ASU digital art grad activates and honors Indigenous perspectives

May 5, 2021

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

John Joe is an Irish and Diné (Navajo) student graduating this spring with an MFA in art (digital technology). He has been creating art for 30 years and has slowly integrated digital technology over the past decade.  After graduation, “I plan on working with Indigenous communities because that is important to me,” said Herberger Institute Outstanding Graduate Student John Joe. “I think it is vital to growing our people in good ways, and I feel that I can contribute to their success and development with the experience I have to offer.” Download Full Image

He was named one of Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts’ Outstanding Graduating Students for 2021 in the category of Excellence and Innovation in Creative Practice. His work is currently on display in the Harry Wood Gallery.

Joe’s MFA thesis exhibition, "Our Way, Route 2021,” features a soundwalk project with a route that is Joe's journey traveling from his family home in Naschitti, New Mexico, to Hweeldi-Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

The project “offers a 2021 route to be held by the land, honoring our way of life, family, traditions, tribal community and ancestors,” according to Joe’s website. “The Fort Sumner site holds a painful past for Diné people where they were marched from their homes. These collective routes are known as the Long Walk. ‘Our Way’ is a personal route navigating cultural ways of being and honoring protocols while speaking to the resilience and strength of our past and present through the humble act of walking and listening.”

The 2021 route aims to activate Indigenous perspectives and dialogue about connecting to the land and place using the body, digital technology, audio mapping and locative media. 

The exhibition can be viewed by appointment during regular gallery hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, through May 7. To schedule an appointment, contact

Joe received scholarships and fellowships from the Navajo Nation, American Indian Graduate Center, American Indian College Fund and Arizona State University.

“Receiving this funding has been exceptional in helping me attain an MFA degree, knowledge, experience and honing my creative practice,” he said.

After graduation, Joe will continue his creative practice and working with Indigenous communities. 

“I plan on working with Indigenous communities because that is important to me. I think it is vital to growing our people in good ways, and I feel that I can contribute to their success and development with the experience I have to offer.” 

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

Answer: When I started looking at graduate programs, I noticed myself gravitating towards architecture, industrial design, art and technology. I also took digital fabrication courses that influenced my searches for graduate programs and observed that the art and digital technology avenue was the perfect direction. The ASU MFA digital technology program had a sound degree track, and after visiting the school, felt it was a good fit for me.

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

A: I'm surprised at how my creative practice has shifted. I came into the program with fair experience creatively and professionally, but the move towards working with sound and digital technology as a medium has been a surprise. I also think that through the shift, I have become more engaged in finding a way to balance my cultural practices and digital technology.

Q: Why did you choose ASU? 

A: The ASU MFA digital technology program was a good fit for me. The entire faculty of the intermedia department sent a warm welcome, which was something I felt thoughtful, and that gesture sealed my decision to come to ASU. 

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

A: I think all professors I have had exchanges with have positively impacted my education at Arizona State University. My thesis committee — Adriene Jenik, Garth Paine, Gregory Sale, Dan Collins and Wanesia Misquadace — have all been excellent and supportive of my thesis project and creative practice. I also have to include Lauren Hayes and Liz Cohen for their contribution and guidance in growing my creative practice. Their collective knowledge is vital in my overall success. Thank you, professors!

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

A: Stay focused and be dedicated. Dedication is the gesture that moves you forward. I also think you need to be gentle with yourself in your development and embrace the unexpected. It would be best to embrace moments that feel like a failure, because they are more important than the final goal. It is through these moments that we learn and grow. 

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

A: When we were not quarantining, my studio at Grant Street was my favorite place. I spent my first year and a half in the studio, and it was great. Currently, my home serves as mission control for everything online going on in my life.

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

A: A move to tackle the digital inequality, connectivity and access that Indigenous communities face. I think the pandemic shift to homeschooling revealed that this is lacking in tribal communities. Access to better computers and basic internet connectivity in rural areas needs to be addressed. 

Laurel Streed

Office and Communications Specialist, School of Art


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ASU graduates celebrate at Downtown Phoenix campus

May 6, 2021

Colleges and schools held small, in-person gatherings to honor their grads

After more than a year of working remotely, students in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University were finally able to see some of their fellow graduates and faculty members on Wednesday, May 5.

About 300 graduates attended the college’s walk-through celebration, which ran all day on the Downtown Phoenix campus. About a dozen professors cheered and waved noisemakers as each graduate received a diploma, walked across the stage and had their photo taken before heading down a red carpet to a balloon-filled courtyard for cookies.

Thomacita Begay, who earned a degree in exercise and wellness, was grateful.

“I’m just very thankful we got this opportunity to get some kind of experience and to be able to walk,” said Begay, a member of the Navajo Nation who will return to ASU for a master’s degree in exercise and wellness.

“I want to work with our native youth and work for our Native American community, so I can give back to my family.”

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Begay, who earned an associate degree from Mesa Community College, transferred to ASU just before the pandemic forced classes to be taught remotely.

“I think the best part of being at ASU was being able to meet my professors and even though we weren’t able to see each other in person, I still got to connect with them virtually and I still got to learn as much as I could from them.”

The college also held two small in-person events on Tuesday, May 4 — a hooding ceremony for doctoral students and a celebration for doctor of audiology graduates, who receive a white coat.

Deborah Helitzer, dean of the College of Health Solutions, told the audiology graduates that the college’s charter gives them direction and focus.

“It says that we bring people together to improve the health of the communities we serve, reaching them where they live, work, learn and play throughout the lifespan,” she said.

On Wednesday, Helitzer told ASU News that the pandemic health crisis has highlighted that mission for the students and faculty.

“The College of Health Solutions is all about the impact we can make for communities to improve their health. We definitely galvanized,” she said.

“A lot of our students volunteered with the vaccination effort. Hundreds of people tuned into our virtual talks. It’s really about having people on the outside see us as a resource.”

Randy Bravo attended Wednesday’s celebration to receive his master’s degree in the science of health care delivery. A year ago, he received his bachelor’s degree, when all of ASU’s graduation events were virtual.

“I’m really grateful they were able to give us the chance to walk across the stage this year,” said Bravo, who hopes to work in public health for a year before applying to medical school.

He said his favorite part of his time at ASU was forging connections with people.

“Meeting so many people from all walks of life and different backgrounds was the best thing about being at ASU.”

More Downtown Phoenix campus celebrations

Thunderbird School of Global Management

Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation

More campus celebrations

Top photo: Thomacita Begay celebrates her graduation from the College of Health Solutions at an event on the Downtown Phoenix campus on May 5. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News