RSSAll Entries in the "Features" Category

Kucivers’ fight typical for veterans

Kucivers’ fight typical for veterans

“In the Army, we’re all brothers. We protect each other. Here, there’s no bond, it’s everyone for themselves.”

Dan Kuciver, retired Army staff sergeant

Stories and photos by ROBYN ZELICKSON

Retired Army Staff Sergeant Dan Kuciver sits quietly at the table in his dining room, hooked up to his oxygen machine. His wife Karen, the newly elected president of the Student Veteran’s Organization, is by his side.

He is also kept company by his favorite of the six family dogs, a black lab mix named Rocky. In the Arizona room, there are several birds and a well-loved guinea pig.

The military is a proud tradition in Dan Kuciver’s family, going back to the Civil War. His mother’s family fought for the South and his father’s family for the North.

In 1985, Dan Kuciver enlisted in the Army, and after eight weeks of basic training, went to Fort Benning in Georgia for Infantry School. From there, he was stationed in Colorado Springs.

Over the years, he was deployed to Somalia, Desert Storm in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Panama and some others he can’t mention.

He was responsible for four to six men, depending on the team. These men were 20-30 years old and, like Kuciver, were being asked to die for their country if necessary.

In 1997, Kuciver was honorably discharged from the Army.

Coming home was a difficult transition. Kuciver was drinking a lot, and he was arrested for fighting and DUI. He suffered from nightmares due to severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so he self-medicated.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, PTSD is defined as follows:

“Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.”

At the time, there were no real resources from the Veteran’s Administration upon leaving the military, so Kuciver found himself on his own to try and resolve the issues he brought home.

“In the Army, we’re all brothers,” Kuciver said. “We protect each other. Here, there’s no bond, it’s everyone for themselves.”

Dan Kuciver stands with his wife, Karen Kuciver, in front of their Tucson Home. Dan
Kucivar needs a double-lung transplant, but has refused the procedure.


Aside from PTSD, Kuciver had hearing loss. Later, there was lung trouble because of his time in Desert Storm.

He currently needs oxygen just to be able to breathe. His lungs have deteriorated to the point where he needs a double-lung transplant, which he has refused.

“It’s weird,” Kuciver said. “I couldn’t handle someone else’s organs inside my body.”

Kuciver, who is in his early 50s, also believes the younger soldiers coming home now need lungs more than he does so that they can grow old with their families.

“My kids are all grown now,” he said.

When his children reached age 16, he talked to them about his time in the military. He described to them the methods that he learned in training as a sniper – either kill or be killed.

“The first time, it’s hard,” Kuciver said. “The more you do it, it’s easier, but that bothers you later on.”

Only one of Kucivers’ boys joined the military. He fought for four to five years in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Korean Demilitarized Zone.

Kuciver says that he’s proud of his son for defending his country. Although his son was deployed into dangerous combat missions, Kuciver wasn’t afraid for him.

“I respect him so much for fighting for his country,” Kuciver said. “Even if he died for his country, I would be more proud. And I would go again, if I could and they asked me.”


Karen and Dan Kuciver were high school sweethearts. They parted ways, then reunited after 20 years. Now, she’s his advocate.

One of the promises made to Kuciver was that Japan would send money for U.S. soldiers, rather than getting involved in conflicts like Desert Storm. Instead of giving them the money, the U.S. government set up life insurance policies of $1 million for each soldier.

Unfortunately, the soldiers weren’t told they had to keep up the premiums when they returned from active duty. Those who didn’t had their policies cancelled. This was the situation with the Kucivers. No amount of fighting with the government could change it.

However, Karen Kuciver was successful in obtaining medical benefits for her husband. It took her three years and he was denied benefits twice. His lung issues were easier to prove, but he was told that his hearing could have been damaged before he deployed.

Because he was claiming disability insurance for his PTSD, Dan Kuciver had to undergo psychological testing. The Kucivers learned that if veterans are declared 70-100 percent disabled due to PTSD, the government can take over their finances and make decisions for them.


The Kucivers both believe that veterans shouldn’t have to fight so hard or wait so long in order to receive medical or disability benefits.

“I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Dan Kuciver said. “I struggled with a loss of power and have to fight just to get through the day.”

When Karen Kuciver leaves the house for work, she leaves a list of chores for Dan Kuciver so that he is able to occupy his time while she’s gone. He can’t do much exertion because of his lungs, but he can get outside to water the garden, she said.

Dan Kuciver believes that PTSD is an even bigger issue for veterans returning from service now than it was in his time in Desert Storm or for veterans who fought in Vietnam.

“They aren’t given the coping skills that the guys were given before,” Kuciver said. “They used to be better prepared for combat than they are now. They’re not training them for sleep deprivation either.”

Kuciver’s unit had one-hour guard shifts in their barracks at night. They also did three-day training exercises in the woods where the soldiers were not allowed any sleep at all. That, he’s been told, is a thing of the past.

His advice for those recruits joining the military today?

“Don’t try to be a hero, everything will come naturally,” he said. “The only heroes are the dead ones that don’t come back. But, always have your buddies’ back. Always.”

Karen Kuciver new president of Student Vet organization

Karen Kuciver is the new president of the Student Veterans Organization at Pima Community College. Kuciver started as the East Campus liaison to the SVO, then became secretary. Recently, she was elected president.

The purpose of the SVO is to provide a stable, safe place for veterans. Although the group provides tutoring, its main function is to assist vets in dealing with everyday stresses.

“The sense of camaraderie that the SVO gives the student vets helps them in transitioning to student and civilian life,” Kuciver said.

There are 200 veterans at East Campus and 800 at PCC overall. While the Downtown Campus has a Veterans’ Center at RV-155 and the West Campus has a room at A-225, Kuciver would like to see the program expanded.

“Each campus should have an area like the Veteran’s Center at the Downtown Campus,” she said. “Soldiers write a blank check to serve us. Now, it’s our turn to serve them.”

Vet Services to honor graduates

Military and Veteran Services will host its first annual veteran graduation recognition ceremony and dinner on May 3 from 5-7 p.m. in the Downtown Campus Amethyst Room.

Graduating veterans were sent an invitation via PCC email.

For more information, call 206-2266 or email Hector Acosta at or Jorge Camarillo at

SVO elects president

Karen Kuciver is the new president of the Student Veterans Organization at Pima Community College. Kuciver started as the East Campus liaison to the SVO, then became secretary. Recently, she was elected president.

The purpose of the SVO is to provide a stable, safe place for veterans. The group provides tutoring and assists vets in dealing with everyday stresses.

New SVO president Karen Kuciver.

“The sense of camaraderie that the SVO gives the student vets helps them in transitioning to student and civilian life,” Kuciver said.

There are 200 vets at East Campus and 800 vets at PCC overall. While the Downtown Campus has a Veteran’s Center at RV-155 and the West Campus has a room at A-225, Kuciver would like to see the program expanded.

“Each campus should have an area like the Veteran’s Center at the Downtown Campus,” she said. “Soldiers write a blank check to serve us. Now, it’s our turn to serve them.”

The Veteran’s Center is open 8 a.m.- 5 p.m., Monday – Friday during the Fall and Spring semesters.



A quick conversation with Gabby Encinas 

Editor’s note: In this ongoing feature, we ask a Pima Community College student some not-so-serious questions.

Gabby Encinas smiles while
answering her five questions.
Dale Villeburn Old Coyote/Aztec Press

Compiled by Dale Villeburn Old Coyote


Gabby Encinas, a member of the East Campus Student Life team, is majoring in psychology.


Question 1: What classes are you enjoying the most and why?

Gabby: Psychology, because it’s my major.


Question 2: What color socks are you wearing?

Gabby: Little black ankle socks.


Question 3: What’s your favorite movie, and why?

Gabby: “Deadpool.” He’s my favorite hero/villain.


Question 4: What is the last song you listened to?

Gabby: “Bad and Boujee,” by the Migos.


Question 5: What did you eat for breakfast?
Gabby: Tuna salad croissant from the café.

THE WORD: How will you clean up the world?

THE WORD: How will you clean up the world?

Photos and interviews on Desert Vista Campus by Nicholas Trujillo


“Plant seeds, so like plant trees, plant stuff everywhere and get rid of all the asphalt everywhere ‘cause they have been tearing down deserts.”
Anaiz Zamorano


“I would try to clean everything up, like clean the ocean and clean the plastic bags up and try to ban plastic so that way we can save the marine life.”
Javier Bastidas


“Well, use less water, turn off my lights, clean up trash or something.”
Rogelio Rubio


“I would recycle and do more volunteer work around town.”
Brittany Palms


“Like littering, picking up trash and using my own car less.”
Nikki Conley

TOP 10: Spring cleaning ideas for changing things up


In with the new, out with the old. We like to change things up. Springtime isn’t only about cleaning, it’s also about reinventing ourselves. Here are my top 10 ideas for spring cleaning.

  1. Actually clean

We claim to clean our house or room all year long. But do we, really? Try actually cleaning. Get into crevices. Mop, sweep, dust, scrub, wash. Clean like you’ve never cleaned before.

  1. Buy fragrances

Invest, if you haven’t already, in things that give your home a pleasant smell. Try candles, air fresheners or fragrant incense. You and your guests will appreciate the pleasant scent that greets you when you walk into your home.

  1. Become a decor guru

Learn a few things about home decor, what goes with what. It’s not hard. Pinterest is very helpful and a good place to start. That way, when you decide to make changes to your home, it won’t look like a whole lot of nonsense.

  1. Paint walls

If you’ve never painted your walls, they are likely one of four colors: cream, beige, white or brown. These are very basic colors and, for the most part, a bit boring. Change it up. Paint the walls your favorite color or something unique, but remember to make it match the furniture so it has some feng shui.

  1. Find new wall art

Whether you have random paintings or family photos, it’s time for them to go. OK fine, you can keep the family photos but buy some art or create your own. Make the room pop.

  1. Buy new dishes

Admit it, we care about what we eat on and what we eat with. Buy new plates, silverware or cups. You can play it safe and choose neutral colors, or be brave and select vibrant hues.

  1. Learn house maintenance

It might seem like a long shot or impossible but that’s why we have YouTube. Watch a few videos on how to fix a pipe or clean a backed-up drain. It can be pricey to pay others to do it for us. Save a few bucks by learning how to do it yourself.

  1. Take out the trash

Go around your house or room and pick up all of the things that you classify as “what if.” We all have things we don’t throw away because we think they’ll have use in the future. But in reality, you’re becoming a hoarder. Throw them away.

  1. Choose carpet vs. tile

Now this one might be the most expensive, but you have to decide whether you are a tile person or a carpet person. Everyone has a preference, learn yours. Take some time to figure it out, and save up some money. That way, you can make the change if needed.

  1. Change your wardrobe

Many people don’t like to change their wardrobe because they’re comfortable in it and have had it for while. Get rid of the things you haven’t worn in months. Take some friends, or someone whose opinion you trust, and go shopping. Buy new clothes and reinvent yourself. Make people do a double-take when you walk by.

TOP 10: Ways to stay safe over Spring Break

TOP 10: Ways to stay safe over Spring Break


Spring Break is right around the corner and I cannot wait to be sitting on the beach sippin’ something strong. But with great power comes great responsibility, and we still have another half of the semester to finish.

  1. Watch your drinks.

My mother taught me to never accept a drink from anyone and to always keep my eyes on my drink. This is my motherly advice to you. If it seems tampered with, toss it.

  1. Take an Uber/Lyft.

Drinking and driving is lame, and ridesharing is lit. Keep an eye on social media for promo codes. Not only will you get there safely, you pay less. Win, win.

  1. Know your limits.

Chugging that big bottle of bad decisions may seem like a beautiful idea, but you don’t want the consequences. Get to the fun “you” that can enjoy and remember. Even better, the “you” that did not get alcohol poisoning.

  1. Send a goodnight text.

Wherever you go, text someone afterward. It can be anything from “Goodnight, I’m home” to “jgonls I;mjuh hijeknf.” It makes a difference to the people you care about.

  1. Start with a game plan.

What are your plans for the night? I mean the entire plan. Know where you’re going and who is going, to eliminate surprises that could ruin your fun. (I know, I know, I’m a mom.)

  1. Use a buddy system.

I probably don’t even have to tell you this, but never do anything alone. You’re always better off in numbers. So, yes, powder your nose, but together.

  1. Trust your gut.

You already know what this means. If something doesn’t feel right, you’re probably correct. Leave or call it a night.

  1. Protect yourself.

Whether it means applying sunscreen, wearing a hat or protecting your future, never do anything without covering yourself.

  1. Water is your best friend.

Get this tattooed. Water is good for your skin, hair, nails and insides, especially if you’re going to be in the sun. Drink as much water as possible before you start drinking anything else. Besides, water is delicious.

  1. Remember who you are.

Don’t forget to enjoy yourself. You are a smart individual and you’ll make good decisions. This is your mom, signing off.

Default logo - green


Compiled by Melina Casillas



Percentage of students who plan trips to locations such as Las Vegas, Cancun, Mexico and Punta Cana.



Number of top spring break locations located in Florida: Miami, Daytona Beach, Fort Myers, Panama City Beach and Cocoa Beach.



Percentage of college students who share hotel rooms with friends.



Typical number of students who stay in one hotel room.



Percentage of students who plan to spend less than $1,000.



Percentage of extra drinking that females say takes place during Spring Break.



Percentage of men who said they drank every night until they passed out.



Percentage of unplanned and “random” sexual encounters that are unprotected.



Percentage of college females who said being promiscuous is a way to fit in.





THE WORD: What are your plans for Spring Break?

THE WORD: What are your plans for Spring Break?

Interviews and photos by Erik Medina at Desert Vista Campus

“I am spending time with my brothers and sleeping in.”

Bella Caballero

Major: Equine veterinarian

“I am going to spend time with family and friends. I’ll probably go see the latest movie and will definitely sleep in.”

Chantia Kinsey

Major: Hospitality

“I will be studying and enjoying time at home. I will also spend time with friends, and work.”

Pablo Medina

Major: Pre-med

“A team of friends and I are going to be bike riding at Gates Pass. Party! Chill! Enjoy life!”

Francisco Flowers

Major: Mechanical and nuclear engineering

“I will most likely be playing video games, hanging out with friends, sleeping and definitely eating food.”

Cindy Fragozo

Major: Liberal arts

THE WORD: What do you want from Donald Trump?

THE WORD: What do you want from Donald Trump?

Photos and interviews by Dakota Fincher at Downtown Campus

“I guess I’d like to see less homelessness because that’d be really great for us homeless people. I’d like to see more people going to school or work, or both.”

Piper Dawn

Major: Business


“Personally, me being a foreigner, a better view of the world. A Muslim does bad, all Islam is blamed. Those are his reasons to hate all Muslims.”

Mohamed Adan

Major: Science


“He needs to be more open to the people. He’s the POTUS. He needs to help, he can’t do everything alone.”

Brayant Gracia

Major: Education


“Maybe a better person. He’s a bad person, the problem of the United States is ‘immigrants.’ I don’t like him.”

Michael Beltran

Major: Finance


“Free health care, ‘cause we’re the only country that charges for general checkups. Here, our super power is our insurance companies. It’s wrong.”

William Camp

Major: Film and Art Design

Part-time instructor, full-time rocker

Part-time instructor, full-time rocker


Erik Medina/Aztec Press Instructor Alisha Vazquez browses the history section at the West Campus library. Vasquez, a fifth-generation Tucsonan, teaches Mexican American culture and border topics at Desert Vista Campus.


In the desert and concrete beyond Interstate 10 on the south side of Tucson, you’ll find a punk rock historian at Pima Community College’s Desert Vista Campus.

Alisha Maria Vasquez, born in Tucson on Nov. 5, 1984, has lived in the city her entire life.

“I’m a bubbly, punk, Chicana krip,” she says.

Krip, a term for anger, reflects her feeling about being born with short-leg syndrome.

She had her first surgery at age 5, and endured another 20 surgeries over the next 10 years.

However, Vasquez says her disability is a part of her character.

Vasquez witnessed her parents’ divorce at age 10 and stayed with her mother. She says her family didn’t have many material goods but was culturally rich.

She later went through a punk rock phase and says the genre helped her control anger that originated from frustration with her place in society.

“We were poor, whatever, a lot of people are poor,” she says. “But I’m Mexican and a woman.”

Through most of her high school years, she wanted to become an orthopedic surgeon because of her history with medicine and doctors.

Her goal changed when she took a history class in her junior year of high school. She realized she loved history and decided to learn more.

Her high grade point average helped her receive a scholarship from the University of Arizona. Vasquez majored in history and women’s gender studies, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree.

Vasquez later moved to San Francisco, and attended San Francisco State University to obtain a master’s degree in history.

She studied Chicanx history and felt fortunate to count disability activist Paul K. Longmore as an instructor. Under his guidance, Vasquez dreamed of being the next big disability historian.

“I was breaking boundaries,” she says.

Her studies mirror her personal life. “I’m the most narcissistic person,” she says. “I study myself.”

Vasquez graduated from SFSU with a 4.0 grade point average, and returned to Tucson with an academic perspective. She was jobless for one year, but spent 50-plus hours a week volunteering.

Serving on the board of directors for Tucson Urban League helped her better understand the community.

She then joined a task force on racial ethnic disparity, and identified areas where kids were getting picked up and arrested. She represented the youth and sought alternatives for those who were facing jail time.

Vasquez eventually found part-time employment at PCC, working as a Mexican American Studies instructor.

Sandra Shattuck, a Desert Vista writing instructor, met Vasquez in January 2016 when their classes were paired as part of a National Endowment for the Humanities Border Culture grant.

“I like Alisha’s enthusiasm,” Shattuck says. “She is passionate about what she teaches.”

She also admires Vasquez’s teaching methods.

“Alisha is so clear in presenting complex issues and offering a long view of the history and then making the connections between back then and today,” Shattuck says.

The grant program brings students to Tucson from across the country to learn about Mexican American culture and border issues.

“I’ve brought my fifth-generation Tucsonan perspective into the program,” Vasquez says.

She would like to teach full time for PCC or work in administration to create community partnerships.

“For me, higher education made a lot of sense but it’s not for everyone,” she says. “As a society, we must also assist people to achieve their dreams even if it seems outside the norms.”

Although retirement is far away, Vasquez would like to retire as a PCC employee. She says she would only leave if she was offered a position where she could root for the underdog, as she always has, only this time for pay.

Her plan for the years ahead is to start a family with her husband. She likes the idea of two kids. She would also be interested in traveling if she doesn’t start a family. 

“Be yourself,” she says. “You will never please everyone, but if you can find a way to live a life that is true to morals and values that you set for yourself, you will be happy.”

PCC student carves path to possibilities

PCC student carves path to possibilities


PCC student Luis Ateca values the people and opportunities he has found in Tucson. Photo: Brittany Mattox/Aztec Press

The smell of roasted coffee beans infuses the air of a local Starbucks, on a gorgeous Tucson morning. Behind an HP laptop, sits one Pima Community College student who’s unlike the rest.

Luis Ateca, 28, may seem like an ordinary student, but his journey to PCC has been different from most of his classmates. At the age of 8, Ateca left his homeland of Ciudad Juárez to move to the United States.

“As a kid, I wasn’t an idiot,” he says. “I knew there was a big difference between the kids in the U.S. and me.”

After spending much of his childhood in Juárez, comparing his home to the United States seemed almost unfair.

“They had beautiful homes, better schools, the city looked way cleaner,” he says. “Basically their living situation was far more ideal than mine.”

He moved to El Paso, Texas, in 1996 and escaped the most violent era Juarez had ever seen. From 2008 to 2012, his hometown was overthrown by violent cartels, with almost 4,000 reported homicides taking place in 2010 alone.

Later, he and his family moved to Tucson where he spent the remainder of his youth. While his childhood may seem extreme in comparison to students born in the U.S., he insists that it was very similar.

“Before all the violence started, we would just do what kids do,” he says. “We played outside, we played Super Nintendo, we watched movies.”

Once he became a citizen of the U.S., he says he was able to live the life he’d always wanted. Now he spends his days doing schoolwork to obtain his degree in business administration.

Amy Cramer, who teaches microeconomics at West Campus, is one of his favorite instructors.

“She’s fantastic,” he says. “She’s always there to help the students whenever someone has a question about the material. She’s up there as far as top-notch teachers go at Pima.”

Though he has been at Pima since graduating from high school in 2006, he believes he’ll finish his studies soon. “It’s taking me forever,” he says.

Once he obtains his associate degree, he intends to transfer to the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona.

After graduating, he hopes to get a job working for a large company like Walt Disney or World Wrestling Entertainment. “I’m a big wrestling fan,” he says.

When he isn’t watching WWE on television or attending local wrestling events, he takes in all Tucson has to offer.

“I’m a foodie,” he says. “So I like to go out and try different restaurants and different cuisines here in Tucson.”

One of his favorite entertainment venues in Tucson is the Loft Cinema.

“I’m a huge cinephile,” he says. “I love watching movies.”

He dubs “Pulp Fiction” as his favorite movie of all time. “That’s the one movie that made me realize that I’ve been watching movies the wrong way,” he says.

Having viewed his fair share of flicks, he decided to take on an acting gig in a few of his friend’s films. His first role was in “The Lost Dog,” whose title discloses the majority of its plot. His most recent project, “Gordon Moss,” is expected to be finished soon.

“They are short films for the most part,” he says. “In one of them, I am the main protagonist. The other one, I was just a supporting character.”

The films have helped him to secure his own Internet Movie Database page, but he doesn’t plan on acting ever again. “I realized I’m an awful actor,” he says.

In the future, he hopes to take on more directing responsibilities in place of acting. “I see myself being behind the camera,” he says.

While he doesn’t consider himself an artistic type, he has attempted several creative ventures throughout his lifetime.

“I used to write songs back in my early years,” he says. “I haven’t done that as much as I used to.”

His now disbanded rap group, Spicy Deluxe, did earn him a reputation in high school. But now he focuses on different aspects of his creative side. “I’m pretty good at coming up with characters and movie concepts,” he says. He hopes one day to profit from his ideas.

Ateca prides himself on cultivating meaningful friendships, but says growing older has put many of his bonds into perspective.

“As the years pass, you start to see some people aren’t going to stick around,” he says. “But your true friends will be there for you through the years.”

Not wanting to lose touch with his roots, Ateca keeps in touch with many of his childhood friends. He also visits family in Juarez a few times each year, now that the city is being revived.

Priding himself on his generosity, he offers advice to those seeking lasting friendships. “Never expect anything in return,” he says. “Give, but don’t expect to receive.”

Ateca’s friends say they always have a reason to smile when he is around. His closest friend, Gianni Febbraro, says there’s never a dull moment when his pal is at his side.

“You’ll never find a classier gent than Luis Ateca,” Febbraro says.

Ateca says he is exited to meet new people throughout the rest of his academic journey, but is more than grateful for the friends in his life.

“I am good with what I have, and those people are the ones that I should care about right now,” he says. “Not try to impress the rest of the crowd.”

Default logo - blue

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.


College class a good fit for 11-year-old

College class a good fit for 11-year-old

Brooklynn Bruno, 11, attends a Monday-Wednesday Japanese class at Downtown Campus. (Katelyn Roberts/Aztec Press)


Most 11-year-olds are just starting middle school. A few are thinking about college, and even fewer are actually in college. Brooklynn Bluto is one of those select few.

Bluto is currently enrolled in Japanese 101 at Pima Community College Downtown Campus. The sixth grader also attends Sahuarita Middle School.

“I chose Japanese because when I am older I plan to go to college at Tokyo University,” Bluto said.

She wanted to take a college course because other options weren’t viable.

“Online classes were not very effective, and my school only offers Spanish classes,” she said. “Originally, I spent a lot of my own money on stuff that did not even work.”

One failed online effort was attempting to learn a Japanese writing system called Hiragana. “It took forever, because the websites were super misleading,” Bluto said.

Chris Sandy, Bluto’s stepfather, originally had doubts about Bluto attending college.

“Concerns I had with Brooklynn taking a college course were mostly related to ensuring she did not get overwhelmed or tired of learning,” he said.

Bluto formalized her request.

“When Brooklynn came to my wife and I saying she wanted to take Japanese, she did it via email,” Sandy said. “The proposal included a permission slip, course information, cost and her plea.”

Initially the parents said no because they were concerned Bluto would have too much work.

After reading the proposal, they changed their minds. They also saw she truly wanted to learn Japanese.

“We knew Brooklynn was ready because of her dedication to teach herself Japanese in her free time and her dedication to her violin,” Sandy said.

“We were confident that it was our responsibility to encourage her learning and monitor her stress rather than tell her no,” he added.

In addition, Bluto’s parents realized she wasn’t living up to her full potential with middle school classes. “Brooklynn is typically very bored in public school at Sahuarita Middle,” Sandy said.

Sandy drives Bluto to Downtown Campus on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and waits outside the classroom until she is done.

Before she enrolled, Bluto worried her age might create a barrier between her and other students in the class. But after experiencing college first-hand, Bluto said she had no problem fitting in.

“I do not think age holds me back in any way,” she said. “Sometimes I do not understand some words, but context makes it pretty easy.”

Instructor Bridget Wilde also had initial doubts.

“I was very worried, both for her ability to keep up and for my ability to teach her without affecting the class experience for my older students,” she said. “Japanese is extremely difficult to learn as a second language.”

Bluto was always confident in her ability.

“I thought I could comprehend the level of a college course because of how I was taught by my dad,” she said. “He spoke to me like an adult, teaching me a wide vocabulary and how to use context to understand.”

Bluto’s parents saw they had nothing to worry about as long as she kept up her love for learning.

Wilde also realized Bluto is not your average 11-year-old.

“Of course I cannot discuss her grade but I have found her very bright and thoughtful, and willing to ask questions,” Wilde said. “I am fortunate as a rule that my class is always full of students who genuinely wish to learn, and I think Ms. Bluto embodies that spirit wonderfully.”

After learning Japanese, Bluto plans to take more classes through PCC.

“I am probably going to take a course in math, and then a class in computer coding,” she said.

She also has plans for her academic future.

“If everything goes well, I am going to take high school credit classes during middle school to graduate early,” she said.

She’s considering a major in computer science when she attends Tokyo University.

When Bluto isn’t at school, she fills her free time with many different activities.

“We have been enrolling her in anything she asks, like violin lessons or the Tucson Junior Symphony,” Sandy said.

Bluto has taken such a liking to violin that “she has a rash on her neck because she loves playing it so much,” he said.

She also enjoys “beating the other students at chess,” Bluto said.

Bluto’s parents are enjoying her success.

