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ASU's West campus expanding to serve the evolving West Valley

March 29, 2023

Governor, other policymakers among hundreds at event celebrating launch of new schools in forensics, business and engineering; 2 new buildings

Arizona State University celebrated its West campus on Wednesday by kicking off a large-scale project that will add three new academic schools and two new buildings.

The event, on Fletcher Lawn, was called “West Valley Forward” and highlighted ASU’s commitment to meeting the educational and economic growth needs of the booming West Valley.

ASU, which offers more than 120 degree programs at the West campus, is planning to grow enrollment at that campus from the current 5,000 students to about 15,000.

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs told the crowd that ASU's West campus will produce graduates to fuel the dynamic growth of industry in the West Valley, which has expanded to include semiconductors and solar power.

“Word is getting out about what Arizona and the West Valley have to offer, and I couldn’t be more excited, and we couldn’t realize this economic growth without ASU West,” she said.

A woman speaks at a lectern

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, who has a Master of Social Work from ASU, said at Wednesday's celebration: “Days like today make me proud to be a Sun Devil.” Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

ASU Executive Vice President and University Provost Nancy Gonzales noted that the West campus is nearly 40 years old, established in 1984.

“The Valley was a very different place in those days — much of the land west of the I-17 was agricultural and sparsely populated,” she said.

In the decades that followed, the West Valley grew from 700,000 to 1.8 million residents while ASU transformed into a research and innovation powerhouse that’s a resource for the communities it serves, she said.

“This shared history brings us to a moment where ASU’s commitment to the citizens and communities of the West Valley requires a new level of engagement, resources and vision, and that’s why we’re here today,” Gonzales said at the event Wednesday, which included a picnic centered on the newest design aspiration, Principled Innovation; speeches; a panel discussion; and a ceremonial groundbreaking for the two new buildings.

New programs

Three new schools, in business, forensics and engineering, will be added to the West campus starting in the fall 2023 semester:

• The School of Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the W. P. Carey School of Business: This new school, pending approval by the faculty senate in April, will help students develop an entrepreneurial mindset and include project-based coursework and service opportunities in the West Valley. Two new bachelor’s degrees will be added — in entrepreneurial leadership and in applied business and technology solutions. The W. P. Carey School currently offers 11 undergraduate degrees, two graduate degrees and two certificates at the West campus.

The School of Interdisciplinary Forensics in the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences: Forensics is the most popular major at the West campus. Since 2016, over 2,000 students have earned degrees in one of five forensics programs — three undergraduate and two master’s degrees programs. These programs will now be housed together in the new school, which will strengthen the forensics focus and align resources at the West campus. ASU will extend forensics applications across traditional and nontraditional disciplines. While forensics plays a vital role in the administration of justice, it is a highly interdisciplinary field, encompassing psychology, engineering, nursing, accounting, anthropology, biology and the environment. The new school will blend scientific rigor and technical training specifically to address system inequities and safeguard human rights.

The School of Integrated Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering: This new school will provide STEM opportunities in the underserved West Valley with a Bachelor of Science in engineering science — a flexible, multidisciplinary program that integrates a foundation in math, science and engineering, with a specialization in a chosen engineering concentration. Graduates will be prepared for careers in engineering or science as well as business professions that interact with technical specialists. With the Fulton Schools having a presence in the West Valley, the region's schools, nonprofits and businesses will benefit from its Fulton Difference Programs, which include engineering projects in community service, student organizations, K–12 programs and the Grand Challenge Scholars Program.

The two new buildings will include a four-story, 55,000-square-foot academic facility that will house student gallery space, computer labs, faculty offices and future growth spaces, and is expected to be finished in spring 2025. A 500-bed, 134,264-square-foot residence hall is scheduled to open for the fall 2024 semester. Currently, about 800 students live at the West campus. Both buildings are expected to be LEED Silver certified.

Besides adding the new degree programs and buildings at the West campus, ASU also will create the Education Complex at ASU, which will be part of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. The new initiative will be a space for collaboration on new ideas and educational innovation through social embeddedness. It will be dedicated to shaping the big questions and global trends affecting the future of education.

The Education Complex will focus on developing a network of community groups with an emphasis on diversity in perspectives and approaches. The groups will include representatives from preschool, K–12, higher education, community-based organizations, business, students, nonprofits, donors and other sectors.

The complex will include physical space that will be flexible, organic and open, allowing shifts into classrooms, educational demonstration spaces or lab sites. Mobile spaces will also be created that can be transported into the community.

Expanding the West campus will have a positive impact on the broader community, according to Todd Sandrin, vice provost of ASU's West campus and dean of the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

“By providing higher education opportunities for more students, we advance social and economic mobility and contribute to the development of a more diverse and educated workforce,” Sandrin said ahead of Wednesday's festivities. “This has direct benefits not only for individual students and their families, but for our wider community, including increased innovation, creativity and economic growth by providing employers a significant workforce critical to their success.”

Building on a strong history

The West campus was approved by the state Legislature and signed into law by then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt on April 18, 1984. Arizona had a population of just over 3 million then, compared with 7.5 million now.

The campus, in the northwest corner of Phoenix, borders the city of Glendale. When it was established in the 1980s, the land west of Interstate 17 was agricultural and sparsely populated. 

Decades of rapid growth followed. The West Valley now encompasses 15 communities, is home to nearly 1.8 million Arizonans and will capture more than half of Maricopa County's future growth. Rich in transportation, rail, water and technology investments with large employers in health care, advanced business, manufacturing, information technology, aerospace, defense and logistics, the West Valley is also a hub for technology entreprenseurship and innovation. Technology startups increased 38% from 2021 to 2022.

Over the years, the West campus has grown to become a hub for learners of all ages, supporting K–12 learners through ASU Prep Local, the Herberger Young Scholars Academy, campus-based youth programs, and local school and community partnerships. The West campus is also one of four sites for ASU's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which offers short, high-level, non-credit courses for adults over 50.

It's all part of the evolving mission of the university.

'A people's university'

ASU President Michael Crow said Wednesday that he’s often asked why a university that’s so large would continue to expand. More than 20 years ago, before he took over as president of ASU in 2002, he sat down and studied the Arizona Constitutional Convention.

“In 1910, a bunch of people got together and decided how they would design Arizona, which had been a territory until that point,” he said.

“They wrote down all the words they said, so I read them.

“Here was the inspiration I came away with, which deeply impressed me and influenced what we’ve been able to do here: Essentially, they said, ‘We’ll have a university, and it’ll be a people’s university. People will have access to it.’ ”

That concept is now embodied in ASU, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.

A man speaks at a lectern with his image projected on a large screen behind him

ASU President Michael Crow shares how ASU's mission is inspired by the people of Arizona during the West Valley Forward event at ASU's West campus on March 29.  Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

In 1958, Phoenix was outgrowing the original teachers college.

