Watts College outstanding undergrad's passion for justice, civil rights finds home at ASU

May 5, 2020

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

Anna Salas believes her life experiences led her to public service. ASU grad Anna Salas Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions overall outstanding undergraduate student Anna Salas said the most important lesson I learned in the classroom at ASU was that knowledge doesn’t always come in the form of a book or lecture approved by institutions — "I found an abundance of knowledge in mediums such as rap music, silent films, hip-hop dance, theater, radio dramas and my personal favorite, Day of the Dead celebrations." Download Full Image

“Ever since I can remember, I have helped my family navigate the world of public administration, from translating documents for my parents to helping different family members go through the citizenship process,” she said.

The spring 2020 Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions overall outstanding undergraduate student grew up in North Las Vegas, Nevada, where she attended Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. She said there she discovered a love for justice and equal rights, following the direction of great civil rights figures.

Salas acted on that newfound passion as a high school student in Odessa, Texas, where she founded a chapter of Amnesty International.

“Through this chapter, my cabinet and I were able to educate my school and town on the Declaration of Human Rights and human rights injustices all over the world,” she said. “We enabled students and teachers alike to engage in these issues through letter-writing campaigns and fundraising activities for the organization.”

Salas said the experiences all led her to decide on continuing a life of service, and she found ASU’s degree program in public service and public policy at the School of Public Affairs “a perfect fit for me, allowing me to continue with my passions and create a positive social change.”

As she was deciding on where to attend college, she said she was “ecstatic” to get a scholarship offer from ASU.

“This was only reaffirmed when I asked my favorite high school teacher what he thought of the university. He told me that it was a fantastic university, his first choice for school when he was my age, actually. From that moment on, it was settled,” Salas said. “I went from not even considering Arizona State University as an option to not being able to imagine going to another university.”

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: I think one of the valuable lessons I learned at ASU or otherwise was the fact that college students are not the normal, young, fresh-out-of-high-school students everyone has in mind. In my college experience, I met peers from a variety of different backgrounds. I feel as though Arizona State has prepared me for a complex work environment where I can connect with different individuals. This is because Arizona State University provides its students with a complex variety of connections both in and out of our work environment. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: The most important lesson I learned from one from one of my professors at ASU came from Mathew Sandoval at Barrett, the Honors College. His seminar-style course, The Human Event, can be tailored to the professor’s wishes as long as it meets the scope of what Barrett teaches its student body. What Dr. Sandoval taught me was that knowledge doesn’t always come in the form of a book or lecture approved by institutions. Knowledge can also be imparted in other forms not credited with legitimacy because of their rudimentary roots. In his class and under his direction, I found an abundance of knowledge in mediums such as rap music, silent films, hip-hop dance, theater, radio dramas and my personal favorite, Day of the Dead celebrations, all teaching me valuable lessons in life that I would have never acquired through a textbook.

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

A: It is OK to not be OK. College is a huge change in one’s life, and sometimes big changes are hard to deal with. Depression, anxiety and imposter’s syndrome are all normal and common feelings college students experience, especially in their first few years. I struggled with these issues, myself, my freshman and sophomore years of college. Being away from home for the first time in an unfamiliar environment truly affected my happiness and mental health. The narrative that college is supposed to be the best years of my life really skewed the perception I had of myself because I believed there must be something wrong with me for not enjoying it as much as my peers. But the truth is, these emotions are common and there are many resources the university can connect you with to help you get through them. It is hard finding one’s place, especially in one of the biggest public universities in the United States — but you are not alone, and once you find your niche, you will find your home away from home.

Q: As an on-campus student, what was your favorite spot to study or to just think about life?

A: As a downtown on-campus student, I would have to say that my favorite spot to study or think about life is the hidden patio on the fifth floor of Beus Center for Law and Society. While the rest of the downtown campus is filled with hustle and bustle, this small outdoor patio offers serenity and peace. It’s a place where you can study for your upcoming public affairs test or just take in the sun and cool breeze of an Arizona spring.

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

A: I would start a fund to help support service-industry workers in the Phoenix metro area. On March 17, 2020, Mayor Kate Gallego declared the city of Phoenix in a state of emergency. This led to the closure of countless bars and restaurants across the Valley, with the exception of carry-out or delivery. This led to the sudden unemployment of hundreds of individuals. My own home away from home was affected by this. My roommates and I all worked at a downtown restaurant called Chico Malo. It was where we met and where we continued getting our livelihood from. Overnight, our livelihoods were taken away. We didn’t know that the last time we clocked out of work or joked with our coworkers would in effect become the very last time.

I have become the only breadwinner in a household of four, thanks to an internship I am currently working in. However, my roommates aren’t as fortunate. Now we are struggling to pay bills, having to have a difficult conversation with our landlord about rent and the ability to keep a roof over our heads. Having the $40 million and starting a fund would ensure that others like my roommates and I have security in such a dire time. Restaurant and bar staff become like family the more you work with one another; from complaining about ridiculous customers to freaking out when we are out of clean silverware, the bonds formed there are deep. I would like to put forward that money to take care of my work family in our time of need.

Mark J. Scarp

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


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ASU experts see huge economic dropoff from pandemic, then rapid recovery

ASU experts see steep economic drop due to pandemic, then a rapid recovery.
May 5, 2020

Massive job losses likely will rebound but consumer behavior might have long-term effects

Despite almost unfathomable numbers of job losses, experts at Arizona State University are predicting that economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic could be rapid. However, our radically changed lifestyles could produce lingering effects.

The professors emphasized the unique nature of the speedy economic downturn over the last six weeks, since Americans were told to stay home, and the lack of data to make unqualified forecasts.

“What most analysts see is a growth cycle of a strong third and fourth quarter, if there are advances in treatment and possibly a vaccine development for the virus,” said Lee McPheters, Research Professor of Economics in the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU and director of the school’s JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center. He spoke at the annual economic forecast event held by the Economic Club of Phoenix, a unit of W. P. Carey. The panel discussion was held online Tuesday.

Economists are predicting various scenarios, including a V-shaped, U-shaped, L-shaped or W-shaped recession, according to Dennis Hoffman, an economist and the director of the L. William Seidman Research Institute at the W. P. Carey School.

“Some see a V-shaped scenario where the second quarter is very, very deep but immediately followed by a strong rebound,” Hoffman said.

“A U-shaped scenario lasts several quarters but once the economy gains its footing, it rebounds rapidly. The key is to note that despite the different scenarios, at the end of 2021, we’re back pretty much to the same place.”

An L-shaped recession would last very long.

“An L is hard to imagine without extended versions of mutated viruses or no vaccine for years,” he said.

A W-shaped outlook would mean recovery followed by another recession if the virus comes back in the fall.

“That would mean we haven’t learned anything about this episode and frankly I find that difficult to envision,” he said.

Among the statistics the professors presented:

• Before the pandemic, Arizona was ranked third in the nation in population growth and job growth, and our wage increase of 4.4% outpaced the national rate of 3%.

• Nationwide, job losses from the pandemic are predicted to be between 22 million and 27 million. “These numbers are so staggering that we can’t think of them as permanent job losses,” Hoffman said. “They’ll be quite temporary.”

• Arizona’s 475,000 unemployment claims represent 14% of the labor force, with tourism, health care and retail hit hardest. McPheters expects Arizona’s job loss to hit 540,000.

• A survey of Phoenix-area real estate brokers in April found that 32% were pessimistic about the real estate market, and 46% felt the market is moving down.

• Local First AZ has distributed more than $364,000 to help keep nearly 200 small businesses afloat since March 25, but more than 1,400 businesses that applied did not receive funds.

In Arizona, the current downturn is very different from the Great Recession of a decade ago in one significant way, McPheters said. Health care actually expanded during the recession, adding 30,000 jobs, while that industry lost 300,000 jobs recently.

The long-term economic effects in the Valley could depend on the largest occupations: customer service, 79,000 jobs; retail, 68,000; food prep and food service, 44,000; cashier, 44,000; managers, 38,000; registered nurses, 38,000; office workers, 36,000, and personal care aides, 36,000.

“What this looks like is a list of occupations and industries where there is a very high risk of disease transmissions,” McPheters said.

“Customer service reps is an area where there are a lot of call centers, and while not as severe as meat-packing, call centers, because of the way they’re set up, have had problems with disease transmission.”

Forecasting is especially difficult for real estate, according to Mark Stapp, the Fred E. Taylor Professor in Real Estate in the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“Most data we look at is 30 days backward-looking, and because we’ve only been in this six weeks or so, it’s hard to make those predictions,” he said.

Nationwide surveys show mixed results for single-family home selling: Interest in home buying is down slightly, but sellers are not budging in prices.

In terms of real estate investing, times are good for people who put money into data centers, mini-storage units, grocery stores and biomedical facilities. The outlook is poor for investment in apartments, hospitality, malls and units used for short-term rentals, like AirBnb, he said.

Stapp noted that the National Restaurant Association reported that nationwide, 14% of restaurants expect to close permanently because of the pandemic.

“That’s huge for us because we have become a foodie place, and chef-driven restaurants and local concepts were a big part of our character,” he said.

“It wasn’t ‘Who’s your major tenant?’ It was, ‘What’s your food lineup?’”

Changes in human behavior related to the outbreak could have economic consequences. For example, large office buildings will likely need to spend more money on cleaning and possibly on renovations to keep office workers farther apart, Stapp said.

“Right now the average is about 100 square foot per employee, and that will likely jump up as we have social distancing,” he said. “That will reduce the utility of the space and that reduces the amount of rent.”

Hoffman said that one survey showed that 51% of people said they wanted to continue working from home when the shutdown is over.

Then there’s the fear factor.

“Will preferences for senior living facilities be permanently altered? Nobody wants to get on an airplane,” Hoffman said.

“Will urban centers lose some of their luster? Will we get foodie islands in Queen Creek, Casa Grande or Surprise? Businesses will have to face some significant decisions based on what you think the answers to those questions are.”

The crisis could be an opportunity for the Valley to rebrand itself as “the healthiest metro area” because of several factors, including an outdoor lifestyle, low density, low reliance on public transportation and low interest rates, Stapp said.

“We’re a new and young metro area, which means we can easily adapt,” he said.

“We’re going to find ingenuity and creativity, and we know we’ll need compassion.”

Top image of Phoenix by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News