ASU student project recognized for work with town of Clarkdale

17 ASU Master of Urban and Environmental Planning alumni and faculty awarded honorable mention by the Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association

September 18, 2020

Tucked just north of the Phoenix metropolitan area, adjacent to popular travel destinations including Sedona and Jerome, sits the smaller and perhaps lesser-known 10-square-mile town of Clarkdale.

The historic mining town situated in Arizona’s Verde Valley boasts a unique history as Arizona’s first “master-planned community” and is host to a tourism economy with a burgeoning art scene, outdoor recreation opportunities and scenic vistas.  Downtown Clarkdale conceptual rendering created by ASU Master of Urban and Environmental Planning students. Download Full Image

But like many small aging historic towns, Clarkdale faces modern-day urban planning challenges. In recent years, many of the historic commercial buildings have remained vacant, 100-plus-year-old residential structures have evolved without historic preservation, and an undeveloped section of a highway commercial corridor has yet to be fully utilized for its potential. 

This past spring, a class of ASU Master of Urban and Environmental Planning students — led by Meagan Ehlenz, assistant professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, and co-instructor, Kim Kanuho — took on these challenges, partnering with the town of Clarkdale to create a set of design guidelines that established a vision and could guide future development within the town.

For their work, the class was recently recognized by the American Planning Association (APA) Arizona Chapter as the winners of the Honorable Mention Award in the Student Planning Project Category at the APA Arizona annual conference. 

“The students created an exemplary project, demonstrating a high-degree of professionalism, innovation, and applied solutions,” Ehlenz said. “It addresses key concerns for Clarkdale, as the community works to identify ways to protect its heritage and manage future growth along the major highway arterial within the Verde Valley.” 

Tackling real-world problems

As part of ASU’s Master of Urban and Environmental Planning degree graduation coursework, all students complete a capstone project that applies their education to hands-on, real-world problems.

Through work that grew out of a partnership between ASU’s Project Cities and Clarkdale, the graduate planning workshop class gave students the opportunity to execute a complete research analysis with the town and offer a set of planning strategies to protect and improve the Clarkdale community. 

“The project allowed me to see what it would be like to work in a planning field, and whether I enjoyed it or not,” said Trung Vu, a spring 2020 Master of Urban and Environmental Planning graduate who was involved in the class. “Most importantly, it provided me with experiences, lessons and tools to move into the next stage of my life.” 

Over the course of the spring 2020 semester, the cohort of graduate students immersed themselves with Clarkdale staff and local residents, learning about the challenges the town faced and the ultimate goals they had hoped to see from the project. 

Students walked the streets and surrounding areas, interacting with business owners and community members, listening to concerns and deepening their understanding of the impact planning designs and recommendations could have on individual lives. 

“Planning documents are road maps to achieving visions through people-focused policies, strategies, and investments to improve all lives,” Vu said. “Usually, it’s more cost-effective for local governments to hire a consultant than hiring additional staff, and why the Planning Workshop made it possible for the town of Clarkdale.”

“Our work helps guide the Downtown District and the 89A Commercial Corridor vision and support future planning efforts without spending valued tax-payer money.”

Additionally, students organized and held a community engagement meeting that allowed Clarkdale stakeholders to share real-time feedback and contribute to development concepts. Students reviewed existing plan documents and relied on their academic knowledge to inform their recommendations. 

The final report provided planning strategies that focused on Clarkdale’s two main business districts — Clarkdale’s historic downtown and a portion of State Route 89A that runs through the town — as complementary destinations. It emphasized local economic development and support of Clarkdale’s “live-work-play” identity while preserving its small-town character.

“The work performed by the students and the resultant document create a foundation for growth and revitalization for our town,” said Ruth Mayday, community development director of the town of Clarkdale. “I was impressed with their enthusiasm, creativity and breadth of knowledge. They were a great group and I enjoyed every moment working with them.” 

“The report provided detailed information for implementation, and the document as a whole will likely serve as a Specific Area Plan.”

A project that’s ‘worth it’ 

While the student project benefited the future planning of the town of Clarkdale, students say that being part of the project was also instrumental in their personal growth as professional planners. 

“This class highlighted to me how important it is to identify team members’ different strengths and skills,” said Beth Freelander, a spring 2020 Master of Urban and Environmental Planning graduate who was involved in the project. “While all of my classmates, including myself, had opportunities to hone our skills where we had weaknesses, our ability to make use of everyone’s strengths truly elevated the quality of our work and allowed for each of us to learn from each other’s strengths.”

Nicole Baltazar, a Master of Urban and Environmental Planning spring 2020 alumna who was also involved in the project, agrees. 

“Having these connections through a class is honestly such an amazing opportunity that I am so grateful ASU provides.” 

“I think it is a huge honor and it makes me proud of both myself and my classmates,” Baltazar said about the recognition their project received by the AZ-APA. “There were a lot of late and sleepless nights that my classmates and I had, so this recognition is a wonderful reminder that it was all worth it.” 

David Rozul

Media Relations Officer, Media Relations and Strategic Communications


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ASU Alumni Association business awards hit milestone in 5th year

ASU alum went from selling T-shirts to tailgaters to winning Sun Devil 100.
September 18, 2020

Sun Devil 100 event honors a full complement of top firms led by alumni

David Freedman’s entrepreneurial journey spanned a wide range of experiences at Arizona State University. He went from selling T-shirts at Sun Devil Stadium as a student in the early 2000s to winning the 2020 Sun Devil 100 award for having the fastest-growing business created, owned or led by an ASU alumnus.

Freestar, which was named as the top Sun Devil 100 company on Sept. 17, is an advertising technology firm co-founded by Freedman, who earned a bachelor’s degree in real estate in 2005, and Chris Stark, who earned a master’s degree in real estate development in 2011. They started Freestar in 2015 and now have 62 employees.

“I’m from Philadelphia and people who know me know I have a lot of Philadelphia pride, but now I call Phoenix home and that all started with ASU,” Freedman said during the Zoom celebration.

“W. P. Carey is what drew me to Arizona State and the Palm Walk definitely did not hurt either, coming from the East Coast.”

Freedman started selling T-shirts to tailgaters in Lot 59 and later walked along Mill Avenue selling ads for local calendars before meeting Stark.

“None of this is possible without ASU and the incredible community that’s been built here,” Freedman said.

This was the fifth Sun Devil 100 event, and the first year that a full 100 companies were eligible to be honored by the ASU Alumni Association. All nominated firms have to have been in business at least three years, have annual revenues of at least $250,000 and be founded or led by an ASU alumnus.

The 100 businesses are owned by 127 former Sun Devils who have earned 155 degrees from ASU, across every college.

The Sun Devil 100 Class of 2020 had revenues of $6.1 billion and employ more than 10,200 people in 10 states. The firms include the well-known Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup, Dircks Moving and Logistics, and the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, whose president and CEO is Molly Terbovich-Ridenhour, who earned a master’s degree in dance in 2002. Others in the top 100 include a behavioral health agency, a fitness business, a talent-booking agency, a pizza restaurant, two wineries, a Virginia-based architecture and design firm, and Tommy John, a New York-based clothing brand founded by Erin Fujimoto and Tom Patterson, two alums who cashed in their 401k accounts to reimagine men’s underwear.

The Sun Devil 100 event was hosted by Ray Schey, publisher of the Phoenix Business Journal, and Kylee Cruz, reporter and anchor for AZ Family and a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU. They were in a studio during the event and interviewed the winners, David Freedman (right) and Chris Stark, via Zoom. Photo by Tim Trumble

Rounding out the top 10 of the class of 2020 were:

2. Design Pickle, a graphics-design subscription service founded by Russ Perry, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary studies in 2005.

3. SeaBay Building Group, a construction firm co-founded by R. Vincent Switzer, who earned a bachelor’s degree in supply chain management in 2004 and an MBA in 2007. The company’s chief operating officer is J. Armando Martinez, who earned a bachelor’s degree in construction management in 2005.

4. Tallwave, a marketing and public relations company founded by Jeffrey Pruitt, who earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1994.

5. MDSL, a technology company that has four former Sun Devils in leadership: Charles Layne, CEO, bachelor’s degree in marketing, 1998; Aaron Zeper, vice president, bachelor’s degree in finance, 1995; Rob Stratton, marketing director, bachelor’s degree in marketing, 2006, and Tom Feeley, vice president for global sales, bachelor’s degree in marketing, 1992.

6. Print.Save.Repeat, a toner cartridge business founded by Errol Berry, who earned a bachelor’s degree in supply-chain management in 2002.

7. Envida, a marketing and public-relations firm owned by 2006 graduates Alana Millstein, who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and Candie Guay, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing.

8. Pinnacle Growth Advisers, a human-resources and labor-relations firm founded by Brent Orsuga, who also is the president and who earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in 2000.

9. Willmeng Construction, whose president and CEO is James Murphy, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in construction, in 1998 and 2009.

10. Press Coffee, co-owned by Jason Kyle, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1994.

The event highlighted seven alumni whose businesses have been honored all five years: Errol Berry, of Print.Save.Repeat; Kathleen Duffy Ybarra, of the Duffy Group; Jennifer Kaplan, of Evolve Public Relations and Marketing; Joel McFadden of Fan Interactive Marketing; Matt Michalowski of PXL; Cliff Schertz of Tiempo; and Lisa VanBockern of Skin Script.

VanBockern, who earned bachelor’s degrees in accountancy and computer information systems, said the Sun Devil 100 has strengthened her bond with ASU.

“When I graduated in 1998, I took my two diplomas and put them in $3 wood frames,” she said.

She joined the ASU Alumni Association, but was not active. She founded Skin Script, an online retailer of skin-care products, in 2007.

“One day I got the Sun Devil 100 email. I loved ASU and I had such a great experience, I thought, ‘I’ll nominate myself,’” she said.

VanBocken had endowed a scholarship, but after being honored for the first time, in 2015, when she was one of only three women, she increased the amount of the endowment and became involved in Women in Philanthropy, part of the ASU Foundation.

“I’m glad this program was developed because it brings me back to ASU and the warm feelings I had of when I was going to college,” she said.

“My diplomas have been reframed in much more expensive frames in my office, along with my Sun Devil 100 awards.”

The entrepreneurs also received congratulations from Jake Plummer, the quarterback who led the Sun Devils to an undefeated regular season and the 1996 championship of what was then the Pac-10. He said that’s he’s now an entrepreneur himself, launching ReadyList Pro, an interactive football playbook training platform.

“I’m warning you – I’m a competitor, so watch out. I’ll be vying for that No. 1 spot someday,” said Plummer, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame last year.

Watch the Sun Devil 100 event recording and view the complete ranked list.

Top image by Tim Trumble

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News