“With a view to the future, we said, ‘Let’s have a new university.’ The Legislature said no. The governor said no. The Board of Regents said no,” Crow said Wednesday.

“The people, by referendum, said yes. No other university was voted into existence by the people.”

That concept has powered ASU’s drive to reach as many learners in as many places and in as many ways as possible, Crow said.

“If you’re not ready for college, we’ll get you ready for college,” he said. “If you never finished college, we’ll help you finish college.

“What we’re doing on the ASU West campus is related to our design as the people’s university. We’re going to find a way for jobs for everyone and a path to dignity for everyone, in every possible way.”

Policymakers share their goals

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said that the area west of I-17 is leading the country in technology, especially with the $40 billion Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company project in northwest Phoenix.

“We’re taking it to the next level today with these new programs that will take us into the decades to come and show that we are a leader in advanced thinking,” she said.

Gallego said that TSMC looked at many places before deciding on Arizona, and the company was impressed by ASU.

“They told me what sealed the deal were the people and the programs at ASU that let students learn the most advanced technology so they can go into the most advanced jobs,” she said.

The West campus is critical for increasing educational attainment in the West Valley, according to Larry Penley, a member of the Arizona Board of Regents. In 2015, the state set a goal — called Achieve 60 AZ — of having 60% of adults have postsecondary attainment by 2030, such as technical training, community college, bachelor’s degree or advanced degree.

“Today we stand at about 46%. We’re a long way from getting where we need to go,” he told the crowd Wednesday.

Penley said that only 19% of Arizona’s ninth-graders end up getting a college degree within six years of graduating from high school, and it will take more investment by the state to improve that. Florida offers a billion dollars in scholarship money for high school graduates to attend state universities while Arizona offers $20 million, he said.

“We would need to be at nearly $400 million to be equal to what Florida is doing today,” he said.

The event included a panel discussion on the future of the West Valley. Among the comments:

Sintra Hoffman, president and CEO of WESTMARC: She said the West Valley has a large talent pool — 38% of the metro Phoenix area’s health care workers and 28% of its workers in finance, insurance and banking live there. However, 70% of workers in the West Valley commute east for work.

“What we need from ASU are specific programs to have employable graduates who can live here and work here and contribute to the community and to meet the needs of the companies we’re trying to attract.”

Ann O’Brien, Phoenix City Council member: She praised the collaboration and partnerships among businesses and government entities in the West Valley.

“After the recession, they said, ‘We’re not going to do this again. We’re going to make Phoenix and the whole Valley a better place and bring different jobs and careers to our citizens.’ ”

She also urged the West Valley to embrace multifamily housing for new graduates of ASU West.

“They need the opportunity not just to rent but to be first-time home buyers,” she said.

Crow said that as a growing area with a diverse population, the West Valley could be an incubator for solving urban problems.

“As the West Valley grows to 2 million or 3 million people, how do we avoid the stresses and strains of other places — the clogged arteries of interstates with massive pollution and people traveling 60 to 80 minutes to get to a job that pays $45,000 a year or less?

“How do you do that? The West Valley could be a place where a lot of these things are figured out.”

A fence around a construction zone reads: The heart of innovation in the West Valley

Construction is underway on the new 500-bed residence hall at the West campus. Wednesday's groundbreaking was ceremonial; as the hall is due to open before the fall semester, there's no time to delay. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Top photo: University, political and community leaders perform the ceremonial groundbreaking of the West Campus' new residential hall on Wednesday, March 29. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


Student entrepreneurs pitch innovative ideas

ASU student founders network, pitch their startup business ideas to alumni at the ASU California Center

March 29, 2023

For 15 Arizona State University student startup founders from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and other colleges at ASU, their venture development experience brought them to a retreat sponsored by the Prescott Student Venture Fund to explore the startup community in Los Angeles. They also got to pitch their business ventures to a panel of ASU alumni who, like them, founded their own startups.

Brent Sebold, director of the Entrepreneurship + Innovation program at the Fulton Schools, led the Tech Devils annual innovation retreat to connect ASU-affiliated founders with new opportunities. Arizona State University student founders (from left to right) Vivek Prasad, Antoine Mistico, Max Bregman and Manpuneet Benipal were selected to present at the Hool Coury Law Tech Venture Challenge during the Tech Devils Annual Innovation Retreat hosted at the ASU California Center in Southern California. Photo courtesy Brent Sebold Download Full Image

“We have students who made an incredible impression with their work ethic,” Sebold says. “We want to help those students take advantage of these types of experiences and leverage them to have their ventures be as impactful as possible.”

Learning from experienced entrepreneurs

Student attendees were selected from the ASU Venture Devils program competition cycle or nominated by faculty and staff at ASU. Each student has demonstrated an impressive commitment to their venture and an eagerness to develop their skill set.

The 2023 retreat is the first to be hosted at the ASU California Center in Los Angeles, opening doors to a whole new network of contacts for the student innovators. This also marks the first year that alumni participated as reviewers in the Pitch Showcase, which features students pitching their venture ideas.

The Fulton Schools' Entreprenurship + Innovation program strives to give its student founders access to every resource ASU offers, including the university’s vast network of alumni. Aryyama Kumar Jana, a Fulton Schools alumnus and software development engineer at Amazon, enjoyed meeting with the student founders and providing feedback on their ventures.

“It was amazing to see young entrepreneurs from ASU pitching technology-backed business models for their startups,” Jana says. “I am very impressed by the way my alma mater is providing support to these early-stage startups.”

The annual retreat began in 2015 thanks to the support of Fulton Schools alumnus Tom Prescott and the Prescott Student Venture Fund. Since graduating, Prescott has become CEO and chairman of Align Technology, the world’s third-largest 3D printing company and producer of orthodontic product Invisalign.

He has enthusiastically supported his alma mater over the past decade and has been instrumental in developing several programs within Entreprenurship + Innovation. Prescott aims to encourage students to think beyond their academic experiences and toward the future opportunities and challenges in store for competitive startups.

Ishaan Mirchandani, a computer science student and co-founder of Tenance, a mobile app that automates rent payments and provides payment flexibility for renters, appreciates the chance to explore beyond the Phoenix tech industry.

“As an aspiring entrepreneur, the opportunity to pitch to such an influential audience and to learn from successful entrepreneurs was invaluable,” Mirchandani says.

Bringing together the ASU community’s innovators

Skysong Innovations, ASU’s intellectual property management company, and ASU RealmSpark, an initiative that connects investors to entrepreneurs within the ASU community, designed the retreat’s 2023 itinerary, drawing from their extensive network within the Los Angeles community.

The students were invited to attend a mixer at Preccelerator, an organization that develops startups, where they connected with experts to learn more about resources and best practices for operating in the enterepreneurial space.

