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Gov. Ducey, officials field public questions in simulcast COVID-19 town hall

April 2, 2020

Panel discusses state's outlook and issues stemming from coronavirus pandemic during event at ASU's Cronkite School

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said Thursday evening that the next 60 days will be rough for all Arizonans but assured them there would be plenty of food, water and supplies to get the state’s 7 million population through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has been a very tough month in Arizona, and my heart goes out to everyone who has been affected by this disease, and that’s basically everyone because no one is unaffected in our state,” Ducey said. “Arizona is not in crisis mode, but it’s best to be ready.”

Ducey appeared at a live town hall hosted at the Arizona PBS studios, in partnership with the Arizona Broadcasters Association, at the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Arizona State University's Downtown Phoenix campus. The commercial-free broadcast aired on more than 50 TV and radio stations throughout the state to inform Arizonans how they can access important resources and get assistance where needed.

“Basic information about COVID-19 is everywhere, but our goal is to cut through the clutter, eliminate any misinformation and let everyone in Arizona be part of an important conversation with our state leaders,” said Chris Kline, Arizona Broadcasters Association president and CEO, in a prepared statement. “Arizona broadcasters are coming together in these unprecedented times, and we hope it’s a model for everyone in Arizona to do the same.”

The level of the cooperation among these stations to allow Arizonans to be a part of a shared dialogue was particularly noteworthy, said Christopher Callahan, dean of the Cronkite School and CEO of Arizona PBS.

“All of the broadcasters of Arizona have gotten together and put their competition aside to come together for the people of Arizona,” Callahan said the day before the event. He added that their singular purpose was to help distribute as much up-to-date information on the coronavirus as possible in real time to the public.

Ducey was joined by state Health Services Director Cara Christ, Department of Emergency and Military Affairs Director and Arizona National Guard Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire and state Chief Operating Officer Daniel Ruiz.

Journalists Ted Simons and Carey Peña moderated the hourlong discussion, combing through 5,000 questions submitted by the public, formulating pointed ones of their own, and in the more testy moments, holding Ducey’s feet to the fire.

The governor answered — and at times deftly side-stepped — a wide-ranging variety of questions dealing with the spread of the pandemic. That included health care, testing kits, food and medical supplies, the economy, education, compliance with the law and shelter-in-place options. He made one thing clear: He was going use whatever authority needed to defeat the virus.

“In a declaration of emergency there are an incredible amount of tools and authorities that are granted governors,” said Ducey, who earlier this week issued a statewide stay-at-home order that encourages aggressive social distancing. “I will use every tool in the toolbox and escalate as necessary to navigate Arizona through this.”

But some, including Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, had called Ducey’s order insufficient, stating that nail and hair salons and golf courses were not essential businesses. Ducey countered Thursday that his order has teeth and if law enforcement deems members of the public aren’t acting in accordance, they could be arrested for a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $2,500 and up to six months in jail.

Ducey did not want to dwell so much on the negatives and said his attention is aimed at stopping the spread of the virus and what the state is currently doing for residents.

“We’re focused on public health right now in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said. “We’re doing our best to communicate that this is a disease and virus that knows no border. It knows no class, background or distinction.”

That is why, he said, the state is doing its best stay ahead of the curve in terms of identifying hospital beds, intensive care units, ventilators, respirators, surgical masks, medical supplies — and even morgue space. He said they’re looking at closed schools, hospitals and large fields if cases rise or spiral.

As of Thursday, almost 1,600 Arizonans have tested positive for COVID-19, which has resulted in 32 deaths.

Arizona initially was lagging behind in terms of testing people for the virus, but now it is starting to catch up. And that’s vital, Christ said Thursday evening.

“As a public health official, I love data and I want to get as much data as possible,” said Christ, who said that approximately 23,000 Arizonans have been tested. She added that the state’s priority is to test frontline workers first — nurses, doctors, health care workers and first responders.

Ducey said he also has been working closely with the Arizona National Guard to help him traverse these complex issues. McGuire said Arizona’s National Guard counts a membership of 8,000 strong.

“Our role is to be in support of the incident commanders, manage crisis and sustain the food and water supply,” McGuire said. “We take our lead from him (Ducey).”

Beyond public health and chain supply, Ducey said the economy is also a priority and that the state has taken a big hit in terms of unemployment.

“My concern is for the everyday Arizonan who lives from paycheck to paycheck. That’s why I prioritize first,” said Ducey, who said he is also talking to banks and landlords to ensure that residents are not booted out on the street. “And then I’m thinking of the small-business people and medium-business people. The big guys (corporations) do OK through the downturn.”

Ruiz, who oversees the operations of all state agencies and manages Ducey’s cabinet, encouraged people who are unemployed or in need of assistance to go to ArizonaTogether.org for resources.

“We are working around the clock investing in server capacity, hiring workers to answer calls,” Ruiz said. “We want to get these processed as quickly as possible. We also have resources from the Arizona Commerce Authority as well as the Small Business Administration and can provide options in terms of financial relief and payment assistance.”

The virus has also caused disruption to the public and private education system, which Ducey said he is working hard to address.

“Your child is going to graduate. Your child is going to get promoted,” Ducey assured. “There’s going to be some work that needs to be made up, but no child will be penalized.”

Ducey said he is also working around the clock and planning on a daily basis and taking steps to ensure good outcomes for Arizona.

“I’m saying to people that we’re going to over-communicate. When I know something, you are going to know something,” Ducey said. “This is going to be a situation that we need to deal with in a fluid way so that we take care of all Arizonans. And we’re going to be out there answering the tough questions.”

The town hall broadcast can be viewed in its entirety here.

Top image: A screenshot of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey during the hourlong interview broadcast from the Arizona PBS studios in the Cronkite building on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus and simulcast on TV and radio stations throughout the state Thursday evening.

Reporter , ASU Now


TV, radio stations simulcasting COVID-19 interview with governor from Cronkite School

Public invited to submit questions ahead of 6 p.m. Thursday broadcast

March 31, 2020

TV and radio stations across Arizona will simulcast a live hourlong interview with Gov. Doug Ducey to explore the impact of coronavirus on the state.

The TV special, a partnership with the Arizona Broadcasters Association and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, will take place Thursday at 6 p.m. Arizona COVID-19 Town Hall Download Full Image

It will be broadcast from the Arizona PBS studios in the Cronkite building on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

Arizona PBS Horizon host Ted Simons and former 3TV anchor Carey Peña will host the discussion, which also will include Health Services Director Cara Christ, Arizona National Guard Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman.

More than 50 television and radio stations, including Arizona PBS, are expected to broadcast the interview live.

“Basic information about COVID-19 is everywhere, but our goal is to cut through the clutter, eliminate any misinformation and let everyone in Arizona be part of an important conversation with our state leaders,” said Arizona Broadcasters Association President and CEO Chris Kline. “Arizona broadcasters are coming together in these unprecedented times, and we hope it’s a model for everyone in Arizona to do the same.”

