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On Oct. 1, Arizona State University will announce one of the largest philanthropic investments in its 133-year history.
This transformational gift to the College of Public Service and Community Solutions will increase our community-focused work, provide hands-on learning opportunities, remove financial barriers for students and enhance the quality of already highly ranked academic programs.
The gift by a self-made metro-Phoenix couple also shines a bright light on a trend here in Arizona and across the nation that is cause for optimism: Young Americans are dedicating themselves to lives of public service focused on solving everyday challenges.
The choice to invest in public service rests on two bedrock beliefs:
The design and mission of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions underscores both beliefs. That means dismissing the old-fashioned idea of ivory tower academia far removed from the messiness of hands-on work.
To the contrary, the college has embraced a model of community embeddedness and partnership. Community collaboration is a cornerstone in every project taken on in pursuit of innovative solutions. For example:
Behind every collaborative project – and this is a tiny sample – professors, students and community partners draw upon expertise and analytic ability. With each attempt at finding new solutions, data is gathered to allow study, critique and improvement. In many cases, essential external funding is secured precisely in the name of such discovery.
And always, students are at the front lines. Engaging. Learning. Growing. Preparing to take their place as leaders in the never-ending push to better our neighborhoods, towns and cities.
This demonstrates the second premise of an investment in public service. There is a generation of potential public service leaders eager to take on the most vexing dilemmas.
Thousands of students are enrolled in public service programs at universities across the country, and many more are engaged in service years and forms of volunteerism. For them, college is not about maximizing their income. Students devoted to public service futures are drawn by the desire to serve and live a life with meaning.
In many cases, the commitment is deeply personal. It is true around the world that many students pursuing the service path envision transformation of the very communities in which they grew up.
This is why making college accessible to talented individuals from all communities is so critical. The majority of students in our college will be the first in their family to earn a college degree. Nearly two-thirds are from families earning less than $50,000 annually.
They come filled with energy and determination to realize the better future they imagine not just for themselves and their families, but also their friends and neighbors:
Carina Ledesma. (Photo: ASU)
Carina Ledesma, a native of Maryvale and first-generation college graduate, has already earned an undergraduate degree in social work and now is pursuing her masters. Her heart calls her to help others, and she is doing that by working for a non-profit focused on prospective foster parents who will take in vulnerable children.
Nathaniel Shrake. (Photo: ASU)
Nathaniel Shrake, who already served our country as a Marine helicopter avionics technician but wanted his next form of service to be more community engaged and more about people, is doing just that working at the Westward Ho Collaboratory, a unique private-public partnership bettering people’s lives. He’s teaching guitar and getting hands-on training for a future in recreational therapy.
Abuid Hernandez. (Photo: ASU)
Fellow ASU student Abiud Hernandez was inspired by police officers in his neighborhood. Now a second-year criminology and criminal justice student in the Barrett honors college, he plans to follow the best examples he saw growing up by becoming an officer himself. He’s preparing to contribute to an improved model of community-engaged policing by sharpening his analytic assisting a professor with academic research.
An investment in public service education is an investment in our shared future. And it is not limited to those majoring in public policy or criminal justice. Scores of engineers, nurses, entrepreneurs, artists and every other type of graduate are eager to embrace their public service impulse throughout their lives.
We are working to prepare them too. And the good news is that ASU students are not unique in this regard. There is a can-do-it spirit of public service evident across the country.
The late Sen. John McCain saw that spirit and urged us with his final words to embrace it. McCain drew his inspiration from Theodore Roosevelt’s exhortation to enter “the arena” of service.
The students and faculty of our college – together with the dedicated individuals working to make a better future – are in the arena. And those supporting them with contributions big and small are right there with them.
Jonathan GS Koppell is dean of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions at Arizona State University. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.