Decades and Deadlines Project

“Tragedy struck Tucson, Arizona, on December 20, 1970 when the legendary Pioneer Hotel caught fire, killing 29 and injuring more than 40. Guests and residents of the 11-story building were celebrating an early Christmas when a fire swept through the lower two floors and spread to the top of the tallest building in the city. The hotel, which was built in 1929, had inadequate fire safety mechanisms, including a lack of fire escapes and sprinkler systems and outdated fire extinguishers and smoke alarms. Firefighters were also unable to reach higher floors because their ladders were too short. As a result, pretty much everyone above the 8th floor was trapped. Many people attempted to escape by tying sheets together and climbing down, while others threw their mattresses out the windows and jumped on them — some successfully, others not. By the end of the night, 28 people had died (the 29th died months later), most from burns or carbon monoxide poisoning, including Harold Steinfeld, one of the builders of the hotel who lived in the penthouse, and a number of Mexican dignitaries, who were visiting Tucson from Sonora, Mexico. More than 40 years later, the Pioneer Hotel fire still ranks as the deadliest land event in Arizona state history.”

To read the full essay, click here. For the powerpoint, click here.

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 587: History of American Journalism class.

Despite uptick in Cuban migration, Tucson community remains small

The Campos family in Tucson in June 2015. (Source: Facebook).

The Campos family in June 2015 in Tucson, Arizona. (Source: Facebook).

Sitting in a leather recliner in her spacious three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, Oxana Horta sighs as her son, Brayan Campos, leaves the living room and races across the hardwood floor to his bedroom. After a couple seconds of rustling, the 8-year-old sprints back holding a perfectly crafted, hodgepodge LEGO character.

“It’s a Hero Factory hero that I made myself,” Campos said, noting that he has a big imagination.

Brayan was just one month shy of his second birthday in 2008 when Horta, his father, Alberto Campos, and sister, Beatriz Santiesteban, left communist Cuba for better opportunities in the United States.

As a result, Brayan isn’t old enough to remember his mother trying to figure out why she was removed from her job because she was a woman — he gets his talkative side from her — or his father’s attempts to flee Cuba in boats he built from the ground up — he gets his creative side from him. But Brayan is old enough to remember a childhood filled with friends, good grades and a green belt in karate.

“I think the reason we went to the United States is because we wanted to see more of the world,” he said.

A little more than six years removed from leaving a community full of Cubans for a city with barely any, Horta is just happy that Brayan won’t have to live in the small two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment that she grew up in, and more importantly, will never have to see a man in a military outfit on his television screen.

“We needed a place to start everything over,” Horta said. “We came with nothing. We just had a bunch of dreams.”

Life in Cuba

San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba, a small town 26 kilometers from Havana, is a very tight-knit community, said Oxana Horta. The families are so close that kids go out in the streets and play under the watch of their neighbors.

“Violence isn’t big there,” Horta said. “Kids don’t disappear.”

Horta, whose mom is Russian and father is Cuban, was born and raised in the town, which had a population of 46,300 in 2004. Her parents met while her dad was studying abroad in Russia and moved to Cuba after they got married.

While Horta said the Cuban people were nice, the communist government made life difficult.

When she was a kid, Fidel Castro would interrupt her cartoons to make hours-long announcements on the television screen. As she grew up, one of her friends had a honeymoon cut short because their hotel room had been given away to tourists. Also, worn-down, unfixed and unpainted roads graced her hometown.

“I don’t like many things in Cuba,” she said. “I didn’t understand why I needed to shut up my mouth. … It’s still like that there.”

19 years ago, Horta studied to become a veterinary technician at the Villena-Revolución Agricultural Polytechnical Institute in Rancho Boyeros, an academic center founded by Castro in 1962. She got a job working at Empresa Genética Pecuaria Los Naranjos, a community farm that took care of livestock. While she was the only woman in her town that could work with large animals, she was removed from her position because she was female.

“They preferred men, so that’s why they took me out,” she said.

Fed up with the system, Horta and her second husband, Alberto Campos, decided that they wanted to bring their family to the United States. Campos, whose entire family is from Cuba, attempted to cross the ocean seven times using boats that he built from scratch — including the motor — along with some of his friends and neighbors.

Some of the times he was chased by the government, others by the border patrol, but all the attempts were unsuccessful. As a result of his rebellion, he was stripped of his job, and the family was kept under the close watch of the government.

“For example, if we bring something home, like a bag of something, people would always try to see what we brought home,” Horta said.

Four years after his last attempt and six months after Brayan was born, the family had their first interview with the Cuban government about leaving legally. They were allowed to leave 1 1/2 years later.

On Dec. 4, 2008, Mendez, Horta and their kids, 13-year-old Beatriz and 1-year-old Brayan, left from an airport in Havana with a single suitcase. They were assigned to Tucson by the United Nations and spent two days flying with stops in Mexico, Florida, and Texas.

