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Business students advance with ASU's Forward Focus

First class includes high-caliber students who want to give back to community.
September 6, 2016

Full-scholarship MBA program with updated curriculum draws strong group

Zack Mardoc spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small village in Madagascar, growing vegetables and digging latrines. He returned to Arizona with a new understanding of how to help the poor.

“My experience gave me a pragmatic approach," Mardoc said, adding, "You get rid of poverty with an economy.”

To put his passion into action, Mardoc looked for jobs with companies that valued social and environmental impact as much as profit. But he soon realized that to be a competitive candidate he needed a master’s of business administration.

That’s when he discovered the newly created Forward Focus MBA, which had an updated curriculum and covered tuition and fees at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business: "It shot to the top of my list."

The first complement of Forward Focus MBA students is fulfilling Arizona State University’s goal of drawing a wider variety of people who might not have otherwise pursued an advanced business degree: high-caliber students who want to give back to the community, such as through nonprofit work or a startup.

Mardoc, one of 119 students in the first cohort, said the program “creates a lot of creativity and engagement.”

He plans to use his degree to help disadvantaged communities invest in themselves. “I see using finance as an opportunity to promote social responsibility,” he said.

The numbers show the program’s reach:

  • 43 percent of the students are women, compared withAccording to statistics from the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which administers the GMAT. 30 percent of the W. P. Carey full-time MBAThe W. P. Carey School of Business still offers the evening and online MBA programs. program that started in fall 2015, and 36 percent nationwide in MBA programs.
  • 31 percent of the group is international students, representing 24 countries including Iran and Uganda.
  • The average GMAT score of the students is 682, compared withAccording to statistics from the Graduate Management Admissions Council, which administers the GMAT. the mean score of 536 for test-takers nationwide.
  •  A third of the students come from science, math and engineering backgrounds, rather than traditional business experience.

"The data for our inaugural Forward Focus class is very encouraging,” said Amy Hillman, dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business. “We were looking for high-quality applicants who might think they couldn’t pursue a top MBA program. The backgrounds of these students, from their nationalities to their undergraduate degrees and work experience, really underscore the type of opportunities we hope to create with this MBA program."

Along with the scholarships, the school revamped the full-time MBA curriculum, increasing the credits from 48 to 60. The four new courses provide more real-world training: Decision-Making With Data Analytics; Executive Connections, which provides mentoring from retired senior executives; Intellectual Fusion Learning Lab, which pairs MBA students with master’s students in other disciplines; and Future Forward Leadership, which builds real-time skills in improvisation and decision-making.

That progressive, adaptive approach impressed Willy Chang, 28, a member of the first Forward Focus cohort. He was an organic chemist in the biotech industry and wanted a change.

“W. P. Carey was able to identify that the program had become outdated, and they added courses in relevant skills, like business analytics,” said Chang, who is aiming for a career in that field. “What ASU is trying to do is ambitious. By removing the concerns of debt, they’ll attract a more diverse cohort and strengthen the school.”

Another cohort member, Kala Brgant, was one of those who had been too anxious about finances to leave her job to go back to school.

Brgant, who left a marketing position, praises the mentorship support but was most struck by how the program truly is focusing on being forward-thinking.

“I felt like, ‘What is the catch?’ But when I start researching, I felt inspired by the whole idea of how the curriculum is committed to thinking of the future,” Brgant said. “Even our accounting class is focused on what we’ll need to know with all the changes coming in business.”


Top photo: Kala Brgant and Willy Chang are among the 119 students in the first Forward Focus MBA program cohort in the W. P. Carey School of Business. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now


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First installment of semester-long series following 'Feathers and Teeth.'
ASU Now will document student-led production from casting call to wrap party.
September 7, 2016

ASU grad student directs horror-comedy to complete MFA; story series will follow process through October performances

Editor's note: This is the first installment of a semester-long series following the production of "Feathers and Teeth" from casting call to wrap party. Look for the next story soon.

Dirty words. A ukulele. Cartwheels. Baton twirling. Body contortion. Corny jokes. Butchered songs. Emotional monologues. Monotone deliveries. Shrill screams.

Anything goes in an open casting call, but none of it fazes director Ricky Araiza.

“Everything is fair game in an audition because I’m looking to see what their limits are, what improv skills they possess and the creative choices they make in the moment,” said Araiza, a third-year master of fine arts student in Arizona State University’s School of Film, Dance and TheatreASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre is a unit of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Araiza auditioned about 75 ASU students for an upcoming production of “Feathers and Teeth,” a show that will serve as the equivalent of his master’s thesis. Araiza has about eight weeks to prep the new horror comedy, which was written in 2013 by Charise Castro Smith and described by a Chicago Reader critic as “an oddball mashup of Hamlet and Gremlins.”

ASU Now will follow the production from first audition to wrap party, documenting the successes, failures, tense moments and close calls. In total, it will show everything involved in pulling together a show.

Even though the 34-year-old Araiza is a stage veteran and has more than a decade of youth theater experience — including last year’s big-budget production of “Brooklyn Bridge” at ASU’s Galvin Playhouse — “Feathers and Teeth” represents a different kind of challenge.

“Ricky is used to big-budget, big-production plays, and this is much more intimate than what he’s used to,” said Lance Gharavi, assistant director of theater and chair of the master of arts in theater program. “It’s exciting because the focus for him this time around will be on the relationships he develops with the cast and crew, and the connection they’ll have to the audience.”

Araiza is admittedly a jumble of nerves these days. He knows there’s lots of work to be done. In addition to assembling a cast of four and selecting a handful of crew members, Araiza will have other duties. In the upcoming weeks, he’ll be coordinating with technicians on set design, lighting and special effects. He’ll work closely with costumers on wardrobe, and try to get his actors to thread the performance needle required of tackling horror and comedy together.

“Feathers and Teeth” is about Chris, a 13-year-old girl who suspects foul play when her father hooks up with an attractive home-care nurse two months after the death of her mother, Ellie. Set in a Rust Belt factory town in 1978, the play combines the supernatural with classic rock, family dysfunction and gremlin-like creatures that roam the house’s crawl space.

“I’m comfortable with comedy, but horror I’ve not directed,” Araiza said. “Horror requires a lot of sensory manipulation in terms of sight and sound. We have to somehow bring the two together and make it both funny and scary.”

Unlike the casting calls on Aug. 31, he doesn’t want the play to come off cheesy.

Araiza instructed actors to memorize two monologues, produce a funny story and share a special skill they possess.

One actor dropped her baton. A solidly built young performer turned an improbably elegant cartwheel. And a Miles Teller lookalike shared an original rap he wrote about a former girlfriend, forewarning the panel that his lyrics had “some vulgarity.”

Indeed, it did. The song was laced with sexual metaphors, ethnic slurs and four-letter words.

When he finished, he asked the panel, “So, all good?”

He wasn’t selected.

The audition panel included Herberger assistant professor Kristin HuntHunt is an assistant professor in ASU’s School of Film, Dance and Theatre. and Ben Vining, who is the stage manager for “Feathers and Teeth.”

Vining is an 18-year-old music major, who will be Araiza’s go-to person for several weeks. He understood the irony of his position on the panel.

“I play cello, so I’m the one who is usually auditioning, he said. Being on the panel gives you an existential sense of what they see and whether they’re completely carefree or full of angst.”

Theater major Quinn Johnson, 23, said he leaned more toward the carefree approach moments before he was called in for his audition.

“I’ve been through this process before, and the key is to not think so much,” Johnson said. “The more thinking you do, the harder it is to come back and be more grounded, and to be good.”

Johnson impressed the panel with his sped-up version of “Winter of Discontent,” as did McKenna Knapp, who performed a monologue from “The Taming of the Shrew.”

Araiza said he was pleased with the process and that he gives actors a lot of leeway so they can reveal their true personalities. He added, “That’s the hardest part of an audition. You have so little time to show who you are as an actor and even less to show who you are as a person.”

Araiza made his choices fairly quickly after two callback sessions later in the week. He will name his cast and introduce them to each other at their first rehearsal on Sept. 15.

The director is now ready to start work on his first comedy-horror, which might include some unforeseen drama along the way.


Top photo: Director Ricky Araiza (center), his stage manager, Ben Vining, and assistant professor Kristin Hunt listen to actors' auditions during the casting call for the horror-comedy play "Feathers and Teeth" at Nelson Fine Arts Center on Aug. 31. 

Reporter , ASU Now