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ASU Hugh Downs School awarded $10,000 to study loneliness and isolation

November 21, 2019

Faculty and graduate students from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication were awarded $10,000 from the Tempe Community Council (TCC), an agency of United Way and a partner of the city of Tempe, for its Storyscope Project, a storytelling format that fosters inclusiveness and cultivates connections and compassion. 

The Tempe community was invited by the TCC to submit their innovative solutions to help alleviate isolation and loneliness by strengthening connections between people in Tempe as part of its first-ever Connector Award. Award amounts ranged from $500 to $50,000.  A mural at Guerrero Rotary Park in Mesa inspired by a Storyscope Project. Photo courtesy of Arizona Urban Land Institute Download Full Image

Jennifer Linde, a Hugh Downs School principal lecturer and artistic director of The Empty Space, submitted the Storyscope Project for consideration and was one of five projects awarded funding. Storyscope will partner with Unity of Tempe to complete the project. 

“The Storyscope Project allows everyone involved to express their unique stories, make connections, feel a sense of belonging and participate in inclusive communities,” Linde said.

Linde’s team included Hugh Downs School doctoral students Lauren Mark, Rob Razzante, Tyler Rife and school alumnus and civil communication research fellow, John Genette. The school partnered with Rev. Linda Park-Fuller, a former assistant professor of performance studies at the Hugh Downs School.    

Linde says the Storyscope Project will make a difference and reduce isolation in two ways. 

“First, the Storyscope Project creates connection through story sharing,” she said. “Humans are natural storytellers. Sharing and listening to other’s experiences is one way people develop connections with others.” 

“Second, by collecting empirical data, we can do research to pinpoint exactly where connections are being made. With this knowledge, we can more effectively advocate storytelling and sharing as inclusive communication and a means to reduce social isolation.”

Community members participated in the mural project at Guerrero Rotary Park in Mesa. Photo courtesy of Arizona Urban Land Institute. 

Linde says quantitative and qualitative data will be gathered through post-Storyscope surveys, interviews, and focus groups. Data analysis will be conducted by members of the I-4C research collaborative at the Hugh Downs School.  The school is further supporting this initiative by providing an internal seed grant of $5,000.   

Phase one of the Storyscope Project, which includes training story circle facilitators, making community contacts and planning and scheduling Storyscope events, is already underway. 

Ideally, Linde would like the Storyscope project to be utilized by any organization seeking to generate connections and address the problem of social isolation and loneliness. 

Recently Linde and Genette were asked by the Mesa Arts Center to hold a Storyscope event to help gather stories from the community to create murals in Guerrero Park. The project was funded by the Urban Land Institute, whose stated mission is to “strengthen communities through supporting art and culture in neighborhoods.” 

“John and I offered the Storyscope process to the organizers so that community members could share their stories with the mural artists,” Linde said. “The intent was for the artists to listen to the stories and turn their words into art.” 

An artist creating a mural inspired by stories of community members at Guerrero Rotary Park in Mesa. Photo courtesy of Arizona Urban Land Institute

In the end, 12 mural artists crafted a 270-foot long mural collaborating with about 250 community members of all ages to implement the project. 

“We are excited that the Storyscope project is a part of local communities like Mesa and Tempe and that people are finding ways to share their stories with others,” Linde said.

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication


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ASU team takes first place at inaugural Regents' Cup debate competition

November 21, 2019

Daylong event at University of Arizona showcases Arizona’s public universities' commitment to freedom of expression

Arizona State University students Valielza O’Keefe and Joshua Pardhe took first place in the inaugural Regents’ Cup debate competition this weekend, each winning $16,600 in a one-time scholarship to further their educational goals.

Second place was awarded to University of Arizona students Vincent Jasso and Finley Dutton-Reid. Taking third place were ASU students Jessica Carter and Logan Guthrie, and UArizona students Nyah Fyfe and Marnie Gyorffy.

MORE: The inspiration and practice ahead of the Regents' Cup

Thirty-six students on two-student teams from Arizona’s public universities competed during the daylong event at UArizona on Saturday, a competition showcasing Arizona’s public universities' commitment to freedom of expression. Subjects debated included how (if at all) social media sites should regulate speech, free speech on college campuses, and if the United States should have tougher libel, slander and defamation laws.

