Jewish studies program at ASU promotes diversity and learning

February 9, 2018

For many, studying religion at a public university may seem out of place. Studying historical cultures and ancient languages in order to learn more about your own culture? Even more so. But that’s exactly what the Jewish studies program at Arizona State University provides to students.

“Students who take courses in Jewish studies enhance their understanding of their own culture, whatever it may be,” said Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, director of the Jewish studies program and the Center for Jewish Studies at ASU. “The study of Jews and Judaism enhances tolerance, which is necessary for a thriving democracy.” Hal Danesh is one of many students in the Jewish Studies program in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, where faculty and students work together to promote diversity and lifelong learning. Download Full Image

In 1978, the certificate in Jewish studies was established in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as one of the many programs offered at ASU that uses interdisciplinary scholarship to educate students in critical thinking and prepare them for a wide range of careers.

The program, which goes beyond a mere ethnic-studies framework, covers a wide array of perspectives about Jewish history, religion and culture that allow students of numerous upbringings and persuasions to explore the complexity of Jewish history and its relationships with surrounding religions and cultures.

“Students encounter an extremely rich and multifaceted culture,” said Francoise Mirguet, professor of Jewish studies in the School of International Letters and Cultures. “They encounter the opinions of very diverse thinkers — some who seek continuity with foundational texts; some who make radical innovations; and even some who question their own tradition.”

In 2009, a Bachelor of Arts degree in Jewish studies was established. Graduates go on to work in fields such as law, economics, education, medicine, politics and social work. For students looking to enter the Jewish community after graduation, the program helps them prepare for positions such as rabbis, cantors, teachers and community leaders.

Many students pair the Jewish studies degree with another major. One such is Hal Danesh, a sophomore majoring in history and Jewish studies, who found his niche in the program.  

“Halfway through the fall semester of my sophomore year, I discovered my passion for Jewish history,” Danesh said. “It is my goal to eventually become a professor to teach and do research in Jewish studies.”

In a program designed for a diverse spectrum of interests, courses are available and relevant to numerous aspects of life and are intended to instill curiosity and the desire to learn in its students.

Courses are taught by faculty from across ASU, including the School of International Letters and Cultures; the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies; the Department of English; the School of Politics and Global Studies; the School of Social Transformation and the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.

“The Jewish tradition is committed to lifelong learning,” Tirosh-Samuelson said. “It highlights the significance of reading and interpretation, and it trains a person to be intellectually inquisitive and committed to the acquisition of knowledge and wisdom.”

Danesh emphasizes the large amount of resources available to students, making the relatively small program a venue for endless learning and opportunity to connect with students and faculty on a more personal level.

“One of my favorite aspects about the program is that students get to know the faculty and learn from them outside of the classroom,” Danesh said. “Professors are eager to see their students succeed, and they’ve given me a lot of advice.”

The program strives to create a diverse and welcoming environment for students and faculty of all backgrounds, and Mirguet emphasizes that the Jewish Studies program is where everyone can learn to recognize the importance of appreciating the intricacies of all human cultures.

“In Jewish studies, students learn about human experience in all its subtlety,” Mirguet said. “Humanity lies at the intersection of trauma and survival, continuity and transformation, sense of self and openness to others.” 

Olivia Knecht

Student writer-reporter, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


ASU launches digital English courses, provides ESL training to Mexican educators and Syrian refugees

Through innovative digital platforms, ASU Global Launch becomes a university leader in online English language learning

February 9, 2018

In November, ASU launched digital English courses, becoming the only university to offer a comprehensive English language learning product ranging from basic to advanced English proficiency, as well as providing the only English-language product on the market that prepares students for university study and success in academia. 

Developed by ASU Global Launch, the online courses allow students to utilize digital technologies to enhance learning, engage all skill levels, learn from experienced ASU ESL instructors and researchers, and access hundreds of online resources. Additionally, students can watch videos, have discussions with educators and peers, and collaborate on assignments at any time from anywhere in the world. Dr. Shane Dixon with course facilitators at the Za’atari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Senior educator Shane Dixon (second from left) with course facilitators at the Za’atari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Photo courtesy of Shane Dixon Download Full Image

Through these courses, ASU Global Launch, in partnership with Tec de Monterrey, has helped more than 850 teachers throughout Mexico improve their English proficiency and interact with colleagues in English on a national scale.

“I’d definitely recommend this resource to other teachers since they are tech-friendly and extremely guided. [It’s] almost as if you have a teacher with you at all times, within reach,” said learner Marisol Garcia.

In further efforts to expand the digital courses outside of Latin America, Global Launch ran an English language program for Syrian refugees. Senior educator Shane Dixon trained facilitators to lead discussion groups and English activities, then traveled to Jordan to both Al Azraq and Za’atari refugee camps to meet learners and understand the impact of the courses. Upon return there was one clear takeaway: Syrian refugees wanted English.

English, for many of the refugees, is access. Access to information, access to education and even access to other countries,” Dixon said. “If their English is good enough, the thinking goes, they will be better able to get jobs in Europe or other host countries that might accept them. English is a ticket.”

“English, for many of the refugees, is access. Access to information, access to education and even access to other countries.”
— Shane Dixon, ASU Global Launch

ASU and Global Launch hope to expand their global outreach through the digital English courses to create a broad community of world leaders and revolutionize the way that students around the world learn new languages.

ASU digital English courses are self-paced, accessible online from anywhere in the world and open for enrollment. Group discounts are available for institutions looking to facilitate courses in their home countries. You can learn more about the courses by clicking here or by contacting Dianna Lippincott at

Samantha Talavera

Marketing and Communications Manager, Global Launch