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ASU's 29th annual March on West celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.'s leadership through service

January 23, 2020

Students, teachers and members of the community witnessed history come alive as they gathered to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy at the 29th annual March on West on Jan. 22.

The March on West at Arizona State University’s West campus is one of the many traditions hosted by ASU where the community is reminded of the powerful difference they can make. In 2020, the theme for the celebration was, “We are all connected.” ASU faculty member Charles St. Clair reenacts Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech at the 29th annual March on West event on Jan. 22. Photo by Alexis Alabado Download Full Image

“Dr. King and ASU President Dr. Crow are in lockstep with the belief that inclusion, diversity and equity will make the world a better place,” said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, MLK Jr. committee chair, vice president for cultural affairs at ASU and the executive director of ASU Gammage. 

“All people are entitled to an education, and all people receiving their education will give back to the community, to the state, to the nation and to the world.”

Volunteers greeted more than 900 middle school students from nine different schools across the Valley. The students were divided into “city” classrooms where each keynote speaker presented different aspects of the Martin Luther King Jr. era relating to their city. 

Allan Harris, a sixth grade math teacher at Campo Bello Elementary School, said the demonstration gave students a different appreciation for the struggles that others went through for their benefit.

“If we can build collaboration at this level, that’s where you get to see the movement of the next generation,” Harris said.

Students then created posters with phrases such as “Equal rights,” “I have a dream” and “Education for all” to take with them as they marched from Paley Gates to Kiva Hall, recreating King’s march on Washington, D.C., in 1963.

ASU MLK Jr. servant-leadership awardee Oscar Hernandez-Ortiz spoke to the crowd about the legacy of King and the importance of challenging injustices today.

“We want them to relive these moments because we want them to understand how powerful they were,” Hernandez-Ortiz later said following the speech. “I want them to realize that although we have a holiday and celebrate it, I know that they can understand — even at their young age — that there are still many injustices that we see day-to-day. The fact that they’re here and they have teachers that bring them to these kinds of events is a statement from ASU and our communities in Arizona that we’re ready to develop the kind of leaders we want.”

The celebration came to a moving end as Charles St. Clair, ASU faculty member and four-time Emmy Award-winning director, reenacted the “I Have a Dream” speech, a tradition St. Clair has been a part of for the past 29 years.

Marketing Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage

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Telling digital food stories

January 21, 2020

ASU's Center for the Study of Race and Democracy hosts community writing event about connecting digitally through food

Tamale season is that time just before Christmas when friends and relatives come together to partake in the time-honored tradition of soaking corn husks, cooking fillings, spreading masa and rolling it all up into hundreds of delicious little meat pockets.

Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez, assistant professor at ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, kicked off last week's "Digital Storytelling: Imagining Community Through Food Stories" event with her family’s own tamale-making story.

One year, horrified at her mother’s suggestion that they buy tamales instead of making them, Fonseca-Chávez determined to lead the endeavor herself. Because aside from the mouthwatering food that results, making tamales is really about connecting as a family.

“The point is it takes our entire family for this to happen,” she said. “So regardless of how much work it is, it’s worth it.”

Food can bring not just families but communities together through shared values and experiences. And in the digital age, it’s easier than ever before to connect through food.

That was the goal of Saturday’s event, in which Fonseca-Chávez led participants through a workshop on how to write about, share and add to their food stories through digital engagement on websites like Facebook, Instagram and Bon Appetit.

College of Integrative Sciences and Arts Associate Professor of communication and culture Manuel Aviles-Santiago, who helped organize the event, referred to the increasing phenomenon of the “digital foodprint” as inspiration for the day’s workshop.

“By ‘digital foodprint’ I refer to the digital data we produce — intentionally and unintentionally — about food on social media (i.e. restaurant reviews, status updates, sharing images, recipes),” he said. “Our goal is to help understand the impact of these digital food stories in the configuration of community and sense of belonging.”

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Participants of Saturday's Words on Wheels "Digital Storytelling" event wrote down family recipes then shared them with the group to begin the process of creating a story they can share digitally with their communities. Photo by Meg Potter/ASU Now 

The workshop was hosted as part of the Center for Race and Democracy's Words on Wheels initiative, a mobile writing center geared toward helping people develop personal, professional and civic writing and literacy skills, with a special focus on serving members of the greater Phoenix community that have historically been disenfranchised due to race, culture, poverty, individual trauma and other social injustices.

Attendees at Saturday’s event ranged from high schoolers to retirees. After Fonseca-Chávez told her family tamale story, they were encouraged to tell their own food stories in small groups, then share with the whole crowd.

College of Health Solutions staffer Shanan Bouchard attended the workshop hoping to learn more about how to tell family stories through food, since it’s a universal experience. She relayed how her grandparents’ green tomato relish recipe originated with the need to use whatever resources were available, even if they were not yet ripe.

“My grandparents were very poor, so if tomatoes were green in the garden and they didn’t have anything else to cook with, you learned to cook with those,” she said. “They didn’t let anything go to waste.”

Juilianna Haskell, a sophomore at Mountain Pointe High School, remembered days spent cooking hominy stew with her family. 

“We always ate fry bread with it, and we would argue over who had the best fry bread,” she said. “It was just really fun hanging out with my family.”

School of Transborder Studies Professor Seline Szkupinski Quiroga was on hand to help facilitate. As one of the founding members of Cultural Engagements in Nutrition, Arts and Sciences, and as the program director for ASU’s College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), she is very much aware of the role food plays in shaping identity and fostering community.

“Through CAMP, I’ve learned a lot about food production in Arizona,” she said. “Food has been a thread throughout all of my work and research, so it’s wonderful to be here today.”

As the workshop came to a close, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts narrative studies graduate student Delena Humble shared one more story about how her grandmother had used her iPhone to record a three-hour video of her making tamales (since no one else in her family could remember the recipe) and was able to share it with them despite living hours away in Mexico.

“Seeing her use technology to pass on this family recipe was awesome,” Humble said. “Now I have it saved on my laptop, and it’s just an interesting experience of how technology can speed up that family process of going from oral history to actually seeing the process happen.”

Top photo: Assistant Professor Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez tells her family's food story at a Words on Wheels event hosted by the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, "Digital Storytelling: Imagining Community Through Food Stories." Photo by Meg Potter/ASU Now

ASU Foundation receives $937K grant to support scholarship program for 'Dreamers'

January 21, 2020

The ASU Foundation has been awarded a three-year, $937,000 grant from the Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation in support of 35 scholarships for students who are considered “Dreamers.”

These students are young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and are allowed to remain in the country if they meet certain criteria. Because of their circumstances, "DreamersThese students are commonly referred to as "Dreamers," based on a never-passed proposal in Congress called the DREAM Act." are unable to benefit from university or federal aid or work-study programs. Despite the fact that many of them have spent their entire lives in Arizona and graduated from local high schools, these students are required to pay 50% more than the standard in-state tuition. The grant will provide tuition assistance to cover that extra cost and establish the Parsons Scholars program, which will include financial literacy training and ongoing academic coaching.

Support for "DREAMers" The Parsons Scholars program is designed to help deserving students have an opportunity to attend the university and enhance their opportunity for a successful future. Download Full Image

“By no fault of their own, 'Dreamers' are starting their pursuit of higher education at a great disadvantage,” said businessman Bob Parsons. “America is a nation of immigrants, and it is our duty to step up and support those who are working hard to earn a better life for themselves and their families, no matter how they got here.”

Many of the Parsons Scholars come from low-income households and work to support themselves, and in many cases, their families. Most are first-generation college students and act as role models for their siblings and the greater community. Tuition gap funding provided to the Parsons Scholars will mitigate the risk of a "Dreamer" leaving school due to financial hardships.

“ASU has long supported 'Dreamers,' a position that is congruent with our unwavering commitment to providing access to all students who are qualified to attend the university, regardless of their background or circumstance,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “Bob and Renee Parsons’ support will help more deserving students have an opportunity to attend the university and enhance their opportunity for a successful future.”

The program is also designed to prepare students for long-term success and encourages co-curricular activities, such as internships, to provide students with the skills and connections needed to enter their chosen career field. A capstone trip to Washington, D.C., will more broadly connect the Parsons Scholars to public policy and empower them to enact change. 

“It is our belief that everyone deserves access to quality education, and 'Dreamers' are no exception. In fact, they face more obstacles to obtaining a college degree than most of their peers,” said businesswoman Renee Parsons. “We are proud to support ASU’s commitment to making higher education a reality for all Arizona high school graduates.”

The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation offers support to nonprofit organizations successfully working to empower, educate, nurture and nourish people during what is often the darkest time of their lives. Founded in 2012 by philanthropists and business leaders Bob and Renee Parsons to provide hope and life-changing assistance to the country’s most vulnerable populations, the Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation offers critical funding at critical times to those in need. The foundation’s giving is driven by the core belief that all people — regardless of race, religion, roots, economic status, sexual orientation or gender identity — deserve access to quality health care, education and a safe place to call home. Follow @WeDealInHope on social media or visit TBRPF.org to learn more about partner organizations and the important work being done in the community.

The ASU Foundation for A New American University is a private, nonprofit organization that raises and manages private contributions to support the work of ASU. It is one of five affiliated organizations that make up ASU Enterprise Partners, an innovative organizational model designed to generate resources to meet the needs of ASU. 

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ASU, Arizona partner to develop autonomous, unmanned systems for rescue operations

January 16, 2020

ASU drones fly to support law enforcement search and rescue operations

A new partnership to advance drone technology designed specifically for search and rescue (SAR) missions has been developed between Arizona State University, the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA), and the Arizona Search and Rescue Coordinators Association (ASARCA).

According to ASU Assistant Professor Stephanie Gil, a computer science engineer who specializes in multi-robot and communication systems, the ASU team will rely on the expertise of the DEMA search and rescue experts to guide the development of systems that can support teams in the field — whether that field is actually a mountainous cavern or a dense city center.

“We will develop the intelligence, or the software, that will run on the robots so they can gather environmental information and then use it to perform actions as a team,” Gil said.

In addition to mapping the search environment and establishing a communication infrastructure between the robots and the DEMA team, the robots will be resilient to hacking.

Other possible applications for the unmanned, autonomous systems include the ability to perform emergency equipment repairs for underwater or underground pipelines, or to track adversarial agents in a populated area. 

Funding for the collaboration is possible through Gil’s National Science Foundation Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award, which centers on cyberphysical systems and coordinated swarm behaviors.

“In addition to advancing the technology for these systems, the collaboration provides an opportunity for ASU students to work on real-world scenarios with experts in the field,” Gil explained. “This prepares them to go into the workforce with direct experience analyzing challenges, designing solutions, and then seeing those solutions have a direct impact in the community.”

Drones to the rescue

Assistant Professor Stephanie Gil introduces a drone simulation to statewide search and rescue officers during an Arizona Search and Rescue Coordinators Association (ASARCA) meeting hosted by ASU Engineering. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Jeremy Ramirez, a Pima County deputy and search and rescue coordinator, who is also the outgoing president of ASARCA, noted that the forthcoming technology will be valuable for many types of search and rescue operations. 

“We recently performed an Alzheimer’s walkaway search,” said Ramirez about a scenario where a person with Alzheimer’s wandered away from a caregiver. “Being able to do a fast, coordinated drone search where we get feedback immediately instead of waiting until volunteers return from walking the grid will greatly improve our rescue operations.”

While Pima County is just beginning to use autonomous systems for search and rescue operations, Coconino County in northern Arizona has developed a more robust program.

“There are many treacherous areas where I don’t want to send a sheriff department search team, let alone volunteers,” explained Paul Clifton, a Coconino County sheriff’s deputy and search and rescue coordinator.

Clifton also pointed out that even though volunteer ground searchers may think they have covered the grid, “GPS tells us that there are actually many areas that aren’t covered. Using a drone swarm will help us ensure that we’ve covered as much ground as possible in a search and rescue operation where the ability to cover a wide area is a factor,” he said.

Creating a statewide program for deploying autonomous systems technology for search and rescue operations is a goal for Jesse Robinson, Arizona’s statewide DEMA coordinator. Robinson supports search and rescue operations for about 600 missions annually in Arizona, providing resources and training to 15 sheriff’s offices.

“As far as I know, no other states are at the point of developing a cooperative program across all counties,” Robinson said. “Some counties in Arizona are more experienced at (autonomous systems) operations, while some of the smaller counties, like Greenlee, have no experience or resources at all.

“Our hope is that this partnership will enhance our search and rescue operations no matter how remote or treacherous an area may be.”

Arizona’s advantage for a statewide collaboration is further enhanced by ASU’s Drone Studio, a 10,000-square-foot facility with 23-foot ceilings and 105 cameras that can track high speed motion dynamics with 360 measurements per second. According to Gil, the system can track 150 flying and ground vehicles at the same time.

“It’s the perfect place to launch the SAR initiative,” Gil said. “We have safety in a controlled environment that meets FAA regulations. We can add disturbances like wind and light, and we have the systems to develop analytics for the kind of human-swarm interactions and tactics that will be necessary for AUS SARautonomous systems search and rescue missions.” 

Top photo: Assistant Professor Stephanie Gil (left) along with computer science doctoral students Weiying Wang and Ninad Jadhav (right) talk with DEMA official Jesse Robinson in the ASU Drone Studio on the Tempe campus during a meeting of the Arizona Search and Rescue Coordinators Association. Gil, a computer science engineer, directs the REACT Lab (Robotics, Embedded Autonomy, and Communication Theory Lab). Robinson is the search andrescue and warning coordinator for the agency. The Arizona Search and Rescue Coordinators Association held its quarterly meeting at ASU on Jan. 15 to enable search and rescue departments from around the state to collaborate with engineering students on drone and remote-controlled technological developments. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications


Students mark MLK Day of Service by obtaining nearly 1K books for children at domestic violence shelters

ASU School of Social Work students will spend MLK Day reading to children

January 16, 2020

Each January for a quarter century, thousands of Americans have foregone a day of leisure on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to honor the work of the slain civil rights leader by helping others.

Arizona State University School of Social Work students will mark the 25th MLK Day of Service by giving the gifts of words, pictures and ideas to children staying at Valley domestic-violence shelters and other nonprofits that work with women and children. Student members of Survivor Link have collected nearly 1,000 donated books they will distribute on Monday, the MLK holiday. School of Social Work students collected nearly 1,000 children's books for distribution at Phoenix-area domestic-violence shelters as part of MLK Day of Service School of Social Work students who are members of AmeriCorps Survivor Link participated in the 25th MLK Day of Service by collecting donations of nearly 1,000 books to be distributed Jan. 20 to children at Phoenix-area domestic-violence shelters. Download Full Image

The MLK observance on the third Monday in January is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service. Although the day is promoted by the slogan, “Make It a Day On, not a Day Off,” Survivor Link members began their volunteer efforts days before the holiday by gathering and preparing the donated books.

The students obtained the donations from the university community and from the Friends of the Phoenix Public Library, which gave about 500 books to the cause.

Survivor Link is a team of educators, students and community volunteers dedicated to promoting healthy relationships and reducing gender-based violence, supported by AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps Vista. The two organizations are part of the Corporation for National & Community Service, which coordinates annual Day of Service activities.

School of Social Work students clean and wrap some of nearly 1,000 children's books they collected for distribution at Phoenix-area domestic-violence shelters Jan. 20 as part of the 25th MLK Day of Service

The students gathered Jan. 13 to sort and clean each volume and wrap each one individually to give as gifts.

Students chose to collect and distribute the books because it’s a part of their mission as part of the AmeriCorps Vista program to serve the community in different ways, said Survivor Link member Netanya Quino.

“This is just part of it,” Quino said. “Providing books for our youth emphasizes the focus Dr. Martin Luther King had in educating our children for a better future by creating a more equitable society.”

After collecting the donated books, the students gathered Jan. 13 to sort and clean each volume and wrap each one individually to give as gifts to the children. 

Student Survivor Link member Esmeralda Sanchez said she was excited to donate books to the children.

“I think children are the most appreciative, and just seeing their smiles and knowing that I was a part of it is a reward in itself,” she said.

Mark J. Scarp

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


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ASU’s Committee for Campus Inclusion honored with city of Tempe’s diversity award

January 15, 2020

On Jan. 17, Arizona State University’s Committee for Campus Inclusion will be honored for its commitment to diversity in the city of Tempe.

The Tempe Human Relations Commission will award the committee the 2020 MLK Diversity Award in the category of educational organization. The annual recognition is given to individuals, businesses or community groups that help achieve the goal of making the city a better place. It’s the first time the committee will be receiving this award, after being nominated by a university employee.

“It’s wonderful to be in an institution that knows that inclusion is important,” said Cassandra Aska, associate vice president and dean of students and university chair of the Committee for Campus Inclusion. “To see that there’s a role that we can play to support the university and the people in the university,  and then to have that work that we do be recognized for an award in it of itself — is very humbling.”

The committee is made up of faculty, staff and students who are actively involved in outreach work across all ASU locations. In order to ensure that the university’s spaces are welcoming to all people, regardless of status, the committee is committed to engaging in dialogue and offering programs that encourage inclusion.

A point of pride for the committee is its Catalyst Awards, which are given out to individuals, groups, teams, programs, organizations or units that have made a significant difference in fostering and promoting diversity and inclusion at ASU and beyond. Aska believes this is one of the committee’s greatest accomplishments, especially in 2019, when 54 individuals were nominated for the award.

“We wholeheartedly believe that this is not any one individual’s, any one department's, any one unit’s responsibility. This is throughout. And to recognize multiple people in a lot of different spaces: in the classroom, in the library, in student success, student services spaces — that are doing this — is absolutely phenomenal.”

Aska considers the committee's work transformative and in alignment with the university’s bold charter. She’s confident people apply what they’ve learned through Committee for Campus Inclusion in their communities, even if they leave the university or Arizona.

“I think the support that we have within the university is awesome. It’s again a reflection of the commitment that exists to all of us continuing to evolve and grow in this area,” Aska said. “We believe we’re making a positive impact.”

It’s because of these accomplishments, and many more, that the city of Tempe is honoring Committee for Campus Inclusion. On Friday, Jan. 17, ASU students, faculty and staff will have the opportunity to be recognized at the 2020 MLK Diversity Awards breakfast, which will be held at the Tempe Marriott Buttes Hotel.

Top photo: The Committee for Campus Inclusion's executive board and past co-chairs, include (from left) Karen Engler, Rod Roscoe, Venita Hawthorne-James, Zachary Reeves-Blurton, Benjamin Mills, Amy Pate, Cassandra Aska and Margot Monroe. CCI co-chairs not present in photo: Drew Ross, Jennifer Stults, Linda Torres and Courtney Smith. 

Jimena Garrison

Copywriter , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

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CBS’s Scott Pelley pays tribute to Cronkite with journalism school visit

January 14, 2020

Must See Mondays speaker series scores big ratings with '60 Minutes’ correspondent

Longtime “60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley delivered a dramatic, emotional address to ASU students Monday night that underscored the important role journalism plays in a democracy.

He told the stories of everyday heroes from his reporting, stories from inside a stairwell of the World Trade Center or a battlefield operating room to an oil rig disaster in the Gulf. All served as reminders that journalists can give a “voice to the voiceless,” and that accurate, fair journalism is the backbone of a healthy democracy. 

“The fastest way to destroy a democracy is to poison the information, and that is precisely what is happening today as we assemble here at the Cronkite School,” Pelley told students gathered for the Must See Mondays speakers series at the Cronkite School. “Our country is under attack. We are under attack from hostile nation states. We’re under attack from charlatans. We’re under attack from politicians from across the political spectrum who would twist the truth to their own ends.”

Pelley said the solution to this very real threat is simple.

“Journalism is the antidote to the poisoning of our information,” Pelley said. “People need down-the-middle, generally reliable information in order to make decisions about their own lives and the life of the country.”

Pelley’s talk, “Truth Worth Telling,” kicked off the spring 2020 Must See Mondays speaker series at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, packing the First Amendment Forum.

“Scott Pelley inspired hundreds of Cronkite students when he visited our school in 2016 as the recipient of the 33rd annual Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism,” Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan said. “We are honored that he is returning to speak to a new class of Cronkite students, who will hear about the state of journalism in 2020 from one of the field’s best.”

Students not only heard Pelley’s compelling stories about his storied career, they were also treated to excerpts from his new book, “Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter’s Search for Meaning in the Stories of Our Time,” and shown highlight clips. He also took student questions well into the evening.

Pelley, who has won 35 Emmy awards and the former anchor of CBS Evening News from 2011 to 2017, spoke about “the crazy characters” he has met from all walks of life. They include presidents, popes, Nobel Peace Prize winners, soldiers on the battlefield, refugees on the run, innovators, whistleblowers and ordinary people who did extraordinary things under extreme circumstances — like New York City Battalion Chief Oreo Palmer and Melissa Doi, who was trapped in her office on the 83rd floorBefore Pelley’s research, reporters had estimated fire fighters reached no hire than the 50th floor of the World Trade Center. of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Palmer and Doi's intertwined stories are the opening chapter (“Gallantry”) of Pelley’s book: He found Doi’s 911 recordings as well as Palmer’s radio transmissions from Stairway A of the 79th floor. Pelley’s research showed this was the closest the New York City Fire Department came to rescuing those trapped in the buildings after the jarring impact of the two planes.

Palmer was only a few floors below Doi, who was on the phone with a 911 operator, and the two were moments from being united. Then the building collapsed.

Staying at a nearby hotel on that day, Pelley rushed toward the site after the twin towers were damaged. He watched in horror as the south tower crashed to the ground almost an hour after impact.

“What I saw in my mind’s eye was one floor collapsing, and then the next, and then the next. Then I saw the building race to the floor with heartbreaking speed,” Pelley said. “I don’t know how I got there, but the next thing I remember is that I’m on my knees and I’m calling out to God. I said, ‘God, take them all with no pain.’”

Pelley said he also did not remember getting up or racing as fast as he could with the sound of steel crashing into the street behind him. After a while, he turned around and went back to what everyone eventually called “Ground Zero,” where CBS reported for the next 96 hours with no commercials or breaks.

“We were just broadcasting the news with reliable information in a crisis, the lifeblood of a democracy,” Pelley said.  

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Scott Pelley speaks to crowd at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications in Phoenix about his new book, "Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter's Search for Meaning in the Stories of Our Times" on Jan. 13. Photo by Megan Potter

Pelley said he deliberately wrote the last chapter of the book for budding journalists, offering advice for those wanting to take up a noble career.

“Young people come up to me all the time with this ‘enemy of the people’ rhetoric and ask me what to do, and I tell them, ‘Do your job,’” Pelley said. “Do your job every day. Make sure your writing is fair and accurate. Make sure the work you’re doing is such that the audience can understand what you’re doing. Just do your job and do it really well every day.”

Pelley also paid respect to the inspiring journalist whose name is on the building in which he gave his talk.

“Walter (Cronkite) was a friend of mine. He was a mentor of mine and he was my hero,” Pelley said. “In the closing days of Walter’s life he made it a point to talk about this place and how proud he was to have this remarkable school named for him.” 

Top photo: "60 Minutes" correspondent and the 2016 recipient of the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism Scott Pelley speaks about his career and new book, “Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter’s Search for Meaning in the Stories of Our Time,” on Monday, Jan. 13, 2019, at the Cronkite School's "Must See Mondays" speaker series. Photo by Megan Potter

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU students go to town on sustainability

January 13, 2020

Project Cities connects policymakers, students to co-create strategies for better environmental, economic and social outcomes

Apache Junction, Arizona — a city of approximately 42,000 residents on the eastern outskirts of the metro Phoenix area — has a complicated relationship with its 125 mobile home and RV parks. These parks represent more than 60% of the city’s housing stock and are a highly affordable option for people living on low or fixed incomes. Many of these parks are attractive and well managed, but a large number of them are run-down and unsightly and don’t conform to contemporary city codes. 

Many of the city’s mobile home parks were built well before Apache Junction was incorporated in 1978, so their property owners hold “rights of lawful nonconformance.” These rights allow owners to operate the parks as-is, but bars them from redeveloping in any way that doesn’t comply with current city codes. Revamping the parks to comply is cost-prohibitive to most owners, so many parks have fallen into a state of disrepair, with deferred maintenance, lack of amenities and an accumulation of junk and waste posing health and safety risks to their residents.

This isn’t good for residents or for the city, which sits in the shadow of the stunning Superstition Mountains and is working to attract visitors and develop economically. City officials need strategies to achieve their goals while preserving affordable housing and improving living conditions — easier said than done on a tight city budget with a small staff.

Rudy Esquivias, Apache Junction’s planning manager and zoning administrator, said the city’s main revenue sources are state shared revenues and sales taxes.

“We don’t have the revenue funds that other cities have to hire more staff and engage in more projects,” he explained.

To tackle these mobile home park issues and other pressing municipal challenges, Apache Junction officials decided to partner with a new-at-the-time program at Arizona State University: Project Cities. Launched in 2017, Project Cities is a university-community partnership that pairs ASU faculty and students with a city each academic year to co-create strategies for better environmental, economic and social outcomes. Apache Junction was the inaugural community partner during the 2017–18 academic year and renewed its partnership through the spring 2019 semester.

“The students helped us explore things and study things that we probably otherwise would not be able to do,” Esquivias said. “Project Cities is an invaluable resource.”

From report to reality

Maggie Dellow, a Master of Urban and Environmental Planning student, wasn’t sure what to do for her capstone project. She decided to attend a Project Cities information session, where she heard about opportunities to work with Apache Junction on various issues. In particular, the mobile home and RV parks project piqued her curiosity because of her interest in affordable housing.

“I see planning as a tool to address the major defining societal issues of our time,” Dellow said. “Working on affordable housing and homelessness issues presents opportunities to address the consequences of past decisions and shape policy and development for a brighter, more equitable future for everyone.”

To start the project, Dellow researched existing literature on mobile home communities and affordable housing. Guided by city officials and her faculty advisers, she then documented existing conditions and characteristics of 28 nonconforming, high-priority mobile home and RV parks in Apache Junction. To include local perspectives, she interviewed Apache Junction park owners and professionals in affordable housing development.

Ultimately, Dellow created a 235-page final report (condensed to 100 pages by Project Cities) for Apache Junction laying out the complexity of the issue, describing research findings and recommending strategies the city could adopt to improve mobile home parks and affordable housing.

One of Dellow’s main recommendations was to create an overlay zoning district for affordable housing development. This overlay could be applied to nonconforming parks with the goal of making it easier for property owners to improve their properties and increase the availability of affordable housing. In her report, Dellow advised that the city enforce standards that property owners must maintain, such as sewer connections, paved lots and community amenities.

Larry Kirch, Apache Junction’s development services director, said the city has initiated the process of updating the zoning code to include some of Dellow’s strategic recommendations. In addition, based on Dellow’s report, the city is working on incentives for mobile home park owners to upgrade their properties. These incentives are not yet solidified but may include allowing redevelopment that would enable a new owner to increase housing density, or at least not lose any.

“Maggie’s work was truly an exemplar of the kinds of successful local impacts the program aims to achieve,” said Steve Russell, Project Cities’ program manager.

Success beyond the classroom

Dellow presented her results in April 2019 at a Project Cities student showcase. In the audience were officials from the city of Glendale, another community partner, and they were so impressed with her work that they offered her a position with the city. Dellow accepted the temporary contracted position, assisting the planning division and working on a special project related to mobile housing.

“It was a fantastic experience, especially being approached in that way and being offered a job on the spot,” Dellow said, adding that she’s happy to be working in the urban planning field so soon after graduation. In December, Dellow earned a full-time planner position in the city of Phoenix.

Dellow’s exemplary work also earned her two awards from the American Planning Association. She was selected as APA’s 2019 Outstanding Student from ASU, and she also won Best Student Planning Project from the APA’s Arizona Chapter. When discussing these accomplishments, Dellow was quick to give thanks to Project Cities staff and her faculty advisers — particularly Assistant Professor Meagan Ehlenz in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

“Without her, I think I would’ve been a little more conservative in my work and far less confident in what I was doing,” Dellow said. “Meagan was also fantastic because she pushed me a lot.”

Because of Ehlenz’s support and guidance, Dellow said she was able to create and present a project she was proud of despite challenges — such as a fear of public speaking — along the way.

Partnership leading to action

As Project Cities’ first community partner, Apache Junction worked with ASU students and faculty on a variety of projects — not just Dellow’s. Other projects included sustainability and solid waste, an off-leash dog park, understanding homelessness, and sustainable tourism and marketing. Many of these projects are moving forward.

A major win came Dec. 3 when Apache Junction passed an ordinance and contract for mandatory trash collection from a single hauler. The city for years struggled with illegal dumping and inefficient solid waste collection routes, as multiple companies had routes in the same neighborhoods. Project Cities students, led by senior lecturer Albert Brown and Clinical Associate Professor Nalini Chhetri, researched and analyzed the issue and presented Apache Junction with a draft of the guiding ordinance and a request for proposal document the city used to solicit bids for a contract.

“Hats off to ASU and Project Cities for helping the city of Apache Junction leadership take a complex and thorny issue and pass an ordinance and contract,” Kirch said. “Their work set the stage for educating the public, staff and city council on the interrelatedness of the issue. This was a monumental effort and what I believe is a 50-year event (like a 100-year flood) for policymaking. This certainly will change the face of the city for years to come!”

Russell said this accomplishment is a testament to how research and recommendations derived from student work can influence local policy and produce long-lasting impacts.

“We couldn’t be prouder of the students who conducted this work,” he said.

Project Cities curates a revolving menu of projects with its community partners, and every semester is different. Currently, Project Cities is partnered with the city of Peoria and the town of Clarkdale. Students can get involved through a variety of class offerings from many disciplines. Additionally, Project Cities distributes a list of capstone project opportunities every semester, based on the community’s priorities. Students who wish to apply for one of these projects should reach out to ProjectCities@asu.edu and ask to be added to the student interest list.

For students, it’s invaluable to work on complex projects that go beyond the classroom.

“This experience was one of the coolest that I’ve ever had in all of my education,” Dellow said. “I’m really appreciative of the university and the way it empowers its students to do more than what I’m sure students at other universities across the nation are encouraged to do. I think that Project Cities is very illustrative of the ASU model and the ASU way.”

Project Cities is partially supported by Arizona’s Technology and Research Initiative Fund. TRIF investment has enabled thousands of scientific discoveries, over 800 patents, 280 new startup companies and hands-on training for approximately 33,000 students across Arizona’s universities. Publicly supported through voter approval, TRIF is an essential resource for growing Arizona’s economy and providing opportunities for Arizona residents to work, learn and thrive.

Top photo: Maggie Dellow presents her project to city officials during the spring 2019 Project Cities Student Showcase. Photo courtesy of ASU Project Cities

Kayla Frost

Associate Editor , Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability


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ASU at Mesa City Center breaks ground

January 10, 2020

State-of-the-art project to offer programs from Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, feature spaces for entrepreneurship and community collaboration

Arizona State University broke ground Friday on ASU at Mesa City Center, a state-of-the-art project that will jump-start the revitalization of downtown Mesa and train students in one of the biggest industries in the United States: media production.

The three-story academic building, which is scheduled to open in spring 2022, will offer programs in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts in digital and sensory technology, experiential design, gaming, media arts, film production, and entrepreneurial development and support.

“We’ve been waiting for our future for a very long time,” said Jen Duff, a Mesa City Council member who grew up in Mesa and now represents the downtown area. She spoke at a groundbreaking ceremony held Friday at the site, at the northwest corner of Pepper Place and Centennial Way.

“Our glory days of downtown Mesa are returning but in a new way that will redefine our city in the next hundred years,” she said.

The project is a unique partnership between ASU and the city of Mesa. Of the $73.5 million budget, $63.5 million will come from the city and $10 million from ASU, which also will contribute a minimum of $10 million toward the interior construction. ASU also will pay all operations and maintenance costs, estimated at $1.3 million annually.

ASU at Mesa City Center, which will host about 800 students, will include a large exhibition gallery, screening theaters, production studios, a fabrication lab and a cafe that will be open to the public. The upper floors will include classrooms and spaces for collaborations with community and industry.

ASU President Michael Crow said the project is a symbol of ASU’s commitment to improving the communities it serves.

“Long ago we decided to not build a university that was a place that people went to that had brick walls covered in ivy and that you had to be a super genius or super rich to somehow get into,” he said.

“And so we pledged to build what we call one university in many places. A university that is connected, engaged and working with leaders around Arizona and in the Valley in a way in which we could build a responsive and adaptive university.

“Mesa wants to build a new future on a tremendously successful past, and it wants to move forward into the new economy and participate in richer and deeper ways.”

Crow said the project might not seem logical at first.

“Why would a city be investing with a university partner to create a facility equal to the fabulous digital-creativity facilities in Singapore or London or Brooklyn or Hong Kong?” he asked.

“They do it because it’s like an airport or a canal. It’s a public investment in infrastructure that allows us to then start the process of building a new and expanded economy.”

Crow called ASU at Mesa City Center an “act of wisdom” as well as faith in ASU’s commitment.

“This project, and our project on the Polytechnic campus, is us in our permanent relationship with Mesa,” he said.

The building will be one of the finest media-production facilities in the world, said Steven Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

“There will be students making films, making video games, producing television and all kinds of immersive-media experiences,” he said.

But the goal is to include the Mesa community in the programming.

“We want this facility to be more than a black box where people come to make cool things in windowless rooms,” he said. “Instead, this will be an inviting place for the public to come to be inspired, entertained and informed.”

The 3,000-square-foot enhanced immersion studio will allow users to create augmented realities and map virtual spaces onto physical environments. That could benefit hospitals, schools, defense contractors and other industry partners, Tepper said.

“We can create environments,” he said. “In this facility, you can explore worlds deep beneath the sea. You can explore caves in South Africa. You can walk through a refugee camp with the perspective of a 10-year-old Syrian girl. You can stand on a stage with the conductor in a Vienna concert hall.”

In addition, Tepper said the facility taps into one the most lucrative sectors in the economy: the $50 billion film industry, whose workforce grew by 25 percent in the past five years.

“The U.S. exports more media and entertainment than automobiles and pharmaceuticals,” he said, adding that the Mesa center will have direct access to the entertainment industry through ASU’s new facility in Los Angeles.

“This center will help train a next-generation creative workforce for our state, helping to keep jobs and our kids at home, where they can create and innovate a new future for all of us.”

The project also will accelerate ASU’s entrepreneurship activities in Mesa, according to Ji Mi Choi, associate vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation at ASU.

“One of the things we’re hoping to see come out of this project are the startup companies and the spinouts that emanate from the work that will be done here,” she said.

Mesa Mayor John Giles said the partnership with ASU is the driving force behind the city’s goal of increasing college degree attainment and of upgrading the area.

“We have invested in our downtown for many years, from streetscapes to arts centers to light rails to new building facades, and those have created the borders of a very beautiful puzzle,” he said.

Along with the ASU building, Mesa City Center will include a gathering space called The Plaza at Mesa City Center and an adaptive reuse of Mesa’s first library into The Studios at Mesa City Center.

Giles expects the media-production technologies at ASU at Mesa City Center to attract entrepreneurs and developers to the downtown.

“ASU will be training the workforce of the future right here in Mesa, and the business world has its eyes on us,” he said.

Top photo: Shovels are lined up for the groundbreaking of the new ASU at Mesa City Center in downtown Mesa on Friday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU student team engages nearly 900 voters with software that reminds people to cast ballots

Efforts place team in top 15 out of 131 U.S. colleges, universities

January 6, 2020

A team of Arizona State University students engaged nearly 900 fellow students in the voting process with an online tool, placing ASU in the top 15 among 131 U.S. colleges and universities, the nonpartisan organization Democracy Works announced.

Managed by the Brooklyn, New York-based Democracy Works, the tool, called TurboVote, employs easier ways to register and to get an early ballot, and sends students online reminders that elections are near to help them remember to cast ballots. Andrew Goodman Ambassador Cyrus Commissariat, right, assists a student voter. Andrew Goodman Foundation Ambassador Cyrus Commissariat assists a student voter. Download Full Image

TurboVote streamlines the voting process, but it is only as effective as the people involved in sharing it, said Mike Ward, Democracy Works’ vice president for voter engagement, in a letter congratulating the students.

“ASU connected close to 900 students with the TurboVote technology in advance of this year’s elections, thanks to your enthusiastic team, thoughtful planning, and strategic implementation,” Ward wrote.

Volunteers in ASU’s 2019 engagement effort included representatives of ASU’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG), several Andrew Goodman Foundation “Vote Everywhere” Ambassadors and members of the Student Civic Coalition. All worked with the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service.

“We’re extremely proud of this recognition from Democracy Works. But this level of student voter engagement would never be possible without the immense efforts of our student champions, namely our Andrew Goodman Foundation ‘Vote Everywhere’ Ambassadors,” said Alberto Olivas, executive director of the Pastor Center, which is based at ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“The AGF ambassadors coordinate student voter registration, voter education and get-out-the-vote efforts with leaders in student government and other active organizations participating in the multipartisan Student Civic Coalition,” Olivas said. “I give them all so much credit for making our campus one of the most engaged and active universities in the country.”

Democracy Works’ website describes its organization as “a team of software developers, public policy wonks and civic organizers building the tools needed to upgrade the infrastructure of our democracy.”

Since 2012, more than 6 million voters have signed up for TurboVote, through participation with more than 300 colleges and universities as well as 50 nonprofits and other organizations, including Google, Facebook, Starbucks and Univision, according to the website.

Mark J. Scarp

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