ASU master's program teaches students to 'live well and lead well'

Classical liberal education and leadership program impacts students professionally, academically and personally

February 9, 2022

When Carolina Vibbert was a fifth grade teacher, she realized that her passion was classical liberal education and started to look for a master’s program in the field.

“I wanted to make sure my degree focused on the core of who I am as a teacher and what I am hoping to give to my students,” she said. Stack of books on a table. Program in classical liberal education is accepting applications by April 1.

Even though there are several education programs in Arizona, ASU's Master of Arts in classical liberal education and leadership stood out. 

“I was hooked after learning from the professors about the course offerings. My classes, professors and peers have been a blessing to my life ever since," Vibbert said.

The graduate program is offered through Arizona State University's School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership and is accepting applications for the fall 2022 semester. Civic leaders, educators, scholars and professionals are invited to learn more about the curriculum and apply by April 1.

Graduate student

Carolina Vibbert

“Being a part of this program has brought so much to my life, both personally and professionally, especially as a teacher hoping to pass on the importance of classical and civic education to the next generation of American citizens," Vibbert said. “In the program, we are challenged to read the great books of philosophy, political thought and statesmanship, and use these texts to grapple with today’s civic and social challenges.”

Vibbert heard about the ASU program through Great Hearts, a network of public schools dedicated to improving education nationwide with a curriculum built upon the classical liberal arts tradition. What is now called “classical education” refers to the approach that focuses on the pursuit of wisdom by analyzing and cultivating moral virtue. In classical education, students are invited to seek truth through the study of the greatest philosophers and authors in Western civilization, and to flourish in mind, body and soul to become virtuous leaders in all aspects of life. Taught by nationally renowned scholars, the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership program combines liberal education, civic education in American principles and institutions, and the study of the art of statesmanship.

Jonathon Hofer, a current student, credits the program for shaping more than his career. 

Jonathon Hofer (center) during a trip to Rome with his students.

Jonathon Hofer (center) during a trip to Rome with his students.

“It gives students who desire to learn, who love to learn, an opportunity to come together and build a community of learners in a liberal way. In a way that supports free thought, discourse and disagreement,” he said. “It is enriching my life beyond the classroom.”

In the program, students reflect on the past, with its rich heritage of liberal education. Informed by that heritage and inspired by its exemplars, they are prepared to take on the challenges of education, citizenship and statesmanship.

Courses include "Classic Texts in Political Philosophy and Justice," "Classic Texts in Historical Leadership and Statesmanship," "Literary Leaders, Faith and Reason," "Liberal and Civic Education" and "Greco-Roman Ideas of Leadership and Politics."

Colleen Sheehan, director of the Master of Arts in classical liberal education and leadership program, takes pride in the academic, professional and life skills taught in the course of study.

“We are equipping future educators, scholars and leaders to think deeply and carefully about fundamental questions, including what it means to live well and lead well, what it means to be a good citizen and what justice and the common good require,” she said. 

Meredith Smith with her son, Henry.

Meredith Smith with her son, Henry.

A teacher as well as a new mom, Meredith Smith is grateful for the program.

“It provides me with an opportunity to augment my education in seminar-style, something I missed out on as an undergrad nearly 20 years ago,” said Smith, adding that the program contributes to preparing her for the challenges of motherhood and education.

“I get to read great works and grow in my vocation as a wife, mother and teacher. I am completing this program to examine what it means to lead a good life," Smith said.

One way the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership is making it possible for professionals and scholars to complete the master’s program is by providing them with financial aid opportunities to help reduce out-of-pocket costs. These include the Lyceum Fellowships, the Cook Family Graduate Fellowships available to classical teachers working at Great Hearts, as well as Student Success Awards for students achieving high standards of academic excellence.

Prospective students are encouraged to check the program’s website for updates about additional funding opportunities. The program also offers research assistantships that include stipends, tuition awards and possible benefits.

Marcia Paterman Brookey

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership


ASU researchers partner with Meals on Wheels America for pet programming study

February 9, 2022

In the United States, one in four older adults is considered to be socially isolated and 43% report feeling lonely. Both of those things have a significant impact on their health. 

“We know that social isolation and/or loneliness have been associated with a multitude of increased adverse health factors, including increased mortality, increased risk of developing dementia, chronic diseases, heart failure and increased emergency department visits,” said Aaron Guest, assistant professor in the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation at Arizona State University. Meals on Wheels client holds her cat close and kisses its head. A new study underway by ASU researchers seeks to understand the needs of Meals on Wheels clients and their pets, and how pets can influence social isolation and loneliness. Image courtesy Meals on Wheels America Download Full Image

Guest and his colleague, Assistant Professor Allie Peckham, are both researchers in Edson College's Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging.

The pair has partnered with Meals on Wheels America for an evidence-informing research project funded by PetSmart Charities that seeks to “understand the needs of Meals on Wheels clients and their pets, and how pets can influence social isolation and loneliness,” Peckham said. 

The work will build on previous large-scale research Meals on Wheels America started in an effort to understand the role pets play in their clients' lives and to identify opportunities for additional pet programming.

