Access ASU, whose programs and initiatives help ensure Arizona students are prepared for college and 21st-century careers, works alongside faith-based community leaders to bring workshops and resources promoting higher education to their congregations and surrounding communities.
Kiana Sears, the assistant director of faith-based outreach and community partnerships for Access ASU, took on the role of leading the new initiative last fall.
“In my work, what I try to do is help people get the tools and resources that we offer from an educational perspective but live their faith out loud,” Sears said.
The need for this role stemmed from talking to religious leaders in the area who wanted to build a college-going culture from their pulpits.
Sears works with a wide array of faith-based communities across the Phoenix metro area to share education resources and strengthen pathways to higher education in underserved communities. Instead of considering her work as “interfaith,” Sears said she thinks of it as “multifaith,” as she encourages the individuality and traditions of each faith to shine through.
Through the efforts of Sears and her team, Access ASU provides workshop materials and programming that can be used in faith-based communities to help kindergarten through 12th-grade students prepare to enroll and succeed in college. The materials and workshops address a range of topics including tips for reducing test-taking anxiety, the middle school to high school transition, the high school to college transition and managing and navigating financial aid and completing the FAFSA.
While Sears primarily provides support to communities external to ASU, she also wants to ensure that students who are interested and brought on by Access ASU connect with the Council of Religious Advisors at ASU to find a place that allows them to keep practicing their faith once on campus. CORA connects leaders within more than 50 different religious communities across each of the ASU campuses and represents thousands of Sun Devils. Giving students a chance to connect with CORA through the educational resources their faith communities now offer allows for potential students to find their way before even stepping foot on an ASU campus.
“When students come to college, they sometimes drop their faith at the door because there’s so much going on and they’re trying to figure out where they fit in,” said Sears. “Helping a student navigate and find commonality before they even come to ASU causes less feelings of being lost because you arrive already having a place of being and belonging,” she said.
Ben Sanders, the co-director for the Campus Christian Center and one of the spiritual leaders with CORA, said it’s important to raise awareness with prospective students regarding the presence of faith-based organizations at ASU and opportunities to get involved.
“Informing middle school and high school students about faith-based organizations at ASU gives them confidence that there are supportive communities on campus who care about their intellectual, social and spiritual development,” Sanders said. “With a wide variety of religious groups here, ASU is truly multifaith-friendly. These faith communities welcome new students to the university experience and connect them with other students who can provide friendship and support during their college years and beyond.”
Many of the workshops and programming must be reserved ahead of time to ensure ample time and coaching before the event. Contact Access ASU if this is something your faith community is looking for.
Written by Lindsay Lohr, Sun Devil storyteller
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