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Students full of excitement, hope as ASU's fall semester begins

Celeste Anderson jokes about not being ready to open her biology book.

Celeste Anderson isn't quite ready to open her biology book, though she survived the first class on the Downtown Phoenix campus Aug. 20. The transfer student, who is studying exercise and wellness, moved on campus and is reveling in her two-minute commute.

August 20, 2015

The heart of the campus thumped with bass beats as the heart of the university returned for the first day of class.

More than 70,000 students returned to Arizona State University’s metropolitan campuses this week, with the first day of class Aug. 20 bringing both excitement and jitters.

For Kaleen Nicklas, there was some of both.

“It’s interesting to see freshmen who are excited and scared because their excited and scared is different than mine,” the senior psychology major said as she checked her phone in the hallway of the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus, where a DJ played tunes outside. “Mine is that I don’t want to leave and I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Still, seniors do enjoy some relief from freshman stress.

“It’s less intimidating because I know the whole campus and I know where everything is,” the Simi Valley, California native said. “My classes are smaller. I have more friends (than when I was new).”

Freshman Alexis Boschi was excited her first day on campus. Later in the afternoon, she pulled up on her bike to her fourth class of the day in Coor Hall. She had the day under control but not the weather.

“I’m pretty OK,” the Phoenix native said as she mopped her forehead. “I wish it was cooler.”

A biological science major, her priorities this year are “getting straight A's and good grades,” she said. She also wants to join some medical clubs. “I want to be a doctor,” she said.

No matter whether students knew exactly what their future plans were, each campus offers them a variety of classes and first-day activities — whether it was enjoying a West campus barbecue, looking forward to cooling off in the rooftop pool downtown, getting to class early at the Polytechnic campus or stoically dealing with lines in Tempe.

Time waits for no Sun Devil

Thousands of students scurried up and down Taylor Mall on Thursday morning as the minutes ticked away toward the start of the semester on the Downtown Phoenix campus.

Brennan Pina, a public service major, spent the morning stationed in a tent with an “Ask Me” t-shirt, guiding nervous freshmen toward their first college classes.

“I expect a big rush just before class starts,” he said, noting that most professors are pretty laid-back about latecomers on the first day.

At least, they are for freshmen.

“I’m a sophomore so they might treat me differently now,” he said.

Some students are juggling so much that being late to class is inevitable.

Arlette Townsend said she warns her professors that she’s likely to walk in a few minutes late sometimes.

“I tell them that my work will be turned in on time,” said Townsend, 52, who works full time at A New Leaf community-service agency in Glendale and is also a full-time student majoring in social work.

Townsend drives to the Downtown Phoenix campus from Tolleson in the West Valley.

“I already have full road rage when I get here, and then I’m sprinting,” she said.

Once or twice, professors have gently reminded her of the class start time. But she said most are understanding.

Other students say the responsibility is with them.

“With most of the professors, it’s on you if you’re late,” said Brooke Taylor, a sophomore kinesiology major from California.

“If you miss something in class, it’s up to you to make it up.”

Taylor was sitting outside the University Center on the Downtown Phoenix campus a few minutes before her 9 a.m. class.

“I don’t want to be there too early,” she said.

Others are more uptight.

“If I’m five minutes late, I’m distraught,” said Frank Smith III, a senior who’s majoring in public policy.

“There’s a quote I heard and it’s how I live my life, ‘If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, it’s unacceptable.’ ”

Smith is interning this term with U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego’s office in the University Center on the Downtown Phoenix campus.

“I was here early today,” he said.

Sometimes, the shoe is on the other foot.

Rigo Orta had American politics, his first class of the term, at 9 a.m. in the Cronkite building.

“I was there at least 20 minutes early,” said Orta, 20, a transfer student from Arizona Western College in Yuma. He’s majoring in emergency management and homeland security. But the professor was a few minutes late.

“Everyone was just sitting there waiting,” Orta said. “We cut him some slack.”

Poly’s anthem: We are family

Vignesh Kannam, who hails from India, is a part of the Polytechnic campus community. The 26-year-old graduate student is studying software engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and has made strong connections since his arrival in 2014.

“I really love it because I feel like we are family here,” Kannam said. “There’s a lot of international students on this campus, and we feel a certain kinship toward each other. You can focus on this campus because there’s silence. When I go to the gym, I feel like it’s my gym.”

Sophomore Halie Bartlowe wasn’t as relaxed.

The 18-year-old arrived 20 minutes early for class and stood outside of Picacho Hall in near triple-digit temperatures, waiting for her microeconomics class to start. Admittedly, she had first-day jitters.

A student in the Aeronautical Management Technology program, her career goal is to become a commercial airline pilot.

“I’ve always liked planes, and it just felt right,” Bartlowe said. “After I get my pilot’s license I’m going to be able to fly planes while in college … and that’s pretty cool.”

Get in line

Every chair, couch, corner and table was occupied in the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus. In the basement, Dhillon Truong, a communications major from Tempe, waited in line for a sub sandwich. He’d been in line for five minutes and predicted he had about a half-hour wait before walking away with lunch in hand.

“It’s a normal first day,” Truong said.

He said he’s putting off going to the bookstore. “I’ll wait three or four days because the lines are pretty long.” Truong is a junior, so this wasn’t his first rodeo. “Or I’ll just order them online and go in and pick them up.”

Upstairs, Gilbert Sosa from Mexico stood in line at the Chinese restaurant. It wasn’t his first line of the day. There had been “a couple, from advisement to Jamba Juice to other things,” he said. “About six. This one might take some time.”

He estimated eight minutes. “Jamba Juice was about 17 minutes,” the day’s longest.

The shortest? “Probably advisement,” Sosa said. “It was almost a walk-in.”

With at least three or four more on his list Thursday, his line survival strategy was simple. “Make good friends and talk my way through it,” he said.

Monarch Tshuma, a sophomore sociology major from Texas, was out of the bookstore in “five, 10 minutes.” It was his last line of the day. “I’m done,” he said.

Back at the Memorial Union, the convenience market had a sign outside its door. “90 Seconds Or Less.”

Fletcher Lawn is hopping

By all indications, Fletcher Lawn was the place to be on ASU’s West campus Thursday. With three simultaneous events taking place — West Fest, Well Devils Bike Sale and Fear the Fork BBQ — the lawn was a veritable feast for the senses.

Booths for clubs, schools and initiatives lined the walkways and shaded the grass in front of the reflecting pool. Communications sophomore Cindy Cook at the Career Services table was impressed with the crowd.

“We’ve definitely seen a lot of traffic going through,” she said.

Kaitlin Thern at the Spectrum booth agreed: “The turnout has been better than expected this year.”  

Thern, a psychology junior, is vice president of Spectrum, ASU West’s LGBTQIA club.

Over at the Teachers of the Future booth, early education sophomore Kim Zacsek was luring passersby away from the aroma of barbecue with the promise of a colorful prize-yielding spinning wheel.

Situated in a shaded alcove, Kevin Beirworth and Jim Myers of Gordy’s Bicycles passed out fliers and answered students’ questions about bikes and bike accessories. An array of candy-colored cruisers were available for students to purchase and walk away with on the spot.

Still more representatives at the Sun Devil Fitness Complex booth challenged students to jump from the ground to the top of a 3-foot plyo box, used for plyometric exercise.

All the better for burning off that barbecue.

A simple walk

Celeste Anderson has slashed her commuting time to class by 93 percent this year.

Anderson, who is a transfer student, had to drive half an hour from her home in Phoenix to her classes at Glendale Community College for the past three years.

“It was a solid 30 minutes, and there were two train crossings so there were two chances to get stuck waiting for a train,” she said.

Now, after transferring to ASU, she lives in Taylor Place on the Downtown Phoenix campus. It took her two minutes to walk to her first class, biology, at 7:30 a.m. in the Nursing and Health Innovation Building.

“It’s early, but I was glad to get it out of the way,” she said while eating a hard-boiled egg for breakfast in the dining hall.

Anderson, 20 years old and an exercise and wellness major, has been making friends during “Welcome Week” in the dorm. But she admits she’s in a different part of her journey than the freshmen she has befriended.

“They’re like, ‘Let’s go to a party.’ I’ve already done parties. I’m just trying to buckle down and get out of here.”

First day about making contact

ASU’s Polytechnic campus can no longer be accused of being the quiet stepsister of Tempe.

On the first day of class, Poly’s classrooms were packed, sidewalks filled, parking spaces sparse and student life evident almost everywhere.

About a half-hour before her Introduction to Commercial Photography Class, Penny Dolin, an 18-year teaching veteran at ASU, said the first day is more about contact than curriculum.

“I tell them about me, but I really want to know about them,” said Dolin, who is also the program chair of the Graphic Information Technology program, which teaches approximately 700 students.

“Sure, we’ll go over the course and the curriculum, but what I want to know most is what my students are interested in, what they want to do with their lives, why they want to do it. I set the stage for the semester and want them to know we’re all on a team. I think community is important.”

Hitting the books

While Fletcher Lawn outside was a whirlwind of commotion, inside Fletcher Library, students were already getting down to business.

It may have been only the first day of classes but Gustavo Lara, coordinator for the tutoring center in Fletcher Library, was posted up among the rows of desks with student tutors Frank Scarpa, a grad student studying philosophy and secondary education, and psychology major Mairi MacNeill “warming up” for the semester.

Lara said the number of students they see varies from semester to semester but that at about week two or three they usually get around 60 students in the center at once, which does not require appointments.

The most common subject students seek help with? Math, Lara said. After that comes chemistry, then business and statistics. But his team is there to help with all subjects.

Toward the front of the library, political science freshman Jordan Garcia was taking a break from the heat at Starbucks. She had six classes Thursday but so far had only been to two.

“I’m looking forward to the rest of my classes and to meeting new people and having new experiences through clubs,” Garcia said of her hopes for this semester.

Just around the corner, applied computing sophomore Charles Beckton was taking advantage of some free time between classes to listen to some music on his iPhone; in fact, most students had earbuds in and some were even nodding their heads along to a beat as they hand-scrawled notes or typed on their laptops.

Beckton’s goal for the semester is to boost his GPA. Considering the resources and amenities available at Fletcher Library, he’s in the right place to do that.

Sweatin’ the first day

Even though it’s only a brief walk to class, just venturing outdoors is a big challenge on Emily Ashworth’s first day of classes.

A freshman nursing major, Ashworth came to ASU from Anchorage, Alaska. She said she hardly wanted to leave her air-conditioned room in Taylor Place on the Downtown Phoenix campus during the searing heat wave over move-in weekend.

Even staying indoors was a novelty for her.

“We don’t have air-conditioning in Anchorage,” she said. “Normally it’s about 65 degrees in the summer.”

She ate an omelet in the Taylor Place dining hall before braving the heat and heading toward her first class at 10:30.

“I’m not really nervous for class,” she said. “I did a lot of dual-enrollment courses last year.”

She’s also looking forward to relaxing in the rooftop pool at the Sun Devil Fitness Center after classes.

“An outdoor pool is a new concept for me.”

ASU News reporters Mary Beth Faller (reporting from the Downtown Phoenix campus), Emma Greguska (West campus), Scott Seckel (Tempe campus) and Marshall Terrill (Polytechnic campus) contributed to this story.

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