image title

Samuel Peña, Zach Montana, Cameron Jeong, Milena Santiago: Space to create

June 22, 2022

A look inside Fusion on First next to Civic Space Park, where students live, work, learn, perform and contribute to the Phoenix arts scene

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in ASU Thrive’s special photography issue, celebrating a day in the life of inspiring people across the ASU community. 

Fusion on First is a 16-story, 283,000-square-foot tech-driven project that immerses Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts students in the heart of the arts district along the light rail. Designed by the internationally recognized architecture firm, Studio Ma, the building includes sustainability features, and houses studios, classrooms, offices, and exhibition and event space all under the same roof to create a complete focus for creativity.

Learn about some of the talented students who chose to study, practice and live in Fusion on First during this snapshot of a typical day in their lives.

In the photo above, Zach Montana, a junior during the spring semester majoring in popular music, works on a song he wrote. He was invited to appear on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in February with his dad, Curly Smith, after Montana’s TikTok video of him listening to his dad’s song from the 1970s went viral. Jamming on the pandeiro is Samuel Peña, assistant director in the popular music program. 

Woman singing into microphone

Live feed 

Music students perform while doing a live Instagram feed from their classroom in Fusion on First. From left: Diego Ajca Alejo, Mark Wetzel, Cameron Jeong (at the microphone), Sophia Bavishi and Zach Montana. ​​Watch the video at 

man playing drums and people walking up and down stairs

Left photo: Mark Wetzel playing the drums. A junior in the popular music program last semester, he likes to write and perform house, hip hop, R&B and alternative music. Right photo: Students and faculty at Fusion on First. 

Woman using sewing machine

Graduating senior Milena Santiago creates one of the looks from her four-piece capsule collection, originally produced using 3D digital software to reduce waste. Santiago used denim scraps for the top. She says the purpose of her brand, Papillon, is to bring new life to old garments.

“Fusion on First provides a great home for the fashion program, as there is space and technology to help students’ ideas become reality,” Santiago says.

Fashion student and dress molds with clothes

Abigail Elizabeth Davis, ’22 BA in fashion, created her fashion line Phenom as part of her senior capstone project. She says that each piece in her line comprises hand-sewn embellished and manipulated fabric techniques with an emphasis on alternative styling including contrasting elements such as bows and leather. Her post-graduation plan is to open the first Phenom store in Anthem to sell custom evening gowns, other custom pieces, and to offer alterations, and other creative works of hers and fellow local artists. At right: Designs by fashion students are presented in a process-oriented format showing drawings and samples.

Woman moving dress mold

Left: Fashion student Katrina Remaley, a junior last semester. Right: Final designs by graduating fashion students, including by Juliana Nguyen, McKenzi Kelly, Shane Yearneau and Allison Carloni. Each senior created their own capstone collection, and the collections were showcased together at Scottsdale Fashion Square in March 2022. 

Photos by Jill Richards

image title

The Garcia, Diaz and Brei families: All in for the children

June 22, 2022

Local families made changes to put their kids’ learning first

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in ASU Thrive’s special photography issue, celebrating a day in the life of inspiring people across the ASU community. 

Five years ago, the Garcia family was at a crossroads. Their two boys at that time weren’t challenged in school.

“They weren’t getting the science and math they needed,” Marisol Garcia explains, “and we wanted our sons to get the best education they could get.” 

So she and her husband began looking for solutions and heard about ASU Preparatory Academy, a network of charter schools focused on STEM and college prep. 

Now, five years later, all three of her kids attend ASU Prep in downtown Phoenix, and Garcia has switched jobs to be closer to them.

“I was traveling for work a lot,” she explains. In order to be home more often, she took a job at ASU Prep.

Noah, age 15, is in 10th grade and working ahead in math. He’ll start taking college classes as an 11th grader. Kaiden, age 13, is in eighth grade. Her youngest, Raider, 9, is in fourth grade.

“The kids love it here,” Garcia says. “The staff is amazing.” 

Interested in learning more? Visit

Mother and child eating at picnic table

Marisol and Raider

“The teachers (at ASU Prep) do a great job of keeping the kids engaged,” says Marisol (pictured left with her son, Raider).

A fourth grader, Raider says his favorite subject is math, largely because his teacher makes it fun with games like long-division bingo. Because she changed jobs to be closer to her three boys, she and Raider often eat lunch together.

Young student raising hand in class and two young students walking together on campus

Raider enjoys learning and is engaged in his classes Right: Several years ago, Kaiden and Noah asked their parents to change their school so they could excel and advance in their learning.

Student sitting at desk doing classwork 

Noah started taking high school math classes as a middle schooler

Noah takes his studies seriously and is excited about his education.

“ASU Prep isn’t just focused on students getting accepted to college,” he says. “They also give you the tools you need to earn scholarships.”

Young boy walkin through school hall wearing backpack

Teacher working with young boy in a classroom

The Breis chose ASU Prep for their children, including second grader, Zen (seen above working with his teacher, Patricia Arellanes) when they moved to the area in 2019.

“I wanted to make the transition as soft as possible by putting them in a small school where they would have more individual attention,” says their mother, Kara Jean.

Young boy playing basketball

Chuy Diaz enjoys time outside at recess working on his basketball moves.

Mother hugging boys when they get home

Norma Diaz welcomes her sons — sixth grader, Chuy, 11th grader, Luiz, and ninth grader, Angel — home from school. Over the years, the Diaz family has sent six of their seven kids to ASU Prep.

“I like that the school is connected with ASU and that they prepare the students to go to university,” Diaz says.

Photos by Brandon Sullivan. Story by Shelley Flannery.