ASU’s Schmidt Futures finalists to take ideas on helping middle class to national competition

December 27, 2018

Arizona State University announced this week the three finalist teams selected to represent the institution in a national pitch competition in January focused on addressing the needs of the middle class.

The selected finalists will present their proposed solutions to increase the net income by 10 percent of 10,000 local middle-class households by 2020, to a screening panel convened by Schmidt Futures, a venture facility for public benefit founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt. FAFSA Team "The Power of FAFSA: Middle Class Wealth Generator and Statewide Economic Engine." Team members include (from left) Edmundo Hidalgo, Rachel Yanof, Julie Sainz and Sylvia Symonds. Download Full Image

“The teams’ solutions respond to pressing needs of Arizona’s middle class,” said Jacqueline Smith, associate vice president of university initiatives at ASU. “Together, they represent some of the greatest burdens on families’ budgets, including housing, transportation and the costs of postsecondary education. Even modest improvements in these areas will have significant implications for the financial health and resiliency of Arizonans.” 

A competitive slate of 10 teams was initially chosen to receive $50,000 in seed funding and coaching to develop and refine their ideas. After a local pitch competition, the three final teams were selected by a board of prominent community leaders using a number of criteria, including innovation, value to diverse communities, and partner focus, among others. In the weeks leading up to the national competition, ASU will provide the finalists additional support to enhance their proposals.

ASU President Michael M. Crow praised the teams and their work to benefit Arizona’s middle class.

“This competition is a natural fit for ASU’s charter and design aspirations,” Crow said. “These innovative ideas reflect our commitment to the vibrancy of the local community and leverage the university’s position as an anchor institution.”

ASU’s teams are a result of work that began in April, when Schmidt Futures enlisted four public universities — ASU, the Ohio State University, the University of Utah and the University of Wisconsin-Madison — as the inaugural partners of the Alliance for the American Dream. Each university was awarded funding to develop ideas that promote shared prosperity in their regions over two rounds of competition.

The national competition, bringing the top three teams from each of the four universities, will take place on Jan. 29 in downtown Phoenix.

The finalists are:

The Power of the FAFSA: Middle Class Wealth Generator and Statewide Economic Engine

A coalition including Achieve60AZ, the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education, College Success AZ and ASU aims to help at least 10,000 middle-class families in the Phoenix area apply for financial aid to support postsecondary studies. Modeled after digital tools used at ASU, the coalition will launch a new chatbot to address students’ questions about the financial aid process. The coalition will promote the tool and their campaign with awareness events, small group interventions and individualized coaching for parents and students. The average family should expect an annual financial aid award of nearly $10,000.

Intergenerational HomeSharing at Scale

This solution helps older homeowners rent out living space to college students in exchange for 10-20 hours per week of household maintenance tasks that become more challenging with age (e.g. lawn care, cleaning, grocery shopping, pet care) and/or a reduced rental income. By choosing to homeshare, college students can save an estimated $6,000-$10,000 per year in housing costs. Older homeowners can avoid the costs of outsourcing these tasks and also earn additional income, thereby increasing their annual net income by $3,000-6,000 per year.

Autonomous Vehicles for Mobility Access: How Self-Driving Cars Can Reduce Transportation Expenses for Middle-Class Arizonans

ASU and the city of Tempe will collaboratively develop public-private partnerships making use of autonomous shuttles to provide low-cost mobility and transit services for middle-income families in Tempe. This project will target several key population centers in the city to provide quality, cost-efficient mobility where it is currently absent. This is expected to decrease annual transportation expenditures by up to $5,000 per household.

See all 10 teams here.

Schmidt Futures is a philanthropic initiative, founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, that seeks to improve societal outcomes through the thoughtful development of emerging science and technologies that can benefit humanity. To realize this vision, Schmidt Futures uses a broad set of tools — including gifts, grants, investments, and startup activity — for charitable, educational, and commercial efforts with a public purpose. The Schmidt Futures initiative brings together the efforts of various charitable and non-charitable entities to improve their potential impact by making diverse types of capital available to supported efforts.

Article courtesy of ASU Office of University Initiatives.

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Hugh Downs Invitational welcomes the great high school debates

December 28, 2018

ASU Forensics sets the stage for Arizona’s largest high school speech and debate tournament

  • speech (/spēCH/), a formal address or discourse delivered to an audience, or what ASU business student Lauren Barney calls confidence building.
  • de·bate (/dəˈbāt/), a formal discussion on a particular topic and the way ASU engineering major Tanzil Chowdhury likes to keep up with the world around him.

Lauren Barney and Tanzil Chowdhury are members of the forensics team at Arizona State University, a diverse community of speech and debate enthusiasts who parley the power of parlance into competitive communication. They are also part of a small but driven class of students who chose to continue speech and debate competition at the college level after participating in ASU’s Hugh Downs School of Human Communication Invitational in their not-so-distant high school past.

“High school forensics is massive and getting more participants every year as evidenced by the scores of students we are seeing at this tournament in recent years,” said Adam Symonds, director of ASU Forensics. “This tournament is about offering an opportunity for anyone from any type of forensics event to be here and our goal is to offer one campus, one stop for high schools to bring all of their students to campus to compete in different events.” 

Formerly known as the Southwest Championship, the Hugh Downs School invitational is the largest high school speech and debate tournament in Arizona. More than 125 schools from more than 20 states and two countries — the U.S. and Taiwan — are expected to participate in public speaking and debate events over three days, from Jan. 4 to 6. 

Symonds says high school students who visit ASU’s Tempe campus to participate in the Invitational embrace the opportunity to see where they can potentially go to school and he’s hoping that the tournament will also entice more students to join ASU Forensics given the benefits speech and debate offers to students across all disciplines.

“It teaches clarification of personal values; how to conduct credible research; develop advocacies that are meaningful to you; and how to speak on your feet,” Symonds said. “Professionally, we see what folks really want out of their employees are people who can anticipate data, bring an argument to bear and defend it. Debate is really useful because it changes the way your brain works. It changes the way you think about things. You can make better comparative assessments.”

Now a sophomore in ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business, Barney joined ASU Forensics in her first semester at ASU after learning through high school speech and debate that she wasn’t as shy about speaking in public as she once thought she was.

“I have been able to transfer a lot of the skills that I had in high school, but I’ve also been able to learn so much more in college.” Barney said. “College debate has more freedom when it comes to researching what you want, and I really appreciate being able to strengthen the skills I learned in high school.”

Chowdhury said the ASU high school tournament was a perennial activity for his debate team in his teenage years and that being a part of ASU Forensics has been extremely rewarding and a welcome complement to his junior year studies in engineering and science.

“I get to read about so many different things like philosophy and politics that I wouldn’t get to read about otherwise. I get to engage with a great group of people, coaches and other members of our team. I get to travel across the country — it’s just been really fun.”

Video by Ken Fagan and Suzanne Wilson/ASU 

Clark Olson, an instructor in the Hugh Downs School and the director of ASU Forensics from 1984 to 1999, said ASU has earned quite a reputation as a national leader in collegiate speech and debate tournaments in recent decades and has taken pride in former students who were motivated by skill and inspired by experiences in ASU Forensics to pursue their chosen career paths — TV writer and producer Anthony Zuiker among them.

“We had Tony Zuiker, who was the founder of ‘CSI,’” Olson said in reference to the forensics TV crime drama “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” “Because the term ‘forensics’ is always misinterpreted as being about dead bodies — when it actually means speaking for judgment — Tony decided to capitalize on forensics, using it in the modern way people think of the term, to create the TV series.”

Zuiker’s pal, actor, producer and “CSI” writer Dustin Abraham also shored up the ASU Forensics squad during his years at the university, according to Olson, along with a number of other former students who have gone on to successful careers in to politics, business, law and the performing arts.

ASU Forensics’ team started in 1885, the same year that ASU started as the Territorial Normal School. It is the oldest student organization at ASU and continues to welcome participation from undergraduates from any discipline enrolled at ASU.

“We have majors from engineering, business, English, social justice, communications, political science — you name it,” Symonds said. “The number one thing I encourage students to do is to find what motivates them — what makes them want to research and advocate — then we talk about how to make that competitive and make it a thing that people are really interested in and want to watch.”

Speech and debate fans can watch high school students — and perhaps some future ASU Forensics team members — tackle policy and prose during the 2019 Hugh Downs School of Human Communication Invitational on Jan. 4-6 at ASU's Tempe campus. Almost 2,000 students and judges participated in the 2018 event, and a similar attendance count is expected for the 2019 tournament. Final rounds will be held in large auditoriums throughout the day on Sunday, Jan. 6. Awards will be presented in the Student Pavilion Auditorium at 6 p.m. that day.

Top photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Suzanne Wilson

Sr. Media Relations Officer , ASU Media Enterprise