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ASU conference aims to help youth achieve economic success

Southwest Pathways Conference graphic
May 22, 2015

For many young people, the American Dream seems increasingly out of reach. The Southwest Pathways Conference at Arizona State University will bring together national and regional experts to explore solutions to this massive challenge.

The conference will be held at SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center, on May 28-29. More than 100 prominent speakers from around the nation will be in attendance, as well as teams of leaders from five states: Colorado, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona.

One issue that will be examined during the conference is the burgeoning population of “opportunity youth,” young adults ages 16 to 25 who aren’t in school or employed. There are more such youth in Phoenix than any other city in America. This is also a big problem elsewhere in the Southwest, including Nevada and New Mexico.

“We’re focusing on the immense challenges that young people face in finding a foothold in the economy,” said Bill Symonds, director of the Global Pathways Institute and professor at ASU. “Our panels will explore ways in which we might create more promising pathways to success in the Southwest.”

The conference is being organized by the Global Pathways Institute, which is based at ASU. The institute was launched to identify and promote promising solutions to the current failure to prepare large numbers of young people for economic success.

Keynote speakers include ASU President Michael Crow; Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey; Jamie Casap, global education evangelist at Google; and Gayatri Agnew, director of career opportunity for the Walmart Foundation.

Afternoon breakout sessions will explore 13 of the most promising solutions and feature dozens of leading experts. Jared Veldheer, star offensive tackle for the Arizona Cardinals, will speak about his remarkable route to the NFL during an evening reception at the East Valley Institute of Technology in nearby Mesa.

An advocacy organization called Opportunity Nation ranks Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada among the bottom five in the United States for providing economic mobility for young people. The leader of Opportunity Nation and many of its partner organizations will discuss solutions they have designed to help promote economic opportunity.

The Southwest Pathways Conference aims to form a research consortium to inform policy and practice in the Southwest. Another major goal of the conference is to mobilize teams of diverse stakeholders to forge strong action plans for improving pathway systems in their states. A key focus will be on underserved minority populations, which have historically lagged in education and economic mobility. 

“ASU is pleased to host a conference that aligns so well with our commitment to access and inclusivity. The diverse student population of ASU truly reflects that of the state, and we consider diversity one of our greatest strengths,” said Sethuraman "Panch" Panchanathan, senior vice president for Knowledge Enterprise Development at ASU.

Panchanathan will serve as a panelist in a session on post-secondary pathway initiatives.

Registration is closed for the general public. However, members of the press who wish to cover the event may attend free of charge. Contact William Symonds,, for more information.