ASU Online master's degree graduate finds new passion

April 29, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

From British literature to African American gospel music, Bridget Buckley’s academic career has taken some unexpected but welcome turns. This May, the wife and mother of two will graduate with a master’s degree in English from ASU Online — and a newfound passion. portrait of ASU English master's student Bridget Buckley ASU English master's degree graduate Bridget Buckley. Download Full Image

Growing up in Lomita, California, Buckley always knew she wanted to become a teacher. Her favorite subjects in school were history and English, so when she enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, she hedged her bets, majoring in the former and minoring in the latter. After graduating, she married her college sweetheart and taught high school English until 2003, when they started a family and she became a stay-at-home mom.

Always a music lover, Buckley began a blog in 2014, interviewing and writing about folk and independent bands. When she met a drummer in 2017 who also ran a nonprofit, she realized she wanted to do more to make a positive impact on the world and decided to start by going back to school.

As an undergraduate, Buckley had taken several British literature courses, inspired by her Irish-American heritage. She figured it was a good place to start for graduate school, but when she began researching programs at various universities, it was hard to find one that fit the bill while allowing her the freedom of an online education — something that was a necessity as a stay-at-home mother.

“I … didn’t think there would be programs out there that were subject-based, that would give me the same quality of education as students who were actually in the building,” Buckley said. “Then I found that reading through the material at ASU, there were those kinds of programs available there. I saw an Irish lit class, and I was like, ‘That’s impossible, those don’t exist.’’

After enrolling at ASU, Buckley signed up for an African American rhetoric course that sounded interesting. During the course, Professor Keith Miller presented the case of Alma Androzzo, a Phoenix-based gospel singer who, despite having penned a wealth of memorable songs — including “If I Can Help Somebody,” which Martin Luther King Jr. would later quote in his well-known sermon “The Drum Major Instinct” — remained obscure.

“That sent me thinking, ‘Well, why is she obscure? Has anybody thought of looking for her?’” Buckley said. “So I automatically went straight to and started building her family tree. And that sent me down a path I didn’t expect.”

Buckley had plenty of experience with genealogical research, a hobby that was again inspired by her interest in her Irish ancestry. So through the different subscriptions and archives she already had access to, she began to build out Androzzo’s family tree. Pretty soon, Buckley was in contact with Androzzo’s daughter, then her brother, and was able to start piecing together her life story.

In January, AZCentral published an op-ed by Buckley titled “How a Phoenix woman's gospel song became Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous words.” That was followed shortly after by an AZ Horizon piece in which Miller discussed his and Buckley’s research on Androzzo.

“Alma was a working mother trying to artistically contribute to her community while raising children and she’s only known for this one song even though she wrote hundreds,” Buckley said. “Gospel scholarship is still relatively new, and it tends to focus on the more famous people. They’re famous for reason, but a lot of times in history, it’s the average, middle-class people who are forgotten, and I think Alma fits into that role. I’m just doing my best to try to give her the credit she deserves.”

Eventually, Buckley hopes to take the lessons she has learned — both academic and life — and impart them on a younger generation as an instructor at a four-year university. More presently, she and her family plan to celebrate her achievement during ASU’s virtual graduate commencement ceremony on Monday, May 11.

Buckley says she is thankful for the opportunity ASU Online gave her to continue her education as a nontraditional student, and advises current students to consider the implications of online learning for the future of education.

“There’s a reason that ASU was so quick to implement remote learning for its students online,” Buckley said. “They could make that switch because they were an innovator, and I think that undergrads should see their lives as lifelong learning opportunities, and that graduate school and further on in academia is possible.”

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

Answer: Going back to get a graduate degree at 40 years old, you’ve lived a lot of life already. But what surprised me was the way that scholarship had progressed and the change in the way that literature was approached. I thought I was going to go to ASU to read and learn what I needed to fill in the gaps in literature that I hadn’t been exposed to, because I was a history major as an undergrad, not an English major. But what I didn’t expect was to be so in love with the methods of literary criticism that have evolved since I was an undergrad.

Then I had one other experience that was unique. Most of the people I met in the program are working teachers, so they were trying to get through it quickly. I didn’t approach it that way because I’m still a stay-at-home mom and I didn’t want my workload to impact my family negatively. So I only took one class per session, but that afforded me the ability to research. That’s what I love to do. And I knew I would eventually be competing for jobs against others who had been able to publish, so that was important. I got to present a paper at a graduate conference at ASU, and I really learned a lot from that experience because I was able to physically interact with other grad students and I met two of my favorite professors. I got to have coffee with Dr. Miller and Dr. (Ryan) Naughton.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I see being a stay-at-home mom as my full-time job. So although I live in San Diego and have access to several different high quality universities, I need to still be able to be a stay-at-home mom and be there for my kids after school, so had no choice but to go to online. And since I was going to go to an online university, I wanted it to be one with a good reputation, one I would be proud of, not some random school nobody has ever heard of. … So I enrolled at ASU, and I’ve just been so impressed with the work of the professors and the scholarship that they themselves have done. It’s exciting and inspiring that these professors are continuing to research, continuing to publish. And I found the quality of education to be extremely intense and the professors to have very high expectations. I did not have one encounter at ASU that was negative.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Dr. NaughtonRyan Naughton is an instructor in the Department of English and a faculty affiliate with the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (ACMRS) and with Barrett, the Honors College. was my linguistics professor, and he had a huge impact on me, just with the way he taught. And I formed a relationship with Dr. Miller that made me want to take his second class, which is where I was introduced to Androzzo.

Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I’m the classic Starbucks studier. There’s a very large Starbucks nearby that I like to go to. I can work at home, at my dining room table, but I do my best when I get out of the house and away from anything that could distract me.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My original plan was to try and apply to teach at a community college in my area. I think my ultimate goal is to get a PhD, but I’m not sure when or how at this point. But I would love to teach at a four-year university. And I’d love to continue to write.

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

A: Right now, because of what’s going on and where my mind is, it would be to help support artists that have been put out of work because of the virus. Especially those in community theater – we have a very vibrant theater community in San Diego with the Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse. My family and I are also big supporters of Broadway, and we just got back from London where we visited the West End. So I’d like to help support all the theater folks who are out of work right now, from those working backstage to the actors.

Emma Greguska

Editor, ASU News

(480) 965-9657

Teaching and learning at ASU, with love

April 29, 2020

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.

This May, Anthony Celaya will continue a family tradition by donning an Arizona State University cap and gown. Graduating ASU student Anthony Celaya poses with Sparky the Sun Devil / Courtesy photo Anthony Celaya poses with ASU’s beloved mascot at Sparky Slam in 2017, a high school spoken word event, hosted by professor Wendy Williams at ASU Polytechnic campus. Download Full Image

OK, that might be a metaphor — since ASU ceremonies are virtual in spring 2020, Celaya will likely wear something Zoom-worthy — but the second-generation Sun Devil will earn his third ASU degree: this time, a doctorate.

Celaya, who formerly taught high school in his own hometown of Mesa, Arizona, is completing a PhD in English (English education). He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in education (2013) and a Master of Arts in English education (2015) from ASU.

It’s clear that this loyal ASU fan loves his profession as well as his alma mater. Celaya cares deeply about his students — past, present and future — and sees great potential in them as agents of positive change. “I believe in the power of young people to tackle the problems they see in their schools and communities,” he said.

If Celaya needed confirmation that he made the right career choice, he got it: In 2017, he was awarded the Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award by the National Council of Teachers of English. Part of the award included mentorship and leadership training at a summer meeting. At that meeting was born the impetus for a new Arizona-based position and that fall, Celaya became the first diversity director for the Arizona English Teachers Association, where he worked on projects to increase support for rural teachers.

Back at ASU, Celaya worked alongside English education faculty to organize and plan ASU’s El Día de los Niños, El Día de los Libros event for three years. The annual literacy celebration welcomes 500 high school and middle school students to the Tempe campus to interact with young adult authors from all over the country. The 2020 event was unfortunately sidelined due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Celaya’s work lives on in the hundreds of young lives he helped impact.

We sat down with Celaya to find out a little more about his family legacy and about his plans beyond ASU.

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

Answer: I always knew that I wanted to work with future teachers. When I was a high school teacher, I wanted to mentor preservice teachers who were assigned to complete their internships or student teaching in my classroom. However, as I was working on my master’s at ASU, I realized that I could have an even greater impact on future teachers by conducting educational research and teaching English methods courses for preservice teachers. So, I decided to return to ASU for my PhD to work more extensively with undergraduate teachers.

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

A: During my first semester in the PhD program, I took a course on literacies with (Associate Professor of English) Peter Goggin, and he would always say, “It’s not what’s in your head, but what your head is inside of.” And that’s something that has always stuck with me. Whatever my ideas are about teaching, learning or research, those ideas are informed by what I’m consuming. If someone has differing ideas from mine, it’s not because one of us is necessarily wrong, our heads are just in different places. Over the years, I’ve tried to stick my head in new places with my students, colleagues and professors to engage in more critical discussions about why we do what we do.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I’m a lifelong Sun Devil. My father graduated from ASU in 1977, and some of my fondest childhood memories include walking through campus along old train tracks to ASU football games. I always knew I was going to be a Sun Devil for my undergraduate degree. But what brought me back for my PhD was the support I had from the entire English education faculty to continue on in my graduate studies. Without their encouragement, I don’t know if I would have taken this step in my career.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: It is impossible to single out one professor. I have to shout out both (Professor of English) James Blasingame and (Assistant Professor of English) Sybil Durand for teaching and modeling this lesson for me over the years. It can be easy to get caught up in the different titles and ranks that exist within higher education, but at the end of the day, the work we do as researchers and as teacher educators is all about people. And all people deserve to be treated with love and respect. It didn’t matter at what stage of my program I was in, they always made time to hear my ideas and mentor me along the way. I hope that my future students and mentees feel the same kind of caring support from me as I felt from them.

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

A: I tell my undergraduate teachers all the time to embrace the discomfort that new or challenging ideas bring. My favorite learning experiences at ASU were times when I tried something difficult or unfamiliar. When I was an undergraduate, I designed a teaching unit using Ernest Hemingway’s play “The Fifth Column” and George Orwell’s memoir “Homage to Catalonia” to study the Spanish Civil War. I never taught that unit, but the experience of taking two lesser-known texts to design something new helped me to become a teacher who was willing to try new things. School should be a time to take risks, to try something new, and the discomfort and tension we feel will make us better at the end of it.

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

A: I love Hayden Library. Studying late at night, working on group projects in a study room, rushing to get a study room — some my greatest friendships were forged in Club Hayden. As I was wrapping up writing my dissertation, I made a trip to campus just so I could spend a few hours writing in the newly remodeled library. I was hoping to finish my dissertation in Hayden, but of course, I needed more time.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: In the fall, I’ll be joining the English department at Southeast Missouri State University as an assistant professor of English education. I’m excited to be able to continue my work with undergraduate preservice teachers, teaching courses in young adult and children’s literature, composition instruction, and teaching with technology.

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

A: With $40 million, I would set up a program that provided grant funding exclusively for students who seek to use their literacies for civic action. Students who wanted to start a campus food pantry, bring in a guest speaker, buy books, or host poetry slams could apply for funding to support their self-determined initiatives.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English