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Donors' passions fuel donation to transform education

Art and Carlyse Ciocca pose for a portrait

Art Ciocca and his wife, Carlyse, recently donated $5 million to make education more accessible using a new ASU design model through the Agent Learner Initiative.

February 04, 2021

Art Ciocca and his wife, Carlyse, are passionate about entrepreneurship and education.

They were inspired when they learned about Arizona State University’s program that combines those passions and makes education accessible to learners of all ages and life circumstances through a new design model.  

The Cioccas’ $5 million donation to ASU’s Agent Learner Initiative enables the university to provide educational access to all learners through a variety of tools that are student-focused and personalized so they can achieve their goals.

"The public health pandemic that has swept the globe and the stress it has placed on our education system has exposed weaknesses that have existed for years,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said. “Universities are being forced to adapt right now, and so we're saying, 'Let's take advantage of this opportunity and let's build things in a way that serves the learner in a new world that doesn't look anything like the one that existed when most of America's institutions of higher learning were designed.'"

The Cioccas couldn’t agree more.

“An entrepreneurial approach to education is what is needed today,” Ciocca said. “Michael Crow embodies superb entrepreneurship. He understands what needs to be done. He is a role model for others in the field.”

The Ciocccas’ family foundation was established nearly 25 years ago with the sole purpose of supporting education and entrepreneurship. Art was an entrepreneur who founded the Wine Group in 1981 when he and his associates purchased wine assets from Coca-Cola Bottling Company of New York. The company grew to be the second largest wine company in the United States by sales volume and includes brands like Franzia, Cupcake Vineyards and several others. For years, the Cioccas have generously donated to numerous schools and universities who want to improve K-12 and higher education.

With their latest gift, they join several other donors including the Charles Koch Foundation and the Morgridge Family Foundation who have collectively contributed about $17 million of a $30 million fundraising campaign.

Those donors’ generosity will enable ASU’s Agent Learner Initiative to achieve four goals:

  • Advance an academic culture change that empowers faculty to be entrepreneurial, students to realize their self-defined potential as master learners, university administrators to be risk takers and the civil and private sectors to engage as partners for the long-term benefit of learners and researchers. Ultimately, this culture change will be scaled in partnership with other public higher education institutions.
  • Drive better student outcomes by offering stackable credentials that enable learners to earn badges and certificates, in addition to degrees, that validate the attainment of their skills and focus on workforce-specific competencies.
  • Create opportunities for learners to access personalized online college preparation courses and career development tools that are unrestricted by geography, age, grade and institution.
  • Demonstrate student achievements through the world’s first Trusted Learner Network, which is a learner-owned digital record that uses blockchain technology to validate trust and give students full control over their records. It could potentially replace transcripts and house all learning records from multiple institutions in one place, giving the learner the ability to easily share their information as desired.

“Our goal is to build tools that augment the existing bureaucratic education systems,” said Derrick Anderson, director of Agent Learner Initiative. “We’re developing systems that fill in the gaps to benefit historically neglected learners.”

Part of what makes this model different is the principle of individual empowerment and a student-centric approach to learning, Crow said.

"The goal is not to replicate ASU, but to advance a design model that enables every university to put learners, of all ages and life circumstances, at the center, implemented in the way that works best for the students served by that institution," he continued.

That student-centric approach and entrepreneurial spirit is exactly what inspired the Cioccas.

“The bottom line is when you can combine entrepreneurship with education, and a great leader, and an organization that has proven that it can really work for students, what more is there,” Ciocca said.