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ASU students, Maryvale teens, educators collaborate on resources for college success

Watts College-based studio assisted Humanities Lab, community to provide information on completing applications, dealing with challenges


People throwing their graduation caps into the air at a high school graduation ceremony.

Photo by Gillian Callison/Pixabay

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December 13, 2022

You want to be the first in your family to graduate from college. But how do you navigate a journey that nobody close to you has ever traveled?

High school students in the west Phoenix community of Maryvale received support in their quest for higher education from Arizona State University students in the Humanities Lab course Avanzando Education Pathways who spent the semester working on ways to help the teens learn pathways to a college degree. The ASU students’ efforts culminated in December at a workshop for the teens and their families that featured tips for achieving academic success, as well as the unveiling of a website with links to helpful resources.

First-generation college students often have extra burdens to succeed, particularly in underserved communities where English might not be the predominant language spoken at home. Common challenges include how to write a convincing application essay to get accepted, how to find reliable transportation to school and how to keep up with a college workload while making sure younger siblings are taken care of while parents are working, said an ASU instructor whose fall Humanities Lab class helped local teens find solutions to these issues and more.

The lab, titled “Avanzando: Education Pathways,” and instructor Dulce González-Estévez, principal lecturer of Spanish in the School of International Letters and Cultures, turned to the Design Studio for Community Solutions at the Watts College for Public Service and Community Solutions for assistance. More than 34% of students enrolled at the Watts College are the first in their families to attend college, according to university records. “Avanzando” in Spanish means “moving forward.”

In October, the Humanities Lab treated 11 Maryvale high schoolers to an informational and social event at ASU’s Tempe campus that the ASU students created after consulting with the teens and local educators.

Working with communities, achieving solutions

Allison Mullady, the Design Studio’s program director, said the collaboration tracks with the studio’s mission to work with local communities to create practical solutions to complex challenges.

Mullady said the studio’s approach is to listen to what people want and how they want to make it happen, then engage university and community resources to affect lasting change.

The experience working with the Humanities Lab means a lot to Mullady, she said, as it demonstrates how the university can enter the community and learn.

“Based on the ongoing Maryvale One Square Mile Initiative’s community-driven work, we were able to provide an initial challenge and context, which the instructors and ASU students ran with, developing practical projects to share with Maryvale High School students,” Mullady said. “It really is a unique opportunity for college students to see how they can impact the world around them through their ASU coursework.”

The lab students presented the resources to the teens and their families at a Dec. 1 event at the high school. They included advice on how to fill out financial aid forms and a resource map with a QR code that takes them to the website. The event also included a skills workshop for writing a convincing, effective college-application essay.

“They created four rooms,” González-Estévez said of her students. “One was for parents that taught about scholarships and being a college student parent and the sacrifices involved. The second offered pre-essay workshops, information on college entrance exams. The third was about how to apply for scholarships and the fourth was a fun room for the students to win prizes.”

Presentation made in Spanish

The presentation to the Maryvale High School parents was conducted in Spanish, while the scholarship essay tips for the teens were in English.

“One hundred percent of the parents spoke Spanish. All of them expressed how grateful they were that the meeting was conducted in their language by people who understood their culture,” González-Estévez said. “They were telling me that they want their students to go to college but they don’t know how. They didn’t know where the resources are and what is expected of students. So providing information in Spanish was very helpful.”

González-Estévez said so much was presented, “I can’t tell you how many skills they acquired: getting to know how complex the educational system is; what to do about a lack of transportation, lack of mental health, lack of food; how some students have to be nannies for their siblings while parents are working two jobs.”

It was the start of what is hoped to be long-lasting partnerships between the university and the Maryvale High School community, González-Estévez said.

“The beautiful thing about the class is that we started it not knowing what we were doing. We went to Maryvale and asked them what they needed and wanted. And we established a line of communication to become better partners with them,” she said.

ASU students in the lab described how they put together meaningful opportunities for the Maryvale teens.

Adrian Galan, a senior with a double major in speech and hearing science and in English linguistics, said the class initially considered holding an assembly before learning that the Maryvale students already go to a number of college assemblies and likely would gain greater benefit from a more focused approach.

“My team went to Maryvale High School and directly asked the students to write down some things they would be interested in focusing on, and the one that stood out to me was essays,” Galan said. “So we decided to make a workshop that focuses on just writing essays for college.”

Lynette Hrabik, a senior double majoring in political science and sociology, said that most class members are from Arizona and shared a desire to improve educational outcomes in the state.

“After learning more about the Maryvale community, educational inequity and how the humanities can affect change, we decided to support pathways to higher education for Maryvale students,” Hrabik said. “Since we have personal experience navigating college, we thought this firsthand knowledge could benefit students seeking a similar path. My team collaborated on a website that covers college applications, financial aid and other resources. This is a practical compendium that high school students can continue to benefit from, beyond our time with the Humanities Lab.”

Experience provided insights to students about service

Both Galan and Hrabik gained insight about the people they served and what they were looking for.

Galan said helping the high school students find information about college opportunities showed that they need more attention and additional academic training.

“The informal nature of the essay workshop made it very easy to connect with the students, who expressed to me that they feel alienated by the school system,” Galan said. “The event reaffirmed my belief that high schoolers need to receive one-on-one guidance.”

Hrabik said that it’s essential for anyone seeking to serve a community to learn how to collaborate.

“It was meaningful to speak with students at Maryvale High School about their future goals, the information they need and how we could facilitate their access to information and opportunities. This collaboration also made the website more useful,” Hrabik said. “In addition, supporting students in their educational journey is important to me. Attending ASU and having a college education has transformed me and my life, and this includes opportunities like the Humanities Lab. Any student who wants to continue their education should have the resources they need to actualize their dreams.”

González-Estévez said the experience allowed the ASU students to gain and improve many skills, including event planning, website development, interviewing, writing grant proposals and moderating a panel.

“And of course, reaching out in culturally appropriate ways that are symbiotic and beneficial for both high school and college students,” she said. 

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