RSSAll Entries in the "Spotlight" Category

Grad speaker overcomes odds

Grad speaker overcomes odds

Graduation speaker Francy Luna Diaz celebrates graduation a little early in front of the West Campus north parking lot.  Luna Diaz is s graduating this semester with honors. (Aztec Press photos by Eddie Celaya)

Graduation speaker Francy Luna Diaz celebrates graduation a little early in front of the West Campus north parking lot. Luna Diaz is s graduating this semester with honors. (Aztec Press photos by Eddie Celaya)


Imagine moving to a new country in your teens. The country isn’t entirely friendly toward migrants and its inhabitants speak a language foreign to you.

Now imagine you’ve mastered the language and the culture, and are about to graduate from a community college. A scholarship will help pave your way to the University of Arizona.

Such is the story of Francy Luna Diaz, this year’s Pima Community College graduation speaker.

Diaz hails from Colombia originally.

“I was pretty much raised by my mom and my sister near the north coast of Colombia in a town called Barranquilla,” she said.

Things were not ideal growing up, and Luna Diaz credits her mother, Mercedes Diaz, with persevering and instilling a strong work ethic in her daughters.

“We lived in a very poor neighborhood,” Luna Diaz said. “It was a difficult situation, but my mom was very dedicated to education and taught us we had to work hard in life. That ultimately paid off.”

After finishing high school at the head of her class and receiving her school’s highest test score on Colombia’s version of the SAT, she began her college career in Colombia.

“I started at the university and studied two years of psychology there before my mom married an American,” she said.

Diaz first arrived in Las Vegas in 2011, where she learned the U.S. college system would not accept some of her credits and classes. Her sister, Landy Luna, ran into the same problem applying for medical school.

There was also a language barrier.

“When I came to the U.S., my English was very basic,” Luna Diaz said. “I went to an adult high school in Vegas and got my high school diploma in a few months. I took history, government and, of course, English classes.”

The classes helped improve her English but the language didn’t truly stick until she moved to Wisconsin.

“In Vegas, there is a big Hispanic population so I spoke Spanish most of the time,” she said. “But in Wisconsin, since no one speaks Spanish, I was speaking English in four to five months.”

While working as a waitress at a Chili’s in Wisconsin, Luna Diaz attended a Tony Robbins financial seminar.

There, she ended up meeting her inspiration for moving to Tucson: her current boyfriend, Scott Sinclair, a resident of the Old Pueblo.

“I wanted to attend the University of Wisconsin, which was way out of my budget,” she said. “So when I got here and I found out PCC existed and was affordable, I was really excited.”

The first year was still expensive due to being an out of state student, Luna Diaz said.

After a year of living in Tucson, however, she was able to pay resident tuition and gain her 10-year resident immigrant status.

Luna Diaz has participated in PCC’s Honors Club, her main activity outside of classes.

“I realized it was awesome, that I loved it,” she said. “They had all of this volunteering and nice people, so I just kept going.”

She was elected treasurer during her first year of membership and serves as president this year.

“We do a ton of volunteering activities, so that takes up most of my time,” she said.

Phi Theta Kappa, a national honor society for two-year colleges, recently recognized Luna Diaz as an Academic All-American.

The honor is bestowed on fewer than 150 students nationwide.

The award includes a scholarship tuition waiver for the state university of the student’s choice.

None of her achievements would be possible without PCC, according to Luna Diaz.

“I’ve been at a couple higher education institutions, but I just feel like teachers here really care about their students,” she said. “They really know you.”

Fellow Honors Club member and friend Jolinda Christenson, a parks and recreation management major, called Luna Diaz a daily inspiration.

“She is a very motivating person, always helpful and always there for you,” Christenson said. “Francy really brings the best out of people.”

Luna Diaz will begin classes at UA next semester to pursue a degree in political science with an emphasis in foreign affairs.

“I’m looking to double major, so I want to study Latin American studies, and thenhopefully I’ll move on to an Ivy League school to study law,” she said.

Ultimately, Luna Diaz would like to help others back home in Colombia.

“I’ve always been interested in politics, since I was very young,” she said. “My dream is to work in bettering relations between the U.S. and Colombia, so hopefully as an ambassador.”

While the social, economic and political situation in Colombia has improved since the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there is still widespread strife.

“The social situation in my country is difficult right now, but if there is something that I can help improve, I’m interested in doing that,” she said.

As far as her speech to fellow graduates during the commencement ceremony on May 19, Luna Diaz isn’t giving too much away.

“I’m very big on volunteering, giving back to the community, so I definitely will center my message on inspiring others to give back and get involved with their communities,” she said.

Francy Luna Diaz, left, and Jolinda Christenson , center, sign up students for an Empowering Women Workshop held at West Campus. Luna Diaz has been active in PCC’s Honors Club because she appreciates its commitment to volunteer projects.

Francy Luna Diaz, left, and Jolinda Christenson , center, sign up students for an Empowering Women Workshop held at West Campus. Luna Diaz has been active in PCC’s Honors Club because she appreciates its commitment to volunteer projects.

Cramer re-imagines economic learning

Cramer re-imagines economic learning

Amy Cramer poses on a bench at Pima Community College’s Desert Vista Campus before giving a presentation on her new Economics 150 course being offered this summer and fall. (Nick Meyers/Aztec Press)

Amy Cramer poses on a bench at Pima Community College’s Desert Vista Campus before giving a presentation on her new Economics 150 course being offered this summer and fall. (Nick Meyers/Aztec Press)


It’s debate day in Amy Cramer’s macroeconomic class.

One student tells an emotional story of an American family that suddenly became homeless when the automobile industry took a downturn.

Another points out how much more Americans end up paying for common food items due to tariffs. A third brings up a United States factory that collapsed in Bangladesh, killing more than 1,000 people.

The Pima Community College students all make convincing arguments on the topic of free trade, but from three perspectives.

“My mission is really to help create dialogue,” Cramer said. “The problem is that economics is generally taught from one perspective, so students don’t get to practice being open to talking to one another without getting angry.”

Cramer has been a full-time instructor at PCC since 2002, and is chair of the West Campus business department. She teaches students through her unique style of alternative perspectives.

For the most part, economics education in the U.S. lacks multiple perspectives, even at the collegiate level. Texas, one of 20 states that requires economics in the high school curriculum, mandates that the “free enterprise system and its benefits” must be taught.

“People believe that their way of thinking is the right one and exposing people to the wrong one is dangerous because they might be fooled into thinking it’s a reasonable way of proceeding,” Cramer said.

She disagrees.

“The thing is, it’s not going to make the debate go away by pretending it doesn’t exist in the classroom,” she said.

Cramer began her undergraduate education at Boston College. She didn’t find economics very interesting there, but became enthralled by the discussion and different points of view when she transferred to the University of Massachusetts.

She graduated in 1985 with a degree in Social Thought and Political Economics, then earned her master’s and doctorate in economics.

In her micro and macroeconomics courses, Cramer starts each semester by introducing her classes to Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes and Karl Marx to illuminate the conservative, liberal and radical positions.

Toward the end of the semester, the courses focus on specific, relevant economic issues.

During one of these class, Cramer alternates between perspectives. She takes turns wearing the hat of each one, arguing passionately and explaining why that view is the right one. She never tells the students which position is her own.

Ryan Valenzuela, 20, and Dustin Sorce, 35, both took micro and macroeconomics with Cramer. They mention the debates and Cramer’s passion as the most influential and memorable part of their classes.

Sorce is now minoring in economics due to his classes with Cramer.

“My position didn’t change but it gave me a better understanding about the other positions, helping solidify my original perspective with a better, fuller understanding,” he said.

Not everyone over the years has supported Cramer’s approach, and many students have been confused or critical of including the radical perspective. Cramer said the appearance of Bernie Sanders in mainstream politics has made people a little more understanding.

“Sanders is basically legitimizing what I’ve been doing,” she said. “It used to be when I was first teaching, people would be asking ‘Why give a radical perspective?’ When Occupy Wall Street came along, people understood, and now with Sanders people understand.”

Although Sanders is a liberal politician and might have a different analysis than a pure radical perspective, Cramer says he advocates for some of the same outcomes, such as free education and single-payer health care.

Cramer started a nonprofit in 2009, now called Voices on the Economy.

Part of the VOTE program is a new course at PCC called Economics 150 that will focus on exploring current issues from alternative perspectives. The goal is to partner with a four-year institution to offer the class as a massive open online course—a free college course available to the public.

Starting this fall the class will be offered in an optional honors format, with students going out into the community to lead discussions.

A website is also in the works. Her hope is that famous proponents of each issue will be featured, perhaps with a video, a comedy act or a political cartoon. In this vision, Paul Krugman, Richard Wolff and Thomas Sowell will come to her, wanting to contribute.

“It’s kind of a funny revolution of just trying to say ‘Can we have different perspectives of this and have a venue for people to talk in a respectful way?’” Cramer said. “Just to have a safe place to explore. That’s what all these components are supposed to be.”









Thurs. 6-8:40 p.m.


Get out of here, seriously; it’s time

Get out of here, seriously; it’s time

Study-abroad student Moe Irish, second from left, makes a heart shape along with a Chinese Ronald McDonald and other students. (Photo courtesy of Moe irish)

Study-abroad student Moe Irish, second from left, makes a heart shape along with a Chinese Ronald McDonald and other students. (Photo courtesy of Moe irish)


Dreams of traveling the world have become somewhat cliché, and hardly anyone is fulfilling them.

Maybe it just seems so intangible that the concept has evolved into a common fantasy, rather than a palpable goal.

The idea itself can be somewhat overwhelming—envision yourself surrounded by strangers who don’t know your name or even your language.

There are weird smells your nose has been completely unaware even existed up to this point, and there is food that never occurred to you as edible.

You are in a world that is practically flipped upside down from anything you have ever known, stripped of all elements of comfort or familiarity.

Your senses are heightened and you’re hyperaware of yourself, staggering to try to make sense of something, anything, and figure out where you fit in amid all the vast disarray of your surroundings.

The hazy plane ride and everything leading up to this point almost seem like a dream and you are expecting to wake up any second.

For me, this was my experience in China. It didn’t hit me until the morning after arrival as I confidently embarked on an adventure to find my first meal.

That’s the simple beauty of this: at first, everything is an adventure. I didn’t know what I was trying to get or how to use my money or recognize what these people were saying to me.

I tried to join a line to buy what looked like a tortilla, but nothing was making sense because pointing was not enough to get me anything but frustrated, disgruntled looks.

An observant Chinese student must have seen how lost and confused I was and handed me some steamed bread rolls (baozi) out of pity. I was eager to ingest, but after a bite something even more unpleasant than the sweet, tangy taste threw me off.

It was pork. Although I had not consumed meat in more than seven years, I was immediately alarmed by the stringy, unmistakable texture.

This was my first reality check and it only got more real as it all started slowly sinking in. I asked for it, and there it was in all of its raging intensity.

Nothing promotes personal growth more than pleasant distress and subtle, continual discomfort. Learning to see things from a different perspective and adapting to various facets of foreign living has great value.

One of those facets is a rigid language barrier. We can study foreign languages all we want, but the real learning begins when you have no choice but to speak them.

In doing so, we learn a lot about ourselves. We also expand our tolerance for cultures with different social practices and belief systems. It is a priceless experience with the potential to change your perspectives on life. I know it did for me.

Don’t let the whole price factor discourage you, either. I have studied abroad twice, made possible with the gracious help of grants and scholarships. The opportunities are out there. You just have to seek them out.

In fact, Pima Community College just recently established an exchange program that sends students to Zhuhai, China for a semester.

The program provides fundamentals such as tuition, room and board, making it fiscally possible for students, regardless of financial circumstances.

It’s too late to apply for this fall’s exchange program but it is food for thought and a potential opportunity to experience what I am eagerly emphasizing. It is never too early to apply for your passport.

Now is the time in life to pursue these awe-inspiring opportunities. After all, we are only getting older. Endeavors like this become harder to follow as time goes by and various responsibilities enter our lives. If you wait around for the “perfect” time, you will be waiting the rest of your life.

Another way to learn about various cultures is getting involved with foreign students who are studying in Tucson.

Pima has a program called Global Peers that allows Americans to engage with international students and help them make the most of their time here.

Becoming a peer allows you to vicariously experience the world travel phenomena on a lesser level, from the comfort of your native soil.

Information on both the China exchange program and Pima’s Global Peer program is available through Daisy Rodriguez Pitel in the international student office on West Campus, or by emailing

Irish has ambitions to continue traveling far and wide, with hopes of eventually getting paid for it through a career in photojournalism.

Opiate epidemic courses through Tucson’s veins

Opiate epidemic courses through Tucson’s veins

Aztec Press illustration by Nick Meyers

Aztec Press illustration by Nick Meyers


While Tucson is known for its breathtaking landscapes and rich cultural diversity, there is a growing shadow stretching across Pima County.

Over the past four years the rise in deaths linked directly to opiate use has increased dramatically.

In 2015, there was a 20 percent increase in deaths from opiate overdoses, increasing from 324 deaths in 2014 to 379 in 2015, according to the Pima County Medical Examiner.

These numbers are high, but the actual count may be much larger because not every death is ruled an overdose.

By the time a medical exam of the body takes place, the drug may have already metabolized and might not show up in a toxicology report.

Drug use among teenagers is more prevalent than ever before and heroin is becoming more common amongst young adults.

In 2014, 56 teenagers in Pima County alone died as a result of opiate overdoses, according to the Pima County Medical Examiner.

The beginning of addiction

Many opiate abusers start with prescription medications.

The prescription drugs were more readily available on the street before the late 1990s to 2000s, when laws were passed restricting doctors from giving patients refills on opiate and other addictive prescriptions.

“I remember being in high school and there were a few people I knew who would take pills once in a while,” said Joe, a former user who asked not to be identified by his real name. “They were cheap and easy to get. Most of the people I knew would take them from their parents.”

