Determination and love guide ASU student to degree


April 29, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

Seham Abdulhameed Tomihi wasn’t giving up. She first came to the U.S. to study English and was now absolutely set on teaching it. Graduating ASU student Seham Tomihi / Photo by Bruce Matsunaga Since 2015, graduating master's student Seham Abdulhameed Tomihi has been president of Women on the Move, an ASU student club for Saudi women. In addition to offering support and empowerment, the organization helps build cultural awareness between Saudis and other members of the university community. Photo by Bruce Matsunaga Download Full Image

She discovered the Master of Teaching English as a Second or Other Language (MTESOL) degree in Arizona State University’s Department of English and believed it was right for her.

But “when I applied for the first time, I was rejected,” Tomihi said. “Three of my friends applied with me at the same time, and all of us were rejected. My friends then applied for different programs, and they got admitted.”

Undeterred, Tomihi stayed the course — several times over. She applied for ASU’s MTESOL program more than four times before she was eventually admitted. “I loved teaching, and it became a personal challenge,” she said, “difficult, but not impossible. My goal was to be admitted in the MTESOL program, and I worked hard and did my best and finally the dream came true.”

Tomihi, originally from Jeddah city, Saudi Arabia, is particularly invested in teaching English because of its status as an “international language.” She believes learning English can enhance people’s lives — especially women’s — no matter where they live.

Toward that end, Tomihi spent her MTESOL internship creating curriculum materials aimed at helping Saudi Arabian women improve their business and professional English skills. The Department of English’s director of internships Ruby Macksoud, who has mentored Tomihi, has just three words to say about her: “She's beyond awesome.”

Since 2015, Tomihi has also been president of Women on the Move, an ASU student club for Saudi women. In addition to offering support and empowerment, the organization helps build cultural awareness between Saudis and other members of the university community. Tomihi and her efforts to encourage goodwill via Women on the Move were featured in a 2016 Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Muslim Ambassadors on an American Campus.”

Leadership and community organizing aside, it’s teaching that is in Tomihi’s heart. She feels gratified to be earning her MTESOL degree and to be moving on to the next step. “I am so proud of myself,” Tomihi admitted.

But she’s equally humble, pointing to the tremendous encouragement she has received on her journey. “I am so thankful for my dad, my mom, sisters and brothers for their support. They helped me a lot, and they pushed me to come to the U.S. and continue my education. I am so lucky being part of this great family.”

She added: “I want to say thanks a lot to my husband for his support, too.”

We caught up with Tomihi to ask a few more questions about how she nurtured her love for teaching and what she will do after graduation.

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

Answer: I like to help others in general; for me, teaching is the best job in the world. I feel that the teacher is the candle who lights up the way of knowledge. I have loved teaching since I was 10 years old. When I came to the U.S., I liked teaching more, because the methods that ASU teachers used were interesting. I felt that I should apply to the MTESOL program and learn more about it.

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

A: Respect for diversity and fair treatment changed my perspective. I am covering my face, so I thought that it would be so difficult for me in classes to communicate with others. But I love how teachers and even my colleagues respect me. There is no racism at ASU in general.   

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Because ASU is one of the best universities and teachers are so helpful.

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

A: Drawing on my experience, I would give this advice: 1) If you have a dream, work hard, do your best and insist on achieving it. 2) Trust your abilities. 3) Ignore all the external circumstances that may hinder you from achieving your goals or successes. 4) Take advantage of opportunities because maybe they will not come back again.

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

A: My favorite spot is on the second floor of the Memorial Union. There is a quiet area there where I spent most of my time studying, praying and meeting friends. For the Women on the Move club’s meetings, we usually reserved a room in Hayden Library.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will get married after graduation directly. Then I will apply for jobs, and via this job I will apply for the PhD degree.

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

A: I believe in education. I would love to build schools for refugees that meet all their educational needs. Refugees suffer a lot from war, and they often feel that they are unwelcome or strangers. Building schools for those people and teaching them English, which is an international language, will help them to get the best opportunities anywhere. And it is a kind of appreciation for them as part of society.

Note: For more information about Women on the Move, please visit the group’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

senior marking & communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611

A place at the table: ASU grad writes for community


April 29, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

For ASU student Maritsa Leyva Martinez, fiction writing is a community endeavor. Her love for the craft began in a community setting — a nonprofit literary organization — and has continued at ASU in her work as a citizen-artist. Maritsa Leyva Martinez / Courtesy photo Maritsa Leyva Martinez received a Piper Global Teaching Fellowship for a summer residency at the National University of Singapore in 2017. She snapped this selfie while visiting Singapore's National Gallery. Download Full Image

Martinez is graduating with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing (fiction) after defending her thesis, an interconnected collection of short stories titled “Fiesta Inn Motel.” Like her stories, Martinez’s activities are interconnected: her advocacy work, born of her desire to assist children who cross the border without family; and her writing, committed to honoring the human condition as well as the places and neighborhoods she sees as fundamental to the immigrant experience.

