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Film industry leaders inspire ASU students during award season

February 4, 2020

ASU’s future media mecca in Mesa will only create more opportunities for film students to tell their stories

Palm trees, film sets, movies screenings: They're the makings of Hollywood dreams — only this scene is set at Arizona State University, where future filmmakers are mastering their craft.

Los Angeles and New York may have once been the only coveted destinations for aspiring film students, but today, ASU is among the top 25 fastest-growing film programs in the United States.

Tiffany Lopez, director and professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, believes ASU’s growing film program stands out because of its students.

“You can introduce students to technology, you can introduce them to all kinds of opportunities — but if students don’t come with vision and voice, they’re not going to go very far,” said Lopez. “They’ll go the farthest and the fastest if they come with a great sense of confidence.”

And their opportunities are only getting bigger. In spring 2022, ASU @ Mesa City Center is set to open, offering programs from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts through a new state-of-the-art facility, which will not only revitalize downtown Mesa, but support media production in Arizona.

“Mesa will play a really important role because it’s focused on digital technologies and virtual reality as well as augmented reality filmmaking, creating a laboratory for students to really be leaders in the industry,” said Lopez.

ASU film students mentored by Oscar-nominated cinematographer

At Sun Studios of Arizona in Tempe, ASU is training the next generation of filmmakers, many of whom are first-generation college students.

The film production company serves as a hands-on training ground for aspiring film students. Phil Klucsarits, assistant professor of cinematography and film production in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, was drawn to the program because of its growth and the local talent wanting to start their careers in the Valley of the Sun.

“I think having a film program in the Southwest, specifically Arizona, and not just based in Los Angeles or New York, is a really great opportunity for students that are coming from different backgrounds to tell their own unique stories,” said Klucsarits.

And, oh, the stories they’ve gone on to tell: Graduates of ASU’s film program have worked on Oscar-winning films, at Marvel, with Lucasfilm, in producer Shonda Rhimes' TV universe Shondaland, at the Grammy Awards, for ESPN and at Buzzfeed — and the list keeps growing.

The program’s faculty work hard to bring top industry players to ASU to mentor aspiring filmmakers. Most recently, Larry Sher, a well-known cinematographer who is nominated for an Oscar this year for “Joker,” spoke to film students who are part of Klucsarits’ internship program. Sher not only mentors ASU students, he also gives them an opportunity for hands-on learning through his website ShotDeck, which is a visual-references platform where students can add content and learn about cinematography.

Sher frequently reminds students that working in the creative arts is something that’s attainable — a skill set that can be taught and cultivated.

“So anytime I’m able to sort of talk to people that are at the beginning of their career, in school or just on the start of it — I just want to help,” said Sher.

No matter the outcome on Oscar Sunday, Sher is grateful for his nomination. “It’s a dream," he said. "It’s a real dream, and you realize it doesn’t come around that often.”

As he gets ready for his next project, the DC Comics film “Black Adam” starring Dwayne Johnson, Sher explains how he has been able to maintain longevity in an evolving industry.

“You don’t choose movies you think will be successful, but you try to make the movies you do be as successful as they can be,” said Sher. “And just keep pushing yourself to new challenges.”

ASU’s seamless connection to the film industry

As ASU builds its film program in Arizona, the university also has been embedding itself in the heart of Hollywood for some time. Film Spark, often referred to as ASU’s embassy in Hollywood, is the university’s industry-relations arm in the greater Los Angeles area.

Adam Collis, the director of ASU Film Spark and professor of practice of film directing, has connected ASU students with top leaders in the entertainment industry for more than a decade now. In fact, Sher was his first guest via video conference back in 2009. Students screened “Garden State” and then asked the cinematographer questions about his work on the film. It was a hit. Collis then sought out other highly acclaimed filmmakers and executives to connect with students. In 2015, ASU recognized the success of this format and established Film Spark at the ASU California Center in Santa Monica.

“To be able to be a part of such an innovative and frankly revolutionary university and help our students fulfill their dreams at the same time — and do it with guys like (Sher) — it’s just the best,” said Collis.

Sher appreciates the structure of ASU’s film program, especially since he believes getting into the film industry requires more than theoretical practices learned in the classroom.

“(Adam Collis] keeps pushing forward, forward, forward on allowing these students to have an actual path to success in the film industry,” he said.

ASU Film Spark has helped students accelerate their careers through professional development and career fairs, like the one being held on Friday, Feb. 7, at the Culver Hotel in Culver City, California. ASU film students will have the opportunity to talk with employers throughout the entertainment industry about open positions or internships.

As Collis explains, sometimes Hollywood comes to Tempe. Other times, Tempe goes to Hollywood. Either way, ASU is creating a seamless connection for film students, regardless of where they plan to start their careers. And the options are only broadening with ASU @ Mesa City Center and ASU’s planned move to the historic Herald Examiner building in downtown Los Angeles. The Arizona Board of Regents approved the building lease in April 2019. Once renovations are complete in 2021, ASU will occupy 87% of the space.

Top photo: ASU Professor of Practice Adam Collis (left) and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Larry Sher chat with ASU via video conference about mentoring film students over the years. 

