Former GCC Softball Player Pursues R&B Career

June 8, 2011

Jamie Avancena

She’s a descendant of a former Philippine president, but that’s not how Jamie Avanceña wants to be labeled.

“I want people to know me for me, [not as the great granddaughter of former President Jose Laurel],” the San Marino resident said.

Avanceña, 23, is initially shy when it comes to meeting people. It’s not an expected personality trait of athletes or aspiring artists, but she is: an athlete, an aspiring artist, and, at first encounter, she’s a bit shy.

It is clear from her activities that Avanceña has a knack for sports. At the age of 4 she began playing golf, and at the same time she took ballet, tap, and hip-hop dance lessons. She began playing softball when she was 7 years old, and continued playing the sport in middle school and high school. In 2001 and 2003 the teams she played for won the Little League World Series, and beat Arizona in the 2002 USA Nationals.

Avanceña attended GCC from 2006 to 2008 and was nominated softball team captain in the 2007-08 school year. During her attendance at Glendale, she ranked in the Western State Conference.

“She was probably one of the hardest workers and one of the finest kids we had as a leader,” softball coach Dave Wilder said. “[She was] absolutely the greatest kid … [she was] a very, very good student. [She] worked hard, never talked back and was always there for everybody.”

In the time she played softball, Avanceña received the recognition typical of star athletes. But that type of attention wasn’t something she sought.

“The only reason people knew me was because of sports,” she said. Beyond that, people didn’t know much about her and she even felt invisible.

Avanceña was offered a full scholarship to the University of the Philippines for her achievements in softball, and she attended college there for a year. Yet despite where her athletic talent landed her, she relinquished her scholarship and came back to California.

While her mom wanted her to play softball, she didn’t know for sure if playing for the national softball team of the Philippines was her dream, or if it was her mom’s.

“I grew up with a family where I felt like I couldn’t be myself,” she said. “I felt like I was in their shadow.”

Other members of the aspiring artist’s family were active in Philippine politics. The sons of former President Laurel became vice president, senators, and congressmen. Some other relatives include a former Minister of Labor of the Philippines and a current justice in Makati City.

She doesn’t intend to follow in her relatives’ political footsteps, but Avanceña sticks closer to the path of her uncle, Cocoy Laurel, an artist who has performed on Broadway.

Last summer she released her first album containing four R&B tracks. She co-wrote the fourth song on the album, “It’s My Time,” which is about her breaking out of her shell.

While Avanceña is pursuing a career in music, she admits to not always having had the qualities of a singer.

“The funny part is, growing up I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t dance, I had no tone, no beat,” she said. Despite this, she said singing has always been her passion.

Avanceña first got into music when her grandmother, who she calls Lola Julie, encouraged her to sing karaoke when she was younger. The first song she learned to sing in tune was “Always and Forever” by the funk/disco band Heatwave.

Because she was close to her grandmother, Lola Julie’s death in 2005 presented a difficult time for the then-San Marino High School student. After getting through it, she decided to take a risk and see where her R&B music career would go.

“To this day whenever I sing I make sure to [also] sing for my other grandmother, my Mama Rose [who recently passed away],” she said. “I really sing for them and I got closer to God because of my grandmother Rose because she was in the Catholic Womens League.”

In the Philippines, Avanceña became a song leader in church because of her Mama Rose’s involvement there.

The stepping stone for the aspiring artist was when she auditioned for Tawag Ng Tanghalan, a singing competition, in 2008. The contest was held at the LA Convention Center, and she brought a CD that was incompatible with the player. She was left with no choice but to sing a capella, and she still managed to win third place.

“That’s when I realized to really believe in myself,” she said. “It gave me that confidence. I thought, ‘If the judges see something in me that I don’t see in myself, maybe I’m really meant to do this.'”

She is currently working on her next album with music producer and artist Big Rod from Fun Factory. Big Rod has worked with big names in the music industry including the Backstreet Boys and music manager Johnny Wright.

While Avanceña continues overcoming her shyness and trying to let loose, the music producer said the aspiring artist has a personality that’s easy to work with.

“She’s been an athlete all her life so she’s used to taking critique and then adjusting her game to it, and that’s what she does with her vocals also,” he said. “If I have a problem, I let her know, and she fixes it.”

Another positive aspect Big Rod highlighted about the singer is the unique vocal quality she possesses.

“Her voice is kind of a shape shifter,” the music producer said. “She can make her voice do what it wants to do. She has power … but she can bring it down and sing nice and mellow.”

The Filipina singer is wrapping up her second semester at Pasadena City College and preparing for her upcoming album. She has been listening to dance tracks and ballads, as these are the types of songs scheduled to be featured on her new record. She’ll also be moving to the Philippines during the summer to further her music career.

Despite having faced a lot of uncertainty before finally deciding to pursue a performance career, Avanceña recognizes the hurdles she’s faced as ones that have shaped her character.

“Everything that’s happened in the past has built me into the person I am today,” she said.


Credit Unions Offer Alternative to Banks

May 11, 2011

GIVE THEM SOME CREDIT: The mission of credit unions is to serve their community members. Because they're not-for-profit institutions, community members will typically receive better rates and service than those at banks. (Photo by Agnes Constante)

Money just seems to be getting tighter and tighter these days, and for most people, there’s no choice but to live on a strict budget. Whether your money is in a savings account or locked in a time deposit, you’re really not seeing any more than chump change added to what you’ve got in the bank.

Credit unions offer a viable alternative to the for-profit model of banking institutions, and are able to offer a number of benefits to students based on their strucure:

1. Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions

The main difference between banks and credit unions is that banks are for-profit institutions, while credit unions are not-for-profit institutions. This means that they are tax exempt and are there to serve the needs of members of the community.

Unlike banks, where customers don’t have a say in who runs the institution, credit unions are governed by a board of directors elected by their members. Board members are volunteers who don’t get paid.

2. At a credit union, you’re considered a shareholder

“When you open an account, technically you become a shareholder of the credit union,” Stuart Perlitsh, CEO of the Glendale Area Schools Federal Credit Union (GASFCU), said. “You then own a share of the credit union.”

As a shareholder you have a voice in who sits on the board of directors, and you even have the right to run for a position on board if you’d like.

3. You’ll get better rates

Since the goal of credit unions isn’t to profit, members reap the benefits if there’s any extra income.

“The more members we have, the stronger we become,” Carolynn Lyons, business development director of the Glendale City Federal Credit Union (GCFCU), said.

Benefits may come in the form of higher dividends on savings accounts and/or time deposits, and reduced interest rates on credit cards.

4. More than 28,000 ATMs

One common myth about credit unions is that there is a lack of accessible ATMs, but there are actually thousands available throughout the United States. Both the area schools and city federal credit unions are part of an ATM network consisting of more than 28,000 fee-free ATMs. This outnumbers the roughly 18,000 Bank of America ATMs and 12,000 Wells Fargo ATMs throughout the nation. An added convenience, Perlitsh said, is that there is no fee for withdrawing cash at any 7-Eleven.

Credit unions also typically provide locators on their websites so it’s easier to find an ATM close to you.

5. Your money is insured

Similarly to how money in a bank is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), funds at credit unions are also secure. Federal agencies like the National Credit Union Administration and the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund typically cover $250,000 per account, just like the FDIC does for banks.

6. It’s easy to join!

If you live in a certain city, chances are you’ll be eligible for membership at a credit union. For instance, Burbank Community Federal Credit Union simply requires that a person lives, works, attends school, volunteers, worships, or belongs to an association in Burbank for membership eligibility. Similarly, the GASFCU only requires that a member is a student, faculty, or staff at GCC to open an account.

Most membership requirements can be found on the websites of the credit unions and by calling the institutions.

Other credit unions, like the GCFCU, have more specific requirements, such as being employed by the City of Glendale.

Even if you fall short of these requirements, the Glendale Area Schools credit union has partnered up with the city’s parent teacher association, while the Glendale City union has partnered up with and Friends of the Library. The unions will pay the fee for your membership in these city organizations, so that you are eligible to become part of the credit union.

Money might be getting tighter these days but there are credit unions around to genuinely help you make the most of what you’ve got.

Glendale Area Schools Federal Credit Union
1800 Broadview Drive
Glendale, CA 91208
(818) 248-7425 or (800) 844-5363

Glendale City Employees Federal Credit Union
517 E. Wilson Ave., Suite 102
Glendale, CA 91206
(818) 548-3976

Big Brother or Facebook? It’s Hard to Differentiate

March 30, 2011

In his 1949 novel “1984,” George Orwell coined the popular slogan, “Big Brother is watching you.” In the fictional world he created, everyone was put under surveillance and heavily scrutinized. Although this dystopia was meant to exist 27 years ago, technology has made Orwell’s 1984 world a reality of 2011. “Big Brother” keeps his eye over the world today, and we’re all being watched.
With the advent of Facebook in 2004, it has become hundreds of times easier to keep track of virtually everyone’s activities and whereabouts.Because every move made in cyberspace is tracked, and since that’s where many spend a considerable amount of time, Big Brother knows more about who we are than we probably realize.It’s not just that all of your friends, and maybe even people who aren’t your friends, have access to every wall post you share, status update you post, photo you upload, message you send, and even instant message you fire away: it’s that Mark Zuckerberg owns EVERYTHING you do via Facebook.
Yep, all that stuff posted does NOT belong to the individual who transmits the content online.When a user signs up for Facebook there’s a point in the process where the person has to get past a CAPTCHA. (This is a security measure that involves typing a display of distorted letters into a field to confirm that a person is creating an account. It is implemented to prevent the automated creation of multiple accounts.)

Immediately underneath the CAPTCHA is the sign up button, and underneath that is a teeny little sentence that reads, “By clicking Sign Up, you are indicating that you have read and agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.”

Although there are surely people who have taken the time to read Facebook’s terms and privacy policy, the lengthy jargon probably deters a greater number from understanding exactly what it is they’ve signed up for.

Well, of the seemingly countless lines of terms and conditions, there are two sections that state Facebook essentially owns whatever you do on Facebook, both of which come from its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (which was previously called “Terms and Conditions”):

“For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (“IP content”), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.”

What this verbose chunk of text means is that Facebook can do essentially anything it wishes with your intellectual property – your expression of thoughts and ideas through writing, photos, and videos – posted on the social networking site. And if the company makes money off of your writing, photos, or videos, you don’t get compensated for it.

In the FAQ section of this social networking utility, it is stated that users retain copyright to their content. But what does that really matter when Facebook is allowed to make money off of your intellectual property without giving you part of the profit? Basically, Facebook holds just as much copyright to your content as you do.

Fortunately, there’s a way to terminate Facebook’s license to your content.

Well, sort of.

The previously cited text states that Facebook’s license to your intellectual property “ends when you delete your IP content or your account.”

Unfortunately, if your content somehow remains on the account of another user, whether that user was tagged in a photo or if the user saved your content and uploaded it into his or her account, Facebook still has the right to use the content the same way as if it were still on your account.

Another way that Facebook may circumvent users’ absolute right to control over their content is stated in another wordy section in its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities:

“When you delete IP content, it is deleted in a manner similar to emptying the recycle bin on a computer. However, you understand that removed content may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time (but will not be available to others).”

When a recycle bin on a computer is emptied, files aren’t completely erased in that instant. In fact, they can actually be recovered, depending on how long ago the files have been deleted. (Files can be retrieved if attempted in a timely manner, before the computer saves something new to the partition of the hard drive that has been cleared.)

What does the company mean by “a reasonable period of time?” Does that mean that everything put on Facebook remains floating around in cyberspace indefinitely? Who exactly are the “others” that deleted content won’t be available to? Other users? What does the company get to do with the “backup copies” of content?

There doesn’t appear to be any clear definition of these references in Facebook’s terms.

If that’s not enough to worry about, there’s also the fact that the social networking utility tracks down the browser you use, the pages you visit, your location, and your IP address. Since IP addresses are unique to specific locations, it’s easy to figure out where a person lives, works or goes to school.

There’s also Places, a feature Facebook launched in August 2010 that allows users to announce their exact location, who they’re with, and what they’re doing on their walls.

It’s probably a fun thing to do since many people publicize their whereabouts and activities. But for those who use this feature, it’s important to keep in mind that by doing so, a multibillion-dollar company has recorded your location, and potentially your activity and companions with you at that time.

At the moment, the information you put up is used in a couple of ways.

Your “likes” on Facebook are used so companies can more specifically target their advertisements.

By default, your Facebook profile is made available to public search engines so that anyone who types your name into Google or Bing may stumble across your page.

Also, before using an app or playing a game, it is necessary to grant the third party hosting the app or game to access your basic information, including your “name, profile picture, gender, networks, user ID, list of friends, and any other information I’ve shared with everyone.” In January, Facebook extended the scope of information to which these third parties can request access, including your address and phone number.

Anything put up online is subject to scrutiny.

When the Patriot Act passed in 2001, the government gained the legal authority to increase surveillance measures for national security reasons. Among a number of things, it allows authorities to wiretap phone calls and electronic communications.

Guess what kind of communication Facebook is.

Big Brother knows so much about us, and it’s really unnerving. Credit card transactions can reveal where you prefer to shop, phone bills show the people you text and call most frequently, and customer service hotlines sometimes monitor phone calls for ‘quality assurance purposes.’

If you have a Facebook profile, what does it reveal about you? In addition to the fact that whatever is on there doesn’t belong to you, Big Brother can see everything because he’s still watching.

No Strings Attached, Doesn’t Get Too Attached

Jan. 26, 2011

WHAT'S UP DOC?: Ashton Kutcher offers his carrots to Natalie Portman in "No Strings Attached."

Having friends with benefits may be convenient, but things can become sticky when emotions get involved.

From the director Ivan Reitman (“My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” 2006) comes “No Strings Attached,” starring Natalie Portman (“Black Swan,” 2010) and Ashton Kutcher (“Valentine’s Day,” 2010) as Emma and Adam, long-time friends who agree to sleep together as long as they don’t fall for each other.

The setup works well for the two in the beginning but their attraction toward each other grows quickly, making it complicated for them to continue what they’re doing. At this point Emma and Adam decide not to see each other until they’ve both slept with different people. The time apart only makes the two fonder of each other, and they almost immediately get back together.

The two try to take their relationship, or whatever it is they have together, to the next level by going out on a date. While on the date, Emma, who is not an affectionate person, becomes frightened by the possibility of getting hurt further down the road. She expresses her worries to Adam, and they both decide to put an end to their agreement.

Those seeking a light movie with good comedic relief will definitely enjoy “No Strings Attached.” Portman and Kutcher bring fresh chemistry to the big screen that makes this romantic comedy a very enjoyable to watch. They both deliver vibrant portrayals of their respective characters, but still manage to convey an honest sense of the emotional battles they have to fight in the situation they put themselves in.

The storyline is predictable but incorporates realistically awkward moments between the characters, including silences and odd dialogue.

There are also many comedic moments that will have audiences laughing throughout the movie. The supporting characters, particularly Emma’s coworkers and Adam’s friends, contribute largely to the humor in the film.

“No Strings Attached” is rated R for sexuality, language and some drug material. Runtime is 110 minutes. In theatres everywhere.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Whitman and Brown Face Off in Final Debate

Oct. 27, 2010

Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman
In the final California Gubernatorial Debate, candidates Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman seized the final opportunity to convince the voting public of who should be the next governor of California.

The debate was held Oct. 12 at Dominican University in San Rafael and was moderated by Tom Brokaw, anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News.

