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Students showcase remarkable ideas at ASU's Day at the Capitol

February 11, 2020

Schools and student groups present their latest work to Arizona state legislators

The marvels of engineering: Our world revolves around remarkable concepts and feats of design, many of which start in classrooms like the ones at Arizona State University.

During the 34th annual ASU Day at the Capitol, students from various ASU schools and colleges, including the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, showcased their work for legislators at Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, across from the Arizona Capitol building. The event gives students, professors and lawmakers an opportunity to connect with each other about the work being done within their districts.

“Today’s exhibits represent just a few of the ways our students and faculty put to practice their creativity in designing solutions to real-world problems that impact the world around us,” said Kyle Squires, dean of the Fulton Schools. “As a hub for engineering and technology innovation, we are working with partners in our community and throughout the state to leverage our place — to make research breakthroughs that will catalyze the tech ecosystem in the Phoenix metropolitan area, drive creation of future industries and improve the communities that we serve.”

One of those real-world solutions was created by the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, which brought a small-scale model to the event to demonstrate the effects of rainfall, runoff and the erosion process in Arizona. The tool is used by the Flood Control District of Maricopa County for public outreach to help people understand the dangers of desert floods.

“Our No. 1 thing is flood safety,” said Chandra Miller, flood warning program specialist at the Flood Control District of Maricopa County. “What is monsoon? Why is it an issue in Arizona? It’s really important for people to understand why it’s happening, and this makes it visually easier for someone to see.”

The School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment is currently working on a larger-scale model for research purposes, which will be used to evaluate engineering designs.

At ASU’s Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics, students and researchers are using nature to come up with sustainable, biologically based solutions to challenges like dust mitigation. Researchers are using the jack bean, a nuisance plant primarily found in southeast Asia, to create a natural cement. The bean produces an enzyme that creates calcium carbonate cement. When mixed with soil and water, it bonds like glue. The center is working with three industry partners to test the water-based solution in an active landfill in Apache Junction.

It’s research like this that may lead to spinoff companies such as Aquavitas — a company that uses wastewater samples to monitor public health risks, including opioid consumption.

“We’re here to save lives,” said Adam Gushgari, CEO of Aquavitas and an ASU PhD graduate of environmental engineering. “We’re here to make lives better. We’re here to improve the quality.”

Gushgari and his professor, Rolf Halden, director of the Biodesign Institute’s Center for Environmental Health Engineering, were able to take their research and give it a broader application, offering full consultation services for municipalities and organizations.

Video by Jordan Currier and Dana Lewandowski/ASU

ASU President Michael Crow also was at the Capitol, talking with students about their work. Motivated by the Helios Rocketry exhibit, he emphasized the importance of engineering.

“How will we ever get to Star Trek? How will we ever build Starfleet Academy, unless we drive engineering faster, harder and larger in every way? That’s what we need to do at ASU,” he said.

Helios Rocketry is an ASU student-led organization that is building a 25-foot-tall, liquid-propelled rocket capable of reaching an altitude of 100 kilometers. The team will compete in the Base 11 Space Challenge in California. The deadline is late next year with a top prize of $1 million. No university team has ever taken on this challenge, but the team’s lead, Elvis Leon, realized the importance of the challenge, especially to further STEM fields.

“If ASU were to build a team and compete in the competition and win, it would be extremely amazing,” said Leon. “We’d be able to use those resources to leave behind something so that other students can have the same sort of experience and get hands-on experience to supplement their classroom education.”

MORE: Community connections will help send ASU rocket to the edge of space

There’s a growing interest in STEM fields, reflected by ASU’s fall enrollment in engineering, which totaled 23,903 — a significant increase from 16,596 in 2014. The bachelor’s degrees currently in high demand are computer science, electrical engineering and information technology. And recently, the school’s online master’s program in electrical engineering was ranked No. 1 by U.S. News and World Report.

ASU has been educating engineers for more than 60 years and now offers 25 undergraduate programs and 44 graduate programs in the six engineering schools. In 2019, engineering research expenditures topped $115 million with the bulk of the emphasis on energy, health, sustainability, education and security.  

Top photo: Sparky poses for a photo with Arizona House Minority Leader and District 4 Rep. Charlene Fernandez during the annual ASU Day at the Capitol at the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza in Phoenix on Tuesday. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Jimena Garrison

Copywriter , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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Community connections will help send ASU rocket to the edge of space

February 11, 2020

Student-led Helios Rocketry lays the groundwork to compete for $1M prize

What do you need to build a liquid-fueled rocket that can reach the edge of space? 

First, a place big enough in which to build it. 

For Arizona State University’s Helios Rocketry, a team of about 50 students competing in the Base 11 Space Challenge, use of 9,000 square feet donated by CAVU Aerospace near Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport just made the race to the stars a lot more attainable. The space is a portion of the new 80,000-square-foot CAVU Component Repair facility.       

“It’s exciting to watch this all come to life; we are so impressed with the drive and vision these young adults show,” said CAVU partner Kenneth Kocialski. “The CAVU team is happy to be a small part of this!”

ASU alumnus Benjamin Hernandez, a founding member of the Arizona Spaceport Alliance and an aerospace representative with Scottsdale-based commercial real estate brokerage firm Keyser, connected with Aric Bopp, executive director of economic development at ASU Knowledge Enterprise.

Hernandez and Bopp reached out to Kocialski and, almost immediately, the team had its manufacturing site.

Helios Rocketry Manufacturing Plan: CAVU Aerospace

Elvis Leon, Helios Rocketry president, shows the team the rocket manufacturing layout within the CAVU Aerospace Facility. Photo by Theresa Grant/ASU

Elvis Leon, Helios founder and president, said the entire team was astounded by how quickly it happened.

“When we walked into that space, we were actually able to visualize our dream,” Leon said.

Said Bopp: “The Mesa Gateway aviation/aerospace ecosystem continues to be the hotbed of technology and innovation with accessible infrastructure, economic incentives and proximity to ASU’s talent pipeline and research facilities. We thank CAVU and Keyser for their support of the ASU’s student-led Helios Rocketry team.

