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Dropout turns All-USA honoree

Dropout turns All-USA honoree


Of all the words to describe Liz Pennington, the new member of Phi Theta Kappa’s 2017 All-USA Community College Academic Team, “college dropout” would likely not come to mind.

But Pennington, a graduating Pima student who will transfer to the University of Arizona to complete her studies, once dropped out of that very school.

Liz Pennington sits outside the University of Arizona, which she will be
attending next semester. She dropped out of UA in her first try.
Elise Stahl / Aztec Press

“I came to the U of A right out of high school … and I didn’t do well in this big environment,” Pennington said. “And my family, there were six of us and we were struggling financially already, and then my parents got a divorce. It was just such a difficult time.”

After a year and a half of struggling in her classes, Pennington left the university. She proceeded to work full time and start a family of her own.

However, more than 15 years later, she decided to give college a second try.

“What really drew me to coming back to Pima is … the affordability,” Pennington said. “I thought, ‘Hey, if I’m not going to do that great, I might as well be able to afford it.’”

Contrary to her expectations, Pennington excelled. In Fall 2015, she was invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. She made First Team on the 2017 All-Arizona Academic Team.

In March, Pennington was informed she had been chosen for the All-USA Community College Academic Team.

“I couldn’t be happier,” Pennington said of her selection. “I still can’t believe it, because I know that we have a lot of great students that do so much, in the community and grade-wise, but for some reason I was graced with this experience.”

The All-USA Community College Academic Team is comprised of students from community colleges across the U.S. Campus administrators nominate prospective team members from their respective colleges.

Students are then considered by an independent panel of judges who look at academic achievement, leadership and engagement in both college and community service. Only 20 out of this year’s 1,900-plus nominees were chosen for the team.

As a selectee, Pennington will receive $5,000 in scholarship awards and be presented at the American Association of Community Colleges Annual Convention.

“It is an incredible experience,” she said.

Kenneth Vorndran, an Honors Club coordinator at PCC and an adviser for Phi Theta Kappa, assisted Pennington with her team application and applauded Pennington’s accomplishment.

“I’m very delighted that Liz is on the All-USA Team,” Vorndran said. “It speaks very highly of the work we do here. If a college gets one gold scholar … they’re usually thrilled. We have four gold scholars, a bronze scholar and a student on the All-USA Team. That’s unbelievable.”

Pennington credits Vorndran with being a source of reinforcement during her journey to team selection.

“When I talked to him, he was very encouraging all the time,” she said.

Pennington says she thinks more highly of PCC now than when she started, “because of the people in leadership that have helped my dreams come true. There’s people that want to bring out the best in you.”

But more than anything, Pennington cites her husband, Paul Pennington, and their 10-year-old-daughter, Madeline, as her biggest inspirations.

“They have been my greatest cheerleaders and supporters of returning to college and giving my best,” she said.

After Pima, Pennington plans to complete UA’s Literacy, Learning and Leadership track with a minor in history. She’ll follow with a one-year master’s program, after which she will receive secondary-education certification. She wants to teach history at the high school level.

“I love history, I love my education classes, and I thought, ‘What better way to put those together than to teach what I love?’” she said. “And I think that’s one of the most important things when you are a teacher, is that you love what you do, because nobody wants a teacher that doesn’t like what they do.”

When she isn’t pursuing her academic loves, Pennington volunteers by teaching students at her church.

She also volunteers with Reading Heroes, a program dedicated to helping children develop reading skills.

“Anyone can do it,” she said of the program. “It’s a great experience, and it’s so rewarding.”

Even though her end goal is to educate at the high school level, Pennington wants to remain involved with the higher education system.

“I want to continue to be an advocate for education, affordable education especially, and the community college level, because it’s made such a difference in my life,” she said. “I feel like I’m in great debt to people that have invested a lot in me.

“I want to impart that to others also—what has been given to me.”

Students earn All-Arizona Academic honors

Twelve Pima Community College students were named to Phi Theta Kappa’s 2017 All-Arizona Academic teams. The honor is based on scholastic performance, demonstration of leadership skills and community service.

The PCC honorees will receive scholarships, as well as two-year Arizona Board of Regents tuition waivers to any state public university.

PCC’s First Team members, their intended areas of study and intended transfer schools are:

  • Corinne Anderson, registered nursing, Northern Arizona University
  • Garrett Encinas, psychology, Arizona State University
  • Derrick Espadas, business, undecided
  • Heloise Mazzotti, communication and marketing, University of Arizona
  • Corinne Meinhausen, neuroscience and cognitive science, UA
  • Jaclyn Mona, interdisciplinary studies and communication, UA
  • Celeste Nunez, medicine, ASU
  • Liz Pennington, history and secondary education, UA

Second Team members:

  • Mariana Eubanks, marketing, finance and entrepreneurship, UA
  • Rachel Greenland, aerospace engineering, UA
  • Sergey Harutyunyants, law/political science, UA

Third Team member:

Yesica Furrow, studio art, UA

Festivals, fairs and flings - oh my!

Festivals, fairs and flings – oh my!

Compiled by Elise Stahl

Spring Fling: April 7-9

The country’s largest student-run carnival, celebrating its 43rd year, takes place at the University of Arizona east mall from Cherry Street to Campbell Boulevard.

The event provides carnival rides and games, entertainment and over 20 food booths. The fair attracts 30,000-plus visitors annually and fundraises for more than 40 on-campus clubs and organizations.

The carnival runs from 4-11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5, with children under 7 admitted free.

Pricing for attraction tickets and unlimited ride wristbands, along with discounts and promotion options, is available at



Arizona International Film Festival: April 19-30

The 26th installment of Arizona’s longest-running film festival features a diverse selection of independent films at venues throughout Tucson. This year’s theme is Bridging Cultures.

Single tickets are $8 for premiere screenings and $6 for all other screenings, with discounts for seniors, students and military. Passes are also available; see website for details.

The festival will feature “Passing the Torch,” a film by PCC digital arts faculty member Bret Primack. The film centers on 99-year-old jazz master Jimmy Heath.

“Passing the Torch” will air on April 21 at 6 p.m. at The Screening Room, 127 E. Congress St.



Pima County Fair: April 20-30

Pima County’s annual fair takes place at the Pima County Fairgrounds, 11300 S. Houghton Road. Activities include a car show, stock auction, carnival rides and more than 40 food vendors.

Performers will include T-Pain, Tyzen Hypnotist Extraordinaire, Village People and for KING & COUNTRY.

Main gate hours are 1 p.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Carnival hours are 3 p.m.-11 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

General admission tickets are $8. Tickets for youth ages 6-10 are $4, and children ages 5 and under are admitted for free. For discount and promotion options, visit Parking is $5.


LIVING WITH TOURETTE'S: A story of tics, tantrums, and take-aways

LIVING WITH TOURETTE’S: A story of tics, tantrums, and take-aways


Just because I’m nodding my head does not mean I agree with you.

It’s just a tic, and it isn’t my only one.

It isn’t uncommon for people to develop individual tics, twitches or spasms, especially when they are stressed or anxious. These are generally referred to as “nervous tics.”

But some people, like myself, don’t just develop a single tic when they’re nervous. Instead, they experience numerous tics. All the time.

These people have Tourette Syndrome.


You have probably heard of Tourette Syndrome at some point in your life.

Tourette’s is a neurological disorder that causes multiple simultaneous involuntary tics. These tics are both motor (repetitive physical movements, like blinking hard or shaking the head) and vocal (repetitive mouth and throat noises, like coughing or humming).

If you’re familiar with Tourette’s, you likely think of its most spotlighted symptom: coprolalia, or the spontaneous utterance of swear words and other vulgar language. However, only around 15 percent of people with Tourette’s actually compulsively swear.

The rest of us just swear like normal people (although we have a get-out-of-jailfree card to play if it goes overboard).

We can control our tics when we focus on them, but they never completely disappear. A suppressed tic feels like an itch begging to be scratched: You can hold out for only so long until your willpower fades or your mind wanders.

While genetics, brain chemistry and environment are contributing factors, the exact cause of Tourette’s is still unknown.

As such, there is no identifiable treatment or cure.


So why am I telling you this?

I want to demystify a condition that is misrepresented and often stigmatized by the media. But it’s not only that.

