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A new tradition: ASU Online celebrates graduates with welcome reception

ASU Online Success Coach Felecia O'Neal (left) and student Wilson Peng.

May 07, 2018

Every semester, thousands of Arizona State University students walk across the famed graduation stage to claim their hard-earned diploma. For many ASU Online students, this is not only the moment they have been waiting for, but also their first time visiting the university they attend.

This semester, over 3,000 ASU Online students — including close to 470 Starbucks employees enrolled through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan — will graduate from ASU, and around 1,500 of them will travel to Phoenix from around the world to partake in graduation celebrations.

Online students are welcomed and encouraged to attend as many ceremonies as they are eligible for, including commencement, convocations and events that their colleges, campus groups and ASU Online host.

A newly forming tradition for online graduates is a welcome reception hosted by ASU Online. This semester the event took place May 6 at the Memorial Union on ASU's Tempe campus. Over 600 graduates, family and friends enjoyed snacks, cap decorating, campus tours, a photobooth, kids activities, gift bags, and meeting classmates and support staff that helped them reach this milestone. The event also featured a large map where students could put a pin in their hometown, with strings tied later to connect them all to ASU. Students that could not attend graduation participated in the map activity through social media campaigns.

One of these long-awaited meetings was between criminology and criminal justice student Wilson Peng and Success Coach Felecia O’Neal. Peng and O’Neal have worked together for over two years to overcome challenges, strategize for academic and personal success, navigate a change in major, apply for scholarships and more.

“I am so proud of him. I know how hard he has worked on his academics, to find money to pay for college, juggling work, school and volunteering and overcoming his fears about what he is going to do next. I feel like this validates my job. I’m so thrilled that he’s graduating,” O’Neal said.

While Peng has mixed feelings about graduating and leaving ASU, he feels strongly about his relationship with O'Neal.

“My success coach is like my best friend who tells it like it is. Felecia and I talk on the phone weekly and will exchange emails or chat on Pitchan ASU instant messaging platform throughout the week. We talk about how I’m doing in classes, connecting to different campus resources, my personal life and big decisions I'm making, like choosing a career.”

At the welcome reception O’Neal and Peng sat and chatted about their relationship, the value of coaching and what comes next for Peng. They agreed that even though he will no longer be a student at ASU after this semester, they will absolutely stay in touch.

This is just one of many meetings that took place at the ASU Online welcome reception. Coaches, executive staff, financial aid advisers and other ASU staff were able to meet students in person that they have worked with and supported for years. For students, these meetings create a more personal relationship and belonging to the university and for staff, they bring deeper purpose and sense of pride.

Story by Hanna Friess, digital marketing manager for EdPlus at Arizona State University.

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