ASU grad makes a difference in the lives of children with autism

Sami Shah is part of the first cohort of synchronous graduates in the applied behavior analysis program

July 20, 2022

Sami Shah, a recent graduate of the Master of Science in applied behavior analysis program in the Arizona State University Department of Psychology is one of the first graduates of the synchronous learning option offered by the program.

This option was launched in 2020 and allowed students living outside of the Phoenix metro area to experience live courses with classmates while conducting their practicum training in another city or state.  ASU graduate Sami Shah wearing a maroon graduation cap and gown surrounded by palm trees on the Tempe campus. Sami Shah, a recent graduate of the master’s in applied behavior analysis program in the ASU Department of Psychology. Download Full Image

Shah, a psychology graduate from Ohio State, enrolled in the program while living in Ohio and working for Hopebridge, a national autism therapy center for children. She is currently a case manager at Hopebridge in Gilbert.

She always had the drive to help children, and after working as registered behavior technician, she found that she was thinking about the children and their plans when she was off work and realized it really was a passion. 

“I got more invested in what I was doing, I enjoyed it more, and I found myself thinking about work when I wasn't working,” said Shah, adding, “I realized that I'm actually passionate about what I am doing, so why not go back to school for it?”

In order to take the next step in helping children with autism, she knew that she needed to become a board certified behavior analyst, and that required a master’s degree in behavior analysis. 

Related: Learn about applied behavior analysis from ASU alumni

Shah weighed doing an online program versus a simulcast program, and decided that the live interaction was something she needed. 

One of the biggest features that made ASU a good fit for her was the included practicum, or hands-on clinical training hours. In addition to the course hours, the program has a requirement for 2,000 practicum hours. 

Students work at partner facilities to provide services to children and families, and gain experience with mapping out behavior plans and working in the field. Separately, the faculty then meets with the students to discuss what they experience at their respective practicum sites, and they are able to benefit from the shared experiences as a cohort. These practicum hours also enable graduates to sit for certification upon program completion and be eligible for state licensing once certified. 

In the other programs she was looking at, students would graduate with the required coursework but still have to complete 2,000 hours after graduation in order to meet the qualifications for licensure. 

“I didn't want just an online program, I wanted something more focused and structured. After speaking with Don Stenhoff, the program director, and hearing other people’s experiences with different schools, I decided to apply,” Shah said. “One of the big benefits of the live instruction was that we were able to ask important questions in the moment versus emailing and having to wait.”

It was clear to the program faculty that Shah excelled in this environment.

“Sami began the program with great interest — a benefit of this simulcast program is students foster those skills we are teaching with immediate feedback from their professors. It also provides them with the opportunity to increase their analytic and leadership skills in a group structure, in which Sami succeeded,” Stenhoff said.

Shah hopes to continue working in a center like Hopebridge, where patients arrive at the facility for treatment regularly, but can also envision owning her own practice in the future.

“The most rewarding part for me is that I’m able to make an actual difference in the lives of children and families. Watching my treatment plans succeed and help these kids is just so exciting,” Shah said.

Robert Ewing

Marketing and Communications Manager, Department of Psychology


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Visionary arts leader celebrates 30 years of 'connecting communities'

July 20, 2022

This July marks 30 years at ASU Gammage for executive director Colleen Jennings-Roggensack

Thirty years ago, on her first night as executive director of ASU Gammage, a lackluster performance of “Evita” lit a fire in Colleen Jennings-Roggensack.

“The show looked tired, the cast was phoning it in, and I was distressed,” she recalled. “After the show, I went backstage looking for the company manager, and on the callboard in the hallway, there was a sign that said, ‘Hey everyone, we've got to gear up for our next stop, it’s a real theater town.’ I was livid. And from that moment, I knew I had to make a change.”

In the three decades since then, that fire has stoked not only the transformation of ASU Gammage into a well-respected and highly-regarded theater, but the creation of several cultural participation programs that have gone a long way in fostering the theater’s mission of “connecting communities.”

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years,” said Jennings-Roggensack, who also serves as vice president of ASU Cultural Affairs. “I have loved every second.”

And with an impact that has reached not only the Sun Devil community, but the city of Tempe, the state of Arizona, the nation and the world, it may be safe to say she is a real-life superwoman.

‘Connecting communities’

Before coming to ASU, Jennings-Roggensack worked as acting director for the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth University. Wanting a fresh start and place to raise her family, she first entered Sun Devil territory in 1992 with her husband and ASU volcanologist Kurt Roggensack.

She soon came to realize that the university could offer her the chance to make a true and meaningful difference in the community.

“I knew there was great opportunity here. I knew we could make ASU Gammage an internationally recognized performing arts center,” Jennings-Roggensack said.

Driven by that ambition and a vision to make ASU Gammage a bona fide cultural destination, she established the theater’s mission of connecting communities.

“ASU Cultural Affairs has a relationship to communities all over the Valley,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “We have a commitment to connect these communities to each other, connect the university to these communities. And how do we do that? Through arts and culture.”

That mission is evident in every aspect of Jennings-Roggensack’s work, and is proof that ASU Gammage is not just a venue for shows and musicals, but a place for the community. Today, a variety of cultural participation programs introduce thousands of local children to the live-theater and performing arts world.

In addition, ASU Gammage offers programs ranging from Military Family First Nights, which provide military families the opportunity to attend Broadway productions, to Journey Home, a four-week arts program for incarcerated women at the Maricopa County Estrella Jail. And with the introduction of artist residencies, creative professionals have a space to grow in their craft and share their works with students in workshops and master classes.

Cultivating prestige

Aside from her impact on the community, Jennings-Roggensack has shown the theater industry that Tempe truly is an arts and cultural community, working day and night to create strong and lasting relationships with local leadership and arts community members. She has also strengthened and grown ASU Gammage’s relationship with Broadway Across America, the preeminent presenter of touring Broadway shows in North America, so that ASU Gammage now presents the best of Broadway.

But she didn’t stop there. Wanting to create arts experiences that were like nothing else, and present artists from around the world and from various disciplines, Jennings-Roggensack helped launch ASU Gammage’s Beyond series.

Over the past 30 years, not only has Jennings-Roggensack transformed ASU Gammage, but she has left a larger cultural mark on the ASU community through her work with ASU Kerr, the ASU Homecoming Block Party, the ASU Annual MLK Celebration, ASU’s LIFT initiative and the ASU 365 Community Union.

In the past, Sun Devil Stadium was used only seven times a year for home football games. ASU 365 Community Union was created to turn the football field into a university asset that is utilized 365 days a year. The football field now hosts a variety of events and cultural activities, from concerts to yoga classes.

“The reality is there is not another program like it,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “Through ASU 365 Community Union, we are looking at Sun Devil Stadium through a cultural lens and utilizing this space to make a difference.”

Looking ahead: The sky is the limit

While there are many accomplishments throughout her 30 years at ASU to celebrate, Jennings-Roggensack’s work is far from done as she plans to continue expanding and strengthening ASU Cultural Affairs’ mission of connecting communities.

She said the sky is the limit, and the key to continued success is surrounding yourself with great people.

"I am really good at hiring people who are really good,” Jennings-Roggensack said with a laugh. “My job is to lift up the people who work for me, give them the responsibility and the authority to be creative, and great things happen.”

And while she puts in the hours at work, she still manages to set aside time for herself and her family.

“One of the keys to work-life balance is having a really great partner. Kurt is amazing. We are beekeepers, ride tandem bikes and we always set aside time to do things that (are) only for us,” she said. “We also have an amazing daughter, who is very gifted in so many areas.”

Looking toward the future, Jennings-Roggensack said she hopes to continue lifting those around her, and one important thing she’s learned from her three decades at ASU is to be motivated by your passions.

“You can teach anyone anything, but you cannot give someone passion,” she said. “I tell everyone passion gets you up in the morning; passion keeps you going. It isn't your job title, or how much money you make, or how big a house you live in; it's the passion you have for whatever your work is. And the passion I have for this job is unmeasurable.”

Marketing Assistant , ASU Gammage