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‘Sun Devil for life’: ASU student finds reinvention online

December 8, 2021

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable Fall 2021 alumni.

If there was one thing ASU student Sean Duffy wasn’t ready for, it was that he felt unprepared.

Shaun Duffy is graduating this fall with an online Master of Arts degree in English and credits the support he received from ASU faculty and staff for his success in the program.
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“When I was a young college student, I had a level of confidence that didn’t make sense and wasn’t supported by my work,” he said.

Duffy, a high school English teacher and creative writing teacher in Denver, had navigated through his college curriculum, landed a job, and deemed his private education complete.

Then: awakening. Fifteen years after receiving his bachelor’s degree, Duffy began a graduate program through online Arizona State University.

This time, there was something different.

“[When] I finally found myself ready to take on the challenge of going back to school, however confidence I had in youth no longer existed,” he said. “I have guessed most of my homework, stressing often the very difficulties that I assure my students are normal. I tell them, “Learning is hard,” and if it’s not hard, they’re in the wrong place. However, I found it difficult to take my own advice.”

After getting bogged down, Duffy reached out to his advisors and professors in the English department and found the support he needed.

“All my stress was relieved when every professor made it clear that my effort would be rewarded,” he said. “It may have seemed like a small thing to them, but my reassurance that my work has value and that the lack was not an indication of failure helped ease my anxiety.”

Duffy is graduating this fall with an online Master of Arts degree in English. The Arizona State University support system – staff and faculty alike – is delighted. Elizabeth “Lily” Downes, the Academic Success Advisor for Arizona State University’s Online English Programs, described Duffy as “wonderful” and “kind-hearted.”

“He was one of my most talented students, but he was the most humble of them all,” she said.

We caught up with Davi just before graduation day to ask him some additional questions about his online experience.

Question: What did you learn while at ASU — in class or otherwise — that surprised you, and that changed your perspective?

Answer: I expected to learn a lot about English, but what I would get most from this program is how to adapt to different and ever-changing circumstances – not just through my own personal development, but through the kindness and acceptance of all ASU staff working with students to be successful. My educational journey has been as informative as the lessons on critical theory and Shakespeare. I am a better teacher, not only from what I learned in the courses I took during my time at ASU but mainly because of my experience with teachers who showed me how to be humble and understanding.

Q: Why did you choose Arizona State University?

a: I have devoted my life to education, but only after I came across a graduate program at ASU in English did I find an opportunity to reinvent myself as a student for the first time in 15 years. I was impressed by the program’s ability to marry rigor with the realization that freedom and clarity are essential to the success of their students as working adults.

Q: What is the best advice you would give to those still in school?

a: If I had the opportunity to speak with the recent grad students, I would impress them with the importance of working hard and getting help when needed. The online program has an inherent expectation that the student will deal not only with work, but also hardships. The English program at ASU made it easy (and its professors) to talk about my struggles. The professors were not bothered or out of my asking to meet through Zoom. Online learning can make any student feel like they’re on an island, but in reality, the program is designed to support each of us in ways that students might not be able to provide in person.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

a: I have learned to never assume the future, but I can say that I am better off being a student at ASU, and whatever the future, I am more prepared than ever to handle and succeed in my future endeavors. Arizona State University will always be a home away from home, and even though campus may sound strange to me, I will be a lifelong sun demon.

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