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Phillips brings experience to new role

August 20, 2007

Rhonda Phillips, an expert on asset-based community and economic development, is taking the reins as director of ASU’s School of Community Resources and Development.

Phillips brings a combination of academic and practitioner perspectives as well as more than 20 years of experience with private, public and nonprofit organizations at the international, national, state and local levels to her new role. Phillips will also serve as professor in the school, part of the College of Public Programs.

Phillips’ most recent position was founding director of the Center for Building Better Communities at the University of Florida, an appointment she held concurrently with faculty appointments in the Urban and Regional Planning Department and the College of Design, Construction and Planning. In May, Phillips was named editor of Community Development Journal (Oxford University Press), the journal of the Community Development Society, which provides an international forum on community action, village, town and regional planning, community studies and rural development.

One of her specialties is developing community indicator measuring systems, which are used in urban planning internationally. As a 2006 Fulbright Fellow at the University of Ulster, Phillips worked across sectors to design and apply a community development framework which gauged progress towards desired public policy outcomes in Northern Ireland. She has also recently been involved in projects focusing on alleviating poverty by incorporating technology-based economic development, and community-based planning that uses a sustainable and culture-based approach to development.

At ASU’s School of Community Resources and Development, Phillips will oversee 15 faculty members involved in a diverse array of research and academic programs. The school is part of the College of Public Programs, which focuses broadly on improving the quality of life for communities, individuals and organizations. More than 600 students are enrolled in the school’s tourism development and management, parks and recreation management, nonprofit studies and therapeutic recreation programs. It also is home to the Center for Nonprofit Leadership and Management, and the new Megapolitan Tourism Research Center to be launched this fall.

“Rhonda is an ideal fit for the School of Community Resources and Development and the Downtown Phoenix campus,” says Debra Friedman, dean of the College of Public Programs. “She is a boundary-spanner who looks at communities and organizations through a multidimensional lens. Her expertise encompasses the complex elements of healthy, sustainable communities and global problem-solving, a tremendous asset for ASU, Phoenix and the entire region.”

Phillips and co-editor Robert Pittman’s “Community Development Handbook” was the first text of its kind adopted as the text for the Community Development Institute, a national training program for development practitioners at various universities across the United States. She is also co-editor of “Community Quality-of-Life Indicators: Best Cases III,” focused on global communities that are using indicator systems for community and regional progress.

“Community development is a mindset,” Phillips says. “Instead of poverty reduction, we are learning to say ‘asset or wealth enhancement,’ which brings a whole new perspective to the solutions. We focus on the inherent assets of a community or organization versus the needs. We identify not only financial assets, but leadership, relationships, talents, natural resources and traditions that help our communities and organizations thrive.

“We will never be able to address all needs, but this approach helps identify and enhance underutilized resources and helps attracts new resources.”

Phillips has been the lead investigator on nearly 20 grants and has served as chair of the American Planning Association’s Economic Development Division. Her academic experience includes positions at the University of Ulster, the University of Florida, the University of Southern Mississippi, Georgia Institute of Technology and Georgia State University.

Phillips holds a doctorate in city and regional planning from Georgia Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in economics from Georgia Institute of Technology, and a master’s degree in economic development and a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Southern Mississippi. She also earned dual professional certifications in economic development and urban and regional planning.