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ASU's Veterans Fellowship Corps builds camaraderie

Vet corps aims to leverage veterans’ skills and experiences in mentoring others.
New ASU veterans group of mentors, students meets monthly, plans events.
November 8, 2016

New leadership program in Public Service Academy pairs vets, students to create mentoring opportunities

A new program at ASU has leveraged its unique position to create connections and opportunities for military-minded people to use their experiences to help each other develop.

Consider Public Service Academy cadet Cheyenne Ellis, Coast Guard vet Alisha Wofford and former active-duty Marine Joanna Sweatt:

Ellis has been contemplating a career in the military and wants advice from veterans. 

Wofford has been adjusting to civilian life and wants a chance to mentor young women such as Ellis.

Sweatt, meanwhile, had a tough time after a career in the Marines and has been seeking to help veterans such as Wofford.

The trio and others like them have the opportunity to connect through the Veterans Fellowship Corps at ASU’s Public Service Academy, which seeks to get students and recently discharged veterans to ready for leadership positions in the civilian world.

“Veterans want to be a part of something when they get out or retire,” said Michelle Bravo, manager of Veteran and Community Engagement with the Public Service Academy. “They miss the camaraderie. They miss the esprit de corps. They miss being a part of something bigger than themselves. We now have something for them.”

The Public Service Academy, which launched in 2015, boasts that it’s the nation’s first undergraduate program “to integrate cross-sector and civilian-military experiences to develop collaborative leaders of character.”

The newly developed Veterans Fellowship Corps aims to leverage veterans’ skills and experiences, empowering them to mentor future civilian and military leaders at ASU.

Members include military veterans, National Guard members, ASU students, non-commissioned officers, and people with humanitarian and disaster-relief experience.

The program’s first group, seven mentors and four Student Veteran Fellows, meets monthly. They also gather for a series of planned events, such as the Oct. 1 Leadership Lab at ASU’s Memorial Union in Tempe. They discussed their military experiences, transitioning back into civilian life and why they want to remain a part of the veteran community.

Group discussion

Coast Guard veteran Alisha Wofford shares her thoughts on leadership during a book discussion at an Oct. 1 meeting of the Veterans Fellowship Corps, a branch of the Public Service Academy, in which veterans mentor Public Service Academy members. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

“Transitioning from the Marines back into the real world was a nightmare,” said Sweatt, CEO of the Veterans Directory, an online database of veteran resources and products.

Sweatt said that after serving almost a decade in the Marines, she was harsh and intense. Her new boss, a Navy vet, encouraged her to go to college on the GI Bill to improve herself. She came out a new person — intent on helping others.

“My mentorship will not be about celebrating all of their victories,” Sweatt said. “I want them to know there are going to be bumps in the road, and it’s all about persevering.”

Wofford, 26, is enrolled at ASU’s W. P. Carey School of Business after serving more than six years in the Coast Guard. She’ll be mentoring young women in the Public Service Academy as well as receiving mentoring from an older veteran.

She chose to mentor because “I remember what it was like to be that age and not know what I wanted to do.”

Wofford said she was naïve when she joined at 18. She also said that although life in the military could be intense and unrelenting, she met some great people.

“When I was at my lowest and darkest times, there was always somebody who had your back,” Wofford said. “There’s people in the military who treat you like family. You strike these bonds with people that you never thought you would develop. You unite in good and bad times.”

That’s the kind of information that the 18-year-old Ellis wants to hear. Ellis, a psychology major, has been contemplating a career in the military or law enforcement.

“Being around veterans has been great for me because I get to hear all the good and bad things about the military,” Ellis said. “I’ve noticed military people have a passion to serve their country and fight for what they believe in. If they see injustice, they stand up and say something.

“Even if I don’t join the military, that’s the kind of person I want to be.” 

Top photo: Program manager for Veteran and Community Outreach and Army veteran Michelle Bravo leads a book discussion at a meeting of the Veterans Fellowship Corps, a branch of the Public Service Academy. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU News


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ASU experts' prescription for post-election healing: Listen carefully

How to heal the rift after the votes are counted? Don't talk — listen.
November 8, 2016

Hearing the other side and working together can move us beyond a divisive election

Tomorrow the presidential election will be over, and friends, co-workers and family members who have been bitterly divided will need to move forward. But how?

One way is to stop talking and listen, according to an Arizona State University expert on interpersonal communication.

“I think one of the things that gets in the way is that we think that we have to agree with people when all we really have to do is hang in there and make them feel understood,” said Vincent Waldron, a professor of social and behavioral sciences in the School of Social and Behavioral SciencesThe School of Social and Behavioral Sciences is part of the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. at the West campus. He studies communication in the workplace and forgiveness.

A New York Times/CBS news poll released Nov. 3 found that 82 percent of those surveyed were disgusted by the state of American politics.

“A lot of anger I hear is from people who feel like they’ve been dismissed and haven’t been taken seriously. That’s a basic need that everyone has,” Waldron said.

Genuine forgiveness might be needed for those who were hurt by the insults hurled during this extraordinarily harsh campaign between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

“Forgiveness is an alternative to revenge,” he said. “You could hold this grudge forever. But we might decide to let it go because other things are more important — our relationship with family members or having a democracy that functions.”

Waldron said that 24-hour nature of social media is fueling people’s anxieties more than in previous elections.

“On social media, people can go to the well again and again and again, to their own little community and see this stuff magnified. It blows up that sense of outrage, and the other side becomes demonized and evil,” he said.

Co-workers will have to move on in a personal way with each other, but the country will have to heal on a national level as well, according to Thom Reilly, director of the Morrison Institute for Public PolicyThe Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a research and community service unit of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions. at ASU. He was optimistic that it can happen.

“There’s no question it’s been a divisive election. But the country has dealt with divisive elections before, and we’ve been able to wade through it,” he said.

“Obviously, whoever wins the presidency needs to set the tone from a national perspective by both reaching out to individuals who feel that their issues were not addressed and by following up.”

Reilly sees the surge of independent voters in Arizona as one potential way forward.

“In our research, we found that Republicans and Democrats go to certain news sources that reinforce their worldview, and who they talk to about politics is limited. But independents have a broader range of news sources and a broader range of individuals that they talk to,” he said.

“One-third of Arizona voters don’t want to align with the Republicans or Democrats, and it’s growing. Maybe independents are a way to bridge the dialogue,” he said.

To stave off further divisiveness, Americans who are not alike must gather in peaceful, productive ways to forge bonds, Reilly said, and a system of national service for young people would be one way to do that.

“By requiring every young person to serve in some capacity — military, through a teaching corps or environmental corps — it would bring people together who normally wouldn’t be and put them in places where they could interact and form social and political identities with people who think differently than they do.”

The Morrison Institute is nonpartisan but still tries to address controversial issues with people of differing outlooks.  

“We create safe places where people of different political ideologies can come together to talk,” he said.

“It sends a message that it’s a big tent, and we’ll allow for civil discourse.”

So tomorrow, co-workers who have been on opposite political sides will come together in the workplace with winners and losers.

Reconciliation is next, Waldron said.

“If you’re the winner, don’t gloat. You’ve got to be sensitive to the fact that they already feel bad. This is your moment to be that supportive co-worker and try to make it right,” he said.

“If you’re on the losing side, you have to take the high road,” Waldron said.

“I think it would be a good idea for people who have had conflicts to put it in the past and say ‘Let’s focus on what we can agree on.’ ”

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


ASU team selected for national grant to advance interprofessional education and team-based health care delivery

November 3, 2016

The National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education recently announced the grant recipients for its Accelerating Interprofessional Community-Based Education and Practice program. The College of Nursing and Health Innovation (CONHI) team, which includes a number of critical internal and external partners, was among only 16 project teams selected for funding by the National Center’s advisory council of leaders in Interprofessional Practice and Education.

“We are enthusiastic and grateful for this opportunity to advance our work in interprofessional education and practice,” said Teri Pipe, ASU’s chief well-being officer and dean of the College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “The award from the National Center is a distinct honor and indicates the extraordinary work that is genuinely a shared effort among all of our partners. The award will directly benefit our learners and, ultimately, the health of our communities.” Grant team Grant team (from left): Michael Moramarco (ASU, College of Nursing & Health Innovation), Liz Harrell (ASU, College of Nursing & Health Innovation), Pooja Paode (ASU, College of Health Solutions graduate student, SHOW clinic volunteer), Karen Saewert (ASU, CONHI), Teri Kennedy (ASU, College of Public Service & Community Solutions, School of Social Work), Oaklee Rogers (NAU, College of Health and Human Services, Occupational Therapy) and Karem Garcia (Crossroads Inc.). Download Full Image

CONHI was selected for its nurse-led initiative, "Interprofessional by Design: Meeting at the Crossroads to Accelerate Leadership Competency and Readiness for Translation to Interprofessional Practice."  Learning and working across professions — interprofessionalism — is a model of research, education and practice that is quickly becoming embedded within CONHI’s curriculum, research projects and in the college’s work with underserved communities, such as the SHOW clinic, a tri-university, student-run community initiative.

“Clinical care has rapidly evolved to become more team-based across professions and has begun to shift from acute-care settings to community settings,” said Barbara Brandt, director of the National Center. “Nurse-led interprofessional partnerships working with individuals and their families in community-based settings will have a significant impact on outcomes and set the stage for continued improvement.”

Each of the 16 project teams selected by the National Center are led by a graduate nursing program and includes one or more professional schools and a community clinical setting. Funded programs also will receive technical assistance and expert, in-person and group consultation and resources from the National Center to accelerate their interprofessional education and collaboration efforts in community settings.

“The collaborative efforts of our partners are essential to preparing our students for successful team-based practice,” said Karen Saewert, CONHI clinical professor, senior director of Academic Innovation, and co-principal investigator of the project team.

CONHI’s partners include ASU’s School of Social Work; the College of Public Service & Community Solutions; the School of Film, Dance and Theatre at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts; as well as two new research centers — the WORLD-Institute and the Center for Advancing Interprofessional Practice, Education and Research. Partners also include the Arizona Action Coalition; Northern Arizona University’s College of Health and Human Services; the SHOW clinic; and Crossroads Inc., a licensed substance-abuse treatment provider that is serving as the team’s community partner.

“The men and women who enroll in our programs have the main presenting issue of substance abuse, yet most of our clients need help across the entire spectrum of their lives — from relationships to ongoing physical and mental health issues,” said Lee Pioske, executive director at Crossroads. “This grant allows us to touch more issues in our clients’ lives, which will help to increase their quality of life and success upon reintegration into the community as sober, healthy, self-sufficient individuals.”

The primary goal of the grant-funded program is for health and other professional schools with a history of collaboration to work together with a community partner and the individuals and families it serves to develop innovative, creative and sustainable interprofessional clinical initiatives that accelerate the team’s existing interprofessional education.

“The goals align with ASU’s vision of a New American University, and answers the call for increased education to health professional students in substance abuse/dependence treatment, with a focus on the opioid epidemic, a major public health problem that is receiving national attention and urgent calls for increased federal and state funding,” said Liz Harrell, CONHI assistant clinical professor, director of the SHOW clinic initiative, and principal investigator of the project.

Teams gathered in Minneapolis last week for an immersive Accelerating kickoff institute where they collaborated directly with National Center staff and faculty to leverage current resources and evidence, and create initial work and implementation plans for their projects.

Recognizing the importance of interprofessional education and collaboration, this program received support from the National Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education at the University of Minnesota and was funded through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the John A. Hartford Foundation, the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Denise Kronsteiner

Director of Strategic Communications, School for the Future of Innovation in Society


ASU students use humor, creativity to highlight aspects of November election

November 3, 2016

How do you get Arizona voters to stick around and cast votes for the bottom of a very long ballot? That was the challenge put to a group of graduate students in Arizona State University's School of Film, Dance and Theatre. They were one of four teams commissioned by the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service to produce videos highlighting important aspects of the upcoming election.

ASU students Ricky Araiza, Malena Grosz, Vickie Hall and Chris Weise were asked to promote the final part of the ballot: retaining or rejecting Superior Court judges, also known as the merit selection process. ASU students used popsicle stick characters to highlight a lesser known part of the November ballot. ASU students used popsicle-stick characters to highlight a lesser-known part of the November ballot. Download Full Image

“We needed to get people aware of this and try to get them to finish the ballot,” said Weise. “So we had a unique challenge initially."

More like an impossible challenge. More than 2 million Arizonans cast ballots in the last presidential election in 2012. Guess how many stuck around to the end of the ballot? Only 7 percent of voters bothered to mark whether to retain the final appellate court judge on the ballot.

"Voters really have no idea how we end up with the judges that we get or the fact that we're one of the very few states that have appointed judges that then have to be elected to keep their seats, " said Alberto Olivas, executive director of the Pastor Center.

Explaining the merit selection process in a short video is difficult enough. But doing so in an entertaining way? It was a challenge that Weise says his team embraced.

“We all had various ideas and tried to incorporate as many as possible,” Weise said. “One person thought puppets would be fun. I thought of the idea of using a game show.”

They ended up using popsicle-stick puppets for characters and the TV show “The Voice” as the platform.

“We really were focused on the idea of the citizens judging judges, right?” recalled Weise. “And then we just thought about the format of 'The Voice.' And we thought that would work.”

For the uninitiated, "The Voice" features aspiring singers being critiqued and coached by established music stars. Hosted by TV personality Carson Daly, viewers vote to eliminate contestants until a winner is declared at the end of the season.

The opening sequence of the student-produced video features a clever play on the show’s logo. Instead of a hand holding a microphone flashing a “V” or victory sign, the hand clutches a gavel and the words “of Justice” are added under the show's title creating “The Voice of Justice.”

Three other student teams produced videos highlighting different aspects of the election. All took a different approach but used humor to make what could be dry topics come to life.

One titled “Zeeta’s Guide the AZ Corporation Commission” plays off the popular use of the iPhone voice command feature “Siri.” In this video skit, "Zeeta" comes to life and walks a hapless young person through his struggles losing electricity and water. In the process, the video highlights the work of the Corporation Commission and provides information on the five candidates running in the general election.

"If that's all they take away from their video, that's a huge accomplishment,” said Olivas. “Because voters are not aware of this body, and they're not aware that this year three out of those five seats are going to be elected."

What is perhaps the most passionate explanation ever of an Arizona ballot proposition is the work of another group of ASU students. They use a telenovela to bring Proposition 206 to life. Titled “All my Wages,” the video spoofs the popular Spanish-language soap opera complete with sappy dramatic scenes and music. The lovelorn characters recite actual language from the proposition, what a “yes” or “no” vote means and what supporters and opponents are saying about it.  It ends with the following words on the screen: “This issue doesn’t need drama. ... It needs voters.”

“And so it closes with that message that voters just need to pay attention and inform themselves and participate in this decision that will have a major impact on our economy," Olivas said.

A final student-produced video examines Proposition 205, which would allow for the recreational use of marijuana and a sales tax on marijuana sales. The students use small plastic dinosaurs, visual props and a heavy dose of humor to explain the proposition and arguments for and against.

"Their challenge was to be fair to both sides because it seemed like the preponderance if not all of them were on one side of that issue,” Olivas said. “But I really feel looking at it that they did a very good job at representing both sides well and comprehensively. And they did it in a way that was funny and attention-grabbing and hopefully will be something that people share online.”

Two of the student-produced videos were played before audiences attending debates on Proposition 205 and Proposition 206, respectively. The events were co-sponsored by the Pastor Center. The videos can also be found online on YouTube.

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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ASU strengthens Tucson

ASU graduates work at shelters, rehab centers, clinics, schools and hospitals.
U.S. Labor Bureau predicts that demand for social workers will grow rapidly.
November 1, 2016

Filling void, Arizona State University offers rigorous social work program that covers range of fields

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2016, click here.

When a troubled woman didn’t show up for her court date, the police didn’t try to arrest her. Instead, the chief sent two Arizona State University students to check on her.

The two young women are working toward master’s of social work degrees at the ASU School of Social Work program based in Tucson, and are interns at the South Tucson Police Department. As part of the department’s community-policing initiative, Natalie Callahan and Kirsten Olivarez interact directly with people in the neighborhood to help them get the services they need rather than be arrested.

“We’ll say, ‘She didn’t show up to court, and we think she’s in a rough spot.’ It was amazing how quickly we knew exactly who these people are,” Olivarez said.

This is the second year that the South Tucson Police Department has had social work interns, but the ASU program has been embedded into southern Arizona for decades. ASU graduates work at shelters, drug-rehabilitation centers, family-services clinics, schools and hospitals.

They work face-to-face every day with people who are sleeping on the streets, or selling their bodies to feed an addiction or desperately seeking help for a mentally ill child.

“There’s a population that’s transient and some have serious mental illness, and others are addicted and they require a lot more services so it’s a lot of interaction with these people because constantly re-arresting them isn’t working,” Callahan said.

“We’re focusing on the dignity of the people, and just because they made a mistake once doesn’t mean they have to continue making that mistake and what we can do help them make changes in their life,” Olivarez said.


Symptoms of larger issues

The most common crime in South Tucson is shoplifting, according to Michael Ford, the police chief. But that is a symptom of larger issues, such as addiction and poverty, and that’s why a partnership with the ASU School of Social Work is ideal. 

“There are a lot of different roles we take and even in that enforcement role, the police are trying to guide people toward services,” said Ford, adding that the interns work on assessing the needs of the population, seeing the entire process from initial contact with police, through the courts to the final outcome.

“Having the interns helps us have a broader vision of the services we’re providing, and whether the investment we’re making in our resources is working,” he said.

Ford decided to bring on the interns after working in the community with Josefina Ahumada, field education coordinator for the ASU School of Social Work in Tucson.

“One thing I’m excited about is that we know that many of the issues that come up with folks who intersect with the police are really issues about poverty,” Ahumada said.

She said that Ford’s community policing model, in which officers try to engage with people, is an ideal fit for social-work interns.

“How can we proactively engage in those issues so at the individual level so people are not forced to commit a crime because they’re trying to raise money to buy diapers?” Ahumada said.

Embedded in the community

The need for social workers is growing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demand for social workers will grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than the average for all occupations.

Despite graduating thousands of social workers into the field for nearly 40 years, the ASU School of Social Work in Tucson was nearly shut down twice. Deep state budget cuts in 2009 and 2010 threatened to close the location. Both times, the Tucson community rallied to voice support, and the ASU Tucson site was spared, according to Michelle Carney, director of the School of Social Work. 

The program was started in the mid-1970s by Ann Weaver Nichols, a professor who noticed that students were commuting from Tucson to Tempe for social work classes. She started offering a few courses on the University of Arizona campus, which were wildly popular, and a full degree program was launched in 1978. 

Now, the Tucson site has 221 students — 55 undergraduates pursuing a bachelor’s of social work and 166 graduate students in the master’s of social work program. That’s up from 158 total students in 2007.

Undergraduates come into the ASU Tucson program as juniors, with most transferring from Pima Community College and some from the University of Arizona, which doesn’t offer a social work degree.

The curriculum is the same as the one offered at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus, but Carney said the Tucson students develop their own sense of community. The program is housed in a Tucson office park with the United Way and other social-service agencies. 

“They’re on that one floor, all the classes are there, the faculty members are there,” she said.

“It’s a community-oriented process. The students study together and get to know each other and they end up working together in the Tucson community.”

The cornerstone of the program is the internship, or “field education.” Bachelor’s students spend their entire senior year in a placement working directly in the community. Master’s students work a whopping 960 hours in the field, with their second year in their chosen area of concentration.

Many of the program’s students are from Tucson, and after spending so much internship time in the local agencies, networking with each other, many stay in the area. Ahumada, the field education coordinator, said that on a recent visit with the interns at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System, she found that the overwhelming majority of the professional social workers there were graduates of the ASU program.

Ford said that interacting with the interns has given him a fresh perspective on his police work.

“I may see an event as it relates to a series of events, but it’s new for them. They’ll ask ‘how?’ or ‘why?’ and I have to pause and that makes me think about how we can do things differently,” he said.

Making a difference

Randall Rutherford, a student in the bachelor’s of social work program at Tucson, wants to be a drug-abuse counselor and is interning at the Salvation Army’s drug-rehabilitation center while also working at Cottonwood, an expensive private facility in Tucson.

“I see a big difference. The rock bottom at the Salvation Army is a lot different,” he said. “The people there are very low-income, generally hard-core addicts, and they’re so shorthanded at the clinic that I get to do a lot with the clients.”

Rutherford decided to pursue his career after personal experience with addiction.

“I met some counselors who were inspirational and instrumental in getting me started in helping other people. I feel like I can really make a difference, and they listen to me more than someone who hasn’t had that experience,” he said.

Other students seek social justice through policy. Jodi Boyd worked directly with drug addicts for 14 years before entering the master’s program at ASU in Tucson.

“My experience is that sometimes people don’t want to change. A lot of times you tell a client ‘this is the list of things you have to do’ and they’re rebels,” said Boyd, who is interning at the Primavera Foundation, an anti-poverty agency in Tucson. Recently, she helped at a workshop for people who had been convicted of felonies to restore their rights.

“I want to go into policy and administration so we can change the way we do things, so we’re more accepting of the reasons why people don’t want to come into a program, and so we can develop programs for people who are just as human as everyone else.”

Boyd learned firsthand that not everyone is ready to accept help. The interns in the South Tucson Police Department didn’t find the woman who missed her court date, and later, she declined offers of help from Ford.

“Hopefully, one day soon,” Callahan said.

Ahumada said that field work gives the students the day-to-day skills they need in the face of daunting odds.

“Sometimes when we think about our community problems — poverty, drugs, gangs — we can make a laundry list, and it sounds so depressing and what can anyone do about it?

“Well, let me tell you, there’s lot that you can do. And that’s what social work is about. We know there’s a certain science as well an art that goes into making effective changes.

“That’s what energizes social work students.”

Top photo: A student group evaluates the needs of a hypothetical client during class at ASU's School of Social Work in Tucson, on Monday, Oct. 31. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


Passion for travel garners ASU student national award

November 1, 2016

What is the best way to excite travelers about a destination?

For Arizona State Univeristy undergraduate tourism development and management major Virginia Miller, authenticity is the ultimate experience. This view helped her earn the 2016 Meredith Travel Marketing scholarship at the U.S. Travel Association’s Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations. Virginia Miller Virginia Miller (right) receives the Meredith Travel Marketing Scholarship from Melissa Luebbe, national travel director for Meredith Travel. Photo courtesy Meredith Travel. Download Full Image

“People want to feel at home and part of the community wherever they are,” she said of the winning essay she wrote promoting authentic destination marketing.

She noted that Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs) play a key role in the representation and promotion of the communities they represent. Beyond ambassadors to external audiences, they help create local jobs and revenue.

“When destinations are represented in a realistic manner, focusing on real people having real experiences, locals and visitors alike stand to benefit from the positive promotional consideration.”

The concept stems in part from Miller’s concentration in sustainable tourism as part of her degree program in the School of Community Resources and Development in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“The whole program at ASU has made me think about tourism in a different way,” she said. “Sustainable tourism is more than installing solar panels and adhering to a recycling program.”

“How can you plan to leave an area better than when you first arrived? How do you think about a place in terms of your future? You can’t have sustainable tourism and not include the community,” she added.

Miller moved to Arizona after serving for five years in the Air Force. As a services airman, she had already gained hospitality experience. It was also the first time she had an opportunity to travel, and the GI Bill enabled her to pursue higher education.

“I wanted to go to ASU, so I looked under cool majors and found sustainable tourism. It was perfect,” she said. “For me, this is more than selling a dinner package with a hotel room, this is about improving the world and how we view our collective impact towards it.”

She said her purpose is to ultimately serve others, and sees that align with fellow peers in the classroom.

As a senior this year, Miller is looking forward to a spring internship experience. She hopes to work with a local boutique firm as a travel consultant. She said the knowledge she now has of the sector has drawn her to support local, community-based businesses.

“Travel has always been a lifelong aspiration for me. At ASU, I’ve been able to experience responsible travel first-hand, going to Australia and Fiji. And, now I’ve won a national scholarship in an area I love. I am already living out my childhood dream, and this is just the beginning.”

Heather Beshears

director marketing and communications, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


ASU team uses interdisciplinary approach to examine society's food, energy, water challenges

October 17, 2016

Here in the desert, water is a big concern. For the average person living in the Phoenix metropolitan area, the prospect of future water shortages makes us think about fixing that dripping faucet, buying high-efficiency washing machines and xeriscaping our green lawns — things we can do as individuals to conserve water.

But to really understand our future as desert dwellers and create the appropriate policies for future generations, it’s necessary to look how water affects and is affected by other crucial resources we depend on: food and energy. An interdisciplinary team from ASU is collaborating to create a set of tools to help decision makers sustainably address the future of food, energy and water system policy in the Phoenix metropolitan area and beyond. An interdisciplinary team from Arizona State University’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, School of Community Resources and Development and School of Sustainability are collaborating to create a set of tools to help decision makers sustainably address the future of food, energy and water system policy in the Phoenix metropolitan area and beyond (from left): Giuseppe Mascaro, Dave White, Hessam Sarjoughian, Rimjhim Aggarwal and Ross Maciejewski. Photo by Pete Zrioka/ASU Download Full Image

Five Arizona State University faculty members from a range of disciplines recently received a five-year, $3 million National Science Foundation award. As part of the NSF’s Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS) program, the team conducts research to build decision support tools that look at the interdependence of these systems and help develop sustainable policies for the future.

A complex nexus

Historically, policies for agriculture, energy and water have been made in isolation of one another. In reality, these systems are all interconnected. This interplay is called the food-energy-water nexus.

For example, Phoenix is the fourth-fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country, and every resident needs water for drinking and other daily uses. Additionally, water is used to irrigate crops, generate energy and cool power plants. When water levels decrease, issues arise not only for consumers, but also in agricultural and energy sectors.

Around the world, as demands on each sector of the nexus continue to grow, the siloed approach to policies involving limited natural resources impedes a sustainable future. Successful policy in all sectors takes into account the links, synergies and conflicts between them through anticipatory governance, or using data and models to predict how variations will affect our world and how we can proactively plan for the consequences through policy.

“We’re looking at where anything in this system could break and how that propagates to other parts of the system,” said Ross Maciejewski, computer science assistant professor in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Evaluating how these systems interact can be difficult, as each individual sector is highly complex. Together, their behavior becomes even more complex to predict.

“As you look further into the future, these problems become significantly more challenging,” said Hessam Sarjoughian, computer science associate professor and co-director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Modeling and Simulation. “Like a hurricane, it’s relatively easy to predict a few hours before one hits a city, but predicting this event three days in advance is very different. Similarly, knowing what the future will be in 10 to 20 years at the nexus of food, energy and water becomes exponentially more complex. Different kinds of interaction amongst food, energy and water parts are crucial to be correctly modeled, simulated and visualized at scale.

The NSF INFEWS program has assembled interdisciplinary teams to answer the call to this grand challenge. This $50 million program looks to study the interconnections and interdependencies of the food-energy-water nexus, bringing scientific and engineering experts from a wide range of fields together to develop innovative scientific and engineering pathways to produce new knowledge, techniques and a workforce capable of managing them.

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Food, energy and water systems are interconnected and are affected by climate, population, policies and the economy. Policy enacted in one area of this nexus can have unforeseen consequences in another.

Interdisciplinary teams solve wide-ranging problems

The team, led by principal investigator Maciejewski, includes co-principal investigators Sarjoughian, Giuseppe Mascaro, assistant professor from the Fulton Schools; Dave White, professor in ASU’s School of Community Resources and Development and director of the ASU Decision Center for a Desert Cityand Rimjhim Aggarwal, associate professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability.

Each team member brings his or her own area of expertise to define, analyze and visualize problems within the food-energy-water nexus.

“The areas are so broad you can’t just be an expert in one discipline,” Maciejewski said. “So we rely on others to bring their expertise.”

Maciejewski is an expert on data visualization, Sarjoughian in heterogeneous modeling methods, Mascaro in hydrology and water resource engineering, White in environmental policy and stakeholder engagement, and Aggarwal in economics and sustainable food systems.

Together they have a more complete understanding of the nexus and how individual sectors interact.

Modelers who are experts on a given domain, such as Mascaro in hydrology and Aggarwal in food systems, collaborate to analyze individual food, energy and water data models as well as their interactions — a difficult task due to the vast differences of how these systems behave and react to changes. With the help of these experts, computer scientists Maciejewski and Sarjoughian create visualization tools that display the model simulation data in a way that is accessible to individuals outside their domain of expertise.

“The ultimate societal objective of our food-energy-water nexus activities is to develop basic knowledge that will transform the planning, management and operation of interrelated food, energy and water systems to achieve long-term sustainability and security,” White said.

This requires White to facilitate additional collaboration with stakeholders in social, economic and political processes who will provide the necessary insight to ensure models are relevant and seen as legitimate by policymakers.

By creating a way for stakeholders to understand the feedback between the food-energy-water nexus biophysical systems and related economic systems, policies can avoid significant undesirable and unintended consequences, Aggarwal said.

Building on past collaboration

This isn’t the first time members of the team have collaborated. As part of ASU’s Global Security Initiative, Maciejewski and Mascaro have previously worked together with White to address potential conflicts in Africa due to climate change. White has also spent more than a decade on social science research in the Phoenix metro area with the Decision Center for a Desert City, and he has worked with Aggarwal on many water, agricultural and environmental sustainability research projects.

Their experiences together set them up for success for this year’s INFEWS project proposal.

When Maciejewski saw the project had a data visualization track he decided to collaborate with his former partners again to look at the food-energy-water nexus specifically in the Phoenix metropolitan area. They’re looking for potential failures in the local nexus system, and how to show the consequences those failures to local decision makers.

An example that informed the team's focus is the Navajo Generating Station on the northern edge of Arizona. Though outside the group’s area of study, changes to the coal-fired plant can send effects cascading down to the Phoenix metropolitan area. The plant is the primary source of energy for pumps that deliver Central Arizona Project canal water to the region. It’s also one of the top emitters of greenhouse gases in the nation, and has come under scrutiny from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Farmers in the Phoenix area are very concerned about environmental regulations designed to control emissions at the plant as they would likely increase their CAP water delivery costs. Aggarwal discovered in her previous research that as CAP water becomes more expensive, farmers in the Phoenix region with groundwater rights are likely to switch to groundwater pumping, increasing energy demand further and putting already shrinking groundwater resources at greater risk.

“This is a case where an enhanced understanding of the nexus could help us design better strategies and policies for the transition to sustainability,” Aggarwal said.

Arizona solutions to global solutions

Maciejewski’s team isn’t the only team out of Arizona to be selected for this NSF project. Led out of Northern Arizona University, a second Arizona team that includes four ASU faculty as project co-principal investigators is taking a data fusion approach to model and map food-energy-water nexus systems.

“It’s unusual [for a single university to be part of] two grants in this project at this level of funding,” Sarjoughian said.

ASU’s emphasis on interdisciplinary teams and research could be the driving factor behind its success in the NSF INFEWS project.

“ASU is well situated for these opportunities to work on these complex problems because we’ve worked to foster these collaborations and build these teams,” Maciejewski said.

Along with the university’s focus on interdisciplinary research, ASU is seen as a leader in researching areas affected by climate and water.

The university recently hosted United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who talked about food security in the face of climate change. He said the Obama administration has charged universities with doing more research on climate and water issues and specific agricultural solutions to those problems, and ASU’s School of Sustainability is already looking at every aspect of climate change and exploring how to get different stakeholders — farmers, city planners, water and energy utility managers and citizens — to work jointly on finding solutions. By providing a better understanding of the nexus and the tools to visualize and assess various future scenarios, this project could pave the way for meaningful and impactful dialogue among these stakeholders.

The state of Arizona is uniquely positioned to help solve food-energy-water nexus sustainability challenges. The desert state’s experiences may soon become the reality in more places globally as the natural and built worlds grow and change.

“Phoenix already has problems others are expected to face, so if we can find the solutions here we can apply them elsewhere,” Maciejewski said. “We’ve done a good job of solving a lot of these problems, like population growth and land use change, so we’re a good example of how to take on sustainability solutions, and a lot of that has been helped by ASU.”

Nurturing a new crop of interdisciplinary experts

As the nexus is a relatively recent research domain, the ASU team also faces the challenge of introducing a new generation of engineering students to the new territory.

When searching for graduate students and postdoctoral researcher to complete their research team, Mascaro noted that students were already working on water or energy or food, but not many worked on a combination of these sectors. They hope to find an innovative group of students to change that.

“We want to make this a five-year interdisciplinary research project for our students to build their doctoral topics on,” Maciejewski said. “We want to graduate world experts on the food-energy-water nexus.”





Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU student building better citizens through science, public service

October 6, 2016

Growing up in Mexico City, Carlo Altamirano-Allende envisioned a career as a physicist. He had the education. But his heart pulled him in another direction.

Altamirano taught at a private middle school and high school in Mexico City while earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. More importantly, he coordinated an adult literacy program that placed students in rural communities for two to three months each summer. The students taught adults how to read, write and do mathematics. The adults, in turn, taught students their local customs and livelihoods. For Altamirano and many others, the experience was life-changing. They learned what it was like for those marginalized by Mexico’s economy and politics.     Carlo Altamirano-Allende is a doctoral student in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society Carlo Altamirano-Allende is a doctoral student in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. Download Full Image

“That kind of changed the way I looked at things,” admits Altamirano. “It made me more  interested in working with people. I mean I love physics. I miss doing physics because in a way it’s an easier role than the social sciences. Everything makes sense. With social science, some things happen that can’t be explained.”

A fifth-year doctoral student in the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University, Altamirano wants to teach people how they can improve their community.

“My dissertation deals with public engagement with science and technology in Mexico,” Altamirano says. “So, I'm really interested in ways of building capacities for people to be better citizens, to be more involved in society.”

That’s one of the reasons he applied to the Spirit of Service Scholars program run by the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service in the College of Public Service and Community Solutions on the Downtown Phoenix campus. The year-long program selects a dozen students each year who are interested in public service. Through a series of seminars, workshops and mentoring, Spirit of Service Scholars learn how to become effective advocates and leaders in their communities. 

“Carlo is a perfect example of how an interest in public service overlaid against any field or discipline gives students a way to apply what they’re learning in deeply meaningful ways,” says Alberto Olivas, executive director of the Pastor Center. “Public service isn’t just for political science or public affairs students — it has ramifications for all students, and Carlo is a great exemplar of how science and public service can intersect to have tremendous impact.”

Since coming to ASU as a Fulbright Scholar, Altamirano has been actively involved on campus and beyond. He worked as a research assistant for the Center for Nanotechnology in Society, assists study abroad programs to Morocco and Ecuador and is assisting an ASU program that introduces new energy solutions to young leaders in Pakistan.

Altamirano is an elected member of the ASU Graduate and Professional Student Association where he currently serves as director of advocacy. And he is co-president of Local to Global Justice, an ASU student organization that promotes the connection between local diversity, sustainability and social justice issues with what’s happening worldwide. The group was co-founded by Arizona congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema when she was a student at ASU in 2001.

Altamirano says he’s looking forward to getting to know other Spirit of Service Scholars and collaborating on upcoming projects.

“It’s a great honor to be a Spirit of Service Scholar,” says Altamirano. “The name really says a lot. It's kind of this advocacy to serve, to help others. We are interested in making our communities a better place either at the local or state level.”

Once he earns his doctorate, Altamirano hopes to work for a nonprofit or think tank doing just that.   

“I’d like to do research on ways to get people more involved in the political process,” says Altamirano. “I think this program will definitely help me and motivate me to move towards that direction.” 

Paul Atkinson

assistant director, College of Public Service and Community Solutions


image title

Bridging science and policy for better water strategies

ASU Decision Center for a Desert City giving policymakers research they can use.
Farms, cities, tribes, utilities all involved in complex water-usage debate.
Part of the challenge in water allocation: Who owns what?
October 6, 2016

Keeping an arid region supplied requires balancing many interests; ASU's experts are connecting research with decision makers

Editor’s note: This is the third in a three-part series examining the work that ASU is doing in the realm of water as a resource in the arid West. Today's focus in on the intersection of law, policy and academia.

It's 118 at Lake Mead on a July afternoon, but the thermometer on the boat’s depth finder says the lake is a cool 67 degrees. Naturally, you jump in. It tastes earthy and mossy, if mossy can be a taste, and ultimately it’s what 30 million people survive on.

This is the stuff and place thousands of professionals are focused on. Law, economics, policy and science all underlie this bluish-green water. Some could argue that it begins with the river’s watershed in the Rockies of western Wyoming, but it’s here, where the water wizards of the Bureau of Reclamation determine their annual prognostication, that the West makes its stand.

Taking action

The Kyl Center for Water Policy, named after former Sen. Jon Kyl, a distinguished water lawyer, was created about a year and a half ago at Arizona State University to work on water-policy analysis and research. Sarah Porter, a Harvard-educated attorney and former state director of the Audubon Society, was hired as the inaugural director.

She became intrigued with water when she introduced an initiative to protect riparian habitat for bird migration.

“It got me more and more interested in water policy,” she said.

On a Friday morning in August, as the first meeting of the Governor’s Water Augmentation Council convenes down at the Arizona Capitol, a monsoon rain pounds outside.

“It’s raining outside; that’s awesome,” someone says.

Gov. Doug Ducey created the council last October. All of Arizona sits around the table: cattle growers, cotton farmers, cities, wine growers, utilities, tribal nations and communities, home builders, businessmen, attorneys and water professionals. Porter is there representing the Kyl Center.

Sarah Porter

Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy, moderates a panel discussion at the Southwestern Regional Water-Energy Nexus meeting on Sept. 8 at Old Main on the Tempe campus. The purpose of the meeting was to face challenges with innovative, ecologically wise technological solutions. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

They’ve been tasked with finding ways to augment water supplies. The state has been divvied into 22 areas. They are to look at each area, learn what the demand and supply imbalances are in each one, and come up with a solution to close that gap.

Today, they’re talking about the communications plan and what they want to do in the current fiscal year.

The message they want to get out is that Arizona is a “water success story” — in other words, we’re not California.

It’s a message with two competing goals: We need to conserve water, but we’re well-supplied. It’s safe to move here and do business.

“That bathtub ring (at Lake Mead) is not something only people in the Southwest pay attention to,” said Doug MacEachern, the state water department communications administrator.

They’re looking for a balance between rah-rah and everything’s awful.

“We need to tell people it’s going to cost more,” said Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, the giant canal that shunts water from the Colorado River into central and southern Arizona. “It’s going to take more than new showerheads or toilets.”

“Their costs are going to go up, and that’s real,” said Bas Aja, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association.

They create a subcommittee to look into funding for augmentation by using reclaimed and low-quality water. If there’s a shortage declaration on the Colorado in 2018, it’s likely that agriculture will need to make up the shortfall with reclaimed water. Porter volunteers to sit on the subcommittee. This is the rubber hitting the road.

They create another subcommittee to look into a partnership with Mexico on building a desalination plant on the Sea of Cortez.

They know people are aware of the value of water. That message is going to be amped up now.

The most complex legal case in American history

The way Arizona water law works is called prior appropriation. The first person to take water out of a river and put it to beneficial use gets a priority date.

If you dig a ditch and divert water out of the river in 1890 and use 10 acre-feet to grow cotton, you have a right, dated 1890, to grow cotton using 10 acre-feet a year. Somebody comes along 10 years later, digs another ditch downstream of you to grow corn with 10 acre-feet — they have a 1900 date. If there’s only 2 acre-feet in the whole river, legally speaking, you, with the 1890 date, gets 2 acre-feet and the person downstream of you gets nothing. That’s the way water law works.

The Little Colorado River and the Gila River are the two rivers that basically make up all of the surface-water rights in the state that aren’t the Colorado. Who has claims on them? Every kind of water user you can think of: big cities, small towns, large utilities, Native American tribes, little farms, big farms, cattle ranches, mines.

And they’re all suing each other.

The sun rises at Lake Mead in late July. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Lake Mead at sunrise

It’s a giant court case that has been technically going on for 40 years, but actually goes back to territorial days. A class-action lawsuit usually involves thousands of people against a small group of defendants. This involves thousands of people fighting each other.

“I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that it’s the most complex case in American history,” said Rhett Larson, the water attorney with the Kyl Center for Water Policy. “Yeah, it’s a complete mess.”

A water market could improve Arizona’s water management. If a clearinghouse or escrow was set up, people could buy and sell water through that escrow for nature or cities or mining.

“Once we have effectively priced water in a market, then maybe we’re reaching efficient water allocation,” Larson said. “Right now, we can’t do that because nobody knows who owns what.”

Until the legal cases, collectively called the general stream adjudication, is resolved, Arizona can’t have an effective water market because people can’t buy and sell water until who owns what has been resolved. The Kyl Center works on the general stream adjudication every day. Ideally, the courts will ultimately make a decree. But not everyone is in a hurry to see the case cleared.

“So a lot of the work that’s happening behind the scenes is to find ways, if not necessarily to resolve it, to at least allow small people who want to settle out of it and don’t want to pay their lawyers for decades, just to be able to settle out, take some water and leave — and for the others to at least have a faster, smoother process,” Larson said. “But there’s a lot of skepticism of that too, because if you’re going to get ground up into hamburger in the end — do you really want it ground up faster?”

The center has a group of stakeholders who meet several times a month to negotiate. Larson said the work is promising. “We’ve made a lot of progress in the last 18 months,” he said. The Kyl Center acts as a mediator to avoid litigation.

Before worrying about conserving water, people need to worry about understanding water, Larson said.

“Imagine a resource as important as water, to not know who owns it,” he said. “A lot of these assured water-supply designations are based on assumptions on who owns what water that might not be true when the adjudication is decided.

“So people are like, ‘Oh yeah, we have a hundred years of assured water supply!’ And you always feel like going, ‘You don’t know for sure that you own that water until the court says you do.’ … But I don’t know, I still hope that there’s something that will sort of stoke the fire in people’s willingness to resolve the stream adjudication.”

Diamonds and water

When economist Adam Smith wrote "The Wealth of Nations," he wrote about the water-diamond paradox. Here’s a little tiny, shiny rock that people will pay out the nose for, but it does nothing. And over here is a substance that’s everything, but nobody wants to pay for.

It’s something Larson wonders about.

“I think it’s probably for a lot of reasons, partially because it falls for free out of the sky and people think, ‘Why should I pay for that?’ ” he said. “It’s partially because people think of water as a human right, as a fundamental right. I mean, how can you charge me for something that I absolutely need in order to live? And because, you know, in this country we tend to take it for granted. You turn on your taps and clean water comes out all the time, and you just assume this is a part of your life and it doesn’t cost much money.

“For some reason we will pay quadruple the amount of its price for movie popcorn, but the idea that you would pay full value for your water is just crazy!”

As the canal manager and the cattleman said at the water council meeting, pricing is on a lot of minds.

“We need to price water in a sane way to communicate to people this is a high-value commodity,” said Pat Gober, a research professor in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning who studies water resources management, decision-making under uncertainty and urban climate adaptation.

Video by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Water is super-cheap in Arizona. SRP charges $90 a year for irrigation. If you look at a Phoenix water bill closely, most of it goes to sewage fees, garbage fees and some taxes. Very little of it is actually water.

The city of Phoenix Water Services Department spends $175 million annually on operations and management. Of that, $24 million is spent on actual water. The capital improvements budget is $130 million.

“The cost is in the infrastructure,” water services director Kathryn Sorensen said. A section of the redwood water pipes that used to supply the city in the 1920s sits in the lobby outside her office in City Hall, as if to underscore the point. Phoenix has 7,000 miles of water lines spread across 540 square miles. (Now multiply that around the West.)

“As those water lines age, they’re going to have to be replaced if we’re going to continue to have reliable water supplies,” she said. “The cost of that is enormous. We estimate, very roughly, that the replacement cost of the city of Phoenix utility — if you were just to go out and build it starting from scratch — is about $15 billion; $11 billion of that is in pipelines. It’s the cost of the infrastructure that’s going to matter in the future. It’s an enormous cost. And our infrastructure is aging.”

Sorensen is an economist by training.

“I’m intellectually fascinated with the idea and the questions around resource allocation: Who gets what? Of course the most valuable resource here in Arizona is water,” said the Phoenix native. “It’s a very natural fit for me. I knew at a very early age that this is exactly what I wanted to do. I’m one of those of people blessed to have their calling as a career.”

Phoenix has tiered water rates. The more you use, the more you pay. There is also seasonal pricing; water costs more in summer.

“That’s really one of the ways you’re going to get conservation,” Sorensen said.

She knows the cost of water will go up.

“Of course,” she said. “The cost of everything increases over time. When you talk about water, it absolutely will become more expensive, particularly Colorado River water.

“The impact of that in terms of the end customer will kind of vary. Different cities have different supply portfolios. A city that is more dependent on Colorado River water and a city that is more dependent on Salt and Verde water might expect a different mix on the impact of those costs.”

Agriculture, which uses 67 percent of the water in Arizona, according to the Department of Water Resources, began to pay more in the mid-1990s, when Grady Gammage Jr. served on the board of the Central Arizona Project.

“Historically, water has been free to farmers,” Gammage said. “What they pay for is the delivery cost. In California, the Imperial Irrigation District is still delivering water to farmers at something like $6 an acre-foot. When I was at CAP, we started charging $30 an acre-foot. The questions were could farmers afford it or not?

“The farmers’ view at that point was they had long-term rights to water; they owned the water. It was just getting delivered through the canal. But the contracts they had signed for that delivery required them to pay for the canal at the fully loaded cost of it, and they couldn’t afford that. So we re-cut a deal where they don’t have long-term rights to water anymore. Water is in a kind of limited spot market every year.”

He once sat with a bunch of farmers who told him, “We have to be assured we’ll have water every year, and that the price will never vary.”

“I said, ‘Are you ensured that the price of seed will never vary every year? Or that the price of insecticide will never vary every year? Or gasoline or diesel fuel?’ ‘Well, no, but that’s different. Water is different.’ No, it’s not. It’s a commodity, like those other commodities,” Gammage said.

“So what the CAP does now is it tries to price agricultural water at the cost of getting it here, but on a sort of rolling average so the farmers know three or four years in advance how much water there is going to be, and what it’s going to cost, and that can be adjusted. That was hugely revolutionary. They all thought that would destroy agriculture in Arizona, and it’s worked out pretty well. The price had gone up fairly dramatically over time.”

There’s a trade-off between how much you pay for water and how much you pay for food, said John Sabo, a professor in the ASU School of Life Sciences. We eat a lot of stuff because it’s cheap and available. We eat baby greens in the dead of summer because water is cheap.

“That’s what farms are sitting on: this resource that’s only going to go up in value over time,” Sabo said. “It’s going to force them to become more efficient.”

Farms may sell expensive water to cities and use that increased revenue to install things like drip irrigation or switch from low-value crops like alfalfa to high-value crops such as strawberries. We’re not going to get to the point where lettuce is $15 a head, though.

“No, because people won’t eat it if it’s that expensive,” Sabo said. “Remember when avocados were $4 each? We only had guacamole during the Super Bowl. … I think it’s more that we’ll be focused on eating seasonal things that are cheap, but not all year round.”

John Sabo

ASU ecologist John Sabo speaks at the Southwestern Regional Water-Energy Nexus meeting Sept. 8. He says there’s a trade-off between how much people pay for water and how much they pay for food. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

It’s not like farmers are acting like drunken sailors. In central Arizona, farmers are required by state law to use water-conservation practices like lining canals, laser-leveling fields and other best management practices. Farmers are legally required to be at least 80 percent efficient, according to the Department of Water Resources.

“Agriculture has become more efficient,” Porter said. “We can grow a lot more food with the same amount of water we used 30 years ago.”

Good news

“We really have a lot of water (in Phoenix),” Porter said.

Water usage in the city has fallen 30 percent in 20 years.

“We serve 400,000 more people than we did 20 years ago, with the same water,” Sorensen said. “Tremendously successful.”

Las Vegas pays residents to rip out lawns. Tucson has paid out $1.7 million on rebates for rain-harvesting systems. Not all those programs work. A lot of systems have been installed in Tucson, but there’s no decline in demand. In fact, they may be using twice the water they used before. Phoenix hasn’t paid for anything like that, but it’s hitting comparable demand reduction to cities in the region.

“I’m a big fan of the way the city of Phoenix has dealt with landscape issues, which is primarily about education, not about discouraging landscaping through rate adjustments or about paying people to tear out grass,” Gammage said.

What’s causing the drop in demand? Less turf, fewer pools being built, and more efficient appliances. One positive effect of the Great Recession Sabo pointed out was people couldn’t afford to buy new homes, so they remodeled. Remodels almost always involve kitchens and bathrooms, and new appliances are built to be water-efficient. Sorensen expects water use to continue to drop.

“We’re very proud of the way our residents have really embraced a desert lifestyle,” she said. “That’s what it is. Phoenix focuses on the long game when it comes to conservation. We’ve been doing it full-force since the mid-80s, decades before other communities figured out this was important.

“I know it sounds strange, but we don’t want our customers reacting to hydrologic events. We don’t want them reacting to the water levels in Lake Mead or the fact it’s been a 15-year drought, or any of those things. We want them to save water and use water efficiently because it will always be hot and dry here. That’s the mentality we need them to embrace. This is not a condition. This is not something to react to. This is how to live every day. That strategy has been successful in Phoenix.”

In-home efficiency is becoming about as good as it gets, Gammage thinks. And tearing out irrigated tall trees and lush lawns would be a terrible mistake.

“I think we need to be much more discriminating about the appropriate uses of water in the urban environment in the desert,” he said. “There are parts of metropolitan Phoenix where retaining the historic landscape — lush grass and trees — is important because it’s the heritage of Phoenix. … In the newer subdivisions we shouldn’t have grass in the front yards, where it isn’t used.”

But in making decisions like that, whether in Phoenix or in other arid cities, there’s a dilemma, Gammage said: “You wind up allowing the lush landscape to be preserved for the affluent people, and the lower-income people don’t get it.”

He’s a fan of Tempe Town Lake. It’s an amenity, a gathering place, and a place for recreation that is open to everyone.

“It’s a good use of water,” he said, adding that it “creates ambience and gathering space in the urban fabric.”

Rowers on Tempe Town Lake

Tempe Town Lake draws fans in such water experts as Grady Gammage Jr., who praises it as an amenity that offers activities to a wide segment of the population. Photo by ASU

Phoenix has a huge amount of give when it comes to water supplies, said Porter, the directorWhite is also a Senior Sustainability Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability; director, Decision Center for a Desert City, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability; professor, School of Community Resources and Development, College of Public Service and Community Solutions; affiliated faculty, Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. of the Kyl Center. The Salt River reservoirs are at half capacity, and not every SRP city uses all their supplies. We’re far from living on a knife’s edge, she said.

“We talk about a supply gap, and we worry about where we’re going to get water, but we actually — if we stopped growing, and didn’t have any more demand, we wouldn’t have a water problem. Even with all the scary threats to our water supply out there, we wouldn’t be having conversations about a water-supply problem,” said Porter, who added that the issues are sustaining growth.

Bull in a china shop

One of the challenges is getting two of the main players — scientists and those making decisions in government — talking to each other.

“I think, for some reason, and I don’t think it’s either side’s fault, policymakers and scientists aren’t communicating at all,” Porter said. “In a lot of disciplines there’s an expectation when they publish a paper in a scholarly magazine, someone at the legislature is going to pick it up and read it and act on it. Of course it’s absurd to think that if you think about how busy elected officials are and the demands on their attention.”

There isn’t the beginning of the communication needed, she said, but “there are places at ASU where there are much more deliberate efforts to make those communications happen.”

That place is the Decision Center for a Desert City. A research unit of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, the center conducts climate, water and decision research, and develops tools to bridge the boundary between scientists and decision makers. The 12-year-old center has worked hard to become an example of how academia can work with policymakers.

Dave White is the director and principal investigator of the center. 

“This is a problem that we have faced and hopefully overcome to a large degree,” White said. “When university researchers conduct research independent of collaboration with policymakers, they often miss critical inputs or critical perspective into the research, that if they were aware of these perspectives they could vastly improve the relevance of the research.”

For example, if a scientist talked to a policymaker before embarking on a study, they could set a geographic scope to a political decision-making unit. A study about the Phoenix Active Management Area instead of “greater Phoenix” “could potentially increase the relevance of the study,” White said. (Active Management Areas are five places identified by the state as being heavily reliant on groundwater.)

Dave White

Dave White (speaking at the Southwestern Regional Water-Energy Nexus meeting on Sept. 8), director of the Decision Center for a Desert City, says the center involves its partners in designing the research. That helpls the results be relevent to policymakers. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Research also needs to meet the timing of policymaking. Agencies have deadlines and deliverables, just like the private sector does.

All of which raises the question: Exactly what do public water officials want to know from academia? Where does the rubber hit the road? These six titles are a random recent sampling of what policymakers want to know, from papers written for the Decision Center for a Desert City.

  • neighborhood microclimates and vulnerability to heat stress
  • regional relationships between surface temperature, vegetation and human settlement in a rapidly urbanizing ecosystem
  • determinants of small-area water consumption for the city of Phoenix
  • residents’ yard choices and rationales in a desert city: Social priorities, ecological impacts, and decision trade-offs
  • the impact of the Phoenix urban heat island on residential water use
  • analysis of drought determinants for the Colorado River Basin

'We listen'

Kelli Larson, an associate professorLarson is an associate professor, School of Sustainability; associate professor, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Senior Sustainability Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability; center associate director and director of education and mentoring, Decision Center for a Desert City. in the School of Sustainability, said she saw some of the dread policymakers have of scientists early in the center’s history.

“There’s this new water center opening, and some of the language was to improve water resource decision-making, which, as a decision maker, you might be sitting there thinking, ‘We’ve been working on these issues for 10, 20, 30 years, and now there’s this new center, and they’re going to improve our decisions?’” Larson said. “It may burn relationships.”

The majority of the center’s “clients” tend to be technical staff at various agencies: water providers, planners, utility managers. Larson thinks about what they need and the policy implications. The center is proactive; it goes to decision makers, so they don’t have to navigate ASU to find the right people. Center staff — some of whom are former policymakers themselves — ask them what they’re working on, what their concerns are, what questions they have.

“It takes time to build those relationships, to build trust,” Larson said. “We’ve been quite successful with that. Part of why we’ve been successful at that is because we listen. I see the planners and the decision makers as experts in their own right. They’re not scientists per se, they’re not researchers, they’re not academics, but oftentimes they do do their own form of research, and they have their own knowledge base. There’s a lot they can offer to our understanding and insights, including informing our research agendas.

“When I first got here, I felt like we were outsiders trying to enter the water community, and now I feel like we’re a part of the water community,” she said. “That feels really good to see that unfold over 10 years.”

And people in government agree that it’s successful.

“They haven’t been (overbearing),” Sorenson said. “That’s exactly the reason we’ve been able to build such good relationships.”

Boundary organization

“One of the things we do really well that a lot of universities are getting into, but we’re on the leading edge of, I’d say, is integrating people into the decision-making process from the beginning,” Sabo said. “We’re very good at understanding the institutional context and the decision-making context of water resources and doing the planning and interface with the science that allows people to contribute to that process.”

The Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) calls itself a boundary organization. It is a link between scientists and water-resource practitioners. The goal is to have a space — both physical and intellectual — that creates an institutional connection between the university and its partners.

“We don’t operate in consultancy mode,” White said. “We involve the partners we work with in the design of the studies. The partners are involved in constructing the framing of the problem, they’re involved in constructing the research questions themselves, in designing and carrying out the research studies, and then interpreting and utilizing the results.”

Hoover Dam

The "bathtub ring" is visible above Lake Mead at Hoover Dam. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Sorensen and Tom Buschatzke, the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources — the state’s two most influential water leaders — sit on DCDC’s advisory board. They, along with the National Science Foundation, which has invested $18 million in the center, evaluate the center every two years. White sits on the mayor’s water advisory board.

Science should fill in the gaps and provide evidence for alternatives. It’s a fine line to walk, White said.

“If you just throw your hands up in the air and say, ‘This is ridiculous!’ that’s not going to get you very far,” he said. “If you want to have policy-relevant work, then you need to understand how did the system converge this way. ... It’s not up to us to make those decisions. It’s up to us to help to diagnose what the consequences of different decisions are.”

Water Sim and the Decision Theater

Because water problems tend to be extremely complex, that makes it difficult for non-water professionals and elected officials to understand them. DCDC has created two opportunities to make them visual.

Water Sim is a software program that models system dynamics. You can fiddle around with various scenarios to see how an El Nino or a thin snowpack will affect water. It’s a systems model; it takes a lot of data usually collected separately — like water supply, demand, climate, population and policy data — and puts it together. Users can change one variable and see how it affects the rest.

ASU’s Decision Theater provides meeting rooms with large-format ultra-high-definition displays and on-site computer systems, tools and personnel that can provide specialized geographic information systems, systems modeling, business intelligence, and 3-D spatial modeling and simulation, among other capabilities.

With water problems, the importance of visualization really ratchets up.

“A picture is worth 1,000 words, right?” Sorensen said. “One of the things that’s been really constructive is to work with DCDC on the Decision Theater. You can bring in policymakers and elected officials and instead of having to sit there and lecture them for three hours on the background of a problem and why it matters and why they should care about it, the Decision Theater helps them visualize it. You can tell the story much easier in a way that makes sense and in a way that’s compelling to them.”

What policymakers say

Water is immensely complex, even if it’s your field, even if you have a PhD. If you really take a look at water problems, what you’ll find is they’re wicked problems. They’re extremely complex. The low-hanging fruit has already been picked.

 “The solutions that are left to us to face the challenges of a changing climate and global uncertainty are few and far between, difficult to achieve, and they tend to be incremental in nature,” Sorensen said. “And yet ahead of us are enormous risks. As a policymaker, someone who has to actually make sure 1.5 million people in the middle of the desert have water, finding your way through that path is extremely difficult. You have to make decisions at different times with relatively little information and huge amounts of uncertainty.

“That’s kind of ASU’s focus: How do you make good decisions in such an uncertain world with such wicked problems ahead of you? It has been a really useful and collaborative partnership. We’ve been thrilled to have been involved with it. … Water wonks are always a little bit nervous when academics forge their way into policy arenas, but I would say for the most part it’s been tremendously successful. It’s been a benefit to us, and hopefully to ASU as well.”

And many people across many fields at ASU are working to make that happen.

“A place like the Global Institute of Sustainability and DCDC help to serve as a glue for all of us, so that our efforts are bigger than just one professor’s efforts,” said hydrologist Enrique VivoniVivoni is an associate professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; sustainability scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability; affiliated faculty, Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. said. “I think we’re starting to make inroads in increasing our reputation, and attracting great students and doing interesting projects and generating a niche that we can become world leaders in.”

The water series

Part 1: The current situation and how we got here.

Part 2: Science and research.

Part 3: Law, policy, challenges — and some good news.

Top photo: The Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge on U.S. 93 soars above the Colorado River spillway from Hoover Dam. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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ASU law student aims to help immigrants pursue college

September 28, 2016

Thomas Kim one of this year's Spirit of Service Scholars — students with a track record of working on community issues

Thomas Kim is living the American dream. He almost didn’t.

Kim is a second-year law student at the Sandra Day O‘Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. As a high school senior living in Portland, Oregon, he was planning to work at a Japanese restaurant following high school. He didn’t see any other options. His family had legally emigrated from Korea a few years before but had since lost their immigration status. As an undocumented immigrant, Kim couldn’t afford tuition.

A friend encouraged him to apply to Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. He qualified for merit scholarships that covered the cost of tuition at the private university. He also worked 30 hours a week to pay for living expenses and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in economics and psychology.

“I’m so blessed and lucky enough to have received all those scholarships and mentors at the right time, but that’s not the case for other immigrants,” Kim said. “So I’d like to create a system and atmosphere for other immigrants to see their fullest potential.”

That’s why, as a Spirit of Service Scholar, Kim plans to create an organization to help mentor students and identify scholarships for students who don’t have immigration status and who otherwise couldn’t afford to go to college or get an advanced degree.

“There are many students who simply don’t know that they can go for a JD, MD or PhD,” Kim said. “And they don’t know that there are scholarships out there, full merit scholarships, to help pay for it.”

The Spirit of Service Scholars program was established six years ago by the College of Public Service and Community Solutions on the Downtown Phoenix campus. It’s overseen by the Congressman Ed Pastor Center for Politics and Public Service. Each year, more than a dozen students who have a track record of working on community issues are selected to serve as scholars. 

“About 10 seconds into his interview, I think we all knew Thomas had to be part of the next Spirit of Service scholars cohort,” said Alberto Olivas, executive director of the Pastor Center. “He spoke so passionately about wanting to study law in order to use it to work effectively on issues affecting immigrants. He’s just a very inspiring young man, and truly embodies the public service orientation we’re looking to groom and develop in this program.”

For Kim, being a Spirit of Service Scholar will provide the tools to accomplish his goals. 

“We’re not just some students spending time in theory la-la land,” Kim said. “We’re actually coming up with an action plan. And with all the resources that this program provides, we’re going to make a dent.”

Scholars learn about leadership and subject matters during weekend seminars and special events. They are also assigned to work with groups of students from local high schools on community or school-based projects.

“The coolest part is that you’re assigned to a mentor,” Kim said. “You’re not only mentoring high school students as a Spirit of Service Scholar, but you’re assigned a mentor.”

When Kim was asked whom he would like for his mentor, he replied “Rebecca White Berch.” He had met the retired chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court soon after he started law school.

“And she has kindly agreed to be my mentor for the year.”

This, despite taking a prized item away from the chief justice at a fundraising auction last year — Kim had outbid White Berch for a dish of baklava, a Greek dessert.  

“After I won, her clerk, who is a past scholar, comes over to me and she says, ‘Thomas, what in the world are you doing?’” Kim recalled. “‘Why did you bid against her? You know that was for her daughter and son-in-law from Idaho who are vegans.’”

Embarrassed by the social faux pas, Kim tried to make amends. He immediately emailed the chief justice.

“Can I stop by your chamber and drop off this baklava?” Kim asked. “I don’t care about the cost, it was for a good cause.”

White Berch told him her family had already departed, but the gesture was appreciated.

Paul Atkinson

assistant director , College of Public Service and Community Solutions