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RISE Leadership Institute celebrates next generation of Black scholars at ASU


Student in a gold shirt on palm walk with his hands outstretched
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August 13, 2021

Twice a year, Arizona State University hosts a conference to celebrate and continue the legacy of Black and African American Sun Devils through the RISE Leadership Institute.

One hundred percent of respondents to an institute survey said that after this summer's event on July 19–23, they feel like going to college is a realistic goal for their future.

ASU Program Director Kiana Sears, who is also a governing board member for Mesa Public Schools, hopes that for the cohort of 55 summer 2021 participants as well as the 50 alumni who have participated in the program since 2019, RISE will have a profound effect on their educational path.

RISE Leadership Institute serves rising eighth through 12th graders with resources focused on leadership and navigating the college-going process while connecting with Black students, alumni and community members. The event — hosted twice a year since 2019 to provide more support for educational and economic opportunity for Black students — features five days of discussions with faculty, student leaders and community leaders to provide skill building and inspiration.

Sears said that while many underrepresented populations have made gains in educational attainment, there’s a need for more focused effort to support Black students because although all students are welcome in ASU college-prep summer programs, she found that Black students weren’t participating in those programs in high numbers. 

“RISE is the main, intentional program that is embracing Black and African American students, created uniquely to address where there was a gap or void,” she said. “In our first year, we had a cohort of 48 Black and African American students who will make a profound impact.”

The summer 2021 participants heard from staff from departments such as Access ASU, ASU Athletics and the Dean of Students Office about the history of Black students at ASU, financial aid, college readiness, time management, career trajectories and more. Attendees even took a virtual tour of ASU. 

2021 survey respondents praised the engaging content, even in a virtual format.

“This summer program was a great way to help me figure out many different ways to deal with stress, time management and college tuition. This was an amazing program, and I would love to join again next summer!” said one respondent. 

“This was an amazing opportunity I was very blessed to experience. I made new relationships with peers and teachers and learned so many useful things to help me prepare for college!” said another 2021 participant. 

December 2020 RISE participant Elijah Foster, then a junior in high school, said the event got him thinking not just about college but beyond.

“I intend to major in business, but I am unsure of what my career path should be. I needed the RISE Leadership Program to help me identify what my particular major I should be in the college of business, so I can choose the right career path,” Elijah said.

His mother, Anique Ruiz, helped Elijah sign up and attended with him. She said that she and his father thought it was important for Elijah to go.

Ruiz said it’s invaluable for students to connect with students who are in the same situation and to see that ASU has professors and leaders who care and will help them grow.

“Students need to see that institutions of higher education are invested in them as high school students of color and what the university has to offer its prospective Black or urban students,” Ruiz said. 

Sears emphasizes that RISE’s goals are focused on students’ success and emphasizing their part in a legacy of Black scholarship at ASU.

“We start with the end in mind. We look at the five-year graduation rate,” Sears said.

Sears said that she’s interested in increasing Black students’ graduation rates and reducing their student debt to set them up for economic opportunity. 

“(We focus on) graduating our students ready for the workforce, ready to get those jobs that will give them stability and a lifestyle and economic empowerment. That's why we do everything that we do,” she said.

Access ASU Assistant Vice President Lorenzo Chavez agreed that the work that RISE does goes back to the foundations of what Access ASU and Arizona State University are all about.

“As part of our effort to fulfill our ASU Charter, the RISE Leadership Institute is committed to removing barriers that prevent our Black and African American students from accessing a postsecondary education,” Chavez said.

ASU Assistant Vice President for Public Affairs Kenja Hassan spoke about Black and African American history at ASU at the 2021 summer institute and said that her favorite part of being involved has been hearing about students’ ambitions. 

“In Arizona, many students choose not to pursue any post-secondary option, which means they will be at an employment and economic disadvantage for the long term,” she said. “The event is impactful because it gives students attention that they may not otherwise receive and helps them understand processes that will make it easier to successfully apply for college. Moreover, the program helps them understand why furthering their education is important and how it can increase their opportunities for career and life success.”

Ruiz said the experience was rewarding for their family; she said that the energy from students’ connections with each other was moving and that the facilitation and speakers were excellent. 

“There was such an energy when the students — of like minds and hearts — melded together and provided each other with support, encouragement and love. … I am very proud of this new initiative and want to see it flourish for many years to come for more Black and gifted young people at area high schools,” she said. 

As for Elijah, he was left thinking more about his future career as well as giving back to the communities that lift students up. 

“My favorite takeaway from the RISE Leadership Program is how to be a leader for my peers and people who I don't know to communicate between all the students that volunteer to participate in the RISE Leadership Conference,” Elijah said.

The next RISE Leadership Institute will be held in December 2021. Learn more about RISE

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