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Verse of the Grand Canyon

February 26, 2019

ASU poets share their impressions and experiences and read their original work about the iconic Arizona landmark

Editor's note: This story is part of an ASU Now series celebrating the centennial of the Grand Canyon National Park.

If you live in Arizona and you’re a writer, you can’t escape it. The blazing sunsets, mighty saguaros and endless mountain peaks are nothing if not breathtaking. There’s simply no substitute for the unique beauty of the desert landscape to inspire the creative mind.

But if tourism rates are any measure of a particular scenery’s allure, perhaps the most stunning of natural wonders in the state is the Grand Canyon.

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Grand Canyon National Park, ASU Now asked some of the university’s most dynamic wordsmiths to wax poetic about the famous landmark.

For some, it was the first time they’d put pen to paper in an attempt to capture the spectacle. Others have written several pieces celebrating its majesty.

Here, they share their personal stories of the indelible memories and lasting impressions the canyon left them with.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

Rosemarie Dombrowski

ASU senior lecturer of English; city of Phoenix poet laureate

Memorable canyon trip:

"The first time I went to the Grand Canyon was with my 'Geology of the Grand Canyon' class in 1994 at ASU. I think I went twice with that class, then I went back and got camping passes. I’ve done the Kaibab trail, I've done Bright Angel, I've done the Hermit trail, which is actually a restricted trail that probably no one should ever hike. Most of the experiences were harrowing in some way, and they just keyed me in, to an even greater extent, to the power of nature and geological forces."

Why it’s inspiring:

"I grew up reading romantic poetry … poems about Mont Blanc and standing a few miles above Tintern Abbey, you know, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Wordsworth. That was my first introduction to poetry in high school. So for me, geological manifestations of ecological forces have always been some of the most profoundly inspiring things. I may not write directly about them all the time, but they certainly influence me, my spirituality, my writing. When I see the Grand Canyon, I think of how insignificant I am. I think of how insignificant every word that I could ever write about the canyon is. It's just not anything that's articulable with language. I think it's a spiritual experience that is really difficult to put into words. And I think it also puts you in your place in the universe, which I love. There’s something about that humbling experience. I think an artist likes to be so humbled that they're prostrate on the ground, and then from there, you try to make some beauty out of the shards that you're picking up around you."

Jacqueline Aguilar

ASU English literature and communications undergraduate

Memorable canyon trip:

"The first time I went to the Grand Canyon, I was standing behind a rail and I was amazed at how expansive it was. And I was mesmerized by the fact that it had made its own history without any human intervention, and that it will forever live as its own history, as a beautiful part of nature."

Why it’s inspiring:

"I think because it's such a wonder. And to me, it's a very big mystery. I feel like it has no ending. So I can see how inspiration can come from something so massive that it seems incomprehensible, or how some things can seem like they don't have an ending. It’s so wonderful but intimidating at the same time, and I think that’s why I like going there, because it’s a very overwhelming but exciting experience and it makes me feel as if I’m part of an adventure, even though I’m just standing there looking at it."

Laura Tohe

ASU professor emerita of English; poet laureate of the Navajo Nation

Memorable canyon trip:

"I went with my family, and for some reason my mother made me get dressed up in my traditional Navajo clothing and I had to wear moccasins. We took the Kaibab trail just a little ways down. I remember walking on these rocks ... and I kept sliding with my moccasins, so I didn't get very far. But the tourists liked what I was wearing, so I got a lot of pictures taken of me."

Why it’s inspiring:

"There’s so much there that it's really hard to say just in a few words what it all means. But I think just the enormity, the immensity, the beauty, the timelessness that's there, it all comes at once. Because that canyon has been growing for millennia, and I just think about what history that canyon has seen. I also think about the people who live there, on the top of the canyon and the ones that live down below and what it must be like for them to have lost some of their land. I think I can only take it in really small pieces and try to understand this immense beauty and power and everything that's there that makes it the Grand Canyon."

Patricia Murphy

ASU principal lecturer of English; founder of Superstition Review literary magazine

Memorable canyon trip:

"I hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim, from South Rim to North Rim, and lost all 10 of my toenails because my shoes were too small. But that was fine, because it was beautiful. It was stunning. And it was a really wonderful way to see the canyon, too. We slept for three nights at the campground there. And what always strikes me about the Grand Canyon is you can't capture it. You can't capture it in language, you can't capture it in a photograph, because it's so expansive; it's farther than the eye can see and there are so many textures and colors that are shadowed and can't be represented through image. It's almost a spiritual experience going to the canyon because most people have never seen anything that expansive before. And I know I felt that way when I first looked into it. I had heard that it was going to be stunning, that it was going to be unbelievable. I teach travel writing, and I usually tell students not to use the word 'unbelievable.' But that was my experience with the Grand Canyon. That you can't express the levels of beauty there."

Why it’s inspiring:

"I was inspired to writePatricia Murphy’s award-winning second book, “Bully Love,” featuring several poems about the Grand Canyon, comes out in March. about the Grand Canyon because I have a deep love of wilderness areas and wilderness, especially the desert. I'm from Ohio, I’m a transplant, and it took me a while to warm up to the desert and to the landscape. But the Grand Canyon was a place that I felt instantly attracted to and instantly at home in. Hiking the Grand Canyon and being on the Colorado River and looking up to where you just were … it's a sense of accomplishment, it’s a sense of pride, it’s a sense of belonging."

Alyssa Lindsey

ASU English creative writing and global health undergraduate

Memorable canyon trip:

"The first time we went, I was 8. I went with my grandma, my great aunt and my mom. I think it was late February, so it was still a little snowy. And I just remember it being really beautiful. I'm from Phoenix so I’ve been maybe about five or six times. I feel like it's different every time, especially if you're going at different times of the year."

Why it’s inspiring:

"Living in Arizona, you see a lot of that mountain scenery and that sort of thing, but the Grand Canyon is a totally different experience from the mountains that we see around here. So there's a lot to write about."

Alberto Ríos

ASU University Professor of English; first poet laureate of Arizona

Memorable canyon trip:

"I was older; I didn’t go there as a child. I probably had just started college, somewhere in that age range. And it was one of those things that comes up, if you’re an Arizonan. 'Hey, it’s the weekend, why don’t we go to the Grand Canyon? Has anyone ever been?' Nobody had ever been. So it was one of those things. So we decided to go. Didn’t know what we were doing and didn’t exactly know what to expect, and it seemed much farther than it looked on the map. And we drove and drove, and I think we mistimed everything, so we were waiting to have lunch and it was too long a drive, and so everybody was kind of cranky. And then you get up to the edge and the world is suddenly solved. And you are small in that moment, and it is large. And your problems therefore are small, and you are in the embrace of something."

Why it’s inspiring:

"It is a constant act of the imagination. You cannot see, even though you’re looking. I write about it all the time, which is surprising as a Latinx writer, who are so often characterized as writing about people and community. But I grew up in a rural circumstance outside of Nogales and was so affected by that growing up that it is a huge part of my life. So I write about nature with the idea that it is complicit in all things, that it is a partner in the moment of being alive, not separate from it."

Top photo: Clockwise from top left, Rosemarie Dombrowski, Alberto Ríos, Laura Tohe and Patricia Murphy shared new lines of verse inspired by the Grand Canyon with ASU Now. Photos by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

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The College history: A look at 66 years of academic excellence

February 27, 2019

Over the years, change has been a constant for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; student success is the focus for the future

Today, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences boasts the most students, courses and — as of fiscal year 2018 — the most externally funded research expenditures at Arizona State University.

But it wasn’t always that way. While liberal arts courses at ASU date back to 1934 and a liberal arts and sciences program was approved in 1946, a formal liberal arts degree wasn’t created until May 16, 1953, when the Arizona Board of Regents established The College of Arts and Sciences. Over the years, The College went through a number of name changes and periods of growth.

Creating a presence within a newly formed university

The College’s growth and development between the 1950s and 1970s created the foundation for the university and college that we know today. In the early 1950s, then-President Grady Gammage began the push to change the school’s name from the Arizona State College to Arizona State University.

During the same time as the president’s efforts, The College of Arts and Sciences was established, offering two degrees: A Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science. The Bachelor of Arts offered concentration areas in departments including art, biological sciences, English, foreign languages, mathematics, music, physical sciences and social studies, while the Bachelor of Science offered concentration areas in agriculture, biological science, business administration, psychology, home economics, industrial arts, mathematics, health education and physical education, physical sciences and social studies.

As the degree options widened, so did opportunities for students and faculty. The 1950s marked the beginning of research in the field of life sciences. 

“The earliest — and I think most fun — example of that would be Herb Stahnke and the establishment of the Poisonous Animals Research Laboratory,” said university archivist Robert Spindler. “The purpose of the laboratory was to create antivenom for scorpion and rattlesnake bites. It was the only lab of its kind in Arizona at the time. University Archives has a thick book of letters from parents of children who were saved by the antivenom produced at this university.”

According to Spindler, the life sciences became an important part of The College and allowed the university to begin attracting research dollars. In the late ’50s and ’60s, a number of centers were established, including the Center for Meteorite Studies.

In 1961, Dr. H. H. Nininger sold his collection containing 1,220 cataloged samples from 684 meteorite falls to ASU. An interview in the New York Times shortly after the collection’s dedication shows the scholarly impact these samples had and serves as a foreshadowing of the technology and research to come later in The College. 

“It will probably be several years before man is able to duplicate with artificial vehicles the travels of meteorites with respect to both time and space. Until he does, the study of meteorites will provide a major source of information about extra-terrestrial conditions,” said Carleton Moore, then-director of the Nininger Meteorite Laboratory. The lab was renamed the Center for Meteorite Studies in 1965.

Establishing a future of impact

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, The College established its size and importance in the university system.

“By 1980, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was the second greatest producer of undergraduate degrees behind the College of Business, but by 1990, liberal arts and sciences had overtaken business as the greatest producer of undergraduate degrees,” Spindler said.

This time period brought about new research endeavors, including the management of the Teotihuacan Research Laboratory when the lab’s co-founder Professor George Cowgill joined The College’s Department of Anthropology (which later became a part of the School of Human Evolution and Social Change) in 1990.

Spindler, who has worked at the university since 1988, recalls that while ASU was finding its footing as a research university, the campus itself was beginning to feel outdated with dark, wooden signs outside university buildings, a mix of modern elements throughout and landscaping that was a bit overgrown. As the university and college entered the new millennium, the appearance of the Tempe campus began to change, indicating more than just an aesthetic shift.

“The sort of cleaning and greening of campus is emblematic of this effort in the ’90s and 2000s to mature as a research university,” Spindler said. “And to break away from the past of simply teaching as many undergraduates as we could possibly get out the door and get through their degree programs, to a place that had a longer and more consistent continuum of education through undergraduate school into graduate programs. This creation and expansion of graduate programs created employment opportunities for faculty and those that held advanced degrees and it was responsive to the needs of Arizona businesses.”

While physical changes were being made on campus, psychological and attitudinal shifts were occurring as well within staff and faculty in The College.

Patrick Kenney, current dean of The College, has worked at ASU for more than three decades, starting as an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science in 1986. Kenney said the biggest change he’s witnessed while working at The College was the shift in focus from faculty to the success of students.

“Now, we look at problems through the eyes of students and families; in the ’80s and ’90s, everyone was working hard in the classroom but we were not thinking about what actions were best for the student, what the best pedagogy was for the student or how to get students involved in extra activities. The biggest change has been coming at The College mission through the eyes of the students as a framework rather than through the eyes of the faculty,” he said.

Transforming into an innovative college, university

The College had a pivotal year in 2001 when it set into motion changes that created the divisional setup and numerous schools that make up The College today. David Young, dean of The College from 2001 to 2007, was hired, and one of his tasks was to look at the organizational structure of the life sciences. When Young was hired, The College had three life science departments: biology, botany/microbiology and zoology.

“After a year of study and discussion, the decision was made to disestablish the departments and create the School of Life Sciences,” Young said. “Faculties were created within the school, not departments, and the only criterion was that names of the old departments could not be used as names for the new faculties. Faculty had to reorganize themselves into coherent, theme-based units as opposed to a traditional departmental structure.”

Young preceded President Michael Crow by one year; when Crow arrived, Young said the structure of The College was given a new look based on what was done with the School of Life Sciences.

“We embarked on a major transformation of The College, eliminating some departments and creating transdisciplinary schools. We began restructuring the way we were going to deal with research and education in The College. It was a time of significant change and upheaval,” Young said.

That transformation is documented in the university’s catalogs. In the 2004-05 general catalog, The College had a number of departments but only one school, the School of Life Sciences. The following year, the School of Global Studies (known today as the School of Politics and Global Studies), the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the School of Justice and Social Inquiry (now the School of Social Transformation) were established. The restructuring of departments and schools continued, resulting in 23 academic units after the creation of the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership in 2016.

Another important change that Young implemented during this time of transformation was the establishment of The College’s unique divisional breakdown into the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences.

When Young joined, The College had three associate deans: one for student services, one for personnel and one for research.

“We were the largest college and after a couple of years it became clear that the old structure wasn’t working well given the scope of the changes that we were implementing,” he said.

After researching how other large colleges at peer institutions were organized, The College was restructured to put into place a number of associate deans, including one at each divisional level. The new divisional structure allowed for more time and attention to be dedicated to student success, faculty promotions and research innovations.

“All of this was happening at the same time that President Crow was emphasizing innovation,” Young said. “That’s when we really started pushing hard.”

Kenney echoed Young’s sentiment on how Crow’s presidency positively impacted The College and university's innovation.

“If you think of it as a slow, positive progression throughout our history, everything speeds up dramatically with President Crow’s presidency; after him, it has really been a logarithmic change. Everything has improved: across the student front, philanthropic front, and academic scholarly achievement side.”’

The president’s influence was demonstrated in a number of interdisciplinary initiatives created in The College during the early aughts, including the establishment of the Institute for Humanities Research (IHR) in 2004.

Spindler, who has participated in IHR activities previously, said the institute allows faculty from different campuses and programs to look at challenges and issues in the humanities and think about how the different disciplines speak to the different topics and challenges.

“I think IHR really supports President’s Crow’s ideas about intellectual fusion and transdisciplinary research that adds value to the community,” he said.

The future

Looking to the future of The College, Kenney is focused on balance, specifically, how The College can continue to offer online education at a very high level while simultaneously improving the lives of students who are on campus.  

“Trying to balance that will be a real challenge, but it is really important for us to balance it because that is where higher education is moving so we need to figure out how to continue doing that and doing it well,” he said.

Kenney shared that while the technology and experience of learning has changed dramatically over the years — he typed his dissertation on a typewriter in the early ’80s — and will continue to change in the future, he anticipates one aspect will remain the same: The central nature and importance of liberal arts and sciences curriculum.

“The basic elements of young people who are coming out with these degrees has not changed. I think their curiosity in these various areas, their adjustability in the workforce, that is still the same,” he said. “How we do it, how we educate them, how they learn is different but the idea that people are going to come out with a well-rounded education and with a lot of experience with things like writing and critical thinking, understanding experimental method, that is just as critical now as it was previously and will continue to be in the future.”

Note: Dates and information for this story originated from a number of sources including personal interviews, course catalogs and online archives. If you have a story from The College's history that you'd like to share, please reach out to their team

Top photo: Aerial photograph of Tempe campus taken in 1970. Armstrong Hall, pictured near the curve in McAllister Avenue, was dedicated two years prior in 1968. University Archives

Kirsten Kraklio

Content Strategist and Writer , The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences