My parents arrived in Arizona from India in the early 1990s, settling in an economy disrupted by a national recession in 1991. Despite this, Arizona’s rugged desert landscape and dry heat quickly became home for my family. Throughout the last decade of the 20th century my family grew slowly, first with the addition of a loving American Eskimo and later with my own birth, and as my family grew so did the state in which we lived. Now 30 years later, Arizona is a different place, one offering broad new levels of opportunity and ways to thrive.
From the moment I entered the world, my parents consistently instilled in me the importance of education — after all, their educational persistence was what led them to be able to live a prosperous life in the United States in the first place.
As I grew older, supported by my parents, my local community in Ahwatukee and the broader community across the Valley, my passion for education grew as well. During my senior year of high school, I was fortunate to be awarded the Flinn Scholarship, giving me my first glimpse into Arizona’s university system. As a high school student, I was struck by the higher education opportunities present in Arizona across our three great public universities, each with its own unique strengths. Now, as a student within this system of three public universities, I have gotten to experience first-hand the doors that have opened for me as a result of my Arizona education.
As a state that has progressed and diversified both socially and economically from where it was when my parents first immigrated here, we face a new set of challenges vastly different from those present in the early ‘90s. With a flourishing economy and a resounding inbound population, Arizona’s economic competitiveness and workforce demand is poised to continue escalating. The businesses that are leading this expansion are creating jobs and need the talent to fill them.
Looking to the future of our state, it is clear to me that Arizona’s success and agency to capitalize on these positive trends lies on one critical pillar — higher education. With strategic investment in the diverse strengths of our three public universities, the New Economy Initiative proposed this year by the Arizona Board of Regents will position them to provide more Arizona students with the educational tools necessary to contribute to our growing workforce and economy, writing their own personal story of impact on our state. However, at this critical point in Arizona’s history, investment in higher education goes well beyond economic impact.
Arizona’s higher education institutions have clearly demonstrated their positive influence on the state during the Covid pandemic. As a student in the Luminosity Lab at Arizona State University, I have had the chance to take part in a few of the several initiatives in which our three public universities have responded to public health challenges from the pandemic. From leading a student team that played a role in delivering more than 4,000 units of 3D-printed personal protective equipment to medical clinics experiencing shortages, to developing patent-pending sterilization technologies to aid in the shortage of N95 masks, to finally designing a face mask that eliminates some of the most common pain points with wearing masks, which won the $1M XPRIZE Next-Gen Mask Challenge, the three public universities have paved a path for me as a student to aid my state in times of desperate need. Beyond these examples, the universities have responded to several other challenges brought on by Covid, scaling up massive testing and vaccination centers and conducting life-saving research while still providing a world-class education to the 180,000 students that matriculate through the university system in any given year.
So, our state universities do a lot more than just confer degrees and when we invest in them, the return comes on many different fronts. These examples allude to the critical role that our universities will continue to play in Arizona’s recovery from Covid and to the opportunities they create for their students, even in times of national crisis. Investment in Arizona’s higher education institutions through the New Economy Initiative is an investment in Arizona’s students and an investment in the future of our state as a whole.
Student Regent Nik Dave is an ASU junior, majoring in Neuroscience, Innovation in Society. He is also pursuing a 1-year MS Biology next year.
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