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Conference at ASU puts gender-based violence in the spotlight

September 12, 2018

3 new initiatives — including domestic-violence certificate, the 1st on West Coast — expand university's reach into community

Social workers need to be on the front lines of imagining a world without oppression — the key to ending gender-based violence, according to experts at an Arizona State University conference on Wednesday.

“We need to envision a world without violence, a world centered around fierce, radical love and courage,” said Allie Bones, CEO of the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. That organization partnered with the ASU School of Social Work on the daylong conference at the West campus, titled “Promoting Just and Effective Solutions to Ending Gender-Based Violence.”

“It was said that social work is about being anti-oppression, and as social workers we need to understand our role is to have that perspective,” she said, “whether it’s meeting the immediate needs of people who have experienced domestic violence and trauma or working in systems that need to be changed.”

ASU is expanding its reach into the community to help domestic-violence survivors. Jill Theresa Messing, an associate professor in the School of Social Work and part of the faculty of the Office of Gender Based Violence, announced three new initiatives at the event.

In the biggest change, more social work students will get paid while they intern with community agencies. For the past three years, the School of Social Work has had a grant from the federal AmeriCorps program to pay stipends to social work undergraduates and graduate students, who are required to have internships with social service agencies. Typically, those internships are unpaid, but under the AmeriCorps program, the students get stipends as well as additional training.

Under the expansion, not only will more students be in the program but they’ll be working at agencies that don’t necessarily focus on domestic violence explicitly but who serve survivors of domestic violence, such as organizations that work with the homeless. This will allow all types of agencies to use evidence-based interventions to help domestic-violence survivors.

The expanded program will be called Survivor Link.

“The logo has three intertwined links, which we’re thinking of as research, practice and education coming together in this idea of Survivor Link,” Messing said.

In 2015, ASU had 42 student AmeriCorps members who volunteered 17,000 hours and received $100,000 in scholarship money. This year, the office expects to have 93 AmeriCorps members work 56,000 hours and receive $310,000 in scholarships, she said.

In addition, this year, for the first time, ASU has eight AmeriCorps Vista workers, who are full-time employees deployed to help agencies work on projects. Five are working with domestic-violence community organizations, and three are working in the Office of Gender Based Violence.

Also new this year, ASU is offering a domestic-violence certificate program, both undergraduate and graduate, for anyone who has an interest in working in this area, not just social workers. The potential students, who might be in law enforcement or public administration, will take a course that was created with the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence and have internships working with survivors.

The certificates will make ASU the only school on the West Coast to have a specialized curriculum in domestic violence, Messing said.

At the conference, the attendees broke into groups and discussed “real solutions” to gender-based violence, such as teaching healthy dating behavior in schools, as well as “false solutions,” such as the criminalization of domestic violence, which many say has ended up harming more people than helping.

Georgie Hinojosa, a first-year master’s of social work student at ASU, said his group discussed culture and community engagement.

“We focused especially on not just teaching women how to be safe but also, how do we get men to talk about not being abusers, to let out frustrations in safe ways and deal with emotions they’re not allowed to talk about?” he said.

“We talked about how we think one of the most important things is having all interventions be culturally informed so we can give people the help they need that best speaks to their situation.”

Cultural competency — understanding the nuances of domestic violence within specific cultures — was the topic of the afternoon keynote address.

Tricia Bent-Goodley, a professor at Howard University and a social worker, researches domestic-violence homicides in the black community. She described the many variables that play into the higher rates of deaths for black women. For example, they are less likely to ask for help from law enforcement or social service providers, mainly because of the fear that they will be arrested or their children will be removed — both of which are more likely to happen to black women than white women.

They’re also less likely to seek help because they face stereotypes such as the “angry black woman” or “strong black woman,” and many of the women have been socialized to protect black men, she said.

Bent-Goodley suggested that more domestic-violence interventions come from outside the criminal justice system because the threat of arrest deters many survivors who are in danger.

“This idea of me turning my husband or partner or father of my children over to a system that could hurt them, I’m not going to do that even if it hurts me,” she said.

“That’s where our cultural competence is very important because if we understand those dynamics, we can work through that as part of their care.”

Top photo: Members discuss their approaches to violence prevention through the discussion of false, feasible and real solutions to ending gender based violence, at a conference Sept. 12 hosted by the School of Social Work at the ASU West campus. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

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Turning to Yelp for child care help

September 12, 2018

ASU researchers dive deep into reviews to gain parental insight, offer key takeaways for consumers and policymakers

Many people use Yelp to find a good place to eat or a trusted mechanic, but in a new study researchers delved deep into the popular online review site to better understand American child care from those who know best: parents.

In the study “What Do Parents Value in a Child Care Provider? Evidence from Yelp Consumer Reviews,” Arizona State University Associate Professor Chris Herbst and others analyzed 48,675 unique reviews of 9,761 child care businesses in 40 U.S. cities to gauge parental satisfaction and capture new insight. 

One key aspect of the project focused on assessing how reviews varied between parents in wealthier and poorer regions. Differences did emerge. Consumers in wealthier markets were more likely to comment on a child’s learning environment, whereas those in lower-income areas were more concerned about “practical features,” such as pricing and accessibility.

Policy implications can derive from these type of studies. Here, Herbst — who teaches in the School of Public Affairs and is a faculty associate in the School of Social Work within the College of Public Service and Community Solutions — answers study-related questions and provides other important takeaways for parents and policymakers.    

man teaching in classroom

Chris Herbst

Question: Why is the topic of child care in the U.S. an important one?

Answer:  Child care is an important public-policy issue because so many parents rely on it as a work support. Currently 13 million preschoolers — or 60 percent of children ages zero to 5 — regularly attend some form of child care. In addition, the average child spends 32 hours per week in these settings. With so many children enrolled in child care programs, questions around cost and quality necessarily become important, particularly for low-income families and children.

Indeed, the evidence suggests that child care costs consume up to 30 percent of poor families' monthly income. Furthermore, many disadvantaged children attend child care programs that are low-quality at best, and outright dangerous in some cases. These cost and quality challenges translate directly into fewer parents being employed and fewer children entering the K-12 education system ready to learn.     

Q: From your perspective, what was the most surprising or unexpected finding of this research?

A: What struck me is just how differently low- and high-income families experience various aspects of child care. These differences extend beyond things like access, affordability and quality, which have been documented by other researchers. What we find is more nuanced, but equally important we argue, and only comes to light because of the extremely rich nature of the information in Yelp's consumer reviews.

For example, we show that when low-income families are searching for child care, they are less likely to have their phone calls returned by program directors, and they report worse experiences during visits to child care centers. In addition, low-income families are more critical of the "customer service" aspects of the child care experience. That is, it is common for these parents to feel disrespected when communicating with program staff, and to have less constructive interactions with teachers about the well-being of their children. On top of all this, many low-income parents describe their child care provider as being chaotic environments in which children hurt one another, teachers fail to bring order to the classroom — and were sometimes rough with children — and children are not provided with enriching activities.

Q: Comments posted on sites like Yelp or social media platforms often represent the most polarized opinions on a topic — by either the biggest fans or harshest critics. How was this addressed in the research to ensure the data gathered from the comments is useful?  

A: Before we started this project, I was worried that most Yelp reviews of child care programs were going to be negative diatribes about how expensive child care is, and so forth. But in reality, parents are quite balanced and measured in their reviews and, if anything, they provide a more optimistic view of their provider than I expected. For example, 76 percent of the consumer reviews contained a five-star rating of the child care program.

But what's striking is how variable the ratings are across the 40 cities we studied. About 80 percent of the reviews in Los Angeles contain five-star ratings, while only 44 percent of those in Oklahoma City are five-star ratings. Clearly, geography, demographics and economics play major roles in how parents think about and respond to child care.      

Q: How can we use the findings of this research to help people?

A: Selecting a child care provider is a difficult task for parents, primarily because child care is what's called an "experience good" — or one whose key quality features are not easily observed by consumers prior to purchasing it. Yelp has the potential to be an important source of information about child care. Indeed, by offering a peer-to-peer, crowdsource-generated “database” of reviews, Yelp can significantly reduce the costs — time and monetary — of searching for an appropriate child care provider.

However, Yelp will be useful to parents only insofar as there is high-quality, accurate information contained in the reviews. As I mentioned above, I was initially concerned that parents were going to use Yelp to vent about their child care provider. Instead, what our research shows is that parents are quite savvy evaluators of many dimensions of child care quality, including the way in which teachers interact with their child, the educational activities undertaken throughout the day, the kind of curriculum adopted by the provider, and the type and quality of food served. In the absence of Yelp, obtaining this information would be costly at best, but with Yelp available parents can be much better-informed consumers.            

Q: Based on this research, is there any advice you would give parents regarding child care?

A: It is not an exaggeration to say that decisions around child care will be among the most consequential that a parent will ever make on behalf of their child. Children develop rapidly, both cognitively and emotionally, during the preschool-age years, and there is solid evidence to suggest that children who attend high-quality child care fare better in school, have better health and even have better labor-market outcomes throughout adulthood. Therefore, parents should strive to select a child care program that is warm and emotionally supportive, that provides cognitive stimulation and educational activities, and that feeds children nutritious meals.

Most states now maintain something called a Quality Rating and Improvement System that evaluates and rates child care program quality and relays this information to the public. Parents can easily find this information online by searching for their state QRIS. In addition, at a minimum, parents should visit several child care providers — and ask a lot of questions during the visit. Inquire about the education requirements of the program staff, what the program's QRIS rating is and whether it is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The team of researchers for this project also included Kevin C. Desouza, Queensland University of Technology; Saud Alashri, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology; Srinivasa Srivatsav Kandala, ASU Decision Theater Network; Mayank Khullar, Microsoft Corporation; and Vikash Bajaj, ASU Decision Theater Network.

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

Disaster preparedness at ASU extends far beyond local response

September 12, 2018

Whether caused by nature or instigated by people, disaster can strike anywhere, anytime, and communities must be ready to respond.

September is National Preparedness Month — a time for families, communities and organizations to plan for the unexpected — and Arizona State University occupies a unique place in this realm. Representatives from ASU, local, state, county and federal agencies work out of the university's Emergency Operations Center on Tempe Campus during Pat's Run, April 21. EOCs provide command and coordination structure during a crisis and support first responders at the scene of the incident. ASU stands up the EOC as a precaution during some high visibility events. Photo by Jerry Gonzalez/ASU Download Full Image

“From the emergency preparedness standpoint, we have people involved at different levels — local, county, state, federal,” said Allen Clark, executive director of ASU Preparedness and Security Initiatives. “We are doing some amazing things.”

ASU’s role in preparedness begins with readying the campus to respond during crises and extends to degree and certificate programs, with many initiatives in between that support government at all levels.

“For example, ASU has the state climatologist, Dr. Nancy Selover,” Clark said. “She helps the state of Arizona and the federal government predict weather trends and much more, which then helps us prepare as an institution as well.”

It all begins with campus readiness. ASU fields a dedicated expert and office that focus on planning emergency drills throughout the year, training campus emergency response teams and working with university leaders and units to spread the word about ASU’s response plans.

“Sheri Gibbons is the director of ASU Emergency Preparedness,” Clark said. “The emergency preparedness office is charged with making sure that the university and all the campuses are postured and ready for a wide range of emergencies.”

Extending just beyond campus, ASU faculty and students are engaged helping the city of Phoenix Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management prepare for crises. 

“We are leveraging visualization and online mapping tools such as operations dashboards to provide mapping capabilities and situational awareness,” said Melanie Gall, co-director of ASU’s Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security. ”As part of her capstone project, a grad student in the ASU Online Emergency Management and Homeland Security program, Nichole Fuller, is designing a technical operations dashboard for the city.”

A full-scale, multiday exercise in May held throughout Arizona tested and evaluated the state’s ability to support mass migration from Southern California in the event of a catastrophic earthquake there. Different parties from ASU participated in the drill, including Gall, who worked in the Phoenix Emergency Operations Center with the city’s geographic information system coordinator, Jim Jarvis, to help visualize the earthquake scenario.

“I created on demand web-based maps and kept the EOC informed with regard to traffic flows, shelter capacities, and more,” said Gall, who holds a PhD in geography.

Gall and other ASU colleagues also jumped into action when Hurricane Irma struck Florida in September 2017. Gall provided similar mapping support to the Florida Voluntary Agencies in Disasters organization after Irma. Her work helped map out welcome and distribution sites, as well as areas of “high social vulnerability” and high demands for assistance. The work has led to discussions with state of Florida emergency management leaders on how best to integrate voluntary agencies into governmental processes and procedures for resource requests.

“It is important to note that we are not reinventing the wheel or creating these tools from scratch,” Gall said. “There is a wonderful online community that shares their visualization tools which allows us to quickly stand up and tailor online maps to the city’s need. We follow the trail blazed by Eric Shreve who is developing phenomenal tools for the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs and allows us to utlize his tools, adapt them and spread the utilities and benefits of online mapping for greater situational awareness during blue sky and grey sky times.”

One of the largest disaster response collaborations currently involves ASU’s Help Center. Day-to-day the 24/7 Help Center serves as the one-stop shop for the ASU community to connect to school resources and customer service support. But since the 2013 reinvention of the Help Center, which was previously outsourced to local vendors, it has taken an active role in disaster response.

During a major on-campus crisis the Help Center becomes a pivotal source of information for the ASU community and the general public. The center has the technical capabilities and staffing to not only provide updates during crises but to guide people to resources and reunite them with their loved ones through a “reunification” process.  

With the exceptions of states prone to natural disasters, such as Florida and Texas, the type of capability the ASU Help Center provides is lacking in Arizona and across the country, said Clark. This makes the Help Center a key resource and a great example of a local, county and state partnership. 

State entities have taken notice of the Help Center’s capabilities and ASU is working with partners to leverage university resources.

“We are pleased to partner with Arizona State University as they have incredible capabilities and resources,” said Wendy Smith-Reeve, deputy director of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. “Their centralized call center staffed by knowledgeable, well-trained operators is an extraordinary benefit and will help ensure we are ready to assist the community when an emergency does occur.”

Leveraging the Help Center’s 24/7 capabilities and “robust technology solutions” to support state entities makes sense and was born out of ASU’s charter and design principles, which among other mandates calls for the university to socially embed and serve the community, said Eric Dover, executive director with ASU’s University Technology Office who oversees the Help Center.

“It is a great honor to be able to use our services at the Help Center for the greater good of our Arizona family,” Dover said. “We are thrilled to be partnered with the city of Phoenix, Maricopa County and the state of Arizona.”

Beyond ASU’s preparedness for on-campus emergencies, support for local government agencies and faculty’s involvement in state drills and past real emergencies out-of-state, the university is also molding the next generation of emergency managers, Clark said. The College of Public Service and Community Solutions offers undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs in emergency management. 

“We are unique at ASU in that we’re engaged in emergency management at all levels,” Clark said. “It all ties together.”

Read more about ASU preparedness and planning.

Learn more about National Preparedness Month and the ASU LiveSafe app.

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

ASU senior wins coveted scholarship from media giant

September 5, 2018

Leading media conglomerate Meredith Corporation — owner of brands such as Fortune, Better Homes and Gardens, InStyle, and Travel + Leisure — selects one top tourism undergraduate each year for its Meredith Travel Marketing Scholarship. This year, that student was Arizona State University senior Brady Schmitt.

Schmitt is a tourism development and management major with a concentration in sustainable tourism in the School of Community Resources and Development. A well-traveled out-of-state student, Schmitt said he came to ASU specifically for its tourism degree. ASU senior Brady Schmitt and Community Resources and Development faculty member Rebekka Goodman hold Schmitt's scholarship check from Meredith Corporation ASU senior Brady Schmitt and community resources and development faculty member Rebekka Goodman hold Schmitt's scholarship check from Meredith Corporation. Download Full Image

The travel arm of Meredith Corporation invites tourism undergraduate programs around the U.S. to submit up to three of their top students for the Meredith Travel Marketing Scholarship. They look for students who may have extraordinary experiences or unique needs, like being a first-generation college student.

ASU began participating in the scholarship program when Professor Christine Vogt, director of the Center for Sustainable Tourism, joined the university in 2015. The school has already established a good track record: Two of the three awardees in the past three years have been from ASU. The first was Virginia Miller, who won in 2016. Miller is now a graduate student in the School of Community Resources and Development.

Melissa Luebbe, national travel director for Meredith Corporation and publisher of Midwest Living, a popular travel and lifestyle magazine, saw Schmitt as a stellar tourism student.

“I saw fresh perspectives in the essay that he wrote for the application and signs of a young leader in the tourism field as evident in his impressive grades and work experiences,” said Luebbe. “His essay touched on the role that destination-marketing organizations, such as state tourism offices or convention and visitor bureaus, play in promoting attractive destinations.”

Rebekka Goodman, lecturer in the School of Community Resources and Development, wrote one of Schmitt’s recommendation letters.

“He demonstrates a rare dedication to the principles of sustainable tourism that so many academics hope to instill in their students,” said Goodman, who has had Schmitt in class. Schmitt was also a participant on a spring break study abroad program to Guatemala that Goodman led in March.

Besides receiving a $5,000 scholarship, Schmitt was invited to attend the 2018 Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations (ESTO) organized by the U.S. Travel Association, which was held this August in Phoenix. Learning from and networking with over 1,000 industry professionals for five days at the seminar was an invaluable experience that goes far beyond the scholarship prize.

“Attending the 2018 ESTO is an experience that very few students have, and I am honored that I was chosen out of the many other deserving applicants,” said Schmitt. “I could not have done it without my amazing professors and ASU's wonderful Sustainable Tourism Development and Management Program.”

Schmitt plans to use his award money to participate in an upcoming Fiji/Australia study abroad program.

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Demystifying distinguished graduate fellowships

NSF Graduate Research Fellow features in first of 'A Culture of Pursuit' series

September 3, 2018

Editor's note: To demystify the process of attaining distinguished graduate fellowships, ASU Now will feature a multipart series of interviews with distinguished graduate award recipients from across the ASU community. The series will showcase the achievements of ASU’s distinguished graduate award recipients and highlight the strategies that led to those achievements. 

Distinguished award winners within the Arizona State University graduate community are not uncommon — as demonstrated by its 50 current NSF Graduate Research Fellows.   Photo of Joshua Brooks, Program Manager of Distinguished Graduate Fellowships at ASU Joshua Brooks, program manager of distinguished graduate fellowships will author a new series highlighting strategies to win prestigious scholarships from current awardees. Download Full Image

The National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program “recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines.” NSF Fellows typically become globally engaged knowledge experts and leaders who contribute significantly to research, education, and innovations in science and engineering. Fellows are selected by a national competition from a pool of 12,000-16,000 applicants from across the United States and its territories. Success rates for NSF-GRFP applicants range from about 12.5-16.5 percent over the last five years. 

The NSF-GRFP is a highly-sought-after and competitive award because of both the practical benefit and associated prestige of the award. Fellows receive three-years of funding within a five-year fellowship period in the form of an annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees. GRFP alums include 40 Nobel laureates, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, and many other notable leaders in STEM fields.

In addition to the benefits noted above, the Graduate College administers the NSF-GRFP for ASU awardees and provides additional tuition and fees support, health insurance, and a $750 allowance per on-tenure year to further support research.

Fellows also have opportunities for additional funding and support from the NSF by applying to the GRIP and GROW programs. 

  • The Graduate Research Internship Program (GRIP) provides professional development and funding to fellows through internships developed in partnerships with federal agencies and national laboratories. 
  • The Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) program provides fellows with opportunities to engage in international collaborations with investigators in partner countries around the world. Through GROW, fellows engage in international research with partners developed by the NSF, including counterpart funding organizations in other countries. These counterpart funding organizations may provide additional funding (e.g., $1,500–$2,200 monthly) on top of the $5,000 award that the NSF provides. GROW offers funding for international stays of two months to one year, with the duration varying by country and partner organization. The NSF is prepared to fund up to 400 GROW awards each year. Applicants must be current NSF Graduate Research Fellows. 

The first interviewee for "A Culture of Pursuit" is NSF Graduate Research Fellow (2015) and GROW recipient (2018) Andrew Burchill. 

Photo of NSF-GRFP Fellow Andrew Burchill in the field

Andrew Burchill in the field (photo by Kelly O'Meara)

Burchill attended the University of Chicago as an undergrad (BS, 2014) and was admitted to the ASU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, School of Life Sciences PhD program in animal behavior in 2015. Burchill is also a 2015 Congressional Award winner (the highest civilian honor awarded by the U.S. Congress for public service), as well as the recipient of many other distinguished awards.  Burchill spoke with ASU Now from Australia — his GROW research location. 

Question: If you had one piece of advice for your fellow graduate students regarding their current and future careers, what would it be?

According to Burchill, the biggest issue he’d like to address among the graduate community at ASU is imposter syndrome. “A lot of graduate students are self-effacing. They don’t want to think about what they do in a positive light — they can’t see themselves in a positive light.”

What helped him in this regard when it came to distinguished awards applications was this: “Thinking of the CV as a video game. Thinking of yourself as a character in a video game where you can collect items or bonuses that increase your value or stats. A lot of people say, ‘I’ve never done anything that should go on a CV.’ But, many things are CV material if you think it through.” For example, Burchill participated in the largest scavenger hunt in the world while he was an undergraduate at UChicago. For his part in organizing the scavenger hunt, he organized the meals. On his CV, he noted that he managed finances and logistics for hundreds of people for a large, well-known public event. 

“Pretending that you’re a video game character allows you to find fun and interesting ways to explain yourself in a way that’s good for the CV. When you look back at ALL the activities you've done, don't ignore the ones you initially feel are insignificant. Try imagining all the bonuses or power-ups each could give your character. Worked as a summer manager at Arby's? +1 to Organizational Skills and +2 to Leadership!”

Q: What motivates you to seek distinguished fellowships and awards?

Burchill's pursuit of distinguished awards is the natural evolution of him pursuing his interests. He wants to research. Researchers need funding. So, he applied to the NSF-GRFP. 

When considering how to develop his PhD program into something significant, he happened to hear about the Global Development Research Program here at ASU (sponsored by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and USAID) and applied to be a fellow, which he became in 2016.  As a matter of pragmatism, occasionally the opportunities and awards that are available will mold the direction and substance of future research — a little bit, anyway. On the other hand, Burchill's first order of business when it comes to distinguished awards is finding the opportunities that are available that will allow him to pursue things he’s already interested in. Essentially, he said, “Money doesn’t usually change the topics I focus on, but it does allow me to do different things.”

Q: Do you strategically build your resume, or have your accomplishments happened in a more ad-hoc fashion?

Burchill said that he built his resume simply by pursuing things he wanted to do. He doesn’t worry about strategic accomplishments. Rather, he simply goes out and does things that are challenging and fun (or at least interesting). He also notes that where his strategy comes into play is in how he explains his accomplishments on his resume. To his mind, this type of strategy is vital to the pursuit of distinguished awards.  

Q: How do you choose which awards to spend precious time applying for?

Essentially, if people in the know tell Burchill that he’s a good candidate, he applies. Knowing how many awards to apply to and how often to apply is a tough balance, he said. On the one hand, students need to keep up with their research work. On the other hand, the opportunities afforded by distinguished awards are significant. Burchill isn’t sure he keeps the best balance. He said sometimes he’ll spend most of his time pursuing distinguished awards — finding awards, researching awards, writing for awards, etc. Other times, his workload and timeline will be such that all he can do is conduct his program research. As he said, it’s difficult to manage, but a successful researcher will need to do both.

Q: How did you get into your field of research?

Burchill said the evolutionary history of his career trajectory started out somewhat at random. As an undergrad at UChicago, he managed to find a job in a lab that studied ants. He discovered that ants were interesting and that he’d probably enjoy a career centered around the study. So, he pursued that PhD program.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

Simple — Burchill wanted to study ant behavior. He said ASU is one of the best places in the world to study ants and all sorts of other insect topics. At ASU, there are many different experts on every social insect topic you can imagine under one roof.

Q: What motivated you to apply to the NSF-GRFP, specifically?

“It’s a crazy opportunity,” said Burchill. Once he started thinking about what he could do with the funding and support provided by the NSF-GRFP, he got excited about applying. He had a year off between undergrad and grad school — during which he signed up with AmeriCorp and, incidentally, also earned his Congressional Award. He also spent that year polishing his application for the NSF-GRFP.

Q: Is there any advice that you’d like to give potential NSF-GRFP applicants — something that helped you, perhaps?

Two things, according to Burchill: First, applying to the NSF-GRFP is not applying to do a project, as much as it seems like it is. Rather, it’s demonstrating your ability to conceive of and potentially carry out a research project. The application is a demonstration of oneself. It demonstrates that the applicant is uniquely situated to carry out a type of research — namely the type of research indicated in the research proposal. The NSF is really evaluating the applicant as a future scientist more than the actual project within the application itself.

Second, after you’ve written your first draft of the application, the applicant should just “sit with it for a long time,” and then pick it up, again, later, to review and edit. The NSF-GRFP isn’t something that should be done last minute. An early draft is important. Turning that early draft in to several subsequent drafts over a period of time — especially after having others review it and critique it — is very helpful. 

Q: You’re also a recipient of the GROW award. Why did you apply, and where did you go with it to research?

Only Graduate Research Fellows can apply to GROW. Most significant to Burchill was the fact that this meant the applicant pool would be small and, therefore, the chances of receiving the award would be statistically quite high. The other thing that motivated him was that, as a biologist, he wanted to research in Australia. GROW provided him an opportunity to go there, establish connections, publish, and generally become familiar with the research community within his field in Australia. Burchill is quick to note, also, that while the GROW award provides travel allowances, he still needed his host country  to provide funding for his extended stay.  For him, this came through the Endeavour Research Fellowship provided by the Australian Government Department of Education and Training.

Q: How do you deal with career-related stress and anxiety?

Counterintuitively, Burchill takes quite a few breaks — probably more than most people, according to him. “Not in a bad way,” he said. He engages in healthy self-care. Most work and career related issues aren’t emergency situations that need to be done right now, “except for when they are.”

Q: Do you have an idea of what you’d like to do once you receive your doctorate?

“If I can continue doing research, that would be amazing. Getting positions in academia is becoming more difficult. That in itself can be a source of stress.”  

Q: What are your hobbies?

“Brewing alcohol. I work in a social insect lab. That means bees and honey — that means mead.” 

13. What type of fiction do you read?

Burchill calls science fiction his escapism. An example is “Perdido Street Station” by China Miéville. He also said he'd read anything by Miéville.

14. What’s your favorite TV/streaming show?

“True Detective — the first season, obviously.”

15. Favorite movie?

“Memento — especially recently because I’ve been forgetting … things.”

16. Favorite nonfiction book outside of your field?

“'Big Bang' by Singh. It’s about the Big Bang theory. It’s oddly exciting. It’s about the history of a theory.” 

Learn more about the NSF-GRFP

Joshua Brooks, formerly the e-Government Fellow of Cornell Law School and an ASU alum, is the current program manager of distinguished graduate fellowships — a new office jointly administered by ASU’s Graduate College and the Office of National Scholarship Advisement at Barrett, The Honors College. Brooks will host an information session on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018 at 10:15 a.m. in the Memorial Union (MU 202). This information session will feature current NSF Graduate Research Fellows who will take questions from attendees after a presentation. 

Graduate Fellowships Advisor, Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarships Advisement

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ASU offers path to top scholarships for students devoted to public service

ASU helps students dedicated to public service get top scholarship awards.
ASU is in the top 10% of U.S. institutions for winners of Truman Scholarships.
August 31, 2018

Truman Scholarships are a life-changing experience for young people who want to change the world

Most elite academic scholarships require students to serve humankind in some way. In his will, Cecil Rhodes stipulated that winners of the Rhodes Scholarships have “moral force of character and instincts to lead, and to take an interest in one's fellow beings.”

But while some of the top awards focus on research or academic prowess, several seek to advance people who want to serve the public, and Arizona State University is helping students earn them.

Kyle Mox, director of the Lorraine W. Frank Office of National Scholarship Advisement, said that ASU students are good candidates for public-service scholarships because there are so many opportunities to become involved.

“The breadth of language training we provide at ASU, like the Chinese Flagship Program and the Melikian Center, makes our students a really good fit,” he said. “ASU has the Tillman Center and is a veteran-friendly campus, which is a high priority for some of these awards.

“The Next Generation Service Corps is a great program for us, and three of the four nominees for the Truman Scholarship were from there,” he said.

The Truman Scholarship is the nation’s most prestigious award for undergraduates who are pursuing careers in public service. Winners receive up to $30,000 toward graduate study leading to careers in government or public service, as well as career-development opportunities and federal internships. The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created in 1975 after President Harry S. Truman died, and the first awards were in 1978.

There have been 21 Sun Devil Truman Scholars, including five in the past decade, placing ASU in the top 10 percent of U.S. institutions for winners, ahead of the University of Texas, New York University and the University of Michigan, and equal to MIT and Princeton.

Students who want the award must show that they already have a deep commitment to service, Mox said.

“They have to feel strongly about something. Students who win the Truman Scholarship tend to have pretty remarkable backgrounds, which have led to them having strong motivations,” he said.

“Nobody goes into public service just as something to do.”

Current Truman Scholar Alexa School is a member of the Prescott City Council.

The current Truman Scholar from ASU, Alexa Scholl, is a member of the Prescott City Council and is the co-founder of Political Literates, an on-campus organization that aims to fight apathy by delivering political information in an easy-to-understand and unbiased way. Frank Smith III, who graduated from ASU in the spring, won the award in 2015 for his work to create a state law that waives college tuition for former foster children.

Embedded in a community

The award is life-changing, according to Chad Redwing, an ASU alum who was a Truman Scholar in 1995. He said the experience can open different kinds of paths.

“I remember I was sitting in the quad above the library, probably the end of sophomore year, and I had always been conflicted internally about my love for reading and conversation and scholarship and my desire to make the world a better place,” he said. “It was that man-of-action versus man-of-thought conflict.

One of his professors convinced him he could have it both ways, and he was accepted as a Truman Scholar for 1995.

“It’s a lifelong motivation to construct our lives in a way to serve others more than ourselves,” said Redwing, who, as a freshman, launched a nonprofit to help homeless families.

“I was in the Peace Corps and I realized that I don’t like traditional leadership structures. I like being embedded in a community and working with community members to make their local situation better.”

So rather than pursue a traditional academic career at a university, Redwing is a humanities professor at Modesto Junior College in California.

“Modesto rates as one of the 10 most miserable places to live,” he said. “It has one of the three lowest educational attainment rates of any city in the county. I love it.”

Many of his students are farmworkers. Redwing wanted to live the life his students did, so he bought a goat farm.

“These men and women, when they come into the classroom, they’re hungry for what you’re going to give them,” he said. “When I wake up at 4:30 in the morning and have to feed the goats before class, I can tell my students, ‘I did the same thing at the crack of dawn and I’m still ready to learn.’"

Over the years, Redwing has started three charter schools and two more nonprofits. He said he would tell any students who are considering applying for the Truman Scholarship to not be afraid.

“The process is wonderful because they find a way to uncover the principles and passions that drive you as a human being,” he said. “And they do an excellent job of cultivating a network across generations of people who feel the same way as you.”

The Truman’s $30,000 in graduate school funding also is an important draw. In her sophomore year at ASU, Danielle Back decided to apply to medical school.

“After volunteering at the New Song Center, where I worked with families going through the bereavement process, and interning at a public health (nongovernment organization) in Togo, I realized that in addition to working to create systemic change in health care, I wanted to have a more personal impact on patients,” said Back, who was a Truman Scholar in 2011, attended Harvard Medical School and is now a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital.

She said that the scholarship inspired her during medical school.

“Because of the Truman Scholarship, I have sought out more public-service experiences, including interning in the Division of Parasitic Disease and Malaria at the CDC and lobbying for medication-assisted recovery for patients with substance-use disorders in Massachusetts,” she said.

Top awards for a variety of interests

While the Truman is among the most prestigious awards, ASU works with students on applying for several different public-service scholarships, Mox said. Several require a commitment to work in the government.

Two scholarships fast-track students into foreign-service careers with mentoring and internships. The Thomas R. Pickering Fellowship Program provides up to $37,500 to undergraduate and graduate students, and the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship provides up to $95,000 toward a two-year master's degree.

Students who are interested in working in national security should consider the Boren Awards for International Study, which provide up to $30,000 to study abroad to become proficient in a non-Western European language that’s critical to U.S. interests. Recent ASU winners have studied Russian and Tagalog.

The Udall Undergraduate Scholarship is for sophomores or juniors who aspire to environmental careers or for Native American students interested in health care or tribal policy.

The Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship prepares students to be competitive candidates for top graduate degree programs and provides $5,000 in grad school funding.

ASU student Christopher Frias

ASU senior Christopher Frias, who won a Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship, would like to eventually work to improve education in the West Valley. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Juniors who win a PPIA fellowship attend an intensive seven-week academic program during the summer before their senior year. Christopher Frias, an ASU senior majoring in public service and public policy, was one of them. He took courses in economics, statistics, domestic policy analysis and Chinese global policy at Carnegie Mellon University, and leaves to study abroad in Spain this month.

Frias is in the first cohort in ASU’s Public Service Academy and was the first chief of staff. The academy has offered him a way for him to give back.

“Last year my mission team worked with the Be A Leader Foundation to help them put on workshops for middle schoolers,” he said. “We taught them how to set goals and see a future for themselves that extended past high school.”

After earning his master’s degree, he could see working in Washington, D.C., for a while before returning to the Phoenix area and working to improve life in the West Valley, where he is from.

“One thing I missed growing up was exposure to different paths. It was expected that I would go to vocational school or community college, but not a four-year university,” he said.

“I’d like to improve education in Arizona to show the different avenues available to all types of people.”

The Office of National Scholarship Advisement will hold two information sessions on the Truman Scholarship, at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, both in room 242 of the Honors Hall on the Tempe campus.

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


From coffee to Congress: Former barista forges career path in public service

August 31, 2018

A first-generation college student and member of the LGBTQ community, Arizona State University junior David John Bier has never been one to let barriers hold him back. But he is no stranger to closed doors, either.

He didn't think college was possible — he couldn't pay for it. His parents were of no help; they kicked him out as a teenager after he told them he was gay. John Bier College of Public Service and Community Solutions junior David John Bier interned on Capitol Hill with the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The internship was made possible by College to Congress, a nonpartisan nonprofit that places high-achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds in Washington, D.C.-based internships. Download Full Image

But a job as a barista at a local Starbucks changed everything. Through ASU’s partnership with Starbucks, Bier took advantage of the company's College Achievement Plan that allows employees to take online classes part-time of full-time toward earning an unergraduate degree in 80 different majors.  

Bier began school in 2015 through ASU Online, and he's never looked back. He’s majoring in public service and public policy in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. This past summer, he interned on Capitol Hill through an innovative program designed to help students just like him. 

College to Congress is a bipartisan, nonprofit organization that helps low-income, high-achieving students pay for housing, food and other costs incurred while they intern in Washington, D.C. Through a seven-step process, Bier was one of 12 students selected from a pool of over 300 applicants. He was placed as an intern for a congressional committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that Bier is thankful for. 

Upon his return from the nation's capital, he made the decision to move to Los Angeles. In a recent post on his blog, Bier said, “I’ve always been curious about new cities, new people, and new possibilities, and I’ve pushed myself to be comfortable with getting uncomfortable.” He’ll continue his online studies from Los Angeles and plans to graduate in May.

Bier spoke with ASU Now about his experience as an online student, his internship in Washington and what’s next to come.

Question: Where did you intern in Washington, D.C., this summer and what kind of work were you doing?

Answer: I interned with the Democratic Party staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Under the leadership of the chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and the ranking member, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the committee is responsible for investigating any waste, fraud or abuse of taxpayer dollars and holding government accountable to the American people. My daily tasks included curating daily press clips, researching media coverage on issues of importance for the team, drafting press releases, updating the website, and designing graphics and digital content.

Q: How has your experience in Washington, D.C., benefitted you?

A: My experience in Washington, D.C., was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I got to experience and learn the inner workings of Congress, witness Republicans and Democrats craft legislation — either apart or in a bipartisan manner. It enabled me to enhance my networking skills, gain professional contacts and make new friendships with interns from across the country.

Q: This wouldn’t have been possible without a program called “College to Congress.” What is it and how has it helped you?

A: College to Congress is a nonprofit, bipartisan internship program that provides a scholarship for low-income, high-achieving students. They cover the costs of interning in Washington, D.C., which is one of the most expensive cities in America. They offset the costs of housing, food, travel, a professional wardrobe and more. They also have a weekly leadership series to craft skills such as networking and dining etiquette and a bipartisan ally program which paired me with a mentor of the opposite political party to facilitate bipartisan conversations. Most internships are unpaid, and it would’ve been impossible for me to finance this without the help of College to Congress.

Q: Can you talk about the challenges you’ve faced?

A: When I came out as gay to my family, they disowned me. Affording college was no longer possible and I faced many closed doors and challenges to get ahead. I threw myself into work and moved across the country numerous times, looking for new opportunities. I eventually found myself working for Starbucks and learned about the College Achievement Plan with ASU. That program allowed me to begin college, which was life-changing for me. It awoke in me a desire to give back and help break down educational barriers, so others never have to experience what I’ve had to. I also credit the program for inspiring me to land an internship in 2016 at city hall in Salt Lake City. A six-month communications internship in the mayor’s office there led to a full-time appointed position as the communications and content manager. While I’m no longer at Starbucks, I continue with ASU and have about a year left in my public service and policy program.

Q: Why public service?

A: For me, public service is about doing good for those you care about — even if you’ve never met them. I take to heart the words of Theodore Roosevelt who said that “…the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” Those words inspire me to change the world.

Q: What do you aspire to do with your degree?

A: With my degree, I hope to build on my professional experiences and work in political communications. I would like to pursue a master’s degree in public administration or communications. In the long-term, I would like to run for office.

Q: Over the summer you decided to move to LA.

A: I love Los Angeles. My best friend lives there. Most importantly, I feel a creative spirit in the air in LA unlike anywhere in the world. I believe it has the hustle and grind of D.C., except everyone knows how to relax and enjoy life. Making an impact and taking care of yourself are not mutually exclusive.

Q: You've expanded your career interests to include storytelling. Can you talk about how your college experience will help with that?

A: My college experience has been unique. Since starting ASU Online, I've lived in Wisconsin; Utah; Washington, D.C.; and now California. I've always stuck with my undergrad program as my life evolved and changed around me. I feel I've had an advantage to use the teachings and knowledge of the public service and policy program in everyday life — whether it be traveling, networking with new people, seeking to collaborate, or pushing myself to be a leader.

Q: Anything else?

A: I’m a huge advocate for ASU Online and the public service program; the flexibility of online courses which allows me to work full-time and go to school full-time, plus the high-quality course work and instructors, make for an exceptional college experience. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Through my education at ASU and the opportunities and challenges I've experienced, I want to create a platform for others to feel empowered — whether that be through storytelling, multimedia, or social impact work.

Written by Jodie Scarborough

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

August 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paying it forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maureen Roen

Manager, Creative Services , College of Integrative Sciences and Arts