The topics outlined for the debate were the economy and jobs, budget and pensions, immigration, and health care, but the contenders dwelt on highlighting their own track records and attacking each

Attorney General Jerry Brown
The California fiscal crisis was of primary concern as each candidate offered remedies while attacking the opponent’s.

“I would do my utmost to return authority and decision making to local communities where it’s closer to the people,” Brown said. “One thing I wouldn’t do to compound our budget deficit and our tax unfairness, I wouldn’t totally eliminate the capital gains tax, which what my opponent Meg Whitman wants to do. That cap gains tax benefits mostly millionaires and billionaires and would add $5 to $10 billion to our budget deficit, and a lot of that money would have to come out of our public schools.”

Often during the debate Whitman said she would take steps to create jobs in California. She also presented her experience in business and bashed Brown, who she claimed didn’t have similar experience.

“We have got to get someone in office who knows what the conditions are for small businesses if are to grow and thrive,” Whitman said. “My track record is creating jobs. My business is creating jobs. Your business is politics. You’ve been doing this for 40 years,” she said to Brown.

With the state in a budget deficit, both candidates said they had plans to balance it. Brown proposed starting the budget process in November, returning power to the local level, and cutting the salaries of those in the governor’s office by 10 to 15 percent. Whitman said the size of the government needs to be condensed, and that the public employee pension and welfare systems need to be reformed.

Another issue the contenders were asked to share their thoughts on was Proposition 23, which would suspend the Global Warming Act of 2006, also known as AB32.

Both Whitman and Brown are in favor of AB32, but Whitman proposed a one-year moratorium to “fix it.” She said only 3 percent of jobs are green jobs, while the remaining 97 percent are jobs in various other sectors. Without the one-year freeze, Whitman said the 97 percent of jobs in other sectors could be jeopardized.

Brown said there is no study indicating 97 percent of the working class would be affected by AB32 and a freeze would create regulatory uncertainty. He said the act could actually benefit the economy.

“If you put thousands to people to work, retrofitting buildings so that they don’t burn as much energy that will put people to work here. It’ll save money to consumers … and over the last 30 years it saved Californians over $50 billion.”

Immigration was also dealt with in the hour-long debate. Brokaw posed the question first to Whitman, who said she did not know she had hired an undocumented housemaid until just recently. Brokaw asked how Whitman expects businesses to be held accountable for hiring such workers, if she did not know about one living in her home for nine years.

“This is why we need a very good e-verify system, that allows a business of every size to look at documentation and know whether it is real or not,” she said. “But we have to hold employers accountable for hiring only documented workers.”

Whitman said illegal immigration is a big issue in California, with estimates that $6 to $7 million of the budget going to services for undocumented immigrants. She also supports the creation of a temporary guest worker program and increased border security.

Brown agreed that businesses should be held accountable for hiring undocumented workers and proposed immigration reform at the federal level that would provide a path to citizenship.

The election for the governor of California will be on Nov. 2.

President Obama Addresses Higher Education Concerns

Sept. 29, 2010

President Barack Obama participates in a conference call with college and university student-journalists in the Oval Office, Sept. 27, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama hosted a teleconference Monday morning with student journalists from colleges and universities across the nation to discuss steps his administration has taken to address higher education concerns of young Americans.

In his opening remarks, the president said that the United States has fallen behind in education.

“In a single generation we’ve fallen first to 12th in college graduation rates for young adults,” he said. “And if we’re serious about building a stronger economy, making sure we succeed in the 21st century, then the single most important step we can take, is to make sure that every young person gets the best education possible. …”

In Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address he proposed that by 2020, the United States would once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

On Monday he discussed the policies his administration is planning to implement, as well as those that have already been implemented, to reach this goal.

One of the steps the president is taking to make education more available to students is by changing the way federal student loans are administered.

“Instead of handing over $60 billion in unwarranted subsidies to big banks, that were essentially getting this money to fulfill the loans that were guaranteed by the federal government, we’re redirecting that money so that it goes directly to students,” he said. “And that’s allowing us to support community colleges and make college more affordable for nearly 8 million students and families.”

The passage of the Affordable Health Care Act earlier this year is also expected to help students, as it allows young adults to remain under their parents’ health care plans until the age of 26.

Another step the Obama administration is taking is to ensure that higher education creates a workforce that will be ready for new jobs in the future. Obama said that community colleges will play a crucial role in this step and has planned a first-ever White House summit on community colleges for next week.

“That way stakeholders are going to be able to discuss how community colleges can make sure we’ve got the most educated workforce in the world in relevant subjects that help people get jobs,” he said.

The third step of the higher education strategy is to make sure more students graduate from college.

The president said that more than one third of the nation’s college students and more than one half of minority students fail to obtain a degree even
after six years.

“And that’s a waste of potential, particularly if folks are racking up big debt and then they don’t even get the degree at the end – they still have to pay back that debt, but they’re not in a stronger position to be able to service it.”

Obama said that while it is ultimately up to students to finish school, his administration can help in eliminating certain barriers, particularly for students who attend school while working or raising families.

“So that’s why I’ve long proposed what I call a college access and completion fund, which would develop, implement and evaluate new approaches to improving college success and completion, especially for kids from disadvantaged backgrounds,” he said.

The administration is also ensuring that younger veterans receive educational support with a post-9/11 G.I. Bill.

The president has included undocumented students in his plan for a more accessible higher education and said that the DREAM Act needs to be passed.

“Some of you are probably aware this is important legislation that will stop punishing young people who – their parents brought them here; they may not have been documented, but they’ve for all intents and purposes grown up as American young people,” the president said.

The DREAM Act would allow these students to obtain legal status by continuing with their higher education or serving in the U.S. armed forces.

President Obama entertained questions from four student journalists upon explaining the gist of his higher education strategy.

Colin Daileda from Radford University in Virginia asked what other steps the president is taking to help students attain a level of stability after college, apart from the Affordable Health Care Act.

“The key is for us to keep on improving the economy, and that’s going to be my number one priority over the next several years,” Obama said. “If … we’re investing in small businesses so they can open their doors and hire more workers, if we’re … investing in clean energy – all those things are going to open up new opportunities for young people with skills and talent for the future.”

In subsequent questions, the president clarified other ways in which it would be easier for young Americans to obtain a higher education.

In modifying the way federal loans are administered, student graduates will not be required to pay more than 10 percent of their salaries per month to fulfill their loans. Additionally, graduates who enter public service will be forgiven any remaining student debt after 10 years as long as they keep up with their payments.

Although young adults can now stay under their parents’ health care until the age of 26, this provision of the Affordable Health Care Act assumes that the person’s employer does not offer health care. Should an employer provide health care for a young adult, this person cannot opt to be under his or her parents’ plan instead, and must accept the employer’s offer.

Obama closed by encouraging young adults to remain optimistic about the future.

“I know we’ve gone through a tough time these last two years. And I do worry sometimes that young folks, having grown up or come of age in difficult economic times, start feeling as if their horizons have to be lowered and they’ve got to set their sights a little bit lower than their parents or their grandparents. And I just want to remind people that you guys all have enormous challenges that you’re going to have to face, but you continue to live in the most vibrant, most dynamic, wealthiest nation on Earth.”

He added that in order to overcome the obstacles faced by today’s generation, students should maintain an awareness of politics and actively take part.

“We’ve got an election coming up. I want everybody to be well informed and to participate. If you do, then I feel very optimistic about the country’s future.”

From Leukemia to Legoland: Jonathan Larson’s Journey

May 19, 2010

MAKE A WISH: 10-year-old Jonathan Larson will be traveling to Denmark to celebrate the remission of his leukemia. He loves Legos and hopes to someday become an engineer. (Photo by Agnes Constante)

Dressed in a white T-shirt and khaki shorts, 8-year-old Jonathan Larson returns home from a morning hike with some of his friends.

It’s a Saturday morning in a peaceful neighborhood in northern Glendale near La Crescenta. The cool temperature clashing with the gentle warmth of the sun makes it the perfect weather to be outdoors, and Jonathan is up and about.

As the front door closes behind him, Larson makes his way to the couch and takes a seat. A few minutes after that he walks down the hall and takes a left into his bedroom.

Inside his room there is a tall, light blue bookshelf. There at the top are 10 trophies arranged in a slightly crooked row. The awards attest to his level of performance in soccer, karate and basketball.

On the floor next to his bed is a mini DVD player. A friend slept over at his house and they watched a movie the night before.

But it isn’t any of these objects that is most catching to the eye.

At an angle across his bed sits a chest filled with Legos. Near the chest lay a few complex Lego creations, all originally designed by Larson himself.

He’s eager to talk about his interests, particularly his passion for Legos. He shares that he will be visiting the original Legoland park in Billund, Denmark with his family during the summer, and is excited about the trip.

Visiting Legoland certainly isn’t an ordinary journey that kids of Larson’s age get to embark on, but what’s more out of the ordinary is the journey Larson began when he was just 4 years old.

On Dec. 5, 2005 at 3 p.m., he was confirmed positive for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, cancer of the blood where the count of white blood cells are significantly higher than red blood cells.

“One day in kindergarten, my face turned pale,” he says carefully, giving much thought to how the events played out that day. “And then my teacher called my parents and said my face is pale. So that night my parents took me to the hospital, and then they found out I had cancer.”

In December of last year, Larson was formally selected as a recipient of the Make-a-Wish Foundation and was honored with an award ceremony at the Grove in Los Angeles.

Since its inception in 1980, the foundation has granted the wishes of children between the ages of 2 1/2 to 18 with life-threatening medical conditions.

In the process of deciding what wish to grant him, Tessa Bowser, director of development and communications for the Make-a-Wish Foundation of Greater Los Angeles, said, “when the volunteers went over to his house to interview him to determine what his wish would be, he was just showing them all of his Legos. He was so excited.”

The day of Larson’s diagnosis is one that his mom, Annette, remembers clearly.

“I thought I died,” she says, taking a painful walk down memory lane. “I was nauseated, I was sick to my stomach. It’s really hard to describe. It was the worst feeling in my whole life.”

For the next 3 1/2 years, the then 4-year-old underwent intensive treatment, ingesting multiple pills and undergoing chemotherapy on a daily basis. He also became subject to intravenous chemotherapy once a month, and lumbar puncture, also known as the spinal tap. The procedure involved the insertion of a needle into his spinal canal for the withdrawal of his spinal fluids, and was necessary to ensure that the cancer did not spread to his brain.

In addition to the medications and procedures he had to endure, Larson suffered low blood count, which required him to go through multiple blood transfusions.

The first six months of Larson’s treatment were the most intense. The heavy-duty chemotherapy that bombarded his small body to eradicate the cancer cells caused him to lose hair and significantly compromised his immune system.

“He didn’t have an immune system to speak of,” says Annette. “He had to stay home, he couldn’t see visitors, he had to wear a mask if he went outside. He was literally isolated.”

From the frequent washing of hands to changing their clothes as soon as they got home, Larson’s family had to take extreme precautions in order to shield him from outside germs.

Having no choice but to stay at home for the most intensive months of his treatment, Larson’s interest in Legos grew and developed.

“Legos literally kept him sane, because that’s what he did – he built Legos,” Annette says. “[During] the chemo days, those are the things that kept his brain working, that kept him motivated, that kept him happy.”

Sitting in front of the fireplace, Larson holds two Lego creations, one in each hand, and explains what he has designed. The one in his right hand is a cross between a truck and an airplane, while the one in his left is simply a helicopter with a Legoman sitting in the cockpit.

He is quite the expert when it comes to Legos, and knows about them to such an extent that he is able to distinguish certain pieces that are no longer in production. He is owns at least two rare Lego accessories, one of which is a small, transparent yellow head that can be easily attached to a Legoman body.

Larson’s passion for these toys has influenced his aspiration to someday become an engineer, because “they build stuff,” just like he does with Legos.

Last month, Larson celebrated his 9th birthday. This year also marks his fourth year of living in remission, and in six more years he will be considered cured of his illness.

If he doesn’t have a relapse.

But it’s not a possibility that his family, nor Larson himself, likes to dwell on.

“You can’t think about these things,” says Annette. “As a parent, you can only take it one day at a time.”

“I was scared when I had cancer,” Larson admits, but he isn’t one to sulk in his more difficult days. He seems to prefer to share, on a lighter note, “[The cancer] went away when I was 7.”

At just barely a decade old, Larson’s positive attitude and resilience are qualities that are impossible to miss. He isn’t one to delve into the details of the battle he fought every day for 3 1/2 years.

Still, his battle isn’t over just yet.

“I have to go to the hospital every six or seven weeks to get a blood test,” he says. The tests are necessary to keep his condition monitored. “But I don’t have [cancer] anymore, but [the doctors] are making sure I don’t get it again,” he adds quickly, staying positive about his situation.

In the meantime, Larson continues to live his life like any average 9-year-old. He plays soccer and takes karate lessons; he enjoys exploring, likes reading funny books and has an interest in electronics.

Except unlike most kids his age, he gets to spend a week of his summer touring the Legoland park in Denmark.

Campus Hosts Genocide Commemoration Event

May 5, 2010

FIGHTING FOR RECOGNITION: Father Vazken Movsesian explains why the Armenian Genocide of 1915 is still relevant toady. (Photo by Jennifer Elbe)

In 1915, 1.5 million Armenians were annihilated.

Some refer to what happened as a tragedy, and others use the phrase “Medz Yeghern,” meaning “great calamity,” to allude to it.

However, today, Armenians are still fighting for recognition of the catastrophe that occurred in 1915 as “genocide.”

The Armenian Student Association held a commemorative event marking the 95th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide on April 22 in LB 220 at noon.

The event featured guest speaker Father Vazken Movsesian, priest of the St. Peter Armenian Church in Glendale. He spoke about why the genocide should be recognized and its implications for the present and future of global society.

Early on in the presentation he discussed what he deemed an inaccurate report made by USC Annenberg TV about an Armenian commemoration held at USC. The report discussed the commemoration and what happened in 1915, but it did not refer to either of these as genocide.

“What they reported was that the Armenians got together to remember the ‘tragedy’ that befell them,” Movsesian said.

“When the event name is ‘Armenian Genocide Commemoration,’ and you as a reporter don’t even report the name, what are you saying? You’re saying that somebody told you to take off that name.”

According to Movsesian, “there is no other side to the story. It’s genocide.”

He continued: “We’re all victims of genocide. We’re all children of genocide, because this affects each and every one of us.”

Movsesian highlighted a response given by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to a question posed by California Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Glendale), as to why the Armenian Genocide is the only one the United States is “incapable of recognizing.”

Rice responded to this by saying that the United States encouraged Turks and Armenians to examine their past, and by doing so, “to get over it.”

“So we as Armenians have a tough, tough situation,” Movsesian said in reply to this, adding that the genocide should be remembered and recognized.

Because America has yet to recognize the genocide, Movsesian applied the implications of the event to issues currently facing society, specifically the Rwandan genocide and the war in Darfur.

He shared with the audience that he took a trip to Rwanda in Africa in 2006.

“The reason why I went there, I figured, if I saw Rwanda in 2006, I’d know what it was like to be in Armenia [in] 1925.

“Obviously our stories are a little bit different. Armenians were thrown out of their country, Rwandans still are there, but they do present us an opportunity to [see], how do you survive with the perpetrator right above you?”

He encouraged the audience to maintain awareness of the event that took place in 1915 and of issues facing today’s world.

“You have technology at your hands,” he said. “It’s great to play Farmville; put a time limit. Give it 10 minutes, then spend the same 10 minutes looking into genocide issues … I know it’s fun, keep up with the Kardashians, OK? Now give yourself 50 minutes to keep up with what’s going on in Armenia.”

To wrap up his presentation, Movsesian discussed the war in Darfur to reemphasize the importance of the Armenian Genocide.

“1915 was the first step. The second step was the Holocaust. Then came Cambodia. Then came Bosnia. Then came Rwanda, and now, it’s happening in Darfur.

“Learn about it,” he said about the situation in Darfur. “Blog about it. Put yourself in their shoes. Walk with them. Feel what it’s like. Understand what the story’s about. Right now in Darfur, every morning parents have to make the decision, ‘Who’s going to go out to get the water for the family?’ And you know who gets to go out?

“They send out the girl to go get the water and this is because the worst thing that will happen to her is that she will only get raped…. Parents shouldn’t have to deal with this.”

He concluded by urging those present to also take part in upcoming commemorative events, including a fast that was held on campus on April 24.

“We as Armenians have a past. We need to bring that past into the present and make it work to forge the future,” he said.

As the event approaches the 100-year mark, many are still far from letting it fade away in history without recognition.

“My ancestors experienced one of the greatest atrocities between the years of 1915 [to] 1923,” said Tevin Chopurian, president of the Armenian Student Association. “[We] as a nation are still fighting for recognition and reparation. Fighting to get our historic lands back and advocating so that history won’t repeat itself.”

The event has yet to be recognized by the Turkish government as genocide, and Turks feel differently from Armenians about the issue.

The report posted by Annenberg TV News presented the viewpoints of some Turkish students, including Rifat Tigli who said, “These people, who have never been to Armenia, who doesn’t know about Armenian culture and Turkish culture, are making claims about my history.”

Another Turkish student, Enes Kilic, said that both Armenians and Turks suffered from the event in 1915.

“My father’s family went through tough times. They were attacked by their own neighbors,” he said.

Other Turks appear ready to move forward. According to Hakan Tekin, consul general of Turkey in Los Angeles, said, “We want to build bridges of friendship with the Armenian community.”

Rep. Schiff has previously attempted to introduce legislation to recognize what happened as genocide. However, Turkey, a key NATO ally and U.S. partner in military functions in Iraq, claims that a genocide never occurred.

The Armenian Genocide is commemorated by Armenians worldwide on April 24.

More information about the GCC Armenian Student Association is available at

Summer Session Situation Gets Tight

May 5, 2010

Because of budget shortages the college is cutting one summer session and reducing summer course offerings by 40 percent.

Last year GCC had approximately $3 million allocated for its two five-week summer sessions. For the upcoming summer, it has about $2.2 million to spend, an $800,000 reduction from to the summer 2009 budget.

As a result of limited availability, classes are expected to be in high demand.

According to Mary Mirch, interim vice president of instruction, “Classes have been filling very quickly.”

In the winter, classes filled within the first few days of priority registration.

The anticipated demand has raised the minimum number of students required to be enrolled in a class. This number, also known as the fill rate, for last year’s summer sessions and the 2010 winter intersession was 20 students per class. This summer the number has been raised to 24 in order to serve more students with the given cutbacks.

Depending on the number of students enrolled in a class in a given time frame, classes that do not meet the fill rate may be cancelled.

“If … [a class] has eight or nine students two weeks beforehand and [the enrollment numbers] aren’t moving, then we’ll [cancel the class] then,” said Mirch.

For classes that just barely reach the fill rate, however, Mirch doesn’t anticipate cancellation becoming too significant of an issue.

“I don’t think we’re going to see too many classes where 23 students are in it and we don’t meet 24,” she said.

The cuts in offerings were made by division chairs, who, according to Mirch, “were trying to figure out what best meets the needs of our students,” given the financial circumstances.

The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office advised the college to maintain transfer certificate, career and technical education, and developmental classes.

Most of the classes being offered this summer fall into those categories. Glendale has also focused on maintaining courses that are transferable and meet general education, Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum (IGETC) and Breadth requirements.

Although in recent years the college has usually offered two sessions in the summer, double summer sessions, along with the winter intersession, were implemented in the late ’90s. Prior to that, the college simply offered a single six-week summer session in addition to regular semesters.

While budget woes continue to face California, Mirch said the college is doing its best to serve students.

“We are still committed to having a summer session and that’s why we went back to our more traditional six-week [session],” she said.

The cutback in classes has created a stressful situation for students who want to complete their educational goals within a certain time frame.

“I already felt the effect of it this past semester,” said student Abigail Rodriguez, who is planning to take physics over the summer.

Although she had a priority registration date this spring, she did not get into a class in which she tried to enroll.

Rodriguez is somewhat worried that she may have to stay an extra year before transferring out if cutbacks in class offerings continue.

She is planning to attend Los Angeles Valley College and PCC in the fall, while still attending GCC, in order to complete the classes necessary for her educational goals.

Even with fewer classes and only one session, other students are simply looking for ways to deal with the current situation.

Student Christina Eltrevoog is not too worried about continuing her educational pursuits and is more focused on making the best out of the situation.

“Instead of just complaining about it, what can I do…about it?” she said. “How can I still pursue my academic goals within these constraints?

“I’m going to do what I can with [these] circumstances.

Prior to enrolling here Eltrevoog set out to participate in the Scholar’s Program. Aside from adding positively to her transcript and giving her an advantage when she transfers, being in the program also allows her to have an earlier priority registration date.

“It’s not impossible for me to get a degree in this way,” she said.

Students can now check priority registration dates by accessing the student center through the MyGCC web portal. Priority registration will take place from May 17 through May 25. Open registration will be from May 26 to June 20.

The campus will be open from Monday through Thursday throughout the summer, but will be closed on Fridays.

The summer 2010 session will run from June 21 through July 29. Five-week classes end on July 22.

Online Classes Ease Schedules and Budget Cuts

April 21, 2010

Attending class in fuzzy slippers and pajamas might sound absurd, but it’s an option available to more than 3,000 students at GCC this spring.

Glendale currently offers more than 50 distance education courses, also known as online and hybrid courses, in which 51 percent or more of the instruction is taught online. These courses are offered at the college in various subjects such as business, music and health.

Although some distance education classes require a number of on-campus meetings, online and hybrid courses generally do not require students to be physically present on campus at designated times, allowing for them to “attend class” at their discretion.

For those who lead busy lives, online classes are a fitting solution to tight schedules.

Panditha Sarathchandra, a student at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, chose to take online courses at GCC due to a number of time-constraining commitments.

“[I] am a [part-time] nanny and a figure skater practicing for my first competition next year,” she said. “And finding ways to complete my classes on time is not easy which is why I prefer online courses.”

For student Nicole Inman, schedule flexibility isn’t the only advantage to this type of learning.

“I prefer the online courses since I don’t have the distractions of other students acting up in class,” she said. “I am able to concentrate better without those distractions.”

As with most situations, there is good and bad, and there are also disadvantages to this non-traditional type of class. With no instructor verbally presenting material in a classroom or giving reminders to complete assignments, students are left to push themselves to get their work done, and it can be a challenge.

“Unfortunately it can be hard to stay disciplined without the classroom experience,” said April Kass, who recently completed Health 104 online. She added that is difficult to stay “motivated … to get the work done on time.”

Kass also said that a negative aspect of online courses was the lack of student-teacher relationship that is present in a traditional classroom setting.

Title 5, California’s education code, requires that distance education standards match that in traditional classroom courses, including student-teacher communication.

To meet this requirement, health instructor Barb Erfurt regularly hosts a live chat session to facilitate a virtual classroom experience for her online students. The chat session allows them to seek advice on personal health problems.

Erfurt also utilizes a public discussion board for her students to post questions and share thoughts. Students are able to read posts by their peers and may respond to them just they would be able to respond in a physical classroom.

If traditional and online courses still don’t provide an ideal or convenient learning environment, there is the option of taking a hybrid course.

Hybrid courses are designed so that students spend part of the course in a classroom and part of it online.

Instructor Brett Miketta teaches a hybrid five-unit computer science course, where three units are designated for in class work and two units are designated for online work.

Miketta believes that Glendale’s hybrid education “is getting … marginally better than our face-to-face [education]. And it’s because we’re leveraging that technology.” What does not work well in a classroom can be accounted for in the online environment, and vice versa.

Miketta has also found that this non-traditional education method results in more communication with his students.

“I find that … I actually get more direct communication with the students in the online environment than I do in the classroom, the reason being that many students fear raising their hand and asking a question.”

With the budget and finances a big concern for many students throughout the state, distance education courses may offer a partial solution.

Student Michael Sanchez, who has taken online courses at Glendale and Santa Monica College, said that online coursework allowed for him to avoid the hours of commuting he would have encountered if he were enrolled in traditional classes.

Another student, Jacob Hernandez, took a course at GCC online for reasons similar to those of Sanchez.

“I took [health] online so I wouldn’t have to drive to campus, save money on gas, and not have to worry about finding a place to park,” he said.

According to Miketta, online courses may be more cost effective than traditional ones because they do not require classroom space or utilities, and can be taught by adjunct faculty.

However, according to Associate Dean of Instructional Technology Shereen Allison, “It’s not a major cost saving.

“It does help in terms of … when you’re looking for classroom space if you can take some of the courses that can be done online. If you do some of them online, you have an easier time scheduling classes, so there are a lot of benefits to it.”

However, quality remains Glendale’s primary concern in distance education classes.

“You’re not going to find any online classes that have a huge number of students in them, and that’s generally one of the bigger determinants of how expensive something is,” Allison said. “So if you’ve got one teacher per 20 students, versus one [teacher] per 100 [students], the smaller class is more expensive, technically.”

Allison noted the increased demand for these courses.
“I think that you definitely see that [demand is] growing,” she said. “From what I hear from students, they seem to want more and more.”

Of the students currently enrolled in credit courses at GCC, nearly 18 percent are also enrolled in online and hybrid courses.
As demand for these courses grows, so will the college’s offerings.

“Our job is to service our community,” Miketta said. And if our students want online education, we need to be able to provide that to them…. If we don’t increase the online offerings, then our students will be going to [other colleges] because students can take online courses anywhere in the state of California. And as long as it’s in our community college system, it transfers and it counts.”

More information can be found at