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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


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Cultural, academic partnership explores Latinx experience in 'Block Chronicles'

January 28, 2020

Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College Professor Juan Carillo co-developed a new web series and online magazine

Juan Carrillo and Jason Méndez came from opposite sides of the country, taught at rival colleges, cheered for clashing NBA teams and even listened to different hip-hop.

They were the epitome of East Coast and West Coast. 

Far from home, they both felt like fish out of water, but they shared similar cultural backgrounds and lived experiences. So an unlikely friendship formed, leading to a podcast, a national-level web series, a feature documentary film and projects that continue to evolve.

“We are ‘scholarship boys,’ because we both come from working-class spaces and we entered mainstream society where we have had to negotiate feelings of gain and loss,” said Carrillo, an associate professor at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. He hails from south Los Angeles and is the son of Mexican immigrants from the state of Sinaloa. “As Latino males in academia, there was a sense of dislocation from our communities, and we felt very isolated.”

Méndez and Carillo were both in North Carolina teaching at competing colleges when they met in the fall of 2012. Carrillo was teaching at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was the founding director of the Latinx Education Research Hub when Méndez, an education professor at Duke, invited him to speak at a lecture series he was hosting.

“Juan gave a great talk about family, culture, displacement and hitting upon all of these touchstones and themes that really resonated with me,” said Méndez, a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, New York.

The two men felt an immediate connection, which deepened when they brought their families together. They all got along.

They shared stories of their past with music blasting in the background. Carrillo was partial to Tupac Shakur and Ice Cube while Méndez preferred the likes of the Wu-Tang Clan and Nas. They also got together for televised NBA games, with Carrillo rooting for the Lakers against Méndez’s New York Knicks. They fell into a quick routine of smack talk during the games or while doing battle on PlayStation; it was all in good fun.

“We were allowed to have these human moments together and be free and not think about the pressures of academia,” Méndez said. “It was a friendship that had quickly evolved into a brotherhood.”

Through their shared stories and experiences, an idea evolved: Why not record a podcast of one of their conversations and see where it goes? They recorded a two-hour conversation and called it Block Chronicles — the title referring to stories from their past and growing up on “the block.” It became a space to respect the cultural resources and knowledge that raised Carrillo and Méndez and bridged their communities in ways that were not oriented in a deficit perspective.

It took a few months to get the project off the ground. By the time the podcast was finally posted, the two men had moved on in their professional lives. Carrillo landed at ASU. Méndez moved to Pittsburgh, where he pursued a career in the literary arts. Today he is visiting professor of education in the Center for Urban Education at the University of Pittsburgh.

Even though they were separated by thousands of miles, they still wanted Block Chronicles to grow. In early 2018 Méndez applied for a $10,000 grant through the Pittsburgh Foundation to film a seven-episode web series on various Latinx communities across the country. He promptly forgot about the application until he received an email a few months later.

“It read, ‘Congratulations, you are the recipient of a $10,000 grant,” Mendez said. “I called two people: one of my best friends, Cameron Parker, a professor at Brunswick County College in Wilmington, North Carolina. He used to be a producer for ESPN. Then I called Juan.”

Even though they abandoned the podcast, they kept the Block Chronicles name and pushed along an innovative approach that included a web series and later, an online magazine. They shot the first few episodes in Pittsburgh — all of it on iPhones to keep their costs down. Using mobile filmmaking enabled them to shoot 31 episodes. They visited places like New Mexico, Arizona, Puerto Rico and their respective hometowns — Los Angeles and the South Bronx.

“There is a lot of gentrification taking place around us and many in the community want a place where they can have that old-school identity."

— Sandy Flores, owner of Azukar Coffee in Phoenix.

In Los Angeles, they profiled award-winning writer Lilliam Rivera, who penned the young adult novels “The Education of Margot Sanchez” (2017) and “Dealing in Dreams” (2019). They also interviewed actor Taye Diggs (“All American”) about his series of children’s books, “Chocolate Me!” (2011), "Mixed Me!" (2015) and “I Love You More Than” (2018).

Over the course of eight months, they interviewed people in fields ranging from education and public health to arts and culture: This included musicians, artists, community activists, business owners, teachers, professors, researchers, photographers and a renowned urban revival strategist.

In December, they profiled Sandy Flores, owner of Azukar Coffee. Located in the heart of South Phoenix, the shop was the perfect story to showcase the fortitude of how a longtime community fixture is faring in the face of gentrification.

“The coffee shop is an identity for our community because it’s a place that brings people together,” said Flores, who hosts monthly art shows, workshops and yoga classes and holds an annual Dios de los Muertos event in the space. “There is a lot of gentrification taking place around us and many in the community want a place where they can have that old-school identity. It’s one of the few places in Phoenix that has generations of people that grew up and remained here.”

Block Chronicles really started to flourish thanks to the AW Mellon Grant Program, which awarded Carrillo and Méndez a $15,000 grant. The money gave them an opportunity to turn a 20-minute short about a Puerto Rican Celebration Day in Pittsburgh into a full length documentary feature called “Boricuas in the Burgh.” For the film, which will debut in 2021, they tapped their new friends Lilliam Rivera to narrate and Taye Diggs and Emmy Award-winning Emmai Alaquiva to co-direct. All of them said yes without hesitation.

Rivera agreed to narrate the documentary because their work will elevate the Puerto Rican community.

“I’m always paying attention to people who are documenting creative people of color and doing things that are really interesting and not getting enough play,” Rivera said. “I was excited about Block Chronicles because of the people they’ve chosen to highlight. There’s a community aspect to their work that elevates others and so it was an easy ‘yes.’ Even if this was something I wasn’t involved with, I know I would have promoted it on social media. I want to align myself with people who are doing positive things.”

The two educators have future plans for establishing Block Chronicle labs working with youth from communities similar to their own to produce their own content. They also want to shoot episodes in Mexico and other countries such as Iceland to explore Latinx communities and identity in unlikely places.

“It’s an exciting period for us because I’ll be eating Raisin Bran at 1 o’clock in the morning and get a phone call from Jason about collaborations in the works with artists, educators and Hollywood actors and I’ll be like, ‘Wow,’” Carrillo said. “It’s all happened so fast. There’s an energy that’s bigger than the both of us and I’m always reminded that Block Chronicles is about how education can happen beyond the walls of the classroom and how we can learn from places and people that are often overlooked.”

Top photo: Juan Carrillo (left) an associate professor in ASU's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and Jason Méndez, an assistant professor of urban education at University of Pittsburgh, talk about their Block Chronicles collaborative project, a national web series and online magazine profiling educators, artists, researchers and community organizations in the fields of Latinx and urban issues. They met at Azukar Coffee in south Phoenix, before interviewing shop owner Sandra Flores on Dec. 12, 2019. The artwork behind them was created for Azukar by local artist Lalo Cota. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU helps answer high schoolers’ top FAFSA questions

Since the Benji chatbot launched Oct. 1, more than 9,000 users have turned to it for answers about FAFSA

January 27, 2020

When the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opened on Oct. 1, a resource for Arizona high schoolers was born. Benji the chatbot, a collaboration between Arizona State University and community and educational partners throughout the state, has been the friend with whom more than 9,000 users have consulted in the past few months to receive answers 24/7 to questions about how and why families should fill out the FAFSA to receive funding for higher education.

