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.

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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.

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.”

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.

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.

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!

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!”

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