PM Summit 2020 creates inclusive environment for project managers to collaborate

September 17, 2020

In a profession where planned projects fail 70% of the time, project management professionals of all experience levels need a place to have open and honest conversations about successes, learning opportunities and ways to grow. 

On Thursday, Sept. 10, more than 130 attendees gathered virtually for the inaugural PM Summit to do just that. A collaboration between Arizona State University’s PM Network and the Veteran Project Manager Mentor Alliance (VPMMA), the PM Summit offered a safe place for everyone from students to industry experts to have real conversations and share thoughtful advice on how to be better project managers. Arizona State University PM Network Logo Download Full Image

From an idea to a digital immersive event

“Where do project managers share the wins and losses, the success factors and theories, principles and practices that don't work?” said Warick Pond, executive director of the University Technology Office's Strategic Implementation Office. “We got excited at the idea of bringing project managers from nonprofit and for-profit organizations together to share amongst themselves.” 

“We” in that conversation included Joe Pusz, co-founder of the VPMMA and founder and president of the PMO Squad, who was excited to pair with Warick and the ASU PM Network.

“The mission at VPMMA is to provide industry-based project management career mentorship and networking opportunities for our great nation’s service-members, veterans and military spouses,” Pusz said. “This aligns with the purpose for the PM Summit and was a great opportunity for us to contribute with speakers, staff and planning.”

Pond, Pusz and more than a dozen other project management professionals – including Jennifer Smolnik, former president elect of the ASU PM Network – gathered to create engaging event programming for a range of project managers.

“It was the first time ASU PM Network was able to engage with staff, students and the project management community outside of ASU for this kind of event,” Smolnik said. “We wanted attendees to come together from multiple levels of experience for real conversations about more than just concepts, being candid about what works and what doesn’t, how we can better lead projects and organizations and why caring about our people matters.”

Becoming better project managers ... together

Executive Director of UTO’s Strategic Implementation Office Warick Pond

Warwick Pond speaks during the PM Summit.

Pond began the morning’s events welcoming attendees to the first-ever PM Summit.

He then passed the spotlight to award-winning changemaker Courtney Stanley, who delivered her session, "Shaken, Not Stirred: Leading from the Inside-Out in an Upside-Down World."

Stanley offered the PM Summit community many thought-provoking questions during her keynote, asking them to think about the things that inspire them.

Because in these challenging times, Stanley said, “you have control over what inspires you.” 

PM Summit Keynote Speaker Courtney Stanley

PM Summit keynote speaker Courtney Stanley.

She spoke to the PM Summit attendees about topics like the five stages of grief, and in order to lead others, you need to care for yourself first. “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” Stanley said. “Supporting yourself is the first step to supporting others.”


1. Make the first move: Set goals! Dream big, think small. What brings you joy?

2. Take another step: Track it. Create awareness of progress. How are you spending your time?

3. The final move: Be transparent. Let others cheer you on. Lean on your people. Love your people.

Stanley also touched on five habits of highly empathetic people (be curious, challenge prejudice, find commonality, listen hard and open up), four tools to increase emotional intelligence and five ways to become a better servant leader — a theme that was also popular in several breakout sessions.

5 ways to become a better servant leader

“This crisis doesn’t have to be about the setback,” Stanley said. “Make it about the comeback.”

After Stanley's talk, attendees were invited to two back-to-back breakout sessions, with topics that included: navigating organizational change, finding your value proposition, process streamlining, increasing inclusivity in the field of project management, change leadership, employee empowerment and more.

Pusz, who presented “Empowering People to Deliver Results,” explained that events like the PM Summit and organizations such as VPMMA provide an opportunity for project management professionals with experience to share and those just starting out to learn.

“’A rising tide lifts all boats’ is a saying I love — we don’t need to compete, rather we should work together for the benefit of all,” Pusz said. “I feel strongly that service and giving back are necessary and help to advance any community. Project managers face so much pressure to produce, and they should have a community to lean on when times are tough.”  

In the end, the event organizers felt the PM Summit achieved their goals of creating a place to help project management professionals at all experience levels.

“We have much to offer in terms of mentoring and coaching to give back within the community of project professionals,” Pond said. “We have an obligation to do just that to ensure the next generation of project managers are successful.”

Stephanie King

Content Strategist, University Technology Office

ASU professor strives to reduce health disparities in Latino communities, advocates for first-gen students of color

September 17, 2020

Why do certain groups of people have a shorter life span? How can health disparities among poor and racialized minorities be reduced? Why are Latino communities disproportionately burdened by COVID-19? These are just a few of the questions Gilberto Lopez, a new assistant professor in Arizona State University’s School of Transborder Studies, strives to answer in his work.

Lopez takes a mixed-method approach in his research that combines his social science background and public health expertise to gain a more holistic understanding of various public health issues in minority communities. Man in glasses and sweater Gilberto Lopez, assistant professor in Arizona State University’s School of Transborder Studies. Download Full Image

When the COVID-19 pandemic first swept the United States, Lopez became increasingly interested in understanding the immediate and long-term effects the virus would have on the economic and psychosocial well-being of Latino populations in Arizona and California. Through his research he found that due to a number of factors Latinos are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19

In an effort to address one aspect of this issue, Lopez partnered with Creative Frontiers, an agency focused on creating behavior-change messaging, storytelling and health education, to develop the COVID Health Animation Project. The project features a series of animations on COVID-19 misinformation in different cultural contexts that are shared on social media through a number of health organizations and nonprofits.

Since the videos launched in April, the first three videos in the series have reached over 1.5 million people. Lopez is currently in the process of collecting data on the benefits and impacts of the animated videos.

Video courtesy of CHAP

Lopez has also partnered with the University of California, Merced’s Nicotine and Cannabis Policy Center to conduct in-depth interviews with Latinos in California’s agricultural Central Valley to better understand beliefs, attitudes and behaviors around COVID-19. With the results from these surveys, he hopes to quantify the aspects of the coronavirus that are misunderstood among this population and counter misinformation by developing additional animations and other resources in a culturally tailored way. He is currently in the process of collaborating with ASU’s College of Health Solutions to bring this study to Arizona.

His other work focuses on social determinants and disparities in cancer, mental health and the health inequities of rural immigrant populations.

Lopez said his motivation to do this work stems from his personal experiences growing up in rural California. As a son of Mexican immigrants who were farmworkers, he noticed a division in his community early on that led him to pursue higher education and better understand why different groups of people experience life in vastly different ways.

“My community was very divided into two groups — those who work the land and those who own the land,” Lopez said. “School allowed me to more systematically and theoretically understand these things. I started realizing that what we had always assumed was normal, like the high incidents of obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer, wasn’t actually normal and not everybody lives like that. As I learned the language and concepts, and how to ask questions through lenses of anthropology, philosophy, sociology and public health, I developed a tool kit on how to systematically ask these questions.”

For years, Lopez explored issues like these at universities around the country but said as a faculty member of color he was drawn to ASU because of the diversity among faculty and students.

“The School of Transborder Studies just feels like home. For a first-gen faculty of color, who you work with is very important. Working with people who have your same history, same background and who look like you and speak the same language, not even just literally, but the concepts, the ideas we have about what it is to be an academic, really just feels like a home.”

Lopez received a doctorate degree in social and behavioral sciences from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a master’s degree in medical anthropology from Southern Methodist University and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Chicano studies from California State University, Fresno.

Throughout his higher education experiences, Lopez said he found faculty who encouraged him. He hopes to do the same and serve as a mentor to first-generation students like himself.

“On my academic journey I was lucky enough to have mentors who took the time to understand and help. If it wasn't for them, I would not have gone to graduate school,” he said. “My door is always open. If there's anything I can do to help any student, first-gen or not, whether it's looking at graduate school programs, trying to decide on their major — anything I can do, I'm available.”

Emily Balli

Manager of marketing and communications, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences