Monday, December 28, 2009

Student Turns Class Project Into Community Awareness

By David Staudacher, Rio Salado College PR Manager

“It is because of your love and support that I am here today, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart,” said a tearful Kelly Stawarski as she addressed family, friends, teachers, and classmates during Rio Salado College’s recent nursing pinning program.

Stawarski, an honor student, was thanking everyone for supporting her during one of the most difficult times of her life — coping with the death of her 19-year-old son. Half way through the rigorous nursing program, tragedy struck the family when her son, Thomas McDermott, died in a car accident.

Overcome with grief, she considered abandoning her life-long dream of becoming a nurse. But her family, friends, classmates and teachers convinced her not to quit and stay in school. In the program, the students are required to complete a community project, and Stawarski immediately knew what she wanted to do for the project.

“In October, I spoke to students at Basha High School, where my son went to school,” said Stawarski. “Alcohol was involved in his accident. And while he wasn’t legally drunk, he also wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. These were two factors that contributed to my son dying.”

During the presentation, she displays the clothes he was wearing at the time of the accident, explains his injuries, and then shows a video of his life, which includes pictures of the accident scene. Students were so moved by her presentation that she received notes and hugs from them thanking her for telling Thomas’ story and expressing how it had impacted them. Teachers at the school were so impressed with her presentation they have asked her to come back two more times so that all students can hear Thomas’ story.

While Stawarski was only required to do one community project for the nursing program, she has decided to continue sharing the story of Thomas’ accident to students and adults. She chose to channel her grief into a community project that not only helped to her to heal, but also allowed her to use the story of Thomas’ accident as a teaching tool.

“At Rio Salado, I learned that nurses do more than care for the sick,” said Stawarski. “They look for a need in the community and look for people to help, and that is what I decided to do, too.”

Recently Stawarski accepted and invitation to bring her presentation to a Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) meeting, where she had the opportunity to address more than 250 teens and adults.

“I plan to continue speaking about Thomas’ accident and bring awareness to seatbelt safety and the dangers of drinking and driving,” said Stawarski. “I’m working with my younger son’s junior high to speak there. I would like to continue speaking at the high school and the MADD meetings, too. I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through, and if I get through to one person, it is worth it.”

To learn more about Rio Salado College, visit To have Kelly Stawarski speak at an event, please contact her at

Monday, December 21, 2009

ASU, NAU Offer Onsite Advising to Transfer Students

Rio Salado transfer students can now meet with advisors from Arizona State University (ASU) and Northern Arizona University (NAU) at Rio’s Tempe campus.

Beginning in January, advisors from both universities will be on hand twice a month to offer in-person advising services for transfer students.

“We have had long standing partnerships with these institutions and look forward to working even closer with them to provide a clear pathway from our associate degrees to the student’s chosen university major,” said David Hall, Coordinator, Advisement Services.

For more information or to set up an appointment with the university advisors please contact Rio Salado College’s Advisement office by email at or by phone at (480) 517-8580.

Program Takes Students to Nontraditional Labs

The vast majority of Rio Salado College's classes are online. But recently, a program with a variety of hybrid classes sprouted at the college. The new Sustainable Food Systems program allows students to take classes online and practice the theories they studied in a lab at Rio Salado’s main campus in Tempe.

Hybrid classes with labs are not new to Rio Salado. But for many of the classes in the Certificate of Completion in Sustainable Food Systems program, the labs are not held in a traditional classroom. The labs are hosted in the college’s café, which is currently under construction, an in Rio Salado’s new community garden.

Last week, students and instructors from the Gardening Practices and Techniques class gathered for the first lab at the community garden at the college's headquarters, 2323 W. 14th St., Tempe.
"This is a new hybrid class," said instructor Peter Conden, who teaches Gardening Practices and Techniques. "The students learn all of theory online, and then they work in the 4,400 square-foot garden to fulfill the lab section of the class."

While some students were volunteering, others were participating to complete the lab section of the class. Among the students working in the garden was Cody Boers.

“I needed a hybrid or in-person class to fulfill a requirement for the GI Bill®, so I picked this one,” said Cody Boers, a student in the Gardening Practices and Techniques who worked on the garden. “It was a surprisingly fun class. Today we prepared the garden for plants and put some of the theories that I studied to practice.”

According to Conden, the course is fun and challenging at the same time. He added that the theories the students practice in the garden will change throughout the year as the weather changes.

“The Southwest is very different from other parts of the country,” said Conden. “Students study how the climate influences what is grown in a garden, and then they have to develop a plan for that time of the year.”
The climate wasn’t the only thing the class was preparing to protect the plants from. The class secured the area to keep out local wildlife.”

“In the class, the students study ways to identify and control garden pests, such as insects, weeds and disease,” said Conden. “Since the garden is in a construction phase, we have to consider other forms of pest control. And in this case, we are adding chicken wire to keep rabbits out of the garden."

As the garden takes shape, it also will impact what is served in the new Rio Café. The items grown in the garden will be used in the culinary classes, which are part of the Sustainable Foods Program. These classes will be preparing the meals served in the café. Furthermore, the scraps from the café will be recycled in compost site next to the garden.

“The entire program is one big cohesive laboratory,” said Conden. “Students in the café and garden will work together toward a goal of zero waste.”

To learn more about Rio Salado College’s Sustainable Foods Program, visit

By David Staudacher, Rio Salado College PR Manager

Monday, December 14, 2009

Rio Salado, KEZ Surprise Tempe Teacher with Award

By David Staudacher, Rio Salado College PR Manager

Tuesday started out like any other day in Tom Huber’s math class at Marcos di Niza High School in Tempe. He talked to students, took attendance and listened to the morning announcements.
As the class prepared for an upcoming test, Huber’s day took a surprising turn when KEZ 99.9 FM’s radio personality Marty Manning announced to the entire school that Huber was named December’s Excellence in Education winner by Rio Salado College and KEZ.

“I truly appreciate how much he cares about us understanding math, and the amount of time he gives in order for that to happen,” said an anonymous student who nominated him for the award. “Mr. Huber comes to school every day at 6:30 a.m., nearly an hour and a half before school begins to help us work out any problems we have difficulty with on our homework. Not only is he patient in helping us so early every morning, Mr. Huber also explains how the concepts we are working with are used outside the textbook, in science, architecture, or even cooking. His optimistic attitude and exciting power-points really bring math even more to life!”
According to the student, Huber also supports activities outside of the classroom.

“As a football, basketball, baseball and softball coach, he truly has put in an enormous amount of hours for us,” said the student. “I am so thankful for all of the time Mr. Huber dedicates to our education in and out of the classroom.”

The students are not the only people who were proud to see Huber receive this month’s Excellence in Education award. Marcos di Niza Principal Frank Mirizio visited the teacher’s classroom as the award was delivered.

“I’ve known Mr. Huber a long time,” said Mirizio. “He taught me when I was a student here. He is a very dedicated and skillful teacher. His patience is one of his greatest virtues as he takes time to help his students.”

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

“Rio Salado College has a long tradition of community support,” said Janet Johnson, Rio Salado College’s Education department faculty chair. “As a parent & educator, I understand the time and effort it takes to truly make a different in the lives of children as well as the greater educational community. Honoring teachers with this award is another way of showing our appreciation to unsung heroes throughout the Valley.”

Huber is the fourth teacher to win an Excellence in Education award. All winning teachers are rewarded with $99, an Excellence in Education Award, KEZ Bag O’Fun, and their pictures on the KEZ and Rio Salado College Web sites. In May, one of the monthly winners will be named the educator of the year and win $999.

To nominate a teacher, please visit To learn more about Rio Salado College and the Excellence in Education program, visit

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

December's Excellence in Education Winner is ...

Marcos di Niza High School teacher Tom Huber was named the December Excellence in Education Award winner from Rio Salado College and KEZ 99.9 FM.

Huber was nominated by an anonymous who said, “I truly appreciate how much he cares about us understanding math, and the amount of time he gives in order for that to happen. His optimistic attitude and exciting power-points really bring math even more to life!”

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.

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

Click HERE, to see past winners.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dr. Thor Appointed to Chancellor Post in California

Dr. Linda M. Thor, president of Rio Salado College, will become chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District starting Feb. 16. A nationally recognized innovator in education, she will be the sixth permanent chancellor since the district's founding in 1957.

“Passion for education is what we look for in any college leader,” said Foothill-De Anza Community College District board President Betsy Bechtel. “Linda Thor's driving passion is student success, and that is evident in every conversation with her. I am confident she will help us continue to advance our commitment to quality education for every student. We are very pleased to have her join us.”

Thor's selection follows a national search for a successor to Martha Kanter, who resigned in June to become U.S. Under Secretary of Education, overseeing all of postsecondary education.

“I am honored and excited to be named the next chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, one of the nation's premier community college districts,” said Thor. “I have long admired the district for its commitment to student success, innovation and sustainability. I look forward to continuing the great legacy of Dr. Martha Kanter and the district's outstanding faculty and staff. I thank the Board of Trustees for its confidence in me. As a native Californian, it will be gratifying to again serve the people of my home state.”

Thor has worked in large, multi-college community college districts for more than 30 years-first in the Los Angeles Community College District and now in the 10-college Maricopa Community College District, the largest in the nation.

“Linda has remarkable breadth and depth as a college leader,”' said Foothill-De Anza Interim Chancellor Mike Brandy. “During her presidency, Rio Salado has earned the reputation as one of the most innovative colleges in the country. Linda has led the effort to develop programs and services that focus on meeting the needs of students, and has been extraordinarily successful in collaborating with a diverse group of partners to serve the educational needs of Maricopa County and beyond.”

Since Thor became president of Rio Salado in 1990, the “college without walls” has grown to serve more than 60,000 students a year. Its effective use of technology to provide instruction and support services has led to increased student success and made Rio Salado a national model for delivering quality online education.

Today, about half of Rio Salado’s students are distance learners. Others attend classes at educational centers located throughout a large geographic region. These centers increasingly involve collaborations or partnerships with community organizations, local governments or other colleges and universities to provide services and share costs. In addition, Rio Salado offers customized degrees and certificates for 40 major employers and dual enrollment programs with 55 high schools.

“Linda Thor has an extensive record of innovation and has presided over remarkable growth and development at Rio Salado,” said faculty member Dolores Davison, co-chair of the chancellor search committee and president of the Foothill College Academic Senate. “Her leadership in fund-raising, developing partnerships and collaborations, and technological innovation has made Rio Salado one of the most significant colleges in the Maricopa district.”

Dr. Thor’s biography can be found at

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rio Salado Honored for Digital Technology

Rio Salado College was recently named one of the Top Ten Digital Community Colleges in the nation by Converge magazine and e.Republic’s Center for Digital Education.

Rio Salado finished 10th in the category for large colleges (7,500+ students). As Maricopa Community College District’s online college, Rio Salado serves more than 60,000 students annually.

The survey recognized community colleges that offer exceptional technology support to students and education. It covered multiple areas in digital technology, including online registration, distance learning, tutoring and advisory services, technology training and social and collaborative capabilities.

Through Rio Salado, students have 24/7 access to several online services such as financial aid, tutoring, library, bookstore, help desk support, and RioLounge, the online student union.

“In addition, Rio Salado’s custom learning management system, RioLearn, offers students access to over 550 dynamic online courses most of which students can start every Monday,” said Edward Kelty, Vice President of Information Technology.

In the last year, Rio Salado has also increased its presence in the social networking world by creating Facebook and Twitter pages, where students and the general public can follow college news and connect with other fans.

“Our survey results show that community colleges are fast embracing cyber technologies and fostering collaboration in learning by using tools in which students are familiar,” said Marina Leight, Vice President of e.Republic’s Center for Digital Education. “The institutions chosen as this year’s top community colleges are exceptional examples of the investment in learning.”

Predicting Student Success
In other technology news, Rio Salado has developed a program that helps predict which students will succeed and which ones will not.

The “predictive modeling system,” one of only a handful in the nation, takes into account dozens of variables when calculating student success. They include: online behavior, grades, enrollment history, current enrollment status, financial aid status, advisement and demographics.

According to Adam Lange, a programmer analyst at Rio Salado College, the predictive modeling system has many benefits.

“One of the major benefits to predicting student success is that faculty and staff can assist at-risk students before it’s too late,” Lange said. “Our main goal is to find effective ways to help students succeed.”

Lange said the system can predict, with 70 percent accuracy, the probability of success, meaning how likely it is that a student will earn a “C” grade or higher in a given course.

Rio Salado is currently piloting the system, running it on the 8th day of class to estimate a student’s probability of success. If a student is identified to be at-risk, faculty and instructors intervene to provide assistance and guidance.

Lange said future plans include running the system prior to class start dates, giving front-line staff and advisors time to reach out to students, and building an automated alert system to notify students directly if they fall into an at-risk level.