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ASU interdisciplinary major aims to make positive impact through art

woman smiling with flowers in her hair

December 01, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Why did you choose ASU West?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

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

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

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

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

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