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Holiday hackathon makes toys accessible for children with disabilities

December 17, 2019

Local roboticist teams adapt interactive toys for easier manipulation

Two local robotics teams just made the holidays more accessible for 20 local children who face challenges manipulating interactive toys.

Arizona State University's Desert WAVE and a high school team from Chandler, Arizona, called Degrees of Freedom, joined forces last weekend at CREATE at the Arizona Science Center, to “hack” toys for children with disabilities. Both teams were founded by the local Si Se Puede Foundation.

“When I look at the kids that we are able to help, I see just that: kids,” said Desert WAVE member Jessica Dirks, an ASU sophomore with a double major in human systems engineering and robotics. “They have hopes and dreams and love toys just as much as I do. The only thing separating us is the size of a switch — and that is something I am confident and capable of changing for these fellow dreamers.”

While commercially adapted toys exist for children with physical limitations, they can cost up to four times the retail cost of similar, off-the-shelf toys. The adaptations made during the event cost less than $5 in parts and required basic electrical skills, like soldering, provided by the two teams.

The modified toys help children develop functional skills like problem-solving, offer a foundation for socialization, and perhaps most importantly, have fun with toys.

“My favorite moment of this event was right after I finished adapting my first toy,” said Khushi Parikh, a sophomore at Gilbert Classical Academy and part of the Degrees of Freedom team. “When I tested the toy with the adapted switch, and it lit up, I felt really proud and humbled, too, because that simple mechanism could have a profound impact on someone's life. Seeing the toy in action helped me fully realize that.”  

According to Daniel Frank, an Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering faculty member and Desert WAVE’s adviser, the teams developed and built external push-button activators for the toys.

The hackers opened the toys, which sometimes required cutting stitches in fabric, and found the two wires that lead to the button that activates the toy. They stripped the wires and attached them to an audio jack, similar to what you use to plug in your headphones. The jack can be plugged into a large button switch that can be manipulated more easily — with an elbow, a fist or a head bop, for example — than activating a tiny sensor that requires manual dexterity some children do not have.

“This holiday hack gave me the chance to bring joy to a child that I may have never connected with otherwise,” said Andrea Schoonover, an ASU engineering junior. “I mean, what could be a better use of my time?"

Once the toys were tested, they were sewn back up and wrapped, ready to be delivered by ACCEL, the event’s co-sponsor with Makers Making Change and CREATE at Arizona Science Center. 

“I enjoyed being able to put my engineering skills to use while knowing it was helping others,” said Desert WAVE’s Noella Mikanda, a human systems engineering major. “Being able to work with younger girls with a passion for engineering was just the icing on top of the cake,” she said about the opportunity to work with the high school members of Degrees of Freedom.

Degrees of Freedom members enjoyed the collaboration, as well.

“I thoroughly enjoyed working with Desert WAVE during the hackathon,” Parikh said. “The ladies are all very bright, and apart from being great mentors and engineers, they gave me an insightful perspective on life as an ASU student. From ensuring that I understood each step of the adapting process and the function of the different tools we used, to joking around with us at lunch, our big sister team made me feel included, involved and valued.”

The mentoring wasn’t in just one direction —the Desert WAVE team learned a few things from the younger roboticists, too.

“My favorite part of working with Degrees of Freedom was trading soldering advice,” said Isabella Bushroe, an ASU engineering sophomore. “The girl I worked with, Natali Rodriguez, was much better at modifying the headphone jacks than I was, so I learned some tricks from her, and it was fun to get to know her along the way.”

ACCEL, which will be distributing the toys in time for the holidays, is a nonprofit organization that serves local community members with disabilities. Co-sponsor Makers Making Change is a nonprofit that connects people with disabilities to volunteer makers who build assistive technologies.

“I just want to give a quick shout out to everyone involved in Degrees of Freedom, Desert WAVE and Si Se Puede for everything they do," said Laura Roty, a Desert WAVE member and human systems engineering major. "The mentors especially have made so many wonderful opportunities, like Holiday Hack, open to me and to so many other passionate young people.

“Growing up, I never felt that I could involve myself in engineering but these wonderful programs have made me feel like I truly belong on the path that I have chosen!”

Top photo: ASU’s Desert WAVE and Degrees of Freedom, a robotics team from Chandler, Arizona, teamed up to transform interactive toys for use by handicapped children. Photo courtesy Daniel Frank.

Terry Grant

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications


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Arizona's economic growth slowing but will remain strong, ASU expert predicts

Economic forecast: Slower growth but a strong economy for Arizona in 2020.
December 11, 2019

Tariffs, trade wars remain a threat to U.S. economy, panel says at forecast event

The growth in Arizona’s economy is slowing but the outlook remains strong for 2020, according to Arizona State University’s economic outlook expert.

“We have enjoyed a robust recovery — somewhat slow to get started but since then proceeding at a good clip,” said Lee McPheters, research professor of economics and director of the JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center at ASU. He spoke at the 56th annual Economic Forecast Luncheon held Wednesday by the W. P. Carey School of Business.

Arizona is expected to add about 70,000 jobs in 2020, compared with 74,000 in 2019 and nearly 79,000 in 2018, he said. The state was third in the country for job growth this year.

About 14,000 jobs in health care were added in 2019, second only to construction, which added nearly 17,000, his analysis shows.

“Construction is important in a growth state like Arizona, but Arizona is also a top 10 state for transportation and warehousing, science and technology, manufacturing and health care,” he said. “We have a diverse structure of growth now. It’s not all real estate and construction.”

In addition, the average annual wage is predicted to tick up to $55,600 next year, up from $53,700 this year.

Population growth also is starting to wind down, with 110,000 new residents expected next year, down from nearly 123,000 in 2018.

McPheters noted three interesting factors in the long-term view of the state economy.

  • Millennials are driving housing growth, with people born between 1981 and 1996 accounting for more than a quarter of new mortgage originations. “They’re a core part of the economy, and there are more millennials than baby boomers now,” he said.
  • Economic growth in the state is concentrated in the Phoenix area. “What we’re seeing is about 85% of everyone who moves to Arizona moves to metro Phoenix,” he said. “Phoenix accounts for 70% of all new single-family housing permits and 85% of new jobs. Tucson just recovered from the low point of the recession in April of this year.”
  • He worries about the effects of climate change. “In Phoenix you have the potential for a week to 10 days of 122-degree temperatures. What would happen then?” he said. “Will a 122-degree heat wave be Phoenix’s Katrina?”

With the U.S. economy, consumers are more optimistic about next year than businesses, according to Bart Hobijn, professor of economics in the W. P. Carey School.

“Consumers like what’s going on in the economy,” he said. “They’re feeling good, and that’s because income is growing.”

The experts answer questions at the 56th annual Economic Forecast Luncheon held Wednesday by the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU. From left are Lee McPheters, research professor of economics and director of the JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center at ASU; Bart Hobijn, professor of economics at ASU, and Robert Barro, the Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics at Harvard University. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

He noted that the 3.5% growth in wages nationwide is not “gangbusters” but is positive after years of stagnation.

“There seems to be a lot of talk about income inequality, but wages for low-skilled workers have risen over the last few years and that’s because of scarcity,” he said. “By now, most of people willing and able to work have been hired.”

Hobijn said that businesses are expressing less confidence in the economy because of uncertainties over the Trump administration’s trade policies.

“And if you survey CEOs, they’re even more negative because they also consider the global economy, which looks worse,” he said.

The trade wars are a risk to economic growth in the U.S., according to Robert Barro, the Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics at Harvard University, who spoke at the event.

He cited President Donald Trump’s quote in 2018: “Trade wars are good and easy to win.”

“It’s a very upsetting thing to say from the perspective of an economist,” he said. “Trump’s statement reminds me of what Nixon was most guilty of — not Watergate but price controls. I think that was the biggest crime that Nixon committed, and if you ask me about Trump, I would say the same thing about the trade wars.”

The administration is driven by the idea that exporting is good and importing is bad, rather than the two being halves of an economic engine that’s measured by overall volume.

“The irony of this is that the Chinese also think it’s good to sell us lots of stuff and not buy anything, so there’s consensus in a perverse vision,” he said.

Barro said that the U.S. and China were reportedly close to a trade deal several months ago, but it didn’t happen.

“The Chinese can’t trust the Trump administration to stick to the terms of a deal that the Chinese might agree to,” he said.

Top image: Lee McPheters, research professor of economics and director of the JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center at ASU, makes a point about Arizona's strong economy at the 56th annual Economic Forecast Luncheon held Wednesday by the W. P. Carey School of Business. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU awarded $8.7M grant to improve college-going outcomes

The university will partner with Be a Leader to benefit underserved students in Arizona

December 11, 2019

Arizona State University and the Be A Leader Foundation have been awarded a grant to form a Network for School Improvement (NSI) to expand their existing school partnerships to build the K–12 pipeline and increase access to higher education for Arizona students. The $8.7 million grant will be funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The grant award, announced Dec. 10, will launch the Arizona Network for School Improvement, which will leverage school district partnerships to improve educational outcomes and increase college enrollment among the districts’ most vulnerable students. Women chat at an ASU Hispanic Mother Daughter Program event in 2019 Download Full Image

“For ASU, partnering with schools and communities is not an afterthought, but a fundamental component of our institutional design,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow.

“Through the Arizona NSI, our collaboration will scale our university-school district partnerships to drive innovation that enhances educational access and empowers learners to achieve their full potential,” Crow said. “We appreciate the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.”

The project will focus on increasing college-going outcomes for the nearly 56,000 students within the Phoenix Union High School District, Tolleson Union High School District and Mesa Public Schools. The partnering districts will network with ASU, Be A Leader Foundation and each other to create, track and implement strategies to increase well-matched postsecondary enrollment.

“Every single child sitting in a seat today has the potential to enroll and thrive in a postsecondary institution," said Phoenix Union Superintendent Chad Gestson. "Potential is not enough, however. Many students today, especially first-generation youth and those from diverse backgrounds, also need expert guidance and sufficient resources to navigate the entire college application and matriculation process. This grant will enable Phoenix Union and our sister districts to dramatically increase support to thousands of deserving college-bound youth.”

In Arizona, 53% of high school graduates enroll in a postsecondary institution in their first semester after high school, but the number is significantly lower for underserved students. The 23 schools that will be networked through the new project represent 16% of all high school seniors in Arizona; in these districts, 75% of students are black or Latino, and 70% qualify for free or reduced lunch.

The project will convene school working groups and will use a continuous improvement model to test and revise ideas that will help increase postsecondary enrollment rates. The NSI will bring together K-12, postsecondary and community partners to support students with FAFSA completion and college advising designed to help more students pursue postsecondary enrollment at a school where students are well prepared academically to earn a degree.

Be A Leader President and CEO Melissa Trujillo said the method and model are important.

“While we know that no two schools are the same, there is a lot that schools can learn together and from each other to solve common challenges. Access ASU and Be A Leader will work together to provide our 23 schools with the tools, research and framework to not only identify and test promising solutions but — most importantly — to learn from each other,” she said.

“Having an infrastructure where schools can regularly share lessons learned and best practices will ensure more students are receiving the support they need to pursue higher education.”

The Network for School Improvement will build on work that Access ASU and Be A Leader have supported in each of these districts for the past 16 years  providing resources to build the K–12 pipeline and support access to higher education in Arizona. The project will leverage the relationships the two groups have built with educators and offer strategy development, professional development, data tracking, virtual and texting strategies for students, identification of students who need specialized advising and more.

Mesa Public Schools Superintendent Pete Lesar said that his school district is excited to continue working on educational access initiatives through the project.

“Mesa Public Schools is proud to partner with Arizona State University and the Be A Leader Foundation through this grant opportunity,” he said. “Working under the Network for School Improvement model will help many more of our students gain the supports they need to be college and career ready. We are grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for this opportunity to better serve our community's postsecondary transition needs.”

Tolleson Union Superintendent Nora Gutierrez said the project will have a huge impact on the students in her district west of Phoenix.

“I am ecstatic and excited for the opportunities that these funds will provide for our high school students. At TUHSD, we pride ourselves on preparing our students for college and careers based on outstanding academic achievement,” she said. “Our students are bright and exceptional, and they attend colleges and universities throughout Arizona and the nation. These dollars will go a long way toward supporting our students, and we are proud to be associated with both ASU and the Be a Leader Foundation.”

Sylvia Symonds, associate vice president with Educational Outreach and Student Services at ASU and principal investigator of the grant, said focusing on underrepresented populations will be significant in pursuing the Achieve60AZ goal (that by 2030, 60% of adults in the state will hold a degree or high-value credential) and also opening up educational and economic opportunities for Arizona families.

“The future of Arizona depends on students’ access to high-quality education as a pathway to opportunity,” said Symonds. “We know that the resources are out there: research, great ideas and educators who care deeply about student success. The Network for School Improvement takes those resources and leverages them to have a strategic, measurable and lasting impact on Valley communities.”

The Arizona NSI will be one of more than 30 networks across the country being funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Karla Robles, chief strategy officer with the Be A Leader Foundation and co-principal investigator of the grant, said being part of a national community of practice will allow the Arizona NSI to learn from other networks as well as shine a light on the great work taking place within our school districts.

The network will utilize evidence-based interventions and continuous, data-driven learning to improve student outcomes that are known predictors of high school graduation and postsecondary success and align with ASU’s commitment to the economic and social health of local communities.

The roadblocks that students face most often on the path to college are a known quantity, based on survey data and Access ASU staff’s observations over their years of work. Students report that not having enough money and not having enough information about the steps needed to go to college are primary obstacles. By providing FAFSA completion assistance, exposure to postsecondary pathways and establishing a college-going mindset, the Arizona NSI will support more students to achieve their higher education goals.

Yamile Martinez, a sophomore at ASU studying nonprofit leadership and management, knows firsthand how much inspiration can come from knowing that higher education is attainable. When she was a senior at Metro Tech High School in Phoenix Union, a friend who was a year ahead of her spoke on a panel about her experience with American Dream Academy and the Early Outreach Scholarship at ASU.

“No one in my family went into secondary education, so it was a big deal,” said Martinez, who went on to earn the EOS scholarship and several others. “Because if it wasn’t for my friend that night who was talking about her story ... I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be at ASU.”

Now Martinez is a SPARKS ambassador and shares her story with other first-generation college students and families all over the state, delivering information in Spanish and English. She wants to pursue higher education access work professionally after she graduates and said it’s important for students to have perspective about their end goal. 

“For me to have a path that I can see the end of makes me so confident in what I’m doing,” she said.

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


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Pat Tillman Veterans Center bids farewell to its first director

December 9, 2019

Steve Borden helped launch Tillman Center in 2011 and helped ASU reach a record number of military-affiliated students

Steve Borden, director of the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, is leaving Arizona State University this month to take on a new mission.

The retired Navy captain is headed to National University in La Jolla, California, where he will be the first to take on the roll of associate vice president for military programs. Borden came to ASU in 2010 and has served as both the founding commanding officer of ASU’s Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps and founding director of the Tillman Center.

The center provides a single point of contact for ASU veterans and their dependents, connecting them with academic and student support services to promote a smooth transition from the military and provide assistance for veterans benefits, deployments and referrals, as well as a place where veterans can gather for study groups and social activities. The university has approximately 9,200 military-affiliated students.

ASU Now spoke with Borden before he leaves his post on Dec. 16 to reflect on the last decade, the role of the Tillman Center and the state of veterans.

Question: With the Pat Tillman Veterans Center such a centerpiece of this university, it’s hard to imagine any university without a veterans center. Why are such centers needed on college campuses?

Answer: While in the military, service members have nearly everything scripted for them. The transition from a very strict hierarchical system with little flexibility and limited choices to a college campus where there is nobody directing your path and decisions can be overwhelming. Additionally, many schools are extremely focused on the traditional 18-year-old student and their service culture, communication style and general information is structured accordingly.

Veterans centers help veterans navigate this "foreign" culture. They are a place where a veteran feels safe asking what they may fear is a basic question, a place where they can disclose information about some of the things that are creating uncertainty or instability in their life and they are a place where they can connect with other students who are going, or have recently gone through, the same transition.

Q: You came to ASU specifically to set up the Pat Tillman Veterans Center. Can you speak about that undertaking and the amount of work it took to get it off the ground?

A: I actually came to establish the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) unit at Arizona State University in 2010. In late 2011, as I prepared to retire after more than 29 years in the Navy, the Pat Tillman Veterans Center was just opening and Paul LePore, associate dean in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences connected me with the job posting.

Starting the NROTC unit was easier than starting the veterans center because the end state was easy to describe and clearly define. Veterans centers were really just starting to show up on campuses and were clearly needed because of the large increase in veterans having access to college because of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

What did veterans really need to help them succeed? Were there differences between what veterans said they wanted/needed versus what they really needed? How could we tell? Why were veterans choosing ASU? What were they studying? Why?

There were definitely a lot more questions than answers at the beginning. In some cases we identified services that we were fairly certain that student veterans needed and in some cases they still did not use them. We had to re-evaluate whether the need was correctly identified and then maybe adjust the delivery method or timing to one that made more sense for the population we were serving.

It was a lot like trying to build a plane while flying it.

Q: There’s lots of noise out there about veterans, but ultimately what do veterans need from universities and the community?

A: First of all, it might be easier to say what veterans do not need. They do not need to be treated like they are heroes, and they definitely do not need to be treated like there is something wrong with them, like they are broken or like they have to be handled with kid gloves or they will fall apart.

I have come to believe that what they probably need more than anything else is to be treated like they are new to the community. Even a veteran that leaves the service and goes back to the place they grew up and where they were living before joining the service is going to experience something very different than they were expecting. The truth is they are not the same person that left to join the service; they have grown, stretched, done some incredibly challenging things, matured, learned — they are not the person that left. Similarly, communities change too; the place they left is not the same place to which they return.

They are not a stranger, but the community and the veteran would both be better off if they simply accepted the fact that things had changed and focused on adapting into a new, somewhat familiar, but different relationship.

The university setting is not different. Even if the veteran went to college before going into the service, things are going to be different than they were. It is also true that none of us know what we do not know. So when we presume that we know what is going on, when we assume that we do not need to ask any questions or that this new student to campus knows what is going on and how to navigate things simply because they look like they should know and act like they know what is going on, we are making a big mistake.

From the university side, the challenge is in being open and receptive to inquiry from students, to not be condescending, but to also not be presumptive about what they know. From the veteran side, the challenge is to recognize that it is OK, it is normal, it is acceptable to not have all the answers. It is OK to ask questions, it is all right that you do not have all the answers and you need to trust that it is OK to ask.

Q: Has your perspective on veterans changed from the time you started working here to now?

A: Without a doubt! I believe I heard it first from Wanda Wright, colonel (ret.), U.S. Air Force, and director, Arizona Department of Veteran Services. She said, “When you have met one veteran, you have met one veteran.” As a society, we try to pigeonhole people into groups, stereotypes, communities — and the reality is that people are individuals. Yes, we have certain things in common; yes, stereotypes develop based upon a certain element of truth, but it is just as true that we are each unique. What I have seen manifest itself, even in some of the answers I have provided to the questions for this article, is that there are guidelines that are true, but exactly where an individual encounters a problem, where their information falters, which circumstances they can navigate or which ones trip them up — these are unique to the individual. Guidelines can be established to generally help and try to assist as many as possible, but it is not a one-size-fits-all world.

Q: Can the Pat Tillman Veterans Center, which does so much already, evolve beyond what it is today?

A: Yes, and it needs to do so. We can always do things better. Maybe there are some things we are doing which are not necessarily the most productive things we can do. So, maybe it is not always a matter of doing things better, but trying to do better things.

Q: Did you achieve what you set up to achieve here, and what is your parting wish for the Veterans Center?

A: I achieved a lot of what I set up to achieve. No, actually, we achieved a lot of what we set out to achieve. The center’s strength right now is that there is a terrific team of folks working there, staff and students, that are committed to working together to create an environment that empowers students to achieve their goals and dreams. I am most proud of the fact that I can say, “If a student chooses to engage with the center, that student, each and every one of them, will have a better outcome than if they had not chosen to engage with the center.” For some this means moving the needle from might not finish, to definitely will earn my degree; for others, it means landing their dream job instead of "just" being employed. It is extremely rewarding to be part of providing the environment that enables success.

My parting wish for the center is to keep expanding the above. Keep working to touch more lives, to touch them sooner so that the effect that the teamwork creates will have longer to work, creating a better outcome. The Pat Tillman Veterans Center does not do this alone, but in partnership with other fantastic units and people around the university — keep building the relationships, make new ones and make the old ones stronger. I think this is a huge part of the namesake of the center and the legacy of Pat Tillman — he was always striving to make himself and the people around him better.

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU students produce APS Electric Light Parade preview event for capstone project

December 9, 2019

As thousands of community members packed the parking lot of the North Phoenix Baptist Church to check out the float entries for the APS Electric Light Parade, Special Event Management students entertained children of all ages with an event of their own.

Arizona State University students enrolled in PRM 486 — Introduction to Special Event Management worked hard all semester to develop the concept for their interactive station: They created the vision, maintained a budget, organized a site plan, developed the marketing strategy, drafted an emergency plan and built props, games and crafts in anticipation for the event.

“The city of Phoenix is celebrating the 33rd annual Electric Light Parade, and it is an honor to partner with them to support our community through an auxiliary event,” Clinical Assistant Professor Erin Schneiderman said. “This is a perfect platform for our students to learn the fundamentals of event planning in the classroom and then see it all come to life as they execute the populated event.”

Representatives from the city of Phoenix’s Parks and Recreation Department and event sponsor APS visited the class early in the semester to explain the significance, traditional components, layout and expectations for the preview event. Students spent the next several weeks working in groups to brainstorm suitable activities for a younger audience. The last few weeks of the semester saw students create their experiences, loading up supplies and creating their station at the event site.

The event featured eight interactive holiday stations from around the world all run by students. Guests learned about the significance of the pickle while playing games popular in Germany; decorated doughnuts while learning about Israel; left a wish in the Great Wall of China; enjoyed a spot of tea and hot chocolate in England; and celebrated the arts culture in France. In addition, guests learned about the unique concept of celebrating winter holidays in the summer months in Australia and played Dutch games. And no holiday festival would be complete without a visit from Santa, who accepted present requests accompanied by the event management "elves."

“It is a great partnership for both the city of Phoenix and ASU to come together and host a community event,” said Bob Berlin, recreation coordinator and parade lead. “There is a chance for students to learn public service firsthand, and we appreciate all of their hard work. But the real beneficiaries are the kids and families who attend a great event where they have fun and learn about traditions from around the world!”

During the event, a few learning moments stood out, including the students having to handle an overloaded power source, a lost child being reunited with his father and an impromptu need to create a photo backdrop from the Santa station using only leftover materials that were at the event site. The students handled all challenges with composure and got a real lesson in what could actually happen during an event.

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

“Our courses are experiential — yes, we spend time discussing fundamentals inside the classroom, but we pride ourselves on the hands-on experiences our students are developing outside of the classroom,” Schneiderman said. “Students will take several visits throughout the community, hear from experts and have several opportunities to develop their own events and volunteer in areas that interest them. Our ultimate goal is to place students in the event industry who have experience and can make an immediate impact!”

Learn more about the Special Events Management program.

Top photo: Marley Fischer helps two young girls create their wish at the China station on Dec. 7. Photo by Paige Corbin

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


Gallego tells ASU students about public service, what it’s like to be mayor of Phoenix

December 6, 2019

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego talked about her job — that it’s very rewarding but involves dealing with criticism — and encouraged students to sign up for city internships in a recent impromptu talk to PAF 200 students at Arizona State University's Downtown Phoenix campus.

Gallego is a former District 8 City Council member elected earlier this year to fill the unexpired term of former Mayor Greg Stanton, now a Democratic congressman from Arizona. Gallego noted that a large number of Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions students are currently serving as interns in her office. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego tells ASU students taking PAF 200 about what it's like to be mayor. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego speaks to ASU Professor of Practice Jerry Oliver's PAF 200 (Public Service & Policy in the 21st Century) class during a recent visit. Download Full Image

The class is taught by Professor of Practice Jerry Oliver, a retired police chief who headed police departments in Detroit; Richmond, Virginia; and Pasadena, California. He has served at several posts in Arizona's state government including director of the Department of Liquor Licensing and Control. Oliver was executive assistant on Gallego’s transition team. During her nearly one-hour talk, the mayor told students how she deals with media scrutiny and works with those on opposite sides of issues.

Phoenix is the nation's fifth-largest city. Population USA predicted its population was to have exceeded 1.7 million by July 2019.

Mark J. Scarp

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


ASU, Phoenix law firm team up to improve diversity in the legal profession

December 4, 2019

For as long as there has been a legal profession, diversity has been lacking. Despite statistical improvements in recent years, it remains one of the least diverse fields in the United States. The American Bar Association reports that in 2019, 85% of active attorneys in the U.S. identify as Caucasian, and 64% are male. And the problem is even more pronounced at the highest levels, with greater disparities among equity partners at law firms and general counsels of Fortune 500 companies.

Phoenix law firm Fennemore Craig is partnering with the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University to effect meaningful change, seeking to broaden the industry’s demographics by growing the pipeline of diverse candidates from ASU Law. Fennemore Craig is offering financial support in the form of a Diversity Scholarship and Fellowship, and supporting pipeline and legal preparation programs, hoping to increase diversity both at its own firm and within the greater legal sector. photo of James Goodnow and Nyla Knox James Goodnow, Fennemore Craig’s president and managing partner (at left), and Diversity Scholarship and Fellowship recipient Nyla Knox, a first-year student at ASU Law. Download Full Image

“Improving diversity in the legal profession is first and foremost the right thing to do,” said James Goodnow, Fennemore Craig’s president and managing partner. “It is also critical to the legal profession if it is to continue to represent and provide legal advice and guidance to businesses, individuals, government agencies and organizations that are themselves diverse and have customers and decision-makers who are diverse. All law firms must be able to appreciate the nature of their clients and their goals and values, which can only be accomplished when those firms understand and appreciate the views of their clients as well as any other parties involved, which are continuing to increase in diversity.”

ASU Law Dean Douglas Sylvester said this first-of-its-kind partnership with Fennemore Craig is just the latest step in the school’s ongoing efforts to find innovative solutions to the legal profession’s diversity problem. The Law School Admission Council’s Diversity Committee recognized ASU Law’s efforts earlier this year, honoring the school with its 2019 Diversity Matters Award.

“A critical element of increasing diversity in the legal profession is increasing access to law schools, and it’s exciting to work with a law firm like Fennemore Craig to help create opportunities for a broader base of students,” said ASU Law Dean Douglas Sylvester. “ASU Law has been at the forefront of this issue with our innovative Pipeline Initiative program, working at the high school level to develop critical-thinking and writing skills, enhancing students’ chances of getting into law school, and ensuring they are prepared for success once they arrive.”

And the partnership with Fennemore Craig is designed to strengthen and extend that pipeline, Sylvester said, helping students not only gain access to law school, but then helping those students make the move from law school to a top law firm.