“It was inspiring to watch our students so eloquently debate the topics of free speech and civil dialogue, both of which are vital to the health of our democracy,” said Mark Searle, executive vice president and university provost at ASU. “I was particularly impressed that Valielza and Joshua, our winning ASU students, are majoring in physics and engineering, which underscores the importance that ASU places on learning experiences that transcend traditional academic disciplines.”

The second-place winning team received one-time scholarships totaling $12,450, and third-place winners took home a $6,225 scholarship. Each of the remaining student competitors was awarded a $500 one-time scholarship.

“The inaugural Regents’ Cup was not only a pleasure to watch, but it was an honor to participate in by awarding scholarships and presenting the cup to the winning team,” said Regent Karrin Taylor Robson, who envisioned the event. “I am deeply proud of all of our students who presented compelling arguments and conducted themselves in an exemplary and professional manner, one that was characterized by civil discourse and respect.”

This inaugural competition featured reasoned debate during an era when free-speech issues on college campuses are part of the national conversation. Arizona’s public universities are recognized as exemplars in free speech; Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona are all recognized with a green light rating, the highest rating by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

During the all-day competition, student teams participated in rounds of civil dialogue, solutions debate, persuasive storytelling and Oxford-style debate. 

Girls-only cybersecurity event attracts hundreds to ASU West campus

November 20, 2019

Eighth grade student Debbie from Country Meadows Elementary School in Peoria dreams of becoming a computer programmer someday. But until this week, she had never met a woman in that role.

“It taught me that just because you’re a woman, doesn’t mean you can’t do different things," she said. "It gave me a little bit more confidence.” Middleschool girls attend ASU’s CyberDay4Girls Heather Ricciuto, IBM Security's academic outreach leader, engages hundreds of middle school girls eager to learn more about cybersecurity careers. Photo by Heather Orquiz/ASU Download Full Image

Debbie was one of hundreds of middle school students participating in CybersecurityDay4Girls on Arizona State University's West campus this week.

“It’s important to make a specific reach to girls because they don’t see themselves in these roles yet,” said Jamie Winterton, director of strategy for the Global Security Initiative.

ASU’s CybersecurityDay4Girls was hosted in partnership with IBM to introduce young girls to the field of cybersecurity. Middle school girls are the focus of this program because women are typically underrepresented in cybersecurity roles. 

“We started IBM CybersecurityDay4Girls in 2016 because we recognized a gap. … We needed to get to girls earlier, so we decided to target middle school girls and work with them to bring awareness of cybersecurity (opportunities),” said IBM’s Heather Ricciuto.

CybersecurityDay4Girls covers topics to help middle school students and their families stay safe online in an ever more connected world. The program also introduces more advanced concepts like cryptography and blockchain. This exposure provides students with a better understanding of cybersecurity as a career and encourages them to consider pursuing it further.

Hallie Schukai is a sophomore studying computer science in the Fulton Schools of Engineering. “If I was that 12-year-old girl sitting in there right now, I would be absolutely thrilled because making it all about these middle school girls is amazing," she said. "I wish I had had it when I was their age.” 

It was also an opportunity for participants to meet and hear from female professionals already working in cybersecurity. These role models shared their personal journeys that led to their positions today, along with explanations of what their jobs entail.

Winterton moderated a panel discussion between students and female cybersecurity professionals. “They don’t have a lot of people to look up to, so by bringing them together and showing them there are actually a lot of female leaders in cybersecurity … then they can start to see what kind of careers they might be good for.”    

IBM has hosted nearly 100 CybersecurityDay4Girls events in 10 countries since 2016. This week IBM partnered with ASU for CybersecurityDay4Girls in conjunction with the 10th annual NICE conference (National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education) in Phoenix. The annual NICE Conference and Expo brings together thought leaders from industry, government, academia and nonprofit organizations to address the community's cybersecurity education, training and workforce needs.

Richard Holland

Director Marketing and Communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences


W. P. Carey School announces 2019 Alumni Hall of Fame members

Top business leaders to be honored at Nov. 22 event

November 19, 2019

Five Arizona State University graduates will be inducted into the 42nd annual W. P. Carey School of Business Alumni Hall of Fame on Friday, Nov. 22. This year's class is comprised of a food industry executive who has built and operated major franchise brands, a technology executive who provided financial guidance and leadership to a multinational technology conglomerate, a health care executive who dedicated his career to the strategic direction and financial well-being of Arizona residents, the highest-ranking African American executive working in college sports and a Clio Award-winning marketing executive and entrepreneur.

Previous inductees come from such diverse organizations as the Arizona Public Service, Avnet, JPMorgan Chase Bank, Native American Connections and Sony. Download Full Image

"Each of our honorees has been selected for their significant contributions to their professions, the community, and the W. P. Carey School of Business," Dean Amy Hillman said. "Together, they bring great awareness to students that you can reach your goals in any industry with a high-quality education, commitment and hard work."

The 2019 W. P. Carey Alumni Hall of Fame inductees are:

William Van Epps (BS in marketing, '71) William Van Epps is CEO of New England Authentic Eats LLC. For 45 years, Van Epps has had an extraordinary record driving growth in foodservice, retail and franchising, including 31 years in the international arena. His experience ranges across many household names in the restaurant industry, from Papa John's International to Long John Silver's Inc. and Shake Shack. Van Epps serves on the board of advisers for New England Authentic Eats LLC, Walhburgers and Locknet (a lock and security door manufacturer). 

Larry Carter (BS in accountancy, '74) — Larry Carter joined Cisco in January 1995 as vice president of finance and administration, chief financial officer and secretary. In July 1997, he was promoted to senior vice president of finance and administration, CFO and secretary. Carter was elected to the Cisco board of directors in July 2000. In May 2003, upon his retirement as CFO and secretary, he was appointed senior vice president, office of the chairman and CEO. He retired in November 2008. Carter was a member of Cisco's board of directors until 2014 and is currently a trustee and founder of the Cisco Foundation and a member of the CHP 11-99 Foundation board of directors.

Richard Boals (BS in accountancy, '79) — Richard Boals served as CEO at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Arizona, Inc. from April 2003 to July 2017. Boals joined Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) in 1971 and served in a variety of capacities, seeing it through numerous years of growth and success. Before beginning his career at BCBSAZ, he served four years in the United States Air Force. Boals currently serves on the Arizona Biosciences board, the board of Phoenix Children's Hospital and Northern Arizona University's Innovations Advisory Board. He is a member of Arizona Tech Investors, ASU President's Club and the W. P. Carey School of Business Dean's Council.

Kevin Warren (MBA, '88) — Kevin Warren is the commissioner-elect of the Big Ten Conference, officially commencing duties on Jan. 2, 2020. Warren will be the first African American commissioner of an Autonomous 5 Conference. Before joining the Big Ten Conference, Warren was chief operating officer of the Minnesota Vikings. Warren and his wife, Greta, are active members of the Minneapolis-St. Paul community where they support several local elementary schools, scholarships for first-generation college students and the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.

Matthew Michalowski (BS finance, '09) — Matt Michalowski is the president and founder of PXL, a creative technology agency that works with the world's largest blue-chip media brands, including NBCUniversal, 20th Century Fox, Disney, Paramount, Warner Bros. and Sony, among others. In 2012, on his 25th birthday, Michalowski embarked on his own and founded PXL. Over the next seven years, PXL would work on the marketing campaigns for some of the biggest theatrical releases, including "Bohemian Rhapsody," "X-Men: Days of Future Past" and "The Revenant" — winner of the 2016 Academy Award for Best Picture. In 2019, PXL was acquired by Studio City, an entertainment marketing agency specializing in television. 

Alumni, business leaders and students will attend the W. P. Carey Alumni Hall of Fame event on Friday, Nov. 22, at McCord Hall Plaza on ASU's Tempe campus. The reception starts at 5:30 p.m. Advance registration is requested at wpcarey.asu.edu/alumni/hall-of-fame or by calling 480-965-3978.

Shay Moser

Managing Editor, W. P. Carey School of Business


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ASU students come up with innovative ideas for Arizona Opera to grow revenue

ASU students help Arizona Opera find ways to grow revenue beyond ticket sales.
November 19, 2019

Immersive storytelling, craft nights among concepts at pitch competition

Like many arts organizations, the recession was tough on Arizona Opera, which is now working to ensure its financial future. In its 47th season, the opera company is partnering with Arizona State University to find new ways to grow revenue.

“It’s a massive problem for us to figure out how to make this centuries-old art form not just survive but become vibrant and exciting for people in a new millennium,” said Joseph Specter, president and general director of Arizona Opera.

