Skip to main content

Public Service Academy develops purpose-driven civilian, military leaders

ASU undergraduate program leverages the experiences of both ROTC and non-military students with service-oriented career goals

Young man in uniform

November 06, 2017

Brett Hunt sits in his seventh-story office on Arizona State University’s Downtown Phoenix campus, interviewing millennials a good portion of his days.

Often he feels like he’s the one been interviewed. They want to know the values of his organization. What it is doing for the community and how it will benefit society as a whole?

“They’re past it. They’re post-political,” said Hunt, director of the ASU’s Public Service AcademyThe Public Service Academy is a unit inside the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.. “They are purpose-driven like you and I weren’t.”

The students Hunt sees today are mostly service-oriented and unlike those of his generation, he said. They’re not looking for careers that will bring them financial rewards and riches. The rewards will come from helping others, they believe.

“That’s radical, right?” Hunt said. “These students are the signal shifters and actively changing the world. Those are the kinds of students we’re preparing for the future workforce.”

Now in its third year, the Public Service Academy is a first-of-its-kind undergraduate programPublic Service Academy students complete a four-year, six-course program of study and graduate with a certificate in Cross-Sector Leadership, in addition to an undergraduate degree in their chosen field of study. to develop leaders of tomorrow who are prepared to find solutions for society’s biggest challenges and create a culture of service. It does so by leveraging and combining military and civilian experiences. It has two tracks: Reserve Officer Training Corps, the existing university-based program to commission officers into the U.S. Armed Forces, and Next Generation Service Corps, a program for service-oriented students from all majors to become civilian service leaders.

"Having served in combat twice with the millennials, recruited them for four and a half years during my last command and have served with them at ASU for the past five years, I have seen firsthand that they have an exceptional heart and passion for service and the drive to make a difference," said Benjamin C. Freakley, former commanding general for the U.S. Army and special adviser to ASU President Michael M. Crow for leadership initiatives. "Our world needs character-driven leadership more than ever and our Next Generation Service Corps leaders are stepping up. Our adaptive student-leaders are preparing for their critical roles of service in the future."

The 400-member academy was launched in 2015 in part on the idea that society needs collaborative leaders of character committed to serving the public good. They are trained in hopes of being the next generation of leaders in the United States Armed Forces, Peace Corps, Teach for America, AmeriCorps, the private and nonprofit sectors, and all branches of local, state and national government.

Twenty-year-old academy member Jakob Luttrell, who is attending ASU on an ROTC scholarship, said he always knew he was destined for a life in the military. When he graduates in 2019 with a degree in global studiesThe degree is offered through ASU's School of Politics and Global Studies., he’ll enter the Army as a second lieutenant.

“Sure there were a lot of other career opportunities where I could have made more money, but I didn’t feel that was my calling,” Luttrell said. “I felt that it was necessary that I do my part to serve my country.”

Luttrell said he views the military more as peacekeepers than a war machine, and combat is only a small part of what they do.

“The military is about supporting families, fellow soldiers and people in need,” he said. “They are some of the most dedicated and selfless people I know.”

Beth Evans

Tourism junior Elizabeth Evans holds a meeting with her student chapter of Meeting Planners International directed toward tourism and hospitality majors. The group's mentor, ASU alumna Ceré Netters, is guiding the fledgling group and is giving them ideas to attract more members. Evans is a member of the Public Service Academy and has served internships in both the public and private sectors. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Helping people in need has been a constant theme in the life of Elizabeth Evans, a member of the Next Generation Service Corps.

“I know it sounds cheesy, but when I help someone it makes me feel happy inside,” said Evans, a tourism development and managementThe degree is offered through the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. major. “Yes, I could do things for me and me only, but I don’t feel that’s my purpose.”

Evans, who comes from a small town in Northern California, said the Public Service Academy has opened her up to new situations and scenarios, including an internship with the Salvation Army in Washington, D.C.

“Getting exposed to places and perspectives allows you to see how the other side of the planet lives,” Evans said. “Before my internship, I had never thought about going into nonprofit work. But now it could be a real possibility.”

Chris Frias

Economics and public service and public policy dual-major junior Christopher Frias takes a break between classes and meetings on the Tempe campus. He served as the Public Service Academy's first chief of staff. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Lots of possibilities abound for Christopher Frias, a junior double-majoring in economics and in public service and public policy. He said as a minority growing up mostly in south and west Phoenix, he wants to “pave the way for others to follow in his footsteps.”

A Next Generation Service Corps member, Frias said he hopes to be a congressional aide one day. However, if he finds a job in the private sector he said he’ll pull up several people along the way.

“This organization has showed me that you can be successful in an organization and gear it towards having a social impact and making a difference in your community,” Frias said.

Imani Stephens

Journalism junior Imani Stephens volunteers at the downtown Pitchfork Pantry for students in need. When she isn't working on journalism projects or her dual minors in justice studies and Spanish — or her Leadership and Ethics certificate — she spends much of her time volunteering for public-sector groups as a member for the Public Service Academy. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

That’s the same mind-set held by journalism major Imani Stephens, a Next Generation Service Corps member raised in a single-mother household in Compton, California.  

“Even though my career choice will be journalism, I have found a way to give back to society by shining a light on marginalized communities and bringing awareness to all types of people,” said Stephens, who joined the academy three years ago. “I don’t want to leave anyone out of the conversation.”

She said the most important thing she has learned while in the academy was simple, but important.

“Just to be myself and focus on my personal mission, which is how to be of service to others,” she said.

The Public Service Academy originated from a $1.2M gift from ASU President Michael Crow and his wife, Sybil Francis.  

Top photo: Public Service Academy member Jakob Luttrell is using his Army ROTC experience to serve in the public sector. Last summer he served in Lithuania alongside NATO allies, and taught English to first responders. He's a third-generation military serviceman. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

More Local, national and global affairs


Professor speaking to students in a room used for diplomatic hearings.

Public Service Day aims to increase awareness, encourage careers in the sector

In 2002, the United Nations’ General Assembly declared June 23 as Public Service Day. The designation is meant to celebrate those in the public service community and to encourage younger generations…

Ukrainian flag against a stormy sky.

ASU honors student authors book celebrating beauty, culture of Ukraine

Arizona State University student Camille S. Campbell believes the beauty and culture of Ukraine should be preserved and shared, even in a time of war. That’s why she wrote “Colors of Ukraine,” a…

Halla Tomasdottir addresses supporters in Reykjavik [Halldor Kolbeins/AFP]

Thunderbird at ASU alum Halla Tómasdóttir elected president of Iceland

Halla Tómasdóttir, an esteemed alumna of Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University, has been elected as the next president of Iceland. Tómasdóttir, who earned her master’s…