There will be no live audience at the town hall given the current prohibitions against gatherings; however, virtual questions from the public may be submitted in advance through local television and radio stations across the state.

Arizona PBS invites viewers to share their questions at this link.

Katie Jones

Associate Editor, Cronkite School/Arizona PBS


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ASU receives $2M to boost coronavirus rapid research response

March 30, 2020

Donation in emergency grants from Piper Charitable Trust will increase efforts to coordinate preparedness responses to the coronavirus pandemic

A $2 million donation in emergency grants from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust will vastly increase efforts now underway at Arizona State University to coordinate preparedness responses to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The grants will support the university’s work in three areas:

• Testing of critical workforce including health care workers, first responders and infrastructure personnel.

• Assembling of nose- and throat-swab test kits in short supply for health care providers.

• Manufacturing of personal protective equipment including face shields through its 3D printing rapid-response services.

“Now is the time for those who can — individuals and public- and private-sector organizations — to step in quickly and support our nonprofits,” said Mary Jane Rynd, president and CEO of Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. “They are serving on the frontlines and are essential to our economic vitality.”

“The university is moving forward,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said, “and we have mobilized our research efforts in every way that we possibly can to serve our students and the Arizona community, through thick and thin here, to ensure their health, safety and continued success in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We will all get through this together.”  

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Scaling up

ASU’s Biodesign Institute will utilize Piper Trust support to increase its capacity for automated, rapid diagnostic testing to mitigate the viral spread and potential reoccurrence of COVID-19.

“ASU is in a unique position to scale up our testing efforts to support round-the-clock testing and analyze hundreds of samples daily,” said Joshua LaBaer, director of ASU’s Biodesign Institute, who also serves as the Piper Chair in Personalized Medicine and leader of the Biodesign Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics. “We have an urgent window right now to make an impact through testing and save lives in our community.”

As capacity for COVID-19 testing became problematic and plagued by shortages in the supply chain for testing kits and reagents, LaBaer’s team of 100-plus core scientists, staff and students sprang into action.

Dr. Josh LaBaer

Joshua LaBaer

In just two weeks, the Biodesign Institute shifted its research capabilities to support a clinically approved and certified COVID-19 testing center, a COVID-19 swab test kit production facility capable of assembling 2,000 kits per day, production of personal protective equipment such as face shields, and supporting drive-through COVID-19 testing currently underway at area hospitals.

This rapid shift was made possible by a Department of Defense $40 million investment in ASU back in 2009 as the lead contractor on a multi-year project aimed at helping to triage a population in the event of a nuclear emergency. The test developed by ASU could tell how much radiation a person was exposed to after a single explosive event.

"This particular tool was specifically for measuring the absorbed dose of gamma radiation exposure to civilians if a nuclear bomb were detonated in a city or populated area," LaBaer said. “Now, we just swapped out the genes for radiation detection for the coronavirus ones to do the test. We have all the automation and robots in place, and everything’s ready to go now.”  

The Biodesign Institute’s high throughput platform will run 400 samples a day at first, gathered from visitors experiencing COVID-19 symptoms who have been seen at various Valley-wide health care providers or their drive-in sites. The ASU team’s robotic system has the ability to run 1,000 samples a day at full capacity, greatly increasing Arizona’s COVID-19 local testing capabilities.

Blur of activity

The Piper support will further catalyze the flurry of activity within the ASU research community to help blunt the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. In Arizona, state health officials estimate that COVID-19 cases will peak in mid- to late April, with hospitalizations likely to quickly follow in May.

Additional ASU research efforts underway include:

• Just a week after the first U.S. case of the new coronavirus was confirmed in Washington state, ASU Biodesign Institute and School of Life Sciences researchers Brenda Hogue, Bert Jacobs and Qiang “Shawn” Chen began efforts toward developing a coronavirus vaccine.

• In addition to COVID-19 testing, LaBaer’s Biodesign Institute team is also in the early stages of developing a simple blood test against all seven strains of coronavirus, including the new SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. This will aid vaccine development efforts, help detect asymptomatic carriers and help understand why some people get very sick and other individuals have no symptoms from a COVID-19 infection.

• ASU scientists Hogue and Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Regents Professor Paul Westerhoff are developing ways to use heat treatment and UV light to find ways that critical supplies of personal protective equipment can be rapidly sterilized and reused for medical personnel and first responders.

• ASU’s modeling and epidemiological team, led by pandemic modeler Tim Lant, in collaboration with University of Arizona epidemiologist Joe Gerald, are working daily with the Arizona Department of Health Services to better predict and understand the full impact of COVID-19 positive cases on Arizona’s population. ASU College of Health Solutions and Fulton Schools of Engineering biomedical informatics Professor George Runger and Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Dean Jonathan Koppell are leading an AI-based modeling approach to train on Medicare and Medicaid data to identify and set up a response for the state’s most vulnerable individuals.

• Nadya Bliss, executive director of ASU’s Global Security Initiative, is looking at ways to combat coronavirus misinformation that is causing undue fear and panic in the public. Her team is also working on ways to protect the public from opportunistic hackers, agents or scammers that propagate disinformation or want to steal personal information.

Community first

All of ASU’s research efforts are being coordinated with daily updates from meetings with Arizona health care providers in association with ASU’s clinical partnerships team, led by Sue Pepin, managing director, Health and Clinical Partnerships, and Tamara Deuser, associate vice president and chief operating officer, Knowledge Enterprise operations. Todd Hardy, ASU managing director of Innovation Zones; Mark Naufel, director of strategic partnerships; and Tyler Smith, associate director of the Luminosity Lab, are leading ASU’s 3D printing and manufacturing network to coordinate the hospital needs with the network’s ability to respond in real time.

ASU will also be reaching out to several municipalities, first-responder networks and the Arizona business community to help with COVID-19 preparedness in the days ahead.

"I am very proud of our faculty, staff, and students who are demonstrating the ability, capacity and commitment to take on this immense challenge — searching for innovative solutions to address the COVID-19 crisis," said Sethuraman "Panch" Panchanathan, executive vice president of ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise and ASU’s chief research and innovation officer. “At ASU’s Knowledge Enterprise, we have been working tirelessly, and doing our best to replace community fears and anxiety with hope and a sense of unity to get through this crisis together.”

It’s a message LaBaer echoes every day to his team of hundreds of scientists, graduate students, technicians and freshly recruited volunteers as they deal with doing real-time, seat-of-the-pants science in a highly fluid COVID-19 pandemic environment.

“Let’s go save some lives.”

