ASU college reaches out to students to hear their pandemic-related concerns

Students personally received phone calls as part of the Watts Care Calling Campaign

April 30, 2020

Hundreds of Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions students at Arizona State University recently discovered some unfamiliar numbers appearing on the screens of their ringing phones. But the callers weren’t strangers.

They were volunteer Watts students reaching out on the college’s behalf through the Watts Care Calling Campaign, calling to find out how their fellow students were faring amid challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mauricio Macias, Watts Care Calling Campaign, Arizona State University Mauricio Macias made phone calls to fellow students for the Watts Care Calling Campaign in spring 2020. Download Full Image

Starting in mid-April, 10 volunteers were assigned to telephone as many Watts College students as possible. The goal was simple, but important: to let every Watts student know that their college cared about how they were holding up and if they needed help connecting to available resources. So far, more than half of the approximately 7,000 Watts College undergraduate and graduate students have been contacted. Additional resources have been added to ensure everyone is reached before the end of the semester.

Much happened at ASU in recent weeks that would explain asking. As the COVID-19 pandemic expanded in Arizona, the university successfully pivoted to bring all the spring semester’s on-the-ground classes online.

That gave most students on campus the opportunity to find places to stay where social distancing could be more easily practiced. But it also spread the Watts student body far and wide, meaning friends might no longer be close by to share the ups and downs of new routines, and ASU services usually found around the corner were suddenly more physically distant.

Students Alexia King and Mauricio Macias were part of the campaign’s team of volunteer callers.

Alexia King, Watts Care Calling Campaign, Arizona State University

Alexia King called fellow Watts College students for the Watts Cares Calling Campaign in spring 2020. 

Each was given a list containing students’ contact information and their school affiliation, and a few tips on what to say.

Most students maintained they were doing all right, Macias said.

King said she was surprised to learn that in some instances, concern was expressed in the opposite direction.

“Sometimes they asked me how I was doing rather than sharing how they were doing,” King said. “One volunteered to help make these phone calls, as well.”

Among the most talked about topics were getting and fulfilling requirements for internships while Arizonans have been strongly urged to stay home and not go to work or school. Others had academic advisement inquiries. King said that when students’ concerns became too detailed for her to answer, she would refer them to resources and offices in the college for further assistance.

Macias said he learned things about fellow students he didn’t know before, such as how many had more than one major or minor, or were taking classes on more than one ASU campus.

Watts College event program coordinator Breanna Carpenter facilitated the outreach effort. She said the calls were important for both the callers and the recipients.

“So far, I think it has been amazing,” Carpenter said. “The students have really appreciated the check-in calls and it has created a meaningful experience for the volunteers. I also think that the personal phone call has been a great way for all of our students to feel connected.

The college has previously telephoned large numbers of students during major crises. When Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston metropolitan area in August 2017, the college contacted Watts students in the region, Carpenter said.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


Chimpanzee research helped anthropology 'click' for ASU graduate

April 30, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

Anthropology clicked for Savannah Troha when she became involved with the Gombe Chimpanzee Research Project. Savannah Troha School of Human Evolution and Social Change Savannah Troha Download Full Image

She fondly describes spending an entire semester transcribing data and searching field notes for mention of a certain orphaned chimpanzee. Co-director of the Gombe Chimpanzee Database, Associate Professor Ian Gilby, warned Troha it might be a little dull, but she loved it, recalling it was like reading a story.

Troha was looking for mentions of Pax, a small male who was horrifically injured at a young age and then lost his mother shortly after. Many chimpanzees would not have survived, but Pax did. He went on to become a thriving member of the troop, and even cared for younger orphaned chimpanzees. He was interesting to Troha because he didn’t fit the behavioral mold of most male chimpanzees.

Some of the field notes she reviewed were written in Swahili. While she didn’t know the language, she began looking for codes indicating specific chimpanzees. She was enthralled with the handwritten notes, and when areas were underlined or there were additional notes scribbled in the margins, she tried translating Swahili into English just to see what the researchers were talking about.

“Even at its most mundane or ridiculous I knew that there was nothing else I wanted to do,” she said. “Anthropology and primate behavioral ecology was ‘it’ for me!”

Her time spent researching as an undergraduate student spurred an independent research project, which she intends to pursue this fall when she returns to begin a doctoral degree in anthropology. While combing through thousands of pages of field research, she noticed that occasionally when two male chimpanzees had a physical altercation, they would be observed acting affectionately toward each other afterward. She will continue to work with Gilby to research conflict resolution behavior.

One of the reasons Troha finds primate research so interesting because it can spur us to think about relationships in general and how they work. Troha is looking forward to visiting Gombe, Nigeria, during her continued studies.

Troha, from Lake in the Hills, Illinois, is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. She received funding from Studio Mechanics Local 476 Legal and Educational Assistance Fund.

She shared more about her studies at ASU.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: What are your plans after graduation?

Answer: I’m a lifelong Sun Devil! In the fall I will begin my journey as a graduate student in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and start working towards my PhD in anthropology.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose to stay at ASU because I see the brilliance in the faculty and student body and the importance of the work being done here. I think I have barely scratched the surface and still have so much more to learn from my time at ASU and I’m more excited than ever.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: My advice to those in school is to find a field that you truly love. Even if it’s not your major or something to hang your future on, find something that makes you excited to learn and explore that. And if it is your major or something to hang your future on, be grateful and try to never lose that excitement.

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

A: I would use the money to support female education. The education of women and girls is so important, and I wish every girl had the same opportunities and support that I have had. Melinda Gates once said, “When we invest in women and girls, we are investing in the people who invest in everyone else.” With that in mind, initiatives that support female education support a better world for everyone and create opportunities for women to tackle other important issues.

Taylor Woods

Communications program coordinator, School of Human Evolution and Social Change