her time at ASU is even more remarkable as Conn has dealt with health issues that could easily have prevented her from succeeding.

Conn has temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJD, a medical condition that occurs in the jaw joint and can cause considerable pain. For Conn, it’s required numerous medical appointments and physical therapy visits.

“No one ever knows what I’m talking about when I mention it because they think I’m referring to my jaw popping once in a while, not the extreme lockjaw and pain I deal with,” Conn said. “It’s hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, but it definitely played a role in my academic career and learning how to persevere and stay focused despite physical pain.”

The greater obstacle, in her opinion, was her struggle with dysthymia. Dysthymia is also called "persistent depressive disorder," a long-term form of depression that Conn struggled with for many years. It wasn’t diagnosed until she got to college.

“As anyone who has experienced depression knows, it makes it feel nearly impossible to finish tasks successfully, be at your best, attend events or sometimes even just get out of bed,” Conn noted.

While the condition affected her academic productivity, it didn’t define her. She appreciates any opportunity to have a conversation about mental health or be open about health issues in general to reduce the stigma.

“I think it’s important to show that mental health issues can be a part of you, but not the entirety of you,” Conn said. “It’s possible to succeed, it’s okay to ask for help, and there is light at the end of the tunnel!”

After graduation, Coon plans to work in the area of gender-based violence intervention. Ultimately, she wants to return to school to earn her master’s degree and a PhD. Her goal is to do gender-based violence intervention and prevention research.

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions

602-496-0001

Public policy graduate prepared to tackle education issues


December 6, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

When Hurricane Irma slammed the state of Florida in September 2017, School of Public Affairs outstanding graduate Max Goshert left the comforts of Phoenix to help those in need. Max Goshert lead the effort to recall Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction Max Goshert talks to members of the media after filing petitions to recall Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas Sept. 1, 2015. Photo Courtesy: James Anderson, Cronkite News Download Full Image

“I think that my experiences there were more helpful to my degree,” said Goshert, who is earning a master’s degree in public policy, “because I got to see what public policy in an emergency situation looks like.”

Goshert assisted shelters with logistics in Orlando and Miami, helping analyze data and provide information to get supplies where they were needed. His decision to help others caused him to miss classes and forgo the first part of the fall 2017 semester. It also dashed any chance he had of graduating in the spring.

It’s a decision he doesn’t regret. If anything, it taught him the important role public policy can play.

“Without well-crafted public policy, communities don’t operate in the ways that they should, especially when you put the strain of a massive, category five hurricane barreling down on them,” he said.

Max Goshert

Max Goshert volunteered in Orlando and Miami following Hurricane Irma in September 2017. He helped the Red Cross with logistical needs at shelters set up to help victims.

Goshert benefited from his experience working in the nonprofit sector. After earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Arizona in 2012, he participated in Public Allies Arizona, an AmeriCorps program administered through the Lodestar Center for Nonprofit Management and Leadership in the School of Community Resources and Development. Goshert was placed with St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix and was hired on full time after his 10-month placement. He supervised dozens of volunteers every day and helped raise money and in-kind donations for the nonprofit that serves people in need. Goshert then went to work for the American Red Cross, where he coordinated drowning prevention and life-saving classes in aquatic facilities throughout Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Southern California.

When he returned from helping out after Hurricane Irma, Goshert resumed his full-time job at the local Red Cross and his education at ASU.

His hands-on approach to learning included competing in the Cyber 9/12 Student Challenge, a national student competition that challenges students to come up with high-level policy recommendations to immediately respond to a major cyber incident.

The experience sent him to Washington, D.C., where Goshert’s team advanced to the semifinals. Those teammates have turned into lasting friends, including one who was an online student from Tennessee.

Max Goshert and the ASU Cyber 9/12 Challenge team

From right to left: Max Goshert, Zak Ghali, ASU professor Brian Gerber, ASU professor Scott Somers, Salvador Ortega and Becca McCarthy.

Goshert is also on track to earn his Master of Education Policy from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at ASU in the spring of 2020. He plans to eventually work in education policy.

“I think that the only way we can avoid our society heading in a bad direction is by dedicating ourselves to educating the population,” he said. “One’s education should never end.”

He has big goals for improving education at a state level, and eventually at a national level.

“Our country is among the highest spenders of all developed countries in education, yet we have so little to show for it — and a large part of that is due to inequality in education, said Goshert. “What we could do to improve education in our state because it’s so poor as it is, is to focus on inequality on education.

“That can be addressed by, among other things, summer educational programs or year-round schooling,” he said. “Right now, those who can afford that do it and those who can’t fall behind.”

Goshert decided to pursue his graduate degree after leading a statewide effort to recall former Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas. He felt Arizona’s top education official was not adequately addressing Arizona’s dismal educational performance, instead focusing on what he called trivial issues. Despite mobilizing volunteers statewide, they could not obtain the required 366,128 signatures by the 90-day deadline.

“I was so lucky to have a chance to lead over a thousand people all across the state to talk to their fellow Arizonans about why we need better leaders for our education system,” said Goshert. “My experience with the recall is what drove me to pursue a master’s in public policy at ASU in hopes that I could assist our leaders in building a better future for Arizona’s youth.”

Goshert credits the School of Public Affairs graduate program with providing him a multifaceted approach to public policy and a wide array of policy discussions.

“I have learned so much from each of the classes that I’ve taken that I’ve been able to apply,” Goshert said. “I loved this program because there was so much diversity as far as the information that we were presented.”

Goshert is already putting his degree to work as a senior research associate for the Grand Canyon Institute, a Phoenix-based nonpartisan think tank that provides analysis of fiscal and economic issues from a centrist perspective.

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions

602-496-0001

Emergency Management and Homeland Security graduate embodies 'service before self'


December 6, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

From weatherman to man in black, Russell Pablo has a passion for service. Now, he’s taking that passion from the United States Air Force to the United States Secret Service. Russell Pablo at the Bataan Memorial Death March Download Full Image

Pablo is the outstanding graduate for college-level programs in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University. He is graduating with a Master of Arts in Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Originally from Graham, Washington, Pablo is stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. As a noncommissioned officer, the ASU Online student has served into numerous leadership positions. In his present role, Pablo works in weather forecasting operations. He is a synoptic weather forecaster interpreting complex meteorological data used in mission planning by United States Northern and Southern Commanders and staff.

Service runs deep in Pablo’s family — he is a third-generation member of the armed forces. Among his relatives who have served across all branches, they total 450 years of military service.

As he put it, “I come from a family that literally bleeds red, white and blue and it's something that is an embodiment for me. Service before self.”

However, Pablo has also dreamed of wearing a different uniform. It was his interest in a federal law enforcement career that has shaped much of his path in and out of the Air Force.

“I entered the United States Air Force with a bachelor's degree in international relations with the goal of entering into federal law enforcement at some point,” Pablo said. “But with the competitive nature of those positions, I decided a master's degree in homeland security and emergency management would really set me apart. I found that ASU was the best fit for what I needed.”

Competitive is right. Now, after eight years of military service and 24 months’ worth of graduate school condensed into one grueling year, Pablo will be moving on to a new career as a special agent with the United States Secret Service. Pablo was one of 48 people hired from an applicant pool of 70,000.

“I really like the overall mission of the Secret Service,” Pablo said. “A lot of people don't know that they have actually a dual-fold mission: protection and investigation.”

Pablo will be part of an investigative unit, though he acknowledges most people think of the protective side, i.e. black suits and ties and walking next to the president.

It’s an exciting new opportunity, but leaving the Air Force will be bittersweet.

I've gotten to experience quite a bit. I've done things in places I never thought I would have gone. I've seen shooting stars in Texas, had moonshine in Alabama, served in Panama City, marched across the white sands of New Mexico, and ridden in rodeos in Arizona.”

Pablo is no stranger to hard work, but tackling graduate-level coursework in a condensed time frame on top of active duty and caring for his family including six months as a single father of a toddler while his wife was deployed in the Middle East was a bit more than he anticipated.

But Pablo likes a challenge, and he’s been able to leverage a lot of the skills that he learned from the military to get him across the finish line.

“Being resilient and being determined, working hard and sacrificing and doing all those things came in handy because I knew it was worth it,” Pablo noted.

If he were to do it all over again or advise others following in his footsteps, he would suggest going a bit slower recognizing it’s good to push yourself, but it’s also good to keep a manageable pace.

The online student experience can be drastically different from taking classes in person, but being stationed in Tucson has allowed Pablo to take advantage of online flexibility while still traveling to attend some in-person events.

The college has been really good about putting on symposium events and hiring events,” Pablo observed. “Getting to meet people face-to-face as opposed to just talking through a keyboard has been really, really good in expanding my network.”

“Even though I've been in an online environment, I've still made connections with people that will be lasting.”

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

602-496-0130

ASU therapeutic recreation grad uses art to make a difference


December 5, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates

Nikka Brooks-Cullum is the fall 2018 outstanding graduate for the School of Community Resources and Development in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University. An Air Force veteran, she earned her associate’s degree from Chandler-Gilbert Community College and is a first-generation college graduate. Brooks-Cullum will receive her bachelor’s degree in Parks and Recreation Management with an emphasis in Therapeutic Recreation. Nikka Brooks-Cullum Nikka Brooks-Cullum, the fall 2018 outstanding graduate for the School of Community Resources and Development. Download Full Image

Financially, it wasn’t easy. She quit her full-time job to focus on her studies.

“At almost forty, I had thought this opportunity might never come, but the decision to finally do it was the best I have ever made,” Brooks-Cullum said. “My husband and I had to give up quite a bit to make this happen, and I am so glad we did.”

A professional artist, Brooks-Cullum originally planned to major in art education. But after serving as a substitute teacher, she found being in a classroom setting would not be true to her calling. Her real passion was using her artistic ability to help people in need. She learned that a degree focusing on therapeutic recreation would allow her to do just that.

“There are so many different ways that recreational therapy can be used, that the therapist's own strengths and interests can really help them decide where they want to go with their practice,” she said.

For Brooks-Cullum, painting was once an escape. She suffered from mental health issues, but the stigma of seeking help prevented her from reaching out.

So, she reached inward.

She expressed her feelings through the stroke of a brush and a dash of color. She painted serene landscapes, flowers, and women in contemplative poses. Sometimes the women had fairy-like wings. What she put on canvas helped Brooks-Cullum find her own inner beauty.

“I just did this one thing I enjoyed doing, over and over until I got good at it, and it helped me cope with stress, anxiety and improved my sense of self-worth,” Brooks-Cullum said. “This personal experience was something I felt others with mental health issues could also benefit from.”

A native of Chino Valley, Arizona, Brook-Cullum joined the Air Force out of high school and soon found herself in a technical career as a vehicle operator/dispatcher. She left military service a few years later as the spouse of an airman. They spent several years living abroad, in Okinawa, Japan and later in Stuttgart, Germany, where she began to sell her paintings.

The flowers, women and landscapes she painted to find beauty within have morphed into a deeper juxtaposition of life and death.

“My current work is also about me, but this time finding an acceptance for the inevitable end of life,” Brooks-Cullum said. “I use flowers to represent the fragility of life and beauty and images of bones to symbolize death. There is such a fine line between the two. We seem strong and vital, but life is delicate as well.”

Brooks-Cullum plans to use her skills as an artist and a certified therapeutic recreation specialist to help an often overlooked population, people who are incarcerated.

“I was surprised by how important the idea of second chance became to me,” she noted. “Two of my career field experience volunteer locations allowed me to get to know people who had at some point in their lives been involved in a crime, and they were either still doing time for it, or were trying to reintegrate back into society.”

In Arizona, 40 percent of those released from prison reoffend within three years. Brooks-Cullum wants to be part of the solution.

“I believe therapeutic recreation has a lot to offer to the field of corrections, and am advocating for Arizona Department of Corrections to offer people who are incarcerated and the newly released more access to services such as recreational therapy to lower the state's high recidivism rate,” Brooks-Cullum said. “I volunteered at the Maricopa Re-entry Center last spring with a classmate and used recreational therapy to remind former inmates there that they are people and deserving of a happy, healthy life, regardless of their past.”

Brooks-Cullum also interned at the Arizona State Forensics Hospital where she had the chance to work with people with severe mental illness and behavioral issues. She saw the difference she made in the lives of people and she’s grateful for the opportunity ASU gave her as a student.

“I think it’s important to find ways to make your assignments have actual meaning to you,” Brooks-Cullum said. “Apply them to a setting or a population that you want to learn about, or help in some way, and you may find that the work becomes more interesting to you, and less like work.”

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions

602-496-0001

Arizona’s next US senator guided by social work

ASU School of Social Work reception honors alum Kyrsten Sinema


December 4, 2018

Arizona’s next U.S. senator Kyrsten Sinema began her workweek by finishing her semester as a lecturer in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University. She submitted her grades for the two classes she teaches, an undergraduate online course titled “Legal Issues in Social Work” and a graduate seminar she taught once a month on weekends titled “Development Grants and Fundraising.”

“As I submitted them I thought to myself ‘I'm so lucky, not only am I preparing to head into the United States Senate to serve our great state as the first woman senator in our state, and as the first social worker, but I'm equally proud of the fact that, as of this morning, I've finished my 16th continuous year of teaching in the School of Social Work at ASU,’” Sinema told an audience at a School of Social Work reception held at the Westward Ho Concho room in downtown Phoenix Monday evening. two women talking Senator-elect Kyrsten Sinema talks with one of her former professors, Elizabeth Segal, at a reception honoring current adjunct faculty member Sinema, in the Concho Room at the Westward Ho in downtown Phoenix, Monday, Dec. 3. Download Full Image

Sinema told invited students, alumni, faculty and staff about her journey into politics. As a social worker in the Sunnyslope community of Phoenix, she saw the community needs going unmet.

“I would go to bed each night thinking to myself, 'This was not enough, I need to do more,'" Sinema recalled. “'The change I need to make in my community was greater than what I was able to do today.'"

Sinema enrolled in the School of Social Work and earned her graduate degree in 1999. She was asked to start teaching a few years later. Paola Villa was a student in Sinema’s fall 2018 graduate class.

“She was outstanding, probably one of the best professors I have ever had,” Villa said. “She had everything very strategically planned and knew what to do. She had deadlines but was always available regardless of being in D.C. She replied to emails, like, day of.”

Villa had her photo taken with Sinema at the event. She's still in awe that Sinema served in Congress, ran for election and taught two classes during the fall.

“Everyone in the class is shocked about how much she does it and we're constantly asking her, ‘How do you do it?’” Villa said.

Sinema's answer? Making sure she took care of herself and setting priorities.

For Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Dean Jonathan Koppell, Sinema is an example of what public service can be.

“I am enormously proud, not just that you won ... but how you conducted yourself in the campaign,” said Koppell, a political scientist by training. “It showed how politics can be and I would humbly guess that some of your social work training and experience was relevant.”

Sinema explained how her social work ethos guides her interactions with others, including opposing candidates.

“I pledged early on in my career and I doubled down on that pledge in this race for the United States Senate that I would campaign the same way that I govern, the same way that I teach and the way that I try to live my life — which is to seek understanding of those around me rather than to move forward with a combative attitude,” Sinema said.

For Arizona’s Senator-elect, that means trying to understand where people are coming from and having empathy for other perspectives. She said she wants to learn why people have particular points of view or perceptions, even if they are different from her own.

“I promised myself and instituted this throughout my entire campaign — all 700 or so people who were working for us by the end of that campaign — that we would behave in the highest ethical manner every single day, regardless of what happens in the rough and tumble of American politics today,” Sinema said. “That we would stand up every single day and we would continue to behave according to the ethics of our profession that we would not engage in that low name-calling or the ugliness and the pettiness of personal attacks.”

With about 100 social workers in attendance, Sinema used the opportunity to get recommendations for new staffers. Since her election to the United States House of Representatives in 2012, Sinema has exclusively hired social workers with graduate degrees or MSWMaster of Social Works to serve in her casework office. She plans to hire more as she now represents the entire state.

“I need more MSWs, so please send me your best and brightest, hardest working MSWs,” Sinema said. “I expect that the number of calls we'll receive in our office come Jan. 3 will skyrocket and that is exactly what I hope. I want folks all around the state to wake up and think to themselves, ‘I got a problem with the federal government, something's not getting done. I can call my senator and she and her team of social workers will help solve these problems.’"

James Herbert Williams, director of the ASU School of Social Work, couldn’t help but smile when he heard Sinema say she wants to hire social workers with graduate degrees to solve problems.

"I couldn't see a better role model for students, especially women,” Williams said. “It shows what you can accomplish in life, and the importance of an MSW degree.”

In addition to earning her master's degree in social work from Arizona State University, Sinema earned a law degree from the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, a PhD in justice studies from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and an MBA from the W.P. Carey School. 

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions

602-496-0001

 
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ASU-led statewide survey finds big jump in e-cigarette use among adolescents

ASU-led statewide survey finds alarming jump in e-cigarette use by adolescents.
December 3, 2018

Marijuana concentrate use surveyed for first time and finds 23.5 percent rate

A new statewide survey of adolescents in Arizona finds alarmingly high rates of e-cigarette use as well as use of marijuana concentrates, and an Arizona State University professor who led the research believes that intervention should begin at younger ages.

The Arizona Youth Survey is administered to students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades every two years. The 2018 survey results were released Monday at a press conference held by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission in Phoenix. This year’s survey included 48,000 students in all 15 counties and addressed drug use, violence and other risk factors.

The use of electronic cigarettes was up dramatically across all three age groups:

  • Eighth-graders: 21.6 percent reported using e-cigarettes in 2016, while this year, 27.7 percent reported using the devices.
  • 10th-graders: 29.4 percent in 2016, 39.4 percent in 2018
  • 12th-graders: 35.3 percent in 2016, 45.8 percent in 2018.

The e-cigarette devices are increasingly popular with young people because the nicotine is flavored, according to Sheila Polk, county attorney for Yavapai County and chairperson of the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said that progress in getting adolescents to stop smoking cigarettes is being undone by the e-cigarette industry. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

“What’s alarming is that decades of progress in getting our kids to stop using cigarettes has been undone in two short years with the e-cigarette industry,” Polk said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has targeted the e-cigarette industry’s marketing to young people, in part because the agency estimates that about 5 percent of adolescents using e-cigarettes are actually using the devices to inhale marijuana concentrate.

This is the first year the Arizona Youth Survey asked about marijuana concentrate use, according to Dustin Pardini, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. His research team helped design the survey, collected and cleaned the data and generated the school-level reports.

“This is the largest study that’s ever looked at the prevalence of use of concentrated marijuana,” said Pardini, who is working with Madeline Meier, an assistant professor of psychology at ASU, to drill down further into the data and publish the results.

The survey showed that 14 percent of eighth-graders reported using marijuana concentrates, along with 25 percent of 10th-graders and nearly 33 percent of 12th-graders. And more students are using the typical flower-budFor 2018, 15.7 percent of eighth-graders reported using traditional marijuana at some point in their lives compared with 13.3 percent of eighth-graders in 2016; for 10th grade, it was 32 percent this year compared with 27 percent in 2016, and for 12-graders, it was 44 percent this year compared with 40 percent in 2016. marijuana than two years ago.

Marijuana concentrate is a highly distilled mass of THCTetrahydrocannabinol is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. that can be consumed in e-cigarette devices and in other ways, such as edibles.

Meier said that the vaping devices can look like thumb drives yet be filled with marijuana concentrate and used without detection because there’s no distinctive odor.

“So we get kids who are using not only nicotine in school but also using cannabis in class,” she said.

This is concerning because the amount of THC in concentrates is much higher than in the flower-bud marijuana that is typically smoked, according to Bill Montgomery, county attorney for Maricopa County.

“Some of the perceptions of marijuana use that even voters are familiar with are the types of THC concentration in the 3 percent level we used to see in the 1980s to the early 90s, whereas today, you can have commercial-grade marijuana sold in dispensaries that is upward of 30 and 35 percent THC, and with concentrates, THC can be 90 percent in some formulations,” he said.

The survey showed that youths are more frequently acquiring marijuana from someone with a medical marijuana card. In 2014, 10 percent of eighth-graders got marijuana from someone with a card, and that percentage doubled this year.

Because medical marijuana is legal, young people are perceiving marijuana as a medicine, not an illegal substance, Montgomery said.

The survey showed that more than 80 percent of students believed that people are at “moderate or great risk of harm” if they smoke one or more packs of cigarettes a day, have five or more alcoholic drinks at once, use prescription drugs without a prescription or use illegal drugs besides marijuana.

But nearly 40 percent of the young people felt that there was “no risk” in trying marijuana.

“So you have a perception of a product that is inconsistent with its true impact and how it’s being manufactured,” Montgomery said.

Pardini said he is further analyzing the data to see if there are differences in risk factors or attitudes between young people who use concentrates and those that use traditional marijuana.

Another issue he’s studying has to do with the side effects of concentrate use, such as extreme levels of paranoia, anxiety and panic attacks, which may linger.

“For a smaller portion of kids, there’s some evidence to suggest that it can trigger a predisposition to schizophrenia,” he said.

Alcohol still the top substance

Alcohol was by far the most commonly reported substance used, with 45 percent of students reporting drinking alcoholFor 2018, 31 percent of eighth-graders drank alcohol, 47 percent of 10th-graders and nearly 60 percent of 12th-graders. in their lifetime. The rates showed a slight increase from two years ago, but were slightly less than in 2014 for all three grade levels.

The next most common substance reported was e-cigarettes, with 37 percent reported using. This was followed by typical marijuana (about 30 percent), marijuana concentrate (23.5 percent), regular cigarettes (17 percent), multiple drug use (12 percent), prescription pain relievers, such as OxyContin (9 percent), and over-the-counter drugs, such as cough syrup (6 percent). All other substances (cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants, methamphetamine, heroin, ecstasy, steroids, prescription stimulants and synthetic drugs) has usage rates of less than 5 percent among all students surveyed.

“If anything, I think, this would be an underestimate on my mind of the level of substance use,” Pardini said. “Because the kids who are smoking weed all the time aren’t going to school.”

Prescription pain reliever use declined steeply among 12th-graders, with nearly 16 percent reporting using it in 2014 compared with 10 percent this year. Inhalant use also dropped, with 9.5 percent of eighth-graders using in 2014 and 6.5 percent this year.

The survey also measured risk factors and found 33 percent overall to have at least eight risk factors, such as academic failure, rebelliousness, friends’ use of drugs, gang involvement and others.

There was a big increase in the percentage of students who responded that they would be “seen as cool if you carried a handgun”: In 2016, 11 percent of eighth-graders thought they would be seen as cool, while this year it was nearly 20 percent.

Ten percent of students said they had seen someone shot, shot at or threatened with a gun at least once in the past year.

This year, for the first time, the survey asked if students had been “punched, kicked, choked or beaten up” at least once in the past year, and nearly 27 percent of the eighth-graders reported that they had.

In good news, the survey found big decreases in all three age groups of students reporting that they had been in a car driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol. For 12th-graders, the rate was nearly 22 percent in 2014 and half that this year.

Two-pronged approach needed

The Arizona Youth Survey results are important, according to Maria Christina Fuentes, director of the Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family.

“To see what’s working, we have to know how youth perceive drug use and substance abuse and how that perception is shaped,” she said. “These survey results have a direct impact on how funding is awarded to specific programs and initiatives.”

The officials at the press conference noted that 57 percent of the students reported never having a conversation with their parents about using drugs. Fuentes said her office addresses that with its “Overcome Awkward” initiative to teach parents how to talk to their kids.

Pardini said that drug-prevention programs should start in elementary school because substance use typically begins around age 12.

“Getting the message about appropriate behavior is critical because by the time you’re in 12th grade, talking to your parents is not going to matter very much,” he said.

Prevention should be two-pronged he said, with one program for all students and another targeted to students particularly at risk.

“We know that kids with conduct problems such as physical fighting, being oppositional, defiant, are at the highest risk for abusing substances later on,” he said.

Pardini said that researchers at ASU have developed empirically based programs that have been shown to prevent and reduce substance use: The BRIDGES Program increases school engagement and keep teens on a positive path; The Family Check-Up model promotes family management and addresses child and adolescent adjustment problems; and “Keepin’ it REAL” is a culturally grounded curriculum for grades six through nine.

“These programs have been implemented in Arizona on a relatively small scale and could be disseminated more broadly with sufficient funding and support,” he said.

Top photo: Dustin Pardini, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, worked with his research team to design the Arizona Youth Survey, collect the data and generat school-level reports. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503

Mural paints true picture of immigration

December 3, 2018

An intergenerational group, including ASU students and members of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, gathered Sunday to connect and work on a new mural

Perceptive residents of downtown Phoenix may already be aware of the latest mural to crop up in the city’s ever-growing collection. Located in the parking lot of the Lincoln Family YMCA, it depicts a young girl holding a cage from which a constellation of monarch butterflies bursts forth. At the other end are the faces of Americans of all ages and creeds — from Eastern-European Jews to Mexican braceros to Muslim Congresswomen — whose lives have been touched by migration.

“We all have some type of migration story,” said Arizona State University sociology undergrad Kira Olsen-Medina, looking on as a diverse group of people gathered on Sunday to bring the mural to life. “We are a nation of immigrants.”

hugo medina leads painters

Artist Hugo Medina (center) coordinates student and community painters as they work on their mural at the downtown Phoenix YMCA parking lot on Dec. 2, 2018. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute paired with the ASU Humanities Lab to bring together students, both international and American, and individuals aged 50-plus to talk about experiences of immigration and then relay those stories onto a mural coordinated by Medina. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The undertaking was one of four student projects to come out of the Humanities LabFacing Immigration” course co-taught by School of Social Transformation Associate Professor Sujey Vega and School of International Letters and Cultures German Instructor Christiane Reves.

Just like any science course, Vega said, humanities courses should also have a lab component that puts students to work outside the classroom to help them understand big-picture issues.That’s the thinking behind the creation of the Humanities Lab, which also offers such courses as “Re-envisioning Food Systems,” “The Future of Cars” and “Rebuilding Puerto Rico.”

“It’s not just about absorbing information but getting it out there,” she said.

Students in the Facing Immigration course were asked to consider how they might address the topic of immigration in their community, and decided on educational ventures. Then they broke up into four project teams, each addressing a different age group.

Olsen-Medina and teammates Zoe Lacey, Zhulin Li, Angelica Penuelas and Brittany Romanello decided to focus on the elderly. So when Olsen-Medina’s husband, mural artist and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute faculty associate Hugo Medina, told her about a scholarship the OLLI at ASUThe mission of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Arizona State University is to provide university-quality learning experiences for adults ages 50 and over through diverse classes, campus-based learning opportunities, and civic engagement initiatives. was offering specifically for an intergenerational project and offered to help out, it was as if the stars had aligned.

With an experienced artist on board and funding in place, the team went about designing the project curriculum.

“The idea was for students to use their own talents and connections to bring this topic into the community,” Reves said.

Other student projects addressed access to health services for immigrants and refugees, used digital storytelling to relay immigration stories and engaged middle-schoolers by drawing and exchanging zines of their stories.

Olsen-Medina and her team proposed a two-part project: Part one consisted of a storytelling workshop in which 10 OLLI at ASU members paired up with 10 international ASU students for cross-generational immigration conversations where they discussed their backgrounds, got to know each other and brainstormed content for the mural.

“We wanted to cross those generational gaps but also wanted to maybe speak a little bit to the similarities of those two groups of people who might seem so different but actually really aren’t,” said Lacey, a gender studies grad student.

The experience inspired many of the OLLI at ASU members to research their own family immigration stories. Some who already knew their family immigration stories but were separated from them by several generations reported feeling a new sense of appreciation for the challenges their ancestors faced after speaking with their younger counterparts, whose immigration stories were far more recent.

“This is the most amazing woman, she just sparkles,” said OLLI at ASU member Susan Friedman Kramer of Gloria Martinez, a print-making undergrad who came to the U.S. illegally at the age of 8. “I (thought) I knew a lot about how hard that would be, but I had no clue until I was listening to (her) story.”

Friedman Kramer has lived in the Valley since she was 2 years old (she calls herself a “desert rat”) but said of her grandparents who came from Russia: “They dealt with people not wanting them. It seems any immigrant group is unwanted.”

Martinez nodded as she listened to her but became emotional when recounting her own youth and her desire to be considered a true U.S. citizen.

“It’s really difficult for me to talk about where I came from and the struggles that my parents have lived through and the struggles that have been imposed on me, because I feel like this is my home,” she said. “I came here when I was 8 years old, so I grew up here.”

During part two of the project — paint day — classical music played as Friedman Kramer, Martinez and others shook cans of spray paint, stabilized ladders and considered the placement of a butterfly’s wings.

painting a butterfly

School of Community Resources and Development Associate Professor and OLLI member Wendy Hultsman fills in the details on butterflies on the YMCA parking lot mural on Dec. 2, 2018. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Their smiles and easy laughter belied the darker side of the stories behind the picture they were painting. But that’s sort of the point.

“A lot of the people here come from completely different backgrounds but they all have a lot of commonalities in their stories and in the human element of what it means to migrate and the challenges that are faced,” Olsen-Medina said. “So even though they all have very different stories, they’re able to connect on many different levels, which is really beautiful.”

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