ASU grad credits communication classes for internship success

April 23, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

At the beginning of the pandemic, communication major Van Westcott assumed, like many of us, that things would be back to normal after a few months. When all of his in-person courses transitioned to remote learning, he quickly realized that this was how the remainder of his time at ASU would be spent. Communication graduate Van Westcott was a recipient of the Louis and Louise Menk Endowed Scholarship from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. Download Full Image

At first, Westcott admitted he really didn’t know what to think and was a bit concerned. Over time, however, he says he was pleasantly surprised. 

"To be completely honest, it really wasn’t too difficult to adapt and transition to a new learning platform.  I would consider myself as a person who embraces change and who goes with the flow. Not only that, but all of my professors were incredibly patient, accommodating and considerate, which made this process of adjustment far less difficult than it could have been. I must admit that I enjoy the flexibility that comes with online classes. I was able to experience the pleasure of on-campus courses up until my senior year, so I truly do not mind finishing college this way. I am most proud of not only my perseverance and resilience but also that of my peers and professors."        

Westcott is graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Science in communication from the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. He was a recipient of the Louis and Louise Menk Endowed Scholarship from the Hugh Downs School. We recently asked him to share his thoughts about his experience at ASU.  

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

Answer: When I first began my academic career at Arizona State, I was originally going to school for hospitality management through the W. P. Carey School of Business. Attending the W.P. Carey School of Business was a good experience; however, it didn’t take long for me to realize that working in the service industry after college was something that I did not want to pursue. Once I came upon this realization, I decided to take a year off from school to seriously consider what I wanted from my education. During this time I reflected on my own talents and interests, and I also received wisdom and guidance from my parents. I have always had a natural ability to relate and connect with people from all walks of life, so, it seemed very apparent to me as well as to my family that human communication was the right choice for me.    

Q: Are there any jobs or internships you had during your time at ASU that provided you a different type of learning experience than from the classroom? 

Westcott snowboarding in Durango, Colorado, where he had an internship with Durango Sewing Solutions.

A: Last summer when I was visiting Durango, Colorado, I interned at a local company called Durango Sewing Solutions. Durango Sewing Solutions is world-renowned for creating top-of-the-line rock climbing gear such as their most famous product, the D4 Portaledge. During my time as an intern with DSS, I got to experience firsthand how a company functions. I helped facilitate certain processes such as customer relations, advertising and even production of the actual merchandise. My time as an intern was a valuable, exciting experience. I was able to apply the skills I have learned in college such as collaboration and interpersonal communication in a real-world setting.         

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

A: Throughout my time at ASU I have learned to think more critically about the world. I have learned to not believe everything that I see or hear, and to always be mindful and to think for myself.  

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I am proud to say that I was born and raised in Flagstaff, Arizona. Growing up in a mountain town with amazing, loving parents and an awesome little brother is something that I would never change if I could. Although Flagstaff will always have a special place in my heart, I always knew that I wanted to attend college somewhere other than NAU. When I was growing up, my parents oftentimes took my brother and me on trips down to Tempe for weekend getaways, and we never failed to have a great time. As a kid, I knew that I was destined to go to college, and I remember telling myself that I would one day be a Sun Devil. When the time came to transfer to a university from community college, I was torn between staying in Arizona or going to a school in Colorado. After a great deal of consideration, I felt that going to school at Arizona State would be the best option for me, and that feeling has not changed. I am proud that I am soon to be an ASU alumnus.  

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

A: My two pieces of advice (as cliché as they sound) are to stay true to yourself and to maintain a healthy balance in life.   

Westcott at Old Main on the Tempe campus. He said he "always enjoyed spending time near the grassy areas surrounding Old Main and the fountain out front"

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

A: I always enjoyed spending time near the grassy areas surrounding Old Main and the fountain out front. However, I really love the Tempe campus as a whole.   

Q: What are your plans after graduation?  

A: I am not 100% certain of what my plans are once I graduate. ... What I do know is that I will be traveling to Japan at some point (when pandemic travel restrictions loosen up) as I have always been fascinated with that part of the world. Not only do I want to experience the city of Tokyo, but I would love to explore some of the rural parts of Japan as well. I am not exactly sure what my occupation will be after college, but I do know that I want to do something that entails working with like-minded individuals in order to create something great, help people or make the world better in one way or another. Although my future is unclear, I know that as so long as I continue to strive for greatness and to remember who I am and what I represent that amazing things are sure to follow.   

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

A: If I had an extra $40 million that could be used to solve a global problem, I would utilize those funds to help preserve our natural world. There is no denying the fact that humans have severely impacted the environment and we continue to do so. I would invest the money in sustainable, renewable and clean energy resources in order to reduce human dependency on fossil fuels. Although I love this idea, it is going to take much more than $40 million to solve this crisis. It is going to take more than any monetary amount. The only way this problem will be solved is through willpower and through the actions of the people who live on this planet. 

