ASU Gammage hosts annual High School Musical Theatre Awards

June 5, 2023

ASU Gammage hosted the annual High School Musical Theatre Awards, an opportunity for young Valley artists to be celebrated and showcase their skills, on May 27. The ceremony is the predecessor for the Jimmy Awards, a national event held annually in New York City at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre.  

“It’s a night of recognition, praise and celebration for all of the talented, skilled and crafted performances put on by our high school students — and year after year, we happen to have a lot of talent in front of the stage curtain and behind it,” said Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, executive director of ASU Gammage. “These students are the future professional actors, actresses, stage managers, tech directors and creatives who will continue to keep this signature American art form alive.”  A group of high school students all dressed in black posing for a photo with production signs surrounding them. Chandler High School won Best Musical this year for its production of "Anastasia." This was the school’s third time winning Best Musical in the four years it’s participated. Download Full Image

This year, 400 performers from 25 high schools walked the red carpet, performed a number from their school production, and learned which finalists ultimately became the winners of 14 performance and technical categories.   

Award categories range from Excellence in Stage Management to Best Vocalist, and nominees performed highlights of their performances on a world-class stage.  

Chandler High School won Best Musical for its second year in a row for its production of "Anastasia." This was the school’s third time winning Best Musical in the four years it’s participated.   

Alyse Negroni from Hamilton High School is this year’s Best Lead Female winner, and Denver Dickenson from Casteel High School is this year’s Best Lead Male. Negroni and Dickenson are nominees for the Jimmy Awards and will head to the Big Apple for a week of intensive training before performing and competing in the national ceremony on June 26.  

Jillian Cote

Marketing & Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage

Musicians-in-residence program at Mirabella at ASU wins top honors

June 1, 2023

Mirabella at ASU, a university-based retirement community on the northwest corner of the Arizona State University Tempe campus, offers independent-living apartments, assisted living units, skilled nursing and memory care, and a unique program in which ASU students reside and engage with residents on reciprocal projects: the musicians-in-residence (MIR) program.

The Mirabella MIR program was named winner of the 2023 Innovation Award by Arizona LeadingAge at the nonprofit's annual conference on May 19.  Group of musicians on stage performing in front of a screen. Mirabella residents perform with ASU students in the musicians-in-residence program. Photo courtesy Mirabella at ASU Download Full Image

The award recognizes an organization that creates an innovative program or service on their campus, such as technology advancement, environmental design or impact to residents and/or employees.

“The MIR program is a 10-month intergenerational, fully immersive and mutually beneficial program that connects generations based on a shared love of music and the arts,” said Lindsey Beagley, director of lifelong university engagement at ASU. “Because Mirabella is situated so close to campus, it is designed to not only bring music into the building, but also help residents explore and become familiar with the nearby arts and culture scene.”

Each year, four exceptional graduate students are selected to participate in MIR. The inaugural program launched in fall 2021 with music students; this August, the program — in response to a request from the Mirabella residents — will include a graduate dance student and will be renamed the artists-in-residence (AIR) program.

The program also engages residents with free or reduced-price access to more than 650 music, dance and theater events each year, including productions, ensemble concerts and recitals by guest artists, faculty and students as well as performances at ASU Gammage. Residents can also participate in several musical ensembles on campus, some of which do not require an audition.

Beagley said planning for the MIR program began in 2019 when she and C. Samuel Peña, assistant director of the popular music program, were asked to co-design the program by Heather Landes, director of the School of Music, Dance and Theatre.

In addition to bringing musical programming to the residents, who are 62 years and older, they wanted to provide an opportunity for the students to build relationships with the residents.

“We designed the program from the ground up,” said Peña, who was the school’s community engagement coordinator at the time. “This included merging the missions and goals of Mirabella and ASU.” 

Peña’s academic research focuses on community and participatory music, so he researched music schools throughout the United States to discover if similar programs existed.

Creative aging

As a music facilitator and teaching artist in the field of creative aging, Peña is experienced with the social and mental benefits of interactive music experiences, especially with participants whose ages span generations.

A major design choice, Peña said, was to replace one of the two required weekly performances with a flex engagement to create mutually beneficial experiences for both the students and the residents. Flex engagements encourage the students and residents to get to know each other and discuss areas of interest.

“I wanted the residents to be inspired and feel seen and included in the decisions ... shaping their community,” Peña said. “I love watching them light up with inspiration during a performance and then again when they are participating in a flex engagement they took part in shaping.”

While the graduate students are selected in part because of their musical excellence, Peña said the flex engagement allows them to showcase and strengthen hidden talents as well as experiment and try new things.

“They are providing art for the community and creating art with the community,” Peña said.

Beagley said one of the inaugural resident musician’s dissertations focused on the MIR program, and the emerging theme from the narratives he collected revealed the program was a deciding factor for residents in their decision to move into the community.

“What we have seen happen over time is that fantastic intergenerational relationships are developing, not just over music, but as neighbors and community members,” Beagley said.

She said the program also encourages residents to get out of their comfort zones and explore something new that they might not have done on their own, which is key for an older adult living on a college campus.

“They are building a level of community with the actual campus,” said Beagley.

Beagley said bringing a movement and dance aspect to the program will reach people who have not necessarily felt connected to music.

“The people living in Mirabella have had incredible lives and very often they don't get an opportunity to talk to our students, who are also living incredible lives and have incredible skill sets,” Peña said. “The university is a very curious place, and when those two worlds converge together, it allows both of the parties to grow in ways that they could not otherwise.”

Da Hye "Michelle" Kim, pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts in collaborative piano, has been the student coordinator with MIR since January 2022.

Kim said Mirabella’s idea of lifelong learning is applicable to any age. She took art classes together with residents, which reminded her how much fun she had going to art classes as a 5-year-old. She started playing the flute again, her secondary instrument, and even entered the Arizona Flute Festival and Competition with resident Emily Zeigler.

“The residents here are very talented and have so much to offer,” Kim said. “You share ideas and different perspectives with them and grow as a person.” 

Kim said one of her favorite experiences was when the MIR students went to fine dining with the residents, and afterward they all went to the exercise room and played table tennis in their dinner clothes.

“As an artist and student, you get to bring all your dreams and see them come true here,” Kim said. “We are encouraged to experiment with even the silliest ideas and we get tons of support. We have huge supporters and loving fans. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” 

Beagley said the program is very innovative and creative and is a win-win for everybody.

“If you think about the definition of innovation — putting two things together that do not typically belong together and creating something new that is more than the sum of its parts — that is really this program in a nutshell,” Beagley said.

Peña, the school’s representative for the program, also attends the welcome orientation, meets with the artists-in-residence, facilitates the selection panel and call for applications, and reviews the applications.

“The project design, selection process, and excellent artistic and social skills of the AIRs will make this program successful for years to come,” Peña said.

The MIR program received an honorable mention during the 2022 Promising Practices Awards from the Mather Institute for developing and implementing innovative approaches that are reshaping the aging services industry. Mirabella at ASU received the 2022 Innovation Award for being a university-based retirement community concept.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music, Dance and Theatre


ASU alumna designs red carpet gown for Tony Awards

May 31, 2023

Arizona State University alumna Abigail Davis has always had her heart set on the world of fashion.

First learning to sew at age 5, Davis is ambitious and dedicated in her design ventures, which range from her senior capstone collection to her debut couture business. Women dressed in black pose in front of an empty theater. Colleen Jennings-Roggensack (left) wearing the gown designed by Abigail Davis. Photo courtesy ASU Gammage Download Full Image

Now, at age 23, Davis has completed her biggest venture yet: a unique designer gown to be worn at the 76th Tony Awards red carpet and ceremony set for June 11 in New York City.

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, the executive director of ASU Gammage and ASU’s vice president for cultural affairs, is the sole voter to represent Arizona for the Tony Awards and will be wearing Davis’ creation on Broadway’s biggest night. Jennings-Roggensack sought Davis out following her tradition of enlisting Arizona-based designers for the event and was quickly acquainted with her in the process.  

“Abigail is magic. Absolutely magic,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “She figured out how to outshine the stars I’ll be there with. I'm always so proud to say there is tremendous talent in Arizona.” 

Davis graduated from ASU’s fashion program in 2022, before forming her company, PHENOM Couture, with her senior capstone fashion collection. Her brand aims to create custom couture fashion that exudes the personality of her clients and blends with her playfully elegant aesthetic. Above all, Davis emphasizes inclusivity of each body in every way possible.  

“PHENOM believes at its core that everyone is phenomenal and deserves to be celebrated and accelerated,” Davis said. “It's all about reaching their ultimate potential through fashion, because ultimately the best dress is a great smile.” 

Creating a gown this intricate, unique and thoughtful is a feat within itself — five months of work went into the process. Fashion design takes just as many technical skills as it does creative energy, but Davis has already mastered these abilities at ASU.  

After graduating from high school in 2017, Davis decided against out-of-state fashion school due to cost – but ASU's fashion program started that same year. Davis to chalk it up to divine timing.  

“If ASU fashion didn't create their program when it did, I wouldn't have even been able to go to college,” Davis said. “It's been such a crazy experience to see the program grow so much, to move into the ASU Downtown (Phoenix) campus, and all the incredible things they're doing with this new technology. I'm very proud to be from Arizona and be affiliated with ASU.” 

Davis is thankful for ASU’s innovative nature. Her exposure to cutting-edge fashion technology during her time as a student introduced her to the new age of sustainable couture.  

“ASU is the exclusive place where you can learn how to use the newest software, like Opex. It creates an extremely sustainable and rapid process of pattern making, and it's so much more accurate to the person or body that you're trying to dress,” Davis explained. “Learning it provides such an edge in this industry, so it’s incredible that ASU can even offer that at a public university. You wouldn't even find that at some of the top fashion schools in New York City.” 

From the classroom to the creation of PHENOM, sustainability has remained an area of focus for Davis’ designs, in more ways than one. From the fabrics that she uses to the structure of the clothing itself, PHENOM designs aim for longevity and purpose in the closets of its clients.  

“Sustainability takes form through several different factors for us here. Every project gets repurposed as filling for making coats — we're repurposing every single scrap that we produce,” Davis said. “As far as sustainability goes with our couture services, I'm a pattern maker originally, so there's sustainability within the integrity of our designs as well. Our gowns will grow with you and will be able to be passed on generationally because it’s not made out of a fixed material.” 

Jennings-Roggensack’s gown puts Davis’ words to life, as the unique 3D lace fabric was hand sourced by Davis in 2020 and used to its entirety, meaning that no other dress can be made with this now archived material. Additionally, the spandex-based materials found in the corset expands up to three sizes, allowing the design to breathe with the person wearing it.  

“Abigail has an incredible contemporary eye,” Jennings-Roggensack said. “When I wear this gown, I will be channeling two things: a very talented designer who happens to be a graduate of ASU and the state of Arizona. People will be shouting, 'Who designed your dress?' Abigail Davis did.” 

When given the role of representing Arizona at one of the biggest awards events of the year through fashion, Davis set herself and the brand aside to focus on celebrating Jennings-Roggensack at every level she possibly could and sharing this Southwestern vision with the world. 

“Through our entire process together and how we came up with the final design, it is such a co-creation. Colleen is extremely inspiring, playful and such a force of nature,” Davis said. “This is the biggest opportunity I've had in my career thus far, and I truly could not be more honored to have Colleen wearing it.” 

Jillian Cote

Marketing & Communications Assistant, ASU Gammage

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Herberger Institute Professor Liz Lerman honored as 2023 Guggenheim Fellow

May 30, 2023

Arizona State University Herberger Institute Professor — and legendary choreographer, artist and author — Liz Lerman was recently selected as a 2023 Guggenheim Fellow. This annual award honors scientists, writers, scholars and artists across 48 fields who are selected by a rigorous application and peer review process.

Throughout her career, Lerman has sought to connect disciplines and domains, and expand where dance lives in our society. She has cultivated generations of dance makers focused on dance as an agent for social change through community engagement, and her vision and artistry have shaped the dance field and the ways in which dance is utilized to communicate complex issues in our world.

Lerman is the author of several books, including “Teaching Dance to Senior Adults” and “Hiking the Horizontal.” Her most recent co-authored book, “Critique is Creative,” with John Borstel, won the Silver Nautilus Book Award. “Critique is Creative” details Lerman’s pioneering Critical Response Process in detail, discusses its origins and principles, and includes essays from a number of practitioners who have used the process in the contexts of art, education and community life. 

A former fellow of the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, Lerman is currently a senior fellow at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) and a fellow at the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at ASU.

Installation brought new challenge

Lerman said she looks forward to continuing the work she developed during her three-year residency at YBCA. The culminating installation, created in collaboration with visual artist and residency fellow Brett Cook, is titled “Reflection and Action.” It's a semi-retrospective that examines the role of artists in the world. Lerman said although she has worked in museums, including the ASU Art Museum, before, this was the first time she created work intended for installation.

“It was a challenge, taking my work and putting it in the context of a museum installation in two large rooms and an atrium and working with people in a manner in which I have not worked before,” Lerman said.

“I've been thinking about it for years, this idea of how exhibitions or installations play out and what movement artists can bring to installations,” she said. “This experience was different, and it was very moving to me.”

Lerman has been expanding the idea with her ASU students in the Atlas of Creative Tools class this year. The students made installations that included an object, a visual image, movement of some kind and documentation of their research. It all had to live in an installation that could be put up in 10–15 minutes and later taken down.

“They were spectacular,” Lerman said. “It was just fantastic to see how they went to work on this. I just loved how they approached it. I feel like we cracked open some habitual ways of thinking about how dance gets made.”

Lerman will be further developing the museum idea while she is on a yearlong sabbatical. She will also be using this time to write a follow-up to “Hiking the Horizontal,” which she said uses her version of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

“If you measure the shape of something, you will miss the momentum. But if you measure the momentum, you cannot see the shape,” she said. “I was drawn to this as a choreographic puzzle but also as a solution. That is, you need both but each requires different capacities and techniques. And when you think about this as a metaphor for change, you can see that most of our institutions hold their shapes too long. They and we become afraid to move into the flow for fear of losing our shape, even though to be relevant one must. It’s a perfect example of why choreographic knowledge is of use to a world in constant motion and change. This book I am working on will explain why and how this works.”

'A sense of the person I was becoming'

Lerman’s advice to young artists? Give yourself time. 

“Sometimes it happens in a flash, but even all the build-up to get that flash could be years in the making. You do get a flash, but a lot of times it's just practice, practice, practice,” she said. “So, my advice would be about practice, finding a laboratory and knowing there’s time.”

Lerman speaks from experience. She has been applying for the fellowship for years.

“The first time I applied for the Guggenheim was in 1978, so I have been very persistent,” she said. “I applied many, many, many times.”

The application process involves writing a personal biography, describing the work you’re doing and getting four recommendation letters. She said looking back at her applications over the years almost felt like an autobiography. 

“You get a sense of the person I was becoming all through the applications. I also love that you have an opportunity to let four people in on what you're doing, and then they support you,” Lerman said. “Seeing the list of people supporting me was pretty powerful. That is its own special honor and right.”

Lerman said this felt like the right year.

“I'm taking a sabbatical, I was turning 75, so it was a particularly good year,” she said. “I just thought, ‘Let's do it again.’”

Lerman has several projects on the horizon that she’s excited about, including partnerships and a project she’s calling “Legacy Unboxed.”

“A lot of times you get to my age and everyone expects, ‘She's going to tie everything up in a neat little bow,’ and that is just not my experience. Life is way more wild than that,” Lerman said. “‘Legacy Unboxed’ is kind of a framework to hold the rest of what's happening, and it includes this particular period of life. I'm so lucky to be in such an environment with such incredible colleagues and amazing students.”

Lacy Chaffee

Media and communications coordinator , School of Music, Dance and Theatre


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Beyond 'oompah': Tuba musicians to converge at ASU conference

Tuba players to gather at ASU to explore everything from 'oompah' to electro.
May 25, 2023

Gathering to focus on inclusivity, new music; include nightly jazz jams

More than 800 musicians will visit Arizona State University next week for the International Tuba Euphonium Conference to write music, hone their craft and celebrate their instrument.

The conference, sponsored by the International Tuba Euphonium Association, will be at ASU for the first time and is being hosted by Deanna Swoboda, past president of the group and an associate professor of music at ASU. She teaches tuba and euphonium, entrepreneurship and music courses, coaches chamber music, designs creative music performances and leads the ASU Tuba and Euphonium Studio.

The conference is important because of the camaraderie and music-making, said Swoboda, who typically teaches about 14 to 18 tuba and euphonium students a year.

“And we’re bringing the tuba from what is typically the back row of the orchestra, and we get to come to the front and shine and be the featured soloists,” she said.

Tuba is often thought of as “oompah” music, but this conference also will feature jazz, heavy metal and electro tuba.

“We’re proud of our role as oompah players because it’s our roots, and it’s where we come from and we do love that part of it,” she said.

“This is an opportunity to do other things besides playing solo chamber music.”

The conference will include recitals, master classes and presentations.

“We’re emphasizing new music for the tuba and euphonium,” she said. “Our goal is to have 50 new works for the 50th anniversary of the association.”

This year’s conference also will focus on diversity and inclusion.

“We’re very excited about that because it features a lot of new composers and a lot of new people playing the instrument,” Swoboda said.

Historically, most tuba players have been male, and the roots of the instrument are in Europe and, specifically, within the orchestra.

“We’re expanding on that, and this conference will help us find a more inclusive voice,” she said.

Presentations for association members will include interviews with professional female players, how to create an inclusive studio and a panel discussion on “queer brass.”

What’s the difference between a tuba and a euphonium?

“The tuba is the contrabass instrument of the brass family. It plays the lowest notes,” she said.

“The euphonium is part of the tuba family because it’s shaped similarly but it’s much smaller. It’s the tenor voice of the tuba family.”

Swoboda said that ensembles made of all tubas and euphoniums have a unique sound.

“It can have the resonance of an organ playing because the tuba has the very low end of the spectrum contrasted with the high voice that the euphonium can produce.

“It’s really quite beautiful.”

Public performances 

Some events of the conference, which runs Monday through Saturday, are open to the public.

• A concert at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 31, at ASU Gammage is free and will include performances by the Mountain Ridge High School wind ensemble and a group made of current and former International Tuba Euphonium Association presidents, including Swoboda.

 • A concert at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 1, at ASU Gammage will feature several performers including soloists from Salt River Brass. Tickets are $18.

• Nightly jam sessions at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel will run from 10 p.m. to midnight May 31–June 2 and 8 to 10 p.m. June 3, and will feature jazz, alternative, heavy metal tuba and electro tuba.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


ASU voice professor connects music, science during field trip for grad students

May 12, 2023

Graduate-level voice performance and voice performance pedagogy students in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre recently participated in a field trip for a hands-on experience to dissect and explore the different parts of the body associated with singing.

Amanda DeMaris, clinical assistant professor of voice, took five students in her Anatomy and Physiology of Singing class to a lab in the science, mathematics and social science program at the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts on the Downtown Phoenix campus. Two students in masks and goggles dissect a sheep's larynx. Two voice performance students dissect a sheep's larynx. Photo by Amanda DeMaris Download Full Image

DeMaris said that while the students are always doing hands-on learning and practical application of topics in the teaching components of their vocal pedagogy classes, this was the first time that she exposed them to this type of experience.

“The voice can be a complicated instrument to teach, in part because our instrument is within us,” DeMaris said. “I thought that this opportunity would help deepen the students' understanding of the anatomy of the voice, and in turn have a positive effect on their teaching.”

Joining DeMaris and her class was Stephanie Weiss, associate professor of voice, who is frequently guest lecturer for the class. Weiss said she has used 2D and 3D diagrams and videos, but the hands-on experience was also a first for her.

DeMaris said the inspiration for the field trip came from colleague Andrea Pitman Will, voice instructor and ASU alumna, who mentioned that a visit to a campus cadaver lab through her vocal pedagogy class had a huge positive impact.

After researching available resources for a similar experience, DeMaris discovered the Anatomage Table, or digital cadaver, housed in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, and planned a tour and hands-on experience.

The lab coordinator, Christopher Gozo, took the students through the dissection of a sheep's larynx, as the structure is similar to that of a human. Through the dissection process, students were able to feel the texture of the cartilage and muscles. They also viewed cadaver specimens of a human head and human lungs and were guided through the interactive Anatomage Table that allowed them to dissect parts of the cadaver images, practice identifying the elements of the voice and see them in scale to the rest of the human body.

DeMaris said the experience provided benefits unavailable from classroom work, such as getting to know the anatomy and physiology of the singing voice. Pictures, video and models are also helpful, she said, to solidy the ability to identify and understand all of the working parts.

Bille Bruley, doctoral student in voice performance, described the experience as “amazing, incredibly enriching, helpful and fascinating.”    

“My favorite part of the visit was the dissection of the sheep larynx,” Bruley said, “Although a little different than the human larynx, we were able to physically and tangibly see the inner workings of the small but complex laryngeal mechanism, and identify, question and discover all of the things we’ve been learning.” 

Weiss described the experience as a huge benefit to the learning process that vividly enhances and builds on regular classroom learning. Because the students can see real specimens and visualize the anatomical structures, she said, it solidifies their understanding.

“I would definitely do this again,” Weiss said. “It is wonderful that we have access to this lab, and I hope that we can use it more in the future, as it made all of the theoretical concepts from the diagrams in the books come to life.” 

DeMaris and Weiss both said they hoped that, through this experience, the students will better retain the course material and be motivated and inspired to continue their study of anatomy and physiology to deepen their understanding of how the vocal instrument works. 

DeMaris said since the students had such a positive experience, she plans to incorporate more of these types of field trips in future classes.

DeMaris and Weiss said future collaborations with the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts and the speech and hearing department in the College of Health Solutions are being planned to provide learning opportunities for voice and vocal pedagogy students. 

“The collaboration between our two departments was very special, and getting to talk to students and professors from the medical side of what we study was simply amazing,” Bruley said. “We all have things we can learn from others, especially others that study the same thing from very different perspectives. We were learning from their department while they were learning from ours at the same time. That was the best part of this visit ... true collaboration.” 

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music, Dance and Theatre


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Essential Reading: Books brimming with illuminating insights

May 12, 2023

“To read is to fly; it is to soar to a point of vantage, which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.” — A.C. Grayling

In this 12th edition of the annual Essential Reading feature, faculty and staff members in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University recommend books to students on topics that span across an array of pursuits, perspectives, inquiries and intriguing narratives.

Along with this year’s selections, there are links to previous editions of Essential Reading, offering more books that can provide readers everything from signposts pointing the way to wisdom or simply some educational entertainment and imaginative viewpoints on life.

The Three-Body Problem” by Cixin Liu

Christan Arenz

Christian Arenz

Recommended by Christian Arenz, assistant professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering

"The Three-Body Problem" is a series of three science fiction books that peer into the future of the human race, primarily the technological advances and societal challenges of that time. Each book describes a different time period in the future. The narrative is driven by the threat of an alien civilization that plans to invade Earth. I consider this series a masterpiece of the science fiction genre because it touches on every aspect of human life, society and technology. When I read the series for the first time, it was hard to put the book away. I was constantly thinking of how certain concepts in the book touch on my own research in quantum computing. Even for those who are not necessarily fans of science fiction, this book could still be particularly enlightening.

An Engineer Imagines” by Pete Rice

Elham Fini

Recommended by Elham Fini, associate professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, and Thomas Hartman, associate professor in The Design School, part of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts

Rice’s autobiography describes the life and work of an engineer who did not limit himself to problem-solving. He also used mathematics, engineering principles and his imagination to become an essential collaborator in the design of buildings embodying the best of both engineering and architecture. Rice shows how an engineer can also think and act as an architect, artist, poet and storyteller all at the same time. He describes how science enables an engineer to combine imagination and inspiration to create truly meaningful solutions.

Thomas Hartman

Rice also describes how the convergence of science, engineering and art can lead to lasting masterpieces that speak powerfully to a building’s visitors and occupants. This is explained in the book by descriptions of the author’s collaborations on the construction and design of such renowned edifices as the Sydney Opera House, Pompidou Centre, the Lloyd’s building and others.

"Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman

Recommended by Mehdi Nikkhah, associate professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering

Kahneman takes a deep look at our modes of thinking. He examines the logical, emotional, instinctive and judgmental aspects of our mentalities and how they shape the ways we think about almost everything. He explores two cognitive systems. System 1 is fast, intuitive, automatic and mainly relies on our biases, while System 2 is slow, analytical, logical and based on mental concentration and effort. He examines the interplay of mental and cognitive processes and explains how they determine the fundamental psychological framework of our thinking. He further explains how these systems and their interactions affect our decision-making process and judgment in various contexts such as psychology, economics and neuroscience.

Mehdi Nikkhah

The author looks at how our patterns of thought are the foundations from which we develop perspectives, form opinions and contextualize what we learn and experience into a personal worldview. Kahneman details how certain characteristics of our thought processes can not only determine our attitudes and biases, but also set the stage for fostering positive and productive mindsets. Most importantly, the author offers guidance on how to adapt our thinking processes to help us make good judgments and decisions.

"Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age" by Bruce Feiler

Recommended by Kurt Paterson, professor and director of The Polytechnic School

What will you be doing after graduation? It’s likely that some of you have asked yourselves that question — in terms of both your career goals and the kind of life you want to live. But what must happen for those ambitions to be realized? And what will you do if your plans and goals don’t come to fruition? With curricular maps as a navigational aid in college, it’s easy to believe that life will be similarly linear, planned and predictable. But Feiler’s book posits that one of the most important skills you can cultivate is your ability to respond to disruption.

Kurt Paterson

In fact, Feiler writes, your life will be determined largely by the accumulation of your responses to these many decision-making turning points that lie ahead. The author offers simple strategies to try one transition at a time, and for motivation, Feiler provides numerous enlightening short stories about real people striving to build meaningful lives.

"Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind" by Yuval Noah Harari

Recommended by Giulia Pedrielli, associate professor in the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence

Harari gives us a brief overview of human history, which in and of itself is important for us to understand because our evolution has been nothing short of remarkable. But, just as important, he argues that humanity’s progress has essentially come from our ability to tell and believe stories, regardless of their truth. These stories are what rally us around ideological concepts like religion, nationalism and what progress really means.

Giulia Pedrielli

In our roles as scientists and engineers, this helps us put things in perspective, because no matter how intellectually advanced we become, we are still susceptible to the stories we hear and tell ourselves. The book can also be valuable to students as a useful reminder: What you choose to believe shapes your outcomes. So, believe in yourself and your ability to achieve something great. Appreciate that humility is what takes you further in life than your ego. Ego is what forces you to buy into a story that may no longer serve you in a positive way, while humility keeps you adaptable to what serves you best.

"Casca" by Barry Sadler and ghostwriters

Recommended by Michael Sever, assistant director of academic services in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment

“Casca” is a series of 53 books about the life of Casca Rufio Longinus, a Roman soldier cursed to live forever as punishment for piercing Jesus Christ with his spear at the crucifixion. The first book, “Casca: The Eternal Mercenary,” introduces Casca as he wanders the world, seeking redemption for his sin. Thrust into historic conflicts, including the American Revolution, World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War, as a mercenary doing the only thing he knows how to do — be a soldier — Casca encounters historic figures such as Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun and Julius Caesar.

Mike Sever

Michael Sever

He witnesses the deaths of those he cares for, questioning if eternal life is truly a gift or a curse as he struggles to find meaning in his never-ending existence. With action, compelling characters and a unique viewpoint on immortality, the series is a must-read for fans of historical fiction and adventure by Barry Sadler, a U.S. Army Green Berets staff sergeant and medic who served in Vietnam. The series has been ghost written since Sadler’s death in 1989.

"Psycho-Cybernetics" by Maxwell Maltz

Recommended by Alicia Somsen, academic success advisor in the School of Computing and Augmented Intelligence

Looking to upgrade your mental software? The updated and expanded version of “Psycho-Cybernetics” is the perfect guide for anyone looking to reprogram their brain and unlock its full potential. What’s unique about this book is that the author wasn’t a psychologist. He was a plastic surgeon in the 1950s who wanted to understand why people were unhappy with their appearance and with themselves. His goal was to talk them out of his cosmetic services by helping them rewire their negative thought patterns.

Alicia Somsen

Maltz’s innovative approach combines psychology, cybernetics and good old-fashioned common sense to help readers overcome self-doubt and achieve their goals. With practical advice, real-life examples and a healthy dose of humor, “Psycho-Cybernetics” is a must-read for anyone looking to reboot their mental operating system and live their best life. So, why settle for a sluggish mind when you can upgrade to a faster, smarter and more efficient you? I especially recommend the audiobook version at 1.5 times speed.

Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley

If Mary Shelley had ChatGPT when she was tasked with writing a ghost story in a friendly, impromptu writing competition, would the themes in “Frankenstein” be any different? The novel is included in Harold Bloom’s “The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages” because it withstands the test of time by delving into what it means to be human. The novel elucidates classic conflicts of human versus nature, self and other humans. After suffering the loss of his mother, Victor Frankenstein is passionately motivated to reanimate parts of corpses to prevent the pain of losing a loved one. His passions are not tempered with responsibility, however, and as soon as Victor succeeds in his endeavor, he is horrified at the result and abandons his creation, which leads to disastrous consequences. A read of “Frankenstein” is an opportunity for reflection as we make technological progress with generative artificial intelligence and its potential implications for significant destruction of the human experience. Will we learn from Victor Frankenstein’s unchecked ambition?

"The Five People You Meet in Heaven" by Mitch Albom

Recommended by Melissa Stine, senior coordinator in the Student Success and Engagement Office

Melissa Stine

Albom’s book emphasizes the interconnectivity of human lives and how our actions, whether positive or negative, can have an impact on those around us. It tells the story of Eddie, a war veteran and maintenance worker at an amusement park, who dies while trying to save a young girl falling from one of the park’s rides. In the afterlife, Eddie meets five people who had a profound impact on him during his life. Through these encounters, Eddie learns important lessons about the interconnectedness of people and the meaning of his own life. In addition to connectedness, the notion of forgiveness and redemption are key themes in the story. My mother first recommended the book soon after its release in the early 2000s. I read it in one sitting. This book will leave you feeling better than before you started reading it — and make you want to call or see someone you haven’t spoken to in a while.

"Educated: A Memoir" by Tara Westover

Recommended by Wenlong Zhang, associate professor in the School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks

Wenlong Zhang

This award-winning memoir details Tara Westover’s journey from early childhood to earning a doctoral degree at Cambridge University. Raised on the outskirts of a small town in Idaho and homeschooled until the age of 17, Westover overcame many obstacles to reconcile her desire for education and autonomy with her family’s rigid ideology and isolated life. Her book can teach us to overcome limits put on us by others. Our beliefs and attitudes reflect the environments in which we grew up, and it is often difficult and painful to overcome the pull of such influences. Westover had such an experience and overcame the limits put on her by pursuing education. Her story reflects what I think is the real value of education. It is not about building a machine or programming software or getting an impressive job title. It is about the friends you make, the networks you build and the perspectives from which you learn to view and solve real-world challenges. No matter what your major is, I recommend reading this book and thinking about what being “educated” means to you.

Check out book recommendations from Essential Reading features of past years: 


Joe Kullman

Science writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


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Young students take the stage at ASU Gammage thanks to Disney grant

May 5, 2023

Disney Musicals in Schools program aims to create sustainable theater programs in elementary schools

On May 2, more than 115 elementary students from Tempe and Phoenix had the opportunity to sing and dance on the ASU Gammage stage through the Disney Musicals in Schools program.

The grant from Disney enables ASU Gammage to offer the program to four schools. Disney Musicals in Schools is designed to create sustainable theater programs in elementary schools. Through the program, participating schools produced a musical in their school community and joined in a culminating performance on the ASU Gammage stage.

This year's participating schools were Desert Spirit Elementary School, Emerson Elementary School, Eisenhower Center for Innovation and Palm Lane Elementary School.

“Exposing students to the arts, the earlier you're able to do that the more likely it will grow into a lifelong love of the arts, and every year that goes by we're planting more theater programs around the valley so the number of schools affected, and students affected, will only grow,” said Desiree Ong, the program's manager.

The selected schools participated in a 17-week musical theater residency, led by a team of teaching artists trained by ASU Gammage and Disney Theatrical Group, at no cost. Each school received performance rights, educational support materials and guidance from the teaching artists.

The program featured a professional development focus, through which participating school teachers partnered with ASU Gammage teaching artists to learn how to produce, direct, choreograph and music direct, culminating in their first 30-minute musical at their school. 

The Student Share Celebration at ASU Gammage on May 2 was the culmination of this year’s program.

ASU Gammage was filled with the elementary students, teachers and their families. The young performers presented their performances from “Jungle Book Jr.,” “Aladdin Jr.” and “The Lion King Jr.," each school presenting one number.

The evening concluded with a heartwarming finale that included all student participants on the stage together singing “It Starts with a Dream,” an original Alan Menken number that was composed for Disney Musicals in Schools.

“I've seen some students who I think were looking for an outlet like this, and this has been really positive for them," Emerson Elementary School Principal Nicholas Lodato said. "It's helped them to exercise an interest and a desire that they've had — they've just not had a music production to put on and express it. It’s like they’ve finally found their place right there."

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A performance to remember

May 5, 2023

ASU alumna and Broadway star shares the magic of storytelling on stage

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the summer 2023 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

Before she completed her undergraduate studies, Caelan Creaser, ’19 BMus in performance (musical theater), performed professionally in several acting roles, including “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” at the Hale Centre Theatre, for which she won 2017 AriZoni Best Actress.

After graduation, she began performing with the Disney Broadway “Frozen” North American tour as an understudy for Elsa and member of the ensemble. The production brought her to ASU Gammage for a two-week run this past February.

“It feels surreal. When I went to ASU, I remember walking across the parking lot to go see a show,” Creaser says. “Now I was performing for my alma mater, the students that I love and care about. And I felt like I had someone in the audience every night, and that made it even more special.”

From August 2019 to March 2023, Creaser performed as Elsa about 60 out of 400 shows. As part of the ensemble, she sang and acted eight to 10 times a week. The demanding schedule requires resilience and strength, she says, and she credits the ASU music theater program, including the mentorship of several professors, for helping set her up for success. Another key, Creaser says, were opportunities at the ASU Music Theater New York City Showcase, where students audition for NYC agents.

“I don’t believe in good luck in this industry, but I do believe in opportunity meets preparedness, and I think that ASU prepared me to be the best version of myself that I could be at that time,” Creaser says.

Creaser says performing on stage for an audience is magical. “I was a little girl when I saw my first Broadway musical, which was the ‘Lion King.’ And I just remember being in awe of these performers and getting to see all the costumes and the lights. I was overwhelmed in the best way possible.”

Keep up with her career at

Top photo: Caelan Creaser, ’19 BMus in performance, in her role in the ensemble for “Frozen.” She was also an understudy for the Elsa role.

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Next level designs

May 5, 2023

From Montreal to Phoenix to New York, student lands opportunities in a fashion powerhouse

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the summer 2023 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

Heidi Stierli knew from a young age that she wanted to create striking outfits that last, so she did her research on fashion programs around the country. She eventually chose to attend ASU.   

Because of the reputation of the program, Stierli, ’23 BA fashion, from Montreal, Canada, selected the university over renowned schools in San Francisco.

“With fashion, my dream is to go into the vintage world, working with famous vintage collectors, putting on events showcasing these treasures,” she says. In addition, “I love painting pottery and canvases in my free time, and also upcycling clothing, thrift shopping and vintage clothing.”

Her biggest passion is ensuring that the clothing she makes lasts, that it can work from season to season and accentuate a wardrobe for years. And she says that ASU has helped her pave her career in this competitive field.

Fashion student stands next to a model wearing her design

A component of the ASU fashion program and a key differentiator, Stierli says, is teaching students to work with Optitex, an end-to-end fashion design software including 2D CAD/CAM pattern design and 3D prototyping.

She was a student-worker in the fashion program from January 2022 until her graduation and credits her mentorship of students with helping her take her designs to an entirely new level. “I work with students helping them solve the problems they encounter in their designs. ASU students are a bunch of amazing, creative, innovative artists,” she says.

One of her biggest opportunities came through an alumna of the program. Claire Cohan, ’21 BA in fashion, helped Stierli land an internship in New York City at the American Dream Team Network International. The fashion powerhouse does licensing of designs, garment production and sends its imports around the world. Stierli says that this internship will open up numerous opportunities in her career.

And, she gets to live and work in New York City, an international fashion center.

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Heidi Stierli shows off her clothing designs at a fashion show.

“I don’t think I would have been ready for New York City without ASU’s fashion program,” she says. “It provided me with confidence and a robust skill set.”

She adds, “The fashion program at ASU is so strong because of the professors and faculty, such as Victoria Cook, a role model in pattern making for me, and Irina Tevzadze, who helped me learn what it will be like in the industry.” 

Cook, the lead pattern maker, and instructor of Design I and II, has owned her own pattern making business for more than a decade. Tevzadze, a clinical assistant professor, created and internationally showcased numerous collections of womenswear, childrenswear and accessories, and designed collections for high-profile European fashion houses. 

RELATED: ASU expands fashion program, embraces legacy of Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising

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