image title
From its World War II roots, Thunderbird School maintains its global mission.
April 1, 2016

From World War II roots to ASU partnership, Glendale school keeps global mission

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

When leaping ahead, it sometimes helps to look back. And for an institution with a history as storied as the Thunderbird School of Global Management, that reflection has been part of the school’s resurgence.

Thunderbird was launched as an international business school 70 years ago, after World War II ended. The Glendale campus had been built in 1940 as a training base for fighter pilots.

Over the decades, it built an international reputation — known as the "Thunderbird Mystique" — before facing financial uncertainty a few years ago. In January 2015, the school became partners with Arizona State University.

“When an organization goes through change, it’s helpful to go back to basic principles and ask what was the original mission and what are we about as an institution?” said Allen Morrison, chief executive officer and director general of Thunderbird.

“In many ways it’s been a rebirth and also a rediscovery.”

The 70th anniversary, which the school will mark in a celebration on campus April 7-10, has been a chance to reflect.

Morrison said that even though technology and travel has made it seem as though the world has shrunk, the need for communication has never been greater.

“Despite all the talk about the emergence of a global culture and mind-set, I don’t think that’s happening at all,” he said.

“Dealing with the human challenge of international business and trade and conflict, the differences that separated us continue to separate us, and I think that’s just part of the human story — that we associate with the people we know and the languages we’re comfortable with.”

Allen Morrison

Allen Morrison, CEO of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, said the school will be expanding its global offerings.

Morrison said that creates an opportunity for Thunderbird to help cultures, companies and organizations to connect.

Thunderbird is now leveraging its relationship with ASU to expand its offerings to foster more international business relationships.

Morrison said that embracing ASU’s innovative culture has been a natural way to honor the school’s original mission, as described by founder Gen. Barton Kyle Yount in 1947:

“We made some important decisions during the school’s first year. One was that the school would always keep itself free to experiment (both in subject matter and in educational techniques).”

'The only place'

In 1940, the business of the time was war. A group of Hollywood investors found a dusty plot of land in Glendale and told the U.S. Army that if it put an air base there, they would run it. Over the next four years, more than 15,000 pilots trained at Thunderbird Field before going off to fight in World War II.

Then the war ended and the base was vacant for several months until Yount decided to start a school to train businessmen to work overseas. The American Institute for Foreign Trade was incorporated April 8, 1946.

The property was assessed at more than $407,000, but because Yount promised to create a school, he got the land for free. That giveaway of war surplus property prompted a brief congressional investigation. The hearings exonerated Yount, and the flurry of nationwide attention raised the profile of the new school, which was flooded with applicants. When the doors opened in October 1946, the barracks has been transformed into dormitories.

The first graduating class in June 1947 had 234 students from 45 states. Most were veterans. One of them was Jack Rokahr, a soldier who had returned home to Lincoln, Nebraska, after serving in the war. He heard about the school from his aunt, who lived in Phoenix.

“The school was a perfect way to mentally adjust back to civilian life because it’s very difficult for a soldier who had been in the Army for months and months to suddenly get back to civilian life,” said Rokahr, who now lives in Los Angeles.

“It was familiar surroundings for us but without the uniforms. Although we did line up to go to the dining room.”

Rokahr had four roommates and said that all the students were very serious.

“We all knew we were there to get a job,” he said.

Back then, the campus was in the middle of nowhere. On weekends, the students would hitchhike into Glendale, where they would catch a bus to Phoenix.

While at Thunderbird, Rokahr spent hours in the library, copying the names of companies that did business around the world. In 1949, he was hired in the international department of a pharmaceutical company and eventually lived in South America, the Middle East and Asia. He later worked in the U.S. Department of Commerce for many years.

“We were independent and yet we all worked together,” Rokahr, now 93, said of those early days of the school.

“Those graduates from class number one were excellent prospects and AIFT was a great place, and the only place at that time, for us to get the training we needed.”

Embracing innovation

Thunderbird still is unique in the way it trains business managers, Morrison said.

“What they teach at traditional business schools is a highly U.S.-centered approach,” he said. “Where Thunderbird is different in a meaningful way is that we truly have a global perspective of leadership models and one of the strongest expertise in the world for teaching a multicultural perspective of leadership.”

ASU’s transdisciplinary approach, combined with its many resources, have been a big benefit, he said. In one case, Thunderbird was able to bring a European company that was visiting the Glendale campus to the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts on the Tempe campus to work out a knotty problem.

“That’s been a profound contribution,” he said. "And ASU wants to see how its applications work in business and government."

In an appropriate twist, the school that started as a training base for World War II pilots is now using state-of-the-art flight simulators at the Polytechnic campus.

“One of the things that helps crystallize learning is when you give someone something experiential,” said Dawn Feldman, executive director and chief operating officer of executive education at Thunderbird.

Businesspeople who are taking the strategies and leadership executive-education class will visit the flight simulators at the Polytechnic campus as part of the program.

“What happens when you have to lead others when you’re looking at a situation and you have to decide split second around life or death?” she said.

Thunderbird is looking to expand its reach, Morrison said. The school will offer its core degree, the master’s of global management, in more ways, including online and in other countries. The bachelor’s of global management, offered at ASU’s West campus, will include different concentrations.

And the school is looking at expanding its global footprint by opening more “hub offices.” Thunderbird now has hub offices in Geneva and Moscow, with one opening soon in Dubai. The offices would partner with local schools to offer Thunderbird programs as well as find jobs for graduates and connect with alumni.

Feldman said that all institutions — and companies — should never take their existence for granted. The many changes at Thunderbird in the past few years have made the school more open to reflection about its relevance and mission.

“When you’ve undergone such a significant baring of your soul as Thunderbird has, you get to a point where those questions are less scary. It’s liberating.”

The Thunderbird 70th Anniversary and All-Class Reunion will include a reception, pub night, class events, leadership forum sessions, an alumni rugby match, a dinner and a brunch. For more information, visit

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


image title

Aquatic 'boarder-lands'

Latinos have had a strong presence in the Pacific since the 1830s.
ASU prof expanding idea of borderlands to include aquatic regions in Pacific.
Archive seed-funded by transborder program; applications open for next round.
April 1, 2016

Documenting the history of Latinos in the Pacific is the focus of online archive supported by ASU transborder seed grant

Written in plain block letters on a whiteboard is a menu that includes such items as tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas. Above it is a sign featuring a woman who bears a curious resemblance to famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The sign reads “Taqueria Viva Mexico.”

Except this isn’t Mexico, or even Arizona for that matter. It’s New Zealand — or, as it is more colloquially known, Aotearoa — and many may be surprised to discover that it has a growing population of Latinos.

But in fact, Latinos have had a strong presence in the PacificThe Pacific refers to the region of the world, also known as Oceania, that includes the islands of the tropical Pacific Ocean, or more broadly, the entire insular region between Southeast Asia and the Americas, including Australasia and the Malay Archipelago. ever since 1832, when King Kamehameha III of Hawaii invited Mexican vaquerosThe Spanish term for cowboys or cattle drivers. from what is today California to help Native Hawaiians deal with their rampant cattle population. Puerto Ricans soon followed in the early 1900s, and since then, Latinos have been slowly but steadily migrating to the Pacific region, drawn by the economic opportunity presented by its robust agricultural labor market.

Rudy Guevarra Jr.Guevarra is an associate professor in ASU’s School of Social Transformation and affiliate faculty in ASU’s School of Transborder Studies, both academic units in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. His interest lies in how multiethnic identity and communities are developed and sustained throughout generations., an ASU associate professor of Asian Pacific American studies, is in the process of writing a book“Aloha Compadre: Latina/os in Hawaiʻi, 1832-2010” is Guevarra’s second, single-authored book. His first is “Becoming Mexipino: Multiethnic Identities and Communities in San Diego.” about the phenomenon titled “Aloha Compadre: Latina/os in Hawaiʻi, 1832-2010.” His researchGuevarra received funding from an Institute for Humanities Research seed grant as well as a Comparative Border Studies Program research grant to help facilitate his research for "Aloha Compadre." for the book will be the foundation for the development of the Latino Pacific Archive. Along with colleagues Matthew Kester of Brigham Young University–Hawaiʻi and Alexandrina Agloro of Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Guevarra has received a grant from ASU’s School of Transborder Studies’ Program for Transborder Communities to get the project off the ground.

"Oftentimes we see the American Southwest as the area of the borderlands. ... But I saw it as going even further, into these aquatic regions that are expanding what we know as the traditional borderlands today — borders as not just terrestrial but aquatic."

— Rudy Guevarra Jr., ASU associate professor of Asian Pacific American studies

Launched in July 2014, the Program for Transborder Communities (PTC) is an initiative that provides yearlong seed funding for ASU faculty conducting collaborative, interdisciplinary research on the changing needs and growing cultural, political and economic influence of Latinos in the U.S., as well as on cross-border issues faced by communities in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands and other border regions in the world.

During the 2015-2016 academic year, the program awarded three research cluster grants (one of which went to Guevarra and his team) and three individual research grants. It is now accepting proposals for the 2016-2017 academic year through May 6. Once again, a total of three research cluster grants and three individual research grants will be awarded.

“In the last two years we’ve provided funds for projects supporting the ideas of researchers representing 10 different units across the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences,” said program director and School of Transborder Studies associate professor Francisco Lara-Valencia. “The projects range from collaboration to promote healthy eating and active living along the U.S.-Mexico borderlands to the utilization of multimedia as a teaching tool to capture the history and livelihoods of transborder communities.”

The goal of the grants, Lara-Valencia said, is to seed the research activities that can then form the basis for external grant proposals.

What would eventually become the Latino Pacific Archive began with an idea that formed as a result of Guevarra’s many visits to Hawaii while finishing his dissertation, titled “Mexipino: A History of Multiethnic Identity and the Formation of the Mexican and Filipino Communities of San Diego.” (A native of San Diego himself, Guevarra’s use of the term “Mexipino” is in reference to his own Mexican-Filipino heritage.)

“I noticed as I kept going back that I kept seeing more Latinos there, and I kept hearing more and more Spanish spoken around me,” said Guevarra of his visits to Hawaii, where Latinos now make up roughly 10 percent of the population. “So I would have these informal conversations with people, and it was just fascinating hearing their stories and seeing where they had ended up and the work they were doing.”

Soon after, a colleague of his from Victoria University of Wellington told him about the growing Latino population there in New Zealand. Intrigued, Guevarra secured grant fundingGuvarra's trip to New Zealand was funded by a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Humanities Seed Grant from ASU. and was able to travel there to observe and engage with its many Latino communities.

“It really made me think about how we imagine borders and borderlands, or la frontera,” he said. “Oftentimes we see the American Southwest as the area of the borderlands. ... But I saw it as going even further, into these aquatic regions that are expanding what we know as the traditional borderlands today — borders as not just terrestrial but also aquatic.

“There’s a really interesting phrase that a colleague of mine, Isaiah Walker [with Brigham Young University–Hawaiʻi], uses, which he coined; he uses the phrase 'boarder-lands,' like a surf board.

“The political and economic forces that compel people to migrate have pushed [Latinos] further and further out into places they probably never thought they’d be. ... The diversity of the Latino experience is not just confined to the Western Hemisphere … and I’m interested in how we deal with these changing demographics of our society.”

With Kester and AgloroKester is an assistant professor of history and university archivist at Brigham Young University-Hawaii. Agloro is an assistant professor of interactive media and game development, and humanities and arts at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. on board, the Latino Pacific Archive began to take shape and the team got to work creating one of the largest online repositories of sources on the Latino experience in the Pacific region. Still in the beginning stages, the archive will eventually include historical documents, oral testimonies, photographs, migration maps, historical timelines and even an interactive game. 

Agloro is overseeing the development of the game aspect of the archive, which could end up looking like a first-person experience where the player navigates a particular space, making decisions as a character, or it could be a side scroller game where the character is already established and the player simply watches them go through the experience.

“There’s a lot of fun stuff we can do with interactive media and history,” she said. “I like idea of using game technology to do educational things, and we can use game technology to tell the histories of migration. ... We want it to be fun and engaging, but it could also be a passive-learning leisure activity.”

Right now, Agloro is conducting workshops to build the game through participatory design, which involves the input of the people whose stories will be told through the game.

“We are a globalized world, and migration is the reality of the world today. So it’s important to know about the person who is picking your coffee and your pineapples, and the reality is not necessarily what you see on packaging or as a tourist,” she said.

Indeed, the goal of the Latino Pacific Archives is for it to serve as a free resource for people everywhere who want to learn more about Latino migration in the Pacific. Guevarra even hopes the archive can be used in schools as a learning and teaching tool for K-12 students.

“If you can just click and get access to an archive or a photograph collection, or to some of the different things that we can dig up, you can see just how extensive this history is and how much the Latino populations have contributed to the economies and the social fabric of the places they now call home,” said Guevarra. “It’s something that I hope to keep building more and more as the years go by.”

Aside from educating people on how Latinos are forming successful new communities in the Pacific, the archive will also showcase how they’re maintaining ties to their homelands by keeping their traditional cultures alive in the diaspora.

“It’s just fascinating to see the different generations and the different ways people identify in the communities where they’re at now,” Guevarra said, “so [the archive] will also document cultural festivals and all the places where they’re making a space for themselves and integrating with the larger community. ... The Latino Pacific Archive is the vehicle for them to tell those stories.”

Top photo courtesy of Rudy Guevarra Jr., depicting a Christmas Day parade in Wellington, New Zealand, in December 2014.