The Project Benjamin initiative, named for the money ($100 bills) that filling out the FAFSA can save a family, is a $1 million grantee of the Schmidt Futures’ Alliance for the American Dream competition. All funded projects were charged with using artificial intelligence and data science to either increase the income or decrease the expenses of 10,000 middle class families by 10% by the end of 2020. Project Benjamin partners include College Success Arizona, Achieve60AZ, the Arizona Commission on Postsecondary Education, Helios Education Foundation, Mesa Public Schools, Maricopa Community Colleges, Be A Leader Foundation, AzCAN and AdmitHub.  Young woman using a smartphone Download Full Image

The way Project Benjamin is tackling the challenge is by helping Arizona families access federal funding that is already available but is underutilized.

Heidi Doxey, project manager at College Success Arizona, said that annually $69 million in Pell funding for Arizona students is left on the table because no one applies for it, and the average federal funding award in the state after filling out the FAFSA is just shy of $10,000. That’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of federal and institutional aid that’s available; but it’s only available to students who fill out the FAFSA. 

Since the average middle class Arizona family makes about $60,000 a year, taking advantage of the average funding award would increase families’ income or decrease educational expenses by well over 10% by just filling out that crucial form, and the technology will utilize students’ and parents’ prevalent use of mobile devices.

“The chatbot is something we think a lot of students will utilize and will be a great tool for both middle income families and also across the board. And that’s key, because the only way to access federal aid and institutional aid is through FAFSA,” Doxey said.

But the FAFSA can be intimidating to complete. Some of the most common questions Benji has received so far are “What is an FSA ID and where do I get one?”

An FSA ID is a username and password that students and parents need to visit a different site to generate. They both need one to cosign the form. It’s a confusing step and is, unfortunately, said Doxey, the first one.

Other common questions include “Where do I find FAFSA?” or “Where do I start?” or questions about the immigration status of the student or parent or whether parents without a Social Security Number can fill out the form. 

Doxey said a huge part of the appeal is that Benji is an approachable way to ask these questions.

“People are concerned, and Benji is confidential,” Doxey said. “They don’t have to go to a counselor. … You can text this robot, who automatically responds with the correct answer.” 

And if Benji doesn’t know the answer? He’ll find out and the answer will be added to his “brain” and will become accessible within his knowledge base for the next inquiry. Benji also can send notifications about relevant events and deadlines customized based upon who the user is: students, parents or educators.

That is one reason why Abraham Valencia, a senior at Westwood High School and a FAFSA peer coach for the school, likes the chatbot. “I like Benji. ... It’s a project still, and they have done a really good job with the AI and how it grows with the number of questions you ask,” he said.  

The Project Benjamin team shares the same statewide goal as the Arizona FAFSA Challenge, which is to ensure that at least 52% of graduating seniors complete the form in 2020, which would be an increase of 5% over last year. 

So far, 14 school districts have signed on as partners to promote the Benji chatbot tool and work to move the needle on FAFSA completion among Arizona high school students: Queen Creek, Mesa, Scottsdale, Marana, Maricopa, Peoria, Glendale, Phoenix Union, Florence, Gilbert, Higley, Chandler, Tempe Union and Yuma Union.  

There is a lot of momentum around FAFSA completion among educators, and Benji has been a welcome tool to meet students where they are. Interacting with Benji doesn’t require anything more than a text message: Try it out by texting 602-786-8171. 

A lot of my students work right after school and do not have a lot of time to stop by our office and seek FAFSA help, so I just give them Benji’s card so they can ask questions on their own time,” said Bryan Pisetsky, Marana High School college and career counselor.

“They find this super convenient, and I think it is a large part of the reason our number of FAFSA completions has increased by about 5% compared to last year at this time,” he said.

School districts have also been spreading the word about Benji through peer mentors, marketing, counseling and events. At Mesa Public Schools, college and career coach Ben Fisher said they’ve jumped up 10 percentage points in completion in two years and are eager to build on that success with 27 peer coaches, about four seniors at every high school, who are trained to promote and support their peers to complete FAFSA. 

One of our objectives for our peer coaches is for them to use relevant technology to support students. One of those technologies is Benji ... A few of the peer coaches have said that they pull out their phone regularly and ask Benji a few questions and that Benji has directed them to the right place in order for students to complete their FAFSA,” Fisher said. 

Fisher hears from students about the convenience and the barriers that Benji helps overcome. In Mesa schools, he said, it might be immigration status, or it might be students who are going on religious mission trips after high school and may not think the FAFSA is relevant to them, even though students can sometimes defer aid or scholarships for use when they return.

“For students who are college bound, it is breaking some of those barriers that are put up financially or even nonfinancially, just helping them get through that process,” Fisher said.

“A student who may be on the fence because of money may not realize how much money they can receive through the federal government through grants; when they fill out the FAFSA and see that there can be a switch to being college bound,” he said. 

FAFSA completion not only opens up access to funding; it’s also tied to academic enrollment: 90% of high school seniors who complete FAFSA attend college directly from high school. The emphasis on both short-term income for families and long-term economic opportunities through education is part of what makes Project Benjamin so unique.

“Project Benjamin is already having a catalytic effect on students and families,” said Sylvia Symonds, associate vice president for Educational Outreach and Student Services at ASU. “Leveraging technology along with our collaborative partnerships, we are now able to scale FAFSA completion in Arizona. These efforts will open the door to economic opportunity for thousands of families.” 

FAFSA applications are open now. For funding in the 2020–21 school year, complete your FAFSA as soon as possible; the last day to apply for funding for 2020–21 is June 30, 2021.

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


Connecting ASU innovation to national defense needs

January 27, 2020

With six major active-duty military installations, the most innovative university in the nation and branches of companies like Boeing, Raytheon and General Dynamics calling the state home, Arizona is built to be a national security powerhouse. The challenge is that defense contractors and higher education institutions aren’t aligned into a cohesive ecosystem that can quickly respond to the Department of Defense’s most pressing challenges.

Enter Drew Trojanowski and Samantha Hiller, who recently joined Arizona State University to build those connections and help the university work with the Department of Defense (DOD) to rapidly innovate new solutions for problems that require minds from many disciplines. Drew Trojanowski Drew Trojanowski is the new assistant vice president of strategic initiatives at ASU Knowledge Enterprise. Photo by Andy DeLisle Download Full Image

Trojanowski is an ASU alumnus and a veteran of the U.S. Army. After leaving the military, he moved back to his native Arizona, where he witnessed firsthand the 2014 Phoenix VA scandal that brought the health care system’s inadequacies into the national spotlight.

“The failure of the federal system was anathema to me, and I wanted to figure out how to fix it, how to make it more effective,” he said. “That’s just my modus operandi as a person.”

That journey led him to become the senior policy adviser to Sen. John McCain and serve as the special assistant to the president for the Domestic Policy Council at the White House. There he helped create the MISSION Act, which strengthens the VA health care system and improves veterans’ access to health care.

He brings that same knack for improving existing systems and envisioning better ones to his new role at the university. As the assistant vice president of strategic initiatives for the ASU Knowledge Enterprise, he will be strategizing the university’s efforts related to veterans and defense.

“The opportunity is right on the table for Arizona to break through and become a market for emerging national security technology,” Trojanowski said. “I believe that ASU should be the catalyst for a national security innovation ecosystem.”

To find out how to effectively leverage the might of ASU’s researchers and students to create solutions for national security, he first needs to know what the DOD needs. That’s where Hiller comes in.

Hiller, who formerly served as McCain’s press secretary in Washington, D.C., now serves as the university program director for ASU on behalf of the National Security Innovation Network, a DOD program office within the office of the secretary of defense, research and engineering. NSIN works with nontraditional problem solvers to generate and accelerate new solutions to national security challenges. In addition to ASU, the National Security Innovation Network has program directors on the campuses of six other top research universities.

Samantha Hiller

Samantha Hiller is the ASU-based university program director for the National Security Innovation Network. Courtesy of Samantha Hiller

“For us to be strategic in the way that we're deploying our programs and connecting dots, it's most helpful to have somebody on the ground,” said Hiller, who partners with Trojanowski to match the DOD’s needs with ASU’s resources. “My goal here is to turn Arizona’s defense footprint into an ecosystem, with ASU at the epicenter.”

Two of several of the network's programs that Hiller will implement at ASU starting this spring are X-Force and Hacking for Defense. Both programs afford graduate and undergraduate students the opportunity to collaborate with the U.S. military to solve national security problems.

The X-Force fellowship allows students to either work remotely or embed with a host military unit for applied national security problem solving. Applications are available for summer 2020, with other programs offered throughout the year. The program calls for students with a range of skills, such as STEM, app development, data analysis, hardware prototyping, social media strategy and technology scouting.

Students participating in the fellowship also gain access to unique experiences. On Jan. 27, the National Security Innovation Network will host an F-35 Lightning II and MV-22 Osprey at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, near the Polytechnic campus, where this semester’s X-Force students, as well as faculty and staff, will get an up-close look at the aircraft.

Hacking for Defense will be offered through ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the School of Sustainability as a spring 2020 course for both undergraduates and graduates called, “Lean startup problem solving for sustainability.”

Students in this class will design, build and test solutions for real-time DOD needs while engaging with both the military and civilian defense companies. It not only gives students applied experience in their fields, but also benefits local defense companies, who will have a pool of knowledgeable future employees in a high-demand industry.

And those DOD needs aren’t all about weaponry and warcraft — most involve everyday problems that, if solved, would help service members be safer and more efficient.

Trojanowski gives the example of F-16 hangars at Luke Air Force Base. The hangars were built specifically to house F-16s, but the base now needs them to service F-35s. These planes have exhaust pipes nearly twice as big as those on the F-16s, which make the ambient temperature inside the hangar deadly. Trojanowski argues that the situation is the perfect opportunity for students to engage.

“Students can create a hypothesis, build a minimum viable product and work with the stakeholder until they have a deployable solution,” he said. “From there, it becomes a discussion around transitioning to government sponsor and building a new company.”

Hiller and Trojanowski have a common goal, which is to demystify national security to students and researchers who may not know how their skills can serve the country.

“Almost every discipline that you can think of applies to the Department of Defense,” Hiller said.

National security is a broad term that refers to efforts that ensure the country survives and thrives. It encompasses much more than people may realize, such as communications, design, psychology, health, agriculture, energy, business, analytics, artificial intelligence and engineering.

Trojanowski envisions a future in which ASU innovation on all these fronts — and more — is part of a statewide ecosystem that can act quickly when the DOD needs a solution.

“We are designing this to solve problems in a way that no one else is — agile, innovative and disruptive. No one else is thinking with this type of entrepreneurial mindset right now. That will give us a very specific advantage,” Trojanowski said. “We will become the go-to place to quickly solve national security problems.”

Mikala Kass

Communications Specialist, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


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January 24, 2020

Annual event invites community on campus during February to explore and discover

One university, multiple locations and a plethora of research projects, but what exactly is happening in the classrooms and labs at Arizona State University? Block your calendar and invite your friends to take a sneak peek at what Sun Devils are really up to and why ASU is the most innovative university in the nation five years in a row.

Each year during ASU Open Door, ASU welcomes the community to visit the spaces accessible only to students, faculty and staff. Open Door is a signature event of the Arizona SciTech Festival and features all things science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) nearly every Saturday during the month of February.

West campus
1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1

Downtown Phoenix campus
1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8

Tempe campus
1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22

Polytechnic campus
1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 29

It’s a time where young learners outnumber the college students. There is no age limit on learning, and whether you’re new to school or a lifelong learner, you’re sure to find something you enjoy and learn something new.

“What makes ASU Open Door so unique is that visitors not only see the spaces and labs where students learn, our students and faculty are able to talk to the community about the exciting things they do here,” said Darci Nagy, ASU special events manager. “They share their research and knowledge in a fun and interactive way.”

Visitors can explore the spaces that house innovative research, discoveries and art: Pet a snake or two and find out what’s really in whale poop. Open Door highlights the purposeful research being done at ASU, the solutions being developed and the impact it’s making in communities — all while having a little fun.

ASU hosts hundreds of interactive, hands-on activities across the four campus locations. Each campus has a different personality, look and feel, making each feel like an individual, unique adventure.

West campus

Head to the green lawns of West campus. It kicks off the monthlong event with forensics, crime scene investigation, glow-in-the-dark rocks and sharks. Sharks? Yep — sharks in the desert is a real thing at West.

James Sulikowski is a marine biologist, professor and associate director at the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences. He studies aquatic life, including sharks, and visitors can see his collection of shark jaws at Open Door.

He’ll share interesting facts, dispel myths and how people can help shark conservation efforts.

“Sharks are incredible animals that both fascinate and terrify people,” Sulikowski said. “Unfortunately, misinformation and misconceptions have left many sharks unjustly vilified. I hope everyone walks away from our Open Door event knowing how import sharks are to the marine ecosystem.”

Humans are not on the shark menu, he added.

Downtown Phoenix campus 

In the heart of downtown Phoenix, plenty of activities abound: Coral reefs, meditation and mindfulness tips, the World Press Photo Exhibition and even PBS Kids can be found. There are no elephants at the Downtown Phoenix campus, but there will be elephant toothpaste — a chemistry experiment that generates a colorful volcano of foam. 

Cayle Lisenbee is a general biology and microbiology lecturer at the College of Integrative Arts and Sciences, and events like Open Door allow him to share science in a way that visitors might not otherwise experience.

“The elephant-toothpaste reaction is a super fun demonstration that is intended to generate excitement and stimulate the natural curiosity that kids and parents have about science,” he said. “I hope that they develop a renewed interest in asking questions and finding answers that add value to their day-to-day lives.”

Events like Open Door allow students, faculty and staff to give back to the community in a positive way and show people ASU’s commitment to education and research, he added.

Tempe campus 

Join Open Door at the campus where it all started, Tempe. Glassblowing, reptiles, art, dancing, poetry and NASA. Visitors should bring their walking shoes to explore activities spanning the entire campus and get ready for a deep dive with the students who are part of Underwater Robotics at Arizona State, a competitive underwater robotics team on campus.

Kira Tijerino, a senior studying mechanical engineering, has been involved with the student organization since she was a first-year student.

Tijerino says that part of their passion is inspiring the next generation of engineers and STEM professionals through events such as these, demonstrating their swimming robot and allowing visitors to guide it underwater.

“I think it’s important to share our work with kids and parents who visit this event because I can look back to my childhood and remember how activities like these became my inspiration to choose engineering as a career path,” she said.

Polytechnic campus 

Race into the last week of Open Door with Baja Sun Devil Racing at the Polytechnic campus. Visitors can talk to the all-female, award-winning Desert Wave robotics team; check out algae; and attempt a smooth landing at the air traffic control simulation lab.

Marc O'Brien, chair of ASU's aviation program at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, slowed down enough to say that Open Door at Polytechnic allows the community to experience the kinesthetic and collaborative events that the aviation program provides its students.

“I hope it inspires someone to consider a career in aviation,” he said.

“I hope kids leave with a renewed curiosity for all things science, technology, engineering, arts and math,” Nagy said. “And parents leave with a better understanding of the learning and teaching that takes place at ASU and why it’s considered one of the most innovative universities in the nation.”

Follow the excitement on Twitter and Facebook, and share your best Open Door photos with #ASUopendoor.

For more information on dates, locations, free tickets and parking, visit opendoor.asu.edu.

