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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Filling a Growing Void of Public and Social Servants

A bittersweet thought resonated through the mind of Debra Friedman, University Vice President and Dean of ASU’s College of Public Programs, as she recently watched the next generation of leaders in public service stride across the stage to accept their degrees.

These are well-trained, talented people who will make a difference in their communities, she thought during the College’s fall convocation ceremony for 232 graduates. But we need so many more of them here in the Valley and across the nation – and as soon as possible.
Friedman and many other public sector experts say America faces a growing crisis: As current senior managers and professionals of the baby boomer generation reach retirement age and leave the workforce, there is a dearth of talent available at federal and local levels to assume critically important roles in the public, nonprofit and social service sectors.
That creates the potential for a major decline in the quality and number of services many of us rely on (and let’s face it, often take for granted) every day. Imagine having no qualified people available to handle road repair and solid waste disposal, oversee our access to water, and control air pollution. Picture a day when no one is properly trained to manage human services such as mental-health counseling, child protection, or substance-abuse prevention and treatment.

It’s certainly a grim scenario, but thankfully Friedman and her colleagues at the College of Public Programs are working to prevent this.

The College is establishing the “Spirit of Service” Scholars initiative to honor 30 outstanding graduate and undergraduate students each year who will commit their future careers to federal, state and local government and nonprofit organizations in service of solving society’s most challenging problems. (Visit http://spiritofservicescholars.asu.edu.)

These students will receive prestigious scholarships that provide them with an extraordinary academic and real-world education, part of a life-long interdisciplinary network, and committed, effective mentors.

They’ll also become mentors themselves, working closely with high school students who are at a critical point in their decision-making path for careers. Spirit of Service mentor projects will address real community problems in collaboration with established nonprofits throughout the Valley.

“Inspiring high school students to achieve careers in public service is quite literally the biggest investment to be made in our future,” says Friedman.

The Scholars program will bring together people from disparate fields such as environmental, economic, non-profit and health related disciplines, as well as public administration, social work and criminology. Friedman hopes it will serve as a model for other universities to create similar initiatives.

“The next generation of public and social servants must be prepared to transform government at all levels while serving both public and private interests,” Friedman says. “We need strong, smart and ethical leaders who can create a shared partnership between the public and private sectors.”

The College’s fall class of graduates includes many people who have the talent, savvy and ambition needed to perform these jobs. One example is Nichole Hugo, who aspires to innovatively alleviate poverty through tourism. Another is Danielle DeMailo, who helps veterans returning from service in Iraq or Afghanistan reintegrate with their families while dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

But there simply aren’t enough of these individuals. Through programs like the Spirit of Service Scholars, we can – and must – recruit and properly train the next generation of government and nonprofit professionals.

To support the Spirit of Service Scholars through a tax-deductible donation, visit http://spiritofservicescholars.asu.edu/support.

sophoaz@yahoo.com

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