Manager, Marketing and Communication, Hugh Downs School of Human Communication


Collaborations inspire music graduate to compose music for stage, film, dance ensembles

April 23, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Alicia Castillo is a composer, guitarist and singer-songwriter. Her compositions range from concert music to guitar works and her collaborations encompass various interdisciplinary mediums. Alicia Castillo, photo courtesy of Neil Schwartz Download Full Image

In May, Castillo will graduate with a Bachelor of Music in composition.

From a young age, Castillo knew she wanted to be involved in music but was unsure what field to pursue. After taking a few music courses, including composition lessons, at Phoenix College, she delved deeper into composing and participated in her first collaboration with a poet and vocalist to create her first art song, “The Meadowlark.”

“When I heard the first performance of the piece I composed, I knew that composition was what I wanted to pursue," she said. "The moment of hearing my own music being performed and the joy and wonder I felt is one that continuously inspires me and something I still feel every time I collaborate with other performers and artists to premiere a new work.”

“After transferring to ASU, Alicia enthusiastically dove into all the opportunities that the School of Music, Dance and Theatre had to offer,” said Jody Rockmaker, associate professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “She has written music for the stage, film, dance and various ensembles. It has been a joy to see her rapid growth as a musician as she extends her technique and develops her own unique voice. We are excited that Alicia will continue her studies in the master’s program.”

“I have had so many great collaborations during my time at ASU, but my proudest accomplishment was when I composed the music for 'The Snow,' a 2020 ASU theater production that was later nominated for the 2020 ariZoni Theatre Awards of Excellence for Original Score,” Castillo said.

Castillo said the collaboration taught her how to work with a director as well as work within a large design team to bring the story to life. Sitting in on the first cast reading, attending various rehearsals, finalizing the music during tech week and teaching the actors songs to perform all opened her eyes to potential career pathways available to her as a composer, as well as the collaboration opportunities available at ASU.

In 2020, she composed a new work, "RISE,” through a virtual collaboration with the ASU Philharmonia and ASU dance studio. Outside of the concert world, she is currently in the process of producing and recording her debut singer-songwriter album "ODDS and ENDS."

Castillo studied guitar with Jeff Libman, Dan Davis and Ji Yeon Kim (who goes by Jiji) and composition with Karl Schindler, Rockmaker and Christopher Norby. She received scholarships from John G. Sperling, a Special Talent Award and the Richard and Babette Burns Classical Guitar Scholarship.

“I am grateful beyond words to have received this funding as it helped me to put my education first,” Castillo said. “Because of this funding, I am also able to continue the next journey in my education and pursue graduate student at ASU in the fall.”

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

Answer: After transferring to ASU, I was most surprised at how large and diverse the student body was. I quickly learned that being surrounded by so many students with different experiences and backgrounds was so enriching for me. Though intimidating at first, I found that it was easy to meet students who shared similar interests and who were eager to work on projects together.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I decided to attend ASU after visiting campus for the music audition experience and attending a few staff and student recitals. Meeting and talking to a few of the talented music students about their experiences made me aware of the wonderful community and great opportunities at ASU. I knew that it was the perfect place for me to grow as a student and have a lot of support throughout the journey.

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

A: I learned so much taking private composition lessons with Professor Dr. Rockmaker, but what stuck with me the most was when he encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone as a composer – to continuously seek new experiences and to be unafraid to try new things. This has helped me grow tremendously as both a student and an adult and to make the most out of my time at ASU.

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

A: Take advantage of the opportunities while in school and seek out collaborations with other students. You truly get out of your education what you put into it. For me, collaborating with other students in the same field and in other departments enriched my educational experience in so many ways – to build relationships, learn from others – and you never know what future opportunities it may lead to.

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

A: My favorite place on campus has definitely been Organ Hall in the music building, where the guitar studio meets. It is a beautiful hall to perform and hear concerts in, and it is also where I have met some of my closest friends and colleagues who share the same passion for music that I do. It is a space where I have learned to improve my own performance skills while surrounded by a supportive community.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be continuing my studies at ASU pursuing dual master’s degrees in composition and guitar performance pedagogy. I am so excited to further my relationships with my wonderful professors and colleagues, as well as continue to seek new opportunities and collaborations at ASU.

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

A: I would focus specifically on global access to quality education. It is so important that every child is given the chance to grow and succeed, regardless of their background, as well as have access to the support, resources and development that education provides. Children are the future and if given the opportunity and access to quality education, who knows who they can become or future challenges they can conquer. As a future educator, I am excited to work with students and have an impact on them, as my own education has impacted me.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music, Dance and Theatre