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Sparky’s biggest fan retires

A friend to all, Fulton Schools Business Relations Coordinator Anna Wales, celebrates a quarter century worth of ASU successes and leaves behind an insurmountable legacy

Anna Wales tailgating with her family in 2016 at the Cactus Bowl football game at Chase Field. Photo courtesy of Anna Wales

It was 1977 when Anna Wales first set foot on the Arizona State University campus while visiting a friend. She recalls strolling down Palm Walk, breathing in the aromatic orange blossoms, absorbing the relentless Arizona sunshine and knowing that she belonged.

In 1993, Wales moved from her home in Oswego, Illinois, to Phoenix where she would begin a fulfilling career at ASU. Now she is retiring from her role as Fulton Schools business relations coordinator and the place she’s called “home” for the last 28 years.

As she packs up her office in the Sutton Director’s Suite on the Polytechnic campus, Anna’s colleagues, who will miss her dearly, wonder how she’ll fit 28 years’ worth of friendships, professional impacts, memories and enough ASU memorabilia to fill Sun Devil Stadium into some moving boxes. The reality is that while she’ll no longer be a daily presence on campus, Wales’ legacy will continue at ASU. It lives in the foundation of the Polytechnic campus and in the hearts of everyone she’s worked with.

Wales’ changemaking attitude, sunny demeanor, persistence and warm energy have been contagiously uplifting and allowed her to build relationships, push boundaries and cultivate culture across an array of pivotal roles.

Rain or shine, Wales, a staff achievement awardee, was the person who came in early, stayed late and answered weekend calls. She also spent weeknights and weekends cheering at every ASU sporting event she could squeeze into her busy schedule.

But Wales hasn’t just been a season ticket holder for her ASU teams, she is a season ticket holder for the university. A cheerleader in every sense of the word, Wales graciously supports anyone who crosses her path. That’s just the kind of person she is.

For Wales, who says she has an extreme aversion to the colors red and blue (the colors of ASU rival the University of Arizona), it was never just about work. The years flew by, colleagues became family, student success became her mission and Sun Devil country became her home.

Anna Wales and Sparky

Anna Wales poses with Sparky at The Polytechnic School’s graduation breakfast. Photo courtesy of Anna Wales

Leaving a little sparkle wherever she went

A common thread runs through each personal and professional endeavor Wales took part in during her time at ASU; enthusiastically supporting and crediting others.

She has held roles in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, the Graduate College, the W. P. Carey School of Business, the Office of the University Provost, the Office of Public Affairs for the President’s Office and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — and in each of them, she creatively introduced new ways to reinforce the university’s mission.

Most of her more than 10 roles centered around special events, alumni relations and donor stewardship, however, she wore many hats and enthusiastically took on responsibilities that often fell out of her scope.

When Wales met Chuck Backus, the founding provost of the Polytechnic campus, establishing ASU East and the move of the School of Agribusiness from the Tempe campus to the East Valley was pending. Backus recalls Wales walking into his office and asking how she could help make the move successful.

“I knew she was committed because she was asking for more work,” Backus says. “She became a ‘cheerleader’ within the School of Agribusiness and thus made this transition much less painful for everyone involved.”

Professor Emeritus Thomas Schildgen, former department chair for the Department of Industrial Technology, met Wales during her first week of employment at ASU in 1994 and the two worked together for many years. He recalls laughing, crying and reminiscing with Wales, whose humor and outgoing personality shined brightest during times of adversity.

“Whether it was cancer in her family or generating the feeling of abundance when department budgets were limited, Anna’s dedication to the university was visible and to this day she remains an institutional icon,” Schildgen says.

In her most recent role as business development coordinator for the Fulton Schools, Wales fostered generosity through her many donor relationships working directly with David Wahls, the Fulton Schools Executive Director of Development. Wahls has known Wales for nearly his entire ASU career and says she brings light into any room she enters.

“Her passion to support people and help them flourish is truly unmatched,” Wahls says. “With all that she does, she brings the energy of 10 people along with her that motivates the group to go above and beyond, accomplishing more than anyone thought possible. While ASU will keep going after Anna retires, there will be a huge gap to fill as we will miss her dearly as a part of our teams and our daily dose of sunshine.”

Professor Emeritus George Seperich was the associate sean of the Morrison School, now part of the W. P. Carey School of Business, when he and Wales worked together.

“To know Anna is to like Anna,” Seperich says. “Her retirement is as close as she’ll get to helping herself. She never thinks about herself. It is always about others. How many people have that attitude? I would hazard a guess that among the billions of people on this planet there are a handful of people like Anna. We are lucky she chose us.”

Wales partnered with Warde Nichols, executive director in the Office of Government and Community Engagement at ASU, to organize tours and events for the community through engagement with elected officials and chambers. He recalls how she poured her heart and soul into ASU and ASU’s Polytechnic campus.

“Those who have worked with her and those who have been around her are better because of her genuine care of the individual and the ASU community at large,” Nichols says. “Her infectious smile and contagious excitement will be missed. She will continue in her retirement to impact lives and make a difference. And those of us who have been impacted by her will try to continue carrying the pitchfork forward.”

archival photo of Anna Wales and colleagues on a couch with an ASU banner

Anna Wales, center, photographed with colleagues at the ASU Polytechnic campus in 1998. “We decided to take photos of us digging ditches, putting out fake fires and unclogging toilets as a joke that “other duties as assigned” were a part of our job descriptions — it was hilarious! And at the end, we pretended to fall asleep,” says Wales. Photo courtesy of Vinette Williams

Fostering a student-centric culture

Whether it was fundraising for scholarships, providing resources, sharing wisdom or offering encouragement, Wales went above and beyond for students during every phase of their academic journeys.

When the newly launched Hyperloop team, AZLoop, needed resources to compete, Wales stepped in without hesitation. She assisted ASU, Northern Arizona University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University students in coordinating a team, lab space, funding and test equipment to enable the group’s success.

“When I say a large part of our success was due to Anna, that is no exaggeration,” says systems engineering doctoral student Lynne Nethken, who competed with the 2017 team. “AZLoop placed among the top 10 teams out of more than 1,300 entrants worldwide to design and build the first prototype of Hyperloop pods for testing at SpaceX.”

Nethken says that Wales served as the bridge between ASU and its students and she has a genuine desire to see students succeed — even if that means challenging ASU on behalf of the students.

“I can’t thank [Anna] enough for what she has done in my life and I know of at least 100 other students who feel the same way.”
Lynne Nethken, systems engineering doctoral student

Cecilia Alcantar, a third-year mechanical engineering systems major, says that she has been inspired by Wales.

“When I grow up, I want to be exactly like Anna,” Alcantar says. “She has increased my love for ASU and the Polytechnic community and her very presence and genuine passion for ASU is contagious.”

Wales had many ASU passions, but her love for The Polytechnic School’s students was undeniable. She was integral in cultivating a sense of community among the students, faculty and staff when The Polytechnic School, one of the seven Fulton Schools of Engineering, launched at the ASU Polytechnic campus in 2014.

“Anna was front and center on a project that brought the campus together as a community,” says Fulton Schools Vice Dean of Strategic Advancement Ann McKenna. “We created a T-shirt that included a uniquely special phrase on it, ‘P.S. I love you,’ where ‘P.S.’ stood for ‘Polytechnic School.’ The message is quintessential Anna — she loves the school! She worked with students to get their input, made sure the design was inclusive of the school’s programs and, in the end, it wholly represented the Polytechnic campus’ culture of creativity, collaboration and care, with a healthy dose of fun.”

“These are all attributes that exemplify Anna and she brought joy to every work activity,” McKenna says. “There are no adequate words to express how fortunate I am to have her as a friend and colleague.”

Backus can attest to Anna’s commitment to the students and recalls her care and urgency in launching the Walter Carter Memorial Scholarship so ASU East students felt supported as soon as the campus opened.

“She has devoted her total work life to raising funds for ASU students,” Backus says. “It is her devotion to this campus that has made Anna one of the main reasons for the ASU Polytechnic campus’ continued success.”

Club ASU was another student-driven initiative that Wales was involved in through her role in the Office of Public Affairs. This program was an effort to introduce college life to prospective students from groups that are typically underrepresented in higher education. She worked with alumni, schools and elected officials to organize ASU sporting and Gammage events among other activities for these groups.

The Anna and Brian Wales Sparky Scholarship

As Wales closes this chapter of her career, and her office door for the last time on March 4, “a bulb in the ASU marquee will go out,” Seperich says. She will deservingly cruise into retirement knowing that her commitment to ASU students will remain strong through the support of her and her husband’s scholarship, the Anna and Brian Wales Sparky Scholarship.

Any student who has volunteered to serve as Sparky for a semester can apply for the Sparky Scholarship, which enables Sparky’s continued presence at schools, hospitals and special events. Supporting the ambassadors who spread Sun Devil spirit is important to the couple.

As retirement inches closer, Wales reminisces about her time at ASU and the students, faculty and staff who propelled her successes along the way.

“They didn’t have to help me, but they cared about me and our mission,” Wales says. “It’s a culture of people whose hard work sometimes goes unnoticed, and they are the backbone of this university. This is why ASU isn’t just the place I have worked, it’s an integral part of who I am and that will never change.”

Christine Wilkinson, Anna Wales and ASU President Michael CrowAnna Wales in her officeA Nissa X-Terra vehicle covered in a wrap featuring an ASU football playerphoto of Anna Wales appearing on video board at Sun Devil Stadiuma group photo of Anna Wales and ASU employees at a fundraiserAnna Wales

About The Author

Sona Srinarayana

Sona Srinarayana joined the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering marketing and communications team in February 2020 and is based at The Polytechnic School. She brings with her, a decade of communications experience in various industries, including higher education. She earned her B.A. degree from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and is an Arizona native.

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