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Brett Hunt sits in his seventh-story office on Arizona State University’s Downtown Phoenix campus, interviewing millennials a good portion of his days.
Often he feels like he’s the one been interviewed. They want to know the values of his organization. What it is doing for the community and how it will benefit society as a whole?
“They’re past it. They’re post-political,” said Hunt, director of the ASU’s Public Service Academy. “They are purpose-driven like you and I weren’t.”
The students Hunt sees today are mostly service-oriented and unlike those of his generation, he said. They’re not looking for careers that will bring them financial rewards and riches. The rewards will come from helping others, they believe.
“That’s radical, right?” Hunt said. “These students are the signal shifters and actively changing the world. Those are the kinds of students we’re preparing for the future workforce.”
Now in its third year, the Public Service Academy is a first-of-its-kind undergraduate program to develop leaders of tomorrow who are prepared to find solutions for society’s biggest challenges and create a culture of service. It does so by leveraging and combining military and civilian experiences. It has two tracks: Reserve Officer Training Corps, the existing university-based program to commission officers into the U.S. Armed Forces, and Next Generation Service Corps, a program for service-oriented students from all majors to become civilian service leaders.
"Having served in combat twice with the millennials, recruited them for four and a half years during my last command and have served with them at ASU for the past five years, I have seen firsthand that they have an exceptional heart and passion for service and the drive to make a difference," said Benjamin C. Freakley, former commanding general for the U.S. Army and special adviser to ASU President Michael M. Crow for leadership initiatives. "Our world needs character-driven leadership more than ever and our Next Generation Service Corps leaders are stepping up. Our adaptive student-leaders are preparing for their critical roles of service in the future."
The 400-member academy was launched in 2015 in part on the idea that society needs collaborative leaders of character committed to serving the public good. They are trained in hopes of being the next generation of leaders in the United States Armed Forces, Peace Corps, Teach for America, AmeriCorps, the private and nonprofit sectors, and all branches of local, state and national government.
Twenty-year-old academy member Jakob Luttrell, who is attending ASU on an ROTC scholarship, said he always knew he was destined for a life in the military. When he graduates in 2019 with a degree in global studies, he’ll enter the Army as a second lieutenant.
“Sure there were a lot of other career opportunities where I could have made more money, but I didn’t feel that was my calling,” Luttrell said. “I felt that it was necessary that I do my part to serve my country.”
Luttrell said he views the military more as peacekeepers than a war machine, and combat is only a small part of what they do.
“The military is about supporting families, fellow soldiers and people in need,” he said. “They are some of the most dedicated and selfless people I know.”
Helping people in need has been a constant theme in the life of Elizabeth Evans, a member of the Next Generation Service Corps.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but when I help someone it makes me feel happy inside,” said Evans, a tourism development and management major. “Yes, I could do things for me and me only, but I don’t feel that’s my purpose.”
Evans, who comes from a small town in Northern California, said the Public Service Academy has opened her up to new situations and scenarios, including an internship with the Salvation Army in Washington, D.C.
“Getting exposed to places and perspectives allows you to see how the other side of the planet lives,” Evans said. “Before my internship, I had never thought about going into nonprofit work. But now it could be a real possibility.”
Lots of possibilities abound for Christopher Frias, a junior double-majoring in economics and in public service and public policy. He said as a minority growing up mostly in south and west Phoenix, he wants to “pave the way for others to follow in his footsteps.”
A Next Generation Service Corps member, Frias said he hopes to be a congressional aide one day. However, if he finds a job in the private sector he said he’ll pull up several people along the way.
“This organization has showed me that you can be successful in an organization and gear it towards having a social impact and making a difference in your community,” Frias said.
That’s the same mind-set held by journalism major Imani Stephens, a Next Generation Service Corps member raised in a single-mother household in Compton, California.
“Even though my career choice will be journalism, I have found a way to give back to society by shining a light on marginalized communities and bringing awareness to all types of people,” said Stephens, who joined the academy three years ago. “I don’t want to leave anyone out of the conversation.”
She said the most important thing she has learned while in the academy was simple, but important.
“Just to be myself and focus on my personal mission, which is how to be of service to others,” she said.
Top photo: Charlie Leight/ASU