ASU grad Thomas Prior

Community of public servants inspires passion for local government in outstanding grad


Mark J. Scarp

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates. 

Some people take online quizzes to find out what movie star they most resemble, or in which state they should be living. When Thomas Prior was an 8th-grader, his class took a career exploration quiz that had a lasting impact on his life.

“Although it may sound crazy, basing your career path on a 20-minute online assessment, that is essentially what I did. While other classmates received results like teacher, artist and police officer, my top result was city manager,” said Prior, the spring 2020 outstanding graduate in the School of Public Affairs.

“I was eager to learn more, despite the fact that I hadn’t a clue about what a city manager does for a living. My teacher at the time organized an opportunity for me to learn more about local government by job shadowing the city manager of Glendale,” said Prior, of Peoria, Arizona. “That opportunity led me down an exciting path of civic engagement, including serving on the city of Peoria’s Youth Advisory Board, appointment as one of the state’s first high school student ex officio members of the Peoria City Council and multiple internships in cities and towns across Arizona.”

With the help of a passionate educator, a city manager who recognized how important being a mentor could be, and a “community of public servants who provided support, guidance and compassion throughout my academic career,” Prior said he found his own passion for local government.

He said that while at ASU, he was impressed by the high degree of support and numerous available resources.

“(From) the fantastic faculty and staff to the caring professors, ASU employs a consistent network of individuals who have a vested interest in student success,” Prior said.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: I chose ASU first as an undergrad, and then again for my graduate program, because of the school’s highly ranked local government management program, dedication toward being a leader in innovation and for its value of inclusion. Ranked third in the U.S. for local government management and No. 1 in innovation, ASU is committed to improving alongside its students — resulting in an exceptional, co-produced educational experience.

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU? 

A: Throughout my time at ASU, I developed rewarding connections with staff and faculty as a student, teaching assistant and as a colleague. One of the most important lessons I learned while attending ASU didn’t come from a textbook, but rather from a cumulation of mini lessons in leadership and ethics from Professor of Practice George Pettit. Some would argue that these topics can only be learned through experience; however, Professor Pettit instills lessons in leadership in his students through tales of his own experiences as the former town manager of Gilbert, Arizona. As I look back on my time at ASU, these mini lessons have been the most important and meaningful takeaways.

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

A: The best piece of advice I would give to those still in school is to explore what interests you and find your passion. ASU has quality courses in just about everything you could imagine. Use this time to learn as much as you can by broadening your perspective and venturing outside of your minimum degree requirements. Although during finals you may question why you decided to double major or pursue a certificate, by the time of graduation, you will be that much prouder of yourself.

Q: As an on-campus student, what was your favorite spot to study or to just think about life?

A: During my undergrad and now graduate program, I’ve had a front-row seat to the positive growth that has taken place at the Downtown Phoenix campus. Over the past six years, I have found so many great places to study. While I’ve been able to explore so many great spots on campus … my all-time favorite spot to study is at the Mercado. If you’re looking for a quiet, scenic spot on a nice day, the Mercado is a great place to be productive.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would look to help those most in need within our immediate community. I’m a fervent believer that change begins at the local level. In the Phoenix area, we have neighbors, friends and family members who are one missed paycheck away from a financial disaster. Although we spend substantial time identifying vulnerable populations, we often lose sight of them during times of hardships, such as economic crises, natural disasters or even during a pandemic. I would help to protect these vulnerable community members and challenge others to do the same by helping those in need, not when it's convenient, but when it’s most needed.