Meenah Rincon

Arizona State University is known as a university in many places — Tempe, Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix and Lake Havasu. But what if students in western Arizona didn’t have to travel to be part of the Sun Devil community?

This spring, ASU@Yuma celebrated its first graduating cohort. The 24 students pursued bachelor's degrees from ASU without ever stepping foot near any of the four metropolitan Phoenix campuses.

Maria Hesse, ASU’s vice provost of academic partnerships and a former community college president, oversees the community college partnerships that span the entire state of Arizona. The path to a four-year degree has been simplified through partnerships that bring ASU’s quality education to communities like Yuma.

“It has been such a pleasure to work with colleagues at Arizona Western College to create seamless transfer pathways leading to bachelor’s degrees in career areas that were needed in the Yuma community,” Hesse said.

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At the celebratory commencement ceremony at Arizona Western College (AWC) on Friday, Daniela Ayala, a graduate of the secondary education program from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, spoke on behalf of ASU’s graduating class. The program focuses on developing the skills required to successfully teach middle and high school students.

When Ayala found out that ASU was bringing a program to Yuma, she jumped at the chance to continue her teaching education and be in her hometown. Ayala’s childhood experiences in school had shaped her career path — she felt all her teachers needed to have the answers to all her questions.

“Now as a teacher, I feel that sometimes not having the answers is OK,” she said. “It gives the opportunity for teachers and students to learn together and explore different possibilities.”

The program enabled Ayala to learn, grow and teach in the community that taught her, experiences that she will take with her as she moves into her teaching role.

Photos: 2018 spring commencement around ASU

Estela Marin, a military and first-generation student, was ecstatic to finish a four-year degree close to home. When the opportunity to be stationed in Yuma presented itself, she said yes and began to pursue her degree at AWC. Shortly after, she discovered the ASU transfer program and immediately asked what she needed to enroll.

“Obtaining a degree from Arizona State University has always been a goal, ever since I visited the campus after my high school graduation,” she said. “At that moment I promised myself one thing: No matter where the military life took us, I would return to Arizona and graduate from ASU."

Marin received her bachelor's degree in criminology and criminal justice. The program prepares students for careers in law enforcement, probation, parole and corrections, to name a few. It provides the foundation to enable students to think critically, contribute to society and enhance public safety.

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Her continued commitment to public service brings her back to ASU. Marin plans to pursue a master’s degree at ASU in emergency management with an emphasis in homeland security. Her ultimate goal: to apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The partnership between ASU and AWC allows students to pursue ASU bachelor's degree through classes delivered at AWC after successful completion of an associate degree from AWC. Currently, three degree programs are offered: criminology and criminal justice, organizational leadership, and education (secondary education).

The degree programs are specifically tailored to address employment needs for the Yuma and La Paz region, preparing students for in-demand careers and the ability to create a positive impact in their local community.

ASU brought a piece of the Sun Devil spirit to Yuma, a community that believes in the success of every student and that success is attainable by anyone with the right tools and resources.

“Receiving a bachelor’s degree has changed my life because it has exposed me to new challenges and experiences that changed my personal perspectives in life and my future contributions to society,” Marin said. “These experiences have motivated me to seek a higher education and to become a role model for my young son.”

Top photo: Vice Provost of Academic Partnerships Maria Hesse congratulates a graduate at the ASU@Yuma commencement ceremony Friday. Photo courtesy of Craig Fry/Arizona Western College