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Students mobilize their research on water solutions in the Sonora-Arizona desert

May 22, 2019

The dry, arid climate of the Sonoran Desert has created harsh living conditions for several millennia. This forces local dwellers to use traditional knowledge about the environment and sustainability in order to help their vibrant communities flourish. Even with today’s advances, the low availability of water in the region continually leads to the necessity for new technological innovations that yield more efficient use of more diverse sources of water.

As centers for innovation, universities in the Arizona-Sonora megaregion, that area of the Sonoran Desert that spans the U.S. and Mexico, play a central role in both creating knowledge and in mobilizing it to society. Knowledge mobilization is the process by which advances are disseminated, adopted and refined when placed in a real-word context. Enrique Vivoni speaking to a group Enrique Vivoni (left) speaking to a group at the knowledge mobilization event. Download Full Image

This process was recently illustrated in a collaboration between Arizona State University and Tecnológico de Monterrey during a two-day water solutions workshop in Hermosillo, Mexico. The workshop was tailored to 163 engineering students whose objectives were to develop a solution, document the impact it would have and make this accessible to others.

“Arizona and Sonora share common problems related to natural resources which can be more effectively addressed using a regional approach,” said Enrique R. Vivoni. “Since our two universities are training students to be innovators, it is natural to work on joint solutions to shared problems.”

Vivioni, a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, is the associate dean of the ASU Graduate College and participated in the workshop.

Students and faculty scrutinized the arid climate of Sonora and Arizona and how it presents the opportunity to develop water innovations for the agricultural, urban and industrial sectors. With nearly 9 million inhabitants, the Sonora-Arizona megaregion is a fertile ground for emerging technologies that can lead to water conservation and sustainable economic development.

“Through these workshops, we exposed students from our industrial and innovation engineering programs to team-based problem solving and entrepreneurship,” said Alejandro Sandoval Correa, director of the School of Engineering and Sciences at Tecnológico de Monterrey’s Campus Sonora Norte.

Eighteen student teams, consisting of eight to 10 members, used communication strategies such as concept sketches, benefit-cost analysis and product pitches to conceptualize and present ideas for products that solve a specific water challenge in the region.

“Student competitions centered around a challenge are an effective way of mobilizing knowledge and stimulating creative solutions to a societal problem,” Vivoni said. “In this case, our research activities over the past 15 years in Sonora were mobilized as well to provided context for student-driven innovations.”

The activity promoted student competencies toward earning a degree for the engineering curriculum at Tecnológico de Monterrey, including active participation in multidisciplinary teams and the evaluation of the social, economic and environmental consequences of engineering projects.

At the end of the workshop, three student teams were selected as top innovators in the categories of agricultural, urban and industrial solutions. Two members from each winning team will present their efforts at ASU on Friday, May 24, to a group of students and faculty from the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment.

People at Sonora-Arizona desert event

The Sonora-Arizona desert event with Arizona State University and Tecnologico de Monterrey.

“Our programs at Campus Sonora Norte will continue to benefit from interactions with universities in Arizona, especially in the areas of sustainability, engineering and regional development. We are looking to Arizona State University as a long-term partner for a wide range of student engagement, research and academic activities,” Sandoval said.

As a tide of momentum continues to rise between institutions of higher education in the Sonora-Arizona megaregion, the opportunity for further innovation continues to entertain the goals that are being pursued by the governors of each state through the Arizona-Mexico Commission. The commission’s 60th anniversary summit will be held June 26–28 in Phoenix. Additional efforts are underway to link universities through the Arizona-Sonora Interuniversity Alliance, established in 2017 to foster knowledge, innovation and education.

“We hope that efforts such as these can create opportunities for further collaboration through graduate degree programs, joint research projects and public engagement across communities,” Vivoni said.

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Engineering and humanities collide for social good

May 21, 2019

ASU grad helps spread awareness of homeless population needs among tech field

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 9,865 people experience homelessness on a given night in Arizona. Nationally, 552,830 people lacked housing on a given night last year, including men, women, families, veterans and youth.

People who experience homelessness often lack shelter, clothing and food as well as opportunities for regular employment and health care because they don’t have access to a permanent address, phone line or internet connection.

Since 2016, Baani Khurana has been volunteering with Arizona State University’s Project Humanities outreach initiative to distribute donations of clothing, water and toiletries to people experiencing homelessness in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

“My Sikh faith inspires a passion for community service,” said Khurana, who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. “Nonprofit organizations are not given as much exposure in the tech field. I wanted to change that narrative by spreading awareness and helping meet the needs of the homeless population.”

Inefficient processes hinder potential impact

Through volunteering, Khurana noticed organizers struggling to acquire critical resources and redistribute surplus donations to efficiently meet the needs of people who are homeless. Project Humanities, for instance, often has a surplus of women’s clothing but not enough men’s clothing.

The initiative also has a difficult time tracking what items go the fastest, what items are being requested most often and how to share items with other organizations.

“Our greatest challenge is access and distribution of resources,” said Rachel Sondgeroth, an ASU undergraduate student in religious studies and the communications and outreach coordinator at Project Humanities. “Ideally, all the nonprofits in Arizona should be part of a greater network that connects us with resources and gets them to us in a simple and timely manner.”

In researching Phoenix’s homelessness crisis, Khurana found many nonprofit organizations addressing the needs of people who are homeless were disconnected from one another. The disassociation was hindering their ability to maximize their impact in serving the community.

“There is no streamlined process of understanding needs, tracking donations and sharing resources among nonprofit organizations,” Khurana said. “The lack of efficiency, consistency and centralization of the current process decreases the rate at which homeless individuals can be helped. This raises the question: Is it possible to improve this process using technology?”

Project Humanities thesis defense

Baani Khurana (center) poses with Associate Professor Lalitha Sankar (left) and Associate Professor Rida Bazzi at her honors thesis defense for her project, “Privacy Guaranteed Data Collection: The Case for Efficient Resource Management of Nonprofit Organizations,” which was the basis for Khurana’s solution for Project Humanities. Photo courtesy of Baani Khurana

A privacy-guaranteed software solution

For her honors thesis as part of Barrett, The Honors College at ASU, Khurana proposed a privacy-guaranteed software solution to improve the process of collecting statistics on client needs, tracking donations and managing resources more effectively.

As privacy assurance is important to people experiencing homelessness, Khurana wanted to ensure her software could collect data with no personally identifiable information.

She also sought to offer an alternative to databases that require identity documents since many people experiencing homelessness often do not have valid forms of identification. Thus, the software could help nonprofits in assisting clients without needing to know their identity.

Khurana turned to Lalitha Sankar, an associate professor of electrical engineering in the Fulton Schools, for help. Sankar has conducted an extensive amount of research on information privacy for consumers, free online service markets and even critical infrastructure networks.

“Mass violations of individual privacy are happening with technology on a consistent basis,” Sankar said. “Any software designed to serve a broader community needs to offer reasonable privacy guarantees to avoid exposing the identity of those the software solution is intended to serve, such as people experiencing homelessness. Collecting and sharing aggregate data is the first step to limit privacy violations if the designed database does not collect or store any personal data.”

Khurana worked with Sankar to design a two-part prototype solution with an inventory database and web application that only collects queries of donation surpluses and need requests. Additionally, the web application requires an authorized user login to protect resources being shared with multiple nonprofit organizations.

The inventory database stores all the need requests and donation surpluses from nonprofit organizations across the Phoenix metropolitan area. These nonprofits have the ability to browse donations, share resources and ultimately communicate more efficiently to better serve people experiencing homelessness.

“In the future, this software solution can be universally applied and go beyond the scope of Phoenix nonprofits addressing homelessness.”
— ASU engineering graduate Baani Khurana

The web application gives nonprofit volunteers the ability to enter aggregate data, such as a needs request or a donation surplus, and view tables of available resources across the Valley.

“Baani’s inventory database is exactly what we need,” Sondgeroth said. “It will make it easier for us to track our flow of donations, express our needs to the community and expand our network of partnerships.”

Khurana’s software solution will increase standardization, efficiency and automation for nonprofit organizations. The inventory and web application demonstrate a consistent way to collect data across organizations while guaranteeing the privacy of individuals experiencing homelessness. The centrality of the solution increases efficiency and automation by enabling organizations to communicate and make resources more readily available for the community.

“Overall, this database and web application adds value toward nonprofit organizations’ networking capabilities, resource management and resource distribution,” Khurana said. “The percentile of homeless individuals connected to these resources is expected to increase substantially with future live testing and large-scale implementation.”

Khurana will pursue computer science graduate studies through the 4+1 accelerated master's degree program at ASU in the fall. She'll continue to collaborate with Sondgeroth to determine how Project Humanities can start using the database in real time. Additionally, they’ll attempt to get other local nonprofits on board to help maximize their impact and better serve people experiencing homelessness in Arizona.

“In the future, this software solution can be universally applied and go beyond the scope of Phoenix nonprofits addressing homelessness,” Khurana said. “It could potentially expand to any organization in any city that wants to improve resource sharing, collect needs and track donation surpluses, such as women’s shelters, nonprofits for people who experience domestic violence, rehab centers, inpatient hospitalization facilities and more.”

Additionally, Khurana believes the software could be used by redistribution centers serving victims of natural disasters.

“Baani’s honors thesis is technologically motivated for a greater social good, and I think that’s where we need to go with technology,” Sankar said. “She had a goal to create a solution for the local community and achieved it with extraordinary integrity. She’s only scratching the surface of what she can accomplish, and I encourage her to go further with her project.”

Top photo: Computer science graduate Baani Khurana created a privacy-guaranteed software solution to help nonprofit organizations serving people facing homelessness. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Amanda Stoneman

Science Writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Expanding obesity prevention to young children in the West Valley

Can early prevention in young children be more effective than intervention later?

May 21, 2019

In the United States, obesity rates among children ages 2 to 19 years old have skyrocketed from 10% in 1999 to over 18.5% in 2016. This has also coincided with an increase in obesity prevalence in adults ages 20 and older from 30.5% to 39.6% in the same time period.

Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer — some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death. Obesity is also associated with increased rates of depression and mental illness and is a leading cause of disordered eating and anxiety among teens. Children who are ethnic minorities and who come from low-income families are the most likely to be obese. Photo by Hisu lee on Unsplash Cady Berkel, associate research professor in the ASU Department of Psychology and co-developer of the Family Check-Up 4 Health program has decided to find out if early obesity prevention in young children and toddlers can be more effective than intervention in older children. Photo by Hisu lee on Unsplash Download Full Image

Cady Berkel, associate research professor in Arizona State University's Department of Psychology and co-developer of the Family Check-Up 4 Health (FCU4Health) program has decided to find out if early prevention in young children and toddlers can be more effective than intervention in older children.

Related: Can parenting skills prevent childhood obesity?

The FCU4Health program is already being tested with kids who are between 6 and 12 years old and have an elevated BMI, but they are now conducting a new study to include children earlier in childhood (ages 2-5) before behavioral patterns of eating and activity have been established.

“Once kids get to a certain point, their behaviors become set,” Berkel said. “If you can establish those early health behaviors, it is a lot easier than trying to undo what has already been done.”

Berkel and the FCU4Health team partnered with the city of Avondale to launch an expansion of the FCU4Health program in a study called, “Healthy Communities 4 Healthy Students.” This new initiative is being supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and First Things First, Arizona’s main resource for early childhood programs. Bayless Integrated Healthcare, Care1st Avondale Resource Center and Avondale School District are also partners on the project.

The program is provided for free for families. It begins with an interview and feedback sessions where families learn about the results of their interviews and set goals for next steps. This could be strategies for monitoring children’s health behaviors — like their diet, physical inactivity, screen time or sleep. It could also be helping families get connected with other resources they need, like enrolling in WIC or job training for parents.


If you or someone you know would like more information about this study, please fill out this form and the team will get in touch with you.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


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ASU grads make billion-dollar impact on Arizona economy

May 17, 2019

Sarah Phillips, a student at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, knew Arizona State University was home from the minute she stepped on campus. The criminal justice major graduated this May with a job offer already on the table, and she will continue to call Arizona home.

There were more than 238,000 ASU graduates working in Arizona in 2017, earning approximately $15 billion annually. Phillips is one of the thousands of ASU students graduating this May and contributing to the Arizona economy — spending, purchasing and paying taxes.

“I chose Arizona as home after graduation because I was able to get a great job after the internship with State Farm last summer,” she said. “I have also called Arizona home for the past four years, and I could not imagine a better place to begin my post-grad life.”

Educational attainment is strongly related to upward social mobility and a boost in earnings. Median weekly earnings were more than 60% higher for people with a bachelor's degree than those with a high school diploma. Additionally, the higher the level of education, the lower the unemployment rate.

ASU graduates employed in Arizona earned approximately $15 billion in 2017. Based on those earnings, individuals contributed between $1.065 billion and $1.217 billion in state and local government taxes, including between $613 million and $753 million in state government taxes.

Research suggests that having college graduates in the workforce increases productivity among all workers due to the sharing of knowledge and skills and from the shift to knowledge-based activities. These productivity gains translate into higher incomes and standards of living.

“When we graduate students and they work here, everyone’s wages go up as a result of these productive workers being here,” said Dennis Hoffman, ASU Office of the University Economist and L. William Seidman Research Institute director. “State revenue increases too.”

As an employer, ASU created an economic impact of $3.8 billion. All businesses generate jobs. ASU is unique in that creates jobs (at the university itself) and human capital — the university produces graduates, who then contribute to the state's economy.

According to a report from the L. William Seidman Research Institute at ASU, educational attainment is important to produce highly skilled, competitive individuals, key components of regional competitiveness. Regions competitive in the 21st-century economy are composed of competitive companies, which consist of competitive individuals. The more highly skilled the worker, the higher the worker’s productivity.

ASU has a diverse student body with different abilities, talents and skill sets that span across more than 800 degree programs, offering a large talent pool for Amazon, Intel Corporation, Make-A-Wish Arizona and State Farm Insurance, a few of ASU’s top employers.

Rich Ortiz, a State Farm college recruiter, said ASU’s innovative culture develops a rich talent pool that will help move State Farm forward. 

“ASU offers a diverse student population with regard to academic backgrounds and experiences,” he said. “This aligns with State Farm’s diverse workforce.”

Ortiz says he looks for students who have developed transferable skills through academics, internships and general work experience and who are in search of a career, not just a job. He looks for students who are willing to learn and those who enjoy helping people.

“State Farm is excited to find employees that match our internal culture. Giving back to the community is a major value of State Farm,” he said. “We’re known for doing good by our customers and our communities. It’s important for our employees to understand this type of culture and represent it with every interaction.”

He is in search of students like Phillips.

Phillips accepted a job offer at State Farm. She had an offer of employment before she even walked across the stage with her diploma in hand. Her goal? Get promoted to the special investigations unit, sharing that the company invests in its employees by providing opportunities to succeed and achieve their career goals.

“I am entering the workforce with a different mindset and a different set of goals than when I first came to ASU, thanks to my degree,” she said. “My degree gave me a new understanding of how the world works. My professors and my classes taught me to work hard to help others. I intend to work hard to help others throughout my career, wherever it may take me.”

ASU’s culture of social embeddedness and philanthropy also attracts nonprofit organizations.

Sawyer Kilen, volunteer manager at Make-A-Wish Arizona, says the organization provides children living with critical illnesses the opportunity to seize a dream, passion or goal in life — something they most desire, adding that a wish can be the turning point for a child, allowing them to see all the possibilities that life has to offer.

“One of the things I enjoy most about ASU students is the passion they have for success and making a difference in the world,” he said. “They come in with a passion to support our mission, a desire to learn and the work ethic to succeed in their role.”

Kilen says one of the reasons he looks to ASU for future interns is because of the diverse population at the university and the importance it places on bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds, knowing that diversity and inclusion provide a rich foundation for innovation, success and togetherness. 

When students are at ASU, they work alongside students from different counties and backgrounds. Students engage with others, learn from different perspectives and leave prepared to engage with individuals from all walks of life, wherever their career takes them. 

Native Arizonan Nicole Barrett graduated in 2015 from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She pursued a career with Make-A-Wish Arizona and landed a full-time position after graduation. Barrett loves everything about it — a career where she gets to engage with different families, children and life stories. 

“It means a lot to be part of an organization where everyone is so dedicated to our mission and we all play a part in fulfilling the wishes of children with critical illnesses,” she said. “The people I work with are some of the most dedicated and compassionate people I have ever met.”

Barrett, a digital marketing manager, writes content for the organization’s website and for its social media channels. Meeting wish kids and families, talking to them and having the opportunity to share their stories are her favorite parts of the job. Nearly four years later, she now oversees two marketing interns of her own. 

“The most valuable thing I learned in my years at Arizona State University was how to develop strong writing skills and work on deadline,” Barrett said. “I use these skills every day in my current job, and I think being a strong writer is an important skill for any job.”

When students graduate, they are prepared with the skills employers are looking for, making students not only marketable locally but also beyond the state. A vast majority, nearly 70%, of ASU graduates work in Arizona.

For others, they leave Arizona but are eager for the day when they can return to the community that they now call home. Robert Chandler, a recent computer science graduate from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, is one of those students.

Originally from Georgia, Chandler visited the Tempe campus and immediately fell in love with the environment and the atmosphere. Most attractive was the vast engineering opportunities available to him. It made ASU the obvious choice.

“From undergraduate research to student organizations and internship opportunities, I knew that I would be able to find my own path through my degree and beyond,” he said.

Chandler’s biggest takeaway was the interdisciplinary collaboration — working on teams with diverse backgrounds helped him understand the impact that a variety of perspectives brings to the table, adding that no problem exists in a vacuum from a larger system. It’s important to keep all aspects of that system in mind when developing a solution.

That wise insight was not missed by the Honeywell team, who Chandler said reached out to him through the online career portal Handshake, offered by ASU’s Career and Professional Development Services.

He is briefly departing the state and heading to Honeywell’s Atlanta software center as part of a rotational program.

”I still love the desert,” he exclaimed. “More importantly, Phoenix is really booming in terms of the tech industry. More and more companies are getting in on the great city and taking advantage of the talent coming from the nearby massive research university that also happens to be No. 1 in innovation. Though I will be in Atlanta immediately after graduation, I’ll be coming back to the Valley and I hope to stay here when the two-year program is finished.”

SAGE project at ASU brings garden curriculum to Valley campuses

Gardens as an educational tool have been shown to provide benefits to young children

May 15, 2019

Who doesn’t love a garden? Turning the soil and planting seeds or seedlings just so, then watering and witnessing subtle, then significant growth over time. It is a gratifying experience that, if done right, can lead to tasty ones.

Of course, there are also plenty of literal lessons to be learned in the process, which is part of the reason why gardens have become so popular in schools in the United States. Stock Image - Young child in a garden bed Gardens are a fun, interactive educational tool and have been shown to provide a lot of benefits beyond the classroom. Stock image Download Full Image

According to data provided by the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2017 there were gardens at more than 7,000 schools nationwide.

Professor Rebecca Lee from Arizona State University's Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation is adding to that number. She’s the principal investigator of a research program currently underway in the Phoenix area called Sustainability via Active Garden Education or SAGE.

“SAGE was developed to help early care and education centers meet national physical activity, nutrition and education standards. So, the primary goal of SAGE is to help kids be more physically active and learn about fruits and veggies while they are at their early care and education center,” Lee said.

Lee and her team work with early care and education centers in underserved areas of the Valley. In order for a center to be part of SAGE, they must be Child and Adult Care Food Program eligible.

Although starting a school garden is extremely beneficial, maintaining it beyond the initial planting cycle can be tough for schools. We spoke with Lee to dig a little deeper into this growing movement and to learn how a protocol like SAGE can help schools sustain their efforts.

Question: What are some of the benefits of having a garden program in early child care and education settings?

Answer: First, we know that this is the optimal stage in a child’s development for them to create physical activity and healthy eating habits. So exposing these young minds to the benefits of consistent physical activity and consuming fresh fruits and vegetables at a young age can have a lifelong impact.

Second, studies have shown gardens provide kids hands-on experience with science concepts, which can lay the groundwork for more advanced learning later on. In the SAGE program, kids learn about all the different elements plants need to grow: soil, sun, water, etc. Our current and past SAGE teachers tell us the children are able to connect the dots between a healthy garden and a healthy body, understanding that they too need proper nutrition, physical activity and water every day to grow big and strong.

Third, kids who get daily physical activity are more focused, which can translate to better behavior overall as well as improved grades and school attendance.

Professor , Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation

Rebecca Lee

Q: Why is it important for schools to maintain garden programs?

A: In addition to everything above, introducing kids to gardens is an effective way to help them learn where food comes from. That link is especially important now because as food technology has improved, some of the connection of how the food gets from the farm to the table has been lost. Garden programs help to rebuild that connection.

Q: What are some of the reasons centers do not continue to keep up their gardens?

A: Many early care and education centers are really excited about having gardens, but we found that in cases where they were not maintained, lack of a maintenance strategy or interest were the primary reasons. Even though gardens are not expensive, they require consistent attention and planning by school staff. A few of the locations we worked with (about 25%) in SAGE were not able to overcome those obstacles. Centers that are able to designate a garden champion and implement a maintenance schedule into their daily school routine usually have the most success.

Q: How can SAGE help increase the sustainability of garden projects?

A: At the beginning of the SAGE programs the team provides teacher training, helps to build a garden on site, as well as ongoing technical support. Midway through the program, we complete a booster session to help teachers and schools with anything that they might be missing to help implement the curriculum and garden. Then, toward the end of the SAGE formal programming, we link teachers and directors to our experts who serve on our community advisory board. These are local experts and master gardeners who have connections to resources the schools may need to sustain their gardens.   

Q: How can someone get involved in SAGE?

A: We are presently looking for early care and education centers for our SAGE fall 2019 cohort. Interested centers should contact our project director, Hector Valdez, for more information at 602-496-2011 or visit our website

Amanda Goodman

Media relations officer, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation


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