Users sometimes enlist these drugs to escape reality or trauma, especially in early adolescence.

Some turn to drugs as a way to numb the experiences they faced.

Former user and Pima Community College student Karlos David Taylor turned to several drugs during a “rough year” when his parents divorced and his older brother died.

“I started on alcohol and cigarettes before I ever used,” he said. “I was hanging out with kids who would use everything from pills to coke. I was able to get them from a dealer within my group’s circle. I was just trying to numb the pain.”

Living with addiction

Before prescription abuse laws were passed, many opiate users could simply walk into a doctor’s office and pay to leave with a brand new bottle of pills.

When this option was taken away, users turned to the streets for their fix and ended up finding heroin.

“For a while I was taking a few pills a day, but they started getting hard to find and they started to get really expensive,” Joe said. “I went from swallowing to snorting them, and then one of my dealers said he had heroin.”

Heroin holds far greater risks to users than opiate medications because the strength is unregulated. Many users will inject the drug, which can lead to diseases and a greater chance of overdosing.

“I just remember leaving my body, and it’s kind of like you’re in a movie where a ghost hovers around your friends and you can see them,” Taylor said. “It didn’t have an impact on me at the time but it’s a miracle to cheat death. I knew that I couldn’t keep living with constant pain in my head or let my major depression hurt me. I decided it was time for change.”

Due to its close proximity to the border of Mexico, Tucson is often used as a first stopping point for drug trafficking.

The outcome is that drugs are not only more readily available, but also stronger and cheaper than in other parts of the country.

“For $10 you could get high all day at first because of how much stronger it was,” Joe said. “It seems great at first but before long you’re spending $50 a day on it.”

While heroin is dangerous to users because of the high risk of overdose, it also harms users emotionally.

While on the drug, many users report an extreme and uplifting high. When the drug wears off, the mood changes considerably.

“I am absolutely not the same person when I am using,” Joe said. “Anything can make me go off and I almost have no control over my own emotions. It makes it hard to be around other people or have a normal relationship with someone.”

A great number of users develop a tolerance and need more and more of the drug to achieve a high, making their drug use more expensive.

Users then feel compelled to resort to anything in order to score. Due to the overwhelming hold heroin has on its users, many will do things they never thought they would do to make money.

“For a while I would steal money from my family that I was staying with until they’d had it,” Joe said. “Once I was on my own, I started panhandling to make enough. You’re willing to settle for a lot less when you’re on it.”

A national epidemic

Along with the annual deaths linked directly to heroin use, there are staggering numbers of people admitted to the hospital each year because of their abuse of heroin and prescription opiates.

According to the Healthcare Cost And Utilization Project, the number of overdose-related intake has increased 150 percent between 1993 and 2012.

In 2012, there were 709,500 overdose-related intakes in hospitals within the United States.

With the Affordable Care Act covering partial and sometimes the full cost of rehab, many former users can now seek help for their addictions. Even with this newfound help, addiction is a difficult recovery process for almost anyone.

“My rehab at AA wasn’t working so I decided to go cold turkey,” Taylor said. “I just let the effects leave me. There were many sleepless nights and sleeping next to the toilet but I was able to transfer my addiction to other positive activities.”

As drug-related deaths continue to rise, the United States government is beginning to look for solutions to this widespread social problem.

In 2015, a bill to help with the epidemic of addiction was turned down by Republicans in Congress. President Barack Obama has since proposed a new bill requesting $1.1 billion to fund prevention, provide treatment and combat the smuggling of opiates.

The road to recovery for addiction is long but there are many who overcome their demons and live a happy life free from the control of drugs.

“Addiction can be a cruel and hard thing that can hurt you and everyone around you,” Taylor said. “You choose to make changes to get better. Friends and family can be your biggest rock and support system.”

Dancers to showcase upbeat ‘Fusion’

Dancers to showcase upbeat ‘Fusion’



Ballet, modern and jazz styles will be in the spotlight May 6-7 when Pima Community College dancers stage “Dance Fusion” under the direction of Nolan Kubota and Erika Colombi.

Student and faculty choreography draws inspiration from a variety of classic and contemporary movements.

“It’s one of our most talked about shows,” Kubota said. “The audience is going to love the closer. You have to stay till the end.”

Kubota, who has been with the PCC dance program since 2011 and has been director of productions for two years, said the production has been an exercise in exploring new movement and techniques.

Performances will include a re-staging of “La Vivandere” and original works derived from Forsythe improvisation techniques.

In addition to choreography by Kubota, Colombi and instructor Mirela Roza, Pima students have also contributed works.

An adult ensemble with mixed abilities from Arts for All will also perform a piece led by Karenne Koo.

Performances will be Friday at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the West Campus Proscenium Theatre. Tickets are $10, with discounts available.

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

Pima Community College dancers rehearse a dynamic group number as they prepare for their “Dance Fusion” concerts May 6-7. (Photograph by Ed Flores)

Pima Community College dancers rehearse a dynamic group number as they prepare for their “Dance Fusion” concerts May 6-7. (Photograph by Ed Flores)


“Dance Fusion”

When: May 6-7; Friday at 7:30 p.m.,

Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Where: Proscenium Theatre,

West Campus Center for the Arts

Admission: $10, with discounts available

Box office: 206-6986

Tough life experiences provide motivation for softball sisters

Tough life experiences provide motivation for softball sisters

Sisters Kalynn Martinez, left, and Aubre Carpenter enjoy a playful moment. Both have played softball for Pima Community College. (Jason Weir/Aztec Press)

Sisters Kalynn Martinez, left, and Aubre Carpenter enjoy a playful moment. Both have played softball for Pima Community College. (Jason Weir/Aztec Press)


Drug-addicted birth, adoption, family, softball, college.

This has been the progression for two sisters born by the same drug-addicted mother and then saved through adoption by two loving families.

Aubre Carpenter, 23, and Kalynn Martinez, 19, have no trouble keeping softball in perspective.

They both overcame the odds against them at birth.

Carpenter’s mother was addicted to crack when she was born.

“I was really underweight,” Carpenter said. “She even did it the day I was born. I am surprised that I didn’t have any major birth defects.”

The pattern repeated itself with the mother’s next child four years later.

“My mom was in jail for half the pregnancy,” Martinez said.

She wonders if that fact saved her from being a “crack baby” like her sister.

Both sisters were born in Las Vegas and found families in Tucson through adoption.

“My brothers used to tell me I was the grand prize for losing in Las Vegas,” Carpenter said.

Both were also leaders for Pima Community College softball head coach Armando Quiroz.

“You can’t teach leadership, you can’t teach aggressiveness, you can’t teach desire, you can’t teach work ethic,” Quiroz said. “They have it. I am not surprised they are sisters.”

Carpenter was 5 months old at the time of her adoption.

She had already been left in a foster home multiple times before family members in Tucson took action.

“My aunt, who is my mom now, came and got me,” Carpenter said.

Martinez was three-weeks-old at the time of her adoption. Carpenter’s brother played in a soccer league at the time, and a teammate’s parent had family members who were looking to adopt.