“Last year’s Meals on Wheels Pet Programming and Client Needs Assessment uncovered that nearly 100% of pet-owning Meals on Wheels clients reported that their pet brings happiness to their life, and 95% agreed that having a pet around makes them healthier,” said Laura Belazis, Meals on Wheels America senior director of strategy and impact. 

Now the organization, which supports more than 5,000 community-based programs across the country, is hoping to not only identify the needs of pet owners, but also barriers to pet ownership among older adult populations.

ASU News spoke with the Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging research team and the Meals on Wheels America Strategy and Impact team, which includes its director, Belazis, and manager, Morgan Hultquist, to learn more about the upcoming project and its potential impact.

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Allie Peckham

Question: How will the study work/what will you be doing?

Allie Peckham: We will be working closely with Meals on Wheels America to conduct over 400 interviews with Meals on Wheels clients — those with and without pets. We will be asking questions about pet ownership, how people bond with their pets, individuals' experience with isolation and loneliness, and barriers individuals may experience to pet ownership and social connectedness. We will be originating interviews from Edson College. We will be taking our information, along with data previously obtained, to identify overarching themes and the opportunities to intervene and reduce isolation and loneliness among older adult populations. 

Q: What do we know about loneliness and isolation and the impact it has on older adults? Has the pandemic exacerbated this?

Aaron Guest: In 2020 the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a groundbreaking report that found that nearly a quarter of community-dwelling older adults are considered to be socially isolated. Additionally, almost half of older adults report feeling lonely ... we know that isolation and loneliness have negative effects on this population’s health. Data continues to come out regarding the pandemic — but a lot of the evidence is pointing to increased rates of isolation and loneliness among older adults during the pandemic. 

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Aaron Guest

Q: What does current research say about whether pets can help with reducing loneliness and isolation?  

Guest: You know, it is fascinating. We are still working to understand some of the underlying mechanisms of loneliness and isolation. Data, however, shows that pet ownership does seem to reduce feelings of both isolation and loneliness. It is thought this is in part due to the companionship they provide — as well as some of the physical stimulations they provide (touch). Importantly, they also provide opportunities for exercise and engagement with others while caring for the animal. Pet ownership has some additional benefits, such as reducing depression and boosting an individual’s positive affect.

Q: How has your current pet programming impacted recipients? 

Laura Belazis: Last year’s Meals on Wheels Pet Programming and Client Needs Assessment was the first study of that scale we had conducted of pet services across local Meals on Wheels programs, and the results were striking. Seven out of every 10 Meals on Wheels clients in the study who classified as lonely and at risk for social isolation lived alone, and this cohort also had the highest bonding scores with their pets on a pet attachment scale, underscoring the level of companionship that pets offer to people who live alone.

Also, nearly half of clients receiving pet support (48%) did not have anyone else to help them with their pet needs other than Meals on Wheels. 

At the same time, our study found that 97% of pet-owning Meals on Wheels clients agreed that having a pet made them feel less lonely and made their family feel more complete. And perhaps most telling, 81% of clients receiving pet assistance said that Meals on Wheels made it possible for them to keep their beloved pet companion.

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Morgan Hultquist

Morgan Hultquist: One Meals on Wheels client recently shared, “I don’t know if you understand how important Meals on Wheels is and what a difference (it) makes. I cannot go out now because of my health. COVID would kill me. I am immunocompromised and could not fight it off. Because of Meals on Wheels, I do not have to risk my life to go out and get food for me or my little dog.” 

Q: Depending on what the researchers find, what are some possible outcomes from this study?

Hultquist: We are hoping to gain a better understanding of older adults’ needs for pet services, as well as what barriers they may be experiencing in accessing those services. Such findings will help Meals on Wheels America and local programs to more clearly identify resources and develop programming to meet those specific needs. 

We are also interested in learning more about how animal bondedness influences social isolation and loneliness, digging deeper into some of the findings from our initial research that revealed high levels of bonding among older adults who were lonely and at risk for social isolation.

The findings from this upcoming study will ultimately help local programs further develop and expand their pet assistance services and build support in their communities, fostering more sustainable programming capable of making a greater impact over time.

Q: Can you talk about collaborating with researchers from the Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging? 

 smiles at the camera. Her arms are folded across her chest and she's wearing a black blouse. She posing against a black background

Laura Belazis

Belazis: We are thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with this team of researchers who bring with them such strong academic expertise, particularly as we look to analyze the results of our research and understand its implications. We know we have a valuable thought partner in the Center for Innovation in Healthy and Resilient Aging, who will help us clearly see how we can best learn from and apply the results of our work together. These researchers are incredibly proactive and thoughtful in their approach to their work, and they’re a delightful team to work with.

Q: What else do you want people to know about this project? 

Belazis: Meals on Wheels America values following a data-informed approach when designing programming or selecting interventions to help support and expand. Our flourishing partnership with PetSmart Charities has allowed us to greatly expand our social connection research efforts in this area to contribute to our growing pool of valuable data. This partnership has also made it possible for us to provide more key resources and opportunities for pet assistance to local Meals on Wheels programs in communities across the country, which consistently receive positive feedback from those programs. 

Guest: We are looking forward to this project and partnership with Meals on Wheels America.

Those who are interested in this project can reach out to Guest at, or follow @Aaron_Guest on Twitter for updates.

Amanda Goodman

Senior communications specialist, Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation