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'This is where I want to stay'

A veteran faculty member reflects on his time at ASU's Cronkite School.
John Craft talks about why he was never tempted to leave ASU's Cronkite School.
January 4, 2016

John Craft reflects on more than 40 years at ASU's Cronkite School

John Craft didn't think he'd spend 42 years teaching broadcast journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. After taking the job in 1973, he thought he'd teach for a few years, then return to working in the broadcast world.

"But it didn't happen. I was very happy doing what I was doing, very happy teaching in the university," he said. "And I thought, yeah, this is where I want to be, this is where I want to stay."

As Craft reflects on a long career at Arizona State University, he says part of the reason his position has been so appealing is seeing the students succeed. And part of the reason he has been able to help them succeed is by keeping his hands in the "real world" of broadcast news, and bringing those evolving lessons into his classrooms. See more of Craft looking back on his career and the Cronkite School in this video feature on the veteran faculty member.

In the upcoming spring semester, Craft is teaching JMC 437: Documentary Production and JMC 410: Turning Points in TV History.

Ken Fagan

Videographer , ASU Now


ASU-ADOT partnership will provide real-time weather information

Meteorology intern will help agency respond rapidly to storms

December 30, 2015

With weather updates important to traffic flow and the safety of motorists, an innovative partnership between the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and Arizona State University will provide real-time forecasts to those managing our highways. The partnership with utilize the expertise of ASU meteorology students.

Paul Panhans, a first-year meteorology student from ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and a U.S. Air Force veteran, will begin in January in ADOT’s Traffic Operations Center as the first intern from the new partnership. Panhans will help crews respond rapidly to winter storms and other weather challenges to clear highways and potentially prevent closures. He said his experience interning with the National Weather Service will allow him to work closely with that agency. Download Full Image

“I will liaise with the National Weather Service and add in my own work to provide ADOT with the best possible weather forecasting,” Panhans said. “I expect to be able to help with such things as visibility, wind and freezing precipitation.”

“This is an exciting step forward for public safety,” said Brent Cain, assistant director for ADOT’s Transportation Systems Management & Operations division. “This will allow us to have better information about weather conditions so we can more quickly determine how to deploy our crews and communicate with the public. All of that will make Arizona roads safer.”

Randy Cerveny, ASU President’s Professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, said the setup also will allow top students to experience how meteorology can provide service to people in many areas.

“Most people only think of meteorologists on television, but by far most meteorologists work in settings like this one,” Cerveny said. “This is a real-world, real-time application of meteorology in a way that can help people all across Arizona.”

Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


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Phoenix real-estate guru predicts stability

ASU's real-estate guru sees stability, with shadows on the horizon.
After ASU's Orr made a $1 million by accident, he became a real-estate guru.
December 30, 2015

Director of ASU research center focuses on gathering, analyzing data

When Mike Orr accidentally made a million dollars, it set him on a path toward his role as the Valley’s real-estate guru.

That was back in 2002, when Orr sold his Silicon Valley house during the real-estate frenzy.

“My timing was perfect, although it was accidental,” said Orr, who is director of the Center for Real Estate Theory and Practice in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

After making a seven-figure profit on a house he owned for just six years, Orr moved to Arizona and turned that serendipitous start into a new career. He used his math and computer science background to analyze and forecast real-estate trends in the greater Phoenix area. In the process he became one the first analysts to spot the beginning of the housing bubble, in 2004, and was one of the first to predict the recovery, in 2009.

“Real estate is not like Wall Street, where it’s very unpredictable and people can change their sentiment in the afternoon and back again the next morning,” he said.

“In real estate, it’s a very long wave cycle. If things go bad, they’ll stay bad for a long time.”

Orr produces the Cromford Report, a monthly housing update that’s quoted by media all over the world. He uses cold, hard analytics to spot trends in a field that’s often driven by sentiment.

“You have to be very focused on the numbers and not let emotions get into it,” he said.

'Astonishingly bad'

Orr was born and raised in England, and after earning a degree in math, he worked for IBM and then the Amdahl Corp. in sales. In 1992, he moved his family to California because Amdahl thought that an Englishman would have a better handle on how to sell to Europe.

The work was financially rewarding but intense, with long hours. So in 2002, he took a big plunge, selling his house in San Jose and pondering the rest of his career. The Orrs ended up in the Valley of the Sun, choosing Mesa for its family-friendly atmosphere.

Then he became a real-estate investor — also by accident. Orr and his wife wanted a house with a basement, but the contractor said it would take a year to complete. So in the meantime, they bought a house without a basement.

“When it became time to sell that house, the market had gone a bit quiet,” Orr said.

So they rented it out.

“The experience of buying and selling houses interested me,” he said. “I thought if I made so much money by accident, maybe I could make more by really trying.”

So he started reading books and got his real-estate license.

“I didn’t really want to be a Realtor. But I wanted the information they had. I’ve always been fascinated by data and collecting and analyzing it.”

In 2004, he began downloading data from the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service — the giant database of all houses for sale in the greater Phoenix area. He analyzed the numbers, hoping to glean investment insights.

“But then I looked — this is telling me it’s not a good time to invest. The market is getting very frothy,” he said as he watched housing prices climb ever higher.

“I was stumped. I felt I had a lot of information but I wasn’t able to use it.”

Then he had the idea of creating a report for other Realtors. Although there was a lot of data about commercial real estate, Realtors were hungry for accurate information about single-family residential housing.

“People said, ‘Can you tell us when it would end?’ As it turned out, I could.”
— Mike Orr, on the housing crash

Phoenix was the perfect place to do that. For one thing, the amount paid for a house is public information in Arizona, unlike many states that keep prices secret.

“And not only the price, but in Arizona, you’re legally bound to report the type of financing, the down payment, where the buyer is coming from — lots of really useful information,” Orr said.

Also, the Valley is unique in that one multiple-listing service covers all of Maricopa and Pinal counties. Orr said that elsewhere, small areas can have many services, making data-gathering complicated.

Orr’s idea was brilliant because while there was a lot of information, most of it was useless.

“The data is terrible when you first get hold of it because it’s mostly handwritten and nobody double-checks anything,” he said.

“Houses are listed in the incorrect ZIP code or with incorrect square footage. Or they put an extra zero on the end of the price — which happens more than you think,” he said.

He devised a system to detect and fix errors in the data so it would be more reliable. Then he put it all together into the Cromford ReportSo named because he used to live on Cromford Road. "I thought it sounded English, too. I had already discovered that having an English accent in America is a big advantage." and created a website to sell it.

Everything went well until the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service sent him a cease-and-desist letter, asking him to stop profiting from its information. Orr negotiated with the organization, which agreed to buy a subscription and send his report to all its agents.

As the market continued its plunge through 2008, Realtors were desperate for good news.

“It was astonishingly bad. People said, ‘Can you tell us when it would end?’ As it turned out, I could.”

Predicting the turnaround

At the end of March 2009, Orr noticed that the price of houses put into escrow started ticking up — before actual sales prices bottomed out. This signaled the start of the turnaround.

“It’s invisible to the public because it’s taken off the market, but it’s powerful information,” he said.

He was so confident in his insight that he bought two investment houses himself that year, and ended up on the front page of the Arizona Republic for his forecast.

“A lot of people said, ‘Rubbish, he’s wrong.’ But that was when prices stopped going down.”

He sold one house for 75 percent profit and still rents out the other one.

“I didn’t buy any more because I didn’t want to borrow money,” he said. “Also, the actual job of being a landlord sucks.”

Orr called the housing crash a “once-in-a-lifetime event.”

“The collapse came from inside the housing market because we were feeding too much money into it because of lenders who would lend to anybody,” he said — a situation that no longer exists.

In 2012, ASU reached out to Orr, asking him to lead the university's real-estate research center. He now produces a monthly subscription housing report for ASU that includes interactive charts.

“I think it’s some of the best stuff available from a university anywhere,” said Orr, whose Cromford Report is available at his own website. He has since ended his partnership with the Arizona Regional MLS.

Orr said that housing prices in the area are neutral now, with higher demand for dwellings in the $200,000 range in the central Phoenix area and less demand for more luxurious homes on the fringes of the Valley. Condo prices have also increased more than single-family dwellings over the past year.

Orr said that the Phoenix housing market is stable, but he worries that the global plummeting price of oil, iron ore and commodities such as beef could create job losses, which might affect Arizona. If that happens, and it disturbs housing prices, he’ll see it.

"I’ve discovered that people want accurate information no matter the state of the housing market.”

Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Making the human connection at Spontaneous Service Saturdays

ASU Project Humanities initiative helps Phoenix homeless year-round.
One day of service turns into year-round endeavor for ASU students.
December 22, 2015

Project Humanities initiative gives ASU students, Phoenix residents chance to engage with community

The sun is just beginning to rise, but it’s still dark enough that the street lights on South 12th Avenue in downtown Phoenix remain lit from the night before.

Arizona State University senior religious studies major Johnny Martin has his hood pulled over his cap and his hands dug deep in his pockets as he chats with freshman psychology major Samantha Hill during a brief break from unloading boxes and bags full of donated items.

The desert air is brisk on this early December morning, but that hasn’t stopped Martin, Hill and others from making their bi-monthly visit to the area outside of Central Arizona Shelter Services, where they help to sort and distribute gently used clothes, shoes and other essentials to the homeless population of Phoenix.

Now an official ASU Project Humanities volunteer initiative known as Spontaneous Service Saturdays, the visits take place year-round, every other Saturday from 6:45 to 8 a.m. They began as a spontaneous day of service at the behest of Neal Lester, Foundation Professor of English and director of Project Humanities.

After initially volunteering as part of a men’s group at his church, Lester said, “I saw the need to continue, so did, and began recruiting ASU students and others to join me.”

Meanwhile, Martin — who had previously worked with Lester and Project Humanities as an event coordinator — had been busy founding the ASU student group Sun Devils Are Better Together (SunDABT), the university’s first and only interfaith student organization.

“We bring people from different religious and non-religious identities together to voice their values and beliefs, engage across lines of difference, and act together to improve the community based on shared values within different traditions,” Martin said.

But taking action to improve one’s community is often easier said than done. Luckily, Martin had stayed in touch with Lester and others he knew from his time at Project Humanities. So when SunDABT began looking for ways to engage with the community, Martin arranged for them to participate in the Spontaneous Service Saturdays.

“Our mission and vision are so aligned with Project Humanities that it’s very easy for us to find numerous possibilities to collaborate,” Martin said.

SunDABT group members arranged clothing drives and carpools, and watched as participation grew.

Anthropology junior and vice president of SunDABT Aspyn Adams attests, “First it was just three of us that went. Then it kept expanding each time we went with our own volunteers.”

At last count, Martin reported roughly 50 volunteers recruited by SunDABT. But it wasn’t just ASU students who were contributing to the day of service efforts.

"[The homeless] are real people equally deserving of dignity and respect, and they each have a story."
— ASU religious studies major Johnny Martin

“We have groups, families, student groups, couples, high school students and others coming out to help. We even have donations coming from Flagstaff, Pakistan, Rhode Island and New York,” Lester said.

“A particularly magical moment occurred when a mom of small children in Gilbert, Arizona, saw our story in Raising Arizona Kids and coordinated a shoe drive in support of our effort — gathering some 460 pairs of shoes! That was pretty special.”

Besides providing the city’s homeless with much-needed items, Spontaneous Service Saturdays also gives volunteers the opportunity to interact with them.

“It really humanizes them,” Martin said. “They are real people equally deserving of dignity and respect, and they each have a story.”

Adams recalls one woman in particular who was “so happy just to have a dress, and to look for things she can go to a job interview in.

“Being able to give them that basic human right of being treated with respect is the reason why I love doing community service,” Adams said.

For more information, to participate or to assist with Spontaneous Service Saturdays donations, visit the initiative’s website.

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A heart for misunderstood kids

ASU psych grad wants to help misunderstood kids.
ASU grad is "weird" & "quirky," which is why she's perfect to help kids in need.
December 17, 2015

ASU psychology grad says her quirkiness helps her relate to developmentally challenged children

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

Brianna Wang has a real heart for kids.

While at ASU, she has tested grade-school children for academic achievement, emotional stability and auditory bias, coded their behaviors for a national study and worked alongside a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist. 

As the 22-year-old psychology major receives her undergraduate degree from Arizona State University this month, she wants to act as an advocate for children and others with developmental disabilities who are too young to help themselves.

“As a psychology major, I feel it’s my duty to stand up for people who are in need of developmental health,” Wang said. “Often they are misunderstood by society and need a little extra attention, which I’m willing to give.”

Wang is used to giving her all. After graduating from Horizon High School in northeast Phoenix in 2012, she received an offer to attend ASU on an AIMS scholarshipThe Arizona Board of Regent’s High Honors Tuition Scholarship, or AIMS, is a university academic merit scholarship administered by the Arizona Department of Education on behalf of the Arizona Board of Regents. Qualified students who graduate from high school will receive a 25 percent in-state university base tuition scholarship.. She quickly excelled in her studies, which got noticed by Michael McBeath, a professor with the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who made her a teaching and research assistant.

“I’ve known Brianna now for several years, and she is intelligent, hard-working, very quick and reliable,” McBeath said. “She has excelled in her classes, as a teacher, a researcher, a service volunteer and is a thoughtful, likeable peer.”

Wang was also selected to be the special assistant for Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek, who worked on a project examining color blindness while visiting ASU on his sabbatical.

“That was pretty nuts,” Wang said with a laugh. “I was told very casually, ‘You’ll be working with Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek.’ I said, ‘What? Why is he here in the first place?’ Mr. Wilczek is so smart that it’s intimidating, but that was a cool experience.”

“I’m definitely a little weird, quirky and a little offbeat, which I think helps in working with children.”
— Brianna Wang, ASU psychology graduate

In addition to maintaining a 3.89 GPA and finishing her degree in three and a half years, Wang was generous with her time when it came to service activities. She helped out in a variety of departmental events, including ASU Homecoming, Night of the Open Door and the Science of Baseball Festival, held annually in Scottsdale. And in her free time, Wang likes to jam to heavy metal on her electric guitar.

“I’m definitely a little weird, quirky and a little offbeat, which I think helps in working with children,” Wang said. “With adults you have to tone it down, but when you’re with kids you can be as weird as you want and they love it.”

The only regret Wang has is that her whirlwind academic pace means she’ll be graduating from ASU a semester earlier than she had planned.

“I’m feeling very nostalgic right now because leaving ASU is the big thing,” said Wang, who will eventually pursue a graduate degree. “A lot of my friends are excited to graduate and be done with school and all the testing. I know it sounds kind of nerdy, but I like research and learning.”

And, of course, helping people along the way, including adults.

“Psychology majors will be the ones who eventually become therapists, counselors and social workers,” Wang said. “We’re the ones who will be taking care of people, doing great work and helping them in whatever way we can. I think what I will do is very important to society.”

Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


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Appreciating her parents' sacrifices

Sara Santos recalls her parents' sacrifices so she could graduate from ASU.
ASU grad has already given back to her community.
December 15, 2015

First-generation ASU grad Sara Santos reflects on how her family helped her succeed

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

It’s the eve of fall commencement and Sara Santos is quietly shedding tears.

It’s not an expression of joy or sorrow; she’s crying for the people who have made big sacrifices on her behalf so she could attend college.

“Graduation makes me emotional because my parents are from Guatemala and they came to the United States in their early 20s,” said Santos, a first-generation college student who will receive her degree from ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. Santos will also receive the Jose Ronstadt Outstanding Undergraduate award at ASU’s Hispanic Convocation, for her service to others in the Latino community.

“Neither one had a formal education, and both were forced to quit school when they were young to help out their families. Growing up, my dad had to work in the fields with his brothers and father, and I remember as a kid he only had two shirts and two pairs of pants for the whole week. I may not have had as much as other kids in the neighborhood, but I knew I was privileged because I was never hungry, always had a roof over my head and was somehow able to get a formal education. I never had to worry about the things my parents worried about. They always led me to believe I was going to have it better than them and made many sacrifices to ensure I did.”

These days Santos is not only expressing gratitude towards her parents — Marta and Marcony — but is reflecting back on the teachers, counselors and mentors who provided encouragement when she was a student in the Phoenix Union High School District, where she graduated third in her class. They’re the reason she wanted to attend college, and the combination of the Doran Community Scholars program and the Provost’s Scholarship enabled Santos to attend ASU the past four years.

Some might say Santos has already paid it forward. She was recently named the National Undergraduate Philanthropist of the Year by Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, which she serves as president, for her 1,000 hours of community service — from raising money for Relay for Life to helping build a playground in downtown Phoenix — while attending ASU. Santos also served as vice president of the National Association of Latino Fraternal Organizations.

“I teach Sunday School class with a gentleman who was my teacher when I was growing up. He pointed at me and said to the class, ‘Years ago she was seated right where you are, and now she’s teaching you,’ ” Santos said. “I feel like a role model to these kids, and I like the responsibility of being a role model for them. That was something I was always looking for, and now I can be that person for someone else.”

Santos also wants to be a go-to person for Hispanic patients and had the opportunity while completing her coursework at Banner Medical University Center in downtown Phoenix.

“One of the patients I was working with on my community health rotation had just been diagnosed with diabetes, and he didn’t really understand the need for insulin or why he needed to check his blood level,” Santos said. “I was able to explain everything in Spanish and developed a rapport with him. When I did follow-up visits and he fully understood the treatment and the actual benefits, we saw a vast improvement in him.”

Santos said she has to take her board-certified tests in order to become an official registered nurse and eventually plans on pursuing her Doctor of Nursing Practice. For now she wants to take in the twin celebrations with her parents and siblings in tow, and collect the Ronstadt award, which she says was a complete surprise.

“They were proud before, but this takes it to another level of proud,” Santos said.

Her tears have evaporated by the end of the interview, replaced with a smile.

Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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'Hooked' earns prestigious duPont award

"Hooked" earns ASU Cronkite School prestigious honor.
ASU's Cronkite School documentary on heroin adds to its awards.
December 15, 2015

Documentary produced by ASU's Cronkite School examines heroin's hold on Arizona

Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Tuesday won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award, which has recognized the very best in broadcast journalism for more than 70 years.

Cronkite News, the school's student-produced news division of Arizona PBS, received the honor for “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona,” a 30-minute documentary produced in association with the Arizona Broadcasters Association (ABA), which reached more than 1 million Arizonans. The report, the final product of more than 70 dedicated student journalists, which aired on all 33 broadcast television stations and 93 radio stations in Arizona in January, examined the rise of heroin use and its impact on the state.

Other duPont Award winners this year included ABC News, “Frontline” on PBS, “60 Minutes” on CBS, as well as WBEZ and “This American Life” for the “Serial” podcast.

The win marks just the third time in the history of the duPont Awards that a Phoenix-based news operation has received the honor. Cronkite News joins 12 News KPNX-TV, which won the award last year, and KOOL-TV, which won the award in 1979 when it was the region’s CBS affiliate.

“This is a tremendous honor for our amazing students and faculty,” said Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan. “More than 70 students and eight faculty members worked on this project, traveling across Arizona to shine a light on this terrible epidemic. To be recognized with a duPont Award says a lot about how the work of our students is impacting the state.”

Work on the documentary started in August 2014 under the direction of Cronkite professor Jacquee Petchel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist. Teams of advanced student journalists interviewed numerous sources across Arizona, telling stories of addicts struggling with sobriety, families grappling for solace, and law enforcement officials battling on the frontlines.  

The documentary included an interactive website with more than a dozen in-depth reports and an unprecedented data analysis of more than 10 million Arizona hospital emergency room cases, led by another Pulitzer Prize winner, Knight Chair Steve Doig. The Cronkite Public Insight Network Bureau, led by veteran public radio journalist Rebecca Blatt, located sources not previously tapped by journalists.

Students also produced a tablet app on the history of heroin under the guidance of Cronkite New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab Director Retha Hill. Additionally, public relations students produced strategic communication plans for the TV special under the direction of Cronkite PR Lab Director Fran Matera.

“They exceeded every expectation, no matter how uncomfortable, no matter how daunting, without so much as a flinch of doubt,” Petchel said. “It's not only a testament to the Cronkite School's innovative journalism program, but to Arizona State University's commitment that we be relevant to our community.”

On Jan. 13, the commercial-free documentary premiered on all Arizona television stations in English and Spanish, drawing nearly half of the Phoenix viewing audience of the 2014 Super Bowl. During and after the simulcast in Arizona, recovery counselors answered 438 calls through an ABA-sponsored call center at Arizona PBS for assistance on heroin and opioid addiction.

Tubes in a hand.

A hand holds tubes of naloxone hydrochloride, a chemical used to remedy opiod overdoses. Photo courtesy Cronkite News. Top photo by Dominick DiFurio.

The duPont Award is the latest honor for the “Hooked” documentary, which has made history in several journalism contests winning awards typically reserved for professional news operations.

In October, the documentary received two of the region’s top professional honors at the Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards, an Emmy in the category of “Societal Concerns – Program/Special,” as well as the Governors’ Award. In May, students who worked on “Hooked” took first place in video storytelling at the Arizona Press Club Awards.

“I think it’s a testament to what we do here,” Petchel said. “Students can do what others cannot do, and you can do it because you’re at the Cronkite School.”

Since the documentary’s airing, ASU students have continued to produce broadcast and digital reports on the heroin epidemic through Cronkite News.

“Producing ‘Hooked’ was the first time I experienced the influence of strong, community journalism,” said Cronkite graduate Erin Patrick O’Connor, who served as the documentary’s director and is now a news video editor for The Washington Post. “This project served as a voice for local Arizonans that were feeling the pressures of heroin addiction. I am truly thankful to have had the opportunity to work with ASU and Jacquee Petchel and bring this story to life.”

Joining O’Connor in the award are Petchel and Assistant Dean Mark Lodato, who served as executive producers; producer/assistant editor Elizabeth Blackburn; reporters Sandy Balazic, Lauren Loftus and Hunter Marrow; reporters/photographers Sean Logan, Jessica Boehm, Dominick DiFurio, Emilie Eaton, Danielle Grobmeier, Lauren Handley, Vivian Padilla, Hannah Lawrence and Liliana Salgado; and Cronkite lecturer Jim Jacoby, production manager.

They will receive the award during a ceremony hosted by Tom Brokaw, special correspondent for NBC News, and ABC News “Nightline” anchor Juju Chang on Jan. 19 at Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library. It will be livestreamed at bit.ly/cjslive.

The Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards honor excellence in broadcast, digital and documentary journalism. The awards, established in 1942 by Jessie Ball duPont in memory of her husband Alfred I. duPont, are generously supported by the Jessie Ball duPont Fund.

"Hooked" can be seen online at hookedaz.cronkitenewsonline.com.

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ASU Police grant holiday wishes to kids in need

Shop with a cop has more holiday cheer than you might think.
ASU Police grant holiday wishes to kids in need.
December 14, 2015

Arizona State University and Tempe police departments partnered with Greek Life and local businesses this month to host a holiday breakfast and shopping event for children and families in need this holiday season.

On Saturday, 30 children —15 from the ASU community and 15 from the Tempe community — were invited to have breakfast and then ride in police cars to go shopping for holiday presents with the officers. This is the first year that ASU Police hosted the “Kids + Cops Holiday Shop!” event.

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Scientist's passion rooted in Arizona's ecology

Samuel Teegarden's ASU career started slowly, then became unstoppable.
ASU student's passion for Arizona's "sky islands" guides his research.
December 7, 2015

Research at Desert Botanical Garden part of life sciences grad's fruitful time at ASU

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of student profiles that are part of our December 2015 commencement coverage.

Samuel Teegarden never got much out of high school until he took an Advanced Placement course on environmental science.

It was one of the few classes that actually caught his attention and engaged him.

Now the Tucson native is about to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in conservation biology and ecology from the School of Life SciencesThe School of Life Sciences is a unit of ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. at Arizona State University.

“When it came to choosing careers, knowing that I’m going to be putting a lot of effort into whatever I do, I want that effort to result in the greatest amount of impact, not only for my life, but other people’s lives and the well-being of ecosystems we live in,” Teegarden said.

Samuel Teegarden

One of Samuel Teegarden's
interests are Arizona's "sky
islands," isolated mountaintop
areas of great biodiversity. He
calls them critical to ecosystem
functioning and a sense of place.

Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Teegarden’s journey from middling student to passionate scientist could have been by train; slow at first, then becoming unstoppable.

He started at the University of Arizona, where a lack of focus caused him to drop out after a year. He enrolled at Phoenix College, where he earned his associate’s degree. As part of the Maricopa Community College–ASU transfer program, he moved into ASU, where he earned his bachelor’s in one and a half years.

“Since I’m from Tucson, you might imagine I have some certain biases from sports conflicts, but honestly those biases that were there went away pretty quickly,” the 24-year-old said.

As a proud Arizona native, Teegarden said the Grand Canyon State’s basins and ranges call to him.

“One of my interests is the Arizona ‘sky islands,’ the mountains here in the basin and range province,” he said. “If you can imagine the desert being a vast sea, with no water, the mountains are the islands. They’re hosts to enormous amounts of biodiversity. They’re critical to ecosystem functioning and a sense of place and identity here in Arizona. I like all the stuff that’s going on here where I’m from; it’s very unique.”

Teegarden’s time at ASU has been brief but meaningful.

“The time that I have had, I had the maximum exposure I needed,” he said. “I’ve been able to work on projects here at the Desert Botanical Garden.”

He joined the School of Life Sciences undergraduate research program, rising to paid researcher. “It’s kept me very busy,” he said.

Samuel Teegarden

Samuel Teegarden takes samples from creosote bushes at the Desert Botanical Garden on Dec. 4. He is studying the ability of plants to respond to drought and temperature stress. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

At the Desert Botanical Garden, he studied concentrations of sugar and starch in creosote and how that affects their ability to respond to drought and temperature stress.

He also studied the same issue in five types of trees growing in four forest types in the Four Corners areas.

“That was a much bigger macrosystem project that I did all the chemistry and analysis in,” he said. “It’s applying these techniques to get the big-picture understanding of how the increasing threats of drought and exposure to high temperatures affect the plant’s ability to respond to those changes.”

He had 175 tree core samples, and only two could be ground at the same time.

“I spent most of the summer just grinding samples,” he said. “It’s really interesting; after a year of working primarily on chemistry, you get to see the results of your hard labor in the form of pretty graphs and stuff.”

Teegarden eventually wants to own his own environmental consultancy. Right now he’s hunting for an entry-level job as a technician or environmental scientist with private-sector companies advising developers and contractors in permitting.

He and his girlfriend just bought their first house in the Encanto neighborhood in central Phoenix. “We got a 30-year mortgage, so we’ll be here for a while,” he said.

He will be remembered at the School of Life Sciences for a while, too.

“At ASU he has done extremely well and been a fantastic addition to the research community,” said Katelyn Cooper, academic success coordinator in the School of Life Sciences. “He is a member of the Ogle lab and is doing really important work.  He is very passionate about his future career. … He is definitely someone who represents our ASU students, and I think he will go on to do great things.”

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High-flying holiday fun

Fantasy Flight keeps holiday spirit flying high.
Fantasy Flight transports Phoenix kids to the "North Pole."
December 4, 2015

Santa, ASU student-athletes and a whole merry crew fly underprivileged kids to the 'North Pole' at Phoenix airport

“Final boarding call — Santa One, to the North Pole!” the gate attendant called into the intercom, then rang sleigh bells in the mic.

That was the first indication this wasn’t your average trip on an airplane.

Flight attendants wore elf ears and Santa hats. No one stared at screens or pecked on laptops. Even though it was dawn, everyone smiled and was happy to be there. And every passenger was under age 10.

That was the scene Friday morning during the annual United Fantasy Flight Phoenix, an airborne excursion where more than 100 underprivileged children are flown for 20 minutes and then landed at the North Pole (it’s a different gate) to meet Santa, Sparky and Arizona State University student-athletes; eat breakfast; get their faces painted; and receive a big bag of gifts.

Phebe Mahoney, 6, and Arianthra Luchno, 7, both from Mesa Arts Academy, shared a row in the middle of the plane.

Friends hold hands during
the United Fantasy Flight
Phoenix to the North Pole
(that is, Phoenix Sky Harbor
International Airport) on Dec. 4.
For many, it was their first

Photos by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Phebe took the airsickness bag out of the seatback, borrowed a pen, and wrote her name and a heart on the bag.

“Quiet down,” a stewardess said in vain before beginning the pre-flight safety speech, which included this:

“Santa doesn’t like smoking,
And neither do we.
If you light up,
We’ll give you a trip to jail for free.”

“We’re not moving,” Phebe said. Santa One taxied to the west. She held hands with Arianthra, both unsure what to expect next.

The captain came on the intercom. “Are you ready to go to the North Pole? I can’t hear you!”

The plane lifted off, and 110 shrill voices shrieked in unison, drowning the GE turbines and piercing the terrorist-proof cockpit door, the captain attested later.

Sue Douglas, principal of the Mesa Arts Academy, brought 50 children to the event. Ninety percent of the kids in her district live in poverty.

“The majority of our kids have never been near a plane,” Douglas said.

Every month the school holds a college-themed rally to encourage higher education. “Right now they’re going to be with college kids,” she said. “They’re excited about that.”

The sun rose over the mountains, framed in bands of pink and orange. “Jingle Bells” was sung.

Phebe stared out the window, then sank in her seat. “I want my mommy,” she said.

A flight attendant singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” stole the show from the windows momentarily; then a wing dipped, the jet turned, and all attention reverted to the windows again.

“I want to go faster,” Arianthra said.

A little girl wears a glowing headband.The novelty of air travel waning, Phebe wanted to wear a glowing red and green headband making the rounds. (And she eventually got to, pictured left.)

“Are we almost there?” Arianthra asked 15 minutes into the 20-minute flight.

Passengers became unruly. “That boy threw hair on me,” Phebe said.

Douglas’ school had been on Fantasy Flights before, but it was her first time escorting students. They had gathered in the school parking lot at 4:15 a.m.

“It’s great for these kids,” she said. “It’s absolutely fabulous. It’s a life-changing experience for them.”

The plane landed and taxied toward the gate. “We have to stop!” Phebe correctly noted. She held up her airsickness bag. “Can I keep this?”

When the plane stopped, Douglas stood in the aisle.

“Turn around. Eyes on me. Eyes on me. Mr. Vega, I need you to use your ears. Are we ready? Eyes on me. Look at all those beautiful eyes.”

When the plane did stop, it was greeted by Santa and Mrs. Claus, Elsa from “Frozen,” Sparky, the ASU Spirit Squad, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, 65 ASU student-athletes and other assorted dignitaries.

Flight attendant Cathy Findorff compared the morning’s passengers with her typical load. “A lot louder, a lot more fun,” she said.

“It reminds me what Christmas is all about,” flight attendant Sherri Schmidt said. “They’re so excited over so little.”

It was the 19th United Fantasy Flight Phoenix. “We basically steal a plane,” said Rich Vehring, retired Phoenix city manager and one of the event’s founders. “It’s so rewarding, and it’s so much fun.”

United Airlines Capt. Bob Miller, another event founder and member of the ASU Class of 1987, flew the very first Fantasy Flight out of London in 1991. He flew 100 children from an orphanage to a reindeer farm in Lapland, Finland.

“It was such a magical day I came back to Phoenix and said, ‘Why don’t we do it here?’ ” Miller said. “ASU makes such a difference here with these kids.”

Scott Seckel

Reporter, ASU Now