WELCOME, ASA ALUMNI!

We could talk about the benefits of an ASA education all day long. We can tell you how well we prepare students for life after school, and how we set them up for success no matter their interests or professional pursuits. However, our alumni  – students who have gone through our program and gone on to do even better things – say more about ASA than we ever could.

FEATURED ALUMNI: 25 FOR 25

We celebrate moving forward by looking back, reflecting on some of the amazing graduates of Arizona School for the Arts in these first 25 years.

Through more than two decades we’ve continued to study and research, hypothesize and synthesize, dance, sing, play and act. We show the perseverance that is one of our most outstanding attributes, and the challenges we face – and overcome – continue to make all of us stronger, smarter, better.

To celebrate our 25th anniversary, we will highlight 25 of the thousands of students who have turned their tassels as ASA graduates.

Cameron Amandus grew up in Phoenix, but for the last four years he has been performing in concerts and musicals both off and on Broadway in New York City.

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.

I actually auditioned for Lion King three separate times, and after multiple callbacks, I was basically told I wasn’t quite right for the job. The first time I went in for the tour of the show, I was called back in three times before I was told “no.” Then went in again a few months later, auditioned for the same person, and he barely even looked up. I wracked my brain trying to think what I did wrong, or what I could have changed, but I had to assume I just wasn’t a good fit. But over a year later, I was asked to come audition again for the same role as before, but this time on Broadway, during the busiest two weeks of a different show I joined last minute. While rehearsing from 10am-10pm, I went to audition for Lion King on my lunch breaks, five times over the course of two weeks. I had no time to think about “if I was good enough,” or “if they liked what I was doing.” I had to trust myself and focus on the work. I was told “no” twice before, but I chose to focus on the voice inside of me telling me “yes,” and I did what, at the core of me, I know how to do.

I’ve talked to my castmates about my audition story and learned for a lot of them they had tried out for the show five times, eight times; one person even tried out 12 times before they got the job. I look around at all of the incredible artists I work with and I would never have guessed. This experience forced me to remember that it’s not the job, not the title, and not the status that makes you your best self, but it’s your mindset. I was the same performer before I got the show and I will be the same performer, if not better, afterwards. I learned that I have to trust that I have it in me, even if others don’t see it yet. Other people may be late, but I can be the very first person telling myself I can, until everyone else catches up.

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.

The Disneyland trip was always such a highlight for me at ASA. The ability to spend a whole day in the park with your friends was such a gift. But of the two times I was able to go, the second one was extra special. While getting off of the Matterhorn, someone working for the parks gifted us special glow in the dark Mickey hats. We thought that was lucky enough, but we later found out it meant we were chosen to receive “one special wish” from the park. Whatever we wanted to do, they would try and make it happen. At the time, The Pirates of the Caribbean had just updated their ride for the new movie, so it was the busiest attraction in the park, and we wanted to ride it. In minutes, we were being ushered past the endless line, straight to the front, where we were able to get on immediately and were even allowed to ride it twice! It was a magical day in the magical Kingdom, and helped foster a bond with the friend group I still have to this day.

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?  

It’s hard to just choose one component, because all three were at the forefront of how to approach challenges at ASA. By the time we were juniors and seniors, the big projects that we did in school had to be reflective of ourselves, our own personal journeys, and the world around us. Senior year, I worked with my friend group on a project to try and re-instill an arts program into a low-income school in the area that had lost theirs. We raised money through fundraisers and did all we could as high school students to try and make a difference in the community that was around us. It became less about grades and more about what kind of impact we could have on kids who weren’t afforded the same opportunities that we were. We had to think creatively, we had to expand our mindsets, but more than anything we had to be leaders for the sake of others, even when we were learning ourselves. Though not a long-term solution, we were able to afford them some means to keep arts in their curriculum at that time and worked to pair them with organizations who could continue the work we started.

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?

At ASA, I spent a lot of my time in choir. I grew up singing for almost my entire life, but as I advanced into the higher leveled choirs at school, I was pushed to become a better musician. What stands out to me the most was the fact that even though I love to sing, and I loved choir, I still wasn’t giving it my all. My “A-ha” moment came from Dr. Craig Westendorf, who told me time and time again to “take myself seriously.” My assignments were fine, and I was getting by, but he saw I could do so much more and wouldn’t let me slack. Even though I wasn’t as thankful for it then as I am now, since then, I have always asked myself that question. It reminds me to honor the best of myself and makes me more aware of how I approach everything in my life.

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020 times.

At the end of the day, when no one else is around, you are left with yourself. So be kind. You have the power to treat yourself with kindness.

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

I never realized just how much the arts and academics intersect in life until I was in the outside world. The diverse background that I had from ASA gave me experience in the arts that so few people received at that point, as well as a solid academic background that encouraged hard work and out of the box thinking. All of that blended together to foster individuals that valued the arts, had a balance of passion and hard work, and thought critically about everything they approached, artistically or otherwise.

It’s funny, I was actually cast in a concert during college because my ability to speak in front of crowds was unusually good. I looked back at all the presentations I did every year and realized that as an actor you convey the lines, but to stand in front of a crowd and speak calmly and eloquently as yourself is a different skill entirely.

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom or on stage. What are you thinking of? How did that experience help you grow or persevere?

During my senior year of high school, the drama department decided to do “Into the Woods” as one of the shows that year. I was cast in a decent role and was excited to be in such a large production to finish out my time in school. The set was created to be two stories high, with ramps and ladders in many different places so we could create interesting stage pictures and fun entrances and exits. During our second performance, however, the stage broke, and we had to restage the whole show while we were literally doing it. It was a whole whirlwind of chaos, but it made the performances even more exciting because we were forced to stay in the moment. All of the specific blocking, detailed lighting and structured performance was thrown out the window, and we were left to figure it out.

That experience reminded me that anything can happen, regardless of how thought-out and detailed your plan is, so all you can do is do your best in each moment, focusing on your end-goal leading you forward.

What’s your message to current ASA students?

Surround yourself with people who allow you to feel comfortable in your own skin. There are people who I went to school with at ASA that are still my close friends to this day. They allowed me to be myself, but it was integral that I was brave enough to let them see me. Like any relationship, it’s a two-way street, so be prepared for some trial and error, but in the end you will find people who love and support you for you.

Andy Boyd is a playwright based in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from ASA in 2010 he studied American History and Literature at Harvard and Playwriting at Columbia. His play The Trade Federation, or, Let’s Explore Globalization Through the Star Wars Prequels was produced in 2019 and is available through NoPassport Press.

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.

This question is very difficult for me to answer because I can think of so many! As a playwright, I know that my first draft is always going to be bad. Cringe-worthy. Embarrassing. Every time I write a play I try to do something I’ve never done before, so in a very real sense I am starting from square one every time. I can read my previous plays and tell myself that I apparently know how to write, but faced with the blank page or screen I feel like a beginner again. Many, many times I have shared early drafts with people and received very critical feedback. And it can be hard to hear someone tear apart something you’ve worked really hard on. But the indicator for success isn’t the quality of your first draft, it’s your willingness to keep working on the second, fifth, or twenty-fifth draft (and yes, I do have plays with twenty-five drafts!).

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.

During my junior year I performed in a piece created by Brett Mollenberg that mixed texts by Charles Mee (who I later studied playwriting with!) with clips from Youtube and the news. It was really my introduction to experimental theatre, and Kenzie Horn and I played the role of Dionysus, the God of wine, ritual madness, and theatre. We got to stomp around the stage in combat boots and tutus saying beautiful language not even we fully understood. I remember it was so much more fun to be in Brett’s play than the plays written by “professional” playwrights that I had been in before ASA. I think that made me think I could try writing plays.

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?  

I would say what resonates with me most would be creative thinking. Creating any piece of art involves finding solutions to innumerable problems. As Pauline Kael said, art is the greatest game because you make up the rules as you go along. I have to pay attention to plot, character, language, and the ways that the sensibilities of a whole culture are shifting, gradually changing the meaning of everything I write. It’s just incredibly difficult but also exhilarating. Nothing captures my whole heart and brain the way playwriting does. 

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?

I feel like everyone from my era of ASA is going to talk about Ms. Zeeb. In most English classes the goal is to figure out what the author’s intention is. Zeeb told us that authors aren’t always fully aware what their intention is, and that a lot of what makes a piece of art great is the subconscious influences they’re channelling from their whole culture. And still another part of what makes art great is the circuit created between the art and the audience, who in a real way completes the art piece by interpreting it. This freed me to care less about what the author or artist “meant” and to instead pay close attention to my own reactions to art. It let me make judgements and interpretations that existed not just in my head or just in the author’s, but in the space that is both of us at the same time, which is the experience of art. I think way too often people are taught to read texts in a very hierarchical way, where the goal is to parrot back what the text says. Zeeb taught us to read imaginatively, creatively, and dialogically.

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

I think often people involved in the arts mostly spend time with other artists thinking about their art. Obviously this is important, but ASA also taught me to pay attention to the world outside the rehearsal room. Sometimes the most important thing for an artist to do is to step away from their table or studio or rehearsal room and participate in the world outside. Art is important, but so are many things.

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom or on stage. What are you thinking of?

There are so many! I think one thing that was really valuable about ASA is that our teachers had really high expectations for us. In Boyd Branch’s directing class we read Antonin Artaud, Agosto Boal, and Anne Bogart — not easy material for 16 year olds! Branch wanted us to think about theatre not just as a craft but as a method of communication. He wanted us to think as much about the why as the how. It’s very rare as a young person to have your intellect taken seriously by adults. Across the board, teachers at ASA did that. 

How did that experience help you grow or persevere?

I think that experience was invaluable in my later life. I went to Harvard, which was incredibly intimidating as someone from a tiny arts school in Arizona. I had classmates who had published scientific papers, been on city council, or become fluent in Latin, and my main achievements were being in a series of even locally obscure punk bands. But the experience of being taken seriously as a thinker at ASA gave me the confidence to explore my own intellectual interests despite feeling somewhat out of my depth. I never wondered whether I should be putting on my own plays in my freshman year, for example. Many of these plays I now look back on in horror, but self-producing them taught me a tremendous amount about the craft of playwriting. I never felt like I had to wait for anyone’s permission to do my art. 

What’s your message to current ASA students?

I know this is corny platitude stuff, but you should try to do something meaningful with the few years you have on this earth. At Harvard I saw many bright, creative young people (over half of my graduating class) funnel into jobs in consulting or finance because those jobs were readily available, paid well, and were “prestigious.” Most of them didn’t plan to stay in those jobs longer than a few years. Apparently nothing in their education had taught them that they should aim higher than just making a bunch of money. Some of them justified their choice by saying they wanted to learn about “the real world,” but is McKinsey really the “real world?” I don’t think so. ASA is a school with a great and growing reputation, and your degree from ASA will open doors for you. I would say that just because a door opens doesn’t mean you have to walk through. The world has so many problems — try to fix a few! There are so many people suffering — try to help them! Our culture is in desperate need of new and exciting artistic voices — yours! Yes, yours!

Quotable:

“In Boyd Branch’s directing class we read Antonin Artaud, Agosto Boal, and Anne Bogart — not easy material for 16 year olds! Branch wanted us to think about theatre not just as a craft but as a method of communication. He wanted us to think as much about the why as the how. It’s very rare as a young person to have your intellect taken seriously by adults. Across the board, teachers at ASA did that.” 

Stephen Dabrowski started at ASA in the 6th grade, eventually graduating in 2018. He is currently a rising senior at Brown University studying neuroscience, and will serve as a neurosurgical research intern for the Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at Barrow Neurological Institute this summer.

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.

After my freshman year of college, I made the decision to transfer to my current university. It was by no means an easy decision to make, and I found myself at first riddled with feelings of doubt over whether I was making the right choice. However, as I now enter my last year of college, I am incredibly grateful for the somewhat untraditional journey I’ve been on. Life can often be a productive struggle, so I’ve found it’s often worth it to avoid the path of least resistance to ultimately find what brings you joy.

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.

My last year at ASA, I was able to participate in the Shooflies Reading series at the Crescent Ballroom, where around a dozen seniors read narrative pieces to an audience, with other students performing original musical compositions. While it was a wonderful (and cathartic) experience to be able to tell my own story, it was particularly incredible to hear some truly heartfelt and poignant stories told by my classmates that showed me a part of them I’d never seen before. I also specifically remember a musical performance based on one of our class assignments for William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying, and I can still hear the song’s melody in my head to this day. It was one of the many art school moments that made me realize how truly thankful I was to be surrounded by such talented students that continue to inspire me long after graduation.

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?

While the connection between the arts and creativity is rightfully well-established, it’s remarkable to see how other students at ASA have connected the creativity from their arts to other avenues of their life. Whether it be computer science, law, medicine, or any other field, students from ASA do not shy away from integrating the creative expression enabled by their connection to the arts into their daily lives.

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?

During Junior year, my AP US History teacher, Ms. Brown (who I can still confidently say has been one of the best teachers I’ve ever been taught by), held a classwide debate on the Jamestown colonial settlement. With the debate structured similar to a courtroom trial, I got the opportunity to serve as my side’s cross examiner and use some of my mock trial experience to question the other team on the argument they were presenting. Later that day, I remember getting a high-five from Ms. Brown for my performance while walking to another class. As a student, it is truly those small affirmations that make all the difference in believing in yourself.

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020 times.

Show yourself some love! This has been an incredibly difficult year for so many people, so everyone, especially yourself, is deserving of compassion and appreciation. 

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

As a Neuroscience student, it is clear that the arts are deeply rooted in neurobiology. With many neural systems at play in our cognitive processing of music and specific lesions of the brain often resulting in impairment of musical and artistic production and recognition, the brain is integral to our understanding of the arts. However, the connection between art and neuroscience extends far beyond what is studied in the laboratory. For example, for my Neurobiology of Love seminar I took this past semester, several students performed some original musical compositions as their final project, serving as a mode of communicating scientific concepts to the public. Arts and Smarts can manifest itself in a multitude of different ways, and the wonderful thing is that students at ASA are free to decide for themselves how this will look for them.

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom or on stage. What are you thinking of? How did that experience help you grow or persevere?

When I look back on my time at ASA, I can’t help but think about my years spent in Mock Trial. It would be impossible to surmise my experience to just one particular memory, but many still moments still definitely come to mind: the furious scribble on a notepad while your teammate is making an objection, the deliriously long weekend practices before competition, the NYPD Pizza dinners with all the teams after trial. Not only are my teammates some of my closest friends to this day, but it’s given me the gift of finding a love for my own voice. My time as a student at ASA and my experience in Mock Trial supplied me with the knowledge and skills necessary to use my voice to its full potential, and gave a community I will never forget (also, shoutout to my attorney coach, Mili, for making Mock Trial truly what it was).

What’s your message to current ASA students?

Enjoy the ride! I know it’s always exciting to look forward to what’s next, but try your best to find joy in any moments you can. Life really does start moving by quite quickly as you grow up, so you will begin to definitely appreciate the times you slowed down and let yourself enjoy each moment 🙂

Quotable:

“I also specifically remember a musical performance based on one of our class assignments for William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying, and I can still hear the song’s melody in my head to this day. It was one of the many art school moments that made me realize how truly thankful I was to be surrounded by such talented students that continue to inspire me long after graduation.”

Adele Etheridge Woodson is a classically trained film composer and violinist. She recently completed a documentary starring Dr. Jane Goodall. Adele’s music has premiered in NYC, Austria, Los Angeles, Nashville, Phoenix, and Cleveland. She currently works as a composer for a contemporary dance company, in addition to composing, producing and arranging strings for artists around the world.

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.

As an artist (and human), I fail pretty much every day. At ASA, I did not prepare for an orchestra audition properly, and lost my seat to a younger student. That experience not only taught me that I need to be more disciplined, but that I started to find more joy in composing than playing. Perhaps that was the most valuable realization of my time at ASA, and started me on my path towards becoming a film composer.

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.

Every time I finished a 3rd quarter presentation! Such a great feeling — knowing I did my best, and I completed a big project!

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?

As a freelance musician, I must constantly be thinking bigger than myself. What art does the world need right now? How can I market myself as a creator? All of these ideas require creativity, imagination, but most of all — discipline and a plan. Growing up at ASA meant that all my teachers were encouraging us to think outside of the box, and also held us to a high standard academically and musically. I continue to hold myself to that high standard.

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?

In the 8th grade, I was taking private violin lessons with the violin teacher at the time, Sadarius Slaughter. I was a young teenager, and extra annoying. I did not want to practice, put in the hours at violin. I wanted to quit. To take the easy road. Mr. Slaughter had a real “come to Jesus” moment with me there. He made me really think about why I wanted to quit. Did I really want to? He is the reason I am still playing violin today. Thank you for the tough love!!

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020-21 times.

Being resilient is not possible without taking care of your body. Rest, eating well, and proper exercise are needed to keep your soul light. I cannot create or write music without my body feeling taken care of. Number one lesson: never feel guilt for taking a rest day.

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

As a freelancer, my art is also my business. ASA gave me a great musical training, but it also taught me how to write, plan, act. Proper email etiquette, knowing how to budget. The art would not happen without the day-to-day tasks. ASA taught me agency as both an artist and businesswoman.

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom or on stage. What are you thinking of?

When my string teachers (Mrs. Blandino, Mrs. Simiz, and Dr. Schreffler) found out I was interested in composing, they encouraged me to write for the school orchestra! They allowed me an entire class period to conduct and walk the orchestra through my work. That first try at composing will never see the light of day…but we all have to start somewhere, and I’m glad I began in a safe place, with encouraging mentors.

How did that experience help you grow or persevere?

That experience helped me rip the bandaid off. I was no longer just talking about composing, I was actually composing! After that experience, I began private composition lessons, which prepared me for composing in college.

What’s your message to current ASA students?

No matter what your path in life is, give it your all. Give it all the love, all the discipline, and work hard. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to!

Quotes:

“As a freelancer, my art is also my business. ASA gave me a great musical training, but it also taught me how to write, plan, act…The art would not happen without the day-to-day tasks. ASA taught me agency as both an artist and businesswoman.”

Nicholas Gant graduated from ASA in 2001. He attended Howard University for classical voice performance and has lived in New York City for 13 years as a working musician and educator.  Nicholas has taught for four years with the New York City Department of Education. He has worked with artists such as Childish Gambino, Run the Jewels, Mariah Carey, and Michael McDonald, as well as released seven independent recording projects. 

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.

Moving to New York to be an artist was a huge challenge for me. This is where I learned survival skills. There were times when I had to work jobs I hated to make sure I had food and a place to stay. It pushed my creativity to make me look within myself to find other work that I could do. This is how I found my passion for education. 

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.

There are many ASA moments that make me smile, but in my eighth grade year I had the solo for Seasons of Love and I got to the high note and my voice squeaks and the note cracked. I was so embarrassed but everyone in the ensemble encouraged me and made me feel like a star. 

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?  

Creative thinking resonates with me the most as something that I learned from ASA because everything we did pushed us to think about things as creatively as we could. We were always given the opportunity to think outside of the box. We were also challenged to think critically about everything that was presented to us. We were taught to analyze art in a way that helped us make real world connections. That’s how I operate now in every aspect of my life.

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?

I had an a-ha moment with my voice teacher when working on an audition piece, Maria from West Side Story. I was discouraged because I thought that I’d never be cast as Tony. He said “No, that’s not how we’re going to approach this. You’re going to learn it and be the best so they would have no choice but to cast you.” That changed my mindset on how I approached everything. 

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual times.

The biggest lesson of resilience this past year has been in the area of faith and hope. In March, I fell ill with what I thought was the flu. It turned out to be COVID-19. This pushed my faith to new heights because at that time there was not a lot of information. I had to believe I would get better. 

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

The Arts + Smarts combination was something that aided in my success in undergrad and grad school. It pushed me to have a balance to be able to be successful in academics as well as the arts. 

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom or on stage. What are you thinking of? How did that experience help you grow or persevere?

When Chamber Singers went to Germany we had a performance soon after our arrival. I’m not sure why but I was upset about something. Almost too emotional to sing. But I had the solo on one of the songs and I had to push through whatever I was feeling to make the performance happen. This was a situation that taught me to control my emotions to get the job done. 

What’s your message to current ASA students?

My message to students is practice the aero balance. It is important to stay focused in middle and high school to learn discipline. It will be the most valuable thing you possess when you get to college. 

Quotable: “Creative thinking resonates with me the most as something that I learned from ASA because everything we did pushed us to think about things as creatively as we could. We were always given the opportunity to think outside of the box.”

Brenna Goth is a Phoenix-based journalist. She works as a correspondent for Bloomberg writing about politics and government in the southwest and was previously a reporter for The Arizona Republic. She’s also a violist in the Phoenix College community orchestra. 

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.

An ASA memory comes to mind. During one of my first piano recitals in sixth grade, I was overcome by stage fright, forgot my memorized piece, and left the stage in near tears. Mrs. Legge helped me regain my composure and encouraged me to get back up there and try again, at which point I successfully got through it. It was a lesson in how to handle the mistakes and embarrassing moments that are inevitable in life. 

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.

I always loved the end of the year when we had a few days of rehearsals at the Orpheum and got to explore the building. I still pass by there sometimes and remember my sense of wonder as a tween. 

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?  

Leading. We had a lot of leadership opportunities at ASA because the school was open to letting us try new things and giving us responsibility. My class was always planning benefit concerts and team building events and fashion shows that taught us how to come up with an idea and execute it.

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?

We did an activity in sixth grade science where we had to write out the instructions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and then another student had to follow them. Some of the sandwiches ended up with spreads on the wrong side of the bread or cut into strange shapes. That’s the first time I thought about the need to be really clear with my words because people won’t always instinctively know what I’m trying to say. 

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020-21 times.

I’ve tried to lean into a sense of community, however I can find it right now. That has meant exploring my neighborhood through walks, catching up with friends via snail mail, and supporting local arts and businesses when I can.

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

ASA taught me the value of balancing multiple interests in life at the same time.  As an adult, I am so thankful to have a hobby that’s completely separate from my day job. I play weekly in a community orchestra (though we’ve been virtual for the past year), and it’s a great way to use my brain in a different way.

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom or on stage. What are you thinking of?

Every single presentation week turned me into a bundle of nerves. I think I was told I talked too fast nearly every time. 

How did that experience help you grow or persevere?

Consistent exposure to public speaking meant I was way better at it by age 18 than when I was 11. Being able to talk to a big group of people has served me well since.

What’s your message to current ASA students?

Going to a small school where you all have the arts in common bonds people in ways I didn’t realize at the time. Appreciate the experience!

Quotable:

“ASA taught me the value of balancing multiple interests in life at the same time.  As an adult, I am so thankful to have a hobby that’s completely separate from my day job. I play weekly in a community orchestra (though we’ve been virtual for the past year), and it’s a great way to use my brain in a different way.”

Bettina Hansen grew up in Phoenix and graduated from ASA in 2004. She is a photojournalist at The Seattle Times, and has worked around the country covering news, sports and all sorts of stories. She and her husband own a small brewery in Seattle and are parents to daughter Beatrice.

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.

When I was a young journalist, I didn’t have the experience to push back on unreasonable requests or demands from editors, and I didn’t know how or when to extract myself from difficult situations. While on an internship at The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I remember pushing my luck while trying to make pictures at a crime scene after a child had been killed. I was not welcome in the space, and nearly got punched by someone trying to “defend” the family. Traditional journalism rules say that we should make pictures anywhere we can, especially in public spaces. Pushing boundaries was a badge of honor. Reflecting on that moment over the years, I have a lot more empathy, and would have opted to put the cameras down.

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.

I often reflect on the backstage moments at Symphony Hall and the Orpheum while putting on Showcase with the awe and wonder I had back then. It was so cool to be a kid running around in those hallways and performing on those stages. I think it instilled a deep level of confidence in how I carry myself in high-pressure situations as a working photojournalist.

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?

All of these qualities are essential for being a journalist, and for me, I think my foundation was laid through the many hours of class discussions we had at ASA. I look back on the wide-ranging discussions and debates we had over the years and am thankful for such an engaged and passionate group of students and teachers to share ideas with.

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?

These questions are really testing the boundaries of my memory, middle and high school were a long time ago now. I have a lot of positive memories with ASA teachers, but the more specific moments have faded. I treasure the literature discussions during English with Ms. (Melinda) Dill and Mr. Ross, and the fiery Mock Trial competitions with Mr. Crowley and Chris Doerfler.

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020 times.

I count myself lucky that I still have a job when so many people are out of work, and to be healthy when many are sick. Our generation had to enter a job market decimated by the Great Recession, and now we have a pandemic that preys on the most vulnerable. I have no lessons, I have luck and privilege.  

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

I think the style of learning we pursued at ASA gave me the confidence to talk to anyone. From presentations instead of regular old exams to recitals for music, I think the constant expectation to bravely stand on stage and hold court made me unflappable as a public speaker and taught me how to channel nervous energy into focus and creative flow.

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom or on stage. What are you thinking of?

I don’t have one particular moment in mind, but one of the things I miss the most is the feeling you get from performing music with others. I always did choir and played clarinet in band and I just miss that amazing energy from rehearsals when you’re really immersed in a great piece of music together.

How did that experience help you grow or persevere?

That feeling of making something greater than the sum of its parts made me love working in a team, and I’ve been very active in building community in the photojournalism industry because of it.

What’s your message to current ASA students?

Although I always enjoyed playing music, I remember feeling like I was never good enough as a performer. It’s one of the reasons why I picked up a camera in the first place. I wanted desperately to find something that I was good at and something I could be passionate about. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to make a career out of photography since then. Sometimes our shortcomings can motivate us to grow in an even more meaningful and positive way.

Quotable: “I think my foundation was laid through the many hours of class discussions we had at ASA. I look back on the wide-ranging discussions and debates we had over the years and am thankful for such an engaged and passionate group of students and teachers to share ideas with.

Mark Jacobson is an actor, improviser, and coach based in Los Angeles. On-camera, his recent work includes This Is Us, NCIS: LA, Good Trouble, 9-1-1 and The Resident, among others. He can be heard in animation, commercials, and video games, recently NBA 2K21, Genshin Impact, and Wasteland 3. He has also worked at regional theatres throughout the country and teaches on-camera acting for US Army Entertainment Europe. He has a lovely home with his lovely wife, Victoria and rescue pup, Preux.

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.

I sometimes joke that my whole job is weathering “failure” with grace. If I look just at the stats, I don’t book 95% of the things for which I audition, and I’m fortunate to work quite a bit. Meaning – If I thought about just the numbers, I’d explode. The odds of making a living in the arts are daunting, but if I’ve learned anything that has sustained me, it’s that what I perceive as a “failure” so rarely has anything to do with what I’ve brought to the table. I’ve trained for a long time (including indispensably at ASA) and I just have to trust my default. All I can do is bring my best version of the character I’m handed and the rest is out of my control.

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.

It’s genuinely hard to pick, but our class was pretty notorious for sharing the same CD (remember those?) and then breaking aggressively into collective song. Some big hits were Ben Folds – Rockin’ the Suburbs (our class song was Still Fighting It), the Avenue Q soundtrack, and the Chicago movie soundtrack – which led us to waaaay too many completely disruptive renditions of “When You’re Good to MOLLY” (Molly Schiffer, our classmate), in place of “Mama.” We got away with too much, is maybe my point. Special shoutout/apology to Mr. Courtney.

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?

As a vaguely grown-up person, I aspire to all of these things and I think ASA cultivated those beginnings, particularly in creative thinking and leading. In a lot of ways, my ASA experience was a choose-your-own-adventure and I had the privilege of leading both Student Government (and changing the name TO Student Government!) and Thespians. In both of those organizations, we had so much freedom to shape the events of the year – including my personal favorite, the Soup Buffet at Monte Carlo Night. I learned so much about the importance of delegating responsibility, not just to relieve pressure on any individual but also to encourage a sense of ownership among the members. I have such admiration for how much the current student body is engaging with the world around them and thinking on larger sociopolitical issues and inequities and I wish we had that kind of vision when I was there.

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?

Mr. Ross’ English class was basically just two years of a-ha moments. The way we broke down Hamlet completely demystified Shakespeare’s writing for me – it was immediately accessible and timely and playable, and the fact that we got up and read scenes made it leap off the page in every sense.

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

I think the high expectations that ASA set for both my artistic and academic life have helped me excel in both. There’s a discipline that a life in the arts requires and a lot of people don’t expect when they start working. The “business” of art asks for a lot of dedication, creative thinking and being able to hone in on your voice – what you uniquely can offer. ASA gave me a real head start, not just as an artist, but as a professional.

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020-21 times.

Because of how rigorous ASA was and the high standard of work, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time sleeping. And I carried that habit through college and into my entry in the real world. I’m realizing that maybe this wasn’t the greatest quality to develop. The last year has taught me that sometimes a break – and getting a real night’s sleep, from time to time – is not only helpful but necessary for growth. Sometimes we need to take a step back from the way we’ve been doing things in order to see the things we can improve and how we can work a bit smarter, not just harder.

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom or on stage. What are you thinking of? How did that experience help you grow or persevere?

One of the stranger things in my legacy at ASA is that I played ASA’s founder(?), Dr. Francis in Showcase for a few years. And senior year, I was basically emceeing as him and there was some sort of technical difficulty and I was thrust on stage to vamp. At the Orpheum. In front of all of the parents with their video cameras and an impatience to see their family’s star cellist or ballerina. And I distinctly remember the moment where, instead of “performing,” I made eye contact with people and – in character – just talked to them. Immediately, the tension dissipated, both in the room and in my body. And I’ve tried to approach any time I’m on stage or on camera in the same way since – everyone and everything feels better when you strip away that extra effort and just focus on the truth of the moment and those relationships.

What’s your message to current ASA students?

While you’re at ASA, just hold on to the joy you have for your art. Sometimes it can feel like work, when you’re spending so much time on it, and you forget about why you’re doing it in the first place. And when you’re getting ready to graduate – investigate all of your options for going forward in the world (the difference between BA and BFA programs, who specializes in the thing you want to do) and don’t let anyone – yourself included – limit your pursuits. Lastly, know that you get to decide how you keep your art in your life and no matter how “actively” you pursue it, the work/time you’ve put in has been worthwhile and will be applied in ways you never knew existed.

Quotable:

While you’re at ASA, just hold on to the joy you have for your art. Sometimes it can feel like work, when you’re spending so much time on it, and you forget about why you’re doing it in the first place. And when you’re getting ready to graduate – investigate all of your options for going forward in the world …and don’t let anyone – yourself included – limit your pursuits.”

Joseph Martinez from the Class of 2007 attended Vassar College after graduation. He worked abroad in the visual arts for several years and then came back to the U.S. to pursue graduate studies. After a brief existential crisis, he decided to start an urban agriculture business instead. Today, he runs Arizona Microgreens in Phoenix. He also leads empathetic communication workshops for individuals and organizations.

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.

In 2014, I applied for a year-long fellowship with 100% confidence that I would be selected. I was so sure that I would be accepted into this program that I made no back-up plan. So when I learned that I wasn’t selected, it was quite the blow and I ended up living back at home with my mom. This was a huge turning point in my life, though, and forced me to change my mindset from chasing institutional validation to deciding, instead, to choose myself.

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.

The strange magical moment when I finally did hear an overtone while rehearsing in Chamber Choir.

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?

Creative thinking. I encounter fixed mindsets all the time in my day-to-day life. Discussion-based classes and the arts at ASA absolutely nurtured creative thinking and the growth mindset.

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?

I swear, Mr. Ross taught me the difference between reading a text and really understanding a text. That guy opened up the world to me.

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020-21 times.

To be totally honest, I was starting to get to a place of complacency right around February 2020. That ended abruptly! The sky seemed to be falling, but I did realize that life is a whole lot more interesting when it is all hands on deck. So I’ve come to terms with the weird honest truth that having no choice but to be resilient, resourceful and creative is a lot more fulfilling than endeavoring to just make everything convenient, easy and predictable.

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

I run a business but I still identify as an artist. That creative impulse and having “something more” that you do in life is enduring.

What’s your message to current ASA students?

I loved how the discussion-based classes at ASA allowed me to become a confident, articulate speaker. What took me much longer to learn was how to listen deeply. My message to current ASA students is to cultivate the ability to listen — to really listen — to one another.

Quotable: “Discussion-based classes and the arts at ASA absolutely nurtured creative thinking and the growth mindset.”

Emily Nebel is a violinist who enjoys a varied career playing chamber music, performing recitals and leading orchestras. Her studies and various festivals over the years have taken her all over the world, but now her home is in London with her husband Michael, who is also a violinist.

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.

For every achievement there are any number of failed attempts, which is something I learned the hard way. As a musician, I am frequently faced with having to audition for almost any opportunity, and I’ve found that an audition result does not necessarily reflect how “good” or “bad” I am; rather, it often has more to do with the jury’s personal taste, or even their mood on that day. It has been much more helpful for me to think of auditions as goals, and then as opportunities to self-reflect and grow, rather than indications of success or failure.

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.

At every school dance, when Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody would come on, we would link arms and belt every word at the top of our lungs.

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?  

The curricula at ASA were always extremely innovative. Creative thinking was encouraged in every subject, by every teacher. The semesterly presentations were also paramount in the development of public speaking skills, something that easily translated to musical performance. Leading in smaller group presentations was also an integral part of our coursework, as well; everyone was challenged to reach out of their comfort zone and take the lead on certain projects. Understanding the importance of solid leadership has certainly shaped my career as a concertmaster.

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?

Funnily enough, a moment in 6th grade stands out. During Sinfonia rehearsal one day, I was tired and slouching in my seat, much to Mrs. Simiz’s chagrin. She turned to me and said, “You know, if you sit up straight, it will give you energy!” The ability to affect one’s mood with physicality, tapping into the power of the mind-body connection, is a concept that really stuck with me.

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020 times.

Unfortunately, I have not bounced back from the sudden disappearance of all of my work since March, and I’m not alone: all of the UK’s freelance musicians are struggling and feel hung out to dry. In light of the situation, it’s become increasingly important to recognize those things within our control, keep an optimistic outlook, and take good care of ourselves.

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

When I was at ASA, the academics were quite rigorous (as I’m sure they still are); as a result, when it was time for the arts classes in the afternoon, they always felt like a reward. The Arts + Smarts model has helped me to become a well-rounded person, for which I am grateful.

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom or on stage. What are you thinking of?

In Showcase at the Orpheum Theater each year, I often participated in nearly all of the musical numbers, which kept me on my toes and left me welling with pride, asking my parents each time: “Which one was your favorite??” 

How did that experience help you grow or persevere?

Those experiences were invaluable due to the varied nature of my responsibilities. After leaving ASA, I stopped singing and quit the piano, but developing those skills certainly contributed to my comprehension and love of music.

What’s your message to current ASA students?

Listen to your interests and don’t be afraid to pursue what really excites you. Also, feel lucky that you have had the experience of going to a school like ASA. It will shape you for the rest of your life!

Alex Nunez-Thompson is a STEM educator, a maker, a cyclist, a researcher, a volunteer, a hobby woodworker, a gamer, a friend, and a dog-dad (in no particular order).

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.

My sophomore year at ASA was one of the toughest character-building years of my life. My mom delivered newspapers every night with an extra paper every Thursday after school. On those days, she would pick me up after Mock Trial with the newspapers in the car. Since the car was full, I would stuff my saxophone(s) and backpack in the back. Then I would help her assemble, bag and deliver papers. We would get home late in the evening, at which time I would practice my instruments, get my homework done, and try and get enough sleep before we had to wake up again for the night paper. During the week, I slept in the car while she worked. By the time her route was over, it was time to get up and get ready for school again.

Managing this schedule of school, clubs, work and music was tough but it shaped me into the person I am today. I can thank my mom for being the strongest person I know. She instilled in me the value of hard work, never letting me give up and encouraging me to become so much more. But I also have ASA to thank for building a community that supported me through the tough times with people and teachers to lean on and an education that has driven me so much further beyond what I believed was capable.

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.

Choosing just one is near impossible. But as an educator there is one memory in particular that seems unattainable in any school but ASA. During one of our lunch assemblies, we were having technical difficulties (as was common back in the sanctuary). So, to kill time, two members of the class of 2010 (or 2011) hopped up on stage: Brian Whelihan and Yasin Muhammad. Brian started improvising on the piano and Yasin just started singing. Eventually a chorus developed that simply went, “I love ASA.” It did not take long for the entire sanctuary to be on their feet singing and clapping along.

The trust from the teachers to just let students take the stage that way with no prompting and their subsequent choice in what to sing about is the golden standard of education in my eyes and will always make me smile.

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?

Simply put, our global community cannot be a “community” without all three of these pieces. ASA taught us to question the status quo and step up where we saw that others were not being treated justly. We had instilled in us, perhaps through the language of music, that all humans are to be respected and that there was a place for everyone. In my time at ASA, that mindset manifested into campus petitions around unfair dress code requirements for girls, political organizations that impacted local government, and participation in broader protests and marches such as for the DREAMers.

Unfortunately, as idyllic as that was in high school we still have unjust treatment of Black Lives, indigenous peoples, women, and members of the LGBTQ community within this country. So, ASA taught us to use the creativity in our voices, music, poetry, dance and speech to lead and fight for these peoples. I am inspired by the shared work my colleagues are doing to make this global community better and believe ASA, in part, helped us on that path.

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?

In 9th grade science, we had a presentation shared in math and science to analyze pollution data in our community. That meant I had to head to the canal every evening to collect a small sample of water and test its pH, nitrate and nitrite levels. We then had to check the database on air quality and attempt to draw a correlation between the two. This involved calculating Z-scores for our data. This project, with Ms. Gudmunson, led me to pursue environmental engineering in college and kicked off my passion for science and awareness of issues in environmental justice (something I now have the pleasure of teaching my students).

While that is perhaps the most identifiable moment, my dream would never have been actualized without the wisdom, guidance and support from Mrs. Mailhiot, Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Steinert. They remain my icons and role-models that I can only attempt to emulate in my role.

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020 times.

There is nothing more therapeutic than the act of creation. My sanity has only remained intact thanks to the moments where I am creating a new lesson plan, something in my wood or bike shop, or music.

Furthermore, I have been able to reconnect with so many of my amazing friends from ASA during this time and they have truly kept a smile on my face (a special shout out to Danny Franklin, Brandon Schulz, and Dan Theobald).

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

I believe that knowing things is only as useful as it can be communicated. This is a direct result of ASA’s “Arts + Smarts.” Everything we did was a combination of knowledge and communication, from presentation quarter to Mock Trial to Showcase. By being able to confidently and effectively communicate, I am able to engage my students in class with an air of performance during demonstrations and explanations.

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom or on stage. What are you thinking of?

In 9th grade, I elected to continue playing piano as one of my arts classes. I will never forget, after attempting to play Moonlight Sonata I was told that I could play the notes on the page but I could not make music. This was simultaneously a compliment about my music theory and technique but a huge hit to my musical ego.

How did that experience help you grow or persevere?

Well, since music was out I became an engineer! Jokes aside, that was one of the toughest pieces of feedback to receive. However, I still practiced and performed and I thought I did alright. And it certainly set me up to receive difficult feedback in the future. Tough notes are what make us better. If you’re constantly being told you’re good enough, you’re not pushing.

What’s your message to current ASA students?

Get involved in everything. Put yourself out there. And don’t worry if you don’t have everything figured out in the future. You have no idea what you will take away from ASA. But when you get there (wherever ‘there’ may be), you’ll be able to look back and see how everything connected to get you right where you need to be.

Quotable:

“ASA taught us to question the status quo and step up where we saw that others were not being treated justly. We had instilled in us, perhaps through the language of music, that all humans are to be respected and that there was a place for everyone.”

Kelsey Jennings Roggensack is working on a Ph.D. in history at Cornell University. Her dissertation research explores African American migrations to the US West through the lens of folklore and nonmaterial traditions.

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.

After graduating from Williams College, I moved to Indonesia for a couple of years. I taught at a Muslim boarding school in a rural province. Everyone was beyond kind and welcoming. The community was incredibly patient with me, too. There were a couple of times when I felt torn over how to handle a situation. I knew there was an approach that was more akin to the social norms in the area I was living, which at times was at odds with what felt “right” to me. I tried to navigate this tension throughout my time there. Even though I made mistakes along the way, this was an incredibly valuable experience, which has helped me to be less afraid to “mess up.”

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face. 

Before our very last final exam senior year, our class barked at our history teacher Mr. Labouchere for 15-20 minutes. It was a bizarre way to end our time at ASA. Though, we thought it was a funny final tribute. This moment still makes me smile because it reminds me of the unity in community that I felt at ASA. I have felt the support of this community long after leaving ASA, and I think this support has helped me to be brave to pursue what truly inspires me (and reminds me that even a final history exam can be fun!).

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?  

Creative Thinking. This is a pillar of the ASA education and continues to guide how I approach my education today. I felt empowered to “think outside the box” and explore multiple methods to a problem while at ASA. Unconventional approaches were often celebrated at ASA, and this experience has continued to inspire me.

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?

Ms. Maline was the French teacher when I was in 9th grade at ASA. Our class really loved to hear Ms. Maline tell stories. Once, she told us this story of when she first arrived in France and found herself eating baguettes alone. So, she joined a workout class to meet people. In the workout class, all the other attendees wore monochromatic unitards and performed a choreographed dance to Billy Rae Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart.” The “a-ha” moment here is that her circumstances seemed incredibly bleak, but obviously Ms. Maline went on to be successful in learning French and in enjoying her time in France. So, I often think of this story in difficult moments… it is a reminder that the greatest “a-ha” moments are usually preceded by challenging times. It is also a reminder to try to enjoy the challenging times too, as those moments are part of the journey!

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020 times.

I think finding small ways to find joy when quarantining and working from home are important. Whether that is a new approach to Zoom meetings or taking time to do something that you wouldn’t normally do, like trying out a new recipe. These moments have helped me to stay resilient throughout 2020.

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

So many times! Occasionally, being able to explain a concept in music like “syncopation” helps me to impress people at parties, haha. Seriously though, ASA provided a broad foundation for education that I have been able to access at every step of my adult life. I feel appreciative of the experience in being multidimensional. I never feel limited in scope because ASA encouraged us to succeed both in the classroom and on stage.

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom or on stage. What are you thinking of?

I remember memorizing the countries and capital cities in Africa collectively with my classmates. We all shared pneumonic devices to help with the memorizing, and a couple of our friends would put together a melody and sometimes a dance, too!

How did that experience help you grow or persevere?

Collective learning is everything! The cities and countries that I remember to this day are the places that I memorized with friends. As a PhD student, I still find it most valuable to work with other people, whether we are reviewing one another’s work or collaborating on a new idea.

What’s your message to current ASA students?

Support each other! I often find it difficult to explain my middle school and high school experience to other people because ASA was such a nurturing environment. The learning community that the students, faculty and staff are all so committed to building and being a part of makes ASA an incredibly unique and special place.

Richard Ryan is a professional bassist in Kansas City, Missouri. He is a member of the  Kansas City Symphony, the bass instructor at the University of Kansas, and is the  director of the Lenexa Community Orchestra.  

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.  

I had an assignment in my 10th grade english class to write a paper on my personal  philosophy. Doing the assignment brought up painful emotions within me, and I poured  out those feelings into the paper in a way that was messy and disorganized. My teacher  recognized that and gave me the opportunity to revise my writing. I was afraid to face  those emotions a second time, so I chose not to do the revisions. At the end of the  semester my teacher chose not to award me with an honors designation because he felt  that an honors student would have taken the chance to improve upon their work. I  learned that it is important to pursue excellence even in the face of difficult and  complicated feelings.  

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.  

I’ll always remember the trip that the orchestra and choir took to Germany during my  freshman year. It was the first time I traveled overseas and was exposed to another  culture. I loved the sense of freedom and having those new experiences. That really  planted the travel bug in me and I have always loved visiting other countries in the years  since.  

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with  you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?

My favorite teachers in my years at ASA were strong proponents of creative thinking  and in-depth analysis. They held our class to high expectations, not out of a sense of  being elitist or punitive but out of a desire to provoke thought in us, and to get us to ask  and answer thought-provoking questions. We were not expected to get the ‘right’  answer every time but to make arguments backed up by evidence and convincing  arguments.  

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?  

One aha moment I had with a teacher at ASA was with the brilliant Mr. Kirkman. He was  my 8th grade math teacher, but this experience happened much later. In high school I  had a study hall period. ASA was full of ebullient, bright students who were known to  push boundaries and this study hall period was no different. The teachers supervising  the room had repeatedly cracked down on talking getting out of control. I tried hard to  abide by the rules but I found myself repeatedly getting pulled into the conversations so  I was frequently chastised. After one such instance Mr. Kirkman pulled me aside. He  told me that he recognized that I was trying hard to stay quiet but that I had an 

inquisitive mind that couldn’t resist engaging with the students around me. He told me  that if I put my mind to it and worked hard that I could accomplish anything I wanted to  do in life. This was meaningful to me because in a world where children are frequently  categorized as good or bad, obedient or disobedient, successful or failing, one teacher  

chose to let me know that he could see not just what I was, but who I was, and that I  had value. This was intensely meaningful to me that he would take the time to have that  personal moment. I never got the opportunity to thank him. I hope he reads this.  

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020-21 times.

The world has been flipped upside-down for many people during this pandemic. I  believe that we have been shown how resilient and adaptable human beings can be.  Personally I have learned quite a bit about myself in how I have responded to the  cultural and structural change. My work schedule and routine have been utterly  disrupted. I have learned to give myself patience and grace and to manage my  self-expectations. There are periods of ups and downs, and that is ok. The whole  situation has forced me to confront the areas of my life where I have become  complacent. I have learned that I thrive when being challenged and that I have avoided  challenges in the name of comfort too often in the past. My lesson in resilience is to be  patient, give yourself room to grow, and get comfortable being uncomfortable.  

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in  life?  

I believe that ASA was a place that endorsed intellectual achievement and immersion  into culture. It was not an arena of competition or a breeding ground for elites. I grew up  feeling free to be myself and was accepted by my peers despite my flaws. The message  I got was to do something that inspired me, and that definitely helped shape my path in  life.  

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom  or on stage. What are you thinking of?  

I remember in 7th grade I performed a solo at an assembly in front of the whole school.  Though I am not prone to nerves, at this performance my hands were quite literally shaking. I remember it well because for every performer there is a period of awakening  consciousness, where your sense of self and your awareness of your surroundings  finally merge and the scope of what you are doing hits you like a brick wall. This was  one of the first times I can remember where I really cared what people thought about my playing; and since a musician’s self-identity is so wrapped up in their playing it wasn’t  just my bass playing up there, it was me . This was just one step on the journey that  musicians take to grow and develop their emotional intelligence. 

What’s your message to current ASA students?  

My message to current ASA students is to be mindful. Children are taught to be always  thinking about what comes next; the next assignment due date, the next class, the next  exam, the next grade, college, career prospects, etc. Life is not about arriving at a  destination. The feeling of being done never arrives. Keeping that in mind, take time to  allow yourself to experience as fully as you can each moment. When presented with a  new concept don’t attempt to just conquer it and move on. Let it linger in your mind,  grasp the shape of it, let the flavors develop. Ask questions. If the mysteries don’t  unravel for you immediately, wrap your mind around them and give yourself the chance  to truly learn. Your brain will grow and change as will the very essence of who you are.  Be present for that process.  

Quotable:  

“My favorite teachers in my years at ASA were strong proponents of creative thinking  and in-depth analysis. They held our class to high expectations, not out of a sense of  being elitist or punitive but out of a desire to provoke thought in us, and to get us to ask  and answer thought-provoking questions.”

Victoria Sadow (Horneman) graduated from ASA in 2008. After receiving her Bachelor of Music (University of Arizona, 2012) and Master of Music (University of Minnesota, 2015) degrees in Voice Performance, she pursued a career in opera. When not preparing for a performance or traveling for auditions, she teaches private voice, piano, and cello lessons at a small music school in Palo Alto, CA and at her home studio.

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.

Don’t try to learn one of the largest leading female roles in Opera in 3 weeks because your Italian will probably sound like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets, even with a prompter. If you do happen to bite off more than you should chew, please, please, please, take care of yourself! The amount of stress and lack of sleep that you will experience will likely get you sick. Alway put your health and wellness first because no one else will! Also, don’t take something like this on for free; you’re worth more than you might think.

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.

There are SO many wonderful memories from which to choose! This was difficult, but the one I reference the most, though, is the time when a car alarm went off during our French and Spanish classes. Both classes started harmonizing with the alarm and making different chords until it was turned off! To this day, every time I hear an alarm go off, I think about that moment. 

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?  

I would have to say being globally minded is what really stuck with me. During my sophomore year, we studied world religions and the differences between ethnocentricity and cultural relativism. We then did a presentation about Terrorists and Freedom Fighters. It taught me that my perception may not be the same view on the other side; there are always two sides to an issue and both can be valid. As hard as it may be sometimes, do your best to never judge a group of people based on the actions of a few. 

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?

If you need to memorize a map for a geography test, tape a copy of it to the back of your bathroom door.   It works. haha! Thanks Colby!

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020-21 times.

It is OK to take a break and not be productive, especially when dealing with trauma. You’re not being lazy, and it is 100% OK to feel whatever it is you’re feeling. It’s SO important to take care of your mental and physical health. Focus on what you can, even if it’s just convincing yourself to get out of bed in the morning. Start small, and if you feel like it, learn something new or pick up an old hobby again. You’ll bounce back, but you don’t have to rush it. Don’t give up and don’t EVER be afraid to reach out to someone and ask for help. You may be surprised to know that more people love and support you than you previously thought.

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

My husband, Justin, and I refer back to what we learned at ASA all the time—from mythology and philosophy, to history, Shakespeare, and music (we even still have some of our old summer reading books). Without a doubt, we have a better appreciation for the world around us. I am confident that ASA made me a more creative, compassionate, and empathetic individual. 

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom or on stage. What are you thinking of?

The music! My class was always putting something to music or making a skit. My favorite moments, though, were when someone was celebrating a birthday. Anytime someone in the class had a birthday, Jon Lang would throw his hands up in the air and scream “birthday?!,” as he leapt out of his chair to accompany the class on the piano. It was always over the top and absolutely wonderful.

How did that experience help you grow or persevere?

Never underestimate the wonders of art. It’s magical! Oh, and always make someone feel special on their birthday. The smallest thing can brighten their day.

What’s your message to current ASA students?

Be a student for life. Never stop learning and growing as a person!

Quotable:

“Don’t try to learn one of the largest leading female roles in Opera in 3 weeks because your Italian will probably sound like the Swedish Chef from the Muppets, even with a prompter. If you do happen to bite off more than you should chew, please, please, please, take care of yourself! … Alway put your health and wellness first because no one else will!”

Megan Quinn has been a neonatal intensive care nurse for the past 10 years and recently completed her doctorate in nursing at the University of Arizona. She is currently continuing her journey by teaching and pursuing research at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland as an Assistant Professor of Nursing.

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.

A mentor once told me that graduate school is essentially a long seminar in how to accept failure. I have more stories than I can count about rejected research grant proposals and manuscripts littered with harsh reviewer comments after months of work, papers returned for yet another round of meticulous editing, writing the 10th apology for a missed deadline in a week. There’s nothing special about me – I hate to fail as much as anyone else! But these experiences continue to remind me that there is always something to be learned from failure. If you can’t see a lesson right away, be open to growing into realizing it; sometimes the sting and consequence of failure overpowers what you can learn, and time may change both perspective and outcome. Granting grace to ourselves and others can help change our feeling about failure from dread to determination!

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.

While I have many happy memories of my time at ASA, the thing that makes me happiest is the feeling of being surrounded by music, a background hum of melody and harmony, sometimes practiced and purposeful, sometimes sporadic and experimental, but always there. I find I miss that feeling more and more!

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?  

In a future with more computing power than ever before, the human mind’s capacity for creativity both drives innovation and nurtures what makes us human. Creative thinking promotes problem-solving and is essential no matter which path or profession we follow. More and more I hear people talking about “rediscovering” their creative side because it was never fostered in them or life challenges have forced creativity to the side. As an ASA student I felt that creative and critical thinking was the foundation of all our classes, not just the arts, so it became part of the way we experienced and thought about the world and interacted with others, much to our benefit. 

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020 times.

I’ve learned the most about resilience from the families I care for, and my advice is not novel: do what you can, when you can, with what you have. Some days others will have more to give than you will, and some days you will carry others. Resilience requires self-awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses, understanding what you can do well for yourself and others, and where you might need to ask for help; do both and you’ll be doing your best to make it through to happier times.

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

The nursing profession was a natural fit for me after being instilled with ASA’s mission. The need for understanding science and evidence while also being adept at communication, collaboration, and compassionate healing is the core of nursing philosophy. 

What’s your message to current ASA students?

Learn everything, including yourself. Find the things in life that give you joy and meaning, the things that you are drawn to, and explore them with an open heart and mind. Your communities, both current and future, need you to be a part of them!

Amelia Villaseñor is a scientist who studies the past. As an Assistant Professor of  Anthropology at the University of Arkansas, she studies a range of subjects, including  the environments that influenced early human evolution as well as the effects of  humans on ecosystems today and in the past.  

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable.  

As a PhD student, you have to hustle to find funding for your research, particularly if you  do fieldwork in a foreign country like I did. It took me several years, but in 2015 I had  finally compiled enough funding to complete four years of research in a remote site in  northern Kenya. My prize from all of this research was a giant bag of dirt. I planned to  do chemistry on these 3-million-year-old dirt clods to find out what kind of plants  coexisted with our ancestors. However, as I walked up to the ticket counter at the  national airport in Nairobi, Kenya and dropped my incredibly heavy carry-on bag next to  me, the ticket agent frowned.  

“You’ll have to check that,” he said.  

“No,” I responded. “It’s too valuable.” I didn’t mention that it was dirt. I had heard horror  stories from other PhD students about losing their dissertation data on planes. The  ticket agent sighed at me.  

“Then you’ll have to pay the $200 extra weight fee.”  

“No,” I responded again. “I don’t have any more money” (it was mostly true!).  “Then you can’t get on the plane,” he said.  

I started to cry and said, “Then I guess I’ll have to stay in this airport because my visa  has run out and I don’t have any more money and I can’t separate from this bag.”  At that point the ticket agent had enough (I didn’t blame him) and called his manager.  As they stared on at the disheveled young woman quietly crying onto her dirty bag, they  decided to take pity on me.  

“Just don’t make it look so heavy, OK?” said the kind manager. “You’ll get stopped in  Europe if you do.”  

I sniffled, smiled at them, and promised to make it look easy to carry. Up to that point, I  hadn’t realized that my research meant so much to me that I was willing to live forever in  a chaotic foreign airport, but I was, and I still am. From that experience, and many like it,  I learned that if you’re willing to stick to your guns, you can do (almost) anything you set  your mind to.  

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face.  

At ASA we did a lot of community building, including going on retreats and to  Disneyland every year. I absolutely hate Disneyland; I always have, and I still do. 

However, I went to Disneyland every year because some of my favorite memories are  from the all-night trips we’d take on the bus to Anaheim. I don’t remember many specific  events, but I remember the chaotic sense of community, the singing, and the  bleary-eyed giggling that permeated those damp January trips to the most miserable  place on earth.  

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with  you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?

At ASA I learned to be a creative and critical thinker, which has been a huge asset as a  scientist. I use my sense of creativity to express my work to fellow academics in ways  that set me apart. Creativity also comes into play as you develop new ideas and  hypotheses to test. My background in the arts sets me apart from many of my  colleagues and makes me a better researcher and teacher.  

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher? 

Though we didn’t receive grades at ASA in middle school, I knew that anything less  than an “excellent” on my work was not acceptable. So it happened that in one of my  favorite classes, social studies with Mr. Crowley, I received my first research paper back  with the dreaded, “Proficient/Not Acceptable.” I was crestfallen but I never forgot that it  was unacceptable not to cite my sources. As a researcher, you build your career on the  backs of all of the scientists that came before you and citing your sources is paramount.  I’ll always appreciate that Mr. Crowley taught me that lesson at 12 years old because it  still carries through today.  

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020-21 times. 

In 2019, I became a professor and a mom at almost exactly the same time, which was  incredibly challenging. I’d never taught my own class before, let alone tried to maintain a  research career. The global pandemic added a whole new dimension of challenges just  as I felt I was hitting my stride as a new mom and professor. The year 2020, with its  remote teaching and postponed research, taught me that I would never control every  circumstance in my life. I learned that I was going to have to let colleagues suffer  disappointments as my research was postponed due to a lack of childcare, and I had to  let students see my personal life on full display. In most cases, I’ve connected more  strongly with my students and those colleagues that were willing to work with me.  

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in  life?  

ASA’s combination of critical thinking and creativity forced me out of my comfort zone as  a shy pre-teen and a life-long introvert. At ASA, I learned how to perform, which makes  me a better teacher and better able to communicate my science today. 

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom  or on stage. What are you thinking of?  

One of my favorite classes at ASA was movement class with Mr. Robbie. In that class, I  birthed myself and learned to mime. Though I haven’t done either of those things for  quite a while, I feel like the expressiveness that I learned in that class carries through to  my current career as a professor, helping me to make even the most boring subjects a  little bit expressive.  

What’s your message to current ASA students?

I have two messages: 1) Some of my best friends today are from ASA, so treasure your  close friends. They are the most genuine, beautiful people you’ll ever know. 2) Enjoy  every moment of creativity and awkwardness (or at least don’t sweat the awkwardness  too much). Those experiences will help you become a person that others connect with  and look up to in the future.  

Quotable: “At ASA I learned to be a creative and critical thinker, which has been a huge asset as a  scientist. I use my sense of creativity to express my work to fellow academics in ways  that set me apart. Creativity also comes into play as you develop new ideas and  hypotheses to test. My background in the arts sets me apart from many of my  colleagues and makes me a better researcher and teacher.”  

-AND-

“ASA’s combination of critical thinking and creativity forced me out of my comfort zone  as a shy pre-teen and a life-long introvert. At ASA, I learned how to perform, which  makes me a better teacher and better able to communicate my science today.”

Since graduating from ASA in 2014, Ali Zuercher has lived in four states, attended three schools, and completed a Master’s of Public Health in Health Equity, Social Justice and Human Rights. She is close to perfecting her gluten-free pizza dough recipe, is a proud plant parent, and is getting married in November!

Tell us about a “failure” or challenge that taught you something valuable

After undergrad, I entered into a year of voluntary service where I helped run a traveling clinic for the unhoused population in Harrisonburg, Virginia. That year, my service program got evicted from our communal housing by the city, and I was left to couch surf for three months until the program could get our house back. The instability I felt in those months was hard on my health and wellbeing, but I recognized that I was experiencing only a fraction of what my clients experienced daily. As I continued to build relationships with my clients and understand the intricate relationship between housing and health, especially mental health, I resolved to complete my education in the social, political and environmental determinants of health and work alongside communities to cultivate equity and justice into policy and the built environment. 

Share with us an ASA moment or memory that always brings a smile to your face

One of my many favorite memories from ASA is when a few friends and I on the Senior Night Live promotional team created “Mystery on the Rocks”, a six-part detective series investigating the mysterious disappearance of the school’s Spirit Rock. It was an absolute blast involving faculty and staff from all different grades and departments in the series to get the whole school invested in the story. It was especially fun to get recognized as one of the featured detectives by the Middle Schoolers in between classes and to joke with some of the students I TA’d for in band who were trying to guess the identity of the rock thief. 

Creative thinking. Leading. Being globally minded. Which of these resonate with you or remind you of something you learned from ASA, and why?

Creative thinking. Beyond the integration of arts and academics, ASA teachers were intentional about creating connections between classes. Sometimes, History and English lessons were taught in tandem, or our 3rd quarter presentations required us to use content from multiple subjects. ASA taught me that class subjects weren’t siloed from one another but rather would build off of one another from year to year.  

What was an “a-ha” moment with an ASA teacher?

When I was a 7th grader at ASA, I didn’t speak up or use my voice much in class. While giving my 3rd quarter Math/Science presentation on Fast Plants, my math teacher, Mr. Kirkman, told me I needed to “stop flying under the radar,” encouraging me to speak up and speak out. It was a defining moment in my journey to find my voice and to build the courage to use it. That moment also pushed me to love math and science and to eventually get my Master’s of Public Health.

Give us your best lesson in resilience during these unusual 2020-21 times

Resilience requires grace. Finishing up my Master’s program during the pandemic required a lot of time management and self-determination. And while I am obsessed with organization and my color-coded planner, I had to learn to forgive myself for leaving a few tasks unchecked every day. Productivity looks different, so it is only fair to ourselves that we define and measure it differently as well. 

How did ASA’s “Arts + Smarts” combination help shape where you are today in life?

Flute, piano, and 3rd quarter presentations taught me how to use my voice confidently and appropriately in all aspects of my education and experience. Whether it was a speech class, college orchestra and flute recital, presenting research at the North Carolina Public Health Association conference, or pitching a communications campaign to the statewide public health advocacy coalition, I learned the power of thinking creatively and using my voice and smarts to make a difference. 

Let’s look back to a memorable (or not-so memorable) moment in the classroom or on stage. What are you thinking of? 

My most memorable stage moment is playing Pirates of the Caribbean at Phoenix Symphony Hall for Showcase. It was an epic moment that my family still talks about to this day. And I’m pretty sure I asked Mrs. Anthony when we were going to perform it again on a monthly basis.

How did that experience help you grow or persevere? 

I think that was the first performance that I really began to understand the beauty and intricacy in orchestral music. There must have been over one hundred of us on that stage, each bringing hours of practice and talent and understanding how we fit in to the larger story we were telling. I’ve felt that same swell of emotion and pride I had while performing when I’ve worked on interdisciplinary teams, all contributing our unique skills and talents toward a purpose that is bigger than ourselves. 

What’s your message to current ASA students?

There is a quote from Frederick Buechner that has guided me these past several years: “Your vocation in life is where your greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need.” At ASA, you are developing passion, confidence, and global awareness. And while your passion may change over time, ASA has provided you with the tools to walk confidently toward what you love and to create beauty wherever you go. 

Quotable:

“When I was a 7th grader at ASA, I didn’t speak up or use my voice much in class. While giving my 3rd quarter Math/Science presentation on Fast Plants, my math teacher, Mr. Kirkman, told me I needed to “stop flying under the radar,” encouraging me to speak up and speak out. It was a defining moment in my journey to find my voice and to build the courage to use it.” 

ALUM AT ASA

Jesús López – Class of 2018

Alumni find many ways to remain connected to the school. One special way is filling the role of the Honorary Alumni Member on the Arizona School for the Arts Board of Directors.  It is a two-year term filled by an alumnus or alumna who applies, and is screened and voted into the position by the Board. Although the position is a non-voting one, it does allow the member the right to represent the voice of the alumni on the Board of Directors. This year, we are honored to welcome Jesús López to the Board.

Changing the foundations of the classical canon, Mexican-American artist, Jesús López is a trailblazer in the arts landscape in the Latinx community of Phoenix. He has performed in a number of orchestras and chamber ensembles. He served as the concertmaster of the Siman Orchestral Foundation’s International Orchestra during their European tour. While a performer of standard Eurocentric classical music, Jesús is a champion of works by Latinx composers. His passion led to the co-founding of La Raza Chamber Players, a chamber group of Latinx musicians playing works by Latinx composers. Jesús is a diversified music educator working with a variety of students in both group and private settings. He has held teaching positions with Arizona School for the Arts and Harmony Project Phoenix. 

His dedication to arts advocacy stemmed from being a founding member of the City of Phoenix’s Youth Arts and Culture Council, where he served as the co-chair of Events. During his time as a council member, he helped develop and facilitate the initial Young Artist Summit, Youth Arts Showcase, and the Youth Arts Engagement Grant. In 2017, Jesús was identified as part of a cohort of eighteen young people as the City of Phoenix’s Young People of the Year, recognized for community development and service.

Jesús is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Arts Administration from Arizona State University, as well as a minor in Violin Performance studying under Dr. Katherine McLin. He is also receiving a certificate in Socially Engaged Practice in Design and the Arts.

Hearing of the opportunity to serve on the Board of Directors through some faculty contacts, Jesús applied to see if he would be a good fit for the Honorary Alumni Member position, “ASA has played a pivotal role in the start of my career as both a violinist, but as an arts administrator. My desire to be a part of the Board is a primarily learning experience for how an educational institution utilizes a board of directors, but also a desire to contribute to my alma mater,” he said, “I think considering the state of world, the virtual medium through which I interact with the ASA community again allows me to create connections once again.”

Welcome back to Arizona School for the Arts, Jesús!

ALUM AT ASA

Rebecca Needhammer and Emma Popish (’09)

“Teachers teach because they care. Teaching young people is what they do best. It requires long hours, patience, and care.” –Horace Mann

It is often said that teaching is a calling and many ASA graduates have heeded that call.  Arizona School for the Arts is fortunate enough to have two former students currently in the ranks of our faculty, Rebecca Needhammer and Emma Popish. In our own version of Arts + Smarts, Rebecca is an instructor of Ballet and Modern Dance for fifth through eighth grade students while Emma teaches ninth grade Social Studies.

Teachers come to the profession in many ways. Born in Luton, England, Emma has fond memories of occasionally attending school with her aunt who was a preschool teacher and helping to organize her classroom before moving to the United States. Playing teacher as a child was a natural segue to being tapped by Laura Apperson and Maria Simiz to be a Strings Teaching Assistant during her senior year at ASA, but Emma also credits several of her teachers, including Jeff Steinert and Kristin Mailhiot, with inspiring her to become a teacher.  Concurring, Rebecca believes that many of the wonderful teachers she had at ASA while she attended from 2001 to 2004, showed her what it means to be a good teacher.  As a dancer, she finds teaching a good, consistent job within the dance world that also allows her to rehearse and perform.

 Rebecca has a deep background in dance; she began her training at the School of Ballet Arizona at the age of five. She continued her ballet training in the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus with Mary Moe Adams and Andrew Needhammer and has been an Associate of the Royal Academy of Dance since 2009. After earning a B.A. in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she taught children of all ages at Northern Arizona University Community Music and Dance Academy, Yen-Li Chen School of Ballet, Dance Theater West, Phoenix Dance Academy, and the School of Ballet Arizona. While teaching at SBA, an opening became available at Arizona School for the Arts; Rebecca was a natural fit and has been teaching ASA students Ballet and Modern Dance for the past three years while remaining a member of Center Dance Ensemble. She says, “I have so many fond memories of ASA from when I was a student here. This school undoubtedly shaped who I have become and how I will continue to grow. I’m so proud to be able to carry on the tradition of creativity and scholarship.”

When Emma is asked “Why ASA?”, she says, “I have come back to ASA to be a part of the same team that dedicated their careers to teaching me. As an alumna I hope to encourage my students to achieve their dreams, just as past ASA teachers encouraged me to reach out for my dreams.” Emma grew up in Downtown Phoenix and attended Arizona School for the Arts from 6th through 12th grades.  After graduating in 2009, she earned her Associate of Arts in Elementary Education with Highest Distinction at Phoenix College in May 2013. She then went on to earn her Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education, Magna Cum Laude at the University of Arizona in May 2015. While she was finishing her final semester of student teaching, Emma received a text from Laura Apperson to watch the ASA website for a teaching opening. After interviewing and preparing a demo lesson for rising eighth grade students, she has been on staff at ASA for the past six years, “Funnily enough I filled the GAPING HOLE left by fellow alum Bailey Williams!”

Becoming faculty where you were once a student can have a through the looking glass aspect. Emma remarks that even though the school has grown in the years since she and her thirty-two classmates graduated, “The student body is still reflective of so many different backgrounds, cultures, and walks of life, but most of all, the kids are still as spunky and dedicated to their passions as we were 10 years ago.”  What is different is her view on the arts side of the ASA model.  Emma says as a student she understood the benefits of the arts and appreciated the opportunity to perform, but as a teacher, she has room-shared with orchestra for the past five years, “The arts teachers are literally amazing and I don’t think I realized until I became their peer that the opportunity to work with such dedicated and talented musicians is such a gift.” There are, however, some things that remain core values at ASA, “The culture of compassion, intellectual rigor, and value for the arts is the same.” says Rebecca.

The past school year has been a challenge for all ASA teachers as they have had to learn a new method of online teaching, challenging themselves to keep the excellent standards of learning that is the pride of ASA and thinking of creative ways to teach arts over the internet. Rebecca has enjoyed the aspect of innovation since online teaching has forced her to think outside the traditional form of teaching dance, but it has also made her think about bringing dance education to all of her students equitably, “In the classroom, everyone is in the same space, often with the same materials and basically the same access to the teacher. At home, I have less control over the environment and not everyone has equal access because not everyone’s internet or home situation is the same.” Emma sees this as an opportunity to teach her students to learn through trial and error, “I am also constantly trying new things, learning from my mistakes, and owning those qualities in front of my students. I want them to see me for all that I am (the good days, the bad days, and the days when the lesson plan just flops) and in the end I just hope that we can all laugh about it in the end.” Anyone who has had Zoom mishap can relate.

Whether online or on campus, the ensuing goals of educators remain the same. “I ultimately want to give everyone an opportunity to dance and experience a serious dance education regardless of their natural abilities or their plans for a future in dance. I hope to foster an appreciation for dance and the arts and allowing students to realize that dance is for everyone.” Emma strives to be as influential as her past educators at ASA, “I hope to teach my students a little about history and a lot about their potential and worth. I want them to walk out of my classroom confident in their own skin and know that they always have someone rooting them on from the sidelines!”

ALUMNI RESOURCES

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