Simulated space mission training leads to real orbital flight for ASU instructor

April 14, 2021

Sian Proctor is preparing to launch into space this fall, which makes complete sense. It’s a trip she’s figuratively been training for her entire career.

Proctor, an instructor at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Arizona State University, is among four passengers set to go into orbit this fall on a private flight on SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission. portrait of Arizona State University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute instructor Sian Proctor Sian Proctor, an instructor at ASU's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, is set to go into orbit this fall aboard a SpaceX spacecraft. Photo courtesy of SpaceX Download Full Image

The ASU alumna has been teaching older adults about planetary geology – this one’s and Mars’ – through the institute since 2016. She holds two graduate degrees from ASU, including a Master of Science in geology and a PhD in science education. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is based at the School of Community Resources and Development at ASU’s Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

What’s more, her class titles reflect her personal experiences. A series called “Overboard” features subtopics such as “A NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Teacher at Sea…” and “Life Below the Surface.” Others communicate her involvement with space: “Searching for E.T.: My ‘Genius by Stephen Hawking’ Experience,” “Mars on Earth: Surviving in a NASA Mars Simulation” and “Reach for the Stars: Exploring Space Up-Close.”

Proctor is an analog astronaut, meaning one who engages in various activities under conditions that simulate being in space. She also participated in four analog missions, including the all-female Sensoria Mars 2020 mission, held at the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (Hi-SEAS) Habitat. Her motto is “Space2Inspire,” encouraging people to use their unique strengths and passions to inspire others. She is also an artist who created Space2Inspire Art to encourage conversations about creating what she calls a J.E.D.I. space (a just, equitable, diverse and inclusive space) for humanity.

Sally Underwood, coordinator at the Watts College-based Partnership for Community Development at the ASU's West Campus, remembers watching Proctor in a documentary about Arizona’s geology. Proctor has been teaching geoscience at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix for the past 20 years.

“My first thought was that she would make a terrific Osher instructor,” Underwood said. “Sian enthusiastically agreed, and that’s how her relationship with OLLI at ASU began.”

Proctor quickly became a “fan favorite” among students, Underwood said.

“She was so engaging and her experiences were remarkable and unique. She is enthusiastic and unstoppable. Each time she taught, she had taken on a new challenge, whether it be as a NOAA Teacher at Sea, a participant on ‘Genius by Stephen Hawking,’ or the NASA-sponsored Mars simulation,” Underwood said. “Through each experience, she taught in a way that made you feel you were right by her side on a wild adventure. She always left us wondering, ‘What’s next?’ The fact that she was selected for this flight should be no surprise to any fan of Sian’s – she was destined to be in the stars.”

For more about Proctor, see this feature in The Arizona Republic.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


ASU School of Music, Dance and Theatre announces 2021 Concerto Competition winners

April 14, 2021

The School of Music, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts has announced four winners in the 2021 Concerto Competition.

The school holds the competition each year for its top performing music students, giving them the opportunity to perform to entire concertos and for the school to program musical selections around those concertos. The winners are then invited to present concertos with one of the large music ensembles in the upcoming concert season. This year, 11 student finalists performed. symphony playing music on a stage ASU Symphony Orchestra Download Full Image

“Despite the reality of COVID-19, this year’s finalists were of a particularly high level,” said Jeffery Meyer, competition chair and director of ASU orchestras. “It was an inspiring and impressive set of performances.”

The competition winners are (listed in alphabetical order): Tychiko Cox, baritone; Nathaniel De la Cruz, bass; Vladislav Kosminov, piano; and Jared Waters, saxophone.

Judges include faculty from each music performance area in the school — strings, keyboard, voice, winds, brass and percussion/guitar/harp — with the requirement that they do not have a student in the competition.

The ASU faculty jury for the 2021 competition consisted of Jeffery Meyer, chair/orchestras; Joe Burgstaller, brass; Jason Caslor, bands; Michael Compitello, guitar/harp/percussion; Julie Desbordes, orchestras; Jamal Duncan, bands; Joshua Gardner, winds; Danwen Jiang, strings; Caio Pagano, keyboards; and Stephanie Weiss, voice.

