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Independents may bridge partisan divisions, say experts at ASU event

Independent voters may be bridge in partisan politics, say experts at ASU event.
November 16, 2016

Morrison Institute conference addresses how voters are turning away from 2 main parties

Independent voters, who resist being identified with either of the main political parties, could be a way for a deeply divided electorate to move forward, according to several experts at the annual “State Of Our State” conference on Wednesday in Phoenix.

“Independent voters can provide a bridge to close the partisan gap,” said Thom Reilly, director of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University, which sponsored the conference.

Reilly said the institute has new research, not yet complete, showing that Republican respondents were more likely to discuss politics with friends who were independents than with Democrats. Independents make up about a third of registered voters in Arizona and were the largest single bloc of voters until registered Republicans recently overtook them.

“But for years independent voters have been ‘the other’ and treated as invisible by think tanks and in studies and polls,” Reilly said.

The conference featured a panel discussion that addressed the importance of voters who are not aligned with either major political party.

Independents were the deciding factor in electing Republican Donald Trump on Nov. 8, just as they were the deciding factor in electing President Barack Obama in 2008, according to Jackie Salit, president of the Committee for a Unified Independent Party and its online affiliate, IndependentVoting.org.

“It’s important to understand that independents, now 43 percent of the national electorate, represent a force of motion that is crying out for a new kind politics in this country,” she said.

Some panelists said that the two-party system disenfranchises people who don’t want to choose either Democrat or Republican.

Chuck Couglin, president of AZ High Ground campaign-consulting firm based in Phoenix, said that partisan primaries are a Soviet-style system.

“Why can’t I have a ballot with everyone on it? Let me as a candidate access that ballot. It’s disenfranchising for any independent to run,” he said, criticizing the fact that taxpayers pay for elections, which support the entrenched two-party system.

Daniel Ortega, a civil rights leader and attorney, said that Latino voters are especially left out.

“More than 60 percent of Latino millennials are independent, and 43 percent of Latinos in this state are independent. The party structure does not work for the Latino community,” he said.

“Per capita, our voting percentage is down even though we have more registered voters because they can’t vote in the primary.”

And the two-party primary system has led to deep ideological divisions that hinder collaboration according to Paul Johnson, former mayor of Phoenix and an activist for non-partisan elections.

“In this election, many Americans felt like they were choosing between the lesser of two evils and they weren’t voting for someone but against someone and that’s part of the partisan primary voting system,” he said.

“You’re talking about 5 or 6 percent of people who are making the decisions in the primary and they are demanding candidates be ideologically pure. So the candidates are divisive and split the country up.

“So it’s going to be more difficult for elected people to cross the aisle and work with both sides. It will be a winner-take-all system.”

Not everyone believes that independent voters are left out. Robert Graham, chairman of the Arizona Republican Party, said that engaged independents should be able to find out how to get information and cast ballots. “It shouldn’t be handed to them.”

Doug Chapin, director of the University of Minnesota’s Program for Excellence in Election Administration, said that the population changes affiliations back and forth over time.

“But there is a strengthening number of committed independents who really do follow politics, do have a worldview and the one thing they agree on is that they’re not Democrats and they’re not Republican.”

(From left) Former Sen. Jon Kyl, former Congressman Ed Pastor and moderator Grady Gammage Jr. discuss the future of politics after the presidential election at the "State Of Our State" conference Wednesday in Phoenix. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Two longtime politicians from Arizona said they see little chance of bipartisan collaboration immediately ahead after the brutal election.

Former Sen. Jon KylKyl is a Distinguished Fellow in Public Service in ASU’s College of Public Programs and a Distinguished Scholar in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. He is the namesake of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy., a Republican who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987 to 1995 and then the Senate until 2013, said that pressure from the highly fractured parties will make compromise difficult.

“We’ve allowed politicians to get to the point where a candidate can take the populist, demagogue position to get elected and then they find themselves in a governing situation that’s very difficult,” he said.

Former U.S. Rep. Ed PastorPastor earned a bachelor’s and law degrees from ASU. He is the namesake of the Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service, within ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions., a Democrat, said that politicians must develop personal relationships with each other. Pastor was elected to Congress in 1991 and served as the first Mexican-American congressman to represent Arizona, retiring in 2015.

“In 1994, when the Republicans won, I wondered what would happen, but I had developed relationships and we were able to bridge some of the problems,” he said.

Grady Gammage Jr., a senior research fellow in the Morrison Institute, moderated the discussion between Kyl and Pastor and said that talking with people from the other political side is what will preserve democracy.

“I have felt for months that it was incredibly difficult to talk to people about politics, and for me that was incredibly painful,” he said.

“I think society is advanced through intelligent argument.”

Jonathan Koppell, dean of ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions, praised the Morrison Institute’s mission of providing a space for conversations from differing points of view.

“There have been times that people have said that politics doesn’t matter and that it’s entertainment,” he said.

“It’s our job to underscore how much it does matter.”

Top photo: Former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl discusses political gridlock with former U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy's State of Our State Conference on Wednesday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


A picture and a thousand words

ASU anthropology student is equipping the community to identify and preserve personal places of meaning through photography

November 16, 2016

Anthropology student Ryan Bleam is using photography to capture how the act of volunteering at local nature preserves can improve Arizona residents’ relationships with nature and the community by helping them identify what he terms a “sense of place.”

To demonstrate this concept, Bleam, a PhD candidate in Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change, recently asked 18 volunteers at the nonprofit McDowell Sonoran Conservancy to each take 10 photos of places that were meaningful to them, including in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, itself, or anywhere else in their communities. photo of Sonoran Desert taken by study participant A photo of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve taken by project participant. Its accompanying quote is, "I feel like I am Paradise Trail… It's the trail that my new house—the property line—connects to. If I leave my house and come up here and my feet are on this trail, I feel good… Because I'm a steward. I feel like I have a responsibility, like it's a child." Download Full Image

Each volunteer picture may indeed be worth a thousand words, but as Bleam explains, the stories behind the photos were the key ingredient of this project.

“Academically, we can understand the many different reasons why places are meaningful, but our lives are really full of stories, interactions and symbols, and they come together to make a meaningful environment,” Bleam says. “For example, one volunteer told me, ‘Some of my most meaningful places are just a pile of rocks. You want me to take pictures of that?’ And I said, ‘Yes! Absolutely! Try to get the best photo that captures that place, but the meaning behind it is most important.’”

That particular conversation inspired the eventual title of Bleam’s exhibit, “My pile of rocks,” which displays the volunteers’ photos and the accompanying stories behind them to reveal the surprising and personal relationships that Phoenix residents have with their communities.

photo of anthropology PhD candidate Ryan Bleam

Anthropology PhD candidate Ryan Bleam

Bleam’s ultimate goal with the project is to see how these volunteers’ sense of place changes over time as they engage with the land during their work and then use that information to identify best practices for use both in the preserve and by other conservation nonprofits nationwide.

One initial finding revealed so far is that, in many cases, people’s important places aren’t always tied to fixed locations on a map. Instead, they can also be areas that symbolize ideas that are significant to the person.

For example, several participants in Bleam’s project chose to take pictures of desert plants that, in their minds, represented the perseverance of life in the Sonoran Desert.

It may come as no surprise that Bleam’s own first experience in building a sense of place occurred through interacting with his local landscape. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he got a job through AmeriCorps to teach at an alternative high school in Oregon, where classroom learning was mixed with camping trips and conservation work projects. He and his students worked for a year to build a hiking trail, and on the last day of school they all hiked it together.

“It was really special to see the pride in the students and staff. I felt a deep connection there, and it inspired me to study how conservation volunteerism builds a sense of place,” he says.

After he completes his PhD, Bleam wants to either continue teaching and researching with a career in academia, or work with an organization like the U.S. Forest Service, where he could conduct more social science research on how park visitors interact with the environment. For those also considering a degree in anthropology, he has a few words of wisdom.

“Make sure you get involved in research projects and get experience in different kinds of data collection and analysis techniques,” Bleam says. “Then think about how to apply anthropological thinking and methods to issues in your own community.”

For Bleam, doing research that gives back to the community is at the heart of this project. In that spirit, he will give a public lecture on Tuesday, Nov. 22, to discuss his research and examine some of the common themes in the meaning and geography of the places photographed by his project participants. Visitors will also be able to view the exhibit “My pile of rocks.” See below for additional information on the talk and exhibit.

In Scottsdale... 

What: “Exploring ‘Sense of Place’ Through Photography of McDowell Sonoran Conservancy Volunteers” lecture

When: Tuesday, Nov. 22, 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

Where: Scottsdale Mustang Library auditorium

Details: Free and open to the public. Visit the event page for more information.

See photos from Bleam's project ...

What: “My pile of rocks” exhibit

When: Now through the first week of January 2017

Where: Scottsdale Mustang Library auditorium

Details: Free and open to the public. Visit the event page for more information.

Mikala Kass

Communications Specialist, ASU Knowledge Enterprise


ASU named a top 20 United Way partner

November 10, 2016

Many children in the Valley who depend on school breakfasts and lunches throughout the week may go hungry on the weekends. This fall, as part of the annual Sparky’s Day of Service at Arizona State University, thousands of students lined up to make “WeekEnd Hunger Backpacks” that contained non-perishable food that children in need could take with them on Friday, supplementing their meals at home.

It’s just one of the many partnerships between ASU and United Way that helped the university be named one of the Valley of Sun United Way’s top 20 community partners.