“This support continues to build momentum in prominent areas of scientific research and startup technology that strengthens Arizona as a globally competitive place.”

Another key component of sending a rocket into space is building and testing the engines. 

Hernandez introduced Leon to ASU alum Ryan Christian, vice president and field engineer for Vic Myers Associates, a representative for aerospace and defense manufacturers. From there, the connections increased exponentially.

Most importantly, Christian connected Helios to Honeywell’s San Tan Engine Testing facility, and they are working out details for the team to test-fire its engines there.

“As far as we know, none of the other college teams have access to manufacturing and test-firing facilities of this caliber,” said Leon. “Our alumni keep coming through for Helios.”

Christian also brokered a deal with Dewesoft, a leader in data acquisition for aerospace engineering, that gave the team a significant discount on critical software. He is now working with two additional companies to offer discounts on pressure temperature sensors and flow meters to support the static fire test stand.

Also supporting the team is Ron Alto, STEM advocate and employee development executive for the local chapter of the Vertical Flight Society. Alto connected the team to Phoenix Analysis and Design Technologies, which has volunteered to 3D print critical metal engine parts.

“What I love about Elvis Leon’s vision with Helios is its inclusion of several ASU disciplines and how they've become interdependent,” said Aram Chomina-Chavez, the team’s Fulton Schools of Engineering faculty adviser. “He’s created a real-life work environment.”

ASU Helios Rocketry Team

First row, from left: Glen Hamilton, Ryan Falls, Sergio Rodriguez and Dhruv Jain. Second row, from left: Aaditya Raje, Khushi Singh, Paulina Gomez, Vivian Rodriguez, Jonathan Hernandez, Elvis Leon, Karime Arreguin, Haatvi Thakkar, Karryn Baca and Briana Lopez. Third row, from left: Chinmay Bhale, Abhigya Raval, Josh Stoffel, Avery Wenta, Taylor Inase, Andy Schmidt, Surya Rajagopalan, Prathamesh Mhatre, Chandler Hutchens and Tommy Montero. Not pictured: Areli Diaz, Paul Romero, Genaro Bautista, Sameer Nagul, Peter Vu and Ken Pena. Photo courtesy of Helios Rocketry 

The first team to launch a rocket that crosses the Karman Line, the 100-kilometer designation for the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space, will win the $1 million Base 11 competition prize.

Helios team members are from all ASU engineering disciplines and divided into six specialty areas: structures, propulsion, avionics, testing, flight dynamics and systems integration. They are looking for business team members to build on existing partnerships and manage fundraising campaigns. According to Leon, they’ll look to the business team to take on the next hurdle of funding tools and materials, including the carbon fiber they’ll need to build the rocket.

“Engineering is a process of lifelong learning,” said Christian. “These students are already working with industry to get the job done. They will take that experience of interfacing with business and building relationships with them out onto the job market.

“More importantly, this team is highly motivated to be successful. We think they have a real shot.”

Top image: Members of ASU’s Helios Rocketry team line up to show the length of the rocket they’ll send into space. The team will build its rocket in a 9,000-square-foot industrial space donated by CAVU Aerospace. Photo by Theresa Grant/ASU Media Relations

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications


New podcast series showcases creativity at work in Arizona

February 11, 2020

What happens when artists are invited to contribute to community improvement efforts? This question is at the heart of a new podcast series called AZ Creative Voices.

The series is a chronicle of work supported by the Arizona Creative Communities Institute (AZ CCI). In the spring of 2017, the Arizona Commission on the Arts and Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts — with guidance from Southwest Folklife Alliance and support from the Surdna Foundation and the Arizona Community Foundation — issued a call for small teams representing Arizona cities, towns and neighborhoods to participate in the inaugural Arizona Creative Communities Institute. Photo projections on a historic building in Barrio Anita. With support from Arizona Creative Communities Institute, the Barrio Stories Project celebrated Barrio Anita in Tucson through a two-day heritage festival featuring large-scale video projections on historic buildings, a 1950s-style backyard fiesta and more. Photo by Kate Gross Download Full Image

Twenty-two teams applied; nine were selected, from Barrio Anita in Tucson, Casa Grande, Douglas, Eastlake, Flagstaff, Globe, Phoenix, Tempe and Yuma. The teams, each composed of diverse members of the represented community, received intensive training, one-on-one mentorship and funding support as they explored the myriad ways creativity can be put to work for positive community impact. Team members were part of an active learning network, with opportunities to learn from and with local and national experts, as well as peers from other Arizona cities and neighborhoods.

Podcast producer Regina Revazova introduces listeners to the teams and the communities they’re working in; she also interviews the institutional partners supporting the effort. Along the way, Revazova explores the challenges and successes of this creative partnership; the potential of community-engaged work; and the many discoveries made as participants strengthened their collaborative skills.

“We believe that Arizona thrives when it has a healthy and equitable arts ecology,” said Jen Cole, director of ASU’s National Accelerator for Cultural Innovation. “This means that artists have the resources and support to do their work. It means residents and elected officials recognize that this activity is vital to thriving towns, and it means that institutional partners like ASU can listen and leverage their resources in service to community creativity. We are so thrilled that this collaboration was full of learning, un-learning and challenge, because together we created a deep conversation about what a vibrant arts ecology can be statewide.”

“This podcast series is a beautiful and fitting outgrowth of the AZ CCI initiative," said Jaime Dempsey, executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts. "For two-plus years we learned together — artists and community leaders, educators, dedicated residents, business owners and service providers — all sharing expertise in an evolving creative collaboration. It has been an honor to partner with the communities represented in the AZ CCI and this podcast series, and we can’t wait for listeners to engage with these layered, inspiring community stories.”

Revazova earned her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Nevada, Reno and is the founder of Open Conversation, a podcast production network. She has produced stories for numerous private clients and radio stations, including Phoenix’s NPR affiliate, KJZZ.