Last week, a student pitch competition at ASU came up with several innovative ways for the company to repurpose its assets to promote itself, create a new fan base and make money beyond ticket sales.

“If I was to say to you, ‘I want the fastest way to raise capital,’ none of you would say, ‘Let’s start an opera company,’” Specter told the students.

“But why can’t this group here today be the one to figure out how that works?”

Specter gave the students the financial background of the company and discussed its resources, including a black box rehearsal space, offices, a parking lot, a warehouse and a huge LED wall, which the company already rents out.

More than 30 students from the W. P. Carey School of Business and the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts divided into nine teams and spent the afternoon coming up with ideas.

The winning team, three MBA students, proposed using the company’s woodworking shop and costume shops to hold “craft nights” for families, with beer, wine and desserts. Other ideas were:

• Using the black box rehearsal space for an escape room adventure.

• Renting parking spaces at the downtown Phoenix building through the AirGarage app.

• Installing solar panels to save money and possibly sell excess electricity.

• Selling meet-and-greet events with the performers and behind-the-scenes tours.

• Creating a library of short performance videos for a subscription service.

• Making virtual-reality content so users can feel like they’re on stage with the performers.

• Creating a pop-up event with a “silent disco,” shops and food trucks.

• Using the company’s large LED screen for customized conferences.

One group suggested the company partner with other arts organizations on a coordinated campaign for social justice issues.

“There’s a need for this, and over history, art has been used to spread awareness of social issues,” said Vivian Chen, who’s majoring in finance and accounting.

“There’s a large population of people donating to social causes that you can tap into. This year you have the show ‘Fellow Travelers,’ tied to LGBTQ awareness, so take it one step further, build on the concept and have Arizona Opera be an entity known for spreading social justice.”

Chen’s teammate, Chase Gordon, described the plan: Engage with community partners on art exhibits, panel discussions and education sessions during the first week of a typical monthlong production.

“Then in the final week, hold a gala to bring in donors and try to raise money to get that revenue stream beyond tickets,” said Gordon, a global management major.

When asked if they had ever been to an opera, only a handful of students raised their hands. But they were eager to spread the word among their young-adult peers. Louise Hardman and Ryan Gunderson, both MBA students, teamed up to present the idea of immersive storytelling experiences.

“These escape rooms are trendy among millennials and Gen Z, who might not be inclined to go to the opera, and it will expand the live experience for current opera enthusiasts,” Gunderson said.

“We want the immersive storytelling to stay true to the opera brand,” Hardman said. “The biggest takeaway is the additional $2 million of earned revenue over five years.”

The winning team included MBA students Sivagurunathan Manickavasagam, Ashwath Rajagopalan and Zac Stucki. They were inspired by Stucki’s visit to a natural history museum, in which his family made craft items.

“Families could come and make a craft centered on the opera,” Stucki said. “There’s a lot you can do with minimal resources.”

Specter explained to the students that Arizona Opera was near financial disaster in 2013. When he was hired in 2016, Specter helped the company reinvent its financial and artistic model.

The “aha moment” was when the organization looked at peer opera companies, which receive about three-quarters of their revenue from donations and the rest from ticket sales. Arizona Opera received about two-thirds of its revenue from donations.

Contemporary operas draw more donations, so now the company performs more of those, like “Fellow Travelers,” about homophobia in the McCarthy Era, than the traditional works, like "La Bohème."

“When it comes to those beloveds, our income potential on ticket sales is high, and with new works, ticket sales can be variable, but we have a high potential for donations,” Specter said.

Friday’s pitch competition, which awarded a $5,000 grand prize, is part of the company’s OnPitch Business Challenge, an invitation to the entire community to create new funding concepts, with $25,000 in prize money to be awarded. All of the ASU student groups at Friday’s event are invited to enter their ideas. The competition, funded by a grant, is intended to decrease the company’s reliance on donations and ticket sales.

“That piece is important because if we come up short, we can’t sustain the organization,” Specter said.

Top image: To boost donations, Arizona Opera has performed more contemporary operas, and in 2017, commissioned "Riders of the Purple Sage," an adaptation of Zane Grey’s novel. The company will performed the show again in February and March. Photo courtesy of Arizona Opera.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Robo Hackathon puts students' technical skills to the test

November 18, 2019

Arizona State University students took on challenges in robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence alongside their peers from universities and community colleges across the state at the first-ever Robo Hackathon on ASU’s Tempe campus.

Undergraduate students in engineering, computer science and related majors were challenged with developing an autonomous robotic system that could race through a track and recognize their school’s mascot.  Students work on their robot for the ASU Robo Hackathon Undergraduate students from all over Arizona applied their skills in robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence at the first Robo Hackathon hosted by ASU. The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, ASU University Technology Office and sponsors NVIDIA and Amazon Web Services challenged students to build robots that could recognize their school’s mascot using open-source SparkFun JetBot AI Kits powered by NVIDIA’s Jetson Nano Developer Kit and Amazon Web Services tools such as AWS RoboMaker and SageMaker. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

Each team, which included three to five undergraduate students and a maximum of one graduate student, included members representing multiple disciplines, just as the field of artificial intelligence requires in industry and research teams. They competed for more than $8,000 in prizes — and bragging rights as the first Robo Hackathon winner. 

Robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence are growing in importance as Arizona’s industry and academic institutions position the region as a smart technology hub. The ASU University Technology Office hosts hackathons each fall and spring to empower students to apply their skills and learn new ones to solve real-world problems. ASU UTO saw a statewide robotics hackathon as a great opportunity.

"The Robo Hackathon — and all ASU hackathons we lead — are a way to actively engage students, our next generation of leaders and changemakers, with opportunities to learn and apply the kinds of skills that are vital for the growth of Arizona and beyond,” said John Rome, deputy chief information officer for ASU UTO and lead organizer of the Robo Hackathon. “The students who participated are truly a snapshot of the future and it gives us great pride and hope. It was an honor to provide them an opportunity to experiment with the latest cloud solutions."

To put on Arizona's first Robo Hackathon, UTO leveraged strategic partnerships with the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU and the university’s work in the Smart City Cloud Innovation Center, which includes partners such as Amazon Web Services, to organize an event that engages the next generation of changemakers to use their skills to impact Arizona’s technology future.

Sponsors NVIDIA and AWS provided the participants access to some of the latest robotics and AI programming technology. Students used the open-source SparkFun JetBot AI Kit powered by NVIDIA’s Jetson Nano Developer Kit as a launchpad to create their AI projects, paired with AWS tools such as AWS RoboMaker and SageMaker.

Yinong Chen, a principal lecturer of computer science and engineering in the Fulton Schools, helped design the competition missions that helped students progressively increase their robots’ capabilities to become mascot-identifying racing bots. He says this was a great opportunity for students to apply their classroom knowledge.

“The Robo Hackathon helped Arizona students combine the knowledge they learned in university classes with the cutting-edge technologies and platforms provided by AWS, Nvidia and SparkFun, including robotics, internet of things and machine learning skills,” Chen said.

Over three days, the students learned how to use AWS tools, assembled their SparkFun JetBot kits and machine learning concepts to detect and navigate a path and to classify images. Their missions included basic movements, autonomous navigation around obstacles and recognizing mascots. The participating teams were scored on their speed and completion of the missions.

The students also had to think quickly on their feet when an unexpected speed bump caused the image reading capabilities of the camera to not work as planned. 

“Finding existing problems in the system is a part of a hackathon event, and the students did it,” Chen said. “The organizers had to slightly modify the missions to get around the problem, which allowed the students to create a new solution based on the new requirements.”

He says he was impressed by the students’ ability to dynamically adjust to the new challenge by utilizing their understanding of fundamental principles of machine learning and their programming skills. 

Chen’s favorite mission was a speed race in which students’ robots had to capture and recognize the track images using machine learning.

“The robot must perform all the difficult tasks in racing conditions,” Chen said. “It is very hard to achieve what the students achieved (in the short time frame of) the hackathon.”

Overall, Chen thought it was an excellent event and a valuable experience for all the students involved.

“The event was well organized and students learned a lot from the hackathon, whether or not they won the cash prizes,” he said.

Team Light Speed from ASU took home first place and $5,000, Team Robin Noodles from ASU was awarded second place and $2,500, and Team CATS from the University of Arizona earned third place and $1,000.

UTO will continue to host hackathons at ASU that apply hands-on skills in high demand in the region. With the popularity of the first Robo Hackathon, UTO will likely hold more opportunities to apply robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence skills in future events.

Monique Clement

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Veterans in Arizona more than twice as likely to die by suicide as nonveterans, ASU researchers find

November 18, 2019

Veterans in Arizona are at more than twice the risk of the rest of the population of dying by suicide, according to new information from Arizona State University’s Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety (CVPCS).

Researchers at the CVPCS, based at ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, found that 53.2 veterans per 100,000 population in Arizona killed themselves between 2015 and 2017, compared with a rate of 21.1 per 100,000 for nonveterans, said Professor Charles Katz, the Watts Family Director of the center. Download Full Image

The center released its Arizona Violent Death Reporting System (AZ-VDRS) report, "Suicides Involving Veterans," this month. In compiling their results, researchers examined 3,601 suicides that occurred in Arizona between 2015 and 2017. More findings:

  • Female veterans’ suicides occurred at about three times the rate of nonveteran females (28.9 per 100,000 population for female veterans versus 10.7 per 100,000 population among women who were not veterans).
  • More than 1 in 3 veteran suicide victims reported a physical health problem, compared with less than 1 in 4 among nonveteran suicide victims.
  • Veterans were far more likely to have used a firearm than nonveterans in killing themselves (80% versus 53.4%).

Younger veterans ages 18-34 are four times more likely to die by suicide than nonveterans of the same age group, according to the study.

Among Arizona counties, Mohave County in northwest Arizona leads the state in the rate of veteran suicides, with 79.3 veteran suicides per 100,000 population. Graham County in southeast Arizona had the lowest rate, logging 14.7 veteran suicides per 100,000 population. The statewide number is 50.4.

“If we as a state and a nation are serious about preventing suicide among our veterans, increased support for mental health screening and treatment after diagnosis is needed urgently,” the report’s implications and recommendations sections said. “Critically, we owe veteran men and women the highest standard of care and a rapid, effective response when they have disclosed suicidal thoughts and intentions or have survived actual attempts. The goal should be nothing less than the restoration of their potential for quality of life.”

Katz agreed.

“Our findings should give pause to all of us who support our troops, especially as we honor veterans this month,” he said. “Many of these suicides are the result of the physical and mental problems they have experienced. If you are close to a veteran, talk to them, communicate with them. Most of all, sympathize or empathize with the experiences they share with you, and encourage them to contact their local veterans center, VA medical center or a suicide prevention coordinator.”

The research for this report, like others the center conducts for the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has usefulness beyond compiling statistics, said David Choate, the CVPCS’ associate director.

“It is not research for the sake of research. Indeed, the mission of the CDC, the NVDRS and the Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety is to see the AZ-VDRS data be put to use,” Choate said. “We work closely with law enforcement and public health partners, allowing both nongovernmental organizations and governmental policymakers much-needed information necessary for data-driven decision making in response to important issues surrounding homicides and suicides in Arizona.”

Mark J. Scarp

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


Mike and Cindy Watts receive WESTMARC Regional Advancement Award

November 15, 2019

Mike and Cindy Watts, for whom the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions is named, received the Regional Advancement Award from WESTMARC on Nov. 7 during its annual Best of the West Awards show and dinner.

The Wattses are co-founders of Sunstate Equipment, a highly successful equipment and rental company that began in Arizona in 1977 and has expanded to 10 other states. Both grew up in the west Phoenix neighborhood of Maryvale when it was a newly developed community. Concerned by the urban decline Maryvale began experiencing in the 1980s and 1990s, the couple made leadership gifts to the Maryvale YMCA and endowed the Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety, an initiative of the Watts College. award sculpture Mike and Cindy Watts were honored by WESTMARC Nov. 7 with this Regional Advancement Award for their contributions to ASU and to the West Valley. Download Full Image

In 2018, the couple made a $30 million donation to ASU’s then-College of Public Service and Community Solutions, prompting the renaming and spurring expansion of the college’s work in community development, public policy, criminal justice and child well-being, including the funding of five endowed professorships. The gift also is contributing to a revitalization effort in Maryvale, with ASU collaborating directly with local leaders to bolster their efforts and increase community engagement.

Watts College Dean Jonathan Koppell spoke about the couple’s dedication to their community and region in a video introduction shown at the awards dinner.

“I can’t think of a couple that is more devoted to the West Valley than Mike and Cindy,” said Koppell, who said he was delighted to be speaking on behalf of the college bearing the couple’s name.

“It’s important to understand, however, that the gift to ASU, while being focused on our students and on great research, was primarily because they cared passionately about advancing the communities of the West Valley and saw the investment in the Watts College as being a vehicle for making a difference in people’s lives.”

Founded in 1990, WESTMARC — which stands for Western Maricopa Coalition — consists of 15 West Valley communities, including Phoenix, in partnership with area businesses and educational institutions including ASU. Its mission, according to its website, is “to address important issues facing the West Valley’s economic prosperity.”

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W. P. Carey School honors State Forty Eight for excellence in entrepreneurship

November 14, 2019

3 Chandler men grow T-shirt business from startup to 'the face of Arizona'

Michael Spangenberg said he was always that “one weird dude” in his Chandler classroom who was born in Arizona. Still, he didn’t realize that Arizona was the 48th state to join the country.

“Now I do,” said Spangenberg, co-founder of the popular State Forty Eight apparel company.

Spangenberg and his partners were honored Wednesday with the Spirit of Enterprise Award by the Economic Club of Phoenix, part of the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, given annually to a business that exemplifies excellence and ethics in entrepreneurship.

In his talk, he described how he and co-founders Stephen and Nicholas Polando, who are brothers, grew their business from a side hustle to a brand that sells $4 million in clothing and hats a year.

Spangenberg always loved clothing and was huge fan of all the Arizona sports teams.

“My favorite thing was back-to-school shopping,” he said. “It drove me nuts that I never saw anything that represented Arizona in a positive way.”

He always wanted to have his own clothing line, even as he was working in the hotel industry.

“I was probably writing down names in a book for two years, but no clothing line ever made sense,” he said. It was 2012 and he was roommates with Stephen Polando, a childhood friend.

“Stephen was brushing his teeth and he came out and he said, ‘State Forty Eight.’ It was an ‘aha’ moment,” Spangenberg said.

Nicholas Polando was a self-taught graphic designer who then came up with some logo ideas.

“He proposed three and two were bad,” Spangenberg said.

So the three became equal business partners, gathered together $1,500 to trademark their logo and launched State Forty Eight in 2013 — all while keeping their full-time day jobs.

Michael Spangenberg holds the Spirit of Enterprise Award while chatting with Amy Hillman, dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business, who said that State Forty Eight is about "inspiring others to rise up and stand for something they believe in." Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

“The first two years, we didn’t earn a dollar,” he said. “We were selling T-shirts at launch parties on Mill Avenue and at First Friday when First Friday wasn’t even cool.”

They built their own website and ran their own social media. They scoured Craigslist for a thermal heat press and when they collected enough profits, they would make a new batch of T-shirts.

“I’m not the most handy guy and I made shirts backwards and upside down,” he said. “We were hustling.”

A turning point came in 2016 when they scraped together $1,500 to join the Phoenix Fashion Week’s emerging designer boot camp.

“The thing that stood out from that was learning how to sustain the business,” he said. “It wasn’t just a glamor runway show.”

They started networking, and found a connection to Bruce Arians, then the coach of the Arizona Cardinals. That led to the now-famous State Forty Eight T-shirt that featured Arians’ likeness with his trademark flat-top cap and game-day headset. Sales of the shirt benefited the Arians Family Foundation, which fights child abuse.

“We couldn’t keep the shirts in stock and we raised a ton of money for the foundation,” Spangenberg said. “And it was an example of how we were laying the foundation to be doing more than just selling T-shirts and hats.”

That success led to partnerships with the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Phoenix Mercury and the Phoenix Suns, as well as fundraising collaborations with other organizations including Phoenix Children’s Hospital, the Arizona Humane Society and the W. P. Carey School of Business.

But as the company grew, there were challenges too.

“We have three equal business partners and that’s a huge blessing because you see different perspectives, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say we had disagreements,” Spangenberg said. “And when you’re young, there’s a lot of pride involved and you have to put that aside.”

The three were able to pour all the revenues back into the company before finally leaving their day jobs to become full-time State Forty Eight employees, which the two brothers did before Spangenberg.

“I wanted to be there full time and that’s where those communication barriers came into play. I would try to catch up after work and they’d be tired of me texting at midnight,” he said.

“The sexy thing to do is to go for it but that’s not the real world. It’s OK to have a side hustle until it’s a full-time hustle. It allowed us to grow.”

The company now has 15 employees, with seven full time. And they’re still learning how to run a business efficiently.

“It’s hard to have those honest conversations but now we have weekly meetings on Tuesdays that we don’t miss,” said Spangenberg, who still personally runs the State Forty Eight social media accounts.

“When you don’t have meetings, things build up and then you talk over text and that’s how things get misperceived. It seems simple but it’s been a huge help.”

The collaborations have doubled State Forty Eight’s online revenue and now the company sells other branded merchandise, including stickers, glassware, bags and socks. It recently launched a co-branded credit card and set up two retail locations, in Gilbert and at the Churchill in downtown Phoenix. In the future, Spangenberg would like to see a State Forty Eight license plate and maybe a sports travel group.

“Twenty years from now, everyone at the Diamondbacks games will be a Diamondbacks fan and be proud of where they’re from,” he said.

“And we want to be the face of Arizona.”

Top image: Michael Spangenberg describes the journey of State Forty Eight, the company he co-founded, at the Economic Club of Phoenix luncheon on Wednesday, where he accepted the Spirit of Enterprise Award. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


image title

ASU-inspired lake marks 20 years

ASU architecture classes of 1967 and '68 first began drawing up plans for lake.
More than 2 million people visit Tempe Town Lake annually.
November 12, 2019

Dignitaries celebrate effort that brought Tempe Town Lake to life; revitalized riverbed sparks inspiration for Valleywide project

The Salt River Valley has always revolved around two things: the sun above and the river below.

Hohokam children played on the banks of the Salt and ate fish caught in weirs and corn and squash nourished by the water. Centuries later, settlers unearthed the native canals and irrigated their own crops. A ferry moved farmers, swindlers and gunfighters across the waters from Tempe to Phoenix.

But the river proved to be too violent and unpredictable during the monsoon, whipping around the Valley floor like a snake in a shoebox. To count on it, it had to be brought under control with a dam.

For almost 90 years, the waters ran into the canals. The riverbed dried. Cities turned their back on it, using it as a gravel pit and dump.

Now the river is being embraced again. The cornerstone of that effort, Tempe Town Lake, celebrated its 20th anniversary last week with dignitaries celebrating the massive effort that brought it back to life.

More than 2 million people visit the lake annually. More than 30,000 people live within a mile of its shores. More than 42,000 people work within a mile of the lake at companies such as State Farm Insurance, Amazon, Microsoft and Silicon Valley Bank.

It’s Arizona’s second most popular public attraction, generating nearly $2 billion in economic impact since its opening.

“Anybody who drives past Tempe Town Lake realizes what a success this is,” the late Sen. John McCain said two years ago. “Every mayor wants a Tempe Town Lake. … We want to make this an example to the rest of the state, as well as the nation.”

But revitalization dates back much further than 20 years, to Arizona State University’s College of Architecture in the mid-1960s under Dean James Elmore.

ASU’s Wellington “Duke” Reiter, senior adviser to the president and executive director of the University City Exchange, explained at the celebration Friday the university’s role in creating the lake.

Reiter quoted the last line of the university’s charter: “assuming fundamental responsibility for … the communities it serves.

“I can’t think of a project that better demonstrates that,” he said, citing the architecture classes of 1967 and 1968 who first started drawing up plans.

The classes created designs to control flooding, restore the environment and lead to more recreation and economic development.

“They did what students should do: imagine the possible, even if it seemed far-fetched,” Reiter said. “What they got right is that it could be something of significance.”

Tempe Town Lake came about through a massive effort by elected and community leaders; multiple state, county and federal government agencies; and partnerships with institutions including Salt River Project, Arizona Public Service and ASU.

Now an even larger cohort stretching the length of the Valley is working on revitalizing the entire river. McCain wanted the project as his legacy. Now ASU students from across the university’s various schools are working on a 55-plus-mile imagining of what the river can be.

“You won’t see surface water for 50 miles, but you will see the revitalization of the river in various communities, based on what those communities would like to have,” Reiter said. “What that shows is the fortunes of cities and universities are inextricably linked.”

RELATED: 'Rio Reimagined' kicks off public launch

Top photo: A view of Tempe Town Lake and the Tempe Center for the Arts at the start of the lake’s 20th anniversary celebration on Nov. 8. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now