Top photo: ASU is assembling thousands of COVID-19 nose and throat swab test kits that are currently in short supply for health care providers. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Joe Caspermeyer

Manager (natural sciences) , Media Relations & Strategic Communications


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Building resilience in the silicon desert

March 30, 2020

ASU, together with industry partners, venture capital and government backing, is helping Arizona transform the economy

Long before IBM, Apple and Google set up shop in Silicon Valley, the area was home to government-funded research operations that developed electronics and communications devices. While it is now known as a global epicenter of technology, only some of the economic development came about through the muscle of venture capital; the rest came from government funding. Several U.S. cities, from Denver and Seattle to Washington, D.C., have similarly built upon government investment in universities to build thriving economies.

The Phoenix metro area has emerged as a global hotbed of innovation that can become a new type of Silicon Valley ­— with continued investment, analysts say. A key part of creating a resilient economy relies on the current ASU partnerships with industry in areas such as medical tech, wearables, advanced manufacturing, sustainability and communications. Through innovation centers, the university is supporting research, helping to bring new products to market and driving entrepreneurship and industries that benefit the entire state.

Arizona is home to thousands of tech companies, and a report by the National Academy of Inventors ranked ASU in the top 10 universities for patents awarded worldwide in 2018, the most recent year for which rankings have been released. With a top engineering talent base, an established tech sector and a thriving startup scene, economic developers and analysts say it’s now time for the region to double down and create a future in new disruptive industries.

While Phoenix has many key components to develop a new innovation economy, it also needs state government investment, in addition to incoming federal government grants and private funding, to create in a “big and thoughtful way,” says Inc. columnist Dustin McKissen.

To that end, the Arizona Board of Regents is requesting state funding for a new economy initiative, including $46 million for ASU in fiscal year 2021 to enable the state’s transformation by preparing the workforce and making metro Phoenix the leading U.S. producer of engineering talent. Part of the plan is to better fund K-12, and to increase access to higher education across the state, including in rural areas, as well as to improve high school completion and college attendance rates. Another focus is the creation of additional innovation centers that leverage university expertise to solve industry-identified problems.

devils intent work group

Students participate in Devils Invent, where they design and build solutions to real-world problems submitted by the community and industry. Erika Gronek/ASU

In Silicon Valley, it was ultimately government funding and public policy that fueled development, said Margaret O’Mara, author of “The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America” and history professor at the University of Washington. 

Until the 1940s, the California valley was largely agricultural. With an influx of federal funds to support Cold War electronics, Stanford University focused its curriculum on sciences and engineering to support federal research labs developing new communication devices, O’Mara said. Such government backing eventually helped to pave the way for Intel, AMD, NVIDIA and an entire new economy. In 1971, a journalist dubbed it “Silicon Valley USA.”

Government support can often provide the boost that industry and researchers need to bring distant ideas to market. “[These] are things that the market is not going to do by itself,” O’Mara said.

O’Mara writes that government investment “flowed ­... in ways that gave the men and women of the tech world remarkable freedom to define what the future might look like, to push the boundaries of the technologically possible, and to make money in the process.” That, coupled with tech-friendly tax regulations and business-friendly policies, all helped Silicon Valley grow large, writes O’Mara.

Creating a resilient economy

With an already established legacy of mainstay semiconductor companies and talent and business-friendly laws, the Phoenix metro area and Arizona are thriving in areas like medical tech, the internet of things, sensor-enabled technologies and manufacturing and are poised for additional growth, said Chris Camacho, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

“By fostering an environment that promotes entrepreneurial thinking and innovation at scale, we have made significant progress in areas that include additive manufacturing, solar energy and wearable technologies, among others,” said Kyle Squires, dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. “With an investment to help establish science and technology centers where faculty, students and industry collaborators can grow ideas, share resources and provide advanced training, the Fulton Schools will be primed to catalyze the tech ecosystem in the Phoenix metropolitan area and help launch companies that will drive future industries.”

 resilience sidebar 3

Public-private partnerships

Using a mix of private money, grants from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and other national government agencies, along with venture capital, ASU is participating in the establishment of various public-private partnership centers that help local companies get new products onto the market faster. These centers, and the new economy they can help create, not only benefit engineers but can also lead to a diverse range of jobs to benefit all Arizonans. 

“Hubs of innovation and talent generation will feed the local companies and draw others in,” explains industry partner Hans Stork, senior vice president of research and development at ON Semiconductor, a global semiconductor supplier based in Phoenix. “This in turn drives the economy and spurs further reinvestment.”

The best prospects are those areas where there is an opportunity to build something new, and where industry partners are willing to participate, said Gregory Raupp, director of the MacroTechnology Works Initiative and research director of the WearTech Applied Research Center.

In September 2019, the WearTech Applied Research Center opened as a joint venture between the Fulton Schools and the Partnership for Economic Innovation, a collective dedicated to expanding economic potential in Phoenix.

Daniel Bliss teaches students

Associate Professor Dan Bliss, along with students and other researchers, is working on making tech in our devices less expensive, more energy efficient and more powerful. Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU

Another promising area is in communications. Dan Bliss, ASU associate professor and director of the Center for Wireless Information Systems and Computational Architectures, his team and industry partners are striving to improve wireless communications for personal, machine and internet of things systems by creating more sophisticated protocols and computation engines. “We are actively pursuing the commercialization of multiple pieces of this technology,” Bliss said.

While many of us are still using mobile phones on the 4G network and anticipating 5G, George Trichopolous and Ahmed Alkhateeb, assistant professors of electrical engineering in the Fulton Schools, are preparing for the implementation of 6G by 2030. By exploring the capabilities of wireless signals in the unused range above 100 GHz, they believe they can demonstrate innovative 6G use cases, such as better enabling internet of things devices.

At the Manufacturing Research and Innovation Hub at The Polytechnic School, Dhruv Bhate conducts research on additive manufacturing, including how 3D-printed metal parts may be used in aircraft to save space, time and money. Through America Makes, a collaborative organization that supports additive manufacturing technology, the lab is testing how such parts may be able to withstand extreme loads and temperatures for NASA and the Department of Defense.

“There are many questions that have to be answered before that technology can be inserted in the product,” Bhate said. “A big role the state can play is in providing the funding that creates an ecosystem where [industry and academia] bring something to the table and we work on relevant problems.”

resilience sidebar

With a $1.75 million grant from the NSF, ASU engineers and other experts are striving to make electrical grids smarter and safer by reducing data losses, outages and cybersecurity threats.  

“We need electric power systems to have as much accurate real-time data analytics as possible,” said Lalitha Sankar, associate professor of electrical, computer and energy engineering in the Fulton Schools. “We don’t want to be doing forensics that determine the cause of problems only from gathering evidence after the fact. We want to see patterns in the data that help predict what’s starting to happen on a grid. We also need to visualize these patterns to the operator succinctly and meaningfully to further aid the operator in distinguishing between normal and abnormal operations.”

Instead of trying to compete in a market of ordinary, mass-produced electronics, working hand-in-hand with industry can help identify new high-value technologies that researchers can bring to market, Raupp said.

“If we can focus around the idea of a versatile, agile manufacturing with rapid technology development and platforms that can be built on quickly creating the next version of whatever we need … that’s the kind of idea we want to create,” Raupp said.

Funding and fueling the silicon desert

Continued growth of the Phoenix area’s innovation economy depends on the ability to maintain a highly educated and trained workforce. In addition to technology jobs, these new industries will also help to create mid-level jobs in sales, retail and production, along with professional, managerial and cybersecurity jobs. 

It’s important to continue building, Bliss says, because disruptive technologies and groundbreaking innovation can take years of R&D before coming to market. And while ASU graduates more than 4,500 engineers and technologists per year, that isn’t enough to support existing companies, and not enough to help build the new emerging economy. 

“People underestimate how long it takes to move technology to market, because they only see the last 2%. If you open up your phone, there are 50 years of research that went into that,” Bliss said.

Such long-term investments can yield an impressive return for the state. If new business opportunities increase by as little as 10%, the 10-year state and local fiscal impact will grow by another $700 million with 25,000 new jobs created, according to the Arizona Board of Regents.

In addition to training the workforce for tomorrow’s opportunities, many of ASU’s students, graduate students and postdoctorates will likely go on to form new startups. Raupp is personally working with seven startups around medical technology, half of which were based upon ASU technology and spinoffs. “We’re providing the talent that can go into these startups, but we’re also teaching and training people to be entrepreneurs,” Raupp said.

Camacho believes the state is in the midst of a historic economic transition that will not only attract new capital in these sectors but also give birth to more homegrown companies and potentially make Phoenix the next Silicon Valley.

“Just in the past decade we’ve seen massive amounts of entrepreneurial activity and that will continue to compound over the next 20 years," Camacho said. "I am extraordinarily optimistic about the future of our region and state.” 

Written by Craig Guillot, a business journalist whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Chief Executive magazine and Entrepreneur. This story originally appeared in the spring 2020 issue of ASU Thrive magazine. 

Top photo: ASU faculty and students are working with industry partners to solve problems, such as  helping to make the electrical grid safer and more robust, advancing the 3D printing of metals, improving solar tech, driving new manufacturing technologies ­— and more. Photos by Erika Gronek and Kessica Slater/ASU 

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Poetry is a sociohistorical record of both facts and emotion

March 27, 2020

ASU's Rosemarie Dombrowski said poetry is perpetually being lost, found and revived

Arizona State University English lecturer Rosemarie Dombrowski is on a mission to make poetry part of the vernacular in Phoenix.

“Like street art and food trucks,” said Dombrowski, who is also the inaugural Poet Laureate of Phoenix and the founding editorDombrowski is also the editor of Write On, Downtown, a literary and visual arts journal produced by ASU. of Rinky Dink Press, a micropoetry press that she founded with a group of intermediate poetry students on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus. “Poetry needs to be present alongside all the other more visible art forms.”

Dombrowski’s timing could not be better. April is National Poetry Month, which was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 and celebrates poetry’s vital place in our culture.

ASU Now spoke to Dombrowski about the finer aspects of poetry, its importance over the years and what draws her to the art form.

Woman in sunglasses and dress

Rosemarie Dombrowski 

Question: Is poetry a lost art form? Has it shifted into something else, and where is the audience these days?

Answer: I think poetry is perpetually being lost and found. A lot of contemporary readers have trouble connecting with poetry of the 19th and early 20th century, and a lot of the poetry from the 1970s and '80s is dense and experimental, but I still love teaching it because it’s such a valuable cultural record, a literary and aesthetic artifact of its respective time.

So yes, maybe some of the more antiquated poetry is lost outside the academy, though Whitman and Dickinson constantly make appearances in popular culture, and for good reason — they weren’t just radical for their time! But contemporary poetry has taken on so many forms that it’s impossible to deny its reach — from rap to spoken word, slam to the omnipresent poems of Maya Angelou. I think about how Kendrick Lamar got his start in slam, and how one of the most lauded poets in the contemporary scene, Danez Smith, also got his start in slam. Poetry was a lyrical means of communicating in the ancient world, and I think a lot of spoken word artists are proving that it continues to be a critical means of communicating in the present — and future.

And then I think about the importance of poems in the political arena, from the inauguration of Kennedy through Obama, how poets were selected to write commemorative, celebratory poems filled with hope for the future, and how Robert Frost and Maya Angelou and Elizabeth Alexander were brought into people’s living rooms as a result. That’s big.

We also have to give at least partial credit to the myriad publishing mediums of the new millennium, all of which have helped to revive poetry by making it more accessible and relevant — from online-only journals like Pank to websites like poets.org (sponsored by the Academy of American Poetry), from independent zines to zine-style small presses, from identity-based anthologies to politically themed ones, there’s something for everyone in the poetic marketplace.

Q: What is so compelling about poetry to you?

A: I think it might be because I have self-diagnosed ADD, but I think it also has something to do with the fact that my mother read nursery rhymes to me every night when I was an infant, and they were the first things that I could recite from memory. And then I started tap dancing when I was 5, and I danced competitively for almost a decade, so poetry satiates my need for rhythmical patterns, and there’s something about the rhythmical arrangement of language that a good poet can feel and hear internally, and the key is being able to manifest that rhythm externally on the page/mic.

Poetry has so much in common with dance. Your own body and mind are the tools by which you create both art forms, and there’s something so self-reliant and appealing about that. And the choreography of language is a kind of dance on the page.

And it’s also the brevity factor. I really do have a short attention span, but more importantly, the poem has always attracted me because of what it can contain in such a compact space.

Q: What is it that you try and teach students about poetry in your classes?

A: Lately, because of a class I developed for Barrett, The Honors College in fall '19 called Poetry and Medicine, I’m trying to convince students of the efficacy of poetry as a therapeutic tool, an augmentative medical treatment for the body, mind and spirit. My Poetry and Medicine students not only had to familiarize themselves with the relationship between poetry and medicine from antiquity to the present, they also had to familiarize themselves with the clinical research of the past decade, specifically the quantitative and qualitative studies coming out of the medical and therapeutic communities. In the final weeks of the semester, my students worked in small groups to create therapeutic workshops and conducted them in the community, both at the U of A Medical School and the Westward Ho, and the response we received was extremely positive.

Ironically, many of my students experienced profound losses and crises last semester as well, and I think we became our own anecdotal study. I think we all realized how much we needed poetry. And it seems that every time I conduct a therapeutic poetry workshop at ASU or in the community, I see people not only composing and sharing poems that deal with trauma and pain, but striping away layers of themselves in front of strangers. And I see the healing that self-expression and vulnerability instigate, and it makes me feel like I’m contributing to the well-being of the community.

But more generally speaking, I try to teach my students that poetry is a form of ethnography (i.e. cultural writing), that it’s a record of the myriad cultures that have produced it as well as a sociohistorical record of both facts and emotion, logos and pathos. It’s the only form of recorded history that speaks to us both lyrically and honestly.

Q: How has being the Phoenix poet laureate impacted the poetry you produce?

A: Historically, my poetry has been very confessional and medical, what some might call disability poetics. I’ve spent years writing about the culture of nonverbal autism because of my son — who’s 20 now, and though I do think that personal writing is political and that it often transcends the confessional, being the poet laureate has afforded me the opportunity to work with activists and organizations, to write poems for 19th-amendment celebrations and ERA marches, State of the City addresses and public defenders conventions. And I guess I feel like I’ve discovered a part of myself that was dormant, and I’ve come to re-realize that I’m an activist too, and that I want to be more useful to my community, and as a poet, I feel like I’m someone who can sort of “rally the base,” maybe even educate and incite people.

And it was this realization that led me to create The Revolution (Relaunch) in July of 2019, which is a creative resurgence of the official newspaper of the National Women’s Suffrage Association founded by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in 1868. We publish a range of styles, like any good 19th-century newspaper (or any good 21st-century zine) — memoir, poetry, cultural criticism, interviews and profiles featuring local artists, activists and grassroots organizations. You can find new content there monthly and you can find our zine-style paper in downtown coffee shops and at local festivals and events. I love this community deeply, and I felt the need to create a platform for feminism and marginalized voices that was less intimidating than a literary journal, something with more DIY charm.

I suppose at the end of my term in December 2020, I’d like to have solidified myself as a poet-activist with a lot of DIY charm!

Q: Do you see a role that poetry could play in terms of helping to lift our spirits during this phase of uncertainty in the world?

A: I’m writing nightly, which is pretty typical for me, but it seems that every sentence I’m committing to the page is a form of processing, an exercise in coping — also somewhat typical for me. Again, I’m always telling medical students that poetry teaches us how to sit with uncertainly, and these are most definitely uncertain times, so what better time to prepare ourselves for the city/society that we’re going to have to rebuild on the other side? We can read and write poetry in our spaces of isolation, and hopefully, we’ll discover some sense of quietude there.

There’s a meme going around that a friend of mine sent me the other day. It features the iconic portrait of Emily Dickinson, and it reads “This is Emily. Emily stays inside. She reads. She writes poetry. She writes letters. She bakes. She does a bit of bird watching. Then she writes some more. Emily is safe from COVID-19. Be like Emily.” Despite it promoting the somewhat false stereotype of Dickinson-as-shut-in, it speaks to our need to look inside ourselves, to be deeply reflective, and we don’t have the typical excuses to prevent us from practicing self-examination and mindfulness right now, not if we’re doing the only conscionable thing of sheltering in place. So I believe that poetry is, and has been, a means of coping through personal, cultural and global crises, and I believe its presence is going to be stronger than ever as we navigate our uncertain present and future.

Top photo courtesy of iStock Photos.

Reporter , ASU Now


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Current pandemic is a 'black swan' for economic forecasters, ASU expert says

Pandemic's economic free fall is an unpredictable 'black swan,' ASU expert says.
March 27, 2020

While economic free fall is unprecedented, recovery could potentially be quick

Every year, Lee McPheters describes the pulse of the economy — which has shown a steady uptick over the past several years for Arizona. McPheters shares his analysis in his role as Research Professor of Economics in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and director of the school’s JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center.

So how do economists, who scrutinize every blip in the statistics, account for a calamity like the COVID-19 pandemic, which has closed businesses and endangered entire sectors of the economy?

The picture is grim. An astounding 3 million jobless claims were filed nationwide over the past week — the highest one-week total in history, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics released Thursday. In Arizona, more than 29,000 claims were filed for the week ending March 21, compared with about 3,800 the previous week.

McPheters answered some questions from ASU Now:

Question: Have you ever seen anything like this pandemic?

Answer: This is different even from something that would affect a whole state, like (Hurricane) Katrina, which took down the state of Louisiana, or an earthquake in southern California. We’re talking about a global catastrophe.

Have I seen anything like this? No. That’s despite the fact that the common flu has tended to have increasingly greater fatalities in recent years. We have built that into our common understanding of, “This is life in the 21st century and there’s flu, but life and the economy go on.”

Here, the higher fatality rate and the panic response of consumers has really changed everything. So in addition to the economic problems is the overlay of panic on a national scale and apparently on a global scale, in most countries.

Q: So how do economists account for something like this?

A: Economic forecasting models are based on historical relationships among economic variables like income and employment and observed human behavior relative to spending, saving and investing. Forecasting models assume that past relationships, trends and behavior will be continued into the future.

However, forecasters also add the phrase “ceteris paribus,” or “all things remain equal,” and most forecast reports emphasize that the forecast can be affected by what are called “exogenous shocks,” such as war, terrorist attacks, weather catastrophes and most recently, pandemics. These events are regarded as not expected and not part of the forecast.

After the severe recession of 2008, economists adopted the term “black swan,” referring to events that are rare, unpredictable and have wide impact. The financial crisis was a black swan event. 

One of the features of a black swan event is that typically, as you start working back through the history, all the analysis suggests we should have seen this coming. Just as California knows they’re going to get another earthquake and they need to build structures in anticipation of that, here, in hindsight, we should have had much better and wider investment in public health.

Q: So is it too soon to predict what will happen with the economy?

A: We don’t have very many indicators that have a high level of frequency. The stock market is a daily indicator and that’s why it has so much attention. As the disease has spread, it’s changing day by day and we’re focused on the stock market telling us how the economy is doing. But the stock market is disconnected from the real economy, which is jobs and output and production.

One indicator that economists focus on is initial claims for unemployment insurance. Most Americans are in the unemployment insurance system. Their employers pay into the system and when you’re laid off, you have the ability to file for a claim. Those claims are filed every week.

Across the country, we’ve seen a huge jump. In Arizona, we’ve been seeing about 3,000 claims a week, and now it’s up around 30,000. We saw it first in Nevada and Washington, states that were hit earlier than Arizona.

Arizona’s labor force is about 3.5 million people. So 1% is 35,000. So if 35,000 file for unemployment, the unemployment rate goes up by 1%. That might continue for several weeks.

Arizona has been running at about 4.5% unemployment and I expect that to double.

Q: What about other segments of the Arizona economy?

A: The big picture is to look at the drivers of the Arizona economy and one of the drivers is population growth. A big portion of our population growth is made up of people moving here from other states. Last year we were the second highest destination for people who were moving from one state to another. About 83,000 people moved here. Well, people aren’t moving right now. There has been pent-up demand for housing, but I think that with in-migration grinding to a complete halt, it will have an effect on construction.

What I think we’ll see possibly is smaller businesses failing, which means commercial space available in more of the strip malls and smaller square footage offices and retail spaces because it will be hard for them to start back up. That’s why there’s a tremendous emphasis on trying to stop small businesses from failing because they employ a large percentage of people working in this country.

Q: The new federal aid plan that’s expected to be approved provides for a $1,200 payment to many Americans. Will that help?

A: This has been done before. It was done in 2001 and in 2008 and economists writing in economic journals, which are not widely read, show that in both cases, only about 20% of that stimulus money was spent on consumer goods and services. About 50% was spent paying off bills. About 30% held onto the money because they thought things would get even worse than they were. So the effect of mailing people a thousand dollars may not be that a thousand dollars gets into the spending stream.

We can’t say if that will be the case now.

Q: And what about all those empty store shelves?

A: You’re getting into the world of psychology there. People feel they need to do something to try to control circumstances and they believe they can do this by buying toilet paper. There is no reason to believe there is a shortage, from my understanding. The problem is in the stocking and, to some extent, the distribution. There’s no reason to think there will be physical damage to production.

Panic buying in and of itself is somewhat of a black swan. It was totally unexpected by grocery stores and retail outlets but I guess in hindsight, they should have thought that like in a hurricane, people will empty the shelves.

Q: What could recovery look like?

A: If we see that, during that second and third quarter, the economy loses jobs, once the turnaround comes, there will probably be a rapid rehiring of all the people laid off. It’s what economists call a V-shaped recession, a sharp dropping down and a strong comeback.

For the 2008 recession, it took Arizona about seven to eight years to come back. Here, I would expect that we will see a comeback probably in the early part of 2021, based on history and what we saw in previous sharp downturns. I looked at some numbers for the 1918 flu, and when the recovery got going, it was only a couple of years to get back to the prior level of employment.

But all bets are off. We just don’t know.

In the long run, we still won’t be able to incorporate this sort of thing. But the hope is, as we did with the financial crisis, after we get out of this, we’ll say, “What could we as a country do better to prepare for this sort of thing?”

Top image: Lee McPheters is Research Professor of Economics in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University and director of the school’s JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Cronkite dean participates in new, 'socially distanced' social hour

March 25, 2020

ASU and Future Tense launch new webinar series with conversations on emerging technologies, public policy and society

The COVID-19 pandemic has everyone operating at more than arms length these days, but a new Arizona State University-sponsored webinar series is offering a twist on the social hour.

Social-Distancing Socials” is a biweekly series of interactive conversations via Zoom courtesy of Future Tense, a partnership between Slate, New America and ASU. Together they will examine new emerging technologies, public policy and society.

The idea is to stay connected through technology from the comfort of your home — and perhaps with your favorite beverage in hand.

The series launched on March 19 and continued on Tuesday with “Running a University During a Pandemic” featuring Christopher Callahan, dean of ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Man with gray hair and smiling

Christopher Callahan

Callahan said that while this crisis has been challenging for faculty, staff and particularly journalism students, they are persevering in an unprecedented time.

“As we start to see this unfold, we’re seeing students become adaptive and showing how nimble they can be,” Callahan told Future Tense editor and webinar host Torie Bosch. “We’re also seeing students who are persevering and getting the story no matter what. And when you think about those dimensions of a potential employee — adaptability, creativity and perseverance — you can argue those are the three most important elements for any employee in the 21st century.”

The Cronkite School’s founding dean had high praise for his faculty and staff, who had less than a week to transition and design 193 journalism courses to an all-virtual-learning format.

“It was so inspiring to see some of our faculty members, some of whom had online experiences, immerse themselves in this new world to become experts in a remarkably short period of time,” Callahan said. “By 7:30 Monday morning (March 16), we were rating them.”

By rating them, Callahan meant that he, his IT team and staff had set up a command center on the fourth floor of the Cronkite School to monitor every class set up through Zoom.

“That gave us the ability to see who was doing well and who was struggling, and we were able to adjust that in real time,” Callahan said. “The part that surprised me the most was the majority of our faculty were off and running.”

And so were the students.

Callahan said even though the Cronkite curriculum is built around technology and working in the field, his learners have had to adjust. They are now writing from their homes, apartments or their dorm rooms, relying on technology to report their stories. Despite the limit of personal human interaction, he said strong stories have emerged from his students, who have also demonstrated great creativity in the face of the COVID-19 virus.

“In a weird way, this is actually going to be a benefit to some of our students,” Callahan said. “When they go out and talk to editors around the country, they can not only show their great storytelling, but how they did it facing these unbelievable challenges and restrictions.”

Social Distancing Socials calendar

Thursday, March 26:  Not Exactly the Best Time to Ration Kids’ (or Your) Screen Time?

Hosts: Dan Kois, editor, Slate; Lisa Guernsey, director, Teaching, Learning, and Tech Program, New America

Tuesday, March 31: Is Self-Quarantine the Fabled Future of Work?

Hosts: Henry Grabar, staff writer, Slate; Brigid Schulte, director, Better Life Lab, New America

Thursday, April 2: When Crises Unleash Your Imagination

Hosts: Ed Finn, director, Center for Science and the Imagination, ASU; Torie Bosch, editor, Future Tense

Tuesday, April 7: Can We Still Say the Human Race Has Never Had It This Good?

Hosts: Andrés Martinez, editorial director, Future Tense; Charles Kenny, senior fellow and director of technology and development, Center for Global Development

Reporter , ASU Now


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Changemaker Central infuses ASU's Havasu location with volunteer spirit

March 24, 2020

New chapter allows students passionate about social justice to make a difference in their community

What started out as an extracurricular activity has turned into the grease that keeps a community's wheels moving smoothly.

Arizona State University at Lake Havasu’s new Changemaker Central chapter has imbued the ASU location with a volunteer spirit while filling a niche in the nonprofit sector by taking over a vital city service.

“I knew Changemaker Central was going to be a big deal, but I didn’t realize the immediate impact it would have on this campus,” said Anthony “TJ” Cook, an organizational leadership and political science major who runs the student-led club. “Every student who has gotten involved with us wants to connect more with the community and help improve it if they can. We make things happen.”

Changemaker Central @ ASU is part of a national effort to harness the energy, idealism and intellect of college students while providing resources and tools to make ideas and dreams reality. It is a student-led initiative on all ASU’s campuses that provides places where student visions of a better future can be realized by sharing ideas about service, social entrepreneurship and change in the community.

The club also fulfills the ASU mission to become socially embedded in the community, said Raymond Van der Riet, director of ASU at Lake Havasu.

“We actively scan for opportunities that would benefit from our innovative approach to problem-solving and allow us to engage in real issues in real time,” Van der Riet said. “The Changemaker leadership and volunteers are crucial in these endeavors as we continue to leverage our place into the greater region.”

And it’s become the hottest and largest club on campus in a matter of months.

The Havasu chapter office opened in January and has 26 committed members — about 20% of the total ASU@Havasu student population.

“I’ve always liked to help people and the kindness you show is always appreciated,” said Raul Rodriguez, a 19-year-old first-year student. “Volunteering also creates opportunities. You meet new people, make friends, and you get to help your community. There’s a lot of pros to giving back.”

Lake Havasu City is now giving back to Changemaker Central, offering an opportunity to be more than just a club, courtesy of Mayor Cal Sheehy.

Sheehy asked Changemaker Central to create a database for all social services, nonprofit groups and faith-based agencies to serve as a clearinghouse for approximately 300 organizations in the Lake Havasu city area. Additionally, they field phone calls, offer up volunteers for community events and create possibilities through these emerging partnerships.

So now when residents call and inquire about services and resources available to them, students can guide them.

“Lake Havasu City is always looking to further our partnership with ASU at Lake Havasu,” said Sheehy, who was elected in 2014. “We wanted to figure out what services and resources we had available to the community and how our community members could gain access to those services and resources and speak with just one voice.”

Cook said Changemaker Central started the database from scratch and grew it through his attendance of mulitple community meetings.

“We let everyone know what we were attempting to do,” Cook said. “There was immediate buy-in from these leaders who said, ‘We’d love to help.’”

So far, it’s helped organizations like the Havasu Community Health Foundation, which sponsors community health and wellness services and runs a food bank.

“We have grown substantially and have seen a lot of movement in the last few months as a result of the nonprofits being linked together,” said Linda Sever, who serves as the foundation’s executive director. “What ASU and Cal Sheehy have done by linking together has been a real shot in the arm for the community.”

lana Silva

First-year student Lana Silva, an international student from Dubai, gives a speech in a public speaking class at ASU at Lake Havasu. Silva joined Changemaker Central to give back and meet new friends. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Additionally, Changemaker Central students also have the opportunity to volunteer their services or intern with these nonprofit groups either as a way of giving back or earning credits through internships. They have shown up for parades, food and clothing drives, and Humane Society events. The have also picked up litter in public parks, and made cards for senior citizens and activity bags for hospitalized children.

Cristen Mann, a lecturer in organizational leadership who serves as an adviser to Changemaker Central, said her students are making inroads in the community.

“We have interns with the medical field, city planning, sheriff’s department, beverage distribution, banks and wildlife,” Mann said. “It’s going to help these students forge their way into the workplace and get whatever jobs they want.”

Daryn Stover, a lecturer in molecular biology, said social activism is embedded in Havasu students.

“Volunteerism demonstrates these students care about their community,” Stover said. “We present options to them and they decide how they want to volunteer. We are using this new location to make a difference.”

First-year student Lana Silva walked in a local parade and volunteered for a blood drive. She said she volunteers for several reasons.

“As an international student, there’s a sense of wanting to belong, and I’ve made a lot of new friends,” said Silva, who was born in Sri Lanka and raised in Dubai, "... and giving back makes me feel happy.” 

That’s the same spirit that possesses Brooke Bahde, a communication major who also serves as Changemaker Central’s official photographer and social media manager.

“I’m always thinking of ways of how I can improve my photography, and so I thought if I could capture on film what this club is doing, it was a way to give back and showcase to ASU students what Lake Havasu City has to offer,” said Bahde, who often highlights sustainability in her work.

Bahde’s pictures were so good that ASU@Havasu offered her an internship helping its social media efforts. This year the junior also started her own photography business.

“I originally wanted to attend the Tempe campus, but I ended up falling in love with the Havasu campus,” Bahde said. “I’m well on my way to my career path and that’s when I realized, why would I leave?”

Top photo: Organizational leadership and political science major Anthony "TJ" Cook leads the Changemaker Central chapter at ASU at Lake Havasu, coordinating opportunities for students with nearly 300 nonprofit organizations in Lake Havasu City, Parker and Kingman. Nearly 20% of the Havasu student body participates in the club, making it the largest at ASU@Havasu. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


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COVID-19 may alter the future of how we navigate work and leisure

March 24, 2020

There has been a significant drop in automobile use both across Arizona and throughout the country in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

According to Ram Pendyala, director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment at Arizona State University, Phoenix traffic may have reduced by 30% or more since schools closed and businesses encouraged workers to stay home to help control the spread of the virus.

“Many people are working remotely as part of social distancing measures to combat COVID-19,” Pendyala said. “And that mandated isolation certainly has an impact on human activity. From a transportation perspective, it means reduced traffic and energy consumption, cleaner air and less wear and tear on our roads — all good things for sustainability.

“But the lack of traffic is not really a good thing. Traffic is a sign of economic and social vitality. Mobility is a sign that people are interacting with each other, businesses are thriving and society is functioning. It’s only the adverse effects of traffic that we don’t want.”

man's portrait

Ram Pendyala

Forecasting travel demand to better manage traffic, promote sustainable transportation and support infrastructure planning is a focus of Pendyala’s work as a professor of civil, environmental and sustainable engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.

His research into human preferences and behaviors related to transportation offers insights on the impact of social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak in America.

“For example, this experience could prompt us to think differently about the nature of work in the future,” Pendyala said. “On the one hand, we all enjoy the first weeks of telecommuting. But then workers begin to feel isolated and employers start getting concerned about productivity. We might see some increase in people working remotely on a permanent basis, but likely for only a part of each week, as opposed to the full-time telecommuting we see now.”

Pendyala also points out that public transportation ridership has dropped by as much as 60% during recent weeks. Though transport agencies like Valley Metro have instituted more stringent disinfection protocols, public fear is widespread and difficult to overcome.

Even alternatives to public transportation from ride-sharing services to micro-mobility are suffering, as people grapple with uncertainty about how the new coronavirus is transmitted.

“Do you want to get into the Uber or Lyft vehicle that has served other passengers? Are you going to use the scooter that so many other people have handled? Are you carrying disinfectant wipes with you everywhere you go?” Pendyala said. “These are questions that we’re asking now.”

Pendyala explains that the impact of COVID-19 may alter logistics services too, as people begin to have more goods delivered to them rather than driving to a local retailer where they would jostle with crowds.

“But those packages are handled by many sets of human hands. Are we going to see more robotic handling of our packages?” he said. “All of these issues are part of the discussion.”

Pendyala notes that these initial weeks of disruption can have a significant impact on how we plan to spend our time.

“But much depends on the duration of this state of affairs,” he said. “If virus-driven restrictions are lifted in a month or so, you will see people rebound to their previous habits rather quickly. They’ll return to the office and go shopping for that furniture they delayed buying. At the same time, we could see a sudden surge in leisure travel. There could be so much pent-up demand that people will rush out to ball games or take that trip to Disneyland.”

By contrast, Pendyala said that if efforts to control the virus limit our lives for a longer period, such as a year or more, the changes to our routines may become more lasting. 

“For example, the closure of restaurants, movie theaters and similar establishments has many of us rethinking recreational experience,” he explains. “So, people may look to enjoy more time in the great outdoors, both now and in the longer term.”

Though even if more of us begin to embrace activities like hiking and camping, the way we travel to our favorite coasts, mountains and national parks could change in the wake of the current crisis.

“Airlines have been decimated by COVID-19,” Pendyala said. “People are concerned about sharing tight spaces with others, and that mindset may persist for a while. Consequently, air travel could take quite some time to recover. Alternatively, cars give us a sense of control over our surroundings. So, we could see a real increase in driving for medium-distance and even long-distance travel.”

In the end, Pendyala believes that we are not likely to see enormous, lasting effects on daily life.

“As the world recovers from the virus, we’ll all go back to spending a third of our lives earning a livelihood. The kids will be back in school and we’ll want to connect with friends and family just as we always did,” he said. “The return of these rhythms of life means that any permanent changes from the virus will likely be rather modest.”

Top photo: Social distancing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly reduced traffic across the country — such as along this stretch of the 101 freeway near Tempe, Arizona — since schools have closed, travel plans have been canceled and more people work from home. Photo by Erik Wirtanen/ASU

Gary Werner

Science writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Building community resilience across Arizona in the face of the coronavirus

Knowledge Exchange for Resilience fellows on how Arizonans can help build capacity and boost community resilience

March 23, 2020

A shock felt across the state, responses to the current spread of the novel coronavirus have changed everyday life in Arizona. Online classes, canceled events, state of emergency mandates and social distancing have become the norm. 

How does adapting as individuals affect the community as a whole? Social distancing has forced many to make critical choices for themselves and their families. During this pandemic, those decisions carry a heightened impact on overall community resilience.       photo of Phoenix skyline

Melanie Gall, co-director for the Center for Emergency Management at Arizona State University and Knowledge Exchange for Resilience fellow, is a geographer studying the interaction between natural hazards and society. She works closely with local and federal emergency management agencies to plan and mobilize during disasters. In her lifetime, she anticipates never seeing a disaster like this again, even after conducting postdisaster fieldwork in Haiti, New Jersey, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.  

"This is way beyond what any system can handle or plan for. This is where it's all-hands-on-deck, including the community members," Gall said."When you look at the research and past disasters, we know that disasters tend to bring people together and to bring out the best in people. But at the same time, it also reveals shortcomings in our emergency management system or society."

Community resilience involves our collective capacity to address and adapt to things like health threats, social disruption, economic trauma and environmental disasters.

"The nature of this kind of shock and especially the way this particular pandemic is spreading is that it highlights the fact that how we respond as individuals is incredibly connected to how we fare as a community," said Patricia Solis, executive director for Knowledge Exchange for Resilience at ASU. 

When communities come together to share knowledge and resources, it creates an opportunity to discover sources of strength and areas of need. Communities that invest in meaningful responses will build their capacity to adapt during hard times now and in the future.     

Knowledge Exchange for Resilience fellows work together to bridge the university and community to strengthen community resilience. Besides the day-to-day work to respond to the pandemic, they convene to share knowledge, data and resources.

Here are their tips on how you can help build capacity and boost community resilience.     

"Take time to get to know who your neighbors are, ask them what they need and reach out to the people around you in need," said Knowledge Exchange for Resilience fellow Julia Matthies. "You don't have to volunteer somewhere to impact community resilience, you just have to be engaged in your neighborhood and with the people around you."     

Matthies, director of Ozanam Manor for the Society of St. Vincent De Paul, works with vulnerable populations like veterans experiencing homelessness and food insecurity. She runs a 60-bed transitional shelter that provides resources for older adults and people with disabilities. They offer classrooms, a computer lab and a food pantry to help people experiencing homelessness rebuild community and life skills.

With new public health recommendations and requirements, a once-bustling dining room sits quiet, but the surge and needs are still there. Matthies says that the Society of St. Vincent De Paul has joined other homeless providers weekly to share knowledge, resources and needs.  

A connected approach among local providers is helping them respond faster, but they need additional support. She says supporting your neighbors translates across sectors, and it's going to make a difference.  

Thaddaeus Gassie, a homeless management system information specialist for the Crisis Response Network and Knowledge Exchange for Resilience fellow, works on the data and information management side of providing resources for populations experiencing homelessness.  

"If we want to strengthen community resilience, there needs to be a community identity," Gassie said.  

Community identity begins with becoming aware of who your communities are, their needs and your mindset about who is responsible for what. He explains that there is currently a massive disconnect between the public and the social services sector. Social services are often seen as a zero-sum game, meaning that individual hard work is benefitting someone else who isn't trying hard enough.     

One of the most significant needs the social service sector is facing is finding a space for sick people to recover.

"If we have companies or businesses willing to donate space, it's an opportunity for the private sector to engage with the social services sector," Matthies said. On a granular level, social services always need donations. Food and first-aid supplies are all required to continue to support vulnerable populations.    

Why should you support space for homeless individuals who are sick to recover? In any situation, if infected people recover in isolation, it benefits public health as a whole. It lessens the spread, and it allows everyone else to continue proper prevention like hand-washing and social distancing.  

"We are caught in myths of finding individualism, and the cowboy imagery where you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Everyone benefits even if it doesn't look like you are," Gassie said. 

Overall, every individual contributes to building community resilience. Everyone is experiencing disruptions in their everyday life, and responses to those disruptions are going to determine the larger ripple-effect.   

"Health care workers are self-isolating, even from their own families. They are working 12- to 15-hour shifts, and then they come home and self-isolate out of fear of infecting their own families, so they live in the garage. Unless you have some personal connection with friends or family who work in the medical area, I think a lot of people lack the imagination of what it means for health care workers. Not just as part of the day to day jobs and duties, but what it also means that their personal life," Gall said.    

Other first responders like fire and law enforcement are out there as well. Gall encourages that people become more aware and continue to share the stories of those on the front lines.     

"I think the connective tissue is social media and the journalists — unless you have people working in these areas in your family, then you won't hear these stories. What's important is amplifying these stories. The amplification of these stories tells you what's happening on the ground versus what maybe some officials might tell you," Gall said.

How are you playing a role in strengthening community resilience? What are the moments of community resilience you've witnessed recently? Share community resilience moments with us using #ResilienceMatters and tagging @asuresilience as we document these stories that will help us become more resilient now and for the future.    

The ASU Knowledge Exchange for Resilience is supported by Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.

Crystal Alvarez

Communications manager , Knowledge Exchange for Resilience