Making social connections through music

Hip-hop artist Samuel Peña didn't think music school was for him — until he got to ASU

May 11, 2016

Editor’s note:  This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2016 commencement. See the rest here.

Beat producer, Brazilian percussionist and music educator Samuel Peña was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and raised in the U.S. When he was younger, he says, his father always wanted to play music with him, but Peña wasn’t interested in rock and roll — he was interested in hip-hop. Although he loved music, he didn’t think music school was “for him.” ASU School of Music 2016 graduate Samuel Peña Samuel Peña, who's receiving his master's in music education, says the support of faculty in ASU's School of Music helped him believe in himself. Download Full Image

“I never thought that I would be a music educator,” Peña said. “I never thought of myself as a musician, even though I played music and made music and recorded music every day.”

He got a bachelor's degree in communication, focusing on stereotypes, on social justice and on celebrating similarities and differences.

Still, there was nothing he was more passionate about in life than music. He took a class at ASU to learn how to house dance.

Sparked by that class, he found a way to go back to school and, for the first time in his life, study music. This May, he graduates with a master's in music education through the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts' School of Music.

Music, he says, is about social connections. The part of the conversation he wants to add to is this: “It’s OK if you started late. It’s OK if you’re interested in something a little bit different. How can you, then, add your voice to what we’re creating?”

“The arts and music is my favorite way of expressing respect for myself and expressing respect for others,” Peña said. “And so my life is different now because all the things that I believed in and have been working on are now coming together with music.”

He answered a few questions about his time in college.

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

Answer: In spring 2014 I was hired as adjunct faculty for the ASU Urban Ensemble course. Once in the classroom, I knew that there was nowhere else I would rather be. I immediately began to make connections in the music education department and expressed that I was determined to become a better music teacher. I was accepted the following fall.

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

A: I learned that even though I was never in a school music program, that my music-making experiences and passion for playing music with others was extremely valuable. It really helped me to have the support of the music education department, the jazz department, and the support of the director of the School of Music. That support helped me believe in myself.

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

A: Get to know as many people as you can. Be kind, curious and share what you are passionate about. Also, remember that school is a safe place to make mistakes. The real art is in allowing yourself to grow from those mistakes. Finally, I would say­­ don’t forget to allow yourself to be creative, to collaborate across the arts and to feel the music.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus was in FAC 28; the dance studio where I co-taught the Urban Ensemble. Each class I was inspired by the creativity of each student enrolled in the class. It was an honor to work with so many courageous students over the last two years.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I hope to be able to keep facilitating the Urban Ensemble and to help build a music program that supports and develops the wonderful music made in the community. I also plan on developing my music production company, AZ Beat Lab, in K-12 music programs to help empower youth. I would like to continue being a bridge between ASU and the local community.

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

A: I would get to stop searching for grants and funding and I would keep doing exactly what I am doing, developing my musicianship and developing my ability to facilitate creative music-making for people in and outside of schools. I believe anyone interested in learning deserves the joy of making and sharing music with others. 

Deborah Sussman

Communications and media specialist, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


ASU alumna named chancellor of Maricopa Community Colleges

Maria Harper-Marinick is the 1st woman and 1st Latina to become a chancellor in Arizona

May 11, 2016

On May 4, Maria Harper-Marinick, a two-time graduate of ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, was named chancellor of the Maricopa Community Colleges (MCC). MCC’s 10 colleges and 21 specialized education centers make the system one of America’s largest providers of higher education.

Announcing Harper-Marinick’s appointment, MCC Governing Board President Alfredo Gutierrez heralded “a new era” for the colleges that will “elevate their standing as an institution dedicated to high achievement and successful student outcomes.” Maria Harper-Marinick is the new chancellor of Maricopa Community Colleges ASU alumna Maria Harper-Marinick is the new chancellor of Maricopa Community Colleges. Download Full Image

ASU President Michael Crow said the board’s decision will “propel Maricopa Community Colleges to the next level.”

The post of chancellor is the pinnacle of Harper-Marinick’s nearly 25-year career at MCC. She has been executive vice chancellor and provost since 2010, and served as interim chancellor during the search for a successor to the retired Rufus Glasper. Now confirmed in the leadership role, she will oversee system-wide operations that serve 200,000 students with 10,000 faculty and staff members.

In addition to her tenure at MCC, Harper-Marinick has been a leader in education advocacy, working with organizations such as Expect More Arizona, the Arizona Minority Education Policy Analysis Center and the Arizona Business and Education Coalition. Outside the state borders, she has served on the National Community College Hispanic Council and was appointed to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

“There is an unprecedented demand for skilled workers among employers not only here in Arizona, but across the nation, making it vital for higher-education institutions to educate, train and prepare the next generation of employees to be workplace-ready,” Harper-Marinick said.

She said MCC will “continue to deliver an exemplary education that equips students with the foundational skills they need to excel in their careers and in life.”

Harper-Marinick came to ASU as a Fulbright student in 1982 after receiving her license in school administration and pedagogy from La Universidad Nacional Pedro Henríquez Ureña in her native Dominican Republic. She earned a Master of Education degree in educational media and a doctorate in educational technology from ASU.

“We are proud that our alumna will continue to have such a strong impact on Maricopa Community College students," said Mari Koerner, dean of ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. "She is a longtime advocate for them and for the entire educational community. Of course, Maria is intelligent and persistent, but it is her humor and optimism which make her extraordinary.”

“Dr. Harper-Marinick excelled among the candidates we interviewed and identified as national leaders in terms of understanding the unique and complex education landscape in Arizona, and the need for innovation and collaboration," said Crow, who co-chaired the search committee with Salina Bednarek, president of the MCC Faculty Association. "Her commitment to strengthening the quality of education in Arizona and keen insights on major issues make her perfectly poised to propel Maricopa Community Colleges to the next level.”

Copy writer, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College