ASU Law launches reimagined alumni office

September 21, 2023

The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University is launching a dedicated alumni office to reshape how it connects and engages with all of its graduates.

The freestanding office will be the first of its kind for ASU Law, a deliberate investment in the ASU Law alumni community by Willard H. Pedrick Dean and Regents Professor of Law Stacy Leeds, who took over as dean in February.  A blonde woman in a black dress smiles for the camera. Assistant Dean for Alumni Lauren Burkhart, an alum of the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law herself, will lead the school's dedicated alumni office. Photo by Tabbs Mosier/ASU Download Full Image

“Many alumni are enthusiastic about the increased national stature and growth of this law school, but they are also eager to reconnect with the law school and with each other,” Leeds said. “This includes a desire to establish new ties with fellow alumni in a stronger interconnected network of ASU Law graduates. As we prioritize wellness, community building and humanity within the law for our current students, we also plan to prioritize and invest in our relationships with alumni locally and globally.” 

A kickoff event will be held at the Beus Center for Law and Society, located on ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, on Feb. 9 to officially launch the office and invite the alumni community to be involved in its development. 

The Honorable Redfield T. Baum, retired U.S. bankruptcy judge for the District of Arizona, graduated with his Juris Doctor from ASU Law in 1973 as part of its fourth graduating class and has seen it grow and evolve since its start. While a student, he met with a study group regularly that stays in touch and meets every December, but that isn’t the case for every alum.

“I’m excited to see this new office and I hope it will cause more people to reconnect with the law school,” he said. “People who graduated in my time and for a decade afterward, you graduated and you didn’t have much to do with the law school. We lost touch with some of that generation. What the law school has become today is nothing short of amazing.”

Diandra Benally, general counsel for Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, graduated with her JD in 2005. Originally from New Mexico, she came to ASU Law specifically for its highly regarded Indian Legal Program (ILP). Like Judge Baum, she is still in close contact with many of her ILP cohort, who are now trusted colleagues. The law school aims to extend that kind of community to more alumni groups.

“This dedicated alumni office is an opportunity for alums to have a solid place to go in the law school and to be more connected and engaged,” she said. “I’m excited to participate and encourage colleagues and classmates to be more involved and give back to the law school that provided so much for me and my career.”

ASU Law has over 10,000 graduates, but with over 1,700 current students between its JD and master's degree programs, the alumni base is growing exponentially. Building and supporting an inclusive, comprehensive network has never been more important. 

Sher Downing, now the CEO and ed tech strategist of Downing EdTech Consulting, came to ASU Law to earn her Master of Legal Studies with an emphasis in intellectual property in 2010.

“By staying connected with your fellow alumni and those who came before you, you tap into a valuable network within the legal community and gain access to essential resources,” she said. “Sustaining connections with your alma mater, faculty and staff also opens doors for you to contribute and stay actively involved as your legal community grows, leaving a lasting positive impact on society.”

The new office will be headed up by Assistant Dean for Alumni Lauren Burkhart, an ASU Law alum herself. For over a decade, Burkhart has worked at the law school in different capacities, including overseeing all centers and programs, running the school’s Washington, D.C., location, and most recently leading the JD admissions team. She worked with alumni every step of the way.  

“I’m very passionate about what the law school does, but I recognize there is so much more we can do with and for our alumni,” she said. 

Here, Burkhart discusses why now is the right time to launch an alumni office, what sets it apart and what alumni can expect.

Question: Why is a dedicated alumni office being launched now? 

A: Building intentional and deliberate communities is a key part of who we are and how we will measure our success. As we grow within and across different degree programs, it is a very exciting challenge to connect and serve the entire alumni community as a whole. 

We know there is an appetite from alumni to know more about what’s going on with each other and at the law school and a desire to be more involved and give back. This office will make all of that more accessible while making sure we celebrate and recognize their accomplishments and successes.

Q: What is going to be distinct or special about this alumni office?

A: There is a unique chance to be flexible and responsive since we are building something new that crosses all departments at the law school. We can adapt to what alumni actually want and provide the resources, opportunities and connections that truly benefit them — personally and professionally.

I am eager for more alumni to get involved and to facilitate ways for them to do that, but this isn’t about asking for anything. This office is not tied to fundraising efforts, which I think is a critical departure from how we have approached these efforts in the past.

Q: What are you most excited about?

A: I’m thrilled there is support from Dean Leeds and the law school to approach alumni efforts in a deliberate way that is more integrated in every part of the law school. I have seen firsthand how alumni can have a huge impact on student success, recruitment, wellness, teaching and scholarship, and beyond. I am excited to use the breadth of my experience here to connect the dots and think creatively about broad alumni benefits and opportunities..

On a personal level, I am eager to get to know more of our alumni one-on-one and start to engage their energy and expertise in new ways. Our launch event in February will be one opportunity to do that.

Alums interested in connecting or sharing ideas, please contact Lauren Burkhart

Lindsay Walker

Communications Manager, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

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A day in the park

September 21, 2023

ASU, Chandler partnership brings sustainability to local parks, real-world experience to students

Before Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux envisioned Central Park as the bucolic New York City landmark it is today, the land there was swampy and full of rocks.

The acreage in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park was seen as a “dreary desert” before William Hammond Hall transformed it into an oasis. 

Boston Common was used as a military camp for British soldiers before George Meacham put his touch on the 50-acre park, which included a garden with a pond, a curved path system, and flowerbeds.

Now we can add a group of Arizona State University students to this list of innovative minds who have made memorable contributions to the urban park system.

“Students often come up with ‘blue sky’ thinking in that they’re not burdened by tradition,” said Christopher Boone, a professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability. “They bring in a fresh perspective and a bolt of energy, enthusiasm and fresh ideas that hopefully can be turned into recommendations.”

Boone is referring to a new collaboration with the city of Chandler called Project Cities, where ASU students — through his Professional Skills in Sustainability Practice course — provide local communities with thoughtful, sustainable solutions for better environmental, economic and social balances and outcomes.

The program is offered through the Sustainable Cities Network in ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation. Project Cities is a university-community alliance that connects ASU students and faculty with projects and sustainability needs faced by local community partners while providing students opportunities to gain real-world experience and develop potential career pathways.

It’s a win-win for everyone involved, said Julia Davis, project manager for Project Cities.

“Project Cities provides a unique opportunity for communities to bring multiple sustainability challenges to the table, even from across different city departments,” Davis said. “During a semester, students from one class can tackle a project focused on communication strategies or historic preservation, while students from another course may be focusing on transportation or infrastructure improvements. At the end of the semester, the city leaves with a myriad of solutions that benefit the whole community.”

Davis said since the program started in 2017, Project Cities has facilitated 98 projects with eight community partners throughout Arizona. She added that Project Cities is currently working with the city of Phoenix on residential xeriscape design research; the town of Gilbert on several solid-waste projects; and the town of Miami to develop a strategic framework for a general plan.

Last month, the Chandler City Council entered a five-year agreement with ASU’s School of Sustainability. Their first challenge will be to review five of Chandler’s city parks to see how they’re being utilized and suggest ways to improve their sustainability efforts.

Boone and his students met with staffers at Chandler City Hall on Sept. 7 to discuss the new partnership, the core mission and what they can do to improve the parks earmarked for improvements.

“We’re so excited to have this partnership with ASU because you’ve got so many great ideas,” said John Sefton, Chandler’s community services director, who oversees the city’s libraries, parks and recreation facilities. “More and more people are using our parks, and we want your help in giving them the best possible experience.”

With Sefton leading the way, 19 students visited Chandler’s Desert Breeze Park to find ways to increase usage and suggest sustainable enhancements to the park.

Students were broken down into five groups based on different park “zones” to record park accessibility and usability, as well as study park user activities. And because sustainability students are action-oriented, it didn’t take long for park improvement ideas to start percolating.

Madeline Topel was assigned to record observations of the park’s human-made lake, which she noticed was green and murky. She suggested the city investigate using plant life, bacteria and other biological materials to create a self-contained pool that filters water and fights algae.

“This system would not only look nicer, but it would be more cost effective for the city in that they wouldn’t have to pay for chlorine or dye,” said Topel, a third-year sustainability student. “It’s also good for the environment, and it probably would not absorb as much heat.”

Thalia Longo took notice of the park’s splash pad, which used continual running water. She thought it was a waste.

“Ever since I’ve been here, that water has been running,” said Longo, a second-year sustainability major. “I need to ask if it’s being recycled, but if not, they could install a button that allows the water to run for five to 10 minutes, but then automatically shuts off. Otherwise, it’s a waste of water.”

Joyce Priebe was asked to analyze how many people were utilizing Desert Breeze’s baseball field. She took a swing and connected.

“The field itself could be multiuse, and for different cultural groups,” said Priebe, a third-year sustainability major. “It’s only set up for baseball, and could be adapted for cricket or a bocce court. Something that might cater to others.”

Second-year sustainability student Nathan Morgan saw a need for more bike racks and shade in certain parts of the park.

“The general-use field was quite open to the sun, and it could be covered,” Morgan said. “More bike racks would attract a younger clientele to the park.”

Over the next five weeks, Boone’s students will continue their fieldwork with visits to Tumbleweed Regional Park, Pima Community Park, Brooks Crossing Neighborhood Park and Citrus Vista Neighborhood Park.

If the partnership goes well, the city is considering collaborating with students to help with sustainability planning, community placemaking and a variety of other projects based on community need, according to Davis.

Sefton certainly believes it will. He was impressed with the plethora of ideas that came from just a few hours of observation. He made a vow to the group before they headed back to ASU’s Tempe campus:

“Know that the work you do will get used.”

Top photo: ASU students, faculty and city of Chandler staff gather for a debrief after conducting their fieldwork and discuss the future of their new Project Cities partnership at Desert Breeze Community Park in Chandler on Sept. 7. Photo by Paula Soria/ASU News