Who am I now? Begin again…

Brevity’s founding editor Dinty W. Moore interviews Melanie Brooks, author of the recently released Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma, featuring Brooks’ conversations with Andre Dubus III, Sue William Silverman, Kyoko Mori, Richard Hoffman, Suzanne Strempek Shea, Abigail Thomas, Mark Doty, Edwidge Danticat, Jessica Handler, Richard Blanco, and others about how they tackle […]

via Writing the Pain: Memoirists on Trauma and Memory — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog

I can relate with how hard it is to go from being so disorganized in the trauma that to begin to use writing as a means to heal is rather a desperate move beyond the wasteland that now seems to be an overwhelming reality…so, the difficult journey of the tasks of grief, acceptance of loss, adjusting to life as it is now, and reinvesting and reinventing oneself opens up like a fading storm with gray skies promising life of renewal.    Reading Brevity’s blog post of Writing in Pain encouraged me today…there are real truths in the words revealing the nature of trauma…

Paradise Valley Community College connection

In 2010 I began taking classes at Paradise Valley Community College.  I was a part-time student and a full-time stay-at-home mom.  As my son became older, I was able to invest more time in getting to know the PVCC campus better.

I enjoyed taking electives while completing my general education classes.  Electives and education courses gave me the opportunity to develop relationships.

It took me four semesters to find my way into journalism. In the Spring 2012 semester, I took my first JRN course, News Production.  I was slow to begin writing for the campus newspaper, The Puma Press, but I gained momentum along the way.


Writing was hard work, especially learning to write news articles.  They seem easier to me now, but then I felt more overwhelmed instead of confident.  There was so much to learn, and I suppose being an adult reentry student posed more challenges than less; especially, I found learning to live in the digital age challenging.

However, two years later, I am more skilled, confident and experienced in writing and making multimedia projects.

I am appreciative of the PVCC community.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI am on the far right. This was a fun picture taken at Paradise Valley Community College at the end of the Spring 2014 semester. A few of us from Club Ed were attending the PVCC student awards event, so we posed for a group shot. On the left are my friends Caitlyn Soppe and Kelly Schwab, and in the middle are the two education program faculty advisors, Harriet Betts and Meggin Kirk.

A few of my Puma Press friends at the PVCC Puma Student Choice Awards.10295275_10151993549995887_7909655012490469395_o From left to right: Jasmine Barber, Karyn Black, Nikki Charnstrom, Eric Paul Johnson, me and Scott Scott Shumaker in the front row trying to fit all of us in a selfie. I love hanging out with these journalism people!

my first published article – April 2012

Three PVCC students win UNM arts contest

In Albuquerque, New Mexico at the 2012 Western Regional Honors Council Conference, the prestigious publication of Scribendi will debut this April, and three accomplished PVCC honor students will be formally recognized at a reception.

Isabel Santana, Geremy Cites, and Ryan Borys will be awarded $250 each for their works of art at the “Between Earth and Sky: Imagining the Future” event. “Scribendi” — an annual, national art and literary publication produced at the University of New Mexico— celebrates work from undergraduate students in honors programs from a 13-state western region of the United States. The Western Regional Honors Council consists of more than 220 participating colleges. This year, from 53 of these colleges, Scribendi received over 540 student works. A blind jury narrowed down these works to the best 54 pieces for publication; those with the most quality elements in artistic expression.

Isabel Santana, PVCC student and poetry winner, was excited to hear that she was chosen. In her junior and senior years of high school, a few of her writings had been published district wide, she said. Being published in “Scribendi” has continued her writing success.

“Being published before was rewarding, but this experience gives me another way to meet college students who also write and share the same passion,” said Santana.

Santana says she creates her poems in a reflective calm. She has to wait for everything to settle down before she can process her emotions and views.

“Poetry helps me release my inner feelings,” Santana revealed.

When artist and PVCC student, Geremy Cites, was asked about the best part of winning, he said, “For me personally, I think it’s the feeling I get like a week after, when the excitement has fizzled down. This is when I realize I did something with my art. All through the process of making some piece, I fend off uncertainty, something like, is this worth my time? I know it is when I find out I trusted myself to submit my efforts.”

Cites says he constantly challenges himself to see what he can and can’t do. His muse is his competitive nature.

“I never played sports, but I constantly want to make something better, more original,” he says.

For photographer and PVCC student, Ryan Borys, the most satisfying part of being selected was the challenging nature of winning.

“They only select 10 percent of all the submissions for the whole magazine making the selections per category very low so it is a pretty big deal,” he says.

Borys says he is inspired by the process of making a final product.

“The world in general, taking a typical every day event or thing that people see every day, and creating an image that is more interesting and more beautiful… being able to capture an instant in time in a beautiful and different point of view is why I love photography,” says Borys.

Borys will be transferring to NAU for photography as well as academics.

On April 11th, Sherry Adams, PVCC Honors Program director; John Douglas, future Honors Program director; Rikki Shannon, Honor’s Program adviser, along with Santana, Cites, and Borys will drive together to Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend the three day conference.


Santana’s poem titled
“Mi Veneno Favorito/
My Favorite Venom”
will be published in the
University of New Mexico’s
literacy publication
April 2012 edition.
Isabel Santana poses for a picture outside of the Paradise Valley Community College’s administrative building.



Inside a labyrinth
Full of nonsense words
And problems with no answers
There is a beat that awakes
My senses and accepts
Blindly my destiny
Because of weakness
I tie up my liberty
And roam through a maze of no return
Without life or reason
Because of weakness, I accept
Disappointments and betrayals
And I forgive because I tend to forget
The pain I went through
And its not because I’m nice
It’s because of weakness
The same one that paralyzes me
And take me to you.

geremycites graphicart
Geremy Cites posing for a picture inside the Kranitz Student Center at PVCC. Cites’ work “Overgrowth” won in the UNM contest for  graphic  design.
ryanborys photography
Ryan Borys posing for a picture at PVCC. Borys won in the photography section for his artwork, “Tonto.”

Festival of Tales and my favorite pictures

Paradise Valley Community College’s Education program hosted the Fall 2014 Festival of Tales

For the past several years, I have taken pictures of PVCC’s education program semester-end literacy event, The Festival of Tales.  Facebook has a homepage for the event.


Here are my favorites out the 216 photo album I created.



GCC earns prestigious SCUP award






Photo courtesy of SCUP, still from 2014 award video

Alex Roe, SCUP president, presenting Glendale Community College’s psychology faculty Dr. Lopez with the Institutional Integration and Innovation award, July 2014 SCUP Conference in Pittsburg, Penn.

GCC earns prestigious SCUP award

by Shelley Handley

Glendale Community College received a national award in July from the Society for College and University Planning. GCC is the first junior college to receive this honor.

The award acknowledged GCC for innovative thinking, effective strategic planning and implementation.

“Winning this award has been very exciting. To receive this kind of prestigious recognition has been wonderful for our college and an amazing validation for all our hard work,” Dr. Alka Arora Singh, dean of Strategy, Planning and Accountability, said.

To accept the award, GCC representative Dr. Illder Lopez, psychology faculty, traveled to Pittsburgh, Penn. to attend SCUP’s 49th annual three-day international conference.

“It was an honor to go. Anytime a college receives national recognition in regards to the work they are doing, it is very notable…GCC is standing out among all the community colleges and universities nationally,” said Lopez. “That is a big deal!”

SCUP is a 50-year-old prominent organization that shares the best practices in fostering student success through collaborative leadership, effective planning, resource efficiency, ongoing assessment and underlying analytics.

“While the idea of strategic planning seems broad and disengaging, it’s absolutely critical to our students’ success,” said GCC’s President Dr. Kovala. “Now, imagine if the college didn’t have a plan to help our students and our own employees? We would quickly find ourselves hurting for clarity and not helping the very people that we care about – the students!” she said.

Brianna Long, GCC freshman and Paradise Valley resident, attends GCC’s nursing program. In a few years she hopes to have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Her experiences at GCC are meeting her needs and expectations; she has experienced helpful advisors, supportive faculty and friendly students she said.

“People have been very nice and helpful,” Long said. “I appreciate the advisors making sure that my schedule is right – that I won’t be taking the wrong classes or confused about what I need to do to complete the program I am in.”

More than thirty representatives, Strategic Planning Task Force (SPTFr), from various departments and divisions worked for over 18 months to complete the Fall 2013 Integrated Strategic Plan. The plan was created to serve the college and student’s needs into the year 2020 said Singh.

“This was an extensive, collaborative work among talented, hard working and committed people,” Singh said. “We could have never completed this size of a campus-wide integrated plan without everyone buying into fully participating in such a thoroughly comprehensive strategic process.”

Lopez said the most important aspects of SPITFr’s work that the campus experiences every day are somewhat intangible, almost assuming, but are extremely significant for success:

  • Utilizing research, analytics, makes certification programs more cohesive and efficient
  • Collaborating provides diverse perspectives in assessing campus needs
  • Aligning, centralizing all departments and budgeting, saves time for everyone
  • Systematically measuring what is being done ensures accountability
  • Prestige, image, promotes confidence in GCC’s faculty, staff and students.

SPITFr meets regularly to discuss eight specific factors regarding the plan: shifting demographics; student under-preparedness; student success initiatives; resource constrains; evolving workforce needs; collaboration; emerging technologies; and compliance and accountability.

Having an effective plan and maintaining it ensures that students do not “spend more money, become burnt-out and disillusioned” Kovala said.

Dr. Singh, GCC’s dean of Strategy, Planning and Accountability, in her office displaying Glendale Community College’s award winning Fall 2013 Intergrated Strategic Plan.


Fancy shawl dancer Aitana Jones



Glendale Community College’s students, staff and faculty awaiting the unique Native American fused cuisine from the Emerson Fry Bread mobile restaurant.

GCC Native American Student Association
brings fancy shawl dancer to campus

At ten in the morning, the Emerson Fry Bread mobile food truck slowly made its way along Glendale Community College’s paved sidewalks stopping at the Center Mall on Thursday, Nov. 20 to help celebrate Native American Heritage Month.

GCC students, staff and faculty were able to order specialized Native American fused cuisine from the food trucks’ menu throughout the morning and early afternoon.

At 11:30 a.m. the Native American Student Association (NASA) began its event. NASA member Charis Holiday, GCC freshman, introduced Rock Point, AZ resident and 13-year Native American dancer Aitana Jones.

Jones performed four Native American traditional dances: Straight Dance with freestyle butterfly movements; Crow Hop resembling a hopping crow through Navajo land; Double Beat with intricate feet shuffling; and Round Dance which celebrates life.

“As students heard the music they came over,” Student Service Specialist Isabel Conchos said.


GCC freshman Karina Teran said that the butterfly dance with its unique beauty was her favorite.

“The music added a nice spiritual quality to the very interesting performance,” GCC senior Azzi Saadi said.

The program ran for a half hour.

Peter Chacon, NASA member and GCC senior, ran games and awarded prices following the event.

GCC freshman Giselle Mercado and David Truong said the ring toss was very challenging.

GCC Sophmores Malika Murphy, Dionte Maswell, Diondre Moore-Young and Marcus McCollum tried the bean bag toss, several times.

Chacon “was generous in allowing multiple plays and awarding prizes for good efforts,” Murphy said.


NASA President Alicia Navejar ended the ceremony by appreciating student participation and contributions. She blessed Jones with a gift from NASA.

Fall apple picking in Minnesota


Minnesota apple-picking

an escape from Phoenix weather

In Minnesota I interact with mother nature at her best.

Slowly, from under the umbrella of autumn foliage, I can see the yellow school bus coming up the short hill on Livingston Avenue. In the crisp late afternoon, a few children step off through the folding doors. I bury my hands in my pockets like bears into a cozy winter den. My light weight Phoenix clothing shows that I’ m not from Minnesota, and I have obviously misjudged how cold fall can be.

My grandchildren are riding bikes along King Street. The leaves crunch beneath my feet as a few more leaflets feather-float from the various trees along our play-path. The 54 degree temperature nips at my face and causes my nose to moisten. However, having the opportunity to travel over 1,200 miles to leaf-peep and gran-watch warms my soul more than a pumpkin spice latte.


Even though Phoenix’s landscape has a lovely aesthetic palette, September triggers a yearning for the deciduous seasonal changes. Moreover, long distance grandparenting brings an aching to travel for simple enjoyment, and October is a favored month for my family of three to visit the city of 52 native trees.

My family thought that we had chosen the warmest day of the week to go apple picking at Aamondt’s Apple Farm, but as our eight passenger SUV set out on the late morning central eastern country drive, the overcast sky and the frigid 34 degree air told us differently.

From the luxury of the warm SUV, the scenery was splendid. The maple, pine, oak and elm trees captivated our eyes. Rosewood, chestnut, maroon, plum, wine and mahogany stood out from the fading green, orange and yellow spectrum. Branches and twigs mixed into the ground covered smooth, toothed and lobed leaves.

“When are we going to be there?” said four-year-old Nyla from her window seat.

I suppose experiencing nature’s grandest coloration is commonplace to the Spika family whom we are visiting. In contrast, though, for my husband and me, the fractal patterns are a beautiful display.
Apple trees are not huge in stature. They are rather like viewing an orange orchard with rows and rows of purposefully spaced fruited trees.

The three children piled out of the SUV to quickly race to the play area. “Tag! You’re it?” said the 7-year-old Malek to his 12-year-old uncle Lon.

The farm animals quickly became a favored interest, especially the kids loved hand feeding them.




I adjusted the wooly scarf around my neck as I watched kids move from the hay-bale maze to the goat pen. The open space was tremendous for running and exploring.

old barn100The two 1880s barns, bakery store, granary and winery sat in behind a family house. In 1948 Thor and Lucille Aamodt turned an empty 60-acre field in Stillwater into a thriving commitment to keep tree farming a vital part of the social fabric of Minnesota. Sixty-four years later, Christopher Aamodt, Thor’s grandson, helps his father Chris Aamodt work the orchard.

“I love being outside, I love the family atmosphere and I love giving tours to children so that they can experience the wholesomeness of traditional living,” Thor’s grandson said.

Inside the store we purchased a picking bag and set out to find the keepsake section. The Minnesota Honeycrisp, Honey Gold, Haralson, Regent and Fireside had already seen the end of the growing season and now rested in big bins. The latest-seasoned apple isn’t much to look at. It is small and dullish hued in red and green. I felt disappointed until I bit into one. This little palm- sized apple was fabulously sweet and firmly textured! It’ s the farm owner’s favorite because of its taste and longevity.

In no time we had the 10-pound bag filled from one tree.  The walk back to the store was delicious and challenging. It’s hard to hold a full, open-bag of apples while munching one.

The sweet smell of cooking lured all of us into the bakery to enjoy apple brats and apple donuts, and we lingered over hot apple cider.