David Calloway, MPA 2011, School of Public Affairs, Arizona State University

Alumni spotlight: '11 grad's job helps Mesa get where it's going

By

Mark J. Scarp

David Calloway was honest about his maroon-and-gold credentials.

He graduated from the ASU School of Public Programs, the former name of Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, in May 2011, receiving a Master of Public Administration degree from the School of Public Affairs (SPA).

Before that he earned two Bachelor of Science degrees at ASU: One is in justice studies from the School of Social Transformation (SST) and the other in geography from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Plus, he earned a certificate in geographic information sciences, also from ASU.

Then he added that he also completed a certificate in parks and recreation management from Northern Arizona University in 2013.

“So I am mostly all Sun Devil.”

We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Calloway is one of 18 members of the most recent cohort of Arizona Forward’s 2020-2021 Emerging Sustainability Leaders program. Members will gain skills they will apply to advance sustainability where they work and in the communities they serve.

Read on to learn more about Calloway, who today is transit coordinator for the East Valley city of Mesa, Arizona, his work and what his ASU experience means to him:

Q. Tell us a little about yourself today and your early years.

A. I grew up and currently live in Mesa, Arizona. Now I have the opportunity to work for the city that I have called home. It is a bit of a running joke that I didn’t stray too far from home. That is fine with me. Truthfully, it is an honor to serve my hometown and I am proud to work for the city of Mesa.

Growing up I had some experiences that got me started on a path to where I am today. As a child, I was lucky to be able to spend a great amount of time with my grandparents. My grandfather was a career military man who spent 30 years in the Army, serving in World War II and Vietnam. Listening to him talk about his devotion to duty and the joy that he derived from serving inspired me to pursue a career in public service. He instilled in me the core values of integrity, putting service before yourself and striving for excellence in all that you do.

My mother was also a career public service employee, so the call to service runs in the family. They helped me figure out that I wanted a career that allowed me to directly help people on a daily basis.

Q. Tell us about what you do for the city of Mesa.

A. Technically, my title is transit coordinator, but in reality, this means I get to do a little bit of everything. My responsibilities focus on transit system operations and maintenance, transit planning and transit-related capital improvement projects. I serve as the lead staff person for coordinating daily bus detours, facility maintenance operations, transit service changes and responding to inquiries from the public regarding transit in Mesa. 

The operations and maintenance component of my position includes managing Mesa’s network of bus stops, Park-and-Ride lots and transit centers. I am committed to expanding sustainable practices in these areas, including managing programs to add more shade at bus stops, extending the useful life of transit assets and working with stakeholders on alternative transportation initiatives.

I find this work incredibly rewarding in that I know I am having a direct, positive impact on the residents of Mesa by making sure that they have access to a clean, safe and reliable public transit system.

In the past eight years, Mesa has constructed two light rail extensions. I have been fortunate to have been part of both projects. It has been very rewarding to be part of the teams that designed and constructed these capital projects that will have a lasting impact on the mobility of Mesa residents and increased economic development in and around downtown Mesa for decades to come.

Q. How did your time at Watts College prepare you for life after college?

A. My time at Watts College cemented my desire to work in public service, more so than any program in my past. While working on my MPA I was surrounded by a group of students that carried that same passion for service. Some were straight out of their undergrad like me, some were mid-career professionals and others were working on starting a second career. The wide range of experiences of my classmates and faculty helped to show me what was possible with an MPA degree and helped illustrate how rewarding a career in public service could be in a tangible way that I had never seen before.

Q. What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

A. This is easy. As a freshman justice studies student, I was in my first class of the program, which was titled “Technology and the Environment.” The professor gave a course introduction showing how we would explore human impact on the environment and the justice issues surrounding how and where that impact occurs. At that moment, I knew I wanted to do something to work towards a cleaner and more just environment, and I knew there was opportunity to do that in the public sector. I had no idea that this “aha” moment would evolve into me working in transit services for Mesa and being part of the team that built light rail.

Q. Why did you choose ASU?

A. I chose ASU for my undergraduate program based on proximity to home and the scholarship opportunities offered to me. For my graduate program, that was easy as well: The ASU MPA program was ranked in the top 10 MPA programs. The tuition was relatively reasonable, the course schedule would allow me to work full-time as well, plus the downtown campus was an easy light rail ride from Tempe.

Q. What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A. Throughout both my undergraduate and graduate programs at ASU my perspective was constantly being challenged and changed, for the better. To me that is the point of college, to challenge yourself and what you think you know.

Q. What's the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A. Take some risks and take some time to do something outside of the box of a traditional degree roadmap. For example, take that oddball class or apply for that internship that doesn’t exactly match your perceived career path. The results may surprise you, and in the worst-case scenario, it will make for a good story and the experience will be worth it.

Q. If you had college to experience all over again, what would you do differently? The same?

A. The only thing I would change would have been to take a study abroad semester at some point during my time in college and to spend more time studying languages. Working to gain a more whole understanding of how the world works is one of the cornerstones of the college experience, in my mind.

Q. Tell us about the achievements since graduating you are proudest of. Why?

A. There are three achievements that I am most proud of, none of which I can really take credit for: 

First and second: In my office I have two pieces of light rail track from the two light rail extensions built in Mesa. I was just one participant in the teams that helped build these two projects. However, they are a lasting and tangible achievement that will be in service for years to come. 

The third achievement is being named as part of the U.S. Forest Service National Citizen Stewardship and Partnership Award for the Tonto National Forest. This program highlighted the volunteer work done in the South Zone of the Tonto National Forest and shows the importance of volunteer work in public land management.

Q. What will most benefit you and your career from the Arizona Forward program?

A.  I think there are two key benefits to me that come from being a member of the Arizona Forward Emerging Sustainability Leaders Program. First is the sharing of experiences of how each member works to integrate sustainable practices in each of their respective disciplines. We bring these lessons back to our respective organizations and help to make some real change where we can, regardless of what position we hold. Second, and perhaps having a greater impact on my career, Arizona Forward is allowing me to develop a deeper understanding of the positive economic impacts of sustainability in Arizona. This understanding gives me an edge to help take any organization I am part of to the next level.

Q. If you could clone yourself, what other career would you pursue?

A. If I had a chance to clone myself, I would need to have a couple of clones to cover all the career bases I would like to do. I think that I would really enjoy a career in law enforcement with a land management agency like the U.S. Forest Service or the National Park Service. In addition to my academic and professional pursuits, I have always liked to get my hands dirty and be involved in work that gives you a strong feeling of “mission accomplished” at the end of the day. To that end, if I had not pursued my interests in public sector work, I would have considered a career in construction management, industrial rigging, welding or another skilled trade. 

Additionally, I feel there is still time for me to continue my academic studies, possibly working towards an advanced degree in public policy, emergency management or environmental sciences.