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Tariffs, threats sow uncertainty, dampening business climate

Tariffs, threats sow uncertainty, dampening business climate, ASU experts say.
June 14, 2019

ASU professors describe how small businesses, real estate are hurt

President Donald Trump has backed off his threat to impose tariffs on Mexico over the immigration crisis, but he later said that China could face additional tariffs to the ones he imposed on goods including steel and aluminum from there last year. Two Arizona State University experts say that the ever-changing tariff situation is driving the one factor that businesses hate: uncertainty.

Tariffs are essentially taxes imposed on the American importer of a foreign product, according to Jenny Brown, an associate professor of accountancy in the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“I think sometimes people think the foreign government or the foreign company is going to pay the tariff. That’s not true,” she said.

The idea is to make the imported product costly and therefore give American suppliers an advantage.

“The idealistic notion is that these companies are going to turn to some U.S. supplier, but the fact of the matter is that manufacturers of these low-cost goods have long since left the U.S.,” she said.

“So it’s prohibitively costly to build a plant or reopen a plant in the U.S. to start manufacturing these component parts. That’s not really going to happen.”

Brown said it appears as though the threat of tariffs is being used by the administration as a bargaining chip.

“But the threat of them being imposed is enough to hurt businesses because they have to deal with this uncertainty,” she said.

That uncertainty is affecting all types of businesses and reaching the commercial real estate market in the Valley, according to Mark Stapp, director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice and the Fred E. Taylor Professor in Real Estate in the W. P. Carey School of Business.

The real estate market was emerging from the recession with increased demand for labor and materials when the tariffs hit, creating problems.

Brown and Stapp answered some questions from ASU Now about the uncertainty sowed by tariffs and threats.

Question: How does the uncertainty around tariffs affect companies?

Jenny Brown: If you were manufacturing cars and you didn’t know how much the steel was going to cost, it’s hard to figure out how much product to produce and the price to set it at.

Jenny Brown

And then there’s the effect of the tariff itself, once it’s been imposed, which is the higher cost of goods.

How can I deal with that? I might try to change my supply chain. There’s a tariff on goods coming out of China so now I find somebody in Vietnam. Or I pay more to get the good from abroad and I increase the price I charge to the consumer.

Mark Stapp: It really began with the tariffs on softwood lumber. Just as the housing industry is starting to really recover, you throw these tariffs on the No. 1 building material used in housing construction — not just single family but multifamily too.

You have these tariffs on steel, aluminum and other products, including household appliances. When you’re building houses and apartments, you have stoves and refrigerators. Even the cabinets come from overseas sometimes. Commercial real estate uses steel framing.

Nearly the entire spectrum of the schedule of values, the cost associated with building, has been affected by the increase in demand and exacerbated by these tariffs in a substantial way.

Q: So would it be cheaper to lease commercial space rather than build?

Stapp: Those costs also have a big impact on the leasing market when an owner has to make improvements for a tenant, which costs more. For an owner to be able to amortize the higher cost of tenant improvements over a lease period, one of two things has to happen. You either extend the lease period or you increase the rental rates.

Now you create additional expense for businesses.

With office space in highly dynamic markets, you don’t want long leases because you can’t apply strategy to maximize the market.

Mark Stapp

Q: Do tariffs hurt small businesses more than big corporations?

Brown: Big businesses have ways they can survive the uncertainty. First, they have bigger cash flow and reserves, so if they think it will be short term, they can absorb additional coasts in their profit margins that they don’t have to pass on to the consumer. The small business does not have that slack.

Second, changing your supply chain requires bargaining power. If you have a longstanding relationship with a Chinese supplier, you can say, "I can get this from Vietnam or South America." If you’re small, you’ve been at the mercy of getting a reasonable cost and you can’t negotiate.

Bargaining power is a function of quantity and expertise. A bigger company will have a better legal team. A small guy may not have anyone on the ground in China, but a big guy can deploy a team. There are legal and transaction fees with changing your supply chain. If you’re small, it’s more costly to do that.

Big businesses can also spend money lobbying. If there are going to be tariffs, some industries will be better off.

Q: How else does uncertainty affect business?

Brown: Uncertainty will affect the stock market as well. When investors are pricing what they think the stock is worth, they’re thinking about the future cash flows of the firm. If there’s a bunch of uncertainty and that scares investors, they don’t like it. You see increased volatility in the market.

Stapp: Because of the uncertainty in pricing, general contractors will not bid jobs with estimates that last very long. It used to be you could bid a job and the bid would be good for 60 to 90 days. Today, it’s really hard to get somebody to commit for 30 days. That changes a lot of dynamics.

It makes it more uncertain for the investor, the borrower and the lender. You need larger contingencies. There are cases where the entire project gets put on the shelf. Developers want to lock things in.

Q: Tariffs were used a lot more a hundred years ago. What’s different today?

Brown: A hundred years ago, tariffs were used pretty extensively. There was a longtime tariff on sugar and the U.S. sugar industry really benefited from that because it was prohibitively costly to bring in sugar from outside the U.S. But at that time, everybody was using tariffs, the U.S. and our trade partners. It was the norm.

But we’ve been living a long time in an era of a push worldwide for free trade. We have lots of multilateral and bilateral trade agreements. And there have been efforts by the (World Trade Organization) to push back on any one country that goes rogue and tries to impose tariffs so we have the GATT, the general agreement on tariffs and trade. So we’re an outlier in the fact that this administration is coming up with these new tariffs.

Most economists think free trade is better and tariffs are terrible.

Q: If the administration changes in 2020 and tariffs are no longer an issue, could the repercussions become permanent?

Brown: They could be and that is where the small firms can really get hurt. The small firms can’t wait. They may be driven out of the industry. The large firms will be left with a greater market share. You could see a decrease in competition. Even if things get reversed in 2020, the barriers for reentry will be too high.

They may not think it’s worth it to shift the supply chain once again.

Stapp: We talk about elasticity in the market — how far we can stretch prices before they no longer are acceptable. The problem is the only way that prices will go down now is if there’s a recession. If there’s not a recession, we’ve created the new baseline.

That’s unless you can decrease demand, where suppliers have no choice but to lower prices, and I don’t see that happening.

Top image by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503

 
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ASU biologist’s research is for the birds

June 13, 2019

Kerrie Anne Loyd’s work fills in important gaps in knowledge about owl activity

The western burrowing owl is like no other bird: It lives underground, is adaptable to urban environments and its idea of a show of force is to surround its nest with dog waste and neighborhood trash.

These are just some of the nesting and habitat characteristics brought to light by Kerrie Anne Loyd, a wildlife biologist at Arizona State University at Lake Havasu.

The ongoing research, now in its sixth year, will fill in important gaps in knowledge about owl activity and population trends in human-dominated environments.

“I love birds, and my objective is to help people get along with wildlife,” said Loyd, whose work on domestic cats and wildlife has been highlighted on "NBC Nightly News," NPR’s "All Things Considered" and ABC’s "20/20." “By studying animals and helping to understand their habits, I can find what they need in order to thrive in human-dominated environments.”

Woman peering through camera

Kerrie Anne Loyd sets up a movement-triggered camera outside one of the burrowing owl habitats in Lake Havasu City on May 24. The urban/suburban ecologist is gathering data as part of her research on the owls funded in part by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Loyd began studying the bird, which stands about 10 inches tall and has round, yellow eyes and long, skinny legs, in 2013. For decades their numbers were declining across western North America due to loss of natural habitat and lethal control of burrowing rodents. The birds shifted to more developed habitats such as agricultural areas, golf courses and undeveloped lots. In Lake Havasu City, they set up house in desert washes, using existing burrows created by ground squirrels and wood rats.

Because of their proximity to humans in Lake Havasu City, these raptorsA carnivorous medium- to large-size bird (such as a hawk, eagle, owl or vulture) that has a hooked beak and large sharp talons and that feeds wholly or chiefly on meat taken by hunting or on carrion. seem more naturally tolerant of people.

“They’re super charismatic because they’re cute, out during the day, easy to see and fun to watch,” Loyd said. “People in town have an interest in them and can get up close to them. The owls don’t find observant people a threat.”

However, Loyd said, if someone gets too close to a nest while the birds have babies, usually in May and June, they could feel the sting of a parent’s talons. Loyd herself has felt those at times, spending close to 20 hours a week conducting research at nest sites.

Owl standing on rockA previously banded adult burrowing owl watches ASU at Lake Havasu City wildlife biology senior lecturer Kerrie Anne Loyd work. She makes sure not to disturb the 10-inch raptor during its nesting season. Photo by Charlie Light/ASU Now

Loyd’s director said her research is important to the species, the city and the 6-year-old ASU location.

“Kerrie Anne Loyd’s success in acquiring research funding for her burrowing owl and domestic cat studies reinforces the notion that faculty at rural campuses like ASU at Lake Havasu are also making strong contributions to their fields,” said Raymond Van der Riet, director of ASU at Lake Havasu. “The landscape and environment surrounding ASU at Lake Havasu offer the perfect field laboratory for applied research.”

Loyd and a team of ASU students have monitored 136 active nests within the Lake Havasu City limits over a six-year period through the use of remote cameras and on-site fieldwork. Briana Morgan, a 2016 ASU graduate, worked alongside Loyd for three years.

“Through Kerrie Anne’s work, I truly learned the impact that humans have on wildlife and the environment,” said Morgan, who today is a water conservation specialist for Lake Havasu City. “The best word I would use to describe her is dedicated. She’s 100% dedicated to her research, and her passion influences her students without pushing it on them.”

Among Loyd’s key findings:

  • A burrowing owl family is estimated to eat up to 1,800 rodents and 7,000 arthropods (scorpions and beetles) in a single summer.
  • Nest success averaged 70% from 2014 to 2018, and the average number of juveniles produced was 4.2.
  • Burrowing owls are opportunistic hunters and prefer small mammals and arthropods.
  • In addition to Loyd’s research, there are only five studies on burrowing owls in urban/suburban locations.
  • Owls live in Lake Havasu City year round, but north of Arizona they are migratory and usually head to Mexico for the winter.
Underground nest

A movement-triggered camera outside of a burrowing owl habitat in Lake Havasu City helps to inform the research ASU biologist Kerrie Anne Loyd, who has been studying the raptor since 2013. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

One of her most important discoveries was that the primary cause of owl mortality in Lake Havasu City was due to increased use of pesticides in an attempt to remove mice, rats and ground squirrels. Loyd said that 24 owls in one year experienced secondary poisoning through consumption of rodents contaminated with rat poison. Dogs, cats and other birds can be unintended victims as well.

That particular finding led ASU, Arizona Game and Fish and Wild at Heart to support a combined “owl-friendly” educational campaign in Lake Havasu City. This included the distribution of 6,000 brochures and three permanent interpretive signs, asking community members and residents to be vigilant about use of rat poison and encourage other methods of pest control.

The western burrowing owl is listed as a species of conservation concern in Arizona and its numbers are declining, but the birds seem to be thriving in Lake Havasu City.

Much of the credit should go to Loyd, said an associate.

“Kerrie Anne’s research and her ability to convey that to the public has helped immensely with the owl population,” said Pam Smart, founder of Havasu Wildlife Rehabilitation, a nonprofit that helps wounded and abandoned animals. “Before Kerrie Anne came here, I don’t think the concern and the visibility of the owls was there. She’s helped a great deal in getting the word out.”

But there are some questions that Loyd doesn’t have the answer to. Like why do the male owls spend an inordinate amount of time and energy decorating their nests with dog waste, which can often attract predators like dogs, roadrunners and coyotes?

Loyd believes the male owl is simply marking his territory.

Woman walking down a hill

ASU at Lake Havasu City wildlife biology senior lecturer Kerrie Anne Loyd spends up to 20 hours a week doing on-site research. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

“The hypothesis is now that the owl is stating, ‘This spot is occupied. I’m the best bird in the neighborhood because look at all this energy I have to gather dog poop and trash to put around my nest!’” Loyd said.

The current phase of Loyd’s research, which will continue at least through 2020, is focused on dispersal distances of juvenile birds and behavior of adults at nest sites year to year. She will also continue to work on public education efforts to ensure long-term population growth.

“I’m so lucky to be able to study such an interesting species and involve so many students in conservation research right here in our small desert city,” Loyd said. “It’s been a fun project to do.”

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now

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Tempe local, ASU alumna Arlene Chin sees city council position as new way to give back


June 5, 2019

At a swearing-in ceremony early in May, Arizona State University alumna Arlene Chin became the newest member of the Tempe City Council and the first Asian American woman to hold the position in the city’s history.

Arlene Chin in her officeArlene Chin in her office at the ASU Foundation.

Chin is a lifelong resident of Tempe who has spent almost a decade working with ASU. Now serving until July 2020 in place of former Councilman Kolby Granville, she sees the new position as an extension of a long-standing commitment to both. Arlene Chin in her office at the ASU Foundation. Arlene Chin graduated in 1987 with a bachelor's degree in organizational communication from what is today the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. Download Full Image

“As a citizen and community member, I’ve sort of always had an expectation for myself to get involved in representing Tempe,” she said. “ASU is in many ways a Tempe community member itself, so for me, they have gone hand in hand.”

Chin now serves as the director of scholarship advancement at the ASU Foundation, the latest in a list of leadership roles associated with the institution. Over the years, she has volunteered and worked with the ASU Alumni Association, served as the director of scholarship services with ASU Financial Aid and Scholarship Services and the assistant director of international undergraduate admissions.

In 1987, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication from what is today the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She later earned a master's degree in education from Northern Arizona University.

From teaching stints abroad to working in globally-focused retail, she said the tools she learned while in The College provided the broad base to build a multifaceted career.

“Teaching English in Taiwan after school made me realize that I enjoyed working with people and developing relationships as a representative of something larger than myself,” she said. “Community development, community relations, teaching, those are all pathways we don’t realize we took until we take a moment to look back.”

Both Chinese immigrants who met in San Francisco, Chin’s parents moved the family to Tempe when she was 9 years old. Growing up next to ASU’s expanding Tempe campus made it a natural choice when looking for a university as a first generation student.

Chin was initially pursuing a business degree when a conversation with a friend majoring in communication made her realize what finally felt like a true calling.

“Being a first generation college student, you don't come in knowing and fully understanding what a major and an academic pathway might really mean,” she said. “I wanted to work with people and study people, discovering that was a combination of my learning more about myself, and also learning what that meant in regard to an academic pathway.”

Arlene Chin shows a photo of herself and her parents, taken the day of her graduation from ASU.

Chin shows a photo of herself and her parents taken the day of her graduation from ASU in 1987.

Working in student-focused roles at ASU, Chin has often returned to the story of her own academic journey to help new generations through theirs.  

“I tell students now that finding the right major feels like the clouds parting and the birds singing,” she said. “And there are so many great people at The College and throughout ASU who are happy to help direct students to a pathway where they can move forward with their interests.”

In turn, Chin said former students can pay it forward, by giving back.

“I would highly encourage alumni to give back and get involved, whether it’s with time or resources,” she said. “Because foundationally The College really is a part of who they become, it’s important not to forget that.”

That spirit of public engagement is something Chin sees as an inherent part of her Tempe childhood that still exists today. As evidence, she points to the 49 community members who ran alongside her for the city council seat.

“I was very proud of my community when I heard that,” she said. “Because it shows the level of interest people have in serving.”

Taking the helm as a city councilwoman serves as another platform to continue connecting with people on the local level.

“Like anywhere else, people are concerned with balancing their quality of life with the growth and progress of our community,” she said. “I feel like I understand that because I am part of the community — I'm there, paddling with everyone else.”

Tempe has been the staging ground for many of Chin’s milestones. Within her new role, she aims to forge new paths for those that come after.

“It’s important to know who you are, because we didn't just get here on our own, any successes that we have are partly possible because of the people that came before us,” she said. “I know how important it was for me to see role models growing up, if I can be that person for others, then I'm honored.”

 

Writer, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

480-965-5870

 
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Young people find profound personal growth in Public Allies Arizona

Young people find transformation in Public Allies Arizona service program.
May 30, 2019

Participants hone skills, increase nonprofits' impact in ASU Lodestar program

Brandon Vickers served his country for five years while he was a welder in the Navy. When he resumed civilian life in 2016, he knew he wanted to continue serving his community, but he didn’t know how.

And then he found Public Allies Arizona, an intense, full-time apprenticeship program that pairs young people with nonprofit organizations. And he knew it would be perfect.

“It turned out to be the greatest thing that ever happened to me,” said Vickers, 25, who has spent the past 10 months working at the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Phoenix as part of the program.

“The Navy was awesome and gave me skills, but this has given meaning to the work I’m doing.”

Vickers is among 30 young people in Public Allies Arizona, a program of the Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, in the School of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University.

This is the 13th cohort of Public Allies Arizona, which pays the allies a stipend of about $14,000 to work at nonprofit organizations in the Valley. After completing the program, which is part of the federal AmeriCorps program, the participants receive a $5,800 award to pay for tuition or professional development or to apply toward student-loan debt. More than 400 young adults have participated since Public Allies Arizona was launched in 2006.

The nonprofit groups get motivated staffers and the participants not only learn valuable job skills, but also undergo profound personal growth. Several of the current allies described their experiences at “Presentations of Impact” Wednesday night at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus.

“My childhood wasn’t the easiest. We moved a lot and I attended a lot of different schools,” Vickers told the crowd.

“The Navy gave me an idea of what it meant to serve a cause greater than myself,” he said.

He was ecstatic when he found Public Allies Arizona listed on a job-search engine, although — like all the allies — he was nervous and unsure if he could do the work.

“But that feeling quickly went away,” he said, as he described how he helped the Boys and Girls Club renew its service enterprise certification, reached out to alumni and helped to recruit millennials and people with disabilities to be volunteers.

Besides working with nonprofits, the allies work on projects together, get personal coaching and attend leadership training.

“The biggest thing it’s helped me do is to learn the value of networking and forming relationships — and forcing me to do it,” said Vickers, who transferred from Glendale Community College and now is majoring in nonprofit management at ASU.

“I was always a shy person. Now I’m a better communicator, even just talking with family and friends,” he said.

The allies come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some are college students, some have degrees and a few joined right out of high school.

Channtal Polanco spent her Public Allies term with Opportunities for Youth, an ASU initiative to help young people who are neither working nor in school. At the presentation Wednesday night, she described her own experience. She was attending college in California when she unexpectedly became pregnant. She left college and returned to Phoenix, where she had her daughter.

“I was not working or enrolled in college. I became an opportunity youth,” she said.

“I knew I needed a change in my life not only for myself but also my daughter. But I was faced with relentless obstacles and barriers.”

Finally she was able to enroll her daughter in a full-time preschool program run by Chicanas Por La Causa, allowing her to enroll in school and get a job.

“But I still yearned for a new challenge,” she said. “And that led me here.”

At Opportunities for Youth, she recruited teens for a manufacturing job-readiness program.

“I thought, ‘How can I make this program appealing? Why should they listen to me?’” she said. “I learned an important lesson — to meet the youths where they’re at.”

The allies described their victories. Polanco was able to get a very motivated young man enrolled into the job program within 24 hours. Vickers learned the stories of people who attended the Boys and Girls Club in the 1940s as part of his work to reenergize the alumni group. Yaylah Trujillo, a student at Estrella Mountain Community College, recruited 10 people to become LGBTQ-friendly foster families through her work with Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health.

And Anne Mbugua is launching a new youth-employment program, Arizona Youth Forces, through her work at the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Phoenix.

“I’m helping teens ages 16 to 18 get paid internships, which introduces them to the work force,” she said. The teens attend workshops to learn soft skills, like how to communicate in the workplace, before they’re placed.

Mbugua, who is from Kenya, came to Public Allies Arizona after several years of living abroad in Europe and Canada.

“This program has really helped me enhance my skills. I’m very passionate about working with young people and I was excited that I would get to pilot a program, which I’ve never done before,” she said. “I thrive in the chaos of it. I just run with it.”

Public Allies is the just the latest service stint that Mbugua has taken on.

“Every country I’ve gone to, I’ve always volunteered,” she said. She worked with homeless people in train stations in Poland, at an international youth hostel in London and with a mental-health youth program in Canada.

“I love the joy of traveling and living in a different culture whether it’s six months or five years,” she said. “I’ve gone through five passports.”

Mbugua will end her term with Public Allies Arizona in November, and is working on keeping the new internship program sustainable and measuring its success.

“One way to measure success is who finished the internship? Were they retained somewhere? Did they attend all 10 workshops?”

Mbugua plans to move to New York and pursue a career in cross-cultural coaching.

Public Allies Arizona has been invaluable in charting her course.

“You’ll figure out what you want to do and what you absolutely don’t want to do,” she said.

“You learn teamwork, management, and you learn to be a good leader.”

Top photo: ASU student Brandon Vickers works a volunteer fair at Grand Canyon University. A Navy veteran, Vickers has been working at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix as part of his participation in Public Allies Arizona. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now

480-727-4503

First Star ASU evens the odds for Arizona foster youth


May 30, 2019

For many youth in foster care, the odds of achieving a college education have historically been low, with some sources indicating less than 3% will earn a bachelor’s degree.

As a part of Access ASU, the First Star Academy at Arizona State University works to increase those odds through their free, comprehensive four-year college access program that provides high school-age foster youth with the academic support, enrichment and resources needed to enroll and succeed in college. In partnership with the national nonprofit First Star, the academy at ASU has worked with diverse cohorts of students since the program launched at ASU in 2017. The incoming class for 2019 is made up of 46 students from 40 schools within 20 different school districts across Maricopa and Pima counties. First Star ASU Academy student cohort The 2017-18 cohort of First Star ASU Academy. Photo courtesy of Gabriela Jimenez/First Star ASU Academy Download Full Image

May is National Foster Care Month, which acknowledges the families, volunteers, mentors and professionals who help those in foster care find connections and permanent homes. First Star Academy at ASU is using this occasion to recognize the university and community collaborators who make their comprehensive program possible and to encourage others to become involved in supporting Arizona’s foster youth.

First Star Academy at ASU Program Director Gaby Jimenez said that collaborating with these organizations is vital to their work. Their partners include Bridging Success, Early Start, Nina Scholars, ASU Prep Digital, Arizona Department of Child Safety, Arizona Department of Education, Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation, CASA of Maricopa and school districts throughout the state. 

“Because of these partnerships, we are invited to many events focused on foster youth, our reach has expanded to serve more young adults in and outside of Maricopa County and we are able to leverage resources in the community for students participating in the program,” Jimenez said.

Bridging Success, which began in fall 2015, is an ASU program that helps youth in the foster care system learn about opportunities in higher education and how to access them. It also supports students attending ASU who have the lived experience of being in the foster care system. 

Justine Cheung, coordinator for Bridging Success, said that working with First Star at ASU makes their reach that much broader in the community, resulting in more youth and their supportive adults taking steps to plan for college.

“Bridging Success recognizes the value of supporting any program that is promoting higher education for youth in foster care so collaborating with First Star was a natural fit,” Cheung said. “The idea that ASU has brought a program that supports the college-going aspirations of youth in care while still in high school is transformational for so many reasons — namely that so many of these youth have never been told 'Yes, you can go to college!'"

Another university partner is ASU Prep Digital, which works with First Star to provide academic support to their participants. 

“ASU Prep Digital proudly supports First Star students throughout Arizona with access to high-quality education, both high school and concurrent college courses, in a flexible learning environment,” said Mary O’Malley, Arizona partnerships director for ASU Prep Digital. “Our teachers and learning success coaches guide students as they work to complete H.S. graduation requirements and explore early college pathways, in collaboration with their school of origin.”  

Another critical element of First Star’s work is their collaboration with organizations outside the university including nonprofits and government agencies. 

One of these key community partners is Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation (AFFCF), which began working with First Star in fall 2018. While the state of Arizona provides children in foster care with necessities like food, clothing and basic medical care, AFFCF supplements with things that help bring them enriching activities and opportunities, like academic tutoring, music lessons and sports equipment.

“Youth who participate in the First Star program can take advantage of AFFCF’s Keys to Success program while they are in foster care and AFFCF’s postsecondary programs, if they reach age 18 in foster care,” said Erika Klotz, postsecondary program coordinator for AFFCF.

First Star has participated in two postsecondary resource fairs that AFFCF has organized to raise awareness about the First Star program. AFFCF has also attended First Star open houses to make youth who are or were in foster care aware of the available resources.

“The partnership between First Star at ASU and AFFCF is valuable because it represents the ability to connect youth and families to resources that can have a significant impact on their future, both in terms of economic stability and emotional well-being,” Klotz said.

Jimenez said she would like to close out Foster Care Awareness Month by inviting others to get involved, become a court appointed special advocate, a member of foster care review board, a mentor or a volunteer with one of the many organizations supporting youth in foster care. She also encourages the public to refer foster youth to the First Star Academy at ASU.

“There is a great need to support these young adults as they transition to adulthood and I strongly believe that collaboration is the key to making a greater impact in our state,” Jimenez said. “You don’t have to be a foster parent to make an impact.”

Learn more about First Star ASU Academy.

Copy writer and editor, Educational Outreach and Student Services

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Giving voice to Native American activism in Phoenix


May 29, 2019

In 2016, what began as a grassroots effort against the Dakota Access Pipeline drilling project in North Dakota grew into a sweeping movement gathering thousands of protesters from around the country to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

Several states away, Napoleon Marrietta, a member of the Phoenix area’s Gila River Indian Community, was engulfed in another Native-led battle, against a highway extension project in Phoenix. Napoleon Marrietta, a graduate student in The College's American Indian Studies program, grew up not far from the Tempe campus on the Gila River Indian Community. After completing concurrent bachelor's degrees in social justice and American Indian studies, Napoleon Marrietta is set to graduate with a master's degree from The College's American Indians Studies program this fall. Download Full Image

The 22-mile Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway stretch was designed to ease traffic congestion. But its path cut through a portion of South Mountain, a range highly sacred to tribes across the Valley. When Standing Rock was taking off, Marrietta and other activists were in the middle of a legal battle to stop the freeway construction in its tracks.

But where Standing Rock galvanized Native Americans nationwide, the fight for South Mountain didn’t move far past Phoenix.

That difference is part of what propelled a return to academia for Marrietta, now a graduate student in The College of Liberal Arts and SciencesAmerican Indian Studies program at Arizona State University.

“Standing Rock had people from all over the place, including Phoenix tribes, coming together to battle this huge issue,” he said. “Fighting for South Mountain, we were grassroots, youth-led and trying to move forward with the weight of it all on our shoulders — I think my question now is why that huge mobilization sometimes doesn’t happen, even with something in our backyard.”

Urban organizing

From immigration and the border to incarceration and desert city planning, Arizona is a melting pot of issues. As the state capital, initiatives started in Phoenix have the potential to cast a wider net than perhaps anywhere else in the state. But with a metropolitan area of over 5 million residents, how does any one issue find its voice?

That’s one question Marrietta is looking to unravel in his thesis that focuses on how indigenous activists adapt and organize in the Valley’s urban sprawl.

The American Indian Studies program offers a master’s degree in tribal leadership and governance, and another in indigenous rights and social justice. After graduating from ASU with concurrent bachelor’s degrees in justice studies and American Indian studies in 2017, Marrietta saw the social justice graduate track as a chance to expand on both.

“I returned to gain more from the knowledge of my professors here and the efforts they have made in their communities, it made me feel like I could do something to contribute, too,” he said.

Native presence in Arizona

There are 22 tribal nations across Arizona today. Phoenix, its surroundings and ASU itself sit on the ancestral lands of many of them, including the Akimel O’odham and Pee-Posh constituting the Gila River Indian Community of which Marrietta is a part.

Growing up on tribal land just southeast of Phoenix, Marrietta immersed himself in environmental and social issues affecting his community while in high school. But he hesitates to call himself an activist. Instead, he sees his work as a response to his own experiences.

“Not having clean water sometimes, for example, or even the fact that you are growing up on a reservation, those are all issues, but you don’t really think about them that way, they are just a part of your life,” he said. “I didn’t really get into the literature and hearing similar things from other people until coming to ASU.”

Now set to graduate this fall, his research offers an academic examination of local struggles he is intimately familiar with.

Research as advocacy

Marrietta and fellow tribal, environmental and community activists spent years challenging the South Mountain freeway construction before a trial in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case in 2017.

As the project nears completion today, he said recounting the fight is a painful process. But experiencing the highs and lows of social movements from the ground level also gave him a new perspective on the topics he learned at ASU and what felt like an opening to add new narratives to the record of history.

Documenting the fight through research is a way to honor those who gave their energy and explore his own role within it.

“Defending South Mountain was something I was active in, but so many came before me on that issue and others — I am just a sliver of something much larger,” he said. “My research now is focused on connecting the contributions of elders, youth and people with varying levels of education; those experiences are different, but (it) all feeds into one community.”

More than 3,000 Native American students were enrolled in ASU in 2018, a number that has more than doubled in the last decade and is now among the highest in the country. Still, with over 100,000 students across four campuses and multiple locations, the population represents a small percentage of ASU’s overall population.

For Marrietta, who also works as an American Indian Student Support ServicesASU American Indian Student Support Services is a unit of ASU's University College. graduate pathways assistant, elevating Native perspectives on and off campus is part of what fuels his drive to continue in academia.

“Dealing with social justice issues means that everyone wants a seat at the table, so sometimes the challenge is actually just being a Native American or indigenous person in these places,” he said. “But building upon an institution requires research, which in turn helps people understand things better — by writing about these groups, I figure I can contribute in a small way to that.”

Writer, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

480-965-5870

 
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How to avoid getting bitten by a rattlesnake

May 28, 2019

ASU snake expert offers summer tips for desert-dwellers — and shares what you should do in the event of a bite

The spring and early summer temperatures in Arizona are perfect for outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking and camping. And just as people flock to the outdoors to enjoy this time of year, so do snakes and other reptiles. 

Arizona is well-known for having a diversity of snakes — as many as 35 to 40 species. Moreover, the state has the greatest diversity of rattlesnakes anywhere in the world — 19 different species. They do well in the desert because they can go a long time without eating.

So what can you do to make sure you don’t end up bitten by a rattlesnake?

“First, the best thing to do if you see a rattlesnake is to appreciate it. It’s part of our natural environment, and they serve an important role in that environment. They are not out to get you, so it’s actually a great experience,” said Dale DeNardo, associate professor with the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences.

“The next thing you want to do is keep your distance. They can only strike about a couple of feet at most, so if you see it, back away. Don’t try to scare it away. Just try to separate yourself from the encounter, so it’s best to create distance and usually, you can just go around the animal. It’s going to try to get away from you unless you trap it in a space,” he added.

DeNardo studies rattlesnakes and other reptiles, and he’s the university’s attending veterinarian. He said it’s important to understand how these animals cope with changes in their environment and with the availability of resources like water and energy. The snakes are critical to the health of a desert ecosystem.

Question: When people are spending time outdoors in Arizona, what are they likely to see?

Answer: There’s a good chance of seeing rattlesnakes at certain times of the year, and that’s during the spring when it’s warm enough the animals come out, but not too hot. When it gets too hot, they move to become nocturnal. Most commonly, you’ll see diamondback rattlesnakes.

The thing to remember is that they’re not out to get anybody. They want to be left alone. Most of the rattlesnakes that see you, you will not see. When people say, "Every one I see rattles," it’s because you are not seeing 95% of them.

Video by Samantha Lloyd/ASU VisLab

Q: If someone accidentally gets bit, what should they do?

A: The best way to avoid getting bit is to watch where you put your feet. That’s how people get bit, by putting their hands or feet in a place without looking first.

If you do get bit, realize that you have lots of time and the bite is very rarely fatal. It’s a serious thing and you’ll need to seek immediate medical attention, but you don’t want to run, you don’t want to get your heart rate up. Just quickly but calmly make your way to a hospital by driving yourself or calling 911 and get yourself to a place where they can monitor you and give you an appropriate treatment.

Q: What kind of treatment might someone expect to receive if they are bitten?

A: So, one of the deals about getting bit by a rattlesnake — there’s not instant pain or changes in swelling. A lot of people might think, "I got bit, but it’s no big deal." Don’t wait it out. Assume that it’s a bad bite and that you need to get medical attention. The first thing they’ll do is put you on fluids because rattlesnake bites tend to cause peripheral vasodilation, or dilation of your vessels, and therefore your blood pressure crashes. They’ll also monitor you for potential use of antivenom, and usually they will give people antivenom. They’ll monitor how much to give you based on the response to clinical signs. Once you’re in the hospital, you’re in pretty good hands. The key is getting there quickly, but not doing it in a panic. 

Q: What are some of the myths about how to treat a rattlesnake bite?

A: Some of the myths about what to do in the field when you first get a bite include cutting between the fang marks and sucking it out. That just causes additional injury and potential infection because that venom quickly dissipates through the tissue. You’re not going to pull out much venom. 

Another myth is to apply a tourniquet. That doesn’t work well because one, you’ll cause additional damage to your (limb). This causes a lot of local damage and a lot of necrosis. The tissue will die. That might work well for other species of venomous snakes, but not for rattlesnakes. You just don’t want to get overly excited, especially getting your blood pressure up, or if running, your blood pressure might go down and then you could faint. 

You have time. The only time you don't is if you are allergic to rattlesnake venom and usually only if you've been previously bitten by a rattlesnake. Remember, this is serious, but you have time to seek help, especially if you get help right away rather than waiting to see if it's an issue. Don’t do anything except get yourself medical attention.

Q: What should I do if my dog gets bit by a rattlesnake?

A: The best thing to do with dogs is to keep them on a leash because you can control where they go. The problem with dogs is they can smell a rattlesnake and they’re curious, and when they’re curious they put their nose right up to the snake and the snake doesn’t have a choice. This is a predator: They might think it’s a coyote or something that wants to eat them. So they will defend themselves.

Although dogs are relatively resistant to venom compared to humans, they tend to get bit in the nose or throat, and this can cause a lot of swelling and it can interfere with their ability to breathe. It’s also really important to get a dog to a veterinarian. They may use antivenom, but they’ll definitely monitor the animal’s ability to breathe.

Another option is aversion training. If you go hiking a lot, you can train a dog to avoid rattlesnakes. When they pick up a rattlesnake scent, you can use a shock collar with a little jolt and they’ll learn they don’t like it and don’t want to go anywhere near it. That is actually very effective.

Q: What does it look like if a rattlesnake is getting ready to strike?

A: Rattlesnakes have multiple levels of defense. The first is camouflage. They see you, they don’t move unless they think they’ve been detected. You can walk right by them, you can step right next to them, some people have stepped on them. They try not to move and there is no interaction.

The second thing is they try to get away. If they see you, they’ll slowly turn toward a bush or burrow and move along their own way. They want to avoid confrontation.

If they think they’re detected and can’t get away, they’re going to defend themselves. They will basically coil back their head, put it in a strike pose and they’ll start rattling their tail. That’s a warning. If they wanted to bite something, they don’t rattle their tail. If they see a mouse and want to eat it, they don’t rattle their tail. So when they’re rattling, that means they are doing you a favor. They are telling you to go away: "I don’t want this confrontation." It’s only if you continue to pursue that and approach, that’s when they’ll strike. They will release venom as a last option. 

Keep the distance, but appreciate the experience you’re getting. These are important components of a natural ecosystem. They’re interesting to watch, and it will be a harmless interaction as long as you keep your distance. 

Q: How important are rattlesnakes in the desert?

A: In deserts, we don’t have a lot of large predators, like mountain lions. (In) our deserts, in terms of biomass, rattlesnakes are the No. 1 predator out there. In order to balance the rodent population, these rattlesnakes play an important role in our ecosystem and so we need to understand that. If you’re out there, you’re in their world if you’re going for a hike, and their world is one that is balanced. We need to preserve them there and also understand the risk they pose and how to share that environment.

Don’t worry about going for a walk. It’s rare you’ll ever see a rattlesnake. It’s a privilege if you do. Remember, don’t freak out. Just enjoy the opportunity that’s been presented to you.

Q: Do you specifically study rattlesnakes, and if so, what is the focus of the research? 

A: Rattlesnakes are one of the primary species we use to study responses to resource limitations. Rattlesnakes are vital components of the southwestern desert ecosystem in that they are the most abundant predator. Changes in the prevalence of rattlesnakes will impact rodent populations, which in turn can impact seed survival and therefore plant recruitment. Their abundance, as well as their hardiness, make them an excellent study system for our work. Of course, there is usually a negative to go with positives, and in this case, the obvious negative is the fact that they are venomous and thus require extreme caution when working with them.

Q: What kind of research do you do with reptiles?

A: My research focuses on how animals cope with long-term or seasonal limitations of critical resources such as energy and water. Resource limitations lead to both physiological and behavioral changes that enable survival until the resources become available again. Understanding these survival strategies is becoming increasingly important as it will aid us in evaluating the vulnerability of various species to anticipated human-induced changes in the environment associated with global climate change and urbanization.

Q: As the attending veterinarian at ASU, what is your role on campus in addition to teaching and research projects?

A: As the ASU attending veterinarian, I am responsible for assuring the welfare of all animals used in teaching and research, whether on campus or in the field. First, this entails reviewing all plans to use animals to make sure that they are meritorious and address the well-being of the animals. Second, we make sure all individuals involved in animal-related work are well-trained to perform their activities. And finally, we oversee a team of technicians that provides quality care to the animals used in teaching and research. It is in the best interest of the animals and the research to make sure that animals are well cared for and treated humanely. Fortunately, the researchers conducting the work share this opinion.

Top photo: The western diamondback rattlesnake has dark, diamond-shaped patterns along its back and a tail with black and white bands located just above the rattles. It has one dark line on each side of its face. It ranges in color from gray to pinkish to brown, depending on its habitat. It eats small mammals every two to three weeks. It's typically 3 to 5 feet long but has been known to grow as long as 7 feet. Photo by Sandra Keaton Leander/ASU

Sandra Leander

Manager, Media Relations and Marketing , School of Life Sciences

480-965-9865

Out of the classroom and into the community

Students in the Facing Immigration II course impact the community through artistic expression and storytelling


May 24, 2019

Some students major in the humanities; others take a humanities class just to check off a general credit. No matter how you end up in a humanities class, you can expect to be learning skills such as critical thinking, clear communication, complex problem-solving and how to apply knowledge in real-world settings. That last one can be hard to learn within a classroom setting, but the Humanities Lab at Arizona State University is developing classes to get students into the community to apply their lessons to the world around them.

A class that gained a lot of discussion this spring was the Facing Immigration II course. The class was co-taught by Alexander Aviña, associate professor of 20th-century Mexican history in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and Emir Estrada, assistant professor of sociocultural anthropology in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Photo of Facing Immigration II class in front of their mural they helped paint with Hugo Medina The Facing Immigration II class in front of the mural-in-progress they helped design and paint with artist Hugo Medina. Photo courtesy of Alexander Aviña Download Full Image

“The goal of this class was to get students out of the classroom,” said Estrada. “How do we get them engaged in the community? How do we get them to ask questions versus just reading articles and repeating the information?”

The professors decided they wanted art to be one of the teaching methods included in this course. During the semester, Estrada taught the class the art form of repujado, an embossing method that creates images and designs out of foil, metal, paper or other materials.

She has been practicing repujado for a long time, initially making items as gifts until she started getting paid to create the art. After she and her mother immigrated to America, she used the money from her art to help pay for books and to keep her from getting a third job in college.

“I’ve been doing this art form for about 20 years,” said Estrada. “When I asked if I could use any teaching method I wanted, they were open to the possibility of using that form. So I taught my students how to do repujado and then I kind of instilled that idea of, ‘This is what I do with it and it’s a part of my immigration story.’”

The students in the class were encouraged to think of their own immigration story and to use art as a way to tell those stories with the greater community.

After completing their repujado projects, the students took a cardboard painting workshop with artist Ramiro Gomez who spoke a few days later at their repujado art exhibit at the Phoenix Center for the Arts.

The class' repujado art pieces hanging in the Phoenix Center for the Arts

The repujado artwork the class did hangs in a gallery in the Phoenix Center for the Arts.

The students in the class decided to sell their artwork at the exhibit and wanted to donate the money to help those trying to immigrate to the United States. Ultimately they decided to donate to an organization called Aliento, meaning "breath" in Spanish.

Aliento uses art to promote community healing for those who are lacking an immigration status. It was founded in 2016 by ASU alumna Reyna Montoya, who holds bachelor's degrees in political science and transborder studies and a dance minor from ASU. She is proud to be able to help others who have experienced similar circumstances.

“I like being able to bring other artists to collaborate and think about the creative process and how the creative process in art can be a tool for us to process healing and to restore agency,” said Montoya. “As people who have been marginalized or have been oppressed, it’s like we have agency, we have power we are so much more than sad stories. So how can we use art to express our stories in our own way?”

The art exhibit was not the final project for the students, though. They worked with other forms of art to relay stories of immigration and family while also learning through lectures and from conversations they were bringing into their community.

One of the biggest assignments the students took on was a community mural project with artist Hugo Medina. Medina is a Bolivian-born artist who immigrated to New York when he was a child. His paintings and community work have carried him across the country for new projects. He has been commissioned to paint murals in Phoenix before, and the class wanted to work with him for their project.

Anthropology PhD candidate and student in the course, Brittany Romanello, spearheaded the effort to apply for a grant from the Osher Life Long Learning Institute to fund the mural project.

Students from the Humanities Lab class and students from OLLI met with Hugo Medina for a storytelling event. Everyone exchanged stories of their own backgrounds and helped design a mural together.

“It was a beautiful example of what can be accomplished when people of many backgrounds and viewpoints choose to unite in a common goal,” said Romanello. “We've been fooled by many systems of power into believing that our individual voices and desires for change don't matter. They absolutely do. We can resist together by any means necessary. If it's your art, if it's your music, if it's your speech or your hugs or the way you do math — it's all valid. It's all needed, too. I think we all felt that deeply in those moments at the storytelling event.”

By the end of the semester, students had been pushed out of their comfort zones, but learned how to combine education and engagement.

“I wasn't prepared for what a creative and emotional experience the class would be, and how it would impact me personally and academically,” said Romanello. “We need that humanization of others, we need that softness and vulnerability with each other that influences change on a real, physical level. I'm really proud and honored I've been a part of it.”

Alicia Godinez, an undergraduate student studying Spanish in the School of International Letters and Cultures, had taken the Facing Immigration I course and wanted to learn more about how to help her community. She was blown away by how much she and her classmates were able to accomplish during the semester.

“It started in a small classroom, a repujado art event and it turned to another project where we paint a mural, but all with one purpose; bring community together,” said Godinez. “It’s a vision that can go far beyond. Art was a bridge to help the community to be unified, to be humanified and to realize you are not alone.”

Students not only left the class with experiences they will remember for a long time, but with tangible skills and practices they can include in future job applications as well. They earned grants, executed projects and public events, gained experience in controlling a social media account and learned how to communicate their research to multiple news outlets.

“It is an amazing class,” said Godinez. “This class shows you the real world in many areas. It gives you the push to learn new things or new experiences you can add to your resume. I will take this class just for the fact you are seen as a person not just another student.”

Although the Facing Immigration courses will not be offered next semester through Humanities Lab, the lab is offering other interdisciplinary courses that will take students into an experimental space to investigate grand social challenges. 

Rachel Bunning

Communications program coordinator, School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

Students mobilize their research on water solutions in the Sonora-Arizona desert


May 22, 2019

The dry, arid climate of the Sonoran Desert has created harsh living conditions for several millennia. This forces local dwellers to use traditional knowledge about the environment and sustainability in order to help their vibrant communities flourish. Even with today’s advances, the low availability of water in the region continually leads to the necessity for new technological innovations that yield more efficient use of more diverse sources of water.

As centers for innovation, universities in the Arizona-Sonora megaregion, that area of the Sonoran Desert that spans the U.S. and Mexico, play a central role in both creating knowledge and in mobilizing it to society. Knowledge mobilization is the process by which advances are disseminated, adopted and refined when placed in a real-word context. Enrique Vivoni speaking to a group Enrique Vivoni (left) speaking to a group at the knowledge mobilization event. Download Full Image

This process was recently illustrated in a collaboration between Arizona State University and Tecnológico de Monterrey during a two-day water solutions workshop in Hermosillo, Mexico. The workshop was tailored to 163 engineering students whose objectives were to develop a solution, document the impact it would have and make this accessible to others.

“Arizona and Sonora share common problems related to natural resources which can be more effectively addressed using a regional approach,” said Enrique R. Vivoni. “Since our two universities are training students to be innovators, it is natural to work on joint solutions to shared problems.”

Vivioni, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, is the associate dean of the ASU Graduate College and participated in the workshop.

Students and faculty scrutinized the arid climate of Sonora and Arizona and how it presents the opportunity to develop water innovations for the agricultural, urban and industrial sectors. With nearly 9 million inhabitants, the Sonora-Arizona megaregion is a fertile ground for emerging technologies that can lead to water conservation and sustainable economic development.

“Through these workshops, we exposed students from our industrial and innovation engineering programs to team-based problem solving and entrepreneurship,” said Alejandro Sandoval Correa, director of the School of Engineering and Sciences at Tecnológico de Monterrey’s Campus Sonora Norte.

Eighteen student teams, consisting of eight to 10 members, used communication strategies such as concept sketches, benefit-cost analysis and product pitches to conceptualize and present ideas for products that solve a specific water challenge in the region.

“Student competitions centered around a challenge are an effective way of mobilizing knowledge and stimulating creative solutions to a societal problem,” Vivoni said. “In this case, our research activities over the past 15 years in Sonora were mobilized as well to provided context for student-driven innovations.”

The activity promoted student competencies toward earning a degree for the engineering curriculum at Tecnológico de Monterrey, including active participation in multidisciplinary teams and the evaluation of the social, economic and environmental consequences of engineering projects.

At the end of the workshop, three student teams were selected as top innovators in the categories of agricultural, urban and industrial solutions. Two members from each winning team will present their efforts at ASU on Friday, May 24, to a group of students and faculty from the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

People at Sonora-Arizona desert event

The Sonora-Arizona desert event with Arizona State University and Tecnologico de Monterrey.

“Our programs at Campus Sonora Norte will continue to benefit from interactions with universities in Arizona, especially in the areas of sustainability, engineering and regional development. We are looking to Arizona State University as a long-term partner for a wide range of student engagement, research and academic activities,” Sandoval said.

As a tide of momentum continues to rise between institutions of higher education in the Sonora-Arizona megaregion, the opportunity for further innovation continues to entertain the goals that are being pursued by the governors of each state through the Arizona-Mexico Commission. The commission’s 60th anniversary summit will be held June 26–28 in Phoenix. Additional efforts are underway to link universities through the Arizona-Sonora Interuniversity Alliance, established in 2017 to foster knowledge, innovation and education.

“We hope that efforts such as these can create opportunities for further collaboration through graduate degree programs, joint research projects and public engagement across communities,” Vivoni said.

 
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Engineering and humanities collide for social good

May 21, 2019

ASU grad helps spread awareness of homeless population needs among tech field

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 9,865 people experience homelessness on a given night in Arizona. Nationally, 552,830 people lacked housing on a given night last year, including men, women, families, veterans and youth.

People who experience homelessness often lack shelter, clothing and food as well as opportunities for regular employment and health care because they don’t have access to a permanent address, phone line or internet connection.

Since 2016, Baani Khurana has been volunteering with Arizona State University’s Project Humanities outreach initiative to distribute donations of clothing, water and toiletries to people experiencing homelessness in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“My Sikh faith inspires a passion for community service,” said Khurana, who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. “Nonprofit organizations are not given as much exposure in the tech field. I wanted to change that narrative by spreading awareness and helping meet the needs of the homeless population.”

Inefficient processes hinder potential impact

Through volunteering, Khurana noticed organizers struggling to acquire critical resources and redistribute surplus donations to efficiently meet the needs of people who are homeless. Project Humanities, for instance, often has a surplus of women’s clothing but not enough men’s clothing.

The initiative also has a difficult time tracking what items go the fastest, what items are being requested most often and how to share items with other organizations.

“Our greatest challenge is access and distribution of resources,” said Rachel Sondgeroth, an ASU undergraduate student in religious studies and the communications and outreach coordinator at Project Humanities. “Ideally, all the nonprofits in Arizona should be part of a greater network that connects us with resources and gets them to us in a simple and timely manner.”

In researching Phoenix’s homelessness crisis, Khurana found many nonprofit organizations addressing the needs of people who are homeless were disconnected from one another. The disassociation was hindering their ability to maximize their impact in serving the community.

“There is no streamlined process of understanding needs, tracking donations and sharing resources among nonprofit organizations,” Khurana said. “The lack of efficiency, consistency and centralization of the current process decreases the rate at which homeless individuals can be helped. This raises the question: Is it possible to improve this process using technology?”

Project Humanities thesis defense

Baani Khurana (center) poses with Associate Professor Lalitha Sankar (left) and Associate Professor Rida Bazzi at her honors thesis defense for her project, “Privacy Guaranteed Data Collection: The Case for Efficient Resource Management of Nonprofit Organizations,” which was the basis for Khurana’s solution for Project Humanities. Photo courtesy of Baani Khurana

A privacy-guaranteed software solution

For her honors thesis as part of Barrett, The Honors College at ASU, Khurana proposed a privacy-guaranteed software solution to improve the process of collecting statistics on client needs, tracking donations and managing resources more effectively.

As privacy assurance is important to people experiencing homelessness, Khurana wanted to ensure her software could collect data with no personally identifiable information.

She also sought to offer an alternative to databases that require identity documents since many people experiencing homelessness often do not have valid forms of identification. Thus, the software could help nonprofits in assisting clients without needing to know their identity.

Khurana turned to Lalitha Sankar, an associate professor of electrical engineering in the Fulton Schools, for help. Sankar has conducted an extensive amount of research on information privacy for consumers, free online service markets and even critical infrastructure networks.

“Mass violations of individual privacy are happening with technology on a consistent basis,” Sankar said. “Any software designed to serve a broader community needs to offer reasonable privacy guarantees to avoid exposing the identity of those the software solution is intended to serve, such as people experiencing homelessness. Collecting and sharing aggregate data is the first step to limit privacy violations if the designed database does not collect or store any personal data.”

Khurana worked with Sankar to design a two-part prototype solution with an inventory database and web application that only collects queries of donation surpluses and need requests. Additionally, the web application requires an authorized user login to protect resources being shared with multiple nonprofit organizations.

The inventory database stores all the need requests and donation surpluses from nonprofit organizations across the Phoenix metropolitan area. These nonprofits have the ability to browse donations, share resources and ultimately communicate more efficiently to better serve people experiencing homelessness.

“In the future, this software solution can be universally applied and go beyond the scope of Phoenix nonprofits addressing homelessness.”
— ASU engineering graduate Baani Khurana

The web application gives nonprofit volunteers the ability to enter aggregate data, such as a needs request or a donation surplus, and view tables of available resources across the Valley.

“Baani’s inventory database is exactly what we need,” Sondgeroth said. “It will make it easier for us to track our flow of donations, express our needs to the community and expand our network of partnerships.”

Khurana’s software solution will increase standardization, efficiency and automation for nonprofit organizations. The inventory and web application demonstrate a consistent way to collect data across organizations while guaranteeing the privacy of individuals experiencing homelessness. The centrality of the solution increases efficiency and automation by enabling organizations to communicate and make resources more readily available for the community.

“Overall, this database and web application adds value toward nonprofit organizations’ networking capabilities, resource management and resource distribution,” Khurana said. “The percentile of homeless individuals connected to these resources is expected to increase substantially with future live testing and large-scale implementation.”

Khurana will pursue computer science graduate studies through the 4+1 accelerated master's degree program at ASU in the fall. She'll continue to collaborate with Sondgeroth to determine how Project Humanities can start using the database in real time. Additionally, they’ll attempt to get other local nonprofits on board to help maximize their impact and better serve people experiencing homelessness in Arizona.

“In the future, this software solution can be universally applied and go beyond the scope of Phoenix nonprofits addressing homelessness,” Khurana said. “It could potentially expand to any organization in any city that wants to improve resource sharing, collect needs and track donation surpluses, such as women’s shelters, nonprofits for people who experience domestic violence, rehab centers, inpatient hospitalization facilities and more.”

Additionally, Khurana believes the software could be used by redistribution centers serving victims of natural disasters.

“Baani’s honors thesis is technologically motivated for a greater social good, and I think that’s where we need to go with technology,” Sankar said. “She had a goal to create a solution for the local community and achieved it with extraordinary integrity. She’s only scratching the surface of what she can accomplish, and I encourage her to go further with her project.”

Top photo: Computer science graduate Baani Khurana created a privacy-guaranteed software solution to help nonprofit organizations serving people facing homelessness. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Amanda Stoneman

Science Writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-727-5622

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