Public service grads embrace a commitment to help others

May 6, 2015

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Five students exemplify a commitment to public service and innovative thinking, finding solutions for the challenges in our community. They join more than 850 students graduating from the College of Public Service and Community Solutions this spring. Courtney Carter Download Full Image

Courtney Carter, the College of Public Service and Community Solutions

Outstanding graduate Courtney Carter made the transition from military to civilian life after eight years of service in the U.S. Navy.

He soon discovered his passion for learning how cities grow and function.

“I’m a creature of the city. I grew up in a very cosmopolitan and walkable city. Living in Phoenix and other cities, that interest only got deeper,” Carter said.

With a double major in urban planning and urban and metropolitan studies, Carter is delving into the problems facing his community.

Through the undergraduate research program, Carter is working on a project that looks at low-income housing in central Phoenix.

“We’ve surveyed and investigated some of the tools those families in those neighborhoods are using to overcome some of the nutritional challenges that they have,” Carter said.

Carter also interned with the University of Arizona’s cooperative with Maricopa County at PHX Renews, an initiative of Mayor Greg Stanton to transform vacant lots throughout Phoenix into community spaces.

Carter is a Spirit of Service Scholar, was involved in meetings leading up to the creation of the Public Service Academy, and is a veteran peer adviser for the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“It’s important that folks with military backgrounds have the opportunity to interact with and shadow and learn from citizens, because the needs and the expectations can be quite different,” Carter said.

Carter is also a council aide for Councilwoman Kate Gallego, where he’s working with the City of Phoenix to improve and expand Valley landscaping and community gardens.

“Whether you’re in public service or not, public servants impact your quality of life,” Carter said. “Decisions made by public servants impact how you navigate through and outside of the city.”

Stephanie Morse, the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Stephanie Morse is a double major studying psychology and criminology and is a student in Barrett, The Honors College.

Morse is an intern with the Arizona Department of Corrections in Florence within the mental-health program. She assists staff members in their treatment of severely mentally ill inmates through psycho-education, group therapy and treatment planning.

“It’s definitely one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done. I really value that experience,” Morse said.

She was given the task of coordinating a mentor program for mentally ill inmates in which higher-functioning inmates assist lower-functioning ones.

“While this program is relatively new, we are beginning to see positive changes in the inmates who are being mentored as well as the inmates who are mentoring,” Morse said.

She looks forward to continuing her research in a master’s and doctoral program in criminology.

“What the faculty and students are doing is trying to look at it differently and ask new questions and try to find new answers,” Morse said. “I think when we start to reframe big issues like that, that’s when we start to make some positive changes and see other policies that might work.”

Milo Neild, the School of Community Resources and Development

Milo Neild never served in the military, but one of his main interests is helping those who did.

Neild works with his brother’s non-profit, Wounded Wodders, to aid the recovery of combat-wounded veterans.  

He also served in AmeriCorps and Public Allies, as well as taught transgender education for eight years before starting his degree in parks and recreation management at ASU.

Neild initially pursued a degree in computer programming but later switched to his major.

“Just wanting to be outside all the time really made me look for another major that better fit the things that I liked to do, the activities that I spent most of my time outside school doing,” Neild said.

Through his participation in the undergraduate research program with professor Megha Budruk, Neild earned a grant from the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance to conduct research on park-entry fees. The research will provide insight into park visitors’ level of acceptance of fees at three Maricopa County regional parks.

“It was never something that I would have considered doing. But starting to be able to do it was something I really enjoyed,” Neild said.

The research will explore the relationships between visitors’ willingness to pay, perceptions of fairness concerning fees, place attachment to the parks and attitudes toward fees.

“[Milo’s project] speaks very much to our college’s mission, our school’s mission, about doing research that is benefiting the community and that comes from the community,” Budruk said.

One of Neild’s philosophies is remembering to look at his situations in innovative ways.

“Even just getting others engaged is a way of being innovative because you’re taking on a whole new approach, a view, a skill set,” Neild said. “… In doing that, we come up with more solutions and engage more people.”

Fatemah Bernard, the School of Public Affairs

Fatemah Bernard set out to defy the odds against her.

“I had very difficult literacy issues growing up. I couldn’t read until I was in the third grade,” Bernard said. “... But really I’ve defied the odds, and I think that that’s the most important thing to do when you have the odds against you.”

Bernard said she overcame her biggest obstacle in college when she discovered her learning style.

“I had no idea all this time that I was an audio learner,” she said. “I didn’t know the steps I that I needed to take just to help myself along the way during my learning process, but ultimately my instructors helped me figure that out.”

Bernard served in the U.S. Air Force as a military police officer for six years before pursuing a degree in public policy at ASU.

“I wanted a challenge,” she said. “... Working in that public-servant role is an extreme challenge. There is a lot of sacrifice involved with it, but I just wanted to continue on that path and ultimately make something of myself.”

Among her accomplishments, she takes great pride in her work co-creating the nutrition curriculum for Refugee Focus, a program that provides a foundation for refugee women to take control of their health and the health of their families; and mentoring for New Pathways for Youth, which focuses on children who have been homeless or lived in a shelter.

Bernard has been accepted into the College of Public Service and Community Solutions graduate program for public policy, where she plans to pursue her interests of public education policy and municipal budgets.

Molly Gebler, the School of Social Work

Molly Gebler is a graduate student in the School of Social Work on the Tucson campus.

“I believe in the sense of community. That’s one of the reasons I love Tucson so much,” Gebler said.

Among her activities, she has served as the School of Social Work student council president.

“When I lead, I try to show my passion and enthusiasm because those are two things that people can feed off of and in turn get as equally excited,” Gebler said.

Gebler said she’s lucky to have met and made so many connections with the people in her experience at ASU. Through the child-welfare stipend program, Gebler was able to spend hands-on time seeing what she would do as a child-welfare worker.

Gebler has also served as a research assistant since 2012. Most recently, she has worked with ASU professor Lela Williams studying mother-baby attachment and bonding.

Gebler said every social worker has a grand idea to save the world,but that her idea of “macro-level change” must be worked through step-by-step.

“I’ve realized we only ever have control over our own actions,” Gebler said. “So if we can start with that, and if we all can just work on being really good people, I think that we can make that macro change.”

Written by Kennedy Munter and Adrianna Ovnicek

Media contact:

Heather Beshears

director marketing and communications, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Transfer student's success leads to Barrett Outstanding Graduate award

May 6, 2015

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Kathleen Stefanik always dreamed of earning a university degree, but she put her educational aspirations on hold to work and raise a family. Now, she has fulfilled her dream in ways she never thought possible. Download Full Image

A student in Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology in December 2014. She has been chosen as the 2015 Barrett Honors College Outstanding Graduate and will carry the college’s gonfalon in a convocation ceremony on May 12.

“The love of learning and education has always burned inside of me, but affording college was completely out of the question,” she said. 

So instead, Stefanik made a career in the title and escrow industry and put resources into making sure her three children could attend college. After working for many years and raising a family, it was her turn.

She enrolled at Mesa Community College, tested into the honors program and started on a path that led her to receive the Leaders of Promise, All-MCC, All-Arizona First Team and Coca Cola Gold Scholarships. She graduated with highest distinction from the MCC honors program with an associate of arts degree and transferred directly into ASU’s former College of Technology and Innovation and Barrett, The Honors College. The College of Technology and Innovation is now the Polytechnic School, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

As an honors student at the ASU Polytechnic campus, she took a class called “Make Your Ideas Happen” taught by Mark Henderson, Barrett associate dean, and began researching ways to alleviate poverty and hunger in rural Peru, where three out of four people live on less than $1.25 per day and depend on agriculture for their livelihood.

Stefanik and her classmates learned that crop production in Peru had diminished due to soil quality deterioration and that Terra Preta – special soils created through a process of baking organic waste into charcoal called biochar and combining it with nutrient-depleted soils and fertilizer – could be used to regenerate fields and increase crop yields.

The students studied the process of making biochar – called pyrolysis – and then made a prototype of a device called a pyrolizer. That was the beginning of a non-profit organization founded by Stefanik called Growth Alternatives In Action (GAIA). GAIA received support from GlobalResolve, an ASU Social Entrepreneurship program that each year mentors about 150 students on 40 grand challenge projects in up to 10 developing countries.

Together with GlobalResolve, GAIA took teams of students to Peru to teach farmers how to make biochar and work with the Peruvian agriculture agency to make pyrolizers for use in teaching biochar methods at agriculture fairs. Some GAIA team members taught about biochar at the Agronomy University in Cuzco, Peru. The group also acquired a land extension in Peru to conduct biochar experiments.

Stefanik used her presentation skills to compete for and win startup funding for GAIA through the IDEO Innovation Fund and the ASU Innovation Challenge. She participated in the Clinton Global Initiative University in 2014 where she appeared on a Global Development panel with Chelsea Clinton.

She is now working fulltime on GAIA initiatives. In addition to its work in Peru, the organization began a project in Nepal in January and GAIA members will return to continue work in that country. GAIA also is partnering with the Clinton Foundation on an initiative in East Africa where there is an agricultural center serving 40,000 farmers.

“As the founder of GAIA, I can tell you that being involved in Barrett not only enhanced my university experience, but it also helped me to find ways to make a difference. GAIA International is well on its way to making a global impact by helping to solve problems of food insecurity in the developing world,” Stefanik said. 

Being chosen as the 2015 Barrett Outstanding Graduate topped off a successful university undergraduate career, Stefanik said.

“I was the first in my family to obtain any kind of college degree, and so going to the top honors college in the nation was a really big deal for me.  But having that background and then being chosen as the 2015 Barrett Outstanding Graduate is beyond anything I had ever dreamed of. I am beyond ecstatic,” she said.

Stefanik encourages talented students, regardless of their background, age, or financial status, to pursue their educational goals – especially at ASU and Barrett.

“If you want to have the resources, the tools and the support to really change the world and make it a better place, then you belong at ASU and Barrett. It is everyone's responsibility to find their place in creating change and Barrett Honors College at ASU is an incubator for people who want to make their mark.” 

Nicole Greason

Public relations and publicity manager , Barrett, The Honors College