Top photo: Five-year-old Elizabeth Unrein, of Buckeye, Arizona, looks at cancer-fighting superbugs at the ASU Open Door on the Tempe campus on Feb. 23, 2019. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

ASU’s special event management students take part in the 'Greatest show on Grass'

January 24, 2020

This tournament has it all: the biggest names in golf during the day and the biggest names in entertainment at night.

More than $147 million donated to charities in the Waste Management Phoenix Open's 84-year history. A build-out of grandstands, security magnetometers, hospitality skyboxes. Parking logistics, volunteer management, a commitment to sustainability through zero waste initiatives, social media impressions and so much more. group of people at golf course ASU students and faculty member Erin Schneiderman on the 18th hole at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Download Full Image

When Arizona State University's special event management students were offered an opportunity to get involved in the largest golf tournament in the world, they didn’t waste any time.

On Thursday, Jan. 23, about 60 students were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the TPC Scottsdale golf course and auxiliary venues just days before it would open to the public — an estimated attendance of 750,000 patrons. Students met with representatives from the Thunderbirds, the charitable organization that produces the tournament and associated events; ProEm Event Services, which handles the infrastructure, safety and security; and M Culinary, which supports the hospitality venues with food and beverage.

Students were welcomed by Tim Woods, 2020 tournament chairman, who offered appreciation for those students who would be returning the following week to volunteer their time. He told the group that the Thunderbirds were excited to surpass the $150 million charitable donation mark this year, an incredible accomplishment over the 85-year history of the tournament.

Next, Brady Castro, principal at Pro Em National Event Services, led students on a tour of the course focusing on ticketing, types of tenting, hospitality and sponsorship.

“Every component of the open focuses on ways to maximize giving through sponsorship,” Castro said. “The more we can sell to companies interested in becoming, the more we can give to charity each year.”

For the final leg of the tour, Doug Janison, managing partner at M Culinary, discussed the strategy behind feeding upwards of 60,000 meals in the hospitality venues over the six-day event. Janison and his team of 700 staff members and temporary workers begin staging for the event in September and work daily out of the commissary to ensure all plans are in place.

When asked about their sustainability efforts, Janison told students there are two options for leftover food.

“If food is customer-facing (offered to patrons), it is not salvageable and food waste goes directly to compost,” Janison said. “We aim for under 5 tons.”

Janison also explained that food that is not cooked is picked up by St. Mary’s Food Bank and distributed to 47 various recipients.

Some students have attended the tournament in the past, and they were encouraged to take the tour with a new lens of observation. For some, this was their first time on the course.

“My biggest takeaway would be the importance of networking; having created reliable partnerships has allowed Waste Management Phoenix Open to continuously adapt to the ever-changing needs of attendees,” said Aracely De La Cruz, a senior studying public service and public policy (business) with a minor in nonprofit leadership and management. “There are so many moving parts behind the making of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and it was an enjoyable experience being able to hear and see the amount of work and attention to detail that came from a vision that began decades ago."

During the week of the tournament, Jan 30 to Feb. 2, 40 event management students will be volunteering at the golf tournament in the volunteer appreciation zone. Students will work on customer service, setting up a tabletop display and inventory, and they will receive perks, including admission to the tournament during the week, meals and gifts.

“It is important for our students to understand the amount of work, details and commitment to host a large-scale event such as the Waste Management Phoenix Open,” Clinical Professor Erin Schneiderman stated. “At this tournament there are several moving parts that all have to operate in concert for this to be a successful event, and we love the fact that our students can get a glimpse into the strategy behind it all.”

ASU’s Special Event Management program offers students with an interest in working in the special event industry an opportunity to learn fundamental principals of producing a wide range of events including concerts, festivals, weddings, conventions, sporting events and more. Students can pursue a minor or concentration that ties their degree into the field of event management or the six-credit certificate to add to their degree, which will put them at a competitive advantage entering the workforce.

Clinical Assistant Professor, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions