Asking for directions and making connections on the first day of fall 2022
As sure as dusk turned to dawn, they began to appear.
They were holding books and skateboards, sporting backpacks and ballcaps, or toting a water bottle. Some of the more unsure ones were looking for their classes on their smartphones, hoping an app would guide them to the correct building.
Around 7 a.m. on Thursday, Arizona State University’s Tempe campus transformed into an instant city, signaling the end of summer and the beginning of the fall semester.
This year, approximately 80,000 students will attend an ASU campus or location in person. With most of that population centered at the Tempe campus, historically, it has been the university’s heartbeat — and it was starting to pump by 7:30 a.m.
That’s when the first classes of the day commenced and about 25 students congregated outside of a classroom in the newly refurbished Durham Hall. Shasha Rayamajshi was worried she was going to be late, a running theme with many first-year students.
“Obviously I’m a little nervous about the first day of school, but I’m more nervous about being late to my first class,” said Rayamajshi, a business major who hails from Omaha, Nebraska. “I love the business school here, it’s amazing. Also, the weather is really nice. I think I’ll be fine.”
Opening the door for Rayamajshi was her instructor, David Cleveland, who teaches English 101: First Year Composition. Cleveland said first-day jitters are not exclusive to students.
“Instructors are just as nervous as the students even though we’ve been doing it a long time,” said Cleveland, who has taught at ASU for the last 16 years. “We’re all getting situated and getting to know each other. After the first day, things tend to calm down and students calm down. They figure out where they’re going to sit, who they will sit next to, or who they’ll make friends with. Every class develops its own personality. Some classes have outgoing students who speak up a lot. Other classes I can’t get students to speak up at all.”
Speaking up doesn’t appear to be an issue with first-year student Gissel Villegas, who hopes to become a language teacher one day. Unlike Rayamajshi, Villegas was about five minutes late for her first class, which was also in Durham Hall. She said it’s a big leap from Youngker High School in Buckeye, Arizona, to ASU.
“I’m hoping to graduate because all my family attended ASU but none of them made it to graduation,” said Villegas, who will be studying secondary English at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “I’m hoping to be the first.”
Villegas, who arrived on campus and got situated in a dormitory a few days ago, said she is enjoying her newfound independence.
“I like how I can do my own thing here,” she said. “I can dress how I want, make new friends, and not having anyone hovering over my shoulder. I like the freedom.”
The center of the action on the Tempe campus, as always, gravitates in and around the Memorial Union. And that’s where Jana Shree was situated. She was manning a covered table, dispensing water and directions, and handing out campus guides to first-year students who needed help finding a location or building.
“This is actually my part-time work. I’m a Gold Guide,” said Shree, who is a second-year student studying computer systems engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “This is a stall for first-year students, and they can ask for directors or just fill up on a drink of water. We’re just here to help them."
Meanwhile, on the Polytechnic campus ...
Jonah Gilbert sat at a table inside the Student Union.
It was just before 8 a.m. and outside, the morning sun stared students in the face as they walked from the west parking lots onto campus. Other than the sounds of birds chirping, however, the campus was quiet.
And Gilbert knew why.
He sheepishly admitted he thought his first class of the day — he’s a first-year student majoring in professional flight — started at 8 a.m., so he got to campus at 7:15 a.m.
It didn’t take him long to realize that most early classes at the Polytechnic campus on Thursdays, including his, began at 9 a.m.
“I messed up and misread the schedule,” Gilbert said. “Better earlier than late, I guess.”
Only a half-dozen students joined Gilbert inside the Student Union. Their laptops were open, and a few of them had their mandatory Starbucks drink to start the day. On the south wall was a maroon-and-gold balloon display that read Poly22.
Just outside, Enrique Lopez, a first-year student majoring in engineering, stood in front of a large plaque holding the words to ASU’s Charter and had his picture taken by his parents.
Lynett James passed Lopez and his family and walked inside. James is an academic adviser, and her job Thursday was to man the “Ask Me” booth set up inside the Student Union. It would, she knew, be a busy day.
“I just found two lost students wandering around,” she said.
James already knew some of the questions she’d hear from students: Where’s my building? Where do I go? Where do I buy books?
“We get that one even though we’re right in front of the bookstore,” she said. “That’s OK. That’s what we’re here for, to help them get around.”
James wasn’t the only one being asked for directions. Turns out, if you wear a white ASU polo shirt, students will ask you for directions. (They were directed to the “Ask Me” booth and wished well.)
Within a couple of days, James said, she wouldn’t have to answer any more questions. The students will know where they have to go and what they have to do.
On Thursday, however, on the first day of the 2022–23 school year, allowances were made.
“I don’t have a clue where anything is,” Gilbert said. “But I’m not real nervous. I figure you have to be at least 30 minutes late to every class the first day.”
Discovering downtown resources
The first day of classes is not all fun and games – until it is.
Several students in the School of Social Work on the Downtown Phoenix campus spent time Thursday learning the game “Farkle” with giant dice. The students were training before becoming interns in the ASU Community Collaborative this semester, helping low-income elderly people who live in the Westward Ho.
The residents love to play Farkle, according to Stacey Gandy, an instructor in the School of Social Work and the program coordinator for the collaborative.
“There’s research that talks about the importance of social connectedness and how isolation can be even more dangerous than smoking to our physical health, and so building relationships through a game of Farkle is absolutely part of social work,” she said.
Outside, Aliyah Hernandez smiled, tilted her head and made a peace sign in front of an Instagram-worthy backdrop of “ASU” balloon letters and gold streamers.
The kinesiology student stopped by the Christian Challenge table on Thursday morning to have a Polaroid taken of herself and a friend in front of the backdrop.
Besides getting a cute photo, she was showing support for fellow students on the Downtown Phoenix campus on the first day of classes.
“I’m a part of the TRIO program, and we’re doing a welcome event too, and we heard they were doing this so we wanted to come and see what other organizations were out here,” she said. TRIO was offering coffee and doughnuts in the Post Office Building.
The Christian Challenge student group was among several that were greeting students in front of the UCENT, making a festive atmosphere.
The photo booth was popular, with a line of students waiting. It was the idea of Ellie Lambert, director of the ASU Downtown Phoenix chapter of Christian Challenge, a statewide ministry.
Lambert graduated in 2021 with a degree in journalism and a minor in digital audiences from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Her degree has been a huge help in her career, she said.
“I was managing the social media ministry, and I loved it, and a position became available for me as director of the ministry downtown and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”
On another part of campus, Casper was enjoying looking out the classroom window and lying on the cool floor. While he looked relaxed, he was working the whole time.
Casper is a service dog, and his job is to help ASU first-year student Hailey Gotsis monitor her health.
“I have a genetic disorder and it affects every system in my body, mostly my autonomic nervous system, so my heart doesn’t always know what to do. My pancreas doesn’t know when to increase my glucose and things like that,” Gotsis said.
“He alerts me. He’s like, ‘Hey Mom, you need to take care of this. You need medicine.’“
Gotsis, a nursing major from Florida, was hanging out with Casper and other students in the Multicultural Communities of Excellence space at Taylor Place on the Downtown Phoenix campus, which was having an open house with lemonade and cookies.
“It’s just really cool to have a space that fosters diversity,” Gotsis said.
Multicultural Communities of Excellence opened last year on all four metro campuses as a convening place of support for students of color and their allies. The spaces, open to everyone, have programming and services for historically underrepresented student populations.
Lisa Joyner, dean of students for the downtown campus, was encouraging students to come into the office off the sidewalk on Thursday. “Come in! Don’t be shy!” she said.
“We’re doing the open house to let students come through and learn more about this space. It’s their day one, so they’re trying to figure out their new norm, and who’s their new BFF and all that."
Intimate classes and community on the West campus
Very big. Small and intimate. Quiet. Full of energy. These were the different words that students used to describe the first-day feel of ASU's West campus on Thursday.
“A quiet energy,” said Devin Atkinson, a second-year student who commutes to the campus from Phoenix.
There was one word that almost everyone used when discussing the campus: beautiful.
Albert Paley-designed gates welcome students at the entrance to the campus, which is filled with buildings inspired by Oxford architecture. Arched walkways, tree-lined paths, large grassy spaces and public art combine to create the distinct charm of the campus.
After a long summer, students filled the campus malls. They sought out Starbucks, the food court and the library, where they connected with their computers and college friends.
“It’s good to see everyone again,” said Atkinson, who was renewing her friendship with fellow second-year student Teia Robertson, from San Diego. “The classes are small and intimate. It feels like home.”
While Borns' “Electric Love” blasted out, students walked between classes and grabbed standard college fare of fish crackers and fruit snacks from a Student Connection and Community table near Fletcher Lawn.
First-year student Azul Quijada was anxious on the morning of her first day. When she arrived at her first class, she walked in, then walked out, and then walked in again.
“I was nervous when I entered the campus. I was nervous about walking on campus,” said Quijada, a medical studies major who commutes from west Phoenix to the campus. “It’s not the same as high school.”
But by 11 a.m., Quijada was laughing at a table by the Fletcher Library with a new friend. First-year student Liz Morales and Quijada met in their first class and discovered they shared many things in common, including their neighborhood, their friends and three other classes.
“We clicked very quickly and unexpectedly,” said Morales, who is studying forensic science.
Nearby, first-year student Jared Cook was sitting on a bench under a tree listening to music and waiting for his first class. The first-generation student from Texas lives on the Tempe campus and took an ASU shuttle to the West campus, where he is studying forensic psychology.
“It means a lot to be the first in my family to attend college,” Cook said. “There is a lot of weight on my shoulders. They want to see me succeed and are holding me to a high standard.”
Still, Cook had no fear about his first day.
“I am excited more than anything else. I’m excited about everything — new experiences and a new journey.”
Written with contributions from ASU News reporters Marshall Terrill, Scott Bordow, Mary Beth Faller and Dolores Tropiano.
Top photo: Gold Guide Shayan Siddiqui offers water and directions to an ASU student on the Tempe campus on the first day of the fall 2022 semester on Aug. 18. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News