Founders and alumni also gathered for the retreat’s Pitch Showcase, in which students performed five-minute pitches for their ventures and ASU alumni served as audience members and reviewers. The alumni then selected three teams to present at the Hool Coury Law Tech Venture Challenge on April 28.

The following teams were chosen to present at the upcoming showcase:

  • Zen Shuttles, founded by technological entrepreneurship and management major Antoine Mistico and computer science major Vivek Prasad, is a subscription service that provides safe transportation for students on college campuses.
  • Breathe EV, founded by business student Max Bregman, is a mobile app for electric vehicle owners to find and reserve electric vehicle charging stations.
  • Advent Diamond, founded by Manpuneet Benipal, a nanoscience and materials science and engineering alumna, produces diamond-based semiconductors to improve precision in telecommunication, power and advanced sensors.

Sebold says that the program’s best quality is the lasting connections formed across industries, backgrounds and communities.

The co-founders of Zen Shuttles, who won first place at the Pitch Showcase, met and became business partners at a previous Fulton School entreprenurship event called Techiepalooza two years ago.

Sebold aims to continue bridging the gap between student startup founders and resources to help them bring ideas to fruition.

“Not only do our students dream up amazing technological solutions to real-world problems, but they also reframe how we look at those problems,” Sebold says.

Ishaan Mirchandani, a computer science student and co-founder of Tenance, a mobile app that automates rent payments and provides payment flexibility for renters, appreciates the chance to explore beyond the Phoenix tech industry.

Talah Cummins, co-founder of a rideshare platform that facilitates city-to-city travel for college students called PoolUp, developed connections that she says will stay with her for the rest of her entrepreneurial journey. 

“I got to bond with people who are going through the smiliar experiences as me with their ventures,” Cummins says. “I met some of the most inspiring entrepreneurs, investors and forward-thinking people.” 

Ventures that participated in the Annual Innovation Retreat included:

Advent Diamond, founded by Manpuneet Benipal, a nanoscience and materials science and engineering alumna, is a semiconductor production company.

Breathe EV, founded by business student Max Bregman, is a mobile app for electric vehicle owners to find and reserve charging stations.

DocYou, founded by biomedical engineering major Anvitha Doddipalli and computer science major David Ellis, is a software tool for medical residents to efficiently document information.

FoodTrax, led by innovation and venture development graduate student Zafeerah Sheikh, is a mobile app that gives users access to the schedules, menus and reviews of local food trucks.

Lift With Cat, led by co-founders Catherine Nunez, a biomedical engineering student, and David Syms, a computer science alumnus, is a fitness and lifestyle program based on biomechanics and physiology.

Philanthrofi, founded by student Ricky Marton, is an AI consulting software.

PoolUp, founded by Michael Chong and Talah Cummins, is a rideshare platform that facilitates city-to-city travel for college students.

Quantax, founded by management of technology graduate student Surabhi Vinodkeerthi, supplies wearable gloves to enhance virtual reality experiences.

Rayn, founded by Nicole Ray, a materials science and engineering alumna and current adjunct faculty member in the ASU School of Molecular Sciences, is a medical device supply company.

Tenance, led by computer science students and co-founders Ishaan Mirchandani and Jason Coawette, is a property management software tool for rent collection and bookkeeping.

Thrively Foods, led by innovation and venture development graduate student Isaac Hinson, provides a variety of cold foam flavors with sustainable practices.

Zen Shuttles, founded by technological entrepreneurship and management major Antoine Mistico and computer science major Vivek Prasad, is a safe transport subscription for students on college campuses.

Hannah Weisman

Science Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Marketing and Communications


Dance performance breaks down barriers to showcase interconnectivity of styles, communities

ASU Gammage Beyond series debuts “Reckless Underdog” on April 1

March 29, 2023

Since he began dancing at age 7, Victor Quijada has explored many different forms, starting out on the hip-hop and breakdance scene and eventually incorporating ballet and contemporary dance.

His upcoming show “Reckless Underdog” is a glimpse into these periods of dance in Quijada’s life as he asks himself: What would his dancing look like if he had made different choices? The show debuts April 1 as part of Arizona State University's Gammage Beyond series. A dancer wearing all black is shown mid-performance on a dark stage. “Reckless Underdog" debuts April 1 as part of the ASU Gammage Beyond series. Photo courtesy Rubberband dance company Download Full Image

“It feels like I had so many different moments and identities in my life, or possible identities in my life, that 'Reckless Underdog' is me imagining three different timelines of what kind of work would I have made,” Quijada, who is the artistic director and choreographer for the show, said. “Any one of those chapters could have been its own story. And they each could have continued on and maybe it would have manifested into something else. I think all of us have that thing that we think about and wonder what would have happened if we would have gone down other paths and made different choices.”

Acts represent alternative realities 

The show is split into three acts that each represent a major chapter in Quijada’s dance career. Each act includes different collaborators and contributors and uses different staging, music, costumes and aesthetics to show three alternate realities of his life.

The first act takes inspiration from classical ballet and features elements reminiscent of pas de deux. Quijada takes these elements such as the length and amplitude that would be seen in traditional ballet and uses them as the foundation for his unique elegant and free-flowing dance style The music for this act comes from pianist and composer Chilly Gonzales’ album “Solo Piano III,” which was remixed for “Reckless Underdog” by music director Jasper Gahunia.

The second act is more experimental and endeavors to distort certain theatrical codes while approaching dance with limited movements. The dance and storytelling more abstract and allows the audience to project their own meaning and story onto what the dancers are doing on stage. The second act has music composed by Eric San, aka experimental DJ and composer Kid Koala.

The final act takes elements from hip-hop culture and breakdancing combined with Quijada’s dance style, taking traditional break cypherWhen breakdancers circle up and each performs in the center. and putting it into an upbeat and festive environment. The music for this act was composed by Louis-Nicolas Imbeau, aka Vlooper, the producer of the hip-hop music collective Alaclair Ensemble.

Creating a dance 'laboratory' 

After years of being a professional dancer for different artists and crews, Quijada felt torn between different worlds of dance and endeavored to create a space of his own to develop his style led by the philosophy that all dance is valid and different types can be harmonious together. In 2002, he formed his company Rubberband in Montreal, after the nickname he was given as a young b-boy, or breakdancer, because he “dances like a rubberband.”

“It was important that I started Rubberband as this laboratory for me to put those ideas together and put dancers from different backgrounds together. I had all this information in my body that was coming out of choreography, movement (and) vocabulary that I needed to see amplified in more bodies,” Quijada said. 

Rubberband is characterized by Quijada's method, breaking down the barriers between competing dance styles and taking the foundations from traditional dance forms to create something entirely new. He has taught throughout the world in university programs, workshops and master classes.

“I take genes from one end of the spectrum towards classical forms like ballet, contemporary and modern point, and then I take genes from hip-hop dances like breaking and popping and even other genes from martial arts, yoga and capoeira and put them all together to create something new,” said Quijada. “I was trying to create and reinforce this identity that was far away from the beginning points of these genres but like it was its own distinct dance, language and identity."

“Reckless Underdog” is a show that aims to tear down the barriers of what we think dance is and is not, and carries the audience on a powerful journey of self-reflection and raw emotion.

“I believe every audience member comes with their own story, comes with their own history, comes with their own baggage, and I'm hoping that each and every one will get their own personal journey through the show,” said Quijada. “I hope they will get something very profound and very impactful and very deep and they'll walk away from the show like, ‘I wasn't expecting that’ or ‘I didn’t think that was possible.’”

“Reckless Underdog” debuts Saturday, April 1, at ASU Gammage. Tickets are on sale now at

Emily Mai

Marketing and Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage

ASU honors 13 individuals, 3 community organizations with Social Work Month Awards

Gov. Katie Hobbs delivers remarks at ceremony in Phoenix

March 28, 2023

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs joined leaders of Arizona State University's School of Social Work to pay tribute to students, faculty, staff, alumni and community organizations at the school’s annual Social Work Month Awards.

The school honored 13 individuals and three organizations for demonstrating exceptional accomplishments in social work during the past year at the March 24 ceremony on the Downtown Phoenix campus. Winners of 2023 ASU Social Work Month Awards post for a photo with their awards. Recipients of the 2023 ASU Social Work Month Awards hold their award plaques after a March 24 ceremony in Phoenix. Photo by Mark J. Scarp/ASU Download Full Image

March is Social Work Month and the national theme in 2023 is “Social Work Breaks Barriers,” highlighting “how social workers have enriched our society by empowering people and communities to overcome hurdles that prevent them from living life to the fullest,” according to a statement by the National Association of Social Workers.

Hobbs, who earned her Master of Social Work (MSW) degree from the school, gave welcoming remarks. She pointed out she is the first social worker elected as a state governor in U.S. history.

Many issues social workers and their clients encounter are systemic, the governor said, and require systemic rather than individual solutions. It’s why she became an advocate for public policy, she said, then began her political career as a legislator before later being elected secretary of state in 2018 and as governor last year.

“I quickly realized that if you can’t change policy, (if) you can’t change the laws, you have to change who is making them. And this is why I knew I wanted to run for office,” the governor said.

Hobbs said social work has shaped a great deal of what she hopes to accomplish as governor. She said she and her team are aware of their responsibilities to steer policies that social workers would recognize as representative of their core values.

Cynthia Lietz, Gov. Hobbs, Elizabeth Lightfoot, Social Work Month Awards, 2023

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (center) holds an ASU clock presented to her by Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Dean Cynthia Lietz (left) and School of Social Work Director Elizabeth Lightfoot (right) pose with Hobbs after the 2023 ASU Social Work Month Awards ceremony. Photo by Mark J. Scarp/ASU

Hobbs closed by telling social workers that the importance of what they do is personal to her.

“And finally, I want all of you to know just how much you and your work means to me. I know the past few years have been especially challenging for human services professionals,” she said. “When it comes to me and my administration, you have an ally, a champion and a collaborator who honors your work and shares your values and perspectives. Together, we will continue to break barriers.”

Cynthia Lietz, a President’s Professor of social work and dean of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, told the gathering that the college’s mission to build more vibrant, heathy and equitable communities not only aligns with the ASU Charter, but also with “social work’s mission to enhance the well-being and meet the basic needs of all people, with a special focus on those who are vulnerable, oppressed and living in poverty.

“In other words, the Watts College would not be the Watts College without the School of Social Work — that deserves applause,” Lietz said, as the audience clapped.

School Director and Foundation Professor Elizabeth Lightfoot said before the ceremony that the awards celebrate local people and organizations whose exemplary contributions in the past year upheld the principles of service that social workers value.

"Social workers break barriers every day, assisting underserved or vulnerable individuals to get past roadblocks to improved and more satisfying lives,” Lightfoot said. “The people and organizations we honor with Social Work Month Awards show us all how important social workers are in helping so many overcome often long odds and significant impediments to better living.”

Social workers assist people with coping strategies, difficulties and challenges in their day-to-day lives, from substance-abuse prevention to help adopting a child, while clinical social workers diagnose and treat mental, behavioral and emotional problems, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Social work is one of the nation’s fastest-growing professions, according to the bureau. The agency projected that jobs in social work will grow by 9% over the next 10 years, representing 64,000 more positions over that period.

Lightfoot said the School of Social Work remains dedicated to readying more students to meet the increased requirements of the future.

“In coming years, our profession will be needed to help people and organizations deal with societal challenges,” she said. “This school and its faculty are proud to be here to embrace the call to prepare caring professionals to serve and empower more people to lead productive and satisfying lives.” 

Lightfoot noted at the ceremony that Hobbs officially proclaimed March as Social Work Month in Arizona.

2023 ASU Social Work Month winners

Professional Achievement Award: Recognizes an alumnus of the School of Social Work who graduated at least five years ago and has achievements of distinction in the social-work profession to promote the general welfare of all people.

  • Matt Pate, MSW ’16, program manager for the Inmate Navigation, Enrollment, Support and Treatment Program (INVEST).

Early Career Achievement Award: Recognizes an alumnus of the School of Social Work who graduated no more than five years ago and has achievements of distinction in the social-work profession to promote the general welfare of all people.

  • Andi Young, MSW ’22, private practice working with LGBTQ+ affirming and Health of Every Size.

Interns of the Year: Recognizes social-work students who made outstanding contributions to an agency or organization as an intern.

  • Downtown Phoenix campus: Osmara Oregon, BSW ’23, working with immigrants, Carl Hayden Community High School.
  • West campus: Kirsten Schroder, MSW ’23, Catholic Charities Unaccompanied Minor Program.
  • Tucson location: Marissa Hernandez, BSW ’23, Palo Verde High Magnet School Youth on Their Own program, Tucson Unified School District.
  • Online: Spencer Potrie, MSW ‘22, Interfaith Community Services.

Community Impact Award: Awarded to an organization or individual who exemplifies social-work values and principles and provides outstanding service of impact to the community.

  • Tempe Community Council, a nonprofit committed to addressing immediate and long-term human assistance needs in Tempe.
  • Child Health and Resiliency Mastery (CHARM), a nonprofit whose programs nurture and strengthen resiliency though evidence-based approaches that focus on coping, confidence, connection, character, contribution, control and competence.
  • The city of Tempe’s Care7 Response Team, which provides 24-hour on-scene crisis intervention services, victim assistance and social and emotional support for youths, services for veterans and community referrals.

Field Educator of the Year: Recognizes exemplary mentorship of students and excellence in collaboration with the School of Social Work to support the preparation of qualified practitioners through our signature pedagogy, field education.

