Public service scholarship helps ASU students make a difference

ASU Spirit of Service Scholars

2016-2-17 Spirit of Service Scholars include, front row from left to right: Zak Ghali, Mahnoor Mukarram, Kelsey Wilson, Anisa Abdul-Quadir, Stephanie Cordel, and College of Public Service and Community Solutions dean Jonathan Koppell. Back row: Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service director Alberto Olivas, Stanford Thomas Prescott, Thomas Kim, Marli Mayon, Kalah Polsean and Carlo Altamirano. Not pictured: Alpha Ngwenya and Madit Yel.

Kelsey Wilson plans to make her mark in education. Not as a teacher, but as an advocate. She’s well on her way.

The ASU Spirit of Service Scholar is active on campus. She serves on the policy team at Arizona State University student government, volunteers through her sorority and has already interned at the state Capitol as a Senate page.

Her passion is making sure K–12 education is properly funded.

Wilson grew up in Lake Havasu City in western Arizona. She attended public school at a time of massive state budget cuts. While some communities could turn to local taxpayers to make up the difference, her community couldn’t. Lake Havasu is a retirement destination. And with many people living on fixed incomes, they wouldn’t support ballot measures that would increase their property taxes to boost education funding.

“I had really great teachers, so it was a good community to grow up in,” Wilson said. “But, because of its location on the Colorado River, we have a larger elderly population and a lot of snowbirds. So that’s made it very difficult to raise taxes to benefit schools.”

Wilson is the first in her family to attend college. She credits her parents, who run a hardware store, for always supporting her educational pursuits. In high school, Wilson served on a student advisory group to former Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal.

“As student delegates, we got to talk to him about some of the issues facing communities all over Arizona,” Wilson said. “We learned what went into creating education policies that affected students positively and could remedy some of the problems we faced.”

Wilson is appreciative of the education and experiences she had growing up in western Arizona. She had great teachers and support systems, but she knows her education could have blossomed even more with proper funding.

Kelsey Wilson

Kelsey Wilson served as a state Senate page prior to applying to the ASU Spirit of Service Scholar program.

Helping solve the problem regarding education funding is the reason why Wilson applied to ASU’s Spirit of Service Scholarship program. She was selected as one of a dozen undergraduate and graduate students for the 2016–2017 school year.

The Spirit of Service Scholar program is part of the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions in downtown Phoenix. ASU undergraduate and graduate students from any major and any ASU campus who have a desire for public service can apply for the program. They receive a $5,000 tuition stipend and in-depth training from community leaders on specific subject matters. Scholars are partnered with a high-level mentor in the field of their choice and, in turn, work with other scholars to mentor local high school students. 

“I really want to make a difference,” Wilson said. “And for me, I think being a Spirit of Service Scholar is providing me with networks in this area and also allows me to really learn more about the issues that I want to work on.”

Wilson knew she wanted to make an impact on the community with her time spent pursuing higher education at ASU. She is pursuing two degrees, one in political science and the other in public policy with a concentration in education policy.

“Really, I think education policy is where I want to be,” said Wilson. “Lobbying and working on policy for the government. I definitely see it as an opportunity to remedy problems within the U.S. and a way to elevate the future leaders of this country that we're creating.”

When Wilson was selected as a Spirit of Service Scholar, she was matched with a working professional mentor from her field of interest to help her reach her goal. Receiving a mentor is just one of the many benefits to being selected as a recipient.

She was matched with Peter Hayes, the chief public affairs executive for the Salt River Project, a water and electric utility based in Phoenix. 

“Having Peter Hayes as my mentor has been great,” Wilson said. “He encouraged me to run for the vice president of policy for the Undergraduate Student Government. It's seems like every time I am conflicted about my next step, he is right there to help me through it. Having his insight has been so rewarding.”

Through learning from her mentor, being involved in many types of organizations on campus and continuing to peruse her passion through the Sprit of Service Scholarship, it is no doubt Wilson is going to make a change in her community in the future.

“I not only want to soak up all the information I can from this, but I want to give wholeheartedly,” said Wilson. “I'm a firm believer that I'm a part of something larger and it’s my job to leave this place even better than I found it.” 

Applications for the Spirit of Service Scholar 2017–2018 class will be accepted until Friday, March 31. Apply at

Private donations, which help support scholarships at ASU, are part of Campaign ASU 2020, a comprehensive philanthropic effort that aims to accelerate ASU’s mission and raise support for its educational priorities by raising at least $1.5 billion by 2020. Learn more at

Written by Makayla Perkins

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