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Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program celebrates 35 years

May 15, 2019

This spring marks the 35th anniversary of ASU’s Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program that aims to increase the number of first-generation Arizona students who are prepared to enroll and succeed at Arizona State University.

The program was launched in 1984 by Joanne O’Donnell to address the underrepresentation of women and women of color attending ASU. Every year, the program selects hundreds of seventh grade students and family member participant teams — 650 this year alone — to become more familiar with the process of preparing for a college education through activities focused on skill building, mentorship and community-building around higher education. Monthly workshops on ASU’s Tempe campus address topics such as peer pressure, financial aid and preparing for high school. Translators are available for Spanish speakers to make the material more accessible.   Hispanic Mother Daughter Program ASU spring 2019 graduate Jackelyne Arevalo From left: Cesar Arevalo, ASU grad Jackelyne Arevalo and Delia Acosta at the 2019 spring Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program graduation celebration. Download Full Image

The program, which earned Helios Foundation support in 2007, has reached thousands of parent-student teams, and its impact has been significant. The enrollment of resident Latina women at ASU in 1984 was 556. As of fall 2018, that number increased to more than 7,000 Latina students.

The program can have a huge impact on families’ higher education goals. Liliana Campos was a participant when she was in middle school. She enjoyed the program as a student but didn’t complete it after she had her daughter, Briana. She encouraged her daughter to participate when she was old enough.

“It’s a great opportunity ... to continue my daughter’s education,” Campos said.  

Her daughter is now a senior at Metro Tech High School in Phoenix, and Campos said she’s noticed how focused her daughter is on college. She has been admitted to ASU and is pursuing a fashion degree starting in the fall. Campos said the most beneficial part of the program for their family has been the community support and confidence to “believe that … it’s possible to get through college.”

“There are so many resources out there. (The mentors) pretty much guide you and give you that support,” she said.

Connecting students with resources and preparing them for the sometimes intimidating processes of higher education is a core component of the program. Leonela Urrutia is a senior at ASU and an alumna of the Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program; she said the program’s financial aid workshops helped her earn a full ride to ASU. She is about to graduate with a political science degree, a minor in French and a certificate in international studies.

Urrutia is also an office assistant and peer adviser for the program, so she works on the daily functions of the workshops and also serves as a presenter, emcee and particpant mentor for the monthly workshops.

She said the program is invaluable because it lets families know that higher education goals are reachable.

“I tell all the students that this program is for them and the resources are right in front of them. If they’re thinking about it they should just take the leap of faith,” Urrutia said. “The program is going to help educate you and your parents or guardians about college and higher education. (These are) goals that are attainable, even though they seem so unrealistic to some.”

Urrutia has seen the program’s effect on her whole family. Her older sister, Katherine, went through the program and attended Grand Canyon University with scholarships. Urrutia said her mom, Glenda, was inspired through the Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program to get a certificate to be a teaching assistant. Her mother now works with a speech pathologist after spending time caregiving and working in the cleaning industry.

“My mom encourages all parents she knows to go through the program,” said Urrutia, who plans on pursuing work with the state legislature advocating for education and immigration equity after she graduates.

Participants and alumni often introduce the program to others, and partnerships with schools and community organizations have also fueled the program’s success over the decades.

Cyndi Tercero, who was awarded the program’s Commitment to Service Award at the recent Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program graduation ceremony on May 1, has been involved in the program for more than 20 years as an educator at Carl Hayden High School and later as an administrator at Phoenix Union High School District.

Tercero saw early on the contributions that the program made to students. A turning point for her was in the mid-1990s when she was at Carl Hayden; Tercero remembers an intelligent young girl in tears because her grandmother told her to “stop the crazy talk about going to college” because her role as a woman in the community was to find a husband.

“Her parents and grandparents were shocked that at the school level we were trying to encourage her to go further on,” she said.

The student was not in the Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program, but some of her friends were.

“I just kept thinking, what a difference the program could have made for her,” she said.

Since then Tercero has served on the former Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program board and been an advocate for higher education for students in Phoenix. She said she’s humbled and honored to receive the award.

“I’ve been so committed to this program. I was not a Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program alum; I didn’t get to experience the program firsthand but I know I got to experience how it impacted many of our students.”

Tercero said that through the program, students and parents all benefit from the mindset that college is an attainable goal, including living on campus and having a full campus experience.

The impact has been felt among a diverse group of students. Although it has retained its original name, the program also embraces participants of diverse ethnic backgrounds, and sons and fathers or other caregivers have also participated. Alumni of the program have gone on to diverse careers, including in broadcast media, financial planning, teaching, nursing and engineering. And the number of teams served is growing to 1,000 annually in the next two years, including an expansion to ASU’s West campus in Glendale.

“It has been so inspiring to see all of the classes of mothers and daughters enter and graduate from this program over the years,” said Anita Verdugo Tarango, director of outreach for ASU Educational Outreach and Student Services. “We are building skills, community and a legacy of higher education for entire families through the Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program, and we’re thrilled to celebrate 35 years of this work at ASU.”

Find out more about the program, including how to apply or support the program, at the Hispanic Mother Daughter Program website.

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


University, nonprofits and corporations unite for student success

May 10, 2019

History has shown that positive things can happen when individuals unite for the greater good. The HOLA partnership — the Hispanic/Latino Organization for Leadership — follows in that tradition.

The HOLA partnership is a collaboration between Arizona State University, nonprofit Be A Leader Foundation and leaders from Hispanic Employee Resource Groups from corporations in the Phoenix metro area. The initiative combines each partners’ strengths and resources in support of education and student success. HOLA Partnership volunteers HOLA Partnership volunteers at Be A Leader’s October 2018 Taking Steps Toward College Success event. Photo courtesy of Karla Robles/Be A Leader Foundation Download Full Image

“Taking responsibility for the success of students in our community and helping them uncover the possibilities available to them is a priority for Educational Outreach and Student Services and for ASU," said Lorenzo Chavez, assistant vice president for outreach partnerships at ASU. "Working with our longtime partner Be A Leader Foundation and bringing new corporate partners into the fold enables all of us to broaden our efforts for the benefit of Arizona’s students, families and communities.” 

The partnership was formed when leaders from the Hispanic ERGs were looking for an education-focused community service opportunity. Through connections to ASU and Be A Leader, who have partnered for the past 10 years, they worked together to create a FAFSA application event that would take place during Be A Leader’s annual Taking Steps Toward College Success event in fall 2018.

The free event serves Arizona high school students and families, helping them navigate the path to college. The day includes a college-going resource fair with more than 50 organizations including nonprofits, in-state universities, military academies and scholarship organizations.

Karla Robles, chief strategy officer for Be A Leader Foundation, said that the majority of the students they serve haven’t been exposed to the college application process, and those in the partnership are able to help guide them and make the experience less cumbersome.

In preparation for the event and service opportunity, Chavez worked with Robles to train more than 60 individuals from the ERGs on how to assist with FAFSA completion. The volunteers represented organizations including Wells Fargo, MUFG Union Bank, Vanguard, Discover, American Express, Bank of America, the city of Phoenix, SRP, APS and Arizona Federal Credit Union.

Ivan Calderon is vice president of third-party management at MUFG Union Bank and leader of the company’s Hispanic ERG. He said the event was a perfect opportunity for all ERGs to promote and support higher education efforts in Arizona.

“We were inspired to support Be A Leader’s ‘Taking Steps Towards College Success’ after learning about the impact that just completing a FAFSA application has on the likelihood of someone attending college. All the folks involved in this initiative were surprised to learn how much of an effect we could have if we supported students and families in that process,” Calderon said. 

He believes collaborations like the HOLA partnership are important not only for philanthropic reasons, but for economic ones as well. “Given the advances in technology, we need to have an educated and prepared labor force to meet future challenges and to keep Arizona competitive in the global economy.”

Adriana Delgado, who leads Wells Fargo’s Hispanic Employee Resource Group, echoed Calderon’s comments. 

“Published research shows that higher education is directly correlated with economic growth and stability,” Delgado said. “Directly applying that notion to the Taking Steps Towards College Success event, one can argue that the students we helped during this event will one day be our colleagues, our customers, our government leaders.”

Chavez said the partnership plans to continue working together and grow their participation for other FAFSA-focused events this fall.

Copy writer and editor, Educational Outreach and Student Services


FBI honors ASU's David Gillum for leading the field in biosecurity and biosafety

May 9, 2019

FBI director Christopher Wray invites you to visit him in Washington, D.C., where you will share a spotlight with country crooner Dolly Parton: All in a day’s work?

It is for biosecurity superstar David Gillum, Arizona State University’s director of biosafety and biosecurity and chief of staff for Environmental Health and Safety. FBI Director Christopher Wray (left) congratulates David Gillum, Arizona State University’s director of biosafety and biosecurity and chief of staff for Environmental Health and Safety. Download Full Image

Gillum was presented with the 2018 Director’s Community Leadership Award on May 3 during a ceremony at FBI headquarters. Parton received similar recognition for providing about $9 million to support families affected by the 2016 Tennessee wildfires.

At ASU, Gillum is responsible for protecting the health and safety for those who work in the university’s more than 1,000 research laboratories. However, now his imprint is being felt internationally.

“Mr. Gillum has been at the forefront of international biosafety and security,” said Michael DeLeon, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Phoenix Field Division. “He has brought law enforcement, industry partners and academia together to increase awareness of biosecurity risks which directly impact the safety and citizens of our community. His efforts have also helped open dialogue, creating better trust and understanding amongst the public and private sectors.”

The Director’s Community Leadership Award was formally created in 1990 as a way to honor individuals and organizations that make extraordinary contributions to education and the prevention of crime and violence in their communities. Recipients of this award are nominated by each of the FBI’s 56 field offices and are recognized for their service above and beyond the call of duty to help keep America and its residents safe.

Amplifying the conversation 

For Gillum, protecting researchers is more than a job; it might even be called a vocation.

“I think for the most part, when it comes to novel biotechnologies and biosecurity, the community doesn’t have a good understanding of what’s going on,” Gillum explained. “I want my friends, family and others around the world, who know very little about where bio is headed, to be informed so they can make educated decisions about their future and the future of society as a whole.”

When it comes to emerging biotechnology concerns, the focus today is on life-altering topics like genome editing, biological genocide, bringing back extinct species and modifying pests and pathogens to improve human and animal health.

“It’s hard to convey how serious these issues are,” Gillum said. “It’s like looking down the railroad tracks and seeing only the front of the train. It’s hard to see how close it is until it’s right upon you. And the train is nearly here.” Gillum’s goal is to educate and invite others into these important conversations.

Empathy comes easy to Gillum, who was raised in a remote Nevada town, in a family of nine, with scarce resources.

“My mother and father always taught me to follow the golden rule, help thy neighbor, and to strive to be a positive influence in the world,” Gillum said. “I like to see others succeed, and I have a deep-rooted desire to stand up for those who are disparaged and discriminated against and to help them find their voice, even when they may not realize they have one. “

According to Samira Kiani, ASU synthetic biologist at the Biodesign Institute and assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences, “David brings a unique passion to conversations surrounding biosafety and biosecurity and drives many efforts here at ASU which are essential for placing ASU at the forefront of these efforts internationally. Working with him on these aspects in the last two years has been a privilege for me, and he continues to bring new ideas to advance ASU’s stance in this emerging and important area.”

