Grad student blends career, education into all-encompassing life experience

Jonathon Hofer shares his takeaways from studying classical education in the 21st century

May 5, 2022

Beyond a degree, college education can play an important role in many students’ lives.

That becomes evident after talking to Jonathon Hofer, Mary College at ASU’s program coordinator and master’s degree candidate in the Master of Arts in Classical Liberal Education and Leadership program. Portrait of Jonathon Hofer. Jonathon Hofer, program coordinator at Mary College at ASU. Download Full Image

In his role, he coordinates a key partnership between Arizona State University and the University of Mary, allowing ASU students to take Catholic studies courses that fulfill ASU general studies degree requirements. And in spite of his busy schedule, Hofer found in the master’s program offered by the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership to be the missing piece to living a full life. 

“This program awakens a depth of meaning and breathes new life,” he said. “It helps me to be a good husband, father and professor. It has a unifying thrust — it challenges me to question whether the whole of my life is a unified reality. The classical liberal education I’ve earned at ASU has given me a wider aperture through which to understand humanity.”

Hofer applied for the program after learning about the kind of experience students have, engaging with each other in Socratic seminars and thus creating a community of learners. In its foundation, the Master of Arts in classical liberal education and leadership program at ASU is three-pronged: It combines the study of the Great Books; civic education in American principles and institutions; and statesmanship for the 21st century. 

Classical education today

Classical education invites students to seek truth and guidance through the study of the great philosophers and authors in Western civilization, in order to become virtuous in all areas of their lives. In this master's 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," "Literary Leaders and Ethics" and "Character and Leadership."

But why study classical education today?

Classical education transforms the way one sees life,” Hofer said. “It adds depth of meaning to life. It helps you to see things connected and it encapsulates what education ought to do. It’s not just graduating with a degree so you can get a job. That is certainly important, and it’s a piece of it. But to stop there is a disservice. What liberal education at ASU does is it frees the mind to see yourself truly, to bring all aspects of life together in a meaningful way, and to transform who you are, what you do and how you see the world.” 

This program at ASU gives a seat at the table for faith and the Catholic academic tradition. This is truly profound. Many degree programs shy away from faith, but I have been simultaneously welcomed and challenged.

– Jonathon Hofer 

In this program, Hofer and his colleagues reflect upon texts ranging from Cicero and Plutarch to Shakespeare and Lincoln, from Aristotle and Montesquieu to Jane Austen and James Madison, and from Locke to Churchill, all in pursuit of a liberal and civic education in America's constitutional democracy.

“The ideas we are engaging in are worthwhile not because someone said they are, but because they speak to our human experience,” Hofer said.

After defending his dissertation in the fall of 2022, Hofer plans to continue the work he is doing at Mary College at ASU.

“The partnership between an innovation-driven university and a private, Catholic university is unique and provides incredible opportunities for students. I am excited to blend what I’m doing at the Mary College and what I’m studying at SCETL and to offer that back to students,” he said.

Giving faith a seat at the table

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

Hofer (center) in Rome with his students.

While the program focuses on classical liberal education, Hofer reiterates that his colleagues and professors welcomed his interest in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and Thomistic studies.

“This program at ASU gives a seat at the table for faith and the Catholic academic tradition. This is truly profound. Many degree programs shy away from faith, but I have been simultaneously welcomed and challenged,” Hofer said. 

“I have been welcomed to bring in my Thomistic background. To me, the integration of faith and reason is possible, important and it communicates a fundamental truth about what it means to be human and how we engage with the world. At the same time, by reading authors like Nietzsche and Rousseau, I am challenged to think in ways that I haven’t before. At a university, we don’t need to be scared of ideas,” he said.

One way the School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership makes 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 GreatHearts, as well as Student Success Awards for students achieving high standards of academic excellence.

The MA has also been approved by the James Madison Memorial Foundation for the recipients of its prestigious award for excellence in K–12 civics education, as the degree offers the requisite courses in constitutionalism, American political thought and civics that interest awardees.

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

Marcia Paterman Brookey

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


RISE Leadership Institute participant recommends program for Black students who have their eyes set on college

Summer cohort to take place at ASU in June 2022

May 5, 2022

For Elijah Foster, the RISE Leadership Institute has helped to elevate his outlook on life after high school.

“The RISE Leadership Institute provided me with a solid pre-college experience and exposure to faculty, students and staff at Arizona State University,” said Foster, a senior at Mesquite High School in Gilbert, Arizona. Portrait of Elijah Foster, a senior at Mesquite High School in Gilbert, Arizona. Elijah Foster, a former participant in the RISE Leadership Institute, plans to attend ASU in the fall of 2022, majoring in business communications at the W. P. Carey School of Business. Download Full Image

The RISE Summer Leadership Institute is a leadership and college readiness program for rising 10 to 12th graders that celebrates and continues the legacy of Black and African American Sun Devils of ASU.

The institute, which has been hosted twice per year since 2019, provides tools to help students cultivate their leadership abilities as they continue serving at their schools and in the community. Students will also receive resources that will help them navigate the college-going process while gaining insight from Black alumni, staff, students and community members.

The next RISE Leadership Institute experience takes place June 26–30 at ASU's Tempe campus. The program is free for selected students.

“The students will have an opportunity to reside in student housing in the Barrett Honors College and experience campus dining for three meals a day while participating in college prep and leadership experiences that relate to their grade-level competencies,” said Kiana Sears, program director.

According to Sears, approximately 130 students will participate this summer. 

Foster said that he participated in RISE once, during its first cohort in summer 2020, and he also participated in the RISE Leadership Institute Virtual Student Conference on December 12, 2020.

“The most rewarding part of participating in the RISE Leadership program is attending workshops with ASU faculty and staff who taught me how to be a leader, how to put together a resume, and helped me to decide which career options I could explore using the M3 quiz,” Foster said. “Also, I enjoyed meeting other students my age and learning about their career goals and why they want to attend ASU. I’m glad I attended this program.”

Would Foster encourage other students in his age group to enroll in the RISE program?

“I would definitely encourage them to do so,” Foster said. “Once admitted to RISE, I met some extraordinary mentors and ASU staff that helped me understand what my skills, talents and abilities are, how to write a personal statement and what I can do to strengthen my weaknesses and be a good college student.

“Now I feel prepared to attend ASU in the fall, majoring in business communications at the W. P. Carey School of Business.”

Foster said that although he will not be participating in the 2022 summer program, he expects that the next cohort of RISE Leadership students will “have fun and learn a lot about themselves and what resources and services ASU can provide to them as Black students.”

Foster advises participating students to listen carefully to what each mentor is saying and take notes.

“Act on the advice that is given and pay attention to your mentors’ words of wisdom,” Foster said. “Ask questions and speak up when called upon. It is always best to look presentable when attending each session.

“Lastly, it is important to learn to work together with your peers at all RISE meetings and communicate with them.”

For more about the RISE Leadership Institute here or email the program director at

Tremaine Jasper

Marketing content specialist, Educational Outreach and Student Services