“I traveled to many towns, cities and neighborhoods, and all these places I visited opened their doors wide for me, told me their precious stories and invited me to witness the unfolding magic of a powerful, collaborative creativity,” Revazova said of the experience of making AZ Creative Voices. “It takes a village to produce episodes like this, and we've gotten the best ‘village’ to accomplish this goal.”

Listen to podcast at herbergerinstitute.asu.edu/podcasts/az-creative-voices. The podcast is also available on Spotify and Google Podcast, and will be available on Apple Podcast and iHeart Radio soon.

New partnership brings ASU Prep Digital engineering course to Navajo Nation teens

February 10, 2020

Ashley Huskie, 17, has time to think on her hour-and-a-half bus ride to and from school. She makes the trip once a week so she can attend Greyhills Academy High School in Tuba City, Arizona, where she boards in the dormitory during the week and travels home, deeper in the Navajo Nation, on the weekends. She introduces herself with her clan names to honor where she’s from: Deer Spring People Clan, Towering House Clan, Edgewater People’s Clan and Bitter Water People’s Clan. 

A senior at Greyhills, Huskie is working toward a future in organic architecture inspired by her connection to her home and respect for the environment. Greyhills Academy High School students in the first ASU Prep Digital partnership cohort at their school in Tuba City Mary O'Malley (far left), ASU Prep Digital director of Arizona collaboratives, stands with with the Greyhills student cohort and Dana Van Deinse (far right), ASU Prep Digital executive director. Download Full Image

“Where I grew up, most of us, we have homes, yeah, but they’re mobile homes. Or some are regular homes, and they don’t seem to last long. People just leave them,” she said. “They don’t decay in the right way. They cause health issues … and no one can live there and the house just sits there.”

Since the seventh grade, Huskie has been interested in changing the way architecture and home building is approached, for public and environmental health. 

She is already working toward her future in organic architecture by learning in her own community; she’s one of 12 students at Greyhills who are taking an introduction to engineering course on their Tuba City campus thanks to a new partnership the school has with ASU Prep Digital

The cohort of juniors and seniors are taking Engineering 100 together in an initiative that allows students to start earning college credit, get exposed to relevant local career skills and access a huge catalog of coursework. The coursework blends live video sessions, online modules, hands-on project building and more. 

, Greyhills Academy High School senior

Ashley Huskie

There are more than 75 Arizona schools partnering with ASU Prep Digital, but Greyhills is the first tribal partnership and also the first partnership in northern Arizona. The collaboration was born out of a need that the principal voiced: to build a pipeline of educators and amplify college prep options that are accessible for Tuba City students, who sometimes face transportation and financial barriers in accessing higher education.

Greyhills Principal Loren Hudson said the cohort of students are critical thinkers who are hungry for knowledge and appreciate the opportunity to have ASU courses brought to them.

This opportunity is very significant. It allows for students to continue to take college courses that are not normally offered by dual enrollment,” he said. “I believe that it also allows for more rigor and relevance to the types of classes they are interested in and gets them more experience in the college setting.”

Native American students tend to be underrepresented on college campuses. According to the State of Indian Country Arizona Volume 1 report, 3.5% of people on Arizona reservations have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher. Mining, construction and health care are some of the biggest employment opportunities in northeastern Arizona. 

Opening more pathways to higher education was a key motivator in moving the collaboration forward. Mary O’Malley, director of Arizona collaboratives at ASU Prep Digital, said the partnership is a testament to Greyhills Academy’s dedication to their students.

“It’s about relationship building and building innovative models that focus on student success and increase levels of achievement,” said O’Malley. “It’s exciting to see the students begin their studies.” 

The cohort of students chose the engineering topic together; they started their coursework in January and will finish in April. Huskie, who will be the first person in her family to graduate from high school on time, said she was excited to take an engineering course because it will expose her to online classes and science and math. She plans to work in carpentry and take online courses after she graduates and then pursue a four-year degree in architecture. 

“I want to start a new trend to have organic homes that can decay in a good way but also can be up for a long while,” she said. “And I want to be there for my siblings and show them that if I can do, it it’s possible for anyone else to do it and even for them.”

, Greyhills Academy High School senior

Tillman Claw

Tillman Claw, 17, is another senior in the ASU Prep Digital cohort. He said he loves the engineering class because it allows him to harness his interest in creating and building.

“What I’ve liked most about it is that it brings out the creativity in the students. For me, I get to create stuff with my hands because I’m a hands-on person,” he said.  

He said the pace of the course and the peer-to-peer help has made for a collaborative and supportive environment. His favorite part of the class so far was when students had to build a tower out of tissue paper to see how they could make it stand. 

After graduation, Claw plans on working and doing general studies for a year before going on a religious mission trip and then going to school for engineering. He has always loved to build and grew up watching and learning carpentry from his dad. Claw said the engineering coursework was a great preview of what’s ahead in college.

“I wanted to see how the college class was … and be able to build on that if I keep going in engineering,” he said.

The introduction to engineering course is one of about 200 college courses that ASU Prep Digital offers students that go beyond dual enrollment and Advanced Placement. Though any student anywhere in the world can be enrolled in ASU Prep Digital, school partnerships offer greatly reduced tuition, typically about a 30% to 50% savings, for resources that complement what is offered at students’ schools of record. 

O’Malley emphasized that schools’ state funding is not affected by partnering with ASU Prep Digital. Typically either families, schools or districts pay for tuition or curriculum licensing. In the case of Greyhills, the school made the investment so that students could access the coursework at the high school at no cost.

“They’re really investing in their students, and they see the potential and the importance of this opportunity for the kids,” said O’Malley. “Dr. Hudson has worked closely with parents, his school board and the community, and they all really support his vision.” 

