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ASU group's work with Navajo Nation recognized for innovative community planning

November 16, 2018

The Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association recently held their annual conference, during which members from Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning were recognized for their project with the Navajo Nation’s Dilkon Chapter.

David Pijawka, professor of planning and senior sustainability scientist with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, has a long history of working with indigenous communities to ensure Native culture, customs and traditions are considered in community planning. Pijawka and Jonathan Davis, a geography PhD student, recently worked alongside the Dilkon Chapter to successfully complete a community land-use plan. It is for this outstanding work that Pijawka, Davis and the Dilkon chapter were recognized on Nov. 8 for special recognition for a public outreach plan. Jonathan Davis (left) and David Pijawka (second from right) are joined by members of the Dilkon Chapter and the Navajo Nation Office of Government Development as they accept their award from the Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association. Download Full Image

The Dilkon Chapter of the Navajo Nation, located in the northeastern region of Arizona, is an active and engaged community that desired to compete for funding for further economic, housing and public service development within their community. In order to better compete for funding for these initiatives, the Dilkon Chapter needed to update their community land-use plan, as dictated by the Navajo Nation. Teaming up with Pijawka and Davis, the chapter began to utilize a new approach help create their plan

In February 2017, a community-based land use plan was created through the use of "geodesign."

Geodesign is primarily guided by the principle that land-use planning is complex, therefore to effectively design a resilient and sustainable community or place, it requires a collaborative approach between GIS (geographic information systems) experts, planning professionals, geographic scientists, community members and other stakeholders such as environmental, development and housing experts.

“Geodesign leading to a land-use plan incorporates community participation and visioning of a different and viable future based on community-shared goals and needs that leads to consensus on the type of land uses, their location and connections,” Pijawka explained. “We found that the idea of a community working together to reach a consensus of a future connected well with indigenous approaches to planning communities. The exchange of ideas and knowledge, through the use of computer GIS systems for communicating among community groups was original and innovative.”

The Dilkon Chapter’s project is the first known application of geodesign as a planning framework in an American Indian community.

In order to complete this effort, the Dilkon Chapter, Pijawka and Davis, along with members from the Office of Navajo Government Development, completed a two-day long workshop where eight different data development groups were created based on their area of interest and expertise, including economic development, public services, conservation (both cultural and environmental), transportation, infrastructure, grazing and housing. During the workshop community members were able to consult with experts and design land-use designations using the land suitability maps, their local knowledge and their cultural and traditional sensibilities.

As soon as these designs were contributed, the ideas were immediately shared with the other data development groups through the geodesign software. At the end of the first day, eight unique land-use plans had been developed from over 100 potential land-use designations contributed by Dilkon community members. The group then worked to prioritize and combine the plans until they were ultimately able to complete one final land-use plan that incorporated community feedback and that was built through consensus and compromise.

The final land-use plan incorporated a cultural conservation map with an explanation from Dilkon Chapter elders on why certain areas in the community are culturally and traditionally important, identification of recreation areas within the town that could serve as a community area to interact with nature and designation of a potential solar field to reduce energy costs for the community. A transportation plan was also created, designating five miles of road for paving, five miles of road for sidewalk and three additional crosswalks.

One of the most important aspects of the geodesign workshop is that planners from Arizona State University and the Office of Navajo Government development were able to provide their expertise to the community when called upon, but final decisions on land designations were up to the community members. The effort also incorporated planners from the Navajo Nation, promoted public participation within the Dilkon Chapter and used Navajo GIS analysts as technical assistants. With the successful results from this exercise, it is now believed that the geodesign planning framework can serve as a future planning model for American Indian communities by leveraging Western planning with a strong influence of community values and traditions.

“(Dr. Pijawka and Jonathan Davis) provided technical and professional support to our community to empower us to create a land-use plan that will guide our community into the future,” said Lorenzo Lee Sr., president of the Dilkon Chapter. “The use of geodesign to create a land-use plan allowed our community members to engage with each other and actively participate in the planning process which allowed us to propose alternate futures for Dilkon.”

The plan from the Dilkon Chapter has now been submitted to the Navajo Nation Office of Government Development for approval and marks an important milestone in a budding relationship.

“This is an important partnership that places ASU in the center of important community work with American Indian communities,” Pijawka said. “It demonstrates a successful and innovative approach to community development through the use of information technology, spatial analysis and community engagement.”

Manager, Marketing and Communication, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


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The healing power of pursuing a dream

Billy Mills, winner of 1964 Olympic 10,000-meter race, speaks at ASU event.
November 15, 2018

Iconic Native American athlete visits ASU to speak about turning tradition and spirituality into motivational fire in life and sport

When Billy Mills beat the pack on a muddy cinder track in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, it was one of the greatest upsets in sports history. 

The grainy black-and-white video shows his graceful, effortless stride in the 10,000-meter race. But those steps were part of a difficult journey that left Mills, an Oglala Lakota, so despondent that he almost killed himself before he won the gold medal.

“That moment was magical to me. I felt as if I had wings on my feet,” Mills told a crowd at Arizona State University on Thursday night. He spoke at an event titled “Indigenous Identity and the Athletic Experience with Billy Mills,” sponsored by the Alliance of Indigenous Peoples, the Global Sport Institute and the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. The talk was held at the Tempe campus, which is on the homeland of the Akimel O’odham and Pee-Posh peoples.

Mills was raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. When he was 8, his mother died, and his father told him, “It takes a dream to heal broken souls. The pursuit of a dream will heal you.”

“He told me to take our culture, our traditions and spirituality and extract from them the virtues and values that empower them,” Mills said.

His father died when he was 12, but Mills found his passion in running and won an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas. 

“I was not ready for the lack of understanding that Americans had for me,” he said.

He was told he could not join a fraternity or be roommates with his white and black friends. And when he was named an NCAA All-American cross-country runner, he was told to not appear in the official photograph. 

“By then I knew something inside of me was broken, but I didn’t know what. I was locked out of the American dream.”

He opened the window of his fourth-floor hotel room and looked down, but heard his father’s voice telling him not to jump. 

Then he met Patricia, to whom he has been married for 56 years.

“Instantly, I’m in love,” he said. “Now I have a partner.”

Mills earned a degree, took a commission in the Marine Corps and made the U.S. Olympic team.

At the race in Tokyo, Mills knew he was running a scorching pace, but didn’t think he could keep it up. He felt his blood sugar plummeting, his vision blurring. Also, he was in fourth place. Then he stumbled. He briefly thought of quitting, until he saw Patricia in the crowd.

“She was crying because I was pursuing a dream and she was my support team. I was pursuing a dream to keep from thinking of suicide again,” he said.

“She knew I was taking the virtues and the values of my culture, my traditions, my spiritualty and I was putting them into my Olympic pursuit and my marriage.”

He surged to the finish and was briefly confused when he won.

“Did I miscount the laps? Do I have one more lap to go?”

When Mills returned to the United States, the country was in the midst of civil rights protests.

“The games inspired me to go on a journey into my past to understand footprints laid by my indigenous ancestors and my European ancestors, and what I found is what we face today in America,” he said.

He visited the black church in Birmingham, Alabama, where four little girls were killed by a bomb, and he studied the history of oppression against people of color, up to the “war on drugs” that fueled the growth of gangs on reservations.

He decried the backlash against former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during the national anthem to protest police brutality against African-Americans. Mills said that as a veteran, he supported the protest.

“He’s not disrespecting me. It’s a cry for unity,” he said.

The event also featured Amanda Blackhorse, a Navajo and a social worker who was the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that sought to revoke trademark protection of the term "Washington Redskins,” a slur against Native Americans. She said she was thrust into the world of sports when she took on the mascot issue.

“I didn’t grow up saying, ‘Someday, I’m going to take the Washington NFL team to court,’” she said. 

“A lot of times in social justice and activism, the issues just happen. We don’t seek them. They come to us.”

Blackhorse said she has always admired athletes who take a stand on political issues.

“I was delighted to hear that Billy Mills spoke out against the name of the Washington team. I thought, ‘Yes, an icon is on our side.'"

In 1986, Mills founded the nonprofit group Running Strong for American Indian Youth, and he travels more than 300 days a year, speaking to young people about healthy lifestyles and taking pride in their heritage. Now 80 years old, he said the United States is in “strange times,” but he’s optimistic.

“I know we can come together and complete the maturity of our democracy,” he said.

Top photo: Retired ASU environmental graphic designer Randy Kemp (left) shares a laugh with Billy Mills, the Sioux Olympic gold medalist who won the 1964 Tokyo 10,000 meters. Kemp took part in a 500-mile ultramarathon in 1979, sponsored in part by Mills, and had him sign his finisher's certificate. Mills later addressed around 100 people at the "Indigenous Identity and the Athletic Experience" event on the Tempe campus on Thursday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


Bausch + Lomb cites ASU research in contact lens recycling collaboration

November 15, 2018

Microplastics are a growing area of concern for researchers and the public, with much of the focus on plastics in our oceans. Until recently, the environmental impact of the plastic we put in our eyes has been largely overlooked. Now manufacturers and researchers are teaming up to raise awareness that disposing lenses down the toilet or the drain adds to the planet’s plastic pollution — and that recycling or disposing lenses with recyclable solid waste are eco-friendly options.

Every year, about 45 million Americans rely on contact lenses to see the world more clearly. This $2.7 billion U.S. market has made contact lenses more comfortable and disposable. Every day, plastic lenses are tossed away by consumers in various ways, perhaps without much thought to their ultimate environmental fate. Consumers in the United States use more than 3 billion contact lenses a year. While contact lenses are recyclable, their small size causes them to be filtered out at recycling facilities and directed to the waste stream. Contact lens fragments collected from treated sewage. Photo by Charles Rolsky/ASU Download Full Image

Today, on America Recycles Day, Bausch + Lomb — the third-largest manufacturer of contact lenses in the U.S. — announced that its exclusive ONE by ONE Recycling Program has collected and recycled a combined total of more than 5 million used contact lenses, blister packs and top foils since the programs began late in 2016. The company collaborates with TerraCycle, a leader in collecting and repurposing hard-to-recycle post-consumer waste.

In its announcement, Bausch + Lomb cited findings from researchers at the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering at Arizona State University that indicate contact lens wearers may be unknowingly contributing to plastic pollution.

“Up until two years ago, there wasn’t a program that allowed contact lens wearers to properly dispose of or recycle their contact lens materials without ensuring that they did not end up in the environment,” said Amy Butler, vice president, Global Environment, Health, Safety + Sustainability, Bausch Health.

While the ASU research team commends Bausch + Lomb for demonstrating environmental consciousness, the ASU team is pushing for additional steps with contact lens manufacturers. Currently, manufacturers do not provide consumers with any information on the best environmentally friendly way to dispose of contact lenses after use.

“We would like to see more rigorous education and recycling throughout the contact lens industry, the addition of recycling symbols on packaging materials, and even a harder look at transitioning to polymer materials sourced from renewable feed stocks,” said Rolf Halden, director of the ASU center. “The fraction of contact lens packaging and lenses recycled to date is still rather modest.”

The ASU study results were reported by Halden and research partner, Charles Rolsky, at this year’s American Chemical Society conference in Boston, Mass. Along with Varun Kelkar, a graduate research assistant, the team examined 13 contact lens brands, made of nine different types of plastic polymers, concluding that lenses that are washed down the drain typically flow into wastewater treatment plants. At the wastewater plants, the lenses are broken down into microplastics, which accumulate in sewage sludge. For about every two pounds of wastewater sludge, a pair of contact lenses typically can be found.

“It's really great to see how research can be combined with publicity to shed light on problems and connect with others,” Rolsky said. “Bausch + Lomb have this awesome program that offers a big answer to this big problem. This collaboration helps us as scientists learn from the everyday lens-wearer about how this changed their disposal strategy.”

According to the news release, “the Bausch + Lomb ONE by ONE Recycling Program is available to contact lens wearers and optometrists in the United States. Contact lens wearers can take their used contact lenses and packaging to any of the nearly 3,000 participating eye care professionals’ offices or mail them via a pre-paid shipping label at BauschRecycles.com. Registered eye care professionals with the ONE by ONE Recycling Program are also provided custom recycling bins for collection in the office. Once the materials are received by TerraCycle, the materials are then recycled into post-consumer products.”

“You get a lot of momentum and excitement from seeing how your own data has changed people, but also from learning that influential companies have a similar mindset,” Rolsky said. “They also want to think green and reduce plastic waste.”

The researchers acknowledge support and funding from ASU’s Human Health Observatory and the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.

Assistant science writer, Biodesign Institute

ASU economists remain positive on 2019 economy

Experts will deliver their predictions for the state and nation at Economic Forecast Luncheon Nov. 28

November 15, 2018

While economic growth is likely to slow in 2019, Arizona is expected to rank among the top five states for job creation. Which local industries are booming? And with many possible outcomes for current U.S. trade disputes, what’s the potential disruption headed into 2019? 

