Lenora Ott: Dancer, innovator

December 8, 2017

It started with a dance. A belly dancing class — Raqs Sharqui — to be exact, where Lenora Ott first learned about the ASU School for the Future of Innovation in Society’s Global Technology and Development master’s program. After hearing a close friend in the class talk so highly about it, she decided to look into it herself.

But what do global technology, development and dance have in common? Ott, who earned her degree this December, would tell you that they have a lot of similarities and have the potential to work hand-in-hand to make a difference in the way we communicate. She believes that dance can be used as a tool to help assist development, connecting people in ways that go beyond the verbal or written word to come to a deeper understanding of one another through the movement of dance. Lenora Ott Lenora Ott with her favorite icon: Rosie the Riveter. Download Full Image

Question: What was your "Aha!" moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: My undergraduate degree is in anthropology, so having this global perspective, this desire to understand more about the world was not unusual to me, but having this technology aspect and this idea of development, of improving people’s lives and making the places that they live a better place, that kind of drew me to the program. And also, the fact that my friend really believed that you could take GTD, or Global Technology and Development, and you could make the program fit any area of life that you were especially interested in, and me, as an anthropologist and as a dancer, found that sort of a challenge. And I felt like GTD, proving that dance fit in this development and technology picture was especially important for the arts, which are very dear to me, and also for anthropology.

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

A: I think that one of the greatest strengths that programs at ASU have is this ability to take a singular passion in your life, or maybe multiple passions, depending on who you are and what you care about, and find some way to use it to make the world a better place. So, for me, that was dance, but for my friend who told me about the GTD program, it was students who experience study-abroad programs, and for another friend who was also in the program, it was educating refugees and helping them in a new country where they’re learning English and trying to, essentially, rebuild their lives.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I felt like I really wanted a different change from Texas. I wanted a new perspective, and I wanted to be somewhere where I had the opportunity to really kind of develop the person that I wanted to be, away from everything that I knew and everything that I was comfortable with back home.

For graduate school, the reason I chose ASU is that I’m an employee, and employees do receive a significant tuition benefit, which I really view as a gift because, to me, continuing your education is one of the greatest gifts that anyone can give you. They’re telling me, “If you want to learn things, you can learn them, and we’re here to help you along the way, and your work is accommodating to it.” And they really just empower you to better yourself. So, that’s why I chose ASU. I love this place, and it changed my life.

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

A: Someone told me, before I started my graduate program, and it’s something that kind of stuck in my mind throughout the whole thing, is that if you know the field that you’re interested in, you should become the kind of student that can turn the most mundane assignment into something that you’re excited about. I always found ways to talk about women’s rights, women’s development, dance if I could squeeze it in there, or arts education if I could squeeze it in there. Also, it’s helpful to constantly keep a record of references of all the material that you’re assigned in class, and any extra assignments that you read you should always keep those, and annotate them and take notes because that’s something that will really help you when you get to writing these massive advanced research thesis, capstone, that sort of thing.

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

A: Some of my favorite places are sitting in the rocking chairs in the front of the Piper Writer House. You can find me there during lunch, a lot of the lunch hours during the week. I also really love the second floor of Hayden Library that looks out over West Hall, especially around golden hour, around sunset. You get a wonderful view of campus and a wonderful view of the sky from there.

And then, my other favorite spot, currently, is my office. That sounds kind of silly, but our office is really warm and inviting, and we put our personal touches on it. I have my Rosie the Riveter poster in my office I got when I graduated high school. She’s been everywhere that I’ve ever lived in or worked in during my time at ASU. To me, hanging my Rosie poster up on the wall is a big part of making somewhere home for me. Rosie the Riveter, to me, really symbolizes that, someone who is able to just do the hard thing. So, that’s my favorite spot on campus, is sitting with Rosie in my office, and moving forward, moving forward in life.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on continuing my work with the Center for Evolution in Medicine on the Tempe campus. I’m helping them get their online education programs together, currently. I’m really excited about the mission of the center in using evolutionary biology to help transform medicine, and making medical treatment and medical research infused with evolution is really important for understanding human health, and I really believe that.

I would like to continue to work and do some dance research. I did help Kiki Jenkins with her sea turtle conservation dance she presented at First Fridays at the beginning of November, which, of course, is right in line with my development research, that dance can be used to tell people really interesting stories.

Although my current plans after graduation are not to immediately move into a degree that has to do with my field of study, I definitely feel that my eventual growth could definitely lead in that direction. I could see myself helping plan programs, helping evaluate policy or other ideas that people would like to implement, especially where it concerns arts education. I would really enjoy doing that, and the more experience I get as an employee at ASU, the more skills I take with me when I move into a role that is that way.

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

A: If I had $40 million, I would really work to create educational programs that involve arts, both dance and theater, for children affected in war-torn countries. I think that the arts really can be a good and positive outlet for children that have experienced trauma, and inspiring that creativity back in children at that very critical stage in their life is really important for creating successful, holistic adults. I feel that the arts is kind of the thread that is our humanity, and so art and dance education could really help heal.

Written by Madelyn Nelson

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ASU students showcase innovative products to help change the world

December 8, 2017

Changing the world with a product is not a one-man job — which is why the InnovationSpace program at Arizona State University combines the expertise of students in five different disciplines: industrial design, visual communication design, business, engineering and sustainability.

Sponsored by companies Adidas and Johnson & Johnson, this year’s InnovationSpace program encouraged six student teams to research, create, design and narrow down three products that not only solve a complex problem, but also reflect and adapt to their surrounding environment.

On Dec. 7 from 6 to 7:30 p.m., the program held a mid-year exhibition that showcased the teams’ projects on the lower level of the Design North Building.

“What we do in InnovationSpace is teach [the students] how to take on a complex problem, work in a transdisciplinary team and come up with solutions — solutions that are good for people, good for the planet, have business value and are well engineered, and that people can appreciate and need,” said Prasad Boradkar, director of InnovationSpace.

Sydni Alaniz, a senior studying graphic design, worked with Johnson & Johnson and her team, Prism, to create a product that reduces the mosquito problem while also using principles of biomimicry.

Using the carnivorous pitcher plant for inspiration, one of the team’s product ideas, Moscape, was designed to mimic flowers and water droplets to attract mosquitoes before sucking them inside.

“InnovationSpace is a class, so we do have lectures mostly surrounding how we can make things more innovative, how we can approach our research, how we can approach our brainstorming,” Alaniz said. “We started out with over 200 general ideas, and then we had to narrow it down first to 40, then to 10, and then to the three that you see here today.”

Next semester, each of the six teams in the InnovationSpace program will select a final product to further develop and market as their final project.

Julia Tatom

Communications editor , ASU Now

ASU student living her fairytale with Broadway touring company of 'Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella'

December 8, 2017

Erin Weinberger works hard for her fairytale. The ASU student, professional dancer and massage therapist is visiting ASU Gammage Dec. 19 through Dec. 24 with the touring Broadway cast of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”

Weinberger began dancing at age 2, and she’s been hooked ever since. She went to Wilkes College in Pennsylvania for a few years, but after attending the Broadway Dance Center Summer Professional Semester, ended up pausing school and moving to New York City to pursue her dream. Erin Weinberger is a licensed massage therapist in New York, Broadway performer and ASU Online student. Download Full Image

“It’s a dream come true,” Weinberger said. “It’s literally a dream come true. This is my first tour. When 'Cinderella' was on Broadway I actually didn’t get a chance to see it, so when I saw that this was going on tour, I got really excited. It truly is a magical show.”

This is Weinberger’s national touring debut, and she has many roles in the company. She was cast as an ensemble member and the understudy to Madame and Charlotte. She says her favorite scene is the romantic waltzing at the ball.

“We’re partnered with these spectacular men,” Weinberger said. “We get to wear these huge, expensive gowns. They’re like 25 pounds each and like $10,000 each. It’s crazy. It’s so crazy. We get to do about a 15-minute ball. Everything about it is so magical. It’s truly the scene where Cinderella and Prince Topher fall in love with each other.”

Weinberger says she is proud to perform with “Cinderella” because the message resonates with her, as well as audiences young and old.

Brian Liebson, Leslie Jackson and Tatyana Lubov in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA. Photo copyright Carol Rosegg

“You fall back in love every night,” Weinberger said. “It’s definitely hard and challenging and exhausting. I would never want to leave that part out of the tour, but it makes up for it when the lights come up at the very end, and we do bows and there are little girls in the audience with their princess costumes on or men in their 70’s with their prince costumes on.”

Aside from recreating a fairy tale night after night, Weinberger, a licensed massage therapist in New York, is working toward finishing her degree in Integrative Health Sciences through ASU Online. She hopes the degree will increase her credibility as a massage therapist and will allow her to pursue that career in the future.

“That’s what really inspired me to finish my education because I am successful in my musical theater career without finishing my degree,” Weinberger said. “I thought it would be smart to finish my degree in something that would help me along the way later. I really, really have another passion for massage therapy.”

Weinberger says that ASU Online was the only degree that offered her the flexibility and credibility to pursue her musical theater career wholeheartedly while working on her education.

“The way that ASU’s online program is set up, it’s so easy to navigate,” Weinberger said. “Your schedule is yours. You get the assignment at the beginning of the week and then you make the time for yourself.”

ASU Online classes give students the flexibility to pursue their dreams while still getting an education.

“ASU Online’s mission is really furthering the university mission of making education accessible and really including people that might be excluded from higher education based on time restraints or distance restraints from ASU,” said Casey Francis, engagement manager for ASU Online.

ASU Online has grown to over 30,000 students since 2009 within 150 degree programs. Students are taught by instructors who teach on campus.

“All of the range of the support services and resources that on-ground students can access are also accessible by online students,”said Hanna Friess, of ASU Online marketing. “For someone like Erin, who is traveling, there are 24-hour tutoring services. We really cater to the online student’s busy lifestyle with juggling many priorities and ensure that any need or support they might have are met by online resources.”

Weinberger is proud to be working toward a degree; she plans to graduate in approximately two and a half years. She looks forward to finally visiting the ASU campus with the national tour of “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella” and getting a sweatshirt from her school.

“One thing my mom said to me my whole life is people can take away so many things from you, but they can never take away your education,” Weinberger said. “ASU has truly given me a whole new way to get my education.”


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Bridging the 'Digital Divide'

ASU art project reveals what seniors know about technology.
December 6, 2017

ASU assistant professor Jessica Rajko emphasizes importance of community, intergenerational dialogue through art

Crocheting and big data might seem wholly unrelated, but for Arizona State University School of Film, Dance and TheatreThe School of Film, Dance and Theatre is part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Assistant Professor Jessica Rajko, the intricate webs of ever-expanding yarn were the perfect metaphor for the elusive concept she’d been exploring in her multidimensional art project, "Me, My Quantified Self, and I," which asks the question: In our increasingly digital world, how do we perform data, and how does data perform us?

While learning to crochet and sharing her ideas about how it can help us understand data, Rajko struck a nostalgic chord with friends, colleagues and students, who were eager to share stories of time spent with grandparents and what it had taught them.

“It got me thinking about how we don’t really engage in intergenerational conversations around technology,” she said. “Often, if we talk about seniors and technology, we talk about them as not knowing about it.”

Connecting generations — with yarn

Enter "Digital Divide," Rajko's collaborative arts project that explores what seniors have to share with younger generations about digital culture.

From 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10, massive swaths of crocheted yarn, knitted wool and quilted fabric will hang from the ceiling, dangle in the air and drape across the floor at the Tempe History Museum, each piece the result of a series of informal, intergenerational conversations — community textiles that summarize and represent community dialogue.

The project took place over the course of a few months, with local residents of all ages meeting once a week with seniors at the Pyle Adult Recreation Center in Tempe for two-hour quilting, crocheting and knitting circles.

The seniors are part of the community group Tempe Needlewielders, several of whom participated in Rajko’s February dance performance that served as the premiere of "Me, My Quantified Self, and I." "Digital Divide" is another iteration of that larger project.

Rajko said she initially reached out to the Needlewielders to participate in the dance performance because the question of how humans interact with technology doesn’t exclude the elderly, and she wanted her project to reflect that truth. Tablets, smartphones and other gadgets, she points out, aren’t age-specific.

“Everybody is implicated in technology, so I wanted to have them present,” she said. The conversation about big data and digital culture “is about people. But we often leave seniors out.”

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An example of the type of textiles that will be on display Sunday, Oct. 10 at the final project showing of ASU Assistant Professor Jessica Rajko's community art project, "Digital Divide." Photo by Alonso Parra.

Interdisciplinary digital media and performance grad student Sharon McCaman, who danced in the project’s premiere, said their involvement forced her to challenge her own preconceived notions.

“It was interesting to talk to them about technology because we make assumptions about what that generation knows or understands … but they know more than we assume,” she said.

McCaman learned to crochet during rehearsals with the guidance of some of the Needlewielders, an experience that directly influenced her thesis exhibition. It will feature a room with crocheted walls, which, when touched, will produce digital sounds.

A collaboration of textiles, talk and technology

Following the dance performance, Rajko reached out to the Needlewielders again when she conceived of the idea for "Digital Divide." She had invited them into her space; now she wanted to experience theirs.

Not only did the opportunity add another layer to her overall project, it also gave her a chance to grow her relationship with members of the local community.

“This is part of us being responsible artists and researchers,” Rajko said. “Not just the university disseminating information outward, but making it a discourse and building sustainable relationships with the community over time.”

Before the "Digital Divide" meetings began, Rajko conducted a survey with the seniors asking about their relationship with technology. Some of their responses surprised her. One statement, “Technology makes me happy,” received a majority of “agree” or “strongly agree” responses.

“I got some really rich content from the survey,” Rajko said, which she used to establish a basis of understanding between the seniors and their younger visitors about what the elders of the group did and didn’t know about technology, and also to trigger discourse.

The data generated by the survey was used to design the textiles the group worked on while chatting about the Twitterverse and what it means to swipe left. Some of the pieces became lengthy rectangles that, when arranged side by side and hung from the ceiling, will create a giant bar graph representing information such as who prefers actual, face-to-face interaction over FaceTime.

The showing will also include a “data quilt,” made up of color-coded squares, each square representing a person, with their responses to survey questions etched onto it.

“It’s not just about what data is,” Rajko said, “but who it represents.”


Top photo: Martha Kasapis, a member of the Tempe senior group Needlewielders, holds a ball of yarn. Photo by Alonso Parra.

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Difficult conversation: ASU initiative takes on sexual violence prevention

ASU initiative harnesses the arts to help create a culture of consent.
December 6, 2017

For the past month, the #metoo revelations — and the resulting national conversation about sexual harassment and sexual violence — have dominated the news.

At Arizona State University, university-led programs and conversations about how to address these issues — which are alarmingly common on college campuses around the country — long precede the current news cycle.

As a result of those conversations, more than 500 freshmen in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Barrett, The Honors College started their fall semester by attending an original performance called “With Each Other.”

The 35-minute play, devisedDevising is a process in which a theater piece starts not with a script but with a group of people who toss ideas and experiences around in order to develop a narrative. in the spring by a group of ASU students with input from faculty and staff, imagined a graduation ceremony in the near future that celebrates the contributions of ASU students toward creating “a culture of healthy sexuality and consent on campus.” 

Guided by Nik Zaleski, a visiting artist who has done similar work with Ensemble Lab member Michael Rohd, and dancer and choreographer Elizabeth Johnson, the cast of six actors presented multiple scenarios that ultimately asked the question: How do we foster healthy relationships and an environment that does not tolerate sexual assault with each other, in our intimate relationships and wider community? 

“There’s a lot of emphasis right now on freshman orientation because the first six weeks of a college freshman career is the most dangerous for sexual violence,” Johnson explained. 

“‘With Each Other’ is testimony to how the arts can create the imaginative space necessary to confront issues that are difficult for us to talk about publicly or to deal with privately,” said Steven J. Tepper, dean of the Herberger Institute, who also participated in the performance, via video. “We were able to build, with students, a performance that allowed freshman to engage the urgent issue of sexual violence through a positive and empowering set of stories. 

“The production is part of a larger university-wide initiative, supported by each of ASU’s colleges and Sun Devil Athletics, to integrate arts and design approaches through coursework and existing student and university efforts around responding to sexual violence in our community,” Tepper said. “This is a cultural crisis affecting every university in the nation. ASU, in keeping with Herberger Institute’s mission to expand the role of arts and design in society, wants to be a national model for innovative ways to change the culture around sexual violence.” 


Each performance of “With Each Other” was followed by small workshops led by the actors and designed to address some of the issues the play raised, such as consent, survivor support and bystander intervention. Zaleski and Johnson worked with ASU’s Health and Wellness, part of Educational Outreach and Student Services, to develop the workshops.

“One of the things that has made this initiative so successful already is that we have partners in Health and Wellness (at ASU) who are helping us root it in the good work that is already happening on campus,” Zaleski said. “So there aren’t a bunch of siloed efforts happening but it’s really about using these tools to lift up the messages that Health and Wellness are already promoting.”

In particular, Zaleski and Johnson credit Kim Frick, program manager for sexual violence prevention in ASU’s Educational Outreach and Student Services, for the help and input that she and her office provided. For her part, Frick said that ASU is always looking for “innovative and scalable solutions to complex issues. This project helped the community think different about delivery strategies for sexual violence prevention.”

Short play, lasting impact

Rikki Tremblay, a doctoral student in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communications and one of the actors in “With Each Other,” said she wished that every student at ASU could have seen the performance and attended the workshops.

She told the story of one student who said dismissively at the start of a workshop she was leading, “I don’t see what this has to do with sexual violence.” 

“I invited him to participate and see what he learned,” Tremblay said. “By the end, he was supporting and nodding to others’ responses and asked where he could go for more resources.”

After first seeing “With Each Other,” Bird Ruff, a student majoring in biological sciences who uses they/them pronouns, said with some astonishment: “Who I am as a person was just acknowledged. I’ve never seen myself in anything. Here is a non-binary asexual character!”

Ruff was so moved that they wrote a song in response to the play, which they shared with the cast and crew.

Ruff's song, in turn, moved cast member Nikki Truscelli.

“Bird has touched my heart and made me reflect on many ways in which I interact in the world,” Truscelli said at the end of the play’s run. “I am much more sensitive to personal pronouns, both within the classroom and outside the classroom. Bird says that the play has changed their life, but I feel like the honor is all mine."

A graduate teaching associate in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication, Truscelli noted that one student who attended a workshop she led on victim-blaming had a revelation: “When he heard his own thoughts and opinions spoken aloud to the victim ('You should not have dressed like that' and 'You drank too much'), he recognized the ignorance that such words and thoughts held. This demonstrates the power of the post-workshop experience.

“There’s magic that happens when you teach things this way.”

Reaching the audience

That magic is inherent in the design and arts experience, said Megan Workmon, manager of student engagement for Herberger Institute.

“It’s all about communication,” Workmon said. “It’s knowing your audience and how to best reach them and then creating interactive engaging experiences that can pique their interests or encourage their curiosity or inspire them to get involved.”

In addition, she said, “It takes a lot of empathy to be an artist or designer, and part of the solution to sexual violence on campus is empathy.”

“What I particularly liked about ‘With Each Other,’” Workmon said, “is that it was rooted in student experience and then workshopped with a collaborative group of students and then performed by students for students.”

As the first semester of Ruff's freshman year draws to a close, they are still thinking about “With Each Other.”

“It was such a beautiful show with an important message that needs to be heard,” Ruff said. “I'm grateful that I was able to see such an emotional performance, because it has left a mark on me and helped me better understand myself and others.” 

More timely than ever

Alesha Durfee, an associate professor in the School of Social Transformation who provided feedback on “With Each Other” before it was performed, is looking forward to the Humanities Lab she’ll be team-teaching next spring with Lizbett Benge, an artist and doctoral student in gender studies who’s earning a certificate in socially engaged practice in design and the arts through Herberger Institute. Durfee said the idea for the class grew out of the sexual violence prevention initiative.

Humanities Lab founder and director Sally Kitch “is committed to the idea of tackling these really difficult topics,” Durfee said, “and obviously sexual violence is impacting so many people right now.”

As Kitch explains it, “the idea of the Humanities Lab is to get students to develop their own researchable questions and then answer them, even if only in a preliminary way, and to disseminate those answers — which is why performance or public art is so perfect and why the arts help us create the public forum in which some new ideas can be disseminated and discussed.”

Durfee has taught a course in gender and violence since 2005, when she arrived at ASU, and teaches a course on domestic violence policy. But, she said, she’s never taught the subject “from an interdisciplinary, arts-and-humanities based perspective, so I’m really excited to do that.” 

“We’re hoping that out of this course, we’ll have a regularly scheduled course that will be larger and that we could do as a core course for the Sexual Violence Prevention certificate that’s being proposed. That’s the hope, that we can do something that truly integrates social sciences, humanities and artistic expression and generate a course that’s taught every year or every other year.” 

Durfee is also the mother of an ASU senior who’s a residential assistant in the Herberger Institute dorms.

“She went (to ‘With Each Other’) and her students went, and she thought it was truly amazing. Her students had a really positive reaction to it.”

So did Durfee.

“I thought it took a really unique and innovative approach to the topic,” she said, “rather than the traditional approach that puts a lot of the impetus of preventing sexual assault on the woman. And I think they’ve done a really good job in sparking conversations on the topic among the students.” 

“It’s perfect timing for this initiative,” Durfee added, “because people are having these conversations and they’re doing it in a really different way. I think this is a unique opportunity — we’ve never had these broader conversations in the way we’re having them now.”


Top photo: ASU students Dirk Fenstermacher (left) and Nikki Truscelli are two of the six actors who appeared in "With Each Other," a performance that looks at ways to prevent sexual violence on college campuses. Photo courtesy Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts.

Deborah Sussman Susser

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


ASU music student taps ancient tradition to create preventive health regime for musicians

December 4, 2017

Brianne Borden, DMA graduate student in music performance, has experienced firsthand the rigors of pursuing a career as a professional musician — from debilitating performance anxiety to repetitive motion injuries. Borden drew on the ancient tradition of yoga to overcome her health issues and developed a program to help prevent these types of problems from occurring — Yoga for Musicians.

“Musicians are often perfectionists who are immersed in a highly competitive and physically demanding environment,” said Borden. “At some point in their professional career, all musicians face performance anxiety or nervousness and most musicians also face physical injuries.” Brianne Borden Brianne Borden Download Full Image

The techniques available for addressing these issues are often "after the fact" solutions, such as seeing a physical therapist, rather than preventing an injury. Borden’s goal is to prevent the issue before it happens, so she became a certified yoga instructor and developed a program specifically for musicians.

Borden was introduced to yoga in her teens by her mother and attended classes for several years. She abandoned the practice in college as she felt her time was better spent in the practice room. With the increased practice time and an already existent tendency toward anxiety, she developed several repetitive injuries and was terrified every time she stood onstage. On the advice of her physical therapist, her mother and her trumpet professor, she started attending yoga classes regularly. Borden said within the year, the results were obvious — her injuries were no longer an issue and her confidence increased every time she performed.

Brianne Borden“This transformation, paired with my curiosity, led me to research performance anxiety, injuries and yoga as a practice,” said Borden. “I couldn't help but share my findings, and the difference this has made for me, with others who may be coping with similar things.”

She said that when someone practices yoga, they often practice one or two different forms of yoga exclusively. In her Yoga for Musicians program, Borden used her academic research along with her training and learnings from multiple different forms of yoga — vinyasa, yin, Iyengar, hot, kundalini, meditation — to determine which parts of these practices and traditions are beneficial to the main struggles a musician faces.

Her program focuses specifically on foundational posture, breath work, coping and warding against performance anxiety and preventing repetitive-motion injuries. She intentionally explains the reasoning behind each exercise or pose and suggests times applicable to a musician when they could practice it. Examples include practicing alternate nostril breathing prior to a nerve-inducing performance or practicing a few rounds of Sun Salutations before warming up on an instrument. 

Borden said students are extremely engaged when she presents her yoga clinic at universities or conferences as she tries to make the experience relatable so every attendee benefits. She prefers that students bring their instruments to experience the immediate differences that some of the exercises make. Students are also instructed to keep journals to track their progress and note which poses and exercises resonated best with what they need for their musicianship.

“I have had multiple students contact me weeks or months after attending a session of mine, and share with me the changes they've seen in their playing and the positive impact of practicing yoga,” said Borden.

Learn more at Borden's website, brianneborden.com. She presented her Yoga for Musicians program at the 2017 International Trumpet Guild (ITG) Conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania, on June 2.  She also presented a similar program at the 2016 ITG Conference in Anaheim, California. She has been invited to numerous colleges and universities to present clinics to music students. 

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music


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'Hamilton' at ASU: Smash-hit musical sparks creation of new classes

'Hamilton' inspires creative approaches in ASU classrooms.
December 4, 2017

Courses to examine music and theater history, the country’s founding and race

Known as the epitome of bringing history into the 21st century, the Tony-winning Broadway musical "Hamilton" has inspired ASU professors to approach their curriculum with contemporary storytelling and a focus on diverse perspectives. 

"Hamilton" is the theatrical embodiment of the idea of historically underrepresented groups finding a voice through unconventional outlets. The groundbreaking show about the Founding Fathers, which has taken the world by storm, has a run at ASU Gammage from Jan. 30 to Feb. 25.

Next semester, ASU professors across several disciplines will teach classes with different emphases related to music and theater history, the country’s founding and race, with curriculum centered around "Hamilton." 

The World of Alexander Hamilton 

Pamela Stewart, senior lecturer of history for the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, has been building her course “The World of Alexander Hamilton” for about a year — since she found out the musical was coming to ASU.  

“I just saw what (the musical) was doing for young people who were seeing it, many of whom I’m sure at some point or another had been turned off to history or believed it wasn’t about them,” Stewart said. “I just saw a wonderful opportunity to really sort of mix the past with the present.” 

She will teach the history of Alexander Hamilton using documents written by the Founding Father himself, ranging from love letters to the Federalist Papers. Students will make connections between Hamilton’s life and the musical, creating their own raps to reflect on their learning. 

 “('Hamilton') says a lot about who we are and what are some of the things we’re wrestling with today, but it evokes so much of history and also factual history, that I think it allows for a bit of spark and motivation that not everyone gets when they think of textbooks and memorizing names and dates, that too many associate with history,” Stewart said.  

They will also read "Hamilton: The Revolution," co-written by Jeremy McCarter and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote the book, music and lyrics for "Hamilton" and starred in its original cast. The book explores the background, music and making of the musical. 

By looking at history from the margins to the center, Stewart hopes her students will still see the centers of power, but with a much wider lens. 

“I hope it’s something when they look back they can say, ‘Wow, I got to see Hamilton,'" she said. "I think that’s going to be something that’s going to continue to pay off down the road in ways that we really have no way of comprehending at this time.” 

Race and Performance

A second class, with a focus on race and performance, will be taught by Mathew Sandoval, faculty fellow at Barrett, The Honors College.  

“It’s not just a music class. It’s not just a history class. It’s a way of dealing with race. And 'Hamilton' does deal with that. Not just in its casting but the topic of the show, really,” Sandoval said. 

His students will attend several productions from ASU Gammage’s diverse and eclectic Beyond Series, as well as "Hamilton." He hopes to inspire them to engage with their cultural surroundings and grow an appreciation for the arts. 

The Downtown Phoenix campus course will be open to Barrett, The Honors College students from a variety of majors, allowing for a plethora of perspectives to be represented in class discussions.   

“The show is literally an interrogation of the fabric of America. Whether it's tearing apart, whether we’re re-creating it, whether we’re sewing it together — like how we deal with the fabric of America,” he said, adding that hip-hop music and its wider culture have been sparking conversations about race in America for many years already, making "Hamilton" the perfect pairing for this class. 

While Sandoval knows that his students are engaged in the current political climate and likely discuss these issues with family and friends, he believes it will be helpful to have respectful conversations with other students in a classroom dialogue, allowing for other points of view to be represented.  

“The race component of the class is going to be big because it's one thing to talk about race in terms of history, or a sociological or cultural study, but it's another thing to talk about race in performance,” he said. “In some ways, it's like an easier entry point to have more difficult discussions about race.” 

Although unsure whether "Hamilton" will return to ASU Gammage in the coming years, Sandoval said he wants to continue his course with the other rich performances presented at the university.  

“Not everybody knows this, but ASU Gammage is one of the most well-respected and largest programmers and arts presenters in the Western United States. We have a gem in the desert here that doesn’t get taken advantage of,” Sandoval said. “You know, not every student who's at a university gets a chance to see 'Hamilton,' or see Kristina Wong, or see Dance Theatre of Harlem, or see any number of the things that ASU Gammage is presenting here.” 

Hamilton touring cast
The touring cast of Broadway smash "Hamilton" will play ASU Gammage from Jan. 30 to Feb. 25. Photo by Joan Marcus

'Hamilton,' Hip-Hop and Musical Theater 

Chris Wells, assistant professor of musicology for the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts’ School of Music, will teach two Hamilton-based courses grounded in music history. 

“I’ll speak to the deep importance and impact of the show, and the stakes of political battles and political discourse when it enters the realm of entertainment and stages,” Wells said, explaining his fascination with the intersections of music and politics. 

The courses will explore the history and influences of hip-hop and traditional musical theater on Miranda’s work, and they will involve music analysis.  

"Popular Music—Hamilton" will be available to general students, and "Hamilton, Hip-Hop and Musical Theater" will be limited to upper-level and graduate students in the School of Music. 

He said hip-hop enthusiasts in his class will use their knowledge to make strong connections to the show while gaining a footing in musical theater history, and those with more of a musical theater background will learn to better understand the hip-hop genre and culture. 

“It’s also very much in the spirit of the show itself and the kinds of educational programming and audience outreach that Miranda has expressed is very important to him and very much at the core of the show,” Wells said. “I know he’s very invested in 'Hamilton' being about access both in terms of the performers who are on the stage and the stories and genres of music that are represented, but also who is able to see the show, who is able to connect with this piece of work in a deep and meaningful way.”

Wells' classes aren’t just about getting the hot ticket in town; they’re about experiencing live theater in a deep and meaningful way.  

“I want to help students understand that the many ways in which art is and can be political is precisely at the core of why I think 'Hamilton' is important and is an important thing to talk about,” Wells said.  

Hamilton Cast
Michael Luwoye (left) and Isaiah Johnson play Alexander Hamilton and George Washington in "Hamilton." Photo by Joan Marcus

Touchdown in the theater 

Classes aren’t the only way ASU students can interact with "Hamilton" next semester. 

As part of the third annual Senior Championship Life Experience, Sun Devil Athletics will bring an estimated 200 graduating student-athletes, senior administration and coaching staff to watch the musical at ASU Gammage. 

Buffie Anderson, who supports Sun Devil Athletics’ outreach programs, helped create the Senior Championship Life Experience with her husband Ray, vice president for university athletics.  

“The purpose was to teach leadership, how to make tough decisions and how to deal with the consequences,” she said. 

Years ago, when the Andersons worked for the NFL, Ray traveled to the historical Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania as part of a senior staff trip organized by Arthur Blank of the Atlanta Falcons. The experience was so impactful, they decided to continue with a similar tradition at ASU, with support from Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director of ASU Gammage and ASU vice president for cultural affairs. 

“This is now the third year Buffie and I are fortunate to help bring an impactful, educational and invigorating experience to our graduating student-athletes, senior administration and coaching staff,” Ray said. “'Hamilton' is obviously a world-renowned production with 11 Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize, so this is sure to be a remarkable experience for our seniors and staff, and one we hope will have an everlasting impact.” 

In 2016, the Sun Devil Athletics team brought “Black Angels Over Tuskeegee” to ASU’s Galvin Playhouse for the first senior experience. This past spring, they screened the documentary produced by USA Swimming, “The Last Gold.” 

This year is expected to be their largest program yet.  

Buffie said some people don’t understand "Hamilton's" power. Athletes can learn lessons of leadership from the Founding Fathers — not only through their actions in war, but in empowering the population to have a voice.   

“I think it’s so powerful to be able to give the opportunity to students who may or may not have ever stepped in the theater,” she said. “What it gives them is a limitless opportunity to understand our U.S. history, our Founding Fathers. It’s just amazing what theater can do for everyone.”


Top photo by Joan Marcus

Marketing and Communications Assistant , ASU Gammage


ASU Online student perseveres through difficult pregnancy to earn degree

December 1, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

Arizona native Caite Buntin did not intend to study online. But in 2015, the mother of two found out she was pregnant with her third child during her second semester at Arizona State University's Tempe campus. Graduating ASU student Caite Buntin / Courtesy photo ASU graduate Caite Buntin. Download Full Image

“I was attending on-campus classes at that time,” Buntin said. “I’d spend six to seven hours vomiting and then walk to campus. I [sometimes] had to leave class for a few minutes and go into the restroom. My professors were gracious about it, thank goodness, but I knew I couldn’t continue on-campus classes in that condition.”

Buntin switched to ASU Online classes to continue her English major with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in hopes of easing her physical stresses. This helped, but just barely. She experienced pregnancy complications and was hospitalized during a summer school term: “I ended up taking my French 201 midterm in the hospital,” she said. “I was sick the entire pregnancy.”

Buntin’s baby, whom she named Laurel Lance (comic nerds: take note), was born via Caesarean section at 37 weeks, weighing just 4 pounds.

“She was and is a fighter," Buntin said.

Buntin persevered — through a move to Salt Lake City (where she now resides with her family), through recovery from surgery and complications, and through the myriad adjustments that come with having a new baby and young children.

She graduates this December with her bachelor's degree in English.

“Here I am. My daughters are ages 7, 6 and 1. I am graduating from ASU summa cum laude, and I am starting to receive opportunities to gain experience in the fields that I am most interested in pursuing," Buntin said.

Was it easy?

"Absolutely not," she said. "My doctors told my husband (who by the way, has been my biggest supporter and part of the reason I have been able to keep going forward) that I was close to dying if they had not done the C-section, and that really puts things into perspective. If anyone reads this story and takes anything away from it, I want it to be that hard work really pays off.”

Buntin answered a few more questions about her journey to her ASU degree.

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

Answer: I was 5 years old. I was being homeschooled at the time, and I was learning how to spell my name. Once I understood how the alphabet gave me the tools to write things, I started scribbling things down. When I was 6 years old I wrote my first story, which was “Cops and Their Donuts.” It was about two cops going into a coffee shop and dunking their donuts. I don’t remember what they spoke about, but I do remember it was only a page long with 6-year-old terrible scrawl. Still, I was proud of it, and from that moment on I was a writing machine. My bachelor’s in English is only going to propel me down that path. It may take more hard work, but I’ve already put in so much effort that I know I will get there eventually.

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

A: Attending university is a double-edged sword. Not only do you have to have an open mind to learning things that aren’t comfortable, you also have to be open to hearing the [perspectives] of other people. This can come from in the classroom or just dealing with the personnel you have to deal with when setting up your student status. When handling responsibility becomes frustrating, you have to remember to keep calm, lean on others you have around you, put on your determination hat and get things done. The most valuable experience that has come from ASU, for me, has been through my poetry and fiction workshops. I’ll give a shoutout to Rebecca Byrkit, who was my professor for both intermediate workshops I completed. She gave me so many valuable skills, skills that I already had when I started, but that grew and developed from careful attention to detail and exploration with other students. If I can give any advice to anyone, it’s to take a deep breath, understand that it won’t be easy, and then keep putting your best foot forward.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: When I was a teenager, my dad was getting his master’s degree at ASU. Although I had spouted off other college ideas at the time, when it finally came time for me to go into university, I decided to create a family tradition. I became a mother at a young age, and for quite some time I put my education on hold. When I decided to come back into it, not only was ASU feasible location-wise, but I already had experienced parts of ASU life growing up with my dad.

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

A: Don’t give up. Work hard. I’m not one to say that it’s all going to be work that you like doing or subjects you want to learn about it. There have been a handful of classes that I haven’t done well in because my lack of motivation drove me into a corner. Sometimes, though, regardless of how frustrating or time-consuming the work is, you have to keep telling yourself that the choice you made to do this is for the bigger picture.

Later on, when you leave ASU, where will you go? What’s all of the hard work for? Why try to maintain the best grades you can have? Do grades matter in the real world? I’m going to tell you that yes, they do matter. Not only in furthering your education, but great grades and great GPAs speak to employers about your quality of work and work ethic. Just remember that when you don’t want to put in the time and you want to BS on a paper (which I have done, don’t get me wrong), the effort you put into your work shows up later when you apply for the jobs you want after graduation.

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

A: Gammage Auditorium. There is a little nook of trees in a grassy area next to the bus stop. I used to sit there and wait for the Orbit bus and read.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I have already sent a resume to a few companies for internships in editing and publishing. I have no work experience, but my GPA and work ethic here at ASU has helped give me a set of skills that I think are valuable to companies offering these types of positions unpaid. I am currently an assistant with Waldorf Publishing, and I may have some other opportunities pop up as well.

Right now it’s all about getting that experience. Even though money is great, the experience is valuable because I can take it later on and show someone else that I have what it takes to be paid to do a job that I want to do. While the end goal is to be a writer — and write for myself and be a published author — I’m willing to work my way up to that point by being humble and starting at the bottom.

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

A: Money won’t fix the biggest issue our planet has, which is hate and ignorance. If we want to help the planet, we need to help ourselves, and if we’re going to help ourselves, we need to stop placing hate and blame on people with opposing opinions. It’s important for people to have opinions, to speak up, and to argue for what they feel is right; but it’s also important to listen and to compromise. Now, if I did indeed have $40 million, I’d probably sink that into the ocean, because our Earth is primarily made up of the oceans, and we really need to get proactive about helping detox our poison and trash out of it.

Kristen LaRue

communications specialist, Department of English


ASU Online casts working actress in new role as film studies graduate

December 1, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

As a working Hollywood actress and model, hectic shooting schedules are Arizona State University student Brittany Panzer’s reality. Her most recent role was on an episode of “Lucifer,” a Fox television series. Graduating ASU student Brittany Panzer / Courtesy photo Film and media studies student Brittany Panzer. Download Full Image

“Shooting ‘Lucifer’ was really fun,” said Panzer. “And it was my first hot and heavy make-out scene!”

All those, uh, distractions would keep some students from making progress toward a degree — but not Panzer.

“It was pretty hard to manage school with [the ‘Lucifer’ shooting schedule], but I was proactive and actually emailed my teachers in advance to ask if I could submit some stuff early and/or get any extension on other projects and they were really accommodating," she said. "I think being proactive about upcoming situations is best.”

The Miami native relished the flexibility afforded her through ASU’s online platform. Panzer didn’t expect to learn much from the required discussion posts, which she dutifully completed around acting engagements and auditions. She certainly did not expect to enjoy them. Yet, she did.

They “helped me think of other mind-sets and other perspectives,” she said.

Panzer graduates from ASU with her bachelor’s degree in film and media studies this December, and with a more nuanced view of her chosen industry. She answered some questions about her career plans and future projects.

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

Answer: I’ve always wanted to major in either theater or film and media. I’m an actress, and both majors pertain to what I do. I think really learning about the world I’m in through film and media studies is invaluable. I can take acting classes anywhere, but it’s wonderful to be able to learn about screen acting, writing and everything TV and film.

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

A: Believe it or not, discussion boards helped change my perspective as to how people think. They made me realize that answers — that I thought were obvious — weren’t obvious to others and vice versa.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I needed to do school 100 percent online because of acting and modeling, and ASU is a great school with a wide range of degrees that can be completed online. So happy about my decision!

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

A: Do NOT wait until last minute to do your homework. Something will come up — it’s Murphy’s law. Time management, my friends.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Acting! I just shot an episode of “Dear White People,” which comes out next year, and I’m gearing up for pilot season!

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

A: I’d tackle the homeless problem first in [Los Angeles] and then in other areas. I live in L.A. now, and it’s shocking to actually see the homeless problem on a daily basis. It’s really heartbreaking, and I don’t think we as a whole are doing enough to help.

Kristen LaRue

communications specialist, Department of English


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ASU interdisciplinary major aims to make positive impact through art

ASU grad Sarina Guerra: I want to use art to save the planet.
December 1, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2017 commencement. See more graduates here

For her capstone project, Sarina Guerra booked an entire studio in the basement of the University Center Building on Arizona State University's West campus and filled it with a dining room table laden with traditional Mexican foods, black-and-white photos of her grandmother cooking with her daughters and original works of art that Guerra had stained with wine to reflect her father’s fieldworker background.

The result was an immersive, multidimensional homage to her heritage and culture of growing up in the small farming town of Brawley, California, just north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Guerra had hoped it would have an effect on people, but when the day came, she wasn’t quite prepared for their reactions.

“People were crying,” she said, eyes wide with incredulity.

Responses like that are how she knows she’s on the right track — the interdisciplinary arts and performance/interdisciplinary arts and sciences double major wants to change the world for the better with her art. Recently, she has been exploring how she can do that as it relates to the environment in her eco-communities class, thinking about beautiful but also sustainable ways to design buildings and cities, and even promotional materials and digital applications nonprofits can use to advance their mission.

“That’s what’s on my mind now: How I can save the planet? If I could use art to do that, to impact the Earth in a positive way and protect it for future generations, that’s 100 percent what I want to do,” Guerra said.

The oldest of four girls, and the first among them to attend college, Guerra looks forward to the distinction of delivering the convocation speech for the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences as they look on.

In advance of that day, she opened up about the journey she took at ASU to get there.

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

Answer: I think I’ve always been an artist. My mom tells stories about how I used to pull things out of the trash and make art pieces. But when I started at ASU, I was a creative writing major. I still very much enjoy writing but I wanted to explore other avenues of art. I was taking some general interdisciplinary arts and performance (IAP) classes as electives, and Professor Richard Lerman (who is now my mentor) told me about the program he teaches, so I was like, “OK, I think I want to do that.” The best thing about IAP is they don’t box you into any one thing. They teach you audio and video and all the programs associated with that … music, dance, performance, acting, everything.

Later, I added the interdisciplinary arts and sciences major, and I’m really glad I did because I feel like I always knew I wanted to pursue art but I didn’t know what I would do with it. I recently stumbled across this eco-communities class, and it’s amazing. It’s my first environmental science class, but I finally understand what people mean when they talk about finding their calling. That’s what’s on my mind now: How I can save the planet? If I could use art to do that, to impact the Earth in a positive way, and protect it for future generations, that’s 100 percent what I want to do.

Q: Why did you choose ASU West?

A: I was originally going to go to UC Santa Barbara, and I got accepted and had all my classes set up. Then I went there, and I was like, “This doesn’t feel right.” My aunt is a professor at ASU, and she was just talking about how awesome it is. So I toured the campus, and I was like, “This is great.” Tempe was my main campus at first when I was a creative writing major, then I switched to West when I learned about the IAP program. As it turned out, it feels better here, having a smaller, more tight-knit community where people know you in the hallway.

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

A: There’s no wrong way to do art. I’ve seen some pretty weird stuff. But the fact that I can still be surprised in my own major keeps me interested. It’s exciting.

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

A: Something along the lines of take risks or don’t be afraid to fail. Because I think there were times my fear of failing didn’t allow me to go as far as I could have.

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

A: There is a tree outside of Kiva where I would sit and read between classes. It was extra beautiful when the sun was setting. I also spent a lot of time in our IAP lab, and I would come [to the dance studio] if I had some alone time and just hook up the speakers, turn it up really loud and dance.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m really seriously contemplating the Peace Corps. The application process takes a year but I was just talking to someone here on campus who is an ambassador for the program, and I think I want to do it. In the meantime, I’m looking into going into business for myself, whether that be with photos or jewelry or fashion or something like that. I also want to get back into community theater, because I just haven’t had time for that lately.

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

A: Maybe promoting interdisciplinary education. Everyone feels like they have to go into one specific thing, and overspecialization doesn’t allow us to approach a problem from [a good perspective]; you can’t see the full picture. That or food insecurity; I think that’s super important. It shouldn’t be a problem when we have like three times the amount of food that can feed everybody.

Top photo: Sarina Guerra wears a floral headpiece she created for her capstone project. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now