ASU grad and TV anchor joins ASU Law master’s program to help make a difference in social justice

August 6, 2020

Taking on the solo weeknight anchor role at KCCI in Des Moines, Iowa, wasn’t just another step in Rheya Spigner’s career, it was an important opportunity for her to make a difference in her community. And with her acceptance into the online Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Spigner is looking forward to a future of helping with social justice reform.

“I wanted to take on a role that would challenge me, but also help me move into my purpose and help with my community," said Spigner, a 2013 graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and an ASU Law MLS student this fall. photo of Rheya Spigner Rheya Spigner, a 2013 graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and Master of Legal Studies student at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. Download Full Image

ASU Law recently caught up with Spigner, a Los Angeles native who started at the CBS-affiliated television station in 2016, to learn more about her future plans.

Question: Why did you want to join the MLS program at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law?

Answer: When I graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, I already knew that ASU provides great accessibility to their professors and interesting ways to articulate their curriculum so all of that was already a sell. Having access to this online MLS degree program was great for me since I am a full-time anchor/reporter living in Iowa.

The MLS program directors are truly helpful, even before I was admitted. They assured me through the process and helped me map out the courses I would want to take within this program. Essentially, I am able to get the basis of this program which already offers a lot of the classes I was looking for and add on classes to my course map so that I can have a mini emphasis in social justice. I think that's why I am so excited — it's everything I want to learn. Additionally, they helped point me in the right direction for financial help, which truly made a difference.

Q: What will your studies be focusing on?

A: I will be focusing on understanding our legal system, which is pretty much the basis of the program. I'll also be taking courses to understand the history of policing and dichotomy in our society. Another course will discuss: "Theoretical perspectives and research on the overrepresentation of racial minorities as victims, offenders, and defendants in the criminal justice system." When I saw that course, I got so excited. It seems like this all came together for what I feel is my purpose.

Q: What are you most excited about?

A: I'm most excited to finish. That might not sound the greatest but I'm really excited to get the tools I need to establish resources for my community and be a better resource in the newsroom.

Q: How will you use what you learn in your community?

“Overall, my goal is to make positive contributions to my community and make a difference. A lot of conversations need to happen to uplift brown and Black communities and inform white communities. This has been in my heart for a while but I think it's even more prevalent during these times.”

photo of Rheya Spigner

ASU Law MLS student Rheya Spigner at her KCCI anchor desk in Des Moines, Iowa.

A: The plan is to create workshops that will inform people in marginalized communities about their rights and how to access and ask for resources. I also think it's important to emphasize the magnitude of words and actions and how they can be unconsciously biased in workplaces and everyday life. The concept of these might change as I learn more and what impacts me through this program. Overall, my goal is to make positive contributions to my community and make a difference. A lot of conversations need to happen to uplift brown and Black communities and inform white communities. This has been in my heart for a while but I think it's even more prevalent during these times.

Q: What makes ASU special?

A: Once a Sun Devil, always a Sun Devil. But really, I've learned so much from real conversations with professors that have happened inside some of the classrooms. From the majority of my encounters, it feels like they want you to succeed and that's huge.

Julie Tenney

Director of Communications, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Arizona coalition focuses on inspiring young men in higher education

August 6, 2020

It didn’t take Larry Ross, a fifth-generation educator who launched the Omega Youth Leadership Academy in Arizona, long in his career to notice that there’s a group of students who go unnoticed when it comes to setting high goals after high school.

They’re not necessarily the most underprivileged kids, he said. They may not be disruptive in class. But they tend to not be noticed for either gifted programming or learning interventions. Squeaky wheels need to get the grease, but these students are going with the flow.  Males in Higher Education state leaders gather at the Arizona Capitol Members of the Males in Higher Education group convened by ASU met in the early spring at the Arizona Capitol. From left: Kiana Maria Sears, Martine Garcia, Thomas Claiborn, Matthew Sotelo, Jonathan Garcia, Rogelio Ruiz, Marcelino Quiñonez, Marlon Liddell and Larry Ross. Photo by Venu Gopinath Nukavarapu Download Full Image

Arizona’s counselor-to-student ratio is 905:1, the worst in the nation. As a former classroom teacher and a parent, Ross has seen firsthand that there are a lot of young men, especially students of color, with potential who tend to fly under the radar.