  • Talia Scheletsky, MSW ’03, social worker, licensed master social worker, Skyline High School, Mesa Public Schools.

Emerging Leader of the Year: Recognizes a student nominated by peers as a future practitioner of promise and whose leadership sets an example for peers.

  • Destinee Sior, MSW ’23, interning at Fresh Start Women’s Foundation, Phoenix.

Laura Orr Service Awards: Recognizes School of Social Work staff who made contributions to improving organizational effectiveness while advancing the mission of the school. This award is named in honor of Laura Orr, who began her career with the School of Social Work on May 10, 1971. She retired in 2018 after 47 years of dedicated service.

Instructor of the Year: Recognizes excellence in classroom instruction as nominated and selected by students.

  • Irene Burnton, professor of practice, ASU School of Social Work, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Director’s Award for Distinguished Service to the Profession: Recognizes a social worker whose career achievements demonstrate exemplary performance in both social work practice and in a commitment to preparing the next generation of social workers through social work education or training at ASU.

  • Cora Bruno, doctorate in behavioral health, associate teaching professor, ASU School of Social Work, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

In comments before the ceremony, Bruno said the award reflects the many roles she’s had at ASU.

“Arizona State University has been a part of my life in multiple ways, including as a student, graduate, lecturer and student mentor,” Bruno said. “The last 21 years as a clinical social worker have given me an opportunity to be part of a greater system of change. I am grateful and humbled by this award and look forward to continuing to contribute to that change.”

Tempe Community Council Executive Director Octavia Harris said her organization is “extremely honored” to receive a Community Impact Award.

“Throughout our more than 50 years of history, (the council) has benefited, beyond what words can express, from the knowledge, skills and expertise of social workers on staff, at partner organizations and students in training to become social workers,” Harris said. “We are thankful for the recognition of the work we strive to do to nurture the sense of community in Tempe through demonstrating care for and about one another — always with invaluable support from social workers on staff and in the community.”

Spencer Potrie of Interfaith Community Services said receiving the Intern of the Year award was a surprise.

“It is only thanks to a couple of my mentors during the MSW program that I was nominated for this, as they took it upon themselves to recognize my efforts. Both of these mentors often stated that I am the type to be set to a task and to innovatively solve the problem,” said Potrie, who thanked his mentors, Maryann Moulinet of Interfaith Community Services and Bonnie Bazata of Pima County’s Ending Poverty Now program.

“I hope to continue this trend in my future career, wherever it may lead. Social work has allowed me to implement change for good in the lives of so many more than I could previously do on my own,” Potrie said.

Mark J. Scarp

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


Tracking water’s footprint in agriculture

4 decades of data reveal the impact of water usage in farming across the country

March 27, 2023

If you’ve ever walked, jogged or biked along the local canals or Tempe Town Lake, you have experienced the benefits of the city’s water management infrastructure. Across the United States, water is ingrained in daily life in many ways, but arguably none are more important than its use for agriculture.

Sustainable water management focuses heavily on the amount of water extracted from natural sources. Known as water withdrawal, this method helps farmers sustain their crop fields. When it comes to advancing researchers’ understanding of water withdrawal, the next frontier is tracking where water wanders. Green field being watered under cloudy blue skies with mountains in the background. Ruijie Zeng, an assistant professor of civil engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, and Weiwei Ren, a former visiting PhD student, used data from across the country to assess agricultural water usage. Photo courtesy Shiqi Wei Download Full Image

Ruijie Zeng, an assistant professor of civil, environmental and sustainable engineering in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University, is working to explore those paths by analyzing decades of survey data measuring water withdrawal across the contiguous United States.

Wading through data

Zeng’s research explores the intersection of how water circulates on Earth, known as the hydrologic cycle, and how to optimize water use to fulfill societal needs. He is analyzing approximately 40 years of data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey, which consists of about 40 years of surveys measuring water withdrawal allocated for agriculture on national, regional and state levels.

In his most recent publication in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, Zeng describes how he used survey data to determine the center of mass in a given water source. He then compared how the location of the center varies every five years to assess the impacts of water withdrawals. 

“I want to look at the impact of large-scale hydraulic infrastructures that are impacting the natural environment and socioeconomic development,” Zeng says. “Furthermore, we are exploring how to effectively manage the existing infrastructure to adapt to changing conditions.”

Zeng’s analysis suggests irrigation methods in the Western United States use more efficient technology than on the East Coast, largely because of the need to combat potential drought conditions. Meanwhile, the East Coast is experiencing accelerated water withdrawal due to the rapid expansion of fields to keep up with population growth. Both coasts, he says, have room for improvement.

Though his analysis has focused on water withdrawal on a national scale, he intends to make his results accessible to help other researchers identify influential factors within specific regions.

“We believe that observing the trends of agricultural water withdrawal will provide a simple and meaningful way to summarize the condition of the nation’s water landscape,” Zeng says.

Changing tides

Agricultural irrigation is the largest sector for water consumption in the U.S., taking up a staggering 72% of the available water supply. Agriculture is a primary source of the nation’s food supply, provides access to biofuel and energy supplies and supports the global trade of vital resources. Without a dependable water supply for agricultural irrigation, environmental and socioeconomic stability would decline. 

Now more than ever, climate change is also disrupting the predictability of natural water systems, which subsequently disrupts countless industries and has the potential to trigger major socioeconomic consequences. Such erratic changes in reliable access to water can have a ripple effect across the world.

In our own backyard

Gaining a deeper understanding of water irrigation through research is not the epilogue to the story of water management but instead a chapter in an ongoing saga of exploring the hydrologic cycle. By observing potential trends, researchers and policymakers can develop solutions that trickle down to farmers, which can help sustain large metropolitan areas and the environment.

A collaboration between ASU, the Central Arizona Project, the Salt River Project and other local infrastructure managers is helping Phoenix-area residents sustain water security.

ASU continues to demonstrate its commitment to sustainable water supply practices with the launch of the Center for Hydrologic Innovations. The new center aims to position ASU as a global leader in the development, use and dissemination of hydrologic innovations with public impact through research in Arizona and throughout the arid Western U.S.

Zeng says ASU is an ideal home base for solving water management problems, given the high value surrounding communities put on water security. Because of this value, the desert metropolitan area is ideal for emerging research and innovative efforts to mitigate water resource challenges — and Zeng says he has found ASU to be an excellent environment for collaboration and support.

Insights from the study will help researchers develop technology to enhance the prediction capability of hydrologic models. As policymakers, corporations and farmers tackle future challenges, Zeng’s advanced models will provide scientific evidence to make informed water management decisions.

Hannah Weisman

Science Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, Marketing and Communications


New fellowship explores artificial intelligence and society

March 27, 2023

With advancements in natural language processing, artificial intelligence has the potential to generate written content that is indistinguishable from human writing, blurring the lines between what is produced by machines and what is produced by humans. The intersection of AI and society is no longer a hypothetical discussion — the previous sentence was generated by the popular AI chatbot ChatGTP. 

This concept is one of many topics that will be discussed in a new fellowship opportunity offered in partnership between Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the New York Academy of Sciences. Three postdoctoral research scholars will join an interdisciplinary team as they participate in a program that combines education and training experiences relating to AI and society. The application deadline is April 25.  AI-generated illustration depicting people sitting around a table. This image was created by the Shutterstock AI Image Generator by typing in "human learning about AI and society" as the prompt. Photo by Shutterstock Download Full Image

“Even today, many people still envision AI as something that belongs in the same future as flying cars and Terminators,” said David Guston, professor and founding director of the School for the Future of Innovation in Society. “Experts disagree about how AI will play out in the future, but many aspects of it are already ingrained in our everyday lives, from the image and voice recognition on our phones to the use of algorithms to cater to our interests online, to how expert systems and large language models upset work relationships, including in the classroom.” 

The fellows will split their time between New York City, ASU and public- and private-sector internship sites. Throughout the full-time, fiscal-year appointment, the fellows will also engage with mentors and receive programmatic support from ASU and the New York Academy of Sciences.

The program will onboard fellows in fall 2023 and is planned to continue into a second year, when the fellows will use their experiences by teaching at ASU. Other fellowship activities include internships and research projects to be presented via academic journals, conferences and workshops. 

“The New York Academy of Sciences is thrilled to launch this unique partnership with Arizona State University, a leader not only in innovative approaches to education but in the study of the future of technology and its multiple impacts on society,” said Nicholas Dirks, president and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences. “AI is transforming our society at lightning speed, and it is essential that we gain a better understanding of its implications across almost every sector.” 

As AI continues to develop and embed itself further in society, it brings endless possibilities in fields such as health care, robotics and transportation. It also brings ethical questions in regard to privacy, bias and displacement. 

“As far as we’ve seen AI develop in the last few years, we haven’t seen a proportionate response in exploring the social, economic, cultural and ethical issues that come with its application,” said Guston, who will oversee the program. “This fellowship is a partial but important response to that need.” 

Fellowship applicants must have a PhD in a relevant field; evidence of a strong research background; and expertise in the field of AI and society, including publications in leading academic journals. 

Katelyn Reinhart

Communications specialist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory

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Putting a cap on plastic bottle consumption

March 24, 2023

ASU expert addresses recent report on the booming plastic water bottle industry

Plastic water bottles are synonymous with causing harm to the environment.

Scientists say their creation taps too much of our groundwater supply, leaves a heavy carbon footprint, is a large source of litter and causes severe damage to the world’s coral reefs.

And there’s no sign of society changing how it consumes water. According to a recent report, the bottled water industry is up — way up.

Research analysts from the U.N. Institute for Water, Environment and Health state that worldwide sales are up 73%, and it is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, with more than $270 billion in annual sales. And that number is expected to double by the end of the decade.

It’s a disturbing trend that needs to be reversed, said Tyler Eglen.

Eglen is a project manager at the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service at Arizona State University. He helped create and now manages the Circular Living Lab, which is dedicated to researching the methods and machines of small- to medium-scale community-based recycling.

ASU News spoke to Eglen about this development and how citizens can do their part.

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

Man in jacket smiling

Tyler Eglen

Question: We know that plastic bottles are not good for the environment. We know that people know they are not good for the environment, and according to a recent CNN article, there's been 73% growth in this industry from 2010–20. Where do you feel there's a disconnect in terms of knowledge and action?

Answer: The main factor in purchasing decisions is price, right? Many people want to purchase ethically and sustainably, but if they are priced out of doing so, then they will always purchase what is cheap and available. As it stands, it’s a big ask to request that everybody solves the plastic pollution problem by refusing to use plastic. And that’s not their fault. The petrochemical industry has massive power when it comes to pushing plastics into our lives. Big brands need plastic to distribute their product, and the plastic producers are more than happy to supply it to them.  

I’m always looking for the most sustainable purchasing option, and often, there just isn’t one. The quantity of plastic in our lives is somewhat determined by our own habits, but I think it’s more so determined by how consumer brands choose to produce their product. They are well aware that it could be done differently, but until the economic system either pushes or pulls them to use less plastic, we’re stuck on a path that will leave us with growing mountains of plastic waste.  

Also, plastic is convenient and good at what it does. 

Q: Bottled water purchases create 25 million tons of plastic waste. Can you give us an idea of how that impacts our society?

A: Plastics take hundreds of years to break down. You may have seen compostable plastics, but those too take years to break down, and only in the exact right conditions. Plastics in the ocean are even worse, because they don’t break down so much as break apart. 

And you may think, “Well, that doesn’t really affect me,” but you’d be wrong. Plastic is produced from oil — about 12% of global oil goes to making plastics — and fossil fuels are the number one contributor to climate change. So just by being a consumer of plastics, we’re furthering the degradation of our planet’s ecosystems.

Plastic production also seriously affects fence-lined communities, or communities that live close to these processing facilities. Illness rates, including cancer, are higher in these areas because the plant operations are not always managed responsibly. 

If you look at the whole system, you must find a balance. Fossil fuel extraction, plastic production and end-of-life pollution all have negative effects on our health and our world. The only benefit we get is for those relatively few moments when we use the plastic product. And for single-use plastics, that benefit may only be a few seconds. To me, that cost-benefit is way out of balance. 

Q: Let's discuss the “plastic smog” these water bottles do to our oceans.

A: This is a scary thought. Plastics make their way into the oceans via heavily populated coastlines, derelict fishing nets and sometimes just direction dumping, but because of the currents in the ocean, these plastics are distributed throughout and often group up together in one of the five major ocean gyres. The smog is composed of trillions of pieces of plastic that have different densities. Some sink and some float, and some are slowly making their way down to the ocean floor. Along this journey, they are being eaten by ocean animals, and they are also often releasing toxic chemicals into the water. 

This, of course, is all bad news. The plastics often kill the animals outright by blocking or clogging their internal organs, or restricting their ability to consume normal food, but the plastic also gets stored inside their bodies and then this plastic is passed to our bodies when we consume the fish. This is just one of the mechanisms that is contributing to the higher levels of plastic that is found within humans.

Q: What are some good alternatives to plastic water bottles, and what can consumers do to make themselves more conscious of this problem?

A: One of the major challenges to plastic waste is human behavior change, so I’m glad you asked this. It might take a bit of extra effort to minimize your exposure to plastic, but it’s absolutely worth it. Get a metal water bottle that you love and take it with you everywhere. Make it a part of your routine, and after a while it will become automatic. 

I think we’ve all heard of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but I love the addition of another R: refuse. Refuse plastic water bottles and cups whenever possible by having a reusable option — glass, metal or even a dedicated plastic Nalgene bottle; at least you can use it for years.

A big part of this is being prepared. So often I think people aren’t planning ahead to when they might encounter plastic in their day, but if you just make it a part of your daily habit to always have a sustainable option on you, its easy. Similarly, go buy a metal set of utensils and keep it in your car, purse, backpack, whatever. 

Q: Tell us about some of the work you're doing with ASU students and recycling?

A: I’m currently running the Circular Living Lab through the Walton Sustainability Solutions Service at ASU. We collect hard-to-recycle ASU plastics and turn them back into usable goods.

For example, we’re currently collecting large quantities of coroplast — the material you see all the temporary signage printed on — and we shred, inject, extrude and press that plastic into products like skateboard decks or plastic lumber. We’re making durable goods that are not single-use and that can serve a function for a long time before being recycled again. I have student employees and student mentees that work in the lab to learn more about plastic recycling, material management, product design, businesses entrepreneurship and more.

We’re also in the planning phase to open a 10,000-square-foot community plastic “micro factory” this year in partnership with the city of Phoenix, Goodwill and Hustle PHX. We’re not ready to take in all the city’s plastics yet, but we’re moving in the right direction.

Top photo courtesy Pixabay

Reporter , ASU News


Neuroscience student wins award for research on impact of hormones on memory, cognition

Jade Pastor credits research success with invaluable hands-on lab experience

March 24, 2023

When she enrolled at Arizona State University, Jade Pastor wasn’t really sure what she wanted to study. She started out as a biology major on the pre-med track, but soon discovered the Behavioral Neuroscience of Memory and Aging research lab, and her passion for neuroscience was ignited.

Now, as a junior majoring in the field in ASU’s Department of Psychology, Pastor has had the chance to conduct hands-on research in the highly selective lab, led by ASU President’s Professor Heather Bimonte-Nelson, and has worked on projects with graduate mentors that actively contribute to groundbreaking research on hormones and memory. Portrait of ASU student Jade Pastor. Jade Pastor is a junior studying neuroscience at Arizona State University. Photo courtesy the ASU Department of Psychology Download Full Image

Recently, a project of Pastor’s placed second nationally at the Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in Washington, D.C. The project focused on how cognitive outcomes are associated with hysterectomy and questioned whether menopause history could impact the interpretation of the effects.

“Understanding how hysterectomy, combined with varied menopausal backgrounds, alters the brain and its function is vital for understanding the trajectory of neurocognitive changes across age in the female,” Pastor said.

The ERN Conference is hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Inclusive STEM Ecosystems for Equity and Diversity (ISEED) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Pastor and fellow undergraduate Kieran Andrew both received travel awards and presented their research posters, competing with over 6,000 other undergraduate presenters.

Pastor credits her experience in the Behavioral Neuroscience of Memory and Aging lab for her research success.

“I just love the process of coming up with a plan for the research that you're doing and implementing. The experience has been invaluable, and learning from our lab's amazing, talented members has been great,” Pastor said. “Additionally, it's been a very enriching experience. I wouldn't be where I am today without Heather. She pushes me out of my comfort zone in the best way possible and I’ve grown so much because of her.”

Bimonte-Nelson is equally as full of praise for Pastor.

“One of the joys of mentoring Jade is that she has an extremely positive attitude about learning new things. … She is consistently prepared for every single meeting we have, she continuously reads the literature and protocols so that she can contribute extensively in team and one-on-one meetings, and it has been wonderful to hear the positive trajectory of her proactive voice as she is growing into her role as an independent critical thinker and scientist,” Bimonte-Nelson said.

The Bimonte-Nelson behavioral neuroscience lab aims to understand the link between hormones and memory during the process of aging, such as examining the long-term impact of hysterectomy on memory. Additionally, the lab is a champion of underrepresented researchers, including first-generation college students and women, and hopes to change the trajectory of their lives through research experience.

“My favorite part about conducting research in the Bimonte-Nelson lab is the implications of our findings on women's health. I feel like the research that we're doing is actually making a difference in improving the understanding of hormones and menopause,” Pastor said.

Long term, she hopes to continue her graduate education with a focus on neuroendocrinology. Recently, she received a scholarship through the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) program to intern at the University of Lübeck in Germany over the summer, where she will be conducting research to observe the impact of shift work on the progression of autoimmune diseases.

If Pastor was to be given an unlimited research budget, she would like to focus research on how hormonal contraceptives impact bone density in adolescents and young women.

“It is super important because not all of these contraceptives have been fully assessed yet and there are certain health risks that aren't fully understood,” she said. “It's been analyzed mostly in women of older ages, but I would like to see what the impact would be for more women my age.”

A piece of advice that Pastor has for fellow students is just to get going and get involved.

“I would start out by reaching out to your professors, especially those in the classes that you're most interested in, and seeing what research they're involved in. Even if their research isn't the right thing for you, they can point you in the right direction by referring you to other professors,” she said. “I would also recommend getting started in any lab that you can. That way you can get some basic experience, and from there, you can branch out to ones that better match your interests."

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


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Exhibit honors work of former ASU art professor

March 24, 2023

J. Eugene Grigsby was artist and mentor of Black artists in Arizona

In September 2019, Shannon Walker got a phone call from two faculty members in the Arizona State University Art Building.

They told Walker there were boxes collecting dust in a storage area, and asked if she wanted to come over and look at what was inside the boxes before they cleared the room out.

It was not an unusual phone call for Walker, who oversees ASU’s archives and gets calls almost every week from some department about its collections.

Walker doesn’t get her hopes up. Often, the items aren’t associated with the school’s history.

Like the time she was offered a saddle.

But, as she began scrutinizing the 12 to 15 boxes at the Art Building, she found negatives, slides and notes from a Dr. J. Eugene Grigsby. She didn’t know much about Grigsby, other than he had been an art professor at ASU — but after carefully packing the material, she did some research online.

“I was like, ‘This is amazing,’” Walker said. “It’s amazing that we have some materials from him.”

It took a year for Grigsby’s work to be processed at the ASU Polytechnic campus, and then COVID-19 hit, delaying any notion of displaying his work.

“But it gave us time to work and allowed us to realize what we had,” Walker said.

Four years later, Grigsby’s work – and his legacy – is in the spotlight in an exhibit recently opened at Hayden Library titled "Black History at ASU: The legacy of Dr. J. Eugene Grigsby Jr." It's the first exhibit presented by Black Collections, a new archival repository within the Community-Driven Archives Initiative at ASU Library.

The exhibit showcases artwork depicting Black life, and features some of Grigsby's work along with other Black artists he encouraged and mentored — including former student Clottee Hammons, Leonard Wilson, Dee Dee Woods and Roosevelt “Rip” Woods, a former student and former professor at ASU. It's free to the public and open until June 30.

“I really wanted to make sure that we were highlighting and uplifting the Black history of Arizona,” said Jessica Salow, assistant archivist of Black Collections at ASU.

Art displayed on wall in exhibit

A view of the exhibit "Black History at ASU: The Legacy of Dr. J. Eugene Grigsby Jr." at Hayden Library on the ASU Tempe campus during its opening reception on March 22. Photo by Alwaleed Alrasbi/Arizona State University

Grigsby did just that, not only as a professor in the art school from 1966 to 1988, but as one of the most prominent Black artists, educators and community activists in the state.

During his tenure at ASU — his teaching focused on art education and, in particular, ART 480, which was offered as “Art in the High School” — Grigsby became the first Black author and artist to publish a book for art educators. The book, titled “Art and Ethnics: Background for Teaching Youth in a Pluralistic Society,” was called a “landmark in literature of art education” by art education consultant Laura Chapman.

Grigsby, who passed away in 2013, also founded COBA – the Consortium of Black Artists and Others for the Arts — which annually showcases the work of inner city high school students in Phoenix. In addition, COBA brought artists such as Maya Angelou, Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover to Phoenix for workshops and other events, including the annual Inner City Multicultural Invitational Youth Art Exhibit.

If that wasn’t enough, Grigsby founded Artists of the Black Community of Arizona in 1980. The group, composed primarily of printmakers, painters, sculptors and photographers, met regularly to plan exhibitions and programs.

“I was blown away by his network,” Salow said. “He literally was connected to everybody here, including some of the really foundational Black and African American families that were here since the 1950s and 1960s. I was very much appreciative of that network, which impacted and uplifted not just artists, but Black and African American people in this city.”

Woman speaks at lectern at event

Jessica Salow, assistant archivist of Black Collections at ASU, talks at the opening event for the "Black History at ASU: The Legacy of Dr. J. Eugene Grigsby Jr." exhibit on March 22 at Hayden Library on the ASU Tempe campus. Photo by Alwaleed Alrasbi/Arizona State University

Hammons, who was a student of Grigsby’s in 1973, said she felt “invisible and dismissed" as a Black female artist until he took her under his wing.

“He was the first one to show me any sort of respect,” Hammons said. “He did that for other artists as well. He influenced us in a way that kept us alive.”

As she spoke about the exhibit Wednesday night during a reception, Salow began to cry, not only because it was the first Black Collections exhibit she had curated but because of the man it honored.

“He was a force of nature, honestly,” she said.

Top photo: A photo of a visitor viewing art during the opening event for the exhibit "Black History at ASU: The Legacy of Dr. J. Eugene Grigsby Jr." at Hayden Library on the ASU Tempe campus on March 22. Photo by Alwaleed Alrasbi/Arizona State University

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

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Family honors sailor's life and legacy of helping others with ASU scholarship

Brandon Caserta died by suicide in June 2018 while a member of the Navy.
March 24, 2023

Scholarship open to any College of Health Solutions student with demonstrated interest in military

One day, years ago, Patrick and Teri Caserta checked the lunch money account they had set up for their son, Brandon, at his elementary school.

They were surprised to see the account had far less money than they thought it should. So, they questioned Brandon about it.

“We asked him if he was eating two lunches or anything like that,” Teri Caserta said. “He said he wasn’t, but that he noticed kids that didn’t bring a lunch or didn’t have a lunch, and he would buy them lunch. And he asked if that was OK, or if he should stop.

“We’re like, ‘No, you do what you want to. You just have to let us know that you’re using it so we can fund it.’”

That legacy of giving and helping others is one reason the Casertas have started an annual scholarship at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions in honor of Brandon, who died by suicide on June 25, 2018, while he was a member of the Navy.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU News

The Brandon Caserta Memorial Scholarship, worth $1,000 annually, will go to a student in the College of Health Solutions who has a demonstrated interest in the military, said Paola Gale, assistant director of development for the college with the ASU Foundation. It’s also the first scholarship open to any student in the College of Health Solutions.

“That’s significant,” Gale said. “We might have a student looking at medical studies or another field and see that there’s no scholarship for that program. Our scholarship coordinator was delighted that this is really the first scholarship that is open to all (College of Health Solutions) students.”

The $1,000 scholarship is only the beginning. Patrick Caserta said they are donating one-third of their estate to ASU after their death, an amount significant enough that it will pay for a four-year education for several students.

“Their estate gift to fund the Brandon Caserta Memorial Scholarship, the first scholarship at the College of Health Solutions that is open to any of our majors, along with supporting active military and veteran health initiatives at (the college), will make a difference for many years to come,” said Deborah Helitzer, dean of the College of Health Solutions. “The Casertas' gift will allow (College of Health Solutions) students, faculty and staff to continue and expand on our current efforts in support of better health for our nation’s military and veterans.”

Patrick Caserta said he and Teri decided to contribute a portion of their estate in part because he was a student in the College of Health Solutions from 2009 to 2014.

“I always wanted to give back more than I have,” Patrick said. “I liked going to school there a lot. It was very enjoyable. It was rough, don’t get me wrong. There were times I was upset because it was hard. But the professors that I dealt with were awesome.

“The other thing is, unfortunately, we don’t have anybody to really leave anything to. So it made all the sense in the world.”

Ask the Casertas about Brandon and they’ll tell you he was the “kindest, nicest person you’ll ever meet,” a boy who loved Legos and an athlete who excelled in karate and swimming and played football at Liberty High School in Peoria.

“He wasn’t like me. I’m a little rough around the edges,” Patrick Caserta said. “I’m not going to tell you everybody liked him immediately, but he’d grow on them. He just liked people.”

Patrick Caserta said Brandon’s desire to help others followed him to the Navy. If he finished his work, he’d help others do their work and then ask for more. But Patrick said Brandon was bullied, harassed and hazed while serving with the Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28 in Norfolk, Virginia, where he was transferred after he collapsed during Navy SEAL training.

His suicide prompted the Casertas to contact U.S. Sens. Mark Kelly and Seth Moulton, who subsequently wrote the Brandon Act, which went into law in December of 2021. The Brandon Act is designed to protect service members who experience mental health emergencies and reduce the stigma around reporting. The bill allows service members to seek mental health treatment and requires a mental health evaluation as soon as a service member self-reports.

In addition, Patrick and Teri created the Brandon Caserta Foundation, whose mission is to provide assistance, guidance, education and resources to active-duty service members, veterans and their families.

As it turns out, that’s what Brandon was doing in the final days and weeks of his life. When the Casertas got Brandon’s cellphone back after his suicide, they checked his text messages and discovered he was counseling and helping other members of the Navy who were struggling with their mental health.

“We feel his legacy was saving lives,” Patrick said. “That's what the Brandon Act is about and that's how we want to preserve his legacy, with our foundation and the scholarship.”

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News