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A look back at Sparky the Sun Devil mascot

November 19, 2019

Not long after Arizona State changed from the bulldogs to the Sun Devils, Sparky the Sun Devil was born.

While his look has changed slightly over the years, Sparky has become a much recognized and beloved athletic mascot that embodies the ASU spirit.

Here's a look back at his various costumes.

Legends Luncheon honors defenders of the gridiron

November 19, 2019

Arizona State University’s defensive gridiron greats will be honored at the Legends Luncheon the day before this week's Homecoming game, where the Sun Devils will take on the Oregon Ducks. The luncheon will celebrate ASU’s former student-athletes who played three years in the NFL, have been inducted into the Sun Devil Athletics Hall of Fame or were named First Team All American during their time in college.

ASU’s football players and coaches will be honored at the event hosted by the ASU Alumni Association and the Sun Devil Club from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown, 340 N. Third St. These defensive players have achieved numerous athletic accolades on the gridiron including Most Valuable Player, Pro Bowler and inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame. More than 35 of ASU's best defensive football players will return for the Legends Luncheon this Friday. Download Full Image

Players and coaches returning for the Legends Luncheon represent football teams from 1967 to 2007, including players from the 1969 WAC championship team, 1970 Peach Bowl team, 1987 Rose Bowl team and 1997 Rose Bowl team. Some of the more than 50 players returning for the event are Bob Breunig, Ron Brown, Curley Culp, Windlan Hall, Al Harris, Bob Kohrs, Nathan LaDuke, Ron Pritchard, Phillippi Sparks, Jeremy Staat and Darren Woodson.  

Former NFL and ASU wide receiver J.D. Hill, who played for the Sun Devils in 1967, 1968 and 1970, had this to say about the importance of football defense: “When it really gets down to it, it’s defense that really puts the game where it needs to be, especially to give you an opportunity to win. And without defense, you just can’t win.”

Former Dallas Cowboys and ASU quarterback, and current Sun Devil Athletics consultant and Sun Devil Club ambassador Danny White talked about some of the great ASU defensive players who went on to have successful careers in the NFL.

“All of the pressure or lack of pressure on the offense comes from the defense,” said White, who played for the Sun Devils from 1971 to 1973. “We had a defense that set the tone,” White said. “They flew around. They were physical. When you mention names like Breunig, Haynes, Pritchard and Culp, there’s one common denominator, and that’s 'tough.'”

Sun Devil Athletics Deputy Athletics Director Jean Boyd, who played for the ASU defense during the 1991–94 seasons had this to say: “They say offense wins games but defense wins championships. A great defensive player really is a comprehensive individual who understands the mind, body and spirit of the game and seeks to elevate themselves in all those areas to be the best that they can from a physical standpoint.”

Information about the Legends Luncheon can be found at alumni.asu.edu/legends.

ASU's former student-athletes defensive greats will be celebrated at the Legends Luncheon, which honors Sun Devil players and coaches.

Tracy Scott

Director, Strategic Communications, Office of Senior Vice President & Secretary of University


ASU student shaped by diverse academic experiences

November 19, 2019

As seniors reflect on their undergraduate education, they recollect a whole host of tremendous experiences. They may fondly recall their first moments on campus, time spent with some of Arizona State University’s student clubs, their first internship and events like Homecoming.

Kayla Green, a political science major graduating in May, has plenty of these memories. She will remember coming to campus with The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Early Start Program, her time competing with ASU’s policy debate team, her summer internship in Washington, D.C., and an unforgettable study abroad trip to Ghana. Kayla Green. Download Full Image

Green was ready for all the challenges a first-year and a first-generation college student could endure. She attributes this preparedness, in large part, due to the Early Start Program.

“The Early Start Program granted me the opportunity to experience life as a college student in a more personal setting before getting thrown into college life as an incoming freshman,” Green said. “It was a great transitional period from high school to college where you are accountable for your own actions and in control of the life and career that you want to pursue.”

As a student, Green’s interest in politics and international relations spurred an active interest in public speaking. She joined ASU’s policy debate team, which taught her how to use the knowledge she had learned as a political science major and hone her rhetorical skills. On top of this, Green travelled to competitions on college campuses across the country.

“(The policy debate team was) the most rewarding intellectual challenge I’ve had while pursuing my undergraduate degree,” she said.

Soon enough, Green began using the knowledge she had learned in her political science courses and the skills she had developed in debate. She went to Washington, D.C., over one summer to participate in the School of Politics and Global Studies’ Capital Scholars program. While in Washington, Green became the Center for International Policy’s (CIP) very first Africa Program intern. At the nonpartisan think tank, Green primarily focused on researching American foreign policy toward Africa, particularly its role in security and economic development throughout the continent.

Outside of the office, Green immersed herself into Washington, D.C., by participating with local activist groups. One of her favorite memories came during the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition’s Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill. At this event, Green lobbied Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Rep. Ron Wright (R-Texas), and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) in support of a bill that called on Cameroon’s government and armed rebels to resolve their issues and respect all human rights in their country.

“Being able to use my voice and advocate for international issues that I sincerely care about helped me realize how much of a difference I can make in this world being proactive about injustices, not just reading about them and leaving them in the books,” Green said.

Above all, Green’s travels abroad may have been the most important influence on her studies and career plans. One program took her to Rome, where she worked for NGOs such as Caritas Internationalis and the Joel Nafuma Refugee Center in order to provide assistance for refugees coming to Europe from Africa and the Middle East. But for Green, it was her time in Ghana that truly changed her worldview.

“My experience in Ghana granted me a part of my education that had been missing all my life,” Green said. “Coming to Ghana not only allowed me to connect to my identity as an African diaspora individual, but allowed me to see another way of life that was not constructed by a Western, Eurocentric view of the world.”

Green participated in the study abroad program led by School of Politics and Global Studies Professor Okechukwu Iheduru, earning six political science credits over the course of seven weeks in Ghana. While Green and her cohort spent time at the University of Ghana, Legon, most of their learning experiences occurred outside of the classroom. In addition to completing a four-week internship, Green went to a variety of fascinating places, visiting the W.E.B. Du Bois Museum, shopping in Africa’s largest open air market and hiking in the rainforests of Kakum National Forest Park.

However, Green’s most poignant experience came when the group visited Elmina Castle, a focal point of the insidious trans-Atlantic slave trade. Though it was a heart-wrenching experience, Green was grateful for the wisdom imparted to her by one of the program leaders, Sakena Young-Scaggs.

“As I was weeping from the overwhelming waves of emotion I was feeling, she told me that my people before me made it from this place so that I could be where I am today,” Green shared. “I am standing where I am because of the strength and sacrifices they made a long time ago, and that is a privilege I will never take for granted.”

Green’s keen awareness for her heritage fuels a desire to learn as much as she can about the African continent and its role in the global community. This awareness compelled her to take on an African and African American studies minor. It was also what motivated her to apply for the Capital Scholars Program and intern with the CIP. This awareness will continue to shape the professional path that Green is already paving, as she will look to pursue a master’s degree in international relations with a focus on African studies once she graduates in May.

As she prepares to embark on the next step in an eventful and successful academic journey, Green offered this piece of advice for students who are looking for unique experiences that will enrich their undergraduate education:

“You cannot grow where you are comfortable. You need to stretch yourself beyond what you are used to. Do yourself a favor, and take what you need during your undergraduate experience to yield the results you want with the career path you set for yourselves.”

Student Assistant for Recruiting and Marketing, School of Politics and Global Studies

Bringing a network of mentors to ASU students

ASU Mentor Network harnesses the professional expertise of Sun Devil community

November 15, 2019

After Arizona State University student Raj Kanaiyo Thakkar was injured in his first semester of college during a soccer game, he wasn’t able to get around easily to connect to resources and classmates in those pivotal first few weeks of school. But he was able to stay on track, despite a partial knee replacement, thanks to the guidance he received from a mentor, an MBA student he was matched with through the ASU Mentor Network

“It was really helpful for me to have someone who could guide me through that time,” said Thakkar, now a sophomore.   Zhengyu Wei, Tara Boucher and ASU Career Services' Alison Scott Dean pose at an ASU alumni and Career Services event in Seattle From left: Mentee Zhengyu Wei, mentor Tara Boucher and Alison Scott Dean, ASU Career and Professional Development Services associate director for corporate engagement and partnerships for the Western region, at a Seattle CPDS and ASU Alumni event. Download Full Image

His mentor helped him zero in on his major path. At the time, he was a business exploratory major and didn’t know what he wanted to concentrate on. Thakkar decided he wanted to study sustainability and logistics management because his family owns automobile dealerships, so it would be helpful to understand the logistics of the operation. 

“She guided me through it and helped me out. She showed me where resources were and how to plan out the semester,” he said. 

Education and career paths are built on skills and experience but also on relationships and coaching. Having someone to put in a good word, guide you through a process or give advice about your path can be an invaluable leg up.

That’s why in fall 2018 ASU Career and Professional Development Services launched the ASU Mentor Network. The initiative harnesses the professional expertise of the Sun Devil community to offer chances for networking and mentorship to current students and alumni. It was built with the intention of giving students and alumni a platform to make powerful professional connections within the Sun Devil community.

Experiences like Thakkar’s can be pivotal to educational persistence and also career success. Research has shown that people with mentors are more likely to get promoted and more likely to be enrolled in college.

“Our big goal is to have every Sun Devil in the ASU Mentor Network experience one or more meaningful connections that impact their career trajectory,” said Kimberly Scatton, assistant director of ASU Career and Professional Development Services.

Through the ASU Mentor Network, alumni and professionals fill out a profile and set availability preferences. Potential mentees then browse profiles and make a request for a connection. Students and professionals can connect via email, video, through group chats, events and more. Scatton said it’s a growth opportunity for the mentors as well as the mentees, since teaching others solidifies your own leadership and communication skills.

ASU alumna Tara Boucher, who graduated from ASU with a degree in engineering and management technology, said the impact is felt on both sides of the mentoring relationship. She signed up to be a mentor after establishing her career in technology working with the Starbucks corporate office, Visa and USAA because she loves the ASU Polytechnic campus and loves working with students. 

“The feeling of giving back is great,” she said. Boucher advises other alumni to sign up to mentor because it’s an opportunity they won’t want to miss. “They might learn something about themselves,” she said.

Boucher, who lives in San Antonio, connects with students and alumni remotely. Her passion for mentorship started when she was working for the Starbucks corporate office in Seattle. Boucher was one of the first ASU Online mentors for Starbucks partners who were pursuing a degree at ASU through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan.

Boucher said her own career has benefitted from mentorship and that young women especially tend to not know their own potential, so she enjoys encouraging mentees to get on-the-job experience and persist beyond rejection. Boucher said it’s important for people to have someone to bounce ideas off of, especially since young people might not know the boundaries of how much they should share with coworkers.

“It doesn’t always seem appropriate at work to open up and seek advice, so it’s great to be able to offer that to someone,” she said.

Zhengyu Wei, who graduated from ASU in May 2019 with her degree in business analytics, is Boucher’s mentee through the ASU Mentor Network. Wei, who is working as a data service engineer for Microsoft, said the experience has been invaluable.

“It is great that you have a professional mentor who works in the industry and can introduce you to others. Meeting more people means you will have more of a chance to get in the door,” said Wei.

Wei said she especially appreciates the opportunities ASU provides to network in her field, have resume help and get referrals because she was an international student and didn’t have a network built in the United States.

Wei, who now works in the Seattle area, said the connection she made through the ASU Mentor Network goes beyond graduation and even beyond professional development. 

“Long-term mentorship will become a friendship. Not only for careers but life,” said Wei. Boucher and Wei enjoyed connecting in person at a recent ASU Alumni and Career and Professional Development Services meetup in Seattle.

Boucher said that she encourages other Sun Devils to get involved as a professional development opportunity and a way to shake things up.

“I highly encourage people to get out of their desk environment, to get out of their day-to-day routine and try something new … and make that thing be mentoring,” said Boucher.

Mentees such as Thakkar say all ASU students shouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of this resource.

“They’re there for you. …They’ll help you through it and guide you. They know what they’re doing because they’ve been through it,” said Thakkar.

Apply to become a mentor.

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services


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Marine veteran professor challenges vets to take honors route

November 14, 2019

Editor’s Note: This Q&A is part of a series of articles focusing on military veterans who are part of ASU’s faculty. Over 460 veterans work at ASU, including 151 in the faculty and 312 who are university staff.

He is a Marine Corps veteran, licensed attorney, literary scholar and a sought-after professor at the Arizona State University college known for recruiting the nation’s most academically outstanding undergraduates.

Michael Stanford, a faculty fellow at Barrett, The Honors College, has a long history working at the school and believes the honors program is a great opportunity for some military veterans.

It is understandable why a veteran might shy away from something like Barrett, Stanford said. Veterans are typically transfer students, some have family responsibilities, and many are trying to complete their studies in fewer than four years.

“I think we only have about 18 veterans out of 6,000 students,” Stanford said. “We are trying to get the word out that for certain types of veterans, it’s definitely worth picking up the challenge of Barrett.”

As someone who served in the Marines for three years and quickly climbed to the rank of sergeant before his term was up, Stanford is no stranger to challenges. He started at Barrett in 1992 as a lecturer, taught Barrett’s signature Human Event seminar for 15 years, and rose to direct the school’s summer study program in the British Isles from 1995–2001. He then started law school in 2002, earned a law degree in 2007 and went on to serve as a trial attorney with the Maricopa County public defender’s office for over five years. Stanford returned to Barrett in 2013 as full-time faculty.

He spoke to ASU Now about his path toward academia, his short yet exciting time in the military — including pugil stick fights and flying in the Caribbean with the Prince of Wales — and his Barrett pitch to ASU's student veterans.

Question: How would you describe your time in the Marine Corps?  What was the experience like for you?

Answer:  In a sense I was born into the Marine Corps, because I was born on Camp Lejeune, the Corps’ big base in North Carolina, where, coincidentally, I was later stationed. My father was a career Marine officer who served for 30 years and fought in the Pacific, Korea and Vietnam, then retired as a colonel. He won the Navy Cross on Okinawa. Very imposing guy. My time in the Marines was one-tenth as long and one-fiftieth as eventful as his.

I started college at Duke in 1971, right out of high school, but by the end of freshman year I was bored with school and dropped out. I wound up joining the Marines as a private because I wanted a change and a challenge. This was very much not at my father’s instigation. In fact he was quite surprised at my choice, having thought of me as more or less a hippie pacifist. I went to boot camp at Parris Island, a very intense experience.  

Professor Michael Stanford

Faculty Fellow and Professor Michael Stanford leads a class discussion about crime and punishment Nov. 6, 2019, at Barrett, The Honors College. Photo by Jerry Gonzalez/ASU Now

After boot camp, I went for advanced infantry training in Camp Pendleton, California. This was less psychologically stressful than boot camp but more physically demanding. A lot of the time was spent in uphill forced marches with full packs. But I liked looking down at the Pacific from the hills and sleeping under the stars. As an Easterner I was intrigued by the tumbleweed blowing across the trails and the sobbing of coyotes at night. 

Though my military occupational specialty was rifleman (0311), I wound up being stationed first in the Marine guard detachment on the Naval Air Station in Atsugi, Japan. The duty there was less than inspiring, consisting as it did of checking cars at the main gate, patrolling the base and running a small lock-up. We carried .45s and wore MP armbands but the real police work on the base was done by the Shore Patrol, who were actually trained for the job. But I had partly grown up in Japan — my father had been stationed in the embassy there — and was fascinated by the country’s culture, so it was nice to be back. I traveled a bit around the country — saw the temples of Kyoto and the Great Buddha of Kamakura —and took karate classes at a traditional dojo where I was the only gaijin and the other students always wanted to spar with me, probably to see if they could beat the — relatively — big American. Which they usually could. 

After Japan I went to an infantry battalion in Lejeune, where, among other things, I had the fun of participating in something called the “Super Squad” competition, ostensibly to choose the best infantry squad in the Marine Corps. My squad won at the battalion and regiment levels but failed to take division. I’ve often wondered what the prize would have been if we’d gone all the way. Promotions all around? A keg of beer? Probably just our pictures in the Marine Corps Gazette.

Speaking of promotions, I did manage to make sergeant (E-5) before my enlistment was up. This seemed to make my father proud. But after three years and three months, while I was grateful in lots of ways for the experience, I was ready to be a civilian — and student — again. So I returned to Duke, with the very welcome assistance of the GI Bill.

Q: Any memorable moments from your time in the service?

A: It’s hard to isolate one or two memorable moments out of three years. But I won’t forget collapsing with heatstroke at the finish line of the final physical fitness test on Parris Island. I came to in a Jacuzzi full of ice, with two corpsmen scraping my skin with ice cubes to bring the blood to the surface. This earned me a pleasant 10-day stay in the hospital and away from boot camp. But the doctor in the intensive care unit told me that the guy in the bed next to mine had probable brain damage from his own case of heatstroke. Ever since I’ve had an intense wariness of hot weather. I often wonder what I’m doing in Arizona.

And here’s a lighter, quirkier moment: My battalion was on maneuvers in the Caribbean with the British Navy and Marines  We were in formation 100 meters from a helicopter, waiting for it to take us to the other side of the island of Vieques. My platoon sergeant said, “Our pilot is the Prince of Wales.” When I expressed my skepticism, he handed me his binoculars. The pilot walking out to the helo did indeed have the unmistakable beaky profile of Prince Charles, then a serving officer in the British Navy. He and his copilot ferried us efficiently to our destination, and we left the helicopter by rope as it hovered, so I never did get to actually talk to the prince, but at least I can say that a future king of England was briefly my chauffeur.

Q: How did your time in the service help influence your academic career?

A: I can confidently say that the many interesting skills I picked up in the Marines — fighting with pugil sticks, field stripping an M16, throwing a hand grenade 40 meters — have had absolutely no application in my subsequent career as a literary scholar and university teacher. But it was a given that I’d return to college, and my time in the Corps solidified my choice to be an English major. There’s an awful lot of downtime in the peacetime infantry, and I filled mine reading voraciously in fiction, poetry and history. Thankfully, both Atsugi NAS and Camp Lejeune had well-stocked libraries.

My reading habit was unusual among my fellow grunts but not unique. My platoon sergeant in Lejeune, Mike Giles, was a hard-charging African American NCO who would go on to become a drill instructor. He was also a self-taught intellectual, superbly articulate and well-read. I once saw him sprawled on his rack reading the Selected Letters of Virginia Woolf. I amused myself trying to count the number of stereotypes he was busting by doing so. I suspect that every service includes a fair number of such autodidacts in its enlisted ranks.

Q: What advice would you give to vets at ASU?

A: I’m hard-pressed to think of any relevant advice I could give this generation of vets based on my own — almost half a century old! — service.  Besides, I’m not sure our vets need any advice. All the vets I’ve taught in my classes at Barrett, The Honors College have been impressive people— mature, disciplined, focused and idealistic. So rather than give advice, I’d like to make a request. If you’re a veteran who’s an undergraduate at ASU, and has at least two years remaining till graduation, I would ask you to consider applying to Barrett. A Barrett education comes with extra challenges but also extra opportunities — and aren’t challenges and opportunities exactly what you enlisted for?

Lots of information about Barrett is available on the ASU website. For details on applying, please contact our director of admissions, Keith Southergill, at keith.southergill@asu.edu. He’ll be happy to hear from you, and I hope to see some of you in my class.

Top photo: Faculty Fellow and Professor Michael Stanford poses for a photo with U.S. Army veteran and student Chad Elsner on Nov. 6. 2019, prior to the start of class at Barrett, The Honors College. Photo by Jerry Gonzalez/ASU

Jerry Gonzalez

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

The College's Salute to Service event honors the many forms of giving back

Hailing from military and political backgrounds, the Abbott and Fernandez families demonstrate how the spirit of service spans generations

November 12, 2019

Whether it’s in the military or the community, public service comes in many forms. During an event on Nov. 8, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University celebrated two families whose legacies demonstrate the breadth of what it means to give back.

Arizona House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez spoke alongside her daughter, Lisa Fernandez, who serves as chief of staff for Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. Fourth Class Midshipmen Rhea Abbott, First Class Midshipman Ryan Abbott and their father, Senior Chief E8 Michael Abbott, were the other family honored at the event. Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Steve Borden, who serves as director of ASU's Pat Tillman Veterans Center, was also recognized. Rhea Abbott speaks to an audience at Armstrong Hall Nov. 8. Rhea Abbott speaks with brother Ryan and father Michael to an audience at Armstrong Hall on Nov. 8. Download Full Image

Created in 2011, Salute to Service is a university-wide initiative honoring the lives and achievements of active-duty military members, veterans and their families. This year’s events centered on a “Salute to Service through service” theme, showcasing the myriad efforts made by military service members and veterans, along with those made by members of the community.

“I never saw myself being in the position I’m in now,” said Rep. Fernandez. “This is the result of being drawn to service and finding a passion for it — and today I am proud to serve, proud to give back to my community and very proud to stand here with my daughter.” 

Lisa Fernandez graduated with a degree in political science from The College in 2009. She said putting her degree toward a career in local politics was a chance to impact her community firsthand.  

“Service to me extends to those who pick up trash on the sidewalk, and to the city managers who are working every day to make the city a better place to live," she said. "One thing that is really special to me about local politics is getting to see that impact every day. Everything my mom and I do today is about serving constituents, either on the state or city level, and I feel so honored to be in that role.”

Speaking to audience members, Patrick Kenney, dean of The College, highlighted the diversity of service the two families reflected.

“We are here to celebrate military service, but also public service more broadly — here at The College we wanted to do it through these two families,” Kenney said. “The university has been working very hard to make sure this is a veteran-friendly institution. And when we ask our veterans to stand during graduation, I am always blown away by how many are among our thousands of graduates, and from every academic unit.”

The connection between academic drive, military service and tradition was a message Michael Abbott drove home, speaking about his family’s roles both at ASU and in the U.S. Navy. 

“There’s this stereotype that since I was in the Navy, my kids will be too, but that’s not the way it went for our family,” said Abbott, who retired from the U.S. Navy and returned to Arizona in 2012 after 21 years of service. “My wife and I relied on the traditions of education and determination to encourage our children to take advantage of every possible opportunity. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree from ASU when I was 43 years old, and I could not have predicted that three out of our four children would go on to go to ASU and into ROTC. But sometimes traditions aren’t made on purpose, they are born out of love.”

For Ryan Abbott, currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in engineering at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, following in his father’s military footsteps was a way to recognize a family tradition and begin to build his own. 

“When my dad retired and we moved back to Arizona, I was searching for the Navy in the desert, and I found ROTC at ASU,” he said. “Joining the military was a personal choice for both me and my sister — we joined to carry on our dad’s legacy and to continue building the life we grew up with.” 

An appreciation for family and service is also what drove Rhea Abbott to pursue a military career. But growing up on military bases, she said the support she received from those around her taught her an important lesson about another kind of service. 

“When my dad was away and I missed him, the support of student groups helped me. When military families whose kids I made friends with moved away, the support of teachers helped me feel a sense of belonging,” said Rhea, who is also studying engineering at ASU. “Neighbors opened their arms and welcomed us, and through that community support I learned to follow their example. They taught me that service is about giving back to our communities and to our country.”

A 2018-19 survey named ASU as a Military Friendly School for the ninth consecutive year. Paul LePore, associate dean for student and academic programs at The College, said The College plays an integral role in that designation by ensuring the needs of military service people and their families are met. 

“Not only does The College include students who have completed their military service and are looking to pursue the next part of their lives, we also have faculty and staff who served,” LePore said. “We have degree programs, courses and faculty research focusing on veterans, their families and the overall role the military plays in society today and historically — those are a lot of different dimensions in which The College is helping the university earn that military friendly status.”

LePore said recognizing the Fernandez and Abbott families was a timely reminder of how the spirit of service can span generations, and the event itself was an important reminder that often, true understanding begins by simply listening. 

“Listening to the stories of what people have learned in the military and the impact they made through that service helps us better understand the students coming to us as veterans,” he said. “This event also coincides with Family Weekend at ASU, so for us, choosing the speakers we did served to celebrate the connection between family and service even more.”

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Gamified obstacle course race announces 2020 stop at Sun Devil Stadium

Stadium Blitz delivers fun for fitness enthusiasts of all ages and abilities

November 12, 2019

After a successful pilot year, the ASU 365 Community Union is excited to announce that the obstacle course race Stadium Blitz is coming to Sun Devil Stadium this February. 

Presented by former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and his youth fitness foundation Gronk Nation, Stadium Blitz ushered in a new style of gamified obstacle course race to major stadiums earlier this year. Today, organizers announced a 2020 tour that will travel throughout the U.S. in the coming year. So far, tour stops have been announced for Tallahassee, Florida; Tempe, Arizona; Dallas; Columbus, Ohio; Lawrence, Kansas; and Piscataway, New Jersey.  people running through an obstacle course in a stadium Stadium Blitz, presented by Rob Gronkowski and Gronk Nation, ushered in a new style of gamified obstacle course race to major stadiums earlier this year and is now bringing the course to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe. Photo courtesy Stadium Blitz Download Full Image

The course will make its stop in Tempe and take over Sun Devil Stadium on Feb. 29, 2020.

“Sun Devil Stadium is one of the top stadiums in the country, and as we move toward year-round programming within the stadium, we’re excited to have Stadium Blitz coming to ASU,” said Vice President for cultural affairs Colleen Jennings-Roggensack.

“When we launched Stadium Blitz in October 2019 in Buffalo and Tampa, we quickly knew it was a competitive experience unlike any other for fitness enthusiasts of all levels,” said Chris Gronkowski, brother to Rob and former National Football League fullback. “The opportunity to chart your own course allows competitive racers, aspiring athletes and even families with children to all compete side-by-side in some of America’s favorite stadiums.” 

Stadium Blitz is designed to make the fun and empowering experience of obstacle course racing available to fitness enthusiasts of any level and children as young as 7 years old. One of the only obstacle course races that allows participants to determine how hard they want to be tested, Stadium Blitz allows racers to challenge themselves without intimidation or the threat of punishment through a gamified, choose-your-own-adventure race course. 

Designed to test different areas of fitness from strength to agility, Stadium Blitz features three levels of obstacles, each increasing in difficulty but intermixed throughout the course. A racer who completes an obstacle is rewarded with points — the harder the obstacle, the bigger the point potential. Racers can decide to skip an obstacle and forfeit the reward. Points are earned and tracked via special RFID-connected wristbands. Participants can compete as an individual or as a team. 

Early bird registration for a Stadium Blitz obstacle course race starts at just $40 for adults. Special pricing is offered for children, students and members of the military. Fans and supporters are also invited to join in the fun by cheering participants on from special seating areas in the stands. 

For more information or to register, visit StadiumBlitz.com. Follow the race series on social media @StadiumBlitz and via the hashtag #AreYouGame.

Marketing Coordinator, ASU Cultural Affairs

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ASU wrestler inspires beyond the mat

November 7, 2019

Student veteran Roman Rozell uses his past to brighten the future of others

In his 34 years, Arizona State University student veteran Roman Rozell has survived his parents' divorce, addiction, six combat concussions and being struck by lightning.

Amidst these slings and arrows, Rozell has managed to write a book, obtain an associate degree (he’s working on his undergraduate) and kickstart a motivational speaking career all while getting married and fathering six children. Oh, and he also finds time in his busy schedule to wrestle for the university — as the oldest walk-on in school history.

“I’m actually pretty good today,” Rozell said — somewhat in amazement — of his life, which includes graduating this May with a degree in sociology. “I’m breathing. I don’t have any illnesses. I have a stable family life and all of these things have shaped me, I guess, into a better version of myself.”

There was a time though, when things could have easily gone the other way.

Rozell was born in Mesa in 1984. His parents divorced when he was 6, and he and his younger sister were raised by his mother, who Rozell said got into toxic relationships and drugs, leading to hardships including homelessness, hunger and abject poverty.

Growing up, Rozell said he averaged three to four schools a year and often ended up squatting in vacant homes and trailers when the rent was due.

Sometimes his family ended up in remote places such as Snowflake, Arizona, and they once lived next to an Indian reservation, where the nearest neighbors were miles away.

Contact with the outside world was minimal at times. Every day was a struggle for survival.

“For sure, Roman had a rough beginning as a kid,” said Rozell’s mother, Nancy Donley, who entered a recovery program in 2003 and has been sober ever since. “There were a lot of scary things he had to deal with and he never gave up.”

Scary took on many forms. Electricity, running water and flushing toilets were considered luxuries. Daily meals were never guaranteed.

“Sometimes we’d have a cake pan of chili in the refrigerator and that had to last a couple of days," he said. "Other times, we’d take sprinkled cheese and sauce packets from Taco Bell just to have some type of food.”

At 13, Rozell’s father got custody of him and his sister and introduced them to a more stable home life. Rozell also got into wrestling around the same time. The sport provided him a sorely needed outlet and, for the first time, positive attention.

Rozell became a standout athlete at Apache Junction High School and was the first male in his family to graduate. He also received plenty of scholarship offers to wrestle, including from Boise State, William Penn and Dakota Wesleyan. However, addiction began to take hold in his own life. At 18, Rozell was involved in drug use and was expecting a child with his teenage girlfriend. He also suffered a severe shoulder injury. It was a low point.

Things began looking up when he received a phone call from Paul Bartlett, the wrestling coach at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, offering him a scholarship. Initially Rozell turned it down, telling Bartlett he was “damaged goods."

“You don’t want me around,” Rozell told him.

But Bartlett was unrelenting. He told Rozell that he needed to graduate and make something of himself for his new family.

“I told him that I too had made bad choices and was damaged goods in a way, but had some folks who believed in me,” said Bartlett, now a kinesiology professor at Northwestern. “I viewed coaching as ministry and so my philosophy was that anyone who God dropped in my lap was someone I needed to invest in.”

Rozell bit and in the summer of 2003, he moved to Iowa and enrolled in school. Shortly after the season started, he injured his shoulder again. Rozell wondered how he’d take care of his growing family. And was it fair to his girlfriend (now wife) Alicia that he was off wrestling in another state while she was home alone and paying all the bills? After spending three semesters at Northwestern, Rozell enlisted in the Army.

Joining the ranks

The military appeared to have no downside, Rozell said. It offered him financial stability, health benefits for him and his family and college tuition when he got out of the service.

It turned out to be a good fit. Rozell took to the Army’s regimented lifestyle and was swiftly promoted. In 2006, he was deployed to Iraq for the first time as a tanker with the 1st Calvary Division. After 15 months there and a brief visit in the U.S., he deployed again in 2008.

He did not emerge unscathed.

Rozell suffered six concussions from several explosions, resulting in traumatic brain injury. One of those explosions was a suicide bombing; a fellow soldier lost a leg and his lieutenant was killed. Surprisingly, these incidents only emboldened Rozell, who shortly thereafter qualified for the U.S. Army Special Forces.

But it seemed every time Rozell received good news, it was tempered with bad. While in the Special Forces, his wife suffered a miscarriage and developed thyroid cancer. He was also struck by lightning while out on field maneuvers. He was taken to a hospital and recovered quickly. He was out in the field the next day.

His wife also made strides in her cancer recovery and eventually had twins. Rozell also attained his Green Beret and was assigned to the 7th Special Forces in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. But while there, he began suffering panic attacks and nightmares as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The brain is pretty unique because it knows how to compartmentalize things,” Rozell said. “But trauma is trauma. I’d discovered you have to have a wellness plan in place because there’s no happy pill for this condition.”

The road to ASU

Between his panic attacks, the demands of his job duties and his ever growing family, Rozell decided that after 14 years in the Army, it was time to do something else. That road led him back to ASU in 2018, where he put his GI Bill to use and initially pursued a teaching degree, but switched to sociology and hopes one day to become a mental health counselor.

Before he finished his active duty, Rozell started coaching high school wrestling and his passion for the sport was ignited again. He also began training and getting into shape. At 33, he rekindled his dream of wrestling on the collegiate level.

But that was easier said than done. He had to wait about four months to discover if he still had any eligibility left. Usually 25 is the maximum age to compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. However, exceptions are made for members of the military and Latter-day Saints.

Because Rozell was in the military for 14 years, he is considered a sophomore in terms of eligibility.

“I eventually discovered I’m the oldest Division 1 wrestler in the country, but I’m 19 on paper,” Rozell said. “Wow!”

Once that was settled, Rozell met with Don Bocci, ASU’s senior associate athletic director, who in turn met with head wrestling coach Zeke Jones. They were split on the idea.

“My first inclination was not to add him to the roster because this sport is not recreational. It’s not a pickup sport. The demands on the body are so great,” Jones said. “The lifespan of a wrestler is about the lifespan of a fly. The average age of an Olympic wrestler is 23. To see somebody wrestle over the age of 30 is very unusual.”

Bocci suggested Jones have a second meeting with Rozell, hoping the coach might think beyond the win/loss column. Jones said after he heard Rozell’s personal story, his stint in the military, and the sacrifices he made for this country, he changed his mind.

“Someone who is willing to risk his life understands sacrifice,” Jones said. “If he could teach our team what it’s really like to sacrifice everything for something you believed in, certainly that could rub off on our team — and has.”

Rozell demonstrated his commitment to sacrifice immediately. He spent six months training before he stepped on the mat and sparred with other wrestlers. His appearance on the team roster took many by surprise but he eventually found his niche on the team — as a mentor to his younger teammates.

“When I first saw Roman, I wasn’t really sure who he was. I thought maybe he was a new coach. Then he told me, ‘Yeah, I’m trying to walk on,’” said Alex Torres, a 19-year-old sophomore who graduated from Tempe’s Marcos DeNiza in 2018.

Torres and Rozell struck up a friendship, which soon turned into a mentorship.

“We’ve talked about faith, finances, family, politics and how he’s a father and married,” Torres said. “For me, it was basically questions about life and how to navigate through it. He’s just a good person. He wants to help everyone.”

Austin Housegood, 20, recently left the wrestling team to focus on his studies. He’s also interested in a military career and is leaning heavily on Rozell for advice in that area.

“My goal is to become a Green Beret like he was, and I want to get some idea of what they’re looking for and what that lifestyle looks like,” said Housegood, who is a construction manager major in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “I’ve learned a lot from Roman simply by observing him, how he carries himself and how hard he works. There’s where I have that respect.”


Rozell has also earned respect off the mat. He does public speaking, training sessions, seminars and webcasts to help individuals make the postmilitary or athletic career transition.

And somehow he found time to write a book: "A Dose of Inspiration: The Warrior Lifestyle Journal" was published in June.

His mother is not surprised by her son’s tenacity.

“There’s no stopping him, and he’s always been that way,” Donley said. “He never ceases to amaze me.”

Alicia Rozell, his wife of 15 years, said the secret to her husband’s success is the backing of his family.

“Between the military teaching him time management and having good family support, he’s able to pull this off,” she said. “I’m happy that he’s doing things that make him happy but that he doesn’t just make goals but does everything he can to achieve those goals. And that sets a great example for our kids, other students and other soldiers.”

His next big battle is on the mat when the No. 5 Sun Devils take on Augustana College out of South Dakota in a dual meet on Nov. 15 at the Desert Financial Arena (formerly the Wells Fargo Arena) in Tempe. Rozell was recently given a big confidence booster by Jones, who named him as a starter in the 197-pound division. He'll also be there cheering his teammates on, ready to help them take the fight to their opponent.

“As a team we eat, train and bleed together, and repeat it day in and day out. We are all one team and we fight as one,” Rozell said. “I will always be prepared for the opportunity rather than have an opportunity and not be prepared, but I don’t have to be a starter to serve a purpose on this team.”

Top photo: Sociology senior and retired Green Beret Roman Rozell finds time among his academic work, family life with five children and motivational speaking engagements to wrestle for the university as the team’s oldest walk-on. After serving in the Army for 14 years, he plans to pursue a career in mental health counseling. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


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Engineering perceived deficits into assets

November 5, 2019

ASU researcher helps Fulton Engineering Schools student veterans get past service-connected disabilities

Michael Sheppard is a former Navy special operations combat medic and current PhD student in engineering education systems and design in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

At 6 feet, 3 inches and a muscular 230 pounds, the Arizona State University student veteran is the picture of health. However, you might never know that Sheppard has a service-connected disability.

And such is the case with many other veterans coming home from deployments who survive through “invisible disabilities” — hidden ailments or impairments not detectable at face value.

“They are psychological, emotional and traumatic disabilities that veterans may carry with them that are not recognizable to mere observation and tend to be unseen,” Sheppard said.

Sheppard’s research backs him.

His study, “Exploring the Unique Skills and Challenges Veterans with Disabilities Bring to College: A Qualitative Study in Engineering,” was published by the American Society for Engineering Education and co-authored with Associate Professor Nadia Kellam and Assistant Professor Samantha Brunhaver, both faculty within the Polytechnic School engineering program at ASU.

Sheppard’s study focused exclusively on undergraduate student veterans currently enrolled in the Fulton Schools and pursuing engineering degrees. His goal is to help student veterans better understand the strengths, skills and strategies they learned in the military and continue to use them. Sheppard believes that a focus on those positive attributes is far more valuable to the students and academic community than the exploitation of sensational challenges that may be unique to student veterans.

“Most work surrounding transitions, veterans and survivors of traumatic situations is deficit-based, which focuses on their problems,” said Sheppard, who served in the military from 2003 to 2009. “My work aims to connect with other student veterans and identify their strengths and assets that were gained through their time in the service.”

Among the findings, student veterans with service-connected disabilities:

  • Initially face challenges both inside and outside the classroom due to dramatic changes in their social support systems and structural guidelines offered by the military.
  • Have an elevated work ethic.
  • Employ a heightened level of leadership, teaming and communication.
  • Acquired experiential learning skills from their military service.
  • Bring valuable skill sets, thought processes and problem-solving techniques to the engineering community.

In April, Sheppard presented these findings at the Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity Conference in Crystal City, Virginia, in front of an appreciative audience of researchers, academic practitioners and veterans.

Man petting a dog

Michael Sheppard on deployment in Kuwait in 2006. Sheppard said the dog limped into the camp with a severe leg wound and he treated him. "He decided to stay with us a few days," said the former Navy medic. "Eventually someone in the platoon decided to name him Slick. He made a full recovery."

Sheppard's study will be helpful in the quest to aid student veterans' transitions to academia, said retired Navy Capt. Steven Borden, director of the Pat Tillman Veterans Center.  

“There is a huge cultural transition for anyone leaving the military and it affects finding your new goals, developing a sense of belonging and understanding how things work in general," Borden said. "When you compound this transition with a disability, it becomes even more daunting. Nevertheless, when we connect with a student veteran and help them figure this transition out, they consistently perform amazing things. They are a valued part of our university community and should be in every institution.”

Sheppard said he wants to develop a deeper understanding of the experiences of these student veterans as they transition into higher education. ASU’s status as a Victory Media Military Friendly School made it an ideal location to conduct research, said Sheppard.

“At ASU we have many opportunities and avenues of support, but some veterans may still miss the support structures that they utilized during their military service,” he said. “It’s important to support our military veterans and recognize they may face unique challenges. However, more importantly, there needs to be a conversation about the unique skills that veterans bring to their institutions and places of work.”

Currently, an estimated 800,000 student veterans attend institutions of higher education in the United States, according to the Journal of Veterans Studies. More than 9,000 military-affiliated students are currently enrolled online and on campus at ASU, including 1,800 veterans in undergraduate engineering programs.

Moving from military to college can be tough for veterans, Sheppard said, especially when dealing with service-connected disabilities like traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, debilitating pain or vision or hearing loss.

Beyond dealing with invisible disabilities, Sheppard said other factors come into play. He said the military is full of structure, while the college lifestyle is full of choices and freedom that student veterans may not be accustomed to. In this new setting, student veterans create new routines as they reintegrate into a civilian lifestyle and the university setting. Age, status, family obligations, loss of camaraderie, a sense of social disconnection and discomfort in large crowds may further impose additional challenges on some veterans as they enter college.

Sheppard said even though the transition to school life can be fraught with challenges, student veterans bring valuable life experiences to the table.

“People in the military have experiences that only 1% of the population in the United States are exposed to,” said Sheppard, who was deployed to the Middle East. “Some of them are negative, some of them are positive, but all of those experiences and perspectives can be used as strategies, assets and strengths as they move forward in their lives.”

For some, moving forward meant sitting down and talking candidly to Sheppard for his study. Each selected participant had levels of service-connected disabilities exceeding 30% and openly discussed their transitions from active duty to civilian life. They also reviewed their experiential knowledge gained from training and military service, and talked about how they could use those skills in the classroom and their day-to-day lives.

Sheppard’s past military service helped the subjects open up about their lives, said Brunhaver.

“His background has given him firsthand understanding and an ability to uniquely empathize with the kinds of issues that his participants are experiencing as they navigate their engineering programs,” Brunhaver said. “The rapport he was able to build through shared and similar experiences has helped these relationships to flourish outside the research as well, into something that seems to have become mutually beneficial for both Michael and the participants.”

Sheppard said that through the study, some student veterans discovered strengths and strategies they did not previously recognize. There were also important moments when participants shared that they have the capacity to bring new skill sets, thought processes and problem-solving techniques to the engineering community.

“We are taught many skills in the military, but at the heart of it is problem-solving. That aligns very well with the engineering problem-solving method,” Sheppard said. “Problem-solving is a large part of military service. They have already completed similar tasks. Now they just have to identify the new language and verbiage as it relates to solving engineering problems versus how they did it before … the tools and assets they used in the past can still help them as they move forward.”

Brunhaver said the study was a good reminder that while ASU does a solid job supporting student veterans when they arrive, she’d like to see more programming for veterans in the middle to later stages of their degree programs, particularly as they think about their long-term goals and plans.

“We should be thinking how to develop not just one or two resources, but a plethora of resources so that student veterans feel supported in their education across all four campuses and throughout their academic careers,” Brunhaver said.

To that end, Sheppard has vowed to do the same.

“Student veterans have a lot to offer in their postmilitary lives,” Sheppard said. “Helping them transition back into the civilian world is the focus of my current work.”

Top photo: Engineering doctoral student Michael Sheppard helps student veterans get comfortable in an academic setting by utilizing assets they've used in past military service. After serving six years in the Navy, he focused his education on engineering and is now researching the psychological, emotional and traumatic disabilities that veterans carry and how to turn those disabilities into assets. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now


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Veterans crafting new beginnings in words

November 5, 2019

Piper House offers student veterans a place to share past experiences through creative writing pursuits

Hemingway. Salinger. Whitman. All legendary writers who once served in the military. 

Some of the greatest American literature has come from the pens of former soldiers, and Arizona State University student veteran Marco Piña has a theory as to why.

“The key is life experience, because the military gives veterans a unique perspective about life because of the exposure to many different situations and people,” said Piña, an Air Force veteran who is a facilitator of ASU's Veterans Writing Circle. “Our veterans have so much to teach to a society that is increasingly becoming more divided because they know how to put differences to the side in order to achieve a common goal.”

Piña said the group has been meeting monthly since September at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing on the Tempe campus. The idea is to offer ASU’s student veterans a place where they can find support and share their past experiences through creative writing.

“We need the veteran voice now more than ever,” said Piña, a screenwriter who holds a Master of Fine Arts in poetry from the Department of English in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Man in tank top talking to another person

Army veteran and film and media studies senior Sterling Williams talks with facilitator and Air Force vet Marco Piña at the monthly meeting of the Veterans Writing Circle workshop for military-related writers at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Williams is working on a screenplay involving veterans transitioning into academia. Its working title is "The Existential Crisis of the Transitioning Grunt." The group was designed to help vets tap into their creative side and get guidance for their work within a like-minded community. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

The Piper Center partnered with the Pat Tillman Veterans Center and the Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement to bring together student veterans and the veteran-affiliated community by offering them a space to write together and share stories, said Nancy Dallett, assistant director for the Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement, which sponsors students, faculty and staff veterans to apply for and attend the Piper Center’s Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writing Conference each February.

“Our office is constantly experimenting with the arts and humanities to engage veterans in creative avenues for self-exploration,” said Dallett. “My hope is veterans will find the space and the words they need to further their journeys, transitions and transformations.”

The group couldn’t have selected a better location to get their creative juices going, said Piper Center Outreach Coordinator Mary McDonough.

“The fact that this is a historic building creates a sense of quiet and reflection, and (it) is charged with that type of energy,” McDonough said. “We’ve had dozens and dozens of important authors and writers come through these doors, offering up their knowledge and wisdom, which I think has sunk into the water. This is a writerly space.”

Student veteran Sterling Williams certainly felt that way. Williams, 29, is a film and media studies major in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and is working on a semiautobiographical screenplay titled “The Existential Crisis of the Transitioning Grunt.” He joined the group to get feedback on his writing and character development and to be around like-minded people.

“There’s not a lot of veterans who like to pursue the arts, so when I saw the opportunity, I jumped at it,” said Williams, who served seven years in the Army. “What I’m hoping to experience is that same brotherly bond I had in the service. I’ve been out for more than a year, and that’s hard to find. After the last meeting, I got a little of that back.”

Three people talking at a round table

Retired high school teacher Karen Logan (left) talks about her project with facilitator Marco Piña and film and media studies senior Sterling Williams (right) at the monthly meeting of the Veterans Writing Circle workshop for military-related writers at the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

ASU alum Karen Logan came to an Oct. 22 meeting for the opposite reason — she wanted to give back to veterans.

“I wanted to do something for that veteran community that would make my dad proud,” said Logan, whose father conducted secret missions to England and Germany for the Air Force in World War II. “I like hearing their stories, and they talk to me about their episodes. Often they want to know how to get started with their memoirs and I help them.”

Logan is a retired history, science and business teacher who sells real estate and devotes her spare time to veterans causes. But she was also there to get feedback on her fictional series about a New York mafia princess coming out of the United States federal witness protection program. It’s called “Alphabet Wars.”

The native New Yorker said the six-book series is based on true events from the 1970s and 1980s.

“I kinda lived it a little bit because my father was a member of the Teamsters and owned booking parlors,” Logan said. “Most fiction is based on real life experiences.”

Which circles back to what Piña firmly believes — veterans make great writers because of their life experiences.

“Each shared experience with a veteran is a lesson in humanity,” Piña said. “My dream job is to help other vets find that kid inside or to wake up dormant dreams so they can realize that they do not need planes or helicopters to fly.”

Top photo: Group facilitator and Air Force veteran Marco Piña asks questions to help develop story dialogue with Karen Logan at the monthly meeting of the Veterans Writing Circle workshop on Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now