ASU Local reimagines the college experience for Washington, D.C., youth

Students pursue their ASU degree with in-person experiential learning, while rooted in their community

November 24, 2021

Camal Shorter is an ASU Local – Washington, D.C., first-year student pursuing a BA in philosophy. He describes himself as open, willing and engaged and hopes to one day become a lawyer or professor, in addition to a best-selling author. His top motivation for staying in school is to become the best writer he can be. In fact, he has already begun that journey. He co-authored a children's book through a reading literacy program in Washington and is working on another book — a memoir he hopes to publish soon.

Before joining ASU Local, Shorter had plans to study abroad for a year after finishing high school. Then COVID-19 happened. An administrator at his high school mentioned ASU Local, and he decided to apply.  A Student Success Coach stands behind two students who are completing and assignment in their laptops ASU Local students engage in college success programming with support from their student success coach. Download Full Image

"I know ASU is a good school and ranks No. 1 in innovation. I had already applied and was accepted, so it made sense to stay in Washington to stay close to my family," Shorter said.

ASU Local is a new college experience from Arizona State University that brings bachelor’s degrees options to students in the communities where they are rooted. Students benefit from in-person college and career success coaching and programming, intentionally designed to help them in their academic and professional lives. They also enjoy the flexibility of completing coursework anytime, anywhere through ASU Online's learning platforms, choosing from more than 130 online bachelor's degree programs.

“We designed a college experience that provides support in areas such as career readiness, well-being and connection so that students may navigate their college journey successfully and prepare for the jobs of the future — all while staying rooted in their own community,” said Martha Juarez, head of ASU Local. “The program incorporates the city as a campus and its rich cultural and historical heritage as an immersive learning environment. We believe this empowers students to both grow and contribute to their communities.”

The program launched its first site in downtown Los Angeles in fall 2019 to meet the growing demand for high-quality undergraduate degrees for high school and transfer students. It provides students with a small-campus feel in a close-knit community without relocating to attend college. ASU Local allows students to remain near their families and tap into existing support systems to navigate college for a more accessible and affordable university experience.  

In Washington, ASU Local is partnering with CityWorks DC – CityBridge Education. This nonprofit organization works to better understand and address the challenges students in the district face in pursuing higher education. CityWorks DC's mission is to redesign education and employment systems to ensure young people can build family-sustaining careers by acquiring what they define as the "social mobility trifecta": academic and professional credentials; paid, relevant work experience; and a supportive network of professionals.    

"D.C. youth are pulled out of their postsecondary pathway by factors largely beyond their control, primarily the cost of college, the need to care for family and the need for academic and social support to help them know they will succeed," said Jennie Niles, president and CEO of CityWorks DC. "We need more postsecondary opportunities that provide support systems that enable students to complete their degree. That’s why we are thrilled to partner with ASU Local to launch the D.C. location." 

In addition to ASU Local, students in Washington also have access to ASU Local Bridge Pathway to Admission program. As part of it, students enroll in Universal Learner Courses — a portfolio of more than 20 low-cost, online college courses that are transferable and can also be used by students to earn admission into the university while completing degree requirements, regardless of prior academic performance. 

"My GPA wasn't where it needed to be to be fully admitted (to ASU Local), so I was referred to the Bridge Pathway program," said Rose Etinoff, who joined the program in Washington this year. "The rules are clear: You make a certain GPA, and then you can be fully admitted. That helps me stay motivated." 

As a Bridge Pathway student, Etinoff is able to take advantage of the in-person support and programming available through ASU Local – Washington, D.C., to help her transition to earning a bachelor’s degree successfully through the university.

The ASU Local and ASU Local Bridge Pathway to Admission programs are two of the innovative initiatives of the university’s Learning Enterprise. The enterprise aims to reimagine the role of universities in society and help learners across their entire life span — from kindergarten to high school to mid-career to postretirement — to access and leverage education to serve as an effective ladder to social and economic opportunity. 

Etinoff is currently taking two classes — computer science and technology, as well as psychology 101. She sees herself doing social work, perhaps as a family therapist. She wanted to go out of state but decided to be near home after the pandemic started. Having access to the financial support available for ASU Local Bridge pathway students and an ASU Local Scholarship, once she’s eligible for full admission, motivated her to enroll. Another motivation was to try college courses in a safe environment because the Universal Learner Courses only transcripts courses with a C or better.

"My mom and my siblings — we are five sisters, including my twin, and a brother — motivate me to stay in school. My mom said, 'Go to college; if you don't like it, at least you did an entire year and tried it.' So far, I like it — I'm going to do better than I am doing now," Etinoff said. "I'll excel!"

Bola Olaniyan, site director of ASU Local – Washington, D.C., said, “We build trust with our students through weekly, in-person check-ins and learning experiences and programming that help them prepare for a future that is increasingly uncertain and ever-evolving. We want students to be confident in their ability to tackle any uncertainty or jobs that might come their way and know that we are here for them, no matter what.”

Shorter, who enjoys starting the week “the right way” with ASU Local’s in-person student success programming every Monday and Tuesday, says that the best advice he has received is to find a "why" that is bigger than himself and pursue that goal. Raised by his mother and grandfather after his father passed away when he was only 1, his “why” helps him stay motivated and energized about earning his degree.

"I want my mom and grandfather to be proud of me,” he said. “I want my grandfather to see me succeed and excel in life.”

Anahi Mendez

Marketing and communications coordinator, ASU Local/Learning Enterprise

Music theatre performance major awarded 2021 Presser Foundation Scholarship

November 24, 2021

Undergraduate senior Anna Sera, a Bachelor of Music in music theatre performance student at Arizona State University, was recently awarded the 2021 Presser Undergraduate Scholar Award.

The monetary award encourages and supports the education of a music student who exemplifies high academic accomplishment, leadership and citizenship. The recipient, selected by music faculty, is known as a Presser Scholar. Sera said the $4,000 award will be used for her educational expenses and a creative project. Anna Sera Download Full Image

Sera began performing in musical theater when she was 9 years old. She said her love of musical theater started when her family went to New York for a friend's birthday and she attended her first Broadway show, “Mary Poppins.”

“I was totally in love with the show and would sing the songs all the time,” Sera said. “I used the song ‘Anything Can Happen If You Let It’ from the production for the first dozen auditions that I can remember.”

Sera, a mezzo-soprano, has been studying voice for almost 12 years and currently studies with Stephanie Weiss, assistant professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. She is active in the ASU Music Theatre and Opera program as a performer, is a student in Barrett, The Honors College, and assists in the Music Theatre and Opera’s costume shop.

She said her grandmother always loved her voice and encouraged her to sing at family gatherings. As Sera became more interested in musical theater, her mother arranged for private lessons. In high school, she transitioned from exclusively singing musical theater to also singing classical music. 

“Anna can do anything with her voice — she can belt both music theater and pop songs, sing classical music and can move you to tears when she sings an especially touching ballad,” Weiss said. “She is a wonderful, versatile singer and actress who has many interests, which inform her artistry, from theater to world cultures to film.”

Sera said musical theater and voice are equally her favorites, and she credits singing as part of the reason she fell in love with musical theater.

“Musical theater has changed the way that I view singing,” Sera said. “I no longer want to sing just because it is pretty. I want to hear a story, and that is something that I am able to apply in my classical singing, musical theater and pop/rock singing. Almost everything that I perform has a story, message or something that needs to be explored. I think that the need to communicate and share an emotional experience with an audience is more important than just singing pretty.” 

In addition to singing and performing, Sera said she has always had a passion for costumes and started taking fashion classes at ASU. During her junior year, she worked in the Music Theatre and Opera costume shop with Sharon Jones, costume shop supervisor, who taught her to sew.

“I think costumes take your performance to the next level,” Sera said. “Something about putting on the costume of a specific time period and character makes me feel completely immersed.”

Weiss said, “Anna has an amazing intuitive feeling for drama and emotion, which stems from her genuine interest in people and culture. Her immersion in different cultures informs her careful character studies and makes her an intelligent and engaging performer, as well as a writer and director.” 

During spring 2021, Sera wrote, directed and produced her second one-act play, “Murder Mystery,” as part of Music Theatre and Opera’s "Claiming Our Space" night of original work and was able to use pieces from the musical theater wardrobe to costume her actors.

“It was a completely new experience for me and a lot more work than I realized,” Sera said. “Pulling items that match the time period and the character as well as the size of the individual people is a surprisingly tedious task, but ultimately rewarding when you see them onstage and you know that they look exactly like they should.” 

Sera will also graduate with a minor in dance and plans to continue performing musical theater after graduation.

“I love performing, but I am also passionate about writing and expanding the musical theater canon,” Sera said. “I want to bring more female-driven narratives to life onstage as a performer and by writing my own new characters. One of my biggest dreams is to host the Tony Awards.” 

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music