Born in Guerrero, Mexico, and raised in Houston, Martinez’s unique voice has distinguished her among her peers. She was the international editor for ASU’s award-winning literary magazine Hayden’s Ferry Review and, among other honors, received a Piper Global Teaching Fellowship for a summer residency at the National University of Singapore in 2017.

Martinez’s mentors affirm her as a valued teacher, student and peer: “Maritsa is a talented writer and a wonderful, caring member of our community,” said Jenny Irish, assistant director of the Department of English’s creative writing program.

We sat down with Martinez to find out how she arrived at this juncture and what she’s planning to do next.

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

Answer: It was early mid-2014 and I had recently finished an internship at Houston’s Alley Theatre, in the Education and Community Engagement Department. In the midst of that and tutoring for a local agency, I decided that I would try writing again. I had dabbled in writing a little in high school and a little more in undergrad, but I didn’t stick with it. Mostly because I felt apprehensive about my ability in the art and methods of creative writing. There was so much that I had left to learn, so much left to read. With that renewed sense of adventure, I enrolled in two summer writing workshops at Inprint, a magnificent literary nonprofit organization. I spent June and July going back and forth between fiction and poetry. Of course, I gravitated toward fiction. It was at Inprint, under the tutelage of authors Jameelah Lang and David Tomas Martinez, that creative fiction methods began to make sense for the first time in my life. It was there that I began to learn about basic plot structures, chronic tension and shifting forms of narrative, etc.

At the end of my time at Inprint I had a short story draft entitled “At the Corner of Manel and Frieda” and I had Jameelah’s feedback — “Your prose is incredibly distinct and beautiful, and this alone is able to carry me though the duration of your draft” — which I held onto like a life raft. This feedback sat beside me at every stage of the MFA application process, and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

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

A: My mentors — T.M. McNally, Tara Ison, Alberto Ríos, Angie Dell, Matt Bell, Jenny Irish, Melissa Pritchard, Cynthia Hogue and Jennifer Cason — each of them in their own words, in their own way always only said, “YES! Yes, take the risk. Yes, that is the journey to take. Yes, I will help you get there. Yes, I believe in you, but believe in yourself.” Their dedication and mentorship was vital to my success as student, as teacher. For the last year I have served as Professor Alberto Ríos’ graduate assistant and working beside him, witnessing his love of community really helped solidify my own perspective about the power of the individual and the power of words.

What I learned is that as a Mexican-American immigrant writer, in order to write and honor the human condition as I have witnessed it, as my community has witnessed it, I need to participate in the formation of my community’s identity. I need to find ways to engage the cultural structures that are working for my community; and, also, ways to learn from, infiltrate and expose those structures that are, in a sense, dismantling my community, through acts of terror, through the building of borders, through unjust prosecutorial measures (deportation, detention, persecution and fear mongering). Most importantly, I learned that to be a writer is to be a citizen.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Oh, the reasons!: the faculty (all genuinely concerned and invested in their community and their students); the teaching assistantship, which offered the opportunity to teach introductory creative writing to undergraduates; and the diverse opportunities available via the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. All of these factors influenced my decision to attend ASU — and what a journey it has been. I am infinitely grateful to have been granted a place at the creative writers’ table here.

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

A: Don’t be afraid to forge your own path. Degree requirements are requirements, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with them. You, the student, are the most important piece of the institution, and it is up to you to demand your worth.

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

A: The Piper Center and its little garden.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I want to teach in the nonprofit sector. Currently I volunteer as a child advocate with the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. Through my volunteer work I have visited several children detention centers, which are underfunded and understaffed. I know that my MFA in creative writing degree and my past teaching experiences in Mexico and at ASU are needed there most.

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

A: In Houston, the BakerRipley organization, formerly Neighborhood Centers, works side by side with community leaders and residents to improve community development in underserved communities. They have several education community centers and senior service centers. Because I greatly admire their work, I would invest $20 million with BakerRipley, specifically to help set up community garden centers in elementary schools located in neighborhoods lacking ready access to healthy, fresh food.

Once the program was in place, I would invest money in qualified staff, who would see to the program’s success for a minimum 10 years. One of the highest factors in program failure, as has been my experience with nonprofit initiatives, is the lack of qualified staff retention. The other $20 million I would invest in doing the same thing, but in Maryvale, North Mountain, Central City and Encanto in Phoenix.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

senior marking & communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611