Online student masters the lingua franca


April 26, 2021

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

Proudly hailing from Antofagasta, Chile — “the biggest city in the driest desert of the world” — Luis Benavides has been interested in English as far back as he can remember. Image of Luis Benavides reading an upside down newspaper. Graduating ASU student Luis Benavides cheekily catches up on what's happening in an upside-down world by reading El Mercurio, a Chilean newspaper considered the oldest daily in the Spanish language currently in circulation. Download Full Image

“I have been an Anglophile since childhood,” he said. “The English language and its culture have always been highly attractive to me.”

Benavides wonders if his father’s study of English as a second language (ESL) was perhaps impactful; his father also introduced him to film and literature in the language. Benavides recalls sitting in the cinema and repeating the English words he heard delivered on screen, and he remembers creating English names for characters in his childhood drawings.

But Benavides was not, and is not, interested in a merely practical knowledge of English. He yearns to know its very essence, “the most complex aspects of English as a foreign language – where it came from and the reasons of its prevalence as lingua franca: the cultural and ontological aspects behind its existence.”

Already a highly educated student when he arrived at Arizona State University’s online campus, Benavides believes passionately in learning. He holds bachelor’s degrees in graphic design and education and a teaching certificate from universities in Chile. He himself has been an ESL teacher for many years. His Master of Arts in English degree, which he is earning via ASU Online this spring, will put Benavides on a path to someday teach at the college or university level.

Instructor of English Julianne White, who taught the capstone course for the online English MA program this semester, was impressed by Benavides’s linguistic sophistication.

“His English is better than many native English speakers,” she said. “He's just freaking awesome.”

Benavides shared some more of his passions and inspirations with us in an interview.

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

Answer: Good question! I am a sort of Renaissance man. I have studied design and education, and I have always been interested in liberal arts. But English has always been in the center — as a sort of axis. I love reading much history, for instance, but history has one limitation: It is linear. Language allows to deconstruct and see many angles of the same subject at the same time. Language allows an approach to any field of knowledge. Think of Shakespeare, for instance: How many fields can be reached through his work? I think that that “aha” moment occurred long ago. The point, perhaps, is how long I waited for this chance — to start studying a serious postgraduate program like this — to come.

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

A: I compare the man I am now with that man I used to be two years ago; there is a huge difference. My productivity as a writer improved substantially! But more important is how wide my vision of the world has become, especially in relation to all those subjects which have always concerned me.

This intense study of the English language, simultaneously, deepened my appreciation for my mother tongue: Spanish. It opened my mind on how important is to understand and better respect other nations and cultures.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: In 2016 I took a writing course offered by Arizona State University through edX. It was a high-level course. Sometime later, researching online, I found out that ASU is one of the greatest universities in the United States.

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

A: I must thank [Director of Online Programs in English] Kathleen Hicks, [Teaching Associate of English] Monica Baldonado-Ruiz, [Professor of English] Doris Warriner, and [Associate Professor of English] Christine Holbo. They are the most dedicated and warmest professors I have ever met. They do know how to kindly make you work hard to meet high standards; and they know how to be comforting in troublesome moments. It was of great significance for me, especially in moments of solitude and intellectual weakness.

I cannot fail to mention [Professor of English] Gregory Castle. Without him, I would have been unable to achieve my confidence as a writer.

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

A: Don’t give up! This MA opens such a big window to knowledge and personal development that one day — when you can sit and think — you will notice how different you are: how complex is your new way to think, and how much you can do to help other people grow.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: An office chair I took from my daughter’s bedroom. I love to put my feet on the bed and start reading on it. Next to me, I keep a wheeled table where I keep my laptop and type. It is the third place I have tested to study, and it has worked very well.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I should like to work in a tertiary education institution where liberal arts are taken seriously, and where I can have more intellectual challenges. If not, I expect being able to continue writing. To teach writing does not sound bad either!

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

A: It depends largely on who is the donor. I would not accept money from those companies and/or people who support Donald Trump. Neither would I accept it from Mark Zuckerberg.  If it came from Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk I would carefully think about it. Receiving such amount of money, implicitly, brings conflicts of interest.

But going to your question: If I could concentrate on a problem, I would love funding university students, in economic need, who have the talent and the hunger to learn.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

senior marking & communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611

‘Believe in the power of your story’: PhD grad celebrates heritage, ancestors, culture


April 26, 2021

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

Stories can be funny. Stories can make us cry. Stories can make us wince. Stories can bore us. Stories can teach us. And sometimes, stories can change our lives and the lives of those telling them. Monica Baldonado-Ruiz poses in her home after her virtual doctoral defense. Graduating doctoral student Monica Baldonado-Ruiz poses after her virtual dissertation defense. “Dra. Baldonado-Ruiz #NewProfilePic,” she wrote with the photo on Twitter. Download Full Image

This is what Arizona State University student Monica Baldonado-Ruiz discovered in her doctoral program. She learned that “testimonio,” which the Latina Feminist Group defines as “the concept of telling one’s lived experience in a public space in order to illicit change and voice silenced histories,” was a way to connect everything she’d seen and experienced. She decided it was how she wanted to approach her teaching.

In testimonio, the storyteller is a witness, not only to what is happening externally but also internally. This makes the teller an expert — who else could tell this story with greater authority? — and gives validation to life events. Baldonado-Ruiz embraced this mode of validating the stories her students told.

Originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Baldonado-Ruiz is a first-generation college graduate and self-described Chicana educator.

“Celebrating my heritage, ancestors, and culture is why I do this work,” she said.

She learned that she wanted to advocate for others to be able to tell their stories when she took part in a summer writing institute as part of the Central Arizona Writing Project, an ASU site of the National Writing Project. In a later essay titled “Advocacy is a Story: The National Writing Project and Teacher Advocacy,” Baldonado-Ruiz brought the two together when she wrote, “Your story matters. Let it be heard.”

Baldonado-Ruiz is graduating this semester with a PhD in English (English education). She defended her dissertation, “Testimonio en Nepantla: Personal Narrative in the Secondary ELA Classroom,” on April 12. Her project explored how testimonio “serves as a student-driven approach to teaching writing and as counter to the test-driven, formulaic and impersonal writing forms that currently dominate writing instruction in secondary schools.”

We caught up with her to find out a bit more about her approach.

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

Answer: I realized I wanted to study in this field during my first year of teaching. While it took me 20 years to return to graduate school, I have known since then that I would study English and education in some form. To be able to combine them into one program was perfect for me and my goals. I want to teach teachers to teach from the lives of their students and to center their students’ voices. This program opened the space for me to do so.

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

A: I took a literature course with [Professor of English] Lee Bebout titled “Chicano Temporalities.” While I had studied Chicano literature during my undergraduate work at UNM, the perspective in this course helped me to change the trajectory of my dissertation study. I learned about testimonio. This collective approach to knowledge making and research changed my perception and gave me the opportunity to create a unit of study that centered the stories of my students, their ancestors and their experiences.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I was introduced to the Central Arizona Writing Project while teaching and it immediately felt like a space in which I belonged.

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

A: Wow, this is a tough question. Each professor with whom I worked taught me something important. My adviser [Professor of English] Jessica Early taught me to believe in the power of my voice and story, and her guidance opened so many doors for me. I will be forever grateful for that. [Assistant Professor of English] Sybil Durand taught me to remember why I do the work I do. She said, “This work is about humans and affects humans, it’s not just to forward a career — never forget that.”

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

A: Believe in the power of your story. You are a unique individual who brings a history, a culture and a lifetime of experience to your work. Own that. Own your story.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: I am a coffee shop addict! Lola Coffee in downtown Phoenix is a space I love. Palabras Bookstore in central Phoenix provides the best atmosphere for study. There is something special about being surrounded by bilingual books and enlightened energy.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on continuing to write for the next year, then look to see what this post(almost)-pandemic world offers.

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

A: I would tackle education reform. U.S. classrooms have historically been spaces that are not welcoming to our communities of color. I would work toward recruiting and keeping more BIPOCBIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, people of color. educators. I wish $40 million was enough to even make a small step toward education equity. However, systems are really what need changing. Systemic change will only come from human effort, not money.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

senior marking & communications specialist, Department of English

480-965-7611