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New Pat Tillman Veterans Center executive director named

November 28, 2022

Part-time volunteering leads to top job at renowned veterans center

A combat veteran, book author and pastor who first started working in Arizona State University's Pat Tillman Veterans Center as an unpaid volunteer six years ago was named the center’s new leader, effective Monday, Nov. 28.

Shawn Banzhaf, a retired Nebraska Army National Guard sergeant first class and former police officer, rose to the top of a candidate pool for the executive director’s position during a national search initiated in October.

“Through the process, it became evident that Shawn’s people-first leadership style, exemplary record of service to ASU’s veteran and military-affiliated students, and rich, vibrant vision for the Pat Tillman Veterans Center distinguished him as the top choice,” said Kent Hopkins, vice president of Academic Enterprise Enrollment at ASU. “As executive director, Shawn will primarily be responsible for conceiving and implementing a bold, expansive vision of what veteran and military-affiliated services should be at ASU.”

Banzhaf becomes the third director to lead the Tillman Center since its opening in 2011, but he is the first one to come from the enlisted military ranks. The previous directors were former commissioned senior military officers.

“The Pat Tillman Veterans Center has had two incredible leaders up to this point in Steve Borden and Jeff Guimarin,” said Brett Hunt, ASU professor of practice and former executive director of the Public Service Academy in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. “Shawn is the ideal leader to take the work of the center to the next level. As a retired noncommissioned officer and combat veteran, he is an incredible role model for veterans here at ASU.

“He has stood in front of their formations and walked in their boots.”  

Banzhaf started working in the veterans center in 2016 as a volunteer chaplain, coming in twice a week to offer counseling to student veterans and staff. After a year and a half of volunteering, a paid military advocate position opened up. He went for it but fell short. He wasn’t chosen, at first.

“They offered the job to someone else, and they declined it,” said Banzhaf, a native of Chadron, Nebraska. “So they offered me the job, and I jumped at the chance and became the military advocate.”

Marine veteran Edward Brady, a graduate student with Watts College, has worked at the Tillman Center since 2020 and has gotten to know Banzhaf. 

“Shawn has always served as a leader, a mentor and a friend,” Brady said. “He has helped me in many ways, most notably helping me get accepted into my graduate program. Shawn has an amazing passion for helping the veteran community. 

“As director, I know that he will put our community before himself, will serve with compassion and will do everything he can to make ASU the place for student veterans.”

Most recently, Banzhaf served as associate director of student and academic innovations. In that role, he led a team responsible for providing strategic analysis for student success life cycles for more than 10,600 military-affiliated ASU students enrolled on campus and ASU Online. He has also been a facilitator in ASU’s Treks for Vets program, and he serves as the ASU Staff Council president. 

Banzhaf served in the Army National Guard for 21 years, retiring as the acting first sergeant for the 1057th Transportation Company based in Nebraska. During his time in the guard, Banzhaf earned the Bronze Star and the Army Combat Action Badge for his actions during 100 combat missions around Baghdad, Ramadi and Fallujah, Iraq, in 2006.  

Combat exposure and subsequent post-traumatic stress inspired Banzhaf to write “The Five Ls: A Practical Guide for Helping Loved Ones Heal After Trauma.” Banzhaf supports the “trauma-informed” movement in Arizona and is a sought-after speaker for local veterans groups and law enforcement agencies. He regularly speaks publicly about PTSD and suicide prevention within the veteran community.  

“His experience taught him countless life lessons, and he makes every effort to pass those lessons onto the people he cares about,” Brady said. “Shawn’s caring attitude and determined work ethic are things that I hope to embody in my personal and professional life.” 

The number of military-affiliated students at ASU has grown exponentially from just under 2,000 when the Pat Tillman Veterans Center opened to approaching 11,000 today. Despite the resounding success supporting the student growth, much work remains, and Banzhaf has ideas for the future. 

“People talk about ‘the funnel’ in higher education, and even though we say student veterans are nontraditional, we funnel them through the traditional model often,” Banzhaf said. “I want to flip the funnel.”

In the future, Banzhaf wants student veterans to see the center as a place to prepare them for what’s next and help them achieve what he just did: land that “dream job.”

“Part of that is making some changes that really make career, professional development, a giant thing at the Pat Tillman Veterans Center,” Banzhaf said. “That’s part of what I want to do.”

Veterans come to ASU not only seeking degrees and economic opportunities for their families but also to grow into their next life phase, said Hunt, who worked closely with Banzhaf on civil-military events, such as Salute to Service and the Veterans Scholar Program

“While traditionally the focus has been on providing excellent service in helping veterans access their benefits, I believe the next phase is providing more holistic support to the growth of veterans while they are here at ASU,” Hunt said. “Shawn is perfectly placed as director of the center to build out that part of the work.” 

In November 2017, soon after Banzhaf was hired full time at the center, his supervisor at the time asked him, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

His response: “Running this place.”

That conversation happened “five years to the week” of him finding out he was chosen to be the next executive director of the center, Banzhaf said.

“The Pat Tillman Veterans Center and ASU are national leaders in this space, and with Shawn, we have the right leader to charge forward,” Hunt said.

Top image: Moderator Shawn Banzhaf (left) leads a discussion during the panel "Combating Military Suicide: How the Brandon Act Will Prioritize Mental Health Care in the Military," held April 12 at the Memorial Union in Tempe. The Pat Tillman Veterans Center hosted the event featuring Sen. Mark Kelly and the parents of Brandon Caserta, who died by suicide while on active duty with the Navy. The act, named in his memory, seeks to improve the process for servicemembers to get mental health care. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Jerry Gonzalez

Assistant Director , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

Criminal justice grad appreciates greater freedom in US to choose an academic field

Germany native will become crime analyst to help with decisions to deploy law enforcement

November 28, 2022

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

One of Tatjana Carranza’s favorite things about America is how people here have significant freedom to choose their careers — including switching fields — compared to those in her homeland. Tatjana Carranza, fall 2022, outstanding graduate, ASU, criminology, criminal justice Tatjana Carranza, fall 2022 Outstanding Graduate, in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in the Watts College of Public Service and Community Service. Download Full Image

College students in her native Germany have the benefit of having their academic costs picked up by the government, Carranza said, but often the price of that paid-for education is being stuck with one’s first choice.

“Yes, it’s free, but it comes with restrictions,” said Carranza, whose initial plans were to become a language translator. “Here, you have transitions. In America I feel like I had all these opportunities.”

Carranza, the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions’ fall 2022 Outstanding Graduate in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, was born and raised in Germany, where she earned an associate degree in foreign languages, before moving to the U.S. at age 21.

Carranza gained her U.S. citizenship and is a U.S. Army veteran. She lived in Washington state and Georgia before moving in 2018 to her current home in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where her husband is still in the service.

Her bachelor’s degree was in legal studies. She decided to pursue criminal justice for her online master’s degree, fine-tuning her choice to crime analysis.

“Crime analysis is behind-the-scenes kind of work. You would do an analysis of where crime is located to decide if this area needs more law enforcement support,” Carranza said. “Especially with problem-oriented policing now, where do we focus our resources when they are so limited?”

Carranza’s capstone project involved researching traffic collisions and where they happen and why. “You ask, why is this intersection so bad?” she said. “It goes to city planning. Does this one corner have a tree that is blocking the view? It’s a very interesting field.”

Read on to learn more about Carranza’s ASU journey.

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

Answer: After leaving the military, I knew I wanted to stay in an innovative field with a fast-paced environment. I have always enjoyed thoroughly analyzing data and finding the solution to a problem. Further, I wanted to find a field of study that leads me to a career in which I can positively impact my community. I was excited to find the Master of Science degree program in crime analysis, which offers me exactly what I was looking for.

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

A: There were so many interesting topics that were covered in my classes at ASU. I can confidently say that I thoroughly enjoyed every class I took for my major. But one thing that I learned while at ASU is the importance of networking with those in your future industry. While at ASU, I joined the International Association of Crime Analysts to facilitate networking with those already in the industry. Through my ASU classes, I became aware that there was a professional organization I could join even as a student. Learning from those already in the field, including from the professors that worked in the field previously, has been helping me understand what to expect.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Aside from ASU’s good reputation, ASU also offers me the flexibility to take classes from anywhere in the world — while still providing me with high-quality courses. Further, I wanted to choose a university with faculty members who are experts in their respective fields, and ASU offers that.

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

A: I had fantastic professors throughout my time in the crime analysis program. However, the professors who impacted me most are Danielle Wallace, Edward Maguire and Brooks Louton. One important lesson taking their classes taught me is the importance of doing something you are excited and passionate about. All three of them were very passionate about their field — and their passion honestly motivated me and excited me even more about entering the crime analysis field.

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

A: Start a system that helps you stay organized. During my undergrad, I volunteered as a peer mentor and noticed that once someone implements a system to stay on top of tasks, their performance improves immensely. Life can get hectic, and it can be easy to forget what assignments and readings are due. Thus, I would recommend planning specific time slots for studying — so that competing demands do not get in the way during those times.

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I am an online student, and my favorite spot for studying is on my back porch — with my dog next to me. I live in North Carolina, so the weather is good most of the year. Being outside and getting some fresh air helps me stay focused. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I hope to enter the criminal justice field after graduation and am excited to embark on this new journey. While I am working on starting my new career, I plan to take some additional certification courses through the International Association of Crime Analysts.

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

A: There are so many causes that would benefit from $40 million. In the past, I volunteered for organizations that support military families, which is a cause I would choose to support with $40 million. One particular issue I think needs attention is the number of homeless veterans. Transitioning out of the military is not easy, as it also brings a significant change of pace and lifestyle. Many end up struggling with the change. While the military provides programs aimed at supporting its members with the transition, I wish there were more community outreach programs aimed at helping those who are struggling.

Mark J. Scarp

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