“She’s been carrying on like a well-conditioned mental athlete” Sandy said.


Cameroon refugee hopes to someday return

Cameroon refugee hopes to someday return


Elialie, a 23-year-old Pima Community College student from Cameroon, was born into a civil war.

In her hometown of Edea, people lived in the rubble of demolished buildings. Many children were orphaned, unclothed and starving.

“I hated where I lived,” she said. “I wanted to leave every day I was there, but leaving was just about a dream for me.”

Cameroon is one of the poorest countries in the world, according to, with 48 percent of its residents living in poverty.

The country has never recovered from the Kamerun Campaign during World War I, when many towns and villages were flattened by artillery. Because Cameroon lacks money, very little debris has been cleared.

Elialie, who asked that only her first name be used, now attends PCC. She’s majoring in public health and currently taking classes in writing, Spanish and geography.

During her childhood, she learned English at a school associated with the International Rescue Committee.

Her journey from Edea to Tucson began in 2007, after her mother developed a non-cancerous tumor. Elialie, then 14, and her older brother walked 20 miles to a larger city and found jobs.

With help from the IRC and other donors, Elialie eventually traveled with her mother and two brothers to Tucson. Her mother underwent surgery to remove the tumor.

As war refugees, the family receives benefits that include an apartment and supplemental checks. Agencies helped her older brother find work and pay Elialie’s tuition fees.

Elialie thought Tucson was a very quiet place when she first arrived.

“It was very welcoming, because people didn’t judge my English-speaking skills,” she said.

Classmates find her quiet as well.

“She’s very to herself, not talkative at all,” writing classmate Robert Valenzuela said. “Elialie has a quiet character to her.”

Nevertheless, Valenzuela enjoys interacting with Elialie during class and learning more about her culture.

“She’s opened-minded towards stuff, and brings her culture to her work,” he said.

Elialie wants to continue her education at the University of Arizona. After earning a public health degree, she’ll return to Cameroon as a missionary who helps children receive medical attention.

“They are people who need help,” she said. “I want to help those people.”


Cameroon native Elialie, 23, takes time for a quiet moment between classes at West Campus. (Rene Escobar/Aztec Press)




'Broken' student-vet makes makes most of life

‘Broken’ student-vet makes makes most of life


If you walk into Tucson’s Isle of Games on a Sunday, you’ll find Pima Community College student Ron Cover.

Cover (pronounced like over) will be in the back of the store with spiders, demons, the occasional elf and a large collection of paints and brushes.

He spends his Sundays painting miniatures for games.

“I have several thousand miniatures,” Cover said. “I like to have them painted when I play.”

His passion for tabletop and role-playing games has spanned decades.

He first discovered the world of tabletop and RPG games in the 1970s and has spent most of his life creating worlds of fantasy as he socializes with friends.

Cover, 56, is a retired Army sergeant who spent four years in Germany from 1982-86. His primary job was to calculate the trajectory of artillery cannons, and he later moved to a position that required top-secret clearance.

“Anything but presidential clearance,” he said.

During his military career, Cover spent most of his time in northern Germany but had the chance to do some traveling in the region. As part of his deployment, he spent a month in a castle that was built in the 1400s.

“Above one of the doors, it had 1492 carved in it,” he said.

Cover was injured during a war game exercise in northern Germany while riding in a vehicle called a “Gamma Goat.” The driver hit a ravine and launched Cover into the air and onto a radio panel. He injured his lower spine.

He didn’t know the severity of the injury at the time and neither did the Army. Cover completed his service but did not make a lifelong career of it due to his injury.

He returned to Tucson, where he had lived since age 10 after his parents relocated from Toledo, Ohio.

Cover attended the University of Arizona and worked in multiple fields while progressively becoming more disabled as a result of his injury.

“I worked with handicapped transport, which I thought was funny,” he said.

He then worked in the insurance industry until his full retirement in 2002.

Over time, Cover’s injury has gotten progressively more serious. He has undergone several surgeries and experimental treatments to help remove and mitigate scar tissue around his spine.

When he’s out of the house, he is mostly confined to a wheelchair.

With help from nonprofit organizations like Disabled American Veterans and from state senators, Cover qualified for full disability from both the military and the Social Security Administration.

Cover’s more recent therapies include a Dorsal Column Stimulation implant, a device designed to treat specific chronic pain afflictions.

Cover was a prime candidate for the treatment, which involves implantation of electrodes to the area near the lower spine and an electric pulse generator to stimulate the area.

“It feels like I am in a vibrating chair from the waist down,” he said. “It works well, but it is more of a distraction from the pain.”

Since becoming fully retired, Cover has been raising his children and attending PCC through the military GI Bill. He has almost completed a liberal arts degree with a focus in world history.

His benefits also helped put his wife and two children through a large portion of school.

Cover has never quit playing games. It is also a family affair, with family members attending conventions and holding regular game nights.

On Sundays, Cover sets up his paints and miniatures and helps other people learn and explore what it takes to paint something not much larger than your thumb. A myriad of paint colors and small brushes make it possible.

Cover assists young and old with painting and other aspects of gaming.

“I’ve been collecting for 20 years,” friend Dave Weir said. “I’ve painted maybe 100. At some point, you have to learn something new.”

At the last Rin-Con multi-day gaming convention, Cover and members of his informal painting club organized a paint-and-take to provide participants with instructions, paints and miniatures.

Various gaming companies donated most of the materials. Cover’s group also arranged for donations that were used as raffle prizes, and intend to do it again in years to come as well as for other conventions in the area.

Why does he spend so much time helping others discover and enjoy games and miniatures?

“I’d rather be doing something than sitting at home,” he said.

“Life is fun, I like to make the most of it,” he added. “I’m broken but life is good.”

Pima student-veteran Ron Cover spends his Sundays painting miniatures for games. (Nicholas Trujillo/Aztec Press)

Certified chef has own show on Telemex

Certified chef has own show on Telemex

Chef Mario in the kitchen he uses to film his show. (Nicholas Trujillo/Aztec Press)


Growing up, Chef Mario Diaz De Sandy Jr. wanted to be an actor. He didn’t find his current passion for cooking until later.

He now pursues both passions. The certified executive chef has his own cooking show. 

“Originally I went to school for acting, back in the day, like early ‘80s,” De Sandy said.

De Sandy, widely known as Chef Mario, stars in a cooking segment on Telemax network, which is broadcast all over Mexico. De Sandy cook dishes for a program that airs on Saturdays at 9 a.m.

“I’ve had a few people stop me at Food City and stuff like that,” he said. “I’m not really looking for fame and fortune, but it feels good to be recognized on TV as a chef.”

De Sandy’s native language is Spanish, but family members living in Mexico have called after seeing the show to give him points on how to speak Spanish in a more proper way.

“When you grow up on this side of town, you learn Spanglish and you learn words from the street,” De Sandy said. “I had six or seven words that I had to Google translate and practice saying.

One such word was “alcachofa,” which is the Spanish word for artichoke.

De Sandy films the TV segments at the Pima Community College Desert Vista Campus, where he works as a culinary instructor.

It usually takes De Sandy more than 45 minutes to demonstrate and cook the featured dish. After editing, those 45 minutes become a six- or seven-minute video.

Before filming his own show, De Sandy played an extra in 14 Tucson movies. He worked as a chef for one of the film crews, feeding them breakfast each morning.

At one point De Sandy spent six months in the Washington Mountains working as an assistant producer and then on the special effects team.

“It was a great experience for me,” he said.

In addition to his acting pursuits, De Sandy recently completed a milestone in his cooking career by completing all requirements to become a certified executive chef

There are four major keys to becoming certified.

The first step is completing classes that count as education-work experience.

“I just received a bachelor’s degree from Northern Arizona University and I took a bunch of classes at Pima, and when you bundle them all together, I qualify for that section,” De Sandy said.

Secondly, he obtained letters from previous employers that show he has leadership skills.

“I had to get letters stating that I actually supervised more than four employees,” De Sandy said.

During past work at University Medical Center, he supervised 110 employees.

Next came a cooking exam with multiple parts.

 “You have to do an appetizer, a main entree and a salad,” De Sandy said. “It’s very expensive because you have to practice, so you have to buy food for practice. Then you have to buy food for the actual exam.”

Applicants must incorporate specific items and techniques into their creations.

De Sandy was required to include lobster, salmon, chicken and many other ingredients. He also had to demonstrate designated knife cuts such as julienne, paysanne and batonnet.

He spent 12 hours driving to the Phoenix location, setting up, taking the three-hour exam and cleaning up.

“You always want to leave the kitchen in a better condition than you found it,” he said.

 Once he had the education, the letter and the practical exam out of the way, he had to complete a 100-question written exam in Nogales about kitchen management, sanitation and other topics.

De Sandy was one point short on his first try. “Unfortunately the passing grade was 300 and I got a 299,” he said.

He blamed a combination of not keeping track of time and not studying, and promised himself he would take the test again and ace it.

The results were better when he re-took the test 10 months later.

“I scored a 340,” he said.