This year’s competition was very different for both the competitors and the jury members due to COVID-19 compliance guidelines.

“This was an incredible experience,” said Waters. “In addition, it was the first time I performed on stage since the COVID lockdown took effect and it was beyond satisfying to feel a sense of familiarity in returning to what used to be our norm.”

Meyer said students had the option to submit recordings or perform in person under COVID-19 compliant guidelines, with most being able to perform live. Many of the members of the jury also joined the competition performance rounds via the livestream of the competition.  

“Being one of the winners of the competition is very memorable for me as it is the first one that I had the opportunity to play as an ASU student and to also perform with pianist John Solari,” said Kosminov. “I try to participate in concerto competitions at the schools where I study because it is an awesome opportunity to play with your peers and colleagues.” 

All of the winners said competing under this year’s restrictions was challenging, but they are grateful for the safe and professional experience.

“It was definitely a challenge to play a demanding piece on the bass with a mask on,” said De la Cruz. “Breathing plays an important role in my interpretation, so I felt like my phrasing was affected at times with the mask covering. Even so, it was a very rewarding experience, and I am really happy about being selected, especially because the concerto competition here at ASU is highly competitive.” 

In addition to adapting his performance under COVID-19 guidelines, Cox had an extra adjustment to make due to the coronavirus.

“When the competition started, my household had to be quarantined because of a coronavirus case,” said Cox. “I also developed bronchitis during this time, so there was a huge adjustment to be made in the way I was able to compete since I was unable to be on campus for the livestreamed event. I am grateful that I was still able to record and compete.”

For Cox, his concerto performance with the orchestra will be the first one where he is the only soloist for a major work.

“It's a very humbling experience to be selected as one of the winners of the competition,” said Cox. “Very rarely is a singer selected because there are so many other virtuosic instruments that can perform 'fireworks' with their sound.”

All of the winners have previously performed with an orchestra, noting the differences between those performances and solo performances.  

De la Cruz said the two main differences for him are in the level of projection and a varying tempo of the conductor and orchestra.

After performing Grieg’s "Piano Concerto" with an orchestra at age 13 and performing more than 15 different piano concertos with orchestras from different countries, Kosminov said that for him, the preparation process for a concerto with an orchestra is very different. As a pianist, he is responsible not only for learning the piano part but also the orchestral score.

Waters said the competition was a challenge since the saxophone is not considered an orchestral instrument.

“It is a significant undertaking that requires committed engagement from the conductor, the ensemble and the soloist when a usual performance for me might only require engagement from two people,” said Waters. “I'm excited about the potential for the interdisciplinary engagement and activism this could foster.”

Meyer said that performing a concerto is a distinction and an honor as there are very few opportunities around for developing artists.

“It is a very special feeling to be able to be surrounded by an orchestra and sing the piece of music I am performing,” said Cox. “I am thrilled and so lucky to have been chosen because whenever I stand on the stage, I am representing so many people. I am representing my home country, the Bahamas, the amputee community, the Black community and my family.” 

The competition winners and their winning competition pieces are listed below. Each winner will perform in the 2021–22 season, with dates to be announced in early fall.

Tychiko Cox, baritone             
Gustav Mahler (1860–1911), "Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen," performance with the ASU Chamber Orchestra.

Nathaniel De la Cruz, bass
Frank Proto (b. 1941), "Nine Variants on Paganini," performance with the ASU Chamber Orchestra.

Vladislav Kosminov, piano
Sergei Prokofiev (1891–1953), "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 3, Op. 26," performance with the ASU Symphony Orchestra  .

Jared Waters, saxophone
Jean-Denis Michat (b. 1971), "Shams (2010)," solo with a different work to be performed with the ASU Wind Ensemble.

The 2020 Concerto Competition winners will perform in the 2021–22 season due to in-person performance cancellations for adherence to COVID-19 guidelines. The 2020 winners are Nathan Bitter, trombone, with the ASU Wind Symphony; Julian Nguyen, violin, with the ASU Symphony Orchestra; Michael Robinson, clarinet, with the ASU Wind Ensemble; and John Solari, piano, with the ASU Symphony Orchestra.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music