ASU graduate finds passion in sociocultural anthropology

April 27, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Jason Bautista Pejay, a Flinn Scholar and student at Barrett, The Honors College, is graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change Jason Bautista Pejay Jason Bautista Pejay is graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. Download Full Image

Bautista Pejay said it took him time to find his true passion in college. 

“It would take years of growth through exploration in the different fields of anthropology and unlearning the internalized racism that made me avoid academic spaces for so long, but eventually I found my place as a globetrotting, tarot-reading, Indigenous Mexican writer in the sociocultural branch of anthropology,” Bautista Pejay said. “Today, I am on my first ever personal project, an autoethnography, with my honors thesis director. Anthropology will always be my first love, and I only look forward to where it will take me post-undergrad.”

Bautista Pejay is also a member of CKI International and Solis Diaboli (Classics Club). He talked with ASU News about his experience as a first-generation Indigenous Mexican student. 

Note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the fields you majored in?

Answer: I spent my first two years of college hopping from major to major, still convinced I was all about making money and starting a business like my Mexican parents always encouraged. I think I changed majors a total of six times.

Around that time, I felt a craving for the stereotypical college humanities experience that I felt I was missing out on, so I got to digging. I needed to catch up on honors credit, so Barrett’s summer course catalog was the first place I checked. I found a class titled “Fairies, Demons and Monsters Imagining the Wild.” This type of stuff always interested me, but I could never find a place to really engage with it at home; plus I would usually write it off as “white people stuff.” 

I was immediately hooked. The readings brought me such childlike joy and curiosity that I had never experienced up to that point in college. I had undiagnosed ADHD at the time, so engaging with material that I enjoyed for its own sake was a needed reprieve after two years of stuffing myself in boxes that weren’t for me. 

Seminar discussion on American values in "Where the Wild Things Are," problematic depictions in (Dungeons and Dragons) "Monster Manuals," critical analysis of colonial allegories in horror movies like "Ravenous" — I ate it all up. I was riding a rejuvenating high that summer. I began to feel that there was a point to college. That summer was when I finally began to feel like myself again.

I started to wonder where I would go after this. I wanted more but I didn’t really see a major that would let me keep studying this. I also knew I wanted to add a cultural element to it, since culture was my bread and butter, even in the majors that didn’t work out.

A young man looks out over a Costa Rica lake from a viewing platform

Jason Bautista Pejay looks out over Lake Arenal in Costa Rica.

One day, during one of our Zoom classes, I overheard a classmate say something that caught my attention. We were talking about some random subject while discussing a story called “The King of The Elves,” and a classmate said, “Oh, we used to talk about this all the time in my anthropology class.”

I thought to myself, “Anthropology — what does that mean?” I had heard the word before, but I never looked into it. I went to Google and looked up a definition. 

I also asked the friend, who I had spent the summer texting back and forth about my class and other nerdy things. “Hey, should I change my major to anthropology?” “Yes, absolutely you should.”

Since that day, I’ve never looked back.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to students?

A: The most important time is now. What we do now creates who we will become. Whether you desire change from who you were in the past, or who you want to become in the future, you must do it here in the moment.

It’s not instantaneous or linear. It’s more like a rehearsal. You definitely get tired of it at times, but if you stay consistent, over time it begins to feel more natural until suddenly, you’re not trying anymore, it’s just who you are now. Cycles aren’t broken; they’re interrupted and redirected. And don’t do it alone. I am because we are. No one has ever truly done it all alone.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: The Labriola National American Indian Data Center has become a home away from home. It’s where I rediscovered my Indigenous roots and became part of a community that helped lift me out of a very dark time in my life and reconnect with myself. Doing my part and giving back to the center in my own way has only helped ground me more.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m applying to programs like the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF, to go and be a farmhand across the country and around the world to learn more about sustainable living, write freelance, study the tarot and connect with more people. After all is said and done, I’ll use the knowledge I’ve gained to ask new questions and apply to an interdisciplinary humanities graduate program.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: The money would go toward ethical sustainable living education and implementation that promotes Indigenous knowledge of the land to help people live off and take care of each other and the environment in more proactive ways.

Nicole Pomerantz

Communications specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


ASU popular music graduate’s passion leads to studio engineer, producer career

April 27, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

John Paul “JP” Rabusa is a Filipino-American singer-songwriter, producer and engineer. He will graduate this May with a Bachelor of Arts in music (popular music) from the School of Music, Dance and Theatre at Arizona State University. Filipino-American singer-songwriter, producer and engineer John Paul "JP" Rabusa produces for up-and-coming artists and engineering at studios across the Phoenix area. Download Full Image

With only his voice and a guitar, Rabusa has taken his talents to some of the most renowned venues in the Valley, performing music spanning from pop and R&B to musical theatre and jazz. Over the past several years, Rabusa has honed his audio production skills and is now producing for up-and-coming artists and engineering at studios across the Phoenix area.

“JP is one of the most engaged students in our program and is representative of so many attributes we want our students to model: leadership, community building, collaboration, inclusion, artistic expression and academic excellence,” said Erin Barra-Jean, director of the Popular Music program and assistant professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “JP is a phenomenal leader and has the creative capacity to advance culture and build community in everything he does.”

Rabusa said one of his favorite moments at ASU was in December 2022, when he had the opportunity to record his original music with some of his favorite musicians and people in the recording studios at Fusion on First for his capstone project.

“I had 13 musicians, four videographers, three engineers and several mentors to help record a live, in-studio performance of some cover arrangements and one of my original songs,” Rabusa said. “I had the best time with all my friends making great music. I can’t wait to release this project by the end of this semester.”

Samuel Peña, assistant director of the Popular Music program and clinical assistant professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, said, “JP has a passion for uplifting artists’ voices and bringing ideas to life through music. He is a visionary who knows how to bring the best out of those around him. He creates opportunities for his community to be visible and celebrated through execution of large-scale projects, which involve many of his peers.”

Rabusa is the founder and leader of the program’s Student Leadership Council, a catalyst in Fusion on First, a recording studio intern and a student worker. He also helped launch the end-of-the-year Showcase celebrations that are a staple event for the Popular Music program.

While at ASU, Rabusa received the New American University–President’s Award and the Presser Scholar Award.

“These awards granted me the flexibility to pursue my passion for music for the full four years, and I am extremely grateful to all of those who supported me in this venture,” Rabusa said. “I would also like to thank my family — especially my parents — for believing in me and encouraging me to follow my passion.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: At the end of high school, I knew I wanted to pursue music as a serious career path. My favorite memories are rehearsing with friends, gigging in the Valley and working my creativity to its limits. After my first year of college, I discovered I needed something different than the vocal performance track I was pursuing. While my time studying arias and practicing diction was a welcomed challenge, my passion was to find a career in the modern music industry. My “aha” moment was freshman year in one of my vocal lessons when Professor Nathan Myers challenged me to sing “Ordinary People” by John Legend to practice ascending into my higher chest register without tension. He taught me how it is not only valuable to be an overall well-rounded musician, but that there is so much value in studying contemporary music. That particular lesson pushed me to realize that I can pursue a major in popular music and still learn what I need to learn. I was able to do that in a community of like-minded individuals in the program.

Q: What is something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: My whole perspective on music changed when I first witnessed the recording studio in downtown Phoenix. There is something so magical and raw about being in a space where the main goal is to capture “lightning in a bottle” and come out of the room with a full-fledged song. I had always viewed songs from the bookends of their existence: the songwriting and the release on Spotify. Being in the studio with my fellow musicians and mentors —Jorge Costa, Erin Barra-Jean and many others — made me realize that there is so much that goes on behind the scenes to produce the three-minute-and-30-second song I hear on 101.5 in the morning. This perspective grew a new passion in me to become an engineer and producer. Since those first moments in the studio, I have focused my time honing my engineering and production skills to best serve my fellow artists’ music and my own.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: The practical reasons are that it’s in my hometown, I would be very close to home, some of my family are alumni, and I already had a sense of familiarity with the area. Aside from that, one of the main reasons I chose ASU as opposed to other universities was the plethora of majors, minors and certificates the school offers. I figured if I ever had a change of heart, passion or career choice, ASU would yield the most diversity in options without sacrificing the quality of education. Little did I know that ASU’s “No. 1 in Innovation” tagline would actually be the reason why I enjoyed my time here the most. ASU’s goal to strive for inclusivity paired perfectly with my desire to study popular music, as it was the innovation of the faculty and staff at ASU that yielded the formation of the popular music major. The investment that ASU put into the facility and world-class faculty who run the program have made time here at ASU more than worthwhile. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I have had the privilege of learning from some of the greatest mentors here at ASU. I would like to specifically shout out Jorge Costa, Samuel Peña, Nathan Myers, Kristina Knowles, Bill Clay, Patrick Driscoll, Tony Obr, Dan Perelstein and so many others. All of my mentors at ASU have shaped me for the better, and I have so much gratitude for them all. That being said, Erin Barra-Jean has been the most influential figure in my growth over the past few years. She taught me the most important lesson, whether through her words or her actions, that life is too short to not follow your dreams. As long as you stay true to your authentic self, everything will be OK. In a music industry that is riddled with competition, pressure and adversity, Erin taught me that I do not need to bend to others’ expectations — being who I am is enough.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to students?

A: Take the time to learn who you are. There have been numerous times when I have run into emotionally draining crossroads or (less than ideal) situations that could have been solved if I had just learned who I was – what my values are and what I prioritize in life. Do not be afraid to try new things and take wild opportunities. If it doesn’t work out, at least you will learn a lot about yourself in the process. And if it does work out, then that may be the best decision you will ever make. Study your habits and tendencies, and listen to your gut. You don’t need to seek validation from others. Taking time to learn who I am is the most fruitful thing I was able to do in college.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: Fusion on First is my favorite spot on campus. In the most literal sense, it has everything I need. I live in the building with an awesome roommate and a full kitchen. Every single class I have had over the past year has been on the first three floors of this building. I take the elevator down in the morning, and there’s a recording studio, a practice room, a study space, a cafe and some much-needed sunlight at my disposal. I could not have asked for a better facility than Fusion on First.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan on staying in Phoenix for a couple of years, engineering at studios around town, teaching at a local conservatory, producing music for local artists and gigging at venues around town. In the long term, I plan to develop my network and build a foundation with musicians on a local and global scale with the ultimate goal of producing music for a living.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Our world needs a lot of work. There are so many problems to tackle that I would rather take an approach to address as many issues as possible with $40 million. I am a fan of the Sustainable Development Goals that were developed by the United Nations, and I think that would be a great way to utilize the money. If I had to choose one problem, I would probably tackle our growing need for sustainable energy and its potential for reducing waste on a local and global level.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music, Dance and Theatre