The quiet kid at ASU: The Polytechnic campus

ASU Poly is thought of as a cultural wasteland of sorts, but why does the second highest PAB-funded campus per student continue to hold this reputation?

It's only 3 p.m. on a Friday in mid-March, and the dining hall is closed, the quad is empty and the student union only has three people in it. The air smells fresh, the area is quiet.

At a time when a college campus is normally busy and loud, people on ASU's Polytechnic campus are nearly nowhere to be found.

The campus is small, with a student population of 5,095, and is 16 miles away from ASU's other campuses across the Valley. 

But despite that placid scene, student and University leaders at the tech-dominated Poly campus are working to forge a unique sense of culture and identity amid the suburban expanse deep in Mesa, especially as some criticize the campus for lacking student activity.

A sense of culture is important for students, said Lance Harrop, the Dean of Students of the Polytechnic campus.

"(For) academic success, it's so important that you feel connected to the place that you're at," Harrop said. "Building community is so important to the student experience. We want them to feel a connection to the community, we want them to feel that this is their home."

ASU's Poly campus was originally opened as ASU East in 1996 on the land that used to be an old military base. The population has grown 65.5% in the last 15 years from 3,079 in 2004 to 5,095 in 2019. 

Since the Poly campus first opened, it has since grown to now include 90 majors, 5 colleges and has many advanced pieces of equipment for their students – including a flight simulator, semiconductor facility, services for printing and design, as well as a desert arboretum.

The campus' student population has a slightly higher proportion of older students than ASU's Tempe and Downtown Phoenix campuses. Students older than 24 years old make up nearly 30% of Poly's student population, compared to 23% on the Tempe campus, 27.7% on the Downtown Phoenix campus and 33.8% on the West campus, according to 

Harrop said that there are also other things that make Poly special and unique in its own way.

"There's a different sense in terms of nature, and the trees and how green it is out here," he said, adding that its previous life as a military base adds to its distinct nature.

While the Poly campus maintains a quiet, peaceful nature, people still hold activities to foster a greater sense of community on the campus.

Nathan Funk, a senior studying mechanical engineering at the School of Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy and a staff member of Christian community group Campus Ambassadors on Poly, said he has grown his group by building up personal relationships through his Muay Thai Kickboxing group, and then inviting people from that group into his Bible study.

“I figured out that, in order to build community on Polytechnic, I need to create a relationship somehow,” Funk said, saying that while offering pizza draws people to the Bible study group, some people keep coming because they enjoy the relationships that are built there.

Daniel Pasco, a junior studying professional flight at Poly and a student body president of Undergraduate Student Government Polytechnic, said there has been an increase in student engagement in the past few years, along with increases in the variety of activities present on the campus.

“We do have about 100 student organizations specifically based on Poly, so there's plenty of diversity in terms of student interests,” Pasco said. “And we do have some of our established clubs, like the Photo Club.”

According to OrgSync, the campus has 88 student organizations. While the Poly campus has more clubs per student than both the Tempe and Downtown Phoenix campuses, some point to a lack of student activities available on the campus.

One of the biggest pushes to change this was to reactivate the nearly unused Applied Arts Pavilion on Poly, which hasn't been used frequently since the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts stopped using it.

“There is an art pavilion here at Poly that we are working to try to activate,” Harrop said. “It's a building that has a theater in it. It has a dance studio in it. Over the last couple of semesters, we've been working to try to reactivate that building in ways so that it becomes more useful for students.”

One of the groups that puts on the most events on Poly is the campus' Planning and Activities Board.

Gabriella Pilorin, a sophomore studying business administration and the president of PAB on the Poly campus, said that they put on numerous events a month, including movie nights, heritage month celebrations and cultural events. 

Pilorin said the group often sees a good turnout when putting on events.

“(The turnout at the events) are pretty good, we get a decent amount of people,” she said. “They can range from 300 to 20 people.”

Harrop said that there are still many opportunities and events that happen on the Poly campus that are open to students regardless of their situation, citing Pride Week, the World Food Festival, DREAMzone, the photo club, among others.

“There are a number of programs that we have every single year that I think are a reflection of the diversity of the University,” he said. 

However, critics of the campus's culture still remain.

Brett Goldsmith, a junior studying electrical systems engineering and a leader in the Incarnation campus ministry on Poly, is among those who find the campus uneventful. 

"There's just straight up very little to do," Goldsmith said.

He said a thriving culture on college campuses is important for the social health of its students, and he said he feels Poly is lacking that.

"I certainly know people who have just sat around forever, and just the lack of people in conversation made ... some of my friends depressed," Goldsmith said.

He said that the problem has nearly made him lose hope in trying to organize any activities on the Poly campus.

“I've almost given up on trying to do social or community related things at all,” Goldsmith said. 

Find the video transcription here

Funk said he has run into many problems trying to engage students while trying to hold various events for his organization on campus. 

He said another part of the problem is that students, even those who want to get involved, rarely stay on Poly for their entertainment.

“A lot of those people end up going to Tempe every day,” Funk said. “And (ASU) even increased the bus schedule this semester to make that more of a possibility for the people who do want to get involved.”

Funk said that his organization didn’t find success in playing up to the stereotypical likes and interests of what Poly students would typically enjoy, such as video games. 

Goldsmith said that, while he really doesn’t know how to solve this problem, other student organizations that are tied to the University are trying to fix this problem as well.

“ASU, the student government, the housing organizations and just the school in general tries pretty hard,” he said. “They throw some effort into organizing some things.”

Pasco said the student government has tried to help support student engagement by uplifting more student organizations to grow.

“We funded and supported student organizations differently this year in programming,” he said, saying that USGP is funding groups to help them attract more students. "We've (also) helped them with their marketing efforts and things like that to help on more student engagement side."

USG gave PAB just over $155,000, according to Pasco, which turns out to be more money per student than ASU's Tempe and Downtown Phoenix campuses.

He said another issue that USGP runs into on the Poly campus is getting honest feedback from students, but it's an area that is starting to improve.

“From the last couple years to this year, we have seen a little bit more student involvement in terms of getting feedback to us,” Pasco said. “But we're not perfect of course. (We’re) still not as involved with students as we'd like to be. We're just trying to get in the right direction.” 

Harrop said that the idea that there is little to do at Poly is a misconception that comes from comparisons to other campuses.

“When you're looking at, say, Tempe versus Poly, we're not ever going to have the number of programs and experiences that can be had (at Tempe),” he said. “But in other ways, when you look at the scope and scale of the programs that are currently offered, it's as robust as any campus across ASU.”

Harrop said that he and his office are always open to feedback and new ideas from the students.

“We're always looking for more ideas on what students would like to see,” he said. “I would ask that students let us know what kind of opportunities they want to see out here, and it’s our job to make those happen."

Reach the reporter at and follow @hilltroy99 on Twitter. 

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