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UTO Stretch Program offers new opportunities for working students

BY TETTLEMA – JANUARY 13, 2021

The visual above is a screenshot of virtual reality concert experience created by students Xavier McDonald and Dani Pogue

As all members of the Sun Devil community know, lifelong learning is an important part of the university experience. Whether a student, instructor or staff member, your time with ASU will prepare you for personal growth in the future. In keeping with this mission, UTO’s Experience Center (EC), the front door for all services that provides the highest level of support for the ASU community, has boldly created a new learning experience for its staff, many of whom are students themselves.

The EC’s “Stretch Program” brings its customer service agents into other areas at the university, embedding them into units to gain new knowledge, skills and experiences that align with the employees’ career aspirations and interests.

The Stretch Program allows individuals to extend beyond their usual EC roles in order to explore adjacent career interests, and ultimately develop a portfolio more closely aligned to their educational or professional pursuits.

One such individual is Xavier McDonald, an IT support agent at the EC who studies Digital Culture at the School of Arts, Media and Engineering. As a second year master’s student, McDonald is on track to graduate in May 2021, and on top of his curricular requirements, his participation in the EC Stretch Program will help prepare him for his future goals.

While he helps members of the ASU community with any technology questions they may have and meets the requirements of his Digital Culture program, the field of which finds ways to bring art and technology together, For his Stretch Program assignment, McDonald is working at ASU’s Meteor Studio, a research laboratory dedicated to virtual and augmented reality.

“My work at the Meteor Studio is closely related to my school curriculum, which aligned very well for me,” McDonald said. “What was needed at the time I joined was 360-degree photography. So I learned how to set it up, take shots, edit the footage and put it in a presentable format that can be used for projects within XR@ASU.”

McDonald’s emphasis within the Digital Culture area of study is music, including performance and digital production. He is taking technological aspects of the arts a step further with a project that brings a live concert experience into virtual reality. “For me, it’s a great way to blend those two interests in technology and arts and music,” McDonald said.

With these goals in mind, his direct, hands-on experience with three-dimensional photography at the Meteor Studio fits perfectly into McDonald’s VR concert experience, which would need to leverage such technology to work.

Within his coursework, McDonald is learning the skills necessary to make his ideas a reality, and his time at the EC is giving him work experience, as well as supporting the ASU community at large. But his Stretch Program assignment is also giving him insight into his future professional field. McDonald worked with his supervisors at the EC to propose collaboration with the Meteor Studio.

And it wasn’t just tech skills that McDonald found useful in working with the Meteor Studio. “I can see myself being in that sort of environment, which is a team working towards creative development,” McDonald said. The EC’s Stretch Program brought him into a unit that demonstrated not only technical skills, but those ever-valuable “soft” skills that make working in a professional environment all the more effective. “I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to learn in this way because it’s super unique,” McDonald concluded. “It’s a really innovative way to share knowledge throughout the community.”

McDonald isn’t alone in the EC Stretch Program. Sophie Jones is an EC colleague who, through the Stretch Program, began working with the Creative + Communications team at UTO. Jones’ major in Human Development called for a different approach to communication and interaction, in addition to her support of financial aid inquiries at the EC.

She echoed McDonald in explaining how technical and soft skills better prepared her for her future career. “The values & daily tasks within the Program align with my degree in Human Development, in which communication, empathy and culture are key,” Jones said. “In essence, it was through the Stretch Program that I was afforded the opportunity to explore career prospects that converge with my goals.

“The Stretch Program provided me with the ability to ‘get my foot in the door.’ After working for seven years in customer service, retail, and operations, I was finally able to enter a role focused on communications and storytelling, with values of accessibility and innovation at the forefront.”

The EC Stretch Program is the perfect representation of UTO’s commitment to ensuring the best experience for staff and students and connecting studies to the future of work. McDonald and Jones’ time with the Experience Center is preparing them for their professional lives in a multitude of ways.

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