The initial Diversity Scholarship and Fellowship recipient is Nyla Knox, a first-year student at ASU Law, who will participate in a fellowship with Fennemore Craig this summer. She was elated to learn she is the initial recipient and said the benefits go far beyond the financial aspect.

“It was a sigh of relief to get the financial help, but also to know that going into law school I would have mentors at Fennemore Craig who I could reach out to for advice and to help me with the process,” she said, noting that the firm has been in frequent communication with her since April, checking in, offering guidance and ensuring she has everything she needs to succeed.

Knox, who majored in justice studies as an undergrad at ASU, has known since high school that she wanted to become an attorney. But she was venturing into an unknown world, unsure of how to navigate the road ahead.

“I was going in blind when applying for law school as I don't know any lawyers and I don’t have any lawyers in my family. I was figuring everything out on my own as I went,” she said. “Receiving this scholarship and fellowship, establishing a relationship with Fennemore Craig and having experienced people who are willing to assist me has been a huge help.”

Like ASU Law, Fennemore Craig is involved in multiple diversity projects across various levels of education.

“The firm recognizes that in order to improve the diversity of the legal profession, it’s vital to improve the opportunities and generate interest with all students, including diverse students, to pursue a law school education,” Goodnow said. “Consequently, Fennemore Craig works with high schools, colleges and law schools to ensure that diverse students appreciate the legal profession as a career and help ensure increased opportunities for those students who choose to pursue a law school education.”

It is truly a top priority. Visitors to Fennemore Craig’s website will find that their commitment to diversity is the first thing that comes up on the "About Us" section.

“That is by design,” Goodnow said. “Most, if not all, businesses hold firm to the proposition that their most valuable asset is their people. Fennemore Craig also holds strongly to that belief and we want everyone who is thinking about working with us to understand our values. By putting our emphasis on diversity up front, our goal is to ensure that everyone knows that we take our people and the diversity of our people seriously. It is who we are.”

And that, he says, is better for both the firm and its clients.

“Fennemore Craig has and always will put the client first,” he said. “We are able to do that because we value the diversity of thought that is crucial to a full-service law firm which provides representation that reflects the dynamic and diverse nature of our region and the myriad of challenges facing our business clients. When we have diversity around the table, we are able to find innovative solutions because of the experiences and different perspectives of our team. That equals better results for clients. The creation of the Scholarship and Fellowship thus allows us to do the right thing socially and deliver better results for our clients.”

A Phoenix native, Knox says she wants to give back to the community she grew up in and plans to practice in the Valley. She is undecided about a specific legal career, but thinks spending the summer with Fennemore Craig will help narrow her focus.

“I really appreciate what ASU Law and Fennemore Craig are doing in reaching out to people like myself who may not come from a background where you have everything that you need to succeed in law school,” she said. “As someone who has worked hard to get where I am, I really appreciate not only being able to take some of the financial burden off, but also knowing that I have people in my corner.”

Nicole Almond Anderson

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law


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ASU health students become citizen scientists with app

December 3, 2019

Students hit the streets of downtown Phoenix to document environmental health indicators and report back to policymakers

Downtown Phoenix doughnut lovers rejoiced this year when beloved Valley chain Bosa Donuts opened not one, not two, but three locations within a 1-mile radiusOne at the Arizona Center on the northeast corner of Van Buren and Third streets, one inside an office tower at First Avenue and Monroe Street and one inside a high-rise condominium on Fourth and Jackson streets, just west of Chase Field — in case anybody was wondering..

Students in Arizona State University College of Health Solutions Clinical Assistant Professor Deborah Williams’ brand new course, CHS 294: Community Health and Translational Research, took note for a different reason.

“It’s crazy to think about how there’s almost no other options besides cafes or junk food,” said health sciences sophomore Jordyn Stebbins, sitting outside of a Starbucks just around the corner from the new Bosa location on a recent November afternoon.

She and classmate Hannah Kirsch, a biological sciences sophomore, have spent the past couple weeks surveying a portion of the downtown area between Seventh Avenue on the west to Seventh Street on the east and McDowell Road on the north to Lincoln Street on the south.

As they crisscross the city streets, track park pathways and navigate retail centers, they’re looking for health indicator data — features of the environment that either promote or hinder healthy lifestyles. A wide sidewalk, for example, may encourage people to walk short distances rather than drive, while an abundance of liquor stores could contribute to higher instances of alcoholism in a particular area.

The data they’re collecting is part of a course group project, called the Seven by Seven project, referring to the names of the streets that serve as the eastern and western boundaries to their fieldwork. At the end of the course, students will present their findings along with recommendations for policy changes that would create an environment more conducive to healthy living.

This course and others like it that turn students into citizen scientists are an outcome of the College of Health Solutions’ translational science initiative. The point of the initiative is twofold: to shorten the time between the point when a research discovery is made and when it impacts the community, and to ensure every College of Health Solutions student receives some sort of experiential learning before they graduate, though CHS 294 and other courses are open to students from any college or school at ASU.

“The citizen science approach seemed like an exciting and interesting way to give students both research skills and a familiarity with the local community, as a precursor for them to become more embedded in it in the future,” Williams said. 

As part of the Seven by Seven project, students in her course are focusing on environmental indicators for five health domains: features that promote or hinder physical activity; availability of healthy food; safety; sun/heat exposure; and substance abuse/misuse.

When ASU Now met up with Stebbins and Kirsch, they were zeroing in on the first two, respectively. Using an existing app called Our Voice, which was developed in partnership with Stanford University and College of Health Solutions Associate Professor Matt Buman, the pair can use their smartphones to take photographs of things like unsafe crosswalks and the location of ride-share bikes, record a brief audio or text message about why it was documented and select an icon to connote whether it is a positive or negative health indicator. The app then geolocates every photo onto a map of the area, displaying the positive or negative icon to give a 30,000-foot view of the environmental health there.

The data Stebbins and Kirsch have collected thus far has suggested that food choices in their assigned sector lack diversity and healthy options, and the physical environment is not as safe as it could be for those living with disabilities.

“It kind of just opens your eyes to all the small things you normally wouldn't notice,” Stebbins said. “One thing that stood out to me was a lot of the crosswalks at intersections don't have the sounds to notify the visually impaired if they’re able to cross.”

This is the first semester the 294 course has been offered, and Williams sees it as an opportunity to learn and continue experimenting on future iterations. By the end of the spring semester, she plans to be able to have students present their findings to local policymakers and community members.

“It’s a different approach to learning community health,” Kirsch said. “It’s better than just sitting in the classroom.”

Top photo: ASU College of Health Solutions students Hannah Kirsch (left) and Jordyn Stebbins take photos of a restaurant sign using the Our Voice app as part of a community health and translational research class documenting support and barriers to healthy living in downtown Phoenix. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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NCAA takes steps to allow college athletes to get paid … now what?

November 27, 2019

ASU’s Sports Law & Business Program executive director says the devil is in the details when it comes to money

For decades, the NCAA has adamantly opposed the idea of student-athletes being paid to play college sports. That position is no longer tenable.

California recently adopted a law that bans schools in the state from preventing amateur athletes from making money from advertisers, and also permits the athletes to have representation. Other states have followed suit, introducing bills for endorsement deals for college athletes, which now has the NCAA thinking differently.

In late October, the NCAA’s governing board voted unanimously to allow college athletes to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness. However, the timeline for implementing this new change is still vague, and it's still unclear as to how much of the $1 billion in annual revenue pie they’re willing to share.

When they do decide, there will be plenty of issues to sort through, including how much athletes stand to make, how agents will impact the game and whether the new arrangement will put established sports powerhouse universities and colleges at an advantage.

ASU Now talked to Glenn W. Wong, executive director of the Allan “Bud” Selig Sports Law and Business program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, to sort through these new developments.

Man in red tie smiling

Glenn M. Wong



Question: For many years, the NCAA opposed the idea of student-athletes being paid to play college sports. In late October, it decided to explore legislation that may ultimately result in college players being permitted to “benefit” from the use of their names, images, and likenesses (NIL). Why the sudden shift?

Answer: The NCAA’s change of policy — reflected in its decision to begin the process of potentially liberalizing its rules concerning athletes’ ability to benefit from their NILs — appeared to come in response to (1) the passage of California’s Fair Pay to Play Act (SB 206) and (2) the swell of bipartisan support for amateurism reform in other states, many of which will or already have introduced their own NIL legislation. Illinois, New York, Florida and numerous other states could be next in declaring that colleges and universities cannot enforce current NCAA rules that require ineligibility for benefiting from one’s own NIL.

It is important to note that the NCAA formed a committee to study the issue of student-athletes’ NILs prior to the enactment of SB 206 — so, in some sense, the NCAA’s review of the issue was not wholly prompted by state legislation. That said, the sense of urgency in addressing the NIL issue was no doubt ratcheted up by legislative activity in California and elsewhere.

Q: What are the arguments for lifting the restrictions for student-athletes to hire agents and profit from the use of their names, images and likenesses?

A: The primary arguments in favor of liberalizing student-athletes’ access to agents and the ability to benefit from the use of their NIL largely revolve around fairness and equity. College sports are, and have been for quite some time, big business, and many see injustice in the fact that athletes are the only cogs in the machine who cannot access a relatively free and open market for their services. To be sure, athletes who receive scholarships in exchange for their play on the court, field, etc. already receive tremendous compensation, especially as the cost of education continues to rise. But even then, many see a substantial gap between the value of a scholarship and the value — millions per year — that football and basketball players generate for their institutions.

Q: What are the arguments against lifting the restrictions?

A: Numerous arguments have been advanced against permitting college athletes to benefit economically from their NILs, including the complexity of formulating and enforcing a regulatory scheme to oversee the exchange of an athlete’s NIL for “benefits”; the potential impact on competitive balance; the devaluing of education; fundamentally altering the unique nature of college athletics, thereby blurring the line between college and professional sports; and potential detrimental impacts on intrateam dynamics. Another counterargument that has been raised recently is the possibility that athletic donors and boosters may provide money or “benefits” to athletes directly instead of donating to the athletic department.

Q: If the NCAA ultimately decides to amend its rules relating to athletes’ NILs, will players receive direct cash compensation?

A: Not necessarily. Keep in mind that the NCAA has not committed to allowing student-athletes to “profit” from the use of their NILs. In its statement announcing its intent to move forward on legislative solutions to the NIL issue, the NCAA was careful to use the word “benefit,” and not “profit.” “Benefit” might not mean the direct cash payments we often associate with the term “profit.” And even if the NCAA ultimately allows a compensation-for-NIL system, it may require the money to be held in a trust fund available upon the exhaustion of an athlete’s eligibility, as was the initial remedy in the O’Bannon case, or upon the achievement of certain academic benchmarks, including graduation. When it comes to allowing athletes to “benefit” from their NIL, the devil is in the details.

Q: What could the value of the higher-profile athletes’ NILs be?

A: At this point, it is difficult to say in light of the fact that there has never been a truly free and open market for college players’ NILs. That said, some of the players involved in the FBI’s recent investigation of recruiting practices in men’s college basketball received six-figure payments from apparel companies. That provides a starting point in considering the value of the top college basketball players’ NILs. Again, however, it is possible that the NCAA will not permit athletes to receive cash payments and might limit compensation to a currently undefined set of “benefits.” 

It is also important to note here that while very few student-athletes’ individual NILs would command significant sums on an open market, there may be opportunities for Olympic sport athletes to benefit — albeit less lucratively — from the use of their NILs. And NIL payments, if such payments are allowed, will likely come from external third parties, not the institutions. The third-party compensation model therefore imposes no additional direct costs on the institution — aside from the resources that may be expended on enhanced monitoring and compliance efforts; less clear is whether Title IX concerns could spring from this model.

Q: What about competitive balance? Will the higher-profile schools stockpile the best athletes?

A: This is another counterargument that is routinely raised in opposition to liberalizing the NCAA’s amateurism rules. Although it has some intuitive appeal, it is critical to understand that the top schools — those in the Power Five conferences — already recruit and retain the best talent in the country. In other words, the higher-profile schools already land the best athletes under the current amateurism regulations (think Kansas, Kentucky and Duke in men’s college basketball, and Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson in football). It is difficult to see that changing even in a system where athletes can derive benefits from their NILs.

In fact, it might be the case that relaxing the amateurism rules may increase competitive balance if smaller schools are able to highlight and promote their programs by focusing on playing time — and the chance for an even bigger payday at the professional level — over immediate compensation.

Q: Many wonder how a market for athletes’ NILs might be regulated. What are some options that NCAA policymakers may be considering as they assess if and how to revise their amateurism rules?

A: One regulatory option that has been discussed in the past and that could be the least restrictive means of policing a compensation-for-NIL system is an independent review board, which would review athletes’ agreements with third parties and determine whether those agreements reasonably reflect that athlete’s market value. Although making decisions on a case-by-case basis would no doubt be a cumbersome task, close scrutiny of individual agreements might be one way to assuage the concerns about a “Wild West,” booster-dominated environment while still allowing athletes to benefit from the third party’s use of their NIL. Should such a regulatory model be used here, the independence of the reviewers and the transparency of their review criteria would be critical. 

Q: Might changes to the NCAA’s amateurism rules lead to fewer college athletes leaving school early for the professional ranks?

A: It is certainly possible that allowing athletes to derive benefits from their NILs while in college might actually lead some athletes to remain in school longer and delay a jump to the pros. The NCAA, whose avowed focus is athletes’ education, would undoubtedly favor that outcome. It is challenging, however, to forecast exactly how relaxed NIL rules might change an individual athlete’s calculus on whether to remain in college or declare for a professional draft or sign a professional contract, as there are a litany of variables that spur those decisions.

That said, it is possible to envision a scenario in which, for instance, a draft-eligible college football player with a fifth-round grade from NFL scouts might be persuaded to remain in school a year longer to improve his draft prospects if he had the ability to receive some — any — compensation during that additional year. That compensation might not come close to what he might make in the NFL, assuming he makes a roster, but it may just be enough to convince him to stay in school another year, finish his degree and improve his draft stock. That could be a win-win for all parties involved.

Q: When can we realistically expect changes in the legal and regulatory frameworks governing college players’ use of their NILs?

A: Not for at least another year, and likely longer. California’s law does not go into effect until 2023, but the NCAA had said that it wants legislative options for reforming its NIL rules by January 2021 — and has also indicated that it might challenge the California law in court, which would further complicate matters. The NCAA’s legislative process is quite deliberative, ostensibly to allow input and discussion by a large membership, and disagreement between member institutions as to whether and how to amend their amateurism rules is likely to arise.

In the meantime, other states — and perhaps Congress — may pass laws similar to California’s that have sooner effective dates. So the sheer amount of regulatory and legislative uncertainty makes it exceedingly difficult to forecast when change might actually be implemented. But make no mistake: Change is coming. NIL reform is not an "if," but a "when" and "how."

Top photo: Sun Devil forward Jalen Graham (left) and guard Rob Edwards box out a St. John’s opponent Nov. 23. ASU won, 80-67. As states and the NCAA explore the possibilities of student-athletes benefiting from their name, image and likeness, many questions arise. Photo by Bob Blanchard

Reporter , ASU Now


Registration still available for Economic Forecast Luncheon

National and local speakers unveil what’s in store for the year ahead

November 26, 2019

The U.S. economic outlook is healthy, according to key economic indicators. Will it remain steady in 2020?

With risks — particularly tariffs on Chinese imports, Fed moves, and potential budget and debt-ceiling standoffs — looming larger, a slowdown looks more likely. Download Full Image

Top experts soon will share their predictions for the state and nation at the Valley’s largest and most trusted economic forecasting event, the Economic Forecast Luncheon. Speakers include Robert J. Barro, the Paul M. Warburg Professor of Economics at Harvard University; and professors of economics at ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business Bart Hobijn and Lee McPheters, who is also the director of the JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center and editor of the Arizona and Western Blue Chip Economic Forecast publications.

About 1,000 people are expected to attend the 56th annual Economic Forecast Luncheon at the Phoenix Convention Center — West Ballroom, which is on the southeast corner of Second and Monroe streets in Phoenix, on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, from 11:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m.

To register, visit wpcarey.asu.edu/efl.

Shay Moser

Managing Editor, W. P. Carey School of Business