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PBS NewsHour West begins broadcasts from Cronkite School

October 15, 2019

PBS NewsHour West, the new bureau and West Coast feed of “PBS NewsHour,” hit the air for the first time on Monday from inside the Cronkite School.

PBS NewsHour West is housed at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication under a new partnership with Arizona State University. In addition to producing news stories based in the Western U.S., the Phoenix-based team will update PBS NewsHour’s Eastern time zone broadcast for West Coast audiences.  PBS NewsHour West and anchor Stephanie Sy Anchor Stephanie Sy, from the set of PBS NewsHour West at the Cronkite School. Download Full Image

Made possible with the generous support of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS NewsHour West allows NewsHour’s nightly broadcast to better serve audiences in the West and online, and to continue its expansion into a 24/7 news operation.

“As news cycles continue shrinking and America’s appetite for fair, contextual and trustworthy reporting intensifies, PBS NewsHour West at ASU’s Cronkite School will allow us to better serve our audiences across platforms and time zones,” said Sara Just, the program’s executive producer who serves as senior vice president of WETA, the flagship public broadcaster in the nation’s capital and producer of “PBS NewsHour.”  

“With a team located at the Cronkite School and Arizona PBS, we will have an ideal perch from which to better cover the important issues in the West with alacrity and insight and serve our West Coast audiences even better,” Just said. 

The PBS NewsHour West team includes award-winning journalist Stephanie Sy, a correspondent who serves as the West Coast anchor. The editorial operation in Phoenix is led by Richard Coolidge as senior producer of PBS NewsHour West.

“It is interesting to view the news through the lens of a Western viewer,” Coolidge said. “There is criticism sometimes that a lot of the news is East Coast-centric because most of the national news outlets are based there. We want to try to balance that out.” 

Judy Woodruff — the winner of ASU’s 2017 Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism, who has more than four decades of reporting experience at PBS, CNN and NBC — will continue to serve as NewsHour managing editor and primary anchor of the nightly broadcast.

“‘PBS NewsHour’ has a long history of setting the standard for broadcast journalism," Cronkite Dean and Arizona PBS CEO Christopher Callahan said. "We are honored to be a part of this great partnership, and we look forward to helping NewsHour deliver critical news coverage to communities in the Western United States and sharing Western stories with audiences across the country.”

Callahan said the new partnership will more deeply connect Cronkite to one of its most important professional partners. Over the past year, students in Cronkite News, the student-staffed, faculty-led news division of Arizona PBS, have produced in-depth packages for broadcast on the NewsHour.

Under the new partnership, the connections between Cronkite News and NewsHour will deepen, and the new Howard Center for Investigative Journalism will work collaboratively with NewsHour on national investigations, Callahan said.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our students while, at the same time, giving us the opportunity to help provide deeper and more nuanced news coverage of the issues most critical to the West,” he said.

Several factors played into the decision to open PBS NewsHour West at ASU, Just said. The university, with its internationally recognized journalism program, is committed to public broadcasting and serves as the home to Arizona PBS. The bureau also will allow NewsHour to work more closely with PBS stations and other media partners on the West Coast, where more than 20% of NewsHour’s audience resides.

“We are so pleased that our viewers in the Western states will have these important updates emanating from our studios,” said Arizona PBS General Manager Mary Mazur.

At 1.14 million viewers, the “PBS NewsHour” nightly broadcast audience for the 2017-2018 television season was up 34% compared with the 2013-2014 television season. NewsHour’s website in 2018 reached 52 million users, up nearly 40% compared with 2015. With an eye for continued growth and reach across platforms, Just announced last year the move to expand and transform “PBS NewsHour” online with the addition of nine new full-time digital positions.

Director of communications, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Arizona PBS

'Still here:' Native American scholars discuss Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Phoenix is part of a growing list of cities celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day instead of Columbus Day.

October 14, 2019

Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona State University alumnaLaura Medina graduated with a master's degree in indigenous rights and social justice from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ American Indian Studies program in 2018. Today, she works as a student success and retention coordinator at the American Indian Student Support Services. Laura Medina enjoyed getting the day off school for Columbus Day every October. But she also remembers feeling conflicted. The holiday celebrates Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of North America in 1492. And as a member of Michigan’s Ojibwe tribe, Medina knew that the land he sailed to was neither empty, nor undiscovered. Tribal civilizations like that of her ancestors were already there, and Columbus’ arrival was the start of a brutal colonization campaign that permanently altered their lives.  

“Columbus Day did not feel right, even as a kid,” Medina said. “Back then, you’d sometimes hear people asking why we celebrate Columbus, then around 2012 I started hearing about the idea of celebrating something else, instead.” Laura Medina graduated with a master's degree in indigenous rights and social justice from the American Indian Studies program in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. ASU alumna Laura Medina has attended the Indigenous Peoples' Day march in Phoenix for the past two years. This year, she helped organize it. Download Full Image

Now she’s doing exactly that. This year, she’s spending the holiday with ASU students, local community members and fellow alumni for an Indigenous Peoples’ Day march through downtown Phoenix.

Organized this year by ASU’s student-led Alliance of Indigenous People, the event is the third of its kind in Phoenix.

The Indigenous Peoples' Day designation was first proposed in 1977, at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas in Geneva. Its proponents sought to shed light on the genocide, displacement and continued discrimination indigenous communities in North America faced as a result of colonization.

More than four decades later, Phoenix is one of over 100 cities and 15 states across the U.S. to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in lieu of or alongside Columbus Day.

Medina said it’s an opportunity for Arizona’s 22 Native American tribes to be heard, and for the public to recognize a piece of history that has been left out.

“Colonization has made us invisible in the past, reclaiming this day gives us the power to challenge that and come together as a community,” she said. “I also think it’s exciting for people to see students of color from such an important institution leading this; it shows ASU is accessible to everyone.”

We caught up with other academics from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ American Indian Studies program to hear more about the history of Indigenous Peoples’ Day and what it means to them. 

David Martinez

David Martinez is an associate professor in The College's American Indian Studies program.

The 1977 resolution helped propel the conversation about Indigenous Peoples’ Day forward. But David Martinez, an associate professor in the American Indian Studies program and a member of Arizona’s Gila River Indian Community, traces the idea back to the country’s first rights group created for and by Native Americans over a century ago. 

“The Society of American Indians held their first meeting in 1911 and on their agenda was the establishment of an American Indian Day,” Martinez said. “The concept of Indigenous Peoples’ Day is in many ways the latest chapter in that effort, in that it served to give a sense of meaning to the American Indian identity and draw attention to the fact we exist.”

Though the society mostly disbanded after fighting for and winning federal citizenship rights through the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, Martinez said the push for recognition they started lived on in the work of indigenous activists that followed. Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day helps their fight continue.

"For a long time, history has been told from the side of the European discoverers, which is that Columbus embarked on this hero journey and found this land Western civilization hadn’t seen before,” he said. “There is no problem recognizing somebody's ancestor, in this case a European ancestor, having done something dangerous, but the presumption of discovery erases us from the narrative.”

He said it’s also about honoring contributions American Indians have made to society.

“Whether it’s episodes of tribes assisting settlers to get through winter, like at Plymouth Rock, or the indigenous sense of environmental stewardship and appreciation for the land, our culture has influenced a lot of facets of America,” he said. “I think one important thing to remember is that this holiday is also about acknowledging that impact.”

Jayme Deschene

Jayme Deschene graduated with a master's degree from The College's American Indian Studies program in 2015.

Born and raised in the Navajo Nation city of Kayenta, Arizona, Jayme Deschene was surrounded by her Native American culture from a young age. She said Indigenous Peoples’ Day helps bring to light why tradition and land matter so deeply to indigenous communities. 

“Land is very connected to being indigenous because our land holds our stories, our stories are our heritage, and our heritage is connected to the way we live today,” she said. “As a Navajo person, I am lucky to still have some of my homeland, but many others do not — I think this day is important to help people understand that when that land was taken, a part of our identity was taken too.”

Deschene graduated with a master’s degree in indigenous rights and social justice from the American Indian Studies program in 2015. She returned to campus a year later as a student success and retention coordinator with the American Indian Student Support Services, a position she still holds today.  

Now living in Tempe, she said it can be challenging to ensure her three children get the full picture when it comes to understanding the past.

“My daughter is 7, and some of the school work she brings home about settlers at Plymouth Rock makes almost no mention of Native Americans,” she said. “I try to talk to her about what is missing or incorrect, and give her additional materials about our history.” 

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day is one way to drive that understanding further forward.

“Sitting on campus, we are on ancestral tribal land right now, but a lot of people don’t realize that,” Deschene said. “Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not so much about older communities as it is about educating younger generations like my daughter’s and making sure our history, language and culture continues.”

Eric DeLorme

Eric DeLorme is a graduate student in The College's American Indian Studies program.

For Eric DeLorme, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree from the American Indian Studies program, returning to school was a chance to gain more insight into cultures across North America.

“My mother is Mexican American and I am an enrolled Pueblo of Acoma tribal member in New Mexico, and a descendant of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Montana,” DeLorme said. “I studied Chicana/o studies in my undergraduate years, now I want to expand my knowledge of indigenous peoples all the way from Canada down through Mexico.”

DeLorme sees Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a chance to recognize a historic trauma and honor the sacrifices made by communities that came before.

“I see this as a day to remember that we survived genocide, my ancestors fought hard so that I can put my feet on this earth today. The movement now is regaining the identities that were lost during colonization,” he said. 

Some controversy between Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day continues, but DeLorme said it’s important to keep conversations going, even when difficult.

“I think what’s happening now, with people discussing these differences, that’s a good thing, because it’s the first step in challenging the narrative,” he said. “By acknowledging another part of this country’s history, we can get closer to understanding one another.” 

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


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Indigenous Act helped complete the work of the 19th Amendment

October 11, 2019

ASU professor says voting inequalities for Native Americans still exist nearly a century after Congress granted them citizenship

The 19th Amendment of the American Constitution officially gave women the right to vote in 1920, putting to rest decades of contention, civil disobedience and suffrage efforts.

However, many people don’t realize that not all women (and men) were on equal footing after its passage.

The Indian Citizen Act of 1924 gave Native American men and women full citizenship (and the right to vote). And nearly a century later, it’s still a struggle.

To commemorate the lead-up to the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Oct. 14, ASU Now turned to Katherine Osburn for elucidation.

Osburn, an associate professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, is an ethnohistorian whose research focuses on gender, race and political activism. Her current book project, "Sovereignty, Services, and Citizenship," focuses on the relationship between indigenous peoples and the state of Arizona. She said despite the good intentions behind the 1924 act, the legislation remains a work in progress.

Woman in blue dress

Katherine Osburn

Question: What was the Snyder Act, and how did it come to pass?

Answer: The Indian Citizenship Act granted full citizenship to all indigenous peoples living in the United States, but it is important to understand that a fair number of Native Americans had already become citizens before it passed. Throughout the 19th century, state officials occasionally granted their indigenous neighbors citizenship if the applicant appeared to be “civilized.”

Policymakers could debate what activities constituted civilized behavior, but the one constant in the decision to extend or withhold citizenship was tribal standing. Government administrators regarded Indians who lived on tribal lands as owing allegiance to an alien political system. This was one reason why Indians who accepted individual allotments of land under the 1887 policy of forced assimilation known as the Dawes Act received citizenship if they lived on their allotments for 25 years. Policymakers believed that living on these allotments severed tribal ties and assimilated Indians.

Moreover, by the 20th century Congress had extended citizenship to numerous indigenous persons through random provisions of individual acts of Congress and as a reward for military service. Yet many Indians still lacked citizenship until Congress granted (or imposed upon, depending on your point of view) citizenship to remaining American Indians. Support for Indian citizenship in Congress was no doubt bolstered by their military service in World War I, but the larger context of this act was rooted in a desire to assimilate indigenous peoples into the mainstream of American culture. After all, the Dawes Act was still in force. 

The text of the act reads:

"Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all noncitizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States: Provided, That the granting of such citizenship shall not in any manner impair or otherwise affect the right of any Indian to tribal or other property."

In a legal sense, the second part of the act allowing citizen Indians to continue residing on tribal property undercut the long-standing idea that living in tribal communities was incompatible with citizenship. In a practical sense, however, state officials carrying out the machinations of citizenship still resisted extending full citizenship rights to their indigenous neighbors on reservations. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had established the process for creating new states, and it allowed state officials to construct the stipulations for exercising the franchise. Thus, the Snyder Act extended the franchise in word, but not necessarily in deed. This meant that as late as 1938, seven states still disfranchised indigenous citizens. Arizona was one of those states.

Q: The irony of allowing indigenous peoples, who were here first and allowed to vote last, is not lost here. How galling it must have been for all Native peoples.

A: Leaving suffrage for the First Americans for last is indeed ironic, but it was that very matter of being First Nations that created that situation. Indigenous peoples are citizens of tribal polities that existed before the creation of the United States, and these polities hold a government-to-government relationship with the United States. Thus, their political status is unique, and that means that they are not just another minority group hoping for inclusion in the U.S. political order. For indigenous communities, protecting their sovereignty as tribal nations is the paramount political concern. Indeed, in the early 20th century, most indigenous communities were focused on immediate matters of survival under very difficult economic conditions. At the time the act was passed, a minority of Native Americans called for the franchise, and they did so more to improve the lives of their people through political engagement than from a desire to participate in American political institutions.

The most prominent advocates of citizenship and voting rights in the early 20th century were certain members of the Society of American Indians (SAI), a pan-Indian organization founded to lobby Congress and the Indian Service on behalf of Indian self-determination and to educate the public on Indian issues. The SAI was created on Columbus Day in 1911 by a group of highly educated Indian professionals (graduates of Indian boarding schools and American colleges) who had been working with sociologist Fayette Avery McKenzie of Ohio State University to improve Indian policy. One of the most prominent leaders was Dr. Carlos Montezuma (Wassaja), a Yavapai whose family resided in the Mazatzal Mountains.

In 1871, a Pima raiding party had kidnapped Wassaja and sold him to an Italian immigrant named Carlos Gentile. Gentile renamed him Carlos Montezuma and sent him to boarding schools and then to college. Montezuma took a medical degree from Chicago Medical College in 1889 and helped to found the SAI in 1911. In 1916, Montezuma started a journal titled Wassaja in which he expressed his criticisms of the way indigenous peoples were treated. When WWI broke out, he editorialized that, without citizenship and full civil rights, Indians should not be compelled to fight, especially since they were allegedly fighting for democracy, the benefits of which they were denied at home. This was a position held by a lot of indigenous peoples. Others felt that fighting would earn them citizenship. Still, citizenship in the United States for indigenous peoples is a dual citizenship and must be understood as such.

Although Montezuma sought civil rights for indigenous peoples, he also fought for Yavapai self-determination, helping to create their reservation at Fort McDowell in 1903 and supporting the resistance to relocating them to the Salt River Reservation in 1918 and 1919. He led efforts to win water rights for the reservation in the early 1920s. ... He represented a new way of thinking in the early 20th century that sought to use citizenship as a tool of indigenous self-determination. Voting must always be seen in that context.

Q: Why did it take longer for indigenous peoples to be fully franchised than for women?

A: The issues surrounding the 19th Amendment were very different than those of disfranchised indigenous peoples. Women’s voting rights were entangled with assumptions about gender, while Indian voting was linked to their unique political status. Moreover, simply passing the Indian Citizen Act did not fully franchise Indians. Since states set the parameters of voting rights, they were able to raise barriers to Indian voting.

While literacy tests and poll taxes were used against indigenous voters in many places, the primary impediments to voting were generally rooted in the unique political status of indigenous peoples as belonging to separate polities. Some states borrowed the language of the U.S. Constitution in Article 1, Section 2, which bars “Indians not taxed” from citizenship and used it to deny voting rights. Legislators in Idaho, Maine, Mississippi, New Mexico and Washington withheld the franchise from their indigenous citizens because those who were living on reservation lands did not pay property taxes. In New Mexico, Utah and Arizona, state officials argued that living on a reservation meant that Indians were not actually residents of the state, which prevented their political participation. These issues were at the forefront in Arizona when indigenous activists challenged their disfranchisement.

Article 7, Section 2, of the Arizona constitution stated, “No person under guardianship, non-compos mentis, or insane shall be qualified to vote in any election.” Arizona lawmakers understood this as prohibiting Indians from voting because they were allegedly under federal guardianship on their reservations. When two Pima men from the Gila River Reservation attempted to vote, the Pinal County recorder refused them. Tribal leaders mounted legal challenges that finally reached the Arizona Supreme Court. In Porter v. Hall (1928), the state argued that indigenous Arizonans were outside of the political boundaries of the state and that, following Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), they were wards of the federal government. The court dismissed the first notion but fastened on the second. Arizona Indians lived within state political boundaries but, as long as they resided on reservations, they were under the guardianship of the federal government — as federal officials had maintained. Regardless of the provisions of the ICA, they would remain disfranchised until they assimilated and abandoned their tribal status. The Arizona Supreme Court eventually overturned Porter in Harrison v. Laveen (1948), on the grounds that the guardianship clause in the Arizona constitution violated the 14th and 15th amendments. Despite this victory, literacy requirements still disfranchised Arizona Indians until the 1965 Voting Rights Act banned them.

Q: Did the Indian Citizen Act end up making a difference? Did Native Americans end up becoming a big voting bloc?

A: Yes and no. No, because efforts to disfranchise indigenous Americans continued regardless of the law. Yes, because the Indian Citizen Act, paired with the 14th and 15th amendments, provided the foundation for legal challenges. Court victories against voting restrictions throughout the 1940s and 1950s helped more indigenous citizens to exercise their rights. In the 1950s, the Indian vote was significant in several Western states. In the 1956 election, both parties in Arizona issued a statement on their Indian policy, and in 1964 President Johnson's campaign made a point of reaching out to Indian voters.

More significant, however, was the Voting Rights Act, and the 1970 and 1975 amendments that strengthened the act. The Voting Rights Act outlawed any practices that “deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color” and established federal oversight of elections in areas where discrimination had historically been practiced. Apache, Coconino and Navajo counties came under scrutiny for disfranchising Native voters, and the literacy requirements were finally struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court under the provisions of the 1970 amendments. In 1975, Apache County attempted to gerrymander its voting districts to dilute the Navajo vote. Navajos challenged the action, and the case made its way to the District Court for Arizona. In Goodluck v. Apache County (1975), the court struck down the gerrymandering as unconstitutional. That same year, amendments to the Voting Rights Act ordered that language assistance be given to voters whose first language was not English. This provision increased voting on Navajo lands in San Juan County, Utah, by 95%. Indigenous voter rolls in Arizona have grown steadily ever since, and candidates for public office ignore their concerns at their peril.

Q: What is the situation today with Native American turnouts at the booths, and do they still face issues?

A: In recent years, indigenous voters played a significant role in Western states where their numbers are greatest. Janet Napolitano traced her victory in the 2002 Arizona governor’s race to the Native vote, and indigenous voters helped Al Gore carry New Mexico in 2000. The National Congress of American Indians created a national campaign of voter registration and education titled Native Vote in 2004. They encouraged tribes to hold their tribal elections on the same day as national elections, and places that followed this advice increased turnout significantly. On the Navajo Nation, Code Talkers (veterans who had used the Navajo language for security in wartime communications in WWII) traveled the reservation in 2004 urging their people to vote. In Phoenix, the Native American Community Organizing Project registered voters for the 2004 elections, and both Democrats and Republicans reached out to indigenous voters.

Ultimately, however, election officials across the nation have continued to suppress the Native American vote. Current challenges include refusal to accept tribal identification cards and residences — reservations often do not have traditional street addresses — for voter registration, scant language assistance, and inaccessible polling and registration sites. These problems led to a bipartisan investigation on indigenous voting rights in 2018 that resulted in the Native Voting Rights Act. The bill creates a Native American Voting Rights Task Force to provide funds and assistance to tribes for increasing voter participation and addresses problems with voter registration and polling sites. The bill provides funds for federal election observers and requires the Department of Justice to consult annually with tribes to make certain elections are flowing smoothly. It is stalled in the Senate, and its passage is not certain given the current political climate.

As always, however, indigenous peoples are not waiting on the federal government to deliver justice. Indigenous leaders all across the nation have organized to resist disfranchisement. Here at ASU, Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, director of the Indian Legal Clinic at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, founded Native Vote project in 2004. Third-year law students run the clinic, which provides both legal and practical assistance to Arizona’s indigenous voters. Most galling to some of the workers is the presence of nonindigenous poll workers disqualifying indigenous voters on indigenous lands. Native volunteers monitor 12 polling stations around the state to prevent such actions and provide legal assistance on the phone. Nearly a century after the Indian Citizen Act established American citizenship for indigenous peoples, its promises are still not fully realized, but indigenous activists and tribal leaders continue to demand the United States keep its word to America’s first peoples.

Top photo: President Calvin Coolidge posed with Native American men, possibly from the northwestern United States, near the south lawn of the White House on Feb. 18, 1925. It was taken after Coolidge signed the bill granting Native Americans full citizenship. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU a top producer of Teach for America teachers 5 years running

October 11, 2019

For the fifth consecutive year, Arizona State University has been ranked as a top producer of educators by Teach For America, the national nonprofit that recruits, trains and places recent college graduates to teach for two years in high-need schools around the country.

There were 43 Teach for America corps members from ASU in 2019. This year’s cohort was one of the most diverse in Teach for America history: More than half of the incoming corps members identify as people of color, 43% come from low-income backgrounds and 1 in 3 were first-generation college students.  Kiley Cronin teaching in her classroom in front of kids at desks Kiley Cronin in her classroom at Maryvale Preparatory Academy in Phoenix. Download Full Image

Julia Tebben, senior program coordinator for strategic initiatives and university partnerships for ASU Career and Professional Development Services, said ASU’s consistent top ranking for Teach for America’s indicates the dedication to service and innovation at Arizona State University. 

“The fact that Arizona State University continues to be a top producer of Teach For America corps members is a testament to the impact-driven mindset of our university and its alumni,” Tebben said. “We know that students care deeply about effecting change at all levels. TFA provides a wonderful platform to take all of that drive and energy and turn it into something truly incredible. Every child deserves to reach their highest potential, and we are proud that Sun Devil alumni continue to be a part of that realization each year.”

Kiley Cronin, who graduated from ASU in December 2018 with one bachelor’s degree in psychology and another in communication, is a current corps member. Cronin, who is originally from Medway, Massachusetts, teaches second grade at Maryvale Preparatory Academy in Phoenix. 

Cronin said she joined TFA because she knew she loved working with children as a gymnastics coach and because she had cousins who were corps members in Denver and Phoenix. 

“When deciding what I wanted to do after graduating, TFA seemed like a clear choice since I was familiar with the program and it would allow me to continue working with and teaching children. I wanted to serve in Phoenix specifically, because throughout my time at ASU I had fallen in love with the community, and I wanted to help people within that same community that I had become a part of,” Cronin said. 

Cronin said she grew up with excellent public schools in Massachusetts and is passionate about making sure every student has access to high-quality education, regardless of zip code or socioeconomic status. She has seen education gaps firsthand in her experience as an educator.

“TFA truly made me realize that education is treated as a privilege in our country. But it shouldn’t be,” she said. “My hope is that the corps members of TFA not only teach their students but inspire them to become leaders and educators in the next generation so that in the future, every educator is an excellent educator, and every student has the opportunity to learn without limits.” 

Jesus Vega-Valdez is a corps member who teaches special education and sophomore English at Mesa High School. He graduated from ASU in spring 2019 with one bachelor’s degree in transborder studies and another bachelor’s degree in anthropology. He also minored in economics.

Originally from Pomona, California, and the Maryvale area of Phoenix, Vega-Valdez said his experience as a peer mentor made him realize the scope of educational inequity in the United States and inspired him to pursue educational policy. But he didn’t just want to research educational issues — he wanted to understand what’s going on in classrooms firsthand. 

“Acknowledging that my academic research understanding is not enough to truly analyze the issue as a whole, I joined TFA. My plan is to one day take my personal experiences from the classroom and provide a voice for my students and those in my community. I want to make sure that those in power are making decisions that are truly based on the needs of each community,” Vega-Valdez said. 

The classroom experience is both amusing for Vega-Valdez (like the time he spotted a puppy in a student’s backpack in the back of his class) and edifying, building his understanding of how education can improve and inform his career path. 

“Joining TFA has strengthened and reassured me that I desire to work in education policy. Being part of a community with many like-minded individuals that are all continuously working to fight against education inequity is inspirational,” he said.

Both Vega-Valdez and Cronin agree that though the job is hard, it’s an invaluable community and career experience.  

“My students have also taught me a lot about themselves and about myself,” Cronin said. “I know now more than ever that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. And although it takes a lot of work and even a few tears here and there, I wouldn’t trade this job for the world.” 

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


ASU Biodesign Institute executive director urges health care forces to 'go beyond discovery' at Arizona Wellbeing Commons conference

October 8, 2019

With organizations the caliber of Mayo Clinic, TGen, the Flinn Foundation, Arizona BioIndustry Association and the state’s universities, Arizona boasts a multitude of talented scientists, health professionals, life science entrepreneurs, nonprofits and government leaders committed to contributing to the quality of life in our state. Arizona’s bioscience sector is adding jobs at a rate that outpaces the nation. And its public universities are seeing increases in bioscience research funding, expenditures and tech transfer.

But for more than 300 people who came together last week for the Arizona Wellbeing Commons, that’s just not good enough. Created three years ago, the commons is all about making connections. conference room full of people sitting at tables More than 300 people from Arizona’s health and bioscience-related organizations convened Sept. 27 for the annual Arizona Wellbeing Commons conference. Download Full Image

“Historically, the biological sciences were studied in individual labs, each using its own particular expertise,” said Joshua LaBaer, leader of the commons and executive director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University. “And that approach is fine if the goal is discovery alone. But we want to go beyond discovery to implement these discoveries into practices that have impact. Real-world impact is a higher bar that requires input from many dimensions and a team approach. This is an opportunity to build these teams — to learn about what’s happening outside our own walls and discover new ways to put our resources together to address the health and medical challenges of our community more expediently and efficiently.”

According to group leaders, the organization serves as “an umbrella group that facilitates the development of strong working partnerships to create new opportunity, build capacity and grow influence in Arizona.”

“I am inspired by this conference,” said Larry Penley, chair of the Arizona Board of Regents. “Together, you are a powerful network and your collaboration is applauded by the board.

“Because of this new ‘innovation economy,’ the Arizona Board of Regents has structured its budget requests to the state this year around this very issue; around a workforce that comes from the sciences, engineering, biomedicine and allied health; around the state’s capacity to match major university research grant proposals that will drive new ideas and new businesses in our economy.”

Penley noted his enthusiasm for the new Phoenix Biomedical Campus, a 30-acre medical and bioscience campus that will bring together the resources of ASU, the University of Arizona, Northern Arizona University, TGen, Flinn Foundation, the city of Phoenix and the Arizona BioIndustry Association.

“Not only will we be able to expand the availability of biomedical degrees, but also accelerate biomedical research and translation of those new ideas into new technologies that will drive our community forward,” Penley said.

Keynote speaker Alan Leshner, interim CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the executive publisher of the Science family of journals, discussed the globalization of science and emphasized the need for multidisciplinary solutions. He proposed that revolutionizing the structure of our graduate education and funding strategies is important to achieving a multidisciplinary mindset.

“Multidisciplinary science is the leading edge in discovery,” he said.

David Sklar, an emergency room physician and senior adviser and professor in ASU’s College of Health Solutions, shared his concerns about pedestrian deaths in Arizona, noting that Arizona has the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities in the nation. A review of factors contributing to this public health challenge — road conditions, alcoholism, speed, pedestrian walkways and emergency response — indicate that solutions to the problem will require a multidimensional effort.

Recognizing both the issues we face and the intellectual capital we have here in Arizona, the commons is organized in seven divisions, attracting those most interested in addressing specific issues:

  • Cancer prevention, detection, management and treatment.
  • Public health and health care services law, policy and equity.
  • Nutrition, obesity, exercise and lifestyle.
  • Viruses, immunity, microbiomes and infectious diseases.
  • Mental health, substance abuse, crime and behavior change.
  • Neurobiology, aging, dementias and movement disorders.
  • Culture, arts, design and humanities in health.

The culture, arts, design and humanities in health division was added this year. Tamara Underiner, associate dean for academic affairs in ASU's Graduate College and associate professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, welcomed a standing room-only crowd, explaining that although our nation spends more on health care than most countries, we still suffer lower life expectancy and higher mortality and disease burden rates. She said that adding elements of art and culture to health care programs can alleviate this disparity, citing cases where art has cured chronic depression and how introducing music to care homes has improved mental health among patients and their caregivers.

“These are just some of the things that happen when you add heart and art,” Underiner said. “It shows real vision on the part of the commons’ organizers to recognize out loud the key role culture plays in health and well-being for all Arizonans,” she added. “Finding ways to collaborate with and across the divisions will help us develop more holistic approaches to some of the biggest challenges we face.”

“I came to Arizona about the same time the Flinn Foundation started the Biosciences Roadmap,” said Jennifer Barton, director of Bio5 at University of Arizona. “I remember coming to my first Flinn meeting as a young assistant professor and thinking, ‘I’ve come to the right place. And now, some 18 years later, we’ve shown how that collaborative gene is important, and the Wellbeing Commons is a great way to bring everyone together and create tangible outcomes.”

Written by Dianne Price and Gabrielle Hirneise

Gabrielle Hirneise

Assistant science writer , Biodesign Institute


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ASU's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute to provide Peace Corps experience for members

ASU's lifelong learning program for adults offers weeklong Peace Corps trip.
October 8, 2019

Older adults can travel to Belize, become 'citizen scientists,' expand world views

Every semester, when thousands of students move their graduation cap tassels from right to left, it doesn’t mean education has ended for them. Arizona State University has committed to offering opportunities for community members to be lifelong learners — not just by earning credits and degrees, but by expanding their experiences and world views. 

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at ASU has enlisted faculty to teach short, high-level, noncredit courses to adults over 50 for more than a decade. And now, beyond classroom learning, Osher members have a chance to make a difference in the world through the new OLLI Corps — a partnership with the National Peace Corps Association and Discover Corps.

Later this week, the inaugural group of 25 OLLI Corps members will be the first to travel abroad to help Peace Corps volunteers teach English, distribute health information and visit ecological research centers in Belize.

OLLI is intended to connect older adults to the university, building a sense of community and providing a way to engage with each other and the knowledge, according to Richard Knopf, who is director of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at ASU.

“All the literature on older adults says people who have a sense of purpose, a sense of giving back, live longer and have all the biomedical markers of being healthier,” said Knopf, who also is a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, which houses the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at ASU.

OLLI at ASU is the first of the 126 Osher university-based programs in the nation to offer a volunteer travel program affiliated with the Peace Corps.

“We take a lot of pride that ASU incubated this idea, and it’s going national,” Knopf said. “All eyes will be looking at ASU and saying, ‘This is an amazing idea, but will it really work?’

“And if we’re successful, we’ll launch other destinations and it won’t be long before it’s picked up by the entire network.”

Claire McWilliams, an instructor in the School of Community Resources and Development, will be one of the ASU faculty members leading the weeklong trip.

“The idea is not to ask the members, ‘What would you like to do?' — but to find out the missions of the Peace Corps in that area,” she said.

“Our members will be directly assisting the Peace Corps members, mostly with health education in school environments. This makes sure the activities are relevant to the community and not just ‘feel good.’”

McWilliams will lead the OLLI Corps members in reflection exercises before, during and after the trip.

She believes the trip will be a chance for self-discovery for the older adults, who want to stay engaged with the world.

“The first Osher class I taught, I left with ideas for how to make my undergrad presentations better," she said. "They came to the table with so much and they had so much of their own life experiences to offer.”

Creating ‘citizen scientists’

OLLI at ASU has worked to integrate older adults into the ASU community in several ways, including through soliciting ideas from ASU students. The Intergenerational Learning Service Scholarship is awarded to students who come up with ways to have younger college students and older adults engage in projects together.

woman taking photo with cell phone at petroglyph reserve

ASU archaeology senior Bailey Cacciatore demonstrates how to take video for the photogrammetry technique at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute's class at the Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve on Oct. 2. She won the OLLI Intergenerational Learning Service Scholarship for her proposal to coordinate archaeological learning. Associate Professor Matthew Peeples guided the three-hour session on 'The Art of Rock Art.' Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Virginia Miller won the scholarship in 2018 for her project in helping to create OLLI Corps, which started with her vision of an intergenerational “study abroad.”

“It was my vision to fuse traditional-age students with Osher members and to see how transformative travel happens on both sides,” said Miller, who studied abroad in Fiji and Australia in 2015. She is pursuing a master’s degree in social science, community resources and development.

“So we took the study abroad model and scaled it into an OLLI-type course, mixing service learning with transformative travel,” she said. “It’s still our long-term goal to eventually have ASU students go along on these trips.”

Other scholarship winners’ projects include a mural about immigration painted near the Downtown Phoenix campus, an intergenerational ukulele club and a theater experience.

Bailey Cacciatore, a senior majoring in archaeology, was a student worker at the Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve in north Phoenix last year when she came up with the idea that won her an intergenerational scholarship.

“I found there was a disconnect between archaeology and the general public and I wanted to find a way to connect the two. The scholarship allowed me to create this class and bring different people with different backgrounds and ages and ideas together to show them that they can contribute and make them feel like they’re archaeologists,” she said.

So last week, about a dozen OLLI members spent a morning at the preserve learning how to harness new technologies in documenting rock art. The class, called “The Art of Rock Art: Hands-On Methods for Archaeological Photography,” was led by Matthew Peeples, an associate professor and the co-director of the Center for Archaeology and Society in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, along with Kendall Baller, a graduate research associate in the Center for Archaeology and Society, and Cacciatore.

The OLLI members walked the preserve trail, taking photos and videos of petroglyphs — images chiseled into the basalt by indigenous people hundreds to thousands of years ago. The Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve has one of the largest concentrations of rock art in the country. Cacciatore explained to the members that one reason is probably because the area, near the Skunk Creek, was an ancient “pit stop” on a trading route.

Back in the visitor center, Peeples showed the group how to use free or low-cost software and smartphone apps to turn murky photos and low-quality videos into stunning images of rock art that can then be used to create three-dimensional models. He also showed how the technology can enhance an image to make a petroglyph that’s nearly invisible to the naked eye show up in a photo.

“You don’t need fancy equipment to do these things,” Peeples told them. “And now we can take our laptops into the field and process these images in real time.”

Frank Grinere, a physical therapist from Scottsdale, has loved archaeology since he was a child and took the class because he was excited to learn new techniques.

“It’s amazing what you can do with even limited technology,” said Grinere, who’s taken several other Osher courses.

“They’re interesting and accessible and what really impresses me about Osher in general and this class in particular is how generous the instructors are. It’s like we’re regular students,” he said.

The benefits go both ways.

“Archaeology is one of those fields where nonprofessionals can and do make big contributions to the field,” Peeples said.

“If we can harness the energy of interested people, it’s a great way to find volunteers. Having students do work is great but a lot of the Osher people are retired and they have the time, willingness and ability to help at any time of the year.”

OLLI as a window into the community

Knopf said that the OLLI Corps model could be scaled up, depending on its success. One measure of success is financial viability for future trips. The members paid $2,500 each for the Belize trip, which includes housing, food and transportation for the week. With a limited number of seats, the trip sold out almost immediately, said Knopf, who hopes to be able to offer travel scholarships in the future.

Other measures of success will be scholarly. Miller will be working with the members to quantify their experiences and how it changed them. Her research will be added to the wealth of studies that exist on OLLI members. Studies done at ASU of OLLI populations at ASU and elsewhere have found:

  • A review of more than 7,000 registrations over four semesters found that older adults, called “third agers,” wanted “breadth and depth” in their learning experiences, and courses in global issues and social issues drew high enrollment.
  • Women outnumber men in OLLI programs at all age ranges, less than 6% of participants identify as nonwhite and nearly 90% had attained a bachelor’s degree or higher, leading to questions on how the program can be more accessible to a wider range of people.
  • A survey of 5,500 participants found that the members valued the “learning experience” the most, followed by “socializing,” and they valued “collaborative learning” more than community-building activities.

OLLI at ASU offers about 150 courses taught by faculty this semester, including tough topics like the antivaccination movement, plastics pollution in the ocean, the right to die, gender identity and the use of force by police. More traditional classes include crafting, art, literature, music, history, self defense, health, personal finance and the desert ecology. Most courses are one or two sessions and vary in cost from $14 to $65. Most are less than $30 and some are free. Course locations are around the Valley.

The OLLI model is expanding to include more member-driven projects, according to Abby Baker, program coordinator for OLLI at ASU.

“The classes are awesome. We know how to produce outcomes,” she said. “And there’s a power in shifting from these outcomes to the process and allowing our membership to have a voice.”

Last year, the members produced an anthology of writing, artwork and photography, with help from Rosemarie Dombrowski, principal lecturer of English and the first poet laureate for the city of Phoenix.

“It was completely member-driven. They populated the board, and were the editors and submitters,” Baker said. “It’s a work that’s ASU-branded and ASU-caliber.

“And it transformed people along the way.”

Another initiative is Learning Enrichment Groups, which are led and managed by members. Current groups include “Acting on Climate Change” and “Me Too and Beyond.” One group reads and discusses fiction with middle schoolers and another explores restaurants in the Valley.

Knopf said that there are about 2,400 members in the OLLI network, and he has done a lot of research on what drives them.

“One fundamental truth is, they are anxious to see the world through a different lens. They’re anxious to have their own truths be questioned,” he said. “These are not naïve folks.”

Top image of Belize by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Public service with a crown: ASU alumna becomes Miss Navajo Nation

October 4, 2019

Last month, Arizona State University alumna Shaandiin Parrish stood in front of a crowd at the annual Navajo Nation Fair and waited to learn whether she’d become Miss Navajo Nation 2019.

Over the previous five days, her traditional knowledge had been put to the test with a series of rigorous competitions focused on Navajo language, culture and practices. She’d spent months preparing, making regular trips back to her family home in the Navajo Nation’s Kayenta, Arizona, to hone her skills under the watchful eye of her grandmother. To Parrish, participating in the pageant was about more than a title. It was about upholding a traditional way of life and giving back to a community she’d spent time away from while at ASU.  ASU alumna Shaandiin Parrish wearing a crown standing in front of a desert backdrop Shaandiin Parrish graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science and a minor in educational studies in 2018. This September, she became Miss Navajo Nation 2019. Download Full Image

Discovering she’d won, Parrish felt a flood of emotions.

“It was such an honor, but also very overwhelming,” she said. “This is a title that means so much to our people — I think in that moment I felt all the responsibility of it, and the crown was suddenly very heavy.” 

Parrish is no stranger to the pageant world. She’s been competing since she was young and has already held Miss Indian ASU and Miss Indian Arizona titles. But in the mosaic of pageants across the U.S., Parrish said the Miss Navajo Nation title is unique. 

Winners spend a year visiting over 27,000 square miles of tribal land. Because the Office of Miss Navajo Nation is a branch of the tribal government, the titleholder also serves as a goodwill ambassador, promoting community health, economic development and other initiatives. 

“To become Miss Navajo, you must butcher an entire sheep in an hour, all in the traditional way, cook traditional dishes and complete interviews in both Navajo and English,” she said. “As the titleholder, you are responsible for visiting communities in our tribal lands in New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, making sure people feel like their concerns are being heard and they matter.”

Parrish’s run for Miss Navajo Nation is the latest milestone in what she says is a lifelong commitment to public service that she began cultivating at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from the School of Politics and Global Studies and a minor in educational studies from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College in 2018.

Forging a new path

A passion for community service initially attracted Parrish to education. She came to ASU as a Gates Millennium Scholar with plans to teach in a bilingual Navajo-English classroom. But when she was unable to complete her teacher aid training with Navajo-speaking students in her final year, she began rethinking her life’s path, and her major.

A call to a new kind of service came to her at the 2015 Navajo Nation Fair, watching the then-Miss Navajo Nation pass on her title. 

“She delivered her entire farewell speech in Navajo and talked about how all her work in the role had been for the benefit of her people,” Parrish said. “To me, her humility was such a display of community and public service — I think that day I realized that maybe one day I could actually be Miss Navajo, too.” 

The speech inspired Parrish to start engaging her community through public policy and government. Back at ASU, it marked the beginning of a new degree path in political science and a host of achievements over the next few years. 

In the fall semester of 2015, she earned a CAP/Udall ScholarshipThe CAP/Udall Scholarship was created by the Central Arizona Project and the Udall Foundation that funds students who are interested in careers focused on the environment, American Indian health care, or tribal public policy, and who display leadership potential, academic achievement, and a record of public service. and transitioned into a political science major at The College. Outside the classroom, she worked as a page intern in the Arizona State Senate for three years before taking a position as a public information officer for Arizona State Treasurer Kimberly Yee.

smiling woman kneeling next to smiling, seated elderly woman

Parrish during a visit with Navajo elders at a community center on the Navajo Nation. Photo Courtesy of Shaandiin Parrish

Melding tradition and service

Parrish said working for and meeting state representatives made her feel part of something larger than herself. 

“At 24, I was the youngest Native American working at the Arizona State Senate on a daily basis, and it made me see how much impact one person can make,” she said. “The College played a huge role in my finding that internship and advancing professionally, especially during a hard transition changing majors.” 

Still, living far away from the community she’d long planned on serving was taking its toll. The Miss Navajo Nation pageant was one way to bridge the gap. And standing on stage to accept the title last month, Parrish felt like she was entering a new phase of her journey that was bringing her closer to home. Now living in the Navajo Nation’s capital Window Rock and having the opportunity to visit communities full time, Parrish said the role feels like a new phase that’s bringing her closer to home.

“People don’t realize that the Navajo Nation is kind of like its own country, and the Miss Navajo title has a huge influence on our people,” she said. “I’m coming to this position from a very different government setting, and I think one of the best parts is being able to serve my community directly, every day.” 

Now, she aims to help a new generation of Native Americans develop their futures while holding onto their history.

“I’d like to go back to ASU for a master’s degree and eventually law school,” she said. “As the eldest female child in my family, I’m also responsible for maintaining our Navajo traditions — I think my biggest motivation now is making sure I do that for my siblings, while also being someone who they can look up to in the world.”

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Teens learn to ‘call the game’ at Cronkite School camp

October 3, 2019

Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication has a unique fall break opportunity for teens interested in sports journalism. Middle and high school students are invited to learn the basics of sports broadcasting and play-by-play reporting at a two-day camp Oct. 10–11. The camp is offered in partnership with FOX Sports Arizona and the Arizona Coyotes.

Middle school students will spend both days at the Cronkite School’s state-of-the-art facility, learning from Cronkite faculty. They’ll also have the opportunity to hear from legendary sportscaster Dick Stockton in a conversation moderated by Cronkite School professor Mark Reda, who has more than 35 years' experience in sports broadcasting. Middle and high school students learn broadcasting basics at the Cronkite School. Middle and high school students are invited to learn broadcasting basics at the Cronkite School. Download Full Image

High school students will spend the first day of the camp at Gila River Arena. There, they’ll meet FOX Sports Arizona and Arizona Coyotes on-air talent, watch the team practice, learn the basics of play-by-play, practice calling a game, and perform on-location standups. On day two, they’ll visit the Cronkite School for activities including play-by-play critiques and storytelling instruction.

Each camp is limited to 20 participants, and the cost is $300 for middle school students and $350 for high school students. The fee includes all materials as well as a light breakfast, full lunch and snacks for both days. Don’t let your kid spend fall break bored. Register now

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Turning Phoenix green

September 30, 2019

Study shows how urban agriculture can push the sustainability of Phoenix

A community garden occupies a diminutive dirt lot in Phoenix. Rows of raised garden beds offer up basil, watermelons and corn, making this patch of land an agricultural oasis in a desert city of 1.5 million people. In fact, this little garden is contributing in various ways to the city’s environmental sustainability goals set by the Phoenix City Council in 2016. The goals consider matters such as transportation, water stewardship, air quality and food.

With these goals in mind, a group of researchers led by Arizona State University assessed how urban agriculture can help Phoenix meet its sustainability goals. For example, urban agriculture could help eliminate so-called “food deserts” — communities that lack retail grocers. It also can provide green space, as well as energy and CO2 emissions savings from buildings.

“Our analysis found that if Phoenix used only about 5% of its urban spaces (2% of its land, and about 10% of its building surfaces) for urban agriculture, the city could meet its sustainability goal concerning local food systems,” said Matei Georgescu, associate professor in the ASU School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and co-author of the study. “Urban agriculture would also contribute towards the city’s goals of increasing open spaces, and reducing environmental impact from buildings and land use.”

Through the use of public records and high-resolution satellite imagery, the researchers analyzed the potential benefits of growing crops in three types of urban areas in Phoenix: vacant lots, rooftops and building facades.

The data-driven analysis indicated that 71% of Phoenix’s available areas for urban agriculture would come from existing buildings as opposed to vacant lots.

Overall, the study estimates that nearly 28 square miles (5.4% of city space) are available for urban agriculture in Phoenix. This can supply the city with nearly 183,000 tons of fresh produce per year, allowing for delivery of an assortment of fruits and vegetables to all of Phoenix’s existing food deserts. That means the city’s own urban-agriculture output could meet 90% of the current annual fresh produce consumed by Phoenicians.

Greener Phoenix

The use of vacant lots would increase green space by 17% and reduce by 60% the number of areas lacking public parks. This brings the added benefit of more open green spaces accessible to Phoenicians. The study identifies “walkability zones” around open green spaces that are expanded by 25% to cover 55% of the study area through the use of vacant lots for urban agriculture.

In addition, rooftop agriculture could reduce energy use in buildings by 3% per building per year and potentially displace more than 50,000 metric tons of CO2 annually. This is the equivalent of nearly 6,000 homes’ energy use for one year.

“These findings highlight the importance of place-based analysis,” said Nazli Uludere Aragon, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. “Context and geography are critical,” Aragon explained. “The integration of local data applied to locally meaningful desired outcomes is the essence of applied research and can transform communities in beneficial ways.”

The paper, “Urban Agriculture’s Bounty: Contributions to Phoenix’s Sustainability Goals,” was published Sept. 30 in the online edition of the Environmental Research Letters Special Issue on Sustainable Cities: Urban Solutions Toward Desired Outcomes.

In addition to Aragon and Georgescu, co-authors of the paper include ASU researchers Michelle Stuhlmacher and Jordan Smith, and Nicholas Clinton of Google. 

“Our work demonstrates the multitude of ways that urban agriculture can serve cities, beyond merely the somewhat limited focus on food production,” said Georgescu, also a senior sustainability scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU.

“A key highlight of our work,” said Aragon, “is that it can be adopted for other cities that have developed or are in the process of developing their own sustainability goals and want to explore the extent to which urban agriculture can contribute. We want to perform similar analyses for cities across the United States and the world with similar interests in determining co-benefits associated with urban agriculture.”

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Science writer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

Celebrating strong pathways to college during National GEAR UP Week

September 27, 2019

Arizona State University joined with thousands of students, parents, educators and college access partners around the country to celebrate National GEAR UP Week Sept. 23–27.

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs is a federally funded grant program that helps local partners — K–12 schools, higher education institutions, state agencies and community organizations — increase college readiness and enrollment, increase graduation rates and educate students and families about postsecondary options, preparation and financing. Students in GEAR UP shirts and teachers at Kino Junior high in Mesa, Arizona Students, educators and parents at a GEAR UP Week 2019 event at Kino Junior High in Mesa. Download Full Image

In its inaugural year, GEAR UP served a cohort of 1,390 underserved students in Arizona through tutoring, mentoring, test preparation, social-emotional learning, cultural field trips, college visits, job shadowing, academic and career advising and more. Nationally, GEAR UP serves nearly 708,000 students in 44 states

Throughout the United States, GEAR UP Week featured local proclamations, social media campaigns and other celebrations. Valley schools such as Kino Junior High School, Gililland Middle School, Desert Horizon Elementary School and Don Mensendick School planned activities such as goal setting, writing aspirations on a large “dream wall,” donning college gear and vlogging about making a difference in the community. GEAR UP also brought in a nationally recognized vendor, Paradigm Shift, to provide students at Maryland Elementary School and Porfiro H. Gonzales Elementary School opportunties to cultivate grit, resilience and a growth mindset during the week's events. 

The week’s celebrations incorporated evidence-based activities that improve student success. Arizona students wrote letters to their future selves giving advice, an activity that has been shown through research to improve young people’s confidence and motivation.

Some of the advice Kino Junior High students gave to their future selves:

  • “Keep trying on hard things until you get it right.”

  • “Be happy, be good and work hard.”

  • “Don’t give up, and keep trying.”

  • “Don’t worry, you can achieve every one of these goals if you try hard enough.”

GEAR UP programming starts in seventh grade and goes through students’ first year of postsecondary education. GEAR UP senior coordinator Ricardo Villa-Sanchez, who worked with the program as a tutor at Sullivan Elementary School when he was a student at ASU and also worked at Carl Hayden High School, says that the impact on students lasts beyond the official programming.

“My favorite part of GEAR UP has been the bond formed between staff and students. These relationships turn into meaningful and long-lasting mentorship. I still actively work with a handful of graduated GEAR UP students from my tenure as an academic tutor,” Villa-Sanchez said.

He and senior coordinator Jasmine Dean lead Arizona's programs by supervising tutors and mentors and working with administration and staff on programming, events and services. Though he earned his degree in psychology, Villa-Sanchez said that his first experience in GEAR UP pushed him in the direction of education.

“The time spent with students is still the most enjoyable part of my job and always serves to reinvigorate my drive for doing the job that we do,” Villa-Sanchez said. “Programs like GEAR UP will often serve as a long-lasting, impactful experience that helps to drive future opportunities.” 

ASU earned a $1 million U.S. Department of Education State and Partnership GEAR UP award to provide seven years of funding for the program. Districts participating in the GEAR UP grant include Tempe Elementary, Tempe Union, Mesa Public Schools, Pendergast Elementary, Tolleson Elementary, Tolleson Union, Glendale Elementary, Washington Elementary and Glendale Union. Community partners include the Be A Leader Foundation, APS, Glendale Community College, the Arizona College Access Network, MidFirst Bank, Mesa Counts on College, Tempe College Connect and many others who are committed to improving postsecondary outcomes for Arizona students and families. Many of these partners are also part of the Achieve60AZ goal that by 2030 60% of Arizona adults will hold a postsecondary credential or degree.

Sylvia Symonds, ASU associate vice president of outreach for ASU’s Educational Outreach and Student Services, said that ASU is proud to celebrate the impact of GEAR UP with the national community.

“This is a program that is transforming the lives of more than 1,000 families in Arizona every year by providing family engagement and rigorous coursework that opens up the college-going pathway for students. GEAR UP students, educators and partners should be proud this week and every week about making higher education possible and more accessible for more Arizonans,” Symonds said. 

Sharon Smith, dean of students at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, said that GEAR UP is a program that has a real and sustained impact on students’ lives and Arizona’s goals for higher education.

“The GEAR UP program provides rigorous academic, personal development and career preparation tools for students to access higher education, receive professional development and gain mentorship and friendships that have a lasting impact on students’ lives,” she said. 

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services