“My parents couldn’t take another kid, I made eight,” Carpenter said. “So they put her with a family friend.”

Martinez learned of her adoption in eighth grade.

Their birth mother was in a Tucson rehab center at the time, and Carpenter took Martinez to meet her.

“It was very eye-opening,” Martinez said. “It was very clear she wasn’t fit to care for a child.”

The sisters saw their birth mother one more time, after learning she was dying. They paid her a visit in Las Vegas, where she lay in a hospital bed on life support.

“They had the blanket over her and it looked like there was nothing there,” Martinez said. “I didn’t know her, but it really hit me being there.”

The hospital needed a decision about discontinuing life support. As the oldest, Carpenter was prepared to give approval but it was not needed as their birth mother died during the night.

The sisters became exceptional softball players who used their talent to pursue higher learning.

Carpenter’s All-American career at Pima generated multiple softball scholarship offers, and she chose Indiana State.

She played in the NCAA World Series both years at Indiana State and earned a degree in criminology.

Martinez, a sophomore criminal justice major, has created a similar path. Morgan State and Baltimore have already offered her full-ride scholarships, but she is waiting until the post-season to make a decision. “I still have a lot of visits that I have to take,” she said.

Her perspective shows when talking about the factors in her decision. She would like to play shortstop, but won’t base her choice on that factor alone.

“I look more at the program’s history,” Martinez said. “I can play wherever a coach needs me.”

Her current coach agrees. “They are both so talented and skilled that they don’t have to worry about who is there,” Quiroz said. “They are going to prove themselves.”

Martinez may finish her Pima career just as her sister did. Carpenter was named All-American and helped lead the Aztecs to a regional championship as the second seed her final year.

Pima will nominate Martinez for All-American honors, Quiroz said. The Aztecs head into this year’s regional as the second seed.

Leadership from Quiroz helped Martinez through a rough stretch early in the season.

“Nobody is perfect, he definitely understands that,” Martinez said. “He kept the faith in me.”

Quiroz returns the compliment.

“She is our best athlete,” he said. “Anybody I replace her with will be less than her, athletically.”

Quiroz’s faith in her sister didn’t surprise Carpenter.

“He cares a lot more than people realize,” she said. “They are not just girls on his team, they are like his children.”

The sisters appreciate the gift they were given.

“I am lucky,” Carpenter said. “If I wouldn’t have been adopted, I probably would have been in and out of jail.”

Carpenter thanked her birth mother.

“Because of her decision, I don’t touch drugs or alcohol,” Carpenter said.

Her sister nodded in agreement by her side.

PCC students take top honors

PCC students take top honors



Through hard work on campus and in the community, 12 Pima Community College students have been named to the 2016 All-Arizona Academic Team. They were recognized for the accolade by the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

Each student receives two-year tuition waivers for any public university in Arizona, as well as scholarships from PCC. The top four students earn additional scholarships from the Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team program.

Alex Martinez Figueroa and Eduardo Lujan Olivas received the gold scholarship for placing in the top 20 students in the nation.

Francy Luna Diaz landed the silver scholarship in the top 100 and Julia Mona received a bronze scholarship for the top 150.

Alex Martinez Figueroa

In addition to placing in the top 20, Figueroa was named number one in the state of Arizona, making him All-USA.

However, the journey to the top wasn’t easy and spanned seven years, following graduation from a Yuma high school.

Upon graduating in 2009, Figueroa attended Arizona Western College for business but failed his courses. He moved to Phoenix a year later to attend Glendale Community College. After completing his EMT basic training, his interest in the medical field was spurred.

Figueroa moved to Tucson in 2011 with hopes of attending the fire academy, but financial problems kept him from finishing the program.

When his finances were back in order, he enrolled at Pima. One of his instructors was future Assistant Vice Chancellor Karrie Mitchell.

“She was one of the people who told me that she saw me going far and I could actually go for the medical field,” Figueroa said. “She gave me a lot of confidence in myself, which helped me in my first semester to get A’s in all of my classes.”

TRIO Student Support Services then introduced him to the honors council, aiding the process of enrolling in his first honors class.

With the support of Program Director Hector Acosta and the networking skills attained in the honors society, Figueroa realized that the goal of reaching the public health field was not as far off as he had suspected.

“If there was an emergency in the family then I could be there to help out,” he said. “I wanted to be able to make sure my family is doing the right thing, whether it be a healthier lifestyle or anything else.”

Eduardo Lujan Olivas

Olivas chose to tackle administrative justice with his two-year waiver and he plans to pursue criminal justice and criminology at Arizona State University. His ultimate goal is to become a federal agent, possibly for the DEA.

“I took an aptitude test and the suggestion came out as law enforcement,” Olivas said. “But I didn’t just want to be a police officer, so I knew I needed more school.”

He began the application process for the PTK honor society in his freshman year at Pima.

“You have to have completed about nine credit hours and have a 3.5 GPA in order to get into Phi Theta Kappa,” he said. “I was inducted, and then I started going to the meetings and got involved with their community service projects.”

As the vice president of student government at the Downtown Campus, Olivas helped to implement the smoking areas on campus and ban e-cigarettes indoors.

One project he undertook with the honors society was about Central American children coming to the United States border and the conditions they were put in.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would have to take them in because they were on American soil,” Olivas said.  “They would be put in shelters and await a court hearing, so we researched that and informed the community on what was happening and what could be done.”

Silver scholar Francy Luna Diaz celebrates making the top 100 students on the Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team at Phi Theta Kappa’s Nerd Nation convention in National Harbour, Md. (Photo courtesy of Francy Luna Diaz)

Silver scholar Francy Luna Diaz celebrates making the top 100 students on the Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team at Phi Theta Kappa’s Nerd Nation convention in National Harbour, Md. (Photo courtesy of Francy Luna Diaz)

Francy Luna Diaz

Francy Luna Diaz’s journey at Pima began in the fall semester of 2012, a year after moving from Barranquilla, Colombia.

Her first stop in the country was Las Vegas, where she obtained a high school diploma equivalent. She had already completed high school in Colombia and was even taking college courses.

Diaz moved to Wisconsin before coming to Tucson and enrolling at Pima.

She learned English fluently in Wisconsin.

“Through high school they teach basic English kind of like here they teach you Spanish, but you don’t really learn it very well,” Diaz said. “Most of it I learned in while I was in Wisconsin because nobody speaks Spanish there, so I was fully immersed.”

She joined the honors club at Pima in Fall 2013 after taking the prerequisite honors class online.

Though she completed most of the community service for her Phi Theta Kappa application with the honors club, Diaz was very active in the community in her home country.

“Growing up in Colombia I used to participate in different activities like cleaning up parks,” she said. “I was part of a group called Defensa Civil, which is kind of like the Girls Scouts here but they teach you survival techniques, CPR and you go camping.”

After finishing her studies at the University of Arizona, which include Latin American Studies and Political Science, Diaz hopes to attend an Ivy League school. Her ultimate goal is becoming an ambassador or another position in politics.

Julia Mona

Julia Mona plans to continue service to the community by becoming a nurse practitioner, following in the footsteps of her mother, a medical doctor.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to be freshman year, but I chose to do nursing because it is one of the things I can do to reach out to people heart-to-heart,” Mona said. “My mom was a doctor and watching her interact with the nurses, the way she cared for my grandmother and grandfather was the same care I want to give.”

Mona performs much of her community service with her church, including a dance ministry that performs for the community.

She is also part of a confirmation retreat that helps middle schoolers understand their faith.

As a member of the honors society at Pima, she helped create a leadership role with Honors Coordinator Kenneth Vorndran that put her in charge of scheduling meetings and a game-night at her resident Northwest Campus.

“My first meeting, they were talking about all these events and I felt like I had no idea why I was there or what they were talking about, but at least I’m here,” she said. “After a few meetings I got the hang of it and jumped into events.

“In the beginning of my junior year, I realized I could use all of this for my application for Phi Theta Kappa.”

Provost recognized for work ethic

Provost recognized for work ethic



Pima Community College Acting Provost Dolores Duran-Cerda received a presidential citation award from the League of United Latin American Citizens at the 27th annual LULAC Educational Awards and Scholarships Banquet on April 14.

“It is her strong commitment and dedicated service in the field of higher education as well as her strong advocacy in securing educational scholarships for deserving students that LULAC is very proud to present this most deserving presidential citation award to Dr. Dolores Duran-Cerda,” former South Tucson mayor Dan Eckstrom told banquet attendees.

It’s been a long road for Duran-Cerda to not only be in the position of receiving awards but receiving the provost position. That road was paved with a strong work ethic.

Duran-Cerda was born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa. Her mother and her mother’s family were migrant workers from Agua Prieta in Sonora, México. Her father was from Chile.

Duran-Cerda recalls difficulty growing up Latina in Iowa.

“Elementary school was kind of tough,” she said. “Being different and speaking a different language.”

It got better in high school, she said. She became popular because she helped others with their Spanish homework.

She spent most of her time in Iowa as a child, but every summer she and her family would travel to Douglas, Ariz. She looked forward to visiting the desert.

Duran-Cerda graduated with honors from the University of Iowa with degrees in Spanish, French and Secondary Education.

Both of her parents were involved in education, too.

Her mother attended the University of Arizona and became a Spanish teacher at Rincon High School. As a pioneer in bilingual education, her mother contributed to the ‘The Invisible Minority Report” that spearheaded bilingual education around the country.

Richard G. Fimbres, City of Tucson council member, drew positive parallels from Duran-Cerda and her family.

“She comes from good stock in her family,” he said. “Her mother was a great mentor to many people and she’s been a great mentor. She’s done so many things in our community.”

Duran-Cerda always wanted to attend school in Arizona, and applied to graduate school at the University of Arizona.

When she was accepted, her parents moved to Arizona with her.

She received her master’s in Latin American literature from UA and later a doctoral degree with an emphasis in poetry and a secondary focus in Mexican- American literature.

After graduate school, she began looking for a job close to home. She want to stay close because her father was deceased and her mother had been diagnosed with cancer.

She received a faculty member position at PCC as a Spanish instructor in 1997 and taught for 16 years.

In 2013, an acting position for the provost position opened. She applied for and received the job.

Duran-Cerda received the position at a time when Pima was writing a policy to help undocumented DAPA and DACA students receive in-state tuition.

The contribution to helping pass the policy crystallized her desire to be the provost.

“I know that in the classroom I was helping students, but this was a bigger impact,” she said.

When the full-time position for provost opened up in 2015, Duran-Cerda applied and received the position that she now holds.

She says it’s a lot of work and it comes with stress, but she believes she can handle it knowing the college and what it needs.

This was most evident when Pima was put on probation by the Higher Learning Commission at the time she received the position.

The provost’s office was tasked with getting the college off of probation. Long hours and frequent meetings were necessary to achieve this.

She can look back at that time now and laugh. “It was like boom! Into the job,” she said.

Duran-Cerda brands every-day experiences as an instructor as her proudest moments at Pima.

The different skill levels students have in Spanish reminded her of her experiences as a young woman in high school.

The other kids would get mad at her and tell her that she already knew Spanish and that it was unfair that she was taking the class.

She would respond to the other students with, “Well, you guys take English classes. Why can I not take Spanish classes?”

Duran-Cerda did not take Spanish in high school to get an easy A, but to become more proficient at in reading and writing her first language. Her Pima students were in the same situation.

“I believe it is important that teachers show respect to the students and to their pace,” she said.

Duran-Cerda acknowledges that Pima is going through a rough time.

“There is a storm,” she says. “And after that storm the clouds break and everything is sunny and there are rainbows. We’re on our way to that.”

She believes that her role as the provost is to create relationships internally with employees and externally with the community. That is vital to her.

“It’s a dialogue,” she said. “Metaphorically and literally.”

Duran-Cerda doesn’t see herself doing anything but education for the rest of her life and doing it at Pima Community College.

Gilbert Fimbres, Richard Fimbres, Mary Fimbres and Dan Eckstrom award Dolores Duran-Cerda, second from right, the Presidential Citation Award on behalf of LULAC on April 14. (Bryan Orozco/Aztec Press)

Gilbert Fimbres, Richard Fimbres, Mary Fimbres and Dan Eckstrom award Dolores Duran-Cerda, second from right, the Presidential Citation Award on behalf of LULAC on April 14. (Bryan Orozco/Aztec Press)

Celebrating Earth Day

Celebrating Earth Day

Bicyclists, including one providing lively beats with his drum set, turned out April 10 for Cyclovia Tucson to celebrate non-motorized transportation.

Bicyclists, including one providing lively beats with his drum set, turned out April 10 for Cyclovia Tucson to celebrate non-motorized transportation.

Julie Hecimovich, representing Pima Community College’s Pima for Kids, provides gardening supplies to youngsters while promoting non-credit summer classes.

Julie Hecimovich, representing Pima Community College’s Pima for Kids, provides gardening supplies to youngsters while promoting non-credit summer classes.

Cloudy skies didn’t stop a solar oven from cooking up fresh vegetables.

Cloudy skies didn’t stop a solar oven from cooking up fresh vegetables.

Outdoor yoga demonstrations were part of the environmental festivities April 10 at the 22nd annual Earth Day Festival, held at Himmel Park. (Aztec Press photos by Moe Irish)

Outdoor yoga demonstrations were part of the environmental festivities April 10 at the 22nd annual Earth Day Festival, held at Himmel Park. (Aztec Press photos by Moe Irish)

PCCTV provides videography coverage

PCCTV provides videography coverage



Two Pima Community College employees work on editing video, each in a different control room of the TV studio at Community Campus, 401 N. Bonita Ave.

Conrad Mendez works on a show called “The Set List,” which spotlights performances by local musicians in the studio. Dan Coonts works on other projects.

Their editing work will air on PCC’s two TV channels, Cox 97 and Comcast 121.

