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2017 homeland security grad surpasses aim to achieve career goal in 10 years

Robert Campa overcame challenges in his youth to become an emergency manager in only 5 years


Portrait of ASU alum Robert Campa.

Robert Campa, emergency manager for the city of Mesa, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Robert Campa

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February 21, 2022

Holding two degrees from Arizona State University, today Robert Campa handles many important responsibilities as emergency manager in the Office of Emergency Management in Mesa, Arizona’s third largest city and the nation’s 37th largest.

To achieve his success, he had much to overcome, starting with a difficult childhood.

Campa was the middle child in a single-parent household in El Paso, Texas, where he said his mother struggled with drug addiction. He said his father, who battled alcohol addiction, was often absent, going in and out of prison throughout most of his youth.

The situation had its negative effects, Campa said.

“I made some poor choices growing up and had to repeat my sophomore year in high school,” he said.

Campa eventually graduated high school, and after considering military service, he decided at age 18 to move to Arizona.

“I had $60 in my pocket and a job interview lined up,” he said. “Because I refused to become a victim of my circumstances, I have been able to put myself into the position I am in now.”

He earned his Bachelor of Science in criminology and criminal justice in 2015 with a certificate in homeland security. His Master of Arts in emergency management and homeland security followed in 2017.

He pledged to become an emergency manager within 10 years, accomplishing the goal in only five.

In addition to his career with the city of Mesa, Campa is a faculty associate in the ASU School of Public Affairs, part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, where he teaches a class in hazards and risk management.

Read on to learn more about Campa’s path to attaining an admirable career in public service.

Question: How did your time at the Watts College prepare you for life afterward?

Answer: My time in college helped me develop discipline, even when no one is looking, along with networking skills. Many of my professors I had while attending Watts College I have worked with in my job, and still work with often. I stay connected with many of them, and I consider a couple of them very good friends. My line of work revolves around providing service to our communities daily. Without the discipline, knowledge and the network I gained in college, I would not be where I am today.

Q: Tell us about the achievements since graduating you are proudest of. Why?

A: I worked at the State Farm Stadium COVID-19 vaccination site from when it opened until it closed and transitioned indoors. I became the on-site branch director, managing operations for the entire site. I managed a leadership team of about 15 people and over 300 contractors. To impact people’s lives daily and see the smiles on their faces truly made the long days and nights worth it.

Out of college, I set a goal to become an emergency manager within 10 years. I was able to do it in five.

Attaining my Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) designation from the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) is another, because it’s the highest designation you can achieve in our field.

Being accepted to and graduating from the Emerging Leaders Program at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, was a huge accomplishment. It is a very competitive application process since people from all over the country apply and only 32 are selected.

Q: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

A: I wanted to become a police officer growing up, which is why I chose to pursue my undergraduate degree in criminology and criminal justice. I took a couple of electives in homeland security, which were cyberterrorism and domestic terrorism. I had a craving to learn more in this field, so I decided to pursue a graduate degree in it.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: While attending Chandler-Gilbert Community College, I was introduced to ASU’s Criminology and Criminal Justice Pathways program. This program would allow me to transfer my earned credits, and with meeting some other requirements, I would be admitted to ASU.

Plus, being a Sun Devil is way better than a cat, so it was a no-brainer.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: Coming from where I did, there wasn’t a big emphasis on education. I did not know what to expect. The diversity, the programs, the instructors, my classmates and the culture were all a surprise to me.

Q: If you had college to experience all over again, what would you do differently? The same?

A: I wasn’t a traditional student because I was a few years older than most; I had a son who depended on me, I had a full-time job and I lived off campus. I didn’t really get the full college experience of living on campus and all that comes with it. But would I do it again (differently)? Probably not. I may not be in the position in life that I am now if I did do it over again. Now I work that much harder to make sure my kids can have that experience if they choose to go to college.

Q: What is your favorite sports team and why?

A: I am a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. I grew up in Texas, and they are everywhere you go. Blue, silver, white, Dallas Cowboys all over the place. Football season is like its own holiday where you get at least 17 weekends of it. You can gather with friends/family, good food and some football. The camaraderie is a big reason why.

Q: What is your life motto in one sentence?

A: “If you do what is easy, your life will be hard, but if you do what is hard, your life will be easy.” –Les Brown, motivational speaker

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