“I work in high schools where I can see these nice brown and Black boys who easily get overlooked because they’re on track," Ross said. "They don’t cause any trouble. But where were they tapped on the shoulder to level up?” 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, men are less likely to enroll in two- and four-year colleges immediately from high school. About 20% more men than women drop out of college. And women have enrolled in college at higher rates than men for decades; taking all degrees together, women have earned 13 million more than men since 1982.

Knowing the data and that young men of color are particularly underrepresented in higher education attainment, Ross co-founded the Omega Youth Leadership Academy, a year-round mentoring program that empowers middle and high school males of color to further their academic, professional and interpersonal success.

Larry Ross at a Males in Higher Education meeting

Larry Ross (left) and Martine Garcia. Photo by Venu Gopinath Nukavarapu

Ross is part of a unique coalition of Valley organizations convened by Access ASU and Community Initiatives that is focused on moving the needle on college attainment in Arizona. The Males in Higher Education group was launched in March 2019 and is led by Arizona State University Assistant Vice President Lorenzo Chavez and ASU Director of Educational Outreach and Partnerships Marcelino Quiñonez. The coalition includes Maricopa Community Colleges, Valley of the Sun United Way, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona, Carl Hayden Community High School, Phoenix Union High School District, College Success Arizona, Friendly House, Be A Leader, My Brother’s Keeper, TRIO, the Youth and Education Office-City of Phoenix and state Rep. Lorenzo Sierra. 

After launching, the group supported Maricopa Community College’s Male Empowerment Conference in October 2019, bringing together more than 20 mentors from various fields to connect with students. Members of the group conducted workshops to further promote education and attainability for young men and share resources to amplify every organization’s work. The group’s bimonthly meetings (now virtual) have resulted in more students taking advantage of Access ASU summer programs and a greater connection to the resources such as the Benji chatbot, which helps students complete their FAFSA for financial aid. 

“The group is important because it allows a dynamic group of educators and community members to design and share resources dedicated to intentionally elevating the lives of Black and brown males. It is important to me because in this space, the pathways we create are life-changing,” Ross said.

Quiñonez has said that the group’s commitment to the community and focus on education will provide a framework for others to emulate, while simultaneously increasing the number of men who enroll in higher education.

“As a Latino male with two ASU degrees to my name, I’ve often realized my education has been the deciding factor in many of my accomplishments,” he said. “My education has paved the way for me, and I am incredibly honored to be a part of Males in Higher Education because our work is focused on ensuring others have the same opportunities we’ve been blessed to experience.” 

Marcelino Quiñonez and Matthew Sotelo at a Males in Higher Education meeting

Marcelino Quiñonez (left) and Matthew Sotelo. Photo by Venu Gopinath Nukavarapu

Quiñonez said that while men of color are attending college at a smaller percentage than other men, the group’s focus is to ensure equity in education regardless of gender and background. ASU is part of Achieve60AZ, whose goals are that 60% of adults in Arizona will have a degree or credential by 2030 and there will be 100,000 more enrollments in the next 10 years. The Males in Higher Education group is poised to contribute substantially to that goal with educational leaders working intentionally together.

“While there are many networking groups in the Valley, the Males in Higher Education group stands out thanks to its strong core of active members who are focused on moving the needle forward for all youth in our community,” said Devin Del Palacio, governing board member for Tolleson Union High School District and director of community outreach at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona

“Males in Higher Education is full of subject-matter experts who are willing to collaborate with you at any level. I have found tremendous value in attending the meetings to listen, learn and share. Thank you, Marcelino, and ASU for creating this space for education leaders,” Del Palacio said. 

Ross said the group is special and will help more young men overcome the barriers of self-esteem, knowledge and financial limitations that prevent many men from setting high goals for themselves. Thankful for the mentorship he received as a youth in California, Ross was inspired to be someone who young people could approach with questions they were too afraid to ask and for support along the way. 

“Seeing how Black and brown kids are viewed and how sometimes people set low expectations for them, I wanted to be someone who could have a culturally relevant conversation with a young brother. I wanted the young brothers to see me as someone they can lean on and depend on,” he said.

“I wanted to become that person and create a platform and a vehicle for young people.”

The fact that the Males in Higher Education group is laser-focused on bringing more young men into the fold is very special, Ross said.

“This is how it’s supposed to be. We’re supposed to work together. ... It’s been phenomenal,” he said. 

If you’re interested in learning more or getting involved in Males in Higher Education, reach out to Quiñonez at

Hannah Moulton Belec

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services