“We’re pretty heavily support-based … things like graduation, College Day,” Coonts said. “We do audio PA stuff, we cover board meetings, HR forums, etc.”

Coonts has worked at PCCTV for two years, and said mobility is his favorite part of the job.

“Probably that we are not always chained to our desks,” he said. “We often go to locations to shoot video.”

Manager Gloria Helin-Moore said PCCTV was originally part of the Center for Learning Technology and other departments.

It has been located in varied places over the years, including the Roosevelt Building at Downtown Campus.

PCCTV gained its name within the last decade but the college previously created videos and used tele-courses.

The current emphasis has changed from tele-courses to managing a great majority of the video work at PCC, according to Helin-Moore.

“Our mode here is we want to do high-production quality,” she said.

In the late 1970s, Pima purchased pre-made tele-courses and provided them to students.

Pima instructors offered tele-courses as three-credit PCC classes. Students would watch programs when they aired, and then complete homework assignments.

PCCTV currently has just one tele-course available.

In the ‘80s, PCCTV gained Public Education and Government channels because of its involvement with the tele-courses. PEG channels are 97 on Comcast and 121 on Cox, according to the PCCTV website.

People within the Tucson city limits received the Cox channel. The Comcast channels aired in other locations throughout Pima County.

Television content includes coverage of PCC events and programs that explore different educational subjects. “The Set List” airs Wednesdays from 8-10 p.m.

The department currently has six employees and one intern, and Helin-Moore is reviewing applications for another media design employee.

Her employees are skilled in specialized areas but several work in multiple fields.

Helin-Moore said she enjoys working with her fellow employees because they are very creative, and also likes that her work changes often.

Interns, who participate in every area of video work, have come from the University of Arizona and the Art Institute.

Pima students are welcome as well, but none have yet applied.

Students must come to PCCTV and ask for the internship, and gain credit from their school.

“I think internships should be highly valued because you make good connections,” Helin-Moore said.

Pima internship classes include Digital Video and Film Arts Internship (DAR 290E2),  Internship in Digital Arts/Graphics (DAR 290E3) and Journalism Internship (JRN 290).

Students who want to intern at PCCTV must first make arrangements with both PCCTV and the class instructor, and then enroll in the class after the internship is approved.

PCCTV is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays at Community Campus.

For more information, visit

PCCTV employee Conrad Mendez edits “The Set List,” a show featuring local musicians. (Alyssa Ramer/Aztec Press)

PCCTV employee Conrad Mendez edits “The Set List,” a show featuring local musicians. (Alyssa Ramer/Aztec Press)

3-D creature sculptures  wow viewers

3-D creature sculptures wow viewers

(Aztec Press photos by B.M. Bailer)

(Aztec Press photos by B.M. Bailer)


Amid the deadly serious portraits carefully rendered in charcoal and acrylic … starkly beautiful black-and-white photography … and painstakingly constructed woven artwork on display in the Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery, you’ll also find two scar-covered sculptures that appear to have muscled their way in from a seedier dimension.

One of them – a snarling, snaggletooth beast swathed in putrid-green skin that is literally coming apart at the seams – looks particularly out of place.

The bulbous creature wields a sharp hook in one hand, a no-nonsense meat cleaver in the other, and a tiny, terrified, about-to-be-consumed critter in the third.

The imagery is gory, ghastly and unforgettable. And that’s exactly how Pima Community College student Zack Turner, the artist behind the grotesquery, likes it.

“I am a fan of the strange and misshapen,” he admitted. “I like to create a creature or character that’s not intrinsically evil or good. I think about how each of us has characteristics to be a hero, or a villain, or a monster – and it makes me think about the elements that shape us: tragedy, hate, anger, love.”

When PCC put out a call to artists in preparation for its annual juried art show, students from all campuses submitted more than 200 pieces.

Judges selected 69 for display at the campus gallery, and an additional 38 works for a satellite show located at Tucson International Airport.

Turner, 30, has five sculptures on display at the juried show – including “Three Brothers,” a burly trio of muscled minotaurs at the airport’s Lower Link Gallery. That show runs through July 10.

As a youngster, Turner enjoyed drawing, but had left that far behind in his quest to earn an associate degree in psychology.

He needed to fulfill additional elective coursework, though, so in 2008 he signed up for a sculpture class at Northwest Campus.

“As soon as I started doing the art stuff again, that was it for me,” he said, with a grin. “I could work on it all day, every day – and it revitalized going to school for me.”

Part of the appeal of his work is the texture of the finished product. All Turner’s sculptures are made with Super Sculpey – a polymer-based clay often used in stop-motion animation.

Unlike ceramics, it takes on a warm, matte, almost flesh-like texture after it is cured.

It is pliable, holds detail work well and can be baked in a conventional kitchen oven — a perfect medium for artists who do not have access to professional-grade high-fire kilns.

“I’ve never worked in a studio at all – one with a big, open space,” Turner said. “The only place I’ve sculpted is in my bedroom.”

There are two Turner pieces on display in the crisply lighted West Campus Bernal Gallery.

The first is “Stitches” – the aforementioned brute whose pachydermic skin is stitched together with metal staples, a la Frankenstein’s Monster.

The second, called “Alien Bust,” is a small yet exquisitely detailed sculpture of an almost endearing exoskeletal extraterrestrial.

The lipless creature is scarred and gnarled, with a dramatic, blood-red crest and four piercing alien eyes that glitter like bright emeralds.

It’s obvious that Turner has a good sense of three-dimensional form, said gallery director David Andrés, who also teaches printmaking, design and gallery-and-museum practices at PCC.

“I think he can go far in the animation and digital arts field,” Andrés noted.

In fact, Turner already has more than a little experience in creature-feature special effects.

In the summer of 2014, he interned for the Stan Winston School of Character Arts,  helping build a miniature cityscape for “Kaiju Fury,” a 360-degree, virtual-reality short film.

He and other character-arts engineers also constructed two 6-foot-tall “monster suits” — then filmed epic battle scenes and Godzilla-style metropolitan smackdowns for the project.

The short film was screened at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in 2015.

It’s an experience Turner probably wouldn’t have had if he hadn’t gotten back into art while at PCC.

And while specifically pursuing a psychology degree is no longer his goal, he found that reintroducing sculpture into his life reignited his passion for learning and creativity.

“When I started getting back into art, I started doodling and sketching on my breaks and lunches,” he said. “I got more accomplished in that time than any time I would actually sit down to work.

“You didn’t have time to think, or worry about whether your work was good, bad or something else. I had a limited window to create – and create I did.”

Zack Turner is flanked by two of his monster sculptures -- “Stitches” and “Alien Bust.” Both creatures are on display at the Bernal Gallery.

Zack Turner is flanked by two of his monster sculptures — “Stitches” and “Alien Bust.” Both creatures are on display at the Bernal Gallery.

Exhibition awards:

Best of Show: Hector G Barajas

Best of 2D: Blair Friederich

Best of 3D: Elaine Isner

Best of Painting: Hector G. Barajas

Best of Print Making: Marika Szabo

Best of Mixed Media: Jo Andersen

Best of Digital Photography: Tony Polzer aka Ramone

Best of Digital Arts: Richard Larkin

Best of Drawing: Cindy De Walt

Best of Sculpture: Ricardo Cazares Valencia

Best of Ceramics: Ekaterina Lifshin

Best of Fibers: Virginia Ericson

Best of Alternative Process/Photography: Marcela Pino

Honorable Mention Printmaking: Emily Page

Honorable Mention Painting: Ekaterina Lifshin

Honorable Mention Digital Photography: Kate Dawes

Honorable Mention Drawing: Becca Rand

Honorable Mention Sculpture: Anna Miller

Honorable Mention Ceramics: Rick Spriggs


Annual Juried Student Art Exhibition


Where: Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery, CFA, West Campus

Admission: Free

Details: 206-6942

PCC prepares for playoffs

PCC prepares for playoffs



With six straight conference wins, the Pima Community College softball team guaranteed themselves no worse than the second seed in the upcoming ACCAC Region I Division II Tournament.

Pima’s hopes of hosting the tournament have all but faded.

“We will most likely have to travel to Phoenix and play a powerful team in their yard,” head coach Armando Quiroz said.

Phoenix currently holds a six game lead over Pima 39-15 (27-12 ACCAC) in the conference standings. The teams each have four doubleheaders left but no remaining games against each other. (Note: the April 19 matchups took place after Aztec Press went to press.)

The Aztecs have eight games left to prepare for the tournament.

“We have lacked defensive consistency,” Quiroz said. “If we find consistency in this last month we will be hard to beat.”

PCC swept a high scoring doubleheader April 16 at Central Arizona College.

Sophomore Araceli Peralta’s home run in the top of the 12th inning put Pima up by two, 20-18. Sophomore Odalis Orduno retired the side in the bottom of the inning to get the win.

The second game ended like the first. In the final inning Pima scored 2 runs to break a tie. Orduno didn’t allow the Vaqueras a hit in the bottom of the seventh inning. Pima won 9-7. Orduno, who pitched relief in both games, received her 17th win of the season.

The Aztecs dominated their April 14 doubleheader at GateWay Community College winning both games in the fifth inning by run-rule.

In the first game, Pima scored five runs in the first two innings on their way to the 10-1 win. Freshman Bailey Critchlow started and won her 17th game of the season.

Again, Pima struck fast and early in the second game. The Aztecs scored six runs in the first two innings and beat the Geckos 9-1. Freshman Luisa Silvain pitched all five innings.

The Aztecs swept their April 9 matchup against Paradise Valley Community College. The Pumas took Pima to extra innings in the first game. An eighth inning sacrifice fly RBI gave PCC the win 11-10.

Orduno pitched a complete game and shut out the Pumas 4-0 in the second game.

Next up, the Aztecs travel to Arizona Western College for a doubleheader matchup on April 23.

Freshman Larissa Rodriguez attempts to advance to the next base during a play. (Photo courtesy Pima Athletics)

Freshman Larissa Rodriguez attempts to advance to the next base during a play. (Photo courtesy Pima Athletics)


April 23: @ Arizona Western College (Yuma), doubleheader, noon, 2 p.m.

April 26: vs. GateWay CC, West Campus, doubleheader, 1 p.m., 3 p.m.

April 30: vs. Chandler-Gilbert CC,

West Campus, doubleheader,

noon, 2 p.m.

'Love's Labour's Lost' premieres April 14

‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’ premieres April 14



Director Mickey Nugent, along with 16 students and a host of crew members, are busy preparing for their spring performance of Shakespeare’s witty “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”

“I always enjoy working with a young energizing cast who are smart and open minded,” Nugent said.

The production by the Pima Community College theater arts department will run April 14-24 in the Black Box Theatre in the West Campus Center for the Arts.

The story focuses on romance, but Nugent said the premise of the show is deception.

Some characters fight against their urge to fall in love because of a law that bans people from doing so.

Costard, played by Marchus Lewis, is a clown and jester who changes the story by switching love letters.

He and other stagecraft students assisted in building a garden set with a gazebo and a swing.

Lewis has helped build many sets in the past, and has been involved in seven plays including “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”

He began acting when he was 11 years old with encouragement from his mother. After he finishes his classes at PCC next year, he would like to move to Washington to study acting.

One of the couples is Jaquenetta, played by Brin Wassenberg, and Don Adriano de Armado, portrayed by Theodore Cleveland. Jaquenetta is a wench and Don Adriano de Armado is a Spaniard playwright hired by the king to impress the princess.

Wassenberg has been in five plays at Pima. The “wit” has been her favorite part of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” so far.

“It’s extremely funny and very fast-paced,” she said.

Wassenberg pursues acting for enjoyment only. Her major is business and she would like a career in marketing.

Cleveland has been in four plays at Pima, including “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” After participating in Christian Youth Theatre, he decided he enjoyed being on stage and so has continued to act.

Anna Hagberg who plays Rosaline, also acted with Christian Youth Theatre. One of her six siblings still participates.

Hagberg has performed in six plays at Pima and is participating in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” along with her brother Daniel.

Her character Rosaline is a friend of the princess. She falls in love with Biron, played by John Noble.

Hagberg is still deciding her future goals but said she enjoys acting.

“It’s just so fun,” she said. “I’m kind of a shy person. I enjoy portraying other personalities … just to dive in to how other people feel and act.”

Three students, Michael Anthony, Gary Brostek and Kyler Weeks, are participating in their first Pima production.

The cast and crew of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” have worked efficiently and effectively together.

Nugent said they began working on the production immediately after finishing their last show, “Crazy for You,” which was directed by Todd Poelstra. Nugent and Poelstra have worked together for about 13 years.

The current production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost” marks the first time Pima has staged the show.

Performances will be at 7: 30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. A sign language interpreter will be available at the April 21 show.

Admission costs $18, with discounts available for faculty, students, seniors and groups. Tickets can be purchased at the CFA box office or online at

To learn more, call the box office at 206-6986 or visit

Don Adriano de Armado (Theodore Cleveland) performs a show for the Princess (Michaela Ivey) sitting between Katherine (Nemessy Santa Maria) and Maria (Taylor Falshaw) while Rosaline (Anna Hagberg) and Moth (Emily Fuchs) watch in amusement. (Aztec Press photo by Eddie Ceyala)

Don Adriano de Armado (Theodore Cleveland) performs a show for the Princess (Michaela Ivey) sitting between Katherine (Nemessy Santa Maria) and Maria (Taylor Falshaw) while Rosaline (Anna Hagberg) and Moth (Emily Fuchs) watch in amusement. (Aztec Press photo by Eddie Celaya)


What: “Love’s Labour’s Lost”

Where: Black Box Theatre, CFA, West Campus

When: April 14-24

Show times: Thurs-Fri-Sat, 7:30 p.m.; Sun, 2 p.m.

Tickets: $18, with discounts available

Box office: 206-6986




Cast list

Costard: Marchus Lewis

Maria: Taylor Falshaw

Dull: Rafael Acuña

Longaville: Christopher Dobson

Moth: Emily Fuchs

Dumain: Jeffrey Baden

Biron: John Noble

Lady Agnes: Beverly Ihli

Nathaniel: Kyler Weeks

Jaquenetta: Brin Wassenberg

Rosaline: Anna Hagberg

Don Adriano de Armado: Theodore Cleveland

Princess: Michaela Ivey

Katherine: Nemessy Santa Maria

Ferdinand: Daniel Hagberg

Holofernes: Aaron Cohen

Boyet: Gary Brostek

Forester/Mercade: Michael Anthony









Longaville (Christopher Dobson) flirts with Maria (Taylor Falshaw) in a scene from “Love’s Labour’s Lost.” (Aztec Press photo by Eddie Celaya.)

Pima addresses accreditation

Pima addresses accreditation



Pima Community College has released a report that summarizes the college’s efforts to comply with standards of accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission.

The report, made available to employees for feedback on March 28, chronicles the steps taken by various councils to overhaul systems put into place by the college to ensure sufficiency in meeting accreditation goals.

The employee feedback is intended to reach areas that may have not been given attention by appointed accreditation councils to maintain the most factual report possible for the college.

Assistant Vice Chancellor for Accreditation Bruce Moses said that employee feedback is important to reach these possibly overlooked areas.

“You can’t always ensure that you’re capturing all of the facts,” Moses said. “There are always folks within the campus community: faculty, staff and even students, who have information that you want to gather to ensure that you’re reporting everything factually.”

This method means that multiple drafts will be published after each round of employee feedback to maintain the most accurate representation of the college’s standing by the HLC’s July 1 submission deadline.

One group, the Continuous Improvement Operating Council, focused on evaluation of the college’s delivery of education in all aspects, from financial aid, registration, admissions, teaching and learning, down to the cashier’s office and the library.

“The CIOC, they’re going to be individuals that say ‘hey, we did the self-assessment of this area and we don’t really think we’re up to snuff,’” Moses said. “They go out ask what needs to be done and put a team together to strengthen our organization.”

The report lists six core themes as the driving force behind a revised mission statement that has evolved over much input by stakeholders, community members, staff and faculty:

1) Access is intended to help all students with regard to programs and services.

2) Teaching and Program Excellence is designed to ensure the best success rate for students.

3) Student Services is focused on financial aid matters.

4) Community Engagement is intended to maintain a better relationship with Pima County to provide the most qualified graduates to the workforce.

5) Diversity/Inclusion/Global Education will put emphasis on expanding the diversity of the student base.

6) Student Success intends to support students to achieve all academic and personal goals.

The official mission statement reads as “Pima Community College is an open-admissions institution providing affordable comprehensive educational opportunities that support student success and meet the diverse needs of the community.”

But overall, a sustained system of improvement, evaluation and further improvement is the goal of both Pima and the HLC.

The HLC’s concerns stemmed from the college’s ability to evaluate its processes and determine their effectiveness in achieving the desired goal.

“A lot of these things are measured qualitatively,” Moses said. “A lot of things are measured based on a process being put in place, assessment of that process and improvement of that process.”

When addressing a human resource hiring issue, the college sought out an external community member and a process that included public forums to select applicants in the final stages of employment consideration.

The PCC Office of Dispute Resolution was created in 2014 to combat issues in complaints and grievances that saw no tracking of the number of filed grievances, how they were addressed, the time that it took to resolve the issue and whether or not the resolution was successful.

The report also takes notice of the decline in enrollment for the college since 2012, citing many reasons for the plummet which include the probation, a lack of outreach and a decline of financial support from the state.

The college acknowledges that enrollment decline is the focus of not just a single department but the school as a whole and an initiative will be put into place that sees the development of an outreach and recruitment program, focus on improving student persistence and retention as well as more support for degree and certification course completion.

Once the report is finalized for the HLC’s July submission, improvement and refinement will remain the focus of the college.

“The undercurrent of our accreditation is continuous improvement,” Moses said.

Chancellor Lee Lambert addresses employees during All College Day in 2014 in the midsts of the college’s efforts focusing on correcting issues raised by the Higher Learning Commission. (Nick Meyers/Aztec Press 2014)

Chancellor Lee Lambert addresses employees during All College Day in 2014 in the midsts of the college’s efforts focusing on correcting issues raised by the Higher Learning Commission. (Nick Meyers/Aztec Press 2014)

FROM STUDENT TO INSTRUCTOR: Sweeney trades tech for touch

FROM STUDENT TO INSTRUCTOR: Sweeney trades tech for touch



After years of work in computer support and information technology systems, John Sweeney realized that IT was not where he belonged.

He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in e-business from the University of Phoenix in 2002. Working in IT for Pima County was the natural application for his knowledge, skills and abilities, and he stayed in the field until 2009.

Sweeney decided he needed to reinvent himself.

“I took some time to figure out what I was going to do when I grew up and eventually decided on massage,” he said.

His wife Rosanne Couston, a reference librarian at Pima Community College West Campus, was encouraging and supportive of Sweeney’s need to find and follow his career passion.

A survey of local massage training programs led Sweeney to the one at PCC’s Northwest Campus.

He chose Pima because he could obtain college credits while trying out the different massage therapy classes, and could also determine if massage was the correct career field for him.

“I found this resonated with me.” Sweeney said of massage therapy. “I’ve always been drawn to math and science and the massage program allowed me to fill a gap in my knowledge regarding biological systems.”

He dove into the massage therapy program and took several elective classes beyond the program requirements.

“John was an exceptional student, in both knowledge and skills, and was fully engaged in his student internship,” PCC instructor Janet Vizard said.

Sweeney graduated from the program in 2012, was licensed in June and set up a private practice in his home.

“He has made great contributions to the massage community, and has developed a successful private practice in massage therapy,” Vizard said.

As his client base grew, Sweeney began to gravitate toward continuing education courses in elder massage and massage for pregnant women.

Geriatric massage is a specialty, he explained. The therapist must take into account the medications the client is taking, which may affect how and where he works on the client. Other considerations are fragile skin that may bruise easily and mobility issues that make a table massage difficult or impossible.

Throughout his life, Sweeney was often told he had a knack for teaching.

“I’ve been told that I am able to explain things easily, especially in my previous career working with computer technology, so I thought that might easily be leveraged into teaching what I know about,” he said.

His first job at PCC was lab assistant in a massage class and later in the massage clinic. From there, he expressed interest in teaching. Last October, he was hired as an adjunct instructor.

“I was very pleased when John came back to the PCC therapeutic massage program as a lab assistant in the hands-on practices classes,” Vizard said. “And now I am thrilled that he is an adjunct instructor in the therapeutic massage program.”

In the upcoming fall semester, Sweeney will teach a wellness education course and two therapeutic massage courses.

Massage therapy instructor John Sweeney works with student Deanna Skinner.  (Katta Mapes/Aztec Press)

Massage therapy instructor John Sweeney works with student Deanna Skinner. (Katta Mapes/Aztec Press)