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Twenty-one spring 2015 ASU graduates have completed bachelor’s programs without having to uproot from home in Arizona’s Gila Valley, through the innovative educational partnership between ASU and Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher.
“I had the opportunity to better myself in a place that I love, doing what I love,” said Sharon Kluzek-Bast, one of the graduates.
Twelve students completed the bachelor of interdisciplinary studies in organizational studies, and one completed the bachelor of arts in liberal studies, in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. Eight earned the bachelor of applied science in operations management in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
Eastern Arizona College (EAC) hosted a recognition event for the graduates and faculty at the Thatcher campus on May 9, giving extended family and friends who might not be able to make the six-hour round-trip drive to Tempe the chance to formally share in a celebration.
“Today I’m bursting with pride and a sense of accomplishment,” said EAC provost Jeanne Bryce in her opening welcome to those gathered to celebrate the second cohort of graduates to come through the ASU-EAC partnership programs.
Similar emotions were echoed by ASU College of Integrative Sciences and Arts dean Duane Roen, who gave remarks on behalf of ASU. He told the graduates to “take that pride, that sense of accomplishment and confidence that you have today, with you and apply it to the next goals you set for yourself and your future life choices.”
The cohort chose Michael W. Fox, ASU faculty associate and EAC business instructor, to present an address on behalf of the faculty at the recognition event. Fox noted he had the good fortune of teaching these students both their first semester in the program and the last and talked about the growth he’d witnessed in them.
"You've considered viewpoints you never would've considered before. You've held your ground – and changed your mind – when evidence dictated you do so,” said Fox. “I've watched, like a father full of pride, as you provided meaningful advice to small-business owners worried about becoming obsolete, seeing the excitement on their faces as you presented recommendations that caused them to fall in love with their business all over again."
Interdisciplinary studies graduate Wayne Stephenson spoke on behalf of the graduates, many of whom had postponed their bachelor’s degrees for a time because of work and family commitments.
While enrolled in the program, Stephenson increased his GPA from 3.46 to a 4.0 and was named the Outstanding Graduate for spring 2015 by the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. He was recognized at ASU undergraduate commencement in Sun Devil Stadium on May 11 and will be presented with an award from the ASU Alumni Association at the Integrative Sciences and Arts convocation on May 15.
He and his wife, Laurissa Stephenson, also in this cohort of ASU-EAC graduates, are the parents of a 9-month-old daughter, and both worked part-time while finishing their degrees.
Fellow graduate Janiel McNeill first attended Eastern Arizona College right out of high school, where she played volleyball and earned an associate degree in 2005.
“I started on a bachelor’s at Western New Mexico that following year, but just never finished,” said McNeill, now the parent of three young boys. “This program with ASU worked perfectly for me, allowing me to finish up in two years right here in Thatcher.”
She has begun applying for jobs and is considering taking the coursework to obtain teaching certification.
Indicative of this pioneering partnership’s potential to lead participants to advanced degrees is the experience of Anica Rose Aguero Curtis Norton, who graduated in the first cohort of ASU-EAC graduates last spring. She cheered on her husband, graduate Christopher Norton, from the audience at this year’s recognition event.
“I’m starting the master’s in management at W. P. Carey [School of Business] in the fall,” she told Roen after the ceremony. “I’m so excited to be on the ASU campus!”