Public Service Academy kicks off with Tonto Camp leadership retreat

Breanna Carpenter (right) and other Next Generation Service Corps members

Breanna Carpenter (front) and other Next Generation Service Corps members watch as teammates participate in a low ropes course at Tonto Creek Camp, formerly Camp Tontozona. The Next Generation Service Corps is a civilian group of undergraduates focused on ensuring they have service leadership skills regardless of their sector.
Photo by: Paul Atkinson


Their majors are diverse — art, architecture, astrophysics, to name a few. But their purpose in life is the same: to solve local and global challenges.

More than 60 high-achieving freshmen from three ASU campuses boarded buses the final weekend of August for a trip to Tonto Creek Camp, formerly Camp Tontozona, a rustic mountain retreat where the ASU football team holds an annual week of practices.

The students make up the first cohort of the Public Service Academy, a new university-wide program aimed at developing the next generation of leaders. The mountain retreat is a signature event for the four-year program.

“The goal of the Public Service Academy is to build character-driven leaders to take on the most complex issues that we face as a nation,” said Brett Hunt, the academy’s executive director. “A key component of that is the Next Generation Service Corps – a civilian service corps of undergraduates that are focused on ensuring they’ve got the leadership skills regardless of their sector – whether they are going to be an engineer, a doctor, or a business person – to affect public good when they move out into their jobs.”

After arriving at Tonto Creek Camp, the students were divided into teams supervised by volunteers with backgrounds in public service. Each team was given a series of challenges. A low ropes course where students had to navigate obstacles individually and as a team proved to be the most popular. 

“The low rope team-building challenge was really cool,” said Alvaro Martinez, an astrophysics major. “So, we actually get to know and trust each other. I really liked that because we all worked as one. That really bonded us together as a group.”

Students had been asked to open themselves up to new experiences and to let others take the lead. 

“Sometimes being in a group of leaders, everyone is competing to be the leader and so you often have disagreements and so it becomes very hard to work with one another,” said Breanna Carpenter, who is majoring in social work. “But I think here, at NGSC, everyone has done so well working collaboratively and I think that that just shows the type of leaders that are in this program – that know when they need to lead, when they need to follow and they do it happily.”  

Those who coordinated the weekend retreat were glad to see students work well together.

“In a short period of time they were able to really build an enormous amount of comradery,” Hunt said. “I just have to give credit to the caliber of the students that are in the Next Generation Service Corps – that they are able to come into an experience like this and take full advantage of it by putting themselves out there and diving right in.”

Students had a chance to relax and get to know each other while roasting marshmallows over a campfire or painting commemorative rocks to be placed at the entrance to Tonto Creek Camp. The weekend retreat also included a morning hike and time for personal reflection. A highlight for many was an induction ceremony into the Public Service Academy.

“We do need cross-sector leaders — being that not everyone can do one part — you all have to pitch in everywhere to get something done,” said Ebenacea Mohammad, an art major from Long Beach. “And the fact that they’re training us in that way just makes me feel like I’m going to be prepared for that next level of ‘real life.’”

For students like Lyndsay Frauen, the trip to Tonto Creek Camp allowed her to meet like-minded students who want to make a difference.

“My college experience is not just my education,” said Frauen. “It’s the people that I meet, the networking that I do. It’s the activities that I take part in. It’s a lot of things that will make a life great.”

Frauen's cohort is the first class of Public Service Academy students. Each year, the program will add 100 freshmen. Applications for the next cohort will begin Oct. 15. More information is available at