RELATED: ASU's Gillum discusses biosecurity on Arizona Horizon

Expanding the scope

In the spirit of ASU, Gillum sees opportunities where others may not. According to FBI Phoenix Field Division leaders, Gillum approached the FBI Phoenix weapons of mass destruction coordinator when he saw a need to plan, train and educate the community about the risks posed by advanced and emerging biotechnologies. Going big, the result was the first-of-its-kind International Biosecurity Workshop.

"The workshop, which has gained international attention for its size and scope, brings law enforcement and laboratory professionals together to discuss issues of mutual concern regarding dangerous biological pathogens found in laboratories around the world," he said.

In addition to the workshop, Gillum established a task force to create a professional credentialing program for biosecurity professionals, partnering with FBI Phoenix and the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate to accomplish this goal. Gillum has worked with private and public partners to promote a standardized curriculum and encourage new research and publications in the biosecurity realm. He is working with the American Biological Safety Association to develop a knowledge- and skills-based credential that is available to police officers, emergency response personnel, facility managers, laboratory and production staff, researchers, safety and security staff and other parties interested in biosecurity.

“David’s innovative spirit in connecting academics, law enforcement and industry professionals at the Arizona Biosecurity Workshop is proof of Arizona State University’s social embeddedness design aspiration,” said Morgan R. Olsen, ASU executive vice president, treasurer and chief financial officer. “During the past three years, David has connected these individual groups that now may continue to address biosecurity and biosafety matters from a shared perspective that did not exist before. Our communities will benefit as a result of this work. David Gillum is well deserving of the 2018 FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award.”

Gillum credits the ASU spirit of openness to new ideas and courage to do things differently to his ability to make a big impact.

“This work has helped place ASU at the forefront of the global biosecurity enterprise, especially as it relates to community engagement,” Gillum said. “I know of no other institution that is doing these types of activities. Most other schools want to keep biosecurity top secret and the related technologies locked away, only accessible by experts and the wealthy.” In Gillum’s mind, there is much more to be done. He believes ASU has the potential to be a leader in accessibility, transparency and governance in biosecurity matters within the global community.

With an eye toward bringing young people into the conversation, Gillum tasked his team to develop an outreach program for elementary, high school and university students to encourage biosecurity and biosafety in classrooms. He credits his accomplishments to support from ASU’s Environmental Health and Safety team and partnerships with FBI Supervisory Special Agents Philip Bates and Andrew Braun and Special Agent in Charge Michael DeLeon, among others.

Gillum serves as president-elect for the American Biological Safety Association International. He co-founded the Arizona Biosafety Alliance and was elected president, among other key positions, in the organization. In 2015, Gillum established a partnership with ASU and the Mexican Biosafety Association to support biosafety collaborations between Arizona, Mexico and other South American countries.

Written by Dianne Price

ASU professor's research on display at Sky Harbor Airport

May 8, 2019

Professor Olga I. Davis, a performance studies and health communication scholar at Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, has been awarded the 2019 Gary S. Krahenbuhl Difference Maker Award from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

However, this was not the first time Davis has been singled out for her research to improve the health and well being of ethnically and racially diverse populations in the community.      A sign talking about the portrait of Hugh Downs School Professor Olga I. Davis on display at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Download Full Image

Davis was also honored by Brazilian artist Sebastiao Pereira when he created a portrait of her after they met several years ago.

Her portrait is part of a collection he created, "(un) Familiar Faces," that now is on display at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport in the newly renovated John S. McCain Terminal, formerly Terminal 3.   

“They are portraits of people I know,” Pereira said. “One is a chef and cooks for seniors. Another is a caregiver in a nursing home. Another is a self-taught engineer. They are college professors and high school teachers. They are fellow artists and former students. They are my heroes. They are my friends. I love to see them, side by side, sharing the same wall space.”

For the past decade, Pereira has been creating large-scale portraits of exceptional people with little more than paper, scissors and glue. Arranged in a mosaic fashion, his portraits are composed with paper cut and torn from Art in America magazines and color samples from a home improvement store.

Under the portrait of Davis, Pereira wrote, “Olga is deeply involved in promoting health among the African American community in Arizona. She works with the Phoenix-based coalition called 'Blacks Against Breast Cancer' to educate the public about prevention, diagnosis and screening. She wrote a narrative play called 'The Journey: Living Cancer Out Loud' based on interviews of survivors, caregivers and those currently experiencing breast cancer.”

Olga I. Davis

Davis is also involved in the African American Cardiovascular Disease Health Literacy Demonstration Project, which puts an emphasis on prevention and health literacy through culturally grounded community efforts for African American men in the greater Phoenix area.

At the direction of Davis, and in conjunction with the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center, participating barbershops and hair centers have been supplied with blood-pressure monitors — and training — to give readings to their customers, as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer and diabetes claim the lives of African American men in record numbers. 

Davis says she is honored to be called “a friend” and “a hero” by Pereira. She says the lyrics of a hymn, which was an inspiration to Martin Luther King Jr., articulate her thoughts perfectly: “If I can help somebody as I pass along, if I can help somebody with a word or song, if I can help somebody from choosing wrong, then my living will not be in vain!”

The Phoenix Airport Museum manages the art collection, exhibition program and Aviation History Collection to showcase Arizona’s unique artistic and cultural heritage. 

Portraits by Brazilian artist Sebastiao Pereira, including ASU Professor Olga I. Davis, third from the right, on display at Sky Harbor Airport.

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


Veteran alumnus engages new generation of activists at helm of nonprofit LUCHA

School of Transborder Studies alumnus Tomas Robles is helping young activists find their voice in Arizona

May 7, 2019

In 2010, Tomas Robles found himself in Phoenix with an accounting job he didn’t love and what felt like a troubling political tide he was powerless to impact.

It had been almost a decade since, at 19, the 9/11 attacks prompted him to leave his freshman year at Arizona State University to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. Tomas Robles graduated with a bachelor's degree from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' School of Transborder Studies in 2011. Tomas Robles graduated with a bachelor's degree from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences' School of Transborder Studies in 2011. Download Full Image

For Robles, the decision was a visceral reaction that he said changed his life’s trajectory entirely. After five years of military service, returning home to Arizona triggered a similar response.

“There was a lot of fear over the economy, but also a lot of scapegoating, especially toward immigrants,” he said. “Then Gov. Jan Brewer passed SB1070In 2010, Arizona passed a controversial piece of legislature known by its shorthand SB1070 that was seen by many as anti-immigrant. , and it sent that bolt of lightning through my body all over again.”

The son of Mexican immigrants, Robles was born in Tucson and grew up in Phoenix. The new policies stood to affect his own community. And they left him wanting to effect change in ways that didn’t seem possible with the accounting degree he’d earned after the military.

The feeling drove his return to ASU, where the School of Transborder Studies at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences checked many of the boxes he envisioned.

“I wanted to join a program that offered education about our history in the way I needed it, while also enabling me to organize in my community by meeting people with the same passion for social justice,” he said.

Robles graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Chicana/o and Latina/o studies in 2011 and continued to work in local advocacy projects before landing at LUCHA An acronym for the organization's full name, Living United for Change in Arizona, LUCHA is also a nod to Mexico's professional wrestling world known as lucha libre. Fighters, or luchadores, wear colorful masks and costumes during matches.AZ, then a budding network also founded in the wake of SB1070.

Since taking the helm as executive director in 2013, Robles has transformed the organization into a multifaceted advocacy vehicle led by local youth tackling issues around immigration, incarceration and voter access.

Now co-directing the group with fellow ASU alumna Alejandra Gomez, he’s helping a new generation realize their own potential to make an impact.

Today, LUCHA boasts an office in Phoenix and Tucson, 26 employees and some 2,600 dues-paying members whose donations allow them to help decide the public policy stances of the organization and access to immigration support services. Robles estimated they have also registered close to 100,000 new Arizona voters.  

Simply put, he said the group rallies around the causes important to communities sometimes cast into the shadows.

“LUCHA seeks to change the state of Arizona to a place that is more accessible to working families,” he said. “That includes young people, single women, immigrants and people of color — we want to create a state that we feel better represents all of us.”

He answered a few questions about his ASU journey, his time after graduation and how young activists can impact public policy now.

Question: What brought you to LUCHA?

Answer: I came to LUCHA from an organizing position at the Cesar Chavez Foundation in Phoenix after graduation. It was a dream and an honor to work for the foundation that Chavez himself helped build, but the bureaucracy did not allow me the freedom to create new programs or the means to effect change as quickly as I’d hoped.

While LUCHA didn’t have the same name recognition, budget or staff, we did have the ability to dream big and build an organization within the framework of the issues we are facing right now.

My first assignment here was actually what landed me the job. LUCHA’s director at the time asked me to write a campaign plan to win a budget override proposal for Phoenix schools, which usually means property taxes are raised in the local community and the extra money goes directly to the schools. We were expected to lose that campaign, but with the plan I wrote, we ended up winning by just 87 votes. That led to $21 million additional funds going to all nine high schools in the Phoenix Union district.

Q: A lot of LUCHA’s initiatives today are led by high school and college activists. How does that affect the organization?

A: It's totally by design. We believe that youth create, lead and accomplish movements. If we train and engage with high school students, they will in turn have the passion, education, expertise and energy to go out and help change the state. In any given day, you'll see between 10 and 20 students here taking political education classes, creating art for a demonstration or just spending time after school in a place where they feel welcome and comfortable among their peers. Almost every single employee that works for LUCHA today started as a volunteer, so many stay on and continue to develop.

Q: How would you describe your Sun Devil story?

A: Without the School of Transborder Studies, I'd probably still be looking at accounting spreadsheets and looking outside the window wishing I was somewhere else. I think my experience is a perfect example of how finding the right school at ASU can make you feel empowered to impact whatever you think is important in the world.

Because of its size, the school had this sense of family and togetherness that felt very genuine. It also helped me personally that the director at the time was Carlos Velez-Ibanez, who is also a former Marine. We really connected not just about both growing up in the Southwest as Mexican Americans, but also on the experience of joining the military and coming back.

I think those aspects really solidified my passion and helped me see different ways to effect change in my community. 

Q: Are there any other professors that stick out in your mind?

A: So many. Classes taught by Edward Escobar about the history of labor and political movements in the U.S. really impacted me, while Marivel Danielson helped showcase advocacy through a woman of color's perspective. That was the first place I got to be privy to that viewpoint, and I think it’s hugely important when participating in social movements because you have to be able to open your eyes to a lot of different struggles.

Eileen McConnell spoke to the stat and math nerd in me, and Lisa Magana was the first one to discover the work that I was doing outside of the classroom to register voters in south Phoenix and educate people about SB1070. I was doing 60-hour weeks in addition to going to school, and at 28, I was an older student who was a little disconnected from other students. She saw an interview about my work and began talking about it at the school, which really helped me feel more involved.

Q: What advice would you give to new students or what do you wish you had known?

A: Take as many different courses as possible, even if they don’t fit with your major, because that’s how you discover what you love. I took my first course in the School of Transborder Studies when I was a mechanical engineering major and it changed everything.

Secondly, don't take a loan unless you really have to, because you'll need to pay that money back, with interest. Thirdly, get involved and take advantage of your ASU network. College is immensely valuable on its own, but there is nothing more valuable than the people you meet while you're there. So go to as many functions and meet as many people as you can. Get out and engage in different organizations. That will go a long way once you start your career.

Finally, chase a passion, not a paycheck. This is such a cliche, but it really is true. You'll never feel like you’re working a day in your life if what you do and what you love are the same thing.

Q: What are some of your most important milestones since graduation, both personally and for LUCHA?

A: I go back to the young people we are lucky to help here. We have a communications director who is a DACAIntroduced in 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program granted temporary protection to some undocumented individuals brought to the United States as children. student. We have another student who started as an intern and is now an organizing director.  

Not only are these young people still with the organization after internships and volunteering, they have prominent roles and are the ones who will take over once co-executive director Alejandra Gomez and I step away.

We try to have this space feel like family, similar to the School of Transborder Studies actually, so that everyone feels welcome. Growing up, I didn't know about any organization like this and frankly, I don’t think anything existed. These young people are so much further ahead because they have these places.

There is no greater sense of accomplishment for me than seeing them grow and become leaders of their communities, because you know you had a part in their finding that voice. They are the reason this organization is so successful. I really don't know if there's a replacement for that feeling.

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


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Schools, communities tackling food insecurity but policy changes needed, experts say

ASU forum highlights complex issue of improving family diets in South Phoenix.
May 3, 2019

ASU forum on family nutrition in South Phoenix highlights complex issue

Improving the quality of food for families in South Phoenix will likely require many changes, ranging from policy updates at the federal level to a stronger focus on culture at the family level, according to a group of experts who tackled the issue last week.

“Feeding Families” was a panel discussion sponsored by the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center at Arizona State University, which held the event at the Verna McClain Wellness Center in South Phoenix.

The Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center has federal funding to study health disparities and how research can be applied to directly help communities, according to James Herbert Williams, interim executive director of the center, which is part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“One thing we work at very hard is trying to understand what a community needs to address — and to be empowered to solve — problems,” said Williams, who is the Arizona Centennial Professor of Social Welfare Services. “We decided to come to South Phoenix so we can hear from you.”

Here’s what the experts said about food insecurity and nutrition:

Working with families

Sonia Vega-López, associate professor of nutrition, College of Health Solutions, ASU: I’ve been focusing on Hispanic families and how to promote healthy eating for prevention of chronic diseases, specifically on how to change behavior. A lot of people say, “You need to educate,” but we know that’s not enough to make people make better choices on what to buy, cook and eat. 

Our approach in recent years has been to focus on families, not individuals, and to look at factors to motivate people to change not only for themselves, but for other members of their families.

Lawrence Robinson, president of the governing board of the Roosevelt School District, described programs in his schools that include gardening, cooking and nutrition at the "Feeding Families" forum on Thursday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


The pleasure of eating

Vega-López: I’ve been thinking about diet quality, not just food insecurity. We’ve been very good at getting the public very confused about what we shouldn’t eat. We’re starting to talk about whole foods and utilizing foods from farms and preparing more meals from scratch. We’re using simpler messages and focusing on the pleasure of food.

Lawrence Robinson, director of Leadership for Educational Equity and governing board president of the Roosevelt School District: We shouldn’t talk about food without saying that it’s delicious and people enjoy it. With food comes culture. At Lassen Elementary School, we gave the students a task to take one ingredient and go home and talk to their families about it. By the end of the project, they learned not only how to grow and cook and consume that ingredient but how it related to their families.

Then we had a dinner with all that produce. We shared the dinner together, and the kids shared their stories. People came together and were fed. They learned responsibility. And all of that made them healthier. If you cook it, they will come and hopefully it will transform the academic outcomes in our district.

Food and culture

Vega-López: We forget that traditional foods include a lot of healthy foods. A traditional Mexican diet is not what you see on the list of items at a Mexican restaurant. They eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and fish.

We can tell people that those are the foods they already know how to cook and they don’t need to invent new meals. They need to go back to their roots.

Robinson: This area is now a food desert, but I remember as a kid picking collard greens, with miles of fresh produce tended by African American families. You have the neighborhood that had the fresh food that now has obesity and diabetes and is deemed a food desert.

It’s now the policy of land use to wipe out the healthy, safe neighborhood culture that was just here a minute ago.

Shifting the conversation

John Wann-Ángeles, founding director of the Orchard Community Learning Center, a farm and educational organization based in South Phoenix: I’ve read about the "100 things we can do to reverse global warming." A plant-rich diet is No. 4 on the list, and we know a plant-based diet is the only one proven to reverse heart disease.

Why aren’t these questions at the center of school curriculum, not as add-ons? If this were the center of curriculum, a generation could change this conversation.

Federal policy effects

Angie Rodgers, president and CEO of the Association of Arizona Food Banks, which serves 450,000 people per month: We have to recognize the role of the federal government. SNAPThe Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a federal program that provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families. feeds more than a million families but the benefits are so low, about $230 a month, that your choices are based on your pocketbook and not on what’s appropriate.

There are constant discussions about who should be able to buy what types of food, but until they raise the amount that allows it to be a true choice, we shouldn’t have conversations about restricting SNAP choices.

If you go into our food banks now you’ll find the result of the trade war — food the growers were unable to sell to governments like China, which includes pork and a significant amount of all dairy products. We’re thankful for the food. But we’ve received 24 million pounds of pork and dairy in the last eight months, and now you’ve changed the expectations and the palate of the clientele. Could we do that with fresh fruits and vegetables? We absolutely could.

Linda Rider, director of nutrition services at Tempe Elementary School District: The policy changed about 10 years ago to require more whole-grain foods. The current administration has taken a step back, and that’s frustrating because we work hard to make sure we have the right foods. We had that extra 6 cents in reimbursements for healthy foods, and when you take a step back, it will allow them to take back that reimbursement.

Feeding children in school

Rider: We’re in the process of putting salad bars in the serving line because of research we did with ASU. One of their great findings was that when you put salad bars in the serving line versus outside the line, kids will take more fruits and vegetables and actually eat them. When it’s outside the line, they already have their food and are too interested in talking to their friends.

Robinson: Getting farm to table is extremely hard for schools. You have to certify all the health and safety processes. And we’re required to accept the lowest bidder so we can’t buy locally sourced food if it’s not the lowest bid.

Top image: Sonia Vega-López, associate professor of nutrition in the College of Health Solutions at ASU, makes a point at the "Feeding Families" forum held by the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center in South Phoenix on May 2. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Predicting Arizona's 2020 economy

May 2, 2019

ASU experts meet with local business leaders to forecast the health of the state's economy

Arizona’s economy is thriving and is likely to flourish at least for another year, according to economics experts at Arizona State University.

“We’re coming off a super-strong year, and it’s giving us a lot of momentum,” said Lee McPheters, research professor of economics in the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU and director of the school’s JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center. He spoke at the annual economic forecast luncheon held by the Economic Club of Phoenix, a unit of W. P. Carey.

McPheters said that 2018 surprised even analysts like him. He predicted that 69,000 new jobs would be added in Arizona for the year, when in fact, 78,800 jobs were added. Arizona was fourth in the nation for job creation.

“We’re continuing to get the benefit of more people moving here and a relatively robust birth rate and that’s a key driver for the economy,” he said, noting that Arizona is also fourth in the nation for population growth. “There is no recession in sight for our forecast.”

The job growth is mostly in construction, followed by health care, professional/scientific, manufacturing and transportation.

McPheters said that people remember the recession of 2008, when the vigorous housing market collapsed.

“Are we on the verge of a bubble? Well, as a percent of all jobs, construction is about 5.7%, not the 9 or 10% it was in 2006,” he said.

Also, the additional construction jobs are supporting job growth.

“It’s construction of office space, distribution space and public-sector investment.”

McPheters sounded an alarm about affordable housing. He said that wages have gone up 12% while home prices have increased 31%.

“That is putting a squeeze on people,” he said.

economic forecast

(From left) Dennis Hoffman, Lee McPheters and Mark Stapp answer questions at the Economic Club of Phoenix's annual economic outlook luncheon on Thursday. The three offered views ranging from national trends to local factors in their consensus view that the Arizona will continue growing, but will slow down a little in the coming year. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

McPheters said the biggest threat to Arizona’s economy is the national economy. On that front, Dennis Hoffman was optimistic.

“We’re in a strong employment expansion that has been unrelenting since 2014 and should continue for the foreseeable future,” said Hoffman, an economist and the director of the L. William Seidman Research Institute at the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“What’s fueling the economy? Less regulation is behind some of it,” he said. “People argue about regulation and the long-term consequences, but I think it sustained the growth in 2017 and 2018.”

Hoffman discussed several potential problems ahead.

“People worry about global warming, but I worry about global graying,” he said. “For the first time ever, we have more people 65 and older than 5 and younger.

“That will change the way people consume, what they’ll buy and how much they spend.”

He’s also worried about the increasing national debt.

“What’s driving it is mandatory entitlements. Nobody wants to hear this, but we simply do not have enough in receipts to pay for the Medicare that Baby Boomers expect.”

The commercial real estate market also is booming as workers are filling up all the new space, according to Mark Stapp, the Fred E. Taylor Professor in Real Estate in the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“Whatever we’re building, we’re absorbing,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll run the risk of oversupply. If we want to see job growth, we have to have space for those jobs to go.”

One interesting trend has been a change in the use of retail space. More than 6,000 stores have closed nationwide this year, while only 2,600 have opened. 

“But now we’re seeing other kinds of users,” he said. “Eighteen percent of medical offices now occupy retail space. This is a shift to put them closer to where people need them.”

Stapp echoed McPheters’ concerns about affordable housing.

“We are building what we need to house the population that is moving here and not building in excess, and that continues to push prices up,” he said. “There’s no slack in the inventory.”

Stapp said that new housing is gobbling up 6,000 acres a year in the Valley.

“Where do you get those 6,000 acres? We are pushing toward the edges again — Coolidge, Florence, Queen Creek, Casa Grande, Buckeye.”

Stapp said that one positive effect of the recession, when 10 million people nationwide lost their homes, has been the de-stigmatization of renting. One new trend he expects to grow is the construction of single-family rental communities.

“It solves the problem of ‘I don’t want to buy. I can’t afford it. But I still want a single-family home.’” 

Top photo: JP Morgan Chase Economic Outlook Director Lee McPheters speaks at the Economic Club of Phoenix's annual economic outlook luncheon at the Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch on Thursday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Criminal justice reforms will require changes in culture, experts say

Criminal justice reform will take courage, broad changes, ASU experts say.
April 30, 2019

More treatment, shorter sentences among recommendations at ASU panel

Crime is down in Arizona but more people are in prison, and confronting that issue will require a broad range of changes plus a lot of courage, according to a group discussion on criminal justice reform held on Tuesday by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

“Some people will say that crime is down because we’re locking up the bad guys, but others will argue just as passionately that we’re wasting money by locking up people at a time when crime is down,” said Dan Hunting, senior policy analyst for the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, which is part of Arizona State University.

“There’s a lot of discussion about this in academic circles. It’s a very complex issue.”

The discussion, held at the Downtown Phoenix campus, was based on the 2018 initiative of Arizona Town Hall, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that educates and engages people to solve problems. Last year, the group addressed criminal justice reform, holding a statewide town hall and producing a report that was edited by Hunting. He covered some of the highlights of the report at Tuesday’s talk:

• Since 2006, violent crime has decreased 20% and property crime has decreased 36%.

• The state’s population has doubled since 1987 but the prison population has increased 3.5 times.

• The estimated cost of the criminal justice system is $525 per person per year in Arizona.

• Arizona has the fourth highest incarceration rate in the country at 585 incarcerated people per 100,000 population.

Recommendations from the statewide town hall included:

• Focus on evidence-based decision making.

• Provide early interventions to keep people out of prison.

• Establish a statewide task force to determine best practices.

• Encourage the Legislature to reinstate laws requiring cost comparisons between private prisons and those run by the Arizona Department of Corrections.

• Create and fund an adequate number of inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities.

At Tuesday’s talk, a panel of experts discussed the recommendations.

Kevin Wright, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU, said he was surprised about the recommendation on comparing costs for privately and state-run prisons.

“If we were to go down that road, the research is mixed,” he said. “It takes us further away from the right question to be asked: Why do we have so many people in prison?”

The public doesn’t always grasp the ramifications of long prison sentences, they said.

“On paper you can add up any number of years … think about where you were five years ago in your life. Think about 10 years, 20 years. I think it’s way too much time,” said Wright, who is director of the Center for Correctional Solutions, a year-old unit in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice devoted to research, education and community outreach.

Wright said the research describes an “age crime curve.”

“People peak in criminal behavior in their 20s and then decline rapidly,” he said. “When you’re incarcerating people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, in terms of public safety, what are you doing?” 

Khalil Rushdan, community partnerships coordinator for ACLU Arizona, makes a point during the audience discussion at a panel discussion on criminal justice reform on Tuesday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Paul O’Connell, operations director of the Community Corrections Bureau of the Arizona Department of Corrections, said that Arizona is a “truth in sentencing” state, meaning that prisoners must serve 85% of their sentence no matter what. And that leaves much less time for supervision and support for people on parole after they leave prison and try to reenter their communities.

“If their risk level is minimum, we see them only twice, and if they’re really bad, we see them six times,” he said.

“We have this person coming out after 20 years not knowing how to get a job or take the bus. What I would like to see is have them serve more time under community supervision so we get to work with them, build relationships and do a better job.”

O’Connell said that addressing criminal justice reform must be a broad effort.

“There’s more to public safety than locking people up. Public safety is better roads, better education, stronger families.

“It’s not just a criminal justice problem, it’s a societal problem. It takes courage to initiate these recommendations. That’s where the battle lies.”

Wright said he frequently encounters two myths about the criminal justice system.

“Some people want to lock people away and forget about them and not care what happens to them while they’re in prison,” he said.

“The statistic is that 95% of people who go to prison will return to their communities. They will be your future neighbors. Why do you want them to be worse than when they went in?”

And while the criminal justice system costs $1 billion a year in Arizona, Wright said that more resources are needed for people who work with prisoners.

“Whatever you think about why people engage in criminal behavior, we couldn’t figure it out on the outside and then we put them in one place and ask this one department to figure it out with limited resources,” he said.

“It should be one of the most important jobs in America and yet as someone who educates people who will go into these professions, it’s not. It’s low pay. People use it as a springboard to something else. We have to devote more resources and think differently.”

Ron Reinstein, a judicial consultant for the Arizona Supreme Court and a former judge, said that legislators typically know little about the criminal justice system and have been a missing voice in the discussion on reform.

“What’s really important is the business community — they haven’t weighed in enough,” he said.

Wright said that academic voices also need to be heard because they’re the ones who produce the evidence that everyone wants to see used in decision-making.

“We collect the evidence and make sense of the evidence and say, ‘I don’t care what the answer is. I just want to produce the answer.’”

And the public needs to hear from incarcerated people themselves. Wright wrote the chapter on reentry and recidivism in the Arizona Town Hall report. A few years ago, his center trained men who were incarcerated to interview their peers in prison.

“They interviewed over 400 guys in six weeks,” he said. “It’s their own words of what motivated them and led them to fulfilling lives. It’s not just rewarding positive behavior. It’s setting up sustainable and fulfilling lifestyles.”

After the panel discussion, the audience discussed potential solutions, including addressing homelessness and restoring voting rights for ex-offenders, funding more treatment centers and eliminating barriers to family communication with incarcerated people — like expensive fees for phone calls.

Khalil Rushdan, the community partnerships coordinator with the ACLU of Arizona, said that a “punitive culture” in the state leads to overcharging people.

“We need leaders who are willing to change this culture, and that goes to the county attorney’s office,” he said.

“And before we give one more dollar to the (Department of) Corrections, we should have more transparency and an audit to see where these dollars are going.”

Top image: A panel of experts discussed criminal justice reform at a panel discussion at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus. From left: Paul O'Connell, operations director for the Arizona Department of Corrections Community Corrections Bureau; Ron Reinstein, a judicial consultant for the Arizona Supreme Court and a former judge; and Kevin Wright, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU and the director of the Center for Correctional Solutions. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


Science Olympiad builds Arizona’s STEM pipeline

April 30, 2019

On a recent sunny Saturday at Arizona State University, the Tempe campus was buzzing with middle and high schoolers in lab coats and goggles, sprinting between buildings and labs.

The students were taking part in the state competition of the Arizona Science Olympiad on April 6. This is the third year that the event has been held at ASU, showcasing science, technology, engineering and math fields as well as campus life to young students. ASU 2019 Arizona Science Olympiad student in goggles and lab coat Photo by Bryan Pietsch Download Full Image

A totoal of 66 teams from middle and high schools around the state competed in 23 events at the state competition. Winners will advance to the national competition in June at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. The team from University High School in Tucson won the high school division, and the team from Paragon Science Academy in Chandler won the middle school division.

Reina Gomez, state director for Arizona Science Olympiad, said that the event is an opportunity for students who excel academically to get awards, medals and trophies that are usually awarded in athletic events.

She also said that having the event, presented with Access ASU, at the university allows the students to become familiar with the campus and college in general.

“They understand that, ‘Hey, I could go to ASU, I see other people there that look like me. They’re like me. They’re doing events that I like,’” Gomez said.

Events ranged from tests of academic knowledge — like identifying live reptile specimens — to physics and chemistry activities.

Nikita Kumari, a fourth-year PhD student at ASU studying biophysical chemistry, hopes to teach after graduation. She facilitated one of the chemistry activities where students tested the pH levels of household liquids like Sprite and mouthwash.

“It’s interesting because I get to see high school students excited about science, and that is fun for me,” Kumari said.

Students were all smiles at the herpetology activity that featured live snakes, geckos and tortoises.

Marshall Frank, an eighth grader from Prescott Valley, said that he likes the Olympiad because of the different events.

“No matter what field of science you’re into, there’s always something for you to do here,” Marshall said.

Lorenzo Chavez, assistant vice president for outreach at ASU said that the university is proud to have a legacy of presenting the event.

“ASU is excited to host the state science olympiad tournament for the third year in a row because the event exemplifies the innovation and creativity that the institution prides itself on,” Chavez said.

“The students attending are some of the best and brightest in the state of Arizona, and it is an honor to be part of this special day. As an institution that is dedicated to the Arizona community, we see our support for the event as an opportunity to connect participants to the university, faculty and staff.”

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


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ASU pursuing deeper veterans' wellness engagement

April 25, 2019

Symposium brings together community stakeholders, ASU staff and faculty to investigate how to better serve veterans

Arizona State University representatives from across campuses attended a symposium April 17–18 in Phoenix to gain insight into the veteran space, network with local and military veteran community leaders and gather ideas on how the university can help further.

ASU was a key sponsor of the Arizona Coalition for Military Families' 10th annual Statewide Symposium in Support of Service Members, Veterans and Their Families — a highly attended event that included White House representation and a national Department of Veterans Affairs lead.

The coalition serves as the programmatic arm for the Arizona Department of Veteran Services. 

“These are significant times as we look to improve the quality of life of every veteran in Arizona,” said ASU alumna Wanda Wright, director of the Arizona Department of Veterans' Services and a retired Air Force colonel.

Due to the Arizona Coalition for Military Families and the collective efforts of many other groups to support veterans, Arizona is unique.

“This kind of work does not happen in most other states,” Wright said. “We are unusual in the way we are able to work together to influence the veteran echo system to manifest goodness for servicemembers, veterans and their families.”

ASU’s interest in the veteran echo system is twofold, supporting student veterans on campus and those out in the communities, plus driving innovative research and curriculum opportunities. The school’s military-affiliated student population grows each year, and currently hovers at well over 8,000 with continued growth expected. The university also owns comprehensive tools and resources to socially embed with public agencies that are on the front lines of veteran/military support.

One of ASU’s colleges with a significant number of student veterans is the College of Health Solutions. The college is aware of the unique challenges veterans face when they transition out of the military and onto campus. Its counselors, some of whom are also veterans, are there to assist.  

“We are trying to understand the veteran experience,” symposium attendee and College of Health Solutions Dean Deborah Helitzer said. “And how their education at the College of Health Solutions can be enhanced by thinking about their situation from a more holistic perspective. We recognize that the veteran students come from a team environment to the university where they are individual learners. We believe our collaborative, experiential approach to education will be effective for veterans who are interested in careers in health.”

The college engaged with the VA to look at different areas where new collaboration may be possible, the dean said. Both ASU’s College of Heath Solutions and Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation participated in strategic working sessions with the Phoenix VA Medical Center in January.

One of the key Arizona Coalition for Military Families programs College of Health Solutions faculty and students are engaged in is “Be Connected.” Launched in 2017, Be Connected is a collaboration between public and private stakeholders in Arizona aiming toward “upstream” suicide prevention in the veteran community.

“Right now Be Connected is a responsive model,” said Nicola Winkle, coalition project director. “You call, the team answers. You need help, it is provided. What we’ll be adding to complement this responsive approach is a proactive approach where we actively seek out and connect to segments of our military veteran and family population.”

Transitioning Be Connected to a proactive model requires data for focusing efforts, Winkle said. Data can prove what works, show how training and support increases intervention and reveal risk and protective factors of the military population. It can also help identify vulnerable populations within veteran communities with higher risk and lower protective factors.  

The symposium featured two days of programming and 11 learning tracks “all focused on increasing knowledge, skills and abilities for serving and supporting the military, veteran and family population.” The Pat Tillman Veterans Center hosted a roundtable discussion on building a veteran-supportive college campus, Veterans Upward Bound reps provided on-site resources throughout the event and ASU’s School of Social Work, a unit within the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, conducted a mindfulness and meditation session.

ASU participants also included around 25 faculty and staff from ASU’s Educational Outreach and Student Services, Enterprise Marketing Hub, Office of Government and Community Engagement, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Office of the President, Flag Officer Council, the Public Service Academy, and affiliate ASU Research Enterprise.

Top photo: Attendees of the Arizona Coalition for Military Families' 10th annual Statewide Symposium in Support of Service Members, Veterans and Their Families mingle at the exhibitor fair in Phoenix on April 16. Photo by Jerry Gonzalez/ASU

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications