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ASU grad sees landscape architecture as a path to social justice

New ASU landscape architect sees nature as a path to social justice.
April 29, 2018

Kristin Antkoviak helping to revitalize her Phoenix neighborhood with trees, garden

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

For Kristin Antkoviak, plants and trees are one way to achieve social justice.

Antkoviak, who is graduating with a master’s degree in landscape architecture, has used her expertise to help revitalize her Phoenix neighborhood. And in connecting her neighbors with a little bit of nature, she’s carving out a new kind of career.

“I think it’s important that landscape architects transition from working for typical firms to working directly with neighborhoods because in terms of sustainability, social equity is highly under-addressed,” said Antkoviak, who has been named one of two outstanding graduate students for the spring semester by the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

During her time at ASU, Antkoviak saw the importance of giving design help to vulnerable populations. She participated in a yearlong service-learning studio partnership with Hawai’i Green Growth, in which several ASU teams collaborated on a strategy to mitigate flooding in an area near a canal.

“We worked at a grassroots level with local communities and all the way up to the federal government,” she said. “And through that I started to understand that the policy end is critical to a lot of these issues we’re facing.”

After her experience helping poor neighborhoods in Hawai’i, Antkoviak decided to move into a “tiny house” dwelling in the neighborhood near Central Park in Phoenix, south of Chase Field.

“There were no street trees. The first thing I started to do was pull historical maps from 1930 until now and you can see there were almost no trees from then until now,” she said.

She noticed that the air quality was poor and that there was no sense of community among the residents. So last year, she and a neighbor started organizing community meetings, and she set up a day for everyone to volunteer to help plant trees.

“It’s a ‘small-is-beautiful’ approach to building community capacity,” she said.

They planted a hardy hybrid mesquite variety that can withstand low watering and doesn’t get too big.

“We didn’t know how many volunteers we would get but it turned out fantastic,” she said.

So they organized another planting in April, this time setting up a community pollinator garden, with native shrubs and perennials meant to draw butterflies.

“We asked people what they wanted and the main thing they wanted was color,” she said.

“I went door to door and I didn’t say, ‘This is the tree you’re going to get.’ I asked, ‘What do you like?’ Then I helped them with landscape architecture knowledge to fine tune what would be good. They didn’t even know some of the types that existed.”

They ended up planting 10 kinds of native trees in addition to the garden, which included desert marigold and flame acanthus.

That experience inspired her to think of a new kind of career.

“I’m starting to think about this concept of a neighborhood landscape architect who works directly with people,” she said.

“I’m big on empowering residents to understand that they can make a big impact. I’m trying to make a new role that doesn’t exist yet.”

Kristin Antkoviak organized a tree- and garden-planting day in her Phoenix neighborhood.

A neighborhood landscape architect would help educate people on water use and the tradeoffs of different kinds of trees they like, as well as coordinate with government and advocacy agencies.

“After 100 years of these social environmental injustices, I think these native plants can give a healing aspect to the community. Nature has so much to offer.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I was working as a microbiologist at Mayo Clinic for six years. I’m from a small town in northern Michigan, and I liked microbiology but I wanted to connect with nature and the land again.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to somebody who wants to do this?

A: I would talk directly to the professors in the program and also to past students so they can see how they turned out. It’s professors, students and professionals. You have to hit them all.

There are a couple groups in the community that would be good to talk to too: The Arizona Alliance for Livable Communities, the Arizona Partnership for Healthy Communities, the Downtown Voices Coalition. The Sonoran Institute is a great connection and also the Sustainable Cities Network.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would spend it right here. I would try to grow out the neighborhood green infrastructure. Landscape architecture can help us contribute to a sustainable planet. Plants provide that medium to connect to people. It all ties into community health.

Top photo: Kristin Antkoviak, who is earning a master's degree in landscape architecture, helped to organize to tree planting and garden installation in her Phoenix neighborhood.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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ASU entrepreneurs win more than $300,000 to nurture ventures

April 29, 2018

Demo Days awards investment cash, services to promising projects by students, faculty, alumni and community members

Sometimes it takes only a little bit of money to nurture big dreams.

Nearly 100 teams of entrepreneurs pitched their projects during Demo Days last week, hoping to get a few thousand dollars to advance their projects.

In all, more than $300,000 in cash and services was awarded to dozens of teams in Venture Devils, a program in the office of Entrepreneurship + Innovation at Arizona State University that provides space, mentorship and access to funding to entrepreneurs who are ASU students, faculty, alumni or community members. The event combined eight funding competitions.

Some ventures were highly technical and will need hundreds of thousands of dollars to eventually get off the ground, like an automated waste-sorting machine, while others solve smaller-scale problems, like a $12 plug that will keep hair from clogging pipes, invented by two long-haired siblings.

The waste-sorting project, called Hygiea, won $2,000 from the Pakis Social Venture Challenge, and the siblings, Holly Hillsten and Justin Hillsten, won $8,500 for DrainFunnel in the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative. Both are undergraduates in the W. P. Carey School of Business.

Many of the teams that won the largest amounts of funding have been working for years on their projects. Ryan Stoll, co-founder of Compass for Courage, won $20,000 in the Pakis Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. He has been working for seven years on the project as part of his PhD training. Compass for Courage makes an interactive curriculum for children that uses board games to help them learn skills to overcome anxiety. The program is already used in 26 Arizona schools.

Ryan Stoll presents his venture, Compass for Courage, during the Pakis Social Entrepreneurship Challenge at Demo Days at Skysong on Friday. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Hoolest Performance Technologies, made up of three students, has won several funding competitions since it was founded less than two years ago. On Friday, Hoolest won in two categories: A $12,500 prize from the Edson Student Entrepreneurship competition and a trip to the Portland, Oregon, headquarters of adidas for mentoring, from the Global Sport Venture Challenge contest.

The venture, which makes earbud devices that block stress by stimulating the vagus nerve, has won more than $110,000 in two competitions in the past year. The idea was launched by Nicholas Hool, a biomedical engineering PhD student who suffered from performance anxiety while he was a nationally competitive golfer in high school. He said the device, now being tested in professional athletes, could eventually be used to help people manage symptoms of opioid withdrawal.

(From left) ASU alumnus and entrepreneurship class instructor Scott Wald gives a $50,000 award to Tanner Tryon and Danny Pickett of EZEQ Rentals at the New Venture Challenge on Thursday at SkySong. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Some of the winners already have a lot of experience. EZEQ Rentals is owned by two men who have been in the business world for many years and took a graduate-level class in the W. P. Carey School of Business in entrepreneurship this spring. They won the grand prize of $50,000 in the New Venture Challenge, a class taught by Scott Wald, a software entrepreneur who earned an MBA from ASU.

“I’ve worked for the third-largest equipment rental in the world, and we had 10 sales reps who would drive around the Valley delivering boxes of donuts trying to drum up business,” said Tanner Tryon, whose business, which he co-owns with Thunderbird School of Global Management Executive MBA student Danny Pickett, is an online marketplace for equipment rental. “Our employees would spend hours each week looking up quotes, all of which could be done on our marketplace.”

Ann Grimes, who will earn her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering in May, co-founded Engineering Design Innovations, which invented a device that allows homeowners to control the timing of flood irrigation of their yards through a phone app. She has owned an engineering company with her husband for more than 20 years and has lived in a home with flood irrigation for 27 years.

“It’s inconvenient and outdated and there’s a better way,” said Grimes, who won $8,500 with her co-founder, Christian Coleman, who also is earning his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Ann Grimes and Christian Coleman, who will both earn their bachelor's degrees in mechanical engineering in May, present their business plan for an automated valve that lets homeowners control flood irrigation. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Among the other ventures that won cash:

HumanityX, which created a platform called Ark Humanity that uses social media to triage cases of suicide ideation and connect people identified as being at risk with trained counselors, won $5,000 in the Pakis Social Entrepreneurship Challenge. The team includes ASU undergraduate and graduate students.

AirGarage, an online marketplace founded by undergraduates Scott Fitsimones and Jonathon Barkl that allows homeowners and businesses to rent parking spaces to people looking for affordable parking near ASU, won $12,000 from the Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative.

Purse King, a venture owned by an ASU student and alumni, won $5,000 to fund its line of purses made of synthetic, plant-based materials, with several models designed for women who carry concealed handguns. “Just because you conceal and carry doesn’t mean you don’t love animals,” said co-founder Jessica Knab, who earned an MBA from ASU.

The TrueUnion Project won $8,500 to develop its online platform that offers a short list of wedding vendors for couples who don’t want to wade through the thousands of photographers, florists, caterers and other providers. It’s co-founded by photographers Murphy McGary and Keegan Carlson, who are MBA students.

Garden of Eden won $5,000 for its aeroponic system that grows vegetables year-round on vertical towers, using 90 percent less water and land than conventional growing. The urban farm was founded by Yann Raymond, a senior in sustainability.

While $1,000 might not seem like a lot, that was the funding goal of the Shonto Mountain Bike Initiative — and they got it. The venture is part of Engineering Projects in Community Service in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, known as EPICS.

The goal is to create recreational and business opportunities in the Shonto community on the Navajo reservation three ways: help the residents develop a 12-mile mountain bike trail to promote ecotourism, launch a mountain-bike team in the schools and create a pump track, which is like a skate park for mountain bikes.

Alyssa Carlson, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering, said that the EPICS project is partnering with ASU Surplus to acquire bikes for the Shonto youths.

“Everything will go to getting bikes and helmets and pads. We get bikes for $20 each, so that means like 50 bikes, which is awesome,” Carlson said. “We already have 41 bikes so we’ll be able to get bikes to all the kids who want one.”

Dornubari Vizor, co-founder of the web-development company Yazamo and an alumnus of ASU, described how he grew his company over six years to be worth more than $1 million. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Even when ventures start to get off the ground as businesses, the money can come in small amounts. Dornubari Vizor, co-founder of the web-development company Yazamo, is an alumnus of ASU and the Edson program. He gave a keynote talk describing how he grew his company over six years to be worth more than $1 million.

First, he showed a photo of himself sitting on the floor in a tiny, cluttered room.

“I’m eating a bowl of rice, and it’s probably my seventh bowl of rice that day because that’s all I had to eat,” he said.

But he told the budding entrepreneurs at Demo Day that it’s important for them to take a salary from their ventures.

“I would get grants and be like, ‘I’m putting all of this into my business,’ ” he said. Until a mentor set him straight.

“He told me, ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re making $250 a month when you’re starting out. Pay yourself $20 so you reward yourself for your hard work and you can see the business as a source of income.’

“You’re the first employee and you deserve a livable wage.”

Learn more about ASU Venture Devils.

Top photo: Sparky congratulates one of the winning team at the Demo Day pitch competition on Friday at SkySong. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News