The first cohort of students to earn ASU bachelor’s degrees in the Eastern Arizona College and Arizona State University partnership were celebrated in a reception and recognition event at the Lee Little Theatre on the EAC campus in Thatcher, Ariz., on Saturday, May 10.
The event, emceed by Maria Hesse, ASU vice provost for academic partnerships, also celebrated the team of faculty, staff and administrators from both institutions who have worked hard to get the partnership off the ground. (In acknowledgment of this important collaboration, Hesse was invited by EAC to give the commencement address at EAC graduation ceremonies on Friday evening.)
“This is a day we have worked toward for more than 12 years,” EAC President Mark Bryce told the crowd of 250 who had come Saturday to honor the inaugural ASU cohort. Bryce first championed the effort to bring bachelor’s degree options to Arizona’s Gila Valley.
Sporting an ASU maroon and gold tie, Bryce said, “Academics tend to fight change, but there are going to be lots of changes to higher education in the coming years. Thank you to Michael Crow for being willing to do something good – and even great. Let the adventure begin!”
Eastern Arizona College, chartered in 1888, serves the residents of Graham, Greenlee and Gila counties. The novel EAC – ASU partnership allows EAC students to complete their associate’s degree and then seamlessly transfer into ASU upper-division courses, offered mostly on-site in Thatcher. Local talent is hired to teach the two-year sequence of upper-division courses needed to fulfill the bachelor’s requirements.
The EAC – ASU partnership, when launched in 2012, offered a new model for helping rural Arizonans complete bachelor’s degrees locally – in degree offerings guided by regional employment opportunities and enrollment trends.
“They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, and community colleges all over the state are now asking ASU to do similar programs in their communities,” Vice Provost Hesse told the audience. “I think that’s quite a compliment to the students and employees of EAC and ASU.”
In addition to saving working adults from driving hundreds of miles each week to complete bachelor’s degrees, several of the programs offered at EAC allow graduates to earn a Pac-12 university degree at a reduced rate, with 75 of the 120 degree-credits charged at the EAC tuition rate and only 45 at the ASU rate.
ASU currently offers four bachelor’s programs on-site at EAC: the bachelor of interdisciplinary studies (BIS) in organizational studies, the bachelor of science in nursing, the bachelor of liberal studies, and the bachelor of applied science in operations management.
A bachelor’s in organizational leadership comes on board in fall 2014, and the partnership will launch a secondary-education teacher preparation program in fall 2015, to grow the ranks of highly qualified math and science teachers for high schools in the area.
Of the students completing degrees through the EAC-ASU partnership this spring, 17 are graduating with the BIS in organizational studies and two with the bachelor’s of nursing.
Many of the partnership graduates and their families will be making the trip to Tempe this week to participate in ASU convocations and commencement.
“The first students who participate in new partnerships like this have to be very flexible and we couldn’t have asked for a better group of students,” Hesse noted. “While we tried very hard to think through numerous details in advance of beginning the ASU classes, there were lots of special situations that arose along the way. Students were pleasant and patient, knowing that the employees involved were trying their best to smooth out the wrinkles and make this work.”
Meet three of the 19 EAC-ASU partnership students who will be awarded ASU bachelor’s degrees later this week:
Karen Mulleneaux, who is graduating with a bachelor of interdisciplinary studies in organizational studies, grew up in Virden, N.M., a small town just outside Duncan, Ariz. She moved to Boise, Idaho, during her high school years and then returned to the Gila Valley to attend EAC, graduating in 1991 with an associate’s degree in liberal studies. She then married and had a family.
“When my youngest daughter was about to begin kindergarten, I felt it was the right time to continue my education. When I researched what was available, I found the EAC-ASU partnership. The timing was perfect for me,” Mulleneaux says. “If this partnership had not happened, I would not have pursued my bachelor’s degree. The Gila Valley is so fortunate to have ASU in our area.”
She says that a Sun Devil spirit at EAC comes from her associations with her peers and instructors: “Each instructor has added so much depth to my education. The instructors chosen by ASU have been of the highest quality. And I am surrounded by the best cohort in the world! We have been on this journey together and will always cherish the experience and take pride in our accomplishments.”
Growing up in the small Arizona community of Bowie at the base of the Chiricahua Mountains, Estevan Carmona says he never thought college would be part of his future. But the 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army completed an associate’s and bachelor’s degree at EAC over the last 38 months. When he leaves the Army this summer at the rank of staff sergeant, he plans to go on to complete ASU’s nine-month master’s in management.
As part of the BIS in organizational studies requirements, Carmona did an internship with the Graham County Board of Supervisors, working under County Manager Terry Cooper. It ignited in him a passion to become more involved in politics, government and public service – to the degree that this single father and Safford resident now expects a run for Arizona governor to be in his future.
“I had always thought of myself as an Army guy – a bullet sponge,” says Carmona, whose assignment the last four years has been flying helicopters with the Arizona National Guard. “Now I no longer have that fear of losing my identity when I leave military service.”
Alexandra Avila is one of two 2014 EAC-ASU graduates in the RN-BSN program, open to students who have an associate’s degree in nursing, have passed the NCLEX-RN exam and have obtained licensure as a registered nurse in Arizona. Avila, a nurse in a rural, freestanding urgent care, says a life-changing event made her “reorganize” her priorities and inspired her drive to earn her bachelor’s in nursing.
“I had wanted to obtain my BSN for some time, but just never thought I had time or money to invest,” she said. “It had been eight years since I was in school, so it took me some time to adjust, but looking back I am sure glad I did.
“Completing the BSN program has contributed to my nursing skills in so many ways,” Avila said. “I feel more confident – more importantly, more aware of all the factors that affect my patients – and with great diligence attempt to take all those factors into consideration when planning their care.”