Jimena Garrison

Media Relations Officer , Media Relations and Strategic Communications

Film and television producer Scott Steindorff joins ASU

January 30, 2020

This semester a group of art students and a group of film students in Arizona State University's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts will get the chance to learn from film and television producer Scott Steindorff.

After writing the stageplay for Las Vegas production "EFX" at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, Steindorff, who studied theater production and real estate finance at ASU, moved to Hollywood to concentrate on producing. He established his own production company, Stone Village Productions.  Photo of Scott Steindorff Scott Steindorff, courtesy photo. Download Full Image

“Scott is a field leader in storytelling driven by vision and voice,” said Tiffany Lopez, director of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. “He brings an extraordinary range of creative vision and industry expertise to our students and faculty; and as an alum, he is deeply invested in ASU and our students.”

As a professor of practice in both the School of Art and the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, Steindorff will give special lectures throughout the semester to two linked courses, one from each school. The students will join together for his lectures, which will cover immersive storytelling, the evolution of storytelling and how storytelling is changing.

“Scott is one of our most distinguished former students and has had an extraordinary career in Hollywood telling powerful stories,” said Steven J. Tepper, dean and director of the Herberger Institute. “He also deeply understands how the nature of storytelling is changing with new technologies, new platforms and new audience expectations. This is a great opportunity for our students to learn from and be inspired by a seasoned professional.”

Steindorff, who is currently executive producing the television series “Station Eleven” for the new streaming service HBO Max, said he plans to explore new and revolutionary ways of storytelling, including delving into immersive, mixed reality and digital art.

“I find teaching about narrative ingenuity so imperative,” he said. “I am particularly drawn to nonlinear story lines, which is the format that ‘Station Eleven’ has been written in. This is the sort of innovative, visceral emotion-evoking tactic that I hope to impart upon my students.”

Other topics Steindorff plans to explore include emotion/affect and art, creating digital worlds and digital art displays. 

“My field of expertise lies in guiding students toward being able to identify, understand, process and then verbally and visually describe their feelings,” Steindorff said. “This process can then be applied to cultivate any medium, whether it be video, painting, digital processes, performance art, etc.”

“This is an incredible opportunity for students working in a range of artistic mediums and formats,” said Joanna Grabski, director of the School of Art. “I am certain that Steindorff’s lectures will inspire our students to expand how they use imagery to express themselves and create emotional affect.”

In addition to “Station Eleven,” Steindorff was an executive producer on Jon Favreau’s “Chef,” produced the critical and commercial success “The Lincoln Lawyer,” and teamed with Paul Newman and producer Marc Platt to produce the award-winning miniseries “Empire Falls.” Other feature films Steindorff has produced include “Gimme Shelter,” “Penelope” and “Love in the Time of Cholera.” 

“One of the world’s fastest growing industries is in the production of digital art and digital storytelling,” Steindorff said. “I want to help answer that call by giving students the best tools possible to succeed in this field.”

Sarah A. McCarty

Marketing and communications coordinator, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts


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Envisioning the future of space

January 8, 2020

ASU scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton and the Interplanetary Initiative reach for the stars to shape our place in space

The 60 people sitting in an Arizona State University conference room in January 2017 had virtually nothing in common. There were theater majors and scientists; sophomores and school deans; local residents; and private-sector employees.

A passion for space — and planetary scientist Lindy Elkins-Tanton — brought them together.

“We brainstormed the biggest questions we have to solve that would have a positive effect on humans’ interplanetary future,” Elkins-Tanton says. “These are not like the sort of things you could do for a thesis. Imagine throwing a javelin over a hill and trying to run to catch up with it.” 

On that day, the Interplanetary Initiative was born. 

And for the past two years with Elkins-Tanton at the helm, the initiative has been partnering students and faculty members of all disciplines to examine some of the most complex, space-related questions society faces — with the help of small amounts of university seed money.

The projects include a card game called “Port of Mars” that examines the best way to sustain healthy communities in space, and the Interplanetary Podcast that aims to have public conversations about space while also highlighting the work done at ASU.

It all comes at an important time in space exploration, as the U.S. races toward some of the most complex human missions to date, including a long-term return to the moon and a potential mission to Mars.

“We want people who will take the first steps to solve something that’s unsolved,” Elkins-Tanton says.

Students play with virtual reality headsets

Lindy Elkins-Tanton seeks a team of people who are "synergistic and respectful and integrated and diverse" — including students. Photo by William Campbell/ASU

Educational movement

January 2017 marked a busy month for Elkins-Tanton. Four days into the new year, she got a phone call at 5:30 a.m. — a phone call she had been waiting six years to receive. 

NASA delivered the news it was funding her Psyche project, set to explore a metal asteroid orbiting the sun between Mars and Jupiter.

“We were the underdogs by far,” Elkins-Tanton says. 

The Psyche spacecraft is scheduled to launch in 2022 and will arrive in 2026. It will spend 21 months orbiting the asteroid, mapping it and studying its properties. The mission team seeks to determine whether Psyche is the core of an early planet and whether it formed in similar ways to the Earth's core.

In the days following NASA’s phone call, Elkins-Tanton started building the Interplanetary Initiative with its first meeting. She became managing director and co-chair of the initiative that day, though she had been approached about starting the program months earlier by ASU President Michael M. Crow.

“It’s a more complicated story,” she says. “There wasn’t a moment when I said I want to run a space mission, but there is the thrill of running a space mission and the thrill of running Interplanetary, which has a lot to do with the team and the vision.”

Elkins-Tanton originally joined ASU in 2014 as director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration following a stint as director at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. Before that, she spent time working at both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brown University.

Then came the Interplanetary Initiative. In Crow’s eyes, it was a means of bringing people of all disciplines together to solve a problem, which resonated with Elkins-Tanton.

“I’d been in search of a place where people were connected intensely and made things that were impossible as just an individual,” she says. “I think of the Interplanetary Initiative as a pilot for what future universities could be. What we’re trying to do here is reinvent the way research teams are built and the way education is done.”

Anyone can participate, regardless of their major or involvement at the school. The individuals who show up brainstorm the questions they believe need to be answered to improve humankind’s relationship with space exploration.

The group votes on the top 10 or so ideas, and then the members divide into teams based on interest. At that point, the university hands out seed money — about $10,000 or so — to each of the top ideas.

The pilot teams are composed of faculty, staff, students and external partners, who all bring their individual and diverse expertise to the table.

That includes Kevin Hubbard, a graduate associate in ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration who was pursuing a PhD in politics in spring 2017 when he happened upon the initiative. He was enjoying political science, he says, but he was looking for something new and exciting to be the subject of his dissertation. He decided to focus his initiative-based research on space policy — specifically, how to manage conduct on the lunar surface.

“We don’t want to ruin the place that we plan to live on in the future,” he says.

Hubbard is examining the policy around mining the seabed in the Pacific Ocean, and how that could apply to space. Space is a harsh environment like the sea, he adds, and no nation-state has exclusive rights to the area.

It’s a timely topic with NASA planning a return to the moon for the first time since 1972 with the hope of humans staying there for an extended period. The Artemis program plans to land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024, but that’s only the start.

“NASA’s trying to make a sustainable presence on the moon,” Elkins-Tanton says.

Two people play a Mars card game

Lance Gharavi teaches Anissa Flores to play Port of Mars, a card game developed as part of the Interplanetary Initiative. It uses play to examine how people might socially respond to living on Mars, including a no-win scenario. Photo by Jarod Opperman/ASU

The big questions

Can humans adapt to space?

That’s one of the big questions the Interplanetary Initiative is trying to understand and answer. For Artemis, the initiative is partnering with private companies and research groups working with NASA on specific aspects of engineering and science.

“We’re also working with NASA to help them create information clearinghouses to fill in the gaps of knowledge we need to make it to Artemis,” Elkins-Tanton says.

Meanwhile, about 120 individuals, including faculty members and students, are participating in 13 active projects at the initiative, she says. 

One is the Port of Mars card game, launched in 2016. It examines how people might socially respond to living on Mars. Players participate on teams, and each round of the game is monitored by an ASU volunteer. They then use how players respond to conflict and morality questions to determine how a Mars colony might work. Team members presented at the Broto conference on art and climate change held in Massachusetts in May 2019 and are working to make the game digital.

“Port of Mars is a rehearsal for the future,” says Lance Gharavi, project lead and an associate professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, “a social science experiment cosplaying as a game … how do we make sure they won’t tear each other apart?”

The initiative’s project on “Five Senses in Space” is inventing a “smell engine” that will use haptic, auditory and visual systems with virtual reality to create a holodeck-like experience of space here on Earth. It also could be used in the reverse, providing an Earth-like experience for astronauts on long-duration space missions. They’re also building a simulated Martian habitat.

After receiving initial seed money from the university, the project last year had three student payloads launched into space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. Students currently are analyzing the data from the payloads, which include instruments built to capture elements of the senses in space. 

Students plan to use this data on Earth to convey how space impacts the senses.

Other Interplanetary Initiative projects include:

  • Rapid Response Space, focusing on growing the applications and capabilities of small space satellites.
  • Space Works, creating courses that help students apply their knowledge through team-based challenges related to the needs of NASA and the industry.
  • Humans and Robotic Connection, working to create intelligent software and hardware that can assist human dexterity and cognition.
  • Space Advisory, looking at how to best support a prosperous and equitable future. 

“By working toward the vision of an optimistic human space future, we make ourselves better here on Earth and we make our life here on Earth better,” Elkins-Tanton says. “What we’re trying to do with Interplanetary Initiative is speed up that process for everyone.”

The Interplanetary Initiative is partially supported by Arizona’s Technology and Research Initiative Fund, which has enabled thousands of scientific discoveries, more than 800 patents, 280 new startup companies and hands-on training for approximately 33,000 students across Arizona’s universities. Publicly supported through voter approval, TRIF is an essential resource for growing Arizona’s economy and providing opportunities for Arizona residents to work, learn and thrive.

Top photo: Lindy Elkins-Tanton, managing director of ASU’s Interplanetary Initiative, introduces one of her missions: “I hope we train a whole group of people — these great young minds — to go off and make the world better where they end up.” Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now. Story by Alex Stuckey. This story appears in the winter 2020 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

ASU grad tells the stories of proud DACA students

December 26, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

By the time Maricruz Santoyo arrived at Arizona State University, she knew she had a story to tell. As a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient originally from Mexico, she felt her senior project, the film “Proud Dreamer,” was important to make in her time at the university.  ASU grad Maricruz Santoyo giving a forks up hand symbol by the Old Main fountain ASU grad Maricruz Santoyo spoke with ASU Now about why she’s passionate about telling the stories of students with uncertain immigration status. Download Full Image

“I felt there was a lack of information regarding DACA recipients, and I found myself constantly having to explain what it was and why I couldn’t apply for certain scholarships,” she said.

“The aim of the documentary was to inform people about what DACA recipients struggle with in our everyday lives but also show how regardless of the many obstacles we find, we still manage to succeed.”

In the film, Santoyo interviews DACA recipients and supporters in English and Spanish about what immigration status means for Sun Devils’ educational opportunities and for their families. She also interviews DACA advocates from different organizations, including ASU’s DREAMzone.

Santoyo was involved in DREAMzone Support Circles as a student, and she says that attending these meetings helped her meet other DACA recipients she could relate to.

“The support circle made me feel safe, and it was a way for me to talk about the issues I was going through, which prior to assisting the support circle I had not been able to do.”

Santoyo was also involved with many clubs during her time at ASU and she was a treasurer for KoDE, a student club that teaches K-POP choreographies.

Santoyo, who graduated with her filmmaking practices degree this month, took time to speak with ASU Now about her time at ASU, what advice she would give to current students, and what the future looks like for her. 

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

Answer: I always knew I wanted to be a filmmaker, as growing up one of the favorite activities of my parents and I was watching films of all genres. However, in my second year at ASU, I took an animation class and realized that’s what I wanted to focus on. Ever since I have been learning animation on my own and taking the classes that ASU offers for it. 

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

A: Something I learned at ASU that changed my perspective is that no matter where you come from, you can succeed. I have worked with people of different backgrounds and they have taught me to never give up and to continue working hard. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU due to the resources available to DACA recipients but also because when I researched film programs I felt ASU was a good fit for me. 

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

A: Professor Gene Ganssle has always talked about the importance of believing in yourself and the project you’re working on. I kept this in mind when doing my film projects, as working on sets can sometimes be tiresome, but if you are confident and believe in the project you can make the people working with you feel confident too. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: My best piece of advice for those still in school is don’t ever give up; keep going. There may be times when you have doubts and feel like giving up but don’t. There will always be people willing to help and lend a hand. 

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

A: I enjoyed spending time at the Music Building. The music being played by the students helped me relax and study. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I plan to continue learning animation and getting an internship at an animation studio.

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

A: I would tackle accessible education for all since it’s not just DACA recipients who struggle with this.

Written by Austin Davis, Sun Devil Storyteller

Hannah Moulton Belec

Digital marketing manager, Educational Outreach and Student Services


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All-female comedy team goes for laughs

December 5, 2019

Women from various disciplines within ASU's Herberger Institute team up to find their voice

What does a comedy performance look like when the cast and crew are all women?

"Funny for a Girl" is a live comedy show created, produced and performed by ASU film and theater students. Based on personal experiences, senior Bella Tindall created the all-female show for her final capstone project, and producer Bethany Henthorne helped make it a reality.


Video by Ashley Sorensen/ASU Now

Urban Sol: 'A representation of US'

Communitywide event highlights street arts culture in the Valley of the Sun

November 13, 2019

Urban Sol, a cross-institute initiative in Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, shines a light on street arts culture with DJs, MCs, aeroSOUL artists and dancers in the Valley of the Sun. This year Urban Sol includes five dynamic events over the course of three days, each featuring different aspects of hip-hop and street culture. Urban Sol launches Thursday, Nov. 14 and culminates Saturday, Nov. 16 with the Main Event. 

The theme for Urban Sol 2019 is “US.”  people breakdancing Urban Sol 2018. Photo by Tim Trumble, courtesy of ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts Download Full Image

“Urban Sol has grown to become a staple and is one of the most anticipated events within the Herberger Institute and Phoenix community,” said new festival director House Magana. “It’s an introduction for some and a light and voice for others — a representation of US.” 

Magana is an ASU alumnus and is the first b-boyAlso known as breakdancing: to graduate from the MFA in dance program. He joined the faculty in August of this year to teach urban movement classes and direct this year’s events, contributing to the growth and development of Urban Sol. He said one of the goals of Urban Sol is “to continue to take notice of the urban arts movement and the importance of the movement to teach and to address pressing issues of concern for the community.” 

Urban Sol 2019 launches at 4 p.m. Nov. 14 with a crossover event, Fader Manners and Letter Bending Graf Jam, at one Phoenix’s prominent hip-hop shops, Trill. Phoenix-based DJ Akshen created Fader Manners as a space for novice and master DJs to sharpen their needles and skills in a judgement-free atmosphere. The scratch deejaying event will be held inside Trill while the Letter Bending Graf Jam happens concurrently outside. The outdoor event features national and internationally recognized graffiti artists, also known as writers, who will create and educate as a part of five different “Knowledge Sessions” or workshops. All ages and skill levels are encouraged to attend in the spirit of “each one, teach one” — a philosophy of learning that is the bedrock of street culture. 

Urban Sol moves to Arizona State University’s Tempe campus Friday morning for Hip Hop Matters, a remixed version of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre's long-established Dance Matters series. Hip Hop Matters is open to the public.

This year, Urban Sol adds a Friday evening film night to the programming, highlighting feature films by Iam Artson and Shero Collective at Sun Studios of Arizona. The Shero Collective is a pro-social community initiative spearheaded by producer Carla A. Silveira-Hernandez “to highlight the behind-the-scenes stories, people and relationships that elevate the social fabric of hip-hop culture.” This screening of shorts will be followed by a documentary produced by Odin EYES Creations featuring Iam Artson’s “The Making of a Brave Star,” which explores the process of creating music for Artson’s album "Brave Star" and his road trip to various music festivals. There will be a Q&A with the producers of each project following the screenings. 

Graffiti art at Urban Sol 2018

Urban Sol 2018. Photo by Tim Trumble.

The Main Event on Saturday lands back at ASU when both the ASU and metro Phoenix hip-hop communities gather outside ASU’s Galvin Playhouse, located at 10th Street and Mill Avenue near the ASU Art Museum. 

This year’s program features a 3 vs. 3 dance battle format for dancers and a "scratch battle" called Kut the Weight, the latter of which is for emerging and established DJs in three different “weight classes”: lightweight (novice), middleweight (developing) and heavyweight (established). 

Armani Moten, a second-year dance major, said she is thrilled to participate in this year’s dance battles while also meeting new communities. “You don’t have to be a trained dancer to be a part of this event,” she said. “There are many events to get in where you fit in!” 

The night also includes performances by ASU alumni and the Phoenix street dance scene, along with special performances by iconic MCs Legend Medusa and Supernatural. 

"An MC, dancer and queen on the mic, Medusa represents the empowering truth that speaks to US all,” Magana said. And Supernatural, who Magana said is known for his on-the-spot freestyle and battle rap abilities, will bring “his mastery and skills in the purest form to Urban Sol engaging all in the experience and lived moment.” 

“What started off as a one day hip-hop festival has shapeshifted and evolved alongside the communities of culture here in metro Phoenix and with the Herberger Institute’s vision to be culturally competent and aware of its positions within the arts ecology of Arizona,” said Marcus White, assistant professor in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. “Urban Sol helped set the stage for urban arts to drive collaboration between universities and communities. A lot has shifted over the last decade and Urban Sol must also shift and adapt. I am excited to see how Urban Sol continues to evolve as we embark on the 10th anniversary of the event in 2021.” 

Urban Sol 2019

Thursday, Nov. 14
Fader Manners and Letter Bending 
4-9 p.m., Trill Hip Hop Shop, 1817 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix

Friday, Nov. 15
Hip Hop Matters
11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Margaret Gisolo Dance Studio Theatre, Bulldog Hall, ASU’s Tempe campus

Friday Night Films: Shero Collective and Making of a Brave Star
8-10:30 p.m., Sun Studios of Arizona, 1425 W. 14th St., Tempe

Saturday, Nov. 16
The Main Event
2-9 p.m., Nelson Fine Arts Center Plaza, ASU’s Tempe campus

Urban Sol is the first of three initiatives that comprise Sol Motion — using social dance movement and culture for SOLcial change. Supported in part by ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, the program is rooted in and informed by “community engaged practice” to uplift community partnerships and knowledge as essential within the ecology of urban arts and culture.

Returning to the Forbes stage, ASU alumna speaks to the power of DACA youth leadership

November 8, 2019

Just over 10 million people were living in the U.S. without legal immigration status in 2017. Tens of thousands are young people who received temporary protection through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) after being brought to the country as minors. 

And as the fate of that program remains uncertain, the issues being analyzed at a policy level are the same ones impacting lives around the country in real time. At Forbes' 30 Under 30 Summit in Detroit last month, Arizona State University alumna and DACA recipient Reyna Montoya asked the audience to consider a basic commonality we all share. ASU alumna Reyna Montoya will be honored for her growing legacy of community activism empowering Arizona families touched by immigration issues during The College Leaders event in November.  ASU alumna Reyna Montoya will be honored for her continued legacy of community activism empowering Arizona families touched by immigration issues during The College Leaders event in November. Photo by Diego Lozano, Creative + Digital Director of Aliento Download Full Image

“There are thousands and thousands of children who are looking for our leadership today, and you have a choice within you to remember that they are human beings too, people like you, who breathe the same fresh air,” Montoya said. “I want to challenge you to take a moment to slow down, and breathe with me.” 

Montoya was one of more than 200 keynote speakers at the October summit, the latest in a list of recognitions for her activism and humanitarian work over the years. This fall, her growing legacy will also be honored with an induction to The College Leaders. And she’s intimately familiar with immigration issues that she’s addressing as a community organizer today.

She was 13 when her family fled violence in Tijuana, Mexico, for Mesa, Arizona. Growing up undocumented, she remembers facing challenges in everything from enrolling in school to finding a job. 

Despite the hurdles, she graduated with dual degrees in political science and transborder studies from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a minor in dance in 2012. 

DACA was enacted that same year, carving out new education pathways for Montoya and other recipients. She now holds a master’s degree in secondary education from Grand Canyon University and recently completed an executive education program through the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

But DACA did not quell the fear and uncertainty that families of mixed immigration status still faced. Montoya’s drive to help fill that gap led her to found Aliento in 2016, a nonprofit providing art and healing workshops, educational outreach and leadership training to students and families touched by immigration issues in Arizona. 

The work earned her recognition on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for social entrepreneurship and a Muhammad Ali Spirituality Award in 2018. Most recently, she was chosen as a finalist for the Greater Phoenix Chambers' ATHENA Awards for outstanding Valley businesswomen. And on the ground, Aliento The Spanish word "aliento" translates as both "breath" and "encouragement."has continued to grow.

Today, the organization hosts community building and resilience initiatives including a youth fellowship program, outreach to local middle and high schools and the creation of Aliento at ASU, a student-run club on the Tempe campus.

Driving change through youth leadership

Montoya said returning to Forbes as a speaker felt like a chance to talk not just about Aliento’s growth, but about the DACA program and its recipients at large.

Reyna Montoya speaks at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit.

Reyna Montoya speaks at the Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit. Photo by Diego Lozano/Aliento

“It was very humbling to be asked to go back and speak, and it's validating to see that the contributions of DACA recipients are being recognized by a place like Forbes,” Montoya said. “The Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments around DACA in November, days after the summit, so I wanted to educate people about what Dreamers go through and invite them to invest in youth leadership by supporting organizations like Aliento.”

Since its founding, Aliento has helped DACA and undocumented students as young as 14 advocate for themselves to representatives at the Arizona State Capitol, and hosted seminars where families can learn more about immigration policy. To Montoya, those initiatives speak to the empowerment platform her organization is based upon. 

“I think often we hear that millenials are the do-nothing generation, but I have witnessed the opposite,” she said. “I have seen young people of all ages getting involved in leadership and investing in not just their growth as individuals, but also that of the community.”

Aliento is also involved in impacting immigration policy in other ways. Earlier in October, the group appeared on an amicus brief alongside 165 universities, including ASU, urging the Supreme Court to uphold DACA.

“At the end of the day, higher education should be available to everyone, regardless of their background,” she said. “That’s why it filled me with so much pride to see my alma mater being willing to support DACA students in that way.”

Montoya originally created Aliento to give mixed-immigration-status families, students and young people the tools to navigate many of the higher education and immigration challenges she faced alone. 

“I’m a firm believer that once you’re educated, no one can take away those skills and that knowledge from you,” she said. “Going to ASU, I was able to build relationships and challenge my own thinking. All of that helped me understand who I am and what I am worth — that's something I’d encourage anyone to fight for.”

As the organization continues to grow, she said some of the best reminders of its impact come from some of the youngest people it serves.

“The other day, we were at a local elementary school supporting fifth- and sixth-grade students, and one of them told me after that our workshop on identity made her feel proud to be Mexican,” Montoya said. “It gives me a lot of hope for the future hearing that we’re helping young students in that way — I didn't always have that growing up, so creating a place where they feel their voice matters is to me the best impact we can make at Aliento.”

Writer, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


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Reaching for the stars

October 27, 2019

Interplanetary Initiative unveils slate of projects geared for space exploration

Millions of people around the world are working on making the push into space. Blue Origin is testing landers in the west Texas plains. SpaceX engineers are putting in long hours at its headquarters in the old Hughes Aircraft plants in Los Angeles. And universities are researching, experimenting and testing in every field from planetary geology to astrobiology to astronomy, plus running their own missions with NASA and foreign space agencies.

Now Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration has unveiled its efforts to solve some of the millions of problems that will have to be solved as mankind moves off Earth and colonizes the solar system.

The Interplanetary Initiative kicked off more than two years ago. The project brings together faculty from across the university, from the arts and sciences to the humanities, to brainstorm on significant problems and offer solutions.

“You’re going to see the results of research tonight,” Lindy Elkins-Tanton, co-chair of the effort along with university President Michael Crow, said Thursday night at a Space to Thrive public panel on the Tempe campus. “It’s in our genes to explore. That’s what we’re doing.”

WATCH: The Space to Thrive panel's recorded livestream on LinkedIn

In his remarks, Crow asked the audience: Are we a single-planet species?

“Absolutely not,” he said. “Our job is to build into our species as much adaptability as possible.”

A series of presenters gave flash talks about their projects during Thursday's panel.

Lance Gharavi, associate professor and assistant director/artistic director of theater in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, introduced “Port of Mars.”

“Port of Mars” is a card game created to see how cooperation might shake out in an off-world colony. Players are members of an early Martian settlement charged with working together to sustain the welfare of the community. Player actions are tracked and behavior analyzed. Researchers examine that data, looking for what behaviors, structures and systems worked, and what failed. Each instance of gameplay is a simulation, a modeling exercise for future space missions.

“How do we make sure they won’t tear each other apart?” asked Gharavi, raising the spectre of a "Lord of the Flies" scenario in outer space. “How do we best sustain healthy human communities in space?

“It’s a social science experiment disguised as a game,” he said, a way to engage the public in science with a fun game that rehearses the future.

Data will be collected from sessions and eventually be provided to organizations like NASA and Blue Origin. In spring 2020 a video game version will launch as well as a tournament Gharavi dubbed “March Mars Madness.”

Some of the other Interplanetary Initiative projects

Exploration Learning

Space exploration is going to require flexible, adaptive and quick thinking. As the adage goes, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” Evgenya Shkolnik, a professor of astrophysics, introduced Exploration Learning, a set of education techniques that engages students in critical thinking, problem solving and taking personal agency over their learning.

Satellite Operations Course

Near Earth orbit is jammed with satellites watching everything from the stars above to license plates below. But there’s a dearth of professionals qualified to operate satellites. To remedy that, Kaylee Poetsch, a technical training developer at Qwaltec, announced a partnership with ASU to create a Satellite Operations Course. The world’s first online satellite command and control certificate, the designation will be an insurance policy to employers that grads will be able to hit the ground running.

Five Senses in Space

When techs pack supply loads for the International Space Station, the last things to go in are vegetables and produce. When the astronauts open the load, the first thing to hit them are smells of the planet below.

Robert LiKamWa, an assistant professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering and the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, heads the Five Senses in Space project.

His team has constructed virtual reality, augmented reality and real engines and spaces simulating exploration on Mars (with real NASA data) — and a mobile Martian habitat.

“We look forward to you joining us on the Red Planet,” LiKamWa said.

Exoskeleton prototype

Geoffrey Clark, a PhD student in Hani Ben Amor’s Interactive Robotics Lab, introduced an exoskeleton prototype that has applications for both astronauts and people on Earth.

On long duration missions, astronauts will have to deal with a number of adverse physical effects, like losing bone and muscle mass. When they return to Earth, they will need help moving around until they recover. The exoskeletons built in the lab can be used to maintain strength in space and regain it on Earth.

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News

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ASU theater students tap into fantasy for 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' costumes

Student costume designers tap into fantasy for 'Kiss of the Spider Woman'
October 15, 2019

Halloween do-it-yourselfers can get tips from the pros

The “Kiss of the Spider Woman” is a play about politics and fantasy, and the Arizona State University student production that will debut on Friday allowed for a lot of creativity in the costuming.

The female dancers in the show are imaginary — conjured in the minds of the two male characters who are in prison.

The show, a production of the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, will feature costumes designed by Paige Lockwood, a senior majoring in theater design and production, and created by Niamh Murphy, the draper for the show who also is a senior majoring in theater design and production.

The students started working with the director, Guillermo Reyes, professor of theater, back in the spring semester to create the otherworldly vision of the costumes, according to Sarah Moench, clinical assistant professor of costume technology.

“This show, with the theatricality of the dancers’ costumes in particular, is a great way to illustrate how we go about making costumes and to showcase what our students are doing,” she said.

“We get a lot of interest in this around Halloween.”

Here are some ways to come up with a costume like the pros:

colored pencil sketch of costumes for 'Kiss of the Spider Woman'

Costume sketches were created by Paige Lockwood, the costume designer, who is a senior majoring in theater production and design with a minor in studio art. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Start early

“Some people start planning their Halloween costume the day after Halloween for the next year,” Moench said. “For us, the theater production schedule starts 23 weeks out from the opening.”

For “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” students were cast in the roles and Lockwood’s costume research and preliminary sketches were done by the end of the spring semester. Her final designs were due shortly after fall semester started.

“About 13 weeks out is when I come to the first meeting and talk about the production side,” Moench said.

back of a woman wearing spider-themed costume

The silk shawl worn by Ausette Anderies in "Kiss of the Spider Woman" was hand painted with silk dye for a "spidery" effect. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Do your research

Lockwood started the costume design process by collaborating with the director and then researching the era.

The play is set in a prison in 1970s Argentina, a politically turbulent time. The 1985 movie starred William Hurt, Raul Julia and Sonia Braga, although Lockwood did not see it.

“I try not to watch movie interpretations because I don’t want to be influenced by other designers’ choices,” she said.

In the play, the character Molina passes the time in prison by discussing a movie from the 1940s, so Lockwood took inspiration from that for the “femme fatale” character’s costume.

“I looked at images of 1940s noir films and those powerful female characters with the long silky black dresses that are slender and have movement and are sensual,” she said.

“I wanted to get that sleek look and I also got inspiration from Argentinian tango because that started in Buenos Aires in the 1940s. That’s why I have the slit up her leg.”

Lockwood emphasized the “femme fatale’s” arms with black lace to get that sensuality and darkness of the character.

She also created the “spider woman” character’s costume.

“For that, I had a lot of creative freedom because there isn’t really a time period or exact look, because she’s in his imagination and it’s surrealism.

“So I looked at surrealistic artwork from that time, I found paintings of women who looked dangerous and mysterious and I was inspired by that.”

women kneeling to tailor dress worn by other woman

Niamh Murphy, costumer draper for "Kiss of the Spider Woman," makes an adjustment on the "femme fatale" costume worn by junior Ausette Anderies at the Nelson Fine Arts Center costume shop. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Consider professional touches

Murphy created the “femme fatale” costume out of silk charmeuse, which stretches, so it’s comfortable for the dancer.

But the fabric is expensive. So first, the drapers make the costume out of inexpensive fabric to perfect the fit and tweak the design. For example, the “femme fatale” costume was modified to have princess seaming in the bodice, which works better for a dancer.

“We did the mockup so that’s always comforting, and so you know how much fabric it will take and any roadblocks you might face,” said Murphy, who learned to sew in high school and refined her skills at ASU.

For the shawl that goes with the “Spider Woman” costume, Moench and Lockwood created the spidery effect by hand-painting the white silk with silk dye. Then, they sewed dress weights to the corners to enhance the graceful motion as the actor walked with the shawl flowing behind her. Do-it-yourselfers can add coins to a hem or edge to create the same finished effect.

woman trying on a costumer

Costume designer Paige Lockwood, left, watches as Ausette Anderies tries on the "femme fatale" costume for the "Kiss of the Spider Woman" production. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

 Don’t forget “extras”

“People making their Halloween costume have a budget and we have one too,” Moench said.

The students had $750 to spend on all the costumes, including shoes, plus hair and makeup. Some of the items, such as the black lace for the “femme fatale” costume, were in the costume stock. The silk was expensive but actually cost less to buy in bulk, so there’s plenty left over for another costume in the future.

Moench’s tip for Halloween costumers:

“We always set aside 10% of that budget as a contingency, so if we find out we need another pair of shoes or we need to add a hat or some jewelry, there’s a little bit of money set aside,” she said.

“So figure out what kinds of pieces you need, set your budget and set 10% aside because inevitably, you’ll want something else at the end and you’ll end up at the store trying to find black fishnets and you’ll have to spend a bunch more because everybody has bought them all.”

Top image: Production crew members begin attaching the silk web to the "Spider Woman" costume, worn by actor/dancer Ausette Anderies, for the "Kiss of the Spider Woman" production at the Nelson Fine Arts Center costume shop. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


ASU actors, scientists team up to increase climate change awareness

October 9, 2019

Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts is teaming up with Biodesign Institute on Thursday, Nov. 14, in the Biodesign Institute auditorium to participate in an international movement, Climate Change Theatre Action. Actors from Herberger’s acting concentration for stage and screen program in the School of Film, Dance, and Theatre will offer three staged readings. Paired with the actors, graduate student scientists and researchers from Biodesign Institute will demonstrate how their research intersects with each play’s theme. 

A global participatory project, Climate Change Theatre Action uses theater to bring communities together and encourage them to take local and global action on climate. Fifty professional playwrights, representing all continents as well as several indigenous nations, are commissioned to write five-minute plays, including one performance inspired by young climate activist Greta Thunberg, about various aspects of climate change.  From left to right: Corey Reynolds/Jillian Walker, students at Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, worked with Biodesign researcher Athena Aktipis in a 2018 Climate Change Theater performance. Download Full Image

Produced and envisioned by Herberger Associate Professor Micha Espinosa, this is the third time ASU has participated in Climate Change Theatre Action. This year, her co-producer is embedded artist intern and acting concentration student Ausette Anderies. ASU is part of the action in promoting this awareness through the power of storytelling and the demonstration of science. 

The performance begins at noon on Nov. 14 in the Biodesign Institute Auditorium, and is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Micha Espinosa. 

Plays and performers include:

'It Starts With Me' by Chantal Bilodeau

This play is inspired by Greta Thunberg, Katharine Hayhoe, Wangari Maathai, Alexandria Villaseñor, Naomi Klein, Rebecca Solnit, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Christiana Figueres and countless more women who are fighting for us all

Directed by: Zuriel Lloyd and Micha Espinosa

Featuring: Makayla Higgs, Giselle Torres, Hailey Royster, Lana Antropova, Alaina Lass 

Charles Rolsky, a graduate student researcher at the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering, connected his research to a play called “Single Use,” during which a couple on a first date grapples with their personal opinions on single use plastics. Rolsky’s research has a keen focus on microplastics, their remediation and the threats they pose to people and our planet.

'The Failed Experiment' by Jatoba Vitor

The inspiration for this play came from the playwright’s feelings about humans’ ability to deceive themselves. We can see but we prefer to ignore. We can act but we prefer not to. We are aliens on our own planet.

Directed by: Michael Scholar

Featuring: Victor Yang and Sadie Schuelfer 

Corey Reynolds (left) and Jillian Walker, students at Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, worked with Biodesign researcher Athena Aktipis in a 2018 Climate Change Theatre Action performance.

'Hashtag You Too' by Mike van Graan

The play genuflects to the book, “Wild Law: A Manifesto for Earth Justice,” written by Cormac Cullinan. The purpose of the play is to catalyze discussion and debate around the rights of the Earth and its constituent parts in modern, contemporary society.

Directed by: Ausette Andries

Featuring: Rashaud Williams and Dolores Mendoza 

Participating graduate student researchers, under the direction of Rolf Halden, director of the Biodesign Center for Environmental Health Engineering include:

Nivedita Rengarajan has a background in environmental engineering in the United Kingdom and has a master’s degree in sustainability from ASU. Her interests lie in applying circular economy principles for sustainable solid waste management. She is fluent in English, German and two Indian languages. Rengarajan has worked for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization in Vienna, for Indian NGOs on slum sanitation and for the government of Singapore.  

Ashley Heida is a graduate student in the biological design program at Arizona State University. She grew up in Minnesota and completed her undergraduate degree in physics at the University of North Dakota. She has conducted research in theoretical and experimental solid state physics, radiology physics and single-cell genomics analysis. Currently, she studies the risks associated with decisions consumers make in their daily lives, for example, the temperature setting on their home water heater. Her goal is to understand the risk in order to help prevent infection, reduce energy costs and live cleaner lives.

Written by Dianne Price