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Learning through life

With new projects and programs, outreach and options, ASU has ways to grow in every phase of life

January 05, 2021

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the winter 2021 issue of ASU Thrive magazine. 

When Kyle Ballard finishes his shift as a U.S. Navy linguist at Fort Gordon in Georgia, he goes home to log on to political science courses to move closer to his dream career in global security. Meanwhile, Shauntel Redhouse, a 2017 graduate of Kirtland Central High School who hails from the Navajo Nation, spends time gaining experience with research methods that will help in her quest to become a dietitian. High schooler Drew Kolber takes calculus online with college students and classes at the Herberger Young Scholars Academy on ASU’s West campus. And soon-to-be retirees Randy and Sharon Fortenberry plan to settle at Mirabella at ASU on the Tempe campus.

At first blush, you might not expect people with such varied life experiences to all be enrolled at the same university. 

Toward greater inclusion

ASU President Michael M. Crow describes the efforts to educate students from diverse walks of life as a key element of the school’s charter. It is also a necessary paradigm shift, which he says America’s colleges and universities must move toward instead of systematically styling themselves as elite institutions.

“The institution will be measured based on its success through inclusion versus exclusion — and the success of all the students that we include,” Crow said. He describes the university as a new “prototype” for this shift in higher education. “And so what we have to get away from is the old model, the terrible model of this strict social hierarchy of class, of caste, of sect.”

Native success

Perhaps the best place to start ASU’s story of inclusion is with Shauntel Redhouse, who is part of ASU’s Native Narratives & Graduate School Achievement Track. The roughly three-and-a-half year initiative provides undergraduates with research opportunities in preparation for graduate school. Studies have shown that undergrads involved in research are more likely to graduate and also more likely to pursue a master’s degree or PhD.

Shauntel Redhouse

“It helps me feel closer and more knowledgeable about what’s going on on my own reservation.” — Shauntel Redhouse

For Redhouse, this research involves looking at possible disparities on reservations in Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination in federally funded education programs and activities on the basis of sex. Redhouse is helping sports historian Victoria Jackson conduct the research. 

“I’m a sports fan and she’s a sports historian, so that’s how we got paired up,” Redhouse said. “This is helping me prepare for the research side of nutrition. But also because the research is involving my Native heritage, it helps me feel closer and more knowledgeable about what’s going on on my own reservation.”

Redhouse plans to finish her undergraduate studies by the winter of 2021. While college enrollment for American Indian and Alaska Natives is the lowest among all racial and ethnic groups in the United States — 24% versus a national average of 41% — Redhouse sees her college experience as a potential catalyst to turn those figures around and be an inspiration to other Navajos as well as her younger siblings. 

“It means a lot to me. I believe it will be beneficial for my community, too, because I know in my free time or during winter breaks I go back to visit my high school and give presentations about what college is like,” Redhouse said. “I think it will have a profound effect on my community because I plan to go back and help out.”

A sailor’s story

Kyle Ballard, a Navy linguist, knows he could be deployed at any time. That’s why, he says, the accelerated seven-and-a-half week courses he takes at ASU have so much appeal. 

“So for me it’s been better than the traditional semester-long course because we can be sent anywhere at any time,” Ballard said. “These seven-and-a-half week courses, if that does happen, most likely I’m already done so I don’t have to worry about writing the university, sending them a copy of my orders and letting them know. So it decreases the odds that I’ll have to withdraw or do poorly in a course.”

Kyle Ballard

"For me, (ASU Online) is better than the semester-long course because I can be sent anywhere at any time.” — Kyle Ballard

Ballard is well aware that many of his military comrades end up going to for-profit schools that, too often, leave them with substandard degrees and a large amount of debt.

“A for-profit doesn’t have the prestige,” Ballard said. “When I was looking for a university that I would apply to, I wanted to make sure they had a brick-and-mortar school and that their online program is run just the same. At ASU, they have the same material, same professors, same books. That was really important to me.”

It also helps that ASU offers many programs to help active duty personnel and veterans with college-related expenses.

Early start

High school junior Drew Kolber, 16, takes classes at the Gary K. Herberger Young Scholars Academy — a school for gifted students in grades seven through 12 on the ASU West campus largely funded by Jeanne Herberger and the late Gary K. Herberger. The unique school provides an advanced and accelerated curriculum differentiated specifically for gifted learners, and Kolber’s grateful for how it has stretched her. 

“HYSA has been an immensely supportive environment where I am constantly asked to think differently and more deeply,” Kolber said. “I’m so grateful for the relationships I have with my teachers and administrators; they constantly challenge us to dive in and do our best work, while providing guidance every step of the way on how to get to that final destination.”

Drew Kolber

“I’m really grateful for the way that my school has been this launch point.” — Drew Kolber

Once Kolber completed all the math classes at the academy, with HYSA’s support, she enrolled in ASU’s MAT 270 course, also known as Calculus 1. She also takes Spanish 202. 

In Calculus 1, Kolber interacts with students who range from fellow high schoolers to undergraduate to graduate students. She says she appreciates the opportunity to experience the difficulty of college math and how to relate to professors.

“I’m really grateful for the way that my school has been this launch point within the greater ASU community and constantly been supportive and asked me to challenge myself, but has also been there too to help me explore those challenges, and to grant me as many opportunities as possible, and all my peers,” Kolber said. “That’s something that Herberger does so well is provide a foundation and then ask us to go further.”

Sunset years on campus

When Randy and Sharon Fortenberry, both longtime educators, move to the Tempe campus in February 2021, they hope it will be their last move. That’s because they’re moving into a high-rise retirement condo building called Mirabella at ASU

For many years, Sharon was the principal for the highest-academic-scoring elementary school in Washington state and for a school in Mexico. Over his career, Randy worked as a schoolteacher, administrator and counselor. For that reason, they say, Mirabella at ASU seems optimal. 

“It’s an exciting time for us,” Randy Fortenberry said. “Unlike traditional retirement communities where the focus is often on managing aches and pains, we are looking forward to much more stimulating learning opportunities. Learning has always been a part of our lives, both our own continuous learning, and supporting the learning and growth of others.”

The Fortenberrys are planning to attend campus events at a student fee rate, take courses and enjoy the artists-in-residence who will perform at various Mirabella restaurants and lounges, and other benefits.

“I want to see what’s available, what’s offered, take it slower and then expand my coursework depending on what’s in the building,” Sharon said. “We would love to interact with students more. We loved the experience of having students join our table at the luncheon last December. Getting to talk to students who are comfortable sharing and great at engaging with us was a real treat.”

Randy, a psychotherapist, recalls how he has done an “enormous amount of pro bono work” with veterans and students at the Austin Counseling Center in Austin, Texas, which he opened late in his career. He says he’s already in discussions with ASU about plans to help in similar ways. “I love working with college-aged kids, so I’ll have to stop myself from jumping into five different mentoring programs or taking so many classes that I don’t make time to work out and spend time (with Sharon),” Randy said. “I’ll need to be intentional about what we decide to commit to.”

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Top photo: Sharon and Randy Fortenberry, who will be among the first residents at Mirabella at ASU, are moving to campus for lifelong learning opportunities.

Story by Jamaal Abdul-Alim. Photos by Jarod Opperman and Stephen Stinson

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