United Way’s dedication to the Valley, and its mission as a whole, struck a chord with senior Nathan Baker, president of ASU Student United Way. Sparky Sparky gets ready for the fall 2016 Sparky’s Day of Service, where thousands of students filled "WeekEnd Hunger Backpacks" in partnership with the United Way for children in need. Download Full Image

“I chose United Way to end hunger, homelessness, and increase financial stability for families located within the Valley,” Baker said. “One in three kids do not know where their next meal is coming from, which is why we need to make the largest impact we possibly can.” 

The 20 organizations on the list play critical roles in helping communities around the metro Phoenix area. Other companies on the inaugural list include Target, Macy’s, American Airlines and Bank of America.  

“By working together, the top 20 help ensure kids have access to a good education, families have a roof over their heads, and a safe place to call home,” said Nancy Dean, chief development officer of Valley of the Sun United Way.

Since 1925, Valley of the Sun United Way has been bringing together donors, business supporters, nonprofits, government and faith-based communities and is the largest nonprofit investor in health and human-service programs in the Valley.

Currently, ASU is more than 80 percent to making its goal during its 2016 United Way campaign. To learn more or donate, visit unitedway.asu.edu.

Reporter, ASU Now

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CUbiC opens doors to award-winning high school researcher

High schooler working with ASU researchers to counteract Parkinson's symptom.
November 10, 2016

Shreya Venkatesh working with team of ASU engineers on developing wearable device to help those with Parkinson's disease

Undergraduate research — with more than 1,000 students participating — is booming in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. But what about opportunities for high schoolers who want to get a jump-start on conducting research?

Shreya Venkatesh, a senior at BASIS Scottsdale charter school, is taking full advantage of an opportunity to get involved at the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC) — and winning prestigious awards in the process.

Her research interests surround assistive technologies, aligning with CUbiC’s role as an interdisciplinary research center focused on cutting-edge research in human-centered computing with assistive, rehabilitative and health-care applications.

Under the mentorship of ASU assistant research professor Troy McDaniel and computer science doctoral student Arash Tadayon, Venkatesh is helping to create a wearable device to help individuals with Parkinson’s disease manage a common symptom known as Freezing of Gait.

Alleviating Parkinson’s disease symptom

Freezing of Gait manifests itself in an individual’s sudden inability to continue their gait (walking stride).

“It is an episodic phenomenon that causes an individual’s feet to freeze up and feel like they’re glued to the floor,” Tadayon said.

Unfortunately, this symptom often occurs during high stress or timed tasks such as walking in a crosswalk.

“Our work looks to predict when these episodes are going to occur and bring the individual’s attention to it,” Tadayon said.

If the user is aware of the freeze before it occurs, warning them to take longer steps can often help prevent the full freeze from happening.

Auditory and visual cues have been previously used to guide the user to take longer steps, but the CUbiC team’s approach is exploring the field of haptics, specifically sensory vibrations as a feedback tool.

They are creating a device (pictured at the top of this story) that can be worn on the foot to collect and send out these sensory signals.

“It identifies the earliest onset of Freeze of Gait, then helps the wearer to pick up their pace by directing the user’s attention to their gait,” Venkatesh said.

When the project started, she mostly assisted with literature reviews, but she is now actively involved in developing the device’s software, including creating the algorithms, known as vibrotactile patterns, which send specific cues to the patient.

The team is working on designing and programming the patterns and will soon be planning another user study to test their effectiveness.

This project aligns with CUbiC’s larger aims to meet the needs and enrich the lives of physically challenged individuals by empowering them with ubiquitous and pervasive computing technologies.

“Using something artificial like technology to influence something as natural as human illness is fascinating,” said Venkatesh, who has enjoyed seeing up close the way technology can be employed to help improve human health. 

High school student Shreya Venkatesh is mentored by doctoral student Arash Tadayon.

High school student Shreya Venkatesh is mentored by doctoral student Arash Tadayon in the Center for Cognitive Ubiquitous Computing (CUbiC) Lab at ASU. This and top photo by Pete Zrioka/ASU

Awards include White House nod

Venkatesh has earned several notable awards since she began working with CUbiC in October 2014.

She received a Young Scientist of Arizona Award from Phoenix Comicon at the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair (AzSEF) — a statewide science fair competition — for her research in Freezing of Gait in April and was later invited to present a talk on this research area at a Phoenix Comicon panel in June.

She also earned an Outstanding Young Female Scientist in Systems Software award from the Association for Women in Science at AzSEF.

Last year, as a junior, Venkatesh received recognition from President Barack Obama for an outstanding achievement in environmental stewardship, for her research on a plant known as Jatropha whose seeds can be used to produce clean biodiesels.

Venkatesh performed an economic analysis of the comparative fuel efficiency of Jatropha biodiesel with algal biofuel production. She took the initiative to contact local communities and the EPA, creating awareness about the importance of cultivating Jatropha plantations within the United States.

Venkatesh presented her Jatropha project and earned a silver medal at the International Environmental Global Environmental Issues’ Science Olympiad in New York City, an international high school project competition focused on environmental issues. Her project was among more than 1,000 projects submitted from 69 countries.

Using computer science for social good

Venkatesh’s passion for computer science extends outside the research lab.

Since 2014, she has sought opportunities to introduce non-native English speakers and refugees throughout Scottsdale to coding. In March, she began volunteering for the Refugee Code Academy as a student ambassador. In this role she teaches basic coding to students and refugees, showing them the fun side of coding as well as its potential to solve many real-world problems.

Venkatesh also started a Google CS First club at her school, which introduces fourth- through sixth-graders to computer science concepts by creating fun applications and games.

Venkatesh’s passion for computer science is supported by her parents, who both work in the information technology sector. Her mother, Usha Jagannathan, is a lecturer in the Polytechnic School, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering; she began working at ASU after her daughter joined CUbiC. 

On the importance of promoting STEM fields to children and young adults, Jagannathan said, “Helping young people have fun in learning new skills will propel them through college, and that will have a positive impact across generations.

“Shreya’s efforts in working with the CUbiC team and also her initiatives taken for refugee communities to inculcate programming skills really makes me feel proud and happy as students like her are transforming lives.”

Investing in next-generation researchers

For Venkatesh, one of the most rewarding aspects of working with CUbiC has been sharing her passion for math and science research with others.

She says she was the only fifth-grader from her school to compete in the AzSEF science fair, but as she has gotten older her early interest in math and science has allowed her to jump-start strong connections in “a community that has the same interests as me.”

Ready to attend college next fall, Venkatesh is in the process of sending in college applications. She was quick to share that the first application she submitted was to ASU’s Barrett, the Honors College. She is also applying to several STEM-focused schools on the East Coast.

Venkatesh — who also competes in archery and performs Indian classical dance — is interested in biomedical or electrical engineering and computer science, but is also open to exploring other majors. Though she says wherever she chooses to go must offer “a strong research program connecting professors and students.”

She is grateful that ASU offers this emphasis and chooses to open its doors to young researchers.

“CUbiC is full of amazing faculty and student researchers — the fact that they want to extend their offerings to high school students shows their commitment to investing in scientific research.”

McDaniel echoes this statement, saying, “CUbiC engages high school students to tap the talent of these aspiring individuals with opportunities to flourish and make an impact.”

“It means everything to see experts in their field take an interest in inspiring a high school student,” Venkatesh said. 

Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, the executive vice president of the Knowledge Enterprise and chief research and innovation officer at ASU, is the director of CUbiC.

Rose Gochnour Serago

Communications Program Coordinator, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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Marine vet finds pride in helping children

November 9, 2016

After 25 years of military service, Cliff Vellucci completes his teaching degree at ASU, works as Phoenix assistant principal

After 25 years of service in the U.S. Marines, Cliff Vellucci retired in 2007 and began his transition to civilian life.

"Going from 1,000 mph to a very slow pace, it just really wasn't enough. I needed something more," he said.

He had always had a knack for teaching, so he returned to college and completed his degree through Arizona State University's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Today, he serves as an assistant principal in a Phoenix elementary school. 

"When I was a Marine, people would come up to me and ask me what I did for a living. And I would feel really proud of saying, 'I'm a Marine,'" he said. "Well, now when people come up to me and ask me that same question, I feel that same sense of pride about saying I'm a teacher."

Watch his story here.

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ASU's Veterans Fellowship Corps builds camaraderie

Vet corps aims to leverage veterans’ skills and experiences in mentoring others.
New ASU veterans group of mentors, students meets monthly, plans events.
November 8, 2016

New leadership program in Public Service Academy pairs vets, students to create mentoring opportunities

A new program at ASU has leveraged its unique position to create connections and opportunities for military-minded people to use their experiences to help each other develop.

Consider Public Service Academy cadet Cheyenne Ellis, Coast Guard vet Alisha Wofford and former active-duty Marine Joanna Sweatt:

Ellis has been contemplating a career in the military and wants advice from veterans. 

Wofford has been adjusting to civilian life and wants a chance to mentor young women such as Ellis.

Sweatt, meanwhile, had a tough time after a career in the Marines and has been seeking to help veterans such as Wofford.

The trio and others like them have the opportunity to connect through the Veterans Fellowship Corps at ASU’s Public Service Academy, which seeks to get students and recently discharged veterans to ready for leadership positions in the civilian world.

“Veterans want to be a part of something when they get out or retire,” said Michelle Bravo, manager of Veteran and Community Engagement with the Public Service Academy. “They miss the camaraderie. They miss the esprit de corps. They miss being a part of something bigger than themselves. We now have something for them.”

The Public Service Academy, which launched in 2015, boasts that it’s the nation’s first undergraduate program “to integrate cross-sector and civilian-military experiences to develop collaborative leaders of character.”

The newly developed Veterans Fellowship Corps aims to leverage veterans’ skills and experiences, empowering them to mentor future civilian and military leaders at ASU.

Members include military veterans, National Guard members, ASU students, non-commissioned officers, and people with humanitarian and disaster-relief experience.

The program’s first group, seven mentors and four Student Veteran Fellows, meets monthly. They also gather for a series of planned events, such as the Oct. 1 Leadership Lab at ASU’s Memorial Union in Tempe. They discussed their military experiences, transitioning back into civilian life and why they want to remain a part of the veteran community.

Group discussion

Coast Guard veteran Alisha Wofford shares her thoughts on leadership during a book discussion at an Oct. 1 meeting of the Veterans Fellowship Corps, a branch of the Public Service Academy, in which veterans mentor Public Service Academy members. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

“Transitioning from the Marines back into the real world was a nightmare,” said Sweatt, CEO of the Veterans Directory, an online database of veteran resources and products.

Sweatt said that after serving almost a decade in the Marines, she was harsh and intense. Her new boss, a Navy vet, encouraged her to go to college on the GI Bill to improve herself. She came out a new person — intent on helping others.

“My mentorship will not be about celebrating all of their victories,” Sweatt said. “I want them to know there are going to be bumps in the road, and it’s all about persevering.”

Wofford, 26, is enrolled at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business after serving more than six years in the Coast Guard. She’ll be mentoring young women in the Public Service Academy as well as receiving mentoring from an older veteran.

She chose to mentor because “I remember what it was like to be that age and not know what I wanted to do.”

Wofford said she was naïve when she joined at 18. She also said that although life in the military could be intense and unrelenting, she met some great people.

“When I was at my lowest and darkest times, there was always somebody who had your back,” Wofford said. “There’s people in the military who treat you like family. You strike these bonds with people that you never thought you would develop. You unite in good and bad times.”

That’s the kind of information that the 18-year-old Ellis wants to hear. Ellis, a psychology major, has been contemplating a career in the military or law enforcement.

“Being around veterans has been great for me because I get to hear all the good and bad things about the military,” Ellis said. “I’ve noticed military people have a passion to serve their country and fight for what they believe in. If they see injustice, they stand up and say something.

“Even if I don’t join the military, that’s the kind of person I want to be.” 

Top photo: Program manager for Veteran and Community Outreach and Army veteran Michelle Bravo leads a book discussion at a meeting of the Veterans Fellowship Corps, a branch of the Public Service Academy. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


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ASU Law students work to ensure Native votes count

Dozens of initiative volunteers come from ASU, community.
Project volunteers will work at polling places and on telephone hotlines.
November 7, 2016

Native Vote Election Protection Project aims to help American Indians navigate problems such as intimidation on Election Day

ASU Law student Allyson Von Seggern said she felt like a rookie two years ago working a primary election.

She had recently moved from small-town Nebraska to the Phoenix area for law school. Eager to earn extra credit, she signed on to help with an ASU Indian Legal Clinic voter initiative. But she had no idea what to expect: “It was one of the most painful days of my life,” she said.

Today, thanks in part to hundreds of hours of experience with the clinic, she’s ready to lead a group of about 80 volunteers for the clinic’s Native Vote Election Protection Project, an outreach effort that helps American Indians navigate problems on Election Day.

“We’re out to make every vote count,” Von Seggern said.

Composed of ASU students and dozens of community members, the initiative aims to ensure that Native Americans exercise their right to vote in federal and state elections. The volunteers have been trained to be ready to help with a range of issues, including voter intimidation.

ASU Law professor Patty Ferguson-Bonhee runs the Indian Legal Clinic in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, located at the Downtown Phoenix campus. She started Native Vote in response to a 2004 Arizona voter ID law.

Ferguson-Bonhee said that particular law and subsequent others don’t take into account the negative effects on Native Americans and that they often lead to canceled votes, confusion and disenfranchisement.

“Native Americans like to exercise their right to vote,” Ferguson-Bonhee said. “In the old days it was obvious why these laws were passed. These days the reasons are different, but it’s still the same result.”

Ferguson-Bonhee said Arizona has a bad track record regarding elections. According to her project’s website, Native Americans weren’t allowed to vote until 1948, when the Arizona Supreme Court overturned a long-standing ban on Indian voting. Natives continued to be excluded until 1970 through so-called literacy tests.

Since then, she said, many Native people in Arizona have continued to experience voting difficulties.

“It doesn’t seem like in this day and age there are people out there trying to prevent Native American from voting, but there are,” said Kris Beecher, a first-year law student who is enrolled in ASU’s Indian Legal Program.

Beecher, who is Navajo, worked in the 2014 election. He said he saw many Native voters get disqualified due to newly instituted laws and a lack of knowledge from poll workers. He also noticed something else.

“Many of the poll workers are not Native Americans, and they were on Native American soil and disqualifying potential voters,” he said.

The initiative includes volunteers dispersing to 12 polling sites around the state and others working a telephone hotline.  

Kyra Climbingbear, a first-year law student from Piscataway, New Jersey, said she volunteered because “where I’m from, not many people vote.”

“Arizona has a large indigenous population, and they seem more unified here,” Climbingbear said. “They seem to understand that Native lives matter … you’re only as loud as your voice.”

Ferguson-Bonhee said Natives will face many issues on Election Day, which could include providing acceptable forms of identification, problems with confusing ballot language, being placed on a permanent early-voting list (which she said some counties do), being sent to incorrect polling locations, and legal and procedural differences between tribal and state elections.

“Once you secure a right, it’s great, but there’s roadblocks all around,” Ferguson-Bonhee said. “Our job on Election Day is to clear the roadblocks.”

Top photo: Director of the Legal Indian Clinic Patty Ferguson-Bohnee touches base with her students during an orientation for the Native Vote Initiative at ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law on Nov. 1. The initiative was organized by the Indian Legal Clinic and led by third-year ASU Law students. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


ASU students use humor, creativity to highlight aspects of November election

November 3, 2016

How do you get Arizona voters to stick around and cast votes for the bottom of a very long ballot? That was the challenge put to a group of graduate students in Arizona State University's School of Film, Dance and Theatre. They were one of four teams commissioned by the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service to produce videos highlighting important aspects of the upcoming election.

ASU students Ricky Araiza, Malena Grosz, Vickie Hall and Chris Weise were asked to promote the final part of the ballot: retaining or rejecting Superior Court judges, also known as the merit selection process. ASU students used popsicle stick characters to highlight a lesser known part of the November ballot. ASU students used popsicle-stick characters to highlight a lesser-known part of the November ballot. Download Full Image

“We needed to get people aware of this and try to get them to finish the ballot,” said Weise. “So we had a unique challenge initially."

More like an impossible challenge. More than 2 million Arizonans cast ballots in the last presidential election in 2012. Guess how many stuck around to the end of the ballot? Only 7 percent of voters bothered to mark whether to retain the final appellate court judge on the ballot.

"Voters really have no idea how we end up with the judges that we get or the fact that we're one of the very few states that have appointed judges that then have to be elected to keep their seats, " said Alberto Olivas, executive director of the Pastor Center.

Explaining the merit selection process in a short video is difficult enough. But doing so in an entertaining way? It was a challenge that Weise says his team embraced.

“We all had various ideas and tried to incorporate as many as possible,” Weise said. “One person thought puppets would be fun. I thought of the idea of using a game show.”

They ended up using popsicle-stick puppets for characters and the TV show “The Voice” as the platform.

“We really were focused on the idea of the citizens judging judges, right?” recalled Weise. “And then we just thought about the format of 'The Voice.' And we thought that would work.”

For the uninitiated, "The Voice" features aspiring singers being critiqued and coached by established music stars. Hosted by TV personality Carson Daly, viewers vote to eliminate contestants until a winner is declared at the end of the season.

The opening sequence of the student-produced video features a clever play on the show’s logo. Instead of a hand holding a microphone flashing a “V” or victory sign, the hand clutches a gavel and the words “of Justice” are added under the show's title creating “The Voice of Justice.”

Three other student teams produced videos highlighting different aspects of the election. All took a different approach but used humor to make what could be dry topics come to life.

One titled “Zeeta’s Guide the AZ Corporation Commission” plays off the popular use of the iPhone voice command feature “Siri.” In this video skit, "Zeeta" comes to life and walks a hapless young person through his struggles losing electricity and water. In the process, the video highlights the work of the Corporation Commission and provides information on the five candidates running in the general election.

"If that's all they take away from their video, that's a huge accomplishment,” said Olivas. “Because voters are not aware of this body, and they're not aware that this year three out of those five seats are going to be elected."

What is perhaps the most passionate explanation ever of an Arizona ballot proposition is the work of another group of ASU students. They use a telenovela to bring Proposition 206 to life. Titled “All my Wages,” the video spoofs the popular Spanish-language soap opera complete with sappy dramatic scenes and music. The lovelorn characters recite actual language from the proposition, what a “yes” or “no” vote means and what supporters and opponents are saying about it.  It ends with the following words on the screen: “This issue doesn’t need drama. ... It needs voters.”

“And so it closes with that message that voters just need to pay attention and inform themselves and participate in this decision that will have a major impact on our economy," Olivas said.

A final student-produced video examines Proposition 205, which would allow for the recreational use of marijuana and a sales tax on marijuana sales. The students use small plastic dinosaurs, visual props and a heavy dose of humor to explain the proposition and arguments for and against.

"Their challenge was to be fair to both sides because it seemed like the preponderance if not all of them were on one side of that issue,” Olivas said. “But I really feel looking at it that they did a very good job at representing both sides well and comprehensively. And they did it in a way that was funny and attention-grabbing and hopefully will be something that people share online.”

Two of the student-produced videos were played before audiences attending debates on Proposition 205 and Proposition 206, respectively. The events were co-sponsored by the Pastor Center. The videos can also be found online on YouTube.

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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ASU jointly acquires major Western film history items

Film-memorabilia collection features Bronco Billy, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
ASU professor says items could help address Native American stereotypes.
November 3, 2016

Partnering with Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, university adds posters, press books and movies dating from the early 1900s

In a joint acquisition, ASU has just scored what scholars believe is one of the most comprehensive collections of Western film memorabilia ever gathered.

The posters, lobby cards, film stills, press books and movies dating from the early 1900s put the university and its partner, Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, in position to boost research from several fields and help dispel stereotypes and misconceptions of American Indians.

The $6 million, 5,000-piece collection “cuts across so many disciplines,” said Peter Lehman, a film and media studies professor and director of ASU’s Center for Film, Media and Popular Culture. “I can see film, history and Native American students receiving great benefit.”

Recording the cultural memories of the American West, the Rennard Strickland Collection of Western Film History features images and illustrations of movie cowboys including Bronco Billy, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

The collection also "puts the Native American on center stage again,” ASU history professor Don Fixico said.

Fixico — who is affiliated with the Shawnee, Sac & Fox, Muscogee Creek and Seminole tribes — teaches a film class called “Outlaws, Indians and Ladies of the Wild West” and said that before the advent of Westerns, Native Americans had been marginalized, largely forgotten and nearly wiped out.   

“When film came along, we became part of the American narrative again,” Fixico said. “We were sidekicks in the beginning, but in the 1960s and 1970s, we became main characters.”

The museum was to display a tiny fraction of the collection at a private celebration event Thursday evening. 

ASU and Scottsdale’s Museum of the West were scheduled to hold a private event Thursday evening, celebrating their educational and community partnership. The museum plans to exhibit selected works next summer, and scholars and researchers will be able to access the collection in fall 2017.

Rennard Strickland, a professor and senior scholar in residence at the University of Oklahoma College of Law, said he started gathering the memorabilia in the early 1970s.

“I can never do anything in a mild way,” he said. “I loved these films growing up.”

Strickland, of Osage and Cherokee heritage, is an expert on Indian law and passed his collection to ASU and the Museum of the West so that it could be used as a teaching tool and resource to faculty, students and scholars.

Western film historian Charlie LeSueur said the collection “outshines any film poster collection out there,” including the Autry Museum of the American West and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which are both in Los Angeles.

“It’s historically beneficial to what I’m doing, and I know it will help others who study and follow the genre,” said LeSueur, who has written three books on Western films. The items could "answer questions I've had for decades." 

Top photo: A 1939 movie poster illustration for "Stagecoach," considered an American Western film classic starring John Wayne and directed by John Ford. This is one of approxmiately 5,000 pieces in the new Rennard Strickland Collection of Western Film History recently acquired by ASU and Scottsdale's Museum of the West. Courtesy of Rennard Strickland.

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ASU strengthens Tucson

ASU graduates work at shelters, rehab centers, clinics, schools and hospitals.
U.S. Labor Bureau predicts that demand for social workers will grow rapidly.
November 1, 2016

Filling void, Arizona State University offers rigorous social work program that covers range of fields

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2016, click here.

When a troubled woman didn’t show up for her court date, the police didn’t try to arrest her. Instead, the chief sent two Arizona State University students to check on her.

The two young women are working toward master’s of social work degrees at the ASU School of Social Work program based in Tucson, and are interns at the South Tucson Police Department. As part of the department’s community-policing initiative, Natalie Callahan and Kirsten Olivarez interact directly with people in the neighborhood to help them get the services they need rather than be arrested.

“We’ll say, ‘She didn’t show up to court, and we think she’s in a rough spot.’ It was amazing how quickly we knew exactly who these people are,” Olivarez said.

This is the second year that the South Tucson Police Department has had social work interns, but the ASU program has been embedded into southern Arizona for decades. ASU graduates work at shelters, drug-rehabilitation centers, family-services clinics, schools and hospitals.

They work face-to-face every day with people who are sleeping on the streets, or selling their bodies to feed an addiction or desperately seeking help for a mentally ill child.

“There’s a population that’s transient and some have serious mental illness, and others are addicted and they require a lot more services so it’s a lot of interaction with these people because constantly re-arresting them isn’t working,” Callahan said.

“We’re focusing on the dignity of the people, and just because they made a mistake once doesn’t mean they have to continue making that mistake and what we can do help them make changes in their life,” Olivarez said.


Symptoms of larger issues

The most common crime in South Tucson is shoplifting, according to Michael Ford, the police chief. But that is a symptom of larger issues, such as addiction and poverty, and that’s why a partnership with the ASU School of Social Work is ideal. 

“There are a lot of different roles we take and even in that enforcement role, the police are trying to guide people toward services,” said Ford, adding that the interns work on assessing the needs of the population, seeing the entire process from initial contact with police, through the courts to the final outcome.

“Having the interns helps us have a broader vision of the services we’re providing, and whether the investment we’re making in our resources is working,” he said.

Ford decided to bring on the interns after working in the community with Josefina Ahumada, field education coordinator for the ASU School of Social Work in Tucson.

“One thing I’m excited about is that we know that many of the issues that come up with folks who intersect with the police are really issues about poverty,” Ahumada said.

She said that Ford’s community policing model, in which officers try to engage with people, is an ideal fit for social-work interns.

“How can we proactively engage in those issues so at the individual level so people are not forced to commit a crime because they’re trying to raise money to buy diapers?” Ahumada said.

Embedded in the community

The need for social workers is growing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demand for social workers will grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.

Despite graduating thousands of social workers into the field for nearly 40 years, the ASU School of Social Work in Tucson was nearly shut down twice. Deep state budget cuts in 2009 and 2010 threatened to close the location. Both times, the Tucson community rallied to voice support, and the ASU Tucson site was spared, according to Michelle Carney, director of the School of Social Work. 

The program was started in the mid-1970s by Ann Weaver Nichols, a professor who noticed that students were commuting from Tucson to Tempe for social work classes. She started offering a few courses on the University of Arizona campus, which were wildly popular, and a full degree program was launched in 1978. 

Now, the Tucson site has 221 students — 55 undergraduates pursuing a bachelor’s of social work and 166 graduate students in the master’s of social work program. That’s up from 158 total students in 2007.

Undergraduates come into the ASU Tucson program as juniors, with most transferring from Pima Community College and some from the University of Arizona, which doesn’t offer a social work degree.

The curriculum is the same as the one offered at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, but Carney said the Tucson students develop their own sense of community. The program is housed in a Tucson office park with the United Way and other social-service agencies. 

“They’re on that one floor, all the classes are there, the faculty members are there,” she said.

“It’s a community-oriented process. The students study together and get to know each other and they end up working together in the Tucson community.”

The cornerstone of the program is the internship, or “field education.” Bachelor’s students spend their entire senior year in a placement working directly in the community. Master’s students work a whopping 960 hours in the field, with their second year in their chosen area of concentration.

Many of the program’s students are from Tucson, and after spending so much internship time in the local agencies, networking with each other, many stay in the area. Ahumada, the field education coordinator, said that on a recent visit with the interns at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System, she found that the overwhelming majority of the professional social workers there were graduates of the ASU program.

Ford said that interacting with the interns has given him a fresh perspective on his police work.

“I may see an event as it relates to a series of events, but it’s new for them. They’ll ask ‘how?’ or ‘why?’ and I have to pause and that makes me think about how we can do things differently,” he said.

Making a difference

Randall Rutherford, a student in the bachelor’s of social work program at Tucson, wants to be a drug-abuse counselor and is interning at the Salvation Army’s drug-rehabilitation center while also working at Cottonwood, an expensive private facility in Tucson.

“I see a big difference. The rock bottom at the Salvation Army is a lot different,” he said. “The people there are very low-income, generally hard-core addicts, and they’re so shorthanded at the clinic that I get to do a lot with the clients.”

Rutherford decided to pursue his career after personal experience with addiction.

“I met some counselors who were inspirational and instrumental in getting me started in helping other people. I feel like I can really make a difference, and they listen to me more than someone who hasn’t had that experience,” he said.

Other students seek social justice through policy. Jodi Boyd worked directly with drug addicts for 14 years before entering the master’s program at ASU in Tucson.

“My experience is that sometimes people don’t want to change. A lot of times you tell a client ‘this is the list of things you have to do’ and they’re rebels,” said Boyd, who is interning at the Primavera Foundation, an anti-poverty agency in Tucson. Recently, she helped at a workshop for people who had been convicted of felonies to restore their rights.

“I want to go into policy and administration so we can change the way we do things, so we’re more accepting of the reasons why people don’t want to come into a program, and so we can develop programs for people who are just as human as everyone else.”

Boyd learned firsthand that not everyone is ready to accept help. The interns in the South Tucson Police Department didn’t find the woman who missed her court date, and later, she declined offers of help from Ford.

“Hopefully, one day soon,” Callahan said.

Ahumada said that field work gives the students the day-to-day skills they need in the face of daunting odds.

“Sometimes when we think about our community problems — poverty, drugs, gangs — we can make a laundry list, and it sounds so depressing and what can anyone do about it?

“Well, let me tell you, there’s lot that you can do. And that’s what social work is about. We know there’s a certain science as well an art that goes into making effective changes.

“That’s what energizes social work students.”

Top photo: A student group evaluates the needs of a hypothetical client during class at ASU's School of Social Work in Tucson, on Monday, Oct. 31. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now