Graduate's emergency management experience began during wildfire evacuations

Charles Cooney's military service includes helping hurricane-ravaged community

April 28, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Escaping natural disasters while growing up, then witnessing the ravages of violence during his deployment around the world, U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Charles Cooney experienced a firsthand view of the emergency management field. Charles Cooney, public affairs, outstanding graduate, spring 2023 U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Charles Cooney is the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Outstanding Undergraduate Student for spring 2023. Download Full Image

The Crestline, California, resident said that during the many times he had been evacuated from wildfires, he observed emergency management staff responding, “doing everything they could to help everyone.”

Later, Cooney, a Marine since 2008, said he participated in missions ranging “from offensive to humanitarian aid” that included helping Havelock, North Carolina, recover from Hurricane Florence's destruction, as well as assignments in the Middle East. 

Cooney, the School of Public Affairs Outstanding Graduate and the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions Outstanding Undergraduate Student for spring 2023, said he and his wife worked with his military unit and a military spouses organization to organize a donation drive for the Havelock community.

“We’d take goods and items for those who needed them, cleaned up places that suffered mold and patched holes in roofs,” he said.

The aftermath was eye-opening, Cooney said, and demonstrated how long and how complicated the recovery process can be, as the Havelock area suffered from three weeks of pouring rain and flood surge.

More recently, he was deployed in Bahrain, where emergencies ran the spectrum from potential armed attacks to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had to adapt and flex from potential attacks from Iran into Iraq, and help individuals seek medical aid and assistance,” Cooney said. “These experiences have propelled me to want to become a professional in emergency management and get my degree in it.”

Cooney will earn his Bachelor of Science in public service and public policy (emergency management and homeland security) before returning to duty at Camp Pendleton, California.

He said he learned from his internship with the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs that emergency management involves an entire community.

To create an effective emergency plan, staff must be prepared to work with local communities, to assess their strengths, weaknesses and how they have dealt with past events, he said.

Read on to learn more about Cooney’s ASU journey:

Editor's note: Answers were edited for length and clarity.

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

Answer: I have learned through ASU that emergency management is very encompassing, involving the whole community from all levels, from local to federal. (I also have learned) theory and doctrine in the classrooms from the instructors, (and received) real-world experience during my internship with the Arizona Department of Emergency Management and Military Affairs. It has broadened my perspective and opened my eyes to learning about the multiple agencies that comprise the mission of public safety, that there is still a lot to learn, and to never stop learning.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: When I chose to focus on emergency management for my degree, I found that ASU had a top-rated program and was military-friendly for online students. I also at the time was applying for the Staff Non-Commissioned Officer Degree Completion Program for the Marine Corps to go to school to finish my bachelor's degree for my future job in the corps. ASU is affiliated with the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, which made it easier to apply for my degree program, eventually get accepted, then go to ASU in person to finish my degree. 

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

A: I have learned a lot from the professors at ASU, especially in the emergency management curriculum, learning skills that will directly apply to the present and future. Professor Thomas Holland, my public service ethics professor, was very inspirational as well. He showed me more of the public policy side and invited me to join the International City/County Management Association and learn more about the city manager position and serving the public in different positions in city government. I also learned through lectures in class about citizen governance and ideals for changing communities for the better. He opened up an opportunity to tour the city of Goodyear where we were able to tour City Hall, learn about the departments and network with the professionals who worked there.  

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give students?

A: To continue to pursue their education goals and continue to strive to be the best they can be. This is only the beginning, middle or somewhere in the process of their journey in life. They will have to continue to adapt to the changing environment in the world. Learn something new every day and adapt to be successful and make a difference. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I was primarily an online student and had to find the time to do studying whenever I had downtime at work while on active duty, sometimes during lunch when my maintenance shop was empty, or most of the time when I was home after my kids were asleep, crunching in classwork and studying before sleeping. It required staying on top of assignments and maximizing the time that I had to prioritize what was assigned in class. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans after graduation are to go to my next unit in California on Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California, where I’m assigned to Marine Corps Installations West working in base safety ensuring compliance with federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense regulations and orders for the operating units aboard the installation. I will continue to pursue my education with a master's degree. I have five more years until I'm eligible for retirement from active duty, and from there, transition to working in emergency management, continuing to serve the public in one of the Southwest states. 

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

A: If I were to be given $40 million, I would look into helping with mental health services for veterans and homelessness that is present in veterans’ communities across the United States. I would invest in available and unutilized property to create a sanctuary for those in need of services who can have basic needs for shelter, food, health services and education opportunities to help them.  

Mark J. Scarp

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


Student who withdrew from college twice returned to become Outstanding Graduate

Makiyah Murray succeeds through Starbucks College Achievement Plan

April 28, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Makiyah Murray decided she was going to get a college degree — in part because so few people in her town had one. Makiyah Murray, social work, outstanding graduate, spring 2023 Makiyah Murray is the ASU School of Social Work’s spring 2023 Outstanding Graduate. Download Full Image

Murray, who is Black, said she grew up in “a tiny community" where less than 50% had college degrees. Of that, only 14% were Black.

“My mom was a single mom with two jobs and came from a disadvantaged and impoverished background. Being poor in a disadvantaged community, I grew up dealing with the child welfare system,” said Murray, the School of Social Work’s spring 2023 Outstanding Graduate. “At 16, I entered the foster care system until I aged out of foster care at 18.”

While in foster care, Murray described feeling disconnected from the caseworkers assigned to her, who all were white.

“They didn’t treat me badly. It just felt like they really couldn’t connect with me or understand what I was going through,” Murray said. “It’s not that they didn’t want to help; they couldn’t understand how to help.”

In fall 2006, the Ypsilanti, Michigan, resident started college in her home state but dropped out by summer 2007. She worked as a hairstylist for many years until recently, when she decided to try college again, encouraged by a therapist and psychologist who was also a Black woman.

“She challenged me to go back to school. She believed in me and in my story and could see that I wanted to do something bigger,” Murray said. “(Social work) is one thing I could do in life, without thinking: to fight for other people and help them navigate complex situations.”

Even then, as a 30-year-old Arizona State University student, she said she didn’t fully understand financial aid and was forced to withdraw from school after she ran out of money.

About a year later, still feeling “low and hopeless,” she was determined to continue her education at ASU. Murray found a way forward through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. The plan, a partnership between ASU and Starbucks, offers 100% tuition coverage for eligible U.S. partners Starbucks employees are referred to as pursue their first undergraduate degree through ASU Online.

“I didn’t believe it was true, because it was ASU,” where she had just withdrawn. “I was astonished. I came out of my shock and applied and I became a partner,” she said. Murray also received the Tau Sigma Leadership Scholarship.

Murray is graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in community advocacy and social policy. 

Read on to learn more about Murray’s ASU journey:

Editor's note: Answers were edited for length and clarity.

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

Answer: That’s an easy one. I learned that I was capable of achieving greatness! For some, that may seem like a given but for me, it was a turning point in what I believed was possible. Coming from a small town in a community at the margins, I truly believed that my future was predestined to what I saw around me. Then, in the fall 2021 semester, I earned straight A’s after a withdrawal the semester before. A short time later, I was invited to join Tau Sigma Honor Society, challenging every limiting thought I had.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU for two reasons. The first reason is its reputation. Online education was the only way I could complete my degree. However, not all online programs are reputable. ASU programs, especially in the School of Social Work, had a spectacular reputation that was known and recognized nationally and globally. The second reason is the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. After depleting my federal financial aid at the beginning of my second year at ASU, I was forced to discontinue my courses. I was devastated and couldn't afford tuition costs, but I knew that ASU is where I needed to be. After discovering the plan, my dream seemed to come back into focus and I was able to continue pressing forward.

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

A: Judith Bass and Meka Allen taught me valuable lessons in challenging my thinking and exploring uncharted academic areas. Professor Bass, from whom I have had the pleasure of taking two courses, set me on a path to exploring career opportunities in statistical data and policy through great engagement and feedback in class. Professor Allen, in a single comment on an assignment, challenged my thinking and language around equity, giving me a deeper understanding of how to approach inequity. Although these moments may seem trivial to onlookers, for me, they guided me in the direction of deepened passion.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my support team, Ellen Lagerman (student support coordinator) and Danielle Winhold (academic advisor), who have been rallying behind me in some major ways to continue pushing me to the finish line.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give students?

A: Keep a routine that works for you. This is especially true for online scholars. A routine allows you to stay ahead of due dates and have time for extracurricular activities. For me, this meant starting my day at the same time every day and completing a small portion of all assignments for the week every day, no matter the due date. This allowed me to take more classes and have more time for self-care.

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

A: As a Starbucks College Achievement Plan Scholar, my obvious favorite place for power studying was Starbucks. I loved studying at Starbucks because I could (get plenty of) caffeine, and it was just the right amount of background noise for focusing. However, during times when I needed hyper-focus to finish bigger projects, my local library was my go-to. There, I could reserve a quiet study space where there were no distractions.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: In fall 2023, I will start a dual master's program at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis. I will study for master’s degrees in social work and in social policy. Over the summer, I hope to volunteer with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) in St. Louis, to support our strained child welfare system.

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

A: I would fund transitional support programs for foster children who are aging out of the foster care system. Every day, children under state care turn 18 and may choose or are forced to survive as an adult. Lack of representation, funding and institutional structures all play a factor in transition outcomes. My funding would include a pilot program to employ equitable case management and innovative permanency planning for youths with an imminent trajectory to age out of foster care. If we can accept that adolescent minds, particularly the portion responsible for decision-making, are not fully mature until their mid-20s or later, then we must also be accountable for nurturing healthy development beyond 18.

Mark J. Scarp

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