Top experts will deliver their predictions for the state and nation at the Valley’s largest and most trusted economic forecasting event on Wednesday, Nov. 28. About 1,000 people are expected to attend the 55th annual Economic Forecast Luncheon. economists From left: Research Professor Lee McPheters, luncheon keynote speaker John H. Cochrane and Professor Bart Hobijn. Download Full Image

Regional, statewide and local forecasts will be presented by Lee R. McPheters, research professor of economics and director of the J.P. Morgan Chase Economic Outlook Center at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business, and editor of the Arizona and Western Blue Chip Economic Forecast publications.

Among McPheter's predictions:

• Although growth is expected to slow somewhat in 2019, Arizona will rank among the top five states for job creation in manufacturing, construction and professional and technical services as the economy adds some 75,000 new jobs.

• The Arizona unemployment rate will continue to decline during the year ahead, dipping below 4 percent for the first time in more than a decade.

• Phoenix will remain one of the nation’s most dynamic metro areas, accounting for eight out of every 10 new jobs created in the state.  

• In spite of rising interest rates, strong demand will push single-family home permits in the Greater Phoenix area over the 25,000 mark in 2019; continuing job growth will spark some 6 million square feet of new industrial construction and vacancy rates in multifamily, office, retail and industrial space will remain low by historical standards.

The U.S. and global economic forecasts will be presented by Bart Hobijn, professor of economics at the W. P. Carey School of Business.

Among Hobijn's predictions:

• It is “all systems go” for the U.S. economy in 2019. Though growth is expected to slow a bit in 2019, the fundamentals will remain strong because of several temporary factors that have boosted it during this year dissipating.

• The unemployment rate is set to decline a bit further while wage and broader compensation growth will slowly accelerate.

• Job growth also looks to remain solid with about 170,000 jobs a month added to nonfarm payrolls in 2019. 

• There are some wrenches that could be thrown into the forecast. First of all, stock market valuations are high compared to the underlying earnings levels and outlook. Second, the reorganization of global supply chains in response to trade disputes can negatively impact the economy. Finally, slowing global economic growth might be a drag on the U.S. economy. 

Keynote speaker John H. Cochran will touch on health care, environment, taxes, financial regulation and U.S. housing. He’ll also discuss policies to support long-term growth, in each case highlighting a way out of the partisan divide. Cochrane is a professor of finance and economics, and the Rose-Marie and Jack Anderson senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He maintains the Grumpy Economist blog.

The luncheon will be held from 11:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 28, at the Phoenix Convention Center — North Ballroom. Registration required.

Rebecca Ferriter

Communications Manager, W. P. Carey School of Business


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ASU scholars, students embed in indigenous communities with research in Indian Country

November 7, 2018

Sun Devil researchers are making an impact for indigenous peoples around Arizona

NCAA college basketball rarely makes it to the far reaches of the Navajo Nation. But this weekend, the Arizona State University women’s basketball team will take on national powerhouse Baylor University in Fort Defiance, Arizona.

Organized in conjunction with ASU’s Office of American Indian Initiatives, the “Showdown on the Rez” will take place on Veterans Day and serve as a celebration of Native American Heritage Month, as well as provide a platform to recognize and honor Native Americans who served in the armed forces.

Watch: ESPN2 will broadcast the Showdown on the Rez on Sunday

But athletes aren’t the only members of the Sun Devil family making an impact on indigenous communities around Arizona. The university also boasts another VIP team — faculty, staff, researchers and students who contribute to the well-being and advancement of the 22 tribes in Arizona.

Health care, language preservation, molecular science, sustainability, research methodologies, higher education experiences: ASU has a wide breadth of research and interaction taking place in Indian Country. And this is evident throughout the year, not just in November.

“One of the hallmarks at ASU for our work with tribal communities and Native students is about building capacity and creating futures of their own making,” said Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center for Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian affairs. “Our goal is to interface with all 22 tribes and nations and every Native person in Arizona if we can.”

They’re making a good dent in the Navajo Nation. Lamont Yazzie is currently a fourth-year doctoral student in the justice studies program in the School of Social Transformation, where his dissertation work on research methodologies is helping advance Diné learners.

Specifically, his research compares the space between Western society in America and indigenous communities, the structural oppression that exists and how their people have responded to education hurdles in the past.

“It’s paying homage to the knowledge systems of our ancestors because everything we have needed has always been there,” Yazzie said. “Looking at education through a Navajo lens, we can legitimize our thought process, legitimize our perspective and legitimize our way of life.”

Colin Ben, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and a postdoctoral research scholar in the School of Social Transformation, is also researching Navajo education. His paper, “Navajo Student Decision Making,” was presented at the “Doing Research in Indigenous Communities" conference, a partnership between ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development and the Office of American Indian Initiatives that was held Nov. 1–2 at ASU SkySong.

His research examines decision-making factors influencing Diné students’ pursuit of doctoral education and their experiences of persisting in graduate school despite difficult and discouraging experiences.

Ben discovered that indigenous students face more hurdles than most, including cultural transitions, isolation, financing programs, obligations to the tribal community, taking care of elderly parents, driving long distances to school and maintaining a full-time job.

“There’s a toll that it takes on them, not only financially but physically and mentally. It was wearing them out,” Ben said. “But what pushed them through was the fact that they wanted these advanced skill sets to enhance their career opportunities and trajectory. Also, they had a strong desire to give back to their community.”

Ben said he has shared his findings with his tribal elders, as well as with ASU administrators to address policy issues to better serve Native students.

That’s exactly what Deborah Chadwick is doing in her work as project director of the Center for Indian Education. In 2014, she developed a first-of-its-kind program that trains future teachers on their home reservation with a focus on tribal history and keeping alive the Akimel O’otham language. The first master's cohort graduated in spring 2018.

This year Chadwick is thinking beyond the borders of the Akimel O’otham reservation and has been an integral part of the newly offered online master’s degree program in indigenous education being launched next spring. The 30-credit program will be taught by mostly indigenous faculty and is specifically geared toward Native Americans who live in remote sites and on reservations.

“It’s not just for people in Arizona but nationally and internationally,” Chadwick said. “We’ve had inquiries from around the world.”

Tennille Marley, a citizen of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and an assistant professor in the American Indian Studies program, recently finished research on two papers dealing with diabetes in tribal communities and data sovereignty in the research process.

Her paper “History: A Determinant of American Indian Health” examined how history has impacted diabetes. She said colonization, especially by the U.S. government, heavily influenced dietary practices of Native Americans by placing them on reservations and introducing rations, which many were forced to take for survival.

“They replaced our traditional diets. For example, fry bread and tortillas, which are not traditional dishes, are now a staple,” Marley said. “I’m hoping the paper will encourage Native American communities to go back to our traditional dietary practices and to help health care providers and research better understand diabetes in Native American communities.”

She has a willing ear in David R. Wilson, a citizen of the Navajo Nation and an ASU doctoral graduate. Wilson is the first director of the Tribal Health Research Office at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, which was established in 2015.

Wilson also attended the conference at ASU SkySong, which was a gathering of approximately 175 Native American faculty and researchers at ASU and visitors. Wilson was a keynote speaker, but he was also there to communicate the work that happens across the NIH with tribal nations.

“The overall goal of the NIH’s engagement in this event is to not only introduce the Tribal Health Research Office but also to convey the importance of the NIH’s commitment to health in tribal communities through research,” Wilson said. “An important part of that is to increase opportunities for professional development to the Native American student base that exists here. Also, to collaborate with tribes that are interested in research. The best way to accomplish this is to increase communications between the university, the NIH and tribal nations. A successful collaboration will lead to a more diverse biomedical research community that also understands the cultural competencies that are important and respectful to ethical research in the tribal communities.”

While most of the research being conducted by indigenous scholars at ASU is being carried out in the field and in the classroom, some of it is being done in labs. Gary F. MooreMoore was the recipient of the National Science Foundation’s CAREER grant, a prestigious grant to support emerging academic scholars. This year, he was one of three doctoral advisers recognized nationally as an exceptional mentor by the ARCS Foundation., an assistant professor in the School of Molecular Sciences and a researcher in the Biodesign Center for Applied Structural Discovery, studies what plants can teach us about solar energy storage, which currently is too expensive to use on a mass scale.

“My research group is investigating the molecular science required to produce fuels and other valuable chemicals from sunlight, water and air, thereby replacing fossil inputs and creating renewable processes,” said Moore, a chemist from the Powhatan Pamunkey tribe in Virginia. He is researching methods to harness sustainable energy using approaches inspired by nature’s process of photosynthesis.

He said that although his lab is not currently working with an Arizona tribe, he believes this type of approach has great appeal to nations looking to harness energy in a decentralized fashion and with minimal environmental disruption.

“Each house could become its own power plant,” Moore said. “It’s an approach that could potentially fit well with tribal communities if those communities are willing and receptive to adopting such technologies.”  

Read: New magazine, ASU initiatives help Native students reach a ‘Turning Point’

Top photo: ASU Associate Professor Angela Gonzales speaks during a panel discussion on "What is indigenous research? What does research in indigenous communities look like?" The panel was part of the two-day conference on "Doing Research in Indigenous Communities" at ASU SkySong on Nov. 1–2. The morning panel discussion drew around 60 people including several ASU students. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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Legacy Corps program that provides respite care for veterans now part of ASU

Legacy Corps program at ASU to offer respite care to families of veterans.
Program is accepting applications for volunteers.
November 7, 2018

Service program matches volunteers with veterans' caregiving families

For veterans, their time in the military is often a significant part of their lives, and nobody is going to understand that service more than another veteran.

A longtime respite-care program that connects volunteers to veterans is now part of Arizona State University and soon will be helping local military families.

The Legacy Corps for Veterans and Military Families has been around for 15 years and was previously at the University of Maryland. But when the professor who ran the program retired, the project — and the $6 million grant to run it — was moved to the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at ASU.

“We decided the program was too good to let go and it needed to continue on,” said David Swindell, an associate professor and the director of the Center for Urban Innovation in the Watts College. He had been involved with Legacy Corps as an evaluator and was instrumental in bringing it to ASU a few months ago.

Currently, Legacy Corps partners with agencies at 14 sites in nine states — but none in Arizona. Swindell is working quickly to change that.

“We desperately want one here because Arizona has such a large veteran population and ASU is committed to veterans, so this fits perfectly with our overarching mission,” he said.

“And respite care is a service that’s very underprovided.”

Here’s how Legacy Corps works: Nonprofit agencies that already offer respite care partner with Legacy Corps, which is part of the AmeriCorps federal service program. Volunteers sign up, get basic AmeriCorps training and are paired with a family in which either the caregiver or the care recipient is a veteran. There are no income restrictions. The volunteers spend about eight to 10 hours a week with the veteran, giving the caregiver some much-needed time off. The volunteers sign up for one year of service, which can be renewed for an additional year. Volunteers also get a small stipend to cover transportation costs.

Legacy Corps volunteers don’t have to be veterans, but Swindell said that’s the “sweet spot” the program is aiming for.

“They spend time with the recipient, and they love to talk. It’s cathartic to have this friend who understands,” he said.

Another benefit is that when their service ends, AmeriCorps volunteers receive an education stipend of about $1,600 that can be used to pay tuition, and volunteers over age 55 can transfer that money to family members.

Swindell said the 15 years of the program has produced a lot of research showing that the service increases community engagement among the volunteers — even after their term is over. Every volunteer is surveyed four times, before, during and after their term.

“We found that their sense of community attachment, and the social capital generated from training, jumps very high at the beginning,” he said.

“And after they leave the program, two years later, it goes down a little, but it’s still way higher than it was when they started,” he said.

“What that translates into is that these individuals, even after they finish their volunteer term of service with AmeriCorps, continue to volunteer. That means the dollars spent on their stipends by the federal government are getting a return on investment that’s much higher than what we’re spending.”

Surveys of caregivers also found high satisfaction with the program — a key element, according to Jack Steele, project director for Legacy Corps.

“The goal is to reduce the burden of stress and to stabilize or improve the emotional well-being of that caregiver,” he said. “Veteran and military families are heroes, and we’re trying to reach into their lives and improve their health.”

Linda Siegel, program manager for Legacy Corps, said that volunteers get training on how to interact with the care recipients.

“We do a lot on communication techniques and a whole curriculum on military culture,” she said. “They learn games and get tool kits so they can design their own way to approach this.”

There are more than 520,000 veterans in Arizona, according to the U.S. Census, and two-thirds of them are age 55 or older.

While Legacy Corps has not finalized a site in Arizona yet, Swindell said that the program is accepting applications for volunteers, and people who are interested should contact him.

“It would be great to have folks in the pipeline for when we get the site here running,” he said.

Top image by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

In celebration of Veterans Day, Arizona State University proudly honors veterans and active members of the military through Salute to Service. Your support helps veterans succeed. Text ASUVets to 41444 to donate to the Veterans Education Fund or visit veterans.asu.edu to learn how you can honor a veteran. 

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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Class on veterans focuses on their families and the value of support systems

November 7, 2018

ASU instructor and former Army wife creates close-knit culture for students to advocate for veterans

Military personnel are often thought of as strong, adaptable and resilient men and women who make great sacrifices to protect our country.

While we shower our service members with praise and thanks, the families and loved ones who prop them up and support them during their careers often get overlooked.

But a class at Arizona State University looks at the culture and resilience of military families and the challenges they face through civilian transition, deployments, traumas or death.

“There’s a lot of issues that military families have to deal with, but there’s also a host of other things most don’t know about,” said M. Jennifer Brougham, an instructor in ASU’s T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. “Everybody has different views about the military, but very few understand the actual struggles and complexities.”

That’s why Brougham created FAS 410: Military Family Systems in a Democracy (also refered to as Working with Military Families). As a former Army wife, Brougham said that based on some of her experiences, she understands the intimate challenges that military families face.

“I was married in 1970 to a second lieutenant in the United States Signal Corps, and three days later we went to Kaiserslautern, Germany,” Brougham said. “When we were over there, we didn’t have any base housing and so we lived in a remote German village. Talk about a culture shock.”

Understanding the military life

Brougham's class offers a combination of discussions, debates, guest speakers and internships to communicate and explore the difficult issues surrounding military families. Past students have come from human development, sociology, social work, criminal justice, gender studies, nursing, education, psychology and ROTC.

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Instructor M. Jennifer Brougham leads a class discussion on service animals Oct. 24 during the course on military family dynamics. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

It’s that mix that makes the class special, said one former student.

“I went into the class with a number of biases,” said Charlie Blotner, who completed the course in 2016 and was one of the first students to receive a certificate for the program. “I did not grow up knowing much about the military and did not feel that I had a personal reason to learn more. I quickly realized how wrong of a stance that was to take and how important it was to be informed.”

Blotner, currently a second-year master of social work and health practice student at the University of Washington, said learning about families during deployment — the change in parental dynamics upon returning home, frequent school changes for children and the psychological impacts of these issues — particularly resonated with him.

“Military families are everywhere, and ignoring their specific traumas and needs would make me an unethical social worker,” Blotner said.

Blotner’s unfamiliarity with the military is not an anomaly. Ever since the United States switched from a draft system to an all-voluntary force, the public has become less familiar with service life. In fact, about eight out of 10 veterans say the American public doesn’t understand the problems faced by those in the military and their families.

“The biggest issue facing military families today are long deployments, and that was something we didn’t even go through in Vietnam,” Brougham said. “A friend of mine who is a lieutenant colonel and in nursing has five children … was never expected to get called up to serve overseas. She had to scramble to figure out how she and her husband were going to manage their household while she was away.”

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Communication graduate student Alaina Veluscek introduces her research on military couples and affection during deployment. Her work focused on how writing could improve the satisfaction of relationships during deployment with naval officer families. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Air Force Lt. Col. Christopher Padbury put it another way:

“Military families are under a lot of stress,” said the Air Force ROTC commander at ASU and a guest speaker in the class. “They’re constantly moving, their kids are constantly changing friends, and (they) are struggling to make ends meet.

He said a lot of the young airmen with families are on welfare because their income is low, and their salaries can’t cover all of their expenses. He said they often have to rely on the community and the military for support.

“A lot of them are just poor and they struggle,” Padbury said. “Some of them are afraid to ask for help and don’t know what’s available. The military is very good about educating these young families and getting them plugged in.”

Padbury said he sees great potential in Brougham’s students because they’ll be the ones offering support, guidance and counseling to military families. 

Teaching the value of the support system

The dual class/certificate program took Brougham three years to develop. She learned of professional needs with military families at a conference on a military base and began dialogue and instruction with students in her Marriage and Family Growth courses. She then began discussing the needs of the families with ASU ROTC commanders and wrote a proposal in 2013 for a course in the Sanford School.

The program debuted in the fall of 2016 and this semester has doubled in size. The person responsible for greenlighting the class was Patrick J. Kenney, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a Foundation Professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies.

“A lot of times our faculty resonate directly with what they’re teaching, and in this program you have an instructor who has walked the walk,” Kenney said. “She was in a military family much of her life, and you can just feel it. There’s a passion and an experience there.”

Brougham has done some enlisting of her own for the course, recruiting Army Lt. Col. James Sink and Navy Capt. Andé Bergmann to impart their experience to the class this semester. 

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Psychology senior and Army veteran Joshua Hartnek ask questions of communication graduate student Alaina Veluscek during her presnetation Oct. 24. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

“I want her (Brougham's) students to understand the Army and that we’re people like everyone else and that we’re approachable,” said Sink, who heads up the Department of Military Science at ASU. “We want to understand the total soldier, and that includes his or her spouse, children and getting to know the issues that they may be having at home.”

Bergmann, the current commanding officer of the ASU Naval ROTC, said she wants students to understand the stress military leaders face.

“The military has the ability to put very young people in a very intense leadership position early on, where in a traditional place of employment you come in very junior,” said Bergmann, who was in charge of approximately 330 people during one job tenure on a ship.

The other myth she’d like to dispel is that the military is secretive.

“We’re not a secretive organization because we really don’t have anything to hide,” Bergmann said. “We are open and transparent in the decisions we make and what we do going forward.”

Steve Borden, director of the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, said the class also features several student veterans who contribute to the conversation.

“It’s like having a permanent guest speaker in the class because they can share that veteran perspective,” Borden said. “They still want to serve their communities and particularly want to help veterans.”

Borden could have been talking about Amanda Lewis, an Army reservist who has been deployed three times since 2007. She’s taking the class because she thinks it’ll enhance her next career as a marriage and family therapist for military couples.

“The military has helped me through two marriages, two divorces, and the military has always been there for me, whereas most people haven’t,” Lewis said. “It’s my goal to work with the veteran population, who are underserviced and misunderstood.”

Lewis said people who go into the military know they will have complex family issues and need support for them and their children from an understanding population.

“When people come up to me to thank me for my service, and if I’m with my children, I usually turn to them and say, ‘You can thank my kids because they’re the ones who sacrificed, not me,’” Lewis said. “This course has solidified what I’m going to do with my future.”

FAS 410 class highlights

  • Class may be taken as an elective or work toward the certificate.
  • The class is open to all majors from all disciplines. 
  • Classes are engaging and interactive with the community.

Top photo: Sam Muzzupappa, a senior in psychology, gets a kiss from Ellie, Navy veteran Keith Ender's service dog, after the Oct. 24 class on working with military families. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

In celebration of Veterans Day, Arizona State University proudly honors veterans and active members of the military through Salute to Service. Your support helps veterans succeed. Text ASUVets to 41444 to donate to the Veterans Education Fund or visit veterans.asu.edu to learn how you can honor a veteran. 

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‘Stealth educators’ assist with ASU curriculum and big ideas

November 6, 2018

ASU’s Flag Officer Advisory Council consists of world-class leaders who assist at the highest levels

Arizona State University has a secret weapon: Distinguished military leaders who have served at the highest levels at home and abroad advise President Michael M. Crow on matters of national significance or importance.

Crow recently asked ASU’s Flag Officer Advisory Council, experienced in complex strategic planning, operational management and leadership and character development, to expand their duties.

This semester they have adopted new roles, advising ASU deans on curriculum and working as “stealth educators,” helping Crow implement big ideas and initiatives.

“It’s a great opportunity to bring to the university … all our operational knowledge from the military,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, a former commanding general who is now a senior adviser to both Crow and the McCain Institute for International Leadership. “We are racially diverse, gender-diverse, academically diverse and are global citizens because we’ve served around the world … we have remarkable leaders and we’re all trying to provide an excellent setting for our students to learn and grow.”

Tapping into a wealth of experience

Created in 2014, the council meets at least yearly and includes 14 active-duty and retired military generals from the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.

These leaders have served to combat terrorism, respond to natural disasters and defend the homeland. They have also developed strategy, led diverse organizations and worked with national and international counterparts to address the nation’s most complex and critical problems.

They are experts in complex decision-making, strategic planning, business development, operational management, communications, health policy, disaster and crisis management, supply chain, leadership and character development, ROTC and student mentorship, and veteran legal advice — and they serve as expert lecturers.

Freakley said the military spends years grooming men and women to become an admiral or general, and at the peak of their careers, they are often forced to retire.

“ASU is now the beneficiary because these men and women still want to serve and they bring a body of practice that can’t be found in textbooks,” Freakley said. “They want to stay active and they want to give back.”

The leaders work with selected centers and institutes at the university such as the Center on the Future of War, the Global Security Initiative, the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, W. P. Carey School of Business, the Public Service Academy and ASU Athletics.   

They produced a document for the National Security Council that was featured at the Future of War Conference in Washington, D.C., in March 2017. The document suggested several ways to address future conflicts through political, diplomatic, economic and informational power.

“The ASU Flag Officer Advisory Council is an extraordinary and innovative idea and have assisted our center by providing advice and guidance on programming and educational programs,” said Daniel Rothenberg, a professor of practice who co-directs the Center on the Future of War with CNN senior analyst and ASU faculty member Peter Bergen. “They have helped us enormously by making sure our work is informed by their many years of diverse command experience. We use interviews with members of the council in units on leadership in our online MA in global security. And, one former member, Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle has joined our faculty and is a core member of our team.”

Applications across disciplines

The council isn’t just limited to curriculum designed for the military. Their influence is far-reaching, as evidenced by their recent interaction with two ASU colleges.

“We see using their expertise in many ways because — this is coming from the council — they wanted to engage the university in a more meaningful way rather than just visit and provide high-level advice,” said Patrick J. Kenney, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a Foundation Professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies. “They really want to get into the nitty-gritty.”

Kenney said he envisions individual council members interacting with students and staff on matters such as business supply chain, logistics, GIS technologies, internships, consulting and especially developing leadership skills.

“It’s an exciting possibility and we’re just starting to implement some of the ideas,” Kenney said.

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Carol A. Mutter wants to get into the heart of the matter with students. She served for 31 years and was the first woman in the Marines to be promoted to both major general and lieutenant general. Mutter said she joined the council because it was an opportunity to assist a university doing great things for leaders of tomorrow.

“Those who serve in our military learn the lessons that can be helpful to other young people,” said Mutter, who has served on the council since its inception. “We have many veterans continuing to serve in the reserves while going to school who face special challenges. And many veterans of the recent conflicts need help in returning to an academic environment. They can and will make terrific contributions to this nation in the future with some understanding and assistance.”

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert Dail was the senior military logistics professional in the Department of Defense when he retired in November 2008 after 33 years. He’s currently working with the W. P. Carey School of Business on curriculum for defense logistics that involves several major companies and small businesses throughout Phoenix. He said he joined the council because of ASU’s strong vision.

“ASU is producing leaders who will not only serve in the armed forces but will lead companies that will support them, educate its members and families and lead our public institutions,” Dail said. “The council is one of the many resources that ASU should use as it moves to achieve the vision of the New American University.”

Helping train a new generation of leaders

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John F. Goodman “enlisted” with the council because it was a way to reconnect with his alma mater. Goodman graduated from ASU in 1970.

“I’m at a time in my life and career where it’s time to start giving back,” said Goodman, who was a starting quarterback under legendary coach Frank Kush. “I’ve been lucky enough to have good mentors and be there to help answer questions. I thought it was long overdue for me to take that responsibility, particularly toward the next generation of young Americans.”

In addition to being an advisory group to President Crow, Goodman says the council helps frame big ideas across all disciplines and brings them to scale for the more than 100,000 students attending ASU.  

“We’re able to do that because we’ve done it before — in my case 200,000 to 300,000 marines,” Goodman said. “We use our experiences to help execute ASU programs.”

Former Air Force Brig. Gen. Linda R. Medler, one of the newest council members, is bringing her years of cyber security to ASU. She said she joined because universities offer leading-edge research and take on some of our nation’s toughest problems.

“President Crow has shown a willingness to tackle these issues, particularly those requiring classified capabilities and inviduals who can work in a classified environment,” Medler said. “Those capabilities will help not only grow ASU but our state and nation in the process.”

Medler also likes the fact that ASU is a “veteran-friendly university” and has demonstrated an ability to understand and accommodate current and past servicemembers.

“Our veteran students bring a wide experience base, and can be a great resource for the university,” Medler said. “The Flag Council can also help advise and inform how best to tap into that potential.”

In addition to Freakley, Mutter, Dail, Medler and Goodman, the council includes retired Army Maj. Gen. Donna F. Barbisch, retired Army Maj. Gen Randy R. Castro, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark C. Dillon, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Vern M. “Rusty” Findley II, retired Navy Adm. T. Joseph Lopez,  retired Army Brig. Gen. Richard “Gregg” Maxon, retired Navy Vice Adm. John W. “Fozzie” Miller, retired Army Maj. Gen. Barrye L. Price, retired Navy Vice Adm. Ann E. Rondeau and retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Robert E. Schmidle Jr.

Top photo: Retired Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley (right) talks with College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Patrick Kenney, in the dean's conference room, on Oct. 16, 2018. Freakley serves as the Professor of Practice of Leadership for ASU and as a special adviser to President Michael Crow for Leadership Initiatives. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

In celebration of Veterans Day, Arizona State University proudly honors veterans and active members of the military through Salute to Service. Your support helps veterans succeed. Text ASUVets to 41444 to donate to the Veterans Education Fund or visit veterans.asu.edu to learn how you can honor a veteran. 

Longtime partnership between ASU professor and Arizona’s Down syndrome community is a win-win

Exercise research and local nonprofit group strengthened through mutual goals of health and advocacy

November 5, 2018

Thirty-five years ago, when doctors told Gina Johnson that her critically ill newborn son had Down syndrome, her world came crashing down.

“I was certain God had made a mistake in sending him to me, that out there somewhere was a really nice woman who was supposed to be his mom, but by some mistake he came to me,” Johnson said. “What I didn’t know then was that God sent David to me as my finest teacher.” shannon ringenbach and gina johnson Shannon Ringenbach (left) and Gina Johnson, founder of Sharing Down Syndrome Arizona at SDSA's annual fundraising walk. Ringenbach received SDSA's 2018 Outstanding Educator of the Year award. Download Full Image

Fast forward 15 years to 1998 and Johnson has founded Sharing Down Syndrome Arizona (SDSA), a local nonprofit organization that empowers and supports individuals with Down syndrome and their families through education and outreach. It’s the annual fundraising walk, and a first-year assistant professor from ASU has approached her about setting up a table in the exhibit area. The professor wants to recruit individuals for her very first Arizona State University research project on using exercise to improve the mental and physical health of those with Down syndrome. Johnson reluctantly agrees to let her set up a table at the walk.

The then newly minted assistant professor was Shannon Ringenbach, who today is an associate professor of exercise science and health promotion at ASU’s College of Health Solutions and director of the Sensorimotor Development Research Lab. And that first meeting between Ringenbach and Johnson all those years ago has turned into a two-decade-long informal partnership between SDSA and ASU that continues to pay big dividends for both organizations.

This year, SDSA awarded Ringenbach its prestigious outstanding educator of the year award for her contributions to Arizona’s Down syndrome community. Although she has never taught students with Down syndrome, the SDSA board said Ringenbach’s work has created a bridge between her students and their organization, one that has had a far-reaching and lasting influence.

“Though Shannon does not teach children with disabilities in her classroom, she does something just as important. She teaches the leaders of tomorrow that we must treat all people with dignity and respect,” Johnson said.

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Shannon Ringenbach (second from left) poses with members of Sharing Down Syndrome Arizona who were recent guest speakers in her Motor Control in Special Populations class.

Ringenbach’s students are deeply involved with the Down syndrome community. They volunteer at the annual walk where they lead games and staff the booths. Students also attend SDSA’s monthly meetings where they learn about Down syndrome advocacy and interact with the families. Many of them go on to develop ongoing relationships with SDSA families and participate in other events such as Easter egg hunts and holiday parties. For the past 15 years, Johnson has been a guest speaker in Ringenbach’s Motor Control in Special Populations course. This year she brought some of her friends who have Down syndrome to speak to the class — a big hit with the students.

Ringenbach’s passion to help special populations stems from her mom. “My mother was a teacher of ‘slow learners’ in the 1970s, so I think I inherited my compassion and love of helping people who need a little extra help or need to be taught in a different way,” she said. “People with Down syndrome cannot change their disability, so we have to change the way the rest of us talk, teach and support them.”

Ringenbach’s association with SDSA has benefitted ASU and the College of Health Solutions as well. Her research on exercise interventions to improve the health of individuals with Down syndrome receives external funding and has led to more than 50 honors theses, with SDSA members occasionally sitting on her students’ thesis committees. Recently, she submitted a $200,000 grant to the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research, naming Johnson as a consultant, and she has used Johnson’s resources over the last 20 years to recruit participants for research.

“When I am at national and international conferences, people ask me how I recruited so many participants, and I tell them that it takes many years to build up a reputation for conducting good science and also caring about the people you are studying,” Ringenbach said.

The most visible result of this long-standing partnership is ASU’s Exercise Program for Adults with Down Syndrome (ExDS), created by Clinical Assistant Professor Simon Holzapfel, one of Ringenbach’s former PhD students. Working with her on research about exercise’s effect on individuals with Down syndrome kindled Holzapfel’s passion to use exercise interventions to help people with special needs. In 2017 he created ExDS, a class for his students and a free program for the local Down syndrome community at the Downtown Phoenix YMCA to improve their health through exercise.

“If it weren’t for Ringenbach, I likely would not have worked with this community,” Holzapfel said. “Her work as an educator has a multiplicative effect because we, her PhD students, in turn, shape the next generation of students into becoming more aware and inclusive professionals.”

asu students and guest speakers from sdsa
Ringenbach's students Kazi Syed (left) and Bradley Tanner (second from right) with some of the members of SDSA who spoke to their class recently.
Kelly Krause

Coordinator, College of Health Solutions

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First-generation students flourish at ASU with peer-coaching supports

First-generation students flourish with peer-coaching support at ASU.
November 5, 2018

First-in-their-family freshmen get advice, encouragement from Game Changers

Felipe Herrera is leading the way, not just for his family but also for other first-generation students at Arizona State University.

Herrera was the first in his family to go to college, and now the computer science major works as a First-Year Success coach for freshmen who are in the same place he was three years ago.

“I’m the oldest and I was the first one to go to college, and I’m kind of like the guinea pig of the family, trying things out and seeing how it goes,” he said.

“For me the biggest struggle was not having anybody to talk to about what to expect. What am I going into here?” he said of his first few weeks at ASU. But he soon connected with his First-Year Success coach, who helped him set goals and made him feel like his questions were not dumb. That interaction inspired him to become a coach himself.

“Sometimes when you’re a college student, it’s easy to feel like there’s nobody who loves or cares about you. It breaks my heart when I can tell a student is feeling that way,” Herrera said.

“I specifically tell them, ‘I’m someone who cares about you and I’ll be here to help you,’ and I can see the change in their faces,” he said.

Herrera is part of a movement, as universities recognize that they must do more to support students who are the first in their families to go to college.

ASU is ahead of the curve in serving this population of students, with higher graduation rates than the national average and a more holistic network of services, much of it thanks to the First-Year Success Center, which in 2016 started a program specifically for first-generation students called Game Changers. Last year, the initiative, which provides more than 100 hours of training to its peer coaches, racked up 4,621 coaching appointments with freshmen.

Nationwide, about a third of college students are first-generation, but only about 27 percent of them earn their degrees within four years, according to a new report released by the Center for First-Generation Student SuccessThe center is an initiative of NASPA/Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education..

At ASU, nearly 30 percent of first-time freshmen were first-generation college students in the fall 2017 semester, the most recent statistic available. Among total enrollment at the university, including transfer students, about 35 percent were first-generation. ASU’s four-year graduation rate for this demographic is 45 percent. About 61 percent earn their degree within six years.

Game Changers reports that about 82 percent of first-generation freshmen who had coaching were registered for the fall 2018 semester, compared with 68 percent of those did not have coaching.

The population of more than 22,000 first-generation students at ASU is more than the entire undergraduate student body at the University of Southern California.

“Because of the growth of the population and the needs of the economy, we’ll have to graduate more first-generation students than we have in the past, and nationally, that’s been a lingering issue,” said Marisel Herrera, director of training and development for the First-Year Success Center.

A degree makes an enormous difference. College graduates not only have lower rates of unemployment, they also earn an average $17,500 more per year than high school graduates, according to the Pew Research Center. Graduates are also more likely to vote and to live a healthier lifestyle.

The report identified some key themes that propel first-generation students toward success, and ASU has been following those best practices — including considering “intersectionality,” or the many identities of a student, as well as shifting to an “asset-based” approach — that is, considering the strengths of the student, not the deficits.

“We’ve been utilizing these best practices and doing so at scale,” said Marisel Herrera, who is not related to Felipe Herrera.

“There are a lot of first-generation initiatives, but few are scalable, so they only touch a small percentage of the students, but we’re an exemplar of how you integrate these things.”

The Center for First-Generation and the Council for Opportunity in Education have designated Nov. 8 as First-Generation College Celebration DayNov. 8 is the anniversary of the Higher Education Act.. ASU’s First-Year Success Center is celebrating by launching a social media campaign, passing out stickers and buttons and holding two workshops on finding scholarship money.

A personalized approach

With the focus on supporting first-generation students comes the realization that they’re more than just that. They have other identities as well — gay, low-income, out-of-state or Latina.

At ASU, the peer coaches have access to their students’ demographic data, according to Kevin Correa, director of the First-Year Success Center.

“This helps them get a more holistic view of the student, so they can see that they’re maybe first-generation and a commuter student. Or first-generation and an Obama Scholar,” he said.

“They can make a more personalized approach that’s not limited to a single aspect of a student’s identity.”

Marisel Herrera was herself a first-generation college-goer. She said it’s important to recognize how the nuances of a person’s culture can affect their experience in college.

“As a Latina, some of the values I had were respect for elders and deference, and you don’t challenge somebody. Well, when you’re in a class, the professor wants you to challenge them as an indication of your engagement in learning,” she said.

“But it’s not what I’m naturally inclined to do because I’ve been taught that’s disrespectful.”

Having a success coach who recognizes those nuances is important. Shandiin Yessilth, a senior, is a success coach. When she meets with other Navajo students, she uses their shared culture as a way to bond.

“For some of them, ASU can be six hours away from home,” she said. “So I try to connect by making rez jokes and try to make them feel welcome.

“A majority of the Navajo students come from separated families and don’t always have that support.”

Yessilth, who changed her major from teaching to architecture to construction management, said she’s a coach so she can give back to her community.

“I don’t want them to go through what I did — a bunch of major hopping and feeling like there isn’t anyone to connect to,” she said.

Even though first-generation students don’t always have the guidance of someone who’s experienced in college, ASU takes an “asset-based” approach to get past stereotypes of them as having shortcomings, Correa said.

“They may lack college-going capital but they may bring aspirational capital — the idea they want to be successful and aspire to more,” he said.

“Family capital is another. They tend to be closely connected to their families, who may not know the ins and outs of going to college but they do have unconditional support and love.”

The peer coaches are trained to help freshmen find their strengths and exploit them to succeed.

Tearing down silos

The national report lists several best practices for universities to support first-generation students, which ASU has been doing for years:

Creating a positive culture: Game Changers holds events throughout the year to celebrate first-generation students. In September, several faculty, staff and alumni who were first-generation met with freshmen to share their wisdom. Mona Dixon, who spent a childhood living in shelters with her family before earning a degree in management at ASU, is now a youth coach and is pursuing a doctorate degree. She told the young people that mindset is crucial. “If you believe you can do something, you’re right. If you believe you can’t do something, you’re right,” she said. “Everything starts with attitude.”

Network-based programs: This means schools should offer comprehensive support.

“Students have a desire for information when they need it, not necessarily front-loaded in the first couple of weeks of school or in a summer ‘bridge’ program. They won’t maintain that information until they’re in the moment of crisis or need,” Marisel Herrera said.

“Our coaching is continuous. Students can join us at any point and it’s not locked into a cohort and we offer multiple coaching formats of phone, in-person or Google Hangouts,” she said. “We’ve had students not engage with us until the last two weeks of the semester.”

Tearing down “silos”: ASU uses data to improve communication, Correa said.

“Any time a coach meets with a student, they’ll put a comment in the file, so if the student then meets with an academic adviser, they can see they met with their coach and what they talked about,” he said.

Connect students with “high-impact” practices: Traditionally, first-generation students have had lower rates of studying abroad or acquiring internships. Game Changers is working to change that, not only by connecting freshmen with coaches who have had those career-boosting experiences, but also through practical help, like access to study-abroad scholarships.

Finding a balance

The key to much of this support are the peer coaches, who combine the roles of cheerleader, older sibling and guide for the freshmen. The coaches, who are juniors, seniors or grad students, help pinpoint problem areas and work on solutions.

Jordan Iglesias, who has a double major in biochemistry and women and gender studies, is the first in her family to go to college.

“I went to my First-Year Success coach when I was a freshman because the one thing that was failing was my health. I wasn’t taking care of my body,” she said.

“I was so stressed, I cried during my appointment. I was working a couple of jobs. They helped me pick up the part of my life that’s really important, my physical health,” said Iglesias, who is now a coach herself.

Iglesias and the other coaches help students find balance in their lives.

“I ask them, ‘What do you do to take care of you?’ I try to make sure every student has a coping mechanism, whether it’s meditation, going to church, reading, writing, listening to music or watching Netflix,” said Iglesias, who likes to work out to relieve stress.

About 40 percent of the peer coaches are also first-generation students, and they can relate to the unique kind of family stress that these students feel. Iglesias, who was adopted by her grandparents, financially supports her sister.

“I felt like I let my grandparents down when I told them I didn’t want to be a doctor, I want to go into policy,” she said. “It’s all on me to make sure not only that I’m successful but my sister is too.”

The Game Changers coaching is a pay-it-forward model, Iglesias said.

“I might help six students today but they’ll go out and help six of their friends, so it becomes a support system where we help each other,” she said.

Top photo: Psychology freshman Sherissa Mason decorates a paper graduation cap with motivational stickers and goals at a Game Changer program for first-generation students to mark the beginning of the semester. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now