Arizona State University staff members, along with ASU mascot Sparky the Sun Devil, traveled to high schools around the Phoenix area on Thursday to surprise students who have been admitted to the university.

The group is traversing the Valley in a double-decker ASU bus, and will continue school visits on Friday as well.

Last year, the group spent just one day traveling to schools in Phoenix, but Brad Baertsch, director of ASU’s freshmen recruitment, says they have broadened their approach this year.

“We’re just going to schools that we want to make special connections to,” Baertsch said. “Last year we were kind of just located in central Phoenix, and this year we’re trying to expand across the entire Valley to make a big footprint.”

Dozens of students from Tolleson Union High School, the bus’ second stop on Thursday, gathered on the school’s concourse for “college signing day.”

While staffers cheered and chanted, the future Sun Devils signed informal forms “committing” to ASU, a play on the process in which high-school athletes sign on to play sports at a college or university.

After posing for a photo with Sparky, senior Saul Villegas said he would be the first member of his family to graduate from college. He plans to study computer science or “anything with computers” at ASU.

“It makes you feel welcome, like they want you to come to this school,” Villegas said. “I want to be the first one to graduate. I would (feel) pride being able to say, ‘Hey I did this. I accomplished this. I was the first one to do it.'”

Baertsch said the program is continuing the “college signing-day initiative” started by former first lady Michelle Obama to encourage students to attend college or university. He said they will visit seven schools and nearly 600 students by the end of the day on Friday.

“We want (underclassmen) to see that they have a number of their peers that are going on to university, and that it’s an achievable thing,” Baertsch said. “Sometimes … you’re told that you’re not able to go, or it’s going to be expensive to go. But (students) can see their peers, who are just like them, being celebrated for going to the university, that they were admitted.”

Tolleson students were given ASU-themed gear, including signs and foam fingers, and all posed for pictures alongside Sparky.

After leaving ASU’s campus at about 7:30 a.m. Thursday, the bus first stopped at Metro Tech High School in Phoenix before going to Tolleson. It headed to one more stop in the afternoon at ASU Preparatory Academy in downtown Phoenix.

Tolleson senior Summer Derenard said she originally was unsure if she wanted to attend ASU, but Thursday’s event was welcoming, she said.

It got her thinking about her goals when she starts ASU in the fall.

“Maybe get out of my comfort zone, try new things, join new things, meet new people,”  said Derenard, who plans to study family and human development. “(This event) really gets me pumped for college.”

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