“We came like refugees,” Horta said.

Life in Tucson

When the family was looking for a place in the United States to settle, the Cuban government told them Florida, which is home to the largest Cuban population in the country, was too crowded. It would have been hard for Campos and Mendez to find a job and for the family to receive the help they needed.

When they arrived in Tucson, the family was assigned to receive help from the Jewish Refugee Resettlement of Arizona. They were crammed into a one-bedroom apartment, and none of them spoke a word of English.

“It was kind of scary to start over, especially with nothing in our pockets,” Horta said.

Bryan Kaplan, who worked as a mentor for Lutheran Social Services after Jewish Refugee Resettlement of Arizona closed, met them at the airport when they arrived and helped the family find jobs. Meanwhile, they were required to take English classes through Pima Community College’s adult education program.

“I spoke to them to see what their interests were and qualifications were,” Kaplan said. “We arranged for their apartments and any classes they would need to assimilate to living in the United States.”

Just a little over a month after coming to the desert, Kaplan found a job for Horta as a technician at Guadalupe Veterinary Clinic. He also found a job for Campos as a chef at Chaffin’s Diner, and after one more stop, he worked at El Coqui Puerto Rican Restaurant for 2 1/2 years. Campos eventually quit his job as a chef, and after working a few different positions, took a maintenance job at The Apple Apartments complex three years ago.

“I’m really thankful to him for that,” said Horta, who moved to a similar position at Rolling Hills Pet Clinic in January 2013. “He was really nice.”

While the agency only offers help for five years, Kaplan said that Oxana’s family settled in well before that. Four years ago, the family was able to save up enough money to buy a house in an east-side neighborhood.

“I’m just delighted with them,” Kaplan said. “I am so happy. They consider me their father. … They really assimilated to our American culture.”

“I’m really happy (in Tucson),” Horta said. “It’s really quiet and a good place to start your family over again. It’s not the biggest city in the world, but it’s really nice.”

Growing Up in Tucson

Beatriz Santiesteban remembers how hard her mother worked to make sure she had fun growing up in Cuba Her father, Julio Santiesteban, illegally left Cuba by boat and has been out of the picture since.

That’s why when she was 13, Santiesteban understood why her mom and stepfather would want to move her away from her friends and give her a chance to explore her interests in the United States.

“It gave me more opportunity to do a lot more than I would over there,” said Santiesteban, now 19.

Santiesteban enrolled in middle school midyear despite not knowing any English and was held back a year. She forced herself to only hang out with people who primarily spoke English, and was able to learn the language in just four months.

“I picked it up pretty quick,” she said. “I made sure not to hang out with the people I already knew that spoke Spanish.”

Santiesteban graduated on time after attending both Catalina Foothills and Palo Verde High Schools and enrolled at the University of Arizona this past fall. She said the transition has been seamless and that after a rough first semester, this year has been “easy.” While she isn’t sure what she wants to study, her initial plan is international business with an emphasis in advertising and marketing.

Unlike his sister, Brayan Campos spent nearly his entire childhood in Tucson. Now a second grader at Booth-Fickett Math and Science Magnet School, he never struggled picking up the language and even taught his father his first English word.

“I made friends over the years” Campos said. “I’ve been a really good kid. I’ve done good on testing and never got held back.”

Life Back Home

While the family was able to rebuild itself from the ground up, Oxana Horta said a lack of Cubans in the Tucson community and the inability to communicate with family members in Cuba made their transition difficult.

“It makes it harder just because we grew up in a country that likes to dance, meet people and have fun together,” Horta said. “It’s hard to not have anybody.”

Horta can text her family back home, but they cannot respond. They can also send emails, but they run the risk of correspondence being read by the Cuban government. Horta’s goal is to bring her mother to Tucson, but her initial request was denied last year.

They were able to visit Cuba once 3 1/2 years ago, but probably won’t be able to afford another trip any time soon.

In December, United States President Barack Obama announced that the countries would re-establish diplomatic relations. While Horta thinks it will be good for American tourists, she is not sure anything is going to change for the people in Cuba, some of whom struggle to find food every day.

“They don’t care about the people living there,” she said. “They just care about them.”

With everything that’s going on back home, Horta and Campos have no regrets about coming to Tucson.

“We lived for many years with eyes closed,” Horta said. “They always said to us that the United States was bad. … I don’t think that anyone’s perfect, but (the U.S.) at least opened the door for me to leave and to live free. My kids have an opportunity to grow up and be what they want to be.”

A Future Community

The number of refugees received by Arizona has more than tripled in the past 20 years, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The 387 Cubans were the third-largest group of refugees who resettled in Arizona in 2013.

However, especially in Tucson, those families don’t stick around.

Bryan Kaplan estimates that only a handful of Cuban families have stayed in Tucson in the past five years. He said that families often think they’ll have better job opportunities in larger Cuban communities like Miami.

“A lot of it has to do with the lack of good employment here,” he said. “They’re looking for jobs that are a little bit better off than what we have to offer. Most of the jobs that we have are in the hospitality industry.”

Arnaldo Mendez, who is a business manager at his father’s full-service Shell station and helps local Cuban refugees, thinks that a big problem in the recent wave of refugees is a sense of entitlement as they’ve come to expect government help.

“They’re given food stamps, they’re given so many different items to make their transition a good one,” he said. “Sometimes I’m very discouraged when I see what the behavior is of the people that are coming over.”

Mendez, who was born in Cuba, was 2 years old when his parents brought him to the United States in 1962. He also thinks that the climate and culture in Tucson is different from what most Cubans seem to enjoy.

“They tend to seek areas where there are other Cubans,” he said.

Oxana Horta said that her family has been put in contact with Cuban families who resettled in Tucson, but they almost all leave within a couple months because they miss Cuban culture.

“We don’t have our culture here,” she said. “We don’t have stuff we eat here. We’ve not found it anywhere — just in Florida.”

In an attempt to bring more of Cuban culture, Horta and her husband, Alberto Campos, who cook at home every day, eventually hope open a restaurant. Their son Brayan said Horta makes great dessert and soup, while Campos’ specialty is his croquetas.

That way they can make life a little easier for Cubans who resettle in Tucson.

“Starting over is not always easy, because it wasn’t,” Horta said. “But if you really want to do it, you can do it.”

Note: This assignment was completed for JOUR 597C: Reporting the World class.

Crafting A New Tucson

Ty Young, a bartender at World of Beer in Tucson, Arizona, pours a pint of Mudshark Full Moon Lunacy for a customer. The tap room has a selection of more than 600 craft beers.

Ty Young, a bartender at World of Beer in Tucson, Arizona, pours a pint of Mudshark Full Moon Lunacy for a customer on Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. The tap room has a selection of more than 600 craft beers.

Ty Young receives the order and recedes to the rear of the bar. He pulls down on the beer tap, and a hazy golden ale fills the frosted pint glass. After releasing the tap and waiting for the head to form, he lifts the beer and places it on the counter. The brew slips into the hands of the customer and lets off a fruity aroma as he takes a sip.

“I used to be a reporter for the Arizona Republic,” said Young, who has been bartending at World of Beer for more than a year. “I got tired of crime scenes and dead bodies — this is more fun.”

World of Beer, located at 350 E. Congress St., is a tap room stocked with more than 600 beers from around the globe. While the refrigerators have a supply of brews from places like Brazil, China and Germany, the draughts stay reserved for the best local craft beer.

The beer industry in Arizona is growing rapidly. The economic impact of craft brewing in the state grew from $290 million in 2011 to more than $650 million in 2013, according to the Brewer’s Association annual report on craft-beer production. That was accompanied with a 2 percent decrease in sales for the national market.

In Tucson, the number of breweries registered with the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild has risen to 11 from three in last five years. And at least four more breweries are on their way in 2015.

Here’s a quick look at the past, present and future of the craft beer industry in Tucson:

Desert Classic

Gentle Ben’s Brewing Company, located just off campus on University Boulevard, 8565 E. University Blvd., has been serving its own beer since 1991. The beer is made at Barrio Brewing Company, 800 E. 16th St., which is the oldest brewery in Tucson.

The l-shaped bar is like its beer — simple and classic. There are a few stools, taps, and televisions, but not much in terms of decoration. The bar sells between 10 and 20 homemade beers, but nothing past that, according to bartender Mason Smith.

Smith, who has worked at Gentle Ben’s for 2 1/2 years, said that people tend to drink craft beer for two reasons: it supports local businesses and has more flavor than mass-produced beer.

“Whenever you do a small batch, you can take more risks, and you can end up with more flavor and a higher alcohol content, which people like,” he said.

The most popular beer at the restaurant is the Barrio Blonde, a light, crisp starter beer with a slight malt flavor, which is the longest-running beer in Arizona history. Another staple is the Nolan’s Porter, a complex, dark and rich ale, which was awarded the gold medal for Best Porter in America at the Great American Beer Festival in 1998.

However, Smith said his favorite beer is the Barrio Blanco, a white Indian Pale Ale that has citrus and grapefruit notes.

“It’s not very malty, so it’s a very easy drinking IPA,” he said. “It’s going to be a classic.”

Smith said that craft beer industry has exploded in Tucson in the last five years. Despite an increase in competition, the brewing community is tight-knit and meet together regularly. Barrio Brewing Company has even lent equipment and offered advice to start-up breweries.

“It’s a very friendly community and a very supportive industry,” Smith said.

