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ASU alumna honored with JFK Profile in COVID Courage Award

June 9, 2021

ICU nurse Lauren Leander, who stood up to mask-mandate protestors, honored in virtual ceremony

All her life Lauren Leander has been told she needs to speak up and participate more.

“I’ve always been the quiet one, I’ve always been more subdued. I have never been one to be loud or draw attention to myself. I’ve been like that since I was a kid,” said Leander.

So it’s not lost on the intensive care unit nurse that she became known globally for a counterprotest in which she stood masked, silent and defiant with two other nurses in the midst of an angry crowd at a protest to reopen Arizona’s economy.

After the protest, a powerful image taken by Arizona Republic photographer Michael Chow of Leander’s silent counterprotest went viral, and she was met with a deluge of interview requests from major media outlets. She was finally ready to use her voice.

“The world just pushed me into this spotlight and pushed me out of my shell. This is the first time in my life that I’ve really come out of it, and it’s done a lot for me in a lot of ways,” she said.

Since that day in April 2020, Leander, an alumna of ASU’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, continued working in the COVID-19 unit of her hospital while also making use of the spotlight to advocate on behalf of her patients and health care colleagues.

She also started a wildly successful GoFundMe campaign that raised $286,000 to buy personal protective equipment, medical supplies and compassion fatigue gifts for Navajo and Hopi front-line nurses. 

Her bravery and continued advocacy were recently recognized by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation as part of its annual John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, which honors public officials. President Barack Obama and Gabrielle Giffords are previous recipients.  

This year, the foundation wanted to find a way to also honor civilians who have been on the front lines of the pandemic, going above and beyond to help their communities. 

They established the JFK Profile in COVID Courage Award to do just that, putting out a call for nominations, and thousands poured in. Leander was one of seven people from around the country selected to receive the honor.

Candy Barchenger, a complete stranger to Lauren, was the one who submitted her for the award after seeing her iconic photo in the paper and reading her story. That image and Leander’s story brought her to tears.

“When I saw a request for nominations for the JFK Profiles in COVID Courage Award, my mind flashed to the photo of Lauren. Her actions were synonymous with courage! Nominating her was an honor. It was a way to express my gratitude for the inspiration and hope that her actions provided during the dark days of the pandemic,” said Barchenger.

No one was more surprised than Leander when she found out about the award from some very special people during a Zoom call facilitated by ASU President Michael Crow.

“Total shock. I think I was already in shock, like, why does President Crow want to talk to me? And then to have Caroline Kennedy on the screen... It was just flooring. I felt really honored just to meet them and talk to them. It was super-cool and very humbling,” she said.

The ceremony was held virtually in late May with Jimmy Fallon hosting.

Leander’s mother, Sandy Leander, who is an ASU employee, was interviewed as part of the video piece for the ceremony. 

She had this to say about her daughter: “Lauren showed an incredible amount of courage to stay calm in the face of adversity. And her silence in the midst of a volatile situation was more powerful than words ever could have been. Through it all — from volunteering to work the COVID unit to raising funds to help her colleagues — her bravery and compassion for others were like a beacon during dark times. To be recognized by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for her courage is truly an honor that is well-deserved. I’m so very proud of her.”

Crow also saw Leander’s powerful picture in the newspaper, and said he was so impressed by her courage that he reached out immediately to thank her for her outstanding efforts.

In a letter supporting Leander’s nomination for the award, Crow said in part, “Her silent and firm stance against misinformation spoke volumes. … She continues to take great risk in working the COVID-19 unit and serving as a voice for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities at a time when speaking out remains controversial. ASU is proud to have her as an alum, as she is an excellent example for our students and all people.”

Teri Pipe, dean emeritus of Edson College and ASU’s chief well-being officer, remembers Leander fondly and said she is “a shining example of nurse advocacy and leadership.”

Following Leander’s continued COVID-19 awareness efforts and passion to support fellow nurses over the last year, Pipe can’t help but feel delighted by the nurse and champion Leander has grown into.

“Lauren has demonstrated admirable accountability on behalf of her patients and colleagues, reaching a level of influence in the broader community and society as evidenced by this award. She’s a wonderful representation of Sun Devil nursing and her courage has made us all very proud,” Pipe said. 

Barchenger, who initiated this process, said watching the ceremony once again brought her to tears, but this time it was tears of joy.

“Courage comes at a cost and she didn’t hesitate to put herself at risk for others. Through her actions, she answered JFK’s challenge to 'Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.' I am thrilled that Lauren is a recipient of this prestigious award and has been recognized for her selfless actions,” she said.

Throughout the pandemic Leander was not big on being called a hero or brave — after all, she was just doing her job, taking care of and advocating on behalf of her patients both at the bedside and through her newfound media platform.

“I’ve just been a nurse, and classically, nurses are the ones who just put their head down and just do the work that needs to be done,” said Leander.

But this experience has fundamentally changed her. She says it lit a fire inside of her and made her see all that she is capable of. And the award itself came at the perfect time for contemplation.

“It gave me a chance to sit and reflect and feel really proud and realize that this thing was a lot bigger than I realized it would ever be. So it was super special not only to meet them but to have the honor of this award and realize like, 'OK, I did something pretty cool this year.'”

She’ll have a lot more time to reflect on the wild ride she’s been on over the last 16 months soon. Like many of her fellow nurses, after this traumatic year, she’s planning some much-needed time off from the hospital.

Her goal is to unplug and reset so that she can come back to the bedside refreshed. In the meantime, her hope is that perhaps the courage she found within herself will catch on.

“Maybe there are other quiet girls out there who saw my picture or saw me on TV and were inspired and found a little fire in them to speak up. Because if I can do it, they can do it, too.”

Top photo: ASU alumna and ICU nurse Lauren Leander earned global recognition after an image of her standing masked, silent and defiant in the face of angry protestors went viral, but it's what she's done since the protest that she's most proud of. Photo by Drew Gayner

Amanda Goodman

Senior communications specialist , Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation


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Students win national sustainable investing competition

June 9, 2021

ASU team centered diversity in their winning strategy

It started with the creation of the Sustainable and Impact Finance Initiative, a student organization that set out to improve corporations’ adherence to what is referred to as environmental, social and governance factors, or ESG. They do this through investing in companies that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability and equity, and avoid funding companies who do not. They also directly engage with companies as a collaborative, concerned shareholder. The organization has been integral in helping ASU to inform its long-term investments, bolstered by the guidance and support of ASU Enterprise Partners and the ASU Foundation.

Launched in fall 2020, the Sustainable and Impact Finance Initiative’s rapid growth and success as a student organization was validated with ASU’s first-place win in the SIILK Corporate Engagement Competition hosted by the Intentional Endowments Network. This competition challenged teams from four universities to produce a written report that established a publicly traded company to invest in, as well as a proposed shareholder engagement strategy. 

The teams were asked to devise an investment strategy that would advance the Intentional Endowments Network's social equity and climate goals, which put an emphasis on addressing inequality and its role in the climate crisis. In alignment with these goals, ASU’s team developed the thesis that a company that prioritizes diversity and racial justice will yield the best outcomes in terms of financial gain, as well as advancement for the Intentional Endowments Network's goals and ESG factors. This theory was informed by reports that show that racial diversity is positively correlated with profitability, and companies with above average diversity experience higher innovation revenues

“If a company is diverse in its employee base — by gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, whatever it may be — you have a wider variety of unique experiences and expertise to help shape more dynamic, creative solutions,” said Jacob Ivy, a member of the winning team and master’s degree student at the College of Global Futures’ School of Sustainability

Ivy also noted that companies that are able to adapt quickly and accordingly to new environmental regulations and policies have a major leg up on their competition. Employing individuals who understand the full range of implications that come with climate change isn’t just a moral incentive, it’s a financial one. So when you consider that women, people of color and those of lower socioeconomic standing are disproportionately affected by climate change, it’s easy to see why a company would benefit from diversifying its pool of decision-makers. 

In order to home in on their pick of which company would best embody this commitment to diversity, the ASU team outlined a set of parameters that needed to be met. The company would have to perform in line with the broader market and demonstrate successful long-term financial returns. They would not only need to be dedicated to advancing racial justice, but also receptive to shareholder engagement. Ultimately, the team chose BlackRock, Inc., a multinational investment management corporation dedicated to corporate sustainability and ESG practices.

headshots of members of the IEN SILK Student Corporate Engagement Competition winning team

“Our engagement strategy with BlackRock was to build a coalition of schools to increase our leverage in order to push BlackRock to build stronger diversity and inclusion reporting and goals within their own organization, as well as their entire investment portfolio,” Ivy explained. 

Ryan Taylor, project coordinator at ASU Enterprise Partners who assisted the winning team, believed the team’s strategic thinking that led them to select BlackRock was a key factor in their win. “BlackRock is a key partner of the ASU endowment, and as the world’s largest shareholder, they are poised to shape how the entire market approaches ESG issues,” he said. “So it is super impactful how the ASU team made a real plan to engage BlackRock, with a coalition from other universities, that our student organization (SIFI) has already started to carry out.”

ASU is well known for the mission outlined in its charter, of measuring the success of the university not by whom it excludes, but rather by whom it includes and how they succeed. This theme continues to be the driving force behind the winning team and the Sustainable and Impact Finance Initiative’s strategy as an organization.

On behalf of ASU Enterprise Partners, Chief Investment Officer Jeff Mindlin said, “We’ve been on a journey to better align our investment strategy with the mission of the university. To us, this has been centered around climate as well as justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. As a shareholder, our voice is an important lever to effect the change we want to see. Personally, I feel that the impact of these efforts has been magnified as we’ve worked with our very own ASU students to advance these initiatives.”

Madelyn Nelson

Editorial Associate , Global Futures Laboratory, Knowledge Enterprise