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New Public Service Academy at ASU promotes leadership, collaboration

Michael Crow, Wendy Spencer, Jonathan Koppell talking at ASU
March 30, 2015

Arizona State University announced a first-of-its-kind Public Service Academy today – a specialized program to develop leaders of tomorrow that are prepared to create solutions for society’s biggest challenges through effective collaboration.

Wendy Spencer, the CEO of the Corporation for National and Public Service, which administers AmeriCorps, helped announce the new academy at an event marking ASU’s designation by Americorps as a charter Employer of National Service. She was joined by Jonathan Koppell, dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions at ASU.

"Public service is more than just giving of your time. It's what skills you bring to the table," Spencer said. "The academy is going to take students who are engaged in public service to the next level. This is brilliant. "

When it launches in August 2015, the Public Service Academy will be the first undergraduate program in the nation to integrate cross-sector and civilian-military experiences to develop collaborative leaders of character. The academy is planning on accepting 100 students, aspiring leaders potentially from around the world, for the inaugural class that starts in the fall.

“ASU already has forged a new model for higher education; now it is blazing a new path for public service,” said Tom Brokaw, former NBC Nightly News anchor, author and early proponent of the academy. “In an era of global uncertainty, this is exactly the kind of educational initiative our country needs. I hope many more universities start encouraging the desire to serve locally and globally, and to be engaged as citizens.” 

The program has two tracks: Reserve Officer Training Corps, the existing university-based program to commission officers into the U.S. Armed Forces, and the Next Generation Service Corps, a new program for service-oriented students from all majors to become civilian service leaders.

“We are committed to helping students prepare for the pathways they want to follow after university, and our charter makes explicit that ASU takes responsibility for contributing to the public good,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “This program furthers those aspects of our mission by devoting significant resources at ASU to training the next generation of leaders committed to public service.”

For the academy’s architects, collaboration is the name of the game.

The four-year Next Generation Service Corps experience includes a set of seven leadership courses taken throughout a student’s university career, as well as a series of summer internships in nonprofit, government and private organizations. The program offers annual retreats, service opportunities and shared experiences with ROTC cadets.

“The Public Service Academy transforms students’ raw commitment to service into focused preparation to affect social change,” Koppell said. “Through courses, experiences and internships, PSA (Public Service Academy) students will be ready to move beyond the conventional paths of their peers, forging new solutions through cross-disciplinary collaboration – artists working with medical scientists, environmentalists working with engineers, military leaders working with social workers. The academy embraces ASU’s mission to prepare students for advancing community solutions, no matter their profession.”

Newly admitted students echoed their generation’s civic-minded drive for hands-on opportunities to make a difference.

"There's no such thing as a simple problem that my generation faces,” stated Eric Arellano, a future program participant and Flinn Scholar from Oro Valley, Arizona, who is interested in environmental entrepreneurship. “Our parents' generation is proof that it's not enough to just act through singular means; we need unprecedented collaboration to counter climate change, to guarantee high-quality education for all, to solve water scarcity – to reshape the world how it deserves to be. And the Next Generation Service Corps offers the best medium I've found to do just that."

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, ASU’s special advisor to the president for leadership initiatives, emphasized the need for military and civilian leaders to understand each other.

“Tomorrow’s increasingly complex problems will require solutions that come from networks and cross sector leaders. Our future leaders will not come from strictly civilian or strictly military sectors but from those who have served or are trained in public, private and non-profit organizations, who are influenced by experiences from the three sectors," Freakley said. “Our students, in or out of uniform, benefit immeasurably from a broader understanding of the influences that shape the globe so that they are comfortable working in a complex environment where partnerships are essential.”

Starting with the academy’s first year pilot program in the fall, approximately 100 students per year will be admitted into the Next Generation Service Corps, and the approximately 480 students across all four years of the various ROTC programs will participate.

Contingent on funding, the goal is to have 1,300 students in the two programs annually – approximately two percent of the undergraduate student body.

Spencer’s appearance at the university and designating ASU as Charter Employer of National Service effectively recognized ASU’s full-circle role in developing leaders in public service. The university guides and graduates students who go on to enter public service, and actively seeks employees with national service experience in organizations like AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps.

Employees with national service backgrounds have rare experiences that can benefit corporate, public and nonprofit organizations. ASU actively fosters service as a fundamental part of its charter, and hiring national service alumni, as well as cultivating the next generation of service leaders, advances the university’s abilities to meet the needs of communities locally and globally.

For more information on the PSA, please visit

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