From Thunderbirds to Sun Devils

Photo courtesy of Whitman College

By Anonymous, current student 

Embrace modernity, remember history. My feelings on the move to downtown are feelings of alarm. The campus at Downtown will have many state of the art facilities, but I fear it will lack the authenticity of the Thunderbird campus. I don’t believe the administration did what they should have to advance Thunderbird’s Glendale campus into the 21st century. It should have been possible to integrate technology into the curriculum, reinstate the language program, focus on bringing more international students and work to ensure sustainable profitability in the future in Glendale.

While it is easy to blame the administration, the move to downtown was inevitable. However, the standardization that comes with ASU does seem to threaten everything that made the school attractive, authentic and genuine. The visual representation of the campus’ past with places like the Tower – where fighter pilots would go to train and eventually risk their lives – serves as a reminder to all of us of the weight we carry as global leaders to prevent war through soft power, business and diplomacy worldwide.

While it is unfortunate, I fear the move will allow future students to lose an understanding of what it means to be a T-bird. To them the horrors of war, the ideals of “Borders frequented by trade seldom need soldiers” may be lost in the history books. The original campus will most likely be lost in a land sale by ASU, and students in the future may disregard the past unconnected to their new downtown space. While it is great that ASU tries to focus on inclusion and offering education for everyone, the ideals of Thunderbird attracted atypical students. Will those students still come?

Students come speaking different languages, having spent months, years and even decades living and working abroad. They come with the knowledge that school is important but that the connections they create are more important than anything they will learn in a textbook. The standard downtown business school across the U.S. has difficulty following through with a promise to create culture, as often people flee to their suburban homes, houses, parties or apartments – leaving their classmates in the dust.

The beauty in Thunderbird is that students, be they rich, poor, or in between, have to be in Glendale; which has none of the world class amenities of a downtown. Students live in dorms on campus which are akin to the military barracks of old, and it creates an environment of everyday communication between classmates, allowing for the time to connect with people in passing. People aren’t rushing around, but rather they stay to work on projects, participate in clubs, and do classwork together. Glendale and the campus force you to accept your international classmates in a way that no downtown luxury apartments ever could.

I chose Thunderbird because I wanted to be challenged and around contemporaries who had similar curiosity about the world. International business attracts certain people who aren’t afraid of the unknown, and it’s not right for everyone. For those who do fit in here, the student debt is worth it. The lack of pretentious attitudes, history on the airbase, curriculum and community is incredible. While I think there does need to be a move to downtown to accommodate the 21st century, the standardization that comes from ASU is going to dismantle the authenticity of Thunderbird. Thunderbird for me was a first choice. I didn’t choose ASU or a big state school for the very reason that there isn’t the same student connection or daily interaction with faculty. These schools are bureaucratic and driven by institutional processes.

A few weeks ago, a Colombian, Japanese, Cuban and Afghan vet came to my room for a cup of espresso, and we chatted about world affairs before heading to Regional Night, where a “Lion King dance” and a cover band contributed to a genuine student-led event that is truly unique to the culture here. This type of informal interaction is special to the campus, and nowhere else in the world could it happen. Thunderbird does need to have a larger presence in America’s fifth largest metro area, but I believe it may have been able to figure out ways to do this while still keeping the character of the school. Whether we as students and alumni want to believe it or not, the move to downtown is dictated by ASU.

We are no longer Thunderbirds, but Sun Devils.

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