RSSAuthor Archive for Jamie Verwys

From The Editor: Remembering M. Scot Skinner

From The Editor: Remembering M. Scot Skinner


The last words I would hear from M. Scot Skinner came to me in an email during my stay in the hospital. He wrote to say he hoped I was mending after my bike mishap.

Though Scot and I only got to interact briefly, it’s clear his kindness always stuck out to people. The man behind the great smile had left a life-long mark on his students, friends, family and the journalism community of Tucson.

Skinner passed away at 11 p.m. on April 3 after a three-week battle against a bacterial infection. While the 54-year-old was known for his work as a journalist with the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Weekly, Pima is deeply feeling the loss of a beloved writing instructor.

As I write this memorial to a man described by so many who knew him as incredibly kind, I know I am surrounded by student reporters who feel formed and inspired by Skinner’s mentorship. Several Aztec Press reporters learned the journalism basics from him in 101, worked with him on Sandscript and learned about his life.

Emery Nicoletti, a reporter in spring 2015, took Skinner’s media class because of his legacy and work at the Daily Star.

“He made the class an enjoyable place to be. Every second of it,” he said. “He was such a nice patient person.”

First semester reporter S. Paul Bryan reminisced about a class Skinner taught this semester, with so many different skill levels a curriculum was challenging.

“That class is almost impossible to teach,” he said. “But no one could have taught it better than Scot. This couldn’t have happened to a better guy.”

His Facebook now serves as a collage of memories, friendships and goodbyes from the many moved by Skinner.

The Daily Star, Weekly and several other publications shared the news and paid their respects. Some of the words used to describe him are lovely, loyal, giving, a wonderful conversationalist and hip.

  Many students and colleagues were inspired by the instructor during their budding writing careers.

Former Aztec Press reporter Caleb Foster reached out to share that Skinner was the first person to get him interested in Journalism.

Current reporter Eddie Celaya shares the sentiment.

“He was instrumental in my decision to join the Aztec Press,” he said. “With his encouragement, I have found I want to pursue journalism as a career, or something related. I have a voice and I really want that to be heard. Scot was the first person who really saw that.”

The love surrounding Skinner is overwhelmingly clear on the GoFundMe campaign started for his medical expenses on March 24. The goal to earn $5000 in donations was quickly surpassed, with the campaign earning $10,550.

Memorial services for Skinner will take place April 9 at Christ Presbyterian Church, 6565 E Broadway Blvd., at 10 a.m. Those wishing to support Skinner’s family may donate to the GoFundMe campaign,

I wish I would have had the chance to work and learn with Scot. So many people in the community and college were enriched in their time knowing him. As a journalist, I’m thankful because he played a really important role for some talented current and student reporters.

We dedicate this issue to M. Scot Skinner and invite faculty and students to share their stories with us on the online edition.

FROM THE EDITOR: Sometimes, everyone feels like a blob


This spring break, I broke down.

I crumbled and fell apart several times before finding the most minimal amount of clarity to just breathe.

The puzzle of feelings to which I reduced myself took days to start solving. Even as I return to my classes, I realize I haven’t finished yet.

Recently, I fractured my knee and positivity served as one of the most important tools towards my successful recovery.

Last issue, I wrote about the value of resilience gained from overcoming personal struggles.

However, many of the greatest challenges people face are emotional ones and not everyone shows that to the world.

I might have left this part out last time.

No one told me how noticeably the atrophy would change my body. I’ve been petite most of my life and don’t consciously do anything to maintain a certain figure.

In hindsight, I consider myself lucky that no one warned me I’d eventually feel like a misshapen blob with a tiny, shriveled leg.

It was kind of exciting at first when I discovered I filled out some dresses a little more than I used to.

After everything that already happened, minor weight gain felt like a sign that better days were close if only I held on a little longer.

I owned three dresses long enough to wear in my wheelchair at work. To my frustration, none of them fit me anymore. It still stings my ego thinking about how I struggled so hard to get each garment on and off.

The breakdown started there as I made a mental list of all the clothes that were too small for me now. I can envision tumble weeds rolling through the empty spaces where my jeans and shorts used to be stacked.

Countless challenges exist and recovering from a trauma of any kind will hurt.

I also experienced the worst writer’s block of my life, felt more socially unsure of myself than ever before and finally realized the weight of how much catching up I have to do.

You might never know the extent of what someone is going through and I’ll bet everyone you meet is still trying to complete their own puzzles. Keep that in mind when you deal with people.

During the more reflective moments of this experience, I’ve found an even deeper appreciation of kindness.

Sharing your own difficulties with someone might be the reassurance they need.

An understanding smile and kind gesture have the ability to provide much needed comfort to a stranger or a close friend.

I have claimed and dropped a few different mantras during my recovery but the good ones get me up in the morning.

As you read this issue and dive back into classes, I hope you consider the words of Greek philosopher Plato as you see your classmates again.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Welcome back. Enjoy the issue.

PIMA NEWS: Class of 2016 commencement

PIMA NEWS: Class of 2016 commencement


A graduation committee is calling upon all 2016 Pima Community College graduates to find the next commencement speaker for the May 19 ceremony.

Eligible student speakers must be receiving an associate degree and must complete an application at Applications are also available in paper form at any of the campus student services centers.

All applications are due by March 21. For more information, call 206-4729.

Pima Community College students named All Arizona


Phi Theta Kappa’s 2015 All-Arizona Academic Team has honored 12 Pima Community College students for their acedemic excellence. Four students, Alex Martinez Figueroa, Eduardo Lujan-Olivas, Francy Luna Diaz and Julia Mona, earned First Team honors.

Alejandra Fraijo Arce, Fernanda Fraijo Arce,Grace Gainey, Joseph Martens, Alicea Riley, Chris Strothmann, Brooke Weber and Yaritza Vasquez were also honored for their achievements at Pima.

A total of 75 community college students from around the state earned honors.

All PCC honorees were granted scholarships, as well as two-year tuition waivers from the Arizona Board of Regents to any public Arizona university. Students on the  All-USA Academic Team were honored on March 3.

Dolores Durán-Cerda, acting PCC provost, said in a press release that Pima was proud of the students.

“Their perseverance with and dedication to their studies will serve them well along their educational journey and their future careers,” she said.

State senate again debates campus guns

State senate again debates campus guns



Arizona lawmakers continue to push a bill that would allow concealed weapons in public places, including college campuses.

Pima Community College is waiting to see what happens before pushing forward with its own weapon policy.

HB2072 has become a talking point at Pima in the growing conversation of guns and college safety. Recent college shootings throughout the country have resulted in communities having mixed thoughts on students carrying guns.

The state has made four previous attempts to pass a bill allowing concealed weapons in public places in the last five years.

Pima adopted a temporary weapons policy during a Nov. 18, 2015 Board of Governors meeting, with some hesitation from board members Martha Durkin and Scott Stewart.

The policy requires students, faculty, visitors and staff to leave their weapons inside their vehicles.

Though much of the final touches of the policy were a work in progress, the rule will not become permanent until a decision is made about conceal carry laws in the state.

PCC spokesperson Libby Howell said the temporary policy was slated to return to the Board on Feb. 19 to receive a second approval, but will be pushed back until the law is established.

“We’ve decided to wait and monitor what happens to the proposed gun bill,” Howell said.

“If the bill were to pass, then any restrictive policies PCC might have in place would be moot, at least as far as concealed carry is concerned.”

Bill Ward, vice chancellor of facilities, noted that if HB2072 passes, the college would review internal policies to create a guideline for registering weapons and concealed carry permits.

“We would adapt our policies to reflect the current laws,” he said. “All other state laws governing weapons and firearms related to misconduct and disruption on campus would still apply.”

One concern raised by Stewart when the temporary policy was first created was that the policy fails to take into account that not everyone who carries a weapon also has a motor vehicle in which to store a weapon. If the bill passes, students would have the option to bring weapons with them instead of storing them in the car.

During the period for public comment on the temporary policy, Howell said just two comments came in from the campus community.

“One opposed the policy and the other comment expressed concern over the policy being made temporary, instead of just going ahead and making it permanent,” she said.

The college does not currently offer any courses on gun safety, excluding classes conducted as part of the Public Safety Institute. However safety information is available on Pima’s website and is part of new student orientation.

Ward said if the bill were to pass, Pima would review training options for staff, faculty and students. A presentation on gun safety is currently being reviewed by the provost’s office.

“College police have put together a short 10-15 minute presentation that will be available upon request from faculty,” Ward said. “The presentation is geared toward students and would be offered during a regularly scheduled class or at orientation.”

In Arizona, the right to allow concealed weapons on campus is decided by each individual college or university. According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, there are currently about 32,000 active concealed carry permits issued to people between the ages of 21 and 29 in the state.

Although the bill has not yet passed during previous pushes in the Arizona legislature, it has become very clear that the bill will continue to be brought up in the years to come.

Until a concealed weapons law is finalized in the state, Pima’s temporary policy will remain in effect.

To see Pima’s safety guidelines, visit


From The Editor: Varied generations help enrich Pima

From The Editor: Varied generations help enrich Pima

Pg06-Opinion-Jamie Verwys


Each era is forever marked by the people, places and things that come to define it. When we think about the ‘50s, we probably see something like ladies swing dancing in poodle skirts. If it’s the ‘80s, the hair and shoulder pads get bigger and the music has synth.

Every period is influenced by current affairs and has a set of traits developed hugely by the social, economic, political and entertainment environment in which we live. Generations become like people at some point, with personality traits, strengths and human weaknesses.

So where does that leave those of us who are helping to build that profile of the current generation? What are we millennials really up to?

There is no one official timeline for millennials, but most sources seem to consider they are people born from 1980 to 2000. If you look around the campuses, you are sure to see people who fall right into that category, myself included.

We have been called a lot of things, from optimistic to Generation Me. There were definitely moments that defined our time, like the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War, the World Trade Center attack and the creation of Google.

Currently, millennials are out there working, innovating and stepping into a more significant role in their communities.

I have seen my peers in this age group do some incredible things and a pretty fair number of embarrassing ones, too.

It’s funny, because whenever I hear or read millennials, I have always imagined what must be the next generation down. I associated it with young people essentially born with the Internet.

With YouTube and our current culture of sharing, chances are your infancy was shared with hundreds on Facebook.

At Pima, I’m really thankful to see people from all kinds of different times and places. The varied experiences enrich a learning environment, and the college experience allows you different lenses to see those defining moments as they happen.

Whenever you were born, I hope you can see the proof that there is no generational or age limit when it comes to making an impact in our time on this earth.

There are many different ways to do it. Diversity plays a huge part in our resilience when tragedies occur.

As journalists, we don’t just chronicle our generation’s journey. The news is made up of stories about all sorts of different people. Each generation or era was born out of the ones before it and hopefully builds upon it.

It’s an honor to tell the stories of Pima, a place that has the personality and defining moments that would almost qualify it as its own mini era for all of us.

What’s inside this issue is another snapshot of this interesting time in our lives. Enjoy.

PCC tightens financial aid claims

PCC tightens financial aid claims


“Unfortunately, our office had not been monitoring and enforcing students’ progress as the federal regulations stipulate.”

Norma Navarro-Castellanos,

Financial Aid Director


Pima Community College’s financial aid department has been working to identify and resolve problem areas in Title IV funding awarded to students.

On Jan. 11, the college released an outside consultant’s recommendations on financial aid eligibility and remaining compliant with federal regulations.

The 22 reports, from Aug. 3 to Dec. 28, 2015, highlighted inaccuracies in aid awarded to students who were not eligible for all, or part of, the funds they received.

Attain, a management, technology and strategy consulting firm, began their evaluation in July 2015, starting with the website and policies. Norma Navarro-Castellanos currently maintains a position as Pima’s financial aid director while the college awaits the arrival of an executive director to lead the department.

“We looked to several agencies that provide financial aid management,” said Navarro-Castellanos. “Through other schools’ references, we learned that Attain had a very good reputation of helping schools become compliant and service-oriented.”

Attain’s services included the review of the college, help in rewriting policies and workshops to guide faculty in navigating any upcoming changes.

Vice Chancellor of Operations Stella Perez is a spokesperson for Pima concerning the review. She said the consultant offered several training opportunities to student services staff at different campuses.

“The workshops and training sessions were successful,” Perez said. The workshops helped “to ensure we are meeting the most updated criteria and federal guidelines, while evaluating current student service practices and upgrading service excellence measures for our students.”

The cost of Attain’s nearly six months of assistance was a little more than $67,000. Karrie Mitchell, the assistant vice chancellor for student enrollment, said that because there had been no executive director since May 2015, the salary savings went to pay for the consultant.

“We are pleased with the work that they have provided for us thus far and will continue to work with them until our permanent executive director is on board, which will be sometime this semester,” she said.

On Aug. 3, Navarro-Castellanos and Mitchell met with two of Attain’s consultants to assess and gain an initial understanding of the areas of non-compliance. They began with areas that colleges most often struggle to monitor: “program eligibility, course alignment with the program, enrollment changes, satisfactory academic progress, written policies and published information.”

Attain found that Pima’s website and technology were in need of several major updates. According to the report, the net cost calculator was out of date, there were inconsistencies in how schedule changes were tracked and written policy needed to be updated for clarity.

According to Mitchell, technology improvements are in progress and should help students, advisors and financial aid staff.

“We are working on some technology infrastructure components that will help automate some very manual processes,” she said. “Likewise, we’re looking at some of our curriculum offerings to ensure that we have the best and most up-to-date consumer information available to students on the web and for advisors.  Both of these initiatives are large endeavors that have project plans in place to see them through to fruition.”

In their Aug 24, 2015 report, Attain claimed that one of the technology improvements was about 18 months from being implemented. The new software would help to evaluate the necessity of a student’s classes to their program.

Program eligibility was an area identified by the review as being a determining factor in eligibility of aid. Students can’t be awarded for classes that don’t count towards a degree, certificate or revenant coursework for transferring.

There are also requirements to keep a certain grade point average, enroll in a set number of credits, attend classes and take classes that are at least at a high school level. Once a student has passed a course, they can only receive aid for it once more.

According to Navarro-Castellanos, this satisfactory academic progress has proven to be the largest challenge so far.

“The most significant change or impact is how our office had been monitoring Satisfactory Academic Progress,” she said. “Unfortunately, our office had not been monitoring and enforcing students’ progress as the federal regulations stipulate.”

The reports also suggested improving the setting in which financial aid is discussed with students. After looking at the campuses, consultants found that student services areas were in open spaces where personal financial details could be overheard in passing. Higher cubicles and an awareness of one’s volume were the recommendation.

Mitchell said students should expect some changes in the process of confirming eligibility.

“We will be confirming students are in the correct major and following the correct catalog year,” she said. “Students will also see a greater focus on ensuring they are enrolled in classes that are applicable to their program of study.”

Any discrepancies in aid disbursement are a major liability, as it might result in having to pay back the incorrect amount. Pima has already returned more than $6,200 in incorrectly distributed aid back in January 2015 when the college received a federal audit.

College administrators are happy with Attain’s performance.

The consulting firm noted significant progress finding and beginning to correct problems but added, “It appears there are a significant number of issues that cannot be fully resolved in time to ensure that (payments?) be made only to students who have met all eligibility criteria.”