East-Side Red

Eric Raines reaches for his glass at World of Beer and downs a Rillito Red Ale, which has been a fixture of Tucson-based Nimbus Brewing Company, 3850 E. 44th St., since 1996. The amber ale is known for its hazy red color and doughy taste, and lets off a sour aroma as he takes a sip.

“As long as it’s not bitter, I’ll drink it,” he said.

The ale is one of the local brews available at World of Beer and is a favorite of Raines, a tech support agent at Intuit who drinks microbrews three or four times a week.

Raines has been drinking craft beer for five years, making the switch because he was tired of the watered-down taste of Bud Light. He started experimenting with beers like Blue Moon before focusing on microbrews.

“(Craft beer is) a lot different than the regular everyday beers,” he said. “They use a lot of different ingredients, so it’s really flavorful.”

Raines is thrilled with the explosion of the craft beer scene in Tucson and doesn’t even mind making the drive downtown from his east-side home for a pint.

“It kind of spiked a little after I got into it, so I’m very thankful that it’s not so much a rarity,” he said.

Raines’ only critique is that the breweries in Tucson have a narrow range of beers and flavors.

“I don’t know if more breweries is the answer, but more diversity of bars means more options,” he said.

L.J. Combs, a cellarman at Pueblo Vida Brewing Company in Tucson, Arizona, fills a keg with Mic Drop Double IPA on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015. Combs left his corporate job to learn how to brew craft beer.

L.J. Combs, a cellarman at Pueblo Vida Brewing Company in Tucson, Arizona, fills a keg with Mic Drop Double IPA on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015. Combs left his corporate job to learn how to brew craft beer.

Village Life

Linette Antillon fills a phone order for a customer while standing behind the bar at Pueblo Vida Brewing Company, 115 E. Broadway Blvd. Behind her are shelves stocked with growlers, pint glasses and beer flights. If you don’t sit at the j-shaped bar and opt for the adjacent tables, you can get a good look at the tubes and barrels of the brewing system in the back.

When Antillon and her boyfriend, Kyle Jefferson, graduated from the University of Arizona in 2009, they always dreamed of opening a brewery. But it took a little while for that dream to become a reality.

Realizing there weren’t a lot of jobs available in Tucson, the couple moved to Seattle, where Jefferson picked up an internship with a commercial brewer. After he learned the business from the ground up, they returned to the desert.

After 1 1/2 years of looking for a space and another year for remodeling, they opened Pueblo Vida Brewing Company in October. It’s one of four breweries that have opened in the downtown corridor since 2010.

“I’m really happy to see the beer scene starting to grow and really have a craft scene presence here,” Antillon said.

Jefferson makes the beer in the back of the microbrewery using a seven-barrel system, which allows him to make seven beers at once. He came up with the recipes and only “brews what he likes to drink,” Antillon said.

From grain to glass takes on average of 12 to 14 days, she said.

Of the beers on tap, three are mainstays: a Bavarian Hefeweizen, a wheat beer with a banana and clove aroma; a Northwest IPA, an Indian Pale Ale with citrus and grapefruit flavors; and an American Breakfast Stout, a chocolate-flavored dark beer. The rest are seasonal.

“Each one has its own flavor, profile, aroma — everything,” Antillon said. “When you drink a craft beer, you’re savoring it a lot more.”

Even though the craft beer scene in Tucson has “exploded,” she said that the local brewing community is a friendly and supportive industry. This fits into the idea of craft beer, which is a community thing.

“It’s not really competitive,” Antillon said. “It’s a really fun industry to be a part of.”

Bright Future

There are roughly 60 members of the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, an organization that promotes and protects breweries in the state. That is a more than 100 percent increase in five years, said executive director Rob Fullmer.

Fullmer attributes the growth to a strong home-brewing culture in Arizona. The state has experienced a shift to more urban housing development and more jobs in fields where people don’t see the creation of something start to finish.

He also believes craft breweries fit into the concept of the “third space,” with the first two spaces being home and work. People are looking at ways to connect with their neighbors, and tasting rooms are becoming a preferred option.

“Brewing is kind of a throwback,” Fullmer said.

With the explosion of microbrewing in Arizona, the guild introduced Senate Bill 1030 in January. Current Arizona law states that breweries that produce less than 40,000 barrels a year can be classified as microbreweries. However, once they surpass that amount they are reclassified as producers and run the risk of being shut down.

None of the breweries in Arizona have surpassed the 40,000-barrel threshold yet, he said. However, that number is too low because breweries experience an average growth rate of 18 percent.

The bill was moved to floor last week, and the Senate will vote on it soon, Fullmer said.

“We’re part of the community and need to have a way to grow,” he said. “Just like any business, (the breweries) want certainty and clarity in the law. They want to have a 5- or 10-year plan.”

Fullmer believes that the brewing industry in Arizona still has room to grow. He thinks that a city like Tucson could house up to 50 small breweries.

“We’re not going to be like San Diego, we’re not going to be like Philadelphia,” Fullmer said. “We’re just going to be different.”

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 501B: Travel Writing class.

A Changed Perception

The Bashful Bandit is full of mementos. Bras hang from the pipe that extends from the ceiling — mostly solid colors, except for the cheetah-print undergarment in the corner. The wooden bar is scratched with the names of past patrons. Biker gang flags hang side-by-side from another piece of the ceiling. Framed pictures of past events are stacked so close together on the east wall that you can barely see the yellow paint.

“It’s so we don’t forget,” says Dave, the bartender.

The Bashful Bandit, 3586 E. Speedway Blvd., has been a Tucson staple for roughly 25 years, Dave says. A couple of the owners also manage Lindy’s on 4th, another local business that has made its living by being rough around the edges.

The Bashful Bandit received a makeover nearly two years ago for an episode of “American Roadhouse,” a Travel Channel show that renovates biker bars around the country. Some memorabilia was taken down, including bike parts from past wrecks, much to the chagrin of the bar’s patrons.

But the spirit of the Bandit lives on.

The simple white building is easy to miss — which I did the first time down Speedway — but the inside looks like its patrons: rugged.

Dave asks my friend Erin and me if we’d like something to drink, so I inquire if the bar has a signature beverage.

“This place is simple,” a patron sitting next to us interrupts. “What you see back there is what they have.”

Dave recedes to a fridge labeled “naughty bears” and comes back holding a tiny plastic container. He sticks two toothpicks in the plump gummy bears and tells us to try them.

We split the four gummy bears, and after telling him they’re good, he lets us know he soaked them overnight in vodka and rum.

“It’s custom here to toss the plastic over your shoulder when you’re done,” Dave says with a laugh, which prompts Erin to discard the container.

He also tells us to try the Jell-O shots. Erin and I sample blue raspberry, and she also opts for watermelon. Three more plastic containers over our shoulders.

Dave just laughs, even though he’s probably responsible for cleaning up the trash.

I order a Sonoran White Chocolate Ale, which he offers me for a discount. (I guess it’s difficult to sell a chocolate-flavored dessert beer to a biker crowd.) All in all, it was $7 for five drinks after a 50 percent tip.

That evening was the bar’s Blackout at the Bashful Bandit, a monthly event devoted to 1990s metal music videos. Local DJs took turns playing everything from Metallica to Rob Zombie to Rage Against the Machine.

The dress code was leather, dyed hair and piercings. Apparently we didn’t get the memo, as we sat there in long-sleeve flannel shirts and jeans.

“You’re lucky you didn’t come on bike night,” a man in a hooded sweatshirt at the bar says. “They probably would have asked you to leave.”

He asked me what we’re doing at the Bandit, so I let him know that we’re both journalism students. Erin, who is 4-foot-11 and maybe pushing 90 pounds, picked the biker bar out of a hat for an observation story for her features class. She naturally didn’t want to go alone, so she asked me to accompany her. I told him that I agreed to go along with her because I had never been in a biker bar and figured it would make for an interesting travel piece.

My answer led to an intoxicated ramble about his favorite writer, Hunter S. Thompson, and his favorite book, “Where the Buffalo Roam.”

But we also talked a little bit about what I knew about bike culture. I told him the only experience I’ve had with biker gangs was while I was editor-in-chief for the Tombstone Epitaph. We ran a couple stories about how the gangs use the historic town as a gathering point, which was received with mixed reaction from the townsfolk.

I told him I felt Tombstone was an odd meeting place for bike gangs, but he promptly disagreed. He explained how the biker culture is about history, friendship and the open road. Tombstone makes sense because it’s an easy drive from Tucson and is filled with culture.

The man then hopped on his red street bicycle and disappeared out the back door. Erin, who remained mostly quiet as she observed the bar and its patrons, exhaled as he left.

Erin and I stayed a little bit longer, still feeling like outsiders, ready just in case of a confrontation. But by the end of the night, nobody had asked us to leave and, for the most part, everyone left us alone. The bar’s boxing video game, which allows guests to see how hard they can hit a punching bag, even went untouched.

Everybody was just having a good time and hanging out with first-class company. One group of people who came to the bar for tequila shots was talking about their kids. Another group asked Dave his whereabouts on New Year’s Eve, notifying him that they missed him.

When I asked about a chalkboard bracket on the south wall, Dave invited us back for the bar’s beer pong tournaments, which are held the last Saturday of every month.

It’s safe to say our perceptions of the bike culture were stolen by the Bashful Bandit.

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 501B: Travel Writing class.

Industry Trends

A recent trend has seen the move of news companies to putting content behind paywalls. As a result, some content has become unavailable to readers who are not willing to pay to read the news.

This creates a dilemma for journalism companies. Should they offer their news for free, or attempt to make money off the news by putting it behind paywalls?

To view the whole presentation, click here.

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 505: Media Apprenticeship class.

The forgotten man behind Biosphere 2

University of Arizona journalism professor Carol Schwalbe, left, speaks with Russian film presenter Peter Romanov at Biosphere 2 on Friday, Oct. 10, 2014, in Oracle, Arizona. Romanov, along with co-director Alexey Shutov, right, and director of photography Nikolai Orlov, are making a documentary about the life of geologist Vladimir Vernadsky. (Photo by Justin Sayers)

University of Arizona journalism professor Carol Schwalbe, left, speaks with Russian film presenter Peter Romanov at Biosphere 2 on Friday, Oct. 10, 2014, in Oracle, Arizona. Romanov, along with co-director Alexey Shutov, right, and director of photography Nikolai Orlov, are making a documentary about the life of geologist Vladimir Vernadsky. (Photo by Justin Sayers)

The “grandfather” of Biosphere 2 is finally getting his due.

Vladimir Vernadsky, a scientist who made contributions to the fields of geochemistry and biogeochemistry, usually isn’t mentioned in the same breath as Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton or Galileo. But the inventor of the concept of biosphere is the subject of a documentary in honor of the 150th anniversary of his birth. The film, which was commissioned by the Russian Geographical Society, is being shot by a Russian film crew.

The crew, which consists of co-director Alexey Shutov, film presenter and geologist Peter Romanov and director of photography Nikolai Orlov, recently spent four days filming at Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona. The University of Arizona-owned facility serves as a giant vivarium where researchers conduct Earth systems experiments.

The film crew stayed in casitas at the facility and spent all day shooting, only taking breaks for meals and sleep.

A fourth member of the crew, co-director Julia Kolesnik, stayed back in Moscow, Russia, to tend to her 3-month-old son.

The film crew approached Biosphere 2 about filming at the facility. Biosphere 2 typically authorizes only five or six filmmakers a year. Roughly 20 groups have shot here since the University of Arizona took over the facility in 2007.

The documentary should be done by winter 2015 and will be shown on Russian television, Romanov said.

The documentary has taken the crew to France, where Vernadsky worked and lived and wrote a number of his most famous books, and parts of Russia. But Arizona was different because it has a mystical aspect: Vernadsky predicted in his memoirs that something like Biosphere 2 would be built in the States.

Defining Biosphere

Vladimir Vernadsky was born in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, on March 12, 1863. His father was a Ukrainian political economy professor, his mother a Russian noblewoman. Vernadsky graduated from Saint Petersburg University in 1885 and entered the field of mineralogy.

It was during this time that he developed the idea of “biosphere,” a term that was created by Austrian geologist Eduard Suess in 1875. Biosphere refers to the thin envelope of water, oxygen, food and energy sources that living beings survive on, said Matt Adamson, assistant to the director of Biosphere 2. In other words, it’s a summation of the Earth’s ecosystems.

“Many people who work in this area say he’s the father of the term ‘biosphere,’” Adamson said. “He’s the one who coined it.”

Vernadsky built on Suess’ concept and theorized that the resources that make up Earth’s ecosystems, like water, atmosphere and land, are finite. “He essentially defined the Earth as a closed system,” Adamson said.

Vernadsky’s research inspired Claire Folsom, a scientist at the University of Washington in the 1960s. Folsom conducted research in ecospheres, or tiny, sealed glass vessels. Ecospheres, which are essentially aquarium-sized miniatures of the Earth, were the predecessors of Biosphere 2.

Although Vernadsky died in 1945, Biosphere 2 was created with his theories and principles in mind, Adamson said. Construction of the facility began in 1987 and was completed in 1991.

Vernadsky probably isn’t mentioned in the same breath as top scientists because his research affects a specialized audience. “His science is esoteric enough because it’s not the first thing you’re going to be teaching,” Adamson said. “He’s enough of a niche scientist, so you’d have to get pretty deep into science education before you run across him.”

Long-Lasting Impact

Vernadsky’s research was holistic, looking at how both ecosystems and humans played a role in evolution. His integrative approach was not widely accepted during his day but has become the basis for research at many places around the world, including Biosphere 2.

Vernadsky’s ability to “foresee the perspective” and be a step ahead of his co-workers stemmed from his broad background in science, said co-director Julia Kolesnik. Even today, his scientific value is seen in many fields, including mineralogy, radiology, biosphere studies, geochemistry and biogeochemistry, a scientific discipline he created.

Dragos Zaharescu, a postdoctoral researcher at Biosphere 2, is working on a project that looks at how plant-microbe interactions affect the weathering of four rock types: basalt, granite, schist and rhyolite. The research is helping fill a hole in how physical forces combined with plants, bacteria and fungi result in the weathering of primary minerals and the formation of soil.

As a result, Zaharescu said that if he could bring one person, living or dead, to Biosphere 2, he would choose Vernadsky. “He was the first person who saw Earth as a whole living organism,” Zaharescu said.

Mystery Man

Kolesnik came across Vernadsky’s work while she was studying geography at Moscow State University. She has watched a number of documentaries about the researcher and found that there were too many missing parts of his life and heritage.

A lot of those holes stem from the mysterious aspect of Vernadsky, whose work in some areas is still being deciphered.

For example, Vernadsky also created the term noosphere, which refers to the third stage of life in the development of Earth. It follows geosphere, or inanimate matter, and biosphere, or biological life. The first two stages represent life and cognition, the two factors responsible for Earth’s evolution.

Although he invented the concept of noosphere in the 1920s, it still isn’t fully understood by the scientific community.

Kolesnik said she took on the documentary not only to fill the holes about Vernadsky’s life but also to inspire researchers to revisit his discoveries and show their continued relevance today.

“In Russia the figure of Vernadsky is at the moment sort of static, as if made of stone,” Kolesnik said via email. “Behind the name and monuments, the actual person and his doings are lost. I hope with our film we’d be able to show a live person and alive ideas and create interest for the modern science.”

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 572: Science Journalism class.

Public health chief finds balance in his life

Dr. Francisco Garcia, director of the Pima County Health Department, sits in his office on Monday, Sept. 28, 2014. Garcia, who previously worked as a gynecologist and professor at the University of Arizona, took this position in . (Photograph by Justin Sayers)

Dr. Francisco Garcia, director of the Pima County Health Department, sits in his office on Monday, Sept. 28, 2014. Garcia, who previously worked as a gynecologist and professor at the University of Arizona, took this position in Jan. 2013. (Photograph by Justin Sayers)

When Dr. Francisco Garcia turns around to enjoy the view of Kino Sports Complex from the window of his second-floor office, he’s greeted by a picture on the sill of three of the most important people to him: his wife, Amy Schneider, and their two sons, 8-year-old Diego and 5-year-old Marco. Turning back around, he sees photos of two more familiar faces—Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, a duo whose social justice work inspired Garcia in his professional career.

“It’s really easy to lose what’s important unless you have it in front of you,” he said.

Balancing his professional and personal life is just one of the many challenges Garcia faces every day as director of the Pima County Health Department.

New Requirements

Garcia has been the county’s public health chief since January 2013. At work, he’s in charge of more than 350 employees who control everything from animal care to restaurant inspections to disease control. At home, he’s in charge of helping his two boys with their homework.

But while both aspects of his life are important, he makes sure to keep them separate. “My family is my family, and they’re obviously really important to me, but that’s a completely different kind of thing,” he said.

After Garcia drops his kids off at Davis Bilingual Magnet School each morning, he makes his way to his office and grabs the electronic device closest to him. He looks at 100 to 200 unread emails requesting assistance and triages them by importance.

Then it’s problem-solving time. “My days are usually full of meetings with different partners, with our clinicians, with our teams here,” he said. “My life is one giant meeting.”

A New Challenge

Right now Pima County is experiencing an outbreak of syphilis, according to Garcia. By August, 77 cases had been reported, which is more than twice as many as last year and more than three times as many as the year before.

Garcia’s job is to figure out why that’s happening and what the health department can do to combat an outbreak. “We try to understand why those things happen and put them within the context of what’s going on nationally and regionally,” he said. “Then we try to develop an approach to how to address those kinds of things. That’s what the challenge is.”

The health department has found that the majority of those affected by syphilis are men who have sex with men. As a result, the department has focused its attention on raising awareness on homosexual dating sites and by having bartenders at predominantly gay bars wear syphilis awareness T-shirts.

It’s similar to the action he took last year when whooping cough broke out at an elementary school in the Vail School District. Garcia had to keep children without immunizations away from school for 21 days. It wasn’t meant to be punitive, he said, but rather to prevent an illness from spreading to youngsters who could die from whooping cough.

Returning To His Roots

Garcia’s administrative job is very different from his previous position running the family and child health graduate program in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona. He held that post from 1998 until 2013. Before that, he trained medical students and residents as obstetricians and gynecologists.

Dr. Elizabeth Jacobs, a UA professor who knows Garcia from their time together on the faculty of the College of Public Health, regards him as a role model. “He is truly dedicated to improving the health of all residents of Pima County,” she said via email.

Jacobs praised Garcia as a great mentor to young researchers. “He has a very impressive research record in addressing health disparities, and he is very active in trying to promote vaccinations in Pima County and the state.”

Garcia’s research at UA focused on women’s reproductive health, specifically cervical cancer and prevention. “I’m most proud that I was awarded a distinguished professor title because it means that my research has value and has value for the institution,” he said.

But his background is in public health. Garcia earned a masters’ degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University, but he always had an itch to return to his roots. He also worked as a health policy staffer on Capitol Hill during the latter years of George H.W. Bush’s presidency.

Since then, he has kept the pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy on his desk. Both men emphasized the impact that individuals can have on society and how public health intervention can level the playing field. “Everything that I do has been motivated by what these two gentlemen wrote,” Garcia said.

Garcia was approached about becoming director of the Pima County Health Department about five years ago, but he wasn’t ready for a big career change at the time.

But it was different this time. “I had the opportunity to look into this new set of challenges, and it was a good opportunity, so I took it,” he said. “The reason I took it was because of the opportunity to use other tools in my toolbox,” specifically his public policy background.

Garcia has no regrets about making such a big decision. “I get to wake up every morning and get to think about how to make this jurisdiction a healthier, more livable community,” he said. “I just can’t be happier than to do that.”

As for his family, he’s thinking about them too.

“I have two little ones,” Garcia said, “and I want to leave them in a community that is healthy.”

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 572: Science Journalism class.

There’s Something in the Water

When I was 10, my family took one of our triannual trips to Mammoth Lakes, California, a mountain town about 300 miles from our home in Los Angeles. One day we went fishing for rainbow trout on Lake George, bluer than usual after a big winter snowfall. Fishing pole in hand, I suddenly felt a tug on my line. I frantically began reeling — at the time, the only thing I really knew how to do when it came to fishing — until my sister, Erin, screamed.

Something speckled and slippery emerged from the reflections of the brown peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Before I knew it, my grandma had pulled out her Kodak, and I was immortalized in a photograph with a 14-inch, 1-pound rainbow trout.

Until my three older sisters and I moved on to college, my family would vacation at our condo in Mammoth Lakes as a family three times a year — twice in the winter and once in the summer. My grandmother, who would always come along, passed away in 2006.

Mammoth has always offered an escape from the fast-paced, big-city lifestyle that I’ve been accustomed to my entire life. Spending a week in the fresh mountain air every few months cleans out the smog from my lungs.

I will always remember waking up to the smell of French toast, turkey bacon and eggs. After going upstairs to the middle floor of our condo, I’d find my grandma, spatula in hand, in the kitchen.

While she didn’t participate in all the outdoor activities, she always made sure we had a big meal to get us ready for the day. Once we were done eating, she’d take her spot on the couch and watch The Price Is Right.

Breakfast duty is now the property of my dad and Erin, who is a professional chef.

The day is spent mostly outside, starting with a morning game of tennis and ending with a late-night dip in the Jacuzzi and stargazing. Winter trips consist of dressing up like a marshmallow and hitting the slopes.

Stargazing used to be led by grandma, who would take us outside and point out the constellations, everything from Orion’s belt to the big dipper. Spending the first 18 years of my life in the second-most populated city in the country, seeing stars still doesn’t get old.

Just over a month ago, I was back at Lake George with my dad and Erin when I felt a familiar tug. I grabbed the pole and began to reel in. At the end of my hook was a recognizable sight. For the third time that day I handed Erin my Droid Razr and she took a picture.

We ended that day with a half-hour in the Jacuzzi. We were looking up at the stars on the 200-foot walk back to our condo when my sister Amanda said, “You know who I always think about when we’re here?” I did.

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 572: Science Journalism class.

Career Plan

“For college seniors, the prospect of graduating and entering the professional world is increasingly becoming a reality. After four years of college, students have to make the decision of whether or not they want to enter the workforce or further their career prospects by attending graduate school. In terms of finding a job, they have to decide whether or not they want to pursue a job in the field they got their degree in, or do something completely different. A lot of these decisions are based on weighing the potential monetary compensation of each profession, but it also depends on lifestyle, work activities and work hours.”

To read the full essay, click here.

Note: This assignment was completed for my Family and Consumer Sciences 302: Family and Consumer Personal Finance class.

Industry Trends

A recent trend has seen the public prefer to receive their news from a “biased” media source. As a result, journalists are playing less of a role in reporting the news, tailoring to their viewers and letting them decide what they should report on.

If you compare the least-trusted news networks with the most-watched cable news networks, you can see that MSNBC and Fox News are found towards the top of both lists. The big problem is that news programs are only reciting news and not contextualizing it, which is leading to an “uninformed public.” This was largely seen during the 2012 Presidential Election, which was one of the most negative elections recorded by the Pew Research Center.

This creates the dilemma of what journalists should do. Should they stick to the principles of journalism or tailor information to their viewers?

To view the whole presentation, click here.

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 405: Study of News: The Newspaper Apprenticeship class.