Up-and-coming civic leaders honored at ASU's Spirit of Service luncheon

A record number of attendees came to celebrate Arizona State University’s Spirit of Service Scholars at the annual luncheon on Oct. 23. State and university leaders honored the 2013-2014 cohort of exceptional students from diverse backgrounds that have demonstrated a commitment to social and civic service.

“The Spirit of Service Scholars program exemplifies ASU’s commitment to proactive community engagement, hands-on problem solving and meaningful societal impact,” says ASU President Michael M. Crow. “These talented students demonstrate the convergence of social responsibility, innovation and leadership that will shape our future.”

Now in its fourth year, the program helps prepare these young professionals to take leadership roles in public and private nonprofit sectors through scholarships, mentoring and real-world experiences.

“There has never been a time when we were more in need of bright, talented young people committed to public service. We face not only a series of challenging problems but, more profoundly, a crisis of confidence in the value and efficacy of service. These Spirit of Service Scholars are committed to enhancing their communities and we have every confidence in their ability to do so,” says Jonathan Koppell, dean of the College of Public Programs.

The Spirit of Service Scholars program is offered through the College of Public Programs, but the students represent colleges from across the university, from freshmen to doctoral students. The current cohort represents 11 different fields of study and five colleges and schools.

Twenty Junior Scholars from high schools across the metro Phoenix area also participate in the program.

Varied goals, a common purpose

“We are all here for different reasons, but we are all interested in being public servants and making the community a better place,” says Stephen Calderon, an undergraduate studying nonprofit leadership and management.

Inspired by his mother’s commitment to public service, Calderon says it was never a question of whether he would give back through volunteer efforts and work in the community. Calderon is a management intern with the ASU Foundation where he sees funding going to a wide range of causes. He hopes to continue work in the nonprofit sector and sees an opportunity to help put in place evaluation and tracking tools that gauge the impact that funding has in the community.

Karen Voyer-Caranova says her passion for civic engagement stems from her work as a legislative aide in Louisville, KY.

Voyer-Caranova came to ASU to pursue her master’s in social work 20 years after receiving a master of expressive therapy degree, and following a career as a mental health therapist. She is also pursuing certification in gerontology. Her goal is to use her expertise to address affordable housing – particularly community-based housing – for a graying America.

Davier Rodriguez, a graduate student pursuing master’s degrees in public administration through the College of Public Programs and higher and postsecondary education through the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, supports multiple social justice issues, focusing on increased access to quality education for lower-income, first-generation students. He founded DREAMzone to create an inclusive, supportive environment to help undocumented students find the resources needed to be successful. Rodriguez won the Clinton Global Initiative University Sweet 16 Commitments Challenge earlier this year for his work.

Empowering future leaders

Rodriguez says that the luncheon was “unexpectedly powerful.”

“I was able to meet with SCF Arizona employees who clearly demonstrated both individual and collective commitment to public service – reassuring me that I am not alone in my pursuit. The speakers were also thought-provoking, presenting different political and ideological views, but at the same time united in the message that public service and governance are imperative to our nation’s success,” he says.

“After participating in two seminars, the luncheon and meeting my mentor, I already feel exponentially more informed and inspired about mentorship and immigration reform,” says Ashley Brennan, who is pursuing her degree in psychology through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Voyer-Caranova says that first-hand experience has shown her the effectiveness of public service and being involved.

“I had the opportunity to advocate for more and better bicycle infrastructure at a budget hearing last year,” she says. “We were organized and made our case about how not having to rely on a car can free up significant resources for people. Funding was increased from $50,000 to $1.5 million. That happened because we showed up – and it can happen with anything.”

“This is a great opportunity to meet public servants and advocates for various causes in the Valley – and working with fellow scholars is inspirational. We come from varied backgrounds and different fields of study, but we really relate to each other well,” Calderon says.

“I am inspired by the Spirit of Service Program every day,” says Voyer-Caravona. “To see the passion my fellow scholars bring to their efforts really does give me hope.”

Primary sponsors for the event include SCF Arizona, APS, Cox Communications and Helios Education Foundation.

Learn more about the Spirit of Service Scholars program at spiritofservicescholars.asu.edu.