O’Malley said that no two ASU Prep Digital partnerships with Arizona schools are alike because the offerings are tailored to what schools need. In Eloy, a partnership helped provide Spanish teachers when the district had a shortage; in Maryvale, ASU Prep Digital provided a rigorous algebra option for gifted seventh and eighth graders; in Miami, a partnership offered a new blended-learning option and teacher training to bolster student resources and outcomes. She said that the partnership may continue after the spring semester, but for now everyone is just happy to see the opportunities at work. 

Hudson, who grew up on the Navajo Reservation with his parents and grandparents, attended school in Tuba City. He earned his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate at Northern Arizona University, and he said it means a great deal to him to promote higher education at Greyhills. 

We believe that postsecondary opportunities being offered to students here will open new doors for them and their families — and indirectly our community,” he said. 

At Greyhills, Hudson said they believe that cooperation is key to furthering education and that he’s thankful to ASU Prep Digital and Arizona State University for the collaboration.

It will take a concerted effort to improve things and issues in our society that we share. We also believe that it is through educating our youth and empowering our communities that we can grow in this positive direction,” said Hudson.

Learn more about ASU Prep Digital or school partnerships.  

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


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Arizona's 3 university presidents promote research as economic driver

Investment in research is key to state's economy, 3 university presidents say
February 6, 2020

Investing in academic advances in technology will create a resilient Arizona economy, ASU President Michael Crow says

Arizona’s economy is strong, but it will require investment in research at the state’s three public universities to grow enough for the future, according to the colleges’ presidents.

“Arizona’s economy turns out to be successful but not resilient,” said Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, who spoke at the "Valley Voices" talk sponsored by the Greater Phoenix Chamber at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix on Thursday.

“It’s successful but not capable of generating the kind of economic growth, beyond population growth, that we’d like to see. To do that, one needs to lay the foundation in a significant way for the new economy," he said.

Crow said that rapid technological changes will make the current ways of doing things obsolete. So ASU is asking the state to invest in expanding the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“We will build inside ASU, as part of the new economy for the future of Arizona, an engineering school that is larger than the entire entity of Georgia Tech,” he said, adding that the return on that investment will grow the state’s economy by $50 billion over 20 years.

Rita Cheng, president of Northern Arizona University, said that research prepares students for the workforce.

“We’re 10% of the research strength of our sister institutions, at about $58 million, but we have become world class in a few key areas — ecology and forestry, astronomy and health, as it relates to underrepresented communities in Arizona,” she said.

“The power of the research at NAU is the impact it has on students, and why Arizona should care is that our undergraduate students, and our graduate students, whether they aspire to be the next generation of faculty, or they go into industry, which your companies want, they’re not coming from institutions that are hearing about research or reading about somebody else’s discoveries. They’re there. They’re having this deep, experiential learning that’s so important to Arizona.”

The "Valley Voices" event at the Musical Instrument Museum on Thursday, sponsored by the Greater Phoenix Chamber, included (from left) Jaime Molera, public affairs chairman for the chamber, who moderated the talk, NAU President Rita Cheng, ASU President Michael Crow and UArizona President Robert Robbins. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Robert Robbins, president of the University of Arizona, said that competing for big federal research grants requires universities to attract high-level people, citing the Osiris-Rex asteroid mission.

“That’s a billion dollar project and others are coming,” he said.

“Oftentimes you have to invest money just to get money. For those $100 million-plus grants, you almost have to invest in a million-dollar planning grant to get it together. So we have to have philanthropy and contracts with companies.”

Robbins said that the three Arizona universities are a powerful force in research.

“I think we’re not competing against each other, we’re competing with the (University of California) system, the (University of Texas) system, the Harvards and Princetons and Stanfords of the world,” he said.

Research that starts with professors in university labs are spinning off into successful businesses, Crow said.

“Universities are powerful transformative forces if you can build a critical mass of discovery and problem solving,” he said, citing Klaus Lackner’s carbon-capture technology and Cody Friesen’s hydropanels that generate clean water from air.

“We have 30,000 people involved in research enterprise at ASU and 11,000 separate projects. We went from not being in the top 200 of patenting universities to the top 10.”

The presidents also talked about how they have increased access to higher education.

“The barriers that some families perceive in college attainment is a difficult conversation across the country. Finances and pathways to college or to technical school or to community college should be clear and they’re often not, particularly to first-generation students, which Arizona has a lot of,” Cheng said.

She said that her university is nearly at 25% Hispanic students, and that many of its Native Americans are third-generation NAU students.

“But it’s still a question of how we work with communities who may be concerned that, 'If my child is educated, they won’t come home,'” she said.

Robbins cited the University of Arizona Medical School’s recent initiative to provide free tuition to graduates who agree to stay in Arizona and work in underserved communities. But there are difficult challenges getting through college.

“Many of our students work not one but two jobs, and housing insecurity and food insecurity are major problems that every university in this country is facing,” he said.

Crow said that ASU went from an overwhelmingly white university with a four-year graduation rate of 12% in the 1980s to having a student body that represents the socioeconomic spectrum.

“I’m not saying the university was bad back then but it wasn’t set up to serve the people. Now, 42% of the kids from Arizona are eligible for Pell grants and almost half the freshmen class is not white,” he said.

“That’s a designed outcome. The way we became more diverse was, one, we wanted to do it, and two, we had to have the means to do it and both of those things have been solved.”

Top image: ASU President Michael Crow speaks at the "Valley Voices" panel discussion held by the Greater Phoenix Chamber at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix on Thursday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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State Farm, ASU announce partnership on Pathways for the Future initiative

February 4, 2020

$30 million gift to drive new education and career development program that targets high school and transfer students, as well as working adults

Arizona State University will prepare learners of all ages to succeed in a transformed workplace thanks to a $30 million gift from State Farm that will fund new programs and scholarships.

The funding, announced Tuesday, will drive the new State Farm Pathways for the Future workforce-development initiative, which will target high school and community college students as well as adults in the workforce who need to update their skills on the go.

"I have a concern that the technological advancements that are occurring in today’s society have the real risk of leaving segments behind," said Michael Tipsord, CEO of State Farm. He spoke at an event announcing the partnership at Sun Devil Stadium on Tuesday.

"You combat that through this continued upskilling of individuals to deal with whatever it is that the world may present. I want our people to have all the opportunities to be able to develop skills and learn in a way that continues to make them relevant and competitive."

State Farm's regional headquarters sits just north of Sun Devil Stadium, and Tipsord said that ASU President Michael Crow was influential in attracting the corporate campus to Tempe. Crow said the partnership is a perfect pairing of two entities that are focused on embracing the future of technology while supporting families and individuals.

"We're excited about this gift and honored to be a partner with State Farm because of the openness and logic with which the gift was approached, which was, ‘How do we now take these resources and not just use them as some generic scholarship,' which is always useful but inadequate," Crow said.

"Here we have a company that’s thinking differently. This investment is looking at each aspect of what we do: Let’s eliminate the financial barrier; let’s build some tools that help us to greatly accelerate who goes to college. It’s not only about money but it’s about ways to overcome barriers."

Pathways for the Future has four components: an online academic program, financial support, tools for success and career coaching.

Participants in the program, called Pathway Scholars, start by earning online credits in one of three tracks: STEM, business leadership, or humanities and social sciences. If a student needs extra help before entering a track, a refresher course or tutoring options will be available. These tracks will lead to an associate degree, undergraduate degree or undergraduate certificate.

One goal of the program is to increase degree completion in Arizona by preparing students to enroll in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the W. P. Carey School of Business, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and other units across ASU.

The State Farm gift will allow students to take courses for a reduced cost. For those interested in earning credit, each course will cost $25 for identity verification, to ensure academic integrity, and $400 for credit conversion. Typically, a three-credit online course would cost approximately $1,500. Additionally, students only pay for credit conversion once they are satisfied with their grade and only if they opt to do so. 

Other financial incentives will be available, including the State Farm Pathways for the Future Scholarship Program, which will help eligible students pay for enrollment fees, conversion of earned admission credits, tuition and summer bridge programs. Crisis funding will be offered to students when personal emergencies could derail their education.

Panelists sit onstage

ASU Vice Provost of Academic Alliances Cheryl Hyman speaks on a panel about preparing students for the future Tuesday at Sun Devil Stadium. She is joined by moderator Jane Oates of WorkingNation; Sarah Mineau, vice president operations, human resources for State Farm; and John Graham of Sun Belt Holdings. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

The gift also will provide support for students on their academic journey. The longstanding Maricopa to ASU Pathways Program, which serves students who begin at the Maricopa Community Colleges and aspire to transfer to ASU, will be improved with a better progress tracker.

One significant new support will be “Universal Learner me3.” ASU’s online me3 planning tool, which launched several years ago, helps high school and college students discover their career interests through a fun, interactive game. Funding from State Farm will help redesign me3 to reach universal learners, primarily mid-career adults who need to upgrade their skills and community college students. In partnership with State Farm, ASU will develop and pilot the new Universal Learner me3, with the potential for the tool to be expanded into other industries and employment possibilities.

The updated Universal Learner me3 will be part of the new Pathways Career and Transition Success Center, which will ensure that Pathways Scholars are ready to immediately enter or reenter the workforce upon coursework completion. Students will have access to career coaching, digital portfolio and resume preparation and mentorships.

The success center will partner with State Farm and other corporations to keep up with workforce trends and job opportunities and to monitor the need for new credentials or certificates. 

Crow said Tuesday that the future of work is changing.

"It’s about the empowerment of the individual," he said. "What we’ll see, if we do this right, is the nature of work and the nature of learning become less differentiated.

"It doesn’t mean you won’t go to college when you’re 18. Some will. Some will go to college when they’re 30, and some will go when they’re 80. Every industry and every sector will be affected by the change, and this investment helps us to accelerate our energy on that issue."

Cheryl Hyman, vice provost for academic alliances at ASU, spoke on a panel at the event, and she described how her career started in the technology industry before she earned an MBA and entered the education field. She said she wished she had been better educated on her career options, and that's why the new Universal Learner me3 is a critical element of Pathways to the Future.

"I've seen thousands of students waste time and money and lose credits and see their financial aid run out, all stemming from a wrong choice that's not their fault," she said.

"We have an obligation to inform every learner of every option they have, and this investment in our transfer tools and me3 allows learners to educate themselves."

Crow said the partnership will have a ripple effect.

"This energy will send a wave. Other companies are listening. Other institutions are listening," he said. 

"State Farm is showing not just philanthropy, but activist philanthropy. ... Hopefully, a hundred other groups will step up and do the same thing."

Top photo: State Farm Insurance Chairman and CEO Michael Tipsord (left), moderator and ASU Foundation CEO Gretchen Buhlig and President Michael Crow talk about their alliance to implement the Pathways for the Future program funded by State Farm Education Assist and $30 million, on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, at Sun Devil Stadium. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU study: Exposure to violence means less access to health care for Somali women in Arizona

January 31, 2020

Migrant women and girls who experienced violent crime are more likely than nonvictims to have health problems and face barriers to vital health care here in Arizona, a new Arizona State University study has found.

The study, published in December in the American Journal of Public Health, is a first-of-its-kind, large-scale survey of Somali women and girls in Arizona that shows the health effects of victimization, defined by researchers as homicide, violence, sexual assault, arson and kidnapping. Dr. Crista Johnson-Agbakwu and Somali cultural health navigator Owliya Abdalla SIRC Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center Watts College Crista Johnson-Agbakwu (seated left) and Somali cultural health navigator Owliya Abdalla (standing right) with a Somali patient. Photo courtesy of Valleywise Health, Refugee Women's Health Clinic. Download Full Image

More than 7,000 Somalis seeking either refuge or political asylum have arrived in Arizona since 1992, the fourth-highest total of any state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet, they remain what study co-authors Kathleen A. Fox and Crista Johnson-Agbakwu of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions call a hidden population.

Their research sheds light on how Somali women and girls use health care in the U.S. and points to the need for a larger, statewide discussion of health issues faced by underserved populations like the Somalis in Arizona. Research also suggests the Somalis’ largest impediments to health — transportation and child care — are solvable through subsidized child care programs, more funding for ridesharing and hiring community health care workers for hard-to-reach populations.

Many longtime Arizonans may not know that Somalis as well as nationals from several other countries have found refuge or asylum in the state, said Fox, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

But many Somali women and girls victimized by violent acts have significantly more health problems and greater difficulties gaining access to health care compared to nonvictims, said Johnson-Agbakwu, a physician and research associate professor in ASU’s School of Social Work and the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center.

“There is among them a major distrust in the health care system and a disconnect among perceptions of health and wellness,” Johnson-Agbakwu said.

Somalis who are unable to speak or understand English well are also often not as knowledgeable about factors affecting their health or how to treat them, she said. Additionally, they are less likely to have a designated place to receive care in Arizona than nonvictims, and tend to rely more on emergency care, which is more costly and yields worse outcomes, she said.

“It’s a major impediment to becoming self-sufficient, healthy and productive in the U.S. for many of the female Somali refugees and asylum seekers,” Johnson-Agbakwu said.

While noting that violence against women is a “global and pervasive problem,” the researchers found that Somali women and girls in particular are at very high risk for domestic violence, child abuse and involuntary family separation.

Fox and Johnson-Agbakwu cited the World Health Association (WHO) statistics saying that female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is prevalent worldwide, with 98% of all women in girls in Somalia affected. FGM/C also puts women and girls at increased risk for obstetric and gynecological complications, as well as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the WHO.

The study also calls for Arizona health care professionals and their staffs to become better educated about culturally appropriate care for migrants; hire linguistically and gender-congruent providers and support staff; engage in community outreach to build trust and enhance health literacy; accommodate needs for child care, flexible hours and transportation for mothers of young children; and extend outreach to crime victims in both health care and community settings.

“These community health workers are cultural health navigators who can share experiences and bridge those gaps in critical ways,” Johnson-Agbakwu said.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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New analysis of firearm deaths by ASU finds most victims are suicides

New ASU analysis of firearm deaths in Arizona finds 71% are suicides.
January 30, 2020

Data project to investigate, report gun deaths is a step toward preventing violence

More than 3,100 people in Arizona died from firearms from 2015 to 2017 and 71% of those deaths were suicides, according to a new report released by Arizona State University.

The report, presented Wednesday by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU, includes a detailed breakdown of types of firearm deaths and the victims, with the intent to use the data to prevent gun violence in Arizona.

“This is information that’s crucial to our understanding of firearm deaths in Arizona,” said Melissa Kovacs, associate director for research for the Morrison Institute, who is co-author of the report.

“What we’re talking about might feel foundational or basic and might raise more questions than it answers, and we have a lot of questions ourselves.”

Among the findings:

• Over the three-year period studied, from Jan. 1, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2017, the number of firearm deaths increased nearly 18%.

• Of the total 3,188 firearms deaths, 71% were suicide, 23% were homicide, 5% were undetermined and 1% were unintentional.

• There was a 14% increase in firearm suicides in the three-year span, from 702 to 798. The rate of firearm suicide per 100,000 people increased from 10.6 to 11.7.

• There was a 27% increase in firearm homicides in the three-year period, from 208 to 265. The rate of firearm homicides per 100,000 people increased from 3.1 to 3.9.

• Firearms were used in 59% of all suicides and in 69% of all homicides in Arizona during the period.

“You can see the numbers have gone up but Arizona’s population has increased in this time as well,” Kovacs said, noting that it’s important to consider the rate per 100,000 and not just the numbers.

The report is a collaboration between the Morrison Institute and the Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety, both in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions at ASU. The center houses the Arizona Violent Death Reporting System, which draws data from law-enforcement agencies, death certificates, medical examiner reports and other sources, such as hospitals. In 2015, the state system began a partnership with a national reporting system that’s part of the Centers for Disease Control, with the goal of creating a set of high-quality data to help prevent violence.

Melissa Gutierrez, a graduate student in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, presents part of the report on firearm deaths in Arizona. She's worked on the project since she was an undergraduate. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Besides homicides and suicides, the researchers also looked at the 42 unintentional firearm deaths in Arizona in the time period. There were five in 2015, 12 in 2016 and 25 in 2017.

“These represent pretty notable increases and this is something we’re all hoping is not a trend,” Kovacs said.

Three-quarters of the unintentional victims were male, as were 90% of the shooters. The median age of the victims was 21, and of the shooters, 24. In nearly two-thirds of the cases, the shooter was playing with, displaying or cleaning the gun. There was one unintentional death related to hunting and none related to target shooting.

While there is a big set of data, it’s filled with holes, for two main reasons: poor reporting by the participating agencies or nonparticipation, according to David Choate, senior research analyst at the Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety.

Significantly, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone withdrew his agency’s participation in the Arizona Violent Death Reporting System when he took office in 2017. The Arizona Department of Corrections and the FBI also don’t participate.

“We’re also hampered by the quality of information,” Choate said.

“When you read a law enforcement report and the entire narrative summary says, ‘See Medical Examiner’s report,’ we’re not getting a lot of information. We get a substantial number of reports with such thin information that we’re unable to code anything.”

That narrative information is important to show the context of violence, in order to find ways to decrease it. For example, in 28% of homicides, the relationship between the victim and the suspect is unknown and in 27% of homicides, the type of gun used is unknown.

The presentation also included policy recommendations by Charles Katz, director of the Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety.

Charles Katz, director of the Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety at ASU, discussed his policy recommendations for reducing firearm deaths in Arizona, including launching an education program to encourage people to lock up their guns. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

“One of the things we’re repeatedly asked for is our recommendations, whether it be for statutes, ordinances, policies or practices, and most of the time, we stay away from it because it gets in the way of our primary role of shedding light on what the real problems are,” he said.

“But we have been repeatedly requested to make recommendations and we’re starting to move in that direction very conservatively,” said Katz, who also is a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Katz’s 10 recommendations for communities to consider, most of which have been based on randomized control trials, are:

1. Expanding the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, which allows law enforcement agencies to more efficiently identify guns that are used repeatedly in violent crimes.

2. Use a “focused deterrence” strategy to fight violent crime, which identifies the “worst of the worst” offenders, who are provided with intervention and social services with the caveat that they will be prosecuted quickly if they stray. “It’s one of the most well researched programs out there that shows there’s at least a medium effect.”

3. Use “Operation Peacekeeper,” a program in which “violence interrupters” work on the streets.

4. Consider “hot spot” policing, in which resources are focused on small areas where violence is the worst.

5. Create homicide review commissions, which gather community members quickly after a homicide to review information and identify trends.

6. Launch education campaigns for safe gun storage. “Perhaps the strategy that is most effective in reducing youth suicide is education campaigns for how to deal with firearms,” Katz said. “The only way youths can get the firearm is through a parent or friend where the firearm is not secure.”

7. Boost child-access prevention laws to increase consequences for unsecured firearms.

8. Increase background checks for gun buyers.

9. Revoke stand your ground laws because research shows that states that adopt these laws see a small increase in homicides.

10. Increase research on violence in Native American communities.

“In some years that we’ve examined the data, when you combine homicides and suicides, American Indians have the highest rate of violent death in the state,” Katz said.

But no one is sure of the Native American population, both on and off reservations. Census data varies widely from tribal counts, he said.

In addition, tribal agencies do not participate in the Arizona Violent Death Reporting System.

“We’ve had to call each nation and try to collect that information and we’ve just made a small dent,” he said.

“The bottom line is that when you call them and ask for it, they say no. It’s their data and they’re permitted to share it with whomever they like.”

Even with all the numbers, the researchers were able to keep the bigger picture, according to David Schlinkert, senior policy analyst for the Morrison Institute, who is co-author of the report with Kovacs.

“Sometimes, when we aggregate quantitative data, you’re less able to see what you’re really talking about. Melissa and I have been looking at this data for 10 months now, and the stories in there are about people,” he said.

“The deaths are violent and it’s not the most pleasant thing to think about. But when we say that number — 3,188 — those are all individual people with lives and stories.”

Top photo: Melissa Kovacs, associate director for research at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, presents the report "Firearm Deaths in Arizona, 2015–2017" at the Downtown Phoenix campus on Jan. 29. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU students gain new perspectives on homelessness in Arizona

Watts College students join hundreds of volunteers in downtown Phoenix for annual point-in-time street count

January 30, 2020

Arizona State University students keep trying new ways to live up to the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions’ slogan #BeTheSolution.

But when being the solution involves learning firsthand about the lives of people on the streets, that takes some extra determination and sharper focus. Two volunteers said joining an annual predawn count of people experiencing homelessness in Maricopa County on Jan. 28 gave them new insights about the issue and the humanity of the people living without shelter. Homeless count volunteers from Watts College visit people on Phoenix streets 1-28-2020 These volunteers from ASU's Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions joined thousands of others in the wee hours of Jan. 28, 2020, to participate in Maricopa County's annual point-in-time (PIT) count of those experiencing homelessness countywide. Download Full Image

Supriya Paidemarry was one of several AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers through ASU’s School of Social Work who at 3:15 a.m. traveled the dark streets of downtown Phoenix along with Watts graduate student Candice Garcia and hundreds of others making the count. The Watts team consisted of eight volunteers.

One of VISTA’s program goals is to eliminate poverty and homelessness. So, to see how many people were on the streets dealing with these challenges was “really eye-opening,” Paidemarry said.

The county’s annual point-in-time (PIT) street count is called a one-night snapshot of the state of homelessness countywide, providing data to guide funding decisions for services and to develop strategies toward ending homelessness in the region.

Each January the PIT count, coordinated by the Maricopa Association of Governments, involves asking people where they slept the night before and to complete a brief survey. This knowledge is combined with information from local emergency shelters and transitional housing programs and reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Watts College is home to ASU’s AmeriCorps program, administered by the college’s Public Service Academy. Watts College is also a sponsor of the Human Services Campus, a collaborative force of 20 partner organizations with the shared outcome of ending homelessness for people every day.

“I was not a fan of waking up so early, but once we were out there it was a really good experience for us and put us in our place,” said Paidemarry, a Johns Hopkins University graduate who joined Watts College volunteers in an area near Central Arizona Shelter Services, a few blocks from the Arizona State Capitol, where several encampments are located.

Garcia said she was attracted to volunteering for the count because as she undertook her advanced standing Master of Social Work program, those dealing with homelessness were whom she was most interested in helping. The day was a good experience, she said, although the number of encampments she encountered was difficult to see at first.

“At first, just driving to the meeting site was a little bit of a reality check. Those encampments — I didn’t exactly prepare myself for the reality of it,” Garcia said.

Supriya Paidemarry Watts College PIT Maricopa County homeless count volunteer

Supriya Paidemarry 

“We’re really fortunate to be here and to be able to volunteer, and (then) sleep in a warm home every night,” said Paidemarry, who plans to attend medical school. “These people experiencing homelessness may not be able to do this. But, by giving back and doing this, maybe we’re able to help.”

Coordinators helped the volunteers learn how to talk to people and learn their stories, she said.

“One person was homeless for seven years. He was 27 years old and homeless since he was 20,” Paidemarry said. “I think he just wasn’t at the right place at the right time. Some of them just haven’t caught a break, no one had given them a chance.”

Most of the people Paidemarry encountered were sleeping, but those who were awake were generally pleasant to talk to, particularly when they were told that the count was to help determine funding and services for those like them.

"The hope is we can do a better job to make this issue much, much smaller." 

— Candice Garcia, point-in-time count volunteer

Last year’s count found 3,188 people living in “unsheltered” situations, up 570 from the 2018 count of 2,618, continuing an annual increase since 2014 in the number of people living on the county’s streets. Between that year and 2019, that number has increased 200%, according to MAG figures. The 2019 count is more than double the 2014 count of 1,053.

Garcia said she saw a woman who said she had a spouse and a child she could go back to, but said she was more comfortable on the street. A man who rode up to an encampment on a bicycle said he’d been homeless off and on for three years. He apparently had a job and was bicycling after work, but may not be earning enough to afford rent, Garcia said.

 Watts College PIT Maricopa County homeless count volunteer

Candice Garcia

According to the the Maricopa Association of Governments, dramatic rent increases in recent years, resulting in evictions, have been driving up the number of people living on the streets throughout the region, compared with previous years when they were concentrated in certain areas.

In addition to those counted on the streets, volunteers also counted others without permanent homes who were staying at a shelter of some kind. In 2019, Maricopa County had 3,426 people in emergency shelters, transitional housing or a safe haven program. 

Garcia said some people were very understanding and accepted the volunteers’ purpose for talking to them. Others were hesitant and distrustful.

“They had more of an attitude of ‘What do I get?’ because they weren’t getting anything today,” she said.

“It’s a reminder of what people are going through, and a nice reminder of remembering to acknowledge the people we see on the street,” Garcia said. “They’re people like us, trying to live their lives day to day and trying to do the best they can.”

Paidemarry agreed. When encountering those on the streets, we must all make sure to remember their humanity, she said.

“Just smile and talk to them. It’s easy to have a conversation. They’re people, after all.”

Garcia said she believed homelessness can be conquered, “otherwise we’re out there for nothing. The hope is we can do a better job to make this issue much, much smaller.”

Perhaps there may always be someone experiencing homelessness, she said. “But I think there can be a lot less than there are now.”

Geography student makes hometown impact on Navajo Nation

January 30, 2020

After winter exams, while many students were eager to scramble home, kick their feet up and empty their minds, Jayvion Chee sat down, opened his books and began to plot his next four weeks.

He was determined to use this time to make an impact on his hometown of Fort Defiance, Arizona, and armed with his education and a resilient mindset, the dream he had been chasing since he was a teen was finally starting to come to fruition. Jayvion Chee (center) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Wildland Fire and Aviation Management, Navajo Region. Photo courtesy of Jayvion Chee. Download Full Image

Chee, a Diné tribe member and graduate student pursuing a Master of Advanced Study in Geography Information Systems in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning at Arizona State University, secured a rare winter internship with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), Wildland Fire and Aviation Management, Navajo Region, through the BIA Partnerships Program. There he leveraged computer science technology and geographic data to help optimize the bureau’s emergency services delivery.

“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” Chee said. “To find a way to use my education to benefit not just my tribe but other tribes. The BIA offered me that chance to come back to where I’m from and where my family lives and use the skills I have learned to create change. I’m extremely grateful.”

The drive to come back home

Fort Defiance is an arid desert community on the Navajo Nation, a self-governed nation with more than 17.5 million acres in the Four Corners region, where raising and selling livestock underpins the economy and culture, and access to professional career opportunities can be challenging.

Today, nearly 40% of households on the Navajo Nation don’t have reliable access to running water and unemployment fluctuates between 40% to 50%, with about 40% of families living below the federal poverty rate.

For Chee, it’s these realities of home and his roots in a humble beginning that formed a strong bond between him and his community. He’s motivated to give back to the place and people that raised him.

Jayvion Chee, Diné tribe member and graduate student pursuing a Master of Advanced Study in Geography Information Systems in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. Photo Courtsey of Javion Chee.

“Growing up in Fort Defiance and the Navajo Nation, a lot of youth don’t have the opportunity or ability to get a secondary education and earn a degree,” Chee said. “Unfortunately, even with an education there’s no guarantee work will be available here on the reservation. There are few positions; they’re very competitive, which can discourage a lot of Natives.”

Chee isn’t deterred.

“The reality of it is that we just don’t have many Navajo professionals in high leadership professional positions. I want to be that someone who is Navajo and that understands the area, the culture, and who gets the education degree and comes back home that can help in that area and that type of field.”

Improving fire response with GIS

Working with BIA Wildland Fire and Aviation Management, Chee leveraged his expertise in geography information systems (GIS) to collect, analyze and map road and boundary data to help optimize response times to get to a fire or disaster area faster and easier.

Bringing his unique perspective and familiarity with his hometown area to the project, Chee leveraged both private and publicly available data to identify road surface type, identified who managed specific road systems (U.S., state, county, or Bureau of Indian Affairs), and created a digital visualization story map.

Quickly excelling at the tasks asked of him, Chee’s project expanded from mapping his home agency of Fort Defiance to encompassing the mapping of four additional surrounding Navajo agencies, including the Chinle agency, the Eastern agency, Western agency and Ship Rock agency.

“The BIA, Navajo Region didn’t have a GIS person on staff,” Chee said. “To be in a position and map out my home community is something I never thought I would be doing. I’m actually helping out my community and it feels great.”

Leaving an impact

Chee is scheduled to complete his Master of Advanced Study in Geographic Information Systems in August 2020. Through the Bureau of Indian Affairs Partnerships Program, he has secured an entry-level career position with the Wildland Fire and Aviation Management, Navajo Region, upon completion of his degree and program requirements.

Chee says he is incredibly grateful for his family and the opportunities that his education and research have created for him.

“I was in Washington, D.C., presenting my research at a conference and saw the White House for the first time and said wow,” Chee recalled. “How did a little rez (reservation) boy like me get the ability to come out here and experience this?”

Chee is a model of possibility, not only for his peers but for the greater community.

“For me to come back to Fort Defiance it just makes me happy,” Chee said confidently as he flashed a smile. “To work for my own community and do something I love doing, like GIS, it’s a dream.”

Snapsot of the data visualization story map Chee created for BIA Wildland Fire and Aviation Management, Navajo Region. Courtesy of Jayvion Chee.

David Rozul

Communications Program Coordinator, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning