Monday, November 23, 2009

Students Help Homeless Move Life Forward

By David Staudacher, Rio Salado College PR Manager, 480.517.8472

Every night, the Central Arizona Shelter Services (CASS) helps hundreds of homeless individuals by offering them a safe place to sleep. While CASS is known for its beds, the shelter offers many additional services to help the underprivileged get their lives back on track. One of those services is free dental care. CASS’s dental clinic treats approximately 5,000 to 6,000 patients annually, with the help of generous donors and volunteers. Among the volunteers are instructors and students from Rio Salado College’s School of Dental Hygiene, who visit the clinic twice a week.

"I have a soft spot in my heart for the homeless," said Rio Salado School of Dental Hygiene student Emily Miller-Lehr, of Tempe. "I had actually volunteered for CASS before I was a Rio student so I kind of knew what I was getting into.”

At the clinic, Rio Salado’s hygienists clean teeth and take on the responsibility of teaching patients appropriate oral hygiene techniques and counseling them regarding good nutrition and its impact on oral health.

"Our homeless population — between the poor hygiene and nutrition — really, really need a good cleaning, and that is one of the biggest issues we have here," said Annette Chun, CASS Dental Clinic manager. "The partnership with Rio Salado helps get these patients that come through here the professional cleaning that they wouldn't otherwise be able to get."

For some homeless individuals, the dental treatment goes beyond a cleaning. Often, it is the difference between getting a job and getting rejected.

“I had a patient that I think it had been 10 years since she said she had been to a dentist, and it was nice to help her out,” said Miller-Lehr. “She was a great patient. She‘s recovering from homelessness, so she’s going into the workforce and [CASS is] working on getting her a stable place to live. So it’s looking really good for her.”

According to CASS Dental Clinic Director Kris Volcheck, the path to a homeless patient’s success starts with the Rio Salado students.

"At the base of everything we do is hygiene," said Volcheck. "I'm not going to do a $20,000 makeover if that person is not keeping up with their hygiene on a daily basis. The hygiene students are really at the core of what we're doing here for prevention and for continued oral health. They start with them, and those students give us a consistent supply of cleanings for our patients. Without that I can't really proceed to the next level of fillings, crown and bridge.”
“Their being in on a weekly basis allows me to schedule most of our clients on a timely manner and then move them on to the other parts of dentistry,” he said. “So it's absolutely critical that they are in [the clinic].”

Besides volunteering at CASS, the students perform low-cost cleanings on patients for $25 at the Rio Salado College School of Dental Hygiene, 1150 E. Washington St., Phoenix.

To learn more about Rio Salado College's Dental Hygiene program, visit or call (480) 517-8020. To learn more about CASS and how you can help, visit

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Scholarships for 50+ Teacher Program Available

Rio Salado College's Teacher Education Program has scholarships available through the Helios Scholarship Program for the 2009-2010 50+ Encore Program.

Awards range from $500 to $1000, and will be made available through college financial aid offices. An individual may receive the scholarship award only once per academic year. Award available for distribution by December 15th, 2009 and must be used before February 1, 2010.

Each applicant must meet all of the following eligibility requirements. The applicant must:

1. Be at least 50 years of age and able to provide verification
2. Enroll at Rio Salado College
3. Be a U.S. citizen or eligible U.S. permanent resident
4. Be able to provide proof of residency in Arizona
5. Be enrolled in and maintain a minimum of six semester credits
6. Possess a bachelor’s degree from a Regionally Accredited

View the scholarship application.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Have A Question? Text a Rio Librarian

By David Staudacher, Rio Salado College PR Manager

Why is the sky blue?
Why did the Berlin Wall fall?
What is the average circumference of a human head?

The answers to these questions and many more can all be found with a little research. But for college students on the go and in need of a reliable source, they can find the answers quickly by text messaging their questions to My Info Quest: Text 4 Answers, where a librarian will answer the question within 10 minutes.

On certain days, the answers may come from a Rio Salado College or Paradise Valley Community College librarian, where the program is called ASK! Txt 4 Answers.

Rio Salado librarians Karen Docherty and Janelle Underhill and Paradise Valley librarian Shelle Witten are taking part in the pilot program, which is a free text messaging reference project consisting of more than 50 libraries across the country. All of the participating librarians contribute to the project for a combined effort to answer questions for thousands of students at the participating colleges.

Like the other librarians, Docherty, Underhill and Witten only work two hours a week toward the project, but their students can use the service from Monday through Friday, 6 a.m.-8 p.m. and Saturday, 7 a.m.-3 p.m.

To keep the program costs low and efficient, the librarians are not using cell phones to answer questions. They log onto a project Web site e-mail account to receive questions and provide answers.

“This program really expands our services,” said Karen Docherty, virtual reference coordinator at Rio Salado College. “We contribute a couple hours a week, and in return our students are benefitting with more support.”

The idea for the program came about out of necessity. The average number of text messages by wireless phone users age 18-24 is 790 a month according to a report by Nielsen, the media and marketing information company. The report shows that future college students who are 13-17 years old are texting more than any other demographic with 2,900 messages a month.

“People are now sending more text messages than they are making cell phone calls,” said Docherty. “This is a different way of helping people get the answers they need, wherever they are at, with professional assistance.”

During September, there were more than 645 messages exchanged between librarians and students, which is nearly a three-fold increase from August. According to Docherty, the librarians are on pace to answer more questions than September.

“College students need quick answers,” said Docherty. “Now, they have a new resource at their fingertips, and at the rate they are texting this is good timing to start this program.”

To submit a question, text it to (309) 222-7740 with Rio Salado College’s library code RSC. To learn more about Rio Salado College or the Ask! Txt 4 Answers program, please visit

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Communiversity, LLC Named Best of the West

Rio Salado College was a big winner last week during Westmarc’s 17th annual Best of the West Awards taking. The Communiversity @ Surprise and the Lifelong Learning Center won first-place awards, while the Rio Salado operated El Mirage Mayor’s Adult Basic Education Academy received an honorable mention.

The Best of the West awards recognize outstanding contributions to the image, lifestyle and economic development of the West Valley.

PHOTO: Celebrating their wins during the Best of the West Awards ceremony are: (from left) Dr. Chris Bustamante, Sherry Bargo, City of Surprise Mayor Lyn Truitt, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, President Linda Thor, Dr. Todd Aakhus, and Miryam Gutier-Brown. Gov. Brewer received the John F. Long Lifetime Achievement Award.

See a complete list of winners and slide show HERE.

November's Excellence in Education Winner Awarded

Heritage Academy teacher Rick Dalton was named the November Excellence in Education Award winner from Rio Salado College and KEZ 99.9 FM.

Dalton received the award from KEZ's Marty Manning during a recent surprise visit to the Mesa school.

He was nominated by student Caitlin Hardwick, who said "I don't think there's another teacher anywhere out there like him, history is now my favorite class. He's one of my heroes actually. I used to be one of those kids who doesn't care about school, but he showed me that I can do so much better. He's the coolest and most interesting person I know."

Excellence in Education is KEZ 99.9 FM and Rio Salado College’s way of honoring K-12 teachers throughout the 2009-2010 school year. Students and parents of students are encouraged to nominate K-12 teachers who are excellent at their profession and have gone above-and-beyond the call of duty to make a difference in their community.

Each month, a Valley K-12 teacher will be selected from all the entries to be recognized for their outstanding contribution to education. KEZ’s Marty Manning will visit the teacher’s school to surprise them with their Excellence in Education Award. The surprise visit will be broadcast live during the Beth and Bill Show. All winning teachers are rewarded with $99, an Excellence in Education Award, KEZ Bag O’Fun, and their pictures on the Web site of KEZ!

To nominate a special teacher, please go to (keyword: "excellence").

Click HERE, to see past winners.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rio Collecting Toys for Disadvantaged Children

David Staudacher, Rio Salado College PR Manager, 480.517.8472

Rio Salado College has partnered with the Arizona-based charity Smiles for Christmas to make the holidays special for nearly 1,000 low-income students at five Valley schools.

Starting Nov. 9, Rio Salado, 2323 W. 14th St., Tempe, is collecting Lego sets, Play-Doh, and monetary donations for the children at Children’s First Academy and Thew Elementary in Tempe and three additional schools in Phoenix.

Students, instructors, staff members and the general public are invited and encouraged to participate in the three-week toy drive by dropping off donations at Rio Salado College.

“As educators, we are expected to be leaders, and the best way to lead is by example,” said Elizabeth Cole-Fay, a project coordinator at Rio Salado. “Throughout the year, Rio Salado’s participates in a variety events and programs that benefit the communities where we work and live.”

On Dec. 1, the donations collected at Rio Salado will be delivered to McClintock High School in Tempe where they will be wrapped by volunteers and distributed to the elementary school students during a holiday fair.

“Smiles for Christmas was created to help needy children in the Valley,” said Smiles for Children Founder Tom Medrano. “This has been a difficult year for many families. People are struggling to put food on the table and pay bills. Toys are definitely not the first things on the minds of family providers.”

Medrano started the charity in 2002 and provided toys for approximately 150 students at one school. Throughout the last seven years, the help has expanded to nearly 1,000 children at five schools. The drive started with high school students, but recently expanded to college students and organizations. This is Rio Salado’s first year participating in the program.

“Some of the people who participated in the event during high school contacted me to see how they could help now that they are in college,” said Medrano. “Working with colleges is the next step in the process of reaching out and helping more needy students.”

For Rio Salado, the Smiles for Christmas toy drive is just part of the college’s volunteer efforts.

Recently, school officials started working on a college-wide campaign called Pay 30 Forward. The campaign encourages employees to get involved in their communities by volunteering, participating in charity events, and helping other causes.

“Rio Salado recently marked its 30th anniversary,” said Cole-Fay. “To celebrate this milestone, we asked employees to give back to the community by volunteering at least 30 hours.”

While the 30-hour mark is linked to the 30th anniversary, it also was established after officials discovered that a large contingent of employees already volunteer throughout the Valley.

“While talking to employees we discovered that some really dedicated people are volunteering more than 30 hours a month,” said Cole-Fay. “So we came up with the 30-hour mark to make it challenging for the employees, yet still reasonable.”

For employees who want to volunteer, the college established a committee to provide opportunities like the Smiles for Christmas toy drive.

To learn more about Rio Salado College’s outreach effort and how you can get involved, visit

Friday, November 6, 2009

Rio Salado President Linda Thor Joins EDUCAUSE Board

EDUCAUSE, the association for information technology in higher education, announced the appointment of Linda Thor, president of Rio Salado College, to a four-year term on the EDUCAUSE Board of Directors effective Jan. 1, 2010. Dr. Thor’s appointment was confirmed by a unanimous vote of the board at its Nov. 2 meeting.

About the appointment, EDUCAUSE President Diana Oblinger said, “Linda Thor leads a unique institution and has a history of innovation and a wealth of experience in higher education. Under her guidance, Rio Salado College has been a national leader in the use of technology to make higher education more accessible and responsive to the needs of students and communities. That makes her the perfect person to join the EDUCAUSE board and inform the association’s efforts to advance the best interests of higher education.”

In accepting her seat, Dr. Thor commented, “I am honored to have the opportunity to serve on the EDUCAUSE Board of Directors. EDUCAUSE has contributed greatly to how colleges and universities think about and utilize technology to fulfill their missions. I look forward to working with my fellow board members to enhance the association’s outreach to institutional leaders of all types on the difference technology can make to achieving higher education’s strategic aims.”

As Rio Salado’s president, Dr. Thor heads an institution that serves some 51,000 credit and 14,000 noncredit students each year, giving it the largest enrollment among the 10 Maricopa Community Colleges serving the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. As a “college without walls,” Rio Salado specializes in serving working adults through distance learning, offering customized degrees in business and government and accelerated programs such as dual enrollment for high school students. The institution has attracted national attention for award-winning online programs in areas including postbaccalaureate teacher preparation and nursing.

Dr. Thor has served as adjunct faculty for the UCLA School of Education, Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology, and Rio Salado College. She currently teaches for Northern Arizona University at the master’s and doctoral levels. She also serves as a member of the American Council on Education (ACE) Commission on Lifelong Learning and the Executive Council of the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications (WCET).

Dr. Thor holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Pepperdine University, a master’s in public administration from California State University, Los Angeles, and the doctor of education degree in community college administration from Pepperdine.
Linda Bird
Executive Assistant to President Thor
Rio Salado College
Jarret Cummings
Special Assistant to the President

Monday, November 2, 2009

Visually Impaired Student Finds New Life Through Rio Salado

By David Staudacher, Rio Salado College PR Manager

"I quit high school because I was embarrassed about my vision problems," said Deitrick Fields "I wore big glasses and I was still bumping in to things and people. I was too embarrassed to ask for help, and chose to quit school instead."

That was the attitude Fields had when he was a freshman in high school. Today, Fields, 32, has a more positive attitude toward school and life.

"Now, I'm loving school. I earned my GED (General Education Development certificate) and I’m starting college classes," said Fields. "My goal is to get a degree in broadcasting."

Like thousands of students, Fields’ path to earning his GED started at Tempe-based Rio Salado College. The majority of students who turn to Rio Salado for help preparing for the GED exam have obstacles to overcome that have kept them from completing high school. For Fields, the obstacle is blindness.

Finding a school that could cater to his disability added an extra obstacle. He tried one school, but found the technology outdated and the lack of instructor support daunting. On the verge of giving up again, he found Rio Salado College, where he got the help he needed with online classes.

"I started with a different school, but it wasn't keeping my attention," said Fields. "I contacted other schools, but they didn't know what to do with me. I looked into Rio Salado and they got me started in classes immediately."

The prompt help came from Rio’s Disability Resources and Services department, which is set up to help students like Fields.

“We provide a variety of resources and services to promote a successful learning experience for students with disabilities,” said Terry Ferra, Disability Resources and Services manager at Rio Salado College. “Depending upon the disability and the resources we have available, students with documented disabilities may receive accommodations such as sign language interpreters, text in alternative format, and extended test taking time, to name a few.”

Material resources were only part of the support he received from the college.

"Rio's classes were great," said Fields. "And, anytime I needed Terry’s help, she was a simple phone call away. I also found tutoring help, and the teachers were easy to talk too. I found the classes very accommodating to my needs."

While Fields is proud to say he earned his degree, he isn’t afraid to talk about his experience. He is using it to help motivate people in his situation.

“I try to motivate others like me," said Fields. I meet a lot of people who are visually impaired and want to give up. But I tell them they can't quit. There is a help out there and anything is possible."

In the last two years, Fields turned his life around by earning his high school diploma, which led to a new job, and he’s starting college with a very positive outlook on life.

"I have a new attitude toward school and life and there is nothing I can't accomplish," said Fields. "Things are coming together the way I always wanted them to be.”

For more information about Rio Salado College’s Disability Services, visit