Finding success: Four alumni’s journeys up the corporate ladder

Alumni will share their success stories during ASU's homecoming week

November 4, 2015

Driven by a burning desire to succeed in a competitive workforce, four remarkable alumni from Arizona State University have gone above and beyond in their professional careers to create positive change and develop transformative innovations.

“In the corporate world, successful people are never one-dimensional,” said Peter Charron, vice president of sustaining engineering at Navis, who believes his mathematics education from ASU prepared him to succeed.  Richard Sher of Sher Plastics shows a designer from J. Crew button designs in his showroom Download Full Image

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has invited these four outstanding alumni back for the revival of the CLAS Leaders program during the university’s homecoming festivities, Nov. 12-14. These distinguished individuals — Charron, James Hutcheson, Karrin Kunasek Taylor and Richard Sher — reflect the breadth of the arts and sciences and represent a growing network of successful alumni in prominent positions of influence.

“People who study liberal arts and social sciences have a broad skill set that can carry them in any number of different directions,” said Hutcheson, founder of ReGeneration Partners, a niche consulting firm for family-owned businesses. “It fosters a love of learning, and that’s exactly what happened to me.”

Hutcheson, who earned degrees in psychology and sociology, has advised more than 130 family entrepreneurs across a wide range of industries on how to resolve conflict, improve communication and plan for future successes. He has also written two books, published about 150 articles, served on more than 30 different boards of directors and has given more than 250 presentations on the subject of family-owned and managed companies.

“My view is that a liberal arts and social sciences degree is critical to developing thinking skills,” Hutcheson said.

Richard Sher, president and CEO of Sher Plastics, believes the development of those thinking skills has allowed him to adapt to the constantly evolving demands of the world’s dynamic workforce.

Sher received one of ASU’s first interdisciplinary degrees in design and business through the university's home economics program in 1974. The critical and analytical thinking skills gained from his hybrid education encouraged him to adopt new technologies and create cutting-edge designs for his third-generation family business, which is now one of the top three button distributors in the country.

“As the world becomes more complicated,” Sher said, “you have to become innovative.”  

Taking risks and being innovative also propelled Charron, a vice president at Navis, to increase the efficiency of cargo shipping terminals worldwide.

“I learned to reason,” said Charron, who received a master’s degree in mathematics.

Charron said he realizes the value of his liberal arts and sciences degree every day. Imparted with essential critical thinking skills, he was able to flourish in his field and become a leader in software design and marine terminal operations.

“I get great pleasure out of seeing a concept converge from a muddled idea to clarity and then reality … (like) the optimized ballet of movement in a mega-port,” he said.

Karrin Kunasek Taylor, who received bachelor’s degrees in history and political science and a Juris Doctor at ASU, is passionate about improving the lives of Arizonans by turning community development plans into reality.

Taylor is the executive vice president at local real estate development firm DMB Associates, where she helps transform concept designs into master-planned communities that respect the land like the DC Ranch residential and commercial community in Scottsdale.

“I want to help make Arizona a better place to live, work and play,” she said.

As these leaders return to campus for homecoming, they’re excited to see how the university has transformed, but most importantly to share their stories with current students.

“It means a lot to me to be able to be a role model for other ASU students and show them that through hard work, persistence and a passion for what you do always tends to pay off,” Taylor said. 

Amanda Stoneman

Senior Marketing Content Specialist, EdPlus


ASU project helps empower civic involvement for marginalized youth

November 4, 2015

Civics education is not just for aspiring political scientists. A healthy democratic society, according to experts, is one where all citizens participate.

Arizona State University researchers Sybil Durand (Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), Melanie Bertrand (Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College), and Taucia Gonzalez (College of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an ASU alum) have been awarded a competitive $50,000 small grant from the Spencer Foundation to proactively steer middle-school kids toward civic empowerment. ASU English professor Sybil Durand mentors students in a literature class. Sybil Durand (right), an assistant professor in the Department of English’s English education program, is part of a team awarded a Spencer Foundation grant to empower civic action for marginalized youth. Here, she is shown mentoring students in a young adult literature class at ASU. Photo by Andy DeLisle/ASU. Download Full Image

Their project, “Developing the Civic Participation of Marginalized Youth through a Literature-Infused Youth Participatory Action Research Program,” will utilize multicultural literature to reach youth typically underrepresented in political life: low-income students, immigrant youth, students with special education designations, students of color and English Language Learners (ELLs).

The team will consult on quantitative methods with ASU assistant professor Margarita Pivovarova (Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College), an expert in the area.

A need for participation

The next generation will come of age in a society that is increasingly diverse. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, between 2000 and 2010 the numbers of Hispanics increased at four times the rate of the total population. As well, the numbers of those identifying as biracial was also up, with a 134 percent increase in the white and black population, 87 percent increase in white and Asian, and 32 percent increase in white and American Indian/Alaska Native.

Yet data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows that Black, Hispanic, and American Indian students scored lower on civic tests than white and Asian students in 2010. Scores were even lower for ELLs, students with disabilities and low-income students.

Educators interpret these low scores as both an “achievement gap” — students don’t perform as well academically — as well as an “opportunity gap” — students have fewer opportunities to participate in decision-making. One issue is clear: non-mainstream students need to know that they too can effect social change that is relevant to their lives.

The ASU project site itself, an urban school in Arizona, is majority Latina/o, with sizable populations of ELLs and students with disabilities. It is the same school where the researchers conducted a spring 2015 pilot (the name of the school is confidential because the study involves minors).

“Our study has the potential to reveal some of the processes that can be used to develop opportunities for civic participation for traditionally marginalized youth,” said Durand.

And, the study team believes, increased civic action can “improve the quality of civic participation for a diverse group of students, thereby fostering equality.”

Why literature?

Existing research shows that using texts reflecting a variety of cultures has a positive impact on how readers from marginalized groups view themselves.

ASU’s study is unique in that it directly links young adult literature — defined by the American Library Association as written for youth between the ages of twelve and eighteen — to social activism, and to what is termed “youth participatory action research (YPAR).”

“The literature component in YPAR lays the foundation for civic participation as students discuss stories with young characters who face social circumstances that are relevant to our research participants,” Durand said.

In the structure of an after-school reading group, seventh- and eighth-grade students enrolled in the ASU program each select a book to read and then discuss it in a small group. The students then identify an issue to study, conduct research on it and devise an action plan.

“The research component shows students how they can be involved in creating change,” Durand said.

The literature used in the project, all award-winning, was chosen by the ASU research team for its diverse perspectives on social issues related to race/ethnicity, gender, class, or sexuality—and because it featured protagonists of color. Texts to be used include “American Born Chinese,” a graphic novel by Gene L. Yang; “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets to the Universe” a novel by Benjamin Alire Sáenz; “Brown Girl Dreaming,” a memoir in verse by Jacqueline Woodson; and “The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano,” a novel by Sonia Manzano.

“Students who participated in the YPAR pilot last spring engaged a variety of skills,” Durand said. “[They] began to practice skills related to civic participation, including asking critical questions and collaborating with peers and adults to make a change. The issue that students choose to research this year will guide the scope of the project — so, it could involve starting a petition, drafting a letter to a congressperson, or action for change at the school level.”

The ASU research team hopes their method can increase students’ participation in tangible activities having positive impacts in their communities and lives.

“This research shows that YPAR programs foster agentive spaces in which marginalized youth can engage in civic learning to challenge barriers to academic and social achievement.”

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English