UA student-athletes find academic success despite low graduation rates

Every weekday, University of Arizona senior Alex Weatherly wakes up at 7 a.m. to make herself a big breakfast before her classes begin at 9 a.m. At around noon, the 22-year-old physiology major works out, runs errands and eats lunch before returning to campus in the afternoon. When she finally finishes with school around 5 p.m., Weatherly returns home and does homework, fills out job applications and eats dinner before falling asleep around 10 p.m.

When you look at Weatherly’s daily routine, her schedule seems typical for any college senior. Therefore people are shocked to find out that the 5-foot-7, blue-eyed blonde with a 4.0 GPA is a member of the school’s track and field team.

“I take it as a compliment when people tell me they didn’t know that I was an athlete and that I was this smart,” Weatherly said.

After a strong high school athletic career at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Weatherly was offered a chance to walk-on the track and field teams at either Arizona State University or the University of Arizona. She picked the UA because she wanted to move away from home, but also because her work in the classroom earned her a full academic scholarship at the university.

Weatherly enrolled at the UA in 2009, taking the first year off to focus on academics before joining the indoor and outdoor track and field teams in 2010. After redshirting her first season, Weatherly competed in pole vault as a redshirt freshman and sophomore. After a lackluster debut season, she rebounded as a redshirt sophomore, earning a spot on the 2012 All-Pac-12 team and getting a chance to compete at the Pac-12 Championships. However, she was unable to get a chance to build off that success, as she missed her entire redshirt junior season with a broken bone in her foot.

Meanwhile, her work in the classroom earned her a spot on the 2012 Pac-12 All-Academic First Team and the 2012 MPSF All-Academic Team. Despite having one more year of eligibility left, she decided that she would rather graduate and start a non-athletic professional career than continue to compete collegiately.

“We can’t all be Brigetta Barrett,” Weatherly said, referring to her teammate who won a silver medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics. “I’m not as good as her, so it just doesn’t make sense. It’s more feasible to continue on in some other path.”

More and more, the roughly 450,000 student-athletes across the country are disproving the notion that athletes only go to college for sports. The dumb jock stereotype is almost non-existent as student-athletes are using their athletic scholarships to earn college degrees.

According to the NCAA, the percentages of college baseball, football, men’s ice hockey, men’s basketball, men’s soccer and women’s basketball players who go on to play professionally are 11.6 percent, 1.7 percent, 1.3 percent, 1.2 percent, 1 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively.

Realizing how low these numbers are, the NCAA has made a concentrated effort over the past decade to encourage universities to place a stronger emphasis on academics. In order to evaluate schools’ academic achievements, they use the graduation success rate, which measures the proportion of student-athletes who earn a degree within six years of enrolling at their university.

According to the 2012 graduation success rate figures, 81 percent of athletes who entered school between 2002-2003 in 2005-2006 graduated in six years or less, which is one percentage point less than the record set last year. In addition, the graduation success rate of the two most popular sports, men’s basketball and football, sit at 74 percent 70 percent, respectively. These numbers have increased 18 percentage points and 7 percentage points over the past 11 years, respectively.

While the NCAA is extremely encouraged by the overall improvements in these numbers, many schools are still struggling to graduate their student-athletes.

The University of Arizona’s graduation success rate is well below average, sitting at 68 percent for student-athletes in all sports, as well as 57 percent for football players and 54 percent for men’s basketball players.

UA GSR Compared to NCAA

“We did not get into that position overnight and we won’t get out of it overnight,” said University of Arizona Athletic Director Greg Byrne. “We have been making steady and significant process over the last several years.”

The UA not only is below average compared to the entire NCAA, but also sit last among the schools in the Pac-12 Conference.

UA GSR Compared to Pac-12

However, comparing the University of Arizona’s numbers to a conference that includes nationally recognized academic universities like Stanford, UCLA, USC and UC-Berkeley might be unfair to the UA.

A more telling way to evaluate graduation success of student-athletes would be to compare its data to the University of Arizona’s peer institutions. However, the UA also ranks last among the group of 16 universities.

UA GSR Compared to Peer Institutions

“Of course we want our numbers to be higher and we are working towards this end,” Byrne said.

While Byrne is extremely concerned by the low numbers, he does not feel that the graduation success rate model is an accurate depiction of the University of Arizona’s athletic department.

One problem that Byrne has with the calculations is that the data comes from students who were at the university during the time of previous Athletic Director Jim Livengood. Byrne, who joined the UA in 2010, will not be able to see data from student-athletes from his tenure until 2020.

“For the past five years, we have made a concerted effort to improve our graduation success rate, but the data reflecting that commitment will not be available for another few years,” Byrne said.

Another problem with the graduation success rate is that it does not accurately account for players who transferred away from the program or left early to turn professional.

For example, the most recent graduation success rate for the UA baseball team was 20 percent, which ranked last in the NCAA and more than 20 percentage points below the school with second lowest rate. However, 12 freshmen that joined the team during the four-year period transferred, another 12 left after their junior year to enter the MLB Draft and another three players left the team due to other reasons. This list also does not include Lee Franklin, who died in 2006 from leukemia.

A more accurate way to determine recent academic success is the academic progress rate. The academic progress rate is different than the graduation success rate because it factors in retention rates by calculating a student-athlete’s academic achievements during their time at the university. The rates are then put on a 1,000-point scale, with 1,000 being a perfect score and 925 being about the equivalent of a 50 percent graduation rate. Last year, 17 out of the University of Arizona’s 18 teams had an academic progress rate of over 930, which is considered above the national average.

While Byrne does not want to discredit the low graduation success rate numbers, he believes that the academic progress rate scores, as well as the academic achievements of student-athletes, show that student-athletes are right in line with the general student population.

Each school year, the athletic department holds an annual banquet to recognize student-athletes’ academic success. According to Byrne, last year roughly 50 percent of student-athletes qualified for the department’s Academic Champions Award, which is given to student-athletes who had a cumulative 3.0 GPA or higher during the entire school year. In addition, another 18 had a 4.0 GPA and three senior athletes were valedictorians.

Also, for freshmen students who enrolled at the University of Arizona for the 2005-2006 school year, the federal graduation rate was 61 percent for regular students and student-athletes. This means that student-athletes are achieving the same graduation success as the general student population.

Disregarding statistics, Byrne feels that the athletic department has made a lot of progress, but is not quite where it wants to be.

“Our number one goal in our five defining principles as a department is for our student-athletes to graduate,” Byrne said. “Our ultimate goal is to graduate 100 percent of our student-athletes.”

While the general student population at the University of Arizona might feel that student-athletes have an easier road to graduation due to all the help they receive, members of the athletic department point out that athletes are actually held to a higher academic standard than non-athletes.

Assistant Director for Internal Operations Jennifer Mewes, who serves as an academic counselor for the baseball, golf and swimming teams, says student-athletes are required to participate in an average of six hours of supervised study hall every week. Also, every student-athlete that is enrolled in math, English or Spanish classes are required to regularly meet with a tutor. These rules are stricter for freshmen athletes, as they have increased study hall hours and are required to see their academic counselor every week.

“The goal is for a balance between athletics and academics,” Greg Byrne said. “What we ask from our student-athletes from a time stand point is significant, so academic support is critical to their success.”

Mewes also points to the athletic department’s strict attendance policy, which suspends athletes from practices and games if they miss more than three classes in the same subject. The athletic department sends representatives at the beginning of class to make sure the student-athletes are present.

These athletic department-mandated requirements are in addition to the NCAA’s requirements, which state that all student-athletes with below a 2.0 GPA are ineligible for competition.

“Student-athletes are very similar to students who have full-time jobs,” Mewes said. “They’re trying to manage their class schedule with their practice schedule or their job schedule.”

In order to help with academic constraints, the athletic department provides peer counseling to help develop useful life skills.

The C.A.T.S. Life Skills Program for athletes helps students prepare for a future, whether it is in sports or not. Student-athletes are required to meet with their academic counselors and Becky Bell, the head of the program, regularly to discuss the athletes’ personal development, career development and community service.

“What I do is I ask them where they see themselves right now, where they see themselves in five years and where they see themselves in the future,” Mewes said. “That way I can focus on helping them think more long-term.”

Other useful services that the athletic department provides student-athletes include time management workshops, which teach athletes how to manage homework while travelling to away games and meets. The athletic department also provides 12 hours of office hours with faculty mentors as part of the University of Arizona’s Faculty Fellow program, where students can talk to faculty members about anything.

“I think the athletic department has done a really, really good job,” Alex Weatherly said. “It would be impossible to fail because they’d catch you before that could happen.”

What non-athletes can point to is NCAA’s Academic-Eligibility Requirements, which are much lower for student-athletes. According to the NCAA’s annual guide for incoming freshmen, student-athletes with a 3.4 GPA (the mean GPA for incoming UA freshman) only need a 460 on their SAT, based on a 1600-point scale. The average SAT score for the middle 50 percent of UA students is an 1100, according to the UA Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

However, Mewes and her colleagues believe that incoming grades should be ignored in favor of grades that are recorded at the university level. According to her, the life and academic skills that student-athletes learn in college are much more beneficial for their futures. And hopefully through the services they provide them, they are able to take those skills and apply them to their daily lives.

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

As she prepares to graduate, Alex Weatherly keeps this Eleanor Roosevelt quote saved in her phone as a reminder of her college experience.

“I’ve learned in college that my favorite people are the ones who can discuss the world around them,” Weatherly said.

Next year, Weatherly will be working with a doctor, either at the University Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz. or the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., before she applies to medical school. Her ultimate goal is to become a neurosurgeon as neurophysiology classes were her favorite at the university.

While there were some days where Weatherly was overwhelmed because of classes, track and field practice and school work, she feels that being able to be a student-athlete was a unique experience that she will cherish the rest of her life.

“It was easily the best four years of my life,” Weatherly said. “I’m really happy to have been able to be an athlete and a student at the same time. It was hard but it was definitely worth every 13-hour day that I spent on campus.”

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 411: Feature Writing class.

Faculty fellow serves as friend to UA students

As she shuffles across the University of Arizona campus, it’s easy to wonder if 79-year-old Donna Swaim is a grandmother visiting her grandchild at the Tucson, Ariz. campus. Wearing a white button-up blouse and black suit pants, Swaim makes her way across the mall, lunchbox in hand, and ascends the stairs to the second floor of the Nugent Building. After taking her position at a table in the Native American Student Affairs Center, she gets comfortable in her chair, takes out papers to grade and waits for anyone to come up to her and talk.

Dr. Donna Swaim has spent 49 years teaching undergraduates at the University of Arizona, serving as a lecturer in the religious studies program and college of medicine, as well as being one of the original faculty fellows. However, despite all her academic contributions to the university, it is her reputation as being a friend that has provided her the greatest sense of worth.

Four days and 10 hours a week, Swaim holds office hours where anybody can come up to her and chat. Conversations end up being about virtually anything, but they all have something in common: they make you think.

“I always tell people: I don’t have a lot of answers, but I have a lot of questions,” Swaim said.

In 1984, the University of Arizona decided to create a faculty fellows program as a way for students to interact with teachers beyond a classroom setting. The goal of the program is for professors to serve as mentors for students, helping to make the transition from high school to college and beyond easier. Swaim joined the program in 1990 after being nominated for the position by her peers. She accepted the nomination and has been working as a faculty fellow since.

“Being a faculty fellow gives me the chance to interact with undergraduate students who are really my great joy in life,” Swaim said. “It’s a chance for me to see your potential for the future. I’m 79, so you’re going to go on and accomplish things that I can’t do, but on some level I’ll know what you’re doing it and I’ll be up there cheering.”

Swaim spent time as a mentor in residence halls and fraternities, eventually settling into her current role as a faculty fellow in both the Native American Student Affairs Center and the UA athletic department.

“Donna connects with [the athletes] in such a personal way,” said Becky Bell, the associate athletic director of the C.A.T.S. Life Skills program. “Her relationships with them continue long after they’re done meeting with her. Her contributions to the program have been invaluable.”

In the athletic department, Swaim has helped athletes through the pressures of college athletics, while also helping them figure out their interests outside of sports.

“She gets them to think about life and gets them to think about themselves other than being an athlete,” Bell said. “Her impact on their lives is very long-lasting.”

Among the athletes that Swaim has helped include former football players Alex Zendejas and Matt Scott, former women’s gymnastics All-American Katie Matusik and current women’s basketball player Davellyn Whyte. Swaim likes helping athletes because she can show her support for them by attending sporting events.

“It is important to athletes when I go to their meets,” Swaim said. “My job would really be more effective if I could go to at least half their meets.”

This sports year alone, Swaim has attended football, gymnastics and women’s and men basketball games. After Matt Scott’s final home game, he introduced Swaim to his family, referring to her as his friend.

Swaim’s ability to build relationships with people a quarter of her age stems from her gift of being able to relate to people. She uses her past experiences as way to add context to people’s lives.

Donna Swaim was born Jan. 5, 1934 in Wheatland, Wyo., the youngest of five siblings. She grew up on a farm in western Nebraska and stayed in the state through college, earning a degree in history from the University of Nebraska. It was there that she met her husband, Bob, who she married before graduating.

After living in Nebraska, Albuquerque, N.M. and London and celebrating the birth of their two children, Katy, 56, and Phil, 54, the couple settled into a home in Tucson. While Bob served as an architect in the city, Donna began taking poetry classes, one at a time, at the University of Arizona. In addition to taking classes, Donna began teaching them as well, serving as a freshman English teacher and a part-time humanities professor. After three years of writing her dissertation, Swaim earned her Ph.D from the University of Arizona in 1978.

Meanwhile in 1978, the Arizona Department of Corrections decided to open a state prison complex on Wilmot Road in Tucson, with the inmates consisting non-violent, 18-25- year-old males. Right after Swaim finished her degree, a friend came to her with an interesting proposition.

According to Swaim, “He asked me, ‘Have you ever considered teaching in prison cause I know that they’re going to be hiring a lot. Why don’t you come out here and do some academic advising and some GED tutoring.’”

Both afraid that her part-time teaching job at the university would not be extended and curious of what teaching there would be like, she committed to working at the prison. Swaim was later offered a full-time job as a professor, but stuck with the job at the prison. She spent parts of the next eight years teaching one class, for university credit, at the prison as well as two classes on the UA campus.

As she spent more time at the prison, some of the inmates began approaching her asking if they could talk about their personal lives. Because she was a volunteer, they felt comfortable opening up to her as opposed to the Department of Corrections-appointed psychologist.

“They told me these things because they knew that I loved all of them,” Swaim said.

She eventually stopped working there in 1986 after developing an autoimmune disease, but it wasn’t before she learned a lot about people in general.

“Those young men taught me a lot about being human beings and I’m grateful for that,” Swaim said.

In 2003, at age 69, Swaim found out that she needed a liver transplant. She searched the country for the Mayo Clinic with the shortest wait time and eventually hopped on a plane to Jacksonville, Fla. After just 12 days in the state, Swaim received her transplant on what she likes to call her, “Re-Birthday.”

At the same time, the University of Arizona announced they were going to cut their humanities program. Luckily for Swaim, she had developed a strong reputation across

campus, which persuaded Dr. Robert Burns to allow her to teach the class out of the religious studies department. Since then, her RELI 307: Spirituality in the Arts class is one of the more popular classes on campus.

“Very caring, very outgoing, very ordered and somebody who wants people to learn how to think,” Burns said when describing Swaim. “I’ve met so many people who said she was the best teacher they ever had. She just has this way about her to make you feel important, that you’re the only person in the world.”

Next year will mark Swaim’s 50th year of undergraduate teaching at the University of Arizona. While all of her students have taken different paths, she still continues to stay in touch with a large chunk of them. One of her former students, Melissa Vito, is now the vice president of student affairs at the university.

“I was a humanities student in her class as an 18-year-old sophomore, unsure of what I wanted to do and not very motivated,” said Vito. “I turned in a mediocre paper and she wrote to me in her comments that I wasn’t living up to my potential and she wanted to meet with me. I did meet with her and rewrote the paper for an A-plus. She literally changed my life.”

While she knows her career is dwindling down, her impact on the university is not only talked about, but also physical, as there is an honors lounge in the student union and a study abroad scholarship named after her. And despite her age, she will continue to serve as a lecturer, mentor and friend until her health does not allow her to anymore.

“I always say that when I went to school, I didn’t major in teaching or psychology,” Swaim said. “I majored in human beings.”

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 411: Feature Writing class.

Photo Fridays on the University of Arizona campus

Standing in the Volkerding Print Viewing Room on the second floor of the John P. Schaefer Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona senior Naomi Davis examines Imogen Cunningham’s “The Unmade Bed” and Jack Welpott’s “Anna in Her Room.”

At first glance, there is not much to the two scenes. They are in black and white and fail to draw attention with their lack of vibrant colors. Cunningham’s photo is just a picture of slept- in mattress, while Welpott’s is a just a picture of woman sitting in her living room.

However, as Davis looks closer, the images begin to change. Creases of the slept-in sheets uncover waves of shadows, which dance off the bed and disappear into the corner of the room. A window creates a spotlight on the woman, uncovering a table that fades in and out of the darkness.

“I think they both have a really nice way of portraying a softness with light and drapery and shadows,” said Davis, a photography major at the UA.

“The Unmade Bed” and “Anna in Her Room” were just two of the works on display at the Center for Creative Photography’s monthly Photo Friday event. On the first Friday of every month, the center pulls lesser-known photographs from its collection of over 100,000 photographs to use in a theme-based exhibit.

February’s edition of Photo Friday, titled “Interiors,” detailed the interaction of spaces, objects and light, according to Cass Fey, curator of education at the center. Rotating with her fellow curators, Fey is responsible for picking the theme and selecting photos for the monthly exhibit. She came up with this month’s theme after being inspired by a photo she had stumbled upon from the collection.

“The idea of interiors is it is something closed within,” Fey said. “There’s one image that’s just a window, a curtain and light, but it’s almost other-worldly.”

According to Fey, the main goal of the monthly exhibits is to widen visitors’ thinking and perspective. The center provides the opportunity to do so by allowing guests a unique way of interacting with the center’s collection of photography.

“It was an opportunity for us to invite the public into see the photographs very close without glasses or people in front of them, in order to create a very personal experience,” Fey said.

In addition to providing visitors with a quiet one-on-one experience with the pictures, the center also sets up tables, which can be used to take notes or write about the paintings, as well as discuss them.

Tony Celentano, a student worker at the Center for Creative Photography, believes that this creates a sense of intimacy between the viewers and the works.

“It gives a chance for the public to see more work from the collection and it gives a chance for the seller to show off some of its permanent collection that otherwise doesn’t get to be seen,” Celentano said.

In addition to the Welpott and Cunningham photographs, the exhibit also featured images from Danny Lyon, Max Yavno and Jo Ann Callis, among others. Other past Photo Friday themes include “Suburbia,” “Signs and Symbols,” and Fey’s favorite, “Death.”

Trevor Hinske, a UA senior and photography major, decided to attend Photo Friday for the first time after hearing about it from the photography listserv. He cited “IRT 2, South Bronx, New York City, 1979” by Lyon as his favorite photograph in this month’s viewing.

“I just thought it was a well-composed image,” Hinske said. “It was pretty interesting and the content was, I think, visually pleasing. It also had a good narrative to it.”

Hinske frequents the events at the Center for Creative Photography, and attended both Photo Friday and Artist’s Talk with Richard Misrach in the past week.

In addition to Photo Friday and Artist’s Talk, the center sponsors a multitude of other events, including exhibits, film screenings and guest speakers. While the majority of students know the center as the location of their general education art class, the museum has featured photographs from Ansel Adams, Frida Kahlo and W. Eugene Smith.

With the lure of the big-name photographers, these events not only draw the attention of students, but from Tucson residents, as well.

After moving from New Mexico to Tucson a year ago, Tom Savage and Linda Vance have attended many events at the Center for Creative Photography. As they are both retired, the couple has time to make it out to the campus-based museum. If there is one thing the two believe the center brings to the community, it’s “class.”

“(The Creative Center for Photography) is a cut above a lot of the art you can see around town,” Vance said.

“(Art) is food for the soul, you got to have it and so many places don’t,” Savage said. “It’s cultural stimulation.”

Just as a piece of art should not be judged by its first glance, the John P. Schaefer for Creative Photography should not be judged by its appearance. After ascending the steps of the box-shaped building and entering through its’ double doors, you are transported into a world of modern photography.

And if the center can promise its visitors one thing, it is an escape from every day life and assimilation into Northern American photographic history.

You can find out more about the John P. Schaefer Center for Creative Photography on their website at

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 411: Feature Writing class.

Proposed law limiting minidorms leads to uncertainty in student living

A proposed law banning minidorms in residential Tucson areas has left students searching for housing alternatives.

Minidorms are usually defined as houses occupied by five or more unrelated people and are a common destination for students. The houses are a way for large groups of students to continue living together past their years in on-campus dormitories.

“Minidorms appeal to many students because they offer a neighborhood environment and the social interaction provided by a community of other students,” said Steffanie Kramer, the leasing and marketing manger at NorthPointe Apartments.

It is estimated that 85 percent of students at the University of Arizona, or up to 33,000 students, live off-campus, according to Iran Andrade, an employee for the University of Arizona Off Campus Housing Services.

Of these 30,000 students, about half live in houses, according to Andrade.

Andrade believes that students live in minidorms because “they like the fact that they get to live with more friends. A lot of people are not from Arizona, so it’s for comfort purposes.”

Jake Landsiedel, a UA freshman who was planning on living off-campus the rest of his time at the UA, believes that the proposed law would change his future living plans.

“If that law comes into effect, it would probably force me to move into an apartment when I would have probably lived in one of those houses,” Landsiedel said.

Steffanie Kramer agrees that it would likely cause an increase in student occupancy at apartment complexes.

“Students will still want to be close to campus and close to other students, so big apartment rental complexes will be the alternative,” she said.

Critics of the proposed law believe that there are two main targets for the proposed law: illegal immigrants and students.

It is believed that students living in minidorms are targeted because they are more likely to be prone to noise violations. However, Iran Andrade believes that this should not be a basis for a new citywide law.

“The main concern is irrelevant,” Andrade said. “Renters need to know the codes.” Cherisse Patnode, a UA freshman, feels targeted by the proposed law.

“Students are not the only ones who make noise,” Patnode said. “There are plenty of other people over the age of 30 that are making noise and having parties too.”

“It’s stupid that they would make this rule because of noise or something,” said Jake Landsiedel in agreement. “It isn’t only students in houses that are loud.”

There are plenty of alternatives to housing besides large group housing. Andrade believes apartments, duplexes, studios, guest homes and shared homes are the popular alternatives to living in houses.

“It’s all a matter of personal preference,” Andrade said. “In an apartment, you have preset luxuries. However, families like the comfort of their kids living in larger groups.”

Note: This assignment was completed in my Journalism 205: Reporting the News class.

Bike theft declining at the University of Arizona

Bike theft on the campus of the University of Arizona is down from the previous two years, according to police officials.

Joe Bermudez, a crime prevention officer who has worked for the University of

Arizona Police Department, expects bike theft, which experienced a 9 percent decrease in last year, to even out in the next couple years.

According to Bermudez, there are between 11,000 and 12,000 bikers on campus, but thieves go after, “The easiest and quickest bikes to steal.”

Over the past six years, the number of bike thefts has fluctuated, reaching a high of 423 reported bike thefts in 2009 and a reported low of 234 in 2007. There have already been a reported 182 bike thefts in 2011, which is on pace for 218 thefts, a 43 percent decrease from last year, and the lowest total in seven years.

In recent years, the University of Arizona has taken many steps to educate students on bike theft and has added a bike valet to park and protect students’ bikes.

The valet, which began at the beginning of the 2010-to-2011 school year and is free, parks approximately 100 bikes a day, said Kevin Conley, an employee for the bike valet.

“Everyone I know has had something done to their bike,” Conley said. “However, no bikes have ever been stolen from this service.”

The success of the bike valet, which is located in front of the Nugent Building on the university’s campus, has led the university to consider opening another one outside of the Eller College of Management.

However, there are other ways to lower the risk of bike theft.

“If you’re going to have a bike on campus, make sure it’s no more than $200,” Bermudez said. “We recommend the U-Lock, but layer these locks. Park it where there is foot traffic and park it in a different spot every day, even if you aren’t using it.”

The UA also recommends that students register bicycles with the university, where they are entered into an online database. If a bike is stolen, the owner can be contacted if it is found, or if the thief attempts to sell it.

While Bermudez admits that there is no way to guarantee a bike not being stolen, he feels that it is a matter of knowledge and education to aid prevention.

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 205: Reporting the News class.

Smoking is not on the rise, but tobacco use is still dangerous

Contrary to belief, tobacco is the new gateway drug, according to a University of Arizona prevention specialist.

“Tobacco is the new gateway drug, not marijuana,” said Lynn Reyes, who works for Campus Health at the UA.

According to Reyes, this is a major problem, considering cigarettes are becoming easier and easier to get a hold of.

“If someone wants to smoke, they’re going to get cigarettes,” she said. “They don’t have to sneak into a Circle K.”

Meanwhile at the University of Arizona, smoking is not on the rise. A 2011 survey of all UA students showed that the percentage of students who had smoked at least one cigarette within the previous 30 days rose to 22.1 percent from 21.7 percent in 2010.

According to Reyes, the issue is not the number of smokers, however, but rather the idea that tobacco use leads to the use of other, more dangerous drugs, like marijuana, cocaine and heroin.

Dave Wilen, a sophomore creative writing major, agrees with the assumption that tobacco is the new gateway drug.

“People smoke tobacco because it doesn’t alter your mind, so nobody really looks at it as a drug,” Wilen said. “However, it has a become a new gateway drug because marijuana isn’t everyone’s thing.”

Wilen takes steps to carefully maintain an addiction to cigarettes, like rolling his own cigarettes.

“When you consciously roll them, you pay attention to what you’re consuming,” Wilen said.

According to a 2005 study done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than two thirds of cocaine and opiate users smoked between 20 and 40 cigarettes on a daily basis. In the same study, 100 percent of cocaine users and 91.2 percent of opiate users admitted to smoking at least five cigarettes per day.

“I love smoking weed, but I smoke cigarettes to pass the time as a social thing,” said one UA freshman.

“I don’t believe tobacco is a gateway drug, but I do believe that people who smoke cigarettes are more likely to do other things,” added another UA student.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco still remains the single-largest preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States. Coupled with the idea that it leads to use of other drugs, it may be the most dangerous substance in the world today.

Note: This assignment was completed in my Journalism 205: Reporting the News class.

Overcoming difficulty through football

When you look at Jesse Ortiz you see the prototypical college student: he goes to class, enjoys working out in the gym and loves hanging out with friends. However, a quick glance of his daily schedule would not reveal Jesse’s true identity.

Jesse Ortiz is a walk-on place-kicker for the Arizona Wildcats football team, but also is a victim of the most widespread disorders in the world today.

“I was diagnosed at birth with a case of Asperger’s syndrome,” Ortiz said. “It was pretty severe.”

Despite being born with this difficult, yet increasingly common, disorder, it took over half the interview for him to reveal this to me.

“A lot of people are shocked when I tell them that I am autistic,” he said.

Jesse Ortiz and his fraternal twin Chelsea were born to parents Margaret and Manny Ortiz on May 3, 1992 in Culver City, Calif. Early in his childhood, numerous doctors told Jesse’s parents that he was not going to be able to live his life like a normal kid, and would most likely end up spending the latter parts of his life in a group home.

He eventually moved to Peoria, Ariz., where he spent time in speech classes and needed help completing courses from classroom assistants. Outside of learning, he tried his hand at soccer but was told that he was too rough for the sport.

When he reached high school age, he made a firm declaration to his parents.

“I told them that I wanted to play football because it sounded cool,” Ortiz said.

At Centennial High School, he joined the team as an offensive lineman, but found his niche in kicking almost instantly. By his senior year, he became the starting kicker on a varsity team.

He developed a good relationship with his coach, Kyle Pooler, a former Arena Football League kicker, whose aggressiveness pushed Jesse to be the best that he could be. And his performance showed, making nearly all of his extra points and a few field goals during his senior campaign.

Meanwhile, his story gained national attention when he received a nomination for the high school Rudy Awards, which are given annually to football players who overcame adversity. While he did not end up winning the award, he was one of three semi-finalists.

Inspired by his story, one of the representatives from the Rudy Awards sent a letter to Special Teams Coordinator Jeff Hammerschmidt at the University of Arizona explaining Jesse’s circumstances. They took a look at him and told him that he could try out for the team.

After grueling practices, he was offered a spot on the team’s roster.

“Right now, I don’t think I’m that good collegiately, but I think it’s because they may have seen something in me,” Ortiz said.

In an email, Coach Hammerschmidt stated that, “He has a tremendous work ethic and desire to become the best kicker he can be. His attitude is great every day.”

An education major, Jesse realizes that a professional football career is not a very realistic option, so he has already boiled down his future plans to the following: a wife, a house, kids and a job that would specifically help others.

Coach Hammerschmidt believes that “someday he will be on the field kicking for the Wildcats in some capacity.”

A very humble Jesse is “hoping I can finish my story off with a big bang, but I’m crossing my fingers.”

But regardless of what ends up happening, Jesse has a lot of people supporting and cheering for him.

Note: This assignment was completed for my Journalism 105: Principles of Journalism class.