I have never met another person with Tourette’s. This isn’t surprising, given that Tourette’s affects less than 1 percent of the population.

But being “the only one” is a lonely label to wear, no matter what the condition— you’re caught up in a struggle other people either don’t see or don’t understand.

I want to shed light on Tourette Syndrome and what it can be like to live with.

I also want to speak for those who have gone through the same thing, and give a voice to the often voiceless.

Allow me to open a window into my life with Tourette’s.


My tics started showing when I was 5.

My first tic was just throat-clearing. The tic shows up in old home videos of me, distinctly interspersed throughout my childish monologues and improvised songs. But I didn’t usually notice it myself.

Other tics surfaced over the next few years.

I began blinking my eyes harder than usual, and my long-winded stories and conversations became punctuated by vocal tics beyond throat-clearing.

My first bothersome tic showed up when I was 8 or 9. I started having bouts where I would bob my head up and down repeatedly. While the action probably made me seem like a more agreeable child than I actually was, it came with unwanted side effects: I started getting headaches.

My mom soon saw that my abnormal habits were causing me problems. She took me to a neurologist, who performed a series of simple physical tests and diagnosed me with Tourette’s.


The neurologist explained that tics disappear or dramatically lessen in around 90 percent of children diagnosed with Tourette’s by the time they reach adolescence. There was a good chance I would not have to live with my diagnosis forever.

But he stressed that the real harm my tics could cause during my childhood would not necessarily be physical, but instead social, as other children are not always understanding about the differences they see in others.

My mom had been homeschooling me since first grade, so I was thankfully spared the worst of vicious childhood teasing. While I did get questions from some peers over the course of my childhood as to why I kept twitching, I was not embarrassed to explain my condition.

My disorder made me “special,” and part of me liked that.


Strangely enough, tics were not the most challenging parts of Tourette’s for me. My biggest trials were my out-of-control emotions.

Between 25 and 35 percent of children with Tourette’s have behavioral issues, which are characterized by the lack of ability to control outward actions and emotional reactions.

I was part of that 25-35 percent. Life would be skipping along blissfully, then suddenly I’d fly into a rage for no apparent reason.

At times, I would even throw a tantrum on the floor, long after the age when such an action would be expected.

I was also part of the 86 percent of Tourette’s children who have an accompanying disorder.

The two conditions that most commonly occur with Tourette’s are OCD and ADHD. I had OCD. It began manifesting in my preteen years, and soon I was performing compulsive “rituals” and patterns to go along with my various tics and twitches.


Fast forward to the present day. I am 17 and finishing up my senior year of high school while taking dual enrollment classes at Pima.

I have made it through years of tics, habits and emotional instability with a respectable academic record and a functioning social life.

My Tourette’s is the same today as it has ever been. I still have tics, and I still have OCD. However, I have learned to manage my way through strong emotion, and I no longer fly into rages or throw tantrums.

Tourette’s has required a lot of internal growth. It involves having plenty of grace and understanding for myself.

I would gladly give up my disorder if a cure was found. At this point, though, I will have to live with Tourette’s for the foreseeable future.

Thus, I am choosing to be positive regarding this part of my story, regardless of the difficulties it causes.


Stereotypes and stigmas abound in the world of syndromes, and sometimes someone just has to set the record straight.

Regarding Tourette Syndrome, there are two points to keep in mind.

The first is that every person with Tourette’s is different. Not everyone looks like the caricatures shown on TV. Some, like me, happen to have mild, relatively non-disruptive tics and compulsions.

It is important to recognize that not all those afflicted are the same.

The second point to keep in mind is this: It’s OK to talk about Tourette’s.

Diseases and disorders often receive taboo status when it comes to conversation topics. But when people refuse to talk or ask questions when curious, the subjects of their curiosity (in this case, people with Tourette’s) become victims of questioning looks and modified relational approaches.

My advice is this: If you have a question, ask it. We’d be glad to abate your curiosity instead of suffering your sideways glances.

You don’t have to treat us differently. We may not be able to control our distracting or disruptive behavior, but in the end, we’re just human beings like you.

We can all nod in agreement about that.

THE WORD: How do you spend your extra money?

THE WORD: How do you spend your extra money?

Interviews and photos by Elise Stahl at Northwest Campus


“Usually on either crafts or on the kids I babysit.”

Caleb Kern

Major: Nursing


“Sometimes I spend it on clothes or something, but mostly I’ve been saving it to get gas and stuff like that.”

Ashley Dixon

Major: Business


“Smoothies and Starbucks.”

Amy Alonso

Major: Anatomy and physiology


“Probably fast food.”

Jacob Crow

Major: Business


“I usually just give it to my siblings, whenever they go out with friends.”

Alex Molteni

Major: Environmental biology

ARTS BRIEFS: Four concerts on tap between March 5-23

ARTS BRIEFS: Four concerts on tap between March 5-23

Compiled by Elise Stahl

Pima Community College will present four concerts during March at the West Campus Center for the Arts.

Tickets are either $6 or $8, with discounts available for students, seniors, military, PCC employees and groups.

For more information, call the box office at 206-6986 or visit


Classical guitarist Lich: March 5

PCC adjunct instructor Michael Lich will give a classical guitar performance on March 5 at 3 p.m. in the Recital Hall. Tickets are $8.

Lich’s program will include pieces by Bach, Brouwer, Torroba and Rodrigo. Lich will also perform his own original compositions, including a new work in the theme of East Indian musician Amjad Ali Khan.

Lich has performed throughout the U.S., Brazil, Germany and South Korea. He also plays the banjo with his bluegrass ensemble, Noctrane, which will perform at PCC on March 23.


Chorale, College Singers: March 7

The Chorale and College Singers, directed by Jonathan Ng, will perform a spring concert on March 7 at 7:30 p.m. in the Proscenium Theatre. Tickets are $6.

The Chorale will perform “Keep Your Lamp,” by Andre Thomas; “Oklahoma,” arranged by William Stickles; and “Choral Selection from Carousel,” arranged by Clay Warnick.

The College Singers will sing “Cantate Domino,” by Z. Randall Stroope; “Quick, Quick Away Dispatch,” by Michael East; “Bushes and Briars,” arranged by Donald James; and “Bobby Shaftoe,” arranged by David Willcocks.

The Chorale and College Singers will finish the show together, performing Fauré’s “Libera Me” from “Requiem.” They will also sing “Kyrie” and “Agnus Dei,” two movements from Haydn’s “Mass in the Time of War – Timpani Mass.” They will be accompanied by Susan Simpson on piano and Barbara Freischlad on percussion.


PCC Wind Ensemble: March 9

PCC’s Wind Ensemble, directed by Mark Nelson, will perform with Sierra Vista’s Buena High School Honor Band, directed by Duane Chun, for a spring concert on March 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the Proscenium Theatre. Tickets are $6.

The Wind Ensemble will perform the overture from “Marriage of Figaro,” by Mozart; “Third Suite,” by Robert Jager; and “Puszta Four Gypsy Dances,” by Jan van der Roost. They will also play the “Zapfenstreich No. 2” military band tattoo march by Ludwig van Beethoven.

(A tattoo is a military performance of music. The term comes from a Dutch phrase meaning “turn off the tap,” which was a signal sounded by drummers or trumpeters to instruct innkeepers near military garrisons to stop serving beer and for soldiers to return to their barracks.)

The Buena High School Honor Band will perform “Resplendent Glory,” by Rossano Galante; “Among the Clouds,” by Brian Balmages; and “Clown Act,” by Thomas Kahelin.

The two bands will combine to close the show with “Pas Redouble,” by Camille Saint-Saens and “Into the Storm,” by Robert W. Smith.


Noctrane jazz/bluegrass: March 23

Noctrane: Progressive Bluegrass Ensemble will perform in concert on March 23 at 7 p.m. in the Recital Hall. Tickets are $8.

The band features Michael Lich on banjo, Jason Roederer on double bass and Jeff Sanders on guitar and voice.

Noctrane’s music explores the dynamic rhythms and sonic landscapes of jazz, bluegrass and roots, themes that will be highlighted in their program.

The band draws its influence from various music pillars such as Thelonious Monk, Pat Metheny, Bela Fleck and J.S. Bach. Noctrane has been featured at several Arizona festivals, including the Tucson Folk Festival, the Flagstaff Folk Festival and the Fiddler’s Dream Festival.

Noctrane, featuring Jeff Sanders on guitar and voice, Jason Roederer on double bass and Michael Lich on banjo will perform March 23. (Photo courtesy of PCC Center for the Arts)

BEST BETS: Enjoy fairs and festivals this February

BEST BETS: Enjoy fairs and festivals this February

Compiled by Elise Stahl

The holidays may be over, but there’s still plenty to do around town. Here are some festivals and activities happening in Tucson to keep your February fun:

Cruise, BBQ & Blues Festival & Car Show

Feb. 18

View a variety of trucks and cars, enjoy live blues music and fill up on barbecue at this show celebrating the art of vehicle design, hosted by the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance.

The event will be held from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. in the Oro Valley Marketplace, 12155 N. Oracle Road. Tickets are $5, with a $1 discount for veterans and active duty military with a military ID, cash only.



La Fiesta de los Vaqueros Tucson Rodeo

(No PCC classes Feb. 23-24 due to rodeo holiday)

Feb. 18-26: Rodeo

Watch rodeo events and participate in barn dances at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds, 4823 S. Sixth Ave. Wear pink on Sunday to support breast cancer initiatives. Daily admission prices range from $15 to $31, with barn dances an extra $5. Parking costs $7.



Rodeo royalty lead the way at the 2013 La Fiesta de los Vaqueros Tucson Rodeo. (Larry Gaurano/Aztec Press 2013)

Feb. 23: Rodeo Parade

The country’s largest non-motorized parade begins at 9 a.m. along a 1.5-mile route starting at Ajo Highway a half mile east of Park Avenue.

It proceeds east then south on Park to Irvington Road, west on Irvington to Sixth Avenue and north on Sixth to the north end of the Tucson Rodeo Grounds.

Grandstand seating on Irvington Road, which includes pre-parade entertainment beginning at 8 a.m., is $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. Street spots along the parade route are free.

Details: or


Tucson Women’s Comedy Festival

Feb. 23-25

Celebrate women in comedy with the Tucson Improv Movement as it presents three nights of storytelling, improv comedy and standup comedy from local and out-of-town comediennes.

Shows run from 7:30-11 p.m. each day at Tucson Improv Movement, 329 E. Seventh St. Tickets are $5.



35th Annual Peace Fair and Music Festival

Feb. 25

The Tucson Peace Center will hold Arizona’s largest gathering of peace, justice and environmental groups from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. downtown at Armory Park, 220 S. Sixth Avenue. The festival’s 2017 theme is demilitarization.

Live music, food, entertainment, informational displays and children’s activities are all included at this free event.



Mardi Gras – Carnival!

Feb. 28

Enjoy themed food, drinks and entertainment at this festival, which combines Mardi Gras and Brazilian carnival traditions. Entertainment includes face painters, 10-foot puppets, Samba dancers and more.

The free event runs from 5 p.m. on Feb. 28 through 2 a.m. on March 1 at Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St.

Details: or

Find ways to challenge yourself

Find ways to challenge yourself

Elise Stahl


In August 2016, I decided to try the Whole30 diet. For 30 days, I ate no gluten, dairy, legumes, sugar or additives.

I had never done something like that and, as wimpy as it sounds to say, it was one of the scariest challenges of my life. But I made myself do it.

Along the way, I talked to many people about my endeavor. As I passed up appetizers and desserts at social events, I inevitably received the question, “Why?”

As I explained, I received a unanimous response from everyone: “Oh. Good for you. I could never do that.”

I hear that line from people all the time. “I could never…” run a 5K, or give something up for a month, or perform in front of an audience, or what have you.

“I could never do that” is a response programmed by fear: the fear of stepping outside your comfort zone. The fear of the unknown. The fear of failure.

The moment you say you could never do something, you cut yourself off from something new. You lose the opportunity to challenge yourself and grow as a person.

I get it: everyone is in pursuit of a life free from pain, awkwardness and failure.

But living in fear of those three things doesn’t make life any happier. They are necessary parts of the human experience. Working to overcome them is the key to a fulfilling and truly happy life.

The only way to conquer them … is to face them.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s not easy. But when you do something that makes you uncomfortable, you remove the fear factor. You take away its power over you. Not only that, but you build confidence that can help you tackle the next challenge that lies ahead.

Because once you’ve done one thing you thought you could never do, why can’t you do another?

So I encourage you: The next time someone mentions something they’re doing that automatically makes you think “I could never do that,” stop. Ask them questions. Think about it.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s a challenge you could take on yourself.

Elise Stahl is always finding new challenges to master. She is learning to embrace the uncomfortable and face her fears with confidence.

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BY THE NUMBERS – Relationships

Compiled by Elise Stahl

40 million

Number of Americans who use dating sites.


Percentage of people who think a smile is the most attractive feature.


Percentage of Americans who are single (as of 2015).


Percentage of people who have Googled a potential partner before their first date.


Percentage of single people in Idaho (the state with the least single people).


Percent chance a person will actually like a date set up by a friend.


Average number of minutes it takes to make a first impression on a man.


Percent chance a man will call after a first date (if he didn’t call within the first 24 hours).


Percentage of women who start relationships with partners they met at a bar.


Percentage of men who start relationships with partners they met at a bar.


Average number of hours it takes to make a first impression on a woman.


Writing instructor connects with students

Writing instructor connects with students


Scores of unusual objects line the tops of Kenneth Vorndran’s office cabinets.

One object appears to be a miniature brain sitting in a pan. Another is a dog toy with an Icelandic address written on it. Still another is a stuffed canine being skewered by a small nail.

And there are dozens more. What do they mean?

Vorndran, 55, a writing instructor at Pima Community College’s Northwest Campus, explains that each object is an excuse letter.

“I require that my students do an excuse letter that is fictitious and that is entertaining, and it’s good for one day late on one assignment one time during the semester,” Vorndran says.

The brain in the pan, then, is a representation of a student whose “brain was fried.” The Icelandic dog toy argues that one student’s excuse was “far-fetched.”

And the little dog getting stabbed? It symbolizes the phrase “screwed the pooch,” which means just what it sounds like: messing up terribly.

Vorndran says the excuse letters afford students “an ability to be human.” He recognizes they will likely either forget, misplace or fail to properly allot time for an assignment sometime during the semester.

“That’s the way it goes,” Vorndran says. “We’re all human beings.”

Vorndran has taught writing for 34 years, but his approach differs from most mainstream instructional techniques.

“I’m not a good lecturer,” Vorndran says. “I’m very good at facilitating. I’m very good at conversation.”

Thus, he structures his classes around questioning and discussion.

And not just on subjects of his own allocation.

“I don’t assign topics,” Vorndran explains. “My goal is to say, ‘What do you want to write about, and what do you want to research?’ and to try to give you the latitude to be who you are.”

Vorndran has taught writing at high school and university levels, but believes he belongs at a community college.

“This is not a default,” he says. “This is where I want to be.”

Vorndran says he feels a special connection to community college students because his situation was once the same as many of theirs: working through college, unable to afford the more prestigious universities.

“I identify with my community college students,” he says.

His ability to connect with students often leaves a lasting impression. He stays in touch with students from years past, like Renée Schafer Horton, the internship coordinator for the University of Arizona’s School of Journalism.

Horton took Vorndran’s short story writing classes in 2006 and 2007. She remembers that, as a journalist whose occupation depended on the accurate reporting of facts, she was unused to inventing stories.

“I was sitting at the table, writing and scratching out … and he comes over and he squats down in front of the table so … he’s eye-to-eye with me,” Horton says. “He said, ‘Report what you see in your head,’ meaning, ‘Do it like a reporter.’”

She says Vorndran’s words fit fiction writing into a context she understood.

His willingness to work within her framework left an impact on her.

“He’s one of those rare teachers, that he really cares about undergraduate students,” Horton says. “[He] will always advocate for the student.”

Vorndran’s heart for his students has kept him at Pima for 15 years. He’s not sure where his future will lead him, but he is clear on his legacy.

“I want to help people,” he says. “I want them to be saying sometime down the road, ‘You know … I really had this good connection.’”

In conjunction with his desire to foster connection, Vorndran holds strongly to a philosophy of acceptance.

“Acceptance … doesn’t mean we have to like something,” he explains. “But just saying, ‘OK, this is the way it is. How am I going to work with it?’”

Vorndran especially cares about accepting other people. “I want to look at you … and go, ‘You are a full, complete human being who’s going to love, who’s going to hate, who’s going to succeed, who’s going to fail, who’s going to have this complicated life,’” he said.

“If I start there, with that full acceptance of you as a human being … that’s the connection. And it starts with acceptance – very, very deep levels of acceptance.”

And that is the epitome of what Vorndran represents. From an amusing excuse letter policy to the ability to approach writing from the perspective of people like Horton, he accepts and works with others’ differences.

“The world is what it is,” Vorndran says. “Let’s come to accept this. If we can do that, we’ll change the world.”

Northwest Campus writing instructor Kenneth Vorndran shows some of the creative visual excuses he has received for late papers.
Nicholas Trujillo / Aztec Press

TOP 10: Broke Valentine's Day options

TOP 10: Broke Valentine’s Day options



Ah, Valentine’s Day. The day of chocolate, roses and fine wine … all of which can be a drain on your savings account.

The average amount of money spent by an individual on Valentine’s Day in 2016 was $146.84, according to

Not surprising for a nearly $20-billion-per-annum holiday, but not good news for the broke college students of the world.

Let’s face it. Many of us just don’t have the extra cash to splurge on a fancy dinner and a beaming bouquet for our significant other.

But fear not: Expensive outings are not this year’s only options.

Below are 10 ideas for a broke but beautiful Valentine’s Day:

  1. Cook something

If you don’t have the dough to wine and dine your sweetheart this V-Day, why not make your own food adventure and cook together? Even if your concoction doesn’t turn out restaurant-worthy, the memories will be worth the effort.

  1. Go stargazing

There’s just something timeless and romantic about a sky full of stars. If the weather is clear, lay out a blanket or two and spend some time staring at the sky together, hand in hand.

(And if you can catch the sunset before the stars come out, 10 Couple Points for you.)

  1. Hold a dance party for two

Why pay to go to a club full of strangers when you can put together your own setup for free in the comfort of your home? Push the furniture against the wall to create space for a dance floor, throw on your favorite tunes, turn out the lights and jam out together.

(And if you’ve got one buck to spare, hit up the local dollar store for a pack of glow sticks to add some psychedelic flair.)

  1. Give each other massages

Forget shelling out dizzying amounts of dollars for a couple’s massage. Instead, set up your own spa station. Lay down some towels on a bed or a couch, light a few candles, play some soft music and take turns giving each other the royal treatment.

  1. Make a blanket fort

Gather your biggest blankets and reconnect with your inner child by building an epic, cozy tent. For some extra “camping” flair, roast marshmallows over the stove and make indoor s’mores.

  1. Take a hike

Nothing says “romance” like panting and sweating while trekking through dirt, rocks and cacti. But the view from the top will be all the more breathtaking with your lover by your side.

(For bonus Couple Points, see how long you can hold onto each other’s hands while navigating the rougher spots on the trail.)

  1. Try Dressing Room Dress-Up

Get a free taste of the high life by spending a day in the dressing rooms of your favorite stores, trying on the fanciest clothes you can find. For a fun twist, choose outfits for each other and get a glimpse into your respective fashion psyches.

  1. Play Netflix Improv

Hop on Netflix, pick a film neither of you have seen (preferably a rom-com, in the spirit of V-Day), then mute the TV and make up your own dialogue. And during the kissing scenes? You know what to do.

  1. Have a game night

Kick it old-school with a gnarly game night. Pull out your old Scrabble board and see if all the knowledge you’ve gleaned from Words with Friends will spell success.

Or, try your hand at that random game that’s been sitting in the back of the game cupboard for ages, yet you’ve still never played.

  1. Write (and read) love letters

Take some time to write each other good old-fashioned love letters. Recount such things as your favorite shared memories, the little things you like about each other and how you have become better people through your relationship. Then read your letters aloud to each other.