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Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.
From British literature to African American gospel music, Bridget Buckley’s academic career has taken some unexpected but welcome turns. This May, the wife and mother of two will graduate with a master’s degree in English from ASU Online — and a newfound passion.
Growing up in Lomita, California, Buckley always knew she wanted to become a teacher. Her favorite subjects in school were history and English, so when she enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, she hedged her bets, majoring in the former and minoring in the latter. After graduating, she married her college sweetheart and taught high school English until 2003, when they started a family and she became a stay-at-home mom.
Always a music lover, Buckley began a blog in 2014, interviewing and writing about folk and independent bands. When she met a drummer in 2017 who also ran a nonprofit, she realized she wanted to do more to make a positive impact on the world and decided to start by going back to school.
As an undergraduate, Buckley had taken several British literature courses, inspired by her Irish-American heritage. She figured it was a good place to start for graduate school, but when she began researching programs at various universities, it was hard to find one that fit the bill while allowing her the freedom of an online education — something that was a necessity as a stay-at-home mother.
“I … didn’t think there would be programs out there that were subject-based, that would give me the same quality of education as students who were actually in the building,” Buckley said. “Then I found that reading through the material at ASU, there were those kinds of programs available there. I saw an Irish lit class, and I was like, ‘That’s impossible, those don’t exist.’’
After enrolling at ASU, Buckley signed up for an African American rhetoric course that sounded interesting. During the course, Professor Keith Miller presented the case of Alma Androzzo, a Phoenix-based gospel singer who, despite having penned a wealth of memorable songs — including “If I Can Help Somebody,” which Martin Luther King Jr. would later quote in his well-known sermon “The Drum Major Instinct” — remained obscure.
“That sent me thinking, ‘Well, why is she obscure? Has anybody thought of looking for her?’” Buckley said. “So I automatically went straight to Ancestry.com and started building her family tree. And that sent me down a path I didn’t expect.”
Buckley had plenty of experience with genealogical research, a hobby that was again inspired by her interest in her Irish ancestry. So through the different subscriptions and archives she already had access to, she began to build out Androzzo’s family tree. Pretty soon, Buckley was in contact with Androzzo’s daughter, then her brother, and was able to start piecing together her life story.
In January, AZCentral published an op-ed by Buckley titled “How a Phoenix woman's gospel song became Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous words.” That was followed shortly after by an AZ Horizon piece in which Miller discussed his and Buckley’s research on Androzzo.
“Alma was a working mother trying to artistically contribute to her community while raising children and she’s only known for this one song even though she wrote hundreds,” Buckley said. “Gospel scholarship is still relatively new, and it tends to focus on the more famous people. They’re famous for reason, but a lot of times in history, it’s the average, middle-class people who are forgotten, and I think Alma fits into that role. I’m just doing my best to try to give her the credit she deserves.”
Eventually, Buckley hopes to take the lessons she has learned — both academic and life — and impart them on a younger generation as an instructor at a four-year university. More presently, she and her family plan to celebrate her achievement during ASU’s virtual graduate commencement ceremony on Monday, May 11.
Buckley says she is thankful for the opportunity ASU Online gave her to continue her education as a nontraditional student, and advises current students to consider the implications of online learning for the future of education.
“There’s a reason that ASU was so quick to implement remote learning for its students online,” Buckley said. “They could make that switch because they were an innovator, and I think that undergrads should see their lives as lifelong learning opportunities, and that graduate school and further on in academia is possible.”
Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
Answer: Going back to get a graduate degree at 40 years old, you’ve lived a lot of life already. But what surprised me was the way that scholarship had progressed and the change in the way that literature was approached. I thought I was going to go to ASU to read and learn what I needed to fill in the gaps in literature that I hadn’t been exposed to, because I was a history major as an undergrad, not an English major. But what I didn’t expect was to be so in love with the methods of literary criticism that have evolved since I was an undergrad.
Then I had one other experience that was unique. Most of the people I met in the program are working teachers, so they were trying to get through it quickly. I didn’t approach it that way because I’m still a stay-at-home mom and I didn’t want my workload to impact my family negatively. So I only took one class per session, but that afforded me the ability to research. That’s what I love to do. And I knew I would eventually be competing for jobs against others who had been able to publish, so that was important. I got to present a paper at a graduate conference at ASU, and I really learned a lot from that experience because I was able to physically interact with other grad students and I met two of my favorite professors. I got to have coffee with Dr. Miller and Dr. (Ryan) Naughton.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I see being a stay-at-home mom as my full-time job. So although I live in San Diego and have access to several different high quality universities, I need to still be able to be a stay-at-home mom and be there for my kids after school, so had no choice but to go to online. And since I was going to go to an online university, I wanted it to be one with a good reputation, one I would be proud of, not some random school nobody has ever heard of. … So I enrolled at ASU, and I’ve just been so impressed with the work of the professors and the scholarship that they themselves have done. It’s exciting and inspiring that these professors are continuing to research, continuing to publish. And I found the quality of education to be extremely intense and the professors to have very high expectations. I did not have one encounter at ASU that was negative.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: Dr. Naughton was my linguistics professor, and he had a huge impact on me, just with the way he taught. And I formed a relationship with Dr. Miller that made me want to take his second class, which is where I was introduced to Androzzo.
Q: As an online student, what was your favorite spot for power studying?
A: I’m the classic Starbucks studier. There’s a very large Starbucks nearby that I like to go to. I can work at home, at my dining room table, but I do my best when I get out of the house and away from anything that could distract me.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: My original plan was to try and apply to teach at a community college in my area. I think my ultimate goal is to get a PhD, but I’m not sure when or how at this point. But I would love to teach at a four-year university. And I’d love to continue to write.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: Right now, because of what’s going on and where my mind is, it would be to help support artists that have been put out of work because of the virus. Especially those in community theater – we have a very vibrant theater community in San Diego with the Old Globe and La Jolla Playhouse. My family and I are also big supporters of Broadway, and we just got back from London where we visited the West End. So I’d like to help support all the theater folks who are out of work right now, from those working backstage to the actors.